[CONSUELO and BARON REGNARD sit backstage. She wears her stage costume. He wears a tuxedo. The sound of the evening performance can be heard in the backgroundlaughter, shrieks, music, and applause.]
CONSUELO: It was nice of you to come tonight, Baron.
BARON: I didn’t have much choice. Your father made it very clear that if I didn’t come he would transfer the invitation to a certain Marquis Justi.
CONSUELO: Oh, he’s only trying to make you jealous. I’ve heard him speak of the Marquis, but I’ve never even seen him.
BARON: He’s a very rich man. And you father is very clever.
CONSUELO: Why do you say that?
BARON: Did you like the jewels I sent?
CONSUELO: They were beautiful.
BARON: Then why did you return them?
CONSUELO: Father made me. I didn’t want to. I even cried a little.
BARON: It was clever of him to return them. He’s positioning himself for a bigger prize.
CONSUELO: But they were so beautifulyour jewels.
BARON: Not as beautiful as you, Consuelo.
CONSUELO: You’re going to make me blush.
BARON: Everyone is in love with you, you know. They all want to kiss that pretty little mouth of yours.
CONSUELO: Do you want to kiss my pretty little mouth, Baron?
BARON: I’d like to do more than that.
CONSUELO: Well … talk it over with father.
BARON: Your father won’t be satisfied unless I marry you. And I can’t do that.
CONSUELO: Why not? Isn’t that what this is all about?
BARON: Don’t be absurd. I couldn’t possibly.
CONSUELO: Then why are you here?
BARON: I love you, Consuelo!
CONSUELO: But you just said
BARON: I can’t marry you, but I still want you!
CONSUELO: Are you suggesting
CONSUELO: I’m not your plaything, Barona toy to do with as you please.
BARON: And if I were that other acrobatwhat’s his name? Bezano? Would you refuse me then?
CONSUELO: Bezano’s all right, but he’s more interested in his horses than he is in me. Still, HE says that Bezano and I are the most beautiful couple in the world. HE calls us Adam and Eve.
BARON: Who is this HE?
CONSUELO: The new clown.
BARON: Ahh, yes.
CONSUELO: He’s so funny! He got fifty-two slaps yesterday! We counted them. Imagine, fifty-two slaps!
BARON: I don’t like him. I’ve seen the way he looks at you.
CONSUELO: Oh, don’t be ridiculous. HE only likes to talk. Half the time I don’t know what he’s talking about. It’s almost as if he was drunk.
BARON: I’m drunk! With love!
CONSUELO: But if you won’t marry
BARON: What if I shoot myself? Would you believe I love you then?
CONSUELO: Only if you leave a tragic note behind proclaiming your eternal devotion and calling me all kinds of pretty names.
BARON: Consuelo, you little minx, it’s unbearable! I’ve had hundreds of womenbeautiful women, every which way! But I never saw them! You are the first woman I have ever seen! Let me kiss you!
[The BARON grabs her roughly.]
CONSUELO: Don’t. Get up. Let go of my hand!
CONSUELO: Get up! It’s disgusting! You’re so fat!
[The BARON pulls away from her, his face red. Voices are heard approaching. The clowns enter, talking excitedly. HE leads them in his new costume and painted face.]
WALLY: A hundred slaps!
PAULIE: Bravo, HE!
Not bad! Not bad at all!
WALLY: He was the professor today, and we were the students. Here goes another!
[WALLY gives HE a clown’s slap. HE feigns surprise. Laughter. Everyone pats HE on the back. BEZANO rushes in, looking around anxiously.]
BEZANO: Consuelo! We’re on!
[CONSUELO rushes out with BEZANO. MANCINI enters and makes his way towards the BARON.]
MANCINI: What a success! How the crowd loves slaps! [Whispering.] Your knees are dusty, Baron. Brush them off. The floor is dirty in here.
[The BARON dusts himself off and exits.]
I’m an old clown, HE, and I know the crowd. But today, you have eclipsed methe clouds have covered my Sun.
[He strikes the Sun on his posterior.]
HE: But why didn’t you let me finish my speech? I was just getting started.
