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INSOLENT LOVE

by Paola Moretti

Characters

Duras – Marguerite Duras at 50
Marguerite – the authoress at 15
Yann – the young companion of her later years
The Mother
Pierre
Mr. Jo
A man
Two migratory birds – who happen by chance in the land of recollection (S. Thala)

The stage is divided into two parts:

The interior of what appears to be a clinic. In reality it is a mental space where one may recover the past. Duras is bedraggled, unkempt, edgy.
On a screen at the back of the stage, photographs and scenes from the film “The Lover”, recalled by the protagonists, flicker.

The interior of the Duras home in Cocinchina

SCENE I

Clinic (Duras – Yann Andrea)

(Duras is seated at a table: to her right a bowl of soup, to her left a sheaf of white writing paper. On a chair a small portable nineteen-seventies-style 45-rpm record-player. She is trying to hold a pen which continues to escape her grcsp. She tpies again and aeain and is shaken by a tremor. The pen moves very slowly over the papgr).

Duras (writing) I was born in Gia Dinh, a village north of Saigon. I boarded in a state college…I ate and slept there…but I went out to school to the French Lycée (the pen slips from her hand. While trying to save it, she falls to the floor.) Yann… Yann… (imperiously) Yann! Help me, please… What are you doing? I can’t get up… Do you hear me? After fifteen years I don’t know whether you’re deaf or simply stupid…(yelling) Yann!

(Enter Yann. He tries to lift her)

Yann – Nurse!

Duras – Don’t call, I don’t need anybody, I simply let the pen fall… I’m unable to hold it…

Yann (sitting her in the chair) It’s only normal.

Duras – What’s normal?

Yann – In your state… You should be in bed

Duras – I’m not ill… why should I stay in bed?

Yann – Try to eat… there now…the doctor said you need to eat (offering her a spoonful of soup. Duras opens her mouth almost mechanically staring at him; she sucks the broth from the spoon and spits it into his face. She sends the bowl flying. Yann bends to pick it up)

Duras (holds him back angrily) Don’t! This is not what you’re supposed to so!

(Yann clutches at her throat, his grasp softens into a caress. It is hard to understand what they feel for each other. It is all indefinite and shifting)

Duras (gasping, exaggeratedly)There’s no point going on like this. You know that too… Leave, at once, let’s call it off right now. (Yann, unruffled, puts a record on) Take that record off, listen to me. The mistake was made 15 years ago. I shouldn’t have let you into my house in the first place. You were probably out there spying on me for who knows how many days… You knew right well I used to fall asleep under those dry leaves, that I didn’t hear a thing, as if I were dead. …(he helps her gently to her feet, makes her dance a step or two to the music; then they dance holding each other tight forgetful of the world) You took advantage of the situation. You took advantage of my innocence… That’s the way it is and don’t pretend you don’t know (she breaks away from him but Yann goes on dancing) It’s useless, you don’t know how to dance on your own, on your own you’re not capable of doing anything. Admit it. You’re a sponger like many … they think they can do as they please…that Mme. Duras is at their disposal… They call, they write: I’ll call over to your place at 4 p.m. to make love. They lie down outside the house for days on end, waiting for me to open the door… Look here, go away, because if you’ve come to make love, you’ve chosen the wrong moment… You think you’re somebody just because you give me your disgusting soup… If you’re doing all this for my legacy, then you’re really wasting your time. You think: now it’s my turn, I’ve laid my hands on Mme. Duras, on that little goldmine. I’ve solved all my material problems. But you’re wrong, when I die you’ll get nothing…. a nothing worth a fortune anyway, your name linked to mine, more than my son’s, more than my Chinese lover’s, more than my mother’s… You can sell yourself to those who wish to know how you caressed me… how you excited an old alcoholic by undressing her. That’s all you’ll have to live on, mark me. Nobody will want to listen to the whole truth to the bitter end… (pause) But I beg you…I beg you… insist, say that you loved a girl abandoned with her siblings because their mother had to build a dyke against the pacific…no, don’t, simply say: I loved that child, she was my favourite, my little foreigner, come from a land of death… the cruellest you can imagine…Yann…Call me by my name…. I have never heard you call my name… (she pronounces it deliberately in a whisper) Marguerite… (she snuggles up to him and strokes his hair) Come on, try, do it for me…it won’t take anything…

Yann(refusing her advances) I’m tired. I need to sleep.

Duras – If I’d never written anything, could you love me anyhow? If I weren’t Marguerite Duras… if you’d never read a book of mine… if my surname were indifferent to you… my story unknown… would you stay here taking care of an old woman?

Yann – If you are Duras how can I think of you as not being Duras?

Duras (she slaps him) What takes you here, you idiot! Leave my house at once! Don’t ever come back! (she tries to scratch his face. Yann stops her by twisting her wrists without showing any signs of emotion)

Duras (she falls to the ground howling) No…get out…I’ll call the police… Murderer! Nurse! That…that does it… Tomorrow I’ll inform the press that you beat me…I’ll show them the bruises… Tomorrow they’ll come to get you…they’ll put you back into the hole you crawled out of… Pack your things and get out! I’ve had enough of living with a moron….this stupid way of life, with you…I’ll have to get another man soon, before it’s too late… (she brings her hand to her forehead) blood…you’ve hurt me, split my head open… tomorrow, I’ll be dead…you’re a murderer… the murderer of Mme. Duras… At least it’ll be all over, once and for all… (she huddles up) One cannot always await death, but go out to meet it…in every possible way. Wine, quick! Get a move on!

(Yann fetches a bottle and two goblets. He pours out the wine which Duras accepts and gulps down avidly in a single mouthful. She looks at him smiling as if nothing had happened)

Duras – You could have been a barman. The job suits you, your demeanour is perfect…

Yann – The first time I read one of your books, I was a student…

Duras – I don’t believe you ever studied anything… nothing serious, I mean.

Yann – I spent ages writing your name down… Marguerite Duras, or M.D. or D.M…in italics, in block capitals…looking for your secret in my relationship with those letters… I thought they had been brought together through predestination… For years I wrote to you every day… and awaited a reply ….a sole word from you…from the warmth of your hand…

Duras – If you’d really read my books you’d have expected nothing.

Yann –The fact is I’m naive .

Duras – I don’t believe you, you probably weighed things up..

Yann – When I mustered up the courage, I came here… and you let me in.

Duras – I took pity on you.

Yann – You liked me.

Duras – Don’t fool yourself. You’re a nobody, I offered you a bed until you found a place to live… But your brazenness knows no bounds: you took my home, my freedom, my bathroom, my shopping list, the books I’ve written and those I have still to write. You put an option on everything, without thinking that from one day to the next I may simply throw you out. I owe you nothing (handing him her glass) Come on, give me something to drink. Then I want to wash my hair … it’s so hot that the only remedy is to wash often. That’s what my mother used to do. Against illness, demons, worms, the evil eye, fear …it was the only remedy she knew…. Water washes away all evil…all pain….
Be so kind as to wash my hair… (Miming Yann pretends to pour water out and massage her scalp gently, sensually. Duras closes her eyes with a sigh and seems to let herself go)

Yann (singing softly)
Quand il me prend dans ses bras
Qu’il me parle tout bas
Je vois la vie en rose…

Duras(singing with Yann) Il me dit des mots d’amour, des mots de tous les jours….
(in the background Edith Piaf’s voice) You know how to caress…a rare quality, but I don’t know of what practical use that may be to you in real life … (continuing to mime, Yann rinses her hair with a large quantity of water) Ah, water, the great mother, alpha and omega of our suffering, lover without end… again, please… (Yann complies. On the backdrop, first out of focus, then clear, images of Vietnam, the banks of the Mekong, paddi-fields, coolies at work, an undefined country suspended between present and past, a place of the memory and of concreteness) I can’t remember… but I’m unable to forget…
I was born in Gia Dinh, a village to the north of Saigon…that’s where they had me come into the world…my parents had come to Coainchina aq teachers at the French mission, when the education of the native children was already under way. (photograph)
We lived in the King of Cambodia’s palace… in a kind of xapier-mâché theatre, in the shade of a forest that besieged us depriving us of light and air ….and which at night crept under the door to watch us as we slept…all together…trembling with fear.

