Next on the script shelf
First play in my little unalphabetized pile of Samuel French plays is John Ford Noonan’s A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking – which has pretty much entered the theatrical repertoire. At least in scene study classes. I have seen more scenes from Coupla White Chicks than I care to remember. I have worked on scenes from Coupla White Chicks myself. Sometimes I worked on Maude, sometimes I worked on Hannah. I’m not sure what it is about this play that really HITS – but it does. Maybe not now – it is way overdone – too overdone – but it sure has become a staple in scene study classes across America. It’s a two-person play – so that’s one good reason – lots of long juicy scenes – and also, it’s two WOMEN. It’s rare to find good scenes for two women. I immediately think of the Sonya and Elena scene in Uncle Vanya – every actress in the world has worked on that scene. Because it’s rare to have a scene between two women that is that GOOD. Men don’t have that problem. They have other problems, but they don’t have that problem. There have been awesome scenes written for two men since the daaaawn of tiiiiiiiime. Women have less to choose from so something like Coupla White Chicks is leapt upon.
The original production of this was in 1980, 1981 – and Susan Sarandon played Maude – the uptight (and yet inside – wild) housewife from Westchester and the great Eileen Brennan played Hannah, the blowsy next-door neighbor who just moved in from Texas. There’s a big regional split depicted in the play – something that both characters need to overcome. They have assumptions about one another, based on the region of the country they both are from. Maude is uptight. She likes privacy. Hannah Mae is nosy and loves “just popping over” for a cup of coffee – southern hospitality, all that. Hannah Mae is determined to crack Maude’s uptight shell – Maude refuses to play along. But eventually – of course – they become friends.
Hannah (the woman from Texas) is not shy, or embattled or put off by Maude’s reserve. Hannah just keeps stopping by for a cup of coffee in the morning, and no matter how much Maude tries to hurry her out – Hannah refuses. You kind of love Hannah. She’s funny, she’s open – she’s kind of crazy – but once you just accept her for who she is – she probably would be a blast.
Hannah and Maude both have husband trouble. Hannah’s husband is named Carl Joe (you never meet the men in the play, we just hear about them) – and he is a big dumb LUG – but Hannah still finds him so gorgeous that she basically becomes a little puddle around him. She knows he’s not bright – but when she looks at his body – she finds herself not caring.
I forget the story with Maude’s husband – he is always calling to talk about picking up dry cleaning, and errandy stuff – but obviously something bad is afoot. Maude is miserable. But Maude is a MUCH more stiff-upper-lip person than Hannah. She doesn’t just babble her problems to everyone.
The story of the play is mainly these two becoming fast friends – despite all of their surface differences. It’s also the story of the two characters coming to a deeper understanding of their husbands, and their marriages.
Kind of conventional, right? It’s a very conventional play. But it has two great opposing characters with opposing objectives and long involved scenes – which you just don’t find for two women that much. And so – it has lasted. And lasted. And lasted.
Here’s a big revelatory scene that happens pretty early on in Act One – it’s Scene 3. The first two scenes establish the conflict between the two women: Hannah Mae wants to be friends, Maude doesn’t. Then comes Scene 3 which changes the dynamic. This is “the staple” of the acting classes I spoke about. It’s easy to understand why.
From A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking by John Ford Noonan
[Lights up. Maude sits at kitchen table in a bathrobe and pajamas, head down on table. Hannah Mae walks up to window, looks inside, then enters with a single red rose in a vase. Hannah Mae tiptoes to the table and puts vase down in front of Maude. The sound of glass against kitchen table startles Maude into sitting position]
HANNAH MAE. A red rose of apology. It’s the Texas way of making up to someone you really care about. Yesterday I got way too pushy. Everything great I see in you that you refuse to deal with is one thing, but to get you to see it, that’s where I got to clean up my act. One step at a time. When it wilts, I’ll take the vase back. [She goes to the sink. Screams out] Goddang shit fuck piss!
MAUDE. What’s wrong? [Hannah Mae holds up broken cup. It’s the cup she brought on her first visit] There was an accident before. I’ll replace it.
HANNAH MAE. Can’t. I made it in college. Ceramics. Only “A” I ever got.
MAUDE. Somehow I’ll make it up to you.
