The Books: “Ludlow Fair” (Lanford Wilson)

Next on my script shelf:

LudlowFair.jpgAnother Lanford Wilson one-act is the next play on my shelf – one of my favorites of his – called Ludlow Fair. “Another Sheila” and I had a fun discussion about it here – we both played Agnes. So much fun!!

So this excerpt is for Sheila!!

Ludlow Fair is the story of two roommates – Agnes and Rachel. It is the early 1960s – Wilson wrote the play in 1964. So it’s pre-hippie 60s – at least for these girls. They are in their mid-20s. They live and work in New York City – but mainly – well, what’s going on is that they have men trouble. Rachel is a neurotic girl who is pretty much a dating MANIAC. Man after man after man … and each time, each loser is “the one”. The latest loser was named Joe and he stole a bunch of money from both of them and then disappeared. Rachel is so upset about this because she turned him into the cops … and she TORMENTS herself with guilt over this … because … she looooooved him! Agnes is a wise-cracking woman who doesn’t have much luck with men – she’s a bit more realistic about dating – and she tries to talk some sense into Rachel – “The guy’s a loser. Calm down.” Rachel has worked herself up into such a frenzy that the beginning of the play is her on stage, pacing around the apartment, by herself, waiting for Agnes to get out of the tub – and she gets herself so upset that she begins to do a word-association game WITH HERSELF. Clutching a dictionary. It’s hysterical. Wilson writes like people talks. I find the language of this play so funny, so … it’s the kind of thing where the lines are EASY to memorize because … they’re just exactly what you would say, if you were in that situation.

The end of the play has a darker mood – Agnes is left alone onstage after Rachel passes out in her bed – and Agnes, who has been doing a pretty involved pre-bedtime beauty ritual throughout the play – sits and looks at herself in the mirror, and talks. It’s a lonely lonely moment. You see beneath the wisecracks. You see her sadness – that she has not found a mate, and that that dream, of finding a mate, of having a romance, is already pretty much dead for her. She has a date the next day with her boss’s son who sounds like – a fussbudgety yukky humanoid. But this is the best she can get. Rachel, with all her neuroses, gets the good-looking studs. Agnes has to take what she can get.

I love this play.

I’ll excerpt a bit from the middle, and go through to the end. Funny – how so many of the lines came back to me – even though I did this play in … 1990? 1991?

From Ludlow Fair, by Lanford Wilson

AGNES. You gonna stay up all night or what?

RACHEL. I don’t know. [She stretches out in bed]

AGNES. Why did you ask for the bathroom if you don’t want to shower or something, huh?

RACHEL. Look — Agnes — [sitting up. Rather intense] Can we talk? Straight on this? So I can decide what I think for a minute, huh? Really, now — just straight for a minute or two and I’ll be all right. I’ll swear I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do from here if I don’t straighten myself out on this. I don’t want to call Mom any more than you want me to, but I just want to —

AGNES. [getting up, she goes for a cigarette] Sure. Of course we can; talk to Doctor Muller. My fees are reasonable.

RACHEL. No, now — not even like that — just straight. So I know what I feel or think or something! Sit down, now, stop flying around. See, I did like Joe and an awfully lot, too —

AGNES. [She has lit the cigarette. She sits down on the side of the bed] Fine. Okay.

RACHEL. Well, don’t interrupt! God.

AGNES. Okay, okay.

RACHEL. While you wrinkled up in that damn tub I honestly thought I was losing my mind; you come back in here and I say, Agnes, I think I’m losing my mind, could you take a minute out of your life to listen to me and I get twenty minutes of Charlie Chaplin.

AGNES. Okay. [Pause] So go on.

RACHEL. I’m sorry. It’s just, Jesus. I don’t know anything; I just can’t seem to do something that doesn’t backfire, boomerang in my face. Blow up right in my face. I do something, heatedly, because I’m mad and it’s the right thing to do, I know — and then the whole thing blows up in my face. They’re practically ready to hang Joe and all because I turned him in for filching some money from us. Not that much, really, either; I didn’t talk to him, I just turned him in. God knows what kind of fix he was to take money from us. [A rapid exchange follows between Agnes and Rachel]

AGNES. You want a cigarette?

