Start Talking: a scrap of it

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.

A Play in One Act

Mary F. C. Pratt


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.

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.

(Looking around the table.)
Okay. Everybody’s here. Good. So start talking.

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.

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.)

Wait, wait. Everybody stop. This is ridiculous. Somebody needs to organize it. 

Fine, fine. Go for it.

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. 

(A snort, a guffaw—some kind of dismissive noise.)

So I’ll start. I’m Patricia. You can probably tell by my clothes that I am a successful business woman.

What business are you in?

I have absolutely no idea. Now do you want me to talk or not?

Yes, yes, yes.

Then if you’ll be quiet, I’ll get on with it. May I?

Yeah. Go ahead.

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.

And you’re already a character with distinctive clothes. That’s impressive.

Huh. It is, actually.

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?

I bet they do.

What? They do what?

Laugh at you. Behind your back. I know I do.

What are you talking about? You don’t even know me. You’re not in my play.

Thank God. But in my play my grandchild and I laugh at his/her/their mother, who is my daughter, all the time.

What’s up with that, Playwright? Do you laugh at your daughter?

I don’t have a daughter. But this isn’t about me. Talk.

We are talking. Next? You. . .(Points at 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.

Right. (To Playwright.) And that vagueness is getting tiresome, if you want to know the truth, which, as an artist I assume you do?

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.

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.

You do that, too? Throw out the stuff your daughter sends you?

Mother, it isn’t your turn yet.

Oh for goodness’ sake, Patricia. I’m next at the table. 

Yes, Patricia. For goodness’ sake. (Turns to Joan.) And I’ve done my bit, so go ahead. 

(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. 

No need for personal comments, Mother.

I beg to differ. Playwright, personal comments allowed?

Oh, please!

Years ago now, the first Dollhouse family thought about moving. They looked at a couple of houses, but the first was a bit crooked. The second one was nice and had a deck, but after seeing the guys on the stairs, they decided it was too creepy.



They posed him against a background of drapery,
stood him on the seat of a chair with curved arms.
His hair was parted and neatly combed.
He wore a dark jacket with two rows of buttons,
dark button-trimmed trousers, and sturdy shoes.
They put a hoop—-larger than himself—-around his neck. 
The fingers of one hand curled around it. 
In the other, he held a short stick of the sort
used by bigger boys to turn a hoop along a road.
His expression was serious, puzzled, maybe alarmed:
Why do they want me standing here, with a hoop around my neck?  
On the back, a line of my Grandmother’s illegible scrawl
—I think in German—-and one word, set apart: “Boris.”

There is no Boris in the family tree.

The photo was attached with dots of glue
to a page in a cheap photo album
discovered in a box in a closet 
among my mother’s things.
It was Grandma’s.
Perhaps Mother never looked at it.
She never showed it to us.
The cover was broken, the pages crumbling.
I know how paper can decay.
I pried all the photos out. 

Most were not labeled.
Grandma knew who they were:
People in the Old Country around a table, 
people haying on the farm in East Germany 
where Johann ended up after the war, 
a uniformed man who might be the German cousin 
who went down with his ship in 1945. 

Only a few were labeled— Onkel Herman,
Onkel Hans’s wife, Pa and Frieda.
And Boris. 
I thought to toss it with the unlabeled photos—
the sort of nameless photos that pile up, 
that we pass on endlessly. 

But I cannot discard Boris.
What was he doing there, in Grandma’s album,
with Johann and August and Wanda,
Great-grandfather Joseph, Tante Helen,
and Grandma herself, stout in her printed dress,
standing with the nameless Sunday School teachers
in front of the Cleveland Lutheran Church.

Dollhouses: History

When I was three, my father made a dollhouse for me. It was furnished with plastic furniture that was lost or broken long ago. The dollhouse ended up stored in various basements and attics until I was in my thirties, and thought it would be fun to restore and refurnish it. I have no skills, so I asked Dad if he would help me. “No,” he said. “It’s not a very good dollhouse. I’ve learned a lot since I made it.” So I tried fixing it up myself, and Dad made me a new one, beautifully shingled, and furnished with little furniture that he made. My mother made bedding and curtains. The Dollhouse family–Father, Mother, Boy and Baby, moved into the New Dollhouse, which lived on top of a cupboard in the dining room. I also started getting Fancy furniture for the Old Dollhouse, and Grandpa and Grandma Dollhouse moved in. The Old Dollhouse lived in my study, on the floor. There were originally some problems with that, at you can see, below.

Then the grandchildren came along–the human ones, that is– and when they were the right age, the Old Dollhouse was moved to their house, and of course Father, Mother and Boy moved, too. I built an addition to the New Dollhouse, and now Grandpa and Grandma live there, with a combination of Dad’s furniture and Fancy furniture. They have an attic and a Guest Room where the Other Dollhouse Family–presumably Grandpa and Grandma’s daughter and her husband and children (Pa, Ma, Brother and Sister)– stay when they come to visit. This is why there are occasional photos of the original Dollhouses, who are happily settled in New York State.

The Old Dollhouse, being moved into my study.
The Problem.


Since I don’t seem to be writing poetry these days, and since my forthcoming play seems to be on hold, due to the conditions in NYC, I thought I’d post some photos of the Dollhouses.

Grandpa and Grandma Dollhouse, with the Dogs.

And here is the Cat looking into the icebox.

The Attic is a mess.

