an egg in a scarlet ribbon

a word play in one act

characters:
ID: (the mass of primitive instincts and energies in the unconscious mind that, modified by the ego and the superego, underlies all psychic activity.) Id is a slender, androgynous type dressed in a black unitard, carrying and stroking a small blanket with a satin edge.
EGO: (the conscious mind based on perception of the environment from birth onwards: responsible for modifying the antisocial instincts of the id and itself modified by the conscience or superego.) Ego is a balding man in a black turtleneck who carries and fiddles with a pipe but doesn't smoke it.
SUPEREGO: (that part of the unconscious mind that acts as a conscience for the ego developing mainly from the relationship between a child and his parents.) Superego is a short, dumpy woman wearing a twin set and pearls and sensible shoes.
A light shines from directly above creating a circle of about 12 feet in diameter on the centre portion of the stage. Positions are referenced as if the circle were a clock face with 12 o'clock being the point closest to the audience. The stage is empty except for a lectern or small table which contains a dictionary just inside the light at 9 o'clock. The three characters amble about in and out of the light as they speak their lines. In between lines they remain "frozen" in their last position. The play opens with Id in the centre of the circle. The others are just outside the circle in darkness, Ego at 5 o'clock, Superego at 8 o'clock.
ID: Something hurts. Feels so bad. I need something but I don't know what it is. I feel so empty and I want the emptiness to go away. I need something. Something that will make me happy. I want...
(Ego steps into the circle.)
EGO: Do you even have a clue WHAT you want?
ID: I want to be...
EGO: "To be or not to be" ...I asked if you had a clue.
(Supe steps into the circle, shaking her finger at Ego as she speaks:)
SUPEREGO: Come on now. Give her a chance to say what's on her mind. It's not polite to interrupt.
ID: ...happy.
I want to be happy.
EGO: What IS happiness, anyway?
A state of mind?
(Ego pontificates, moving his arms in sweeping gestures as he speaks.)
EGO: An elephant's foot umbrella stand or—
a free range egg wrapped up in a scarlet ribbon?
ID: Happiness gives you cause for joy. It is a source of gladness.
EGO: And what the hell is joy?
ID: Joy is a deep feeling of contentment or happiness.
EGO: There you go, round and round in circles: happiness gives you cause for joy - joy is a feeling of happiness. We are right back where we started from.
ID: OK, well I said contentment, too, then. That's not the same word.
EGO: Are you content?
ID: I don't know. I don't feel 'content', but I am not sure what that means. I am not sure I want to know. It sounds like a good thing, but if I know for sure what it is then I might realise that it is something I can't have and then I will feel even worse.
(Ego sighs deeply and picks up the dictionary, turns a few pages and reads...)
EGO: Well it says here that to be content is to be "mentally or emotionally satisfied with things as they are."
(mumbling, half to himself, leaving the open book on the floor)
EGO: Mentally or emotionally? Does that mean if you are mentally satisfied, but not emotionally satisfied you are still content? Or what if you are emotionally satisfied, but not mentally satisfied. Maybe it should say mentally and/or emotionally satisfied.
(Superego, who has been reading over his shoulder, interrupts...)
SUPEREGO: Wait, you didn't read it all. It also says that to be contented is to accept one's situation or life with equanimity or satisfaction. Or is that equanimity and/or satisfaction?
EGO: Equanimity?!? What the hell is equanimity?
(ID perks up. )
ID: Equanimity! What a beautiful word! What does it mean?
(Id smiles as she scoots up close to Superego who is now holding the dictionary.)
SUPEREGO: There, there!
(Supe strokes Id softly and Id curries in.)
SUPEREGO: You like that don't you? (she reads on:)
equanimity: calmness of mind or spirit; composure. It comes from the Latin word aequanimitas: aequus, even, EQUAL + animus, mind, spirit..
(Id smiles.)
EGO: That makes sense. Yeah, it's a good word. Satisfied?
(Id slumps back and begins to frown again.)
ID: What is 'satisfied'? I don't know!
(Exasperated, Ego takes the dictionary from Supe and reads unfalteringly:)
EGO: satisfaction: the fulfilment of a desire. The pleasure derived from such fulfilment.

