The Labyrinth of Desire

(adapted from La Prueba de los Ingenios)

Figures

  • FLORELA, spirited, impulsive, intelligent young woman
  • RICARDO, steadfast friend to Florela and Alejandro
  • ALEJANDRO, Florela’s impetuous, somewhat neurotic, handsome fiancé
  • CAMACHO, a young man of quicksilver energy, a messenger, fool, and trickster
  • LAURA, confident, poised, intelligent young woman of slightly giddy, neurasthenic energy
  • FINEA, her plainspoken confidante
  • PARIS, Laura’s charming, ardent suitor, a dandy in the Wilde-an sense with rock star energy
  • ESTACIO, his loyal assistant
  • DUCHESS (of Ferrara), Laura’s mother, sly and elegant, a gracious politician

Setting

  • A world of mirrors and transformation.
  • Simple, elegant and somewhat ornate in design.
  • A playing area that is open, but can suddenly become obscured.
  • There is the possibility of magic here and of getting lost.

Notes
While anchored in a classical world, the approach to playing should be fresh, immediate, bold, and contemporary. This play is in the now.

ACT I

Scene 1

Enter Florela and Ricardo.

Florela
I will kill myself.

Ricardo
Be reasonable.

Florela
What use has reason in love?
Love has no reason.
Give me your knife.

Ricardo
What?

Florela
So I can plunge it straight into my heart.

Ricardo
Forget him, Florela.

Florela
That’s not possible, Ricardo.

Ricardo
Why not?

Florela
Because he…took advantage of me…he lied to me.

Ricardo
Alejandro’s hardly the first man to lie in love.

Florela
Nor will he be the last,
Is that what you mean?

Ricardo
I only mean—

Florela
He swore he’d marry me, Ricardo. And now he wants to marry her.

Ricardo
It’s outrageous. I know.

Florela
It’s shameful. That’s what it is.
I give him my body and soul, and he gives me…lies.

Ricardo
Men tend to break their promises
once they have satisfied their desires.

Florela
Are you defending him now?

Ricardo
I speak true. That’s all.
Would you rather I lie to you?

Florela
I’d rather there was a way I could stop him from pursuing her.

Ricardo
If his desire for marriage
Were only driven by love,
I’m sure we could find a way to stop him,
But there is the matter of his
Coming into quite a bit of money
If he does manage to marry Laura.
Her poor mother is desperate to marry her off before she dies;
If not, she’ll lose her inheritance.

Florela
Do you mean to say—?

Ricardo
Alejandro will go to Ferrara
To seek his fortune,
As well as a wife.

Florela
And a pretty wife too, am I right?

Ricardo
Rumor has it.

Florela
Rumor has it she’s witty too, is that true?

Ricardo
I’m afraid to say…Laura is Ferrara’s shining star.

Florela
But is she…smart?

Ricardo
She’s not your equal;
In matters of learning,
But she holds her own well enough.

Florela
I’d like to see her.

Ricardo
What for?

Florela
I’d like to meet a beautiful and intelligent woman like her.

Ricardo
Whatever it is you’re thinking of doing, it won’t end well.

Florela
I’m not thinking of anything.
I’m just afraid she’ll fall in love with him, that’s all;
Alejandro can be very charming.

Ricardo
He’s not the only one who’s courting her.
She may not end up with him in the end.

Florela
Let’s leave this now;
We’ll speak no more about it.
All I ask is that you help me.

Ricardo
To do what?

Florela
Will you help me, Ricardo?

Ricardo
Of course. As long as you stay here.

Florela
I can’t.
If Alejandro is going off to
Seek his fortune in Ferrara;
I’ve no choice but to follow.

Ricardo
Fall out of love, Florela.
You are an intelligent woman,
With a blazing gift for poetry,
Astronomy, and philosophy.
You’ve outshone the brightest of scholars, haven’t you?
Well, then, temper love’s fury.
Find solace in your own talents,
Your own gifts,
Your own radiant beauty.

