“A Dream of Trees and Television and Ghosts,” a nonfiction excerpt from Sarah Kornfield’s THE TRUE: A TRILOGY OF GHOSTS

“A Trilogy of Ghosts” is a composite of three books called The True. 

In 2019, world-renowned Romanian theater director Alexandru Darie died, the news shocking the creative world. Bringing Darie and Romania vividly to life, The True also tells the story of one courageous woman’s cutting through a con artist’s web of lies that mirror global corruption.

The True is a hybrid of memoir, true crime, autofiction. Editura Integral is publishing the book in three languages (Romanian, English, and French). The True will have a rolling launch (October 28, 2021 for the Romanian and English. November 25, 2021 for the French) with the box-set of all three books released December 9th, 2021. The box-set is titled The True: A Trilogy of Ghosts. The book has three different endings, each translation an extension of the chaos of Kornfeld’s experience.

Kornfeld and Darie had been lovers in the 1990s but remained very close friends after breaking up. When he died, Kornfeld went to Romania to search for the reason for his death. It was there she met a young Romanian woman who claimed to have been Darie’s girlfriend. Over a two-year period, Kornfeld wrote a book about Darie’s death, signed deals with Netflix and Disney for scripts about Darie (and other projects), all to devastatingly discover she had been deeply misled by a con artist.

Readers of Anne Carson, Claudia Rankine, and Chris Kraus will love The True. In a post-truth world where objective standards for truth are disappearing, The True limns the slippage between facts, opinion, and belief. Informed by her early life within the experimental theater of downtown New York, Kornfeld draws on a wellspring of language from Molière to Patti Smith, Beckett to Maria Irene Fornes, and the intimacy of defiant theater friends and family.

A Dream of Trees and Television and Ghosts

Trees like tall bodies line the River Dambovita, which flows into the Arges River, a tributary of the Danube. Below the water, lie bodies, long dead and all the products of history—they create the riverbed with random bones floating to the top. Bucharest is before me, the light ambient as though a thousand theatrical bulbs are held up by a patient god.

The trees sway, long and elegant. Yet the wind is so loud I can hear it pound against the bark. Ducu walks quickly along this river, his scarf thick and long. He pushes against the wind. He pushes against the rain pouring down on one side of the river where there is only sunlight on the opposite side.

I am about ten feet behind him with a fifties-style handheld camera. I must stop to wind the camera, though it slips from my hands as I try to keep up with his pace. I look at his back and I can hear him muttering, “Stupid!” He says to himself, “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” He continues to pound his feet against the damp cement, never ceasing to berate himself.

Now he stops in front of a building. It looks as though it should be a cheese shop, or a bookstore, or a pet store, yet in this moment it is a theater. Ducu pounds on the door, he screams. I cannot hear what he is saying. I walk closer, shooting film of his now even more aggravated back. He screams on.

“I know you are in there! I know you are hiding! Why don’t you come out? Why don’t you?” Ducu stops, pounds the door again. He goes to the large floor-to-ceiling window, presses his hands against the glass, and peers in. Nothing, he sees nothing. Frustrated, he stands back, looks into the window at his reflection. “What do you want from me? What the fuck do you want?!” Then with a fierce gesture he screams at himself in the window as he pulls one earring out of his right ear, and throws it against his reflection. The glass cracks, giving off the sound of unending shattering. He backs away. He pivots. I follow.

Down more streets he now runs, his coat, no a cape, yes, a cape, floating behind him. The rain is always to his left, the sun to his right. He darts back along the river, making his way to the oldest part of the town. People, like a thick wave, walk in front of him blocking his way. He pushes hard and the people in the street push back against him. Then, he stops.

I watch as Ducu turns slowly to look into another storefront. He takes a long, deep breath and then repeats himself, presses his hands against the door, bangs and screams that he knows they are hiding and that he does not know what they want from him. Then he pulls out an earring and throws it at his own image, shattering that glass. I follow him through the city. He repeats this screaming until he looks exhausted. He’s pulled all the earrings from his ears. He’s now thrown off his coat in front of the Bulandra, and swerving, he opens the door to enter the lobby, and yells, “Well, at least this fucking door works!”

The lobby is filled with women. They sit suggestively, their legs exposed. They lie on couches, large chairs, piles of pillows, and one trampoline. Ducu sees the women and is set immediately into a new mood. He smiles. He reaches for his cigarettes. He pulls his hand over his mouth, moving the small beard around his lips. He winks.

“Come and sit with us!” they coo. Some move their hands against the fabric they are lying on. Some lean back and arch their heads backwards. Some put fingers to their lips and blow kisses. “So many of you! So many choices!” He scratches his head. He rolls his eyes like a silent movie star—the fact of their near nudity delighting him. They giggle. He pretends his hand is shaking as he lights up—the cigarette darts about like a wand.

“If you’ll all wait here, I will be right back. I’ll be just a moment! I have to direct a play and it won’t take but a minute.” Ducu touches a woman’s face; it is soft. He leans over to kiss her but she dissolves. Ducu, confused, turns to the other women. “What’s going on?”

All the women roll to one side or the other, and purr, “We’re going to fuck you.”

