dimanche 22 février 2009

An Afternoon of Words & Theatre 9: Divya Babin

by Divya Babin
Staging by Mathilde Poulhes (playing Phelan), Manon Picard (playing Ker), Leo Greusard (playing the barman) and Soizic Bernard (playing Adelphie)

KER: A young woman, rather small, with a childish face. She has a red coat on, and probably a skirt or a dress for we can see her legs. She’s wearing nude tights.
PHELAN: A thirty-ish man, tall, unshaved. He’s wearing a white shirt and dark pants, and looks tired.
A BARTENDER: Wearing dark clothes. We can’t see his face.
ADELPHIE: A young girl.

[The scene takes place in a bar late at night. The bar is empty but for PHELAN sitting at a table in a corner, and the BARTENDER behind the counter. KER enters the place and sits at the counter. The BARTENDER places a juice in front of her. We can’t see his face, only his dark silhouette behind the counter. PHELAN stands up and walks to the counter, on which he puts his empty glass. He takes a seat near KER, and receives another glass of red wine from the bar tender. The BARTENDER disappears from the scene silently. For a few minutes, KER and PHELAN sip their drinks in silence. ]

PHELAN: Cold night, ain’t it?

KER: Yes, the wind is chilly. (She shudders) I’ve just walked here from Greystone.
[He looks surprised, but she smiles innocently at him.]
My car broke down three kilometres out of city centre, on the long dark road down there. I was a bit frightened on my own, but I had no other choice. I forgot my cell phone at home…
[She seems to wait for him to say something but he keeps playing with his glass, as if he’s not heard her.]
I was on my way to Dublin. I have an appointment there.

PHELAN: At 1 a.m., on a Monday night?
[He smirks and gives her a weird stare. She looks away.]

KER: Yes, uh... work issues... My… job has some particular circumstances.

PHELAN: [unconcerned]
So have many jobs, I guess.
[He takes a sip. She gives him a tentative smile]

KER: Oh, you understand, do you?
[He looks surprised, and shrugs.]

PHELAN: So you’re on your way to Dublin? I could have given you a ride, but I think I’ve drunk too much tonight.
[Lower, to himself.]
What’s new?
You want me to call a cab?

KER: No, no, thank you! I’ve already called one… There’s a booth outside. It shouldn’t take more than a half hour, they told me. Hopefully, I’ll make it in time.
[She smiles ruefully. He finishes his drink, and the BARTENDER that has suddenly re-appeared provides him with another one.]

PHELAN: [to himself.]
Guess, I shouldn’t…

KER: Sorry, you said… ?

PHELAN: [grabbing the drink.]
[With a smile.]
Don’t you want something stronger to drink? Aren’t you cold?
[She laughs.]

KER: With my coat on? I’m all right, thank you. But won’t you play chess with me until I leave? I’m getting a little tired and it might help me stay awake.
[He seems a bit surprised, but she gestures towards a chess board on the counter behind him.]

PHELAN: Hmm… I’m really bad at it, but if you don’t mind…

KER: Oh… I am not too good either… Should we?
[He stands up, brings the chess board to KER and sits down again.]
Thank you, uh…

PHELAN: Phelan. I’m Phelan.
[He waits but since she does not answer adds:]
And you are?
[She giggles.]

KER: I go by various names, but I guess you could call me Ker.
[He frowns.]

PHELAN: Well, uh... Ker... nice to meet you… So, will you begin?
[She nods and becomes very serious. She plays.]

KER: Beginning is easy, isn’t it?
[She smirks at him and he seems taken aback. He plays. They both play one more move apiece.]
So you’re an easy-going man… I thought so.
[He frowns. She takes her turn. He smiles and takes his.]

PHELAN: Check.
[She grins coldly, but her eyes stay serious.]

KER: Looking for an easy victory? That’s all you can do? Coward!
[There is no humour in her voice. PHELAN looks at her, frowning. They stare at each other for a moment then she stamps her fist on the counter. This sudden move makes him jump and he spills some of his wine on his shirt.]
Such a coward! You’re disgusting!

