Arborophilia (Free Play)

Please feel free to stage my play, Arborophilia, available below and at the following link arborophilia (Free).docx at no fee or royalty.  I do ask that you inform me that you will be staging the play and that you give me credit for having written it.  If you would prefer a PDF version, please email me directly at jacobmappel@gmail.com

ARBOROPHILIA, OR THE CHOPPING BLOCK

A FANTASIA IN TWO ACTS

By

Jacob M. Appel


CHARACTERS IN THE PLAY

5 FEMALE / 2 MALE

Gwendolyn Gage                                      A Democrat (F/55)

Lily Gage                                                  Gwendolyn’s older daughter (F/26)

Laurel Gage                                              Gwendolyn’s younger daughter (F/18)

Fairmont Fythe                                         A Republican (M/28)

Dame Lucretia Bankmore Vandervelt      Fairmont’s employer, a wealthy imperious woman (F/70+)

Jimmy Duckfoot                                       The owner of a small garden-supply store (M/35)

A Female Poplar Tree                               The object of Laurel’s love (F/19)

SET & PROPS

One half of the stage is the Gage residence, an upscale brownstone in an outer borough of New York City. The structure is split open so that we see the parlor. The windows of the parlor overlook a vacant lot, which occupies the other half of the stage. Jimmy Duckfoot’s garden-supply store stands on the opposite side of the vacant lot—though only the exterior is visible; potted plants surround the entrance. Two chairs adjacent to the Gage residence, on the side opposite the lot, can serve as other venues around the city (eg. Fairmont’s apartment, Lucretia’s office, etc). Most of the set should be left to the imagination. Light may be used to emphasize scene shifts when multiple characters remain on stage. Anyone attempting to portray these locations realistically will do so at his/her own peril.

A NOTE ON THE POPLAR TREE

The Poplar Tree should be on stage, in the vacant lot, at all times. The actor portraying the tree may either be the tree or may appear through a portal in the tree.

A NOTE ON SUBTITLES

The subtitles/scene headings are intended to be either projected or read aloud. A director might also consider (sparingly) reading/projecting selected stage directions.

ACT ONE

1. “Laurel”

(Laurel enters the vacant lot and sits beneath the poplar tree. She is in love with the poplar tree, but the poplar tree is not in love with her. She attempts to seduce the poplar tree, but to no avail. She weeps silently.)

2. “Gwendolyn”

(Gwendolyn enters the brownstone. Gwendolyn, to the audience.)

Love is out of control these days.  In my day, love was a straightforward proposition: one man, one woman…kisses, rings, vows….maybe a few letters or a bouquet of flowers, if you were lucky….then babies, at least one…two…four….I had the good sense to stop at two….and bickering, shouting, the carefully-timed throwing of dinnerware.…No bloodshed except in the most extreme cases….adultery, separation, divorce, alimony….You knew where you stood when I was a girl. But now! It’s a free-for-all. First, my younger daughter falls in love with a tree. I don’t mean metaphorically, either. This isn’t some sort of symbolic statement—an effort to humanize the destruction of our primeval forests. I mean she actually has romantic feelings for a tree. Look at her—eighteen years old and weeping all day like a willow. As though that wispy, undernourished, light-starved poplar in our vacant lot were the only tree in the forest….And now my older daughter—the sensible one—wants to marry a Republican.

3. “Gwendolyn and Lily”

(Lily enters the brownstone.)

GWENDOLYN

A Republican?!

LILY

I knew you were going to be judgmental.

GWENDOLYN

I’m a judge. It’s my job to be judgmental.

LILY

Fairmont didn’t believe me, but I warned him. I said: “Fairmont, darling, you don’t have a clue what you’re up against. My Mama is the most unreasonable person on the planet.” And was I right? Of course, I was right.

GWENDOLYN

His name is Fairmont?!

LILY

What’s wrong with Fairmont?

GWENDOLYN

It sounds like a cemetery.

LILY

I think it’s a distinguished name.

GWENDOLYN

It sounds like a Republican cemetery….Or maybe one of those luxury automobiles from the twenties—something with running boards.

LILY

Dammit, Mama. Fairmont is a human being. A tall, handsome human being. I don’t see why you can’t give him a chance.

GWENDOLYN

Tall is no good. The blood doesn’t drain from the skull properly. He’s bound to burst an aneurysm.

LILY

You’re making that up.

GWENDOLYN

I never make anything up. I’m just frank. Some people are uncomfortable with the truth.

LILY

Like when you claimed Abraham Lincoln was a Democrat?

GWENDOLYN

He was a Democrat—in his heart. The rest was just for show…political expediency.

LILY

You really are one of a kind—an American original….They should put you in a museum…or have you bronzed. My sister is in love with a tree. She is in love with a tree who is not in love with her—that is not in love with her. My sister is stalking a tree, dammit. And you’re concerned about Fairmont’s politics.

GWENDOLYN

Don’t take this out on your sister. She has nothing to do with this. And please don’t call it stalking. That’s such a dirty word. I prefer unrequited love.

LILY

Laurel is in desperate need of psychological help.

GWENDOLYN

Now who’s being judgmental?

LILY

Yes, I’m being judgmental. Given the choice between loving trees or….or not-trees, I’m extremely judgmental. Human beings do not marry trees.

GWENDOLYN

In remote parts of India they do….and on certain Pacific atolls.

LILY

Look around you, Mama. This is New York City, not some Pacific atoll. The first thing they teach you in psychiatry residency is that sanity is culturally specific. If one of my patients tells me he’s into cutting out the hearts of strangers, I don’t conclude the man is mentally fit because the ancient Aztecs also practiced human sacrifice….It’s not healthy, the way you humor her.

GWENDOLYN

Better than making her cry the way you did! Telling her she had—what did you call it?

LILY

Arborophilia. An unhealthy fetish for trees.

GWENDOLYN

That’s right. Call it a sickness. And who are you to decide what’s healthy and what’s not healthy, Lily Gage? You’re no better than your father was. Always saying: This is unhealthy, that is unhealthy. As though being a doctor gave him special insights…..

LILY

If Laurel were schizophrenic, you wouldn’t negotiate with her voices. If she had multiple personalities, you wouldn’t buy them two sets of birthday presents….I wish I knew a way to put this that might get through to you…. It’s a tall tree. All the xylem and phloem or whatever probably can’t get to the top. It’s bound to have a tree aneurysm.

GWENDOLYN

Okay, have your fun….But trees are neutral, at worst. They don’t cause any harm…. Republicans are not neutral. Where on earth did you meet this Woodlawn anyway?

LILY

Fairmont!

GWENDOLYN

Woodlawn, Arlington, Shady Acres. Whatever. You haven’t been hanging out in banking houses, have you? Or evangelical churches, God forbid?

LILY

I met him on a street corner—opposite the garden shop….He was looking at real estate.

GWENDOLYN

That’s exactly what we need. Republicans on our block. There goes the neighborhood.

LILY

He’s not moving here, Mama. He was just looking at property for his boss. She inherited a couple of parcels in the area….

GWENDOLYN

A “couple of parcels”? Since when do you refer to land in terms of parcels? He’s corrupting you already….Soon you’ll be using the royal we….

LILY

Papa was a Republican. Lily and I are half Republican.

GWENDOLYN

You can’t be half Republican. That’s like being half contagious.

LILY

This is all about Papa, isn’t it?

GWENDOLYN

This is not about your father. This is about statistical evidence. Mixed political marriages don’t work—It’s a proven fact….

LILY

If I have to hear another of your proven facts….Remember when you insisted that Paul Simon, the folk singer, and Paul Simon, the Senator from Illinois, were both the same person? Is this that kind of proven fact?

GWENDOLYN

Any kind of Democrat will do. A union man—someone good with his hands….or maybe a college professor, some sort of intellectual….an illegal immigrant….a lesbian activist….I don’t care about gender, income, age….Is Ethel Kennedy still alive?....She could probably use some affection….But no Republicans. I’m afraid I’m going to have to put my foot down on this one.

LILY

I’m twenty-six years old, Mama. I’m a doctor. You can’t put your foot down.

GWENDOLYN

As long as I’m your mother, I’ll put my feet wherever I choose, thank you….If you wanted a Republican for a husband, you should have had a Republican for a mother.

4. “Lily and Fairmont”

(Gwendolyn retreats to the rear of the apartment and sits down. Lily steps forward and crosses to the pair of chairs that serve as Fairmont’s apartment. Fairmont enters.)

LILY

“If you want a Republican as a husband, you should have had a Republican for a mother.” I told you she’d react irrationally.

FAIRMONT

She’ll come around.

LILY

Laurel’s going to have Johnny Appleseed for a father-in-law, but that she can live with. She was crystal clear: She prefers trees to Republicans….My mother is not the sort of woman who comes around. My mother is the sort of woman who turns over in her grave—while she’s still alive.

FAIRMONT

We’re the last oppressed minority in this city. You can’t discriminate against black or Jews or homosexuals….You can’t even discriminate against cripples anymore—

LILY

—The disabled—

FAIRMONT

You can’t even call a cripple a cripple anymore—but you can say more or less anything you want about a Republican and nobody so much as bats an eye….For a judge, your mother certainly lacks perspective.

LILY

Can’t you stretch the truth? Tell her you’re a maverick? An independent?

FAIRMONT

I could tell her lots of things. I could tell her I’m a cedar from Lebanon. I could—But I won’t.

LILY

Maybe we could elope….

FAIRMONT

Republicans don’t elope….Anyway, we really do need the old coot’s blessing. Otherwise, you end up wasting half your life in court…..And once you have kids, it’s all over. You’re talking visitation orders, shared holidays, joint custody. Forget the Gray Panthers. Those Grandparents’ Rights people are the Gray Gestapo….

LILY

We could have a baby, you know….Now, I mean….

FAIRMONT

What would I do with a baby? I can’t even find my own car at the mall….

LILY

I’m telling you that nothing short of a grandchild—maybe a whole conclave of grandchildren—is going to change her mind. Even then, I don’t know. This is a woman who once sued the Coca-Cola Company in Federal Court over seventy-five cents she lost in a vending machine. First, she wrote them a letter demanding her money back. They offered to return the money and she sued them anyway—for the twenty-three cents postage she paid on the letter….

FAIRMONT

Trust me, baby. They didn’t call me “Smooth-Talking Fairmont” in business school for nothing. I’m going to be in your neck of the woods this weekend anyway….Dame Lucretia wants to survey her property for herself. While I’m there, I think I’ll just drop by your mother’s place and see if we can’t straighten things out. Nothing like turning on the personal charm. The old coot will see eye-to-eye with me in no time.

LILY

Please stop calling her an old coot. She is my mother.

FAIRMONT

The word coot will never cross my lips again.

LILY

If you love me, you’ll have to love her too.

FAIRMONT

Even if I do see an old C-O-O-T, I won’t call it a C-O-O-T. How about a slow-flying bird somewhat resembling a duck?

LILY

She says your name sounds like a cemetery.

FAIRMONT

Jesus H. Christ!....I was named after an automobile. The Hudson Fairmont. One of those beautiful stretch touring sedans from the Twenties with running boards.

LILY

Are you for real?

FAIRMONT

Of course not. I’m named after my father.

LILY

And your father’s not named after a car?

FAIRMONT

My father was named after a state….He was born on a boat in the middle of the Atlantic and my grandmother thought that naming babies after states was an American tradition….She’d read somewhere that Ginger Rogers’ real name was Virginia.

LILY

Excuse me?

FAIRMONT

My grandparents were German….Fairmont. The state next to New Hampshire.

LILY

Next time around, remind me to fall in love with a tree.

FAIRMONT

(Flirting, mock jealous.)

Have you been making eyes with the geraniums again?

LILY

Okay, try to talk to Mama—if you absolutely have to. But please be careful. She is a criminal court judge. She could have you arrested….And if she can have you arrested, she will have you arrested.

FAIRMONT

Keep in mind who you’re dealing with here. I work for Dame Lucretia Bankmore Vandervelt. I may get arrested, but I won’t stay arrested.

(Lily and Fairmont exit.)

5. “Laurel in Love”

(Laurel, to the audience.)