“What?!” he demands, interested.

“Not literally,” they continue. “We are in your theater now. We are the tempest and the future. We guard the gates of this place and won’t let anyone in—we will keep everyone away from you. Trust us! We love you. We’ll fuck you.” The women shift in shape, becoming a mural, one that has been painted too quickly, the paint not yet dry.

Ducu takes them in, puts his hand to his hip, looks at them again, and says, “I don’t need you.”

“Yes, you do,” they say. “You can’t do a thing without us. You can’t open a letter. You can’t even breathe. We are here now—we have our eyes on you—go direct your play, but don’t forget, we are the main characters now.”

At this comment, Liviu Ciulei, the great director, the master and ghost of the Bulandra, stands by Ducu. His silver hair gleams. His suit looks worn, as though he has had to crawl through mud. Putting his hand on Ducu’s shoulder, he sighs with a cigarette hanging from his lips. “My boy,” he pleads. “What a mess you’ve made.”

“Mess? Look at them, they’re gorgeous!”

“Ducu, you get distracted.”

“I don’t…”

“You do. You have. You’re—”

“Discrete!”

“My boy, it’s not about that. There is danger around you and you don’t see it. Tell me, do you even know what time it is?”

“I never know what time it is.”

“Well, then how can you know if you are not in danger? ‘Theater time’ is not ‘life time’—you’re in a dream. You’re in a dream you’ve created. You—”

“Am I dead?”

“Well, not on stage. We are all dead after directing too much Shakespeare.”

“What?”

“Yes. No one tells you this, but Shakespeare makes you think he has his own reality, when in fact it is the only reality.”

“That’s what I have been telling people!”

“Listen,” Ciulei says, leaning into Ducu’s ear. “We have a television show to do now, but afterwards I am going to tell you the secret. You’re not going to like it, and it will make you feel you’ve been wrong this whole time, searching and searching, but I think it will ease your pain a bit.”

“That sounds wonderful.” Ducu whispers back. “This search is exhausting.”

“Yes, I know. Come, we’re going to be late and that is something I don’t like to be.” Ciulei says this in a pointed way. Ducu rolls his eyes.

Ducu puts his hand on the old man’s back. When he does, dust floats around them. It is the dust of every theater they have ever been in, and now it rises, surrounds them, and follows them into the main hall.

The theater is its blue self. All the red Ciulei once adored is stripped away and everything, including the chairs, is painted blue. Ivy crawls up the walls. There is dirt on the floor. It is a garden of Ducu’s own making. Ducu raises his hands as though conducting an opera. Music soars from the empty seats, and he walks down the aisle keeping perfect time with an opera that no longer makes sense. Ciulei stops Ducu from conducting. “We have visitors.” And nods his head towards the stage.

Television cameras have appeared on the stage. Candles are lit, small votives line the edges, and four chairs have appeared. A man, small but finely dressed with long hair and high boots, sits rolling a cigarette. “Who is that?” Ducu asks Ciulei.

“Can’t you see?” Ciulei asks, incredulous. “He’s here to do the interview.”

“Yes, but who is it?”

“Well, Molière.”

“What the fuck is Molière doing here?”

“He’s not in production so he’s here, I asked him. He is very nice.”

“But,” Ducu whispers. “What am I to tell him? Of all people? He’s a bit of a god!”

“You always exaggerate. He’s just a guy. A guy who writes. Come on, we’re late!”

Ducu and Ciulei take hands and walk down the aisle towards the stage. Molière stands, lights his cigarette, and waves, “Look! Directors! What fun this will be!”

Ducu looks around the theater. There are no people in the seats, but we hear the mulling of candy wrappers, paper moving, people coughing. The sound of an audience hits Ducu, and nervous, he sits in his appointed seat. It is Ciulei, Molière, and Ducu—and one empty seat.

“Who’s that for?” Ducu asks the men.

“Elijah, of course!” Molière proclaims. “Don’t be so nervous, boy. We’re just going to have a little chat.”

At this, the lights shift and a producer emerges from stage left. “And in, 5, 4, 3, 2…” and he gestures “1” with his finger. The cameras point towards Molière. Ducu looks confused.

“And we are back! Welcome to ‘Molière and Me’ a show where we search for the meaning of life, love, and how to die dramatically with theater artists who really knew how to live!” Molière speaks to the television camera. “With me tonight are two very promising directors, M. Liviu Ciulei and M. Alexandru Darie. May I call you Ducu?”

“Yes, um, please.” Ducu settles into his chair, his knee shaking.

“Very good! Ducu, tell me, when did you first read me?”

“Oh!” Ducu shifts to think. “I didn’t. I saw you. I saw a play and I laughed and laughed.”

“Very good! And, tell me, how old were you?”

“Very young. It was during Ceausescu’s reign.”

“Uh huh…” Molière looks bored.

“Yes, it was very hard then. We had no food.”

“Whatever…Liviu? When did you first read me?”

Ciulei, impatient, swats dirt from his mud-stained pants and shrugs as though he could care less.

“You don’t like me?” Molière smiles.

“I thought we were here to talk about our theater? Bulandra. This one,” Ciulei almost barks.

