Monologue Monday

Monologue Monday: Segismundo in Life is a Dream/La vida es sueño (Calderón de la Barca) – in 4 languages!!!

Howdy! This week’s monologue takes us to the Golden Age of Spanish Drama. We’ve covered this era before in Lope de Vega’s Fuenteovejuna. Now, time for Calderón de la Barca‘s seminal allegory Life Is a Dream. The following plot description is taken from a drama book from the 1930s.

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The 1640 edition.

THE horoscope of the infant Prince, Segismund, convinces the Polish King, Basilio, that Segismund is destined to bring dishonor on Poland and downfall to his father, Basilio. He therefore announces that Segismund has died with his mother in birth. Confined in a tower, deep in the rocky fastnesses of the frontier, Segismund grows to manhood chained like an animal to a ring in the floor, guarded under direction of Basilio’s confidential general, Clotaldo.

[I’m not really liking the king and I’m pretty sure Clotaldo didn’t plan on guarding one dude for decades when he made general]

As the play opens two strangers whose storm-frighted horses have bolted, stumble on Segismund’s prison. One of them confesses in a voice all too gentle for her masculine attire that she has come from Muscovy on a matter of vengeance and Segismund, for the moment unguarded, confesses that he too, thinks often on revenge. Clotaldo’s appearance is about to result in death for the newcomers when the general recognizes the stranger’s sword as one he had left years before in Muscovy as pledge for favor owed. The stranger identifies herself as Rosaura, daughter of Clotaldo’s quondam benefactor, and is proffered safe conduct to Warsaw.

[That’s convenient]

Meanwhile the King has Segismund brought to court while in a drugged sleep, to wake to all the appearances of royal splendor. His tragic story is related to him, he meets his cousins, Astolfo and Estrella, and falls promptly in love with the latter. When, however, his father, the King, appears, his desire for revenge on an unnatural father is too strong and he would have attacked the King had not the guards prevented. For this action he is returned in a drugged sleep to his prison and the King prepares to carry out his plans to marry his nephew, Duke Astolfo of Muscovy, to his niece, Estrella, and turn over his kingdom to them.

[Nobody: How much incest do you want? This play: YASSS]

Meanwhile, back in the prison, Segismund is convinced by Clotaldo that the entire day’s happenings are but a dream. Clotaldo nevertheless chides him for his unprincelike lack of self-control so effectively that when later in the day he is rescued by revolting Polish troops directed to his prison by Rosaura, he treats the vanquished King with great nobility and returns to him his forfeit crown. When he discovers that Astolfo has broken his engagement to Rosaura in hopes of gaining the Polish crown through marriage to Estrella, he dissolves the new bond, returning Astolfo to Rosaura and claims Estrella for himself.

[Unprincelike lack of self-control? You try being brought up chained to a castle with some creepy old general watching you your entire life and see how much self-control you have. And of course what happy ending doesn’t include cousin marriage?]

If you want the plot explained by Lego characters in German, look no further than here.

All joking aside, Life is a Dream is often considered the greatest Golden Age play. The themes of fate and free will are relevant today and so are the related themes of uncertainty vs. certainty.

I couldn’t find an English video of what is generally called “Segismundo’s first monologue.” So, let’s focus on Segismundo’s 2nd monologue.

Segismundo: I must control this savagery.

The English version of the monologue is indeed savage.

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Translation by Gwynne Edwards.

Now in the original Spanish:

Es verdad. Pues reprimamos
esta fiera condicion,
esta furia, esta ambicion,
por si alguna ve soñamos:
Y sí haremos, pues estamos
en mundo tan singular,
que el vivir sólo es soñar;
y la experiencia me enseña
que el hombre que vive, sueña
lo que es, hasta dispertar.
Sueña el Rey que es rey

Sueña el rey que es rey, y vive
con este engaño mandando,
disponiendo y gobernando;
y este aplauso, que recibe
prestado, en el viento escribe,
y en cenizas le convierte
la muerte, ¡desdicha fuerte!
¿Que hay quien intente reinar,
viendo que ha de despertar
en el sueño de la muerte?

