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 Posted: Tue Aug 31st, 2010 01:36 pm
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John Watts
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MS. MAXWELL and MRS. CHEN ©                                      April 30, 2010

 

By John Watts

 

 

 

Mrs. Chen, is an illegal Chinese immigrant running a bodega in a rundown New York neighborhood.  Ms. Maxwell, an aging sophisticate down on her luck, lives in a fourth floor walk up above the bodega.  For two years Mrs. Chen was forced into prostitution by Chinese gangs called Snakeheads after coming in search for her husband who was sent by ship to New York illegally.  As a sixties radical, Ms. Maxwell, rejected both the values and security of her conservative wealthy family leaving her poor and lonely in her older years.  Cultural and generational barriers are diminished by Ms. Maxwell’s daily visits to the bodega where a need for companionship in a lonely world finally unites these two women in friendship.

 

 

 

Characters:

 

MS. MAXWELL:   

She is sixty years old and dresses in a simple but sophisticated manner, perhaps wearing the same two changes of clothes but with different accessories to make the most of what she has.                    

                       

MRS. CHEN: 

She is about thirty five years old.  She intentionally attempts to make herself unattractive to men by always wearing the same very loose fitting plain dress and flip-flops everyday.                                                                                           

 

 

 

 

 

Act One

 

Scene One

 

 

(It is eight o’clock on a weekday evening in spring 2009. It is a very small, “bodega”, convenience store in New York City selling prepackaged food, candy, magazines, cigarettes, etc. The shop is very drab and the items are not very well organized on the shelves.  As the play progresses the shop becomes brighter and more personalized by the addition of decorative items and better organization of merchandise.  When the shop is open the space is brighter with cool florescent light.  When the shop is closed light should be dimmer with softer warm light.)

 

(Mrs. Chen pronounces the letter r as a sound between l and r—lr.)

   

(Mrs. Chen is cleaning up before closing for the night.  Ms. Maxwell enters carrying a book in one hand.)

 

MRS. CHEN

I close now ok?  You come back tomorrow.

 

(Ms. Maxwell does not move.   Mrs. Chen continues to clean.)

 

Tomorrow ok?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Where is Mr. Wu?

 

MRS. CHEN

He go back China.  You come tomorrow.

 

MS. MAXWELL

That’s impossible.  He was here last night. 

 

MRS. CHEN

Lady I close now.  Mr. Wu, he go.  I run shop.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Mr. Wu would not leave in one day without informing me. 

 

MRS. CHEN

He owe you money?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Of course not, I am simply a regular customer.

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok you want buy something, I sell you then close.

 

MS. MAXWELL

I have been a regular customer here for the past ten years.

 

MRS. CHEN

So what you want buy?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Every evening I come here without fail. 

 

MRS. CHEN

So what you want?

 

MS. MAXWELL

And every evening Mr. Wu is here.

 

MRS. CHEN

Lady I—

 

MS. MAXWELL

Even in the neighborhood blackout last summer he remained open.

 

MRS. CHEN

No more, he go now.

 

MS. MAXWELL

This is totally unacceptable.  I refuse to believe that he would have left his store this way. 

 

MRS. CHEN

Not his store, he only work.  Boss say you go, you go.

 

MS. MAXWELL

I haven’t the foggiest idea what you’re—

 

MRS. CHEN

You want buy something?

 

(Pause)

 

You want buy something?

 

 

MS. MAXWELL

I usually purchase the pre-wrapped sandwiches left over from the day.   I have a preference for the turkey.

 

(Mrs. Chen goes behind the counter, pulls out a turkey sandwich and slaps it down on top of the counter.)

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok I got one.  Three dollar fifty cent.

 

(Ms. Maxwell does not move.)

 

Three dollar fifty—

 

MS. MAXWELL

Mr. Wu and I had an arrangement.

 

MRS. CHEN

No way lady.  Men like young girl.

 

MS. MAXWELL

I was not referring too—

 

MRS. CHEN

Every day I watch, Day Of Our Live, I know arrangement. 

 

MS. MAXWELL

This was not that kind of arrangement.  Mr. Wu would allow me to purchase any left over sandwich just before he closed for half price. 

 

(Mrs. Chen takes the sandwich and puts it back under the counter,)

 

MRS. CHEN

I not Mr. Wu.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Yes—well—you need to close your shop.

 

(Ms. Maxwell slowly walks toward the shop door.)

 

MRS. CHEN

Where you live lady?

 

(Ms. Maxwell turns back.)

 

 

MS. MAXWELL

The fourth floor.

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok, but where?

 

MS. MAXWELL

This building.

 

MRS. CHEN

Old white lady live up there?

 

MS. MAXWELL

I am not that old—

 

MRS. CHEN

Some bad people live up there.

 

MS. MAXWELL

No one has ever bothered me.

 

MRS. CHEN

That lot of step for old lady.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Please stop referring to me as old.

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok, ok.

 

(Ms. Maxwell opens the shop door as Mrs. Chen reaches behind the counter puts the turkey sandwich back on the counter top.) 

 

MRS. CHEN

You want turkey, two dollar.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Mr. Wu would always changed half price which is one dollar and seventy-five cents for the turkey sandwich. 

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok, one dollar seventy-five cent. 

 

(Ms. Maxwell returns to the counter. Puts down her book and counts out seven quarters, lining them up next to each other.  She stops before finishing.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Are you sure Mr. Wu went to China?

 

MRS. CHEN

That dollar twenty-five.  Need three more quarter.

 

(Ms. Maxwell puts down three more quarters, picks up the sandwich in one hand and the book in the other and returns to the door.  Mrs. Chen runs after her and opens the door for her.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

Thank you.

 

(Mrs. Chen closes the door.)

 

MRS. CHEN

White people.

 

 

 

End of scene 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scene Two

 

 

(It is the next evening a little before eight o’clock.  Mrs. Chen is arranging items on the shelves, which are a little better organized than the previous day.  Ms. Maxwell again enters the shop holding another book.)

 

MRS. CHEN

I got no turkey ok?

 

MS. MAXWELL

I only wanted to inquire about Mr. Wu.  In our encounter yesterday, it was not quite clear as to what happened to him. 

 

MRS. CHEN

Why you worry, Mr. Wu, he Chinese?

 

MS. MAXWELL

When you see someone daily for nearly ten years and suddenly that person disappears it is quite natural to be curious.

 

MRS. CHEN

You say lot of word.  I close now ok?

 

MS. MAXWELL

You did not answer my question.

 

MRS. CHEN

I tell you yesterday.  He go back China.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Perhaps he left a package here addressed to me.

 

MRS. CHEN

There no package.

 

MS. MAXWELL

My name is Ms. Maxwell.

 

MRS. CHEN

There no package.

 

MS. MAXWELL

He sometimes kept things hidden away in a plastic container in the refrigerator.