“Right, well, I’m just giving our audience what they want. That is important. Give them what they expect in the beginning, then hit them hard with the truth. Right, boy?” he says, clear-eyed, to Ducu.

“Yes, sir. Of course,” Ducu says.

“Very good. My next question is about love. Ducu?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Please, call me Jean-Baptiste.”

“No! I couldn’t.”

“Please do.”

“Jean-Baptiste.”

“Yes, tell me about love. Have you had it?”

“Yes, a few times—but, why?”

“Because directors fall in love often…”

At this, Ciulei interrupts with a cough, “Rubbish,” he mutters.

“Why?” Molière smiles.

“We love the stage most of all,” Ciulei says, emphatic, annoyed.

“Not entirely,” Ducu adds. “I have loved deeply, but it confuses me. All the feelings and no place to put them…there is no stage for love.”

“Yes, where to put them.” Molière offers, shaking his head.

“Rubbish,” Ciulei repeats. “This is all cliché. Directors are humans with a skill to make other worlds onstage. That is what we should be talking about!”

We hear rustling, a commotion, the sounds of audience movement. “Excuse me!” We hear. “Excuse me!”

Molière puts up his hand to shield his eyes as he looks past the lights into the audience. “Yes? Who is that?”

“It is me!” a woman says.

“Who?”

“The person who should really be up there!”

“Show yourself!” Molière bellows.

“Why?! It’s always men, men, men talking about themselves and their sex and their lives…why did I found all this? For you to hog the stage?”

“Oh, don’t tell me Feminism has come to Romania?” Molière retorts.

“Well!” The woman states, “That would mean humanism has arrived! Correct?”

Ducu puts his hand to his eyes now. He peers forward. He leans forward, “Mrs. Bulandra?”

Madame Lucia Sturdza Bulandra now stands in the audience, a hot spotlight emerges behind her.

“Ducu!” She points a finger at him. “I left all this for you!”

Ducu gasps at Madame Bulandra, the founder of the Bulandra Theater.

“What about me?” Ciulei says.

“I left it to you first, Liviu, then to Iordanescu and then this one, this Ducu, this monster!”

“Monster? What makes me a monster?” Ducu responds, hurt.

“Have you found your mother?” she says.

“Oh, now we are getting Freudian??” Molière bellows.

“No,” Madame Bulandra says, calm, focused, fully illumined from behind. “Did he find her? Has he been looking? Did he name a hall in her honor? Did he reconcile the past?”

“I have no idea. I am here to talk about this theater, not about the lost little boys in us,” Molière interrupts.

“Let her finish, please. Madame, what was I supposed to do?” Ducu pleads.

“You passed the theater on to a young girl? Why?” she demands.

“I wasn’t well. I was…”

“What?!” Ciulei shouts. “You passed it on without discussing it with us?”

“You see!” Madame Bulandra says. “A monster!”

“No, you see, I think a woman should be in charge of a theater,” Ducu pleads.

“I agree!” Ciulei says.

“Oh, hell, I do, too. At least theoretically,” Molière says.

“Yes,” Ducu says to Madame Bulandra. “What was I supposed to do?”

“Make a wide search!” Madame Bulandra pleads. Open the doors, boy. Invite us all, all the women in.”

“Get to your point, woman,” Molière says.

 “He grew distracted!” Madame Bulandra continues. “He did not listen to his better angels. He did not know how to be kind to himself, and now he is gone.”

“This is very sad,” Molière says to a camera.

“Yes, very!” Madame Bulandra says, anguished. “Ducu, what do you have to say for yourself?”

And then there is the hysterical laughter of women coming from the last seats in the theater.

“Who dares laugh?” Madame Bulandra says.

Two women stand, one is small and the other grand. They have their arms wrapped around each other and cannot stop their laughter, deep and earthy.

“Stop!” Madame Bulandra says.

“What a waste of time trying to get a man,” one woman says, “and a director at that, to understand!”

“Yes! Let him go,” the other woman says. “He is just a child!”

“Oh, for god’s sake, who is that?” Molière stands, stomps, a foot and sits back down.

“It is I.”

“And, it is I!”

“Merde,” says Molière, looking at Ciulei and Ducu. “They love to follow me around. In life they competed, in death they haunt me!”

“Oh relax!” one of the women says.

“Well, show yourself then, always hiding in the back!” Molière motions with a frustrated hand as the women, arms still around each other, make their way toward the stage.

“This is what happens when your star gets too big.” Molière points at them.

“Jesus Christ!” Ducu says. “Is that?” Ducu holds his hands up over his eyes to block the spotlights that now shine upon the women.

“Jesus Christ has nothing to do with it,” we hear one of the women say, as they giggle and now stand preparing to smoke cigarettes by the exit sign.

“Yes, yes.” someone says, faking boredom. “Bernhardt and Rachel—always standing around with commentary.”

“Sarah Bernhardt? And, Rachel? I thought I heard you when I lived in Paris. In a theater, late at night,” Ducu pleads.

“Yes, that was us,” Rachel says, flatly, her white Greek tunic draped suggestively around her shoulders.