Marguerite – I was born where people die…but I discovered how to resist that death, because I was a child as light as the wind, shadowless, bodiless…(photo of Marguerite as a child)
My siblings and I were left to play alone on the banks of the Mekong river…when my father went off to Paris to die, my mother stared into the water day after day… forgetful of her children… she abandoned us to the river… she was as if lost on the long line of the horizon where he’d disappeared forever… the three of us abandoned in the water… our French skin grew brown and we learnt to speak Chinese, think in Chinese… A kind of shame hung over us… to justify our abandonment: we were the children of the French school-mistress and of some one-night lover… that’s what they used to say… of someone from the night and the river… that’s what they used to say about us… then, suddenly, our mother ceased to stare at the horizon and came home.

(Music: “La vie en rose” sung by Edith Piaf, while the projection of images of Vietnam continues)

Darkness on Yann and Duras

Scene II (One and Two)

As the images of Vietnam continue to be projected, the lights reveal the presence on the “roof” of the Duras bungalow in Cocinchina, two seemingly sleeping creatures, part human, part bird, something like the Harpies of mythological fame; their faces are heavily made up, their mouths are cherry red, the wear black evening jackets with tails and their wings are covered in sequins. Despite their heavy makeup and aggressive faces, their movements are gentle and meek. They help each other up and remain embraced

1 – Where are we?

2 – As far as the river it’s S. Thala.

1 – And then?

2 – Then…it’s still S. Thala, I think.

1 – But where are we? What is this S.Thala place?

2 – The frontier, madame.. Kindly show me your papers.

1(anxiously) I have none… (moving her arms miming flight) As I flew over the sea…I lost them.

2 – Don’t make me laugh, you never flew over anything. Nothing big I mean. I declare you under arrest!

1 – We flew over the sea, the two of us. Yesterday.

2 – Which sea? Could you be more precise, my dear sir? This tendency of yours to generalise…the sea of Hong Kong, the sea of New York? Or the sea of the Rio Grande? Of Shanghai? The sea of the end of the world, madam? The ocean…do you know the ocean?

1 – The sea of yesterday.

2 – Oh, yesterday…

1(crying) You get pleasure out of confusing me… Seas are simply water…up and down, everywhere, river water, rain, paddi-fields, floods, of the heart and of the soul, water for saying, staying, leaving, water of the father and of the mother … it’s always just water.

2– One great O

1 – An ’O?

2 – Eau. L’O, notre mere. The great water is our mother.

1 – Ma mere l’oie ? Mother Goose?

2 – Enough, resign yourself to the fact that you’ve no talent for languages.

1 – I beg you, don’t abandon me, for god’s sake , don’t do it!

2 – You must memorise the words, repeat them every day, shout them out…l’O, l’acqua, the water, das Wasser…

1(in a loud shrill voice) Ich liebe Wasser!

2 – This isn’t the Danube, merde, this is the Mekong!

1 – Mekong… (pauses, holds her breath) When did we get here?

2 – Ah indeed … I go on as if you knew something about orienting… you have no instinct, not a whit.

1 – When it was said we’d migrate to Polynesia… and off you head for the Mekong. How will we find the way back home? We’ll die here… can you smell the stench of death? Can you?

2 – It’s the swamp.

1 – Swamp?! And yet you know right well this climate is bad for me … Do you do it on purpose? I might die, do you realise that ?

2 – It’s the same old story every year: the heat, the stench, death…but why do you go on following me? Go by yourself!

1 – I follow you?… I accompany you, I’m your chaperon! What would you do without me? Who would tell you stories? Who make you laugh? Maybe it’s all a waste of time…

2 – Exactly, go to sleep and be quiet. Move, go, far away from me.

1 – We are already far away from everyone. What did you same the name of this place was?

2 – As far as the river it’s S. Thala.

1 – And then?

2 – Then…it’s still S. Thala, I think.

1 – I’m leaving tomorrow… I don’t like this Thala, even if it is only as far as the river.
(in the background the sound of music on an old gramophone. The two lean out to look down , as if from the roof of a house)

1 – There, you can’t get any sleep in this place…

2 – Shall we dance, madam?

1 – There, it’s such a long time since… I’ve got out of the habit somewhat…

2 – Let yourself go, let yourself go…

1 – I beg of you, I’m booked, don’t insist.

2 – Only a few steps … before going to sleep…

(they laugh, jump, tumble, and always seem just about to fall off the roof)

Scene III All (the Duras home in Cocinchina)

(light centre stage: a table, some chairs, an old gramophone playing Piaf’s rendering of “La vie en rose”. In the background in only partially lit the silhouette of Pierre who smokes in continuation. On a chair on the proscenium a straw hat and a shapeless, faded cotton smock. The Mother enters half naked, wrapped in a bath towel. Suddenly, she lets it fall to the floor and puts on the smock. The mother’s nakedness should be chaste, unashamed and simple)

Mother(she sings with Piaf’s voice in a makeshift fashion)
Quand il me….ses bras…
Qu’il me……bas
Je vois la vie en rose…

Pierre – …enough of this music…we’ll disturb the neighbours…Our friend Beautemps or one of the Langs might cross the bridge and think we’re having a good time, that we’re letting our hair down, drinking and dancing… don’t you agree?…in our circumstances… and if certain gossip reaches to the rate agents’ ears they might cancel our permit… Pierre, are you listening to me?

1 – Is it possible to build a nest up here?

2 – It’s just a place to sleep in. Don’t get any strange ideas…

1 – They’re making such a racket…

2 – If they make a racket, we’ll simply shit on their heads!
(they laugh in an exaggerated fashion, like hysterical children)

Mother – It takes so little to lose one’s respectability… not that I’m that interested… it’s for the girl… one bad rumour and she’s ruined for life. Pierre, are you listening to me? Pierre?

1(leaning over) Are you listening to her, Pierre?

2 – Tell her you’re listening, Pierre.

Mother – Your father…left me to go off and die in France… Is so easy to fall ill in Indochina and go back to die in comfort in France…I could have done so too, couldn’t I, Pierre? If you haven’t got a missionary’s instinct, why begin…and then leave me alone to look after you two… two children and I all alone in a foreign land. Do you remember, Pierre?

1 – Tell her you remember.

2 – Hey there, young man, answer your mother!
(they laugh)

Mother(she makes little plaits out of her thin hair and ties them tightly around her head. It’s as if she is trying to cancel every trace of femininity) Even now it would take 500 piastres to leave… (she looks at the two birds in disgust) As well as that I’m fed up with these people, so different from us…one could waste a lifetime trying to tell them what to do .. they turn on and off like fireflies .. you never know up to what point they listen to you…and at what point they shut themselves up in hatred… as if it were out fault that their children die…they go into the fields, bury them without a word, one beside another and then plant rice over them and then have more children, more manure…

1 – What rotten kind of place have you brought me …

2 – As far as the Mekong it’s S. Thala.

1 – And then?

2 – The same, I’ve told you already, it’s still S. Thala.

1 – With dead children? I can’t live here.

2 – Do you know what your problem is? Repeat. What’s your problem?

1 – What’s your problem?

2 – Yours not mine.

1 – Yours not mine.

2 – Don’t repeat, you idiot!

1 – Don’t repeat, you idiot !
(Two punches One who falls, she clutches a support and swings in midair yelling. Some wild ad lib. acrobatic business follows. One manages to climb back up and perches trembling and weeping in an exaggerated manner)

Pierre (coming in to the light) The B12 needs a new radiator, otherwise, one of these days it’ll leave us to walk!

Mother – Have you had an accident? Have you swerved on the bridge?

Pierre – Don’t get excited, ma’, it’s just the radiator’s worn out, it’ll leave us to walk one of these days…

Mother – Pierre, you’re my only support, without you I’d just let myself die…There’s nothing greater in this world than a mother’s love for her son, is there? Nothing, not a thing! You mustn’t forget that!

