The Arbor (stage play)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

A mysteriously beautiful, dark-haired girl who makes fleeting, ghost-like appearances in the mouth of a grape arbor in the backyard of a rented house provides an important psychological key to a divorced woman's troubled past, and leads to reconciliation between her and her ex-husband. Three-character stage play in seven scenes. 45 min. (Available as standalone play or paired with "Breakers" on Amazon. Paperback edition includes TWO versions of play.)

CHARACTERS

RICHARD, a man in his 30s

JOAN, his ex-wife, blonde, gentle, substantial, 30s

ELIZABETH, a painfully fragile, beautiful woman in her late 20s, ripe and soft, with black hair, pure, ashen-white skin and breathless ruby lips

SETTING

A grape arbor in the backyard of a suburban home in the Northeast. The time is a summer afternoon of the present.

SCENE ONE: The backyard of a suburban home in the Northeast.

Summer. SCENE TWO: Same, the following spring.

SCENE THREE: The backyard, summer.

SCENE FOUR: A coffee shop, several days later.

SCENE FIVE: The backyard, the following week.

SCENE SIX: Same, the following night.

SCENE SEVEN: Joan's bedroom, later that night.

SCENE EIGHT: The backyard, several weeks later.

We're in the backyard of a suburban home in the Northeast at the height of summer. There's a grape arbor that projects at an angle from up Right corner wall, and at Left Center, a reclining lawn chair. At rise, RICHARD, a man in his 30s, stands at the entrance to the arbor, touches its leaves. He turns and comes down. His ex-wife, JOAN, stands opposite, holding her cell phone.

RICHARD It was in this, a mysterious way, that I found my way back to you. (dials out on cell phone) Joan?

JOAN Richard -- is that you. Are you mumbling?

RICHARD I was thinking. . . I saw you again, Joan. I thought. I thought in this that out of the darkness, the mystery, that somehow I could reconstruct you. Or was it mere imagining?

JOAN Richard, you're not making sense. You know we agreed.

RICHARD No calls. It's been months since I heard your voice, Joan. I'm not trying to invade your space. I've accepted it, or tried. That we're no longer. And then the mystery, the mystery. . .

(END CALL. JOAN dials him back)

JOAN Richard, what is it, what mystery? All of a sudden you've invaded a painful space. I was healing.

RICHARD I'm sorry, Joan, this comes up, washes up again, like seaweed drifting and snagging, tugging on the rocks of our emotions. We can't untangle these feelings, they drift and come back to us. I don't know where this comes from. There was someone back here, Joan, someone in the backyard. It wasn't you, I know that. And yet somehow it was.

JOAN You're murmuring, mumbling, it doesn't make sense. Perhaps it never did. Of course it did, but now time has passed. I'm sorry if I hurt you. But I'm still too swollen, the pain is too deep to bring it all up. Let's keep to our agreement -- no phone calls, and I wish you luck.

RICHARD Joan? (END CALL) A grape arbor. In the downstairs yard adjacent to the house. It was something I hadn't thought about, until I glimpsed it from the window. A latticework, naked in the winter. Naked when I had moved into the upstairs rooms, and so I gave it no thought. Out there quiet in the snow, sad and lonely, like the thin frail bones of a dead man. And then the warmth returned, and the leaves flourished, thick and dark, and the purple grapes clustered and clung. I had forgotten the fullness of life, the deepness. I saw her from the window, a momentary glimpse, dark hair and pale white dress. I saw a girl in the mouth of the arbor, a ray of hope. Oh Joan, Joan. . .

(JOAN'S VOICE IS HEARD)

JOAN (softly) Richard?

RICHARD Joan -- is that you?

JOAN I'm sorry. I'm sad, I'm so sorry. . .

(Pause)

RICHARD In my daydreams I imagine a bright, dusty road that leads through the woods. I don't know where I am, but it's dusty and I'm somewhere in the country. The air is thick and warm. It must be summer. I don't know how I got here, but if I keep walking and don't lose heart, surely around that bend. . . The road goes on and on but leads to nothing.

JOAN Richard?

RICHARD No Joan, please.

JOAN Richard?

RICHARD The first night we were apart, I was frightened. The winds were bending and moving the trees. In the darkness I felt like I had been discarded, thrown in the weeds at the side of the road. Can you imagine that, Joan, can you feel that deeply? It was as if the sun had turned its face from the earth, the leaf turned away from the tree that had given it life.

