Boomerang

Characters

  • THE TEACHER
  • THE STUDENT

Setting

Scene 1
An acting class studio in Paris

Scene 2
The Teacher’s suburban apartment
(Later that evening)

Scene 3
The Teacher’s bedroom
(The next morning)

Scene 4
The Teacher’s bedroom
(Several hours later)

THE FIRST TEARS

(An acting class studio. The lesson has just ended, and the last STUDENT is getting ready to leave. He is about 25, rather handsome but troubled-looking. The TEACHER has a regal manner. She looks imperious but also a bit uneasy.)

TEACHER
One moment, Mr. Guerin!

STUDENT
Listen, I’m sorry…

TEACHER
No. Stay. I’d like a word with you.

STUDENT
I’m really sorry…Could I pay for this set of classes toward the end of next month? It’s just that these last few weeks…I’ve been looking for work, and…

TEACHER
It’s not about your payments.

STUDENT
Oh! (Silence. Starts to go.) Look, I promised Nicole I’d work with her on that scene from Beckett…

TEACHER
Exactly! That’s what I wanted to…I’ve been meaning to talk to you for quite a while now. You see… (Sounds of traffic from the street) Oh, that bloody traffic! Would you mind closing the window? (He meekly does so.) Thank you! Now then…Take a seat. Yes, yes, sit! (He sits.) Now we can take our time. And please, don’t look at me like this is some kind of courtroom! You’re not under arrest! (Cheerfully) We’re just going to have a talk…friend to friend. (An uneasy laugh) This is a little awkward—I don’t know why—this sort of thing happens all the time. (The Student looks tense.) All right! What I need to say is…How old are you?

STUDENT
I thought you knew that.

TEACHER
I know, but tell me anyway! Give me a little help here! Oh, this is ridiculous! I’m beating around the bush when I should just get right to the point!

(The Student slowly rises.)

STUDENT
You’re not happy with my work? Is that it? You don’t think I’m…You don’t think…

(Silence)

TEACHER
Well, no, I don’t. I mean, why not get it over with? (She smiles.) I’ve been watching you for months now. Watching you arrive and depart. Watching you perform…which you don’t do very often.

STUDENT
I know. It’s just that…

TEACHER
No, don’t interrupt. I need to find the right words to tell you…(A suspenseful silence)…that you are not cut out for this job.

STUDENT
What job?

TEACHER
Well…acting. The theatre. You did plan to become an actor, didn’t you? Well, you haven’t got what it takes, and you never will. Have. What it takes. (He sits.) This is so hard to say, but there’s no question about it. You’ll thank me for this some day. No! Don’t speak! I need to say this. (She walks around him, studying him.) You have no talent. No gift, you see. I mean, if you even had genuine ambition…although in your case even that wouldn’t be any use. You’re a desperate case. Why go on deluding yourself…Why go on paying for classes that…that you haven’t been paying for, by the way.

STUDENT
Yes, I…

TEACHER
It’s hopeless, you see. It always will be. Mr. Guerin, you’re never going to get anywhere. (Almost lovingly) You’ve got nothing, Mr. Guerin. You’re a zero. It’s not your fault. Some students are awkward at the beginning…the ones who have trouble coming out of their shells…who seem almost paralyzed…But after a while, they…Whereas you…You’re absolutely unique. You’re not awkward. You obviously came out of your shell ages ago. (She looks at him rather admiringly.) And I doubt you’ve ever felt remotely paralyzed. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you. (Playfully scolding) You’re basically a cheerful boy, aren’t you? Footloose and fancy-free? Anyone can see that! (On the attack again) So why waste your life? Why set your heart on a profession you’re not suited for? It’s not a tragedy, you know, failing to become an actor. There are millions of people out there who are not actors! Thank God! And most of them are a lot happier than your average actor. You must see that! There are people out there working in factories, shops, offices…all sorts of places! And they are every bit as important as people who work in the theatre! No, don’t interrupt! I know this is painful. It pains me to have to say it. It must seem cruel for me to take your dream away—to make you face up to a disappointing reality. (She waits for his reaction. There is none. She continues, gently.) Not that you’ve disappointed me! I never had any expectations—From the first day I could see what you were, and always would be. There’s no mystery about you. You’re a plain, uncomplicated fellow. Which isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with you! On the contrary, you’re a wonderful type—well-balanced, perfectly equipped to lead a normal, happy life. But not in the theatre, you see?