Pierre (changing his shoes) Where’s Marguerite?

Mother – Are you going out again?

Pierre – We’re going to Ram.

Mother – You’re returning to Ram?

Pierre – I’m going now, with Marguerite.
(he changes the record, the music begins again)

Mother – Why do you want to take your sister to that bar for prostitutes?

Pierre – This is the most beautiful song in existence, it trips off the tongue like a kiss and you never get tired of it. Come and dance with me, ma’!
(he tries to force her, first she pushes him away, then yields. They dance and laugh in a tight embrace)

Pierre – Listen, see if you like this one… it’s an Argentinean tango!

(he changes the record, and goes back to dance with his mother)

Mother – No, it’s not proper…besides I have things to do…and I don’t know how to dance to this music …

Pierre – Just let yourself go, ma’….

Mother – If someone saw us… they’d think that… (she lets herself go to the music. The two birds imitate them and dance too )

Pierre – You think too much!

( Marguerite enters unseen, wearing a Chinese-style silk dress; she stares amazed at her mother and brother dancing)

Mother – I never danced with your father…it was unthinkable that he bring me anywhere…you don’t come to Cocinchina to dance, we didn’t do it at Montmartre…that what he used to say, as if it were a punch-line… we didn’t do it at Montmartre….and now it’s too late, you should have though of that before. As if there were a before and after for thinks like this. He was so stupid, the poor man. But a genius in his own field. He spent nights on end writing a book about exponential functions…the two of you were born as if in a dream…and you Pierre have always been my favourite…

(Marguerite stops her ears )

Mother – Enough, my head’s spinning…in this heat… (she slumps onto the platform) (Pierre continues to dance alone moving jerkily like a marionette). I’m tired Come now, it’s dinner time. (she calls Marguerite). Come and set the table! (a table already set is lowered from above) Well? Can’t you get a move on?

Marg – It’s set already… mamma…

Mother – I’ll fetch the rice..

Marg – It’s on the table.

Mother – And the milk? Pass it to your brother.

Marg – Why?

Mother – Why what?

Marg – I set the table and he’s done nothing… he can get off his arse now and then, don’t you think?

Mother (she tries to strike her with her fist, but misses her and strikes the table instead upsetting everything on it) Do you hear her Pierre? Have you nothing to say? Do you hear her? A tongue like a whore’s… and you take her to those bars as if she weren’t your sister as if honour meant nothing at all to you…

Pierre – Honour? Here we are in the back of beyonds and you think of honour…

(Light on Duras.)

Duras – I felt worthless in the company of those two who were less than nothing themselves… but that nothing was enough to confound me… as if a beacon had been lit in the dark…. and annulled the significance of everything beyond its beams… they spoke as if my life lay at their feet and they could dispose of it at will… and I could only remain still, immobile … blinded…. A witness of their love, of my exclusion… I was riddled with jealousy… no Yann, you cannot understand, a pain far beyond your ken…

(lights out on Duras)

Honour? Here we are in the back of beyonds and you think of honour…

(One slaps Two who pretends to fall)

1– Did you hear that? The back of beyonds…Where have you brought me?

2 – It’s a mode of speaking.

1 – Speaking about what?

2 – Be quiet.

Marguerite(she tastes the food, then spits it out ostentatiously) You can’t eat this stuff, it stinks of death!

Pierre – Don’t eat it then! (hurling her plate away)

(Light on Duras)

Duras – It was no easy matter with us, no such thing as a normal relationship… everything was overstated, fierce. Life was riddled with fear, bit I wasn’t afraid… I knew Pierre could have killed me… without me there would have been just the two of them free to bask in their infinite love… without witnesses.

Mother – At times I have the impression that life exists far away from us… that it just flows on somewhere out there, but I don’t know where.

Marg – Let’s go back to France , mamma… What’s the use of staying here?

Mother – Finish the lycée first…

Marg – I’ll finish my lycée, my milk, my rice, I’ll finish my youth and let you sell me to the highest bidder… (she falls to the floor howling under a shower of blows from her mother who then pulls her up by the hair and forces her to sit in her chair once more)

Mother – Do you hear the bitch?

Pierre ( to Margue) Don’t fool yourself, nobody will ever bid anything for you. You don’t deserve anyone wishing to marry you, you’re not worth an iota…

Marg – It’s not true.. (she looks at her mother expectantly waiting for her to rebuke Pierre) Mamma…

Mother – Come on, eat, it takes all the strength you can get to leave, to start all over again somewhere else… admitting there still is something the Mekong hasn’t swept away…

1 – Did you hear that?

2 – What?

1 – There’s nothing left out there… there’s been a flood… go and see, for god’s sake go, I can’t, I can’t think… you go and see…

2 – Out there, there’s S. Thala

1 – Are you sure? Is it still there?

2 – You’re asphyxiating me, oppressing me with your anxiety!

1 – But I… suffer!!

(Light on Duras and Yann)

Duras – My mother derived pleasure from beating me… she vented all her ire on my body…

Yann – She’s a weary woman and you’re provoking her…

Duras – What are you saying? What do you know about it? (the two birds lean over to take a good look) What should I have done? Yes, mamma, yes Pierre, dispose of me as you see fit…I’ll become a maths teacher and marry the first old man with enough money to take us all back to France… Listen, Yann.. I once told my mother I wanted to be a writer…for her it was notion devoid of all credibility, useless even to mention, like seeking the sun on a rainy day.

Yann – Come on, try again…

Light on the second section of the stage.

(the previous scene is repeated)

Mother – Pass me the rice.

Marg – It’s on the table already.

Mother – Hand your brother the butter.

Marg – Yes, mamma. Pierre, here’s your butter.

Pierre – Are you having me on?

Marg – I have passed you the butter.

Pierre – Do you want me to punch your face in?

Marg – Mamma.. are you listening to him?

Mother – Be quiet… why insult your brother?

Marg – I passed him the butter…

Pierre – I’ll get the fucking butter myself!

1 – It’s impossible to get a wink of sleep here…

2 – We’re leaving tomorrow.

1 – Tomorrow… When?

2 – At dawn….

1 – Out of the question. I won’t have a thing done before noon….I have to get my belongings packed, take a shower, have breakfast..

2 – At sunset, then.

1 – By night? Do you want to travel by night?

Yann – Try again! Behave like a sister, like a daughter… Put more love into what you say…

(Marg rises and Duras sits in her place)

Duras – Mamma… I’m a writer.

(The mother smiles, chuckles softly then in a crescendo bursts into excessively loud laughter. One and Two imitate her. Pierre gets up from the table)

Mother (her laughter becomes a grimace of anxiety) Are you going out again?

Duras ( to Yann) See? She doesn’t care a thing about me.

Pierre – We’re going to Ram.

Mother – Are you going back to Ram?

Duras – I don’t exist and that’s that

Pierre – I’m going with Margherite.

Mother – You’re taking your sister to a bar for prostitutes…

Duras – Her only real fear was… that I might become a whore.

Mother – I’ll accompany you, here I am Pierre. (to Marg) Get dressed, don’t keep your brother waiting

SCENE IV

Vietnamese music
(enter, running, the two birds dressed as coolies)

1 – Incense! Incense and a paper prayer for the feast of Tet…

2 (as above.) Russian caviar! Scotch!…

1 – Lanterns and bamboo the chase the evil spirits away…chase the devil with cock feathers!

2 – French cheese… Bulgarian wine…

1 – Does he do it on purpose just to contradict me?

2 – Oh dear….It’s my business!

1 – The ancestors are angry! Buy incense for the goddess of mercy!

2 – Pineapple to lay at her little feet..

1 – Colours for the altars

2 – Lanterns for the souls of the dead… and Scottish beer to forget…

1 – To remember…

2 – Yesterday and the day before…
(they pretend to sing to the Beatles’ “Yesterday” playing in the background)

1 – These French come here claiming to know what nobody knows

2 – Fate written in pale-blue lotus blossom that only the immortal can read…

1 (litany-fashion) If the children are hungry…

2 – So be it.

