France-Luce Benson: Risen from the Dough
In Risen From the Dough, two Haitian-American women in a bakery kitchen prepare for the impending arrival of the health inspector while they grapple with grief, identity, and the complicated realities of immigrant life.
CHARACTERS: Maryse–40; strong willed, Haitian-American woman Leonide–her sister; a few years younger
SETTING: Brooklyn, New York A small bakery on Flatbush Avenue Time is present
AT RISE: MARYSE violently kneads dough on a counter with her bare hands.
LEONIDE, her sister, enters with a rolling pin. MARYSE does not notice her.
LEONIDE May? (pronounced MY)
MARYSE Damn. Shit! (pronounced shyet)!
MARYSE What! What is it, Leonide?
LEONIDE (extending the rolling pin sheepishly) I find it.
MARYSE (grabbing the pin from her) Hm! Merci.
LEONIDE watches MARYSE roll the dough.
MARYSE For God sake, what are you staring at? En?
LEONIDE Nothing. It’s just… You don’t think we should… make sure things are in order?
MARYSE ignores her.
LEONIDE (CONT’D) May, it has been two weeks. Two weeks! They said they would come for another inspection in two weeks, en. That means any day now—
MARYSE I know how to count.
LEONIDE —any day now someone will be here—
MARYSE I don’t care.
LEONIDE —if we don’t have everything in order, they will shut—
MARYSE No, they will not! Nobody ever make me to do what I don’t want to do.
LEONIDE Yes, I know.
MARYSE I run my business the way I want. I cook and clean the way I cook and clean all my life. They way my mère—
LEONIDE Your mother?
MARYSE Our mère. I do every thing just the way Mami show us in Haiti, en. Did anyone ever get sick from our hands? We are not dirty people.
LEONIDE They never say we were dirty, they only ask that we use one sink just for hand washing—
MARYSE I wash my hands. Ah!
LEONIDE Yes, I know, May. (crossing to a sink in US corner; cleaning up) But must you also leave your coffee here each morning? And even the shells from the eggs you make for breakfast?
MARYSE I must finish this order before noon. I will clean later.
LEONIDE And you still have not bought the soap dispenser?
MARYSE You don’t see how busy I am? I will buy it tomorrow.
LEONIDE Tomorrow, tomorrow, later, later. And what if they were to come in just now? That is already 10 points—
MARYSE B’um report, en! I don’t care about any points. We work like esclave for the last five years just to finally have a place to claim as our own in this country. Now nobody can say to me “Go back where you came from.” Because I have business here. Me and Fritz, God rest his soul, swear to Bon Dieu we would have our own business one day so that we won’t have to work for these racist devils who think all Haitian people are dirty and too lazy to—
LEONIDE (throwing her hands up) Menzami! You are impossible.
MARYSE You don’t remember all the years we cook and clean for those white devils?
LEONIDE They were not devils.
MARYSE sucks her teeth.
LEONIDE (CONT’D) And they were not all white.
MARYSE Oh? The Black American families were even worse. They think because they have a little money, they are better then me. If it was not for those Black American men—
MARYSE —those vakabon, with their pants down to their feet, crazy for their gold and their sneakers! If it was not for them—
LEONIDE May, you are shaking.
MARYSE Fritz would still be alive!
MARYSE (CONT) I have held my tongue for seven years, en. Seven years! Without my—This place belong to Fritz as much his as it belong to us.
LEONIDE He would be very proud.
MARYSE I don’t care about any inspection. Not today. I trust in God.
LEONIDE God does not work for the Health Department.
MARYSE But I work for God.
MARYSE (CONT) How long does it take you to chop zepis?
LEONIDE crosses to chopping board with onions, celery, etc.
MARYSE Beside, they will not come today. Fritz tell me himself.
LEONIDE So you are speaking to the dead now?
MARYSE Every year, on the eve of his death, he speak to me in my dream.
LEONIDE On the eve… Is today—?
MARYSE My hands, they will not stop shaking. They will not come today.
MARYSE exits. LEONIDE nervously tries to work. She picks up the knife, then hesitates. She brings it to her nose, studies it carefully. She looks down at a bucket of water near the table. She smells the water. She picks up the Health Dept. manual, flips through the pages quickly, then carefully reads one page. She studies the water again while consulting the manual. She takes out a chlorine test strip from her pocket and follows the instructions in the book to test the water.
MARYSE enters with a cup of water, just as LEONIDE dips the strip in the bucket.
MARYSE That is not nécessaire!
LEONIDE (hiding the strip) Pardon?
MARYSE The chlorine solution. You think I don’t know what you are doing?
LEONIDE I... I just—
MARYSE There is no need to test it, I mix it myself. What? You don’t trust me?
LEONIDE You think I do not trust my own blood? If you say it is good, it is good.
LEONIDE Good. But if it is good, then you should not care if I test.
MARYSE I care that my own sister does not trust me.
LEONIDE Depi kilè? Since when I do not trust you?
MARYSE Since the devil Americans send their spy in here—
LEONIDE He was from the Health Department. No spy. You crazy?
MARYSE Hm! And who send him here?
LEONIDE Kòm fè konnen? He was not sent here, they go to every body.
MARYSE Non, machè. Not the Deli across the street that they make a sandwich for you on the same table the cat lick his pee-jon. Or what about the place on Avenue J.
LEONIDE (with disgust) Rosa’s.
MARYSE Yes. Rosa’s. I watch her, with my own eyes, cook a pumpkin soup in a pot I would not clean my feet in. And I see her fry beans in a pan as dirty as the devil’s ears. But do you ever see any Health Department making trouble for them? Do you?
