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The Bacchae 2.0

by Charles L. Mee, Jr.

based on the play by Euripides

A Note on the Text:

This piece was developed in collaboration with Greg Gunter as dramaturg
and first performed in l993 in the Mark Taper Forum's Festival of New
Work, where it was directed by Brian Kulick.

The text for the piece, composed in the way that Max Ernst made his
Fatagaga pieces at the end of World War I, has been based on, or taken in
part from, among others, Euripides, Georges Bataille, Klaus Theweleit,
Wilhelm Stekel, "insane" texts from the Prinzhorn Collection in
Heidelberg, Valerie Solanas's SCUM Manifesto, Joan Nestle's Femme-Butch
texts, Pat Califia, Jeanne Cordova, Barbara Duden, Mary Maclane, Aimable
Jayet, Sei Shonagon.

Dionysus,
a transvestite in a white pleated linen skirt,
combat boots,
an orange silk blouse or tunic,
a cut-off woman's nylon stocking on his head, knotted at the top,
a gold cigarette holder
five days' growth of beard
enters the stage at a dignified pace,
takes his place in the pool of light,
turns front,
holds for a moment.
Then he begins to whirl very slowly, like a dervish,
at center stage,
in silence.

After some time, we hear a lone flute play.

A woman enters and walks with simple strides to another slowly appearing
pool of light on stage, turns front, holds for a moment.

Then she begins to whirl slowly.

This woman, and the others who follow her in the next moments, are all
"3rd World" women.

Several might be from Africa. One from the Middle East. One from South
America. And there might also be one or two others, also women of color,
but from Japan or China or Indonesia, or elsewhere.

These women have many qualities, as we will see in the course of the
piece, but all of them must, first of all, be artists: dancers, singers,
operatic singers, players of musical instruments, Butoh performers,
animal trainers, herders of peacocks or herons, or possessed of other
extraordinary and highly developed arts that they perform with such power
and beauty as to break your heart with that alone.

These women are related--politically, historically, and spiritually--to
the agrarian, democratic, matriarchal Minoans, who were always shown
bare-breasted in Minoan art. Whether or not these women are bare-
breasted, they should have large, flowing skirts of spectacular colors,
wonderful hair, hundreds of bright ribbons in their hair, astonishing
necklaces or other pieces of jewelry.

So they are not just women, not just third world women, not just people
from the revolutionary periphery, not just artists, but Dionysian
artists.

It might be thought politically incorrect to bring women from other
countries into this piece, treating them as "other" and "exotic"--and
better to cast modern American urban women instead. I could be wrong, but
I think that is a cop-out. These women should be foreign; they bring
something profoundly different, alien into the world of this piece--deep
passions from origins unknown to the world of the play. This was
Euripides' intention, and mine. And it may be too easy for audiences
today to think they understand modern American urban women even when they
don't. In any case: these are foreign women; we don't know them.

It would be best if the women were accompanied onto the stage by a live
orchestra that played flutes, drums, Indonesian gongs and bells, donkey
jaws, the kora, balaphon, sitar, cymbals, and other instruments. And if
some of them played instruments themselves.

We should hear a beautiful song in keeping with the trance-like whirling,
something related to soul music.

Or one woman might enter now, step to a microphone and sing a torch song.

Dionysus steps forward from the chorus to speak, as the flute continues.

He is proud, aristocratic, flirtatious, casually dismissive,
contemptuous, with an occasional moment of dry wit, and savagery.

DIONYSUS
Welcome are all the earth's lands, each for its kind,
Welcome are lands of pine and oak,
Welcome are lands of the lemon and fig,
Welcome are lands of wheat and maize, welcome those of the grape,
Welcome are the lands of sugar and rice,
Welcome the cotton lands, welcome those of the white potato and sweet
potato,
Welcome are mountains, flats, sands, forests, prairies.

I am Dionysus, the son of Zeus,
returned to the land where I was born.

My mother was Semele, known to some as the Earth Mother.

It was she, the daughter of Kadmos, the king of this land,
who fell in love with Zeus
and asked him to reveal himself in his full glory as a god.
And when he did,
revealing himself at once as a bolt of lightning,
she was burned to a crisp.
Gods hold nothing back when they make love.
And from that union I was born.
From that union I learned the power of abandon.

There are those who say
that I have the power,
to drive people to share my insanity.
That I have already driven all the women of this city
into the mountains,
where they conduct strange rituals
of sexual abandon,
--and other insidious perversions.
So that I ought to be driven from the city.

[he shrugs]

I have just returned from places
where it is understood
that we all have astonishing, and unfathomable qualities within us--
from Lydia and Phrygia,
from the ancient lands of the Tigris and Euphrates,
from Arabia and Egypt.
[his gesture takes in the women who surround him]
These are my people now
from whom I have learned all I know.
I am their follower.

And I have returned--
in disguise--
to bring my knowledge to my cousin Pentheus,
who reigns as king now in this country,
given the throne by our grandfather Kadmos in his old age.
My cousin Pentheus,
who denies my divinity
denies all that I say, all that I believe, all that I feel, all that I
know, all that I am.
[gently]

Can this be permitted?

No.

[He turns abruptly and leaves.]

Music slams into his exit.
The whirling Bacchae
erupt in an ecstatic dance.
Leaps, shouts, clapping
to Zulu Jive music.
The dancers take turns with solos
while others are at the side singing and clapping.
An invigorating, sensual, sexual piece,
filled with intense pleasure
soaring spirits, joy.

Tiresias comes in, haltingly, at the end of this music.

The Bacchae part to let him take center stage.

He is an old man, and blind, with a white cane.

LIGHTS COME UP ON THE WHOLE STAGE, REVEALING

CHANDELIERS

18TH CENTURY STRAIGHT-BACKED, SILK-UPHOLSTERED CHAIRS

Tiresias wears a gray pinstripe Brooks Brothers suit--and a flamboyant
saffron tie and saffron handkerchief in the breast pocket of his suit
jacket.

He keeps shuffling forward as he speaks.

TIRESIAS
Kadmos!
I'm here!
Excuse me.
Would you say: Tiresias is here!
We agreed to meet.
He's not a shy man.
He would speak up if he were here.

KADMOS (entering)
Tiresias!

(He wears the same suit and hat as Tiresias and the same flamboyant
orange tie and breast pocket handkerchief.
He is older than Tiresias and bent almost double.
Kadmos and Tiresias are old liberals; they speak well and truly, with
understanding, and tolerance; they are blissful, voluble, bubbling over
with happiness, irrelevant. They are not old, slow-speaking men; they are
garrulous; their talk rolls on rapidly.)

Here I am!

(They shuffle toward one another to embrace, speaking all the time.)

They say to me: you're an old man, take it easy.
I say to them: what am I saving it for?
There are two sorts of people:
Those who say bring it on

TIRESIAS
I say bring it on.

(They embrace, hold one another for a moment with great affection,
patting one another,
then turn with only that moment's break and begin shuffling out together,
resuming their non-stop talk.

As they move toward one another, the Bacchae all slowly move back and to
the periphery, to stand or sit, and watch.)

KADMOS
Rather join the women in the mountains than stay here with the men.

TIRESIAS
Do what we please.

KADMOS
Bake bread.

TIRESIAS
Sing songs.

KADMOS
Bathe a woman's feet.

TIRESIAS
Eat olives.

KADMOS
Drink wine.
And think about those times
when men and women worked together in the fields
in the summer afternoons
and in autumn harvesting the grapes
the wheat and olives
a picnic in the fields at midday
telling stories
lying down together in the shade
to make love in the afternoon
and then go back to work in early evening
side by side
till dark
and time for some small supper
some wine, and friends,
dancing and sweet sleep together.

[He continues lightly.]

We gave up so much of life when we went to war.
I pray the gods may save us
from the life we've made on earth.

TIRESIAS
Yes. Well.
In the end,
we don't come through life
as we come through each experience along the way--
enriched or changed,
wounded or restored;
in the end we are all
each one of us
no matter who we are
completely
consumed by life.

[Kadmos looks at Tiresias in total incomprehension.]

(Pentheus enters. He wears a blue pinstripe Brooks Brothers suit with a
rep stripe silk tie, a white pocket handkerchief.

The contrast between the white establishment male and the chorus of women
of color should be immediately striking.

And, while the men talk, the Bacchae are seen from time to time brushing
one another's hair, bathing one another's feet, putting oil and perfume
on one another--very quietly, dreamily--or, at other times, agitated, and
pacing, or PROWLING around the periphery of the stage.)

Pentheus is accompanied by two aides, in blue suits, with sunglasses.)

PENTHEUS
Kadmos.
Tiresias.

(They turn to him.

Much of what Pentheus says in the following scene could be spoken with
deep anger and, later, fear. But I think it would be best to think of him
as a man who considers himself intellectually superior and charming. His
rage and fears are repressed. They come out in the form of wit, sarcasm,
scorn, banter, mockery, joking. Only occasionally, in a word or a phrase,
is the dark side revealed--and then quickly covered by a smile or some
other form of recovery. And only later, when he is more seriously
threatened, does the dark side come out fully as dark.)

What are these orange things you're wearing?
Are these the colors of Dionysus?

TIRESIAS
They are.

PENTHEUS
And have you brought these women into our house with you?

[SILENCE]

Is this your doing, then, Tiresias,
goading on my grandfather
to join the latest fashion in spirituality?

