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Authors: Gao Xingjian

The other shore

The Other Shore

 

Plays by Gao Xingjian

 

 

Translated by Gilbert C. F. Fong

Copyright Information

 

The Other Shore: Plays by Gao Xingjian

Translated by Gilbert C. F. Fong

 

©The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1999

 

All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be

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ISBN

962-201-974-9 (Hardcover)

 

First edition 1999

Second printing2000

 

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Title of Book: The Other Shore: Plays by Gao Xingjian

Author: Gao Xingjian

Translator: Gilbert C. F. Fong

Edition: V1.0

Date Last Updated: Day (10) Month (05) Year (2012)

 

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Directory

 

Title Page

 

Copyright Information

 

Acknowledgements

 

Introduction

 

The Other Shore

 

Between Life and Death

 

Dialogue and Rebuttal

 

Nocturnal Wanderer

 

Weekend Quartet

 

Appendix A Plays Written by Gao Xingjian

 

Appendix B Selected Criticism on Gao Xingjian’s Plays

 

Appendix C Major Productions of Gao Xingjian’s Plays

 

More Books

Acknowledgements

 

 

The translator would like to thank the playwright Gao Xingjian for his patience, and Professor David Pollard and Professor Peter Crisp, who went over the translations and offered valuable comments. My thanks are also extended to Ms. Natalia Fong and Ms. Shing Sze-wai, whose assistance was invaluable in preparing the manuscript. I would also like to acknowledge Professor Jo Riley’s translations of three of the plays in this collection. I have read her manuscripts, but all the translations are my own.

Introduction

 

 

You’re a stranger, destined to be a stranger for ever, you have no hometown, no country, no attachments, no family, and no burdens except paying your taxes.

There is a government in every city, there are officers in every customs station to check passports, and man and wife in every home, but you only prowl from city to city, from country to country and from woman to woman.

You no longer need to take on any town as your hometown, nor any country as your country, nor any woman as your wife.

You have no enemies, and if people want to take you for an enemy to raise their spirits, it’s purely their own business. Your only opponent—yourself—has been killed many times; there’s no need to look for enemies, to commit suicide, or to do battle in a duel.

You have lost all memories, the past has been cut off once and for all.

You have no ideals, you’ve left them behind for other people to think about…

 

 

Gao Xingjian: Weekend Quartet

Gao Xingjian has been hailed as the first Chinese playwright to enter world theatre. His plays in fact have been performed more often outside China than inside it, in France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, the U.S., and in overseas Chinese communitie s such as Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. While his plays have been condemned and subsequently banned in China, they have been heaped with kudos and honours in Europe. Individually, they have been applauded as “archetypal” and “extremely modern and poetic,” as creating “a new and delicate language for the stage,” and above all, as constituting a“théâtre de l’asurde à la zen.”In 1992, he was awarded theChevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettresin France, where he now resides. This can be seen as pointing to the fundamental differences in the idea of theatre and the arts in China and the West, the former rigidly subscribing to a set of utilitarian and political rules on what is legitimate and permissible—exactly the kind of constraints on artistic freedom that Gao Xingjian finds disconcerting. In fact, living in exile seems to have shaped and strengthened Gao Xingjian’s convictions, and provided the impetus for the development of his ideas about the theatre. The questions may be asked: is there an essential “Chineseness” in his works? Does he, like many contemporary Chinese writers living overseas, still look to Chinese artistic and cultural traditions for inspiration? And in what manner has his exile and living as a marginalized member of society influenced his thinking and the creation of a “self-conscious” theatre?

Born in 1940 at the height of the Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) in Ganzhou 贛州 in the Province of Jiangxi 江西, Gao Xingjian spent his youth growing up under the Communist regime that took over China in 1949. His mother, an amateur actress, introduced her young child to the art of traditional Chinese theatre. She also urged him to write, telling him to keep a diary of the happenings of his young life. At ten, he had already finished his first story and drawn some cartoons as illustrations. “I locked myself in my own little room, feeling happy about myself and my work.”[0-1](Gao Xingjian is proud of his accomplishment as a painter. Exhibitions of his paintings have been held regularly around Europe, in the United States, and in Taiwan and Hong Kong.)

Gao Xingjian went to the Beijing Foreign Languages Institute at seventeen as a French language and literature major. When in college, he became a member of the drama society and acquainted himself with the works of European dramatists such as Stanislavsky, Brecht and Meyerhold. He also developed into an avid reader of literature, saying that it was there that he could “discover the meaning of life.” After his graduation in 1962, he worked as a French translator for the foreign language journal China Reconstructs. During the Cultural Revolution (1967–1977), he was at one time the leader of a Red Guard brigade, but was later banished to the countryside to work alongside the peasants and the masses.

For Gao Xingjian, the sufferings he witnessed during the Cultural Revolution were exactly like those he had read about in the great books of literature. Driven by a desire to “decipher the meaning of the cruel reality around him,” he kept writing in secret and, to avoid detection, he wrapped his manuscripts in plastic sheets and buried them in the ground.[0-2](It has also been reported that he had to burn a dozen or so of his playscripts and short stories to escape punishment.) Instead of serving the Party and the masses, for him writing was to be the means to self-knowledge and understanding of the value of human existence. This individualistic stance was of course anathema to the official dogma of socialist realism. With aspirations to become a published writer, he tried to avoid officially tabooed topics, even though he felt himself hemmed in by the restrictions imposed on him and his fellow writers. This dilemma apparently tormented the fledgling writer who, working under constant surveillance by officials and fear of censure, found himself in a constant state of siege mentality. He could only find comfort in the rationalization that perhaps his manuscripts would be allowed to be published posthumously. After the Cultural Revolution, he was sent to southwestern China as a schoolteacher for six years. It was in 1980 that he was able to publish his first piece of writing, a novella entitledHanye zhong de xingchen《寒夜中的星辰》(Stars on a Cold Night). At that time he was already 38.

Of all the contemporary Chinese writers, Gao Xingjian was perhaps the most outward-looking. Through his knowledge of the French language, he could gain access, if only in a limited way, to contemporary developments in literature and literary criticism in the West. After a brief stint as a schoolteacher, he was for a short time a translator and he often gave lectures on French surrealist poetry and other avant-garde writings to his colleagues. In 1981, he published a booklet entitledXiandai xiaoshuo jiqiao chutan《現代小說技巧初探》(Preliminary Explorations into the Techniques of Modern Fiction), which was based on ideas taken from the French structuralist school. The book was a rather crude attempt at theory, aimed at the self-enclosed circles of Chinese writers and critics who were still very much under the influence of the Maoist line of “revolutionary realism.” The book proved to be too radical for the authorities and was condemned as a serious and blatant challenge to the party line. Soon the whole country was embroiled in a controversy over the pitfalls of modernism and the book’s “bad influences” on young and old writers alike.[0-3]

In June 1981, Gao Xingjian was assigned to the Beijing People’s Art Theatre, China’s foremost theatre company. At the time, the company, like all the major theatre companies in China, was still deeply committed to realism and the Stanislavskian method of acting. The first play he wrote for the Beijing People’s Art Theatre wasChezhan《車站》(Bus Stop), an absurdist play about a group of passengers waiting for a bus which never comes. The play was politely declined by the company because of its non-realistic tendencies. In 1982, Gao finishedJuedui xinhao《絕對訊號》(Absolute Signal), which was given a test run in the rehearsal room of the Beijing People’s Art Theatre. The play, featuring many flashbacks, disjointed temporal sequences and the interplay of subjective and objective perspectives, is a rather didactic prodigal son story—an attempted train robbery is thwarted by one of the villains who eventually realizes his mistaken ways. During the “previews,” he and Lin Zhaohua 林兆華, China’s best known director who also shared Gao Xingjian’s views on experimental drama, decided against Stanislavskian realism and opted for a more modernist production with a minimum of props. The stage, an empty room with the audience on three sides, was equipped only with a few iron bars indicating the inside of a train coach, and the only lighting was a flashlight which the director used to shine on whichever actor was speaking at any given moment. The play had several full-house “previews” and was finally moved to the company’s auditorium for a regular run. The production was considered a breakthrough and a trend-setter in Chinese experimental theatre, but it also aroused the authorities’ suspicion and once again brought about a vehement war of words on modernism and realism.

Despite the threat of official sanctions, Gao Xingjian pressed on and continued with his efforts in experimental drama, supported by a host of famous dramatists such as Cao Yu 曹禺 and Wu Zuguang 吳祖光. In July 1983, he and Lin Zhaohua began revivingBus Stopas a “rehearsal,” which had a successful short run in the banquet hall of the Beijing People’s Art Theatre. Cao Yu, then director of the theatre company, applauded the play and considered it a “wonderful” piece of work. But news of the “rehearsal” leaked out, and this time the political fallout was much more serious than with the artistic debate that followedAbsolute Signal. It was the time of the “Anti-Spiritual Pollution Movement,” and the new production was accused of being anti-socialist and of imparting a strong feeling of “doubt and negativity” against the existing way of life.[0-4]After thirteen performances the play was forced to stop, and Gao Xingjian was subsequently barred from publication for one year. Before further punishments were announced (reportedly he was to be sent to a labour camp in qinghai to “receive training”), he went into self-exile in the mountains of southwestern China. The turn of events made him realize that exile was the only way to save himself and to preserve “one’s values, integrity and independence of spirit.”[0-5]

When he returned to Beijing, he was again allowed to publish his writings. A collection of his medium-length stories came out, followed by another collection of eight of his plays that included some short experimental pieces written to train actors. In November 1984, after settling down after his “exile” in the mountains, he finishedYeren《野人》(Wilderness Man) in ten days and nights, incorporating into the play his thoughts on ecology, the destruction of nature and the environment by civilization, and above all, a celebration of the primordial human spirit. According to Gao Xingjian,Wilderness Manwas to be an experimental play, an “epic” describing events from “seven or eight thousand years ago to the present” and encompassing many issues such as those of “man and nature, and modern man and the history of mankind.”[0-6]The play, aimed at creating a modern Eastern drama, has more than thirty atemporal scenes; it also features a plethora of nonrealistic masked ceremonies, wedding rituals, folk songs and a dance troupe of twenty members, whose abstract movements symbolize the masses, the earth, its floods and forests, as well as a wide range of emotions.Wilderness Manrepresented the pinnacle of the development of experimental drama in China at the time. It also gave notice that drama, or any work of art, did not have to be guided by the concerns for socialist education or political usefulness, and that interpretative lacunae in any piece of work, rather than determinateness, would enhance artistic effectiveness. Here Gao Xingjian’s predilection for subjectivity gradually surfaced, and soon he would find himself increasingly uneasy, an individualist surrounded by a sea of collectivity which from time to time would threaten to overrun his personal peace and creative space in art. Regarded as politically innocuous,Wilderness Manwas very favourably received, and the playwright and his work both managed to avoid political censure. But it was to be his last work to be publicly performed on his home soil.


Page 2

In May 1985, Gao Xingjian was invited to give a series of lectures in Germany and France, where he apparently basked in the international recognition accorded to him in the foreign press. When he came back to Beijing in early 1986, he finishedBi’an《彼岸》(The Other Shore). Probably inspired by the freedom and individualism he had witnessed in Europe, the play, among its many different themes, expresses his reservations about the persecution of the individual by the collective rule of the masses, led by a deceiving and manipulating leader whose tactics and claims to power are highly questionable. The rehearsal of the play, done by the students of Beijing People’s Art Theatre and under the direction of Lin Zhaohua, was ordered to stop after only one month, and subsequently the plan to establish a workshop on experimental drama was also dropped. This turn of events prompted Gao to go into exile in France in 1987, convinced that his plays would never be allowed to be performed in China again.

When he was living and writing in France, Gao Xingjian could give full rein to his imagination to explore and promote his ideas about a modern theatre, free from the interference of any overriding authority. In 1989 hisTaowang《逃亡》(Exile), which tells the story of three characters running away from the pursuing soldiers during the Tiananmen incident (1989), again brought down the wrath of the Chinese government. As a result, his membership of the Communist Party was revoked. Ironically, the play also put Gao Xingjian at odds with the Chinese Overseas Democracy Movement, which considered the portrayal of intellectuals as susceptible to doubt and emotional vacillations an insult. However, he maintained that his play was concerned with the fate of the individual and his response to an adverse environment. One cannot be sure whether this development distressed our playwright, or if it was actually a predictable outcome of his individualism and personality as a loner. The fact remains that after Exile, he shied away from Chinese subject matter in his plays in the next few years.

Gao Xingjian is a highly private person. His unhappiness in China was due as much to his eremitic disposition as to the suffocating socio-political system he found himself born into, a totalizing regime bent on collectivization and a common ideology which pervaded every aspect of the life of the individual, including his creativity. To Gao Xingjian, such heavy-handedness strangles the freedom of expression, particularly in art. His response can be likened to that of a traditional Chinese Zen Buddhist, who chooses to detach himself from the “dusty” human world while being in it, casting a “cold eye” on everything, especially the absurdities and the shortsightedness of the unenlightened. But while the Zen Buddhist is keen on pursuing a supreme happiness, the understanding of thetao, Gao Xingjian does not consider himself so lucky, for as a modern man obligated to explore his own soul, he simply cannot afford the luxury of hiding his torment behind thetao. Instead, he forces his way into the self and compels it to reluctantly admit to its own inadequacies, its fragmentation, its impotence to act, and its inability to eradicate the evil in and around it. If we were to discern a progression in Gao Xingjian’s dramatic career, it would have to be seen as a journey from the public subject matter of his early period to the later, more private concerns, a change from the culture and system specific to the more universal, and thus to the more neutral, his personal convictions having undergone, so to speak, a baptism of fire. This transition is clearly marked byThe Other Shorein 1985, which features a mixture of private and public themes.

Gao Xingjian offers no solution to the problems of the self. Championing a new kind of modernism in contemporary Chinese literature, he claims in 1987 that it constitutes an affirmation of the self, not its negation, as in Western modernism, and a rediscovery of humanism, which has been lost among the insistence on the denial of rationality and the equation of absurdity with existence.[0-7]The self, as life itself, is always in a state of flux, encompassing past and present, good and evil, long-lasting guilt and brief happiness, and life and death. And like a mannequin, the self is made up of many separable parts which can be assembled and disassembled at will, and appear either in one piece or as dismembered fragments to the horrified owner who claims to have held them together. Such is the essence of existence, made meaningless by the horror, ignorance, and injustice surrounding it. But Gao Xingjian is not a complete pessimist; what matters most to him and to his characters is the materiality of living, of being able to live and, most importantly, to speak and write. Thus words, or discourse, are all and everything in life through which man gets to know his own consciousness, even though words may be mangled, rendered nonsensical, or even useless. As he says, the unknowable behind the words contains the real human nature, and the absurdity of language is the same as the absurdity of living.[0-8]

To Gao Xingjian, literature has no obligations—the moral and ethical controversies arising from literary writings are only figments of imagination trumped up by meddlesome critics and cultural officials. “Literature has no relation to politics. It is purely a personal undertaking, an observation, a look back at past experiences, a speculation, a cluster of sentiments, a certain expression of inner emotions, and a feeling of the satisfaction of contemplation.” Therefore he advocates a “cold literature” (冷的文學lengde wenxue), i.e., literature at its most fundamental, to distinguish it from didactic, political, social and even expressive writing.[0-9]However, a writer should not totally disassociate himself from society. While refraining from active intervention in social and political issues, he should “exile” himself but at the same time take a position on the margin of society, thus facilitating his undisturbed observations on life and the self. As such, “cold literature” is not art for art’s sake, which he despises as being tantamount to “cowardice,”[0-10]and which is only meaningful in so far as it is practised in a society which prohibits it. “Cold literature” survives by means of exile, and it strives to escape from the strangulation of society to conserve itself.[0-11]

Needless to say, Gao Xingjian is ambivalent on the question of the relationship between a writer and his society, betraying a love-hate attitude to man’s involvement in society and detachment from it. Society is invariably made up of antipathetic masses, easily manipulated and prone to persecute the individual among them. But then what is a writer to write about apart from the society of which he is a member? This is Gao Xingjian’s dilemma, one that he tries to solve by placing himself on the outside, a stranger to his own community, and by retreating into the innermost depths of the individual, his consciousness. Therein lies his Chinese heritage, not so much in the superficial display of traditional Chinese theatrical conventions which occasionally crops up in his plays, but in his reluctance to totally cut himself off from humanitarianism in an effort to save the human soul, if not collectively, as individual beings. He is characteristic of the modern Chinese intellectual who rebels against his own Chineseness and yet rejects a Western individualism which pays no heed to society. According to his way of thinking, the latter is injurious to human nature—the negation of the very essence of life itself.

Gao Xingjian does not purposely seek to construct a barrier between himself and his world. He is, so to speak, not much of a joiner; he only desires to seek his own personal peace and freedom. In one of his latest declarations, he proclaims the idea of “None-ism” (沒有主義Meiyou zhuyi)[0-12], i.e., a refusal to believe in any of the “isms.” “No matter whether it is in politics or literature, I do not believe in or belong to any party or school, and this includes nationalism and patriotism.”[0-13]His “None-ism” advocates an unlimited and unbridled independence, so that the individual can empty his mind of all the shackles of convention to make the choices best suited to himself, to be sceptical of all blind acquiescence to authority, trendiness and ideological detainment, in other words, it is to be a liberation of the spirit. As a writer, Gao Xingjian steadfastly refuses to be categorized as belonging to any school, Chinese or Western. While he was still in China, he struggled to break free from realism and the Stanislavskian method which had dominated the Chinese theatre for more than three decades, considering them to be too logical, neat, and tyrannized by words. On the other hand, he is also particularly harsh about post-modernism. According to his opinion, the means of what is known as post-modernism has become an end in itself, and art vanishes as a consequence.[0-14]In other words, concepts have displaced art in the same way as dialectics and abstractions have taken over from genuine criticism, and anybody can become an artist because artistic skills are not required as prerequsites.[0-15]

Gao Xingjian’s antipathy towards the canonized is derived from his constant search for a genuine renewal in art. Even though he pursues “the freedom not to peddle antiques,”[0-16]he is nonetheless not iconoclastic. “When someone wants to go forward, there is no need to trample on one’s ancestors.”[0-17]He has not been able to sever himself totally from tradition: we can see him trying to seek inspiration from the theatricality of classical Chinese opera and from folk culture. The latter’s emphasis on rituality and simplicity interests him as an artist, and its uncorrupted character is a kindred spirit to his understanding of the primeval self.

In rejecting the modernist label in 1987 (when he was still in China), he said that it was more appropriate to place himself at the meeting point between Eastern and Western cultures and between history and the present.[0-18]However, he also claimed that he has paid his debts to all things Chinese since the publication ofLingshan靈山 (Spiritual Mountain) in 1990, a novel set in the mythical mountains and streams of southwestern China. In his latest plays, he has been striving for neutrality and universality, shying away from Chinese settings and characters.

We shall not dwell on the idea of interculturalism in Gao Xingjian. Suffice it to say that even our writer himself is conscious of the crosscurrents of the Chinese and the Western interacting in both his personal and artistic life. It is important to point out that he always values the self not in an egotistic manner, but in the knowledge of the imperative to comprehend the self, its relation to the world, and the value of existence. The key here is the Chinese concept of “jingguan” 靜觀,[0-19]or “peaceful observation,” which encompasses the ideas of tranquillity, disinterestedness, and detachment. And it is through this concept that we can begin to understand Gao Xingjian’s idea of the tripartition of the actor, i.e., just as a writer should observe himself and society with the indifference of an outsider, an actor should also be able to observe his performance and the character he is portraying with the same degree of “coldness” and detachment.

 

Acting and the Tripartition of the Actor

Gao Xingjian’s idea of dramaturgy affirms the importance of what he calls theatricality (juchangxing劇場性). When Aristotle talks about “action,” Gao Xingjian claims, he is referring to action in its fundamental sense, i.e., the kind of action that the audience can see and hear,[0-20]unlike the “action” in contemporary drama which is limited to the conflict of ideas and concepts. This physical aspect of drama is what distinguishes it from poetry, which emphasizes lyricality, and fiction, which underlines narration. Drama is process, and while it may not necessarily be complete in itself, the changes, discoveries, and surprises in a play can be amplified and elaborated upon and made into elements of theatricality, thus generating dramatic action on the stage.[0-21]

According to Gao Xingjian, stage language can be used to indicate harmony or disharmony as in a musical structure. Like the notes in a symphony, the phonic qualities of words often highlight their materiality, effectively transforming the utterances into a non-narrational medium. In this manner, stage language acquires the charm and the almost magical power of chanting, and produces a deeply felt compulsion in both actors and audience. Such is the difference between the new language of drama, with its emphasis on materiality and physical impact, and the semantically inclined language commonly used in other literary genres.[0-22]

There is yet another aspect to the making of theatricality. Drama is nothing but performance, and the actions on the stage are meant for the enjoyment of the audience. In order to facilitate this communication and to enhance its directness, Gao Xingjian maintains that the actor has to be self-conscious of his craft, being aware not only of the character he is playing but also of the fact that he is putting on a performance as a performer. This awareness is in contrast to Stanislavsky’s total immersion method, and to an extent it is also distinguished from Brecht’s “alienation,” which breaks the illusion of realism and underlines the distance between performance and audience. To Gao Xingjian, there is no denying that drama is ostentation—the many attempts at realism by the modern theatre are nothing short of spurious and futile efforts to achieve impossibility. Ostentation is helpful and also essential to communicating with the audience: in fact, an actor should highlight the act of pretending, as if he is saying to himself and to the audience, “Look how well I can pretend to be somebody else!” As in Beijing opera or the Japanese kabuki, even though the actor focuses his attention on how to perform his role, he still manages to retain his identity as an actor—his job is to give a good performance but not to live the life of the character.[0-23]The pretending still exists, and is even accentuated, but it coexists with a more direct and true-to-life actor-audience communication, in which the actor has become the centre and disseminator of artistic awareness. In other words, besides the character-centred and audience-centred theories of Stanislavsky and Brecht, Gao Xingjian has ventured his own actor-centred theory in an argument for a more self-conscious art.


Page 3

How does one achieve self-consciousness and yet still be “in” the performance and a good actor at the same time? The answer to this is Gao Xingjian’s idea of the tripartition of acting. In traditional Chinese theatre, Gao Xingjian explains, when the actor gets ready for the role he is to play, he extracts himself from his everyday activities, relaxes his body and focuses his mind to enter into his performance. During this time, he “purifies” himself into a “state of neutrality”; in other words, he is in a state of transition between his everyday self and his role. This neutrality can be explained by looking at the convention ofliangxiang亮相[0-24](literally “to reveal oneself”) in Beijing opera. At the time ofliangxiang, the actor freezes his movement for a few seconds to mark his entrance or the completion of a display of martial arts, dance sequence, etc., thus making himself “appear” before his audience, who applaud and voice their approval. The performance is briefly suspended, as the actor neutralizes his acting capacity and calls attention to the exhibition of his art.

Thus in any performance, there exists in the actor three identities—the self, the neutral actor, and the character. Neutrality is not tantamount to self-effacement; it demands a self-consciousness in the actor of his own make-believe. At the same time this also equips the actor with a “third eye” of inner vision which, because of the detachment from the character he is portraying, is capable of observing his performing self, the other actors on the stage and, more importantly, the audience. Neutrality then becomes a medium which enables the actor to control and adjust his performance, helping him to be in and out of his character not only before the performance but also many times during the performance. And because the actor is both experiencing (acting) and observing himself while performing, he is more able to project his feelings into the character for the audience’s enjoyment. In any theatre, what needs to be communicated is not reality but the feeling of reality. By embodying the three identities on the stage, the actor can challenge the character he is playing, empathize with him, pity, admire and even criticize him. The dramatic tension resulting from this kind of acting is beyond that produced by mere yelling and shouting which disguise themselves as theatre. In this way, not only the plot but also acting itself can be interesting and become the focus of the audience’s attention. And the actor, because his feeling for the character is not derived exclusively from his physical self, is awarded a high degree of satisfaction through an awareness of his own artistic creation.

 

Points of View in Drama

Gao Xingjian is concerned about acting, but being first and foremost a writer, he is also equally concerned about playwriting. He laments the demise of the playwright in the contemporary theatre. The playwright, according to Gao, has been forced to give up his former prominence to the director, who is now the absolute ruler of the stage. With the weakening position of the playwright, theatre increasingly relies on technology to support its predominantly visual presentation, and music, which is capable of generating tension through contrasts and variations (e.g. in a symphony), has also been abused, being given the task of covering up the inadequacies in performance. As the peripherals have taken over from real dramatic action, and abstraction, in the form of exegesis of ideas, emerges as the only objective, theatre tends to become non-drama or even anti-drama and comes closer and closer to the end of the road.[0-25]

As a playwright, Gao Xingjian is motivated by the desire to wrestle the centre stage from the hands of the director. He insists on the dramatic, the “drama” (戲xi) happening on the stage. His plays may not feature a well-made plot, and they may even resort to abstractions from time to time, but there has to be structural integrity—expositions, contrasts, conflicts, and discoveries, the essentials with which drama is made, and which are seen as “action” by the audience. The dramatic is not confined to externalities; most of Gao Xingjian’s recent works feature internal conflicts, the psychological drama within a character’s consciousness.

Gao Xingjian admits that his idea of the tripartite actor is not universally applicable to all kinds of scripts, and he remains unsure whether this theory of his has been the driving force behind his style of playwriting or vice versa. The idea is part of Gao Xingjian’s search for a new language for the contemporary stage; the drama of the modern man’s frenzied schizophrenia demands such acting as a complement, or even prerequisite. His understanding of performance, namely, the coexistence of the self, the neutral actor, and the character in the actor, opens up new possibilities in playwriting. Just as consciousness is capable of being realized by the tripartite actor, so it can also be interpolated on the discourse level to project different modes of perception.

