Dramatic Texts >> Joyce Van Dyke >> A Girl's War
A GIRL'S WAR by Joyce Van Dyke
 
A Play in Two Acts
 
Characters
ANAHID SARKISIAN (called ANNA), 31, a model
ARSHALUIS SARKISIAN, 55, her mother; now, a sniper in the Karabakh army
SERGEI SARKISIAN (called SERYOZHA), 21, a shepherd; ANNA’s younger brother
STEPHEN WELLINGTON, 40s, a British-born photographer working in New York  
TITO UCCELLO, 22, his assistant  
ILYAS ALIZADE, 22, a refugee and deserter from the Azerbaijani army  
 
(The roles of SERYOZHA and TITO are played by the same actor.)
 
Setting
The action takes place in the present, in a photographer’s studio in New York City (Scene 1), and in a mountain village in Karabakh, near the Karabakh-Azerbaijan front.* The main location is the central room of the Sarkisian house in the village of Matarash in Karabakh. It is an old (19th century) stone house built on the mountainside. A main wing of the house was ruined by bombs eight years earlier and has never been rebuilt. A heavy plastic sheet is nailed over the crumbling opening to the ruined wing; over the years, duct tape has repaired tears in the plastic. The house is kept scrupulously clean, though it is very sparsely furnished, with the only note of luxury in the "martyr's corner" where a small table holds two large framed photographs of Anna's brothers, as well as two candles, a Bible and a crucifix.
 
* Karabakh -- also known as Nagorno-Karabakh -- is a small Armenian-populated enclave in the southern Caucasus Mountains. During the Soviet regime, when Karabakh was an autonomous region within the Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, it had a mixed population of ethnic Armenians (about 3/4) and Azerbaijanis (about 1/4). In 1988, Karabakh became the first territory in the U.S.S.R. to demand independence, as well as demanding unification with the neighboring Soviet republic of Armenia, their ethnic kin. "Ethnic cleansing" followed, leading to full-scale civil war between Armenians and Azerbaijanis after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1994 a ceasefire went into effect, but the political situation remains tense and unresolved, and border skirmishes and deaths continue to occur. Over a million people, both Azerbaijanis and Armenians, were displaced or made refugees by the conflict; nearly a decade after the ceasefire, many Azerbaijani refugees still live in refugee camps in Azerbaijan. The Karabakh village of Matarash (its Armenian name) or Madariz (its Azerbaijani name), where most of the action of the play occurs, is fictional.
 

Act I
Scene I
(In the dark, a strobe flashes on ANNA in a sequence of different postures, being photographed by STEPHEN. Lights come up on a photography studio, New York City, afternoon. TITO is alone, arranging strobes and reflectors on the set.)
 
STEPHEN (off)
(Calling.) Hey Tito! You ready to go?
 
TITO
She’s not out yet.
 
(STEPHEN enters with a camera with a Polaroid back.)
 
STEPHEN
I’m not happy, Tito!
 
TITO
She’ll be out in a sec. Supposed to be a nice weekend. You going out to the beach?
 
STEPHEN
Is she reading in there?
 
TITO
It’s makeup – you know Josh, The Artist.
 
(TITO poses on the set.)
 
Stephen – you could just use me.
 
STEPHEN
I’m tempted.
 
(STEPHEN takes a Polaroid of TITO. He paces as he waits for the Polaroid to develop.)
 
TITO
Hey, you know that building you were talking about, with the courtyard – I stopped by this morning on my way down and –
 
STEPHEN
What’d you think? You go in the courtyard?
 
TITO
Yeah – I felt it. That pool in the center – so quiet –
 
(ANNA enters with a book.)
 
Hey! (Admiring ANNA.) Wow!
 
STEPHEN
All right, let’s go, let’s go. Make my life worth living, Tito, is that too much to ask? Can’t we make some Italian light? I thought you were supposed to be Italian.
 
(STEPHEN prepares to take a Polaroid of ANNA. She stands on the set reading her book.)
 
No, no, no, no, no, no – give me a better angle, Anna!
 
(She turns, without looking up from her book.)
 
Turn. More. Turn. More.
 