Florela

What is it all good for?
What has all the learning in the world made me fit for?
Love’s riddles cannot be solved with books.
I can’t stop loving him (as the song goes).¹
And after what he’s done to me,
I won’t just stand by and watch while
He marries another.

Ricardo
And if he finds you in Ferrara?

Florela
Let him find me. I’m not afraid of him.
I fear nothing, not even death.

Ricardo
Think of what people will say!

Florela
Let them say what they like.

Ricardo
You’ll be the stuff of rumor and gossip.

Florela
They can cackle all they want about me,
The loose tongues and the scolding eyes
With their noses pinched in disapproval.
Let them be heard for miles. They can’t destroy me
Nothing they can say will destroy me.
But to lose him—
Yes, that would…
I must stop that marriage.

Ricardo
What will I—?

Florela
Tell them I had to go to Loreto.
On a spiritual quest.

Ricardo
I will keep your secret. I promise.

Florela
You’re a good friend, Ricardo.

Ricardo
(What good it does me.)

Florela
Will you check to see if he’s gone yet?

Ricardo
Right away. …Heaven help you.

Florela
I’ll need all the help I can get.

Ricardo
Just keep your wits about you;
You’ll do fine.

Ricardo walks away.

Florela
Fine, he says.
May his gracious heart be true,
For I am headlong in pursuit.

Exits.

Scene 2

Alejandro enters, followed by Ricardo.

Alejandro
She can chase me all over town
If she likes,
As long as she doesn’t
Follow me to Ferrara.

Ricardo
I think that wherever you go,
She’s bound to follow.

Alejandro
Why’s that?

Ricardo
She’s a woman in love.

Alejandro
Meaning?

Ricardo
Love sharpens one’s senses.
Hers have always been sharp.
You see what I mean?

Alejandro
Well, she’s not to follow me another step
Do you understand?

Ricardo
You’re out of love, then?

Alejandro
It’s not that I don’t love Florela.
I love her as I love myself.
Circumstance is to blame. That’s all.
How was I to know I’d be faced with having to choose
Between two very different women?
One of them, my equal in most things,
Except class, which is a drawback, I admit,
Though I suppose I could live with it;
But what really gets me about Florela
Is that she is too clever by half—

Really, she makes me feel quite stupid sometimes.
I don’t cherish feeling like a dim-witted fool
Next to her shining brilliance,
As much as I admire it.
(And there is much to admire in Florela. I admit that.)
On the other hand there’s Laura:
Who is not only modest and charming,
But graced with a radiant, classical beauty.
Do you see my dilemma?

Ricardo
Well, I…

Alejandro
It’s as clear as day,
Especially when you consider
That whoever marries Laura
Will come into quite a fortune.

Ricardo
But such considerations are not part of love’s design.
You should let your passions hold sway
And not merely your ambition.

Alejandro
I owe it to myself to seek what is best for me.
Florela can cry all she wants to (as the song goes).²
I’m off to Ferrara. Nothing, not even her tears, can stop me.

Sounds offstage.

Camacho
(Off) A message from Ferrara, sir!

Alejandro
We’ve been waiting for you. Come in!

Camacho
(Enters on bicycle) I can see your Excellency
Was expecting a more distinguished emissary from the court;
Well, I’m afraid you’ll have to make do
With this sweaty mass of aching bones before you.
Camacho’s the name, if you must know. Plain ol’ Camacho.
Don’t think you would have known my family. Not your type.
But we’re all the same in the end, eh?
When to dust we are turned, it doesn’t matter what family we came from.
We’re dust all the same. Isn’t that right?
Not that I am reaching the end of my days just yet…
Figure of speech, you understand, turn of phrase.
I sure am thirsty.
You wouldn’t be able to spare a drink for a kindly messenger?
I was in such a hurry to find this wretched place
I haven’t had a drop. That’s the truth.
I haven’t had a bit of rest.

