Nigel Devenport and Di Shaw in the Perth production
One part of me fiddles while Rome burns, and while the other part perishes in the flames, a martyr giving birth to the soul of an idea. One part of me is the author of my last play tearing his hair in a piteous frenzy as he watches his worser half play the lead and distorting the theme by many strange grimaces. Believe me, from line to line, the poor wretch can never tell whether the play is a farce or a tragedy; so perverse a spirit is his star. Eugene O'Neill 1918
The opening scene of Eugene and Carlotta, a play by Lois Achimovich. Its first performance was at The Playhouse, Perth, September-October 1985.
© 1985, 1994, 1996, 1997 Lois Achimovich
ACT ONE SCENE ONE: MAINE 1926
Maine, the summer home of ELIZABETH Marbury. CARLOTTA stands on middle level looking into the distance. AGNES downstage on deck with ELIZABETH. Baby carriage near them.
AGNES: It's so unfair. (Pause) Oh, I just want to lie here and never move again.
ELIZABETH: Kids are tough. They'll get over it.
AGNES: They'll be heartbroken.
ELIZABETH: The boy's mother can see to it. And you can send your daughter to a summer camp or something.
AGNES: They've just arrived and he wants to send them away. Why couldn't he make up his mind before we left Bermuda?
ELIZABETH: He can't stand 'children in squads', not even his own.
AGNES: It's only for a month, Elizabeth. How can I send them away? I want the little ones to know the older ones. Little Shane spends so much time alonehe's growing into a solitary like his father. I want the children here. All of them!
ELIZABETH: Don't fuss, Agnes, it's so suburban.
AGNES: Fuss. Did you say fuss? I only see Barbara on vacations. He insists that she live with my parents. I've given up writing for him. I won't give up any more. I'm not a puppet!
ELIZABETH: Oh, can it, Agnes! What do you want? He used to be such a hellraiser. He's given up drinkingand that's a damned miracle! (Exit CARLOTTA)
AGNES : And I'm supposed to be grateful for that?
ELIZABETH: He's a pussy cat now!
AGNES: He flies off the handle all the time!
ELIZABETH: He's an artist!
AGNES: And so possessive! He actually said to mejust after Shane was born'Remember: I am your first born son!' And I thought he was joking!
ELIZABETH: OK so I'm biased. I'm his agent. I want him to write. Babies screaming and kids fightinghe can't stand all that.
AGNES: All that! All that is life, Elizabeth!
ELIZABETH: Oh, really.
EUGENE (voice): Hey, is anybody up there? Hello! (Pause)
AGNES: Is that Eugene?
EUGENE (voice): Will somebody get me a towel?
ELIZABETH: Come up on the deck and get it yourself!
AGNES: What's he doing here?
ELIZABETH: Did he hear us?
AGNES: I don't care whether he heard us or not. What's he doing here?
ELIZABETH: Catch! I don't know.
EUGENE (entering): What's that? Something about life. Life's a tragedy, hurrah! Ah. Hello, darling. That was grand! Not as good as the ocean but not bad! Must be a mile or more across that lake. My whole body's vibrating.
ELIZABETH: Shivering to death more like! (She exits) Carlotta! Carlotta! We have company.
EUGENE: Forgiven your evil man?
(EUGENE holds out towel to AGNES, who pauses, then takes it.)
AGNES: You really try my patience, Eugene. (She begins to dry his hair. ELIZABETH re-enters)
AGNES (to ELIZABETH): So Carlotta's staying on?
EUGENE: She better be stayingI'm taking her boating this afternoon.
ELIZABETH: Oh. She never goes near the watershe can't swim.
EUGENE: Well, I've persuaded her.
(Enter CARLOTTA, with tea for AGNES and ELIZABETH and hot chocolate for EUGENE)
CARLOTTA: I'm afraid he has. Hello, Agnes, how are you?
EUGENE: Ah, hot chocolate! Wonderful!
CARLOTTA: Hello, Eugene. Almost on time. (Gives him chocolate) Look at youyou're blue. It can't be sensible to chill your body so. Aren't you consumptive?
EUGENE: Call me a reformed drunk, an insomniac, the carrier of a few million malaria bugsbut not consumptive! The sanatorium fixed thatthey recommend cold, and intense exercisethe mortification of the flesh! I need the cold. It makes me feel alive. (CARLOTTA begins to serve tea.) I tried to swim to the moon once. When I was drunk. Damned near made it too, but Agnes came after me in a rowboat and hauled me aboard.
