MRS RUSKIN

by Kim Morrissey

to be produced by
Theatre Metropolis
in 2003

Artistic Directors: Amy Oliver, Michael Yale
directed by Jacqui Somerville

première : Warehouse Theatre, East Croydon UK September  12th - October 5, 2003
(Turn right out of East Croydon Station and right again into Dingwall Road
- it's less than one minute's walk)



DRAFT ONE (ACT ONE)
November 26th 2002
Canada House
London, UK


Other Drafts of Kim Morrissey's  Mrs. Ruskin

actors involved in the workshops

BACKGROUND MATERIAL: The Order of Release
"The Order of Release 1746", oil on canvas, 103 x 74 cm, 1852-1853, Effie Ruskin (née Gray, later Millais) as model, The Tate Gallery, London

playwright's note: November 25, 2002

"with brave people the work is first, and the fee second."
John Ruskin, Lecture on "Work"
Camberwell Working Men's Institute, 1860's

I wrote my play Dora : A Case of Hysteria (Nick Hern Books, 1994) in 1985 and then rewrote it, working with director Steve Gregg (Wheatland Theatre). We used a series of workshop readings set up by the Saskatchewan Playwrights Centre in 1985-86, over the course of nine months, ending in a staged reading, dramaturged by Ken Gass.  The first professional production of the play was directed by Steve Gregg at Wheatland Theatre (March 1987). Steve gave me one of the best pieces of advice for writing satire and black comedy: 'Go for the joke and let the tragedy take care of itself.' I found the process so satisfying that I have workshopped my plays the same way ever since.

For the Mrs. Ruskin project, we have scheduled a series of workshops over a year, working closely with Amy Oliver (Effie Ruskin) and Michael Yale (John Ruskin) and director Jacqui Somerville, with additional help from the Theatre Metropolis company of actors.


MRS RUSKIN

CAST in March 1853 :


Euphemia Chalmers Ruskin (Effie) 24
John Ruskin 34
John Everett Millais (Johnny) 23
Margaret Ruskin (John's mother) 71
Sophie Gray (Effie's sister) 9

ACT TWO June 1853 - April 1854

MRS RUSKIN
DRAFT ONE
ACT ONE

SCENE 1 1853. THE RUSKIN'S BEDROOM.

John Ruskin stands before a mirror, undressed.

JOHN: [LECTURING TO HIMSELF, MID-LECTURE]

One great difficulty is that no one will ever believe that her character is what it is. Some may say this evidence of ill temper appears little - but Imagine this behaviour attended by the most obstinate opposition in serious matters - and by an UTTER ingratitude for ALL that is done for her. Not merely ingratitude - but ingratitude coarsely and vulgarly manifested. For instance - who could believe, of a woman who to all strangers behaves with grace and pleasantness, that in her domestic life, for every question asked in a kind tone - every answer is given with a snap :[READS]

Effie is looking abstractedly out of the window.

John. Gently. What are you looking at, Effie"

Nothing.

John. Kindly. What are you thinking of then?

A great many things.

John. Amiably. Tell me some of them.

I was thinking of operas -and excitement - and -Angrily - a great many things.

John. Fondly. And what conclusions did you come to.

None - because YOU interrupted me.

Dialogue closed.

- and that continuing the whole day -

Imagine this behavior attended by the most obstinate opposition in serious things - and by an UTTER ingratitude for ALL that is done for her by myself - my father - and my mother. Not merely ingratitude - but ingratitude coarsely and vulgarly manifested. Imagine her for instance speaking of her husband - his father - and his mother - as the "Batch of Ruskins."

Imagine Effie.... whereas Effie ... whereas my mother .... whereas Effie .... one might think  someone such as Effie ...

[EFFIE KNOCKS AT HER OWN BEDROOM DOOR AND ENTERS]



EFFIE: Do you want me?



JOHN: No.



EFFIE: I heard my name.



JOHN: I am preparing a lecture on Model Marriage.



EFFIE: [WITH PLEASURE] Using me as a model?



JOHN: Of a sort. [PAUSE] I was thinking more of my parents. An ideal couple. From the start, no one could imagine otherwise.



EFFIE: Your grandfather cut his throat.



JOHN: It might well have been an accident. He was alone at the time.



EFFIE: With your mother.



JOHN: What are you insinuating?



EFFIE: Nothing. He was alone with your mother. Everyone knows that.



JOHN: Why would everyone know? Why would anyone care?



EFFIE: No one cares. It's just fact.