You wanted to know what it meant and your desire was fulfilled.
It made you smile so it must have brought you pleasure.
You were satisfied -
ergo you were content.
QED
ID: But what does..
(Ego sighs deeply then defines from memory..)
EGO: ergo: therefore
QED: quod erat demonstrandum, which was to be shown or proved.
Christ! We are going to be here all day.
(Id smiles.)
SUPEREGO: Well, you WILL be if you keep using Latin - always showing off!
EGO: Oh, get off my back. Hey, look! She's smiling again.
ID: Those words were beautiful! I was just going to ask what pleasure is. I wasn't expecting to have such beautiful words.
(Superego turns a couple of pages then reads: )
SUPEREGO: pleasure: an agreeable or enjoyable sensation or emotion.
You, Id, of all people, should be aware of the pleasure principle. It says here that all psychological processes and actions are governed by gratification of needs.
(Id listens to that statement, moves to 10 o' clock, drops to the floor then curls instinctively into the foetal position facing the audience and starts sucking her thumb.)
EGO: Now you've done it, Supe. She was happy, and you've gone and got her all depressed; down and dirty...despondent city. How LOW can you go?
SUPEREGO: It's not my place to keep her happy. As it is, looking after YOU is a full time job and look at the thanks I get! You never write, hardly ever call. Far be it from me to lay any blame but If anyone has an influence on her well being it's you.
EGO: Nag, nag, nag! Between the two of you I never get a moment's peace: you with the constant guilt trips and she devoting her life to her Oscar worthy performance as the quintessential intercontinental leaking machine.
(Id sits up. She turns towards Ego and speaks from her position on the floor.)
ID: I don't mean to upset you with my tears. It's really not an act — just something I do. I can't help myself. In a way, it seems to be a good thing. I feel bad sometimes, while I am crying, but afterwards, there seems to be some kind of peace left in the place of the pain that caused the tears in the first place. Does that make sense?
EGO: Not one iota, dear.
SUPEREGO: Now, now, Ego...don't get her started.
(Id stands up, walks upstage past the two of them and stops at 6 o'clock. Facing away from the audience she lowers her head slightly.)
EGO: I was just kidding! Sheesh! Doesn't anyone around here have a sense of humour? I wonder about my role in all of this. The logic of it all is so obvious at times, yet you two seem to work from a completely different agenda! I can weigh the facts, point out the critical path and you, Id, fall deeper into your melancholia or get incredibly giddy about some infinitesimal speck in the relative scheme of things. And if I react with logic or try to point out the futility of your actions, Supe makes me feel like a kid with his hand in the cookie jar. Can't win for losin' ! I feel pretty damned inadequate at times.
(After finishing this speech Ego puts his pipe in his mouth and reaches for a match. Not finding it, he searches first in one pocket then another. He then looks at the pipe, remembers it is empty, turns it over, taps it on the palm of his hand then searches his pockets again, this time for tobacco. Frustrated when he doesn't find any he puts the empty pipe back in his mouth and paces, stopping after a bit at 2 o'clock.)
SUPEREGO: Why do you carry that thing, anyway, when you know you aren't going to smoke it?
(Ego turns and takes a couple of steps back towards the centre of the circle.)
EGO: Force of habit. You know I always have my pipe. I know it's not socially acceptable to smoke it anymore. I know it's bad for my health - you've told me often enough. But I just can't seem to leave it at home. I think it makes me look kind of, well, distinguished. And..
(Id turns and walks up to Ego, speaking softly)
ID: And it makes you FEEL good?
EGO: ...and it makes me feel good!
(She smiles and hooks her arm around his. He tousles her hair.)
SUPEREGO: Let's talk about this feeling of inadequacy. I know I nag you a lot but it's not because I think you aren't up to the task. I suppose I don't tell you often enough what a good job I think you are doing. If I am hard on you it's because I want you to live up to your potential. Maybe I think someone should have been harder on me. I guess sometimes I feel kind of inadequate, too. I never got my manual, you know. I've had to work on instinct and I've never been 100% sure of what I am doing.
(While Supe is talking, Id wanders off at 6 o'clock just outside the edge of the light. She occupies herself with some free form dance movements, between 5 and 7 o' clock using her blanket alternately as veil and streamer)
EGO: Hey, hey, Supe. Come here!
(Ego pulls Superego close to him and gives her a big hug.)
EGO: Don't go all insecure on me. old broad. I know you've done your best.
(He slaps her on the rump and she turns a hand to him in mock indignation, all the while smiling.)
SUPEREGO: And with not half bad results if I do say so myself.
EGO: But look what you had to work with!
(Supe looks at Ego, then at Id .)
SUPEREGO: So why can't it always be like this — Balanced. No one of us at odds with the others?
(She pauses for a few seconds.)
SUPEREGO: And why do I find myself wondering what's going to happen next to screw things up? Not WHETHER something will happen, but WHAT and WHEN!
And look at her back there by herself. Why do you let her indulge in these dark wanderings? You know if she stays there long enough, she'll be up to her tokus in gloom. She should occupy her time with some practical pursuit, you know. We've got ironing to be done, dishes to be washed.
(The dancing stops. Id stands on the edge of the light circle at 6 o'clock facing the audience, head bowed, motionless, the blanket drooping to the floor.)
EGO: And yet again your prophesy fulfils itself, old woman. I knew exactly WHAT would end it. The only question was WHEN. It had to be YOU. It's ALWAYS you. You just can't leave well enough alone.
(Supe's lip begins to quiver.)
SUPEREGO: You always blame me for everything. In your eyes SHE (pointing to Id) can do no wrong and I do nothing right! Nobody gives a hang about how I feel.
(Turning her back on Ego, Supe walks to the edge of the circle at 10 o'clock, crosses her arms in front of her chest and looks off into the darkness. )
EGO: I give up!
(Ego shoves his hands in his pockets, and walks to the edge of the circle at 2 o'clock staring off at some point in the distance. For a couple of seconds no one moves, then Id slowly lifts her head, turning at first toward Ego, then toward Superego. She walks to the centre of the circle.)
ID: Hello.
(Waits for answer. There is none.)
ID: Hello?
HEL-LO-OH!
(Id walks over to Ego and puts her hand through his arm. He doesn't respond. She takes her blanket and shoves it under his arm. She sighs then walks over to Superego. Id uncrosses Supe's arms and rests her head on Superego's bosom. No response. She picks up one of Supe's arms and tries to place it around her own neck. It falls to her side.)
ID: What is happening here? Are we dead?
We can't be dead or I wouldn't feel so bad.
Would I?
(Id sits on the floor in the centre of the circle, facing 12 o'clock.)
ID: No. We're not dead. I remember this place.