The crowd doesn’t want speeches! They want slaps! Believe me, I cut you off just in time!
PAPA BRIQUET: He’s right. This isn’t a church or a debate hall. It’s a circus. You forget yourself, HE.
HE: But they loved me!
PAPA BRIQUET: You were lucky. Your performance was sloppy. A good slap must be cleanright side, left side, and done with it. They will laugh and love you. Don’t muddy the effect with cheap theatricspolitics, religion, that sort of nonsense.
[A buzzer sounds.]
PAPA BRIQUET: To the ring! To the ring!
[The clowns rush back to the stage. PAPA BRIQUET stops HE.]
PAPA BRIQUET: Not you, HE. Take a break.
[PAPA BRIQUET exits. Silence. MANCINI produces a flask of whiskey and drinks.]
HE: Drinking tonight, Count?
MANCINI: Might as well.
HE: Trouble with one of your girls?
MANCINI: How did you know?
HE: Just a guess.
MANCINI: You should see her. Little temptress. Black hair. Eyes as dark as night. And her smile! So … bewitching! Like the devil’s bride! Like Eve, holding the apple! Her eyes sparkling! Just daring you! Laughing! Begging you to take a bite! Promising untold pleasures if you just have the courage to grasp itto take her in your arms! How can a man be expected to resist such temptation?! [Pause.] You’re the only one who understands me, HE. Why don’t I like things which aren’t forbidden? Why should I always, even at the moment of ecstasy, be reminded of some stupid law?! This passion, I’m telling you, it’ll turn my hair gray and lead me to the graveor prison. [Pause.] Is it really my fault if she’s a few years younger than the law allows? I mean, how was I to know? Eh? Besides, it’s only our society, you know, that makes it such a crime. In the old days, it was quite normal. It was expected. Everybody did it. Mary and Joseph even. She was only thirteen, you know. Nobody judges them. And you can’t tell me she didn’t know exactly what she was doing! This girlnot the virgin mother. I didn’t teach her anything, if you know what I mean. But her parents don’t see it that way. And they know they’ve got me by the throat. [Pause.] I can’t go to jail, HE. I wouldn’t last a month. I’m an intellectuala man of refinement. The jails in this country … they don’t discriminate between men of my kind and real criminals. They’d eat me alive.
HE: Isn’t there any way of settling the matter out of court?
MANCINI: Sure. Money. They want money. Which I haven’t got.
HE: And the Baron won’t help you?
MANCINI: The Baron knows all about my predicament! He knows he’ll get what he’s after, so he’s looking for a bargain. Trying to drive down the price. But what can I do? I’ve got my head in the noose. Sooner or later, I’ll be forced to give him Consuelo for a song. Twenty thousand. Maybe ten.
HE: That’s quite a bargain. For him, I mean.
MANCINI: Did I say it was anything else? I don’t want to do it. But if this girl’s family doesn’t drop the charges soon, I’ll spend a good number of years in a prison cell, and I’m fairly certain I won’t find anything to my liking there!
HE: Give Consuelo to the acrobat.
MANCINI: Bezano? Are you joking? He doesn’t have any money. And besides, he doesn’t care for her any more than the Baron does.
HE: Then give her to me.
MANCINI: To you?! [Laughs.] Do you have some hidden fortune? Some magic lamp that can erase my troubles?
HE: I’m not joking.
MANCINI: I’ll never get used to those faces. I don’t care what they say, clowns aren’t funnythey’re scary as all hell!
HE: He won’t marry her. Play it however you like. He’s only looking for a little fun.
MANCINI: He’ll marry her, all right. As long as she doesn’t give him the milk for free.
HE: Consuelo isn’t educated. Any decent housemaid has better manners.
MANCINI: What use does a woman have for education? Put her in a pretty dress and what does it matter? Consuelo is an unpolished jewel, and only a real ass doesn’t notice her sparkle. Do you know what happened? I tried to polish her
HE: Yes, you hired a tutor. What happened?
MANCINI: I got frightened. It was going too fast. Another month or two and she would have realized she didn’t need me at all. So I dismissed him. [Laughs.] The clever old diamond merchants keep their precious stones unpolished to fool the thieves. My father taught me that.
