Edward M. Cohen

Soup for Breakfast
A One Act Play

 

CHARACTERS

Lenny:   17 years old, newly bearded.

Don:        Late twenties.


The play takes place in a small one room Manhattan apartment.

Time: 1953
       
SYNOPSIS

The time is 1953. Seventeen year old Lennie is spending Intercession living with his new lover, Don. Lennie is clearly conflicted and guilt ridden. The play takes place on a morning near the end of the vacation. The two men fight over the tensions between them and these tensions are echoed and enlarged by events – related over the radio – in those repressive times. 


Soup for Breakfast
                                     1.

SCENE: A Manhattan apartment in the 1950’s, obviously too small for two. There is a single bed on which two men are sleeping, a hot plate on top of a mini-fridge, a sink filled with dirty dishes, clothes all over, records, books, cans of food. Early morning. 

AT RISE: LENNY, 17, creeps out of bed, feeling his newly growing beard. Then he dials rotary phone, whispers, always looking to make sure Don is asleep.

LENNY
Hello, Ma?…I know, but I figured you’d be up….Nothing’s wrong, only I know how you worry and I figured….What do you mean, where am I? I’m at my buddy Vincent’s house in New Jersey. Where should I be?….Oh Ma, every one at N.Y.U. spends Spring Break away from home. Why should I be different?…I do not sound different. I’m calling from the basement so I don’t wake everyone up and maybe there are funny echoes…They have a finished basement, Ma…. Everybody in New Jersey has a finished basement. Why would I lie about a thing like that?…For crying out loud, Ma. I didn’t call to argue so don’t make me regret it!
   (There is a rustling on the bed which scares LENNY)
I’ve got to go now, Ma…I hear them upstairs, Ma….Vincent’s mom is calling me for breakfast!...I’ll be home tomorrow!...
   (HE hangs up and rushes to bathroom. DON, late twenties, rises from bed. HE has     obviously heard every word, slips on a robe, calls to Lenny)

DON
What are you doing in there, checking your beard? It’ll grow on its own!
   (HE flicks on radio. Eddie Fisher’s WISH YOU WERE HERE fills the air. DON          heats water on hot plate. LENNY bolts out of bathroom)

What’s that?

DON
What’s what?

LENNY
That song.

DON
Wish You Were Here?

LENNY (flicking off radio)
I don’t want to hear it!

 

Soup for Breakfast                                                  2

      DON
It’s only been number one on the hit parade for thirteen weeks. It’s going to be difficult to avoid

    (DON lights a cigarette and looks for a coffee cup in the debris)
                               
LENNY
Using the radio to avoid every moment of silence is an addiction fostered by an alienated society.

DON
There are no clean cups.

LENNY
Another bourgeois rigidity. Stop drinking coffee. You’re chained to conformity.

DON
I like the radio in the morning.

LENNY
And don’t smoke before breakfast!

DON
Also, I love that song.
   (HE washes a cup at sink, humming WISH YOU WERE HERE)

LENNY
It happens to have been our song.

DON
Whose?

LENNY
Me and Rosalind.

DON
Oh, the Virgin Queen.

LENNY
Don’t call her that!

DON
My mistake. It was you who was the Virgin Queen.
   
Soup for Breakfast                                               3


LENNY
Don, please…Let’s not start again.
   (DON turns from sink with clean cup, spoons coffee into it)

DON
And I suppose it was Rosalind you just called?
                                               
                                               (LENNY slumps. DON pours hot water, whistling WISH YOU WERE HERE)
   
                   LENNY
Stop whistling. You know I can’t stand your whistling.

DON
I’ll make some breakfast.

LENNY
Your whistling is like masturbation. You cut yourself off from me and retreat to the pleasures of your own body, your own sound, the breath pulsing through your own mouth.

DON
Thank you, Sigmund. I’m sure your analyst would be proud.

LENNY
Whistling is your way of returning to the breast.

DON
What would you like?

LENNY
I don’t care. Anything.

DON
You’re a big help.

LENNY
Your attitude kills my appetite.

DON
I’ll make some soup. This coffee stinks.


Soup for Breakfast                                           4

LENNY
Soup for breakfast?

DON
Now, who’s chained to conformity! Tell me, Dr. Freud, which of the two queers in this room is the one more pressured by bourgeois convention, the one who can’t eat what he wants, love who he wants, fuck who he wants, be who he wants unless it is approved by his Master Psychoanalyst? 

LENNY
My analyst is not my master.

