A middle-aged woman.
Setting: Present day, empty stage.
Lights up on VIVIAN. She addresses the audience.
In college, I majored in English. This has caused me no end of trouble. Let me explain. I want to have a talk with you, and—Imagine yourself at a party where you’re among people, strangers really, but you feel this warmth toward them, toward all of them, a great, sublime love, which is a spiritual thing rather than the sticky, physical love of one for a particular other—but this is a sublime love you feel, for people, for the people at this party and yet you find yourself saying the most banal things. “Isn’t this house breathtaking? Isn’t the decor extraordinary? I’ve never seen so magnificent a teak china cabinet in my life.”
And, say, now, there’s a war going on the very moment you’re at this party, and this sublime love you feel someplace, someplace within you, this sublime love, this spiritual connection, it extends even to others who are at that very moment suffering terrible events: the soldier who, fearing for his life and for the lives of his fellow soldiers, fires upon a car running a checkpoint only to find after he examines the carnage the destroyed bodies of two women and a half-dozen children, and later he learns they were frightened civilians, frightened of the armored vehicles and the big guns and so they ran and here now he looks upon their literally blown apart bodies at the exact moment you’re saying, “Isn’t this a lovely house? Isn’t the decor extraordinary?”
And, so, aware of that—for you’ve been thinking about the war—you’re a moral person, you wish to overthrow the part of you committed to banal chatter, but the moment is completely inappropriate, the partygoers of a different political persuasion, and you want to be close to them so you just can’t in the middle of this party ask them to question their lives because you suspect there’s a connection between that immensely expensive teak china cabinet you just praised, the one that you’d guess—given what you know about your hosts, might have cost tens of thousands of dollars—a connection between that teak china cabinet and the soldier, the boy who was two years ago in high school in New Jersey who just killed several people and damaged his own life forever, who will suffer till death the nightmares—the spasms of moral recrimination—this boy who is only a boy who will call himself a murderer, who will call himself a monster.
No. You can’t say that. The moment is completely inappropriate. You’re at a party. It’s about entertainment. You’re supposed to be entertaining. And what good would it do? Think of the umbrage. What would you say? And who are you to talk, you who are so clearly in your element among these partiers? You can’t speak those other words much as you would desire it and so—now, listen; this is the important part—so you forget those other words, words about the love you feel for others, and your horror at the violence against it, against that sublime love.
They’re there inside you, those words, or they used to be, but they’re not there now. They’ve become a kind of force that presses against the words you actually speak. And this, right now, this is like that. For me. There are words in me but I don’t know them. It’s someone else’s words I’ve studied and those words I speak. I’m an actor, obviously, and these words come from someone I’ve never met, someone I don’t know—but I’ve studied the words and speak them with great commitment. That’s what I do. That’s how I am. To speak, I need the words of others. Look at me. You understand that I am not who I am pretending to be. Have you ever felt like you’re not who you’re pretending to be?
This is not a game. I’m trying to get at—(beat). You see…This, my fellow partygoers, is the reason having been an English major is such a drag. I was made to think about things like this. Who is this author, really? What does it mean to author something, really? These days, the best thinking—we understand the author as a conduit through which we hear our own voices. Thus, this is, in one sense, all of us talking. Are there any questions? (Beat) All right. Thanks anyway. You’re not in a context at the moment where you were expecting to speak. Some of you may have simply expected to be entertained.
Vivian’s amused at the thought.
I’m sorry. Let me tell you a story. First, I am not a woman. I’ll leave you a few moments to ponder that. This is the story I want to tell. Periodically in nations there are outbursts of violence so savage it stuns us to hear the accounts. Rwanda comes immediately to mind, the carnage there, hundreds of thousands hacked to death by their neighbors. Then there’s Germany. We all know about Germany. My story, however, is set in Spain, where Garcia Lorca, the great Spanish poet and playwright, is buried in a ditch with a few other young men whose voices the government wanted silenced. He was marched out into the countryside and shot, one more Spaniard, albeit famous, among the approximately half million murdered between 1936 and 1939.
So. This is my story. A lover of Lorca’s poetry, I inquired about him a few years ago while visiting Madrid. I thought I’d go visit some museum dedicated to his life. I knew there was no tomb. I knew the ditch where he was murdered remains unknown. But I thought—I just asked about him—this was at dinner, in the home of a friend and her mother, an old woman who had lived through those times. When I asked about Garcia Lorca, the old woman lifted her hand and said, “De eso, no hablamos,” “We do not speak about that,” and she looked both frightened and angry. I, of course, dropped the subject. Later, when I asked my friend about her mother’s reaction to my mention of Lorca, I learned the old woman had actually known him when she was a child, very young, nine or ten, but old enough that she would remember him clearly, for he was already famous. She must have thought I knew about this. She must have thought her daughter, my friend, had told me. It turns out that this old woman’s parents were friends of Lorca’s. They were artists and political activists, and one day men came and took them away, and she never saw them again. When I learned all this, I was shocked that my friend had never shared her story with me. I had often talked to her about Garcia Lorca, because those years when I was spending time with her I was hot to be a poet myself and I was reading all his poems and plays and I talked about him a great deal, endlessly to tell the truth—and not once did she mention that her mother knew him, the great poet, Garcia Lorca.
