Three Plays: The Young Lady from Tacna, Kathie and the Hippopotamus, La Chunga

Three Plays: The Young Lady from Tacna, Kathie and the Hippopotamus, La Chunga

by Mario Vargas Llosa, David Graham-Young

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In these three plays—each introduced by the author—Mario Vargas Llosa, the internationally acclaimed novelist and a cultural and political figure in Peru, explores the complexities of Peruvian society and the writer's imagination.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429931007
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 04/01/2010
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
File size: 235 KB

About the Author

Mario Vargas Llosa is Peru's foremost author and the winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1994 he was awarded the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world's most distinguished literary honor, and in 1995 he won the Jerusalem Prize. His many distinguished works include The Storyteller, The Feast of the Goat, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, Death in the Andes, In Praise of the Stepmother, The Bad Girl, Conversation in the Cathedral, The Way to Paradise, and The War of the End of the World. He lives in London.

Mario Vargas Llosa is Peru's foremost author and the winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1994 he was awarded the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world's most distinguished literary honor, and in 1995 he won the Jerusalem Prize. His many distinguished works include The Storyteller, The Feast of the Goat, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, Death in the Andes, In Praise of the Stepmother, The Bad Girl, Conversation in the Cathedral, The Way to Paradise, and The War of the End of the World. He lives in London.

Read an Excerpt


The stage is in darkness. A voice can be heard. It is MAMAE. She sounds anxious, distressed and agitated. The lights come up, revealing that unforgettable face of hers: a mass of wrinkles.

MAMAE: The rivers, the rivers are overflowing ... Water, little drops of water, foam, everything's being drenched by the rain, it's coming in waves, the whole world's being swamped, it's the flood, the waters are seeping through, they're bursting out, escaping everywhere. Cataracts are forming, bubbling, it's the deluge, little drops of water, the river ... Ahhh!

(Lights come up on the whole stage. MAMAE is sitting huddled in her old armchair and there is a little puddle at her feet. BELISARIO is at his desk, writing furiously. His eyes are lit up, and as he writes, his lips move as if he were dictating something to himself.)

AMELIA: (Coming in) Oh, for heaven's sake Mamaé, you haven't peed again on the sitting-room floor already, have you? Why don't you ever ask? Then at least we could take you to the bathroom. The amount of times you've been told. I suppose you think I enjoy it? Well, I'm fed up with you and your filthy habits! (Sniffs.) I hope you haven't done something else as well.

(A gesture of irritation from AMELIA which MAMAE responds to with a smile and a little bow. She falls asleep almost immediately. AMELIA mops up the mess with a cloth. AsAMELIA has been talking, BELISARIO's attention has gradually been wandering, as if his mind has been taken off his writing by some sudden extraneous idea. He puts his pencil down. He looks discouraged. He talks to himself, in a mumble to begin with.)

BELISARIO: What are you doing here, Mamaé, in the middle of a love story? A little old woman who used to wet and dirty her knickers, who had to be put to bed, dressed, undressed and cleaned up, because her hands and feet no longer did what she wanted them to do – what can a person like that be doing in a love story? (Hurls his pencil on the floor in a sudden fit of anger.) Well, are you going to write a love story or what, Belisario? Am I going to write something or what? (Laughs at himself, becomes depressed.) It's always worst at the beginning, it's the most difficult part of all, when all those doubts and feelings of inadequacy are at their most crippling. (Looks at MAMAE.) Every time I start something new, I feel like you, Mamaé, I feel like an old man of eighty, or a hundred, and my thoughts dart about like grasshoppers, just like yours did, when you were that complicated, helpless little creature we all laughed at, felt sorry for and were even a little afraid of. (Gets up, goes over towards MAMAE and slowly walks round her, with the pencil he has picked up from the floor between his lips.) But your mind was still a hive of activity, wasn't it? Had you lost your teeth by then? Of course you had. And you couldn't wear those false ones Uncle Agustín and Uncle César gave you because they scratched your gums. What on earth are you doing here? Who invited you? Don't you realize you're stopping me from working? (Smiles and returns to his desk, spurred on by a new idea.) Mamaé ... Mamaé ... Didn't somebody once call you Elvira? No, it wasn't Grandma, or Grandpa, or Mama, or my uncles either. (Sits at his desk and starts to write on the sheets of paper in front of him, slowly at first, then becoming more fluent.) The name sounded so strange to people outside the family. 'Why do you call her that? What does it mean, where did it originate?' Yet they all ended up calling her Mamaé too.

