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The Plays of Dorothy Blewett
Published by AustLit
(Status : Public)
Coordinated by Australian Drama Archive
  • Challenge : A Play in One Act

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    Jean Marie Roche dreams of being an artist, but she is unsure of her talent. Not convinced by the enthusiastic admiration of her fiancé and parents, she seeks out the opinion of reputable local artist, Peter Raid. The play centres around this encounter. Jean Marie learns that being an artist would mean separation from her fiancé—an unbearable ultimatum her mother knows all too well.

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  • CHELLENGE

    by 

    DOROTHY BLEWETT

    [1940s]


    Characters
     

    JEAN MARIE ROCHE

    Just twenty-two. She is a rather pretty girl who looks and is capable. She is sure of herself and of

    ROB DRURY

    Jean Marie's fiancé. Rob is in his late twenties, is moody and sensitive. Both Rob and Jean Marie are in tennis clothes.

    MR. ROCHE

    MRS. ROCHE

    Having produced Jean Marie, they rest on their laurels. They are ordinary small-town business people.

    DR. KINCAID

    An ordinary small-town general practitioner. Probably the most popular man in the town. He is snort and tubby and he feels the heat.

    PETER RAID

    A middle-aged artist who wears good clothes carelessly and has a ravaged, intense face.

    The Scene

    The sittingroom of the Roche’s home. It is an ordinary rather old-fashioned room; couch and armchairs are covered with serviceable tapestry. There is an upright piano with a scroll-ended stool in front of it. A small table stands in the centre of the room, with a bowl of well-arranged flowers on it. There are flowers on the mantlepiece above the fire-place at centre back of the stage. There is a door well downstage to the right and in the opposite wall a window through which sunlight streams. There are several paintings on the walls and an unframed canvas standing on the piano.


    The time

    The present.


    It is just after three o'clock on a sunny summer Saturday afternoon.

    When the curtain rises, Jean Marie is seated on the arm of a chair centre. Rob:stands with his hands in his pockets looking moodily out of the window.


    Jean Marie: Wouldn't it be awful if the doctor was called to a case and they couldn't come?

    Rob: I could bear it.

    Jean Marie: Darling, don't sulk. This means a lot to me.

    Rob: I don't know why this bird’s opinion should mean so much to you. You've got talent - you know it, I know it, we all know it. Everyone who sees your pictures recognises it. Nothing this Peter Raid can say will alter that.

    Jean Marie: When you look at my pictures, Rob, you see not them, but me. Your love for me colours everything you think about them. It's the same with Mum and Dad - they can't see my paintings apart from me. This man will. He's a great teacher as well as a great artist. If he can see anything in my work, I've got the goods. But I've got to know, I've got to know. You do understand that - please, Rob.

    Rob: (crossing over to her quickly): I do understand, darling. It's just that - well, I'm scared he'll say something that will alter - us. I couldn't bear that, Jean Marie. 

    Jean Marie: Don't be silly, Rob. As though anything could alter my loving you and your loving me.

    Rob: Suppose Peter Raid offers to teach you? Suppose you’re good enough for that?

    Jean Marie: Sounds like a fairy tale. But no matter what he says, I’ve got to hear it.

    Rob: Supposing he does say you're a genius - you won't be content to stay on here and marry me and go on year in, year out going to tennis and playing bridge and so on.

    Jean Marie: Marrying you and looking after a house and children and all the rest of it wouldn't be so easy as you make it sound, Rob. It will be a full time job -

    Rob: You have a passion for tackling what looks hard, haven't you?

    Jean Marie (complacently): I certainly like to do well the things other girls make a mess of. Anyway, I don't know what we're arguing about. He'll probably say I’m just - mediocre.

    Rob: You don't really expect that - - But whatever he says, Jean Marie - remember I’m rather in love with you, will you - please?


    Enter Mr. Roche. He is in his shirtsleeves; his waistcoat is unbuttoned and his watchchain dangles from one pocket. He carries a newspaper and a pipe which he uses to punctuate his sentences


    Mr. R.:   Don’t mind me. Just carry on as though I’m not here. Mum hunted me in from the garden -

    Jean M.: Oh, Dad, couldn’t you put your coat on?

    Mr. R.:   No, I couldn’t. It’s too hot. Anyway, this bird is an artist, isn't he? He won’t care two hoots whether I’ve got a coat on or not.

    Jean M.: But, Dad - he’s a great man -

    Mr. R.: Listen here to me, Jean Marie. I gave up bowls this afternoon to hear what this man’s got to say - well, he can give up seeing me in my coat just by way of evening things up.


