The Changing Scene, Denver, Sept. 1976
In fall 1975, a year after I had turned my back on theatre and New York and moved to Stonington, Connecticut, to work in a harpsichord factory, I received a Rockefeller Foundation Award as a playwright. With it came $10,000, $8,500 of it for me and $1,500 for a theatre to produce one of my plays. The timing was ironic. I was no longer living the life, having found no such support when I was trying to survive in the theatre. But I like writing plays and I set to work, renting a bitterly chilly spare room downstairs from our apartment and squeezing out enough time around the edges of job and family to write a play over the course of the winter.
Al Brooks of The Changing Scene in Denver had recommended me for the award. It might have done me more good to hook up with the Public Theatre, if Joe Papp would have me; but out of loyalty and love I chose to do “Cowgirl Ecstasy” at The Changing Scene, knowing that work done there was in effect invisible. We scheduled the play for April, and David Way, my boss, agreed to give me seven weeks off; then changed his mind, saying he needed me, and we postponed it—twice, I think. I went out in September and directed a good production.
“Cowgirl Ecstasy” is about a rock and roll band that is breaking up. The first act is set in a claustrophobic hotel room. A video cameraman is shooting a documentary about the band, and his images appear live on a monitor. A silent sound person hovers over the action with a boom mike. A federal agent, played by a lifesize pink satin doll, is spying on them, trying to bust them for drugs or sedition. A crazy gay hippie boy is spying on them as well, and indeed something is going down, though we never find out quite what: it’s like real life. A young groupie comes to see the drummer, Ricky, in the company of her father, who is suffering from cancer as a result of working with PVC. (My friend Frank Lilly had urged me to write a play about environmental cancer.) The lead singer is obsessed with Johann Sebastian Bach and in effect turns into him by the end of the second act, when the whole stage has opened up into a tropical island set. Uncle Al played Bach live on the harpsichord. It is a juicy play.
A second production, in New York, produced by Irene Fornés and New York Theatre Strategy, went horribly awry. The director, Theo Barnes, drastically changed the play, and it was unbearable. I was moving from Connecticut to New Mexico and Michele was about to have another child so I could not be there in the formative time. Irene found me a grant to come for the last week of rehearsals but it was too late.
But the original production was splendid; I remember that.
“Cowgirl Ecstasy” was presented by The Changing Scene, 1527½ Champa Street, Denver, October 28-November 14, 1976. It was directed by the author with the following cast:
|TEX ARCANA||Stephen Weld|
|MAX||E. Michael Miller|
|HENRY BOGGS||Mike Kimmel|
|FBI BOSS, ROOM SERVICE||Eudaldo I. Pena|
Set by Charles Parson. Lighting by Peter Nielson. Costumes by Bethe Busey; Fashions by Angel M.; Karen J. Statt, Mary Lou Faherty, Sister Marcella Diller, A. Mancini. The FBI Boss doll was made by Kate Bradley with special assistance of Michele M. Smith. The stage manager was Karen Kermiet. Video equipment was provided by the Denver Community Video Center.
play in 2 acts
Cast of characters (in order of appearance):
TEX ARCANA — a popular and experienced rock singer-songwriter-guitarist, dressed as a very slick cowboy
MAX — a videotaper dressed all in leather
RENE — an epicene sound person
RITA — TEX’s wife, beautiful, warm, exotic
ROSE — a cowgirl musician
CHICK — an insane hippie
HENRY BOGGS — a sickly-looking Middle American working man
CERISE — his nubile 15-year-old daughter
RICKY — a gay cowboy musician
FBI BOSS — a pink satin doll
JUANITA — a beautiful Spanish-American dancer
The time is the present.
The sitting room of a suite in a generically fancy hotel. The entrance door is at one side, a door to a bedroom at the other side.
TEX rushes in followed by MAX, who is videotaping him. The hour is nearly midnight. TEX is exhausted by too wound up to go to bed. TEX is a popular singer and guitar player, not young, dressed as a very slick cowboy, blond, with sweat stains on his clothes. With MAX is RENE, who might be either sex. RENE holds a microphone on a long bamboo pole just over the head of whoever is speaking (except MAX). He carries an amplifier pack wired into a tape deck and wears monitor headphones. A video monitor at one side of the room shows what MAX is shooting.
TEX: I can’t act natural, it wouldn’t look right.
MAX: Just go ahead with your life. You’ve already signed it away—I mean we have the release.
TEX: You’re used to it. You think it’s normal.
MAX: We don’t care what’s normal. Normal is the enemy.
TEX (Wearily): I mean natural. Ain’t there such a thing as natural? There’s things lookin at me, hangin on my words, skimming off a little surface and feedin it to some suckers I don’t—
MAX: Fuck that. Don’t even think it. You’re doing it, you better be straight with yourself. We’re using it, man, we’re using it to extend our power. The audience—
MAX: The power of my arm, is there something wrong about that? The power of your voice. The power of your smile. It’s the same thing.
TEX: Some people get used to it, I guess, that’s how they can act normal.
MAX: We’re technicians, my friend. It’s a technique. Don’t be naive. Have a number. (Offers him a joint, from behind the camera.)
TEX: No, I don’t want any. I’m too unhappy.
MAX: What’s the matter?
TEX: My sweetheart’s far away and so’s my little boy. And I’ve lost my wedding ring.
MAX: You hate spending the night alone.
TEX: Yes I do. No I don’t This ain’t no retreat, man, this is show business. This is real life.
MAX: It’s just a regular night back in a regular hotel after a regular performance. Relax.
TEX: I don’t want to relax. I want everything to change. I want my new life to take me by the hand, and our hands be strong. We’re the Stars of Shadow. We’re the summer’s flies looking for open windows. We’re the telephone ringing when you’re making love. Everything changes then. We’re living on a South Sea island, and I’m Bach, and we don’t play gigs, we just do what we do. Everything is soft and friendly and creepy because we’re all trying to be saints. (Pause.)
MAX: You should be satisfied. You did a good show. Everybody got off.
TEX: O.K., I done my work. Now I’m supposedly off. (Pause.) I’m going to call room service.
MAX: You don’t have to tell us—just go ahead and do it.
TEX (Phones): Hello, room service, I don’t know what I want. (Pause.) Well, what do you have? There’s no point in me figuring out what I want if you don’t have it anyway. (Pause.) I don’t have a menu. Sorry. (Pause.) Well, I know there is, but something horrible happened to it. (Pause.) No, no, no, just something along the line of soup and sandwich. I don’t eat real meals anymore, unless somebody has me over, and I don’t know anybody here. (Pause.) Thank you, but actually, I’m not horny, I’m hungry. (Pause.) That sounds fine. Send up two sets of all that. I know Rose can eat. 33-I. And another one for either Ricky or his trick. The other one can fend for him or herself. (Hangs up. To MAX) I’m so tired I could throw up. I can hardly drag myself off to bed. (RITA has come in with a suitcase, beautiful and exotic. MAX pans to and focuses on her.) Only God knows what I have to do tomorrow.
RITA: You don’t have to do anything (TEX sees her. Pause.)
TEX: This is my life—I mean wife.
RITA: This is the town dentist, and this is Mrs. Dentist.
TEX: I ordered you some food.
RITA: You don’t seem very surprised to see me.
TEX: I’m amazed. I’m speechless. I’m exhausted. You look incredible—you are shining like a holy person. Like a goddess.
RITA (Smiling): May I approach, my Lord?
TEX: I have never seen you before. I thought I’d never see you again. I have never seen you so clearly. What’s happened? Am I dreaming?
RITA: No, of course not.
TEX: Come. Oh come into my arms. (They embrace. Great sighs of relief and pleasure.)
RITA: Oh that feels so good! Hold me tight.
TEX (Simultaneously): Oh baby! Save me! I’m completely miserable. I mean I’m doing fine I guess but everything feels empty and dry and stupid without you. Nothing makes any sense.
RITA: I love you. I’m here. It’s all right. There there.
TEX (Looking at her intensely): I need you so bad.
RITA: I love you more than anything in the whole world. You’re my whole life. (Pause.) What kind of food?
TEX: The usual. Room service.
RITA: Oh god! I can’t stand it! Why are they doing this to us? What are we doing to ourselves?
MAX: You could go out.
RITA: I just came in.
TEX: I don’t want to go out.
RITA: It’s all horrible anyway.
TEX: Well, what did you want?
RITA: I want to take you home.
TEX: You can have whatever you want.
RITA: No, I can only have what they have.
MAX: This is home.
RITA: You trying to tell me I’m free? Sure.
TEX: Do you want some dope?
RITA: What’s he doing here?
TEX: He has some dope. You can smoke his dope.
RITA: Are we working?
TEX: It’s part of the gig.
RITA: You’re being paid? Who’s paying you? I want to go to New York.
TEX: Oh, come on!
RITA (To MAX): Who’s paying you?
MAX: I’m not getting paid.
