[It Is So! (If You Think So!)]
(Così è, se vi pare!)
English version by
[New York: E. P. Dutton, 1922]
Our Own Times, in a Small Italian Town, the Capital of a Province
The parlor in the house of COMMENDATORE AGAZZI. A door, the general entrance, at the back; doors leading to the wings, left and right. LAUDISI is a man nearing the forties, quick and energetic in his movements. He is smartly dressed. in good taste. At this moment he is wearing a semi-formal street Suit: a sack coat, of a violet cast, with black lapels, and with black braid around the edges; trousers of a light but different color.
AMALIA, AGAZZI'S wife, is LAUDISI'S sister. She is a woman of forty-five more or less. Her hair is already quite grey. SIGNORA AGAZZI is always showing a certain sense her own importance from the position occupied by her husband in the community; but she gives you to understand that if she had a free rein she would be quite capable of playing her own part in the world and, perhaps, do it somewhat better than COMMENDATORE AGAZZI. DINA is the daughter of AMALIA and AGAZZI. She is nineteen. Her general manner is that of a young person conscious of understanding everything better than papa and mamma; but this defect must not be exaggerated to the extent of concealing her attractiveness and charm as a good-looking winsome girl. As the curtain rises LAUDISI is walking briskly up and down the parlor to give vent to his irritation.
Laudisi. I see, I see! So he did take the matter up with the prefect!
Amalia. But Lamberto dear, please remember that the man is a subordinate of his.
Laudisi. A subordinate of his . . . very well! But subordinate in the office, not at home nor in society!
Dina. And he hired an apartment for that woman, his mother-in-law, right here in this very building, and on our floor.
Laudisi. And why not, pray? He was looking for an apartment; the apartment was for rent, so he leased it -- for his mother-in-law. You mean to say that a mother-in law is in duty bound to make advances to the wife an daughter of the man who happens to be her son-in-law's superior on his job?
Amalia. That is not the way it is, Lamberto. We didn't ask her to call on us. Dina and I took the first step by calling on her and -- she refused to receive us!
Laudisi. Well, is that any reason why your husband should go and lodge a complaint with the man's boss? Do you expect the government to order him to invite you to tea?
Amalia. I think he deserves all he gets! That is not the way to treat two ladies. I hope he gets fired! The idea!
Laudisi. Oh, you women! I say, making that complaint is a dirty trick. By Jove! If people see fit to keep to themselves in their own houses, haven't they a right to?
Amalia. Yes, but you don't understand! We were trying to do her a favor. She is new in the town. We wanted to make her feel at home.
Dina. Now, now, uncle dear, don't be so cross! Perhaps we did go there out of curiosity more than anything else; but it's all so funny, isn't it! Don't you think it was natural to feel just a little bit curious?
Laudisi. Natural be damned! It was none of your business!
Dina. Now, see here, uncle, let's suppose -- here you are right here minding your own business and quite indifferent to what other people are doing all around you. Very well! I come into the room and right here on this table, under your very nose, and with a long face like an undertaker's, or, rather, with the long face of that jail bird you are defending, I set down -- well, what? -- anything -- a pair of dirty old shoes!
Laudisi. I don't see the connection.
Dina. Wait, don't interrupt me! I said a pair of old shoes. Well, no, not a pair of old shoes -- a flat iron, a rolling pin, or your shaving brush for instance -- and I walk. out again without saying a word to anybody! Now I leave it to you, wouldn't you feel justified in wondering just a little, little, bit as to what in the world I meant by it?
Laudisi. Oh, you're irresistible, Dina! And you're clever, aren't you? But you're talking with old uncle. remember! You see, you have been putting all sorts of crazy things on the table here; and you did it with the idea of making me ask what it's all about; and, of course,. since you were doing all that on purpose, you can't blame me if I do ask, why those old shoes just there, on that table, dear? But what's all that got to do with it? You'll have to show me now that this Mr. Ponza of ours, that jailbird as you say, or that rascal, that boor, as your father calls him, brought his mother-in-law to the apartment next to ours with the idea of stringing us all! You've got to show me that he did it on purpose!