(Exit AMELIA, who has finished cleaning the floor. As BELISARIO reaches the end of his speech, JOAQUIN, the Chilean officer, comes in. His uniform is of the style worn at the turn of the century; it is brightly coloured with silver or gold braid. BELISARIO will carry on writing throughout the whole of the following scene; he spends most of his time absorbed in his papers, but pauses occasionally, putting the end of his pencil to his mouth and chewing it, as some new idea comes to him or he recalls some incident from the past. By way of light relief, he turns round at odd moments to watch MAMAE and JOAQUIN, and takes a passing interest in what they say. Then he returns to his papers to write or read over what he has written. The expression on his face is constantly changing.)

JOAQUIN: (Whispering, as if leaning over a wrought-iron grille or balcony) Elvira ... Elvira ... Elvira ...

(MAMAE opens her eyes. She listens; smiles mischievously and looks around; she is flustered and excited. Her movements and speech are now those of a young woman.)

MAMAE: Joaquín! But he's out of his mind. At this hour! Uncle and Aunt are going to hear him.

JOAQUIN: I know you're there, I know you can hear me. Come out, just for a second, Elvira. I've got something important to say to you. You know what it is, don't you? You're beautiful, I love you, and I want you. I can hardly wait till Sunday – I'm literally counting the hours.

(MAMAE sits up. Although clearly delighted, she remains demure and reticent. She goes over to the wrought-iron grille.)

MAMAE: Whatever do you mean by coming here at this hour, Joaquín? Didn't anyone see you? You're going to ruin my reputation. Here in Tacna the walls have ears.

JOAQUIN: (voraciously kissing MAMAE's hands) I was already in bed, my love. When suddenly I had this feeling, right here in my breast; it was like an order from a general, which I had to obey: 'If you hurry, you'll find her still awake,' it seemed to say. 'Make haste, fly to her house.' It's true, Elvira. I had to see you. And touch you. (He eagerly tries to grasp her round the waist, but she shies away from him.)

If I hadn't been able to see you, I wouldn't have slept a wink all night ...

MAMAE: But we spent all afternoon together, Joaquín! What a lovely walk we had in the garden with my cousin! When I heard you, I was just thinking about all those pomegranates and pear trees, quinces and peaches. And the river, wasn't it looking lovely too? How I'd like to go plunging into the Caplina again sometime, just as I used to when I was a little girl.

JOAQUIN: This summer, if we're still in Tacna, I'll take you to the Caplina. We'll go at night. When no one will see us. To that same pool we had tea at this afternoon. We'll take off all our clothes ...

MAMAE: Oh hush, Joaquín, don't start ...!

JOAQUIN: ... and bathe together naked. We'll play in the water. I'll chase you and when I catch you ...

MAMAE: Please, Joaquín! Don't be so uncouth.

JOAQUIN: But we're getting married on Sunday.

MAMAE: I won't have you being discourteous to me when I'm your wife either.

JOAQUIN: But I respect you more than anything in the world, Elvira. I even respect you more than my uniform. And you know what a uniform means to a soldier, don't you? Look, I couldn't be discourteous to you, even if I wanted to. I'm making you annoyed, I know. I do it deliberately. Because I like it when you're like this.

MAMAE: When I'm like what?

JOAQUIN: You're such a sensitive little flower. Everything seems to shock you, you're so easily intimidated, and you blush at the least provocation.

MAMAE: Isn't that how well-brought-up young women should behave?

JOAQUIN: Of course it is, Elvira, my love. You can't imagine how I ache for Sunday. The thought of having you all to myself, without any chaperons. To know that you depend on me for the slightest thing. What fun I'm going to have with you when we're alone together: I'll sit you on my knee and make you scratch me in the dark like a little kitten. Oh, and I'll win that bet. I'll count every hair on your head; there'll be more than five thousand, you'll see.