I’m in love….I’m eighteen and in love.  I didn’t plan it this way—it just happened. First, I tried dating boys. I didn’t mind, really. I just didn’t see what the big deal was about. So then a friend of mine said she’d had the same experience—and suggested dating girls. I didn’t mind that either, really, but that also didn’t seem like such a big deal. So I went back to boys—because it was all the same to me and there were more boys to choose from….And then I met my darling.

(Laurel makes a dramatic display of her affection for the poplar tree.)

So much for boys and girls….

6. “Laurel visits the Garden-Supply Store”

(Jimmy enters and stands in front of the garden-supply store, sweeping. He sings while he sweeps—anything slightly old-fashioned and upbeat, yet romantic. Laurel approaches.)

LAUREL

Excuse me…

JIMMY

(Looking up, suddenly smitten)

I….Uhm….Hi….

LAUREL

Are you the tree doctor?

JIMMY

Tree doctor. Shrub surgeon. Plant psychiatrist. The Florence Nightingale of horticulture—at your service.

LAUREL

Maybe you can help me then….What do you have in the way of aphrodisiacs?

JIMMY

Aphrodisiacs...?

(He seems to think this is a species of plant.)

I’m afraid we don’t carry those. Could I recommend a sturdy dieffenbachia? Or a split-leaf philodendron? They do well in both sun and shade.

LAUREL

I need an aphrodisiac…an elixir…a love potion.

JIMMY

Oh. A love potion.

LAUREL

To make someone fall in love with me.

JIMMY

I can’t imagine an attractive girl like you needs a love potion….

LAUREL

But I do. I do. I’ve fallen in love—and she hardly knows I’m alive.

JIMMY

(Looking disappointed)

Maybe you’re underestimating her feelings….

LAUREL

Oh, I wish! But she spends all of her time with foliage. Flowering plants. Epiphytes. Tender young saplings. She won’t give me the time of day.

JIMMY

How would you feel about a better offer?

LAUREL

I’m not sure I understand….

JIMMY

I was thinking….maybe…..you know….

LAUREL

Yes?

JIMMY

I thought maybe you might like to fall in love with me…..If that’s not too presumptuous a suggestion….

LAUREL

I’m flattered….but I can’t….

JIMMY

(Discouraged.)

I guess I’m not your type.

LAUREL

It’s not that at all….

JIMMY

You can’t blame a fellow for trying, can you? I thought you might like men and women.

LAUREL

I do like both men and women.

JIMMY

Romantically, I meant.

LAUREL

Romantically? Romantically, I like neither men nor women.

JIMMY

But you just said you’ve fallen in love with a woman.

LAUREL

In love with a woman! Is that what you thought?

JIMMY

That’s what you said. You just asked me for an aphrodisiac in order to make her fall in love with you.

LAUREL

Not a woman….I’m in love with her!

(Laurel points at the poplar tree.)

JIMMY

….That’s a tree…..

LAUREL

An Atlantic poplar. Populus atlanticus.

JIMMY

You’re in love with a tree?!

LAUREL

But to her—I’m less than firewood.

JIMMY

You won’t go out with me because you’re in love with…her.

LAUREL

Please don’t take it personally.

JIMMY

How can I not take it personally? You’re rejecting me for a tree.

LAUREL

“Rejecting” sounds so harsh. How about: “Not preferring.”

JIMMY

I don’t get it.

LAUREL

I don’t either. At least, not in a way that I can explain. One day last April—the final Friday before the final Saturday in April—

JIMMY

—Arbor Day—

LAUREL

Exactly. Arbor Day. I was sitting on the wooden bench under that poplar tree when the skies opened up. It rained and rained and rained—but I didn’t get wet. The poplar sheltered me with her leaves. I’ve never felt so safe, so at ease. And then I looked up into her shimmering branches and I was in love.

JIMMY

I’m losing out to a tree.

LAUREL

I was ecstatic for days on end. I’d never been in love before—and it was wonderful…. After that, no matter what happened to me—even when I had to have work done on my molars—it didn’t hurt, because I was in love. The dentist thought I was crazy to have seven root canals done without anesthesia, but I wasn’t crazy—I was numb with passion….I should have had my tonsils and my appendix taken out too—preemptively—but I didn’t think of that….When you’re in love, it’s often hard to think of practical things. All I could think of were ways to prove my love. I bought her a birdfeeder, so she’d have music early in the morning. I tied a pink ribbon around her trunk. I planted roses and violets all over the vacant lot….Only then I started to have my doubts. I loved her. But did she love me? And how could I be certain?

JIMMY

I imagine she’s not too communicative.

LAUREL

She could communicate with me if she wanted to. I’m just sure she could.  But she doesn’t care….

(Laurel begins to sob.)

JIMMY

Pull yourself together, miss. There are lots of other trees out there.

LAUREL

Trees to hang myself from.

JIMMY

It can’t be as bad as all that.

LAUREL

How do you know? Have you ever loved a tree before?

JIMMY

No, I haven’t. But you’ll figure something out. Maybe try a few of the tricks from one of those women’s magazines….or Better Homes and Gardens….

LAUREL

Are you sure you don’t have anything that can help me?

JIMMY

Not a thing, I’m afraid. I’ve got products to help plants grow. Nitrogen supplements, phosphorous supplements, vermiculite. I’ve got lots of products to help plants die. Herbicides, weed killers, defoliants. But to make plants fall in love? Even modern botany has its limits.

LAUREL

I knew it was hopeless. But thank you for trying—and for listening. I’m sorry I’m such a wreck….

JIMMY

Not a problem. Say, do you have plans for this evening?

LAUREL

I’ll be sitting in the shade.

JIMMY

How about after dark?

LAUREL

I’ll be sitting in the dark.

JIMMY

Do you want company? Maybe we could talk about plants or something….

LAUREL

Look, Mr.—

JIMMY

Mr. Duckfoot. It’s a Native American name…..But call me Jimmy.

LAUREL

Please, Mr. Duckfoot….Jimmy. You seem like a very nice guy, but you’re barking up the wrong girl.

JIMMY

You’re the boss, miss. Say, isn’t that tree a bit old for you?

LAUREL

Don’t let the lightning scars fool you. She has only fifty-two rings. That’s not even twenty in human years.

JIMMY

The perfect age.

LAUREL

Good bye, Jimmy. No hard feelings?

JIMMY

No hard feelings. Of course not.

(Laurel walks to the tree and sits down. Jimmy calls after her.)

Come back again. Any time.

(To the audience.)

It was bound to happen….I finally meet the girl of my dreams—and she’s in love with a tree. Go figure.

(Jimmy shrugs and continues sweeping; Laurel nestles against the tree and falls asleep, embracing it.)

7. “Lucretia Surveys Her Property”

(Lucretia and Fairmont enter the vacant lot.)

LUCRETIA

This is my lot, isn’t it?

FAIRMONT

Yes, Dame Lucretia.

LUCRETIA

And that’s my tree, isn’t it?

FAIRMONT

Yes, Dame Lucretia. They are all your trees.

LUCRETIA

And what’s that?

FAIRMONT

That’s a young woman, Dame Lucretia.

LUCRETIA

Does she belong to me?

FAIRMONT

No, Dame Lucretia….What I mean is: I’m sure you could afford her….But people aren’t allowed to own other people…. It’s a government regulation.

LUCRETIA

It’s Bolshevism, that’s what it is. People can’t own people! All throughout history, people have owned people. The ancient Greeks owned people. The Romans owned people. The Pharaohs and the Tsars and the Norman Conquerors all owned people. How can a society call itself free if it denies people the freedom to own each other? But, fine. If we live in an age of oppression, so be it…..And since I don’t own that young woman, Mr. Fythe, prey tell what is she doing on my property?

FAIRMONT

I believe she’s hugging a tree, Dame Lucretia.

LUCRETIA

This will not do….Remove her at once.

FAIRMONT

Begging your pardon, Dame Lucretia, but is that really necessary? I mean: She’s not bothering anyone.

LUCRETIA

Not bothering anyone? What! Are you turning Bolshevik on me too….First Reagan and now you…..

FAIRMONT

I only intended—

LUCRETIA

Don’t intend anything! You’re far too poor to intend anything, Mr. Fythe. Employers intend. Employees effectuate. Have I made myself clear?

FAIRMONT

Yes, Dame Lucretia.

LUCRETIA

Are you familiar with adverse possession laws, Mr. Fythe?

FAIRMONT

No, I fear I’m not, Dame Lucretia.

LUCRETIA

Well, I am. Adverse possession means that if someone else continually occupies your property unchallenged for a period of time—forty years in this state—they can stake a claim to it. That makes it their property, not yours. So you understand why the young woman must be removed.

FAIRMONT

I can’t imagine she’ll stay like that for forty years, Dame Lucretia.

LUCRETIA

Don’t be so sure, Mr. Fythe. There’s no telling what desperate measures a person may resort to in pursuit of financial gain. You know all those sappy songs about the crazy things young people do for love. You know which ones I mean: Those ballads about highwaymen who shoot themselves to warn their mistresses. Or is it the mistresses who do the shooting? Well, no matter. It’s stuff and nonsense, if you ask me. Nobody makes those sorts of sacrifices for love….But for money…for real estate…that’s a horse of a
different color….Now do you understand why I do the intending and you do the effectuating?

FAIRMONT

Yes, Dame Lucretia.

LUCRETIA

I read the Bolshevik philosophers, Mr. Fythe. Know thine enemy….Well, this Mr. Mao tse-Tung says a journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step….and that girl is stepping on my property…. You see a young girl sleeping, Mr. Fythe. I see the camel’s nose in the tent….Rip Van Winkle slept for twenty years—and she can’t be half his age. Why shouldn’t she sleep for forty years?

FAIRMONT

I admire your foresight, Dame Lucretia.

LUCRETIA

I do too….But I hate flattery….and obsequiousness. There’s nothing worse in the business world than a “yes-man.” Don’t you agree, Mr. Fythe?

FAIRMONT

Yes, Dame Lucretia. I mean: No, Dame Lucretia. I mean: Yes and No, Dame Lucretia.

LUCRETIA

The only trait I hate more than toadying is wishy-washiness.

FAIRMONT

I couldn’t agree more, Dame Lucretia. I’m with you on that one hundred and ten percent.

LUCRETIA

(Catching sight of the flower shop.)

What are those, Mr. Fythe?

FAIRMONT

I believe they’re flowers, Dame Lucretia. That looks like a garden shop.

LUCRETIA

Would you kindly inform that dopey-looking fellow that I’d like a word with him.

FAIRMONT

Before or after I remove the girl?

LUCRETIA

Must I tell you everything? It taxes the brain….Use your discretion, Mr. Fythe—and please make sure you use it wisely.

(Fairmont speaks to Jimmy, but we do not hear their conversation. Jimmy approaches Lucretia.)

JIMMY

What can I do for you, ma’am?

LUCRETIA

Are those your plants in that lot?

JIMMY

They sure are. We’ve got petunias, geraniums, impatiens….Impatiens are good companion plants—if you’re looking for a friend, but can’t handle a dog or a cat.

LUCRETIA

Kindly remove them at once.

JIMMY

Remove what?

LUCRETIA

Your plants. They’re trespassing on my property.

JIMMY

I don’t follow, ma’am.

LUCRETIA

Let me help you follow. This is your plant shop. Right?

JIMMY

Yes, ma’am.

LUCRETIA

And someone owns the land it’s built on.

JIMMY

I do. Free and clear.

LUCRETIA

Good for you.

JIMMY

Thank you, ma’am.

LUCRETIA

Well, I own this vacant lot. Free and clear. And your plants are trespassing upon it.

JIMMY

I thought the city owned the lot.

LUCRETIA

You thought wrong. Now if you’ll do me the small favor of carting off those pots….

JIMMY

But if you’re not using the land….

LUCRETIA

It’s a matter of principle, young man. Never underestimate the importance of principle.

JIMMY

I’ve been storing plants in this space for years.

LUCRECIA

More than forty years?

JIMMY

No. About twelve, maybe thirteen….

LUCRETIA

Then you’ve received something for nothing. I should have charged you rent….In any case, I do intend to make use of this land. I’m going to dig a quarry.

JIMMY

You can’t be serious, lady.

LUCRETIA

I make a point of never being anything other than serious, young man. This city is built upon bedrock. Bedrock is valuable.

