by Antonia Brancati
Sound of a sax, playing a soft, easy rhythm.
The beautiful NARCISSUS is stretched out on a bench (or sofa), perfectly immobile, as if sitting for an invisible painter or sculptor.
Beside him, slightly raised, the frame of a mirror, portrait, or window.
For a while, everything is totally still; only the sound of the sax is heard, ending on a sweet, melancholic note. Silence, then …
NARCISSUS (Rousing himself, as if forced to speak by the silence, and in the uncertain tones of someone trying their voice for the first time in ages) Wonderful, the sound of the sax. Wonderful music. Such a pure sound. The sax. Saxxxxx-
…But I had the gift, the gift of music. I HAD – the gift. Gifted … You’re born -
Anyway – l know, I’m quite aware the whole thing is very P. I. C. – politically incorrect – but Superior Beings exist: that’s all there is to it. They just exist! And whether it’s genetics, or some trick of nature, or because they’re the favourites of the heavens – the gods – hardly matters, surely? Define it as you like – the fact remains that there exists an aristocracy of individuals – but small, very small – who are born “gifted” …I wouldn’t know how else to put it … perhaps I could talk about individuals with the gift … in any case, I have it, this gift! No doubt whatsoever!
… The gift… I’m not referring only to music, and being musical which, if only I had dedicated myself to it … if only I hadn’t had my vague and wayward mother to care for … keeping her on some sort of straight and narrow … the pity of it! If only she had accepted my advice, my exhortations … but no, she was hell-
(SILENCE. THE SOUND OF THE SAX. THE SILENCE CLEARLY EMBARRASSES HIM AFTER A TIME, AND HE MAKES THE EFFORT TO SPEAK AGAIN…)
NARCISSUS (Repeating a few notes of the SAX) Ah-
And this is the point: I don’t dream. EVER … No, no, it’s not an excuse, or something I’ve made up: I simply don’t dream. Yes, I know, the analysts tell us it’s impossible, that it’s a sign of some terrible … trauma … But not in my case: I don’t dream because there’s nothing I’m repressing or denying; there’s nothing I wouldn’t cheerfully countenance. My conscience and consciousness are perfectly formed. My inner life holds no secrets from me. My subconscious has no need to plunge into a dream-
No, I never studied psychoanalysis, I was always too taken up with … Never needed self-
… The fact is – and I can’t deny it – an individual like myself can do anything. I have the gift. The power. The strength. I defy the laws of physics and nature … With a minimum of concentration, no miracle is out of my reach; I can do anything through sheer will power. I am alone in grasping the force of thought, and developing it -
(The SAX is heard, as if in warning that he has gone too far, but when nothing more happens, confirmed in his self-
Yes, envy: since I was small. Since primary school. First of all, because I was handsome, even then. I say it with pride, a simple statement of fact: I was very handsome even as a child. I remember the mothers of my classmates, eating me with their eyes … countless numbers, sighing as they looked at me … my elegance and grooming and fine pale skin… and at the side of their snotty-
They all wanted me: I was handsome. It’s pathetic to assert that beauty is useless, and appearances don’t count: pathetic rubbish! I was delighted I was handsome … I still am, you’d agree? It’s an undeniable fact that Time has been kind, has passed me by: I haven’t aged like my peers… I see the difference all the time… whenever some decrepit old man crawls up to me … ‘Remember me? We were at school together’… but I never remember. I have a very selective memory: a patchwork affair… I only remember … (PAUSE) I was handsome. And extremely well-
PAUSE. SOUND OF THE SAX.
NARCISSUS A lovely sound… (PAUSE) Do I have to I go on? … Yes I know that’s what we’re here for, but what can I say – what should I tell you?… I don’t think I have very much to say for myself. Yes I know there are people who can talk for hours about their feelings, their sensations, their emotions … I have to confess that I find it all vastly boring: when someone starts talking about themselves my mind wanders – I can’t help it: it all seems so banal, so futile… Probably because people are, for the most part, banal and futile.
All this emphasis on “sensitivity”… people emoting all over the place, feeling, palpitating – what’s the word? I don’t even have the vocabulary of emotion … nothing comes to mind … it’s a fact that normal people expend an infinity of energy on “feeling” a vast variety of the profoundest of emotions for the most futile of recipients … But not me. (Short pause) Yes, I believe this is another sign of my decided superiority. I don’t waste myself on emotions. (Short pause) No, in this area I have nothing to say.