 

 

MRS. CHEN

I tell you lady there no—

 

MS. MAXWELL

Or the freezer.

 

MRS. CHEN

The freezer?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Yes.

 

MRS. CHEN

You no touch nothing ok?

 

(Mrs. Chen exits into the back room and returns with a plastic container.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

Yes that’s probably it.

 

(Ms. Maxwell reaches to take the container and Mrs. Chen pulls the container back.)

 

MRS. CHEN

How I know it belong you, maybe food in here.

 

(Mrs. Chen begins to open the container.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

If it’s an old book, its mine.

 

(Mrs. Chen takes out an old book.)

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok, old book but how I know it belong you?

 

MS. MAXWELL

It is called, The Jade Mountain, Translated by Witter Bynner.

 

MRS. CHEN

I know,” the”, other word, not know. 

 

MS. MAXWELL

Do you read Chinese?

 

 

MRS. CHEN

I not stupid, lady.

 

MS. MAXWELL

You see the marker in the book?  Open to that page.  There is a poem.  It is written in Chinese and English.  You read the Chinese. 

 

(Mrs. Chen opens the book and finds the page and begins to read to herself.  As she does Ms. Maxwell speaks the memorized lines of the poem, Orchid and Orange I, by Zhang Jiuling)

 

Tender orchid-leaves in spring

And cinnamon-blossoms bright in Autumn

Are as self- contained as life is,

Which conforms them to the seasons. 

 

MRS. CHEN

Wait lady, I not finish. 

 

(Mrs. Chen reads for moment longer.)

 

Ok, you read now.

 

MS MAXWELL

Yet why will you think that a forest-hermit,

Allured by sweet winds and contented with beauty,

Would no more ask to-be transplanted

Than would any other natural flower?

 

(Neither of them speaks for a moment.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

May I have the book?

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok

 

(Mrs. Chen hands her the book.  Ms. Maxwell flips through the pages.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

Was there anything else in the container, perhaps some other paper with Chinese writing?

 

(Mrs. Chen turns the plastic container upside down to show nothing else is in the box.)

 

 

MS. MAXWELL

Thank you.

 

(Ms. Maxwell turns and walks to the door.)

 

MRS. CHEN

You like loast beef?

 

(Ms. Maxwell stops and turns back.)

 

MRS. CHEN

Loast Beef, you like loast beef?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Yes I do—like roast beef.

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok, I got one loast beef sandwich.

 

(Mrs. Chen puts a wrapped sandwich on the counter.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

How much?

 

MRS. CHEN

For you—two dollar.

 

MS. MAXWELL

The turkey was one dollar and seventy five cents, and it’s roast beef not loast beef.

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok price go up.  Three dollar.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Why?

 

MRS. CHEN

You make fun.

 

MS. MAXWELL

I was correcting your English, not making fun of you.

 

MRS. CHEN

Everybody make fun, I no like make fun.

 

 

MS. MAXWELL

Then learn to speak correct English.

 

(Ms. Maxwell walks to the door.)

 

MRS. CHEN

You teach me English.

 

(Ms. Maxwell turns back.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

Why should I do that?

 

MRS. CHEN

You come every night, I give you sandwich free, you teach.

 

MS. MAXWELL

For a day old roast beef sandwich?  I have better things to do.

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok.

 

(Mrs. Chen puts the sandwich back under the counter.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

Where did you learn English anyway?

 

MRS. CHEN

Day of Our Live and Opra.

 

MS. MAXWELL

So much for high culture.

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok, I give you loast beef and soda.

 

MS. MAXWELL

What about dessert?

 

MRS. CHEN

What desert lady?

 

MS. MAXWELL

The word is dessert.  It’s a fruit or confectionary of some sort.

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok I give you desert. 

 

MS. MAXWELL

Not desert, dessert.  A desert is a barren uncultivated forbidding area, like Staten Island, or god help us, New Jersey. 

 

MRS. CHEN

You talk smart.  I want talk smart.  Ok I give you two

 

(She struggles with the word)

 

D-e-s-e-r-t.

 

MS. MAXWELL

You want to make a deal?  I will make a deal with you.  Sandwich, juice not soda, and a piece of fruit.

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok.

 

MS. MAXWELL

And—you find out what happened to Mr. Wu for me.  Deal?

 

MRS. CHEN

No deal.

 

MS. MAXWELL

I just consented to utilize my precious free time to teach you English for less than the minimum wage.  The least you could do is ask a few questions for me.

 

MRS. CHEN

I no ask.

 

MS. MAXWELL

It should not be that much of a problem.  I know Mr. Wu was well known in the Chinese community. 

 

MRS. CHEN

You no ask.  You go now.  I no make deal.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Fine if that’s the way you want it, I will inquire elsewhere.

 

(Ms. Maxwell heads for the door.)

 

MRS. CHEN

Bad people make trouble. You no ask Chinese about Mr. Wu ok?

 

MS. MAXWELL

I will ask anyone I chose, about anything I wish to know.

 

(Mrs. Chen takes the roast beef sandwich from behind the counter and rushes toward Ms. Maxwell.)

 

MRS. CHEN

I give you loast beef sandwich but you no ask Chinese about Mr. Wu ok?

 

(Mrs. Chen and Ms. Maxwell stare at each other for a moment.)

 

You want sandwich?

 

(Ms. Maxwell takes the sandwich and exits the store.  Lights fade)

 

 

End of Scene

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scene Three

 

 

(It is the next evening just before closing.  Mrs. Chen walks to the door and looks out searching to see if Ms. Maxwell is going to show.  Then she turns the sign on the door from open to closed and locks the door.  She then brings a folding lawn chair from the back room into the shop, puts a Chinese movie video into the player below the small TV on the counter, takes off her flip flops and sits. There is a loud knocking at the door.  Mrs. Chen gets up and opens the door.  Ms. Maxwell is there.  Ms. Maxwell pushes passed her into the shop.  She is carrying several books, a notebook and some pencils.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

You want to learn English and I’ve decided to teach you.

 

MRS. CHEN

Eight o’clock close.  Eight o’clock you no come in, you ask come in.

 

(Mrs. Chen stands holding the door open.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

I came to help you with—

 

MRS. CHEN

You ask come in.

 

(There is a frozen moment of silence, then Ms. Maxwell returns to the doorway and faces Mrs. Chen.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

May I come in?

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok.

 

(Ms. Maxwell enters.  Mrs. Chen shuts off the TV, goes to the back room and returns with another folding lawn chair.)

 

MRS. CHEN

You sit.

 

(Ms. Maxwell sits. Mrs. Chen then drags a small table between the two chairs and sits.)

 

 

MRS. CHEN

Why you come?

 

MS. MAXWELL

I told you I have decided to teach you English.

 

MRS. CHEN

Why?

 

MS. MAXWELL

What do you mean why?

 

(Mrs. Chen does not reply but stares at Ms. Maxwell intently.)

