Sweet bird of youth, p.1
Sweet Bird of Youth
Relentless caper for all those who step
The legend of their youth into the noon
NOTE ON SETTING AND SPECIAL EFFECTS:
The stage is backed by a cyclorama that should give a poetic unity of mood to the
several specific settings. There are non-realistic projections on this 'cyc', the most important and constant being a grove of royal palm trees. There is nearly always a wind among these very tall palm trees, sometimes loud, sometimes just a whisper, and sometimes it blends into a thematic music which will be identified, when it occurs, as the 'Lament'.
During the daytime scenes the cyclorama projection is a poetic abstraction of semi-
tropical sea and sky in fair spring weather. At night it is the palm garden with its branches among the stars.
The specific settings should be treated as freely and sparingly as the sets for Cat on a
Hot Tin Roof or Summer and Smoke. They'll be described as you come to them in the script.
A bedroom of an old-fashioned but still fashionable hotel somewhere along the Gulf Coast in a town called St Cloud. I think of it as resembling one of those 'Grand Hotels' around Sorrento or Monte Carlo, set in a palm garden. The style is vaguely 'Moorish'. The principal set-piece is a great double bed which should be raked towards the audience. In a sort of Moorish corner,
backed by shuttered windows, is a wicker tabouret and two wicker stools, over which is
suspended a Moorish lamp on a brass chain. The windows are floor length and they open out
upon a gallery. There is also a practical doorframe, opening on to a corridor: the walls are only suggested.
On the great bed are two figures, a sleeping woman, and a young man awake, sitting up,
in the trousers of white silk pajamas. The sleeping woman's face is partly covered by an eyeless black satin domino to protect her from morning glare. She breathes and tosses on the bed as if in the grip of a nightmare. The young man is lighting his first cigarette of the day.
[Outside the windows there are heard the soft, urgent cries of birds, the sound of their
wings. Then a colored waiter, Fly, appears at the door on the corridor, bearing coffee-service for two. He knocks, Chance rises, pauses a moment at a mirror in the fourth wall to run a comb through his slightly thinning blond hair before he crosses to open the door.]
CHANCE: Aw, good, put it in there.
FLY: Yes, suh.
CHANCE: Give me the Bromo first. You better mix it for me, I'm--
FLY: Hands kind of shaky this mawnin'?
CHANCE [shuddering after the Bromo]: Open the shutters a little. Hey, I said a little, not
much, not that much!
[As the shutters are opened we see him clearly for the first time: he's in his late twenties
and his face looks slightly older than that; you might describe it as a 'ravaged young face' and yet it is still exceptionally good-looking. His body shows no decline, yet it's the kind of a body that white silk pajamas are, or ought to be, made for. A church bell tolls, and from another
church, nearer, a choir starts singing the 'Hallelujah Chorus'. It draws him to the window, and as he crosses he speaks.]
I didn't know it was--Sunday.
FLY: Yes, suh, it's Easter Sunday.
CHANCE [leaning out a moment, hands gripping the shutters]: Uh-huh . . .
FLY: That's the Episcopal Church they're singin' in. The bell's from the Catholic Church.
CHANCE: I'll put your tip on the check.
FLY: Thank you, Mr Wayne.
CHANCE [as Fly starts for the door]: Hey. How did you know my name?
FLY: I waited tables in the Grand Ballroom when you used to come to the dances on Saturday
nights, with that real pretty girl you used to dance so good with, Mr Boss Finley's daughter.
CHANCE: I'm increasing your tip to five dollars in return for a favor which is not to remember that you have recognized me or anything else at all. Your name is Fly--Shoo, Fly. Close the
door with no noise.
VOICE OUTSIDE: Just a minute.
CHANCE: Who's that?
VOICE OUTSIDE: George Scudder.
[Slight pause, Fly exits.]
CHANCE: How did you know I was here?
[George Scudder enters: a coolly nice-looking, business-like young man who might be
the head of the Junior Chamber of Commerce but is actually a young doctor, about thirty-six or
SCUDDER: The assistant manager that checked you in here last night phoned me this morning
that you'd come back to St Cloud.
CHANCE: So you came right over to welcome me home?
SCUDDER: Your lady friend sounds like she's coming out of ether.
CHANCE: The Princess had a rough night.
SCUDDER: You've latched on to a Princess? [mockingly] Gee.
CHANCE: She's travelling incognito.
SCUDDER: Golly, I should think she would, if she's checking in hotels with you.
CHANCE: George, you're the only man I know that still says 'gee', 'golly', and 'gosh'.
SCUDDER: Well, I'm not the sophisticated type, Chance.
