by Emily Huck
A final project for a past drama class; my symposium.
|A Café Conversation
By Emily Huck
William Butler Yeats
Bus Boy, aged 12 or 13
SETTING: A coffee shop in limbo; nowhere. The furniture is nondescript, or from every time period imaginable. There is a table and three chairs set up out sit an appealingly pleasant coffee house. The area around the coffee shop is also nondescript – trees, nature – yet it’s a pleasant day.
ACT ONE, SCENE ONE
ENTER Oscar WILDE. His movements are feminine and uncaring. He is dressed in Aesthetic dress – a velvet jacket cut with classic lines, a flowing tie, and breeches with knee high black boots. He looks around expectantly, but in not finding what he was looking for, he sits at one of the one available table on the patio. He sits very casually, with one leg crossed, and continues to look around without interest. A BUS BOY enters with a pitcher of water and one glass. He puts both on Oscar’s table, pours the glass with water and makes to leave. Oscar is clearly interested in the boy.
WILDE: My, what a nice day for such a pretty young face. What’s your name, boy?
BUS BOY: Frank, sir.
WILDE: (flirtatiously) And a delightful name to match! Now tell me, Frank, do you, being such an attractive boy, know for certain why I would receive a letter directing me to arrive at the particular café at half past 10 on this oh so particular date when there seems to be nobody around to receive me? And to think, I almost wore my best coat for the occasion!
BUS BOY: ‘fraid I don’t know sir. I just pour the water, sir.
WILDE: Well then, you’re not much help are you? Ah well (eying him)…you can certainly keep me company for a bit so I don’t have to wait by myself, can’t you?
Meanwhile, William Butler YEATS ENTERS. His movements are severe and directed, yet his steps have a certain jovial bounce to them. He is older, and dressed in a casual grey suit with a vest and bow tie. He wears black loafers and large, round glasses. His grey hair is gently tousled, and his face shows remnants of a devilishly handsome young man. He also looks around expectantly, sees WILDE sitting at the table and a look of pleasant familiarly crosses his face. He immediately approaches the table.
YEATS: Well hello, old friend, how goes it?
WILDE: Why Yeats! What a pleasantly delightful coincidence! Why, I was just about to…well nevermind that. What brings you here?
YEATS: Excellent question sir, and I would be quite willing to give you an answer provided that I had one. You see (sits down), I received this strange letter a couple of weeks ago directing me to this particular café on this particular day. I was hesitant at first, however I quickly overcame my hesitations and became quite animated for today.
WILDE: (excited) This is most excellent Yeats! I received an identical letter addressed to me just the other day and I found myself as mystified over its contents as you.
YEATS: (suddenly very interested, examining both of the letters) How very strange…
ENTER Aphra BEHN, dressed in simple home clothes of her time – a green dress over white petticoat with a very low-cut neckline. She holds a tan shawl over her shoulders. Her hair falls over her shoulders in curls and is a golden auburn. She carries an umbrella in one hand and in the other the letter. She pauses at the door, examines the contents of the letter, examines WILDE and YEATS, who are sitting on the patio, and moves toward them.
BEHN: (directed) Good morning, Gentlemen, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Aphra Behn and I am a professional woman of English Literature.
(YEATS and WILDE look at each other and then at BEHN)
BEHN: (continuing as if never interrupted) I mostly concern myself with writing for the theatre, however, I also enjoy playing with other forms of writing for my pleasure. (Moves straight to the point) I hope you can help me. You see, I received this rather incoherent letter a month ago directing me to this spot on this date at this time (although I’m a bit late). You two look as if you know what you’re doing here; perhaps you may assist me.
WILDE: I’m terribly sorry Ms…
BEHN: Ms. Behn.
WILDE: Ah yes, that’s it. Ms. Behn. Terribly sorry, awful with names, I hope you’ll excuse me (bowing)…
YEATS: (Cutting in) Allow me to introduce myself, Ms. Behn. My name is William Yeats, and I too am a professional of English Literature and also concern myself primarily with the theatre. As for your letter, I also received one with identical directions and thus far have not been able to sort out an answer.
WILDE: I suppose I better chime in on the fun. Ms. Behn, my name is Oscar Wilde, and am also a dramatist by profession.
BEHN: Do you have any idea as to my letter?
YEATS: We have just been discussing it and neither of us has a suitable answer.
WILDE: Or an answer at all, really.
BEHN: Oh! So Mr. Wilde, you too received a letter?
