Here is a little street theater, a charming bijou, something concocted out of the air for the delectation of passers-by. Lipstick and Cigarettes was originally performed last year, June, 2010, at Asphalt Jungle Shorts VI, a drama festival in Kitchener, Ontario (the place where they invented the Blackberry, in case you didn’t know). Lipstick and Cigarettes, like all good theater, rises in silence and resolves itself in silence, and in between it seems, on a tenuous line of dialogue and the slightest of actions, to imply epic motions of the spirit—the drama of age and youth, a girl’s passage into womanhood, temptation and the Fall, and the joyful exuberance of life.
Dwight Storring is an old friend from dg’s newspaper days. In the mid-1970s, he was a photographer at the Peterborough Examiner when dg was the sports editor (a place and time immortalized in dg’s novel Precious). Now Dwight lives in Kitchener (did I tell you about the Blackberry), about a 50-minute drive from the farm where dg grew up. He is a digital media artist and producer who dabbles in many disciplines including playwriting. The photo above shows Jessalyn Broadfoot playing Angel. Dwight was a resident artist playwright at Theatre and Company during the 2005-06 season. He is currently exploring the connection between story and place through the Latitudes and Longitudes Digital Storytelling Project and his work with community agencies where he teaches the creation of personal narratives as a fundamental part of daily life.
Lipstick and Cigarettes
By Dwight Storring
Evelyn – a woman, approaching 60.
Angel – a girl in her early teens or at least appears to be.
The play opens in a small green space in downtown Kitchener. The space nestles up against the spiraling ramps of a parking garage – Kitchener’s Guggenheim.
Angel perches in the tree that arches over the benches in the park. She is dressed crisply in a gingham dress with a white apron over top, her hair in braids. She is iconic.
Angel sings an old jazz standard to herself, perhaps “It Amazes Me” or “I Walk a Little Faster.”
Evelyn, dressed in her housecoat and slippers, trudges into the parkette lugging a cheap, battered suitcase.
Evelyn places the suitcase on a bench and starts unpacking it. She joins Angel in the song. She removes a slinky red dress and drapes it gently over the bushes followed by a slip. She sets out a pair of matching shoes. The clothes have all seen better days.
She carefully sets out a bottle of wine and two glasses. She opens the wine, pours a glass and takes a drink.
Took you long enough.
Evelyn ignores her and continues to sing.
Took you long enough!
Evelyn continues to ignore her while she waltzes her glass of wine around the park.
Hey you. Evelyn, remember me?
I’ve been waiting here forever.
Evelyn bursts into loud peels of laughter as she dances.
Are you laughing at me … Stop … stop it, come on. Where have you been?
Trying to bring her laughing under control.
Stop it, stop it, stop it … Stop it … right now! Momma’s probably crying her eyes out wondering where I am and you’re laughing your ass off!
Poor Momma. As if.
If you’re so worried about Momma, what’re you doing here?
You’ve forgotten. Haven’t you … you’ve forgotten, again—
Look, you’ve got me all wound up already. How could you—
Wound up!? You call that wound up—
Yes, Evelyn, wound up. You know what happens—
You haven’t seen wound up. When I hit One-Eyed Jack’s, I’ll be soooo wound up. Tighter than … tighter than—
You know what happens when I get this way—I don’t sleep, I don’t eat. I go for days. Nothing—
Those stool jockeys over there, all beer breath and tight jeans. […] They won’t know what hit them—
Momma says, “Angel you’re goin’ to disappear if you don’t get some nourishment.” So finally, I ask her for a boiled egg—with salt and butter.
Then I don’t know what happens—
Next thing they know, I’ll have one hand on their pistol and the other in their wallet.
They’re saying, “Evie, you wanna take this pony for a ride.” And I’ll be dipping into their wallet looking for the Mounties on the musical ride.
Nearly in tears.
It looks so beautiful sitting there in its little white eggcup – so pure and white. I want to crack it open, because I’m so hungry . . . deep down hungry.
But I can’t do it
I just can’t do it …
Angel jumps down from the tree awkwardly. She falls on the ground, gets up and brushes herself off. And takes up a spot close to the tree where she can still cling to it or lean against it. In the meantime, Evelyn holds the red dress up to herself and sways around a little.
You’ve gotta look your best.
She puts the dress back and takes a pouch of tobacco from the pocket of her housecoat begins to roll a cigarette.
This is not Frankie’s you know, home of the barfly.
Evelyn finishes rolling her cigarette.
Frankie’s barflies, they turned me down once too often.
Evelyn runs her cigarette under her nose, taking a deep sniff.
They don’t know what a real woman looks like let alone what she smells like …
Holding up the cigarette.
A work of art! Paper and tobacco. A thing of beauty.
Momma says, “The devil baits his hook with tobacco when he’s fish for young girls.”
Go on home to Momma! Get out of here! Go on home and watch your boiled egg.
Evelyn, you don’t know nothing about boiled eggs.
What I know about boiled eggs, little girl … what I know, is that boiled eggs are meant for more than watching.
There is a pause while Evelyn smokes with relish. Finally, Angel steps forward.
Show me how to roll a cigarette.
No, you’re too young.