HE: The sleep of a diamond. So … she’s only sleeping then. [Pause.] You’re wiser than I thought, Count.
MANCINI: Do you know what blood flows through the veins of an Italian woman? The blood of Hannibal and Corsini! Of a Borgiaand of a dirty Lombardi peasant! All possibilities, all forms are included in her, as in our national sculpture! Do you understand? Strike hereand out springs a washerwoman or a cheap street whore. Strike therebut carefully and gently, and out springs a queen, a goddess, the Venus of the Capitol, who sings like a Stradivarius and makes you cry with her beauty! An Italian woman
HE: But what kind will the Baron make of her?
MANCINI: What kind? A baroness! What else?
MANCINI: Why are you laughing? I don’t understand you. [Listening.] Why is it so quiet out there?
HE: Out there, it may be quiet. But in here [HE taps MANCINI’S forehead.] a whirlwind!
[An USHER enters with a letter.]
USHER #1: Excuse me … Count Mancini? The Baron asked me to give you this letter.
MANCINI: [Taking the letter.] The Baron? Where is he?
USHER #1: He left.
MANCINI: Left? [The USHER nods.] The devil take him! And his money!
[As MANCINI tears open the letter, the USHER turns to go.]
HE: Wait. Why is there no music? What’s going on out there?
USHER #1: It’s the act with Madame Xena and her lions.
[The USHER goes. MANCINI reads the BARON’S note for a second time.]
MANCINI: I can’t believe it!
MANCINI: It’s decided! He’s going to marry her! He’s going to marry Consuelo! My prayers have been answered! Congratulate me, HE! The Baron has swooped in with his fortune, and I’m saved!
[PAPA BRIQUET stumbles in, his face ashen.]
PAPA BRIQUET: Oh!
HE: Papa Briquet?
PAPA BRIQUET: Oh!
HE: What’s wrong?
PAPA BRIQUET: I … I can’t …
MANCINI: Has something happened? Has there been some sort of accident?
PAPA BRIQUET: I can’t watch! She’s insane! I think she really is! I can’t watch! They’ll tear her to pieces! Her lions
MANCINI: Oh, come on, Briquet. She’s always like that. What’s wrong with you?
PAPA BRIQUET: No! Today she’s really mad! She gone over the edge! Something’s snapped. The crowdthey watch like dead people. They’re not even breathing. Listen.
[They listen. Silence.]
HE: [Disturbed.] I’ll go and see.
PAPA BRIQUET: No! I don’t want to know! The red lionyou should see his eyes! It’s terrible!
HE: Get him something to drink.
PAPA BRIQUET: I don’t want anything! Oh, if only it were over!
[Suddenly the silence breaks, like a huge stone wall crashingshouts, wild screamshalf bestial, half humanmixed with music and applause. The men sigh, relieved.]
MANCINI: There! You see! I told you it was nothing, you old fool.
[Enter XENA, alone. She looks like a madwoman, or a drunken bacchante. Her hair falls over her shoulders, disheveled. She walks unseeing, though her eyes are afire. Behind her, the other performers slowly appear, pale and silent. They watch XENA, afraid to speakas if the slightest sound might snap her sanity.]
PAPA BRIQUET: You’re crazy! You’re a madwoman!
XENA: [Smiles, drunken with victory.] Did you see? Did you?! They do love me!
Get her a chair.
[BEZANO fetches a chair. XENA sits.]
XENA: Did you see, Bezano? My lions love me!
[BEZANO exits without answering.]
WALLY: [To XENA.] Do you want some music?
[WALLY plays his kazoo.]
PAPA BRIQUET: Get away from her! She doesn’t need musicshe needs to go home! She needs a doctor! Come on, I’ll take you.
PAULIE: You can’t go, Papathere’s still your number.
PAPA BRIQUET: To hell with my number.
CONSUELO: She … she didn’t feed them today.
PAPA BRIQUET: What?
CONSUELO: She didn’t feed them. The lions. I told her it was dangerous, but
XENA: I wanted them ravenous. I wanted to test them. And I did!
