From Pride, Pursuit and Decapitation by Marion Aubert

Pride, Pursuit and Decapitation was one of the featured plays in hotINK at the Lark 2013, an annual international festival of play readings curated by Catherine Coray and produced at the Lark Play Development Center in New York. You’ll find an interview with author Marion Aubert and co-translator Erik Butler below the play excerpt.

II/ A Good Meal. (A loving and impassioned mother, at a family meal.)

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW. No one knows what to do with her. You never know how she’ll react to other people.  To the family. My son’s wife.  She’s a strange one, my son’s wife. She tries to be strange. She puts on airs, anyway. I liked her fine in the beginning, I had nothing but good will toward her, I mean. There’s room for two in this house. But in fact, living with her isn’t very pleasant. She’s stubborn. Obstinate. Her personality’s smug; she looks down on us, and my husband, too. With her smug little ways. Where does she get off looking down on us like that? There’s always a little smile on her lips, as if she knew it all. She always has a knowing little smile.  Mocking. I know women like that, mocking little minxes like her. She struts around in my son’s arms, like she was the guest of honor. As comfortable as you please, as if the place belonged to her, and he says nothing. He lets her do it. He doesn’t even seem to notice. I’ll have a talk with him. I’ll take him aside, and then we’ll have a little talk, the two of us. Straighten him out. I’ll tell him: “You’ve got something stuck there, on your shirt. That thing there. That flattened thing that’s sticking to you.” She’s some kind of parasite, my daughter-in-law is. A louse. A louse with designer dresses and disheveled hair. Because, after all…. She comes and goes, between the plants. Sometimes, she shows me her bra-strap. She sits down right in front of me at the table, on purpose, and then she shows me her bra-strap. There she is, with her bra-strap. I can’t stand it. I can’t stand her.  She thinks she knows my son’s heart. But who really knows my son’s heart? Who heard his heart beat for the very first time? (There she is, looking at me with her condescending smile. The louse. I’ll call her that from now on. The Louse. She thinks she’s funnier than everybody else, with her lively wit. Spirited.) Was she there? Was she there to take care of him from the very beginning? Was she there when he had his very first lice? I was there when he had his first lice. I’d clean my son’s lice away again and again. No problem. My whole life, in the garden with him, just combing him with the little comb, full of a mother’s true love. She just combs her fingers through his hair out of compulsion. She doesn’t even realize he’s there. She doesn’t even know who he is. She doesn’t even know who my son is. A god. A god, my son, on the inside. She’ll serve him. She serves him. Her way of serving. I’ll do it on my own, serve myself. I don’t want her to serve. I’ll serve myself. She broke Aunt Marie’s salad bowl.  Afterwards, she seemed confused. You don’t say. She was laughing on the inside. I’m sure she was laughing on the inside. With her miss-know-it-all airs. And he still didn’t say a thing. She’s a dog. I won’t sit across from her during meals. I don’t want to make eye contact with her–the way she looks, like she’s cleverer than everybody else. She’ll eat with her mouth open. She’ll ask more questions about my son’s childhood. She’ll keep pretending to be interested. She’s not really interested in us. I’ll tell my son. I’ll tell him: “That girl isn’t interested in you.  She doesn’t even care what Aunt Marie meant to us. Aunt Marie–and her salad bowl.” I’ll say that to my friends.  Sometimes, I wonder what’s in her head. Very well. You want to know? The answer’s this. She doesn’t have anything in there, the louse. She has little hairs on her belly. I saw them the other day, at the beach. She got undressed in front of me, at the beach, and I saw little hairs peeking out. I’ll tell him, my son. I’ll say: “Your wife has little hairs growing on her belly.” What’s more, she never combs her hair. She has knots in her hair. Crumbs. Clots of dirt in her hair. Her roots are oily. I wonder what he sees in her, her and her oily roots. I’ll find the right time. While folding the laundry. While ironing. I need a moment alone with my son to let him know. It’s my job, after all. I’ll tell him that. I’ll tell him: “I don’t want to intrude in your love life, my boo boo, but do you realize she has split ends and oily roots?” I’ll tell him that. He’ll understand right away. He’ll know what I mean when I say oily roots. I’ll disinfect the entire house when she leaves. I’ll wash everything. The sheets. The hammock. I’ll boil everything. Wash it on extra hot. Everything’s clean and orderly here. Splendid. Have you seen how splendid the garden is? She doesn’t even notice how splendid my garden is. She breaks my salad bowl, and she doesn’t notice a thing. She writes plays. I hate the plays she writes. I won’t go see them. I’m sure she talks about me in them. She has no imagination at all. “A little more fish?” She has a mania for addressing me formally. She thinks she’s nobility. Her–a noblewoman, with her fat ass and hairs peeking out? There you go. She has lice. I knew it.

THE WIFE. I’m confused, Michelle. I’m really sorry.

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW. I’m sure she does it on purpose. The tramp. I’ll bar her from the premises. I’ll tell my son: “You come when you want, my boo boo, but she’s barred from the premises.” I can’t stand the sight of her.  I’ll ask Patrick if he can stand her. “Can you stand the sight of her?” Everybody stands her. I hope my daughter can’t stand her. I’ll invite my daughter over. My niece. The whole family, all the women in the family, we won’t be able to stand her. We’ll stand against her. We’ll form a coalition against her, you’ll see. You’ll see, my boy.  We’ll win, all the women in the family. She won’t set foot in this house again. She won’t act like it’s her place, her and her wet-wipes and broken soup bowls. She broke the china, all of it. Do you really believe it was an accident? Just chance? Don’t you think she’s trying to provoke me? To taunt me? She wants to take my place. She’s got an eye on my lamp, the one when you come in; I’ve seen her looking at my lamp. I’ll stick it to that girl, with the other women in the family. We’ll team up. I’ll rent a place in the Central Valley. A big family celebration. Just our family. None of hers. Just our family. That’s how to do it. And there, there’ll be no escape for her, you’ll see.  I’ll corner her, you’ll see. We’ll have it out, I’ll corner her. I’m making it my personal business, me–and her.  With her goody-two-shoes act. The airs she puts on, the daughter of a councilman with dirty hair. Her airs of being a young, liberated woman. Do I act like a young, liberated woman? I’ll invite her out to the valley, and then we’ll make her do everything. We’ll make her do the laundry. That’ll put her off. You’ll see. I’ll tell him that, I’ll tell my son. “You’ll see. She’ll leave. She’ll hurt you, that girl will. She’ll cheat on you with some tall blond. I can see him now, the tall blond she’ll cheat on you with. She’s bored with you.” I’m never wrong about my son’s emotional life. I keep him protected, my big boy. My big, beautiful boy. He’s handsome, my son is, in the sun.  He’s strong. And he has a moustache. I’ll tell them: “I’ve got big news. Everybody’s invited to sweat their balls off in the Central Valley. My treat.” I’ll tell them that. “My treat, the money’s from my mother-in-law.” The fat bitch. I could tell you a thing or two about that woman. About that fat bitch. My husband’s mother. The fat bitch.  They’ve got me surrounded. My husband’s mother, a fat bitch, my son’s wife, a fat bitch. One bitch above, one bitch below.