 

For the sandwich—and the—

 

(Ms. Maxwell pronounces the word slowly and carefully)

 

Dessert.

 

MRS. CHEN

I give you one loast beef sandwich but I say no deal.  Why you still come? 

 

MS. MAXWELL

I’ve reconsidered my demand.  There is no need to tell me about Mr. Wu, and I will not inquire of anyone else. 

 

MRS. CHEN

You tough old lady. Ok, you teach, I give you sandwich.  I find out later.

 

MS. MAXWELL

First of all you need to know that I am not a trained teacher.  My experience is in publishing, which means books.  I was an editor for a publishing house. 

 

MRS. CHEN

I need speak, no read, no write.

 

MS. MAXWELL

You also need to read and write English or you will be stuck in this place for the rest of your life. 

 

MRS. CHEN

Why you worry?

 

(Ms. Maxwell is reluctant to respond but finally blurts out her response avoiding an explanation.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

Look, you are correct.  I am a tough old lady.  I have survived, living three floors above the chaos of Manhattan for ten years and that is all you need to know. 

 

MRS. CHEN

Why old white people live alone?  In China old people live with family. 

 

(Ms. Maxwell speaks defensively.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

I do not live alone. 

 

MRS. CHEN

You live up—

 

MS. MAXWELL

I have my books.  With books you are never alone.

 

MRS. CHEN

No family, I see old white people walk on street, no family. 

 

MS. MAXWELL

In this country people move too often to be able to—

 

MRS. CHEN

No kids, nobody.  You got husband?

 

MS. MAXWELL

You are very nosey.

 

MRS. CHEN

What nosey.

 

MS. MAXWELL

You ask personal questions.

 

MRS. CHEN

You want find out, you ask.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Well that is a very positive approach, “if “, we stick to learning English.

 

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok, I find out later.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Perhaps the best approach is to find a subject that we both enjoy talking about and develop the use of language around that subject.  We can talk, I can correct your English and the next day you can come prepared to tell me something new about the subject. 

 

MRS. CHEN

What subject?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Something you like to talk about.

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok.

 

MS. MAXWELL

So!  What do we have in common?

 

(Mrs. Chen speaks slowly, proudly, and smiling afterwards.  Carefully saying, roast beef, almost correctly pronouncing her R)

 

MRS. CHEN

Roast beef.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Well that’s very good.  You didn’t even know I was coming back and you still took the time to practice you R’s.

 

MRS. CHEN

I say what I like talk about.  You say what you like to talk about.  Ok?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Ok.

 

(Mrs. Chen stands up and puts her hands at her side as though she is giving a presentation in a classroom as she remembers from childhood in China.  She speaks very formally regarding Ms. Maxwell as a teacher.)

 

MRS. CHEN

I like talk about—

 

(Pause)

 

Liqin.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Who or what is Liqin?

 

MRS. CHEN

Liqin my daughter.  Liqin in China.

 

(Pause as she thinks.)

 

I like talk about—food.  I like talk about—Day of Our live.  I like talk about—

 

MS. MAXWELL

Is your husband—

 

MRS. CHEN

We no talk about husband ok?  We talk about Liqin, we talk about lot of thing ok?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Ok.

 

MRS. CHEN

You tell me what you like talk about.

 

(Mrs. Chen sits down.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

There are many things, Shakespeare, because I love theatre, and—

 

(Mrs. Chen stands and gently pulls Ms. Maxwell by her arm to stand up.)

 

MRS. CHEN

You stand up talk ok?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Yes—well—it’s a bit formal, even for me, but if that’s what makes you comfortable learning.

 

(Ms. Maxwell puts her hands at her sides.)

 

History, I have even studied Chinese history.  Politics, someone should have shot George Bush before he was elected.  Religion, they should do away with it.

 

MRS. CHEN

What make you happy? 

 

MS. MAXWELL

I enjoy a good argument about issues in any subject.

 

MRS. CHEN

What make you happy?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Happy was—

 

MRS. CHEN

Happy was?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Was—past tense. 

 

(There is a pause as Ms. Maxwell considers what to say.  She then repeats the sentence emphasizing the word was.)

 

Happy was—a long time ago.

 

(Mrs. Chen gets up.)

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok I show you.

 

(Mrs. Chen puts her arms at her sides.  She repeats Ms. Maxwell’s sentence emphasizing was in exactly the same way.)

 

Happy was

 

(Mrs. Chen thinks for a moment.)

 

—sing lullaby to Liqin.  Happy was—cook rice with mother—happy was— smell Jasmine tea on cold morning.

 

(Mrs. Chen sits.)

 

MRS. CHEN

Now you talk.

 

(Ms. Maxwell does not move.)

 

Now you.

 

(Ms. Maxwell slowly stands.  She emphasizes make and was.)

 

 

MS. MAXWELL

What made me happy was—correction—I will begin by using the language as you understand it.  What makes me happy was—

 

(She pauses as though thinking back to happier times and then pulls herself back to the moment.)

 

It’s late I have to go. 

 

MRS. CHEN

You teach.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Tomorrow, I will teach tomorrow.

 

(Mrs. Chen gets up goes behind the counter and returns with a paper bag.)

 

MRS. CHEN

I got turkey sandwich, juice, and banana.  You teach.

 

MS. MAXWELL

I’m not prepared.  I need to think—carefully.

 

(She walks to the door as Mrs. Chen picks up the bag, calls to her and walks to a side door to the hall inside the building.)

 

MRS. CHEN

You go hallway door inside house, it better for you.

 

(Ms. Maxwell walks to the side door as Mrs. Chen gives her bag.)

 

You take turkey.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Thank you.  Tomorrow I will be here.

 

(Ms. Maxwell exits and lights fade.)

 

End of Scene

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scene Four

 

 

It is the next evening just after eight o’clock.  The shop is closed and the gate is down so no light comes from outside.  The lighting is softer and warmer.  A lit small table lamp sits on the counter.  The two folding chairs are set on either side of the table.  Mrs. Chen is setting a pot of Jasmine tea and two cups on to the table.  As she does so she repeats a phrase very carefully and slowly.)

 

MRS. CHEN

Good evening, how nice of you to come.  Good evening, how nice of you to come.  Good evening, how nice—

 

(There is a knock on the hallway door.  She checks her appearance then opens the door.  Ms. Maxwell is there holding a book in one hand.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

May I come in?

 

MRS. CHEN

Good evening. How nice of you to come.  

 

(She pronounces the word please very carefully, almost saying her (l) correctly.)

 

Please come in.

 

MS. MAXWELL

I told you I would come back.

 

(Mrs. Chen walks to the table.)

 

MRS. CHEN

You sit.  You like Jasmine tea?

 

(Mrs. Chen sits.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

Yes, thank you.

 

MRS. CHEN

I practice.  I hear, Day of Our Live. 

 

(She repeats her words exactly the same way.)

