The Lantern Procession

(Two parallel monodramas) (extract)


            She1            A European woman from the turn of the 20th and 21th centuries

            She2            A Chinese woman from the period of the Ch' ing dynasty at the turn of the 16 th and 17 th centuries

(The stage is divided into two parts by a taut white sheet. It can be of brocade, whose

whiteness symbolised sorrow for the Chinese – they used it to line all the roads along

which a funeral procession passed.

During the play the women – instroboscopic flashes – will press their faces, palms,

their whole bodies into the tightly stretched fabric, as if they wish to communicate or

hear each other through time and space.

Darkness. Silence.

The right – hand side of the stage – the space occupied by the Chinese woman –

lights up.

In the background a video projection shows an enlarged white Chinese lantern

swinging to the sound of a strong wind, until the candle inside sets the paper on fire.

The lantern flares up. In stroboscopic lighting, to the sound of stylized music inspired

by that of China, She 2 enters in a stylized costume, taking tiny steps typical of

Chinese women of that period.)

She 2:                        (Still in stroboscopic lighting.) I am an old geisha. Ten thousand things no longer await me. Only, perhaps, the convent below the rocks with the ancient pine trees. Clothes made from coarse cloth. Scabs on my shaven skull. Bitter tea. The past? Huh! Tiny lights over the river! Even those will soon be quenched by the cold rain.

(In a comic imitation of Chinese singing, she sings an extract from a song sung by

the heroine Tach Ti – er in the classical Chinese play Pavilion Above the River.)

She 2:            Desolate is this room, where only my shadow now lives.

                        The powder has flaked off, the rouge long faded. When twilight falls, my sorrow is greatest.

(About of coughing interrupts her singing. She 2 makes the ”sad sleeve” gesture from

plays of the khun - ch' ü type: she lifts her arm to her eyes, her head is bent, hinting

at weeping. Suddenly, with her whole body and expression, she changes the

situation. She plays a little girl. The stage gradually lights up.) 

She 2:            Papa? Tell the servant to run to the bazaar and buy me some fruit. And get him to bring me a new china doll! I won' t break it this time! I promise! Will you let him buy me some date cakes too? I'm five years old, Papa. My heart is not yet encased in a rush mat. Or in silk. It is naked and lively. Like a monkey. Because it's the Clear and Bright Festival. I'm going on a trip with you to the graves of our ancestors... Or is it already the Mid – Autumn Festival? The wind is blowing from the northern lake, from the Black Horse. I can hear shouts. Now whispers. Are they the voices of the plum leaves...? Papa?!

(The left side of the stage lights up – the space occupied by the European woman.

A video projection gradually appears in the background: a large picture of a man in

a suit and with a hat on his head, standing with his feet apart and smoking

a cigarette. She 1 enters, dressed in a white dress like a little girl at her confirmation.

She stands facing the projected picture of the man.)

She 1:             (In awe and admiration.) Daddy?! Will you buy me some Turkish delight and candied violets? They're sweets that look like purple flowers. Will you take me to the shooting gallery at the circus and win me a cellophane rose? I'll be good now, Daddy. I won't pick my scabs. I promise ! I'll sit quietly while you play chess in the coffee bar. Quiet as a mouse. I won't kick anyone under the table any more. I won't knock the waitress's tray out of her hands with my head. I won't tell the man you're playing chess with that he stinks like a skunk. I'll be as you want me to be, Daddy... Just as you want, Daddy dear...

(The picture of the man begins to move, the "little girl" trots here and there, following

his movements. Then she cries out in a terrified voice.)

She 1:            Daddy! Hold my hand! Don't go so fast! They've brought the prisoners out for a walk... One of them might turn me into a wooden doll. Hide me in his tracksuit. Take me out in his cell... In the prison up there. In the castle overlooking our town. Because there are magic tricks, Daddy...

(In stroboscopic lighting she leans her head against the dividing sheet.)

(The right side of the stage is lit up.)

She 1:            There are such tricks, Da... ddy...

