The Council of Mothers

Council of Mothers

A woman is prevented from having a child, so her wife helps her overcome her grief. A story about things we take for granted, like partners and the science of making babies. Finalist (playwright) at the Short + Sweet Theatre Festival, Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre, 2009.

Read the full 10-minute play below. The Author Note is at the end of the script.


CAST OF CHARACTERS
Maya: A scientist in her late 20s. About 8 months pregnant.
Selena: A pottery craftswoman in her early 30s.

SCENE
A lush private garden with a patio set.

TIME
Approximately 2,000 years in the future.

SETTING
A lush private garden. We see a patio set with two chairs, one on either side of a table. A shiny laptop sits on the table. There are a few clay pots gathered near one of the chairs. Toward the back of the stage, there is a wood-fenced enclosure.

AT RISE
MAYA sits on a chair, peering into the laptop. She pats her pregnant belly self-consciously. SELENA sits on the chair near the pottery. She is reading a letter. We hear birds singing but it fades away as conversation starts. The wood-fence shakes gently but noticeably from time to time.

SELENA
Addresses MAYA without looking.
Do you ever dream, Maya? And in your dreams, are you a Mother?

MAYA

Continues working on the laptop.
Yes, Selena, I dream. And in my dreams, I am a Mother.

SELENA
I wish I had your sense of confidence.

MAYA

Confidence is for tricksters and mundane sales-persons. It is not a matter of confidence, but one of conviction.

SELENA
Well then, I wish I had your sense of conviction.
Tosses the letter on the table.
The Council of Mothers rejected my application to join them…again! I shall never be a Mother and I shall never get a Procreation Permit.

MAYA
Selena, doggedness leads to a litter of puppies. Success is yours if you put your heart into it.

SELENA
Heart is for the blood and little red Valentines. It is not a matter of heart, but one of brain. I suffer greatly from the lack of it. I am so stupid that I shall now have to commit myself as an evolutionary dead-end–Darwina’s coccyx.

MAYA
I was mistaken. You do have a sense of conviction.

SELENA
I’ve tried for ten years, Maya. This is my last Winnowing Season. I give up. I always thought I had it in me–to be a Mother. But, this letter…
Picks up the letter and stands. She paces as she reads.
Blah, blah… reject your application… blah, blah, blah. Your paper, ‘Pre-Eve clay molding, glazing and wood-firing methods for the creation of dishware’ is artistic and would serve as a welcome addition to preservation of the old arts. Unfortunately, its polluting aspect does not conform to the Green Code. Try harder.
Crumples the letter.
This was the hardest I’ve tried. I’m not like you, Maya. I can’t provide original contributions to knowledge and society. My genes are useless. I can’t be a Mother. The only thing that keeps me going is that we can both still raise a child together–your genetic child.
Pats MAYA’s shoulder and they share a meaningful look.
They’re bound to throw Procreation Permits at you–you’re the best biological historian and genetic engineer of the generation. I’m so proud of you. I can’t wait till you get your acceptance letter. When do you think you’d get your Procreation Kit?

MAYA
Uhm. Soon, I think. Look. Selena…
Rubs her belly and gets up with difficulty to pace.
The Council of Mothers is not the be-all-and-end-all of womanity. Don’t cling to their apron strings.

SELENA

There you are being radical again. What’s wrong with conforming just like everyone else?

MAYA
Conformity, my dear, is a disease of the arts and sciences. Ultimately, it leads to our mutual, compliant destruction. Why do you support the Council so? They’re standing in the way of your greatest desire.

SELENA
It’s not their fault I’m stupid. The Council always decides for us.

MAYA
Stop calling yourself that–you’d start to believe it. The Council has no right to make that decision for you!

SELENA
Well, you should stop being so… so modern! Mothers make Daughters, and Daughters are our Future. That gives the Mothers sole right to make our decisions. Yogurt forms best when left alone. Why disturb it?

MAYA
I just don’t agree with the Winnowing process for joining the Council.

SELENA
Mothers know best. You don’t have to be contrary just to show me support.

MAYA
Yes, yes I do. This makes you unhappy and, and broody. I hate it.

SELENA
We need Winnowing to select the best of us–separate the grain from chaff. It ensures that the right genes are given the best chance to survive to future generations.

