Al Brooks invited me to do another play at The Changing Scene. I holed up in my woodshed in Jean-Claude van Itallie’s woods in Charlemont, Massachusetts, wrote this short, surreal play about an American family whose son comes back from Vietnam in a coffin, drove to Denver, camping out along the way, and put it on. Jean-Claude gave me a new one-act he had written, “Eat Cake,” to do with it on a double bill.
“Peas” was first presented in August 1971 at The Changing Scene, Denver. It was directed by the author with the following cast:
|DAUGHTER (also GRANNY, LOUISE, MOTHER)||Patricia Madsen|
|MOTHER (also BABY, LOUISE)||Melanie Kern|
|FATHER (also LOVER, BOSS, JIMMY, JIM)||Dennis Stull|
Kitchen table, two chairs. MOTHER and DAUGHTER seated shelling peas. MUSICIANS, at the side, make music throughout the play.
DAUGHTER (after a time): This is really slow.
MOTHER (after a time): You have to get into it.
DAUGHTER (after a time): What about these tiny stem things? Do we eat them or not?
MOTHER: Have you tasted them separately?
DAUGHTER (tasting): I don’t know. The peas are really good. (Suddenly) Shh! (Pause) Did you hear something?
MOTHER (after a time, still shelling): What?
DAUGHTER (listening, shelling): A little animal, a little animal with claws like long narrow fingernails and even little pointed teeth. (Pause) In the beams.
MOTHER: They’re full of Vitamin something. We should eat them. (Pause. Eats a pea.) What are you going to do with them?
DAUGHTER: I thought steam them lightly, then butter.
MOTHER: They’re good just as they are. Why improve on God? (Pause, shelling, eating)
DAUGHTER (shelling, eating): Why not?
(Enter FATHER wearing many layers of clothing. He moves clumsily, crashing into things. He turns down the music so low that it can hardly be heard, as if the MUSICIANS were a phonograph. He speaks in an unnaturally deep, heavy, loud voice.)
FATHER: It’s easier anyway.
MOTHER (brightly): Your son’s coming home for dinner.
FATHER: Shit on your peas.
MOTHER (brightly): Your son Petey’s coming home for dinner.
FATHER: Butter butter butter butter.
MOTHER: I said to myself, self, I said, Louise, gee, I said, who? I said, that’ll be swell, what it was, I said I saw, he said he was who I thought I saw, that was when he was less little, and then Louise came in. I told her what I’d heard. I don’t believe it, she said. The last time I saw him he said I know you. I’ve never been so insulted in my life. Peas? You expect peas? I guess I told her! She couldn’t take it, she got off at the wrong stop. You don’t even live here, I told her, get out, I said, get out, get out, get out. He said he’d been wounded in the war. Why, there’s nothing wrong with you, I said, look at your brother, look at that bandage, I mean, look at his eyes. That shut her up. Louise, she said, you’re hard, you’re cold. You’re a clam. No, I said, I’m a shark. (Clicks her teeth, glares about.) There, there, I said to myself, what’s this? An old fossil? A stone? (Pause. Laughs raucously and long.)
(During this speech FATHER has stood stock still. MOTHER has continued shelling peas. DAUGHTER has very slowly, in extreme slow motion, slumped down in her chair and down to the floor. When MOTHER stars laughing she sits up; FATHER begins clumping heavily about the room; DAUGHTER leans across and slaps MOTHER, who instantly subsides into lonely quiet weeping like a forlorn child. During the following speeches, which are scrambled together but intelligible, DAUGHTER looks into the bowl of peas as if searching for her reflection in a deep well, occasionally eating a pea; FATHER slowly removes his clothing, layer by layer, dropping it on the floor as he stumbles about; MOTHER weeps, separately, occasionally flashing her teeth. The music is subdued and vague.)
FATHER: I’ve stood it long enough. Don’t bug me with it, that’s all. That’s the whole story.
DAUGHTER: How’d you catch that cold?
FATHER: I’ve never been sick a day in my life.
DAUGHTER: I heard you was down in the field in that funny rain. You wasn’t alone, I bet.
FATHER: I can take care of myself, they all know that. Germs? I laugh at ’em. I thumb my nose at ’em.
DAUGHTER: Remember the time you took me down to the store? Remember when I was a little girl? I wanted to run the elevator.
FATHER: That was the boy, what’s his name.
DAUGHTER: Petey. He took me in there one afternoon and undid his bathrobe and his peepee was swollen up and pointing at me.