 

Good evening. How nice of you to come. 

 

(She forgets her correct pronunciation.)

 

Prease come in.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Yesterday you copied me using the word, “was”.

 

MRS. CHEN

I practice all day!

 

MS. MAXWELL

Clearly you understood my explanation of the word although as you continue to demonstrate, there is no verb to indicate past tense in Chinese.

 

MRS. CHEN

I practice, ”How nice of you to come”. Good teacher say, very good student, thank you.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Yes you’re right of course.  I’m sorry.  You did very well. 

 

MRS. CHEN

Thank you.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Yesterday you spoke of things that make you happy but they were things not here.    

 

MRS. CHEN

Heart not here.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Does nothing here make you happy?

(Mrs. Chen thinks for a moment.)

 

MRS. CHEN

Jasmine tea.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Yes you did say that.

 

MRS. CHEN

Drink tea, think home.  Close eyes, see home, smell home.  Tea, warm.  Home, warm.  

 

MS. MAXWELL

So you dream of somewhere else.

 

MRS. CHEN

Yes.

 

MS. MAXWELL

In another time.

 

(Ms. Maxwell stares at the Mrs. Chen and quote a Tang poem. On A Gate-Tower At Yuzhou by Chen Ziang )

 

Where, before me, are the ages that have gone?

And where, behind me, are the coming generations?

I think of heaven and earth, without limit, without end,

And I am all alone and my tears fall down.

 

(There is a silent moment as both dream of the past.  Then Mrs. Chen pulls them back to the moment.)

 

MRS. CHEN

That Chinese poem?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Yes, it is one that Mr. Wu liked very much.

 

MRS. CHEN

You teach now ok?

 

MS. MAXWELL

I will teach.  But first I must finish what you began. 

 

(Ms. Maxwell stands very formally putting her hands at her sides.  When she uses the word, “make”, and the phrase, “made my happy was”, Ms. Maxwell emphasizes the words suggesting that she is in a teaching mode.)

 

What makes me happy—The touch, the smell, the comfort of an old book, an early morning walk with memories through Washington Square Park, Fred and Ginger movies, riding the subway at rush hour. 

 

(Ms. Maxwell pauses with a smile and eyes closed.)

 

What made me happy was—

 

(Pause)

 

Innocence—my own innocence, the joy of being little Jenny Maxwell before I knew what life had in store. 

 

            (Ms. Maxwell sits as Mrs. Chen pours her a cup of tea.)

 

MRS. CHEN

Words I not know.  But I believe.  I call you Jenny ok?

 

(Ms. Maxwell responds emphasizing the word Ms.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

I prefer you call me Ms. Maxwell.  What do I call you?

 

(Mrs. Chen responds emphasizing the word Mrs.)

 

MRS. CHEN

My name Mrs. Chen Mei-Hua.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Well I know from conversations with Mr. Wu that in China the family name comes first and a woman retains her family name after marriage.  Am I correct?

 

MRS CHEN

Chen family name. 

 

MS. MAXWELL

So your given name is

 

(She mispronounces the name.)

 

Mei-Hu?  What does it mean?

 

MRS. CHEN

You not say right.

 

(Mrs. Chen smiles proudly.)

 

It mean beautiful flower.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Well since I am teaching you English, I will call you flower, ok?

 

MRS. CHEN

No, Ms. Maxwell.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Ok, beautiful flower.

 

MRS. CHEN

My name Chinese, you say my name Chinese.

 

(Ms. Maxwell does not quite pronounce it correctly.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

Mei-Hu?

 

MRS. CHEN

You listen ok?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Ok.

 

MRS. CHEN

Mei-Hua.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Mei-Hua

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok. Now you call me Mrs. Chen.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Mrs. Chen?

 

MRS. CHEN

I call you Ms. Maxwell, you call me Mrs. Chen.

 

MS. MAXWELL

You’re right, of course.  But I do like the sound of Mei-Hua and it does relate to tea.  Jasmine tea, Jasmine is a beautiful flower, and tea is what we have in common.  We will talk about tea.  You like Jasmine tea, and I like black tea, with milk and sugar. 

 

MRS. CHEN

You no like Jasmine tea?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Correction—you ask the question this way.

 

(Ms. Maxwell speaks slowly, accentuating the facial motions needed to make the sounds,)

 

Do you not like Jasmine tea?

 

MRS. CHEN

I like.

 

MS. MAXWELL

No no no—repeat my words.

 

MRS. CHEN

Repeat?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Say again—repeat—say again.

 

MRS CHEN

Ok, ok.  I say again.

 

MS. MAXWELL

You repeat again.

 

(They both lean in toward each other over the table exaggerating their words and speaking slowly.)

 

Do you not like Jasmine tea?

 

MRS. CHEN

Do you not like Jasmine tea?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Very good, say it again.

 

MRS. CHEN

No, no—repeat again.

 

(Ms. Maxwell claps her hands,)

 

MS. MAXWELL

Very, very good.

 

(Mrs. Chen leans in toward Ms. Maxwell and speaks slowly with exaggeration).

 

MRS. CHEN

Why you put milk in tea?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Because I like it.  Why do you drink Jasmine tea without milk?

 

MRS. CHEN

Because I like it.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Good. 

 

(Ms. Maxwell picks up the teapot.)

 

Jasmine tea is “it”.  This is Jasmine tea.

 

(Mrs. Chen takes the teapot from her and pours a cup of tea for herself.)

 

MRS. CHEN

Teapot—Jasmine tea inside.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Correct.

 

(Ms. Maxwell becomes enthusiastic, standing, taking the teapot from Mrs. Chen, and holding it in one hand and pointing to it with the other.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

What is it?

 

MRS. CHEN

Teapot.

 

(Ms. Maxwell points and pours more tea into her cup.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

And what is it?

 

MRS. CHEN

Jasmine tea.

 

MS. MAXWELL

I’m starting to feel like Henry Higgins.  I may start to sing any minute. 

 

MRS. CHEN

You sing. I repeat.

 

 

 

MS. MAXWELL

Frere Jacques—that’s how I started learning French in kindergarten.  Nursery Rhymes are wonderful for that.

 

(Mrs.Chen completely mispronounces rhymes.)

 

MRS. CHEN

NuseLy Lhymes?

 

MS. MAXWELL

We will deal with the letter “R” later.  Nursery Rhymes are children’s songs and I have just the one to teach you.  I will give you one line to memorize and practice every night. 

 

(Ms. Maxwell stands very formally with her hands at her sides. She then uses her arms to point and describe her actions as she recites the first line of, I’m A Little Tea Pot.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

I’m a little teapot short and stout.

 

MRS. CHEN

What stout?

 

MS. MAXWELL

What “is” stout?

 

MRS. CHEN

What “is” stout?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Stout “is” fat.

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok, ok, Ms. Maxwell sing.

