Olena Jennings and Wanda Phipps
An apartment. Bedroom. Night.
(SARAH and DAVID are lying in bed sleeping. SARAH suddenly sits up and her eyes open wide.)
Sarah: What was that?
David: An earthquake?
Sarah: No, I don’t believe it.
David: Here comes another one. Can you feel it coming?
(Sarah shakes her head.)
Sarah: I can’t remember the dream I was having…
David: You’re sweating.
Sarah: It was so dark. I think I was dreaming about being in a chapel. There were these ornate decorations and…and this amazing stillness. For some reason I had an orange tulip in my hand…What do you think it means?
DAVID: I don’t know. Go back to sleep.
SARAH: How can you sleep through an earthquake? Shouldn’t we do something?
DAVID: What? Like duck and cover?
DAVID: Hide under a table?
SARAH: Or in a bathtub? Or call somebody?
DAVID: I think it’s over now. (They both sit very still as if listening for another tremor.) Nothing’s happening. Let’s just go back to sleep.
Same apartment. Living room. Afternoon.
(Sarah poses on the couch as David sketches her but she can’t seem to stay still.)
David: What’s the matter?
Sarah: I was just thinking of an old friend. We knew each other when we were kids.
David: What made you think of her?
Sarah: I think that weird dream was about her. Once when I was depressed she gave me an orange tulip she’d picked from her mother’s garden just like the one in the dream.
DAVID: So now you’re a dream interpreter?
SARAH: I tried to search for her online and found out she just passed away a few days ago.
David: Oh, no, I’m sorry. Were you close?
Sarah: She was my best friend in high school. I’m thinking of going to the funeral.
David: That’s a long way to go. Does she still live in the Midwest?
David: Maybe you should give it some more thought?
Sarah: Hey, why don’t you want me to go?
David: I didn’t say I didn’t want you to go.
Sarah: Are you jealous?
David: That’s ridiculous!
Sarah: You sound jealous.
David: Well, I’m sorry. I just thought since you’ve lost touch with her and moved on then…
Sarah: That’s kinda cold of you.
Sarah: Yeah, we were close back then….I remember when my mom used to make us casseroles and shrimp curry in our little kitchen—the walls were cotton candy blue and the windows decorated with lace curtains. Me and my friend–
DAVID: What was her name?
SARAH: Margaret. Her name was Margaret. Margaret and I wanted to make fancy dinners for each other so we hung a curtain between the dining and cooking areas so that we could be as messy as we wanted. Once, we went to a fancy restaurant together. I wore a plaid pants suit but she wore the cutest thrift store dress with shoes trimmed in gold. I ordered oeufs a la neige for dessert and then I was so impressed by what looked like clouds on my plate.
Flashback. Light grows brighter.
Coffee shop. Late Afternoon.
(SARAH and DAVID are at adjacent tables.)
DAVID: What are you studying?
SARAH: A book by Bachelard. He’s a phenomenologist.
SARAH: He’s a philosopher. He writes a lot about space. I’m studying philosophy. (SARAH looks back down at her books.)
DAVID: Oh, yeah? I’m an artist.
SARAH: What kind?
DAVID: I do a lot of portraits. I’m haunted by the images of faces.
SARAH: Really? Bachelard writes a lot about images. Maybe he was obsessed with them too.
DAVID: Oh yeah? What does he say?
(SARAH looks at her notebook.)
SARAH: “The Image has touched the depths before it stirs the surface.”
DAVID: Very eloquent.
SARAH: It’s Bachelard, not me.
DAVID: A visual image can hold a lot of emotion.
SARAH: Well, he’s talking about a poetic image.
DAVID: An image in a painting can still be full of emotion. Maybe I can paint you one day?
Present. SARAH and DAVID’S apartment. Night.
(Sarah wanders through the rooms as if sleepwalking. David hears her and shakes her to consciousness.)
David: Sarah. Are you okay?
Sarah: I couldn’t sleep.
David: Let’s go back to bed. Do you want some water?
(They go to the kitchen. The sink is filled with dirty dishes. Sarah drinks so quickly that water tumbles down her chest.)
Sarah: I think I was looking for Margaret.
David: Looking for Margaret? Maybe you really want to go to the funeral?
Sarah: I keep thinking about her.
David: I guess it’s natural.
Sarah: We did so much together. We even went to prom at The Public Museum together. I remember wandering around the Rain Forest section. I remember the fossils. They looked like they were longing to be touched. We loved each other so much. Then we drifted apart. Maybe it was just impossible to keep things going that way. It was too intense in a way.
David: Like us?
Sarah: I never felt that way with anyone again.
David: Hmm. Really, not even with me?
SARAH: I’m not sure.
Flashback. Light grows brighter. DAVID’S apartment.
DAVID: Thank you for letting me paint you.
SARAH: (a little giddy from alcohol) It’ll be fun!
DAVID: I’m glad someone thinks so. I think it will be hard work.
SARAH: How do you know I won’t get comfortable on your couch and you’ll
never be able to get rid of me!
DAVID: Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing?
SARAH: That was an interesting bar.
DAVID: It depends on what you mean by interesting.
