The Life Expectancy of Washing Machines

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The translation of The Life Expectancy of Washing Machines was one of four works developed during hotINK at The Lark 2015.

Synopsis

This is a story of a family in today’s Romania, in a town whose only factory was closed. Unemployment and an exceedingly poor job market force Father, Mother, and Daughter to live together in a small apartment. They are constantly annoyed with one another and each of them takes refuge in a separate Utopia. The controlling Mother, who is the breadwinner, is a believer in the world of TV commercials. The jobless Father dreams of joining Madonna, his “kindred soul.” The daughter dreams of going to Paris with her lover, a married man the age of her parents. None succeeds. Mother’s “magic forest,” acquired through teleshopping for good luck, dries out in their home. Madonna’s bodyguards beat up the Father at her concert in Bucharest. The Daughter’s lover will not divorce. Yet the Father returns from his misadventure with a much needed (cheap) washing machine.

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Characters

FATHER – Gicu, 50

MOTHER – 50

DAUGHTER – 25

The play is set in a Romanian town whose only factory closed several years ago, leaving thousands of people unemployed. Act I takes place in late 2008 and Act II in August 2009.

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ACT 1

The family’s apartment. The living room is in the middle with a table and chairs, a sofa, and a television set. On stage left, by the entrance door, the washing machine. There are two doors in the back. Behind the doors are the DAUGHTER’s and, respectively, the parents’ bedrooms. 

*

SCENE 1

MOTHER is in the living room. FATHER and DAUGHTER are in their bedrooms, daydreaming. The washing machine is on, making a lot of noise.

Suddenly there is a LOUD WHISTLING SOUND, followed by an EXPLOSION. THICK SMOKE emanates from the washing machine and spreads throughout the house.

*

SCENE 2

The next day. The family is at the table.

MOTHER

Pretty expensive to fix it.

FATHER

They said they’d have to put a new motor in.

MOTHER

I say, if they fix it, it’s going to last for another year at the most, then it breaks down again. So here’s what I’m thinking. What about buying a new one?

DAUGHTER

Awesome.

MOTHER

We can’t afford to pay cash, can we? So I propose we pay it in installments. And all of us contribute.

DAUGHTER

Installments for the washing machine?

FATHER

These installments, that’s not such a good idea either. You end up paying twice.

MOTHER

So what? Do you have the cash now?

FATHER

How could I?

MOTHER

See? You are the least entitled to have an opinion around here. You should be ashamed of yourself that you live on my money. You hang around all day long and clip all kinds of shit from newspapers, instead of looking for a job.

FATHER

No comment. I only said installments aren’t worth it.

MOTHER

So what do you propose?

FATHER

Let’s try something else. For instance, there’s that detergent competition.

MOTHER

What detergent?

FATHER

You cut the bar code off five different detergent boxes and you can win a washing machine.

MOTHER

You’ve gone crazy, I knew it!

FATHER

Well, we can give it a try. Maybe we get lucky, who knows?

MOTHER

We might get lucky if you found some work, and came to your senses. Look at yourself. Just look at yourself, Gicule.

FATHER

When I was a little boy I wanted to be one of those mannequins they have in store windows. I wanted to be dressed nicely and for people to look at me and say “There’s Gicu!” When I grew up, I wanted to go to the seaside. And to have my photo taken on the beach with one of those elephants they pump up. Now what I wish is to meet her. The woman I’ve been in love with since 1990. And she is in love with me. It’s only that she lives abroad and we have never met so far. But when we meet I’m going to give her all these notebooks in which I glue reviews and pictures clipped from newspapers. And juice labels. And bus tickets. And drug prospectuses. And chocolate wrappers. And little tinfoil hearts. I love to glue. And to eat watermelon seeds.

*

SCENE 3

The family is in front of the television, watching the news. Commercials play in the background.

MOTHER

I think the repairman is trying to cheat us. I think that machine has gone to God. I wonder what went wrong…it worked fine last week.

FATHER

Maybe…it died of old age.

MOTHER

You’re silly.

DAUGHTER

Maybe it did. They have their own life expectancy these things. They’ll work for a given time and then they….

MOTHER

They die.

DAUGHTER

They break down.

MOTHER

Uh-huh.

 (The news broadcast begins and runs in the background while the family continues its conversation.)

DAUGHTER

How long do washing machines live? I mean, on average.

FATHER

Depends on the brand, I guess. Good brands live longer than others.

MOTHER

I think it depends on how often you use it. There’s calcium buildup and if you don’t have that stuff to pour in, it will be ruined sooner.

FATHER

The one we had before lasted some 14 years.

MOTHER

It was not automatic.

FATHER

So what, wasn’t that also a washing machine?

DAUGHTER

14 years….

FATHER

Around.

DAUGHTER

As long as the life of a Pekingese.

FATHER

Right. Like a Pekingese.

DAUGHTER

Do you remember when you bought it or so?