They say that Dionysus is a god.
But we know that his mother was as human as we are;
and to say that his father was divine,
well, surely this is a slander against the gods,
to accuse them thus of adultery with a woman of questionable reputation.
And now some disciple of this--fatherless son--has come to town
to preach to us
And what does he have to tell us?
That we should prefer instinct to knowledge.
Prefer passion to wisdom.
Prefer whim to plan.
Is this the advice the gods are giving us these days?

So.
Will a man who succumbs to every urge for immediate gratification
be capable of painting a portrait of Madame Claud Monet
reading on a summer afternoon,
her feet resting lightly on a pillow
embroidered with a peacock?

PENTHEUS' FIRST AIDE
Let's call a spade a spade.

PENTHEUS' SECOND AIDE
If I were the chief of police, I'd get a hundred good men, give them each
a baseball bat, and have them walk down Duval Street and dare one of
these freaks to stick his head over the sidewalk. That's the way it was
done in Key West the days that I remember.

PENTHEUS
I acknowledge my instincts.
I enjoy my passions.
I like to indulge a whim.

But there are other pleasures, too.
The pleasure of a well-ordered society that guarantees us peace in our
homes and in our streets.
The pleasure of living not in mud huts with roofs of thatch but in
buildings of marble that may take some careful planning to design, some
sense of balance and harmony so that they are built to stand, some years
of labor to complete, some sense of understanding to appreciate.
There is the pleasure of harmonious music.
The pleasure of elegant dance.
The pleasure of uncommon food, uncommonly prepared, and served.
The pleasures of civility.

KADMOS
I enjoy these pleasures, too.

PENTHEUS
I must admit, I find some satisfaction in elegance, precision,
exactitude, discipline, a certain rigor of intellect, a certain clarity
of mathematics, the grandeur of the law, the rules of perspective, the
game of whist, the deep and uniformly green lawns of the quadrangles of
Exeter and Andover, the Dow Theory, the traditional brown brogan for men,
the wool cardigan, the crystal paper weight, the finely crafted
automobile, the sound of a footfall on parquet floor, the touch of green
baize, the leather armchair. But more than this: the lucidity of Haydn,
the satisfaction of a syllogism, the human suffering of Beethoven
transmuted to the instruments of a symphony, the act of forethought in a
game of chess or contract bridge, the invention of the wheel, the glass
lens, the electric light, of cybernetics.

These are not contemptible artifacts of human existence.

KADMOS
On the contrary, I'd be the first to say....

PENTHEUS' FIRST AIDE
This is not sleaze. This is not a bullwhip up your ass. This is not
squash beetles on your chest. This is not suck my dick. This is not put
your dick in piss. This is not we want Rudi, especially in the nudi. This
is not touch my discharge. This is not plant your field with two kinds of
seed. This is not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material. This is
not cut your body for the dead. This is not eat your meat with blood in
it. This is not take a shit.

KADMOS
No doubt.
And yet,
one never has a grasp of the whole truth
instantaneously.
One arrives at the truth by learning a little here, a little there.
I speak as a man of the world,
don't you know

PENTHEUS
You speak of shifting with the breeze,

KADMOS
No, no.

PENTHEUS
The politician's day:
waking up every morning and asking yourself first thing:
now where can I compromise today?

PENTHEUS FIRST AIDE
Whose dick can I suck?

KADMOS
No, no, not that, but:
Let the other fellow in.

PENTHEUS' SECOND AIDE
Let the other fellow in.

PENTHEUS
Shall we accept any sort of behavior at a dinner party nowadays
just because what's done is done?
Shall we spit the prune pits out into our hands at the breakfast table
now?
Would this be what you mean by flexibility?

KADMOS
And yet, there is a human truth in politics.

PENTHEUS
Put both feet on the slippery slope you mean.

TIRESIAS
Rather place your life in the hands of others
where it rests in any case,
and learn to trust.
You can't defend yourself
against life itself.

PENTHEUS
Tiresias, my old friend,
I must tell you,
these are lovely sentiments,
but do you know what the women in the mountains say about you?
These women who left their homes
their husbands and their children
left the law behind them
and went out to live with one another,
women with women in the wild.

They say that men like us--all men, in fact, all men--are incapable of
empathy, love, friendship, affection, or tenderness, that a man is an
isolated unit, a half-dead, unresponsive lump of flesh, obsessed with
screwing, that a man will swim a river of snot, wade nostril-deep through
a mile of vomit if he thinks there'll be a friendly cunt waiting for him
at the other end. That a man, finally, is a creature whose sensitivities
will allow him to fuck mud.

Men should be extinguished, these women say, crushed and stepped on,
utterly extinguished.

Think of the dwarf rose
miniature roses of all sorts
tea roses, cabbage roses, moss roses,
their colors of vibrant oranges, delicate pinks,
deep crimsons, unique lavenders
tiny, exquisitely formed flowers
perfectly scuptured buds
that can vary in shape
from a kernel of corn
to a thumbnail-sized teardrop
unfolding with quiet grace
or exploding into a riot of color
a mass of tiny red petals.
Do you think these are the product of nature?
No.
They are the creatures of culture,
of care and nurturing,
of hybridization
at the hands of patient human beings.

FIRST AIDE
Of pruning.

SECOND AIDE
And training.

FIRST AIDE
Of taking care to remove the suckers, water sprouts,
crossed limbs, dead limbs
any growth that appears to be crowding out a healthy plant
or departing from a plant's normal shape

PENTHEUS
And what do you suppose the women are doing in the mountains?
Do you know they tell stories of the husbands they have left behind, and
what they would do to them if these men came out among them,
how they would like to have the dead bodies of their fathers
to hang them by the wrists from wires
choke them, choke them
till they come again and again

PENTHEUS FIRST AIDE
bite off their penises and burn them.

PENTHEUS
Civilization is a treasure!
It is complex, not simple.
One doesn't annihilate it out of impatience,
something that took hundreds of thousands of years,
the lives of millions known and unknown
to create
building from the blood and bone of generations
if you would download a human brain into a computer
you could hammer and throw
you could code and generalize
you'd have an array of right-handed actions
judging each scenario against memory
calculating utility estimates for each combination
switching from the Variations on a Theme mode
to the Choral Mode
by loading the same sequence
into all the serial buffers
so that
where there is a pair of sequences of basic act-types Epsilon sub 1 and
Epsilon sub 2
such that if S sub 1 wanted outcome e
and if S sub 2 wanted outcome not-e,
then S sub 1 would perform Epsilon sub 1 at certain times between t sub 1
and t sub n
and S sub 2 would perform Epsilon sub 2 at certain times between t sub 1
and t sub n,
and if S sub 1 were to perform Epsilon sub 1 at these times, and so forth
as you can see, then e would occur at t sub n
This is not something that an ape conceived of in a day
and you would sweep all this away.
Because now you know,
in this moment,
what you didn't know a moment before,
that it is all wrong.
And you are certain of it!
This is the wisdom that comes with age nowadays?

Do you think there haven't been times I've wanted to dress in lace
panties to be taken by a gang of strong men?

Do you think I don't remember having coitus with a dog while the
housemaid laughed at me?

Do you think I don't remember my brother falling from the window?

Do you think I never dream that my mother and father are killed and
burned, and it is a matter of absolute indifference to me?

Do you think I don't remember in my own family there have been candles on
the dinner table made from the marrow of the human shin bone, from human
fat, from children's fingers?

Do you think I don't know that every time I move my hand this way to my
side that I must move it back again exactly as I moved it out--and yet,
stay on the path, not pour kerosene on the derelict and set him on fire,
that for certain things such as this you will never be forgiven?

I have known days myself when my mind has been shut up in a deep, dark
cave where nothing lives but slimy things, where here and there a bluish
light flickers and only the moans of animals break the silence.

Do you suppose there is anything that would make me seek out such a world
intentionally?

I prefer a world of light!

SECOND AIDE
These woman could be menstruating.

FIRST AIDE
Right.

SECOND AIDE
They say that if a menstruating woman will hold a flower in her hand, it
will wither faster than otherwise. Or if a menstruating woman kneads
bread dough, the dough won't rise. That in places where there are silver
mines, a menstruating woman is not allowed to enter the mine for fear the
silver will disappear. And that may seem far-fetched--in fact, that may
be far-fetched, but the toxins in the saliva of menstruating women has
been measured, and the toxins are 85% in menstruating saliva and 53% in
normal saliva, which is probably why the breath of a menstruating woman
will cause a blight on carnations and primroses and sweetpeas.

FIRST AIDE
And tulips.

SECOND AIDE
And tulips.

KADMOS
Nonetheless.
Are there not women who are athletes.

TIRESIAS
Of course.

KADMOS
And others who are not.

TIRESIAS
Most assuredly.

KADMOS
And are there not women who are eager to learn, and others who hate
learning, women who are courageous and women who are cowards?

TIRESIAS
There are.

KADMOS
Women who are guardians, and women who are not. And did we not select the
nature of our male guardians in this way, by reasoning concerning their
various qualities?

TIRESIAS
We did.

KADMOS
And if women and men have the same nature insofar as these qualities are
concerned, and these are the qualities necessary for the guardianship of
the city, should not these women share the duties of guardianship with
the men, since they are capable and similar to them in their nature?

TIRESIAS
Absolutely.

KADMOS
And should we not seek out their company as one would seek out the
company of any who possess such qualities?

TIRESIAS
Certainly.

KADMOS [to Pentheus]
So you see:
We are going up to join the women in the mountains.