It is evident that Gao Xingjian’s latest works, which are included in the present collection, all feature his newly developed ideas about narrative modes in drama and put into effect his demands on the actor. In these plays the characters not only speak in the first person, as is the case by dramatic convention, they also speak and refer to themselves in the second and third persons, being in and out of their own selves in the same play or even in the same scene. For instance, inDialogue and Rebuttal, the hero and the heroine speak in the first person in the first half of the play, and then switch to the second and third persons respectively in the second half, when they are languishing in a state of apparent meaninglessness as spirits after their deaths.

Gao Xingjian’s experiments in the narrative modes of drama may have been inspired by the special features of the Chinese language. Many times he has commented that the Chinese language, being an uninflected language, facilitates shifting the “angle” or perspective of narration. “As the subject in a Chinese sentence can be omitted and there are no verbal conjugations, it is quite natural to displace the ‘I’ as the subject by a zero subject. The subjective consciousness can be transformed, achieving a pan-subjective consciousness or even self-effacement. And it is just as easy to change the ‘I’ into the second person (you) or the third person (he/she). The ‘I’ as ‘you’ is a case of objectification, and the ‘I’ as ‘he/she’ one of detached observation, or contemplation. This really affords the writer tremendous freedom!”[0-26]

Commenting on the new possibilities of his dramatic strategy, Gao Xingjian says:

 

The character, which usually appears on stage in the first person, can be divided into three different points of view and can speak in three different persons, and the same character will then have three psychological dimensions. The character as both agent and receptor is enriched by many perspectives, which enable a more complete mode of expression. And from his various observation platforms, the same character will be able to generate and express many different attitudes towards the outside world and towards his own experience of it.[0-27]

The shift in narrative mode is not a mere substitution of “I” by “you,” “he” or “she”; it also has implications for the actor and the audience’s point of view. With the “I” relating the story of “you,” “he” or “she,” the character is functionally divided into two separate roles of addresser and addressee, or narrator and narratee, even though they are both physically embodied in one person. The second or third person self functions as the observed, who operates in the external world made up of other characters. As the “I” is insulated from direct contact with the external world, he is equipped with a different perspective from that of his divided double, and in his capacity as a non-participating narrator, he can be more objective in assessing his own consciousness as that of someone other than himself.

The discourse situation in Gao Xingjian’s plays mostly points to the exploration of the self, the centre around which all the happenings revolve and towards which all the meanings gravitate. In combining the narrating and experiencing selves, the narrative situation is capable of generating tension among the divided selves of the same character, with the “you” being closer to the implicit “I,” but not less confrontational than the third person self (“he/she”), who is further removed. According to Lacanian psychoanalysis, “otherness” can never be firmly grasped. The other is basically a locus of the subject’s fears and dears; they do not belong to an external category, but are internal and unchangeable conditions of man’s existence. Viewed in this perspective, the dreams and speeches, when they are expressed on the stage, illuminate the split in the subject’s imaginary register and its elements.

The process opens up new venues of communication for the theatre. For instance, the “you” inNocturnal Wanderer, in its capacity as the observed self of the “I,” is the main character in the play whose fate and emotions are on display. In this manner, the audience gets to see the play’s actions with an awareness of the non-experiencing “I” and his implicit judgement on the “you.” They are thus given a comprehensive picture of the drama, the complexity of the character and his inner conflicts which have been externalized, and his relationship with the world at large. InBetween Life and Death, the heroine examines her own life in a series of narrated flashbacks. Here the implied “I” plays the role of narrator retelling the story of “she,” who is the projected and experiencing self of “I.” In this manner, a degree of objectivity is achieved because the narrating “I,” detached from immediate experience, can be largely sheltered from self-pity. Thus on the level of expressiveness, shifting the narrative mode facilitates self-examination and makes it easier for the unconscious to reveal itself.

The modern stage has come a long way since the Stanislavskian method of realistic acting, i.e., total identification and immersion in the character being portrayed. Brecht’s epic theatre introduces the third-person narrator, and highlights stage narratology by adding another dimension to communication in the theatre—the audience, made aware of the existence of a world outside the world of the play, are “alienated” from the performance and performers. For Gao Xingjian, his idea of the theatre goes beyond alienation and invoking the audience’s rationality. It is inherent in and grows out of his conception of the world of the play, a world focusing on the consciousness of both actor and character, self-contained in its ostentation, yet made expansive so as to involve the audience both emotionally and intellectually. The key word is “self-consciousness.” Gao Xingjian’s self-conscious art reveals itself not merely in its self-reflexivity or in its relation to the world at large, i.e., how the world looks at the self; it can only be understood as self-observation in an alienated and detached manner. The relationship between the first-person self and his “other” hangs in a delicate balance, covering the whole spectrum of subjectivity and objectivity. The resultant potential for dramatic tension and conflict is part and parcel of his idea of the theatre, which encompasses both acting and playwriting.

 

Drama and the Modern Man

Gao Xingjian insists that his ideas should not be regarded as supporting technique for technique’s sake, nor are they merely aimed at rhetorical purposes. His pursuit of a new theatre is intended to reveal the naked realities of modern man and his living conditions—privileging formalism would only bury the truth of these realities and conditions.[0-28]Gao Xingjian is not a fan of the modern theatre (so-called “spoken drama” in Chinese) dominated by words and their meaning-generating functions. Far more concerned with the unstated emotions in language and in performance, he aspires to a “modern language,” akin to the language games found inZhuangzi《莊子》and in theDiamond Sutra《金剛經》, that will express a feeling of detachment and a kind of “free and easy” contemplation as embodied in Taoist and Buddhist texts.[0-29]In this he finds an ally in the Chinese language, which he tries to rejuvenate and develop into an appropriate medium of expression for the stage:

 

…I am not at all a cultural chauvinist, and I don’t have in me the incomprehensible arrogance typical of the Chinese race. The only thing I want to do is to rejuvenate this ancient language, so that it can be equally able to express the bewilderment of modern man, his pursuits, his frustrations in not being able to attain them, and in the final analysis, the sufferings and happiness of living, loneliness and the dire need for expression.[0-30]

Gao Xingjian’s language is largely lyrical and at times even gossipy, yet it can be extremely powerful and moving in its indifference and apparent irrelevance, containing words of “unspoken wisdom.” As with many Zen Buddhist texts, his words “speaks directly to the heart,” striking at the innermost core of the human soul. When they are most effective, they are graced with an almost magical power derived from a spellbinding rhythm akin to chanting, evincing a materiality beyond mere utterance and primary referentiality. The idea is to allow the mind of the audience to “wander in contemplation” among the words so as to grasp their true spirit, which resides as a sublimated effect beyond the language being used.[0-31]

Gao Xingjian does not resort to yelling and screaming in his writings. He is not a revolutionary, and he refuses to fight other people’s war other than the one that resides in his heart. In concentrating on the self, Gao Xingjian’s writings can be regarded as subjective and individualistic. However, his is a distinctive kind of individualism, one that values the self but not at the expense of others. As he says of his novelSpiritual Mountain:

 

My perception of the self has nothing to do with self-worship. I detest those people whose desire is to displace God with himself, the kind of heroism which aspires to defeat the world, and the kind of self-purgation which puts on the guise of a tragic hero. I am myself, nothing less, nothing more.[0-32]


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In this way he rejects Nietzsche and the individualism of the West, which he considers destructive. His attitude is not unlike that of the traditional Taoist or Zen Buddhist who, bent on seclusion or exile from society to cultivating his inner virtues and strength, still casts an indifferent eye to observe the world of humans in his somewhat aloof and detached position. However, while Taoism and Buddhism aspire to understanding thetao, Gao Xingjian insists on knowing and studying the self and its inner secrets in all its complexities; while the former represents inner peace, Gao Xingjian finds only pain and suffering, and unfortunately, there appears to be no salvation. The individual is helpless in the face of this predicament, for he is impotent to change himself or his world. He can assert his existence only by way of thinking and of the production of discourse (he once proclaimed: “I discourse, therefore I am”[0-33]); ironically these tend to become as ineffectual and meaningless as the world he finds himself in—therein resides the frustration and insoluble dilemma of modern man.

 

The Plays

 

The Other Shore彼岸(Bi’an) (1986)

Written in early 1986,The Other Shorewas originally scheduled to be performed by the Beijing People’s Art Theatre under the direction of Lin Zhaohua, but the rehearsal was suspended because the play was considered politically sensitive. This marked a turning point in Gao Xingjian’s thinking—he gradually came to the realization that the authorities would no longer allow his plays to be performed in China. (The Other Shorewas subsequently performed in Taiwan by the Taiwan National College of Art in 1990 and by the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts in 1995. Both productions were directed by the playwright.)

The Other Shoreis a short but complex play. The plot is made up of disjointed narrative units that do not apparently or necessarily connect with one another, at least in a structurally coherent manner. However, each unit can be seen as self-contained and is interesting and meaningful by itself. Gao Xingjian considers the play as his attempt at “pure” drama:

 

The Other Shoreis different from conventional drama. One of the differences is that the play does not attempt to put together a coherent plot. I only intend it to be a revelation, to portray some of life’s experiences and feelings in a pure dramatic form, i.e., in the same way that music is pure.[0-34]

The titleBi’an(literally “the other shore” or “the opposite shore”) refers toparamita, the land of enlightenment in Buddhism. According to Buddhist beliefs, one is able to cross the river of life—from the shore of delusion and suffering to the other shore of enlightenment—by cultivating and perfecting theparamitavirtues of generosity, morality, patience, vigor, concentration (or meditation) and wisdom. The play reveals the fundamental tragedy of human life: even after crossing the river and reaching the other shore, the characters find that enlightenment is unobtainable, and that they are still trapped in the delusions and sufferings of everyday life from which there is no escape. As Gao Xingjian says, “It is destined that the individual will never be able to acquire the ultimate truth, which is known as God or the other shore.”[0-35]

At least two issues stand out in the play: collectivism and personal salvation. In the opening scene, the game of ropes first illustrates the establishment of inter-personal relationships and the virtue and necessity of communal living. However, the ropes are soon subject to manipulation and control, and the relationships turn into unequal partnerships overrun by totalitarian rule. Then comes the river crossing by a group of actors, a difficult undertaking but hopeful of happiness upon its completion. After crossing the river to the other shore, the actors are accorded a temporary bliss through their loss of language. However, as soon as they are taught to speak again by Woman, a mother figure, they learn to distinguish between self and other and are anxious to seek out the outsider among them. Incited by their own words to irrational violence, they smother Woman to death and try to put the blame on one another. As the group tuns into an unruly mob, they need a leader to guide them. They try to pressure Man, who may be regarded as thede factohero in the play, to take up the role. When Man refuses, they let themselves fall into the hands of a manipulating card-playing Master, who tempts them with wine and coaxes them into making fools of themselves. In an attempt to please Master, they willingly confuse reality with illusion and compromise truth with falsehood. Together they ridicule and persecute Man, the individualist among them. The various episodes in the first part of the play, at first appearing fragmented, are now given a thematic unity underscoring the flaw of collectivism, that it can easily degenerate into blind obedience and violence and play into the hands of a manipulative leader.

The scenes that follow describe Man’s search for personal salvation as he tries to assert his independence in the community of man. Besieged by adversities, he feels smothered by the unreasonable demands on his individuality. As a result, he is frustrated in every way, a total failure in human relations. With his non-conformist stance, he cannot get along with the masses, nor can he obtain any understanding from his father and his mother; even his yearning for love is denied him. An outcast turned cynic, he strives frantically to pick up the pieces of his life, doing so literally by rearranging the arms and legs of mannequins to make them whole again and, like God, he tries to create his own version of human society. But when the mannequins become too many, he finds himself helplessly drawn into their collective pattern of frenzied movements: this is mob behaviour once again. All the time his actions are haunted by the underlying presence of the Zen Master and his chanting, as if he is casting a “cold” eye of indifference on the futility of all of Man’s undertakings. In the end, Man leaves the stage “a drooping, blind, and deaf heart,” and the masses become actors again as the play reverts to the everyday life of the beginning, the world before the river crossing to “the other shore.”

To an extent The Other Shore expresses the author’s misgivings about collectivism and its darker consequences. The ending offers no salvation for the persecuting masses and their irrationality, and there exists no one, like the “silent man” in Bus Stop or the ecologist inWilderness Man, who takes on the role of the harbinger of hope. Communication is impossible despite human interaction, or because of it, for language is highly suspect, a means of deception, violence, and the distortion of intentions. As a result the individual can only seek refuge in the “dark and shady forest” of his heart, reminiscing about his past life until life itself perishes. But all is not futile—for all its darkness and despair, the play also affords a glimpse of self-knowledge in the pursuit of an equilibrium between the self and the outside world.[0-36]

Of course we are treading on dangerous ground in attempting to interpret the unity and the meaning of the play. It is as if each interpretation leads to another that is its contradiction, and there is always the risk of oversimplification. Perhaps it is better to just regard the play, as Gao Xingjian suggests, as a training exercise for actors. To our writer,The Other Shoreis an experiment in pursuit of a modern theatre, using Eastern drama as a starting point. As with Peking opera, it is actor-centred, and communication with the audience is mostly derived from the directness of the actors’ performance.[0-37]The play is also the first piece of work by the playwright embodying his idea of the neutral actor:

 

Crossing the river to the other shore is a key moment in the performance. After the rigorous movements of playing with the ropes and rapidly exchanging partners, the actors relax their bodies and lie on the floor to listen to the music. As they let the music evoke their feelings, their bodies are not motivated by ideas. This is a process of self-purgation.[0-38]

From this moment on the actors will be able to “forget” themselves and to effectively focus their attention on observing their own body movements and listening to their own voices. And Shadow, Man’s super-ego, is the physical manifestation of the neutral actor on stage: he is there to observe, evaluate and even make fun of “Man” in the encounter of the self with his other.

 

Between Life and Death生死界(Shengsijie) (1991)

In 1989, Gao Xingjian finishedExile(Taowang逃亡), which is set against the background of the 1989 Tiananmen incident. The play describes the stories of three characters, a young man, a young girl student, and a middle-aged writer, who are in hiding and running from the pursuing PLA (People’s Liberation Army) soldiers. It unmasks and examines the fundamental human weaknesses, such as fear and desire, and the naive idealism among the participants in the Democracy Movement, and casts doubts on the wisdom, and even the possibility, of the intelligentsia’s intrusion into politics. In the end, the only way out for all the characters, as for the writer in real life, is to go into exile.

Between Life and Death, written two years afterThe Other Shore, can be seen as an attempt by Gao Xingjian to chastise the Chineseness in him (probably because of his displeasure with the adverse reactions to Exile in 1989) and pursue writing for a universal audience. The setting is unspecified and, except for the appearance of a Buddhist nun, there is no reference to anything specifically Chinese. The heroine, without any indication of her nationality, is just called Woman; she could be “everywoman.” She serves as the play’s narrator, describing her tortured life story, her fears and sensitivities, which are seen as typical of the female sex. In light of this, the play apparently champions feminism, especially women’s sufferings at the hands of men. As the narrator-heroine says, “In her life, a woman is destined to suffer five hundred times more than a man.” Even women help men to oppress other women, and they can be more vicious than men to their own kind. However, the play’s concerns are actually more ambitious, as the collectivist themes in Gao Xingjian’s previous works have been displaced by the more subjective question of the self and the existential.

The story is about a woman who faces the end of her life’s journey in both mental and physical exhaustion. The various episodes in her monologue fall mainly into three categories. First there is her love-hate relationship with Man, who has no speaking parts but expresses his reactions to her monologue by performing pantomimes. She keeps nagging him, accuses him of infidelity and threatens to leave him. But when he disappears and eventually transforms into a pile of clothing, she is full of remorse, wishing that he could have stayed and made up with her. This is a sad comment on the fate of Woman, and of women in general—she attempts to assert her independence, but in the end she finds that she still has to depend on Man, at least for his companionship.

What follows are reminiscences of Woman’s tainted past. She spent a harrowing childhood in a windowless house. She tried to get her mother’s attention by cutting her finger with a pair of scissors. She was raped by her mother’s lover. She had an affair with a woman doctor and her husband, in which she was used as a plaything to spice up their sex life. And then there was her irksome one-night stand with some unknown man. According to her own admission, she has abandoned herself to living a life of sin after being manipulated and exploited by both men and women. Feeling guilty and remorseful, she takes off her ring, her bracelet and her earrings, all tokens of her past experiences, to purge herself of her sins, but all is in vain. As her disappointment grows, she feels increasingly depressed about herself, thinking that she is unfit to be a mother and unworthy of a warm and comfortable home. She is alone in the world among its evil and squalor, with nothing to look forward to except the end of her life.

The latter part of the play features a series of hallucination scenes. Here Woman finds herself languishing in a state “between life and death” as she makes various frantic attempts to discover the meaning of her existence in her encounters with the supernatural. A masked man appears, chases her in his car and warns her of a bloody disaster. Then she slides down into the depths of icy water. A nun, whom Woman first mistakes as the Buddhist Bodhisattva, disembowels herself, cleanses her intestines, puts them on a plate and then throws them in Woman’s face. A man dressed in black and perched on high stilts approaches, watching over her with a big black eye in his hand. A headless woman follows Woman, also with a big eye in her hand. The play ends with Woman musing aloud on the question of her identity while an old man tries to catch an imaginary snowflake with his hat.

As spectacle, the hallucination scenes in the last part of the play are the most dramatic and effective. The images are horrifying and dreamlike, and their accompanying earnestness and intensity make them disturbingly real. One recurring image in these scenes is the big eye, which appears twice and each time sends shudders down Woman’s heart. The first one, painted on a man’s hand, denotes the eye of other people and the opposite sex, and Woman feels that this eye has been following her all her life. The second is the eye carried by the headless woman, presumably embodying the soul of the heroine, and the eye is the inner eye. The fear of being spied upon lingers and terrorizes Woman as she feels that her judgement day is approaching.

InThe Other Shore, Gao Xingjian resorts to externalization to realize his idea of self-examination by using different characters to portray the divided self, the observer and the observed. InBetween Life and Death, he goes one step further towards subjectivizing and neutralizing the self: the two versions of the self are combined and contained in one character. The narrating “I” is the experiencing “she,” even though the two are distinguished from each other in the use of deixis. The former, referring to her own story in the third person, distances herself not only from past experiences but also from the actions and emotions of the present. Ubiquitous in its presence, the “I” reveals itself only through narration, depending on discourse to prove her being (despite the fact that language is evasive and is itself in a state of chaos). The gap between the two selves remains unbridgeable from beginning to end. The narrating “I,” like the big black eyes in the play, is always observing and implicitly evaluating, and so tends to transcend the immediacy of the moment. On the other hand, the “she,” as the reification of “I” and the object of narration, can only aspire to the physicality of experience, the world of suffering and emotion. Thus the “I” plays the role of a “cold” and detached observer, but the irony is that it cannot be without the impassioned “she” and her worldliness.


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The shift in narrative mode underlines the horror because of the need for objectification, but the play is more than the story of a fallen woman and her search for salvation. It is an examination of the dark secrets of a woman’s inner world haunted by fears of rejection, ageing, death and the final judgement, and even of life itself, leading up to the impossibility of absolution despite her hysterical protestations. Narrated in the third person, these fears are given full expression, free from self-pity which tends to be inhibiting and selective. Apart from the psychological exigencies, the narrative situation eventuates in a split of the character, creating tension between the narrating “I” and the experiencing “she.” In light of Gao Xingjian’s idea of the neutral actor, the actress playing Woman, by positioning herself in an in-between space, can be in and out of her role in the course of performance. She addresses the character she is portraying as “she,” and thus carries out a “disinterested observation” of her own performance in the same way that the two big black eyes observe Woman’s actions. As the writer says in the postscript: “The narrator in the play, i.e., Woman, should not be regarded the same as a character. She is both in and out of the character, but still preserving her status as an actress.” At times she appears to share the character’s emotional torments, but mostly she is with the audience, on the outside looking in.

The playwright also requires that the props in the play, the coat-hanger, the building blocks, the jewellery box and the dismembered mannequin, etc. are to be “enlivened,” regarded as living characters, in their encounters with Woman. As in traditional Chinese theatre, the props are the bases and extensions of the performance process. For example, Man turns into a coat-hanger after he has been strangled by Woman; the building blocks are a reminder of Woman’s memories; and the jewellery box represents the grave in which Woman buries herself and her past. Together with the other on-stage but non-speaking actors—the actress who performs the various psychological manifestations of Woman and the actor who plays Man, the ghost, the clown and the Old Man—the props as “living” characters combine to create a “psychological arena” where the drama of Woman’s consciousness is revealed and played out, not only within the heroine herself but also among the various performing roles.

 

Dialogue and Rebuttal對話與反詰(Duihua yu fanjie) (1992)

Gao Xingjian appears to have a love-hate relationship with language. He has said that he wants to enhance the expressiveness of the Chinese language, yet he also condemns the ascendancy of language in modern drama, which he says has deprived the stage of its theatricality. WithDialogue and Rebuttalhe claims to have made a determined effort to destroy language[0-39]and to cast doubts on its meaning-generating functions.[0-40]The play is made up of a series of dialogues between a man and a woman, generically known as Man and Woman, two strangers who have just had a brief sexual encounter. In the aftermath of their physical contact, they shut themselves out from each other in the ensuing conversation, refusing to engage in any meaningful communication. Woman flaunts her sexuality and laments her plight as a woman, but her fear of ageing and dying fails to arouse any sympathetic response in Man. Man is only interested in gratifying his prurient curiosity, as when he listens with relish to Woman’s stories of her sexual caper in India and her alleged rape by her physical education teacher when she was a young schoolgirl. In the absence of love and understanding, only desire is left as the embodiment of physicality, and their conversation merely serves to uncover the loneliness, boredom and futility of their lives.

The dialogues between Man and Woman, invariably short, non-expressive and generally indicative of an indifference towards each other, are interrupted by the characters’ monologues narrated in the second (Man) or the third person (Woman). These digressions evince a move away from the drama between the two characters, who then become the objects of observation, evaluation and commentary by their own alienated selves. At times the monologues, as in the moment of “sudden enlightenment” in Zen Buddhism, serve to expose the truth of the predicaments in which the characters are trapped, but they also further neutralize their relationship. Even though the plot is dependent on the presence of Man and Woman, it is even more dependent on the absence of interaction between them. Communication is only one-way, from the narrating self to the experiencing self, not between the characters, as each is preoccupied in their own cocooned world.

At the end of the first half, the non-communication eventually leads to boredom and a bizarre game of sexual perversion, in which Man and Woman stab each other to death. As inThe Other Shore, language inevitably alienates and ushers in violence. In the second half, communication remains impossible between the kindred spirits, for in most cases, the ghosts of Man and Woman are not talking to each other but to their own dead bodies or to the other’s head lying on the stage floor. At this time, even sexual desire, which was the only channel of interaction in the first half, has lost its attractiveness. Man keeps looking for a door to escape from his predicament even though he knows that there is nothing behind that door, and Woman is preoccupied with reminiscences of the violence and suffering in her life, striving fruitlessly to ascertain her existence by the production of discourse. They are like dancing partners who nonetheless insist on being distanced from each other and shy away from any direct emotional contact. In the end, words have lost their referential function and the game of free association, with its occasional and accidental overlaps of meaning, is the only hint of their participation in a dialogue and of their existence. The irony is that both Man and Woman are already dead, their physical being already taken away from them by their nonsensical game of desire, which was meant to verify their being alive in the first place. Their deaths have prevented them from talking to each other—only their souls are talking to their bodies.[0-41]All that remains in language is a “crack,” the ever-increasing communication gap between humans. At the end of the play Man and Woman have become crawling worms; the reification of their human selves signifies a regression, or a recognition of their true identities and the true nature of human existence.

Witnessing and punctuating this drama of futility is the Monk and his acrobatic tricks. Like Man and Woman, he is also enwrapped in his own world and he makes no effort to communicate, or as Gao Xingjian puts it, there seems to be an invisible wall between the Monk and the other two characters. In one sense he is a foil, for while the acting of Man and Woman is naturalistic, his is highly ritualistic, and when they are hysterical and metamorphosed in the realm of the dead, he is composed, indifferent and above all, wordless, in sharp contrast to their rambling, meaningless verbosity. Even though he remains unfazed from beginning to end, he is not beyond laughing at himself. His attempts at a one-finger headstand, standing an egg on a stick and other antics are illustrations of the futility and frustrations of human endeavours.[0-42]He is transcendental but not totally otherworldly, his antics being the follies of his own humanity. He listens carefully (this is symbolized by cleaning his ears, a gesture imbued with Buddhist meanings), and he observes with indifference that he has seen through the emptiness of human desires and sufferings. Perhaps the personification of Gao Xingjian’s idea of “indifferent observation,” he is content in the wordless wisdom accorded to him by his attainment of the state of Zen. If the drama between Man and Woman is “dialogue,” the Monk’s pantomime tricks are a “rebuttal,” an unspoken challenge to and ultimate denial of any possibility of meaning in language and in life’s activities.

Monk’s on-stage presence invokes a meaning beyond words. His role is meaningful in its meaninglessness, evincing a negative capability discernible in the hopeless world of Man and Woman. There remains in this paradox a capacity, a virtue that comes with the loss of referentiality, an attitude towards life derived from the understanding of the illogicality and the unstated meaning of language in Zen.[0-43]Gao Xingjian claims that he has no intention to promote Zen Buddhism or to expound its teachings: he is only interested in nudging the audience into contemplation, so that they can come close to the state of wordless and unspoken wisdom.[0-44]At the end, the Monk reveals a greyish blue sky, which is eternal and peaceful, a symbol of the quiet acceptance of the way of the universe.