“Why didn’t you talk with me then?” Ducu says.

“Darling, you weren’t dead,” Bernhardt says.

“We only like the dead. The living have too many questions and there is no way to give a proper autograph anymore,” Rachel says.

“Amazing!” Ducu says, now leaning forward in his chair, charmed by the women. “How do you like my theater?” He winks.

“Oh, look, he’s flirting!” Madame Bulandra huffs, disgusted.

“Lucia, don’t be such a fucking prig!” Bernhardt huffs back.

“So, he loves life? Who cares? Let him flirt,” Rachel says.

“This is serious! We’re having a real conversation about his mistakes,” Madame Bulandra almost begs.

“Mistakes? You are trying to convince this one of his mistakes? What a waste of time, darling. See, Rachel, what did I tell you, she has no idea how to run a theater.” Bernhardt has one hand on her hip.

“Here we go…” Molière rolls his eyes.

Madame Bulandra is so hurt and shocked she cannot speak. She sits, devastated.

“Be nice, please,” Ducu implores the women while grinning ear to ear watching the scandal before him.

“Oh, we’re very nice. We just want to say a few words,” Rachel says, turning her back to Madame Bulandra. “M. Darie, please be advised that we have done an audit of your life’s work and wish to inform you—”

“God, here comes the bureaucracy!” Molière wails.

“We wish to inform you…” Bernhardt picks up the slack while staring Molière down. “We wish to inform you that you did a poor job hiding your Jewishness.”

Ducu looks blank. “I have no idea what—”

“Please,” says Rachel, one hand trying to get her lighter to work. Bernhardt takes the lighter and lights Rachel’s smoke. Rachel smiles as she takes a deep drag. “Yes, if you look at the body of your work, you can see how Jewish you are. We should know, we hid out for centuries. This one…” Rachel gestures towards Bernhardt. “She was in total denial.”

“I was,” Bernhardt says, now lighting her own cigarette.

“I have no idea what you…” Ducu laughs nervously. “We think my mother was—”

“Please.” Rachel lifts her free hand to stop him. “Not your usual spiel. Look, in death we come clean. Okay?”

“We do?” Molière says.

“Jean-Baptise, please,” Bernhardt says. “And what kind of television show is this? There aren’t enough chairs and my leg is killing me.”

“I didn’t even invite you! This happens all the time with you two!” Molière stands as though an audience is applauding, then sits back down.

Rachel and Bernhardt look at each other and scoff. They take long drags off their cigarettes. “You want to tell him?” Rachel asks Bernhardt.

“No, you go ahead. I like how you say it.” Bernhardt limps to the side of the stage and leans against it. Ducu jumps up and brings Bernhardt his last pack of cigarettes. “Thanks, baby.” She nods to him, and he sits again at attention.

“This is a farce,” Molière mumbles.

“Well, farce is not the absence of truth, so I will continue!” Rachel says as Ciulei nods his head in agreement. “M. Darie, after careful consideration, we want to encourage your next production.”

“I get another production?” Ducu asks her, surprised.

“Well, yes, it is your job, correct?” Rachel smiles. “Let me continue. Our committee wants to encourage you to explore your roots a bit more deeply. You tend to focus on the political, but ignore the interconnectedness, the, dare I say, intersectional reality of your inner life and the feminized medium theater offers. M.Darie, dig a bit deeper, be a bit bolder, don’t hold back from your heritage and hide in plain sight. We are living in dangerous times and we need to be proud of who we are, especially in death. I mean, in death you get a chance to re-cast your life, hang new scenery to your memory and once and for all ask the question, ‘What’s Christ got to do with it after all?’”

There is silence in the hall. All the ghosts look to Ducu who sits with his legs crossed, a new cigarette lit from nowhere, his hands quiet. “Where were you when I needed you?” he asks the ghosts, sadly.

“We have been waiting for you,” Rachel says, sweetly.

At this, there is a loud thud and the doors from the lobby swing open. It is Anya, wrapped dramatically in old cloth she seems to have found backstage and has gathered in a messy clump. Waving her arms like a dramatic actress searching for words, she puts her hand to her head and screams out, “Oh! My love!”

“Who is that?” says Molière.

“This is getting interesting!” Bernhardt says, moving to stand next to Rachel by the exit sign.

“Oh my darling!” Anya wails, moving down the aisle toward the men. Posing, she looks at Ducu, “My love! I am here!”

Looking at Molière, Ducu says, “Is she with you?”

“No!” Molière says, his eyes glued to the performance before him.

“Is she with you?” Ducu asks Ciulei.

“Good God, no.” Ciulei also stares.

“Don’t you recognize me, Darling?” Anya says, climbing on the chairs to get Ducu’s attention. “I am here to save you!”

“Get out! Out!” Madame Bulandra barks, shooing Anya, who wails and holds on to the wall.

“Darling!” Anya screams.

“Go! Fiend! No groupies here!” Madame Bulandra now drags the weight of her own skirt and pushes along the seats. Terrified, Anya recognizes her. “But I am an actress! I am a director! I am here to save him!”