(LIGHTS DOWN BRIEFLY. RICHARD is now at the mouth of the arbor, where he calls out)

Hello? Hello, is anyone there?

(ELIZABETH, dark-haired and soft and beautiful, emerges from the arbor, dressed in white)

ELIZABETH (gently) Hello.

RICHARD My God. (beholds her for several beats) You're real. I'm shaking.

(ELIZABETH disappears back into arbor)

Wait.

(He takes several steps after her, pauses in entrance to arbor)

I was afraid, afraid to follow her into the darkness. I could smell the sweetness of the grapes, but I was afraid of the darkness.

(LIGHTS BRIEFLY DOWN. JOAN enters)

JOAN Richard, you're going to be late for work. I've misplaced my lesson plans. Richard, you've got to get up. You'll be late.

RICHARD Late?

JOAN You need to get up. . . I suppose I'll wing it.

(She goes out)

RICHARD Joan? . . . Joan?. . .

(LIGHTS BRIEFLY DOWN, THEN UP. RICHARD touches the leaves, holds them between his fingers. Pause, then he comes down)

I had imagined it, I know it, the girl in the arbor. A sweet promise of hope. She didn't appear again all of the following week. I was in anguish. I was upset and then sick -- sick with longing. I couldn't bear not seeing her again. She was beautiful, so pale and delicate and beautiful. She reminded me of a girl I had once seen in a college class. I knew she was a year or two older, and so I was afraid to approach her. Lips soft, breathless, skin ghostly pale. I had been afraid to approach her, she was so delicate and deeply lovely. I wanted to be part of her, to be part of the complexity of her life. The mystery. Who was she, where had she come from?

(RICHARD moves to the arbor, calls out) Hello? . . . (a beat; pantos reaching for grapes) I held them in my hand, the grapes, and squeezing them, purple juice flowed through my fingers, like blood, like the anguish of the suffering Christ. Why must we have the love torn from us? Tears came into my eyes.

(He dials out on cell phone; JOAN answers) Joan? There's someone there, Joan, I'm sure of it. In the backyard, in the grape arbor. I'm running from it, that's what it is. I'm afraid. I was running from my feelings for you, Joan, when we first met. I was frightened.

(End call. LIGHTS BRIEFLY DOWN. JOAN approaches, calls softly)

JOAN Richard?

(He turns to her. SHE moves to him. They kiss)

Like a light in the window, I was there, the soft light of solace. A lantern hope that burned, that would guide you. You would come from the bus, up the stairs, and I was there in my apron. In the warm room. And we would sit quietly over supper. And later we would be together.

RICHARD (pushing hair away from her forehead) I love you, Joan. I can't help it. I don't know why it's so important to cling to it, but I love you. Suddenly I feel guilty. Someone else has come into my life. Pale and dark and beautiful. Now she holds the mystery.

JOAN To be soft in your arms was what I wanted. In the fields, with the warmth spreading over us. To be with you in the long afternoon, warm and passionate in your arms, the sun showing through the trees. In the slow passing of the hours, the minutes. . . I remember us in the fields, in the fields. . .

(She slips out of his arms, disappears from view)

RICHARD Joan?. . . I dream of a light in the window, and a girl holding a lantern, with soft, golden hair, and I am beneath her balcony and I love her, and she smiles and her eyes are sweetness and her cheeks are bright, and they illuminate my heart with hope. I am struck by the simplicity of her dress, ruffled about her simple bosoms, and her lips are faint and pretty, and I imagine climbing the balcony and being joined to her in my arms, taking her to me forever. I imagine a bed that is warm, with night chill outside, and the lights going down, and only the softness of her breath, as I stroke my fingers through her silken hair. And the sweetness of her smile as she lies beside me and kisses me, and I am lost in the sweetness, aching in her arms and drenched in her soft loveliness, and this is all I can think about. Like some Elizabethan scene, with the night soft and quiet outside the window, together in each other's arms, loving each other forever. . .

(Pause)

I remember how we met. College. Little men in tweeds with their theories, among the heavy books, the walls kept with ivy. Young faces, frightened of the burden of knowledge. In the student union I sat, alone, pondering existence and essence, over coffee. Not realizing I had tipped over my cup.