 

Nocturnal Wanderer夜遊神(Yeyoushen) (1993)

The subject matter ofNocturnal Wandereris a dream, and through the dream the inner world of the protagonist, Traveller, is revealed in all its horror and insidiousness. The world of reality, with which the play begins, inspires the dream and provides the dramatis personae for the dream world. Traveller enters the dream world and becomes Sleepwalker, who embarks on a journey of self-discovery in his encounters with Tramp, Prostitute, Thug and Master, the various characters corresponding to the passengers Traveller meets on the train. The metamorphoses of people in the real world into dream world characters are accomplished in and through Traveller’s psyche and its workings: they are imaginings and representations indicative of his secret fears and desires. In this way the dream is set up as an exploration of Traveller’s consciousness.

Gao Xingjian has said that the play is about good and evil, about man, Satan, and God, and about man’s self-consciousness.[0-45]In the dream, goodness, seen as Sleepwalker’s conscience and innate sense of rectitude, is invariably suppressed and displaced by evil, either voluntarily or as an expedient. And Sleepwalker, an everyman figure whose only wish is to take a stroll in the night, just cannot escape being encroached upon by evil—Thug who threatens his life, Master who wants to control his thoughts, and Prostitute who tempts his soul (she later turns into his friend and critic exposing the lies in his life). Man is not born evil; in the case of Sleepwalker, evil is thrust upon him by a world infested with crime and violence. Consequently he is transformed into a murderer more flagitious than Thug or Master, someone who readily abandons his sensibility, his conscience and his sense of morality. He kills Tramp, who with the sagacity of a Buddhist monk represents salvation for his soul, thus depriving himself of any chance of redemption. He even rejects his head, which symbolizes thinking and reason, as he tramples upon it and breaks it into pieces.

At the end of the play Sleepwalker becomes fascinated by evil; in fact, he is obsessed with it. But just when he manages to bury his guilt by rationalization, feeling happy for himself in his newfound pleasure in violence, he encounters his double, perhaps the narrating “I” in the nightmare. The two grapple with each other in a fight: Sleepwalker still has to run the gauntlet of his own self. Traveller has embarked on a journey of being and existence, but he discovers only violence and horror. Evil is ubiquitous in the outside world, but the real horror is that it also lurks inside the self, jumping at any chance to rear its ugly head. Traveller as everyman, or “archetypal man”[0-46]thus finds himself threatened by what surrounds him and what resides within him. In dream as in reality evil is invincible and irresistible, for as Sleepwalker finds out, it is the only means with which to fend for oneself; however, even this recourse to evil represents nothing more than a meaningless resistance against a world of meaninglessness. In the final scene Traveller and all the other passengers are gone; what remains is nothing but an open book which has inspired the nightmare.

There are three levels of consciousness inNocturnal Wanderer, each one penetrating deeper into the psyche of the protagonist. The first level is located in the real and objective world of the train coach; here Traveller speaks in the first person. On the second level, Traveller becomes Sleepwalker in the dream. And as he speaks in the second person, he creates a third level of reality made up of self-reflections, where he takes on the role of observer, insulated from the experiencing self of evil, violence, and gratuitous sexuality, a world he finds inexplicable. What happens in the dream world also reflects on the world of reality, for the characters in the dream, Tramp, Prostitute, Thug, and Master have been transmuted into being through and by Traveller’s feelings towards the world he is living in. The products of his mental processes, these “images of the heart” 心像 have ironically become the masters controlling his consciousness. Gao Xingjian has commented that:

 

Between Life and Death, Dialogue and Rebuttal, and Nocturnal Wandererare concerned with the state of liminality between life and death or between reality and imagination. They also reveal the nightmare in the inner world of man. In these plays, the relationship with reality only serves as a starting point. What I strive to capture is the reality of the feelings in the psyche, a naked reality which needs no embellishment, and which is larger and more important than all the exegeses on religion, ethics, or philosophy, so that human beings can be seen as more human, and their true nature can be more fully revealed.[0-47]

InNocturnal Wanderer, the key concepts are subjectivization and detachment: subjectivization transforms objective reality so as to delve into the meanings hidden behind the facade of the perceptible, and detachment objectifies such transformations as the other, so that a truthful picture of the subject becomes obtainable. Just as he demands that his actors be neutral observers of the performing self, Gao Xingjian also insists that his characters should observe themselves as the other through shifts in narrative mode. In this way the actor and the character he is playing are divided yet unified, and life as a multifaceted reflection of the self is incorporated into art.


Page 6

 

Weekend Quartet周末四重奏(Zhoumo sichongzou) (1995)

Gao Xingjian believes in the constant renewal of his craft. WithWeekend Quartet, his latest play, he appears to have made a determined effort to try his hand at something different—a realistic play devoid of the rituals and magical spectacles of his recent works. Whereas the previous plays are not keen on characterization,Weekend Quartetis peopled by characters with names and individualizing traits. With their varied backgrounds and personalities, they react differently to the dramatic situations in the plot, functioning like the different musical instruments in a quartet ensemble.

There is very little action in the four scenes (“quartets”), and there are no crises pushing the characters to the brink of their sanity as inBetween Life and Death and Nocturnal Wanderer. The story is made up of the kind of everyday happenings one finds in real life—an elderly couple, owners of an old farm in the country, is visited by a young couple whose relationship is as unstable as their older counterparts, and the uneventful plot revolves around their romantic entanglements which, like all of their lives, lead nowhere. Bernard is an old and famous painter. Increasingly weary of living, he is nonetheless afraid of loneliness and of growing old, and he tries to prove what remains of his virility by chasing after the young girls he employs as models. His companion Anne, a more sober and worldly type, has been an aspiring writer all her life, and she is equally obsessed with ageing and dying. To compensate for the lack of attention from Bernard, she flirts with their guest Daniel, a middle-aged writer. Daniel is at the end of his writing career—he has run out of things to write. A lost soul without any commitments, whether it is in ideology or love, he has nothing left in his life except his cynicism. Among this insipid bunch, Cecily, Daniel’s girlfriend, is like a breath of fresh air, even though her liveliness could easily have been contrived. An ordinary girl except for her attractiveness, she does not hesitate to use her charms to her advantage. She has no lofty goals but wishes to find a mate to provide her with food and a roof over her head. Towards the end of the play even she grows tired of her role as thefemme fatale. Her outward liveliness can hardly contain the same death in spirit as that of the other characters.

As with most of Gao Xingjian’s plays,Weekend Quartetis not made up of external actions but of the interior landscapes of the soul. It is a play about characters and also about their self-examinations: they are likened to musical instruments playing life’s sorrowful tunes. Unlike the other plays in this collection, its concerns are not so much existential in a philosophical sense as the fears and worries of ordinary living, the realities of how to accommodate oneself to the banalities of day-to-day living. There are no real crises but trivial conflicts and verbal squabbles which, as in a musical quartet, make up the changes in the mood of the play. Quartets 1 and 2 are expositions and complications, while Quartet 3 is made more sombre with the expose of the characters’ dark inner secrets, and the final Quartet is spirited and gay, ending with a game of disjointed words and phrases in an acceptance of life’s impossibility of meaning. It is as if the play has finally come to terms with life in exploring into the truth of man’s existence.

While the characters are built up in the traditional manner, the audience, in a typical Gao Xingjian manner, also gets to know the truth of their private selves through their monologues, comprising dream sequences, hallucinations, and memory flashes. These lapses into the subconscious punctuate the realistic setting and situations and resonate with a disharmony that characterizes the world of the play. The characters’ self-examinations are unprovoked and are mostly unrelated to the action—as if the play willingly and deliberately suspends itself, forfeiting its illusion of reality and forcing the actors to neutralize their roles under the watchful eyes of the audience. During these monologues, the actors speak in the second or third person to carry out an “indifferent observation” of the characters they are portraying. Despite its realistic subject matter and characters,Weekend Quartetpurposely flaunts its mechanical nature and achieves an artificiality which, coupled with the seemingly contradictory demand for real-life emotions, approximates the playwright’s concept of a modern dramatic performance.

 

Annotation

[0-1]Gao Xingjian 高行健, “Lun wenxue xiezuo”(On Writing Literature), in his Meiyou zhuyi《沒有主義》(None-ism) (Hong Kong: Cosmos Books Ltd., 1996), p. 57.

[0-2]Gao Xingjian 高行健, “Lun wenxue xiezuo”(On Writing Literature), in his Meiyou zhuyi《沒有主義》(None-ism) (Hong Kong: Cosmos Books Ltd., 1996), p. 59.

[0-3]Gao Xingjian, “Geri huanghua”(Day-old Yellow Blossoms), in his Bi’an《彼岸》(The Other Shore) (Taipei: Dijiao Chubanshe 帝教出版社, 1995), pp. 86-87.

[0-4]Zhao Yiheng 趙毅衡, “Gao Xingjian chuangzuolun”(On Gao Xingjian’s Creative Writing), unpublished manuscript, p. 34.

[0-5]Gao Xingjian, “Bali suibi”(Random Thoughts in Paris), Guangchang《廣場》, Feb. 1991, p. 14.

[0-6]Zhao, p. 43.

[0-7]Gao Xingjian, “Chidaole de xiandaizhuyi yu dangjin Zhongguo wenxue”(The Late Arrival of Modernism and Contemporary Chinese Literature), in Meiyou zhuyi, p. 102. First appeared in Wenxue pinglun《文學評論》, No. 3, 1988.

[0-8]Gao Xingjian, “Ling yizhong xiju”(Another Kind of Drama), in Meiyou zhuyi, p. 191.

[0-9]Gao Xingjian, “Wo zhuzhang yizhong lengde wenxue”(I Advocate “Cold Literature”), in Meiyou zhuyi, pp. 18-20. Also in Zhongshi wanbao《中時晚報》, 12 Aug. 1990.

[0-10]Gao Xingjian, “Lun wenxue xiezuo”, p. 54.

[0-11]Gao Xingjian, “Wo zhuzhang yizhong lengde wenxue”, p. 20.

[0-12]Gao Xingjian, “Meiyou zhuyi”, in Meiyou zhuyi, pp. 8-17.

[0-13]Gao Xingjian, “Meiyou zhuyi”, in Meiyou zhuyi, p. 9.

[0-14]Gao Xingjian, “Lun wenxue xiezuo”, pp. 34-35.

[0-15]Gao Xingjian, “Ping Faguo guanyu dangdai yishu de lunzhan”(The Controversy on Contemporary Art in France), in Meiyou zhuyi, p. 281.

[0-16]Zhao, p. 72.

[0-17]Gao Xingjian, “Chidaole de xiandaizhuyi yu dangjin Zhongguo wenxue”, p. 104.

[0-18]Gao Xingjian, “Chidaole de xiandaizhuyi yu dangjin Zhongguo wenxue”, p. 105.

[0-19]Gao Xingjian, “Wo zhuzhang yizhong lengde wenxue”, p. 20.

[0-20]Gao Xingjian, “Juzuofa yu zhongxing yanyuan”(Dramaturgy and the Neutral Actor), in Meiyou zhuyi, p. 254.

[0-21]Gao Xingjian, “Yao shenmoyang de xiju”(The Kind of Drama I Prefer), Lianhe wenxue《聯合文學》, No. 41, 1988, p. 133.

[0-22]Gao Xingjian, “Yao shenmoyang de xiju”(The Kind of Drama I Prefer), Lianhe wenxue《聯合文學》, No. 41, 1988, pp. 136-37.

[0-23]Gao Xingjian, “Wode xiju he wode yaoshi”(My Plays and the Key to My Writing), in Meiyou zhuyi, p. 238.

[0-24]Gao Xingjian, “Wode xiju he wode yaoshi”(My Plays and the Key to My Writing), in Meiyou zhuyi, p. 238.

[0-25]Gao Xingjian, “Meiyou zhuyi”, p. 14.

[0-26]Gao Xingjian, “Wenxue yu lingxue: Guanyu ‘Lingshan’”(Literature and Spiritualism, About Spiritual Mountain), in Meiyou zhuyi, pp. 174-75.

[0-27]Gao Xingjian, “Juzuofa yu zhongxing yanyuan”, pp. 262-63.

[0-28]Gao Xingjian, “Ling yizhong xiju”, p. 191.

[0-29]Gao Xingjian, “Wenxue yu lingxue: Guanyu ‘Lingshan’”〈文學與靈學・關於《靈山》>, p. 175.

[0-30]Gao Xingjian, “Guanyu Bi’an”(On The Other Shore), in Bi’an《彼岸》, pp. 68-69.

[0-31]Gao Xingjian, “Wenxue yu lingxue: Guanyu ‘Lingshan’”〈文學與靈學・關於《靈山》>, p. 175.

[0-32]Gao Xingjian, “Wenxue yu lingxue: Guanyu ‘Lingshan’”〈文學與靈學・關於《靈山》>, p. 174.

[0-33]Gao Xingjian, “Liuwang shi women huode shenme?”(What Have We Gained from Being in Exile?), in Meiyou zhuyi, p. 128.

[0-34]Gao Xingjian, “Guanyu Bi’an”, p. 69.

[0-35]Gao Xingjian, “Guojia shenhua yu geren diankuang”(National Mythology and Personal Lunacy), Ming Pao Monthly《明報月刊》, Aug. 1993, p. 117.

[0-36]Zhao, p. 88.

[0-37]Gao Xingjian, “Guanyu Bi’an”, p. 69.

[0-38]Gao Xingjian, “Bi’an daoyan houji”(Written After Directing The Other Shore), in Meiyou zhuyi, p. 225.

[0-39]Gao Xingjian, “Meiyou zhuyi”, p. 13.

[0-40]Kong Jiesheng 孔捷生, Xiao wutai he da shijie: Yu lu Fa dalu zuojia Gao Xingjian duitan” (Small Stage and Big World: Dialogue with the Dramatist Gao Xingjiang, a Chinese Expatriate in France), Minzhu Zhongguo《民主中國》, No. 16, July 1993, p. 86.

[0-41]Gao Xingjian, “Duihua yu fanjie daobiaoyan tan”(On Directing and Acting in Dialogue and Rebuttal), in Meiyou zhuyi, p. 208.

[0-42]Gao Xingjian, “Duihua yu fanjie daobiaoyan tan”(On Directing and Acting in Dialogue and Rebuttal), in Meiyou zhuyi, p. 194.

[0-43]Gao Xingjian, “Meiyou zhuyi”, p. 13.

[0-44]Gao Xingjian, “Duihua yu fanjie daobiaoyan tan”, p. 196.

[0-45]Kong Jiesheng, “Xiao wutai he da shijie: Yu lu Fa dalu zuojia Gao Xingjian duitan” , p. 86.

[0-46]Gao Xingjian, “Ling yizhong xiju”, p. 191.

[0-47]Gao Xingjian, “Ling yizhong xiju”, p. 191. ….

The Other Shore

 

 

Time: The time cannot be defined or stated precisely.

 

Location: From the real world to the nonexistent other shore.

 

Characters:

 

(The play can be performed in a theatre, a living room, a rehearsal room, an empty warehouse, a gymnasium, the hall of a temple, a circus tent, or any empty space as long as the necessary lighting and sound equipment can be properly installed. Lighting can be dispensed with if the play is performed during the day. The actors may be among the audience, or the audience among the actors. The two situations are the same and will not make any difference to the play. )

The Other Shore. The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, Hong Kong. Directed by Gao Xingjian. 1995.

The Other Shore. The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, Hong Kong. Directed by Gao Xingjian. 1995.

Actor playing with ropes:

Here’s a rope. Let’s play a game, but we’ve got to be serious, as if we’re children playing their game. Our play starts with a game.

Okay, I want you to take hold of this end of the rope. You see, this way a relationship is established between us. Before that you were you and I was I, but with this rope between us we’re tied to each other and it becomes you and I.

Let’s try running in opposite directions. See, now you’re pulling me, but then again I’m also holding you back, like two locusts tied to the same string, neither of us can get away from each other. Of course, we’re also like husband and wife. (Pauses.) But that’s not a good metaphor. If I were to pull the rope real hard towards me, then we’d have to see who’s stronger. The stronger one pulls and the weaker is being pulled. It becomes a tug-of-war, a competition of strength, and there’ll be a winner and a loser, victory and defeat.

Now if I carry this rope on my back like this and pull even harder, you’ll be like a dead dog; likewise if you manage to gain control of this rope, I’ll be like a horse or a cow, and you’ll be able to drive me around like cattle. In other words, you’ll be running the show. So you see, our relationship is not at all constant, it’s not at all unchanging.

Or we can establish an even more complex relationship. For instance if you revolve around me, I’ll be the centre of your orbit, and you’ll become my satellite. But if you don’t wish to revolve around me, I can rotate on my own, thinking that all of you are revolving around me. Are you revolving or am I the one who’s revolving? I could be revolving around you or you could be revolving around me. Who knows? Perhaps we’re both turning at the same time, or maybe we’re both revolving around other people, or maybe those other people are revolving around us both or maybe all of us are revolving around God—maybe there isn’t a God after all, maybe there’s only a universe rotating by itself like a millstone—now we’re touching on philosophy. Never mind, we’ll leave philosophy to the philosophers, let’s just continue to play our game.


Page 7

Everyone of you can pick up a rope and play different kinds of games, the possibilities are endless. Playing with ropes is such a game, that it can be a manifestation of all kinds of interpersonal relationships.

 

(The actors each choose a partner to play the game, using a piece of rope. They can switch partners or briefly make contact with other pairs of players, but the contacts are soon broken. The game becomes increasingly lively, tense, and exciting, accompanied by all kinds of salutations and screams.)

 

Actor playing with ropes:

Okay everybody, let’s knock it off for a moment. Let’s make this game bigger and more complex. Now I want all of you to hold on to one end of your rope and give me the other end. This way you’ll be able to establish all kinds of relationships with me, some tense, some lax, some distant, and some close, and soon your individual attitudes will have a strong impact on me. Society is complex and ever-changing, we’re constantly pulling and being pulled. (Pauses.) Just like a fly that’s fallen into a spider’s web. (Pauses.) Or just like a spider. (Pauses.)

The rope is like our hands. (He lets go one rope and his partner also lets go. The rope falls on the ground.) Or like an extended antenna. (He lets go another and his partner follows.) Or like the language we use, for instance when we say “Good Morning” or “How are you!” (Another rope falls to the ground.) Or perhaps it’s like looking at each other, (Replaces another rope.) or like the thoughts in our minds. (His back is against his current partner, but the two sides are still communicating.) Either you’re thinking of her, or she’s thinking of someone else. (He brushes past her shoulders. She and someone else are gazing into each other’s eyes.) In this way the rope is pulling all of us, binding us together.

We look—

 

(The actors are communicating with one another through pieces of imaginary ropes.)

 

We observe—

We stare—

Then there’s temptation and attraction—

Orders and obedience—

 

(In the following, the performance is accompanied by all kinds of sighs and screams but without resorting to the use of language.)

 

Conflicts—

Intimacy—

Exclusion—

Entanglement—

Abandonment—

Emulation—

Evasion—

Repulsion—

Pursuit—

Encirclement—

Congregation—

Fragmentation—

Dismiss!

At ease!

Now there is a river in front of us, not a piece of rope.

Let’s cross the river and try to reach the other shore.

 

Actors:

(One after another.) Yes, to the other shore! To the other shore!

The other shore! To the other shore! To the other shore! The other shore!

Oh—Oh—Oh

The water in the river is so clear!

So cool!

Watch out, the stones are killing my feet!

How nice!

(Gradually there comes the sound of running water.)

My skirt’s soaking wet!

Is the river deep?

Let’s swim across to the other shore!

Don’t go by yourself!

Look at the water spray, how it sparkles in the sunshine!

What fun, just like a waterfall.

A dam, a river flowing gently down the dam.

Form a line in the middle of the river.

Further down the water’s dark blue, it’s got to be really deep there.

I’ve got some fish wriggling between my legs…

So exciting!

I’m going to fall.

Don’t worry, hold on to me.

There’s an eddy over there—

Look after one another, hold hands.

To the rapid waters.

To the other shore!

No one can see the other shore.

Cut the poetry crap! I’m falling.

Hold tight, one after another now.

Over there the water is deep blue…

Aahh! The water’s over my waist all of a sudden!

I’m getting dizzy.

Close your eyes for a while.

Look in front of you, look ahead, keep your eyes open!

All looking at the other shore.

How come I can’t see it?

We’ll drown, all of us.

We’ll all be fish food.

If we’re going to die, let’s die together.

Girls, stop blabbing, try to concentrate.

The current is very strong, tread in the shallows, try going up stream!

I can’t make it across, I’m sure I can’t make it.

Where’s the other shore?

Sometimes it’s dark, sometimes it’s bright.

Are there lights on the other shore?

There are flowers, lots of flowers on the other shore, it’s a world of flowers.

I’m afraid I can’t make it, please don’t leave me behind. (Sobs.)

Can you feel it? We’re drifting in the river.

Like corks on a string.

And like water weed.

Why are we going to the other shore? I really don’t understand.

Right, why do we want to go to the other shore?

The other shore is the other shore, you’ll never reach it.

But you still want to go, to see what it’s like over there.

I can’t see anything.

No oasis, and no light.

In total darkness.

It’s like this…

No, I can’t make it.

We haven’t been there before.We must get there. But why?

To make a long-time wish come true, the other shore, the other shore.

No, I can’t make it, I want to go home!

None of us can.

Can’t go back at all.

O—!

Who is it?

Don’t know.

(Silence, only the sound of water gurgling.)

Was somebody screaming? Did you hear it?

You must have heard it, but nobody answered.

(Silence. Sound of sobbing.)

This is a ditch of dead water.

There’s only oblivion.

 

(Bewildered, the Crowd slowly walk out of the dead water. Music is faintly heard. The Crowd gradually reach the shore and lie down totally exhausted on the ground. Woman appears in darkness. Like a strand of light mist, she walks around to inspect the people who have lost their memories. She drifts among them, touching and waking them up one by one. They lazily open their eyes and look up, turning their bodies and staring at her. They try to speak but in vain.)

 

Woman:

(Raises her hand.) Look here, this is a hand.

 

(The Crowd utter muddled sounds from their throat.)

 

Woman:

This is a hand.

Crowd:

(Still mumbling.) Th…The…This…ee…ha…han…hand.

Woman:

Hand—

Crowd:

Hand—band—sand—hand—

Woman:

This is a foot.

Crowd:

Th…Th…This…ee…fo…foo…foot.

Woman:

(Pointing to her eye.) Eye.

Crowd:

Ee…ee…eye…eye…

Woman:

(Gesturing.) Your eyes are looking at your foot!

Crowd:

(Totally confused.) Eyes…cook…cook your…own…coot…

 

(Woman laughs, and the Crowd join in the laughter with her, giggling.)

 

Woman:

(Stops laughing, somewhat sad.) This is a hand—

Crowd:

This is a hand, this is a band, this is a sand, this is a hand…

Woman:

This is a foot—

Crowd:

This is a boot, this is a hoot, this is a root, this is a foot…

Woman:

This is a body—your body—

Crowd:

This is a body, this is a body, this is a body your body, this is your body is a body is a body is your body your…

Woman:

(Shakes her head, gesturing more slowly and still being patient.) My hand—my body—my foot—this is me.

Crowd:

My band, my hand, my body, my coot, my hand’s body’s foot’s my coot’s hand’s foot’s body this is my hand’s foot’s body is meat!

Woman:

Say, me—

Crowd:

Say me say me say me say me say me!

Woman:

(Shakes her head and points to herself, from her eyes to her mouth, and from her body to her feet.) Me.

Woman:

(Together at last.) Me.

Woman:

Good!

Crowd:

Food! Hood! Good! Wood!

Woman:

(At once she waves her hand in disagreement. After thinking for a moment, she points at one person among the crowd.) You.

Crowd:

(All pointing at the person.) You!

The person:

(He looks around him and then points at himself.) You!

Woman:

(Shakes her head and helps him to point his finger at someone else.) You.

Crowd:

You.

Woman:

(Gesturing.) Me and you.

Crowd:

Me and you.

Woman:

(Laughs.) Good!

Crowd:

(Also laugh.) Good!

 

(Music. Gradually the tempo of the music becomes faster.)

 

Woman:

Me and him!

Crowd:

Me and him!

Woman:

Them and me.

Crowd:

Them and me.

Woman:

Me and you.

Crowd:

Me and you.

Woman:

You and us.

Crowd:

You and us.

Woman:

Now follow me when you’re seeing with your eyes—

Crowd:

See—

Woman:

Tell me, who do you see?

Crowd:

(One after another.) See him, see you, see me, see them, they see you, you see us, we see them…

Woman:

Now say touch, give, like, and love, and you won’t feel lonely any more.

Crowd:

(Becoming active.) I touch you, you give me, I like him, he loves you, you touch me, I give him, he likes you, you love me…

 

(Man comes out from among the Crowd.)

 

Man:

Who are you?

Woman:

I’m one of you.

Man:

Where are we now?

Woman:

The other shore, which we wanted to reach but couldn’t.

Man:

Are you the same person who drowned while we were crossing the river? (Woman shakes her head.) Are you her soul? (Woman still shakes her head.) Have you been hiding in our thoughts, do you appear only when we think of you? Or are you something like a kind of consciousness? Did you guide us to the other shore so that we wouldn’t get lost?

Crowd:

(At the same time.) I detest you.

I’ll beat you up!

You hate me?

I’ll torture her.

He cheats on me.

You’re swearing at him!

I’ll tell on you.

You punish him!

He plots against me!

I hate you!

You curse him!

I’ll kill you…

Man:

(To Woman.) You’re so kind.

Crowd:

(Turn to face Woman one after another, playing with words.)

You’re so generous.

You’re so lovely.

You’re so despicable.

He’s a bastard.