The Playwright’s Methods. I.

THE PLAYWRIGHT. That was a true story! An entirely truthful story! Here. I’m the author of the play. It’s a play written like a maze. I wrote it over the course of a difficult summer, to the accompaniment of power drills. I wrote it in a particularly difficult setting. At a particularly tragic stage of my existence. All around me was nothing but filthy lucre, vanity, pride, and betrayal. And I haven’t even said anything about national politics yet.  That summer, three babies died in the back of their cars. Their parents had forgotten them. The Russians seized the opportunity to invade Georgia. And at that moment, France was in thirty-eighth place at the Peking Olympics. These tempestuous events prompted me to create a new kind of play. An absolutely new play. Never seen anywhere before. I managed to gain perspective thanks to a healthy dose of stubbornness, as well as the sense of duty I inherited from my father. Thanks to the two hundred dollars health care deposited directly into the nanny’s bank account. Thanks to the support of my enemies. Of my lovers, too. May they hereby be thanked. Since this is a new play, and a fresh one, I thought it would be advisable to accompany you while you read and, if necessary, during its performance. Sometimes, it’s a little lacking in events. That’s intentional. It’s a summer-piece. A slow one. I live in the Central Valley. I often write naked. To make things easy, I’ll just put myself out there. If there’s a mistake in the way the world’s depicted–a jump in time, a serious fault, a glaring discontinuity–you can shoot me dirty looks. I’ll try to follow my own play as closely as I can. It’s a winding piece, full of meanders and imaginary creatures. Just a few days ago, I wanted to call it an “animalesque comedy,” but I don’t really like animals. They don’t bother me–I’m just not very fond of them. I’m not particularly fond of animals. I don’t like it when animals show they’re happy. Let’s talk about chonchons instead. I know chonchons very well. Maybe there are some chonchons among you? A chonchon’s life is always a little painful. A little tedious. If I had to sketch this piece out–no easy task!–it would be shaped like a chonchon. Chonchons often live in our lower parts. They dwell in our genitals, for sure. Sometimes under our arms, and sometimes behind the ears or in the mouth. Chonchons like wet, hot parts of the body. Some people even have a chonchon inside their head. That one becomes the chonchon king. The supreme chonchon. He can remain the supreme chonchon for a lifetime–or just a few days. Chonchons are people like you and me, just heavier. Chonchons lead normal lives, as far as appearances are concerned. They’re average. But at night, when it comes out, a chonchon can display extraordinary intelligence. Take me, for example: I’m a chonchon in matters of intelligence, more or less. The smart kind of chonchon can make people cry. It’s magnificent, so it makes you cry. But the most common kind of chonchon is the one lost in its own home. It doesn’t know where it put its things; it loses its luggage. It blames others for the thoroughly wretched summer it’s had. This kind of chonchon acts in bad faith. It sleeps a lot. Me, I’m not that kind. I’ve had the good fortune of being able to study chonchons up close. I’ve even managed to take a few notes. There you have it. This evening, you’ll watch a performance of chonchonnerie.  (The study is far from complete, of course.) Me, I’ll stay right up here. I like being here with everybody else. It’s a difficult job being a playwright. You’re locked up all day long, your head full of chonchons. My head is full of chonchons (all night, all day, all the time). They’re in my hair. I’m infested with chonchons. I became one myself–it got so bad this summer that my luggage was even stolen. I hope you never become a chonchon. Does one become a chonchon for life? Probably. Occasionally, over time, it even gets worse. Old people are often chonchons. Children, chonchons. Actors: a bunch of chonchons. My friends: not always chonchons. My husband: not at all chonchon. A chonchon makes you cry, for instance. Actually, that’s not a good example. A chonchon is his own master, but inside, there’s another chonchon. Me, I’m a big chonchon. This play is about nothing but me, people close to me, and other people, too. If you’re a chonchon yourself–in your spare time–or if you’ve once crossed a chonchon’s path, I hope you’ll appreciate how perceptive my study is. If you’re not one, back off with your criticism. Chonchons are very touchy. I’ll stop on that note–I don’t want to take up the whole piece. I’m very tired. I slept badly, so let’s stop all these stories, until we meet again, in the building, or another day. We’ll meet again another day, years from now.

A Scene from Married Life.

Concerning a few familial disorders.

THE HUSBAND. Why aren’t you reacting, dirty slut? You know why you don’t react when I say dirty slut? You don’t react because that’s what you are. That’s what you are, a dirty slut. Go take a bath, or I’ll sock it to you. Is that what you want? You want me to sock it to you? You see this? Is that what you’re asking for? Well? Is it? You like my big, comforting arms? My big mitts? You like’em, dirty slut? Give me something to eat, dirty slut.

THE WIFE. Go do what you’re supposed to do. Don’t just sit there. Don’t just sit there and turn into your father.

THE HUSBAND. Dirty slut. You know what your mother is? Can you guess? You’ll be surprised. A dirty slut. A dirty slut, with legs spread wide. That’s how she lives, your mother does. She opens her legs and everybody climbs in. Everybody knows your mother’s cunt. It doesn’t even close anymore. Damn. What the fuck is happening? I cleaned up!

THE CHILD. MWAAMWAH! MWAAMWAH!

THE HUSBAND. Shut up. Shut up, dammit. You’ll see. She’ll cry. You want to see your mother cry? It’s easy.  She’s a dirty middle-class slut. Well raised. Well raised, with a tight ass.

THE WIFE. Well. Would you kindly pass the cheese?

THE CHILD. Happy birthday, mommy.

