A House Not Meant to Stand by Tennessee Williams

  JESSIE [firmly]: Officer, may I speak with you privately at the door?

  OFFICER: Excuse me, no time, must hurry back to the Lodge with this deposition, g’night, ladies. [He exits.]

  JESSIE: You come back. Anytime. [She moves downstage and delivers an “interior monologue” to the audience.] What a handsome and sexy, what a strapping young man that boy we used to call Pee Wee has grown into. Now that the children are grown and gone away, I see nothing wrong in looking at attractive and vigorous young men such as Bruce Lee Jackson or Spud, that young Irish waiter at the Dock House. [To the audience.] Do you? I always give Spud a good up and down look and since my rejuvenation, he returns it, and, of course, I slip him an extra tip as I leave . . . I’m sort of put out with Mary Louise Dean that she’s had him first, but then she had her rejuvenation first, too. —I didn’t have mine till I saw how hers turned out. —Miracle.

  BELLA: Chips stood right there in the dining room and said just one word to me. He said, “clock,” yes. Why would he say “clock”? —

  JESSIE [turning from the audience]: —Bella, you seem to feel better, but I think you ought to sleep downstairs tonight, in case of a setback. —Dr. Crane is home. Told me it was providential that the accident hadn’t been fatal. [She gives Bella a pat on the shoulders.] —Of course, sooner or later something always is—but, if I had to make a bet on you outlasting this house, I think I’d make it. —Tomorrow I’m going to talk seriously to you about the condition of this house—deplorable—won’t stand . . . Ouu—waterbug! No wonder.

  BELLA: I don’t hate Cornelius, but I just won’t let him put me away till all three children are back. —This house having been built with Dancie money is theirs, their home. “Clock?” —Why would he say “clock?” [She touches her lips.]

  JESSIE [returning to address the audience]: No matter how much younger I look by virtue of surgery at Ochsner’s, I know my age. However! —I think I have a right to lie about it. Don’t you?

  [Bella puts her head down.]

  JESSIE: It is a forgivable, understandable sort of deception in a woman with my—sometimes I think almost unnatural attraction to—desire for—sex with young men . . . Spud at the Dock House, he understands the looks I give him and the large tips, he knows what for—expectation! [She lowers her voice confidingly as she continues speaking to the audience.] He knows my name, address and phone number! —and so does Mr. Black—that’s what I call death . . . Oh, I didn’t give it to him, but of course he knows it. Everyone’s address is jotted down in his black book but some for earlier reference than others. Still, I refuse to take cortisone till the pain’s past bearing, since it swells up the face which would undo the pain and expense of all those lifts at Ochsner’s . . .

  BELLA: “Clock.” [She nods with understanding.] Jessie, help me up off the sofa.

  JESSIE: You want to go to the ladies room?

  BELLA: I want to go to the clock.

  JESSIE: —I can give you the time.

  BELLA: It’s not what I want from the clock.

  JESSIE: What else can you get from the clock.

  BELLA: This clock is different.

  JESSIE: Yes, it’s run down, it’s stopped. Want me to set and wind it for you, Bella?

  BELLA: No, just help me get it down from the mantel, please.

  JESSIE: It bothers you, does it? I know some people are allergic to clocks. Reminds them of time passing too fast . . .

  BELLA: For me, time’s about finished but I got children, Jessie, and a gran’chile expected. Family got to continue. Can’t just go. —I reckon you’ve heard of the Dancie money, Jessie.

  JESSIE: Why, yes, it’s legendary but doesn’t seem to exist.

  BELLA: It exists, and I got it. My grannie gave it to Granpa and Granpa gave it to me the day he died. I was alone with him, Jessie. He took the Dancie money out of his pocket where he’d kept a tight hold on it years and years. Said to me: “Bella, take this money and hide it, I’m going now—g’bye.”

  JESSIE: —Why, my God! —How much money is it?

  BELLA: More than I would like Mary Louise Dean to know.

  JESSIE: What makes you think I’d—tell her.

  BELLA: Ev’rybody’s got a weakness, Jessie, like I got eating and you got Mary Louise.

  JESSIE: Bella, suspicion is a disease.

  BELLA: Is it? Well, I got it. And I got the Dancie money back of that clock. Don’t stand there asking me how much. Never mind how much. Back of that clock.