PAPA BRIQUET: You are insane! They’re wild animals! They could have eaten you alive!
XENA: They love medidn’t you see?
PAPA BRIQUET: Talk to her, HE. You’re a man of the world. Maybe she’ll listen to you.
HE: I … I don’t
PAPA BRIQUET: Explain it to her! Who is it possible for those hairy beasts to love?!
HE: Well … their own kind, I should think.
PAPA BRIQUET: Exactly! Their own kind! There! Do you hear!
Take it easy, Briquet. She isn’t herself tonight.
[XENA rises, trembling now, but still maintaining her queen-like composure.]
XENA: Take me home.
PAPA BRIQUET: Fine. Let’s go.
XENA: Not you. Finish the show. Mancini will take me.
PAPA BRIQUET: Mancini?
MANCINI: Of course. I would be honored, Madame Xena. [To PAPA BRIQUET.] Have no fear Briquet, I shall conduct her safely home.
[MANCINI guides XENA toward the door. The other performers drift slowly back to the ring. PAPA BRIQUET is the last to go, leaving only HE and CONSUELO. From the ring, music, shrieks, and laughter are again audible.]
CONSUELO: It’s so sad.
HE: Why did she do it?
CONSUELO: Because she isn’t happy.
HE: But to take such a chance
CONSUELO: If one isn’t happy … maybe it’s the best thing.
HE: Do you really believe that?
CONSUELO: I don’t know. Maybe.
HE: She’s in love with Bezano?
CONSUELO: Bezano? My Bezano?
CONSUELO: But she’s so old. [HE Laughs.] I like your costume, HE. Did you come up with it yourself?
is nice. All clowns are nice.
HE: I am wicked.
CONSUELO: [Laughs.] You? You’re the nicest of them all!
HE: On the outside. But on the inside …
[HE makes a scary face. She laughs.]
CONSUELO: Are you going to watch me perform tonight?
HE: I always do.
CONSUELO: I can see you. In the wings.
HE: You’re so beautiful.
CONSUELO: [Smiles.] Little Eve?
HE: Yes. But is Little Eve happy?
HE: What if the Baron asks you to marry himwill you?
CONSUELO: Of course. I don’t love him. But I’ll be his honest, faithful wife. What else am I going to dowork in the circus all my life?
HE: Are those your words“his honest, faithful wife”?
CONSUELO: Who painted the laughter on your face?
HE: This? I did it myself.
CONSUELO: How do you do itall of you? I tried once, but it was awful.
HE: I could teach you.
CONSUELO: That would be nice. Why are there no women clowns? Why is that?
HE: I don’t know. [Pause.] Give me your handI want to see what it says.
CONSUELO: A palm reading? Do you know how?
HE: Of course.
CONSUELO: You’re a man of many talents, HE. [HE studies her hand.] Will I be rich?
CONSUELO: No? [Laughs.] I’m not sure I like your palm reading!
CONSUELO: What’s wrong?
HE: The stars are talking.
CONSUELO: Oh. You’re taking this very seriously.
HE: It’s a serious matter. When the stars talk, you must listen. Their voices are distant and terrible. [HE studies her hand.] You stand at the door of Eternity, Consuelo.
CONSUELO: What does that mean? Will I live a long time?
HE: Yes. This linesee how far it goes? You will live forever.
HE: For all eternity!
CONSUELO: [Smiles.] Now I think you’re only telling me what I want to hear.
HE: No, it’s written here. And here. See. You have eternal life, love, and glorybut listen closely … you must not belong to anyone born of earth. If you marry the Baron, Consuelo, you’ll die.
CONSUELO: [Laughs.] Will he eat me?
HE: Don’t laugh at the stars, Consuelo. They’re far away, their rays are pale, we can barely see their sleeping shadows, but their sorcery is stern and dark. You stand at the gates of eternity. Your die is cast. You are doomed. And Bezano, who you love in your heart even though you don’t know it, he can’t save you. He’s doomed too. He, too, is a stranger on this earth, submerged in a deep sleepa little god who has lost himself. Forget Bezano
CONSUELO: You’re scaring me, HE. Why are you saying this?