THE WIFE. Thanks. Thank you, darling. It’s very pretty. It’s beautiful.

THE CHILD. Can you read me a little story?

THE WIFE. The cat. See? It’s a cat. Meow. Meow-cat.

THE HUSBAND. Dirty slut.

THE WIFE. Are you finished?

THE HUSBAND. She sucks cocks, your mother does. You know why your mother puts you in daycare? To have more time. To have the afternoon free for cock-sucking. You don’t think your mother smells? She smells like cock.

THE WIFE. See there? It’s a dinosaur. It’s Barney the Friendly Dinosaur. He’s having a picnic. He’s making a pile with his toys. He’s going on the potty. You can go on the potty, too. He’s reading there, on the potty. He looks very happy reading on the potty. See? He’s making caca on the potty. He’s making caca with a book. He looks very happy. You can go potty with a book, too, if you want.

THE HUSBAND. Dirty slut. You know what your mother spends her afternoons doing? Fucking. You don’t care?  You don’t care that you’re the son of a dirty slut? You’re laughing? He’s laughing. Goddamn kid. Just wait. You’re gonna get it, too. You don’t like it? You don’t like mommy’s slut soup?

THE WIFE.  Leave him alone.

THE HUSBAND. Be quiet, dirty slut. Who’s the boss in this house, dirty slut? Is it you, with your big mouth and your friends, dirty slut? You know what your mother does while you’re in daycare? She sucks cocks, with her friends. They team up to suck cock. Team Slut. Sluts United. That’s what they’re called in these parts.

THE WIFE. No, that’s not a good idea, darling, not now, you see daddy is a little tired.

THE HUSBAND. Let him make his pies. Are you making pies for your little darling daddy? You love your little darling daddy? Who do you like better, little daddy dearest or your mother the dirty slut? He stinks. This kid stinks, he took a shit. Wipe him. Dirty slut. I dreamed I killed you, dirty slut, along with your friends. Along with your friends, I took care of them all, the dirty sluts, especially the one with the fat ass. Give me your money, dirty slut, “ding dong, ding dong, it’s us, your pals,” you’re gonna get it in the kisser, dirty slut, and where are they, those friends of yours? Dirty sluts. With their slut tits.

THE WIFE. Are you finished? Clear the table. Make yourself useful.

THE HUSBAND. Come here. Come for a fuck, dirty slut.

THE WIFE. No. I don’t want to. Not now.

THE HUSBAND. Stuff it. Stuff them all. I’d like to stuff all your friends. Are they coming over tonight? I’d like to stick it to all of them, the dirty sluts. They’re real sluts, your friends are. They’ll do. They’ll do me some good, your friends will, the dirty sluts.

THE WIFE. See the kind of thing you have to put up with when you decide to get married to an asshole? Sometimes you spend years with an asshole like that. And every day, something inside you collapses (to put it mildly). But what can you do? I love him! I love him, and to be fair, he’s trying, he’s in training. He’s a charmer when he’s asleep!

THE PLAYWRIGHT. She tells her friends that. She thinks he’s charming when he’s asleep.

THE WIFE. We’re just going through a rough patch!

THE PLAYWRIGHT. She says.

THE HUSBAND. What are you doing with me, dirty slut?

THE PLAYWRIGHT. He says that sometimes, then he draws her close. He draws her close, her and all her beauty. He caresses her little body. He says:

THE HUSBAND. Dirty slut. Dirty slut.

THE PLAYWRIGHT. Then he remembers that he should try harder.

THE HUSBAND. Fine, fine. I’m going to bed. Come take a ride, dirty slut. What are you up to now, dirty slut, you and your friends? You always play innocent, dirty slut.

THE PLAYWRIGHT. But a terrible secret unites both of them. A grave secret involving dollars, drugs, and emeralds.

THE HUSBAND. A slut’s slut. Slut. Slut. Fine. I’ll play my hand. Play with me, dirty slut.

THE WIFE. Stop. You’re exhausting me. Stop, daddy dearest.

THE PLAYWRIGHT. Daddy dearest raises his arms.

THE HUSBAND. I’ve had enough of mommy dearest, dirty slut.

THE PLAYWRIGHT. He says.

THE HUSBAND. Bring me some slaves–and, after that, a little cinnamon toast. Good. I’m tired now. I’d sure empty my pockets with all your friends. I’ve got full pockets. You know what I mean. Just let me empty them, with all your friends.

THE WIFE. The three of us should go out some time, daddy dearest. What do you think? Get a breath of fresh air. A picnic. I’ve always liked that idea: a make-up picnic. But it doesn’t seem to appeal to you, this idea of a picnic among the wildflowers. What a shame. It doesn’t seem to appeal to you, this idea of little brooks, waterfalls. You never appreciated picnic landscapes, anyway.

THE PLAYWRIGHT. Daddy dearest has fallen asleep. Mommy dearest drags him to the bedroom. She washes him. She lovingly cleans his face. Daddy dearest spends three hours on the crapper. He’s got diarrhea. In the morning, he heads off to work. He puts on a tie. He says:

THE HUSBAND. Good morning, madam, madam, madam!

THE PLAYWRIGHT. And:

THE HUSBAND. Well, well, well.

THE PLAYWRIGHT. Daddy dearest is a salesman or something. That, or something else. Some kind of asshole job.

The Stories of M. Auberte, Madwoman. I.

Something strange happened to me.

