NUDE IN A VORTEX
by Tim Gooding
© Tim GOODING 1 March 2004
It is 1951. The Cold War has become hot in Korea. Prime Minister Menzies wants to ban the Communist Party. Life Magazine names Jackson Pollock ìthe greatest living painter in the United States.
ELIZABETH, husband RAY, and friends, all in their 20s, live the easy, sun-drenched conformity of Australian small town life in the 1950s, largely untouched by wider events. Until..
JACK and JULIET, artists, bohemians, communists, liars and troublemakers, arrive in the quietly prosperous country town. The effect is as if Martians have landed. A totally new species has arrived. Bringing a way of life not previously encountered, let alone considered, by the locals. Offering a wholly new and dangerous option: The Modern World.
ELIZABETH is not impressed, at first.
"But I too was sucked into the whirlpool. Lured by the heady scent of danger, I fell for a free-thinking bastard. I was shocked at myself. I was pleased with myself. I felt a little like Madame Bovary..
By the time the Wild House burnt down, I had been seduced and abandoned, in mind and body. My marriage was broken, my husband driven insane. I had smoked reefers, danced with homosexuals, supported the placing of obscene literature in the hands of schoolboys. I had drunk with the Push and partied with the Red Menace. I had completed a self-portrait entitled "NUDE IN A VORTEX". I was very young."
The minimum cast is seven, with secondary roles doubled by three actors. A larger cast will allow more crowd scene characters.
Minor Characters: Schoolboy Surrealist; Schoolboy Surrealist's Mother; Country Party Member; Russell the Poet; Rodeo Clown; Gallerygoers; Partygoers; Voters
Scene settings are denoted, or augmented, by large framed paintings - actual and/or fictitious - hanging in space:
1. a traditional landscape: "The River Flows To The Sea"
2. a traditional still life: "Still Life With Vase And Fruit"
3. a traditional portrait: "Ray"
4. a sumptuous Modigliani: "Reclining Nude (With Red Cushion)"
5. a selection of pre-1951abstracts from the USA
6. a map of Australia with menacing red arrows pointing down from Asia
7. a "Vote NO" poster from the 1951 referendum on the banning of the Communist Party
The paintings-as-settings may not necessarily continue in Act 2.
(Early September 1951.
A newish, sunlit hall, in a prosperous country town.
Three large traditional paintings - a landscape, a portrait, a still life - maybe more - plus a large asymmetric clay pot resting uneasily on a stand - declare that an amateur art exhibition is under way.
The ambience is post-war springtime, youngish, and neatly dressed. Today it might be labelled ë50s retro. The resonance is intentional.
ELIZABETH and RHONDA view the portrait entitled "Ray", a naturalistic depiction of a young man, smiling intensely. ELIZABETH smokes nervily. RHONDA is less serious about art, and life, than her friend. Husbands RAY and BILL briefly admire a landscape enroute to a table replete with filled sherry glasses and jatz-based finger food. ELIZABETH, RHONDA, RAY are aged early 20s, BILL a few years older.)
RHONDA: You've got his mouth exactly.
ELIZABETH: Don't be facetious.
RHONDA: Especially the teeth. Ray. Give us a smile, will you?
(RAY smiles broadly, delivers sherry to ELIZABETH, stands proudly by his portrait.)
ELIZABETH: Do you have to?
RAY: Good likeness, isn't it?
RHONDA: Especially the mouth.
ELIZABETH: It's bad. It's amateurish.
RHONDA: You are an amateur. It's an amateur exhibition.
BILL: It's very good, Lizzie. I'd buy it if we had a spare wall.
ELIZABETH: Ray. Will you move, please? And for god's sake stop smiling.
RAY: I'm a happy man.
(ELIZABETH throws back her sherry, pulls nervily on her cigarette.)
ELIZABETH: It's a bad painting and I'm embarrassed by it. So please move away. Letís all keep moving.
RAY: It's better than all the others.
ELIZABETH: It is not. For goodness sake. You have no idea what you're talking about.
RAY: I'll get you another sherry.
(He saunters back to the table.)
RHONDA: Don't be mean. Heís proud of you.
ELIZABETH: He's indiscriminate. It's a bad painting.
(They move to the clay pot.)
ELIZABETH: Are you proud of Rhonda's pot, Bill?
RHONDA: It's a vase.
BILL: My bloody oath I'm proud. Pardon my French. It's a magnificent pot vase.
RHONDA: It's ugly and it leaks.
BILL: It's big, too. You could put the forty thieves in it.
ELIZABETH: Potting is harder than it looks.
BILL: Pedalling and swapping recipes at the same time. Phew.
RHONDA: Are you quite finished?
RAY: (Returns) Local clay? Good on you. Keeps the quarry ticking over.
(ELIZABETH notices a red sticker on the pot.)
RHONDA: Jesus wept! Oh no! Oh my godfather! Oh no. I donít believe it! Oh my god! Oh my god!
RHONDA: It's a mistake. It has to be a mistake.
ELIZABETH: I'll check.
RHONDA: Don't. I'm going to faint. Bill, get me a drink. (To Elizabeth) I was sure you'd be first to sell. I never dreamed it'd be me.
(JULIET enters, trailed by JACK.)
BILL: (Quietly) Look what the cat dragged in.
(JULIET, 22, wears dirty, un-ironed black. The only woman not in a dress, her hair is long, dark, Frenchly unkempt, her makeup dark, gothic. Unsmiling, burdened by an intelligent-but-moody aura, she may be humourless, or very dry. JACK, 30, paint-spattered shirt, dungarees, sandals, unseasonal duffle coat, in need of a shave/comb, is darkly-good-looking. Intense. With a sardonic twinkle in his eye.
Prototypical post-war "bohemians", or "beatniks" (before the term was coined) JACK and JULIET look not uncontemporary. Although in 1951 their style has yet to be socially and commercially embraced.
They pause in front of ELIZABETHíS portrait of RAY.)
BILL: They're looking at you, Ray.
(JULIET sees RAY, and approaches.)
RAY: Close. Ray. Commerce. Youre Mrs..
JULIET: Juliet Jones.
RAY: This is my wife, Elizabeth, and Bill and Rhonda Darcey. Mrs Jones is our new art teacher.
JULIET: It's my first posting. They send everyone out to Woop Woop first time.
RAY: Oh, this isn't Woop Woop. This is East Woop Woop. Central Woop Woopís five hundred miles that way. And West Woop Woopís out to bug..blazes past the black stump.
(JULIET doesn't smile.)
RHONDA: What does your husband do?
JULIET: (Unsmiling) Sponges off me. (unsmiling) I'm joking. Jack's an artist. He paints.
BILL: What does he do for a living?
BILL: Much of a living in that?
JULIET: Depends what you paint.
RHONDA: Picasso's filthy rich.
BILL: Is he the one that does those funny-looking women with their heads split in two?
RHONDA: What does Jack paint?
JULIET: You better ask him that.
RHONDA: Is he shy? Lots of artists are shy.
RAY: What do you think of my portrait?
JULIET: It looks like you. Are you always happy?
RAY: Elizabeth painted it.
ELIZABETH: I'm not happy.
BILL: At least you haven't split his scone in two and stuck his eyes on the side.
RHONDA: Dry up, Bill.
BILL: I wouldn't want to meet Picasso's girlfriend.
JULIET: He's had numerous very beautiful women, actually.
RHONDA: I bet he's had more good-looking girlfriends than you've had hot dinners. So dry up.
JULIET: Do you know where we can find some fruit boxes?
Wooden ones. So size.
RHONDA: Have you tried the co-op? Down Hill Street, a hundred yards past the pictures. Opposite Kellyís Holden.
RHONDA: Are you two doing anything on Friday night? We're having a cocktail party. The Art Society is. Nothing too fancy. Seven thirty. At Elizabeth and Ray's. That's them. You can't be shy in a small town. It's not allowed.
(JACK and JULIET leave.)
RHONDA: Just being friendly.
ELIZABETH: She wears too much makeup.
BILL: How come you don't wear makeup like that?
RHONDA: I will to your funeral.
ELIZABETH: Couldn't you have invited them to your place?
(Elizabeth and Rayís house. ìStill Life With Vase And Fruit hangs as backdrop to the room. The painting, like the house, is contemporary-conservative: neat, decorative yet restrained in colour.
To one side, on an easel, is a work-in-progress: a full-length portrait of RAY in its sketch stages. And a vacuum cleaner.
RAY, in shirt and tie, ELIZABETH, in black cocktail dress, position a laid table several times before ELIZABETH is satisfied. She bolts a sherry as she re-arranges glasses, cutlery, canapes, serviettes, on the table, then hurries out.
Pause. Followed by a cry of anguish, off.)
ELIZABETH: (Off) No! No!
(She enters, bearing Rhondaís large clay vase.)
ELIZABETH: Where can I hide this wretched thing?
RAY: I begged you not to buy it.
ELIZABETH: I was being nice.
RAY: I asked you to stop that. Smash it before she gets here.
ELIZABETH: We canít. Can we?
ELIZABETH: What if she finds out?
RAY: Iím not going to tell her. Give it here.
(He takes the pot, makes to hurl it at the wall. ELIZABETH shrieks.)
RAY: Blast. She has friends at the tip. Iíll stick it in the garage.
ELIZABETH: You and Bill wonít be in there, will you? Listening to the races again?
RAY: Only if the partyís dull. Fat chance.
ELIZABETH: Please try, Ray. Please donít disappear on me.
(A loud doorbell rings.)
RHONDA: (Off) Yoo hoo.
(RAY hares out the back. BILL and RHONDA enter, BILL in sports jacket and tie, RHONDA a red cocktail dress.)
RHONDA: Thereís enough here to feed an army.
ELIZABETH: Not with you about.
RHONDA: What are these things? The horseís doovers.
ELIZABETH: Petits fours. Theyíre French. And theyíre not hors díouevres. Theyíre for later, with coffee.
RHONDA: La de da. Ooh la la. Cha cha cha.
BILL: (Heading out) Ray in the garage?
(ELIZABETH blocks his path.)
ELIZABETH: No. Help yourself to a drink.
(BILL examines a pair of cut-glass sherry decanters. Pours a drink for RHONDA.)
BILL: Any beer?
ELIZABETH: If you insist. Wait there.
RHONDA: Sheís gone to a lot of trouble.
BILL: She always goes to a lot of trouble.
RHONDA: Youíve gone to a lot of trouble, Elizabeth! These French things are delicious!
ELIZABETH: (Off) Wait, will you?!
RHONDA: Are the bohemians coming?
RHONDA: The bohemians. Are they coming? The bohemians!
(ELIZABETH returns with RAY, and a bottle of D.A.)
ELIZABETH: You invited them. Whatís the fascination anyway, Rhonda?
RHONDA: Just being friendly. The painter did a terrific job of this room.
RAY: I did, didnít I?
ELIZABETH: He missed a bit in the corner.
RAY: Only with the third coat.
ELIZABETH: It looks pale.
RAY: Itís white. Off white.
ELIZABETH: And I still havenít got the spots out of the carpet.
RAY: Bill. Come over here. Can you see spots? Can you see one single spot?
BILL: No. Yes! There.
RAY: Thatís not a spot. Itís a crumb.
(RAY victoriously displays the large crumb.)
ELIZABETH: Petit four.
(RHONDA takes another.)
Just wait, will you? Theyíre to have with the coffee.
RHONDA: Iím a philistine. I canít help it. Anyway, why? Why are they to have with coffee? Who says?
ELIZABETH: Just leave them alone. I donít know why youíre not like the side of a truck. Now I have to vacuum again.
RHONDA: Iíll do it. Iíll do it.
(She follows ELIZABETH into her ìstudio to fetch the vacuum cleaner, peruses the easel with full-length sketch for an oil portrait of RAY.)
RHONDA: How come you always paint Ray?
ELIZABETH: Because heís there.
RHONDA: Whatíll you do for a studio when the kids arrive?
ELIZABETH: Take over the garage.
RHONDA: Whereís Ray going to hide out?
ELIZABETH: At your place.
RHONDA: So how have you managed to be married for three years without reproducing?
ELIZABETH: The same way you donít put on weight. Mind over matter.
(ELIZABETH starts the vacuum cleaner.)
RAY: Look out. Sheís coming through.
RHONDA: (Following) Let me. Let me.
ELIZABETH: Get away. Donít go near that table.
RHONDA: Can I have another drink?
ELIZABETH: If you donít spill it. Out of my way please.
