People Sitting In Darkness

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Magdalena dreams of being anything other than a housemaid. But luckily for her it's 1901 and the Americans have arrived in the Philippines, bringing along the English language and the possibility of change. When she discovers the American governor is coming to town, she knows what she has to do -- convince the others to help her mount a theatrical adaptation of a book about self-determination called "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

Read Sample

SCENE 1

(A small town in the Philippines in 1901.

A space that could either be an interior or an exterior. It is tropical.

Voices sing a song of mourning.

MAGDALENA, a Filipina housemaid, enters and addresses the audience.)

MAGDALENA
She called me a pearl. Doña Carmen Ramirez Delgado would called me a pearl.

Other days, Doña Carmen would call me a duck. Or sometimes an orchid. When I pleased her especially well on a hot day, she called me an armchair.

But my favorite was “pearl”. Because a pearl has value. And is pure. And is solid.

Doña Carmen was not of this island. She was a woman of Spain, a lady of Madrid! As she lay in bed, she whispered of olive trees. Of palaces built by the Moors. Of giant ships that sailed to Italy. And then to Africa. And then to here, where she died.

She had seen so much, yet she called me a pearl. Pearl.

I am to speak of her. Not of me. I apologize --

Never have I spoken in front of so many. The whole town is here. I don’t know what to say.

She loved all of you. Everyone in Canabuan.

I thank Don Jose for allowing me this honor. To say a few words about his wife. To say a few words about my mistress, my teacher, my –-

She touched our lives in so many ways. When she walked through the marketplace –-

(She searches for a phrase.)

-- She carried the world’s oceans in the folds of her dress. Of course, when she spoke our dialect, she sounded like -–

(She searches for a phrase.)

-- a guitar with one string out of tune. But when she spoke Spanish, she was like --

(She searches for another phrase.)

-- one hundred violins. All in harmony and elegant.

She taught us to read. In Spanish! She taught me:

(She says the letters of the alphabet in Spanish. She is proud that she can name them all.)

A(a), B(be), C(ce), CH(che), D(de), E(e), F(efe), G(ge), H(hache), I(i), J(jota), K(ka), L(ele), LL(elle), M(eme), N(ene), Ñ(eñe), O(o), P(pe), Q(cu), R(ere), RR(erre), S(ese), T(te), U(u), V(ve), W(doble u), X(ekis), Y (i griega), Z(zeta).

(She stiffens her shoulders. She is very proud of her ability.)

And to read books. She said: Read books.

“Lee libros.”

In books, there is no poverty. Only riches.

“En los libros, no hay pobreza. Solo riquezas.”

“Tu puedes estar en otra parte.”

And you can be -– somewhere -- else.

(She begins to cry.)

I don’t know what to say anymore. I don’t know what to say.

We will no longer be learning Spanish.

This is –-

Someone else please speak?

Please speak.

I don’t have anymore words.

I have been made poor again.

(End of scene.)

SCENE 2

(A room in a large house. MAGDALENA is lying on her back. PEPITO, a servant, is on top of her. They grunt and emit a long sigh indicating they’ve just had sex. They separate. MAGDALENA puts her clothes back on. PEPITO watches her in awe.)

PEPITO
You are a bead of sweat. You are a clump of seaweed. You are a yard of leather. You are a yard of leather drying in the sun. You are --

MAGDALENA
I still don’t understand what you’re saying.

PEPITO
I’m not good with words.

MAGDALENA
I understand the words. I just don’t understand what you’re saying.

PEPITO
This is what I’m trying to say: you are everything to me. Everything. And I need to know. What am I to you? What words would you use?

MAGDALENA
You are Pepito.

PEPITO
(Disappointed.)
No.

MAGDALENA
But that’s your name.

PEPITO
Yes. But -– that’s all? Close your eyes. Imagine. What am I?

MAGDALENA
A servant.

PEPITO
No.

MAGDALENA
In a big house.

PEPITO
That’s all?

MAGDALENA
(Trying to make him feel better.)
As am I.

PEPITO
You used to have such beautiful language. Each one of your sentences was holy to me. They still are!

(Pause.)

We just made love!

MAGDALENA
Yes.