JOHN: Hasn't my poor mother suffered enough?



[EFFIE DOESN'T ANSWER. IT'S OBVIOUS THAT HER ANSWER WOULD NOT NECESSARILY BE 'YES.']



JOHN: This really must stop, Effie. You are sick. Insane. It's unseemly. No proper wife would be jealous of a man's mother.



EFFIE: No proper husband would give his wife grounds.



JOHN: Your insolence is intolerable!



EFFIE: Let's not quarrel. Let's not wait. Not one more hour. I know now what I want. I don't want to travel. I don't want to plan. I don't want to pretend Sophie is our child. I want a child, John. I want a child.

[EFFIE SLIPS OFF THE DRESSING GOWN]

{JOHN LOOKS STRAIGHT AHEAD]


BLACKOUT.

SCENE 2 Morning.

Effie is taking the curling papers out of her sister Sophie's hair and brushing it. Sophie is reading aloud from Tennyson's In Memorium



SOPHIE: XCVII ... X .C.V.I..I.



EFFIE: No. In English. .... XC is .... 90.



SOPHIE: 90 ...V 1...2.... 97!



EFFIE: Go on.



SOPHIE: [BEGINS AGAIN] 97.



My love has talk'd with rocks and trees;

He finds on misty mountain-ground



It's like Mr Ruskin!



His own vast shadow glory- ....



EFFIE: [Looking at the text] "Crowned"



SOPHIE:

His own vast shadow glory-crown'd;....

He sees himself in all he sees.



Two partners of a married life --

I look'd on these and thought of thee

In vastness and in mystery,

And of my spirit as of a wife.



These two -- they dwelt with eye on eye,

Their hearts of old have beat in tune,

Their meetings made December June

Their every parting was to die.



EFFIE: Not so thrillingly, please. You're not on the stage.



SOPHIE:

Their love has never past away;

The days she never can forget

Are earnest that he loves her yet,

Whate'er the faithless people say.



Her life is lone, he sits apart,

He loves her yet, she will not weep,

Tho' rapt in matters dark and deep

He seems to slight her simple heart.



He thrids the labyrinth of the mind,



What's 'thrids?'



EFFIE: It doesn't matter. Go on.



SOPHIE:

He reads the secret of the star,

He seems so near and yet so far,

He looks so cold: she thinks him kind.



That's lovely! It is about Mr Ruskin, isn't it?



EFFIE: Poetry isn't about anything. All that is important is that we love truly and honestly and openly.



SOPHIE:Tell me again. If you are my sister ...



EFFIE: I am your sister.



SOPHIE: Yes. Exactly. So does that mean Mr Ruskin is my brother?



EFFIE: In Law. Brother-in-law.



SOPHIE: Even though he's so old! And brothers can't marry sisters. But he married you.



EFFIE: Yes. But he wasn't my brother. He is my husband, which means he is your brother-in-law. By law. Not by blood.



SOPHIE: So he can't marry me, even if he wanted to?



EFFIE: He is already married. To me.



SOPHIE: And you are my sister. So Old Mrs. Ruskin ... is .... my ....?



EFFIE: She is just Mrs. Ruskin.



SOPHIE: Then why do you call her 'Mother.'



EFFIE: Mr Ruskin likes it.



SOPHIE: She says I'm much prettier than you.



EFFIE: Oh?



SOPHIE: And she says you're an imbecile.



EFFIE: That's not very nice.



SOPHIE: Oh, she's very nice about it. She says to me 'Sophie' she says, 'Poor Effie can't help it.'



EFFIE: And what is her proof I'm an imbecile?



SOPHIE: The way you eat your soup. And she said I shouldn't do the same or people will think me a rude and ignorant Scotch girl, too.



EFFIE: Go on with your reading.



SOPHIE:

She keeps the gift of years before,

A wither'd violet is her bliss:

She knows not what his greatness is,

For that, for all, she loves him more.



For him she plays, to him she sings

Of early faith and plighted vows;

She knows but matters of the house,

And he, he knows a thousand things.



Her faith is fixt and cannot move,

She darkly feels him great and wise,

She dwells on him with faithful eyes,

"I cannot understand: I love."



'I cannot understand. I love.' It's lovely, isn't it? She reminds me of Zoe.


EFFIE: Zoe is a dog.



SOPHIE: But she loves. What I don't understand is why the man knows so much.



EFFIE: That's enough Tennyson for today. Arithmetic.



SOPHIE: But I go home tomorrow.