THE WIFE. This morning, I looked in the mirror, and I didn’t recognize myself. I didn’t have the same face as usual. Verstehen Sie? I got up today, and I was by no means at home. My bed had assumed gigantic proportions.  I went into the bathroom. “Look. The wallpaper’s moldy!” I said to myself. “I had forgotten that.” I went into the kitchen, and there, a whole family greeted me with exclamations of joy. “Mutti!” yelled a fat little girl. A fat German started kneading my breasts. I wanted to say: “What are you doing here? Who are you?” But I said: “Hör auf, Helmut, ich habe schlecht geschlafen.” I go out. I’m in a country that isn’t at all mine. There’s barbed wire outside. The land is often at war. The people don’t speak my language at all. I walk. Terrified. Among the strange houses. Strange bodies. I look up into the sky. Three chonchons are hanging there. I wonder what country I’m in. I regret I didn’t spend more time studying in college. I look at my reflection in the shop windows several times. My skin is black. My genitals are enormous. I don’t know what to do about that thing there. “Up!” I say. Right away, it rises. I’m embarrassed, with my bulging penis. I don’t recognize it, either. “I must have been reincarnated,” I say. “But when did I die?” I don’t remember dying. I can’t remember the last time I saw my reflection. And then I think and everything gets confused. “I’ll walk a little. Splash a little cold water on my face.  Maybe I can find a way back to myself.” A young man calls me Günther. I turn around. Clearly, he means me. It’s bizarre for a black person. I must be a black German. Bizarre. Suddenly, I hear a noise in the thickets. It’s another black guy. He’s armed. I say to myself: “Pay attention. There might be a small woman hidden inside him, too. Don’t screw up. I have no idea what war I’ve landed in. I call out. “I want to see the boss. I’m a new mother!” I say. “I’m supposed to take my son to the nanny. He’s not sleeping right now. It’s a mess. I should be at his bedside, verstehen Sie? Is there an embassy here? I’m the daughter of a councilman! I finally blurt out. I’m embarrassed. “Ich bin Französin, verstehen Sie!” I say that, me and my huge nostrils, and nobody understands. They put me on a stretcher. I wind up at a military hospital. A white nurse gently strokes my penis.  “Lan ngay def nii ?” I ask in Wolof. (I speak fluent Wolof.) “I’m sucking!” she says, her mouth full. I’m embarrassed of my relations. I wish a witch doctor would come set me free. I make faces. Crude gestures. I make drawings of pots. Cauldrons. I feel bad for myself. I feel very bad for myself. I’ll have to look out for myself now.  “Dama bëgë yonné sama bopp ay fleurs!” I say. “Bouqué wou juroom béni fuki roses.” The nurse looks at me oddly. Then, in the heart of Africa, she begins to cry. She sobs in her awful loneliness. “Yom tamit da nga namm roseraies yi?” I ask. But she doesn’t understand my Wolof. “I CAN’T UNDERSTAND THAT WOLOF OF YOURS!” she screams. “DU SAMA WOLOF. MAN ITAM, DEGGU MA SAMA BOPP. KEN DEGGUL KEN FII!” I scream. “You’d think nobody understood anyone!” she says. Then, she starts sucking again. I push her back.  “Sama sexe moy metti!” I say. I show her my penis. I tell her: “Da fay metti, da fay metti.” She goes at it harder, with her teeth. I scream. I say: “No.” I want to stop her, but she mistakes my cries of anguish for moans of pleasure, I close my eyes, I bite my cheeks, and she takes it all as encouragement. “At least where love’s concerned, we understand each other well!” she says, panting. I think I’ll die this time. I pass out. When I wake up, I’m in Siskiyou County. I see my brother. He’s a little boy. He speaks a tiny language. “Here I am, back at the ranch, but not at the right time,” I say in the old dialect. My brother looks menacing. He says: “Mikesh!  Mikesh!” in his little, made-up language. He scares me, him and his private language. I call for my mommy. She doesn’t understand, either. She says: “What’s all this, Alfred? Go brush your teeth.” “I’m not Alfred!” I mumble.  She hits me. I manage to crawl to the bathroom. I recognize the wallpaper that belonged to the German family in the beginning. “Finally some stability!” I say. Then, the alarm clock rings. My baby’s crying. I’m disappointed. I take him to the nanny’s. It’s strange how much she resembles the nurse. “I dreamed about your husband!” I say.  She gives me a funny look. She doesn’t seem to understand me at all. “You’re a little crazy, Madame Auberte!” she says. Far off, I see her husband. His name is Günther. “Sie, ich kenne Sie jetzt gut!” I say. Afterward, I take flight for another galaxy.

Scene from Childhood.

The Oyster-Shucker.

THE GIRL. Yesterday, my mother bought some avocados from you, and they weren’t ripe. Your avocados were never ripe, I broke my tooth on one of them. Look. I’ve brought you the tooth.

THE BOY. Ah, I see, I see. You’ve got a serious problem, madam. Your teeth are all too ripe. They’re all rotten.  Do you have trouble at home?

THE GIRL. Yes. Yes, I do. I have a big problem with my children, there’s a serious cooties problem at their school.

THE BOY. Ah, well, well. Should I write something out?

THE GIRL. Yes, please. Could you make it a check?

THE BOY. Very well, very well. I’ll show you out, goodbye, madam.

THE GIRL. Good morning, Doctor. I’m back to see you because of my daughter.

THE BOY. Oh really, is that so? Tell me everything.

THE GIRL. Should I keep my underpants on?

THE BOY. No, if it’s about your daughter, you have to take them off.

THE GIRL. Fine. We’ll take a stroll now. You’re interviewing me on the banks of the Seine. Along the Seine–that’s in Paris–you’re interviewing me, it’s not even very complicated. There you go. You’re walking at my side, and you’ve noticed my dress. Now, you’re my murderer. You’re asking for a ransom. Go on. You call my mother to get a ransom. Disguise your voice for the ransom. You’ll never make it in the theater, poor boy. You’ll never be an actor, actor, actor. Me, I’ll be an actress, actress, actress, ah ah, give me my cape. You’ll never make it at anything. I have no idea what you could possibly do. You’ll be a bank teller. You’ll wait in line all day, like your father, with little beads of sweat on your forehead. Or maybe you’ll shuck oysters all day long on the square for rich people. That’ll be it–your life. Oyster-shucker. And the whole while, you’ll be thinking of me, who’s become an actress. You’ll think of me with a hint of melancholy, you’ll want to talk to someone about it, but you won’t have any friends because you smell like oysters all day long. That’s that, your new life as a grown-up. Then, one day, you see me passing by, I look beautiful, arm-in-arm with a famous author. (Marcus Gardley, for example.)  On the arm of Marcus Gardley, I walk by in front of you, I return to the old neighborhood, I stop at your stand to buy some oysters, and I don’t even recognize you, that’s how life goes, old boy. “I’d like a platter. Would you like that, angel? I’ll have a platter delivered for tonight. Do you deliver?” is what I say. “Do you deliver?” I say it with my little mouth, in my special theater voice, my unique, one-of-a-kind voice, and at that very moment, you remind me of someone, and I say: “It’s funny, you remind me of someone!” At that moment, you turn completely red: “It’s me, Julien!” “How about that! You’ve become an oyster shucker, what an accomplishment! If only you knew how much your life fascinates me! Come over for a drink at the house, your life will surely interest my author friend, he’s an author, he writes plays, you know, here, let me jot down my number. Julien, oh Julien!” I say that several times at the fish market: “Oh, Julien!” I turn around and make little waves to you, you’re all red, red, Julien, you’ve got a bulge in your pants, afterwards, you come over, I’ve invited you, and my author friend hasn’t come, I say: “Oh, what a shame, my author friend hasn’t come, and there’s that big beautiful platter just for me! He’s so inspired, he just has to write, so he’s taken for the whole evening, and just look at you: you’ve turned into a shucker, Julien, all day long!” I speak and suck on a little winkle, and the whole time, I eat the mussels, and you’re looking at me, you’re fascinated, Julien, I say: “Let’s share!  Or maybe you’re sick of oysters?” You say: “No, it’s fine!” You’re completely blown away, I tell you, you stare at me, you’ve got big eyes, like a fried fish, you’re staring at me, Julien, you don’t stop staring at me, you think I’ve grown up to be beautiful, and you say it. Say it.

