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St. Jacques-en-Erlian, 1989

(a ten-minute semi-documentary for the theatre)

Vladimir J. Konečni

For M.-G. K., D.K., S.D.-D., and S.B.

"11 May 1987"
(Codex; San Diego, California, 1997)
by Vladimir J. Konečni


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:

          Normal Voice (NV); Amplified Voice (AV) ; Recorded Voice (RV).

          (AV 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 RV)

S.: A woman in her seventies, onstage but invisible. She speaks in a normal voice, old beyond her years.

Sam: A tall, erect, gaunt man in his early eighties. Never speaks and his face is barely visible, from the profile.

Set and props

          Elements of the ideal set are described (from the audience's perspective), though simplified versions might work.

          The 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).

          Except 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.

          Everything 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.

          The 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).


          Five 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 text.

(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.)

M.-G. (AV) 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 LL.)

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 SITS.)

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.
      In the present as were I still.
      It is winter.
      Without journey.
      Time passes. .
      That is all.
      Make sense who may.
      I switch off." (3. see Notes)

(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 PACES.)

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 on M.-G.)

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
       the day came
       in the end came
       close of a long day
       when she said
       to herself
       whom else
       time she stopped
       time she stopped"(7)

(Sam PACES 5-6 seconds then SITS.)

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 on M.-G.)

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. Slide 5:)

Monday, July 17, 1989 -- S. †
Sunday, October 1, 1989 -- M.-G. †
Saturday, October 7, 1989 -- D. †
Friday, December 22, 1989 -- Sam †

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


(1) Samuel Beckett, That Time, 1976.
(2) Vladimir J. Konečni, Erlian (short story. Swift Kick, in press).
(3) Samuel Beckett, What Where, 1984.
(4) That Time, see Note 1.
(5) Samuel Beckett, Rockaby, 1981.
(6) Erlian, see Note 2.
(7) Samuel Beckett, Breath, 1969.


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