by Antonia Brancati
The sound of a flute.
A light, bright and clean, over the set. On the stage, an armchair (throne?), and beside it, a small table with a basket of shiny red apples in full view. Behind the basket, candles of various sizes, and sticks of incense. Enter Lilith, a woman of indefinable age, dressed as a hippy, gypsy, or New Age traveller, and beautiful in a non-
The flute stops.
… Please sit down.… All right?… And you…? If you would like to pull your chair up … No?… I ’m not dangerous, you know: or rather, I shouldn’t be, generally speaking … I don’t consider myself a danger (I certainly never intend to be) … You don’t trust me?… Do, please, believe me: I’m quite aware that the duties of hospitality … Ah, you don’t think I could have a sense of my responsibilities …? Of rules to be followed…? Even self-
My history, you say, would rather imply … But what do you know about it? What can you know?… Are we acquainted? Have you ever seen me before? Have we ever spoken to each other?… Then how can you throw in my face things you know nothing about?… And I thought you’d come precisely to … Oh, leave it. Whereas you came here with all your prejudices in fine working order … your sentence ready … it’s no good pretending you’re here to find out … to understand … In which case … (Makes as if to leave. SOUND OF FLUTE. Changes her mind, begins again, shrugging: THE FLUTE STOPS.) (Never! Not even the benefit of the doubt!)… (She turns back towards the public, with a patient sigh) Let’s just leave it … Sit wherever you like … And yes, you might be right after all to keep your distance, because if you keep that expression on your face, I might well be tempted to … (come up with some spell)… Relax!… Look, I’ll sit down too, here … (as if there were such a thing as a safe distance!)
(Stares at something far off. SOUND OF FLUTE. Smiles. Gives herself a little shake. THE FLUTE STOPS. Returns to her duties as hostess)
But thank you for coming all this way to … how is it you put it?… (the word, the term, the precise term!)… ah! to “be the recipients of my spontaneous declaration”… isn’t that it?… which is a rather absurd way of defining what we’re here for … Nothing I’m saying, or shall say, is spontaneous …“completely devoid of external pressure”… isn’t that what ‘spontaneous’ means? Hardly apt, I would have said!
… No, look, don’t try to tell me I didn’t have to … but I wasn’t, you say?… despite your threat to issue me with an international warrant of arrest?… (to arrest me?)… oh yes, of course: international laws have no validity here, in this house on the border… (in my kingdom)… Yes, your laws mean nothing … But your … warrant of arrest … (arrest!)… would have stopped me … from moving away … from snooping about in your part of the world … following my wandering nature … Fleeing from myself, and followed by guilt complexes?… It’s so trite, it could be the words of a song!… Not to mention somewhat improbable – because if I’m supposed to be so ruthless, where would a guilt complex come from … rather impracticable too, wouldn’t you say?… (Escape?) And why should I, even supposing that escape from oneself is an option? I rather like my own company... I’m not a demanding life-
Which is why I agreed to meet you: to gain the freedom to leave. Also why I agreed to make this ... …“spontaneous declaration”… So, since this meeting had become … inevitable… you have my thanks for coming here, and travelling so far. It’s a relief, to be able to speak here, in this room.