FATHER

Let’s see. We got it at the Universal store. You hadn’t even been born yet. At the time when I lived in the unmarried people’s hostel. And your mother was to come and visit. She wasn’t your mother then, just a colleague, from the factory. She used to tie her hair in a ponytail.

MOTHER

Big deal….

DAUGHTER

And?

FATHER

And I bought the washing machine to impress her. For her to see I was doing pretty well for myself.

MOTHER

Oh well, I wish you hadn’t impressed me at all.

FATHER

I also wanted to buy a TV. I said to myself, if she finds out I also have a TV, she’ll be totally wowed.

MOTHER

But you didn’t have enough money for a TV.

FATHER

So I borrowed one from a neighbor. She believed it was mine.

DAUGHTER

That’s awesome! But what about this washing machine?

MOTHER

We got this one when they gave us a bonus at the factory.

FATHER

What times….

MOTHER

Now you can’t afford it anymore.

FATHER

And this one’s also lasted for 14 years.

DAUGHTER

So it’s clear we have to replace it.

MOTHER

Who’s going to pay?

DAUGHTER

This means that a washing machine lasts for an average of 14 years.

FATHER

People’s life expectancy is….

DAUGHTER

Let’s say that an individual lives for 70 years. Divide 70 by fourteen and that is…exactly five. So a person will use up about five washing machines in a lifetime. I have already gone through two of them. It means I’ll only get three more.

MOTHER

Stop that nonsense.

FATHER

I think they’ll have promotions for the holidays, there will be discounts.

MOTHER

Then let’s wait a bit. Maybe they’ll be on sale.

(Something on the television catches FATHER’s attention. He takes the remote and turns up the volume.)

TV NEWS

It is official! Madonna and her husband, filmmaker Guy Ritchie, divorce after eight years….

MOTHER changes the channel with the remote.

FATHER

Switch back!

MOTHER

The news is over.

(FATHER pushes a button on the television.)

Stop.

TV NEWS

According to a source close to the couple, the divorce will be finalized by the end of the year.

(MOTHER changes the channel again.)

FATHER

Switch back!

MOTHER

It’s eight o’clock! My program starts now!

(FATHER snatches the remote and changes the channel.)

TV NEWS

…following the divorce almost 200 million euros of the singer’s fortune, estimated to be 385 million euros. This is the second marriage for…

(MOTHER snatches the remote and hits FATHER on the head.)

FATHER

Ouch!

MOTHER

I’ve told you my program starts now! Get it?

(MOTHER watches the shopping channel. FATHER exits to his bedroom.)

DAUGHTER

Are you watching that garbage?

MOTHER

Garbage or no garbage, I’m the one who pays for the cable! I have the right to watch whatever I like, don’t I? Go to your room and do something. You are lazy just like your father! You do nothing at all! Both of you waste the air you breathe!

(DAUGHTER exits to her bedroom.)

(FATHER and DAUGHTER are in their bedrooms, daydreaming. MOTHER watches the shopping channel.)

 *

SCENE 4

Later. DAUGHTER, wearing a miniskirt, heads for the door. MOTHER turns off the television.

MOTHER

Where are you going at this hour ?

DAUGHTER

I’m seeing a pal of mine.

MOTHER

At night, like this?

DAUGHTER

It’s eight thirty!

MOTHER

Why can’t you meet in the day?

DAUGHTER

I’ve been here with the two of you all day long.

MOTHER

And what are you going to do at this time? Nightclub hopping again?

DAUGHTER

I am 25! I don’t think I’m supposed to account for what I do!

MOTHER

And who is this pal, may I ask?

DAUGHTER

A colleague. She’s the daughter of the owner of the secondhand shop.

MOTHER

Then she has nothing to worry about…. She is well situated.

DAUGHTER

What do you mean?

MOTHER

She doesn’t need to struggle to make her way in life. She gets the money from her dad. So she’s got plenty of time for nightclubs. But you, you don’t have such means. You should mind your own business, and not hang out in nightclubs.

DAUGHTER

What do you want from me? I hardly have anyone to go out with! Everybody has left! Only I’ve stayed behind here like a fool!

MOTHER

First you have to be someone and then you can afford to go to nightclubs whenever you want.

DAUGHTER

What makes you think I am not someone?

MOTHER

Look at Oana from the ground floor.

DAUGHTER

What about Oana from the ground floor?

MOTHER

She’s doing her second master’s in America.

DAUGHTER

Good for her.

MOTHER

She has a scholarship. She’s been ambitious, do you remember how silly she was, as a little girl? She couldn’t count until she was eight.

DAUGHTER

I couldn’t care less.

MOTHER

And Cornelia’s sons.

DAUGHTER

What about them now?

MOTHER

They work at that power plant. In one month they make as much as other people do in half a year, that’s what they say.

DAUGHTER

I don’t get it, what do you mean?

MOTHER

You should try harder.

DAUGHTER

And you should keep your nose out of my life.

MOTHER

You’ll see, all those kids who were stupider than you are going to leave you in the dust.