(The doorbell rings. No-one hears it. It rings again.
JULIET and JACK enter. Dressed as when first encountered. A few new paint spatters. Jack carries a few 78 rpm discs in tatty dust jackets.)
(There is a moment before she turns off the vacuum cleaner.)
(Elizabeth and Rayís house.
Later. Darkness. The soft but spritely movement from a clarinet concerto is broken by RHONDAíS loud laugh.
Lights slowly rise on RHONDA - already tipsey - laughing as she attempts to flirt with JACK, in a corner away from the party.)
RHONDA: Thatís very funny. I do make myself laugh.
(RHONDA takes his arm.)
Come and meet someone.
JACK: No, thanks.
RHONDA: Didnít I tell youíre not allowed to be shy in a small town?
(RHONDA releases his arm, takes his empty glass, moves across the room..
..as the party is illuminated: an intimate gathering in ties, jackets, dresses..
ELIZABETH, drink in hand, offers hors díoeuvres.
JULIET smokes roll-your-owns like an industrial chimney and argues with BILL/RAY.
BILL waves his bottle of D.A.aggressively.)
BILL: Donít tell me youíre a communist too, for godís sake.
JULIET: (Unsmiling) And a vegetarian.
BILL: Jesus. Youíre not serious. Are you serious?
JULIET: (Unsmiling) Yes.
RAY: You know youíre in lamb country, do you?
RHONDA: Youíll get yourself lynched.
JULIET: The meeting shouldnít be held in the school hall. Itís a disgrace.
BILL: Bulldust. Where else are we going to have it?
JULIET: Then equal time should be provided for a ìVote No meeting.
RAY: Gotta give both sides a bat, Bill. Do commos play cricket?
BILL: If the commos get their way there wonít be any schools. You not really a communist, are you? What about Stalin?
RAY: Whoís he play for?
BILL: Shut up, Ray. They reckon your Uncle Joeís bumped off millions. Knocking them off like flies.
JULIET: If the stories are true.
BILL: They reckon he makes Adolf look half-hearted. (Laughs) Heís even knocked off most of his own party. You read about those trials before the war.
JULIET: The full court transcripts. Not just the newspaper propaganda. I'll lend them to you.
BILL: Righto, then. What if you found out the stories, as you call them, are all true? Would you ban the party then?
JULIET: Do you blame Christianity for the evil that people have done in its name?
RAY: Sheís got a point, Bill. The Crusades werenít picnics. The Inquisition was a bit of a barbecue.
BILL: Shut up, Ray. Iím not a bloody Christian. So I probably do blame it. I blame anything that says one lot of people can tell the rest of us what to do. Would you ban the Nazi Party?
JULIET: I wouldnít ban anyone. Or anything.
RAY: What brings the Red Menace to East Woop Woop?
JULIET: The Department of Education.
BILL: Thatíd be right.
JULIET: Iím to establish a cell and infiltrate the local abattoirs via corruption of its future workforce before they do their Intermediate.
ELIZABETH: Can you be a communist and an artist at the same time?
Arenít art and communism opposites?
JULIET: Opposites attract.
ELIZABETH: I thought communism was anti the individual.
JULIET: Incorrect. Communists want every individual to reach their potential. Not just a few. And not all artists are selfish.
JACK: Picassoís a communist.
BILL: Picassoís a bloody idiot. Pardon my French.
(JACK toddles over, tipsey, decanter in hand. He takes ELIZABETHíS cigarette, bots a puff, hands it back. She stubs it in an ashtray. JACK removes it, straightens and re-lights it. Only RHONDA is amused.)
JACK: Picassoís had his day. But he blazed the trail down which we post- war artists now gallop. Picassoís not an idiot.
JACK: Picasso is a genius. Pig Iron Bob is an Idiot.
JULIET: The last one to try ban the communist party was Hitler.
BILL: He got one thing right.
JULIET: I thought we fought the war for freedom.
BILL: What branch of the services were you in?
RAY: Bill was in the airforce. He was at Milne Bay.
JULIET: I wasnít old enough. I would have fought the fascists if I was. And the bourgeois army let women have guns.
JACK: I was medically unfit.
BILL: Heart problem?
JACK: The warís over, comrade.
BILL: Donít call me comrade. Iím not your bloody comrade.
RHONDA: Bill. (Amused) Artists are allowed to be strange.
JULIET: From each according to his ability. To each according to his needs. Whatís so strange about that?
JACK: How can you be young and not be a communist?
BILL: Iím 28. And I fought for the right not to be one.
JULIET: My father fought in Spain. He is one.
BILL: Heíd have to be. It was a civil war. It was none of our business.
JULIET: He lost a leg. He believes fighting fascism is our business, wherever it occurs. So do I.
BILL: So is it all right for the Spanish to turn up here and sort our problems out for us?
JULIET: If the west had helped Spain, there wouldnít have been a war.
BILL: Horse manure. You canít just march off into someone elseís civil war because you know whatís best for them.
JULIET: The democratically elected government asked for help.
RHONDA: Iíd like to go to Spain. Can we go to Spain?
BILL: Iím sorry about your fatherís leg but it couldíve been put to better use in New Guinea. We were under attack there. Youíre all in fairyland.
RHONDA: Bill had a tough time. Did your father really go to Spain?
RHONDA: Who won?
(JACK puts his arm round RHONDA. Lightly garrulous. Provocative.)
JACK: Whatís your position on sexual freedom?
(RHONDA accepts the challenge. ELIZABETH is uncomfortable.)
RHONDA: Thereís no such thing.
JACK: Are you sure?
ELIZABETH: How did you and Juliet meet?
JULIET: He was my tutor at art school.
(JULIET settles cross-legged on the floor and rolls a cigarette with one hand, while drinking with the other.)
JACK: We shacked up in her final year. Her old man still wonít speak to her. Heís a bus driver. He taught her how to roll fags one-handed.
JULIET: He was a bus driver. They sacked him after he lost his leg.
JACK: Now, Liz..
ELIZABETH: (Uncomfortable) Elizabeth.
JACK: Got another cigarette?
(He bots a cigarette, puts his arm round her, and points at the ìstill life on the wall. ELIZABETH slugs her drink.)
I want the truth. Did you paint that?
ELIZABETH: Donít you like it?
JACK: Itís execrable. Itís neatly-arranged dung in a frame. It commits the principal crime of contemporary traditionalism: it exists. It mocks the martyrs of progress, it spits on Cezannneís grave. Itís not art, itís decoration, a fake which matches the curtains. Of which, the less said the better. Except that they match the sherry. And have as much character. The painting is, on reflection, faintly pretty, but there is nothing going on inside.
JULIET: Jack likes to speak his mind.
ELIZABETH: Iím sorry you donít like the sherry.
JACK: I went a bit overboard on the sherry.
RHONDA: Iím a bit overboard on the sherry too. Wee! Cha cha cha. Letís dance.
(She takes JACK in a dance grip. He shrugs her off.)
JACK: Is there any more?
(JULIET disappears in search of alcohol. ELIZABETH watches JACK totter toward a couple of guests.)
JACK: (re the painting) Itís as if Cezanne never existed. Sleepers, awake! This is the twentieth century, comrades.
(The couple say quiet goodbyes and exit.)
JACK: Still life, landscape, and portrait went over the top and walked into machine guns loaded by Cezanne and Monet, fired by Picasso and Braque and Matisse. Figurative art lies under the mud of Flanders, beside civilization and the old certainties. Compost for poppies.
ELIZABETH: I still like it.
RHONDA: So do I.
JACK: You must be re-educated.
(He puts his arm round the women. RHONDA enjoys, ELIZABETH bolts a drink.)
First we need more alcohol. More alcohol!
RAY: I think weíre out.
JACK: Whereís the sly grog shop?
RAY: There isnít one.
JACK: What sort of hick town is this? There must be one. Iíll find it. I can smell them. (to RAY) Lend us five bob?
JULIET: (Off) Found some!
(JULIET reappears, in a cloud of smoke, with two beer bottles.)
RAY: I think those are Billís.
JACK: Itís the quick and the dead, comrade
(JACK lies on the floor and half-drags ELIZABETH and RHONDA down to sit beside him. JULIET props in a doorway, to observe from within her cloud of smoke.
RAY farewells the few remaining guests.)
JACK: Discourse on the demise of still life. ìNature morte in the French. Dead nature. It was a frog, Paul Cezanne, who killed it. Sixty years ago he realised the eye canít be trusted. Cezanne painted Mont Sainte-Victoire 35 times.
RHONDA: Maybe he was a dud painter.
JACK: If the eye canít be trusted, how can painting truthfully represent anything? Except itself. Apres Cezanne, le deluge abstracte. Are you with me, mes demoiselles díArmidale?
RHONDA: Cíest si bon. Ca va? Cha cha cha.
ELIZABETH: What do you paint?
JACK: Nothing. Nothing outside the painting itself. A painting is no longer a picture of something else. It is its own subject, and a direct expression of the artistís subconscious. I just paint. I try not to describe it. Labels are limiting.
JULIET: Heís an abstract expressionist. Iím a modern primitivist.
RHONDA: Are you serious?
RHONDA: Iím a big leaky pottist. Cha cha cha.
JACK: Have you heard of Pollock or De Kooning? Rothko?
RAY: Who do they play for?
ELIZABETH: Please donít take any notice of Ray.
JACK: Theyíre abstractionists. Americans. European art is exhausted. The colonies no longer cringe before Europe. New York is now the future of art.
RHONDA: Thereís a chimpanzee in America that paints abstracts. Heís really talented. His paintings were in Life magazine.
JACK: Life is a reactionary rag.
(JACK goes to the record player. RHONDA hounds him. JULIET watches impassively.)
RHONDA: Life is just a bowl of cherries. Does that make life a still life? Cha cha ha ha ha. (Laughs) I do make myself laugh.
JACK: Reactionaries always ridicule what they donít understand.
RHONDA: I donít know what a reactionary is. Or if I do, I forget. Cha ha cha. Are you jealous because youíre not in Life?
JACK: I wouldnít wipe my arse with Life.
RHONDA: (Laughs) Thereís no need to be crude. We all need a subscription to life.
JULIET: Jack doesnít have a sense of humour.
JACK: Not about art, I donít. Art is life. Itís more important than life. Without art, there is no life.
JULIET: I disagree. Food first, then art. Without food, there is no art. I like Cezanne, but the workers need to eat first. Then paint whatís left over.
JACK: The party is a broad church.
JULIET: What Jack is trying to say, is that Cezanne took fruit seriously.
RHONDA: Are you saying chimps have no subconscious?
RHONDA: Iím sure chimps have a subconscious. Theyíre our closest relatives. Shake that family tree, monkeys fall out.
JACK: Some trees are more simian-laden than others.
RHONDA: Youíve got something against monkeys, havenít you? Youíre anti- monkey. Youíre the antichimp.
JACK: Monkeys know when to shut up.
(JACK plays a record - bebop jazz - loudly, to drown out RHONDA.
BILL reappears, looking grim, angry. RAY turns the music down.)
RAY: Whereíd you get to?
BILL: The garage.
(He takes RHONDA by the arm.)
RHONDA: Itís only eleven! Weíve an hourís worth of babysitter left! Please donít make me go home.
BILL: Come on.
RHONDA: I want to finish my argument. Why stop at monkeys? Get the whole zoo going. Zoological expressionism!
(BILL drags RHONDA out. She reappears, momentarily.)
Abstract paintings look like bloody road accidents to me!
(She is dragged out again, laughing.)
I do make myself laugh! Iím too young to have children! Too young! Too young!
ELIZABETH: Rhonda always goes too far. Itís her most endearing trait. Sheís quietened down since we were at school.
(JACK pulls ELIZABETH onto the dance floor as she grabs another drink.
JULIET props a doorway, smokes, observes in baleful, bored fashion.)
ELIZABETH: She was expelled several times. They took her back because her fatherís the butcher.
RAY: (to JULIET) Dance?
JULIET: No. How do you stand it? Living here.
RAY: Stop beating round the bush, will you?
JULIET: How do you stand being cut off from everything?
RAY: Weíre not.
JULIET: I feel cut off in Sydney.
RAY: Thatís whatís good about this country. Thatís why all the bloody reffos came here. They wanted to get the hell out of the rest of the world.
(RAY strides out. JACK turns the music up. ELIZABETH retreats, socks her drink away, clears party paraphernalia. JACK doesnít take the hint. He gestures at ìStill Life With Vase and Fruit on the wall.)