 

MS. MAXWELL

I’m a little teapot short and stout. Now you.

 

MRS. CHEN

I’m a little teapot short and stout.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Very good Mrs. Chen. Again, watch my lips and in a week we will be performing in Carnegie Hall.  I’m a little teapot short and stout. 

 

 

MRS. CHEN

What Carnegie Hall? 

 

MS. MAXWELL

You’ll never get there if you keep asking questions.

 

(She speaks slowly and Mrs. Chen follows her as they repeat over and over as lights fade.)

 

 

End of Scene

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scene Five

 

 

(It is the next evening just after closing.  The table and chairs and a pot of tea is prepared.  Ms. Maxwell knocks at the side door.  Mrs. Chen slowly responds to the knock at the door, debating with herself before opening the door.  She finally opens the door after a second knock.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

Good evening Mrs. Chen, may I come in? 

 

(Mrs. Chen walks away from the door without looking at Ms. Maxwell.)

 

May I come in?

 

MRS. CHEN

You come in. 

 

MS. MAXWELL

Thank you.

 

(Ms. Maxwell enters with uncertainty as Mrs. Chen ignores her presence and goes to the table.)

 

MRS. CHEN

You want Jasmine tea?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Do, you want Jasmine tea?’

 

MRS. CHEN

Do, you want Jasmine tea?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Yes please.

 

(Mrs. Chen picks up the teapot but does not pour.)

 

Is something wrong?

 

MRS. CHEN

Nothing wrong.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Nothing is wrong.

 

(Mrs. Chen becomes irritated.)

 

MRS. CHEN 

Nothing is wrong.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Well I’m glad to hear it. 

 

(Mrs. Chen puts the teapot down as she sits facing the fourth wall.)

 

Maybe we should start our—

 

MRS. CHEN

Mr. Wu, he not in China.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Mr. Wu is not in China.  I’m sorry to keep correcting you but I think that’s the best way to—

 

(Mrs. Chen responds loudly)

 

MRS. CHEN

Mr. Wu he is not in China!  Mr. Wu he is in dead!

 

(Pause)

 

MS. MAXWELL

I think you said that last word incorrectly.

 

MRS. CHEN

Dead, Mr. Wu, dead.

 

MS. MAXWELL

How do you know?

 

MRS. CHEN

It in—

 

(Mrs. Chen corrects herself with desperation.) 

 

It is in Chinese paper.  Police ask who know Mr. Wu.

 

MS. MAXWELL

That can’t be.  He was a healthy man.

 

 

MRS. CHEN

Snakehead shoot him.

 

MS. MAXWELL

What are you talking—

 

MRS. CHEN

Snakehead shoot him—

 

MS. MAXWELL

I don’t need to hear any of this.

 

MRS. CHEN

Snakehead bring Chinese illegal to America.

 

(Pause)

 

Snakehead bring Mrs. Chen to America.

 

MS. MAXWELL

This has nothing to do with me.

 

MRS. CHEN

You friend Mr. Wu.  You tell Mrs. Chen about Mr. Wu.

 

MS. MAXWELL

I only know him through the shop, nothing else.  Over time we began to talk about poetry.  Mr. Wu was a brilliant man and spoke excellent English.

 

MRS. CHEN

He important man.  Maybe snakehead hurt you.

 

MS. MAXWELL

You are frightening me.  I will go now.

 

(Ms Maxwell gets up and walks toward the door. Mrs. Chen runs to the door blocking Ms. Maxwell from exiting.)

 

MRS. CHEN

You stay.

 

(Ms. Maxwell is frightened.) 

 

MS. MAXWELL

I need to go home.

 

(Mrs. Chen yells at Ms. Maxwell.)

 

MRS. CHEN

You stay!

 

(Mrs. Chen locks the door.)

 

Ms. Maxwell sit. I tell about snakehead. I tell about Chen Mei-Hua. 

 

(Ms. Maxwell does not move.  Mrs. Chen points to chair.)

 

MRS. CHEN

Sit!

 

(Maxwell slowly returns to her seat as Mrs. Chen speaks while standing.)

 

MRS. CHEN

Little Chen Mei-Hua is beautiful flower, in, Fujian. Fujian in China. Mei-Hua is girl but mother and father happy to have Mei-Hua.  Family live by sea.  Father catch fish in boat, Mei-Hua help mother make dry fish sell in market.

 

(Ms. Maxwell gets up.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

This is all very pleasant but I need to—

 

(Mrs. Chen calmly but firmly demands that she to sit again.)

 

MRS. CHEN

Sit!

 

(Ms. Maxwell sits again.)

 

Mei-Hua become woman.  Man on boat with father, name, Junjie want to marry Mei-Hua.  Father say yes.

 

(Mrs. Chen thinks about Junjie for a moment.)

 

Junjie handsome, Junjie make Mei-Hua feel soft like silk.  Mei-Hua marry Junjie.  Chen Mei-Hua become Mrs. Chen Mei-Hua.  Junjie make Mrs. Chen very happy.

 

(There is a pause as Mrs. Chen turns away from Ms. Maxwell.)

 

 

 

Lot of big boat come take fish. No more fish for small boat.  Snakehead say Junjie go to America, make lot of money send home. When Junjie in New York, call village, send money to family. Then family pay snakehead thirty thousand dollar.  Junjie not call.  Mrs. Chen come to New York look for Junjie.  Long long time now I look, not find my Junjie.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Why do you tell me this?

 

(There is a pause as Mrs. Chen turns to face Ms. Maxwell.)

 

MRS. CHEN

No family, no friend, no one to talk.

 

MS. MAXWELL

We are both alone, a solitude without repose.  This we have in common Mrs. Chen.

 

MRS. CHEN

Ms. Maxwell no ask Chinese about Mr. Wu, ok?

 

MS. MAXWELL

I will not ask.

 

MS. CHEN

Now Ms. Maxwell talk. 

 

MS. MAXWELL

Living alone for nearly forty years makes sharing a difficult process.      

 

MS. CHEN

Ok, Ms. Maxwell say only about come to building.

 

MS. MAXWELL

I would not know how to begin.

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok, Ms. Maxwell say like this.  I see building.  I open door—

 

MS. MAXWELL

I was desperate the first day I arrived here.

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok, now you tell.

 

(Ms. Maxwell thinks for a moment before she decides to open up a little.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

I was searching for something, anything, to get me through that first night alone in my fourth floor room.  I walked in to this store, picked up a small box of Lipton tea and placed it on the counter. Mr. Wu smiled and quoted a poem about tea. That poem is still with me.

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok you say poem.

 

(Ms. Maxwell quotes the T’ang dynesty poem, “Tea Dringing” by Lu Tung.  As she does so she picks up her cup and speaks to Mrs. Chen.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

The first cup moistens my lips;

 

(Ms. Maxwell sips her tea, then speaks again, still holding her cup.)

