Landscape of the Bodyby John Guare
“Whenever [Guare’s] imagination takes over, whenever his astonishing dramatic talent for creating characters and lines and scenes is let loose, he is invaluable.” –The New Yorker
One of John Guare’s classic plays, Landscape of the Body tells the story of a woman’s unfulfilled life and premature death–and her reflections from the grave. Betty travels to New York to convince her sister Rosalie to leave her gritty New York City life and come home to bucolic Maine. After dying in a freak bicycle accident, Rosalie revisits the world she has left behind. From the beyond Rosalie witnesses Betty effortlessly easing into her previous persona–moving into her apartment, taking over her job, but then Betty abruptly loses her teenage son to a gruesome murder. In a sardonic turn of events, Betty finds herself the primary suspect in her son’s death. In what Michael Kuchwara of the Associated Press called “his most surreal and haunting play,” John Guare brilliantly moves back and forth in time and space to create an affecting study of the American dream gone awry.
“There’s more invention, more feeling, in Landscape of the Body than in any two plays by most writers.” –Newsweek
“[Landscape] has been lost to us too long. As the play points out, life is one long list of regrets. Don’t add to your own by missing [Landscape].” –Ben Brantley, The New York Times
“Whenever his imagination takes over, whenever his astonishing dramatic talent for creating characters and lines and scenes is let loose, he is invaluable.” –The New Yorker
The deck of a ferry boat sailing from Hyannis to Nantucket.
A WOMAN sits writing notes on the deck. She is bundled up in layers of clothes against the cool. She has shopping bags around her feet. When she finishes one note, she rolls it into a cylinder and inserts it into a bottle she takes out of the shopping bags. She seals the bottle and tosses it overboard. She watches it go. She begins another.
A MAN is watching her. He is heavily disguised. Comic false eyeglasses and nose with mustache dangling beneath. Muffler wrapped high. Hat pulled down. He carries a little suitcase.
MAN That’s the Kennedy compound over there. I bought a postcard at the bus station in Hyannis and the postcard tells you whose house is who.
He proffers it. She looks at it briefly, looks at the shore, and resumes her note writing.
MAN That house is Teddy Kennedy’s and that house was where Jack lived and that house is where the parents lived and that house is where the sister Eunice lived and that house is where the sister Jean lived and that house– The postcard seems not to match up to reality. I get them all mixed up now, it’s been so long. Empty rooms. Open windows. White curtains blowing out.
She looks up, tosses another bottle over, and watches it go.
MAN I won a contest in grammar school knowing the names of the Dionne Quintuplets. I could rattle them off. Emilie. Annette. See. I can’t even remember. Yvonne. And the worst is nobody remembers the Dionne Quintuplets. You tell young people, younger than we are, about the Dionne Quintuplets and they don’t know who you’re talking about.
WOMAN Emilie was the left-handed one. Emilie was the only left-handed Dionne Quintuplet. What was the name of the doctor who delivered the Dionne Quintuplets?
MAN Dr. Dafoe.
WOMAN Dr. Dafoe.
MAN We could have a marriage made in heaven sharing information like that.
WOMAN I’m not in the market.
MAN I went down to Washington in 1960 for Kennedy’s inauguration. They were selling at the Union Station an entire set of dishes of china and every plate was a different Kennedy. The big meat platter was Poppa Joe. The other cake platter had Momma Rose on it. John-John and Caroline were on little bread-and-butter plates. You’re so open to talk to. Generally on trips of this nature–three-hour ferry trips from the mainland to an island–you begin talking to your fellow shipmates desperately leaping into conversational gambits, reduced to buying dusty postcards of abandoned compounds of families who once made all the difference in America. I begin talking and you pick right up on it. We could have a marriage made in heaven. We can talk. I think that’s why marriages fail. People can’t talk. People fight to have something to talk about. People kill each other, say, because the words don’t come into place. I think of murder, say, as a sentence that did not make it through the computer up here in the head. If people had a better grasp of language, of syntax, of the right word, of being understood, you’d hear that crime rate, you’d see that homicide rate plunge like those bottles you’re tossing over ” Would they be sentences you’d be writing on that piece of paper?
She tosses another bottle over.
MAN What attracted you to me first? My confidence-inspiring voice? My ability to select the proper word out of the autumn air? A poll said what women notice most in men was their butts. Is that it? You liked my ass? Is that what attracted you to me? Are the polls right? My confidence is in bad disrepair and needs all the propping up it can beg, borrow, or infer.