RITA: But you are working. What am I doing, waiting for you two to get off? I’m being fucked!
MAX: If we sell it we’ll divide it up. We get half because it’s our thing. The other fifty splits one for one to everybody else. It’s all written down.
RITA: I don’t work on spec. Commissions only.
MAX: We can probably sell it to teevee.
RITA: I don’t want to be on teevee. Shut the fucker off. Anyway they can’t show fucker on teevee. Ha ha.
TEX: This part gets cut out. Where’s your brain?
RITA: Listen, I don’t want to be in it! Listen to me, you prick!
TEX: Come on, Rita. Relax. Relax. You can dig it.
MAX: No, this is the part we want. They can bleep the fucks.
RITA: What language are you talking, man? Can’t you hear what anybody says? (She shoves him out the door into the bedroom and shuts the door. RENE stays and keeps recording. The monitor goes blank.) Man! (Shakes her head.)
TEX: What’s the matter with you?
RITA (Shakes her head some more, then shakes her whole body, dancing a little, shaking out the jams. Then sweetly): Come on, Tex, loosen up. Put on some music. Get into it.
TEX: Yeah, you’re right, you’re right. (Turns on a cassette recorder which delivers drone music.)
RITA: I don’t know how you get this way. Yes I do.
TEX: I stand there pulling my thing and the crowd goes wild. I have to get off on the other guys.
RITA: Who, Rose?
TEX: What are you doing here?
RITA: But the people are a… what? A mystery.
TEX: Yeah. Weird.
RITA: I hate these new hotels. They’re all motels. All they build now is motels. They’ve torn all the other stuff down, all the old stuff. The past is ten years ago, at the most.
TEX: I don’t want to talk.
RITA: That was the good stuff too. Nobody has made anything beautiful since the Depression. (RICKY comes—another cowboy—looks around, and leaves.) Are you still sad?
TEX: Yes I am.
RITA: Is there anything I can do for you?
TEX: Hold my head to your breast.
RITA: Oh, the sweet man, the sweet loving lonely man. Rita understands. I really do.
TEX: I believe you.
RITA: I’m telepathic.
TEX: So am I.
RITA: And why am I not sad?
TEX: Why are you not sad?
RITA: Oh, but I am. It’s just too hopeless and desperate to think about.
RITA: Now relax. You don’t have to do anything.
ROSE (A cowgirl, entering followed by an insane hippie, CHICK): Shit, man, that was the dumbest show I ever did.
TEX: You should try playing the notes.
ROSE: Your songs suck, man.
ROSE: This is Chuck.
ROSE: This is Tex and Rita. Very touching.
TEX: There must be some way to wring your hard heart.
ROSE (To RITA): Did you see the mother?
ROSE: Too bad.
TEX: Where were you?
ROSE: Chick saw it. He was giving head in the second row during “Midnight.”
RITA: Sounds tasty.
ROSE: Never mind, he’s gay. I’m just holding onto him for Ricky. Ricky loves hippies.
CHICK: Does anybody want some… coke?
RITA: No, man.
ROSE: You’re a real asshole.
TEX: I do. Is it any good?
ROSE: It isn’t coke, it’s shit. I tasted it.
TEX: How much did you have?
ROSE: Two lines in each nose. A good taste.
TEX: How do you feel? You seem just the same.
ROSE: Fuck you.
RITA: Couldn’t we elevate the conversation a little bit?
TEX: No coke. Too bad. Coke would do it. It would do me in but it would be worth it.
ROSE: You people may think this is off the wall, but it’s clearly time we stop farting around and start doing something about the situation. Somebody has to. Otherwise it’s hopeless.
TEX: I’m doing it. We’re doing it. I know what you’re talking about.
RITA (To CHICK): What are you doing in my room?
ROSE: He’s a guest at your party.
RITA: I’m not having a party.
CHICK: Not your party, his party.
RITA (To CHICK): Are you working?
ROSE: Ready when you are, C.B.
RITA: He’s working (Opens door and lets MAX back in.) Shoot him—shoot him and Tex. I’ll go see the movie and find out who was playing what.
ROSE: That’s the punch line of a joke.
TEX: Listen, I don’t necessarily need all this. I have other whole lives, whole sets of people. I can be a whole different person.
CHICK: Did I say something?
TEX (To ROSE): Don’t you ever get hungry for confirmation—hungry for somebody to say, Yes, that’s the way it is for me too.
ROSE: And then you say, Well, that’s just one way of looking at it.
TEX: So you forget about wanting that and learn how to take it on trust. But it’s not the same. Every one of us thinks he’s some kind of freak.
ROSE: I know, man.
TEX: Now you, for example, put me down all the time. All the time. You say the worst things you can think of. You put down my work, which you know I’m totally insecure about. You put me down on stage by openly sneering at me and playing my music as crudely as you possibly can. What am I supposed to think? You never say anything nice to me. Well, what I think is, Rose is my dear friend, she loves me, it’s just her style.
ROSE: Try to forget yourself, for once.
CHICK: I can dig it.
RITA: Where are you coming from, man? This stuff is private.
ROSE: We’re not talking about anything.
TEX: No, it’s just our style. (Pause.) I mean, people who live in glass houses don’t get to take baths.
ROSE: It doesn’t have to be on that level. It won’t work on that level anyway.
TEX (To RITA): I made up that line when I was sixteen. I used to think it was incredibly funny.
RITA: I’m not interested.
TEX (To ROSE): There isn’t any other level. There are no levels. Levels are abstractions of something else.
ROSE (To RITA): You can leave.
RITA: I don’t want to leave.
ROSE: You can go to your own room and read a book. Here’s a book I’m sure you will enjoy. We’ll get together after breakfast.
RITA: I’m not going to talk about anything with a tape recorder in the room.
TEX: It’s not that kind of material. They won’t bust us. They’ll just have to give us more money. It’s part of the gig. They don’t think we’re dangerous. The higher price we get for whatever it is we’re selling, the safer we seem to be, and also the bigger their cut. It boggles the mind.
RITA: I don’t need that kind of excitement.
CHICK: You mean the bank?
ROSE: That’s bullshit.
TEX: What bank?
CHICK: The… uh… Bank of America.
TEX: I’m not unpatriotic.
RITA: No, he’s definitely not unpatriotic.
TEX: I was born in a Taco Bell on the strip in Blythe, California. Home was the back seat of a Chrysler Town and Country.
ROSE: We’ve all heard it.
TEX: The bank is not the point. The bank is an instrumentality.
ROSE: There is no point in talking to you.
TEX: Am I wrong?
ROSE: Of course you’re not wrong. You’re right on, as usual.
CHICK: So what are we going to do about it?
TEX: Let’s just take it easy. Just a regular night, falling over stupefied.
RITA: Except the ones that are working.
ROSE: I want Ricky here.
RITA: Ricky should come and take this person away if you want to talk about anything.
ROSE: Well I definitely do.
TEX: You should go find him. He’s looking for you too… Go on.
ROSE: I don’t want to go.
TEX: Go on.
ROSE: I’ll be right back. (Goes. CHICK holds back.)
TEX: You too. (Shoves him out the door. To MAX and RENE) You two too.
MAX: Wait a minute. (But TEX pushes them out the door and shuts it.) That’s cheating.
TEX: And good riddance.
(The monitor shows the corridor outside. During the ensuing scene it pans down the corridor into a jungle set where ROSE in a sarong is being held at gunpoint by an FBI MAN in a suit and tie and hat. From out of the palm trees behind him, CERISE and JUANITA, two very nubile girls, also in sarongs, sneak up on him, grab him, wrestle the gun away from him, throw it into the bushes, and hold him. ROSE advances, stands over him a moment, then the three women start tickling him and taking off his clothes. Soundtrack of tropical sounds and delicate tension music. Pan away, track back up hotel corridor in time to re-enter below.)
RITA: You’re so handsome. I love you so much.
TEX (Groans): I’m in such a bad mood.
RITA: Have you seen the moon? It’s one day after full. Yesterday was the day it was full but it rained all night.
TEX: I don’t remember. I didn’t go outside.
RITA: Sure you do. You remember. It started out as big fluffy snowflakes flying white out of the darkness around the streetlights.
TEX: I haven’t seen the moon.
RITA: Big and fluffy and wet, just big exploded semisolid raindrops. (Pause.) You should look out the window.
TEX: There isn’t any window.
RITA: Well, it did that for about an hour and then stopped and turned bitter cold. The little piles of wet snowflakes turned into a layer of ice bumps completely covering everything. Today the streets were melted from… the friction of the tires—is that right? But the sidewalks are treacherous. It’s still as cold as a penguin’s nose. I was washing a window this afternoon and the water kept freezing before I could wipe it dry so I had to give up. On the inside.
TEX: What window?
RITA: The moon markings are clear tonight. You can see everything. You should look at it. Go outside. (Pause.) I have some friends here.