Dina. I don't say that he did it on purpose -- not at all! But you can't deny that this famous Mr. Ponza has come to this town and done a number of things which are unusual, to say the least; and which he must have known were likely to arouse a very natural curiosity in everybody. Look uncle, here is a man: he comes to town to fill an important public position, and -- what does he do? Where does he go to live? He hires an apartment on the top floor, if your please, of that dirty old tenement out there on the very outskirts of the town. Now, I ask you -- did you ever see the place? Inside?
Laudisi. I suppose you went and had a look at it?
Dina. Yes, uncle dear, I went -- -with mamma! And we weren't the only ones, you know. The whole town has been to have a look at it. It's a five story tenement with an interior court so dark at noontime you can hardly see your hand before your face. Well, there is an iron balcony built out from the fifth story around the courtyard. A basket is hanging from the railing . . . They let it up and down -- on a rope! [translator: quite customary in Italy]
Laudisi. Well, what of it?
Dina [looking at him with astonished indignation]. What of it? Well, there, if you please, is where he keeps his wife!
Amalia. While her mother lives here next door to us! Laudisi. A fashionable apartment, for his mother-in-law, in the residential district!
Amalia. Generous to the old lady, eh? But he does that to keep her from seeing her daughter!
Laudisi. How do you know that? How do you know that the old lady, rather, does not prefer this arrangement, just to have more elbow room for herself?
Dina. No, no, uncle, you're wrong. Everybody knows that it is he who is doing it.
Amalia. See here, Lamberto, everybody understands, if a girl, when she marries, goes away from her mother to live with her husband in some other town. But supposing this poor mother can't stand being separated from her daughter and follows her to the place, where she herself is also a complete stranger. And supposing now she not only does not live with her daughter, but is not even allowed to see her? I leave it to you . . . is that so easy to understand?
Laudisi. Oh say, you have about as much imagination as so many mud turtles. A mother-in-law and a son-in-law! Is it so hard to suppose that either through her fault or his fault or nobody's fault, they should find it hard to get along together and should therefore consider it wiser to live apart?
Dina [with another look of pitying astonishment at her uncle]. How stupid of you, uncle! The trouble is not between the mother-in-law and the son-in-law, but be. tween the mother and the daughter.
Laudisi. How do you know that?
Dina. Because he is as thick as pudding with the old lady; because they are always together, arm in arm, and as loving as can be. Mother-in-law and son-in-law, if you please! Whoever heard the like of that?
Amalia. And he comes here every evening to see how the old lady is getting on!
Dina. And that is not the worst of it! Sometimes he comes during the daytime, once or twice!
Laudisi. How scandalous! Do you think he is making love to the old woman?
Dina. Now don't be improper, uncle. No, we will acquit him of that. She is a poor old lady, quite on her last legs.
Amalia. But he never, never, never brings his wife! A daughter kept from seeing her mother! The idea!
Laudisi. Perhaps the young lady is not well; perhaps she isn't able to go out.
Dina. Nonsense! The old lady goes to see her!
Amalia. Exactly! And she never gets in! She can see her only from a distance. Now will you explain to me why, in the name of common sense, that poor mother should be forbidden ever to enter her daughter's house?
Dina. And if she wants to talk to her she has to shout up from the courtyard!
Amalia. Five stories, if you please! . . . And her daughter comes out and looks down from the balcony up there. The poor old woman goes into the courtyard and pulls a string that leads up to the balcony; a bell rings; the girl comes out and her mother talks up at her, her head thrown back, just as though she were shouting from out of a well. . . .
[There is a knock at the door and the BUTLER enters.]
Butler. Callers, madam!
Amalia. Who is it, please?
Butler. Signor Sirelli, and the Signora with another lady, madam.
Amalia. Very well, show them in.
[The BUTLER bows and withdraws.]
SIRELLI, SIGNORA SIRELLI, SIGNORA CINI appear in the doorway, rear.
SIRELLI, also a man of about forty, is a bald, fat gentle. man with some pretensions to stylish appearance that do not quite succeed: the overdressed provincial.
SIGNORA SIRELLI, his wife, plump, petite, a faded blonde, still young and girlishly pleasing. She, too, is somewhat overdressed with the provincial's fondness for display. She has the aggressive curiosity of the small-town gossip. She is chiefly occupied in keeping her husband in his place.
SIGNORA CINI is the old provincial lady of affected manners, who takes malicious delight in the failings of others, all the while affecting innocence and inexperience regarding the waywardness of mankind.