JACK: ìStill Life With Vase and Fruit. Does ìStill Life With Vase and Fruit provide an antidote to the spiritual emptiness of the modern world? To find the antidote to the existential void is the adventure of modern art. You still havenít answered my question.
ELIZABETH: Did you ask a question?
JACK: Whatís your view on sexual freedom?
JACK: Itís a serious question. What do you think about free love?
(ELIZABETH forces composure as she continues tidying.)
ELIZABETH: I havenít thought about it much. I donít..I donít believe in it.
ELIZABETH: Itís immature. Life isnít a lolly shop. And love isnít free.
JACK: Maybe it should be.
ELIZABETH: Then it isnít love. Itís attraction.
JACK: An interesting point.
(JULIET has gone dark and depressive.)
JULIET: Weíre going to lose. Iím organising an exhibition to raise money for the fighting fund. In Sydney. Weíre going to lose, arenít we?
ELIZABETH: Iím not with you.
JULIET: How are you going to vote?
ELIZABETH: Itís very late.
JULIET: Are you going to vote to ban us?
ELIZABETH: Itís a secret ballot, Juliet.
JULIET: Youíre going to vote yes.
ELIZABETH: Itís not personal. Whatever I vote.
(RAY returns in his dressing gown.)
JULIET: Do you want ban us too?
RAY: Iíve got cricket in the morning.
JULIET: Iím supposed to be organising an exhibition to raise money. Weíre going to lose.
(JACK is asleep on the floor.)
RAY: Jack? Iíve got cricket in the morning.
JACK: What about you, Ray?
RAY: What about me?
JACK: What do you think about free love? Weíre weighing the pros and cons.
RAY: Iíve got cricket in the morning. Time to go home.
(He drags JACK up. ELIZABETH leaves the room.)
JACK: Whatís wrong with this country, Ray? Why is it so timid? I want to live in a grown up country.
RAY: Have you considered emigrating?
JACK: Suburbs are the cemeteries of the soul, Ray.
RAY: Thatís why we live in a country town.
JACK: Itís all getting the same. You could plonk this place on the edge of Sydney and no-oneíd notice. Which is uglier? Red brick or cream brick? Better red than dead.
(ELIZABETH reappears with the vacuum cleaner.)
Can I borrow that?
ELIZABETH: Of course. When I'm finished.
JACK: The warís over. We have a chance to start again in this country. We mustnít waste the opportunity.
ELIZABETH gives JACK the vacuum cleaner.)
(RAY shows JACK and JULIET out. ELIZABETH sits. RAY returns.)
RAY: They livened up a dull evening.
ELIZABETH: I feel sick.
(She heads for the bathroom. A door slams. She is sick.)
(Elizabeth and Rayís house. In her second bedroom studio, ELIZABETH adds tentative paint strokes to her full-length sketch of RAY. JACK arrives with an oil painting and a book, and enters without knocking, He watches ELIZABETH paint.)
JACK: Loosen your wrist.
ELIZABETH: (Startled) Come in.
JACK: The door was open. By way of apology for last night.
(He holds out the oil painting.)
I was a deadshit.
ELIZABETH: Thatís not a term I use, but I wonít argue.
JACK: Iím allergic to sherry.
(He peruses her portrait-in-progress.)
ELIZABETH: Please donít look at that. Come into the living room.
JACK: You have a good eye. You need to relax. And move into the twentieth century.
ELIZABETH: Itís easy for some. Please come away.
(JACK continues to peruse the sketch.)
Itís for the agricultural show.
JACK: Which event?
ELIZABETH: They have an annual art competition.
(ELIZABETH lights a cigarette. Offers him one.)
JACK: How do you feel towards Ray?
ELIZABETH: I beg your pardon?
JACK: This says nothing about how you feel. Itís frigid. Does painting this excite you? If art doesnít excite the artist, how can it excite anyone else?
ELIZABETH: The living room, for godís sake. Please.
JACK: Cezanne said: ìI want to astonish Paris with an apple. You must want to astonish Armidale with Ray.
(She leads into the living room and examines JACKíS gift painting. An abstract, it reveals a talented, if unruly, modernist eye.)
ELIZABETH: This really isnít necessary.
JACK: What do you think?
ELIZABETH: I donít know. I like it. I think. I donít understand it. Whatís it called?
JACK: It hasnít got a title. Itís new.
(He thrusts the book at her)
ìCubism And After. It explains everything.
ELIZABETH: Are you in it?
JACK: There arenít any Australians in it. I may be in volume two, if I play my cards right.
(RAY enters in freshly-grass-stained cricket creams.)
JACK: I dropped by to apologise. Iím allergic to sherry.
RAY: Thereís a lot of it about.
ELIZABETH: Jack wants to give us one of his paintings. I said it wasnít necessary.
(She shows RAY the abstract.)
RAY: Itís not necessary.
JACK: What is?
(JACK goes. ELIZABETH and RAY consider the painting.)
ELIZABETH: What do you think?
RAY: What do you think?
ELIZABETH: I like it.
RAY: Iím with Rhonda. It looks like a road accident. Is that what his subconscious looks like?
ELIZABETH: Itís all explained in here, apparently. I do like it.
(He skim reads ìCubism And Afteras she massages his shoulders.)
RAY: Ooh. Thatís good.
ELIZABETH: How did you go?
RAY: Five for fourteen. We lost. I was a beacon on a dark day. Oh thatís good. What was that blokeís name again? That painted the mountain fifty times. Suzanne.
RAY: Yeah, him.
(He flicks through to Cezanne. Reads aloud)
ìCezanne said: ëOne must detect in nature the sphere, the cone, the cylinderí. None appeared in his work. That makes sense. Oh, yes!
(ELIZABETHíS massage hits a spot. And is becoming amorous.)
ìHe possessed a vast curiousity about the relativeness of seeing - whatever that is - ìand grave doubt that it could ever be painted. So his sensations became his subject. He defined the picture as an autonomous world of colour and forms.. Too bloody right.
(He kisses Elizabeth. She responds.
A knock. They wait in quiet hope. Another knock. RAY answers the door. It is JACK.)
JACK: Do you have a watering can I could borrow?
RAY: I think we can rustle one up.
(RAY exits. ELIZABETH and JACK look at each other.
Hard bebop jazz begins, loudly, in the darkness. The roaring of what sounds like a vacuum cleaner is also audible, underneath the music.
ELIZABETH crosses the stage, bearing three fruitboxes.)
(Jack and Julietís house. The music continues as ELIZABETH knocks tentatively. There is no response. She knocks again. No response.)
ELIZABETH: Anybody home?
(She tentatively ventures inside as the lights come up, slowly.
ELIZABETH is confronted by a huge print of Modiglianiís ìNu Couche/ìReclining Nude (With Red Cushion) hanging as backdrop to the room.
She stares at the bold, sumptuous, sensuous image.
Before being further confronted by JACK, completely naked, bending over, his rear pointing towards her, as he works on a large abstract positioned on the floor.
He is using the watering can full of paint for a coloured rainstorm effect, and their vacuum cleaner, in reverse, for a variable crosswind. To the dynamic sound of bebop.
JACK sees ELIZABETH, stands upright. Naked and paint-spattered.
ELIZABETH drops the fruitboxes and exits.)
JACK: Hold on!
(He wraps a small, paint-spattered towel around himself and follows her.)
JACK: Liz! Hold on!
ELIZABETH: Fruitboxes. I can't stay.
JACK: Come in.
ELIZABETH: Are you decent?
JACK: Come in. I want to show you something.
ELIZABETH: I canít stay.
(JACK turns down the music, turns off the vacuum cleaner. ELIZABETH surveys the room: an unholy - if sparse - mess. Mattress on the floor. Strewn clothes, books, records. Gramaphone player. Candles in chianti bottles.
She notices a large neo-primitive wooden sculpture with prominent erection.
Switches her attention to JACKíS painting on the floor.)
JACK: Juliet is a modern primitivist.
(There is something literal about Julietís primitivist sculpture. Any abstraction is minimal. It is difficult to see the modernity.)
JACK: She says sheís trying to find a preliterate language. An ancestral universal connection. I donít believe we can go back. I think itís onward and every man for himself.
(JACK nods towards his painting-in-progress.)
JACK: What do you think?
ELIZABETH: I donít know.
JACK: Iím not so sure myself.
(He stacks the fruitboxes on top of each other, as shelves. Places strewn records and books inside..)
ELIZABETH: What did you mean, the eye is not to be trusted?
JACK: Cezanne said it. Well, he didnít say it. But itís what he meant.
ELIZABETH: What did he mean?
JACK: He meant that perspective is a fraud. Perspective is the view of a one-eyed, motionless, disaffected observer. But the eye is never still. And the observer is never disaffected.
(His towel slips. ELIZABETH blanches. JACK rearranges himself.)
JACK: Cezanne also said, ìMy compatriots are arseholes, compared to me.
ELIZABETH: We could lend you a table.
(JACK turns the music up, takes a long-handled brush and flicks paint in thoughtful controlled fashion across the canvas. Until the gramaphone needle sticks in a groove/a wild sax solo begins. JACK responds with added intensity. Flying paint hits ELIZABETHíS dress.She retreats to a safe distance and uses her handkerchief to wipe her dress, as she continues to watch JACK paint.)
JACK: Weíre going down to Sydney next week. Thereís an exhibition of new work from America. You should come.
ELIZABETH: I think Rayís got cricket.
JACK: Youíll miss the most important exhibition ever held in this country.
ELIZABETH: I do that fairly often. Whatís so important about it?
JACK: It obliterates everything that went before it.
ELIZABETH: Is that all?
JACK: Thatís all. Picasso. Braque. Even Matisse. Over. Much as I like them. And glorious as their contribution has been. Abstract expressionism is liberation, Liz. Our liberation. From the past. From outmoded techniques. From still lives. From Europe.
ELIZABETH: I donít understand it.
JACK: You donít have to. Not like you understand a landscape or a portrait. This painting is itself. If you respond, if you like it, for whatever reason, fine. If you donít, fine. Move on.
ELIZABETH: I think I like it.
JACK: If youíre serious, you have to see this exhibition. Even if you hate it. (laughs) Itís going to shock a few people. Who bloody well need to be shocked.
ELIZABETH: Iíll ask Ray. (Smiles) But I think heís got cricket.
JACK: (re painting) What do you think? Is it finished?
ELIZABETH: I..think so.
JACK: So whatíll I call it?...Does it evoke anything in you?
ELIZABETH: ..Well..The patterns..the patteerns remind me of..
JACK: Of what?
ELIZABETH: Of skating on the frost on the lawn. In my school shoes.
JACK: Thatís what it is then. Frost Skate. Number 1.
(JULIET enters, with a teenage boy in grey school uniform.)
JULIET: This is Hugh.
(HUGH is paralytically shy and cannot make eye contact with adults.)
JACK: Liz brought us some bookshelves.
JULIET: As you can see, weíre against commodity fetishism.
ELIZABETH: Weíve got an old spare icebox in the garage.
JULIET: Hughís my junior surrealist.
(JULIET ferrets among the books in the fruitbox shelves. Searching.)
JULIET: Have you seen ìThe Tropic Of Cancer?
JACK: There somewhere.
(JULIET locates the book and gives it to Hugh.)
JULIET: There you go.
ELIZABETH: I have to go.
(ELIZABETH scuttles out.)
(A small hall. A large map of Australia, with menacing red arrows pointing down from Asia, denotes a meeting to advocate ìVote Yes in the referendum on outlawing the Communist Party. An adjacent poster reads ìVote Yes! on September 17.
A local COUNTRY PARTY MEMBER addresses the gathering.
ELIZABETH, RAY and BILL sit together. JACK and JULIET stand at the back. JACK has been drinking.)
MEMBER: History records the rise and fall of twenty five civilizations.
JACK: Name them!
MEMBER: The communists are in our mines. Theyíre in our factories. Theyíre on the docks. Theyíre even in our schools.
JACK: Theyíre in this hall!
BILL: (To JACK) Go back to Russia!
(The crowd cheers BILLíS riposte and turns to jeer JACK and JULIET. RAY is amused, ELIZABETH uncomfortable. JACK is clearly enjoying himself, his interjections shrill and knowingly provocative. JULIET is earnest, and does not raise her voice.)
MEMBER: The Commos openly admit they want to destroy our way of life.
JULIET: They want to make it better. For everyone, except the rich.