PENTHEUS
These are not wise guardians of the home and the state.
These are women who have abandoned all notions of civility.
These are wild women.

KADMOS
My daughter, your mother, is among these creatures.

PENTHEUS
Yes, your daughter is out of her senses.

TIRESIAS
Or in her senses.
Which is to say:
sensible at last.

PENTHEUS
Is it not strange, Tiresias--
think of it--
that our eyes invariably deceive us,
even when we have excellent sight.
You look at the sun every day
and you see a bright disc some few inches in diameter,
when in truth
we know, in our minds,
because the sun is so distant from us,
we know it is hundreds of thousands times larger than our senses
comprehend.
The gods have built error into our senses, Tiresias.
It is our reason on which we must rely for true knowledge.
Study optics
you will see how the gods have deceived you--
No--
Cursed you with your senses--
for your senses cannot perceive in any other way
but falsely.

What do you think?
Do you think it takes nothing to maintain a fresh coat of white paint
on a house built in 1790 or 1791
to have its lawn well trimmed
to enjoy some sense of quiet peace
some restful sense of dignity and wellbeing
when you walk down the streets of such a village?
And to maintain such harmony
such perfect, weightless balance
without a struggle
without a feeling of debilitating labor
but with perfect ease
to have it so at home in one's being
as though this work of gentle civility were absolutely innate
as though it were as natural as a pond or lake
is this what you would discard
as though it had no more value than a used paper coffee cup
an empty beer can?

KADMOS
Son.
Take your time.
Let this god into your heart.
Come to peace with him.

PENTHEUS [contemptuously]
Gods!

KADMOS
Or if you would rather think of it this way:
There are mysteries in life.

PENTHEUS
Take your hands off me,
don't wipe your madness on my sleeve.
There's no mystery to it.
Have you not lived
in the same world
in the same time
that I have
and seen what horrific things
this license for what you will
has brought into our lives?

A spiritual realm.
A realm of mysteries.
Yes.
Think of the mystery that the moon affects our maladies.
How do we know this?
Because one day long ago
someone observed that a sick man had an increase of fever
during the waning of the moon
and this idea, and a thousand others like it
are the errors of ignorant ancient men
who, unable themselves to understand what it was they witnessed
passed down their misunderstandings to others.
Will you be a Fundamentalist
all these millenia after we have learned so much more than the
fundamentals?
Will you insist upon maintaining a simple mind
no matter how many neurons are tightly packed into your skull?

If your nurse has told you that Ceres rules over the crops
or that Vistnou made himself a man several times
or that Sammonocodom came to cut down a forest
or that Mohammed made a journey into the sky
or that Odin awaits you in his hall near Jutland
will your judgment never rise up against these absurdities?
These profound mysteries of the universe,
these mysteries of human life.

Plumb these mysteries and they vanish!
Examine them and it turns out
there is nothing deep or mysterious about them at all!

[PENTHEUS SITS DOWN AT THE PIANO
AND PLAYS A MEDLEY OF COCKTAIL BAR SONGS:
Cole Porter, Gershwin, etc.--
and, perhaps before he is finished playing, he begins speaking:]

Shall I be charged with a belief in moderation?
I plead guilty.
What do you think of kissing, for example?
In the ancient days it was a mere form of salutation.
Before the conspirators killed Caesar they kissed his face, hand, and
breast.
It was once the custom to kiss the statues of the gods.
At the mysteries of Ceres, initiates kissed one another as a sign of
concord.
The kiss was sacred and symbolic.
But there is a danger in kissing
since there is one nerve, the fifth,
which passes from the mouth to the heart
and thence even lower,
thus has nature prepared everything
with delicate industry!
And the little glands of the lips
their spongy tissue
their velvety paps
their fine, ticklish skin
produce in them an exquisite and voluptuous sensation
which is not without analogy to a still more hidden
and still more sensitive part--
and for this reason
for the consequences
that may result unbidden
from so simple a thing as a kiss
does a man of foresight counsel moderation.

[He plays another song, lost in the music,
finishes, sits quietly for a moment,
then turns to his first aide;
speaking calmly, in control, without rage]

Go now. Go at once.
Take some men
and find this effeminate stranger
who preys on our women.
Bring him to me in chains.
We will judge him here
and have him stoned
and see him weep in his own blood
for the day he challenged our rule.

[Pentheus bolts from the piano and exits as his aides scatter in
different directions.]

TIRESIAS
Is he gone, then?

KADMOS
There's no way to stop him.

TIRESIAS
Then there's nothing to do
but to pray for him
and pray that prayers matter.

The boy doesn't know there is a history here.

KADMOS
With ancient gods who served
ancient civilizations
and
in the end
taken all in all
served them well.

TIRESIAS
Or not at all.

[They are gone.]

The Bacchae remain behind, motionless for some moments,
in the space that has become their possession,
and then one or several of them perform a piece.

This could be the place for a Butoh performer,
or an Indian dancer.]

Pentheus enters, followed momentarily by his two aides who have the
chained Dionysus between them.

PENTHEUS
Bring him to me here
where I can look at him in the light.

FIRST AIDE
Here he is.

SECOND AIDE
He gave up at once.

FIRST AIDE
Held his hands right out.
Never flinched.

SECOND AIDE
He even smiled.

FIRST AIDE
Stood there smiling
as I put the chains around him.

SECOND AIDE
He didn't care.

PENTHEUS
Take his chains off.

[the aides look at one another]

Take them off.
He's going nowhere now.

[looks Dionysus over]

So.
A lovely dress.
The color suits you.
I can see that you would be attractive--
to women.
Lovely skin--very pale--
a complexion cultivated in the darkness, not the light of day, am I
right?
You're a quiet person for such a troublemaker.
Lovely hair.
[he fondles it, takes a fistful]
Not the coiffure of a wrestler.

DIONYSUS
Did you want to wrestle?

PENTHEUS (pulling back at once)
Where do you come from?

DIONYSUS
I come from the East, from Mount Tmolus.

PENTHEUS
In the ridge of mountains round the city of Sardis.

DIONYSUS
I come from there.

PENTHEUS
A place on earth.
A geographical location.
Very like the birthplace of the rest of us.
And who is this god whose worship you bring with you?

DIONYSUS
Dionysus, the son of Zeus.

PENTHEUS
The son of Zeus. Is that what he told you?

DIONYSUS
It's the truth.

PENTHEUS
You have some evidence of it.

DIONYSUS
Yes.

PENTHEUS
What does this mean, I wonder, to speak of evidence of the existence of a
god.
Do you speak a language where the word "exists" is an ordinary word like
"round" or "blue" or "woman's dress"? Or something else?
Do you know anything of reason?

How did you see this god? In a dream, was it?

DIONYSUS
In daylight. Like today.

PENTHEUS
Indeed.
And what form did he take?

DIONYSUS
Whatever form he liked.

PENTHEUS
Do you mean he can't decide what form to take?

DIONYSUS
He can decide and then decide again.

PENTHEUS
Well, he is blest, to be so free of necessities.
Necessities, surely, are a curse of human existence.
And what are his principles?

DIONYSUS
I should say he has more passions than principles.

PENTHEUS
Feelings.

DIONYSUS
Yes.

PENTHEUS
Inchoate urges.

DIONYSUS
Yes.

PENTHEUS
In other words, he knows nothing.

DIONYSUS
No, he knows everything--so he has no need to torture his knowledge with
his reason.

PENTHEUS
I'm told he's a drunk.

DIONYSUS
Oh, I think that's a nasty rumor.

SECOND AIDE
Sometimes you see women when they're dressing, putting on their
underclothes, whatever, and you can wonder whether this is a woman who is
open or shut, you know, and whether you have the key, they get dressed
very quickly, but you see them anyway, they might wear a jewel case, you
know, a reticule here, you know, around their waist, just at their quim,
and sometimes they'll stretch out, lie down on the sofa in the afternoon
and talk and play with it while they talk, open it and shut it, put a
finger in it, move it around, take it out, they don't even know they're
doing it, and you think, well I'd like to get my finger in that jewel
case.

DIONYSUS [to the second aide, calmly]
There are places in the south, I am told, where there are so few people,
and such limited resources, that everything must be very carefully
planned. And so, if there is a shortage of boy babies, they take some
girls and raise them as boys--train them in all the masculine skills and
temperaments and habits of mind--so that, in time, these girls become
fathers, and they raise male daughters. Because these people--whom some
might think are backward kinds of people--know that gender and genitals
are two entirely different things. And there are places in the world that
I have seen where there are 8 different genders or even more.

Then, too: the Audubon Field Guide to North American Wildflowers has
photographs of all the flowers you're likely to find on a nature walk.
Have you seen it?

PENTHEUS
Yes.

DIONYSUS
And it divides the photographs up into categories of red, pink, purple,
blue, brown yellow, green, and white flowers. And you might reasonably
think these eight are the only sorts of flowers there are. But then you
would be a person who can't tell an aster from a larkspur.

PENTHEUS
You know, I have the power to put you in a room of stone in the dark and
leave you there.

DIONYSUS
Leave me, yes, but not keep me.

PENTHEUS
Not keep you?

DIONYSUS
I'd come out whenever I wanted.

PENTHEUS
You believe in miracles, do you?

DIONYSUS
Of course I do.

SECOND AIDE
This is a fellow who has no sense of where he is.

FIRST AIDE
No sense of self-restraint.