Amalia [as the visitors enter, and taking SIGNORA SIRELLI's hands effusively]. Dearest! Dearest!
Signora Sirelli. I took the liberty of bringing my good friend, Signora Cini, along. She was so anxious to know you!
Amalia. So good of you to come, Signora! Please make yourself at home! My daughter Dina, Signora Cini, and this is my brother, Lamberto Laudisi.
Sirelli [bowing to the ladies]. Signora, Signorina. [HE goes over and shakes hands with LAUDISI.]
Signora Sirelli. Amalia dearest, we have come here as to the fountain of knowledge. We are two pilgrims athirst for the truth!
Amalia. The truth? Truth about what?
Signora Sirelli. Why . . . about this blessed Mr. Ponza of ours, the new secretary at the prefecture. He is the talk of the town, take my word for it, Amalia.
Signora Cini. And we are all just dying to find out!
Amalia. But we are as much in the dark as the rest of you, I assure you, madam.
Sirelli [to his wife]. What did I tell you? They know no more about it than I do. In fact, I think they know less about it than I do. Why is it this poor woman is not allowed to see her daughter? Do you know the reason, you people, the real reason?
Amalia. Why, I was just discussing the matter with my brother.
Laudisi. And my view of it is that you're all a pack of gossips!
Dina. The reason is, they say, that Ponza will not allow her to.
Signora Cini. Not a sufficient reason, if I may say so, Signorina.
Signora Sirelli. Quite insufficient! There's more to it than that!
Sirelli. I have a new item for you, fresh, right off the ice: he keeps her locked up at home!
Amalia. His mother-in-law?
Sirelli. No, no, his wife!
Signora Cini. Under lock and key!
Dina. There, uncle, what have you to say to that? And you've been trying to defend him all along!
Sirelli [staring in astonishment at LAUDISI]. Trying to defend that man? Really . . .
Laudisi. Defending him? No! I am not defending anybody. All I'm saying, if you ladies will excuse me, is that your curiosity is unbearable if only because it's quite useless.
Sirelli. Useless? Useless?
Signora Cini. But we're trying to get somewhere -- we are trying to find out!
Laudisi. Excuse me, what can you find out? What can we really know about other people -- who they are -- what they are -- what they are doing, and why they are doing it?
Signora Sirelli. How can we know? Why not? By asking, of course! You tell me what you know, and I tell you what I know.
Laudisi. In that case, madam, you ought to be the best informed person in the world. Why, your husband knows more about what others are doing than any other man -- or woman, for that matter -- in this neighborhood.
Sirelli [deprecating but pleased]. Oh I say, I say . . .
Signora Sirelli [to her husband]. No dear, he's right, he's right. [Then turning to AMALIA.] The real truth, Amalia, is this: for all my husband says he knows, I never manage to keep posted on anything!
Sirelli. And no wonder! The trouble is -- that woman never trusts me! The moment I tell her something she is convinced it is not quite as I say. Then, sooner or later, she claims that it can't be as I say. And at last she is certain it is the exact opposite of what I say!
Signora Sirelli. Well, you ought to hear all he tells me!
Laudisi [laughing aloud]. May I speak, madam? Let me answer your husband. My dear Sirelli, how do you expect your wife to be satisfied with things as you explain. them to her, if you, as is natural, represent them as they seem to you?
Signora Sirelli. And that means -- as they cannot possibly be!
Laudisi. Why no, Signora, now you are wrong. From your husband's point of view things are, I assure you, exactly as he represents them.
Sirelli. As they are in reality!
Signora Sirelli. Not at all! You are always wrong.
Sirelli. No, not a bit of it! It is you who are always wrong. I am always right.
Laudisi. The fact is that neither of you is wrong. May I explain? I will prove it to you. Now here you are, you, Sirelli, and Signora Sirelli, your wife, there; and here I am. You see me, don't you?
Sirelli. Well . . . er . . . yes.
Laudisi. Do you see me, or do you not?
Sirelli. Oh, I'll bite! Of course I see you.
Laudisi. So you see me! But that's not enough. Come here!
Sirelli [smiling, he obeys, but with a puzzled expression on his face as though he fails to understand what LAUDISI is driving at]. Well, here I am!
Laudisi. Yes! Now take a better look at me . . . Touch me! That's it -- that's it! Now you are touching me, are you not? And you see me! You're sure you see me?