    Enter Mrs. Roche. She wears her best.


    Mrs. R.: Go and get your coat on, Dad. They'll be here any minute now.


    She disregards Mr. Roche’s unuttered protests and with an exasperated gesture, he goes out to return immediately struggling into his coat. Meantime, Mrs. Roche moves the canvas on the piano an inch to the left and stands back to admire it.      


    Rob: (coming over and standing beside her): I like that.

    Mrs. R.: I wish we’d had time to get it framed. It's the best you've done, Jean Marie. Those cows look as though they're breathing. Don’t you think it’s her best, Rob?

    Rob: They're all miracles to me, Mrs. Roche.

    Jean M.: There, that's what I told you, Rob:- it’s not the pictures you see, but me -

    Rob: Well, that suits me.

    Jean M.: Yes, but it dulls your critical faculty.

    Mr. R.: Here's the doctor's car pulling up, the great moment has arrived - we’re going to be told what we've known for years - that our daughter can paint.

    Mrs. R.: Now, you behave, Dad. (She goes out. Mr. Roche straightens his tie and pulls down his shirtcuffs. Jean Marie stands centre stage watching the door. Rob:stands with his back to the window, his hands in his pockets - a rather defiant attitude).


    Enter Mrs. Roche, followed by Dr. Kincaid who mops his forehead as he comes in. He gives a mocking fascist salute to Mr. Roche and shakes hands with Rob. He is followed after an interval by Peter Raid who stands in the doorway looking at Jean Marie.


    Peter: So you’re the prodigy.

    Mrs. R.: (fussily): Yes, this is my daughter, Jean Marie. And my husband, Mr. Roche. And this is Jean Marie's fiancé, Rob:Drury.

    Peter: Ah, there is a fiancé.

    Rob: Very much so; any objection?

    Mrs. R.(hurriedly) You'll be ready for a drink, I'm sure. You'll have a cup of tea, won't you, doctor?

    Dr.: You've never heard me say No to that, Mrs. Roche. What about you, Peter. Do you drink tea?

    Peter: I have tasted it.

    Mr. R.: You'll get nothing stronger in this house.

    Jean M.: Dad! Won't you sit down, Mr. Raid?

    Peter:   I'd rather stand.

    Mrs. R.:  I'll just make the tea - I won't be a moment.

    Dr.: I've got to get Peter across to the junction for the four- thirty, so we haven't long -

    Jean M.: I'd better give you a hand, Mother. (They go out).

    Mr. R.:   How about one on the house while we're waiting? (He hands his pouch to Dr. Kincaid who fills his pipe; Mr. R. fills his.)

    Rob(to Peter): Cigarette?

    Peter: I don't smoke.

    Dr. K.: He hasn't any normal vices -

    (Peter wanders round the room looking at the pictures. Rod stands watching him).        

    Peter: I suppose you want me to tell her she's a dud.

    Rob: Tell her the truth - whatever it is.

    Mr. R.: You'll please me most if you tell her she's a heaven-sent genius.

    Peter: That's what all doting parents want to hear.

    Dr. K.: You've up to some scheme, Charlie Roche - I know you. You always want to be suspicious of him when he looks guileless, Peter. Come on, now - out with it.

    Peter: A heaven-sent genius, eh? And have her wasting her time and your money -

    Mr. R.: Listen here to me, Mr. Raid - you may know something about painting; but I know something about women - and particularly about my girl. She's one of the self-sacrificing sort - Just exactly like her mother - and I’ve lived with her going on twenty-five years, so I ought to know.

    Dr. K.: He’s made a study of the subject, Peter.

    Mr. R.: The proper study of mankind, you know – women! As I was saying when I was so rudely interrupted (he and Dr. K. bow ceremoniously to each other), when the missus was a girl, she had a voice -

    Rob: She still has a beautiful voice.

    Mr. R.:  And so she has, Rob, I’m not saying she hasn't. Wearing a chip on each shoulder this afternoon, aren't you, lad? Well, the missus had a voice and a chap came up here one summer and heard her sing. This was before we were married. He told her she ought to go abroad and have it trained and made out all she had to do was to be heard to be a great success. We were engaged at the time and I said I wouldn't stand in her way - I knew it would be no good if I did, as far as that goes. Any- how, I said if she felt she had to go, I'd put up with it as best I could. Well, that was enough for Mum - she said she'd rather give up the career than give up marrying me and so we got married. Doc here will tell you she sublimated her idea of success or some other newfangled word, but I reckon what she’s done all these years is get a real healthy glow of self- satisfaction every time she's remembered what she sacrificed to marry me. Some women just thrive on being frustrated and Mum is like that - and so's Jean Marie. You tell her she's a genius - that the path to success is straight ahead of her and she'll settle down and marry Rob:and live happy ever after. She'll have her secret sorrow and probably she'll pitch it up at him every now and then, but she’ll be happy and she’ll be content - and that's what I want for my girl. And you can keep your fame -

    Rob: Tell her the truth, Mr. Raid.

