Spinning into Butter: A Play

Spinning into Butter: A Play

by Rebecca Gilman

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Set on a college campus in Vermont, Spinning into Butter is a new play by a major young American playwright that explores the dangers of both racism and political correctness in America today in a manner that is at once profound, disturbing, darkly comic, and deeply cathartic. Rebecca Gilman challenges our preconceptions about race relations, writing of a

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Set on a college campus in Vermont, Spinning into Butter is a new play by a major young American playwright that explores the dangers of both racism and political correctness in America today in a manner that is at once profound, disturbing, darkly comic, and deeply cathartic. Rebecca Gilman challenges our preconceptions about race relations, writing of a liberal dean of students named Sarah Daniels who investigates the pinning of anonymous, clearly racist letters on the door of one of the college's few African American students. The stunning discovery that there is a virulent racist on campus forces Sarah, along with other faculty members and students, to explore her feelings about racism, leading to surprising discoveries and painful insights that will rivet and provoke the reader as perhaps no play since David Mamet's Oleanna has done.

Spinning into Butter had its world premiere at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in May 1999 and opened at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center in New York in April 2000.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Splendid . . . A play of blistering force . . . [Gilman] is poised to have a major impact on the American theater." —Chris Jones, Variety

"An extraordinarily fresh, eloquent, and candid new play... by a writer of surprising gifts." —Richard Christiansen, Chicago Tribune

Library Journal
Gilman has received numerous awards for her plays, which include Glory of Living. Boy Gets Girl, which had its premiere in Chicago on March 16, 2000, considers what happens when a blind date turns into a living nightmare. This brilliant and thought-provoking new drama takes us into the life of Theresa, a New York City magazine reporter who suddenly finds herself being terrorized by a stalker after she rejects him. In Spinning into Butter, an unprecedented incident of racism on the campus of idyllic Belmont College, VT, forces Sarah Daniels, the liberal-minded dean of students, to confront her own demons of prejudice and fears while also exposing the shallow minds and insincerity of the other administrators. (An ironic plot twist reveals the significance of the play s title.) Here, Gilman challenges us to think about the dangers of racism and political correctness. Her skillful use of dialog to create character and move the plot is evident in both of these new plays, which are highly recommended for modern drama collections at public and academic libraries. Howard Miller, St. Louis Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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Spinning into Butter

A Play

By Rebecca Gilman

Faber and Faber, Inc.

Copyright © 2000 Rebecca Gilman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-9844-4


Scene one

A dean's office at Belmont College, a small Liberal arts college in Belmont, Vermont. It is a large office, with built-in bookshelves full of books and nice white trim and a large warm rug on the floor. The desk is cluttered with papers and more books, and there are several very comfortable-looking chairs. There may even be a fireplace. Large windows provide a lot of light.

Sitting at the desk is SARAH DANIELS, who is the college's Dean of Students. She is earnest in her desire to do right by her students.

There is a knock at the door.

SARAH Come in.

(PATRICK CHIBAS enters. He is self-assured, dressed in running shorts and a T-shirt.)

PATRICK Dean Daniels? I think I was next. I got a note in my box that said you wanted to see me?

SARAH (Smiles.) I left notes for a lot of students. (PATRICK stares at her.) I need you to tell me your name.

PATRICK Oh. Sorry. Patrick Chibas.

SARAH Patrick. Great. Have a seat. (PATRICK takes a seat and looks around while she fishes out a file from a pile on her desk. While she looks) Welcome back. How's moving going?


SARAH (Finds his file but doesn't open it yet.) What dorm are you in this year?

PATRICK Grange Hall.

SARAH Was that your first choice?


SARAH I guess sophomores always get the short straw, don't they?


SARAH Did you go home for the summer?

PATRICK For the first part, and then I went to Florida.

SARAH Did you have an internship?

PATRICK No. I just bummed around. I waited tables at the Fish Shack.

SARAH Just relaxed, huh?

PATRICK Yeah. (Small beat.) Am I in trouble?

SARAH No! No. I'm sorry, Patrick. I actually wanted to talk to you about a scholarship. (Opens his file.)

PATRICK Oh yeah?

SARAH Yeah. You declared an environmental sciences major last spring.


SARAH Well, we have a scholarship that's designated for ... well, it's designated for an outstanding minority student in environmental sciences, and I just ... Well ... I wondered if you might be interested.


