jueves, 2 de mayo de 2013

The New Step

The New Step 

A Ballet-Drama in One Act 


MARY and DIANE, two working girls who room together. MARY is very plain, plump, clumsy: ugly, if one is inclined to the word. She is the typical victim of beauty courses and glamour magazines. Her life is a search for, a belief in the technique, the elixir, the method, the secret, the hint that will transform and render her forever lovely. DIANE is a natural beauty, tall, fresh and graceful, one of the blessed. She moves to a kind of innocent sexual music, incapable of any gesture which could intrude on this high animal grace. To watch her pull on her nylons is all one needs of ballet or art. 

HARRY is the man Diane loves. He has the proportions we associate with Greek statuary. Clean, tall, openly handsome, athletic. He glitters with health, decency and mindlessness. 

The COLLECTOR is a woman over thirty, grotesquely obese, a great heap, deformed, barely mobile. She possesses a commanding will and combines the fascination of the tyrant and the freak. Her jolliness asks for no charity. All her movements represent the triumph of a rather sinister spiritual energy over an intolerable mass of flesh. 


It is eight o'clock of a Saturday night. All the action takes place in the girls' small apartment which need be furnished with no more than a dressing-mirror, wardrobe, record-player, easy chair and a front door. We have the impression, as we do from the dwelling places of most bachelor girls, of an arrangement they want to keep comfortable but temporary, 

DIANE is dressed in bra and panties, preparing herself for an evening with HARRY. MARY follows her about the room, lost in envy and awe, handing DIANE the necessary lipstick or brush, doing up a button or fastening a necklace. MARY is the dull but orthodox assistant to DIANE's mysterious ritual of beauty. 

MARY. What is it like? 

DIANE. What like? 

MARY. You know. 


MARY. To be like you. 

DIANE. Such as? 

MARY. Beautiful. 

(Pause. During these pauses DIANE continues her toilet as does MARY her attendance.) 

DIANE. Everybody can be beautiful. 

MARY. You can say that. 

DIANE. Love makes people beautiful. 

MARY. You can say that. 

DIANE. A woman in love is beautiful. 


MARY. Look at me. 

DIANE. I've got to hurry. 

MARY. Harry always waits. 

DIANE. He said he's got something on his mind. 

MARY. You've got the luck. 


MARY. Look at me a second. 

DIANE. All right. 

(MARY performs an aggressive curtsy.) 

MARY. Give me some advice. 

DIANE. Everybody has their points. 

MARY. What are my points? 

DIANE. What are your points? 

MARY. Name my points. 

(MARY stands there belligerently. She lifts up her skirt. She rolls up her sleeves. She tucks her sweater in tight.) 

DIANE. I've got to hurry. 

MARY. Name one point. 

DIANE. You've got nice hands. 

MARY (surprised). Do I ? 

DIANE. Very nice hands. 

MARY. Do I really? 

DIANE. Hands are very important. 

(MARY shows her hands to the mirror and gives them little exercises.) 

DIANE. Men often look at hands. 

MARY. They do? 

DIANE. Often. 

MARY. What do they think? 

DIANE. Think? 

MARY (impatiently). When they look at hands. 

DIANE. They think: There's a nice pair of hands. 

MARY. What else? 

DIANE. They think: Those are nice hands to hold. 

MARY. And? 

DIANE. They think: Those are nice hands to -- squeeze. 

MARY. I'm listening. 

DIANE. They think: Those are nice hands to -- kiss. 

MARY. Go on. 

DIANE. They think -- (racking her brain for compassion's sake.) 

MARY. Well? 

DIANE. Those are nice hands to -- love! 

MARY. Love! 

DIANE. Yes. 

MARY. What do you mean "love"? 

DIANE. I don't have to explain. 

MARY. Someone is going to love my hands? 

DIANE. Yes. 

MARY. What about my arms? 

DIANE. What about them? (A little surly.) 

MARY. Are they one of my points? 


DIANE. I suppose not one of your best. 

MARY. What about my shoulders? 


DIANE. Your shoulders are all right. 

MARY. You know they're not. They're not. 

DIANE. Then what did you ask me for? 

MARY. What about my bosom? 

DIANE. I don't know your bosom. 