TEX: Sometimes I have the feeling that other people want my soul. If I say to them, I don’t have a soul, they say, I know that. You don’t have to tell me that. Not me. How dumb do you think I am? I’m your friend… What can I say except that I’m sorry and feel bad?… I guess maybe feeling bad and paranoia are the same thing. Bob Dylan, 1966, quoted by Nat Hentoff, Rolling Stone, January 15, 1976 (Pause.) Did they come to the show?
RITA: No, they’re not into it. They’re into something else.
RITA: Staying home with their baby. Reading out loud. Other music. Old music.
TEX: Some friends.
RITA: There are other scenes. Remember?
TEX: Why did you come back?
RITA: I love you. If you want to live in New York City, honey you know I will.
TEX: I don’t remember anything.
RITA: You’re the funniest man. You think this is all there is, ever was, and ever will be.
TEX: And it’s completely wrong. It’s completely the wrong way to live. I can’t believe it.
RITA: I’m here, I know all about it. I’m ready whenever you are.
TEX: Did they play for you? What did they play? What music?
RITA: Michael played Couperin for a couple of hours while I talked to Michele in the other room—sometimes talked and sometimes listened. Then they went off together while I played with Julian.
TEX: I love some of that music. By comparison with that, the music we play is really crude.
RITA: So do I.
TEX: But it isn’t enough to make yourself an idyllic life somewhere. Times have changed.
RITA: No they haven’t, no way it matters.
TEX: The whole civilization has been going steadily downhill ever since the end of the seventeenth century. The whole world is visibly deteriorating.
RITA: But every one or two of us are in the same old soup. Lie down and I’ll give you a rub.
TEX: Oh that would be wonderful. I need it.
RITA: You can’t save anybody if you can’t save yourself.
TEX: You save me. I need you.
RITA: I have you.
TEX: Do you have me?
RITA (Taking his shirt off): Just relax. I’ll take care of you.
TEX: What are we going to do?
RITA: You’re all right.
TEX: I’m so impatient I can’t stand it.
RITA: Relax. (Begins rubbing his back. He sighs with pleasure.) You always get like this just before you do something wonderful.
TEX: I’m so unhappy.
RITA: Nobody cares. Just let it go, darling. I know you love it. You think the part that suffers is the real you but it isn’t.
TEX (Muffled): Don’t worry. Be happy. (Pause.) Bababababa—
RITA: Really. (Rubs in silence.) I love your back. You have the most beautiful back. So long and subtle and complex and delicate and elegant and strong. I love to rub my hands up and down your back and feel the way it feels. (Rubs in silence.) I love your work. I love the songs you write. You’re just as good as Bach. Bach’s Bach, you’re you. All the rest is nonsense… I like you better than Bach. I’m not into any of the stuff Bach was into. I wish I was but I’m not… I love the way you change. You’re a real hero.
RITA: I know. Rita understands. (He turns over so he is lying on his back and she is kneeling over him.)
TEX: My beautiful woman. I love you.
RITA: I adore you. (Feels his crotch.) Do you want to fuck? (He nods.) Let’s go in the other room. (He nods. She leads him into the other room like a little boy. As they go out he is humping her from behind.
(After a long moment, CHICK stealthily opens the entrance door, comes in, and shuts it behind him. He goes to the bedroom door and listens for a moment, then goes to the desk and quickly goes through the drawer. He picks up a small plastic bottle of Bufferin from the desk and shakes it_—_it rattles. He pockets this bottle and replaces it with a different Buffering bottle which he was carrying in his little nylon underpants. He swiftly locates TEX’s briefcase, opens it, and starts reading a letter.)
(MAX silently opens the door a crack and stands there videotaping CHICK. RENE extends the microphone over his head.)
CHICK (Without looking up): Come in and shut the door and shut that thing off. (MAX and RENE come in and shut the door but keep shooting.) I know who you are.
MAX: Who are we?
CHICK: Don’t waste the taxpayers’ money.
MAX: Let me see your badge.
CHICK: I don’t have a badge.
MAX: Your card. Something. What’s the code?
CHICK: We’re senior here. I’ll give the orders.
MAX: I ain’t working for you, man. (CHICK flips a wallet open and shows a ’card’—MAX ‘looks’ at it with the camera. Pause.) What’s that supposed to be?
CHICK: Shut that thing off. (Disgustedly throwing down the letter.) This is all fucking Buddhism!
MAX (Keeps shooting): What else? (Backs toward the bedroom door.)
CHICK: I know who you are, mister. Don’t get cute. I’m warning you.
MAX (At bedroom door): Shhh! (Listens. Coming closer to CHICK) They already know everything. Don’t worry, you’re doing it all just right. Move over this way a little so I can get us together in the mirror. Oh, you look so pretty in the viewfinder I can’t stand it.
CHICK: You’re an asshole.
MAX: Are you going to let Ricky fuck you?
CHICK: I’ll have your butt, buddy. (Pause.)
MAX: Finding anything?
CHICK: Butt out.
MAX: You don’t have to be so anal.
CHICK: I don’t need you.
MAX: Nobody needs us, but we’re here anyway. That’s life. (Pause.) Someone’s coming.
CHICK (Swiftly puts letters away, shuts briefcase): Thanks.
MAX: Is this your first solo?
CHICK: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
MAX: What’s happening.
CHICK: I don’t know what’s happening.
MAX: You don’t?
CHICK: What made you think someone was coming?
MAX: We heard them. (Bedroom.)
CHICK: Are you gay too?
MAX: Sure, man, isn’t everybody?
CHICK: Where’s Rose? Is she in there?
MAX: We decided to come meet you.
CHICK: Now what?
MAX: Smile, darling, you’re on candied camera. Do you want to turn on? (Offers joint.)
CHICK: I’ll have you fired. You know that. You’re not crazy, are you?
MAX: Fired from what? You are uncool. (CHICK looks under the sofa.) Doesn’t anyone turn on anymore? What’s the matter with everybody?
RICKY (Entering): Hello, little hippie. Where have you been all my life?
CHICK: Who are you talking to?
RICKY: Talking to you, my pretty chickadee. Can you handle it?
CHICK: I could do without the creep with the camera.
RICKY: Don’t talk to me about the media. I never pay any attention to the media. How’d you like the show? That was quite a dick. Really. (There has been a timid knock at the door. RICKY flings it open. In the doorway are standing HENRY BOGGS, a sickly-looking Middle American working man, and his 15-year-old daughter CERISE.) And here’s the studio audience now. Hello, people, come on in. (To CHICK) See, we’ve gone public. See? We don’t expect privacy anymore. We get some for the old routine, the maintenance—we don’t want to be too mortal. And none of that’s any secret. Everybody shits. Everybody fucks. We could pay people to do everything else for us but then we wouldn’t have anything to do but get ourselves into trouble. I’ve had trouble. (To HENRY and CERISE) I suppose you’re looking for Goldilocks.
CERISE: No, we… (She chokes.)
HENRY: She wanted to see you. She says she wants to touch you.
CHICK: Far out.
RICKY: Man, you are ridiculous. Get out of my room. (To CERISE) Are you crazy?
HENRY: I didn’t see anything wrong with it. I’d be here. Nothing was going to happen. (Totters.)
RICKY: Would you like to sit down?
HENRY: Yes, I would.
RICKY (To CERISE): You can touch me if you want to but it won’t do any good. I’m gay. I’m a homosexual. Everybody know that. So up comes a girl! You can touch my penis if you want to. (To HENRY) Excuse me. (To CERISE) I like to do it with boys, not girls.
CERISE: That’s… ridiculous.
RICKY: It may be ridiculous but it’s what I do do. In fact it is ridiculous, come to think of it. This one is certainly ridiculous.
(The phone rings. RICKY picks it up, turns his back, and has a long inaudible conversation behind the following scene.)
(There is a long pause, which MAX shoots and RENE carefully records. Finally—)
CHICK: Well, we can talk to each other.
HENRY: What about?
CHICK: Well, what did you think of the show?
HENRY: Nice show. Colorful.
CHICK: Do you want something to drink?
HENRY: A glass of water.
CHICK: You like it?
CHICK: What they do—the music—the scene—the message.
HENRY: I wanted to bring Cerise.
CHICK: But what about you?
HENRY: My daughter. She likes it.
CHICK: Do you?
CHICK: Do you like it?
CERISE: He has cancer.
CHICK: Oh. That’s too bad.
HENRY: I was supposed to be dead last week but I’m still living.
CHICK: That’s very depressing.
CERISE: He caught it at work.
CHICK: Where do you work?
CHICK: What’s that?
CERISE: PVC stands for polyvinyl chloride. Vinyl chloride gas is a petroleum by-product. It gives people cancer after about ten or twenty years. At the plant where my father works they make the gas into powdered plastic. PVC. Lots of things are made out of PVC—saran wrap, phonograph records, car upholstery, scotch tape.
HENRY: It’s a good job.
CERISE: They used to sniff the gas to get high. They used to get off on it.
CHICK: That’s horrible.
