SEE Terry Talley perform this play
PART 1 HERE.
PART 2 HERE.
Video directed by Dov Hechtman.
HARVEY FIERSTEIN recorded this play on a CD available HERE.
Photos from other productions included HERE.
a one-act play
by Robert Patrick
Dedicated to Robin Wood
“Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme…”
William Shakespeare, Sonnet 55
1837 N. Alexandria Ave.
L.A. CA 90027
(The setting is Robin’s apartment on an upper floor of a building in New York’s Greenwich Village. It features everything a retentive queen would have acquired living in New York from 1967 through 1987.
Posters are layered on the walls. The earliest are vivid old movie posters, then pop art, some Beardsley, some personality posters of Kennedy and Che, some psychedelic rock and religion, some gay power, some gay theater, Evita and Annie, disco stars, opera, est, Dolly Parton, and finally flyers for AIDS benefits. In every layer are photos torn from increasingly explicit male porn magazines.
A clothes rack holds garments ranging from fluffy sweaters and chinos to jeans and ponchos, gowns and boas, glittered jump suits, rhinestoned T-shirts, yellow rain slickers covered in graffiti, military uniforms, djellebas, and finally a few conservative business suits.
A revolving wire paperback rack holds hundreds of volumes. A shelf holds a complex stereo system and innumerable records and tapes. Many dead plants hang from the ceiling, along with a dusty crepe-paper piñata in the shape of Miss Piggy, and a mobile, whose dangling elements are a star, a dollar sign, a peace sign, a hypodermic, a gold record, a muscle man, a Rolls Royce, a computer, and Tinker Bell.
Propped up in a wicker peacock chair is robin, an emaciated man of about forty. He wears pajamas and has a coverlet over his lap. Beside him is a table covered with sickroom paraphernalia, flowers in a vase, condolence cards, a telephone, and an unactivated answering machine.
Through a window beside him, we see a church steeple and an early morning sky.
At rise, Robin is writing something on a pad across his knees.)
ROBIN (With a final pencil flourish). There! That just about says it!
(He tears it off, weakly, folds it, and looks for a place to put it, deciding finally on his pajama pocket)
Now. Let’s see if we can still manage a limerick.
(He speaks as he writes) There once was a Manhattan queen—
(Phone rings. He ignores it.) —With nothing that she hadn’t seen—
(Phone rings) —Til they said, “No charades.”
(Phone rings. He grows annoyed.) “You’re a person with AIDS.”
(Phone rings) “Abandon all plans for the screen?”
(Phone rings) “You’d better put down that marine?”
(Phone rings) “Don’t subscribe to a new magazine?”
(Phone rings) Mom didn’t turn on your machine.
Okay, I can’t make little songs out of my great sorrows;
I may as well talk to you.
But be advised:
If you’re calling to tell me you’ve got it,
Save both our breaths.
Just say, “ditto,”
And leave me to my beads.
Of course you haven’t got it;
Who’d give it to you?
Except a good-hearted U.S.O. girl like me?
And we were ‘way back in the sixties,
When the word “AIDS” was generally preceded
By the words “American Military.”
How am I?
Well, when I think of what I’ve got, I feel like shit, But when I think of how I got it, I can’t complain. How are you?
I know you’ve called.
I hate those “Twilight Zone” episodes where people install phones
in their coffins,
So I haven’t been answering mine.
This exception is not because I still love you,
But because I’ve written some hilarious last words
And I want someone literate listening, in case I croak
While Mom and Sis are out at morning mass.
They’re here to identify the body—
Which millions could do in the dark—
And to pray for the soul,
The mind being unknown to them.
You, I presume, have called to glean piquant detail
On what it’s like to die as I have lived,
A sociosexualogical statistic.
I know you writers, you’re life’s hungry men.
Well, here’s a fairly poignant paradox for your next play:
I came home from a rally for gay rights
Only to learn I have the great gay wrong.
Wait, that isn’t a paradox, is it? It’s an irony.
It’s an irony; it’s one of life’s little ironies,
Like Anita Bryant turning out to be right.
Bob, don’t bother to answer back.