  [Jessie has joined Bella by the mantel clock, she turns it around.]

  JESSIE: There’s nothing back of it, Bella.

  BELLA: Back of it opens and a envelope’s inside it.

  JESSIE: Ohhhhh! Opens, does it, I seeee!

  BELLA: Lemme, lemme, I know this clock was Grannie Dancie’s! [She opens it and removes thick yellowed envelope.]

  JESSIE: That envelope is disintegrating with age. I’ll remove the money and put it in a fresh one.

  BELLA [holding tight to her envelope]: No, no, no! —You don’t!

  JESSIE: Stop being so childish, Bella, you’re talking to Jessie Sykes, not to Cornelius or—

  BELLA: Yes, he wants it, too. I’ll put it in my bag.

  JESSIE [snappishly]: Where is your bag?

  BELLA: Look around, you’ll find it.

  JESSIE: Oh, the bag.

  [Jessie turns and crosses to fetch the bag. With startling alacrity, Bella conceals the envelope under her arm. Jessie returns with the bag.]

  JESSIE: All right, the bag. Put the envelope in it. —You hear me, Bella?

  BELLA: I hear a terrible stawm.

  JESSIE: You’d better get back on the sofa. [She helps Bella across the room.] Sit down.

  BELLA: Where?

  JESSIE: On the sofa! Where else?

  [Bella falls onto the sofa, breathing hard.]

  JESSIE: Now give me the envelope.

  BELLA: —Want a snack? From the ice-box in the kitchen?

  JESSIE: No, no, certainly not, I’m on a low calorie diet and the contents of your “ice-box” would horrify Dr. Scarsdale. I want just that envelope containing the Dancie money. Where is it? Flown further south with the birds? [Her voice is shrill, agitated.]

  BELLA: —I’m dying, Jessie. —Go get—Doctor . . .

  JESSIE: Nonsense. You’re putting on. And here’s the envelope, under your arm. [She snatches it.] Look, I’m putting it your bag. [She places the fat envelope in Bella’s bag and holds the bag.] Now.

  BELLA: My bag is in your lap.

  JESSIE: It couldn’t possibly be in a safer place.

  BELLA: I want my bag in my lap.

  JESSIE: If you weren’t sick, I would be outraged, Bella.

  BELLA: I want my bag with the Dancie money in it here in my lap.

  JESSIE: You are in no condition to care for it tonight.

  [Bella grabs the bag from Jessie’s lap and hugs it fiercely against her.]

  BELLA: You got no children left. You don’t know. —Jessie, why don’t you go over to Mary Louise Dean’s place since you got so much to tell her?

  [Jessie and Bella abruptly engage in a struggle for the bag.]

  BELLA: Ahhhh, ahhhh, ahhhh! [She sprawls back as if lifeless on the sofa.]

  JESSIE [seizing the bag]: If rumors are right about it, the Dancie money’s a fortune. [She removes envelope from bag and stuffs it down her negligee.] —There now, it’s in a safe place. —I’ll go get the doctor if not too late. [She rushes to door. The moment she opens it she starts screaming histrionically as she runs outside.]

  BELLA: —Stawm! —Terrible. [She rises to her feet with great difficulty. Ghostly outcries of children fade in—in Bella’s memory—projected over house speakers with music under. She moves with slow, stately dignity into the dining room, which is lighted by light-spill from the living room. She wil
l hold the stage until a plausible passage of time permits Jessie to return with Dr. Crane.] —Children?


  VOICE OF YOUNG CHARLIE: —Is supper ready?

  VOICE OF YOUNG JOANIE: —Mommy calls us when to come in for supper.

  VOICE OF YOUNG CHARLIE: —We can play hide and—

  VOICE OF YOUNG CHIPS: —Fly, sheep, fly.

  VOICE OF YOUNG JOANIE: —Let’s catch fire-flies!

  VOICE OF YOUNG CHARLIE: —Yeh, yeh, let’s catch fire-flies, lotsa fire-flies tonight.

  [Bella’s slow, heavy breathing is heard as she fumbles about for the match-box on the table and lights the candelabra.]

  BELLA: —Hattie? Hattie? Oh, Hattie . . .

  GHOSTLY BLACK VOICE: Yais, Mizz McCorkle?

