“The masks we choose say as much about us as the faces we cover with them.”—Helen Noakes
By Helen Noakes
SAN FRANCISCO California—(Weekly Hubris)—December 2016—A semi-finalist in the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center’s 2009 National Playwrights Conference, my play, Memento Mori, is an exploration of the price women pay for political power and the masks they are forced to wear in male-dominated societies.
Because the play resonates so powerfully in our current political climate, and because our editor assigned us the task of writing about masks, I’m including a small segment of Scene 3.
To give you an idea of what preceded:
The year is 1953. Evita Peron dies and is hurled into a surreal world peopled by some of the most powerful women in history, women she portrayed when she was an actress. Grappling with this alternate reality and the challenges that each of these women pose, Evita insists on returning to earth to see if she has been “properly” entombed. This scene follows a meeting between Evita and her corpse, in which each accuses the other of betrayal. Evita rails at her body’s succumbing to cancer. Her body, whom Evita refers to as Duarte (Eva Duarte was her maiden name), retorts with reminders of Evita’s brutal drive towards celebrity. In the end, they reconcile.
The first few lines of Scene 3 are between Evita and Catherine the Great. The scene is set at the River Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, in the afterlife.
Dim dappled lights come up on EVA, alone at the River Lethe. She is kneeling at the river’s edge, holding the death mask in one hand, gazing at it and into the dark waters. CATHERINE enters.
You look like Narcissus contemplating your reflection.
I’m contemplating my future. There should be another vocabulary for the dead . . . . Future just doesn’t seem…
You’ve taken to leaving your sentences unfinished.
Nothing is ever finished.
CATHERINE approaches her.
How still everything is. Your gown makes no rustle. Your feet make no sound.
You hear nothing at this depth of mourning.
I was always uneasy in silence.
What do you seek in that? (Points to the mask)
(Hands her the mask)
This is Duarte’s face. Her face and mine, side by side, reflected in this river. So similar, yet—Duarte’s caught forever in her final gurgle—and I?
She is your former self, Evita.
No. I can’t say “former,” yet. I need the gap of centuries to claim total detachment. Duarte
and I did much together, good and bad. I need to believe that the good outweighs the bad,
but, the truth is, it doesn’t work that way. Oh, Catherine! No matter how I try, I cannot justify
myself. (Pause) Those who adored me are not here to help me love myself.
Ah! I’m pleased to see you confront the truth.
Truth! Yours or mine? There are so many truths. Is this my truth? (Points to the mask)
Or is this? (Gently slaps her own cheek) Are you true, Catherine? Will you disappear? Will I?
There is such a thing as the truth . . . . It’s something we may not see or wish to.
No! She . . . she . . . (Tugs at the mask) . . . lies somewhere in a glass box empty of feeling, of heart, of . . . and I . . . what exactly am I? The truth?
Looks out at the fourth wall. Silence.
The truth, like time, is out there, out of reach. The truth, now, is that I’ve come to something that should be the end but isn’t. It’s as if I’ve rounded a corner in some dark dream and find myself not only on another street, but in another universe.
There’s only one Universe, but in that one so many worlds! (Gazes at the mask) She is quite beautiful, even in her final throes.
How can you see beauty in that gasp? (Takes the mask) The masks we choose say as much about us as the faces we cover with them.