5x5e5p5 5 – Deception of Surfaces

From chapter 11, one of two one-act plays in the novel.

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Uma: (To Pee-U:) What’s your full name? (In one sudden flourish Alice takes off her grey tank top and sits at the middle of the table topless. Sandro covers his eyes. Pause, while the rest take her in.)

Pee-U: Pasqual Umberto del Merced de la Bellavista. Y la vista es muy bella ahora.

Alice: (To Maya) Okay?

Uma: (Studiously) Wow. You could pass the pencil test.

Fatima: The what?

Uma: You know, if you put a pencil under there it would drop to the floor. Means she’s allowed to go bra-less.

Fatima: Great. One more way to beat myself up. (Alice begins eating again, topless, which some others take uncertainly as a cue to continue eating too.)

Andy: Pee-U, can you take Sandro and Bella upstairs for a bit? (But Pee-U is lost in reverie.)

Maya: No. I want Bella to stay.

Henry: Hey tonto! Tome el piso de arriba muchacho! (Pee-U begins to haul himself up and gently pulls Sandro with him towards the door.)

Pee-U: Si, si, si. Vamos ratonito, vamos. (At the door) Por favor, dila que estoy muy agradecido. (They leave.)

Henry: (To Alice) He, um, wants to you know he’s grateful to you.

Maya: (Of Alice’s breasts) Do you even know what those are for?

Fatima: What they’re for?

Alice: No. I have no idea. Tell me.

Maya: They’re for feeding babies. And they’re shaped like that because they contain the glands that make milk, and so that infants can find them and suck on them easily. But because of our twisted culture, they’ve been fetishized into symbols for male sexual gratification.

Barbara: Hang on. I have an issue with that point of view.

Maya: Well of course you do. Our high priestess of political correctness.

Andy: Maya, Jesus!

Barbara: I think it’s up to Alice to say what they’re for. I mean, they belong to her, right? So if she wants to let men, or women, play with them, or fantasize about them, or if she wants to use them as a means to support herself economically, that’s up to her.

Maya: And that’s okay with you? What happened to the distinction about making love to your husband and fucking some guy in the bathroom? Or does your morality adjust to the drift of the conversation?

Barbara: I actually don’t think it has anything to do with morality, Maya, I think it has to do with personal choices.

Maya: Choices based on what?! Based on some set of principals which are meant to guide those choices. Those are called “moral principals”, Barbara, and for those of us who still cling to them in this a-moral, post-meltdown world, for those of us who wish to raise our children with them, morality still matters! And it occasionally asks us to draw some lines in the sand and say, that’s wrong and this is right.

Barbara: I would be careful about passing judgments. (Maya leaps to her feet.)

Maya: No! I am passing a judgment! It is wrong to think of your breasts as “perfect” and it is wrong to make money by having sex on camera for all the world to see! That’s what she does, Bella! That’s her “dancing”! And it’s wrong! And I never, ever want you to do what she does! (She sits and cries quietly at the table. Barbara reaches down and retrieves Alice’s top. Alice puts it on.)

Bella: Is that true? What she said?

Alice: Yes. It’s true.

Andy: Mom and I think that people shouldn’t think of themselves as objects. Because when you do that, you start to emphasize what’s outside, the shape of things. We think what’s inside is what’s important, the mysterious part, the part no one can see. Mom and I think that’s most important.

Bella: It’s not the wrapping that’s important, it’s the gift inside. (Alice jolts.)

Alice: Did you hear me say that?

Bella: No. (Pause. Alice continues eating.)

Andy: Right sweetie. And the gift is from God.

Alice: So you’re trying to save my soul.

Maya: No . . .

Andy: Uh, yes, actually. If you want to call that inner part of you, the part that defines who you really are, if you want to call that your soul, then yes. The Retreat is all about saving souls. Or caring for souls. Souls need attention and tending, and if all you’re thinking about is tits and ass and dollar bills, your soul will whither and die. Doing free theatre isn’t just some gimmicky way to get an audience. We’re saying we’re not objects to be consumed, or bought, or sold, and what we make can never have a price tag. As soon as commerce begins driving the agenda you end up at the fantasy palaces. What starts out as a kind of practical sounding, street smart attitude about “the entertainment business” ends up reducing people to pieces of animated meat. (Beat.) What you saw here tonight was for your soul: Romeo’s longing and Juliet’s love; Maya’s comedy; the long-form; the Chekhov. Food for your soul. That sliver of Vanya that stuck in your head. And not just the words, but the event. You being here and feeling what you felt, and feeling it with everyone else, feeling what they felt. More than anything, it’s the being together that heals wounded souls. (Beat.) Sometimes God sends you on a mission, a mission which takes you completely off guard. Not so long ago, I was just like you. The male version. All I wanted was to be on the cover of magazines. But listen to Uma when she tells you to get rid of that dream. Because she’s right. It can kill you. It almost killed me. I had to change. And my insides filled up with something wonderful. And I wanted to share it. And that’s my mission.

Alice: So that’s it? Just . . . start hanging out here and . . . make shows . . . and live on . . . donations?

Henry: Take some time to think about it.

Alice: There’s no secret handshake to learn? No swearing on Bibles? No hazing rituals?

Andy: Look, we are always looking for talented young people to join us any way they feel comfortable. Henry is our UArts scout. He suggested you. Now you know where we are and what we do, the rest is up to you.

Alice: (To Barbara) S’matter. Cat got your tongue?