(STEPHEN takes the Polaroid.)
 
Ta very much.
 
(STEPHEN waits for the Polaroid to develop, ANNA reads.)
 
(To TITO.) Yeah, it’s gorgeous, isn’t it? That pool. So Tito, why don’t you find out how we can shoot in that courtyard? (Watching the Polaroid develop.) I don’t think I’m happy Tito!
 
(STEPHEN moves upstage with TITO to discuss some pictures. ANNA, still holding her book, goes into a daydream . . . and ARSHALUIS enters carrying a large crockery bowl of madzoon and a spoon.)
 
ARSHALUIS
Anahid. Taste.
 
ANNA
It’s so hot out here.
 
ARSHALUIS
Taste, I say!
 
ANNA
It’s too hot to eat.
 
ARSHALUIS
Not too hot for madzoon! Come taste! (Indicating ANNA’s book.) What is that?
 
ANNA
“Poems of the English Socialists.” William Blake. Percy Shelley.
 
ARSHALUIS
Da, Shelley. We learned in school. “I fall upon the thorns of life, I bleed.” “Ode to the West Wind,” composed 1819. Poetry is good, but history is more important. Come, sit and taste!
 
(ARSHALUIS spoons madzoon into ANNA’s mouth. With every statement comes a spoonful.)
 
Very sweet, eh? That time, I was telling before, Armenia had empire – you remember? Long long ago. Before Jesus Christ. Empire that touched three seas.
 
(Spoonful.)
 
Armenia is first nation in all the world to become Christian. First nation in all the world to translate Bible into our own language.
 
(Spoonful.)
 
Last Armenian kingdom was 1375. After that time, Armenians ruled by many other peoples. . . Persians . . . Russians . . . but especially Ottoman Turks. Mohammedans. They like to do their Satan minds, persecuting Armenians in all their dominions.
 
(Spoonful.)
 
1895 – Turks massacre Armenians.
(Spoonful.)
 
1905 – again they massacre.
(Spoonful.)
 
1915! Vy, Astvadz! 1915 we can never forget. Turks kill one and a half million Armenians.
 
(Spoonful.)
 
They kill. They rape.
 
(Spoonful.)
 
They torture.
 
(Spoonful, which ANNA refuses.)
 
ANNA
Ma. Ma. Ma. Ma – I know the English word for madzoon.
 
ARSHALUIS
English people no eat madzoon.
 
ANNA
Yes they do. They call it yogurt.
 
ARSHALUIS
That is Turkish word.
 
ANNA
But that's what they call it in America.
 
ARSHALUIS
America friends with Turkey. They like to use Turkish word.
 
ANNA
Yogurt is the same thing as madzoon. The words are different but the thing is the same.
 
ARSHALUIS
Not the same.
 
ANNA
Why not?
 
ARSHALUIS
Not the same.
 
ANNA
Do the Turks make it differently? don't they use milk?
 
ARSHALUIS
They use.
 
ANNA
And starter?
 
ARSHALUIS
They use.
 
ANNA
You mean they add other ingredients?
 
ARSHALUIS
No. I don't think so. I never watch them.
 
ANNA
So it is the same. Madzoon and yogurt are the same thing.
 
ARSHALUIS
No! Not the same! Anahid, listen what I telling. What Turk is doing, what Turk is saying, is never the same as Armenian!
 
ANNA
But why isn't it?
 
ARSHALUIS
Different, I say! Down to the center of the earth!
 
ANNA
But if it's made the same way – how is it different? I don’t understand.
 
ARSHALUIS
Who can understand? How, why – we can't understand. Only we know what is history. Never forget history. Most important thing in all the world happened 2000 years ago. Easter Day, resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. O lamb of God . . . that takest away the sins of the world . . . have mercy upon us.
 
STEPHEN
(To TITO.) By tomorrow.
 
(STEPHEN’s voice breaks ANNA’s reverie. As TITO comes downstage with STEPHEN’s camera, ARSHALUIS exits. TITO replaces the Polaroid back with a regular one and checks the light with a light meter, during the following.)
 
TITO
Can I get you a tea or anything?
 
(ANNA shakes her head.)
 