Sirelli. Why, I should say . . .
Laudisi. Yes, but the point is, you're sure! Of course you're sure! Now if you please, Signora Sirelli, you come here -- or rather . . . no . . . [Gallantly.] it is my place to come to you! [He goes over to SIGNORA SIRELLI and kneels chivalrously on one knee.] You see me, do you not, madam? Now that hand of yours . . . touch me! A pretty hand, on my word! [He pats her hand.]
Sirelli. Easy! Easy!
Laudisi. Never mind your husband, madam! Now, you have touched me, have you not? And you see me? And you are absolutely sure about me, are you not? Well now, madam, I beg of you; do not tell your husband, nor my sister, nor my niece, nor Signora Cini here, what you think of me; because, if you were to do that, they would all tell you that you are completely wrong. But, you see, you are really right; because I am really what you take me to be; though, my dear madam, that does not prevent me from also being really what your husband, my sister, my niece, and Signora Cini take me to be -- because they also are absolutely right!
Signora Sirelli. In other words you are a different person for each of us.
Laudisi. Of course I'm a different person! And you, madam, pretty as you are, aren't you a different person, too?
Signora Sirelli [hastily]. No siree! I assure you, as far as I'm concerned, I'm always the same always, yesterday, today, and forever!
Laudisi. Ah, but so am I, from my point of view, believe me! And, I would say that you are all mistaken unless you see me as I see myself; but that would be an inexcusable presumption on my part -- as it would be on yours, my dear madam!
Sirelli. And what has all this rigmarole got to do with it, may I ask?
Laudisi. What has it got to do with it? Why . . . I find all you people here at your wits' ends trying to find out who and what other people are; just as though other people had to be this, or that, and nothing else.
Signora Sirelli. All you are saying is that we can never find out the truth! A dreadful idea!
Signora Cini. I give up! I give up! If we can't believe even what we see with our eyes and feel with our fingers . . .
Laudisi. But you must understand, madam! All I'm saying is that you should show some respect for what other people see and feel, even though it be the exact opposite of what you see and feel.
Signora Sirelli. The way to answer you is to refuse to talk with you. See, I turn my back on you! You're driving me mad!
Laudisi. Oh, I beg your pardon. Don't let me interfere with your party. Please go on! Pray continue your argument about Signora Frola and Signor Ponza -- I promise not to interrupt again!
Amalia. You're right for once, Lamberto; and I think it would be even better if you should go into the other room.
Dina. Serves you right, uncle! Into the other room with you, into the other room!
Laudisi. No, I refuse to budge! Fact is, I enjoy hearing you gossip; but I promise not to say anything more, don't fear! At the very most, with your permission, I shall indulge in a laugh or two.
Signora Sirelli. How funny . . . and our idea in coming here was to find out . . . But really, Amalia, I thought this Ponza man was your husband's secretary at the Provincial building.
Amalia. He is his secretary -- in the office. But here at home what authority has Agazzi over the fellow?
Signora Sirelli. Of course! I understand! But may I ask . . . haven't you even tried to see Signora Frola, next door?
Dina. Tried? I should say we had! Twice, Signora!
Signora Cini. Well . . . so then . . . you have probably talked to her . . .
Dina. We were not received, if you please!
Signora Sirelli, Sirelli, Signora Cini [in chorus]. Not received? Why! Why! Why!
Dina. This very forenoon!
Amalia. The first time we waited fully fifteen minutes at the door. We rang and rang and rang, and no one came. Why, we weren't even able to leave our cards! So we went back today . . .
Dina [throwing up her hands in an expression of horror]. And he came to the door.
Signora Sirelli. Why yes, with that face of his . . . you can tell by just looking at the man . . . Such a face! Such a face! You can't blame people for talking! And then, with that black suit of his . . . Why, they all dress in black. Did you ever notice? Even the old lady! And the man's eyes, too! . . .
Sirelli [with a glance of pitying disgust at his wife]. What do you know about his eyes? You never saw his eyes! And you never saw the woman. How do you know she dresses in black? Probably she dresses in black . . . By the way, they come from a village in the next county. Had you heard that? A village in Marsica! [translator's note: a region in Abruzzi. In 1915 there was a great earthquake there; the town of Avezzano, e.g., was destroyed.]
Amalia. Yes, the village that was destroyed a short time ago.