EFFIE: You don't want to go home a rude ignorant Scotch girl, do you?



SOPHIE: We've already done roman numerals. That's Arithmetic.



EFFIE: Very well. Spelling and dictation.



SOPHIE: Perhaps I could just write a letter instead. To Mama. I could tell Mama all about the walks with Mr Ruskin and everything he said and what I said, too.



EFFIE: Very well. Composition.

[SOPHIE BEGINS TO WRITE]

[OUT OF THE SCENE, JOHN IS WRITING]

JOHN:
She said to me 'people would think me extraordinary to make such a proposal.' I said ' I am extraordinary and if you did not know it before you were well to know it now. She said there was a visible impropriety in asking another man to come here and work in my study and live in my House. Improper indeed! As if she did not know perfectly that it was absolutely necessary for me to work at Mama and Papa's, I need to work there for the light, and if I am there, I can not be here. She then said it was merely my notion I must work there, I could sketch stones anywhere. I had nothing more to say. A wife should obey her husband in everything but what is against God's commands.



[BACK INTO THE SCENE]

SOPHIE: Effie.... How do you spell the word 'beautiful?'





SCENE 3 Margaret Ruskin, writing



My Dearest,

To my eternal surprise, Effie was out of bed before nine to go to Kings Cross and Sophie is safely away, bless her, and when she thanked me for the jam I told her it would be there to cheer her and to have her think of us when she is home and to make her mother the recipe I gave her for cleansing her blood and she said she might be tired after travelling all day and I told her the journey is not so long for one so young and she must decide whether she is going to try to be a Ruskin, like us, or be a fool.

Oh! John has promised to come with us and told Effie plain she can't travel with us, that you won't be put out of his way in the least thing and never have been, and we travel days and days from 9 in the morning till 7 at night and I never get tired.

You are right: Sophie is as beautiful as her sister was at her age and as extravagant as well, with her little gold lockets and silk bonnets and silly Scotch ways though I think if we were to get hold of her now we could turn her around and make of her a proper young lady without so much attention to her looks and her dress as Effie. Poor Effie  feels she never goes out at all, even though she is still taking the carriage  twice a week whenever she pleases and John always saying it is needed to have her go to the British Museum but we all know it goes to the Museum and then it goes to the Empire and then out to dine. But Effie won't be told anything, as you know.

And now, if you please, instead of being a proper wife, she is going to be posing for pictures like a common hat-girl for some fellow called Milly. What sort of name that is for a gentleman, I don't know, but John says he is a genius, so I have determined to say nothing at all as I know I am old and do not understand High Society and Art like John and Effie. John is very patient and tries to explain but sometimes I think he sees more than could ever have been meant to be. Mr Turner said as much, himself. Mind you, I don't know why your blessed Mr. Turner didn't get himself a pair of spectacles so he could see things proper.



SCENE 4 Next morning.

John Everett Millais working on The Order of Release. Everything has been painted except for the Jacobite Wife figure, being modelled by Effie.



JOHNNY: Lower .... too low .... a little higher .... a straighter line with the arm, please. Turn towards me. Not too far. Chin higher, please. You are a model wife .... Forgive me ... if I could just show you what I want ......

[JOHNNY GOES TO EFFIE AND ADJUSTS THE ANGLE OF HER HEAD]

Stunning.

[HE RETURNS TO THE PAINTING]



EFFIE: It's hard work, being a Jacobite. If I had realized how difficult it was, I should have had John pose instead.



JOHNNY: As the husband?



EFFIE: As whatever you like. He's very fond of you. Or perhaps you could have used your Ophelia.



JOHNNY: Too thin. You make a better.Jacobite than either of them, Mrs. Ruskin. You have the proper Scottish air of purpose and determination.



EFFIE: How charming. John would call me stubborn.



JOHNNY: Firm. Head a little higher, please.



EFFIE: May I talk?



JOHNNY: Resolute. Proud.



EFFIE: Obstinate. .Rigid. Inflexible.



JOHNNY: Constant.



EFFIE: Contumacious.



JOHHNY: Jammy.



[JOHN ENTERS, STANDS BEHIND JOHNNY]



JOHN: Perfect!



JOHNNY: That's enough for today.



JOHN: Will you stay to dinner, Millais?



JOHNNY: I'm so sorry. Perhaps another time.



JOHN: Next time?



JOHNNY: Perhaps.



JOHN: We had hoped you might stay.



JOHNNY: I'm so sorry. I have made other arrangements.