DAUGHTER

Why do you want to spoil my evening with all this crap?

MOTHER

You, come here. What’s this skirt about?

DAUGHTER

It’s a skirt.

MOTHER

You won’t leave home like that.

DAUGHTER

Give me a break!

MOTHER

You go and change it now.

DAUGHTER

Bye, I’m off.

(DAUGHTER heads for the door.)

MOTHER

Stop!

(MOTHER pulls DAUGHTER back.)

I said, you’re going to change that skirt now! How can you go out like that? Some neighbors may see you in the stairwell, God forbid. You go right now and put on your pants!

DAUGHTER (almost crying)

I’m already late! And you’re keeping me here with your bullshit!

(DAUGHTER goes back to her bedroom.)

 *

SCENE 5

Later. FATHER is in DAUGHTER’s bedroom, using her computer.

FATHER (reading)

Dear Madonna!

Today has been the happiest day of my life. I heard on TV that you are divorcing that idiot. I am happy you followed my advice. I told you in the first place that guy was no good for you. I found him to be totally unpleasant. I sincerely believe that he used you to become famous. And you don’t need such frauds around you. If I were your husband, I wouldn’t even like people to know about me. I would stay in a room and wait for you to come back from your concerts. And I’d cook ham and eggs for you, I’m sure you’d like that. Don’t even dream of going back to that jerk! He has never loved you. I have loved you since 1990, when I bought a plastic bag from the food store. You were on that plastic bag. You had a big heavy cross at your neck, a miniskirt, and torn stockings. And red letters at your feet spelling out: MADONNA. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I congratulate you once more on your divorce, and now that you are free, without that moron, I hope you come to Romania so we can meet.

Love,
Gicu

*

SCENE 6

MOTHER enters. FATHER jumps off the chair, in alarm.

MOTHER

If you found some work, we could make the money for a washing machine in two months.

FATHER

Possibly.

MOTHER

Aren’t you interested at all?

FATHER

I am looking. Finding is more difficult.

MOTHER

See, Nae from the apartment complex across the street, how could he find such a good job? That simpleton! Now he makes twice as much money as he made at the factory!

FATHER

Makes twice as much, my foot.

MOTHER

Didn’t you notice he installed double-hung windows and he only wears the kind of shiny shirts with dots on them? Do you have any idea how much those shirts cost?

FATHER

His wife sends him money over from Spain, that’s why. He doesn’t make much here. He’s just showing off.

MOTHER

And you, not able to find any work for two years? Incredible! You’ve made a fool of yourself, I am ashamed when I meet people on the street and they ask where you work now!

FATHER

I’ll find something.

MOTHER

If it were up to you, you’d stay unemployed for the next two years! You’re lucky I am around…. Look here. Tomorrow at nine you go to the auto repair at the town exit and introduce yourself. You say that George has recommended you.

FATHER

How is that?

MOTHER

That’s how it is. It’s the garage of George’s brother-in-law. I told him you need a job, whatever and he said okay, my brother-in-law will give him one.

FATHER

And what am I supposed to do there?

MOTHER

There’ll be something there for you.

FATHER

I’m not sure…

MOTHER

You go! I gave my word.

FATHER

I don’t understand why you did not ask me before speaking with George.

MOTHER

Instead of saying thank you, you complain. Tomorrow at nine you’ll be there and settle things.

FATHER

First let me see what it is about.

MOTHER

Beggars can’t be choosers! You’d better thank me for saving your bacon.

FATHER

Okay, okay, I’ll go and see what it is about.

MOTHER

You’ll wear your new trousers and the blue beret, will you? To look decent for once. And brush your teeth twice. And you shave, not to make us a laughingstock. Understood?

FATHER

But I’m shaved enough!

MOTHER

No matter! You shave again tomorrow morning! And use that aftershave I got you, from that ad, you know, where the man is in an elevator with this old woman and the dog. Don’t you know it? And the dog faints and the old woman also faints from the wonderful scent of his aftershave. Come on, go to sleep now, to be well rested tomorrow! ’Cause you need at least eight hours of sleep, if you only sleep seven or six hours they say your metabolism slows down and your blood rises to your brain!

(FATHER goes to his bedroom and closes the door.)

SCENE 7

Later. MOTHER is in the living room by herself. She paces and listens outside her bedroom door to know whether FATHER has gone to sleep. She turns on the television, finds the shopping channel and watches it excitedly. DAUGHTER enters through the front door. MOTHER rises from the sofa. DAUGHTER, in a bad mood, takes off her shoes and flings them to the floor.

DAUGHTER

Do you have insomnia, or what?

MOTHER

If I were in your shoes, I’d be saying I’m sorry for coming home at this time.

DAUGHTER

Pardon?

MOTHER

Don’t pretend you don’t get it! What time is it, please?

DAUGHTER

One thirty. You should have been in your bed long ago.

MOTHER

Now you’re giving me lip, on top of it! When did I tell you to be back home?

