What Religion Do the Ants Have? A Play in One Act1






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Publication: Review of Contemporary Fiction
Author: Sorrentino, Gilbert
Date published: July 1, 2011

THE CAST

The Poet

The Lover

The Wife/The Goddess

The curtain opens to reveal two rooms, equal in size; that is, the stage is halved. There is a connecting door between the rooms. The room on the left is a study, with desk, bookcases, typewriter, desk lamp, waste basket, etc. The room on the right is a living room, sparsely furnished with couch, end table, and lamp. Perhaps a magazine or two on the end table. The living room is empty as the play opens, but in the study we find the Poet at his desk, seated broodingly before his typewriter, staring at it. He is casually dressed. The lighting should be soft.

POET: (Slapping the palms of both hands smartly against the edge of the desk)

What in the name of Christ do they- does she want of me? Work Work, work at that rotten job all day, and then come home to - what? My studyl Jesus Christ! HA! Mystudyl (He rises, walks about aimlessly) But I'm not bad, damn it, not bad. They're being published She likes some of them too, she says she does, when she says any-thing anymore. Well, and if I weren't a poet, what would she like then? Would she even bother to come home, come in the fucking house? That's all she cares about, reading the poems, as if I'm not here, like I'm existing for her. Reading the poems- she even takes the goddam poems I throw in the wastebasket and reads them. I'd rather burn the damn things than let her think for a minute that I write them to please her. For her! (He mimics a female voice.) O, that's a good one lover, that's a fine one . . . that one isn't so good, now, is it? Do you think? Don't you think it's too long? I mean, shouldn't it end here? What do you think, dear? Dear! And now how many weeks? How long has it been? She's all right, with her friends, but what am I, a goddam hunk of tin? I have to wait till she's ready! She gets hot pants and I have to kiss her feet. Good old hubby! Bitch! Why the hell did I ever marry the whore? (He returns to the table, calmly takes the sheet of paper out of the typewriter, crumples it, throws it in the waste basket, and inserts another sheet) BECAUSE I LOVE HER! (He laughs, then jumps from his chair, and looks into the other room) O God! I thought maybe she was home. (He returns to the desk, and as before, stares at the paper)

Enter the Wife and the Lover into the living room. She is dressed in a mannish suit, short hair, she carries a paper bag, which she places on the table. He is dressed in a Broadway manner, loud tie, wide lapels, pointed shoes, keychain, broad-brimmed hat. He should look seedy. Give him a penen moustache, preferably one (obviously) painted on. His whole effect should be one of artificiality, and he should smile fatuously the entire time he is on stage, even when he speaks. The Wife takes a bottle of whiskey out of the bag, leaves the room, and returns with two water glasses. While she is gone, the Lover should examine the label on the bottle, the lamp, his shoes, his lapels. He should comb his hair, twirl his keychain.

WIFE: You take yours straight, I bet, honey. You look like that kind of a man.

LOVER: You bet, kid.

(She pours two good sized shots, and turns to him, hands him a glass)

WIFE: Luck, honey! Luck!

LOVER: I'm with you, baby.

(They drink the whiskey off, and she pours two more, sits on the couch. She hands him the second drink. He takes it, and removes his hat, places it carefully on the end table. They look at each other in a parody of love. The poet begins typing - that is, he hits at one key steadily, his wife looks up at the end of the door of the study. She calls to him)

WIFE: I'm home, dear! Guess who's with me?

POET: O Christ. (To the door, as he continues to bang the key) PERCY SHELLEY? No, DIZZY DEAN!

WIFE: O, write your old poems. (To the Lover) My husband is a poet, you see.

LOVER: (Looking through a magazine, or tying his shoes, or otherwise distracted.) Yeah? That's great, kid. I like poems myself. (He begins to sing) O, she stood right there, in the moonlight here, and the wind blew up her nightie . . .

WIFE: O, please. Don't be sofreshl I know that's a risqué song. (She simpers coyly and bolts her whiskey.)

POET: For Christ's sake! Can I do some work around here? Who the hell is that loud-mouth with you? Eddie?

WIFE: No, it's not Eddie. It's an old friend I ran into. From college. (The Lover slaps his thigh and makes a great show of noiseless laughter) I do wish you'd come out and say hello and have a drink. You're so unsociable.

POET: I don't want to see old friends! From college! (He rises, goes to the door, then returns to the desk. He makes an obscene gesture and seats himself) I'm too busy; I'm writing.

WIFE: (In a manner totally unlike any she has so far exhibited, an absolutely regal voice, a magnificence of bearing, but this to be real. This is the Goddess, and no pose of the Wife's) Are you writing a poem for me- dear?

POET: No. For me. Just for me! And my great, world-wide authence.

WIFE: I'm your great authence. / am. (Suddenly, she recovers herself, and slips back into the silly half-drunk wife. She turns to face the Lover) I'm so sorry, hon. We really don't fight at all, my husband and I. It's just that he's so sensitive so often. But it's all for me, all the work is for me . . . (her voice tightens) And he knows it, the dear.

LOVER: That's good whiskey, kid. Want another? Hey, listen. You're sure your husband don't mind this? I mean, me comin in with you an all. He don't even know me an he might get the wrong idea. (His grin becomes lecherous, and he pours out two more whiskeys)

WIFE: Don't be silly, lover. O, dear. I'm sorry, I'm so embarrassed that I called you -

LOVER: Hell. Kid. Ha, ha. Don't worry, you could do worse, sugar.

The Lover seats himself on the couch next to the Wife, and they drink, gaze into each other's eyes, hold hands, kiss, drink, fondle, drink, kiss, etc. All this time the Poet is writing furiously, and after he finishes, he begins to recite the poem, half aloud, but not clearly enough to be understood. During the typing and the reading, the Wife and the Lover should continue their love-play. This loveplay should be done very carefully, that is, it should in no way verge on the humorous, the ludicrous. The bizarre, the sordid, the tawdry, yes. The Lover should not be a comic figure here, but a lewd one, and in a sense, pathetic. Uncomfortable things should be happen. His trouser leg should slide up, revealing a thin white sock, hopelessly rumpled, almost hanging over his shoe. The soles of his shoes should have holes in them. His painted-on moustache should be smeared over his cheeks and chin. His feet should move into embarrassing positions, pigeon-toed, etc. The Wife's slip might show, to reveal a rip. Perhaps a huge run in her stocking would be good. He should turn away to sneeze, or cough. She should try unsuccessfully to pull down her skirt. THIS SHOULD BE A VERY DISCOMFORTING SCENE FOR THE AUDIENCE, NOTHING TO EXCITE LAUGHTER OR PASSION, SHEER EMBARRASSMENT IS WHAT I WANT HERE.

POET: (Making some changes in pencil on the poem) That's it! That's what I want, what I've been wanting all these years, waiting for it! Now I know where I am! And it's mine! Mine! Not hers, fucking whore! You fucking whore, you won't even see this poem, dean Wifey, lover, sweetheart, goddess. (At this word, the wife starts, looks toward the door with an intense, haughty glare. It should be understood that the Poet is speaking to himself, she can't hear these words, but she hears him extra-sensorily, when he invokes her. Then she turns back to kiss the Lover.) My damned poem! And fuck you! Took all my strength for yourself, didn't you, you bitch! Old college friend! Yeah, ha! Have all you want, bitch, you never loved me anyhow, just made me your pleasure machine, dared me to beat your lovers asses, but baby, not for you! I never cared, and I don't care now, I am the POET! And you're SHIT! I've got the gift. You've got your old- collegefriends! No more of me, ever, no more, I've gone away from you, dear wife, you've got nothing of me, least of all, this\ (He gestures toward the completed poem, picks it up) THIS! My heart of fire, my beauty! My magician's brain! MY gift! Not yours. My - this is my - without you - who do you think - the fuck you - no! Do not need you! (He reads the poem and begins to writhe in an agony of incomprehensibility. Meanwhile, the Lover has put the light out in the living room. We can dimly see him and the Wife grappling on the couch) What is this swill? Who wrote this shit? What's this? What do these words mean? It's a riddle . . . WHO? Lover! Lover? What does it mean, please? Please? (He is almost in tears, he twists and writhes and moves about the study in an agony of terror, waving the poem about, over his head, moaning. The Wife and the Lover get up from the couch, in a soft light, the Lover doffs his coat and tie and lays them on the couch, the Wife places her suitcoat over his, and they stagger out of the room, in blind passion, their arms about each other. The Wife, though, should very clearly be leading the Lover out.) My GIFT - mine - who the hell - who in hell - Who is in hell? You think YOU know, lousy cunt of a woman, lousy bitch whore wife, SLUT! Take my life blood! You . . . think. (He stops and reads the poem again, swaying in the center of the room) God! To my beloved? What beloved? Who wrote ... ? My poem! White horse hair. The birds! White hair of the night mare [sic], the birds! The prophetic birds! Poets! The guts and blood, the bloody entrails of poets! Bones. Dried bonesl (He screams the next words) BLOOD SPATTERED ENTRAILS, BONES! (He stands in a trance)

Enter the Wife and the Lover, exhausted from their love-making. He sits on the couch, sprawls, pours himself a whiskey. She arranges her hair, then walks to the connecting door, leans in to the study. Her voice is low and rich)

WIFE: Husband. Come here. (The Poet drops the poem on the floor and walks toward her, each step bringing him a little closer to normalcy, until when he reaches her, he is able to say:)

POET: Have fun, you whore? Bitch. Whore.

WIFE: Honey, I - I don't know what came over me, he ... he raped me. He did, I didn't mean to ... (the Poet slaps her face twice sharply, turns to the desk, rummages among the papers in a drawer, and takes out a knife)

POET: Get out of the way, whore. (She moves away from the door and watches the ensuing action approvingly.) The Poet strides into the living room, approaches the couch swiftly) Hello, old college friend. (In a terrifying suddenness of violence, he brandishes the knife, which he has been holding against his leg, and plunge sit remorsefully into the Lover's chest three times, then turns to his Wife, who stands at the door, smiling) And you, bitch. Now you. (He moves toward her, the knife held low, the blade pointed toward her at an angle. From the moment of the stabbing, the lights have begun to dim, and as the Poet reaches the Wife, they are very low. He raises the knife, and she begins to laugh, very low, very rich. The knife wavers, the Poet sways and sinks to the floor on his knees as the Wife looks into his eyes. As the lights go out completely, the knife clatters to the floor. In the darkness we hear the Poet)

POET: SPATTERED. BLOOD. THE FILFTHY ENTRAILS OF DEAD POETS. O, forgive me!

The lights go on again, but as dimly as possible. The Goddess stands in the Wife's place, she IS the Wife. The Poet kneels before her. She is dressed in a long robe of white, her face is chalk white, her lips brilliant red, her hair is to her waist. In her hand she holds the knife, but it is decorated now with feathers, ribbons, streamers, all multi-colored. The Poet moans as the Goddess raises the knife. As her hand reaches its greatest height, the lights go out suddenly and completely. We hear the Poet scream in agony and terror three times as the knife is plunged into his body, three times. Then all is silence.)

END

Jesus!- what basura!

NOTE

1 I have kept all spellings and formatting as they are on the original manuscript, except for where Sorrentino himself indicated a correction. - SS

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