(PAUSE. Then…) Job? Living is my job, full-
And of course I had the tremendous good luck to be able to stop working very early on. After the … disappearance … of Liriope, my mother… I had to work for a while, to keep myself. I was a model, a fashion-
I preferred working as a photographic model… greatly preferred it. Art photos. Here, too, I was very lucky. There was one photographer, I remember – though I don’t remember his name – who had the most splendid studios … with two walls of mirrors, so I could check my appearance at every moment … most gratifying … a freeze-
Just one I remember (I couldn’t forget him!): Count Amenia. The photographer would smile and call him his Maecenas, because Amenia was a lover of the Arts and young artists. A fascinating man, the Count … He spoke with a slight lisp on the ‘r’, and rather a drawl … Oh he was so chic! … His clothes! … Waistcoats of the most wonderful cashmere … shirts of pastel silk … shoes of English leather… and the lightest of perfumes, a distillation of carnations he had specially made up in Paris … Such refinement and beauty! … It’s how I imagine my father, Cephissus … And how elegant in evening-
He – Amenia – appeared some months after I began modelling … Just back from a long trip around the world … he came to the studio … and stayed for my whole sitting … He clearly loved watching me … just as I loved being watched … The photographer fussed around with his equipment … Hardly a word was spoken. After a while, at the end of the sittings, the Count began to take me with him, out into his big, wide, wonderful world of theatres, restaurants, receptions … He introduced me as his pupil, but gave no idea as to my role in his life … I saw that he loved observing me while I was observed by others … I attracted endless attention – and I felt completely at ease.
I thought we had a lot in common, Count Amenia and I, apart from a respect for beauty. I liked the snobbery implicit in his taste for low life … he loved to take me to taverns and brothels and backyards out in the sticks where they held cock-
He loved giving me things: a sash, a watch, ruby cuff-
Then at the end of the session I ran towards Amenia, to embrace him out of sheer happiness. He pulled me towards him and held me close, in a way he never had before, and shot his head round so that my lips slipped down his cheek onto his lips. And he grasped me in a violent, bestial grip, with not a trace of his usual elegance.
I was furious. I jerked away from him, still wearing the buccaneer costume. I took the dagger from my belt and handed it to him. ‘Keep your present!’, I ordered him. ‘I could never give you what you want from me. I’d rather die than be with you!’, then I fled from the room. I turned a second, before closing the door behind me – and glimpsed Amenia following me with his eyes, as always, and as always with that peculiar little smile on his lips.
SOUND OF THE SAX
NARCISSUS (After a pause) The rest you know from the newspapers. Amenia went home and committed suicide with the same dagger he had given me and which I’d so indignantly returned. He left a note, giving no reasons for his suicide but repeating that he wanted to adopt me, and that I was the heir to all his possessions. A generous man …
SOUND OF THE SAX
NARCISSUS … But how could he have thought I could love him with the same sordid love he felt for me? A strange fellow, Amenia… His … disappearance … bothered me for a time … the law-
I went back to the photographer, but he refused to see me. He sent a valet with the Buccaneer photographs, and a note: ‘Remember these: you might still sell another scrap of your soul’. But he refused to see me …I sold the photos to a Museum, to keep me until I could cash in on the inheritance.
SOUND OF THE SAX.