JIMMY

Since when is bedrock valuable?

LUCRETIA

Since I’ve decided to start mining it….If you must know, I think people are tired of all this modern architecture with steel and glass and whatnot. Flimsy, that’s what it is. People are hunkering for something stronger, solid—a return to the Stone Age….That’s
what I plan on doing, young man. Leading our nation back to the Stone Age. No need to import steel from China when we have bedrock right here…. Besides, if I mine all of the bedrock out from underneath the city, I’m confident people will pay a pretty penny to buy it back.

JIMMY

But you can’t build a quarry in the middle of a residential neighborhood. There must be zoning requirements, bureaucratic rules….

LUCRETIA

Can’t never could do anything. I can build a quarry and I will build a quarry.

JIMMY

But this is the United States of America. I have rights.

LUCRETIA

And I have more rights. Take my advice, Mr.—

JIMMY

Mr. Duckfoot. It’s a Native American name.

LUCRETIA

Take my advice, young man. Ask yourself why I’m worth seven hundred billion dollars and you sell plants for a living.

JIMMY

I’m a plant surgeon.

LUCRETIA

You’re complacent, that’s what you are. Do you think I was born wealthy? I grew up just around the corner from here. My father wrote advertising copy for thimbles. Ma's
Old Fashioned Root Beer. Conkey's Yeast with Cod Liver Oil. Fry's Celebrated Ice Cream. Can you imagine any job more humiliating, more irrelevant, that writing slogans to be worn on women’s fingers? But my father’s problem was that he enjoyed it. The highlight of his adult life was coining the phrase: “Sew it up for Herbert Hoover.”

JIMMY

What’s wrong with liking what you do?

LUCRETIA

What’s wrong with liking what you do?! That’s the sort of defeatist attitude that gets you nowhere in life….With that approach, you’ll still be selling plants at my age.

JIMMY

If I’m lucky.

LUCRETIA

If you’re a fool. Do you know how I made my fortune, young man? Every year my father took us to the National Thimble Advertising Men’s Convention in Omaha, Nebraska. A fascinating place for a young girl, let me tell you. But I looked out the window of the train one afternoon and I saw a fleet of small aircraft. Do you know what those planes were doing, young man?

JIMMY

No, ma’am.

LUCRETIA

They were seeding clouds. That’s what they were doing. Making it rain.

JIMMY

I’ve heard of that.

LUCRETIA

I was only thirteen years old—but already I saw the untapped potential. If you can make it rain in one place, you can keep if from raining in another. The Bolsheviks in the Kremlin figured that out ages ago. That’s why it never rained on their parades….I made my fortune diverting weather, young man….Creating artificial droughts and selling water at a premium.
JIMMY

I wouldn’t be willing to make my living that way.

LUCRETIA

Of course, you wouldn’t. That’s why you’re doomed to sell geraniums and so forth. Which is entirely your prerogative—as long as you don’t store them on my land. Now if you’d like to challenge me on this, that’s your prerogative as well. But I warn you that I will not be contravened in this matter. Mr. Fythe, tell this young man what happened to the last nitwit who disobeyed my orders.

FAIRMONT

He drowned.

LUCRETIA

How did he drown, Mr. Fythe?

FAIRMONT

We seeded the clouds over his head so that it rained on him everywhere he went—and one day we overdid it and washed him out to sea.

JIMMY

That’s murder.

LUCRETIA

Murder is such a dirty word, Mr. Duckfoot. I prefer the term progress.

JIMMY

Some progress!

LUCRETIA

Do you hear anything, Mr. Fythe?

FAIRMONT

No, Dame Lucretia.

LUCRETIA

Well, I do. I believe I hear thunder approaching Mr. Duckworth’s petty little shop.

JIMMY

(Grudgingly.)

Okay, I’ll move my pots, lady. But this isn’t over yet.

LUCRETIA

The truth is you should be thanking me. A quarry will do wonders for your business. It will revitalize this entire blighted excuse for a neighborhood….And all for free. I do a great public service—and what can I charge the public for the service? Absolutely nothing.

(Lucretia, to Fairmont.)

Dispatch that young woman and meet me back at the office.

(Lucretia exits. Jimmy begins removing his plants.)

8. “Fairmont Pleads His Case”

(Fairmont looks at Laurel as though he is considering waking her, but he doesn’t. Instead, he crosses the vacant lot and enters the brownstone.)

FAIRMONT

Judge Gage?

GWENDOLYN

Either I already have one or I don’t want one.

FAIRMONT

I’m not selling anything, Judge Gage. I just wanted a moment of your time.

GWENDOLYN

Do I know you?

FAIRMONT

I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure. I’m Fairmont Fythe. I’m going to marry your daughter, Lily.

GWENDOLYN

Oh, the Republican. It is not a pleasure. And you are not going to marry my daughter. I’ve already put my foot down.

FAIRMONT

Can’t we discuss this like reasonable adults? Will you at least hear me out, Judge Gage?

GWENDOLYN

Don’t call me Judge Gage. It’s tacky—like calling me Doc or Coach….

FAIRMONT

(Tentatively)

Gwendolyn?

GWENDOLYN

Your Honor.

FAIRMONT

Yes, of course….Your Honor….Will you please give me a few minutes of your time? If I were a defendant in your courtroom, you’d do that much for me.

GWENDOLYN

If you were a defendant in my courtroom, you wouldn’t be a Republican. Now state your case—and make it quick. I’ve heard it all before.

FAIRMONT

It’s so simple, really. I’m in love with your daughter. Your daughter is in love with me…. Love isn’t about categories, Your Honor. Rich people marry poor people. Old people marry young people. Whites marry Blacks, Jews marry Christians, tall people marry short people, dog lovers marry cat lovers, night owls marry early risers….So why shouldn’t a Democrat marry a Republican?

GWENDOLYN

Spare me the schmaltz….Love is about categories. Certain essential categories. We don’t let single people get married to married people. We don’t let adults get married to young children. We don’t even let living people marry dead people….I’m confident that someday there’ll be a law preventing Democrats from marrying Republicans—that we’ll look back on inter-party dating with horror, the way we now look back on witch burning or crucifixion—but in the meantime, I can’t stand by and do nothing when the stakes are so high—when my daughter’s future happiness is at stake. People who marry across political lines do so at their own peril. Quite frankly, it’s unnatural.

FAIRMONT

You would never dare say that about race…or age…or height….

GWENDOLYN

No, I wouldn’t. Because people don’t choose to be Black or old or tall. But people do choose their political affiliations. It is not who you were born to which I object, Woodlawn, it’s who you’ve chosen to become.

FAIRMONT

We’re not seeking your permission to get married—that’s going to happen one way or another. But we’d like your blessing.

GWENDOLYN

And I’d like it to rain candy bars….Has Lily told you what my greatest virtue is?

FAIRMONT

You’re principled?

GWENDOLYN

I’m pig-headed, Woodlawn. It’s a much underappreciated gift.

FAIRMONT

I’m sure it is.

GWENDOLYN

That’s what makes a person great. Take Susan B. Anthony. Martin Luther King. Mahatma Gandhi. Stubborn as mules, all of them.

FAIRMONT

I never thought of it that way.

GWENDOLYN

I’m not closed-minded, you must understand. I’m extraordinarily open-minded. I recognize that in theory—in the abstract—all philosophical and moral and political ideas have equal value. Liberals have a point and Conservatives have a point. Capitalists have a point and Socialists have a point. Jews, Christians, Muslim, Hindus, Atheists and followers of the Reverend Moon all have a point. I’ve been around the block enough times to realize that perfectly decent, straight-thinking human beings believe the world is round, and perfectly decent, straight-thinking human beings believe the word is flat. Am I making myself clear, Fairmont? As a philosophical matter, many systems of government and social organization have unique advantages—and, in the abstract, I can understand why we might all be better off living in a people’s commune or under a benevolent dictator. But life isn’t about theory, you must understand. Life is about practice. You decide to believe in something and then you keep believing in it until the cows come home. Otherwise, you unravel. My ex-husband was a surgeon and his creed was, “Sometimes right but always certain.” It works well for judges too.

FAIRMONT

That’s the most backwards way of thinking about things I’ve ever heard.

GWENDOLYN

You’re entitled to your opinion.

FAIRMONT

I’m here telling you that I’m in love with your daughter and all you can say is, “Sometimes right but always certain.” For heaven’s sake, don’t you have any faith in Lily’s judgment? Can’t you give us the benefit of the doubt?

GWENDOLYN

I’ve tried to give you the benefit of the doubt. I’ve tried to convince myself that some people are Republican by accident…by a cruel trick of fate….Their fathers were Republicans, their grandfathers were Republicans. It’s passed down from generation to generation like cretinism or precocious dementia. That might excuse a small child. Or a person of particularly low intellect. But, by all appearances, you’re a lucid, fully-functioning adult. Being born a Republican is just not an excuse…..

FAIRMONT

I wasn’t born a Republican.

GWENDOLYN

You weren’t?

FAIRMONT

No, I wasn’t. My parents were working-class Democrats. My father did leather-cutting in a shoe factory near Burlington, Vermont. He went door-to-door for Estes Kefauver in 1956; he got lots of doors slammed on him….Also lots of blisters….My mother was a precinct leader for Walter Mondale. You’d have liked my parents, I suspect. The salt of the earth.

GWENDOLYN

So what went wrong?

FAIRMONT

You mean: What made me switch parties?

GWENDOLYN

You’re not a Bible-thumper, are you? Because if you’re one of those born-agains, you can step out that door this very instant. I already made an exception for Jimmy Carter,
but enough is enough. As someone who gave birth to two daughters, I say you get to be born once—and that’s that.

FAIRMONT

I’m not religious, Your Honor.

GWENDOLYN

I should hope not.

FAIRMONT

Do you know what made me a Republican? I’ll tell you what. Jury duty.

GWENDOLYN

Jury duty?

FAIRMONT

There’s nothing to reduce your opinion of your fellow human beings like encountering a jury of your so-called peers….It was horrifically demoralizing. One of the standard questions they ask prospective jurors is: Name somebody you admire.

GWENDOLYN

What’s wrong with that question? I ask it all the time during jury selection.

FAIRMONT

It’s not the question that’s the problem. It was how people answered.

GWENDOLYN

I make a point of never listening to the answers.

FAIRMONT

Of the twenty people in my pool, twelve couldn’t think of one person they admired. Not a political or religious leader. Or a member of their own their own families. No one. And that doesn’t include the man who asked if he could name his dog.

GWENDOLYN

At least seven of the people had something to say. That’s a more than a third of your sample.

FAIRMONT

The woman in front of me said Eleanor Roosevelt.

GWENDOLYN

Nothing wrong with Eleanor Roosevelt.

FAIRMONT

The woman next to her said: “I can’t think of anyone. Can I also say Eleanor Roosevelt?”

GWENDOLYN

At least she was receptive to new ideas.

FAIRMONT

They dismissed the first woman. They took the second woman on the jury.

GWENDOLYN

All right. For the sake of argument, let’s say the jury system is a tad deficient. What on earth does this have to do with your defecting to the enemy?

FAIRMONT

I’d just returned from the Peace Corps at the time—

GWENDOLYN

—You were in the Peace Corps?

FAIRMONT

Remember, I was a Democrat back then. I’d been working in South Fredonia, at the mouth of the Volta, training the local villagers in basic anthropology. The theory was that if you taught the Fredonians to observe themselves, you wouldn’t need to send in outsiders to observe them.

GWENDOLYN

Did it work?

FAIRMONT

We don’t know. They cancelled the project before we taught the villagers how to report the data….Budget cuts.

GWENDOLYN

You mean the Republicans cancelled the project. That’s what Republicans do. They cancel things.

FAIRMONT

In any case, I was waiting in the jury room—it’s sort of like waiting at an airport terminal, only the planes never come—when I looked around me at all of those ignorant, lazy, self-absorbed, pot-bellied, cologne-soaked, nose-picking, crotch-scratching buffoons…. and I suddenly realized I didn’t like these people. Not one bit. I cannot describe to you how liberating an insight that was. All my life, I’d been saddled with this desire to help my fellow human beings. But if my fellow human beings were a pack of degenerate half-wits, why bother? From that moment forward, I decided I was only going to look out for Number One…. So I became a Republican—on the spot. When the judge asked me who I most admired, I said: “Myself.”