MARY. You do know my bosom. 

DIANE. I don't. 

MARY. You do. 

DIANE. I do not know your bosom. 

MARY. You've seen me undressed. 

DIANE. I never looked that hard. 

MARY. You know my bosom all right. (But she'll let it pass. She looks disgustedly at her hands.) 

MARY. Hands! 

DIANE. Don't be so hard on yourself. 

MARY. Sexiest knuckles on the block. 

DIANE. Why hurt yourself? 

MARY. My fingers are really stacked. 

DIANE. Stop, sweetie. 

MARY. They come when they shake hands with me. 

DIANE. Now please! 

MARY. You don't know how it feels. 


MARY. Just tell me what it's like. 

DIANE. What like? 

MARY. To be beautiful. You've never told me. 

DIANE. There's no such thing as beautiful. 

MARY. Sure. 

DIANE. It's how you feel. 

MARY. I'm going to believe that. 

DIANE. It's how you feel makes you beautiful. 

MARY. Do you know how I feel? 

DIANE. Don't tell me. 

MARY. Ugly. 

DIANE. You don't have to talk like that. 

MARY. I feel ugly. What does that make me? 

(DIANE declines to answer. She steps into her high heeled shoes, the elevation bringing out the harder lines of her legs, adding to her stature an appealing haughtiness and to her general beauty a touch of violence.) 

MARY. According to what you said. 

DIANE. I don't know. 

MARY. You said: It's how you feel makes you beautiful. 

DIANE. I know what I said. 

MARY. I feel ugly. So what does that make me? 

DIANE. I don't know. 

MARY. According to what you said. 

DIANE. I don't know. 

MARY. Don't be afraid to say it. 

DIANE. Harry will be here. 

MARY. Say it! (Launching herself into hysteria.) 

DIANE. I've got to get ready. 

MARY. You never say it. You're afraid to say it. It won't kill you. The word won't kill you. You think it but you won't say it. When you get up in the morning you tiptoe to the bathroom. I tiptoe to the bathroom but I sound like an army. What do you think I think when I hear myself? Don't you think I know the difference ? It's no secret. It's not as though there aren't any mirrors. If you only said it I wouldn't try. I don't want to try. I don't want to have to try. If you only once said I was -- ugly! 

(DIANE comforts her.) 

DIANE. You're not ugly, sweetie. Nobody's ugly. Everybody can be beautiful. Your turn will come. Your man will come. He'll take you in his arms. No no no, you're not ugly. He'll teach you that you are beautiful. Then you'll know what it is. (Cradling her.) 

MARY. Will he? 

DIANE. Of course he will. 

MARY. Until then? 

DIANE. You've got to keep going, keep looking. 

MARY. Keep up with my exercises. 

DIANE. Yes. 

MARY. Keep up with my ballet lessons. 

DIANE. Exactly. 

MARY. Try and lose weight. 

DIANE. Follow the book. 

MARY. Brush my hair the right way. 

DIANE. That's the spirit. 

MARY. A hundred strokes. 

DIANE. Good. 

MARY. I've got to gain confidence. 

DIANE. You will. 

MARY. I can't give up. 

DIANE. It's easier than you think. 

MARY. Concentrate on my best points. 

DIANE. Make the best of what you have. 

MARY. Why not start now? 

DIANE. Why not. 

(MARY gathers herself together, checks her posture in the mirror, crosses to the record-player and switches it on. "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies". She begins the ballet exercises she has learned, perhaps, at the T.W.C.A., two evenings a week. Between the final touches of her toilet DIANE encourages her with nods of approval. The doorbell rings. Enter HARRY in evening clothes, glittering although his expression is solemn, for he has come on an important mission.) 

HARRY. Hi girls. Don't mind me, Mary. 

(MARY waves in the midst of a difficult contortion.) 

DIANE. Darling! 

(DIANE sweeps into his arms, takes the attitude of a dancing partner. HARRY, with a trace of reluctance, consents to lead her in a ballroom step across the floor.) 

HARRY. I've got something on my mind. 

(DIANE squeezes his arm, disengages herself, crosses to MARY and whispers.) 

DIANE. He's got something on his mind. 

