Burnt orange

Issue 3/1992 | Archives online, Drama, Fiction

Extracts from the play Poltettu oranssi (‘Burnt orange‘): ‘a ballad in three acts concerning the snares of the world and the blood’. Introduction by Tuula Hökkä

The scene is a small town in the decade before the First World War 

Cast:

DR FROMM
an imperial,bearded middle-aged gentleman
ERNEST KLEIN
a moustached, ageing, slightly shabby leather-manufacturer
AMANDA KLEIN
his wife, well-preserved, forceful, angular
MARINA KLEIN
their daughter, shapely, withdrawn, wary
NURSE-RECEPTIONIST
open, direct, not too ‘common’

ACT ONE

Scene two

After a short interval the receptionist opens the door and ushers Marina Klein into the surgery. Exit the receptionist. Marina immediately goes to the end of the room and presses herself against the white wall. The white surface makes her look very isolated in her ascetic black dress. The Doctor, who now appears to be headless – an impression produced by the lighting and the yellowish background – half-turns towards her.DOCTOR

Well, Miss… tell me…

(he stops, disturbed by the girl’s rigidity. Silence.)

Don’t be afraid. Tell me what’s worrying you.

No response.

I heard from your mother that you see everyone as headless. Is it everyone? Or just men? Do you see me without a head?

No response.

Your mother also told me you speak a home-made language. Is it that you can’t speak any other? Or don’t you want to?

No response.

I expect what you feel is: The others don’t understand me anyway, and so it’s all the same what I say?

No response.

(He sighs) Supposing I spoke your language7 Bi di fi gi dado ga? Mama nam do re mi why?

THE GIRL

(mechanically and timidly) Mi kri.

As soon as contact is established, the doctor’s head reappears.

DOCTOR

Ah yes. You do trust me, don’t you? Do you trust me?

No response.

DOCTOR Higami hogami?

THE GIRL

(responding mechanically now, but as timorously as if she’d like to vanish into the wall)

Hogami.

DOCTOR

Bigami digami. Gramme decagramme decadent centimetre (to himself:) Now I’m going wrong… (concentrating) Mele kalimaka.

MARINA

Hauoli.

DOCTOR

Makahiki hou. As you see, we’re getting on quite nicely now, together. Your language is, indeed, extremely… difficult, and perhaps you’ll forgive me if from time to time I get it a little wrong. I did speak it myself, as a child, but it doesn’t come back all that easily… so you’ll bear with me, then, won’t you… But it’s a bit difficult to find the proper things to say, spontaneously, you know, if I have to think it all out… ah… rabatsi filu rabatsi fefo escola granimui slaavibuffo garafang….

MARINA

Gang gongola.

DOCTOR

Halleluja. Hell’s bells…. But I’m trying my best. Spektakel. Takel sakel. Demiurgi.

MARINA

Gurki.

DOCTOR

Well, look, we’re getting on fine. Do sit down, please. Try that sofa over there, and settle yourself comfortably. Bitte setzen Sie sich. (to himself) Wrong again! But no, maybe she will take to a foreign language, all consonants. Probably only allergic to her mother tongue – her mother’s tongue!

She seats herself cautiously on the sofa, by the small table.

DOCTOR

Now, if I ask you politely, will you do something for me? Write something about yourself? Any language you like – just to please me? You’ll do that, won’t you? Tell me a little story, say – short as you like, or long as you like. Joyful or sad, it can be what you like, so long as it’s true, and about yourself. Zaragui ragatsi? I’ve got some paper here, and a pen (holding them out: she comes and takes them). Pluma zuma. Just let it all come out, let it flow… as if you were combing your hair in your thoughts. Gadji beri bimba tankredi glandridi dideroid.

She sits calmly down again by the table, pen in hand.

DOCTOR

Good, now write. Berimba bimbana zimzala gadjama.

MARINA (compliantly)

Gadji. (writes)

DOCTOR

Ah. Anodi katodi. Asphaltflplaster rattaplasma. So what shall I do, meanwhile? There’s that new anthropological encyclopaedia, I could scan that.

He jingles a bell loudly; enter the receptionist.

You know that new encyclopaedia, would you let me have it, please?

Exit the receptionist and enter a moment later carrying a huge volume. She sets it on the doctor’s table and exits. In what follows, while the Doctor is reading and soliloquising, surrealistic and schizophrenic paintings, such as Dali’s ‘soft constructions’, are projected onto the white wall-surface. The doctor leafs through the fat volume, reads:

‘Schizophrenic patients may write meaningless poems, very uncommunicative as regards content, but formally very disciplined and outwardly resembling children’s language or Latin.’ She won’t, let’s hope, (glancing at the girl) resort to any New Latin… With luck her motor co-ordination will set a longing going for ordinary letter-connections in her… Ah, now, Miss Klein, you’ve finished your piece. Splendid.