AGNES : So you're staying on, Carlotta?
ELIZABETH: I don't know what I'd do without her. She's my pearl of great price. I'd like to keep her forever. She's so beautiful and so efficienteverything runs smoothly. You know I want to adopt her.
AGNES: You're not serious.
ELIZABETH: Yes indeed. I wrote her mother about it. I have no heirs and I love her. My little treasure! She has become my nearest and dearest. Unfortunately she seems to have lost interest in me. The servants find her a hard taskmaster, but I just love her to death!
CARLOTTA: Nothing upsets a home so much as quarrelsome servants. (To AGNES) Eugene says you're writing a new play together.
AGNES: That's not strictly truehe writes, I offer constructive criticism.
CARLOTTA: How wonderful!
AGNES : We worked together on Welded and it was a terrible flop. Disastrous houses. Disastrous reviews.
EUGENE: Disastrous production!
AGNES: Oh, Gene!
CARLOTTA: Oh, I do love the theatre. I rarely perform any more, what with this and that. But I maintain an interest. I just read and read and read my eyes out. (Pause) I just read all of de Maupassant.
AGNES: Well! Then you must read Strange Interlude and give us your opinion. It's about a woman who needs the love of three men to feel whole...
EUGENE: While her own love goes to anotherher son.
CARLOTTA: Three men! Good lord!
EUGENE: It's a common weakness.
EUGENE: Sure. A woman who's unable to find satisfaction in just one man.
AGNES: Gene thinks she should need nothing else, not children, not friends, not anything.
ELIZABETH: Let me get this straight. You're saying that a woman is weakweakif she doesn't devote herself to one man?
EUGENE: That's right. It's her destiny. Sure. You've read Freud.
ELIZABETH: Anatomy is destiny, right?
AGNES: Eugene believes that a couple should enough for each other.
CARLOTTA: Well, I'm sure the new play will be a hit, and hugely successful.
EUGENE: We could do with it at the moment, with all the offspring. (To AGNES) Have you told them?
ELIZABETH: Maybe it's the man who needs to be worshipped.
EUGENE (To AGNES) : Why not?
ELIZABETH: Maybe it could be written from the point of view of one of the men?
EUGENE: I want the older children sent home.
AGNES: Can we leave this till later, Gene?
EUGENE : I can't work with them around!
ELIZABETH: Stop it, you two! (Silence)
EUGENE: Sorry. I'm sorry. About now I could use a drink! Giving up booze is like getting over leprosy. You feel so normal with nothing to be normal about. You miss playing solitaire with your scales.
ELIZABETH: Oh, Eugene!
EUGENE: When I was drinking, I'd live for weeks in the no-man's land between the DTs and reality. Just me and my phantoms. Now they're gonewhat's left? A void. And when I'm writing, it's worse. One part of me fiddles while Rome burns. The other perishes in the flames, a martyr giving birth to the soul of an idea. Half of me is the author of the next play, tearing his hair out as he watches the other half play the lead, distorting the theme with many strange grimaces. Believe me, from moment to moment, this poor fool can't tell whether it's farce or tragedy, so perverse a spirit is his star.
ELIZABETH: All this self flagellationit's quite unnecessary.
EUGENE: I know that, but I whip myself anywayand Agnes and the children. Sometimes I don't know how you put up with me.
AGNES: I wonder myself.
EUGENE: Those years on Skid Row. Damned near killed me. Drunken brawls in every flea-bitten bar from New York to Buenos Aires. I've met 'em all. Crazy radicals. Failed artists. Lost souls on their way to hell. And yetsometimes, sometimes, I feel that's the only real living I've ever done.
CARLOTTA: Really, you're depressing us all. Write something with a happy ending.
EUGENE: Are there any happy endings in life? (Pause)
AGNES: I think I'll take the baby home now.
ELIZABETH: Stay, Agnes, and keep me company. And you (to EUGENE)off with youtry to forget all that Sturm und Drang and relax for once.
AGNES: I must be get back to the cottagethe older two are on their own.
CARLOTTA: I'll return in time to fix you a drink, Elizabeth. Goodbye Agnes. (exits)
EUGENE: Darling. The children? Please. I need to have free rein with my work. Right, Bess?
ELIZABETH: Leave me out of it. I prefer my dramas on the stage.
EUGENE: You're so stubborn.
AGNES: Me stubborn?
EUGENE: I'm not asking much, for God's sake.
