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by Edna Ferber

adapted for the stage by Walter Wykes


A New York rooftop


[A rooftop in New York .  MARY LOUISE, an attractive young woman, appears on the stairway, her head wrapped turban-style in a towel. CHARLIE, a janitor, enters behind her.  The sounds of the city can be heard far below.]

CHARLIE: How’s this?

MARY LOUISE: Perfect!  It’s perfect!  Thank you, Charlie.

CHARLIE: It ain't long on grassy spots up here, but say, breeze!  Like a summer resort.  On a clear day you can see way over 's far 's Eight' Avenoo.  Only for the love of Mike don't blab it to the other women folks in the buildin', or I'll have the whole works of 'em usin' the roof for a general sun, massage, an' beauty parlor.

MARY LOUISE: I'll never breathe it to a soul.  I promise.

CHARLIE: [Noticing something in her hand.] What's that?

MARY LOUISE: It—it’s parsley.

CHARLIE: Parsley!  Well, what the—

MARY LOUISE: Well, you see.  I'm from the country, and in the country, at this time of year, when you dry your hair in the back yard, you get the most wonderful scent of green and growing things—not just flowers, you know, but new things coming up in the vegetable garden, and—and—well, this parsley happens to be the only really gardeny thing I have, so I thought I'd bring it along and sniff it once in a while, and make believe it's the country, up here on the roof.

CHARLIE: [Chuckles.] Women ain’t nothin' but little girls in long skirts, and their hair done up.

MARY LOUISE: I know it.

[The two of them stand there for a moment, looking up at the blue sky and the sunshine.]

MARY LOUISE: If you go up high enough, the sunshine is almost the same as it is in the country, isn't it?

CHARLIE: I shouldn't wonder, though Calvary cemetery is about as near's I'll ever get to the country.  Say, you can set here on this soap box and let your feet hang down.  The last janitor's wife used to hang her washin' up here, I guess.  I'll leave this door open, see?

MARY LOUISE: You're so kind.

CHARLIE: Kin you blame me?

[Exit CHARLIE.  MARY LOUISE perches on the soap box and unwinds her turban.  Draping the damp towel over her shoulders, she shakes out her hair idly, with one hand, sniffs her parsley, shuts her eyes, throws back her head, and begins to sing, beating time with her heel against the soap box.]


[A MAN appears on the stairway, wearing shabby slippers and no collar.  He watches MARY LOUISE for a moment as she sings.  The last note is a bit off-key and he laughs as she searches for the right note.]

MAN: What’s this?  Some Coney Island concession gone wrong?

[MARY LOUISE’s eyes flash open.]

MARY LOUISE: [Embarrassed.] It … it isn’t very nice to sneak up on a woman like that.

MAN: Who’s sneaking?  I presume you’re the janitor's beautiful daughter.

MARY LOUISE: Well, not exactly.  Are you the scrub-lady's stalwart son?

MAN: Ha!  No.  But then, all women look alike with their hair down.

MARY LOUISE: For that matter, all men look like picked chickens with their collars off.

[At this, the collarless MAN, who until now has remained on the stairway, comes slowly forward, steps languidly over a skylight or two, and sits down, hugging his long legs to him.]

MAN: Nice up here, isn't it?


MAN: Ha!  Where's your mirror?


MAN: Sure. You have the hair, the comb, the attitude, and the general Lorelei effect. Also your singing lured me to your shores.

MARY LOUISE: You didn't look lured—you looked lurid.

MAN: What's that stuff in your hand?


MAN: Parsley! Well, what the—

MARY LOUISE: Back home, after you've washed your hair you dry it in the back yard, sitting on the grass, in the sunshine and the breeze. And the garden smells come to you—the nasturtiums, and the pansies, and the geraniums, you know, and even that clean grass smell, and the pungent vegetable odor, and there are ants, and bees, and butterflies—

MAN: Go on.

MARY LOUISE: And Mrs. Next Door comes out to hang a few stockings and a couple of baby dresses she’s just scrubbed clean, and she calls out to you: “Washed your hair?”  “Yes,” you say.  “It was something awful, and I wanted it nice for Tuesday night. But I suppose I won't be able to do a thing with it.”  And then Mrs. Next Door stands there a minute with the wind whipping her skirts about her, and the fresh smell of growing things coming to her. And suddenly she says: “I guess I'll wash mine too, while the baby's asleep.”

