Rachael has productions across the U.S., U.K., Canada and Asia, and invitations to the Inge Theatre Festival, the Midwestern Dramatists Center, the Mid-America Theater Conference, the American Association for Theatre in Higher Education Conference New Play Development Series and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, as well as the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Playwriting Intensive. Rachael’s award-winning play Partner Of— is published by the Coachella Review, and was featured in the 2019 Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Festival in New York City. Her play Egg in Spoon will be published in the Coachella Review and her plays Ice Front and Curbed will be published in the Silk Road Review. Rachael’s full-length play Canopy enjoyed staged readings at the WriteON Festival in Cambridge, U.K. and the Parsons Nose Theatre in Pasadena, and her play Practice House had a staged reading at Oregon Contemporary Theater, and is a semi-finalist for the 2019 New Dramatists Princess Grace Award. Rachael is the founder and editor of CodeRedPlaywrights, a consortium of writers across the country, responding to gun violence. She and her family live in Oregon.

Contrapposto

Rachael Carnes

CHARACTERS

 

SANDRO BOTTICELLI, aka Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, member of the Florentine School under the patronage of Lorenzo de’ Medici. Painter of “The Birth of Venus”. Man, 40’s. 

VENUS, Roman goddess of love, beauty, prosperity, fertility and victory. Woman. Ageless. 

SETTING Florence, Italy 

 

TIME 1485 

 

contrapposto: an asymmetrical arrangement of the human figure in which the line of the arms and shoulders contrasts with, while balancing, those of the hips and legs.

Lights up on an artist’s studio, circa 1485. 

SANDRO holds a palette and paintbrush. 

VENUS stands in a kiddie pool. 

SANDRO

I need you to stand with most of your weight on your left foot. 

VENUS

Like this?

SANDRO

Good, yes, your shoulders and hips twist off-axis from the hips and legs. 

VENUS

Sandy—

SANDRO

Now cover your patata with this cloth and —

VENUS

Please don't call my vagina a potato?

SANDRO

Stand on your left foot! Right arm up like this, covering your mammella. 

VENUS

They're not udders.

SANDRO

Look down and to the right. No - Don’t look at me. 

VENUS

I could use some context. For this one, am I napping in the forest or taking a bath in the forest? 

SANDRO

You’re a wet baby woman, born fully-formed, rising out of the sea! 

VENUS

Wonderful.

SANDRO

I don't like that tone.

VENUS

I’m just tired of embodying erotic pleasure while recreating the platonic ideals of antiquity.

SANDRO

Put your weight on your left foot.

VENUS

Women are more than the sacred and the profane —

SANDRO

You are Venus. Your name means “to honor, to try to please.”

VENUS

I'm standing like this.

SANDRO

You can’t do that. You look like a King, like a warrior. It’s ridiculous!

VENUS

Then I want to sit on the footstool with the pepper mill.

SANDRO

My patron from the Medici family sits on the foot stool. You stand in the clam shell!

VENUS

I can't.

SANDRO

What do you mean, “You can’t?" That’s what I’m paying you to do.

VENUS

My standing with my weight on one leg in that clam shell is going to have lasting repercussions on the way women are represented in the coming centuries. It’s not worth the money.

SANDRO

You’re born of sea foam, okay? You are the yielding, watery female principle, essential to the generation and the balance of life.

VENUS

Mars gets a helmet! He gets armor.

SANDRO

Your boyfriend is the God of War. You are the Goddess of Love.

 

VENUS

He’s not my boyfriend. That’s just a tabloid rumor.

SANDRO

Everybody knows about it. Mars is a catch. Strong, virile, allows crops to grow —

VENUS

And Mars gets to stand on two feet with his arm in the air and his fist on his hip, like this —

SANDRO

Stop that! Your job is to absorb and temper the male essence!

VENUS

Mars gets a shield. He gets a sword! What do I get? A stupid pink hanky to cover my —

SANDRO

Your potato unites the opposites of male and female affection.

VENUS

I don’t want to do that anymore. I’m strong, capable. Give me the same respect you give Mars!

SANDRO

Mars is fiery and active. You’re more — benign. We need you to seem vulnerable and open.

VENUS

But I control military victories. I determine sexual success. When the people pray for good fortune and prosperity, it’s me they look to. So why can’t I look back out to them?

SANDRO

I’m growing weary of this chatter.

VENUS

I want someone to depict me as a protector —with character and dignity — I want clothes!

SANDRO

Gimme gimme! It’s always the same with you. We paint you on murals, we put your face into mosaics — All those little itty-bitty pieces! — And we pray to you at our household shrines. When girls come of age, they sacrifice their toys to you. “Bye, dolly,” they say. “I’m a woman now!” Brides offer you gifts before their wedding nights. But that’s just not good enough!

VENUS

I want to be acknowledged for my contributions. I want to be equal.

SANDRO

You’re the goddess of sewers! The slang word for the female pudendum is named after you!

VENUS

Do you even know where the clitoris is? 

SANDRO

It's somewhere under the pink hanky!

VENUS

I’m tired of this fugitive, momentary pose.

SANDRO

This is who you are.

VENUS

You have a chance to do something different. To show me as complete, as complicated, with a range of thoughts and emotions. You can depict me as a sentient being!

SANDRO

Look, there are plenty of girls who would be glad to have this gig.