DAUGHTER

Leave me alone with this crap of yours! You’d better go to sleep.

MOTHER

You promised you’d be back home at half past ten.

DAUGHTER

I didn’t promise anything.

MOTHER

Do you think I can sleep when you are away?

DAUGHTER

You’re wacko.

MOTHER

How do you allow yourself to speak like that? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?

DAUGHTER

You should be ashamed of yourself to stay awake and check on me and see at what time I come home! At my age, I have a right to come home whenever I want! And the next time I catch you waiting up for me, I’m going to throw all those stupid creams you rub on your face in the toilet!

MOTHER (approaches her)

You’ve drunk.

DAUGHTER

This is more crap, stop it.

MOTHER

You smell like booze.

DAUGHTER

I had a sip of beer, okay?

MOTHER

That’s no smell of beer. It’s liquor. You’ve had at least two glasses of liquor, the way you stink.

DAUGHTER

I think you were a police dog in your previous life.

MOTHER

Why do you drink? Do you want to ruin yourself?

DAUGHTER

Leave me alone! I drank almost nothing!

MOTHER

There’s no uglier thing for a woman, than this smell of booze.

DAUGHTER

Where did you get that from? I suppose you read it in one of those magazines of yours?

MOTHER

I may have read it there, so what? This thing with the booze is right.

(DAUGHTER spreads butter on some slices of bread, puts baloney on them, then puts the sandwiches on a plate and sits down on the sofa. She starts to eat.)

DAUGHTER

Change the channel. This is driving me crazy!

MOTHER

It’s not crazy. It’s very interesting. They have a special knife for potatoes. And a magic pan that cooks without oil. And a toothbrush with a radio.

DAUGHTER

I hope you aren’t going to buy anything else from those guys any more.

MOTHER

You can learn things from this show. Instead of wasting your time in nightclubs, you’d better watch these with me. Like for instance they tell you that the classical vacuum cleaners pollute the air. And that the classical toothbrushes damage the gums and you can develop paradontosis. And woe on you if you have paradontosis and do not treat it, you’ll be left without a tooth in your mouth. So better buy a vibrating toothbrush than have to pay and fix your teeth. As I say: the electric toothbrush takes care of your gums. An electric toothbrush helps your teeth grow.

DAUGHTER

I hope you won’t shower us at home with electric toothbrushes now.

MOTHER

Do you want your home to be sparkling clean? I suggest the new revolutionary mop Superman 3, the world solution for cleaning. You’ll have a clean floor effortlessly with the new revolutionary mop Superman 3, super-light and super-easy to handle. The revolutionary mop Superman 3, made of high-quality materials, will last for a lifetime. Do it now! Order the Superman 3 mop now and you will receive another mop for free. Cleaning with them will be a pleasure!

(She smiles with satisfaction.)

DAUGHTER

You memorized the mop commercial?

MOTHER

Oh no, I haven’t. I just heard it once! And I can remember every word. I have a good memory, that’s all.

DAUGHTER

Oh.

MOTHER

I think it’s above average. I know all TV commercials by heart.

DAUGHTER

Amazing. You may be an Einstein of sorts and we didn’t know it.

MOTHER

Does dandruff ever bother you? Try the new miracle shampoo, enemy no. 1 of dandruff!

DAUGHTER

You are a genius.

MOTHER

If I’d had a chance to go to college, I’d be someone now.

DAUGHTER

Good for you.

MOTHER

Yes, I’m intelligent enough, you know. That’s why I didn’t stay idle like your father, after they had closed the factory. I strove as best I could and found a job.

DAUGHTER

Right. You make hamster coffins. A great career, for sure.

MOTHER

We make them for export! For hamsters in Western Europe!

DAUGHTER

Only wacky old women bury their hamsters.

MOTHER

But they are Western old women! They wear genuine pearls!

DAUGHTER

And when their hamsters give up the ghost, they bury them in Romanian coffins made by you. That’s swell!

MOTHER

That’s a modern craft. One has to develop, don’t they say so on TV? Ah, guess who I met in the stairway yesterday.

DAUGHTER

I have no idea.

MOTHER

The daughter of the neighbor on the second floor. She had a straight nose.

DAUGHTER

Don’t tell me!

MOTHER

Her dad gave her money to straighten her nose.

DAUGHTER

What does she look like?

MOTHER

What can she look like? As plain as ever, only she doesn’t have her nose crooked anymore. But listen. I asked her how she is and she tells me she’s a doctoral student at Oxford.

DAUGHTER

Her, a doctoral student?

MOTHER

Wasn’t she rather dumb when she was a little girl?

DAUGHTER

Completely dumb.

MOTHER

And now she says she’s getting married next year.

DAUGHTER

Married, her?

MOTHER

And I used to think, look at the poor girl, such looks, it will be difficult for her to get married…. And see, there is somebody out there for her.

DAUGHTER

Well, maybe he isn’t exactly Apollo.

MOTHER

Never mind, you’ll also have your good luck from now on.

