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St. Jacques-en-Erlian, 1989
For M.-G. K., D.K., S.D.-D., and S.B.
St. Jacques-en-Erlian, 1989
M.-G.: A woman in her early twenties.
Brown hair — rich, thick, shoulder-length. She is heard in one
of three modes:
Voice (NV); Amplified Voice (AV) ;
Recorded Voice (RV).
should be balanced so that it is heard as coming from the actress, on
the stage; RV should be balanced so that its source
is above the audience, away from the stage.)
D.: A woman in her seventies,
young-sounding. Present only as a recorded voice (same source as M.-G.'s
S.: A woman in her seventies,
onstage but invisible. She speaks in a normal voice, old beyond her
Sam: A tall, erect, gaunt man
in his early eighties. Never speaks and his face is barely visible,
from the profile.
Set and props
of the ideal set are described (from the audience's perspective), though
simplified versions might work.
set is a large box diagonally divided from top left to bottom right.
In the lower left area (LL), a car is on its roof, smashed against a
thick tree growing from the lower left corner to the top of the box.
(The tree is bent to the right, penetrates the diagonal partition, and
its top is just to the left of the center of the top of the box. The
car could be a stylized contraption, but it must have four wheels, however
crude, that can spin.) M.-G. is in the car,
hanging upside down from the seat-belt. She never moves. Her
face is partly hidden by hair (so that one cannot tell if she has facial
injuries), but her lips are clearly visible. In the top right area (TR),
there is a curved enclosure, Sam's room, with a window
on the left, toward the tree. In the room are a large television set
-- next to the right wall and facing the audience -- and a simple chair,
a little to the left and with its back to the audience. The TV (behind
which S. is concealed) is on throughout, with the sound off.
A soccer or rugby match is shown continuously, in black & white
(there is one switch to color).
toward the end, Sam does only three things: SITS in
the chair facing television, his back to the audience; STANDS by the
window looking down; PACES -- noiselessly -- from the right corner to
the window (between the TV and the chair) and back again.
is a uniform pale grey -- the box, the tree, the car, all costumes and
props, Sam's face and hair. M.G.'s brown hair thus stands out strikingly;
it is full around her head (not hanging limply even in the upside-down
position). The visible part of her face is of a healthy color.
whole set should be as two-dimensional as possible, for aesthetic reasons
and because the entire box area serves as an occasional projection screen
(intentionally somewhat uneven).
slides (available from the author) are to be used. The contents of Slides
1. - 3. are shown (crudely) on the following three pages. As the audience
walks in. Slide 1 is projected very large on a pale grey scrim. The
size of the image is exactly the same as that of the box that is for
the moment concealed behind the scrim. During the play, when slides
are projected without the scrim onto the box, the image always covers
the outline of the box precisely.
1. A road with trees (black &. white);
2. A map showing Boulevard St. Jacques and La Santé Prison
(Maison d'Arrêt de la Santé), 14th arrondissament, Paris; an envelope;
3. Erlian train station (color);
4. & 5. The content of these slides is given in the
(Slide 1 is projected on the scrim. The scrim is then
raised, but the slide remains on, projected on the set -- there are
no other lights. Soon after, simultaneously, the slide goes off and
the light comes on in LL to illuminate the wheels of the car spinning
in the air and some dust settling. TR is dark. As the wheels stop spinning,
a spotlight on M.-G.)
M.-G. (AV) Are my eyes
open? ... Where are you? Darling, are you here? Can I touch you? ..
Can I move? I always miss you so crazily...What is this warm stuff?
Is this blood? No...tears welling in my head... (Attenuated spotlight
on M.-G. RV)
Tears welled in my eyes when his mother, so kind, like a mother to me,
hugged me at the little train station by the ocean. She came off the
train and said my husband had asked her to give me a big hug and to
kiss my eyes... (Spotlight up. AV) Is this
pain I feel? Or numbness?... Where are you? I know you are alive...
Walking in the desert for miles with a badly broken arm and so little
water... (Spotlight weaker. RV) The thought
of me gave him strength, he said. My darling, my sweet... As his Jeep
was tumbling over, two-and-a-half times, "Marry her, you stupid
fool" flashed in his mind. And he did... on the most beautiful
day, the eleventh... of May... the most beautiful month... All in white
and for good reason. (Spotlight up. AV) Pain...
Where are you, my darling? Can I move... to touch you? Where is what
I see? (Pause 5 seconds as the spotlight is gradually replaced by
dim diffuse light in LL; dim light gradually in TR. Sam
SITS.) (RV) He likes to kiss my eyes. After he
does it, my eyelids open slowly, especially the right one. You are,
and have always been, my sweetest, most gentle, and most tender husband...
(Light off in LL, up in TR. The television comes on. After 5 seconds,
Sam begins to PACE just as S. begins.)
S. I came upon him lying on the sidewalk,
a stranger, bleeding. (Sam STANDS.)
Had been stabbed by a thief. (Sam PACES.)
I took him to the hospital... That was fifty years ago. (Light to
dim in TR.) But never any children. (Light to dim in LL.)