SECOND AIDE
I don't just indulge myself every time I want. Stick my fist up some
fellow's ass, put my dick in someone else's business. Sit on his face.
Get my blood on the sheets.

PENTHEUS
For the sake of argument:
Suppose a brain--like any organ of someone killed in an accident--a
kidney, a liver, a heart--were kept alive by being suspended in some sort
of soup and kept in a jail cell, as if awaiting surgical transfer to some
other recipient. Suppose we knew enough about brains to apply mild
electrical stimulation, so that we could furnish it with "experiences."
Suppose we furnish it with the experiences it would have had if the man
who once possessed it had lived: if he had returned to consciousness,
thinking he had had a narrow escape. Let's say he is a scientist; he
returns to his laboratory, makes a discovery that brings him many
rewards, the Nobel prize perhaps, and lives a rich life, loves and
marries the partner of his dreams, has children, watches them grow, dies
a meaningful death, speaks his last words to weeping friends and mourning
family.

And, after having done this, we switch off the current. It is only on the
organ of the brain that we have evoked various electrical potentials. And
yet, from "inside," as it were, it is just as it would have been had the
owner of the brain undergone the experiences himself. So the experiences
themselves carry no guarantee of their authenticity. And it is perfectly
clear at this point that there is almost nothing that experience
justifies us in believing.

Now you might say "X is good," or "X is a good thing," but that would be
entirely meaningless, except insofar as it expresses some feeling on your
part. It would be like poetry, wouldn't it, it would simply be a refined
way of giving vent to an emotion, a sophisticated way of emitting sounds
like oh, oh, or ha-ha. But with no more meaning, finally.

DIONYSUS
What makes us start singing, do you think
if it isn't making love?
Why do we make wine?
Why do we set sail on the high seas?
To whom should a girl's heart be opened?
Who is it brings temptation?
These are the things I wonder about.
Where does the English Channel actually start?
Why can't a Ram swim for very long?
What can't a ewe swim for even less long?
Would a bull swim less long than a cow?
Would a nanny swim less long than a billy?
What's the point of this difference?
What is meant by a cliff?

Do you wear rubber?

PENTHEUS
Rubber?

DIONYSUS
You know, rubber, like rubber skirts, or, in the summer, rubber shorts or
rubber stockings, or even--you know, rubber underwear.

PENTHEUS
No.

DIONYSUS
I thought you might.
(silence)
You send your linen out, do you?

PENTHEUS
To the laundry.

DIONYSUS
Yes.

PENTHEUS
You mean personal linen.

DIONYSUS
Underwear.

PENTHEUS
Yes.

DIONYSUS
Of course you know what they do with it.

PENTHEUS
I think I do.

DIONYSUS
I mean that they rent it out.

PENTHEUS
Rent out underwear?

DIONYSUS
To the locals. The underwear of most of the people who patronize the
laundry is so clean when it gets to the laundry that the launderers rent
it out to the locals and then, when they get it back dirty, they wash it.

PENTHEUS
Do you mean my underwear is rented out when I send it to the laundry?

DIONYSUS
Well, if it's clean it is.

Sometimes I feel the shudder of death pass through me. Do you know that
feeling? I think there are things that everyone feels at least once every
fifteen minutes: embarrassment, for example, or humiliation, from
nowhere, without apparent cause, sudden grief, anxiety, dread,
distraction--as though a spirit or a monster of some kind had passed
overhead--regret, impatience, hatred, an unreasoning rage. It's not the
same for everyone. Some people I know feel none of these things, but
instead, every fifteen minutes they feel sorrow or resentfulness, they
feel slighted, they feel vengeful, jealous, they are immobilized by envy,
a longing to possess something or someone, greed, lust, a wish to put
something in their mouths. These are all things I feel--along with the
knowledge of death that is always with me now, and that makes me shudder,
and brings tears to my eyes.

[silence]

PENTHEUS
If I get a sensual feeling about a man, the man I have that feeling about
must become extremely submissive, do you know what I mean? And, in truth,
I get a dizzy feeling as though I'd like to punch these men or strangle
them or strangle their genitals rather than do anything else with them.
Have you ever had that feeling? I'd like to pull off their genitals, tear
them off, in fact, and enjoy the pain I'd caused. Do you ever have that
feeling?

SECOND AIDE
I have that feeling.

FIRST AIDE
I'd like to strangle them with my legs around them and I'd like to see
the pain on their faces. I get a real charge out of this.

SECOND AIDE
Right.

FIRST AIDE
I have a lot of very angry feelings within me...

SECOND AIDE
Right.
So do I.

FIRST AIDE
and all this facade of being nice to people, it's all an act.

SECOND AIDE
I feel like crying and I feel awful, and the hate is getting more and
more about all the things that have happened to me and I guess I've
wanted to kill someone for a long time.

FIRST AIDE
I want to choke a fellow with my legs around him or my hands around his
neck just the way I wanted to choke my mother. I substitute a man for
her. I want to choke her by shoving my penis so far down his throat that
he's choking and gasping for breath. I get pleasure out of that.

PENTHEUS
Everyone is aware that life has no interpretation.
That lead is the parody of gold.
That air is the parody of water.
That the brain is the parody of the equator.
That coitus is the parody of crime.

A rotten tooth, an abandoned shoe, the cook spitting in the soup of his
masters, a dog devouring the stomach of a goose, a vomiting woman, a
seminarian, the marrow of a young boy's pelvic bone, the taste of a dead
girl, a jar of mustard: these are the roots that nourish love.

[Pentheus goes to the piano
hits a note, hums it, hits the note again
and then sings, a capella, sweetly
the old school song:]

Gaudeamus igitur
juvenes dum sumus
Gaudeamus igitur
juvenes dum sumus
Post jucundam juventutem
post molestam senectutam
Nos habebit humus.

When he finishes, he turns to his aides and says:]

Put him in chains.
Put him in a cell.
Put him out of my sight.
I don't want to touch him.

Then take some men and bring those women back down from the mountains.

And, as for these women,
I'll have them sold off as slaves
or put them to work at my own hearth,
sewing, and knitting, and cooking,
since our own wives seem to have such little interest in their duties.

[Pentheus turns and leaves]

DIONYSUS (to the aides, with a smile)
I guess I'll be coming with you.

[They exit.]

The women don't move.

We hear beautiful sitar music--very sweet--
an antidote to what we have just seen;
and we watch a beautiful and gentle dance of South America or Bali.]

AN EAR-SHATTERING SHARP, SIZZLING THUNDERBOLT

AN INCREDIBLE FLASH OF LIGHTNING

A BLAST OF THUNDER THAT MAKES THE ENTIRE THEATRE SHAKE AND TREMBLE

THE MARBLE TOMB OF SEMELE IS SHATTERED

THUNDER RUMBLES AND ROLLS AND FADES INTO THE DISTANCE

AND DIONYSUS ENTERS THROUGH THE RUBBLE OF THE SHATTERED TOMB

HE IS COVERED IN SNAKES

DIONYSUS
[very lyrically, not rushed, savoring each image, getting lost in it,
letting it drift]

I have entered into certain things wonderfully deep
I have gone into the deep shadows.
I take this knowledge in my hand and squeeze it hard like an orange,
to get the sweet, sweet juice from it.

My soul goes blindly seeking.
I cry out after some unknown Thing.
I shall go mad.
I shall go mad.
I shall be filled with pleasure so deep
and pain so intense
I will go drunk with the fullness of Life.

THE ENTIRE THEATRE RUMBLES WITH A PROLONGED EARTHQUAKE

A PROLONGED SHOWER OF ROSE PETALS FROM THE FLIES

DIONYSUS
When my happiness is given me,
life will be
a nameless thing.
It will seethe and roar;
it will plunge and whirl;
it will leap and shriek in convulsions;
it will quiver in delicate fantasy;
it will writhe and twist;
it will glitter and flash and shine;
it will sing gently;
it will shout in exquisite excitement;
it will vibrate to the roots
like a great oak in a storm;
it will dance;
it will glide;
it will gallop;
it will rush;
it will swell and surge;
it will fly;
it will soar high--high;
it will go down into depths unexplored;
it will rage and rave;
it will melt;
it will grovel in the dust of entire pleasure;
it will sound out like a terrific blare of trumpets;
it will chime faintly, faintly;
it will sob and grieve and weep;
it will revel and carouse;
it will go in pride;
it will lie prone like the dead;
it will float buoyantly on the air.
When it comes my turn to meet face to face the unspeakable vision of the
Happy Life I shall be rendered dumb.
But the rains of my feeling will come in torrents.

[Music resumes.]

The Bacchae watch as

Dionysus dances with snakes

accompanied by something as miraculous as the earthquake
something that another performer does
or a group of performers
or an animal
a white horse, without a trainer, trots in circles around him
or a circle of fire burns around him
something incredibly beautiful, sensuous, amazing, and wild.]

Pentheus enters slowly through the rubble, followed by his two aides,
carrying torches, taking the same path Dionysus has just taken. He sees
Dionysus.

PENTHEUS
So here you are.
Who let you out?

FIRST AIDE
It wasn't us.
We had him chained against the wall.

[Pentheus gestures to silence his aide.]

DIONYSUS [lightly]
Walls can't contain me, you know.

PENTHEUS
If I catch the one who set you free
I'll nail him to the wall myself.

[TONY ULASEWITZ, a spy, enters furtively. He wears torn clothes. His face
is scratched. He speaks Pentheus's name in a near whisper, repeats it a
little louder.