STUDENT
I…

TEACHER
It’s amazing. Right now you’re so real, so vivid, so in-the-moment! Yet when you act, you become completely phony. You can’t play a character—You can’t even play yourself! You become incredibly boring, do you see? (Assuming a professorial air) This is difficult to explain, so please don’t take it the wrong way. It’s very simple…like a chemical or physical phenomenon. Look… (Very Leonardo da Vinci)… An artist opens his eyes and sees a view. And perspective gives him an outlook—shows him what matters in that view—what’s important…and he is able to project that onto a canvas. But for some people there is no perspective. And that’s you. You have no perspective. You walk onstage, you gesture, you speak…but nothing matters. You don’t grab the eye, you don’t seize the soul. Nobody cares, you see? It’s as though you’re not there at all. The moment you appear, we’re tired of you. We’ve forgotten you. We’re looking for someone else—anyone—as long as it’s not you. Is that clear enough? (A bit sadly) I’m so sorry. I can imagine what it’s like hearing yourself demolished like this. (Analytically) How are you feeling? You doing all right? (No response) That’s great! You don’t look bad at all. Fine, let’s go on! It’s always good to be frank. Sometimes the truth pays off. By the way, this has nothing to do with your payments…which you haven’t been paying, anyway. I don’t care about the money! You have to believe that. (The money does seem to concern her.) Of course, I have to earn my living—just like everyone else. Every student I have helps pay my electric bill, my gas bill, some of my rent…some new makeup…what I need to eat, to stay warm, to look my best! You students are my living! But that doesn’t justify ripping you off. If I kept you on in my class, poor darling, I’d be cheating you. I’m not going to profit from your false hopes. I’d be leading you into a blind alley with no way out. Isn’t it better to tell you the truth? It hurts, but better to get it over with in one nasty jolt. There! I’m trying to be kind. I’m speaking to you like a mother. In the forty years I’ve been in this business…I mean thirty. Well twenty…whatever. Feelings…sensitivity…the desire to harm no one…I’ve held onto these things. I’ve always thought of my art as a gift—to others. I’ve always known that I must be the means of transmitting the playwright’s art to the audience. I am simply a transmission cable. That’s it! I’ve never tried to bully anyone—to push them in any particular direction. I’ve been absolutely respectful of everyone’s individual nature—of each one’s lifestyle and feelings. Never demanding brilliance, or even intelligence. I mean, even idiots have the right to exist, thank God! That right belongs to the retarded, the inbred, the crippled…all the handicapped of the world! (A little out of breath) Whew! Well, that just about covers it. I think this went pretty well. (Coquettishly) I wasn’t too hard on you, was I? I’ve been told that I’m not always the most diplomatic soul. But screw diplomacy, right? (The Student still sits stiffly. He turns his head and looks out the window. The Teacher is a bit disconcerted by his lack of reaction.) OK! We’re still friends, right? And there’s no need to pay me for these last few months. Forget the money! (Slightly forced benevolence) It’s yours! Think of it as a gift! Don’t even thank me! This way you can have a happy memory of me. I hope I’ve been helpful in some way. (She starts to prepare to leave, taking up a shabby raincoat and a cheap-looking shawl.) Is it cold out? Do I need my shawl? I’ll bet the traffic is terrible. (Still nothing from the Student. The Teacher is more and more disturbed by this. She offers her hand. He doesn’t respond.) So. You don’t want to shake hands. I understand. I’d probably feel the same. Fair enough. Just as well…

(Regally, she starts for the door. The Student suddenly gets to his feet, looking as though he may explode.)

STUDENT
(Quietly, but with intensity) So, you’re saying I lack talent.

TEACHER
(A bit fearful) Well, it’s just…

(Little by little, the balance of power begins to change places.)

STUDENT
You think I’m a bad actor.

TEACHER
You’re not exactly bad. You’re…

STUDENT
Insignificant?

TEACHER
Not even that. You’re…

STUDENT
I’m not funny. I’m not dramatic. Not a leading man, not a comic, not a…

TEACHER
You are…yourself.

STUDENT
Which means I’m nothing. Right?

TEACHER
Listen. This is not a tragedy.

STUDENT
I know. I know. I just want to be sure I’ve got this right. I’m nothing. Totally uninteresting. At least, when I’m acting.

TEACHER
But so what? Millions of people amount to nothing on a stage. Others are equally hopeless in front of a camera, behind a desk, at a stove, in a salon…and still, they have lives! They can even become millionaires, presidents…fathers! Extraordinary people!

(He looks miserable.)

STUDENT
But I want…I wanted to be an actor.

TEACHER
(Assertively) Choose something else! I mean, I hope you can choose something else. That something else will appeal to you.

STUDENT
(Stubbornly) No! I want to be an actor.

TEACHER
But don’t you have a family? A girl? Someday you’ll have a wife…children. Other plans.

STUDENT
I’ve been taking this class for four years. Every day. All day.

TEACHER
(A little embarrassed by his distress) OK. You’re right. I’m partly to blame. I should have told you this a long time ago. But I wasn’t certain…You understand? I was hoping…

STUDENT
Me, too! I’ve worked my ass off! I bet I’ve learned more roles than anyone else here!

TEACHER
That’s just what had me confused! I saw how hard you were trying—how much effort you poured into your work. I kept expecting some progress.

(They are face-to-face, rather like a doctor and patient.)

STUDENT
And I haven’t made any?

TEACHER
Not an inch! What you were on your first day here, that’s what you are now.

STUDENT
(Desperately) Maybe that’s what talent is! Maybe that’s what makes talent possible!

(A long silence. The Teacher is more and more uncomfortable.)

TEACHER
Listen. I don’t want to demolish your dreams. Maybe you do have talent that I haven’t been able to perceive. Something I’ve failed to bring out in you. I’m not the only acting teacher in France. Maybe…

(They stare fixedly at one another.)

STUDENT
(Almost like a lover) But you…you don’t want me.

TEACHER
Forget about me! Go find another teacher.

STUDENT
It’s your opinion I care about.

TEACHER
Why ?

STUDENT
Because you were…where I began.

TEACHER
This is my fault. I have so many students. I’m unable to concentrate on individuals.

(He looks deeply into her eyes.)

STUDENT
I think you noticed me.

TEACHER
(Stepping back, intimidated) Well…of course!

STUDENT
I was your student—fine. But if there isn’t also a certain amount of caring…

TEACHER
(Sensing that she’s losing ground) But I care deeply! I always have…

(A moment. Suddenly he’s angry again.)

STUDENT
Then why are you kicking me out?

TEACHER
I’m not kicking you out! I’m just telling you…

STUDENT
That I’m nothing! That I’ve got no talent! That when I act, people are bored silly!

TEACHER
There’s no point in making a scene. I know you’re hurting. I’m hurting too. I just wanted to tell the truth for once in my life…I mean, a little more often…as often as possible!

STUDENT
(Pouting) And this was your chance, right? To try it out on me! Just my lucky day!