ANNA
That was about me, wasn’t it.
 
TITO
What? No – really. It was technical stuff. Really.
 
ANNA
He didn’t tell you about me?
 
TITO
Just . . . he said that you used to be together.
 
ANNA
(Prompting him.) And . . .
 
TITO
Uh . . . that it’s been a long time — three years? —. Since you . . . . He doesn’t, you know. Tell me intimate stuff.
 
ANNA
Stephen looks a lot older. Don’t tell him I said that.
 
TITO
I won’t.
  
ANNA
You’re so nice. How long have you been working for Stephen?
 
TITO
Two years? Feels like a lifetime.
 
ANNA
Is that good or bad?
 
(TITO laughs. STEPHEN enters and takes the camera from Tito.)
 
STEPHEN
(To TITO.) Go tell them to see if they can get the new girl for tomorrow – the new girl, uh . . . they’ll know her name. But find out if she’s got any tattoos. I don't want tattoos anywhere. No marks. No history.
 
(TITO exits.)
 
OK, let’s see if we can get the shot this time, eh?
 
(STEPHEN begins photographing ANNA continuously.)
 
You know, insolence is my favorite quality in a girl. But you know that, don’t you, Anna. When you do that I can see that top clamp. C’mon, a little heat, a little heat! Live Girls, like the sign says. My, isn’t Anna quiet today? Dead quiet. She wasn’t always like that, was she, old timer? No . . . no, if memory serves, not what you could call quiet. But perhaps we’ve begun to pall. Perhaps Anna secretly yearns to be elsewhere, far from these scenes of glamor and lighthearted fun. How superficial it all is! What a waste of human endeavor, eh? What’s on your mind, Anna?
 
ANNA
Nothing.
 
STEPHEN
You want to know why I booked you, after all this time.
 
ANNA
No.
 
STEPHEN
Bullshit. (As he shoots.) Nice. I’ve been waiting all day for you to ask and you just stand there, not asking. I’ll give you a hint: it’s not what you think.
 
ANNA
What do I think?
 
STEPHEN
Come on, come on – you were dying to come. You had to see for yourself.
 
ANNA
I don’t know what you’re talking about.
 
STEPHEN
Photographer Obsessed With Former Model. Creative Drive Blocked For Years. Lost Without His Muse –
 
ANNA
Shut up, Stephen!
 
STEPHEN
(Delighted, laughs.) Every girl who comes in here –
 
ANNA
(Interrupting.) Don’t call me that.
 
STEPHEN
Every girl who comes in here is – a girl. But I digress. Here’s the deal. We go on sabbatical in a few months – and big changes since your time, we go for four weeks now, and we take the whole crew – but no models, we don’t do any fashion at all, we do . . . explorations, we do – last year in Egypt we did a series on beggars, some great stuff. We’re going to Istanbul this year.
 
ANNA
How nice.
 
STEPHEN
Turkey.
 
ANNA
I got that. So what?
 
STEPHEN
Want to come?
 
ANNA
What?
 
STEPHEN
Nice. Do you want to come?
 
ANNA
Is this a joke? Or an insult? I don’t get it.
 
STEPHEN
I thought of it as an invitation.
 
ANNA
You haven’t seen me in three years. And you invite me to Turkey, off the cuff? And you just told me you don’t take models anymore.
 
STEPHEN
We wouldn’t be taking you as a model, more as a . . .
 
ANNA
(Interrupting.) I don’t speak Turkish.
 
STEPHEN
Who does?
 
ANNA
This is ridiculous!
 
STEPHEN
Nice.
 
ANNA
Oh my God!
 
STEPHEN
Yes!
 
ANNA
Did you say it just to get the shot?! Did you say it just to get the fucking shot?!
 
STEPHEN
Did I? Well would you consider going?
 
ANNA
I’m not speaking to you for the rest of the day.
 
STEPHEN
Yeah, all my best stuff is coming out of sabbaticals these days. Got to get outside to life and death . . . well, sex and death. Every now and then you get a girl in the studio who has it, but then it’s usually someone too ruined to work. But the others bore me.
 
(TITO enters with a bottle of water for STEPHEN.)
 