NOTE: this character of Tony can be divided in two and performed by a
pair of actors reporting to Pentheus.]

TONY ULASEWITZ
Pentheus.
[looks around]
Pentheus.

PENTHEUS [turning to him]
Yes?

TONY ULASEWITZ
I've seen the women in the mountains
as you instructed.

PENTHEUS
Yes?
And?

TONY ULASEWITZ
I went with some others.
A small group of us.
Very discreet.
But
they wouldn't talk to us.
I mean the women.
Ignored us, absolutely, no matter what we said,
line of questioning, suggestions, innuendoes
that sort of thing.
They were there around the trees,
old women and young, some no more than girls,
lying around
like animals
relaxing in the forest
their hair loose, falling around their shoulders
some lying in each other's arms
one young mother, having left her own baby at home,
giving her
breast
to a fawn,
or doing what they pleased
stretched out by the stream
washing each other
I don't know what
I didn't want to know
eating berries
total idlers is what they are
no one in charge as far as we could tell
total hedonists is what they are
kissing
licking
fingers up each other's business
that kind of thing

2ND AIDE
Is this some sort of display they're putting on?

1ST AIDE
Sometimes, in a case like this,
you can't tell what the rules are

2ND AIDE
Like you can with adultery, say

1ST AIDE
Where a father, if he catches his daughter in adultery, he can't kill her

2ND AIDE
Even if he should be able to.

1ST AIDE
Or where a husband can kill an adulterer but not his wife

2ND AIDE
The husband's wife.

1ST AIDE
Right.
But only in his own house.
That is to say, if he lets the adulterer go,
or the adulterer gets away, and gets out of the house,
then the husband can't kill him.
And, if he doesn't dismiss his wife within three days
he can be prosecuted as a pimp.

2ND AIDE
The husband.

1ST AIDE
But that the women, if she is prosecuted for adultery she can be deprived
of half her dowry a third of all her goods and banishment to an island
but not to the same island that the adulterer is banished to.
Or that, if the woman is in charge of any business or any shop then she
cannot be charged with adultery

2ND AIDE
Right.

TONY ULASEWITZ
But these women in the mountains
they caught on we were spying on them
and suddenly they turned on us
with sharpened sticks and clubs.
I gave them an ultimatum
not to use any weapons
but when they didn't pay attention
I gave the order to my men
and we went in
I mean we were not unarmed ourselves
We had bats and we were going to use them,
and the women
with their nails
and rocks
and pointed sticks
fought us back!
I yelled at my men:
all is fair
hold your ground.
But these women fought like hell.
They punched and kicked.
They got hold of one man's arm and would have torn it off if I hadn't
slammed one or two of them myself,
but then my men ran,
ran,
they turned around and ran.
I could have shit right on the spot.
These fucking babies running from the women.
I could have kicked their fucking heads in.
I yelled at them:
come back here you cocksuckers,
but they were gone
I mean in a flash
and I was all alone,
so I ran, too,
and these fucking women are still up in the mountains.

PENTHEUS
I'll send the army.

TONY ULASEWITZ
What?

PENTHEUS
I'll send the army.

It may be these women have never seen what it is to fight.
What a man can do when the rules of restraint are taken off.
It may be that they don't know, in fact, a man is always on battle alert,
always lying in ambush, always straining all his senses, rigid with
attention, ready to pounce like bats from dark dungeons when they are
aroused.

FIRST AIDE
I remember
lying side by side in the sand
heads raised to look out
at the line of the far horizon
when suddenly the order's given
and we all jump! and run
the earth sliding back away from us
crashing through the brush
the trumpet signal
two notes only
dancing in the morning air
all our thinking drops away like useless ballast
our bodies light and whipped by the wind from behind
the charge rolls out to a tearing pleasure
lungs working hard
the earth smooth and downhill to our goal
one long pathway
and then we're on top of them
the broken panting of that moment before
gives way to a scream, a fearsome scream
every mouth stretched wide
our cheer exploding from blood and bones
hammering into the air
in a raw crescendo, howling
blood shooting through our bodies
tears running down our faces
our own bodies were the storm
the crushing force
exploding on the enemy
our cries meeting the cries of the enemy
merging into theirs
like hearts trembling on the brink of eternity
a cry long forgotten
a cry of recognition
and of thirst for blood
we felt naked in the battle
but our skin was all armor
all steel enclosure
living guns
tanked up motors turned loose with no brakes to hold us
guns wriggling and jerking in our hands like fish
I could feel every jolt that shook the metal of my gun
every jolt a bullet slicing into warm, living human flesh

a wicked pleasure
hangs over war
the voluptuousness of blood
like a red storm-sail over a black man-of-war.
Your feelings blossom in the surging of the blood.
The blood surges through your body
and through their bodies
like torrents tumbling together in a snow-thaw,
like a long-postponed night of love
but this night more passionate
and more furious
the blood bubbling in our hearts like fire.

PENTHEUS
Well, it's all a question where we are touched most deeply.

And you might say, certainly, the anus is a private place.

The phallus is essentially social.
But the anus--that's mostly private.

When you talk of the constitution of a private person, that's the anus.
And the public person, that's the phallus.
So you could say that exposing one's phallus is a shameful act--but a
glorious one, too,
and every man has a phallus
that guarantees him a social place.
And every man has an anus, too,
which is truly his own,
in the most secret depths of his own person.

Every secret is explosive when you get to it.
These are the true mysteries--and no others.
It doesn't so much matter what happens
so long as it happens suddenly, like a volcano,
unexpected and irresistable.

There is a kind of ecstasy they say,
a state of mind granted not only to the holy man
to great writers and great lovers
but also to the great in spirit
an intoxication beyond all intoxications
a release that bursts all bonds
a madness without discretion.
And there are those who insist I don't have a hold on
the mystery of life.
A man in ecstasy becomes a violent storm,
he merges with the cosmos
racing toward death's gates
like a bullet to its target.
And should the waves crash purple above him,
he will already be long past all consciousness;
he will be a wave
gliding back into the flowing sea
from which it came.
This flooding into nighttime battle
is something elemental
something that has always been,
something that will long outlive
human lives and human wars.

Bring my armor out to me.
We'll go at once.

DIONYSUS
Your own mother is up in the mountains.

PENTHEUS
Let her surrender.

DIONYSUS
You feel no hesitation?

PENTHEUS
Bring out my armor.
[to Dionysus]
Please,
understand that when I've made my decision
I never take it back.

[silence]

DIONYSUS
In that case,
let me help you.
Take my advice.
Reconnoitre the mountain
before you send troops to battle.
Like any good general,
see what you're up against.
Plan your moves so you are certain not to lose.

PENTHEUS
Send out spies, you mean.

DIONYSUS
Or go yourself to spy.
See with your own eyes
what it is these women do.

PENTHEUS
Without their knowing.

DIONYSUS
Yes.

PENTHEUS
The private things they do among themselves.

DIONYSUS
Such things as men have never seen.

[silence]

PENTHEUS
But what disguise could I wear?

DIONYSUS
You must be invisible.

PENTHEUS
Enough talk of miracles.
How should I become invisible?

DIONYSUS
You'd go as a woman.

PENTHEUS
I go as a woman?

DIONYSUS
Yes.

PENTHEUS
Wear a woman's clothes, you mean?

DIONYSUS
Yes.

PENTHEUS
[really interested in the idea]
Pass for a woman?

DIONYSUS
Yes.

PENTHEUS
Do you think I could be taken for a woman?

DIONYSUS
Yes.

[silence]

PENTHEUS
I don't think I could do that.
I'll scout them out,
I'll stay under cover,
but I will wear my armor.

DIONYSUS
If that's your decision.

PENTHEUS
It is.

DIONYSUS
Then I'll help to get you ready.

[The Bacchae gather around
and help strip Pentheus naked.

As they do, we hear the voiceover
of the first aide, speaking slowly and gently through speakers
with gentle musical background

and Dionysus steps to one side,
helped by one of the Bacchae,
his back to the audience,
put on black leather pants--
stuffing his dress inside--
black boots,
black leather jacket.
If all this cross-dressing is getting too automatic, Dionysus can stay in
a dress; and he and Pentheus will make a couple in their dresses.]

FIRST AIDE [voiceover]
For our battle colors
we chose black
because it is the color of forbidden love between men,
of a dance of death in the dark,
deranged ecstasy--
the ecstasy of a physical body overloaded,
of mutual recognition in armed combat
hand-to-hand.

[When the Bacchae have finished stripping Pentheus,
they clothe him
layer by layer
from perfumed powder
to satin undergarments
stockings
slip
dress
high-heeled shoes
wig
as the voiceover continues.
Dionysus, his own black leather outfit complete,
helps with the finishing touches.
The enchantment of Pentheus is then completed.]

FIRST AIDE [voiceover continuing]
White is the anti-hybrid
brilliant cold
the shroud of devivification.
It is the marble body
of the white countess nurse,
the womb
from which no teeth-gnashing monsters threaten.
Whitewash:
the shot that banishes disorder.

Red is female flesh
wallowing in its blood
a reeking mass
severed from the man.
Red is a mouth dripping blood--
now beaten.