TEACHER
(Angry in her turn) It wasn’t a sudden decision! You think I was just in a bad mood today? I do have a conscience, you know. (A little uncertain) Not that I don’t have my faults. I can be a bit frivolous…lacking in courage, like most people. But…

STUDENT
(Provoking her) But I was so lousy, so inconsequential, that you couldn’t resist the chance to be honest, right? (He is circling her, dominating.) So among all those klutzes, those hacks, those incompetent amateurs, those would-be Don Juans that even a nymphomaniac would reject… (Waspish)…Because your class is particularly peopled with human catastrophes…I’ve got to tell you…Your class is made up of the Cream of Catastrophe! But that’s not my problem. (Reveling in masochism again) My problem is that I’m the one who inspires you to brutal honesty! Among all those artistic cripples, amputees, and paralytics, I am the hammiest, homeliest, tackiest, clumsiest, klutziest Crimson King of Catastrophe!

TEACHER
(Summoning all her dignity) We’ve finished talking. There’s no point in going on. I’ve told you my opinion. That’s all it is. An opinion. One which could be mistaken…

(Trying to maintain her air of command, she starts to leave. He bars her way.)

STUDENT
(Deeply serious) What have I ever done to you?

TEACHER
Pardon?

STUDENT
What have you got against me?

TEACHER
I…what?

STUDENT
(Suddenly certain) One day, you suddenly decided that you disliked me.

TEACHER
Of course not!

STUDENT
Because I didn’t want to sleep with you, like some of the other guys?

TEACHER
(Indignant) Are you insane?

STUDENT
Or should I have paid court to you? Made you feel beautiful, sexy?

(She stares at him, aghast.)

TEACHER
This is pointless. (Moving quickly toward the door) We’d better go now. The studio is rented out to someone else, and…

STUDENT
(Barring her way) But I need to understand, OK? I need to know why…(Circling her, seductively) You know those little dinner parties you throw? At your apartment? Little student get-togethers? I’ve never gone to one. Not one, because…because that’s not what I care about! I don’t want to socialize with the class outside of work. You get it? I just want to focus on acting! (Passionately, seriously) Because, for me, to be an actor is to use my imagination to build, see? To use tiny particles of thought…ideas…(On fire with his theory)…things lighter than air which somehow take on a vivid, perceptible reality which becomes more and more tangible…through me! My thought, my voice, my gestures, my body…

TEACHER
(Snapping) Yes! Yes—I get it! But there’s no point in telling me how hard you try to bring characters to life. That’s just the problem. I know it’s not fair. Some students don’t do anything. They don’t have an idea in their heads. They don’t prepare for class, they have no conscious goal—They don’t even learn their lines! They’re careless, stupid, they don’t pay attention. And yet…the damned idiots have talent! They stand onstage, mumbling, and guess what? We can’t take our eyes off them! We can’t wait to hear what they’ll say next. While you…with all your endless thought and hard work…

STUDENT
(Flatly) I bore them silly. Right?

TEACHER
It’s embarrassing to watch you.

STUDENT
Embarrassing how?

TEACHER
(Intense) You fall on your knees before a girl and pour out one of Orlando ‘s love speeches…You try to be Tartuffe, Cherubino…It’s always embarrassing—boring. Last week you tackled Glendower—one of the most colorful characters in Shakespeare—flamboyant, larger than life, gloriously eccentric…and you were…

STUDENT
(Icy) Embarrassing.

TEACHER
I thought maybe you’d be better at tragedy—Romeo, Hippolytus, Don Carlos, Armand. No question about it—You’re hopeless. Once, during that awful heat wave, you were doing a scene from No Exit, and the entire class fell asleep! (Gently) Remember? (He is silent.) Don’t you talk to your fellow students? Haven’t any of them ever told you? That everything you do onstage creates a vacuum? That your face…handsome though it is…never catches the light? (Waxing lyrical) While some of the others…far less attractive…manage to project a kind of charm… A spirituality glows in their faces, illuminates their beings…a kind of magic—the magic of art, of theatre. (Coming back to earth) I know, I seem to be deliberately destroying you. Now you’re going to think it’s all because you never came to my little soirées. (A bitter smile) Where, of course, I lure my students because I’m dying to feel their hot little bodies clustered around me, like a mother hen with her chicks. Or maybe you think I’ve got it in for you because you’ve never made love to me. Believe me, even though I may be an actress and a total egomaniac, I assure you that my insatiable appetites in that area are not what they used to be. (Lying) No! I don’t resent you at all! (Waxing nostalgic) In fact, you’ve been one of my favorite students—on a personal level. One in whom I recognized—as an individual—apart from all artistic considerations—undeniable human qualities. (Searching for them) Generosity, thoughtfulness, sensitivity, dedication…

STUDENT
(Interrupting angrily) But no talent! No stage presence! A human soporific on hot days! Hell, even on cold days! No glow, no spirituality, no…

TEACHER
(Retreating) Listen, I…

STUDENT
OK! I get it! That was my funeral oration!

TEACHER
My darling boy. Please don’t try to be an actor. Don’t waste your life. You’ll never be an actor. You’ll spend your days on the Unemployment line. (Accusing) And don’t tell me you don’t already know it! In four years, you’ve done nothing but attend classes. You’re always here, getting underfoot, glued to this room. While the others are out there auditioning, getting cast in shows… (More accusing) You haven’t even tried! Every morning, here you are again! Stuffing yourself with monologues, scenes, verses, characters…

STUDENT
(A cry of despair) Because I’m not ready!