Sirelli. Exactly! By an earthquake! Not a house left standing in the place.
Dina. And all their relatives were lost, I have heard. Not one of them left in the world!
Signora Cini [impatient to get on with the story]. Very well, very well, so then . . . he came to the door . . .
Amalia. Yes . . . And the moment I saw him in front of me with that weird face of his I had hardly enough gumption left to tell him that we had just come to call on his mother-in-law, and he . . . well . . . not a word, not a word . . . not even a "thank you," if you please!
Dina. That is not quite fair, mama: . . . he did bow!
Amalia. Well, yes, a bow . . . if you want to call it that. Something like this! . . .
Dina. And his eyes! You ought to see his eyes -- the eyes of a devil, and then some! You never saw a man with eyes like that!
Signora Cini. Very well, what did he say, finally?
Dina. He seemed quite taken aback.
Amalia. He was all confused like; he hitched about for a time; and at last he said that Signora Frola was not feeling well, but that she would appreciate our kindness in having come; and then he just stood there, and stood there, apparently waiting for us to go away.
Dina. I never was more mortified in my life!
Sirelli. A boor, a plain boor, I say! Oh, it's his fault, I am telling you. And . . . who knows? Perhaps he has got the old lady also under lock and key.
Signora Sirelli. Well, I think something should be done about it! . . . After all, you are the wife of a superior of his. You can refuse to be treated like that.
Amalia. As far as that goes, my husband did take it rather badly -- as a lack of courtesy on the man's part; and he went straight to the prefect with the matter, insisting on an apology.
[SIGNOR AGAZZI, commendatore and provincial councillor, appears in the doorway rear.]
Dina. Oh goody, here's papa now!
[AGAZZI is well on toward fifty. He has the harsh, authoritarian manner of the provincial of importance. Red hair and beard, rather unkempt; gold-rimmed eyeglasses.]
Agazzi. Oh Sirelli, glad to see you! [He steps forward and bows to the company.]
Agazzi. Signora! . . . [He shakes hands with SIGNORA SIRELLI.]
Amalia [introducing SIGNORA CINI]. My husband, Signora Cini!
Agazzi [with a bow and taking her hand]. A great pleasure, madam! [Then turning to his wife and daughter in a mysterious voice.] I have come back from the office to give you some real news! Signora Frola will be here shortly.
Signora Sirelli [clapping her hands delightedly]. Oh, the mother-in-law! She is coming? Really? Coming here?
Sirelli [going over to AGAZZI and pressing his hand warmly as an expression of admiration]. That's the talk, old man, that's the talk. What's needed here is some show of authority.
Agazzi. Why I had to, you see, I had to! . . . I can't let a man treat my wife and daughter that way! . . .
Sirelli. I should say not! I was just expressing myself to that effect right here.
Signora Sirelli. And it would have been entirely proper to inform the prefect also . . .
Agazzi [anticipating]. . . . of all the talk that is going around on this fine gentleman's account? Oh, leave that to me! I didn't miss the opportunity.
Sirelli. Fine! Fine!
Signora Cini. And such talk!
Amalia. For my part, I never heard of such a thing. Why, do you know, he has them both under lock and key!
Dina. No, mamma, we are not quite sure of that. We are not quite sure about the old lady, yet.
Amalia. Well, we know it about his wife, anyway.
Sirelli. And what did the prefect have to say?
Agazzi. Oh the prefect . . . well, the prefect . . . he was very much impressed, very much impressed, with what I had to say.
Sirelli. I should hope so!
Agazzi. You see, some of the talk had reached his ears already. And he agrees that it is better, as a matter of his own official prestige, for all this mystery in connection with one of his assistants to be cleared up, so that once and for all we shall know the truth.
Laudisi [bursts out laughing].
Amalia. That is Lamberto's usual contribution. He laughs!
Agazzi. And what is there to laugh about?
Signora Sirelli. Why he says that no one can ever know the truth.
[The BUTLER appears at the door in back set.] The Butler. Excuse me, Signora Frola!
Sirelli. Ah, here she is now!
Agazzi. Now we'll see if we can settle it!
Signora Sirelli. Splendid! Oh, I am so glad I came. Amalia [rising]. Shall we have her come in?
Agazzi. Wait, you keep your seat, Amalia! Let's have her come right in here. [Turning to the butler.] Show her in!