DIONYSUS (voiceover)
There was a time when all I wanted was to be dressed up like a poodle on
a leash, a pink poodle on a leash, and to hear someone say, "Oh, yes, I
want more," to have my nipples rubbed until I moaned, to have her take
out her cock, give me a blowjob, work her fingertips along my inseam
until it made the tears come, to have her cuff me on the shoulder, roll
me on my back, to taste him in my mouth, to feel a fur bikini across my
face, to unzip her leather pants, bring her quickly and lightly to an
orgasm, to feel the heel of her boot on my thigh and hear her ask, "do
you think that will be enough?", the warm water tap turned on high, her
fair skin, her voice saying "this is Marine Corps meat," "I gotta get
stoned," "ponies prance, ladies dance," "why don't we make it just once,
with one for practice?" "Hold on a minute, take a few deep breaths and
let the blood pass from your cunt to your brain." Let's get stoned,
because I promise you this, this won't last forever.

[When they are finished,
Pentheus speaks as a
simpering female.
Music up.
Dionysus and Pentheus dance.]

PENTHEUS
I think it's more blessed to give
than to receive,
and yet
I find it hard to resist
if someone wants to give me
some little thing
an invitation to play tennis
a postcard of the Sistine Chapel
Estee Lauder self-action tanning creme.
A smile is easy to wear.
Mini-skirts are another matter.

DIONYSUS
I'd say you've got it.

PENTHEUS
I don't mind an alluring silhouette
a sun-washed color,
a loose, easy fit
a world that's pale, bleached by salt and sun,
something that buttons up the front
sheer, or boxy
something nice for layering,
something topstitched
with double darts
button-through flap patch pockets,
a drop waist pleated skirt
or something with a little attitude.

DIONYSUS
Come with me, then.
I'll take you to the mountains.

PENTHEUS
Joy makes you open and light.
Joy counteracts the pull of gravity.
Joy banishes the consciousness of self.
This joy is more than contentment,
more than happiness.
Joy has something of the sacred in it,
something we should all have every day.

DIONYSUS
Come with me.
I'll take you to it.

Music.

The Bacchae part to let Pentheus and Dionysus exit--
a couple just like Kadmos and Tiresias.

And then the Bacchae dissolve from the stage in all directions.

Leaving a single member of their chorus on stage.

This solo performer dances
and performs a striptease to the music

to reveal a satyr

a naked woman with a huge, bright red dildo,
and a horse's tail
she might also have an animal mask.

II.

Among the Bacchae.

They are in the backstage dressing room of a Thierry Mugler fashion show,
dressing for the show.

This is about the performativity of gender--
about the infinite variety of paraphilia--
and so, ultimately, about the unfathomable mystery of what it is to be
human.

Chea is thinking, musing.

CHEA
I like feet.

Well,
really
toes.

I like to touch them and feel them,
kiss them.

I mean,
I like to have another woman put her big toe between my legs, too,
but mostly I like to suck on someone else's toes.
Like,
if I get into a position with someone for 69,
what I like is for us to suck on each other's toes.

SEI
Oh.

CHEA
I heard of this man
who was arrested in Milwaukee
for sexual abuse
because he was going around and knocking down girls and young women
and taking off their shoes
and sucking on their toes.
And I thought:
well,
I can understand that....

VALERIE
I like to rub my buttocks on someone else's buttocks.
I like to kiss someone's buttocks, too,
or just,
you know,
fondle them,
but mostly I just love to rub buttocks.

AIMABLE
I like to have someone shampoo my hair
or I like to shampoo someone else's hair.
Not their pubic hair,
though that, too,
sometimes,
but just get a man's head in my hands,
with warm water running nearby,
get my hands all full of lather,
and just slowly
soap his hair,
work up a rich lather all over his head,
and if we're in the bathtub,
having him lie back
with his head between my legs,
right between my legs,
and when I'm finished,
let his head slowly sink down into the water--
letting him breathe, but he's completely relaxed,
and trusting me,
and I let his head and hair down into the water
between my legs.
I mean some people have their preferences,
but really,
this is the only way I can come at all.

VALERIE
I know a man who can't come
unless he's with a woman at least twelve inches taller than he is.

AIMABLE
I know a woman who loves statues. Or mannekins. In department stores.
There are men like this, too, who would rather spend a night with a
mannikin any time. You know, in Greece--or Rome--or wherever--these
people who worshipped Priapus would take his penis off--the statue had a
big wooden penis you could take off--and use it like a dildo. This is how
women worshipped Priapus, lived in his temple months at a time, because
they all used his penis for a dildo. These are priestesses I'm talking
about. And there was a priestess one time I knew--I knew this priestess--
who could only get excited if she was all wrapped up in saran wrap, like
a statue, and she had to find a man who would make love to her like that,
because she couldn't make love any other way. That's how it was for her.

SEI
There was this guy I heard of once
who shaved the hair from the heads of Barbie dolls
and swallowed their heads to get excited,
and one time he felt sick and went into the hospital,
and the x-rays showed he had six Barbie heads stuck in his intestines.

CHEA
I knew a woman who could only have sex in the back yard. She needed to be
in a public place. She tried parks and other like outdoor places, you
know, exposed--but none of them were any good, only her own back yard,
and never in the house.

EISA
There is a park in San Francisco where men used to meet to have sex
behind the bushes there, so the cops had the bushes cleared away, but the
sex went right on, the men there liked it even better, it's just what
they'd all been hoping for.

VALERIE
I like to strip search a guy, like make him face the wall with his hands
in the air, pat him down with my hands on the outside of his clothes,
make him take everything out of his pockets and put it on the table, then
take off all his clothes. I look at everything for drugs, microfilm,
bugging devices, weapons, or sex toys. He has to stand there all the
time, naked, with his hands behind his head. And then I search his body,
I search every opening, very thoroughly, and then, if he's clean, I
release him. That's all. I just release him. To me: that's sex; that's
all there is, that's how it is for me.

AIMABLE
I knew a man who used to go to this bordello in Oregon. He would hire two
women to watch him strip naked, get into a tub of bath water, and walk
back and forth. His only request was that the women would throw oranges
at his buttocks as he walked back and forth. Then he would get out, pick
up the oranges, put them in a paper bag, get dressed, and leave.

EISA
I have a sarong I wear sometimes, a silk sarong.
I like to put it on a man
and feel his cock through the sarong
just feel him getting hard
stroke him for a while
make him crazy
and then
when he can't stand it any more
I turn him over on his stomach
and slip my hand up his skirt--
I don't see how men keep their hands out from under women's skirts--
they're so...accessible--
and I put a finger up his anus
and then, after a while, two fingers,
and then, I can't stand it,
I just put my whole fist inside.

VALERIE
Sometimes when you're with a man, you can cut a hole in a paper plate and
put it over his genitals, and then put some lukewarm spaghetti and
meatballs on the plate, and then, when you eat the spaghetti, you wrap
each strand around his penis and suck it up into your mouth. I knew
someone, that was the only way she could have sex.

AIMABLE
I like to have people put pies in my face. You know, and smear them
around. In restaurants or parties, wherever. I'll see some guy I kind of
like and I'll go up to him and ask him to pie me, and, you know, most men
will. You get all these feelings of anticipation, the fear of rejection,
the thrill of acceptance, humiliation, the wish that a partner will say
or do something you don't expect, sharing an intimacy with someone who
might not otherwise even notice me, doing something that sexual and
unacceptable right out in public. I guess maybe I've been pied as many as
150 times a month when I've really been, you know, unable to stop. And
sometimes I'll say to a man, you know, I'd really like it if you'd do it
to my crotch. Sometimes they're scared, but usually they'll do it.

EISA
I knew someone who used to have what she called chocolate mousse, where
she would swallow whipped cream and then her partner would give her an
enema with chocolate pudding, so then she would defecate the pudding onto
her partner and vomit the whipped cream on top, so they would both have
dessert.

AGAVE
I'd have to say probably
I'm a normophiliac.
I just like what's,
you know,
normal.
That's just
how it is for me.

[the others all just look at her silently for several moments, wondering
what she could mean]

SEI
I like to sleep with someone with all my clothes on. It can be like the
olden days, with a board in between us, or even with my legs tied
together so penetration isn't possible. Or we can sleep together naked,
just looking at each other for hours at a time, letting our eyes go up
and down each other for three or four hours, taking each other in, but I
can't, you know, make love any other way. Mostly I just like to be held
and touched and cared for, you know, loved.

CHEA
There are some women in some places in the world used to take a young
woman, fourteen, fifteen years of age, take her into a tent filled with
steam, you have rocks in a campfire and pour oil and water on them, and
you braid her hair, and then the young woman's mentor cuts her thighs,
three clean slices in each thigh, and then all the women together rub oil
and juices into the young woman's thighs, and the way you get the juices
is the young woman's mentor has to have a lover, and all the other women
use her lover to get their juices flowing, they get it in their hands and
rub it on the girl's thighs so she grows strong. That's how they made
love.

[This event is interrupted.
Pentheus and Dionysus enter upstage.]

SEI
In some places, there are women, when they menstruate
they all get together and dance
so they will all bleed at the same time
they talk to each other
until their thighs are wet with blood
and they eat raw flesh and earth and chew arsenic
until there are sulphur and flames around their mouths
and then they're ready for love

AIMABLE
They like to put bones in their noses

SEI
And labia

AIMABLE
Or needles made of bone
they put through their ear lobes
or cheeks
Or some people I've heard of
tie a little ball of resin to the hair on the foreheads of their babies
so the babies will grow up to be cross-eyed

VALERIE
Some women like to have tattoos on their labia, all around their
genitals, you take a hooked thorn if you want to lift the skin and make a
round scar, or a razor blade to slice the raised skin and leave a scar,
this can be beautiful. You can rub white ash into the cut and make a
beautiful raised scar.

