Haunted Lives

(Isaac is chained in the attic. Meeting him, Eliza curtsies.)

ELIZA: Very pleased to meet you, Isaac. Welcome to our home.

ISAAC: When may I leave?

ELIZA: Oh, I hope you’ll never leave. But if you must, well, five or six weeks should give you plenty of time.

ISAAC: Time for what?

ELIZA: To fall in love. I hope you’re quite comfortable. There’s some water in the pitcher if you’re thirsty, and though we’re short of food we’ll send you what we can.

ISAAC: To fall in love with whom, may I ask?

ELIZA: Why, to fall in love with me. (A squeal from outside. She goes to the window.) Oh dear. An alligator just got one of the pigs.

ISAAC: Why must I fall in love with you?

ELIZA: Because you can’t go home until you do. You see, Isaac – may I call you, Isaac?

ISAAC: Yes, of course.

ELIZA: My father died when I was twelve. He shot himself. Soon Mama became very ill – it was as if day by day she grew more transparent until she disappeared altogether. Then each of my sisters died also. I think it was because, with Papa’s death, the flesh and blood of our lives was buried with him.(She goes to a window and studies herself in the glass.) Two nights ago, walking along the beach, as I sometimes do, to feel the tide wrapping round my ankles, pulling me to Papa, I reached up and boxed the moon with my hands, and through my hands, backed by moonlight, I could see my bones. Look. I’m disappearing, like my mother and sisters before me, and only you can save me.

ISAAC: And if I don’t fall in love?

ELIZA: Then I shall die.

ISAAC: What about me?

ELIZA: You shall die too, I suppose. You see, I’m the one who hid the key.

Haunted Lives is a collection of three short plays, all of them spook-related. The first is a short romp in the dark, appropriate for Halloween; the second is an odd little ghost tale. The third, A Gothic Tale, is the longest and most serious. I have always been an admirer of J.M.Barrie, and am particularly fond of his one-acts, some of the most perfect plays I’ve ever come across. I very much wanted to write a piece inspired by his one-act structure, and so concocted Gothic Tale. Thematically it is not only Barrie-inspired (its dreamy heroine is right out of his pen), but owes a lot to the spirit of Isak Dineson, whose title I borrowed. There is something very formal and proper about the piece, much like the mansion in the middle of the swamp where it takes place. I directed the premiere at Actors Theatre of Louisville’s one-act play festival, casting the remarkable Susan Kingsley in the lead. (She was responsible for my love affair with Barrie, having starred in the production of What Every Woman Knows that introduced me to his oeuvres.) I felt that something was missing in the play during this first production, and only afterward did I add a brief scene which supplied an important, but absent, beat. For all its darkness, it’s a romance.

For all its darkness, it’s a romance.