SARAH Good. There's just one thing, then. I need to ask you, Patrick, on your Belmont application, you ... Under the voluntary disclosure of your racial/ethnic background you marked "Other."


SARAH Okay. I guess I need to know, so I can make a recommendation to the board, just what "other" is. If you don't mind.

PATRICK I don't mind. I'm Nuyorican.

SARAH Nuyorican?


SARAH Huh. Would it be fair for me to say, then, that you're, um, Hispanic?

PATRICK I prefer Nuyorican.

SARAH Of course. I just ... Well, to simplify things, when I make my recommendation to the board, do you think I could just mention that you're Hispanic?

PATRICK What's wrong with Nuyorican?

SARAH Nothing, of course.

PATRICK Then why don't you just say that?

SARAH I will. (Beat.) And then, I think, I'll probably be asked to explain, and I wondered, could I just explain by saying that you're Hispanic?

PATRICK Why would you be asked to explain?

SARAH Because the members of our scholarship advisory board are ... well ... to be honest, Patrick, they're not culturally sensitive. (PATRICK stares at her.) If you know what I mean.

PATRICK I guess I don't.

SARAH I think they tend to see the world in very ... limited terms, as black or white or re ... (She stops herself.) ... racially divided along solid, clearly delineated lines.

PATRICK So you're saying they're old?

SARAH Yes. They're old. And they're just ... They're not going to know what Nuyorican is.

PATRICK (Sighs.) Look, you understand why I don't want to be called Hispanic, don't you?

SARAH As I understand it, and correct me, please, if I'm wrong, it's because it really only applies to imperialists of European descent who colonized Puerto Rico.

PATRICK Yeah. I mean, if you understand, then ...

SARAH Why am I suggesting it? Good question. (Beat.) And you're right. I shouldn't compromise your feelings for the sake of expediency. I'm sorry.

PATRICK That's okay.

SARAH (Thinking) What about Latino?

PATRICK (Irritated) No.

SARAH How 'bout just plain Puerto Rican?

PATRICK No. (Beat.)

SARAH It's a twelve-thousand-dollar scholarship, Patrick.


SARAH I want you to get it. It just seems like a shame to me to leave money sitting around in a bank when it could be doing you some good. You're a remarkably talented student and I think you should be rewarded in a meaningful way. (Long pause.)

PATRICK You can put Puerto Rican.

SARAH (Smiles.) Thank you. (She makes a note.) I'll let you know as soon as I hear.

PATRICK (Taking his cue, standing) Okay. Sure. Thanks, Dean Daniels.

SARAH You're welcome. Will you send in whoever's next?


(PATRICK opens the office door. As he does, Ross COLLINS enters. He is an art history professor, handsome and energetic.)

ROSS (To SARAH) Hey. (To PATRICK) Hi, there.

PATRICK Hi, Dr. Collins.

(PATRICK exits. ROSS closes the door.)

ROSS Is he one of my students?

SARAH I don't know.

ROSS Have you got a second?

SARAH I don't know, Ross. There are a ton of kids out there.

ROSS Just a second?

SARAH Okay. (ROSS doesn't say anything.) So where were you last night?

ROSS God, it was a nightmare. Petra's plane was five hours late and we didn't leave the city until midnight.

SARAH Really?

ROSS We just got back.

SARAH It took you ... ten hours?

ROSS We stopped in Fort George and got a room at a motel. Petra couldn't drive and I kept nodding off, so we stopped and I got some sleep. We drove the rest of the way this morning.


ROSS Are you angry?

SARAH You said you'd come by. When you got in.

ROSS I'm sorry. I should have called.

SARAH Well, it's not like it was prom night.

ROSS (Laughs.) Prom night.


SARAH So how is Petra?

ROSS She's fine, I guess. We didn't have much of a chance to talk. She fell asleep as soon as we hit the road.

SARAH That's why she couldn't drive?

ROSS She doesn't know how. She doesn't have a license.


ROSS She grew up in Manhattan.

SARAH Right. (Beat.) So how was her sabbatical?

ROSS Amazing, apparently. She spent a few months traveling, watching dance, and then she worked with a troupe in Braunschweig who were all refugees from Bosnia. They developed an adaptation of The Cherry Orchard. Can you imagine? This Russian classic? These refugees from a collapsed Communist state?

SARAH Were they Muslims or Serbs?

ROSS I don't know. I didn't ask. Is it important?

SARAH No, it's just, if they were Muslims ... and then, Chekhov and Communism ...