[A moment later all rise as SIGNORA FROLA enters, and AMALIA steps forward, holding out her hand in greeting. SIGNORA FROLA is a slight, modestly but neatly dressed old lady, very eager to talk and apparently fond of people. There is a world of sadness in her eyes, tempered however, by a gentle smile that is constantly playing about her lips.]
Amalia. Come right in, Signora Frola! [She takes the old lady's hand and begins the introduction.] Mrs. Sireili, a good friend of mine; Signora Cini; my husband; Mr. Sirelli; and this is my daughter, Dina; my brother Lamberto Laudisi. Please take a chair, Signora!
Signora Frola. Oh, I am so very, very sorry! I have come to excuse myself for having been so negligent of my social duties. You, Signora Agazzi, were so kind, so very kind, to have honored me with a first call -- when really it was my place to leave my card with you!
Amalia. Oh, we are just neighbors, Signora Frola! Why stand on ceremony? I just thought that you, being new in town and all alone by yourself, would perhaps like to have a little company.
Signora Frola. Oh, how very kind of you it was!
Signora Sirelli. And you are quite alone, aren't you?
Signora Frola. Oh no! No! I have a daughter, married, though she hasn't been here very long, either.
Sirelli. And your daughter's husband is the new secretary at the prefecture, Signor Ponza, I believe?
Signora Frola. Yes, yes, exactly! And I hope that Signor Agazzi, as his superior, will be good enough to excuse me -- and him, too!
Agazzi. I will be quite frank with you, madam! I was a bit put out.
Signora Frola [interrupting]. And you were quite right! But I do hope you will forgive him. You see, we are still -- what shall I say -- still so upset by the terrible things that have happened to us . . .
Amalia. You went through the earthquake, didn't you?
Signora Sirelli. And you lost all your relatives?
Signora Frola. Every one of them! All our family -- yes, madam. And our village was left just a miserable ruin, a pile of bricks and stones and mortar.
Sirelli. Yes, we heard about it.
Signora Frola. It wasn't so bad for me, I suppose. I had only one sister and her daughter, and my niece had no family. But my poor son-in-law had a much harder time of it. He lost his mother, two brothers, and their wives, a sister and her husband, and there were two little ones, his nephews.
Sirelli. A massacre!
Signora Frola. Oh, one doesn't forget such things! You see, lt sort of leaves you with your feet off the ground.
Amalia. I can imagine.
Signora Sirelli. And all over-night with no warning at all! It's a wonder you didn't go mad.
Signora Frola. Well, you see, we haven't quite gotten our bearings yet; and we do things that may seem impolite, without in the least intending to. I hope you understand!
Agazzi. Oh please, Signora Frola, of course!
Amalia. In fact it was partly on account of your trouble that my daughter and I thought we ought to go to see you first.
Signora Sirelli [literally writhing with curiosity]. Yes, of course, since they saw you all alone by yourself, and yet . . . excuse me, Signora Frola . . . if the question doesn't seem impertinent . . . how is it that when you have a daughter here in town and after a disaster like the one you have been through . . . I should think you people would all stand together, that you would need one another.
Signora Frola. Whereas I am left here all by myself? Sirelli. Yes, exactly. It does seem strange, to tell the honest truth.
Signora Frola. Oh, I understand -- of course! But you know, I have a feeling that a young man and a young woman who have married should be left a good deal to themselves.
Laudisi. Quite so, quite so! They should be left to themselves. They are beginning a life of their own, a life different from anything they have led before. One should not interfere in these relations between a husband and a wife!
Signora Sirelli. But there are limits to everything, Laudisi, if you will excuse me! And when it comes to shutting one's own mother out of one's life . . .
Laudisi. Who is shutting her out of the girl's life? Here, if I have understood the lady, we see a mother who understands that her daughter cannot and must not remain so closely associated with her as she was before, for now the young woman must begin a new life on her own account.
Signora Frola [with evidence of keen gratitude and relief]. You have hit the point exactly, sir. You have said what I would like to have said. You are exactly right! Thank you!
Signora Cini. But your daughter, I imagine, often comes to see you . . .
Signora Frola [hesitating, and manifestly ill at ease]. Why yes . . . I . . . I . . . we do see each other, of course!