RACHEL. I just … NO! God! I don’t want a cigarette.

AGNES. Okay, so you don’t want a cigarette.

RACHEL. I just put one out. I have no urge for a cigarette at all. Thank you.

AGNES. I only asked, don’t make a production out of it!

RACHEL.. Well, I do not want a cigarette.

AGNES. Okay.

RACHEL. Is there anything else?

AGNES. All right, I said. Christ!

RACHEL. [intensely] Well, I’m trying to say something and little Miss Helpful Agnes butts in with —

AGNES. Would you hand me the ash tray anyway?

RACHEL. [takes the ash tray, slams it down on the bed beside Agnes. Very loud. Jerky.] Christ! Here! Cram it!

AGNES. I merely asked for the ash tray. [Rachel looks away, disgusted. Pause] Any particular place you’d like me to cram it? [Silence] Well, I’m waiting for you to go on.

RACHEL. [still looking the other way. Quietly] Whenever you’re ready.

AGNES. I’m ready.

RACHEL. [still not looking at Agnes] There’s no point in me talking to myself. I could talk to myself by myself.

AGNES. I was listening to you.

RACHEL. [beginning to get tired, weary] Sure.

AGNES. I was. I heard every feeble-minded word you said.


AGNES. You want me to repeat it?


AGNES. You said, “God knows what kind of fix he was in to have to take money from us.”

RACHEL. [Silence. Then she turns to Agnes] Did I?

AGNES. You did. You said you do something and it blows up in your face; boomerangs, orangoutangs, backfires. And you do what’s right and an innocent guy — which is a lie — is going to get hanged — which is a lie, and “God knows what kind of fix he was in to have taken money from us.” One more word and you’d have said, “It’s only money.”

RACHEL. Well, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever said in my life then.

AGNES. [gets up] I’m going to roll my hair.

RACHEL. I can’t even talk about him straight.

AGNES. What it boils down to is he was a damn good-looking stud and you —

RACHEL. Now, I resent that! For Christ’s sake —

AGNES. Well, a good-looking guy then. And you’re damn mad that you misjudged him and that you won’t have him around again. And on top of that you trusted him enough to leave him here for a few hours when he was short — and you have to admit he was often short — and he took a month’s pay from you. Now it’s reasonable that you’d be pissed off. I would be too. I’d call the cops. [She turns to the mirror and continues to roll her hair]

RACHEL. I did.

AGNES. Well, there you have it.

RACHEL. [sitting up in bed. Pause. Quietly, defensively] It isn’t just physical.

AGNES. [Not turning] When someone says it isn’t just physical, you can be pretty sure it’s just physical.

RACHEL. [sliding back down into bed] I guess I am tired. I didn’t sleep at all last night. Are you going to bed?

AGNES. Not now. I probably couldn’t breathe anyway. I need a respirator.

RACHEL. How come?

AGNES. All night long I’ve been telling you I was a dying woman. I have a cold.


AGNES. In my head.

RACHEL. [sleepy, from beneath the covers] Why don’t you rub yourself with Vicks or something?

AGNES. Because I’ve got a luncheon date with the boss’s son and I don’t want to smell like Vicks. Even for him. I’ll give him my cold first.

RACHEL. That’s silly.

AGNES. [Quite to herself] His soup would probably taste like menthol for Christ’s sake.

RACHEL. [flopping over on her other side] I think I’m going to sleep.

AGNES. [Paying no attention] “Suddenly it’s springtime”. [Drops one of the rollers] Fuck … I’ve got to quit saying that. [Looks at the roller, gets up and picks it up, goes back to the vanity] Get some sleep.

RACHEL. It won’t look so bad tomorrow — I know. You know, though; you’re probably right. I just miss him a lot and in a few days I’ll see everything in a better perspective.