WOMAN: By peddling filth to schoolchildren? You should be ashamed. Youíre a teacher!
JULIET: He wanted to borrow it.
WOMAN: Youíll be happy to know I burnt it.
JACK: Did you read it first? What about page seventy two!
MEMBER: Sharkey and Burns said ìthey welcome the invasion of Australia by Soviet forces in another global conflict!.
JACK: Bull dust! They did not say that.
MEMBER: Communists, by their own definition, are traitors. They have foregone their democratic rights and we are within our rights to outlaw them. Society has a right to protect itself.
JACK: Iím society too!
MEMBER: I know that, son. And let me say itís a blooming worry.
JULIET: Doesnít society have a right to change itself?
BILL: We didnít spend six years battling the Nazis and the Japs to be white-anted by traitors.
MEMBER: The Prime Minister recently described the war in Korea as the prelude to World War III, ìthe last great world struggle.
JACK: And the price of woolís gone through the roof! The economyís booming! Ever since Korea! Surprise!
JULIET: Capitalism needs war. The depression wasnít an accident.
JACK: Wool is an imperialist tool!
(BILL is becoming increasingly riled. RHONDA restrains him..)
BILL: Someone shut him up. Someone better shut him up.
JACK: Pig Iron Bobís only having a referendum because the High Court threw out his bill, Bill!
BILL: You wouldnít even be getting a referendum in Russia.
JULIET: The High Court ruled the bill was unconstitutional.
MEMBER: Except in time of war, young lady. Read the full ruling, not the editorial in Tribune. And right now, we are at war.
BILL: Itís called the Cold War, not the cold bloody peace!
(The crowd cheers. The MEMBER points to the map.)
MEMBER: It is a global struggle. The RAAF is in Malaya. Our troops are in Korea. Our allies are fighting communism in Burma, Laos, Viet Nam..
JACK: Dominos! Look out! Duck!
MEMBER: China has fallen.
JACK: Howís the red menace going to get down here? Gravity? Canoe? Take the names off the railway stations. The yellow hordes will all get lost in the desert!
JULIET: Jack. Shut up. (To others) Please. Vested interests are presenting us with a distorted view of communism. All communism is, is a dream of a better, fairer life. Without class. Without poverty.
JULIET: Look. Communists arenít devils and the Russian people arenít slaves. Thatís propaganda. From the exploiting class who stand to lose when society becomes equitable.
WOMAN: Youíre exploiting my son!
JULIET: Communists believe that human nature is essentially good, and co- operative. Not competitive and greedy.
BILL: You believe in fairy tales.
JULIET: I remember the war too. Not like you, I know. People put personal ambitions away for the common good. And hoped for a better society once the war was over. Why do we revert to self interest in peace? Do we need terror to unify us?
BILL: We probably do! Ask your mate Stalin! Jesus! Wake up!
JACK: The real global imperialist octopus is American materialism.
BILL: You bloody clown. The Yanks saved your skin.
JACK: Oh thankyou, America. Thankyou, thankyou. Weíll do whatever you want now. At least commos believe in something. Thereís more to life than a new bloody washing machine!
WOMAN: Itís obvious you never washed clothes, son.
(Peals of laughter. Even JULIET smiles.)
JACK: Australians are a mob of bloody-minded sheep!
(BILLíS switch is flicked. He launches himself at JACK. RAY steps in.)
BILL: You clown. You stupid bloody clown!
(BILL breaks free and punches JACK. JULIET tries to rescue him. BILL seems on the verge of punching her too. RAY steps between them.)
BILL: You donít know what youíre talking about. You donít know what your precious bloody humanity is capable of.
JACK: Oh get stuffed.
(Other males join the fray. JULIET is shoved roughly to the ground. RAY tries to lead BILL away, as JACK receives a severe beating..)
ELIZABETH: Stop it! Stop it!
RAY: Come on, mate.
(BILL breaks free of RAYíS grip. He turns on RAY and ELIZABETH.)
BILL: You want to watch the company you keep.
(BILL leaves the meeting. RHONDA follows him out.)
JULIET: (to Jack) You asked for that.
RAY: Got all your teeth? Bill was a services boxing champ. Makes a mint off Jimmy Sharman every year when the show comes round.
ELIZABETH: Shut up, Ray.
(Countryside. Denoted by a large landscape: ìThe River Flows To The Sea. The sound of children swimming can be heard. On a picnic rug, amid beer bottles and sandwiches, RAY dozes with a hat over his face, while RHONDA sits and flicks through a magazine.
ELIZABETH, painting at an easel, is making a first foray into semi-abstraction or thereabouts. She is irritated with the results, which are small and tentative, and becoming increasingly muddy. She smokes nervily.
RHONDA: (to childen) Stay where I can see you!! Geoffrey! Stay where I can see you!
(ELIZABETH stalks across to the rug and quickly sips a beer.
RAY speaks without removing the hat from his face.)
RAY: Sit down. Itís a picnic.
(ELIZABETH takes the beer back to the easel. RHONDA joins her and peruses the painting over ELIZABETHíS shoulder.)
ELIZABETH: Donít say anything.
RHONDA: Is that a tree? (points) Is that that tree?
ELIZABETH: If you canít say something constructive, please donít say anything, all right? No, itís not a tree. Not exactly. Iím trying to paint..my response to the landscape. Not just copy it. Depict how I sense it, personally.
RHONDA: What if you donít have a response? I donít have a response to those rocks.
ELIZABETH: You only think you donít.
RHONDA: I know I donít.
ELIZABETH: Then thatís probably why youíre a potter.
RHONDA: (Laughs) My pot sold.
ELIZABETH: So it did.
ELIZABETH: Iím finding it hard not to paint..things. Iím used to painting things with outlines. And filling them in. When I take away the outlines, it all runs together. I need to study colour.
(She resumes painting. Agitated)
Iím stiff. I need to loosen up. And youíre making me nervous.
RHONDA: What do you think of Jack?
ELIZABETH: Heís a pain. Heís a pretentious pain.
RHONDA: A good-looking pretentious pain.
(ELIZABETH knows what RHONDA is getting at, but ignores her.)
RHONDA: Are you sure he isnít the attraction of abstraction?
ELIZABETH: I beg your pardon? You were the one flirting.
RHONDA: He borrowed your watering can.
ELIZABETH: Donít be juvenile. Change the subject.
RHONDA: Itís a lovely day.
ELIZABETH: I just want to give this sort of painting..a try. I think I should. All right? Itís exciting.
RHONDA: Iím not stopping you.
ELIZABETH: Itís an adventure. Like going somewhere without a map.
(ELIZABETH returns to the painting.)
RHONDA: Have you asked Ray about Sydney?
ELIZABETH: I know the answer. Why donít you and I go? On our own.
RHONDA: Iíve got tennis. And Iím not interested in modern art. Iím just a potter.
ELIZABETH: You could go to David Jones.
RHONDA: Bill wouldnít let me.
ELIZABETH: He would if you went with me.
RHONDA: No, he wouldnít. Not now.
ELIZABETH: It would do us all good to see new things. I havenít been to Sydney since that school excursion.
RHONDA: That was enough excitement to last a lifetime. Ask him noww. While heís drunk.
ELIZABETH: Heís not drunk. He hasnít been drunk since the school excursion. I wish he would get drunk. Commerce teachers donít get drunk. Ray? Are you drunk?
Are you awake?
Jack and Juliet are going to Sydney next weekend for an exhibition of modern American painting. They asked if we wanted to come.
RAY: I know I donít.
(Pause. RAY laughs.)
RAY: Crawling round stinking Sydney looking at modern art? With Bib and Bub Bohemian?
May I chew gravel instead?
ELIZABETH: Get me a beer.
(RAY desultorily pours her a beer.)
RAY: But you can go.
ELIZABETH: It doesnít hurt me to go to the damn picnic races each year. It wonít hurt you to look at some art.
RAY: Donít you like the picnic races?
ELIZABETH: I go because itís the only thing that happens all year!
ELIZABETH: It would do us all good to see new things.
RAY: Some things are better left unseen. Like the bloody subconscious for a start. Or some subconsciouses.
RHONDA: What do you think of Elizabethís painting?
RAY: I like it.
ELIZABETH: You say you like everything I do.
RAY: I do. I even like your subconscious. Iím married to it.
ELIZABETH: For godís sake! Canít you take anything seriously?
RAY: I take you seriously.
ELIZABETH: Go back to sleep.
RAY: Iím wide awake now. And Iím being serious. Who says the subconscious is so important, anyway?
ELIZABETH: Freud, for a start. And the other one.
RAY: Theyíre only theories. What if theyíre wrong?
ELIZABETH: Stick to economics, please.
RAY: What if the shrinks have got it completely backwards? What if the subconscious is just the garbage bin of the conscious? Where all the rubbish gets dumped, to be emptied at night? Just because waterís murkier doesnít mean itís deeper.
RHONDA: Thatís good.
(ELIZABETH points to her painting.)
ELIZABETH: Do you think this is just murky?
RAY: I said I liked it.
ELIZABETH: Is it murky?
RAY: Itís a bit murky.
RHONDA: Itís a lovely day.
ELIZABETH: A bit murky. Itís not murky enough.
RAY: Look, I donít know what Iím talking about. Iím just rabbiting on. Iím going for a swim. Anyone else?
(He strips down to his swimming trunks.)
ELIZABETH: I want to see the exhibition.
RAY: You should.
ELIZABETH: Iíd like you to come.
RAY: Iím too superficial. Iím a commerce teacher.
(He heads for the river.)
ELIZABETH: Donít walk away. Donít you dare walk away.
RAY: Iím not going to Sydney. Thatís that. You go. Thatís fine with me. I want you to go. Rhonda will go with you. Wonít you, Rhonda?
(RAY runs off to the river.)
RHONDA: I canít.
ELIZABETH: Iím sick to death of this place. And the people in it.
RHONDA: Does that include me?
ELIZABETH: At the moment.
(RHONDA immediately moves away and summons her children.)
RHONDA: Geoffrey! Anne! Weíre going!
ELIZABETH: Rhonda. For godís sake.
RHONDA: Nothingís ever good enough for you, is it? (to children) Get in the car. Put a towel round you first.
ELIZABETH: Rhonda. Donít be silly.
RHONDA: Youíre a fool if you go without Ray.
ELIZABETH: Whatís that supposed to mean?
RHONDA: Youíre married.
ELIZABETH: Itís for two days! Iíve been with Ray since I was sixteen. Iíve known him since I was twelve. And I canít be on my own for two days?
RHONDA: Do what you like. Just leave me out of it.
ELIZABETH: Out of what? What are you afraid of? Sydney?
(A harbourside boatshed. dusk. The sound of water lapping, distant intermittent boom of a loading ship. Dappled water reflections, golden, mingle with years of paint spatters on the interior of an old timber boatshed: Jack/Julietís Sydney ìstudio. More neo-primitive sculptures, with and without erections, stand in a corner. Several paintings are stacked by the sculptures. A poster on a wall reads ìVote No! on September 17.
JACK, JULIET and RUSSELL carry in a wooden table and six chairs.
ELIZABETH is in a public phone booth near the boatshed.)
ELIZABETH: Iím in a phone booth.
RAY: I heard the coins.
(Candles, bottles of beer, a flagon of red wine, plates of cabanossi and cheese are ferried into the boatshed by JULIET and RUSSELL, while JACK sits rolling a reefer.)
ELIZABETH: Have you cooked yourself something?
RAY: Iím having dinner at Bill and Rhondaís. How much is this call costing?
ELIZABETH: I just wanted to let you know we got here all right.
RAY: It must be costing a fortune.
ELIZABETH: I wish you were here.
RAY: Iíll live.
ELIZABETH: Iíll be back the day after tomorrow.
RAY: Good. I love you. Bye, then.
ELIZABETH: I love you. Bye.
(ELIZABETH joins the others in the boatshed.)
ELIZABETH: Can I do something?
(JULIET does not respond.)
JACK: Thatís Russell. (smirks) Russellís a push poet.
(ELIZABETH, unfamiliar with the reference, smiles anyway.)
ELIZABETH: Hello, Russell. (To Juliet) What can I do?
(JULIET exits. ELIZABETH lights a cigarette, examines the plates of food.)
JACK: Cabanossi. Italian sausage. Try it.
(JACK picks up a piece and offers it directly to ELIZABETHíS mouth. She smiles but takes it in her hand first.)
ELIZABETH: Itís delicious.