“Go! Flee!” Madame Bulandra waves her arms and ten “techies” dressed in black emerge, grab Anya by the arms and pull her screaming from the theater, “I love you! I am your biggest fan! I’m your biggest fan!” Anya bellows as the doors slam behind her.

There is silence in the theater as the ghosts try to collect their thoughts.

“But that was brilliant!” Bernhardt declares, collecting her skirts, and hobbles quickly up the aisle. “What talent!”

“Not again!” Rachel says, charging after Bernhardt. “Sarah, you always fall for the crazy ones!”

With this, Rachel and Bernhardt run through the doors after Anya into the lobby. We hear from far away Rachel pleading, “Sarah! Stop falling for crazy!”

The remaining ghosts look around and shrug.

“Was she with me?” Ducu asks Madame Bulandra.

“No! But she is a part of the problem,” Madame Bulandra says, looking to make sure no one will interrupt her as she walks out of the audience down toward the stage.

“I don’t understand any of this. It’s just dreadful theater politics!” Molière lights another cigarette. “This is why theaters fail. They fail when people can’t see that it is all ephemeral—leadership means nothing without writers!”

“Oh, shut up, Jean!” Madame Bulandra states.

“Jean-Baptiste, thank you very much!” Molière says, haughtily.

“Pfft!” Madame Bulandra waves him off. “Ducu. You left it all in a mess. You walked away from your body. You gave your blood but did not think to ask for help. You didn’t find her. Ducu! Are you listening to me?”

Ducu covers his eyes and seems to weep. The others are silent. There is only the sound of his breathing, long but shallow. Slowly, a backdrop of trees floats down behind the men. They seem to sway. Ducu swerves as he stands, the light behind him now. Walking downstage, he says: “In the beginning, all I knew was the stage. All I understood was this place. All I knew were lines from plays and jokes made from bodies. The world around me was old, cold, and filled with promises of guns and betrayal. I never really understood what happened outside, past the hall, past the doors into the streets. When I was a boy, I began to wonder if the entire world was a theater. Were the people playing at being powerful? Were other countries as closed as my own? Then, she died, yes, you are right, Consuela died. The architecture of my family collapsed. The anchor to life shifted. It always seems this way, now, and after she died, that I am searching for her voice, and I am searching for the structure…women, they hold the canvas up, and I paint on it—yet I am still looking. We need women in the theater because women can handle the unending story, the story of families collapsing…the story of history ripping itself in half…”

Seemingly forgetting what he was saying, Ducu looks at his hands, pivots towards the ghosts. “How was that?”

“Well,” says Molière. “That was very…”

“Sentimental,” Ciulei says.

“At least he is trying,” Madame Bulandra says. She is now on the stage and stands behind Ciulei, her hands on his shoulders. “I think we failed him.”

Ducu, frustrated, puts his hands on his hips. “Really, there is no pleasing you all! I put my heart into that. I really did! Even now you are editing me!”

Before the ghosts have the opportunity to respond, a small man standing by the downstage exit door pops his head in. His small round glasses cling to his nose, his small bowtie is neat and matches his fitted suit. Surprised to see the theater filled with people, he stutters first and then asks, “Have I come to the wrong place? I’m so very sorry…oh…I seem to have lost my apartment.”

At this, Molière, frustrated but feigning compassion, says, “Mikhail, my dear, you have come to the wrong place again.”

Ducu sits up straight, and shocked, says to Ciulei, “No! But, it’s…”

Ciulei nods as though he’s seen it all, and sighs, “Bulgakov. Yes. Poor man is always losing his apartment.”

At this, Ducu, turning back to look at Bulgakov, crosses his legs, and remains mute.

“Oh, Jean-Baptiste, you are always so kind…” Bulgakov sighs.

“Mikhail, it is always nice to see you, though, my dear, you seem to forget, your theater, The Moscow Art Theater is…” Molière stands, points upstage as though exhausted by the directions that are needed. “Up the hall, past the pool and forward, where it always is, and to the right your apartment stands waiting for you.”

“Kind as always, Jean-Baptiste. That apartment, I’m never sure where it has gone. And I don’t seem to be able to get anywhere on time.” Bulgakov is now speaking to Ducu. “You know what I mean? And I think I am disappearing again.”

At this, Ducu, slightly awestruck, stands. Looking at Bulgakov, he says, “Phillip Philipovich!’

“What? No. I am not—”

“No, I mean, I love Philip Philiovich,” Ducu says.

“Ah! A Dog’s Heart. Yes, yes, that, my dear boy was a long time ago…but not to be forgotten.” Bulgakov looks down at his hands and back at Ducu. “Unlike me. You see, I’m being forgotten again.”

Ducu and Ciulei cross themselves three times as they watch Bulgakov fading into nothing before them. Ducu, struck by the disappearance, howls: “‘Ooow-ow-ooow-owow! Oh, look at me, I’m dying!’”

Bulgakov, nearly forgotten and fading, reaches a hand towards Ducu, and says, “Ah, yes, great first line. I really could write!” And with that, he is gone, poof, like vapor, leaving the witnesses in thrall and slightly sad.

“Ooow-ow-ooow-owow!” howls Ducu, creating vibrations in the theater. Everyone pauses and the theater feels very empty.

