Thursday, February 21, 2008

Scene 2: Body Collision (1958)

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(Music: children singing “Happy Birthday,” slightly off-key, perhaps in a slightly threatening manner. As lights come up, AUNTIE is sitting at a desk in the middle of stage right–as opposed to stage left like in Scene 1–writing a letter. She wears a very flamboyant outfit, decked out in a bright red satin dress with a low neckline, matching high heels and purse, rhinestone necklace and matching bracelets, and rhinestone-studded Harlequin glasses. She is heavily made up: dark eyeshadow, ruby red lipstick, overdone rouge. She has saucy “shimmering” silver hair, styled in the fashion of the time. On the desk is the same framed pictured of the old man, a full martini glass with olive, a pack of cigarettes, silver lighter, ashtray, and the matching purse. On far stage right, slightly behind the desk, is the overstuffed chair and the pipe, suggesting a mirror image of the Scene 1 set.)

(On stage left, SAMANTHA, wearing a pink flouffy dress with a bouncy skirt, with black patent leather shoes, sits on an oversized chair, too high for her feet to touch the ground. Although an adult plays the eight-year-old SAMANTHA, she exhibits the antsy demeanor of a child. An open coloring book sits on her lap, and, with great concentration, colors in it, even as she swings her feet, back and forth. A small table next to her holds a bowl of potato chips or Fritos. From time to time, still continuing to color, she takes a chip and eats it. Some toys are strewn about, mostly dolls and other girl toys. At least one doll, in a toy baby cradle, should be a baby doll, about the same size as a real baby.)


(AUNTIE reads out loud as she writes, assuming a patronizing tone that is often reserved for children:)

Hollywood, California

October 13, 1958

Dear Little Sammy Cuddler,

(AUNTIE pauses. She puts down her pen, picks up the cigarette pack, takes a cigarette out, and lights it up. She stands up and moves toward the audience. As she moves, her body language should convey extreme self-assurance. She addresses the audience directly. As she speaks, she moves about the stage, picking up things and putting them down again. In short, she’s an active person who can’t sit still; in addition, she should come across as a person who always seems to have one foot out the door. In the patronizing tone, AUNTIE continues:)

Happy birthday! So you are eight years old. Such a little lady, I hear. Buy something pretty--not candy--with the enclosed check. You’re my little cuddler, and I want you to be happy.


Are you still fat?

(SAMANTHA pauses and looks up and scowls.)

Your Nana told me she took you to Dr. Noonan for your check-up, and he said you had to lose 10 pounds by Christmas. Sweetheart, that’s only two and a half months away and you know how Santa don’t like to give presents to little fat girls. I’m sure he wants to bring you many pretty dresses but his elves don’t know how to make Lane Bryant sizes. Besides, how would Santa deliver all those big clothes?

(SAMANTHA sticks her tongue out at the audience and resumes coloring.)

Saw Hilda today. Remember her? She went on a crash diet last year and lost 50 pounds in two months. Now she’s gained it all back and then some. So sad.

(AUNTIE goes back to the desk, takes one long drag on her cigarette, and snuffs it out in the ashtray.)

You don’t want to be big like her.

(SAMANTHA rips out the completed page from her coloring book, crushes it into a ball, and tosses it toward the audience.)

I hope you can lose that awful fat by Christmas.

(SAMANTHA starts coloring on a new page, but now she merely scribbles angrily.)

Heard from your Daddy Platts yesterday.

(SAMANTHA stops coloring and looks up.)

Says he misses you and your mama a lot, but that for now it’s best that he and baby Basha move to Texas.

(SAMANTHA hops off the chair and picks up a baby doll from the cradle and holds her close. She kisses the doll and rocks her.)

Your little sister will stay with Daddy’s mother and sister, at least for the next few months.

(SAMANTHA takes the baby doll with her to the chair. As she holds the doll close to her, she resumes coloring.)

Well, must run. Have a brunch date with Vesta and Hilda.