D. When my son was little, we had our
private tune. We whistled it, like this... (Whistles softly the
first few bars from Étude Opus 12, Number 3, in E-Major by Chopin, especially
as played by Vladimir Horowitz). A greeting, a call, like the birds
do it. (Sam SITS. All lights off. Slide 2 comes
on. Pause a few seconds.)
S. We have long been living in adjoining
apartments. (SAM PACES.) His study
looks to the back of the building. A strange view -- the exercise yard
(Sam STANDS.) of the Santé prison.
(Slide 2 off: Light to dim in TR.) Sometimes their eyes meet.
D. My daughter is gentle. I didn't meet
her until she and my son were married. (Sam
PACES.) They are so close, comme les jumeaux, she says,
like twins. I remember this one time when I kissed her for him at the
Del Mar station, there were tears in her pretty brown eyes. It pains
them not to be together even for a day... He walked out of the Kalahari
desert thinking of her more than of water... His second birthday...
(A soft moan is heard from the car in the darkness. Sam
STANDS.) And only a month ago, when a mugger with a knife came
upon him, she forced herself between them, hissing "Don't you dare
touch my husband!" (A moan from the darkness of LL. Sam
SITS. Light to dim in TR, spotlight on M.-G.)
What is going on? And for how long? Have I been in pain? (Tenderly:)
Beautiful blue ocean... What if for a long time at the moment of dying
one cannot know if one has died? Why does this come to mind? (Pause
some seconds as the spotlight fades out.)
S. "That time in the end when you
tried and couldn't by the window in the dark." (1, see Notes,
end of page.) (Sam PACES.) After
their eyes have met, he always feels the cloth of the old dressing gown
and wriggles his toes in the carpet slippers to make sure he isn't wearing
prison issue. (Sam STANDS. Dim light in
M.-G. (RV) Early in
the morning, I hear horses neighing. A Ferris wheel is being built by
the racetrack. Soon the fair will start. (Spotlight on M.-G.
AV) But an that is unimportant. I miss you and miss
you and miss you. (A low moan by M.-G. in AV;
RV:) When not by the bed on my knees, then in my heart,
I pray that you are well and safe and continue to be protected by God.
(All lights off in LL. Sam PACES.)
D. The grief in my daughter's voice when
she called to say they had lost their child. You are so young, there'll
be... but I couldn't finish. The only tense that exists for her is the
all-consuming love she feels for my son in the boundless present. (Sam
STANDS. Dim light in LL.)
M.-G. (RV) In the middle
of my life when I was eleven, I first had the thought that I might bear
children some day. I put down my violin and rushed to Mother Superior's
office. How kindly and deeply she looked into my eyes. And how happy
for us she was ten years later when I wrote to say I was pregnant...
But. after three months, our Sasha's heartbeat could not be detected...
Sister Beatrix grieved with us... (Calmly.) So much for stories
of envious nuns hostile to new life in their sterility. (Sam
PACES. AV.) It would have been Sasha for either
boy or girl, but it was a girl... (RV) Then the curettage,
the horror of horrors, and the lab analysis of our poor little one.
One evening at 7:50 we found a message from Dr. Murphy on our answering
machine. (Sam SITS. AV,
imitates a cold, nasal voice, but no exaggeration.) I am calling
to tell you that the preliminary karyotype was a normal female. If you
have any questions, please feel free... uhhh... to give me a call. Thank
you. (RV Calmly:) On the answering machine,
how... cruel, and from a woman doctor at that -- a small woman in her
midthirties, with a protruding forehead that she tries to hide with
her scarce hair. (RV: A few whimpers of sadness;
pause; AV: a moan of pain. Spotlight on M.-G.
Pause 5 seconds. AV) I love it when you stroke
my hair. (Sam PACES. Spotlight gradually
fades. PAUSE. Tenderly:) I stand in awe in front of you. I really
mean it... No, not just your intelligence. You are so just, you are
so good. (All lights off in LL. Light increases in TR.)
S. His black ink, his fine calligraphy... so certain that each word brings him closer to death... (Sam STANDS.) this otherworld inexplicable. The conscious mind is neither here nor there except that it always knows whom it loves. (Sam PACES. Pause.) Up Boulevard St. Jacques and all over the 14th, rain or shine. (Sam SITS. Light to dim in TR. Spotlight on M.-G.)
M.-G. (AV) I see myself
writing my dearest darling I love you and love you and love you forever
and ever, not till death us part but forever what dear God did I mean?
Being here, yes, and continuing to love and I don't know if my heart
beats faster when I say love or remembers itself beating faster, but
when I die I know I will love you because I knew long ago that when
the glass breaks and the metal twists my last and first thought would
be loving you... Some things are black and silent, still there is seeing
somehow within me, a clear light not twilight in a Caravaggio cellar
but then who knows when this light would turn to grey, the love of grey
in your play, or perhaps it has already. Dear God, am I alive was I
have I ever been and what is next and can I love through this pain?
Tears that flow from inside the head this liquid I remember how it tasted.
