The Awakening of Kate Chopin
(KATE CHOPIN in a glamorous robe hides her manuscript inside a walnut desk drawer, locks it. Children’s cries offstage. KATE hurries out, forgetting her key.
OSCAR CHOPIN, pale and sickly, but better than he’s been in months, walks through in a tattered smoking jacket. He spots the key, opens the drawer, grabs her manuscript, which he’s never seen before and skims it, alarmed. Jangle of carriage bells. OSCAR puts the manuscript back, hurries out)
Sometime later, KATE enters the parlor in a fancy red dinner dress with a cigar. ALBERT SAMPITIE a stylish planter awaits.
ALBERT. I looked for you at your Store. Good, you weren’t in that.
KATE. YOU CAN’T COME IN. I’ve got to get ready for—
ALBERT. You look ready.
KATE.—Oscar’s homecoming celebration. He can’t have visitors.
ALBERT. Malaria’s not contagious.
KATE. He’s barely out of the hospital.
ALBERT(Holding up a card.) He invited me for an aperitif.
KATE. PLEASE GO. (Pause) I’ve got to fix—
ALBERT. (Going behind her) Put rouge on in front of me; I’ll be a rapt audience.
KATE. Living with boys I’ve lost my sense of style. I can play blackjack and—
ALBERT. I’ll continue to keep your books and report here.
KATE. The cotton season has ended.
ALBERT. Someone must tabulate how much hard cash is payable--
KATE. Don’t you have enough to do with all your own plantations?
ALBERT. Yes, but I managed this one before—remember? So balancing your books is easy.
KATE. We don’t need volunteers.
ALBERT. (Hands her a list) Your inventory is low. I’d a shipment coming. So, I added on—fabric, seeds…You’ve got a general store it should carry general merchandise
KATE. Last week it was harnesses…
ALBERT. It’ll put a few zeros in the books.
KATE. The week before, boots, saddles.
ALBERT. I know with women you have to feel right to accept money. Men, we’re excessive.
KATE. Oscar’s unaware of the inventory you’ve supplied.
ALBERT. Good. I like the lightning bolt flashes that go off in my brain when I do business with you, Kate. It makes me feel I’ve a purpose. (Takes her hand.) Money is the last bastion of sovereignty in this world.
KATE. Please remove your hand. You have beautiful hands.
(There is a cry, “Mama.” Offstage.)
KATE. Your wife won’t pick up the bolt of black taffeta she ordered so--
ALBERT. I don’t see her. I live in the carriage house.
KATE. On the same property?
ALBERT. Separate building way in back. (Holding fabric up) Gloomy fabric, next to red. Widow’s weeds are all she wears.
KATE. I don’t see why Loca wouldn’t—
ALBERT. Appreciate me? I’m too blunt.
KATE. Do you talk with her?
ALBERT. Infrequently. I put up with hopeless conversations, so I can visit the children. I let her expound for five minutes and then I talk about something she can’t relate to.
KATE. Why’d you marry her?
ALBERT. For a baby that later died.(Pause) And two that didn’t. I’ve a high need for freedom. (Pause) When my little girl passed, I wouldn’t let go of the dead thing. I got off my horse, crawled out on my land for hours and wept. A neighbor came along and thought I was dead.… I still feel guilty I can’t love her.
KATE. She’s agreed to the divorce?
ALBERT. If I give her everything. “I want the house, its contents and all the money you’ve got.” That’s what she said. “Take them,” I replied. It’s like she’s got so much, there’s nothing left. False gods.… I’m just protecting the children. When I threatened to claim my half, she set fire to the carriage house.
KATE. I heard about that.
ALBERT. Objects were never designed to replace the real anchors of life.
KATE. And what are they?
ALBERT. Friends like you. I’m happier about the divorce than I was about the marriage. What religion forbids divorce, if people are miserable and want to kill each other? We should torture our spouses for the Church? I’ve stayed married for two thousand years. Lived with a woman, blaming me for our dead children. She lost four out of six.
KATE. How did you get over it?
ALBERT. You never get over it. You get used to it. I spent too much time denying, clawing my way to sanity. Gave up warmth and companionship. Became a cowboy on the range; bucking and fighting… I rationalized coldness till it felt right to me. I work eighteen-hour days. Ride late into the night. I love my children, but I can’t stay with her for them. Hour by hour a part of me dies.
KATE. You don’t feel anything?
ALBERT. I do without. The servants say when I leave, Loca hums and sings. A part of her loves my misery.
KATE. But what do you want for your life?
ALBERT. To be selfish. When you’re selfish you’re true to yourself.
KATE. Is that all you want?
ALBERT. No, I want to be able to touch and hold someone. You’ve been in my dreams. The contents are blurry, but you’re very real. You don’t understand the rules, but I do. I don’t like shabby women. I’m embarrassed to be with them. It’s the whole woman that’s seductive, the way she moves, handles herself. It’s not just the body. It’s what’s underneath too, the soul. (Pause) Now that Oscar’s suddenly home, I needed to say that to you.
(Sound of someone approaching.)
KATE. Can I get you something?
ALBERT. Just your company.
OSCAR. For cocktails, I only want white oysters, white grapes, and champagne. . . . .Albert, you look wonderful. (They shake hands) Magnifique. You always dress so well when others dress so poorly. But you lose your life being punctual when everyone else is late.
ALBERT. A get well gift.
ALBERT. I may go to Colorado—to buy land.
KATE. (Stunned) And leave us… stranded — You never.. mentioned this before.
OSCAR. (Opening his Champagne gift) Veuve Cliquot—A French monk discovered this—so it’s bound to lift the spirits. My doctor told me I can have three drinks a day. That’s down from eight.
KATE. Truffles anyone?
OSCAR (To ALBERT) I‘d like to talk to you about agenting your cotton again in New Orleans.
ALBERT. Haven’t you read the paper?
OSCAR. I could give you a better rate. I made a New Year’s resolution. (Nervous laugh)I’m only befriending people who are fun or who I can make money with.
ALBERT. No one’s shipping out of New Orleans.
ALBERT. They’re using the railroads.
OSCAR. It would be like old times. Me there you here, meeting--
ALBERT. I’ve been forced to use eastern traders and the railroads. I don’t like it, but--
OSCAR. Change. We could join the Cotton Exchange and get a lead on--
ALBERT. Look. Auctions are being held throughout the state. Plantations being sold--
KATE. Oysters en brochette?
OSCAR. I hear the store is doing well.
Invited staged readings at the Jefferson Market Library. Staged readings at the National Arts Club, HB Studios and the Pen and Brush, 2004.