Time passes.

“Well,” Ciulei says into the silence. “I for one am in the mood for some Beckett.”

The hall is quiet again. Ducu lights a cigarette. “You know what? I never directed any Beckett plays.”

“No? Why not?” Ciulei says.

“I think I got lost.” Ducu shrugs, and drags the cigarette in one, long, languorous breath. The lights shift, the time changes, and he sits in shadow. “Did you know Beckett died on December 22, 1989? He died and then the world changed.”

“Yes. That is true,” Ciulei says, his chair now seeming to float.

“Perhaps he started the revolution in ’89? I mean, why not, he may have asked politely and God granted him one last wish? Can we ask him?” Ducu pleads.

“Oh! No. Beckett is still very private, no one ever sees him. He’s tucked away with his words and plays chess all day. No, leave him alone, Ducu. Some things are meant to be a mystery.”

A sound of wind gathers in the hall. More trees drop down on winches. Newspapers, crumpled and old, blow across the stage. A small, unsightly tree appears in the hands of a stagehand and is set center stage. Ducu looks around at the wasteland, “Forgive me, but are you sure we can’t talk to Beckett?”

“Did you not listen?!” Molière scolds. “We do not bother him unless—”

“Yes, but it seems we are in his scene?” Ducu quips.

“So? We do not bother him.” Molière takes out a flask and has a drink.

“What do you have there?” Ducu says.

“You’re off the sauce. Come on now,” Ciulei says.

“Just a sip!” Ducu begs.

“One sip is too much, my dear,” Madame Bulandra says.

“But we seem to be waiting. I mean, if not for Beckett, then for what? Come on. Just a little nip since we are waiting for nothing.” Ducu stretches his hands toward the flask. Standing, he cups his hands over his mouth and bellows, “Someone get me a fucking drink!”

“No! Ducu, you’ve been dry for a while,” Ciulei says, “Come now. Just—”

“Get me a drink! I’m thirsty and there’s nothing here but time. What are we waiting for? I can’t even remember why I am here!” Ducu stands, walks to the dead tree, shakes it hard. “And, what is this? I mean, is it a metaphor or just a dead tree?! What the fuck! Who is directing this god-forsaken play?!”

Just then, the voices of women explode into the air. They are chanting. They are loud! The women, like a chorus, emerge stage right with banners lofted high. They gather upstage and cup their hands over their mouths as they yell. Their clothing is ripped, ragged, almost falling off. We can’t hear what they are saying, but furious, they raise their fists into the air, the banners now clear: “Stop Saying This Is Nothing!” “Just Because You Don’t Have a Life Doesn’t Mean WE Care!” And “Stop Making Plays All About You!”

“What is this?” Ducu shouts, looking around interested and confused.

“I told you!” Madame Bulandra says, joining the women upstage. “You should have listened to me, Ducu. You should have invited women in sooner.” The women hand Madame Bulandra a banner that reads, “Really, We’ve Heard Enough From You!”

“I have always wanted to join a movement!” Madame Bulandra says, happy in the company of the women.

Out from the back of the crowd, a small woman in black with the handprints of children imprinted on her skirts emerges to the front. She holds up her hands for silence and in a thick New York accent states, “We, the Union of the Silenced and Annoyed are here to address the inequities…”

“Who are you, Madame?” Ducu says.

“Don’t sweet talk me!” The woman barks. “I’m not some sucker who’ll fall for those eyes or those lips! No sir, I will not!”

“Okay!” Ducu puts up his hands as though before a gun. “Who are you?”

“I am Emma Goldman! I represent the Union and we are here to make some changes at the last minute!” The women cheer!

“Goldman? But you are an anarchist union organizer! And…an American!” Molière wails, plunging his face into his hands.

“Damn right! You people are a fuckin’ mess! I’ve been brought in to organize this…this…what is this?” she demands, waving her hand at the stage.

“A theater?” Ducu says, smiling, glad for the help.

“Right! Well, it’s a dump. A mess! A pile of bones with no vision for the future. And we are tired of it! Tired of all the blah, blah, blah and the lousy management and the…” Goldman takes out a tiny notebook, flips through the pages reading her notes. She pushes her small finger against the pages, “It says it here! We are tired of the way you are lost! We’re tired of men being lost, and tired of you saying there is no here here. Because we are here. Got it!?” The women cheer louder!

“What are your terms?” Molière demands, now standing, gripping his flask.

“We demand immediate action! We want you to stop hoarding the stage, stop telling us who we are, stop…doing so much Molière!” she says, triumphantly.

Molière stands and gasps. Grabs his left arm. Then, falls down.

Everyone stops and looks at him on the floor.

The wind rushes through the theater, up the walls, and around the bodies of the dead.

“Can he die?” Ducu asks Goldman.

“In theory. Yes. But, everything is theoretical these days.”

“You see. You would miss me!” Molière says from the floor, his body perfectly still. “I am not even dead a minute and you are talking about me!”

The women groan and in unison yell, “It’s not all about you!”

At this, Ducu laughs. He throws his hands in the air, and cries, “Nothing changes!”