GWENDOLYN

So you’re not really a Republican. You’re just selfish.

FAIRMONT

Call it what you like, Your Honor. I ask what my country can do for me, not what I can do for my country….But when I say “me,” I mean me and Lily….I wouldn’t want you to come away with the impression that I’m not a team player.

GWENDOLYN

I’m sure you’re a team player, Woodlawn. But you’re on the wrong team….Now if you’ll excuse me—

FAIRMONT

Very well, Judge Gage. Have it your way….I tried to be reasonable....tried to show you some charm….but they didn’t call me “Don’t-Take-No-For-An-Answer Fairmont” in business school for nothing.

GWENDOLYN

Well, my answer is still NO. Take it or leave it.

FAIRMONT

One more thing, Judge Gage.

GWENDOLYN

Yes?

FAIRMONT

Is that your watering can under the window?

GWENDOLYN

It’s my daughter’s. Why?

FAIRMONT

You’ll have to remove it.

GWENDOLYN

I’ll do no such thing.

FAIRMONT

And if that’s your daughter hugging that tree, you’ll have to remove her too. Dame Lucretia wants her parcel cleared at once.

GWENDOLYN

Her parcel? Nobody owns that lot.

FAIRMONT

Actually, my employer owns that lot and she intends to dig a quarry on it.

GWENDOLYN

You intend to dig a quarry on the vacant lot?

FAIRMONT

I don’t intend. I just effectuate. Prepare yourself for a great deal of blasting.

GWENDOLYN

But what about the wisteria? The poplar tree?

FAIRMONT

Technically, it’s all Dame Lucretia’s. But I bet if you made off with some firewood, nobody would raise any questions.

GWENDOLYN

My daughter is in love with that tree, young man!

FAIRMONT

That can’t be helped….There are plenty of trees in the forest.

GWENDOLYN

If you harm that tree, you’ll break my baby’s heart….I don’t see how can you be so cavalier about this.

FAIRMONT

I’m a Republican. I look after what’s mine…. Now if you were my mother-in-law, of course, things might be different. Then you’d be mine. Lily’s sister would be mine. Under those extenuating circumstances, I might be able to persuade Dame Lucretia to dig elsewhere…. A blessing, Your Honor. All we need is a blessing.

GWENDOLYN

Good afternoon, Woodlawn.

FAIRMONT

Here’s a philosophical question for you to mull over. If a tree falls on a blasting site, let’s say near a quarry, and nobody can hear the tree fall because the blasting is so loud that it leaves everyone within hearing distance permanently deaf, and shatters all of the glass in the neighboring buildings, creating a thunder of cracking mirrors and window panes, augmented by the peeling of church bells and the groaning of small children trapped beneath falling appliances, did the original tree actually make a sound?….Think it over….

(Fairmont exits.)

9. “Laurel in Love”

(Laurel, to the poplar tree.)

LAUREL

Hi, darling. I brought you some lukewarm water. And a sack of fertilizer….A special blend specifically for poplars and cottonwoods…. Don’t thank me. I don’t care….I’ve decided I’m going to love you anyway. Whether you want me to or not. You can’t stop me. It’s all a matter of willpower and perseverance. I want to be with you more than you don’t want to be with me. In the long run, I’ll wear you down….But you don’t know how I’m suffering. I don’t have anyone I can talk to….People like to pretend they care about trees. They give money to the Sierra Club. They try to prevent forest fires. But when you really make a commitment to someone from another species—another kingdom—people treat you like some kind of nutcase…..The world isn’t setup for people to love trees. It’s designed for human beings to love other human beings….Everyone is so species-centric. At least here in New York…. Maybe we could move to India….To one of those remote villages where young maidens marry saplings….That’s it. Your roots aren’t too deep, are they? We could find a way to have you transplanted…..

10. “Lily and Laurel”

(Lily enters the vacant lot and approaches Laurel.)

LILY

Is there room for two under that tree?

LAUREL

Aren’t you afraid you’ll come down with arborophilia?

LILY

Please let me have a seat. Just for a minute or two.

LAUREL

It’s a free country.

LILY

Can’t we be friends again?

LAUREL

I’m not the one who started all this. I’m not the one who accused you of throwing your life away….I’m not the one who told Mama that the only two paths for me to choose from were college or the loony bin.

LILY

(Lily seats herself beside Laurel.)

Look, I’m sorry I said what I did. I was just concerned about you….You seemed so unhappy.

LAUREL

I’m feeling much better now.

LILY

You are?

LAUREL

I realized how ridiculous I was being. After all, I’m not the first girl ever to suffer from unrequited love….

LILY

I’m glad you’re looking at things more clearly.

LAUREL

It’s all about strategy. Now I understand that I’ll have to wait her out….That I have a whole lifetime ahead of me to win her over….

LILY

Are you saying that you’re planning to stay out here indefinitely?

LAUREL

I was too over-anxious before. Desperation isn’t attractive.

LILY

You mean to say that nobody’s told you?

LAUREL

Told me what?

LILY

I don’t know how to say this….I’m afraid you’ll hold it against me….

LAUREL

What? Tell me!

LILY

They’re digging a quarry here. Starting next week. They’re going to chop down all the trees on the lot.

LAUREL

Oh my God! We’ve got to stop them….You have to help me. We’ll chain ourselves in the branches—like those activists in California.

LILY

Try to think about this sensibly, honey. If she doesn’t love you, she doesn’t love you…. What’s the use of being fixated on a doomed tree anyway?

LAUREL

But I love her!

LILY

In the long run, you’ll be thankful you didn’t lash yourself to a tree that ended up a mast or a ream of paper.

LAUREL

If anybody so much as plucks a leaf from her branches, I’ll….I’ll…

LILY

Dame Lucretia owns the land, honey. She was here first. The law is on her side.

LAUREL

If I were in love with a human being, you wouldn’t be so cavalier about my feelings….

LILY

But you hardly know this tree, honey. Would you consider speaking to someone—a therapist who specializes in this sort of thing?

LAUREL

What for?

LILY

Maybe an expert would have insights….

LAUREL

So you still haven’t given up on sending me to a shrink. Why do you have to pathologize everything? Just because I’m heartbroken doesn’t mean I’m crazy.

LILY

Of course not, honey. It doesn’t have to be a psychiatrist….Maybe someone into alternative medicine. A Chinese herbalist or Native American healer. You know: some sort of quack.

LAUREL

Nobody sent Apollo to therapy for loving a laurel tree.

LILY

That was ancient Greece, honey. They were all a bit loopy.

LAUREL

You really have an answer for everything, don’t you?

LILY

More or less. That’s what medical school is for.

LAUREL

Well, think up an answer for this: How can I save the poplar tree?

LILY

You can’t save that particular tree, honey. But if trees are so important to you, the best thing to do is to get yourself a good education and put yourself in a position where you can save other trees in the future. Have you considered forestry school?

LAUREL

(Sobbing.)

It’s so unfair….You always get everything and I get nothing….

LILY

Please, honey. I love you. You’re my sister.

LAUREL

Deep down, you’ve always wanted this….Do you remember when we were little kids and you showed me how to have a tea party with turpentine?

LILY

That was so long ago…

LAUREL

And when you lured me down to Papa’s workroom and put my head in the vice….

LILY

We were joking around….

LAUREL

And when we were playing the Mafia game and you tied my legs to those cinderblocks and tried to push my off Grandpa’s boat.

LILY

I just wanted the game to be more authentic, honey. You didn’t get hurt.

LAUREL

Only because I was too heavy to lift over the gunwales….

LILY

You’re overreacting. You’re starting to sound as paranoid as Mama.

LAUREL

You don’t love me. You hate me. And I hate you too…. You’ve always wanted to ruin my life….And now you’re going to destroy the only thing in the world that matters to me….

(Laurel runs into the brownstone, sobbing, and slams the door.)

LILY

Please, Honey. Come back. I have nothing to do with this….

(She knocks futilely on the door.)

11. “Gwendolyn and Lucretia”

(Fairmont enters Lucretia’s office. Gwendolyn opens the door of the brownstone, passes Lily, and approaches Lucretia's office. At the same time, Lily retreats into the brownstone. Lily and Laurel sit on opposite sides of the parlor, not speaking, until the light fades out on them.)

FAIRMONT

I didn’t expect to find you here, Judge Gage.

GWENDOLYN

I’ve come to have a word with your employer.

FAIRMONT

Dame Lucretia doesn’t hold office hours….If you have a message for her, I’ll be certain to see that she gets it.

GWENDOLYN

“Dame Lucretia doesn’t hold office hours.” Who the hell does she think she is? The Wizard of Oz? You tell the old coot that she can either have a word with me right now or she can have a word with my attorneys in the morning.

FAIRMONT

I don’t intend to let you speak about my employer in that manner.

GWENDOLYN

You don’t intend, remember. You just effectuate. Like a good war criminal…. Now kindly step out of my way.

FAIRMONT

You’re trespassing. This is a private office….

GWENDOLYN

Can you prove that? Do you have the deed?

FAIRMONT

The deed is in a vault at our headquarters.

GWENDOLYN

If you can’t produce a deed, how do I know this place is yours? But I tell you what….I’ll give you a chance to go look for it. At your headquarters. And while you’re looking, I’ll have a brief chat with your employer. Then, if you come back with the deed, I’ll be more than glad to depart….

FAIRMONT

That’s outrageous. Do you know how many properties we own? Not to mention corporations, limited partnerships, patents, trademarks, timber rights, mining rights, light and air rights, easements, negotiable securities, and debts. That includes good debts, bad debts, public debts, private debts, and debts subject to limitation. We own enough debt to foreclose on every major government and financial institution in the world simultaneously. Do you really expect me to sort through all of those documents for one piece of paper? It could take months to find that deed.

GWENDOLYN

I have months if you have months.

LUCRETIA

(Lucretia enters and pushes Fairmont aside.)

It’s all right, Mr. Fythe. I’ll speak with her….

(To Gwendolyn.)

Who are you and why are you here?

GWENDOLYN

My name is Gwendolyn Gage, Judge Gwendolyn Gage, and I’m here to discuss your plans to build a quarry on Maple Avenue.

LUCRETIA

I’m not looking for any investment partners, if that’s what you’re after. I prefer to run a one-woman show.

GWENDOLYN

And I’d prefer that you ran your one-woman show someplace else.

LUCRETIA

You’re not one of those so-called environmental persons, are you?

GWENDOLYN

I want to talk with you about the trees growing on the vacant lot.

LUCRETIA

Don’t you worry about them. They’ll get their due.

GWENDOLYN

It’s a particular poplar tree that I’m concerned about, a tree that means an awful lot to our family…our community….If you knew how many hours I spent under that tree as a girl. Nothing romantic, you understand—just innocent fun…. There used to be a swing attached
to one of the branches….and I would swing, swing, swing….I used to dream I could swing my way up to the clouds….Instead, I lost my grip and swung myself clear across the avenue into Mrs. Fernwood’s hydrangeas….Old Mrs. Fernwood gave me such a talking to—but then Judge Fernwood, her husband, tucked a chocolate bar into my pocket when she wasn’t looking. That’s when I decided I wanted to be a judge.

LUCRETIA

I have no patience for sentimentality. You act as though this land has always been a vacant lot.

GWENDOLYN

It has been a vacant lot since I was born—and that’s more than fifty years ago.

LUCRETIA

Well when I was growing up, it was a thimble factory.

GWENDOLYN

You grew up in our neighborhood?

LUCRETIA

Just around the corner. And one day when I was fourteen, my father won an achievement award from his company—the Greater Amalgamated Thimble and Twine Corporation—and they invited him on a tour of the factory….What you call your vacant lot used to be the site of the nation’s leading manufacturer of sewing paraphernalia.

GWENDOLYN

That explains all those pins and needles we used to find when we were kids.

LUCRETIA

I say it used to be the site of the nation’s leading manufacturer of sewing paraphernalia. Because one afternoon someone lit a cigar during a gas leak—and blew the entire building to smithereens.

GWENDOLYN

Oh my lord!

LUCRETIA

That happened to be the day of my father’s tour.

GWENDOLYN

I’m sorry.