It’s my study – yes, I work here... or if you prefer, I pass the time here ...shedding memories in front of this window … The view across the desert … magnificent, wouldn’t you agree?… the light is so strong and clear you believe you could see for ever … not just sand, stones, and sky, but … space … and time … the light of the desert seems to crystallise the passing moment … and shimmers life back more clearly than a crystal ball … (Pause) … When its clarity isn’t blinding you with the mockery of a mirage … I’m departing from my brief? But I can only proceed through digression … The most direct of reasoning has to be circular if it is to produce any revelation … unless you are like my sister (Emily), who had the gift of getting at truth through the concision of poetry … (Quotes) “A poet – it is That/distils amazing sense/ from ordinary meanings…” (But not everyone can! Not everyone can! (Decisive, self-
… But the facts! The facts!… Eve and her children disappeared … How long ago? Three months?...Yet only now are you convinced there was foul play!… And that’s the point: the fact, the one thing that interests you, the only subject that concerns me, according to you … (PAUSE) I don’t know what to say … (I, without words!)… I know no ... more... than the newspapers reported – less, if anything, as I have to confess I went no further than the front-
That wasn’t the reaction you expected from me? Too cold? But there’s no pleasing you, is there? I thought you’d be grateful of the odd proof, here and there, that I warranted your bad opinion of me … Don’t the Pharisees get a sensual kick out of being right?… And I’m not cold: it’s just that I’m not scandalised by death! … Oh, but the way, of course … it’s the small detail of the rubbish-
(Deciding to continue) I don’t know what to tell you – or what you want me to tell you: I didn’t know those children … or rather, knew them only insofar as they were Eve’s children. Oh and she was so proud of them: she thrust them in my face at every opportunity … ‘My treasures!’ ...but as I never boasted of anything in front of her, all these protestations of pride from her were just so much empty air, and all rather embarrassing, because to make me duly impressed, Eve felt she had to make a meal of it, all this amazing motherly love, and in the end even the children were annoyed and disturbed by it. And for Eve, love had to equal a catalogue of suffering... life as a vale of tears ... and every second of happiness has to be paid for by centuries of pain : you know the type.
And the exquisite perfection of her married bliss! She would ram that down my throat shamelessly ...would rub my nose in it with an almost evil delight. Was I to feel guilty for having been unhappy with him? ... and she would recite the whole rosary of the little daily privations, as if love were simply a dreary sacrifice to offer up to its unwitting object. And here I did indeed feel guilty, because I felt so sorry for her, it was almost like despising her. I allowed myself little rushes of reckless sincerity which in the end were false, because all my true feelings towards her remained unsaid.
I loved Eve… And because I didn’t want to hurt her, I betrayed her … I gave in … to avoid arguments I accepted her conventions, rather than forcing our real needs on her; and pure good manners became mannered hypocrisy… and the love I had felt for her is now just the delicate (or rancid?) scent of memory…
And this whole regrettable mess is the sum total of our mutual misunderstandings.…
The difference being that Eve is lost in the labyrinth of her own lies; blinded by her suspicions, she lost any certainty of my feelings for her... whereas I have always been able to count on her bad opinion, as sure as the fact that I’m sitting here right before you … in the witness-
… But the facts, you say, the facts … You will be pleased to hear I have no intention of denying the facts of my existence, over the course of the years, as Eve has put them to you: indeed, to avoid any misunderstanding, I’ll gladly talk you briefly through them, with the confirmation of the horse’s mouth, as it were.
(PAUSE) It’s a fact that our marriage, mine and his, didn’t work. It’s a fact that I cheated on him and then left him. It’s a fact that I hurt him– or rather, it’s a fact that he went around saying I’d hurt him … It’s also a fact that contact between us never completely stopped.
Ordinary facts? Oh no – not if it’s Eve’s words (his words) telling them. You’ll have heard him tell how he saved me from loneliness by marrying me … And who, if it came to that, was I?– a country mouse with everything to learn, ignorant of the world and its mother. The only thing keeping me from intellectual death was my curiosity. I asked myself – and him – questions: about life, death, the spirit, the natural world … And he – though it was the near-
I had an affair, yes … with someone with authority over him – his “Superior”, you could say – his Boss. Someone who wouldn’t so much as look at me – which in itself, you must admit, was intriguing. I had to pull out all the stops to seduce him. I was still very naive... and I believed that this man, who was older and, at the time, wiser than myself or him would have opened the gates of knowledge… Perhaps he did. But he also opened the main gates of loneliness... but this isn’t the story Eve knows or tells ... So let me see... Well, I stopped at nothing to seduce him, and he had no scruples about letting me, for all his relationship with my husband …
It wasn't a new lover I'd got, but a new judge, another guru, a more determined leader ... all of which was not to be borne! ... so I escaped, screaming out all my anger and desperation ... it would have brought down the walls of heaven ... and I came here, into the desert ... it was an isolated spot at that time ... and I built my house, and began my work as a writer... the only thing in my life I have never abandoned ...
