In The Jacksonian, Beth Henley returns to the Southern Gothic storytelling that made her reputation with both critics and audiences. Set in a seedy motel in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1964, the play centers around Rosy, a troubled teenager, and Bill, her dentist father who has been living at the motel for several months as his wife, Susan, considers the disgrace of divorce. Fred, the motel bartender, and Eva, a waitress, are locked in a gruesome pact: he’ll marry her if she agrees to help him evade punishment for a hideous crime. But Bill, turning to nitrous oxide to ease the pain of his life collapsing around him, is a convenient target for Eva’s desperate desire for companionship. At the height of the violence associated with the civil rights movement, these characters gradually reveal the shameful secrets and psychological turmoil just beneath the surface of their insistent Southern gentility.
|Publisher:||Northwestern University Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Beth Henley won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best American Play for Crimes of the Heart (1978) and was nominated for an Academy Award for her screenplay based on the play. Her most recent plays include Sisters of the Winter Madrigal (2003) and Ridiculous Fraud (2007). Her screenwriting credits also include Nobody’s Fool, True Stories (written with David Byrne), and Miss Firecracker, based on her play The Miss Firecracker Contest (1979).
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By Beth Henley
Northwestern University PressCopyright © 2015 Northwestern University Press
All rights reserved.
Rosy Perch, daughter of Bill and Susan Perch
Bill Perch, a dentist and motel resident
Eva White, a waitress and motel maid
Fred Weber, the motel bartender
Susan Perch, Bill Perch's wife and the mother of Rosy
The action of the play takes place at the Jacksonian Motel, an establishment on the outskirts of Jackson, Mississippi.
The motel exists as a haunting memory, a sort of purgatory that was Jackson, Mississippi, circa 1964.
There are three playing spaces: the bar/restaurant; a motel room; and the outside ice machine.
The Rosy monologues are direct address. Evoked by murder, Rosy's will and terror quake the landscape of the time, space, and memory.
In these monologues, Rosy may break theatrical conventions that are established for the rest of the play.
March 1964–December 1964
The scenes are not played linearly.
SCENE 1: THERE'S BEEN AN ACCIDENT
[The Jacksonian Motel. Time: the night of the murder—December 17, 1964. Lights up on ROSY PERCH, age sixteen. She wears pajamas and is wrapped in a blanket.]
ROSY: There's been an accident—there's going to be—I need to stop an accident at the motel. The Jacksonian Motel.
[ROSY watches as BILL PERCH enters holding an ice bucket and goes to the ice machine. He has blood on his hands and shirt. PERCH violently digs the ice bucket into the ice. There is the sound of ice crashing. He holds the ice in the bucket and stares out for no more than a moment. PERCH exits.]
We need to leave.
We need to leave in time.
The time is—What time is—
[The following lines overlap as FRED WEBER enters from behind the bar and EVA WHITE enters and stands by the bar with menace.]
It's not Christmas. It's near around before—before Christmas.
There is a Christmas tree at the motel. But it is not the real tree.
The real tree is at home.
And it is before—
Before a time that makes the time of murder.
[A bar/restaurant at the Jacksonian Motel. Time: the night of the murder—December 17, 1964. There is a manger scene and a string of Christmas lights. EVA is staring coldly across space. FRED is smoking a cigarette with a burning tip. A sinister silence.]
EVA: I know what it is.
EVA: What ya got me in my stocking.
EVA: It's a surprise.
EVA: I like Christmas. Jesus was born. He likes me. Jesus loves all the little children. Want to know what I got you? It's easy to guess. You wear it on this finger. I'm saving it for Christmas. Like we said.
FRED: I never said.
EVA: You said you're my fiancé. Fred, my fiancé.
FRED: Don't say it like that.
EVA: I know you don't think you deserve me. But I won't let you throw away your one chance at happiness. There's not many chances people get. I'm your one and only chance. You think life is nothing but sorrow, and misery is a blessing from God. But you deserve happiness, you deserve me. I got my shoes dyed bone ivory to match the bridal dress. We might as well think about having children. Some kids would be nice.
FRED: It's not going to work out like everybody hoped.
EVA: It's going to work out like I hoped. Right after Christmas we're going to the justice of the peace and tying the knot.
FRED: Eva, I didn't wanna bother you with this and cause you to have a nervous breakdown.
FRED: There's a muscular constriction. My heart's hard. It's not pumping as much blood as it should. It'll kill me. Two or three months. Could be days. The heart is a muscle and mine is decayed.