[The MAN moves closer to MARY LOUISE’s soap box.]

MAN: You live here?

MARY LOUISE: If I didn’t, do you think I’d choose this as the one spot in all New York to dry my hair?

MAN: When I said, “live here,” I didn't mean just that.  I meant who are you, and why are you here, and where do you come from, and do you sign your real name to your stuff, or use a nom de plume?

MARY LOUISE: What—how did you know I was a writer?

MAN: [Grins.] Give me five minutes more, and I'll tell you what make your typewriter is, and where the last rejection slip came from.

MARY LOUISE: Oh!  Then you are the scrub-lady's stalwart son, and you've been ransacking my waste-basket!

MAN: Let’s see … you thought you could write, so you came to New York—one doesn't just travel to New York, you know, or move to it, one comes to New York—and now you're here and things aren’t going quite as planned.  You haven’t sold a single story, your cupboard’s getting bare, and you’re not so sure about the writing anymore?  Am I warm?

MARY LOUISE: [Evasively.] Maybe.

MAN: Maybe?  Or yes that’s exactly right you must be psychic?

MARY LOUISE: All right—yes.  I don’t know how you can see all that.  But yes, it’s true. 

MAN: And what’s the problem—with your writing, I mean?  Why hasn’t it sold?

MARY LOUISE: You can’t see that in your little crystal ball?

MAN: My powers are limited.

MARY LOUISE: I don’t know.  I don’t know what the problem is.  I’ve been trying to write about the city, you know, my experiences here.  Then I decided to write a love story, but that’s not working out either.  My hero sounds more like a clothing store dummy than a real live human being, and, from what I hear, editors aren’t fond of black-mustachioed figures nowadays.  I’ve been fighting with him for a week now, the stubborn mule.  He won’t make love to my heroine.  He refuses.  I’ve tried to put red blood in his veins, but the two of them just won’t get together—they’re as far apart as they were the day I sat down to write.  I’m at my wit’s end.  I’ve bitten off nearly half of my fingernails—look—see?

MAN: Maybe it’s your heroine.  Maybe she just doesn’t inspire him.

MARY LOUISE: No, there’s nothing wrong with my heroine—I’m sure of that.  She’s a fascinating, mysterious, graceful creature, full of wit and passion and adventure, but not once has he clasped her to him fiercely or pressed his lips to her hair, her eyes, her cheeks.  He hasn’t even had the guts to “devour her with his gaze” as we writers like to say.  This morning I thought he might be showing some signs of life.  He was developing possibilities.  But nothing came of it.  He wimped out.  That’s why I decided to wash my hair and come out here—to get away from him for a little while.

MAN: What did you do back home?

MARY LOUISE: Back home?  I taught school—and hated it. But I kept on teaching until I'd saved five hundred dollars.  All the other girls teach until they’ve saved five hundred dollars—then they pack two suit-cases and go to Europe for the summer.  But I saved my five hundred for New York .  I've been here six months now, and the five hundred has shrunk to almost nothing, and if I don't break into the magazines pretty soon—

MAN: Then?

MARY LOUISE: Then, I'll have to go back and teach thirty-seven young devils that six times five is thirty, put down the naught and carry six, that a rhetorical question requires no answer, and that the French are a gay people, fond of dancing and light wines.  But I'll scrimp on everything from hairpins to shoes, and back again until I've saved up another five hundred, and then I'll try it all over again, because I—can—write.

[From the depths of one pocket the inquiring MAN takes a small black pipe, from another a bag of tobacco, from another a match.  His long, deft fingers make a brief task of it.]

MAN: I didn't ask your permission because I could see you weren't the fool kind that objects.

MARY LOUISE: [With a wave of her hand.] No, go ahead.

MAN: Know any of the editors?

MARY LOUISE: Know them!  Know them!  If camping on their doorsteps, and haunting the office buildings, and cajoling, and fighting with secretaries and office boys, and assistants and things constitutes knowing them, then sure—we're chums.

MAN: What kind of feedback have you gotten?

MARY LOUISE: Feedback? [She laughs.] Nothing.  None.  “It’s not what we’re looking for.”  “After careful consideration, we’ve decided not to accept your submission at this time.”  “Buzz off.”