It’ll just be pretend; I’m not going to smoke it.
Bait the devil’s hook?
Angel takes a few more steps forward.
Making a rolling motion with her fingers.
I’ve been fishing plenty of times and never had a bite.
Come on, show me?
You don’t want to spoil yourself with cigarettes Angel.
Come on, Evie. I could be your cigarette girl. Make beautiful ciggies at your beck and call.
I don’t want to hear from momma on this. I don’t want to hear about boiled eggs—
Using her Momma voice.
My, my, Evie, where ever did you get such a fine looking cigarette.
Evelyn takes another long drag on her cigarette while she ponders Angel’s suggestion.
Then she spreads her legs and pats the inside of her thighs.
Angel walks out of the garden sits so she is cradled between Evelyn’s legs. Evelyn embraces Angel with her legs and rocks her side-to-side.
Evelyn brings out her makings and reaching over Angel’s shoulder sets them on her lap.
Keep your pouch closed tight until you’re good and ready.
Evelyn opens the pouch and she cups Angel’s hands around the pouch and raises it to her nose.
Oh! It smells like nothing I’ve ever smelled before. Umm!
Evelyn then guides Angel’s hand into the pouch.
It should be moist.
She squeezes Angels with her legs, rocks side-to-side and chuckles.
Angel laughs as they rock.
Next thing, the paper. You pull.
Oh! So beautiful, delicate, like wings.
Angels makes a winging motion with the cigarette paper. Evelyn gently takes Angels hand and guides it back to the cigarette-rolling lesson.
Take a pinch of tobacco. Just enough …
It’s like picking a raspberry. A little pressure, then a gentle tug and … it comes away in your fingers.
Spread the tobacco over the paper.
Evelyn guides Angel’s hands. Together, they rock gently.
Put your thumbs and middle fingers on either side of the crease.
Press down with your forefingers.
Pinch gently. Then, begin …
Roll back and forth, back and forth …
That’s it …
You’re a natural.
Hold everything in place and run you tongue across the gum. Not too wet. Just, just caress it … like …
Fold it down, smooth it.
Ah, yes …
Look at that, your first cigarette.
Angel admires the cigarette and pretends to smoke it while Evelyn rocks Angel in her legs unbraids her hair.
Oh Evie, can I keep it? It will be like a treasure, a token of this … this moment …
Arranging Angel’s hair.
There, that’s better. You look like a woman.
Angel struts around pretending to smoke. Evelyn leans back on the bench smiling, smoking and drinking wine, admiring the transformation.
I feel like a woman.
Strutting in front of Evelyn.
Do I make a good woman? What do you think Evie, do I?
Try on the dress.
Oh Evie, could I? I could?
Angel sets her cigarette down carefully and quickly wriggles out of her apron and dress showing modest cotton underclothes. She drapes her clothes on the bushes.
A little white eggcup—
Oh, thank you, Evie. This is beautiful.
A car loaded with young men passes and blowing the horn and hooting at Angel.
You wish! Assholes!
The shoes, don’t forget the shoes.
She hands Angel her lit cigarette and glass of wine while she gets the shoes. Angel takes the cigarette and wine then strikes a pose.
Well la-di-dah, look at little Miss Angel.
Evelyn sets out the shoes for Angel. She takes the wine bottle and fills Angel’s glass. She fills the other one for herself.
(Raising her glass in a toast.)
Drink up, my dear, you’ll feel much better.
Angel puts the glass to her lips slowly and takes a tiny sip.
Wow! Oh, wow.
She twirls around.
I never thought when I woke up this morning . . . I think I’m drunk.
Just look at me. I never thought …
She takes a drag from the cigarette and coughs.
I’m all right – I’ll be fine. I’m just wound up, soooo wound up—
Angel starts waltzing her wine glass around the park, smoking the cigarette and coughing from time to time.
Evelyn provides the music.
Angels takes gulps of the wine. Evelyn reaches into the suitcase and brings out a tube of lipstick and a compact mirror.
I think red is a woman’s color.
Lipstick . . . lipstick!
Watch. Red, see like the dress.
Evelyn demonstrates on her mouth in one smooth motion then hands the lipstick to Angel and turns the mirror toward her.
I can’t see.
Awkwardly applies the lipstick. It’s askew.
Oh no, shit. I just know it’s a mess.
It’s ok, here.
Evelyn takes a tissue from the pocket of her housedress and removes the lipstick. Evelyn moves behind Angel, holds the mirror in front of her and applies the lipstick to Angel’s lips.
Looking in the mirror.
That’s perfect, Evie. Sooo perfect.
Angel inspects herself in the mirror while Evelyn puts the lipstick and compact in the suitcase along with Angel’s clothes. She closes the suitcase and hands it to Angel.
Angel exits singing the park heading toward Duke Street. Evelyn sits down heavily on a bench and pulls her housecoat around herself.
I especially loved imagining coming upon this being played and me not knowing it a play.
I once came upon a piece of street theatre in a crowded outdoor coffee place. We didn’t know it was threatre. A loud argument between a young couple escalated and suddenly seemed to be turning to violence. The man I was with pushed through the crowd to rescue the young woman! Well played.