MAYA
Wonderful, you’ve been reading the Council handbook. Did you know that in pre-Eve days, we were all subject to the whims and fancies of Mother Nature? It was She who determined who survives. But now, we have tamed Her, made Her content in Her old age with our Green Code of sustainability, cleanliness and frugality. Dear Selena, that’s why we have that silly talent contest, the Winnowing–Mother Nature is silent.

SELENA

Well, what do you suggest then–a lottery?

MAYA
A bit of randomness would be interesting.

SELENA

That’s insane!

MAYA
No more than the Council’s arbitrary tests of ‘usefulness to society’. They’re myopic in their views of what is necessary for our future. Artistry is needed as well as science. When you die, the gene for pottery dies with you.
Pauses, troubled.
When they condemn you to barrenness, they condemn our future generations to darkness!

SELENA
Silly girl, pottery is not controlled by a single gene.

MAYA
I was merely simplifying the issue. But am I being too dramatic? Does it seem fair to you to have an elite group of individuals decide your fate for you? In our society, to be barren is to be struck dumb.

SELENA
A pathetic voiceless ghost! I know. I know I know I know! Remind me of what I am not! Do you think I am unaffected by all this?

Pause.

MAYA
There… there is another way. What if… what if we included a bit of randomness in our procreation process itself? We wouldn’t need the Winnowing then.

SELENA
But our Procreation Kits are perfect.

MAYA
Precisely!

SELENA
You want to reduce the efficacy of the Procreation Kits?

MAYA
There’s an idea. But no, you can’t alter one process without compromising the others. Instead, think of introducing Pre-Eve procreation randomization.
Pauses.
What do you know about… Man?

SELENA
There’s not much to know. They’re extinct. Dead as the dodo, whatever that is.

MAYA
That’s right. Approximately 2,000 years ago, shortly after the 20th Century, a series of events occurred that could have led to men’s extinction: pollution, nuclear war, estrogen in the water supply, malnutrition, Wolbachia-like infections, androgen allergy–one, none or all of the above. Who knows?

SELENA
It could have been a myth. How could this lush, beautiful world once have been so… dirty?

MAYA
Great Earth Mother! You’re not a Man-denier, are you?

SELENA
Well, it’s just odd that they all lay down and died.

MAYA
There wasn’t a sudden die-off as shown on daytime dramas. Males gradually just stopped being born, or died before adulthood, or became women. Without Man, we started a new phase in human history–the era of the Eves.
Pauses.
How well do you know the Procreation Kits?

SELENA
We get it after we’re issued a Procreation Permit.
Recites with motion.
The Kit helps us harvest stem cells from our body, which we use to create plus and minus gametes. The gametes, either our own or from another woman’s genetic line, merges to create an embryo. We pop the embryo into the nourishment vat and wait five months. On Harvest day, we scoop out the baby into our loving embraces!
Makes cradling motions.

MAYA
Pre-Eve, the gametes were not pluses and minuses, they were ova and spermatozoa. And spermatozoa came from Man!

SELENA

From Man!

MAYA
And back then, there were no nourishment vats. Women carried babies in their uteruses. They call it ‘pregnancy’.

SELENA
That’s so… primitive!

MAYA

I want to show you something. Come on. Look in there.
Leads SELENA to the enclosure. It starts shaking violently.

SELENA
Peeks over the top, shrieks and jumps back.
What in the name of the Goddess is wrong with her! She’s… she’s got hair on her face and all over her body! She looks strange. And the poor thing has got a horrible tumour… down there.

MAYA
Laughs.
That’s not a woman. It’s a Man!

SELENA
Shrieks again and rushes back to look.
On second thought, it’s beautiful! But, I thought they were extinct.

MAYA
I made this one using a research Procreation Kit. It was a simple matter of altering a chromosome in the minus gamete and adding a growth hormone to the nourishment vat.

SELENA
You’re a genius! Is it viable?

MAYA

Chokes.
Yes, very much so.

SELENA
So pollutants aren’t an issue any longer?

MAYA
Oh, you mean that sort of viable. I do believe conditions are ripe for Man to live on Earth once more.

SELENA

That’s wonderful! It’s lovely. But what do you need Man for anyway?

MAYA
I’ll have to show you something else to answer that.
Shows SELENA the laptop screen.
This was what they did before Procreation Kits.