WOMAN I saw you getting on the boat. I wondered if you were in disguise. I said to myself, Is this a masquerade cruise? Then I thought, This is a man with a facial cancer and his face has been removed and replaced by a necessary false nose to disguise the two gaping holes under there. A false mustache to cover the missing upper lip. False eyebrows to cover the grafted skin around the eyeballs which still function or he’d be tapping a white cane around this deck. He walks with a steady stride. No, I won’t have to be yelling Man Overboard. It’s a disguise.
MAN You recognized me?
WOMAN Captain Marvin Holahan. Sixth Precinct Homicide.
The man pulls off his disguise.
HOLAHAN What did you write in that note? A confession?
She throws sheets of small papers into the wind. They blow away.
BETTY A confession. A full confession. I wrote down everything that happened. And it’s all gone. There it goes! There’s your case.
They face each other. The lights go down on them. They both take off their coats. She wears a tight sexy dress. The light is harsh in this interrogation room. She sits in a chair. He circles her. He shines a desk lamp in her eyes.
VOICE Flashback. Five months before. Marvin Holahan. Betty Yearn. Sixth Precinct. New York City. A spring day. Easter Sunday. Vernal equinoxes. The sun and moon cross each other’s path.
BETTY I don’t see how you can ask me these questions.
BETTY At this point in my life in history you could ask me these questions.
HOLAHAN The kid is dead.
BETTY I cannot cannot cannot–draw underlines under the cannot–cannot cannot cannot–six negatives make a positive–cannot understand–
HOLAHAN How I can ask you these questions?
BETTY How you can ask me these questions–
HOLAHAN Lady, I’m not talking simple child battering.
BETTY The kid is dead. The kid is dead. You leave out the fact it’s my kid.
HOLAHAN Decapitation, Betty.
BETTY My son is dead. My boy is dead. My kid killed. Not the kid. My kid.
HOLAHAN The head chopped off, Betty. That’s not Family Court. Chopped-off heads are not referrals to Family Counseling. That goes beyond battering.
BETTY Not the kid. My kid. My kid.
HOLAHAN You and your boyfriend didn’t say my kid when you got out the hacksaw. You must’ve said, oh, let me guess: You little bastard.
BETTY I’m not going to throw up.
HOLAHAN What did your kid see, Betty, that you had to chop his head off?
BETTY If I throw up, it’s like you win. You’re not going to win.
HOLAHAN Where’s the boy’s father?
BETTY I haven’t seen him in years.
HOLAHAN Maybe the boy’s father did it in revenge against you?
BETTY Strangers don’t do revenge. The father didn’t even know where we live. I feel like I’m standing in that corner over there watching me, and if I try hard enough I can switch the dial and I’ll see me on another channel. I’d like a laugh track around my life. I’d like a funny theme introducing my life. I’m standing right over in that corner watching me.
HOLAHAN Was your boy a homosexual?
BETTY He’s fourteen, for God’s sake.
HOLAHAN Lady, we got bodies coming in here don’t even live to be fourteen. Their ages never get off the fingers of two hands.
BETTY There’s a whole series of homosexual murders going on down there at Christopher Street. Maybe the kid was into something. I don’t think so. Don’t those murders involve decap– The heads off ”
HOLAHAN How do you know about that?
BETTY Is that the clue that gives myself away? I read the papers. I hear on the street. Did you follow up that clue? Why did you drag me in here? I’m supposed to be out there, mourning, weeping–
HOLAHAN Betty, I’m trying to be kind. If you’re embarrassed confessing to such a heinous crime, you want me to get Sergeant Lorraine Dean down here? There ain’t nothing Lorraine hasn’t heard. She’s a good woman, a good listener, heavy in the ankles, platinum blonde, a nice soft bosom that I swear has got Seconal and Librium in. She’d hold you and rock you in the cradle of the deep and she’ll sing “I’m confessing that I love you “” She’ll sing that and make it easy for you to talk about what you did and get you help. She’s got a nice voice, Lorraine does. She could’ve made it big in the show biz department were it not for her tragedy in the ankle department. Should I get Lorraine down here and you can tell her all? You want Lorraine? “I just found joy. I’m as happy as a baby boy. With another brand-new choo choo toy when I marry my Lorraine!” Betty? You could tell me too? There’s nothing hasn’t been poured into these ears. I’m taking courses at NYU nights in psychology. Things like you did happen all the time. We even had a spot quiz last week on a woman, went into a deep depression, drowned her two kids. Two! You just did one. Imagine how she feels. But they were infants. And she drowned them. I can’t wait to ask my teacher about decapitation. You might help me get an honors. I might do a paper on you. Most infanticides are drownings or smotherings or an occasional throwing off a bridge ”
BETTY I remember when I was little kid at the end of the McCarthy hearings when Joe McCarthy was destroying human lives, this great lawyer–
HOLAHAN Welch. Joseph Welch.
