Leonard Melfi`s Encounters

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Leonard Melfi`s Encounters
Corso di Laurea magistrale (ordinamento ex
D.M. 270/2004)
in Lingue e letterature europee, americane e
Tesi di Laurea
Leonard Melfi’s Encounters
An Annotated Translation and Analysis
Prof.ssa Francesca Bisutti
Prof.ssa Daniela Ciani
Federica Camporese
Matricola 823191
Anno Accademico
2014 / 2015
Foreword ………………………………………………………………………………………….... 3
Part I
1 Birdbath …………………………………………………………………………………………. 6
2 Halloween ……………………………………………………………………………………….. 48
3 Ferryboat ………………………………………………………………………………………... 96
Part II
1 Off-Off-Broadway …………………………………………………………………………….. 117
1.1 The Premises in the Fifties ………………………………………………………………… 120
1.2 The Movement in and Beyond the Sixties ……………………………………...………… 122
2 About the Author ……………………………………………………………………………… 132
2.1 The Life and His Works ……………………………………………………………….….. 134
3 An Analysis ……………………………………………………………………………………. 144
3.1 Birdbath: The Crisis of the Undisputed Maternal Authority, Marriage and
Family ……………………………………………………………………………….…….. 149
3.2 Halloween: The Drama of Accumulation …………………………………..……………. 152
3.3 Ferryboat: The Tension between Appearance and Essence …………………………….. 155
4 About the Translations ………………………………...……………………………………… 159
4.1 The Stage or the Page: That is the Question …………………………………………….. 160
4.2 Lost (and Found) in Translation ………………………………………………………….. 161
4.3 The Two Sides of the Pronoun You ………………………………………………………... 165
4.4 Back to the 1960s …………………………………………………………………………... 168
5 Bibliography …………………………………………………………………………………... 170
Although Off-Off-Broadway has been extensively examined by literary critics, Leonard Melfi has
been mostly ignored or confined to a marginal role within the history of twentieth-century American
theater. He was one of the most gifted playwrights of the sixties and wrote plays for the following
thirty years, yet for large part of press and critics he has always been nothing more than the author of
Birdbath, a scruffy type who met a tragicomic end that much resembled the plot of his plays.
I came across this playwright while I was preparing for the exam of American Theater; I had
to choose between Fences by August Wilson and Birdbath. I went for Melfi’s play sight unseen, and
as soon I finished it, I thought I had just read one of the most staggering plays ever. So I decided that
I wanted to read other works by the same author – I read Encounters, Later Encounters and whatever
book available on the market, which in the case of Melfi means just a few other books. In this regard,
I think that the word rare is an adjective that suits him well both in the concrete sense that he has
almost completely disappeared from the records and in the sense that he is an incredibly good writer.
The things I like most about Melfi are his ability to recreate such powerful and contrasting
feelings in the span of one single act, and his use of chance encounters to dig dip into the real nature
of human beings. Language too represents one of the strengths of his production – his play are all
characterized by the right mix of gentleness, roughness and humor blended with a dash of
unpredictability that makes them unique.
The plays by Leonard Melfi have never been officially translated into Italian and this,
alongside the absence of criticism on the author, never allowed him to make himself a name in our
country. With my thesis I hope I can do justice – at least partly – to such brilliant playwright.
I feel that life is divided into the horrible and the miserable.
That's the two categories. The horrible are like, I don't know,
terminal cases, you know, and blind people, crippled. I don't
know how they get through life. It's amazing to me. And the
miserable is everyone else. So you should be thankful that
you're miserable, because that's very lucky, to be miserable.
Woody Allen – Annie Hall
a poet in his late 20’s.
26, a nervous and troubled young lady who is rapid speaker and sometimes
New York City: a midtown cafeteria, the streets outside, and FRANKIE’s basement apartment.
Contemporary: a night in February. The action is continuous.
Hazy music coming from a piped-in-system. The curtain rises. We are in a garishly lit cafeteria. To
our right we see FRANKIE BASTA behind the cash booth before the cash register. He lights a cigarette,
eyes his wrist watch, and then begins to read a book.
To our left we see VELMA SPARROW. She is clearing off a table in her working area. As she wipes
the surface we are aware of her delicate, slow and easy nature, fused together with strange anxiety.
Every so often she gives a quick look over at FRANKIE. He, in turn, does the same thing. But their eyes
never meet. They never catch each other. It is almost as though they both know the precise moment
when to steal brief glances without being noticed. This little “game of glances” goes on for about
two minutes before they are finally caught staring each other, both face-to-face. These is a pause
wherein they both seem semi-mesmerized, as they both continue to stare at each other.
un poeta prossimo ai trent’anni.
ventisei anni, una giovane donna ansiosa e irrequieta che parla in fretta e che a
volte è assalita dal tremore.
New York City: una tavola calda2 nel cuore di Manhattan3, le strade circostanti e l’appartamento di
nel seminterrato.
Al giorno d’oggi: una notte di febbraio. L’azione è continua.
Musica soffusa proveniente dagli altoparlanti. Si alza il sipario. Siamo all’interno di una tavola calda
vivacemente illuminata. Alla nostra destra, dietro al bancone e davanti al registratore di cassa,
troviamo FRANKIE BASTA. Si accende una sigaretta, dà un’occhiata all’orologio da polso e si mette
a leggere un libro.
Alla nostra sinistra vediamo
Sta sparecchiando un tavolo in sala. Mentre ne
strofina la superficie ci accorgiamo della sua indole tranquilla e pacata frammista a una strana
inquietudine. Ogni tanto lancia un’ occhiata veloce in direzione di
Lui a sua volta fa lo
stesso. Eppure i loro sguardi non si incontrano mai. Nessuno dei due riesce mai a cogliere l’altro sul
fatto. È come se entrambi sapessero il momento preciso in cui lanciare la propria occhiata furtiva
senza essere visti. Questo giochetto di sguardi prosegue per un paio di minuti prima che si
sorprendano a fissarsi l’un l’altro, faccia a faccia. C’è una pausa nella quale i due, continuando a
fissarsi, sembrano come sospesi in uno strano magnetismo.
How are you doing?
( Shrugging ) Okay . . . I guess.
( She goes back to her work; FRANKIE goes back to his book )
( Going over to him ) What’s your name?
( Looking up ) Frankie. What’s yours?
I’m glad to meet you, Velma.
Likewise, I’m sure. ( FRANKIE smiles ) You jist started workin’ here tonight, didn’t you?
Yeah. That’s right.
And you don’t like it, do you?
How can you tell that?
By the way you look.
How’s that?
Well, first of all, if you don’t mind my sayin’ so, you jist don’t look like you belong in a
lousy place like this. I think you look pretty high-class to me. My mother would really go for you.
Yeah? How old is your old lady – I mean your mother?
( Giggling ) Oh, I didn’t mean that way, Frankie! Now you got me blushin’. My face is red,
huh? If my mother was here she’d really be blushin’. What I meant to say was she’d think you were
jist right . . .
Right for what?
I . . . I . . . oh, I don’t know how to say it. Forget it . . . I guess. But do you know what,
( Kindly ) What’s that, Velma?
Well, I used to be real skinny, you know what I mean? I used to be all bones, almost like
one of them skeletons. But since I been workin’ here for Mr. Quincy, well, I’ve been puttin’ on
some weight. ( She pauses ) That’s why, in a way, this job isn’t really that bad – because of the free
meal they let you have. My mother said to me, “Velma, you take advantage of that free meal. You
eat as much as you can . . . when something’s free you make use of it . . . take as much as they let
you have.” And so, I’ve been eating pretty good lately, and Mr. Quincy, he’s a nice man, he never
tells me that I’m eating too much. In fact, I think he’s a real nice man, because he hired me without
my having any experience at all. This is the first time I’ve ever had a job where I cleaned off the
tables and everything when the people were through eating. Boy, at first I was real scared about this
job. I didn’t think I was gonna be able to do it right . . . you know?
You’re doing okay . . .
Come va?
( Stringendosi nelle spalle ) Tutto a posto . . . direi.
( Torna al suo lavoro; FRANKIE torna sul suo libro )
( Va verso di lui ) Come ti chiami?
( Alza lo sguardo ) Frankie. E tu?
Piacere di conoscerti, Velma.
Altrettanto. ( FRANKIE sorride ) Hai iniziato a lavorare qui stasera, giusto?
Sì. Esatto.
E non ti piace, o sbaglio?
Da cosa si capisce?
Dal tuo aspetto.
Come sarebbe a dire?
Beh, intanto, con rispetto parlando, tu non hai niente a che fare con un posto squallido come
questo. Mi sembri uno che ha classe da vendere. Piaceresti proprio tanto a mia madre.
Ah sì? E quanti anni ha la tua vecchia – cioè tua madre?
( Con una risatina )
Oh non intendevo in quel senso, Frankie! Adesso mi fai arrossire.
Dimmi, sono tutta rossa in faccia, eh? Se mia madre fosse qui sta sicuro che sarebbe tutta rossa. Io
volevo dire che secondo lei tu saresti proprio il tipo giusto . . .
Giusto per cosa?
Io . . . io . . . ah, non saprei come dire. Lascia perdere . . . dai. Comunque sai una cosa,
( In tono gentile ) Cosa, Velma?
Beh, una volta io ero davvero molto magra, sai? Ero tutta ossa, quasi come uno di quegli
scheletri. Ma da quando lavoro qui dal signor Quincy, beh, ho messo su qualche chilo. ( Fa una
pausa ) Ecco perché, in un certo senso, questo lavoro non è poi tanto male – per il mangiare gratis
che ti danno. Mia madre mi ha detto, “Velma, approfittane di quel pasto gratis. Mangia più che puoi
. . . quando qualcosa viene regalata bisogna farne buon uso . . . tu prenditi tutto quello che ti danno.”
E così ultimamente ho mangiato abbastanza bene, e il signor Quincy, lui è una brava persona, lui
non mi dice mai che mangio troppo. Sul serio, penso che sia proprio un brav’uomo perché mi ha
assunta anche se non ho nessuna esperienza. È la prima volta che a lavoro sparecchio tavole e
compagnia bella dopo che la gente ha mangiato. Ti dirò, all’inizio questo lavoro mi faceva davvero
paura. Non pensavo di essere in grado . . . sai?
E invece te la cavi . . .
Although, you know what?
( She starts to bite her fingernails )
What’s that, Velma?
Well, sometimes Mr. Quincy says things to me . . . or he gives me certain kinds of looks . .
. like for instance . . . ( Embarrassed ) I was his . . . girlfriend, maybe. ( She looks at
waiting hopefully for him to agree with her. FRANKIE gives her a slight smile of comfort, but it is not
a smile of agreement ) I told my mother about the way Mr. Quincy is to me sometimes, and right
away she wanted to come down and meet him. She asked me how old he was and she wanted to
know how he looked, and after I told her everything she wanted to know, she said that some night
she would get all dressed up and then some down here and wit for me until I got off, and while she
was waiting I could introduce her to Mr. Quincy. ( She walks away and begins to wipe the same
table top over again ) You know what she said to me, my mother? She said that it was all up in my
mind that Mr. Quincy might jist be . . . interested . . . in me. She said that it wasn’t true and that I
should jist concentrate on my job and forget about all those pipe dreams, otherwise I would be
getting’ fired. ( She pauses ) Sometimes . . . sometimes it’s so hard for me to figure my mother out
. . . because right afterwards she’s tellin’me that maybe I shouldn’t eat so much after all because
then I would be goin’ from one extreme to the other. She said when I was real skinny I couldn’t find
a nice boy, and, well, if I kept on eating the way I’ve been doing lately I’d get real fat, and so it
would still be the same old story for me. ( She laughs a desperate, frantic sort of laugh ) My mother
. . . changes her mind so much sometimes . . . that it gives me a headache.
( She begins to wipe the table top with great pressure. FRANKIE watches her for a moment )
( Quickly ) What?
( Lightly ) Velma, what are you trying to do?
Are you trying to wear that table top off?
Oh . . . yes . . . I know what you mean.
You can get a headache just by doing things like that, Velma.
Yeah . . . I guess you’re right. ( She goes back over to him ) You know something?
Yes? I’m listening to you, Velma.
Oh, what a funny coincidence. That’s what I was jist goin’ to say to you, Frankie. I was goin’
to say: you know something? You make me feel good, Frankie, because you’re listening to me. And
then I was going to thank you for it, and tell you how much I appreciated our conversation with each
other. There’s not too many people I can talk to. Or what I should say is that there’s not too many
people who will listen to me because they think I talk too much. ( FRANKIE glances at his wrist
Anche se sai una cosa?
( Inizia a mangiucchiarsi le unghie )
Cosa, Velma?
Beh, a volte il signor Quincy mi dice di quelle cose . . . o mi dà di quelle occhiate . . . ad
esempio come . . . ( Imbarazzata ) se io fossi la sua . . . fidanzata, tipo. ( Guarda
speranza che lui sia d’accordo.
le fa un mezzo sorriso di rassicurazione, ma non è un
sorriso d’intesa ) Ho detto a mia madre di come il Signor Quincy si comporta con me a volte, e lei
subito si è messa in testa di venire qui a conoscerlo. Mi ha chiesto quanti anni ha e che aspetto ha,
e dopo che le ho detto tutto quello che voleva sapere, lei ha detto che una sera si sarebbe messa tutta
in ghingheri e sarebbe venuta qui ad aspettarmi fino a quando non staccavo, e che mentre aspettava
la potevo presentare al Signor Quincy. ( Si allontana e si mette a strofinare la superficie dello stesso
tavolo ) E lo sai lei cosa mi ha detto, mia madre? Mi ha detto che era tutta una cosa che mi ero messa
in testa io, che il Signor Quincy possa anche soltanto essere . . . interessato . . . a me. Ha detto che
non era niente vero e che dovrei concentrarmi solo sul mio lavoro e lasciar perdere tutte quelle
fantasticherie, altrimenti va a finire che mi licenziano. ( Fa una pausa ) A volte . . . a volte per me
è così difficile venirne a capo con mia madre . . . perché subito dopo mi viene a dire che forse, dopo
tutto, non dovrei mangiare così tanto perché poi andrei da un estremo all’altro. Quando ero troppo
magra non riuscivo a trovare un ragazzo per bene, e insomma, se continuassi a magiare come negli
ultimi tempi diventerò davvero grassa, e così per me sarebbe sempre la solita vecchia storia ( Emette
una specie di risata isterica e convulsa ) Mia madre . . . cambia idea così tante volte . . . che mi fa
venire il mal di testa.
( Si mette a sfregare la superficie del tavolo in modo insistente. FRANKIE la guarda per un istante )
( Velocemente ) Cosa?
( In tono gentile ) Velma, cosa stai cercando di fare?
Lo vuoi proprio consumare quel tavolo!
Ah . . . già . . . ho capito.
Ti verrà il mal di testa a forza di fare le cose in quel modo, Velma.
Sì . . . forse hai ragione. ( Ritorna da lui ) Sai una cosa?
Sì? Ti sto ascoltando, Velma.
Ma guarda un po’ che strana coincidenza. Stavo proprio per dirti la stessa cosa, Frankie. Ti
volevo dire: sai una cosa? Con te sto bene, Frankie, perché mi ascolti. E poi volevo ringraziarti
per questo e dirti quanto mi ha fatto piacere parlare con te. Non ho molte persone con cui parlare. O
forse faccio prima a dire che non ci sono molte persone che mi stanno ad ascoltare perché secondo
loro parlo troppo. ( FRANKIE dà un’occhiata all’orologio da polso ) È quasi ora di andare, eh?
watch ) It’s almost time to go, huh?
You really don’t like this job, I can tell. You can’t wait to get out of here, can you?
You know what you’re talking about.
But I don’t know as much as you.
Five minutes and we’ll be free.
You can’t really say things like that.
( After a pause ) What . . . do you do . . . when you leave here? I mean, if you don’t mind
my askin’. I know it’s none of my business . . .
Boy, do you sound mad all of a sudden.
That’s the way I am sometimes.
( Rapidly ) Are you married?
I would like to go out and get drunk!
( Trying to be pleasant ) Velma . . . I have a hard time just taking care of myself.
( After a pause ) You know, you really look nice. You don’t belong here, that’s all there is
to it. You should be in the movies. You know what I mean? You could be an actor. I always wanted
to be in the movies. I’d love to be an actress, but my mother says I’m not pretty enough . . . and I
guess she’s right . . . or was she?
Why don’t you relax, Velma?
How come you’re telling me that?
You’re shaking. You should learn how to be calm. It would make things a lot easier for
( Very nervously ) Well, it’s almost time, isn’t it? It’s almost midnight . . . time to quit and
everything . . . so I better go and change. ( She starts to move away, but it is an immense effort for
her to do so ) I’ll see you again tomorrow night, Frankie, okay?
Sure . . . okay . . . Velma.
( Running off ) ‘Bye! And nice talkin’ to you . . .
( She is gone )
‘Bye . . . ( Then, more to himself ) Nice talkin’ to you, too.
( A quick blackout. The lights come up again. We are on the streets outside.
is standing
alone. She is out of breath. Then FRANKIE enters from our right )
Hi, Frankie.
What are you doing here?
I . . . I . . . left . . . before you did! I’ve been standin’ here waitin’ for you!
You’re shivering to death.
Non ti piace proprio questo lavoro, si vede. Non vedi l’ora di uscire da qui, o no?
Tu sì che te ne intendi.
Tu anche di più me, se è per questo.
Cinque minuti e siamo liberi.
Non so proprio come fai a dirle certe cose.
( Dopo una pausa ) Cosa . . . fai . . . quando te ne vai di qui? Cioè, sempre se non sono
indiscreta. Lo so che non sono affari miei . . .
Accidenti, adesso di colpo sembri arrabbiato.
A volte faccio così.
( Velocemente ) Sei sposato?
Vorrei uscire e prendermi una bella sbronza!
( Cercando di essere gentile ) Velma . . . faccio già fatica a badare a me stesso.
( Dopo una pausa ) Sai, sei davvero carino. Tu non ci fai proprio niente qui, c’è poco da
fare. Dovresti stare sul grande schermo. Capisci cosa voglio dire? Tu potresti benissimo essere un
attore. Io avrei sempre voluto recitare al cinema. Mi piacerebbe tantissimo fare l’attrice, ma mia
madre dice che non sono abbastanza bella . . . e forse ha ragione lei . . . non è vero?
Perché non provi a stare calma, Velma?
Ma perché mi stai dicendo una cosa del genere?
Stai tremando tutta. Dovresti imparare a stare calma. Ti renderebbe le cose molto più
( Con grande concitazione ) Beh, è quasi ora, no? È quasi mezzanotte . . . ora di andare a
casa e via discorrendo . . . quindi sarà meglio che vada a cambiarmi ( Inizia ad allontanarsi, ma le
costa uno sforzo enorme ) Ci vediamo domani sera, Frankie, va bene?
Certo . . . va bene . . . Velma.
( Andando via di corsa ) Ciao! È stato un piacere parlare con te . . .
( Se n’è andata )
Ciao . . . ( Poi più tra sé e sé ) È stato un piacere anche per me.
( Buio completo per qualche istante. Le luci si alzano nuovamente. Siamo fuori in strada. VELMA
se ne sta lì sola. Ha il fiatone. Quindi FRANKIE entra dalla nostra destra )
Ciao Frankie.
Che ci fai qui?
Io . . . io . . . me ne sono andata . . . prima di te! E sono rimasta qui ad aspettarti!
Stai tremando come non so cosa.
I was jist wonderin’ if you would walk me to the subway. I’m usually never afraid, but
tonight, well, I jist can’t explain why I got the jitters.
Where do you live?
In the Bronx. It’s pretty far. It takes about one hour on the subway. Where do you live?
Around the corner.
Oh, geez! You’re lucky! I wish I lived near where I worked. My other job is jist as far away
as this one. I never have any luck when it comes to my jobs.
You mean you have another job?
My mother wants me to. She says we need the money. For a while I only had the day job.
But my mother said it wasn’t enough. So then I got this job from Mr. Quincy about a month ago.
He’s a real nice man. I’ll bet if you get to know him he’d be a lot like the way my father was.
Your father dead?
We really don’t know. He might be. I ain’t seen him since I was six years old. That’s twenty
years ago. I’m twenty-six.
What did he do? Where did he go?
He deserted us and no one’s been able to find him since. But actually, he didn’t leave me
and my brother Herbert; it was my mother who he left. He said that if he didn’t run away my mother
would drive him nuts. But I don’t think that would’uve happened because she didn’t drive me and
my brother Herbert nuts. We’re both okay. Of course Herbert hasn’t lived with us for a long time
now. He got married when he was only nineteen and we hardly ever see him any more. Do you
know something? You’re almost as handsome as Herbert. He’s the most handsome person you ever
saw. My mother always wanted him to be a movie star, and he could’uve been too if he didn’t run
away and get married like he did. My mother never stopped telling him that he was going to make
a lot of money someday for all of us and that we would be so proud of him because he would be
famous throughout the whole world. ( Very wistfully ) I wish he would’uve listened to her. Then I
wouldn’t have to work any more.
It’s getting pretty cold standing here, Velma. One thing I don’t like is cold weather. Let’s
start walking toward the subway.
( They begin to walk )
Wouldn’t you know that I would be born during the month that has the lousiest weather?
( After giving a long sigh ) We should celebrate, Frankie!
Mi stavo solo chiedendo se magari mi accompagni fino alla metropolitana. Di solito non ho
paura, ma stasera, beh non so proprio perché ho tutta questa tremarella.
Dove abiti?
Nel Bronx4. È abbastanza distante. Con la metropolitana ci vuole circa un’ora. Tu dove abiti?
Dietro l’angolo.
Ah però! Sei fortunato! Anch’io vorrei vivere vicino a dove lavoro. L’altro posto è distante
tanto quanto questo. Quando si tratta di lavoro, non ho mai fortuna io.
Ah, perché hai anche un altro lavoro?
È mia madre che vuole. Dice che abbiamo bisogno di soldi. Per un po’ ho avuto solo il lavoro
di giorno. Ma mia madre diceva che non bastava. E così più o meno un mese fa ho trovato questo
posto dal signor Quincy. È davvero una brava persona lui. Scommetto che a conoscerlo meglio è
proprio com’era mio padre.
Tuo padre è morto?
Non lo sappiamo. Potrebbe anche esserlo. Non lo vedo da quando avevo sei anni. Cioè
vent’anni fa. Io ho ventisei anni.
E cosa ha fatto? Dove è andato?
Ci ha abbandonati e da allora non si è fatto più trovare. Beh, a dire il vero non è me e mio
fratello Herbert che ha abbandonato; lui ha lasciato mia madre. Diceva che se non se non avesse
tagliato la corda mia madre l’avrebbe mandato fuori di testa. Io però non credo che sarebbe successo
perché non ha mica fatto andare fuori di testa me e mio fratello Herbert. Noi due stiamo bene. Si,
certo, Herbert ormai è un bel pezzo che non vive più con noi. Si è sposato quando aveva appena
diciannove anni e da allora non l’abbiamo quasi più visto. Sai una cosa? Tu sei bello quasi come
Herbert. E lui è la persona più bella che ci sia. Mia madre avrebbe sempre voluto che diventasse una
stella del cinema, e ce l’avrebbe anche fatta se non fosse scappato per sposarsi, come invece ha fatto.
Mia madre non la smetteva mai di dirgli che un giorno avrebbe fatto un sacco di soldi, per tutti noi
e che noi saremmo state così orgogliose di lui perché sarebbe diventato famoso in tutto il mondo. (
Con profondo rammarico ) Vorrei che le avesse dato retta. Così non sarei più costretta a lavorare.
Fa un freddo a stare qui fermi, Velma. E se c’è una cosa che non sopporto, è il freddo. Dai,
andiamo verso la metropolitana.
Va bene.
( Iniziano a camminare )
Ma lo sai che io sono nato proprio nel mese col tempo più schifoso?
( Dopo aver emesso un lungo sospiro )
Dobbiamo festeggiare, Frankie!
I was born in February, too.
Ain’t that a coincidence?
Sure is. And it’s also getting colder.
When is yours?
When is my what?
The date. Mine is already gone. It was the seventh.
Well, happy birthday anyway, Velma. Mine hasn’t arrived yet. It’s the twenty-first.
Well, then, when I see you on the twenty-first, I’ll wish you yours, too.
You do that.
You jist sound so unhappy compared to when we first started talking tonight. February isn’t
that bad a month. I think it’s the best month of all, Frankie.
How do you figure that?
Because of the people born in this month. There’s George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln
. . . and there’s . . . tomorrow!
What’s tomorrow?
Saint Valentine’s Day!
Oh . . . yeah . . .
You won’t believe this . . . but . . . I never once got a valentine in my whole life.
( After a long pause ) It’s getting colder by the minute, isn’t it, Velma?
But do you know, Frankie, I didn’t mind too much. My mother used to take me to Schrafft’s
and then afterwards we’d go to the Radio City Music Hall every Valentine’s Day while I was still
going to school. She said it would take my mind off not getting any valentines. My mother did good
things for me except sometimes she would yell at me and say that I was homely and skinny and that
I shook too much and it made her nervous and so she’d scream at me to go into another room so’s
she wouldn’t have to look at me for a while . . .
( Quickly ) This is it! You want to come in for a minute?
( He stops and so does VELMA )
Come in where, Frankie?
This is where I live. Do you want to come in for some coffee? It’ll warm you up.
I really got to get back home. My mother will be waitin’ up for me . . . and . . . oh . . .
Anch’io sono nata in febbraio.
Ma guarda che combinazione!
Eh già. E tra l’altro si sta facendo sempre più freddo.
Quand’è il tuo?
Quand’è il mio cosa?
Il giorno. Il mio è già passato. Era il sette.
Beh, Velma, auguri lo stesso. Il mio deve ancora arrivare, è il ventuno.
Bene, allora quando ti vedrò il ventuno ti farò gli auguri.
Ci conto.
Mi sembri così giù di morale rispetto a quando abbiamo iniziato a parlare stasera. Febbraio
non è poi tanto male come mese. È il miglior mese che ci sia, Frankie.
E perché mai?
Per tutte le persone che sono ci nate. C’è George Washington, e Abraham Lincoln . . . e c’è
. . . domani!
Cosa c’è domani?
È San Valentino!
Ah . . . già . . .
So che adesso non ci crederai . . . ma . . . in tutta la mia vita non ho mai ricevuto un biglietto
di auguri di San Valentino.
FRANKIE ( Dopo una lunga pausa, in tono impaziente )
Ogni minuto che passa fa sempre più freddo,
non ti sembra, Velma?
Ma lo sai, Frankie, che neanche ci facevo più di tanto caso. Mia madre mi portava sempre
da Schrafft’s5 e poi andavamo insieme al Radio City Music Hall6, ogni San Valentino, quando
andavo ancora a scuola. Diceva che mi avrebbe aiutata a distrarmi e a non pensare al fatto che non
ricevevo bigliettini da nessuno. Mia madre si è sempre comportata bene con me, a parte quelle volte
che mi urlava dietro che ero brutta e rinsecchita, e che tremavo troppo e questo la faceva innervosire
e quindi mi gridava di andare in un’altra stanza così per un po’ non mi avrebbe avuta sotto gli occhi
( Velocemente ) Eccoci qua! Vuoi entrare un attimo?
( Si ferma e VELMA fa lo stesso )
Entrare dove, Frankie?
Io abito qui. Vuoi entrare che preparo un po’ di caffè? Ti scalderà.
Devo proprio tornare a casa. Mia madre sarà rimasta sveglia ad aspettarmi . . . e . . . beh . . .
C’mon. Look, you’re trembling because it’s cold out here. It’s even beginning to snow
No, no. I’m not trembling because I’m cold. You know how I tremble a lot, don’t you? I’m
really warm. I almost feel as though it was beginnin’ to sweat, as though it was the summertime, or
because I was worried about something.
What are you worried about, then?
Well, I started to say before that my mother would be . . . waitin’ up for me . . . but . . .
All right, then. C’mon, I’ll walk you up to the subway. I can’t waist any more goddam
No, Frankie! I forgot! You see . . . my mother’s not home . . . I mean, she is home but she’s
not waitin’up for me tonight . . . and so . . .
Yes? So?
So I suppose it’ll be all right if I come in for a few minutes. I guess I really would enjoy
some hot coffee before I leave . . . for home.
takes out his keys and walks down the steps to his apartment. He opens the door and
turns on the light )
Well? Are you coming in, Velma?
( VELMA is trembling almost violently )
( Standing on the stairs ) I . . . I . . . yes . . . I’m coming . . .
Jesus! Control yourself, will you?
I’ll be okay, Frankie, in a minute. It’s jist that I’ve never been in a man’s apartment before.
It’s jist that I’ve never been alone with a man before. Oh, I forgot . . .
Hey! I don’t have much patience left, Velma!
I forgot that I was alone with a man before. My brother Herbert. But that doesn’t really
count, does it? Because he’s my brother, huh, Frankie?
If you don’t come down here in one more second, I’m shutting the door on you and you’re
walking to the subway by yourself!
( Finally going down the stairs ) You know, Frankie, maybe instead of the coffee I’d better
have hot tea instead. ( The lights are beginning to dim ) My mother says . . . she used to say . . . that
I drank too much coffee. Ever since I was a little girl I drank coffee, and always told me that that was
why I was so skinny and not very tall like most girls, and that’s why I shake so much, and that’s why
I’ll probably never find a nice man to marry me someday . . . but now I’m gaining weight and
everything . . .
Dai andiamo. Senti, stai tremando perché qui fuori fa freddo. E adesso inizia anche a
No, no. Io non sto tremando perché ho freddo. Insomma lo sai perché tremo così tanto, no?
Io mi sento tutta calda. Mi sembra quasi di iniziare a sudare, come se fosse estate o come se fossi in
pensiero per qualcosa.
E per cosa saresti preoccupata, sentiamo?
Beh, prima ti stavo dicendo che mia madre sarebbe rimasta . . . su ad aspettarmi . . . ma . . .
Va bene allora. Dai, ti accompagno alla metropolitana. Non ho altro tempo da perdere,
porca miseria!
No Frankie scusa! Mi ero dimenticata! Sai . . . mia madre non è a casa, cioè è a casa ma
stasera non è rimasta sveglia ad aspettarmi . . . e così . . .
Sì? E quindi?
Quindi credo che non succeda niente se mi fermo da te un attimo. Forse un po’ di caffè caldo
è proprio quello che mi ci vuole prima di andare . . . a casa.
( FRANKIE tira fuori le chiavi e scende gli scalini che portano al suo appartamento. Apre la
porta e accende la luce )
Allora, Velma? Ti decidi a entrare?
( VELMA è scossa da un tremore quasi violento )
( In piedi sugli scalini ) Io . . . io . . . sì . . . adesso arrivo . . .
Cristo! Cerca di controllarti, mi fai ‘sto piacere?
Va tutto bene, Frankie, solo un attimo. È solo che io non sono mai stata nell’appartamento
di un uomo. È solo che non sono mai rimasta da sola con un uomo, io. Ah, scusa, mi sono
dimenticata . . .
Ehi! Sto perdendo la pazienza, Velma!
Mi sono dimenticata che in realtà ero già rimasta sola con un uomo. Mio fratello Herbert.
Ma lui non conta, giusto? Perché è mio fratello, eh, Frankie?
Se non vieni qui giù immediatamente ti chiudo fuori e te ne vai da sola fino alla
( Finalmente scende gli scalini )
Sai, Frankie, forse invece del caffè è meglio se prendo
un bel tè caldo. ( Le luci si fanno più soffuse ) Mia madre dice . . . diceva sempre . . . che bevevo
troppo caffè. Io il caffè l’ho sempre bevuto fin da bambina e lei mi ha sempre detto che era per
quello che ero così magra e non ero alta come tutte le altre ragazzine, che è per questo che tremo
così tanto e proprio per questo, forse, non troverò mai un uomo come si deve che un giorno mi
sposerà . . . anche se però adesso sto mettendo su peso e tutto . . .
( Complete blackout. We hear music now. It’s the old-time, dance-band type of music coming from
a phonograph. The lights slowly come back up. We are in FRANKIE’s apartment. VELMA is sitting
on the edge of the bed drinking her hot tea.
is standing up before the refrigerator with
the door opened; he is drinking from a bottle )
I don’t wanna sound stupid or anything, Frankie, but what’s the name of that record?
takes another long slug, puts the bottle back into the refrigerator and slams the door
shut )
( Turning around, facing VELMA with a smile ) “I Only Have Eyes for You.”
( VELMA blushes and turns her face away; she stifles a giggle )
It’s a pretty song . . .
( With half-a-sigh ) It sure is! Makes me nostalgic. That’s why I’m playing it, because I
like feeling nostalgic . . .
I don’t know what it means . . .
They used to play this song when I was in high school. It was the theme song of the ole’
hometown band.
I’ll bet you had as much girls chasin’ you as my brother Herbert did.
( Singing ) “Are the stars out tonight? . . . I don’t know if it’s cloudy or bright . . . “
( Embarrassed ) It’s certainly a romantic song.
( She sips her tea )
“. . . ‘cause I only have eyes for you . . .” ( He begins to dance ) Would you like to dance
with me, Velma?
( He bows to her )
( Really embarrassed ) Oh . . . I . . . I forgot to tell you. But I did get a few valentines when
I was younger. My brother Herbert used to mail them to me.
Jesus Christ! Will you shut the hell up about your goddam brother Herbert!
Geez . . . you get mad easy, don’t you?
And stop trembling like that. My bad is going to fall apart.
( He goes back to the refrigerator and takes out the bottle )
You drink a lot, too, don’t you?
( Drinking ) No shit, baby!
And . . . when you drink . . . you curse a lot, too, don’t you?
You don’t like it?
No . . .
( Buio completo. Si sente una musica. È quel genere che andava una volta, suonata da
un’orchestra da ballo, proviene da un grammofono. Le luci si rialzano lentamente. Siamo
all’interno dell’appartamento di
beve il suo tè caldo seduta sull’orlo del letto.
è in piedi di fronte allo sportello aperto del frigorifero; beve da una bottiglia )
Non vorrei sembrarti stupida né niente, Frankie, ma come si chiama questa canzone?
( FRANKIE manda giù un’altra bella sorsata, rimette la bottiglia in frigorifero e lo chiude sbattendo
lo sportello)
( Si volta, guarda Velma con un sorriso ) “I Only Have Eyes for You.”7
( VELMA arrossisce e distoglie lo sguardo; soffoca una risatina )
È una bella canzone . . .
( Con un mezzo sospiro ) Certo che lo è! E mi fa diventare nostalgico. Ecco perché l’ho
messa, perché mi piace tutta questa nostalgia . . .
Non . . . so a cosa ti riferisci.
Questa canzone la suonavano sempre quand’ero alle superiori. Era il cavallo di battaglia
dell’orchestra locale.
Scommetto che anche a te tutte le ragazze correvano dietro, come a mio fratello Herbert.
( Cantando ) “Are the stars out tonight? . . . I don’t know if it’s cloudy or bright . . .”
( Imbarazzata ) È proprio una canzone romantica.
( Sorseggia il suo te )
“. . . ‘cause I only have eyes for you . . .” ( Inizia a ballare ) Vuoi ballare con
me, Velma?
( Si inchina davanti a lei )
( Molto imbarazzata ) Ah . . . io . . . io mi sono dimenticata di dirtelo. In realtà qualche
biglietto di San Valentino io l’ho ricevuto quand’ero più giovane. Me li spediva sempre mio fratello
Cristo santo! La vuoi smettere di nominare quel maledetto di tuo fratello Herbert!
Mamma mia . . . certo che ti scaldi facilmente, eh!
E piantala di tremare in quel modo. Va a finire che me lo demolisci il letto.
( Torna al frigorifero e tira fuori la bottiglia )
Ti piace anche bere, eh?
( Beve ) Puoi dirlo forte, piccola!
E poi . . . quando bevi . . . ti metti anche a parlare male, giusto?
E non ti sta bene?
No . . .
( Pausing, then smiling ) I’m sorry . . . Velma.
What’s that that you’re drinkin’? If you don’t mind my askin’?
Ice-cold martinis. Already mixed. You can but it in any liquor store, all prepared, ready
and waiting for you. Saves a lot of time, you know. Not much time left . . . Velma . . . Sparrow!
How . . . did you know my last name? I never told it to you.
I guessed.
Aw, c’mon, I don’t believe you.
Honest to God, I did.
It’s spooky then, don’t you think?
Not at all. It’s a beautiful name, Velma. It goes perfect with you.
I didn’t tell it to you before because I’ve always been ashamed of it.
How could you be?
When I was in school the kids used to always whisper behind my back. They’d say: here she
comes, here comes Velma the ugly sparrow.
You forget about those creeps!
Well, you know what I did? I quit school jist so’s I wouldn’t have to listen to them any more.
And I only had a year left before I would’uve got my diploma, too. Sometimes I think about going
to night school, but my mother says it’s all too late now. You know, my mother is a peculiar woman.
First she’s sayin’ to me, “Velma, we gotta save money, that’s all there is to it!” And then . . . the
very next minute she’s askin’ me to loan her five dollars for the beauty parlor or something like that.
Doesn’t your mother work?
You sound so mad again.
I am mad again!
( He takes another swig of the bottle )
No, she doesn’t work because she usually doesn’t fell too well. That’s why I have two jobs.
During the days I work in a movie house in Greenwich Village. I’m an usherette. My mother didn’t
want me to work down there at first because she thinks the Village is dangerous. She doesn’t like
the idea of me being around all those fairies and those leprechauns. Well, I’m not afraid of the fairies
but those leprechauns really scare me.
( Scratching his head ) What do you mean by leprechauns?
You know what I mean: those girls who don’t like men; they like to be with women instead.
Uh, Lesbians, Velma, Lesbians. Not leprechauns.
( Fa una pausa, poi sorride ) Mi dispiace . . . Velma.
Che cos’è che stai bevendo? Sempre se non sono indiscreta?
Martini ghiacciati. Già miscelati. Li trovi in qualsiasi negozio di liquori, sono lì belli pronti
che ti aspettano. Ti fa risparmiare un sacco di tempo, sai. Col poco tempo che resta . . . Velma . . .
Come . . . facevi a sapere il mio cognome? Io non te l’ho mai detto.
Ho tirato a indovinare.
Oh, andiamo, non ci credo!
Te lo giuro, è così!
Allora è inquietante, non trovi?
No davvero. È un bel nome, Velma. Ti si addice proprio.
Non te l’avevo detto prima perché mi sono sempre vergognata.
E perché mai?
Quando ero a scuola i bambini bisbigliavano sempre alle mie spalle. Dicevano: eccola che
arriva, ecco quella spaventapasseri8 della Velma!
Ma lasciali perdere quei quattro imbecilli!
Beh alla fine sai cosa ho fatto? Mi sono ritirata da scuola per non sentirli più. E mi mancava
solo un anno per prendere il diploma, tra l’altro. A volte ho una mezza idea di iscrivermi ai corsi
serali, ma mia madre dice che ormai è troppo tardi. Sai mia madre è una donna tutta particolare.
Prima mi dice “Velma dobbiamo fare economia, su questo non si discute!” E poi, un attimo dopo
mi viene a chiedere se le presto cinque dollari per il salone di bellezza o una cosa del genere.
Ma tua madre non lavora?
Mi sembri di nuovo arrabbiato.
Certo che sono di nuovo arrabbiato!
( Butta giù un altro sorso dalla bottiglia )
No, non lavora perché di solito non si sente un granché bene. È per questo che ho due lavori.
Di giorno lavoro in una sala cinematografica nel Greenwich Village9. Faccio la maschera di sala.
All’inizio mia madre non voleva che lavorassi laggiù perché è convinta che il Village sia pericoloso.
A lei non le va l’idea che io sia circondata da tutti quegli invertiti e da tutte quelle bislacche10. Beh,
io non ho paura degli invertiti, ma quelle lì tutte bislacche sì che mi spaventano.
( Grattandosi la testa ) Cosa intendi per bislacche?
Lo sai benissimo cosa intendo: sono quelle ragazze che non vogliono gli uomini; preferiscono
andare con le donne.
Ah, Lesbiche, Velma, Lesbiche. Non bislacche.
Oh, that’s right, Les–bi–ans.
( FRANKIE takes off his shoes and socks )
I’m making myself comfortable, so don’t worry about a thing.
Oh, well, it’s your apartment, so why should I mind, huh? Besides, I don’t really mind
anything right now. I’m having a good time here with you. ( She looks around ) This is a real artist’s
apartment, isn’t it?
If you think so.
So Frankie, what do you do? I know that being a cashier isn’t your life. You’re too handsome
for that. And you’re too smart. I’ve never seen so many books in all my life.
I’m a writer, Velma.
VELMA ( Thrilled )
Gee! You must have a big imagination! You’ll probably be rich and famous some
day, and then I’ll be able to say that I knew you, won’t I?
Who’s that on the wall? He looks real familiar to me.
I’m a poet, really. Poets don’t make very much money and they hardly ever become famous.
That’s Van Gogh. A self-portrait.
( Excited ) Did he give it to you?
No, Velma
And who are these people in this picture? ( She looks closer ) Oh! You’re in the picture, too!
It must be your family, huh?
That’s right.
They all look so happy: your father and your mother and sister and brother . . . and you! Are
they all happy as the picture?
Yes, they are, most of the time. I’m pretty proud of them . . . and they’re pretty patient with
You’re soooooo . . . lucky!
Why’s that?
To be able to have such a nice family.
( FRANKIE drinks some more )
I’m getting stoned . . . drunk, Velma. Don’t mind me if I do. I might get a little vulgar . . .
a little truthful . . . I might start talking about myself . . . but I’ll try to be nice . . . I really . . . like
you, Velma!
( Nervously ) And do you know who else was born during this month? My favorite actress!
And you probably like her because she is the most beautiful woman in the entire world!
Ah, giusto, Les–bi–che.
( FRANKIE si toglie le scarpe e i calzini )
Mi sto mettendo comodo, non farci caso.
Oh, beh, qui siamo nel tuo appartamento, quindi perché mai dovrebbe darmi fastidio? E
comunque adesso non c’è proprio niente che mi sta dando fastidio. Me la sto passando bene qui con
te ( Si guarda attorno ) E così questo è l’appartamento di un vero artista, eh?
Se lo dici tu.
Allora cosa fai, Frankie? Lo so che fai altro nella vita, a parte il cassiere. Sei troppo bello
per fare solo quello. E sei troppo in gamba. Io non ho mai visto così tanti libri in vita mia.
Faccio lo scrittore, Velma.
( Elettrizzata ) Oddio! Allora devi avere tanta immaginazione! Magari un giorno sarai ricco
e famoso, e allora potrò dire che ti conoscevo, no?
Io sono un poeta a dire il vero. I poeti non fanno mai tanti soldi, e non diventano quasi mai
Chi è quello lì sulla parete? Non mi è una faccia nuova.
È Van Gogh. Un autoritratto.
( Eccitata ) E te l’ha dato lui?
No, Velma.
E chi sono queste persone nella fotografia? ( Guarda più da vicino ) Oh! Ma ci sei anche tu
qui in mezzo! È la tua famiglia, giusto?
Proprio così.
Sembrano tutti così felici: tuo padre e tua madre, tua sorella, tuo fratello . . . e anche tu! Sono
tutti contenti come in questa fotografia?
Sì, di solito lo sono. Io sono molto fiero di loro . . . e loro portano molta pazienza
con me.
Oh . . . sei coooooosì fortunato!
E perché mai?
Perché hai proprio una bella famiglia.
( FRANKIE beve ancora )
Mi sto prendendo una bella sbronza . . . mi sto ubriacando, Velma. Non darmi più di tanta
retta se parto. Potrei diventare un po’ volgare . . . dire le cose senza tanti giri di parole . . . potrei
iniziare a parlare di me . . . però cercherò di essere gentile . . . tu mi piaci . . . sul serio, Velma!
( Con fare nervoso )
E sai chi altro è nato in questo mese? La mia attrice preferita! E
probabilmente lei ti piacerà perché è la donna più bella che ci sia!
Who’s that?
Elizabeth Taylor! What do you think of that?
Liz, huh? Marvelous! We’re in good company, aren’t we, Velma?
I knew you’d like to hear that.
Velma, I’m going to make myself some tea. I really shouldn’t be getting this drunk. I’m a
bad host, huh?
Oh, no, I don’t think so at all.
