Tristao do Lemos

Short one act play written in Portugal as part of the “Write or Flight” 22 hours writing challenge in the “Unhinged Festival of Disturbed Theatre” 
Cast of Characters

Gloria, in her 30s or 40s – bank employee who wants to be a writer

Kathy, age approximate to Gloria – her friend and co-worker

Tristao, man in his mid 40s

The play takes place in one afternoon in a room in an old European castle. There is one entrance to the room off-stage where Kathy and Gloria enter. When the door to the room is opened, this is indicated by light flooding into the room from the direction of the off stage door. Likewise it is indicated to be closing by similar lighting effect. Tristao enters through a hidden opening in the back wall. There is a table, a chair, and a bench.

KATHY (off)

This is it! The door’s heavy, c’mere and help push.

GLORIA (off)

Maybe it’s locked. Maybe we –

KATHY (off)

Just help me!

(Lighting change as door is “opened” offstage. KATHY and GLORIA enter. KATHY is carrying a well-equipped backpack and holding a pamphlet. Her appearance does not sacrifice sensibility for fashion. GLORIA has a sleek courier bag. She is neatly minimalist; her wardrobe choices are neither ill-advised nor adventure-specific)

GLORIA

So this is it?

(KATHY looks at pamphlet and nods)

And what exactly is “it”, this time Kathy?

KATHY

This, Gloria, is the holding cell of Tristao do Lemos. He was a great poet who was imprisoned here in 1551 on suspicion of murdering his lover. Later they discovered that he wasn’t guilty after all, but he stayed here, writing, anyway. Listen – “Death, no more than these stone walls / May chill that Love burnt in this breast / Removed from Life, bound by ensorcelled calls / My Fate thus sealed, I forgive the rest.”

GLORIA

Pretty verse. So, he just stayed when he could have gone free?

KATHY

Yep! They brought him his paper and ink and food and he gave them poetry.

GLORIA

Worst writer in residence gig ever. At least he was writing, more than I can say for me. Guess I just need to be wrongly imprisoned for the murder of my true love. Not that I have a true love to not murder. So Kath, why is this on your tour of haunted places?

KATHY

Because Tristao believed the cell was haunted by his lover, Eleanor Borges – the woman who was killed but not by him as it turned out. He lived out his life with her ghost, writing poetry for her and supposedly dancing with her by the light of the moon shining through that window. He died here in 1563. The story goes that you can still hear the music in this cell and that they still dance here. Right up your alley Gloria! So romantic.

(beat)

OK, so next up is the tower. It’s haunted by a soldier who got stabbed over a gambling debt.

GLORIA

You go, I’ll skip that one. I’ve seen enough turrets and towers. I’m more concerned with my writer’s block than your stone blocks.

KATHY

Lame.

GLORIA

I’m more haunted by my unwritten poems than-

KATHY

Stop. I get it. Where are you going to go to still not write?

GLORIA

That was harsh. Nowhere. I’m staying here. Maybe the ghost of – what’s his name?

KATHY

Tristao do Lemos

GLORIA

Maybe Tristao will move my spirit and get me writing. Go see your dead gambling friend and give me an hour to try to breathe in the dust of the dead poet.

KATHY

Suit yourself. See you in an hour.

(KATHY exits. GLORIA moves about the room. She sits at the sparse table and chair, pulling out her notebook and pen. Poses like a writer, takes deep breaths etc., trying to be inspired. Stands.)

GLORIA

One window, one door, a table and a chair and a bench. Where did you sleep Tristy-my-pal? Oh. On the stone bench. For love. For your art. Of course.

(GLORIA takes her phone and earphones from her bag and lies on the bench. Putting on the earphones and selecting music on the phone, she closes her eyes. The music she has selected is heard)

GLORIA

Breathe. Breath, let it flow. A relaxed mind is an open mind. A relaxed mind is an open mind.

(GLORIA falls asleep. The door slowly closes. Her music fades and is replaced by much older music. TRISTAO appears from the shadows of the backstage wall. He steps into the light and watches Gloria sleeps. He then walks to the table and reads the open page of her notebook. He closes the book somewhat audibly, waking GLORIA. She stirs, notices the changed music. Looking at her phone she finds the screen is dark)

How can you die with 63% battery left you piece of shit? How long was I asleep? What time is it even?

(Forgetting, GLORIA looks at her phone)

Fuck. God it’s dark, how late can it be? What… what is that music?

TRISTAO

It is difficult to tell the time in this room. Is that the light of the sun, or that of the moon?

(GLORIA regards Tristao as if he were a wild animal. Her movements are slow and intentionally non-threatening; she avoids prolonged eye contact)

GLORIA

I must have fallen asleep. Surprising, it’s not the most comfortable bed. Guess I was tired. Better get my stuff and meet my friend. She’s expecting me, I’m late.

TRISTAO

How can you be certain you are late when you do not know the time?

GLORIA

(laughing nervously) Either way, I better go, don’t want to be locked in here like old what’s his name.

TRISTAO

It is not possible to become locked in this room. The door has never had a lock. It was never truly intended to be a prison cell. They say it was, for the sake of visitors. It makes a good story. You like stories?

GLORIA

Yeah, sure, I mean, I’m a writer. I’m trying to be a writer, I’m –

TRISTAO

(kindly) One does not try to be a writer. Either one writes, or one does not.

GLORIA

I think I’m somewhere in the middle.

(She looks at him and he smiles.)

Why would they put him in a room with no lock if they thought he killed his girlfriend?

TRISTAO

When he learned of the death of his beloved Eleanor, he was made wild by the loss and sought to join her. He was kept watch over in this room to prevent that reunion.

GLORIA

Suicide watch.

TRISTAO

Indeed, yes. The family of the castle did not want the esteemed poet to be lost and so, imprisoned by his fame as much as by his grief, he remained in this room.

(GLORIA listens attentively, forgetting her fear)

They also say he wrote constantly, ferociously, mad with grief. But that, too, is not entirely true. At first he did not write. He barely ate and scarce spoke. He slept though he loathed the sleep beset as it was with terrors but also he could not bear awakening to a life without Eleanor. In a perpetual twilight of sorrow, he languished.

The noble people who prevented his final exit made endless attempts to lure from him a more lyric turn. Diverting games, exotically spiced foods, cognacs and courtesans and comrades – none could remove the block that had lodged between his heart and his mind. None, until this music.

(TRISTAO pauses to attend the music that is still softly playing)

GLORIA

Where IS that music coming from? Do they pipe it in to spook tourists?

TRISTAO

I do not know. But it is the same music that finally brought Eleanor to her poet, as if she were a spirit made of melody. When the music played, she would be with him and they would dance. When it stopped, he would write. The pages would fill with the overabundance of love and loss he could not shed in any other way and his night would turn to day in fervent scribbling until, at once both emptied and sated, he dropped into a welcome, dreamless sleep. His appetite returned and he would eat and speak and laugh but always insisted on solitude and music come evening. The music would play and love would return, bringing with it a cosmos of unwritten poems. This music.

(beat) (TRISTAO extends a hand)

Would you care to dance?

(GLORIA accepts, and they dance. TRISTAO is a very capable lead and this compensates for any clumsiness on the part of Gloria. The dance is light and fun, partnered but not in close embrace. As they step apart at the end of the dance, he kisses her hand)

Thank you.

(beat)

I apologise, I have not even asked your name or how you came to be sleeping in a room you believed to be a prison cell.

GLORIA

(laughing) Gloria.

(GLORIA extends her hand to shake his and confused, TRISTAO kisses it again)

Right. I’m here – in Europe – with my friend Kathy. We work together at a bank. She’s obsessed with castles and churches and ghost stories and I don’t care much what we do, so she makes the itinerary. I just want to find some inspiration, something to kickstart my writing again. I’m about halfway through a book of poems, and maybe they’re not good enough for a family to lock me in their castle to make me write them – but I’m kind of hoping they’re my ticket out of the bank and into some more creative life. But, I got blocked. The dreaded writer’s block. Everything was going great and then nothing was going at all. So now I’m just wearing out my shoes on cobblestone roads and granite floors trying to see something or hear something or feel something to get the juices flowing again.

TRISTAO

You appear to have some things in common with the great Tristao do Lemos.

GLORIA

I guess. Maybe that’s why I felt I could get inspired by spending time in this room.

TRISTAO

May I read something of what you have written? I am well-acquainted with verse.

(GLORIA flips through her notebook, finds a page she deems sufficiently reasonable and hands it to him. He reads it with silent intensity, and then reads it aloud)

Yesterday I compared you to the Sea and you protested / but the Sea is moody with turbulent depths fed by drowned sorrows. / I sit staring at the Sea, trying and trying to love it enough. // Today I was by the Sea and wrote a poem about your smile / how it leaps unexpectedly to your face, radiating innocent joy / and how, when it appears through something I’ve said or done / I’m humbled, and feel weak. // Tomorrow I will attempt to leave this love for you on the fever-hot beach / to be tempered by the Sea, drawn into briny depths and gone from me / and I will pray to any god who hears that this unanswered love not be taken up to the Heavens / and returned to me as rain.

(TRISTAO regards GLORIA)

This you share with our poet friend as well. You have loved, and you have lost?

GLORIA

Well, he wasn’t murdered or anything. And he didn’t – I don’t know – cheat or lie or go rabid with drink – he just…

TRISTAO

Just?

GLORIA

He just wasn’t that into me. He was really nice about it and it was all very pleasant and I’m sure when I see him back home it’ll be…

TRISTAO

Pleasant?

GLORIA

Yes.