Barbara: I’m still digesting Maya’s oh-so-very incisive lecture. But yeah, Andy’s right. The rest is up to you.

Henry: I mean, since you’ll have some time on your hands.

Alice: Oh. Right. About all the time on my hands. Gene just called me. He’s going to let me graduate with some conditions.

Fatima: That’s great!

Henry: What conditions?

Alice: I attend all my classes “without incident”, and . . .

Henry: And?

Alice: And I continue working at Exhale . . . “without incident”. He, ah, kind of hooked me up with that job.

Maya: I don’t believe what I’m hearing.

Fatima: Okay, a month or two more, and off you go!

Bella: Can I go now? (Uma gets up.)

Uma: Come on. Let’s go see what Sandro and the Big Stinker are up to. (She leaves with Bella. Pause, while the tension gathers.)

Barbara: He said your diploma is contingent upon your working at Exhale?

Alice: Yeah.

Maya: (To Barbara) How’s your morality-meter doing now?

Barbara: For the record, I still say it’s her choice, and I still refuse to pass judgments on the choice she makes.

Maya: Guess that meter’s missing.

Fatima: Yes. As well as her holier-than-thou meter, but lucky for us, yours is big enough for everyone.

Maya: Excuse me?

Fatima: You heard me, chuckie. How you raise your kids is your business, but please, please don’t assume any of us share your quaint Victorian moral principals. My family escaped a culture held captive by a fascist religious oligarchy which preached a lot of those same principals. You want to know where they lead? To violence against women.

Maya: No.

Fatima: Oh yes. Because Maya, where do those principals come from? They come from patriarchal systems.

Barbara: (Eyes wide) Holy shit! Another academic!

Fatima: And what happens in those cultures when women begin to make choices on their own? Choices about what to do with their own bodies, how to dress, who to love? Those choices are labeled impermissible, and those women are oppressed. I lost too many female relatives to suicide to mince words about this one, lovie. You may not like what my friend here does in the palace my father built, so you’re free not to watch and not have your children watch. But you’re not free to tell anyone else how to live their lives, especially when they aren’t hurting anyone. What she does in there is a creative expression of her sexual power. And she does it by choice. And if I had the right kind of body, I’d do it too.

Maya: How could you possibly take a feminist position on this? I mean listen to yourself: “the right kind of body”? You do have the right kind of body! It’s right because it’s yours! Not hurting anyone? She’s hurting herself, not to mention all the young women who grow up thinking they don’t have the “right kind of body”, or that it’s okay to fuck people for money. Not to mention all the men who grow up with sex addictions from jerking off endlessly to videos of her and her friends getting it on with whoever. Not to mention the harm done to a entire culture which now calls pornography acceptable entertainment and calls whoring an acceptable job!

Alice: I think she just called me a whore.

Fatima: Call it whatever you want, but let me tell you something, it’s been going on for years! Since the first hard-on in the first caveman village! Going on in back alleys and the slums of the world, the red light districts, where all the impermissible acts were enacted! And it was in those places that the really, really ghastly crimes against women were perpetrated. At least we’re finally getting honest about who we are and what’s going on. Finally getting rid of the shame and shining some light on this part of ourselves. If people want this kind of escapist sexual fantasy, okay, let’s regulate it, make sure everyone’s healthy and paid well, and make sure no one gets hurt, and let the public decide what to watch.

Maya: And while we’re at it, let’s sell cocaine and heroin at the concession stand. (Pause. No one has an answer to this one.)

Alice: Do you really think I’m a whore? (Maya struggles.)

Maya: I think . . . I think if I could make $1000 an hour having sex with strangers I would seriously consider it. God knows I am sick of being poor.

Barbara: Aren’t we all.

Maya: You’re not poor.

Barbara: Excuse me? I’m sleeping on a former colleague’s couch after my girlfriend threw me out! I haven’t had my own place since I lost my teaching job! I had to live with you for a couple years! So don’t tell me who’s poor! You had this place just land in your lap, right? Rent free? Right?

Maya: This place is bleeding us dry!

Barbara: But you have a home Maya! Don’t you know what a blessing that is?!

Maya: You can fucking have it!

Andy: That’s enough! No one here is poor!

Maya: Yes we are! We are Andy! Come on! We had a good night tonight and a nice meal, but most of the time it’s lentils and toast around here! I haven’t actually bought new clothes – for anyone in my family – in three years! We dress ourselves through hand-me-downs and thrift stores! I made the mistake of walking down Walnut Street with Isabella the other day and I started crying, looking at all the nice things I will never, ever be able to buy for her! We’ve been trying to save money to go to Italy to see my grandparents . . . anyway . . . you like fantasies? That’s a fantasy. It’s no secret, my, ah, romantic attachment to this undertaking has faded. (Pause.) I don’t know how much longer I can live like this. I really don’t. (Pause. She turns to Alice.) Maybe my anger isn’t so much about the choices you’re making. Maybe it’s that you actually have choices to make. Maybe I’m just jealous of your perfect tits and freedom. You know what I think? I think you’re a beautiful young woman with a lot of passion, and smarts, and creativity. And it kills me inside to think that we live in a world where it’s acceptable for something as precious as you to spread your legs for the whole world to see.

Alice: But do you think I’m a whore? (Pause. The room is frozen.)

Maya: Yes. Yes Alice, I do. When you use sex to make money, that makes you a whore. At least by my quaint Victorian principals. (She gets up and leaves. Andy, Alice, Henry, Barbara and Fatima remain.)

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