DON
Oh yeah? Did you tell him the truth about where you are spending Intercession? Do you tell anybody the truth? Like, for instance, me?
   (Beat. DON’s eyes bore into Lenny)

LENNY
I called my mother. Big deal!
   (DON flicks on radio in disgust. The news report is heard but neither reacts.     LENNY sulks, DON searches for something, first casually, then furiously;     crashing through pots and pans. The silence between them lasts as long as is     emotionally valid. When LENNY can stand it no longer, HE shouts over radio)

ANNOUNCER
The assault on Old Baldy, the bloodiest thus far in 1953, came just a few days before the Reds made a surprise offer to settle the Korean conflict. Thus, the Commie right hand struck while the left held out an olive branch. This pattern of conciliation disguising aggression is part of the Kremlin strategy. It’s evil meaning seemed clear. Three days after the fight for Baldy started, the Reds attacked Bunker Hill, which was held by units of glory laden U.S. Marines but the leathernecks could take care of themselves while the Communists lost thousands of men for a gain of almost nothing. After five grueling counter-attacks against bucketfuls of enemy grenades and heavy fire from the Red mortars, the Marines got back on top.

LENNY (over radio)
What are you looking for?

DON
There’s no soup.

LENNY
Did you check the bathroom? God knows where anything is around here!

Soup for Breakfast                                         5

DON
There’s no soup!
                                       
LENNY
You’re nuts. Look under the bed.
   (DON seems paralyzed. LENNY hops to floor and finds a can of soup. HE waves     it aloft and triumphantly turns off the radio)
What’s this?

DON
That’s not soup.

LENNY
It says soup. Campbell’s Soup.

DON
It’s cream of mushroom soup. I use it in tuna casserole. You wouldn’t like it alone.

LENNY (tossing can to Don)
Who says I wouldn’t?

DON
Have you ever eaten it?

LENNY
There’s lots I never ate before I met you.

            DON (smiling, despite himself, as HE turns on hot plate)
Oh, shut up.
 
LENNY
You’re absolutely right about my conformity. I’m glad you pointed that out. Breakfast is a special meal. A new day, a new world. Our breakfasts will mean that forever!

DON
I’ll make it, you son of a bitch, but I know how you are about trying something new so if you dare say, “Yuch!” I’ll murder you!

LENNY
We’ll move out of the city. I hate it here and it’s too crowded in this damned apartment. We’ll move to a cabin in the country where we can walk through the woods, hand in hand – who cares who sees? - and, every morning, we’ll bake fresh bread so the aroma fills the air!

Soup for Breakfast                  6    

DON
Lenny, stop dreaming.

LENNY
And real butter. My mother always serves oleo.

DON (giggling despite himself)
Mine, too.

LENNY
And Smucker’s Preserves. Ever taste Smucker’s? It’s new.
                       
DON
And could we have real coffee? I despise this fucking instant.

LENNY
No more tuna casserole, either. From now on, it’s fresh vegetables and red meat so we grow strong to take on the world!

DON
Oh baby, I love you so!
   (LENNY embraces DON from behind as HE opens soup can)

LENNY
We’ll eat naked in the sunlight and dance in our living room, cheek to cheek, because there will be no neighbors to stare in the windows and we won’t care what anybody thinks because we’ll be free! Free! Free!
   (The condensed soup lands in a blob in pot)
YUUUUUCH!
   (DON whirls about in shock. LENNY is equally surprised by what he has done     but HE can’t help giggling.)

LENNY
Sorry….
   (HE backs away from DON, afraid, apologetic, as DON’s outrage grows)

 

 

 

 

Soup for Breakfast                      7

DON
You are the most inhibited, conventional bastard I’ve ever met! How dare you despise the bourgeoisie? How dare you? We’re going to battle the world hand in hand! Like hell we are! You don’t have enough imagination to inquire into a soup if it’s new!. That’s how courageous you are. How are we going to dance cheek to cheek when you have to call your mother every morning and lie about what’s going on?
   (LENNY twists on bed, entangled in sheets, helpless with laughter. DON picks up     pot of soup and tosses it on the floor, starting to weep. HE races to turn on radio     to cover his sobs. As WOMAN ANNOUNCER is heard, DON calms down and     LENNY stops laughing. LENNY sits up and stares at DON, trying to find courage     to say something.)

WOMAN ANNOUNCER
During its annual Continental Congress in Washington, the Daughters of the American Revolution announced that they had accepted proof that Private Benjamin Doud, born May, 10, 1761, was a direct ancestor of Mamie Doud Eisenhower. The first lady was welcomed into the D.A.R. and 4000 of the Daughters went to the White House to greet their newest member. It was the biggest White House reception since the inauguration and marked the end of a rift between the White House and the D.A.R. which started when Eleanor Roosevelt resigned after the D.A.R. refused to allow Marian Anderson to sing in their Constitution Hall.
   (LENNY rises and crosses to DON, flicking off radio)
                                   
LENNY
I’m sorry. It just slipped out, that “Yuch.”

