Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Excerpt, The Art of Losing (a play)

The Art of Losing is a two-act play focusing on a family of brothers and their female cousin and several friends, including two “interracial” couples. During the play these relationships are both celebrated and challenged—and challenged not only by the demands of the individual personalities and philosophies involved but also by a terrible act of police violence and an urban bombing with an international source. (The play was partly inspired by the Amadou Diallo killing and the World Trade Center attack, but it is a fictional drama.)


Patrick – professor of literature; African-American, late 30s

Margaret – Patrick’s friend and cousin, smart, pretty, strong, an assistant editor; African-American, late 30s

Adam – brilliant graduate student, agile charming; of Euro-American descent, late 20s

Raimi – Patrick’s brother, a street vendor of art, fragrances, cloth; West African, late 20s

Risku – Patrick’s brother, a businessman; West African, late 30s

(Among other characters)

Act 1, Scene 5

(Another night, weeks later. Patrick at home, on the phone, while his brother Raimi sits at the table doodling, watching, listening. Background music: Isley Brothers’ version of “Brother, Brother”)

Patrick – (into the phone) Yes, Saul, I know, your father didn’t love you as a child but you’re thirty-five, certainly something has happened in your life since then. (pause) I’m not unsympathetic. It just seems to me that at some point, one has to accept what is. If you’re unhappy with a situation, you have to change it, get out of it, or change your attitude to it. (pause) Well, your father doesn’t love you. What can you do about it? (pause) Exactly. You can do nothing. (sadly) Okay. Good night. (Hangs up the phone. Walks toward Raimi) I cannot tell you how often we’ve had that conversation. He’s totally unaware of how repetitive that conversation is. How can you be self-conscious without self-knowledge?

Raimi – It sounded funny.

Patrick – It is funny if you’re not the one having the conversation. It felt as if I were pouring water into a bucket with a hole in it, so pointless. (He stares into the distance, thinking)

Raimi – Are you alright?

Patrick – Yes. I’m fine. I hope Risku gets here soon. I’m hungry. I have some French rolls and cheese if you want to have something while we wait. There’s some sliced ham that I picked up too.

Raimi – I can wait. I’m looking forward to having a lot of your okra stew. Did you put seafood in it?

Patrick – (laughs) Yes. There’s shrimp, fish, and bits of lobster in it. Also some ham. It’s got tomatoes and onions and eggplant and okra. I wanted to put some garlic in it but Risku—

Raimi – He doesn’t like garlic. I don’t know why.

Patrick – Too strong a flavor, I guess. Some people don’t like certain foods because they’re unhealthy or fattening. He has temperamental disagreements with food. Yogurt has no backbone. Garlic has too strong an attitude, it won’t stay in its place. (pause) You know he’s going to ask you again to come and work for him. He’s very proud of the new chain store he opened and doesn’t see why he should give strangers the opportunity to improve themselves when he could be giving the opportunity to his own brother.

Raimi – I don’t want to work in his store.

Patrick – I know. He knows too.

Raimi – He doesn’t care what I want.

Patrick – He wants you to want what he wants; he wants you to want something he understands. He doesn’t understand your being a street vendor and he doesn’t understand your wanting to be a musician.

Raimi – I don’t want to be a musician. I am a musician. Just because I’m not a famous musician, doesn’t mean my music’s not real or good.

Patrick – I know that Raimi. I’m just telling you what he thinks. (wearily) I don’t know why—we both know what he thinks and what he’s likely to say. I wonder if it ever occurs to him to think differently, just to see what it might be like.

Raimi – (laughs) A thought experiment.

Patrick – I don’t understand why he doesn’t get bored saying and thinking the same thing all the time.

Raimi – Most people don’t.

Patrick - I’m thinking of making a sweet potato pone.

Raimi – When?

Patrick – Over the weekend, I think. Probably for Sunday’s lunch.

Raimi – What’s in it?

Patrick – I have to mix sweet potatoes with pumpkin, ginger, butter, and coconut, with water, sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, and raisins, and pour it in pie dishes and let it bake for about an hour.

Raimi – Save me some.

Patrick – You’re not free on Sunday?

Raimi – A lady who stopped by my stall wants me to go up and see her on Sunday.

Patrick – (smiles) Lucky you. I wonder why all these women feel free to give you their numbers?

Raimi – They know where I work; they know where to find me.

Patrick – You’re the nicest of the three of us. You always were. (wistfully) Risku was always the most serious about money and impressing other people, and I was always into the books, and you were always interested in other people, in talking to them, getting to know them, doing things for them. (sourly) The three of us could probably make one interesting man.

Raimi – (laughs) Is Margaret coming by?

Patrick – Not tonight. She said she was going to see a film with someone from her office. I got the recipe for the sweet potato pone from her. She’ll probably be here on Sunday.

Raimi – Is she still liking her job?

Patrick – She likes the job, not her boss, and not liking the boss colors how much she can enjoy the job.

