HI. HAPPY LABOR DAY. - Roberta
Lookat'er - A Slapstick Nursery Drama
By Roberta Schulberg aka Roberta SchulbergGoro
GRETCHEN: granddaughter to Holly, niece to Chuck, grandniece of Manero. She is grown but had lost her parents as a child.
HOLLY: grandmother to Gretchen , mother to Chuck, sister to Manero.
CHUCK: uncle to Gretchen, son of Holly, nephew of Manero.
DONNA: wife of Chuck, daughter-in-law of Holly, aunt of Gretchen through marriage to Chuck.
MANERO: Holly's brother, great uncle of Gretchen, uncle of Chuck.
NEIGHBOR: a stranger.
The stage is described as if seen from one front side only in order to maintain relationship among the four walls. The stage may be in the round. Livingroom is furnished sparsely but furniture is ornate in Rococco style, possibly gilded, suggesting empires. There are four varying rococco side side chairs roughly in a circle. There is a hassock more-or-less included in the chair circle, but it appears to be brushed aside. A door to Holly's room is in the right wall. The kitchen door is on the left wall toward the back, and near it, also on the left wall but more toward front of the stage, is the front door exit. In the left front darkened corner there is an indistinct shadowy structure. Although the corners of the stage are darkened, there is no indication of a spotlight at the center where the action is.
In media which permit it, closeups of facial and figure gesture where appropriate. Gretchen's face is always visible from all viewpoints when the stage is seen in full view and therefore, when the stage is in-the-round, in semi-profile in relation to all four walls. Gretchen sits in livingroom side chair. Three other characters, Chuck, Donna, and Manero all sit roughly in a semi-circle or circle in side chairs facing Gretchen, leaning towards her. There is no other furniture. Holly is in a side room to right of stage. All family characters are very familiar with each other. Gretchen and Holly are relaxed. Others show nervous distress. Speech, gestures and action are performed briskly (allegretto) in an almost mechanical-metronomic, relentless, unbroken rhythmic way. Pauses are a part of, contained in the rhythm of the piece along with the words and the gestures as a single rhythmic movement. Although the words and pauses are in rhythm, they should not seem to verge from plain speaking. There is no actual instrumental music and no actual dancing. Withal it gives a very plain impression.
Gretchen sits in a livingroom side chair. Three other characters, Chuck, Donna, and Manero all sit in a semi-circle in side chairs facing Gretchen.
Chuck: Lookat'er. She doesn't do a thing.
Donna: Just sits there. Chuck, pull your chair in closer so she knows you're watching her.
Manero: (with distaste) Gretchen. Damn 'er, Lookat'er. She should be ashamed to have us all sit around watching her sit around doing nothing.
Chuck: Last week I worked for four straight hours before suppertime. By that meter's measure I've proved in ten minutes I'm six times her worth. Lookat'er. We have to lose her.
Donna: Chuck, she's staring at me, lookat'er. She's upsetting me with her stare. She's doing it on purpose. Make her stop. Take a lookat'er.
Chuck: (to wife, Donna) "Stare"? The significant word is "share." Go on! Take a lookat'er. Is she entitled to a "share"? Our house has always proved its mettle and she is nothing worth. Rude! Obtuse! Our visit won't be long. Let's go to lunch without her.
All except Gretchen and Holly exit through the front door, leaving Gretchen alone on her chair and Holly in her room. After some moments representing a longer interval (room slowly, slightly, dims), the three visiting relatives make re-entrance through the front door, led by Manero who turns on the electric switch at the front door, making a loud click in the silence. Their voices are inaudible, but they appear to be talking excitedly with energetic gesticulations. There are sounds from shuffling feet, heel clicking, etc., their voices gradually becoming louder, an indecipherable babble which continues as they seat themselves on the chairs, not necessarily in the same order as before. Gretchen's face is always visible. When they are all seated (still babbling and gesturing), Gretchen opens her mouth as if to speak. All hush at once and turn their heads toward her as if expecting her to say something momentous.
Gretchen: (calmly and matter-of-factly): Would you like some lemonade?
Chuck leaps up erect and stiff as if at attention. With outstretched arm so tense that it, and in fact his whole body, quivers as he points a finger at his niece, Gretchen.
Chuck: (shouting) There it is! That's it. That's what made Mother sick. She gave acidic drinks to Mother!
Manero: And lookat'er. Still sitting.