(DIANE and MARY embrace in the usual squeaky conspiratorial manner with which girls preface happy matrimonial news. While MARY smiles benignly, exeunt HARRY and DIANE. MARY turns the machine louder, moves in front of the mirror, resumes the ballet exercises. She stops them from time to time to check various parts of her anatomy in the mirror at close range, as if the effects of the discipline might be already apparent.) 

MARY. Goody. 

(A long determined ring of the doorbell. MARY stops, eyes bright with expectation. Perhaps the miracle is about to unfold. She smoothes her dress and hair, switches off the machine, opens the door. The COLLECTOR enters with lumbering difficulty, looks around, takes control. The power she radiates is somehow guaranteed by her grotesque form. Her body is a huge damaged tank operating under the intimate command of a brilliant field warrior which is her mind: MARY waits, appalled and intimidated. ) 

COLLECTOR. I knew there was people in because I heard music. 

(MARY cannot speak.) 

Some people don't like to open the door. I'm in charge of the whole block. 

MARY (recovering). Are you collecting for something? 

COLLECTOR. The United Fund for the Obese, you know, UFO. That includes The Obese Catholic Drive, The Committee for Jewish Fat People, the Help the Blind Obese, and the Universal Aid to the Obese. If you make one donation you won't be bothered again. 

MARY. We've never been asked before. 

COLLECTOR. I know. But I have your card now. The whole Fund has been reorganized. 

MARY. It has? 

COLLECTOR. Oh yes. Actually it was my idea to have the Obese themselves go out and canvass. They were against it at first but I convinced them. It's the only fair way. Gives the public an opportunity to see exactly where their money goes. And I've managed to get the Spastic and Polio and Cancer people to see the light. It's the only fair way. We're all over the neighbourhood. 

MARY. It's very -- courageous. 

COLLECTOR. That's what my husband says. 

MARY. Your husband! 

COLLECTOR. He'd prefer me to stay at home. Doesn't believe in married girls working. 

MARY. Have -- have you been married long? 

COLLECTOR. Just short of a year. (Coyly) You might say we're still honeymooners. 

MARY. Oh. 

COLLECTOR. Don't be embarrassed. One of the aims of our organization is to help people like me lead normal lives. Now what could be more normal than marriage? Can you think of anything more normal? Of course you can't. It makes you feel less isolated, part of the whole community. Our people are getting married all the time. 

MARY. Of course, of course. (She is disintegrating.) 

COLLECTOR. I didn't think it would work out myself at first. But John is so loving. He's taken such patience with me. When we're together it's as though there's nothing wrong with me at all. 

MARY. What does your husband do? 

COLLECTOR. He's a chef. 

MARY. A chef. 

COLLECTOR. Not in any famous restaurant. Just an ordinary chef. But it's good enough for me. Sometimes, when he's joking, he says I married him for his profession. 

(MARY tries to laugh.) 

Well, I've been chatting too long about myself and I have the rest of this block to cover. How much do you think you'd like to give? I know you're a working girl. 

MARY. I don't know, I really don't know. 

COLLECTOR. May I make a suggestion? 

MARY. Of course. 

COLLECTOR. Two dollars. 

MARY. Two dollars. (Goes to her purse obediently.) 

COLLECTOR. I don't think that's too much, do you? 

MARY. No no. 

COLLECTOR. Five dollars would be too much. 

MARY. Too much. 

COLLECTOR. And one dollar just doesn't seem right. 

MARY. Oh, I only have a five. I don't have any change. 

COLLECTOR. I'll take it. 

MARY. You'll take it? 

COLLECTOR. I'll take it. (A command.) 

(MARY drops the bill in the transaction, being afraid to make any physical contact with the COLLECTOR. MARY stoops to pick it up. The COLLECTOR prevents her.) 

COLLECTOR. Let me do that. The whole idea is not to treat us like invalids. You just watch how well I get along. 

(The COLLECTOR retrieves the money with immense difficulty.) 

COLLECTOR. That wasn't so bad, was it? 

MARY. No. Oh no. It wasn't so bad. 

COLLECTOR. I've even done a little dancing in my time. 

MARY. That's nice. 