EVA: I don't believe you have such a heart like that. A decayed heart.
FRED: It's the way it is with my heart.
[FRED and EVA look at each other steadily.]
I won't make a widow out of you. Wouldn't be right. I can't let a young woman marry a terminal man. God would strike me down for selfish pride. You don't wanna make me look bad in the eyes of the Lord? Would you?
EVA: No. Not that.
FRED: Not more of that. Keep me out of hell, Eva. The dentist is single.
EVA: He's married.
FRED: Separated. A long time. For good.
EVA: Maybe not.
FRED: Wife's filing for divorce. Got a big-time lawyer. She's serving papers after Christmas.
EVA: How do you know?
FRED: She let it slip after some scotch.
EVA: Fred, we're engaged.
FRED: That was before my heart's muscular constriction.
EVA: It's sworn between us.
FRED: Set your sights on the living.
EVA: Remember back in April? The filling-station lady?
FRED: Wasn't that a terrible tragic thing.
EVA: It sure was sad at the funeral visitation. Seeing her in a coffin. One of her kids, a little girl, was crawling up on the coffin like she never realized her mama was dead.
FRED: You already told me the whole story.
EVA: Everyone could see her underpants. Pink. The little girl's underpants. It was a funny sight.
FRED: "A funny sight."
EVA: Her daddy had to carry her off that corpse. Crying all the way. He was the widower. Manager of the Texaco station. To his everlasting regret he was not there the night his wife got shot and killed.
FRED: You'll get the money. The running-away money. I won't need it dead.
EVA: When do I get it?
FRED: I'll give it to you on Christmas. In a wrapped package.
EVA: How much of it do I get?
FRED: Pretty much all.
EVA: Your heart's fine.
FRED: I don't lie.
EVA: That's not true. Both of us ... You know I lie. On the Bible and under God. Tell me for real about your heart.
FRED: I'm dying, Eva! You like hearing it? I'll say it again. I am a dead man. Terminal. A corpse.
EVA: You're scaring me.
EVA: I've been waiting. Here waiting for everything to be that is not going to be.
FRED I'm the one who is dying.
EVA: At least you're going somewhere.
[EVA exits as FRED draws on the cigarette and lights come up on BILL PERCH's motel room.]
SCENE 2: ROSY BRINGS A CHRISTMAS TREE TO THE MOTEL
[BILL PERCH's motel room at the Jacksonian Motel. Time: the night of the murder—December 17, 1964. PERCH stands by the bed wearing a suit and tie. He clips his fingernails carefully with nail scissors. Silence. He goes to the phone and picks up the receiver. He dials the rotary phone and waits while it rings.]
PERCH: Hello, Mama ... We're doing fine. How're you? ... Not a thing to worry about. It's a lull, a lull is circular, it's round, in the end it's not a lull ... I don't know, it could be people are taking better care of their teeth, fluoride, dental floss. It's never one thing; it's an amalgam, to use a dental analogy ... Uh huh, I know. The fact is, unfortunately, we can't come Christmas Day, Susan doesn't want to make the drive. She wants to stay home. Have Christmas at home ... Tell Daddy I'll come hunt with him on the weekend ... Mama, I do not need any more of your unsolicited advice. You don't seem to take it into consideration that I'm a member of the American Dental Association, I've given the lieutenant governor Novocain. I am not getting "huffy" ... Yes, I deposited the check. Tell Daddy I won't need any more. Things will start up after the first of the year. It's just a—
[Knocking is heard at the door.]
—lull. Someone's knocking at the door ... I don't know who, I have to go see ... Susan's here. She's in the bathroom ... Mama, people go to the goddamn bathroom ...
[Knocking, now more hesitant, is heard again.]
I'm not being rude. There's someone knocking at the door. Mama, I have to go answer my front door.
[PERCH hangs up the phone and goes to answer the door. ROSY stands at the door holding a small Christmas tree and a box of ornaments. ROSY is a strange girl with acne on her face. She wears a coat that she does not take off.]
PERCH: What's that?
ROSY: A Christmas tree.
PERCH: Where's your mother?
ROSY: She left. She'll come back to pick me up.
PERCH: Where'd she go?
ROSY: I don't know. She wants me to decorate this tree with you.
PERCH: I don't want a tree in here.
ROSY: Yes, sir.
[ROSY moves to take the tree away.]
PERCH: Bring it in. We don't want to upset your mother.