Thank you. You’re beautiful.
I don’t know what . . . to say . . .
You don’t have to say anything. Just keep me company, that’s all.
I like you when you drink. It’s like watching a show on TV or something. You never know
what to expect next. First you’re very funny and then you’re very mad. In a way, it’s fun. ( There is
a pause ) I’ll bet I know why you don’t have a TV set here.
( Trying to make some tea ) Why?
Because if you had a TV set then you wouldn’t write your poems, would you?
You’re very much on the ball.
I wouldn’t know what to do without a TV set in the house. My mother and me, we sit and
watch all of the love stories! I used to go to Loeee’s Paradise a lot. You ever been there?
What is it?
A movie house. It’s jist like a castle out of the fairy tales. You really dream there: Looeee’s
It’s Loew’s Paradise, not Loeee’s, isn’t it?
It is? Geez. My mother and me have always called it Loeee’s, and we’ve been goin’ there
for years and years. But you must be right because you’re educated and because you’re an artist.
Where is this place?
It’s in the Bronx. I used to go on Saturday nights. Thy have stars on the ceilings. Thousands
of stars twinkling on and off. It’s like another world. And if you sit right in the middle of the theater
there’s a big full moon above your head. It’s so romantic. You should see it! But . . . I stopped goin’
because most of the girls and boys go in couples and they all try to sit underneath the big full moon
. . . and I was beginning to feel out of place.
Velma, do you want more tea?
I was thinkin’ that maybe I’d like jist a little sip of that martini mix, if you don’t care,
E chi sarebbe?
Elizabeth Taylor! Allora che ne dici?
La Liz intendi? Stupenda! Siamo in buona compagnia, giusto, Velma?
Lo sapevo che questa ti sarebbe piaciuta.
Velma, io mi preparo un po’ di tè. Non dovrei davvero ridurmi in questo stato. Dimmi,
sono un ospite pessimo, vero?
Oh, no, figurati.
Grazie. Sei fantastica.
Non so cosa . . . dire . . .
Non devi dire niente. Fammi compagnia, e basta.
Mi piaci quando bevi. È come guardare uno spettacolo alla televisione o cose del genere.
Non sai mai cosa aspettarti. Prima sei esilarante e un attimo dopo sei arrabbiatissimo. In un certo
senso è divertente. ( Una pausa ) Credo di sapere perché qui non hai una televisione.
( Intento a preparare del tè ) Ah sì?
Perché se tu avessi una televisione allora non scriveresti poesie, giusto?
Sei proprio in gamba, Velma!
Io non saprei proprio come fare senza una televisione in casa. Io e mia madre, noi due, ci
sediamo lì davanti a guardare tutte quante le storie d’amore. Una volta andavo sempre al Loeee’s
Paradise. Ci sei mai stato tu?
Che cos’è?
È un cinema. È proprio come un castello venuto fuori delle fiabe. Lì dentro al Loeee’s
Paradise ti sembra di stare davvero in un sogno!
È il Loew’s Paradise11, non Loeee’s, o no?
Ah sì? Accidenti. Io e mia madre l’abbiamo sempre chiamato Loeee’s, e ci siamo andate per
diversi anni. Comunque mi sa che hai ragione tu perché hai studiato e perché sei un artista.
Dov’è ‘sto posto?
È nel Bronx, io ci andavo sempre il sabato sera. Ha le stelle sul soffitto. Una miriade di stelle,
tutte che luccicano. È come un altro pianeta. E se ti siedi proprio al centro della sala ti trovi una
grande luna piena sopra la testa. È così romantica. Dovresti vederla! Beh comunque . . . ho smesso
di andarci perché quasi tutte le ragazze e i ragazzi ci vanno in coppia e tutti vogliono sedersi sotto
la luna piena gigante . . . e io cominciavo a sentirmi fuori posto.
Vuoi un altro po’ di tè, Velma?
Stavo pensando che forse mi andrebbe solo un goccetto di quel Martini già pronto, sempre
se non ti dispiace, Frankie.
Of course I don’t care. It’s my pleasure. ( He pours her a glass ) Salut!
( Lifting her glass ) Cheers . . .
Cheers then. It’s all the same.
( He drinks more too )
It’s strong . . . but I like it.
Very good. Enjoy yourself.
This is a real treat. I like treats. Every payday when I bring home the money, my mother
decided that we both should have a treat, and so the next morning, every single week that I can
remember, we have coffee cake and caviar for breakfast!
Coffeecake and caviar?
Oh, it’s delicious together. Some day you’ll have to come to our apartment for breakfast.
You’ll love it . . .
( She sips some more )
Drink up, Velma. There’s a lot more yet. Relax. ( FRANKIE flops down on the bed next to
her ) My head is beginning to spin.
( VELMA immediately rises from the bed )
( Trembling ) I used to work at The Merry-Go-Round Club once. I was the hat-check girl,
but my mother said they fired me because they wanted a girl who was prettier than me. Do you
know that it was my favorite job, though, even if I didn’t last very long. I saw all the stars and
celebrities. Once I even saw Ed Sullivan!
Relax, Velma.
VELMA ( Drinking some more )
Oh, I’m okay. I’m relaxed. ( She goes to his desk ) This is where you
write, huh?
When I’m working on my book.
You’re writing a book, too? You’re really smart! I’ll bet you’re a good typist, too, aren’t
I never compose my poetry on the typewriter; only my book.
( VELMA sits down at his desk )
Well . . . anyway . . .
( She finishes the drink rapidly. FRANKIE sits u one his bed and stares over at her )
You want more?
I don’t think I’d better. I’m getting’ sleepy now. Maybe I’d better go home . . . my mother
is . . . well, she’s not! . . . really . . .
Certo che non mi dispiace. Prego. ( Gliene versa un bicchiere ) Salute!
( Alzando il bicchiere ) Evviva . . .
Evviva allora. Fa lo stesso.
( Beve di nuovo anche lui )
È forte . . . ma mi piace.
Molto bene. Buon divertimento.
Questo sì che è trattarsi bene. E a me piace trattarmi bene. Ogni giorno di paga, quando porto
a casa i soldi, mia madre ha stabilito che dobbiamo concederci una piccola ricompensa, e così,
praticamente ogni settimana, il giorno dopo facciamo colazione con torta al caffè12 e caviale!
Torta al caffè e caviale?
Ah, sono una vera delizia assieme. Un giorno dovrai venire da noi a colazione. Ti piacerà
tantissimo . . .
( Ne beve un altro sorso )
Su, Velma, finisci di bere. Ce n’è dell’altro in arrivo. Stai tranquilla. (
si lascia
cadere nel letto accanto a lei ) Comincia a girarmi la testa.
( VELMA si alza di scatto dal letto )
( Tremando ) Una volta lavoravo al Merry-Go-Round Club13. Ero l’addetta al guardaroba,
ma mia madre ha detto che mi hanno licenziata perché volevano una ragazza più bella di me. Ma lo
sai che però è stato il mio lavoro preferito, anche se non è durata molto. Vedevo tutti gli attori e i
personaggi famosi. Una volta ho visto addirittura Ed Sullivan14!
Sta’ calma, Velma.
( Beve di nuovo ) Oh, io sto bene. Sono tranquilla io. ( Va alla sua scrivania ) E così è qui
dove scrivi, eh?
Quando lavoro al mio libro.
Ah perché stai scrivendo anche un libro? Sei proprio intelligente! Scommetto che te la cavi
bene anche con la macchina da scrivere, vero?
La poesie non le scrivo mai a macchina; solo il libro.
( VELMA si siede alla scrivania )
Beh . . . dai . . .
( Finisce di bere in velocità. FRANKIE si alza a sedere sul letto e la osserva con sguardo fisso )
Ne vuoi ancora?
Forse è meglio di no. Adesso mi sta venendo sonno. Forse è meglio se vado a casa . . . mia
madre sta . . . beh, non sta . . . in realtà . . .
I would like to hug you, Velma. I would like very much to put my arms around you, and I
would like to hold you ever so gently, and I would like to whisper tenderly in your hear; I would
like to say to you: “Velma-honey, believe me, little-girl-Velma, things are not really that bad.
Everything’s going to be all right, okay, you just wait and see. Take my word for it, Velma.”
( VELMA does not know what to do; she glances back and forth at her wrist watch )
Well! It’s Valentine’s Day now! I’ll bet you have so many girl friends, don’t you? I can jist
see it in the morning when you wake up. Your mailbox will be stuffed with hundreds of valentines,
won’t it? From all your girl friends?
It used to be that way one, but no more, and I like it that way. You see, Velma, most girls,
after they flip their corks over me, find out pretty fast that they don’t go for me anymore. They
discover that there is competition. They believe I’d rather make it with my typewriter. Did you know
that every chick I’ve ever sacked becomes insanely jealous of that innocent little machine over there
on my desk? Isn’t that the stupidest thing you ever heard of? Harmless portable! . . . inanimate black
mother, old pawnshop object that never gives me any bullshit!
You’re really somethin’.
Would you bother me if I sat down and typed away whenever I felt that I had to, whenever
the urge was suddenly the most important thing in my life? You’d live me alone, wouldn’t you?
Yes . . .
You wouldn’t show any signs of bitterness, would you?
No . . .
( Drinking some more ) I know you wouldn’t let me down, Velma. You see, these chicks,
almost all of them, they want all of your time and all of your attention. They say they understand you,
but when it comes right down to the actual test, well, their lovely precious pussies panic! And so what
do you do? You make it with a guy and there’s just as much bullshit here too! ( Quietly ) The thing
to do is to find out where the hell the right chick is . . . under my bed? . . . in the bathroom? . . . up in
the Bronx, maybe? ( VELMA giggles, FRANKIE sips his drink ) I’ll tell you something: I’d rather come
all over the keys of that hot typewriter . . . that’s the way I feel sometimes! ( He gets up from the bed
) Besides . . . ( He laughs bitterly ) maybe it’s not such a bad idea . . . it’s a whole lot safer. No sweat.
How can you knock up a typewriter? ( He stops and stares at her ) But . . . you don’t even know what
I’m talking about, do you? ( VELMA simply smiles back at him ) Anyway, that answers your question
about how many valentines I’ll be getting in the morning. ( He begins to
Vorrei abbracciarti, Velma. Vorrei tanto stringerti tra le mie braccia e coccolarti, e mi
piacerebbe sussurrare dolcemente al tuo orecchio; dirti: “Velma, tesoro mio, dai retta a me, Velma,
piccolina, le cose non vanno poi tanto male. Tutto si metterà a posto, dai, aspetta e vedrai. Te lo
prometto, Velma.”
( VELMA non sa cosa fare; continua a lanciare delle occhiatine all’ orologio che ha al polso )
Ecco! Adesso è San Valentino! Scommetto che hai tantissime amichette, vero? Già me lo
immagino quando ti alzi domani mattina. Dimmi, la tua cassetta delle lettere sarà piena zeppa di
bigliettini di San Valentino, vero? Di tutte le tue amichette?
Una volta era come dici tu, ma adesso basta e mi sta bene così. Vedi, Velma, quasi tutte le
ragazze, dopo che hanno perso la testa per me, molto presto si accorgono che non gli piaccio più. Si
sentono in competizione. Credono che io preferisca farmela con la mia macchina da scrivere. Ma tu
lo sai che ogni ragazza che mi sono portato a letto è diventata follemente gelosa di quell’innocua
macchinetta che se ne sta lì sulla mia scrivania? Non è la cosa più assurda che si sia mai sentita?
Povero aggeggio . . . nera procreatrice senz’anima, vecchia cianfrusaglia raccattata al banco dei
pegni che non mi pianta mai grane.
Certo che sei proprio un bel tipo.
Ti sogneresti di venirmi a rompere le scatole se prendo e mi metto a scrivere a macchina,
così, quando mi sento in vena, quando all’improvviso questo bisogno diventa la cosa più importante
nella mia vita? Mi lasceresti in pace, o no?
Si . . .
Non mi dimostreresti alcun rancore, giusto?
No . . .
( Beve ancora ) Lo so che tu non mi deluderesti, Velma. Vedi, queste tipe, quasi tutte,
pretendono ogni tuo istante e tutta la tua attenzione. Dicono che ti capiscono, ma poi quando si arriva
ai fatti, beh, le loro adorabili farfalline iniziano a dare i numeri. E quindi cosa fai? Vai a letto col
primo tizio che capita ma anche qui non c’è verso di venirne fuori. ( Adagio ) L’unica cosa da fare è
scoprire dove diavolo si trova la tipa giusta . . . sotto il mio letto? . . . in bagno? . . . su nel Bronx
magari? (
fa una risatina,
sorseggia il suo drink ) E ti dirò una cosa: vorrei tanto
venire sui tasti di quella macchina da scrivere così eccitante . . . ecco come mi sento a volte ( Si alza
dal letto ) E poi . . . ( Con una risata amara ) non sarebbe del tutto una brutta idea . . . è molto più
sicuro. Niente pensieri. Come si potrebbe mettere incinta una macchina da scrivere? ( Si ferma e la
fissa ) Ma . . . tu non sai neanche di cosa sto parlando, vero? (
si limita a sorridergli di
rimando ) Beh, ad ogni modo, questo risponde alla tua domanda su quanti biglietti di San Valentino
take off his shirt.
gets up ) Don’t worry about anything. I’m only making myself
comfortable, that’s all. ( He takes off his pants ) Will you please sit down? I’m not going to harm
( He goes into the bathroom )
Please don’t get mad at me, Frankie.
( Offstage ) I’m not getting mad at you. I’m just disappointed, that’s all.
( He begins to sing and/or hum his song from the bathroom. Then he returns in a bathrobe )
VELMA ( After a moment )
Maybe I can stay here, just for a little while? My mother won’t even know
about it . . . since she’s not waitin’ up for me . . .
( She begins to shake again )
You’re confusing me, baby, and I get confused enough when I got gin in my belly. Make
up your mind. And forget about your mother. I’m sick and tired of hearing about your old lady!
Okay . . .
If I give you just a small glass of this martini mix, it’ll make you stop shaking like that.
( He goes and pours her some more ) Now here. Take it and drink it in one gulp.
Will it? Will it make my shaking stop?
Don’t ask questions. Just do as I told you.
Okay . . .
( She manages to get it all down in one swig )
You see? You did it. Now come back over here and sit down like before and make yourself
at home. And take you coat back off. (
walks away from him and sits back down at the
desk ) Well, aren’t you going to take your coat off?
In a minute, Frankie, in a minute.
Velma? You want to know something?
What, Frankie?
I’m glad that you came home with me tonight. You’re the first woman I’ve had here in a
long time.
( VELMA shows signs of wanting to leave. She nervously notices a book lying on the desk )
( Reading as she picks the book up ) “Poet in New York . . .”
A great goddam good poet, too, let me tell you!
Fed–er–ico . . . Garcia . . . Lorca . . .
And God bless him! Amen.
riceverò domattina. ( Inizia a togliersi la camicia.
si alza ) Non preoccuparti. Mi sto solo
mettendo comodo, tutto qui. ( Si toglie i pantaloni ) Mi fai il piacere di sederti? Non voglio farti del
( Va in bagno )
Ti prego, Frankie, non prendertela con me.
( Da dietro le quinte ) Non me la sto prendendo con te. Sono solo deluso, ecco tutto.
( Inizia a cantare e/o canticchiare la sua canzone dal bagno. Poi ritorna in accappatoio )
( Dopo un attimo ) Magari posso restare qui, solo un pochino? Mia madre neanche lo verrà
a sapere . . . visto che non mi sta aspettando alzata . . .
( È assalita di nuovo dal tremore )
Mi stai confondendo le idee, piccola, e sono già abbastanza confuso per conto mio quando
ho del gin in corpo. Deciditi. E lascia stare tua madre. Non ne posso più di sentire nominare in
continuazione la tua vecchia!
Va bene . . .
FRANKIE Se ti do solo un bicchierino di questo Martini già miscelato la smetterai di tremare in quel
modo. ( Va a versargliene un altro po’ ) Ecco qua. Tieni e bevilo tutto d’un fiato.
Davvero? Davvero mi farà smettere di tremare?
Piantala di fare domande. Fa’ come ti ho detto e basta.
Va bene . . .
( Riesce a buttarlo giù tutto d’un fiato )
Vedi? Ce l’hai fatta. Adesso torna qui, siediti come prima e mettiti comoda. E togliti quel
cappotto. ( VELMA si allontana da lui e si siede si nuovo alla scrivania ) Allora, te lo togli sì o no
quel cappotto?
Solo un attimo, Frankie, un attimo.
Velma? Vuoi sapere una cosa?
Cosa, Frankie?
Sono contento che stasera tu sia venuta a casa con me. Sei la prima donna qui dentro dopo
tanto tempo.
dà segni di volersene andare. Con fare nervoso si accorge di un libro che sta sulla
scrivania )
( Leggendo mentre solleva il libro ) “Poeta a New York . . . “
E che gran poeta, lasciamelo dire!
Fed – er – ico . . . Garcia . . . Lorca . . .
Che Dio lo benedica! Amen.
I . . . never heard of him. Is he a Puerto Rican?
( Softly ) Where did I find you?
Does he still live in New York?
Oh, sure. He’s pushing boo up in East Harlem for the winter.
( Going to her ) Please . . . let me just hold you, Velma, okay? (
shows signs of
wanting to leave again ) Don’t move! Stay where you are . . . I’m not going to harm you. If only
you’ll believe that, then everything will be okay. Take my word for it, please . . . okay?
( He gives her a very honest smile )
( After a moment ) Okay . . . I guess.
Good, Velma. Besides, I need someone to talk to, and you need someone to talk to. Right?
Right, I guess.
In other words, we both need someone to listen to us.
You mean those other women . . . I mean, didn’t those other girls even want to listen to you,
Frankie? I mean the ones who used to come here?
Never! That’s the trouble, Velma.
They just wanted to talk about themselves, huh?
That’s it, Velma. That’s exactly it.
And that’s why you’re not married yet, huh? Because maybe you can’t find a girl who’ll
listen to you?
Yeah, maybe it’s one of the reasons . . .
It’s so hard to believe that you’re not married, though. I think you’d make a nice husband
and be a good father, too.
( Sharply ) Why would I make a nice husband and be a good father?
( Jittery again ) Well . . . because your kids would have so much fun with you. You’d make
them laugh and everything. I never really had a father to make me laugh and have fun with because
I hardly remember him.
You’re making me feel good, Velma. In a way, you’re making me feel sort of happy. You
see, about a year ago around this time I almost got married. I had this girl friend, and . . .
Was she pretty?
It doesn’t really matter now. It’s not important anyway. Her name was Carrie and we went
together for over a year. Then she wanted to get married. I didn’t. Remember, Velma: I have a very
hard time just taking care of myself. Well, anyway, that’s all she talked about was getting married.
Io . . . non l’ho mai sentito nominare. È un portoricano?
( A mezza voce ) Ma da dove salta fuori questa?
Vive ancora a New York?
Oh sicuro. D’inverno spaccia erba su a East Harlem15.
Va da lei ) Ti prego . . . fatti abbracciare un attimo, su, dai, Velma. ( VELMA dà di nuovo
segni di volersene andare ) Non muoverti! Ferma dove sei . . . non ti voglio mica fare male. Se solo
ti fidassi, allora tutto si metterebbe a posto. Credimi, ti prego . . . va bene?
( Le sorride in modo davvero sincero )
( Dopo un attimo ) Va bene . . . dai.
Brava, Velma. E poi io ho bisogno di qualcuno con cui parlare e tu hai bisogno di qualcuno
con cui parlare. Giusto?
Si, giusto.
In altre parole, tutti e due abbiamo bisogno di qualcuno che ci ascolti.
Vuoi dire che quelle donne . . . cioè, Frankie, quelle ragazze, non volevano mai stare a sentire
quello che dicevi? Intendo quelle che venivano qui di solito?
Mai! Questo è il guaio, Velma.
E volevano parlare solo di loro, vero?
Esatto, Velma. Proprio così.
Ed è per questo che non sei ancora sposato, giusto? Perché non riusciresti a trovare una
ragazza che ti ascolti?
Si, forse questo è uno dei motivi . . .
Certo che però è difficile credere che tu non sia sposato. Secondo me saresti un marito come
si deve e anche un buon padre.
( Bruscamente ) E perché mai sarei un marito come si deve e anche un buon padre?
VELMA ( Di nuovo tremando )
Beh . . . perché i bambini si divertirebbero un mondo con te. Li faresti
ridere e via discorrendo. Io un padre che mi facesse ridere e divertire non ce l’ho mai avuto in realtà,
perché del mio mi ricordo poco niente.
Mi fai stare bene, Velma. Per certi versi con te sono quasi felice. Vedi, circa un anno fa in
questo periodo c’è mancato poco che mi sposassi. Avevo ‘sta fidanzata, e . . .
Era carina?
Questo non ha importanza adesso. E comunque non vuol dire niente. Si chiamava Carrie e
siamo stati assieme per più di un anno. Poi lei voleva sposarsi. Io no. Ricordatelo Velma: faccio
fatica anche a badare a me stesso. Beh, insomma, lei non faceva altro che parlare del matrimonio.
In a church. The whole works. And having lots of babies afterwards. It scared me, Velma. She was
ashamed now. She didn’t think we should go on living together. ( He laughs bitterly ) We had to
make it all legal! Carrie said some pretty stupid things to me. I was beginning to feel nervous and
miserable. “Frankie Basta,” she screamed at me, “you’re not a man! You can’t face up
responsibilities!” Over and over again she said this to me. Christ, Velma, I couldn’t even take care
of myself then. Almost like now: no job, no prospects, no nothing. And I didn’t know whether I was
a good poet or a bad one. I still don’t know. And so, I asked her to try and understand. I knew I
would fail her then. I said to her, “Please, Carrie-baby, just hold on and wait, and then we’ll see,
Carrie-honey…we’ll see, okay?”
But she didn’t huh?
Didn’t wait, you mean? No, she didn’t wait and she wouldn’t see. You can’t do it, Velma,
you can’t do it! It’s almost impossible to make people understand certain things, especially the
people who you care so much about, the people who you love . . . or the people you could care about
and love . . .
( Softly ) I . . . don’t know what to say to you.
You don’t have to say anything, Velma. Just keep me company, that’s all. ( He goes to the
phonograph ) What would you like to hear? Do you have any favorite songs, Velma?
I like the one you played a little while ago.
No, I mean one of your own. Don’t you have one of your own favorites? That’s my favorite
( There’s a short pause )
Well . . . it’s mine too . . . now.
( She smiles faintly at him )
( Smiling back ) Then I’ll play it again, for the both of us.
It would make me happy, Frankie . . .
What’s the matter all of a sudden? I thought you were happy.
I am . . . but I’m also worried . . . and I’m getting tired . . . I’m feelin’ weak and
everything . . . ( The music begins to play softly ) Oh, that’s so nice . . . it makes me forget . . . things
. . . easier . . .
And you’re not rambling any more, either, are you?
Geez, you’re right! I never even thought of it.
( He has somehow managed to get her to get her to dance with him. It’s all rather awkward: his
drunkenness, her fear )
In chiesa. Di fare le cose in grande. E poi di avere tanti bambini. La cosa mi spaventava, Velma. E
allora questa si vergognava. Era convinta che noi non dovessimo continuare a vivere insieme. ( Con
una risata amara ) Dovevamo legalizzare il tutto! Carrie mi diceva di quelle cose davvero assurde.
Avevo iniziato a innervosirmi e a sentirmi un fallito. “Frankie Basta,” mi ha urlato dietro, “tu non
sei un uomo! Non sai assumerti delle responsabilità!” E me lo diceva in continuazione. Cristo santo,
Velma, all’epoca non riuscivo neanche a badare a me stesso. Più o meno come adesso: niente lavoro,
niente prospettive, niente di niente. E nemmeno sapevo se ero un bravo poeta o un buono a nulla.
Neanche adesso lo so. E così le avevo chiesto di cercare di capire la situazione. Sapevo che l’avrei
delusa. Le ho detto, “Ti prego, Carrie, piccola, devi soltanto tener duro e aspettare e poi si vedrà,
Carrie, tesoro mio . . . vedremo più avanti, no?”
Ma non l’ha fatto, eh?
Non ha aspettato, intendi? No, non ha aspettato e non ha voluto capire. Uno non ce la
fa, Velma, non ce la fa! È quasi impossibile far capire certe cose alla gente, soprattutto alle persone
a cui tieni davvero tanto, le persone che ami . . . o quelle a cui potresti tenere e che
potresti amare . . .
( Sommessamente ) Io . . . non so cosa dirti.
Ma non devi dire niente, Velma. Tienimi compagnia e basta. ( Va al grammofono ) Cosa
vuoi ascoltare? Hai qualche canzone preferita, Velma?
Mi piace quella che hai messo poco fa.
No, voglio dire una delle tue. Non ne hai una di tua? Quella è la mia canzone
( Una breve pausa )
Beh . . . è anche la mia . . . adesso.
( Accenna un sorriso )
( Le sorride di ritorno ) Allora la metto su di nuovo, per noi due.
Così sarei davvero felice, Frankie . . .
Beh cosa succede tutto d’un tratto? Pensavo che tu fossi felice.
Lo sono . . . ma sono anche preoccupata . . . e . . . mi sento stanca . . . mi sento debole e tutte
‘ste cose qui . . . ( La musica inizia a diffondersi sommessamente ) Oh, è così bella . . . adesso è così
facile . . . dimenticare . . . tante cose . . .
E hai anche smesso di tremare hai visto?
Oddio, hai ragione! Non ci avevo neanche fatto caso.
( In qualche modo è riuscito a farla ballare. Il tutto lascia trasparire una certa goffaggine:
l’ebbrezza di lui, la paura di lei )
( Singing, dancing ) “Are the stars out tonight? . . . I don’t know if it’s cloudy or bright!
. . . ‘Cause I only have eyes for . . . YOU!”
( Pulling away, embarrassed ) This picture of you and your family sure is nice, don’t you
think? Don’t you think so, Frankie?
( Singing ) “Dear Velma . . . Oh, the moon may be high . . .”
. . . and you can tell that you’re different from the rest of them. I mean you look like an artist
and everything . . . all the rest of them look nice and ordinary . . .
( Singing ) “ Maybe millions of people go by”
. . . but you really stand out in the picture! You look nice and . . . wild! If you know what I
mean? Frankie? Please, don’t sing to me any more, please! I’m getting to feel scared and I can’t
think when you keep singing to me like that, please!
( He turns off the phonograph ) I’m sorry, Velma. Look, anything to make you cozy.
Boy, oh boy, you really are drunk, aren’t you?
Why do you say . . . that?
Well, because you’re acting so funny.
I know, I know . . . Velma. Look, from here on in . . . well, just don’t mind me too
much . . . excuse me if I seem . . . in any way clumsy to you, okay?
Let me have your coat. I’ll hang it up for you.
( Motionless ) Frankie, I’m getting a tiny headache . . . do you think, Frankie, that you could
keep a secret? I’ve never been so worried . . .
C’mon now: your coat?
Yes . . .
( She hands her coat to him. FRANKIE goes and puts the coat on a hanger. He notices a newspaper
half-exposed in one of the pockets )
( Looking at it ) Velma, why are you reading a newspaper like this?
You’re mad again, aren’t you?
I buy it for my mother. She reads it.
How can you waste money this way?
I don’t wanna hear another word about your MOTHER! Do you hear me?
( Beginning to tremble again ) Yes, yes, Frankie.
Yeah, sure! You buy this rag for your old lady, but you read it too, don’t you?
( Cantando, ballando ) “Are the stars out tonight? . . . I don’t know if it’s cloudy or bright!
. . . ‘cause I only have eyes for . . . YOU!”
( Si allontana, imbarazzata )
Questa fotografia di te e la tua famiglia è proprio bella,
non credi? Non credi anche tu, Frankie?
( Cantando ) “Cara Velma . . . Oh, the moon might be high . . .”
. . . e si può dire che tu sei diverso da tutti loro. Cioè, si vede che sei un artista e via
discorrendo . . . tutti gli altri sono gente per bene qualunque . . .
( Cantando ) “Maybe millions of people go by”
. . . ma te invece, nella fotografia, ti si vede proprio! Sei carino e . . . ribelle! Non so se mi
spiego, Frankie? Ti prego, smettila di cantare, per favore! Mi sta venendo su l’angoscia e non riesco
a pensare se continui a cantare in quel modo, ti prego!
( Spegne il giradischi ) Mi dispiace, Velma. Senti, sul serio, qualsiasi cosa per farti sentire
a tuo agio.
Mamma mia, sei proprio ubriaco, eh?
Perché dici . . . così?
Beh, perché ti stai comportando in modo davvero strano.
Lo so, lo so . . . Velma. Guarda, d’ora in avanti . . . beh, non darmi più di tanta retta . . .
scusami se davanti a te sto facendo la figura . . . del maleducato, d’accordo?
Dammi pure il cappotto. Lo vado ad appendere.
( Immobile ) Frankie, mi sta venendo un po’ di mal di testa . . . tu, Frankie, credi di saper
mantenere un segreto? Non sono mai stata così preoccupata . . .
Dai, su: il cappotto?
Va bene . . .
( Gli passa il cappotto. FRANKIE va lo va a mettere sull’attaccapanni. Nota un giornale che sporge
da una delle tasche )
( Gli dà un’occhiata ) Velma, ma perché leggi un giornale del genere?
Sei di nuovo arrabbiato, vero?
Lo prendo per mia madre. È lei che lo legge.
Ma come fai a buttare via i soldi in questo modo?
Non voglio sentire un’altra parola su tua MADRE! Hai capito sì o no?
( Di nuovo assalita dal tremore ) Sì, sì Frankie.
Sì, certo, come no! Compri questa carta straccia per la tua vecchia, ma lo leggi anche tu, o
It . . . has lots of gossip in it . . . about all the stars and the celebrities . . . and everything!
FRANKIE ( Reading )
“Mother Uses Daughter’s Head For Hammer!” ( He rips the newspaper up with
great fury ) Velma, why do you read such shit? What are you trying to do to yourself? ( Angrily )
“Mother Uses Daughter’s Head For Hammer!” ( He moves closer to her ) God, Velma, I mean
what’s happening?
( He makes and attempt at embracing her )
Please, please, please!
EVERYBODY, OF EVERYTHING! ( She tries to run from him ) I never thought of it ‘til now . . .
they’ll do somethin’ to me, won’t they? I want my coat back! I’VE NEVER BEEN ALONE WITH
A MAN BEFORE! My mother would think . . . my mother!
I can’t stay here tonight! Maybe it jist isn’t right for me to stay here with you . . . not tonight!
You’ve got to now. You’re in no shape to go anywhere. It’ll be all right, Velma. You’ll
sleep in my bed, and I’ll sleep on the floor. Nothing hard about that, is there?
I can’t Frankie! I’ve . . . got . . . to . . . be . . . there!
What are you talking about? ( He moves towards her again, his arms outstretched ) Please,
just let me hold you and whisper in your ear, Velma?
NOOOOOOO! ( She pulls a small kitchen knife out of her pocketbook. It is partly caked with
even married yet . . . ( She is trembling as she holds the knife at
) You leave me alone,
Frankie . . . or I’ll kill you! ( FRANKIE is motionless ) When . . . we got up this morning, my mother
and me, we had coffeecake and caviar for breakfast. It was a big surprise. My mother said that we
were havin’ the treat even if payday was three days away yet. She said it was sort of special
celebration. My mother said that she was leaving for the mountains this afternoon. She was going
to a resort with a man. Harriet, my mother’s friend who lives in the next apartment, she told my
mother that there were a whole lot available man at this certain resort up in the mountains, the
Catskills, I think, and my mother said she was goin’ no matter what, and that I must send her money
every weekend until she has some luck. She said that I couldn’t go because I would scare the men
away, that I would ruin her chances, and that I was really such an ugly girl, that I looked like the
mother and she looked like the daughter . . . and then she said that was why were having the treat
early: to celebrate! The coffeecake and caviar . . . and then she asked me to cut her a big piece of
the coffeecake and to cover it with a whole lot of caviar . . . and so I started to cut the coffeecake
with this here knife, but . . .
Ci sono un sacco di pettegolezzi . . . su tutti gli attori e i personaggi famosi . . . e tutto il
( Leggendo ) “Madre usa testa della figlia come martello” ( Strappa il giornale con molta
rabbia ) Velma, ma perché leggi questa merda? Si può sapere in che stato vuoi ridurti? ( Con
veemenza ) “Madre usa testa della figlia come martello!” ( Le si avvicina ) Cristo santo, Velma, vuoi
dirmi cosa sta succedendo?
( Prova ad abbracciarla )
Ti prego, per favore, ti prego! Nooooooo! MI FAI PAURA! TUTTI QUANTI MI FANNO
PAURA, TUTTO! ( Prova a sfuggirgli ) Fino ad adesso non ci avevo mai pensato . . . oddio mi
faranno qualcosa? Ridammi il mio cappotto! NON SONO MAI STATA SOLA CON UN UOMO
PRIMA D’ORA! Mia madre penserebbe . . . mia madre!
Non posso stare qui stanotte! Forse non va proprio bene che io stia qui con te . . . non stanotte!
E invece adesso ti tocca per forza. Non sei nelle condizioni di andare da nessuna parte.
Andrà tutto bene, Velma. Tu dormirai nel mio letto e io dormirò per terra. Niente di complicato, no?
Io non posso, Frankie! Io . . . devo . . . andarci!
Ma di cosa stai parlando? ( Va di nuovo verso di lei, a braccia tese ) Ti prego, lascia che ti
abbracci e che ti sussurri all’orecchio, Velma?
NOOOOOOO! ( Tira fuori dalla borsetta un piccolo coltello da cucina. È in parte incrostato
di sangue secco ) STAMMI LONTANO TI HO DETTO! NON MI TOCCARE! Non siamo neanche
sposati . . . ( Trema mentre punta il coltello contro
ammazzo! (
) Lasciami stare, Frankie . . . o ti
è immobile ) Quando ci siamo alzate . . . questa mattina, io e mia madre
abbiamo fatto colazione con la torta al caffè e il caviale. È stata davvero una sorpresa. Ha detto che
ci stavamo concedendo la nostra solita ricompensa anche se mancavano tre giorni alla paga. Era una
sorta di festeggiamento speciale il nostro. Nel pomeriggio lei doveva partire per la montagna.
Doveva andare in un luogo di villeggiatura per conoscere un uomo. Harriet, l’amica di mia madre
che vive nell’appartamento di fianco, è stata lei a dirle che ci sono un sacco di uomini disponibili in
questo posto in montagna, nelle Catskills16 mi sembra, e mia madre ha detto che ci sarebbe andata
a tutti i costi e che io dovevo mandarle su i soldi ogni fine settimana fino a quando la fortuna non
sarebbe girata dalla sua parte. Io non potevo andare, ha detto, perché avrei fatto scappare gli uomini
a gambe levate, le avrei precluso molte possibilità io, perché ero una ragazza orrenda e io sembravo
la madre e lei sembrava la figlia . . . ed era per questo che ci stavamo concedendo la nostra solita
ricompensa: per festeggiare! Con la torta al caffè e il caviale . . . e poi mi ha chiesto di tagliarle una
fettona di torta e di ricoprirgliela con un sacco di caviale . . . e così ho iniziato a tagliare la torta con
( VELMA trembles to such a degree that the knife falls from her hand and onto the floor. She runs
to the bed and throws herself upon it in a burst of hysterical sobbing )
Velma, what have you done?
( He picks up the knife and lies it on his desk )
It’s my mother’s blood! I didn’t know what to do. I don’t . . . know why I did it! I don’t even
really remember that much, Frankie. When I got in the subway to come to work afterwards it was
jist like nuthin’ happened, nuthin’ at all! But do you know? I thought, I thought when my mother
asked me to cover her piece of coffeecake with a whole lot of caviar, I thought . . . my mother . . .
she thinks my head is a hammer! That’s what she thinks! AND IT ISN’T! IT ISN’T! Tell me,
Frankie, please tell me that my head is not a hammer!
( After a pause ) No, Velma, no. Your head is not a hammer.
( A brief pause ) Can I sleep here tonight?
( FRANKIE goes to the bottle and takes the longest gulp he can manage. He falls, exhausted, down
into a chair. He closes his eyes )
Sure . . . Velma.
( VELMA continues to sob on the bed, but it is growing softer now. FRANKIE gets up and turns off
all the lights. The moon is shining in through one of the windows )
( Very quietly ) What will they do too me? I’m scared Frankie . . .
They’re not going to do anything . . . to you. I’ll make sure of that . . .
( FRANKIE goes and sits down at his desk. He begins to scribble swiftly on a piece of paper )
( Vaguely ) It makes me sleepy . . . alcohol . . . makes me sooooo tired . . . I’ve never felt
soooo . . . tired . . . before in my whole life . . . ( She is no longer crying ) Help me . . . help me . . .
help . . . me . . .
( Still writing ) Yes, yes . . . I will, Velma Sparrow . . . I promise you that I will.
( VELMA is breathing heavily now. FRANKIE continues to write with great speed. He stops and then
begins to read )
( Aloud with a strange sobriety )
“Dead birds still have wings
Dead birds, saddest-looking things
Because they’re dead, on the ground
With their still wings, on the ground
Saddest-looking things
Dead birds still have wings,
questo coltello qua, ma . . .
trema a tal punto che il coltello le cade di mano e finisce atterra. Si precipita verso il
letto e ci si getta sopra in un’esplosione di singhiozzi isterici )
Velma, che cos’hai fatto?
( Raccoglie il coltello e lo mette sulla scrivania )
È il sangue di mia madre! Io non sapevo cosa fare. Io non so . . . perché l’ho fatto! E neanche
mi ricordo più di tanto, Frankie. Poi, quando ho preso la metropolitana per venire a lavorare era
come se non fosse successo niente, niente di niente! Ma sai cosa però? Io ho pensato, quando mia
madre mi ha chiesto di ricoprirle la sua fetta con tutto quel caviale, io ho pensato, ho pensato . . .
che mia madre . . . lei crede che la mia testa sia una martello! Ecco cosa pensa! E INVECE NO! E
INVECE NO! Dimmelo Frankie, ti prego, dimmi che la mia testa non è un martello!
( Dopo una pausa ) No, Velma, no. La tua testa non è un martello.
( Una breve pausa ) Posso dormire qui stanotte?
( FRANKIE va alla bottiglia e manda giù il sorso più grande che può. Esausto, si lascia cadere su
una sedia. Chiude gli occhi )
Certo . . . Velma.
( VELMA continua a singhiozzare nel suo letto, ora però in modo più sommesso. FRANKIE si alza e
spegne tutte le luci. La luna rischiara l’interno attraverso una delle finestre ).
( Con un filo di voce ) Cosa mi faranno? Ho paura, Frankie . . .
Non ti faranno . . . niente. Te lo assicuro . . .
( FRANKIE va a sedersi alla scrivania. Inizia a scribacchiare velocemente su un pezzo di carta )
( Vaneggiando ) L’alcool . . . mi fa venire sonno . . . mi fa sentire cooooosì stanca . . . non
mi sono mai sentita coooosì . . . stanca . . . in tutta la mia vita ( Ha smesso di piangere ) Aiuto . . .
aiutami . . . devi . . . aiutarmi . . .
Continuando a scrivere ) Si, certo . . . lo farò, Velma Sparrow . . . ti prometto che lo farò.
adesso ha il respiro pesante.
continua a scrivere a gran velocità. Si ferma e
quindi inizia a leggere )
( A voce alta, con un’insolita compostezza )
“Passeri morti con le loro ali
“Passeri morti, visioni invernali
“Se ne stanno lì immobili, a terra
Con le loro ali immobili, a terra
“Visioni invernali
Passeri morti con le loro immobili ali
Dead on the ground
Instead of the sky . . .”
( VELMA is sound asleep; her breathing is peaceful.
turns and faces
and forlorn figure. His eyes are full of tears. He stands up and lights a cigarette ) I have a treat
for you in the morning, Velma. ( He turns out the desk lamp ) I’ve just written you . . . a
Fermi a terra
“Non volteggiano più nel cielo . . .”
( VELMA dorme profondamente; il suo respiro è tranquillo. FRANKIE si gira e osserva VELMA in
tutto il suo sfinimento e il suo abbandono. Ha gli occhi pieni di lacrime. Si alza e accende una
sigaretta ) Domani mattina ho una sorpresa per te, Velma. ( Spegne la lampada da tavolo ) Ti
ho appena scritto una cosa . . . per San Valentino.
Note al testo
Il termine «birdbath» indica alle vasche d’acqua che molto spesso si trovano nei giardini a scopo ornamentale e che
hanno il fine pratico di dare ristoro agli uccellini di passaggio. Il titolo è altamente metaforico ed è stato lasciato in inglese
proprio perché racchiude in sé l’essenza dell’intero dramma – la sua traduzione in italiano avrebbe compromesso questo
perfetto equilibrio.
L’ italiano «tavola calda» si avvicina solo in parte al termine inglese «cafeteria» indicante un ristorante self service in
cui il cibo è generalmente esposto al bancone o in appositi supporti.
L’aggettivo «midtown» letteralmente significa «del centro città», ma poiché l’azione si svolge a New York il termine si
riferisce alla zona centrale di Manhattan chiamata Midtown.
The Bronx è uno dei cinque boroughs di New York; si trova nella zona nord della città, a nord di Manhattan e del
Schrafft’s è il nome di una catena di ristoranti molto popolare negli Stati Uniti e soprattutto a New York. Il picco del
successo commerciale di Schrafft’s venne raggiunto all’inizio degli anni sessanta, quando soltanto a New York si
contavano una cinquantina di ristoranti; successivamente la compagnia iniziò una fase di lento declino fino alla scomparsa
definitiva negli anni ottanta. Nell’immaginario collettivo Schrafft’s era un locale per signore appartenenti alla borghesia
medio-alta, a questo contribuiva senz’altro il fatto che molti di questi ristoranti si trovassero nelle migliori zone della città
e che gran parte del personale fosse femminile. Nonostante le modifiche apportate ad alcuni dei locali, quella femminile
fu sempre la clientela predominante e Schrafft’s non riuscì mai a togliersi l’etichetta di “ristorante da donne”. (NYC
Landmarks Preservation Commision)
Il Radio City Music Hall è un teatro di New York sulla Sixth Avenue, fa parte del complesso architettonico del
Rockefeller Center. L’edificio venne costruito nel 1932 su progetto dell’architetto Edward Durell Stone; gli interni
vennero invece affidati al designer Donald Deskey. Lo stile impiegato è quello Art Deco di ispirazione europea. Dalla
sua inaugurazione nel dicembre del 1932 fino agli anni ottanta funzionò sia come teatro sia come cinema, successivamente
soltanto come teatro. (radiocity.com)
I Only Have Eyes For You è una canzone del 1934 scritta da Al Dubin e Harry Warren. Negli anni trenta ebbe un discreto
successo grazie al suo utilizzo al cinema, tuttavia giunse alla consacrazione definitiva soltanto nel 1959 grazie al gruppo
dei Flamingos. Altri celebri interpreti del pezzo sono stati Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald e Billie Holiday.
La mia è una traduzione libera. «The ugly sparrow» fa riferimento al cognome del personaggio; letteralmente il termine
«sparrow» indica il passerotto.
Il Greenwich Village, o semplicemente il Village, è un quartiere di Manhattan. Nel corso del ventesimo secolo è stato il
fulcro di numerosi movimenti d’avanguardia sia artistica sia sociale e proprio per questo motivo è passato alla storia come
il quartiere bohémien di New York. Nel Greenwich Village ha avuto inizio la anche produzione teatrale Off-OffBroadway.
Nel testo in inglese «Leprechauns» è un termine che indica un personaggio del folklore irlandese. Si tratta di un folletto
che secondo la leggenda è in grado di rivelare dove è sepolto un paiolo d’oro a chiunque riesca ad acchiapparlo (Webster’s
New World College Dictionary). Il gioco di parole inglese è ovviamente irripetibile in italiano.