Holly: (mellifluous from inside her room) Oh good, your back. Gretchen, put the kettle on for tea. Gretchen, serve the others first with Holland Rusks. Then bring some in to me.
Donna: (with surprised voice turning toward Holly's room): Oh! I see it's not yet over. We'll wait. ~ Later.
The right back corner of the room lightens just enough, subtly, to reveal an ornate burial casket in the corner on the floor of the room.
Donna: (repeating louder toward Holly's room) We'll wait! Later.
Gretchen: Grandma, I'll bring you yours now along with fried fish.
Gretchen rises and goes to kitchen, returns with a tray of food. She exits to room where Holly is. During Gretchen's walk, Manero stands up excitedly.
Manero: (to Gretchen): You know your grandma's sick. You know fried fish is bad for her.
As Manero speaks, Chuck quickly joins in standing. Chuck swivels head back and forth toward the others and points at Gretchen.
Chuck: (sarcastic) Oh, did everybody notice? She fried a tray of groupers. Isn't she industrious! Typical! Anti-social! Only taking care of herself. What did I tell yer? The solicitousness of the pretender. We ought to shake 'er off, lose 'er.
Manero's head bobbing-nods as he sits down.
Manero: (now sitting) And does she feel the labor overworked her? For supper, everyone, let's refuse to eat groupers.
A second plain pine burial casket appears on the floor next to the first.
Chuck sits down very erectly and alertly, nostrils flaring, his right arm across his thigh, hand in a fist as if holding a staff. The eyes of Donna and Manero close and open slowly, as if pensive, shaking their heads in sympathy for Grandma Holly.
Gretchen: (heard from inside Holly's room) Grandma, you know I made that fish because it's good for you.
Holly: Gretchen, I see what's going on. I'm holding it in and I keep it to myself, but I get angry. Gretchen, dessert should be served with only one spoonful of sour cream.
Gretchen re-enters livingroom.
Holly: (calling from inside her room): Manero, the fish weren't crispy. Gretchen knows that I like crispy. And she pushed too much sour cream on me.
Manero: I don't like the way this house is being run. Chuck, I think we'll sell 'er.
Chuck: Agreed. We have to sell 'er.
Donna: (excitedly) Lets go and find out what we can get for 'er. How much would she bring in?
Chuck: Yes, we'll learn its price from our broker.
Holly pitter-patters into livingroom from her bedroom.
Holly: Chuck, when the house is sold I'll come and live with you.
Manero (To Holly): Holly, I told you that you're sick! Get in your bed, stay in your room, and don't you move out of it.
Holly pitter-patters back to her room.
Manero (to Gretchen): Gretchen - you're not needed, you go into retirement.
(to all:) I'll go down the cellar to get the deed and go out the back door to the broker.
Manero walks to first coffin and lifts its lid which serves as the cellar hatch. He climbs down into cellar.
Gretchen: Where should I go?
Chuck (To Gretchen): Lookat'er. I don't know where you'll go, not carrying your own weight. You don't prove your mettle. And even now, lookat'er - still sitting.
Chuck (to Donna with evident pride in Donna): Now, Donna, tell to Gretchen what Mother should have for dinner.
Donna (Speaking to Gretchen): Gretchen, for dinner give her a soft boiled egg and a plain slice of bread through the toaster. Only one egg. Too much protein's a strain. Don't cook it to indigestible hardness. Not too many calories - tea, but no sugar. And nothing sour. Mother should have been given lunch at an earlier hour. Gretchen neglects her. Gretchen, you have a bad effect; you've been too long with her.
With triumphant expression after speaking, Donna breathes heavily and sits. Chuck puffs up with silent pride, nodding with approval to Donna.
Manero returns, lifts cellar hatch and listens.
Holly (from her room): Good, Donna, I want to keep my figure. Gretchen, for dinner a souffle made with but one egg and a single slice of cheese.
Manero (from hatch): Gretchen, you make mother that soft-boiled egg.
Holly (from her room): Donna, you're a good girl; you have the soft boiled egg.
Donna (calling to Holly): But I'm going out to dinner. (To Chuck): If she doesn't eat the egg, I'll throw it out for her. Gretchen, you're a waster.
Manero: That's just it. And Gretchen's indulgence makes Holly sicker. Holly's diet should be stricter. In Her condition, vegetables only are what's good for her.
Holly (from inside her room): Vegetables make me bloated and gassy. I eat like a bird. Merely a taster. In fact, I could do without food.