He, my husband -
(PAUSE) But that's hardly enough to make me guilty of the deaths of Eve's children ... I know, there's that other fact that seems to seal my sentence: I don't have children... I was jealous of her fertility, Eve insists, convinced as she is that a childless woman has failed to fulfil her biological destiny ... she felt for me, was so sorry I had to sublimate all my sterility frustrations in writing ... ‘She, who never wanted to bow to anyone's yoke, has found her tyrant in Art!’, she would say, archly ... 'Her works are her children!', she said, with the scorn of those who consider the fruits of the brain inferior to the fruits of the womb ... And with all the enthusiasm of those who wallow in disaster, she predicted that one day all my misplaced pride in my work would whip me into a dervish frenzy of omnipotence, then hurl me into a chasm of depression .... ‘And, well, you know how these things are ... Anything could happen’, she would say, ‘She might kill herself, or kill ...’. Then, raising her eyes to heaven, sweeping her children into her arms, the clucking mother-
(PAUSE) These, then, are the facts ... And I'm well aware that this last... fact... I mentioned...might indeed convince you I'm guilty -
This irresistible urge to procreate, this so-
It's true, I saw that the biological fact of having testicles... gave him a – what? “paternal imperative” which I just wasn't prepared to satisfy ... hence the quarrels, the attempts to dominate...
It didn't start that way. At the beginning he was ... my childhood playmate. We quarrelled, we fought, we kissed with the same playfulness. We were the same person – separate-
(PAUSE) (THE SOUND OF THE FLUTE, in the distance, briefly: like a lament).
One day -
What disease was this? I could only pray it was temporary; that he was drunk with some Dionysian berry ... that peyote leaves had taken him on some appalling trip ... I hoped ... And waited, for the sunset, then the sunrise ... I saw him wake, with the sad mouth of a sulking child ... his movements slow and quiet ... I wanted to believe he was better ... I went to him ... threw my arms round him ... looked into his eyes ... but the depths were just a dull sheet that gave me back nothing of myself ...
Very soon the presence of his mysterious Superior became unbearable ... That was when I decided to shake him off … by seducing him ...
And when I finally came face to face with him, I was furious ... furious at how he had him totally in his power ... how he had changed him, made him supercilious, superior ... I was ready for battle, and was sharpening all my weapons, when the face of this man, at first, I thought, an irksome image of him, suddenly softened, and became my crystal mirror ... and I stood there, my weapons blunted, bound to him by pure, disarming empathy ... Just as he knew and understood me ... We were the same, but didn't need each other to be whole... We were perfect, without the need to complement each other. This ... and the lack of any sense of imposition or dominance – grew into respect ... We divided up our kingdoms ... I chose the solitude of the desert, and he stayed in the world of men ...
(SHORT MELODY ON THE FLUTE)
Different words, same facts, different reality, wouldn't you agree? ... What else? Ah yes: I have told you of my various returns ... in Eve's words ... (his words) ... Let me tell you in my own ...
After some time here, in the company of my demons, I was curious to be on the move again ... To revisit the scenes of my happiness ... my unhappiness ... He was living with Eve, but every time I saw him, his desire to submit me created in him some wild frenzy which he read as love. I returned it with a detached tenderness... He wanted to dominate me by planting a child of his in my belly .. but I had made myself sterile ... He tried to drag me down the whirlpool of sexuality, physicality ... and ended up entangled in the spiderwebs of my fantasies, to the point where he mistook for desire all his fears, his nightmares, his dissatisfaction ... Then all his inexplicable accidents were put down to me ... I began to inhabit a shady area of his consciousness ...
... We stayed in contact, over the years... he was suspicious, Eve just plain scared ... it amused me to see the two of them ... stolid, tired, hardworking ... looking for eternity outside themselves, instead of within... He with his work, she with her children ... and with this Superior of theirs always immanent, always lording it over them, however much they tried to rebel ... Aspidistras flying on the landing, lace curtains at the window, furniture, ornaments: all clutter they dreamt of throwing off, to leave and conquer empires ... which they would have duly filled with curtains, lace, and vases of aspidistra ...
(We should by now be aware that Lilith has thrown off any air of domesticity, and her divinity is emerging).