AGNES. In a few days you’ll be knocked up by some stud named Herkimer probably.

RACHEL. [sitting up] I will not be knocked up by anybody. In a few days or nothing.

AGNES. Okay. I just meant, you’ve established a pattern by now. An orbit, so to speak and by Thursday you’ll be head-over-heels mad for someone totally different. You’ll pass the sun again, so to speak.

RACHEL. [under the covers again] I’m not that bad.

AGNES. Very well, you’re not that bad.

RACHEL. At least my mother would have told me it would be better tomorrow. That’s all I need to get to sleep probabaly.

AGNES. [Gaily] It’ll be exactly the same tomorrow. “The world it was the old world yet. And I was I; my things were wet.”

RACHEL. [half sitting up again, disgusted] What?

AGNES. Nothing.

RACHEL. What do you mean, “My things were wet?”

AGNES. Nothing. It’s a poem.

RACHEL. I know it’s a —

AGNES. “Down in lovely muck I’ve lain; happy till I woke again. The world it was the old world yet and –”

RACHEL. “And I was I, my things were wet.” So all right. What’s lovely about a muck?

AGNES. He was drunk.

RACHEL. At Ludlow fair or some place, I know he was drunk. What’s lovely about a muck?

AGNES. Well, maybe they pronounced it differently in Shropshire.

RACHEL. Very funny. [flopping back down] Are you comingt o bed? I’m dead. I’ve just knocked myself out.

AGNES. Sure. You keep me awake all morning and ask me if I’m coming to bed.

RACHEL. [covered up by the blankets] I’m sorry.

AGNES. Sure. You going to sleep or what?

RACHEL. [a little muffled] I said I was. If I can.

AGNES. Well sleep it off. I don’t know why you should worry any more about Joe than you did about whoever it was before. You’ve got to admit the pattern is evident there somewhere. Maybe you should go to an analyst, you know? No joke. You probably have some kind of problem there somewhere. [She turns to her. Rachel turns over. Agnes turns back to the mirror] I mean no one’s n ormal. He’s bound to find something. It might keep you away from dictionaries, you know? Jesus. [Muffled noise from Rachel] Well, I say if it helps, do it. To hell with how funny it looks. God knows I’d like to find — I’m absolutely getting pneumonia. [Gets up to get the box of Kleenex and carries it back to the vanity, talking all the while] I’m going to be a mess tomorrow. I probably won’t make it to work let alone lunch. A casual lunch, my God. I wonder what he’d think — stupid Charles — if he knew I was putting up my hair for him; catching pneumonia. No lie, I can’t wait till summer to see what kind of sunglasses he’s going to pop into the office with. [Turns] Are you going to sleep? [Pause. No reply] Well, crap. [Turns back to mirror] I may be tendering my notice, anyway. You’ve gone through six men while I sit around and turn to fungus. It’s just not a positive atmosphere for me, honey. Not quite. You’re out with handsome Val or someone and I’m wondering if the boss’s skinny, bony son will come up to the water cooler if I … [Trails off, becomes interested in the roller. Now to someone as at dinner] No. No Stroganoff. No, I’m on a diet. [Correcting herself] No. I will not admit that. Good or bad if he says Stroganoff and baked potatoes it’s Stroganoff and baked potatoes. And sour cream. And beer. He’s probably on a diet himself. He could fill out, God knows. [Turning to Rachel] You know what Charles looks like? [Pause] He looks like one of those little model men you make out of pipe cleaners when you’re in grade school. [Turning] Remember those? If I ever saw Charles iwthout his clothes, he’s so pale and white, I swear to God I’d laugh myself silly. He’s Jewish, too. I’ll bet his mother is a nervous wreck. I’ll bet she thinks every woman on the block is pointing at her. Look, there goes Mrs. Schwartz: starving her children to death. Poor Charles. Shakes like a leaf. Of course Mrs. Schwartz wouldn’t admit that either. No woman would admit her son was nervous; what’s he got to be nervous about? The nerve of being nervous. My kid brother got an ulcer, my mother went to bed for three weeks, totally destroyed. Of course she spent about two thirds of her life totally destroyed. Upset — bawling. Weeks on end sometimes. My brother was great. He never paid the slightest attention to her; she’d get one of her spells and run off to bed bawling, it never bothered him for a minute. Off she’d go, the slightest provocation. Eric would say, “Mother’s bedridden with the piss-offs again.” [As if directly to someone, over lunch. Casually] You know, Charles, you’ve got nice eyes. You really have. Deep. I like brown eyes for a man. I don’t like blue eyes, they always look weak or weepy. Either that or cold. You know? Brown eyes are warm; that’s good. They’re gentle. [Quickly] Not weak, but gentle. [Half to herself. Lightly] I used to want to have a girl; a little girl with blue eyes. For a girl that’s good. So I used to always picture — God, idealize, really — very heavy-set blond men. Swedish types, you know. [Back to Charles] But a son I’d want to have brown eyes. That’s better for boys. [Looks at the sleeve of her robe] You think? [Almost embarrassed] I don’t know any more. Oh, yes. I got it at Sak’s. It was on sale, I believe. [Breaking off, disgusted] Now, what the hell does he care where I got it? And it wasn’t on sale, knucklehead. And it wasn’t Saks. [Concentrating on her hair] It was Bonds. Not that he’d know the damn difference. [She drops a roller, it bounces across the floor. She picks up another without even looking after the first one.] Fuck. [Finishing her hair] I’ve got to quit saying that. [This last said without listening to herself; second nature. She picks up a jar of cold cream, slowly, distantly, applies a dab to her lower lip. Pause. She sits still, staring off vacantly. A full thirty-second pause.]


