France-Luce Benson: Risen from the Dough

WGA Reg. # 1496852

CHARACTERS:
MARYSE–40; strong willed, Haitian-American woman
LEONIDE–her sister; a few years younger

SETTING:
Brooklyn, New York
A small bakery on Flatbush Avenue
Time is present

AT RISE: MARYSE violently kneads dough on a counter with her bare hands.

MARYSE
Fout!

LEONIDE, her sister, enters with a rolling pin. MARYSE does not notice her.

LEONIDE
May? (pronounced MY)

MARYSE
Damn. Shit! (pronounced shyet)!

LEONIDE
May?—May!

MARYSE
What! What is it, Leonide?

LEONIDE
(extending the rolling pin sheepishly)
I find it.

MARYSE
(grabbing the pin from her)
Hm! Merci.

LEONIDE watches MARYSE roll the dough.

MARYSE
For God sake, what are you staring at? En?

LEONIDE
Nothing. It’s just… You don’t think we should… make sure things are in order?

MARYSE ignores her.

LEONIDE (CONT’D)
May, it has been two weeks. Two weeks! They said they would come for another inspection in two weeks, en. That means any day now—

MARYSE
I know how to count.

LEONIDE
—any day now someone will be here—

MARYSE
I don’t care.

LEONIDE
—if we don’t have everything in order they will shut—

MARYSE
No they will not! Nobody ever make me to do what I don’t want to do.

LEONIDE
Yes, I know.

MARYSE
I run my business the way I want. I cook and clean the way I cook and clean all my life. They way my mère

LEONIDE
Your mother?

MARYSE
Our mère. I do every thing just the way Mami show us in Haiti, en. Did anyone ever get sick from our hands? We are not dirty people.

LEONIDE
They never say we were dirty, they only ask that we use one sink just for hand washing—

MARYSE
I wash my hands. Ah!

LEONIDE
Yes, I know, May.
(crossing to a sink in US corner; cleaning up)
But must you also leave your coffee here each morning? And even the shells from the eggs you make for breakfast?

MARYSE
I must finish this order before noon. I will clean later.

LEONIDE
And you still have not bought the soap dispenser?

MARYSE
You don’t see how busy I am? I will buy it tomorrow.

LEONIDE
Tomorrow, tomorrow, later, later. And what if they were to come in just now? That is already 10 points—

MARYSE
B’um report, en! I don’t care about any points. We work like esclave for the last five years just to finally have a place to claim as our own in this country. Now nobody can say to me “Go back where you came from.” Because I have business here. Me and Fritz, God rest his soul, swear to Bon Dieu we would have our own business one day so that we won’t have to work for these racist devils who think all Haitian people are dirty and too lazy to—

LEONIDE
(throwing her hands up)
Menzami!
You are impossible.

MARYSE
You don’t remember all the years we cook and clean for those white devils?

LEONIDE
They were not devils.

MARYSE sucks her teeth.

LEONIDE (CONT’D)
And they were not all white.

MARYSE
Oh? The Black American families were even worse. They think because they have a little money they are better then me. If it was not for those Black American men—

LEONIDE
May?

MARYSE
—those vakabon, with their pants down to their feet, crazy for their gold and their sneakers! If it was not for them—

LEONIDE
May, you are shaking.

MARYSE
Fritz would still be alive!

Pause

MARYSE(CONT)
I have held my tongue for seven years, en. Seven years! Without my—This place belong to Fritz as much his as it belong to us.

LEONIDE
He would be very proud.

MARYSE
I don’t care about any inspection. Not today. I trust in God.

LEONIDE
God does not work for the Health Department.

MARYSE
But I work for God.

(pause)

How long does it take you to chop zepis?

LEONIDE crosses to chopping board with onions, celery, etc.

MARYSE
Beside, they will not come today. Fritz tell me himself.

LEONIDE
So you are speaking to the dead now?

MARYSE
Every year, on the eve of his death, he speak to me in my dream.

LEONIDE
On the eve… Is today—?