HE: I’m trying to save you! I’m the only one who can!
CONSUELO: [Laughs.] You?
HE: Yes! Don’t laugh! Look. Here is the letter H. And the E. HE.
CONSUELO: He Who Gets Slapped? Is the whole thing written there on my palm?
HE: Yes! The stars know everything! Like the strings of a divine harp, spreading their golden rays! Like the hand of God, giving harmony, light, and love to the world! Forget the boy! I love you, Consuelo!
CONSUELO: Let go of my hand.
HE: I speak the language of your awakening! Accept your god, who was thrown down from the summit like a stone! Accept your god who fell to the earth in order to live with you in the drunkenness of joy! Of ecstasy! I love you! I
[CONSUELO slaps HE hard across the face. He steps back.]
HE: What was that?
CONSUELO: A slap! You forget who you are. You are He Who Gets Slapped! Some god!
HE: Slap me again.
HE: I need it for my play. Slap!
CONSUELO: For your play?
CONSUELO: Then … you were only playing? HE … I’m so sorry. Why did you play so seriously that I believed you? Here, then.
[She touches his cheek with her fingertips.]
HE: You are a queen, and I am the fool who is in love with you. Didn’t you know, Consuelo, that every queen has a fool, and he is always in love with her, and they always beat him for it. He Who Gets Slapped.
CONSUELO: No. I didn’t know.
HE: Yes. Every queen. Beauty has her fool. Oh, how many fools she has! Her court is crowded with them, and the sound of slaps never ends, even through the night! But I never received such a sweet slap as the one given just now by my little queen.
[The USHER enters, followed by a GENTLEMAN from the audience, dressed in black, very respectable. The USHER points at HE.]
USHER #2: [To the GENTLEMAN.] Is he the one?
GENTLEMAN: Yes, thank you.
CONSUELO: [To HE.] You have a visitor?
CONSUELO: I’ll leave you alone, then. Thank you for cheering me up.
[HE nods. CONSUELO exits along with the USHER. Silence as the two men stare at one another.]
GENTLEMAN: Is it really you under all that makeup?
HE: There’s no use pretending. You’ve already figured it out.
GENTLEMAN: I almost don’t believe my eyes.
HE: What do you want?
GENTLEMAN: You haven’t forgiven me, I see.
HE: Is she here? My wife?
GENTLEMAN: Oh, no! No. I’m all alone.
HE: Have you left her already?
GENTLEMAN: No. [Pause.] We have a son. [Pause.] After your disappearance … when you left that insulting letter
HE: Insulting? Are you still able to feel insults? [Losing his patience.] Why are you here?! What do you want?!
GENTLEMAN: There are things we need to talk over
HE: Talk over?! Do you really believe we have anything to talk about?!
GENTLEMAN: Perhaps we should go somewhere a little more discreet. Your home?
HE: This is my home.
GENTLEMAN: Someone might interrupt us.
HE: Talk fast.
GENTLEMAN: May I sit down?
GENTLEMAN: I’ve been looking for you for almost a year. But tonight … it was a complete accident. I was in town for business. I have no friends here, so I went to the circus of all places. And here you are! [Pause.] Everybody thinks you’re dead. I’m the only one who didn’t believe it. I knew somehow. It just didn’t seem possible
HE: Your sondoes he look like me?
GENTLEMAN: Why would he look like you?
HE: Widows often have children by the new husband who resemble the old one. Or did you manage to avoid that misfortune?
GENTLEMAN: He’s the spitting image of his father.
HE: And your book is a big success, I hear.
GENTLEMAN: Are you trying to insult me?
HE: [Laughs.] Touchy, touchy! Why were you trying to find me?
GENTLEMAN: My conscience
HE: You don’t have a conscience. [Pause.] You want to know what I think? I think you were afraid you hadn’t robbed me of everything, so you came back for one more passjust to make sure.
GENTLEMAN: That’s ridiculous.
HE: Would you like my fool’s cap with its bells?! Or is it too big for your bald head?!
GENTLEMAN: It isn’t my fault if your wife
HE: The devil take my wife!
