Quills and Other Plays
By Doug Wright
Faber and Faber, Inc. Copyright © 2005 Doug Wright
All rights reserved.
(Lights rise to reveal DUCHAMP standing at the top of the stairs. To thestrains of "La Vie en Rose," he lights his pipe and slowly descends. At thebase of the stairs, he regards the audience for a moment, smiling.
Next, he steps forward to confront THE INSPECTOR, who sits behind his desk. Lights rise to a full glow in the precinct office.)
DUCHAMP: Pardon, monsieur, I wish to report a crime.
INSPECTOR: Who doesn't? Have you filed a form?
DUCHAMP: A form?
INSPECTOR: Look, pal, it's a big city. Men get their pockets picked. Women get their purses snitched. Kids get their ice cream licked clean off the cone. So don't waltz in here boasting you've got some crime to report. You fill out a proper form, then you make an appointment, like the rest of 'em.
DUCHAMP: I'm afraid it's urgent.
INSPECTOR: Of course it is. They always are. What happened? Somebody lift your timepiece? Somebody spit on your shoes?
DUCHAMP: A woman's been dismembered.
DUCHAMP: A nude woman, torn apart limb by limb, the pieces hurled down a staircase.
INSPECTOR (Blanching.): My God ...
DUCHAMP: Perhaps you have an appointment available this afternoon?
INSPECTOR: Don't get fresh with me, mister. If some poor girl's been butchered, that's serious business. Only how do I know you're on the up-and-up?
DUCHAMP: There's a leg on the landing.
INSPECTOR: Hmm. Yes. What say I file a report ...
(The INSPECTOR pulls a thick stack of forms from his desk.) You discover the body?
DUCHAMP: I did.
INSPECTOR: Your name.
DUCHAMP: Duchamp. Marcel Duchamp.
INSPECTOR: Come again?
INSPECTOR: A foreigner, eh?
DUCHAMP: A Frenchman.
INSPECTOR: And what do you do for a living, er ... ah ...
(The INSPECTOR slips on DUCHAMP's name.)
... Mr. Doo-Champ? Don't tell me. Let me guess. Import, export. Wines, perfumes, ladies' undergarments and the like. I know you Frenchmen.
DUCHAMP: I am an artist, Inspector.
(The INSPECTOR makes a note.)
INSPECTOR: Unemployed. Any idea when the violence occurred?
DUCHAMP: Early morning. Half past one.
INSPECTOR: That's very good. Very exact. An eye for detail, eh, Mr. Doo-Champ?
DUCHAMP: The eye of an artist, Inspector.
INSPECTOR: We'll have our man in no time, won't we?
DUCHAMP: I expect we shall.
INSPECTOR: The scene of the crime.
DUCHAMP: Thirty-three West Sixty-seventh Street.
INSPECTOR: A residence?
INSPECTOR: Is that so?
I want to send a patrolman around to your place. You won't mind if he does a little poking around? Chalk on the floor, some dusting. Standard procedure.
(The INSPECTOR calls for CONSTABLE PUBLICK.)
Constable Publick, inside my office. Pronto!
(No answer. The INSPECTOR questions DUCHAMP further.)
Your apartment? Burglarized?
DUCHAMP: Nothing to take, monsieur.
INSPECTOR: Any telltale clues lying about the room?
DUCHAMP: All about. Arms, legs, feet, ribs, somersaulting down the steps ...
INSPECTOR: No, goddamnit, I mean the weapon! The machete. The scythe. The hacksaw
DUCHAMP: A palette knife and two paintbrushes. Camel hair.
(DUCHAMP presents a small bundle to the INSPECTOR.)
INSPECTOR: Nothing else? A hatchet, perhaps? Not even a lousy bread knife?
DUCHAMP: Wedged beneath the sofa, crumpled in a heap, I found these.
(DUCHAMP holds forth another bundle.)
A feathered hat and some old opera gloves.
(The INSPECTOR takes the bundle and inspects the clothes. The gloves are black and beaded, and the hat is an explosion of dark feathers.)
INSPECTOR: Hmm ... Expensive fabric. Possibly imported. Goddamnit, where is he? Constable! Get in here! Now!
PUBLICK (From the wings.): Aw, Chief, I got a helluva hand here!
INSPECTOR: You heard me!
(PUBLICK enters, cards in hand.)
PUBLICK: Chief, look! A full house. And I'm in hock up to my elbows! Only thing I got left as collateral is my goddamn badge!
