Monday, July 22, 2002

Bobby Kennedy Lives (monologue)

Scene I, opening: Black curtain backdrop. Downstage left: podium lectern fitted with four microphones of the major networks: CBS, ABC, and NBC. Opening sequence: sound of loud electronic humming.

Segue into the voice of a TV anchor announcing Kennedy’s arrival and pre-speech at the Ambassador Hotel in LA. (taped segment). Tape is interrupted by four gunshots. Two are real and two are stylized—they echo and fade.

Bobby Kennedy staggers through curtains onto stage. His shirt is bloodstained. He grabs one curtain, tearing it down behind him. Audience sees taped TV segments playing on screen behind the torn curtain.

Bobby Kennedy collapses downstage right, slumps onto the floor clutching his neck.

Mortally wounded, he mumbles the name of his wife. He screams…

Bobby Kennedy speaks: Ethel!

(Sound falls away. Silence. Screen behind torn curtain goes black like an old B&W TV with white spot in the middle, resembling a bullet, then fades back. Through Bobby’s dying sequence, a tape of the shooting with people screaming and newscasters describing the scene. Spot light on him lying on the floor; the spotlight shrinking down and fading as he dies—until there’s only darkness at the moment of death.

Segue music from Camelot.

Bobby slowly awakens, comes to consciousness. He shakily arises to his feet and begins to realize what’s happened. He’s dead but is still present. He begins to realize the ramifications of his death—to his wife, his children and others. Talks with himself. He’s omniscient.)

Bobby Kennedy speaks: Ethel. Migod! What happened?

(Looking up at God, a blazing white spotlight, he asks himself) My speech; I can’t remember it… what was I saying? Wait! I remember. That’s it: the crowd was getting unruly… someone said, “Out the back way, Bobby,” … Why am I here? … and the busboy in the kitchen, I turned to shake his hand, and… and… it was all blinding chrome and steel and lightning … as if… as if… (he recites to himself) Something about stars… no, that was for Jack… It is not the end of violence… No, that was for King. (He shakes his head, no, no in disbelief.) God! What have they done?

(He hears a voice in his head: GOD: “It’s nearly time. Let’s get on with it.”) What do you mean?

(Bobby notices the podium (downstage left), wonders why it is there, then he slowly walks towards it. He hears the sound of a faint question which is coming from a reporter. He’s stumbled into a press conference. The questions are understood by the answers.)

Now gentlemen, I’ll field your questions all in good time. Why did I go into politics? Pop always said we could get a crack at the elephant’s back. Jack & I, we had a dream that we could take this great country in a new direction…. A dynasty? I guess you could call it that.

(Shielding his eyes with his hand, he addresses the reporters) It’s hot as hell in here, could you turn down the lights? … Thank you. At first, it was an accidental confluence of politics… We believed in those words. Civil rights is what this nation was founded on. We believed in them with all our hearts.

We … (pause) I still believe in them. (He realizes how much he cares.)

Jack was right: we were confronted with a moral issue. Here we were, spending 75 billion on armaments when we needed to take a stand right here in America on the War on Poverty. When I saw those children in Mississippi, I was outraged, and I asked myself: how could we let it happen in a country like this? This richest country in the world...

What am I going to do now? Why have I come back? I don’t know. (He contemplates.) No. I’ wasn’t afraid to speak the truth. When I was Attorney General... (Asks the press: What year is it?… Responds: 1968.)

Geez, I’m starting to forget things... I don’t think I have much time left, gentlemen... After Jack’s death (God rest his soul), they said I was a carpetbagger, but the people, they all turned out for me…. Not to oppose any other man but to oppose policy… In the last analysis… I beleive we can work together…

After Jack’s death, when the Canadians asked me to climb that mountain with Jim Whittaker, it was a first ascent, and no one knew how afraid of heights I was. How could I say no? What would Jack have said? I’d never live that one down. Believe me. The Kennedys don’t show fear. All that blinding snow.

When we got to the summit, Jim stopped me and he said, “You go first,” with tears in his eyes, and I planted the Kennedy banner in that snow…. Press planes, they were circling like vultures… if they only knew I was shaking down in my shoes, like now…

Jesus! I too want to know why I lived, did it matter? (Angry.) Why the hell are all of you here?

(Responds to hounding of the press:) Isn’t that rather begging the question, sir? I championed the cause of civil rights all my life…

Please, please, gentlemen, I’ll take the questions one at a time. I was his brother first, then I was campaign manager. No, I was Attorney General first, I was his brother second. No, I was not a zealot, but I believe in justice. It was a heaven and hell world... Prosecuting the mob bosses. Johnson didn’t want me as VP on account of civil rights.

And there was Vietnam…. Jack, I… I… yes I admit we made a mistake there. Yes. I regret Vietnam but we believed a tough stance was necessary. I admit I was wrong there. It still bothers me. War is not just a nation’s responsibility, it’s ours, we are all part of it… And when Johnson escalated the war…well….

Yes, well… (chuckling) Advice I'd give? Never let your mother introduce you at the podium… I’m telling you. Imagine her telling the entire world she spanked me with a ruler when I didn’t measure up. I could’ve died of shame. Embarrassing but effective; it got me the tea party votes.

See, we didn’t have time to build the campaign engine. Pop—he was our big publicity gun but after the stroke… He just hung his head down whether in shame or in sorrow—I couldn't tell—when I told him I was running. I was the third sun.

Hey! Could someone please turn those lights down? It's hot in here (he makes as if to unfasten his tie).

They say the nation was a court looking for a king. But the king is dead. Long live the king…. God bless Jack. When he shall die, cut him out into stars…. Is that what I am now? Kennedys don’t cry… no losers around here, Pop always said: It’s not what you are, it’s what people think you are.