MAX: What did you do?
HENRY: Poly cleaner.
CERISE: He went into the vats and scraped off the gunk.
CHICK: That’s horrible.
MAX: That sounds pretty horrible.
HENRY: It’s not bad. I’m in the control room now.
CHICK: What do you mean?
HENRY: That’s better. It’s a good company.
MAX (Earnestly): We’re all working here.
CHICK: Not me, man—I’m a groupie. (RENE laughs.)
CERISE: They should just stop making it.
HENRY: We can’t stop. People need it.
CERISE: Nobody needs plastic. I hate plastic.
HENRY: Cerise, you stop that talk. Now you mind!
CHICK (To MAX): What are these people doing here?
MAX: They’re fans, man. Relax.
HENRY: Men have to have jobs. It’s hard to find a good job these days.
CERISE: I hate jobs.
HENRY (Rising): Put on your coat. I’m taking you home.
CERISE: I don’t have a coat. It’s the middle of July. It’s hot. (HENRY collapses.) Daddy! Oh no! I’m sorry, Daddy!
RICKY (Turning around; into phone): Somebody just fell dead right here in front of me.
CHICK: It isn’t funny.
CERISE: He isn’t dead.
RICKY (To CHICK): I didn’t say it was funny. What’s the matter with you? (Into phone) What do you mean, where am I? You called me.
CHICK: Is your mother here anywhere?
CERISE: Do they have a bed?
MAX (Indicating bedroom): In there.
RICKY (Into phone): Wherever you are, stay there. Don’t come over.
CERISE: There’s nothing we can do but make him comfortable.
(CHICK and CERISE carry an inert HENRY into the bedroom, followed by MAX and RENE, shooting.)
RICKY (Into phone, as they are leaving): Of course I do. You know I do. Why are you asking me that? I wish you wouldn’t say things like that. Don’t you believe me? (Turns upstage, becomes inaudible. Finally he hangs up. When he again turns downstage, he is alone. After a pause) To live alone, to be alone, or cling together—that is the question. Whether to give time, body, money to another, or simply please myself. I give art—isn’t that enough? Of course not, you fool. Inwardness or intimacy, heaven or earth, masturbation or genuine intercourse—there’s no comparison. Self-disabuse… what was that? And how much to sell, and whose game to play. Well, I’m not going to get depressed. I take it as it comes, and my luck’s held, and anyway, desire is the first of the ten veils. And the second is separation. If you won’t give up the veils, you don’t get to know what’s behind them. I am speaking from personal experience. But still the cells lust, the cells themselves—there’s the rub! And so the whole organism yearns for its kind, to know itself, and for its other pole, to complete the species. You still have to sell something, do something somebody will give you money for. But this is the holy fire! (Beats his chest.) The divine spark is here! The life force is here in me, exulting, shining forth from me onto radiant objects and beings, which warm and shine back on me. (Gleams at audience; then) Well, I believe the actors are ready to begin the second movement. I say no more. (Bows out.)
(As RITA enters, Bach harpsichord music joins the drone—perhaps the D Major Partita—and very gradually replaces it. Blue ballet light. Drone fades out very slowly over several minutes.)
RITA (Dancing): No, no, that isn’t it, not a bit. I want a life I can embrace, not this fun park. No, no, that isn’t it, I have to turn my head _around. (ROSE enters, dancing. To ROSE) _Alone at last. (Ballet costumes.)
ROSE (Dancing): I have an idea.
RITA: Well what is it?
ROSE: So you want to be a lesbian.
RITA: Is that your idea?
ROSE: Do you?
RITA: Not forever.
ROSE: Then skip it. I won’t tell you the rest. You don’t need to know. And somebody is probably taping us.
RITA: For teevee.
ROSE: I wouldn’t watch teevee if they paid me.
RITA: What’s the matter with you people?
ROSE: What do you mean ‘you people’? Who are you?
RITA: Anyway they are paying you. The same number.
ROSE: Nobody’s paying me. I’m off. That’s Ricky’s trip.
RITA: Let’s not talk. ACTION!
ROSE: Do you see smoke over there in the other end of the room?
RITA: No. I don’t see any smoke.
ROSE: That isn’t my idea. My idea is… I can’t put it into words yet.
RITA: Is that your idea?
ROSE: I keep seeing a wisp of smoke over there in the dark doorway, just as I turn my head away. I’m starting to have trouble with my eyes. Suddenly I can’t see something, but I’m seeing something.
RITA: Goodbye 1966.
ROSE: You said it!
RITA: Is that your idea?
ROSE: It doesn’t matter, it’s a good idea. Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye.
RITA: All I want to do is stay home and get high and listen to music.
End of Ballet
(On a brilliantly lit inner stage CHICK, now very inconspicuously dressed, is seen reporting to his FBI BOSS—who is represented by a full-size pink satin doll, dressed in a suit and tie and hat. He is held and animated by a MANIPULATOR all in black who speaks his lines.)
CHICK (Intensely): They had completely undermined the system. If a person like you went out in public, he’d be embarrassed. So an entire alternate culture grew up of people who never could go outside. No one ever saw them. Many had husbands or wives to take care of them, or they had stocked up while they still had the chance. Others were masters of disguise.
FBI BOSS (In a disguised voice): That sounds like a paranoid fantasy.
CHICK: That sounds like what you’d say. But it’s true.
FBI BOSS: Go on.
CHICK: I thought they had some ammunition but they were just show-business fairies and gypsies.
FBI BOSS: Did you let Ricky fuck you?
CHICK: Obviously they had drugs. Whatever there was, they had some when it came their way if they were in the right mood. Ricky never said no to anything. Rose had the ideas but I didn’t know what they were.
FBI BOSS: Rose?
CHICK: The cowgirl. Of course I did. He’s beautiful. I love him.
FBI BOSS: I’m sorry I asked.
CHICK: Is that uncool?
FBI BOSS: Of course not. We need to know how our people feel. It’s part of the picture. But you don’t have to be graphic. I have certain personal standards—
CHICK: I can never tell what you’re thinking.
FBI BOSS: That’s part of the idea.
CHICK: Don’t you feel a little cramped?
FBI BOSS: But we aren’t here to talk about me. Go on with your report.
CHICK: And they were demoralizing people. They think the whole world is just an aspect of the music business. But of course it isn’t. There must be millions of people just like you—except I never see them, and they only see me on teevee. Urp to that.
FBI BOSS: What?!
CHICK: You need your job too.
FBI BOSS: What do you mean?
CHICK: At least I was sowing confusion. You think it’s all real!
FBI BOSS: It is.
CHICK: It’s what you make it. Pick your pieces and make your move. (Fadeout begins.)
FBI BOSS: Where are they now?
CHICK (Wistfully): I don’t know. On the road somewhere.
(Bach music stops. In another hotel room just like the first, TEX comes in dressed as Bach, in period costume minus the wig, followed by MAX and RENE. He poses.)
TEX: What do you think?
ROSE and RITA (Still there): Terrific.
TEX: Good. That’s settled. No more discussion. (Takes off Bach jacket, sits at desk.) Now I have work to do. I need to be alone.
RITA: Where am I supposed to go? Out in the corridor? Ride the elevator?
ROSE: I need to talk to you.
TEX (To ROSE): What happened in the minor of the minuet, where you go la-la-la-la-la? That has to be heard. (To MAX and RENE) Are you getting what you want?
MAX: Fine. You’re doing fine.
RITA: You’re such a funny man.
ROSE: Anything else?
TEX: We have to have a rehearsal.
ROSE: When, man? I ain’t rehearsing after the show. After the show I’m off.
TEX: We can rehearse during the sound check if people would just concentrate. And I do mean you.
ROSE: We can rehearse during the show.
TEX: You’d be a very good bass player if you’d change your attitude. But I know that’s asking a great deal.
ROSE: You don’t like the way I play?
TEX: I do—I really do. Really I do. I love the way you play. I love to play with you. It would all fall apart without you.
ROSE: You mean it?
TEX: I do. There’s nobody as good as you.
ROSE: I thought you were looking for a replacement.
TEX: But I must ask you to play the right notes more of the time if you don’t mind.
ROSE: That sounds so sinister. (To RITA) It does, doesn’t it. Like he’s threatening to fire me.
TEX: I’m not. I’m trying to be straight with you. I’m not perfect.
RITA: I’m staying out of it.
ROSE: I want Ricky here. (RICKY comes in.) Good. Now we can get started.
RITA: I’m still not going to say anything in front of the media.
ROSE: Then don’t say anything. Pretend you don’t have anything to say.
RITA: Something may come to me.
ROSE: I hope not. For your sake.
RICKY: You need me for this?
TEX: Shut up, Rita.
ROSE: What are we saying to people? That’s all.
RITA: I don’t think you should talk to me like that.
ROSE: We have a real opportunity and we’re blowing it.
RICKY: He’s a rude person. Don’t take it personally.
TEX (To ROSE): I am praising God every way I know how.
RITA (To RICKY): Stay out of it.
ROSE (To RITA): You stay out of it. This is band business.
RITA: I thought you were off.
ROSE: I’m on again. I just want to know what we’re doing. It’s a fucking assembly line out there. We just put together the cars—if people get hurt in them, too bad.
TEX: So what’s your idea? I’ve told you mine. (Pause.) It’s God’s gift to man and man’s gift to God. It’s the soul’s pleasure world in this world and the ones before and the next. (Pause.) How can I speak more plainly? (Pause. He leaves.)
RITA: And make love. It’s like a hot knife through butter and I’m butter. (After a moment TEX is heard playing the harpsichord in the other room. MAX and RENE switch off. CHICK comes in.) Where have you been?
CHICK: What’s happening?
RITA: That’s it. I’ve had it.
MAX: We’re not turning in any evidence.
RITA: That’s not it.
MAX: What is it then?
RITA: I don’t like leather.
MAX: Are you serious?
RITA: Who are you working for?
ROSE: It’s part of the gig. Pay no attention.
MAX: We’re not even doing it. We’re off. What are you talking about?
RITA: Then why are you here?
MAX: We love you. We want to be with you.
(JUANITA comes in. She moves continually in fiery Latin rhythms. She never stops moving. MAX and RENE resume taping.)
JUANITA: Are we responsible for the oppression of Jamaica? What would legalizing marijuana do but put the plantation slaves back to work? Who is in love with the guns and all that desperation? If we stop making plastic, all the rubber plantation slaves will have to go back to work and a lot of new ones. I would rather live quietly but what do I know about that? I get so angry and afraid I have to do something, and I start to hate whatever it is that makes it impossible to do anything, and that makes me hate everybody that acts respectable, everybody that’s trying to keep it together the way it is or the way they used to think it was. It’s so pathetic!
MAX: No, that’s ridiculous. We can just grow it in our gardens like veggies.
ROSE: Some people are evil. Evil is built in. You have to resist it. Some people still don’t know that.
JUANITA: I don’t believe it.
ROSE: It’s true whether or not you believe it.
JUANITA: Your eyes are like beautiful green marbles.
RICKY: Well, consider the symmetry—the two brains, the two sexes, etcetera—it isn’t just artifice, it’s built in too.
RITA: I have so much trouble making an exit.
ROSE: Then stay. Really.
RITA: I want to.
RICKY: You have to, so you might as well.
JUANITA (To ROSE): Yes, you have to resist. You must resist—that is the only imperative. You live or die but you make a stand, and advance from there when the time is ripe.
MAX: What do you mean?
JUANITA: But first—resist.
RICKY: Resist the mechanical self! All the rest is passing, like the cycles of the moon.
ROSE: I have an idea.
JUANITA: I’ve quit smoking the pot. I don’t want people put through that so I can get a little high.
MAX: That doesn’t make sense. It’s the system that’s corrupt, not the individual acts of people trapped in it.
JUANITA: What?! What else is it? You are the media.
RITA: That’s horrible.
RICKY: The media of what? What kind of a word is ‘media’? It’s the embodiment of emptiness.
JUANITA (To MAX): How does that make you feel? (To RICKY) But he has to make a living. You want him making weapons? Or scraping out the plastic pits?
RICKY: The question is, who is doing it? Is there a person present, or a machine?
ROSE: But you can’t believe in anything that’s been going down. That could be a complacent attitude.
JUANITA (To ROSE): I don’t want anybody taking sides with me.
RICKY (To ROSE): Stay on your own side.
ROSE: Then skip it.
RITA (To ROSE): You’re not trapped here. You can leave. (RICKY leaves.)
ROSE: Not me.
(JUANITA takes off her dress; under it she has on a very fetching slip which clings to her body sweetly.)
RITA: What are you doing?!
JUANITA: I don’t want to wrinkle my dress.
RITA: Look, Juanita, I came here specifically to get away from you. Now go home.
ROSE: You look marvelous! Did you cut your hair?
JUANITA: I went to a beauty parlor.
JUANITA: Yes. They said, what are you doing here? I said, I am tired of going to the barber. I loved it. The woman said, Don’t even look, I’ll tell you when I am finished.
RITA: How does it feel to look so sexy?
ROSE: Get you.
RITA: We’ve all been thin.
JUANITA: Do you think I’m too thin?
RITA: Frankly, yes.
JUANITA: Guess who I saw in the coffee house. You’ll never guess.
RITA: What are you doing here? Don’t you live somewhere?
JUANITA: I want to live with you. I can’t go home anymore. I’m coming with you. I’ll do anything you say.
RITA: Keep your hands off my man.
JUANITA: I wouldn’t do that.
RITA: Anyway I’m leaving the tour. I’m just doing this one stop because I have friends here. Sunday I’m going home. My real life isn’t show business.
JUANITA: I’ll come with you. All I need is a little pocket money.
RITA: How old are you?
JUANITA: Old enough.
ROSE: We’re both thirty.
JUANITA: I’m twenty.
(CERISE, who is fifteen, comes in from the bedroom wearing a very large man’s shirt, yawning.)
CERISE: Did room service ever come?
JUANITA: I’m sorry about your father.
ROSE: What’s become of Chuck?
RITA: How is your father?
CERISE: He’s better.
CERISE: He feels better.
RITA: That’s good.
ROSE: Is he with Ricky?
CERISE: No. Ricky’s in the bathroom.
CHICK: I’m right here.
RITA: Are you serious?
ROSE: Ricky spends a lot of time in the bathroom.
CERISE: What does he do?
ROSE: I don’t know. What does anybody do? Play with their dick.
RITA: This is Juanita. My secretary. (To JUANITA) Can you do anything?
JUANITA: Sure. I can do anything.
RITA (To CERISE): Where did you get that shirt?
CERISE: On the back of a chair.
RITA: I ironed it.
ROSE: Not very well.
JUANITA: I can iron.
ROSE: Why are we talking about ironing?
RITA: And who does yours?
ROSE: The nearest Chinese.
RITA: No, I’ll do the ironing. You can take Gabriel.
CERISE: Who’s that?
ROSE: Really, it’s weird.
RITA: My little boy. He’s with my mother in Indianapolis.
JUANITA: How old is he?
TEX (Coming in from outside; to RITA): I found my wedding ring. It was tied onto one of my shoes.
RITA: That’s good.
TEX: I knew I would. (Goes into bedroom.)
RITA (To TEX): Ricky’s in the bathroom. (To CERISE) He doesn’t care.
ROSE: He likes Ricky.
RITA: So what? I like you. That doesn’t make me a lesbian.
ROSE: God no! (To CERISE) Isn’t Juanita beautiful? (CERISE nods.) Wouldn’t you just do anything to make her smile? (CERISE nods.) Me too.
JUANITA: Cut it out. Why is everybody so interested in sex?
RITA: We like sex.
CERISE: That’s right.
ROSE: Aw come on. Nobody likes sex.
RICKY (Coming in; to CHICK): Come with me. (They go out.)
CERISE: They do too. Everybody does if they’re normal.
ROSE: You’ve been reading too many magazines. Real sex is too much hassle. Who needs it?
RITA: You need a steady lover.
JUANITA: Ai yi yi yi!
ROSE: Admit it. Nobody really wants to get down and do it with another person. But you always have to because you reach that point in the situation.
RITA: That just isn’t true.
ROSE: The world is people with newts mating and breeding as if every one of them was making the whole thing up. Love! The breeding population has been taken over by retards.
CERISE: That’s horrible.
RITA: Rose, that is the epitome of up-tight talk and you know it. I don’t mind—I’ve been there—but spare the children. (To RENE) You getting all this?
CERISE (To JUANITA): What’s the matter with her? Is she sick?
JUANITA: Eet’s joost hair vay.
CERISE: I love sex.
JUANITA: How many times have you done it?
ROSE: Have you done it with a dog?
JUANITA (To RITA): Why does she talk like that?
ROSE: No, let’s stop all this.
ROSE: I’m sorry. I take it all back.
CERISE (In tears): It isn’t true!
JUANITA: It’s all true, dummy!
RITA: Cut it out, you two. (To CERISE) Pay no attention to them, they’re hysterical.
ROSE: That’s what I mean. You two. You said, You two.
RITA (To ROSE): I know what you mean. But so what? (To JUANITA) Put on your dress, Juanita, we’re expecting company. And get this place together. I don’t have the pep to do anything.
JUANITA: Yes sir!
CERISE: Ricky is not gay.
RITA: Of course not. It’s just hard to find a good woman. You have to have had a sister.
JUANITA (Putting on her dress): Really.
RITA: And a mother. He didn’t have a sister.
ROSE: I don’t have a sister.
RITA: We are your sisters.
ROSE: Hey, right! That’s neat!
RITA: Let’s all go down to the coffee shop for a soda.
JUANITA (To RITA): Zip me up.
RITA: You have the most beautiful hair. (Runs her fingers through it luxuriously.) Can you feel the electricity? (JUANITA nods.)
CERISE: I ought to put something on.
ROSE: Don’t be silly—you look divine and you know it. Come on. (They all go out.)
RITA (Leaving): We don’t even have to go outside. (The others are out the door.) Oh, just a minute, I forgot something. I’ll catch up with you. (Comes back in and shuts the door. She gives the room a once-over. She quickly goes to TEX’s Bach jacket, drawing a bulging plain white envelope out of her bosom, puts the envelope into an inside pocket of the jacket, then without hesitation leaves the room and shuts the door.)
(Offstage Bach continues.)
(A knock at the door. Music stops. TEX comes in, puts on the Bach jacket, and opens the door. ROOM SERVICE enters—bellboy uniform—pushing an elaborate room service cart, all glittering crystal and silver, shiny covers over everything, a red rose in a crystal vase. TEX takes the envelope from his pocket and the Bufferin bottle from the desk and hands them to ROOM SERVICE, who smiles and leaves. TEX goes into the bedroom.)
HENRY BOGGS, his hair coming out in patches, sits in the middle of the stage on the sofa from the hotel room. The rest of the hotel room set has vanished. HENRY is isolated in a bright pool of light, being videotaped by MAX, who has backed up with his camera, now static, into the middle of the audience. HENRY speaks flatly, slowly.
HENRY: When I was in college I wanted to be a writer. They had a writing course called Daily Themes. It was the hardest and best for the bravest and best seniors. The idea of writing something every day was terrifying, overwhelming. Like the secret societies. Anyway I never got to be a senior. I got too freaked out and quit in the middle of my third year. After that I drifted around for a while and then worked on a newspaper for several years until I got too freaked out. My wife was in art school when I met her. She was learning to be a commercial artist so she could support herself. She was very good in art school and she loved it, but she quit to run away with me. There was no question of marriage at the time because I was too unsure of myself but within the year we went back and were married and everybody loved it. I got my present job when Cerise was on the way and we needed to settle down somewhere. We talked it over and decided this was the most interesting possibility as I needed a job and didn’t want to go back to what I had been doing before. Anyway, I had a friend who could get me this job. He didn’t work there anymore but he still knew the boss. The boss was such a strange powerful man that I couldn’t leave even though I knew what was going on. I knew he was destroying me. I stayed on ever after he died years ago and tried to keep things the way he wanted. I knew it wasn’t the right work for me. It was too boring, and when it wasn’t boring it was horrible. I had to climb down inside a gigantic steel pressure cooker on a ladder and scrape the leftover plastic off the walls with a long-handled rake. We called it a rake but it was more like a hoe with a very wide blade. I had to work quickly because after the first few minutes I would start to get dizzy and I didn’t want to pass out. I had a rope on so they could pull me out but they’d have to dock me for it. The boss was terribly unhappy. I heard him on the telephone or talking to visitors. All the rest of the time I didn’t have anything to do. I’d talk to people and try to feel harmonious but he made me feel very nervous. Nothing I could do would satisfy him. I didn’t have any friends except people at work. Anyway, Cerise grew up, and Madeleine went back to art school and then got a good job in a department store. (Long dead pause.) She wanted me to quit in the very beginning. I kept changing my mind. I knew she was right, but that was the job I had, and I didn’t know where to look for another one. Anyway it was a good job. I only had to work for twenty minutes every two or three hours, and eventually I’d get moved up to the control room, which is air-conditioned. That’s where I am now. Well, I haven’t been feeling good enough to go in these past few days. We put in a new machine that scrapes the vats by remote control. It isn’t anywhere near as complicated as some of the machines, but it was damned expensive. Everybody is real nice to me. The new boss gets me to talk about the old days. I’m the only one that remembers, and I always tell the truth, too. Except for that, some new kid could learn everything I know in a couple of weeks. Most of it don’t matter anymore. They don’t even have the same tools, some of them. (Calls offstage.) Cerise. (Pause. Calls.) Madeleine darling. (Silence.) They’re still at work. Madeleine has her own agency now. Business is good. I don’t really have to work— (The lights flicker.) —but I like to. Cerise… Well of course you’ve heard about Cerise. (The lights flicker and then go out.)
MAX: Shit. (When the lights come on again, HENRY has fallen over on the sofa and lies on his side curled up in a foetal position. MAX is checking his equipment. Tableau. Then the lights go out again. Total blackness.) What the fuck! (Long pause.) Well? (Pause.) What’s happening? (Long pause.) Well? Is somebody doing something? Paul? Shit. Excuse me. Excuse me. (He fumbles his way through the audience onto the stage in the blackness, then up the aisle toward the back of the theatre.) Don’t panic, anybody. This always happens. Paul? (Sarcastically) ’It’s part of the show.’ (Trips and falls down.) Shit. (He makes his way out of the theatre. Long pause.)
(During all this, other people have gradually begun moving around on the stage in the darkness and a texture of sound has begun to materialize—surf, birds, delicate bells, wind chimes, etc. Eventually— Lights up bang on a South Sea island set. Two large clumps of palm trees. A single palm tree far downstage. A panoramic painted backdrop of a tropical beach at sunset. Lush colorful lighting saturates the scene. The sofa with HENRY curled up on it, now covered with an overcoat, and the television monitor remain as before; otherwise the hotel room is entirely gone. Under one of the clumps of palm trees, RITA and ROSE in sarongs are sitting in rattan chairs with tall drinks. TEX as Bach, his period outfit now completed by a wig, is standing near them studying a script, practicing an occasional gesture. Far upstage a HARPSICHORDIST is tuning the harpsichord.)
RITA: You’re awfully moody.
ROSE: I know I am. I’m a very faulty person. But everybody has faults. You have to love me the way I am.
RITA: You don’t have to be that way.
ROSE: But I do! You don’t understand. I like myself.
RITA: Well. that’s the main… enchilada.
TEX: Shhh. (They sip in silence.)
MAX (Entering from backstage; to HARPSICHORDIST): Are you about ready?
ROSE: Ready when you are, C.B.
RITA: And you’re an awful show-off. You’re always looking for a situation you can milk.
TEX (To MAX): I’m not going to play it anyway.
ROSE: Stop putting me down. I don’t like it.
RITA: I’m not putting you down. Try to be more objective.
ROSE: Have I said a mean word? What have I done?
RITA: Save it for the camera. (They finish their drinks.)
ROSE: I have not been fucking your man.
RITA: Well it isn’t any favor to me. I mean, I don’t mind if you do, frankly.
TEX: Cut it out, you two.
RITA: You two have something really powerful going on. Whatever it is, it’s practically metaphysical, and I don’t want it to go to waste. In fact I want some of it for myself. You’re too personal about everything. If we’re going to do anything good we have to open ourselves to the whole world, and there’s a lot of bad stuff out there. (RENE enters.)
ROSE (To RENE): Kid, would you please bring me an aspirin or two? (RENE goes.)
MAX (Adjusting lights): Poor baby, are you suffering from a headache?
ROSE (Up, eyes blazing): Let’s go then. Get off your asses. It isn’t all just getting and spending. There’s something in between the falling leaf and the nuclear sub. What is that connection? Where’s the flash now? This ain’t me, this fabrication, this fabric ripped off from some native of someplace else. I am something more than my mother’s child.
TEX: Your father.
ROSE: More than that! More than an individual! More than a tree!
RITA: Oh, are we talking about you?
ROSE: No, man. Stop putting me down. It’s all in there. Give me a chance.
TEX: You have to do one thing after another, not everything all at once. That’s our form. (RENE returns with aspirins.)
ROSE: Thanks, kid. (Takes the pills.)
RITA: I don’t know how you can swallow those without water.
ROSE: I just can.
STAGE MANAGER: Five minutes.
TEX (To HARPSICHORDIST): Play the music if you have the thing tuned. Please. (HARPSICHORDIST plays—the same music as before. ROSE dances to the music as before. TEX comes to RITA.) What do you have in mind?
RITA: It doesn’t take a good day to end a good year.
TEX: Well I know that.
RITA: I just don’t think there have to be any limits. We limit ourselves but we don’t have to. You think you have to lock yourself into some structure in order to make anything happen and pretty soon all you can see is the structure.
ROSE: And nothing is happening.
TEX: No I don’t.
RITA: Well what is it then? What are you afraid of?!… Oh darling, forgive me. I shouldn’t have said that.
TEX: You’re right.
RITA: We can do anything you want to do. I’ll follow you anywhere. I love you so much. Anything that makes you happy will make me happy.
TEX: I’m making you unhappy. I’m sorry I’m such a drip.
RITA: You’re not a drip, you’re just going through a difficult period. I have complete confidence in you.
TEX: I’m so nervous I can’t stand it.
MAX (Offering joint): Have a number. Relax.
RITA: Are you really nervous?
TEX: Yes, I’m completely hysterical.
RITA (Taking his hands): Come outside. Come along, love. Just for a moment. I want you to look at the moon.