… Love makes you do strange things… I think I was only ever in love once in my life … Soon after the events – after what happened to Amenia … I was restless, had these legal problems … And then, I was never good at doing nothing -
So off I went, with no idea what I was looking for, but I looked for it all the same, every night, losing myself in alleys and scrubby squares. One evening, about half past eight, I found myself outside a funny little theatre with huge gas-
I wouldn’t have missed it for the world: on that tiny stage full of ham actors stood the most beautiful thing I had ever seen: she, Juliet, looking at her Romeo -
…And her voice... I’ve never heard a voice like that. (HERE THE SAX SHOULD PRODUCE AN ECHO OF ECHO’S VOICE AS DESCRIBED BY NARCISSUS)
First low, with deep, sweet notes that the ear picked out one at a time … (SAX)… then becoming sharper (SAX) … in the garden scene it had that note of expectancy you experience a moment before the dawn, when the nightingales sing (SAX)… At other moments it trembled with almost animal passion... (SAX) I would never have believed a voice could move me like that … And Echo’s voice, as I heard it that night, is one of the things I shall never forget …
…One evening Echo was Rosalind, the next, Imogen. I saw her die in a dreary Italian mausoleum, sipping poison from the lips of her lover. I saw her wandering in the Forest of Arden, a pert young lad in short trousers, jacket, and cap. In her madness she presented herself to a guilty king and gave him rue and bitter herbs. In her innocence she was strangled, the black hands of jealousy around her tiny throat. I saw her in all periods, all costumes. Real women never excited my fantasy: closeted within their century, with no magic to transform them. Their ideas as familiar to us as their little hats. Two a penny. Lacking all mystery, with their stereotyped smiles and fashionable airs. Pitifully predictable. But an actress! Oh, an actress is a very different affair …
… I fell in love with her, and loved her for perhaps ten days … I sent her orchids, and paeons to her beauty: I tied them with bows to the cages of little birds and baskets of puppies, which were just like her, I thought … I was half-
She was gentle and shy: childlike. She opened her eyes wide when I told her how I admired her acting – she seemed to have no idea of her gift and power. We must have been nervous, because that first time we got no further than looking at each other like startled children ... I realised immediately that for Echo I was simply another theatre grandee … She was innocent of life … I was in love with some nymph, who spoke with the voice of poetry in some enchanted forest, it seemed to me …
One evening, after the show, I went onto the stage and spoke to her. While we sat close, a look suddenly passed through her eyes which I had never seen before. I put my lips close to hers. We kissed. I can describe nothing of what I felt in that moment. My entire life seemed instilled into a perfect point of bliss, a distillation of roses. She trembled from head to toe, like a delicate jonquil. Then she knelt down and kissed my hands … She adored me. I asked her to marry me …
The next evening I returned to the theatre – it was Romeo and Juliet again. After an age of waiting Juliet came on … and the magic, the magic of her voice – was gone. Oh, Echo was certainly still beautiful, but her voice, her voice … (SAX) metal… (SAX) At times rasping … (SAX) And flat …
When the distressing performance was over, I rushed backstage. Echo was there, an expression of triumph on her face. Her eyes burned with the most exquisite fire. There was a radiance – almost a halo – around her. Her lips were parted, smiling at some intimate secret. When she saw me, an expression of infinite joy blushed across her face. ‘How badly I acted this evening, my Narcissus!’ she cried.
‘Horrendously’, I agreed, looking in amazement, ‘Horrendously. It was a distressing and painful experience. Are you ill? You can’t imagine what it was like, and how I suffered’.
… The foolish girl … she was simply happy! … She explained that before meeting me, the theatre had been her whole life. She only lived in the theatre. She had known only shadows, she said, and had taken them for reality. She echoed and gave meaning to vacuous, treacherous, trickster words which weren’t even hers … unreal words, the words of others, words she had no wish to pronounce … Her eyes shone as she told me, with a quick sigh, that she had never known … never known what reality was … And her words, her lunatic words, explained that I had freed her spirit from its prison …. I had given her something immensely precious, of which all art can only be a reflection: an understanding of love.
… She threw her arms about me, and called me her love, and said she was sick of shadows, and that I meant more to her than art ever could. ‘I hate the stage’, she said. ‘I could fake a passion I can’t feel, but it would never be a passion that consumes me like fire’. ??
I tore myself from her embrace, and ran. The idiot girl had killed all my love for her … She who had excited my fantasies now failed to arouse even my curiosity … She ran after me, imploring me, wept at my feet, and wrung her hands, but I remained unmoved. I had loved her because she was a marvellous creature: she incarnated the dreams of the great poets, and gave substance and local habitation to the forms of art … And the stupid girl had then killed them. I never wanted to see her again. I don’t know what happened to her … I seem to remember someone told me that in her desperation she had committed s… Some irreparable act … I don’t know … it wasn’t sufficiently important to get into the papers … And then … I didn’t care … I don’t care – should I? – Echo was an idiot – I simply don’t care a damn about her and what was between us … She loved me – so? How could she have imagined that, as soon as I knew what an insipid little thing she was, I could have loved her in return?