TRISTAO

As if the love perhaps never truly existed. Snuffed out before it ever shone.

GLORIA

That’s one way to look at it I guess, but, I mean, it did exist. The love. It was real.

TRISTAO

For you.

GLORIA

And him. A bit. For a bit. He was…

TRISTAO

Pleasant?

GLORIA

Yes. He was pleasant to me, in an affectionate way. He didn’t have to be, he could have been cruel with my passion, my adoration, but he wasn’t, he was –

TRISTAO

Pleasant.

GLORIA

Fuck! Stop saying pleasant!

TRISTAO

How many poems can you recite that were written in fits of pleasantry?

(During the following dialogue the music which has never ceased becomes somewhat louder, at least to a degree that they must speak louder to be heard by each other.)

GLORIA

Are you trying to say my poems are insipid? That my depth of love isn’t inspirational enough?

TRISTAO

An infatuation does not serve as a Muse for long. What lyric delight could be wrought from a passion so easily discarded in two days?

GLORIA

It wasn’t discarded, it was –

TRISTAO

Left to the tempest of the Sea, and bade not to return. This is your great inspiration?

GLORIA

It wasn’t “bade not to return”! I just didn’t want it clinging, didn’t want it constantly in my head, distracting me, making me feel inadequate. It was frustrating, it was-

TRISTAO

Painful?

GLORIA

Yes.

TRISTAO

Why? Why was it painful?

GLORIA

To love someone so beautiful, to be near them, permitted to be so close but to not quite touch, not break through, to burn up day after day, forfeiting half your will to a hopeless yearning –

TRISTAO

This forfeiture, this abandonment, THIS is inspiration and if you drown it in your ocean of doubt you will also drown your Muse.

(They look at each other while the music plays on)

Will you dance?

(They dance in closer proximity than before and with greater connection. At the end of the dance, they embrace. He kisses her gently and then GLORIA takes a step back and turns to pull out her phone; while her back is turned, Tristao EXITS into the shadows as the music fades to silence)

GLORIA

Sometimes if you wait the charge comes back a bit, I’ll just check the time, I wonder…

KATHY (off)

Hey, can you help me with this door? I don’t know why they even close it, the room is on the map and the door is so heavy.

(The door is opened. KATHY enters.)

Thanks. Yeah, just leave it open, they should just prop it open, you know? Hey, Gloria, sorry I’m a couple of minutes late. There were so many stair, so many goddamned stairs.

(GLORIA has noticed Tristao’s absence and doesn’t answer.)

As if you spent over an hour in this crappy room. You should have seen the tower – it’s the one we saw from the road below, with the turrets? – this guy was trying to get the perfect selfie and he was leaning way over the ledge and his friend was holding his legs but then this other guy with them was pretending to knife the guy who was holding the first guy’s legs because remember how I said the guard got stabbed up there because of a gambling debt? So the guy holding onto the legs pretends to die and almost completely lets go of his friend who almost actually dies. It was like a ghost story in the making, almost!

(beat)

What the fuck happened to you?

GLORIA (turning)

The music… I heard the music. And this man-

KATHY

What man? Are you alright? What happened?

GLORIA

I’m OK, I’m alright, I’m-

KATHY

Gloria. What the fuck happened here?

(beat)

GLORIA

Nothing. Nothing happened. I dozed off, and my phone died.

(beat)

I dozed off and I guess I’m still a bit groggy, sorry.

KATHY

But you’re OK?

GLORIA

Yeah. I was just feeling groggy, you know how it is when you wake up from a nap you never meant to take? And I thought I heard music but it was probably just my phone, just before the battery died.

KATHY

Did you at least write something?

GLORIA

No. No but I think I’m going to. I feel something kind of stirring in me. What about you Kath? Was the tower everything you’d hoped?

KATHY

To be honest apart from the selfie guy and his friends, it was just another tower of yet another castle. Stone blocks. Granite. They’re all starting to look a bit the same, you know?

GLORIA

What was that you just said, what was it, a ghost story in the making?

KATHY

Yeah, I think so. Sounds about right. Why?

GLORIA

Well, in a way that’s what all our stories are, right? The stories of ghosts who aren’t ghosts quite yet. Why don’t we go see some of those?

KATHY

What do you mean? Gloria, I just walked all the way up a tower and all the way down and it’s getting late and I’m starting to wonder why I even wanted to come to Europe anyway and I just don’t have time for your fancy poetry riddles right now.

GLORIA

Let’s find a patio and you can watch the real people living here, just living their lives, writing their ghost stories in the making.

KATHY

So, future ghosts watching future ghosts? OK, I like it. Also, I could use a beer. I’ll go if you promise me you’ll take out that notebook and write down some words, find out what that stirring is. Will you do that?

GLORIA

I will.

(Exiting)

KATHY

Are you ready now, do you think? Are you ready to write?

GLORIA

I am.

(End of play)

 

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