 

The second cup breaks my loneliness;

 

(She sips once more, then speaks still holding her cup.)

 

The third searches to find a thousand volumes of ideographs; The fourth raises a slight perspiration-all the wrongs of life pass out through my pores; At the fifth I am purified; The sixth cup calls me to the realms of the immortals. The seventh cup-ah, but I could take no more!

 

(Ms. Maxwell places her cup on the table and then speaks.)

 

I only feel the breath of cool wind. Let me ride this sweet breeze and waft away hither.

 

MRS. CHEN

Ms. Maxwell have poem inside.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Poems bring sanity to an unfriendly world.

 

MRS. CHEN

Mrs. Chen have nothing inside. 

 

MS. MAXWELL

You speak of Mrs. Chen in the third person, as though she is not you. 

 

MRS. CHEN

Put Mei Hua outside Mrs. Chen body and Mei Hua safe.

 

MS. MAXWELL

My poems also keep reality at a safe distance.  May I leave now?  I will come back tomorrow. 

 

(Mrs. Chen nods her head. Ms. Maxwell walks to the door and as she reaches for the doorknob Mrs. Chen speaks.)

 

MRS. CHEN

I’m a little teapot.

 

(Ms. Maxwell pauses then opens the door as Mrs. Chen speaks again.)

 

MRS. CHEN

I’m a little teapot—short and stout.

 

(Ms. Maxwell closes the door and returns to the table.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

All right Mrs. Chen.  We will deal with the moment and forget about everything else.

 

(Ms. Maxwell stands with her hands to her sides and recites.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

I’m a little teapot short and stout,

 

(Ms. Maxwell extends her arms out to show the handle and spout.)

 

Here is my handle and here is my spout.

 

(Mrs. Chen claps her hands in applause.)

 

MRS. CHEN

Mrs. Maxwell show.

 

(Mrs. Chen and Ms. Maxwell  stand facing audience saying lines together using arms for handle and spout as lights fade.)

 

MRS. CHEN AND MS. MAXWELL

I’m a little teapot short and stout

Here is my handle and here is my spout

 

End of Scene    

 

 

Scene Six

 

 

(It is about ten o’clock at night two weeks later.  Ms. Maxwell and Mrs. Chen are sitting at the table going over one of the children’s books Ms. Maxwell has given Mrs. Chen, “Green Eggs and Ham”.  Mrs. Chen picks up Green Eggs and Ham.)

 

MRS. CHEN

This one hard to read but picture make me happy.

 

MS. MAXWELL

This one is hard to read but the pictures, you must add the s, the pictures make me happy.

 

MRS. CHEN

This one is hard to read but the pictures make me happy.

 

MS. MAXWELL

The book is a little advanced for you right now but you will succeed in reading it sooner than you think.  Let’s try to pronounce the letters in the title.

 

(Mrs. Chen pronounces each letter separately.)

 

MRS CHEN

G-r-e-e-n e-g-g-s a-n-d h-a-m.  English is crazy language.

 

MS. MAXWELL

English is a crazy language.

 

MRS. CHEN

Crazy, English is crazy.

 

MS. MAXWELL

I am sure you are right but English is the primary force driving society forward and we are stuck with it, so let us continue.

 

MRS. CHEN

If egg is—if eggs is green—

 

MS. MAXWELL

If eggs are—

 

Mrs. Chen

If eggs are green.  I throw them away.   Green eggs make people sick.

 

MS. MAXWELL

That will make people sick.

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok, ok, but green eggs and ham, still make people sick.

 

MS. MAXWELL

These are words from a children’s book intended to fire the imagination.  Children will make the leap to fantasy with ease.  We grown ups have a much harder time letting go of our boxed in little minds.

 

MRS. CHEN

What is imagination?

 

MS. MAXWELL

The ability to see things in your mind that you have never seen. 

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok, ok, I know.  Liqin have imagination.  When Liqin make up story she is very happy.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Good, now you have one more word to add to your vocabulary.

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok, you tell more thing make you happy.   

 

MS. MAXWELL

Things that make you happy.  You have to use—

 

MRS. CHEN

You stand up ok? 

 

(Mrs. Chen moves her chair to face somewhat downstage facing Ms. Maxwell somewhat upstage.  Ms. Maxwell reluctantly stands with her arms at her sides as a formal student and speaks to the fourth wall.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

What makes me happy—is no longer.

 

(Pause)

 

A pretty dress, ice cream, a tickle between my toes, a longing to be ten like James, when ten was very grown up.

 

 

MRS. CHEN

I like chocolate ice cream.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Joy came easily when I was five, there were mud pies to be made while mother helped the gardener plant geraniums.  Do you know geraniums Mrs. Chen?  Of course you don’t, at least not by their American name.

 

MRS. CHEN

I know garden.  Garden at home in Fujain, lot of flowers. 

 

MS. MAXWELL

My mother would teach me the names of all the flowers.  It was a happy time before the fighting.

 

MRS. CHEN

Fighting?

 

MS. MAXWELL

My parents were not a match made in heaven but for a man like my father, in those days it was important to keep the image of a happy marriage.  But by the summer of my sixth birthday the hostility was loud and constant.  

 

MRS. CHEN

In summer when I was six we play by sea every day. 

 

MS. MAXWELL

I remember long drives to the sea at Cape Cod in Father’s fifty-five Lincoln.  A Lincoln, Mrs. Chen, was a very big and very expensive—

 

MRS. CHEN

Expensive?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Very rich car.

 

MRS. CHEN

Snakehead bring Mrs. Chen to shop in very rich car, sit in back seat like room with carpet.  You very rich?

 

MS. MAXWELL

We were comfortable, not what you would call wealthy but we did have plenty of money to spend on unnecessary things. 

 

 

 

MRS. CHEN

I look out window in car, pretend Mrs. Chen very rich, pretend Liquin sit in car and laugh and play. 

 

MS. MAXWELL

Mother and father would always be arguing in the front seat while my older brother James and I would sit in the back of the Lincoln locked in our own silent worlds.  When the fighting became so angry we could not longer hide we would play paper scissors rock and try not to hear them.

 

MRS. CHEN

What paper—

 

MS. MAXWELL

It’s a game Mrs. Chen.  Here let me show you. 

 

(Ms. Maxwell puts out her hands to make the fist, scissors and rock.  Mrs. Chen copies her as she explains.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

This is a rock.  This is a scissors, and this is paper.

 

(Mrs. Chen speaks excitedly.)

 

MRS. CHEN 

I know, I know.  I play with Liquin. 

 

MS. MAXWELL

That’s right, I forgot the game originated in China.  Let’s play.  Ready? 

 

(They both go through the motions of the game as Ms. Maxwell speaks.)

 

One, two, three, go!

 

(Mrs. Chen bounces up and down excitedly.)

 

MRS. CHEN

I win, I win.  We go again.  No, no—we repeat.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Wonderful Mrs. Chen, we will repeat!

