In the wake of her mother's death, an African-American television exec, Ioni Mitchell, navigates feelings of isolation and loss of family – until memories of her deceased mother direct Ioni to focus on the mysterious family heirloom of a portrait..
In identifying the artist of the painting, Ioni discovers choices made in an America of the 1870's, whose consequences and deeper secrets haunt an unexpected ancestor, in contemporary France..
The play, moving in time between the present and 1875 - America and France - bears Witness to a startling family history of caste and color .. which reveals crucial hard truths attached to the reality of Freedom.. and freedom of choice..
a television executive in America, 2008 / 40’s [*B]
MISS MARIAH / MARIAH
ghost of Ioni’s great aunt - late 80’s / ghost of Ioni’s mother - 60’s [*B]
JERRY / EMILE
a colleague of Ioni’s at the tv studio - 30’s / a journalist in 2008 France, and close friend of Jacqueline de Gast - 30’s [*W]
GILBERT / PROFESSOR
an art restorer, in 2008 America - late 50’s / Charles’ art teacher, in 1871 America - late 50’s [*W]
CHARLES / CHARLES de GAST
the young artist in 1871 America - late 20’s / ghost of grandfather of Francois de Gast - 95 [*B; can pass as *W]
JERICHO / FRANCOIS de GAST
father of Charles, in 1871 America - 40’s / the grandson of Charles de Gast, in France 2008 - 73 [*B; fair]
JACQUELINE de GAST
French wife of Francois de Gast, and the self-appointed curator of Charles’ work - late 40’s [*W]
ATTENDANT / MICHEL
in 1871 America / French television reporter, in 2008 France - 40’s [*B; dark]
ART STUDENTS / REPORTERS / VARIOUS MUSEUM GUESTS [*W]
*Race as indicated: [B], [W], etc
All dialogue in bold parentheses ‘()’, is to be translated into French.
Time line aid: Charles b. 1848 – d. 1943
Francois b. 1935
This work travels across time frames: starting in 2008 America; then in 1871 America; returning to 2008, in Southern France, then America, in 2009.
ACT I/Scene 5
IONI’S dressing closet.
MARIAH steps out of the dark; barefoot, she is in a 60’s, two- piece suit, and wearing a ‘pill box’ hat.
MARIAH: -..Ioni. Please! I needed this hat? Honey. Where, are my shoes?
IONI: -I gave them away.
MARIAH: To whom?
MARIAH: -And the dresses?
MARIAH: And the handbags?
MARIAH: Did you get any back?
MARIAH: -..what am I supposed to walk in..
IONI: You didn’t care what I had to walk through..- -You did wrong mother.
MARIAH: She didn’t say that.
IONI: -..by me.
IONI: I, Me ..went to where Miss Mariah was -..into that, tiny brick building. -Mother it was a cold, stingy, fluorescent.. cubicle. No privacy. You couldn’t help but overhear every other person in the place waiting for their last breath..- -I barely got to know her before she died. My great aunt, my great aunt, for barely a week.
MARIAH: -Your father
IONI: We’re not talking about him.
MARIAH: Was killed in the line-
IONI: Of duty. Not denial.
MARIAH: As a policeman, a possible thing.. -But I went on with you. Fed you. Clothed you. Warmed you. Held you. Took pride, in you. -..and here you are, being dismal about me.
IONI: ..all the time it seems.
MARIAH: No. Only since I..
MARIAH: ..where are my
IONI: Stop it!
MARIAH: -Remember something.. nice.
MARIAH: -Lie down, baby.
IONI: ..-isn’t there anything else you can do?
MARIAH: ‘Anything else’, or- ‘somewhere else’?
IONI: -Can you really see me?
MARIAH: Of course.
IONI: ..Well I don’t know who this is, mother. I don’t know this person, who is crackin’ up right in my skin.. And down to wearing the same clothes..
MARIAH: ..but you know better than that, baby..
[IONI.. undresses down to a slip -then reaches into the clothes rack- and removes a worn, terry cloth, housecoat; she puts it on.]
MARIAH: Wall’s not at the flat of your back, honey. You just gotta ..well, face into the room.. That’s all.
[..IONI snuggles the fabric of the housecoat, and then is still a moment.]
IONI: ..-when I found Miss Mariah- ..suddenly, even angry at you ..I didn’t feel- ..alone. Suddenly, some ..unconnected piece of me, sang for joy.. -some piece of me I’d not known was even aware of being the ‘last’ …-But now that sound of joy in me ..that voice.. is the reminder- there is no more time to know beyond me.
MARIAH: -That’s my housecoat.
IONI: -It’s my grandmother’s -Miss Mariah’s, sister’s, housecoat.
MARIAH: Which was mine, when your grandmother died. And I only “occasionally” let you wear.
[MARIAH moves to the closed bedroom door.
ACT I/Scene 6
IONI slowly moves into a small bedroom in her home.
There is a tiny single bed; a frumpy cushioned armchair. The portrait of “The Artist’s Father”, dulled with grime, smoke and age, hangs over the bed.