DAUGHTER

What do you mean?

MOTHER

I ordered a Chinese owl.

DAUGHTER

I beg your pardon?

MOTHER

Yes, it’ll come by mail next week. It brings good luck.

DAUGHTER

You’ve gone crazy.

MOTHER

It’s made of rubber, it’s not alive. You wind it up and it sings. The anchorman on the late news has one of the exact same owls at home.

DAUGHTER

Look, I told you not to pile up all sorts of trash in this house!

MOTHER

Before getting one, he had one misfortune after another, so they say, his wife left him, he had a car accident…. But after he got an owl for himself he remarried and now they have a child.

DAUGHTER

Why am I talking in vain…. Order as many owls as you want. Keep an owl farm, as far as I’m concerned. Only don’t display them in the living room, ’cause if you do I’ll throw them out of the window.

MOTHER

It’s for you that I’ve ordered it, you know. For your good luck.

DAUGHTER

I can manage without, thank you.

MOTHER

Others would be thrilled to receive a Chinese owl.

DAUGHTER

You’re welcome to keep it for yourself. Do whatever the hell you want with it!

(She goes to her room and slams the door.)

Night time. The three family members dream in their bedrooms. The alarm clock rings. MOTHER and DAUGHTER wake up, put on their overcoats, and leave the house.

(…)

 *

SCENE 13

The family is eating dinner.

MOTHER

Tell me…don’t you think the omelette’s much tastier cooked in a teflon pan? 

(FATHER and DAUGHTER eat and keep silent.)

MOTHER

It is also healthier, less fat. It’s not that good to eat an omelette in the evening, though. It has over-saturated acids. It can cause bloating and, if eaten after six in the evening, it causes sleeplessness. And if not sleeplessness, you may sleep but you’ll have bad dreams. Like I dreamt about these red plastic elephants, the ones you fill with water and spray at people. The elephants kept coming towards me spraying and I ran and ran until I stumbled and fell and then I woke up. It’s always when I eat over-saturated acids that I dream about these spraying elephants. 

(FATHER and DAUGHTER eat and keep silent.)

MOTHER

An omelette is best eaten in the morning. A light salad and a yogurt is what they recommend in the evening. The best yogurt is Actimel with bifidus acid, which helps your digestion. It’s like in that commercial with the women who tell you about how their bellies got bloated. If you are constipated, you have to eat one yogurt a day. When your body starts adapting, you’ll go to the restroom every day, no problems anymore. Now, well, it’s not good to eat lots of yogurt either, because then you may get diarrhea. And if that happens on a bus, what are you going to do? The most unpleasant thing, to be on a bus and get diarrhea.

DAUGHTER (rises from the table annoyed)

Bon appetit!

(DAUGHTER goes to her room and looks out the window as if she were waiting for something.)

DAUGHTER

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I come home from my office and look out the window until his car parks in front of our building. After he comes in, I wait until he bangs three times at the radiator pipe. I go down to his apartment. I only stay for five minutes, because she comes back from aerobics at seven. On Tuesdays and Thursdays he plays tennis. He tells her that he goes to a bar with the boys after tennis. But really he meets with me at that hotel at the end of the town. There is always a smell of omelette in the room there. The beds have sheets with patterns of bleached elephants. We never meet on weekends. We never see each other when his daughter is at home. Sometimes I run into him…and her. I greet them but I never look at him. He says he can remember me from the time when I was one year old and wore a onesie with a dolphin on it. He bought a rose for me just once. I pressed it in Anna Karenina. I keep stealing his shirts from the dryer to sleep in. He’ll get a divorce and we’ll leave together. He will take me to Paris. We’ll drink cafe au lait in the Eiffel Tower. And we’ll eat those long baguettes at breakfast. Until then, I can smell the scent of his shirts every night.

*

SCENE 14

Later. The family watches TV news. Commercials run in the background.

MOTHER

Finally, I’ve made peace.

FATHER

Bravo.

MOTHER

You can’t stay with this negative aura around all the time.

DAUGHTER

I’ve already told you. If you spy on me one more time, I will never ever speak to you again.

MOTHER

I wonder why we can’t be a family. Like the family in that telephone ad.

FATHER

Why, aren’t we?

MOTHER

To be united. To get along well. To sit on the sofa and eat popcorn. Like those guys.

FATHER

Well, can’t we get along without popcorn? 

(The news can be heard under the family members’ conversation.)

MOTHER

You are right, some don’t even get along as well as we do.

DAUGHTER

True. Other people chop each other up with axes and stuff.

MOTHER

Well now, let’s not compare ourselves with such nut jobs.

DAUGHTER

Don’t we see five or six of them on the daily news? There are more and more of them. They’ve all gone crazy. One of them is reported to have killed his parents and siblings and dissolved them in sulphuric acid.

MOTHER

And what am I supposed to do? Thank you for not dissolving me in sulphuric acid?

DAUGHTER

No, but be thankful that we get along.