Il Loew’s Paradise è un teatro situato nel Grand Concourse, uno dei viali principali del Bronx. L’edificio venne
progettato dall’architetto John Eberson e venne costruito tra il 1927 e il 1929. Il Loew’s Paradise venne inizialmente
utilizzato come cinema; faceva parte del colosso dell’industria dell’intrattenimento Loew e rientrava nel gruppo dei
Loew's Wonder Theatres. La peculiarità di questo edificio sono i suoi interni in perfetto atmospheric style ispirati ai
giardini barocchi del diciassettesimo secolo. (NYC Landmarks Preservation Commision)
Il termine «coffeecake» si riferisce alla torta che normalmente viene servita assieme al caffè; essa non è necessariamente
al caffe. La mia scelta di usare l’italiano «torta al caffè» è soltanto una della possibilità di traduzione.
Il nome Merry-go-round Club potrebbe riferirsi al Club 82 o ad uno degli spettacoli da esso allestiti. Il Club 82 era un
nightclub dell’East Village, venne fondato nel 1953 e fu attivo fino ai primi anni settanta; al suo interno andavano in
scena spettacoli di varietà all’insegna della trasgressione più estrema. Tra il pubblico vi erano spesso anche molti
personaggi famosi come Liz Taylor, Montgomery Clift e Judy Garland. Nei primi anni sessanta il Club 82 allestì un
varietà chiamato East Side Merry-Go-Round. (huffingtonpost.com)
Ed Sullivan (1901 -1974) è stato un attore, presentatore e personalità di punta del mondo dello spettacolo americano
del 20° secolo. Viene ricordato soprattutto per l’Ed Sullivan Show; a lui è stato dedicato un teatro di Broadway
East Harlem è un quartiere del borough di Manhattan; data la grande presenza di immigrati latini – soprattutto
portoricani – è detto anche Spanish Harlem.
I Monti Catskill sono una catena montuosa che si estende nella parte meridionale dello stato di New York.
he’s going to be 30 very soon.
she hit 50 the other day.
Manhattan: somewhere in the West Eighties off West End Avenue. An old residence-type “hotel”,
full of furnished rooms, trite and threadbare, with bathrooms in the hallways; somewhat clean and
tidy and quiet, but antiquated, dreary-looking, musty-smelling.
Very late in the afternoon, a few days before Halloween; the present.
The lights slowly come up on a dismal corner of a hallway on the third floor. LUKE enters in the semilight, carrying a small brown paper bag with him. He is humming quietly to himself. Then he gets
louder and begins to half-sing since he is not certain of the words of the song.
sings something like: “Someday she’ll come along . . . The girl I love . . . And I’ll be big and
strong . . . For the girl I love . . . And when she comes my way . . . She’ll understand . . . And everything
will be okay . . . Because she’s found her man . . . Her one and only man . . . The girl I love . . .”
He unlocks the door to his furnished room and then he switches on the lights. The place has been
Hey, what the hell’s going on here? ( He stands in the open doorway ) Son of a bitch! I’ve
been robbed! ( He looks around ) Goddammitt! My clock radio is gone . . . my hi-fi is missing . . .
my tape recorder’s disappeared . . . my electric shoe-polisher isn’t here. ( He moves in now very
carefully ) My polaroid camera! My electric razor! None of my things are here any more. ( He is
suddenly tense ) Somebody’s robbed me! ( He flings the brown paper bag violently up against a
a breve compirà trent’anni.
ha varcato la soglia dei cinquanta l’altro giorno.
Manhattan: un posto come tanti in un isolato dell’Upper West Side, non molto lontano dalla West
End Avenue1. Una vecchia casa-albergo, piena di stanze arredate, vecchie e logore, coi bagni nei
corridoi; abbastanza pulita, in ordine e tranquilla, ma antiquata, cupa e pervasa dall’odore di muffa.
Nel tardo pomeriggio, qualche giorno prima di Halloween; nel presente.
Le luci si alzano lentamente in un angolo lugubre di un corridoio al terzo piano.
fa il suo
ingresso nella semioscurità, ha con sé una busta di carta marrone. Sta canticchiando tra sé e sé. Poi
alza la voce e inizia a cantare in modo incerto dal momento che non è sicuro delle parole della
canta qualcosa come: “Someday she’ll come along . . . The girl I love . . . And I’ll be big and
strong . . . For the girl I love . . . And when she comes my way . . . She’ll understand . . . And everything
will be okay . . . Because she’s found her man . . . Her one and only man . . . The girl I love . . .”2
Apre la porta chiusa a chiave della sua stanza ammobiliata e quindi accende le luci. Il posto è stato
messo a soqquadro.
Ehi, ma che diavolo succede qui? ( In piedi sulla soglia della porta spalancata ) Porca puttana!
Mi hanno portato via tutto! ( Si guarda intorno ) Maledizione! La mia radiosveglia è sparita . . . il
mio giradischi è sparito . . . anche il registratore . . . e dov’è il mio lucidascarpe elettrico? ( Entra
con fare molto circospetto ) La polaroid! Il rasoio elettrico! Tutte le mie cose sono sparite. ( Assalito
da un improvviso nervosismo ) Qualcuno mi ha ripulito. ( Scaraventa contro il muro la busta di
wall ) Someone’s taken everything I own! ( He goes to the wide-opened window ) The rotten
bastards! I’ll kill them! ( He looks far out the window ) I’ll murder them . . . I swear to shit I will!
POLICE! ( He begins to search in the rest of the place ) All my cuff links . . . my rings . . . my tie
pins and tie clasps, my Confirmation watch and my Holy Communion identification bracelet. If I
get my hands on them I’ll strangle them to death! AND I CAN DO IT TOO! ( Continuing the
search ) My cigarette cases, my cigarette lighters . . . my fountain pen and pencil set! ( He runs out
He goes back in his room ) They came in through the window, that’s it1 On the fire escape! ( Out
of the window ) HEY, POLICE! POLICE! ( He goes and opens up the closet door and then rushes
through his clothes ) My suit! My best suit! My two-hundred-dollar blue silk suit! I’ll kick the
bastards to death! ( He bangs the closet door shut ) Awwwwwww . . . ! For Christ’s sake! For Jesus
Christ’s sake! ( He throws himself down on the bed ) I hope the bastards bleed to death! I hope they
get hit by a car, a bus, a train. And I hope and pray to God that they will suffer! ( He behaves like
an impetuous child, tossing and turning and moaning and gritting his teeth on the bed, kicking and
punching the pillows and the wall ) My rubber box! No, man . . . please, dear God, don’t make them
have taken my rubber box! ( He looks in the opened drawer of the small table beside his bed ) It’s
gone! They took it! My rubber box! I’LL KILL THEM! ( He runs in the hallway again ) POLICE!
It was solid gold! And it had a diamond on it, and my name was engraved on the bottom of it. My
. . . rubber box . . . ( He goes back into the room ) I feel just like plain goddam crying out loud, that’s
what I feel just like doing right now. ( He sits on the edge of the bed and puts his hands up to his
eyes ) Awwwwwwww . . . God! What did I do to deserve all of this? ( He begins to cry to himself )
Shit! That’s what I say: shit! ( He gets up, his eyes full of tears ) Look at them! Will you just look
at them all? ( He glances around at the ceiling and the walls and the floor ) Filthy cruddy
cockroaches! I hate the dirty lousy crawling creepy bastards! ( He begins to attack them with his
hands ) I’ll fix you little shitheads now! Man, you’ve all had it now! ( He takes a large can from
out of the brown paper bag that he threw against the wall. He begins to spray like a madman ) You
don’t have a chance now! None of you, you understand? ( He bangs the window shut ) Die! You
miserable little pricks! Die! ( He bangs the door shut and continues to spray impulsively ) Look at
them come out of their secret little nests. Hundreds of them: the mothers and the fathers and their
children: their spoiled little brats. Boy, they must really fuck a lot: cockroaches! A human being
doesn’t have a chance. I mean, just take a good long look at them, will you? All of the expectant
mothers are carrying those tiny tan-colored sacks around with them. There must be a hundred brandnew little kids inside of those tiny dragging sacks. ( He sits down on a chair in the middle of the
room ) Bang, boom, CUH! Die! You lousy creepy bastards you! Die! ( He makes a long sound like
carta marrone ) Qualcuno si è fregato tutte le mie cose! ( Va verso la finestra spalancata ) Bastardi
schifosi! Io li ammazzo! ( Guarda fuori dalla finestra ) Io li faccio fuori . . . puoi scommetterci!
POLIZIA! ( Si mette a ispezionare il resto della stanza ) Tutti i miei gemelli . . . gli anelli . . . le mie
spille da cravatta e i fermacravatta, l’orologio della Cresima e il braccialetto col mio nome della
Prima Comunione. Se riesco a mettergli le mani addosso li strangolo fino a lasciarli secchi.
ECCOME SE LO FACCIO! ( Continuando a rovistare ) I miei portasigarette, i miei accendini . . .
la mia stilografica e i set di matite! ( Corre fuori nel corridoio ) EHI! MI HANNO PORTATO VIA
TUTTO! CHIAMATE LA POLIZIA, DAI, QUALCUNO! ( Torna nella sua stanza ) Sono entrati
per la finestra, ecco com’è andata! Quella sulla scala antincendio! ( Fuori dalla finestra ) EHI,
POLIZIA! POLIZIA! ( Spalanca la porta dell’armadio e poi passa in rassegna i vesti come una
furia ) Il mio completo! Il mio completo più bello! Il mio completo in seta blu da duecento dollari!
Io li pesto a sangue quei maledetti! ( Chiude la porta dell’armadio sbattendola ) Ohhhhhhh . . . !
Cristo santo! Gesù Cristo santo! ( Si butta sul letto ) Spero che quei bastardi muoiano dissanguati!
Spero che vengano messi sotto da una macchina, da un autobus, da un treno. E spero, e prego il
Signore, che soffrano! ( Sul letto si comporta come un bambino capriccioso, si gira e si rigira, si
lamenta e digrigna i denti, tira calci e pugni ai cuscini e al muro ) La scatola dei preservativi! No
dai . . . ti prego, Dio santo, fa che non si siano presi la scatola dei preservativi! ( Guarda nel cassetto
aperto del comodino ) Sparita! Se la sono presa! La mia scatola dei preservativi! IO LI AMMAZZO!
( Corre di nuovo nel corridoio ) POLIZIA! Era d’oro massiccio. E aveva un diamante sopra, e il
mio nome era inciso sul fondo. La mia . . . scatola . . . ( Torna nella stanza ) Ho solo voglia di urlare
a tutto spiano, ecco cosa ho voglia di fare adesso ( Si siede sull’orlo del letto e si mette le mani
davanti agli occhi ) Oddioooooooo! Cosa ho fatto per meritarmi tutto questo? ( Si mette a
piagnucolare fra sé e sé ) Merda! Ecco quello che dico: merda! ( Si alza con le lacrime agli occhi )
Ma guardali! Ma guarda te che roba! ( Dà un’occhiata intorno al soffitto, ai muri e al pavimento )
Luride bestie schifose! Io li odio ‘sti maledetti bastardi schifosi che strisciano dappertutto. ( Si mette
a schiacciarli con le mani ) Adesso vi sistemo io, stronzetti! Ragazzi, adesso ve la siete proprio
cercata! ( Prende una lunga bomboletta dalla busta di carta marrone che ha scaraventato contro il
muro. Inizia a spruzzare come un forsennato ) Non avete scampo adesso! Nessuno di voi, capito? (
Chiude la finestra sbattendola ) Dovete morire! Bastardi maledetti! Crepate! ( Chiude la porta
sbattendola e continua a spruzzare preso dalla foga ) Ma guardali come vengono fuori da dove
sono rintanati. In massa: maschi, femmine e i loro figli, razza di mocciosi! Certo che ci devono dare
dentro un sacco ‘sti scarafaggi! Un uomo non può tenergli testa. Ma dai, basta guardarli, no? Tutte
‘ste future madri che si portano dietro quei cosi marroncini. Ci saranno un centinaio di nuovi
marmocchi dentro a quegli affari che si trascinano dietro. ( Si siede su una sedia al centro
a machine gun ) Drop from the ceiling, I don’t care! Crawl out from the cracks up there and the
light fixtures. Crawl out from the dirty woodwork and from underneath the dirty rug. I don’t give a
good goddam any more, do you hear me? Bang, boom, CUH! Come out for air, stupid brown
shitheads, but you’re still going to croak in your tracks: your fat wives are and your fat husbands
are and your fat brothers are and your fat sisters are. Come out of the cruddy stove and the greasy
refrigerator and the moth-infested closet and from underneath the slimy sink. I see you over there:
dying on the wet water pipes, falling in that paper garbage bag full of soggy, sloshing garbage. I can
just imagine them all: crawling and creeping around like crazy nuts, in and out of the pockets of my
slacks and sports jackets and suits and coats in that stinking dark closet there! ( He gets up ) But not
in the silk-lined pockets of my two-hundred-dollar blue silk suit, my best suit . . . CUSTOM MADE!
. . . especially tailored for me! No, man, you sneaky guys ain’t gonna die no expensive deaths in
that two-hundred-dollar silk suit of mine because it ain’t here any more! IT’S BEEN STOLEN!
I’VE BEEN ROBBED! ( He opens the closet door and begins to shake all of his clothes wildly )
Jesus, now, will you just stand there and look at them all? Will you, now! ( MARGARET appears in
the hallway. She is dressed to leave and carries a full shopping bag with her ) Before I go to sleep
here tonight in this frigging rathole, I’m going to make sure that each one of you is stone dead! DO
stops and turns to
back down in the chair ) I wish I had a penny, that’s all, just one single penny, for every single
cockroach dying here right now. I’d be rich enough to buy everything back that was stolen from me
this afternoon. ( MARGARET is now listening at the door. LUKE gets up from the chair and lies down
on his bed. He is exhausted ) They really do fuck a lot: cockroaches! They must love to do it. I love
to do it . . . too! I’M TELLING YOU: I REALLY DO LOVE TO DO IT! ( He begins to sob
again ) I want to . . . so much sometimes . . . I really want to! It’s not fair, God, it’s really and truly
not fair. You know, you actually piss me off sometimes, God, You really do! ( He quiets down for
a moment ) I’VE BEEN ROBBED! (
knocks lightly on his door.
sits up on the
bed ) Who is it? Who’s there?
( Getting off the bed ) Who’s Margaret? I don’t know anyone named Margaret.
It’s Margaret . . .
I’m Margaret Moon. I . . .
What do you want?
I heard you yell for help.
della stanza ) Tsss, tsss, SCIÒ!3 Crepate! Maledette bestie bastarde! Dovete crepare! ( Emette un
lungo suono simile ad una mitragliatrice ) Dai, continuate pure a venire giù dal soffitto, tanto non
me ne frega niente! Potete anche venire fuori dalle crepe lì in alto e dalle lampade. E dal legno4
ridotto a uno schifo e da quello schifo di tappeto. Non me ne frega un bel niente di niente, avete
sentito? Tsss, tsss, SCIÒ! Venite fuori a prendere aria, brutti farabutti marroni, tanto rimarrete
stecchiti all’istante, voi e quelle fetenti delle vostre mogli, dei vostri mariti, dei vostri fratelli e delle
vostre sorelle. Potete anche venire fuori da quello schifo di fornello e dal quel frigorifero tutto
imbrattato di grasso, dall’armadio infestato dalle tarme e da sotto quel lavandino melmoso. Vi vedo
come schiattate lì in fondo, su quei tubi che perdono acqua da tutte le parti e come andate a finire in
quel sacchetto pieno di robaccia tutta inzuppata e molliccia. Già me li immagino come strisciano
tutti quanti e si muovono come pazzi furiosi, dentro e fuori dalle tasche dei miei pantaloni e delle
mie giacche sportive, nei miei completi e nei miei cappotti, in quel cesso di armadio che puzza come
non so cosa! ( Si alza ) Ma non nel mio completo blu, di seta, da duecento dollari, con le tasche
foderate in seta, il mio miglior completo . . . FATTO SU MISURA! . . . fatto apposta per me! Eh no
cari miei, voi farabutti non avrete il lusso di crepare nel mio completo di seta, perché non c’è più!
dell’armadio e inizia a scuotere con furia tutti i suoi vestiti ) Cristo, ma guardali, ma guarda quanti
sono! Eddai! ( MARGARET compare nel corridoio. È vestita per andare a casa e ha con sé una borsa
della spesa piena di cose) Stasera, prima di mettermi a dormire in questo maledetto tugurio, farò sì
che ognuno di voi sia stecchito! Avete capito, farabutti? (
si ferma e si gira verso la
porta di LUKE. LUKE si lascia cadere sulla sedia ) Vorrei solo un centesimo, soltanto un centesimo
per ogni scarafaggio che adesso sta schiattando qui dentro. Farei su abbastanza soldi per ricomprare
tutto quello che mi hanno rubato ‘sto pomeriggio. ( MARGARET ora sta ascoltando dalla porta. LUKE
si alza dalla sedia e si distende sul letto. È sfinito ) Certo che ‘sti scarafaggi ci danno davvero dentro!
Deve piacergli da morire. Anche a me . . . piace tanto! Sul serio! DICO SUL SERIO: ANCHE A
ME PIACE TANTO! ( Inizia di nuovo a singhiozzare ) Vorrei anch’io . . . così tanto a volte . . .
vorrei davvero! Non è giusto, Signore, davvero, non è giusto. Sai, a volte mi fai incazzare, Signore,
sul serio! ( Si calma per un istante ) MI HANNO PORTATO VIA TUTTO! (
lievemente alla porta LUKE si alza a sedere sul letto ) Chi è? Chi va là?
( Scende dal letto ) Margaret chi? Io non conosco nessuna Margaret.
Sono Margaret . . .
Mi chiamo Margaret Moon. Io . . .
Che cosa vuole?
Ho sentito che chiedeva aiuto a gran voce.
I didn’t yell for help.
I heard you say that you were robbed.
What do you do: listen at the keyholes all of the time? This place is giving me the creeps. I’m
moving out of here as fast as I can.
( LUKE goes to the door very cautiously and with much suspicion in his manner )
Oh? I’ll go . . . then.
( She begins to move slowly away. LUKE then opens the door; he is slow and sure and careful as
he does it )
( Peeking out ) Who are you? What are you doing here?
You told me before.
I work here.
Then maybe you know something about me being robbed.
You just moved in yesterday.
How come you know so much?
I don’t live here.
Then what are you doing, sneaking around hallways like this?
Well, you asked me twice already.
You got a phone in your room? I gotta call the police.
I’m Margaret Moon.
I’m one of the maids here.
The cleaning lady . . .
I’m a maid. I clean up the rooms in this building. I do the third floor and the fourth floor
all by myself, Monday through Saturday, six days a week, from eight ‘til three o’clock every
afternoon, except Saturdays when I go home at noon. You won’t be seeing me for the next two
weeks. Dolores will be cleaning your room while I’m away on my vacation enjoying myself.
( His patience gone ) I was just robbed, miss! They cleaned me out! Swiped all of the things
that meant so much to me, all of the things that were worth the most money.
And this place is full of dying cockroaches!
Yes, I know . . .
I’m moving out of here tomorrow!
I’m sorry . . .
Why don’t you give it all another chance? I’ll be coming back in two weeks.
They got in through the window. The window was locked when I left today. Did you open the
Io non ho chiesto aiuto a gran voce.
Ho sentito che diceva di essere stato derubato.
Beh, e adesso cosa fa: passa il tempo ad ascoltare attraverso il buco della serratura? Questo
posto mi fa vomitare. Me ne andrò da qui il più presto possibile.
( LUKE si avvicina alla porta con molta cautela e con fare alquanto diffidente )
Oh? Me ne vado . . . allora.
( Inizia ad allontanarsi lentamente. Quindi
apre la porta; nel farlo è lento, risoluto e allo
stesso tempo guardingo )
( Dando un sbirciatina fuori ) Chi è lei? Cosa ci fa qui?
Questo me l’ha già detto.
Io lavoro qui.
Allora forse saprà qualcosa sui ladri che mi hanno ripulito.
Lei è qui solo da ieri.
Come fa a sapere tutte queste cose?
Io non abito qui.
E allora come mai è qui a gironzolare così, di soppiatto, per i corridoi?
Beh, me l’ha chiesto già due volte.
Senta, ce l’ha un telefono in camera? Devo chiamare la polizia.
Mi chiamo Margaret Moon.
Sono una delle cameriere ai piani.
La donna delle pulizie . . .
Io sono una cameriera ai piani. Pulisco le stanze di questo stabile. Mi occupo del terzo
e del quarto piano tutto da sola, da lunedì a sabato, sei giorni alla settimana, dalle otto alle tre del
pomeriggio, tranne il sabato che vado a casa a mezzogiorno. Non mi vedrà nelle prossime due
settimane. Dolores pulirà la sua stanza mentre io sarò in vacanza a divertirmi.
LUKE ( La sua pazienza è esaurita )
Mi hanno appena portato via tutto, signorina! Mi hanno ripulito!
Mi hanno fregato tutte le cose a cui tenevo così tanto, tutte le cose che valevano più soldi.
E la mia stanza è piena di scarafaggi mezzi morti!
Si, lo so . . .
Domani me ne andrò via da qui.
Mi dispiace . . .
Perché non si dà una seconda possibilità? Io torno tra due settimane.
Sono entrati dalla finestra. Oggi, quando me ne sono andato, la finestra era bloccata. Ha aperto
lei la finestra?
Yes, you did! I can tell!
You stop that!
You did open the window, didn’t you?
Don’t raise your voice to me like that.
You’re lying to me!
I . . . no . . .
What are you implying: that I’m a liar?
Yes, you’re a liar! I can tell!
Don’t call me a liar, young man! And stop that screaming at me, do you hear? If I get
my Irish temper up you’ll be sorry!
Yeah? Well, I already got mine up!
You know too much.
You’re both what?
My mother’s name was O’Leary. My father’s the Italian. I’m Luke O’Leary Lovello.
You have no respect for other people, do you?
I’m both, miss.
I happened to see it on one of your suitcases in the closet.
Like I just said before, miss – you know too much!
You’re not Irish. I saw your name. It’s Italian.
I see.
So that’s really something, don’t you think? An Irish temper is bad enough. But combined
with the temper of an Italian? Well, it will knock you right on your ass!
Watch your language with me, young man! You’re not talking to just plain trash! Do
you hear me?
All right, I’m sorry . . . ( He goes down the hallway ) POLICE!
( There is a short pause )
Thanks. But it doesn’t do me any good.
I did do it . . .
Do what?
I feel bad about the robbery.
I did open the window.
I knew it! Now wasn’t that a stupid thing to do?
I told you not to rise your voice to me. Have some respect for your elders.
E invece sì! Me la sento.
Ma la smetta!
Sì che hai aperto tu la finestra, vuoi dire di no?
Non alzi la voce con me in quel modo.
Non mi sta dicendo la verità.
No . . . io . . .
Cosa sta insinuando, che sono una bugiarda?
Si, sei una bugiarda. Si vede.
Non darmi della bugiarda, giovanotto! E smettila di urlarmi dietro in quel modo, capito?
Se tiro fuori il mio carattere da irlandese te ne pentirai!
Ah sì? Io ho già tirato fuori il mio!
Tu sai troppe cose.
Lei non ha rispetto per le altre persone, o no?
Io, signorina, sono tutti e due.
L’ho visto per caso, su una delle valigie che hai in armadio.
Come le ho già detto, signorina – lei sa troppe cose!
Tu non sei irlandese. Ho visto come ti chiami. Sei italiano.
Sei tutti e due cosa?
Il cognome di mia madre era O’Leary. Mio padre è quello italiano. Io sono Luke O’Leary
Va bene.
È davvero pazzesco, non credi? Il carattere irlandese è già brutto che basta. Ma messo assieme
a quello italiano? Ah, robe da sbatterti a terra e lasciarti secco all’istante!
Bada a come parli, giovanotto! Non hai a che fare col primo sacco di spazzatura che
trovi per strada. Hai capito?
E va bene, mi dispiace . . . ( Va verso il corridoio ) POLIZIA!
( Una breve pausa )
Grazie. Ma non è che mi aiuti più di tanto.
Sono stata io . . .
A fare cosa?
Mi spiace per il furto.
Ad aprire la finestra.
Lo sapevo! E non è stata una cosa stupida?
Ti ho detto di non alzare la voce con me. Abbi un po’ di rispetto per chi ha più anni di
Do you want to come in? Do you want to come in and see what they took? ( He opens the door
wide for her ) It will make you sick. All the things that meant so much to me: GONE! ( MARGARET
enters the room with him ) The smell is going to make you sick too: cockroach poison everywhere
in the air.
( He slams the door behind them )
Why not?
Then why be so upset?
Do you smoke?
It could have been a lot worse, you know?
Lady, it has been a lot worse, let me tell you!
What don’t you make a try of being calm?
Of course I’m excited and of course I’m not calm. Wouldn’t you be?
You’re much too excited, young man.
I don’t very much either. But I need a cigarette right now.
Try some hot tea. It will make you feel better. It will give you a lift. It’s good weather
for hot tea. It’s getting awfully cold out there. It’s supposed to go down to thirty degrees tonight.
That’s very unusual for the end of October.
I’m mad, lady, really mad! Why didn’t you leave the window closed and locked the way I left
it? I was warned about the daily robberies in this neighborhood. Lots of Puerto Ricans around.
This is all a new experience for me. I’ve never been on my own before.
About time that you were on your own.
Actually, lady, it’s none of your business. Did you ever think of that?
Then it’s about time, don’t you think?
About time for what?
How old are you?
I’m going to be thirty very soon.
Lots of them on the next street over.
You’re very fresh. Did you ever think of that?
Then get out! ( He opens the door ) G’wan! Leave, lady, I don’t need you around to make
things worse! You’re the one to blame for my being robbed. You’re the responsible one, lady!
C’mon now: did you ever think of that?
Vuoi entrare? Vuoi entrare e vendere cos’hanno portato via? ( Le spalanca la porta ) Ti farà
venire la nausea. Tutte le cose a cui tenevo un sacco: SPARITE! ( MARGARET entra nella stanza con
lui ) Anche l’odore ti farà venire il voltastomaco: la stanza è piena di insetticida per quelle bestiacce.
( Chiude la porta alle loro spalle sbattendola )
Perché non dovrei, scusa?
Ma perché essere così arrabbiati?
Tu fumi?
Ti sarebbe potuta andare molto peggio, lo sai questo?
Signora, è andata molto peggio, questo è poco ma sicuro.
Perché non provi a stare calmo?
È ovvio che sono agitato e non sto calmo. Tu non lo saresti al posto mio?
Sei troppo agitato, giovanotto.
Neanch’io più di tanto. Ma adesso ho proprio bisogno di una sigaretta.
Prova con del tè caldo. Ti farà sentire meglio. Ti darà un po’ di sollievo. Con questo
tempo ci vorrebbe proprio un bel tè caldo. Fuori fa proprio freddo. Dicono che stanotte andremo giù
a un grado. È molto strano per la fine di ottobre.
Sono incazzato, signora, davvero incazzato! Perché non ha sciato la finestra chiusa e bloccata
come l’avevo messa io? Mi avevano messo in guardia su tutti i furti che succedono ogni giorno nel
quartiere. Con tutti i portoricani che ci sono in giro.
È tutto nuovo per me. Non sono mai stato da solo prima.
Ora che tu viva per conto tuo.
A dire il vero, signora, non sono affari suoi. Non crede?
E allora è proprio ora, non credi?
Ora di cosa?
Quanti anni hai?
Molto presto ne farò trenta.
Ce ne sono molti nella strada qui a fianco.
Certo che sei sfacciato. Non ti pare?
E allora vattene! ( Apre la porta ) Andiamo! Se ne vada, signora. Non ho bisogno di una che
se ne sta qui intorno a peggiorare le cose! È sua la colpa se sono entrati i ladri! Lei è la responsabile,
signora! Ma insomma, non ci arriva proprio?
Please, please, please: don’t say that. It’s true. It was an accident though. I thought I was
doing what only seemed right. I opened the window to let some air in while I was cleaning up, that’s
All you do is make the bed and then you dust a little . . .
Well, what good is it? You didn’t get rid of the cockroaches.
And I run the sweeper on the rug!
That’s not part of my job.
Well, why not? You afraid of a few . . . a few thousand cockroaches?
The exterminator is coming here on Monday. He knows about your room. I put it down
as first on his list. The cockroaches aren’t my fault. It was the man who lived in here before you.
Mr. Potter. And he would never let me in here, for a whole year he kept me from ever coming in
here. He paid his rent on time, exactly, every day at nine in the morning instead of by the week. He
lived like a pig. The cockroaches are his fault, not mine. And not the landlady’s either.
Yeah? Well, what the hell did he do, then? Keep them as pets? It looks to me as though he fed
them every day, too on schedule, like he paid his rent so regularly. Listen, lady, I’ve been with the
Sanitation Department of the City of New York for over ten years now, ever since I got bounced
out of high school, and I ain’t never seen cockroaches this big before in my whole life.
Kidding about what?
I didn’t say anything was wrong with it.
You say it like it’s an insult or something.
I mean working for the Sanitation department . . .
I said, what’s wrong with that?
About being a garbage collector . . .
What’s wrong with that?
Are you kidding?
You just don’t look the type, that’s all.
Well, it’s all over now. I quit two days ago. I got up early in the morning and I left. I came
here. And now I’m ready to get up early tomorrow morning and leave again after all this bullshit.
I told you to watch your language in front of me.
( After a pause ) Are you staying?
What do you mean?
Per favore, ti prego, non dire così. È vero. È stato un incidente però. Ero convinta di fare
soltanto il mio dovere. Ho aperto la finestra per cambiare l’aria mentre stavo facendo le pulizie.
Beh, cosa fai, fai solo il letto e dai una spolveratina . . .
Beh, tanto a che serve? Non ti sei liberata degli scarafaggi.
E passo il tappeto con l’aspirapolvere!
Non spetta a me farlo.
E perché no, scusa? Per caso hai paura di qualche . . . di qualche migliaio di scarafaggi?
La disinfestazione verrà qui lunedì. Sanno della tua stanza. L’ho messa in cima alla lista.
Non ne ho colpa io degli scarafaggi. È stato l’uomo che viveva qui prima di te. Il signor Potter. Non
mi lasciava mai venire qui dentro, per un anno intero non mi ha mai fatta entrare. Pagava l’affitto
puntualmente, preciso, ogni giorno alle nove invece che una volta alla settimana. Viveva come una
bestia lui. È sua la colpa se ci sono gli scarafaggi, non mia. E nemmeno della padrona di casa.
Ah sì? Ma allora che diavolo faceva quello? Li teneva come animali da compagnia? Mi sa che
anche gli dava da mangiare ogni giorno, sempre alla stessa ora, così come pagava l’affitto sempre
puntuale. Senta, signora, sono stato per più di dieci anni nell’azienda che si occupa della raccolta
dei rifiuti qui a New York5, da quando mi hanno sbattuto fuori da scuola, e non ho mai visto degli
scarafaggi così grandi in vita mia.
Scherzando su cosa?
Non ho detto che c’è qualcosa di male.
Lo dici come se fosse un’offesa o che so io.
Cioè che lavori per l’azienda dei rifiuti . . .
Ripeto: che c’è di male?
Che sei uno spazzino . . .
Beh, e che c’è di male?
Stai scherzando?
Non sembri il tipo, ecco tutto.
Beh, adesso è finita. Mi sono licenziato due giorni fa. Mi sono alzato di mattina presto e me
ne sono andato. Sono venuto qui. E adesso sono pronto ad alzarmi presto domani mattina e ad
andarmene di nuovo, dopo tutto ‘sto casino.
Ti ho detto di badare a come parli.
( Dopo una pausa ) Allora rimani qui?
Come scusa?
I’m going to close the door if you’re staying. Keep the air full of poison for the cockroaches.
( He closes the door )
Sit down, if you want to . . . goddammitt!
I don’t mind it . . .
What’s the matter?
I’m sorry. Sorry about the swearing again. But I’m mad. I’m really sore about my being
robbed. Every time I think about it I feel I could kill someone . . .
I don’t blame you. ( She goes to the window ) I’ll open the window up just a bit . . .
No! Don’t! I don’t want any of them escaping!
( Sitting down )
Do you know what I think? I think you should forget about the
Are you kidding?
You must be kidding, lady!
No, I’m not. And I also think you should forget your being robbed.
I’m not, Luke.
Forget about it! All those things – they were all I ever had. ( He begins to spay some more )
Look at them! Sill coming out from everywhere. What did you say his name was?
The guy who lived here before me.
Mr. Potter.
Why did Mr. Potter move away?
Whose name?
Well, it’s sort of complicated.
Yeah? Well, I’ll bet it was because of the cockroaches. They finally got the best of him and
so he had to move out.
Don’t be smart, young man. It was because his wife died. Mr. Potter talked to me once,
only once. He told me was married for forty-five years. To the same woman. From the very day
they were married to each other he said that he never had anything to do with another woman in the
way of love and romance or what have you. I’m sure that he was telling the absolute truth. The day
after his wife’s funeral he moved out of his house without ever telling anybody. There was no
warning, no indication whatsoever. He had four sons and two daughters and lots of grandchildren.
He didn’t really any of them. Somehow, none of them mattered any more because his wife was dead
and gone. He said that it was perfect while she was alive and she was his wife and he was her
husband, but now it was all over, and she was dead and buried and in God’s hands, and so nothing
Chiudo la porta se rimani qui. Così l’insetticida per ‘ste bestiacce rimane bello concentrato.
( Chiude la porta )
Non mi dà fastidio . . .
Siediti pure, se vuoi . . . ma porca miseria!
Ehi che ti prende?
Mi dispiace. Scusa se ho parlato male un’altra volta. Ma sono arrabbiato. Mi secca proprio
che mi abbiano portato via tutto. Ogni volta che ci penso sento che potrei ammazzare qualcuno . . .
Non hai tutti i torti. ( Va alla finestra ) Apro la finestra solo un attimo . . .
No! Non farlo! Non voglio che me ne scappi neanche uno!
( Sedendosi ) Sai cosa, secondo me? Secondo me dovresti lasciare stare gli scarafaggi.
Stai scherzando?
Lei è in vena di scherzare, signora!
No. E secondo me dovresti anche lasciar perdere la storia che sei stato derubato.
No, Luke.
Lasciare stare! Quelle cose – erano tutto quello che avevo. ( Si mette di nuovo a spruzzare )
Guardali che roba! Ancora che continuano a venire fuori da tutte le parti. Come hai detto che si
Il tizio che viveva qui prima di me.
Il signor Potter.
Perché il signor Potter se n’è andato?
Come si chiamava chi?
Beh, diciamo che è complicato da spiegare.
Ah sì? Beh, io scommetto che è stato per via degli scarafaggi. Alla fine loro hanno avuto la
meglio e così lui ha dovuto sloggiare.
Non fare lo spiritoso, giovanotto. È stato perché sua moglie è morta. Il signor Potter una
volta mi ha parlato, solo una. Mi ha detto che è stato sposato per quarantacinque anni. Con la stessa
donna. E dal giorno stesso in cui si sono sposati ha detto che non ha più avuto niente a che fare con
nessun’altra donna per quel che riguarda l’amore e la vita sentimentale o quant’altro. E sono
convinta che stesse dicendo proprio la verità. Il giorno dopo il funerale di sua moglie se n’è andato
di casa senza dire niente a nessuno. Nessun preavviso, nessun segnale di alcun tipo. Aveva quattro
figli maschi e due femmine, e molti nipoti. Non gliel’ha detto a nessuno. In un certo senso, nessuno
di loro contava più niente perché sua moglie era morta e sepolta. Ha detto che era tutto perfetto
quando lei era viva e loro due erano marito e moglie, ma che ormai era tutto finito, lei era morta per
else mattered any more. It was over a whole year before they finally tracked him down: living here,
in your room now, all by himself, like you, and always keeping to himself. That was the day he
talked to me. When his youngest son, the baby of the family, had found out where he was staying.
It was also the same day that he moved. Real fast. ( She gets up ) I know exactly how he felt . . .
Don’t leave, please . . .
I’m not going anywhere. I thought I would give you a hand. I’ll straighten up your place
for you.
( She takes off her coat )
There’s nothing to straighten up. I don’t care, you see? I’m leaving here tomorrow, just as fast
as Mr. Potter did. I’m going to find another place to stay.
( There is a pause: he looks carefully at her figure )
Nothing’s the matter. Look, what should I do? Should I try calling the police?
What’s the matter?
It wouldn’t do much good.
Yeah, I guess you’re right. ( He sits down on the bed ) You know what I think, lady?
I told you my name is Margaret Moon. I want you to call me Margaret, and I’ll call you
Okay, Margaret: you know what I think?
What do you think, Luke?
I think you’re a good-looking head. I think you got a nice body.
Well, now, that’s good to hear. Thank you, Luke. But you wouldn’t believe it, would
you? Well . . . maybe I shouldn’t tell you, after all . . . it might just spoil things a little, and who
wants to do that?
C’mon, what? Tell me.
( After a pause ) I just hit fifty the other day.
Aw, c’mon! I don’t believe it! You look about thirty-five!
I’m fifty years, exactly three days ago. I got a boy and two girls and they’re all married
and they’ve given me six grandchildren so far . . . and I got a husband: James Moon.
The world is all screwed-up, isn’t it, Margaret? I mean, it’s full of surprises.
Lots and lots of surprises.
I can’t take it any more: all these surprises. All my life it’s been surprise after surprise. And
do you know, surprises are supposed to be good, aren’t they? Surprise parties. Surprise birthday
presents, Christmas presents, wedding presents, graduation presents: all surprises. ( Quickly ) Do
sempre e nelle mani del signore e quindi non gli importava più niente di niente. Dopo più di un anno
finalmente sono riusciti a trovarlo: viveva qui, in quella che adesso è la tua stanza, tutto solo, come
te, e standosene sempre sulle sue. Ecco quando mi ha rivolto la parola, quando suo figlio più
giovane, il piccolino di famiglia, aveva scoperto dev’era. E nello stesso giorno se n’è anche andato.
In tutta fretta. ( Si alza ) Io lo capisco bene come si sentiva . . .
Non andartene, ti prego . . .
Non me ne sto andando da nessuna parte. Pensavo di darti una mano. Darò una sistemata
alla stanza.
( Si toglie il cappotto )
Non c’è niente da sistemare. Non mi interessa, capito? Domani me ne vado, in fretta come il
signor Potter. Troverò un altro posto in cui stare.
( Una pausa: studia la sua figura )
Niente non mi prende. Senti, cosa devo fare? Devo provare a chiamare la polizia?
Che ti prende?
Non è che serva a molto.
Già, mi sa che ha ragione. ( Si siede sul letto ) Sa cosa penso, signora?
Ti ho detto che mi chiamo Margaret Moon. Voglio che mi chiami Margaret, e io ti
chiamerò Luke.
Va bene, Margaret: sai cosa penso?
Cosa pensi, Luke?
Che sei una bella persona. Hai un bell’aspetto.
Beh, dai, mi fa piacere sentirlo. Grazie, Luke. Non ci crederesti mai, eh? Beh . . . forse,
dopo tutto, non dovrei neanche dirtelo . . . potrebbe rovinare un po’ le cose, e per quale motivo, poi?
Dai, cos’è? Dimmelo.
( Dopo una pausa ) Ne ho compiuti cinquanta l’altro giorno.
Oh, andiamo! Non ci credo! Te ne do sui trentacinque.
Ne ho fatti cinquanta tre giorni fa esatti. Ho un figlio maschio e due figlie femmine, sono
tutti sposati e fino ad adesso mi hanno dato sei nipotini . . . e poi c’è mio marito: James Moon.
Il mondo è un gran bel casino, no, Margaret? Voglio dire, è pieno di sorprese.
Sì, davvero molte sorprese.
Non ne posso più di tutte ‘ste sorprese. La mia vita è stata tutta una sorpresa dietro l’altra. E
si sa, no, le sorprese dovrebbero essere sempre belle, giusto? Feste a sorpresa. Regali di compleanno,
regali di Natale, regali di matrimonio, regali per il diploma: tutte sorprese ( Velocemente ) Hai una
you have a transistor radio on you?
What would I be doing with a transistor radio on me?
You see, that’s a surprise: everyone has a transistor radio on them nowadays. They robbed
that, too – my transistor radio! It was a surprise birthday present from my favorite aunt. It cost fiftyfive dollars; real leather case to it and everything. I gotta have some kind of music. I can’t live
without music. Look, they swiped my hi-fi, but they didn’t swipe any of my records, stupid creeps.
MARGARET ( Examining the inside of the closet )
I think I’ve just now figured it all out for you, Luke.
They dumped everything in your laundry bags. You see what they did: they dumped all
of your dirty clothes out of the laundry bags and then they left. There had to be at least two of them.
It would have been too heavy for one person to be able to carry both laundry bags when you think
of some of the heavy things they took. You know, Luke, I’ll bet you they didn’t even leave by the
fire escape the way they came in. I’ll bet you they left by the door right here and then walked down
the stairs and out onto the streets with their laundry bags slung over their shoulders. No one even
noticed them. They could’uve been just two nice laundry men doing their job. It’s a shame.
You know, Margaret, you know too much. You know just too damn much and I don’t like it!
It’s not that I know too much. It’s just that I’m not stupid, that’s all. It doesn’t take too
much brains to figure that one out anyway. I’m a wise ole’ dame, let me tell you.
You don’t look as old as you say you are.
I told you before how old I was. I’ve got twenty years on you. It’s been a full-time job
just trying to keep myself looking young. So take it or leave it!
You getting’ sore at me?
Aw, c’mon.
Well, I don’t know. I’m worried.
What are you worried about?
Well, you’re getting’ sore at me, ain’t you? Besides, I really gotta be goin’.
I’m worried about you.
Me? But what for?
I’m worried about your temper. It sorta scares me. Maybe it’s because we don’t know
each other. Maybe that’s why I feel this way. After all, we are strangers, really . . .
( Looking in the closet ) My umbrella!
radiolina portatile con te?
E che me ne farei di un radiolina portatile?
Vedi, questa sì che è una sorpresa: al giorno d’oggi tutti quanti si portano dietro una radiolina.
Mi hanno rubato anche quella – la mia radiolina! Era un regalo di compleanno della mia zia preferita.
Costava cinquantacinque dollari; con la custodia in pelle e tutto quanto. Devo sentire sempre un po’
di musica io. Non riesco a stare senza musica. Guarda, mi hanno portato via anche le casse, ma non
mi hanno fregato nessun disco, razza di deficienti.
( Esamina l’interno dell’armadio ) Mi sa che adesso ci sono, Luke.
Hanno buttato tutto nei tuoi sacchi per la lavanderia. Dai hai capito come: hanno tirato
fuori tutti i tuoi vestiti sporchi dai sacchi per la lavanderia e poi se ne sono andati. Dovevano essere
almeno in due. Non ce l’avrebbe mai fatta una persona sola a portare tutti e due i sacchi se pensi a
certe cose pesanti che ti hanno portato via. Sai, Luke, scommetto che neanche se ne sono andati per
le scale antincendio, come sono entrati. Scommetto che sono andati via per questa porta qui e poi
sono scesi per le scale e sono usciti fuori in strada con i sacchi in spalla. Nessuno si è accorto di
loro. Avrebbero potuto benissimo essere due bei signori del servizio lavanderia che stavano facendo
il loro lavoro. Purtroppo.
Insomma, Margaret, tu sai troppe cose. Tu sai davvero troppe cose e non mi piace per niente!
Non è che so troppe cose. È solo che non sono stupida, tutto qua. E comunque non ci
vuole chissà che intelligenza per arrivarci. Sono una vecchia con un po’ di buon senso, ecco cosa
Tu non sembri tanto vecchia come dici.
Ti ho già detto quanti anni ho. Ho vent’anni più di te. Ed è stato un lavoro a tempo pieno
soltanto cercare di mantenere un aspetto giovanile. Che tu ci creda o no!
Te la stai prendendo con me?
Oh, eddai.
Beh, non so. Sono preoccupata.
Preoccupata per cosa?
Veramente sei tu quello che se la sta prendendo con me, o no? E poi devo proprio andare.
Preoccupata per te.
Per me? Ma per cosa?
Sono preoccupata per il tuo carattere. Mi fa un po’ paura. Forse è perché non ci
conosciamo. Forse è per questo che mi sento così. Dopotutto siamo estranei, sul serio . . .
( Guardando nell’armadio ) Il mio ombrello!
My umbrella! They robbed that too!
You weren’t even listening to me before . . .