(JULIET opens the flagon and pours.)
This is delicious, Juliet.
JULIET: Iím glad. I donít eat meat.
(JACK lights the reefer and inhales deeply. Passes it to ELIZABETH.)
ELIZABETH: I have one, thanks.
JACK: Itís a reefer. It heightens sensory perception. Relaxes you.
ELIZABETH: Whatís in it?
JACK: Not tobacco. It wonít hurt you. Try it.
ELIZABETH: No, thanks. Is that all right?
JACK: Itís a free country.
(He passes the reefer to RUSSELL, who deploys it. JULIET likewise.)
JACK: Itíd be good for your art. Open the doors.
ELIZABETH: I painted my first abstract. Of sorts.
JACK: (Genuine) Bravo. Can we see it?
ELIZABETH: I burnt it. I tried to burn it. The paper was so sodden it wouldnít catch. It wasnít a great success. But I enjoyed doing it. It was nerve wracking.
JULIET: Nerves are meant to be wracked. Thatís why we have them.
(Laughter. The reefer is having an effect. Or they believe it is.)
ELIZABETH: The hardest part was starting. Because I wasnít copying anything, I didnít know where to start. What to start with.
JACK: Iím sorry to have to tell you, but thatís a problem that never goes away.
RUSSELL: The terror of the blank page is the admission price of discovery and revelation.
JULIET: It speaks. The poet speaks.
JACK: Youíre not alone in having the problem, but youíre completely alone in solving it. Thatís the point. Itís you. Taking the risk, and entering unexplored territory. You have to be brave.
JULIET: Or drunk. Or on dope.
RUSSELL: The muse is a thirsty, orally fixated bitch.
JULIET: My muse is not female.
JACK: (to ELIZABETH) You still have to be brave. These things (drink etc) open the doors. But you still have to go inside.
(CLIVE and MAI enter. CLIVE, fortyish, genteel-to-foppish in velvet coat and cravat, is a rogue gallery owner. MAI is an attractive young Swedish actress.
CLIVE carries a couple of brown-paper wrapped objects: one tubular, the other flat, rectilinear.)
CLIVE: I come bearing gifts.
(JULIET leaps up and hugs CLIVE. )
JACK: Welcome back. Stick this in your cakehole.
(He jams the reefer in CLIVEíS mouth.)
CLIVE: It is refreshing to be back. This country is so much more formal than Europe. This is Mai, my new Swedish playmate. Mai does not speak English but she has extreme presence.
MAI: Good night.
JACK: This is Elizabeth. Our country recruit.
CLIVE: What exactly have they recruited you to, dear?
ELIZABETH: I donít quite know, yet.
(CLIVE hands the tubular-shaped present to JACK.)
CLIVE: As requested. The authentic article.
(He hands the flat present to JULIET.)
For you, my dear.
JULIET: Sit down. Sit down, Mai. Help yourself.
MAI: Ja. Thank you.
(JACK unrolls and displays his gift: a European communist party poster featuring Picassoís famous ìDove of Peace.)
JACK: Thankyou, comrade. The Dove Of Peace. Picasso.
(He pins it on a wall.)
CLIVE: Any developments in my absence?
RUSSELL: The red boogie man continues his arrow-shaped rampage across the nation.
JULIET: Iím going to a meeting tonight.
JULIET: (terse) The vote on the fundraising exhibition?
JACK: I nominate you as my proxy. Convey my apologies.
JULIET: (to CLIVE) Iím organising an Artists For Peace exhibition. If any of your clients are interested in donating work -
(She opens her present: a framed expressionist portrait.)
JULIET: Clive. Oh, Clive.
(She kisses him.)
CLIVE: Itís Russian.
JULIET: Did you get into Russia?
CLIVE: No such luck. Iím only a fellow traveller, you know. Or am I a crypto-member? I couldnít get the papers. A..friend..obtained it in Warsaw. He was there for the Peace Conference. The one that was going to be in Sheffield.
JULIET: I adore it.
CLIVE: I had the devil getting it out. And in. Itís Christ. By Anatoly Zverev.
JACK: Never heard of him.
RUSSELL: Christ or Zverev?
CLIVE: No-one in the west has heard of Zverev. In the present climate, an exhibition of work from behind the Iron Curtain would go down a jolly treat, donít you think?
(JULIET gazes at the painting, in wonderment.)
CLIVE: I would ask you not to sell it.
JULIET: Iím opposed to the art market. (to JACK) I wouldnít mind auctioning the dove. For peace.
JACK: Not a chance.
CLIVE: That was smuggled out in a -
(CLIVE pauses, momentarily, to chew a mouthful of cheese.)
CLIVE: Good Australian cheddar. Theyíve managed to take the barnyard right out.
RUSSELL: The sausage is immensely pertinent. Any more?
(JULIET goes, giggling, for more food. JACK, giggling, rolls another.)
JACK: (To ELIZABETH) It also heightens appreciation of Italian sausage. Sure you donít want to try?
(ELIZABETH smiles. Tempted. JULIET returns.)
JULIET: (to CLIVE) Tell us about Europe then.
JACK: Bah. Europe is just ruins. Itís rubble.
CLIVE: But what ruins, comrade. What rubble. Mai hails from Europe.
MAI: Ja. Thank you.
RUSSELL: Itís not the ruins. Itís whatís been ruined, that is important.
CLIVE: Precisely. What have we ruined here? What have we got to ruin? Surely in a hundred and fifty years we colonials could come up with something worth ruining?
JULIET: Weíre tourists in our own country. We have no history.
JACK: Bulldust. Weíve got explorers and bushrangers.
(JULIET gets up and seizes a sculpture-with-erection in the corner.)
JULIET: Look at this. Iím desperately trying to reconnect with some sort of preconscious primitive impulse, but in my heart..I feel Iím faking.
CLIVE: It looks fairly real to me, dear.
JULIET: How can a white person get in touch with the primitive here? It belongs to someone else. Iím a tourist. Weíre tourists. We sit on the surface. Everything we do just sits on the surface. Thereís nothing under us, binding us.
(JACK lights the reefer.)
JULIET: My primitive is in Europe.
JACK: Go. Go there.
JULIET: As soon as I get the fare.
JACK: The United States is the new home of the avant garde.
JULIET: (Derisive) The heartland of materialism.
JACK: Thatís why the art is so good. So new. Itís the front line of the spiritual war. Where it must be fought.
RUSSELL: The enemy must be defeated where he is most powerful. The artist must ringbark the apple tree in the Garden of Earthly Delights and barbecue the snake. Abstraction is our lost freedom, found.
JACK: Heís a poet.
JULIET: Abstraction is a retreat from the struggle.
(JACK passes the reefer to ELIZABETH.)
JACK: Try it. Go on.
JULIET: The avant-garde creates elites. It is class based. ìWe must educate the masses is the rallying cry of totalitarianism.
(ELIZABETH gingerly takes the reefer, and has a very tentative puff.)
JACK: You have to do the drawback. Itís only smoke.
(ELIZABETH laughs at herself. Calms, takes a draw, has an extended coughing fit.)
JACK: Water. Water.
(He puts his arm round her, comforting, and gives her water.)
ELIZABETH: Oh my god.
JACK: Have another go.
ELIZABETH: No. No.
JACK: Itís compulsory. Come on. Gently. Gently. Hold it in.
(ELIZABETH inhales the smoke, and holds her breath. She feels a want to cough. But represses it. And exhales, successfully.)
JACK: OK? Bravo. Youíre not a virgin any more.
(ELIZABETH sits again. The reefer passes around.)
ELIZABETH: What am I supposed to feel?
CLIVE: Like a rootless cosmopolitan, dear. Stalinís expression.
(JULIET gives him a look.)
They say he doesnít like cafes.
JULIET Propaganda. He believes we should act in the world, rather than sit and watch it walk by.
JACK: (to ELIZABETH) It doesnít matter what you feel. But whatever you do, donít laugh.
CLIVE: Down for the American exhibition, are you, Elizabeth?
ELIZABETH: From Armidale.
CLIVE: I know Armidale. Itís a very pretty little town.
ELIZABETH: Yes. It is pretty. Dull.
(She snickers. And has another pull on the reefer.)
ELIZABETH: Of course we do have the picnic races every year.
(She laughs out loud.)
JACK: Do picnics race?
JULIET: Thatís not funny.
JACK: Here comes tartan travel rug, up on the outside of curried egg sandwich ..a length to bottle of DA..then Pilsener..Flag Ale travelling well..a head to lamington..
RUSSELL: That is unbelievably juvenile, Jack.
(The giggling is becoming uncontrollable.)
JACK: Eskyís got his head in front! Here comes devon and pickle sandwich! You can put London to a brick on that.
JULIET: Stop it! Stop it! I have to go to a meeting!
ELIZABETH: Weíre not being very fair on Mai.
(MAI, despite incomprehension, is giggling with the best.)
MAI: (something unintelligible in Swedish)
(She laughs out loud. As does CLIVE.)
JULIET: What did she say?
CLIVE: (accented) Something unintelligible in Swedish.
(More laughter. Which slowly peters out.)
ELIZABETH: Iím exhausted.
JACK: Iím going for a swim.
(He starts to undress. RUSSELL suddenly points at the poster.)
RUSSELL: Thatís not a dove.
(The others regard the poster, amused.)
Itís a pigeon.
JACK: Itís a dove. Itís the dove of peace. Itís Picassoís dove of peace.
RUSSELL: Itís a pigeon. My father raced pigeons.
JULIET: Itís the pigeon of peace. Itís Picassoís pigeon of peace.
CLIVE: Are pigeons peaceful?
JACK: Theyíre vicious little birds. They have lice and crap on you from a great height. Itís a dove, you galahs.
ELIZABETH: Itís a white fantail.
(This stops them in their tracks.)
My husband is a bird fancier.
(She bursts into laughter and slaps her knees.)
JACK: Anyone else coming in?
(He continues to undress.)
JULIET: I am.
JULIET: (To MAI, miming.) Swim? Swimming?
(MAI starts to undress and encourages CLIVE to join her.)
CLIVE: I donít swim. I drink like a fish instead.
(RUSSELL joins the dip. JACK removes his underwear. ELIZABETH looks askance.)
JACK: (to ELIZABETH) Come on.
(Several splashes as JACK, naked and laughing, jumps into the harbour with a shout. JULIET, naked, laughing, follows him. MAI also. RUSSELL retains his boxer shorts.)
JULIET: Itís freezing!
MAI: (something unintelligible in Swedish)!
CLIVE: She said itís a perfect temperature.
JACK: (Off) Come on, Elizabeth.
(ELIZABETH agonises, gives in, strips to her underwear, and jumps in.)
ELIZABETH: Itís freezing!
(The sounds of splashing, laughing, shrieking continue, off..)
CLIVE peruses the painting he gave to JULIET.
JULIET gets out, shivering, and scurries to a towel.)
CLIVE: Already? Youíre hardly blue.
JULIET: Iím going to the meeting.
CLIVE: Very dedicated of you.
JULIET: Why donít you come?
CLIVE: I heard more worrying stories. From my friend who went to Warsaw.
JULIET: I donít want to hear them.
CLIVE: Neither did I. Itís a luxury. Not having to believe.
JULIET: Are you turning into a liberal?
CLIVE: Quite possibly. It sounds dreadfully lukewarm, doesnít it? I may even be becoming suburban.
JULIET: I have to get dressed.
CLIVE: You can do that and talk politics at the same time, canít you?
(JULIET starts dressing.)
CLIVE: I am finding an overdeveloped sense of irony is incompatible with ideology. Except in a dilettante. The prospect of being which makes me shudder.
JULIET: Isnít that what a liberal is? By definition?
CLIVE: The peace conference was slated for Sheffield but the government made things difficult. Picasso was one of the few they let in. It must embarrass him terribly to be considered harmless. The worldís richest commo has a lovely hand but no idea about politics.
JULIET: He has symbolic value.
CLIVE: Thatís a bit metaphysical for the party, isnít it?
JULIET: Heís good for recruitment. Jack only joined when Picasso did.
CLIVE: You seem to suffer a disturbing ironic condition too.
JULIET: I keep mine under control.
CLIVE: You know Moscow wonít let him exhibit? Picasso. Theyíll give him the Lenin Peace Prize and trumpet his membership but they wonít exhibit him.
CLIVE: Are you willing to kill, Juliet? For the party?
CLIVE: The other way to reconcile irony and ideology is through violence.
