Monday, 11 June 2012

EXCLUSIVE: 'Contentious Minds' serialized on MM Centenary - Act 1, scene 1


Contentious Minds: The Mary McCarthy/Lillian Hellman Affair.

By Ben Pleasants &
Jennifer Gundy

WRITER’S COPY FOR TECH RUN THRU

















PROLOGUE: Laura stands in front of a dark stage dressed as she will appear in Act IV Scene II. She is instructive, a tour guide. She holds an unopened umbrella.

Laura
Storms in literature are often caused when the cool dry winds of reason and analysis meet the torrid wetness of passion and imagination. This storm, between Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy, had been building for forty years before it exploded into a celebrated lawsuit in 1980. Such subjects, borne along over such a great length of time, defy the definition of modern theatre, with its single set and confining unities – but there’s another theatre better suited to the storms and sweeps of history, where peasants once stood but a sword’s length from Kings and the roof was open to the light of day, to the wind and rain. There where the comic often verges on the tragedy and forests moved across the stage, I choose to take you now. There is no living room to settle down in, no coffess table comforts, just a battlefield set out between two women in full armour. (Umbrella opens.) So, hold tight to your umbrellas and we’ll venture out togetherinto a rainy autumn night on Cape Cod, where Puritans once lived, uncomfortable beside Bohemians. The year is 1946. World War II is over and there is peace in the land, but other struggles are still going on, other conflicts that never seem to end; they’re with us today, in a place where minds don’t meet.
(Laura _____________________)













                                                                                        


Act one: Scene One:
The set is a suggestion of a rundown restaurant on Cape Cod. It’s autumn. They year is 1946. There is a booth upstage right and another downstage left. Radio is on and then fades as lights go off.

Mary McCarthy
(Mary McCarthy is dressed in a gray suit. She fumbles around in darkness, then sits down. She’s thirty - four but looks nineteen.)
Tom
(He’s twenty - one in a mock sailor suit and enters with a flashlight.) Where did YOU come from? What are you doing out on a night like this?
Mary
I’m supposed to meet my husband here. My ex - husband.  (Rises.)  I’m Mary McCarty.
Tom
Thomas Richard Harold Polk III. Tom, Dick and Harry. Drink?
Mary
Martini. (Pulls out a cigarette. He lights it and then lights a candle.)
Tom
Where’s he coming from? Your ex - husband?
Mary
Wellfleet. He had our son for the weekend.
Tom
(Mixing a drink in a Martini shaker.) The road from Wellfleet is washed out.
Mary
I suspect he’ll try to call. If the phone’s still working.
Tom
(Spills the drink on Mary’s arm.) I’m so sorry.
Mary
You’re a bit unsteady for a waiter.
TOM
War wound. Want to see my scar? (Wind comes up again.)
MARY
I’ll pass on that. Sounds like the roof might come up. I love storms. They are the imperative sentences of weather.
TOM
You’re funny. How’s your drink?
MARY
Quickly effective. Which way is the ladies’ room?
TOM
(Points and hands her the candle?)
MARY
Thanks. (She heads off into the darkness stepping cautiously.)
LILLIAN HELLMAN (Laura hands Lillian umbrella)
(Bursts in all wet with a battered umbrella. She’s forty and fighting it.)
Goddam little four-eyed chink cab driver left me out in a mud puddle up to my ass in freezing water. (She wipes her glasses and looks around.) Where’s Arthur? He was supposed to meet me here. I can’t see a thing.