(JOAN returns, reenacts their first meeting in college)

JOAN You've spilled your coffee. A feckless transgression.

(Pantos wiping spilt coffee off tabletop) Joan to the rescue. From Iowa. Of all places. You know, when I tell people where I'm from, they think I live in a hay silo or something. Not true. (several beats) I came here to study biology. You don't believe that, but it's true. True as the fact that you're shaking.

RICHARD She was right.

(Pause)

JOAN I am the simple product of millennia of evolution. Must it be any more complicated than that? I have to get to class, but say thank you, Joan, for saving me. (He's too shaken to respond) You're shaking.

RICHARD Richard.

JOAN Come on, walk with me. I'm already late for class.

(She extends her arm. He takes it, they start off. He returns alone)

RICHARD There was a softness, a gentleness, something upbeat about you. Oh Joan, Joan. . .

(JOAN leaves. Pause. Back to present)

The summer worn on in its deadly heat, with the strength of July and August, the sun a great hot ball in its oppressive fury. In the deck chair I sat, and sometimes I'd talk with the downstairs neighbor, a middle-aged woman. I told her I earned my living as a copywriter. She seemed mildly impressed. All the while I waited and watched for the girl in the arbor. In the evenings, on weekends, but she did not appear. The dark-haired girl in the arbor seemed a phantom hope. Before long the leaves had fallen from the maple trees in the front yard, and the sun had lost its power. Autumn came, and with it the smoky scent of burning leaves, the air now weak and cool. The arbor was a skeleton, a thin, naked frame, rotting in the hollow yard. Had I simply imagined the white, breathless woman, the girl among the grapes, soft and ripe and lovely, out of loss and desperation? The soft pillow of her gentleness and kindness were with me when I slept at night. Throughout the days in the office. I couldn't get her out of my mind. Joan was less and less a presence, and the wounds were closing. Then, one day, I went downstairs and walked in the yard, among the cool autumn smells, and she suddenly appeared. Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH There's a storm coming, I can feel it. It will soak the leaves; it will pour down and drench the arbor. I am frightened the arbor will collapse. If it collapses, I will perish.

RICHARD Oh Elizabeth, Elizabeth. Come with me, Elizabeth. Leave the arbor and be with me forever, and we will hold each other and care for each other. One day we will have children together, and grow old with them. And watch as the maples ripen, and spring returns year after year, and the grapes flourish. We can love each other forever.

ELIZABETH The winds are coming up, and I'm frightened.

(SOUND OF WINDS COME UP, GUSTING, SWIRLING. ELIZABETH goes out)

RICHARD Elizabeth?

(He looks up. It has begun to rain. SFX: RAIN BEATING ON LEAVES)

The rains came hard, whipped by the winds of November, and her fleeting shadow darted across the lawn. I went upstairs and sat for a time by the window and listened as the storm raged. (moves to folding chair, sits) The winds beat hard against the windows, and rivulets ran down, like streams of blood. It was Elizabeth's blood, the blood of the grapes as they split open. I knew she had suffered, and I felt sad. I knew there would be an end to it, the storm. There would also be an end to us. I wanted to call Joan, I needed Joan. (dials out on cell phone) Joan? Joan, this is Richard, leaving a message. (thinks better of it) I'll call back later. . . The rain beat harder and harder, and the winds whipped wildly, and I feared the arbor would come crashing down, would collapse. I wanted to run to it, to hold it up, even in the furious rain, as the winds whipped and whipped, and the rain pelted down. I headed down the backstairs out into the furious storm. I would save the arbor from collapsing, I must. (He moves quickly to arbor, and as he arrives there, the rain and wind stop. He pauses, calls out into the mouth of the arbor)

END OF EXCERPT -- FULL PLAY AVAILABLE IN KINDLE AND PAPERBACK VERSIONS ON AMAZON, AND AS EBOOK ON NUMEROUS WEBSITES.  NOTE: "THE ARBOR & BREAKERS" IN THE PAPERBACK EDITION CONTAINS TWO VERSIONS OF EACH PLAY.

WGA agent/producer inquiries: RVMicci@yahoo.com


Submitted: October 18, 2020

© Copyright 2020 Ron Micci. All rights reserved.

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