LUCRETIA

Don’t be sorry. It wasn’t your fault. It was the fault of the Greater Amalgamated Thimble and Twine Corporation…The other families all reached a financial settlement with the company. I insisted that my mother sue the Greater Amalgamated Thimble and Twine Corporation for their very last strand of thread….We won everything. Even the crater where the building once stood.

GWENDOLYN

I had no idea.

LUCRETIA

It’s a memorial tree. If you look closely, there’s a plaque at the base. The plaque reads: “Just sew you’ll remember.” Sew…S-E-W.

GWENDOLYN

And now you want to tear it down?

LUCRETIA

I let the tree stand during my mother’s lifetime. To her, it was important. But she died last month at the age of one hundred six. And now I ask myself: What do I need with a poplar tree?

GWENDOLYN

But you can’t do this. I know this may sound a bit strange, but my daughter is in love with that tree, Mrs. Vandervelt.

LUCRETIA

Symbolically?

GWENDOLYN

No, actually. She has real romantic feelings for the tree….She feels about the tree the way you feel about money….

LUCRETIA

(Genuinely moved for a moment.)

The way I feel about money….That’s rough….But no matter. Progress and misery are preferable to happiness and stagnation.

GWENDOLYN

Please be reasonable, Mrs. Vandervelt. You can’t just show up like this after all these years and start chopping down trees….

LUCRETIA

Oh, but I can, Mrs. Gage. First come, first serve. That’s the law of real property. You’re a judge—you’re supposed to know these things.

GWENDOLYN

Maybe we could raise funds….Buy the land off you….

LUCRETIA

It’s not for sale.

GWENDOLYN

You’re going to break my daughter’s heart, Mrs. Vandervelt. Have you no compassion? You understand what it’s like to lose someone you love at a young age….

LUCRETIA

I have a substantial reserve of compassion, Mrs. Gage. That’s because I make a point of never drawing from it….Which reminds me, I believe I saw your daughter the other morning. Hugging my tree.

GWENDOLYN

That’s possible. She does that a lot.

LUCRETIA

Well, I expect you to remove her at once. I can’t have children gallivanting about on my property….She’s liable to fall into the quarry….Or get blown to kingdom come. My rule is blast first, look later. It serves me well.

GWENDOLYN

I’ll talk to Laurel this evening.

LUCRETIA

You’ll talk to her this afternoon. If she’s still there this evening, I might have to bring on a drought.

(Lucretia exits, followed by Fairmont. Gwendolyn return to the brownstone. )

12. “Jimmy”

(Jimmy, to the audience.)

Hate is out of control these days….When I was a kid, you knew what you hated…. homework, bullies, cooked spinach….and adults knew what they hated too….taxes, potholes, foreigners….Different people often hated different things….I had a great uncle who hated children with a passion….He used to give me a wooden nickel for my birthday and warn me not to spend it all at once….He’d laugh when he said that….But at least he was consistent….There’s something reassuring about knowing what you hate…. Much better than waking up one morning and realizing that you despise something or someone you thought you loved. Take plants, for instance. All my life, I’ve been happy tending my flowers and vines…growing a few vegetables out back….Who needs women, I always thought, when you’ve got bromeliads….But then I fell in love with a girl who’s in love with a tree, and now the very thought of foliage makes me sick to my stomach….It’s amazing how hatred can overtake you so suddenly like that! The strangest part is that I spend very little time thinking about how much I love Laurel and most of my energy focused on how much I hate that damn poplar.

13. “Jimmy and Laurel”

(Jimmy approaches the poplar tree, fist raised.)

You think you’re really something, don’t you? Well, I didn’t go to plant college to get shown up by a damn poplar….One of these days you’re going to come down with root rot or bark cankers or cottonwood blight, and we’ll see who’s so green and leafy then….Sure, give me the silent treatment….You’re lucky I’m a gentleman, dammit, or I’d sick a jar of gypsy moths on you…..

(Laurel comes charging out of the brownstone.)

LAUREL

Hey! What are you doing?!

JIMMY

(Surprised.)

I was just talking to your friend.

LAUREL

It sounded like you were shouting.

JIMMY

Oh, that....I was administering sound therapy. It’s the newest technique in plant care. Do you see those yellow leaves on the upper branches?

LAUREL

I don’t see anything….Is my darling sick?

JIMMY

I was afraid it might be a case of Dutch elm disease….But I think I managed to shout it down.

LAUREL

I thought Dutch elm disease affected elms.

JIMMY

Can’t hurt to be too careful.

LAUREL

I guess not.

JIMMY

Are you going to hang out here under the tree today?

LAUREL

(Shouting)

Today—and every day for the rest of my life.

(To Jimmy)

Should I keep up the shouting?

JIMMY

Oh, no. You don’t want to overdo it. Say, would you like some company?

LAUREL

(Looking at the tree.)

I already have some company.

JIMMY

Three’s a crowd, I guess….

LAUREL

It’s not that—It’s just I want as much time with my darling as possible….Before Lily tries to destroy her….

JIMMY

Lily?

LAUREL

You’re such a kind man, Mr. Duckfoot. I imagine you’ve never hated anyone.

JIMMY

I’ve never hated another human being.

LAUREL

And I suppose nobody has ever hated you either….

JIMMY

I had an uncle once who thought that children should be melted down for energy…. He actually patented a recipe for a baby-fueled automobile before they had him committed….

LAUREL

Then you know what it’s like….My own sister hates me….

(Laurel bursts into tears; Jimmy comforts her.)

JIMMY

It’s okay. I’m sure it’s not as bad as all that.

LAUREL

But it is that bad. She’s trying to ruin my life…..

14. “Fairmont and Lily”

(Fairmont and Lily enter Fairmont’s apartment.)

LILY

She blames me! She thinks I’m trying to ruin her life.

FAIRMONT

But that’s absurd. Dame Lucretia is trying to ruin her life.

LILY

She’s only a girl. It takes a lot of living to figure out who your enemies are.

FAIRMONT

Sometimes it takes a lot of dying too. Take Julius Caesar, for example.

LILY

Why do you have to do that?

FAIRMONT

Do what?

LILY

You know what.

FAIRMONT

You mean: Make witty side comments when you’re discussing something serious.

LILY

Yes, that.

FAIRMONT

It’s a man thing.

LILY

So is castration.

FAIRMONT

Whoa! It’s not my fault that your sister’s lost her marbles.

LILY

Whose fault is it then? You go tell Dame Lucretia where she can stick her quarry.

FAIRMONT

I don’t think Dame Lucretia would appreciate that.

LILY

You’ve got to get her to change her mind.

FAIRMONT

I don’t have that sort of influence—

LILY

But you told Mama

FAIRMONT

I was bluffing.

LILY

You’ve got to try….

FAIRMONT

You don’t know what you’re asking.

LILY

I know exactly what I’m asking. I’m asking you to stand up for yourself. I’m sick and tired of hearing: “Dame Lucretia this” and “Dame Lucretia that.” Why don’t you favor her with some of you witty side comments?

FAIRMONT

She’s liable to churn up a hurricane against me.

LILY

I’ll buy you an umbrella….

FAIRMONT

What am I supposed to say? That we should forgo a trillion dollar business venture because a school girl is suffering from delusions.

LILY

That would be a good start.

FAIRMONT
Dame Lucretia made me what I am, Lily. She transformed me from an unwanted juror into a man of importance. I know she can be difficult at times, but she’s a woman of great personal loyalty—at least to those who are loyal to her.

LILY

You’re more delusional than Laurel is. Do you really think that old windbag would blink twice before firing you? Or shed a tear if you got hit by a bus? Employees are employees are employees. All interchangeable. All expendable. I see it every day in the psychiatric wards—poor sops who can’t believe their services are no longer needed. In the old days, companies used strong arms tactics like union-busting to keep their workers in line. Now they use loyalty. It’s all the same—just more subtle. False loyalty is our great national quicksand.

FAIRMONT

Okay, okay….I’ll try….

LILY

(Hugging Fairmont, as though he were going off to war.)

Be brave, honey. Remember, rich people are just like poor people—only better.

15. “Dame Lucretia Claims Her Property”

(Lucretia enters. Lucretia takes Fairmont by the arms and steers him toward the vacant lot.)

FAIRMONT

Begging your pardon, Dame Lucretia. I don’t understand what the urgency is.

LUCRETIA

Of course, you don’t….Ever since I saw that girl on my lot, I haven’t been able to get a wink of sleep….I keep thinking I could die and it could take forty years to advance my estate through probate….

FAIRMONT

Are you sure this is a good place for a quarry, Dame Lucretia? All of that blasting might lead to litigation.

LUCRETIA

No harm in a little bit of litigation now and again. It’s good for the blood.

FAIRMONT

I was just thinking—

LUCRETIA

Well, please don’t….

(To Jimmy)

You! How would you like a job?

JIMMY

I already have a job.

LUCRETIA

A better job. Working for me.

JIMMY

Maybe. What kind of work?

LUCRETIA

Do you possess an axe?

JIMMY

Right here in the shop.

(Jimmy brandishes the axe.)

LUCRETIA

That’s good. Indeed. Ready for your first assignment?

JIMMY

Depends what it is.

LUCRETIA

I need you to fell that tree over there.

JIMMY

The poplar?

LUCRETIA

If you say so.

JIMMY

But that’s Laurel’s tree.

LUCRETIA

That is where you are mistaken. That is my tree. And I’m willing to pay a considerable sum to have it removed.

JIMMY

How considerable a sum?

LUCRETIA

Let’s just say you’ll never have to sell another geranium again.
JIMMY

And if I refuse?

LUCRETIA

It will be removed anyway.

(Jimmy approaches the tree with the axe.)

LAUREL

Jimmy! What are you doing?

JIMMY

It is her tree, Laurel.

LAUREL

According to whom? Because she has some old piece of paper tucked away in a vault?

LUCRETIA

Yes, to be precise. That’s exactly why it’s mine.

(Lily and Gwendolyn enter the lot from the brownstone.)

GWENDOLYN

I’m afraid the law is on her side, darling….

LAUREL

That’s like saying the law was on the side of the slaveholders….Someday we’ll look back in horror at what has been done to trees in the name of progress….

LUCRETIA

Progress is also on my side…. Now if you’ll please step away….

LAUREL

Jimmy! If you really do love me, Jimmy, please don’t do this….

JIMMY

(Jimmy is torn. Eventually, he lowers the axe.)

I can’t do it, lady. I’m sorry. Find yourself another lumberjack.

LUCRETIA

Very well. No sun for you this summer…. How are you with an axe, Mr. Fythe?

FAIRMONT

I’m afraid I can’t do it either, Dame Lucretia, as much as I’d like to. Miss Gage is going to be my future sister-in-law. That would be a conflict of interest.

LUCRETIA

Surrounded by traitors on all sides! Very well, give me the axe….I’ll chop the ugly little tree down myself.

JIMMY

Hey! There’s no need for name-calling.

GWENDOLYN

Wait a second. Let’s see the deed. Before you go chopping down any trees.

FAIRMONT

Again! You and your deeds!

LUCRETIA

This land has been in my family for sixty-one years. Sue me and I’ll produce the deed.

LAUREL

This is insane. Why should the land be hers just because she was here first? We’re the ones who’ve been using the land…who’ve planted the flowers….who’ve picked up the litter….Aren’t we entitled to something?

JIMMY

Hold on a second. Who says she was here first? Technically speaking, I was here first. Or at least my ancestors were.

GWENDOLYN

Your ancestors owned this land?

JIMMY

They were Manhattan Indians. Most of them, that is. A few were Brooklyn Indians too. I guess that makes me entitled to something.

FAIRMONT

He has a point, Dame Lucretia.

GWENDOLYN

(To Lucretia)

Can you trace your title back to a treaty with the local Native Americans?

LUCRETIA

Stand back, I tell you.

LAUREL

That means Jimmy owns the land. And you won’t build a quarry on it, will you?

JIMMY

What do I want with a quarry?

LAUREL

You’re my hero. I’m not in love with you, Jimmy. But you’re my hero. LUCRETIA
I don’t see what’s so heroic about being descended from Indians. Whether or not they were here first.

FAIRMONT

If you give him back his land, maybe we could build a casino….They sometimes have trees in casinos, don’t they?