PHELAN: Hey, cool down! Look what you’ve done! I am not playing with you if I’m just going to get insulted!

KER: [She laughs as he is looking down at his shirt helplessly.]
Yeah, you’re playing with me because you’ve got nothing else to do, you pathetic drunkard! Has your girlfriend thrown you out, or are you just one of those pitiful husbands who lose interest in their wife once you get to the baby lot and the routine life?
[He looks on the edge of answering but stops himself and stands up.]
So, what? You’re up now? Fine! Are you going to run away from a little girl who’s speaking the awful truth? Why don’t you stop running away and sit down?

PHELAN: I’m going to the bathroom to try and do something with my shirt. When I come back, I’m goin’ home.

KER: No, you don’t.
[Her left hand digs into her pocket. He is about to turn his back when she takes out a small pistol and aims it at him quite casually.]
I said, sit down.

PHELAN: What… What’s that now?
[He frowns but tries to laugh.]
So is that what young girls do to kill time?

KER: No. It is not. Sit down.
[She waves the pistol towards the seat.]

PHELAN: Or what? I’m going to get shot because I didn’t like being called a coward by a girl during a chess game in the middle of the night?

KER: No. You’re going to get shot because you tried to be smarter than the girl who was holding the gun. Sit. Now.
[He sits down.]
That’s better. Now, listen carefully. You are going to give this game your all, otherwise you will be very sorry. So, let’s proceed.
[She reflects for a few minutes on the board which he has reset up, then makes her move.]
Your turn.
[They take 13 turns each, in tense silence, taking their time before making their moves. PHELAN eyes her searchingly from time to time. ]
Do you like Daffodils?

PHELAN: Not more than any other flower. Why do you ask?

KER: I’m curious.
[She grins and takes her turn. He takes a bishop on his next move.]

PHELAN: [hesitantly.]
Do you play often?
[She shrugs and moves.]

KER: Barely. Only when I have time out of work and need to think.

PHELAN: Oh... Is your work that demanding then?
[She grins strangely. He plays.]

KER: Yes, it’s more or less a 24/7 kind of job. What about yours? Feel like complaining?
[He casts his eyes down. She plays.]

PHELAN: Yeah, I can’t say I revel in my job. I guess I just don’t revel in anything anymore. But as long as I can pay the bills…
[She snorts and looks at him with disgust.]

KER: So original.
[He shrugs and takes a turn.]

PHELAN: I used to enjoy playing chess with my father. I mean, when I was a kid…
[She takes her turn then looks up at him.]

KER: What happened? Your father got killed in a car accident and you stopped, or you no longer talk to your parents because they’ve always loved your older brother more than you?
[He gives a short laugh that sounds a bit fake while taking his turn.]

PHELAN: No, nothing so interesting. I love my parents and my younger brother. I just grew tired. I have no patience for chess.
[She snorts and plays.]

KER: You’re good at giving up. I wonder how you made it up to now.

PHELAN: I guess I wasn’t always indifferent.
[He takes his Queen in his hand, but stops to think.]
Don’t you love your family?
[Her eyes flash at him.]

KER: I do. Very much.
[She smiles treacherously.]
In fact, that’s precisely why I’m here.
[She keeps silent for a few minutes, staring at him.]
Don’t you want to ask me what this masquerade’s all about? Or are you so bored that even a girl forcing you at gun-point to play chess in the middle of the night doesn’t surprise you anymore?
[He shrugs but smiles innocently, which makes him look suddenly younger.]

PHELAN: I thought it might be safer not to ask…
[She laughs but her looks become serious once again.]

KER: My... uh... little sister needs a heart. Tomorrow it will be too late.
[He nods seriously and puts down the Queen he’s been holding.]

PHELAN: What’s she like?
[She plays.]

