by Lynn Snyder
Setting: The kitchen of an upper-middle class home in Akron, Ohio
Time: the late 1960s
Character: ALMA, 47
ALMA holds a white envelope over a steaming kettle on the stove. She speaks to the audience.
A gypsy wouldn’t think twice about opening someone else’s mail. I’m not a gypsy, but I used to tell fortunes. You know, for fun, at parties. I was pretty good at it. When my parents found out, they hit the roof. “Are we raising a gypsy here?” my father bellowed. “Is this why I’m working fifty, sixty hours a week?” He owned a hardware store.
Nothing to be so high and mighty about, if you ask me.
(ALMA makes a cup of tea, takes the tea and the letter to the breakfast table and carefully unseals the letter.)
This letter is addressed to my eldest daughter, Rachel. In novels and movies, people steal letters and throw them away or give them to the wrong person. Even in Shakespeare.
But I know what you’re going to say. A young woman of nineteen has a right to privacy, let alone the moral question.
All right, it’s immoral, unethical and just plain sneaky. But she’s not your daughter.
(She squeezes lemon into her tea.)
I have talented children. Where they get it, I don’t know.
Ira is anything but artistic, I can assure you. A good businessman, yes, but ask that man to go into Cleveland once a year to an opera, you should see the face. I love beautiful things. I love opera. I love flowers. I have some flare, I’m told, for arranging flowers. (indicating the flowers) What do you think?
(She picks up the envelope.)
This letter is from Julliard, telling Rachel whether she is accepted as a student. Rachel applied, because her teacher, Mr. Noretti, told her she could become a concert pianist. A concert pianist. She should poke herself into a little cubicle at Julliard and practice day and night.
What does he care if she marries a piano? If she loses an opportunity for a home, a family, a normal life with a wonderful man like David?
(She taps the envelope on the table.)
How many aspiring concert pianists do you think there are in this country? Go ahead. Guess. Hundreds?
A thousand? Or more. And how many of them are going to succeed? Really make it? On the concert circuit? Being paid? A handful. A tiny, little fraction. And what happens to the rest of them, after years of being cooped up with their music, their youth gone and they can’t even remember how to talk to normal people? What happens then?
They give piano lessons, that’s what. To other people’s children!
(She challenges the audience.)
Rachel doesn’t want to be a concert pianist. If she did, if she really wanted to sacrifice marriage and family to a career, I wouldn’t be sitting here, trying to talk myself out of reading this letter. Oh, she wouldn’t mind being a pianist if she didn’t have to bother becoming one, if someone else would practice three or four hours a day and make all the sacrifices. Rachel was the star of the Christmas student recital two years ago, and she didn’t even want to be in it, because she had to miss all the Christmas parties to practice. Mr. Noretti had to coax her, the way he coaxed her into applying to Julliard.
(She sips her tea.)
You don’t have to be a fortune teller or have ESP or any other “higher power” to know what Rachel wants. She wants to get married. She wants four or five children, a big house out near the country club and a maid. I didn’t tell her to want those things. She says so! All right, David isn’t the most exciting man in the world. You know pretty much everything he’s going to say and do for the next fifty years. But what’s wrong with that if what he’s going to do is earn a good living for his wife and children?
Be the best husband and father in the whole world?
He’s an orthopedic surgeon, in his last year of residency at a big Cleveland hospital. A man like that isn’t going to sit around, waiting, while Rachel tries to become a concert pianist. He wants a home, a family. And there are plenty of women who want him. He’ll marry someone else, and Rachel will regret it all her life!
Is her mother supposed to sit back and do nothing? I know what you’re going to say: (mocking) We give our children life. We don’t own them. Rachel has a right to ruin her life. She has a right to regret David. She has a right to betray herself.
(Her eyes water. She tries not to cry.)
A right to betray herself. Yes. Maybe she does have that right. This is not fifty years ago. This is not my generation, when parents had more authority, when some people still believed in arranged marriages. My parents had authority. I listened to them. I did what they wanted, but I resented it. If I wanted to be a gypsy and tell fortunes, why shouldn’t I be able to do that?
Yes, I resented it very much. Well, this is a new era, and I have no right to play God with my children.
(She goes to the kitchen, comes back to the table with glue, seals the envelope.)
That’s awful! It looks like it’s been opened and glued back together! Rachel isn’t a suspicious nature, but she’ll know! What am I going to say? It will look as though I’ve read that letter. And I haven’t! She would mistrust me for no reason. That’s not fair! (thinks) I’ll have to open it and say I didn’t look at the front of the envelope. I was expecting a letter from Aunt Marcia, and I thought this was it and opened it by mistake. I didn’t read it, Rachel. I promise you, I did not read it.
She’ll accept that. She has to believe me. It’s true. I haven’t read it!
(She opens the envelope, drops it on top of the pile of mail, then puts it into the middle of the pile.)
That looks contrived.
(SHE takes it out, puts it on top of the pile, arranges flowers furiously for a moment, grabs the envelope, takes out the letter, reads it, folds it and puts it back in the envelope, finishes her tea, begins to clean the table, stops sits, glares at the audience.)
She has a right to betray herself?
Have we gone completely mad?
A new era in which freedom is the right to do something totally stupid?
(She reads the letter again.)
You get married. You have children. You love them so much, they define the word, love. But loving them isn’t enough. You can’t let yourself off that easily. You know more than they do. You have experience. You owe it to them to use your knowledge and experience to keep them from betraying themselves. If you can’t accept that as a sacred obligation, you shouldn’t have children. You don’t have the right to have children.
(She picks up the letter.)
She’s been accepted. This letter says that Rachel can go to Julliard and ruin her life. I CAN’T LET HER DO THAT!
(She tears the letter into small pieces, stares at the audience, horrified.)
Wait a minute! What if Julliard calls? They’ll call, won’t they? Has she received the letter, etc.?
I’ll have to call them. Of course! I’ll call…
(She searches for pieces of the letter.)
…here, here’s part of his name, and (searching) here’s the rest, and I just have to find the phone number and say…say that she’s withdrawing her application, because she’s getting married. Here! Here’s the phone number.
Whew! I need another cup of tea, compose myself. No. Do it and get it over with. Do it and flush this down the toilet and then have a cup of tea.
(She sits down to make the call, turns back, glares at audience.)
Right and wrong is not such a simple matter. Sit up on your moral pedestals and judge me! Go ahead. But I assure you that when I tell Rachel that Julliard called to say she didn’t get in, she’ll be relieved. She’ll go out with David and drink champagne.
(She starts to dial, as lights fade to black.)
copyright © 2009 Lynn Snyder. All rights reserved. ___________________________________________
Lynn Snyder’s plays have been seen in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Roanoke and abroad, in Toronto, Edinburgh and Bologna. She has received playwriting fellowships and grants, is a free-lance journalist, has been a newspaper reporter, and a publicity and speech writer for candidates in state and municipal political races.