SELENA
Oh my! That’s a woman… and a… Man?

MAYA
Yes, that was how they got the spermatozoa from the Man into the ovum in the woman. They called it sexual intercourse. I found it in the old archive sections of the Web. There was plenty of research material there.

SELENA
Turns her head sideways.
Ooooh! Shocking! But yet, it’s very educational.

MAYA
I also found something called the Kama Sutra. It was quite a well-written manual, with lots of pictures. It was very helpful.

SELENA

I can’t see how a manual on sexual intercourse is helpful.

MAYA
Why, Selena, haven’t you realized it yet? Our conversation: my disagreement with Winnowing, men, procreation kits. I’ve been trying to prepare you… Selena, I’m pregnant.

Pause.

SELENA
Backs away from MAYA.
I’m confused.

MAYA
Grabs SELENA’s hand and puts it on her belly.
Feel that? That’s a fetus, Selena. I’m a walking, talking nourishment vat.

SELENA
Pulls her hand away quickly.
No. Maya, stop it! You’re being obscene!

MAYA
You felt it. That was not a joke. This is Life. This is a Life. Do you deny it?

SELENA

No. No. No. You’re being modern again. This is too much.

MAYA
Selena, this isn’t much different than your pottery. Tell me you felt something.

SELENA
I felt it move.

MAYA
You know that’s not what I meant. Did you feel something, not inside me, but inside you?
Puts SELENA’s hand on her again.
Close your eyes and tell me what you feel.

SELENA
Closes her eyes.
I… I feel… a sense of need… of wonder…

MAYA
It’s like waking up to a new day full of promise. The sun is shining, pleasantly warm, new light to a sparkling fresh, green world.

SELENA
Or… or it’s visiting a moonlit lake before a storm, cool winds softly rustling the river grass. I’m afraid, but I’m trembling with anticipation. You’re right, it’s just like pottery.

MAYA and SELENA embrace.

MAYA
So all is good?

SELENA

Yes, all is good. But Maya, I’m afraid for you.

MAYA
I’ll be fine. Women have not changed much in physiology after 2,000 years. Pregnancy has been done before. It’s natural… organic… follows the Green Code.

SELENA
But wouldn’t the Council of Mothers see this as too… revolutionary?

MAYA
They thought it was clever actually. They gave me a chair on the Council and a Procreation Permit too.

SELENA
Maya!

MAYA
I’m sorry. I… I knew you were going to get the rejection letter. I didn’t know how you were going to take it.

SELENA
Maya, you silly, genius girl! Your successes are mine. But, why did you get… pregnant… with the man?
Shudders.
You could have used the Procreation Kit, you have your permit.

MAYA
Selena, I didn’t do it for myself. I did it for you.

SELENA

You… for me?

MAYA
Yes. I may be a Mother now, with the Council, but you’re right. No matter how radical I am with my thoughts, I can’t change the way the Council works, not overnight. The Winnowing stays.
Looks down deep in thought.
I could give you options though. The Procreation Permit doesn’t apply to pre-Eve conditions.

SELENA
So I’m going to have to do this…
Points at the laptop screen.
… with that…
Points at the enclosure.
… so that I can have my own…?
Touches MAYA’s belly

MAYA
Yes, yes, and yes. If you want.

SELENA

I… I do… want…
Pauses.
I’m going to be a mother!

MAYA
Yes. Yes you are.

SELENA

Thank you. Thank you, Maya. You’re a love. I’m going to be a Mother!
Hugs MAYA roughly but belatedly remembers the pregnancy.

MAYA
Yes, yes Selena, yes you are.
Looks at Selena meaningfully.
We’re going to be mothers.

SELENA

If this is a dream, don’t pinch me.

MAYA pinches SELENA.

SELENA

Shrieks and looks at MAYA in wonder.
It’s not a dream!

MAYA and SELENA laughs and exits. The enclosure rattles as something growls inside it.

BLACKOUT

END OF ACT

[Author Note: I wrote this play aeons ago in terms of story crafting, in 2009. The language is melodramatic, which was what I was going for at the time. I’m not sure I would have done the same today. I would have ended it the same way though. This version is the original version I submitted for the festival, with minor edits. In 2009, when the play was staged, it was cut for brevity, and had the addition of tongue-kissing at the end.]

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