It was a damn good umbrella. It came all the way from Italy with a beautiful hand-carved
handle on the top made of dark brown expensive wood. They knew what they were doing. That
good black umbrella cost my old man twenty bucks the day he bought that for me. It was a surprise
present from my ole’ guy. He thinks it gives you a respectable appearance. He’s a real old-fashioned
guy, my old man. He said to me: “Luke, here’s an umbrella for you. It’ll make a good impression
on the girls when you need to use it, in case they got a gown on and you got a tuxedo on for a formal
dance, a prom or something like that.” But I never really got to use the umbrella.
( Quietly ) I really think I should be goin’.
It’s getting late, Luke.
I wish I had a smoke. I wish I had something to drink. A good stiff one would help me a little
right now. I would like to be able to offer you a drink. I don’t have anything here because I don’t
like to drink alone. I like to talk to people whenever I’m drinking. I usually drink in bars every night.
I used to drink at the K. of C., you know: the Knights of Columbus. I belong to them. ( He takes the
spray can in his hand ) Look at them: still coming out in droves, like dying flies.
No more. Please, no more.
No more what?
No more spraying, Luke. Let them be. They’ll die now anyway. We’ll die too if we don’t
get some air in here.
You dye your hair, don’t you? I mean if you just hit fifty the other day then you must dye your
Did you have much gray hair before?
It started when I was your age.
Oh, Christ! That worries me.
Lots of it.
How old were you when you started getting it?
Of course I do.
Don’t let it worry you. I comes with worry.
It’s really a surprise, the way you look for your age. It’s a good surprise, though. But don’t get
Il mio ombrello! Anche quello mi hanno portato via!
Non mi stavi nemmeno ascoltando prima . . .
Era un ombrello fantastico. Arrivava direttamente dall’Italia, con un’impugnatura bellissima,
intagliata a mano e il resto del manico in legno marrone scuro, di quello che costa un sacco. Lo
sapevano eccome quello che stavano facendo. All’epoca quel gran ombrello è costato al mio vecchio
venti bigliettoni. Era un suo regalo. Lui è convinto che dia un aspetto rispettabile. È proprio un tipo
all’antica il mio vecchio. Mi ha detto: “Luke, eccoti qua un ombrello. Ti farà fare bella figura con
le ragazze quando ci sarà bisogno, se per caso loro hanno un vestito da sera e tu hai lo smoking, ad
un ballo importante, al ballo di fine anno o cose del genere.” Ma in realtà io quell’ombrello non l’ho
mai usato.
No, non farlo.
( Sommessamente ) Credo davvero di dover andare.
Si sta facendo tardi, Luke.
Vorrei fumarmi una sigaretta. Bere qualcosa. Adesso mi ci vorrebbe proprio qualcosa di forte.
Vorrei tanto poterti offrire qualcosa da bere. Qui non ho niente perché non mi piace bere da solo.
Quando bevo mi piace parlare con qualcuno. Di solito sono nei bar a bere ogni sera. Bevevo sempre
al K. of C., voglio dire, al Knights of Columbus6. Faccio parte anch’io della congrega. ( Prende in
mano la bomboletta ) Ma guardali: ancora che continuano a saltar fuori tutti assieme, come le
mosche quando stanno per schiattare.
Basta. Ti prego, basta.
Basta cosa?
Basta spruzzare, Luke. Lasciali stare. Adesso moriranno comunque. E moriremo anche
noi se non facciamo entrare un po’ d’aria qui dentro.
Ti tingi i capelli, vero? Cioè, se hai fatto cinquant’anni l’altro giorno dovrai anche tingerti i
Avevi molti capelli grigi prima?
Hanno iniziato quando avevo la tua età.
Oh Cristo! Questo è preoccupante.
Si, molti.
A che età hanno iniziato a venirti?
Certo che me li tingo.
Non farti prendere dalla preoccupazione. È la preoccupazione che te li fa venire.
Hai un aspetto davvero sorprendente per la tua età. Sorprendente in senso positivo, però.
me wrong, Margaret: there are an awful lot of bad surprises too.
Like this robbery, for instance.
I don’t know whether it’s good or bad, though.
C’mon. I’m ready for anything now.
I sorta got a surprise for you.
No kiddin’?
I know, Luke.
( Sitting down in the chair ) I was lying to you before.
You mean about the window? You already admitted to me.
No, I mean about the cigarettes. Look here. ( She takes a cartoon of cigarettes from her
shopping bag ) A whole brand-new cartoon of cigarettes . . . for you, Luke. It’s a surprise.
But it’s a good surprise. What did you mean when you said you didn’t know whether it was
good or bad?
Well, it’s not good that I lied to you the first time you asked about smoking. Like it’s
not good that I lied to you the first time you asked me about who opened the window. I don’t like
lying at all. And I hate it when other people lie, don’t you?
I usually can’t sleep because of it.
So here are your cigarettes. You can keep the whole cartoon.
Not my brand. But I still appreciate it.
( He begins to open the cartoon )
I bought them for James, my husband. It was a little surprise for him. But I’ve
changed my mind now. It’s all right, so don’t worry about it, Luke.
Would you like one?
( He offers her a cigarette )
I don’t have anything to eat here. I’m sorry there’s nothing I can give you, Margaret.
( Taking a cigarette ) Are you hungry, Luke?
Not for me. I mean are you hungry, Luke? I’ve got some roast beef with me.
( Lighting her cigarette ) You seem to have everything with you . . . ( He laughs softly ) In
more ways than one, Margaret. ( He lights his own cigarette ) If you know what I mean?
( Puffing away nervously ) Yeah, yeah, yeah!
I know what you mean. You’re a flirt, that’s what you are, Luke.
You’re a hard one to figure out, you are.
( Suddenly laughing ) We’re going to die in here together! All this deadly cigarette smoke, all
Ma non fraintendermi, Margaret, ci sono anche un sacco di brutte sorprese.
Come questo furto, ad esempio.
Non so se sia bella o brutta, però.
Andiamo, ormai sono pronto a tutto.
Ho una specie di sorpresa per te.
Sul serio?
Lo so, Luke.
( Sedendosi sulla sedia ) Prima ti ho detto una bugia.
Intendi per la finestra? Me l’hai già detto.
No, intendo per le sigarette. Guarda qui ( Tira fuori un pacchetto dalla borsa della
spesa ) Un bel pacchetto nuovo di zecca . . . per te, Luke. È una sorpresa.
Ma è una bella sorpresa. Cosa intendevi quando hai detto che non sapevi se era bella o brutta?
Beh, non va bene che ti abbia mentito la prima volta che mi hai chiesto se fumavo. E
non va neanche bene che ti abbia mentito prima, quando mi avevi chiesto chi aveva aperto la finestra.
Non mi piace proprio raccontare bugie. E non sopporto quando gli altri le raccontano, anche per te
è così?
Ah, io di solito non ci dormo la notte.
Eccoti qua le sigarette. Puoi tenerti tutto il pacchetto.
Non è la mia marca. Ma va bene lo stesso.
( Inizia a scartare il pacchetto )
Le ho prese per James, mio marito. Era un regalino per lui. Ma adesso ho cambiato idea.
Tutto a posto quindi, non preoccuparti, Luke.
Ne vuoi una?
( Le offre una sigaretta )
Non ho niente da mangiare qui. Mi dispiace, Margaret, non posso offrirti niente.
( Prendendo una sigaretta ) Hai fame, Luke?
Ma non per me. Voglio dire se tu hai fame, Luke. Ho qui del roastbeef.
( Le accende la sigaretta )
Mi sembra che non ti manchi proprio niente . . . ( Ride
sommessamente ) In tutti i sensi, Margaret. ( Si accende la sigaretta ) Non so se mi spiego.
( Buttando fuori il fumo delle sigaretta con fare nervoso ) Eh già, già!
Ho capito benissimo. Sei un bellimbusto, ecco cosa sei, Luke.
Con te non se ne va proprio fuori!
( Ridendo all’improvviso ) Moriremo assieme qui dentro! Tra le sigarette che fanno un fumo
the fumes of the poisonous cockroach spray, the window shut tight, the door closed solid, the sad
smell of ole’ Mr. Potter still here in the air, my dirty sweaty clothes over there, the stinking smell of
the filthy low-down rats who robbed my place: that’s still here too . . .
And the radiator. No air at all, Margaret Moon. Do you think you can stand it?
The radiator. You forgot about the steam and heat and the smell from the radiator.
I can stand almost anything.
I can too.
Here’s the roast beef in case you get hungry. ( She takes it out of her shopping bag ) I
made it myself. All fixed up in this big empty pickle jar with my own special thick brown gravy to
go with it.
What color was your hair before it got gray?
It was the same color it is now. ( Instantly ) I brought this roast beef for my lunch today.
We got a little stove down in the basement here where we can fix up things to eat. I just didn’t feel
like eating my lunch today even though I knew how delicious it would be. Dolores kept talking on
and on about how she loves getting away with it. Well, I’ll tell you, it made me sick to my stomach.
I’ve been married since I was nineteen years old and I never even once thought of doing anything
like that, Luke.
What’s Dolores like?
And I suppose this being the last day before my two-week vacation begins tomorrow
also made me kinda nervous. I get two weeks off in the summer, but I never take my time off then
– in the summer, I mean. I wait until the fall comes, because it’s my favorite season – the autumn.
( A pause ) Don’t get too acquainted with Dolores. This is a warning. She’s a terror, a holy terror.
She’ll go for you. So be careful. I think it would be good for your own sake if you were cold to her.
Just let her do her job, that’s all.
( Sitting down on the bed ) You know why you look so young? Because of the way you wear
your hair. It’s feminine, the way a woman’s hair should be, not like the girls you see nowadays. And
there are so many other things about you, too, Margaret.
I don’t wanna hear any more.
( She gets up )
Where are you going?
( He gets up and touches her arm gently as if to hold her back )
I . . . I’m really not going anywhere . . .
tremendo, il tanfo micidiale dell’insetticida, la finestra che è chiusa e non lascia passare uno spiffero,
la porta sigillata, l’odore deprimente del vecchio Potter che è ancora qui nell’aria, là i miei vestiti
sporchi che sanno di sudore, la puzza di quei luridi topi di fogna che hanno ripulito la mia stanza,
anche quella è ancora qui dentro . . .
E il riscaldamento. Ti sei dimenticato del vapore, del calore e dell’odore che butta fuori
il riscaldamento.
E il riscaldamento. Non si respira proprio, qui dentro, Margaret. Pensi di riuscire a resistere?
Io resisto praticamente a tutto.
Qui c’è il roastbeef in caso ti venga fame. ( Lo tira fuori dalla borsa della spesa ) L’ho
fatto io. E l’ho messo in questo barattolone per sottaceti, con la mia salsina speciale7, bella densa,
che ci sta bene assieme.
Di che colore erano i tuoi capelli prima di diventare grigi?
Erano dello stesso colore di adesso ( Immediatamente ) Avevo portato questo roastbeef
per il pranzo di oggi. Abbiamo un fornellino, giù nello scantinato, dove possiamo prepararci
qualcosa da mangiare. Oggi però non me la sono sentita di pranzare, anche se sapevo quanto era
buono. Dolores continuava a parlare di come tradisce suo marito e di quanto si diverte a farla sempre
franca. Beh, insomma, mi ha fatto venire la nausea. Sono sposata da quando ho diciannove anni,
Luke, e io non ho mai pensato nemmeno una volta di fare una cosa del genere.
Com’è Dolores?
E credo che questo, essendo l’ultimo giorno prima delle mie due settimane di vacanza,
anche questo mi ha messo un po’ di agitazione. Mi danno sempre due settimane in estate, ma non
me le prendo mai in quel periodo – in estate, cioè. Aspetto che arrivi l’autunno, perché è la mia
stagione preferita – l’autunno. ( Una pausa ) E non entrare troppo in confidenza con Dolores. Il mio
è un avvertimento. Lei è insopportabile, davvero pestifera. Le piacerai. Quindi stai attento. Secondo
me con lei faresti bene a comportanti in modo indifferente.
( Si siede sul letto )
Sai perché sembri così giovane? Per come porti i capelli. In modo
femminile, come dovrebbero essere i capelli di una donna, non come le ragazze che si vedono in
giro al giorno d’oggi. E ci sono così tante altre cose, Margaret.
Non voglio sentire altro.
( Si alza )
Dove stai andando?
( Si alza e le sfiora il braccio come per trattenerla )
Io . . . io non sto andando proprio da nessuna parte . . .
Notice something?
This is the first time we’ve touched.
( She moves away from him )
Listen, Margaret, I didn’t mean to get too personal with you or anything like that. I was just
complimenting on you, that’s all. Look, I’m sorry, I really am, if you’re insulted in any way.
I’m not insulted at all, young man, really I’m not.
Aw, c’mon, Margaret, cut out the “young man” baloney, okay? I keep thinking we’re both the
same age.
Well, I’m sure there have been lots of young girls in your life. ( She forces a laugh )
What do you want with an old bag like me?
Aw, c’mon, Margaret. Why do you have to say things like that for?
I’m sure you can get all kinds of young girls . . . and I suppose that’s the way it should
be, Luke.
Oh, sure, sure, it’s okay, I guess. Yeah, I have been pretty lucky. I’ve had the cream of the
crop. I’ve had more girl friends in my life already than there are cockroaches dying in this very
room right now. You know, I never went steady with any one girl, though. I liked having a different
one whenever I felt like it. Any time I wanted to make a phone call . . . to a new one or an old one
or one I hadn’t seen in a long time . . . well, I would go ahead and do it. I’ve always enjoyed that
sort of life. I like being a man and proud of the way I’ve been able to keep so many women on a
string . . . without the string ever breaking, too. Yeah, Margaret, I’ve really been awfully lucky, let
me tell you. I’ve never gotten myself into any trouble either with any of these girls, if you know
what I mean. It’s almost a miracle, in a way, because I got an awful appetite when it comes to you
know what, and well, guys like me, we also lose control a lot, you know, like get too passionate and
wild sometimes and not thinking beforehand. I guess I never really got myself into troubles or any
of these girls into trouble, either, because deep down inside I’m a pretty religious guy, and so I pray
a lot too, if you know what I mean?
Don’t go! Hey, what’s the matter? Did I say anything wrong? I didn’t upset you, did I?
( After a long pause ) I suppose I really better be goin’.
No . . .
Then what’s wrong?
Hai visto?
Ci siamo sfiorati per la prima volta.
( Si scosta da lui )
Senti, Margaret, non avevo intenzione di andare troppo sul personale con te, né niente del
genere. Ti stavo solo facendo dei complimenti, e basta. Ascolta, mi dispiace, mi dispiace davvero
se per qualche ragione ti senti offesa.
Ma io non mi sono affatto offesa, giovanotto.
Oh, andiamo, Margaret, dacci un taglio con ‘sta storia del “giovanotto”, capito? Io continuo a
credere che abbiamo la stessa età.
Beh, sono sicura che nella tua vita avrai avuto un sacco di ragazze. ( Sforza una
risata ) Cosa te ne fai di una vecchia decrepita come me?
Oh, andiamo, Margaret. Ma perché mai devi dire delle cose del genere?
Sono sicura che puoi benissimo trovare tutte le ragazze giovani di ‘sto mondo . . . ed è
giusto che sia così, Luke.
Ah certo, come no, e va bene. Sì, ho avuto molta fortuna. Ho sempre avuto il meglio del
meglio, io. Ho avuto più ragazze io nella mia vita fino ad adesso, di quanti scarafaggi stanno
schiattando in questa stanza. Però, vedi, io non ho mai fatto coppia fissa con una ragazza. Mi piaceva
averne una di diversa ogni volta che mia andava. Quando mi andava di fare una telefonata . . . a una
nuova o a una vecchia, o a una che non avevo visto per un bel pezzo . . . beh, lo facevo e basta. Mi
è sempre piaciuto vivere così. Sono contento di essere un uomo e sono fiero di essere riuscito a
tenere così tante donne sulla corda . . . senza che mai si spezzasse, tra l’altro. Eh già, Margaret, sono
stato molto fortunato, sul serio. E neanche mi sono mai messo nei guai con nessuna di queste
ragazze, se capisci quello che voglio dire. In un certo senso è quasi un miracolo, perché io ho una
voglia matta quando si tratta di tu sai cosa, e insomma, a volte i tipi come me, beh, perdono spesso
il controllo, sai com’è, ci lasciamo travolgere, diventiamo dei pazzi scatenati e non pensiamo alle
conseguenze. Credo di non essermi mai messo nei guai né di aver messo nei guai nessuna di quelle
ragazze perché sotto sotto sono un tipo molto religioso, e quindi prego anche tanto, non so se mi
No, non andare! Ehi, cosa ti prende? Ho detto qualcosa di sbagliato? Non ti sei offesa, vero?
( Dopo una pausa ) Forse è meglio che vada.
No . . .
E allora cosa c’è che non va?
( After a moment ) It’s all a lie, Luke.
( He is suddenly very nervous )
What do you mean?
Watch your language around me.
The hell I will now! You calling me a liar!
I’m sorry . . .
Besides, what you think doesn’t matter a goddam thing to me, do you understand?
Yes, I do. I think it’s all one big fat lie.
Well . . . I . . . really don’t care what you think!
Because you don’t want to know what I’m talking about, young man, that’s why.
What I just told you about my girls, my women. You think it’s all a . . . lie?
You know what I mean.
I . . . I don’t know what you’re talking about, Margaret.
All a lie.
You called me one before.
That’s right, I did. And then you even admitted it.
The why you don’t admit it now, about yourself? Oh, sonny boy, who are you ever trying
to impress? You don’t have to impress me, not with your lousy lies, you don’t. I’m impressed with
you already, just the way you are. Luke, I could see right through you. I know all about people who
lie. I’ve been in love with a man for the last thirty years and he’s spent a good deal of the last twenty
of those years lying to me. I’m an expert at it, dear boy. My husband James has slept with more
women than you’ll ever be able to sleep with in your whole lifetime.
While he was married to you?
While we were bringing up our children.
Your husband?
My husband: James Moon. Ever since the day I met him, I would say to him, at least
once a day: “James Moon, you make Margaret swoon.” It was silly, but it was a nice way, I thought,
and he did too for a long time, of saying to him: “I love you.” Then, just these past few months,
mind you, I found myself saying something else instead. Never out loud, though; never to him any
more, but to myself. ( She smiles wryly ) “James Moon, you’re such a goon.” ( She pauses ) My
husband, James Moon, is a no-good rotten son of a bitch!
But you still love him?
( Dopo un istante ) È tutta una balla, Luke.
( Colto da un’improvvisa agitazione )
In che senso?
Lo sai benissimo.
Io . . . io non so di cosa stai parlando, Margaret.
Tutta una balla.
Perché sei tu che non vuoi capire, giovanotto, ecco perché.
Quello che ti ho appena detto su tutte le ragazze che ho avuto, sulle mie donne. Tu pensi che
sia tutta . . . una balla?
Beh . . . a me . . . a me non interessa proprio niente di quello che pensi tu!
Bada a come parli con me.
Adesso col cavolo che lo faccio! Tu che mi dai del bugiardo!
Mi dispiace . . .
E poi, quello che pensi tu per me non conta un accidente di niente, capito?
Sì. Per me è tutta una grande e grossa balla.
Anche tu prima a me.
Si, è vero. E poi tu l’hai anche ammesso.
E allora perché adesso non lo ammetti anche tu? Ehi, ragazzino, con chi vuoi di fare il
galletto? Non devi fare tanto l’intraprendente con me con le tue bugie da strapazzo, no davvero.
Sono rimasta colpita da te per come sei veramente. Ho capito benissimo come sei fatto, Luke. Le
conosco bene le persone che mentono. Per trent’anni ho amato un uomo che ha passato gran parte
degli ultimi vent’anni a dirmi bugie. Sono un’esperta di queste cose, caro mio. Mio marito James è
andato a letto con molte più donne di quante tu riuscirai mai a portartene a letto in tutta la tua vita.
Quand’era sposato con te?
Mentre stavamo crescendo i nostri figli.
Tuo marito?
Mio marito James, sì. Dal giorno in cui l‘ho conosciuto gli dicevo sempre almeno una
volta al giorno: “James, amore, mi metti di buon’umore.”8 Era stupido, ma pensavo – e l’ha pensato
che lui per un bel pezzo – che fosse un modo carino per dirgli che lo amavo. Poi in questi ultimi
mesi, attento, mi sono trovata a dire qualcos’altro, invece. Ma mai ad alta voce; non più a lui ma a
me stessa. ( Con una risata sarcastica ) “James, bugiardo, sei proprio un bastardo”9 ( Fa una pausa
) Mio marito, James Moon, è un grandissimo figlio di puttana!
Ma lo ami ancora?
I don’t know . . .
I don’t think you do . . .
Come to think of it, maybe I don’t any more! You know, in the beginning it was perfect
for me, Luke, the way it was perfect for Mr. Potter. It’s not so perfect any more, though. I’ve never
done anything like this before in my whole life. I’ve been hanging around all the afternoon since
three o’clock. I don’t want to go home tonight. What do you think? Do you think that maybe it has
to do with hitting fifty the other day? Maybe I just have finally given up. Now that’s a miracle if it’s
true. I’m even tired of crying about it, and God only knows how much I’ve cried about it all. I’ve
always prayed too, Luke. I used to pray Saint Jude a lot . . .
Yeah, me too . . . whenever I was desperate, Margaret.
He’s for truly desperate cases, Saint Jude, and so I really took advantage of that. And I
lit so many candles, Luke. And then for a very long time it was Saint Rita because I started not to
feel too well . . .
I used to pray a lot to her too. I know what you mean by not feeling too well. It has to do with
the heart. Your heart, my heart. It gets sick. You know, I really do believe in that expression: a
broken heart. You can have a broken heart. I believe that people really do die from their broken
hearts. Remember when Mario Lanza died? He was so young, and what a great voice. Well,
remember not too long afterward? His wife died. Just like that! And she was even younger. They
just found her dead in bed one day out in Hollywood. Her name was Betty, I always remember it,
and she was Irish the way my mother is, and Mario was Italian the way my father is, and good
Catholics too. And the doctors really didn’t know how she died . . . but I think she probably died of
a broken heart. She couldn’t go on living without the man she loved. Just like Mr. potter, in a way.
Yes . . .
Margaret, are you okay?
Oh, I don’t know . . .
I’ll tell you something: I feel a little better than I did before. I guess it’s our talking to each
( Quietly )
I can’t go home tonight. It’s the beginning of my vacation tomorrow and
James will spend the whole two weeks with me like he’s always done: lying, making believe. I can’t
take that sort of thing any more, you know what I mean, Luke? Sure, sure, I look good . . . real damn
good, even if I have to admit it myself . . . but it was because I wanted him to love me again, like in
the beginning. I’ve wasted myself for the last twenty years. Maybe that’s why I look so good, huh?
( She laughs half-bitterly ) Because I’ve been preserved for the last twenty years of my life, that’s
Non lo so . . .
Io credo di no . . .
No, pensandoci bene, forse non più! Sai, Luke, all’inizio era tutto perfetto per me, così
com’era perfetto per il signor Potter. Adesso però non è più così prefetto. Non ho mai fatto una cosa
del genere in vita mia. Me ne sono rimasta fuori casa tutto il pomeriggio, dalle tre. E non voglio
tornare a casa stasera. Tu cosa dici? Secondo te ha a che fare col fatto che ho varcato la soglia dei
cinquanta l’altro giorno? Forse mi sono arresa finalmente. Beh, se così fosse sarebbe un miracolo.
Sono anche stanca di piangerci sopra, e solo Dio sa quanto ho pianto per ‘ste cose. E poi, Luke, ho
sempre pregato tanto. Pregavo sempre San Giuda10 . . .
Si, anch’io, Margaret . . . quand’ero disperato.
San Giuda è proprio quello per i casi disperati, e così mi ha anche dato una mano. E ho
acceso tanti di quei ceri, Luke. E poi per un bel pezzo è stato il turno di Santa Rita 11 perché avevo
iniziato a non sentirmi un granché bene . . .
La pregavo sempre anch’io, lei. So cosa intendi quando dici che non ti sentivi un granché
bene. Ha a che fare col cuore. Il tuo cuore, il mio cuore. Si ammala. Sai, io ci credo proprio quando
la gente parla di “cuore spezzato”. Si può avere il cuore spezzato. Per me le persone possono morire
sul serio di crepacuore. Ti ricordi quando è morto Mario Lanza12? Era così giovane, e che voce che
aveva. Beh, ti ricordi poco dopo? È morta sua moglie. Dall’oggi al domani. E lei era anche più
giovane. Un giorno l’hanno trovata lì, morta, nel suo letto, a Hollywood. Si chiamava Betty, questo
mi è rimasto impresso, ed era irlandese, proprio come mia madre; e Mario era italiano, proprio come
mio padre, ed erano buoni cattolici, tra l’altro. I dottori non avevano idea di come fosse morta . . .
per me potrebbe benissimo essere morta di crepacuore. Non ce la faceva ad andare avanti senza
l’uomo che amava. Proprio come il signor Potter per certi versi.
Margaret, ti senti bene?
Già . . .
Ah, non lo so . . .
Lascia che ti dica una cosa: io adesso mi sento meglio. Credo che sia perché abbiamo parlato
( Sommessamente ) Non posso tornare a casa stasera. Domani iniziano le mie vacanze e
James passerà con me queste due settimane come ha sempre fatto: raccontandomi bugie, facendo
finta. Io non ce la faccio più a sopportare queste cose, capisci quello che voglio dire, Luke. Certo,
come no, faccio la mia figura . . . un figurone davvero, anche se devo ammetterlo . . . era perché
volevo che mi amasse di nuovo, come all’inizio. Ho buttato via gli ultimi vent’anni. Forse è per
questo che ho un bell’aspetto, eh? ( Ride con una punta di amarezza ) Perché sono vissuta sotto una
( She takes a paper bag from out of her shopping bag and then she pulls out a bunch of Halloween
masks )
What are you doing?
( She puts one of the masks on her face )
Happy Halloween! I don’t want you to see me cry, that’s all. I’m sparing you that because
I’m impressed with you, no matter what. Take one if you like, and put it on too. I bought them for
my grandchildren. Tomorrow night’s Halloween, isn’t it?
I don’t know. Is it?
( After a pause ) Don’t lie to me any more, Luke.
( Putting one of the masks on too ) It . . . wasn’t . . . well, they weren’t lies that meant to hurt
you If you really want to know something, they hurt me, right? I’m hurting myself because I almost
believe that I had all those women in my life.
I think you’re a good man, Luke Lovello, I really do.
Thanks . . .
I never slept with another man in my whole life. Only James Moon. He was the
first . . . and there’s been no one since.
I like your legs, Margaret.
What’s that, Luke?
I said I like your legs. I didn’t notice them before. You weren’t wearing a mask. I go for them
a lot, Margaret. ( MARGARET sits back down in the chair still wearing the Halloween mask. She lifts
her skirt above her knees and then she crosses her legs ) I got a candle here in a wine bottle. Shall
I light it? It would be sorta fun, don’t you think? Because of the Halloween masks and everything,
don’t you think?
Go ahead and light it then, Luke.
lights the candle, then turns out the ceiling lights. He sits on the edge of the bed facing
It’s kinda way out, don’t you think?
Yes, it is, Luke.
( After a long pause ) You’re really . . . well, I mean that . . .
across the room. He is still wearing his mask too )
Go ahead, Luke, say it.
I mean, you’re really built okay, Margaret . . . ( A short pause ) Geez, I wish we had some
music . . .
( He gets up and begins to walk about slowly but nervously )
campana di vetro per gli ultimi vent’anni della mia vita, ecco perché.
( Prende una busta di carta dalla borsa della spesa e poi tira fuori un paio di maschere di
Halloween )
Cosa stai facendo?
( Indossa una delle maschere )
Buon Halloween! Non voglio che mi vedi piangere, tutto qui. Te lo risparmio perché mi
hai fatto una buona impressione, nonostante tutto. Prendine pure una se vuoi, e mettitela anche tu.
Le ho prese per i miei nipoti. Domani sera è Halloween, no?
Non lo so. È Halloween?
( Dopo una pausa ) Non raccontarmi più bugie, Luke.
( Indossa anche lui una delle maschere ) Beh, non erano bugie per ferirti. Se proprio ci tieni,
quello che si fa del male sono io, o no? Mi faccio male perché a momenti ci credo che ho avuto tutte
quelle donne nella mia vita.
Secondo me sei una brava persona, Luke, davvero.
Grazie . . .
In tutta la mia vita non sono mai andata a letto con un altro uomo. Solo con James. Lui
è stato il primo . . . e da allora non c’è stato più nessun’altro.
Che belle gambe che hai, Margaret.
Come scusa, Luke?
Ho detto che mi piacciono le tue gambe, non le avevo notate prima. Non avevi addosso la
maschera. Mi piacciono proprio, Margaret. ( MARGARET si siede sulla sedia con ancora addosso la
maschera di Halloween. Alza la gonna sopra le ginocchia e poi accavalla le gambe ) Ho una candela
qui, infilata nel collo di una bottiglia. La accendo? Potrebbe essere divertente, no? Per via delle
maschere di Halloween e tutto il resto, cosa dici?
Dai, Luke, allora accendila.
accende la candela, poi spegne la luce. Si siede sull’orlo del letto guardando dritto a
È abbastanza bizzarro, non trovi?
Si, è vero, Luke.
( Dopo una lunga pausa ) Tu sei davvero . . . cioè, voglio dire . . .
dall’altro lato della stanza. Anche lui indossa ancora la sua maschera )
Coraggio, Luke, dillo . . .
Voglio dire, sei proprio ben messa, Margaret . . . ( Una breve pausa ) Dio, come vorrei un po’
di musica . . .
( Si alza e inizia a gironzolare lentamente ma con un certo nervosismo )
You don’t want me to go, do you?
No! No, I want you to stay here with me. Margaret, I want you to listen to me. I’m sorry that
I lied to you. I am sorry that I thought I should give you that impression about myself. I’m not that
at all. Pardon the language, Margaret, but I’m not that ass-man I was telling you all about before.
( The light of the candle flickers as he walks about in the room. It throws off weird and crazy
shadows, especially over the masks they wear on their faces )
Maybe you’d better forget about it.
No, I want to tell you. I want you to listen to me.
( He goes to the bed again and sits back down. There is dead silence )
Yeah . . .
I like the quiet . . .
It’s good for us to think a minute or two . . .
I know . . .
( Another dead silence )
( Finally ) What was that?
What was what?
( He gets up )
Please sit back down again. Be calm.
Okay . . .
( He sits back down on the edge of the bed )
There . . . now be calm.
( Another silence )
( Finally ) Are you okay, Margaret?
I’ll be all right.
I think the noise you heard must have been the candle: the wax melting from it and then
falling down the wine bottle.
I wish we had something to drink together, I really do.
Yes, that’s probably it.
The smoking is good enough.
I was just thinking . . .
Think to yourself for a few minutes more. Think about what you plan to do with yourself,
with your future. Now . . . tonight . . .
I have some things to tell you first, Margaret.
There it is again . . . that noise I heard before. Are you sure it’s the wax on the candle?
Non vuoi che me ne vada, vero?
No! No, voglio che rimani qui con me. Adesso mi devi ascoltare, Margaret. Mi dispiace averti
raccontato delle bugie. Mi dispiace aver pensato di doverti dare quell’immagine di me. Io non sono
mica così. Scusa il mio linguaggio, Margaret, ma io non sono quel coglione che ti dicevo prima.
( La fiamma della candela guizza mentre gironzola per la stanza. Proietta delle ombre davvero
strane, soprattutto sulle maschere che indossano )
Forse è meglio se lasci stare.
No, voglio dirtelo. E voglio che mi ascolti.
( Torna al suo letto e si risiede. Silenzio di tomba )
Mi piace questo silenzio . . .
Già . . .
Ci farà bene riflettere un paio di minuti.
Lo so . . .
( Di nuovo silenzio di tomba )
( Finalmente ) Cos’è stato?
Cos’è stato cosa?
( Si alza )
Ti prego, sta seduto. Sta calmo.
Va bene . . .
( Si risiede sull’orlo del letto )
Ecco . . . adesso stai tranquillo.
( Ancora silenzio )
( Finalmente ) Tutto bene, Margaret?
Per me il rumore che hai sentito era della candela, della cera che si scioglie e cola sulla bottiglia.
Sì, probabilmente è così.
Vorrei proprio bere qualcosa con te.
Sto bene, sì.
Va bene anche se fumiamo e basta.
Stavo solo pensando . . .
Continua a pensare per conto tuo per un altro po’. Pensa a cosa vuoi farne di te stesso, a
cosa vuoi farne del tuo futuro. Adesso . . . stasera . . .
LUKE Prima devo dirti delle cose, Margaret.
Ecco, di nuovo . . . lo stesso rumore di prima. Sei sicuro che sia la cera della candela?
( Getting up again ) Now wait a minute . . .
( He begins to chuckle )
What are you laughing at?
( Laughing )
Do you know what it is? It’s the dying cockroaches. The little falling
bastards . . . they’re still dropping like flies from the ceiling. ( He begins to swat a couple of them
with his bare hands ) Do you think I should spray some more, or do you think they’ve really had it
by know?
Oh, they’ve really had it by now, I’m sure of that.
What do you think about the guys who robbed me? Do you think the bastards will ever get
( He removes the mask )
They deserve to be, and that means that they will be, and so don’t worry about it any
( Picking up another mask ) How do I look in this one?
( He puts it on )
MARGARET ( After a moment )
It’s funny. It’s not a scary mask like the rest of them. It’s more human,
the more I look at you in it. And you look familiar now. ( Laughing quietly ) You look like someone
I think I know.
No kidding?
Yeah? Who?
Someone in the movies.
Can’t you think?
Someone famous, maybe . . .
Well, in a very funny way, you look like Gene Kelly with that mask on your face.
Honest to God?
You sound very happy about that.
( She removes her mask )
I suppose I am. You see, I used to be a big fan of Gene Kelly’s. He was my favorite movie
actor. ( He removes the mask ) I never missed one of the movies and I saw them over and over again.
Hell, I always went to the movies, anyway. I loved the movies. Especially the musicals, the M-GM musicals. I always had the money to go. My mother and father never stopped giving me money
for the movies. I loved them all: Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Esther Williams, Ricardo Montalban
June Allyson, Gloria DeHaven, Van Johnson, Jane Powell. They were the M-G-M ones. Always in
perfect Technicolor. And there was Betty Grable and June Haver. They were the
( Si rialza ) Aspetta un attimo . . .
( Si mette a ridacchiare sommessamente )
Cos’hai da ridere?
( Ride )
Sai cos’è? Sono gli scarafaggi che stanno schiattando. Quei piccoli bastardi che
continuano a cadere . . . continuano a piombare giù dal soffitto come le mosche. ( Si mette a
schiacciarne un paio con le mani ) Secondo te dovrei dare un’altra spruzzata o dici che ne abbiano
già abbastanza?
Ah, ne hanno già avuto che basta, questo è poco ma sicuro.
E che ne pensi dei tizi che sono stati qui a rubare? Secondo te verranno mai presi quei bastardi?
( Si toglie la maschera )
Gli starebbe bene e questo vuol dire che succederà, quindi smettila di preoccuparti.
( Prende un’altra maschera ) Questa come mi sta?
( Se la mette )
( Dopo un attimo ) È strana. Non fa paura come le altre maschere. Più la guardo su di te
e più mi sembra umana. E non mi è una faccia nuova. ( Ridendo sommessamente ) Assomigli a
qualcuno che mi sembra di conoscere.
Sul serio?
Ah sì? A chi?
A qualche attore.
E non sapresti proprio quale?
A qualcuno di famoso, forse . . .
Beh, con quella maschera hai un che di Gene Kelly13, così, tanto per dire.
Dici davvero?
Sembri proprio contento di sentirtelo dire.
( Si toglie la maschera )
Sì, in effetti è vero. Sai, una volta ero un grande patito di Gene Kelly. Era il mio attore preferito.
( Si toglie la maschera ) Non mi sono mai perso neanche uno dei suoi film e li ho visti e rivisti un
sacco di volte. E che, comunque io al cinema ci andavo sempre. Mi piacevano da matti i film.
Soprattutto quelli musicali, quelli musicali della M-G-M. Avevo sempre i soldi per andarci. Mia
madre e mio padre non la smettevano mai di darmi soldi per andare al cinema. E mi piacevano da
morire tutti quanti: Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Esther Williams, Ricardo Montalban, June Allyson,
Gloria DeHaven, Van Johnson, Jane Powell14. Loro erano quelli dalla M-G-M. Dei
Twentieth-Centyry Fox ones. Always in beautiful Technicolor. And then there was Rita Hayworth.
She was always in the ones from Columbia. Always in beautiful Technicolor. But it was Gene, gene
Kelly, and Esther, Esther Williams: they were really my favorites. I loved them both so much. I
used to dream, think a lot about being like Gene. I always imagined myself dancing in the movies.
Dancing and singing the way he did. And I used to always think that M-G-M should have a male
type actor, a great swimmer, like Esther Williams, and he would be a star too, and they would play
opposite each other. I used to always think that maybe I could become a star like that: a combination
of Gene Kelly dancing and singing and a male-type version of Esther Williams swimming. I really
loved those days when I used to go and see those pictures. You know?
I never went to the movies very much. I raised a big family, remember? And James was
never home. I read a lot. I read all the great books. I read Gone with the Wind, The Good Earth,
King’s Row, A tree Grows in Brooklyn, all of them.
I never read a book in my whole life. I didn’t have the patience.
It’s too bad. It would have helped you a lot. It helped me a lot. I read all the great authors.
Mostly the women: like Faith Baldwin, for instance. And Taylor Caldwell, and Kathleen Norris. It
would really help me get through the day and the night sometimes, reading their books; learning
about other people’s problems and their troubles and things like that . . . especially when you’re
going through hard times yourself and you’re not too happy and there’s no one you actually can turn
to . . .
( She puts on another mask. There is another dead silence )
Margaret . . . you know, you really appeal to me. In many ways you do, Margaret. I kinda got
it for you now: I’m sure of it . . . and it makes me feel very good. But I want you to listen to me, and
please don’t say anything until I’m through. But do you know what? My life’s been full of surprises,
but mostly bad surprises. When I was a kid I was playing football once and I fell when some guy
tackled me. I fell right straight down on a dirty piece of old glass from a broken Royal Crown Cola
bottle. It cut right into my knee, clear through it went until it hit the bone, my knee bone. It happened
when I was only in the sixth grade, and my mother and father then, they were pretty old-fashioned,
and they sorta took care of the cut themselves. And I was glad they did, too, because I was scared
stiff, but I was even more scared of doctors and hospitals. Well, I ended up in the hospital anyway.
For over a year I was laid up in bed with my right leg up in the hair because poison set in. And at
first it went down to my right foot, and they had to keep a big long needle stuck clear through my
ankle, sticking out both ends of it, so that my leg wouldn’t stop growing because, like I told you
film bellissimi, tutti a colori.15 E c’erano Betty Grable e June Haver16. Loro erano quelle della
Twentieth-Century Fox. Di quei film a colori stupendi. E poi c’era Rita Hayworth17. Lei era sempre
in quelli della Columbia. A colori anche quelli, fantastici. Ma Gene, Gene Kelly, assieme a Esther,
Esther Williams, loro erano davvero i miei preferiti. Mi piacevano così tanto tutti e due. Me lo
sognavo sempre, avevo questo chiodo fisso di fare come faceva Gene Kelly. Mi ci vedevo proprio
a ballare nei film. Cantare e ballare come faceva lui. E pensavo proprio che la M-G-M dovesse avere
un interprete maschile, un gran nuotatore, come Esther Williams, così anche lui sarebbe stato
famosissimo e avrebbero recitato in coppia assieme. Pensavo davvero che magari sarei potuto
diventare un attore del genere: un misto tra Gene Kelly che canta e che balla, e la versione maschile
di Esther Williams che nuota. All’epoca mi piaceva un sacco quando andavo a vedere quei film,
Io non sono mai andata tanto al cinema. Ho tirato su una famiglia numerosa, ti ricordi?
E James non era mai a casa. Ho letto tanto io. Ho letto tutti i grandi libri. Ho letto Via col vento, La
buona terra, Delitti senza castigo, Un albero cresce a Brooklyn18, tutti quanti.
Io non ho mai letto un libro in vita mia. Non ho mai avuto tanta pazienza.
È un peccato. Ti sarebbe tanto servito. A me è stato molto di aiuto. Ho letto tutti i grandi
autori. Soprattutto le donne, come Faith Baldwin ad esempio. E Taylor Caldwell e Kathleen
Norris19. Leggere i loro libri mi aiutava a passare le giornate, e le notti, a volte; leggere dei problemi
delle altre persone e cose del genere . . . soprattutto quando stai attraversando un brutto periodo e
non sei molto felice e non hai nessuno a cui rivolgerti . . .
( Indossa un’altra maschera. Di nuovo silenzio di tomba )
Sai, Margaret . . . mi piaci proprio. Sotto molti aspetti, Margaret. Sento che adesso ho una
specie di debole per te, ne sono sicuro . . . e la cosa mi fa sentire molto bene. Ma voglio che mi
ascolti, e per favore non dire niente fino a quando non avrò finito. Sai una cosa? Nella mia vita ho
avuto moltissime sorprese, soprattutto brutte sorprese. Quando ero ragazzo, una volta stavo
giocando a football e sono caduto, un tipo mi ha placato e sono finito dritto sopra un lurido pezzo
di vetro di una bottiglia della Royal Crown Cola20. Quel vetro mi ha tagliato proprio il ginocchio e
si è conficcato fino all’osso, l’osso del ginocchio. È successo quando avevo undici anni21, e all’epoca
mia madre e mio padre erano abbastanza all’antica, quindi diciamo che si sono occupati loro della
ferita. Tra l’altro ero contento che lo facessero, perché ero spaventato a morte, ma avevo ancora più
paura dei dottori e dell’ospedale. Beh, alla fine ci sono finito lo stesso in ospedale. Per più di un
anno sono rimasto a letto con la gamba destra in trazione perché la ferita si era infettata. E all’inizio
mi ha preso tutto il piede destro, così hanno dovuto ficcarmi uno spuntone di traverso nella caviglia,
before, I was only in the sixth grade and so I was still a growing boy. But none of it worked. My leg
stopped growing: my whole right leg. ( He puts another mask on; then he takes off his right shoe
and begins to limp about the room; the candle flickers wildly ) You see! I got a special right shoe
with a great big lift built into the bottom of it. ( He shows her ) You see! And then the poisonous
gangrene – that awful green stuff, the awful rotten poison in my body – it went running through my
system until it got all the way up to my shoulder and so they had to cut away up there, here, the
doctors dug deep into my right shoulder four different times so that I wouldn’t die. You should see
it, Margaret. You should see how ugly my right shoulder looks: full of gashes and holes and deep
scars. When I finally got out of the hospital I had to begin to learn to write with my left hand. I was
kicked out of high school in my senior year because I turned out to be the meanest kid you ever
come across in your whole life. ( He takes the mask back off ) I went to work with my father then. I
wanted to. My father’s with the Sanitation Department. I worked with the City for the last twelve
years: collecting all the garbage, and building up my body, my muscles. ( Laughing nostalgically )
My mother helped me there a lot too: she’s such a great cook, my old lady. Because of my father
she turned into one of the best Italian cooks in the world. Every other night in the house it was either
an Italian or an Irish supper. But on Sundays it was always Italian for my father. Hell, I had to do it,
Margaret: work on the garbage trucks, because it was part of the family: my father wanted it that
way. If he was a lawyer, that’s the way I would’uve been; if he was a barber, then I would’uve been
one too. Nothing scared me on those bright yellow garbage trucks: the live, half-dead brown rats
that would sometimes come jumping out at me . . . ( He laughs ) . . . and all those millions of hungry
stupid running cockroaches! None of it ever bothered me. I got used to it fast. I’m not afraid of
anything. You know, Margaret . . . you know, I have never slept with a woman in my whole life!