COLLECTOR. They have courses for us. First we do it in water, but very soon we're right up there on dry land. I bet you do some dancing yourself, a girl like you. I heard music when I came. 

MARY. Not really. 

COLLECTOR. Do you know what would make me very happy? 

MARY. It's very late. 

COLLECTOR. To see you do a step or two. 

MARY. I'm quite tired. 

COLLECTOR. A little whirl. 

MARY. I'm not very good. 

COLLECTOR. A whirl, a twirl, a bit of a swing. I'll put it on for you. 

(The COLLECTOR begins to make her way to the record-player. MARY, who cannot bear to see her expend herself, overtakes her and switches it on. MARY performs for a few moments while the COLLECTOR looks on with pleasure, tapping out the time. MARY breaks off the dance.) 

MARY. I'm not very good. 

COLLECTOR. Would a little criticism hurt you? 

MARY. NO -- 

COLLECTOR. They're not dancing like that any more. 

MARY. No? 

COLLECTOR. They're doing something altogether different. 

MARY. I wouldn't know. 

COLLECTOR. More like this. 

(The record has reached the end of its spiral and is now jerking back and forth over the last few bars.) 

COLLECTOR. Don't worry about that. 

(The COLLECTOR moves to stage centre and executes a terrifying dance to the repeating bars of music. It combines the heavy mechanical efficiency of a printing machine with the convulsions of a spastic. It could be a garbage heap falling down an escalator. It is grotesque but military, excruciating but triumphant. It is a woman-creature proclaiming a disease of the flesh. MARY tries to look away but cannot. She stares, dumbfounded, shattered and ashamed.) 

COLLECTOR. We learn to get around, don't we? 

MARY. It's very nice. (She switches off the machine.) 

COLLECTOR. That's more what they're doing. 
MARY. Is it? 

COLLECTOR. In most of the places. A few haven't caught on. 

MARY. I'm very tired now. I think -- 

COLLECTOR. You must be tired. 

MARY. I am. 

COLLECTOR. With all my talking. 

MARY. Not really. 

COLLECTOR. I've taken your time. 

MARY. You haven't. 

COLLECTOR. I'll write you a receipt. 

MARY. It isn't necessary. 

COLLECTOR. Yes it is. (She writes.) This isn't official. An official receipt will be mailed to you from the Fund head-quarters. You'll need it for Income Tax. 

MARY. Thank you. 

COLLECTOR. Thank you. I've certainly enjoyed this. 

MARY. Me too. (She is now confirmed in a state of numbed surrender.) 

COLLECTOR (with a sudden disarming tenderness that changes through the speech into a vision of uncompromising domination). No, you didn't. Oh, I know you didn't. It frightened you. It made you sort of sick. It had to frighten you. It always does at the beginning. Everyone is frightened at the beginning. That's part of it. Frightened and -- fascinated. Fascinated -- that's the important thing. You were fascinated too, and that's why I know you'll learn the new step. You see, it's a way to start over and forget about all the things you were never really good at. Nobody can resist that, can they? That's why you'll learn the new step. That's why I must teach you. And soon you'll want to learn. Everybody will want to learn. We'll be teaching everybody. 

MARY. I'm fairly busy. 

COLLECTOR. Don't worry about that. We'll find time. We'll make time. You won't believe this now, but soon, and it will be very soon, you're going to want me to teach you everything. Well, you better get some sleep. Sleep is very important. I want to say thank you. All the Obese want to say thank you. 

MARY. Nothing. Goodnight. 

COLLECTOR. Just beginning for us. 

(Exit the COLLECTOR. MARY, dazed and exhausted stands at the door for some time. She moves toward stage centre, attempts a few elementary exercises, collapses into the chair and stares dumbly at the audience. The sound of a key in the lock. Door opens. Enter DIANE alone, crying.) 

DIANE. I didn't want him to see me home. 

(MARY is unable to cope with anyone else's problem at this 

MARY. What's the matter with you? 

DIANE. It's impossible. 

MARY. What's impossible? 

DIANE. What happened. 

MARY. What happened? 

DIANE. He doesn't want to see me any more. 

MARY. Harry? 

DIANE. Harry. 

MARY. Your Harry? 

DIANE. You know damn well which Harry. 