Mom and Dad Dollhouse are here for a visit. . .
. . with Girl (and her pet Wombat) and Boy (with his pet Turtle.)

An old poem: Witch Hunt

An Old Poem: Witch Hunt

This was originally done as a performance piece.

Such was the darkness of that day, 
the tortures and lamentations of the afflicted, 
and the power of former precedence, 
that we walked in the clouds, and could not see our way.
The Rev. John Hale

Sarah Good, hanged			Susannah Martin, hanged
Elizabeth Proctor, reprieved	Rebecca Jacobs, acquitted
Martha Corey, hanged		Mary Bradbury, reprieved
Rebecca Nurse, hanged		Alice Parker, hanged
John Proctor, hanged		Ann Pudeator, hanged
Giles Corey, pressed under stones       Martha Carrier, hanged
Bridget Bishop, hanged		        Elizabeth Howe, hanged
Abigail Hobbs, reprieved		Wilmot Reed, hanged
Sarah Wilds, hanged			Ann Foster, reprieved,
Mary Easty, hanged			Mary Lacey Sr., reprieved
George Burroughs, hanged		Margaret Scott, hanged
George Jacobs, Sr., hanged		Abigail Faulkner Sr., reprieved
John Willard, hanged			Rebecca Eames, reprieved
Sarah Buckley, acquitted		Samuel Wardwell, hanged
Mary Witheridge, acquitted		Mary Parker, hanged
Dorcas Hoar, reprieved

Is three hundred years so long ago?

Can you see the village?
Saltworks, warehouse, wharf and fish flakes
cod ketches in from the Newfoundland banks   
trading ships in from Barbados or Surinam
The gabled clapboard houses, steep-roofed
I saw her on the beam suckling her yellow bird betwixt her fingers

small windows to keep out the cold
there is a black man whispering in her ear
board fences to keep the cattle out
meeting house to keep the devil out 
O  yonder is Goodman Proctor & his wife 
& Goody Nurse & Goody  Corey  & Goody Cloise & Goody Child.  
Goodman Proctor is  going to choke me.
church yard to keep the dead inside
gallows built sturdy on Gallows Hill
they both did torture me a great many times 
because I would not yield to their Hellish temptations

Can you hear the village?
Sea wind and tide rumble
Barking dog, brown wren scolding in the eaves
gossip in the gardens, on the streets,
children about their business to and fro	
the learned preacher enlightening his flock
I would advise you to repentance, 
for the devil is bringing you out
Kettles hiss and bubble, spinning wheels tick and whir
I have seen sights & been scared.  I have been very wicked. 
I hope I shall  be better:  if God will keep me.
And in the night dark calls of whippoorwill and owl, cat wail, fox yap
What a dreadful Sight are You!  
An Old Woman, an Old Servant of the Devil!  ‘
Tis an horrible Thing!
moanings of birth and love and death
scream of a rabbit caught.	
What sin hath god found out in me unrepented of 
that he should Lay such an Affliction upon me In my old Age?

Can you smell the village?
stew of rabbit and winter roots
herbs in the dooryards, hanging from the beams
sea scent--salt and drying cod
I never had to do with witchcraft since I was born. 
 I am a Gospell Woman.
Ye are all against me and I cannot help it.
sweat and urine, blood and shit
The LORD doth terrible things amongst us, 
by lengthening the Chain of the Roaring Lion,
in an Extraordinary manner;  
so that the Devil is come down in great wrath.  

Human nature has not changed.
They might lie for ought I know
We are wary creatures crouched in caves.
Outside our civilized circles wild eyes glitter in the night
Were you to serve the Devil ten years?   Tell how many.
voices of the dispossessed murmur under every window
they drum and dance in the dense black desert
praying to their devil, plotting our demise.
There is evil, evil all outside, all around.

Do not you see these children & women are rational 
& sober as their  neighbours when your hands are fastened?

Human nature has not changed.
Being Conscious of My own Innocency 
I Humbly Beg that I may have Liberty to Manifest it to the world
Watch your children fight for space,
watch the traffic, grocery check-out line,
listen to the evening news,
hear your own voice grow shrill.
How comes the Devil so loathe 
to have any Testimony born against you?
They said we were guilty of afflicting them.  
We knowing ourselves altogether innocent of this crime, 
we were all exceedingly astonished and amazed, 
and consternated and affrighted even out of our reason.
With all gone wrong, with demons all round,
the fault can not be mine.
I will have, must have
someone else to blame.
God would not suffer so many good men 
to be in such an error about this, 
and you will be hanged if you do not confess.
It is false! the Devil is a liar.  
It is a shameful thing
that you should mind these folks that are out of their wits.

Where do you place your fear?
I take God in heaven to be my witness, 
that I know nothing of it, no more than the child unborn
In your heart, your bowels?
Or do you wrap it tight
and bury it like a corpse far away, outside yourself, 
That you were fled from Authority 
is an acknowledgment of guilt 
but yet notwithstanding we require you 
to confess the truth in this matter.
in your neighbor’s yard, your neighbor’s soul?
I am going upon the Ladder to be hanged for a Witch, 
but I am innocent.

Can you see the village still?
Boundaries broad, buildings tall,
I am no more a Witch than you are a Wizard, 
and if you take away my Life, God will give you Blood to drink
all the traffic sound and stench
and still--
Is three hundred years so long ago?

If it was the last time I was to speak I am innocent

The names of the accused are read throughout, in a monotone.
words spoken by the accusers
words spoken by the accused
words spoken by the judges