FUGUE FOR A MAN AND A WOMAN
a play for voices and instruments
fugue n. 1: a polyphonic musical composition in which one or two themes are repeated or imitated by successively entering voices and contrapuntally developed in a continuous interweaving of the voice parts 2: a disturbed state of consciousness in which the one affected performs acts of which he appears to be conscious but of which on recovery he has no recollection.
— Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary
Scene: a bare stage with a man and a woman seated on stools or simple chairs facing away from each other. Imagine them seated at opposite ends of a sofa or sitting up in bed together. The woman is reading a book. Occasionally, they look up at the audience as if appealing to a tribunal. Only at the end of the play do they turn to face one another.
Man: This is my sister — wife — a strong woman . . . dedicated to her own quest for truth . . . She's a woman who loves truth more than she loves me . . .
Woman: I love him . . . really . . .
Man: She says she loves me . . . Let that be enough . . .
Woman: He says he loves me, but it's not enough . . . A person has to love truth more than anything . . . A person must exist alone and apart, without reference to anyone, in order to be a pure, independent being with a well-defined identity . . . Once strong alone, a person can be stronger with love . . .
Man: I define myself by loving her . . . But do I love her for herself or for what I want from her? . . . I don't know . . . She's disappointed me so often . . . I'm not really sure I'm capable of loving anyone . . . Then why go on? . . . Is a life without love worth living?
Woman: I've had to work so hard for love as I've had to work for everything else in my life . . . Nothing has been easy for me and everything has had its price . . . Has it all been worth it? . . . Perhaps . . . it's too soon to tell . . . I want to love and be loved absolutely, inconsolably, undyingly . . . I want to be swept away by passion . . . But I cannot force the issue with life . . .
Man: Life is more than an issue . . . or an unanswered question . . . or an unfulfilled quest
Woman: My first love for him has been tempered by experience . . . He must learn to accept that and let me love him in a new way, my own way . . . he must have patience . . . This is a new cycle in my life . . . he must wait for passion to possess me again . . . Until then, he must be satisfied with knowing I loved him once . . . He must learn more about me . . . By knowing me better, he will eventually come to respect the truth that is in me, and his love for me will grow deeper . . .
Man: There must be a foreknowledge of finality with love . . . A sense that it exists absolutely and finally . . . a trust in its uniqueness . . . and a profound certainty that without it one would perish . . . More than anything I want to give myself up to her . . . I want to commit myself body and soul to my love for her . . . I want to love her purely, simply, absolutely . . .
Woman: But without permanence . . .
Man: Nothing in life is permanent . . .
Woman: Not even truth is permanent . . .
Man: She's a cynic . . . incurable . . .
Woman: Inevitable . . . He's such a muddle-headed romantic . . . and he sees me through a rose-colored glass . . .
Man: She's reading again . . . Night after night . . . living beside me but not with me . . . with me but not of me . . . alone and apart from me . . . I want to shock her out of this self-absorption . . . crush her in an embrace . . . murder her with passion . . . I want to kill the truth in her, the truth that she can live without me . . . And that is the reason I hate her
Woman: I love his hatred . . . It is the proof of his love . . . It makes his love more believable somehow, makes it real and true . . . I could not trust his love for me unless I believed that he hated me too, because I know I am worthy of his hatred . . . But can he ever know the part of me that is totally unconnected to him? . . . Can he love me in that place he is forbidden to enter?
Man: I've tried to understand her . . . her impetuous moods . . . her frenetic energy . . . her self-annihilation and denial . . . her need for truth and her negation of me . . . but there is a part of her that is mysterious and unreachable . . . I am bewildered by the part of her that has no connection with me . . . Sometimes we speak a different language . . . and sometimes we are silent . . . Yet I know that deep down we are the same . . . we have the same needs, the same vulnerabilities . . . How can I ever grasp the totality of this woman if she keeps a huge part of herself locked away from me? . . . How can I give her what she wants if she won't let me understand her needs? . . . How much longer can I go on begging for intimacy without losing my self-respect? . . . I wish she would understand this
Woman: I have no desire to understand him anyone . . . I've given up trying to get inside his head . . . I have lost all my passion for him . . . Maybe I just know him too well, and the mystery is gone . . . He's become predictable . . . He's in a rut, stagnant . . . No growth, no change . . . I don't know why he goes on living . . . I don't know why he stays with me . . . He's not even hateful to me anymore . . . I am indifferent to his existence . . . I have sunk down into a bog of apathy and ennui . . . It matters nothing to me whether he is here or not . . .