 

VENUS

But I am Venus! Saturn chopped off my father’s testicles, and threw them in the ocean — And my father’s julienned man parts mixed with sea water and here I am!

 

SANDRO

You know what? This is not working out. I can bring life, and I can destroy it! I’m gonna just pay you for the week, and you can go.

VENUS

If it weren’t for my courage, my determination, my powerful, sexual energy, there would be no Greece, no Rome, no Middle Ages — Without me, there would be no Renaissance. And if there’s no Renaissance there’s no Sandy Botticelli —

SANDRO

We have built you temples and held festivals in your honor!

VENUS

And that is why, in this portrait of me, I want you to show me standing on my own two feet, with my fist on my hip, and my sword raised in the air. Give me a sword, or I will curse you, and your stupid painting.

SANDRO

But my painting is really coming together! I’ve got all the pieces: The lady with the big sheet, ready to cover your nakedness. I worked out the clam shell. It looks great. And look — I figured out how to show wind, okay? Not that you care! But I mean, see these two people, hanging out in the sky and blowing? That is fucking amazing.

VENUS lights incense.

VENUS

(Dancing, with lit incense.) O Venus, the queen of Cnidus and Paphos, spurn your beloved Cyprus, and summoned by copious incense, come to my lovely shrine!

SANDRO

Are you praying to yourself?

VENUS

And let that passionate boy of yours, Cupid, and the Graces with loosened zones—

SANDRO

Loosened zones?

Venus stops dancing.

VENUS

Do you want this painting to sell?

SANDRO

Yes.

VENUS

Do you want it to be hung in museums?

SANDRO

What’s a museum?

VENUS

Do you want it to be replicated? Turned into a meme? Do you want it to be made into refrigerator magnets?

 

SANDRO

I think so?

VENUS

Do you want it to be famous?

SANDRO

It’s my dream.

VENUS

Then pray to me. Do it!

 

SANDRO

I won’t —

 

VENUS

Then I refuse to put my weight on my left foot.

SANDRO

But — I need you.

 

VENUS

I'm leaving.

 

VENUS extinguishes the burning incense. (Maybe on

on her palm?)

SANDRO

Graceful Venus. Indulgent Venus!

 

VENUS

Go on.

SANDRO

Genial Venus —
 

VENUS

I'm crying.

SANDRO

(Crying.) We implore thee, embracing this thy altar —

VENUS

Bending upon our knees —

SANDRO

No.

VENUS

You want this painting to be remembered? Then get on your knees.

SANDRO falls to his knees.

SANDRO

Bending upon our knees, that thou wilt receive us into thy guardianship, and be our protector; that thou wilt punish those wretches who have set at nought thy temple, and that thou wilt suffer us to occupy this thy altar with thy permission. Hold us not in scorn!

VENUS

Say you're sorry.

 

SANDRO

For what?

VENUS

I want you to apologize — For the way representing me this way will perpetuate the myth that women are weak, and that they should be economically dependent on men —

SANDRO

Well, you are made of testicles and sea water.

 

VENUS

Forcing me to stand around in this clam shell naturalizes the imbalance of power —

SANDRO stands.

SANDRO

You have a role to perform. Now take your clothes off.

 

VENUS

No! You take your clothes off.

 

SANDRO

By my authority —
 

VENUS

You look faint.

SANDRO

Quit stalling. Get naked.

VENUS

Why don’t you lie down on this couch?

 

SANDRO

We both know the jig is up.

VENUS

You’ll paint me however you want. And that’s your power. But without me, you are nothing.

SANDRO

Did you spend your entire life studying painting? Are the Medicis commissioning you? I don’t think so! I’m holding the paintbrush. I mix the paints. I am invested with all the prestige, right, and permission. My work is holy scripture! Sanctified doctrine! This is my domain — Not yours.

VENUS

And in your command, I lose my subjectivity.

 

SANDRO

You're the center of the painting!

VENUS

My body placed there, divorced from head and heart, an open invitation. Do you like this? Hey.

SANDRO

When you stand like that, I feel warm inside

 

VENUS

But I don’t want to beckon! I want to lead!

SANDRO

You’re already doing a great job representing Purity and Desire —

 

VENUS

I’m sick of it. My body is my own!

 

SANDRO

So touchy!

 

VENUS

My body is not a site entitled to the men around me —

SANDRO

Be that as it may, you will obey me.

VENUS

Why should I?

 

SANDRO

Because I am your god. This is how it is, and how it forever will be. I am your midwife, bringing you helpless and mewling into the world, pulling you from the sea into being, and trapping you, here, forever, to be gazed upon.

VENUS

I want to stand straight, like this, with my shoulders back and my chin up.

 

SANDRO

God, you're beautiful.

VENUS

Stop objectifying me! I want to look out confidently at the viewer. Why won’t you let me?

SANDRO

Are you kidding? The world's not ready for that!

VENUS

How do you know?

SANDRO

Now be a good girl. Eyes over here. No — Down and to the right.

VENUS

I am not doing this.

SANDRO

What choice do you have?

VENUS

Put my weight on my left foot. Lean, hip out.

SANDRO

Use the hanky. Cover one of your breasts, but leave the other. That’s good. Lovely!

 

VENUS

Men control the camera. You write the words. Decide the terms. Women are the object.

SANDRO

What’s a camera? Now take your gaze to your right, and down, away from the viewer.

VENUS

No. I'm looking right at you.

Lights up. End of play.