MRS. SORKEN by Christopher Durang

Mrs. Sorken was the opening play of the six-play evening.
Note: The playwright offers the alternative ending published here.

(Enter MRS. SORKEN to address the audience. She is a charming woman, well-dressed and gracious, though a little scattered. She is happy to be there.)

MRS. SORKEN: Dear theatergoers, welcome, and how lovely to see you. I’ve come here to talk to you about theatre, and why we all leave our homes to come see it, assuming we have. But you have left your homes, and you’re here. So, welcome!

Now I have written down some comments about theatre for you, I can’t just find them.

(searches through her purse)

Isn’t it refreshing to see someone with a purse?

(looks some more through the purse)

Well, I can’t find my notes, so I’ll have to make my comments from memory.

(From here on, she is genuinely winging it—some of it may be thoughts she prepared, much of it is thoughts that pop into her head as she is speaking. She is not nervous, though. She loves talking to the audience.)

Drama. Let’s begin with etymology, shall we?…. etymology, which is the history of the word. The word “drama” comes from the Greek word “dran,” which means to do, and which connects with the English word “drain,” meaning to exhaust one totally, and with the modern pharmaceutical sedating tablet, Dramamine, which is the trade name of a drug used to relieve airsickness and seasickness and a general sense of nausea, or “nausee,” as Jean-Paul Sartre might say, perhaps over a cup of espresso at a Paris bistro. How I love Paris in the spring, or would, if I had ever been there; but Mr. Sorken and I haven’t done much traveling. Maybe after he dies I’ll go somewhere.

We go to the drama seeking the metaphorical Dramamine that will cure us of our nausea of life.

Of course, sometimes, we become nauseated by the drama itself, and then we are sorry we went, especially if it uses the F-word and lasts over four hours. I don’t mind a leisurely play, but by 10:30 I want to leave the theatre and go to sleep. Frequently, I prefer Dramamine to drama, and only wish someone would renew my prescription for Seconal.

Secondly… we have the word “theatre,” which is derived from the Greek word “theasthai,” which means to view.

And nowadays we have the word, “reastat,” a device by which we can dim the lights in one’s house slowly, rather than just snapping them off with a simple switch.

And thirdly, we have the Greek god “Dionysus,” the last syllable of which is spelled “s-u-s” in English, but “s-o-s” in Greek, the letters which in Morse code spell help—“Dionysos” is the god of wine and revelry, but also the father of modern drama as we know it.

The Greeks went to the theatre in the open air, just like the late and wonderful Joseph Papp used to make us see Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s language is terribly difficult to understand for us of the modern age, but how much easier it is when there’s a cool breeze and it’s for free. If it’s hot and I have to pay, well, then I don’t much like Shakespeare. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t say that. He’s a brilliant writer, and I look forward to seeing all 750 of his plays. Although perhaps not in this lifetime.

But back to the Greeks. They went to the open-air theatre expecting the drama they saw to evoke terror and pity.

Nowadays we have enough terror and pity in our own lives and so rather than going to the theatre looking for terror, we go looking for slight irritation. And rather than looking for the theatre to evoke pity, we look merely for a generalized sense of identification as in “Evita was a woman, I am a woman” Or “Sweeney Todd was a barber, I go to the hairdresser.” Or “Fosca in Passion should have her moles removed, I know a good dermatologist.” That sort of thing.

But did the Greeks really experience terror and pity? And if so, what was it in all that matricide-patricide that so affected them?

I know that seeing Greek drama nowadays, even with Diana Rigg in it, really rather baffles me, it is so very different from my own life. My life with Mr. Sorken is not something that Diana Rigg would wish to star in, even on PBS. My life with Mr. Sorken, I’m sorry to say, is not all that interesting.

Indeed, addressing you at this very moment, I’m sorry to say, is the highpoint of my life to date.

Could I have lived my life differently? Women of my generation were encouraged to marry and to play the piano, and I have done both those things. Is there a piano here? I don’t see one. I might have played a sonata for you, or a polonaise.

But back to my theme—Drama, from the Greek word “dran.”

When we leave the drama, we return to our homes feeling “drained.” And if it’s been a good night in the theatre, we leave feeling slightly irritated; and feeling identification with Evita or Fosca or that poor Mormon woman in Angels in America.

And so, drained, we get into our nightgowns, we adjust our reastats from light to darkness, me into bed next to Mr. Sorken, we fall into a deep REM sleep, dreaming God knows what mysterious messages from our teeming unconscious, and then in the morning we open our eyes to the light of the new day, of the burgeoning possibilities.

Light from the Greek word “leukos,” meaning white, and the Latin word “lumen” meaning illumination. In German, der licht; in French, la lumiere. All art leads to light.

Light. Plants need light to grow. Might people need art to grow? It’s possible. Are people less important than plants? Some of them are certainly less interesting.

But there is some connection between theatre and light, and people and plants, that I am striving to articulate. It’s about photosynthesis, I think, which is the ingestion of light that plants go through in order to achieve growth.

And you see, it’s “light” again—“photo” comes from the Greek word, “phos,” which means light and which relates to phosphorescence, or the “the light given off.” And “synthesis” comes from the Greek prefix, “syn-“ meaning together, and the Greek word “tithenai,” meaning to place, to put.

Photosynthesis—to put it together with light.

We go to the theatre, desperate for help in photosynthesis.

The text of the play is the light, the actors help put it together, and we are the plants in the audience.

Plants, light, theatre, art. I feel this sense of sudden interconnection with everything that’s making me feel dizzy. And Dramamine, of course, is good for dizziness.

Now to wrap up.

Dear theatergoers. I hope you enjoy your evening this evening. I’m not quite sure what you’re seeing, but whatever it is, I’m sure it will be splendid.

And, by the way, if you are ever in Connecticut, I hope you will drop in and say hello to me and Mr. Sorken. He prefers that you call first, but I love to be surprised. So just ring the bell, and we’ll have cocktails.

And I hope you have enjoyed my humbly offered comments on the drama. I have definitely enjoyed speaking with you, and have a sneaking suspicion that in the future, it is going to be harder and harder to shut me up.

(Either end with that, or possibly add and end with: “And so, the highpoint of my life to date being over, I leave you with the play.”)