“Victory!” Goldman declares. “Finally, we have a breakthrough. Nothing changes and we want something to change. So, consider our demands! We have to leave now, the Living Theater is waiting for us in the streets!”

And with this, the chorus of forgotten women, theater artists of all kinds, ripped and torn memories from theater walls and halls and street corners, collectively pull out new banners that read “Paradise Is Not Lost!” and hoist them into the air, chanting in unison, “Get over yourself! Get over yourself!” And, they leave stage left.

Only Madame Bulandra remains from the crowd of women. She stands watching them depart as she waves. “Ah! Now I have really lived!” She wipes her eyes, tenderly.

Molière jumps to his feet, turns towards the cameras, and returns to hosting the show. “Ladies and gentlemen, I have been a clown all my life. I’ve tried as best I can…” Molière turns to Ciulei and begs, “What am I talking about?”

“Sir, you have been rendered irrelevant. I suggest you stop and collect yourself.” Ciulei stands, moves his chair closer to Ducu, and whispers, “You see, he’s never really been silenced. We know what that’s like. We know what it means to be forgotten.”

Sighing deeply, Ducu stands, runs to the dead tree, unzips his pants, and pees on the tree, howling like Bulgakov’s dog: “‘Ooow-ow-ooow-owow! Oh, look at me, I’m dying!”

From out of the nowhere, cheers erupt from the audience, “Bravo! Bravo! What a way to go!”

Sitting in the middle of the audience are three ghosts, writers from my childhood, all dead now: Sam Shepard with his cowboy boots on the seat before him, Maria Irene Fornes holding a coffee cup from a Greek diner, and Harry Koutoukas covered head to toe in gold lamé. “Bravo!” they say and whistle like the end of a punk explosion at the club CBGBs.

“Hey!” Sam shouts. “Any of you cowboys have a fresh pack of smokes?”

Ducu stands, checks his pockets, finds a pack, looks at it, kisses it, and throws it to Sam. “Thanks kid!” says Sam, pulling out three cigarettes, handing one each to Irene and Harry like communion. All three light up and suck hard on their smokes, lustily.

Molière, incensed, stands. “Who let all these….ruffians…these coarse…Americans in?”

Laughter erupts amongst the seated ghosts. “I told you! What a charmer, huh?” Harry says about Molière.

“Yeah, this guy,” Irene says. “When did you sell out and move to television?!”

“Sell out?” Molière says, hurt.

“Yeah, you! Sellout! You think you have what it takes to interview Ducu? Huh?” Harry barks. Molière stands, pulls his hair, and sits again.

“Harry?” Ducu says. “Is that you?”

“Hey, baby, how are you darling?” Harry purrs.

“Confused, sweetheart.” Ducu says. “What do you three want?”

“Same as always,” Irene says, her voice calm. “A great show!”

“I would have made something for you…” Ducu stands now, his hands covering eyes. “I’m imagining something loud with lots of ways for the characters to escape!”

“Yes! That sounds wonderful,” Sam says, smiling.

Molière stands, cups his mouth, yells to the light board operator, “Hey, play that song! They want a show, play it now!”

The voice of Patti Smith flows through the hall, the blue paint chips at the sounds of her cry. “Jesus died for somebody’s sins…but not mine!” The thumping beat of her cries for “G-L-O-R-I-A!” shake the walls.

Sam jumps to his feet, terrified, “No! Patti is not dead! What is this?” Harry and Irene also jump to their feet, to comfort Sam. Harry points at Molière. “You think this is funny? You sick bastard!”

“Oh, I’m the sick bastard! You three are always showing up to interrupt me, judge me, call out your demands!” Molière pouts.

“That’s our job, you brat!” Irene barks. “Now, tell him, Patti is not here. Tell him!” Irene says this as she holds Sam’s hand. Sam is terrified and shaking.

“I will do no such thing!” Molière screeches.

“What’s going on here?” Ducu pleads with Ciulei.

“The avant-garde. They’re always fighting with authority,” Ciulei says as Madame Bulandra nods her head in agreement.

“Oh! You call this clown our authority?” Irene says, her hand on her small hip, her dark eyes wild. “Molière, you bastard! Tell him Patti isn’t here! She’s not dead!”

“I won’t!” Molière says, his arms crossed before his chest like an angry child.

“What a hack!” Harry bellows from his seat. “If you don’t tell him, Molière, I’m going to call Charles!”

“You wouldn’t dare upstage me, Koutoukas!” Molière says, terrified.

“Tell him! Assure him! Patti is alive!” Harry barks.

“I will do no such thing you…you…bohemians!” Molière points at the three ghosts, wildly waving his hand.

“Oh, now he’s done it.” Irene says to Harry. Harry nods with a Cheshire Cat smile.

“Charles!” Harry yells, “Charles! Come out here and shut this hack up!”

The lights change on the stage, and a set piece falls upstage with a huge thunk. The set is painted in bold colors, the images large, the scene a tableaux of an old Parisian salon in a distant past.

“Not fair!” Molière bellows. “Not fair at all!”

Sam, Irene, and Harry applaud and whistle over Molière. They pound their feet as Ducu and Ciulei stand, pulling their seats back. They stand stage right, mouths agape.