FATHER

We are okay, compared to the average.

MOTHER

But we should make an effort for the better. Look, the neighbors never quarrel. They look like that commercial with everyone eating margarine at the table quietly. I’ve often wondered…if they can do it that way, why can’t we?

DAUGHTER

It can’t be the same because you spy on us, that’s why. You haven’t chosen the right career. You should have been a detective. You’d have lots and lots of awards by now.

MOTHER

Stop that nonsense, will you?

(FATHER suddenly takes notices of the news broadcast and grabs the remote. He turns the sound up.)

FATHER

Stop talking for just a bit!

TV NEWS

Madonna may have a concert in Romania, with her Sticky and Sweet Tour, to promote her most recent album….

MOTHER

What do you mean, stop talking? Aren’t you ashamed to tell me to stop talking? While you are living off me? Just look at him! He lives on my money and I am supposed to stop talking!

(MOTHER changes the channel.)

FATHER

Turn back! I beg you!

MOTHER

Buy yourself a TV from your own money and then you can watch whatever you want.

FATHER

One minute!

MOTHER

None! I bought this TV! So I have the right to change channels as I please. Get out! Go to bed!

(FATHER leaves.)

DAUGHTER

Why do you get yourself worked up like this?

MOTHER

Just because. I’m just worked up. You’re two layabouts, both of you, and you expect for me to take care of everything. In the evening at least let me talk and change channels as I please. You have no aim in your life, just like your dad. Dye your hair and haunt nightclubs, that’s all you want to know about.

DAUGHTER

But what do you expect me to do? Win the Nobel prize for physics?

MOTHER

Have I ever said that?

DAUGHTER

You’d be disappointed even if I got it. You’d still find something to grumble about.

(DAUGHTER leaves.)

(MOTHER watches the shopping channel. DAUGHTER tries on several dresses in her bedroom, looking at herself in the mirror. FATHER daydreams in his bedroom.) 

(…)

 *

SCENE 16

Later. FATHER is sitting again at DAUGHTER’s computer.

FATHER (reading)

Dear Madonna!

I thank you from the bottom of my heart that you come to Romania to see me. You can hardly imagine the joy this brings to me. I thought I was dreaming when I got the news on TV. The only thing I didn’t like was your silver shorts. They are garish. Throw them away or auction them. I hope you won’t be offended that I write you this. I know you like outspoken people, like me. That’s because we are soul mates. We have the same destiny because we have the same birthday. I was born on August 16, 1958, just like you. I’m sending you a copy of my ID to prove it.

I kiss you and miss you,
Gicu

(…)

*

SCENE 18

Peering at a newspaper, FATHER dials a number on the telephone.

FATHER

Hello. I’m calling you about the ad in the paper. Yes, the one about the job. Shall I read it for you? Work at home, little effort big gain. Ah, so there are several jobs. And I have a choice. Unemployed. For two and a half years. Yes, I have good eyes. 51. Stitching eyes? Oh, on plush rabbits from South Korea. So, will you repeat that? I would have to stitch eyes on plush animals? And also fur? What kind of fur? Sew fur on rabbits? Oh. Yes, I think I can do that. Every day except for Saturday and Sunday. Yes, understood. It’s only right that I should take a test. Yes, right. Tomorrow’s okay. After ten. Excellent. Yes, I have your address. Goodbye!

(He makes a note on the edge of the newspaper. The DOORBELL RINGS. FATHER is startled and then opens the door. Several men enter, carrying trees. In a short while, the kitchen is crammed with trees. MOTHER enters with a big smile on her face.)

FATHER

W-w-what…

MOTHER

From now on we’ll be in clover.

FATHER

If you say so…

MOTHER

Can’t you feel it? I managed to buy it at a discount! Seven trees for the price of one! Gicule, you’re going to see our ship come in in a couple of days. You will find work for yourself.

FATHER

But isn’t this too much?

MOTHER

What?

FATHER

We can hardly walk in, with all these trees.

MOTHER

The more green plants we have in our home, the better. They will clear the air and clear our minds!

(DAUGHTER comes in.)

DAUGHTER

What’s all this!?

MOTHER

I have ordered a magic forest. This is the tree of happiness, this is the tree of wishes come true, this is the tree of good health, this is the tree of money, this is the tree of work, this is the tree of family, and this is the tree of love. Seven lucky trees that make up the magic forest.

DAUGHTER

You’ve gone completely nuts.

MOTHER

You have no idea how helpful these trees will be to you.

DAUGHTER

I don’t need any of that, thank you. I’ll manage by myself.

MOTHER

Just look at them, how beautiful they are! What do you say, Gicu, doesn’t our home look nicer with these trees here?

FATHER

Still they eat up lots of room.

DAUGHTER

Lots of room? They eat up all the room!

MOTHER

It’s just about getting used to them, that’s all. Once you are used to them, you won’t feel like they take up too much room. You’ll see.

(MOTHER waters the plants blissfully. She sings tunes from television commercials.)