BETTY Stood up and said to McCarthy: Is there no such thing as human decency? And that question shocked everybody and destroyed Joe McCarthy.
HOLAHAN I’ll tell you that great lawyer Welch after that made a film for Otto Preminger called Anatomy of a Murder starring James Stewart and Lee Remick. Is there no such thing as human decency left?
BETTY Is there no such thing as human decency left?
HOLAHAN A damn good little question.
BETTY Will I get off to go to my son’s funeral?
HOLAHAN Is Otto Preminger filming it?
BETTY Am I booked? What’s up? Do I go to my son’s funeral?
HOLAHAN Did you kill him?
BETTY Do I get off for the funeral?
HOLAHAN Say yes, beautiful Betty, and there’s no place you can’t go.
BETTY I want my boy buried in Bangor, Maine, with his grandparents and his aunts and his uncles. I want him buried in Bangor with my father, with my sister Rosalie. Where I’ll be buried when I die. I want him there. I want him out of New York.
HOLAHAN You think it’s fair to be at the funeral when you caused the funeral?
BETTY I’m sorry, Your Honor, Mr. Kangaroo Court. I missed his death.
HOLAHAN I keep thinking you were there.
BETTY What is my motive? I cannot believe I am a suspect in my own son’s death. I am supposed to be comforted. I am supposed to be held and allowed to cry and not made to feel ” There’s no insurance. I am no beneficiary. I cannot believe. I don’t kill my own flesh and blood. I don’t kill me. If I wanted to kill him, I would’ve killed me along with him. I don’t kill me. I am here. Am I a car? A car you have to pull over to the side of the road and give a ticket to? You have to torture a certain number of people a day? Is this torture a routine formality? My boy is dead. I would like to grieve.
HOLAHAN When did you come to New York?
BETTY Two years ago.
BETTY To get my sister.
HOLAHAN Where is your sister now?
BETTY My sister’s dead.
HOLAHAN Let me get this straight. You came to New York two years ago to get your dead sister.
BETTY She was not dead at the time.
HOLAHAN You came to New York two years ago alone to get your sister.
BETTY Not alone. With Bert.
HOLAHAN Bert? Bert?
BETTY My kid.
HOLAHAN The one you killed. Ah, yes, that Bert.
Music. A blonde appears out of the dark. She’s very tough, very blowsy. A good sport. Her name is ROSALIE. She wears a white spangly evening gown.
ROSALIE They’re getting you for your lifestyle, kid. They can’t stand it that you got the lifestyle of the future and they’re stuck here in their little precincts.
BETTY I’m being prosecuted for my lifestyle. You can’t stand it that I got the lifestyle of the future and you’re stuck here in your little precinct.
Rosalie embraces Betty and comforts her. Rosalie goes back into the dark.
HOLAHAN Bert’s body was found yesterday afternoon floating off an abandoned pier at the bottom of Charles Street in a particularly seedy part of Greenwich Village. The boy’s head was found floating close by. No signs of sexual molestation. But the boy was not killed there. The murder took place someplace else. The body was taken and dumped off this abandoned pier notorious for sexual pickups between members shall we say of the same sex and for the exchange of narcotic goods exchanged between people so spaced out they don’t know what sex they are. From the boy’s school pass, we find where he lives on Christopher Street, a notorious street in the self-same Greenwich Village. We find evidence in the boy’s apartment where he lives with his mother, we find evidences of blood in his own home. In the bathroom. The boy was murdered and decapitated in the bathroom of his own legal abode. The mother lived there with the boy. The mother is a hotsy-totsy we find out. The mother works in porno films.
BETTY Soft core.
HOLAHAN Do Me Do Me Do Me Till It Falls Off does not sound soft core to me. Leather Sheets does not sound soft core to me. Vaginal penetration recorded in medical detail by a sixteen-millimeter camera owned by Mafia people does not sound soft core to me.