Anything said to me at this point
Might as well be written on a decomposing squash.
The brain goes first, you know—
Except for the portions dedicated to pain,
Which are apparently immune.
“Do I need anything?” Oh, how droll.
Wait, I may have just enough strength for a comeback to that:
No, I don’t need anything. I already have
Cancer, pneumonia, and my mother at my side—
All the things that make life worth leaving. How’s that?
Come over? Be serious! I look like Mia Farrow, halfway through “Rosemary’s Baby.”
I want you to remember me as the Botticelli flower child I once was.
I was the prettiest queen that ever paraded for peace
And now I’m something that needs to be burnt after death.
I was pretty, wasn’t I?
All right, smart ass, you can answer that one,
But think before you speak.
(A chime rings)
Well, saved by the cliché; aren’t you the lucky one!
That’s the church bell.
One stroke means it’s seven-thirty.
At eight o’clock it’s a David O. Selznick production up here.
And Mom and Sis will come crawling upstairs on their knees,
So I’m yours ’til eight o’clock or the end of time,
Whichever comes first.
Oh, wait; what’s that couplet by old A. E. Houseman:
“And he shall hear the stroke of eight
And not the stroke of nine.”
About the condemned man in his cell?
Condemned for not being condomed!
The wit and wisdom of the living dead.
Like it? I leave it to you. Want anything else? Records? Tapes?
The history of Western music from Mahalia to Michael Jackson?
I want to give it all away
Before some fool plays disco at my funeral
And the record gets stuck
And nobody can tell
And the service lasts forever!
But I’m being negative.
Wanna hear some positive funeral plans?
I want to be freeze-dried and cut in half
And made into ballerina plaques.
No, actually, I insist on being cremated;
It’s my last chance to get my ashes hauled.
No, actually, I want to be mixed with greasepaint
And used as blackface for Diana Ross drags.
Then I want my MasterCard and all my I.D.
And flung to the cutest kid in Sheridan Square!
And I don’t want you reading any of your crappy monologues,
I already cremated all of my so-called works.
Oh, shut up. I was not a real writer.
Which you, of course, are; I apologize for that base canard.
All I ever had was a knack for cute coffee-table metaphors, like:
“Joan Collins is as vulgar as Christmas in Mexico!”
Or remember I called that nervous friend of yours,
“As delicate as ‘The Glass Menagerie’ in Braille.”
And then there was the noteworthy occasion when you said some skunk you were fucking instead of me was “like, a fun guy,” and I was sufficiently coordinated to riposte, “Like a fungi? Isn’t that the plural?”
Wait, those aren’t metaphors; they’re similes.
That’s me: Simile Dickinson.
Forgive the low level of repartee at this end.
I haven’t been reading anything except condolence cards.
A pixieish fellow P.W.A. sent one that says,
“What can you give the man who already has everything?”
I’m designing one to be sent by well-meaning, helpless friends like you.
It shows a quadruple amputee, saying,
“I’m behind you one hundred percent.”
And, of course, Mom has been reading to me.
Oh, Shirley Maclaine’s latest volume, what else?
Shirley claims we pay in each next life
For our sins in the last one.
Well, Shirl, girl, we’ve streamlined the process this time.
Your up-to-date pervert is dying in the fast lane.
No, I’m not going back into the hospital.
I abhor the term, legally alive.
God, think of the great men who have nibbled on me,
And now I’m nothing but a snack for a virus:
Something that can’t even decide if it’s an animal or a plant.
Let me tell you, it’s no picnic being one.
Bob, there’s nothing medical science can do:
AIDS is the gift that keeps on giving.
Once the perfect name for a gay bar would have been “Universal Screw and Bolt.”
Now it should be changed to “Tool and Die.”
You love that?
It’s almost worth talking to a fool like you.
Who else would laugh at that?
Nobody else gets a bipartite wisecrack in an age when plot is routinely interrupted by commercials.
I got this sweet Indian doctor, who kept
Folding and unfolding his eyeglasses like a Rubik’s Cube.
He asked very shyly if he could take blood,
Urine, snot, stool, semen, and saliva specimens.
I said, “Sure; then can we do what I like?”
