Play in One Act and Three Scenes
by Chris Hewitt
The action takes place between the years 1868
and 1898, in Aix-en-Provence and Paris. As the audience enters,
the stage is dimly lit. On stage is a large table covered with
plain cloth. On the table are various props. Along the back
wall are three chairs: a bentwood cafe chair; a wicker chair
with a bamboo cane hung over one arm; and a nondescript chair
in need of repair. Also upstage are a rickety little table and
an armoire. Downstage, slightly to one side, are a tall velveteen-covered
chair and a small nightstand. On the nightstand are a palette,
some brushes, and a rag. Projected on the rear wall is Cézanne's
Portrait of Achille Emperaire.
Achille Emperaire (1829-1898)
Oil on canvas, c. 1868, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
(STAGE LIGHTS UP AS ACHILLE
ENTERS, CARRIED TO VELVETEEN CHAIR BY ATTENDANT.)
My God! Middle age! I
finally admit it.
(ACHILLE IS IN THE CHAIR.
There's the good side:
you get a sense of direction,
you finally know who you are,
and anyone who doesn't like it
can get stuffed!
Then there's the bad side:
your hair starts falling out,
your teeth start falling out
and you can't get it up any more
and you wonder if you're ever going
to make it. I met this fellow
Paul Cézannehe'll make it.
I put my money on him.
He wants to paint my portrait.
"Who'd want to look
at a dwarf?" I said.
"Wait till I've finished with you,"
he said, "Then they'll look!"
(PROJECTION OF PORTRAIT
IS TURNED OFF AS ACHILLE ASSUMES THE POSE.)
for the fifth day in a row for Paul Cézanne.
He has me wearing my long johns
and my old blue dressing gown.
"I look as though I'm sitting
on a commode," I say.
"Exactly," he replies. "It's the new
Realism. Zola will love it!"
"But if it's the new Realism," I say,
"why is the portrait six foot high?
That's almost twice my size."
"Well," he says, "that's how I see you.
To me you're six foot tall."
Marie is darning.
She's a good housekeeper.
The needle goes in.
A good nurse.
The needle comes out.
The needle goes in.
Good with children.
I married her because of these things.
She and the children live in a world
of braids and button hooks,
rag dolls and doilies,
porridge and jam, white sheets and darning.
Marie does comfort me.
It's not the comfort of a lover
or a whore but of a mother
or a nurse. Yet sometimes
I come inside her
till she squeaks!
I do it as a gesture,
not thinking of her.
Sometimes I say out
loud as I take her,
"I'll show them!
I'll show them I can fuck!"
(TAKING OFF DRESSING
I'm looking out at the
It is a pretty view
and I love to paint it
but I'm not so obsessed with it as Paul.
I long to climb to the top
but with my little legs I'd never make it.
Last night I dreamed I had struggled to the peak
with Paul's help,
and I held his hand
and we took off and flew over the valley,
laughing and drunk like two mad angels:
mad angels of art.
We flew over the Art School
and thumbed our noses, over our houses
and waved and said:
"We can do without you all for a while."
Soon we were in Paris
circling over the towers of Notre Dame
and I said, "This will go on forever."
But Paul said, "No. This is a
dream about megalomania.
We think we're gods.
Icarus was like us.
Your wings will melt before mine, Achille.
I'm sorry, cher ami,
but they will."
(ACHILLE IS PANTING,
OUT OF BREATH, YET EXUBERANT FROM EXERCISE.)
I am exhausted.
I've been hanging by my arms
from my trapeze
for over half an hour.
I really believe it's working.
I've just measured myself by the doorframe
definitely a quarter of an inch this month.
I've carved a notch.
Of course sometimes I think I am deluding myself
I may be subconsciously pushing up on my heels.
But it looks as though I've grown
two inches in three years! Quite extraordinary at my age
I'm thirty-five today.
(HE COLLAPSES BACK IN CHAIR; HE FONDLES THE NAP OF
I adore velveteen-covered
I sit on them whenever I can
in second-hand shops,
I stroke the dark red
cropped grass of them and
I feel safe.
Perhaps being in the womb
was like being in a
red velveteen cocoon:
safe and sound,
unhurt when I kicked against the sides,
unseen, not a cripple yet,
only a promise,
striving for the light
It wasn't a difficult birth.
I looked normal,
so they did the normal thing:
they turned me upside down
and slapped me.
It wasn't until I had cried non-stop
for three weeks that they discovered
they had cracked both my arms
and both my legs.
They called them green stick fractures
like the snapping of green bamboo
or a stick of celery.
I can't eat celery
and I worry for bamboo
bending fit to snap
in the wet southern winds,
the lashing of the unhelpful rain
that keeps me indoors.
I can't risk stepping on the pavement
in rain. I could slip and crack a thigh.
Rain is as dangerous to me
as the doctor's hand
wet and fresh from my mother's vagina.
Red velveteen is dry
and firm. I'm wrong.
The womb is wet and shifting.
That's why I was safe there.
I get confused sometimes
as to what is safe,
what is kind to my eggshell body.
I'd be best off
swimming in a placid pool,
the soft shore
whispering from all sides:
"Listen to your mother, Achille.
You're still mine
and you are a loving child."
My father was an inspector
of weights and measures.
Perhaps that is why I was born so small.
He was stingy when it came to weight.
Then my children all outgrew me
by the age of nine.
It was like fathering your own parents.
At first they were quite parental.
They liked to fetch and carry for me,
but once they reached the age of twelve
the novelty wore off.
Sometimes everything takes so much effort,
and yet I weigh so little
I have less to carry around.
Then again I have a curved spine
and a limp.
I am like a maimed elf,
a hindered sprite,
held down by something other than weight,
I weigh my left side with my right,
my painting with my housekeeping,
my Paris with my Aix-en-Provence.
I stand swaying,
holding onto the doorframe,
one foot barely touching the ground.
(FADE TO BLACK.)
(ATTENDANT ENTERS, CROSSES
TO TABLE AND SQUEEZES EXCESS WATER FROM CLOTH, HANDS CLOTH TO ACHILLE,
AND EXITS. ACHILLE PLACES DAMP CLOTH ON FOREHEAD, AS THOUGH SUFFERING
FROM A HANGOVER.)
I sat for Paul again
The expression on my face in the portrait is so solemn.
I said, "Why so, Paul?"
He said, "It's an expression of defiance.
You're sitting on the pot and you won't shit.
I always told you you were full of it."
After that there was nothing for it but
to get out the Bordeaux and we got so plastered that
I ended up on my hands and knees baying
like a hound and chasing Paul around the studio
with him playing the fox and screeching
so eerily it sent chills up my spine
though I was laughing till I couldn't see.
(LAUGHING, HE CLUTCHES
HIS HEAD IN PAIN.)
This morning I walked
into a lamppost.
Embarrassing. I heard a
"Watch out!" too late.
I had been staring at a young man
boarding a coach for Cahors.
(ATTENDANT ENTERS, CROSSES
TO WICKER CHAIR, MOVES IT DOWNSTAGE TO WITHIN ACHILLE'S SIGHT. ATTENDANT
SITS IN CHAIR, MIMING THE PART OF THE YOUNG MAN, RAOUL, AS ACHILLE
eyes caught mine,
his malacca stick, gleaming boots,
stern black beard, new top hat.
Young man, I wanted to share your carriage.
What will you do in Cahors?
Transfer to Bordeaux, to Paris?
What is your profession?
I stared after the carriage
and though it was raining hard,
I fancied I saw him turn
and stare back through the oval rear window
like a portrait of a famous man
Once the coach had gone out of sight,
my eyes fixed on the patch of dry ground
it had left beneath it.
I waited and waited
till the rain filled it in
and I looked up and there before me
long, brown, monotonous,
the old road to Cahors.
(ATTENDANT DROPS CHARACTER
OF YOUNG MAN AS HE CROSSES TO ACHILLE AND TAKES CLOTH FROM HIM.
ACHILLE TAKES OLD STRAW HAT FROM SHELF OF NIGHTSTAND AND PUTS IT
ON, TAKES UP PALETTE AND BRUSH. AT THE SAME TIME, ATTENDANT REPLACES
CLOTH IN SMALL DISH, PUTS PEAR ON NIGHTSTAND AND EXITS.)
The light is famous here:
the white shutters dazzle,
the yellow highlights dazzle,
the soft rust of brick barns:
ah, that would make anyone cry.
I'm getting sunburnt,
painting by the quarry
all day in Paul's old straw hat:
(REMOVES HAT, CONTEMPLATING
I wear it for good luck
as if genius could be transmitted
through a hat!
(HE MAKES A MOTION TO
THROW HAT AWAY, THINKS BETTER OF IT, AND PUTS IT BACK ON. RESUMES
Often I wonder if I would
have done better
as another kind of artista poet
but where are the words?
A sculptor? But I live in color.
A musician? But I can't hold a note.
It's the plasticity, the sensuousness
that attracts me to paint. The smell of it.
(PASSING BRUSH UNDER
HIS NOSE, LIKE A GOOD CIGAR.)
The texture of taut linen
the tsk-tsk naughty-naughty
violation of the white-priest-goddam-
Jesus-white of the canvas
that seduces me.
I've got that canvas at my mercy.
I can say: I am going to take you
With my tsk-tsk.
Hear itthat's my music.
Feel itthat's my sculpture.
See it-that's my final joy.
(BUSINESS OF CLEANING
I was thinking about
the old days
at the Art School so I decided to
take a walk 'round some of our old haunts.
I went to look at the Zola dam
and up past the Bibémus quarry.
Those days were always hot
and sunny so it seems now.
We scratched our legs on briars,
ate bread and cheese and drank cheap wine
in the shade of the little shack
by the quarry. We all wrote
poems and declaimed them
to each other. They were awful of course
but we were so passionate.
(PICKS UP PEAR.)
I wish I'd known Paul
in those days
when he was young and
before he got bitter,
before I got bitter.
Those were the days
when you just created
for the hell of it. You didn't care
what the old farts at the Art School said.
You smiled to yourself
and did the opposite.
You trailed your paints
and canvas up to the quarry
and painted till you were sick
from the sun, you were dizzy
from the wine, the birds chattered
louder than usual,
and all the while
you smiled to yourself
and muttered your latest
epic in iambics
under your breath.
(SPEAKS NEXT TWO LINES
AS THOUGH DELIVERING A MOCK ORATION TO THE PEAR, HOLDING IT BEFORE
I was so in love, with
that after I had painted you
(DROPS ORATOR POSE.)
I couldn't eat you.
You were so tempting.
I was so hungry
But I left you on the
to rot in your own good time.
(FADE TO SPECIAL ON PEAR,
THEN QUICK BLACKOUT.)
Aix is hissing
and steaming like an exotic kettle
all red lilies, yellow light
I went for a walk this morning
in the fields opposite.
The grass comes up over my head.
(ATTENDANT COMES ON IN
SHIRTSLEEVES BAREFOOT, AND MIMES ACTION OF BOY IN GRASS MAKING LOVE,
AND OTHER ACTIONS AS ACHILLE DESCRIBES THEM.)
Suddenly I came upon
of young men making love in the grass,
quite naked. I was embarrassed
but they were unabashed.
For a moment I wondered
what it would be like
to be one of them. Then one of them
said, "Care to join us, little man?"
I couldn't help blushing.
"No, I'm not that way," I said.
"Come now," said the other,
"a little cutie like you?"
They giggled. I stepped back.
(ATTENDANT RUNS OFF WITH
They were from the Art
School no doubt.
How times change!
Imagine if Paul and I were students now...
He would have to drink a lot of wine.
He would have to drink an awful lot of wine.
There are times
perhaps two or three times a month,
I don't really remember how often
when I feel a great surge of energy
flow through my body, an overwhelming
desire for movement I myself cannot perform.
I visualize myself running through
long grasses in a strange bluish field,
grasses so tall that they brush against
my thighs; and my thighs are those
of a healthy young man of sixteen
or seventeen: smooth, white and glistening
with sweat from the exertion and with dew
from the grasses; never a body attached
to the legs, merely the legs themselves;
perfect, powerful, running on forever
through the stiff green blades.
Other times I am a complete being,
a distant gray figure spinning
like a top or a whirlwind dancer
away across the fields, through the
orchards, through the walls of the
red-roofed farmhouses, out over the
hills I go with this phantom of
myself, out through the mists to the
moonlit sea, and mingle with the
to the stars.
(BLACKOUT. QUICK FADE
I've had the most incredible
stroke of luck.
I've actually sold a painting
for fifty francs!
I sold it to the woman my friend Alphonse
works forhe does her garden.
Fifty francs for a piece of wisteria!
She must be crazy.
She says she'll hang it in her parlor.
She's getting old, you see, and won't
be able to get about in her garden much longer
so my painting will be the next best thing.
She wrote me a letter:
"Young man, (I like that
'young man'!) you must go to Paris
and ply your wares." And you know what?
I'm going! I bought my train ticket,
(ATTENDANT ENTERS, PUTS
PEAR AND PAUL'S HAT ON PROP TABLE, MOVES NIGHTSTAND TO WICKER CHAIR,
TAKES COAT AND BOATER FROM ARMOIRE AND HELPS ACHILLE PUT THEM ON.)
packed a portfolio of
some provisions. Marie says I'm irresponsible.
I should save the money for the children.
"Wait till I'm rich and famous," I say.
"Then the children can have everything
their little hearts desire."
"That's what they all say," she replies.
Why does she have to put a wet blanket
over everything? Besides, I won't spend
it all. I can stay at Paul's...
Mind you it is a dreadful trip up there
the horrors of third class:
Farmers with chickens, peasant women
with caterwauling babies, cantankerous
old men coughing and spitting, drunks
cursing. And in this heat! Phew!
Ah, but who cares? I bought a new suit
for the occasion. Just the ticket
for gay Paris! Just the ticket!
to: SCENE TWO
Journal of CripGay Voices/May 2004