(AUNTIE sits down at the desk again, picks up the pen, and resumes writing. As she writes, she picks up the martini, drains it–leaving the olive–and sets down the glass. She smacks her lips. She continues:)

We’re going to the pancake place. I know how you like their Pigs-in-a-Blanket. Maybe if you’re thin next summer, you can come to California and I’ll take you there. And then we can cuddle.

Love to Nana and Pappa

Love, your Auntie.

(AUNTIE picks up the letter, folds it, sticks it in an envelope, addresses the envelope, seals it, and puts a stamp on it. She opens her purse, drops in the letter, and pulls out a mirror. She primps–checking her hair and putting on new lipstick and powder. She picks up her purse and exits stage right. At the same time, SAMANTHA closes her coloring book, drops the crayons to the floor, and, with baby doll in arm, hops off the chair, and exits stage left. Carrousel music: Lights fade until darkness. The carrousel music continues until the next segment.)

(Carrousel music fades as lights come back up–a substantial lighting change indicates a change in character–to reveal the full stage, not split. NANA, who has replaced AUNTIE on stage, is stage center, standing behind a split “sink,” one side filled with dirty dishes and soapy water, the other clear water. A dish drainer is placed on NANA’s right. She is dressed in the stereotypical style of the 1950's, but very plainly, in a disheveled shirtwaist dress, dowdy shoes, no jewelry, horned-rimmed glasses. She wears minimal makeup. From a physical standpoint, there is nothing flamboyant or flashy about her. NANA has dull gray hair; her hair style and demeanor can be described as “frazzled fifties”; she wears an apron and has dishtowel slung over her shoulders. Like AUNTIE, NANA is self-assured, but she carries herself in an awkward sort of way.)

(SAMANTHA enters stage left, still in the pink dress and carrying the baby doll. She also carries a large bowl of popcorn.)


No, you cannot have any more popcorn.

(NANA snatches the bowl from SAMANTHA.)

If you want anything else, there’s celery and carrots in the fridge. I sliced them just for you. If you don’t eat them, I’ll just have to throw them out, and we can’t afford to waste good food. How many times do I have to tell you Pappa don’t make very much on Social Security? You know what Dr. Noonan says: you got to eat vegetables and lean meat and stay away from all that butter, sugar, and starch.

(SAMANTHA looks as though she is about to say something, but appears to be stopped by some unseen force. NANA seems intentionally unaware that SAMANTHA might want to speak, and, so, continues:)

I don’t CARE what Dr. Noonan weighs. He’s a man and it don’t matter what HE weighs. But you’re a girl, and men, even fat ones, don’t like fat girls. And if you don’t lose all that weight, you’ll NEVER catch a husband. And if you get too fat, you’ll get lazy. I see it already. Your room looks like a pigsty. Why, I found all those candy wrappers and sunflower seed shells everywhere. Is that how you spent your birthday money?

(Pause. Perhaps a slight lighting or character position change to suggest a slight change in time.)

Of course your mama still loves you. Maybe the present got lost in the mail. These things happen sometimes. I just think it wouldn’t be a good idea to call her right now.

(SAMANTHA leaves, exiting stage left. NANA shouts after her:)

Auntie says your mama’s been feelin’ a little punk lately and needs her rest.

Maybe at Christmas.

(Pause. Perhaps a slight lighting or character position change to suggest a slight change in time.)

Must you kids always fight?

(NANA points toward stage left. Shouts:)

Danny! you go sit in the swivel chair. SAMANTHA, come here! Sammy, you wash these dishes or else. Sammy! You heard me!

(SAMANTHA reenters stage left. NANA shouts to offstage left:)

Danny! I’m going to send you home if you don’t stop calling your cousin names.


And you, young lady, stop your whining. Danny don’t mean nothin’. He’s just foolin’ you. You take everything so serious. And YOU, shut up! Sammy, get over here!

(Assumes a more gentle tone:) Here, I’ll dry. (Grabs a towel from a rack. Scowls.) Oh, this towel’s soggy. Honey, hand me that one next to you.

(SAMANTHA obeys. As NANA speaks, they do dishes.)

Don’t pay no mind to Danny. Boys will be boys. If he didn’t like you, he wouldn’t say nothin’ to you.