CHEA
And they chew arsenic, or sometimes they eat handsful of earth or raw
flesh or sulphur and flames, or nectar and ambrosia.

PENTHEUS
What's this? Is this how women talk when they're alone?

DIONYSUS [letting Pentheus step ahead of him]
Quiet.
Look if you want, but be quiet.

VALERIE
There was a girl once, where I come from, the first time she menstruated
she went into the mountains with her boyfriend, and she told him to climb
a pine tree and throw down the cones to her. And he climbed up and threw
down a cone and said, try it to see if it is ripe. She hit it with a
stone and hurt her finger, and she looked at her finger for a long time.
He said, how is it? He was really wondering what she would do with the
blood. And she said, it's alright. She licked off the blood, and then she
stuck her finger again and licked off the blood again. She kept licking
at her blood, and then she began to eat her own flesh, and she ate her
whole arm up to her chest.

This is a true story.

That's how she was.

CHEA
Some people drink brains sometimes.

EISA
Or urine.

VALERIE
There are people who wash their faces with the urine from their cattle
and brush their teeth with ashes made from cattle dung.

CHEA
Or they will cut themselves
they will cut off their hair
and gash their legs and heads
or they will even cut off a finger

SEI
This is how people are.

CHEA
You can tell, because this is how they are about sex.

VALERIE
Well.

[silence]

It's how they are about love.

[silence]

SEI
There are people who, when they get married,
the marriage ceremony takes three days by itself,
on the first two days the bride and groom stay in their own homes
entertaining their friends
this is their wedding
and on the third day the groom is barbered and shaved
and then he is circumcised
he is circumcised just before he is married
so that, on the wedding night he will be bleeding
because these men say they want to bleed the way their women do
and so they cut themselves before they are married
and then the groom is dressed up in his new clothes
and then he is taken to his bride late at night
this is how they do it
no knows any more how the custom began
but if they didn't do it this way
they wouldn't be able to go on.

AIMABLE
In some parts of the world
making love is like quarreling
and people will hit each other
all the time they're making these sounds
cooing and weeping and thundering
or sounds like parrots or doves or sparrows
and all the while they will hit each other in the head
between the breasts, on the shoulders
and they are supposed to bruise each other
and scratch each other
and leave the marks of their finger nails like half-moons everywhere

VALERIE
Or there are people who can only love someone
who wears a tight corset,
or tight clothes of some kind
or high-heeled shoes
or bind their feet
or use their bodies like contortionists
like the Sadhus
there are some women driven crazy by that
or belts or ropes or anklets or collars

CHEA
Manacles

VALERIE
Chains.
Or they fast
and become very slender
or stretch some parts of their bodies
Or people who can only love people who are sun-tanned
or who pierce themselves
or consent to be whipped
people who will wear body bags
or sleep on a bed of nails
or hang on a cross

CHEA
or hang from their wrists by wires

VALERIE
or do gymnastics
or have fantastic bodies
muscle builders' bodies
or bodies that just look good in swimming suits
or bodies that have been branded, or burned

CHEA
The unconscious self is the real genius.
Your breathing goes wrong
the moment your conscious self meddles with it.

CHEA
In some parts of theworld there are people
who need to have wrestling matches or bare-fisted boxing
or foot races and archery and swimming and cockfights
and this is what they need to do.
This is what feels normal to them.

SEI
Or just fighting

CHEA
Right

SEI
With knives

CHEA
Right. Or sticks.

EISA
Or just go to war.

SEI
Right.

EISA
Then they feel good.

AIMABLE
I've known women who lose blood from their legs, or from their ears. And
they didn't worry about the bleeding. What they worried about was that it
would stop.

PENTHEUS
That's my mother over there, by herself.

DIONYSUS [in a loud voice]
Quiet.

[Eisa notices Pentheus.]

EISA
Well.
Who is this?

[All heads turn upstage. Dionysus steps back into the shadows. Pentheus
steps hesitantly forward.]

PENTHEUS
A visitor.
[he takes a tentative step forward]
I'm a visitor come to join you.

CHEA
Who?

PENTHEUS
A woman.
Like you.

EISA
Really?

[the women all glance at one another;
they all know it is a man]

Come ahead then.
Don't hang back.

[he steps forward to join them, and, as he goes to the center, they widen
their circle around him, taking him in and looking him over; Dionysus
stays back in the shadows, slowly circling the stage from now to the end]

AGAVE
So.
[she fixes her gaze on him]
You've come to live with us?

[Now the focus shifts so that the conversation is directed at Pentheus.]

PENTHEUS
Yes.

EISA
What sort of woman would you say you are?

PENTHEUS
Well, a sort of a...usual woman.

EISA
What's that?
[silence]
Some women, they tell you:
women are close to nature.
Women are nurturing.
Women are communal.
Women are cooperative.
But I ask you:
what kind of talk is this?
I mean: I'm a little sick of this Bambi mentality.

AIMABLE
I'm the sort of person who likes to put her hand on her crotch sometimes
even when I'm with a man.

CHEA
Right.

AIMABLE
And move it this way and that.

CHEA
No problem.

AIMABLE
Light up a pipe and get real high.

CHEA
Right.

VALERIE
Sometimes you want to lather up a woman's thighs like a barber, she might
FEEL naked underneath her clothes even if she isn't, sometimes you like
to feel some power, not to hurt someone

AIMABLE
No.

VALERIE
But you like to know you have it, and there's no one in a panic over
knowing that you have it.

EISA
Right.

CHEA
It's easy does it all the way.

VALERIE
You say
Slide your ass down here, bitch
And you'll get fucked like you've never been before
You'll get fucked all day
You'll be leaning back
bracing yourself on the floor
a taste of cream, salty lips
a taste of fingertips
right out of your denim crotch
I like a woman wet and dangerous
I like a biker woman now and then
I like to crack the whip
I like to swing the bat
I like to wear the leather pants
I like to exercise MY veto
And my OK
Or give it up
Or pass it back and forth
I'm saying, you shouldn't be ashamed
whether you're a bottom or a top
or side by side
whichever end is up
You want to take it out
and stay there
let it ride
not need to bring it back too soon
or bring it back at all
just hanging out there
staying there

AIMABLE
One time
a friend of mine
encunted me with her dildo
and just when I was starting to enjoy it
I saw this nun across the hall
this goodlooking nun
buggering two young women
and pretty soon she was paying more attention to me than to those around
her.

VALERIE
I don't blame her.

AIMABLE
So she came across the hall,
and I'm saying to her
fuck me

VALERIE
Right.

AIMABLE
Fuck me.

VALERIE
Right.

CHEA
This is not the kind of woman I am.

AIMABLE
but she had brought these two girls with her

VALERIE
Unh-hunh.

AIMABLE
young girls no more than fourteen,
fifteen at the most.

VALERIE
Unh-hunh.

AIMABLE
She'd lost all interest in being with me,

VALERIE
Right.

EISA
Dear Miss Manners, My girlfriend will be moving into my apartment as soon
as her lease is up, and I want to do what's proper, hang up my things
that I was out every night, but I don;t know if this is right, my mother
says it isn't so I'm asking you. And she replies: Miss Manners says you
should ask your lady friend. Miss Manners never interferes with intimate
actions performed in private by consenting adults. That's where I draw
the line.

AIMABLE
So I'm saying to her: hey! go ahead
do your worst
pull down my pants
spank me, pinch me
stick it in me,
up my ass,
piss on me

VALERIE
Double up your belt
let me have it
make it sting

AIMABLE
don't let me move
whip me if I move
make me whimper
make me beg
give me an enema

VALERIE
I love a shit scene
with uniforms
whipping
chickenhawk
oral, anal
light blue, black.

AIMABLE
I like to feel some leather
up between my legs

AGAVE
with a little silk

[a microsecond's silence as the Bacchae take in the fact that Agave has
joined them]

AIMABLE [delivered to Agave]
knee up in my crotch
nails down my sides

CHEA [to Agave]
bone against my clit

PENTHEUS
A little bit of rubbing,
playing with my nipples
Oh, baby, fuck me harder.
Make me lie still!

[a microsecond's silence]

AIMABLE [aware of Pentheus, though not to him]
And get it up there
make it hurt
bite me, burn me
cut me up a little here and there
but watch out for the joints, the nerves

VALERIE
Of course, you want it to be safe.
I'm taking that for granted.

AIMABLE
watch out for the blood vessels, you know,
think about the front of the thigh
the shoulder, the upper arm,
use a little soap and water
alcohol, Betadine,
keep it perpendicular to the skin,
make a gentle cut,
wait a minute before the blood begins to flow,
and then another cut
or prick
like lightning going through the body
and when it's done
rub it with wine
stain it
leave a mark there
because these marks are here for life
these are commitments being made
we're never going back
never.

VALERIE
What do you need?
But some bandaids
aspirin
smelling salts
sterile cotton
bandage scissors
bolt cutters
spare keys
a marlinspike
ice pack
hydrogen peroxide
rectal thermometer
KY jelly
tweezers

[Pentheus is now in the center of the circle with his mother, his head in
her lap.]

PENTHEUS
And you could tie me down
so I can't jump when you cut me
you know
Do it slow
then work me over
this is what I like
and tell me bedtime stories
You could powder me.
You could oil me.
You could dress me up.
You could take me out.