INSPECTOR: Remember your post, Constable. You're on assignment. This is Mr. Doo-Champ. Claims he witnessed a homicide around one-thirty in the a.m. I want you to verify his story. Round up the boys and visit this address. Inspect the premises for any disarray. Furniture topsy-turvy. Broken windows. Appendages.
INSPECTOR: Who told you police work was pretty Publick? You want a dainty job, paint pictures. Right, Mr. Doo-Champ?
DUCHAMP: Oh, quite right.
INSPECTOR: Report back to me with your findings. If necessary notify the coroner.
PUBLICK: Dead dogs on trolley tracks. Squabbles in butcher shops. Explosions in orphanages. I get the dregs, you know that?
INSPECTOR: Take a bucket, just in case.
PUBLICK: I could've played the saxophone. I had the talent.
(PUBLICK exits. Hecan be heard on his way out.)
Cash in your chips, boys, we're on duty!
INSPECTOR: If there's a weapon to be found, he'll smell it out. Kid's got a nose like a bloodhound.
DUCHAMP: The killer used brute force.
INSPECTOR: Bare hands?
DUCHAMP: Without question.
INSPECTOR: You said the body was hacked to pieces. ...
DUCHAMP: It was ... fragmented.
INSPECTOR: What are you telling me, that a human being had the strength to tear limbs like drumsticks? Impossible.
DUCHAMP: I was there, Inspector.
INSPECTOR: You saw the assailant?
DUCHAMP: Oh, yes. Indeed.
INSPECTOR: With his bare hands, eh? Well, now. My my. He must've been a mighty big thug. A giant, subhuman son of a bitch. Fire in his eyes, blood on his breath, and fists like cannonballs.
DUCHAMP: He was a slender man with a dapper profile and a pronounced European flair. Adored by a few bosom friends, and a well-kept mystery to the public at large.
INSPECTOR: That's our man?
DUCHAMP: That, Inspector, is he.
INSPECTOR: Doesn't sound like a homicidal mangler, if you ask me.
DUCHAMP: It's always the quiet ones in the end. The men you least suspect.
INSPECTOR: The eye of an artist, you say. Let's put that to the test, shall we? You say you saw the man. What was he wearing? His shoes — did they lace or buckle? Come on, now! Tell me. Were his fingernails clean?
DUCHAMP: Cordovans, tightly laced. Flecks of paint wedged beneath his nails. Slight, ethereal, and fond of good tobacco.
(DUCHAMP pulls a pipe from his breast pocket and begins filling it from apouch.)
INSPECTOR: That so?
(The INSPECTOR stares at DUCHAMP for a moment, then begins circling him slowly.)
How tall would you say he was?
DUCHAMP: My height, I should say.
INSPECTOR: Is that right?
DUCHAMP: In these shoes.
INSPECTOR: Catch wind of the fella's voice? An accent, perhaps?
DUCHAMP: Decidedly Franais.
INSPECTOR: That's downright chilling, isn't it?
(DUCHAMP lights his pipe and begins to puff.)
INSPECTOR: You're an artist, eh?
DUCHAMP: I confess. I am.
INSPECTOR: The tools of the trade, that would include ...
DUCHAMP: A palette knife and some camel brushes.
INSPECTOR: Let me see your fingernails.
DUCHAMP thrusts out his hands.)
I think, Mr. Doo-Champ, that we've found our man.
DUCHAMP: Yes, Inspector, I believe we have. Will you be notifying the papers, or should I?
(With amazing speed, the INSPECTOR pushes DUCHAMP into a chair. There is an abrupt change of lighting; the interrogation bulb glowswhitehot,and illuminates the two men while the surrounding stage is plunged into darkness. The INSPECTOR is hunched and sweaty; DUCHAMP shifts in his seat. It's as if the interrogation had been going on for hours.)
INSPECTOR: I'll teach you to play games with the N.Y.P.D.! So you're a killer, are you?
DUCHAMP: Only when provoked, monsieur.
INSPECTOR: Let's start from the beginning. The night of the crime, you and the victim were alone together in your apartment. Correct?
DUCHAMP: Very much alone.
INSPECTOR: At approximately half past one you slit the victim's throat with the palette knife from beneath your easel, and then you proceeded to subdivide her.
INSPECTOR: With your bare hands.
INSPECTOR: That's hard to believe. You're a slight man.
DUCHAMP: Perhaps she was a slight woman, Inspector.
INSPECTOR: Who was she?
DUCHAMP: Ooh, a dangerous question ...
INSPECTOR: Maybe you didn't know her name. Won't be the first time I've seen it happen. Rosy nameless farm girl comes into the big city. She's got stars in her eyes, you've got bloodlust in yours. Poor girl winds up buried in a hat box. Wouldn't surprise me at all if you never even thought to ask after her name.