SARAH I don't know. I don't get it.

ROSS You don't?

SARAH It seems arbitrary.

ROSS Maybe you had to be there.

SARAH Petra did the thing where everybody in the audience had to take off their shoes, right?

ROSS The piece on the pogrom. Right.

SARAH I didn't get that either.

ROSS I probably didn't do it justice.


SARAH So do you want to do something tonight?

ROSS I don't know. (Small beat. ([Grasping) Oh God! I can't believe I almost forgot to tell you this! This is precisely what I wanted to tell you, because I knew you'd appreciate it! Okay. I got into the city at eleven or so, and I parked the car at a garage, then I decided to go to MoMA, after all, to see that Cambodian exhibit.

SARAH I thought you said it wasn't art.

ROSS It wasn't, but I wanted to see it anyway. But before I get to that, I got on the subway and it was tremendously crowded, but luckily I got a seat. So I'm sitting there, and at the next stop this man gets on and sits across from me ... (Gesturing) ... and I think to myself, I've seen this man before. And while I'm trying to place him he reaches in his coat pocket and he pulls out this small, laminated card and he holds it right here, right in front of his face, and he begins to read it silently. He's studying it furiously. So as discreetly as I could, I leaned across the aisle to see what he was reading, and while I couldn't make out the body of the text, I could make out the title, and it's something biblical. Like "John 12:24."

And so I sit back and I take another look at him. And that's when I notice that, while he's very neatly dressed, his clothes are rather shabby. His suit, for example, is too small and his shirt cuffs are fully exposed and they're stained at the edges, and the hems of his trousers are frayed, and his shoes are showing cracks in the leather. And then it hits me! The last time I was on a train in Manhattan I saw this very same man. Wearing this very same suit and reading this very same card to himself. I've been on the subway precisely four times in the past year — not since last Christmas — and twice, consecutively, I've seen this very same man. (Beat.) Now what are the chances of that?

SARAH Small?

ROSS I felt both times that he was a man about to disintegrate. A man who kept himself in one piece by a dedicated devotion to God. But a devotion that was so fragile that he literally had to keep it here, before his face, like a beacon.


SARAH That's precisely what you wanted to tell me?

ROSS Don't you think it's fascinating?

SARAH I guess it's interesting, but is that really what you wanted to tell me?

ROSS I wanted to tell you that. Yes.


SARAH Did you sleep with Petra?

ROSS (Startled) Last night?


ROSS No. I didn't sleep with Petra last night.

SARAH Good, then. So do you want to do something tonight?

ROSS I can't.

SARAH Why not?

ROSS That's the other thing I wanted to tell you. (Beat. SARAH waits.) I really ... I'm really sorry, but I can't keep seeing you.


ROSS(Rehearsed) I think it's for the best. We agreed up front that we weren't working toward a permanent relationship and I think now's the time to make a break. It's a natural breaking point.


ROSS Well, the thing is this: Petra is back from her sabbatical.


ROSS Well, the thing is, what I haven't told you is that before Petra left for her sabbatical, we were involved. We've been lovers for several years.

SARAH Lovers?

ROSS Or partners. Whatever you want to say.

SARAH And did you break up or ...?

ROSS No, we just sort of took a break. I mean, Petra was going away and we didn't know what the year would hold. So we agreed we could see other people while we were apart.

SARAH So ... does Petra know about me?

ROSS I told her a while ago.

SARAH Then could you have had the decency to tell me about her?!

ROSS I kept meaning to, but ... there never seemed to be a good time.

SARAH That's the stupidest thing I ever heard!

ROSS Please don't be angry.

SARAH So what was I, then? A temp?

ROSS No, Sarah. Don't belittle yourself. You're a wonderful woman. You know that. Smart and funny and attractive.

SARAH Fuck that.

ROSS Please.

SARAH No, I mean it. Fuck that. You don't mean that. You don't mean that about me.

ROSS(Putting his hand on her shoulder) Sarah.

(SARAH shrugs him off. ROSS relents. Beat.)

SARAH This is so embarrassing. Everybody must know about you and Petra.

ROSS I don't know. Our friends do. The faculty. (Beat.) Some students.

SARAH And nobody had the decency to tell me?

ROSS That's the second time you've used that word, "decency."

SARAH Decency is hardly a lot to expect.

ROSS Look, I know I should have told you, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. You were so vulnerable.

SARAH Vulnerable?