MARYSE
My hands, they will not stop shaking. They will not come today.

MARYSE exits. LEONIDE nervously tries to work. She picks up the knife, then hesitates. She brings it to her nose, studies it carefully. She looks down at a bucket of water near the table. She smells the water. She picks up the Health Dept. manual, flips through the pages quickly then carefully reads one page. She studies the water again while consulting the manual.  She  takes out a chlorine test strip from her pocket and follows the instructions in the book to test the water.

MARYSE enters with a cup of water, just as LEONIDE dips the strip in the bucket.

MARYSE
That is not necessaire!

LEONIDE jumps.

LEONIDE
(hiding the strip)

Pardon?

MARYSE
The chlorine solution. You think I don’t know what you are doing?

LEONIDE
I-I just—

MARYSE
There is no need to test it, I mix it myself. What? You don’t trust me?

LEONIDE
You think I do not trust my own blood? If you say it is good, it is good.

MARYSE
Good.

LEONIDE
Good. But if it is good, then you should not care if I test.

MARYSE
I care that my own sister does not trust me.

LEONIDE
Depi kilé
? Since when I do not trust you?

MARYSE
Since the devil Americans send their spy in here—

LEONIDE
He was from the Health Department. No spy. You crazy?

MARYSE
Hm! And who send him here?

LEONIDE
Kòm fè konnen
? He was not sent here, they go to every body.

MARYSE
Non, machè. Not the Deli across the street that they make a sandwich for you on the same table the cat lick his pee-jon. Or what about the place on Avenue J.

LEONIDE (with disgust)
Rosa’s.

MARYSE
Yes. Rosa’s. I watch her, with my own eyes, cook a pumpkin soup in a pot I would not clean my feet in. And I see her fry beans in a pan as dirty as the devil’s ears. But do you ever see any Health Department making trouble for them? Do you?

LEONIDE
I think—

MARYSE
Non!
You have not and you will not. You know why?

MARYSE points to her skin.

LEONIDE
Madamn Rosa is darker than you.

MARYSE
But she is not Haitian. They will always give us Haitians a hard time. They will always find a way to keep us down—

LEONIDE
So go back to Haiti.

MARYSE
He-heeey? You sound just like them.

LEONIDE
If you are so miserable here, go back. Go back to no water, no kouran. En? And you can have light and cool air when the government see fit. And the government in Haiti? They would have killed Fritz long ago if he did not leave when he did.

MARYSE
How can you say that to me? Today of all days.

LEONIDE
Because it is the truth. So? Why are you still here?

MARYSE
I have earned my place here.

LEONIDE
So be grateful.

MARYSE
For what? Because I have business. My children go to good school.

LEONIDE
What more do you want?

MARYSE
MY HUSBAND! Did he ever harm anyone? He drive his taxi, he provide for me and Robert and Magdala. And you! He give you a home with us when you had no place to go, en. He come here alone, to prepare a place for us. And this place never welcome him. We were never welcome-

LEONIDE
But you are here.

MARYSE
He drive his taxi, he never bother a soul. One night, he see someone in trouble. He try to help. He run to the police and they ignore him. They say “speak English!” Speak English.

LEONIDE
Please May—

MARYSE
And those… those… men…

LEONIDE
Enough…

MARYSE
vakabon. Evil…

LEONIDE
God can hear you, en

MARYSE
…American—

LEONIDE
ENOUGH! God knows how your heart beats today, Maryse. But you and I know the truth about Fritz killers. En? They were not American. They were Haitian. Haitian! Just like you, and me, and—

MARYSE
They were not like us! I will never forget where I come from. I will never try so hard to be like the people here, who want nothing more then to send me back, that I betray my own people. Those men, those—

LEONIDE
Boys. They were boys.

MARYSE
I don’t care how old they were.

LEONIDE
Children.

MARYSE
Those… children… try so hard to erase their culture that they become… zombies. With no soul. No past. No sense of pride. I will not be like them.

LEONIDE
And you think a soap dispenser will erase your culture?