You can’t believe that, can you? I never did, though, and that’s the honest to God truth, Margaret. I
was afraid, you know what I mean? I was scared and I was so ashamed. Ashamed of this limp; my
short right leg. ( He begins to hobble around the room again ) Ashamed of my scar on my right
weak knee. Ashamed of my shoulder: the ugliest right shoulder you ever saw in your whole life! I
couldn’t hold a girl in my arms with this shoulder, you know what I’m saying, Margaret? I had a
couple of bad surprises with a couple of different girls, right when we were ready to finally go to
bed together. I HATED WHAT HAPPENED! And before I knew it I was running. I ran so fast after
that! I ran a thousand miles after that! ( A pause ) Do you know why I finally left home, why I finally
quit the Sanitation Department two days ago and came here to live all by myself? Because my father
caught me the other day . . . he suddenly came into my bedroom and he caught me doing it all by
myself! I’ve been doing it all by myself ever since I can remember because I didn’t feel ashamed
then, by myself, alone, enjoying it without being scared of what the girl was really thinking about
da parte a parte, in modo da non bloccare la crescita della gamba, visto che come ti ho detto, avevo
solo undici anni e quindi ero ancora un ragazzino. Ma non è servito a niente. La mia gamba destra,
tutta quanta, si è bloccata. ( Indossa un’altra maschera; poi si toglie la scarpa destra e si mette a
zoppicare per la stanza: il lume della candela sembra impazzito ) Vedi! La mia scarpa destra è fatta
apposta, ha un plantare all’interno. ( Glielo mostra ) Guarda! E poi quella cancrena infetta – quella
schifezza verdognola, quello schifo infetto che avevo in corpo – continuava a scorrermi dentro, in
tutta la parte destra, fino a quando non mi è andato su sulla spalla e così hanno dovuto tagliare qui
in alto, qui, e i dottori per non farmi morire hanno dovuto scavare per bene nella mia spalla, quattro
volte. Dovresti vederla, Margaret. Dovresti vedere che razza di orrore è la mia spalla destra: tutta
piena di tagli, solchi e cicatrici pazzesche. Quando alla fine sono uscito dall’ospedale ho dovuto
imparare a scrivere con la mano sinistra. E all’ultimo anno sono stato sbattuto fuori da scuola perché
ero diventato la canaglia più pestifera che esista. ( Si toglie la maschera ) Così sono andato a
lavorare con mio padre. Mi andava bene così. Mio padre è nella nettezza urbana. Gli ultimi dodici
anni li ho passati a lavorare al servizio della citta, a raccogliere rifiuti, e a ricostruire il mio corpo, i
miei muscoli. ( Ride con nostalgia ) E anche mia madre mi ha aiutato: è una cuoca così brava la mia
vecchia. Grazie a mio padre è diventata una delle migliori cuoche italiane che ci sono in giro. Ogni
sera a casa mia si cenava o italiano o irlandese. La domenica, però, era sempre italiana, per mio
padre. Cristo santo, Margaret, mi è toccato per forza entrare in nettezza urbana, perché faceva parte
della famiglia: mio padre voleva così. Se fosse stato un avvocato, anch’io sarei diventato avvocato;
se fosse stato un barbiere, allora anch’io sarei diventato un barbiere. E non avevo paura di niente
quand’ero su quei camion dei rifiuti tutti gialli sgargianti: né dei topi veri, quelli marroncini mezzi
morti che a volte mi saltavano addosso . . . ( Ride ) . . . né di quella marea di stupidi scarafaggi
assatanati che correvano dappertutto! Nessuno di loro mi ha mai dato fastidio. Mi ci sono abituato
in fretta. Io non ho paura di niente. Sai, Margaret . . . sai, io non sono mai andato a letto con una
donna in vita mia! Non ci credi, vero? E invece è così, questa è la verità, sul serio, Margaret. Avevo
paura, non so se mi spiego. Ero terrorizzato e mi vergognavo così tanto. Mi vergognavo di essere
zoppo, di avere la gamba destra più corta. ( Si mette a zoppicare di nuovo per la stanza ) Mi
vergognavo della cicatrice sul mio ginocchio menomato. Mi vergognavo della mia spalla: la spalla
più brutta che uno possa vedere in tutta la sua vita! Con questa spalla non potevo stringere tra le mie
braccia una ragazza, capisci, Margaret? Ho avuto qualche brutta sorpresa con un paio di ragazze,
proprio quando stavamo per andare a letto assieme. IO NON SONO RIUSCITO A SOPPORTARE
QUELLO CHE È SUCCESSO! E prima di rendermene conto me l’ero già data a gambe. E sono
scappato così in fretta! Sono scappato per non so quanto! ( Una pausa ) Ma lo sai perché ho lasciato
casa mia, perché alla fine mi sono licenziato dalla nettezza urbana due giorni fa e sono venuto qui a
me. I was never so ashamed in my whole life: the way I was when my father caught me the other
day. And he was really lousy about it too, really and truly lousy about it all. Yeah, Margaret Moon,
whenever you go in life, it’s full of surprises! But mostly bad surprises. I DON’T LIKE MYSELF!
That’s it! I HATE MYSELF: LUKE LOVELLO! I hate him!
( He sits back down on the bed and puts the mask back on. There is a long silence. They both sit
there in the flickering candlelight wearing their Halloween masks )
( Finally ) I’m so very sorry, Luke . . .
( MARGARET takes off her mask. Then LUKE takes off his )
( After a long pause ) You look good. You have a beautiful face. You got lips like a couple of
ripe red plums. You know why I said plums instead of cherries? Because I got this good feeling
going on inside of me that you’re different than most women I’ve ever known. I like your eyes most
of all, Margaret Moon . . . ( MARGARET smiles at him. LUKE gets up from the bed and goes to her.
He kneels down before her. He touches her ankles ) You got nice ankles, too. ( MARGARET puts her
hand on his head.
stiffens a little. Then she begins to run her fingers through his hair. He
begins to get nervous. He jumps up and quickly places his right hand on one of her breasts; then he
pulls it away fast ) You see, I’m scared! Even with you. I’m scared . . . afraid. I don’t know what to
do. Look . . . I . . . maybe . . . if I can find . . . but they stole it! I mean, no, they didn’t steal it! I must
have left it in the bathroom: the . . . little solid gold box with the diamond on top of it. My uncle
who works in Las Vegas, he’s tall, dark, and handsome, he hires the beautiful tall showgirls for the
famous night-clubs there . . . my uncle, he gave me the fancy little box to keep them in. “A man
should always carry his . . . safeties . . . with him.” He told me. Excuse me a minute, Margaret. I’ll
go into the bathroom to see if they’re there. ( LUKE goes to the door and opens it. He exits into the
hallway and then disappears into the bathroom.
finally gets up. She stands staring at
the opened door. Suddenly she runs, slams it shut, and then locks it. LUKE comes running out of the
bathroom ) I can’t seem to find my little rubber box made of solid gold with the diamond on top of
it. ( He tries to open the door ) Hey, Margaret, you locked the door! Hey, open it up, will you? Hey,
do you hear me? ( He waits for a minute. MARGARET stands still ) Hey Margaret, why did you do
that? Awwwwww . . . c’mon! What are you doing to me? ( He begins to bang on the door ) C’mon,
open it up! Will you, please? Will you please open it up? ( He is almost on the verge of tears ) I
don’t deserve this! How come? Did I scare you? Did my limp make you sick? Did my story about
vivere per conto mio? Perché mio padre mi ha beccato l’altro giorno . . . è entrato all’improvviso in
camera mia e ha scoperto che me la stavo facendo da solo! Ho fatto così per tutta la mia vita, perché
così non mi vergognavo, per conto mio, da solo, mi divertivo senza dover temere quello che una
ragazza pensa davvero di me. Non mi sono mai vergognato così tanto in vita mia come l’altro giorno,
quando mio padre mi ha beccato. Ed era anche incazzato nero, davvero incazzatissimo per tutta ‘sta
storia. Eh già, Margaret, in qualsiasi posto andrai nella tua vita, ci sono sempre un sacco di sorprese!
Ma soprattutto butte sorprese! IO NON MI PIACCIO! Ecco cos’è! IL SOTTOSCRITTO, LUKE
( Si risiede sul letto e indossa nuovamente la maschera. C’è un lungo silenzio. Entrambi se ne
stanno lì seduti alla luce tremolante della candela, con addosso le loro maschere di Halloween )
( Finalmente ) Mi dispiace, Luke . . .
( MARGARET si toglie la maschera. Subito dopo se la toglie anche LUKE )
( Dopo una lunga pausa ) Sei proprio bella. Hai un bel viso. Le tue labbra sono come due
prugne belle mature. Lo sai perché ho detto prugne invece di ciliegie? Perché ho come il sentore
che tu sia diversa dalla maggioranza delle donne che ho conosciuto. E mi piacciono i tuoi occhi
soprattutto, Margaret . . . ( MARGARET gli sorride. LUKE si alza dal letto e va da lei. Le si inginocchia
di fronte. Tocca le sue caviglie ) Hai anche delle belle caviglie. ( MARGARET gli mette le mani sulla
si irrigidisce un attimo. Lei inizia a far scorrere le sue dita tra i suoi capelli. Lui
comincia ad innervosirsi. Si alza di scatto e mette la mano destra sul seno di lei; la leva
immediatamente ) Vedi, ho paura! Anche con te. Sono terrorizzato . . . ho paura. Non so cosa fare.
Senti . . . io . . . forse . . . se riesco a trovarla . . . no, me l’hanno rubata! Cioè, no, non me l’hanno
rubata! Devo averla lasciata nel bagno, la mia scatoletta in oro massiccio con sopra il diamante. Mio
zio che lavora a Las Vegas è alto, coi capelli neri e ha un bell’aspetto; gestisce quelle stangone
fantastiche che fanno gli spettacoli laggiù, in quei famosi night-club . . . è stato mio zio a darmi
quella bella scatoletta per metterceli dentro. Mi ha detto: “Un uomo deve sempre avere . . . le sue
protezioni . . . a portata di mano”. Scusami un attimo, Margaret. Vado in bagno a vedere se ci sono.
( LUKE va alla porta e la apre. Esce nel corridoio e poi sparisce nel bagno. Quindi
alza. Fissa la porta stando in piedi. Tutto d’un tratto si precipita a chiuderla e fa scattare la
serratura. LUKE arriva di corsa dal bagno ) Mi sa proprio che non la trovo la mia scatoletta in oro
massiccio col diamante sopra. ( Prova ad aprire la porta ) Ehi, Margaret, hai chiuso la porta a
chiave! Dai, aprila per favore. Ehi, mi senti? ( Attende un minuto. MARGARET se ne sta immobile )
Ehi, Margaret, perché l’hai fatto? Ooooooh, andiamo! Cosa stai combinando? ( Inizia a picchiare
sulla porta ) Dai, apri! Per favore, dai? Ti prego, mi vuoi aprire? ( Sembra quasi sul punto di
scoppiare in lacrime ) Non mi merito una cosa del genere! Mi vuoi dire perché? Ti ho fatto paura?
my scars and gashes and limp and everything make you sick? Please don’t say that it did! Please,
don’t! I know! It was because I was too forward with you, wasn’t it? That’s it! I was too fresh with
you, that’s it, isn’t it? That’s why you’re mad and you won’t open the door, isn’t it? Because I
touched your ankle, and because I touched . . . your breast. I’m sorry, Margaret Moon, I really am.
( He begins to rap on the door again; then he stops and waits. There is finally a long pause, a
strange silence. LUKE’s manner is very positive ) Margaret, you can’t do this to me! I want you . . .
and I know that you want me. I know that it will be all right. It won’t be like it was with the other
girls. ( A pause ) Margaret, it won’t be that way with you. I can tell . . . I swear to God . . . please,
Margaret Moon?
( Another moment passes. MARGARET goes to the window and opens it. Music is heard blaring in:
Spanish-type music: a romantic mambo perhaps, with a marvelous rhythm to it. She finally goes
to the door and unlocks it; she moves back to the middle of the room, waiting.
smiles a bit.
He pushes the door gently open and then enters the room. He stops and stares at her; his smile
goes away. He turns and closes the door behind him. He picks up a mask and puts it on. Then he
picks up a mask for
He begins to limp towards her. She goes to meet him, takes the
mask he hands her, and then she drops it to the floor. She removes his mask from his face. She
slowly puts her hands up to his face. They stare at one another in a half-embrace. There is a slow
fadeout )
Ti ho fatto venire il voltastomaco perché sono zoppo? Ti ha fatto venire il voltastomaco la mia storia
delle cicatrici, delle ferite, il mio modo di camminare e compagnia bella? Ti prego, dimmi di no! Ti
prego, no! Ci sono! È perché sono stato troppo diretto con te, giusto? Ecco perché! Perché sono
stato troppo sfacciato con te, è per questo, vero? È per questo che sei arrabbiata e non apri la porta,
eh? Perché ti ho toccato la caviglia e perché ti ho toccato . . . il petto. Mi dispiace, Margaret, sul
serio. ( Si mette di nuovo a bussare alla porta; poi si ferma e attende. Infine c’è una lunga pausa,
uno strano silenzio. Il tono di LUKE è molto risoluto ) Margaret, non puoi farmi questo! Io ti voglio
. . . e lo so che anche tu mi vuoi. Lo so che andrà tutto per il meglio. Non sarà come con le altre
ragazze. ( Una pausa ) Margaret, non sarà così con te. Credimi . . . te lo giuro su Dio . . . ti prego,
( Passa un altro istante.
va alla finestra e la apre. Si sente un crescendo di musica:
musica del tipo spagnoleggiante, qualcosa di simile a un mambo appassionato, con un ritmo
eccezionale. Finalmente va alla porta e sblocca la serratura; torna al centro della stanza, resta
in attesa.
accenna un sorriso. Spinge lievemente la porta per aprirla e quindi entra nella
stanza. Si ferma e la fissa, il suo sorriso sparisce. Si gira e chiude la porta alle sue spalle. Prende
una maschera e la indossa. Poi prende una maschera per
Si dirige verso di lei
zoppicando. Lei gli va incontro, prende la maschera che le porge e poi la getta per terra. Gli toglie
la maschera dal volto. Lentamente avvicina le mani al viso di lui. Guardandosi negli occhi si
stringono in un mezzo abbraccio. Le luci si abbassano lentamente )
Note al testo
L’autore fa riferimento alle «West Eighties» ossia a quell’isolato dell’Upper West Side la cui numerazione delle strade
va dall’ottantesima all’ottantanovesima; è situato non lontano da Central Park e dal museo di storia naturale. La West
End Avenue, invece, è una strada di Manhattan; si tratta di una segmento dell’11 th Avenue compreso tra la 59th e la 107th
Parte delle parole cantate da Luke appartengono alla canzone scritta dai fratelli Gershwin, The Girl I Love. Il testo di
questa canzone, che inizialmente era destinata al musical Lady, Be Good (1924), è stato scritto da Ira Gershwin ed esiste
in due versioni: The Girl I Love e la più famosa The Man I Love. Quest’ultima canzone, scritta per essere cantata da una
donna, venne inclusa nella colonna sonora di altri due musical: Strike up the Band (1927) e Rosalie (1928). The Man I
Love ha ormai raggiunto lo status di classico della canzone americana anche grazie alle numerose interpretazioni che ne
sono state fatte nel corso degli anni. (Furia, 42)
Un giorno arriverà / La donna che amo / E io sarò un vero uomo / Per la donna che amo / E quando verrà verso di me /
Capirà / E tutto si metterà a posto / Perché lei avrà trovato il suo uomo / L’unico uomo per lei / La donna che amo
La traduzione dell’onomatopea è libera.
«Woodwork» si riferisce alle parti in legno della casa, come ad esempio le porte, le scale o le modanature. Il termine
compare anche nell’espressione «come out of the woodwork» (o «crawl out of the woodwork»): venire fuori
all’improvviso e in massa dal posto in cui si è nascosti – è questo il caso degli insetti che infestano la stanza in cui si
svolge l’azione.
Il Dipartimento municipale della nettezza urbana di New York - New York City Sanitation Department (DSNY) si
occupa della gestione dei rifiuti e della pulizia delle strade della città. Venne fondato nel 1881 col nome di Department
of Street Cleaning, per poi assumere nel 1929 il nome Sanitation Department tuttora in uso. (nyc.gov)
Knights of Columbus (Cavalieri di Colombo) è il nome di una confraternita cattolica fondata negli Stati Uniti nel 1892;
si tratta per lo più di una società di mutuo soccorso e assistenza che nel corso degli anni si è diffusa in molti paesi del
mondo. Tra gli anni sessanta e settanta i Cavalieri di Colombo godettero di molta popolarità e si consolidarono
espandendosi sempre più all’interno degli stessi Stati Uniti. (kofc.org) Il nome così come la sigla «K. of C.» sono stati
mantenuti in inglese per creare il senso di locale in cui bere.
Gravy è la salsa che si ricava dal sugo rilasciato dalla cottura della carne; ne esistono diverse varianti, tra cui la Brown
Letteralmente «James Moon mi mandi in estasi»; la mia è una traduzione libera per mantenere la rima.
Letteralmente «James Moon sei proprio un idiota»; anche in questo caso la mia traduzione è libera. Il termine «goon»
col significato di stupido e impacciato deriva dal nome del grottesco personaggio dei fumetti Alice the Goon, creato da
E.C. Segar. Lo stesso fumettista, qualche anno dopo, creò anche il famoso marinaio Braccio di Ferro (Popeye the Sailor
San Giuda Taddeo, secondo la religione cristiana è il santo protettore delle cause senza speranza e delle situazioni
Santa Rita da Cascia secondo la tradizione cristiana è anch’essa una santa associata ai casi più disperati; inoltre viene
spesso riconosciuta come la protettrice delle donne tormentate da un matrimonio infelice.
Mario Lanza (1921-1959), famoso tenore e attore hollywoodiano di origine italiana. Lanza raggiunse l’apice del
successo tra gli anni quaranta e cinquanta; una delle sue interpretazioni più famose fu quella del tenore Enrico Caruso nel
film The Great Caruso/Il grande Caruso (1951). Anche se la causa di morte non venne mai accertata, molto
probabilmente Lanza morì in seguito ad un attacco di cuore. La moglie, Betty Lanza, morì cinque mesi dopo di lui nel
1960. (“Mario Lanza died 30 years ago, but his voice lives on”, Don Beman)
Gene Kelly (1912-1996), ballerino, coreografo e attore. Tra i suoi più grandi successi An American in Paris/Un
americano a Parigi (1951) e Singing in the Rain (1952), entrambi film musicali, genere per il quale diventò celebre.
Judy Garland (1922-1969), attrice, cantante e ballerina. Recitò con Gene Kelly in tre film, tutti e tre musicali e tutti e
tre prodotti dalla Metro Goldwyn Mayer: For Me and My Gal (1942), The Pirate/Il pirata (1948) e Summer
Stock/L’allegra fattoria (1950). (nytimes.com)
Esther Williams (1921-2013), nuotatrice e attrice, nonché stella degli anni d’oro della Metro Goldwyn Mayer. Esther
Williams viene ricordata soprattutto per i film che includono coreografie acquatiche spettacolari come Bathing
Beauty/Bellezze al bagno (1944), Neptune’s Daughter/La figlia di Nettuno (1949), Million Dollar Mermaid/La ninfa degli
antipodi (1952), Dangerous when Wet/Nebbia sulla Manica (1953) e Easy to Love/Fatta per amare (1953). (nytimes.com)
Ricardo Montalban (1920-2009), attore messicano che iniziò la propria carriera a Hollywood negli anni quaranta grazie
a numerosi film musicali della Metro Goldwyn Mayer; recitò con Esther Williams in Fiesta/La Matadora (1947), On an
Island with You/Su un’isola con te (1948) e Neptune’s Daughter/La figlia di Nettuno. (nytimes.com)
June Allyson (1917-2006), attrice, cantante e ballerina comparsa in molti film della Metro Goldwyn Mayer; è nota per
i suoi ruoli di moglie e fidanzata ideale, soprattutto al fianco di James Stewart e Van Johnson. (nytimes.com)
Gloria DeHaven (1925-), attrice, cantante e stella della MGM come gli altri attori citati. Recitò in film come Two Girls
and a Sailor/Due ragazze e un marinaio (1944) con June Allyson e Van Johnson e Summer Stock/L’allegra fattoria con
Judy Garland e Gene Kelly. (nytimes.com)
Van Johnson (1916-2008), attore e ballerino, nonché icona del cinema americano degli anni quaranta; i ruoli per cui
viene maggiormente ricordato sono quelli del ragazzo per bene, del marinaio e del soldato. Anche Van Johnson fu una
delle stelle della Metro Goldwyn Mayer e recitò sia con Esther Williams in Thrill of a Romance/Luna senza miele (1945),
Duchess of Idaho/La Duchessa dell’Idaho (1950) e Easy to Love/Fatta per amare, sia con June Allyson, Gloria DeHaven
e Gene Kelly. (nytimes.com)
Jane Powell (1929 -), attrice, cantante e ballerina protagonista di molti film musicali della MGM. Come altri attori,
anche Jane Powell venne spesso associata ad uno stereotipo, nel suo caso quello della ragazza ingenua visto che in molte
pellicole interpretò il ruolo della ragazza della porta accanto. (nytimes.com)
Letteralmente «in un sempre smagliante Technicolor»; tale frase però risulterebbe troppo ingombrante all’interno
della battuta di Luke
Betty Grable (1916-1973), attrice, ballerina e cantante che raggiunse l’apice del suo successo negli anni quaranta. A
differenza di attrici come June Allyson o June Powell, Betty Grable fu la pin-up per eccellenza. Recitò in numerosi film
della 20th Century-Fox, tra cui Million dollar legs (1939), Pin Up Girl/La fidanzata di tutti (1944) e How to Marry a
Millionaire/Come sposare un milionario (1953), in quest’ultimo al fianco di Marilyn Monroe e Lauren Bacall.
June Haver (1926-2005), attrice statunitense considerata da molti l’erede di Betty Grable, con la quale, tra l’altro, recitò
nel film The Dolly Sisters/Donne e diamanti (1944). La sua carriera di attrice di successo fu abbastanza breve; la sua fama
iniziò a diminuire all’inizio degli anni cinquanta, fino al suo ritiro dalle scene nel 1953. (nytimes.com)
Rita Hayworth (1918-1987), attrice, ballerina e icona del cinema americano. Anche lei come gli altri attori nominati in
precedenza raggiunse la fama internazionale tra gli anni quaranta e cinquanta. Tra i film che la resero celebre: You'll
Never Get Rich/L’inarrivabile felicità (1941) e You Were Never Lovelier/Non sei mai stata così bella (1942) con Fred
Astaire, Cover Girl/Fascino (1944) nel quale recita al fianco di Gene Kelly e Gilda (1946). (nytimes.com)
Tutti e quattro i libri sono stati scritti da autori americani: Gone with the Wind/Via col vento (1936) da Margaret
Mitchell, The Good Earth/La buona terra (1931) da Pearl S. Buck, Kings Row/Delitti senza castigo (1940) da Henry
Bellamann e A Tree Grows in Brooklyn/Un albero cresce a Brooklyn (1943) da Betty Smith.
Sebbene tutti e quattro possono essere considerati libri di successo, Via col vento è senz’altro il più famoso a livello
internazionale, e questo grazie anche al film del 1939 con Vivien Leigh e Clark Gable. La buona terra valse alla sua
autrice il premio Pulitzer per la narrativa nel 1932 e anche da esso venne tratto l’omonimo film del 1937. Analogamente,
nel corso degli anni quaranta vennero tratte le rispettive versioni cinematografiche dai best-seller di Henry Bellaman e
Betty Smith. Tutti questi romanzi, come anticipato da Margaret, parlano di esistenze tormentate e storie d’amore infelici.
Il libro di Bellaman venne tradotto in italiano mantenendo il titolo originale; il film King’s Row, invece, giunse in Italia
col titolo Delitti senza castigo. Nella mia traduzione, per ragioni stilistiche, ho deciso di usare il titolo del film anche se
in riferimento al romanzo.
Faith Baldwin (1893-1978), scrittrice americana del Novecento. Nell’arco della sua vita scrisse oltre ottanta romanzi e
numerosi racconti raggiungendo l’apice del successo tra gli anni trenta e quaranta. La produzione letteraria di Faith
Baldwin rientra nel genere di letteratura femminile di consumo. (“Faith Baldwin, novelist, dies”)
Taylor Caldwell (1900-1985), scrittrice anglo-americana del ventesimo secolo. Nell’arco della sua carriera scrisse e
pubblicò oltre trenta libri. Taylor Caldwell Nacque in Inghilterra ma emigrò da bambina negli Stati Uniti dove passò il
resto della sua vita. Tra i suoi libri di maggior successo ve n’è anche uno sulla vita di San Luca Dear and Glorious
Physician: A Novel about Saint Luke (1959). (nytimes.com)
Kathleen Norris (1880-1966), scrittrice americana attiva nella prima metà del ventesimo secolo. Oltre a romanzi, scrisse
anche per alcuni periodici tra cui l’Atlantic Monthly, The American Magazine e la rivista femminile Ladies' Home Journal.
La Royal Crown è una società statunitense che produce bevande analcoliche; venne fondata nel 1905 a Columbus
(Georgia) dal farmacista Claud A. Hatcher. Per molto tempo la società si chiamò Nehi e assunse il nome di Royal Crown
Cola soltanto dal 1959, visto che quello era il suo prodotto di punta. La Royal Crown Cola è sempre stata molto popolare
negli Stati Uniti e negli anni quaranta venne pubblicizzata anche da attori come Joan Crawford, Shirley Temple e Ronald
Reagan. (rccolainternational.com)
«Sixth grade» è il livello scolastico secondo il Sistema d’istruzione americano, esso si raggiunge all’età di 11 anni.
28, and good-looking. He wears a white-on-white dress shirt, a plain light-blue silk necktie, a
neatly cut midnight-blue suit, and perfectly shined black shoes. His topcoat is also midnight blue. He
wears a flashy gold wrist watch, a sparkling ring, and a tie clip and cuff links that match.
THE GIRL, about 19 or 20, and really quite beautiful. She has long black hair, a snow-white face devoid
of any makeup, and a very fine figure. She wears a slightly wrinkled, lightly soiled woman’s
trenchcoat, black high-heels, and no stockings.
Aboard the Staten Island Ferry.
The sound of a foghorn blowing in the darkness of the theatre; the whistle of a ferryboat; fading in:
churning sounds of the ferryboat on the moving waters of the bay.
As the lights slowly come up we hear the faint cries of sea gulls in the distance. We are in the ferryboat
interior: a particular section of it. THE GIRL appears. She is pleased, or so it seems, at having found
a remote area to be by herself. She sits down on one of the passengers’ benches, facing the audience.
She makes herself comfortable and then begins to read a book.
Eventually, JOEY enters through the audience. It is obvious that he has been watching THE GIRL. He
is sipping coffee from a paper container and holds a doughnut. He gives the place a good “goingover” and then THE GIRL becomes irresistible to him.
You don’t mind, do you, miss?
Mind what?
If I sit here next to you, I mean.
( He sits)
You already are, aren’t you?
JOEY, ventotto anni e di bell’aspetto. Indossa una camicia bianca elegante, una cravatta in seta azzurra
a tinta unita, un completo blu notte di ottima fattura e scarpe nere perfettamente tirate a lucido. Anche
il soprabito è blu notte. Porta un vistoso orologio d’oro al polso, un anello scintillante, fermacravatta
e gemelli coordinati.
LA RAGAZZA, sui diciannove, vent’anni e davvero molto bella. Ha lunghi capelli neri, un volto candido
privo di qualsiasi trucco e un gran bel portamento. Indossa un impermeabile sgualcito e con qualche
macchia, scarpe nere col tacco, niente calze.
A bordo dello Staten Island Ferry.
Il suono di una sirena da nebbia si diffonde nell’oscurità del teatro; il fischio di un traghetto; aumenta
gradualmente d’intensità il tumultuoso ribollire del ferry-boat sulle acque agitate della baia.
Mentre le luci si alzano lentamente, si percepiscono le strida dei gabbiani attutite dalla lontananza.
Siamo all’interno del ferry-boat, in un punto ben preciso. Compare
È contenta, o
almeno così sembra, di aver trovato un posto appartato in cui starsene sola. Si siede su una delle
panche per i passeggeri, rivolta verso il pubblico. Si mette a suo agio e inizia a leggere un libro.
Infine, JOEY fa il suo ingresso attraversando la platea. È evidente che sta osservando
Sorseggia del caffè da un bicchierone di carta e ha in mano una ciambella. Esamina attentamente il
posto ed ecco che prova un’attrazione irresistibile per LA RAGAZZA.
Non le dispiace, vero, signorina?
Mi dispiace cosa?
Se mi siedo qui vicino a lei, intendo.
( Si siede )
Lo ha già fatto, no?
Yeah, I guess I am. ( He laughs ) Well, no matter, miss, thanks anyway . . . ( He sips ) Hey,
how about some of this coffee? It’s a regular one . . . milk and sugar. Is that the way you take it?
( Icily ) Only black.
Let me buy you one, then, okay? ( THE GIRL gives out with an impatient sigh and goes back to
her book ) That book sure has you interested, doesn’t it?
( Without looking up ) You’re absolutely right.
JOEY You sure you don’t want a coffee?
It’s the best thing they sell . . . the coffee on this ferryboat . . . it’s good . . . always fresh, too,
that’s the reason why. But it’s only natural that it should be. Big turnover. They have to keep it
making all of the time. You know . . . like the automat . . . food’s always fresh there, too, because
of the big turnover. ( Sipping some more ) Wow! Hot! But Good! Darn Good! You sure you don’t
want a coffee? ( A moment of silence ) I’m buying. A black coffee, okay? You said you take it black
( Another moment of silence ) Boy, just look at you, will you. Your eyes haven’t blinked since we
started talking to each other. You’re certainly a concentrator, aren’t you? It must be a good story
that you’re reading ( Unwrapping the doughnut ) Here. How about this? The doughnuts are always
fresh here, too. You know . . . the big turnover, and all that . . . like the automat. Would you like
half of it? It’s a plain one. No sugar, no cinnamon, no chocolate. Who needs all that junk, right?
Especially a woman . . . a woman like you . . . no makeup, nothing fancy, just a pure-type beauty,
that’s all. A natural. ( More silence ) You don’t want any, huh? Well, okay. ( He begins to chew )
Really tasty, this plain doughnut. ( He sips ) This fresh coffee . . . delicious. ( He takes another bite
from the doughnut ) You know, miss . . . when I first walked in here, and I spotted you, well, I said
to myself, I know that broad, I mean, girl, woman, from somewheres. You looked real familiar to
me. Did you ever go to high school over in Saint George? ( No response) You didn’t, huh? That’s
where I live, in Saint George. Went to high school there. I was born and raised in Staten Island. Still
live there, too. ( He pauses ) Aw, that couldn’t be right, anyway. We couldn’t have gone to high
school together. You must be about nineteen, twenty at the most. But not more than that, right?
Still reading ) Right.
I’m twenty-eight, myself.
( Yawning ) Really?
Yeah. A long time ago. But seems like only yesterday. After I graduated from high school I
took a Greyhound bus all the way out to the coast . . . L.A., Hollywood. I wanted to crash the movies.
JOEY Sì, credo di sì. (Ride) Beh, non fa niente, signorina, grazie lo stesso . . . ( Beve un sorso ) Ehi,
che ne dici di un po’ di caffè? È normale1 . . . latte e zucchero. È così che lo prendi?
( Glaciale ) Solo nero.
Dai, lascia che te ne offra uno allora. ( LA RAGAZZA si lascia sfuggire un sospiro d’impazienza
e torna sul suo libro ) Quel libro le interessa davvero, eh?
( Senza alzare lo sguardo ) Ha proprio ragione.
Sicura di non volere un caffè?
È la cosa migliore che vendono . . . il caffè su questo ferry-boat . . . è buono . . . sempre fatto
al momento tra l’altro, ecco perché. Ma del resto è normale che sia così. Gran giro d’ affari. Devono
prepararlo in continuazione. Hai presente no . . . come ai distributori automatici . . . anche lì le cose
sono sempre fresche per via del continuo ricambio. ( Sorseggiandone un altro po’ ) Uh! Bollente!
Ma buono! Davvero buono! Allora, sicura di non volere un caffè? ( Un attimo di silenzio ) Dai, lo
vado a prendere. Un caffè nero, va bene? Hai detto che lo prendi così. ( Un altro istante di
silenzio ) No, dico, ma guardati un po’, ma ti pare? Non hai battuto ciglio da quando abbiamo
iniziato a parlare assieme. Tu di sicuro una che non si distrae facilmente, o no? Dev’essere una gran
bella storia quella che stai leggendo. ( Scartando la ciambella ) Ecco. Che ne dici di questa? Anche
le ciambelle qui sono sempre fresche. Sai . . . il gran ricambio e via discorrendo . . . come ai
distributori automatici. Ne vuoi mezza? È senza niente. Niente zucchero, niente cannella, niente
cioccolato. E chi ha bisogno di tutte quelle schifezze, giusto? Soprattutto una donna . . . una donna
come te . . . niente trucco, niente di elaborato, soltanto una bellezza autentica e basta. Una al naturale.
( Ancora silenzio ) Non ne vuoi proprio, eh? E va bene. ( Inizia a mangiare ) Proprio gustosa, questa
ciambella senza niente. ( Beve un sorso ) E questo caffè appena fatto . . . squisito. ( Da un altro
morso alla ciambella ) Sa signorina . . . appena sono entrato qui e l’ho vista, beh, mi sono detto,
quella tipa, cioè, ragazza, donna, devo averla già vista da qualche parte. Ha un’aria davvero
familiare. Per caso è andata a scuola dalle parti di Saint George2? ( Nessuna risposta ) No, vero? Io
abito proprio lì, a Saint George. Ho fatto là le superiori. Sono nato e cresciuto a Staten Island. E ci
vivo ancora adesso. ( Fa una pausa ) Ma dai, non potrebbe essere, comunque. Devi avere sui
diciannove anni, al massimo venti. Ma non di più, giusto?
Io ne ho vent’otto.
Continuando a leggere ) Giusto.
( Sbadigliando ) Davvero?
Eh sì. Diverso tempo fa. Ma sembra solo ieri. Dopo essermi diplomato ho preso un torpedone3
e me ne sono andato dritto verso la costa . . . Los Angeles, Hollywood. Volevo sfondare nel cinema.
Be big-time . . . you know? Not just ordinary like everyone else. ( He sips more of the coffee ) But
it was a lot tougher that I thought it would be. ( Finishing the doughnut ) I guess it was my fault,
too, in a way. Too many beautiful women riding and speeding over the streets and the avenues and
the boulevards of ole’ Hollywood. In streamlined convertibles at the flashy drive-ins and the classy
motels, on the beaches and the super-duper highways, and around all kinds of all sorts of differentshaped swimming pools. It was just too much, let me tell you! I must’uve wasted an awful lot of
time. You know, I should’uve been born a concentrator, like you, a concentrator. I didn’t have any
patience, though. Better yet, I suppose you could say that I didn’t have too much control. Like, for
instance, to prove my point to you, miss: I was voted the Class Wolf of my graduating class in high
school in Saint George. You see what I mean? And so, when you really think about it, Hollywood
was the last place I should’uve gone to. Anyway, I wasn’t getting’ anywhere there, and so I got
pretty disgusted after a while, with myself and with everything else out there, the people, the
phonies, just everybody! And so here I am . . . I came back . . . to here.
( Coldly ) Yes . . . I know.
But I’m learning to have more control now. ( He pauses ) Do you know what I think, though?
I think the main reason why I hated Hollywood so much was because . . . well, there didn’t seem to
be any . . . love . . . there. I know that must sound pretty dumb to you because we all realize that
there is love no matter where you go. Wherever there are people there is love. But, Jesus, I don’t
know, miss, but I felt that no one really cared about anyone else in Hollywood. To be honest with
you, it scared me just a little too much. I had to come back East. ( He stares at her for a moment,
awaiting any sort of reaction; she goes on reading ) Hey, miss! ( He snaps his fingers and gets
up ) A frank! How about a frank? ( No answer ) Would you like a frank with sauerkraut and mustard?
Or would you like one with relish and mustard? Or the whole works? That’s even better still: the
whole works! Why not live it up a little, huh? Go all the way! You see, they got good franks here,
too. Always fresh. You know they have to be since they got such a big . . .
. . . turnover!
( There is an uneasy pause )
( Quietly now ) Yeah, that’s it. ( A pause ) You sure you don’t want one?
Positive. But why don’t you go and have one?
( Sitting back down ) Aw, not me. I eat too much sometimes. Once I was so full of tension,
worrying about my future and everything, that I ended up eating five of them before the ferry even
pulled in. ( A pause ) Nerves, I guess. ( He takes out his cigarettes ) Cigarettes. I smoke a lot too,
Essere famoso . . . hai presente? Non un tipo ordinario qualsiasi. ( Beve un altro sorso di caffè ) Ma
è stata molto più dura di quanto pensassi. ( Finisce la ciambella ) Credo che sia stata anche colpa
mia, in un certo senso. Troppe donne stupende che se ne andavano in giro a tutta birra per le strade
e i viali e i boulevard della vecchia Hollywood. A bordo di decappottabili da sogno ferme ai drivein più pazzeschi e nei motel di lusso, sulle spiagge e sulle autostrade enormi, e attorno a piscine di
tutte le forme possibili e immaginabili. Era davvero troppo, lo ammetto! Devo aver perso un bel po’
di tempo. Sai, sarei dovuto nascere con più concentrazione, come te, che sei una che non si distrae
facilmente. Non ho avuto neanche pazienza, però. Anzi, diciamo che non ho avuto abbastanza
controllo. Ecco, ad esempio, signorina, soltanto perché si faccia un’idea: per tutti io ero il galletto
della classe4 all’ultimo anno di superiori a Saint George. Capisce, no, cosa intendo? E così, se ci
pensa un attimo, Hollywood era l’ultimo posto dove sarei dovuto andare. Ad ogni modo lì non
facevo strada e così dopo un po’mi ha preso uno schifo totale, nei miei confronti e nei confronti di
tutto il resto lì intorno, le persone, la gente falsa5, praticamente chiunque! E insomma eccomi qua
. . . sono ritornato . . . qui.
( Con freddezza ) Sì . . . lo so.
Ma sto imparando ad avere più controllo, adesso. ( Fa una pausa ) Sai cosa penso però? Penso
che il motivo principale per cui ho odiato Hollywood così tanto sia stato che . . . beh, non sembrava
esserci . . . amore . . . da quelle parti. Lo so che deve sembrarti abbastanza stupido perché tutti sanno
che l’amore esiste, sempre e ovunque. Dove c’è gente c’è amore. Ma Cristo santo, non lo so,
signorina, eppure sentivo che a Hollywood a nessuno importava davvero di nessuno. A essere
sincero la cosa mi spaventava un po’ troppo. Me ne sono dovuto tornare indietro a est. ( La fissa per
un istante in attesa di una qualsiasi reazione; lei continua a leggere ) Ehi, signorina! ( Schiocca le
dita e si alza ) Un hot dog! Che ne dice di un hot dog? ( Nessuna risposta ) Le andrebbe un hot dog
con crauti e senape? O ne preferisce uno con senape e salsa verde6? O facciamo con tutto quello che
hanno a disposizione? Così va ancora meglio: ci mettiamo sopra tutto quanto! Perché non trattarsi
bene una volta tanto, no? Facciamo le cose fino in fondo! Vedi, qui hanno anche dei buoni hot dog.
Sempre fatti al momento. Sai, devono esserlo per forza per via del gran . . .
. . . ricambio!
( Una pausa di imbarazzo )
( Adesso in tono tranquillo ) Sì, esatto. ( Una pausa ) Sicura di non volerne uno?
Sicurissima. Ma perché lei non va a prendersene uno?
( Torna a sedere ) Oh, no di certo. A volte mangio anche troppo io. Una volta avevo addosso
un’ansia incredibile, ero preoccupato per il mio futuro e compagnia bella, e alla fine ne ho mangiati
cinque prima ancora che il ferry arrivasse in darsena. ( Una pausa ) Nervosismo, credo.
but it’s not half so bad as it was before. I was really a chain-smoker once. ( Pause ) Hey, you wanna
go out on deck with me? Look, it’s the Statue of Liberty. Beautiful at this hour, all lit up and
everything, and with the moon helping out there a lot, too. I’ll bet I’ve seen the Statue of Liberty a
million times, and still never get tired of it. Always gives me a few butterflies in my stomach.
C’mon, you wanna . . . . ?
Cuttingly ) Noooooooo!
Oh? Well . . . you wanna come downstairs and have a smoke with me . . . on the lower deck?
You can’t smoke up here. ( No response ) I’m taking it for granted that you smoke. Most women I
know nowadays smoke.
( Impatiently ) You don’t know me.
( THE GIRL closes her book noisily and reaches for a magazine which she accidentally drops to the
floor )
( Quickly ) Oh, your magazine fell. Here, let me get it for you.
That’s one of those magazines for people with intellects. Some good stories in there, too. I
remember once when I was in the Air Borne over in Korea. I read a story in it because I found the
magazine lying around and there was nothing else to do so I read it. I’m not much of a reader, but
I can still remember what the story was all about. It was about this guy who didn’t know what he
wanted to do with his life. He was, well, he was searching! You understand, miss? Searching . . .
he really felt, deep down inside of him, this guy in the story, that he wanted to be big-time . . . you
know, the way I wanted to be bi-time, and so I took off for Hollywood . . . well, this guy in the story
felt the need to do cultured-type things; he had very artistic ideas about himself and about life in
general. ( A pause ) But he only thought about it all; he really never tried to do any of them. Now,
if I remember right, the main reason he didn’t try to do any of them was because he knew that he
had to get a good job and make some money . . . real fast . . . for sharp clothes and a neat car, and
things like that. I can’t remember . . . how the story ended up . . . but I do remember that it was
pretty sad. ( A pause ) Well, anyway, I wish I could figure out who you remind me of. ( A sudden
sigh ) Oh, now wait a minute! Wait just one minute! I got it! I know! ( He snaps his fingers
triumphantly in mid-air ) Elizabeth Taylor!
( There is a brief pause )
( Very Faintly ) Oh . . . ?
( Tira fuori le sigarette ) Sigarette. Fumo un sacco, tra l’altro, ma neanche la metà di quello che
fumavo prima. Una volta fumavo proprio una sigaretta dietro l’altra. ( Pausa ) Ehi, ti va di venire
fuori con me sul ponte? Guarda, la Statua della Libertà. È stupenda a quest’ora, tutta illuminata e
via discorrendo, e con la luna lì fuori che fa anche lei la sua parte. Avrò visto la Statua della Libertà
un milione di volte, credo, e non mi ha ancora stufato. Mi fa sempre venire qualche farfalla allo
stomaco. Dai, andiamo, ti va di . . . ?
( In modo risoluto ) Noooooooo!
Oh? Va bene . . . vuoi venire giù con me a fumare . . . sul ponte quello più in basso? Non si
può fumare qui sopra. ( Nessuna risposta ) Sto dando per scontato che tu fumi. La maggioranza
delle donne che conosco al giorno d’oggi fuma.
( Impazientemente ) Lei non mi conosce.
chiude rumorosamente il libro e allunga la mano per prendere una rivista che
accidentalmente le cade di mano e finisce a terra )
( Velocemente ) Oh, le è caduta la rivista. Ecco, lasci che gliela raccolga.
Questa è una di quelle riviste per gente sveglia. Ci sono anche delle belle storie lì dentro. Mi
ricordo di una volta quand’ero nell’esercito7, giù in Corea. Avevo letto una delle storie perché avevo
trovato la rivista lì in giro, non c’era nient’altro da fare e così mi ero messo a leggerla. Non sono un
gran lettore, ma mi ricordo ancora adesso di cosa parlava la storia. Era su ‘sto tipo che non sapeva
cosa farne della sua vita. Lui stava, beh insomma, lui era alla ricerca! Capisce, signorina? Alla
ricerca . . . sentiva davvero, nel suo profondo, questo tizio della storia, che voleva essere qualcuno
. . . sa, come io volevo essere qualcuno e così ero partito per Hollywood . . . beh insomma, ‘sto tipo
della storia sentiva il bisogno di fare cose da intellettuali; aveva una concezione molto artistica di
sé stesso e della vita in generale. ( Una pausa ) A tutto questo, però, ci pensava e basta; in realtà lui
non aveva mai provato a mettere in pratica nessuna di queste idee. E adesso, se mi ricordo bene, il
motivo principale per cui non aveva mai provato a metterne in pratica neanche una era che sapeva
di doversi trovare un buon lavoro e fare soldi . . . molto in fretta . . . per vestiti alla moda e una
macchina come si deve, e cose del genere. Non mi ricordo . . . come andasse a finire la storia . . .
però mi ricordo che era abbastanza triste. ( Una pausa ) Beh, comunque vorrei riuscire a capire chi
mi ricordi. ( Un sospiro improvviso ) Oh, aspetta un attimo! Aspetta solo un attimo! Ci sono! Lo
so! ( Schiocca le dita a mezz’aria con fare trionfante ) Elizabeth Taylor!