[ROSY brings in the tree.]
Your mother is crazy. You know that?
ROSY: Yes, sir.
PERCH: When is she coming back?
ROSY: She said she wanted us to decorate the tree and have supper in the restaurant.
PERCH: I'll buy you a steak. A filet.
ROSY: I just want the fish sticks.
PERCH: You need to eat a substantial meal. A filet or T-bone steak. Something to work your jaw.
ROSY: Yes, sir. [About the ornaments] Should I put these on?
PERCH: Yes. Let's not upset your mother.
[ROSY starts to put ornaments on the tree.]
What do you want for Christmas?
ROSY: A wicker wheelchair. I saw one in an antique store on Capitol Street. If I got it I wouldn't have to walk. I could just roll around.
PERCH: I'm not getting you a goddamn wheelchair.
ROSY: Yes, sir.
PERCH: Did you try out for the Murrah Misses drill team?
ROSY: They didn't pick me. I didn't try my hardest so they didn't pick me.
PERCH: Always try your hardest.
ROSY: Yes, sir. I just didn't this once.
PERCH: You won't get anywhere unless you try your hardest, even then you could end up in a ditch like your Uncle Jim. He just drove off the road and it was over. Don't speed on roads that curve.
ROSY: I won't. I didn't get my driver's license. I failed the test.
PERCH: You failed the test?
ROSY: Yes, sir.
ROSY: I couldn't parallel park.
PERCH: Didn't your mother teach you?
ROSY: She doesn't know how.
PERCH: I'll teach you. We'll go out to the parking lot at the football coliseum and I'll teach you. We'll go some Sunday when it's empty.
ROSY: Yes, sir.
PERCH [about an ornament]: What's that?
ROSY: The glass slipper.
PERCH: Don't put it on this tree. It's your mother's favorite. Put it on the tree at home. I'll see it there.
ROSY: Mama says you won't listen to her.
PERCH: I listen to your mother.
ROSY: She says I need to be the go-between and tell you she doesn't want you to come home for Christmas.
[Slight but sharply painful beat.]
PERCH: You want me, don't you?
ROSY: Yes, sir.
PERCH: I found a psychiatrist in New Orleans to take your mother to. No one here would ever know that we went. You could come with us and help explain your mother's problems. Tell how she threw hot coffee and locks herself in the bathroom. Sits in the tub all day without water. I need a witness. Would you do that? Be my witness? Your mother likes to lie. I don't want to put you on the spot. Your skin's broken out. That happens in adolescence. Open your mouth. Smile. Those teeth are good. You have good teeth.
ROSY: Yes, sir.
PERCH: Let's get some supper. Go wash your hands. You can have a Shirley Temple and a Baked Alaska.
ROSY: Yes, sir.
[ROSY goes into the bathroom and washes her hands. There is the sound of rushing water.]
PERCH: Did you bring your toothbrush?
ROSY [offstage]: Yes, sir.
PERCH: I want you to brush after every meal.
[ROSY enters from the bathroom.]
ROSY: I do.
PERCH: Better wash my hands. And we'll go.
[PERCH exits to the bathroom. There is the sound of rushing water. ROSY looks at the small Christmas tree for a moment, then turns to the audience. The end of scene 2 flows directly into scene 3.]
SCENE 3: PERCH MEETS FRED AND EVA
[In the Jacksonian bar/restaurant. Time: May 1964, afternoon. FRED is behind the bar. ROSY steps through space and speaks to the audience.]
ROSY: The separation. My parents' separation.
It was a temporary measure. A limited arrangement.
My father moved out of our house in May. My birthday month. I turned sixteen. It was after my parents fought and he hurt her—worse than always.
[PERCH enters and goes to sit at the bar.]
Daddy moved to the Jacksonian Motel. Just for a time. A short time. A temporary measure.
[ROSY exits. PERCH is drinking a scotch.]
FRED: Another drink?
PERCH: Well ...
[He downs his drink.]
FRED: My peripheral vision is keen.
PERCH: Nice to hear a man speak up for himself. Don't bury it with false pride.
FRED: I can sense what people want.
PERCH: Give people what they want, in case they've forgotten.
FRED [giving PERCH a drink]: Nice smile. Many men don't have nice smiles. You have got one.
PERCH: I'm a dentist.
FRED: I'm impressed.
PERCH: Dr. Bill Perch.
FRED: Fred Weber.
PERCH: Do you take care of your teeth, Fred?