MAN: [Almost sneering.] And if these literary experts think so little of your writing, what makes you think you can write?

[Mary Louise gathers up her brush, and comb, and towel, and parsley, and jumps off the soap box. She points belligerently at her tormentor with the hand that holds the brush.]

MARY LOUISE: Being the scrub-lady's stalwart son, you wouldn't understand.  But I can write.  How dare you come up here and … and … act all high and mighty like you’ve got me all figured out in two minutes!  I don’t care what you think!  I won’t go under!  I’m going to make it!  I'm going to make this town count me in as the four million and oneth!  Sometimes I get so tired of being nobody at all, with not even enough cleverness to wrest a living from this big city, that I want to stand out at the edge of the curb and just scream!  Take off my hat, and wave, and shout, “Hey, you four million self-absorbed, uncaring people, I'm Mary Louise Moss, from Escanaba , Michigan , and I like your town, and I want to stay here!  Won't you please pay some attention to me!  Just a little bit!”  No one even knows I'm here except … well … myself and the rent collector.

MAN: And me.

MARY LOUISE: [Sneering back at him.] Oh, you.  You don't count.

MAN: [With a curious little twisted smile.] You never can tell.  I might.

[Then, quite suddenly, he stands up, knocks the ash out of his pipe, and comes over to Mary Louise, who is preparing to descend the steep little flight of stairs.]

MAN: Look here, Mary Louise Moss, from Escanaba , Michigan , you stop trying to write the slop you're writing now.  Stop it.  Drop the love stories that are just like the stuff everybody else in this town writes.  Stop trying to write about New York .  You don't know anything about it.  Listen.  You get back to work, and write about Mrs. Next Door, and the hair-washing, and the vegetable garden, and bees, and the back yard, understand?  You write the way you talked to me, and then you send your stuff in to Cecil Reeves.

MARY LOUISE: Reeves!  Cecil Reeves, of The Earth?  Are you kidding?  He wouldn't dream of looking at my stuff.  And anyway, it isn’t really any of your business—is it?

MAN: Well, you know, you brought me up here, kicking with your heels, and singing at the top of your lungs.  I couldn't work.  So it's really your fault if I’ve stuck my nose where it doesn’t belong.

[He turns and begins to descend the stairs—then, just as he is about to disappear.]

MAN: How often do you wash your hair?


MAN: Your hair—how often do you—

MARY LOUISE: Well … back home, every six weeks or so was enough, but—

MAN: Not here.  That's all very well for the country, but it won't do in the city.  Once a week, at least, and on the roof.  Cleanliness demands it.

MARY LOUISE: But if I'm going back to the country, it won't really matter.

MAN: But you're not.  You’re not going back to the country—I can see it in my crystal ball.

[The MAN exits.  MARY LOUISE stares after him uncertainly.  After a moment, CHARLIE reappears with a rag and a pail of water.]

CHARLIE: Get it dry?

MARY LOUISE: Yes, thank you. [Pause.] There … there was a man up here … a very tall, very thin, very rude, very … that is, rather nice youngish oldish man, in slippers, and no collar. I wonder—

CHARLIE: Oh, him!  He don't show himself ‘cept onct in a blue moon.  None of the other tenants even knows he's up here.  Has the whole top floor to himself, and shuts himself up there for weeks at a time, writin' books, or some such truck.  That guy, he owns the building.

MARY LOUISE: Owns the building!  But he looked—he looked—

CHARLIE: Sure, that's him. Name's Reeves—Cecil Reeves. Say, ain't that a divil of a name?


* * *

Copyright © 2006 by Walter Wykes

CAUTION: Professionals and amateurs are hereby warned that Sun Dried is subject to a royalty. It is fully protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America, and of all countries covered by the International Copyright Union (including the Dominion of Canada and the rest of the British Commonwealth), and of all countries covered by the Pan-American Copyright convention and the Universal Copyright Convention, and of all countries with which the United States has reciprocal copyright relations. All rights, including professional and amateur stage performing, motion picture, recitation, lecturing, public reading, radio broadcasting, television, video or sound taping, all other forms of mechanical or electronic reproduction, such as information storage and retrieval systems and photocopying, and the rights of translation into foreign languages, are strictly reserved.

Inquiries concerning all rights should be addressed to the author at sandmaster@aol.com



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