Tito! Just reminiscing about old times. You know those old pictures of Anna – the boulder series –
 
TITO
Yeah, sure – where she’s lying – yeah, they’re legendary. When was that, when you did those?
 
STEPHEN
It was about – . It was – . No, it was ten years ago. Christ.
 
TITO
I love those pictures. Well, who doesn’t.
 
ANNA
(To TITO.) I don’t.
 
STEPHEN
Fuck.
 
ANNA
(To TITO.) I’ve done much better things since then.
 
STEPHEN
(Putting down his water and picking up his camera.) Tito, go stand behind Anna.
 
TITO
Me in the frame?
 
STEPHEN
I’ll take care of it. OK, Tito – pull her arms behind her.
 
TITO
What?
 
STEPHEN
Go on. She likes it.
 
(TITO complies. STEPHEN starts shooting.)
 
Tighter. Tighter! Good! Yes! I love your dirty looks, Anna, I don’t know why I’ve got to work so hard to get them. Yes — yes — yes —
 
(ANNA wrenches herself free from TITO's grasp.)
 
What are you doing? I’m not done! I haven't finished!
 
(ANNA starts tearing the clamps off her clothes and messing up her hair.)
 
ANNA
(Shrieking, in Armenian.) Yes geh-noom em! Yes geh-noom em! Yes geh-noom em! [I’m finished! I’m finished! I’m finished!]
 
STEPHEN
What the hell – I could kill you –
 
ANNA
(Interrupting.) Go on, kill me! Go on! Take everything!
 
(ANNA exits.)
 
STEPHEN
Go call her agency. Call her booker. Go on, Tito!
 
(TITO exits. STEPHEN kicks the wall. Hearing ANNA approach, he turns away. ANNA enters, putting on a shirt.)
 
ANNA
I'm tired. This is my third continent in four days.
 
STEPHEN
If you don't want to do the job, quit.
 
ANNA
You can get "the new girl."
 
STEPHEN
That's right. You're free to go.
  
ANNA
Free to go! Thanks to you, I'm free to go! Where am I free to go?
 
STEPHEN
Go home. I’ve got work to do.
 
ANNA
“Work”! You mean abusing people.
 
STEPHEN
Here we go.
 
ANNA
It’s your fault! You provoked this!
 
STEPHEN
Because you refused to give me anything, that’s why! You stand there like a stone!
 
ANNA
I hate you. You’re such an appalling waste of life.
 
STEPHEN
Oh that’s rich, coming from you. Coming from a model.
 
ANNA
That’s not what I am! I’m quitting. I’m getting out of the business.
 
STEPHEN
Yeah, well, you’re 31.
 
ANNA
That’s not why. I don’t want to be old and bitter, like you.
 
STEPHEN
You were old and bitter when you were 19. Now, you’re – like a lot of other girls.
 
(TITO enters with a phone.)
 
ANNA
That’s a lie! You’re a liar! Acting like the past never happened. Like you’ve forgotten what I was.
   
STEPHEN
That’s life, isn’t it.
 
(ANNA turns to leave.)
 
TITO
Excuse me – Anna? I’m sorry, it’s your agency. They said it couldn’t wait.
 
ANNA
(To phone.) Hello?
 
(ANNA listens.)
 
I’m here. I’m leaving now. ‘Bye. Yes. ‘Bye.
 
(She puts the phone down.)
 
STEPHEN
Anna?
 
ANNA
My brother. Seryozha.
 
STEPHEN
What happened?
 
ANNA
They killed him. Soldiers.
 
(ANNA presses a hand to her forehead, hard.)
 
STEPHEN
(Touching her, trying to hold her.) Anna. Anna . . .
 
ANNA
(To herself.) I have to go.
 
(She goes out.)
 
TITO
Stephen? Did you know –
 
STEPHEN
Her brother – it must be her younger brother. There was another one – he was older – he was killed a few years ago.
 
TITO
Where is this? – a war?
 
STEPHEN
Karabakh. Where she’s from. Tito – I’m going to take her home – cancel that 5:30 – yeah – .
 
(STEPHEN exits.)


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