SHELAGH: I bet there are three kinds of people who seek you out in confession.
MARK: And who, pray tell, might these people be? The first kind.
SHELAGH: (Spitting out the words.) Fags! God, how they must drool, kneeling inside those hot and sweaty boxes, knowing you are on the other side of the screen, knowing you will be listening to their heavy breathing, knowing you will have to forgive them their lust!
MARK: (Quietly.) And the second kind?
SHELAGH: (Rapidly, bitterly.) Fag hags. Older women. More experienced women. Women who are bored with their husbands because their husbands are bored with them. Women who allow other women’s husbands to speculate about them–”Does she, or doesn’t she?”–because they need to be reassured that they are still young, still attractive, still capable of doing wild things in bed! Women who submit themselves to the ultimate test of their femininity, the seduction of that which is sacrosanct and verboten, the conversion of Sodom and Gomorrah. Women who make the tragic mistake of falling in love with men who…simply are not interested in women.
MARK: (After a long silence.) And the third kind?
SHELAGH: (Sadly.) Teenyboppers. Oversexed and precocious. The daughters of fag hags. Little girls who don’t know better than to…compete with their own mothers. (Short pause, then bitterly.) When she was small, Rhoda and I used to do things together, tell each other our secrets, share all our likes and dislikes. Why, until very recently, I was even helping her to save up enough money to buy her own car! A small Pinto, I suggested, but no, she wants a Mustang, just like I have. (She looks at MARK suddenly, and laughs.) Oh, we still do most things together, don’t get me wrong. Still mount the same hobbyhorses, if you will. But we no longer like each other enough to burden ourselves with one another’s…confidences. For that we go to…other people. Your brother, for instance.
Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris
YOUNG FRANK: (Incredulously.) I was married to that? Oh, surely, I could have done better. Even Mrs. Mayhew in Kansas was better than that!
OLD FRANK: (Laughing.) That is a widow worth over ninety thousand pounds. Also, after three decades of marriage to a man 38 years her senior she was plainly ripe for…
EMILY: Mr. Harris?
MIDDLE FRANK: (Turning around to face her.) Yes?
EMILY: I was beginning to think you’d left the party without saying goodbye to anyone.
MIDDLE FRANK: (Pouring himself another glass of port.) Oh no, Mrs. Clayton. I wouldn’t do that. I was just…
EMILY: Hiding from all the mothers with unmarried daughters? Ahhhh, Mr. Harris, you must get used to that. Eligible young bachelors are a rarity in our circle. Tell me, how does it feel to be the most talked-about man in London tonight?
MIDDLE FRANK: Am I the most talked-about man in London tonight?
EMILY: Come, come, Mr. Harris. It’s not everyday a 30-year-old maverick gets appointed editor of the Fortnightly Review! (Pause.) And what do you think of our unmarried daughters? Some of them can be quite charming, I’m told.
MIDDLE FRANK: I’m afraid I really do not care for young girls.
MIDDLE FRANK: (Obviously enjoying himself.) Women are, in my opinion, like wine. Red Bordeaux is like the lawful wife: an excellent beverage that goes with every meal, always acceptable, but entirely predictable. If a man accustomed to Red Bordeaux wants something more exhilirating, chances are he’ll turn to champagne. Champagne is like the woman of the streets: always within reach, although its price is out of all proportion to its worth.
EMILY: Please continue with your analogy. I find the conceit most stimulating.
MIDDLE FRANK: Moselle is the girl of fourteen to eighteen: light, quick on the tongue, has little or no body. The memory of it is fleeting and fragile. Burgundy I think of as the woman of thirty: more generous, more body, a perfume which lingers.
(He refills his glass again. He holds up the decanter of port and smiles.)
And then we come to port, the woman of forty or older: richer and sweeter than all the others, keeps excellently and ripens with age, but can only be drunk freely by youth. Yes, if one is young and vigorous, the best wine in the world is crusted port, half a century old.
EMILY: And you, Mr. Harris, which of all these wines do you prefer?
MIDDLE FRANK: ( A twinkle in his eye.) It is port I am now drinking.
OLD FRANK: ( To YOUNG FRANK.) Ahhh, you were in your element then! Magnificent, just magnificent!EMILY: ( Slowly.) Mr. Harris, I have at home a very fine bottle of crusted port. I’ve been saving it since my husband died. If I give a small party Friday next and promise to let you sample the port, will you come?
MIDDLE FRANK: Of course. I will be delighted
EMILY: Good. I shall send my carriage to fetch you….Until next Friday, then. Goodnight, Mr. Harris.
(End of scene.)
(Scene 6: A week later, the classroom. Lights up on the blackboard already in place. On the table is a batch of tidily-stapled essays. DAVID writes two short sentences on the board–”Lilian sings. David doesn’t.”–then turns around to face the class. He picks up the batch of essays and looks at his watch.)
DAVID: We’ve got a few minutes left, so before I return these gems to you, I’d like to talk briefly about the semicolon, and hope that in future you will know how to use this particular punctuation. (Short pause.) The most common usage of the semicolon is to join two complete sentences. “Lilian sings. David doesn’t.” The period is perfectly acceptable, but it isn’t ideal. It’s too divisive. It chops up what might have been one thought into two independent thoughts. A comma is a no-no, so what are we to do?
We could turn the whole thing into a compound sentence by using a coordinate conjunction: “Lilian sings, but David doesn’t.” “Whenever Lilian sings, David doesn’t.” Or, for that matter, into a complex sentence by using any number of subordinate conjunctions: “Although Lilian sings, David doesn’t. “Because Lilian sings, David doesn’t.”
But what if subordination isn’t what we want? Ahhhh, that’s when we fall back on the semicolon.
(David erases the period between the two sentences on the board and substitutes a large semicolon.)
Think of the semicolon as a period on top of a comma, the halfway point between a period and a comma–not a complete stop, but also longer than a pause, a sort of intermission. (Short pause.) Are there any questions?
(He starts to distribute the essays as the lights slowly fade to black for the end of Act One and the intermission.)
Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris
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