( C’è una breve pausa )
( Molto timidamente ) Oh . . . ?
Ah! I finally got a smile out of you . . . not a very big one . . . but still, it’s a smile anyway.
( More confident than ever now ) Yep . . . Elizabeth Taylor . . . what a face that woman has! ( He
makes comfortable, relaxing sounds ) No makeup, either. She doesn’t need any. Like you, miss
. . . one of those real true beauties. I mean now, for instance, you don’t need anything to help you –
no tricks. Just look at you: nothing fancy at all: a plain trenchcoat, no stockings. You don’t need any
gimmicks because you got a face like a wild dream, baby. You know what you remind me of? ( No
answer ) You remind me of one of those classical pieces of fine Greek sculpture. And you know
something else? You even look better than Elizabeth Taylor. I suppose that’s because you’re so
much younger. You’ve got everything in your favour. ( He begins to whistle softly ) Is it annoying
you, miss?
Is what annoying me?
My whistling. Since you’re trying to read. I’ll stop if you want me to.
It’s not that bad.
You mean you’re saying I’m a good whistler?
I suppose so.
Thanks. You know, you should see me on the dance floor.
Do you whistle when you dance, too?
Come to think of it now, you’d be a big hit at Roseland. You ever been there?
Been where?
To Roseland.
I never heard of it.
Well, I go there a lot, being a good dancer and everything. You’d be the main attraction because
you’re such a true beauty. What I mean to say is, some of the girls there, they’d probably be truelooking beauties too, if they didn’t wear so much makeup. ( He sighs ) It’s the same at work. I’m
the manager of a five-and-ten . . . one of the biggest and newest in New York. Great location. Some
people say it’s the best one around. Very good chances for advancing myself. From manager on
upward! Who knows, huh? It’s the five-and-ten in the new Socony-Mobil Building. You know the
one: all made of bright aluminum, very modern. The first aluminum building ever built. It’s right
across the street from the Chrysler Building. Now there’s a building for you! The Chrysler Building!
I don’t know what all the fuss is over the Empire State Building. It’s just taller, that’s all. But I
think the Chrysler Building is beautiful. Did you ever look up at it on a clear afternoon when the
sky is bright blue and the sun is shining? Well, it almost looks as though it were painted against the
sky. I never saw anything so great and tall; the perfect-looking spire with that tremendous needle
point going way up there in the painted blue. I swear to God, it’s like a huge modern painting.
Ah! Finalmente sono riuscito a strapparti un sorriso . . . non grandissimo . . . ma sì, dai, è pur
sempre un sorriso. ( Più sicuro di sé che mai adesso ) Eh già . . . Elizabeth Taylor . . . che viso che
ha quella donna! ( Sospira mettendosi a proprio agio e stemperando la tensione ) E senza trucco,
tra l’altro! Non ne ha bisogno. Come lei, signorina . . . una di quelle bellezze davvero autentiche.
Dai, voglio dire che insomma, tu non hai bisogno di alcun espediente – niente sotterfugi. Ma
guardati un attimo: niente di eccessivo: un semplice impermeabile, niente calze. Non hai bisogno di
fronzoli perché tu, tesoro, hai un viso da sogno. Sai cosa mi ricordi? ( Nessuna risposta ) Mi ricordi
uno di quei capolavori della scultura greca. E sai un’altra cosa? Tu sei anche meglio di Elizabeth
Taylor. Forse perché sei molto più giovane. Hai tutto dalla tua parte. ( Inizia a fischiare
sommessamente ) La disturba, signorina?
Che sto fischiando. Visto che sta cercando di leggere. Ma smetterò se vuole.
Stata dove?
Al Roseland.
Fischi anche mentre balli?
Adesso che ci penso, avresti un gran successo al Roseland8. Ci sei mai stata?
Credo di sì.
Grazie. Sai, dovresti vedermi sulla pista da ballo.
Non è poi tanto male.
Cioè stai dicendo che fischio bene?
Mi disturba cosa?
Mai sentito.
Beh, io ci vado spesso visto che sono un ballerino e via discorrendo. Avresti un gran successo
perché sei un vero schianto. Quello che voglio dire è che anche alcune delle ragazze che sono lì
potrebbero essere davvero uno splendore, se non si truccassero così tanto. ( Sospira ) E lo stesso al
lavoro. Sono responsabile in un grande magazzino, di quelli che vendono cose a buon mercato9 . . .
uno dei più grandi e nuovi qui a New York. Bel posto. Alcuni dicono che è il migliore della zona.
Ci sono anche buone possibilità di far carriera. Da responsabile dritto verso i piani alti. E chi lo sa,
eh? È il grande magazzino nel Socony-Mobil10. Sai, quello in alluminio tutto brillante, davvero
moderno. Il primo palazzo tutto in alluminio. È proprio di fronte al grattacielo della Chrysler11. Ecco
un palazzo che fa per te! Quello della Chrysler! Non capisco tutte le storie che fanno per l’Empire
State Building12. È solo più alto, ecco tutto. Secondo me, invece, il palazzo della Chrysler è
bellissimo. Ti sei mai messa a guardarlo di pomeriggio quando è limpido, il cielo è di quell’azzurro
intenso e c’è il sole? Insomma, lo vedi lì, contro l’orizzonte, quasi come se fosse dipinto. Non ho
mai visto niente di così alto e grandioso; quella spirale perfetta con quell’enorme punta a spillo che
Anyway, the girls there . . . the ones who work for me at the five-and-ten where I’m the manager
. . . all of them, trying just too hard to look too good. They don’t need all that stuff on their faces.
But I get along with them okay. I’m a good boss to work for. Ask any of ‘em, they’ll tell you. Of
course, I could tell them to do anything, and they’d do it, too. Most of them, well, you know how it
is . . . young boss, bachelor, and everything . . . they all sort of got eyes for me. But it’s all right, I
guess: I even let them call me by my first name, Joey. Except when the district manager is on the
scene. Then they have to call me Mr. Dove. That’s my name, by the way, Joey Dove. What’s yours?
( After a pause ) It’s not important.
( Uneasily ) Well, anyway . . . that’s the way it goes, huh? ( A depressed tone ) Pretty warm in
here, don’t you think? ( No response ) I think I’ll take off my coat . . . unload some of the pressing
weight. ( He removes his topcoat ) Whenever I get . . . depressed, I usually begin to perspire. I get
very warm and full of tension. Not a cool tension like most people, but a warm tension. I’m a funny
guy, you know? Everyone thinks I’m a happy-go-lucky person with no troubles at all. But if they
only knew about how . . . sad . . . I can get sometimes. I guess I think too much; maybe I’m alone
more than I should be. ( Chuckling ) Lone wolves . . . loners like myself: I wonder if they all think
. . . ( Laughing loudly now ) about suicide the way I do. But naturally it doesn’t mean a thing. I’ve
been interested in that subject ever since I can remember. What about you? You seem to be a loner.
Do you ever think about committing suicide? ( No answer ) Really warm in here.
Why don’t you go out on deck? It’s always cool out there.
Sometimes . . . too cool. Well . . . what about it?
What about what?
Coming out on deck with me?
No, thanks.
Aw, c’mon. Besides, we’ll be docking any minute now.
I’m fine the way I am.
I always get a big kick out when we’re pulling in on these ferries. All the bumps and the noise
. . . and the crazy white foam that the water makes! C’mon . . . (THE GIRL fumbles nervously with
the magazine; she’s unsure ) You’re going to wear that magazine out.
It’s my business.
( Quickly ) Do you like to dance?
va su nel blu che sembra venuto fuori da un quadro. Dico sul serio, è come un enorme quadro
moderno. Ad ogni modo, le ragazze lì . . . quelle che lavorano per me nel negozio dove sono
responsabile . . . tutte quante, sono sempre lì che ce la mettono tutta per farsi vedere al meglio. Si
mettono tutta quella roba sulla faccia che non serve a niente. Però vado d’accordo con loro. Io sono
un buon capo per cui lavorare. Domandaglielo pure, sentirai cosa dicono. Ovviamente potrei
chiedergli di fare qualsiasi cosa, e la farebbero anche. La maggior parte, beh, sai com’è . . . capo
giovane, scapolo, e via dicendo . . . tutte quante hanno una specie di debole per me. Ma credo sia
giusto così; lascio anche che mi chiamino per nome, Joey. Tranne quando è in scena il direttore di
zona. Lì allora mi devono chiamare Signor Dove. A proposito, è così che mi chiamo, Joey Dove. E
( Dopo una pausa ) Non è importante.
( Insofferente ) Beh, insomma . . . così stanno le cose, eh? ( In tono afflitto ) Fa abbastanza
caldo qui, non ti sembra? ( Nessuna risposta ) Sarà meglio che mi tolga il cappotto . . . mi libero di
un po’ di ‘sto peso opprimente. ( Si toglie il soprabito ) Quando mi . . . deprimo, di solito inizio a
sudare. Mi vengono su un caldo e un nervoso. La mia non è una tensione fredda come succede a
molta gente, è una tensione calda. Sono un tipo strano, sai? Tutti pensano che io sia una persona
felice, senza preoccupazioni. Ma se soltanto sapessero quanto . . . triste . . . posso diventare a volte.
Mi sa che penso troppo; forse sono più solo del dovuto. ( Ridacchiando ) Lupi solitari . . . soli come
me: mi domando se tutti loro pensino . . . ( Adesso ride di gusto ) al suicidio come ci penso io. Ma
questo ovviamente non vuol dire niente. La questione mi è sempre interessata, da quel che ricordo.
E tu invece? Sembri una solitaria tu. Ci pensi mai a suicidarti? ( Nessuna risposta ) Fa davvero caldo
A volte . . . troppo fresco. Beh . . . allora che ne dici?
No, grazie.
Oh, andiamo. E poi da un minuto all’altro siamo arrivati.
Che ne dico di cosa?
Di venire fuori con me sul ponte.
Perché non te ne vai fuori sul ponte? Fa sempre fresco lì fuori.
Sto bene così.
È sempre un vero spasso quando raggiungiamo il pontile con questi traghetti. Tutti i colpi e il
rumore . . . e tutta la schiuma bianca e pazzesca che fa l’acqua! Dai, andiamo . . . ( LA RAGAZZA si
gingilla nervosamente con la rivista che ha in mano; è titubante ) Lo consumerai quel giornale.
Sono affari miei.
( Velocemente ) Ti piace ballare?
Not at all, huh? That’s real shame. What I mean to say is, I think dancing is the best medicine
for anything. Everyone should like it . . . should know how to dance. It’s good for the . . . ego, I
guess. Yeah, that’s it . . . the perfect medicine for everybody’s ego. It makes you feel free and easy
. . . keeps people young and even a little wild. The best way possible, too, for men and women to
meet each other and get acquainted easier. ( He hesitates to get a reaction, then he continues ) You
should take it up sometimes. You don’t know what you’re missing. I’ve won a few dance contests.
Last year, over at Palisades Park, across the Hudson River, I won for doing the frug. About a month
ago I got fifty dollars, first prize, this girl and me, for doing the bossa like two professionals. It was
up at Freedomland in the Moon Bowl. Ever been there? The Moon Bowl’s my favorite spot for
dancing. It’s really okay. Listen miss… maybe you’d like to go with me this Saturday night?
( To herself ) Oh dear…
( A short pause )
You didn’t answer me, miss? Dancing? How about it? I think you’d…
( Cutting in, sharply ) No, thank you!
( Trying to show no concern over her attitude ) They always have a big-name singer, and
there’s always a top-name band for dancing. ( For the first time his voice sounds tense ) You sure
you don’t wanna go sometimes?
( Tiredly, with a sigh ) Thank you . . . but I told you – no.
( Becoming uneasy ) Well, anyway, the girls at work . . . I mean the ones who work for me
. . . and the babes at Roseland . . . they find me a pretty attractive guy . . . no matter what you think,
miss. I had a heck of a time when I was in high school. One heck of a time, let me tell you! The
babes never left me alone. I think that’s why I went to Hollywood. I knew I had what it takes. My
old man was real proud of me. He used to call me Broadway Joe. He called me it all the way up
until the time my mother died; then he lost practically all of his humour after that. He passed away
almost exactly a year to the very day that she died – my mother. ( He pauses ) You know, I’ll bet
you have a hard time, too, don’t you, miss? I mean, with that face of yours, like a beautiful piece of
fine Greek sculpture . . . it’s real classical-looking.
( A brief pause )
( Then firmly ) You know something?
( She looks straight at him now )
Per carità!
Proprio no, eh? È un vero peccato. Quello che voglio dire è che, secondo me, ballare è la
miglior medicina per qualsiasi cosa. Dovrebbe piacere a tutti . . . tutti quanti dovrebbero essere
capaci di ballare. Fa bene . . . all’ego, credo. Eh già, proprio così . . . la giusta medicina per l’ego
della gente. Ti fa sentire libero e disinvolto . . . mantiene le persone giovani e anche un po’ matte.
E poi, per un uomo e una donna, è anche il modo migliore che ci sia per incontrarsi e conoscersi
facilmente. ( Esita per ottenere una reazione, poi continua ) Dovresti provarci qualche volta. Non
sai cosa ti perdi. Io ho vinto qualche gara di ballo. L’anno scorso, su al Palisades Park13,
sull’Hudson, ho vinto ballando il frug14. Circa un mese fa ho vinto cinquanta dollari, il primo
premio, io in coppia con ‘sta ragazza, perché abbiamo ballato la bossa nova come due professionisti.
Questo su a Freedomland, nel Moon Bowl15. Lì ci sei mai stata? Il Moon Bowl è il mio posto
preferito per ballare. È davvero perfetto. Senta signorina… magari le andrebbe di venire con me
questo sabato sera?
( A sé stessa ) Dio mio…
( Una breve pausa )
Non mi ha risposto, signorina? Ballare? Che ne dice? Penso che dovrebbe…
( Interrompendolo, in modo risoluto ) No, grazie!
( Cercando di mostrare indifferenza nei confronti del suo atteggiamento )
Hanno sempre
grandi nomi tra i cantanti, e c’è sempre un complesso di prim’ordine per ballare. ( Per la prima
volta la sua voce risulta tesa ) Sicura che non ci vuoi andare qualche volta?
( Stanca, con un sospiro ) Grazie… ma ti ho già detto – no.
( Cominciando a sentirsi a disagio ) Beh, ad ogni modo, le ragazze a lavoro… cioè quelle che
lavorano per me... e quelle al Roseland… mi trovano tutte un tipo molto attraente… non importa
quello che pensa lei, signorina. Me la sono passata alla grande quando ero alle superiori. Davvero
alla grande, credimi! Le ragazze non mi lasciavano mai in pace. Per questo sono andato a
Hollywood. Perché sapevo di avere la stoffa giusta. Il mio vecchio era davvero orgoglioso di me.
Mi chiamava sempre Broadway Joe. Mi ha sempre chiamato così fino a quando non è morta mia
madre; poi praticamente ha perso tutto il suo umorismo. Se n’è andato dopo quasi un anno esatto
dal giorno in cui lei è morta – mia madre. ( Fa una pausa ) Sai, scommetto che è stata dura anche
per te, vero, signorina? Cioè, con quel viso che sembra un capolavoro della scultura greca . . .
davvero perfetto.
( Una breve pausa )
( Poi, risolutamente ) Sai una cosa?
( Adesso guarda dritto verso di lui )
( THE GIRL gets up and begins stuffing her magazines and her books into her large pocketbook )
GIRL ( Very clearly ) If you like the crazy white foam that the water makes so much, then why don’t
you try to jumping into it sometime?
( THE GIRL turns to move away from JOEY, but he pulls her instantly by the arm, and then he holds
her still and with great firmness. THE GIRL remains there, almost motionless, simply staring at him.
There is the indication of a very slight smile on her lips )
( Finally ) Yeah . . . miss . . . ! ( His voice is one the brink of cracking ) Yeah . . . ! I may just
do that some time . . . I may just give it a try! ( They stop and stare at each other. JOEY keeps a tight
grip on her arm. Then he begins to shake it lightly up and down ) All I wanted, miss . . . all I want
now . . . is to . . . fuck you . . . YEAH! ( He glances quickly around them ) How about that now? Do
you like that kind of language, huh? Yeah, yeah: I guess you kinda do. You’re that different type of
girl. I don’t ever meet them much: real modern, huh? Maybe, maybe, I should have just said that to
you in the first place, right? That’s all I want: to get to fuck you. I’ve made a fool of myself, haven’t
I? Talking and talking, a mile a minute. About myself, about everything . . . and all because I just
wanted to get to fuck you . . . do you understand?
( After a moment ) I . . . I . . . where are you going?
Shut up for a minute! ( He eases his grip on her arm ) I’m lonely, baby, but you’re even lonelier
. . . you sat there, miss, you sat there, and you listened to everything I said. You never made even
one try at getting away from me, did you?
( THE GIRL doesn’t reply. We hear the roar of the waves outside and the ferryboat pulling in at the
docks, hitting and splashing against the wooden barriers )
( After a long moment ) Where are you going . . . in Saint George, that is?
(JOEY begins to smile a little )
I live alone. On Chapin Avenue.
I know where it is.
C’mon. Let’s go out on deck. Let’s go out and look at the crazy white foam that the water
makes . . . ( He takes her by the arm as she steps down off the edge of the stage ) What do you do?
Better yet: what’s your name?
( THE GIRL stops and turns to face him )
My name is Eleanor. I go to school – college – majoring in English Literature . . . ( The lights
begin to fade ) minoring in philosophy . . . and the Social Patterns of Urban Love . . . Sarah
Lawrence . . .
( She turns and begins to walk though the audience )
( LA RAGAZZA si alza e inizia a infilare le riviste e i libri nella sua ampia borsa )
( In tono esplicito ) Se ti piace così tanto tutta quella schiuma bianca e pazzesca che fa
l’acqua perché allora non ti ci butti una volta o l’altra?
si volta per allontanarsi da
trattenere con grande fermezza.
ma lui la prende subito per il braccio, poi la
rimane lì, pressoché immobile, si limita a fissarlo.
L’accenno di un leggero sorriso si fa spazio sulle sue labbra )
( Finalmente ) Eh già . . . signorina . . . ! ( La sua voce è sul punto di spezzarsi ) Sì . . . ! Potrei
proprio farlo una volta o l’altra . . . potrei fare un tentativo! ( Si fermano e si fissano l’un l’altro.
mantiene stretta la presa al suo braccio. Poi inizia a muoverlo leggermente su e giù ) Tutto
quello che volevo, signorina . . . tutto quello che voglio adesso . . . è . . . scoparla . . . GIÀ! ( Da un
occhiata veloce attorno ) Allora cosa ne dici? Ti piace questo modo di parlare, eh? Eh sì, certo:
credo proprio che ti piaccia. Tu sei quel tipo diverso di ragazza. Non ne incontro mai molte: davvero
moderna, eh? Ecco cosa voglio: riuscire a scoparti. Ho fatto la figura del cretino, o no? Parlare e
parlare, a tutto spiano. Di me stesso, di qualsiasi cosa . . . e tutto soltanto perché volevo riuscire a
scoparti . . . capisci?
( Dopo un attimo ) Io . . . Io . . . dove stai andando?
Taci un attimo! ( Allenta la presa al braccio ) Io sono solo, cara, ma tu sei ancora più sola . . .
se ne stava là seduta, signorina, era seduta lì e ha ascoltato tutto quello che dicevo. Non ha fatto
neanche il minimo tentativo di allontanarsi da me, o no?
( LA RAGAZZA non risponde. Si sentono il fragore delle onde all’esterno e del ferry-boat che
attracca alla banchina, va a sbattere ripetutamente contro i pali in legno e solleva degli spruzzi )
( Indugia un momento ) Dove stai andando . . . a Saint George, giusto?
( JOEY inizia a sorridere leggermente )
Vivo da solo. Sulla Chapin Avenue.
Ho presente dov’è.
Vieni, dai. Andiamo fuori sul ponte. Andiamo fuori a guardare tutta quella schiuma bianca e
pazzesca che fa l’acqua . . . ( La prende per il braccio mentre scende dall’estremità del
palcoscenico ) Che fai? Anzi: come ti chiami?
( LA RAGAZZA si ferma e si gira verso di lui per guardarlo )
Mi chiamo Eleanor. Vado a scuola – al college – studio letteratura inglese . . . ( Le luci
iniziano ad abbassarsi ) filosofia16. . . e sociologia dell’amore negli spazi urbani . . . Sarah
Lawrence17. . .
( Si volta e inizia a camminare in mezzo al pubblico )
I thought you said it was Eleanor . . .
( He follows after her. The lights are fully out now. We hear the rumbling of the ferryboat and the
splashing of the water, and the rocking of the creaking wooden beams. Then there are just the
cries of sea gulls announcing the arrival of the ferryboat )
Pensavo avessi detto Eleanor . . .
( Lui le va dietro. Adesso le luci sono completamente spente. Si sentono il rumore del ferry-boat,
lo sciabordare dell’acqua e il dondolio dei pali in legno che cigolano. Poi solo le strida dei
gabbiani che annunciano l’arrivo del ferry-boat )
Note al testo
Il fatto che un caffè con latte e zucchero venga considerato «regular», cioè normale, è tipicamente newyorkese. Di norma
a New York il caffè viene servito con l’aggiunta di questi due ingredienti; se invece lo si vuole liscio bisogna specificare
«only black». Questa distinzione, che a prima vista può risultare insolita ad un lettore italiano, è proprio ciò che viene a
delinearsi nello scambio di battute iniziale tra i due protagonisti.
Saint George è uno dei quartieri del distretto di Staten Island; è situato nella sua estremità nordorientale e ha una affaccio
diretto sull’Upper Bay. Proprio in quest’area si trova il terminal dello Staten Island Ferry, il traghetto che collega
Manhattan a Staten Island e a bordo del quale si svolge l’intera azione.
«Greyhound bus» indica uno degli autobus della Greyhound Lines, gli autobus di linea che collegano le maggiori città
degli Stati Uniti. Il nome dell’azienda, così come il suo logo, fanno riferimento al greyhound – il levriero, cane noto per
la sua velocità.
In questo contesto il termine «wolf» indica il donnaiolo; il sostantivo del testo in inglese ha una forte connotazione
animale che viene soltanto in parte restituita dall’ italiano «galletto».
«Phony» è un termine fortemente connotativo, l’italiano «falso» gli rende solo in parte giustizia. La parola fa parte del
gergo americano ed è entrata in uso corrente a partire dagli inizi del novecento per affermarsi definitivamente nel
dopoguerra – il suo uso più significativo in ambito letterario è senz’altro costituito dal romanzo di J. D. Salinger The
Catcher in the Rye/Il giovane Holden (1951). L’origine del termine è incerta, esso potrebbe derivare dal
«telefono/telephone» o molto più probabilmente dall’inglese «fawney», un ‘espressione usata da falsari e truffatori per
riferirsi agli anelli dorati soltanto in superficie (Webster’s New World College Dictionary)
Negli Stati Uniti il termine «relish» indica una salsa a base di cetriolini che molto spesso viene usata come hot dog
topping. Non essendoci un esatto corrispondente in italiano, ciò che più si avvicina all’idea di relish è la «salsa verde»,
se non altro per il colore.
Con «Air Borne» si fa riferimento alle truppe aviotrasportate; nella storia dell’esercito statunitense vi sono state varie
divisioni di aviotrasportati, alcune delle quali hanno combattuto in Corea.
Il Roseland Ballroom è stato uno storico locale di Manhattan; la sala da ballo venne aperta nel 1919 e si trovava
inizialmente sulla 51st Street. Nel 1956 venne spostata in uno stabile sulla West 52nd Street e lì vi è rimasta fino alla sua
chiusura definitiva nell’aprile 2014 (theguardian.com)
«Five-and-ten» è una tipologia di negozio che vende prodotti di vario genere il cui prezzo è basso e quindi accessibile
ai più. Il five-and-ten store è una sorta di magazzino popolare in cui la qualità delle merci è un aspetto secondario rispetto
al prezzo; in esso si trovano per lo più prodotti standardizzati, con un assortimento limitato e destinati ad una clientela
con minori pretese rispetto a quella del grande magazzino. Col passare del tempo la distinzione tra queste due categorie
è venuta meno ed è sopravvissuto soltanto il concetto di grande magazzino (department store). Il nome «five-and-ten
store» deriva dall’insegna esposta da Frank Winfield Woolworth che nel 1879 a Lancaster ha aperto il primo negozio di
questo genere; in esso tutti gli articoli erano in vendita al prezzo fisso di 5 e 10 cents. (Foglio, 42)
Il Socony-Mobil Building è un grattacielo di New York situato nel distretto di Manhattan sulla 150 East 42nd Street.
Come testimonia il nome stesso, venne costruito con lo scopo di diventare il quartier generale della multinazionale
petrolifera Socony-Mobil. Il palazzo è un tipico esempio di International Style, ha una forma semplice e squadrata e con
i suoi 45 piani raggiunge i 174,5 metri. La progettazione del grattacielo venne affidata agli architetti Harrison
&Abramovitz, già noti per il loro design all’avanguardia, e la sua costruzione venne ultimata nel 1956. Il tratto distintivo
del palazzo sono senza dubbio le sue facciate: ad eccezione dei primi tre piani, l’intero edificio è rivestito da pannelli in
acciaio inossidabile lavorato a sbalzo. Il progetto iniziale prevedeva una semplice facciata in mattoni, successivamente si
ipotizzò di utilizzare dei pannelli in alluminio ma infine si optò per un materiale più resistente come l’acciaio inossidabile
della United States Steel Corporation. Il Socony-Mobil Building si estende sulla superficie di un intero isolato; la base di
tre piani comprende vari spazi commerciali ed è più ampia rispetto al resto dell’edificio che si sviluppa verticalmente con
una torre centrale di quarantadue piani e due ali laterali di tredici piani ciascuna. (Landmarks Preservation Commission)
Il Chrysler Building è un grattacielo di New York che sorge nell’area di Manhattan all’incrocio tra la 42nd Street e la
Lexington Avenue. Il palazzo venne costruito tra il 1926 e il 1930 su progetto dell’architetto William van Alen; i lavori
iniziarono nel pieno degli Anni ruggenti e vennero portati a termine nel mezzo della crisi più nera degli anni Trenta.
L’edificio era originariamente destinato a William H. Reynolds e soltanto in un secondo momento passò nelle mani di
Walter P. Chrysler, il fondatore dell’omonima casa automobilistica da cui prese il nome. Il Chrysler Building è un
grattacielo di 77 piani, alto 319 metri e in perfetto stile Art déco. La sua forma piramidale è molto particolare, non
mancano dettagli architettonici che rimandano al mondo delle automobili, ma l’elemento più caratteristico è senz’altro la
guglia che slancia l’edificio e lo fa sembrare ancora più alto. Il Chrysler Building mantenne per un anno il primato di
grattacielo più alto del mondo per poi essere superato dall’ Empire State Building nel 1931. Vi è un netto contrasto tra i
suoi esterni moderni e l’interno tradizionale con svariati richiami al passato, soprattutto all’antico Egitto. (Landmarks
Preservation Commission)
L’ Empire State Building è uno dei grattacieli simbolo di New York, sorge nel distretto di Manhattan all’angolo tra la
5th Avenue e la West 34th Street. L’edificio venne realizzato tra il 1930 e il 1931 in risposta al Chrysler Building al quale
rubò il titolo di palazzo più alto del mondo; mantenne il primato negli Stati Uniti fino al 1973, quando a sua volta fu
superato dalle Torri Gemelle del World Trade Center. L’Empire State Building è un palazzo di 103 piani in stile Art déco
e grazie all’antenna posizionata sul terrazzo dell’ultimo piano raggiunge i 443,2 metri. Il nome Empire State Building è
un omaggio allo Stato di New York, detto anche The Empire State. (esbnyc.com)
Il Palisades Park era un parco divertimenti situato nell’area metropolitana di New York e più precisamente a nord, nella
Contea di Bergen. Sorse negli ultimi anni del 19° secolo per poi svilupparsi nella prima metà del Novecento. Il suo
momento di massimo splendore fu tra gli anni Cinquanta e Sessanta per poi essere chiuso nel 1971. Oltre che per il suo
luna park, il Palisades Park era famoso per lo spazio concesso agli spettacoli musicali. (palisadespark.com)
Il termine «frug» indica uno stile di ballo molto simile al twist e in voga negli anni Sessanta.
Il Freedomland era un parco divertimenti situato nel Brox. Fu attivo soltanto dal 1960 al 1964 e molto spesso venne
considerato il diretto rivale del Palisades Park. Il Freedomland era suddiviso in sette aree tematiche che ripercorrevano le
tappe fondamentali della storia degli Stati Uniti; il «Moon Bowl» era una pista da ballo all’aperto inclusa nella «Satellite
City», la sezione dedicata alla recente esplorazione dello spazio. (backinthebronx.com)
I termini «majoring» e «minoring» sono propri del sistema universitario americano e non hanno un vero e proprio
equivalente in italiano. Con «majoring» viene indicato l’ambito principale di studio, ovvero qualcosa che si avvicina al
“corso di laurea”; «minoring» si riferisce invece al “corso complementare”. Quest’ultimo può essere assimilato al
cosiddetto “corso a scelta”.
Sarah Lawrence è il nome di un prestigioso college di discipline umanistiche e artistiche con sede a Bronxville, nello
Stato di New York. Dalla sua istituzione nel 1926, e fino al 1968, fu un college esclusivamente femminile.
1. Off-Off-Broadway
Off-Off-Broadway had to happen because nothing else was happening. The new anxious American playwrights had
no audience to write for; they had no backers to turn to; there was no place to go. You had to be a European (an
impossible requirement that was deeply perplexing to a young American playwright) with an established hit
somewhere across the ocean – any ocean and in any country rather than our country – in order to have your play
presented on Broadway, and even Off-Broadway.
– Leonard Melfi, Encounters
Leonard Melfi had the chance to establish himself as a playwright thanks to a phenomenon called
Off-Off-Broadway; if it had not taken place, none of the experimental theater of the 1960s would
have been possible and probably he would have gone on peddling his full-length autobiographical
plays without going anywhere. In the early Sixties Melfi was one of the rising playwrights seeking
mainstream success in vain; by capturing the sense of frustration of a whole new generation of writers,
his statement above provides a perfect snapshot of New York theater scene in those years.
By the 1960s not only Broadway, but also Off-Broadway had become inaccessible and ceased
being a stepping-stone for new artists. What came up in the Fifties as an alternative to the ruthless
commercialism of Broadway ended up by being a smaller-scale replica of that very system, was
driven by the same logics and had to face the same problems. Soaring costs of production, increasing
professionalization as well as the desire to please both the audience and the critics resulted in
sacrificing experimentation and turned off-Broadway theater into a commercial product devoid of its
original meaning.
This artistic dead end together with the impossibility of accessing official circuits was one of
the premises for Off-Off-Broadway, a movement that dismissed financial success in favor of
experimentalism and conceived theater as an art that can elicit strong emotions instead of simply
pleasing the crowd.
If we stick to the notion of the New York theater system as vertically structured, Broadway
occupies the top rung of this ideal ladder, Off-Broadway stands at the second highest rung and OffOff-Broadway is relegated to the bottom rank. From this perspective, Off-Off-Broadway evolved in
an unconventional way: instead of climbing up the ladder of success, artists climbed it downwards,
and they did not simply leave Off-Broadway above them creating its smaller equivalent, they
completely distanced themselves from what they perceived as the corrupt Broadway establishment.
Their descent was both figurative – going all the way down the conventional theater hierarchy – and
literal: the new generation kept heading straight down until they reached the underground level.
Besides having a quintessentially underground attitude1, Off-Off-Broadway was an underground
phenomenon even in the most literal sense of the word because many performances were actually
staged below the surface of the ground in spaces such as basements and cellars.
The tension between going overground and remaining underground has always played a major
role in the history of Off-Off-Broadway. Especially at the beginning, many dramatists and actors used
to see Off-Off-Broadway as a platform to showcase their talent and climb up to professional theaters;
only when their artistic awareness grew, did artists change their mindset and fully embraced
underground productions.
One more factor that led to the development of Off-Off-Broadway was the rising power of the
counterculture and its influence on the movements that were dominating other artistic fields such as
visual arts, music, poetry and dance. Counterculture relied on the arts to spread its revolutionary ideas
and create an alternative to mainstream culture; inevitably, even theater was affected by this tidal
wave. The subversion brought about by Off-Off-Broadway in American theater was very much in
line with the destabilization prompted by the counterculture; the close connection between these two
phenomena is underlined also by their similar evolution and duration: they both exploded in the early
Sixties, peaked around the middle of the decade and faded out gradually in the early Seventies.
Although nowadays Off-Off-Broadway is referred to as a movement, this definition – as
Bottoms suggests (3) – should be held with a certain degree of skepticism because all movements
Off-Off-Broadway has a quintessentially underground attitude because the term “underground” refers to something that
is experimental, unconventional and radical, and all these adjectives are suitable to describe off-off production. Moreover,
in the first chapter of his book Playing Underground, Stephen J. Bottoms makes a distinction between the “avant-grade”
and the “underground”, and claims that Off-Off-Broadway is definitely closer to the latter concept.
normally share a program or have a manifesto, they are characterized by a homogeneous production
and are guided by a group of leaders, yet Off-Off-Broadway had none of these things. Other dynamics
held together this unconventional group of artists and the most apparent of them was certainly
geographical proximity since everything took place within two neighborhoods of Lower Manhattan.
Off-Off-Broadway bloomed in Greenwich Village and subsequently extended to the East Village;
these bohemian spots became a sort of little world apart in which a new and unconventional lifestyle
as well as an alternative to commercial theater were possible. Secondly, off-off-Broadway artists were
unified by their negative attitude towards money. Minimizing its presence and its importance in
theater activities was seen as the sole possible way out of the vicious circle that was responsible for
the deterioration of both Broadway and Off-Broadway. Except for some coffeehouses that embraced
the policy of one-dollar minimum purchase from the menu, most of the times attending off-offBroadway performances was free of charge; donations at the end of each play were meant to cover
the costs of production2. These daring views on money proved to be both the source of strength and
the cause of ruin of Off-Off-Broadway: on the one hand, the movement steered clear of the poison
that spoiled the establishment and had instead a genuine approach to theater; on the other hand, the
lack of money was the main reason behind the failure of many experimental ventures. Since its
dawning Off-Off-Broadway struggled against commercialism and the so-called “selling-out”;
nevertheless, these were exactly the reasons that brought the movement to an end. From the late 1960s
onwards, more and more off-off artists and venues surrendered to commercial pressure and joined
the establishment; this inevitably represented the defeat of the original underground spirit that had
kept the group together. In the wake of the 1960s counterculture, a third aspect consolidated the offoff-Broadway circle, namely the will to break away from established rules, traditions and
conventions; this emphasis on freedom and change can also provide an explanation to the difficulty
Most of the time funds were raised by passing a hat around the room; because of this unusual way of collecting money
Off-Off-Broadway was unflatteringly referred to as the “pass-the-hat-circuit”. This definition was coined by the New York
Times journalist Elenore Lester – in 1965 she wrote an article on the Off-Off-Broadway scene entitled The Pass-the-Hat
Theater Circuit.
in pinning down Off-Off-Broadway using conventional criteria. Eager to provide an alternative to
conventional theater, Off-Off-Broadway introduced a new way of both acting and writing. Whereas
traditional Method acting was based on emotions, Off-Off-Broadway performances tended to focus
on the physical presence on stage3. One-act plays became the trademark of Off-Off-Broadway; unlike
dramas that sticked to the traditional three-act structure and staged a complete story, one acts portray
just a single dramatic fragment and were thus far more immediate. The use of this stylistic device was
dictated also by practical reasons like the fact that more often than not plays were performed in
claustrophobic venues in which people would not sit as long as they might in conventional theaters.
As for the language, Off-Off-Broadway pushed it to its limits; it became blunter, polemic and sought
to destroy all existing taboos.
Finally, the changes brought about by Off-Off-Broadway affected also the conventional
hierarchies within theater. The movement promoted an alternative system in which directors,
playwrights, actors and all the people involved in the production of a play were on the same level.
1.1 The Premises in the Fifties
Although Off-Off-Broadway exploded in the 1960s and has become a symbol of that decade, its
inception can be traced back to the 1950s. In that time span, all the major factors behind the rise of
underground theater emerged, paving the way for the upcoming movement.
The most significant step towards Off-Off-Broadway was possibly represented by the Living
Theater, an experimental theater company founded in the late forties by Judith Malina and her
husband Julian Beck. After the failed attempt to convert a basement into a theater, the Becks decided
to use the living room of their Upper West Side apartment as a performance space and mounted their
first play there in 1951. In its early phase, which lasted until the mid-1950s, the Living Theater had
already developed many of the features that would subsequently characterize Off-Off-Broadway, like
This substantial change can be clearly associated with the new importance acquired by the body in various artistic and
non-artistic fields in the early 1960s.
a strong emphasis on experimentalism, the use of informal performance spaces, the creation of a
heterogeneous group of artists as well as the promotion of collaboration among them. After having
been closed down for building violation, the Living Theater came back on scenes in 1959; the restored
company settled in a former department store in the Greenwich Village and performed there until it
was forced to close down once again in 1963 – this time for nonpayment of taxes. From that moment
onwards, the Living Theater ceased to be a permanent theater; the Becks alongside a small group of
members of the company left for Europe and set up an itinerant collective. Those who stayed in New
York, instead, progressively merged into the rising off-off-Broadway scene and had the chance to
play key roles within the movement.4
A further contribution to the experimental theater scene of the fifties came from actress Julie
Bovasso. Being a former member of the Living Theater, Bovasso was familiar with the New York
environment and in 1955 she embarked on her own theater venture: Tempo Theatre. She too rented
an apartment, converted it into a performance space and staged innovative plays by French avantgardists such as Genet and Ionesco. The spirit of the Tempo Theatre was similar to that of the Living,
yet Bovasso’s enterprise lasted only two years and ended in 1957.
Off-Off-Broadway theater as well as other major American movements could never have
developed without the sudden explosion of the coffeehouse scene in the late 1950s. The bohemian
atmosphere that had characterized Greenwich Village since the second half of the 19th century
combined with the shift of the beatnik movement from San Francisco to New York, helped
coffeehouses to establish themselves as important gathering places for nonconformist artists and
intellectuals. Very soon, these venues turned out to be a breeding ground for creativity and the free
circulation of ideas and inevitably fostered the rise of phenomena like Off-Off-Broadway. The
Village coffeehouse scene was constantly changing; opening a café was a simple and fashionable
The most notable examples in this respect are Lawrence Kornfeld and Joseph Chaikin who became directors of The
Judson Poets’ Theater and the Open Theater, respectively.
enterprise, but it was also short-lived – most of these venues survived for too short a period to
establish themselves and become influential. Caffe Cino was opened in the late 1950s and proved to
be an exception to this general trend: it would be active for almost a decade and being the first key
venue to step into off-off-Broadway scene it would also provide an inspiration for many other cafétheaters.
Finally, one last premise for the innovative approach embraced by Off-Off-Broadway is
represented by Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story. The play was written in 1958 and followed an unusual
course: it first premiered in Berlin in 1959 and then, on January 14, 1960 was presented at the
Provincetown Playhouse in Greenwich Village. The play enjoyed both critical and commercial
success and, above all, it became a source of inspiration for a new generation of rising playwrights.
The Zoo Story was an unconventional play and had much more in common with forthcoming OffOff-Broadway than with Off-Broadway5 – the portrayal of a trivial everyday situation, the choice of
a realistic subject verging on the absurd, the New York setting and the use of the one-act structure as
well as of powerful language were all features of Albee’s play that would be taken up by the
experimental dramatists of the sixties.
1.2 The Movement in and beyond the Sixties.
Despite being rooted in the previous decade, Off-Off-Broadway is generally regarded as a sixties
phenomenon; in that decade, the movement came into the limelight, reached the height of its creative
power and eventually began to stagger. Although coffeehouses were not the sole off-off venues, they
always had a leading role in shaping the history of the movement, especially in its initial stages.
The beginning of Off-Off-Broadway as a conscious theatrical movement is dated to
September 27, 1960 when Alfred Jarry’s King Ubu opened at the Take 3, a coffeehouse on Bleecker
Street. The reason for regarding that date as the start of the off-off-Broadway movement is to be found
in the awareness of making a different kind of theater; the program that accompanied King Ubu
The Zoo Story has many things in common also with the three one-act plays by Leonard Melfi that I have translated
and that I will analyze on chapter 3.
described the production as “a return to the original idea of off-Broadway theater, in which
imagination is substituted for money, and plays can be presented in a way that would be impossible
in commercial theatre” (Smith 159).
The increasing number of plays performed in coffeehouses gave birth to a new genre – the socalled “cafe drama” – and already in 1960, the Village Voice had a more or less regular feature devoted
to them entitled Cafe Theatre. This name was used to distinguish coffeehouse productions both from
Off-Broadway and from Theatre Uptown. Later that year, the theater critic of the Village Voice Jerry
Tallmer coined the term “Off-Off-Broadway” and from that moment on it appeared as the title of a
regular column of the local newspaper.
Off-Off-Broadway has been defined as “theater without theaters” (Smith 159) because
performances were held in unusual venues that had nothing to do with established theaters – primarily
cafes but also churches, warehouses and private apartments. This underground phenomenon had its
initial epicenter in the bohemian Greenwich Village, but soon it spread and took root into the
adjoining East Village. Both these neighborhoods could count on their territory two venues that stood
out for their “stability and continuity” (Smith 160) and for this very reason made history within the
movement. These four off-off-Broadway institutions are Caffe Cino, Café La Mama, Judson Poets’
Theater and Theatre Genesis – two coffeehouses and two churches respectively.
In December 1958, Joe Cino opened his coffeehouse on 31 Cornelia Street and embracing
experimental theater was the last thought he had in mind. Caffe Cino began just like many other
Village cafes, with the simple aim of providing a hangout for friends and local artists. Since the very
beginning, however, Joe Cino gave prominence to the arts and set up painting exhibitions as well as
other artistic entertainments such as poetry readings, music and dance performances – in this early
stage, theater was the only missing art. To fill this gap, in 1959 the first play-reading sessions began,
and gradually evolved into actual theatrical performances giving birth to the prototype of off-offBroadway theater. Most of the actors who used to take part in the early sessions were drama students
who performed their acting exercises and this was possibly the main reason behind the success of
theatrical activities at the Cino. The initial production of the coffeehouse relied on adaptations of
famous works as well as on off-Broadway material – especially Tennessee Williams’ one-act plays –
and plays by Samuel Becket. From 1961 on, instead, Caffe Cino began to focus on new American
playwrights such as Doric Wilson, David Starkweather, Lanford Wilson and H.M. Koutoukas. Joe
Cino had a strong flamboyant personality and so did his coffeehouse; nevertheless he never interfered
in theatrical productions. Embracing the most genuine off-off-Broadway spirit, Joe Cino never had
an authoritative approach: he just chose the plays following his instinct – as Ellen Stewart at Café La
Mama did – and provided a space to perform them. He insisted on the vitality of theater – something
that had almost completely got lost in commercial productions – and on the fact that a play had to
come to life; thanks to this attitude he brought about a new wave of enthusiasm and made Off-OffBroadway possible. Improvisation and inventiveness were key words at Caffe Cino; the stage, for
example, was first an empty square in the middle of the room and then it was improvised out of milk
crates covered with carpet remnants. Settings were minimal and most of the props were randomly
stolen or simply painted and placed against the wall behind the stage.
Besides laying the foundation for experimental theater, Caffe Cino emerged also as an
important point of reference for the pre-Stonewall gay scene. To a large extent, it was as if inside
Cino’s coffeehouse two underground transgressive movements were coming together and this played
a major role in creating an extremely liberal atmosphere. Caffe Cino supported complete freedom of
expression and often pushed this concept to the limits breaking whatever kind of taboo and staging
pure provocation.