CHANCE: That's for sure. Want some coffee?
SCUDDER: Nope. Just came for a talk. A quick one.
CHANCE: O.K. Start talking, man.
SCUDDER: Why've you come back to St Cloud?
CHANCE: I've still got a mother and a girl in St Cloud. How's Heavenly, George?
SCUDDER: We'll get around to that later. [He glances at his watch.] I've got to be in surgery at the hospital in twenty-five minutes.
CHANCE: You operate now, do you?
SCUDDER [opening doctor's bag]: I'm chief of staff there now.
CHANCE: Man, you've got it made.
SCUDDER: Why have you come back?
CHANCE: I heard that my mother was sick.
SCUDDER: But you said 'How's Heavenly?' not 'How's my mother?' Chance, [Chance sips
coffee.] Your mother died a couple of weeks ago . . .
[Chance slowly turns his back on the man and crosses to the window. Shadows of birds
sweep the blind. He lowers it a little before he turns back to Scudder.]
CHANCE: Why wasn't I notified?
SCUDDER: You were. A wire was sent you three days before she died, at the last address she
had for you which was General Delivery, Los Angeles. We got no answer from that and another
wire was sent you after she died, the same day of her death and we got no response from that
either. Here's the Church Record. The church took up a collection for her hospital and funeral expenses. She was buried nicely in your family plot and the church has also given her a very
nice headstone. I'm giving you these details in spite of the fact that I know and everyone here in town knows that you had no interest in her, less than people who knew her only slightly, such as myself.
CHANCE: How did she go?
SCUDDER: She had a long illness, Chance. You know about that.
CHANCE: Yes. She was sick when I left here the last time.
SCUDDER: She was sick at heart as well as sick in her body at that time, Chance. But people
were very good to her, especially people who knew her in church, and the Reverend Walker
was with her at the end.
[Chance sits down on the bed. He puts out his unfinished cigarette and immediately
lights another. His voice becomes thin and strained.]
SCUDDER: Luck? Well, that's all over with now. If you want to know anything more about
that, you can get in touch with Reverend Walker about it, although I'm afraid he won't be likely to show much cordiality to you.
CHANCE: She's gone. Why talk about it?
SCUDDER: I hope you haven't forgotten the letter I wrote you soon after you last left town.
CHANCE: No. I got no letter.
SCUDDER: I wrote you in care of an address your mother gave me, about a very important
CHANCE: I've been moving a lot.
SCUDDER: I didn't even mention names in the letter.
CHANCE: What was the letter about?
SCUDDER: Sit over here so I don't have to talk loud about this. Come over here. I can't talk
loud about this. [Scudder indicates the chair by the tabouret, Chance crosses and rests a foot on the chair.] In this letter I just told you that a certain girl we know had to go through an awful experience, a tragic ordeal, because of past contact with you. I told you that I was only giving you this information so that you would know better than to come back to St Cloud, but you
didn't know better.
CHANCE: I told you I got no letter. Don't tell me about a letter, I didn't get any letter.
SCUDDER: I'm telling you what I told you in this letter.
CHANCE: All right. Tell me what you told me, don't--don't talk to me like a club, a chamber of something. What did you tell me? What ordeal? What girl? Heavenly? Heavenly? George?
SCUDDER: I see it's not going to be possible to talk about this quietly and so I . . .
CHANCE [rising to block Scudder's way]: Heavenly? What ordeal?
SCUDDER: We will not mention names. Chance, I rushed over here this morning as soon as I
heard you were back in St Cloud, before the girl's father and brother could hear that you were back in St Cloud, to stop you from trying to get in touch with the girl and to get you out of here.
That is absolutely all I have to say to you in this room at this moment . . . But I hope I have said it in a way to impress you with the vital urgency of it, so you will leave. . . .
CHANCE: Jesus! If something's happened to Heavenly, will you please tell me--what?
SCUDDER: I said no names. We are not alone in this room. Now when I go downstairs now,
I'll speak to Dan Hatcher, assistant manager here . . . he told me you'd checked in here . . . and tell him you want to check out, so you'd better get Sleeping Beauty and yourself ready to travel, and I suggest that you keep on travelling till you've crossed the State line. . . .
CHANCE: You're not going to leave this room till you've explained to me what you've been
hinting at about my girl in St Cloud.
SCUDDER: There's a lot more to this which we feel ought not to be talked about to anyone,
least of all to you, since you have turned into a criminal degenerate, the only right term for you, but, Chance, I think I ought to remind you that once long ago the father of this girl wrote out a prescription for you, a sort of medical prescription, which is castration. You'd better think about that, that would deprive you of all you've got to get by on. [He moves towards the steps.]