DON
You’re conning me with dreams about breakfasts forever and, tomorrow, Intercession ends and you go back to your mother’s Corn Flakes, no matter what I do.

LENNY
I keep making mistakes. I haven’t had as many affairs as you have.

DON
Once you dump me, I’m sure you will.

LENNY
Once I dump you, I’m through with this crummy life forever.

DON
Gee, thanks.

LENNY
Oh shit...sorry....Nothing comes out right any more. I can’t seem to say what I want.
Soup for Breakfast                    8

DON
What is it that you want, Lenny?

LENNY
I don’t know....

DON
What?

LENNY (after a beat)
I just want to be normal….

DON
So, you’ll get engaged to some Rosalind to impress your analyst and make your mother happy and you’ll end up one of those haunted married guys who hang around tea rooms.

LENNY (attacking back)
You’re upset because I called my mother. You think the only way to keep me is by cutting off all my other attachments.

DON
Aha! Castration Anxiety!

LENNY
Oh, is that an example of the vitriol that passes for wit in the homosexual pathology? I’ve been reading about it in Abnormal Psych!

DON
Bitch!

LENNY
Whore!
   (Beat. THEY both regret what they’ve said)
I’ll stay if you want for a couple more days. I’ll cook up some story for her.

DON
No, thanks. I know you can’t wait to get home, to start pretending that this was some dirty little aberration. So, you’ll laugh a little louder and act more butch and remember – don’t cross your legs when you sit! It’s very femme. But I’ve got news for you, Sister, that stupid beard makes you look faggier than a Times Square hustler!
   (Now, it is LENNY’s turn to be wounded. HE heads back to the bed. DON, too, is     shocked by what he has said but he cannot give in to his guilt now.)
And I’ll listen to the radio all day if I want!

Soup for Breakfast                 9

    (HE flicks radio back on. MALE ANNOUNCER is heard during long silent     stillness between them. LENNY curls into ball on bed. DON smokes as regret     overtakes him)

MALE ANNOUNCER
Senator McCarthy matched words this week with a whole shelf of fiery-eyed pinko authors. McCarthy’s Senate Investigation Subcommittee was looking into charges that pro Communist books had been placed in the 150 overseas libraries run by the U.S. State Department. Today’s most uncooperative witness, Samuel Dashiell Hammett, writer of mystery stories, said he thought that, quote, it is impossible to write anything without taking a stand on social issues, end quote, but he refused to say whether he is or ever was a Communist.

DON
Now, it’s my turn to be sorry….

ANNOUNCER
300 copies of Hammett’s book are on the shelves in 73 of the libraries.

DON
I really am sorry. I don’t know what made me say all that.

ANNOUNCER
McCarthy asked, quote... 

DON
C’mon, Lenny.

ANNOUNCER
...if you were spending, as we are, over a hundred million dollars a year on an information program allegedly to fight Communism... 

DON
Don’t shut me out.

ANNOUNCER
...would you purchase books by Communist authors and distribute them throughout the world? 

DON
It’s tough enough to make a go of this.

ANNOUNCER
Replied Hammett, quote... 
Soup for Breakfast                                              10

DON
Lenny, please,

ANNOUNCER
...well, I think if I were fighting Communism...

DON
...if you’re mad at me, you’re right....

ANNOUNCER
...I don’t think I would do it by giving  people any books at all. End quote.
   
DON
But don’t shut me out. Please. I can’t stand it.    
   (Slowly, LENNY sits up and stares across room at DON)

ANNOUNCER
A more cooperative witness was Negro poet Langston Hughes whose books are spread through 51 of the libraries. 

DON
Shout. Throw something. Do anything you want. But not this.
   (During following, LENNY crosses to Don. DON remains still, afraid but not     flinching)

ANNOUNCER
He readily admitted that he had followed the Communist line for many years, but insisted that he had turned away from it in 1950. When McCarthy asked if he thought his Commie-line books should be on our shelves throughout the world, Hughes exclaimed, quote, I was certainly amazed to hear that they were. I would certainly say no. End quote.
   (During above, LENNY reaches DON and socks him hard in the gut)

LENNY
That’s for the crack about my beard, you fucking lousy faggot!
   (DON slides down wall, the wind knocked out of him, in tears. LENNY turns     away, starting to weep, himself, as ANNOUNCER continues. 

ANNOUNCER
Joe McCarthy has not found out who was responsible for putting pro-Communist books on U.S. anti-Communist bookshelves. Nor has any spokesman for the old administration come forward to explain why it was done. But the Eisenhower administration has already acted. Books by known Communists are being cleared off the shelves....
   
THE LIGHTS FADE
 

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