 

(They go through the motions again, this time saying the words together.)

 

MS. MAXWELL AND MRS. CHEN

One, two, three, go!

 

(Mrs. Chen wins again and they both laugh.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

You are good at this just like James.  He would always win.  James won at everything he did.  I was never a winner at anything, but I didn’t mind on those long summer drives, sitting there talking to Samantha on my lap, almost forgetting my parents, dreaming of a world without fighting.

 

MRS. CHEN

Who Samantha? 

 

MS. MAXWELL

My favorite doll.  My other dolls were prettier but Samantha had had curly blond hair that I would comb and tie with little bows.

 

MRS. CHEN

Liquin have doll.  Doll have same hair.  Doll name Barbie.

 

 MS. MAXWELL

Good grief!  Where did you get that monstrosity?

 

MRS. CHEN

Man work in factory, bring to village, sell on street very cheap.  Everybody buy.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Well there goes the neighborhood.  You give us paper, scissors, rock, and we give you Barbie.  There is no justice in this world Mrs. Chen.

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok, ok, now you tell more.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Very well.

 

(Ms. Maxwell closes her eyes and thinks.)

 

What made me happy was—

 

A sleepless night knowing the next day would bring my first pair of pointe shoes in Miss Johnson’s ballet class.  Going to a movie matinee with my friend Ellen for the first time without grown ups and instantly falling in love with Elvis Presley.

 

MRS. CHEN

Brue Sued Shoes, I know Brue Sued Shoes.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Ellen was screaming but I felt his voice, watched his lips, and could not move.

 

MRS. CHEN

Elvis big star in Fujian.

 

MS. MAXWELL

We returned to the sunshine and happy was never the same again. Mirrors introduced me to Miss Jenny Maxwell, a drab late pubescent dreamer with limp black hair and acne, escaping reality through, Pride and Prejudice, James Dean, and, Frankie Avalon.

 

MRS. CHEN

They sing like Elvis?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Mrs. Chen I think you and your Liquin are one and the same, inquisitive and creative with a great deal of imagination.  

 

MRS. CHEN

My little Liqin she have lot of—imagination, tell—tells story about Butterfly and rabbit and fish and they talk, butterfly to fish, fish to rabbit, happy talk, always happy talk.

MS. MAXWELL

Innocence, children don’t know enough to be controlled by circumstance.

 

(Pause)

 

At least most children. 

 

(Mrs. Chen stands imitating Liqin’s antics when creating a story for her mother.  She hops toward Ms. Maxwell like a bunny rabbit.)

 

MRS. CHEN

I am rabbit, I like to jump.

 

(Mrs. Chen then pretends to be a butterfly, flapping her arms and moving around the stage.)

 

I am butterfly I like to fly.

 

(Ms. Maxwell pretends to be a fish moving her arms in a breast stroke.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

And I am a fish and I like to swim.

 

(They both continue moving about the stage laughing and changing their actions so each has a turn to be a butterfly, a rabbit or a fish.  Finally Mrs. Chen sits and begins to cry.)

 

Your little Liquin would not like to see you cry.

 

(Ms. Maxwell sits to console her.)

 

MRS. CHEN

She is not little.  Liquin is fifteen years.  Now she is young—is a young woman.   

 

MS. MAXWELL

Then you should celebrate her awakening.

 

MRS. CHEN

Nine years I not see Liquin. 

 

MS. MAXWELL

Fifteen is an important year for a girl.  You become something you have never been.  You have a new body, a new self awareness; everything around you is new, even if you’ve seen it a thousand times before.  

 

MRS. CHEN

I not with her, not tell her thing she need.

 

MS. MAXWELL

She will learn.  I have a feeling that luck plays a great part in what happens to our minds and our bodies at that age no matter what a mother says. There’s a need to explore, discover life for one’s self. 

 

MRS. CHEN

I work all day, every day till shop close, send money home, but I not free, I close eye, I see men.  

 

MS. MAXWELL

What men?

 

MRS. CHEN

Now Ms. Maxwell nosey. 

 

MS. MAXWELL

I just want to help.  At one time I could have done so with money, but now I have almost nothing. 

 

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok, ok.  Now I nosey.  Why you live in building?

 

(Ms. Maxwell laughs.) 

 

MS. MAXWELL

“I find out later”, that’s what you said, “I find out later”.    

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok, now is later.  You tell why you live in building.

 

MS. MAXWELL

It’s the end of a very long twisted road where the road becomes two and you choose which one to take many times over. 

 

MRS. CHEN

One road, only one road to go. 

 

(Ms. Maxwell laughs again.)

 

MS. MAXWELL

East meets west.  Do we have a choice in life?

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok, I say nothing.  You talk.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Perhaps when you’re young all the choices are made for you, even when you think you are so independent.  But you reach a point—

 

(Pause)

 

When you’re no longer a child.  I suppose that comes much earlier for someone like you. 

 

MRS. CHEN

I fifteen—Ok, ok I not speak.

 

MS. MAXWELL

I was twenty-three.  One year after I thought I had achieved the right to own the world with my silly little bachelor’s from Sarah Lawrence. 

 

MRS. CHEN

I ask question ok?  Who is (she fights to say the R and L correctly) Sarah Lawrence?

 

MS. MAXWELL

What is Sarah Lawrence.  Very good Mrs. Chen.  Your R’s and L’s are coming along beautifully.  It is an Ivy League college for girls with family money to spend.

 

MRS. CHEN

Very rich?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Very rich, an established lineage of wealth.   In nineteen sixty eight my conservative father was outraged when after spending all that money on my schooling, I became one of the naive young radicals attempting to change the world.

 

MRS. CHEN

I not know what you say.

 

MS. MAXWELL

Let me simplify.  I was a poor little, semi rich girl, rebelling against her privileged status.  But my tidy rebellion all boxed up with a bow and a label came apart and the world was never the same again—

 

 (Mrs. Chen interrupts Ms. Maxwell excitedly.)

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok, ok, I tell you what I know.

 

MS. MAXWELL

What do you know Mrs. Chen?

 

MRS. CHEN

I not know what you say, but I know he handsome man, like my Junjie.

 

MS MAXWELL

Marvin Jackson, a man from the other side of the universe.

 

MRS. CHEN

See?  I tell you I know.

 

MS. MAXWELL

It was the summer of nineteen sixty eight in New York.  I had heeded the call to, “Get clean for Eugene”.  I de-hippified my appearance and was going door to door to help get Eugene McCarthy on the democratic ballot for president.

 

MRS. CHEN

De-hip?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Hippy, do you know hippy?

 

MRS. CHEN

I know, I know, I see old movie.  Smoke drug, long hair, sing.

 

(Pause)

 

Ms. Maxwell hippy?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Is that so hard to imagine?  I was young once and I was pretty too! 