1 – If the rice rots

2 – So be it.

1 – If the plague takes us, if the rains sweep the houses away, if the sea covers the fields in salt …

2 – So be it.

1 – At least as far as S: Thala.

2 – And then… (the laugh and sing “Let it be” in the same manner as before and dance like clowns, while on the background the projector shows images of the ocean or the Mekong, local people in trouble and tourist stereotypes)

SCENE V

(Mother, Duras 2, The Harpies)

(Alternating spots on Marguerite and the Mother as they prepare to go out, as if each of them lived in a separate environment)

SPOT ON MARGUERITE
(She takes off her Chinese clothing and puts on a very tight black silk European-style dress)
Marg – It’s like being naked…(miming a passionate embrace) Hold me…kiss me once more…

SPOT ON MOTHER
(She quickly fixes her hair as best she can, adjusts the skirt she has thrown on over her nightdress. The impression she gives is of untidiness, of someone who doesn’t look after herself)

Mother – I’m too tired… But I don’t know if I can trust Pierre… he might forget the child…and someone might think nobody cares for her… make advances…unless…

SPOT ON Marguerite
Marg(examining herself in an imaginary mirror) You are extremely sensual, mademoiselle! Did they ever tell you so?

Mother – Unless he wants to marry her…naturally

Marg – They all tell me I have beautiful hair…but I didn’t realise I was also…

Mother – A mother always loves her daughter…

Marg – Very, very sensual.

Mother – But does the daughter love her mother?

Marg – I waited all day on the bridge waiting for someone to pass …What use is there in this life as a witness? I might die tomorrow, drown in the river and stay floating in the water without anybody noticing …

Mother – Perhaps you’ll get over it.

Marg – I want to be a writer.

Mother – You want to be noticed.

Marg – You don’t love me…

Mother – Where are my shoes?

Marg – My shoes!

(Yann hands the Mother a pair of deformed sandals and to Marg her famous rhinestone shoes)

Mother(she turns around and sees them) And those? Where do they come from?

Marg – The sales. You bought them for me, mamma.

Mother – What sales?

Marg – At Chau Doc. It was you…

Mother – A bargain. But don’t wear them to school, they are not the thing.

Marg – No, only at Kam.

(pause)

Marg –I met a man on the ferry to Sadec.

Mother – Who is he?

Marg – A Chinaman from Cholen. He lives in the blue house.

Mother – Old Chang?

Marg – His son. He’s just come back from Paris. He went there to study but didn’t do anything.

Mother – Such vulgar people. They made their money at the expense of the peasants. They bought the roads in Cholen, and built houses all around them… houses only by word…He built hundreds of verandas and called them houses… the peasants live there like dogs, they eat, they sleep, the have children, they die… all in verandas.

Marg – The peasants like to live out-of-doors. Mr. Jo says you have to respect the customs of the poor.

Mother – Who’s Mr. Jo?

Marg – Chang’s son, the man on the ferry.

Mother – When I finish building the dyke against the Pacific the peasants will have real houses and we’ll be rich too.

Marg – On about the dike again, are you? Do you never tire of your fables? Nobody believes in it anymore! Look at you… who’d give money to a person like you? You’re pitiful… a ragamuffin.

Mother – What did the Chinaman say?

Marg – Mr. Jo!

Mother – What did he say to you?

Marg – He offered me a cigarette.

Mother – Why did you get off the bus? You mustn’t get off! I told the driver too that you’re not to be let off. He probably took you for a prostitute!

Marg – He brought me to school in his limousine…

Mother(with a deep sigh) Did he touch you?

Marg – Why, don’t you believe me? He drove me to school!

Mother – Is he rich?

Marg – Filthy rich.

Mother – You didn’t ask him for money…

Marg – No, mamma…

Mother – There’s nothing wrong with asking people with too much for money. Here we’re in the colonies. In Paris it would be different story.

Marg – What story?

Mother – I don’t forbid you to take money.

(Yann hands Marguerite a pink man’s hat which she tries at various angles)

Mother – And that hat?

Marg(under her breath) An exciting mouth to kiss, to bite till it bleeds…. Half hidden by the outline of a hat brim you can barely see.

Mother – You’re not thinking of wearing it to school.

Marg – We have to wear our uniform at school.

Mother – Where did you get it?

Marg – You bought it, at a sale.

Mother – Another?

Marg– You said it suited me.

Mother – Liar

Marg – That it made me more womanly.

Mother – Ridiculous.

Marg – You too are ridiculous. That’s a nightdress.

Mother – I’ve put a skirt on over it. Look at yourself…Nobody in the colonies wears a hat like yours.

Marg – Nobody wears their hair like yours.

Mother – I’m an honest woman.

Marg – Let me live, mamma

Mother – You’ll be sorry when it’s too late.

Marg – it’s already too late, mamma. (she sighs) Come on, let’s go to Ram… Pierre is waiting for us

Mother – I’m tired. I’m making this sacrifice for you, for your respectability. You mustn’t go alone… the ferry to school is one thing and a bar is another… you’ll get nowhere in this life if you don’t respect the rules. What did that Chinaman say to you?

Duras’s voice – What do you want to know, mamma? I can’t tell you anything anymore, I must go ahead alone, apart from you, do forbidden things out of your sight…this is the greatest pain to bear… but to make up for it I may take money…Not even you love me … first come the dike, the rice , the peasants, Pierre. Last of all, me. And you expect me to achieve the impossible –

Mother – What did he say?

Marg – He didn’t speak.

Mother – Did he ask to see you again?

Marg – He’ll be at Ram this evening.

Mother – And how do you know? Did he come back to the college? Did he bring your home to his house?
Why did I have to have such a bitch of a daughter? Why me?

Duras’s voice – Don’t worry mamma. You can’t live in my place.
He’s already in my pathway and you can’t do a thing to change what has to be….you … my despairing one… my only true love… so obscene as to be ashamed of you…

Marg(she puts on her hat hiding her face) Come on, let’s go

Pierre(off) Shall we be off, then?

(Exit Marguerite, the Mother follows her submissively)

SCENE IV (Everybody)

(Musica: Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango).

Interior of a bar with a dance floor and some tables, upon which spot light fall when the characters are recalled to mind. All the characters are on stage: Pierre dances languidly with One, now turned into a dance-partner at once sensual and grotesque); at the three tables the following characters are seated , respectively:
table 1 – Mother, Marguerite, Man
table 2 – Yann, Duras
table 3 – Mr Jo, that is the Chinese lover
Two is now an unkempt, drowsy waiter who wanders listlessly, at a loss between the tables with a tray containing some glasses)

Light on table 1

Man – May I?

Mother – Please do.

Marg – No, it’s taken.

Man – Vacant?

Marg – Taken. You see, my brother is dancing, but he’ll soon come back and sit down

Mother – Please sit down, don’t mind my daughter… I can’t fathom where’s she’s got these manners…

Man – Thank you, Madame, my journey has tired me out…

Mother – Was the weather bad along the way?

Man – No, only a little rain around Kam. Not very heavy. The thing is that in this country there’s water everywhere, we end up breathing water… at the end of the day…

Marg – At the end of the day one may die, but don’t worry you’ve just arrived.

Man – These things are no joking matter!

Marg – I’m not joking, in fact.

Mother – This child goes out so seldom she doesn’t really know how to behave…

Man – A school-girl?

Pierre(taking his sister by the arm and helping her to her feet) Come and dance!

Man – Her fiancé?

Mother – Her brother. Can’t you see how closely they resemble each other? Like two peas in a pod.

Man – But the young lady is not engaged?

Mother(looking more closely at him) What questions? We’ve barely met and you already want to know everything!

Man – Look, my dear madam, I’m a merchant used to being ahead of the times…while you’re speaking I live projected way into the future… I plan every moment, from this moment to a point called x. Do you understand?

Mother – No, but be quiet and listen to the music. Why come here if you don’t drink, dance or listen to the music?

Light on table 2

Duras(to Yann) Do you hear her? She’s pathetic.