LUCRETIA

We’ll give them back their land when they give us back our smallpox.

LAUREL

Sorry, Mrs. Vandervelt. First come, first serve—and Jimmy came first.

POPLAR TREE

In any case, that’s not strictly accurate.

JIMMY

What’s not accurate?

POPLAR TREE

About your ancestors being here first. That’s a highly human-centric approach that distorts the pre-historical record in order to perpetuate the subjugation of the plant kingdom.

LAUREL

You tell them, baby!

POPLAR TREE

The first poplars and cottonwoods probably appeared in New York two hundred to three hundred thousand years ago.

LUCRETIA

Can you prove that?

POPLAR TREE

One of the devices used by the dominant species to maintain its authority is an irrational reliance on written records. In the plant kingdom, physical possession is accorded far more weight. To put it bluntly, Quarry Lady, my roots are deeper than yours.

LUCRETIA

I’ve had enough of this. I’m not negotiating with trees.
You’ll hear from my attorneys—all of you!

(Lucretia storms off stage.)

POPLAR TREE

Do you suppose it was something I said?

(Lights out.)

END OF ACT ONE

ACT TWO

16. “Fairmont receives a summons”

(The lights rise on the two chairs that serve as Fairmont’s apartment. Fairmont is perusing a stack of letters. Lily is reading a magazine, perhaps Better Homes and Gardens.)

FAIRMONT

How do you like this: A love letter. “I’ve loved you all of my life…even though I just met you yesterday.”

LILY

You shouldn’t read the neighbor’s mail.

FAIRMONT

I like to stay informed.

LILY

You’re liable to end up in jail.

FAIRMONT

That’s what’s wrong with the penal system. It punishes self-improvement. Listen to this bit: “When I was a young child, all of my friends dreamed of becoming firemen or ballerinas or astronauts. I dreamed of passing eternity in your arms.”

LILY

Must you read that?

FAIRMONT

Too sappy for you?

LILY

More like the ramblings of a borderline personality.

FAIRMONT

Do you mean that when you were a child, you never dreamt of passing eternity in my arms?

LILY

Eternity is an awfully long time.

FAIRMONT

A lifetime, then.

LILY

A lifetime is an awfully long time.

FAIRMONT

My kingdom for a direct answer! When you were a child, did you ever dream of falling in love someday?

LILY

I knew it would happen eventually. Everybody manages to fall in love….It’s practically pandemic.

FAIRMONT

But did you fantasize about it? Did you aspire to it?

LILY

Since when did you get so sentimental?

FAIRMONT

I’m not being sentimental. I’m being highly practical. If I’m going to spend the rest of my life with you, it seems to me that I’d want to know the exact circumstances under which this turn of events came to pass.

LILY

You were single. I was single. There weren’t any trees available….What else is there to say?

FAIRMONT

That’s it? “There weren’t any trees available”

LILY

I wasn’t the sort of child who daydreamed about romance…..You have to remember what my house was like growing up. What’s that song from Damn Yankees about the baseball season—You know, how their marriage falls apart from April to September. Well, with my parents, it was August through November. Election season.

FAIRMONT

The old C-O-O-T was like that even when you were a kid?

LILY

It got worse every year. My parents married for looks—and then their looks faded….Winters were fine, but things started heating up during primary season….By Election Day, they were at each other’s throats….What makes it even more ridiculous was that they didn’t disagree about very much. My father was an extremely liberal Republican. My mother was an extremely conservative Democrat. But it wasn’t about substance for them….it was more about bragging rights—like rooting for a sporting team. Election Day was like the Super Bowl and the World Series and the Indianapolis 500 all rolled into one. Politics was the symptom, not the disease. They could just as easily have battled over whether to starve a cold or a fever.

FAIRMONT

Did you have any dreams at all when you were a child?

LILY

Only one.

FAIRMONT

Progress! A straight answer….Well? Are you going to tell me?

LILY

You promise you won’t laugh.

FAIRMONT

I won’t laugh.

LILY

Promise.

FAIRMONT

I swear.

LILY

On Dame Lucretia’s grave.

FAIRMONT

Jesus Christ!

LILY

Fine. You know what I wanted to be when I grew up? Not a doctor.

FAIRMONT

Not a doctor?

LILY

That’s right. Not a doctor. And especially not a head-shrinker….It drove my father crazy. He dressed us up as doctors every year for Halloween—and I cried and cried and refused to go trick-or-treating. Finally, we compromised. Laurel wore a white coat and went as a doctor and I got wrapped in bandages and went as a patient….But it worked out okay because everybody thought I was a mummy and she was a mad scientist.

FAIRMONT

So when did you change your mind?

LILY

I didn’t—Not consciously. It just happened….Reality set in.

FAIRMONT

Are you saying you don’t like being a psychiatrist?

LILY

Oh, no. I like it just fine….But when I was a girl, it was my worst nightmare….It’s amazing how adulthood does that to you. It transforms your worst nightmares into your vision of the good life….Whoever would have though it? Lily Gage—A psychiatrist. I always thought I’d grow up to be the opposite of a psychiatrist….That I’d spend my life driving sane people crazy.

FAIRMONT

I’m not going to say it.

LILY

Good. Don’t.

FAIRMONT

I’m going to think it, but I’m not going to say it.

LILY

When you’re done thinking it, let me know.

FAIRMONT

Okay, I’m done. But I am curious. Why didn’t you want to be a doctor?

LILY

It’s so damn bourgeois ….And what’s more bourgeois than being a psychiatrist….? Listening to other bourgeois people complain about how bourgeois their lives are….And then they go home to their bourgeois spouses whom they’ve complained about all afternoon and complain about paying so much fucking money to their goddam bourgeois psychiatrist.

FAIRMONT

Do you think I’m bourgeois?

LILY

Of course, but at least you don’t complain. You’re contentedly bourgeois. Like Madame Bovary’s husband.

FAIRMONT

Thanks.

LILY

Don’t mention it.

FAIRMONT

Do you know what I dreamed of when I was a kid?

LILY

Me?

FAIRMONT

Why do you have to do that?

LILY

Do what?

FAIRMONT

Fish for compliments.

LILY

It’s a woman thing.

FAIRMONT

You’re the most beautiful woman in the world. Satisfied? You could beat out Helen of Troy in the Miss Ancient Universe contest. Now can I tell you what I dreamed of when I was a kid?

LILY

Don’t make fun of me.

FAIRMONT

I dreamed of not having to follow rules.

LILY

You mean: Anarchy?

FAIRMONT

More like personal anarchy.

LILY

Your parents must have loved that.

FAIRMONT

They never knew….On the outside, I was the model young citizen….I set up a lemonade stand to raise money for Al Gore….But inside I was a seething radical….A Bakunin among union Democrats….I dreamed of being able to wake up in the morning and do whatever I damn pleased.

LILY

It sounds to me like you wanted to be rich.

FAIRMONT

That’s what being rich is about, isn’t it? Not having to follow rules.

LILY

Not having to wait on line to board the airplane.

FAIRMONT

Not having to sit in the mezzanine at the opera.

LILY

Not having to have sex with strangers for money.

FAIRMONT

Excuse me?

LILY

I’m just saying—Hypothetically.

FAIRMONT

It’s funny, isn’t it? After all that, you ended up a shrink and I ended up at the beck and call of Dame Lucretia.

LILY

Real funny. Ha. Ha.

FAIRMONT

I was just saying—

LILY

—Don’t say….And don’t read the neighbor’s mail anymore.

FAIRMONT

I have to read something.

LILY

You get plenty of your own mail.

FAIRMONT
Bills, sweepstakes forms, advertising circulars. Letters from Nigerians explaining how they need my help to retrieve the looted wealth of the former Belgian Congo….Do you know what I found in the mailbox today?

LILY

The looted wealth of the former Belgian Congo?

FAIRMONT

A jury summons! That’s what I got.

LILY

That’s awful.

FAIRMONT

You’re telling me.

LILY

Can’t you get out of it?

FAIRMONT

Do you know what I did last time? The judge asked me: “Can you be fair?” And I answered: “Sure, I can be fair. What’s unfair is that I have to be here because that guy committed a crime.” Then I pointed straight at the defendant—like goddam Perry Mason or something—and they still didn’t send me home. Just back down to the jury room to wait some more….Everybody’s entitled to a speedy trial except the jury.

LILY

Tell them you’re a bigot….and that you go to the bathroom a lot….Tell them that you’re an incontinent racist.

FAIRMONT

It’s hopeless. They’d just make me wet my pants….

LILY

Bring diapers.

FAIRMONT

You know what’s wrong with this world? A man doesn’t vote, and doesn’t pay his taxes, and doesn’t have a driver’s license—and, after all that, he still ends up on jury duty. It’s un-American.

LILY

Can’t Dame Lucretia help you?

FAIRMONT

She could, but she won’t. Not after I refused to chop down that blasted tree….

LILY

She’s still upset about that?
FAIRMONT

Haven’t you noticed it’s rained for twenty-one straight days….but only on our block? We’re catching up with Noah….

LILY

I was wondering….

FAIRMONT

Yet another idea Dame Lucretia acquired from the Soviets….You better help me sandbag the porch before we end up exchanging letters with the neighbors in bottles.

LILY

How long will this last?

FAIRMONT

Stalin had it rain eight years over a village whose name he didn’t like. He’d never actually been there—just didn’t like the name….So it rained every day from 1946 to 1954….Dame Lucretia models herself after Uncle Joe. She wants to be remembered as the Joe Stalin of capitalism….By my calculations, that gives us two thousand eight-hundred nineteen days to go….

(Lily and Fairmont exit.)

17. “Laurel and Jimmy”

(Jimmy enters and begins sweeping. He sings while he sweeps—anything romantic and mournful. Laurel approaches him.)

JIMMY

Any word?

LAUREL

Nothing. Not even a whisper….

JIMMY

I’m sorry.

LAUREL

Are you sure you don’t have anything that might help? Maybe some special variety of fertilizer?

JIMMY

I got nothing. Try to look on the bright side: Most trees don’t ever make a sound—unless they fall in the forest, I guess. For a human being, she seems silent—but for a tree,
she’s been pretty vocal. Maybe she’s talked herself out. LAUREL
Is it normal? For a tree to stop talking like that?

JIMMY

Does it really matter whether it’s normal? It is what it is. If she doesn’t want to talk, she doesn’t want to talk…..A jar of termites might do the trick, but I imagine that’s not what you have in mind.

LAUREL

You’re jealous, aren’t you?

JIMMY

How could I not be jealous?

LAUREL

It was really good of you to do what you did—Not cutting my baby in half, I mean.

JIMMY

That old lady needed to be brought down a notch....several notches….Besides, how could I do that to something—someone—you love? LAUREL
Have you ever been in love?

JIMMY

I’m in love with you.

LAUREL

I mean before that.

JIMMY

You mean with somebody else?

LAUREL

I’m not the only girl in the neighborhood.

JIMMY

You are for me…. Anyway, I’ve never understood how anyone could be in love with two people. Love is supposed to be forever, isn’t it? So if you fall out of love, you weren’t really in love to begin with. You were just confused.

LAUREL

Did you ever think you were in love?

JIMMY

Oh, lots of times. But I was wrong….Until now, that is.

LAUREL

How do you know?

JIMMY

I don’t think it’s a matter of knowing. I think it’s a matter of deciding.

LAUREL

But I’m not in love with you.

JIMMY

Not yet.

LAUREL

Please, Jimmy. You’re such a decent guy….. I hate to see you torturing yourself like this….

JIMMY

Then fall in love with me.

LAUREL

I can’t.

JIMMY

You won’t.

LAUREL

Can’t. Won’t. Does it matter?

JIMMY

Of course it matters. If it were an impossibility, like changing lead into gold, then I’d have no choice but to give up….But if it’s just a matter of personal preference—of taste, if you will—then it could easily change. It’s sort of like allergies. All of your life you eat pineapples—little cubes on toothpicks, pineapple cream pies—you can down pina coladas by the dozens—and nothing happens. And then one day you ingest a small piece of pineapple, maybe as a sweet-potato garnish on Thanksgiving, and you wake up covered in hives. You see what I’m saying.

LAUREL
That I might grow allergic to poplars?