MAMAE: Are you going to count them on our wedding night?

JOAQUIN: Not on our wedding night, no. Do you want to know what I'm going to do to you on our wedding night?

MAMAE: (Covering her ears) No! No, I don't!

(They laugh. MAMAE mellows.)

Will you be as loving and affectionate as this after we're married, I wonder? You know what Carmencita said to me on our way back from the walk: 'You've really come up trumps with Joaquín, you know. He's good-looking, well-mannered, in fact quite the little gentleman in every way.'

JOAQUIN: Is that what you think too? You mean you don't mind that I'm a Chilean any more? And you've got used to the idea of being one yourself?

MAMAE: No, I have not. I'm a Peruvian, and that's the way I'm going to stay. I'll never forgive those loathsome bullies who won the war. Not till the day I die.

JOAQUIN: It's going to be very funny, you know. I mean, when you're my wife, and I'm posted to the garrison in Santiago or Antofagasta, are you going to spend all day arguing with my fellow officers about the War of the Pacific? Because if you say things like that about the Chileans, you'll get me court-martialled for high treason.

MAMAE: I'd never jeopardize your career, Joaquín. Whatever I think of the Chileans, I'll keep it strictly to myself. I'll smile and make eyes at your fellow officers.

JOAQUIN: That's enough of that! There'll be no smiling or making eyes at anybody. Don't you know I'm as jealous as a Turk? Well, with you, I'm going to be even worse.

MAMAE: You must go now. If my aunt and uncle found you here, they'd be so upset.

JOAQUIN: Your aunt and uncle. They've been the bane of our engagement.

MAMAE: Don't say that, not even in fun. Where would I be now if it hadn't been for Uncle Menelao and Aunt Amelia? I'd have been put in the orphanage in Tarapacá Street. Yes, along with all the bats.

JOAQUIN: I know how good they've been to you. And I'm glad they brought you up like some rare exotic bird. But we have been engaged for a whole year now and I've hardly been alone with you once! All right, I know, you're getting anxious. I'm on my way.

MAMAE: Till tomorrow then, Joaquín. At the eight o'clock Mass in the Cathedral, same as usual?

JOAQUIN: Yes, same as usual. Oh, I was forgetting. Here's that book you lent me. I tried to read Federico Barreto's poems, but I couldn't keep my eyes open. You read them for me, when you're tucked up snug in your little bed.

MAMAE: (Pulling out a hair from her head and offering it to him) I'll whisper them in your ear one day – then you'll like them. I'm glad I'm marrying you, Joaquín.

(Before he leaves, JOAQUIN tries to kiss her on the mouth, but she turns her face away and offers him her cheek. As she goes back towards her armchair, she gradually takes on the characteristics of an old woman again.)

(Looking at the book of poetry) What would Joaquín do, I wonder, if he knew about the fan? He'd challenge the poor man to a duel – he'd kill him. You'll have to destroy that fan, Elvira, it's just not right for you to keep it. (She curls up in her armchair and immediately falls asleep. BELISARIO has looked up from his papers. He now seems very encouraged.)

BELISARIO: That's a love story too, Belisario. Of course, of course. How could you be so stupid, so naïve? You can't set a love story in an age when girls make love before their first Communion and boys prefer marijuana to women. But Tacna, after the War of the Pacific – when the city was still occupied by the Chilean Army: it's the perfect setting for a romantic story. (Looks at MAMAE.) You were an unrepentant little chauvinist then, weren't you Mamaé? Tell me, what was the happiest day in the life of the young lady from Tacna?

MAMAE: (Opening her eyes) The day Tacna became part of Peru again, my little one!

(She crosses herself, thanking God for such bounteous good fortune, and goes back to sleep again.)