THE BOY. How beautiful you are! You’re an actress? Unbelievable.

THE GIRL. “That’s enough, Julien, restrain yourself, yes, yes, my author friend could pop up any moment, show some restraint!” I say, but you–you can’t hold yourself back, now that you’re a man, you can’t hold yourself back, you’ve waited so long since we were both children, with our little games, so now, one, two, three, you want to seize the occasion, it’s your chance, but me, I push you back, I say: “No, no, no!” But you, you persist, and me, I take control because I know what I’m doing, I show you everything, everything, I say: “Julien, Julien!” You tell me: “I need to bring the invoice back, please sign the delivery form!” You’re totally flushed, you and your delivery form, and your big, yellow apron, your hair’s thin, you’ve gotten older, I say: “Oh!  How old you’ve become, Julien, things really didn’t work out!” I say that, and you, you kiss me. Come on, kiss me!

THE BOY. Won’t your playwright come back?

THE GIRL. I say: “No, he’s an asshole, forget him, I’m not interested in him, anyway, he’s got plenty of girlfriends, I’m not interested in him, he’s not very faithful!” You say: “The bastard, the bastard, I knew it, the bastard!” Then, you give me a spank, a nice slap, you grab your yellow smock, all the shellfish, you wipe me off with a napkin, and the two of us, we lie down on the platter of marine delicacies, on the ice; all we need to do is open a little bottle of white wine, and there we are, the two of us: “Julien, I don’t know how this will end!” “Melody!” You call me Melody: “Oh Melody, Melody!” It’s the name I use for acting. You say: “Melody, Melody, why did you destroy my life by going off with Marcus Gardley, the playwright?” You say that. “Are you jealous, Julien?” I say. “Well, well, if you’re jealous, Julien, just kill him. Kill him out of love for me, if you love me, kill him. Here. Take this gun and go kill him, Julien. It’s him. I hear him. He’s coming. It’s him. We’ll hide, then you’ll kill him with one clean shot.”

Scenes from Professonial Life. I.

Friends.

THE DIRECTOR. So just like that, you’re looking for work.

THE WIFE. I know you raped one of your assistants in the backseat of your car, you fat asshole. I know it in the back of my mind, things like that get around in this profession, you know, you don’t scare me, you and your fat frame, fat asshole, you think you impress me, lying there on your sofa, you asshole, with your fat head and your fat library, you fat asshole?

THE DIRECTOR. This one’s stimulating. I like her. I’ll have her. So you’re only available part-time? You’d like to work afternoons, I assume. What with a baby on the way. It’s difficult for you, I’m sure, because of children, that desire for a child that’s gnawing away at you. We all see them sometimes, women your age without children, haggard, lost, worn, like something’s missing, but when they’re cute like you, there just might be something we can do, yes, you’re cute and a little common, you’ve got that slightly rough edge that country girls have, that rustic pride in your bones, maybe you’ll make it, you and your little sneer, you little firecracker, you charming little firecracker, fresh and seductive, I like you, you and your tough little act, but we’ll have to be quick, I’ve got work to do, you know, missy, I’ve kind of had enough of the sleeping around, I’ll be retiring soon, I can’t complain, you can see I’ve had an interesting life, I’ve met some real characters, I’ve lived history, you see–authors, Erica Jong, can you picture that? Right here, I met Erica Jong, sometimes I try to imagine what your life in the sticks must be like, a little chickie like you, pretty, sensitive, tough, what’s your life like? You know, little cuties, I can take ’em or leave ’em, you’re a cute one, you are, with your down-home, surly attitude, I’ll show you Paris, if you want, you know Paris? No. I mean, the real Paris. What about your ugly girlfriend? Are you still pals? She still following you around everywhere? Everywhere? I see. Some kind of pact. That’s the way you are, you girls. Girlfriends. You make pacts of friendship. That’s good, that’s good. That must be interesting, being a girl. Turn around. I said: “Turn around. Let me lick your buttocks.” You’ve got a big body. Where can I put you? What’ll I do about your friend? Isn’t she thirsty? Isn’t she hungry? She looks greedy, that friend of yours. Does she want a big cake? Does your friend want a big cake? Does she want a contract? Oh! Your friend’s naughty. She’s not accommodating, that friend of yours. You girls shouldn’t trust me, you know, I’m a fat asshole. I’m an asshole, I am, you know. I often wonder why you try so hard with fat assholes like me. You must like it. It excites you, assholes like me. That little war in my big office. We could go into my office, if you want.  It’s reversible. See? You push a button. Whoop, it makes a bed. You like that? Does it impress you? Come on, girls.

THE WIFE. My friend can come, too?

THE DIRECTOR. I can picture it. I’ll bet you go to dance parties. I’ll bet you rub up against the strapping young men. Strapping young men your own age. Farmhands. You probably like that, rubbing up on farmhands. You must be a star in your little hometown. But here, it’s not like that. I’ll tell you something, little Fresno girl. If you want, we’ll have a drink and I’ll explain something to you, you and your friend. Your sidekick there. “The Louse.” It’s like a sickness. I’ve never seen friendship like that. It’s just crazy, a team like that. She’s your shield, is that it? Your line of defense. You’re afraid, all alone? You’re afraid of my big, hard organ, all alone? You’re afraid of my ancient organ, all alone? Well, then. You’re not dumb. You’re not as dumb as I would have thought. You’ve got good reason to be afraid of my big cock. And your friend, too–she’s got good reason, too. Because I’m going to have her, that friend of yours, she does something for me, I’m having her, just stay calm, well, those strapping young men, I’ll bet you lead them around by the nose, is that it? Ah! Ah! You’re afraid, huh? And you’re afraid, too, aren’t you, dog-face? Well, you know what? Erica Jong was scared, too! And did you see how she turned out?