JULIET: Iíd like to think Iím willing to die for the cause.
CLIVE: Itís not the same thing.
JULIET: Revolutions are bloody. Read your history.
CLIVE: At what point does body count become too much? The evidence is mounting. Itís becoming too incredible not to be true, Juliet.
JULIET: Iím going to the meeting anyway.
(A harbourside boatshed.
Later. Darkness outside. ELIZABETH sits alone, clothed, drying her hair. A coffee percolator makes its distinctive sound, off. ELIZABETH turns it off, resumes drying her hair.
A knock startles her. JACK appears in the doorway, his eyes closed._
JACK: I come in yet?
(He enters, carrying three sleeping bags, and tosses them down.)
ELIZABETH: The coffee pot was making a shocking noise.
JACK: Itís supposed to. Itís called a percolator.
(JACK sits and lights a reefer roach.)
ELIZABETH: How long will Juliet be?
JACK: Not long. Day or two. Serious meeting.
(He lights and passes the reefer.)
ELIZABETH: Iíll die if I laugh any more.
(She draws on the reefer anyway.)
JACK: Have you heard of action painting?
(JACK purposefully drags the table to one side of the room. Takes a large sheet of masonite, painted white, and lays it flat on the floor. Grabs several nearby duco cans and opens them. Seizes a couple of chunky brushes. Thrusts one at ELIZABETH.)
JACK: You first.
(Pause. She does not catch on.)
JACK: Make it up as you go.
ELIZABETH: I canít.
JACK: Itís an existential act. Create your identity moment to moment. Find an antidote to bourgeois conformity. Spit in the eye of mediocrity. Shake your fist at the ugliness of the modern world. All that.
(He smirks, aware of his own cod-profundity. She giggles.)
Express your inner self.
ELIZABETH: What if your inner self is dull?
JACK: Itís not.
ELIZABETH: Iím sure Iíve met some dull selfs. Iíve met some absolutely characterless selfs.
JACK: Youíre not one of them. It doesnít matter what the finished thing looks like. Itís the act thatís important. Go on.
(He turns his back to her and smokes. ELIZABETH vacillates.)
JACK: Art can change the world. It has a revolutionary purpose. Change art and we change our thinking. Change our thinking and we change society.
(ELIZABETH dips the brush, vacillates, closes her eyes and effects a brushstroke. She opens her eyes and examines her work. JACK passes the reefer, dips his brush in a different colour.)
JACK: Donít dwell. Act on your first impulse. Itís not random, itís you.
(He applies a few bold strokes. Stops, re-takes the reefer, waits.)
ELIZABETH: Turn round.
(He doesnít. He smiles at her, eyes twinkling.)
JACK: Go on. Jump off the cliff. Nothing will ever happen if you donít. Trust your self.
(A pause. She has a smoke.)
JACK: Itís just paint.
(ELIZABETH takes a breath and with a devil-may-care brushstroke, jumps off the cliff. She laughs at her own boldness. Is impressed with the aesthetic result.)
JACK: Now weíre cooking with gas.
(Excited, they paint side by side, around each other, in symbiotic relationship. Both possess an aesthetic eye: the work is not mere random spattering of paint, not a child-ish ìmess without consideration or control. But as far as possible their thought and action is instinctive, rather than deliberated. Impulse translated into immediate action. Each is aware of the cumulative image they are creating. It is an exhilarating experience. Accompanied by laughter, joy, surprise, moments of deep seriousness..and commentary from JACK.)
JACK: God is dead. The suburbs are his cemetery. We are a nation of lawn mowers. We have the cleanest cars in Christendom. We must look to find the life of the spirit inside ourselves.
(JACK allow ELIZABETHs, now caught in the paintingís sway, free reign. She revels.
She steps and examines the result. With evident pleasure.)
ELIZABETH: Oh my god.
(JACK throws his arms wide and kisses her on the mouth. ELIZABETH is startled. But not completely shocked. She backs off.)
JACK: Juliet and I have an open relationship.
ELIZABETH: Ray and I donít.
(This strikes her as funny. She bursts into a fit of giggling.)
Ray and I most definitely donít. Ray and I have an absolutely closed relationship. We have since high school.
(Laughter, desire, and confusion bring tears into her eyes.)
ELIZABETH: Oh my god.
(Giggles. ELIZABETH tries to straighten herself up.)
ELIZABETH: Iím married.
JACK: I know you like me. I know youíre attracted. Be honest.
ELIZABETH: Honesty doesnít make it right.
JACK: Yes, it does.
(Pause. She feels herself teetering.)
JACK: You canít fight chemistry.
JACK: Youíre an artist. Art is the desire for freedom.
ELIZABETH: Oh my god.
JACK: Iíll just kiss you. Just let me kiss you.
ELIZABETH: Just a kiss? Promise. Just a kiss.
JACK: Just a kiss then.
(He kisses her. She lets him. The kiss lasts a while. Their lips part, slowly. His face hovers an inch or so from hers.)
JACK: One more.
(They kiss again. Her resistance is dissolving.)
JACK: Sheíll be hours.
(Fade to black.)
JACK: I wonít tell if you wonít.
JULIET enters and turns on a light. ELIZABETH is in a sleeping bag, asleep. JACK has gone. JULIET surveys the scene. She realises.
ELIZABETH wakes, looks round in dull alarm, sees JULIET. that JULIET knows.)
JULIET: Jack has several personalities, one of which is very sweet.
(JULIET goes to the stove.)
(ELIZABETH scrambles from the sleeping bag and hurriedly dresses.)
ELIZABETH: Iím sorry. Iím sorry.
JULIET: Youíre not the first.
(JULIET returns. ELIZABETH is in a flurry, packing her bag.)
We have an open relationship. Itís not what I want, but itís what we have. It takes two. I believe in freedom.
ELIZABETH: Iíve done a terrible thing.
JULIET: Sometimes itís not fun.
(JULIET rolls a cigarette. ELIZABETH is unsure whether to continue packing.)
JULIET: Heís not worth missing the exhibition for.
(The sound of the coffee percolator erupting is heard.)
The meeting was a fizzer. They voted to postpone the vote.
END OF ACT 1
(A small gallery. Pre-1951 abstracts from the USA - Pollock, Rothko, de Kooning, Gorky, Newman..or lookalikes..line the walls. NB: there was no such exhibition in Australia in 1951.
ELIZABETH walks alone through the gallery. The turbulence of the work seems to reflect her own.
JACK rounds a corner, smiling, his arm around JULIET.)
JACK: What do you think?
(He puts his other arm around ELIZABETH. She flinches.)
JACK: What do you think?
ELIZABETH: Itís overwhelming. I canít fathom some of it.
JACK: Iím so bloody glad the past is over.
JULIET: Donít be stupid. What theyíre pulling from inside themselves is the past. Thatís why itís in there.
JACK: Whatever you say.
JULIET: The past is never over.
(JULIET moves away.)
JACK: Sheíll be right.
ELIZABETH: I hope so.
JACK: We didnít do anything wrong.
ELIZABETH: Speak for yourself.
JACK: We didnít do anything wrong. Ask her. Ask Juliet. We have an understanding. It doesnít mean we donít love each other.
ELIZABETH: She told me.
JACK: Listen to me. I understand how you feel. And how Juliet feels. I donít feel too good today either. But everything has a price. The price of free will is emotion.
ELIZABETH: Of course.
JACK: Emotions are primitive things. They lag ten thousand years behind thought. Emotions are blunt instruments, unsuited to the delicate work of interpersonal relationships. But theyíre great for art. Thatís the dialectic.
(ELIZABETH starts to go. He grabs her arm.)
JACK: Everything will be ok as long as weíre honest with each other.
ELIZABETH: I donít feel well.
(ELIZABETH hurries away. We hear the muffled sound of throwing up.)
(Elizabeth and Rayís house.
RAY poses as ELIZABETHworks on the full length portrait for the show competition. It is painstakingly realistic. RAY keeps still with some difficulty. His eyes dart.)
RAY: The eyes follow you around the room.
Youíre not making me abstract, are you?
RAY: Want to go to the flicks tonight?
ELIZABETH: No. Please keep still.
RAY: Weíll never get there once the nippers arrive.
ELIZABETH: Iím too tired, Ray. Iím sorry. Go with Bill.
RAY: Billís still got the Edgar Britts.
Did something happen on the trip?
RAY: (Amused.) Did you have a fight or something? Did you sock one of them?
ELIZABETH: It was just a long drive.
RAY: You havenít stopped still since you got back. Twenty four hours usually means youíre angry.
ELIZABETH: I have to get this finished by friday.
RAY: Iím getting a cramp.
(He moves around, exercising his leg.)
ELIZABETH: I have to get this finished.
RAY: Iíve got a cramp.
(He puts his arm around her, looks at the portrait. Then nibbles her ear. Touches her hair. Kisses her face. She flinches.)
ELIZABETH: I have to get this finished.
RAY: Iíve got a cramp.
(He kisses her on the lips. He wants to make love.)
ELIZABETH: Ray. I canít. Not now.
RAY: (Half-joking) Weíll never have kids at this rate.
ELIZABETH: Will you stop harping about children!
RAY: Iím not harping.
ELIZABETH: Iím sorry. I didnít mean to snap.
(The phone rings. ELIZABETH is startled.)
RAY: Thatíll be Rhonda wanting a blow by blow.
(It keeps ringing. ELIZABETH puts her arms around RAY, nestles her head on his shoulder. The phone keeps ringing.)
RAY: Iíll get it.
ELIZABETH: Please leave it.
(She kisses him.)
RAY: It might be them, mightnít it?
(He kisses her. The phone keeps ringing. And ringing.
Fade to black.
In darkness: the sound of a window shattering as a brick is thrown through it.)
(Jack and Julietís house. JACK examines a brick, a note tied to it. )
JACK: ìCommo poofter bastards piss off. Juliet? We got our first brick!
(JULIET appears, dressed for teaching. Frightened.)
JULIET: Did you see who it was?
JACK: ìCommo poofter bastards piss off. Iím framing it.
JULIET: Donít walk around in your bare feet, you idiot. Youíll cut yourself.
JACK: Iím going to mount the brick on a plinth. Put them both in your peace exhibition.
JULIET: Donít be crass.
JULIET: There may not be an exhibition. Theyíre voting again tonight. Itís not my peace exhibition. We better call the police.
JACK: They probably threw it. Or one of your school mothers.
JULIET: Will you walk to the school with me?
JACK: No-oneís going to do anything to you in broad daylight.
JULIET: They just threw a brick!
JACK: Theyíre not going to go near you on the street. Theyíre not after you, anyway. It says poofter here. That means me. They wouldnít know a decent poofter if he bit them.
(JULIET picks up her briefcase, hesitates at the door.)
JACK: Show them youíre not scared.
JULIET: I am scared.
JACK takes a small phone book from his pocket and flicks through it.
A knock on the door. ELIZABETH appears.)
JACK: I was just about to ring you. Watch out for the glass. Someone lobbed a brick through our window. Can I borrow a broom?
ELIZABETH: I waited till Juliet was gone.
JACK: Thereís no need. Sheís fine.
ELIZABETH: I have to speak to you.
JACK: Sounds ominous.
ELIZABETH: I made a mistake. I made a dreadful mistake. Iím married, Jack. I want to stay married. Ray and I love each other. I shouIdnít have gone to Sydney in the first place.
JACK: Itís a bad place.
ELIZABETH: Please donít make fun of me. I just came to let you know where things stand. I want to forget it ever happened.
JACK: I understand.
ELIZABETH: Do you?
ELIZABETH: Thankyou. Thankyou. Itís driving me crazy. I canít stop shaking! I canít stop. Look at my hands.
(JACK takes her hands in his.)
JACK: I like you, Elizabeth. I like you very much
ELIZABETH: Please donít.
(He puts his arm around her. She has a momentary awareness of a last chance to turn around. They walk into the bedroom.)
Fade to black.
A loud, elongated, animal wail pierces the darkness: RAY.)
(Elizabeth and Rayís house.
ELIZABETH, sobbing, blocks her ears as the wail is followed by the sound of smashing objects. Another wail. In half darkness, RAY trashes ELIZABETHíS studio.
RAY: (Flailing) If you get up the duff Iíll kill you!
(He slams out the door with a fearful crash. The sound of an engine furiously over-revving is followed by the squeal of tyres. The car recedes rapidly.
ELIZABETH slowly rises. Wanders. Inspects the damage.