Sirelli [quickly pressing the advantage]. But your daughter never goes out of her house! At least no one in town has ever seen her.
Signora Cini. Oh, she probably has her little ones to take care of.
Signora Frola [speaking up quickly]. No, there are no children yet, and perhaps there won't be any, now. You see, she has been married seven years. Oh, of course, she has a lot to do about the house; but that is not the reason, really. You know, we women who come from the little towns in the country -- we are used to staying indoors much of the time.
Agazzi. Even when your mothers are living in the same town, but not in your house? You prefer staying indoors to going and visiting your mothers?
Amalia. But it's Signora Frola probably who visits her daughter.
Signora Frola [quickly]. Of course, of course, why not! I go there once or twice a day.
Sirelli. And once or twice a day you climb all those stairs up to the fifth story of that tenement, eh?
Signora Frola [growing pale and trying to conceal under a laugh the torture of that cross-examination]. Why . . . er . . . to tell the truth, I don't go up. You're right, five flights would be quite too much for me. No, I don't go up. My daughter comes out on the balcony in the courtyard and . . . well . . . we see each other . . . and we talk!
Signora Sirelli. And that's all, eh? How terrible! You never see each other more intimately than that?
Dina. I have a mamma and certainly I wouldn't expect her to go up five flights of stairs to see me, either; but at the same time I could never stand talking to her that way, shouting at the top of my lungs from a balcony on the fifth story. I am sure I should want a kiss from her occasionally, and feel her near me, at least.
Signora Frola [with evident signs of embarrassment and confusion]. And you're right! Yes, exactly . . . quite right! I must explain. Yes . . . I hope you people are not going to think that my daughter is something she really is not. You must not suspect her of having so little regard for me and for my years, and you mustn't believe that I, her mother, am . . . well . . . five, six, even more stories to climb would never prevent a real mother, even if she were as old and infirm as I am, from going to her daughter's side and pressing her to her heart with a real mother's love . . . oh no!
Signora Sirelli [triumphantly]. There you have it, there you have it, just as we were saying!
Signora Cini. But there must be a reason, there must be a reason!
Amalia [pointedly to her brother]. Aha, Lamberto, now you see, there is a reason, after all! Sirelli [insisting]. Your son-in-law, I suppose?
Signora Frola. Oh please, please, please, don't think badly of him. He is such a very good boy. Good is no name for it, my dear sir. You can't imagine all he does for me! Kind, attentive, solicitous for my comfort, everything! And as for my daughter -- I doubt if any girl ever had a more affectionate and well-intentioned husband. No, on that point I am proud of myself! I could not have found a better man for her.
Signor Sirelli. Well then . . . What? What? What?
Signora Cini. So your son-in-law is not the reason?
Agazzi. I never thought it was his fault. Can you imagine a man forbidding his wife to call on her mother, or preventing the mother from paying an occasional visit to her daughter?
Signora Frola. Oh, it's not a case of forbidding! Who ever dreamed of such a thing! No, it's we, Commendatore, I and my daughter, that is. Oh, please, believe me! We refrain from visiting each other of our own accord, out of consideration for him, you understand.
Agazzi. But excuse me . . . how in the world could he be offended by such a thing? I don't understand.
Signora Frola. Oh, please don't be angry, Signor Agazzi. You see it's a . . . what shall I say . . . a feeling . . . that's it, a feeling, which it would perhaps be very hard for anyone else to understand; and yet, when you do understand it, it's all so simple, I am sure . . . so simple . . . and believe me, my dear friends, it is no slight sacrifice that I am making, and that my daughter is making, too.
Agazzi. Well, one thing you will admit, madam. This is a very, very unusual situation.
Sirelli. Unusual, indeed! And such as to justify a curiosity even more persistent than ours.
Agazzi. It is not only unusual, madam. I might even say it is suspicious.
Signora Frola. Suspicious? You mean you suspect Signor Ponza? Oh please, Commendatore, don't say that. What fault can you possibly find with him, Signor Agazzi?
Agazzi. I didn't say just that . . . Please don't misunderstand! I said simply that the situation is so very strange that people might legitimately suspect . . .
Signora Frola. Oh, no, no, no! What could they suspect. We are in perfect agreement, all of us; and we are really quite happy, very happy, I might even say . . . both I and my daughter.
Signora Sirelli. Perhaps it's a case of jealousy?