The girl rises timidly and takes the pen and sheets of paper over to the doctor, returns to her sofa and sits rigidly and motionless while he is reading.

DOCTOR

(Disappointed) A poem. And abracadabra. Damn it! – Miss Klein, you won’t mind, will you, taking a rest on the sofa, full-length, while I’m reading this?

The girl obeys mechanically. The Doctor reads:

Mentus nudros nuachtus magna
Monotos tondros tandras tecta
Dian akton dol dolar.
Vilon silont, dinonnemal.
Ilpo valpi avan tales
Leron tonte avant tarant
Isson sensum essim selta
Ardientum idontum delta.
Hm. Hellish long it is too. A tiny train toiling miles and miles, carrying coal that, when it gets there, is no good. No, I’m wrong: she’s writing exactly what she thinks, but the Lord knows what it is she is thinking.

The projections stop. He regards the girl. She’s asleep. Looks at his watch.

Been asleep a few minutes. – Hm. That boring poem, with those trotting trochees, ‘d be enough to send me off too.– I hope she turns out a little more communicative when she wakes up. Sometimes they are. (whispering) Miss Klein –

She sits up – rigid as a string-puppet – and opens her eyes wide like a doll.

DOCTOR

Have you been dreaming?

MARINA

(absently, astonished) Yes.

DOCTOR

Can you tell it to me?

MARINA

Still hovering between sleep and waking but nevertheless much more alert than before; speech hesitant but, following her own private logic, quite matter-of-fact; her dream-images are very real to her.

I was hoping to get across the frontier, into Russia, but I didn’t know where the frontier was. For a long time I was wandering in a dark wood. Then suddenly I found myself in the customs hall. The customs officer asked me if I’d anything to declare. I said the only thing I had was this little handbag… about the size of hymn book… Squeezes her small bag with both hands. Then he took it from me, and he pulled a mattress out of it, a complete mattress, huge, and I was astounded. He asked me what it was. When I couldn’t say a word he took me by the hand and led me down to a lake shore. The lake was sort of a long and narrow gulf, and then I realised it marked the frontier. He lowered the mattress into the water, and suddenly it was a boat, and I stepped in, and I crossed over the border ever so easily.

DOCTOR

Well. Supposing we have a look, shall we, together, at that dream of yours? I’m a customs officer and I’m going to help you across the frontier, into a great unknown country – which is an unknown part of your soul. Here is the frontier – this sort of gulf of a lake.

The Doctor illustrates his discourse with various objects: he first puts a pencil case in the middle of the table.

I insist on knowing what goods you have to declare, and just as inconsistently you claim you have none – that you are, therefore, taking no baggage on that journey of yours, in your soul. Then I pull a mattress out of your handbag.

He picks up a small rectangular rubber.

All that erotic luggage fits into your handbag – even though it’s as small as… a hymn book.

He shows her the rubber.

You’re not pleased, by any means, for you don’t want to admit it even to yourself. I lead you to the shore, and I’m going to help you across the frontier – and suddenly the mattress is a boat, a boat that’ll hold you up.

He inserts the rubber into the empty pencil case.

So: if you confide in me, this journey in your soul’ll be a success, and I’ll be able to help you across the frontier. That’s right, isn’t it, so far?

Marina nods silently.

DOCTOR

These symbols in the soul – archaic images you dream up – look two ways. You know, the customs officer’s not just me: he’s the anonymous guardian of your soul. When you confide in me you’re confiding in yourself too; and that puts things in their true light and proper perspective – and it’ll ease your burdens. This isn’t just an erotic mattress we’re dealing with: it’s a boat too; and a boat’s not just something to cross a frontier with – but: (with a sudden, swift, imperiousness) – What? What is it really? Answer!

MARINA

I don’t know.

DOCTOR

I’m the customs man. I can only help you on your way if you tell me.

Marina opens her handbag and, slowly and demonstratively, takes out handkerchief.

MARINA

I don’t know. All I have is this handkerchief.

DOCTOR

But all I want to do is to help you.

MARINA

I don’t know. I don’t know. (in a panic) I don’t know. I don’t know I don’t know.

(grinding on hysterically) Idon’tknowidon’tknowidon’tknow.

DOCTOR

Don’t get upset, dear girl. (to himself:) Not much use going on now.

Rises: gently touches her shoulder.

Your mother’s outside, waiting. There’ll be another time, and we can carry on then.

Accompanies her to the door. Darkness.

END OF ACT ONE

ACT TWO

Scene three

The Doctor’s surgery a few weeks later. A great step forward has occurred – a portent, however, of a new crisis approaching. Marina – in a contrast to the previous scenes, where she was ascetically dressed – is wearing a long, tight-fitting dress of glowing ‘burnt -orange’ silk.

MARINA

… What does a horse stand for?

DOCTOR

A horse stands for a horse of course.