Scenes from Everyday Life. II. (Grandmother)

Acts of cowardice and other bits of infamy (including the rape of my grandmother at a rest stop, the night of a full moon).

THE GRANDMOTHER. Never saw a thing my whole life, dearie, not a thing happened, nothing, never went out, never felt anything. My whole life–always outside myself, taking care of children, other people, the boss, being on time, running, being on time, oh, running, I ran, dearie, I had good knees, at least I had good knees. In the morning: don’t forget the body, don’t forget anything. But nothing seen, dearie, nothing felt my whole life long.  Your mother was born–it had no effect on me, nothing, whole days feeding her, watching her, a little animal, your mother, never took the time to love her, a face like hers, who took the time? It’s not for our kind, a real life, a pure one, I never knew it, that pure life you’re always telling me about, dearie, you, you say it just like that, as if you know all about it, with your intense joys. Well, good, good for you, good for you all, you and your lives, but mine, nothing. I can think about it all I want, but it makes me sad to fade away after a life like that, a life that doesn’t count. I would have liked to matter to someone, but no, it all slipped away like silk. Well, little one, you wanted me to talk, I’m talking, but who’s interested? A life like that–who cares? No bitterness, no nothing, a life as flat as water, with no fizz. But you, you want to make it into something, come on, come on, except, maybe–when your mother died, yes, when your mother died, that was an event, then, you know, the time a pervert attacked me at a rest stop, but I don’t even talk about that any more, those aren’t nice memories for your play. People want nice memories, don’t you think? That’s what I would like, if I went to the theater, I’d want it to bring back fond memories, if I had any–or the kind I could have had, but I was afraid, the whole world was afraid in those days, dearie, that was life, and even now, now that I have nothing left to lose, there’s still that fear. It’s how I was raised, who knows? A coward, I’ve always been cowardly about everything, shaking hands or saying hello, a coward. My background’s limited, you know, lower your eyes, don’t make a scene, keep your head down, show your neck, submit. Our kind is weak, keep that in mind, and don’t think you’re above the common lot, dearie–you and your superior airs, don’t think there’s anything to protect you, because soon it’ll rain down on your head, misfortune, it’s written that way, in our family, so you’d better tone down that insolence of yours, just quit it, dearie, those postcards you write that nobody understands–like us, you’ll wind up just like the rest of us, dearie, forgotten, a pile of dust, vanity, family curses!

Scenes of National Life.

Ascent.

THE HUSBAND. I came back the next day wearing a new face and holding flowers, but she didn’t want me, she was crying, I said: “Come on, stop it, it’s fine, it’s me, it was a joke!” Then we made up. The next day, I found work, a good job, I was appointed to be a government minister of France: “Well, well, well, what good news!” I said. “I’m really lucky, I am.” I told myself: “Today’s a good day, with my work as minister, we won’t see too much of each other!” I said: “It’ll be tough!” She said:

THE WIFE. It’s nothing serious. You can’t refuse an offer like that.

THE HUSBAND. I said: “No, it’s true, you can’t refuse an offer like that; you can’t turn it down, I might not have a second chance!” She said to me:

THE WIFE. I’m happy you’re a minister, with this little baby in my belly!

THE HUSBAND. There she was; she seemed happy at our good luck, happy for the three of us, out of nowhere, a lovely offer from the President of France, I told myself: “Very good, very good–I’ve had some luck in life!” I went along happily, then I began to lend some professional thought to France’s problems, and I found plenty of them, plenty of French problems, I was full of thinking about France’s problems, but I was fine, myself, with my happy wife and her big ass, I thought about the leather armchairs that ministers have, and deep inside, I laughed:  “Well, then, what a lucky dog I am!” And all my buddies were jealous of me and my luck; I’d been touched by a miracle, and I walked, I did, on the seashore; then we lay down, all three of us–me, my wife, and the boy, and I said: “Let’s lie down here, come on, come on, let’s lie down here!” And everybody did what I told them to. I spoke: “I will be very busy, now, with my work as a minister, France expects a great deal from me and my experience on the ground!” I said that with the gravest demeanor, and my wife cracked up, there, stretched out in the grass, with our son, and it wasn’t the time to start laughing. “Why are you laughing?” I asked.

THE WIFE. Nothing, nothing–no, it’s nothing, you’re funny, that’s all, here on the grass, you’re funny.

THE HUSBAND. She scowled, she was ugly, all of a sudden, in her glasses. “What, I’m funny, here on the grass?” I was a minister of the government. “Let’s just enjoy the moment and be happy!” I said, but she had ruined everything, even though we could have been happy, just once in our lives, the three of us, with the turmoil and the happy memories, too. “You’ve ruined everything!” I said. “Bitch!  Bitch!” Then, I smashed her skull against a rock, and our little boy laughed and laughed, he doesn’t understand at his age, he thinks everything’s a game at his age, he’s dumb at his age. “Daddy’s a minister!” I said. “Did you see? Daddy’s a minister!” Facing the sea, I said: “Minister, minister, minister!” and I swore an oath, family life got me so worked up, these constant family dramas, and I thought hard about it, I called my mother, and then, I told myself: “I’m resigning, public distinction doesn’t mean much to me, I’m  resigning, I’m already busy on Wednesday, I have appointments, I have a Wednesday appointment at the dentist, anyway!” I said. “Plus, I don’t really care about public prestige, Mister President, plus, all things considered, I’m on the other side!” And that was the end of my political career, and there, there, there you have my story. “I’m handing in my resignation!” I say loud and clear in front of the cameras, I more or less turn down the position, and I withdraw from political life. “Did I do good, mommy, was I good?” She said:

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW. You should have worn a tie, you should have given me your shirt to iron, it wasn’t even ironed, what kind of impression will that make on France?

THE HUSBAND. That’s what my mother said. France cut its ties and didn’t even keep a record of my name, and there, there, there you have it, how I foundered in obscurity in France, even though I could have had a career in the nation’s history, I chose my friends.