You don’t say what you mean, you’re a crook.

You’re a double-dealing no-good tramp!

She butters you up, but she’s actually jealous of you.

You’re snaky, you teach us words so that you can talk to our men and seduce them!

You may look so kind and gentle, but who knows if you’re a whore or not?

She’s trying to seduce our husbands!

Stirring up trouble among our brothers.

A buttered bun, look, just look at her—

Keep the girls away from her, she’ll turn them into whores.

She may look prim and proper, but she’s really more corrupt than a common whore.

She’s the one, she makes people panic, there’ll be no more peace in this world.

 

(Woman draws back as the Crowd surrounds her from all sides. They are excited by their own increasingly venomous language. She cannot escape from the stares of the Crowd, so she turns to Man for help and hangs on to him.)

 

Crowd:

(Getting more angry.)

Whore!

Venomous snake!

Witch!

Shameless slut!

 

(Woman holds on to Man and pleads for his protection. The Crowd go wild.)

 

Crowd:

Look, go and take a look!

Pooh!

Dump her!

Drag her away!

Get a hold of her!

Strip her!

Wring her neck! The shameless whore!

 

(The Crowd drag her away from Man and jump on her. In the confusion they strangle her to death. When Man pushes his way into the Crowd and shakes her body, there is no response.)


Page 8

(Witnessing this, the Crowd is stunned.)

 

Crowd:

Dead.

Dead?

Dead?

She’s dead!

 

(The Crowd disperse in a hurry.)

 

Was she strangled to death?

It’s you—

No, he started it.

You shouted first!

I was only following you, you were all shouting.

Who shouted first? Who?

Who shouted first to grab her, strip her and strangle her?

Who?

We all shouted.

I shouted because you did.

I shouted because all of you were shouting.

But she’s dead! Strangled alive!

I didn’t kill her.

I didn’t kill her.

I didn’t kill her.

I didn’t kill her.

I didn’t kill her.

I didn’t.

I didn’t.

Didn’t.

Didn’t.

Didn’t.

But she’s dead for sure, so lovely even when she’s dead.

So beautiful, nobody could help loving her.

Her skin is like jade, it’s got no blemishes, it’s so pure.

Look at her pretty little hands, they’ve got her endless tenderness in them.

My, she’s like a statue of the Bodhisattva!

So pure, so prim and proper.

She gave us language, she brought us wisdom, but she was murdered!

This is the greatest sin of all, you despicable lot!

Who are you talking about?

Murderers! You, all of you!

How dare you smear me? You bastard!

You’re a thug!

You’re a rascal!

 

(The Crowd fight among themselves.)

 

Man:

Are you finished? We killed her, there’s no question about it. It’s you, it’s him, it’s me, and it’s all of us. We’re all in it together! On this desolate other shore, she gave us language, but we didn’t know how to cherish it; she gave us wisdom, but we didn’t know how to use it! We ought to be shocked by what we did, but we’re cowards, we’re too spineless to feel any shame.

Crowd:

What do you think we should do?

We need a leader, a flock of sheep also needs a leader. We’ll follow you.

Man:

I detest you, I detest myself. It’s better for us to go our separate ways.

Crowd:

No, don’t abandon us.

We’ve made up our mind to follow you, and you want to leave us?

Man:

Follow me where? Where can I lead you? (He leaves by himself. The Crowd follow behind.) Don’t follow me! (Troubled.) I don’t even know where I want to go myself. (Stops and tries to figure out where to go. The Crowd still follow him at a distance.)

 

(Mother appears in front of him.)

 

Mother:

Do you still remember me?

Man:

Yes, mother.

Mother:

You’ve almost forgotten me, haven’t you?

Man:

(On his knees.) Yes, mother.

Mother:

(Stroking his head.) Find yourself a girl, you really should start a family.

Man:

But I want to make something of myself.

Mother:

You’re too ambitious.

Man:

(Looks down.) I’m still your son.

Mother:

Are they all following you? Where are you going to take them?

Man:

I don’t know. I only know we should go forward, is that right, mother?

Mother:

My good son. (Embraces his head.)

Man:

Your hands are cold! (Shocked by his discovery.) Mother, is this the world of the dead? Am I in another dimension?

Mother:

There’s nothing to be scared of, son. It’s just a bit dark, a bit cold and damp, that’s all.

Man:

(Leaves her.) How do I get out of here? Mother, I haven’t lived long enough!

 

(Mother turns and disappears. He hesitates for a moment and then follows in a hurry. A young girl blocks his way.)

 

Man:

Who are you? I’ve seen you somewhere, but I can’t recall your name. It seems like we used to live on the same street or something, many years ago. Every day on my way to school I always hoped that I could catch a glimpse of you, even if it’s only your back. My heart would keep on pounding whenever I saw your long ponytail and your crimson red dress, you seemed to be wearing that crimson dress all that time…. I used to follow you, follow you right to your doorsteps, hoping that when you turned around to close the door, you’d at least say one word to me before you went inside, or smile at me just once. But every time you’d only look at me, saying nothing. Oh, I can see those eyes of yours again…(He rubs his eyes and looks more closely, but she has disappeared into the dark shadows of the Crowd.)

(To the Crowd.) We’ve got to get out of this ghastly place. Once we’re away from this darkness we’ll find light ahead of us. With the light there’ll be houses, and we’ll be able to dry our clothes around the stove and drink some hot tea. (Incitingly.) We’d be able to return to our homes, see our families, our wives and husbands, our children and parents, and all our loved ones and those who love us!

(Young Girl appears again from behind the Crowd.) Who are you?

(Blocking her way.) Wait, your name is on the tip of my tongue! It seems like I used to write poetry for you, that we used to go to the movies together and I held your hand in the dark, those tiny frail hands of yours…(She turns and gets away from his grasp. She is now behind him, becoming more illusory. He turns around but cannot see her, no matter how hard he tries.)

She always appeared in my dreams to torment me whenever I was worried and couldn’t set my mind free. I couldn’t recall her name, I couldn’t see her face clearly, I couldn’t even get hold of her presence in any way, but she still kept on tormenting me.

(Speaking to the shadowy Crowd.) Why do you keep following me? I need some peace and quiet, I need to be alone! I don’t need to be stared at by a crowd, I don’t need you, just as you don’t need me. What you need is someone who can guide you, to show you the way, even though once you’ve found a way out, or think you have, you’d put on a spurt, darting away faster than rabbits. And you’d abandon your guide without even taking a second look, just like throwing away a worn-out shoe. I understand, I understand it only too well. You’ve all experienced loving and being loved, possessing and being possessed. I, too, have a right to be in love, to love a woman and to possess a woman, and to be loved and possessed by her. I’m human just like you are, so full of desires and ambitions, I’m what you may call a career-minded man, a man who is competitive yet extremely weak sometimes, and a man who is righteous, compassionate, willing to sacrifice himself and…(He rolls on the ground and wails loudly like a fretting and self-indulgent child.)

 

(The Crowd is stunned. When Man has had enough wailing and is totally exhausted, he settles down and gets up from the floor. He continues his way forward and the Crowd follow silently behind him. A faint light in the dark becomes brighter. A man is seen drinking and playing cards alone under an oil lamp. Man mimes knocking on the door. The Crowd clap their hands three times.)

 

Man:

Sorry to bother you.

Card Player:

(Without lifting his head.) Come in. Take a seat.

Man:

May I ask—

Card Player:

(Tosses a card from his hand. Looks up.) You play cards?

Man:

I’ve played before.

 

(The Crowd try to squeeze in through the door.)

 

Card Player:

Come in, come in. Do you all want to play cards? Close the door for me. I hate draughts, they make the light flicker, which is bad for a card player’s eyes. Alright, let’s form a circle, I’ll be the banker here. All of you will each take a card, and I’ll take one myself, only one, just like you. That’s only fair. The card in my hand will be the trump, there’s got to be a trump, right? And it’s better if I choose the trump card instead of you, it’s more convenient that way. (Turns over his card.) My card is the two of spades. I’m not trying to fly low, luck is all you need when you’re playing cards. Now if you pick a spade, any spade, you’d have a higher number than mine and I’r be the loser and you’d be the winner. But if you didn’t pick a spade, you’d lose no matter what, it doesn’t matter which card you’ve picked. You got me?

Man:

What happens if one wins or loses?

Card Player:

The winner gets to drink the wine in this pot.

Man:

And the loser?

Card Player:

There’ll be a penalty.

Man:

I have no money, no land, no property, and no wife.

Card Player:

But you do have a face, haven’t you?

Man:

I don’t get it.

Card Player:

You’ll find out soon enough. All of you, anyone who loses will stick a piece of paper on his face for me.

Crowd:

That’s easy enough.

How big is the paper?

Any paper?

The thing is, have you really got wine in your pot?

Card Player:

Have a taste first.

Crowd:

It’s good.

What aroma!

Of course, it’s the real thing.

Let me have a sip.

It’s worth playing for.

Card Player:

In a moment you’ll pick your cards. I’ve shown you my card, all of you have seen it, right? Now you can only look at your own card, no ganging up, that’s a no-no.

Crowd:

(Eager to pick their cards.)

That’s nothing, it’s fine with me.

We should play our own games.

Don’t worry, I won’t look even if you let me.

Me, I’m honesty personified.

Integrity comes first, winning and losing second.

Hear! Hear!

 

(Those who have picked their cards are silent.)

 

Card Player:

(To the person who picks first.) Show me your card. You lose.

This Person:

(Nods.) What’s the penalty?

 

(Card Player takes a piece of paper and spits on it. He sticks the paper onto the cheek of This Person, who mutters something. The Crowd watch and laugh. This Person is relieved and laughs with them.)

 

Card Player:

(Turns to another person.) My friend, how about you? (That Person shows his card.) You lose too.

That Person:

Well, give it to me.

Card Player:

Stick it under your chin.

 

(That Person takes a piece of paper, spits on it, and sticks it under his chin. He is somewhat embarrassed, but when he sees the Crowd laughing, he is himself again.)

 

Third Person (Female):

It’s fun.

Card Player:

(Turns towards her.) And you? (She shows her card and hurriedly takes it back.)

Crowd:

Did you win?

You won!

Did you really win?

(She frets demurely and shakes her head.)

Why aren’t you sticking the paper on your face?

Stick the paper on, stick it on!

Come on, it’s the rule, no exceptions allowed.

If you don’t stick it on, we won’t either.

Third Person (Female):

It’s too embarrassing.

Crowd:

You think we’re not?

That won’t do. Stick it on the ear.

Right, on the ear.

Stick it on the nose!

It must be different with everybody, okay? No repetitions.

Everybody gets one.

 

(When the Card Player looks at someone, the person will show his card and then obediently stick a piece of paper on his face.)

 

Crowd:

(Sticking paper to their own faces.)

Fair and square.

No doubt about that.

Nobody tells you to lose, but when you do, you’ve got to take what comes.

Everyone gets a penalty, everyone sticks a paper on their face.

If you haven’t got a paper on your face, you’ll look odd and out of place, and people will be afraid of you.

 

(The strange-looking, papered faces all turn towards Man.)

 

Card Player:

My friend, it’s your turn now.

Man:

Idon’t play.

Card Player:

Everybody plays, why don’t you?

Man:

I find the whole thing very silly. What’s more, I’ve got to go.

Crowd:

Yes, that’s right. We should all be going.

Don’t go by yourself.

Where are we going?

Right, where exactly are we going?

Man:

In any case I’ve got to go.

Card Player:

I’ve got the whole place lit up and I’ve prepared wine. I went through all these troubles just to play cards with you people. I’ve never heard of anyone who comes here and leaves without playing. You shouldn’t have come in the first place!


Page 9

Crowd:

(Stopping Man.) Play!

Come on, be a good sport. Don’t be such a party popper.

Just play one game. Just one.

Play once and then we’ll go.

Man:

Don’t you understand? You’re not really playing cards, he’s playing a trick on you. You can’t win. Your card, yours, and yours are all no trumps, including all the cards still in the deck. The only spade in the deck is in his hand! (Card Player giggles.) Let’s go! Why waste our time on this guy.

Card Player:

There is no such thing as time here. (He blows on the oil lamp and the light flickers, and it gradually turns brighter again.) There is only eternal light. (He takes the lamp and shines on everyone from below the chin. The papered faces look like gargoyles.) I’m a sucker for big crowds. You’re scared, aren’t you?

Man:

You’re a devil.

Card Player:

Why don’t you try feeling their arses? They’ve all got a bristly tail down there! (He points to the Crowd’s bottoms and laughs out loud. Then he pushes a deck of cards in front of Man.) Take a card! Let everyone see if it’s a spade or no trumps? (Turns over a no trump card and flashes it in front of the Crowd.) What is it, is it a spade or not?

Person A:

I can’t really tell.

Card Player:

What’r you say?

Person B:

It looked like—

Card Player:

You must have seen it clearly.

Person C:

I think I saw a—spade.

Card Player:

That’s right! Young lady, what do you think?

Obedient Girl:

Spades.

Card Player:

That a girl. You’ve made my day. Old Sir, how about you?

Person D:

Spades, how can it not be spades?

Card Player:

Bless you. (Suddenly explodes.) How can we let him bullshit us like this and tell us that they’re all no trumps? Huh?

Crowd:

It’s spades.

Of course it’s spades. It can’t be anything else.

No mistake about it.

We all saw it.

We’re all witnesses!

Card Player:

You heard what they said, didn’t you? Why did you lie, why did you insist that a spade is no trump? You’re scared, aren’t you? Have you ever tried eating rat meat? A bouncing baby rat, its hair not fully grown and its eyes unopened, the little creature still squeaking when you dip it in the sauce and put it in your mouth, ready for a bite? If you had, then you’d be brave enough to tell the truth. My friend, I’m gonna give you one more chance to tell the truth. Tell me, was it spades or a no trump?

Man:

I think…that’s still a no trump.

Card Player:

You’re no fun, you make people miserable. Tell me, people, is this guy bad or what?

Crowd:

(Passing the wine pot and taking sips one after another.) Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad…

Card Player:

(Takes the wine from them.) What shall we do with this bad guy?

Crowd:

(Surround Man.) Throw him out!

Tell him to get out of here!

Trouble-maker.

A real pest.

When he’s here, we’ve got no wine to drink.

Teach him a lesson!

Spank him!

Strip him!

Take off his pants!

 

(The Crowd try to take off Man’s pants.)

 

Card Player:

I’m gonna give you a second chance. Think clearly. Think again!

Man:

(Holding up his pants.) But I remember…it looked like a…no trump.

 

(Card Player tucks the wine pot under his arm and turns away. The Crowd pull at Man as if they were teasing a bird.)

 

Crowd:

Tell him to fly!

What? What did you say?

Fly like a bird!

Men are not birds, why should they learn to fly like birds?

Wow, it’s so fun!

Fly!

Lower your head, let your arms fly!

Card Player:

My friend, I refuse to believe that you’re a stubborn man.

Obedient Girl:

(Takes pity on Man.) You can’t turn a spade into a no trump. What’s with you? Please, try to take hold of yourself.

Man:

Maybe it was really a spade…

Obedient Girl:

Then why did you say it was a no trump?

Man:

I think it should be…

Obedient Girl:

But what should be is not necessarily the truth.

Card Player:

You’re a loser because you’re a pighead. What do you mean by “should be”? It either is or isn’t. To hell with “should be.”

Man:

But why can’t we have “should be”?

Card Player:

(Irritated.) Should be my foot! What do you say, should be or not should be?

Crowd:

(Immediately tear at Man.) We don’t want any “should be”!

We want “yes” or “no”!

We want spades, not no trumps!

Down with no trumps!

Spades are the best!

Man:

It…seemed…like a…sp…

Crowd:

(Beating their chests and stamping their feet.) Speak up!

Louder!

Can’t hear you!

You’ve got to clear this up!

Man:

Sp…Spa…It’s spades…(On his knees and collapses.)

 

(The Crowd surround Card Player and perform a strange and awkward dance. They exit.

A woman dressed in a white cotton skirt appears. She covers Man with her skirt, bends down and wraps herself in it as well. The two form a white object which disappears with the gradually approaching drumbeat. The drumbeat builds up into a heart-thumping bang. A scrawny monk comes out jumping and beating a gigantic drum with his fingers, palms, elbows, and knees as if he were bewitched. Zen Master enters, dressed in a Buddhist robe of kasaya, his hands clasped together and his right shoulder bare. Other monks and nuns, all cloaked in grey kasaya, follow Zen Master onto the stage. The Crowd enter in a single file, chanting “Amitabha” as they come. Their chanting is not in any particular order, each singing their own tune and at their own pitch. The chanting comes and goes, combining with the drumbeat into a cacophony of intersecting sounds. Man is following the Crowd; he also chants and looks around him at times. The Crowd all put down a futon, on which they sit with their legs crossed. Man does the same. The drum stops, followed by the sound of a wooden fish[24-1]and an inverted bell.)

 

Zen Master:

(Recites the Vajraccedika prajna paramita sutra, his palms clasped together and his right knee on the ground.) “... How much the Bodhisattvas, the great beings, have been helped with the greatest help by the Tathagata, the Fully Enlightened One. It is wonderful, O Lord, how much the Bodhisattvas, the great beings, have been favoured with the highest favour by the Tathagata, the Fully Enlightened One. How then, O Lord, should good men and women stand, who seek the supreme wisdom, how progress, how control their thoughts?”

After these words the Lord said to the Venerable Subhuti: “Well said, well said, Subhuti! So it is, Subhuti, so it is as you say! The Tathagata has helped the Bodhisattvas, the great beings with the greatest help, and he has favoured them with the highest favour. Therefore, Subhuti, listen well, and attentively!...”

 

(Incense smoke permeates the whole place during the chanting. The Crowd close their eyes in meditation, and Man gradually does so as well. Young Girl appears, her eyes slightly closed. She is squatting in a corner and doing her mental exercise, like a baby who is sleeping not too tightly in a transparent egg shell, its hands and feet pressed against the four walls of the shell. Young Man, who has been hiding behind her, gets up slowly and walks towards Young Girl in gingerly steps. The chanting gradually fades. The Crowd disappear.)

 

Zen Master:

(The sound of chanting can still be heard faintly.) “Monks of the Buddha, nuns of the Buddha, I will teach you how they should stand, who seek the supreme wisdom, how progress, how control their thoughts.”

“So be it, O Lord. With a joyful heart we long to hear,” the Venerable Subhuti replied to the Lord.

The Lord said: “Here, Subhuti, someone who seeks supreme wisdom should produce a thought in this manner…”

 

(Young Man stretches his hand to touch Young Girl’s fingers. Surprised, she wakes and withdraws her hand immediately.)

 

Young Girl:

Stop it!

Young Man:

Are you doing your mental exercise?

Young Girl:

Yes.

Young Man:

May I ask what kind of exercise are you doing?

Young Girl:

They say it’s called Small Circular Heaven.

Young Man:

Is there a Big Circular Heaven as well?

Young Girl:

I don’t know.

Young Man:

You’re doing something you don’t know anything about?

Young Girl:

(Nervously.) Stop interrogating me! Just stop it!

Young Man:

(Mischievously.) Then perhaps you don’t know what’s the use of this exercise? (Grabs her hand.)

Young Girl:

No, don’t, you can’t do that—

Young Man:

Why not?

Young Girl:

I’m scared…

Young Man:

What’s there to be scared of?

Young Girl:

Don’t touch me!

Young Man:

What if I do?

Young Girl:

Then I’r feel the pain.

Young Man:

So you don’t feel any pain right now?

Young Girl:

(Painfully.) I can’t say for sure…

Young Man:

(Grabs her hand by force.) Then for once I’ll let you feel the pain!

Young Girl:

(Begging him and trying to struggle free.) Oh no, don’t…

(Father enters carrying an umbrella. The chanting Zen Master and the meditating Crowd have all disappeared. Only Man is left sitting on the futon with his eyes closed.)

 

Young Man:

Father!

Father:

Don’t get into trouble. Come home with me, now!

 

(Father drags Young Man along.)

 

(Young Girl disappears.)

 

Young Man:

(Turns back to look. Nonchalantly.) Why? It’s not raining.

Father:

I tell you it will.

Young Man:

But it’s not raining now.

Father:

It’ll be too late if it does.

Young Man:

What if it doesn’t.

Father:

It’s going to rain sooner or later! Look, what do you think I’ve brought my umbrella for?

Young Man:

You’ve brought it because you have nothing else to do.

Father:

I’ve been carrying an umbrella all my life!

Young Man:

You’ve brought it upon yourself.

Father:

How dare you talk to your father like that?

Young Man:

Fine, I won’t say anything then.

Father:

Get away from me! Go as far as you possibly can! Don’t even bother coming back to see me. I don’t have a son like you! (Exits angrily.)

 

(Young Man is bewildered. Man is still sitting on the futon meditating. The sound of chanting approaches, but there is no sign of Zen Master.)

 

Chanting Sound:

The Buddha said: Here, subhuti, someone who seeks supreme wisdom should produce a thought in this manner: “As many beings as there are in the universe of beings, comprehended under the term ‘beings’—egg-born, born from a womb, moisture-born, or miraculously born; with or without form; with perception, without perception,—as far as any conceivable form of beings is conceived: all these I must lead to Nirvana, into that Realm of Nirvana which leaves nothing behind…”

 

(Young Man turns and finds a wall of people behind him. He tries unsuccessfully to find a way to get over it. Old Lady comes out from a crack in the “wall.”)

 

Old Lady:

Young man, do you want to go over there?

Young Man:

I just want to take a look.

Old Lady:

Look, look. Everybody wants to take a look. Do you have any money?

Young Man:

(He searches all his pockets and finally takes out a coin.) Here.

Old Lady:

(Laughs out loud.) You want to take care of me with this? Don’t you have anything valuable on you at all? Something your mother gave you, for example?


Page 10

Young Man:

(Suddenly understands.) I’ve got this fountain pen, it has a gold nib, my mother gave it to me for my birthday. (Takes the pen out and hands it over to her.)

Old Lady:

(Takes the pen and inspects it carefully.) Hmm, this is quite nice. (Stuffs the pen into her waist bag and steps aside to reveal a crack in the “wall.”) Now you can go ahead.

Young Man:

(Hesitating.) I’m afraid my mother might find out…

Old Lady:

Will she beat you?

Young Man:

I…I can’t say…

Old Lady:

You’ll just have to lie to her, tell her that you’ve lost it. Don’t you know how to lie?

Young Man:

Mother wouldn’t allow it.

Old Lady:

That’s why you’re still such a kid. I’m telling you, there’s no adult who doesn’t lie, and you know, without lying there’r be no more happy days. All right, just go right through.

 

(Crawling, Young Man goes through the crack of the wall of people. When he looks up he sees Young Girl sobbing quietly on the other side, her hands covering her face. He tries to get up, but two thugs approach and take turns beating him up. Young Girl and the sound of chanting disappear at the same time. Only Man is left sitting on the futon and meditating with his eyes closed.)

 

Plaster Seller:

Dogskin Plasters! Dogskin Plasters! Thirteen generations in the family. Give me internal wounds, external wounds, fractures, strains and contusions, give me rabies, heart-attacks, infant convulsions, geriatric strokes, lovesick young men and women, unspeakable depravity and the possessed, stick one on and you’ll be as good as new. The first don’t work, the second will... Dogskin Plasters! Dogskin Plasters! Taken junky home remedy? Swallowed the wrong drug? No problem! Infertile women, impotent men, sinners and delinquents? Sure thing! Oh yes, and the stutterers, the crooked mouthed, jealous women, avenging men, fathers who love not the mothers, sons who listen not to their old men, pockmarked faces, tinea feet, one plaster cures all. The first don’t work, the second will. Satisfaction guaranteed or your money gladly refunded…. Dogskin Plasters! Come and get the miracle Dogskin Plasters! Don’t miss this golden opportunity! Your chance in a life time!

 

(Young man, on the outside of the Crowd’s circle, finally manages to get up from his feet. Mad Woman enters.)

 

Mad Woman:

(Approaching Young Man.) They say I’m a whore, but they didn’t say anything when they sneaked into my bed to sleep with me. They say I’m bad as if they haven’t been bad before, as if they haven’t had fun with a woman’s body before!

 

(Young Man retreats and hides himself from her. The Crowd turn to face them.)

 

Crowd:

Here comes the mad woman.

The mad woman’s here!

The mad woman’s here!

Mad Woman:

You’re mad!

Crowd:

Look, look at her.

She’s talking crazy again.

Mad Woman:

You’re talking crazy.

 

(The Crowd happily break out in laughter.)

 

Plaster Seller:

(At the same time.) If you’ve got money, give me money, if you don’t, stay and watch the show! Dogskin Plasters for sale! (Throws a bundle of plasters on the ground.) Big sacrifice! Everything must go! Pay what you will. Cheap! Cheap! Cheap!…Pooh! You stinking whore! (Puts away plasters and exits.)

Mad Woman:

You’re cheap! (The Crowd laugh at her again.) What are you laughing at? Go laugh at yourselves! What things you wouldn’t do to get into a woman’s pants! You all look like you’re human, but actually you’re all dogs, dogs, dirty dogs.

Men in Crowd:

(To women in the Crowd.) Stop her wagging tongue.

Take her away.

Mad Woman:

Why? You’re scared because I’ll tell on you, right? You’re hiding something, aren’t you? Right, keep away from me, as far away as you can. I know exactly what’s going on in those shitty little heads of yours. (Snickers.)

 

Men in Crowd:

Take her away! Take her away!

 

(Women in the Crowd come forward to drag Mad Woman away.)

 

Mad Woman:

You’re afraid too, aren’t you? You’re afraid I’ll say that all of your husbands, every single one of them, have slept with me? Afraid because you’ll become like me, dumped by your men after they’ve gotten their rocks off? Afraid your husbands will know you’ve screwed other men? Afraid people will find out you’d lost your cherry before you got married?