DUCHAMP: Eros is eros is a Rose.
DUCHAMP: Rose. Her name was Rose.
INSPECTOR: She got a last name?
DUCHAMP: Selavy. Rose Selavy. Erosc'est la vie!
INSPECTOR: French, was she?
DUCHAMP: Of course!
INSPECTOR: One of your own, eh? My God, buddy you're a bona fide cannibal, aren't you? Now what, may I ask, was the little lady's profession?
DUCHAMP: My muse. My Mama Dada.
INSPECTOR: Come again?
DUCHAMP: An artist's model. She posed for me in my studio.
INSPECTOR: I've heard that one before. Model. Actress. Chanteuse. All means the same in the end. Five dollars and a cheap hotel. Just how did she pose, Mr. Doo-Champ?
DUCHAMP: With composure.
INSPECTOR: No, I mean ... how? What did she wear ... when she posed?
DUCHAMP: She was nude.
INSPECTOR: Of course. You're a healthy man, eh, Mr. Doo-Champ? And this Rose. She's a hearty woman. ...
DUCHAMP: What are you suggesting?
INSPECTOR: Let me see if I got this down. She would stand at one end of the room, in the buff, à la naturale naked under the eyes of God, and you would stand at the other, all by your lonesome, hidden behind an easel, twiddling your brush. Well?
DUCHAMP: I have a small apartment, Inspector. The easel and the bed, they are side by side.
INSPECTOR: Aha! Good. Thank you. So it is, in fact, fair to suggest that your relationship with Miss ... er ...
(The INSPECTOR trips on the name.)
... Sellavie extended beyond professional.
DUCHAMP: I suppose so.
INSPECTOR: Way beyond.
INSPECTOR: That you were, in fact, party to certain acts, private acts, possibly even perversions.
DUCHAMP: Please, Inspector.
INSPECTOR: Painting's not your only pleasure, is it, Mr. Doo-Champ?
(DUCHAMP is silent.)
Come now. I'm a man's man. No need to be shy.
DUCHAMP: We fucked, Inspector, like machines. Together, grinding, pounding with the relentless tenacity of steam engines. The mice beneath the mattress would scurry for their very lives. Afterward, we would sleep for days, our bones gelatinous and our skins chafed, so great was our exhaustion. We would forget to eat for weeks at a time, until we noticed our ribs arching outward beneath our naked skin. Then we would refuel, only to continue our recklessness. Sometimes I would abandon my canvas and paint Rose, her lips a fiery slash and her nipples sunbursts. I would create landscapes on her belly and portraits on each cheek of her great white ass. Now are you satisfied, Inspector?
INSPECTOR (Scribbling madly.): Great ... white ... ass ...
(The INSPECTOR pauses for a moment and rereads what he has written.)
I can't put this filth in my report! I'd be discharged! ... Sunbursts, eh?
INSPECTOR: Those paintbrushes of yours should be burned. Profaning human flesh like that.
(The INSPECTOR makes a few more hasty notes.)
What about her family, eh? I've got to polish my brass and stand tall, and tell some poor parents that their sweet baby's been pulverized. Any of her people living in this country?
DUCHAMP: Only me.
INSPECTOR: Blood relatives, Mr. Doo-Champ.
DUCHAMP: Rose was my twin.
DUCHAMP: We shared the same umbilical cord, Rose and I. For a while, it was feared we shared the same heart.
INSPECTOR: You and this Rose, this tart with the fire on her titties and the faces on her ass, you had the same father? The same mother?
DUCHAMP: We were joined at birth.
INSPECTOR: Sure, sure. Like dogs in jars at Coney Island.
DUCHAMP: Even in the womb, we cuddled. It was predestined, before we entered the world. What could be done, Inspector? Try and resist fate.
INSPECTOR: I shouldn't be listening to this pornography. I've got a wife and three little girls at home. Brother and sister; it's a fact?
DUCHAMP: Fact or fiction, that's your department, not mine.
INSPECTOR: This Rose. Did she pose for other artists, too?
DUCHAMP: I flattered myself that Rose and I were inseparable.
INSPECTOR: Were you?
DUCHAMP: Apparently not.
INSPECTOR: She double-crossed you, did she?
DUCHAMP: Rose would lick my eyelashes with the tip of her tongue and promise in a low voice to pose only for me. Only I was privy to every curve, every follicle. Only I could breathe her breath, taste her hollows, reproduce her form —
INSPECTOR: Answer the question.