Man: I don't know why I stay with her . . . She's shut me out of her life . . .We live in two solitudes . . . She seems so unhappy . . . I want to help her fulfill herself . . . I want her to help me fulfill myself . . . Are we one another's impetus or impediment? . . . Are we helping each other to stand or pushing each other back down? . . . very hard to say for sure . . . We didn't know very much about who we were when we got married, but we made each other feel more alive and believed it would be that way forever . . . How impulsive and irrational we were . . . I had just tasted success and I wanted a family . . . I felt powerful and alive . . .
Woman: I had my own career when I met him . . . He asked me to give it up so we could have children . . . because he wanted a family . . . How stupid and naive I was then . . .
Man: The first year of our marriage was wonderful . . . We were totally caught up in each other and we were the two happiest people on the planet . . .
Woman: In the second year of our marriage I got pregnant, and I loved being pregnant much more than I'd ever thought I possible . . . I loved it more than anything else in the world . . . I discovered more love in me than I'd ever known . . . My baby just grew inside me . . . He just grew and grew, as if I'd swallowed a magical seed that an angel left on my pillow . . . He was warm and heavy inside me . . . He was wrapped inside my body like the best Christmas present I could ever imagine . . . but he kicked his way out too soon. Like all men he was impatient to be born . . .
Man: I used to lay my head on her belly and listen to his heartbeat, that miraculous little signal that said, "Let me out of here!" . . . He wanted to join us both . . . He wanted to come into the world and be a part of both of us . . .
Woman: The truth is, I wanted him all to myself . . . Why deny it? . . . I sobbed when he was torn from me . . . He came out too soon . . . He was weak and as sensitive as an open wound . . . Why couldn't he have just stayed inside me forever?
Man: He was born too soon, and he was sickly . . . but I loved him all the more . . . he was still my son even if he wasn't very healthy . . .
Woman: He wanted a normal, healthy baby boy, not the deathly thing that I gave him . . . Was it my fault that he was born too soon?
Man: We had it all, but the boy changed everything . . . She gave up on me when he was born . . . She loved him to exclusion . . . A kind of madness possessed her to have him all to herself . . . She was consumed by her love for him . . .Why couldn't she have shared her love with both of us?
Woman: He became more selfish and self-centered after the baby was born . . .When I was too tired to make love or too busy with the baby he got angry . . . He resented the baby for needing so much of my attention . . . Was it my fault that he was sick all the time? . . . When I was too exhausted to make love or too busy with the baby to cater to his every whim he got angry and stormed out of the house . . . Was it fair to expect my whole life to revolve around him?
Man: I wanted her to show me some affection, to pay some attention to me . . . Is that so unusual? . . . I started feeling like I was some kind of robot that went out to work every day and brought home a paycheck at the end of the week . . . What is marriage supposed to be about anyway, just raising children?
Woman: A woman cannot love a man who is inconstant, ambivalent, or indecisive . . . at least I can't, I'm not made that way . . . I need a man who is sure of himself, sure of what he wants . . . He blew hot and cold on the subject of a family . . . One day his world revolved around me and the baby and the next he needed time to himself to sort things out . . . How long could I be expected to put up with that? . . . "Make up your mind," I told him, "either you're in this marriage or you're not. You can't be both a husband and father and a free spirit, so which is it going to be?" . . . He agonized and he struggled, he vacillated back and forth, and life with him became hellish . . . He was no longer gentle and tender with the baby and me . . . he stopped caring about our needs . . .
