Ladies’ Day at the Playhouse
For the mothers of the Haven House for Homeless Women and Children
Two River Theater Company, Red Bank, New Jersey, February, 2013
MEMPHIS: You born free. It’s up to you to maintain it. You born with dignity and everything else…. Freedom is heavy. You got to put your shoulder to freedom. Put your shoulder to it and hope your back hold up.
—August Wilson, Two Trains Running, Act I, scene ii
Hands grip painted rails as bodies and bodies climb
shallow stairs, file into to aisles, thin out into row
after row, after row like insects swarming a velvet maze.
The mothers pinch their tickets, show them to the usher the way
children hold up a hall pass to a teacher—proof of their
belonging there. The late-sixties fixed as if behind museum glass.
A diner in Pittsburgh’s Hill District stands still on stage:
a counter, stools, tables and chairs, a payphone,
two booths, and a blackboard chalked with the menu.
We find our seats, eleven women split between two rows,
five in J, six in K, the bunch of us divided, but clumped together.
The mothers in back tug on our hair, tickle our ears, pull
the necklines of our sweaters. They snap selfies with their cell phones—
seats, set, and stage captured in the background—
and make megaphones and telescopes with their playbills.
The house lights so silver-bright the room feels almost holy.
Then, a man with a wristwatch and white hair stuffed in the conch
shells of his ears pushes down the seat next to me and eases
himself into the zig-zag-patterned plushness, his knees falling open.
At intermission, this man will fling his playbill on the floor, hustle
his wife out, and huff: I can’t understand the way these people
talk. I don’t even know what they’re saying. His exit will come
as no surprise to the rest of his row, because when he first sat down,
he looked at the women, then looked at me, then looked
at the women, then looked at me, and, seeing dissimilarity, in all sincerity
and smiles, he inquired, Did you bring these girls here on a field trip?
I hardened. No, just a ladies’ day at the playhouse, I said.
I felt our two rows wilt, then the house lights blacked out.