Crowd:

Gag her!

With horse shit!

With bull shit!

Shut her big mouth!

Mad Woman:

(Grappling with Women in the Crowd.) Haven’t you got off with a man before? You’re like me, you can’t take your hands off your men after they’ve screwed you…

 

(The Crowd move forward to tie up Mad Woman with ropes and gag her mouth. Crying and wailing, she becomes hy- sterical, but is finally dragged away by the Crowd. Young Man watches in astonishment and leaves with the Crowd. Man, who has been sitting and meditating on the futon, also disappears at the same time. Immediately afterwards, he returns from the other side with his Shadow. Shadow is dressed in black and has on black headgear which covers his face. Man and Shadow do not look at each other. They talk only to themselves, but their steps and movements are synchronized.)

 

Man:

A seed falls on to the soil—

Shadow:

A child is born onto the world—

Man:

A gust of wind blows through the forest—

Shadow:

A horse gallops on the plateau—

Man:

A grain of sand falls into the eye—

Shadow:

An eye is crying tears—

Man:

The tears fall on the parched desert—

Shadow:

Like entering a bustling marketplace—

Man:

People squashing people, but their eyes can’t be seen—

Shadow:

Seeing dead fish one by one—

Man:

That’s a lonely city—

Shadow:

Pop singers are yelling and screaming to exhaustion—

Man:

Only the stars can hear the wind chimes ringing—

Shadow:

It is not our hearts that are ringing—

Man:

It’s the electric guitars picking your nerves—

Shadow:

You jump three times, nine times, eight times, seven times and you’re out of breath—

Man:

Just because you’re no hero—

Shadow:

More like a popular and low-minded farce—

Man:

An out-of-tune trumpet blows, blows, blows, blows and blows—

Shadow:

The conductor has to be right—

Man:

Everyone says he’s 180% painful—

Shadow:

Only one minute’s happiness—

Man:

It’s not the time for drinking beer—

Shadow:

Chicago Nuremberg—

Man:

Once there was a war—

Shadow:

Only sparrows were killed—

Man:

Soldiers didn’t fight, they only stood on guard—

Shadow:

And those standing on guard got to wear medals—

Man:

Who is the person speaking to me?

Shadow:

It is your shadow, your thoughts spoken out loud—

Man:

You’re always following me—

Shadow:

When you have lost your self—

Man:

You’ll come and remind me and double my trouble?

Shadow:

What are you looking for so desperately?

Man:

Now that you’ve reminded me! I’ve definitely lost something, can you tell me where to look for it?

Shadow:

(Sarcastically.) You probably do not know what you are looking for?

Man:

It appears to be…isn’t everyone looking for it?

 

(The Crowd enter. They form a circle and bend down to look for something in the circle, like children at play.)

 

Shadow:

It would not hurt to ask them what you are looking for. (Takes the chance to leave and disappear.)

Man:

Excuse me, are you looking for—

Person A:

A needle, they say you can lead a camel through the eye of this needle.

Man:

(To another person.) Excuse me, can you tell me what you’re looking for?

Person B:

Looking for a place where I can sit comfortably and securely. Once I’m there, I won’t leave the seat ever again. (Whispering.) I have haemorrhoids, I can’t sit on any wooden bench.

Man:

And, what are you looking for?

Person C:

(Stuttering.) I…I…I am…looking for a…a…mouth…which can…s…s…peak…for me. I…I…have to s…s…speak a lot…of…of…words ev…every…every day.

Man:

And you, young man?

Person D:

I’m looking for a rice bowl! You have everything, but I don’t even have a rice bowl!

Man:

Of course, I know, I know it’s very important to have a rice bowl. Go for it. Keep looking. (To another person.) Excuse me, I didn’t do it on purpose. (Removes his foot.) What are you looking for?

Person E:

I’m looking for a pair of shoes that fits. I don’t know why my shoes pinch. I want to know—

Man:

I’m also looking for—

Person E:

Do your shoes pinch too?

Man:

My shoes don’t pinch, but I don’t know where my feet should be going.

Person E:

You just have to follow other people’s footsteps.

Man:

Are you also looking for other people’s footsteps?

Person F:

(Laughing playfully.) I’m looking for a hole I can sneak through without anyone noticing me. And then I’ll come out on the other side swaggering.

Man:

How about you, my friend? You don’t look like the sneaky type.

Person G:

You’re right.

Man:

Can you tell me what are you looking for?

Person G:

Looking for my childhood dream.

Man:

It must be a very beautiful dream. (To another) And you? Are you looking for a dream too?

Person H:

No, I’m looking for a sentence.

Man:

Are you writing a poem?

Person H:

Everybody can write poetry, just like everybody knows how to make love.

Man:

Then you’re—

Person H:

Thinking! Everyone’s got a mind, but not everyone can think.

Man:

You’re right. What you’re looking for must be an epigram.

Person H:

I’m not sure if it’s an epigram. The problem is, if I didn’t find this sentence my thoughts would be cut off, and thoughts which have been cut off are like a cut-off kite, you’ll never be able to retrieve it again. Without a sentence you just can’t think, because thinking is like a chain, each ring is linked to the next one. You understand?

Man:

Young lady, how about you? What are you looking for?

Young Lady:

Take a guess.

Man:

It must be something to do with love.

Young Lady:

You’re so right! I’m waiting for a pair of eyes, tender, profound, and burning with passion—

 

(He avoids the young lady, but he bumps into another person.)

 

Person I:

Don’t step on my toes!

Man:

Oh, I beg your pardon.

Person I:

Never seen anyone who walks like you.

Man:

Neither have I. I’m going that way.

Person I:

Everyone’s looking here, what are you going to do over there?

Man:

There is nothing I want here.

Person I:

What are you looking for?

Man:

(Troubled.) I don’t know what I’m looking for.

Person I:

Everybody, look! The man is a weirdo, he doesn’t know what he’s looking for!

Person J:

He must have found it already.

 

(The Crowd surround Man.)

 

Man:

No, I haven’t. Really I haven’t. (Walks away.)

Stable Keeper:

(Coming out from the Crowd.) Where are you going?

Man:


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Over there.

Stable Keeper:

You haven’t found anything yet, right? How come you’re going over there?

Man:

I’m not going to look for anything any more. I just want to go over there.

Stable Keeper:

We’re all looking here, but you insist on going there.

Everybody:

Shall we let him?

Crowd:

No!

Absolutely not!

He can’t go.

Just wait until we’ve all found it, then you can go.

Man:

Let me explain.

Crowd:

There’s no need, we already know.

We’ve been looking, you’ve been looking, everybody’s been looking, but no one’s found anything. Why do you want to go there now?

It won’t do.

When we say no, we mean no.

If you quit looking and we quit looking, then you can go there. But everybody’s still looking right now and you insist on going, of course we won’t let you.

How can you?

If we’re going to quit, we should all quit. So if we’re going to look, we should all be looking, right?

Man:

I don’t have anything to do with you.

Stable Keeper:

My friend, we’re treating you like a friend, don’t you see? (To the Crowd.) Try again to make him understand. Okay, let’s start from the beginning.

Crowd:

(One after the other.) That’s to say, yes, no, everybody looks or nobody looks, even if nobody looks or everybody looks, not looking is not the same as not wanting to look, the question is whether we can look and find it—

Man:

What if I don’t want to look?

Crowd:

You don’t want to look, sure, okay, we can’t force you to if you don’t want to, if you don’t want to look, it doesn’t mean nobody should look, and if everybody looks then you can’t be not looking, nobody looks you don’t look no more, everybody wants to look and you don’t look, everybody looks for everybody, you don’t look for everybody, you don’t look and everybody looks, you look or not you don’t look everybody looks you look or not nobody looks you look everybody looks—

Man:

(Can’t control himself.) I’m going my way! I’m not bothering anybody, and nobody’s going to bother me, okay?

Stable Keeper:

I’ll give it to you straight: No way! You’ve found it but we haven’t, it just won’t wash!

Man:

But I haven’t found anything!

Stable Keeper:

Then keep looking.

Man:

I’m not looking here any more. I—want—to—go—there.

Stable Keeper:

Don’t you know the rules here? We’ve told you over and over again, why can’t you admit that you’re wrong and change your ways?

Crowd:

What’s happening?

What’s happening?

Son of a bitch, he’s looking for trouble!

Stable Keeper:

Wait, this is no good, it’s so uncivilized. If he doesn’t want to repent, let him. We won’t make it difficult for him. Just tell him to crawl through here. (Pointing to his crotch.) What do you say?

Crowd:

(Bursting into laughter.) Wonderful!

 

(Silence. Surprisingly, Man crawls through Stable Keeper’s crotch. The Crowd is shocked and disappears. Man picks up a key while he is crawling. Shadow enters immediately.)

 

Shadow:

A key? That is correct. You must have been looking for a key like this one. Yes, yes, the key is what you have been looking for!

 

(Man is on his knees, inspecting the key in his hand. He then stands up and walks to centre stage and uses the key to open an imaginary door. He pulls hard on the big and heavy door and manages to open it. He walks inside. Shadow exits. Silence everywhere.)

 

Man:

(Inquiring.) Hello—(Echo: Hello—hello—hello—hello—hello—) Ah—(Ah—Ah—Ah—Ah…Ah…Ah…The echoes seem to make the room more hollow and deserted.) Anybody home? (Echo: Anybody home? Anybody home? Anybody home? Anybody home? Anybody home?…) Nobody has ever set foot in here before for sure…(Echo-like murmuring: so lonely, so lonely, so lonely, so lonely.) (Man looks around and finds that some objects are hidden under the cover of a piece of black cloth. He carefully pulls out a bare woman’s arm from under the black cloth.)

 

Man:

(Shocked.) O—

 

(Simulated female voice sighs, echoing: O…O…O…O…O…. The voice seems to make him more enthusiastic. He begins to clear out what lies beneath the black cloth more diligently, and he pulls out a woman’s leg.)

 

Man:

(Excited.) Ah!

 

(There is another series of simulated female voice calling urgently: Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!…Finally Man discovers a female mannequin hidden under the black cloth. He lifts the mannequin out and lays it down carefully. He admires it and then starts to move its hands and feet. And with increasing passion and energy, he fiddles with its shoulders, arms and the whole body, bringing it to a rather awkward forward leaning position. He turns the head around, and groping and touching, he manages to create various facial expressions. Every change he makes on the mannequin is accompanied by a simulated female voice akin to mechanical sound. The dif- ferent expressions on the mannequin’s face, including joy, pain, bewilderment, and peaceful staring, are also accompanied by music expressing the same sentiments in a simulated female voice. He puts the head straight so that it is staring at a not-so-distant place in front…. Then he stops and tries to figure out what to do next.

He becomes more excited now. One by one he pulls out more male and female mannequins and arranges them into a kind of pattern. After thinking for a while, he decides to put a piece of headgear on the first model. He keeps rearranging the pattern, his feet dancing to the beat of the increasingly loud music. The pattern changes according to one or more rules of his own making and at a speed which can only be observed in an instant. Gradually he finds himself hemmed in by the pattern and becomes one of its composite parts, and he crawls busily back and forth in between the mannequins. The process is a sustained and intense consumption of will power and strength.

Now the mannequins form a gigantic collective pattern using the first mannequin as its centre. As they move about, the pattern keeps changing slowly yet unstoppably. Man runs around in a hurry, jumping, moving, and rolling among his own creations. Highly excited, he calls out and responds to the mannequins in all kinds of non-language shouts and screams. This is a process of constant discovery, renewal, rediscovery, and further renewal. But gradually the objects no longer obey his commands and the sounds they make begin to overwhelm his shouts. As he is totally drawn in among them, he gradually becomes weaker, and it becomes difficult for him to get out. After a long while he finally manages to crawl out like a worm, utterly exhausted. His creations roaringly gyrate past him and slowly disappear.)

(Shadow appears again, keeping a certain distance from him.)

 

Shadow:

(Narrates in a serene voice.) Then winter came along. It was snowing hard that day, and you walked barefoot on the ice to experience the bone-chilling cold. You seemed to feel that you were Jesus Christ, that you were the loneliest person, the only person who was suffering in this world. You felt that you were pervaded by the spirit of self-sacrifice, even though you were not sure for whom you would be sacrificing yourself. Yes, you did leave your footprints in the snow, and in the distance was a hazy, misty forest.

 

(Totally worn out, Man walks into a simulated forest made of human bodies.)

 

Shadow:

(Following him.) You walked into the dark and shady forest. The trees, every one of them, had already shed their leaves, stretching out their shaven branches like naked women. Somberly they stood in the snow, lonely and speechless. You could not help wanting to tell them about your sorrows and torments. You recalled the time of your youth, when you waited for her on the roadside for a long long time. That day it was also snowing, and you were determined to tell her that you loved her. You want to say that at the time you were still young and innocent, but now you have sinned deeply, and you will never be able to go back to those early days any more. You have long lost your faith in people, your heart has grown old and it will not love again. Your only wish is to go walking among the trees in the forest until you are totally exhausted. Then you will collapse somewhere, hoping never to be found.

 

(Finally Man leans against a tree to take a breath. Shadow comes closer and closer, observing him.)

 

Shadow:

In fact it is nothing more than a kind of self-pity. You are unwilling to end like this, you are so vain. (Exits.)

 

(The tree Man has been leaning against bends down its trunk and speaks in a human-like voice: “Oh, here you are.” Then all the trees in the forest move slowly towards him like monsters. They reveal their human forms and become the Crowd, all dressed in mourning clothes.)

 

Crowd:

(They speak and move, but they are unfeeling and expressionless.)

We’ve been looking all over for you.

Come on, take us to the pub to have a drink.

You’re our host, how come you’re here in the snow?

You’re a giant, and we have to look up to see you.

You’re famous, so famous that we’re scared of you.

We admire you, but we don’t want to idolize you.

You’re no more than a crook, only we don’t have your tricks.

Get up and come with us.

You should donate money to our charities for children, you must know that children need money the most.

You went through the forest alone, a forest even the devil fears to tread, you’re number one.

You’re a pathfinder, you’ve walked out a road nobody wants to walk on, you’ve led people astray.

You’re lucky, not everyone is as lucky as you are. It’s not that you’re more talented than the others, it’s only that they don’t get the chance to show what they’ve got.

You’re the tops, let’s us give him a pat on the behind!

 

(The Crowd laugh coldly and sinisterly. Some start to pull at him and grapple with him.)

 

Crowd:

(Suddenly.) Here he comes!

Talk of the devil.

Make way.

 

(Shadow backs in as the Crowd step aside to make way for him.)

 

Man:

(Weakly.) Who are you?

Shadow:

Your heart.

 

(As the Crowd watch the drooping, blind, and deaf heart slouching past them, Shadow quietly drags Man away. The Crowd slowly follow behind the heart which is extremely old and actually invisible. All exit.)

 

(One by one the Actors enter from the other side.)

 

Actors:

We set off before dawn. The morning dew was thick, and in the dark we heard the cows breathing while they were chewing grass on a small hill nearby. In the distance, the river bend was enveloped in a shade of deep blue light brighter than the sky.

He told us a fable.

I dreamed that there’s a piece of ivory in my stomach, it scared me to death!

Have you thought of becoming a bird?

Why a bird? I’m happy with the way I am, and he says he loves me.

Faulkner.

I like “Roses for Emily.”

I called you up many times.

Do you know how to read palms?

No need for any explanations, you don’t have to explain any more!

This kitten is so cute.

I think I’ve seen you somewhere.

I have a sweet tooth, and I’m also a sucker for sour milk.

Your hair looks so nice, is it real?

 

(The sound of a baby crying.)

 

Sweetie, oh, sorry, I forgot to change your diapers!

 

(The sound of a car engine starting.)

 

How are you going to get back?

It’s so bad, what kind of stupid play is this anyway?

Are you doing anything tomorrow? Shall we have dinner together?

 

(Sounds of a baby crying, a car engine starting and running, bicycle bells and the trickle of running water from a tap, and in the distance, the siren of an ambulance.)

 

Theend

Some Suggestions on Producing The Other Shore

1. The so-called “spoken drama” (huaju) tends to emphasize and highlight the art of language; in order to free drama from its constraints and to revive drama in all its functions as a performing art, we have to provide training for a new breed of modern actors. As with the actors in traditional operas, these new actors must be versatile, and their skills should include singing, the martial arts, stylized movements and delivering dialogues. They should also be able to perform Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekov, Aristophanes, Racine, Lao She, Cao Yu, Guo Moruo, Goethe, Brecht, Pirandello, Beckett, and even mimes and musicals. The present play is written with the intention of providing an all-around training for the actors.


Page 12

2. An ideal performance should be a unity of somatics, language, and psychology. Our play is an attempt to pursue this unified artistic expression and to assist the actors to achieve this goal. In other words, we should allow the actors the chance for linguistic expression in their search for suitable somatic movements, so that language and somatics are able to evoke psychological process at the same time. For this reason, during rehearsals and actual performances, it is not advisable to separate dialogue from movement, i.e., to memorize only the dialogue, to do reading as in common practice, or to strip the language and transform the play into a mime. Certain scenes in the play do not feature dialogue, but there are still other aural expressions, which could be regarded as a kind of sound language.

3. Even though our play is abstract, the performance should not aim at sheer conceptualization in the stark fashion of the play of ideas. Our aspiration is to achieve a kind of emotive abstraction through performance, i.e., a non-philosophical abstraction. The play seeks to set up the performance on the premise of non-reality, and to fully mobilize the imagination of the actors before evoking abstraction through emotion. Therefore the performance requires not only the unity of language and somatics but also the unity of thought and psychology.

4. Except for a few simple props, the performance does not require any scenery. The characters’ relationships with their surroundings and other objects are contingent upon life-like dialogue and communicative exchanges in the play. In the case of monologues or in the absence of dialogue, music, sound effects, movement, the look of the eyes and changes in posture could also take on performing roles, so that the props and surroundings will not be relegated to being inanimate objects or mere adornments.

5. The play highlights the performance’s ability to ascertain in the mind of the audience the existence of non-existing objects, for instance a decrepit heart, a concrete or abstract river. We may say that this is the inherent difference between a film and a theatrical performance. Even though the play itself relies heavily upon imaginary surroundings, relationships and acting partners, real and life-like objects can be deployed as stage props at the beginning of the performance. For instance, an interpersonal relationship could be established through a piece of rope. Once an actor is equipped with the capability to relate with others, he can easily communicate with his non-existent partners anytime, anywhere. He can also materialize his non-existent partners through his power of imagination, making them come to life and communicate with them, even though they have been created through his own imagination and are actually non-existent.

6. Grotowski’s training method aims at helping the actor to discover his own self and to release its potential through big-movement exercises which also relax both body and mind. Thus he calls this type of performance a form of sacrifice. Our play’s performance helps the actor to ascertain his own self through the process of discovering his partners. If the actor, without being obsessed with his own self, is consistently able to find a partner to communicate with him, his performance will always be positive and lively, and he will be able to gain a real sense of his own self, which has been awakened by action, and which is alert and capable of self-observation.

7. The play demands that the actors abandon completely the kind of performance dependent upon logic and semantic thinking. The liveliest performances are exactly those which are intuitive, improvisational, and on the spur of the moment. On the stage as in real life, the actor sees with his eyes, hears with his ears, and captures his partners’ reactions with his free-moving body. In other words, a performance can only be lively without the use of intellect. Therefore it is best not to resort to literary analysis outside of theatrical performance or to uncover hidden meanings in the text in performing the play.

8. Our play aims at training actors who can be as versatile as the actors in Chinese traditional operas, but it is not our intention to create a new set of conventions for modern drama, because the latter aspires to the kind of acting which is non-formulaic, unregulated, and flexible. Before the actual performance, the actor should enter into a state of competitiveness similar to that of an athlete before a game, or of a cock preparing to slug it out in a cock-fight, ready to provoke as well as to receive his partners’ reactions. Thus the performance must be fresh, regenerating, and improvisational, which is essentially different from gymnastic or musical performances.

9. The play’s performance strives to expand and not to reduce the expressiveness of language in drama. The language in a play is voiced language, but it is not limited to beautifully written dialogue. In this play, all the sounds uttered by the actor in the prescribed circumstances are also voiced language. If an actor has learned to communicate using fragmented language which features unfinished sentences, disjointed phonetic elements, and ungrammatical constructions, he will be better able to make the unspoken words in the script come to life as voiced language.

 

The above suggestions are for reference only.

 

 

Annotation

[24-1]A percussion instrument made of a hollow wooden block, used by Buddhist priests to make rhythm while chanting scriptures.

Between Life and Death

 

 

Characters:

An actress playing Woman

A clown playing Man, Ghost, and Old Man

A female dancer playing Woman’s imagination

 

Objects:

A clothes rack on which is hung a man’s suit

A woman’s jewellery box

A mannequin’s arm and leg

A small house made of toy blocks

A withered tree and its shadow

A piece of rock

Between Life and Death. Théâtre Renaud-Barrault Le Rond-Point, Paris, France. Directed by Alain Timárd. 1993.

Between Life and Death. Centre for Performance, University of Sydney, Australia. Directed by Gao Xingjian. 1993.

Between Life and Death. Dionysia Festival mondial de Théâtre contemporain, Veroli, Italie. Directed by Gao Xingjian. 1994.

 

(An empty and dimly lit stage. Woman has on a long skirt and a large black shawl. She has a pale complexion. Man is behind her to one side. He is wearing a black tuxedo; his complexion is even more pallid. The two remain motionless for a long time.)

 

Woman :

(She wants to say something but stops. Eventually she cannot hold back and speaks in an indifferent voice.) She says she’s had enough, she can’t take it any more!

 

(Man raises his hand slightly.)

 

Woman :

(Cannot control her outburst.) She says she can’t understand how she’s managed to endure it, to put up with it for so long until now. Him and her, she says she’s talking about him and her, their relationship just can’t go on like this, it’s not living or dying, and it’s been so difficult, so enervating, so uncommunicative, so muddled, and so entangled. It’s so sickly and so tense that her nerves are going to snap at any time. She’s talking about her spiritual being, the spirit and the nerves are all but the same thing, there’s no need to be so picky about words!

 

(Man shrugs his shoulders.)

 

Woman :

(Keeps on talking garrulously in the same manner as before.) She says she can’t understand, really can’t understand how it could’ve come to be like this. She can’t explain it clearly, it’s just like a ball of unruly hemp, all tangled up. She’s not talking about him, she knows perfectly well what he’s thinking in his head; she’s talking about him, who’s been disturbing her to no end, driving her to be so jumpy and so harried. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about, she doesn’t know whether she’s made herself clear enough.

 

(Man makes a face.)

 

Woman :

(Somewhat irritated.) She says this is exactly what she can’t put up with, the cynicism, the quizzical attitude! But she’s dead serious, she wants to talk it over with him calmly and in control of herself. Don’t you think he understands? But once their talk touches on the subject, he’ll put on the same old expression, and she just can’t help getting herself all stirred up! She can’t stand it any more, she can’t keep on like this any longer, she means the relationship between him and her.

 

(Man puts on a bitter expression.)

 

Woman :

(Somewhat weary.) She says she knows exactly how he’ll react once she mentions it. She’s seen it countless times, she has long had a taste of his hypocrisy. He’s a coward, he has no manliness left in him whatsoever, yet he still wants to pull a fast one and pretend to be somebody. She doesn’t understand how she could live with him, eat dinner with him at the same table, stay with him in the same room, and sleep with him on the same bed, go places together like a man and his shadow, and still have nothing to say to each other.

 

(Man is silent.)

 

Woman :

She says she knows he’s got nothing to say, what more can he say? He’s said all he wanted to say and could say, the beautiful lies and all that sweet talk, with so much gallantry and so much flattery. He could’ve readily repeated them to anybody, any woman. Only when he’s with her, he’ll pretend and conceal himself behind his silence—

 

(Man opens his mouth and attempts to speak.)

 

Woman :

No, it’s better for him not to say anything. She says she knows he’ll just repeat the same old tune again. She’s grown sick and tired of it, she can’t take it any more. She doesn’t want to hear that hypocritical voice coming from the bottom of his throat, the reluctant laughter, a laughter which is cold and obsequious and harbours an insidiousness which cannot contain itself. His sophistication and his manners, they’re a sham, a total sham! He was only playing to the occasion, but now the play is over. He had planned everything, he knew how the whole thing would end even before it got started.

 

(Man presses his lips together, quite at a loss.)

 

Woman :

She says she knows him only too well, she can read him like a book, now there’s only indifference in her eyes. The astuteness, intelligence, and passion that she saw in his smiling eyes, they all came from his glasses. Now that the glasses are taken off, there is no more glitter, only weariness, iciness, and cruelty, just like his selfish heart, where there is only egotism and unconcern. He only wanted to take without giving, to possess her, and to enjoy himself, he got what he wanted, he has used her and played with her, now there’s only boredom and apprehension. But he’s still holding back, waiting for her to explode first. She’s no fool, who doesn’t know about his bag of tricks? (Snickers.)


Page 13

 

(Man pouts his lips and keeps shaking his head.)

 

Woman :

She says there’s no use shaking his head. No shaking can shake her determination, no shaking can change her mind, and no shaking can ever refute or erase the harm he has done her. Any more shaking will be meaningless, it won’t cover up the hypocrisy in his heart. He’s never been faithful to her, never—

 

(Man raises his right hand, attempting to explain.)

 

Woman :

(Shouts.) She doesn’t want to hear it! She doesn’t want to hear the lies! Save them for the bobby-soxers! His sugary talk has been a fraud from beginning to end. She’ll never again believe that there’s true love in the world, don’t talk to her about loving or not loving!

 

(Man opens his left hand, so that his right hand faces up and his left hand faces down, striking a strange pose.)