ROSS You said yourself how lonely you were when you moved to Vermont, how much my company meant to you.

SARAH I don't think I said that.

ROSS Yes, you did.

SARAH I said I could not relate to anybody on the faculty because everybody had a stupid name like Petra and nobody knew how to do anything practical like drive a car.

ROSS There's no reason to say cruel things about someone you've never met.

SARAH Sorry.

ROSS Attack me. You're mad at me.

SARAH Okay. I apologized. Now you apologize to me for lying.

ROSS I didn't lie.

SARAH You did not tell me the whole truth. You equivocated, and equivocation is the same as lying.

ROSS That's your fundamentalist background talking.

SARAH No no no. That's Merriam-Webster talking. (She picks up a dictionary and starts flipping pages.)

ROSS I don't need you to define the term for me.

SARAH(Reading) "Equivocal."

ROSS I'm not stupid.

SARAH "Subject to two or more interpretations and usually used to mislead or confuse." That's what you did. You misled me.

ROSS This isn't helping anything. Just ... what matters is, I think you're a smart, funny, and attractive woman, and I hope we can be friends.

SARAH Please.

ROSS Look, we're going to run into each other all the time. We have a committee meeting on Monday. (Beat. SARAH doesn't answer.) Sarah. (Beat.) I'm really sorry. It probably doesn't sound like I am, because I'm really ... I'm not very good at these things. I even practiced what I was going to say.

SARAH I could tell.

ROSS Because I'm not very good at it. I never in my life thought I'd have two girlfriends.

SARAH Girlfriends?

ROSS Partners. Whatever. I never really dated until graduate school. I had bad skin. It made me shy.

SARAH Well, you don't have bad skin now.

ROSS I know! I ... (Realizing he's too enthusiastic) It's just, it's been flattering. The fact that women are actually interested in me.

SARAH Small pond.

ROSS Pardon?

SARAH It's a small pond.

ROSS Oh. (Beat.) Well, at any rate, what I want to get across is that I really am sorry.


SARAH It's okay. It's just that I don't have any friends here. That's all.

ROSS I'm sorry.

SARAH Forget it. It doesn't matter. You want to be friends?

ROSS I really do.

SARAH Fine. We're friends.

ROSS Great. (He pulls SARAH into a hug, which she tolerates, releases her.) Well. You've got a hundred students waiting to see you.

SARAH Yes, I do.

ROSS(At the door) Do you want to have lunch one day this week? Wednesday?

SARAH Why don't you call me.

ROSS Okay.

SARAH Okay. (He opens the door and exits. She crosses to the open door and makes a motion to a student we can't see.) Hold on. I just need to make a phone call. (She closes the door and Leans her back against it.) Christ. (She stands for a moment. The chimes on the chapel next door sound their tune, then begin to count out the hour. It is ten o'clock. Somewhere in the middle, she gathers herself and turns and opens her office door.) Okay. Next?


Scene two

A week later. Sarah's office. DEAN CATHERINE KENNEY, BURTON STRAUSS, Chair of the Humanities Department, and ROSS are in the middle of a heated argument.

STRAUSS If we require courses, then it's not flexible.

KENNEY Of course it's flexible. They're taking classes in a dozen departments.

STRAUSS But why institutionalize it?

KENNEY Because we're an institution. If we don't impose guidelines, then the students can just come in here, take what they want, and graduate.

ROSS Isn't that what they do already?

KENNEY Of course not. We make demands on them.

ROSS Like those winter term classes?

STRAUSS Exactly.

KENNEY Exactly what?

STRAUSS "The Films of Brigitte Bardot"? I'd hardly call that a demanding class.

KENNEY Winter term is an exception.



Excerpted from Spinning into Butter by Rebecca Gilman. Copyright © 2000 Rebecca Gilman. Excerpted by permission of Faber and Faber, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Rebecca Gilman was born in Trussville, Alabama, a small town outside Birmingham. She briefly attended Middlebury College in Vermont in the early 1980s and has lived in Chicago since 1994, after she received a graduate degree in theater from the University of Iowa.

Rebecca Gilman is the author of the play The Glory of Living, which received the 1998 American Theater Critics Association's Osborn Award. She is the recipient of the Roger L. Stevens Award from the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays, the George Devine Award, the Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright, the Scott McPherson Award, and an Illinois Arts Council playwriting fellowship. A native of Alabama, Ms. Gilman lives in Chicago, Illinois.

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