Man: A man cannot love a woman who doesn't need him . . . She was so strong, so independent of me . . . She and the baby would've done fine without me . . .She didn't need anybody . . . I admired her for that, but it didn't make it any easier to love her . . .
Woman: Of course I knew he wouldn't live very long . . . he was a deathly little thing . . . and I paid no attention to the doctor's lies . . . A mother knows . . . He was so frail . . . His eyes were so big and full of wonder . . . He loved to listen to music . . . He slept deepest when it was raining and I lay beside him . .. His little finger twitched when he was nursing . . . but he was a deathly little thing, and he wasn't given much time on this earth . . . A mother knows . . .
Man: She started ignoring me . . . gave all her love to the boy . . . the two of them were always holding on to each other, sitting together like a madonna and child . . . He was my son too, wasn't he?
Woman: What can a man know about having a child? . . . It's the ultimate love . . . No
man can appreciate that . . .
Man: Was it so unreasonable to expect her to share him with me? . . . I wanted to be close to him, to love him with a father's love . . . But she blocked me out as if I didn't exist, as if I'd served my purpose and was no longer needed . . .
Woman: His death deadened my feelings . . . I knew I could never love anyone or anything again . . .
Man: Her heart died with him . . . It was as if she had fallen into a black hole . . . She was lost . . . It was impossible for me to reach her . . . The way she looked at me sometimes was scary, hollowed out, or full of blackness . . . as if I had killed him . . .
Woman: Nothing could touch me anymore . . . Not love . . . Not pain . . . Nothing . . . The moment he died I ceased to exist . . .
Man: When we buried him . . . I saw her eyes . . . and I knew there was no love left in her . . . Now she says I should go away, or if I want to stay, stay, and just let her be, let her live in her own way . . . But I know "her own way" means nothing but a cold, empty heart . . . and growing old together . . . I don't want to grow old without love . . .
Woman: The colder I become, the more he needs me . . . It's perverse, but the more he needs me, the colder I become . . . I know it's cruel, but the more he needs me, the more I despise him . . . How can he live with a dead woman? . . . Why doesn't he just go away and leave me to my . . . self?
Man: "Just live your own life," she says, "and don't worry about me." . . . I would live my own life if I had one without her . . . "Just be yourself," she says, "and maybe I can learn to love you again." . . . I have always avoided the truth about myself . . . who would I be without her? . . . "Just stay where you are," she says, "and maybe one of these days I'll come back to you." . . . I would do anything to reach her but doing nothing is the hardest thing . . . I know I should leave her . . . but where would I go?
Woman: He has lost his way with me . . . He's lost his bearings in life . . . He is not the man he used to be, sure of himself and sure of where he was going . . . a man with the power to bring me to life . . . He is only a bittersweet memory . . . I am in mourning for the passing of what we were, and for the thwarting of what we could have become . . .
Man: She eclipses me when I am with her . . . She used to bring out the best in me and now she just blots me out . . . And yet I still want to be with her . . . Am I crazy? . . . How could I let myself become so dependent on her? . . . She has become the source of everything I love about my life, everything I need, the source of all my pleasure and power, and I am hooked on her like a junkie! . . . I hate what I have become . . . She has
turned me into what I am, a sickly, dependent thing, an emotional cripple . . . She has destroyed the man I once was . . . And I hate her for it . . .
Woman: We are like fire and water . . . or a force, and the absence of a force . . . One of us will be destroyed . . . One of us will cease to exist . . . It's inescapable . . . truth must prevail . . .
Man: We are chained together . . . If one of us plunges into the abyss, the other plunges with him . . .
Woman: I must free myself of him . . . I must destroy him if necessary . . . I am the stronger, and I must survive . . . If there is any truth to existence, the stronger must survive . . .
Man: Life is not an issue, a question, or a quest . . . It cannot be reduced to a simple equation of right and wrong . . . The truth and its opposite are incompatible and mutually exclusive . . . but they can both exist . . . Life is big enough for both of them . . .
Woman: Truth is not created or destroyed . . . It is only changed into another form . . .
Man: The truth is that there is only destruction and birth . . . Out of the ashes, the Phoenix rises in triumph over death . . . and a new cycle begins . . .
Woman: Change is the only constant in life . . . I must free myself of him . . .
Man: I must be free of her . . . If one of us plunges, the other plunges with her . . .
Woman: Without him, I can live again . . .
Man: Without her, I can be born again . . .
Woman: He does not complete me . . . He ends me . . .
Man: We are not the completion of each other . . . I will not be incomplete without her
. . . We are not two halves of a whole, we are two wholes linked, two circles interlocked at the circumference . . . We are ying and yang fitting snugly together but distinctly separate . . . It will not be impossible to live without her . . .
Woman: It is impossible to live with him . . . It is impossible to live one more day with him . . .
Man: One more day with her will kill me . . . I must be strong . . . I must act decisively, now or never . . . Is she still reading or has she fallen asleep? (Turns to Woman.) Darling, are you awake?
Woman: I must have dozed off. (Turning to Man. Anxiously.) Please hold me. (They embrace.) You won't ever leave me, will you?
Man: Of course not . . . Don't ever think such a thing . . . I would rather die than leave you . . .
Fugue for a Man and a Woman in performance
Fugue for a Man and a Woman is called a play for voices because the performers do not move around the stage but rather sit in chairs or on stools or stand at lecterns. The simplicity of this concept allows for a great deal of freedom in staging the play -- it can be presented as minimalistically or as elaborately as the director would like or the budget permits.
Stage performances have varied considerably, from a bare stage at the Quebec One-act Play Festival in Montreal (1976) to a multi-media production at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, Connecticut (1997) involving live music and projected images.
The format could also accommodate modern dance interludes embodying some of the complex emotional states suggested by the interweaving monologues -- the author likes to think of them as psychological-emotional arabesques -- of these separate but interdependent characters.
The author strongly recommends that music be used, with a different instrument representing each character. Some possibilities: a violin for the woman and a cello for the man, or a flute/guitar combination. If a single instrument is preferred, a piano, saxophone, or cello would work best.
Fugue is also especially suitable for the very intimate medium of radio. Music is essential for this type of performance. A radio production broadcast on Connecticut Public Radio in 1981 had music scored for synthesizer and electric piano by Michael Leonhardt with a man's theme/woman's theme that intensified the emotional impact of the play.
It is also quite feasible to perform Fugue for a Man and a Woman as a chamber piece in a bookstore or classroom. The author and his wife read it at The Reader's Feast Bookstore in Hartford, Connecticut (1991) as part of the author's poetry reading. In a conference, or workshop setting, participants can be seated around a table or in a circle of chairs. The script can be read by two individuals or passed around a "reader's circle" with everyone reading. Participants may want to explore some of the issues raised by the play, or a workshop leader may wish to use the script as a catalyst for discussion in couples or family therapy.
Please note that no reading or performance of this play may be given in public without written permission from the publisher. A fee for performance rights may be required. Contact Lorenzo Press (www.lorenzopress.com), stating the dates and location of performances or readings and please indicate whether a charge for attendance is required. There is no fee for educational use of the play by teachers and their students.
An earlier version of this play was published in Connecticut Artists Magazine, Winter 1980-81.
Fugue for a Man and a Woman Performance History
Three Rivers Community College, Norwich, Connecticut, with students Bill Wolcott and Allison Desrosiers, 1997.
The Reader's Feast Bookstore, Hartford, Connecticut, with Anthony Maulucci and
Jan Tormay, 1991.
Connecticut Public Radio, with David Keith and Frances McDormand of the Yale Drama School; musical score by Michael Leonhardt; directed by Faith Middleton, 1981.
Quebec One-act Play Festival, Montreal, Quebec, with Anthony Maulucci and
Elizabeth Mudry of the Montreal Theatre Lab, 1976.