*

SCENE 19

FATHER sits at the kitchen table and stitches the eyes onto a plush orange rabbit. When he finishes stitching, he plays with it a little.

TV NEWS

It’s now official! Pop legend Madonna will hold a live concert in Bucharest on August 26, 2009, as part of the Sticky & Sweet World Tour.

(FATHER kisses the rabbit. FATHER hears the sound of a key turning in the door. Startled, FATHER hides the rabbit under the pillows on the sofa.)

The concert will take place at Izvor Park, and tickets will be available starting March 3rd. Ticket prices start at….

(MOTHER enters and turns off the television.)

MOTHER

It’s not good for the trees to have the TV on too long. It spreads negative waves.

(She falls onto the sofa.)

MOTHER

Did you hear?

FATHER

Hear what?

MOTHER

They’re divorcing!

FATHER

W-what….

MOTHER

The lady from the second floor. She’s divorcing her husband.

FATHER

Ah, yes.

MOTHER

Can you fancy that? I have never heard them quarrel or rage once.

FATHER

Mhm….

MOTHER

D’ye know what I think? I think they may have merely pretended to be in good shape all these years. Don’t you see? They waited for their children to grow up and now they can divorce. No problem.

FATHER

Mhm….

MOTHER

Listen, I wonder which of them will move out? If it’s her, do you think she’s going to take all the teflon pots and pans?

FATHER

Uh-huh.

MOTHER

If I were the one to go, I’d leave everything.

FATHER

You wouldn’t have all that much to take, would you.

MOTHER

No, I mean, if I were in her shoes. Better to leave one’s past behind.

FATHER

Maybe so.

MOTHER

It is so. I read in a journal about a woman telling her story, the way she divorced and how happy she was with herself after that. Like, it was only after that she discovered her true self. I was thinking, maybe this is what she, the neighbor, feels like, getting rid of her husband.

FATHER

Uh-huh….

MOTHER

Wouldn’t I feel better without you? Just wondering. But we are too poor to divorce. I think that even if we were divorced, I would still have to live with you in the same place, ’cause we don’t have the money to buy an apartment for each of us.

FATHER

You’re talking about an apartment, when we don’t even have the money to buy a washing machine!

MOTHER

Oh well, one cannot have it all. It is important to be satisfied with little. That’s what they say in this new book that I’m reading, Believe You Can and You’ll Be Able To. I got it for free, with the forest.

FATHER

What does it say?

MOTHER

Believe You Can and You’ll Be Able To! It’s about will power! They say that if you truly wish something and focus on it, it will happen!

FATHER

Uh-huh.

MOTHER

Therefore if you focus on finding work, you’ll find it.

(MOTHER exits to their bedroom. FATHER remains in the living room. He recovers his rabbit from beneath the pillows and gazes at it. Then he starts speaking to it.)

FATHER

There are exactly 178 more days and six hours until she comes. That is to say, until August 26, 2009, at 8 p.m. Are you aware of this? Madonna and I will breathe the same air! I’ll make money for the concert sewing plastic eyes and fur on plush rabbits. I get one leu for every ten eyes that I stitch. If you happen to see a rabbit with crooked eyes at the store, that would be one I stitched. I probably was thinking of Madonna. My wife, who sat on you, doesn’t know that I’m working. I sew furiously when she is at her office. And I hide the money in the freezer. That’s the only place she doesn’t check. She hates ice.

(…)

ACT 2, SCENE 2

Bucharest. Late at night. An almost empty terrace restaurant. FATHER sits at a table by himself–he has a black eye, his shirt is ripped, and he is quite drunk. There are lots of wine and beer bottles on his table.