So. I was shocked. I asked, “How could you have never told me this?” And I discovered that she hadn’t told me because at that point she hadn’t known. She’d been told her grandparents had drowned on a fishing trip, and it wasn’t until very recently, a year or so before my visit, that she had discovered the truth—and then not from a neighbor, a friend, or a family member—but from a stranger, an old man at a party in Madrid, who came up to her and said, “You look exactly like a young woman I used to know, a Louisa Cabezas.” And it turned out that that was her grandmother, and from him she learned the story of how her mother was orphaned.
“What did your mother say,” I asked, “when you confronted her with this?” “I did not confront her,” she told me, and looked at me as if I were mad. “Why would I do such a thing?” She had embraced her mother. She had told her mother that she loved her and that she had learned, by accident, of her history, her story. The old woman, my friend told me, had nodded, and in that nod said that she was glad she knew, glad that her daughter knew at last about her grandparents, and then her mother said, “De eso, no hablamos.” And that was all that ever passed between them about the murder of her grandparents. De eso, no hablamos…
Later in my visit I was to learn that the whole country, all of Spain, observes what they call el Pacto del Silencio, the Pact of Silence. It’s an unofficial agreement not to talk about those years, not to talk about the murders. What does it mean, what does it say to not speak of the killing—and, you see, this is where my story gets back to the issue we were discussing.
That old woman, my friend’s mother, all those words she won’t speak, have they gone away? Have they disappeared? No, I can’t believe that. They’re there. They color her every thought, her every utterance—and yet I do believe she cannot speak the words and at times she forgets them, forgets that they’re there, and then they become a great silence within her, where they live with all the other unspoken words—neglected, disordered—until they become a force, a presence, the unspoken, unspeakable a force that touches every part of her, of who she is, of what she says—though she may only talk about cooking and sewing and such domestic stuff as is considered appropriate to her position—it’s all still tinged with, affected by, the willfully forgotten killing, the inchoate words, uncrafted, uncreated. She says, “I make you this scarf, my darling. May it keep you warm.” And inside her words are the other words: “I make you this scarf, my darling. May it protect you from the killing.” “I make you this delicious meal, my family, my darlings. May it protect you from death.”
You see? What we refuse to speak works its way into everything we allow ourselves to speak. It’s like that. For me. And I am clearly not the only one who knows there are unspoken words within me. For, don’t forget, these still aren’t my words, the words I’m speaking. They’re someone else’s. Though there has been an ongoing and—right now very intense—merger between these words and my unspoken words. I sense that and find it disturbing, because I don’t know what my words are. Are these someone else’s words or are they becoming mine? This is much the same kind of response I have at times to art. I’ll see a painting and I’ll feel as if a part of myself has been revealed to me, a part I always knew was there, but didn’t know I knew. That’s what can happen. With words. They can be somebody else’s but they’re also yours. They become, you. Words become you. As I speak these words to you about what goes unspoken. As I speak.
Vivian takes a moment to think.
If you speak to anyone, if you speak, it’s not one person speaking, it’s not one voice, it’s not only you. Literally. Truly. Your words come from others and become others—others’ words. It’s you and others, the others who speak through you, the others you are speaking for, the others you awaken in the act of speaking, the actors you engender, the community in the act of speaking that you forge. Isn’t that true? (Beat) So. I was saying…I am not a woman. As I stand here before you it is obvious that I am a woman, and yet it should also be obvious at this point that I am not a woman. Though…(confused) that too, isn’t right…Not anymore. Through all these words spilling out about identity and authorship and meaning, the individual, the community, the shared unspoken, el Pacto del Silencio, through all of it I intended my actor to turn transparent so you could see it was actually me center stage speaking to you, speaking through this actor, pretending to be this actor—and I am not, I am literally not a woman. Yet, if it’s true, as I’ve argued, as this actor has argued, that the author is a conduit through which we hear a chorus of voices, some of them our own, that it’s irrelevant to talk about the individual’s voice because that voice is always a composite of the community out of which it arises, that in speaking we author a community, then who is it standing here before you, who is it that I become? I ask you this honestly: once we undertake the act of speaking, who is it we become?
Listen. This is what I really wanted to say from the start. This is the talk I wanted to have, from the start. That sublime love, that love for all things, for all others, it’s a silence within me. It has become a force, and I wish I had the words for it. Those of you who feel it, I wish you would speak.
Ed Falco’s most recent play is The Cretans, an original audio drama structured around an extant fragment of Euripides’ The Cretans. Directed by Patty Raun and produced by the Virginia Tech School of the Arts, the play was broadcast in three episodes in October and November 2020. Previous plays include Possum Dreams, which premiered in July 2014 at None Too Fragile Theatre in Akron, Ohio, directed by Sean Derry. The Cleveland Plain Dealer called Possum Dreams “a kinky, unhinged cousin to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and God of Carnage,” and included it among the ten best plays on Cleveland stages in 2014. Falco is also the author of novels, short story and poetry collections, and various works of literary and experimental fiction.
Veronica Winters, MFA, is a contemporary Russian-American artist, art instructor, and book author who is nationally recognized for her art instruction books The Colored Pencil Manual and How to Color Like an Artist by Dover Publications. Veronica’s art and writing has been published in numerous magazines and art books, including Strokes of Genius, Leisure Painter, COLORED PENCIL Magazine, The Guide Artists, American Art Collector, and the International Artist. Veronica continues to create art in her Naples, Florida studio. Other ACM art features include Flight, Dara, and Phoenix.