TOM
Would you…(Shines a flashlight)
LILY
(Hitches up her skirt and tries to pull down one stocking). Help me off with this FUCKING thing.
TOM
(Bends down to pull off garter).
I don’t know where to start!
LILY
Just yank it off!
TOM
Like this? (Pulls it down and hands it to her soaking wet).
LILY
Little goddamn nips! (She flicks the stocking into the air and hits Mary in the face as she re-enters.)
TOM
(Overlaps Lily.) Would you like a…drink?
LILY
You’re goddamned right I’d like a drink. Double scotch. (Pulls out a wet pack of cigarettes but throws on the floor.) Lucky Strike. (To Mary) What the hell are you looking at?
MARY
I believe I’m addressing Miss Hell man.
LILY
What of it? (She sits down and pulls off the other stocking handing it to Mary).
TOM
All we have are Chesterfields. (He opens the pack and extracts a cigarette).
LILY
Good enough. Chester feels me, who feels you. Light me.
TOM
Sure.
LILY
(To Mary.) You look familiar. (Wipes glasses again.)
MARY
I was married to a friend of yours. Till he beat me.
LILY
(faces her squarely and then takes a good luck.) where’s the goddam scotch? Hmmm. (Remembers something). Oh yes. The girl who worked her way across the circumcised landscape of the Partisan Review. Bunny’s wife. Mrs Wilson! (Satisfied with herself).
Mary
I was married to Edmund, but I’ve always been Mary McCarthy!
Lily
Oh yes of course. Maybe I met you once in the Thirties. At a party. The very partisan Review Crowd. You and Rahv and Clem and James T. Farrell. One big Trotskyite family, till they axed him. Poor Leon. But I do recall…You write about the theatre. Reviews.
Tom
Here’s your scotch. Johnny Walker Black. Still hard to get. (He wobbles the glass, but doesn’t spill it.)
Mary
(Holding her own.) Criticism. Not reviews. (The lights go on.)
Lily
(Lights go up.) (She touches Mary’s hair – send a shiver through her body.) We look like two lonely broads in a typhoon on the North Atlantic. The war is over and WE won. (To Tom) I’d like a chowder, if you can bring it in without spilling any on my shoes.
Tom
I’ll try. (Exits, flouncing to annoy her.)
Lily
(To Tom.) Girls seldom make passes at men who wear dresses. Sit with me dear. The Thirtoes are over. Long over. We’re on the same side now.
Mary
(They sit down together.) I wouldn’t go that far. But the war is over and we did win. So I guess you could say we’re on the same side. For now. (Offers her hand.)
Tom
(Interrupting handshake.) Hot chowder coming through.
Lily
You spilled it on my dress.
Tom
(Reaching for water with a napkin.)
Lily
Never mind. Go back to the kitchen.
Tom
(Exits.)
Mary
(Laughs and gives him a wink.)
Lily
(Still worried about her face. Takes compact from purse and opens it.) My face looks like a piece of driftwood.
Mary
Driftwood can be beautiful!
Lily
Let me look at you. So you’re Edmunds wife.
Mary
I was for seven years. Now I’m…not.
Lily
(Looks at her face as a playwright looks at an auditioning actress.) So lovely. Mary. That’s a plain name. How old are you dear?
Mary
Thirty – four.  (With and edge.) And you, Miss Hellman?
Lily
(Choosing to ignore the question.) How amazing you could be nineteen.
Mary
It can be a concern. Especially with students. Edmund had a problem with it. I think he would of preferred a wife of nineteen who looked thirty – four. You choose not to tell me how old YOU are.
Lily
Don’t be impertinent. You can look it up in Who’s Who if you really care. So…(takes a wider look at Mary.) that’s why I never matched the face with the blazing prose. The way you do your hair is a little odd.
Mary
Sometimes driftwood can look just like iron.
Lily
A little school – marmish, aren’t you?
Mary
Not to the men in the circumcised landscape of a Partisan Review. Or those I recall who had a foreskin. Even Edmund.
Lily
Making love to Edmund must have been a bit like fucking the Oxford English Dictionary.
Mary
(Laughs.) The OED is sexier!
Lily
(Returns the laugh.) What was I saying? Oh yes that you were married to Edmund Wilson.
Mary
And we managed to procreate. A son. He’s seven. And you?
Lily
Me? Oh…no. No child. Just dogs. I’ve been unlucky with husbands. Too weak. I could never take them seriously.
Mary
My first husband died in a fore trying to rescue his unproduced pay. An actor. He was too old for me and besides, he was losing his hair.
Lily
I can think of one produced play of mine that should have burned up in a fire before it was produced. I suppose with men, Tallulah had it right. All things being equal, she preferred a tall man.
Mary
She was quoting from the French. They get it right so often about men. Choosing a man is like choosing a dress. It keeps you happy for a few days and then goes out of fashion. (She reflects.) I saw your play, “The Children’s Hour” and liked it much.
Lily
(Boring in.) Did you? What did you like about it specifically? I mean as a theatre critic?
Mary
I liked the way it took chances. You wrote about something Broadway fears: a women’s sexuality. What happened to those two women…
Lily
(Shows pride in her creation.) Karen and Martha…
Mary
That was a real tragedy. It was based on something factual… Something …true, yes?
Lily
Yes, but not in my life. From long ago in Scotland. Hammet found it in a book. I just mixed it all together in a good Martini.
Tom
(Crosses to their table.) Another drink?
Mary
Martini sounds splendid. It just rolls off my tongue. MARTINI.
Tom
And you, Miss Hellman?
Lily
I could do with a Lucky Strike. And take away this chowder if that’s what you call it.
Tom
We only have Chesterfields. (Exits.)
Mary
I recall in 1935, I think it was, when Lucky Strike was on the boycott list. We all smoked Walter Raleighs.
Lily
I remember that. Sir Walter Raleighs. (Exacts name. Tries to get this right-) Now you in your stories, the two or three I’ve read, DO write about personal things. Very personal things. Am I right?
MARY
(Laughs). Yes. (Seeing if she can trust her.) At times.
LILY
Sleeping with a businessman on a train on your way to Reno while waiting for a divorce. I was told that really happened. (Beat.) To you.
MARY
(Laughs.) Well…some of it…(Drinks) I was on my way back from Reno…to New York. Most of it did happen, if I were to be truthful, but then…life isn’t Chekhov, is it?
LILY
No, life isn’t Chekhov. (Laughs.) But…the story I’ve always wondered about…was the one about the dogs…where they shipped them through the mail to have their portraits done in miniature…live dogs…(Laughs) and some of them arrived crazy…
TOM
(Enters) More drinks. (Puts them down. Exits)
MARY
(Impressed with the face that Lillian gets miniature right – the detail). And some of them, arrived dead…(Laughs at the thought of it.)
LILY
(Belts back another and roars with laughter.) no really…was that true?
MARY
All true. I was the office manager of the gallery for a brief time. Deep in the Depression. Took me months to get my salary. (Money is always short.) and you, Miss Hellman, as long as we are letting down out hair together before the fire (She does.) did you ever…you and Hammey…want a child? (Studies her carefully, waiting for the reply.)
LILY
(Suddenly frosts over.) Why would you ask that?
MARY
Well…it’s just…logical…to ask a woman who loves men…who writes about…passion…if she ever wanted to be (Beat) a mother.
LILY
When I was in the USSR during the war I kept a journal out there in all that mud on my way to Poland. I showed it to Dottie when I got back. But what I remember most was not in my journal.
MARY
Dottie?
LILY
Dorothy Parker. My closest friend. Do you have…close friends Miss McCarthy? Women, I mean?
MARY
Mrs. Parker of the nineteen twenties. I saw her once in the thirties. She rallied the guests at the Waldorf in support of a waiter’s strike. The best dressed strikers I’ve ever seen. Cole Porter played the Internationale. (He didn’t).
LILY
That was almost before your time.
MARY
So was Mrs. Parker, though she struggles to keep her nose above water these days.
LILY
We all have our moment to shine. If the talent is there. Did you read Dorothy Parker while you were in college, Miss McCarthy? I assume you want the best….institution.
MARY
Vassar. Yes, I read her with delight. She could write of love with wit and elan.
LILY
She writes what she knows.
TOM
Two more martinis. (Thunder comes up.) And one for me. If waiters can strike, they can sit with the customers. (Lights up another cigarettes, but doesn’t smoke it.)
(There is an awkward pause)
LILY
I see (Touching her cheek) you have bruises on your face. Yes. (Thinking.) Yes, I wanted to have a child once. I was pregnant (Hesitantly) a few times. (Pauses in pain) But…(she fumbles for a cigarette and Tom lights it).
MARY
Men can be such children about sex. As if children were the object of all that passion. One way to own you, I suppose. We women are always contending for our place in their world. What men fear most is out…intelligence. Go on.
LILY
(Extends her hand and McCarthy shakes it.
When I drink too much I usually get a call from someone like my friend Dottie, but of course she drinks too much and talks too much and then we laugh at…being women. That’s the thing. How to contend with men and still remain…
MARY
Feminine. (That strikes a chord with her as the rain comes down hard again.)
LILY
I’ll tell you a little bit of what I didn’t write in my Russian journal. Under bombardment for on hundred days. (She stops to consider – tries to remember the feel of it – but breaks the thought.) and where was Rahv and where was Edmund and where was Dwight McDonald? On the sidelines. All pacifists. Well, I was there. A woman out in the mud in fucking Poland. And I did drink and I did fuck the soldiers. One great big Georgian officer would tug on the flap of my tent and drag off my awful wool nightmares. He’d fling his great boots out into the mud after I tugged them off and then he’d put me down on that squeaky little cot…