  BELLA: If supper is ready, call the children in, please. —Don’t let them—chase—fire-flies, they—never—stop—chasing fire-flies . . .

  DR. CRANE [from outside]: All right, Jessie, I told May to call an ambulance—

  JESSIE [from outside]: From somewhere close, I hope.

  [Dr. Crane, a man in his mid-thirties, enters wearing a raincoat over pajamas, carrying a medicine kit, followed by Jessie.]

  DR. CRANE: Well, where is she, Jessie?

  JESSIE: She had collapsed right there.

  BELLA [to audience]: Won’t—wait for—Cornelius, this is—Progress Club Night . . . Runnin’ fo’ Mayor? —Oh, Lawd . . .

  JESSIE: Gracious, how did she—?

  BELLA: Hattie? Did you hear me? Call them in, looks like rain . . .

  [Dr. Crane has entered the dining room and has taken hold of Bella’s wrist.]

  JESSIE [hovering near arch]: How is her—?

  DR. CRANE: Trying to find it. —Now. —Slow. —Not regular—Bella, can you hear me?

  BELLA: Who is it?

  DR. CRANE: It’s Dr. Crane, Bella. Just dropped over to see that you’re all right.

  JESSIE: Should be removed soon as the ambulance gets here.

  BELLA: ’sthat—Jessie Sykes—In there? She tried to grab my bag from me. Where is—?

  DR. CRANE: What, Bella?

  BELLA: My bag with the Dancie money.

  JESSIE: What was that she asked for?

  DR. CRANE: Her bag with the Dancie Money is what she said. The Dancie Money? Seem to remember hearing some talk about it years ago.

  JESSIE: Nothing to it, just talk, a myth, a legend.

  BELLA: My bag.

  JESSIE: Her bag’s on the sofa but contains nothing except every candy bar on the market.

  BELLA: Bag.

  DR. CRANE: Bring the bag in here, Jessie.

  JESSIE [fetching it]: Here it is, you can see for yourself if you doubt my word about it.

  DR. CRANE [examining the contents of bag, pockets candy bars]: Bella, the bag had nothing in it— [Then, gently . . .] but evidence that you disregard my instructions on diet. [Pause.]

  [Voices of Bella’s children fade in faintly.]

  VOICE OF YOUNG CHIPS AND CHARLIE: —Five, six, pick up sticks!

  VOICE OF YOUNG JOANIE: —Seven, eight, get them straight!

  BELLA: Get it back from Jessie.

  JESSIE: Why, how—Outrageous, I’m—Speechless!

  [The doctor notices a corner of the fat yellowed envelope protruding from top of Jessie’s negligee.]

  DR. CRANE [removing it from concealment]: Excuse me, Jessie.

  JESSIE: —Just all the—confusion, you know. You surely—

  BELLA [with a luminous smile]: It’s mine, not for Jessie, not for Cornelius—for Charlie’s—children—coming.

  [Specters of young Chips, Charlie and Joanie enter and take their places around the table with Bella.]

  JESSIE: I remember now why I took it. Come here for a moment. Do you know how much there is of it? Much more than ever reported!

  DR. CRANE: I will write down the precise amount when I’ve counted it.

  JESSIE: In my presence as witness, for your protection.

  DR. CRANE [staring at her coldly]: Why, yes, of course.

  JESSIE: I could also get Mary Louise Dean. An amount like that—

  [Cries of the children fade in again.]

  VOICES OF YOUNG CHIPS, CHARLIE AND JOANIE [together]: —Olly, olly, oxen free!

  DR. CRANE [crossing through arch into dining room]: Bella? Here is the Dancie money.

  JESSIE: Mary Louise Dean has a strong box where it could be held—overnight . . .

  [The subjective cries have continued in varying tone and volume, enchanting with the lost lyricism of childhood.]




  JESSIE: I’m gonna sit and remain here till responsible witnesses are summoned.

  BELLA: That chair is—little—Joanie’s . . .

  [Dr. Crane firmly, almost forcibly draws Jessie to the living room.]

  JESSIE [to audience]: Who in this world can be trusted? [To the doctor.] Yes! I’m astonished at you, Dr. Crane.

  DR. CRANE: You are not as astonished at me as I am at you, Jessie Sykes. Can’t you see that the immediate concern is not with money?