MARY. Doesn't want to see you any more? 


MARY. I thought he loved you. 

DIANE. So did I. 

MARY. I thought he really loved you. 

DIANE. So did I. 

MARY. You told me he said he loved you. 

DIANE. He did. 

MARY. But now he doesn't? 


MARY. Oh. 

DIANE. It's terrible. 

MARY. It must be. 

DIANE. It came so suddenly. 

MARY. It must have. 

DIANE. I thought he loved me. 

MARY. So did I. 

DIANE. He doesn't! 

MARY. Don't cry. 

DIANE. He's getting married. 

MARY. He isn't! 

DIANE. Yes. 

MARY. He isn't! 

DIANE. This Sunday. 

MARY. This Sunday? 

DIANE. Yes. 

MARY. So soon? 

DIANE. Yes. 

MARY. He told you that? 

DIANE. Tonight. 

MARY. What did he say? 

DIANE. He said he's getting married this Sunday. 

MARY. He's a bastard. 

DIANE. Don't say that. 

MARY. I say he's a bastard. 

DIANE. Don't talk that way. 

MARY. Why not? 

DIANE. Don't. 

MARY. After what he's done? 

DIANE. It's not his fault. 

MARY. Not his fault? 

DIANE. He fell in love. 

(The word has its magic effect.) 

MARY. Fell in love? 

DIANE. Yes. 

MARY. With someone else? 

DIANE. Yes. 

MARY. He fell out of love with you? 

DIANE. I Suppose SO. 

MARY. That's terrible. 

DIANE. He said he couldn't help it. 

MARY. Not if it's love. 

DIANE. He said it was. 

MARY. Then he couldn't help it. 

(DIANE begins to remove her make-up and undress, reversing exactly every step of her toilet. MARY, still bewildered, but out of habit, assists her.) 

MARY. And you're so beautiful. 


MARY. Your hair. 


MARY. Your shoulders. 


MARY. Everything. 


MARY. What did he say? 

DIANE. He told me everything. 

MARY. Such as what? 

DIANE. Harry's a gentleman. 

MARY. I always thought so. 

DIANE. He wanted me to know everything. 

MARY. It's only fair. 

DIANE. He told me about her. 

MARY. What did he say? 

DIANE. He said he loves her. 

MARY. Then he had no choice. 

DIANE. He said she's beautiful. 

MARY. He didn't! 

DIANE. What can you expect? 

MARY. I Suppose SO. 

DIANE. He loves her, after all. 

MARY. Then I guess he thinks she's beautiful. 


MARY. What else did he say? 

DIANE. He told me everything. 

MARY. How did he meet her? 

DIANE. She came to his house. 

MARY. What for? 

DIANE. She was collecting money. 

MARY. Money! (Alarm.) 

DIANE. For a charity. 

MARY. Charity! 

DIANE. Invalids of some kind. 

MARY. Invalids! 

DIANE. That's the worst part. 

MARY. What part? 

DIANE. She's that way herself. 

MARY. What way? 

DIANE. You know. 

MARY. What way, what way? 

DIANE. You know. 

MARY. Say it! 

DIANE. She's an invalid. 

MARY. Harry's marrying an invalid? 

DIANE. This Sunday. 

MARY. You said he said she was beautiful. 

DIANE. He did. 

MARY. Harry is going to marry an invalid. 

DIANE. What should I do? 

MARY. Harry who said he loved you. (Not a question.) 

DIANE. I'm miserable. 

(MARY is like a woman moving through a fog toward a light.) 

MARY. Harry is going to marry an invalid. He thinks she's beautiful. (MARY switches on the record-player.) She came to his door. Harry who told you he loved you. You who told me I had my points. 

('The Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairies" begins. MARY dances but she does not use the steps she learned at the Y.W.C.A. She dances in conscious imitation of the COLLECTOR.) 

DIANE. What are you doing? (Horrified.) 

(MARY smiles at her.) 

DIANE. Stop it! Stop it this instant! 

MARY. Don't tell me what to do. Don't you dare. Don't ever tell me what to do. Don't ever. 

(The dance continues. DIANE, dressed in bra and panties as at 
the beginning, backs away.) 


Leonard Cohen, Flowers for Hitler

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