EFFIE: We should not have presumed.



JOHNNY: Not at all. You have simply presumed too soon, Mrs. Ruskin. Ask me again, the next time I come. Tuesday?



EFFIE: Tuesday.



JOHNNY: [TO EFFIE] Practise being resolute. I need a Wife who has the courage to speak for all wives.



[JOHN AND JOHNNIE EXIT]



[EFFIE RESUMES THE EXPRESSION REQUIRED FOR 'THE ORDER OF RELEASE.' JOHN RETURNS]



JOHN: What are you looking at, Effie"



EFFIE: Nothing.



JOHN: What are you thinking of then?



EFFIE: A great many things.



JOHN: Tell me some of them.



EFFIE: I was thinking of ... a great many things.



JOHN: And what conclusions did you come to?



EFFIE: None.... None.



PIANO MUSIC: POSSIBLY OFT IN THE STILLY NIGHT [THE SHEET MUSIC IN THE HOLMAN HUNT PICTURE 'THE AWAKENING CONSCIENCE']





SCENE 5 DINNER THAT EVENING



Effie, John and Margaret Ruskin



MARGARET: I don't call that Grace.



JOHN: It is all the fashion.



MARGARET: It doesn't seem to be said to our Lord for his sake, but for effect and for vanities pleasure. It's just said to hear yourself speak. I can't believe your father would approve. And what are all these things on table?



EFFIE: They are called pine apples.



MARGARET: Pine Apples. For dinner?



EFFIE: It is the fashion.



MARGARET: And what are wrong with good English apples?



JOHN: We thought you might like to try something new.



MARGARET: I suppose they are very dear.



EFFIE: We would give anything to give you new pleasure, Mother Ruskin.

MARGARET: It's all very well, giving anything. And easy as well, when one gives with other people's money. Will you still be giving me pine apples when you are my age? Or is it that you think your father will keep you in pine apples all your days? He'll have to keep you and the whole Gray clan, who have never had one bit of sense between them. Thank God you have no children.

EFFIE: Be quiet!

JOHN: How dare you speak to my mother like that!

EFFIE: Be quiet, too!

JOHN: Have you gone mad?

EFFIE: Have you? How can you sit there and listen to this silly old goose say one more word?

MARGARET: Maniac!

EFFIE: No. I am suddenly sane. And as for your sneaking, sliding, sly sluggish totting up of ever penny spent and every word spoken, weighing and telling tales, I loathe it. I loathe you. And I would rather be an ignorant silly Scotch girl than the sort of twisted, mean-minded, mean-spirited ugly old witch you've become.

[EFFIE EXITS]

MARGARET: She's very rude.



Scene 6 THAT EVENING. THE RUSKIN'S BEDROOM

JOHN: Effie. Euphemia.

[EFFIE PRETENDS TO BE ASLEEP]

JOHN: Listen carefully. If you apologise, I will take you to the Highlands in three months time for the whole of the summer. I had meant to tell you earlier.

Millais says he will come too.

And his brother.

And possibly Hunt.

It's for you to decide

...... unless you would rather spend the summer here with my parents.

Effie.

[THERE IS A PAUSE]

You know Pet, it seems almost a dream to me that we have been married, as if I had never held you in my arms. Come with me, this summer, and we can look forward to our next bridal night .... as if we had never been together at all ... drawing your dress from your snowy shoulders, leaning my cheek upon them, as if you were my betrothed only ... my only betrothed ... my only ... drawing your dress from your shoulders ....

[RUSKIN TURNS AWAY. WE HEAR HIM MASTURBATING]

[EFFIE STARES STRAIGHT AHEAD]



SCENE 7 THE RUSKIN'S KITCHEN



MARGARET: Do the right thing, for once in your life.

[HANDS EFFIE THE STRAIGHT-BACK RAZOR]
[BLACKOUT]
[INTERVAL]

END OF ACT ONE
draft 1 © Kim Morrissey, 2003


ACT TWO still in progress

next workshop end of February 2003


THIS IS NOT THE FINAL VERSION OF THIS PLAY (draft 1)

MRS RUSKIN by Kim Morrissey. Caution: this play is fully protected under the copyright laws of Canada and all other countries of The Copyright Union, and is subject to royalty. Those interested in production rights are requested to apply to Playwrights Guild of Canada, Mailing Address 215 Spadina Ave.Suite #210 Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5T 2C7 telephone (416) 703-0201; fax (416) 703-0059. e-mail: info@playwrightsguild.ca