DUCHAMP: Yes. She double-crossed me.
INSPECTOR: So there were other men.
DUCHAMP: One. Another artist. If she'd betrayed me with countless others, it would have been easier. Better her heart be splintered in a thousand shards than two equal halves.
INSPECTOR: Now this, ah, third party, was he —?
DUCHAMP: No relation.
INSPECTOR: Thank God! But you knew him. ...
DUCHAMP: He's a photographer. Nudes are his specialty. "Nudescapes," he calls them.
INSPECTOR: "Skintypes," I call them. He took nudie pictures of your twin sister?
DUCHAMP: Made me a cuckold. A clown.
INSPECTOR: And just what does this photographer do with these skintypes of his?
DUCHAMP: Many sell at fashionable galleries, at fashionable prices.
INSPECTOR: And the shots of your sister — he sold them to strangers?
DUCHAMP: The pictures of Rose are his private stock. He hoards them the way a greedy child stashes sweetmeats. I've heard he keeps them locked in a birdcage, beneath his bed.
INSPECTOR: So tell me. This pornographer, does he have a name?
DUCHAMP: He calls himself Man Ray.
INSPECTOR: An alias if ever I heard one. We'll need a description to track the son of a bitch down for testimony.
DUCHAMP: By day he's a man's man, swilling beer, wine, and whiskey in a single glass, spouting dirty stories in the middle of an arm wrestle.
INSPECTOR: But by night ...
DUCHAMP: He fancies himself a ladies' man, going through models the way most artists go through paint, teasing them with his lens, then throwing them away like torn celluloid or spent cigarettes.
INSPECTOR: Or faded Roses, eh, Mr. Doo-Champ?
DUCHAMP: Some have a weakness for bonbons. Others for gadgets and automobiles. But Man Ray impulsive and heedless, Man Ray had a penchant pour la femme.
(DUCHAMP stands, steps away from the precinct office, and pulls open a trapdoor. A red light glows from beneath, suggesting a darkroom.)
He once told me:
(MAN RAY emerges from below.)
MAN RAY: Christ, Duchamp, you've got me pegged all wrong. It's got nothing to do with lust. It's technique! To get a girl on film, I've got to know her body firsthand. Hell, Cézanne squeezed pears before sketching them, didn't he? It's symmetry. It's proportion. You understand. I use sex to compensate for a bad eye.
DUCHAMP (To the INSPECTOR.): I'll never forget the night he confessed the hope that Rose might join his celluloid harem. It was well after midnight; we'd emptied a bottle of pirated booze and took turns sucking on it for flavor. He broached his scheme with due caution; his boorishness had driven all other prospects away.
(Lights rise on MAN RAY's apartment. DUCHAMP enters the space. While MAN RAY hangs fresh photos on the line, DUCHAMP fiddleswith the pieces on a nearby chessboard.)
MAN RAY: I've had it, Duchamp. The last straw.
DUCHAMP: What now?
MAN RAY: Look at me. Am I such an almighty, ever-loving pig?
DUCHAMP: Another model, flown?
MAN RAY: Bernice, the barmaid, works at the Pepper Pot. Two beers and a lobster dinner. I take her back to my place, pull out my camera, and you know what she says to me? "Portraits only, from the neck up!"
MAN RAY: So, if I want headshots I'll snap my own! But I butter her up. "In a photograph," I tell her, "you can live forever. No wrinkles. No liver spots. Let me stitch you forever in the fabric of time."
DUCHAMP (Aside, to the INSPECTOR.): Under duress, the photographer turns poet!
MAN RAY: Pearls before swine! "Listen here, ace," the tart starts shouting. "when I said I'd come back with you, I never promised a souvenir program!" I offer money — that really lights her fuse. "Oh, hooray! Mr. Vanderbilt! Quick, I'm gonna book myself a cruise!" She heads for the door. "In Paris," I say, "even aristocratic women are dying to pose. On their knees, they beg men like me."
DUCHAMP: And did she?
MAN RAY: "Vive la France!" she says, and slams the door.
DUCHAMP: You've been chasing nudes for months. Try something new.
MAN RAY: Like what? Bowls of fruit?
DUCHAMP: An apple or a melon might weather your insults better than a woman.
MAN RAY: I should photograph Rose.
MAN RAY: Your sister. Rose. She's been kicking around inside my head for weeks. You say she's exotic ... that she bristles with mystery. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Quills and Other Plays by Doug Wright. Copyright © 2005 Doug Wright. Excerpted by permission of Faber and Faber, Inc..
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