LEONIDE I think—
MARYSE Non! You have not and you will not. You know why?
MARYSE points to her skin.
LEONIDE Madam Rosa is darker than you.
MARYSE But she is not Haitian. They will always give us Haitians a hard time. They will always find a way to keep us down—
LEONIDE So go back to Haiti.
MARYSE He-heeey? You sound just like them.
LEONIDE If you are so miserable here, go back. Go back to no water, no kouran. En? And you can have light and cool air when the government see fit. And the government in Haiti? They would have killed Fritz long ago if he did not leave when he did.
MARYSE How can you say that to me? Today of all days.
LEONIDE Because it is the truth. So? Why are you still here?
MARYSE I have earned my place here.
LEONIDE So be grateful.
MARYSE For what? Because I have business. My children go to good school.
LEONIDE What more do you want?
MARYSE MY HUSBAND! Did he ever harm anyone? He drive his taxi, he provide for me and Robert and Magdala. And you! He give you a home with us when you had no place to go, en. He come here alone, to prepare a place for us. And this place never welcome him. We were never welcome—
LEONIDE But you are here.
MARYSE He drive his taxi, he never bother a soul. One night, he see someone in trouble. He try to help. He run to the police and they ignore him. They say “speak English!” Speak English.
LEONIDE Please May—
MARYSE And those… those… men…
MARYSE …vakabon. Evil…
LEONIDE God can hear you, en…
LEONIDE ENOUGH! God knows how your heart beats today, Maryse. But you and I know the truth about Fritz's killers. En? They were not American. They were Haitian. Haitian! Just like you, and me, and—
MARYSE They were not like us! I will never forget where I come from. I will never try so hard to be like the people here, who want nothing more then to send me back, that I betray my own people. Those men, those—
LEONIDE Boys. They were boys.
MARYSE I don’t care how old they were.
MARYSE Those… children… try so hard to erase their culture that they become… zombies. With no soul. No past. No sense of pride. I will not be like them.
LEONIDE And you think a soap dispenser will erase your culture?
MARYSE It is not the way we do things. The way that man investigate us—
LEONIDE He was only doing his job.
MARYSE Turning his nose up, like to say that we smell. Looking at us like we are not human.
LEONIDE You imagine too much.
MARYSE Like we are animals. When he, they, were the animals. Those men—
LEONIDE —are in prison.
MARYSE AND WHERE IS FRITZ? WHERE IS HE?
MARYSE Everything here is just the way Fritz describe to me when we dream together of this place. I see him everywhere. And I see our home. Our home in Port-au-Prince. It is as if he never left me. If I start to change then—
LEONIDE He will still be here. In the smell of the cod fish. In the sounds of spices frying on the pan. Here, in the dough. Here (resting her hand on Maryse’s heart).
MARYSE It beats heavy today, en? S’il te plait, get my bag from inside.
LEONIDE exits. MARYSE kneads the dough, gently and lovingly.
MARYSE Is it true, Fritz?
She reaches down to retrieve a pan of griyo. She peels the back the aluminum foil cover; takes in scent.
MARYSE Your favorite. May I? (She inserts a morsel into her mouth.) Mm-mm-MM! Ah, mon cher, it is true. You are here, en. Well then, I will fight to keep you here.
She returns the pan to the oven.
LEONIDE enters with a handbag and hands it to MARYSE.
MARYSE takes out a soap dispenser and hands it to LEONIDE.
LEONIDE (overjoyed) Oh, Maryse!
MARYSE Where is the book?
LEONIDE Over there.
MARYSE Well, give it to me!
MARYSE (flipping through pages) Now, let me see. (reading) “In accordance with the United States…”
LEONIDE Is that griyo I smell?
MARYSE I made it special.
MARYSE looks up and smiles as the lights fade to black.
End of Play
Brooklyn, New York, April 25, 2011
WGA Reg. # 1496852
France-Luce Benson’s plays have been produced by Crossroads Theatre Company, The Fire This Time Festival, New Perspectives Theatre, JACK, Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre, Harlem9, the Billie Holiday Theatre, and the Ensemble Studio Theatre where she is an honored Lifetime Member. She graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with an M.F.A. in Dramatic Writing, and has also studied at Columbia University/Harlem Arts Alliance, Circle Repertory Theatre School, and Florida International University. Fati’s Last Dance was honored by the Kennedy Center (Lorraine Hansberry Award, 2008). Her screenplay, Healing Roots, won the prestigious Alfred P. Sloan screenplay competition (10K prize). In 2013, the Sloan Foundation, in association with Ensemble Studio Theatre, awarded Ms. Benson a New Play Commission to write The Devil’s Salt, a full length play about Haitian activist Jean Dominique. She is a two time Schubert Fellow, as well as a three time scholarship recipient at the Upright Citizens Brigade. She is the writer and producer of the short,“Black Baby Agency”, which she developed with UCB. Currently, she serves as Creator/Co-Producer/Head Writer of the new sketch comedy series “Most Likely”, which will premiere in the DPVN Network later this year, is an Associate Professor at St. Johns University, and a proud member of the Dramatist Guild of America. She is also working on a new play tentatively titled “The Deportation Chronicles”, commissioned in association with ACLU, and based on the true stories of hundreds of American Immigrants unjustly detained and deported. Her play Risen from the Dough is scheduled for production at the Adrienne Arsht Center in June 2015, as part of City Theatre’s Summer Shorts Festival. www.francelucebenson.com