MARINA

But in the highest sense? And in a dream?

DOCTOR

An Arabian dream-book says: ‘Das Pferd – o du Weiser – ist eine Frau, und beide sind das Eigentum des Mannes.’ A horse – O wise one – is a woman, and both are the man’s property.

MARINA

But in my dream?

DOCTOR

Could be various things. It can represent wandering, or be a symbol of change, of death… but generally it’s the self.

MARINA

No it isn’t. A horse is an angel.

DOCTOR

Hm, perhaps it could be that too. A guardian angel… thus the soul. When the soul is integrated, it protects a person.

MARINA

My angel’s dead.

DOCTOR

What did you say?

MARINA

My angel died last night. That’s why I’m wearing this lovely orange dress today.

DOCTOR

In memory of the angel?

MARINA

Yes, or the horse. In my dream it was red. Its name was Burnt Orange.

DOCTOR

So that’s why you’ve let loose the colours you were holding in? You in fact love protective colouring.

MARINA

I don’t know what protective colouring is.

DOCTOR

That, just now, is your protective colouring. But please tell me your dream.

MARINA

A beautiful reddish-brown horse – it was still a colt really – came to my lap, and I warmed it, for it was frozen stiff: its back legs were so stiff, almost as if paralysed. And then suddenly, it revived, and it was thoroughly alive again, and it ran off from me, and galloped back and forth in my room – its red mane flowing. And then, in a flash, it was out through the window, with its mane flaming. And it crashed down onto the pavement, and it was all smashed, and I could hear it weeping.

DOCTOR

(sadly, after a longish pause) Yes, the angel has died. Pause. You know, I can’t help you. Rises. I’m sorry, but I can’t help you, and I don’t want to waken any false illusions in you: that’d be a sort of betrayal.

He starts walking up and down in the room.

Look, when I try to help you, I’m in fact only helping myself. Every time I abandon a patient, I feel as if I’ve lost the game. For that reason alone I’m going to test you just a bit more… although, I admit it frankly, it now feels more like a hopeless party-game to me.

He goes back to his desk, opens a drawer and takes out a series of enlarged pictures. The following test is a free imitation of Szond’s test and is to be thought of as the Doctor’s own invention.

What I have here is a group of pictures. I’ll put them up on the wall.

He begins to hang them. Most are of well-known personalities with very powerful or otherwise special facial traits: they include a straggly-haired Schopenhauer, and a walrus-moustached Nietzsche. Hence, the Doctor’s test-pictures are enlarged portraits of historical personages known to have morbid traits. The end-picture on the wall is of a human-looking ape or ram.

DOCTOR

Now what you have to do is tell me whom you like best, and whom you like least.

Marina regards the pictures with reserve and doesn’t reply.

DOCTOR

Well, Miss Klein. Whom do you like most?

MARINA

None of them! Not a single one of them! They’re all horrible!

She goes towards the pictures and points to each one separately, suddenly beginning to diagnose them.

That one’s (pointing to Voltaire) godless, cynical and ugly! That one’s (pointing to Rousseau) good-looking but a swindler and a thief! Pointing to E.T.A. Hoffmann: Drunken sot! Pointing to Schopenhauer: Groucher! Pointing to Ibsen: Pewit! Pointing to Danton: Bloodhound! That one’s… (pointing with feeling to Nietzsche) father. Whispers: A stupid little dog.

DOCTOR

Is he the one you like best?

MARINA

No! None of them, I don’t want to like any of them! They’re all revolting! Why are you torturing me? Mad people’s photographs! Why are you probing into me? Probe into yourself!

Rushes out of the room and slams the door hard to behind her.

DOCTOR

He stands glumly in the middle of the room.

Failed again. Superb test of mine, no use either. Well, a pioneer’s job is to be humble.

He wipes his glasses in embarrassment.

Hm. She’s so full of affects, it’s the same practically every time: the session ends up in a scene. Well, better so than being dull. And maybe it was good thing too, her going like that: perhaps I wouldn’t have got her out of here at all otherwise.

He pulls a watch out of his waistcoat pocket.

Damn! It’ll be eleven soon.

He opens the window, looks out.

It’s night, deep, and black. Scent of mignonettes coming from the garden… as if there were no unhappiness in the world. That’s her house, almost opposite.

Lowering his voice.

And there she goes… toting her pain along with her… into the loneliness of night.

Eleven clear strokes come from a clocktower nearby. Soon the chimes are joined by another clocktower, then a third one further off. The series of strokes persists, and thins out until the last clangour trembles and fades.

Now the light goes on in one of those windows. Now the curtain’s drawn. Must be at home now, back in her room so full of… what did she say? Sighs? Long hours? Utter dreariness? A mad girl, and I can’t help her. What was it in Pig Latin? Adama irlga, nda antca elpha erha. Sad but true.

END OF ACT TWO

Translated by Herbert Lomas

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