SARAH: Is it your neighborhood hangout?
DAVID: I heard from a friend it was good. I don’t go out much myself.
SARAH: I loved those Chihuly-like sculptures.
DAVID: Oh, you like him? I love Dale Chihuly’s work too!
SARAH: Yeah, they’re like these floating glass clouds.
DAVID: There’s an image for you.
(DAVID is working on a painting as SARAH comes into the apartment.)
SARAH: Hey, I got this handout from this lady on the street.
SARAH: It’s a deal on that gym down the street–a week for free just to check it out and a tour and everything. I thought you’d like it.
DAVID: No, thanks—I hate gyms.
DAVID: They’re always too crowded–too expensive anyway.
SARAH: Well, I know how you like to stay in shape. Why not join the Y around the corner? I heard they have a great pool.
DAVID: Not my style. I like working out at home.
SARAH: I just thought you might like to get out of the house every once in a while.
DAVID: Why? Afraid I might be turning into the new post-modern hermit?
SARAH: Very funny.
DAVID: I just like being comfortable and…
SARAH: In total control?
DAVID: (DAVID goes to the window and stares out.) You know, the other day I looked out this window and I saw this woman. She was very well-dressed and in a really big hurry. She walked to the end of the block and then she turned around and walked back to the corner she’d just left. At first I thought she was lost and couldn’t find an address or something. She seemed like she was late for some important meeting. But then she must have repeated the same steps a hundred times, again and again, up and down the block. She could have been a hooker but her clothes were too expensive. Then I realized she was lost — lost in her mind. I wondered why she chose this block? Why did she always stop at that corner? What kept her from walking across the street and moving on?
When I go out sometimes I get caught up with the energy out there. And someplace deep down I think I’m afraid I might end up like her: just running a groove into the sidewalk day after day.
SARAH: That will never be you. Your painting keeps you going forward…changing. Aristotle said something about that. He said you can make a sculpture out of a block of marble because it can be transformed. Maybe people are like that too?
DAVID: What, like a block of marble?
SARAH: (SARAH laughs) No-o-o!
SARAH and DAVID’S apartment. Living Room.
(DAVID is alone at the easel)
DAVID: Sometimes when I’m painting I feel so…alive. When I’m painting Sarah and she suddenly touches her face I can feel a light touch against my skin and when the brush reaches her hands it’s as if a feather brushes or tickles my hand. And when I get to that light in her eyes, for a second, I see what she sees: a cobweb on the ceiling or the curve of my back.
SARAH and DAVID’S apartment. Kitchen.
(They are washing and drying dishes)
SARAH: I’ve never had anyone close to me die before. Have you?
DAVID: My mother.
SARAH: Oh. I didn’t know that. Why didn’t you tell me before?
DAVID: I didn’t think you’d be interested. The past is the past.
SARAH: And your father?
DAVID: You know I talk to him every weekend.
SARAH: Do you miss her? When did it happen?
DAVID: When I was a kid. I was so young that I don’t remember much of anything about her.
SARAH: What do you remember about her?
DAVID (sits down): I remember crying after she tried to feed me lobster.
SARAH: You didn’t like lobster? Everyone likes lobster.
DAVID: It just looked so red and angry.
SARAH: What else do you remember?
DAVID: The baths she used to make me take.
SARAH: Did you have a rubber ducky?
DAVID: No, I had a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
SARAH: Oh you would!
DAVID: She had elegant hands with long fingers.
SARAH: How did she die?
DAVID: She was in a car accident.
DAVID: She was on her way home from rehearsal one night and she got sideswiped on the highway and swerved into a ditch.
SARAH: I’m sorry…I had no idea.
DAVID: I was only 8 years old and that’s the story my father told me when I got older.
SARAH: I wonder how Margaret died.
DAVID: I’ve been thinking maybe you should go to the funeral after all…just to answer all your questions.
SARAH: Maybe. I can look into the plane fares.
DAVID: Why did you lose touch with her?
SARAH: I don’t know…I think it was after the first time she slept with a boy. His name was Dallas. It happened in the locker room of the swimming pool in her grandmother’s building. I remember swimming in that pool decorated with white Christmas lights. The lights reflected in the water. Then I could already feel her breaking away from me.
DAVID: So, she was more into her boyfriend than she was into you?
SARAH: Yeah, maybe he was the one who pulled us apart. I’m not really sure what happened.
DAVID: Well, maybe you do need to go to the funeral?
SARAH and DAVID’S apartment. Living Room.
DAVID: There you are…my ballerina.
SARAH: What are you talking about?
DAVID: Why are you always tiptoeing around?
SARAH: I’m worried about the neighbors. I don’t want them to hear.
DAVID: Hear what? What are you afraid they might hear?
SARAH: I don’t know. I want to be quiet.
DAVID: You should be comfortable in your own body…in your own home and make as much noise as you want.
SARAH: I don’t have to be loud to be comfortable. Sometimes you stand perfectly still in front of your canvas for ages.
DAVID: Yeah, when I’m staring at a canvas like that I feel calm like part of me has floated away.
SARAH and DAVID’S bedroom.
(SARAH packing her suitcase.)
SARAH: I’ll miss you, David.