(Emphasizes:) But, you know, he’s just sayin’ what others are thinkin’. (Pauses.) Just because most people don’t say nothin’ doesn’t mean they don’t notice. They got eyes, you know. Don’t you want to grow up and have a nice husband and family? (Picks up a pan to dry.) This pot’s got goo on it; do it over. How many times do I have to tell you about your sloppy ways? I’m just tryin’ to raise you right. Make up for what happened to your Mother. (Pauses.)

And you’re just like your mama, ‘cept she wasn’t fat.

And look where it got her.

Time to change the rinse water. See that soap scum on the top? You don’t want to get all of us sick, do you?

(As NANA starts tipping the dishpan, lights go to dark. Organ music rift. Slight pause.)

(As lights slowly go up, the organ music fades. SAMANTHA and NANA are Stage Center, close to the audience. NANA stands over SAMANTHA, who sits, curled into a ball, rocking back and forth. Throughout the scene, SAMANTHA does not appear to react, although NANA exudes total authority.)

Did you take your pill yet? I don’t CARE if it keeps you up at night. Besides, Dr. Noonan can give you a pill to make you sleep. I’ll call him today. IT IS VERY IMPORTANT YOU TAKE THOSE PILLS. They’ll curb that monstrous appetite of yours.

(Pause. Perhaps a slight lighting change to suggest a slight change in time.)

Don’t forget to write Auntie the “thank you” note. Here it is, only one month ‘til Christmas, and you haven’t even thanked her for your birthday present yet. Whatever is going to become of you?

You have to wait 20 minutes before you can eat. Even lettuce. You have to let the pill work first so you don’t go out of control. Girl, you sure could use some self-control these days. You know, Gluttony is a mortal sin. A CAPITAL sin. The worst kind. Except for LUST, but you’re too young to know about that. You’ll go to Hell for sure if you don’t stop stuffing yourself. I just don’t know what to do about you. If you keep on going the way you’re going, they’ll need a derrick to carry you around. Tsk, tsk.

(Pause. Perhaps a slight lighting change to suggest a slight change in time. NANA’s focus moving away from SAMANTHA and more toward the AUDIENCE. In a very stern and strident voice:)

Take your pill; eat your lettuce; don’t wear that‒it’s too tight‒your belly hangs out; drink your water; no, you can’t have any pop, it’s pure sugar; don’t jiggle your butt like that; do you REALLY think those yellow pants look good on you?; if you insist on eating Chicken Noodle soup all the time, you’ll have to learn how to light the pilot‒I’m tired of washing out the coffee pot after every other meal; you know you can’t buy a boy’s bike‒because the bar might hurt your bubo‒I can’t tell you how, you’re too young‒no, you haven’t done nothin’ wrong; Dr. Noonan says you can’t eat peanut butter until you lose three more pounds; don’t fight with your cousins and don’t tattle on no one‒it don’t look good; always listen to the Sisters, they know what’s best for your soul; by next year, you’ll need a girdle for sure and maybe even a bra; if Father Salvatore says no more black patent leather shoes, then he must have a good reason‒how would I know, you just obey and don’t ask questions; I think it’s time you stopped sleeping with your grandpa‒no, you haven’t done nothin’ wrong, it’s just time you start staying in your own bed at night; go to Mass; go to Confession; say a rosary; say, “now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take‒there are four corners on my bed, there are four angels overhead‒ Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, bless this bed that I lay on”; Jesus loves all the little children, even little chubby ones, but he likes the humble ones the best; yes, you are my favorite child‒I always like the one I’m with the best; be careful around your cousins, especially Danny‒no, you haven’t done nothin’ wrong‒no, I can’t tell you what to watch for, you’re too young‒just be careful; don’t eat chocolate, you’ll break out in pimples, maybe not right away, but when you get older; where on earth did you get that peanut butter cup?; for God’s sake, are you EVER going to be thin?

(As the lights slowly dim, carrousel music strikes up. As the stage goes to complete dark, the music stops.)


From Body Memoir Politic: Looking, Copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel

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