    Peter: My classes are full of them - these people with a happorth of talent and a burning ambition -

    Rob: I thought you only took students who had something in them.

    Peter:   Even an artist must live. One shows them how to draw; one says to them, "put the paint on so, and so" - they try - oh, God, the awful, awful effort they put into their trying. And at the end for most of them nothing but frustration - a much worse frustration than you speak of, Mr, Roche - because they know their own limitations -

    Mr. R.:   I'm glad you see it my way -

    Rob: What do you think of her pictures?

    Dr.: Now, no cheating, young Robert. You'll get into an unholy row if you say anything without Mrs. Roche here, Peter. This was her idea, you know - getting me to inveigle you here to look at Jean Marie's work.

    Peter: These are all hers? (Looks round room)

    Mr. R.:   Yes, except that one there - that's me and Mum in our wedding rig.


    Enter Jean Marie, carrying cake stand and tea cloth. She takes flowers off centre table, puts on cloth. Enter Mrs. Roche carrying tray with afternoon tea equipment. She seats herself and commences to pour out. Jean Marie and Rob:hand the tea round.


    Jean Marie: (to Peter) Sugar?    

    Peter: I don't take it.

    Dr. K.: You children going to tennis after you get rid of us, I suppose.

    Rob: The whole town will be there an afternoon like this.

    Mrs. R.: Better an afternoon like this than one like last Saturday. It rained all the afternoon, and Mr. Robert here wandered round like a lost soul the whole day -

    Jean M.: You'll give Mr. Raid an awful impression of Rob, Mother. (To Peter) Cake?

    Peter: No, thanks -

    Rob: Don't you eat either?

    Jean M.: (hurriedly) If you've got to catch the four-thirty, Mr. Raid, there isn't much time. Shall I show you my work now? 

    Mrs. R.: Let the man have his tea in peace, Jean Marie.

    Peter: I've been looking at these. They’re not all you’ve done. Let me see your sketchbooks - they’ll tell me more than finished work.

    Jean M.: There are some of them here. (She takes portfolio of sketches out of piano stool. Peter puts his cup on top of piano and stands turning the sketches over. Jean Marie stands beside him telling him what they are). That’s an old house down by the bridge, you may have noticed it. The colour's drab, but it has rather a nice line. That's the view from beyond the church - you’ve shown Mr. Raid our local beauty spot, haven't you, Doctor?

    Dr.: I haven’t. He won't look at beauty spots - and the only thing he's painted since he's been here is that old half-burnt house down by the river. He's a contrary devil. 

    Jean M.: I'm sure he’s not. Oh, that one's an old maize crib we've got in the river paddock - I rather liked that tracery against the sky. Oh, please - not that lot. (She reaches over to take some sketches from him) They're not in the exhibition.  I only do those when I'm wild with people - Dad calls them "Libels". 

    Peter: nevertheless, I'll look at them. Oh, that's your father. (He gives a sudden harsh laugh and goes carefully through the small bundle. Dr. Kincaid comes across and looks over his shoulder). 

    Dr.: That's the vicar - in one of those irritable fits he calls a "consuming rage". Ha, ha - Mrs. Trelawney - she’s our local - h'm (coughs), I mean she's pretty well known round the town, Peter - 

    Peter: I can see that. (He goes on turning the sketches over; but goes back more than once to the libels. The others all hang on his movements. At last, he puts down the folio, walks round the room looking at the pictures, then stands facing Jean Marie). You know you have considerable talent, young woman. 

    Mrs. R.: There, Dad, I told you. 

    Jean M.: You mean, I'm extra good. 

    Peter: Yes, something more than extra good. A couple of years in Paris - or Milan - 

    Jean M.: Oh, Rob, do you hear that? 

    Peter: I'm sorry for you, young man. 

    Rob: Why? 

    Peter: You wouldn't stand in Miss Roche’s way, would you? You wouldn't want her to throw her talent away - 

    Jean M.: I make up my own mind what I do with my talent, Mr. Raid - and there’s no need for you to feel sorry for Rob. 