MARIAH: -..you made my room so cozy.
IONI: Oh- that your new word for “small”.
MARIAH: -..baby.. - -Remember something.. true.
IONI: -..You were beautiful mama.
MARIAH: I am.
IONI: -..told stories.
MARIAH: I did.
IONI: About you.
IONI: ..-and Dad. -..never anyone else. -Just..
MARIAH: Just.. this..
IONI: ..just.. this- -housecoat.
IONI: ..-grandma’s house.. coat-
IONI: ..her. House. -..by a reservoir.
MARIAH: A big, round, water.
IONI: Yes. -..grandma-
MARIAH: Loved her roses.
MARIAH: And her porch. -And her granddaughter. -..who was to us all, a-
IONI: -..and.. -And - -..this.
MARIAH: -..painting. Which came to me. With the housecoat.. -..both of which, you kept from Goodwill.
IONI: -Who is it?
MARIAH: I said.
IONI: You never said.
MARIAH: You never asked. I said.
IONI: ..I never asked?
MARIAH: -It was too old to be something curious to you. But..
MARIAH: -..every night. -..just when your eyes closed..
IONI: -..as a little, little girl.
MARIAH: -..I’d look over your bed. And I’d say..
IONI: ..“watch her”..
MARIAH: Watch her. Watch her..
IONI: -..wasn’t -
MARIAH: -..breathe baby.
[MARIAH walks slowly into darkness; IONI moves to examine the painting, and takes it down.]
IONI: -..wasn’t grandmother’s maiden name… -Jericho..- -Mama.. -Mama. -..what do I do? What do I do with this? What am I supposed to- do..
ACT I/Scene 10
Academy Of Art, Exhibition Hall. A collection of paintings; bucolic, 19th century landscapes.
CHARLES, in an artist’s smock, enters carrying a stepladder that he places in front of a vacant wall space.
Continuing an argument - PROFESSOR enters quickly on the heels of CHARLES!
PROFESSOR: Impertinence, Charles-
CHARLES: I meant no impertinence, Professor. I meant only to point out, sir, that what you have me do
PROFESSOR: I have you example your skill.
CHARLES: -A portrait of driftwood.
PROFESSOR: Clambering with Nature. In an autumnal northeast sunset.
CHARLES: I can do better.
CHARLES: You know I can.
PROFESSOR: But that is not the particular requirement of this particular skill.
PROFESSOR: So, when you are proficient
CHARLES: In what ‘you know’?
PROFESSOR: -First -before ‘better’- a solid foundation.
CHARLES: I do not aspire to be a house.
PROFESSOR: That. ..is quite clear.
CHARLES: ..then allow me to- ..let me-
PROFESSOR: I do. I have, Charles.
CHARLES: That is not what I feel.
PROFESSOR: But it is what you know. You know I have. -..you are by far and most certainly, gifted.
CHARLES: ...-is this what frightens you?
[ATTENDANT enters in ill-fitting servant’s attire, carrying a large, draped painting.]
PROFESSOR: -..care. With care. -no. Stop. Put it down.
[ATTENDANT does so.]
PROFESSOR: -..unchained. -..direct from some field. Or stable. -Look at him. ..the product of a damaging policy of, Impetuousness.
CHARLES: Why do you say that?
PROFESSOR: Because it is true. Isn’t it? -you. Do you like that painting? Yes, you. Do you like that painting?
PROFESSOR: Do you know why?
PROFESSOR: No. That will be all.
CHARLES: ..that is hardly fair, sir.
CHARLES: They have no past exposure to this kind of experience.
PROFESSOR: I say God has made them. It is no fault their brains are without elevated capacities or sensitivities.. ..no. It is, as they are. But to place them, in opportunities of such employment.. is wasteful.
CHARLES: Sir, it is some progress.
PROFESSOR: It is no less a vulgarity for that- ..and the rotting agent, meant to decompose the afterbirth of civil war. -..who can cherish such an age? Too many.
[PROFESSOR has hung the portrait and removes the drapery; we see it is Thomas Eakins’ portrait of The Negress.
PROFESSOR is unsettled by it, unaware that CHARLES is mesmerized by the work.]
PROFESSOR: ..the very air breathes license, and now communicates the most unacceptable techniques, turning our tools into the implements of anarchy ..and licentiousness. ..-leaving nothing but ignoble pursuits for the young!
ACT I/Scene 12
GILBERT’S restoration shop. IONI is holding the painting close to her.
IONI: -..I’ve had to be reminded that my father- used to speak freely with people he didn’t know. -I’m not as easy a person as my father, or mother.. but I’m trying to be.
GILBERT: I understand.
IONI: -This has been on a wall, Mr. Richards. It’s been there since.. always, as far as I know. -I’m alone with it now. It’s.. entrusted to me, it’s -important.. -I know it’s important to my family. To me. And, I need to know more about it.
GILBERT: -..trust is such a complicated thing, isn’t it? Leaving beginnings such strange events..
IONI: -How do I begin?
GILBERT: -I would like some time with Mister Jericho, to know him better.. Would you allow that?