Interview with Marion Aubert and Erik Butler

IT: Please describe the process of your collaboration–how it came about, how you worked together, what you found most rewarding, challenging, surprising, and so forth.

EB: Under circumstances I cannot precisely recall, Kimberly became involved with the activities of the French Consulate here in San Francisco. Among other things, this involved reading a few dozen plays by contemporary French authors-and choosing (in conjunction with another seven or eight people) three of them for a public reading. Ivan Bertoux, who organized the undertaking, then asked Kimberly about translating one of them. As a Francophile and Kimberly’s “worse half,” I soon found myself drawn into the fray. By happy accident, we wound up getting Marion’s play! I produced an initial version, which Kimberly–who’s the theater person–then modified to be fittingly theatrical. Later, when Marion was stateside, the English text underwent further (minor) modification. By that point, I was pretty superfluous, however.

MA: Two years ago maybe (yes, that’s right, I was pregnant with my daughter) I received an email, which came from San Francisco. Ivan Bertoux, Cultural Attaché to the French Institute, announced that my play, Pride, Pursuit and Decapitation had been selected for the first edition of the “Voices From…Des Voix” Festival…

Oh my god! I had written this play in my kitchen.

And they offered me a trip to America!

That’s it! I find the email:

Dear Marion Aubert,

Blah blah blah…

This summer, with your agreement, we would like to begin the translation of your play into English. Not as a project for publication or production as of yet. The only public event scheduled would be a reading given by professional actors and produced by the Playwrights Foundation, which would likely take place at Zspace, a venue in San Francisco. A possible extension of the project to New York is under discussion.

Then an email dated August 1st (still haven’t given birth),

It’s time for Kimberly and you to speak directly, so here is a short e-introduction, to start the dialogue. In the attachment, you will find Kimberly’s resume, as well as that of Erik, her companion, who will also be working on the play.

A few months, plus a baby and some emails later, I watched, blown-away, actors reading my play over Skype. I was in pajamas in my little room, and on the other side of the world, Americans reading my text! The translation seemed immediately satisfying to me. Glimpses of Kimberly, pixelated and out of focus on my screen. I listened to the reading between three and six in the morning. I laughed many times and said to myself, “It’s alright. In fact, we are speaking exactly the same language.”

Next, everything started moving more quickly, I met Erik, Kimberly and all the team, (especially Amy Muller, the director of the Playwrights Foundation, and Carey Perloff, stage director of ACT, whom I’d like to thank now for their involvement) poolside in the suburbs of San Francisco. I was totally jet-lagged. I was very hot. There was champagne. Shrimp. We all ended up in the water. Once again, we were speaking the same language. Then, the rehearsals began. It seems to me that Erik and Kimberly had perfectly captured the nerve of the play. Understood and knew how to recreate, how the language was the main character and the motor of this hysterical and familial comedy. Once these things had been understood, I quickly felt at home in their translation and well! That was very pleasant. Next we had technical discussions, questions of context, rhythm, relocalizations. We bickered about the title. We picked at the words. Kimberly played piano.

IT: The rhythm of the play is one of its most distinct features, particularly as embodied in these long monologues with very short sentences and/or sentence fragments, frequent repetition, and a kind of distracted, meandering energy. How close is the translation to the original in these respects? Was it necessary to make any radical choices in order to preserve the rhythm?

EB: I like to think it’s very close in terms of rhythm. The French original is largely unpunctuated, and I took the liberty of making the translation more “user-friendly” by adding periods and commas, but my main reason for doing so was to “translate”–and mark diacritically, as it were–the stops and starts, the moments of calm and renewals of frenzy, that I perceived. So the enterprise involved working on two levels: lexically and rhythmically. Kimberly and I were both drawn to the dynamism of Marion’s style and took the overall effect it produced on us as the starting point for our version: matters of word choice and the like seemed, on the whole, to be secondary to preserving the overall impact.

MA: At the moment I’m deep in Deleuze (readings) and without a doubt some elements of my response are tinged by his influence. It seems to me that I am looking for what is leaking out. What is leaking out of hearts, organs, brains. Most of my characters have something swollen in them. Their brains swim in poison, their hearts are already water-logged. Then I make a hole in their mouths. And the language comes out. It leaks by the language. It creates springs which flood over the stage. In any case, it seems to be quite obvious in Pride. The springs could be violent (cf. the director’s monologue). Some are more pernicious (I think of the very small and continuous flow of the grandmother for example). Sometimes it drips (during the conjugal scenes). Then we have more dialogues. These characters always seem a little bit lost, a little bit frustrated, limping along. They absolutely need to empty themselves in order to stay upright. They are going out of themselves through language. They drain until they find peace…until the next storm. I tried, it seems to me, to offer the audience a kind of monstrous mirror: something is not going well, you don’t think so? Aren’t we sometimes like that too? Isn’t that awful? What could we do? What could we do to live better?

IT: How did you arrive at the idea of not only using the Borgesian figure of the chonchon, but also naming it repeatedly?

MA: By writing, I guess! I wanted to give words to our monstrous doubles, those who sometimes escape from us, from the others, even without realizing it. These chonchons, I see them very often (in myself, but also in my kitchen, in real life, at school, at work, in restaurants, everywhere). What is extremely complex is that these chonchons are not only monstrous, silly, cruel…they can also, and exactly at the same time be sweet, gracious, in love and boundless…what could make them potentially moving. And so, I have never found a generic term to call them in the dictionary. I wanted a name–both ridiculous and full of mystery, thick, a name which would seem to be coming from elsewhere. After all, isn’t chonchon the one who springs out when we are strangers to ourselves? When we don’t recognize ourselves (because we always recognize ourselves when we are well-behaved, clean, clever…in these moments we have no problems with ourselves!)? I was at this time deeply emerged in The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges. The chonchon, he says, has the same shape as a human head. His very big ears help him fly on moonless nights. They are dangerous when we harass them and we tell a lot of stories about them. This definition totally convinced me. I said to myself “Perfect, thanks to Borges I give back all the maleficent but also mysterious and poetic dimensions to my little population.” I said all that but can confess that today in France, the name doesn’t satisfy me. It had been too often linked in the French imagination, (franchouillard if I dare) only to the Bidochons, heroes of an eponymous comic, archetypes of the French middle class, or to pigs. Alas! What had I done to them? My heroes all have something of the middle class in them-French, chicken-hearted, cowards, but sometimes there have flashes of genius–that’s my desire! They could have poetry in them. Thus I’m counting on the virtues of translation and trips in order to regild my characters. Maybe in the United States the chonchons would appear more mysterious than here to you?! I realize now that I didn’t exactly answer the question (my comprehension of English is sometimes approximate) but yes, you must be right, I repeat the word chonchons to mean the chonchons could multiply at an alarming rate. The problem is that we aren’t only chonchons within ourselves, but in all contexts-in contexts of intimacy, with those closest to us, our kin as we say. But also with others. At work. In real life. We are a population entirely made of chonchons.  Everywhere, on all fronts we have to battle, trick, live at least with the chonchonnerie.