WILDE: That is correct Ms. Behn. I received one about two weeks prior to our little rendezvous today. Now if you’ll both excuse me, I must retire to the little boy’s room.
(WILDE leaves. Both BEHN and YEATS sit)
ACT ONE, SCENE TWO
YEATS: Now, Ms. Behn, you mentioned you were a writer by profession…?
BEHN: That is correct, Mr. Yeats.
YEATS: Might I be familiar with any of your work? I have not had the privilege of knowing it thus far.
BEHN: You may certainly, Mr. Yeats. My interests include interesting women in situations that most likely would appear unfavorable, yet somehow turn out for the best. Unfortunately though, I live in a time where broad characterization – especially of women – is looked down upon. My peers mostly prefer to put words on paper and hope they appear humorous. It can be perfectly frustrating. However, I mostly prefer to write comedies where a heroine is the main character. In fact, I recently wrote a play that fits this very description. It is called The Rover and features a lively young woman who, in fear of being sent off to a nunnery, decided to get married instead. Unfortunately for her, she chooses the rover himself, a terribly mischievous and playful man – who is quite charming, if I must say so myself. I will not ruin the end for you, in case you should read it, but I found it quite charming to write and I suppose it must be charming to read and even see performed.
YEATS: I’m sure it is, I’m sure it is. Sounds charming and perfectly delightful to see performed.
BEHN: You mentioned you were also in the profession, Mr. Yeats?
YEATS: That is correct, Ms. Behn. I mainly attempt to illustrate old and forgotten Irish tradition in my drama. This includes Irish legends, traditions, even old songs and lyrics – anything that will get the blood moving through me Irish people once again. I also enjoy, although I talk less about it than my home, writing about mystical things. I have a strange fascination that has become quite evident in much of my work so far, and I’m getting old so who is to say how much longer I will write.
WILDE: I was overhearing your conversation as I reentered, and I can’t help but add my two cents, so to speak.
BEHN: Please, Mr. Wilde.
WILDE: Thank you so kindly. I adore a good comedy, especially one that mixing humor in language with comedy of manners. Our society is so uptight these days, therefore I enjoy loosening them up. For example, I just finished a play called The Importance of Being Earnest and was just performed last month at the St. James Theatre. Have you heard of it?
(BEHN shakes her head no)
WILDE: Oh (disappointed). Well it is quite a smash. It is all about the foolish seriousness of society and the proper this and the proper that. So I wrote a play and made fun of it!
BEHN: Sounds perfectly delightful!
WILDE: Yes yes, it is quite charming if I may say so myself. However, I also take quite seriously the values of aestheticism, or a more decadent view of life. Whatever I write, whether it be serious or comedic, I make certain it upholds the values of high art, and the doctrine “art’s for art’s sake.”
YEATS: Very interesting, my friend. Now on an off topic, I say I’ve a bit of a funny question to ask, my friends. It’s not everyday I have the company of such fine literary peers for such an extended time, but I have been wondering…why do we write drama?
WILDE: I enjoy the fine food and the…company that comes with it (eyes BEHN).
YEATS: Yes but my question is why write for the theatre and not make our focus novels or poetry? Both are highly respectable types of writing and have been well received throughout history. On the other hand, drama is neither well received nor honored most of the time. (Thoughtfully) Ms. Behn, you must have an opinion on the subject, being a highly distinguished writer in the field…
BEHN: I have often considered the subject, and have come to more of an open ended response rather than a conclusion. I write for the theatre primarily because I crave the open interaction with performers. A play, as opposed to a novel or a poem, is by and large created for performance, which also typically means that the author duty is to entertain – therefore making them a performer as well. It’s all very exhilarating. At least, much more so than a novel.
WILDE: I have also given the subject some thought, (standing) and while I agree with you that being a part of the theatrical experience is all very thrilling, I don’t quite see us writers as actually performers. Our material is used within the performance, yes, however the writing itself – the actual act, the words, the pages – are a separate entity entirely. Also, I don’t just write for the thrill of the performance. I write primarily drama and less novels and poetry because I prefer dialogue over plain description. The novels I’ve read are mostly boring description with very little dialogue – at least hardly enough for me. And while I adore writing exactly what I want without anyone else to think about, I enjoy more the creation of characters and what they have to say. Creating characters and then setting them free is why I’m in the business. Seeing them come to life on the stage is an added bonus – however, the moment I release my play to a director or actor’s interpretation, it is no longer my own and, usually unfortunately, my characters become something else entirely. Sometimes better, mostly worse.