Sueña el rico en su riqueza,
que más cuidados le ofrece;
sueña el pobre que padece
su miseria y su pobreza;
sueña el que á medrar empieza,
sueña el que afana y pretende,
sueña el que agravia y ofende,
y en el mundo, en conclusión,
todos sueñan lo que son,
aunque ninguno lo entiende.

Yo sueño que estoy aquí
destas prisiones cargado,
y soñé que en otro estado
más lisonjero me ví.
¿Qué es la vida? Un frenesí.
¿Qué es la vida? Una ilusión,
una sombra, una ficción,
y el mayor bien es pequeño:
que toda la vida es sueño,
y los sueños, sueños son.

Dream vs. reality. Lovely. Let’s see what these monologues look like. We were lucky enough to find them in several languages. The first one is in English.

Even though the monologue is listed as a “male” monologue, please note several women performing it.

English

 

Spanish A

 

Spanish B

 

Spanish C

 

Spanish D

 

Spanish E

 

Spanish F

 

German (!)

 

Here it is in Portuguese:

É certo; então reprimamos
esta fera condição,
esta fúria, esta ambição,
pois pode ser que sonhemos;
e o faremos, pois estamos
em mundo tão singular
que o viver é só sonhar
e a vida ao fim nos imponha
que o homem que vive, sonha
o que é, até despertar.
Sonha o rei que é rei, e segue
com esse engano mandando,
resolvendo e governando.
E os aplausos que recebe,
Vazios, no vento escreve;
e em cinzas a sua sorte
a morte talha de um corte.
E há quem queira reinar
vendo que há de despertar
no negro sonho da morte?
Sonha o rico sua riqueza
que trabalhos lhe oferece;
sonha o pobre que padece
sua miséria e pobreza;
sonha o que o triunfo preza,
sonha o que luta e pretende,
sonha o que agrava e ofende
e no mundo, em conclusão,
todos sonham o que são,
no entanto ninguém entende.
Eu sonho que estou aqui
de correntes carregado
e sonhei que em outro estado
mais lisonjeiro me vi.
Que é a vida? Um frenesi.
Que é a vida? Uma ilusão,
uma sombra, uma ficção;
o maior bem é tristonho,
porque toda a vida é sonho
e os sonhos, sonhos são.

Portuguese A

 

Portuguese B

 

This play may be worth mining for other monologues in the future.

Don’t forget to check out more monologues and our new theatre horror stories.

Have a good one!

 

Monologue Monday

Monologue Monday: How to Be a Bitch by Frank Edwards (maybe)

Howdy all! Back with another monologue. Generally, the monologues on this site are more-or-less endorsed by the site. However, this week is different. This is a monologue we recommend nobody actually perform.

While diving through Portuguese-language monologues (see A Street Car Named Desire for the fruits of that labor), I discovered the following monologue, which, admittedly, isn’t very good. It is indeed entitled “How to Be a Bitch.”

The Monologue

Don’t do that. Please, put that small box away. Don’t ask me to marry you. Listen, before I met you I was happy to be a slut. People at work considered me a slutty bitch. True. Those people I introduced [to] you as my friends, they were never my friends. They were just afraid of me. I was never the kind of person to say “thank you,” “please” in a restaurant. To be laughing at each other’s jokes. On the contrary, I was always sharp with my tongue, fast in offending people. And now I’m having all these impulses to donate money. Feed the hungry. Hug the poor. Help the elderly cross the streets. Don’t you see? You transformed me into a nice person. And what scares me the most is to think that you gonna open that small box, propose to me, and I might say yes! Shit! I’m gonna say one “yes” and I’m gonna have to be a nice person for the rest of my life. This is terrible! This is awful! The world has plenty of nice people it doesn’t need me. See, I was born this way and I wanna remain this way. It’s who I am. It’s how I recognize myself. Please, do me a favor. I’m not even asking, I’m begging you. Don’t marry me. 