TOM
(He does, but picks up his, looks at it, and puts it out.) (To Lillian -) God. This is fun.
MARY
That’s interesting. I am impressed. (Phone rings.)
LILY
It’s just that in desperate times love seems hopeless and sex is more real than life. Sex like that is not about having children.
TOM
Miss McCarthy. You have a call.
MARY
Me. (Stops to look at herself in the mirror then goes to phone.)
LILY
(phone)
(Looks at compact as Tom lights her cigarette). Wait. Oh well. We can’t all look like a John Singer Sergeant painting.
MARY
Yes. I got here with some difficulty. You’ll never guess who’s here with me. I’d rather not say. If you can’t come by tonight, he’ll drive me home. Poor dear. Let him sleep. Yes. The Near You Café. No hard feelings? Good. (Hangs up, then dials again.) Edmund can’t make it. Yes darling. You’d better come and pick me up. The rain’s slowing down. Love you too. (Hangs up phone.) Bring me a champagne cocktail. (Goes back to table.) One for the road.
LILY
And I’ll take a scotch neat. If this is one of those dinner I have to pay for myself, I’d rather drink it.
MARY
Not like being in the old Soviet Union where everything for the American writer was provided free. Paid for by the State. You speak Russian?
LILY
(She doesn’t) I’m translating Chekhov. His letters. I’m sure you’re fluent in something.
MARY
(Quotes Verlaine).
Hier, on parlait de choses et d’autres,
Et mes yeux aliieant recherchant les votres;
French. I’m not bad in Latin either. Catholic school.