PEPITO
For the first time. You and me. It’s different now. To you, I’m not just Pepito anymore.

MAGDALENA
You’re not?

PEPITO
I’m your –-

MAGDALENA
What?

(Pause.)

PEPITO
I scrubbed the floors for you.

(Pause.)

MAGDALENA
Yes.

PEPITO
So -–

MAGDALENA
That was the agreement. You scrub the floors. And I give you twenty minutes under my dress.

PEPITO
And?

MAGDALENA
That is all.

PEPITO
But what were you thinking about? During those twenty minutes. Those long, wonderful minutes.

MAGDALENA
This house.

PEPITO
Me, too! I’ve worked here for years. But never have I made love in it.

MAGDALENA
There are too many rooms.

PEPITO
To make love in? We can find out! Together.

MAGDALENA
No! To clean.

PEPITO
To clean? You’re still thinking about work?

MAGDALENA
What else can I think about? I’m no longer a nurse with one task. I’m a maid now. A housemaid! With infinite duties.

PEPITO
I’ll do your duties!

MAGDALENA
Yes. But you can’t do them forever.

PEPITO
I can do them forever. I’d be honored.

(Pause.)

I’m thinking of a house, too.

MAGDALENA
Another one?

PEPITO
Yes. Even bigger.

MAGDALENA
No.

PEPITO
Our own!

MAGDALENA
Where’s that?

PEPITO
It doesn’t stand yet. But I see it in my mind. I close my eyes and it’s there, shining under the sun. With more rooms. And a bigger garden. Greener. Lusher.

MAGDALENA
I don’t understand.

PEPITO
Magdalena, I want to marry you.

MAGDALENA
Is this -- ?

PEPITO
Yes, a proposal.

MAGDALENA
It does not sound like a question.

PEPITO
No. It is a declaration.

MAGDALENA
A proposal is a question.

PEPITO
I know. But I don’t want to hear your answer. I’m too afraid. I just want to tell you how I feel.

(Pause.)

MAGDALENA
I can tell you my answer. No.

PEPITO
I carved you a ring of bamboo.

(PEPITO pulls out a ring.)

MAGDALENA
It’s so –-

PEPITO
Yes?

MAGDALENA
Wooden.

PEPITO
I’m saving my wages to buy you a real one. One you deserve. But for now, let this take its place.

(MAGDALENA refuses the ring.)

MAGDALENA
I need to get back to work.

PEPITO
See, you deserve a better life. What do you have here? Clothes to wash. Meals to prepare. Floors to sweep.

MAGDALENA
And if I become your wife?

PEPITO
You wouldn’t have those tasks anymore.

MAGDALENA
Never?

PEPITO
You would wash our clothes. And prepare our meals. And sweep our floors.

MAGDALENA
That doesn’t sound so different.

PEPITO
Of course it is. It would be in our house. Just the two of us.

MAGDALENA
Anything else?

PEPITO
What more could you want?

MAGDALENA
Something more. Anything more.

PEPITO
Tell me. I’ll give it to you.

(Pause.)

MAGDALENA
I don’t know. I just don’t have the words for it.

PEPITO
See? You can’t think of anything. That means you’ll be happy. Doña Carmen, before she died, made me promise.

MAGDALENA
Doña Carmen made you promise? To do what?

PEPITO
Make you happy. By marrying you. By restoring your honor.

(Pause.)

What’s wrong?

MAGDALENA
I don’t want to speak with you anymore.

PEPITO
I know you shared her bed.

(Pause.)

MAGDALENA
I was employed to nurse her to health.

PEPITO
Yes. But it became more. I saw. I was climbing the tree outside her window. To pluck the mangoes. And I saw. The two of you. In the same bed. Arms and legs like vines intertwined.

(Pause.)

Don’t worry. I won’t tell Don Jose. Or anyone. I know you did it because –- you had no choice. You are poor. Like me.

MAGDALENA
She asked me to.

PEPITO
I know.

MAGDALENA
To lie on her bed. It was her comfort. She was dying.

PEPITO
I know.

MAGDALENA
I had to.

PEPITO
Of course.

(Pause.)

So will you marry me?

MAGDALENA
No.

Cast Requirements

4 men
2 women

Set Description

Flexible set