Yann – You’re too hard on her. That man is making advances to her daughter…

Duras – Listen to the way you talk! (imitating him) He’s making advances to her daughter…worthy of you, Yann

Yann – I’m saying that you know right well.

Duras – What do I know? What do you know? (a forced laugh)

Yann – She’s protecting you from that man… Don’t you understand?

Duras – Be quite, you’re too stupid. (loudly) Waiter! What a shitty bar! Get me something to drink, I’m dying of thirst! (Yann rises with an air of resignation, Duras looks at him angrily)

Duras(to herself) She never protected me from anything….She was looking for someone rich enough to sell me to… As long as I remained a virgin I was valuable merchandise … at least over there, at the end of the world.

Light on the first table

Mother – What brought you here, sir…

Man – My name is Barnes, I deal in textiles.

Mother – Ah. And do you come to sell them here?

Man – Why not?

Mother – I think you’d do better in Paris. The women here have only one dress and they wear it all year round.

Man – I don’t do business with the natives, madam. My clientele is French.

Mother – Ah. And are you able to make a living?

Man(smiling condescendingly) Every year I am in a position to buy land in the south of England. Do you understand?

Mother – So far away… What use is it?

Man – What questions, madam… Yet, I imagine that not even you would care to end your days in a place like this… I shall come to show you my wares.

Mother – Don’t take the trouble, it would be a useless journey.

Man – Don’t you sew?

Mother – I don’t sew: have you any objections?

Man – Don’t you even want to try?

Mother – Strange as it may seem, Mr Barnes, I still have a maid who looks after such matters. At the moment, however, there’s nothing worth sewing for. Resign yourself to the fact.

Light on the second table

Yann(bringing Duras a glass of water) Here you are..

Duras(drinking) It’s water!

Yann – Yes, it’s water.

Duras – I don’t know where you get the nerve… I risk alcoholic coma and all you can get me is a glass of water!

Yann – There’s nothing else here!

Duras – Keep your voice down, you don’t want to be heard! (begging) Go and fetch me a drop of red wine… I hate you, Yann.

(Yann leaves and goes over to speak to the dancer; Duras, jealous and desperate, observes them)

Light on the first table

Man – One goes to the colonies for a few years only : makes a little money, then returns home to enjoy it.

Margherite(sitting) My mother bought some land here, but the land revenue people swindled her.

Mother(in a near whisper) I don’t feel like discussing that. And with a total stranger.

Man – Didn’t they give you good land?

Mother – Go and dance, Mr. Barnes.

Light on the third table

Mr.Jo(rising slowly and goes over to Marguerite) Would you like to dance?

(Marguerite’s brother drags her away. Duras, on the contrary, rises, tottering as if drunk she goes over to Mr.Jo)

Duras – Yes, please. (they go on to the dance floor and dance in a tight embrace: everyone looks at them; it’s as if Duras were the young Marguerite and nobody noticed the substitutions and were scandalised only at the sight of a European child dancing with a Chinaman)

Light on the first table

Man – You shouldn’t allow it, madam. If a young girl is given so much freedom…I could have danced with your daughter, I didn’t out of respect… and my intentions are certainly different from those of that Chinaman there…

Mother – I don’t doubt it in the least, but… (she leans over and whispers something in his ear)

Man – If you must sell your daughter, at least give her to a Frenchman!

Mother – Are you a wealthy Frenchman, Mr Barnes?

Man – Rich enough.

Mother – Enough is not sufficient. I need a lot of money to build a new dyke against the ocean.

Man – But… that’s impossible!

Mother – It’s a complex problem but not insurmountable.

Man – Someone spoke about it on the ferry. You are…

Mother – Yes, I am that madwoman who gave her life’s savings to buy an allotment of land to make a large rice field. Instead of fertile land all I have is ocean spray which floods and carries away everything we plant, every trace of life. Is that what they say of me?

Man – They say that by now you haven’t a penny to your name.

Mother – I built the first dyke without realising that reinforced concrete was needed. (thoughtful) But where could I have got it? We used the highest quality wood, the planks left over from the Kam track… but the prawns…(she cannot help laughing) ate the planks…. (laughing heartily) they gobble up all our wood… We thought of everything except that the prawns were hungrier than us… (she laughs so much she almost chokes)

Man(looking at her in disgust) I don’t find it amusing.

Mother – The first dyke was destroyed in a sole night by the Ocean. The peasants from the plane had worked night and day on it.. but it wasn’t enough.

Man – How can you possibly think you can oppose the strength of the Ocean?

Mother – Mr Barnes, you with your sewing materials cannot possibly understand, you can’t even imagine what it feels like to invest the sacrifices of a lifetime in a piece of land … (she sighs thoughfully) that turns into a block of salt so hard that not even a year’s rainfall can melt!

Man – Certain things must be foreseen, my dear madam.

Light on the second table

Yann(he goes over to Duras who is dancing with her eyes shut) There now, come over and sit down, you mustn’t tire yourself. (Duras allows herself to be led back to the table while Marguerite takes her place in the Chinaman’s arms)

Duras – You are jealous, Yann.

Yann – There, try to calm down.

Duras – I am calm and there’s no better place than this to be happy … please, give me something to drink, a glass of wine…

Yann – Come now, lean on me, I’ll take you to bed.

Duras – Now I get it… you want to take me to bed so that I’ll forget my Chinese lover… but that’s impossible… I’ll never, never, never forget him. You must resign yourself to that Yann, nobody can ever compete with him…give me some wine… I beseech you… (she crumbles in Yann’s arms. Darkness on them)

Light on the first table

Marguerite(approaching with the Chinaman) Mamma… he has invited us to dinner. Pierre can come too. Pierre, do you want to come to dinner with him? ( Pierre shrugs scornfully) Mamma you can order the most expensive dishes, eat until you burst… (she bursts out laughing; her mother laughs too)

Man – What a way to talk!

Marguerite – If you’d like to burst too, be our guest!

Man – No thank you.

Marguerite(impatient) Well, can we go with him? Come, let’s dance a little more and then go to dinner… is that all right, ma’? (She returns to the dance floor without awaiting an answer)

Mother – Look, I too know how to plan my future and that’s why I want to rebuild the dyke. I’ll speak to the peasants from the plain … I must have their help… a dyke against the Pacific is in the interests of all… we’ll show those land revenue people: it’s only a matter of finding a little money and getting reinforced concrete…I have no need of a house anywhere else in the world. My love is this water-logged land. My children, sooner or later, will leave…but my life is here, Mr Barnes. And when I see that diamond ring on the finger of the Chinaman dancing with my daughter I say, yes, it’ll be fine for all of us, all told we deserve it.

Man(bitterly) Rich Chinamen don’t marry poor white girls. Their marriages are business contracts.

Mother – There is no saying, look how in love he is: he has promised to marry her and give her an even bigger diamond …

Man – You’ll have to wait and see what his father thinks, the heads of Chinese families manage the entire patrimony… he might disinherit him.

Mother – I see you are also some of an expert on Chinese custom…

Man – You are fooling yourself, my dear lady

Mother – No, I am still hopeful. I came to Cocinchina as a teacher… a highly prestigious profession…. Back then. My children dressed like royalty, our home was the Palace of the King of Cambodia. A little frightening, that’s true, surrounded by a forest as black as night, but it was bearable… then my husband fell ill and decided to go back to France to die. We remained here because we had nowhere else to go… I continued to teach and played the piano in the evening at the cinema; the children… all day alone on the banks of the Mekong a step away from death. I played at night and taught by day, but I was no longer elegant, I was already as you see me now… shapeless, like these shoes… I don’t know why my dear Barnes, but the first things to deteriorate are shoes… they just can’t lie, they speak about us unrestrained… (raising her feet) They still hope, but they have no further illusions about anything, no further illusions about anything, Mr Barnes… (she mimes the action of playing the piano and the notes of Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune are heard The light dims on all the other characters and focus only on her. She is crying. On the screen behind the opening images of the film “The Lover”: the mother accompanies her daughter on the ferry for Sadec…)

SCENE V

(Clinic: Duras, Yann)

(Duras is lying on her bed and Yann is near her. To one side of the proscenium, a bath tub.)