In March 1965 a fire, probably caused by a gas leak, destroyed the interior of the Cino and
this represented a major blow for the venue; subsequently the situation at the coffeehouse never
recovered and Joe Cino’s addiction to amphetamines only made things worse. In March 1967, Cino
committed suicide; the coffeehouse, deprived of its leader, fell apart and closed the following year.
In the early 1960s Ellen Stewart worked as a fashion designer at Saks Fifth Avenue and had
no idea that she was about to change the course of American theater with her forthcoming Café La
Mama. After a serious illness that forced her to quit the job, Ellen Stewart took a fortunate trip
overseas that provided her with a flash of inspiration for her future venture:
I went to Tangier with a dear friend, Theresa Klein. We were sitting in the Casbah one afternoon philosophizing, and
suddenly she said, ‘Ellen, you gotta have a pushcart out of yourself.’ I remembered all those pushcarts on Orchard
Street. I knew I needed a pushcart outside of myself that I could fill with people and interesting things. […] There was
another motivation, too. I was sitting in a cafe in Paris and there was a group of people talking nearby and the French
were really giving the Americans a hard way, elucidating how at a cultural level we had absolutely nothing to
contribute by European Standards. (Glover, “La Mama Movement Is Getting Around”)
When Ellen came back home she had a mission to fulfill, yet, as in the case of Joe Cino, experimental
theater was not one of her immediate priorities. In 1962, she decided to rent a basement in East Village
to set up her own boutique; theater became part of her enterprise only when the playwright Paul Foster
began to use her basement as a theater after hours. Driven by a strong enthusiasm for those theatrical
activities, Ellen did up the basement to recreate a suitable atmosphere for staging plays and introduced
a coffee booth: Café La Mama was born. She never wanted to set up a conventional playhouse – all
she wanted was a place where people could feel comfortable while enjoying some good theater and
coffee drinking was vital gesture in this sense6. Unlike Caffe Cino’s gaudiness, Ellen Stewart sought
to recreate a neutral space that could fit whatever kind of production; instead of cramming her room
with all sorts of paraphernalia, she embraced the less-is-more philosophy and stripped down the walls
to red bricks. This solution proved to be so functional that it was taken up again also in the following
venues, becoming one of La Mama’s trademarks. As far as her endeavor is concerned, Ellen Stewart
can be considered as the female and East Village counterpart to Caffe Cino: she too did her best to
help a new generation of playwrights that was being rejected by mainstream theater institutions and
left plenty room for experimentalism. Ellen Stewart’s lively personality turned her into the
charismatic leader of the East Village scene; she believed in what she was doing and above all, she
never gave up on supporting young dramatists – the name La Mama refers precisely to Stewart’s
maternal attitude towards her biddies7.
In The Good Scene: Off Off-Broadway Michael Smith claims that the “café gesture is important since part of the Ellen’s
basic idea is to release the audience from the rigidity of numbers and rows and to make them comfortable.” (164) Apart
from La Mama, this statement could be used to describe the whole underground theater scene that developed in
coffeehouses of the Greenwich Village and East Village.
Ellen used this endearment to refer to the playwrights that used to perform at La Mama.
La Mama was essentially conceived as a testing ground for the artists and as such, it was not
subjected to the same rules as commercial theater. Ellen simply chose the scripts and then gave carte
blanche to the playwright who had to choose a director and put a cast together. She was never affected
by the so-called Broadway-hit syndrome and her approach to theater had no other purpose than
creativity. As Ellen recalled in an interview, her way of selecting material was based much more on
her sensations rather than on rational thoughts: “If a script “beeps” to me, I do it. Audiences may hate
some of them but I believe in them. The only way I can explain my “beeps” is that I’m no intellectual
but my instincts tell me automatically when a playwright has something.”(Glover, “La Mama
Movement Is Getting Around”)
In its early phase, Café La Mama produced adaptations of works by authors like O’Neill,
Williams and Pinter as well as material coming from Caffe Cino and plays by new playwrights –
Leonard Melfi was one of them. He discovered the existence of La Mama by chance, when the day’s
barker drew him into the café:
[In late summer 1962] I was walking up my street, when I discovered for the first time a basement coffeehouse which
was also a theater doing one-act plays by untried playwrights. A bright, hand-painted sign hung up over the basement
window at street level; it spelled out boldly: “Café LaMama Presents.” I met Paul Foster […] acting more or less as a
barker. He was standing out on the sidewalk to get people who passed by to come down to see the show – that day I
was one of the people (Encounters vi).
In October 1962, Melfi had the chance to present his first one-act play, Lazy baby Susan, there; six
months later the coffeehouse was closed down because of the joint action of Actors’ Equity and city
authorities. Subsequently, La Mama relocated to a loft at 82 Second Avenue and by the end of 1963
its activity started once again. From that moment on, Ellen Stewart decided to focus exclusively on
innovative playwrights and made one major change, turning the coffeehouse into a private club: La
Mama ETC – Experimental Theatre Club. This step was taken in order to avoid further legal
problems, yet, even so La Mama could not escape the clampdown promoted by the city council and
was forced to close down once again. After this second eviction, Stewart’s enterprise relocated to
another loft at 122 Second Avenue, and remained there for more than three years; activities benefited
from this stability and La Mama ETC could establish itself and become an off-off-Broadway
institution. In terms of staged performances, La Mama was a truly prolific venue8; among the writers
discovered and produced by Ellen Stewart in this period are Paul Foster, Tom Eyen and Jean-Claude
van Itallie.
Since the very beginnings, Caffe La Mama had a strong international vocation; Ellen Stewart
always set her sights not only on New York but also on the international scene and for example, she
had often invited guest-playwrights from all over the world. By the mid-1960s this international
approach became even more concrete: in the wake of the success of the Open Theater9, Ellen decided
to create a travelling ensemble that would expand La Mama’s reputation overseas. La Mama Troupe
– this was the name of the project – made its first European tour in 1965 and Leonard Melfi’s Birdbath
was one of the plays included in the program.10 After its return to the US, La Mama Troupe evolved
into a permanent workshop guided by Tom O’Horgan and toured Europe again in 1966 and 1967.
At the end of the decade, the tension between commercial theater and underground low-budget
productions emerged preponderantly at La Mama as in the rest of the off-off-Broadway scene. In this
case, there was no suicide to put an end to the endeavor – La Mama’s activity, in fact, never stopped
but rather took a mainstream turn. This process of transition was undoubtedly triggered by Tom
O’Horgan’s decision to take part into the production of Broadway musical Hair11; his movement
upwards – despite being momentary – was seen as some sort of betrayal and changed the dynamics
within La Mama forever. The situation kept deteriorating until O’Horgan decided to quit and set up
Productions at La Mama opened on Wednesday and run through Sunday, with two performances each on Friday and
Sunday nights. Sometimes plays run for more than one week and were revived, too. (See Smith, 166)
Beside the two coffeehouses and churches, off-off-Broadway scene included also several experimental theater groups,
among which the Open Theater was the most prominent. The company was established in 1963 and was one of the direct
descents of The Living Theater since its founder, Joseph Chaikin, was a member of the experimental ensemble guided by
the Becks. The Open Theater completely devoted to experimentation so much so that at the beginning it did not perform
publicly; it was just a permanent workshop and its actors simply joined the productions of the leading off-off venues.
Subsequently, it opened up to public performances and throughout the sixties it underwent the same rearrangements as
the rest of the underground scene. The Open Theater had such a pivotal role in Off-Off-Broadway that the end of the
movement conventionally coincides with the company’s voluntary dissolution in 1973.
The rest of the playbill included: Chicago by Sam Shepard, This is the Rill Speaking by Lanford Wilson, The Recluse
by Paul Foster, Thank You Miss Victoria by William Hoffman, The Circus by Gerald Schoenwolf, War and America
Hurrah by Jean-Claude Van Itallie and The Circle by Alex Civello. The tour reached Denmark and France. (lamama.org)
Hair was a rock musical by Gerome Ragni and James Rado that focused on the counterculture of the 1960s. It was first
produced in Off-Broadway in 1967, and since it turned out to be a hit the following year climbed up to Broadway.
his own troupe in 1970; throughout the rest of the decade even La Mama – which had meanwhile
moved to 74A East Fourth Street – surrendered under the relentless commercial pressure and ended
up becoming a professional corporation: Theater La Mama Inc.
The Judson Poets’ Theater was housed and fostered by Judson Memorial Church, a Baptist
church founded in the late 19th century and located on Washington Square. In the early 1960s, Judson
Memorial Church started to promote a series of non-ecclesiastical activities to meet the artistic needs
of its community: first it established the Judson Gallery for painting and visual arts, then it began to
organize dance and poetry workshops, and eventually focused on theater. The turning point in the
theater production of Judson Church was marked by the arrival of the assistant minister Al Carmines;
he did better than the earlier attempts and brought the church up to the standards of the other rising
Off-Off-Broadway venues. In fall 1961, Al Carmines unified the Judson Memorial theater workshop
under the name Judson Poets’ Theater and embraced the aim of providing a voice for a new generation
of experimental playwrights. In addition to dramatists, Judson Poets’ Theater included a team of
directors, designers and actors – both amateur and professional – as well as volunteers who promoted
the shows. Within the group developed a great collaborative spirit and Al Carmines soon realized the
potential of the project: what was happening at Judson Memorial Church was more than a simple
showcase for the playwrights to climb up to commercial theater – it was an effective alternative to
the crowd-pleasing productions of Broadway.
The fact that the Judson Poets’ was sponsored by a church did not affect its theater policy; Al
Carmines together with the director Robert Nichols established that no religious dramas would be
produced and that no censorship would be applied to content or language. This latter aspect was
possibly the most controversial point, yet in spite of the initial reluctance of the church, Judson Poets’
Theater went on its own way refusing any compromise whatsoever. Performances staged at Judson
Church were extremely progressive: theater fused together with visual arts, dance and music to create
innovative shows. Music, in particular, always had a crucial role in the history of Judson Poets’
Theater; its spiritual leader Al Carmines was a minister, an occasional actor and a successful
composer of experimental crossover music. His musical ambitions shaped the late production of the
Judson Poets’ Theater that was based almost exclusively on the minister’s “large-cast oratorio
musicals” (Bottoms, 350). Throughout the sixties and the seventies, the Judson produced works by
playwrights such as María Irene Fornés, Diane Di Prima, Rosalyn Drexler, David Epstein, Paul
Goodman, and adapted works by Gertrude Stein12.
Churches and coffeehouses were poles apart, and this aspect clearly affected the staging of
the plays. Judson Memorial Church is a three-story church and theater performances were mounted
either in the sanctuary or in the choir-loft – the former occupies the second floor while the latter
extends across the width of the building and overlooks the worship area.
In the aftermath of the 1960s, the Judson Poets’ Theater gradually came apart, however it
faced a slightly different fate from La Mama. In 1970 some of the centerpieces of the Judson – among
them the resident director Lawrence Kornfeld – decided to quit and the number of theater
performances dropped dramatically; Al Carmines became the sole leading figure and made his
trademark out of his unconventional oratorios. Throughout the seventies, the success of these
musicals went beyond the off-off-Broadway scene and some of them entered mainstream productions.
In the early eighties, a brain aneurysm forced Al Carmines to resign from the church; as a consequence
activities at Judson Poets’ Theater suffered a serious setback from which they never recovered.
The other religious institution that promoted experimental theater and became a cornerstone
of Off-Off-Broadway was St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, an Episcopal church located in the East
Village. As in the case of Judson Memorial Church, the turning point at St. Mark’s was represented
by the arrival of a forward-thinking minister, Reverend Michael Allen. He had a progressive approach
to religious practices and regarded the arts as a powerful medium to re-establish the dialog between
the church and people living in the surrounding area. Theatre Genesis – as well as other artistic
Musicals based on Stein’s works and adapted by Al Carmines were What Happened (1963), In Circles (1963), Listen
to me (1974) and Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights (1979). (judson.org)
activities held at St. Mark’s Church – was exactly the fruit of this desire to reach out to the local
community through art.
Right in the middle of a deep existential crisis, the former bit-part Hollywood actor Ralph
Cook happened upon St. Mark’s Church and was so impressed by Reverend Allen’s open-mindedness
that he decided to join the minister in his unconventional mission. Cook directed his efforts toward
theater activities and in 1963 started his acting workshop in a room of the parish hall. The performance
space consisted of a small black-box studio and was much more akin to tiny coffeehouses than to the
lofty sanctuary that hosted Judson Poets’ Theater.
After the failure of the first production in July 196413, Ralph Cook took over Theatre Genesis
and turned it into an effective space where playwrights could experiment as widely and wildly as they
wished (Sainer, “Theatre: Study in Color”). A significant step towards experimental theater was
represented by the production of a double bill by the then unknown Sam Shepard – he would become
a fixture of Theatre Genesis and paved the way for other up-and-coming young playwrights, including
Leonard Melfi.
One of the activities that enhanced the reputation of Theatre Genesis as a “home for new
playwrights” (Sainer, “Theatre: Study in Color”) was the Monday night reading workshop in which
original plays selected by Ralph Cook were read by actors. These sessions served as a useful testingground for the playwrights and helped to bring out the potential of the text in view of a possible
production. In 1965, Birdbath and Ferryboat premiered at Theatre Genesis on double bills after
having gone through the reading workshop, and Melfi turned out to be the most-produced writer of
the year. Subsequently, Theatre Genesis embraced a more radical aesthetics that was more in line
with the environment surrounding St. Mark’s Church and the zeitgeist. In the late 1960s, in particular,
The first production was Study in Color, a “pre-packaged” religious play by Malcom Boyd. It was directed by Woodie
King Jr. and performed by a touring company.
this venue stood out for its conspicuous machismo and overtly paraded heterosexuality14 as well as
for his engagement in political issues like the harsh criticism of the Vietnam War.
Theatre Genesis underwent the same destiny as the other off-off venues: already in the late
sixties commercial pressures from the outside disrupted its internal balance and in the following
decade, the final process of dissolution was completed. The real collapse of Theatre Genesis started
in 1970 with the resignation of the resident artistic director Ralph Cook; subsequently the theater was
co-run by the playwrights Sam Shepard, Murray Mednick and Walter Hadler, but this was just an
expedient to postpone its definite end.
In addition to these four venues, an important contribution to the New York underground
theater scene was given by The Playwrights’ Unit. The venture was established in 1963 and was
guided by the playwright Edward Albee together with the producers Richard Barr and Clinton Wilder;
to subsidize their activities they initially used the profits of Albee’s hit Who’s Afraid of Virginia
Woolf? and leased the Village South Theatre in Greenwich Village. The aim of the project was to
create a space where emerging playwrights could mount their plays with the support of a team of
experts, possibly in view of a climb to professional and established theaters. Although the Unit
embraced the free-show policy and people involved in the production of the plays simply volunteered,
the pretense of professionalism set it apart from the rest of off-off scene – according to its detractors,
the venue was too close to commercial circuits and risked to concentrate just on upward mobility at
the expense of innovation and experimentation. The Playwrights Unit produced a wide range of
dramatists – from LeRoy Jones to John Guare, to Megan Terry and Adrienne Kennedy, and Melfi too
had his Halloween put on there in October 1966.
These aspects distinguished Theatre Genesis from the rest of Off-Off-Broadway scene.
2. About the Playwright
There’s something about when you put people together and things come out of their mouths one after another, and
action happens. And the fact that you think of it coming to life, and there’s an audience. This makes me want to write
more and more, and the more plays I write the more I dig it. So I can’t stop.
Leonard Melfi
Leonard Melfi was one of the most promising writers launched by the off-off-Broadway movement
in the sixties; his career was characterized by ups and downs in popularity and prestige, and despite
a series of major accomplishments, he never achieved the fame of fellow playwrights such as Sam
Shepard, Lanford Wilson or Terrence McNally. Alongside his moderate success that peaked with
Birdbath, most of the life of the playwright was marked also by discouragement, loneliness and
alcoholism – Melfi eventually let alcohol get the better of him and spent his last years drinking alone
in a hotel room of the Upper West Side and avoiding any contact with relatives or acquaintances.
Leonard Melfi was a prolific author and throughout his career he wrote more than sixty plays,
almost all of which were either produced or simply given stage readings; only a small part of his
works, though, was collected and published and this has undoubtedly hindered his widespread
popularity. In many respects, Melfi always remained an underground artist and embodied an authentic
off-off-Broadway spirit even long after the original phenomenon had collapsed.
With a few exceptions, Melfi’s production belongs to a genre that can be defined as tragicomic
urban realism. Most of the plays are set in his beloved New York City and involve bizarre, outcast
characters trapped in the urban life of an alienating metropolis; the author simply dramatizes their
common everyday experiences with a tragicomic attitude. In Melfi’s plays, the most tragic human
stories are filtered through humor that minimizes negativity and adds a comic slant to the saddest
vicissitudes. The playwright was a disillusioned if sentimental observer of New York and in his works
he recreated it in the its smallest details: from the squawking of seagulls of the Upper Bay to the
stifling interior of taxicabs, from the Manhattan skyline and Central Park pathways to the dismal
rooms of backstreet hotels.
Melfi once stated that he wrote “plays about my fellow human beings in and out of trouble, like all
of us at various times - in other words: celebrating the human condition, the miracle and mystery of
life” (qtd. in “A Noted Playwright Is Dead; His Body Cannot Be Traced”, Mel Gussow); against this
background, love and human connection assume an important role in the production of the
playwright. In many of the plays of Leonard Melfi, the dramatic tension is generated by the absence
or the wearing-out of interpersonal relations that represent the very thing that makes life worth living.
Most of the time, Melfi’s characters are either desperate to re-establish the missing connection or
behave indifferently conveying a sense of existential vacuum. From this perspective, the playwright
seems to embrace the idea that no man is an island: individuals cannot stand alone, they need the
support of their fellow human beings otherwise they do not thrive, they succumb. These dynamics
are perfectly exemplified by Melfi’s encounters, the one-act plays that have become his trademark.
Melfi was convinced that the first encounter between two or more people had a powerful dramatic
potential and in an interview with the Los Angeles Times he stated that his people are always having
encounters because “There's that moment when they meet. What will happen? Who will say what?
They're strangers, so they start spilling everything out. They feel more comfortable with someone
they don't know. It's one's longtime intimates which one guards against.” (“Follow That Cab”, Robert
Koehler). Melfi managed to publish two collections of encounters, one in the late sixties and one in
the early eighties; both of them enhanced his reputation as “the voice of lonely hearts in Gotham”
The language used by Leonard Melfi is extremely vivid and even when the lines are simply read they
go beyond the printed word to convey the immediacy of the unfolding dialog. Melfi draws upon
different registers to recreate the complexity of contemporary urban speech, the language he uses is
almost always realistic, straight and provocative; it can be violent and abusive but at the same time it
allows poetic glimpses. An adjective that possibly manages to summarize Melfi’s language is
bittersweet since his dialogs present us with the most bleak and shallow aspects of human life, but on
the other hand they capture also the most pleasant and profound vitality.
2.1 The Life and His Works
Leonard Melfi was born in Binghamton, New York, on February 21, 1935; he was the eldest child of
Leonard John and Louise Marie (Maureen) Melfi, a couple of restauranteurs who run a succession of
taverns in or just outside town. Leonard had a brother, John, and a sister, Maureen.
After having spent a few years at St. Bonaventure University and two years in the army, Melfi
decided to move to New York to become an actor. In the late 1950s he enrolled in the American
Academy of Dramatic Arts but dropped out before graduating; subsequently he attended Uta HagenHerbert Berghof Studios and “after a couple of very uncertain years” (Melfi, vi), he decided that he
would rather become a playwright and so he started writing his first scenes.
At the very beginning, Melfi sought to achieve mainstream success and wrote four full-length
autobiographical plays; his attempt to have his plays produced on commercial circuits got nowhere
since in the early sixties Broadway showed no interest in unknown playwrights. A turning point in
his career was represented by the explosion of Off-Off-Broadway, the phenomenon that swam against
the tide and focused on new experimental material. Melfi’s career started at Café La Mama, the
iconic East Village coffeehouse that represented one of the four centerpieces of the underground
theater scene – as the author recalls in Encounters: “Miss Ellen Stewart happens once in a lifetime,
and I am very glad it was during my lifetime” (ibid., iii). After having attended a performance at
Stewart’s coffeehouse, Melfi started thinking more seriously about being a playwright and wrote his
first one-act play, Lazy Baby Susan. On October 26, 1962 the play directed by Gino Ardito opened at
Café La Mama and it was “a big smash hit all thirty minutes of it” (ibid., vii). Lazy Baby Susan
constitutes a premise to the upcoming production of the playwright; the play revolves around a
triangle with two women and a man – a young girl becomes infatuated with a married man who lives
next door and finds herself competing with the wife.
In spite of the success obtained at Café La Mama, Melfi made a second vain attempt to hit the
big time on Broadway; after repeated failure, he fully embraced underground theater for the rest of
his career and made just a few occasional incursions into commercial theater and cinema.
Beside La Mama, the other off-off-Broadway venue that supported Melfi was Theatre
Genesis. At St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, the playwright achieved at last the long-awaited
success and established himself as one of the new voices of New York experimental theater. Birdbath
opened at Theatre Genesis on June 11, 1965 and was Melfi’s first success. The play centers on the
night-encounter between the lonely aspiring poet Frankie Basta and Velma, a fragile and distressed
waitress who confesses to him she had killed her mother. Birdbath was a great success both with the
critics and the public and over the years became Melfi’s internationally recognized masterpiece. Ellen
Stewart, who was positively impressed by the play, contributed to expand its international fame,
including it into the playbill of La Mama Troupe’s first European tour. At Theatre Genesis, Birdbath
premiered in a double bill with Sunglasses, a play set in the hereafter following a plane crash. The
two protagonists – Miss America and Even Steven – seek salvation and a third character named Boo
witnesses their interaction. Melfi’s second double bill premiered at the Genesis on September 2, 1965
and included Pussies and Rookies and Ferryboat. The former centers on the metaphor of a headless
mannequin that remains in the middle of the stage throughout the whole performance; the latter is an
encounter on board the Staten Island Ferry between a self-confessed lady’s man and a young Sarah
Lawrence student.
After having been introduced to Theatre Genesis, Leonard Melfi wrote more than twenty oneact plays and almost all of them were given readings at the Monday night workshop held at the parish
hall. Having a play read by actors was an invaluable practice; besides testing the potential of the text,
it allowed Melfi to establish a special collaboration with some of the participants. The playwright’s
most notable artistic partnership was with actor Kevin O’Connor, who starred in Birdbath as well as
in many other of his plays. As was usual among off-off-Broadway playwrights, Melfi not only wrote
for the venue but also created some roles that were tailor-made for specific actors, such as, for
example, the character of Frankie Basta that was created with Kevin O’Connor in mind.
In July 1966, The Shirt opened at the Eugene O’Neill Memorial Foundation after it had been
tested at Theatre Genesis’ reading session. In the play, a mentally disturbed Southerner named
Clarence invites a mixed-race couple into his hotel room and gets them drunk. Behind the initial overfriendly behavior Clarence conceals the worst intentions: as soon as he puts on his famous white shirt
– the focus of the drama – he turns into a ruthless executioner and first slaughters the young man,
then rapes the girl and eventually kills her too. Later that same year, Halloween premiered at the
Playwrights Unit; the subject of this play is the encounter between the young garbage collector Luke
and an aging chambermaid named Margaret.
In January 1967, the three-act play Niagara Falls was staged at La Mama, which had been
meanwhile transformed into a private club; it was the first full-length play by Melfi to be produced.
The story is set in a café overlooking the falls; it shows the coming together of eight strangers who
shared the same cruel fate and who share the same tragic end: they were abandoned during their honey
moon and will be all killed by an unscrupulous serial killer. According to Ross Wetzsteon of the
Village Voice, the bizarre plot of Niagara Falls does not make up for the immediacy of the one-act
play and Melfi’s departure from that formula is judged negatively: “I wished that Melfi had written a
one-act play, leaving the first pretty much as it is, but reducing the second and third acts to five
minutes.” (“Theatre: Niagara Falls”). In June, Times Square was presented in Frankfurt during the
third European tour of La Mama Troupe. Unlike Niagara Falls, this play remains faithful to the oneact structure but at the same time it represents a departure from the realistic repertoire of the author –
Times Square is pure fantasy and can be considered as some sort of oneiric drama. The action takes
place in a dreamlike Manhattan, the characters are a group of adults but they behave and react as if
they were children; they all have symbolic names and features and can be seen as characters belonging
to a modern urban fairy tale. That same year in September, Stars and Stripes was included in The
Scenes, a bill featuring plays by the most brilliant off-off-Broadway playwrights. The show premiered
in Los Angeles and subsequently moved to New York’s Cafè Au Go Go; in 1968 the set of plays was
published under the title Collision Course. As for Stars and Stripes, Melfi’s play presents six famous
American writers – Henry James, Amy Lowell, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson
and Edna St. Vincent Millay – enjoying a sunny afternoon in Washington Square. Later that
September, Lunchtime was produced at La Mama. The one-act play revolves around the encounter of
the furniture refinisher Rex with the lonely wife Avis and was partly inspired by the playwright’s
personal experience – apart from writing Melfi did a series of odd jobs such as bartender, carpenter
and furniture refinisher which somehow or other influenced his writing. Late in 1967, Lunchtime
alongside Birdbath, Halloween, Ferryboat, The Shirt and Times Square were collected and published
under the title Encounters. In that year Melfi was also rewarded for his steady commitment to drama
and he received his first Rockefeller Foundation Grant for play writing. Finally, in early December
1967, La Mama produced a double bill including Jack and Jill and Stimulation, two irreverent oneact plays dealing with explicitly sexual themes. Jack and Jill displays a rather shocking story that
ends with a rape and will feature the forthcoming theater revue Oh! Calcutta!; Stimulation, instead,
dramatizes the sexual fantasies of the two protagonists.
In 1968, Melfi joined the playwrights Israel Horovitz and Terrence McNally – who also
appeared in Collision Course – and the result was a triple bill: Morning, Noon and Night. The three
plays are loosely linked to each other; Melfi wrote the concluding chapter, Night, an ironic piece that
describes a night funeral. The triptych opened at Circle in the Square on Broadway and subsequently
moved to Henry Miller’s Theater and ran until the following January. In 1968, Melfi was also awarded
his second consecutive Rockefeller Grant.
In late March 1969, an Edgar Allan Poe Festival titled None Sing So Wildly Well, was held at
Nassau Community College and Melfi made his contribution with The Raven Rock. The drama was
written especially for the occasion and was the playwright’s version of Edgar Allan Poe’s life15; the
Edgar Allan Poe was a notable Villager who lived at 85 West Third Street from 1844 to 1846; during his stay in
Greenwich Village he revised and published The Raven. The production of Off-Off-Broadway tended to focus on the
following April, The Raven Rock was staged at La Mama. In that same year, Melfi gained further
recognition as a playwright becoming a member of the Dramatists Guild and lecturing at New York
Between the late 1960s and the early 1970s, Melfi started to expand his reputation even
beyond the off-off-Broadway circuit and first reached television and then cinema. In 1969 he
collaborated with a New York broadcasting channel and wrote Puck! Puck! Puck, a play dealing with
environment pollution; two years later Birdbath was made into a television movie starring Patty Duke
and James Farentino. As far as the big screen is concerned, one of the greatest accomplishments in
Melfi’s career was represented by the collaboration with the Italian director Mario Monicelli. The
playwright wrote the screenplay for Lady Liberty, a movie starring Sophia Loren that premiered in
1972. The story was an absolute Italian-American extravaganza: Maddalena (Sophia Loren) travels
to New York with a huge mortadella – which in fact was the original title of the movie – and once
she reaches JFK airport she is detained by local authorities because processed meat is not allowed to
enter the country. In addition to his contribution to the screenplay, Melfi was also one of the possible
actors selected to play opposite Sophia Loren, but he eventually renounced it because he had long
given up his acting career. The movie met generally unfavorable reviews and was described for
example as “too wan and feeble to be called a mess, but it is neither comedy nor drama nor a good
red vino. Sophia looks beautiful but that’s the best that can be said for it.”(“'Lady Liberty' Lots of
Baloney”, Bernand Drew).
By early the 1970s Off-Off-Broadway had already started its reabsorption into mainstream
culture and even Melfi – though remaining faithful to his usual style – progressively shifted from the
offbeat cafes to more conventional theaters. In 1973 Eddie and Susanna in Love was staged by
Theatre Strategy and presented at Manhattan Theatre Club during the New York Theatre Strategy
Festival. Theater Strategy was the result of the co-operation between twenty-three off-off-Broadway
local territory, another successful play about a famous Greenwich Village resident was for example Paul Foster’s Tom
Paine. (eapoe.org)
playwrights; apart from presenting a series of performance by established underground names, the
aim of the project was to encourage new writers and provide them with a space. As for Eddie and
Susanna in Love, the play focuses on the difficult love story between two young people who meet in
a cemetery. Another playhouse that emerged in the early seventies as a new home for experimental
playwrights and produced several works by Leonard Melfi was Theater for the New City –Beautiful,
for example, was staged there in May 1974 and was followed by Sweet Suite in June 1975. The former
is a play in two acts that the Village Voice’s Michael Feingold compares to surrealist painting by
Joan Miró (“Fighting the Family Dragons”); the latter is a three-act work that revolves around a group
of four rock stars: Sandra-Debbie, Dickie, Freddie and Johnnie. In hindsight, Sweet Suite gained
importance because of the lines acted by Melfi himself who played the role of the room attendant.
The first act of this play simply displays the four musicians killing time in their hotel room before the
concert; at a certain point their conversation is interrupted by Room Service16 who among other things
tells the tragicomic story of a forlorn man who dies alone and ends up in a pauper’s grave – the same
common grave in which the author will be buried almost thirty years later.
In the early seventies, Melfi also embraced the musical and together with the composer John
Braden wrote Horse Opera, a work that was described as a celebration of love and life (“Stage: GoodNatured 'Horse Opera'”, Mel Gussow). As the title suggests, the musical belongs to the countrywestern genre; it centers on a love story spanning two generations and features the classical happy
ending: the two couples formed by the cowboy Tom Brown and Abbigail Pepper alongside Horace
White and Tom’s mother Maude Smith are married by the local officer, Sheriff Sunshine.
In February 1976 Melfi’s comedy-drama Porno Stars At Home opened at the Courtyard
Playhouse; the play presents a group of skin flick actors attending the thirty-fifth birthday party of
their friend and colleague Georgia Lloyd Bernhardt. The subject was intentionally provocative and
The character played by Leonard Melfi is called Room Service: “I applied for a job here at this hotel where the four of
you are staying. And they liked me. And so I got the job. And now they call me Room Service. And that’s the end of the
story . . . ”(hartisland.net)
much of the irony is given by Melfi’s attempt to destroy the stereotypes associated with this
profession. In November of that same year, Fantasies At The Frick (or The Guard and The Guardess)
was presented at The Open Space in SoHo. The play is divided into two acts and is set at the Frick
Museum; the protagonists are an unnamed guard and guardess who cannot help but notice a man and
a woman – unnamed too – strolling around the museum and envy their intimacy. Both Porno Stars
At Home and Fantasies at the Frick were published in 1980.
In the second half of the 1970s, Melfi had a very difficult time and suffered major blows like
the loss of his father (1977) and sister (1979). Nevertheless, he continued his playwright activity but
his production was inevitably affected by his personal life – all the works written in this period are
pervaded by a more or less bitter mood and failed to win the favor of critics and audiences. In May
1978, Rusty and Rico and Lena and Louie opened at the Impossible Ragtime Theater, an off-offBroadway playhouse. The two plays are complementary and at the time of their first production, they
featured the same couple of actors. Rusty and Rico are a modern and scruffy version of Romeo and
Juliet; in Melfi’s play the female protagonist is an idealist hooker while the male character is a young
and petty politician. Lena and Louie, on the other hand, are a homeless couple that after having
wandered around New York, freeze to death in Central Park. Later that year, Taxi Tales was presented
at the Broadway’s Century Theatre. The work originated as a workshop project at the Circle in the
Square and is a collection of five one acts set in different New York taxicabs; the five vignettes are
Taffi’s Taxi, Tripper’s Taxi, Toddy’s Taxi, The Teaser’s Taxi and Mr. Tucker’s Taxi. With Taxi Tales
Melfi provides a snapshot of urban despair – Taffy is a lesbian cabbie who shares her love frustration
with the passengers sitting on the backseat; Tripper is a doped taxi driver who takes a suffocating
family to the World Trade Center; the music-loving Toddy picks up a couple of high-class escorts
and their drunken customer; Teaser is a good-hearted cabdriver who is tricked by an unusual trio
made up of a contessa, a gigolo and a nun; the terminally ill Mr. Tucker is an aged cabbie whose taxi
is hijacked by a fugitive bank robber. The show was torn to shreds by the critics and ran for only six
performances; part of this failure was possibly due to the fact that stories dealing with such thorny
subjects were definitely out of place on Broadway. In 1980 Taxi Tales together with Rusty and Rico
and Lena and Louie was published under the title Later Encounters; unlike the early collection, these
encounters are more somber and human connection seems to be doomed to failure from the very
By the end of the 1970s, Melfi had already moved out of his Upper East Side Duplex and
alcohol started to tear his life apart; his conditions progressively degenerated throughout the eighties
and this decay deeply affected his career as a playwright. In March 1981 Butterfaces opened at
Theater for the New City; precisely because the play is set in the backstage of an off-off theater the
New York Times described it as a “love letter to Off-Off-Broadway, the theatrical arena in which he
[Leonard Melfi] has been a faithful participant for almost 20 years.” (“Theater: Leonard Melfi’s
'Butterfaces'”, Mel Gussow). In May of that same year, the playwright participated in Amorous
Accidents, a collection of six comic vignettes that also features John Guare, Oliver Hailey, William
Hauptman, Paul Minx and Megan Terry; the show was staged in Los Angeles. In 1982, a two-act play
entitled Dispossessed opened at the Theater for the New City; it is an emblematic piece that partly
reflects the abyss of addiction into which the dramatist himself had fallen. The protagonists are Norma
and Nicholas Treat, a cocaine addicted writer who is behind in rent payment and is about to be evicted
by a city marshal played by Melfi. In April 1983 – eight years after Horse Opera – Melfi worked on
his second musical comedy, Rosetti’s Apologetics, in which he played also the title role. Late in
October, Eve Is Innocent premiered at the Actors and Directors Lab on Theater Row. The play was
commissioned by Roger Trunket, and was written especially for his third wife, the actress Peggy
Bruen; Eve Is Innocent is a three-character work that focuses on the friendship between two women
in their late 20's with failed marriages behind them, and the effect of a younger man upon their lives.
In 1984 Rent Control was released, a film by the Italian director Gian Luigi Polidoro that had been
shot a couple of years earlier. In this movie Melfi plays the role of the journalist Milton Goeller and
his performance was praised by the New York Times: “''Rent Control'' doesn't work consistently but
it has a lot of nicely oddball moments and it features a number of gifted New York performers. These
include Leonard Melfi, the playwright, who plays Milton Goeller. Mr. Melfi is not on the screen very
long but he's extremely funny, creating a character who suggests Joseph Heller as Mr. Heller might
be played by Lionel Stander.”(“Film: 'Rent Control' New York Cast”, Vincent Canby).
After his second big-screen venture, Melfi went back to drama and in 1985 The Little Venice
Makes a Good Drink (or the Family that Strays Together) opened in his hometown Binghamton. The
Little Venice was – and still is – a local Italian restaurant the playwright’s mother was particularly
fond of; she died exactly the same year and the title of the play was inspired by one of her sayings.
In the mid-1990s, the play was re-staged in New York together with Love is not a Water Solution. In
1986, Melfi had another of his works produced in Binghamton, Lily Lake, and two years later the
theater director Angelo Zuccolo established a Binghamton-based company called The Leonard Melfi
Repertory Theater. The year 1988 marked also the comeback of the trio made up of Horovitz,
McNally and Melfi. The three playwrights reunited to write a second triple bill: Faith, Hope and
Charity. The reunion was panned by the critics and Melfi’s Charity – whose protagonist is a drunken
woman who intimidates the passerby
with an unloaded gun – was described by the New York
Magazine as “the most farfetched and worst of the lot” (“Long Island Longueurs”, John Simon).
In the 1990s the playwright’s addiction to alcohol grew worse and any attempt at rehabilitation
proved to be ineffective. Around the middle of the decade, Melfi came back to the theater scene with
a few works, among which was Club Hellfire, a risqué comedy set in a S&M club populated by
unlikely characters. The play opened at the Homegrown Theater and in his unfavorable review John
Michael Koroly claims that Melfi’s clever and funny lines do not make up for the lack of edge or
gravitas of the text.
Leonard Melfi spent the last years of his life in almost complete seclusion, living alone in the
room of a welfare hotel, the Narragansett at Broadway and 93rd Street. On October 28, 2001 Melfi
was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital after suffering a collapse, and died the same day of congestive
heart failure. The sequence of events surrounding his demise was as bizarre as most of the plots of
his plays: the hospital failed to notify the family and the body of the dead playwright was used by
college students for embalming practice. Two months later Melfi’s corpse was buried in a mass grave
on Hart Island. The most unbelievable twist of fate was represented not as much by the playwright’s
sad end, but by the fact that Melfi himself had described and acted out a similar scenario in his 1975
Sweet Suite:
[…] They all told about the body of a nameless young man that was found lying dead on some quiet subway tracks
somewhere in one of the five boroughs of our greatest city. The youth had either fallen or jumped into the path of a
speeding subway train one cold calm night. Well, it seems, his body was lying unclaimed in one of the hospital
morgues somewhere. It had been there for thirteen days, and they were just about ready to ship it in the routine blueand-gray truck that carries unclaimed bodies of nameless and unknown people in pine boxes to a pauper’s burial in
Potter’s Field which is the final resting place of all the nameless and unknown people who die all by themselves,
alone. (hartisland.net)
A few months later, in 2002, the body of the playwright was claimed by his brother John, exhumed
from Potter’s Field and brought to Binghamton, where it was buried in the family plot. Subsequently,
his relatives settled a lawsuit against Mount Siani Hospital; the legal battle lasted over ten years and
the hospital was eventually ordered to pay $1.25 million to the family of the late playwright (“$1.25M
payout in bungled death, burial of playwright Melfi”, Pedro Oliveira).
3. An Analysis
The three one-act plays Birdbath, Halloween and Ferryboat all belong to the early production of the
author and are included in his first collection of encounters, which is possibly the most successful of
his published works. I have chosen to translate and analyze these plays because I think that they
exemplify the most genuine spirit of Encounters and because with their mix of strong, contrasting
feelings, originality and a frankness verging on boldness, they provide a significant insight into the
inner nature of modern human beings.
All of the three plays portray a serendipitous encounter between two lost individuals; Melfi’s
characters literally bump into one another when they find themselves in a difficult if not desperate
situation, and their coming together proves to be a positive turning point in their lives. Following the
author’s belief that people are more willing to open up to someone they are not familiar with, the
characters more or less consciously start to disclose their problems in front of the person they have
just met – from this perspective, Melfi’s encounters are not far from the idea of psychotherapy session
in which people talk and progressively reveal their truer self. As a matter of fact, revelation plays a
major role in the storyline, so much so that plays always culminate with an unexpectedly shocking
revelatory moment.
Being encounters, the act of coming together is vital, it both constitutes the focus of the plot
and adds depth to otherwise nondescript or incomplete characters. Taken singularly, most of the
individuals that populate Melfi’s plays would be simply static, trapped in their oppressive routine and
with little chance of progression. Interaction with one another makes all the difference and helps them
to find some rest – however temporary – from their daily dull or distressed existences.
As is evident in Halloween and Ferryboat, a typical feature of Melfi’s plays is the verbal
predominance of one of the characters, especially the male. Nevertheless, this aspect does not imply
that the character who talks the most has complete control over the situation and shapes the action
alone. Birdbath, by contrast, presents a certain balance between the number of lines acted by the two
Already at first glance, these early encounters clearly differentiate themselves from the later
ones and this, apart from being associated with the personal problems of the author, can also be
ascribed to the period in which they were written. Encounters was published in 1967, all of the plays
it includes were written at the height of the sixties, coinciding with the height of Off-Off-Broadway
and with the countercultural movement. If compared with the historical climate of the late seventies,
the sixties were a far more optimistic decade and part of this hopeful atmosphere can be seen in
Melfi’s plays too. In spite of the misfortune that has characterized their lives, the characters of
Birdbath, Halloween and Ferryboat do not surrender all hope and somehow keep searching for the
silver lining.
The encounter is such a powerful dramatic device and its protagonists are so deeply human
and sincere that the audience is inclined to sympathize with them and support the happy ending of
the play. Yet on closer inspection, the playwright’s optimism is subtly balanced by disillusionment
and skepticism so that the successful conclusion, although hinted at, is not to be taken for granted.
All of the three plays I have translated are at once complete and incomplete; when they come to an
end there is always something that is left untold hence spectators are left with an open question: what
will become of the worn-out Velma who, in spite of everything, committed a ferocious crime? What
is going to happen after the half-embrace between Luke and Margaret, and after Joey and Eleanor
have left the ferryboat? Ours can be just speculation and perhaps, after all, it is not even important,
because the only thing that really matters is the moment of the encounter.
Finally, as I have pointed out in the first chapter, the influence of The Zoo Story is clearly
visible in all of the three plays. As in Albee’s story, for example, even in Ferryboat a brash young
man pesters a perfect stranger pouring out all of his problems; moreover, in both cases the
protagonists are sitting on a bench of an iconic public space in New York – Central Park in The Zoo
Story and the Staten Island Ferry in the case of Melfi. Speech patterns are another interesting detail
to be considered while comparing these encounters to Albee’s play; in Halloween, even more than in
Ferryboat, the male character seems overtly to draw on Peter and Jerry’s parlance. With Birdbath on
the other hand, the analogy is much more concrete: although with different outcomes, the two plays
can both be considered “knife-stories” since they culminate with a revelatory scene centered on a
foreboding knife. As for other literary influences, Velma definitely reminds us of Tennessee
Williams’ Laura, the fragile protagonist of The Glass Menagerie (1944); the dynamics of Halloween,
instead, partially recall the 1953 play by Robert Anderson Tea and Sympathy.
3.1 Birdbath: The Crisis of the undisputed Maternal Authority, Marriage and Family.
Birdbath was Melfi’s earliest and greatest success, a play that has always won over critics and public
alike and that includes all the elements that have become the hallmark of the playwright. As always
in the encounters, action is cut down to the barest minimum so that the interior fluctuations of the
characters can emerge through the dialog and become the real protagonists of the play. The twentysix-year-old distressed waitress Velma and the poet-bartender Frankie are skillfully shaped and serve
as a perfect foil for one another; they are seemingly poles apart but in fact represent two
complementary faces of the same coin. Their late-night encounter occurs immediately after the
closure of the cafeteria in which they both work and ends with the shocking confession of the girl
who admits to having stabbed her mother to death while they were having their grandiose breakfast.
Given the supremacy of the patriarchal perspective, most of the theatrical and literary
production normally focuses on the problematic relationship between father and son, possibly
complete with the Oedipus or with other psychological complexes; Melfi on the other hand swims
against the tide and presents a drama that has its roots in the conflictual relationship between mother
and daughter. In Birdbath the situation is clearly taken to the extreme, yet the mother is not the sole
figure to be disputed – she is defeated and overthrown alongside the traditional values of marriage
and family.
Although the mother is not an actual character, she does constitute a disturbing element within
the play; she is constantly present in Velma’s thoughts and since the very beginning, her relationship
with the daughter appears to be much more than simply troubled or complicated. As the conversation
between the two protagonists unfolds, it is possible to see that Velma is completely dominated by the
maternal figure, who instead of being supportive has always despised and exploited her. Velma
depends on her mother to such an extent that her own personality and self-perception have been
seriously compromised; in a sense she is haunted by her mother’s presence and keeps evoking the
despising tone with which her mother used to address her.
The tension that originates from the unhealthy relationship between mother and daughter is
counterbalanced by the playwright’s clever use of irony and although Velma’s lines include all the
warning signs of the tragedy, only in hindsight it is possible to attach to them their full importance.