Chuck (lips quivering): That's Mother. Dearly beloved. A self-sacrificer. Lets leave Gretchen with her while we go out to dinner. I'll take the vegetables home when we leave.
Manero gestures from cellar hatch to Donna and Chuck to follow him down.
Manero (from cellar hatch): The real-estate agent has a ready buyer, a neighbor with an identical house on the other side of the field. We'll meet in his house, sign this one over and then we'll go out to dinner.
Manero ( turning toward Gretchen): You are to be informed by the broker when you must leave. Not yet.
Chuck (calling to Holly as if calling across a canyon): Mother, we're leaving.
Chuck and Donna leave with Manero through the cellar door.
Gretchen sits still on her chair for approx. 20 relaxed, silent seconds.
Holly (from other room): Well, where are they?
Gretchen: They've gone to meet at the buyers house. And then they're going out to dinner.
Holly: They're all grown up and still I have to look after them. It's been years since they've been to these fields and the unmarked paths do meander.
Holly walks into livingroom.
Follow me. I still remember the way.
Holly and Gretchen leave the stage through cellar hatch.
After a few moments Holly and Gretchen come stampeding onto the stage through the front door and look around the room.
Gretchen: One could scarcely find the path at all, but this must be the place. Amazing, how exactly this room matches ours. Are you sure this house isn't ours? When new, was the furniture part of the sale?
Holly: I don't know. These houses are older than me.
Gretchen, moving around, looking, notices there is no cellar hatch.
Gretchen: Oh, I see. This house is not ours. The furniture is identical, but this one hasn't a cellar.
Holly: Well then, this one isn't as good. That explains the neighbor's interest in ours.
Gretchen walks to the kitchen.
Gretchen (from the kitchen): Grandma, in the kitchen there's a stair to the basement.
Holly: I prefer the cellar hatch. When Chuck was small he climbed up and down the hatch and would run in-and-out through the back door.
Gretchen: But now he's not little and he would rather sell.
Holly: I'll go live with Chuck.
Gretchen: Where should I go?
Neighbor opens front door and steps into the room.
Neighbor: Sorry to barge in like this. I've come here to their house in search of Chuck and Manero. We have an appointment to meet at my house to settle the sale of their property to me.
Gretchen: But this is not their property. Isn't this your house? It's not their house. And this is not our house. We thought it was your house.
Neighbor looks around and up to ceiling in the corner where the cellar was located in the first house.
Neighbor: But this is not my house. (pointing) Look, there's no attic hatch in the ceiling. My house has an attic hatch in the ceiling over there in that corner.
Holly: We've never had a house with an attic hatch. Do you mean the stairs to the upper floor?
Neighbor: I have no upper floor in my house.
Holly: This house has an upper floor. Over there is the stairs.
The contraption at left front of stage, barely seen before, is now a bit more lit and can be recognized as an open stairway leading to an upper floor.
Neighbor: No hatch! A stairway! No, this house isn't mine. I don't want to be late for the meeting. I'd better go search for my house.
Neighbor walks out through front door, the way he came in.
Gretchen: (to Holly): Will Uncles Manero and Chuck find us? Have we lost our way?
Holly: What do you mean "lose our way?" This way will do as well. No point in your fretting about Donna, Chuck or Manero. They'll go out to a restaurant and then they're going home. They don't want to be distressed by you. They won't be coming here.
Gretchen sits down in one of the side chairs.
Holly (after a brief pause, shivering): All these doors opening and closing. Gretchen, get yourself up and climb the stairs. Bring me my shawl.
Gretchen rises and walks upstairs. Holly turns and starts to walk to her room.
Gretchen comes down the stairs, walks over and hands cloak to Holly as Holly continues her walk to her room.
Holly: But this is not the shawl I want. The shawl I asked for is in a chest, upstairs, in the large bedroom under the bed. Are you too lazy to climb the stairs?
Gretchen: But Grandma, there were no shawls in the bedrooms. I found it upstairs in the attic.
Holly (continuing to walk to her room): Up in the attic?
Holly halts for a moment and widens her eyes, puts the cloak on her shoulders and then continues to walk toward her room.
Holly: Well then, it will have to do. Gretchen, stop dawdling. I'll have veal cutlets for supper with spinach in hot sour cream garlic sauce. For dessert, apple tart. Bring it all with a tall lemonade.
Gretchen: It's early. I'll have it ready by seven.
Gretchen pulls over the hassock and returns to her chair. She puts her feet up on the hassock.