TEACHER
(Powerfully) And you never will be! You’ve turned this class, and me, into your womb, your endless excuse. Well, it’s time to cut the umbilical cord—and I’ve done it! (Heading for the door) And now we really have to get out of here… (The telephone rings. She answers it.) Hello! (Her expression brightens. She chatters casually, while the Student, absorbed in his own psychodrama, paces.) George, darling! It’s you! For the dance class, yes…I’m on my way out…Just leaving… (Glances at the Student) Just dealing with a few administrative formalities…No, nothing important, really… (The Student catches that) The usual inconveniences of office. So, how goes it? How’s your class? Got some good people? Well, aren’t you the lucky devil! (The Student makes a decision.) So tell! How’s life outside of class? I never see you! We don’t talk enough. We should have dinner some night. You could come to my place, and bring some of your best students. Yes! Yes! What? Oh, really? (Gay laughter) You’d rather come alone? Oh! Some teachers are so hard to please! You’re right, of course. They’re so young, while we… (Going from excessive frivolity to excessive seriousness) No! No! Oh, I don’t think… (Sagely) Well, you know, personally… (She is about to launch into a dissertation when she notices that the Student has opened the window. Noise from the street pours into the room. The Student puts one leg over the sill.) Hey! What the hell are you doing? Are you crazy? (He ignores her, and puts his other leg over the sill.) Get back here! (She hangs up the phone, runs to him and grabs the hem of his jacket.) Stop that! You’re nuts! Trying to jump out a window just because… (She tugs. He resists. Finally he gives up and drops back to the floor. She slams the window shut. He sobs, hiding his face in his arms. She turns on him fiercely.) Well, that takes the cake! You want to end it all, just because I don’t think you’re cut out to be an actor? (Shaking him) Is that it? You think that’s the answer to your problems? (Not waiting for an answer, she pushes him away) You total asshole! (Without a word, he jumps up and runs from the studio. The Teacher, shocked, starts after him, all affectation gone.) Wait! Don’t go! You shouldn’t be alone! Mr. Guerin! Did you hear me? Come back! Maybe I was wrong! (Not really believing it, but still trying desperately) I’m sure you must have talent—some kind! (Running after him) We can talk about this! Mr. Guerin!

(The Teacher, deeply moved, possibly in love, exits. The studio remains, empty and sad.)

BLACKOUT

THE SECOND TEARS

(A messy, rather sordid-looking apartment in a remote suburb of Paris. The Teacher and the Student enter, having obviously made a long, tiring journey involving several transfers. The room breathes mediocrity and defeat.)

TEACHER
Here we are! My Sanctum Sanctorum! (Taking in the disorder) Never mind the mess! (She moves elegantly through the chaos of scattered clothes and overflowing ashtrays.) As you can see, my schedule doesn’t allow much time for domesticity. Nor does my nature incline me in that direction! (She turns to him, pushing home the point.) I’ve never been much of a home-maker. (She locates the answering machine, which is on the floor.) Ah! Have to check those messages! (She pounces on it and activates it. It announces “You have no messages.” The Student observes all this impassively.) Nary a one! Don’t you hate these things? (She straightens up, resuming her imperious manner.) So! Sit! (He obediently sits in the nearest armchair.) Would you like a drink? Whiskey? Or… (She rummages in a cupboard, among various near-empty bottles, finally extricating one. Embarrassed, but covering) Well, whiskey it’ll have to be! And I’m fresh out of soda…But you take it neat, right? Just the thing for your nerves. (More rummaging about to locate a fairly clean glass, which she wipes with her sleeve. The Student takes the drink, watching her. She begins to feel uncomfortable under his scrutiny.) Splendid! I’ll be right back—Just going to freshen up a bit. I’m done in! (Turning back briefly, with motherly concern) Now you’re not going to do anything silly, are you? You’ll behave yourself? (He doesn’t answer, but takes a drink. She leaves. He sits alone, taking in the dismal aspect of the room. She returns, with a flourish, wearing a chiffon-and-maribou dressing gown in the style of 1950s Hollywood, obviously purchased at a discount store. Her cleavage is carefully veiled. She wears slippers with pompoms. A weird combination of vamp and Mommy . She stretches luxuriously.) Ta-dah! Now I feel comfortable! (She throws him a glance. No response.) So! Relax! Make yourself at home. (Wandering around the room) I wonder what there is to eat? (She goes into the kitchen. Sound of the refrigerator opening) Shit! Practically nothing! I never have any food! (Returning) I think I’ll join you in a drink. (The same bustle with the empty bottles and search for a clean glass. She fills one with whiskey. The Student watches.) I’m exhausted! All these emotions tonight…I’m always talking about other people…what they should and shouldn’t do with their lives. (Very “To be or not to be”) Maybe I’m not cut out to be an acting teacher? (Not believing this for a minute) I don’t have the style, the tone, the right stuff. I’m far too self-centered. (A sigh) To analyze other people’s problems, when I have so many of my own… (She turns cheerfully to The Student, who sits quietly and attentively) I was just thinking…on the bus ride…I have a wonderful friend—an interior decorator. It’s just possible I could get you a job with him—as an apprentice. (With resolve) I could talk to him tomorrow. What do you think?

(Long silence. He’s in no hurry to reply. He looks around the room.)

STUDENT
(A bit scornful) So you live here?

TEACHER
(Somewhat defiant) No one told you what my place was like? No, I remember—You don’t talk to the other kids. (Cheerfully) Yes! This is my nest! I daresay it’s not much to look at. A bit gloomy…Could be cleaner—Not much space, and a long way from the City.

STUDENT
And you live here alone?

TEACHER
At the moment, yes.

STUDENT
Someone else plans to move in?

TEACHER
Possibly. Who knows? Not that I have many illusions on that subject.

STUDENT
(Still inquisitive) You’ve lived here a long time?