The portrait of RAY has been smeared and splashed and deformed with large blobs and splatters of thrown paint.
ELIZABETH slumps to the floor.
Fade to black.)
RHONDA: Youíre a fool, Elizabeth! Youíre a selfish little fool.
(Later. ELIZABETH is seated. RHONDA paces.)
RHONDA: How could you be such a fool?
ELIZABETH: Iím shocked too. Iím shocked by myself.
RHONDA: A fat lot of good that is. God! What are you going to do?
ELIZABETH: I donít know.
RHONDA: Whereís Ray?
ELIZABETH: It was exciting.
(RHONDA turns on her heel. Stares at her friend.)
ELIZABETH: I did it because it was exciting.
RHONDA: Is it exciting now? I bet itís bloody exciting now.
ELIZABETH: I couldnít help it. I was..swept away.
RHONDA: Swept away? For godís sake! Thatís so pathetic. Youíre not a teenager any more.
ELIZABETH: I was never swept away when I was.
RHONDA: I never played doctors and nurses. I donít feel any need to make up for it now.
ELIZABETH: I wasnít swept away the second time.
RHONDA: The second -? Oh my god! Not here? In this house?
ELIZABETH: His place.
RHONDA: Thank god for that. I donít know why, but thank god for that.
ELIZABETH: There was a distinct moment when I couldíve turned and walked away. It was very clear. I could feel the danger pulling again, and I could also see the front door. I knew I had to decide.
I decided to give in. Give myself up to it.
RHONDA: Youíre mad.
ELIZABETH: It gets worse. Part of me feels pleased with myself. I feel a bit like Madame Bovary. Itís a book.
RHONDA: I havenít read it. And I donít want to, now.
(JACK appears. His nose is bloodied, face bruised. RHONDA heads for the door.)
RHONDA: (to ELIZABETH) Donít forget to vote. Ban the bastards.
JACK: What did you tell him for?
ELIZABETH: Did Ray do that?
JACK: Juliet had to hit him over the head with a bottle.
ELIZABETH: Is he all right?
JACK: Is he all right? Heís fine. Heís sitting in the car opposite our house, right now, waiting for me! Heís lost his marbles. Heís cut our phone line!
ELIZABETH: He wouldnít do that.
JACK: Heís gone mental, I tell you. I had to go over the back fence to get here in one piece.
ELIZABETH: I had to tell him.
JACK: Why? Why did you have to? Heís a maniac.
ELIZABETH: He has a right to know. I was being honest.
JACK: Thereís honest and thereís stupid. Heís a maniac!
ELIZABETH: Heís never been a maniac before.
JACK: Have you ever cheated on him before?
(A cold pause.)
ELIZABETH: You bastard.
JACK: Can you go and get him?
ELIZABETH: I donít think heíll listen to me.
JACK: Tell him itís over.
ELIZABETH: Is it?
JACK: Itís too messy.
JACK: He tried to kill me!
ELIZABETH: The mess is made. We just have to live with it.
JACK: Iím not living with a maniac stalking me! Just get him away from our house, will you?
ELIZABETH: You coward.
JACK: Iím sorry, but itís finished.
ELIZABETH: You bloody coward.
JACK: I thought we were all grown ups.
ELIZABETH: Get out.
(JACK exits. ELIZABETH takes refuge in tidying her wrecked studio. She positions the spattered painting of RAY on the easel. Examines it critically.)
(A small hall
The three large traditional paintings from Act 1 Scene 1 - landscape, portrait, still life - possibly more - indicate the annual agricultural show art competition.
A competition OFFICIAL, a LOCAL VISITOR or two, wander idly through.
The sounds of the show - farm animals, sideshow alley guns, tentshow spruikers, bands, children screaming on rides - can be heard.
ELIZABETH enters carrying a large wrapped painting, accompanied by RHONDA and BILL. RHONDA and BILL view other works.
An OFFICIAL watches idly as ELIZABETH unwraps her entry. Interest becomes less idle as ELIZABETH hangs/reveals the work.
The painting is abstract, but recognisable as the paint-spattered portrait of RAY, to which ELIZABETH has added newer, non-figurative strokes. The sole abstract on show, its vivid splashes of colour and non-naturalistic forms stand out amid the other entries.
The OFFICIAL checks lists, unsure what to make of the work.)
OFFICIAL: Elizabeth, isnít it? What section is this entered in?
(The OFFICIAL maintains a poker face as he/she examines the painting.)
OFFICIAL: How is Ray?
ELIZABETH: Heís well.
OFFICIAL: Itís very daring. Iíll have to check the rules. Excuse me.
(The OFFICIAL goes. RHONDA and BILL examine ìNude In A Vortex.)
BILL: Jesus. What is it?
RHONDA: (Reads) ìNude In A Vortex.
BILL: Has Ray seen this? Is it a comment? On modern art?
ELIZABETH: No. Itís an expression of how I felt about the subject at the time.
BILL: Poor bastard.
ELIZABETH: I beg your pardon?
BILL: Never mind.
ELIZABETH: No. What did you say? Out with it, Bill.
(LOCAL VISITORS are drawn by the hubbub.)
ELIZABETH: What did you say!?
RHONDA: Weíll go.
BILL: I said, have you seen Ray recently?
RHONDA: Heís looking very sunburnt.
BILL: Has he seen what youíve done to him?
(ELIZABETH cracks. Becomes shrill. )
ELIZABETH: Oh for godís sake donít be so bloody ignorant! Why do you have to be so bloody ignorant?
BILL: Mind your mouth, Liz.
ELIZABETH: The rest of the world has accepted expressionism for more than fifty years!
BILL: This isnít the rest of the world. If you want to insult peopleís intelligence with this bilge, go ahead. Itís a free country. And Iím free to tell you itís bilge. I think recent goings on have left you a little unhinged.
ELIZABETH: (Eyeing RHONDA) What's that meant to mean? Go to hell, Bill.
(BILL strides out. RHONDA follows him. The OFFICIAL returns.)
OFFICIAL: Itís not a portrait, Iím afraid.
ELIZABETH: Yes it is, Iím afraid.
OFFICIAL: You must admit itís anatomically indistinct. Our rules specify likeness to subject as fundamental.
(He hands ELIZABETH a sheet of competition rules.)
Iím not saying I donít like it. Itís very daring. But itís not a portrait.
ELIZABETH: Yes it is.
OFFICIAL: Youíll have to take it down.
ELIZABETH: Iím not taking it down.
(ELIZABETH tears up the rules and returns them to the OFFICIAL.)
OFFICIAL: Iím sorry. Iím not making myself clear. It can go in the general section.
ELIZABETH: With the pots?
OFFICIAL: Let me take it down for you.
ELIZABETH: Donít you dare touch it.
(ELIZABETH stands between the OFFICIAL and her painting.)
Iím not taking it down. Itís not coming down. Itís going with the pots over my dead body. Do you understand?
(JACK, JULIET, CLIVE and MAI enter. JACK keeps his distance.)
OFFICIAL: Please, Mrs Finch.
ELIZABETH: Donít you touch me, either. Or Iíll scream.
OFFICIAL: I donít make the rules.
ELIZABETH: The Nuremberg defence. Itís staying here. And so am I.
(ELIZABETH lights an agitated cigarette, snorts agitated smoke.)
CLIVE: We have a success de scandale on our hands, do we?
ELIZABETH: Theyíre trying to disqualify me.
(RAY enters. JACK hides. RAY glowers at JULIET, scans the room for JACK. When he sees ELIZABETH, he seems to calm. His face is red from drink, sun, anger.
He approaches ELIZABETH.)
ELIZABETH: Hello. Youíre terribly burnt.
(RAY looks at the painting.)
RAY: Is this me?
I want to talk.
JULIET: Did you inform on me? Youíre the informant, arenít you? (to ELIZABETH) The headmaster found out Jack and I arenít married. Iíve been suspended.
ELIZABETH: Iím sure Rayís not the culprit. Ray?
JULIET: Are you happy? Weíve been evicted too.
RAY: Why would I do that? I like Juliet. I like you, Juliet.
ELIZABETH: Oh, Ray.
RAY: Iíve decided I believe in sexual freedom. In light of recent events. (to JULIET) How about it? Do you do it?
JULIET: Grow up.
RAY: (to MAI) What about you? Do you do it?
CLIVE: Watch your manners, young man.
RAY: Mind your own business, you silly poof!
(RAY shoves CLIVE. CLIVE stumbles. MAI slaps RAY. RAY reels. Spots JACK, hiding.)
RAY: There you are. You mongrel.
(RAY catches JACK. Scuffle ensues. ELIZABETH tries to pull RAY off. JACK escapes and runs out. RAY goes after him. ELIZABETH follows, then gives up.
The OFFICIAL approaches ìNude In A Vortex, with intent.)
ELIZABETH: Donít you dare!
(She scurries back to protect her work. CLIVE assists.)
CLIVE: Donít be a philistine. Thereís a good man.
(The OFFICIAL abandons the attempt.)
CLIVE: My pleasure.
ELIZABETH: What do you think?
CLIVE: It has merit. Perhaps a little overwrought?
JULIET: Has Ray come home?
JULIET: Our phoneís been cut off. Iím expecting a call from the Party. Can I give them your number?
ELIZABETH: I..I donít see why not. Iím sorry about the phone.
(A dusty, ragged RODEO CLOWN enters, in an agitated state.)
CLOWN: Thereís been an accident.
(A hospital bed. RAY sits up with the local newspaper. Head bandaged, arm in a sling. Winces as he ngrily turns a page.)
ELIZABETH: Can I come in?
RAY: Youíve upstaged the referendum. Are you happy now?
(The front page features ELIZABETHíS painting, headlined ìIs It Art?)
RAY: (Reads) ìIs it art? Local painter in competition furore. ìNude In A Vortex disqualified. ìNude In A Vortex? (reads) ìDegenerate. A Fraud. Obscene.
ELIZABETH: Who said that?
(RAY refuses to relinquish the newspaper.)
RAY: ìNude In A Vortex? What the hellís that? Whereís the nude? Whereís the vortex?
ELIZABETH: How is the referendum count going?
RAY: Too close to call.
ELIZABETH: Theyíve been evicted.
RAY: Good. Run ëem out of town. Better dead than red.
(He gives her the newspaper.)
RAY: Why am I a bloody ìnude in a vortex?
ELIZABETH: Itís not you.
RAY: I posed for the damn thing. Everybody thinks itís me. The nurses all think itís me.
ELIZABETH: It was you. Now itís me.
RAY: I canít see a nude at all. Whereís the nude? Show me the nude.
ELIZABETH: Itís a state of mind. Itís a portrait of a state of mind.
ELIZABETH: How are you feeling?
RAY: You should see the bull. I belted the tripe out of your boyfriend before I got trampled.
ELIZABETH: Heís not my boyfriend.
RAY: I donít want to talk about it.
ELIZABETH: We have to.
RAY: I donít want to talk about it! Ow! (Winces) Jesus Christ.
ELIZABETH: Itís over. Whatever it was, itís over.
RAY: Good. Now please stop talking about it.
ELIZABETH: It wasnít him, anyway.
RAY: Stop bloody talking about it! Shut up!
ELIZABETH: It was the excitement. The adventure.
(He reaches for the buzzer. ELIZABETH keeps it from him.)
ELIZABETH: Not the physical one. The..intellectual one. The ideas. I discovered I like ideas. Talking about ideas. I never even did that at school.
RAY: Give me the buzzer. Nurse!
ELIZABETH: I saw another life, Ray. I was as surprised as you.
RAY: No, you bloody werenít.
ELIZABETH: I didnít even know I was missing anything.
RAY: Shut up, will you? Nurse! Ow!
ELIZABETH: Now I do. I canít go back.
RAY: What does that mean?
ELIZABETH: I want to move to the city.
RAY: Move where you like. Just give me the buzzer!
ELIZABETH: I want you to come.
RAY: I hate the city.
ELIZABETH: You havenít been there. Youíve been to the Easter Show, thatís all.
RAY: That was plenty.
ELIZABETH: Itís dead here. The rest of the world doesnít exist.
RAY: The rest of the worldís just blown itself to bits! Weíre better off out of it.
ELIZABETH: I think I started painting to get out of here, somehow. Youíve got a lot more in your brain than you use, Ray. You might discover a few things about yourself.
RAY: Jesus Iím sick of hearing about the flaming self! Yours, mine, and everybody elseís. Itís all we hear about now. Whatís so important about the flaming bloody self?