BETTY That wasn’t me in all of them. My sister worked in porno films. I was finishing up a contract she had made shortly before her death.
HOLAHAN And when you appear on What’s My Line? How do you sign in, please?
BETTY I work in a travel agency.
HOLAHAN A fake travel agency.
Music. RAULITO, a Cuban in a trench coat, appears out of the dark.
RAULITO Honeymoon Holidays was not fake.
HOLAHAN Closed down for selling fraudulent trips–
RAULITO It don’t harm nobody to start off a marriage with a good honeymoon.
Raulito goes back into the dark. Betty takes pills out of her pocket. Holahan knocks them out.
HOLAHAN No junkie shit here, baby.
BETTY They’re Tums for my tummy, asshole. I don’t want to throw up. If I do not throw up, it will somehow prove to me that I am not on your level, that I possess a strength, am the proud possessor of a dignity–
HOLAHAN And yet Miss Dignity seems to appear in these loops. We raided Dirty Mort’s on Forty-second Street. We ran the loops. I remembered your face from the loops when they brought you in. I had long said to myself what kind of person would allow another human being to urinate on her while a Mafia-run camera was whirring away. Little did I think, Miss Lifestyle of the Future, I would have the honor of having met you. As you see, I am a movie buff. Those films. These films. This doesn’t look like anybody’s sister to me. This looks coincidentally like you. Or maybe it’s Gene Kelly in outtakes from Singin” in the Rain? What kind of human being allows herself to be treated in this way? I hate you, baby.
BETTY No shit, Dick Tracy. I thought this was a love story.
HOLAHAN When I was a kid my parents chained me to the piano so I’d play. I was a fat kid, too, so the chains had double purpose. The pressure of them would stop me eating and force me to play. I eat, baby. I eat the right amounts and I am thin and I play the piano very well. And I also know all about family hatred. I know that families are there to learn your deepest secrets and betray you with their intimacy. Your kid must’ve found out too much about you. Your kid, I’m beginning to see, cramped your style. Of course! Every kid thinks his mother is the Virgin Mary, for Christ’s sake, and one day your kid sees the films you work in when you’re not in the fake travel agency. I get it! And I find it a fantastic fact that a woman who gives head in twenty-five-cent loops should be in here for taking head. To get rid of the son’s head that contained the eyes that saw her life.
BETTY Are you nuts?
HOLAHAN Because his eyes turned into these mason jars preserving the disgust at what you had become.
BETTY I want out of here! (She bangs on doors.) That’s not me in those films. That’s my sister.
HOLAHAN Oh sure. Your sister. Bring her in here. Testify for you.
BETTY She’s dead.
BETTY A year ago, last October.
RAULITO Is that what happened to you?
BETTY She was walking on Hudson Street.
ROSALIE I was just walking down on Hudson Street.
BETTY A cyclist hit her.
HOLAHAN And Raulito.
BETTY He’s dead.
Raulito and Rosalie happily go into the black, arm in arm.
HOLAHAN You’re a terrific dame to know. All the people connected to you via the avenue of blood die in one year. Maybe I’ll go to Bangor, Maine, and dig your sister up.
BETTY I’m really grateful to you.
HOLAHAN The Grateful Dead. The noted rock group.
BETTY I am alive, Detective. Because I am, I was going crazy from my son’s death ” When they came and told me the kid was dead, they could’ve fit me for a straitjacket at the same time they were fitting him for a shroud. You have actually taken my mind off it. My loathing for you replaces my grief. I mean, my fury is real. You’re nuts.
HOLAHAN Do you deny you made golden shower films where people urinated on you?
BETTY That was my sister.
HOLAHAN Oh, this is one of those movies where there’s a good twin and an evil twin.
BETTY You got movies on the brain. It must make life easy for you. You can just put anything you want into a movie and that explains everything.
HOLAHAN I’m sorry, Betty. I look to the family. I go right to the scene of the crime between those shapely gams. The family, Betty.
BETTY You’re a class act, Detective. Detective Marvin Holahan. Detective That’s Entertainment Parts One and Two and Three and Four. What are you? Some faggot out to get me because–
HOLAHAN I know everything about you.
BETTY You don’t know nothing about me except that I posed for some sleazy pictures and who cares. But I know about you. They chained you to a piano so you wouldn’t eat and you would play. And you do both and you’re a good boy. A lot of things have happened to me, but nobody ever chained me to a piano and you know what? I didn’t throw up. I can look you right in the eye. I didn’t throw up. I won.