TEACHER
Here? No! Just two years. Before that I had another apartment. Which was also gloomy and where I also lived alone…as I recall. (Attempting irony) For the most part…which amounts to the same thing. (Serious) Is this an interrogation?

STUDENT
No! But I was just thinking that I’ve also been too absorbed in my problems—my own state of mind. (Gravely) So I’m trying to show a little concern for someone else.

TEACHER
Well, thank you! That’s most kind. Would you like some more whiskey? I could use some.

(She pours herself another glass, nearly to overflowing. The Student looks at it.)

STUDENT
Is that why you’ve given up acting?

(The Teacher nearly spills her drink.)

TEACHER
What?

STUDENT
Because you’re an alcoholic?

TEACHER
Oh! I nearly choked. (Recovering her cool) To begin with, I have not given up acting.

STUDENT
You don’t do much.

TEACHER
Because I don’t care to.

STUDENT
Too busy teaching?

TEACHER
Yes! My students, among other things. And I’m certainly not an alcoholic! Sure, I like a drink now and then. But I’ve never passed out under the drapes!

STUDENT
You can be an alcoholic without passing out under the drapes.

(Tension begins to build.)

TEACHER
I’m aware of that. A very profound observation. In fact, if you’re capable of such witty repartee, I suspect you’ve fully regained control of your emotions, and you can now…

(She tries to push him out of the armchair. He hangs on, looking very serious.)

STUDENT
In other words, you saved my life.

TEACHER
Oh, please! You think you’re the first student who’s considered jumping out a window? It’s hardly a rescue if….

STUDENT
Oh? You’ve had other students try to commit suicide?

TEACHER
What do you say we change the subject? (She resumes her restless walking about the room.) Are you hungry?

STUDENT
Not particularly.

TEACHER
Well, I am! Starving! Then we could watch some TV—an old classic film, maybe?

STUDENT
(Fake naïveté) One of yours?

(She heads for the kitchen.)

TEACHER
Let’s see if there’s any eggs.

STUDENT
We don’t really know much about you, at school. A few roles, a while ago. A long while ago… (She doesn’t answer; rummages through the cupboards) Have you done many films?

TEACHER
A few.

STUDENT
Classics?

TEACHER
Not many.

STUDENT
(Apparently without irony) Silent films?

(She re-enters, holding a frying pan menacingly.)

TEACHER
Eggs. Fried or boiled? Considering that this batch dates back to the silent era, I suggest fried.

STUDENT
Fried it is! (She exits to the kitchen. He is suddenly energized, taking in the room’s atmosphere.) You know, I like your place! It has an atmosphere of disintegration, surrender…of age that dare not speak its name…(Spinning around)…but with ancient claws digging into everything and refusing to relinquish its prey…

(The Teacher appears, smiling, holding a spatula.)

TEACHER
You do have a poetic streak! Have you considered a literary career?

STUDENT
No thanks. I like being a bad actor.

TEACHER
Meaning you haven’t given it up?

(He doesn’t answer. She serves up the eggs. They eat without concern for table manners, in a mutual rage. The Teacher drinks quite a bit.)

STUDENT
Yum! Great eggs!

TEACHER
(Flatly) Eggs is eggs.

(He finishes eating; resumes his interrogation.)

STUDENT
So after class, you come back here?

TEACHER
Yes.

STUDENT
And drink whiskey and eat eggs?

TEACHER
Yes.

STUDENT
And they don’t make you sick?

(She loses her temper.)

TEACHER
What is your problem? What are you trying to prove?

STUDENT
Nothing.

(She takes control.)

TEACHER
You know, you’re only here because I took pity on you. Out of the goodness of my heart. As it were. You poor thing.

(He rises.)

STUDENT
Oh, well, if you’re…

TEACHER
Oh, don’t get all huffy! Sit down. Just please stop showing off. We’re all “poor things.” Men and women—no matter what age we are, wouldn’t you say?

STUDENT
(Nasty tone) Sure! Deep down we’re all alcoholic, unwanted, out-of-work actors, right?

TEACHER
Certainly! We’re all that and more, if that’s how you feel.

STUDENT
Why “and more?” Isn’t that enough? An unemployable alcoholic! Boy, who’d have thought it, to watch you in class! All those students lined up, drinking in your words like holy writ—bet they didn’t know that!

TEACHER
What didn’t they know? You think the rest of the class is as blind as you? You think they regard me as some kind of model of artistic greatness?

STUDENT
Well, I did.

TEACHER
That’s because you thought you were great!

(He is stung by this.)

STUDENT
I never thought I was great! I know I’m not.

TEACHER
Oh, take it easy! I was kidding! Just like you were…right? (Silence. She feigns surprise.) No? You weren’t kidding? (He sits down again.) Mind if I smoke? Yes! You may as well know it all…I smoke! And I’m extremely fond of all kinds of pills—I’m a total junkie! (They stare at each other. Suddenly she snatches the chair out from under him.) You may stand up now! Supper’s over— Nothing left to eat—not even fruit for dessert! And I’m still sober. (Very Grande Dame) Care for a post-prandial cordial? (Kinder) Oh, stop sulking! Come on, have a seat on the sofa. It needs re-covering, but then who doesn’t? To hell with aesthetics, right? (She sinks onto the sofa, holding her arms open in exaggerated invitation.) Come on, have a seat! (He obeys reluctantly, sitting bunched in a corner. She takes her turn at being the inquisitor.) How old are you? Do you feel like telling me?

STUDENT
No. But I’d like to know how old you are.

TEACHER
What difference does it make?

STUDENT
Everyone in class wonders.