Alejandro
You’ll have plenty of time to rest after I’m gone.

Camacho
Oh, you’re feeling poorly?

Alejandro
What?

Camacho
I’d hate to think you’re reaching the end of your days.

Alejandro
What are you talking about?

Camacho
You said…

Alejandro
I haven’t said a thing.
Have I said anything, Ricardo?

Ricardo
Not exactly.

Camacho
My mistake, then.

Alejandro
Yes. Quite.

Camacho
It’s good to know you’re all right. Good to know you’re in your prime.

Alejandro
Yes. The letter, Camacho.

Camacho
What’s that?

Alejandro
May I have the letter?

Camacho
You can have whatever you want
As long as you let me rest.
I tell you, I have pushed myself to the limit,
Do you understand? To the max, as they say.
By the way, I will need a new pair of shoes.
These are absolutely wrecked.
I tore them, you see, on my way here,
So technically they’re your responsibility;
Well, not technically
But in actuality, actually.
Good pair of shoes, too. Really liked them.
Had them for years. Trusty pair.
And now? Wrecked. You see my dilemma?
It isn’t right. A man needs his shoes.
They mark your place in the world.
What’s a man without shoes?
A man without a sole. That’s the truth.
Sorry state for any man. Pitiable, sorry state, if you must know
Christ, my ass hurts!
No polite way to say it, I’m afraid
(And what does politeness get us anyway?
Smiles and hypocrisy. Not much else that I know.)
I broke my ass riding that shitty bicycle.
Being a messenger isn’t what it used to be, that’s for sure.
In the old days…so I’ve heard…
Messengers had luck on their side,
And plenty of comforts.
What comforts do I have?
Thirst, hunger and a broken ass.

Alejandro
(Reading letter) I can’t believe this.

Camacho
Believe every bit of it.
Nothing but the truth in that letter.
(Oh, I gave it a look a bit earlier.
Had to do something on the road.)
Everyone is after our dear Laura.
No surprise, really.
She’s a beautiful woman.
And her mother, the duchess,
Could meet her Maker any second.
I wouldn’t give her more than a few days myself
I don’t mean to be indiscreet; I’m just telling it how I see it.
No harm intended, if you know what I mean.
There are plenty of men interested in Laura.
I can’t think of a man who isn’t.
Men of wealth and prestige, too.
Laura has her pick. That’s the truth.
She’s in a quite a position.
Why, if I wasn’t so tired,
So damn hungry, and thirsty and wrecked
By my travels,
I could tell you about all the different kinds of men
That are after our dear Laura
(and she is dear. Oh how dear she is.
If I wasn’t who I am;
In my station, as you see,
I, too, would pursue Laura. Make no mistake.)
But such as it is, I can only tell you about…
Well now, I’ve forgotten.
See? I’m so exhausted I can’t even tell things straight.
That’s the burden of the job I’m in.
Lapses of memory. One day I won’t remember anything.
…No, wait, there is someone.

Alejandro
Yes?

Camacho
Yes. Yes. Someone indeed. Marseilles.

Alejandro
Who?

Camacho
Paris.

Alejandro
Well, which is it?

Camacho
Huh?

Alejandro
Is it Paris or Marseilles?

Camacho
Paris, of course. What kind of stupid name is Marseilles?

Alejandro
You said…

Camacho
I did not say Marseilles.
You must be hearing things, sir.
It’s not a good sign to hear things.
Once the senses start to go, well…
No polite way to say it, but it’s straight to the crapper.

Alejandro
What?

Camacho
Shit hole in the earth, bone-yard, grave, you get my meaning?
Best watch yourself, or you won’t even get to Ferrara
To meet our beautiful Laura.
Not at this rate.

Alejandro
I’m fine, Camacho.

Camacho
Glad to hear it. Young, handsome devil like you:
It’d be shame if you were out of circulation.