Duras – Yann… Yann are you here? (she reaches her hand out towards him and he takes it almost mechanically) You think you are indispensible to me .. that I couldn’t make it without feeling you near… night and day, like a dog. Why do you do it? You’ve shut me up in this place… It’s your fault I’m in here… and you deny me even one drop of wine, as if I were demented…

Yann – You need to detoxify , otherwise you’ll die. There’s no point in talking about it..

Duras – What a hypocrite! You come here to preach at me, you who drink like a sponge…I’ve drunk more with you in one year than in all the rest of my life… maybe you expect me to write a book about our binges … maybe you want to become famous like my Chinese lover…

Yann – I don’t expert anything, I want nothing.

Duras – Yes, it’s so embarrassing, I don’t even know how to introduce you. Ladies and gentlemen this is Yann Andrea, even the name’s a fake, I made it up just for him, he’s a character who just popped out of one of my books by mistake. Except for the name, he’s a good-for-nothing, he has no job, no interests, no plans… we write books together, he says… he types what I dictate, he’s unable to do anything alone… apart from hundred of phone-calls to unknown people who knows where..

Yann – You spy on me…

Duras – I pay the bills

Yann – You’re jealous of my friends.

Duras – What friends?

Yann – You want to cut me off from the world

Duras – You have me… what do you need the world for?

Yann – To breathe.

Duras – Your only task is to prefer me above all else.

Yann – I’m here, Duras.
(pause)

Duras – I would like you to call me by my name… at least once… I’m so confused… They put Tranxene in the soup and Valium in the milk… the most innocent-looking things are full of sleeping drugs … and do you know why they want me to sleep? So that I won’t create any problems to the clinic… The night nurse is in love with you Yann, I’m almost certain… it’s she who sends a man every night to spy on me… looking for a way to kill me without arousing suspicions… (in a low voice) Look Yann… turn around slowly… she’s at the window now… dressed as a clown… look she’s coming in with that little girl in pink…she’s got a pistol hidden in her costume… Yann…for me dying is nothing, but for you it will be a big problem… your life without me will be hard… (crying out) Send all these people away!

Yann – There isn’t anybody.

Duras – That dog… hanging on the nail behind the radiator. You must throw it into the street, everyone must know… throw it out on top of the passers-by.

Yann(he pretends to throw something out of the window) There you are.

Duras – That man there, get rid of him…

(Yann takes his racket off and flails the empty air with it, followed by Duras’s attentive gaze)

Yann – There, now they’ve all gone.

Duras – Take my rings, hide them, they’re all thieves here. A diamond can solve many a problem, Yann, my Mother always said so…
(pause)
Last night I slept in the bath tub. The nurse came to take me back to bed. “One must sleep in a bed, madame Duras”. She gives me this incredible piece of information every single night ..(imitating the nurses voice)
“One should sleep in a bed, madame Duras”. She pronounces madame Duras as if saying old idiot, all you have been is left outside of the clinic because you no longer matter. Here all that counts are your daily bowel movements and the speed at which you allow yourself to be ravished by the sedatives. Go to sleep and be quiet, fucking Duras!
(she beckons to Yann to come closer, she speaks softly)
I am no longer mistress even of my own shit… I said to her : don’t throw it in the loo, Yann has to see it. What? Monsieur Yann? Are you joking? She opened her waxy eyes bewildered….The enchanting Yann cannot look upon what you discharge from your flaccid body!
(pause)
I’ll never be able to write again… there’s a hole in my head… I see horrid colours and faces, fat and shiny like worms… nothing that makes any sense. I want to wash off all this stinking rot, and that’s why I get into the tub a hundred times a day…but I’m so exhausted that I fall asleep.. every time.
(pointing to the tub)
Can you help me, Yann?
(she gets in to the tub dressed, pretends to feel the temperature of the nonexistent water) It’s cold! (Yann fiddles at the taps) Thanks. That’s better. (She lies down with a sigh of bliss)

Yann – Don’t you want to undress?

Duras – You mustn’t see me… I’m too thin, horrible.

Yann – It makes no difference to me.

Duras – Yeah, it makes no difference to you. This too is an appraisal.

Yann – I cannot soap you unless you take your nightdress off! (Duras does not answer and Yann soaps her nightdress, her hair, her bejewelled fingers. Duras closes one of her fists, then she opens it)

(The lights fade, sound of water flowing softly, rain or a stream the sound is continuous and melodious. Enter One and Two dressed at Vietnamese peasants; they unfurl a roll of blue silk simulating waves)

Duras – Every year our maid built an altar for the Tao and decorated it with peach blossoms. It looked like a Christmas tree, that’s why my mother detested it. The was for the Emperor of Jade, the eight Immortals and the four venerable Mothers who protect the rice fields. It lasted only one day. Then my mother would flood the house from top to bottom, destroy the Tao and all the gods, she disinfected them with river water which seemed to flow from the sky, water filled with light…a mist that blunted the outline of men and gods alike… the entire Mekong flowed in our midst, beneath the beds, between our toes, sweeping away books, chairs, memories…the entire world dripped for days….and she laughed and danced… nothing of the kind was to be seen… the people came from all around to see her dance…

Music: Japanese drums

(The Mother enters, transfigured , wearing white veils that make her look like an Asian goddess. She dances in her bear feet, uninhibited as a Bacchante. Yann watches her in ecstasy , he stretches out his hands, holding a bar of soap and a sponge, in her direction. Duras struggles out of the tub, comes over to him, embraces him, kisses him passionately. They fall to the floor locked in an embrace like young lovers. Then the Mother exits and all comes to an end, as if a switch had suddenly been turned off. Yann helps Duras to rise, and they resume their usual attitudes)

Duras – Enough. What time is it?

Yann – Time for Tranxene.

Duras – A lovely evening.

Yann – You must change.

Duras – Like in a play. (Yann undresses her and puts on a clean nightdress) A truly lovely evening.

Yann – Drink your milk.

Duras – And biscuits. There’s nothing better. Are you going home?

Yann – I’m not allowed to stay.

Duras – A great relief for you.

Yann – Drink…

Duras – Have you a date with the nurse?

Yann – What date? Where?

Duras – Even in the loo. Down there to the left, you can’t go wrong.

Yann – Take you sleeping drugs, I’m tired, I want to go home.

Duras – Why, yes, they’ve all seen how much you do for me. You’ve got your publicity. Maybe there are photographers waiting outside. That’s why you’re in such a hurry… (she drinks her milk) But I’ve never believed you. Never!

Yann – There’s nobody waiting for me.
Duras – Sleep here then, in my bed. I sleep more safely, no-one will be able to steal by rings, even if it’s all they’re after here… A diamond can solve many problems, that’s what my mother used to say…

(DARKNESS)

SCENE VI

(Vietnamese music in the background.
One and Two enter dressed as Malays, with mincing footsteps, they carry a large multi-coloured veil which they manipulate and throw in the air with grace and dexterity, like jugglers in a Chinese circus. Their voices are shrill and toneless)

1 – In the blue house of my master Chang they are preparing for his son’s wedding!

2 – In the red house of my master Chung they are celebrating the forthcoming wedding of his daughter!

1 – Chang has ordered a canopy of white silk with peacock plumes and fresh-water pearls!

2 – Chung will cover the courtyard with flowers of jade and leaves of gold!

1 – Chang has ordered from Paris a diamond as big as a sakatù’s egg!

2 – Chung has convoked 100 embroidresses from Suac Luc to sew garments for the guests!

1 – Silk and gold?

2 – And jade!

1 – And the bride?

2 – She too covered in jade!

1 – Is she beautiful?

2 – Who can tell? Only the father, the mother, the grandmother and the nurse have seen her enchanting virgin’s face.

1 – And the groom?

2 – He will see her on the wedding night when they will conceive an heir!

1 – An heir, an heir at once, at once! A child for that mountain of jade…

2 – gold, pearls and streams of silk

(on the screen images from the central section of the film: the girl makes love with her Chinese lover)

1 – Is the bride happy?

2 – Very happy! The groom is handsome, rich, he studied in Paris and is good at making love.

1 – So they will live laughing until the end of their days.

2 – May the goddess protect them!

1 – Does the bride know about the French child?

2(indicating the screen) Her?

1(looking in turn) Yes, her. Does she know?

2 – Chang will give the girl lots of money so that she return to France … Herself, her mother and her brother… all of them away. Mr Chang is their gold mine.

1 – Lucky little French girl…

2 – Jade and diamonds for her too?

1 – No a one-way ticket!

(they laugh, roll around, improvising a short dance with the coloured veil before leaving in opposite directions)

SCENE VII

(Margherite, Mr.Jo)

(The stage is divided in three parts by the lights: to one side Yann and Duras, to the other practically centre, Marguerite and Mr. Jo; at the back the silhouettes of Pierre and the Mother. Marguerite is lying, languidly sprawled on a sofa her feet in Mr Jo’s lap religiously intent on varnishing her toe nails with extreme care; he massages her ankle, then his hand moves slowly up to stroke her legs. Foregrounded, on the floor, the famous rhinestone shoes. She laughs, half opens her eyes, but does not recoil. On the screen scenes from the film)

Jo – I’m mad about you… since I set eyes on you the first time… that day on the ferry for Sadec… You were so beautiful, with your pink hat, your rhinestone shoes… I desired you from that very moment, I knew I couldn’t go on living without having you… (she seems totally indifferent) And you, what did you think of me?

Marg(she takes her sandals and hugs them)
The golden one is pretty
The silver one prettier
But the prettiest of all is the boat of silk
Sailing out of the mists down the river
Towards the rainbow
And the song of the oarsmen rings out…
(she opens her eyes and looks at him) What did I think of you? That you were a prince, maybe, a Chinese god, one of those bathed in gold….the car, the driver, the silk clothes, the diamond cigarette case… an exaggeration… too much for just one person… and you weren’t even satisfied, you wanted the little girl with the rhinestone shoes… you had to snatch her away from her mother.

Jo – I wish I were poor. Would you love me if I was poor?

Marg(harsh) But you aren’t poor, so there’s no point in discussing it. My mother says you must marry me. She’s given you eight days to decide, if you refuse then you cannot see me ever again.

Duras’s voice – Hide the rings, Yann, when I’m dead you can do what you like with them… you mustn’t lose them, bring them home, in a safe place where nobody can steal them…when I’m dead you can sell them and become very, very rich… nothing is worth more than a diamond!

Marg – Put the pink varnish on, no, red, the one you brought me yesterday!

Jo – I’m mad about you.

Marg – Hurry up, I want to go out. Where shall we go this evening? I feel like dancing, eating. Pierre is coming too.

Jo – Pierre?

Marg – Are you afraid? Yes, in actual fact, he might kill you. If you told him the truth.

Jo – I want to be alone with you

Marg – They won’t let me, they think you want to take me to bed… they pretend they don’t know

Jo – What they don’t know is how much I want you.

Marg – Why don’t you marry me, then?

Jo – I can’t marry anyone I wish! As a child I was promised to a girl from a family as rich as my own. My father chose for me, because that’s what is done in China But give me time and I’ll convince him. Perhaps

(at the window the silhouettes of the Mother and Pierre appear)

Mother – I went to see the Chinaman’s father and explained our plight, the dishonour on the child, told him about the dyke that collapsed and that that i need to build it again, about how you two must leave for France…

Pierre – Why do you go begging, ma?

Mother – It’s my right!

Pierre – And what was his answer?

Mother – That he’d think about it. That’s what he said: I have to think..

Jo – If only you could give me a small token of your love … I’d find the strength to fight…

Marg – But what more do you need?

Jo – Undress. Just for a moment. I’ll stand back, I won’t touch you, I only want to see your body again (complainingly)<(span> Is it my fault if I love you so much? You’ve nothing to lose and I’ll gain happiness

Marg – Yes; your happiness, my mother will get her plantation, Pierre a new car and for me? What’s left?

Jo – I will have a diamond bigger than any ever seen before brought from Paris!

Marg – You want to take me here, in my own home… right under my own mother’s nose!

Jo – See how much I love you… (he clasps her legs and kisses them)

Marg(kicking violently) It’s not true!

Jo – Quiet, don’t shout, I’ll do what you want.

Marg(she yells) You must pay me! I’m fifteen, French, you must pay me more than you pay your lovers!

(at the window the silhouettes of the Mother and Pierre appear)

Pierre – He’ll never marry her, the bastard

Mother – I have given him eight days to propose. After that I’m throwing him out of the house.

Pierre – I swear I’ll shoot him dead, ma.

Mother – It’s all your sister’s fault. You need to be clever to be a whore!

Marg – I want your ring, the one on your finger. At once !

Jo(hiding his hand) This one no. I’ll give you a bigger one. This belongs to the family, my mother would be so offended…

Marg – Your mother? And mine? She too is entitled to something… you’ve taken everything from her: her husband, her life’s savings, her daughter… everything! My mother has nothing left!

Jo – I shall love you forever!

Marg – You… you’re not worth anything, you are unable to do anything, you haven’t even a whit of courage …

Jo – Promise you’ll come away with me! We’ll go to the cinema every evening and then dancing…

Marg – The ring…

Jo – Will you come with me? Swear!

Marg – I swear you’ll never see me again unless you give me that ring!

Mr. Jo – I want to look at you, I have the right. Undress, only for a moment…

Marg – Pierre will kill you.

Mr. Jo – Undress…I’ll only look, nothing else…

Marg – Will you give me the ring?

Mr. Jo – The ring and my entire life… unbutton your dress, I beg you….

(Marguerite unbuttons her dress slowly and it slips to the floor; she is naked, immobile; her eyes are fixed on the ring that Mr. Jo removes from his finger just as slowly. She snatches it from him with a shout of triumphant delight. The whole stage is filled with kaleidoscopic rays, as if coming from the diamond)

Marg(shouting) Mamma! Look! The ring…. It’s worth twenty thousand francs! We’re rich, mamma!

SCENE VIII

(The Mother enters, looks at her naked daughter who doesn’t even make an attempt to cover herself; the mother opens her hand and Marguerite drops the ring in to it; the hand snaps shut)

Mother – It took him some time… That pig has been coming here now for months taking advantage of us…Did you do it?

(Yann helps Duras draw closer)

Marg – No, he gave it to me as a gift… I took it… we’ve solved everything, haven’t we? You’ll have your roof, your dyke, a new licence.

Mother – Do you mean to say you did it for me?

Marg – It’s for you, but I did nothing…

(the Mother rushes at her, beats her while Pierre looks on unmoved)

Mother – You slut capable of all kinds of filth with the first who crosses your path… whore…and you say you do it for me… I’ve slogged like a beast to keep the two of you….I’ve worked myself to the bone….But I’ve been given twenty thousand francs by this filthy bitch of a whore!

Duras – Enough! (she runs towards the Mother, she block her hands) Yes, I did it, we did it over and over until we were worn out, can you understand that, mamma? I don’t think so, mamma, no man has even lost his mind out of desire for you, that’s why you hate you, even if I’ve brought you twenty thousand francs in a sole night… it’s not enough, it’s never sufficient, it will never do for you! Mamma!

(The Mother covers her face with her hands and cries. On the screen images of the amorous encounters between the Chinese lover and the young girl. The silhouette of Pierre smoking very slowly)

Duras – You know I can bear to see you cry… as if you were a victim… I did what I could …I lived for you and you never even noticed…my life is a film, badly dubbed, badly edited, shot badly, with tatty actors…one mistake after the other from beginning to end… and yet I don’t cry.

Mr Jo – My father has paid Pierre’s tea-parlour debts.

Mother – Your father will have to pay many more… because you took a child by force… and she’ll have to marry you although you disgust her… because you disgust even this trollop of a daughter of mine… (she tries to assail the girl, falls to the ground in a sprawling heap, then crawls trying to reach her) But why, why him of all people?

Mr Jo(like a robot) Pierre gets high on opium and my father has paid his bills in all the smoking houses in Sadec.

Mother(dazed) My lovely baby… they’ve ruined him because he’s too good, too delicate…

Marg – I’m good too, mamma. Why don’t you care for me?

Duras(to Mr Jo) She hated us because our pleasure was unknown to her, she could only imagine it…like an insult… (she caresses him, she slips a finger beneath his shirt) Look, mamma, he’s terribly handsome… he has skin like silk which flows like river water… you don’t know what his skin feels like inside and outside of me, on my mouth, in my belly… (she sniffs deeply) The scent of wealth…

Mr Jo(obstinate) My father says Pierre must return to France, that he won’t pay any more and that if he doesn’t go he’ll end up in jail

Mother(to Pierre) My darling… don’t listen to him… (she goes up to him, kisses him, singing “La vie en rose” softly. Pierre is dazed by opium, indifferent to all)

Duras – There’s something you don’t know, mamma. I made love before and after your funeral with a man I had just men in a dance hall. When the telegram arrived I was in Saint Tropez… I left with him…We stopped in a hotel to make love… that’s why I arrived late, but they hadn’t as yet put you in your coffin. I was able to kiss you. Cold, as ever. And he (indicating Pierre) was crying. You had always helped him, kept him, justified him… He had lost his Mother and that’s why he was crying. What would one not do for a son? It’s never enough, even if he’s 40 and never worked in his life. But your were dead and he was crying for his lost goldmine. Then we went to the notary…you left everything to him. I did not object. Why should that will have changed the story of my life? It was fine that way, as long as the comedy was over, mamma… all I wanted was to return to that man, dance and make love with him

Marg – You’re a whore, she’s right

Duras – Do you still stand up for her? She abandoned you on the banks of a river… she expected you to die..

Marg(to the Mother) Have you nothing to say? Can’t you stand up for yourself?

Duras -She’s not listening to you…as usual… they’re lost…. Mad about each other… forever… (the Mother sings, indifferent)

Marg – My Mother is an extraordinary woman. They come from the nearby villages to see her… in our house they can get medicine, food, books, beds, advice, they leave the children nobody else knows how to cure… She is the centre of the world … the queen of the water and the winds, the beginning and the end of every pathway and every hope. As far as S. Thala only she… and after that she, always she…

Duras – What a hypocrite…

Yann – Let her be, Duras

Duras – She’s ashamed of her mother, she says she’s a lunatic

Yann – All mothers are… it’s in their nature.

Duras – She’s ashamed because she’s badly dressed

(the Mother approaches the two women)

Duras – While you… with your pink hat and rhinestone shoes…

Mother(to Marg) Are you ashamed of me? Is this what we’ve come to?

Marg – Your clothes are a disgrace… Nobody dresses like that anymore… that nightgown. You came to get me at the boarding-school in that nightgown…

Mother – It’s clean…

Marg – You sleep in it

Mother – So what?

Marg – It’s clear that you sleep in it

Mr Jo – The women in my family sleep in silk…

Marg – You pull a skirt over your nightgown and come to get me at school in that state… talk to the principal… Expect people to listen to you…

Duras – Your weather-beaten shoes, holes in your stockings…

(the Mother looks at her feet bewildered)

Marg – And your hair…nobody wears it pulled back so tight anymore

Mother – My hair? (Slowly, she brings her hands to her head and pulls out a hairpin and two ratty, lifeless white plaits fall to her shoulders)

Duras – Look at you, mamma, how can people respect someone like you? You’re ridiculous…I’ve told you a thousand times…how is it that only you don’t realise it?

Marg – When you come to fetch me at school you must comb your hair!

Mother(trying to turn the tables) The principal tells me you’re out all night…. (indicating Mr. Jo) that he sends the car for you … I had to beg her to keep you on… for one more month… your a scandal to all other girls in the boarding school..

Marg -Well then, what can be done with this hair? (she undoes the plaits pulling the hair roughly) A nice French-style cut, yes, would takes years off you… and then we’ll dye it, dark, like when you were young. Have you ever been young, mamma? (She puts the pink hat on her polling it down to her ears) Look… la femme fatale!

Duras – The nightgown, open it! (she tears it, exposing the breasts) There, that’ll do. You’re a Frenchwomen, don’t forget that…

Marg – The skirt, tighter at the waist (she tightens the belt and makes her whimper)

Duras – Put on the rhinestone shoes…

Marg – They don’t fit… look at these feet… (she shoves them on half way) There now.

Duras – Lipstick… did you ever wear any? Open your mother… cerise, like a Chinese prostitute ….you’ll be lovely the sexiest women in the French colony…. Voilà! Let’s see.

(The Mother remains motionless, dazed, transformed.)

Marg – If I let you live, if I don’t kill you and your son it’s because I don’t love you anymore, I’ve got you out of my head, mamma. I’ve stopping begging for your smile, your arms, your voice, your glance… It’s over, here and now.

Duras – And do you know the incredible thing? I have become a writer, the people are crazy about me, in France I’m a legend…

Mother(weeping, calling softly) Pierre… where are you?

Duras – What? What’s she looking for?

Marg – She’s looking for Pierre. We’re here talking and she calls Pierre.

Mother – Pierre… come…

Duras – Try to understand. My success is cosmic, money, diamond rings….

Mother(making a great effort, she spells out) You are ..a troll…op.

(Duras slaps the Mother’s face and the sound echoes like an explosion; for a moment she herself appears horrified, as if frightened by her own gesture, but Margherite, in turn, hits the Mother too and both begin pummelling her madly, tearing her clothes, pulling and dragging her around as if she were a lifeless rag doll.
It’s as if they were trying to kill her, but suddenly the violence becomes love, a desire to acquire the Mother’s body, return inside, to possess it forever. The Mother lies there in different to the hatred and the love.)

DARKNESS

(voices off)

1 – Monsieur… monsieur!

2 – Oui?

1 – What did you say the name of this place was?

2 – S. Thala. As far as the river.

1 – And then ?

2 – Then? Then it’s still S. Thala.

1 – We must stay here, do you know?

2 – Stay, yes

1 – They want to repopulate right here.

2 – For what reason?

1 – That’s the way it is.

2 – When?

1 – In three hundred years’ time. Or ten.

2 – Does anyone know?

1 – No.

2 – Merci.

1 – Ce n’est rien…

2 – Pour quoi ces mots?

1 – Pour les enfants plus tard.

2 – Good night.

1 – Adieu !

SCENE IX

(Duras, Yann)

(Both are seated at a table: Duras is well groomed, visibly in good health. She dictates while Yann writes. She interrupts only to take a puff from her cigarette or a sip from her soft drink)

Duras – My Mother… love… my incredible caricature… she wears darned cotton stockings, pitiful clothes, shapeless, crooked shoes that hurt like mad.
To die of shame when she turns up in front of the lycée… they all look at her but she never notices, never.
To put behind bars, to beat up, to kill. She looks at me and says: perhaps you will overcome it …
The hard thing is not reaching something…
The hard thing…
is freeing yourself of the condition you’re in….
The Chinese lover turned up in Paris several years after the war with his wife. He rang to say that things were the same as ever… that he still loved me… that he could not stop loving me… that he’d love me till the day he died….

(she puffs the smoke out, places her hand on Yann’s and squeezes it tenderly)

END

Paola Moretti Brief bio-bibliographical note

Plays staged

Una strana follia, directed by Lauro Versari, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome

Giuditta, starring Maddalena Fallucchi, during the Elena e le Altre [Helen and the Others] festival

Supermarket, winner of the Pirandello- Brecht project, New York

Icaro, a monologue on which composer Adriaan de Wit based his short opera Icarus staged during the Mozarteum in Saltzburg

Plays published:

Melosfere and Giovinezza acquatica di Alessandra de Rudinì. Ed. Pellicani
La Papessa Giovanna, ed. Costa e Nolan
La virtuosa sposa del mercante, Ed. Pellicani
Icaro, ed Il ramo d’oro

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