(Spotlight gradually fades. RV) Thank you,
darling, for everything, your love and help, sweetness and gentleness.
You make me ecstatically happy every moment of our life together. You
are my beloved every thing, forever. (AV) When
there is silence in all this, still it is never quiet, never still.
(Darkness in LL. Sam PACES.)
S. Stiff and joyless fingers... no more
piano. Pacing, rocking, and dying. Why does this come to mind? (Sam
STANDS. Light fades in TR.) The grey choppy sea off Folkestone
our wedding day. (Darkness in TR. Slide 3 comes on.)
D. My children met on the Chinese-Mongolian
border, another time another desert... (Sam
PACES.) red the earth the sky... When I die it will be quick. I
must not ever be helpless, a burden. (Sam
M.-G. (RV) The train rolled through Gobi. "As it became dark, my face in the window, shaking irregularly, overpowered the desert" (2, see Notes.) he wrote at the time. The face was then his though it may have been mine for we have been twins even before we met. At long last the border, the square-faced clock, the only thing lit between Peking and the North Star. "Red-neon embroidery, green-neon Erlian" (2). His camera clicked, 10:39, our eyes first met. (Slide 3 off. Spotlight on M-G. AV.) I would give my life not to be you then for to be you then would mean to be you now and if I am now going through dying even I can't bear the pain that you feel.
(Screams:) Oh my God! (Light off in LL, up
to dim in TR. Sam PACES.)
D. He saw the headlight of a car in Kalahari
and crouched behind rocks in fear of knives, a lone white man with a
broken arm. But it was only a reflection of the moon rising. (Sam
STANDS. Spotlight on M.-G.)
M.-G. (AV) You are here
and you hold me close. You're always so sweet, so gentle, so kind. (Light
off in LL. Sam PACES. RV.) Sometimes
when a letter from you arrived, I was so happy I did a handstand. Reading
your words sky-high, ocean-deep, and horizontally to eternity all my
love my dearest wife I cry and mutter that our most beautiful love affair
is all that my life consists of I love you infinitely more than myself.
(Sam STANDS. Spotlight on M.-G.
AV.) My darling, my sweet, are you here, were you then,
were you the kind one, Gabriel, whom my mother loves and also Père Daniel
who became Gabriel when he had the choice? Dear God, am I alive? (Light
off in LL. Sam SITS. Soft spotlight on Sam.)
S. "I am alone.
(A low moan from LL. Pause 3 seconds. Simultaneously,
all lights off in TR, dim light up in LL. Sam PACES.)
D. Something is wrong, I feel it, my
mother's heart tells me. (Sam STANDS.
Soft blue spotlight on M.-G., light fades to darkness
in the rest of LL.)
M.-G. (AV) I love you
more than is humanly possible, which precludes death or makes it necessary.
Twenty-fourth of September, 1986, in Erlian station "was that another
time all that another time was there ever any other time but that time"
(4). (Silence 5 seconds. Then, spotlight on M.-G.
fades for 5 seconds to darkness; then, light goes up to dim in TR. Sam
D. Something has happened to my twins
so why live. In the train before Erlian, my son wrote: "Time to
stop. '...time she stopped time she stopped...' (5) Billie
Whitelaw intones in Sam Beckett's Rockaby, rocking and dying;
why does this come to mind?" (6) It came to my son as a question,
to me as the answer. (Sam STANDS. Darkness in TR.
Light goes up in LL to illuminate the wheels of the car spinning end
dust settling. As the wheels come to a stop, a soft blue-green spotlight
M.-G. (NV: nonamplified;
softly whistles the same bars from Chopin's Étude that D.
whistled earlier. Tenderly:) Beautiful blue ocean... What color
is forever, what texture? A calm deep love that doesn't erode. (Spotlight
off. Light to dim in LL and TR.)
D. "till in the end
(Sam PACES 5-6 seconds then
M.-G. (NV) Two years after I took my first breath, a man wrote... (Lights off. Slide 4 comes on long enough to be comfortably read. It is shown in its entirety, including the reference.)
"Faint brief cry and immediately inspiration and slow increase of light... Silence and hold about five seconds... Expiration and slow decrease of light." (From Samuel Beckett's Breath, 1969)
(Slide 4 goes off. Dim silver/pale-grey light in TR
and LL. Sam, seated, first changes the television picture
from b & w to color— the sports event remains the same. His
operation of the remote-control device is fully visible to the audience.
After about 7-8 seconds, he uses the device to switch the TV off altogether.
Sam then follows the instructions in Slide 4. He first
emits a very brief, low cry-wail, then inhales audibly, evenly for 3
seconds. Breath is held for 5 seconds. Sam then exhales for 3 seconds
at the end of which TR becomes dark. In LL, only a soft blue-green spotlight
M.-G. (NV) Locked with you in a loving embrace of incredible force on a pale green icefloat forever or for a good-bye.
(Pause 5 seconds, then light off and Slide 5 projected
on a scrim in front of the set as long as necessary. Then, all is black.
Monday, July 17, 1989 -- S. †
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(1) Samuel Beckett, That Time, 1976.