Oh, and I used one of your lines on the poor, sweet sap.
He very delicately informed me
There was a lot less chance of getting it
If one had been “Wot dey call a ‘topman.’ ”
I couldn’t resist it.
I said, “Doc, I’ve always been a topman;
You can get it further up you that way!”
Then when the diagnosis came up “Bingo!”,
He warned me to watch out for the depression
That sometimes accompanies a diagnosis of AIDS.
So I said, with a show of great relief:
“AIDS! Oh, doctor, thank God; I thought you said, ‘Age!'”
You know my motto:
Brighten the coroner where you are.
I tried to make up by offering to be a subject
For any cute tricks that science might want to try.
And he said,
“Mister Wood, we cannot use you as an experimental animal,”
And I told him,
“Doc, I’m an effeminate queer;
I’ve never been used as anything else!”
Except by you, Bob, yes, we know that, we were truly in love.
That was love, wasn’t it? No wonder it went out of style.
No, no, I’m sorry, what you said is true:
When you fucked me over that tenement banister
With the Day-Glo peace signs flaking off the walls,
It truly was the balcony scene of the sixties.
Christ, I used to be so clever; now I’m reduced to quoting you!
I was clever.
When I was just a little girl in East Bay, California,
I noticed that “East Bay” was pig Latin for “beast.”
But I knew I had found my niche when I realized
That “Alice Faye” was pig Latin for “phallus.”
Yes, isn’t that good?
You think we can interest the virus in 1930s musicals
And it’ll turn queer and stop reproducing?
Scratch that; you have to be born to royalty.
That’s how that lovely old 1940s closet queen
Who brought me out used to put it: “Born to royalty?”
He’d spot some hunky number and lean over to me
And whisper, “Do you think he was born to royalty?”
Meaning was he a queen.
“Born to royalty.” Sigh. God knows I was.
Twelve years old, I rummaged through the biggest
Country-western record barn in Central California
And came up with the only Marlene Dietrich album on the West Coast.
You have to be born with that instinct.
And all by my little lonesome I discovered Walt Whitman, and Aubrey Beardsley, and dying my bangs with lemon juice, And ordering everything a size small, And outlining my eyes with ball-point pen so when the boys made me cry, they wouldn’t see anything running.
When my age became the socially-conscious “We Generation,” I had to fight my own side for my right to riot at Berkeley in pink high-heels. And when we o.d.’d on politics and became the “Me Generation,” I drove to New York behind a half-naked black bodybuilder on a lavender motorcycle after using my last sunshine acid to spike the communion wine!
No. I should have. I could have been Jimmy Jones.
I could have been a contender.
Instead of a drab example of the “De-Generation,” turned into a serving of sushi for a flock of plankton!
But let’s not talk about me when I’m gone.
Where was I, anyway? Oh, yes:
We’re-born-that-way, we’re-part-of-nature’s-plan. That riff.
Well, it’s trite but it’s true.
Where would the world be without its fairies?
Well, we may be about to find out, mayn’t we now?
And you, you’ve been too ugly for a decade
For anyone to fuck with, you’ll live to see it:
A world without fairies. Sigh.
Bloomingdale’s, of course, will have to close.
There will be no girl singers to speak of
And speak of and speak of.
Whole strains of ferns and poodles will die out.
Plaid shirts will be marked down to three ninety-five in memoriam.
Of course, fairies have been dying out ever since the seventies Marlboro-macho movement.
If I live ’til noon, I’ll never understand the clones,
trying to look like the bullies that beat us up in the schoolyard.
They’re living proof—wherever that term still applies—
You don’t have to learn to be gay;
You have to learn to act straight—
Which may be the origin of the verb “to ape”!
Why, if it hadn’t been for a few effeminate holdouts like me, The color beige might have vanished from the face of the earth! Ah, God! Ah, God! Ah, God!
(He grips his abdomen in pain, breathes hard, finally speaks)
Well, give yourself a gold star; you noticed.
Yes, Bob, I’m tiring myself out.
I’m not having an experience I care to prolong.
Remember those fantasies of attending your own funeral?
It isn’t as much fun as we thought it would be.