AGNES: I've given enough, Eugene. I'm not giving up any more.
EUGENE: It was a mistake to bring the older two.
AGNES: They haven't even seen us since Easter.
EUGENE: I don't care if they haven't seen us since the Civil WarI can't work with them around. It's as simple as that!
AGNES: Not to me.
EUGENE: Then go back with them! Just remember, I don't work, we none of us eat!
ELIZABETH: Stop it, you two. You're like a couple of alley cats.
EUGENE: Sorry Bess, it's nothing. Just a spat. I'll see you round six. (Exit. AGNES moves to watch them go.)
ELIZABETH: Have a drink before you go, dear. She's very beautiful, isn't she? (Pause) Eugene says she has eyes like his mother.
EUGENE O'NEILL. American playwright, tall, thin. with moustache, aged 40ish at beginning, 60ish at end of play. Women see him as intense and interesting, men tend to take care of him. Depressed and self-centred for most of his life. Used alcohol at first, then writing and social withdrawal, to cope with depression.
AGNES BOULTON. His second wife, attractive, worldly woman who fell in love with O'Neill during the drinking years and supported him through his early years as a playwright. Mother of Oona and Shane. Gave her daughter to her parents at his insistence. Bewildered and devastated at the Eugene-Carlotta attachment. Misreads his ability to function as an adult and his need to be taken care of as a child by his partner.
CARLOTTA MONTEREY. His third wife. Beautiful, clever, meagre education, has "airs", unscrupulous in her dealings with others probably due to the deprivation and ? abuse of her early life. Determined to get and hold Eugene, literally to the death.
SAXE COMMINS. A medical student turned dentist turned editor (for O'Neill and William Faulkner among others). Gentlemanly, good-natured. Friend of O'Neill from his early days with the Provincetown players. Ultimately alienated from O'Neill by Carlotta.
ELIZABETH MARBURY. One of the first female literary agents, established herself in the 1890s with offices in London, Paris and New York. Cultured, fastidious, "of beer-barrel proportions", middle-aged. Very fond of (? in love with ) Carlotta. Introduced the couple at her summer home in Maine.
MYRTLE. Old school friend of Carlotta, whom she met again at a school reunion in 1941. For the next few years, she and her daughter were the most frequent visitors at the O'Neill home in California. Wife of a physician, plump, good-natured, tolerant.
JANE. Myrtle's daughter. 19 when O'Neill met her. Strikingly attractive. Fascinated by O'Neill. Precipitates the separation of the couple.
EUGENE JR. O'Neill's son by his first marriage. Aged about 40 in the play. Well-dressed, tall, heavily built. Lionised his father who paid for his schooling and support, but devoted little time to him or the other children. Became a respected classics scholar at Yale. Personal life never satisfactory. Three marriages. Wanted to be more than an academic, e.g. act or produce TV shows on books. Drank more and more, especially after he knew that O'Neill would not leave Carlotta and live with him. Suicided in the bath by cutting wrist and ankle veins. Left empty bottle of bourbon next to the bath with note saying"Never let it be said of O'Neill that he failed to empty a bottle. Ave atque vale".
ALFRED DI DONATO. Barber and friend of Eugene and Carlotta. He loved most in the world Giuseppe Verdi and, collectively, the Boston Braves baseball team. Had seen O'Neill's plays and greatly admired him. Was closest to O'Neills at the end of Eugene's life. One of the few attending his funeral.
DR MOORE. Well-known psychiatrist who believed that "Carlotta was only interested in Carlotta" and encouraged both her admission to a mental hospital and a guardianship petition to have her committed as an insane person.
DR KOZOL. Engaged by Carlotta as a psychiatric second opinion when she was informed of the guardianship petition.
A NURSE, A PATROLMAN, SERVANTS
Cast and crew of the first production, The Playhouse, Perth, 27 September - 12 October 1985
Nigel Devenport: Eugene
Di Shaw: Carlotta
Tina Williamson: Agnes/Jane
Tiffany Evans: Elizabeth/Miss Marbury/Nurse/Dr Kozol
Paul Sadler: Servant/Dr Moore
Maurie Ogden: Saxe/Alfred
Matthew Quartermaine: Eugene Junior/Patrolman/Russell
Pippa Williamson: Director
Julitta Sander: Designer
Duncan Ord: Lighting Designer
Victor Ashelford: Stage Manager
New: 24 September, 1996 | Now: 18 May, 2018