And in Portuguese:

“Não faça isso! Não abra essa caixinha de presente! Não me peça para casar com você.
Não posso deixar você fazer isso comigo!
Antes de te conhecer eu costumava ser uma vadia. Verdade! Todos no trabalho me considera-vam uma tremenda piranha. Ninguém realmente gostava de mim. Aquelas pessoas que eu apresentei para você como meus amigos,de facto, não eram meus amigos. Eles estavam com medo de mim!
Antes, eu nunca disse por favor ou obrigado num restaurante. Nunca gargalhei ou sorri das piadas de ninguém. Pelo contrário sempre fui rápida com os insultos e ofensas!
Agora tenho esses sentimentos, esses impulsos para doar a instituições de caridade, distribuir sopa aos sem-teto, dar abraços a pessoas humildes, ajudar velhinhas a atravessar a rua e por aí vai!
Você não vê!?
Você não vê que me transformou numa pessoa agradável!
E o que realmente me assusta é que você vai abrir essa caixa e perguntar-me se eu quero ca-sar com você, e eu vou aceitar, putz! Vou apenas dizer “sim”, e então terei de ser boa alma para o resto da minha vida! Isso é horrível! Péssimo!
Pelo amor de Deus, coloque essa caixa de volta no bolso. O planeta já tem milhões de pessoas agradáveis – ele não precisa de mim! Eu sou uma safada e é assim que quero permanecer … desse jeito!
Não estou pedindo …não!
Estou te implorando:
Por favor … não case comigo!

You don’t have to be a professional translator to know the English version is more like a Reader’s Digest version of the Portuguese.

Women in Portuguese-speaking theatre

Since this monologue is so popular in Brazil (and I suspect was actually originally in Portuguese – more on that later), we should look at the history of women in theatre there. Maria I (known as The Pious in Portugal and The Mad in Brazil – quite an achievement) banned women from the theatre in both countries except for women portraying the Virgin Mary. In 1794 a theatre producer opened a small theatre which indeed had a female performer, but it closed quickly. Only after Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal and the flight of Joaõ VI to Brazil with his court in 1807 did women begin acting regularly on the Brazilian stage. He was ruling as regent for his mother, Maria I. Maybe allowing women on stage was an act of rebellion against mom?

Portugal suffered under the same general ban, but occasionally the government made dispensations. One of the greatest European actresses and singers of the 18th Century, Luísa Todi, only performed once in her home country with special permission. I can’t find specifically when things relaxed in Portugal, but I’m guessing around the same time they relaxed in Brazil.

Portuguese-Musicians--Luisa-Todi
Luísa Todi – good enough for a Portuguese stamp, not male enough to perform in Portugal.

Women in English-speaking theatre

Women can have it rough finding good roles in theatre. Don’t believe me? Do a Google search. Or go audition for a play with like six male parts and one or two female parts.

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In the English-speaking theatre world, this goes all the way back to when women were banned from the theatre. Ever wonder why women make up less than 16% of characters in Shakespeare’s plays? Because little boys played Juliet, Ophelia, Cleopatra and all the other female parts.

TLTDR16
A modern interpretation of a “boy player” in John Ford’s The Lady’s Trial by a company that’s into that sort of thing.

Women only began appearing in theatre with the restoration of the Merrie Monarch, Charles II.

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Charles II’s Portuguese-born wife, Queen Catherine is related to Maria I and Joaõ VI, linking the monarch responsible for allowing women on the English stage to the monarchs banning, then allowing women on the Portuguese and Brazilian stages. Monarchs suck.

Then the breeches role became popular for women. This is where a female character dresses up like a man (i.e. wears breeches) and the audience can see her legs.

An-actress-at-her-toilet-or-miss-brazen-just-breecht-john-colley
Pictured: Sexual delirium in a bottle.