DAVID: We decided it’s important that you go.
SARAH: Maybe you need to get in touch with your past too.
DAVID: What do you mean?
SARAH: What if you go visit your father?
DAVID: I talk to him on the phone. It’s enough.
SARAH: Maybe he’ll tell you more about your mother. You don’t want to lose those memories.
DAVID: I have those memories. I remember once when my mother came home tired from work she still played catch with me.
SARAH: And your dad?
DAVID: My dad was more into solitude.
SARAH: More like you?
DAVID: Yes. I remember at night he used to pace the hallways of our house, back and forth.
DAVID: Just trying to develop a rhythm. I think he’s kinda like that woman I saw on the street…
SARAH and DAVID’S Living Room.
SARAH: My mother always said that before you leave on a trip you need to sit down and consider whether you’ve forgotten anything.
DAVID: Let’s sit then.
(They sit down on the couch in silence for a moment.)
SARAH: I think I have everything.
DAVID: I think you’re just trying to put off leaving. I’ll miss you.
SARAH: I’ll miss you too, but I’ll be back soon.
(SARAH steps out the door. DAVID watches her disappear before shutting the door. He goes to the phone and picks it up.)
DAVID: Hi Dad…Yeah, Sarah just left to go to a funeral and I already feel lonely…something is just not right…I’ll work on my painting while she is gone…Yes, I’m painting her, painting Sarah.
(DAVID goes to his easel pick up his palette and starts mixing paints but puts them down. He starts to pace back and forth in front of the window.)
SARAH and DAVID’S bedroom.
(DAVID lies on the bed daydreaming. He suddenly sits up.)
DAVID: I keep seeing these flowers on a casket. The casket is being lowered into the ground. I keep seeing bright spots of orange against the black, orange tulips. There’s no sun, just clouds. The tulips seem especially bright. Everything else is dark, black casket and everyone in their black mourning clothes like the black suit I wore to my mother’s funeral and my father’s black suit when he held my hand.
(SARAH returns from the funeral. She turns the key and opens the door. DAVID is sitting on the couch reading a magazine when she comes in. He gets up and hugs her.)
DAVID: Oh, Sarah. I missed you so much. How did it go?
SARAH: It was really sad, but the funeral was beautiful. I saw so many old friends. There were lots of flowers.
SARAH: How did you know?
DAVID: I just had a feeling.
SARAH: They were Margaret’s favorite flower. How could you know that?
DAVID: I had some kind of visions about what the funeral was like.
SARAH: Visions? That’s impossible.
DAVID: Maybe it’s impossible, but it did happen. Remember the dream you had earlier?
SARAH: Oh, I almost forgot.
(She starts to carry her bags into bedroom.)
SARAH: What have you been doing?
DAVID: I’ll help you with those.
(He takes the bags into the bedroom and comes back out.)
DAVID: I’ve just been painting, but I did call my father. I told him I felt like something was missing while you were gone.
SARAH: Oh that’s sweet. I’m going to go unpack now.
(SARAH finishes unpacking and goes into the bathroom. She stares into the mirror.)
Sarah: I felt a little faint so I went to the bathroom, splashed some cold water on my face thinking that would bring me back to normal. But when I looked in the mirror my face looked so odd. The more I stared at it, the stranger it seemed. At first I could identify the edges of my face, the general shape and where my hairline started—the varying shades of my skin. Then the edges started to blur and I had a sense of expansion, something about me expanding out beyond the edges, my edges. In the mirror I saw these fragments, geometrics pieces of my face moving apart, breaking apart and spreading out towards the edges of the silver mirror frame. Only my eyes seemed to stay stable, though hazy, floating in the center as the rest of my face moved away, eventually disappearing, leaving only these dark brown eyes floating in a kind of cloud.
(SARAH feels a little faint and staggers into the living room where DAVID is painting. DAVID doesn’t notice that she’s a little wobbly.)
DAVID: I finally finished the portrait of you!
SARAH: How is it?
DAVID: It’s not the way I thought it was at all. Do you want to see it? Sarah? Sarah?….
(SARAH disappears through the audience, wobbly. DAVID turns the painting around. The painting is a portrait of DAVID.)
About the Playwrights:
Olena Jennings’s poetry collection Songs from an Apartment is scheduled for release by Underground Books in January 2017. Her translations from Ukrainian have been published in Chelsea, Wolf, and Poetry International as well as by Underground Books. She has published fiction in Joyland, Pioneertown, and Projecttile. She completed her MFA in writing at Columbia and her MA in Ukrainian Literature at the University of Alberta. Her website is olenajennings.com.
Wanda Phipps is a writer/performer living in NYC. Her books include Field of Wanting: Poems of Desire and Wake-Up Calls: 66 Morning Poems. Her poetry has been translated into Ukrainian, Hungarian, Arabic, Galician and Bangla. She has received awards from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Theater Translation Fund, and others. As a founding member of Yara Arts Group she has collaborated on numerous theatrical productions presented in Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Siberia, and at La MaMa, E.T.C. in NYC. She’s curated reading series at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church. Her website is mindhoney.com.
© Olena Jennings and Wanda Phipps