TEACHER
Because…

STUDENT
They keep saying…(Mimicking contemplation) “She must be younger than she looks. And yet…”

TEACHER
“…she doesn’t look all that young.”

STUDENT
Right! That’s it! “So…give or take twenty years, plus the twenty years that she may be hiding with makeup…”

TEACHER
(Interrupting) I must be pushing ninety, right? Marvelous! Now I understand why the class sometimes looks so preoccupied. They’re busy doing mathematical calculations.

(She looks wounded.)

STUDENT
(Noticing) Do you hate us?

TEACHER
What?

STUDENT
Are you jealous of us? Our youth? Our zest for life?

(She rises, edgy.)

TEACHER
Jealous! Of those creatures? Don’t assume that youth and zest for life automatically go together. Believe me, they don’t!

(He remains seated, calmly.)

STUDENT
(Like a psychiatrist) So, you became a teacher because you were embittered with life?

TEACHER
I became a teacher because I needed the money!

STUDENT
Or was it because you just didn’t have the calling?

TEACHER
“Calling?” What am I, a monk? (He stares defiantly. She yields slightly.) I simply hoped to pass on some of the secrets of my art to someone else. Like a mother to a child, who…

STUDENT
You never had kids.

TEACHER
How do you know?

STUDENT
Or if you did, you must have been a lousy mother. So now…

TEACHER
You know. I think…

(She makes a gesture of dropping the subject. He pursues it, almost with desperation.)

STUDENT
No! Don’t drop the subject! We’re finally talking. Like equals. (Almost affectionately) At long last.

TEACHER
(A touch of annoyance) Oh, you consider yourself my equal?

STUDENT
You bet! (Provoking) Your career is a failure, and I’ll never have one. So we’re equals. (She moves away. He stops her.) No, stay! This is great, don’t you think?

TEACHER
It’s getting late, and I really should…

STUDENT
Hey! “I came on two buses and a train!” You think I’m going to leave so early?

(She looks somewhat defeated and helpless.)

TEACHER
But…

STUDENT
And don’t forget —you saved my life! That binds us together.

TEACHER
How so?

STUDENT
(Half-teasing, half-serious) I’m very fragile.

(They study each other.)

TEACHER
So am I.

STUDENT
Now I see why you were always so rough on us.

TEACHER
Oh, yes?

STUDENT
To come to class from a place like this…

TEACHER
What are you saying?

STUDENT
Don’t you ever look for work?

TEACHER
What work? Listen, are you trying to drive me nuts?

STUDENT
What do you mean? I’m perfectly calm. (Standing with feet firmly planted) I just wanted to get to know you, that’s all. To communicate.

(A beat)

TEACHER
You’re scaring me.

STUDENT
More than when I was failing at all those great villains? When I was trying to be Iago, Dracula, Scarpia, and creating nothing? Now you think I’m scary?

(She retreats again.)

TEACHER
I’m going to watch television.

(He pounces.)

STUDENT
No! No television! Not between us. We’ve had enough illusion. Now we need some truth.

TEACHER
What truth?

STUDENT
Ours. Yours. Mine.

(He approaches her. She backs away, knocking over anything in her path.)

TEACHER
Why? Why now, when we know it’s not beautiful? Now that you’ve done all you can to diminish me, to take away my illusion of strength and skill? To make me face all kinds of ugly facts? (Tears in her eyes) That I’m a lonely woman, with no children, no lovers…

STUDENT
(Pitiless) I never said you didn’t have lovers. Maybe they never stayed very long…but now you have me.

(She draws back, genuinely frightened.)

TEACHER
What do you mean?

STUDENT
Oh, come on! Drop the vestal virgin act! You planned this whole thing perfectly, just to get me here. And I fell for it! I jumped at the chance!

TEACHER
(Icy) Get out.

(Suddenly, he is the frightened one.)

STUDENT
But…

TEACHER
You completely misunderstood. (Pointing to the door) I’m sorry, but you’ve made a mistake.

STUDENT
No, I didn’t! I finally understand myself! What do you care? If I finally see myself that way?

TEACHER
Yourself? Well, that’s a different matter…

STUDENT
No! There’s no difference! We both reached the same truth!

TEACHER
Which is?

(He comes very close. Speaks sincerely.)

STUDENT
That I’ve had blinders on my eyes, stoppers in my ears…That I’m terrified of reality. I wanted to be brilliant and I’m not.

TEACHER
(Softly) I’m sorry.

STUDENT
I’ve been going in circles, contemplating my own navel, waiting for the click.

TEACHER
What click?

STUDENT
“That little click in my head.” And finally it’s come. It’s here.

TEACHER
What is?

STUDENT
(Angry) Stop asking questions! I am the answer!

TEACHER
What answer? (Catches herself) Sorry.

STUDENT
I’ll answer myself. Then I can answer you.

TEACHER
Where will this get you?

STUDENT
Where I want to go.

TEACHER
But you don’t have a clue where you’re going! You’re drunk!

(He throws the last of his whiskey away.)

STUDENT
On this shit? Get real!

TEACHER
(Angry) Stop it!

STUDENT
(Advancing on her) But I’ll make up for lost time! I’ll give acting lessons! Because I know nothing and I’m good for nothing! Just like you.

TEACHER
Here we go again!

STUDENT
Yep! We keep coming back to it! (A professorial manner) I’ll make some money…I’ll create an image…a fake reputation…an air of eminence! Young people, in fact, all the naïve and gullible—I’ll throw fairy dust in all their eyes! Maybe once my megalomania reaches its height, I’ll give little dinners for my students…little cultural soirées…just like you!

TEACHER
I suppose…that’s quite possible.

STUDENT
(Provoking) And “with a little bit of luck”…I’ll finally get one of them trapped in the corner of my ratty sofa…and we’ll drink whiskey out of jelly glasses and eat slightly rotten eggs…just like you!