Stay on the line; those snappy last words may be imminent.
It’s my party and I’ll die if I want to!
I’m sorry. I’m being disproportionately cruel. What a way to go. Look, you’re okay, I’m not okay, okay? Okay. I’m dying. Everybody dies
Except for two unconfirmed reports from Bethlehem and Transylvania.
Why does this take my generation by such surprise? Did they think we were all just going to go into reruns? Wouldn’t you think a queen would be glad to learn she’s about to lose all her weight, forever? Must one go through the five official stages? Wait, what are those five stages again?
“Anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.” Well, back up: here comes my acceptance speech.
“I am now and I have always been a flaming faggot, responsible for style in its every manifestation. I have my own five steps:
flippancy, sentimentality, sarcasm, camp, and smut. Those got me through life, and, deity damn it, They’ll get me through death!”
Now shut up or I’ll stop loving you, and what use will there then have been for your poor, pitiable, pathetic, and apparently prolonged life?.
I expected you to write something to make me live in infamy, like Shakespeare promised his poor Elizabethan pushover:
“Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme.”
As it turns out,
The gilded monuments of princes are still major tourist attractions, while nobody knows who the hell the sonnets were written for,
Oh, don’t cry.
I love you.
That was a base canard.
You’re a wonderful writer
I am less than all that dust upon your laurels.
You’re probably the greatest living gay playwright.
Or with any luck soon will be.
Look, how’s this for comfort?
We were the last two white people ever to fall in love.
That oughta rate some space in the “Whatever Became Of?” books.
And there are no challengers on the horizon.
How can anybody fall in something as awful as love
When they’re being careful?
Before my condition started warranting quarantine, I knew two kids:lovers, into safe sex, monogamous out of terror.
One night they were each jerking themselves off
While fucking the other—with vibrators—and one of them’s arms got tired, so he switched hands,
and his lover hops out of bed, screaming,
“You switched hands!You might have got some of your precum on your fingers and it might crawl up the vibrator into me! Are you trying to kill me?”
Naked, except for rubber gloves and a banana-flavored condom, with an electric dildo still revolving in his ass.
Not quite what one would call “love’s first, fine, careless rapture,” now is it?
You’re right, you’re always right, yes, yes, of course, love will survive.
They couldn’t kill it with those purple hair-do’s, they can’t kill it with a plague.
Boys will fall in love with each other’s earlobes if all else should fail.
Because it was never really about sex, was it?
It was about love?
Yes, I know you did. Yes, I know you do.
Yes, I do, too.
I’m sorry we broke up, too. I was a fool.
No, wait, maybe you were the fool. How did we break up?
You told me we had to cool it for a week because you caught crabs, and I thought it was a lie because you didn’t love me, and I took up with that jailbait street meat for revenge, and you went off in a huff to save world drama, yes,
I thought I remembered it being about love.
Well, and looky here now where we are.
I love you.
You love me.
We’re having a deathbed reconciliation fadeout.
That oughta satisfy two lifelong students of montage.
Dear Lord, I’m suffering like a living thing.
Sex may be safe, but love never is.
(A church bell rings)
Ah, saved from the fate worse than—
(Looks out window)
Lemme look. Yeah, there’s Mom and Sis, rushing from judgment.
I can see the church and the sky And the old International Stud Bar.
No, fool, it’s a restaurant now like everything else. How did they clean that back room?
Probably poured polyurethane to level the ruts left by my knees.
No, don’t call again. Use that new phone-sex service. It promises troll-free calls.
If you have to do something, write me a funny AIDS play. Sure you can.
It’s the biggest joke played on us since sex itself—and with the longest punch line.
I don’t want you to call.
If God wanted us to be friends with our old lovers, he wouldn’t have made them such creeps. Goodbye. I love you. Shut up.
Not marble, Bob, not as it turns out. No, not marble at all.
(Feels for the folded paper in his pajama pocket, takes it out, unfolds it, reads it aloud.)
“At least I’ll never have to hear the term ‘life-style’ again.”
(He finds scotch tape, tapes the paper to his forehead, hiding his face, and with dignity awaits death.)