Raimi – That’s why I like being my own boss. The weather and the cops are the only things I ever have to worry about.

Patrick – I suppose bosses are good for something.

Raimi – You’re a boss.

Patrick – It’s a bit different in a university. It’s more like we’re working on the same project and less like being on a job. It’s not just about the effort but about the thought that goes into the effort, the process too.

Raimi – I wonder if your secretary agrees.

Patrick – (smiles) She probably doesn’t, but you’ve been to my office and you know I don’t treat her badly.

(The doorbell rings. Patrick answers. It is Risku, who comes in, dressed in a suit.)

Patrick – Straight from the office brother?

Risku – It was a busy day. I thought of canceling tonight, but—

Patrick – I’m glad you didn’t. Want something to drink?

Risku – A cold beer.

Patrick – Coming up. (Goes to refrigerator. Risku and Raimi exchange greetings, warm but wary.)

Risku – Something smells good.

Patrick – It’s okra stew.

Risku – I had a hard day. People play rough in this country. Money is all that matters.

Patrick – Not all.

Risku – Money is at the bottom of everything.

Raimi – That’s not true.

Risku – The only people who don’t think that’s true are people not paying their own way.

Raimi – Things have been a little slow at the stand. I’ll pay you back when business picks up.

Patrick – (to Raimi) I can repay him for you.

Risku – Raimi borrowed from me—he’s the one who owes me.

(The three brothers look at each other. Risku opens his beer, takes a swallow.)

Risku – What is that folded cloth doing on the table?

Patrick – It’s there because I put it there. Raimi gave it to me and I haven’t decided yet where I’m going to put it. Maybe I’ll use it as a tablecloth, or maybe I’ll use it as a wall hanging, or have something made from it. Some people come bearing gifts, and some people come bearing grudges.

Risku – Grudges? What have I said?

Patrick – Nothing yet. I just thought I’d try cutting you off at the pass.

Risku – You two always assume the worst of me.

Patrick – (smiles) If we usually get burned when we touch a flame, it’s safe to conclude that fire burns.

(Raimi laughs quietly)

Risku – Is that what you tell your students? I bet you teach them to disrespect authority.

Patrick – (laughs) If I did that, they wouldn’t respect my authority and I couldn’t teach them anything. However, I do teach them to think for themselves and look at the basis of all authority, its logic, its truth, its relevance, the social roots of its power.

Risku – What’s authority without mystery?

Patrick – (simply) Reality. Knowledge.

Risku – Your students will get nowhere in this world without obedience. Businessmen have a vision, a goal, and run the world, and when they give orders they want those orders followed. They don’t want a whole lot of questions, a whole lot of mouth and attitude.

Patrick – There are forms of work in which the goal is something other than making money, such as art or social services.

Risku – Idiots and lazy men go into those professions.

(The three brothers look at each other.)

Patrick – Maybe we should eat while we all still have the appetite. (Goes to kitchen to retrieve stew.)

Risku – Is Margaret coming?

Patrick – Not tonight.

Risku – I wanted to talk to her again about coming to work for me.

Patrick – (Returning with stew) We all can’t work for you brother.

Risku – (smiles) Why not?

Patrick – We have different interests. Anyway, if Margaret wouldn’t come to work at the college with me, what makes you think she’d want to work in your store? You know she wants some independence.

Risku – Independence? I’m talking about money in the bank.

Raimi – (laughs) Margaret is doing alright.

Risku – Well it’s true she hasn’t borrowed any money from me. (watches the effect of these words on Raimi before continuing more quietly) I always wanted to have a family business, to have my people around me.

Patrick – That’s funny. Usually when I want to have people around me I act in a way that’s attractive as opposed to repellent.

Risku – Once someone learned the business, we could collaborate on improving it. It would be a more equal relationship.

(Patrick and Raimi look at each other.)

Risku – (to Patrick) You worked for me one summer.

Patrick – (winces, shakes his head as if to dislodge the memory) Yes.

Risku – And?

Patrick – That was a long time ago. I was glad to have the money but the work wasn’t for me.

Risku – You prefer a job that lets you daydream.

Patrick – I prefer a job that encourages me to think, that allows me to deal with a complicated sense of reality, one that respects who I am and my own experience of the world.

Risku – (to Raimi) You just hate authority.

Raimi – I like being on my own, doing my own thing.

Risku – That vendor stand is so small-time.

Patrick – (to Risku) You seem too often like a man who doesn’t mind burning down a forest in order to clear a path in which to walk.

Risku – I’m just being honest.

Patrick – That’s not as admirable as it sounds. Being honest is fine when you have a mind that is both rigorous and generous, but if not…

Raimi – (smiles) There’s nothing like blood sports. Who needs bull-fighting?


Patrick – Is there anything we can talk about tonight that won’t hurt or irritate one of us?

(They look at each other. They begin to eat quietly.)

(End of Scene)

(c) DG, 2002