FATHER

I’ve told you how things go with soul mates. Listen: everybody has a soul mate, only you may be in Romania and your soul mate in New Zealand, get it? Bad luck, ha ha. So. My soul mate is not from Romania either. But she has been here. She came to see me. Brrrr, by airplane. She landed. And right away, she arrived in Bucharest. My soul mate is Madonna herself. Yes, bro, what are you gazing at. Madonna, she may be great, but she still has to have her soul mate, like everybody else. And that’s me. Listen. Women, they’re devils. Don’t think that Madonna is any better. She is also a woman, ain’t she? Only that she is Madonna. I’ve written her for some five-six years. I told her that the guy she was married to was a profiteer and she better divorce that ass. She followed my advice. She divorced last year. I asked her to come and sing in Romania, she came. She does exactly as I tell her. But she is a devil, like all women. I came to meet her. Well, I mean, I came to the concert…. I was in the back and I couldn’t see much. At one point…. Bang! an explosion on the stage. And all the crazies around me started screaming. There was a colorful dot on the stage that kept moving like hop-hop from place to place. They said it was Madonna herself. I could see her like that for three songs maybe, no more, ’cause after that there was no way to see anything anymore from all that dust. It was an inch deep on my face and I sure looked like hell, and that’s why the guys beat me up. Yes, what do you think, them bodyguards, whatever they’re called, beat me. I tried to go backstage there to invite Madonna out to a restaurant. I told them, the bodyguards I mean, that I am an old acquaintance and to let me pass. And there bang, the next thing I know I get punched in my head by one of the thugs, who was 10 feet tall. And then bang, I lost my temper and I swung back at them. What does all this mean? I come to do something nice, that is, I invite a lady out to a restaurant, more precisely Madonna, and you swing at me? What right do you have to beat me? I hit him, he hit me, I hit him, he hit me, I hit him, he hit me, and then I don’t know what happened. I slept in that park where they had the concert. When I got up, I remembered what happened and I was so angry that I decided to tell Madonna to fire the monkey who had beaten me up. And I went to her hotel and told them at the reception desk that I wanted to speak with her. And that woman there at the reception desk, as sour as a pickled cucumber, that’s how she was. First she made a face as if I had proposed to her. Then she said there was no Madonna at that hotel. I told her I was Madonna’s friend and that she would lose her job if she didn’t call Madonna down to the lobby right now. And do you know what the sour pickle did? She said she would call the police, the idiot. Then I told her that even if she were to bring the FBI, I wouldn’t leave before she called Madonna. And then do you know what that fool did? She had the hotel bodyguards throw me out of the hotel. And they beat me up too. Now I want to watch and see when Madonna comes out, ’cause she has to leave this hotel at some point, doesn’t she? But I’m afraid I fell asleep–and I missed her. She left, the devil. Get me? I can’t feel her anymore now. She isn’t around any more. That’s the way with soul mates, you can feel them when they are near you, and I can no longer feel that about her now. She’s left for Sofia, for her next concert. It was fated to happen like that. Well, to think of how much I did for her…. I planned to run away with her. And she–nothing. Not even a hello. Women, that’s the way they are. And Madonna may be the Madonna, yet she still is a devil of a woman. Seasoned and sly, don’t you think? She thinks she can manipulate me and use me. Well, that won’t work with me. Waiter, another round! For damned Madonna and her soul mate, that is, for me, and for everyone else, the thugs included!

Bios

Elise Wilk

Elise Wilk was born in 1981, in Braşov, Romania. She studied journalism at the Babeş-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca. She has an MA in literature and communication from the Transilvania-University in Braşov and an MA in playwriting from the University of Arts in Târgu-Mureş. In 2008, her first play, It Happened on a Thursday, won the “dramAcum” playwriting contest, which aimed at discovering the most important texts of Romanian contemporary dramaturgy. Since then, her plays have been staged in Romania and abroad. In 2013, Wilk won the Irish Embassy Award for an emerging Romanian playwright with her play The Green Cat. Her most successful play to date, The Green Cat has been translated into six languages and staged or presented at public readings in Romania, Italy, Germany, Russia, and Switzerland. Wilk was one of ten Romanian playwrights selected for the European project “Fabulamundi. Playwriting Europe.” In 2014, she was selected for the Forum of Young European Playwrights at the Wiesbaden Theatre Biennale, the biggest theatre festival for contemporary plays in Europe. In the same year, Forbes Magazine Romania included her among its young Romanian trendsetters of the year. Wilk’s plays include It Happened on a Thursday (2008), The Average Life Expectation of Washing Machines (2010), The Green Cat (2012), Room 701 (2013), The Mysterious Island (2014), and Tic-Tac-Toe (2015). Most recently, she won the 2015 Romanian National Drama Contest with her newest play, Paper Planes.

Ioana Ieronim

Ioana Ieronim is a Romanian poet, essayist, playwright. and translator based in Romania and Washington, D.C. Her works include Triumful Paparudei: The Triumph of the Water Witch (narrative poetry, translated from the Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin, Bloodaxe Books, UK); another translation, by Georgiana Farnoaga and Sharon King, was published in a complete bilingual edition at Paralela 45, and the book was also published in Germany (Brueckengasse ohne Ufer, version by Dagmar Dusil). She has written more than ten collections of lyrics, some in English and online, including Omnivorous Syllables and Ariadne’s Veil. Her most recent books were published in Bucharest in 2013: Liber la Casino ("Casino for Free"), a collection of plays, and Când strugurii se prefac în vin ("When Grapes Turn into Wine"), a collection of verse. Ieronim has participated in multimedia initiatives and various international literary events. Her poetry, essays, and plays have been published in journals and anthologies in several European countries, Israel, Argentina, and the United States. She worked with the Lark Play Development Center to develop two of her plays. Her Water Tower was premiered as a radio play, director Ilinca Stihi, at the Romanian National Public Radio in 2014. She also writes theatre criticism, and her drama translations, which include Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, Doug Wright, and Tony Kushner, are in the current repertoire in Romania and in publication. Ieronim has worked as a cultural journalist, Romania’s cultural attache to Washington D.C. (1992-96), and Fulbright program director in Romania.

Copyright (c) Elise Wilk, 2013. English translation copyright (c) Ioana Ieronim, 2015.