JIMMY

That preferences change. Nothing is written is stone.

LAUREL

But you can’t lead your life waiting for someone’s preferences to change, Jimmy.

JIMMY
Why not? You do…. I’ve decided I’m going to love you whether you want me to or not.

LAUREL

So you’re going to wait for me while I wait for her?

JIMMY

Exactly. I’m going to pull my chair up right here and wait under this tree until you give in. It’s all a matter of willpower and perseverance. I want to be with you more than you don’t want to be with me. In the long run, I’ll wear you down….

LAUREL

This is crazy, Jimmy….I’m going to wait here forever.

JIMMY

Then I’ll wait here forever and a day.

LAUREL

By my forever is longer than your forever and a day…. I’m younger than you are…and a woman…. You need to think about life expectancy, demographics…..You could die out here.

JIMMY

She’s a tree—She’ll outlive both of us. Have you thought about that?

LAUREL

Great. So we’ll both die out here.

JIMMY

At least, we’ll be buried side by side.

18. “Laurel and Lily”

(Lily enters and approaches the tree.)

LILY

You have a minute?

LAUREL

I have an eternity….but I don’t want to talk to you.

LILY

Please.

LAUREL

Did you bring your cinderblocks? I bet you’re strong enough to get me over the gunwales this time around.

LILY

Don’t be like this, Laurel….I’m sorry I was a lousy big sister.

LAUREL

I’m sorry too.

LILY

I’ll accept your apology if you’ll accept mine.

LAUREL

I wasn’t apologizing. I was saying that I’m also sorry you were a lousy big sister.

LILY

(To Jimmy)

Can you please give us some privacy?

LAUREL

I’m afraid we’re stuck with him. He’s stalking me.

LILY

Do you want me to do something—phone the police?

LAUREL

Oh, no. I don’t mind. It’s kind of nice to have company.

LILY

Well, if he gets out of hand.

LAUREL

I read somewhere that stalking is the highest form of flattery.

LILY

You have lost it.

LAUREL

I thought you’d come to apologize.

LILY

I thought so too—I mean: I did come to apologize…. I’m sorry.

LAUREL

For what?

LILY

Just in general….I’m sorry for everything….

LAUREL

Some apology. You don’t even know what you’re sorry for.

LILY

I’m sorry for saying you needed psychiatric help just because you have a crush on a tree.

LAUREL
It’s not a crush. It’s true love.

LILY

I’m sorry for that too.

LAUREL

You’re sorry I’m in love with a tree?

LILY

I’m sorry I said you needed psychiatric help for being in love with a tree….It was very closed minded of me…and you have my complete blessing….In fact, Fairmont and I would love to have the two of you over for dinner any time….Or I suppose a picnic out here might be a bit more feasible logistically….I could chop us up a nice green leafy—steak. You’ll eat steak, won’t you?

LAUREL
Is that all you’re sorry for?

LILY

Should I be sorry for something else?

LAUREL

How about putting my head in the vice?

LILY

That too.

LAUREL

And the concrete blocks?

LILY

I regret my entire childhood, okay?

LAUREL

Even the turpentine?

LILY

The turpentine….and the night I promised you a ride in the washing machine and put it on permanent press….and all those times I poured baby shampoo into your eyes to find out whether it really didn’t hurt….and when I set all of your dolls on fire for my science experiment on grieving and loss. I really was a crummy sister, wasn’t I?

LAUREL

Do you remember how you used to say: “I’m doing this in the name of science?” and then you’d tear up my drawings to time how long I cried.

LILY

Did I really do that?

LAUREL

Or all those times you’d tell me some really horrible lie—like that grandma had died—just to see my reaction.

LILY

I guess there was a little bit of psychiatrist in me even them.

LAUREL

I’m just thankful you didn’t turn out to be a surgeon.

LILY

Me too….

JIMMY

Say, what’s wrong with surgeons?

LAUREL

He’s a plant doctor.

JIMMY

The Florence Nightingale of horticulture—at your service.

LILY

I thought stalking was a silent art form.

LAUREL

That’s lurking. Stalking and lurking often go hand-in-hand, but they are not the same thing….For instance, you could be stalking someone who you already know—by spending all of your time with them—and that wouldn’t require lurking….Or you could be lurking for a different purpose entirely—you could be casing a jewelry store, for example, or you could be a flasher or a peeping Tom….which would make you a pervert, but not a stalker…..Don’t they teach you anything in medical school?

LILY

I guess I wasn’t there the day we covered lurking.

LAUREL

Stick around a bit and I’ll give you a crash course….Lurking, stalking, unrequited love….People often confuse stalking with unrequited love, but they’re not at all interchangeable. Love is a motive. Stalking is a means. Sort of like freedom fighting and terrorism….Keep an eye on Jimmy and me for a while and you’ll get the hang of it.

LILY

Does this mean we’re friends again?

LAUREL

Yeah. We’re friends again.

(Lily and Laurel hug.)

LILY

I’m so relieved. I couldn’t handle having you and Mama angry at me at once.

LAUREL

Is Mama angry at you?

LILY

Not yet. But she will be soon….

LAUREL

You’re eloping with Fairmont, aren’t you?

LILY

No—he won’t do that….I need your support on this one….I’ve become a Republican.

(Lily crosses into the brownstone as the opening of the next scene unfolds.)

19. “A revelation”

GWENDOLYN

You’ve what?!

LILY

This way we won’t be an inter-party couple. I’ll be a Republican. Fairmont will be a Republican.

GWENDOLYN

I’ll be dead before my time.

LILY

We’ll both be very moderate Republicans.

GWENDOLYN

This is your father’s doing, isn’t it?

LILY

It has nothing to do with Papa.

GWENDOLYN

Everything has to do with your father….McGovern would have won if not for your father!

LILY

McGovern would have won if not for Papa. How in the world is that?

GWENDOLYN

Fine. He wouldn’t have won. But the margin of loss would have been smaller.

LILY

By one vote.

GWENDOLYN

That’s the beauty of democracy. Every vote counts.

LILY

Just once in your life, can’t you be excited for me?

GWENDOLYN

Can’t you tell I’m excited? Look at the blood vessels throbbing in my head.

LILY

Well, it’s done. I’ve made my decision. It’s too late to change.

GWENDOLYN

It’s never too late to change. FDR started off as a Republican.

LILY

That’s not true.

GWENDOLYN

Well, he was rich. That counts for something….Please, honey….Don’t bring this sort of shame on our family….People will talk…..Where did I go wrong?

(Gwendolyn begins to cry.)

20. “A second revelation”

(Fairmont enters, whistling. He knocks on the Gages’ front door and Gwendolyn rises to answer it.)

GWENDOLYN

Coming! One second.

(Gwendolyn opens the door.)

It’s you. What are you in such a good mood about?

FAIRMONT

I had jury duty.

GWENDOLYN

You’re in a good mood because you had jury duty? That’s a first. What did you do, send some innocent defendant to the gas chamber?

FAIRMONT

We convicted, all right. Nigerians. A whole syndicate of them.

GWENDOLYN

The men who keep emailing me about the looted treasures of the former Belgian Congo?

FAIRMONT

Those would be the ones.

GWENDOLYN

Well, I’m glad the law has caught up with them—but you shouldn’t take pleasure in other men’s misfortunes, especially when they involve long prison sentences.

FAIRMONT

I’d never take pleasure in such a thing.

GWENDOLYN

Then why the grin?

FAIRMONT

Because I’m happy.

LILY

I think he may be suffering a psychotic break—some sort of jury-induced mania.

FAIRMONT

There’s nothing to worry about, darling—I’m perfectly sane. Just giddy. You’re not going to believe this, but the eleven other jurors were all Fredonian immigrants.

GWENDOLYN

Those people you studied.

FAIRMONT

I didn’t study them….I taught them how to study each other.

GWENDOLYN

Before the Republicans cancelled the experiment.

FAIRMONT

Those Republicans are terribly misguided, aren’t they?

GWENDOLYN

Excuse me?

FAIRMONT

I’m a Democrat now. I converted this afternoon.

LILY

I’m going to call for an ambulance. Maybe they can reduce the swelling in his skull….

FAIRMONT

I’m fine, honey. Really. I just had the most remarkable afternoon.

GWENDOLYN

You’re a Democrat!?

FAIRMONT

I’ve never had an experience like it before….These Fredonians—my fellow jurors—They were the most amazing people I’ve ever encountered….

GWENDOLYN

Maybe you’re right, Lily. He does sound feverish.

FAIRMONT

They were so stunningly self-aware. Their entire lives were like one long experiment in cultural anthropology—They didn’t even have to speak to each other in the jury room. They just looked at one another and reached an understanding.

GWENDOLYN

You mean you didn’t deliberate?

FAIRMONT

We didn’t need to. We were all in agreement….We didn’t say one word to each other all afternoon—we simply smiled at each other and then the foreman returned the verdict. When the judge polled us individually, we were unanimous.

GWENDOLYN

And you’re really a Democrat now?

FAIRMONT

Our experiment in Fredonia worked. Think how wonderful it would be if we could teach Americans to observe each other…..

GWENDOLYN
You don’t know what this means to me: Another convert to the party of Lincoln.

FAIRMONT

Excuse me?

LILY

I think you’ve both gone mad.

GWENDOLYN

I’ve gone mad? You’re the one who abandoned a perfectly decent young man like this Woodlawn to cavort with the enemy.

FAIRMONT

I’m confused.

GWENDOLYN

Lily here’s decided to abandon the party of her ancestors.

LILY

Some of my ancestors.

GWENDOLYN

The ones with opposable thumbs.

FAIRMONT

Did you really become a Republican, honey?

LILY

It was for us—so we wouldn’t be an inter-party couple.

GWENDOLYN

You raise them to be principled—You make sure to bring them with you into the voting booth, even if it holds up the line—and still they turn out unfit for civilized society.

FAIRMONT

What does it matter? She’ll convert back.

GWENDOLYN

It’s too late for that. That’s like converting back from adultery.

LILY

Don’t be so melodramatic, Mama.

GWENDOLYN

I’m not being melodramatic….When I disown you and go around wearing sackcloth and ashes to mourn the loss, then I’ll be melodramatic….

FAIRMONT

This isn’t a day for mourning. It’s day for celebration.

GWENDOLYN

I beg to differ….Do you think I can purchase a hair-shirt on the Internet?

FAIRMONT

What a strange world we live in…..A man never registers to vote, never files a tax return, never acquires a driver’s license….and still he finds himself lucky enough to be called for jury duty.

21. “A third revelation”

GWENDOLYN

What did you just say?

FAIRMOMT

I was saying how lucky I was to be called for jury duty….

GWENDOLYN

—No, no. Before that. About registering to vote.

FAIRMONT

Oh, I haven’t registered to vote in years. Not since I became a Republican, in fact. Imagine: I didn’t want to be called for jury duty again. What a fool I was!

GWENDOLYN

So you’ve never actually voted for a Republican?

FAIRMONT

No, I guess not….But I would have.

GWENDOLYN

Would have, could have, should have. The point is that you haven’t. Republican is as Republican does.

LILY

Don’t sound so surprised, Mama. I never registered to vote either….

GWENDOLYN

You haven’t? After all those times I took you into the voting booth with me.

LILY

I don’t even know where my polling place is.

GWENDOLYN

I think I may weep.

FAIRMONT

What’s wrong, Your Honor?

GWENDOLYN

Nothing’s wrong. Nothing at all….Isn’t this wonderful? You’re both a-political….

FAIRMONT

I wouldn’t go that far. I have opinions—

GWENDOLYN

Opinions matter for nothing. If you don’t vote, your opinions don’t count…..I don’t know what to say. Why didn’t you tell us sooner?

LILY

So you’ll give us your blessing, Mama?

GWENDOLYN

This is just absolutely wonderful! Welcome to the family, Woodlawn.

FAIRMONT

Fairmont.

GWENDOLYN

Woodlawn, Fairmont. Live a long time and it won’t matter.

22. The Chopping Block

(Lucretia knocks on the door of the Gage brownstone.)

LUCRETIA

Little people! Open up. I have a little surprise for you.

GWENDOLYN

Hold your horses.

(Gwendolyn opens the door; Fairmont and Lily follow behind her.)

Yes?