To Be a Bitch or Not to Be…

From this bizarre start, things haven’t really progressed much. I asked playwright, producer, published author and podcaster Laurel Myler about this monologue and roles for women in theatre and she had the following insights:

“Characters who are women are not often written as complete characters. Instead, they exist to fill an archetype: the love interest, the nagging wife, the ingénue, the old lady, the vixen, et cetera. Female roles rarely delve much deeper than their surface textual functions. Take the “How to Be a Bitch” monologue for example. Women do not talk like this. Women do not think like this. The character shows little complexity or forethought. It’s a laughable, stale stereotype, and yet I suspect that this monologue might be praised as “bold” or “daring.” A comprehensive examination of female roles in theatre does not yield much different results. This is what women look like in plays. Of course, there are exceptions, and I do think contemporary theatre is trending toward the creation of more engaging, complex roles for women, but it’s hard to unlearn the standard system. I’m a female playwright, and I’m guilty of this kind of characterization myself. I don’t suggest that female characters can’t be unlikable, can’t be the villain, can’t be wrong or in the wrong, or can’t genuinely be bitches. They absolutely can. They absolutely should. But they should also be people.”

Chicago-based playwright Sharai Bohannon echoed her concerns:

“The roles aren’t there because very few theatres are producing work about women. Most theatres still treat the canon like the end all be all so roles for women are still just wives, mothers, mistresses who work more as props in the male narrative. It’s frustrating to watch and mirrors how society treats us (which is why the government keeps trying regulate our bodies).”

To get a performance and pedagogical-based perspective I reached out to prominent director, teacher, intimacy choreographer, choreographer, actor and dancer Nicole Perry She had a lot of insight into this piece. Possibly more than the piece deserves.

“I have a few problems with this monologue. Some from a technical/educational perspective. Some from a feminist/political perspective. I’ll start with technical/educational, as I think that’s a little more objective.

As a high school drama teacher and a coach for competition monologues, something I often see from the young women I work with is the choice of an angry monologue. As women, we’re so often told to be “nice”, “polite”, “act like a lady”, etc. So, getting to play a character that embodies the opposite is refreshing. I get the choice. However, it often doesn’t serve the actor.

This monologue, for example, might seem refreshing at first go. She’s owning her negative qualities. However, this monologue, like so many “angry women” monologues, does not actually empower women. It does not show us a character that is using her voice, to own all parts of herself, to accept all emotions and behaviors she has. She has no self-examination as to WHY she feels these things or WHY she feels threatened by the opportunity to change. Therefore, she’s not making interesting choices. She’s insisting on same-ness, which is not compelling. The character is, frankly, flat. The monologue only has one note or one emotional tone. There is no nuance in this monologue. She does not arouse our curiosity.

She also does not engage our empathy. The most interesting villains are ones that still have some shred of humanity that makes us, as an audience empathizes with them and their choices. To see ourselves in them, and understand, just for a moment, how someone could get there. There is none of that in this monologue. She’s simply hard and cruel. There are plenty of strong female characters out there, who know why they are angry and help us see their side of the story. And, at the end, even if we don’t agree, we empathize. Whether your monologue is for an audition, competition, or show, you want the audience on your side, at least for a moment.

The poor sap with the box though, I feel very badly for that person! I am much more curious about them. How did they fall for her act so long? How did they inspire these feelings of “nice”-ness in her?  What are they thinking and feeling right now? If you are an actor, performing a monologue, you likely do NOT want the audience or adjudicators thinking more about the person NOT in the scene than about you. But that’s what happens here.

Speaking of “nice”, that’s just an incredibly vague word. It may have to do with the translation, but “nice” doesn’t really tell me anything. Compassionate, empathetic, helpful, generous, all of these words are better choices and would tell me much more about her state of mind.

Ok. Now. Feminist-wise, this monologue is troubling. The first concern that I have with this monologue is its use of derogatory words for women when it’s written by a man. I am NOT saying men can’t write female characters or that they can’t write women who make bad choices or are even villainous. But, “bitch” and “slut” are really loaded words. For a really great take on this, check out the short play Webster’s Bitch by Jacquline Bircher on New Play Exchange. But, quickly, it’s about defining the word for the dictionary, and who gets to define it, and what it means when a specific person defines it.

“Make no mistake, “bitch” is a gendered insult that has undercut women and reduced them to their sexual function as long as it has existed (Allison Yarrow, 2018.).” Its use in conjunction with “slut” is a bit redundant. But besides bad writing, it is a sexist choice, regardless of the fact that a female character is delivering in the line. 

“Slut”, like “nice” doesn’t really mean much. Every person has their own definition of behavior that fits, from wearing a miniskirt and red lipstick to frequent sexual activity. Again, poor word selection, and sexist choices.  