    Peter: You can't have marriage and a career both, you know; you’d make a mess of either one or the other - 

    Jean M.: Then if being an artist means giving up Rob, I just won't be an artist, that' s all.

    Rob: You're not going to sacrifice yourself for me, Jean Marie. I'd never forgive myself and you'd never forgive me when you had time to think about it -

    Jean M.: There’s no question, Rob:-

    Peter: You're a fool, Jean Marie Roche. However, you seem to know your own mind. But what I want to know is why, oh, why did you want my opinion?

    Jean M.: I had to know ii I was any good - that's all.

    Peter: And you had to drag Dr. Kincaid twenty miles out of his way on a hot afternoon and drag me with him just to get my opinion

    Jean M.: (a bit shaken) I'm sorry - I didn't realise I was being inconsiderate - I didn't think of it that way. It just seemed such a heaven-sent opportunity -

    Peter: Of getting an excuse to play the frustrated genius all your life.

    Jean M.: You wouldn't understand - you couldn't understand. It was not for that at all. I had to know whether I am any good. If I didn't know, all my life I would have thought perhaps I might have been good, if I'd had the chance. Now I know - and if I turn down a career, I do it of my own free will - it's my own responsibility. On, it's no good trying to explain -

    Peter: How old are you?

    Jean M.: I'm twenty-two -

    Peter: (mockingly) So young, and yet so wise –

    Jean M.: I'm sorry we troubled you, Mr. Raid –

    Dr.: Peter, you promised to be good. 

    Peter: (quickly, charmingly) Mrs. Roche, forgive me, I am a boor.

    Mrs. R.: Not at all, Mr. Raid. I'm sure I understand you being angry with Jean-Marie. It's so silly of her to say just flat out like that that she's going to give up her career -

    Mr. R.: Don't forget you did the same at her age, Mum - and you've never regretted it, have you?

    Mrs. R.: No, I can't say I have. Yet it doesn't seem right for Jean Marie, just the same old humdrum round -

    Dr.: About that train, Peter -

    Peter: Yes, we must be off. Goodbye, Miss Roche. (To Rob) You'll live to thank me, it seems -

    (Dr. Kincaid shakes hands with Rob, pats Jean Marie on the shoulder).

    Mrs. R.: You haven't much time for the four-thirty. I get all of a twit when people are running against time (As she speaks, she goes out, followed by Dr. Kincaid and Peter. Mr. Roche brings up in the rear. He is very pleased with himself).

    Rob: Well, that’s that. And I hope you're satisfied.

    Jean M.: You don't seem pleased, Rob. (She picks up the drawings to which Peter had returned and goes through them carefully. Rob:stands and watches her). Anyone would think you had wanted to get rid of me -

    Rob: Don't joke, Jean Marie.

    Jean M.: I must - or howl.

    Rob: I wouldn't go too much on his opinion -

    Jean M.: Don’t you agree with it? That's interesting -    

    Rob: You're trying to misunderstand me, Jean Marie. I do agree with it - it’s just that somehow I don’t think he's sincere -

    Jean M.: He's sincere enough - he wouldn't bother to tell a lie, unless it amused him. I hate him - he was abominable. And to think I put myself under such an obligation to him -

    Rob: You needn't worry about his feelings - that's all part of his pose -

    Jean M.: Oh, no, it isn't. It's the man himself. He likes to make people embarrassed - to have them at a disadvantage -

    Rob: You managed to take in a lot in twenty minutes -

    Jean M.: Twenty seconds was all I needed - it's in every line of his face. (She picks up a piece of charcoal, turns over one of the sketches and on the back of it begins to draw with rapid sure strokes). In every line of his face -         


    Enter Mr, Roche. He has discarded his coat.


    Mr. R.: For the love of mike, give me a cup of tea. Well, that went off alright, didn’t it, lad? (He digs Rob:playfully in the ribs).             

    Rob: I don't like it, Mr. Roche -


    Enter Mrs. Roche. She begins to pack up the tea cups.


    Jean M.: (still drawing): The matter is finished - let it rest!

    Rob: It can't rest, Jean Marie -

    Mrs. R.: Now, that's my idea of a real artist – although he'd be a terrible nuisance round a house -

    Jean M.: He'd be a terrible nuisance anywhere - self-willed, deliberate beast

    (Mr. Roche walks round and looks at her drawing)         

    Mr. R.: (laughing) Just as well that one wasn't in the lot he looked at - that would have sent him into another tantrum.             