KER: Young, beautiful... sad. Her laugh was like the tinkle of a bell. She no longer laughs… She loves flowers. But not daffodils. Do you have a sister?

PHELAN: No, but my ex-girlfriend had one. She was neither beautiful, nor nice...

KER: Ah, ah... so you really got dumped by your girlfriend?
[He plays.]

PHELAN: Maybe it’s not so bad if I lose this game...
[She looks at him with disgust.]

KER: I can only agree with you. But maybe you won’t even have to wait for the end of the game… I mean, my cab will soon be here. I don’t see why I should lose any time…
[She takes her turn. He looks panicked and moves immediately after her, taking a pawn.]
Is that all you can do?
[She plays. He moves again immediately after her, taking a rook.]
Come on!
[She takes her next turn. He again plays straightaway, taking the other rook.]

PHELAN: Check.

KER: Does it change anything? Do you think you can win with that?
[She plays.]

PHELAN: What if I can? Does that change something?
[She shrugs, and stares at him harshly as he makes his next move. She plays and takes a pawn.]

KER: Check.

PHELAN: I guess I’m in dire straits. I told you I wasn’t very good.
[He tries to laugh but sounds more like he’s choking. He tips his glass to his lips but it’s empty.]

KER: I assume you don’t have children.

PHELAN: I don’t. But I’m only twenty-nine, you see. Not too late.
[She laughs. He coughs.]

KER: I wonder…

PHELAN: My parents met when they were already past thirty… My father had just spent five years in India doing relief work.
[He coughs. Silence.]
My brother just graduated from the Department of Medicine… He’s getting married.

KER: You must be a great disappointment to your parents. It’s your turn to play.
[He coughs and hesitates, but takes his turn as she waves the pistol in her left hand. She plays straight afterwards, grinning broadly.]

KER: Check.

PHELAN: I guess it’s over, I’m lost... But even if I didn’t lose, would you…

KER: [harshly.]
Would I what? Do you think not losing is enough? Do you even want to win?
[She cocks the gun, still aiming it at him.]
I’m fed up. Play now. Let us finish. I hear the cab outside.
[A short silence. He smiles, suddenly hopeful, and plays, taking her Queen.]

PHELAN: What about that? What are you going to do without your Queen?
[She laughs.]

KER: Well, first I could tell you that you need to think more about the future…
[then harshly:]
To win you need to sacrifice, don’t you know?
[She plays.]
[She stands up and takes a few steps backwards to put some distance between her and PHELAN.]
So now, Phelan, it’s good-bye time. You can’t say it wasn’t fair… I gave you a chance… You could even have struggled, overpowered me…
[She smirks.]
You didn’t even think of that, did you? How pathetic…
[He takes a step towards her.]
Don’t! It’s too late now. Accept your fate. At least, this time you’ll be useful.
[He casts his eyes down.]

PHELAN: You’re right. I’m useless.

KER: Utterly useless.

PHELAN: I doubt anyone will cry for me.

KER: I’m sure even your family will forget about you in a week.

PHELAN: [angry]
No they won’t! Maybe I’m pathetic, but they’ve always supported me.

KER: Then you’re even more pathetic!

PHELAN: I know… But I wanted to do something. I just couldn’t…

KER: No, you just didn’t. That’s different. You could, but you gave up before even trying.

PHELAN: I could?
[He looks up and seems completely confused. Then comprehension dawns on his face.]

KER: [sweet and sincere]
I’m so sorry.
[He stares at her without fear, for a few moments as she levels her gun and prepares to pull the trigger. She’s on the edge of firing when ADELPHIE enters the place, wearing a long white dress, with flowers in her left hand. She’s barefoot. KER glances at her and looks suddenly sad. Her voice breaks:]

[ADELPHIE walks towards KER, puts her hand on KER’s left arm and whispers something into her ear. KER looks like she’s going to cry, the gun trembles in her hand. ADELPHIE smiles and we can hear a bell tinkling. The curtain falls. ]


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