... And just a word about ... my work as a writer. Not as Eve describes it, a search for compensation, a sublimation of unspeakable impulses, but a new weapon, to save me from the sin of violence; a net, to catch the butterfly of the passing moment; serious study, to extend my power and take on more Godhead than I already have... (PAUSE) Is that so hard to believe?... And yet they come from your world, those words: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God’.
...To reach the Absolute Word we need the contingent words at our fingertips’ perfection. The art of manipulating words as an instrument for manipulating reality ... Learning to distinguish between fine words and true words, to distrust the words of persuasion... To mix words like powerful drugs ... To grasp the meaning of words said and words silenced... To redeem the Word in order to redeem our own history...
... Because the first misunderstandings between my erstwhile husband and myself began when he became possessed by the Word of this Superior, and used it to club me into his vision of the world... Even the description Eve has given of me over the infinite years, which I have faithfully reproduced, was made of his words -
Those words constructed my guilt; that conception -
(PAUSE) (Observes them) ... Satisfied?... (Again the SOUND OF THE FLUTE, the soft background to the following words. Smiles)... You look bewildered ... less convinced that I'm guilty... (Describes a wide, almost magical circle with her hands)... You will leave here assured of my innocence... I could make you believe, if I so wished, that I know nothing of what really happened to Eve and her children... (A moment's suspense. She point towards the window).
... Night falls, the desert fills with people -
But you came here to find out about Eve… and her children… I warn you: you’re still in time… to go back to the safety of your homes… and to lay the killing of those three children to the door of some passing madmen… a stranger… an alien... (She gets up to light a big white candle and an incense stick. She looks at the audience) … But if you remain here and insist on knowing the truth… if you really want to know… (She sits down again)
…It was a moment like this ... softened by music and beauty ... I was sitting here… From the window I could see my beloved sisters… Emily conversing with Virginia… Ereshkigal dancing with Inanna… Hekat choosing herbs for her potions… When suddenly Eve plunged at my feet… She had never before come to my house… and she looked frightened by her trip, by this place, and by the night figures populating the desert.
She didn’t need to tell me what had happened… I could read it perfectly in the quivering movements of her hands… Suspicious of the unknown, shy of the unexpected, unable to interpret her own destiny within herself… she had gone to a charlatan, a self-
(She takes an apple from the basket by her side) ... Oh, she only wanted to apprehend some freak show tricks… while I answered her prayer verbatim… I could not do otherwise either… the prayer had been expressed with the right words, the right manner… in the right place…
I presented her the fruit of knowledge… And she held it close in her little hands… like a big ruby… and hurried away from me… frightened…
Not enough!... She should have refused my gift!... Thrown it away, far away… Convinced herself that our meeting had been just one of those nightmares where I appeared… She should have laughed of me… thought again that I was bitter and frustrated just as for centuries she had described me… ignored my Knowledge… laughed at my power… been content to know only the reality she could have stood, without ever daring the Absolute… Then – perhaps – she would have saved herself.
And instead… what fit of pride… what folly ever convinced her… that she might own the Gift… and yet maintain her well-
(PAUSE) (She looks at the apple she is holding as if it were a crystal sphere) I have told you all… Oh, right… the facts! (PAUSE – she offers the apple towards the audience. Then she smiles and shakes her head) No, right?... Them, perhaps, you’re beginning to understand…
What has really happened you should ask Eve… I do not know where she is now… but I do know that sooner or later she will come and join our ranks here in the desert… She will be welcome… (Then, regally) What I had to say I’ve said it!... You may go!
(She claps her hands. The music of the FLUTE starts again. Lilith does not look at the audience anymore. She gets up, looks out of the window, makes arcane gestures on the flame of the candle. She murmurs the ineffable names…) Eloàh, Adamàh, Ninmàh, Shekhinah, Lamàshtu… (She blows on the candle)
|Body of Work|
|Summary of Plays|
|Letter to Donald|
|Master Class for Writers|
|Summer Class in France|
|Current and Future Productions|
|Debt of Honor Preview|
|Donald Freed Teaching|
|Birthday Tribute Video|
|A Moment of Truth - If You Were She|
|Debt of Honor Premiere|
|France Summer Intensives|
|Current and Future Events|