She 2:            Papa? When are you going to finish smoking that pipe? After the fish they prepared you for supper? It stinks of sea rot and the sake in your little bowl. Papa, when will they take us out on the litter? Because maybe it's the Dragon Lantern Festival. But when we get out, hold my hand. Two monks are approaching. They may smile and try to persuade you to put me in their care. Because nothing but misfortune awaits both of us. Or are they ghosts? Papa, you know that on hot afternoons the ghosts of wise men wander through the world. They're not looking for elixirs of life. They are looking for elixir of everlasting dreams... They eat little girls!

(Stroboscopic lighting on She 1, who presses up to the sheet in terror.

Music. She 2 dances a few steps.

The left side of the stage lights up.)

She 2:            They eat little girls...!

She 1:            (Calming down.) They've gone. They laughed out loud. But the prisoner with the wild eyes didn't take me. Why didn't you hold my hand? I was frightened. I was terribly frightened! Daddy! Don't be angry with me! I won't reproach you for anything. Anyway, the prisoners had their hands in chains. And you're the best in the world. You're so good to me! Thank you for that silk dog. The one... (the picture of the man disappears now, as if he has moved to the side of the stage and from there descended among the audience; the girl follows his with her gaze and keeps talking, her face now towards the audience) made of white threads. With the glass eyes. Why didn't you let me fish it out of the river when it slipped from my hand? I didn't want to drown it. Really! It had such a lovely little head. When I was in bed in the dark, I used to press it up to my cheek. It warmed me like a lamp. Because you and Mummy didn't want the light on in my room. The war was already over, but you still had to save, didn't you, Daddy? You couldn't buy me many toys, could you? When Mummy drew a chicken, she gave me the intestines to play with. They were warm. I could feel sand in them. Beautiful, shiny intestines. (Stamps her foot crossly.) But they were dead! Terribly dead! And I wanted live toys. (Once more in a pampered tone.) But at least I had those intestines, didn't I, Daddy? I played with them, pretending they were my dead ancestors. I scraped a hole in the ground for them under a bush in the garden. There were snails on the branches of that bush. They looked like my intestines wrapped up in a handkerchief. But at least the snails were alive. I pulled them off the branches. They oozed an awful lot of slime. I didn't do anything to them. Well... just once. I put the snails in the grass. I stamped on them. Like this. They burst. My feet slipped and slid on them. That was the time when you broke all the records on the tiled floor of our room. You told Mummy you would shoot her... But you didn't. You just pushed her against the wall in the kitchen with your knee. You pulled her dress up to her tummy. It was a pity you broke them all. There was such beautiful music on those records! Do you remember? Sometimes you would pick me up in your arms. You whirled around and dance with me... We spun like a black record on the gramophone. I'd feel dizzy. I clung to your neck. And you held me tight.

Translated by Heather Trebatická

(Sound: Dean Martin sings a schmaltzy hit: ”Return to me, oh, my dear, I'm so lonely. Hurry back, hurry back, oh, my love, I'm your...” The girl sings with the singer and dances as the light fades into darkness.)


(The right side of the stage lights up. A loud sound of galloping horses.)

She 2:            (Her hair is dishevelled.) I don't know, Papa, my stupid old head isn't sure about anything any more. What happened!? Why did the chief eunuch arrive in a coach one day from the Forbidden City? Why did his men search our dwelling? They found forbidden books about warfare, things to do with the borders, and above all, alas, about Sons of the Heavens of long ago. Or did the awful woman write untruths about you in Manchu, in order to ruin you? She sucked you dry! Because you stopped taking any notice of her. They said you would have to face a long trial. If you didn't tell the truth they would torture you by crushing your ankles. If you kept silent, they would crush them to pulp. Now I know that if the judge was not sure which law you had in fact broken, he resorted to a law that made it possible to do what shouldn't have been done. But you had never provoked unrest, you didn't break any regulations, you wanted to keep the law and Sacred Edit of the Son of the Heavens. Oh, what did they do to you, Papa? Did they execute you? Did they sell you into slavery? I don't know, I don't know ANYTHING any longer! Just as you don't know that your secondary wife sold me for a couple of bars of silver to a man trading in children. But you told everyone in the yamen: (Imitating lamenting) Little Pearl vanished during the Lantern Festival. I just looked away for a moment and she had gone... gone! Abducted by a child thief is what they whispered in the yamen and my servants Wild Goose and Silver Thread wanted to commit suicide.