ELIZABETH: Whatís that saying? The unexamined life is not worth living.
RAY: Tell it to the starving millions! Tell it to the widows picking over rubbish heaps in Europe. Tell them to stop fighting over that last mouldy turnip skin and examine their lives before itís too late.
ELIZABETH: Youíre being facetious.
RAY: Iím not. I havenít been there. I havenít been anywhere. I donít want to go anywhere. But I teach commerce. And it tells me lifeís about getting a roof over your head and enough to eat. Lifeís about work. Selfís a luxury. Like bloody painting. You paint because youíve got too much time on your hands.
ELIZABETH: Youíre sounding like a communist.
RAY: Maybe I am one. Maybe thatís what Iíll find on my journey of self discovery. Iíll discover Iím a bloody commo. (SHOUTS) Iím a commo! Nurse! Iím a commo!
ELIZABETH: Ray. Please.
RAY: What makes bloody artists think their precious bloody self is interesting to other people?
ELIZABETH: I donít paint for other people.
RAY: You hang it on other peopleís walls! You exhibit it! Youíre all flaming exhibitionists. You parade your selves like psychiatric strippers! Pseudo-intellectual strippers at that. Modern art just proves that most artistsí inner selfs are blockheads.
ELIZABETH: Iíll go.
RAY: Honesty doesnít make you interesting.
ELIZABETH: I hope you feel better.
(Jack and Julietís house.
The sound of cool jazz rises in darkness. Voodoo bongo rhythms. An eviction-and-referendum-victory party is in progress. Laughter. Loud talk. Shrieks. Breaking glass. Revving engines in the street outside. The full neighbourís nightmare.
An angry NEIGHBOUR knocks loudly.
MAI, naked, laughing wildly, a lampshade over her head, runs past the NEIGHBOUR.)
NEIGHBOUR: Hello!? Hello!?
(JACK appears, drink in hand, smoking. Bruised and with a black eye.)
Iím calling the police.
(A bottle smashes. The NEIGHBOUR ducks.)
JACK: Be neighbourly, comrade. Come in. Have a drink.
NEIGHBOUR: Iím calling the police if you donít turn it down.
JACK: Did you vote yes? Tough cheddar.
(The NEIGHBOUR scuttles off and meets ELIZABETH arriving. In bohemian-if-newish capri pants and black mohair jumper.)
ELIZABETH: Good evening, Mr Stevens.
NEIGHBOUR: You are a disgrace. Iím calling the police.
JACK: We won.
(He embraces her. She does not respond warmly.)
JACK: Theyíre kicking us out tomorrow anyway.
(JACK breaks from ELIZABETH as he sees RAY across the street.(in his car.))
Ray coming in?
ELIZABETH: He wants to stay in the car.
He still voted no.
JACK: Very liberal of him.
(Lights rise as JACK/ELIZABETH enter the party. CLIVE, MAI, the SCHOOLBOY SURREALIST, RUSSELL the POET and others, drink, smoke, dance. RUSSELL sits cross-legged, possibly naked, playing bongos, chanting a beat poem. No sign of JULIET.
Modiglianiís ìNu Couche has been replaced by Zverevís semi-abstract of Christ.)
(He turns the gramaphone down and starts singing ìThe International.)
JACK: Comrades! Victory!
CLIVE: 52,082 votes! A grand final football crowd. A thrashing. A veritable thrashing.
JACK: A glorious triumph over Ming and the forces of reaction.
CLIVE: It was bloody close.
JACK: If just 26,000 voters had gone the other way, I could have been denied a job in the public service.
CLIVE: Stay away from Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania anyway.
JACK: Comrades. Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking..
(Laughter and cheers.)
JACK: It gives me great pleasure to announce that after thirty years of imperial conflict, class warfare, and fascism, the past is officially over.
JACK: We have the chance to create a new future, in which materialism and conformity are scorned as a tragic dead end, unworthy of the human spirit. We are not burdened by history in this country. We are blessed with natural and hard won social advantage. The baton is passed to us. We must not waste this chance.
(Whistles and cheers.)
We start tomorrow morning.
(Laughter. CLIVE brings ELIZABETH a drink.)
CLIVE: Welcome to the catastrophe.
(They watch JACK attempt to chat up MAI, now more or less clad.)
Sheís too smart for him. So are you. What are your plans?
ELIZABETH: I donít have any.
CLIVE: Go to Europe. The light is different. Itís painterís light. The light in this country is shocking.
Is that your husband across the street?
(JACK dances with MAI. ELIZABETH watches, looks for JULIET. No sign.)
CLIVE: I donít generally dance. But I could make an exception.
ELIZABETH: I might get some fresh air.
(She goes to RAY, out of his car, smoking. His arm is still in a sling. She gives him a drink.)
ELIZABETH: This is silly, Ray. Why donít you just come in?
(RAY does not answer.)
Go home then.
Nothingís going to happen.
I canít go back.
RAY: I donít want you to.
ELIZABETH: Please come in.
(RAY shakes his head.)
Do what you like.
(ELIZABETH returns to the the party and goes out into the back yard. She finds JULIET, seated on the ground, one-handedly rolling a cigarette, flagon beside her.)
(JULIET, expressionless, speaks without looking up.)
JULIET: Art must go back to the cave.
ELIZABETH: Iím beyond the cave. I need my hot water service. And my vacuum cleaner. What are you doing out here?
JULIET: Iíve been to the phone.
ELIZABETH: Iím sorry.
JULIET: I knew theyíd say no. Iím a bourgeois formalist. The bastards wouldnít know a bourgeois formalist if she bit them. Iím a good commo art teacher in a hostile environment. Iím just trying to raise some bloody money for the cause.
(ELIZABETH sits with her.)
JULIET: Art must go back to the cave. A universal ancestor lurks in the back of the brain. Iím serious.
ELIZABETH: I know you are. Are you?
JULIET: She waits to strike up preliterate collective conversation with anyone who will roll away the stone. Thereís nothing new. There is more than this.
ELIZABETH: Which particular this are you referring to?
JULIET: This this. (Waves her hand) This.
Iíve given it a lot of thought. Iíve concluded that Iím sick to death of Jack, too.
ELIZABETH: What will you do?
JULIET: Thereís a national shortage of good commo art teachers. The department will send me somewhere else. Iíll pay off my bond and go overseas. I saw Ray out front. Are you moving to Sydney?
ELIZABETH: He wonít budge. Neither will I.
JULIET: Then you have the basis for a continued relationship. Do you need somewhere to stay?
ELIZABETH: Not yet.
(CLIVE and JACK wander out.)
JACK: Comrades. Thereís a flagon missing.
JULIET: Jackís the bourgeois formalist. Not me. (to JACK) They kiboshed the exhibition.
JACK: Donít let parochial small mindedness ruin a glorious day.
JULIET: Zverevís not in the union.
CLIVE: I beg your pardon?
JULIET: Zverev. Him on the wall inside. They said heís not in the Painters Union.
JACK: The manís a scab?
CLIVE: Shut up, Jack. Who said he wasnít?
JULIET: I thought he would be a drawcard for the fundraiser.
CLIVE: Who said he wasnít in the union?
JACK: Righto. Everybody out. Thereís a scab painting on the premises.
CLIVE: Shut up, will you?
JULIET: Moscow. Moscow said. The secretary told me. They checked with Moscow.
JACK: The Partyís pulling your leg, my sweet.
ELIZABETH: Shut up, for godís sake.
CLIVE: (to JULIET) Jesus Christ. Youíll get him arrested. You idiot girl. Youíll get him sent to a camp.
CLIVE: The manís a recluse. He lives from hand to mouth and only sells to friends, who keep the work hidden. He canít exhibit. A friend sold it to another friend who sold it to me. Illegally, and with trepidation. I gave it to you as a friend. Not to flaunt.
JULIET: Iím sorry. Iím sorry.
(RAY enters, tops up his drink, lights a cigarette, mingles, unseen by the others.)
CLIVE: Heís not Picasso. Heís not famous and he has to live in Russia. He has to keep his head down! Smuggling to the west could get him shot.
JACK: Theyíre pulling her leg. Theyíre not game to say they donít like the painting themselves.
CLIVE: They contacted Moscow because Moscow is overseas and therefore knows better than us. Why would the CPA be immune to the national inferiority complex?
(JULIET utters a low, elongated wail. Starts to sob.
JULIET: Itís just a painting. Itís even a little painting! Whatís wrong with them? Itís just a little painting! Heís ruined it, hasnít he? Stalin. The ugly bastardís poisoned the idea for everyone else. Itís just a little painting, you stupid murdering bastard!
JACK: China will be different.
JULIET: The idea will never recover. The babyís dead in the bathwater.
CLIVE: Lower your sights a little.
JULIET: (With disgust) How low? How low, Clive?
CLIVE: Assume that anything based on the worst in human nature is bound to succeed, and work your way up, little by little.
CLIVE: Believe a little less hard. Free your mind of cant. Discover the joy of being lukewarm.
(ELIZABETH notices RAY, inside.)
JULIET: Retreat. Retreat into the purely personal. Like this prick. (Jack) Stalin of Roslyn Gardens. Stalin of bohemia. Retreat and join Stalin of navel gazing in the full flowering of the cult of the self. Is that the only choice left?
(ELIZABETH slips away and joins RAY.)
RAY: Somethingís occurred to me. Is this why we havenít had children?
RAY: Is this why we havenít had children?
ELIZABETH: I donít understand you.
RAY: Are you holding out? Inside, somehow.
ELIZABETH: We have regular..relations.
RAY: Your bloody self is holding out, isnít it. Because it wants more.
(She slaps him.)
ELIZABETH: That is a very cruel thing to say.
RAY: The truth. Isnít it?
ELIZABETH: I donít know. I know Iíve tried. Iíve tried.
RAY: Somethingís not right.
ELIZABETH: Maybe itís you with the mental block.
RAY: Maybe it is.
RAY: Weíve had the medicals. Somethingís gumming up the works.
(ELIZABETH walks away, outside. Lights a cigarette, looks at the stars, the big, deep country sky.
Inside, RAY flicks his cigarette into a pile of brushes, palettes, turps bottles, paint-spattered rags, cleared for the party. A rag begins to burn as dark descends.
The sound of a fire engine, accompanied by a red flashing light.)
(Near Aix-en-Provence, France. A cafe. 2009
A large reproduction of a Cezanne ìMont Sainte-Victoire hangs as the landscape behind the cafe.
JULIA, early 20s, sketches at an outdoor table. She wears the dress worn by ELIZABETH in scene 1.
A WAITER delivers two coffees and a bill.)
(ISOBEL enters. Early 20s. Dark jeans, t-shirt, sandals, a ìretro bohemian look. Neo-JULIET. She carries a fat European Travel Guide. She admires JULIAíS dress.)
ISOBEL: I want that dress, Julia.
JULIA: St Vincent de Paul. Authentic ë50s. Get your own.
(JULIA points into the distance)
Cezanne painted that mountain 35 times. Hundreds more if you count the watercolours.
ISOBEL: Did he get it right in the end?
JULIA: Ha ha. Close enough for a postcard.
(She displays a postcard.)
JULIA: I bought his full set.
(She fans a selection of postcards.)
ìThe Card Players, ìStill Life With Basket of Apples, ìBoy with Red Vest, more apples. You only really see what he was on about when you come here. (She displays a postcard.) "Still Life With Fruit". This was the sheep in formaldehyde of its day. Sort of.
(Quotes) ìThe bourgeoisieís response to provocative art is to turn it into expensive furniture.
ISOBEL: Yeah, right.
JULIA: My high school art teacher said that. He reckoned he was a communist. Silly old fart.
ISOBEL: I want to go to Cuba before itís too late.
(She examines the bill.)
GSTís nearly 20% here.
JULIA: We have to go the embassy today.
ISOBEL: There isnít one.
JULIA: We have to vote.
ISOBEL: Fuck it They wouldnít know a vision if it bit them on the arse.
(ISOBEL unsurely places some coins on the saucer.)
Is service included?
(JULIA shrugs. ISOBEL attracts the unsmiling WAITERíS attention.)
ISOBEL: Pardon, monsieur. Service compris?
(The WAITER exits.)
ISOBEL: He better be careful or he wonít get anything.
(JULIA adds a couple more small coins.)
© Tim Gooding
1 March 2004
All songs, lyrics, stageplays and photographs on this site are © Tim Gooding for the world, with the exception of *