A single spotlight lights up a lone figure in a 19th century dress, tight at the waist and flowing out and out, layers of skirts meeting the stage. It is Charles Ludlam, the neck of the dress dangerously low, the hair of his chest peeking out over the fabric.

“No! Not…Camille!” Molière bellows.

“You asked for it!” Irene laughs.

Charles is hit with a second spotlight. He stares up and out over the audience, “Well, how do you do?” he says, pulling up his skirts as he slowly makes his way downstage, lightly touching his face, his thick fingers elegant, leaving pink marks on his cheek. Finishing his steps, he looks up at the balcony. Only the shadows of my dead are sitting in the seats. Charles steps forward and Ducu stands, points at the lights, and like a magician shifts the lighting to seep behind Charles, who’s dazzling.

“Darlings! Ladies and germs! What’s the point to being dead if you can’t have the last act all to yourself? Right, my darlings?” Sam, Irene, and Harry hoot and stomp their feet. “What’s left for us dead?” Charles continues. “Memories? And, who remembers us? When we were always the forgotten ones? Molière, what do you have to say for yourself?”

Molière staggering up from his chair tries to speak but cannot, sits again, takes out his flask, and gulps a shot, and says, “Upstaging me. You’re cruel.”

Charles laughs, deeply. “Oh, vain even as a phantom! We’re all whores for the light. But, I still have something to say…” Sam, Irene, and Harry applaud hard. Emboldened by the support, Charles looks around, walks to the edge of the stage, and takes a breath, the sound of wind rising around him. Ducu stands, leaning against the wall of the theater, up on the stage as Charles gathers himself for one last testament to life. Ducu’s face is as lit up as Charles’, both enlightened by the moment.

Collecting his skirts, Charles makes his way forward to speak. He opens his mouth and a Tibetan chant bellows out, reverberates for a long time, the sound so powerful Sam, Irene, and Harry dissolve before me, the flicker of them quickly gone.

The seats are all filled with shadows of the dead, all the dead theater people Ducu or I had ever known. The box seats resonate with gongs. Moving center stage, Ducu takes Charles’s hand, and they both look out into the theater. “Oh!” Ducu exclaims. “It is true. I am dead.”

Smiling sweetly, Charles looks to Ducu and they nod, knowing what to do. Both take a deep bow as the chants of monks cue the lights to fade. They bow low. They bow long though there is no sound of applause. Charles disappears into the floorboards of the stage. Ducu looks out into the theater, “Yes!” he cries. “Yes, I am dead!”

I am suddenly standing on the stage, furious. I have the camera down by my leg, the sounds of branches seemingly rubbing against me. “Will we ever get to the truth with you?!” I demand, the ghosts aghast . “Can we just get a clear answer? How did you die? What will happen next?”

Ducu pulls my ears, lightly. He smells my hair. He smiles that smile, “Don’t be mad, baby. Watch this…”

The ceiling above the stage opens up. The sound is massive as it pulls away, revealing the night sky. Ducu walks center stage. Looking up, he laughs, and looks at all of us on the stage, “I think I’ll leave now.”

A Klezmer band begins to play and Ducu laughs. All the lights in the sky and all the stars point towards the stage. We look up at the gleaming, clear night sky. Then, ropes drop. Acrobats shimmy halfway down the ropes and stop to spin, their hair loose, their costumes covered in stars.

“Well! That is a way to go,” Molière says, turning to the cameras. “Here, on the stage of the Bulandra, not to be shown up by his past, we end this evening with a live performance.”

Molière’s voice dissipates as the klezmer’s oom-pah-pah fills the hall. The acrobats continue to spin. The music picks up. Ducu stands in the middle of the stage, his arms reaching up and up, until a red rope drops, hard before him. Looking up, he smiles seeing a red-masked woman hanging upside down. Her nose looks familiar. Her eyes are filled with tears. Her black hair, close-cropped, is loose and elegant. “Come, darling…” she whispers from above.

“Yes,” he says, and starts to climb the rope towards her. Now, the sky-bound circus is singing along with the band, so loudly it’s hard to hear anything else. Ducu rises, taking his time as he looks around the hall. He bends back towards me and tells me something.

“What?” I yell.

He leans back toward me again, I cannot hear. Moving closer to the rope, I look up, directly into his eyes.

“Find Maria, baby!” he yells, reaching for the woman’s hand. Her grasp is strong as she pulls him towards the infinite in order to go up and up because heaven is a theater. She pulls him up and up, and I hear him yell back at me, “And, wake up, love. Wake up.”

Now available from Editura Integral

Sarah Kornfeld is an American writer born and raised in the experimental theater of New York City, where she performed with The Bread and Puppet Theater, Judson Poets Theater, and The Ridiculous Theatrical Company. She is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and received professional training at The Royal Court Theater in London. Her play, The Lovedeath of Clowns, was produced at the Theater For The New City in New York. Her debut novel, What Stella Sees, was published by Cove International Publishers in 2018 and received high praise in the United States and the United Kingdom. She is a proud member of the National Writers Union, and lives by the sea in the Bay Area of California.

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