SUOND OF THE SAX
NARCISSUS … Love … love … (PAUSE) … I was so used to being adored … I was perfectly happy … and perfectly self-
… Well, individuals like me tend to glance at any reflecting surface, to see their own image … we like to see ourselves as we have always been, as if our image had stayed immobile, fixed in time … But one day, a short while ago, a very distressing thing occurred: I was passing in front of a window, looked in, and saw myself – it was me – but I was old, my face lined with worry, furrowed by life, etched with passions … then the image disappeared … I bent down to look into a car mirror, and breathed easy: I was back, young, smooth-
And these images of an old man persecuted me for days … even though I only had to look into the little mirror I took to carrying with me and there I was, as young and unchanged as ever! Some sickness or weakness, I thought, some trick of the imagination, which I usually controlled so well … Then I would see myself again: anxiously peering into a puddle, hobbling, bent, by a line of cars, looking into their shiny doors, or catching a fat reflection of myself across some café counter … I realised that this image of my older self was not exactly specular: we weren’t wearing the same clothes: each was dressed as befitted his age group (or, if you prefer, his appearance). I would be smoothing down my hair, he was reading a paper; I was scowling, he smiling; I was looking, he taking notes in a note-
If I didn’t see him, I missed him … But then when I saw myself, old, horror froze my heart … It became an obsession: I couldn’t eat, just wandered around the city streets, uncertain whether I was searching for or escaping from myself. I couldn’t think straight: if that was myself, old – though I remained myself – then perhaps it was a promise that I would never get old? Or a premonition of what I would, in some far-
… Useless imaginings, because finally, one day, I came face to face with the image of this old and smiling man … no mirrors between us, no reflecting surfaces, or pools of water … No: I found myself – my young, slim, beautiful self – suddenly face to face, in a garden, with this old self, quietly sitting on a bench in an old, flowery caftan, to hide my rolls of fat …
‘See how many flowers have been named after you!’, the old man said to me. Then he went on, when he saw my astonishment, ‘I couldn’t have failed to recognise you, Narcissus: I was exactly like you – oh, long, long ago’.
Consoled that the old man and I weren’t the same person, I curled my lip in a scornful smile I had perfected with practice, and in icy tones retorted: ‘My dear sir – or madam, I really don’t know -
‘Ah, no!’ this disgusting image of antiquity replied. ‘Remember, you had a twin sister. You were never unique: I have always been a part of your whole: I am your lost twin’. ‘My twin – my twin is dead!’ I managed to say, and then fell, crushed, onto the grass, among the flowers that bear my name. But the appalling crone stood up, and told me a story of myself which I didn’t know, or had forgotten – had wanted to forget …
SOUND OF THE SAX. THE STORY IS TOO TERRIBLE FOR THE INSTRUMENT TO TELL.
NARCISSUS Her voice came and went, in waves … and all I could catch of her words were a few isolated phrases … stating … the bare facts. (SAX) … And I started to remember … We were as alike as two drops of water, my twin and I – identical in appearance, complementary in character: I was superficial, she deep, profound; I was crafty, she intelligent; I was adorable, she lovable. I had put all jealousy aside, seeing her so happy … She threw herself into life, ran into the arms of experience, whatever the wounds, the scars, the risks … and while I was poisoned by boredom, she was perfectly happy … Happy doing nothing, lotus-
… Just as I soon forgot about Tireisias’ first prophecy. My mother had asked if I would have a long life, and he replied ‘si se non noverit’ – if he never knows himself. Because this is the point, isn’t it? Every time I saw myself reflected in the other part of myself, my twin, I couldn’t help knowing myself – and I didn’t like what I saw, and all my static beauty was no consolation ... and a lifetime of boredom weighed on my shoulders, and crushed me, and self-
I who have always adored mirrors couldn’t bear – can’t bear! -
SOUND OF THE SAX.
THE LIGHTS CHANGE; WE NOW SEE THE MONOLOGUE IS SET IN A PRISON, TOLD TO AN ( (INVISIBLE) ANALYST WHO IS ASSESSING HIS BALANCE OF MIND.
NARCISSUS (Concluding) … Which is why I’m here.
|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|