    (Mrs. Roche and Rob:walk round and stand one each side looking at the drawing).         

    Jean M.: Oh, he turns those on for effect - like the lock of hair over the right eye - stage properties!

    Mrs. R.: I think you're a bit hard on him, Jean Marie, although I must say you two did seem to rub each other up the wrong way. Anyway, we've got his opinion -

    Rob: For what it is worth.

    Mrs. R.: Were you afraid he might try and persuade Jean Marie to go abroad, Rob?

    Rob: I knew he wouldn't.

    Jean M.: I can’t understand you, Rob. Before he came, you worried, because he might say I was good and take me away from you. He’s come, and he's said it, and you know I'm not going.  (As she speaks, she puts down the sketch and dusts the charcoal from her fingers. Unnoticed by them the door opens and Peter stands in the doorway) Isn't it enough to know that I'm not going? Do you have to take away from me the satisfaction of knowing that I could be a painter?

    Peter (violently): It's not true - nothing on heaven or earth would make you a painter. It just isn't in you. I'm sorry, Mr. Roche - I couldn't go without telling the truth. Your painting is rotten, Miss. Roche. All that (he waves his arm comprehensively at the pictures on the wall) is so much bilge. You could do better with a five shilling camera -

    Jean M.: What do you mean - that I'm no good - absolutely no good at all -

    Peter: You're as good as hundreds of others -no better and no worse -

    Jean M.: Then - why did you tell me all that - why did you need to - (She is on the verge of tears).

    Peter:   Ask your father. It was his idea - he's a good judge of character -

    Jean M.: I haven't any talent - at all?

    Peter: You haven’t talent. You’ve got something better. Those paintings are rubbish - but there’s something in those drawings - "Libels" you called them - they would be libels if they were written instead of drawn -

    Jean M.: You only like them because they hurt -

    Peter: There’s just a tiny, flickering spark of genius in those drawings. They hurt - of course, they hurt. Caricatures are meant to (He picks up the drawing she has made of him and looks from it to her sharply). You can sting - in half a dozen lines and a smudge of shadow, you can sting. But forget it - you're just a normal woman -

    Jean M.: You hate women, don’t you? You don’t want them to succeed -

    Peter:   Men or women – they’re all the same to me. As far as I’m concerned, people are in two classes - those who use the best that’s in them and those who take the easy road. You've got a brain that sees under the surface of people and your brain and your hand are perfectly co-ordinated. You've got the makings of a great cartoonist - but you'll never be great - you couldn’t. It takes backbone and grit and determination - You'd have to work like hell for years - you’d have to face disappointment and rebuff after rebuff. You'd have to cut yourself off from human contact and set your mind and your heart and your whole being on the one end. You'd have to live with satire and malice and cynicism; you'd have to bury your hands in pitch and keep your eyes on the stars. But you couldn't do it. You're a woman and you want the woman-things more - softness and security, ease and protection - and an excuse for self-pity. You could be great - but you haven’t got the things it takes to make greatness - guts and ruthlessness -

    Rob: Look here, Mr. Peter Raid - I don't like you and I don’t like your language. Get out before you're thrown out -

    Jean M.: Leave him alone, Rob. (To peter) You're telling the truth this time - it's not just another of your devilish tricks -

    Peter: I'm telling the truth - if you can take it. There's my address (he throws a card on the table). Be at my studio at ten on Monday morning - if you've got the stuff in you -

    Jean M.: Monday morning -

    Peter: That gives you twenty-four hours to think about it; twenty-four hours to think out all the things you'll be missing. When you begin to think about it, think about those things you'll be missing. Think not of the fame at the end, but of the private hell you'll have to live in - think what it will mean to live with fear and respect instead of with love - That's what it will mean. You’ll have to see always not the courage and nobility and pathos of men and women, but their sordidness, their folly, their futility - (A motor horn toots outside impatiently). Alright (shouting) I’m coming – At ten o’clock on Monday morning.

    Jean M.: I’ll be there - 

    Peter: I won’t expect you - (He goes out)


    There is a little silence. Then Mrs. Roche drops into an armchair and begins to cry quietly. Mr. Roche moves over and puts his arm across her shoulders. Jean Marie goes over and picks up her drawing of Peter and stands looking at it.


    Mr R.: There's no need to cry about it, Mum. Violent kind of man; he’s quite upset you. 

    Rob:(heavily): I was afraid all along that that’s what would happen.

    (Jean Marie raises her head slowly and looks at Rob).

    Jean M.: I most go - you do understand, Rob:– I must go.

    CURTAIN

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