FATHER: That was a dandy elevator. Petey used to love that elevator.
DAUGHTER: I never know what people want me to say. I’d say anything.
FATHER: I knowed what was going on. I seen ’em in there with the stuff. The boxes were open and everything throwed about, them simpering and primping. I know your sort.
DAUGHTER: It lasted about twenty years. You’d had the awnings put up and the shades were down. Petey never said a word.
FATHER: I don’t want him comin’ around. I don’t want any more of that. I don’t want you talking to him. I don’t like them, O.K.? Neither one of ’m. Cock-sucker.
DAUGHTER (Suddenly): Shh! Shh! (Everything stops. Silent pause, listening.) Did you hear something?
MOTHER (after a time): What?
DAUGHTER (listening, eyes closed; after a time): An explosion, in the distance, heavy, like a volcano, like something moving. (Pause) In the ground.
(Everything resumes, except DAUGHTER keeps her eyes closed. As FATHER removes his clothes his voice becomes more natural; at the same time DAUGHTER’s voice gradually becomes higher and faster, like a phonograph speeding up; at the same time the MUSICIANS play draggier and draggier.)
FATHER: The hard part is doing it. When do you take off your clothes? How do you keep from falling asleep?
DAUGHTER: We held hands furtively for two years when he could get up the courage. I sent him love letters every two or three days. He kissed me a few times but it was stupid. It was supposed to be romantic but nothing was happening.
FATHER: I didn’t want to know. I wanted to let go.
DAUGHTER: Then he went away to school. How could we have been so up tight? Really. It’s insane.
FATHER (slapping away an imaginary hand): Not out of my pockets! What do you think I am, a charitable institution? Well, what could they say? I had the money.
DAUGHTER: We were acting parts in a boring play.
FATHER: I think I’ll take a vacation. (Leaves.)
DAUGHTER: There was nothing else. In school I wrote the letters. My father played with an electric train. My mother drank. My little sister was a nuisance and a pest. My boyfriend was an air sign.
(LOVER enters: same actor as FATHER. Goes directly to MOTHER, who is now playing BABY, and takes her in his arms. DAUGHTER becomes GRANNY and speaks in a quick, piping voice. She is blind. During what follows, BABY is mostly passive, occasionally strikes out at LOVER, keeps tending to get down on the floor and play in the clothes that are strewn about. Sweet old-timey music from far away.)
GRANNY (shelling peas): Howdy do, Jim, hot day, Suzy’s waiting for you on the porch swing, won’t you take a glass of lemonade, I do declare, the good Lord must be taking his steam bath. Hear? I hear it— (Listening) —I hear the drip, drip, drip, drip, drip, drip, drip, drip, drip, drip, drip, drip—
LOVER (Looking up from nibbling at BABY’s neck): That’s condensation, ma’am.
GRANNY: That’s what I said, the sweet Lord’s dear sweet sweat tricklin’ down my arm, dripping down from His own perfect immaculate steamroom, drip, drip, drip—
LOVER (to BABY): Alone at last! (Smothers her with kisses.)
GRANNY: Yore gran’daddy used to say you can tell the time of day by the turn of the leaf. My, he was a fine boy, slick as a whistle, my Pa said. His Pa never had such advantages, and never missed ‘em. My Pa kicked him in the britches when he clumb down the trellis past the porch. His Pa was sittin’ on the swing with my Ma. Her Pa’d passed away two weeks ago Sunday just as the church bells rung. Her Ma went right on over, she wouldn’t miss a sermon. That lovely Mr. Gillingham gave her a right pointed look when she come in, and afterwards she told him. I heard every word they said. Can’t get a thing past ‘em, he said, that’s what his Pa said he heard. His Ma said he heard her say, Thank the Lord for my sweet release. Then she went weak in the knees and started to go, and that precious Reverend Gillingham caught her in his armms; but she’s a big woman and she dragged him down. He fell down right across her there on the church stoop, that’s what she told him she heard from his Pa’s friend that’s in the congregation. How’re you folks doing out there on the porch?
LOVER (his mouth full of BABY’s flesh): Doing dandy, ma’am.
GRANNY (slaps herself in the head as if hitting a mosquito): Too late for that. The leaves had turned the color of canteloupe. It was late in the afternoon after a rainstorm on a hot summer day. The first of July, it was. Her face was the color of orioles. She came toward me down the road in an orange shirt, I couldn’t tell what she was, couldn’t see, a friend, a Viennese psychiatrist, a notorious woman, because of the light. The light was the color of mares. The woods were crowded with mist, dripping, drip, drip, drip, drip, dripping blood, dripping perfect blessed water from leaves the color of starfish. I was crazed with beauty. I’d heard her voice calling to me from below, Louise, Louise, that’s my daughter’s name, I call her Suzy. I ran skipping down the hill through dripping ferns the color of school buses. You mind me telling you this? (LOVER is moaning, BABY is whimpering and trying to get away.) He was crazy drunk but sweet the way he fell down around my feet and kept pulling on my skirt.
(Music gradual crescendo.)
LOVER (muttering): Come on, baby, lemme in, lemme have it, whadaya saving it for, who you been giving it to, you get me all worked up, I’m a wreck for you, baby, whadaya want?
GRANNY: Mister Moon was shining on us down through the grapes. I felt like a magic queen, him slobbering and begging down around my knees. Pull yourself together, I said, patting him on the head. He took my hand and pressed it to his cheek, pressed and pressed. There there, I said. I could hear the trucks out on the highway changing gears. (Calling) What’s going on out there?
(BABY gets away from LOVER, crawls away on all fours, pulls the scattered clothes into a nest, and curls up in it, thumb in her mouth; LOVER, after a moment of disgust, sits down across from GRANNY, who has gone right on shelling and talking.)
GRANNY: Near four o’clock the day turned round to beautiful. I’d had my soup in the yard under the clock tower. Your father—no, your grandfather—yes, Pappy came toward me across the green in a new straw hat. He looked so proud and happy I just about couldn’t stand it, I felt so proud and happy just looking at him. Afterwards he told me he felt like a fool, but I didn’t pay no mind. There was a big bush of flowers right beside me, hibiscus, I think, blue, and I was drunk with the sweetness of my life. (Pause. She opens her eyes and looks at LOVER. Pause.)
LOVER: Alone at last.
(Immediately loud heavy sexy music. SON enters. SON is played by two actors. One has long hair and wears beautiful clothes, the other has short hair and is dressed as a soldier; otherwise they are identical—although the actors need not look alike—they are one and the same character, and they move and speak in unison. No one pays any attention to his arrival: GRANNY and LOVER stare at each other, and BABY has fallen asleep. SON very calmly, very detached, unhurriedly looks them over, looks the place over, comes downstage and looks thoughtfully at the audience, then quietly leaves. The music stops. Pause.)
LOVER: Alone at last.
(Immediately loud heavy sexy music. SON enters. Music immediately stops.)
(BABY is again MOTHER; GRANNY is again DAUGHTER; LOVER is again FATHER.)
FATHER: We’re not ready yet.
SON: Oh. O.K. (Leaves.)
MOTHER (picking up clothes): What a burden these men are.
(Romantic theme music starts softly in the background.)
DAUGHTER: Come off it, you freak.
MOTHER: I wish I had her arms.
FATHER: I haven’t learned a thing. After all these years the same old nothing.
MOTHER: I gave away the tickets to the Philharmonic.
DAUGHTER: What’s happening?
FATHER: I’m still disgusted with myself. Ugh. What a fuck-off!
DAUGHTER: Let’s get into something specific.
MOTHER: The Philharmonic is specific.
FATHER: Fucking middle class. It isn’t enough. Evocations of nature. Pale green organic beans.
FATHER: Does it further the Revolution? Does it further the Revolution?
MOTHER: Who are you now?
DAUGHTER: I don’t want to spend more than a couple of hours in the city. I don’t want to see Jimmy. Mainly I want to pick up my music.
MOTHER: How are you doing with those peas?
FATHER (stamping his foot): Listen to me!
MOTHER: I am listening to you.
DAUGHTER: So am I.
MOTHER: If you want sympathy you’ll have to be more specific.
DAUGHTER: What time is it?
MOTHER: I’m not in any hurry, I was just asking. (Note: This line refers to the peas question above.)
DAUGHTER: Do you remember anything about your father?
MOTHER: Did your mother have lovers?
DAUGHTER: Where is he now?
FATHER: In California under a palm tree. I’m exactly like him.
DAUGHTER: He’s dead, isn’t he.
FATHER: He had his problems. Now I have them. Such as paying the rent. Such as sympathetic women. Such as attitudes. The usual.
MOTHER (to DAUGHTER): You remember, dear, he was that funny man in the straw hat that came over when we were having the picnic. I don’t remember where your daddy was. I told you at the time.
DAUGHTER: I remember a dirty man—dirty in the sense of salubrious, I mean salacious…
MOTHER: I told you at the time.
FATHER: He said you punched him in the crotch.
MOTHER: She was only seven. He must have been nearly fifty.
FATHER: So what?
DAUGHTER: Has anyone been down to the mailbox today?
MOTHER: When was the last time you had a letter from that boy?
FATHER: When are we going to meet him?
FATHER: Specifically he wore garters and suspenders and used a straight razor. My mother adored him, but he mainly went for little girls. After she died he opened an ice cream parlor across from the convent school out on the State Line.
DAUGHTER: What’s happening now?
MOTHER: Petey’s coming home.
FATHER: I ran into them one time on the street in New York. They were supposed to be in Europe. I was supposed to be in school. They had two other people with them. I had two other people with me. (Pause)
DAUGHTER: Keep it coming.
FATHER: That’s a charming dress.
MOTHER: Oh, you like it?
FATHER: I don’t mean you.
DAUGHTER: I hope he’s all right, I need to talk to him.
MOTHER: He’s not all right.
FATHER: He’s perfectly all right.
MOTHER: Can’t you talk to me?
DAUGHTER: Not now.
FATHER: I’ll go.
DAUGHTER: It doesn’t matter.
FATHER: Why are you so cruel?
MOTHER & DAUGHTER: She hates me.
FATHER: That was before the war.
MOTHER: Never mind about that.
FATHER: It was even before the other war.
MOTHER: You don’t have to think about it, Daddy. They’re taking care of him. They’re taking care of us all.
FATHER: I can take care of myself.
MOTHER: Of course you can.
FATHER: And you and the children too. (MOTHER and DAUGHTER exchange looks.) What’s that supposed to mean?
MOTHER (to DAUGHTER): Not now.
DAUGHTER: Why not?
MOTHER: Can’t you see he’s upset?
DAUGHTER: He’s always upset.
MOTHER: You promised not to hurt him.
DAUGHTER: I don’t make promises anymore.
FATHER: Why are you so bitter?
MOTHER: It’s because of that boy.
DAUGHTER: Leave me alone.
MOTHER: You should learn to masturbate.
DAUGHTER: Oh Mother!
MOTHER: No, really. Otherwise we’re slaves. (Finishes folding clothes.) Whew. Could I sit down? (Neither of them moves.) Fuck you both. (Leaves.)
(FATHER becomes LOVER.)
LOVER: Alone at last.
DAUGHTER: It’s not dick I want, it’s romance.
(LOVER becomes BOSS and strides around the room nervously.)
BOSS: Well, where is he? I can’t waste the whole night on this nonsense.
DAUGHTER: He was drafted.
BOSS: Nonsense! They’re not drafting white boys.
DAUGHTER: Oh, you mean Petey. He was drafted too. He’s coming home soon.
BOSS: Nonsense! What about the other one?
DAUGHTER: Jimmy. What about him?
BOSS: Does he want a job?
DAUGHTER: Stop it, Jimmy, I want to talk to you. (BOSS becomes JIMMY, comes and stands beside her, touches her tenderly.) Please, Jimmy, don’t do that. (He tries to kiss her, she pushes him away.) Jimmy, sit down, I have to explain something.
JIMMY: What’s the matter?
JIMMY: Why are you acting this way?
DAUGHTER: I’m not acting.
JIMMY: I can’t stand it, Louise, really, please!
DAUGHTER: You’d better sit down. (He sits.) You’d better calm down.
DAUGHTER: Calm down. This is the last time you’re going to see me, and I want to leave it sweet.
JIMMY: What? What’s the matter? What happened?
DAUGHTER: Nothing, it just seems to—
JIMMY: It’s your father, isn’t it? He can’t stand it that I’m black.
JIMMY: He can’t stand it that you love me.
DAUGHTER: No, it doesn’t have anything to do with him.
JIMMY: You’re lying.
DAUGHTER: He doesn’t know anything about you, he just knows I’m hung up on somebody named Jimmy.
JIMMY: That’s pretty weird.
DAUGHTER: It’s my life!
JIMMY: Well, what is it, then?
DAUGHTER: It’s getting too heavy and I’m getting too unhappy. I can’t stand it when I’m not with you, I’m always thinking about you, wishing you were here or I was there, the whole thing’s flat and stupid, I feel dull and dead; then you start slipping from my mind, I start to slip into some other groove, somebody groovy comes along and I hate myself for not loving you enough. No thanks, love. I can’t stand it when I’m with you, either, you’re always thinking about something else, always about to leave, tight into some other rhythm, hanging on like a cold, always making some point of being yourself and I feel like nobody. You come through about once every six months. It’s so beautiful my heart breaks but I can’t hang a whole life on that.
JIMMY: What do you want?
DAUGHTER: Somebody else.
JIMMY: What do you want from me?
DAUGHTER: Somebody else. I mean I want to be somebody else, I’m sick of myself, you let me drown in it, you see me lost and you’re too far into your own thing to give me a hand. Never mind. Goodbye.
(They get up and go to the door. As she is about to go out, he takes her in his arms and kisses her. DAUGHTER becomes LOUISE, who kisses him tenderly and leans up against him.)
BOTH: Wow I’m really glad to see you. (They laugh.)
JIMMY: I thought I saw you on the street yesterday.
JIMMY: In front of Woolworth’s.
JIMMY: About four. But it wasn’t you.
LOUISE: I know, I just came to town. Who was it?
JIMMY: It was a boy named Dale. He really turned me on. I followed him for two blocks thinking he was you, and then I went on following him right out to the old quarry on four-twelve. The day turned round to beautiful then and we took off our clothes and went swimming. (He slowly removes clothes piece by piece, dropping them on the floor.) Have you ever been there?
LOUISE: I went to the lake. I thought I saw you out on the raft doing yoga. (They smile.)
JIMMY: I don’t do yoga.
LOUISE: You might start.
JIMMY: Do you think I should?
LOUISE: It makes you feel good. I got high watching you. The sun came out about four, first on the monument, then on you, then on me. I waited till I was so hot I couldn’t stand it and then swam out to you. But it wasn’t you.
JIMMY: Who was it?
LOUISE: What are we going to do?
JIMMY: Last night I dreamed we went bicycling together in France. (He’s down to just his pants.)
LOUISE: Let’s go upstairs.
(They leave. SON enters, looks around as before, comes downstage. Each of him turns and looks at the other.)
SON: Alone at last.
MOTHER (offstage): Petey. (He reunifies.) Petey.
SON: I’m in the kitchen, Mom.
MOTHER: Petey, come help me.
SON: What is it, what do you want? (Leaves. Offstage) What’s that?
MOTHER (off): I don’t know, it came in the mail. The postman just left it in front of the door.
SON (off): What is it?
MOTHER (off): I have no idea.
SON (off): Wow, it’s really heavy!
MOTHER (off): What do you think it is?
SON (off): A big piece of lead.
(He comes staggering in carrying a wooden crate. It’s so heavy the two of him can hardly support it. It’s about four feet long, two feet wide, and 18 inches high. MOTHER rushes past him to clear a space and he puts it on the table, which starts to collapse. This should look like a mistake.)
MOTHER: Watch out! (Catches bowl of peas, etc.; supports table.)
SON (to each other): Hold it! (Lifts crate, holds it with difficulty. They all look at each other in confusion. To MOTHER) Get something! (Gestures offstage with his heads.) Quick! (MOTHER rushes out.)
MOTHER (off, in a loud whisper): The table broke.
(Offstage shuffling and rummaging. MOTHER enters with a wooden trestle, leaves, brings on another, puts them in place; SON clumsily kicks them into better position, lowers crate onto them, upstage center, upstage of table. Relief. They pull themselves together. During the following lines SON examines the damaged table.)
MOTHER: Uh. Um. I don’t know, it came in the mail. The postman just left it in front of the door.
SON: What is it?
MOTHER: I have no idea.
SON: It’s really heavy!
MOTHER: What do you think it is?
SON: A big piece of lead. (Leaves.)
(MOTHER becomes LOUISE. This is not the same LOUISE but another. She talks offstage to SON but includes the audience.)
LOUISE: This is not a thought but a feeling. I am sometimes frightened by the pattern of my life, it feels like flight, fleeing and the flight of birds and the flight of leaves. I try to make it into art or artifact, I’ve been warned, but in everything I do I fail, I don’t spend long enough. Not that it lacks character or insight or color or charm or deeper virtues too, but it’s too distant from love; solitary, it lacks substance. My only escape is music, through which I sometimes step forthrightly into the sublime, in which the adventure is the helter-skelter passing of the present time. No, all I lack is the style of substance; substance is always an illusion. The idea forms and flows back into the fluid void. Adrift in the river of time, the great unchanging ideas are thought forms: words. My hands are full of peas. My heart is full of joy. Only my arms are empty. (SON enters with a hammer and large screwdriver and begins repairing the table.) Don’t you ever stop doing thing?
SON (Hears something): What was that?
LOUISE: I didn’t hear anything.
SON: It sounded like the snuffling of pigs.
LOUISE: I didn’t hear it. I wish you’d sit down and talk to me.
SON: I talk better while I’m working. Maybe we turn each other on, maybe not, it’s all right. (Hears something.) What was that?
SON: A cough. I thought we were alone. Not much chance of that.
LOUISE: Do you like to be alone?
SON: I like to be alone but I don’t like to live alone.
LOUISE: I know what you mean. Have you ever lived alone?
SON: No. Maybe I’d like it. I could have people over. It’s hard to be mindful of my dreams unless I sleep alone. I want a very large bed. I want a bed without edges.
LOUISE: I dreamed I went to visit you in the hospital. It was a dreamy place, but you wanted to get out. You wanted to get out of your pajamas. I asked the nurse what was wrong with you and she said you had a dangerously fat liver. I thought that was ridiculous. We’d just been talking about how thin you are.
SON: I want other people to be there without making a point of it.
LOUISE: Like in the hospital, or at work. That sounds like it means something. This would be a good day to go up the mountain.
SON: Did you ever live alone?
LOUISE: No. I got married to Jimmy right after I got out of college. His mother had a huge house, and we lived there for the first six months. After that we mostly lived in hotels. We were driving around North Africa and the Middle East and Europe. After we broke up I went back and stayed with my family for a while. I was doing social work. Then I moved to New York. My sister was with me, and when she went home, a girl I’d known in college came, Roz. I was getting to know your father by then, and by the time Roz got married he was staying there practically every night anyway so he just moved in. I’ve lived with him ever since. I love it when he goes away on trips but I hate it if he stays away more than about a week. The same with my trips.
SON (Finishes fixing the table): It’ll be weird when he dies.
LOUISE: It certainly will. What did you say your name was?
SON: Peter. It means rock. (Sits at table.) You know. Rock. (Rock music.) It’s just a name.
LOUISE: I like it.
SON: It’s just a name. It’s what I write on checks. My whole family calles me Petey. Straight people almost always call me Pete. Older people do it to be friendly. I appreciate that. I call myself I. I think of myself in a series of declarative sentences.
LOUISE: What does that mean?
SON: Never mind, I don’t even think it’s true.
LOUISE: Then why did you say it?
SON: You wanted me to talk.
LOUISE: I wanted to get to know you.
SON: What for?
(Leaving him sitting at the table holding his tools, she joins the MUSICIANS and plays with them. While they play they sing. They should be sitting down.)
Put some more wood on the fire
Let the sun shine in your heart
I’m going home before morning
I’m coming home before night
I’ve been traveling into my head
Many many trips all alone
How many times How many more times
Will I see you before I’m alive
Living this life of the moment
Leaving the rules way behind
Sure leaves me lonely for someone
Leaves me stone lonely for you
You’ve gone traveling into your head
Many many trips all alone
How many lovers How many more times
Will you give me before I’m alive
Throw some more wood on the fire
Let the sun shine into your heart
I’m coming home before morning
I’m getting home by night
(Instrumental of this song continues as background; sometimes LOUISE plays it solo; sometimes the musicians all hum. FATHER enters, zipping up his pants. SON rises.)
FATHER: Aren’t you going to open it?
SON: I wasn’t, no.
FATHER: Aren’t you curious?
SON: Is it for me?
FATHER (picking up a shirt from the floor & putting it on): Open it.
SON: All right.
(SON goes to crate & starts to open it. It is nailed shut, & and he has to work to get it open with the hammer & screwdriver. During the following dialogue FATHER goes over & tries to help him, getting in the way, trying to take over, conflict building in intensity until they are actually fighting with each other over the tools.)
SON: Remember when you used to take us down to the store?
FATHER: You loved to run the elevator.
SON: That was Louise, she really got off on it, but you always made me do it.
FATHER: Here, let me help you.
SON: I liked the little machine that printed price tags.
FATHER: I thought you liked the dresses.
SON: No, I don’t care about dresses.
FATHER: Do you like jewelry?
SON: Yes, I like to wear a bracelet. Did you ever get into makeup?
FATHER: Let me have that.
SON: I never think about that much anymore, it’s one of a million memories.
FATHER: I hate memories.
SON: I thought you liked dresses.
FATHER: I hated them. They were just something to sell. I hated them, but I had to sell something. They’re a horrible thing to sell, you’re at the mercy of all those fucking snob faggots in New York & fucking Paris.
SON: I’m just doing my thing.
FATHER: Gimme that. Fucking Rome.
SON: Wait a minute, I’ve almost got it.
FATHER: What are they, a bunch of models, fill the whole world up with models, all modeling for each other.
SON: I hated the way I had to act, like the prince.
FATHER: I knew you wouldn’t do it.
SON: You hated it. I liked it but I don’t think I’d like it now.
FATHER: I hate it.
SON: I hate it now too.
FATHER: I really hate it.
(They are about to hurt each other. Enter GRANNY pushing a tea cart with a pitcher of iced tea and glasses. She goes to the musicians and serves them; they stop playing & relax & drink. FATHER & SON come over & pour themselves some. While this is happening LOUISE & one or more musician[s] have the following conversation, sotto voce.)
LOUISE: Did you sign the contract?
MUSICIAN: No, it’s turning into another rip-off.
LOUISE: What happened?
MUSICIAN: We went down there & they started telling us we’d get the check next week, it had to come from the main office in L.A., & we said O.K., we’ll sign the contract next week, & they said don’t you trust us. It was very ugly. Very unmusical.
LOUISE: Do you trust them?
MUSICIAN: No, they don’t even trust themselves, they don’t trust their ears, they’re hippie businessmen, I know that riff.
LOUISE: The music is beautiful.
MUSICIAN: Sure. I mean thanks.
LOUISE: Don’t worry. Be happy.
(Everybody sits down & sighs & drinks. The actors do not drop out of character in this section but remain FATHER, SON, GRANNY, LOUISE, & MUSICIANS. As soon as everybody has had a drink, GRANNY collects the glasses and goes out with the tea trolley. FATHER becomes JIM.)
JIM: What did your father say about the car?
SON: I have’t seen him.
JIM: You need a car of your own.
SON: Cars are evil. I used to love them but I got over it. It’s really creepy the way I used to love them.
JIM: That’s the way it is.
SON: I thought being an automobile mechanic would really make me happy.
JIM: You have to do something. You can’t sit around the house all the time.
SON: I would walk if everybody else would too. That’s the speed I like, but it’s disgusting what you have to breathe. I’m afraid of getting run over, but I’m going to start using my bicycle anyway.
JIM: It’s no good in winter.
SON: In winter I’ll stay home.
JIM: I’ll drive over & see you.
SON: Then I might as well drive over and see you.
JIM: When do you have to go?
SON (sits at table): I’m not going. I’m going to Canada.
JIM: I don’t believe you.
SON: You’ll see. Did you ever do meditation?
JIM: No. Did you?
SON: I did it this morning. I got up at sunrise. At six.
JIM: Didn’t you fall asleep?
SON: What are you going to do?
JIM: I think I’m getting C.O.
SON: Did you have your interview?
JIM: I don’t have to have an interview. I’m registered in Washington.
SON: Oh. What does your father say?
JIM: What’s it like out?
SON: Cool & beautiful.
JIM: I have to go now. (Leaves.)
(Beautiful music. The lights dim. The lid of the crate slowly opens & a cloud of smoke comes out. The fragrance of incense fills the theatre. SON reaches across the table & holds hands but without looking at himselves. The lid of the crate closes. The lights come up. GRANNY becomes MOTHER and comes in & starts picking up & folding clothes. This is the same MOTHER but played by the other actress.)
MOTHER (loudly): I don’t like all this noise.
FATHER (off): What did you say, dear?
MOTHER (more loudly): What a burden these men are!
FATHER (off, faintly): What time did you say he’s coming?
MOTHER (screams): Fuck you both!
(FATHER enters zipping up his fly. Pause.)
FATHER: Alone at last.
(The original MOTHER enters, goes directly to the new MOTHER & slaps her; she becomes DAUGHTER & drops the clothes. During the following, without moving from where she was standing, she very slowly, in slow motion, collapses to the floor.)
MOTHER (picking up & folding clothes): Your mother called.
FATHER: Where is she? (Gets the tools and starts opening the crate.)
MOTHER: I couldn’t hear. There’s something wrong with the phone.
FATHER: What did she want?
MOTHER: I don’t know. She said something about a dream she’d had. It woke her up, she said. I woke up when the phone rang and there didn’t seem to be anyone in the house.
FATHER: I was down at the store. I woke up at four, before the sun rose, and drove down there through the rose of sunrise.
MOTHER: Was anything wrong?
FATHER: Something was wrong.
MOTHER: I don’t know what was wrong with your mother, there was a noise, I couldn’t hear. She told me something to tell you about a dream, she’d heard noises in the night.
FATHER: The alarm was ringing when I got there. I shut it off with my key.
MOTHER: I thought you were here.
FATHER: No. (Pause) What time’s the plane?
MOTHER: Four. (He opens the lid of the crate.) What is it?
FATHER: I don’t know.
MOTHER: Honestly, people always disappearing. (Finishes folding clothes. To DAUGHTER) How are you doing with those peas?
FATHER: Must be some kind of joke.
(MOTHER goes over and looks into crate and starts laughing raucously. DAUGHTER instantly alert. FATHER starts closing lid.)
DAUGHTER (suddenly): Shh! (Everything stops. Freeze. Pause.) Did you hear something? (Pause, listening.)
MOTHER: What? (Pause.) (Blackout.)
Copyright © 1971. All rights reserved.
from the Rocky Mountain News, 26 August 1971
by Duncan Pollock
It may be a sign of the times that food is the topic of two brand new plays making their debut on the Denver stage.
Peas and cake are the specials of the day Thursday through Sunday at the Changing Scene Theatre, but playgoers should beware these aren’t natural foods and the menu is no ordinary bill of fare.
In these times of obsessive weightwatching, of prepackaged frozen “gourmet” dinners and other corporeal eccentricities, food is as appropriate a symbol for the stage as it is a dish for the dinner table.
Thus, Michael Smith’s “Peas” presents the banality and triviality surrounding the life of a family whose son has gone off to war, while Jean-Claude van Itallie’s cake (in a biting little satire called “Eat Cake”) is an instrument for self-inflicted pain and punishment.
Smith is former drama critic for the Village Voice, [and] his new play, “Peas,” seems overloaded with stylistic “inventions.” Like a number of contemporary architects, he has emphasized form at the expense of function—in this case, substance. Conflict within the drama and simple characterization never have a chance to breathe through a structure that is overly “experimental,” elaborate and overbearing at its best, and too disjointed at its worst.
A major problem figures in the multiple roles Smith has written for his actors, who in the Changing Scene production rarely seem up to the task of overcoming split personalities.
Of the three principal actors, including Melanie Kern and Dennis Stull, Patricia Madsen is the only one capable of conveying even a hint of more than one characterization.
But she must play the Daughter at the outset, then fill the shoes of Granny, Louise, and Mother in rapid-changing succession.
Even if actors varied inflection a bit more with shifting personalities, the confusion would still seem unnecessary.
One bright invention, however, is the creation of a two-headed character in the son, played simultaneously by Ralph Palasek and Bert Cruse, who in one image reflects what the army has made of him and in another (long hair, of course) what he would become.
Michael Smith directs his own work, while Charles Musman and Tina Hawley supply the lovely guitar and flute music meant to transport you and the play to never-never land. The music is a must.
Both “Peas” and “Eat Cake,” the second and shorter half of the twin bill at the Changing Scene, are only incidentally about food. The shorter of the two, however, while not necessarily more satisfying, is a lot easier to digest.
In very straightforward fashion, “Eat Cake” tells the tale of a pretty, bored American housewife who is startled to find a rapist one day at her doorstep.
Instead of assaulting her sexually—as she dreamily wishes him to do—Mr. America forces her to eat cake and assorted desserts all day long for a solid week. Then suddenly the rapist disappears leaving the bloated housewife groveling face down on the floor. She screams, “Rape!”
This razor sharp little satire—full of vicious humor—claims the woman has been raped all right but not by any intruder. She has been had by her own complacency, by the plastic illusions and false dreams of everyday existence in an image-conscious materialistic society.
The fine set of “Eat Cake,” composed of appropriate commercial images, is by Michele Hawley, Wayne Steger, and John Zeller. Michael Smith also staged this one-acter which provides a good forum for fine performances by Alla Makaroff and Ted Shackelford.