(They go off. MAX has finished with the lights and goes to the camera, turns it on, and starts adjusting his equipment, focusing on ROSE.)
ROSE (Dancing): I’ve bought a house of my own. Nine thousand dollars. It isn’t much but it’s mine. I’m just gong to live there. I don’t care what happens. I’ll be lonely but I don’t mind. I have enough things to work on to keep me going for years—things I’ve started and abandoned, other things I never even had time to start. I don’t have to do anything, anyway, if I don’t want to. Even if nothing new happens I have my whole past ahead of me. I never knew what was happening at the time—I need to go over all that and get my head straight. Dreams are another whole world. I just need time. That’s why I bought the house.
MAX: Would you say that into the microphone?
ROSE: Where is the microphone? (RENE extends the microphone over her head and follows her movement.) That’s why I bought the house. I want to tear out the walls. I need larger rooms. I do not want a lover, young or old, male or female. I want to be alone. I want to live like a hermit in the midst of other people’s lives.
FBI BOSS (Entering with drawn gun): Stick ’em up. I mean, reach. (HARPSICHORDIST stops playing. ROSE stops.)
ROSE: You must be kidding.
FBI BOSS: I’m not kidding.
ROSE: That’s good, because it’s not funny.
FBI BOSS: Do it!
ROSE: Who are you supposed to be?
FBI BOSS: FBI. (Shows badge.)
ROSE: Big deal. What can I tell you? I’ve been racking my brain for months and I can’t think of anything. You guys are the criminals. I don’t want to do crime. I don’t want to deal dope or smuggle guns or dream up fiendish machinery. I’m not interested in power. There ought to be some way to bring the whole rotten system down but I can’t think of a single thing. Look what happened to Patty and Steve. Man! I guess there’s always got to be creeps like you climbing all over people. That’s the strange pathetic history of Planet Earth. (CERISE and JUANITA in sarongs have silently emerged from the jungle behind the FBI BOSS. Now they overpower and disarm him and hold him as ROSE advances.) I love you, brother. I’m a big woman with a big broken heart. I guess you’re doing the best you know how but you’re not doing any good. You know that? Do you? I bet you do. You can’t be serious. Come on, you can tell us. (They have started tickling and undressing the doll which is the FBI BOSS. He objects helplessly and struggles feebly. As they drag him to the floor, his MANIPULATOR remains standing. The scene dissolves in giggles.)
FBI BOSS: Oh no. No. No no. Please. Not that. Oh I can’t stand it. Stop. Oh.
ROSE: I’m your friend. ’Fess up.
JUANITA: Mmmm, he’s kinda cute.
ROSE: Now just relax.
CERISE: This is fun.
(RICKY and CHICK in sarongs enter hand in hand pressing their bodies close together, very friendly.)
CHICK: There must be someplace we can go.
RICKY: I don’t know why you’re so shy all of a sudden.
CHICK: I just feel like some privacy. Forget your principles.
RICKY: The fire escape. It’s the middle of the night. No one will see us.
(FBI BOSS, now naked, breaks away, leaving the women sprawling, and confronts CHICK.)
FBI BOSS: It’s you!
CHICK: It’s you! Oh no! (But RICKY holds onto him.)
FBI BOSS: Disgraceful! Look at you! What are you doing? Don’t you know what these people are?
RICKY: It’s all right. It’s not bad.
FBI BOSS: Not bad?!
CHICK: We love each other. We’re not hurting you. We’re not hurting anybody.
FBI BOSS: It’s against the law.
RICKY: Seems like laws are just made to be broken, sometimes. Come on, sweetheart. (They go off.)
FBI BOSS: I have a wife and two little children of my own. I know what it’s like to be human. Unendurable.
RENE: Bach had three wives and billions of children and he didn’t let them bother him. (HARPSICHORDIST resumes playing where the music left off.)
ROSE: Let it go. Just let it go. You can’t save the world from its folly. You can’t even save yourself.
JUANITA: What are you saying?!
ROSE: You can’t go back. The old you is gone forever.
FBI: You people…
ROSE (Furious): What? You people what?
MAX: Whoa, hold on. Cut. (Music stops.) Um…go back to…um… ’It’s all right, it’s not bad.’ (RICKY and CHICK come back on and take former positions.) We lost the audio when Rene said her line.
FBI BOSS: Look at you! What are you doing? Don’t you know what these people are?
RICKY: It’s all right, it’s not bad.
FBI BOSS: Not bad?!
CHICK: We love each other.
FBI BOSS: You don’t have to love each other. I’m not talking about that. There’s nothing wrong with going to bed with somebody of your own sex. Everybody’s bisexual to a certain degree. It’s not a bad thing to be. I mean, who cares!! I draw the line at goats.∗
RICKY: Come on, sweetheart. (But CHICK holds back.)
FBI BOSS: But then I don’t have a goat. I have a wife and two little children of my own. (This is illustrated with still snapshots on the video monitor.) I know what it’s like to be human.
RENE: Bach had three wives and billions of children and he didn’t let them bother him.
(TEX as Bach enters, goes to harpsichord, sits down, and pretends to play. Recorded music, the same music we have been hearing. South Sea sounds. The four women in sarongs dance in unison.)
FBI BOSS (To CHICK): But you’re working. Bach must have worked all the time. He didn’t have time to be bisexual. Whatever that means. It isn’t a question of being, anyway, there’s only doing. You were sent to these people for information. They know something. I’m not going to say anything about my wife and our children. I haven’t seen them in two weeks. I can’t even remember what they’re like. Everything is too complicated. (Stage managers have come in and begin to dismantle the set. The lighting dissolves with it till eventually the stage is bare and plain.) Here we are at Estes Park. That was in 1966.
FOUR WOMEN (Dancing): Goodbye 1966. (CERISE dances off.)
FBI BOSS: I know it’s not true about Bach. In those days there was time for everything. My wife has a pretty poor existence, frankly. Her parents live in California. Bach always came home for lunch. His family had been in Thuringia for centuries. (Picks up a script and reads the rest of his lines, wandering around.) For many years he went to the kirche in the mornings. After lunch he’d have a nap and then give the children music lessons. Not all of them were apt or interested pupils. He was exceedingly strict. It’s difficult to generalize about his life. During most of it he was a kind of celebrity, and many people came to see him, and he was obliged to travel very often. My wife has a full and passionate life but nowadays— (Breaks off, stops moving.)
CERISE (Coming in in her original clothes plus a winter coat; goes to HENRY): Daddy, wake up. It’s time to go home.
HENRY (Waking, sitting up): Where am I?
CERISE: How do you feel?
HENRY: Better. I think I feel better.
CHICK (Taking FBI BOSS by the arm): Come along, sir, I’ll find you a taxi. (Gathers up the FBI clothes.)
FBI BOSS: I don’t understand.
HENRY: How long have I been asleep?
CERISE: Here, put on your coat. (Then she goes to RICKY and sweetly kisses him goodbye.)
CHICK: There isn’t going to be an explanation. You have to stop looking for explanations. (Takes FBI BOSS out.)
RITA (Taking ROSE by the arm and breaking off the movement): What time’s your plane?
ROSE: Nine o’clock. I won’t even have breakfast. (CERISE is slowly taking HENRY out. JUANITA continues dancing more and more wildly.)
RITA: Will we see you at Thanksgiving?
ROSE: I doubt it, man. I’m going to get real crazy now. I’m completely empty, I don’t know anything. I probably sound stupid. I feel stupid. I know I’m supposed to be doing something…uh…constructive.
RITA: Well…keep in touch. (ROSE embraces her.)
ROSE: Take good care of him.
RITA: I will. I will. Come on, Juanita. Time to get our nighties on. (RITA, JUANITA, HENRY, and CERISE go out. TEX stops ‘playing’ and the music stops. Pause.)
RICKY: I guess I blew it.
ROSE: No, man, you can have it if you really want it.
RICKY: I don’t know. There’s a book in heaven with the story already written out.
TEX: I’m about to cry.
ROSE: I know, man.
RICKY: Me too.
TEX: I did what I could.
ROSE: Yeah, we all did.
RICKY: Is that enough to say?
TEX: Don’t ask me. Ask the stars of shadow. Ask the audience. (To LIGHT MAN) Paul, put some light on the audience. Go on, do it. (Lights on audience. To MAX) Shoot them. (Images of audience appear on monitor. To ROSE) Promise me you’ll keep practicing. I command you to keep practicing.
ROSE: Your songs suck, man.
TEX: Some of ’em are O.K.
ROSE (To RICKY): Have you decided where you’re going next?
RICKY: I think I’ll stay here in town. I like it here.
ROSE: You like that girl.
RICKY: I do, yes, I actually do.
ROSE: Come on, I’ll buy you a drink.
(ROSE and RICKY leave. By now the stage is bare, and dark except for upstage where TEX is still sitting at the harpsichord.)