GENTLEMAN: I know you’re angry. It’s understandable, of course. And I’m sure my success hasn’t helped matters. [HE laughs.] It wasn’t entirely deserved. I admit that.
HE: Not entirely!
GENTLEMAN: But you were always so indifferent to fame and glory. What does it really matter if a rival finally came along who
HE: [Another burst of laughter.]
Rival! Youa rival!
GENTLEMAN: [Growing pale.] But my book
HE: You dare call it that?! Your book?! In front of me?!
GENTLEMAN: I’m a very unhappy man.
HE: You’re a fakethat’s what you are. An impostor. You talk about your bookyour great success. And it’s true, there isn’t a newspaper or journal to be found in which you and your book aren’t favorably mentioned. Everyone loves you. You’re the man of the hour! Who remembers me? No one. I’ve been banished to obscurity. And the critics were glad to see me go, too. It was too much effort to extract thought from my heavy abstractions. It overworked their poor little brains. But youthe great vulgarizer! You made my thoughts comprehensible even to pigs and horses! They don’t have to think anymore. They don’t have to reason. You’ve absolved them of that. They simply read your words and spout them back like some sort of silly mantra. You dressed my Apollo in a second-hand suit, my Venus in a cheap dress, and gave my principled hero the ears of an ass! But what do you careyour career is made. No one is conscious of the theft. They applaud you wherever you go. Other writers imitate you. You’ll be known as the father of an important movement. Meanwhile, I can’t pick up the paper without being confronted by faces in which I recognize the traits of my own children. My literary children. The fruit of long years of devotion to my craft. Countless hours, locked away in my study, struggling to unlock the secrets of a new language, a new vernacular, stripping away conventions. And I succeeded. I finally did it! Yet, none of my children recognize me. I’m a stranger. They know only you. It isn’t enough that you’ve stolen my wifeyou’ve stolen my children as well! My legacy! And now you come to me because … why? You feel guilty? You want my blessing? You want me to pat you on the back and tell you it’s okay?! Fine. It’s yours. It’s all yours. Take it! My wife! My children! My ideas! Assume all rights! You are my lawful heir! [Pause.] It’s funny. There was a time when I loved you … even thought you a little gifted. Youmy empty shadow.
GENTLEMAN: I am your shadow. And I hate you for it.
HE: What a comedy!
GENTLEMAN: I’m respected. Famous. I have your wife, yes … but she still loves you. Our favorite discussion is about your genius. She’s aware of it, you see. We are aware of it. My sonshe’ll raise him to be like you. She’ll mold him into your image. She’ll feed him your thoughts. Even in bed, when I hold her in my arms, when I look into her eyes, we’re never aloneyou are always there, hovering over us like a ghost. And if I try to bury myself in my work, in my booksthere you are again! Everywhere! It’s always you! I’m never alone! Never myself! Even in my dreams, I find myself staring at your hateful image, looming, as if in some carnival mirror!
HE: It’s beautifulisn’t it? The way things turn out. The victim proves to be the thief, and the thief complains of theft! [Laughs.] Listen, I was wrong. You aren’t my shadow. You’re only the crowd. The audience.
GENTLEMAN: I wish you really had died.
HE: Maybe I did.
HE: You have nothing to fear from me. I’m never going back. That’s why you’re hereyes? To make sure?
GENTLEMAN: I … I suppose so. Yes.
HE: Then you have your answer.
GENTLEMAN: You won’t change your mind?
HE: No. Your secret is safe.
GENTLEMAN: All right. [Pause.] Do you mind if … if I visit the circus every now and then? Just to watch youfrom the crowd. I won’t bother you. I’ll keep my distance. I only want to understand your transformation. Knowing you as I do, I can’t believe you’re here without some sort of ideasome plan. But what plan? That is what intrigues me.
HE: The circus turns no one away.
GENTLEMAN: All right, then. Thank you.
[The GENTLEMAN offers his hand, but HE does not take it.]
GENTLEMAN: You won’t take my hand? We’re parting forever.
HE: Not forever. We’ll meet again in the next lifein the
. I trust you’ll be there as well?
GENTLEMAN: [Hesitates.] I hope so.