 

Woman :

She says if she wanted to possess she’d possess everything, if she wanted to love she’d love with all her heart, she wouldn’t allow even the tiniest bit of untruth, otherwise, she’d rather have nothing at all. She wanted to possess him, to possess all their feelings together, even if they should be darkness personified, all the sounds and movements of darkness. But she’d already known that there was no way she could possess this man completely. The darkness, the whispers, suffocation, tolerance, agony and happiness they shared together, he also shared them with other women in the same way. She’s not the only one, she might as well sever their relationship and leave him once and for all.

 

(Man changes his pose. Now his right hand faces down and his left hand faces up, striking an equally strange pose. He then raises his hands up high and does a flip in the air, landing with his back facing the audience.)

 

Woman :

(Starts muttering.) She says she doesn’t understand how there could be so much disloyalty and betrayal, so much indifference among people and between men and women, it’s so frustrating, so disheartening, and so unbearable. The dating games, trendy clothing, genuine and fake jewellery, woman’s vanity and man’s attention are all deceptions. Movies, pop stars, dancing parties, theatre-going, and even taking a trip together are nothing but excuses to flirt and make out, what follows is either contraception or litigation. The disapproval on a man’s face and a woman’s tantrums, they don’t mean anything to her any more, all she wants to do is to cry her heart out, just like a small child—

 

(Man slowly turns his head. Somewhat moved, he takes out a dark blue silk kerchief from his suit pocket and squeezes out a teardrop.)

 

Woman :

(At a loss.) But she says she’s run out of tears, there is only hopeless solitude now. She just wants to lock herself up and refuse to see anybody. She’s afraid when the telephone rings, the sudden ringing makes her heart jump, she has unplugged the phone. She can’t stand the noise of cars coming and going, when they brake or when someone starts the engine outside her window, she’s agitated to no end. She is also afraid of lights, the colour of the lampshade, the crimson carpet, the pillow cases with violets embroidered on them, and the leather slippers on the shaggy carpet. What she detests most is this picture of him in the gilded picture frame beside the tulip-shaped wall lamp, so shamelessly full of himself!

 

(Man lowers his head.)

 

Woman :

(Somewhat tired, she takes off her shawl and casually throws it on the floor.) She says she doesn’t know why she has said all this. What was said has been said already. She feels relieved once it’s said, once it’s said it’s over and done with, isn’t it? (Turns her head to take a look at him, and then turns back.) You can speak too, that is, if you’ve got anything to say. She only fears that you’ve got nothing to say, then all you could do is to play dumb and act the part of some well-behaved fool. Why don’t you try saying something? It wouldn’t hurt, you know. Good or bad she has been living with you for some time, don’t you have anything else to say besides “let’s go to bed”?

 

(Man moves slightly, then slowly disappears.)

 

Woman :

You know, you can explain if you think there’s been a misunderstanding, but she can’t stand people not responding like that! You know why she’s broken out for no reason? It’s because she can’t stand the loneliness any longer. If you can’t even understand that, then you might as well go your separate ways and you’ll both have some peace and quiet. (Turns around to look for him.)

 

(Silhouette of Man’s back appears dimly on the other side of the stage.)

 

Woman :

(Facing silhouette of Man’s back.) She says she’s only saying it, actually she doesn’t want to leave him. And she’s not really kicking him out either, she just hopes that he’ll offer her some explanation and tell her that his feeling for her hasn’t changed, then she’d be relieved and comforted, and she’d be able to prove that all her doubts and worries are groundless. How come he can’t even understand that? He doesn’t understand women, he doesn’t understand a woman’s feelings, does she really need to spell it all out for him? If he has to go, then just let him go, she can’t force him, she’s only saying please, please ask him to explain himself clearly. It’s not that she can’t go on with her life without loving him. What more does he want her to say? She’s already said all that she can—(Approaches him.) She begs him not to go like this, she begs him to turn around, to take one more look at her, just like when they first fell in love. She just wants to see his eyes again, those engaging, penetrating eyes he had when he was courting her, or the gentle look in his eyes when he stared at her later, even if they were uncertain, pensive, or engaged in thought, they all managed to send shivers to her heart. If only she could bring back the same look in his eyes, if only he could turn around and look at her once more, all their problems would be over, they’d be as loving as before, and she’d snuggle up to him in his arms to enjoy his fond caress once more.

(Leaning against him.) Then she’d never nag him, she’d never say anything to hurt him ever again. She says she knows all about men, their pride, their temper and their idiosyncrasies. When they don’t get along with their boss in the office, they’ll take it out on their family when they come home. She says that sometimes she’s a nervous wreck herself and that she does break out every once in a while. She also knows that this isn’t good, but she never thought that men also had their problems. She might not solve his problems for him, but at least she can offer him some understanding and comfort.

In fact all the tantrums she’s thrown at him have been his fault, because she loves him and cares for him so much, that’s why she’s so demanding towards him. She also says that there are actually no problems between them, only that she’s suspicious, only this funny feeling of hers. If she were wrong, then he should help her to get rid of her worries, he shouldn’t just turn and walk away like that.

She also says that she doesn’t mean to stop him from going out with other women, she’s only afraid that such things might happen. She says too that she’s actually not that stuck up. Even if he had something going with another woman, it’d just be one of those one-time flings and he’d be in it only for the pleasure, and besides, he’d probably forget about the whole thing in no time. When it’s over, it’s over, isn’t it? Not that she doesn’t understand, she just thinks that he should at least lay it all out for her and give her an explanation.

She says she doesn’t want to possess him, she only wants him to truly love her, that’d be good enough for her. She has said so much already, shouldn’t he at least have the courtesy to say one word in response?

(Grabs his shoulders and turns him around.) God! (She suddenly withdraws her hands as Man turns into a piece of clothing on the rack.)

 

(A bald-headed clown appears at the side of front stage. On his nose hangs a pair of glasses made for extreme shortsightedness. He has on a collarless black shirt, his legs crossed. He looks up and stares at a non-existent raindrop in the air, which after a long while lands in front of him. Then the rain falls down with a pitter-patter. The clown gradually disappears in the dark.)

 

Woman :

(She kneels on the ground before a pile of folded clothing. In front of the clothing lies a pair of men’s shoes; on top of the shoes is a man’s hat. Next to her is a leather jewellery box.) She says she’s never, ever in her life thought that it would end like this, that she would actually kill her man, her darling, her treasure, her little zebra, her sika deer, her sweetheart, her life and destiny.

(While speaking, she takes down her ring, bracelet, and earrings and puts them into the jewellery box one by one.) What a real nightmare! She’s just woken up from it, she feels a bit cold.

(Wraps the shawl tightly around herself.) The cold rain and autumn wind raging outside the window, when will they ever end?

(Listens.) There’ll be no more telephone rings in the middle of the night, its endless ringing scares her and makes her heart jump, she wants to answer it but she wouldn’t dare, but then if she didn’t she’d feel guilty.

(Sighs.) There’ll be no more sweet-nothing whispers, the whispers with so many pauses in between. Neither of them was willing to hang up the phone, even when they were too drowsy to talk any more.

Right now she’s cut off all her ties with the outside world, she’s cut off her ties with her lovers, friends, and enemies, and with those she once loved but no longer loves, those who admired her but whom she didn’t admire. She doesn’t even have the courage to step out of this room to go to a pub, any pub, to pick up a man, any man. She knows exactly what’s going to happen if she does: when the hangover goes away in the morning, she’ll find herself sleeping beside a naked man with hair all over his chest and whose name she’s already forgotten, and all that’s left is the feeling of emptiness and disgust. At this time, she doesn’t even have the courage to pick up her clothes from the floor and run away in a hurry. She’s totally down on herself, she doesn’t have a desire for sex any more, she even finds her own body repulsive.

She doesn’t need to put on make-up and beautify herself any longer, even that necklace, the one her mother gave her before she died, has now become a burden.

(Takes off the necklace and throws it into the jewellery box.) All this jewellery is superfluous, is there any reason left for making herself beautiful? And for whom? She detests herself, detests being a woman, her tantrums, her possessiveness, her irrational jealousy and her groundless anxieties, and then there’s her never-ending nagging that nobody ever wants to listen to, she can’t even find the energy, she only feels totally exhausted. She knows her face looks tired and her skin is coarse, she doesn’t have to look in the mirror. She knows her breasts have become saggy and insensitive, they can no longer arouse a man’s passion. She, a woman, her prime has ended, become depleted and consumed, what else has she got to hope for? Even this body of hers, nobody wants it. (She wraps the shawl tightly around her. Her eyes droop and she looks down.)

 

(Half a wooden leg, whose paint has peeled off, slowly stretches out from under her skirt.)

 

Woman :

(Startled, she puts a hand on the floor to support herself and draws back.) This is impossible! This is not real!

(Stooping down to inspect.) How could this possibly be her? Is this her leg? She must find out if this is real or if it’s just a nightmare.

 

(The leg stretches out further until it finally comes off her skirt.)

 

Woman :

(She retreats further, holding her breath. She wraps the shawl tightly around herself.) She wonders if at this moment she is still alive, if she is still breathing. She must have some proof, proof that her heart is still beating, that it is still feeling. Is all of this just her imagination? Is it just an illusion? Or is her existence, this living body of hers, also a mirage? She must find some definite proof. (She pinches herself on the arm.)

 

(An arm appears from inside the shawl. Its palm is pale and white, and the fingernails are covered with a coat of shell-like paint.)

 

Woman :

(Panting.) No…(Beginning to feel terrified.) She wants to know if her fear is real. Maybe she only thinks she’s afraid but actually she’s not? She must experience death once to find out what death is and to feel its pain, in other words, a living experience of death, then, and only then can she prove that she is still alive, and then she’ll know if life is worth living, if it’s really necessary. She’s too hurt to free herself from suffering now, but she still keeps on analysing herself in desperate pursuit of her true self, to find out for sure if she’s real or just a body without a soul.

 

(The arm falls off from the shawl. From the palm up, the paint has peeled off as with the detached wooden leg.)

 

Woman :

No!

(Runs away.) This is too horrible, she can’t continue to be cut up like this, she can’t keep on butchering herself to death! She must run now, run away from this room!


Page 14

(Simulates action of opening a door.) Strange, she can’t open the door, how could she be so stupid? How could she possibly lock herself in?

(Crawls all over the room in a circle around the pile of man’s clothing, the jewellery box and the detached arm and leg.) She can’t find the key! How can this be possible? She remembers clearly that when she opened the door she was holding the key in her hand, but now she’s forgotten where she put it. Where could it be?

(Stops, staring blankly at the detached arm and leg.) She just can’t understand, can’t understand what’s happening here. Her home, this warm and comfortable little nest of hers, has turned into a horrifying abyss overnight, how could this be?…She’s got to get out.

(Shouting.) She wants to get—out—, but nobody hears her, nobody cares, she’s in her own room, she’s locked herself in, she’s got in and now she can’t get out….

(She kneels on the floor and looks around, at a loss what to do.)

 

(Clown comes out from one side and backs up the stage until he reaches the centre, his head hanging down and looking at the floor. A rat appears from where he came from. The rat, under his guidance and enticement, crawls gingerly and timorously to his feet. The audience then discovers that he is actually pulling a very fine thread in his hands. He puts the rat into his pocket and exits.)

 

(The tick-tock of an electric clock is heard, gradually increasing in volume.)

 

Woman :

(Murmuring.) She doesn’t know what time it is, she doesn’t dare look at the clock, she doesn’t want to know whether it’s midnight or dawn, she can’t pull up the blinds, she has no strength, she has no courage to…

 

(At the back of the stage, the shadow of a woman appears, her back facing the audience. She is carrying an umbrella and marking time.)

 

Woman :

(Staring at the woman’s shadow.) She says it appears that she sees a woman waiting in the rain, she’s all alone, she doesn’t know how long she’s been waiting, she doesn’t know when she’s going to stop waiting, but she’s still waiting, waiting for that someone she hasn’t got a date with, she knows he won’t come, yet she still insists on waiting in vain. She wants to warn her, she wants to tell her that to live is to be destined, destined to be alone all your life, so why keep on dreaming an impossible dream? But she refuses to come to her senses.

 

(The woman slowly turns around. She is still marking time, her face hidden by the umbrella as before.)

 

Woman :

(Quietly approaches.) Who is this woman? She can’t help wanting to know, but she keeps on turning this way…then that way…she can’t see anything, she can’t see her face clearly. (Disappointed, she covers her face with her hands.)

 

(The woman suddenly disappears.)

 

Woman :

(Lifts her head, dejected.) She’s just realized that she’s the one who’s lonely in the whole wide world, not the other people, whose loneliness she has been observing. Other people may be waiting, downcast, forlorn, and all by themselves, but after all they’re still waiting, and they know in their hearts where they want to go, but she doesn’t, she doesn’t know if there’s anything left for her to do, or if there’s anywhere else she can go.

(Very troubled.) So she tries to search her memory. Where did she come from? Why is it that she hasn’t been able to control herself, why does she have to be down and out like this? Has it been a dream all along? And merely a dream?

(Closes her eyes.) Ah, what a strange dream!

(Opens her eyes.) Just now, at that fleeting moment…she saw it, she saw a wall, its plaster was crumbling away piece by piece,…exposing the cold and damp concrete, a coffin was lodged there,…it was placed there neatly, sideways, buried in poured concrete…

 

(A large wall appears back stage. The wall is dark grey and is illuminated from the side. There is no coffin in the wall.)

 

Woman :

(She wobbles and feels her way along the wall, her head leaning against it.) She doesn’t know what this dream means…No, she knows, she knows that right now her mind is not clear, she needs to sort things out, how did it all begin? There’s got to be an end to all of this somewhere, nothing’ll go wrong as long as she finds a clue.

(Turns, leaning against the wall.) But she can’t even remember a single incident from her childhood! Does this mean that she has never been alive, or is she just a shadow, the shadow of some nonexistent person? Is her existence just an illusion? No! She definitely had a childhood, she remembers! (Determinedly gets away from the wall.)

 

(The wall gradually disappears.)

 

Woman :

She says she’s got to pour it all out. It was a long time ago, at that time, her family still owned this small house…It was an old building, and everywhere there were rats scurrying around…The family had an old cat, so old that it was too lazy to run after the rats, and it was always dozing off on top of the stove in the dingy kitchen…She wants to say that it was an old building, when a gust of wind blew you could hear it creaking and squeaking, and the lumber would give out a musty smell. The old cat’s always crouching on top of the stove, and when the fire went out completely, one could see nothing but a pair of green eyes glowing in the dark and spying on her every move. She seems to remember the first time she discovered her own nakedness in the mirror, and the old cat was right there behind her…

 

(A small house made of toy blocks appears centre stage.)

 

Woman :

That’s right, her room was behind that window on the second floor.

(Smiles and starts to narrate, facing the house.) Downstairs just past the front porch was the living room. There was a rocking chair, her grandpa always sat on it. He had a head of white hair, when he died nobody knew how old he was. The house had no doors, only windows, and more strangely, her family always locked themselves inside, it was so dark and so damp. The first one to escape from the house was her father, then it was her mother, and they’d never come back since.

(Becoming more interested.) He, she’s talking about her father, escaped during the night. Later they only found a string of footsteps in the rain-soaked muddy ground under the window. The next one to go was her mother, they said that there was a man, whenever he passed by the window, he’d always be humming a popular tune, it’d been like this for some time, and her mother must have heard him, then she disappeared. And then it was her brother, he always screamed and yelled and generally made a big racket. Once he knocked down a really old vase in the house, her grandpa said it was an antique and a family heirloom. The last one to escape was herself. She thinks the building is still there, in her memory it’s wobbling, as if it’s going to collapse any second.

(Somewhat delighted.) She says this is a children’s story, maybe it’s a fable, she’s always wanted to talk to people about something, to talk about something that happened in the past, or to talk about her memory, or better yet, to tell a story, a fable.

(Totally immersing herself.) She says when she was small she was always curious, she yearned to get out of the house to take a look at the outside world. She grew up in a town, and the house was located at the edge of the town, a building all by itself, on top of a small hill. She also says that she’d never seen the places beyond the wall in the yard.

Of course she knew every thing within the wall inside out, she knew where there was a peach tree, where there was a doghouse, even where there was a vegetable plot with tomatoes growing in it, but when the tomatoes had grown ripe and fell to the ground to rot, she refused to go there any more. She says she can’t remember how her grandpa died, they all said he’d swallowed opium, his whole body was in unbearable pain, there was something wrong with all his joints, according to the present day doctors, it was probably cancer spread to the bone marrow, he’d scream out loud at night, it was very scary, he screamed that he’d burn the whole house down. She knew that actually her grandpa couldn’t get out of bed, he needed someone to hold him even when he tried to turn his body a little…

She doesn’t believe her grandpa killed himself, especially by swallowing opium, it seems like a made-up story. She doesn’t know why she’s telling all this, perhaps she’s beginning to make up stories, making up a childhood she never had, but she still wants to make up some more things, something beautiful, make up some…some…She says that her arrival in this world was entirely a misunderstanding, but isn’t life a series of misunderstandings?

But she does recall a young boy,…he used to stand under her window in the snow waiting for her to appear, at the time she’d hide behind the curtains, she thought that it was fun, a bit laughable perhaps, and she also felt a bit sorry for him, but in the end she still held back, because her best friend in her class told her that she’d also received a love letter from the same boy. Afterwards she stopped going out with both of them.

She wants to tell a romantic story. Besides physical contact there should be some poetry in the relationship between a man and a woman, but everything has been so hypocritical, hypocritical, so hypocritical that it’s made her utterly sick and tired of the whole thing.

She remembers that her mother had two lovers, whenever her father was out on business, her mother’d make herself especially beautiful. She spent all her money on herself, she never cared about what her children were wearing, and she’d lose her temper about almost anything and everything. Once a girl student came to ask her father something, they were together for a long time, until dinner it was, and her father asked her to stay and eat with them. Suddenly there came the sound of banging dishes from the kitchen, and her heart cringed, because she was sure that once the girl student left, her mother would blow up. Afterwards, she heard her mother and father quarrelling in their room as expected, her mother said her father had something going with the girl student, he repeated many times that there was nothing, but her mother insisted that she saw the whole thing through a crack in the door! She couldn’t stand her mother the most, as soon as she got upset she’d whoop up a storm.

Oh yes, and they also had a neighbour, a single woman, she was also unbearably neurotic. She was keeping this dog she called Sicko. Here, Sicko! There Sicko, run! She’d keep horsing around all the time with the dog until it yapped and yelped and never stopped, and then she’d caress it with all her tender loving care as if it was her lover.

Her mother was the same, she only quieted down when she was on her deathbed. She had broken her spine in a car crash, when she died she was still quite young, the skin on her arm was smoother and fresher than hers is now, but her head was all wrapped in bandages, her lips swollen, all pale and ashen. It was the first time she’d been so close to death. When she died she didn’t cry, she only felt a bit surprised, a bit regretful, she cried only after she’d left the hospital and stayed up alone at night, suddenly she felt she’d lost something…(Covers her face with her hands.)

 

(A woman appears behind her. She is completely dressed in white, and her head is wrapped in bandages except for her mouth and her nose. She is wearing a necklace with a small watch attached to it.)

 

Woman :

She choked and burst out crying, was she crying for herself or was it because she’d lost her mother? She couldn’t say for sure. She and her mother were never close, there was always a barrier between them which could never be removed. The necklace she has on now belonged to her mother, she knows that one of her lovers gave it to her…, she had her eyes on her mother’s small silver watch inlaid with sapphire even when she was a little girl, once she wore it without telling her, when she found out, she jumped down real hard on her and she cried her eyes out for a long time. She gave the watch to her before she died, as something to remember her by, and she also whispered in her ears, begging her not to hold anything against her.

When she was alive she always said that it was difficult being a woman, she says her mother said women suffer five hundred times more than men. She didn’t understand why women had to suffer from so many more deadly sins. She also knows that it wasn’t her mother but an old woman who had said these words first, perhaps women like to talk about these things when they’re together, and her mother just repeated them to her. Yes, sins, she’d brought sins upon herself. Whenever the lover, the one who gave her the watch, came calling, she’d have to make a real fuss of it, she’d bath and dress herself up from head to toe for him and then she’d look for some excuse to send her away, all this got her really peeved and that was why the relationship between mother and daughter became so tense. Today, well, of course she’s forgiven everything. (Turns around.)

 

(The woman turns around, still behind her.)

 

Woman :

But at the time (Pauses.) she only wanted her attention, so that she’d notice her, notice her anger, that was why she stabbed a scissors blade into her middle finger. They say that the ten fingers are linked to the heart, and she wanted her heart to suffer the pain too.

(Looking at her hand.) She watched the blood oozing out, it streamed down the centre of the palm along the middle finger, and then it seeped through the fingers to the back of the hand, she could have stopped the bleeding, but she didn’t, rather she hoped the blood would bleed much faster. She watched her wrist turn purple red, (Raising her arm.) but she still let the blood flow, she just wanted to drown her whole body in a pool of blood. She didn’t know how much longer she could hang on like that, she just felt faint and dizzy. At last she heard her mother calling out after her, the water’s all gone, the kettle’s going to be burnt into ashes, go take a look! Her mother found her in her room and asked her why she had pretended to be deaf and dumb. Only then did she see that her hand was covered in blood, she immediately snatched the trembling scissors from her and gave her a big smack across the face. (Raises her head.)


Page 15

 

(The woman walks away quietly.)

 

Woman :

(Watching the back of the woman.) She doesn’t know if it’s a dream or reality.

 

(Only the shadowy image of the woman’s back is visible.)

 

Woman :

(Takes one step forward to follow her.) Is it a real dream? Or does she only think she’s dreaming?

 

(The woman disappears.)

 

Woman :

(Shakes her head.) To tell the truth, she once had a very weird dream, in the dream her mother was holding down her legs, she was actually helping a man to rape her, and the man appeared to be her mother’s lover. At the time she knew that she might be dreaming, she wanted to scream but she couldn’t, she only managed to sob quietly, though there were a lot of tears. Strangely enough, at this moment she also wants to cry, but she just can’t. If only she could cry, if she cried she’d be able to find some relief, she knows that, but unfortunately at her age she’s already grown out of crying. She used to be a cry baby. At that time there was a peach tree outside her window, whenever she saw the peach blossoms being ravaged by driving rain and there were nothing but a few raindrops left on the bare branches, she’d break down in tears. Of course she wasn’t crying for the peach flowers, she cried because she didn’t understand why she was crying, no, not now, she’s not talking about now, she’s talking about those early days, talking about a young girl who had no knowledge of the world and who had to live a life of misery. In fact, it’s all her own fault, she asked for it, and at the same time she also gave other people a lot of troubles. She says that she wasn’t the only one, most girls were like that, they liked to bore her with their tattered stories about men.

She says she’s talking about a bad girl, and the bad girl is herself. When they first taught her to walk, they told her not to let her soles touch the ground, instead she should tread on the sides of her feet, (Looks down at her feet.) and she should raise her arms a little, they said men found this more attractive, all this made her uneasy for a long period of time…

 

(A girl’s laughter is heard.)

 

Woman :

(Listens.) When a woman wants to do it to another woman…

 

(The laughter disappears.)

 

Woman :

She can be even more vicious than a man. She says at one time she knew this woman, a woman doctor, she had a husband and a lover, but she still said that she loved her, telling her that when she saw her she was seeing herself when she was young and in her prime. She said she was her big sister, and that she was willing to be her mother if she wanted it, she hoped that some day she’d have a daughter like her. She also said that when she grew tired of men she’d live with her and nobody else. She said you only lived once, so you must try to live happily, she also wondered why she was still living by herself at her age, without a man by her side. The woman was just like a witch, when her eyes were staring at her, it was like they were going through her body from one side to the other. She loved to flash her breasts and her body in front of her, she’d change her clothes in her presence, and then suddenly she’d laugh out loud for no reason, at the time she was just like a she-devil. She never held back anything from her, she told her that she couldn’t live without men. But she didn’t understand why she always brought her along even when her lover took her out to dinner. She wanted her to spend the weekend at her place all the time, saying that she was afraid of being alone. Whether it was a set-up or not, she sometimes left her alone with her husband, and the two would sit face to face in silence. She had nothing to say to him, this very decent man, he was never without a tie even when he was at home, and his clothes were always pressed, neat as a pin he was. One time, perhaps just this one time, the phone rang before dinner. The woman answered the phone and said that it was an emergency and she had to go out at once to see a patient, and she told her to wait for her to come back no matter what happened. First she heard the car driving away, then she heard the man telling her that she had really beautiful hands. She said he was not the first one to tell her that, but he replied that when he said her hands were beautiful he meant the hands were a reflection of all of a woman’s beauty. And she said what was the use even if her hands were more beautiful? He said it depended on whether one knew how to make use of them. (Lowers her eyelids.)

She can’t remember clearly how the whole thing began or how it ended, it was all so hurried and panicky, then she heard the sound of the car again.

 

(A female voice laughing coquettishly.)

 

Woman :

(Raises her eyelids.) She felt that she was compelled to join in with their foolish laughter, this woman and her husband, her husband and her, all of them couldn’t stop laughing, as if there was really something laughable or something worth laughing about—

(Laughs nervously, then stops suddenly.) The woman played with her, and she also played with herself. Since she’d used her to spice up their marriage, why shouldn’t she return her favour, why not give her a dose of her own medicine? So she phoned up her lover for a date and she made sure that she also knew about it. She knew that she was playing with fire, but she was keen to make the woman jealous. Yet she couldn’t prevent herself from falling into her trap, just like sinking into a muddy swamp, the more she struggled to be free the more she’d dirty herself.