FRED: My teeth are very important to me.
PERCH: Many people don't realize the correlation between oral conditions and general health. To say it is profound is not to overstate it. If you would like to make an appointment, I have a business card.
PERCH: I don't like to advertise myself but will not stand on false pride concerning your teeth.
FRED [looking at the card]: You work here in Jackson?
PERCH: Medical Arts Building on North State Street.
FRED: How long are you visiting us?
PERCH: Not long ... A day or two here in May.
FRED: May's a pretty month.
PERCH: I'm known as the Painless Dentist. Come to me and you'll feel no pain. It's not like the old days. There's a whole new era of sterility. I use disposable needles. X-ray machines are much improved. I have the high-speed drills with water coolant, not the belt-driven. Reclining motorized dental chair. Music. I let patients select the radio channel they prefer. It gives them a sense of ease and distraction. Much of it is in the manner. You hypnotize the fear with a steady manner. Of course I do use anesthesia when needed. Many options there, Fred: nitrous oxide, Novocain, lidocaine, sodium pentothal, chloroform. I can fix it to where you don't feel a thing.
FRED: I'll make an appointment.
PERCH: We all need regular oral examinations.
[At the ice machine. EVA enters dressed in her finest. She opens the heavy lid. She picks up a piece of ice and rubs her forehead and wrists.]
EVA: Dear Jesus. Forgive me, Jesus. Forgive me for everything I swore on that courtroom Bible.
[EVA slams down the lid of the ice machine.]
[In the bar/restaurant. FRED gives PERCH a fresh drink.]
PERCH: I usually don't. I'm very disciplined. But this morning's paper—nothing to make you turn down a drink.
PERCH: The Negro church in Meridian.
PERCH: Another fire bomb.
FRED: Had not heard.
PERCH: Third one this month.
EVA: Fred, I'm back.
[FRED goes to her.]
FRED: How'd it go?
EVA: Good. They recorded me on a machine. All the lawyers were there, pro and con and prosecution. I swore to them every detail and they believed me. I want to buy a sensible wedding dress. Not like in the fairy tales. I'm not sixteen. I never was sixteen.
EVA: I like it when you say my name.
FRED: Eva. Eva?
FRED: I have to take the ring back. I borrowed it from a friend and it has to be returned.
EVA: I know.
FRED: Here's a drink.
EVA: Thanks. [About the ring] It looks good on me. Could I keep it for tonight?
EVA: It's still true though. It's in the public record. We're engaged. You're my fiancé. That's what I said in the room on the recording machine. I swore it on a courtroom Bible.
FRED: Eva, the ring.
EVA: Will you get me another?
FRED: I told you I would.
EVA: Swear on a stack of Bibles?
FRED: I swear on every Bible there is in creation.
[EVA hands FRED the ring.]
EVA: Get me one just like this.
FRED: Won't be no comparison.
[FRED exits with the ring.]
EVA: He's so sweet. We're engaged. Fred is my fiancé. I was just downtown giving alibi evidence against the colored man who killed the cashier lady at the Texaco. Don't you think he should be lynched?
PERCH: I do not.
EVA: He will be.
PERCH: The man hasn't been arraigned.
EVA: He'll be found guilty and sentenced to execution.
PERCH: There's no evidence I know of.
EVA: The paper says he's the prime suspect 'cause he worked right there on the premises.
PERCH: I use that Texaco station. Louis Wright is seventy something years old, has glaucoma.
EVA: He was the only colored employed at the station. And he knew the system.
PERCH: I think folks need to stop jumping to conclusions and wait for some actual facts.
EVA: Are you some sort of outside agitator?
PERCH: No, ma'am.
EVA: Where're you from?
PERCH: Here. Jackson.
EVA: Where in Jackson?
PERCH: In Eastover.
EVA [impressed]: You have a house in Eastover?
PERCH: Yes, ma'am.
EVA: That's a real wealthy area. Big fancy houses and yards. What's your occupation?
PERCH: I'm a dentist.
EVA: A dentist? You don't mind putting your fingers in people's mouths? Touching their tongues?
PERCH: You grow accustomed to it. Easily.
EVA: I wouldn't. All the slobber and blood and you could get bit. You need strong hands to be a dentist. Yours look strong. Look at the hair on your knuckles. Wouldn't want that tickling in my mouth.
Excerpted from The Jacksonian by Beth Henley. Copyright © 2015 Northwestern University Press. Excerpted by permission of Northwestern University Press.
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