I hate this place.
(She rocks to the sound of her words spoken with an exaggerated rhythm.)
ID: I hate this place,
I hate this place
this damnable space
where no one can recognise my face
with untold horrors I can't erase
I hate this place,
I hate this place.
(She stands up, continuing the sing-song repetition)
ID: I hate this place,
where I can talk,
but no one will listen
and even I don't understand what I am saying.

With open arms the darkness sighs,
but the light is so bright
I can't open my eyes.

Who hears my cries —
the wasted tears,
unspeakable fears
in this — (pause)
this — (pause)
place? (whispered)
(Id stares at her feet for a moment, then lifts her hands slowly from her sides, bringing them together in front of her as if she is holding something. She arches her back as she raises her arms over her head. Taking a couple of turns, she brushes against Superego who turns and looks at Ego. Supe points to the blanket under his arm .)
SUPEREGO: New hobby?
(Ego looks down to where she is pointing, and notices the blanket. He turns just as Id takes another turn in his vicinity.)
EGO: Uh-oh! She's been in 'that place' (gesturing quotes with his fingers) again. I wonder how she got out of it without me? I'll be damned if I'll ever figure her out.
(He walks over to Id who seeing him stops dancing. He holds out the blanket to her and she takes it smiling. She holds out an empty hand as if to give him something in return. He reaches to 'take' it.)
EGO: What'cha got there, Kiddo?
(Id blushes, and looks at her feet. She answers in mock baby talk.)
ID: Sumfin'.
Sumfin' nice I got from a friend.
Something that made me happy, if only for a minute.
Something that helped me find my way out of ...
that PLACE.
(Puzzled, Ego looks at his empty hand)
EGO: (softly)What is it, Baby?
(Id smiles)
ID: It's a free range egg done up in a scarlet ribbon.
(The stage fades to dark.)

FIN

Carrie Berry
©1998

Commentary

This play first appeared in the SilkCocoon's White Wings Project in 1996.
White Wings Project