IT: Can you describe any specific strategies you used to preserve the acerbic humor of the play?

EB: I, personally, have made somewhat of a study of ungenerous literary characterizations of people and social types, so I probably had a good unconscious storehouse of the requisite vocabulary and stylistic devices. I hope so, anyway. Basically, I went for what would work as an insult in a situation I might encounter in my own life….

IT: What other aspects of the structure or style were you most concerned about preserving in translation? In a play that is, as described in Marion’s application materials, “purposefully full of playwriting defects,” is there (or was there) a danger of overcorrection?

EB: Yes, definitely. That said, I didn’t do any of the fine-tuning. The translation I gave Kimberly was supposed to be accurate in terms of wording and flow, but still “raw” in a way befitting the spirit–and body–of the original.

MA: I felt that Erik and Kimberly’s work is very respectful of mine. They have never tried to improve the piece, to hide its mistakes, its tuberosities. The play is obviously deformed, irregular, baroque. It’s obvious that in this state we can’t perform it. Each time there was a production, even when my own company put it on stage, we made choices, cut some parts. What is interesting to me is that the parts chosen to be cut have never been the same twice, it depends on stage managers and productions. Maybe here again in New York, the public version may be very different from the one in San Francisco. The only stumbling block, as I said, was the title. Erik and Kimberly found it too long in English, off-balance. But it seems to me that there is movement in this title, something unstoppable, something to do with speed. The choice to call the play Pride suddenly gave it an air of a masterpiece. Isn’t there something absolutely terrifying about that?

Bios

Marion Aubert

Marion Aubert wrote her first play, Petite pièce médicament, in 1996, while training as an actor at the Montpellier Conservatory. The play was staged the following year, when she founded the Tire pas la Nappe Company with Marion Guerrero and Capucine Ducastelle. Since that time, every one of her plays has been staged, most often by her company, and most often directed by Marion Guerrero. The majority of these plays are published by Actes Sud-Papiers. Aubert has often been commissioned work by outside companies, directors or choreographer, including the Comédie Française, The Rond-Point Theater in Paris, the National Theatre Centre in Vire, Am Stram Gram Theater in Geneve, le Théâtre du Peuple de Bussang, Philippe Goudard, Guillaume Delaveau, Babette Masson, Matthieu Cruciani, and Marion Levy. Selected plays have been translated into German, English, Italian, Czech, and Catalan. She has been Playwright in Residence at the Chartreuse in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, the Francophone Theatre Festival in Limousin, the Théâtre de la Tête Noire in Saran (Orléans), the Saint-Herblain Library (Nantes), and the Royal Court in London. Aubert is on the Reading Committee at the Rond-Point Theatre in Paris, a member of the Writing Department at ENSATT, and a founding member of the Playwrights’ Cooperative, initiated by Fabrice Melquiot. She is currently Writer in Residence at the Théâtre Jacques Cœur in Lattes and at the Scènes du Jura, a National Theatre Centre in Lons-le-Saunier. As an actress, she has performed in several plays, including several of her own pieces, but has also acted in works by de Musset, Ionesco, Copi and Lagarce.

Her plays include: Débâcles, une pièce française, La Nouvelle, Essai sur le désordre entre génération, Dans le ventre du loup, Les Vives, Eboulis intérieurs et autres désastres, Le brame des biches, Saga des habitants du Val de Moldavie, Conseils pour une jeune épouse/Advice to a young bride (ou préparation collective à la vie conjugale, bilingue), Parfois, lorsque les garçons arrivent, le temps s’arrête, Les Orphelines, Orgueil, poursuite et décapitation, Phaéton, Scènes d’horreurs familiales, Les Aventures de Nathalie Nicole Nicole, Voyage en pays herblinois, Les Histrions (détail), Les Trublions, Saga des habitants du Val de Moldavie, Les Mésaventures de la Vouivre, Textes pour un clown, Les Pousse-Pions, La très sainte famille Crozat, Orgie Nuptiale, Les Aventures de Pénélope et Gudulon, L’Histoire des deux qui s’aimaient sur un carré, Epopée lubrique, and the aforementioned Petite pièce médicament.

Kimberly Jannarone and Erik Butler

Kimberly Jannarone is Professor of Theater Arts at UC Santa Cruz, and affiliated faculty with the Digital Arts and New Media MFA Program and the History of Consciousness PhD program. She received her MFA and DFA from the Yale School of Drama. Jannarone is the author of Artaud and His Doubles, winner of the Honorable Mention for the Joe Callaway Prize for best book in drama. She's currently editing Vanguards of the Right (University of Michigan Press). She's published essays on experimental performance in Theatre Survey, Theatre Journal, French Forum, Modernism/Modernity, TDR, and the Chinese journal Theater Arts, among others. She received ASTR's Gerald Kahan Scholar's Prize and Honorable Mention for the Oscar Brockett Essay Prize for essays on Artaud. She was recently a Camargo Fellow in Cassis, France, working on her next book, Mass Performance, History, and the Invention of Tradition. She also directs, performs, and dramaturgs experimental works. This year, she is producing and directing the multi-media Gynt Project in Santa Cruz, California. .................................................................................................................................... Erik Butler holds a PhD in comparative literature from Yale University and has published two books on the political history of vampires, a study of martial representations of language in early modern Europe, and numerous articles. His previous translations include Regrowth (Northwestern UP, 2011) by Yiddish modernist Der Nister. He lives in San Francisco.

Pride, Pursuit and Decapitation. Copyright (c) Marion Aubert, 2008. English translation copyright (c) Kimberly Jannarone and Erik Butler, 2012.