CHANCE: I'm used to that threat. I'm not going to leave St Cloud without my girl.
SCUDDER [on the steps]: You don't have a girl in St Cloud. Heavenly and I are going to be
married next month. [He leaves abruptly.]
[Chance, shaken by what he has heard, turns and picks up phone and kneels on the
CHANCE: Hello? St Cloud 525. Hello, Aunt Nonnie? This is Chance, yes Chance. I'm staying
at the Royal Palms and I . . . what's the matter, has something happened to Heavenly? Why
can't you talk now? George Scudder was here and . . . Aunt Nonnie? Aunt Nonnie?
[The other end hangs up. The sleeping woman suddenly cries out in her sleep, Chance
drops the phone on its cradle and runs to the bed.]
CHANCE [bending over her as she struggles out of a nightmare]: Princess! Princess! Hey,
[He removes her eyemask; she sits up gasping and staring wild-eyed about her.]
PRINCESS: Who are you? Help!
CHANCE [on the bed]: Hush now. . . .
PRINCESS: Oh . . . I . . . had . . . a terrible dream.
CHANCE: It's all right. Chance's with you.
PRINCESS: I don't know who you are!
CHANCE: You'll remember soon, Princess.
PRINCESS: I don't know, I don't know. . . .
CHANCE: It'll come back to you soon. What are you reachin' for, honey?
PRINCESS: Oxygen! Mask!
CHANCE: Why? Do you feel short-winded?
PRINCESS: Yes! I have . . . air . . . shortage!
CHANCE [looking for the correct piece of luggage]: Which bag is your oxygen in? I can't
remember which bag we packed it in. Aw, yeah, the crocodile case, the one with the
combination lock. Wasn't the first number zero . . . ? [He comes back to the bed and reaches for a bag under its far side.]
PRINCESS [as if with her dying breath]: Zero, zero. Two zeros to the right and then back
around to . . .
CHANCE: Zero, three zeros, two of them to the right and the last one to the left. . . .
PRINCESS: Hurry! I can't breathe, I'm dying!
CHANCE: I'm getting it, Princess.
CHANCE: Here we are, I've got it. . . .
[He has extracted from case a small oxygen cylinder and mask. He fits the inhalator
over her nose and mouth. She falls back on the pillow. He places the other pillow under her
head. After a moment, her panicky breath subsiding, she growls at him.]
PRINCESS: Why in hell did you lock it up in that case?
CHANCE [standing at the head of the bed]: You said to put all your valuables in that case.
PRINCESS: I meant my jewelry, and you know it, you bastard!
CHANCE: Princess, I didn't think you'd have these attacks any more. I thought that having me
with you to protect you would stop these attacks of panic, I . . .
PRINCESS: Give me a pill.
CHANCE: Which pill?
PRINCESS: A pink one, a pinkie, and vodka. . . .
[He puts the tank on the floor, and goes over to the trunk. The phone rings, Chance
gives the Princess a pill, picks up the vodka bottle, and goes to the phone. He sits down with the bottle between his knees.]
CHANCE [pouring a drink, phone held between shoulder and ear]: Hello? Oh, hello, Mr
Hatcher--Oh? But Mr Hatcher, when we checked in here last night we weren't told that, and
Miss Alexandra Del Lago . . .
PRINCESS [shouting]: Don't use my name!
CHANCE: . . . is suffering from exhaustion, she's not at all well, Mr Hatcher, and certainly not in any condition to travel. . . . I'm sure you don't want to take the responsibility for what might happen to Miss Del Lago. . . .
PRINCESS [shouting again]: Don't use my name!
CHANCE: . . . if she attempted to leave here today in the condition she's in . . . do you?
PRINCESS: Hang up! [He does. He comes over with his drink and the bottle to the Princess.] I
want to forget everything, I want to forget who I am. . . .
CHANCE [handing her the drink]: He said that . . .
PRINCESS [drinking]: Please shut up, I'm forgetting!
CHANCE [taking the glass from her]: Okay, go on, forget. There's nothing better than that, I
wish I could do it. . . .
PRINCESS: I can, I will. I'm forgetting . . . I'm forgetting. . . .
[She lies down, Chance moves to the foot of the bed, where he seems to be struck with
an idea. He puts the bottle down on the floor, runs to the c
Taking it back to the bed, he places the recorder on the floor. As he plugs it in, he coughs.]
CHANCE: Looking for my toothbrush.
PRINCESS [throwing the oxygen mask on the bed]: Will you please take that away.
Sweet Bird of Youth by Tennessee Williams / History & Fiction have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes