Robert Bonotto, playwright

I've written two full-length plays, and two of my works have been done at the Boston Theatre Marathon (one of them a short opera). Most of my plays are 10 to 15 minutes long. At the moment I'm working on a full-length play about John Singer Sargent and Henry James.  Below is my short play Victorian Ladies, which was premiered at the Boston Theatre Marathon last year.  


Victorian Ladies, a 12-minute play

 

Anna, in her late 50’s

Carl, in his late 40’s

Ben, in his middle thirties

 

A bare stage, but it’s the side- or back-garden of a house in late autumn. All that’s on stage are two patio chairs and a patio table, both in good condition. ANNA and CARL are sitting in the chairs, him reading the Sunday paper & weeding it out.

 

ANNA:        A bouncing ball.

 

CARL:         What?

 

ANNA:       Just like this, the day. I remember my older sister bouncing a ball just  over there.  Mom asked her to let me play with it, and Janie was so eager to give me the ball that I got all embarrassed and ran upstairs.  Everyone thought it was funny, but I watched the rest of  the party from my room. It was a pink … ball.

 

CARL:       Your party, too.

 

ANNA:      I told you?

 

CARL:       Last autumn. Every autumn.  And the ball’s still in the attic. (small pause) In some dark corner.

 

BEN:         (walking on; he has on a housepainter’s suit, which is covered with paint that’s off-white, red, and cool maroon; in one hand is a small can of paint, closed, and a small brush)

                    Well, that does it. Just gave it the final touch.    

 

ANNA:     Oh – I’m almost sorry it’s over. We should celebrate.

 

BEN:         (smiling) Well, I had to finish sometime.  I can pretend to keep going, of course, given your hospitality; but I do have another job coming up.

 

ANNA:      As long as you kept painting, I kept thinking the house was going to keep getting more beautiful and more adorable.

 

CARL:       (irritably) Yes. Adorable. Winsome, even.

 

ANNA:      When my grandmother lived in that house it was full of color. But when I was a young girl, Victorian houses were white, paintings were abstract… Would you like some lemonade?

 

BEN:          Wouldn’t say no.  (ANNA struggles to get out of her chair)

 

CARL:        You need help?

 

ANNA:      I’m fine. You’ve been fussing over me so the last few       weeks –

 

CARL:        I meant with the lemonade—

 

ANNA:       Not you. You never put in enough sugar in. And I made some this morning. (winks at BEN,  exits SL) I know how you like it.  (There’s a short embarrassed pause between the two men)

 

CARL:        She likes you. You’ve carried the personality ball the last few months so I don’t have to; you’re a pleasure to have around.

 

BEN:          She’s been accommodating.

 

CARL:       Well, so have you. And you haven’t fallen off the ladder.

 

BEN:          I’m sorry?

 

CARL:       Last time we had someone paint the house, oh, must’ve been five, six years back, the painter fell off the ladder, and spent the afternoon in a hospital.

 

BEN:          Oh. (realization dawning) Oh! That explains it.

 

CARL:       What?

 

BEN:         Far away from any of the windows, I found a message painted on one of the cornices, in very small lettering.

 

CARL:       What’d it say?

 

BEN:         It said, “Ask for water, and she’ll give you beer.”

 

CARL:       Huh. So that’s why he was smiling when they hauled him into the ambulance. You don’t drink, though.

 

BEN:          Not on the job. My work’s too detailed.

 

CARL:       (the smile drops a bit) Yes…

 

BEN:         (quietly, looking at CARL)  You don’t like my work very much, do you?

 

CARL:       I admire it. I think you did a great job.

 

BEN:         That’s not the same thing …

 

CARL:       No, it isn’t. (very slight pause) I don’t like my house turning into something fussy and feminine and cute. Mind you, I do like it on other people’s houses, especially when I’m driving and don’t have to see it every day. I don’t like all those curlicues and patterns. Dizzying. They call these things …what? Victorian Ladies?

 

BEN:         Yes. Well. Painted ladies, the term is.

 

CARL:       I don’t want to live ‘in’ a Victorian Lady, let alone a painted one. I like plain, white, upstanding New England houses with no nonsense about them.

 

BEN:          Well, I agree with you. Some of the time.

 

CARL:       You do? Then why … why do you do this?

 

BEN:         Because I’m very good at it. Because it’s beautiful to a whole lot of nice people. Because I get so caught up in it once I’ve started. I zone out into my own world when I’m painting them. I get into the patterns so intensely that it’s as if time was suspended; I sometimes catch myself with my mouth                      open and my eyes bugging out as I … you know … complete some elaborate pattern.

 

CARL:       I know. I’ve seen you do it. It’s a little odd to watch.

 

BEN:          (embarrassed) Oh. Well.

 

CARL:       Last week, from my studio, I look up from my computer and see this gargoyle–okay, a young, handsome gargoyle--looking goofy at the edge of my second story window.

 

BEN:          I’m sorry.

 

CARL:       No, no, that’s okay; anything for a weird life. Listen: I just email my stuff now to my agent; but when I drew for an animation studio in New York, the cartoonist next to me would get so caught up in his work he’d forget to go to the bathroom, then race off at the last minute. (slight pause) Once, he didn’t quite make it. His boss was between him and the men’s room.

 

BEN:         Uh-oh.

 

CARL:       Yeah. Messy. Great artist, though, and quick. It’s a hypnotic thing for you, too, I’m guessing.

 

BEN:        Perhaps it is hypnotic. In more than one way. I used to smoke, but now I guess I just don’t need to, anymore. My work has replaced it, sort of. (CARL laughs) Animation: that’s cool. It must be nice to have a whole country see your stuff on television.

 

CARL:       Sometimes. When I do something I can be proud of. (realization) Your stuff is out here for people to see, too. I’ve seen you talking to people while they’re watching you work.

 

BEN:          Yeah, people walking by make comments. And suggestions.

 

CARL:       Public art. (ANNA is coming on SL with a tray: lemonade, glasses, a few table napkins; CARL jumps up to help her)

     

BEN:         There’s a woman who always walks –

 

ANNA:     Stop fussing, Carl, I’m fine. (but she lets him take the tray)

 

BEN:          A woman who walks –

 

CARL:       Yes, who walks –

 

BEN:         Yeah, with her dog, every morning at 11. She always points to some corner, exactly where my ladder isn’t, and says, “You missed a spot all the way over there, young man.” But she smiles when she says it …

 

ANNA:     What kind of dog? (giving lemonade) Here you go.

 

BEN:         (Thanks.) Pug, I think.

 

ANNA:     Oh, that’s Wilma, taking Toodles for a walk.

 

BEN:         Toodles. Cute name. Must be a pug.

 

CARL:       Uh … actually, no …

 

BEN:         Well, the eyes bug way out, and the snout’s pushed way in.

 

CARL:       Yes, pushed way in. Absolutely hideous. (tiny pause) And the dog’s no prize, either.

 

ANNA:     Wilma is the dog; Toodles is the woman.

 

BEN:          I see. That is confusing.

 

CARL:       It sure is; I can’t tell them apart. (ANNA throws a table napkin at him)

 

ANNA:     (hinting) Don’t you have … something else to show us?

 

BEN:         Oh, yes. I almost forgot. That’s done, too. I finished it two days ago. (he exits SR)

 

CARL:       Where’s he going?

 

ANNA:     To his truck. It’s a surprise. Nice young man.

 

CARL:       He oughta be, he’s expensive enough. But it’s your money you’re spending, not mine. (short pause) How’d you sleep last night?

 

ANNA:     I counted off a few hours. I did hear you padding around a bit around three.

 

CARL:       (uncomfortable) Yes.

 

ANNA:     What’s worrying you?

 

CARL:       Nothing.

 

ANNA:      You worry too much. But you always did.

 

CARL:       Yes …   (BEN has come back with a fairly good painting of a white Victorian house, in a hastily cobbled-together frame)

 

BEN:          Here you are. (he shows them, but upstage –the audience doesn’t see the painting quite yet)

 

ANNA:      Oh, it’s lovely.

 

CARL:        Wow. Well, hey, that’s … that’s our place–  (he looks back and forth between painting and the house we can't see, stage-left-front)

 

ANNA:      You didn’t wrap it.

 

BEN:          If I’d wrapped it, it’d have been a present. But my painting of your house comes with the house-painting job. Idea of my own. I don’t charge for it.

 

ANNA:      Carl said you were expens—(but CARL has cut her off)

 

CARL:       Well, that really is nice. Very nice. Thanks, Ben.

 

BEN:          My pleasure. (ANNA gives him a peck on the cheek.)

 

CARL:        Yes, it looks like it was a pleasure. I can tell when an artist had a good time on a painting, and it shows here. (quietly, as if to himself) The trees aren’t bad.

 

BEN:          I sometimes have to paint houses I don’t like the look of…  much; I still do the paintings … reluctantly … but then they don’t have so much personality.

 

ANNA:      The paintings don’t.

 

BEN:          Or the houses. Whichever you like.

 

ANNA:      Well, my father built our back porch himself.

 

CARL:       Which leaks.

 

ANNA:      It took him a year of Sundays to do it. The floor slants, but it’s lasted us the better part of forty years.

 

CARL:       The worse part is that she won’t let anyone fix it up.

 

ANNA:      Well, he died there, you see.

 

CARL:       He just had the stroke there. Thanksgiving dinner overload.

 

ANNA:      Do you want your check? It’s been in an envelope on the kitchen window-sill for three weeks. I didn’t give it to you because I was hoping you’d find a little bit extra to paint.

 

BEN:         Well. There’s really nothing more to be done.

 

ANNA:      I know. It’s a pity our garage is concrete. I could keep you here another month making another masterpiece.  (she gets up and slowly begins to go off SL)

 

CARL:       Right. A Victorian House for a ’98 Escort.  I don’t know where we’d hang a painting of our garage. In the garage.

 

ANNA:     You sure you don’t want some cookies? To go?

 

BEN:         I’ve gained pounds since I started this job, Mrs. M.

 

ANNA:    Looks good on you; but a painting suit hides everything.  (exits)

 

CARL:       (tiny pause) That really is nice of you. About the painting.

 

BEN:         Glad to do it, this time.

 

CARL:       I’ve noticed … in the painting … that you painted it completely white … the way our house was before you added  all the little decorations.

 

BEN:         Well. If I sense that one of the two people I’m painting for doesn’t, you know, approve of the changes I’ve made, then I paint the house the way it used to be. It can be useful. Sometimes having that painting in the house convinces them to eventually hire me back and paint it ...back to the old way.

 

CARL:       I see. That’s clever. Good marketing.

 

BEN:         Thanks. (pause) Your wife. Is she … um … is she okay?

 

CARL:       (he is still up) Well … no. Not really. You may have noticed …you’ve been here over two months …

 

BEN:         Yeah.

 

CARL:       She doesn’t look as well as … she did. The doctor …

 

BEN:          I don’t want to pry –

 

CARL:       You aren’t. It’s your last day here; you gave her a lot of pleasure; I think I should say. (but he can’t say) You probably noticed she’s a bit older than I am. It’s her house.  And. No, she’s not well.

 

BEN:          How bad?

 

CARL:       Put it this way. In two years, maybe less … I may be calling  you up and asking you to paint the house white again.

 

BEN:        (tiny pause) Right.  (the two sip their lemonade, thinking) Carl?

 

CARL:       Sir.

 

BEN:         (slight smile at being called “Sir”) I hope you don’t mind if I turn you down. Changing the house back to … all-white.

 

CARL:       No, of course not. I don’t mind if you don’t want to –(suddenly, he realizes what BEN is really saying, and his voice falters) Oh. I see what you mean. All right. We’ll leave  it as … as she likes it. And in two years I may ask you to come by and touch up the … what d’you call them …  curlicues.  If you don’t mind.

 

BEN:        That would be a pleasure.

They quietly clink glasses; now

 CARL is looking at the painting, and BEN at the house as they sip their lemonade; the lights slowly fade to black.


 

copyright 2006, by Robert Bonotto. email: bonotto (dot) robert @ gmail (dot) com