I've been looking for a new play and started a couple that didn't work. So I invited the characters to sit down and talk. This is the beginning of what happened next. START TALKING A Play in One Act Mary F. C. Pratt CHARACTERS PLAYWRIGHT Older woman. JOAN Older woman, a folklorist PATRICIA Joan’s daughter, a businesswoman in a “little suit.” ALEX Joan’s grandchild, Patricia’s child, a teenager. Garbed rebelliously. GRANDMOTHER Older Woman, an artist. RED Grandmother’s grandchild, ten or twelve years old, wearing a red hoodie. LAURA Annie’s daughter, a circus performer, in her late twenties, arty and self-centered. ANNIE Laura’s Mother, middle-aged. Vague and worried. PAT Annie’s boss, an Older Woman who owns a greenhouse. Outspoken, tough. Work clothes. STAGEHAND Unspeaking. SETTING Bare stage, a table, six chairs. Folding chairs available backstage. At Rise: Playwright is sitting at the table working at a computer. Joan, Patricia and Alex, and Grandmother and Red enter in their family groups, silently. After some jockeying around, the grandmothers sit together, the grandchildren sit together. There is space around Patricia. PLAYWRIGHT (Looking around the table.) Okay. Everybody’s here. Good. So start talking. GRANDMOTHER So what do you want us to talk about? What do you want to know? I’ve got work to do. I don’t have all day. PLAYWRIGHT Talk about whatever. Who are you? You say you’ve got work to do? So tell me about it. I don’t have all day, either. I want to kick-start at least one of these plays. So talk. (All start babbling at once.) PATRICIA Wait, wait. Everybody stop. This is ridiculous. Somebody needs to organize it. PLAYWRIGHT Fine, fine. Go for it. PATRICIA All right. We’ll go around the table and introduce ourselves. Say your name and something about what you think you’re supposed to be doing, at least so far. PLAYWRIGHT (A snort, a guffaw—some kind of dismissive noise.) PATRICIA So I’ll start. I’m Patricia. You can probably tell by my clothes that I am a successful business woman. PLAYWRIGHT What business are you in? PATRICIA I have absolutely no idea. Now do you want me to talk or not? PLAYWRIGHT Yes, yes, yes. PATRICIA Then if you’ll be quiet, I’ll get on with it. May I? PLAYWRIGHT Yeah. Go ahead. PATRICIA All right then. As I said, I’m Patricia. Joan is my mother and Alex is my child. I think my mother is getting dotty and should be in some kind of assisted living. So far, I live offstage, on the telephone. I haven’t even had any lines yet. GRANDMOTHER And you’re already a character with distinctive clothes. That’s impressive. PLAYWRIGHT Huh. It is, actually. PATRICIA If you’ve finished interrupting? All right. I am suspicious that Alex is in cahoots with Joan. Perhaps they even laugh at me behind my back. Next? GRANDMOTHER I bet they do. PATRICIA What? They do what? GRANDMOTHER Laugh at you. Behind your back. I know I do. PATRICIA What are you talking about? You don’t even know me. You’re not in my play. GRANDMOTHER Thank God. But in my play my grandchild and I laugh at his/her/their mother, who is my daughter, all the time. PATRICIA What’s up with that, Playwright? Do you laugh at your daughter? PLAYWRIGHT I don’t have a daughter. But this isn’t about me. Talk. PATRICIA We are talking. Next? You. . .(Points at Red.) RED That would be me. I’m Red. You can tell, maybe by the shirt. Anyhow, I’m a kid and I live in a play that’s supposed to be, like, a rewrite of Red Riding Hood, or something. Maybe I’m trying to rescue Grandmother from the sun? Not like she’s sunbathing, I mean, but maybe she got eaten by the sun? Or maybe some wolf eats the sun? Grandmother talked about that a little bit. Or something. It’s all pretty, like, vague or something. I knock on the door a lot. GRANDMOTHER Right. (To Playwright.) And that vagueness is getting tiresome, if you want to know the truth, which, as an artist I assume you do? PLAYWRIGHT I certainly aspire to the truth, yes. And it is getting tiresome for me, too, which is why you’re all here. So keep going. GRANDMOTHER Well then. I am Grandmother. And as she/he/they said, I think it’s a Red Riding Hood riff, but I don’t think it’s very successful so far, though I do like being an artist instead of a pathetic old bedridden lady, and I like throwing out the natural foods crap my daughter makes Red bring to me, and I like feeding her/him/them coffee and chocolate bars instead. I do hope you can make something out of that bit, at least. JOAN You do that, too? Throw out the stuff your daughter sends you? PATRICIA Mother, it isn’t your turn yet. JOAN Oh for goodness’ sake, Patricia. I’m next at the table. GRANDMOTHER Yes, Patricia. For goodness’ sake. (Turns to Joan.) And I’ve done my bit, so go ahead. JOAN (To Grandmother.) Thank you. When this is over, we need to talk. (To all.) In the meantime, I’m in an embryonic play with my grandchild Alex, and with, or possibly despite, my daughter Patricia, who, until now, has, mercifully, been offstage and silent. (Examines Patricia.) So that’s what you look like. Nice suit. PATRICIA No need for personal comments, Mother. JOAN I beg to differ. Playwright, personal comments allowed? PLAYWRIGHT Oh, please!