She saw this woman coming towards her, she was all dressed in black, her thin lips were closed tightly and emitted a layer of disdain, she ignored her, as if she did not see her. She knew that she was looking her over to check out if she was as low down as she was. She reciprocated with a similarly disdainful look.

(Drops her shawl.) And the woman just walked away.

(Dragging her shawl and walking giddily.) She says the first time she made love to a man and saw the semen flowing down her leg, she felt so disgusted that she almost threw up, now she doesn’t have the same reaction any more, the world is in fact a very filthy place, including herself. At first she really wanted to lead a clean life and to love just one person with all her heart, but now she has also learned how to have some fun for herself.

She says all men are dogs, every one of them, but they’re not as loyal as the real dogs, and women are worse than cats, not only do they covet comfort, warmth and a full stomach, they’re also vain, jealous, and insatiable.

(Stops and covers her head with her hands.) She says she has sinned deeply, she hasn’t gotten anything out of it, and she also hasn’t been able to obtain forgiveness.

(Dejected, she drops her hands and clasps them.) She says when she reached puberty, she once thought of becoming a nun in a temple, for a long time she couldn’t eat meat, it made her throw up. She says she thought that good or bad she must have faith, that she should be a follower of the Buddha or she should believe in God. Whenever she passed by a church, she’d always be deeply moved by the singing at mass.

She also says she also wanted to have a dog. (A quiet laugh.)

Or simply have a baby, it wouldn’t make any difference with whom, and she wouldn’t even think of having an abortion, she’d keep the baby.

(Restrainedly.) And she’d look after it, she’d give it her undivided attention.

But she also says, (Shaking her head.) she’s not equipped to be a good mother, and she couldn’t find a man to make such a sacrifice worthwhile! She says she’s not a good woman either, and she doesn’t deserve a good family. It’s in her destiny, who knows, when…

(Unattentively.) She’s afraid of driving alone at night, always worrying that something might go wrong…

 

(A masked man in a long black robe appears in the dark.)

 

Woman :

She says she sees someone standing in the middle of the highway, and she flashes the headlights again and again—

 

(Light flashes twice. A masked man appears waving a red semaphore flag with his right hand. Sound of car braking hard.)

 

Woman :

Fog is everywhere, she can’t see anything in front of her…

 

(In the dark, the masked man turns around and blocks her way. He raises his left arm and a wide red sleeve falls down.)

 

Woman :

She says she understands, he’s warning her of the calamity of blood! (Dodges.)

 

(Masked man turns around again, still with his back towards her. He raises his left sleeve in front of her. She dodges one more time, but she still cannot get away from him.)

 

Woman :

(Closes her eyes.) She says she’s not afraid of death, she’s only scared that nobody’ll know when she’s dead. She’s even more afraid of a prolonged death, afraid of being crippled, being half dead and half living, nothing is more horrifying than that, it’s better to end it once and for all, to wrap it up totally and completely.

 

(Masked man disappears.)

 

Woman :

She feels like she’s gliding on a glacier and she can’t stop, she sees only a big mass of blackness, any time now she’s going to slip into the cracked icy layers and plunge into the deep dark water of death, after she dies all will vanish in an instant like snowflakes in water, the world is such a large place, she’s not the only person living in it, she’s not important, just let her vanish, let her be forgotten, ignored, and let her end it once and for all…But she still can’t free herself from the old grudges, the jealousy, the greed, the worries, and the anxieties. It’s not that she doesn’t know what the Buddha has said, that the four elements of life are mere emptiness, it’s just that she can’t free herself from the vanities of human life. So she prays in a whisper, pleading the merciful Bodhisattva to look after her, to help her to sever her ties with the mortal world.

She says she sees her filthy body rolling in a puddle of muddy water, in broad daylight, on the side of the road, and in public view, everyone’s trampling on her. She’s covered with scabies, her voice hoarse, she’s crawling and begging, but everyone’s swearing at her and turns their back on her. (Slowly opens her eyes.)

 

(A nun with an iron-like grey complexion appears. She is enwrapped in a grey kasaya, a Buddhist robe, her eyes lowered and her hair worn in a bun. She is sitting up straight on a futon in a high place with her legs crossed and her palms clasped.)

 

Woman :

She says she sees a Bodhisattva, her palms clasped together, sitting on top of a lotus flower platform.

(She approaches slowly and cautiously.) She looks more closely and it’s not a lotus flower…she looks again and it’s not a Bodhisattva…and she looks even more carefully and it’s a nun meditating with her eyes closed and her hands clasped together—

(Inspects closely.) Her brows are slightly knit, and her clasped hands are holding—

(Comes nearer.) a pair of scissors!

 

(The nun slowly lifts the scissors. Suddenly she stabs them into her own stomach.)

 

Woman :

(Screams.) God! (Drops to the ground with her face down.)

 

(The nun bends forward and backward, her lips tightly closed.)

 

Woman :

(Creeps forward.) Why is this happening?

(Looks back.) For no reason at all, she replies flatly.

 

(The nun bends over and places the scissors in front of her.)

 

Woman :

(Creeps backward.) What is she doing? There’s got to be a purpose.

(Lowers her head.) She’s intent on dissecting herself.

 

(The nun holds her stomach, then offers her intestines on a plate.)

 

Woman :

(Holds her breath, then inhales.) Is it worth it? Why suffer such pain?

 

(The nun lowers her head and rubs the intestines.)

 

Woman :

(Gets up on her knees.) She says she must cleanse the intestines, this big mess of filth and blood.

(Leans forward and watches attentively.) How can they be cleansed? After all, they are so bloody and filthy!

(Takes one step forward and listens.) She says she must cleanse them whether they can or can’t be cleansed.

(Pressing.) She knows there’s no way she can make them clean, but why does she still insist on cleansing them?

 

(The nun picks up the intestines and cards them one by one, using her dainty fingers.)

 

Woman :

(Staring for a long time.) She keeps on cleansing and carding, will it ever end?

 

(The nun lifts the plate. She disappears instantly just as she is going to hurl the plate at Woman.)


Page 16

 

Woman :

(Covering her face with both hands.) She sees countless heads swimming in the sea of bitterness, this boundless sea which has no end. Perhaps the merciful Bodhisattva is to release her from purgatory, but unfortunately she just can’t be exalted to paradise and sukhavat, the land of the pure. All the while she is wandering between the misty clouds and among the big Chaos, she’s looking for her way, hurriedly, yet aimlessly, she feels that she has degenerated to the lower depths. Then she sees the door of a dark and secret valley, behind which a mammoth eye keeps watching her every move, nothing can escape its attention. (Lays down her arms and stares attentively.)

 

(Behind her appears an immeasurably tall and thin man on stilts. He is cloaked in a long black robe which touches the ground, and the tall headgear he has on extends to cover his face. He holds out his long arm and reveals a palm painted with a big, staring eye the size of a copper bell.)

 

Woman :

He makes her sweat, he makes her heart jump, he makes her scared, she is always agitated, she can never have peace, she suffers from all kinds of torments, they all stem from the man’s eye in the dark. Ever since she was a young girl she had been shy and bashful, mischievous, self-indulgent and even masochistic, she realizes it now, it was all because of him. His staring has been the cause of all her sufferings. Has he become her only raison d’être? Is it possible? No! (Turns and tries to escape.)

 

(The eye in the palm of the man in black robe is high above her. It stares at her steadily and never lets go.)

 

Woman :

(Screams.) No—! (Runs.)

 

(The man in black does not chase after her. He just raises the painted eye on his hand up high to observe her, as if it is a light shining on her every move. When she stops, he places it behind her head again.)

 

Woman :

(Screams.) No—(She kneels on the ground with her face down, her hands holding her head.)

 

(The man in black still covers her head with the painted eye on his hand.)

 

Woman :

(Murmuring in rapid succession.) She says no, she says don’t, she says don’t say a word, she says it’s very good, she says ah, she says she does not want what she says she wants, she says when she says no she doesn’t mean no, she says when she says no she doesn’t mean yes, she says she is not saying no! She’s not saying yes either, she only says, she no longer wants, wants it no longer, no longer wants, no longer can, no longer willing to see this stranger’s eye again, it keeps staring at her and never lets go…

 

(The man in black takes off his headgear and reveals a hideous-looking face. His bloody red tongue is drooling, giving out a screeching laughter resembling the wind tearing open a paper window pane.)

 

Woman :

(Falls on her back and murmurs slowly.) She says she doesn’t know what she was saying, she doesn’t know what she really wants to say, maybe she didn’t say anything, if what she said is useless, then she might as well not say it, she says she doesn’t know what she ought to say, and what else she has not said. But what more can she say?

 

(The man in black disappears. At the same time a grey white shirt slowly comes up in front of Woman. It faintly reveals itself as the body of a headless woman.)

 

Woman :

(Lifts her head.) She says she’s had enough, she feels drowsy,…(Lies down.)

 

(The headless woman drifts in front of her and extends an arm to stroke Woman’s forehead.)

 

Woman :

(Startled, she sits up and covers her eyes with her hand.) She see it again, this time it’s a woman’s eye! It’s floating and appearing in front of her eyes…(Pushes away the hand.)

 

(The headless woman draws back her hand.)

 

Woman :

(She stands up and thinks deeply, searching her brain.) She doesn’t know…if…she’s witnessing…her own soul leaving her body?

 

(The headless woman again holds out her hand and waves it menacingly in front of her eyes.)

 

Woman :

(Staring.) She can even see her own eyes! In these eyes she sees her own naked body again. (Shakes her head.)

 

(The headless woman immediately withdraws her hand and recoils.)

 

Woman :

(Lowers her head to look at herself, startled.) She saw herself just now, very clearly, naked, lying down and floating in the nether world: she gradually moved up, and then she slowly went down…when she was going to sink to the bottom, she floated to the surface again…she was pushed up…by surge after surge of black waves she couldn’t touch or feel…from an unfathomable depth…her body moved up again…and then plunged into a deeper valley of darkness…

 

(The headless woman holds out her arm again and waves her palm again in front of Woman’s eyes.)

 

Woman :

(Shudders.) This icy and unfeeling eye’s making her shiver with cold, she can’t take this prying any more!

(Looks around.) Who are you? Are you a nightmare? Or are you a ghost? (Tries to extricate herself from the indistinct headless woman’s body.)

 

(The headless woman reveals a hand and a leg, teasing and keeping Woman occupied at the same time.)

 

Woman :

(Screams.) Go away!

(Angered, she tries to grab hold of the hand.) She wants to get rid of this thing!

(Spreads the fingers.) Trample it to pieces!

(Grips the centre of the palm.) Wipe it all out!

 

(The headless woman flees.)

 

Woman :

(Laughs hysterically, then stops at once.) Finished…who finished whom?

 

(The headless woman slowly turns into a floating shirt and disappears at the back of the stage.)

 

Woman :

(Puzzled.) She has no thoughts, those searching thoughts which once troubled and tormented her, which remained incomprehensible even after long hours of thinking, the various causes and effects, the interminable analyses, the possibilities and conclusions built upon voluminous hypothetical premises and deduced through thousands of inferences and conclusions which are not necessarily reliable. She has no more words, the meaninglessness of meaning which is full of sound and colour, unending eloquence, definition, relatedness, and content. She also has no more feelings, they have all faded away, no matter whether they are hot or cold, light or heavy, visible or invisible, coloured or colourless, sentimental or unsentimental. Everything is enshrouded in the big Chaos, only a glimmer of secret light still exists in her heart, sometimes it’s bright and sometimes it’s dark, and if she can’t even prevent it from disappearing, then all will return to Nothingness…

 

(The quiet and empty sound of someone beating on a monk’s alms bowl, in succession.)

 

Woman :

(On her knees.) She gradually hears a sound, from far to near, from near to far, like water gurgling, quite intangible, but it flows through her heart…

 

(The light at the back of the stage becomes brighter, revealing a huge wall on which a bare sapling is indistinctly projected. Only a crooked branch is seen; it becomes increasingly visible.)

 

Woman :

(Kneels down and speaks as if she is singing.) The world is too small…the world is too large…

 

(The projected tree branch on the wall extends longer and longer.)

 

Woman :

The world is finite…the world is boundless…

 

(The projection on the wall presently becomes more indistinct.)

 

Woman :

The world has a form…the world is elusive…the world is like the wind…the world is like a dream…the world is crude…the world is clamorous…the world is lonely…the world is monotonous…

 

(An old man holding a walking stick wobbles along and comes close to the wall. He is wearing a greyish white stormcoat, a grey hat and a scarf.)

 

Woman :

Is this a story? A romance? A farce? A fable? A joke? An admonishment? An essay not good enough to be a poem, or poetic prose which is not quite an essay? It’s not a song, because it has meaning but no spirit, it resembles a riddle, but it has no answer. Is it an illusion, no more than the ramblings in an idiot’s dream?

 

(The old man slowly walks to centre stage where there is a piece of rock. He lowers his head and carefully walks around it.)

 

Woman :

Is this about him, about you, about me, about her who is that girl, about her but not her, not about you, not about me, and not about you or all of you, just as what you all see is not her, not me, and not you, it’s merely the self, but the me you all see is not me, not her, it’s only that so-called self looking at her, looking at me, what more can you or I say?

 

(The old man finally stops in front of the rock and leans on his walking stick. As he is about to sit down, he looks closely at what is in front of him. It seems that he sees a snowflake falling slowly onto his foot. He takes off the hat and makes a motion to catch the falling snowflake.)

 

Woman :

What is the self? Besides these words, these empty, hollow words about nothing, what else is left?

 

(The old man puts on his hat, wobbles along past the rock and exits.)

 

Woman :

(Opens her lips and takes a deep breath as if she is singing a song.)—(But she slowly draws back and lowers her eyes and her head. Bending to lie face down on the floor, she no longer says anything.)

(The stage is only left with the rock and its shadow, which is changing and moving slowly. Afterwards, the rumbling sound of different kinds of tires is heard. Woman, still lying down, looks like a pile of abandoned clothing in the faint light.)

 

Theend

 

First draft finished 29 January 1991 in Paris.

Second draft, 18 March 1991.

Final draft, 1 April 1991.

 

(This play is sponsored by the Bureau of Culture of France. Premiere rights belong to France.)

Some Suggestions on ProducingBetween Life and Death

1. The play starts out with the idea of traditional Chinese theatre in pursuit of a modern form of dramatic performance. It has no intention to create “realism” on stage; quite the opposite, it strives to highlight the feeling of performance and theatricality.

2. The play combines tragedy, comedy, and farce, and it does not seek to exclude acrobatics, dance, or magic. If simplicity is pursued, it can be found in the play’s uniform style of narration, which remains unchanged from beginning to end.

3. The narrator in the play, i.e., Woman, should not be regarded as the same as a character. She is both in and out of the character, but still preserving her status as an actress.

4. The language in the play should not strive for excessive naturalness. After all, drama is drama, it is not real life.

5. The actors on stage need not pursue excessive realistic details in their acting. If they can, relying on their deliberations, establish their credibility on stage, communication with the audience will ensue.

 

The above suggestions are for reference only.

Dialogue and Rebuttal

(A Play in Two Parts)

 

 

Time and location uncertain.

 

An empty stage, some clothing, several objects.

 

Characters:

A young girl

A middle-aged man

A monk

Two heads: one male, one female


Page 17

Dialogue and Rebuttal.Theater des Augenblicks, Wien, Austria. Directed by Gao Xingjian. 1992.

Dialogue and Rebuttal. Théâtre Molière, Paris, France. Directed by Gao Xingjian. 1995.

Dialogue and Rebuttal.Théâtre Molière, Paris, France. Directed by Gao Xingjian. 1995.

First Half

(The stage is white [if possible], on which one sees a young girl and a middle-aged man. A black overcoat and a travelling tote bag have been thrown to one side; on the other side towards the back, there lies a bathrobe, which has been tossed down in a heap. At front stage on the right, a wooden fish[83-1]has been placed on the floor.)

 

Girl:

Finished?

Man:

Finished.

Girl:

How was it?

Man:

Quite good. (Pause.) How about you?

Girl:

Not bad. (Pause.) Quite good, I should say.

 

(Man tries to say something but stops.)

 

Girl:

So…

Man:

What?

Girl:

Nothing much.

Man:

Nothing much what?

 

(Girl smiles slightly.)

 

Man:

What are you smiling at?

Girl:

Nothing.

Man:

Why are you still smiling?

Girl:

I’m not smiling.

 

(Helpless, Man stares at her. Girl avoids his stare and looks away.)

 

Man:

Is it over?

Girl:

Isn’t it better this way?

Man:

Are you always like this?

Girl:

What?

Man:

With men…

Girl:

Of course, you’re not the first one.

 

(Man is taken aback, then laughs out loud.)

 

Girl:

You’re all the same.

Man:

(Happily.) Do you mean we—

Girl:

I mean you, you men!

Man:

(Corrects her.) Men and women!

 

(Both laugh. Girl stops laughing abruptly. Man also stops.)

 

Man:

What’s wrong?

Girl:

Nothing.

Man:

I’m sorry.

Girl:

(Coldly.) There’s nothing to be sorry about.

 

(Man walks away and puts on bathrobe.)

 

Girl:

If we had known…

Man:

Speak for yourself.

Girl:

Hypocrite!

Man:

But I love you—

 

(Immediately Girl starts to laugh out loud. Man also laughs heartily. Monk enters slowly from the right side of the stage. He is bald, wearing a kasaya, a Buddhist robe, and a pair of straw sandals. With his eyes lowered and his palms clasped, he is chanting “Amitabha Buddha”!

Man and Girl stop laughing.

Monk walks to a corner at right stage, turns around until his back is facing the audience, sits down with his legs crossed and starts to beat the wooden fish. Man and Girl restrain themselves. They both look down, listening carefully to the continuous beating of the wooden fish.)

 

Girl:

(Softly.) She doesn’t understand why, why she followed such a man, but she followed him anyway, following him to…

Man:

(Softly.) She understands everything, she knew it very well, it’s all very simple and clear, both had the need…

Girl:

(Softly.) No, she only wanted to know if it could happen…She knew it was possible but not entirely unavoidable…

Man:

(Softly.) Things are bound to happen anytime, anywhere in the world, when something happens, you’ll just have to go along with it and have some fun.

Girl:

(Softly.) He may look eager and willing, but she knows very well that he’s faking it, if she’d only arched her back and held him off, the whole thing wouldn’t have happened.

Man:

(Softly.) One minute early or one minute late, it’s all the same. Why put on an act? You and I are no different, that’s the way it is.

Girl:

(Softly.) Of course she’d been expecting it, she knew right from the beginning how it would end, but she never thought it would be so sudden, so hasty, and the end would come so fast.

 

(Monk beats the wooden fish twice.)

 

Girl:

Forget it! There’s nothing worth celebrating.

Man:

I didn’t say anything.

Girl:

Better keep it that way.

 

(Man droops his head. Monk starts to beat lightly on the wooden fish, chanting softly and continually: “Amitabha Buddha.”)

 

Girl:

How come you’re not saying anything?

Man:

What’s there to say?

Girl:

Anything you want.

Man:

You talk, I’ll listen.

Girl:

Tell me about yourself.

Man:

I’m a man.

Girl:

You don’t have to tell me that.

Man:

What shall I tell you then?

Girl:

Don’t you know how to talk with people?

Man:

I’m afraid you won’t like it.

Girl:

The problem is you’ve got to have something to talk about.

Man:

Except love—

Girl:

Don’t talk to me about love!

Man:

Tell me, what else is there to talk about with a woman?

 

(Girl stands up to get her overcoat.)

 

Man:

Where are you going?

Girl:

It’s none of your business.

Man:

I can ask, can’t I?

Girl:

But you really don’t want to know.

Man:

Why not? I do want to know.

Girl:

You only want a woman’s body, you don’t understand women, not even a tiny bit.

Man:

I don’t understand myself either.

Girl:

Well said. You’re such a pig!

Man:

And you?

Girl:

You think I’m that low-down?

Man:

That’s not what I meant.

Girl:

Your attitude, it’s disgusting!

Man:

To tell you the truth, I also disgust myself.

Girl:

What a wonderful confession! (Turns and puts on her overcoat.)

Man:

(Snatches away her overcoat.) Don’t go!

Girl:

What more do you want?

Man:

Don’t go! You’ve got to listen to me.

Girl:

You don’t have the right to stop me. (Struggles free.) I’ve got to agree first!

Man:

(Apprehensive.) Now that you’re here, well, of course I invited you, and I’m very glad—

Girl:

You—you’re an out-and-out bastard!

 

(Man laughs.)

 

Girl:

What are you laughing at?

Man:

Myself, I’m laughing at myself. What is it to you?

Girl:

Fine then, let me go.

Man:

(Blocking her.) I love you, really I do!

Girl:

Stop acting. (Pushes him away.)

 

(Monk picks up wooden fish and beats on it while chanting “Amitabha Buddha.” He exits left stage as Girl watches.)

 

Man:

I don’t understand, it’s really hard to figure you out.

Tell:

me, what are you going to do? What is it that you want?

Girl:

(Nonchalantly.) Don’t ask me, I don’t know. I only, only wanted to know…

Man:

You already know everything there is to know.

Girl:

What do I know?

Man:

That I’m a man. Other men, aren’t they the same?

Girl:

Don’t talk to me about men!

Man:

Then what shall we talk about?

Girl:

Something interesting, cheerful, something which makes people happy. How stupid can you get?

Man:

Really?

Girl:

You only think you’re smart.

Man:

And you’re a smart Girl.

Girl:

Not necessarily. Otherwise I wouldn’t have come here with you.

Man:

In fact I prefer stupid women.

Girl:

Because they’re submissive, gullible and easy to manipulate, is that it?

Man:

No, I’m only talking about myself, that way I can be more relaxed.

 

(Monotonous beating on the wooden fish. Monk has not yet entered.)

 

Man:

You want to drink something?

Girl:

No, I guess I’d better be going.

Man:

It’s raining outside.

Girl:

(Listening.) I don’t think so.

Man:

If I say it’s raining, it’s got to be raining.

Girl:

Who do you think you are, God?

Man:

I can hear it raining. I know all the sounds in and outside this place, the wind, the rain, the water heater, and the leaking toilet, every single one of them. I’ve owned this place for years.

Girl:

Leave me out of your ownership, I belong to me, and me only.

Man:

Is that very important?

Girl:

I don’t know, maybe. Anyway, I still haven’t found the right person to belong to.

Man:

Obviously I’m not that person.

Girl:

At last you’ve said something intelligent.

Man:

Thanks for the compliment.

Girl:

Intelligent men are a rare breed nowadays.

Man:

Most women are also stupid dingbats. Of course you’re an exception.

Girl:

Do you really think so?

Man:

I never lie, don’t you believe me?

Girl:

Do you say the same thing to every woman you’re with?

Man:

You know why I said it to you? It’s only because you like to hear people say that about you.

Girl You’re—really—very bad.

 

(Man laughs, and Girl laughs with him.)

 

Man:

Are you sure you don’t want anything to drink?


Page 18

Girl:

Only if you promise not to mix anything in it. Nothing’s worse than that.

Man:

That’s to say you must have done it yourself. I’m sure you must’ve had tons of strange things happening to you before.

Girl:

I mean when somebody puts something in your drink and you don’t realize it even after you’ve drunk the darn thing.

Man:

You mean just now, at the bar? If anybody put anything in it, it was definitely not me.

Girl:

I meant it happened once, in India.

Man:

But this certainly isn’t India.

Girl:

I’m saying I went on a trip to India once.

Man:

With your friend, one of your many boyfriends, if I’m not mistaken?

Girl:

You might as well save that little bit of intelligence you have for something else. Of course I wasn’t alone. Travelling alone can bore you to tears.

Man:

But if I were going on a trip, I’d never coax my female companion into doing drugs.

Girl:

It doesn’t take any coaxing, does it? We’re not kids any more.

Man:

Of course taking drugs is only human. Tell me, what do you use as a regular?

Girl:

I’m telling you I don’t have the habit!

Man:

But how come you said when you were in India—

Girl:

I was in this small village close to the Tibetan border. The sky was real blue, I’ve never seen such a blue sky before. The clouds were real close, and as I watched them dissipating strand by strand in mid-air, I got dizzy, I couldn’t climb up any more. My head was aching, my ears were ringing, as if some guy was ringing a bell like crazy next to my ears…He wanted to take some shots of the glaciers, you know, my friend was into photo- graphy, so I took the car and went back alone to a town where there was a small inn. There was this Indian man standing by the door and he asked me if I wanted any marijuana. He spoke some English, and he led me to his house to get some.

Man:

And you went with him just like that?

Girl:

Yes, I did, so what?

Man:

So what? It’s the same as your coming here with me, isn’t it?

Girl:

You sell marijuana too?

Man:

If you really want some.

Girl:

You don’t know how to listen, do you?

Man:

Go on!

Girl:

I don’t want to tell you any more.

 

(Monk enters, one hand holding an alms bowl, the other carrying a small bell. As he chants “Amitabha Buddha” in a low voice, he sprinkles some water into the bowl with his middle finger and rings the bell softly.)

 

Man:

Did he force you to take any drugs?

Girl:

No.

Man:

Did he make love to you?

Girl:

He was very gentle and very polite.

 

(Man wants to say something but stops.)

 

Girl:

There were these two women in his house, the younger one must have been his daughter, and they both bowed to me. He asked me to sit down and told the women to bring some wine, it was kind of sweet. The women stood on the side waiting on us, they only watched and smiled at me. I drank two cups in one go, and then they brought in some dried fruit and some sticky rice cakes.

 

(Girl listens attentively to the ringing of the bell.)

 

Man:

Go on, go on.

Girl:

I didn’t know why but somehow I felt sleepy. I think for a whole week I was just lying down, not wanting to move.

Man:

Did you go back to the inn?

Girl:

No, I was in his room, on his bed—

Man:

Naked?