(A beat)

TEACHER
(Suddenly calm) I hope you’ll enjoy yourself. And I hope your student will be a lot more charming than you are.

STUDENT
(Vexed) She will be! Because I won’t have systematically, diabolically tried to discourage her, beat her down, kill her hopes just to cheer myself up for having failed as an artist and as a woman!

TEACHER
Aha! Now you’re a woman? Congratulations! Maybe that’s a role you can play!

STUDENT
Shut up! You know exactly what I mean!

TEACHER
(Standing tall) How dare you speak to me like that! I am not your…

(Once again they are nearly nose-to-nose.)

STUDENT
Not my what? Say it! You think I can’t see what a perverse, self-obsessed, totally depraved life you’re living?

(He grabs her arm. She throws him off.)

TEACHER
Let go of me, you dirty-minded little prig! You say you want to be an artist, and then you start throwing out all this bourgeois, middle-class bullshit? What are you doing in our world? You should go back to living with your parents and all their petty, stifling, small-town ideas. You really thought you could dump your tidy, nit-picking mediocrity and dive into real life, with all its magnificent mess and richness and depth? (Her anger mounts.) Was that it? Because of course to you, to a product of that pathetic matrix, to a son of some small-time shopkeeper or flunky, I would have to be an alcoholic, right? A prostitute who doesn’t even get paid? A predator lusting after the flesh of young men—a ravenous, bulimic insomniac who’s always flat on her back. And worst of all—an unemployed actress!

(He goes on the attack.)

STUDENT
Right! Admit you’re a failure! I dare you to say you’re not a failure! A lousy actress who no one will ever hire…who figured out that those who can’t do—teach!

(He’s red in the face, choked with rage. She suddenly calms down.)

TEACHER
Fine! I’m a lousy actress. I’m a failure!

(Gracefully, melodramatically, she collapses on the sofa.)

STUDENT
(A bit ashamed) I’m glad to hear it.

TEACHER
But at least I’m a failure who tried. Whereas you’ll always be a failure who never took the plunge. (Smiling) There’s a bit of a difference, don’t you think?

STUDENT
No. There’s no difference. Two perfect failures—face to face at last. That alone should accomplish something.

TEACHER
What? Mutual depression? (Haughty) Get out of here! I’ve had enough.

STUDENT
But I haven’t.

TEACHER
(Ignoring his stubbornness) You want to kill yourself? Go ahead! (Straightening her hair and the sofa cushions) I’m not paid to look after every stray mutt in Paris. The S.P.C.A. is just down the block. (A grand gesture) Off you go!

(He plants himself firmly in the middle of the room.)

STUDENT
(Calmer) I told you I’m not leaving.

TEACHER
Oh? You want trouble?

STUDENT
No, I don’t. But I’m not leaving. (Half harsh, half ironic) When I think of how I took you for a goddess! Listened to you like the Oracle at Delphi! Spent days analyzing the slightest comment you made… (Mimicking her) “Move a little to the right,” “Open your mouth a little wider,” “Look into her eyes—You’re in love with her!” (Choking with rage again) What a dimwit! And all you were thinking—for four years—while I struggled—laid my soul bare—sweated like a pig…trying to thrill you with everything that thrilled me—All you were thinking was…(Desperate) “What a no-talent! What a nobody! It’s embarrassing to watch him!”

(She is shocked by his pain.)

TEACHER
But surely…It wasn’t for my sake that you wanted to be an actor? You didn’t do all that for me…did you?

(She reaches out, almost tenderly. He knocks her hand aside.)

STUDENT
(Almost in tears) Yes! You bitch! (Passionately) All I wanted was to please you! One desire: to win you. For four years, there wasn’t a day, an hour when I didn’t think “This speech of Hamlet’s, I’m speaking it to her—for her I’ll be Tamburlaine, Hernani, Cyrano, the Prince of Homburg! I have to please her! I have to inspire her! If I can win her, then I’ll have won them all—every one! But I won’t need to perform for them…because if she is there, I need no one else! I’ll be everything to her and she to me…”

(She is touched and stunned.)

TEACHER
My God! That was a declaration of love.

STUDENT
(Calmly) It was.

TEACHER
(Trying to lighten the mood) You fell in love with me? I’m confronting a smitten youth?

STUDENT
As if you didn’t know that all your students—boys and girls—are in love with you!

TEACHER
(Thinking the contrary) Now you’re exaggerating!

STUDENT
Of course I’m exaggerating! All love is an exaggeration! Still…

TEACHER
Has it occurred to you that this might be why you have so many acting problems?

STUDENT
Why?

TEACHER
Because you were trying to please me instead of focusing on the scene!

(He studies her, intrigued.)

STUDENT
Suddenly, you look happy.

TEACHER
(Affecting a flirtatious manner) I can’t deny I’m flattered…though this is rather unnerving. I imagine every acting teacher dreams of exercising a certain power over her students’ development. But in this case…

STUDENT
I wasn’t talking about the others. Just me.

TEACHER
You said “all my students…”

STUDENT
Forget about them! Stop craving the whole world’s idolatry! See only me!

TEACHER
So you, too, crave idolatry!

(They are squaring off again.)

STUDENT
(Passionately) Do I still bore you? Am I still a zero? A nobody? (Closer and closer) Tell me I’m useless, colorless, hopeless…

(Both are caught up in a kind of frenzy.)

TEACHER
No! No, you’re superb! You’re young and vibrant and beautiful! You have a glorious body…Those shoulders…those arms…

(She reaches out to him. He suddenly breaks the magic.)

STUDENT
Don’t touch me!