  BELLA: Chips, will you say—Grace . . .

  GHOSTLY VOICE OF YOUNG CHIPS: Bless this food to our use and ourselves to Thy service.


  BELLA [faintly]: Hattie? —You can start servin’ now . . . [Her head sinks slowly to the failing support of her hands.]

  JESSIE: As long as we’ve known each other to imply such a disgraceful thing is—

  DR. CRANE: Jessie, I think you might dismiss that subject in the presence of death.

  [He completes the sentence by drawing his hand gently across Bella’s eyes to close them. Ceremonially the ghostly children rise from the family table and slip soundlessly back into the dark, each turning at the kitchen door to glance back at their mother. A phrase of music is heard.]





  Williams wrote at least eight drafts of what eventually became A House Not Meant to Stand, in addition to multiple rewrites, fragments and corrections over a period of approximately two years. There are at least three drafts of Some Problems for the Moose Lodge, the one-act that is the germ for the full-length play, dated May, September and November of 1980. This was followed by The Dancie Money, composed in late 1980 and early 1981, dated “Jan. 1981.” There are two other 1981 drafts, both titled A House Not Meant to Stand. The first dates to January and February of that year, and the second of these was performed at the Goodman Studio Theatre in April of 1981 and is labeled “The Post Studio Goodman Version.” The latter was revised in a draft dated “February 1982.” The final draft of A House Not Meant to Stand contains some elements of all the earlier drafts, but it was extensively streamlined and much of it was rewritten. Most of what was cut involved specific political statements and monologues by Cornelius, as well as almost all jokes about Bella’s weight. A retyped version of the final, 1982 script was later distributed by Williams’s agent at the time, International Creative Management [ICM], and a copy was sent to New Directions. While some of these drafts are available in archives at Harvard and Columbia, copies of all the major drafts, unless otherwise noted, are housed in the Special Collections of the Chicago Public Library, Goodman Theatre Archive.

  The text for this edition is taken from Joseph Drummond’s stage manager script used for the final Goodman Theatre production that opened on April 27, 1982. It includes many details, especially entrance, exit, and sound and light cues, and an entire page, which were missing from the ICM script. All stage directions have been conformed to Williams’s style and the open
ing stage directions have been slightly augmented to incorporate aspects of the final production which Williams discussed with the designers, director and producers, but did not have the opportunity to rewrite for publication. Part of Williams’s initial description of the set—beginning with “The curtain rises upon . . .” and ending with “. . .extravagance of ‘see-through.’” —is taken from draft notes for this play in the Columbia University Library. The epigraph and notes quoted in the Introduction come from that same fragment, at the top of which is written, in Williams’s hand, “Projected next version,” below which is then typed, “Being Addressed by a Fool.” The description of Bella in a fragment titled “Our Lady of Pascagoola,” is from the Harvard University Library archives.

  The set designed for the Goodman Theatre production in 1982 by Karen Schulz showed the fragility of the McCorkle house using moveable, opaque scrims for many of the walls. Depending upon how the scrims were lit, they could appear to be solid walls or been seen through, disappear completely to reveal other rooms or a longer view of the staircase, or even, as shown in the frontispiece photograph, reveal an upstairs room with a crib and children’s toys. This design choice also helped to focus in on other areas of the stage when it was necessary, and to separate the dining area for Bella. These scrims were combined with lighting and sound effects to add to the continual motion of the scenes and the sense of precariousness in the McCorkle house: thunder, lightning, traffic sounds, dripping, creaking, power failure, and the cries of children playing.

  A special souvenir program published for the occasion by the Goodman Theatre provides a helpful description of the set design:

  “To evoke the simultaneous reality and illusion of A House Not Meant to Stand, designer Karen Schulz has devised a selectively realistic interior whose skeletal framework (comprised of steel tubing and realistic doors, stairs, and railings) defines walls which instantly “melt away” to suggest the changing psychological perceptions of the main characters. To achieve this, wall units are covered with scrim, a loosely woven material which becomes transparent when lit from behind. Walls are painted with a series of exaggerated designs, heightening the feeling of unreality which pervades the play. The entire setting is placed on a series of raked platforms skewed towards downstage left, thus emphasizing the off-center world of the McCorkle home. The setting is extended upstage through the use of an elevated platform, giving added height and depth to the playing area.”

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