Alejandro
So, his name…this suitor…

Camacho
Yes. Paris. I’m sure you’ve heard of him.
He’s a very smart fellow.
Always has the latest fashion on. Well-groomed too.
He’s a real hit with the ladies.
And after Paris, there’s Leonardo the Frenchman,
Balduino the Italian, Octavio, Lisandro, and….

Alejandro
That’s enough. You’re depressing me.

Camacho
I’m just telling the truth.

Alejandro
Yes, well…some truths are…
Not worth hearing.
I’ll go to Ferrara,
And when I arrive, those who fawn over Paris
Might just find themselves fawning over me.
I’m worth it, after all.

Camacho
You’ve cash on you?

Alejandro
Of course.

Camacho
Then you’ll be fine.
It always takes a bit of cash
To get people on your side.

Alejandro
Clever fellow, aren’t you? Where are you from?

Camacho
Spain, sir.
A sus ordenes, se~nor.
Just a lowly messenger. That’s me.
I work for old Clarindo.
He hired me after I left University.
I earned my bachelor’s degree,
But what good does it do me?
Everybody’s gone to University these days.
The world is populated with graduates
Who don’t have a pot to piss in.
Sorry to be blunt, but that’s the truth, sir.
Nothing but fancy degrees in our pockets,
And no proper jobs to speak of.

Alejandro
Would you like to work for me?

Camacho
Ol’ Clarindo wouldn’t mind watching me go.
That’s the truth. He’s never had much real use for me.

Alejandro
Then, it’s settled. Let’s go.

Camacho
About my salary…

Alejandro
Don’t worry. There will be plenty of perks.

Camacho
Heaven knows I could use some perks.
I haven’t had a perk in a good long while,
If you know what I mean?
Yes, sir. It’s a miracle.

Alejandro
What?

Camacho
My aches.
I don’t know what it is,
But they’re cured all of sudden.
Wonder of the world, eh?

Alejandro
Ricardo?

Ricardo
Yes?

Alejandro
If Florela comes looking for me,
Tell her that wherever Laura is,
that’s where she can find me.

Exit Alejandro and Camacho in one direction, Ricardo in another.

Scene 3

Enter Laura and Finea.

Laura
I’m not going to find anyone who can please me.

Finea
I don’t see why not.

Laura
I do. I see it all too well, Finea. I just can’t put it into words.

Finea
I’ve never known you to be shy.

Laura
I’m not,
But there are too many men, Finea.
So many men…
To have all these men chasing after me
Just makes me want to be alone.
Besides, I’ve never taken to men
Whose interest in me
Had more to do with my mother’s wealth
Than with my honest love.

Finea
What do you expect?
You’re never going to find
Someone who’s truly worthy of you.
Such a man doesn’t exist.
It’s best if you concentrate
On who you really want.
Let desire guide you.
You’ll have more fun that way.
Anyway, being rich
Isn’t such a bad thing,
(what I wouldn’t give…)
So, who is it that gets your heart racing?
Is it Paris? Is it? Come on. Admit it. He’s a looker.

Laura
He’s handsome. Yes.

Finea
Rumor has it he’s your favorite.

Laura
Rumor has it wrong. I don’t have a favorite.
Every time I see someone whom I think
“Well, maybe, he’s the one,”
I can see their eyes
Sparkling with lust
For my mother’s estate.

Finea
You want romance, eh?
You’re such a softie.

Laura
I’m not.

Finea
You’re tenderhearted.

Laura
I’m not excessively tenderhearted.

Finea
You can’t stand the idea of marriage
As a simple business transaction,
Which is what it is, after all.
No. You’d rather be wooed and won.

Laura
What of it?
I’ll not give any man my heart
Until he shows me he deserves it.
I need to be loved for who I am
And nothing more.
My happiness depends upon it.

Florela appears, somewhat disguised.