BEHN: Your points are well taken, however, I think you underestimate the power of an actor when given a script. I too have dabbled in novels and find them less enticing than a play. Can you agree, Mr. Wilde, that one of the main goals of a writer of drama is see it performed?
WILDE: Not in all cases, but in mine – assuredly.
BEHN: Then does that not make us part of the performance itself?
WILDE: I suppose that depends on your definition of performance. If a performance includes everything used to create the production – the actors, props, stagehands, managers, directors, writers – then absolutely, we are part of the performance. However, I have a very difference definition of a performance. I believe it to be more exclusive and including just the actors, stagehands and anyone involved directly with the actual performance. (Looks at YEATS and look as if to say “it’s awfully uncustomary for you to sit silently”) Yeats, you rascal, why sit there silent when you frequent both dramatic and also poetic writing? You must have an opinion on the subject!
YEATS: I do, my dear sir, I absolutely do. I write both my poetry and my drama with the same words, languages and ideas. I don’t have a special set of words reserved specifically for poetry, nor do I only discuss certain ideas in my drama. What determines a poem from drama, in my case, is the audience. Every piece of writing has an audience; whether the audience is a large group of people, or one person, they are still an audience and the writing depends on such. I write through all types because I enjoy changing my audience. I publish my writing because I enjoy having an audience. You see, my friends, in most cases writing is a very public act, and the audience can change depending on what your writing. I once wrote a play titled Cathleen Ni Houlihan, which, like all of my Irish dramas, had a larger audience in mind. However, the audience wasn’t specifically Irish because my goal was to bring Irish tradition to everyone. On the other hand, my poem called He Wishes for the Clothes of Heaven is more of a love story for one person, or a smaller audience. The Second Coming is more of a call to arms, so the audience is larger.
WILDE: Interesting opinion on the subject, old friend. However, you can’t just be writing for an audience. You must have another reason – joy, love?
YEATS: Oh yes, of course! However, I took the question as an inquiry into why I continue to write drama. I began because I admired the theatre and wanted to be a part of it in some way.
WILDE: Aha! So you’re with Ms. Behn! You believe a writer is actually a part of the performance…?
YEATS: I used to, before I began to write for myself. However, I believe you can both write for yourself and with performance in mind as long as you keep the idea that you’re writing for an audience.
ACT ONE, SCENE THREE
(During this time, BEHN has begun to examine her letter once again)
BEHN: (Suddenly realizing) Gentlemen, please! (Stands up) Don’t you find it at all strange that we received similar letters directing us to this café on the same date?
WILDE: Actually, Ms. Behn, I have been considering that same question ever since the letter first came into my possession.
BEHN: (Sits down and lights a cigarette) Have you arrived at any conclusions?
WILDE: I have arrived at precisely two. Either three copies of the same letter were sent to each of us with the result being that we would be hopelessly confused (and therefore no result at all). Or we are dead.
WILDE: Yes, dead.
YEATS: Interesting idea – improbable but not entirely unfathomable.
WILDE: Ah well, there you have it! We must be dead (sits down).
BEHN: Why what ever do you mean?
WILDE: Oh well you know, dead. Washed up, checked out, extinct, stiff, departed, expired, croaked, kicked the bucket, popped off, perpetually comatose, cadaverous, inanimate or, quite simply, the opposite of alive.
BEHN: Yes I understand but just this morning I was in London visiting (pause)–or was that this morning? Was it yesterday? No, yesterday I (pause)–hm…I fear I’m having trouble remembering what I did do this morning…I must be loosing my mind…
YEATS: (Stands up and begins walking slowing around the table; as if lecturing) On the contrary, Ms. Behn. I believe Mr. Wilde here has hit a point. (Thoughtfully) Ms. Behn, would you be so kind as to tell me the date and location of the present?
BEHN: Why, we are sitting on a patio of a café in London, England and it is the 7th of May, in the year 1678.
(YEATS and WILDE both look startled and suddenly WILDE begins to laugh out loud)
BEHN: What ever is so funny?
WILDE: (arrogantly lackadaisical) You, Ms. Behn. It is neither the year 1678 or are we sitting on a patio in London. It is the year 1895 and while we may well be sitting outside a charming café in London, I would hardly call this a patio. It more resembles a garden with conveniently located table and chairs. Would anyone mind if I smoked?