In this monologue, a male writer has reduced a female to a sexual definition and contrasted it against her partner (who is genderless, but my gut says intended male), who makes distinct social behavioral choices (gives to poor, feeds the hungry, helps the elderly). It’s not an even playing field: he is a social agent, she is a sexual one. 

If you are a female actor wanting an angry monologue to claim those emotions for yourself, or to contrast with a saccharine-sweet character, I understand. But this one isn’t it.”

The mystery

Despite all the videos attributing this monologue to an English-language writer named Frank Edwards, I can find no evidence Mr. Edwards exists or that it truly was translated from English into Portuguese. Translation credit is given to Aguinaldo Silva, a renowned Brazilian writer.

The source of the monologue seems to be the Facebook page of an arts school named after Mr. Silva. The monologue is also on the homepage. There is a video of an English version of this monologue. My feeling is it was translated out of the Portuguese, but I can’t prove this.

Worthwhile monologues

Female performers should not have to subject themselves to inferior/poorly-written roles, especially when it comes to monologues.

Worthwhile female monologues exist, also written by women, including Allison Moore, Tera Meddaugh (and here), Neith Boyce, Ntozake Shange, Alice Gerstenberg, Aurora Rooker, Annie Eliot and Diana Son. All of them are 1,000 times better than How to Be a Bitch.

English

 

Portuguese A

 

Portuguese B (she calls him Felipe at the beginning)

Oooh, look how popular!

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Portuguese C

 

Portuguese D

 

Portuguese E

 

Portuguese F

 

Portuguese G

 

Thanks for reading/watching and join us next week for more monologues!!!

 

Monologue Monday

Monologue Monday: A Streetcar Named Desire (Blanche)/Um Bonde Chamado Desejo (Blanche) – Tennessee Williams

Hello everyone!!! Welcome back to Unknown Playwrights. I know the blog hasn’t been a priority this summer, but it touches my heart to see so many people visiting it.

green-heart_1f49a
Via here.
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A Streetcar Named Desire is Twitterrific

We’re going to look at a monologue here through the lens of different cultures. While researching Portuguese monologues, I discovered Blanche’s “He was a boy..” monoloue from a A Streetcar Named Desire is popular on YouTube for some reason. I found a Portuguese site with Blanche’s monologue. Here is what the site says about Blanche’s role in the play:

[translation after the Portuguese]

Na peça, Blanche foge de Laurel para a casa da irmã Stella Kowalski em New Orleans, devido ao seu envolvimento com um de seus alunos. Stella vive um relacionamento abusivo com seu marido Stanley e a chegada da irmã perturba o sistema de mútua dependência na casa, pois esta vive um mundo de fantasias e ilusões misturadas a sua realidade e acaba influenciando aqueles ao seu redor.
 
Blanche DuBois, sulista, e professora de inglês tenta encobrir a realidade a todo o custo. Disfarça suas desilusões inclusive a maior delas, seu breve casamento desfeito pela homossexualidade do marido Allan Grey e seu subsequente suicídio, através da ideia de se mostrar ainda atraente e com a possibilidade de novas conquistas amorosas.

Translation: In the play, Blanche flees Laurel to her sister Stella Kowalski’s home in New Orleans, due to her involvement with one of her students. Stella lives in an abusive relationship with her husband Stanley and the arrival of her sister disturbs the system of mutual dependence in the house, as she lives in a world of fantasies and illusions mixed with reality and ends up influencing those around her.

Blanche DuBois, Southerner, and English teacher tries to cover up reality at all costs. She disguises her disappointments, including her biggest disappointment, her brief marriage broken up by her husband Allan Gray’s homosexuality, and his subsequent suicide, through the idea of ​​still being attractive and the possibility of new love conquests.

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A dramatic reading

I asked American playwright Mattie Rydalch her thoughts on this interpretation and this is what she had to say: “I felt more like grief was behind a lot of the fantasies she had, and then that final trauma from Stanley tipped her over the edge in the end. She’s always seemed to me like a person that a lot of crappy things have happened to, and that she’s been driven to detachment from reality because of grief and trauma.”