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5 Responses to The Books: “Ludlow Fair” (Lanford Wilson)

  1. I enjoyed the excerpt. And I love “Ludlow Fair” being an allusion to that poem. It’s very apt.

  2. red says:

    Laura – I so agree. And that that’s the title – and it’s only mentioned once – in passing – it’s very effective.

    I love Shropshire Lad, too – Houseman is so great.

  3. Another Sheila says:

    I’m FINALLY getting to read this after a long day of being away from my computer, and I’m thinking … what? I did this play? I was Agnes? Why don’t I remember every line … or ANY line, for that matter? I apparently had a lot of lines. Why aren’t they burned on my brain? Why do I only remember that I was wearing cheap silky pajamas that almost certainly revealed the pattern on my underpants to the entire audience?

    And I’m also thinking, I wonder if I could persuade my best friend Maria to produce this play in her basement so that I can reprise my near-Jennifer-Garner-ousting role. Because I LOVE Agnes, and I think that with almost 13 additional years’ life experience behind me, I could REALLY do this part justice in a way my 19 year old self could not possibly have done. Even though I’m a terrible actress. And only through a strange moment of Grace (yes, with a capital “G”) was I able to pull it off at all the first time.

    Thanks, Sheila, for igniting this fun, if foggy, trip down.memory lane for me. I’m so glad our cyber paths have crossed!

    P.S. My brain has been on an endless loop of Clancy Brothers for the past several days, and I finally surrendered and ordered three of their albums of CD. The two songs with the cool poem intros I mentioned are both on “Reunion”, I think. FYI!

  4. red says:

    Sheila – oh my God, you HAVE to do a little production in your friend’s basement!! Even if you just do a little readaing for the play with your friends in attendance – How much fun would that be!!

  5. Amiel Schotz says:

    I directed this play in the Brandeis MFA program in 1972, because of its beautiful and moving character study of these two girls, as they emotionally reverse their roles in a subtle way—nothing obvious that hits you over the head. Also, it provided decent roles for actresses to reveal the depths of their talents when, even in a University Theater Dept. such roles were harder to find than for men. Now aged 84, I still remember that production fondly.
    Lanford Wilson was a great writer who deserved his Pulitzer Prize.

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