TEACHER
(Waking from the spell) What?

STUDENT
I’m not your toy…your gigolo!

TEACHER
You’ve been reading too many romance novels. All right, I won’t touch you. To be honest, I’m sick of this little game. (Suddenly exhausted) I’m tired. Just seeing you here reminds me of how lonely my life has become…how anchorless. (She looks for a reaction which doesn’t come) Happy now? The teacher is more to be pitied than the student. Her life is much worse than yours. Huzzah! There’s still hope!

(She heads for the bedroom.)

STUDENT
Where are you going?

TEACHER
To bed.

STUDENT
Alone?

TEACHER
(Sweetly) I sometimes sleep alone. In fact, I always sleep alone.

(She moves to go.)

STUDENT
Wait!

(He starts to follow. She gently gestures him to stop.)

TEACHER
No. You can sleep on the sofa. It’s not uncomfortable, if you’re drunk enough.

(He panics, becoming totally vulnerable.)

STUDENT
Have pity!

TEACHER
(Without looking back) Pity? On whom? Why?

(He reaches out to her longingly.)

STUDENT
(A cry) Have pity! Be my mother! Please!

(She reaches out a hand to catch her balance, nearly fainting.)

TEACHER
But this is terrible! Terrible!

(They remain motionless, fixated on one another.)

BLACKOUT

Bios

Bernard Da Costa

Bernard Da Costa began writing plays in the 1960s and created the café-theatre movement in Paris in the 1960s and 70s, which specialized in short, flexibly-structured works with small (mostly youthful) casts. These café-theatre works include Trio pour Deux Canaris (Trio for Two Canaries), Trio pour Deux Grues (Trio for Two Cranes), La Truite de Schubert (Schubert’s ‘The Trout’), and Les Adieux de la Grande-Duchesse, (The Grand Duchess’s Farewells). The latter received considerable success and quickly categorized him as a playwright of Theatre of the Absurd. However, Da Costa writes in many genres and styles, including comedy (Pat et Sarah), surrealism (Le Bal des Cuisiniers (The Cooks’ Ball)), and historical drama (Frederic et Voltaire; Nous, Charles XII). His plays have been produced at the Comedie-Française, Petit-Odeon, Théâtre de Boulogne-Billancourt, the Edinburgh Festival, Théâtre du Marais, Théâtre Montmartre Galabru, Théâtre des Matherins, Théâtre National de Bordeaux-Aquitaine, Théâtre du Proscenium, National Theatre of Dresden, National Theatre of Lisbon, Théâtre du Chateau de Celle, La Compagnie Jean Nougloi, and elsewhere. Boomerang premiered in 1994, at the Theatre Eliseo de Rome (starring Rosella Falk), and has since been produced in Dresden, Brussels (with Jacqueline Bir), Leipzig, Lisbon, Monaco, Warsaw, Benin, Paris (with Miriam Boyer), and at the Festival d’Avignon. Other works include Le Boxeur et la violoniste (The Boxer and the Violinist); L’Homme aux Orchidees en Plastique (The Plastic Orchid Man); Defis, Impossibilites et Autres Embuches (Challenges, Impossibilities and Other Pitfalls); Pelerinage chez Beethoven (Pilgrimage to Beethoven’s House, winner of the Prix Italia 93); Rencontre de Cleopatre et de la Reine de Saba (Cleopatra Meets the Queen of Sheba); La Pension Cerisaie (The Pension of the Cherries, a sequel to The Cherry Orchard), and Le Bonheur de la Tomate (Tomato Luck, which premiered in December of 2007 at Avignon’s Théâtre du Ring, and will be seen again in July of 2008 as part of the Festival d’Avignon). Mr. Da Costa currently resides in Paris, the setting for his newest play, Adieu Leningrad, which concerns the young Rudolf Nureyev and the days immediately preceding his famous “Leap to Freedom.”

Kathleen Huber

Kathleen Huber is an author, actress, and director who graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara, apprenticed at the Mark Taper Forum, and came to NYC as Assistant Director to Brian Murray on the Off-Broadway production of A Scent of Flowers, doubling as standby to Katherine Houghton. Her short stories have appeared in Seventeen, Child Life, Jack & Jill, Highlights for Children, Young World, and England’s Homes & Gardens. Her plays include A Song for Tomorrow (Santa Barbara Children’s Opera), Two on the Isles (Edinburgh Festival, Manhattan Punch Line and Actors’ Holiday), The Hallowed Halls (San Francisco Playwrights’ Center DramaRama and at Actors’ Holiday, starring Claudia Shear), and Dark Wings and Conquistador Aisle (both given staged readings by Actors’ Holiday). She is also co-author of Fourscore and Seven Years Ago and Olympic Spirit, which tour schools throughout the U.S. with ArtsPower Productions. As an actress, she has appeared in NYC in Tamara, Madwoman of Chaillot, Richard III, Jigsaws, Hamlet, Coriolanus, The Constant Wife, The Queen and the Rebels, and, most recently, as Toni Childress in Harvest at the Beckett Theatre. Regionally, she has been seen at (among others) the Pasadena Playhouse, Caldwell Theatre, Syracuse Stage, Indiana Repertory Theatre, Two River Theatre, Opera Cleveland, Music Theatre of Wichita, and the Alabama, Orlando, and Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festivals. She has directed shows for New Jersey Rep, Boston Light Opera, Wayside Theatre, Quaigh Theatre, Forestburgh Summer Theatre, and Fordham University’s Mimes & Mummers. Currently, she and her husband, Dr. Jerry M. Schwartz, are collaborating on a book about Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Boomerang. Copyright (c) Bernard Da Costa, 2007. English translation copyright (c) Kathleen Huber, 2007.