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok, ok, who Eugene?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Eugene McCarthy was the Barak Obama of nineteen sixty eight.

 

MRS. CHEN

A black man?

 

MS. MAXWELL

A white man who wanted to change the country, end a war, and give anyone who was not white a chance at a better life.

 

MRS. CHEN

That good idea.

 

MS. MAXWELL

That is a good idea.

 

MRS. CHEN

You teach later.

 

MS. MAXWELL        

The campaign paired me up with Marvin Jackson figuring a white and black face together was the best way to sell Eugene in black neighborhoods. 

 

MRS. CHEN

Marvin, he is black?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Yes, Marvin was African-American.

 

MRS. CHEN

In China no good. In New York, ok maybe.  Even long, long, long, time ago?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Not in those days.  Marvin was just out of college that summer, first in his family to go to college.  We were both attracted by the forbidden. Sex was an act of rebellion and we rebelled as often as we could.

 

(Mrs. Chen is genuinely shocked.) 

 

MRS. CHEN

Rebel mean sex?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Yes.

 

MRS. CHEN

Ms. Maxwell! 

 

MS. MAXWELL

Is that so strange?  I told you I was very attractive.  There were a number of young men interested in me.  In fact my father would have settled for any one else.  Marvin was my way of getting back at him. 

 

MRS. CHEN

Ok, so why you not marry?

 

MS. MAXWELL

Marvin was drafted and sent to Vietnam in October.  We wrote each other for a month and then the letters stopped.  One day in December his sister came to me.  Marvin was dead, killed less than a month after he arrived.

 

MRS. CHEN

It very sad but you know he is dead.  You cry but you know. 

 

(Pause)

 

I not know about Junjie.

 

MS. MAXWELL

I cried, but we were not in love. 

 

MRS. CHEN

You give sex.

 

 

MS. MAXWELL

That is not the same as being in love.

 

(Mrs. Chen becomes upset.)

 

MRS. CHEN

No! No love no sex! You no give sex—

 

MS. MAXWELL

Sex and love are not the same—

 

MRS. CHEN

You love Marvin.  I know!  Ok?

 

MS. MAXWELL

We come from different worlds Mrs. Chen.  In my world it is not wrong to share your bed with someone you do not love.  Marvin was a good—

 

MRS. CHEN

You go now ok?

 

MS. MAXWELL

It’s not the same.  We were very close to each other and—

 

MRS. CHEN

You go! No book, no English, you go.

 

MS. MAXWELL

You don’t understand. I was sharing pleasure with someone I cared about. 

 

(Mrs. Chen becomes animated, walking upstage to the place where she sleeps on the floor and turns away from Ms. Maxwell.)

 

MRS. CHEN

You make Mrs. Chen feel not clean.

 

MS. MAXWELL

This has nothing to do with—

 

(Mrs. Chen turns to face Ms. Maxwell and indicates in some way that this is where she sleeps.)

 

MRS. CHEN

Night time I lie here but not sleep.

 

 

MS. MAXWELL

I should not have spoken about this.  

 

(Mrs. Chen shouts.)

 

MRS. CHEN

Mrs. Chen not give body! 

 

MS MAXWELL

There is a wall between us and I have made it higher.  For that I am truly sorry.

 

MRS. CHEN  

I stay New York long long time.  I want find my Junjie.  I ask Chinese Fujian people, you see my Junjie?  Nobody see him.  I stay New York till I find.  I no need Ms. Maxwell.  I learn English.  I ask white people.  I ask black people.  I find my Junjie. 

 

(Mrs. Chen walks to the side door and opens it and holds it open.  Ms. Maxwell gets up and exits.  Lights fade.)

 

 

End of Scene

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 Posted: Tue Sep 21st, 2010 03:09 am
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JustGoWithIt
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Mana: 
What really struck me about this piece was your masterful use of voice to individually define the characters. Granted, the voice of an Asian person might be a little easier to come up with than most others, but nevertheless, the two women were very well contrasted.

I noticed that most of the comedy was toward the lower end of the page. You may want to sneak a few jokes in earlier to create a better balance.

That doesn't mean I didn't laugh at all, however. Believe me, I laughed.
I particularly enjoyed this exchange:

MS. MAXWELL
The turkey was one dollar and seventy five cents, and it’s roast beef not loast beef.

MRS. CHEN
Ok price go up. Three dollar.

MS. MAXWELL
Why?

MRS. CHEN
You make fun.

Last edited on Tue Sep 21st, 2010 03:09 am by JustGoWithIt

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 Posted: Tue Sep 21st, 2010 12:02 pm
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John Watts
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Mana: 
Thank you for your comments.  I will give them some thought.

John

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 Posted: Wed Oct 13th, 2010 03:44 pm
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Darkja
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Mana: 
I thought it was a strong piece I really appreciate the slow reveal of the problem

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 Posted: Wed Oct 13th, 2010 03:57 pm
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John Watts
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Mana: 
Thanks for the support.  Any suggestions for improvement are welcomed.  I have been tweaking the details but can't find a place to go with it beyond this at the moment at least, until I get the play on its feet.

Sorry about the way it comes up on the site with different sizes etc.  Don't know how to solve that.

John

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 Posted: Fri Oct 22nd, 2010 08:46 pm
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kris
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Mana: 
Hi, John,

I really like this. I agree that you captured the two different voices, and you also captured the differences in attitude and belief. I love the use of poetry, which adds so much color. I think parts of this are simply beautiful.

There was one bit of confusion for me--in Scene One, when Ms. Maxwell counts out seven quarters, and Mrs. Chen says that's $1.25 and wants three more quarters to make the $1.75. Ms Maxwell is no dummy -- she originally gave $1.75. Why would she let that pass and come up with three more quarters? Even if she'd given only five quarters for $1.25, she'd still owe only 50 cents, or two quarters. That seemed out of character for her -- being poor, she'd know to the penny how many quarters she'd lined up, and she's shown she's not afraid to argue with Mrs. Chen. That's my only quibble. (And Oprah has that H at the end.)

Bravo,
kris


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 Posted: Sun Oct 24th, 2010 12:52 pm
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John Watts
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Mana: 
That is very funny.  You're right, I said need three more quarter instead of two.  It was just a silly mistake on my part. As you see I need an editor.  Thank you very much. 

When you read over your own work you often see what you want to see even when the words before you deny what your mind accepts. I will make the change.  And thanks for the vote of confidence on the play.  I'm still trying to find a company willing to give it a try.  As you know it is not easy.  Sometimes I feel like quiting but I can't help myself.  If I don't write I don't live. 

 

John    

 

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 Posted: Sun Oct 24th, 2010 02:37 pm
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kris
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Mana: 
Don't ever quit, John. You are far too talented. In fact, I think it's the talent that won't let you quit -- it insists on expressing itself. Don't even worry about getting this piece produced. It happens in the oddest ways, and it will happen for this lovely piece.

Keep writing!

kris

 

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