MARYSE
It is not the way we do things. The way that man investigate us—

LEONIDE
He was only doing his job.

MARYSE
Turning his nose up, like to say that we smell. Looking at us like we are not human.

LEONIDE
You imagine too much.

MARYSE
Like we are animals. When he, they, were the animals. Those men—

LEONIDE
—are in prison.

MARYSE
AND WHERE IS FRITZ? WHERE IS HE?

Pause

MARYSE
Everything here is just the way Fritz describe to me when we dream together of this place. I see him everywhere. And I see our home. Our home in Port Au Prince. It is as if he never left me. If I start to change then—

LEONIDE
He will still be here. In the smell of the cod fish. In the sounds of spices frying on the pan. Here, in the dough. Here (resting her hand on Maryse’s heart).

MARYSE
It beats heavy today, en? S’il te plait, get my bag from inside.

LEONIDE exits. MARYSE kneads the dough, gently and lovingly.

MARYSE
Is it true, Fritz?

Pause.

She reaches down to retrieve a pan of griyo. She peels the back the aluminum foil cover; takes in scent.

MARYSE
Your favorite. May I?

She inserts a morsel into her mouth.

MARYSE
Mm-mm-MM! Ah, mon cher, it is true. You are here, en. Well then, I will fight to keep you here.

She returns the pan to the oven.

LEONIDE enters with a handbag and hands it to MARYSE.

MARYSE takes out a soap dispenser and hands it to LEONIDE.

LEONIDE
(overjoyed)

Oh, Maryse!

MARYSE
Where is the book?

LEONIDE
Over there.

MARYSE
Well give it to me!

LEONIDE does.

MARYSE (flipping through pages)
Now, let me see.
(reading)

“In accordance with the United States…”

LEONIDE
Is that griyo I smell?

MARYSE
I made it special.

MARYSE looks up and smiles as the lights fade to black.

End of Play

Brooklyn, New York, April 25, 2011

*   *   *

France-Luce Benson graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with an M.F.A. in Dramatic Writing. She is a two-time recipient of the Shubert Foundation Fellowship. Her play, Fati’s Last Dance, received an Honorable Mention prize from the Kennedy Center (Lorraine Hansberry Award for Playwriting). Fati’s Last Dance was also selected for the Ignition Festival at the Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago(August ‘08), one of four finalists for the Theodore Ward prize given by Columbia College(‘08), and the winner of the Mary Marlin Fisher Award given by Carnegie Mellon University.  Her feature length screenplay, Healing Roots, was awarded $10,000 by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in 2007.

Risen From the Dough was produced by the Ensemble Studio Theatre as part of the 2009 Going to the River Festival. Her plays Silence of the Mambo, Destiny’s Edge, Ascension, and Floating Under Water have all had readings and/or workshops at previous GTTR Festivals at EST. Her one act, Freedom Sea, received a workshop at the Atlantic Theatre in New York. She was honored as the Playwright in Residence for the Negro Ensemble Company(2001-2004). The NEC commissioned her play, Barbara’s Keys, which premiered at the Lamb’s Theatre. Da Beat Trap, a one woman show written and performed by Ms. Benson, co-produced by NEC, debuted at the Producer’s Club as part of the Shakespeare N. Haarlem Theatre Festival.  Most recently, Ms. Benson is working on an adaptation of Marvaux’s The Game of Love and Chance, commissioned by Ruffled Feathers Theatre Company, to be produced later this year.

Her acting credits include The Tempest/Ariel– Fla Playwrights Theatre; Floating Under Water/Leidy – Bricolage Theatre, Palmetto – La Mama, NYC, and First Drafts – Ensemble Studio Theatre, NYC.

Ms. Benson is a Playwriting Workshop Leader for Young Playwrights, Inc. in New York, an Adjunct Professor at Lehman College, a proud member of the Dramatists Guild of America, Inc., and Executive Director/Founder of CAFÉ(Caribbean Association for Females in Entertainment).

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