Florela
(Aside) Your happiness and mine.
Dear lady, you don’t know me
But I’ve traveled far
to get a mere glimpse of your beauty,
and be able to delight,
in your wit.
I hope you will see fit
To allow me the honor of your presence,
If only for a moment.

Laura
A moment and more
If you continue to please me with such exquisite words.

Florela
I’ll do my best to please you.
Would you give me your hand?

Laura
Only my hand?
Were I the sun,
I would give you my rays,
For I could never compete
With the light that shines
So gently from your eyes.

Florela
Please, don’t say such things,
For it is I who am humbled by your radiant beauty.
I beg you: please, don’t look at me,
For if you do, I’ll have to look away,
Or else let myself be blinded by your splendor.
Everything I’ve heard is true:
You’re nothing short of a miracle.

Laura
Such kind words from such a kind person…

Florela
You must be wondering who I am.

Laura
I can’t say I’m not curious,
For that would be a lie,
And I do not care for lies.

Florela
Nor do I.

Laura
We’re in agreement.

Florela
Yes.

Laura
Good. I like that we think alike.
Tell me everything about you.

Florela
There’s nothing much to tell.
I was on my way to Loreto
When I came upon your door.
I’d heard so much about you,
I couldn’t go on without seeing you
With my own eyes.
My story is small,
And insignificant in the world’s grand design.
But there it is:
I’m merely a woman,
Loyal and true,
Who would like to serve you,
If you’ll let me.
You see, I am noble of heart, but not of blood.

Laura
And your name…?

Florela
Diana.

Laura
The huntress.

Florela
Only your humble servant. Nothing more.

Laura
And you’re not otherwise engaged?

Florela
If I were, would I offer myself so freely?

Laura
I thought you were on your way to Loreto.

Florela
I was. I am. But…things change.

Laura
As the moon changes?

Florela
You’ll find me true. I promise you.
My changeable being is only reflected in my name: Diana.
Everything else about me is fixed,
And anchored to you.

Laura
I am your ship, then?

Florela
If you like.

Laura
Stay with me.
If you do,
I’ll offer you all that I have:
my very self.

Florela
I don’t know how to thank you.
I came here in hope that I could serve you,
But to have my hope become a reality
Is a true blessing.
I promise I’ll do my very best.

Laura
I’ve no doubt.

Florela
Indeed, I think you’ll find me more than capable.
For I’ve gifts that—

Laura
Your cleverness will
Make you a most valued friend.

Florela
I could also be your secretary, if you wish.
I am fluent in several languages,
And my wit is known to be quite keen.

Laura
Your talents are clear.
In fact, I’d like you to help me.
I don’t know if you’re aware, but
I’m facing quite a difficult decision
In my life right now,
I need the guidance of someone I can trust,
Someone who is impartial to my circumstances,
And who can be absolutely discreet.
Do you understand?

Florela
Yes.

Laura
You see, my mother is obsessed
With marrying me off before she dies.
She means well. Make no mistake.
She’s had men come here from all over
And letters arrive every day as well.

Florela
Letters?

Laura
Oh. You know. Love letters.

Florela
Really?

Laura
Oh. Yes. Hundreds of them.

Florela
For you?

Laura
Of course. Who else?

Florela
Naturally.

Laura
They’re sweet, most of them. You know, the usual stuff:
“I can’t wait to meet you, I dream about you…”
On and on and on.
But some, well,
—How can I put it?—
Some write rather shocking and inappropriate things.
Not my style, really.
So, I’m not sure how to reply.
I mean, I should reply, right?

Florela
Well…it depends on the letter…

Laura
I just need someone I can count on. You see?
You’re deft.

Florela
What?

Laura
And cunning.

Florela
Well, I…

Laura
You must guide me, Diana;
You must guide me, like a star,
Through this labyrinth,
So I can make the decision of my life.