Art is one—Oh yes.
We do not dream in vain.
Do not hurry. There is no need.
Tune your fiddle to the canvas,
chisel a marble dance.
Dress your singers in peaches,
and tremble in the shadow of a word.
The arch is wide; the road is wide.
Out doors is all, there is no in.
We who make art bind bone to bone
by sinew after sinew.
We do not dream in vain.
Some Dialogue from a play-in-progress
Well, I have no idea how my way of being will help because you and I are as different as a pea in a pod and a rhinoceros, but okay. Here goes— I don’t work. I’ve never worked, and I never will work. The day I start to work will be the day they put me in a home. There is absolutely no separation between, among, within, whatever the word is, the art I make and everything else I do. Getting up in the morning is art. Taking a shit is art. Reading while I eat breakfast. Arguing with Jim about whose turn it is to buy groceries. Making dinner with the kids. Walking the dog. Teaching. All of it. It’s all art. It’s all making something out of something, or out of nothing, but usually it’s something. Remaking, unmaking, starting over, turning around. Everything is raw material and everything is already finished before I begin.
Well, okay. I guess that works for sculpture and conceptual stuff, but not for poetry.
It’s words. They have to be right.
Oh, well. I get that. Finished stuff, sure, like if you want it in a magazine or something. That’s gotta take a little tweaking. But the first burst of a poem, and the second and maybe the third? The energy of it? The way it flits around and settles? Is that work?
The book cover shines gold
in the lamplight.
Small birds irrupted from the north
cluster around the feeders.
I’m an old woman now
and none the wiser, but
at least I can define
emotion with precision.
The landscape of exploration
Forty years but surely not wasted.
Are we between wars
or is there simply one war.
Was there ever only one?
OPEN STUDIO POEM #18
Under snow, under solid ground,
earth knits a fabric of mycelium,
bulb, the roots of chrysanthemum
and rose. The February landscape
shapes a shifting collage
of branch and cloud,
a splash of of jay-blue.
We stay secluded, painting
our lives with aplomb.
Open Studio Poem #17
Fairies shelter behind the disco ball
hung in the portal to the kingdom of odd.
After sunset, they emerge lickety-split,
and all night they dance through the city,
their magenta wings flashing splendid
in the lights of streets, and traffic, and stars.
The other occupants of the Open Studio are out to get me, as you can see. But I know where that disco ball hangs, and I know the fairies, too.
OPEN STUDIO POEM #16
I’m going back to makeup.
Not the kerfuffle of my youth,
with eyeliner cattywumpus
to each brow,
not a sad attempt to erase
my decades on the road.
Just a streak of red on the lip,
a little taupe along the lid.
Since July, I’ve been attending an online Open Studio with four artists, who are now my friends. Most weeks, they give me words to use as prompts so I can practice my art while they do theirs. This week, I think they were out to get me.
Life goes on. Really.
We keep vigil together .
It is possible to be friends
on a screen. David
mutes to tune. Kathy C’s
computer is down
but she’s here, there,
and we know she is,
making art. Kathy H
in a parking lot
and reports that,
as we suspected,
she is three-dimensional.
OPEN STUDIO POEM #11 zoom sure pattern How hard to see the pattern: new friends who zoom past for an hour. How tall are they? Do they wear shoes? And who were they before— before I knew them in this peculiar way, both tentative and sure.
OPEN STUDIO POEM #10 riff-raff heart glue synchronicity SYNCHRONICITY I dream of unmasked riff-raff. Anxiety is collaging my heart: scraps torn from memory, the flattened faces of my friends, a quarter of my granddaughter’s life. Will I ever have glue enough to paste it together? Emergency. Emergence. Emerge. Resurge.