BELISARIO: (Wistfully) It's one of those romantic stories that don't seem to happen any more. People no longer believe in them – yet you used to be so fond of them, didn't you, old friend? What do you want to write a love story for anyway? For that meagre sense of satisfaction that doesn't really seem to compensate for anything at all? Are you going to put yourself through all that agonizing humiliation yet again, Belisario, just for that? Yes, you are – for that very reason. To hell with critical conscience! Get away from here, you damned spoilsport! Bugger your critical conscience, Belisario! It's only good for making you feel constipated, impotent, and frustrated. Get out of here, critical conscience! Get out, you filthy whore, you tyrant queen of constipated writers.

(He gets up and runs over to where MAMAE is sitting. Without waking her up, he kisses her on the forehead.)

Welcome back, Mamaé. Forget what I said to you, I'm sorry. Of course, I can use you. You're just what I need – a woman like you. You're perfectly capable of being the subject of a beautiful and moving love story. Your life has all the right ingredients, at least to be going on with. (Returning to his desk) The mother dies giving birth to her, and the father not long after, when she was only ... (Looks at MAMAE) How old were you when my great-grandparents took you in, Mamaé? Five, six? Had Grandmother Carmen been born yet?

(He has sat down at his desk; he holds the pencil in his hands; he talks slowly, trying to find the appropriate words so he can start writing.)

The family was very prosperous at the time, they could afford to take in homeless little girls. They were landowners, of course.

MAMAE: (Opening her eyes and addressing a little boy she imagines is sitting at her feet) Your great-grandfather Menelao was one of those gentlemen who carried a silver-knobbed cane and wore a watch and chain. He couldn't stand dirt. The first thing he did when he went into someone's house was to run his finger over the furniture to see if there was any dust. He only drank water or wine out of rock crystal goblets. 'It makes all the difference to the taste,' I remember him saying to us. One evening he went out to a dance with Aunt Amelia all dressed up in white tie and tails; he caught sight of your grandmother Carmen and me eating some quince preserve. 'Aren't you girls going to offer me a bite?' he said. As he was tasting it, a little drop fell on his tailcoat. He stood there staring at the stain. Then, without saying a word, without causing any fuss, he emptied out the whole pot of preserve and smeared it all over his shirt front, tailcoat and trousers. Your great-grandmother used to say: 'To Menelao, cleanliness is a disease.'

(She smiles and falls asleep again. During her speech, BELISARIO has been listening part of the time to what she's been saying, but he has also been jotting down notes and reflecting.)

BELISARIO: Your great-grandfather Menelao must have been fascinating, Belisario. Yes, a fascinating old bastard. He'll do, he'll do. (Looking up at heaven) You'll do, you'll do. You and Amelia my great-grandmother adored Mamaé. You brought her up as your own daughter, treating her exactly the same as Grandmother Carmen, and when she was going to get married to the Chilean officer, you sent away to Europe for the wedding dress and trousseau. Was it Paris? Madrid? London? Where did they order your wedding dress from, Mamaé? Where was the most fashionable place? (Writes frantically.) I like it, Belisario, I love you, Belisario. I'm going to give you a kiss on the forehead, Belisario. (His mind wanders.) How rich the family was then! It's been on the decline ever since, sliding further and further down the ladder until it finally got to you! One setback after another! (Looks up at heaven.) Whoever told you to marry an infantry captain, Mama? But I'm not in the least bit sorry about your misfortune, Papa. You've got to be pretty stupid to play Russian roulette just after you're married! And you've got to be even stupider to go and kill yourself in the process! You've got to be pretty daft not to remarry when you're widowed so young, Mama! Why did you pin so much hope on me? How did you all get it into your heads that by winning lawsuits I'd somehow bring fame and fortune back to the family?

(His voice fades in to the sound of a radio play which GRANDMOTHER is trying to listen to; she is sitting in the living room with her ear glued to the wireless. The announcer is telling us that the daily episode of a radio serial by Pedro Camacho has just finished. The noise of a tram is heard outside. MAMAE opens her eyes, excited. BELISARIO watches her from his desk.)

MAMAE: Carmen! Carmen! Here it comes! Quick! Come over to the window! Look, the Arica train!


Excerpted from "Three Plays"
by .
Copyright © 1990 Mario Vargas Llosa.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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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