The girl’s sudden trembling, her overwhelming distress and the mixing of past and present tenses
while talking about the mother are subtle but meaningful clues that reveal her guilt; nevertheless
everyone – even Frankie – simply ignores them until the final outburst. Even more than the two other
encounters, Birdbath prompts a psychoanalytic approach to the plot; the play not only stages
interpersonal and intrapersonal conflict, but also a perfect example of repression: what happened that
same morning at breakfast was forced into the character’s unconscious to resurface into consciousness
only in the final scenes. The half-exposed newspaper and Frankie reading the ruthless headline aloud,
eventually conjure up the murderous scene in Velma’s mind causing her nervous breakdown.
Above and beyond being a murderer, Velma is a victim and for this very reason, the audience
tends to sympathize with her. Throughout her entire life, she has had to cope with humiliation and
major disappointments that left an indelible mark on her personality; she is the quintessential
underdog and the title of the play perfectly captures the real essence of this character. Whereas the
initial Coffeecake and Caviar stopped at the surface, Birdbath is far more effective a term and adds
depth to the entire work. Birdbaths are ornamental basins in which birds can rest and drink safe from
external threats – the analogy with the female protagonist is self-evident: she too is a poor little critter
in search of shelter and her surname Sparrow perfectly matches her bird-like fragility.17
As far as Velma’s mother is concerned, it is interesting to notice that her criticism towards the
daughter insists on three aspects that are strictly connected with each other, namely outward
appearance, the importance of finding the right man and the necessity of getting married. According
to the woman, Velma is homely and skinny, she has to take advantage of the free meal but at the same
time she has to be careful otherwise she would get real fat. Velma’s mother wants a presentable
daughter18 because looking good is the essential prerequisite to finding a nice man, getting married
and starting a family19; she has deceived her daughter into thinking that these are the sole things that
really matter in the life of an accomplished woman and whoever does not fit into this pattern is a
complete failure. However, if we stick to the actual facts, the mother is the first one to have failed on
all fronts and, as if it were not enough, she discourages her daughter in every possible way – men
cannot be interested in Velma, they must have eyes only for her because she looks better and younger
than the girl.20
Velma’s mother is a base individual and her behavior is utterly deplorable – whereas the
daughter has two jobs and works night and day to provide for them both, she simply spends her time
at the beauty parlor, planning her vacations or searching for a good catch. She has always had
excessive demands on Velma and inculcated her with her own vicious ideas; her insistence must have
Ornamental birdbaths visually recall baptismal fonts and given the strong presence of guilt within the plot, I think that
this analogy is not that far-fetched. Secondly, the term can refer to “a cursory washing of the body using little water” (see.
The Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang and Unconventional English) which most likely is what Velma did
before she left for work.
Presentable according to the dominating standards of beauty.
As I have said at the beginning of this chapter, Birdbath has many things in common with Tennessee Williams’ The
Glass Menagerie and one of the most striking similarities between the two plays is represented by the importance given
to marriage. The mothers of the two female protagonists both have failed marriages behind them, nevertheless they insist
of the importance of getting married. The only differences between the two women is that unlike Amanda Wingfield,
Velma’s mother is not an actual character and she does her best not to marry off her daughter but to destroy her image.
On more than one occasion, the antagonism between mother and daughter can be clearly associated with a competition
over men in which Velma has always to succumb, no matter what.
been truly hammering and akin to the action described by the headline “Mother Used Daughter’s
Head For Hammer”.
The frustration generated by the psychological abuses perpetrated by the mother led Velma to
take desperate measures and commit matricide; as chance would have it, the killing occurred just
while they were having their extravagant breakfast, which was the only thing they seemed to agree
on. The outcome of this outrageous gesture is dual and contrasting – if on the one hand the girl is
guilty of a brutal crime and is likely to be sent to prison, on the other hand she has eventually broken
free from the oppressive maternal tie. Faced with similar circumstances, the response of the characters
as well as of the audience is emotional rather than rational, and although conviction is the logical
result, it partly fades into the background leaving plenty of room for the irrational and emancipatory
aspects of the deed. Velma’s mother clearly prevented her daughter from developing her own identity
and kept her in a perpetually infantile stage characterized by dependency, which in the long run
became unbearable. When Velma eventually gets rid of the burdensome maternal authority, she is
truly free for the first time in her life; at the same time she is also a frightened young woman
desperately wanting love and affection and Frankie could be her lifeline.
In Birdbath both marriage and family are clearly presented from the critical perspective of the
1960s. Frankie boldly establishes himself as a man allergic to marriage and as someone who is faithful
only to his typewriter, but at the same time he does not disdain the idea of a relationship with Velma
who could be his missing half. Frankie’s attitude, therefore, perfectly exemplifies the triumph of
genuine human connection regardless of conventional ties, which is at the core of great part of the
playwright’s production and has become one of his distinctive features. Velma’s family, on the other
hand, has completely fallen apart – her father ran off when she was six years old, her brother Herbert
disappeared after he got married and her abusive mother irreversibly ruined her life. In this case,
though, Melfi not only displays the breakdown of the traditional family, but also the regret and the
melancholy caused by the disruption of the household. Besides the long-restrained resentment
towards the maternal figure, Velma’s lines are also visibly pervaded by sadness for the absence of
the father and the impossibility of having a happy family.
3.2 Halloween: The Drama of Accumulation
Halloween is the longest of the three plays I have translated and it is definitely a work based on strong
contrasting forces – it includes the angriest attitude and the most sincere lines on mutual love and
understanding, and these can hardly leave people indifferent. In addition to this, Halloween is overtly
built around another singular aspect, namely accumulation – long lists of objects and whatnot turn up
several times throughout the conversation and stand out as a dominant feature of the play.
The opening entirely centers on the principle of accumulation; the jumble of more or less
technological paraphernalia mentioned by Luke is possibly the most effective listing of the entire play
and constitutes an example of poignant criticism of the mass consumerism that pervades American
way of life. Luke has just moved to a residence hotel in the West Eighties to live on his own and in
no time at all, his room has been burglarized; he laments the loss of all the things that meant so much
to him and mentions them one by one. He begins with a series of technologically advanced gadgets;
among them is also the state-of-the-art electric shoe-polisher and the tape recorder, which is the
worthy successor of the much-acclaimed wire recorder in Death of a Salesman.21 Luke roughly
proceeds by category and his list of lost properties continues with his clothing accessories – that are
exactly the same mentioned in the opening description of Joey in Ferryboat – alongside jewels, a few
smoking and stationery22 goods and then, finally, the solid gold rubber box. The concept of property
is underlined by Luke’s insistence on possessive adjectives – what the burglars stole were not simply
objects whatever but his stuff. Ironically, all the things that meant so much to him are completely
devalued by his cumulative attitude; they are reduced to mere insignificant objects, if not garbage.
The listing just stresses their uselessness and transience – by presenting them in this way, he
In the second act of the play by Arthur Miller is the famous scene in which Willy’s boss is totally captivated by the
prodigious wire recorder and does not even listen to him.
The fountain pen is a further element that this play has in common with Death of a Salesman. In Miller’s drama, Biff
steals the fountain pen from the loan officer’s desk.
automatically turns them into nothing but cheap mass-produced items devoid of any value. To some
extent, this “accumulative beginning” reminds us of the artistic accumulations that became popular
in the 1960s23 – the attitude that underlies Luke’s lines conveys a certain exasperation and the author
seems to use them to address a society based on unrestrained consumerism. The not-quite-random
assemblage of material goods that belong to the average American’s routine as well as the prominence
of the possessive “my” seem to question the very desire to possess them at all costs and prompts a
reflection on what is really necessary. As the play develops, one sees that Luke has led a miserable
existence and that only when he loses the material things he was so fond of, can he find authentic
human connection and real happiness. Even in Halloween as in the rest of the encounters, the
proverbial twist of fate plays a major role – if his room had not been ransacked, he would never have
made the scene that drew Margaret’s attention and most likely, they would never have met.
The second striking accumulation occurs towards the end of the play; but this time the focus
is on people, namely on Hollywood stars. Luke, just as Joey in Ferryboat, is keen on cinema and
displays immense admiration for Hollywood actors and the movie industry in general. Throughout
the first half of the 20th century, the ever-increasing importance given to appearances supported by
the emergence of visual mass media – chiefly among them cinema – had a strong impact on American
culture and lifestyle. Thanks to their image and to the roles they played, Hollywood stars became
more and more influential and established themselves as the new icons people could identify with.
The choice of Gene Kelly in Luke’s speech is anything but random: besides being an exceptional
dancer and singer, he was a charismatic figure, gifted with effortless charm - all these qualities
somehow compensate the lack . Secondly, this listing of Hollywood stars works in the same way as
the opening catalog of stolen properties – it enhances the consumerist side of cinema and emphasizes
the fact that, after all, these actors are nothing but the fruit of consumerism.24
I am referring primarily to the French-American artist Arman, and secondly to Pop Art in general.
Actors can be precisely considered “idols of consumption” as opposed to “idols of productions”, namely famous
Lastly, the third and final accumulation is that of lies. Although in different ways, deception
characterizes the life of both characters – on the one hand Margaret has to cope with the lies that her
husband has been telling during their entire marriage; on the other, Luke has been lying to himself
for a long time and still does it in front of Margaret. In addition to that, in the first part of the play,
they also pretend to ignore their mutual attraction. To put an end to this vicious circle of lies and
deceit, the two characters resort to the expedient of the mask, which is perfectly in tune with the preHalloween atmosphere surrounding the encounter. As often occurs in Melfi’s plays, the title goes
beyond the surface of things – in this case, the masquerade that characterizes Halloween constitutes
the basis for a reflection on the self beyond whatever social expectation. Throughout the encounter,
the protagonists keep trying on the masks Margaret bought for her grandchildren and only when they
are wearing them are they able to talk frankly with one another. In Halloween the mask is therefore
used as a protective device; it helps the two protagonists to overcome shame and reveal their true
identity which in both cases is something inconvenient in society’s eyes – Margaret is a fifty-yearold deserted wife who has always been faithful to her cheating husband and cannot stand this situation
anymore; Luke is an outcast, a thirty-year-old cripple who has always repelled women. At the end of
the play, after they have completely opened up, they realize that there is no need to continue to hide
behind a mask, keeping up appearances and fostering further deception. They eventually give up
whatever form disguise and accept themselves as they really are, regardless of whatever prejudice.
3.3 Ferryboat: The Tension between Appearance and Essence
Unlike the two previous encounters, Ferryboat opens with an accurate description of the protagonists,
which, from the very beginning, places a great emphasis on the issue of outer appearances. Joey is
presented as a twenty-eight-year-old man dressed to the nines: he wears a suit with formal white shirt,
silk necktie and perfectly polished shoes; a flashy gold wristwatch, a sparkling ring, matching tie clip
and cuff links complete an outfit thought out to the smallest detail. The young girl, on the other hand,
is about twenty years old; she is beautiful but reveals a certain shabbiness: she wears a crumpled and
smeared trench coat and her face is devoid of make up; black high-heels add the only feminine touch
to her otherwise unremarkable ensemble. Unimportant as it might seem, the opening description
represents in fact a relevant element in the dramatic construction of the play – whatever expectation
it creates, will be progressively reversed by the dialog so as to highlight the split between appearance
and essence that very often occurs in modern society.
Joey is an extremely theatrical character who loves to show off and has a desperate need for
attention. He makes his conspicuous entrance through the audience25 and with his exuberant attitude,
he immediately places himself in the spotlight – after having approached the girl sitting on one of the
benches, he begins to talk and stands out as the undisputed leader of the conversation. Exactly as
Luke in Halloween, Joey acts as some sort of entertainer and displays at best his dramatic potential
through his long revelatory solo performances.
Joey’s lines are pervaded by more or less random aspects of daily urban routine as well as by
details about his life and personality; one of the first things he says to Eleanor is that as soon as he
graduated from high-school, he left for Hollywood to crash the movies and be big-time. The big
screen possibly represents the greatest ambition and the highest form of gratification for someone like
Joey; he has always felt the need to appear and to play a role, even in his real life – in front of the
girl, for instance, he pretends to be a successful store manager, a brilliant dancer and a compulsive
womanizer who already at school was voted the Class Wolf. Yet the surface in the case of Joey is
absolutely misleading: in reality, he is just an average man who works in a five-and-ten store and is
desperately lonely – a lone wolf, to put it in his own words. The fact that Joey is all dressed up from
head to toe is just an expedient, a gimmick to prove to himself and to others that he is an accomplished,
confident and attractive person, which is precisely what society seems to impose at any cost. Behind
his shiny well-constructed façade, though, he conceals fragility and failure; he is affected by a serious
malaise that he will progressively unfold throughout the dialog. The ill ego Joey talks about, is nothing
Although this scene breaks the theatrical convention, I think that Joey’s entrance is more likely to be interpreted as a
way to create the illusion of being in a crowded ferryboat rather than as a serious attempt of the author to embrace
metatheatre. If we think that Ferryboat was presented in the claustrophobic room of Theatre Genesis, such entrance would
simply convey the idea that Joey left another compartment of the boat to reach the one where the girl is sitting.
but his own anguished ego and the suicide attempt is most likely the only thing that is truly real about
his life.
On the other hand, Eleanor is a laconic girl who finds herself in a subordinate position
throughout most of the conversation. In the opening scene she simply appears on the stage, sitting on
one of the benches; she certainly displays none of the theatricality of Joey yet this does not minimize
her importance to the storyline. Focusing on the evolution of the encounter, it is possible to notice
that she is much more than a scruffily-dressed, ingenuous and annoyed girl pestered by a stranger on
the ferryboat – she is seemingly pleased at having found a remote area in which to be by herself, but
she is twice as pleased as Joey strikes up a conversation; accidentally on purpose, she drops her
magazine on the floor and gives Joey a chance to continue to talk and spill his guts. These are just
two of the subtle yet meaningful clues indicating that girl is by no means a passive character and that
at the end of the play, she overtly takes control over a situation she has dominated since the very
After having peered beyond Joey’s façade and having discovered his true self, the girl finally
asks him her first real question – she uses an assertive tone and challenges him with a provocation;
he in turn reacts by pulling her by the arm and holding her still. Against all apparent odds, she does
not even make an attempt to escape; she simply stays there as she has done from the beginning and
stares at him with a slight but suggestive smile that represents the dramatic climax of the play.
Subsequently, in the final exchange of cues, the girl reveals who she really is – her name is Eleanor
and she attends Sarah Lawrence College where she studies English Literature, Philosophy and the
Social Pattern of Urban Love. What she has only hinted at throughout the entire play becomes finally
clear: behind an anonymous trench coat and a snow-white face hides a wealthy and smart girl who
studies in one of the most prestigious and progressive private colleges of the United States. She is
absolutely self-assured and with her understated apparel fools Joey – alongside superficial spectators
and readers – into thinking that she is just any ordinary, good-looking, apathetic, shallow girl. Yet
Eleanor is educated and well aware that clothes do not make the man; on the contrary, they can be
simply a deceptive device to distract from one’s real essence.
Therefore in Ferryboat, at one end of the spectrum is the slave-to-appearances Joey who bases
his entire life on façade regardless of substance, and at the other end is Eleanor, who does not consider
exteriority as her sole raison d’être. The most significant passage that helps us to grasp the real nature
of the protagonists is possibly the one in which Joey focuses on New York skyscrapers – in those
lines he metaphorically compares the girl to the majestic Chrysler Building and by contrast places
himself on the ground floor26 of the adjoining Socony-Mobil Building. The image evoked has a
strong, precise visual impact since the former building is a streamlined structure that springs up
towards the sky while the latter is an anonymous, squared skyscraper clad an a stainless-steel armor.
The Chrysler Building perfectly resembles Eleanor because like her it is a symbol of understated
elegance; moreover, with its opulent interiors that stand in sharp contrast with the façade, it recreates
the same dichotomy that is visible in her character. On the other hand, the Socony-Mobil “shows off”
exactly as Joey: its metallic panels gleam and glisten in the sunlight but the skyscraper itself is
mothing more than an ordinary building in disguise.
He does not explicitly say that he work on the ground floor, but offices and commercial spaces finds themselves in the
lower floors of the building.
4. About the Translation
Leonard Melfi’s encounters perfectly exemplify the playwright’s ability to dramatize New York
idiom as well as his mastery in portraying human beings with all their vices and virtues. His viewpoint
is both circumscribed and universal, and I think that universality is exactly one of the qualities that
makes these plays suitable for translation.
Birdbath, Halloween and Ferryboat – just as the rest of the plays by this author – have never
been officially translated into Italian and I consider it to be more of an advantage than a disadvantage
because it allowed me to have an unbiased approach to the texts. I opted for a facing-page translation
because I regard the source text as a touchstone for assessing my work – without it, great part of my
efforts would be vain. Moreover, this type of translation conveys to the reader the idea that there is a
source text, which is anything but secondary.
One further aspect I would like to highlight, is the reason I did not translate neither the titles
nor the names of the characters of the plays. As I have explained in the respective endnote, Birdbath
is such an eloquent title that it would inevitably get lost in translation – in one single word it
summarizes the meaning of the entire drama and possibly any Italian phrase would compromise its
strength. As for Halloween and Ferryboat, both these terms have now entered our vocabulary and
have no Italian equivalent, it would be thus useless to translate them just for the sake of Italianizing
the titles of the plays. The same applies to the characters – I tend to consider the translation of the
first name as a bad habit of the past; fortunately this trend has now gone out of fashion. As far as
Mefli’s plays are concerned, for example, I think it is basically a matter of coherence: the characters
are all New Yorkers and Italianizing their names would be like depriving them of part of their identity.
In the following subchapters, I will discuss some of the features of my translation work – I
will focus on the dual nature of dramatic texts, on the lexical gaps that occur between English and
Italian and on the importance of the historical context providing some concrete examples.
4.1 The Stage or the Page: That is the Question
The translation of dramatic texts is strongly influenced by their inherent duality – if on the one hand
plays can be simply read on the printed page and behave as prose, on the other hand, they were
conceived as works to be acted on stage and as such, they are characterized by a strong performing
potential. Complementary as they might be, literary and theater translations move in fact towards
different directions – the former gives priority to the page whereas the latter concentrates on the stage.
In my translations I have tried not to lose sight of this dual nature, yet sometimes the contrast between
the two poles was so sharp that I was compelled to make a drastic decision – in all those cases, the
stage definitely got the better of the page.
Although they are not subjected to strict rules, both literary and theater translations follow
some general conventions and focus on difference priorities. Unlike the individual reading process,
theater is a collective experience in real time – actors on stage act in front of a live audience, their
lines are supposed to reach it and provoke a simultaneous response. A translation that aims at the
stage, cannot lose sight of this principle that is at the basis of whatever form of theatrical
representation and as a consequence every effort should be made not to betray the dramatic potential
of the text.
Among the requirements of theater translations are certainly immediacy and fluency; both
these elements are of such vital importance that sometimes they partly overshadow the scrupulous
faithfulness to the written source. On the stage, a translation that is too tied to the source text is likely
to sound unnatural and constrained and all this would inevitably work against the performance; the
one that instead takes into account the rhythm of the drama and aims at recreating natural speech
patterns has good chances to appeal to the audience and get close to the playwright’s original intent.
As far as Melfi’s plays are concerned, some of his characters seem literally to rip the page
apart and show an attitude that can be definitely considered theatrical; against this background opting
for theater translation was more duty than choice. In addition to that, the playwright is to be seen
within the radical context of Off-Off-Broadway, a subversive movement whose destabilizing attitude
cannot easily be constrained within the conventional page.
4.2 Lost (and Found) in Translation
Each language is the mirror of a unique culture and society and as such, it includes a series of terms
and expressions that are so specific that cannot be translated without losing part, if not their entire
meaning. This cultural-linguistic conundrum – the technical term is “lexical gap” – has nevertheless
to be overcome by the translator, who can tackle with the problem in different ways. As far as my
translations are concerned, I have opted for different solutions that range from adaptation to
paraphrase and borrowing, and I have made extensive use of the so-called translator’s note – all
without losing sight of the theatrical function of the text. In the following paragraphs, I will comment
some the most prominent examples in each of the three plays.
In the opening stage directions of Birdbath, we are immediately presented with the word
«cafereria», which refers to an American concept with no equivalent in Italian. Before opting for
«tavola calda», I made the mistake of choosing the word «caffetteria» which has a similar sound but
a different meaning – whereas the former gets close to the idea of cafeteria as “a self-service restaurant
in which food is displayed on counters” (Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 209)27, the latter
refers to a café, that is to say a place where coffee and other refreshments are served. Being in front
of a linguistic dead-end, the only possible solution was represented by the adaptation of the term
followed by its corresponding endnote. In this specific case, for example, other solutions would sound
awkward (the paraphrase) or inappropriate and misleading (the borrowing). In the same play, I opted
for two more free translations, namely «Velma the ugly sparrow»/«quella spaventapasseri della
Velma» and «Leprechauns»/«Bislacche». The first adaptation is rather “spontaneous” and although
it detaches both from the literal meaning and the allusion to the surname of the character, it does not
An alternative definition of the Webster Online Dictionary is: “a restaurant in which the customers serve themselves or
are served at a counter and take the food to tables to eat”. In addition to this, the term cafeteria might refer also to the
Italian «mensa».
subvert the global meaning of the original utterance, it makes it just more acceptable in Italian. The
second one, instead, is to be considered against a different and more complex background. Velma
first uses the word «fairy» and then the word «leprechauns» - in this context the former does make
sense and is a derogatory term to refer to male homosexuals, the latter, instead, is an unintended slip.
In translating these terms, I had to pay attention to the dominant mindset of the time, which
undoubtedly considered homosexuality as a taboo – after having changed my mind at least five times,
I went for «invertito» and «bislacche»:
[…] My mother didn’t want me to work down
there at first because she thinks the Village is dangerous.
She doesn’t like the idea of me being around all those
fairies and those leprechauns. Well, I’m not afraid of
the fairies but those leprechauns really scare me.
( Scratching his head ) What do you mean by
VELMA You know what I mean: those girls who don’t
like men; they like to be with women instead.
Uh, Lesbians, Velma, Lesbians. Not
VELMA Oh, that’s right, Les–bi–ans.
[…] All’inizio mia madre non voleva che
lavorassi laggiù perché è convinta che il Village sia
pericoloso. A lei non le va l’idea che io sia circondata
da tutti quegli invertiti e da tutte quelle bislacche. Beh,
io non ho paura degli invertiti, ma quelle lì tutte
bislacche mi fanno davvero paura.
FRANKIE ( Grattandosi la testa )
Cosa intendi per
Lo sai benissimo cosa intendo: sono quelle
ragazze che non vogliono gli uomini; preferiscono
andare con le donne.
FRANKIE Ah, Lesbiche, Velma, Lesbiche. Non bislacche.
Ah, giusto, Les–bi–che.
I think that the Italian word «invertito», which has now fallen into disuse, is somehow akin to the
English word «fairy» and is plausible in the context of the 1960s. As for «leprechauns», I have
understood it as an “assonance-mistake” so I have tried to reproduce the same slip in Italian. Besides,
the term «bislacche» is rather uncommon and means «odd» or «weird», which is exactly how female
homosexuality was branded in those years.
Just as Birdbath, even Halloween opens with a translation challenge that has to do with the
place where the action is set: “Manhattan: somewhere in the West Eighties off West End Avenue.”.
Everyone is familiar with Manhattan and can easily conceive a street called West End Avenue, but
what about the West Eighties? The term used by the playwright cannot be translated and is so site
specific that possibly only a New Yorker can figure it out. Nevertheless the West Eighties are a block
included in the Upper West Side, which is a neighborhood whose name sounds a little more familiar
to Italian ears. For this very reason, I decided to deconstruct the sentence included in the source text
and rebuild it as: “Manhattan: un posto come tanti in un isolato dell’Upper West Side, non lontano
dalla West End Avenue”. The adverb «somewhere» does not literally mean «un posto come tanti»,
yet it does convey the idea of vagueness and unspecificity that characterize the grid of streets of every
metropolis. A further example of adaptation within my translation of Halloween is represented by
Magaret’s following sentence:
My husband: James Moon. Ever since the
day I met him, I would say to him, at least once a day:
“James Moon, you make Margaret swoon.” It was
silly, but it was a nice way, I thought, and he did too for
a long time, of saying to him: “I love you.” Then, just
these past few months, mind you, I found myself saying
something else instead. Never out loud, though; never
to him any more, but to myself. ( She smiles wryly )
“James Moon, you’re such a goon.” ( She pauses ) My
husband, James Moon, is a no-good rotten son of a
Mio marito James, sì. Da quando l’ho
conosciuto gli ho sempre detto almeno una volta al
giorno: “James, amore, mi metti di buon’umore.”
Era stupido, ma pensavo – e l’ha pensato che lui per un
bel pezzo – che fosse un modo carino per dirgli che lo
amavo. Poi in questi ultimi mesi, attento, mi sono
trovata a dire qualcos’altro, invece. Ma mai ad alta
voce; non più a lui ma a me stessa. ( Con una risata
sarcastica ) “James, bugiardo, sei proprio un
bastardo” ( Fa una pausa ) Mio marito, James Moon,
è un grandissimo figlio di puttana!
Margaret’s rage and disillusionment have to stand out clearly alongside the rhyme, which I think is
an essential requirement of the stage. I had worked out several solutions, but there was always
something wrong with them – assuming that in Italian is impossible to find word rhyming with
«moon», substituting that term with another one that allowed the rhyme was the only way I could
manage not to betray the immediacy of the lines in English. The word order too, plays a major role
and has to be the same in both Italian interjections, otherwise the entire cue would results less
Finally, Ferryboat too presented several semantic gaps that gave me the chance to practice
just as many translation strategies. To begin with, Joey uses the word «Greyhound» which is much
more than a bus and at the same time is the specific name of a company that does not exist outside
the United States. I am sure that almost everyone is visually familiar with these intercity buses that
have always been so popular in American movies and series, yet I am equally convinced that opting
for a borrowing would have been too estranging. As chance would have it, cinema provided me the
Initially I thought that “James Moon, you make Margaret swoon” could be translated with “Caro James ti voglio
ricordare che in solluchero mi fai andare”. Yet I realized that it was too long and that the following exclamation could
never have resembled the same syntax order compromising the rhythm of the lines.
solution to the problem – Hitchcock’s North by Northwest explicitly mentions the Greyhound bus29
and in the Italian-dubbed version the term used is «torpedone». I think this word perfectly fits the
context because «torpedone» too is more than a simple bus – it is the American bus. A further reason
that made me choose this term is represented by historical contiguity: North by Northwest was
released in 195930 and the Italian language used in the dubbing most likely did not change legitimizing
the choice of the word in the context of the mid-1960s. Secondly, even the American «five-and-ten»
store is a concept that does not have a semantic equivalent in Italian. I tend to regard paraphrase as a
risky solution and facing a theater translation it becomes twice as risky because it might hinder the
rhythm of the speech; yet in front of Joey’s «five-and ten» I saw no other chance than this. I just tried
to understate it as much as I could so that it almost disappears within the lines of the characters:
[…] ( He sighs ) It’s the same at work. I’m the
manager of a five-and-ten . . . one of the biggest and
newest in New York. Great location. Some people say
it’s the best one around. Very good chances for
advancing myself. From manager on upward! Who
knows, huh? It’s the five-and-ten in the new SoconyMobil Building. You know the one: all made of bright
aluminum, very modern. The first aluminum building
ever built. It’s right across the street from the Chrysler
Building. Now there’s a building for you! The Chrysler
Building! […]
[…] ( Sospira ) E lo stesso al lavoro. Sono
responsabile in un grande magazzino, di quelli che
vendono cose a buon mercato . . . uno dei più grandi e
nuovi qui a New York. Bel posto. Alcuni dicono che è
il migliore della zona. Ci sono anche buone possibilità
di far carriera. Da responsabile dritto verso i piani alti.
E chi lo sa, eh? È il grande magazzino nel SoconyMobil. Sai, quello in alluminio tutto brillante, davvero
moderno. Il primo palazzo tutto in alluminio. È proprio
di fronte al grattacielo della Chrysler. Ecco un palazzo
che fa per te! Quello della Chrysler! […]
The Italian version of Ferryboat includes also the one and only English loanword I decided to feature
in my translations: «frug». Given the historic context of the sixties, I am not in favor of the use of
borrowings yet in this case I maintained the original term just because the frug is a dance craze similar
to the twist and this latter term entered Italian language without being translated.
Finally, in her last lines Eleanor says that she is «majoring» in English Literature and
«minoring» in Philosophy – the first verb designates the field of studies in which a student specializes
while the second one simply refers to academic subjects that are secondary in the study plan. In Italian
As soon as Roger Thornhill/George Kaplan (Cary Grant) reaches the Chicago train station, Eve Kendall tells him “
You’re to take the Greyhound bus that leaves Chicago for Indianapolis at two and ask the driver to let you off at the
Prairie Stop on Highway 41”.
The movie was released in July 1959 in the US and in November of the same year in Italy.
there are just phrases to explain these concepts: «majoring» could be «corso di laurea» or «materia
principale» and «minoring» could be the so-called «corso a scelta». All of these solutions would
sound just too clumsy in the girl’s lines, that is what I decided to use just the verb «study/studiare».
In conclusion, I would like to add a consideration on the so-called translator’s notes, which
are an integral part of my work. As soon as I have decided to translate Melfi’s plays, I have opted for
an annotated translation which is not only an “academic exercise” but also a way of making the text
completely accessible to the readers. The playwright’s style is direct but at the same time is full of
cultural and geographical references that require an explanation, especially if the plays are
approached from a foreign perspective and almost fifty years after they were written.
4.3 The Two Sides of the Pronoun You31
Unlike Italian language, English does not make any distinction between the informal «tu» and the
formal «lei» and simply uses the pronoun «you»; while translating a text, this represents a major
concern since choosing either one of the two options has a huge impact on the meaning of the
message. Although the context provides a key to interpret the real nature of the pronoun, it can be
argued that «you» is not subjected to any formal rule and represents thus some sort of wild card;
especially when dealing with theater translations, this very aspect can be shaped according to the
dramatic tension to convey part of the subtext that underlies the lines and actions of the play.
Halloween and Ferryboat provide two perfect examples of the way the translation of the
pronoun «you» makes all the difference in the dramatic structure of the play. Assuming that both
these pieces are characterized by the continuous swinging between formal and informal tone, I have
carefully taken into account the dramatic subtext and the unmistakable humor that pervades all the
works by this author to recreate this important feature in my Italian version. At the beginning of
Melfi’s encounters the two characters are perfect strangers to one another, yet as the dialog develops,
they become more and more familiar and they progressively open up in front of the person they have
This one too is an example of lexical gap, but in the opposite direction.
just met. The playwright perfectly manages to capture the thin line that sometimes separates formality
and aloofness from informality; and since his plays are all centered on the importance of breaking
down the barriers between human beings, the tension towards casual and confidential tone is only
natural. An example of this shifting can be seen in the following passage taken from Halloween:
LUKE You’re lying to me!
MARGARET You stop that!
LUKE You did open the window, didn’t you?
MARGARET What are you implying: that I’m a
you’re a liar! I can tell!
Don’t call me a liar, young man! And stop
that screaming at me, do you hear? If I get my Irish
temper up you’ll be sorry!
LUKE Yeah? Well, I already got mine up!
You’re not Irish. I saw your name. It’s
LUKE You know too much.
MARGARET I happened to see it on one of your suitcases
in the closet.
LUKE Like I just said before, miss – you know too much!
You have no respect for other people, do
LUKE I’m both, miss.
MARGARET You’re both
LUKE Non mi sta dicendo la verità.
MARGARET Ma la smetta!
LUKE Sì che hai aperto tu la finestra, vuoi dire di
Cosa sta insinuando, che sono
LUKE Si, sei una bugiarda. Si vede.
MARGARET Non darmi della bugiarda, giovanotto! E
smettila di urlarmi dietro in quel modo, capito? Se
tiro fuori il mio carattere da irlandese te ne pentirai!
LUKE Ah sì? Io ho già tirato fuori il mio!
Tu non sei irlandese. Ho visto come ti
chiami. Sei italiano.
LUKE Tu sai troppe cose.
MARGARET L’ho visto per caso, su una delle valigie che
hai in armadio.
LUKE Come le ho già detto, signorina – lei sa troppe
MARGARET Lei non ha rispetto per le altre persone, o
LUKE Io, signorina, sono tutti e due.
MARGARET Sei tutti e due cosa?
This is the first time the two characters talk about lies, which is going to be one of the important
themes of their forthcoming conversation. The rhythm of the dialog suddenly changes – “You stop
that” is Margaret’s first assertive utterance32 after the compliant attitude she has been displaying since
the beginning of the play, and Luke cannot ignore it; in addition to that, the woman knows she is
lying because she did opened the window. This invisible tension between and within the characters
inevitably affects their speech patterns so that a shift from the third person to the second person
singular in the Italian version becomes plausible. The pressing rhythm and the fast exchange of cues
are all signs that somehow demand for immediacy – the immediacy that just an “informal you” can
Even “I’m a maid.”/ “Sono una cameriera ai piani” might be a decisive statement but I think it is not as strong as “You
stop that!”
convey. In the quotation, the word «miss» uttered by Luke twice, serves as momentary call to
In Halloween, the strain between the two opposing registers is such an important feature that
after repeated oscillations Margaret explicitly tells Luke that she wants him to call her with her name;
the words she uses clearly equals the Italian «to address someone informally». 33 As a consequence,
in the rest of the play I have simply opted for the informal «tu».
As for Ferryboat, instead, the brash attitude of Joey together with his snappy patter legitimize
his continuous intrusions into the informal register. Unlike Halloween, in this play the distance
between the two characters is greater and more important, and although the girl deep down inside is
pleased by Joey’s pestering, she displays an aloof attitude throughout most of the encounter – all of
this has to be maintained and can be transferred into the Italian translation thanks to the use of the
formal «you». Besides the opening of the play, the following excerpt is useful to clarify this claim:
[…] ( He stares at her for a moment, awaiting any
sort of reaction; she goes on reading ) Hey, miss! ( He
snaps his fingers and gets up ) A frank! How about a
frank? ( No answer ) Would you like a frank with
sauerkraut and mustard? Or would you like one with
relish and mustard? Or the whole works? That’s even
better still: the whole works! Why not live it up a little,
huh? Go all the way! You see, they got good franks here,
too. Always fresh. You know they have to be since they
got such a big . . .
. . . turnover!
( There is an uneasy pause )
JOEY ( Quietly now ) Yeah, that’s it. ( A pause ) You sure
you don’t want one?
GIRL Positive. But why don’t you go and have one?
[…] ( La fissa per un istante in attesa di una
qualsiasi reazione; lei continua a leggere ) Ehi,
signorina! ( Schiocca le dita e si alza ) Un hot dog! Che
ne dice di un hot dog? ( Nessuna risposta ) Le andrebbe
un hot dog con crauti e senape? O ne preferisce uno con
senape e salsa verde? O facciamo con tutto quello che
hanno a disposizione? Così va ancora meglio: ci
mettiamo sopra tutto quanto! Perché non trattarsi bene
una volta tanto, no? Facciamo le cose fino in fondo!
Vedi, qui hanno anche dei buoni hot dog. Sempre fatti
al momento. Sai, devono esserlo per forza per via del
gran . . .
RAGAZZA . . . ricambio!
( Una pausa di imbarazzo )
JOEY ( Adesso in tono tranquillo )
Sì, esatto. ( Una
pausa ) Sicura di non volerne uno?
Sicurissima. Ma perché lei non va a
prendersene uno?
In the following part of the encounter, I have occasionally opted for the use of the “informal you” in
the girl’s lines; my choices were once again influenced by the rhythm of the dialog: when Joey
renounces to his long solos and there is a rapid exchange between the two characters informality
In English there is not even a precise term to refer to the Italian concept of «dare del tu». «Call somebody by his/her
first name» might be a possible option.
seemed to be the best solution to keep up with the immediacy of the response.34 Finally, the dramatic
climax of Ferryboat, which constitutes a turning point in the plot, brings about a decisive shift in tone
and marks the triumph of informality.
Irony too, which is a recurring ingredient in the works by Leonard Melfi, can be partly
recreated in the Italian translation thanks to the right mix of formal and informal register; in this
respect I think that Joey’s final infamous outburst is the perfect instance of this attitude.
4.4 Back to the 1960s.
Birdbath, Halloween and Ferryboat were all written in the height of the sixties and I think that this is
a key aspect to keep in mind while translating them. Besides the spatial distance that separates Italy
from the United States, there is also a temporal distance that separates 2015 from the mid-1960s and
little as it might seem, it includes in fact epoch-making changes in lifestyle and in the way of speaking.
Technology is just one glaring example of how much times have changes – all of the gadgets that are
mentioned by the characters have ceased to exist and have almost completely disappeared from our
daily vocabulary: the phonograph, the typewriter, the tape recorder, the polaroid camera, vinyl records
and clock as well as transistor radio. If on one end of the spectrum many terms that were popular in
those year progressively ceased to be used, on the other end, by contrast, some of those belonging to
contemporary vocabulary were yet to come – this is just a detail, but I think it might make the
difference considering the overall consistency of the work.
Although I could not experience the 1960s, I have tried to be as faithful as possible to the
spirit of that decade, paying special attention to the language that was spoken in those years. This
does not mean that my translations are stuck in the past and that I have put obsolete, mannerist words
in the mouth of the characters only for the sake of looking backwards, but for example I have avoided
terms that would sound “too modern” such as English borrowings that are so common these days. In
order to get closer to the sixties, movies of those years35 proved to be extremely helpful because they
For instance when the two characters are talking about Joey’s whistling.
By movies I mean Italian movies as well as American movies and their Italian dubbed version.
provide the perfect mix of language and cultural background that no other source could exemplify so
It is a fact that language is vital and keeps changing over the years, so that even translations
grow old and become outdated. Nevertheless, I think that each work – for better or for worst – is a
child of its time and as such, translation cannot completely cut ties with the historical period that
produced it, otherwise it would be just a take on the source text. As far as non-contemporary works
are concerned, I like to think of their translation as the makeover of an old piece of furniture – in both
cases the aim should be bring them back to life without cancelling the traces of the period in which
they were manufactured. Inevitably, their appearance will be different from the original, but the
substance hidden behind it is supposed to be the same.
In practical terms, the translation of the word «band», which appears both in Birdbath and in
Ferryboat, can be useful to exemplify the gap between contemporary language and the language that
was used in the 1960s. Frankie talks about the “‘ole hometown band” that used to play the song when
he was in high school and in this case I have translated it with the Italian «orchestra» intended as a
band that provided entertainment with people dancing. As far as the other possible translations are
concerned, I understand «complesso» as something more associated with rock and roll music – but
Frankie is talking about a romantic dance hit that has nothing to do with that genre. On the other
hand, the word «gruppo» would be rather generic and «band» would be definitely out of place since
in the sixties such loanwords were not part of Italian language. In Ferryboat, instead, Joey says “a
top-name band for dancing” and in my Italian version it became «complesso» because I think it is
more in tune with the sixties and the rock-dance type of music that was so popular in that period. The
same applies to Luke’s «fan» that I have translated with «patito» because in the sixties the English
loanword did not exist in Italian.
5. Bibliography
Works by Leonard Melfi
MELFI, LEONARD. Encounters. New York: Samuel French, Inc., 1967. Print.
—―—. Later Encounters. New York: Samuel French, Inc., 1980. Print.
—―—. Fantasies At The Frick. New York: Samuel French, Inc. 1980 Print.
York: Samuel French,Inc., 1969. Print.
—―—. Faith, Hope and Charity. New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1989. Print.
Works Cited
BEMAN, DON. "Mario Lanza died 30 years ago, but his voice lives on." The Pittsburg Press 6
October 1989: C2. Web.
BOTTOMS, STEPHEN JAMES. Playing Underground. A Critical History of the 1960s Off-OffBroadway Movement. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2006. Print.
CANBY, VINCENT. "Film: 'Rent Control' New York Cast." The New York Times 4 March 1984. Web.
Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit : Gale Cengage Learning, 2008. Print.
DREW, BERNARD. "'Lady Liberty' Lots of Baloney." The Evening News 16 June 1972: 48. Web.
FEINGOLD, MICHAEL. "Fighting the family dragon." The Village Voice 6 June 1974: 81. Web.
FOGLIO, ANTONIO. Vendere alla grande distribuzione. La strategia di vendita e di trade markting.
Milano: Franco Angeli Edizioni, 1996. Print.
FURIA, PHILIP. Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
GLOVER, WILLIAM. "La Mama Movement Is Getting Around." The Blade 2 November 1969: 10.
GUSSOW, MEL. "A Noted Playwright Is Dead; His Body Cannot Be Traced." The New York Times
6 March 2002. Web.
—―—. "Stage: Good-Natured 'Horse Opera'." The New York Times 19 December 1974. Web.
—―—. "Theater: Leonard Melfi’s 'Butterfaces'." The New York Times 1 March 1981. Web.
KOEHLER, ROBERT. "Follow That Cab." Los Angeles Times 9 October 1992. Web.
KOROLY, JOHN MICHAEL. "Club Hellfire." The Off Off Broadway Review 1996. Web.
OLIVEIRA, PEDRO. "$1.25M Payout in bungled death, burial of playwright Melfi." New York Post
26 January 2014. Web.
SAINER, ARTHUR. "Theatre: Study In Color." The Village Voice 6 August 1964: 12. Web.
SILL, PAUL. "Faith Baldwin, Novelist, Dies." Wilmington Morning Star 20 March 1978: 2-D. Web.
SIMON, JOHN. "Long Island Longueurs." New York Magazine 16 January 1989: 80. Web.
SMITH, MICHAEL. "The Good Scene: Off Off-Broadway." Tulane Drama Review, Summer 1966:
159-76. Web.
Webster’s New World College Dictionary.Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. Print.
WETZSTEON, ROSS. "Theatre: Niagara Falls." The Village Voice 26 January 1967: 29 Web.
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< http://www.nytimes.com/1985/09/02/arts/taylor-caldwell-prolific-author-dies.html >
< http://www.nytimes.com/1987/05/16/obituaries/rita-hayworth-movie-legend-dies.html >
< http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/07/movies/june-haver-movie-star-in-frothy-wartimemusicals-dies-at-79.html >
< http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/13/movies/13johnson.html >
< http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/07/movies/esther-williams-who-swam-to-movie-fame-diesat-91.html?_r=0 >
< http://www.nytimes.com/movies/person/1146/June-Allyson/biography >
< http://www.nytimes.com/movies/person/17761/Gloria-DeHaven/biography >
< http://www.nytimes.com/movies/person/25962/Judy-Garland >
< http://www.nytimes.com/movies/person/28037/Betty-Grable/biography >
< http://www.nytimes.com/movies/person/50098/Ricardo-Montalban/biography >
< http://www.nytimes.com/movies/person/57520/Jane-Powell/biography >
< http://www.nytimes.com/movies/person/97107/Gene-Kelly >
< http://www.nytimes.com/1984/05/04/movies/film-rent-control-new-york-cast.html >
< http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/06/nyregion/a-noted-playwright-is-dead-his-body-cannot-betraced.html >
< http://www.nytimes.com/1981/03/01/theater/theater-leonard-melfi-s-butterfaces.html >
< http://www1.nyc.gov/site/dsny/about/inside-dsny/history.page >
< http://www.oobr.com/top/volTwo/nine/OOBR-HELLFIRE.html >
< http://www.palisadespark.com/faqs.html >
< http://www.radiocity.com/about/history.html >
< https://www.sarahlawrence.edu/about/History_of_the_College.html >
< https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=KEtq3P1Vf8oC&dat=19700402&b_mode=2&hl
=it >
< https://books.google.it/books?id=6OcCAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA62&dq=leonard+melfi&hl=it&sa
lfi&f=false >
< https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=QgBOAAAAIBAJ&sjid=54sDAAAAIBAJ&hl=it&p
g=6222%2C2876795 >
< https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=wOwjAAAAIBAJ&sjid=K4wDAAAAIBAJ&hl=it&
pg=5804%2C1133922 >
< https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=rQNOAAAAIBAJ&sjid=KYwDAAAAIBAJ&hl=it&
pg=4828%2C4953350 >
< https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=bNpHAAAAIBAJ&sjid=CowDAAAAIBAJ&hl=it&
pg=6127%2C5312187 >
< https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=5m8QAAAAIBAJ&sjid=LIwDAAAAIBAJ&hl=it&
pg=1816%2C2080673 >
< https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=NRAQAAAAIBAJ&sjid=KYwDAAAAIBAJ&hl=it
&pg=4793%2C422631 >
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