(The left side of the stage lights up.)

She 1:                 My apathetic husband lay for hours on the sofa, burped, farted, drank beer and gawped at the telly. In my heart of hearts I knew that something must happen. Something must turn up. Something sweet, something for me. I found another. A lover as clam as the sea. Wild as the surf. I didn't know anything about him. Not even his name. Once I sat down on a bench in the park, because it was hot and I felt faint. He sat down next to me and said something about explosions on the Sun. First he stroked me through my dress. I don't know.. it was as if I was hypnotised... maybe it was those explosions on the Sun... I went with him to his car. And then often... We went to the park at the other side of the town. Or we just stayed in the car somewhere on the grimy outskirts among deserted factories. We tore the clothes off each other in cheap hotels. You're like a tight string. Relax. He would say to me in a whisper and it seemed funny to me. It'll be just the way you want it. What do you want, he kept asking. For the first time ever my stupid head had to think what I wanted. I! I! just me. And no one else. But who was I really? A worker with fingers pricked all over, with clamouring  children, a husband like a sack of potatoes and a dribbling father with a stroke. I was alive, warm human machine. All at once I was to listen to my own body. What did it matter that it was no longer so young and beautiful? It was mine! When we were both naked, we often laughed. Just like that. For no reason. I can't remember when I last Laughed out loud as I did with him. A lover without a name. Without a past. Without a future. Even though, like conspirators, we went to terrible lengths to cover up our meetings. Sometimes he would put on my blouse, whirl around in front of me and say: I want your skin, your smell, your sweat, saliva, juices, I want to massage your fingers, rub cream on them, so the needle pricks don't hurt, I want to light a cigarette for you, choose your lipstick, hold your hand in the cinema, lean you up against a street lamp. We'll have a photo taken of us together, black and white, I'll just colour in your lips... You'll eat a whole bar of chocolate, you'll ask me for a pill, I'll see the chaos in your handbag, I'll see you to the bus-stop, you'll see me to the bus-stop, you'll say you feel like a cake, I'll feel like a coffee, we'll talk about our dead ones, their ghosts will sit on the edge of the bed, where, after making love, we shall tell each other the dreams we sometimes have at night. I chattered away like a sewing machine too: I felt good. For an eternity. It didn't matter that we couldn't spend a whole night together. I would have been jolted awake. On such a night your heart may have beaten feebly. I would have been scared to death. You would have despaired of me if you had woken up. I tried to pray it wouldn't end, that you wouldn't leave me. I tried to imagine God, his voice coming from all directions. Not to feel any sin. It can't be a sin to have an ardent heart, it's warmth after winter, no one can blame me, punish me... I was often sick. I used to breath quickly. I avoided  shops with expensive underwear. Fine stockings! I couldn't afford them. So what! I had at least food and a roof over my head. Not like those despairing wretches in the street who stretch out their grubby hands. Throw themselves on their knees. Cardboard boxes are their quilts! The world doesn't care a damn about them. I used to shrug my shoulders: my coat is threadbare, too... I've got wailing children, a father waiting for me in his own excrement... Even so... – I felt the wind on my skin. Perfumes, the smell of coffee, nicotine on the fingers of my lover, nearness, distance, a cocktail of madness from running here and there...

(The right side of the stage lights up.)

She 1:            A cocktail of madness, a cocktail of madness...

She 2:                    A trader in children. Always wore a long dirty coat. It stank of fish and musty wine. He shoved me into a shack. Onto a bamboo mat. there were five other girls there! Unwashed, with tangled hair, like me. They fought over my bracelets and rings. Like hungry animals. We were shut up for days on end. Stinker fed us on a bowl of rice and dried fish. We drank disgusting, weak tea. In the evening he would pick out one of the girls. I'll teach you the art of gratifying a man. He opened his coat in front of me, too. His penis was sticking out. I burst into tears. I hid my face in my hair. Pressed it to my eyes, so I couldn't see. Stinker hissed: don't be heartless! You'll be my favourite. I'll sell you well. Not to a borthel or as a servant, but as a second concubine, he laughed, drunk on rice spirits.               

Translated by Heather Trebatická