TEX (To MAX): That’s right, shoot the audience. (To audience) You don’t mind, do you?
RITA (Entering in 18th-century night dress, rubbing her eyes): I must have fallen asleep. It’s long past midnight. Sebastian, come to bed.
TEX: I was working. I was thinking about what I have to do tomorrow.
RITA: No, darling, that’s enough. I love you so much. It was so beautiful. I loved going to sleep with your music all around me.
TEX (As they go off): Did you like it?
(Lights are out.)
Copyright © 1976. All rights reserved.
from the Denver Post, Nov. 1, 1976
Comedy Gets Better in ‘Cowgirl Ecstasy’
by Barbara Mackay
One of the hardest things to find among new American plays is a second act that fulfills the promises of the first. Many of our “experimental” playwrights seem to spend all their ideas in the first moments of their plays, and then cover old ground the rest of the time.
Michael Smith’s “Cowgirl Ecstasy,” currently playing at The Changing Scene, is a welcome change from that unfortunate pattern. In fact, the second half of his fantasy/drama about a disillusioned western-rock group is more satisfying than the first.
The first act of “Cowgirl Ecstasy” takes place in a motel room, where the lead singer, Tex Arcana (nicely played by Stephen Weld), is loudly proclaiming his disgust with his life-style, which consists of loneliness and no privacy.
We know he isn’t kidding about the privacy part, because he is being videotaped every moment—even in his room after the show. Two technicians, a cameraman (E. Michael Miller) and a soundman (Antonio Mancini), are almost always at work, and the picture of what is going on onstage is simultaneously shown on a monitor hung over the stage.
As for the loneliness, that seems to be Tex’s biggest problem—though it isn’t for lack of people that he is lonely.
He is surrounded by members of his group (Phil Cage and Melanie Kern are marvelous as Ricky and Rose), groupies, the father of a groupie, a loving wife, those technicians, and a hilarious, dizzy Spanish dancer (Chicki Rivers).
It’s a little harder to understand Tex’s relationship to his wife (touchingly played by Ingrid Hagelberg), a beautiful woman who adores Tex, not to mention understanding him and giving him backrubs. At the end of the first act, she massages his ego along with his back, telling him how wonderful he is, how much she loves him. Nothing pleases Tex but his dream of a better life: being Bach and living on an island.
The second act finds Tex and his crew inside Tex’s dream. The tape recorder which provided music in the motel has been replaced by a harpsichord (masterfully played by a tuxedoed Al Brooks), the potted plant by a variety of palms, the cowboy gear by sarongs.
The biggest change is in Tex, who had donned a red silk frock coat near the end of the first act. Now, with his hair pulled back into a pony tail, he is “Sebastian” and he plays Bach on the harpsichord.
Though the scene looks idyllic enough, the isle is not entirely a pacific one. Tex’s wife and Rose are about Tex’s fidelity. Rick and his homosexual lover, Chick, still have to fight to defend their right to love each other. And the whole scene is threatened by an FBI Boss looking for a scandal or an arrest.
In fact, the realism of the first half of “Cowgirl Ecstasy” is the least intriguing part of the play, as it leaves Arcana tottering on the brink of melodrama with his emotional malaise. “By comparison with [Bach], the music we play is really crude,” he says. And, “The whole civilization has been going downhill since the end of the 17th century.”
Since Smith is particularly good at writing suggestive, oblique dialogue, in which characters communicate the sense of an idea without blatantly stating it, these two sentences come as something of a shock, as being too straight, too forthright for Tex’s rather arcane nature. He isn’t named Arcana for nothing.
There is a marvelous ballet, performed by Melanie Kern, in which she talks about her new house, her new projects, her new life. “I have my whole past ahead of me,” she intones, while leaping across the stage.
But the second half of “Cowgirl Ecstasy” cuts loose from that necessary if drab realism, and provides the most whimsical, amusing moments of the play, as well as the most moving.
The second act also is rich in visual and verbal imagery: the FBI Boss is a pink satin dummy; the harpsichordist’s tuxedo is juxtaposed to the rest of the cast’s seminude informality; and the whole thing is prefaced by a monologue by a man dying of cancer (Mike Kimmel) whose dumb satisfaction with his lonely, empty life is left in stark contrast to Arcana-Sebastian’s informed restlessness and dissatisfaction.
No explanation is given for these contrasts, but then it isn’t always the business of experimental drama to explain. It is its business to explore the nature of sensations and images and ideas in the theatre. This Smith does most effectively in “Cowgirl Ecstasy.”
from the Rocky Mountain News, Oct. 30, 1976
Michael Smith’s ‘Cowgirl Ecstasy’ Rings True
by Jackie Campbell
There is a Rolling Stone magazine on the motel-room coffee table in the opening scene of “Cowgirl Ecstasy,” playing at the Changing Scene Theater. If it’s the current issue, it’s the one with a story about rock musician Greg Allman.
Michael Smith’s play must have been nearly completed by the time Allman went before a grand jury investigating narcotics last May and gave testimony that sent his personal manager to jail for 75 years. The event marked a spot of blight on the late, verdant greening of America.
Rolling Stone began to toll the knell like Wall Street Journal after the Crash—in its pages Elton John said he was bisexual, Bob Dylan let photographers see the rustic San Simeon he was building in California.
The motel room in “Cowgirl Ecstasy” belongs to a blond, long-haired musician named Tex Arcana. Arcana has that beatific gauntness that Allman has, as though he has fasted in the wilderness or seen the void through the bottom of a peyote button.
Tex and his rock and roll band are in sensory collapse. They are offered joints, groupies, and coke in the motel room but they are too nervous, too narc-paranoid, or just too exhausted.
“Cowgirl Ecstasy” is about the awful possibility that sex, sisterhood, and rock and roll may have been signposts turned the wrong way, pointing to paradise but leading everyone into the wasteland again.
Tex, played by Stephen Weld, is in his room after a performance. He is nearly catatonic with exhaustion and ennui and he is being trailed by a Maysles Brothers-style film team with hand-held camera and boom mike.
The cameraman, Max (E. Michael Miller), never takes the view finder from his eye, even as he bickers with Arcana. Everything he films comes over a small black and white television set suspended over the stage. There it flickers, looking as though it was taped at some other time and place. But of course it is all going on in front of you in flesh and living color.
The film camera grinds away through banal conversations and pans across the carpet to pick up anyone who walks into the room. The members of the band say the filming is for a documentary, but there is also reason to believe that the filmmakers are some kind of spies.
They pick up dialogue as unexpurgated as a R. Crumb comic strip. Rose (Melanie Kern), the band’s Mama Cass-size bass player, comes in with a jittery coke dealer who may be a narcotics agent. Arcana’s gentle wife Rita (Ingrid Hagelberg) shows up to offer Tex love and remind him of Bach and moonlight.
But the band is breaking up. Rita and Rose are the ones who seem to realize it, when they meet in nightclothes at the end of the first act to do a sad dance and chorus a farewell to 1966. Nineteen sixty-six—the year of Timothy Leary, Nervous Nellies, and “Revolver.”
A moment of revelation comes in the play when the motel-room landscape painting slides down to disclose a faceless dummy FBI man concealed there, spying on the already spied-upon room. The FBI man vigilantly watches for revolutions and drug abuse in this room full of burned-out groupies, fans, and sexual casualties.
In the last act the stuffed cloth FBI man becomes a diverting stage presence—in fact, he simply takes over from the live actors. The women attack him and strip him of his gray suit and from then on he carries on his dialogue in all his pink satin nakedness. He is held upright by an actor (Eudaldo I. Pena) clothed in black suit and hood, like a Japanese No puppeteer.
The dummy has been sewn together life size with projecting pink satin ears, nipples, and genitals. As long as he is on stage he is the star, and the television camera pans lingeringly over his naked details.
There is a long and poignant soliloquy halfway through “Cowgirl Ecstasy” by Henry Boggs (Mike Kimmel), who has brought his daughter, Cerise (Valarie Mares), up to the hotel room so that she can offer herself to Ricky, the third band member.
Henry tells a touching tale of his life. He is the only bridge in the play (he and Bach and a harpsichord score) to what came before 1966. A father, a worker in a plastics factory who is dying of cancer caused by the very job he clung to, he now goes wherever his daughter Cerise choose to wander, even into the room of a rock idol.
Writers who turn and look back at the 1960s better have a diamond dust mirror to reflect the last decade in all its true colors. It’s too close behind us to be restaged with nostalgia. And it has a meager literature of its own, so far.
The rock and roll musicians were families for the decade’s dispossessed children. As a group they may be entering the winter of their discontent.
It takes a deft hand to set them on stage and write their dialogue in ‘rockspeak’ for them.
In “Cowgirl Ecstasy” Michael Smith has set a slice of the story on stage, even before the real-life third act is over. Whether the plays of the era will become period pieces like “Waiting for Lefty” or “Grapes of Wrath” classics, it’s too soon to say. But Smith’s version rings true.