BEHN: I don’t care if you burn.
YEATS: (ignoring them) Well now, we have stumbled upon proof. Either we are dead or the world is slowly becoming less realistic and more confusing (which I would not doubt for the best of me). Ms. Behn believes it to the year 1678, Mr. Wilde believes it to be 1895, and I believe it to be closer to 1928.
(Both BEHN and WILDE look at YEATS with surprise)
WILDE: (Concerned) 1928, my dear man?
YEATS: Yes, 1928. When I woke up this morning, the Illustrated London News featured an article reporting that the Equal Franchise Act gives women the right to vote at age 21.
YEATS: Therefore, I believe you have hit upon the answer, Mr. Wilde. We must be dead or all sharing the same dream!
WILDE: What’s the difference anyways? Well, one good thing is that now I can smoke all I want my mother pestering me about the things. What’s the problem anyways? It’s not like they’re going to kill me (lights up another cigarette).
YEATS: Ms. Behn, what’s your opinion on the subject?
BEHN: I’m not at all shocked. I just supposed they would have delivered the news in some other fashion, although I’m very glad I don’t remember the actual deed.
YEATS: I agree with you on that count. (Thoughtfully) Although it seems quite foolish that we should all be sent to the same little outdoor café. I suppose I assumed that heaven – or whatever comes after life – would be a little less life-like.
BEHN: What ever do you mean?
YEATS: I frequently write about, the mystery of life after death. In other words, I have a profound interest in the mystic or the occult. Whenever I attend a séance, those who come back from the afterlife seem so much more, to be frank, dead.
WILDE: I assume we would also seem dead if we were to reappear on earth. My question in all of this is where’s the reality? I suppose my idea of what is real is wholly tampered. I assumed this coffee shop, this conversation, this day was real, however now I’m not entirely certain.
YEATS: Reality is in the eye of the beholder, my dear friend. You know that as well as I.
WILDE: Yes, I thought I always knew it. However now that I’m dead, life has a much more cynical spin to it.
(Both BEHN and YEATS look confused)
WILDE: Let me explain. As 19th century writers, both Yeats and I have a duty to bring reality to the theatre. Reality – or truth – was never a focus in earlier drama. Instead, the focus was to entertain. Now (or rather then) we have a duty to be realistic. My play Salome is supposedly a truthful representation the cause of John the Baptists death, however now I’m not entirely certain.
YEATS: Our time is a time for truthfulness in theatre, yes, however reality still remains in the eye of the beholder. You adapted Salome knowing it as truth to the best of your ability. Or, you adapted it knowing it wasn’t truth at all. The point it that you’re considering the reality of it. Also, the actual play itself was based in supposed reality. You were not there, so you do not know the actual reality. However, you adapted a play in a realistic fashion, which is what the reality of 20th Century drama is about.
BEHN: I apologize gentlemen, but I fear I cannot participate fully in this conversation – interesting as it might be. You see, my time period of writing did not make reality a focus. I wrote the majority of my greatest works during a time that is (or was) called the Restoration after King Charles II (God rest his soul) restored the monarchs of Ireland, Britain and Scotland and drove Oliver Cromwell and his morality out of Britain. What followed was a time of free drama, drama that contained overly sexually explicit and rampant plots. Reality and respectability was on the bottom of everyone’s mind. While the time was fun, I quickly grew out of it and turned my focus to interesting characters (although I couldn’t quite give up the multiple plots).
WILDE: Sounds exhausting. However, I know for certain the theatre from that time is delightfully humorous.
YEATS: It’s true, although I have yet to visit a large amount of theatre from that time. I suppose it’s too late now, blast it all.
WILDE: Well friends, we know one thing for mostly certain.
BEHN: And what might that be?
WILDE: That we’re probably going to be stuck here for a rather long time. I suppose this is a sort of purgatory (looks around).
(A television suddenly appears on the patio)
WILDE: I say, has that awfully alarming looking contraption been there this entire time (gestures to the television)?
YEATS: What the devil is it?
WILDE: It is rather alarming looking, isn’t it?
BEHN: Maybe it’s a rather large book?
WILDE: I say, I’ve found an instruction manual! Now if I could only understand what it says…
(All get up and examine the television. The lights begin to dim and there are shouts and remarks concerning the T.V. all the while)
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Nestvold, Ruth. "The Aphra Behn Page." lit-arts.net. 1996. lit-arts.net.
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