Yes, that is correct. What did I read? Not that I had much spare time. The existentialists, the heroic writers, you know, the Greeks, the poets, Tennyson, Idylls of the King. Yes, well, the symphony… but I also enjoy country and western music.

Can I put a question to you?

What happens when you play a country & western song backwards? Give up?

Well, you get your truck back, you ger your wife back, you get your kids back, you get your job back…. (He’s laughing) That’s great…. Do you think you can play that campaign song backwards? Geez, I wish I had my wife and kids back (He shields his face with his hand, like Rodin’s “Thinker, to hide the fact that he’s grieving.)

OPTIONAL QUESTIONS: (Insert taped questions relevant for Bobby to ad-lib on) i.e.: Is it true you’ve had extramarital affairs? It’s been suggested Marilyn Monroe has been part of your life. Can you confirm or deny this statement, sir?

Stop!!! … What have we here, wolves at lambing time? I’m only human. You don’t know what it’s like to be a public servant. The press always on you, always after you, watching your every move. Me? I’m just a man. And…

I’m sorry. There are things I would do again differently. (Turns on the press maliciously and recites to himself) But I served you! You, the opinion makers…. Aww for chrissake….lighten up! Judge not lest you be judged.

(Stares at his feet in shame.) Honey, Ethel, honey, I do love you. God, I love my kids. (He lists them.) Other women? Marilyn? If there is one among you who is without sin, let him cast the first stone…

Now? But I need more time. I’ve only just begun. (Turns to leave, realizing his time’s up. He steps back to the podium.) Is there one final thing you’d like to say to the people, to your fellow man?

Tell Teddy: I am a part that all that I have met… Much abides in heroic hearts…Yes, to seek and to find and not to yield… Hope still lives on in the dream and the dream shall never die…

And tell him to lay off the drink. Yeah, there is. Well, I’ve lived and I guess from the look of it, I’ve died. The one thing I do know for certain is that the opposite of love is not hate. It’s too easy to hate. It’s not about being black or white. The opposite of love is indifference and ambivalence. Care for your fellow man.

Ask not what your . . Ah, shit. To hell with it… it's an undiscovered country from which no man returns, isn't it?

(Turns to walk off. Exits through the backdrop curtain.Two loud stylized gunshots ring out and merge into a drum tattoo. Lights down. Tin whistle of Minstrel Boy.)

© 2002 Maureen Hurley for Roy Conboy's MFA monologue class.

The genesis for this piece was based on a skeletal rough sketch for a collaboration I worked on with Neil O’Neill and Gary Mullan, from an outline which Neil wrote for Gary, an Irish actor whose resemblance to Bobby Kennedy is uncanny. My model was a poem by Adam Zagewski, an interview with composer Franz Schubert, who died young and in despair. You learn about his life only through his answers, not the questions.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Intangible Take 2

I never wanted the plane to land, but the Andes rose like a white dream puncturing the sky. All the blue leaked into the eyes of mestizos. Time flowed backward, lined up like basureños in shacks along the Apurimac. Lined up like the locked eyes of death on several continents. The snake dancer from the selva cursed me. I was banished from the garden. The bridge at San Luis Rey failed me. The six-legged nightmare rode on the smoke. Ask me what this means, I can’t read your history written in the smoke of the victor. The garua fog hid our feet. A gorge divides water from water, brings it together again. Except the L.A. river. What leads us on? A child’s face buried in the moon’s path.

She stored apples under her bed. She said she was afraid of time. The teeth of graveyards. Riderless horses. Fear of Eden. Fear of the scent of money, fear of poverty. Fear of the telephone in the dead of night. I said I stayed in my dreams. Memorized floor patterns, but specific moments never came. The desire to return was embedded in the fear of fear. But I said there are many fears to choose from. Fear of not growing up. Fear of control. Of growing up and not being in control. Or of growing up and being in control. What if I ran away and no one stopped me? That moment of star-crossed thresholds. Not saying, Now I lay me down to sleep. Saying, I see my future as nothing, becoming nothing. The thrones of angels. Fish with the hearts of men. Each belabored breath blinded by the light, I opened my eyes. Looking forward, looking back. My dreams littered with scorpions. Descend with eyes open wide, like Beatrice.

Do you remember when we danced face-to-face? Your mouth opened into my darkness. We swam to the ceiling. You flew into the light, grew fins. We needed to rearrange definitions of speech, of the forgotten rain. Kiss me while the bones of humanity learn to sleep in doorways, and eyes learn not to see. They bathe in the streets where privacy is closest held, yet farthest away. To suckle memory. Whose tongue in my mouth? Por el loro, he said. Van Gogh’s sunflowers weren’t gold enough in the city of bankers. Raucous words flock to the trees like wild parrots. The computer is the 13th muse.

Fear of your thoughts. A code trickling down my thigh. What I ought to have said. Or, if I said too much. Fear of my thoughts. The audience dreaming of an audience dreaming. On bulkheads facing the sea, and in stairwells facing dark alleys, fear the semen trapped or not trapped in translucent orbs, a tangible sign on all the continents. The bridge becomes a flamenco skirt for the moon. Who wears the moon’s mask? The lover’s hand under the dress. No mermaid’s tail. When I said love, I got religious. Learned to walk, then crawl. Post-modern love deconstructing beneath city clocks without hands. Orgasm is closest to art. I didn’t mention syringes or T-cells.

What are we willing to accept? Kennedy shot again and again. And now this. Everything post-catastrophe. The TV channel-surfing in an empty room. Think of random blue noise as a way of life. Intangible instructions. When will blood learn to become stone? Was it better than anything, walking on the moon? Were we ever in the garden? One thing is certain: Night is neither noble nor sacred; her indifferent legs are open wide.

See also

© 2002 Maureen Hurley