HANNAH MAE. It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have left it behind. Did it on purpose, leaving it behind. That way I’d always have an excuse to come back another morning, that is, in case we didn’t hit it off real great like we did. You look real fragile in that bathrobe and pajamas.
MAUDE. Don’t get dressed on Wednesdays.
HANNAH MAE. Never?
MAUDE. Today I did. You were coming and I felt something special in the air. I’m very sensitive to things in the air. Then something came up that made me get out of my grey suit. Last thing I expected, but after it was over I … I … couldn’t … I mean I couldn’t see getting back into a suit anymore. [Puts face in hands]
HANNAH MAE. Are you crying?
MAUDE. I never cry.
HANNAH MAE. I heard something.
MAUDE. It wasn’t tears.
HANNAH MAE. Then you were sobbing or something. I know real feeling when I hear it come out.
MAUDE. You’re wrong! It was disgust, utter disgust.
HANNAH MAE. So you’re disgusted with me. I deserve no better. It’s a disease, I couldn’t cure myself.
MAUDE. Hannah Mae, what are you talking about? Cure what?
HANNAH MAE. My spying. I was at it again last night.
MAUDE. But that’s not what I’m disgusted with!
HANNAH MAE. Shame on you then, you outghta be. Asking me to do that little chittlin of a favor and I can’t even make it through the first night.
MAUDE. Hannah Mae, please listen to me for a second.
HANNAH MAE. But my sin was worth it ’cause it forced Carl Joe out into the open. Turns out while I been spying on you, he’s been spying on me.
MAUDE. I know.
HANNAH MAE. Anyway, last night I’d been watching you for about an hour reading, right, and then you put your book down and started doing sit-ups. I’m entranced. I keep count whispering but it must have been louder than I realized cause I’m saying “49 … 50 … 51” when suddenly Carl Joe’s hand’s on my shoulder and he says, “I’m going to put a stop to this!” [Suddenly stopping] Hold it! I just said “Turns out while I been spying on you, Carl Joe’s been spying on me,” and you said, “I know!” [Pause] How do you know, Maude?
MAUDE. Carl Joe came by this morning.
HANNAH MAE. Were you in that bathrobe and pajamas?
MAUDE. [shaking her head] The grey suit.
HANNAH MAE. Thank God you were all well protected! I mean, a bathrobe, no buttons, half open … not much of a problem getting through to the inside … My Carl Joe’s not a naturally bad person. It’s just those wandering hands. Always putting them places they don’t belong. Even when he’s asleep, those hands of his are feeling around all the time until they get hold of something. [Pause] So how long was it before he started in with the wandering hands?
MAUDE. Right away.
HANNAH MAE. You poor thing! He played football for Texas and goddang if that ain’t about the biggest thing in the whole state. [Pause] So what did you finally say to get him to leave?
MAUDE. Didn’t say anything.
HANNAH MAE. Then how the heck did you do it?
MAUDE. I didn’t.
HANNAH MAE. Didn’t what?
MAUDE. Didn’t make him leave. Puts his hand inside my suit, snaps open my bra … it clips in the front … and PRESTO, he’s home!
HANNAH MAE. Which hand did he use?
MAUDE. The right.
HANNAH MAE. That’s Carl Joe all right. Never leads with his left. Always goes at it with his right. Natural enough, being right-handed. Maude, I got to hand it to you! What a great trick!
MAUDE. What great trick?
HANNAH MAE. Giving him a little tittie when all he expected was a rebuff. Startled him by going one way and coming back the other, right? Right? Was he startled bad or easy when you finally cut him off?
MAUDE. Hannah Mae, I slept with Carl Joe!
HANNAH MAE. [bursting into laughter] That’s funny! That’s very very funny!
HANNAH MAE. Slept with my Carl Joe? [She stands up] What did he do? Throw you on the table and do you with your legs dangling?
MAUDE. Hannah Mae, don’t do this.
HANNAH MAE. Did he keep twisting your hips a little to the left while massaging real slow at the base of your spine with those crafty long fingers?
MAUDE. How do you know? Were you watching?
HANNAH MAE. How do I know? I taught the lug every slick move he knows! You don’t think he learned that kind of technique playing with no stuffed pillow, do ya? [Sits] Okay, did he make his moans? [Maude shakes her head no] Any coyote calls? Did he stop in the middle and start singing MY WAY?
MAUDE. Nothing, no.