Florela
It’d be an honor to do whatever I can to guide you.
I’ve heard of your dilemma.
I even know some of the men involved;
Know of them, I should say. Their reputation precedes them.
Of course, you’ll need help replying to letters and the like.
I’ll be happy to handle your correspondence.
Whatever you need, you can count on my discretion.

Laura
I trust you won’t be shy about giving me
Your advice as I consider my options.

Florela
Not at all. I’m nothing, if not forthright.

Laura
And we’ll talk for hours and hours, yes?

Florela
Whatever you wish.

Laura
It’ll be good to talk
And distract ourselves
From sorting through all these suitors,
All these men…
They’re such a bore.

Florela
That’s because none of them are worthy of you.
There will be one who is, though. I’m sure of it.

Finea
Oh, would you just look at them?
They’re so delicious.

Laura
What are you going on about?

Finea
The men, Florela. The men.
They’re all out on the terrace! See?

[The suitors—Paris with Estacio, Ricardo as Infante, Alejandro with Camacho, etc.—can be seen as if on a fashion runway. All strut and pose. A blast of David Bowie’s “All the Young Dudes” or the like plays. Once they’ve made their exit…]

Laura
What do you think, Diana?

Florela
Well, I…

Laura
It’s your choice.
I’ll have whomever you think is worthy.

Florela
It’d help me if you could tell me
What you were looking for.

Laura
You know what I want.
You know me.

Florela
Well, not really…

Laura
Yes, you do.
Your wishes are my wishes. Don’t you see?
Dear Diana, from now on my life will revolve
Around our friendship and love.

Florela
Then, as Diana, I am moon to your sun.
Whatsoever shines in me is merely a reflection
Of your beauty and constancy.

Laura
And whatsoever shines in you
Is testament to my happiness,
For you have restored my faith in life again.

Laura and Finea walk away; Florela stays behind for a moment.

Florela
(Aside) Oh Alejandro,
The moon will come crashing upon the earth
Before you ever marry Laura.

End scene

¹ The song “I Can’t Stop Loving You” was a hit for Ray Charles and other singers. Throughout the text there are references to other pop songs that inform the world and emotional register of this piece.

² The song “It’s My Party (And I’ll Cry If I Want To)” was a U.S. pop hit for Lesley Gore.

Bios

Lope de Vega

Lope Felix de Vega Carpio (1562–1635), usually called Lope de Vega, was born in Madrid and educated at the Jesuit Imperial College. He quickly started writing plays for theaters in Madrid, and became the outstanding dramatist of the Spanish Golden Age. He served in the Armada (1588), and settled for a while in Toledo on his return. From 1605 until his death, he was private secretary to the duke of Sessa, Don Luis Fernandez de Cordoba. After 1588, he produced a wide range of historical and contemporary dramas—about 2000 plays and dramatic pieces, of which over 400 still survive. Several deal with historical topics, such as Alcalda de Zalamea; others deal with everyday life, the most characteristic being the ‘cloak and dagger plays’, such as Maestro de Danzar, Azero de Madrid, and Noche de San Juan
.

Caridad Svich

Caridad Svich is an award-winning playwright and translator whose works have been seen across the US and abroad at diverse venues including the Royal Court, Traverse Theatre, ARTheater-Cologne, 59 East 59, 7 Stages, INTAR, The Women's Project, and Walkerspace. Next season Svich's adaptation of Allende's The House of the Spirits premieres at Repertorio Espanol under Jose Zayas's direction. In development: her music-theatre adaptation of Lorca's Yerma with composer Liz Swados and director Kay Matschullat. She is alumna playwright of New Dramatists, founder of theatre alliance & press NoPassport, and contributing editor of TheatreForum. Her works are published by TCG, Playscripts, Smith & Kraus, Arte Publico Press, BackStage Books, and Manchester University Press. Visit her at www.caridadsvich.com.

The Labyrinth of Desire (adapted from La Prueba de los Ingenios). English translation copyright (c) Caridad Svich, 2006.