Girl:

Is that important?

Man:

When you’re telling a story, you’ve got to give details.

Girl:

Anyway, my body didn’t seem to belong to me, my hands and feet were too heavy to move, and my mind was totally blank…But I was still conscious…

Man:

Weren’t you scared?

Girl:

The two women would come in every now and then, whenever he was not there they would come to give me something to eat or drink. I wanted to speak and scream, but they didn’t say anything except to touch and stroke me all the time. Then without knowing it I fell asleep again until he came back and woke me up…

Man:

Did he rape you?

Girl:

No, I think…I don’t know…Maybe I accepted it, I also, enjoyed…Maybe I wanted it too, there was no way out. Do you find this exciting?

Man:

Not really, I mean, he ruined you.

Girl:

Didn’t you?

Man:

It’s not the same, under the circumstances, he could have abused you until you died and no one would know anything about it.

Girl:

He was very gentle from beginning to end, he didn’t force me at all, I gave him all he wanted without holding anything back…You know, I gave him everything I had until I became a total void…Except that after one week, I realized later that it’d been a whole week, it was either daytime or at night when I found myself completely paralysed, I didn’t even want to move a finger, the room had only one oil lamp and it smelled real bad.

Man:

Maybe it was burning tallow, or animal fat, a kind of beef oil.

Girl:

Have you been there as well?

Man:

I read about it in some travel book on Tibet. Didn’t you say the place was right next to Tibet?

Girl:

Uh-huh…

 

(The bell stops ringing.)

 

Man:

Go on, why have you stopped talking?

Girl:

What else should I talk about?

Man:

Talk about the smell.

Girl:

As I was saying, that was when I woke up for the first time, afterwards I didn’t smell it any more, I only felt I was warm all over, I thought, I must have had that smell on me as well. Afterwards I washed again and again but I just couldn’t get rid of…

Man:

That greasy muttony smell?

Girl:

No, the smell of his body.

Man:

Stop it! I’ve had enough.

 

(Monk has finished sprinkling and bends down as if to splash water onto the ground. He exits, holding up his sleeves with his hands.)

 

Girl:

(Collects her thoughts and turns to look at him.) Why?

Man:

There’s no why.

Girl:

You don’t like what I said?

Man:

I’m listening.

Girl:

What do you want to listen to?

Man:

It’s up to you, whatever you want to say.

Girl:

You want me to say that I’m horny all the time?

Man:

You said it, not me.

Girl:

Don’t you want every woman to be horny?

Man:

Women, they’re actually like that.

Girl:

That’s only in a man’s imagination.

Man:

Believe me, men are no different.

Girl:

Then what’s there to be curious about?

Man:

It’s just the sex that’s different.

Girl:

How about between one woman and another, are they the same to you?

Man:

Can’t you change the subject?

Girl:

Shall we talk about the smell then?

Man:

To hell with the smell!

Girl:

You’re really no fun!

Man:

What? Fine, fine, let’s talk about the smell then.

Girl:

I don’t want to talk about it any more.

 

(Monk enters tumbling in the air. He has taken off his kasaya and is dressed in a casual jacket and pants. He holds his breath and stands motionlessly kungfu style.)

 

Man:

(Looks towards Monk and speaks softly.) You can never understand what really goes on in a woman’s mind. (Loudly.) An interesting story, very interesting. (Turns to look at Girl.) How come he didn’t kill you?

Girl:

Why?

Man:

There’s no why.

Girl:

All you men want to do is to possess, possess, and possess until everything’s all busted and gone! (Sighs.) Men are so selfish, they only think of themselves.

Man:

Men this, men that, why do you have to keep babbling on about men?

Girl:

Aren’t you one of them?

Man:

If anything, I’m still a person, a real, tangible, living human being.

Girl:

But you haven’t been treating me like one. Let me tell you, I’m not just some plaything for venting your sexual desires. And one woman is different from another—

Man:

When we first started, we were talking in general terms, now it’s different—

Girl:

How different?

Man:

Now it’s you and me, and not men and women in the general sense. We’re face to face with each other, we can see each other, and we’ve had some contact, I don’t just mean physical contact, we’re bound to have some feelings, some understanding of each other, because we’re two living human beings.

Girl:

Wait a minute. You mean when you made love to me just now, you were treating me like your so-called women in the general sense, in other words, just a plaything.

Man:

Don’t talk like that, because you and I were in the same boat, weren’t we? We were like two people possessed—

Girl:

Let me finish. You didn’t even ask me my name, as soon as we entered the door, you…

Man:

Don’t forget, you didn’t exactly refuse me.

Girl:

That’s true, but…

Man:

I see, my sincerest apologies.

 

(Monk successfully completes a handstand. Then he tries to take away one hand to attempt a one-hand handstand, but at once he loses his balance and hurriedly lands his feet on the ground.)

 

Man:

(Softly.) What’s wrong?

Girl:

(At a loss.) Nothing.

 

(Silence. Monk again attempts a one-hand handstand.)

 

Man:

(Takes a look at her tote bag.) Tell me, what happened afterwards? How about that friend of yours?

Girl:

We split up a long time ago.

Man:

So now you’re on your own and you’re wandering all over the globe?

Girl:

I’ve been looking for a companion, but none lasted.

Man:

Yes, nowadays it’s the in thing to do, like fashion, which tends to change from one year to another, or from one season to the next.

Girl:

(Looks around.) You don’t look like you’re living alone, eh?

Man:

Of course I’ve had, how should I put it, a wife? What’s the matter? You don’t like that word?

Girl:

I can’t stand being tied down.

Man:

Well, I guess we’re no different from each other there.

 

(Both laugh heartily. Monk, who is doing a handstand, again takes away one hand and fails once more. He hurriedly lands his feet on the ground.)

 

Man:

(Very carefully.) May I ask your name?

Girl:

Is that important? Try to remember it well and make sure that you don’t get it wrong.

Man:

Why? Somebody did?

Girl:

I hope you’re not as bad.

 

(Both laugh somewhat bitterly.

Monk kneads his hands and attempts a handstand for the third time.)

 

Girl:

Maria or Anna, which one do you prefer?

Man:

The question is which one is your real name?

Girl:

If I told you it’s Maria, then would I surely be Maria?

Man:

That’s a real problem. But if I called you Anna, you’d still be you and not someone called Anna, therefore, you really shouldn’t worry too much about it.

Girl:

(Dryly.) I don’t want to be a stand-in for somebody else!

Man:

Of course. A name is just a code, what’s important is not the sign itself but the actual person behind that sign. You can call me whatever you like, even if it’s some name you’re familiar with, or some name that accidentally slips from your tongue, anything, I don’t think I’d mind.

Girl:

I don’t want to waste any more time on this subject. I don’t want to know your name either, it’s useless to me. And don’t bother making up a fake name and then forget about it in short order. When it’s over, it’s over.


Page 19

Man:

But we’ve just begun, how could it be over so soon? Now that you’ve agreed that a name isn’t important and that it’s a real burden, let’s get to the important part: between you and me…

Girl:

Between a man and a woman? How interesting!

Man:

The whole thing would become more pure, and the relationship more sincere and more real, don’t you think?

 

(Monk completes a handstand and takes away one hand, but he fails again just when it looks as if he is going to succeed. He exits dejected.)

 

Girl:

You really can’t get it.

Man:

(Quite Interested.) Get what?

Girl:

Impossible, it’s impossible. I mean, a woman’s heart.

Man:

If I guessed right, you’re talking about love, aren’t you? That of course is a very delicate subject.

Girl:

I’m talking about emotion, which you can’t possibly understand.

Man:

Try me, you never know.

Girl:

How?

Man:

Between you and me—

Girl:

We’ve tried that before.

Man:

Try again. If it doesn’t work, we’ll just try again.

Girl:

(On guard.) No, you can never have it, you can never have anything!

Man:

Just now I was too rushed, really.

Girl:

(Smiles coldly.) You’re always in a rush.

Man:

(Somewhat repentant.) Can I make it up to you in any way?

Girl:

Don’t think that because you’ve had a lot of women…You don’t know women, you’ll never be loved, it’s in your destiny.

 

(Girl turns around. Monk enters carrying a wooden stick. He looks around for something.)

 

Man:

(Sarcastically.) What’s love? Try to explain it to me.

Girl:

It can’t be explained.

Man:

There’s no harm in trying.

Girl:

There are things you can explain, and there are things you can’t. Don’t you know that?

Man:

Of course I do, but I still want to know about love.

Girl:

What a fool!

Man:

Then go find yourself someone who isn’t.

Girl:

Aren’t we discussing something? And the topic is love?

Man:

We just made love, do we have to discuss it too?

Girl:

Isn’t it true that you like to discuss all kinds of things?

Man:

Well, go find someone that you can discuss with and discuss them all you want!

Girl:

Why are you so hotheaded?

 

(Monk finally finds a spot and tries very carefully to stand the stick up on the floor. But once he removes his hand, the stick falls and he at once grabs it and holds on to it. He turns to find another spot.

Man looks at Monk and can’t help feeling a bit depressed.)

 

Girl:

Answer me, are you or are you not a philosopher?

Man:

Philosophy can go to hell.

Girl:

You’re such an overgrown kid. (Embraces his head.) Be careful, I’m beginning to like you.

Man:

Isn’t that nice?

Girl:

It’s very dangerous.

Man:

(Gets away from her.) Why?

Girl:

Dangerous for you and for me.

Man:

As far as I’m concerned, if you want to stay then stay, you won’t be in my way. I’ve got everything here, a bathroom, a kitchen, a bedroom and a bed, of course, there’s only one bed, but there’s everything that a woman needs.

Girl:

Do you have shampoo, make-up and a night gown too?

Man:

Yes, if you need them, except underwear, you know, everyone is a different size. Make yourself at home, as a matter of fact, I won’t mind if you treat this place like your own home—

Girl:

As long as none of your girlfriends is coming?

Man:

At least none is coming right now. You can stay as long as you like, it’s free. When you want to eat something, just go to the fridge and help yourself, and don’t bother to pay me.

Girl:

I can’t stay with a man all the time.

Man:

There’s no need to. Anyway, if you want to go, it’ll be very simple.

Girl:

And very cheap.

Man:

I’m doing this out of good will, you can stay if you don’t have anywhere else to go, that is, if you really want to stay.

Girl:

Thanks, I don’t live off men, so you don’t have to worry about that.

Man:

I’m not worrying. I can even give you a key, just leave it behind when you go.

Girl:

Do you entertain women like this all the time?

Man:

Not all the time, only sometimes, it’s the same with any other single man, there’s nothing unusual about it.

Girl:

What’s unusual is—Is there anything that’s unusual about you?

Man:

Well, I do have a strange habit. I can’t stand people shaving their armpits in front of me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against hair or anything. We’re born with it, and it’s natural and it can be very exciting. And of course, I have no objection to a woman dressing herself up.

Girl:

For me, I can’t stand anyone snoring beside me.

Man:

Fortunately I’m not that old yet, well, at least I haven’t noticed it, and no women have left me because of it.

Girl:

Why did they leave you then?

Man:

It’s very simple, either I couldn’t stand them or they couldn’t stand me.

Girl:

May I ask why couldn’t they stand you?

Man:

I like eating raw garlic.

Girl:

It shouldn’t be much of a problem, as long as you brush your teeth afterwards.

Man:

Another thing is probably that I don’t have patience, and I just can’t stand neurotic behaviour.

Girl:

Well, there’s no woman who isn’t neurotic.

Man:

And you too?

Girl:

It depends on the person and the time. (Silence.) What else shall we talk about?

Man:

(Scrutinizing her.) Are you still at school? I’m just asking. What I mean is, you’re so young.

Girl:

You want to see my diploma or something? Are you planning to hire me?

Man:

Come to think of it, I might. But how shall I put it, I can’t afford to pay you.

Girl:

I don’t want to be a maid to wait on people, I don’t do cleaning, and I hate washing dishes.

Man:

I don’t entertain at home much, unless it’s some young girl like you. What I mean to say is, sometimes I do need to use the desk at night. If you’re still at school and you’ve got homework to do, there could be a slight problem.

Girl:

Do you write? Are you a writer?

Man:

(Hurriedly.) No, we’re living in an age of women writers, every woman likes to write something. All men’s books have already been written. And when men write about women it’s just not as realistic as women writing about themselves.

Girl:

Do you read only books written by women?

Man:

Not necessarily. I’ve read some. As for women writing about men…How shall I put it?…

Girl:

Too exciting? Or too neurotic?

Man:

Too sissyish. I don’t mean to criticize, let’s leave criticism to the critics, it’s their job. What I mean is, women don’t understand men, just as men don’t understand women.

Girl:

If I were to write about men—

Man:

They’d all be bastards?

Girl:

Not necessarily.

Man:

Even worse than bastards?

Girl:

They don’t even qualify, they’d just be cowards.

Man:

(Hesitantly.) Actually, it’d be quite interesting if you were to write like that. Have you written anything yet?

Girl:

I want to write, but I know I’ll never be a writer.

Man:

Whoever writes is a writer, you don’t need a diploma to be one. It’s as simple as that.

Girl:

But who’s going to support me? I’ve got to pay my rent first, you know.

Man:

Of course, you can’t live on writing. Nowadays writing has become a luxury and an extravagant habit.

Girl:

You seem to like literature, don’t you? Do you prefer poetry or fiction?

Man:

Why just poetry or fiction? Only women read those nowadays. Oh, I beg your pardon, what I mean is—

Girl:

Why apologize? (Teasing him.) I’m no poet and I can’t write fiction, I’m not any of those, I’m just a woman.

Man:

Thank God for that. These days men are always busy earning money and making deals. On weekends? Well, they either have business engagements or they can’t wait to go away with their girlfriends. Only women can afford to have the leisure and the time to read.

Girl:

Not all women read, they’re also busy living. We only live once, don’t you think?

Man:

I know. Nowadays, anyone who writes a book has to read it himself.

Girl:

You don’t look like a businessman. Tell me, do you write books just for yourself to read?

Man:

I don’t have the luxury. Once in a while, I’ll take a look at the books other people have written.

Girl:

May I ask what kind of books do you read?

Man:

Books on politics.

Girl:

Wow! Are you a politician? Are you involved in politics in any way?

Man:

Thank God no, I think it’s better to leave the politicians alone.

Girl:

Then why do you still read about politics then?

Man:

I only read political memoirs.

Girl:

Then you must be studying history, right?

Man:

Not exactly studying. I only want to see how the politicians can lie with a straight face, cheat on one another, swindle, and play with public opinion as if it were a card game. And you know, they’ll only let out a little bit of truth in their memoirs after they’ve been kicked out. And like you said, we only live once, right? So don’t let them take you for a ride.

Girl:

Please don’t talk to me about politics. All men like politics, ‘cause they want to show people they have the talent and the intelligence to run the ship of the state.

Man:

Relax, it’s more interesting to talk about women when you’re with a woman.

Girl:

You’ve got to know how, otherwise you’ll just make a real pest of yourself.

Man:

Of course, flirting is an art, or the art of living even. It’s a lot more interesting than playing cards. Cards are dead and people are living creatures, and they’re all different from one another, don’t you think?

Girl:

Are you done yet?

Man Yes.

 

(Monk finally manages to stand the stick up. Man and Girl both look at him.)

 

Girl:

What else shall we talk about?

Man:

We’ll keep on talking about women of course.

Girl:

Generally, or shall we pick a specific one?

Man:

Why don’t you talk about yourself? I want to get to know you, but please don’t mention that India thing again.

Girl:

You wouldn’t believe me if I did.

Man:

Have you been feeding me lies?

Girl:

Haven’t you lied before? Haven’t you ever cheated on your wife? Don’t lie to me!

Man:

Of course I did, I never said I was a saint.

Girl:

Exactly. You know why women cheat? It’s only because they’ve learned the tricks from men first.

Man:

You mean people cheat on you all the time?

Girl:

Cheating is a form of self-defence.

Man:

Does that include cheating on oneself?

Girl:

Everyone cheats, otherwise it’d be impossible to live.

Man:

You seem to be living quite painfully, don’t you?

Girl:

Everyone’s in pain. You don’t look like you’re too happy yourself.

Man:

Can’t you change the way you talk?

Girl:

How? How should I change it? C’mon, tell me.

Man:

You’re always so defensive, it’s so hard to talk to you.


Page 20

Girl:

The same here. It’s really tiring talking to you.

Man:

You’re like that too. Now I’ve got a headache.

Girl:

(Somewhat sympathetic.) Come on, let’s change to a lighter subject, something that’ll cheer us up.

 

(Having completed his previous stunt, Monk rubs his hands and starts to become enthusiastic again. He takes out an egg from inside his robe and tries to stand the egg on the tip of the stick.)

 

Man:

What else shall we talk about? Something in praise of women or what? But everything that has to be said has been said already, there’s really nothing new left to say any more. Perhaps I should say that you’re young and beautiful? That you’re charming and attractive? Or that you’re sexy? By the way, these are not empty words, and they’re not meant to flatter you or to make you feel good, they’re all true.

Girl:

My dear, you seem to be more lovely when you’re not using your brain. For once can’t you just honestly talk about yourself? Tell me, how do you spend your time?

Man:

You mean right now?

Girl:

Yes, at this very moment—

Man:

Make love, if someone’s willing.

Girl:

What if there’s nobody around? Then what would you do?

Man:

I dream, when I’m doing nothing I always dream. Dreams are more real than reality itself, they’re closer to the self. Don’t you think so? (Lights a candle.)

Girl:

Me too, I dream almost every day. Tell me about your dreams.

Man:

One day, I dreamt that I was sinking into the ground, my whole body was trapped deep inside, there were two extremely high walls on either side of me, or should I say huge crags, no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t climb over them and get out…What are you laughing at?

Girl:

You made it all up, you’re only thinking about women.

Man:

You can’t really tell what happens in your dream, can you? If you’re dreaming things happen in no particular order and you’re confused, when you wake up and try to talk about it, you’d simply lay it on and fabricate, or you’d deceive yourself, and later when you tell your dream to somebody, you’d add on your own fantasies for self-gratification. In a dream, you’re only living in your feelings at the time, that’s all. (Looks at Monk.) There’s no plot, just narration.

 

(The egg falls from the tip of the stick onto the ground. Monk takes another egg from inside his robe and tries patiently to stand it on the tip of the stick again.

Girl smiles surreptitiously.)

 

Man:

It’s just wishful thinking trying to tell a dream.

Girl:

You’re an idiot.

Man:

That’s right. You’re you only when you’re dreaming.

Girl:

(Steps back to inspect him.) Are you saying that at this very moment you aren’t real?

Man:

Who cares if I’m real or not? You’re only concerned with how you feel, right? Only feelings can be real.

Girl:

Now you’re beginning to scare me.

Man:

You weren’t scared when that Indian guy raped you, and you’re telling me that you’re scared now? (Walking closer to her.)

Girl:

Don’t even try, I’m going.

Man:

You’re not going anywhere.

Girl:

Don’t try to intimidate me.

Man:

Just playing. You get scared easily when we play for real.

Girl:

Because it’s not fun.

Man:

Well then, why don’t you tell me how we should play?

Girl:

It’s got to be more relaxing, more cheerful. But you just keep annoying people.

Man:

All right. Whatever you say, I’m game. Tell me, how do you want to play?

(Puts down the candlestick.)

 

(Again the egg falls and rolls on the ground. Monk takes out a third egg from inside his robe. He rubs it in his palms and then places it on the tip of the stick.)

 

Girl:

Fine. Take off your clothes for me, take them all off! That’s what you want, right?

 

(Monk turns his head as if to take a glance at them.)

 

Girl:

I can’t stand your bathrobe, don’t you think it’s ugly? It makes me sick!

 

(Monk turns back his head to continue with his task.

Man takes off his bathrobe and throw it on the ground.)

 

Man:

Okay, now it’s your turn.

Girl:

Can’t you put it more gently?

Man:

How?

Girl:

Do I have to teach you that too?

Man:

When you’re stark naked you’re more natural, and more beautiful.

Girl:

(Sighs.) Your trouble is you’re lonely, so lonely that you’re dying for someone to give you a little tender loving care.

 

(When Monk takes his hand away, the egg falls rolling onto the ground as before.

Girl takes off her blouse. Monk keeps looking at the egg, not knowing what to do.)

 

Man:

(At once getting excited.) You’re a real knockout!

Girl:

You only found out just now? It sure took you long enough. You really don’t know how to appreciate what you’ve got, or how to cherish it.

Man:

It’s still not too late. Come over here…No, go stand over there!

Girl:

Where?

Man:

On the opposite side. Look at me, and put your hands down.

 

(Girl drops her hands and laughs, facing him.

Monk sighs and again takes out an egg from inside his robe.)

 

Man:

Spread your arms like a bird in flight. You’re a bird, a living and breathing big bird. Spread your arms for me!

Girl:

What if I don’t?

 

(Monk is persisting, still trying to place the egg on the tip of the stick.)

 

Man:

When I say spread, spread. Don’t you like birds?

Girl:

You’re a bird, not me.

Man:

Spread your arms!

Girl:

No.

 

(Man and Girl are locked in a stalemate.

Frustrated, Monk cracks the egg on the tip of the stick, and the egg shell finally stands on the stick.)

 

Girl:

(Begging.) Say something nice to me.

Man:

I want you…Close your eyes.

 

(Girl reluctantly spreads her arms and closes her eyes.

Monk rubs his hands and exits satisfied.)

 

Man:

(Man quietly circles to the back of Girl.) On your knees now. (Takes a knife from inside his bathrobe.)

Girl:

No, you’re disgusting. (Reluctant, half kneeling and half sitting down.)

Man:

Put your hands on the floor. We’re playing a game, are we not? (He hides the knife behind him and pulls her hands down on the floor and holds them there with his other hand.)

Girl:

(Frees herself from his hand.) No, I’m not a dog! You’re really sick. (Gets up.)

Man:

Are we playing or not? You wanted it, and you started it first—

Girl:

That’s enough. Can’t you just use your imagination?

Man:

(Coaxing her.) All right, then you’ll be a fish, now try to imagine you’re a fish, a bouncy and jumping mermaid fish dragged out of the water and landed on dry land, okay?

Girl:

To hell with you. I’m not your plaything, go play with yourself.

Man:

But you started it first. After you’ve got people interested, you turn around and say you don’t want to play any more. It just isn’t fair.

Girl:

You make me sick! You understand?

Man:

Has it ever crossed your mind that you make people sick also? Everybody’s sick of everybody! Everyone is sickening!

Girl:

You’re just a log! A rotten log, rotten to the core!

 

(Man and Girl face each other in silence. Suddenly Girl laughs out loud. Man is dejected. He quietly puts the knife back inside his bathrobe.)

 

Girl:

Dance for me!

Man:

(Confounded.) What?

Girl:

Are you playing or not?

Man:

Forget it, let’s knock it off. I’m not interested any more.

Girl:

But now I am. You forced me to play when I wasn’t interested, didn’t you? (Pleading with him.) Please, dance for me, just one dance, okay?

Man:

I don’t know how to.

Girl:

Then what do you know? Or do you only know how to think?

Man:

Don’t talk to me about thinking or not thinking.

Girl:

Then go and stand over there, you do know how, don’t you? Please, please do me a favour, go and stand over there.

Man:

Where?

Girl:

There, stand there like Michaelangelo’s David, but act like you’re thinking.

Man:

(Goes to the other side reluctantly.) You act like one of those woman executives. Do you enjoy ordering men around?

Girl:

It’d be nice if I could. Listen, David represents man at his best, I’m making it easy for you.

Man:

You’re an unqualified witch!

Girl:

That’s it! Raise your hands for me, just like a Michaelangelo.

Man:

Michaelangelo was gay.

 

(Girl laughs heartily. Man reluctantly raises his hands and laughs.)

 

Girl:

I like being gay. Nobody asked you to become impotent!

Man:

Gosh, what a she-devil!

Girl:

I’m going to hurt you, hurt you real bad! Run, I say run!

 

(Continuous beating of the cymbal. Monk still has not entered.)

 

Man:

How?

Girl:

Run in a circle around me!

Man:

Do you want everyone to run around you?

Girl:

Aren’t you the same? You won’t be happy until you turn every woman into your slave. (Very excited.) Raise your hand now like you’re throwing a javelin.

Man:

(Screaming.) I’m not a model!

Girl:

Why is it that only women can be models? Now try it and see what it’s like! Didn’t you say this is the age of women? Who told you to lose your sense of imagination? Run! I say run!

Man:

(Running and shouting.) If a woman became God, the world would turn into a pandemonium, much more horrible than it is now. I don’t know, maybe it’d be better, but it’d more likely be much worse, like some chick’s tantrum!

Girl:

So what if for once we were God Almighty? (Blocks his way.) Blindfold yourself!

Man:

Stop fooling around, I beg you. Okay?

Girl:

Oh, so you can fool around but I can’t, is that what you’re saying? If we’re going to fool around, let’s fool around together, you and I, until we both can’t take it any more!

 

(Girl takes the chance to strip Man of his clothes. He kisses her, taking advantage of the situation. She wraps the clothes around his head, covering his eyes.

Monk enters beating a gong.

Girl hurriedly takes out a pair of pantyhose from her handbag, ties it around Man’s clothes and pushes him away.)

 

Girl:

Over here.

Man:

I’m going to get you! You little devil you!

 

(Man chases after Girl. Both of them run in circles.)

 

Man:

You pigfeet—you dirty little rat—where are you?

Girl:

Here I am…(Quietly picks up the overcoat.)

Man:

You won’t get away this time! (Jumps on Girl.)

 

(Just as he is about to catch her, she sticks out a leg and he trips and misses her.

Monk is stunned and exits.)

 

Man:

(Yanks off her pantyhose and throws it on the ground.) What the hell are you doing?

Girl:

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