HANNAH MAE. You mean, he didn’t scream when it was over? He always yells, “Oh God, don’t let me die, I’m dying, but don’t let me die?”
MAUDE. There wasn’t a sound.
HANNAH MAE. That proves it. His heart wasn’t in it! It wasn’t the sex. It was us. He just did that to break you and me apart. It’s true. I like being around you much more. He’s got to learn to live with it. [stands, paces] The dumb cluck thinks he can come in here and screw you on your kitchen table and turn me back into his little Texas cheerleader. Well, look at us. Are we screaming at each other? Am I threatening to tear out your eyes? No. We’re sitting here …
MAUDE. I’m sitting, you’re standing.
HANNAH MAE. [sits] Okay, now we’re both sitting, right? Right!
MAUDE. [jumps up, crosses to door, holds it open] I have got to take a shower, I have to get some water on me.
HANNAH MAE. You go ahead, Honey. [takes a magazine from a pile, and pages through it] I’ll just flip through one of your magazines while I’m waiting.
MAUDE. Hannah Mae, I committed ADULTERY with your husband!
HANNAH MAE. You couldn’t help it. He’s one big fella. Even a strong woman don’t stand a cow cud’s chance against that kind of stampede.
MAUDE. This is not how you feel! You’re in a rage, you feel like killing me. Stop all this crap and start feeling like killing me. Start screaming at me, scream!
HANNAH MAE. The only thing I feel, Honey, is closer to you. [Reaches out to Maude.]
MAUDE. Get those hands off me! I already had his on me, I don’t need yours.
HANNAH MAE. Maude, I know just how you feel. When it first started happening, I used to go up the goddang walls too.
MAUDE. How often does this happen?
HANNAH MAE. Oh, the guy’s got the wandering hands bad. What am I going to do, chop them off at the wrists?
MAUDE. You mean I’m just another on a long list? Oh, this is the absolute pits!
HANNAH MAE. Maude, you’re getting excited. Take deep breaths.
MAUDE. [pacing back and forth, as Hannah Mae follows her, trying to calm her down] Of course I’m getting excited!
HANNAH MAE. [takes deep breath]
MAUDE. I don’t know why I did it! The minute I heard the knock at the door, I knew who it was, what he wanted, and that I was going to give it to him! I just did it because I did it. I can’t get hold of the reason why! Maybe I did it because I was lonely, maybe I did it because …
HANNAH MAE. No one else cares why you did it, why should you?
MAUDE. I think maybe we shouldn’t see each other again for a very long time.
HANNAH MAE. Carl Joe’s just putting us to the test. This is no time to be getting silly.
MAUDE. Silly? You are calling me silly? Well, let me tell you a thing or two that may have passed you by in all those years cheerleading back in Texas. Up here we don’t …
HANNAH MAE. All you’re getting, Honey, is sillier by the minute!
MAUDE. My name is Maude.
HANNAH MAE. All you are getting, Maude, is sill …
MAUDE. I don’t want your intensity. I don’t need all your feeling. I know all about what that does. Intensity and feeling do nothing but confuse people. For our purposes they are absolutely unnecessary. Is that clear?
HANNAH MAE. [kissing Maude on the forehead] Very!
MAUDE. [wiping her forehead] That’s what Judas did to Christ! Just like that on the forehead! This is the final straw! You will never set those feet in this kitchen again. Get the message?
HANNAH MAE. Sleep on it.
MAUDE. Get out!
HANNAH MAE. [at door] Let your dreams lead you.
MAUDE. Get out!
HANNAH MAE. I’m gettin’. [Runs out door]
MAUDE. [at door, after Hannah Mae] This isn’t Texas, Honey. This is Westchester County. This is one of the ten richest spots on God’s green earth! You can’t just gallop in here off some ranch and invade our lives. We worked hard to get this high up. We have earned the right to keep our distance. We pay far too much tax to have our peace disturbed.
[Hannah Mae appears at the window]
HANNAH MAE. If I had to share Carl Joe with anyone, I’m real glad that anyone was you.
MAUDE. [picks up cup from dish drain and throws it at door] Get out! [It smashes. As she sweeps up the broken cup, the phone rings]
MAUDE. I know that’s you, Tyler, I know it! Up yours, Tyler, up yours. If you had been here, this never would have happened! [drops dustpan and broom]
END OF ACT ONE