SOLO AND A CAPELLA
AN OPERATIC ARIA OF GREAT ANGUISH

AFTERWARDS THERE IS A LONG SILENCE.
A STILLNESS, BUCOLIC PEACEFULNESS, RESOLUTION

AGAVE [speaking quietly, taking her time]
After my grandmother died, we dug her up again. This was in Missouri,
where we did things like that. We dug down, and--the coffin had
disintegrated, [whispering] it was only the skeleton left. Something like
a mummy. It gives you a chill.

So we threw out the wood, and the straw from this mattress they had put
in the coffin, and the clothes and socks that had sort of dissolved. And
first of all we took the head, the skull.

The idea is: when you exhume a body then your ancestors return and live
with you, you keep them around you, you don't just cut yourself off.

So we put the bones in a bucket, one by one, being careful not to pick up
any scorpions or anything like that. Grandma had two teeth...and her
eyes...Other than that people are not recognizable, we are all one thing.
So, you know, we cleaned the big bones, the arms, the spine, the ribs,
and we put the feet in socks up to the elbow. And after we got them out,
we spread them out in the sun and cleaned them with vinegar and oiled
them and covered them with a white napkin. When you're talking blood and
bones, you're talking women's work.

Of all human qualities, the greatest is sympathy.

[SOFTLY, HEARTBREAKING MUSIC COMES UP UNDER THE FOLLOWING DIALOGUE.

THIS IS THE EXCEEDINGLY BRIEF MOMENT OF BUCOLIC UTOPIA BEFORE THE MURDER
OF PENTHEUS]

PENTHEUS
Or compassion.

AGAVE
Or compassion.

SEI
For clouds even.

CHEA
Or snow.

SEI
I like anything that falls from the sky.
Except sleet.

CHEA
Or hail.

SEI
I like hail.

AGAVE
The sound of a flute.
From a distance.
Or when you hear it nearby and then it moves away.
Or the other way around.
And the wind.
A brisk wind.
Or a moist gentle wind that blows in the evenings.

There are things that are near but distant at the same time.

SEI
Like the course of a boat across a lake.

CHEA
Like paradise.

AGAVE
The relations between two people.

CHEA
Or things that give a clean feeling.

SEI
An earthen cup.

CHEA
A new wooden chest.

SEI
I pray
I could see everything once more
everything that I have seen
lived through, suffered,
in the whole of the universe.
Because I am amazed
by the bodies
that are used and abandoned on the earth
in the dung beetle
the seagull
in the stub ash
the driftwood
the spring sky
blue spruce, pale eyes,
in my veins boiling
wet lips
black pitch
open window
from generation to generation

VALERIE
Sometimes I feel my soul goes seeking blindly
I cry out after some unknown thing
I say over and over to myself
I shall go mad
I shall go mad
I shall be filled with pleasure so deep
and pain so intense
I will go drunk with the fullness of life
I will live centuries in my hours
I will grow old rapidly
Sorrow will come to me
And pain and death
The violence of the heavens
The savagery of all living things
The everlasting loss
But my happiness rolls countless years off my fingertips in a single
moment
And tomorrow the orchard will bear apples
The grapes will ripen on the vine.

AGAVE
I love a child eating strawberries.

SEI
A white jacket over a violet vest.

CHEA
Duck eggs.

SEI
Or beach parsley.

CHEA
Club moss.

SEI
The pear tree.

CHEA
The earth itself.

AGAVE
Dirt.

CHEA
The sunlight you see in water as you pour it from a pitcher into a bowl.

PENTHEUS [moved to join in, almost ecstatically]
In spring the dawn.
In summer the nights.
In autumn the evenings when the sun has set and your heart is moved by
the sound of the wind and the hum of the insects.

In winter the early mornings, especially when snow has fallen during the
night, or the ground is white with frost, or even when there is no snow
or frost, but it is simply very cold, and someone hurries from room to
room stirring up the fires and bringing charcoal or wood, and then, as
noon approaches, no one bothers to keep the fires going, and soon nothing
remains but piles of white ashes.

AGAVE
Come.
[taking his wrist, bringing him to her]
Here where we live
a woman's pulse can be
sharp as a hook
fine as a hair
taut as a music string
dead as a rock
smooth as a flowing stream.
How is your heart beating?
What would you say is normal?
A pulse can be
like water dripping through the roof
like a string of pearls
like burning firewood
like leaves scattering
like visiting strangers
like a dry mud-ball
like mixing lacquer
like spring water welling up
like a sword lying flat ready to be used
like a smooth pill
like glory.

[her hand goes to his forehead,
and, as he speaks, she strokes his hair]

PENTHEUS
How many beautiful songs have you heard
that come from all over the world
choirs of all kinds
the worker in the field
piano virtuosos, orchestras, wandering dilettantes
uplifting heart and mind
the voice of God is a hummingbird, or human voice, an orange blossom, or
pearl-rose of India, or the beautiful blue Danube, the white flowers my
friend planted without thinking in my heart.

[A long moment of silence.
We listen to the music.
The wig comes off Pentheus's head into Agave's hand.]

AGAVE [very quietly]
What's this?
This is not your hair?

PENTHEUS
Of course it is.

AGAVE [still quietly]
No.
This is not your hair.
That's not true.

[This scene proceeds with incredible tenderness,
quiet, almost whispered dialogue--very gentle.]

What else is not true?
Whose dress is this?

PENTHEUS [quietly]
Don't touch me.

EISA
It's a spy, is it?

AGAVE [still quietly]
Don't touch you?
Don't touch you here?
[reaching for his genitals]

PENTHEUS [quietly]
Don't touch me.

CHEA
Is it a man?

PENTHEUS
No. I am a...I am a kind of woman.

EISA
Get up his dress.

SEI
Let me feel.
[feeling gently for Pentheus' crotch]
I don't know.
I can't be sure.

PENTHEUS [pleading]
Take your hands off me.

VALERIE
So, this is some kind of man, then.

EISA
Some kind of deceitful beast
up to nothing good.

AGAVE
I had a boy just like him once.

[He is surrounded now by all the women.]

PENTHEUS
I am a...kind of woman.

EISA
What kind is that?

AIMABLE
A tender sort of person.

[Eisa tears Pentheus' dress
but all this remains slow, deliberate, gentle.]

EISA
Is that so?

CHEA [gently]
Let me have her.

[Chea climbs on Pentheus--this is still quiet and gentle--
clinging to him, her legs around his waist
the cook pins his arms behind his back
others tear at his dress
he falls to the ground
and the women are all over him
on top of him
pulling and tearing at him feverishly but quietly]

PENTHEUS [sobbing]
I am a woman. I am a woman.

[he suddenly screams out]

I am a woman!

[The women pick him up and whirl and slam him against the ground;
a prolonged scream from Pentheus,
then silence as his head is picked up and slammed down again and again;
women are on top of him and pulling his arms and head as the gang rape
proceeds,
slamming his head repeatedly, breaking his neck, twisting off his head,
twisting off his arms.]

[Kadmos and Tiresias enter.]

KADMOS
Agave.
Children.
What's happened here?

[The women, covered with blood, step back
and Agave holds aloft a bloody mass--not something we recognize as a fake
head,
a stage prop, but simply a bloody mass.]

AGAVE
I have his head.

Father, we've caught this wild animal,
and I have torn off his head.

KADMOS
Caught a wild animal?

AGAVE
Here in the mountains.
He came right in among us,
thinking he would take us by surprise
purring like a kitten
thinking he could deceive us
and we've ripped him into pieces.

Now, father,
you may boast
you have a daughter like no man,
bringing home a carcass
like none you've seen before
killed by your daughter's own two hands.

What deep pleasure
there is in hunting
what giddiness
what sorrow
what solemn thought
what a quivering love of animals
what exhiliration
like no other.

KADMOS
Agave.
Look what you hold.
A child torn
as one would tear a rag
by the hands of his own mother.

AGAVE [laughs]
What do you mean?
No mother would do this to her child.
Is this a riddle?
Do you think I would take his feet and swing him around to crush his head
into the side of a truck?
Do you think I would poke sand down his throat with a stick?
Do you think I would push him off a balcony
like an old trunk
and let him fall to his death?

I knew a boy once who got down out of the truck that brought him to the
camp and said: Has anyone ever gotten out of here alive? And that was
enough. They beat and slashed him till he bled to death. And later on you
would dig down through the pile of bodies and find a little boy in a
white jacket with his face pressed to his mother's breast, do you
remember their brothers falling from the buildings when the walls and
floors collapsed, the smoldering woodpiles, lingering explosions, smoking
rubble, corpses hurled into wells; or not all dead but some still clawing
at their clothes or shrieking or crawling over the motionless bodies of
those who were dead.

What mother would do this to her child?

This is a bottomless universe,
a great abyss beneath our feet,
we don't understand it.

KADMOS
Look in your hands, Agave.

[She looks,
collapses to the ground, her head thrown back in a prolonged silent
scream.]

AGAVE
All this is a dream--only a dream.

[MUSIC]

DIONYSUS [coming forward out of the shadows]
In the end,
when we feel ourselves suffocating,
covered over finally in a gully filled with rubble,
swallowed up by the earth,
the thought rushes up unbidden:
it's only a dream--
this is the last hope we have within us.

[Kadmos puts his arms around Agave,
huddling with her.
Tiresias rests his hand on Kadmos's shoulder.

The Bacchae whirl.

Black ash or black rose petals rain down, beautifully lit, from the
flies.

Dionysus, too,
whirls slowly,
like a Dervish.]

The End.
 

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