Of course these are simply two folks’ opinions. We do also have a neat little infographic from Shmoop about Blanche:

blanche
FInd the fascinating original here.
It’s interesting because in English productions, I think most actors go for a New Orleans accent or at least a generic Southern accent. But the part would lose that characteristic in translation.
So, this time around, we’ll have both Portuguese and English versions.
thumbs.web.sapo.io
A graphic from a production in Portugal. Note the use of “eléctrico” for streetcar instead of the Brazilian “bonde.”
Here is the text of the Portuguese:
Não. Era um menino. Apenas um menino, quando eu era ainda muito jovem. Aos dezesseis anos fiz uma grande descoberta – o amor! Foi tudo tão simples, tão completo. Foi assim como se acendesse uma luz intensa, num lugar que estivesse sempre no escuro. Foi assim que ele iluminou esse mundo para mim. Mas não tive sorte. Desiludi-me logo.
Havia nele qualquer coisa muito estranha… Um nervosismo, uma doçura, uma delicadeza que não eram próprios de um homem – se bem que ele não tinha nada de efeminado. Mas havia qualquer coisa… Ele me procurava em busca de ajuda. E eu não sabia disso… Foi então, que eu percebi que o havia enganado de uma maneira misteriosa e que eu não lhe estava dando a ajuda de que ele necessitava, mas da qual não podia falar!
Ele estava num atoleiro e agarrava-se a mim. Mas eu não o estava puxando para fora. Eu estava afundando com ele. E eu não sabia de nada…
stttlullu
And of course it’s a Korean poster for the play.
And in English (but I added more of the follow-up):

He was a boy, just a boy, when I was a very young girl. When I was sixteen, I made the discovery–love. All at once and much, much too completely. It was like you suddenly turned a blinding light on something that had always been half in shadow, that’s how it struck the world for me. But I was unlucky. Deluded. There was something different about the boy, a nervousness, a softness and tenderness which wasn’t like a man’s, although he wasn’t the least bit effeminate looking–still–that thing was there…. He came to me for help. I didn’t know that. I didn’t find out anything till after our marriage when we’d run away and come back and all I knew was I’d failed him in some mysterious way and wasn’t able to give the help he needed but couldn’t speak of! He was in the quicksands and clutching at me–but I wasn’t holding him out, I was slipping in with him! I didn’t know that. I didn’t know anything except I loved him unendurably but without being able to help him or help myself. Then I found out. In the worst of all possible ways. By coming suddenly into a room that I thought was empty–which wasn’t empty, but had two people in it… the boy I had married and an older man who had been his friend for years. Afterwards we pretended that nothing had been discovered. Yes, the three of us drove out to Moon Lake Casino, very drunk and laughing all the way. We danced the Varsouviana! Suddenly in the middle of the dance the boy I had married broke away from me and ran out of the casino. A few moments later–a shot!

I ran out–all did!–all ran and gathered about the terrible thing at the edge of the lake! I couldn’t get near for the crowding. Then somebody caught my arm. “Don’t go any closer! Come back! You don’t want to see!” See? See what! Then I heard voices say– Allan! Allan! The Gray boy! He’d stuck the revolver into his mouth, and fired–so that the back of his head had been–blown away!

It was because–on the dance-floor–unable to stop myself–I’d suddenly said–“I saw! I know! You disgust me!” And then the searchlight which had been turned on the world was turned off again and never for one moment since has there been any light that’s stronger than this–kitchen–candle…

Anyways, I thought it would be interesting to see how different cultures portray the same monologue. Hopefully, watching the Portuguese can somehow influence or help any English-speaking actors reading this. The English monologues will follow the Portuguese.

Português A

Português B

Português C

Português D

Português E

Português F

Português G

 

And now in the language of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Hansberry aka English:

English A

 

English B

English C

English D (from a Brazilian)

English E

English F

English G

English H

 

Here is a type of trailer for the production in Portugal mentioned earlier:

 

And I know what you’re thinking: What about Korean? Well, we got the first 20 minutes of the play in Korean.

 

Join us next week for more monologues!!!