TOM
Here you are ladies. (Spills them both.) I’ll only charge you half price.
LILY
Very impressive. Tallulah speaks the filthiest French. Like sailors. (To Tom.) No offense. (Tom exits.) They should put her in the Flapper Museum when she dies. Along with Zelda Fitzgerald. (Laughs.) The last time I saw Scott…
MARY
You  knew Scott Fitzgerald?
LILY
Of course I knew him. In Hollywood. He needed money. His stuff will never make it back! Never. It seems so juvenile in 1946. I suppose Edmund spoke of him.
MARY
You mean at night when we were making love between the covers of the Oxford English Dictionary? I met him too. Scott. After the world had worn him down. He was just a shadow of himself. I never Zelda. Better bring my bill.
TOM
(Exits)

LILY
Losing her train of thought.) Hmmmm…
MARY
After Scott died, Edmund spoke of him as though he’d been a friend of Keats. It’s hard to believe the two of us could ever have pro-created. (Accent on the last syllable to emphasize creation.)
TOM
(Brings bill.) Your bill. I’ve deducted for spillage.
MARY
I’d take up a new occupation if I were you. Television.
TOM
I’ll probably end up owning this place. The Cape gets into your blood, you know. (Exits.)


MARY
(A car honks.) Well.  It has been interesting.  For me.  Tell me this… Why do we spend so much time contending with men, when both of us know we’re smarter than they are?
LILY
(They laugh sadly together – it’s almost a sigh.)  You tell me.
MARY
Well.. (Thinking.)  Who knew George Elliott was a woman?  It was all there on the page…better than Henry James.
LILY
What was all there on the page?
MARY
Brilliance!  Fame!  Logic!
LILY
Fame is an elevator ride up the asshole of time.
MARY
A line from your new play?  That’s absolutely…Quoteable.  Yours?
LILY
All mine.  Sorry I can’t sit here trading quips with you all night.  I don’t know your work that well.  Only the story about sex on the train and the one about the dead dogs shipped through the mail.  But I’ll look for your name Miss McCarthy.
MARY
Call me Mary.
LILY
Mary.  It might be a name worth remembering.
MARY
I do hope so, next time I get into an elevator.  (Pays bill.)  Goodbye, Miss Hellman.
LILY
Lillian.


MARY
Lillian.  It has been fun.
LILY
(Touches her arm.)  Before you leave…since we’ve been so chummy, you and I, the Stalinist and the Trotskyite, tell me something bourgeois about Mary McCarthy.  Something small.
MARY
(Putting on her coat.)  I do hate cleaning.  I was not brought up to be a chambermaid.
LILY
Me either.  (Helps her on with her coat.)
MARY
And you, Lillian?  What is there bourgeois about Lillian Hellman?
LILY
I love fur coats.
MARY
So did Stalin’s wife till she shot herself.  (Exits.)
LILY
Young man, please come here.  Show me your arms.  You might have to carry me out over that river out there.  Poor Arthur couldn’t carry a bag of potatoes from the car to his door.
TOM
See.  Want to see my scar.  (Shows her his muscles.)  Did you really make that up?
LILY
What?
TOM
Fame is an elevator ride up the asshole of time.

 LILY
Oh that.  No.  The elevator operator in my New York apartment said that.  He’s a nobody, and I have a good ear for dialogue.  Now light me another Lucky Strike.  Chesterfield.  (As he holds up the pack.)  Maybe Arthur won’t show up at all.  (Paws his good arm.)  Maybe I’ll just have to make do with you.  Do I know your name?
TOM
Thomas Richard Harold Polk III.  Tom, Dick and Harry.  (Counts his money.)
LILY
Something wrong?
TOM
Women never tip well.
*(Lights fade.)