LUCRETIA

Come out here. I want to show you something.

(Gwendolyn, Fairmont and Lily follow Lucretia into the vacant lot.)

FAIRMONT

Look, honey. She brought sunshine.

LAUREL

What happened to eight years of rain?

FAIRMONT

I guess Stalin never had to visit that village.

GWENDOLYN

(To Lucretia)

Well?

LUCRETIA

(Lucretia displays a court order.)

Do you know what this is?

FAIRMONT

A letter from Nigeria?

LUCRETIA

A court order. Signed by a state judge—And do you know what it says?

FAIRMONT

That you’re entitled to all of the looted treasures of the Belgian Congo?

LILY

That they can’t give you a heart, but they can give you a testimonial?

LUCRETIA

That this property is mine to build a quarry on. Not the dim-witted Indian’s. Not the Bolshevik tree’s. Mine!

GWENDOLYN

Let me see that.

(Gwendolyn grabs the document from Lucretia and reads it to herself.)

I’m afraid it says what she says it says.

LUCRETIA

(Lucretia takes back the document.)

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a tree to chop down.

(Lucretia approaches Laurel, Jimmy and the Poplar Tree.)

You. Indian. I have something for you.

FAIRMONT & GWENDOLYN & LILY

(Simultaneously)

—Native American!—

LUCRETIA

(To Fairmont.)

One more word and you’ll enjoy your own personal monsoon season.

JIMMY

Get off my property, lady. Before I call the cops.

LUCRETIA

I’m afraid it’s my property now.

(Lucretia hands him a copy of the document.)

A copy for you. Read it and weep.

LAUREL

What’s wrong, Jimmy?

JIMMY

It says she owns the lot. Free and clear. It seems that, according to the state constitution and the principles of Anglo-American jurisprudence dating back to the Magna Carta, rich people have more rights than trees or Native Americans. I guess that means we have to leave.

LUCRETIA

No, please don’t go so soon. Stay a while. Make yourself at home. But clear away from that tree….I have something I’d like you to watch.

LAUREL

Oh my God! What are you going to do?

LUCRETIA

(Lucretia retrieves the axe from the garden shop.)

Something I should have done fifty-two years ago—Chopped down that damn Commie tree….Communism is a lot like long-horned beetles. If you have one of them in your forest, they poison everything around them….

(Takes out another copy of the court order)

I guess there’s no point in pinning this court order to the tree if I’m going to chop it down anyway.

JIMMY

Please, Mrs. Vandervelt. Let’s discuss this like reasonable people.

LUCRETIA

Since when am I a reasonable person? Now where do you keep that axe?

JIMMY

It’s my axe. If you want to chop down trees, buy your own axe.

LUCRETIA

(Lucretia retrieves the axe from in front of Jimmy’s shop.)

I think this will suit just perfectly.

JIMMY

That’s my axe, lady. Put it down.

LUCRETIA

So sue me….Now step back.

(Lucretia raises the axe.)

LAUREL

Somebody do something! I can’t look.

JIMMY

Wait. What would you say to a better offer?

LUCRETIA

(Lucretia pauses with the axe elevated.)

Are you trying to bargain with me, young man?

JIMMY

Yes, I am. I’m trying to offer you a profit—a return on your investment.

LUCRETIA

What sort of profit?

JIMMY

How about this: If you don’t chop down the poplar tree, I’ll give you my shop. Outright. The stock, the equipment, even the accounts receivable. You can sell all the merchandise and then tear down the building to build your quarry.

LUCRETIA

So basically I’m trading one piece of property for another. Some profit. Besides, as much as I hate to admit it, this is personal. Maybe I’m going soft, but I’d actually risk losing money, at this point, to get rid of that damn overgrown Bolshevik.

JIMMY

Please, lady. You can keep this property too. You’ll be able to build a quarry twice the size—and all you have to do is leave the tree alone.

LUCRETIA

Let me get this straight. You’re offering me your entire shop and the land it stands on—and all I have to do in return is agree not to put the tree on the chopping block.

FAIRMONT

It’s sounds like a good deal, Dame Lucretia. In a financial sense.

LUCRETIA

(To Fairmont)

What on earth do you know about financial sense? You don’t have the sense to come in out of the rain….You’re fired!

FAIRMONT

But Dame Lucretia—

LUCRETIA

One more word and you’re fired.

FAIRMONT

But you already fired me.

LUCRETIA

That’s it. You’re fired again. Do you want to try a third time?

LILY

(To Fairmont)

So much for loyalty.

LUCRETIA

(To Jimmy)

Now where were we? Oh, yes. As I was saying: It sounds like a good deal. In a financial sense.

JIMMY

I don’t know much about finance, lady. It’s all I have to offer.

LUCRETIA

So what’s the catch?

JIMMY

No catch.

LUCRETIA

There’s always a catch. Otherwise there’d never be any incentive to exchange anything. How exactly do you plan on taking advantage of me?

JIMMY

Look, lady. I couldn’t take advantage of you if I wanted to. I’m not nearly that clever.

LUCRETIA

You are rather dim-witted, aren’t you?

JIMMY

I love Laurel and Laurel loves the tree. That’s what this is about.

LUCRETIA

So you’re desperate. I could raise the price.

JIMMY

You could. But I don’t have anything else to offer.

LUCRETIA

It would be nice to have a larger quarry….

JIMMY

You could dig all around the tree if you wanted to….We won’t take up much space.

LUCRETIA

That’s an awful lot of bedrock we’re talking about….I think I’ll do it. Mr. Fythe, prepare the documents.

FAIRMONT

But I thought I was fired.

LUCRETIA

Very well. You’re rehired. But at the entry level. You’ll have to work your way up.

FAIRMONT

Yes, Dame Lucretia. Thank you, Dame Lucretia.

JIMMY

So everything’s settled.

LUCRETIA

(Tentatively)

I suppose it is.

(Jimmy and Lucretia shake hands.)

A pleasure doing business with you, Mr. Duckfoot.

POPLAR TREE

STOP!

LAUREL

She spoke!

POPLAR TREE

Listen up, everybody.

LAUREL

What is it, baby? You name it and it’s yours.

POPLAR TREE

All I want is a moment of everybody’s time….I’m not in the habit of giving long speeches, but you all need to hear what I have to say.

LAUREL

Of course we do.

POPLAR TREE.

Especially you, Laurel.

LAUREL

(Giddy.)

I think she likes me.

POPLAR TREE

I do like you, Laurel….But I don’t love you. I’m far too independent to fall in love with anyone, particularly a human being. I’m self-pollinating, if you know what I mean.

LAUREL

It’s all right, baby. You take your time…..

POPLAR TREE

It’s not a matter of time. It’s a matter of inclination….I just don’t love you, Laurel. But that man does….Enough to give up his livelihood to save the tree you love, even though he despises me with a passion. Isn’t that right, Mr. Duckfoot?

JIMMY

Despises is such a dirty word….How about “loathes”?

POPLAR TREE

You’d be a fool to give up a man like that for a tree like me.

LAUREL

But I love you. Not him.

POPLAR TREE

Do you really?

LAUREL

(Less certain)

I think so.

POPLAR TREE

I don’t. I think you’re just stubborn like your mother.

GWENDOLYN

Thank you.

POPLAR TREE

Maybe you had a crush on me at the beginning, but now it’s Jimmy you come out here to see every morning, not me.

JIMMY

You think so?

POPLAR TREE

I know so.

LAUREL

I’m so confused.

POPLAR TREE

It’s okay to be confused. But be confused with Mr. Duckfoot….Human relationships are complicated enough—no reason to bring tree hormones into the mix. Trust me: When my xanthophyll starts flowing, you’ll wish you’d chopped me up for firewood.

LAUREL

I guess I could try loving Jimmy—If you wanted me to.

JIMMY

That’s all I ask for….Just try a little bit.

POPLAR TREE

In any case, I’m tired of being loved. Do you really think you’re the only girl ever to pine away under my branches? Every summer it’s the same weeping, the same pleading, the same ribbons. Well, I’ve had enough….Mr. Duckfoot, could I ask you a small favor?

JIMMY

After what you’ve just done, you can ask for anything you want? All of my plant food, my fertilizer, my marble bird baths—it’s all yours. I don’t know how to thank you.

POPLAR TREE

I’ll tell you how….Bring over that axe.

JIMMY

Sure thing.

(Jimmy retrieves the axe.)

POPLAR TREE

What I want you to do is to chop me down. Right there at the base.

JIMMY

You serious?

POPLAR TREE

Have you ever known a poplar tree to tell a joke?

LAUREL

Please, baby. You can’t.

POPLAR TREE

No, but Mr. Duckfoot can….I’m tired of being loved. I’m tired of being doted on and fawned over by a horde of pathetic teenyboppers. They’re a dime a dozen—self-absorbed sniveling brats, every one of them—and I’ll be glad to be out of my misery.

JIMMY

Watch it! That’s my girl you’re talking about!

LAUREL

I want to die. Chop me in a half too.

POPLAR TREE

Don’t be stupid. You have everything to live for. You’ve got a man who’ll love your doting and fawning and sniveling. What more could a girl want? Now if you’ll get to work, Mr. Duckfoot.

LILY

Don’t listen to her, Jimmy. This is crazy talk.

LAUREL

She really doesn’t love me.

POPLAR TREE

Nothing crazy about it. Who are you to decide what’s crazy and what’s not?
LILY

I’m a psychiatrist, dammit.

POPLAR TREE

Okay. What’s the first principle of psychiatry?

LILY

Do no harm?

GWENDOLYN

Sanity is culturally specific.

POPLAR TREE

Precisely. Sanity is culturally specific. So to a human being, this may not make sense….But to a tree, what I’m doing is perfectly sane. You can replant some of my branches if you want to.

LILY

She’s gone mad. She needs therapy.

POPLAR TREE

I don’t have all day, Mr. Duckfoot. It shouldn’t be too hard. You humans idolize that monster Washington for his incident with the cherry tree. And that genocidal maniac, Paul Bunyan. Raise your axe and do your worst.

LAUREL

I didn’t know she could be so cruel.

POPLAR TREE

I can be a lot crueler. I’m going to keeper saying increasingly nastier things until your new boyfriend gets to work….you spoiled bitch.

JIMMY
(Jimmy lifts the axe and chops the poplar tree in two. She falls to the ground.)

I warned her not to talk that way about my girl.

GWENDOLYN

Maybe we can replant some of the branches.

FAIRMONT

After the wedding. I have a friend who’s a justice of the peace. I’ll tell him to come over immediately, before anything else goes wrong.

(Fairmont and Jimmy carry the poplar tree toward the edge of the stage. Lily, Laurel and Gwendolyn follow.)

LUCRETIA

Wait a second!

JIMMY

What?

LUCRETIA

We haven’t signed a contact yet….That was still my tree you chopped down. JIMMY
Still your tree? That means I still own my stop.

LUCRETIA

You tricked me, confound it….But you had no legal right to cut down that tree….I’ll take you to court.

JIMMY

I’ll counter-sue for my pruning fee. I usually charge good money for removing unwanted trees—I have a whole lot full of witnesses who heard you ask me specifically to chop the tree down.

LUCRETIA

But I wanted to chop it down myself. Mr. Fythe will testify to that.

LAUREL

C’mon, Fairmont. Now’s your chance.

FAIRMONT

I will not testify to that—Mrs. Vandervelt….

LUCRETIA

My heavens!

FAIRMONT

If you want to chop down the tree, bring on the rains and re-grow it….You’ll have another chance in…I don’t know—maybe fifty-two years.

(Fairmont, Lily, Jimmy, and Laurel exit.)

LUCRETIA

I suppose I’d best be going too….No use standing around here when there’s money to be made elsewhere….A young couple’s bond can be strong—but it pales compared to an old woman’s love for an almighty dollar….Stone Age, here we come!

(Lucretia exits.)

GWENDOLYN

(Gwendolyn, to the audience.)

So there you have it.  Two young couples in love with each other. An old woman in love with her pocketbook. What could possible be stronger? How about a middle-aged divorcee’s love for her grandchildren. I can already envision dozens of them—Loyal democrats, every last one.  As I said, love is out of control these days. But that’s not such a bad thing, now is it?

(Lights out.)

END OF ACT TWO