Signora Frola. Jealousy of me? It would be hardly fair to say that, although . . . really . . . oh, it is so hard to explain! . . . You see, he is in love with my daughter . . . so much so that he wants her whole heart, her every thought, as it were, for himself; so much so that he insists that the affections which my daughter must have for me, her mother -- he finds that love quite natural of course, why not? Of course he does! -- should reach me through him -- that's it, through him -- don't you understand?
Agazzi. Oh, that is going pretty strong! No, I don't understand. In fact it seems to me a case of downright cruelty!
Signora Frola. Cruelty? No, no, please don't call it cruelty, Commendatore. It is something else, believe me! You see it's so hard for me to explain the matter. Nature, perhaps . . . but no, that's hardly the word. What shall I call it? Perhaps a sort of disease. It's a fullness of love, of a love shut off from the world. There, I guess that's it . . . a fullness . . . a completeness of devotion in which his wife must live without ever departing from it, and into which no other person must ever be allowed to enter.
Dina. Not even her mother, I suppose?
Sirelli. It is the worst case of selfishness I ever heard of, if you want my opinion!
Signora Frola. Selfishness? Perhaps! But a selfishness, after all, which offers itself wholly in sacrifice. A case where the selfish person gives all he has in the world to the one he loves. Perhaps it would be fairer to call me selfish; for selfish it surely is for me to be always trying to break into this closed world of theirs, break in by force if necessary; when I know that my daughter is really so happy, so passionately adored -- you ladies understand, don't you? A true mother should be satisfied when she knows her daughter is happy, oughtn't she? Besides I'm not completely separated from my daughter, am I? I see her and I speak to her [She assumes a more confidential tone.] You see, when she lets down the basket there in the courtyard I always find a letter in it -- a short note, which keeps me posted on the news of the day; and I put in a little letter that I have written. That is some consolation, a great consolation indeed, and now, in course of time, I've grown used to it. I am resigned, there! Resignation, that's it! And I've ceased really to suffer from it at all.
Amalia. Oh well then, after all, if you people are satisfied, why should . . .
Signora Frola [rising]. Oh yes, yes! But, remember, I told you he is such a good man! Believe me, he couldn't be better, really! We all have our weaknesses in this world, haven't we! And we get along best by having a little indulgence, for one another. [She holds out her hand to AMALIA.] Thank you for calling, madam. [She bows to SIGNORA SIRELLI, SIGNORA CINI, and DINA; then turning to AGAZZI, she continues.] And I do hope you have forgiven me!
Agazzi. Oh, my dear madam, please, please! And we are extremely grateful for your having come to call on us.
Signora Frola [offering her hand to SIRELLI and LAUDISI and again turning to AMALIA who has risen to show her out]. Oh no, please, Signora Agazzi, please stay here with your friends! Don't put yourself to any trouble!
Amalia. No, no, I will go with you; and believe me, we were very, very glad to see you!
[Exit SIGNORA FROLA with AMALIA showing her the way. AMALIA returns immediately.]
Sirelli. Well, there you have the story, ladies and gentlemen! Are you satisfied with the explanation?
Agazzi. An explanation, you call it? So far as I can see she has explained nothing. I tell you there is some big mystery in all this business.
Signor Sirelli. That poor woman! Who knows what torment she must be suffering?
Dina. And to think of that poor girl!
Signor Cini. She could hardly keep in her tears as she talked.
Amalia. Yes, and did you notice when I mentioned all those stairs she would have to climb before really being able to see her daughter?
Laudisi. What impressed me was her concern, which amounted to a steadfast determination, to protect her son-in-law from the slightest suspicion.
Signor Sirelli. Not at all, not at all! What could she say for him? She couldn't really find a single word to say for him.
Sirelli. And I would like to know how anyone could condone such violence, such downright cruelty!
The Butler [appearing again in the doorway.] Beg pardon, sir! Signor Ponza calling.
Signora Sirelli. The man himself, upon my word!
[An animated ripple of surprise and curiosity, not to say of guilty self-consciousness, sweeps over the company.]
Agazzi. Did he ask to see me?
Butler. He asked simply if he might be received. That was all he said.
Signora Sirelli. Oh please, Signor Agazzi, please let him come in! I am really afraid of the man; but I confess the greatest curiosity to have a close look at the monster.
Amalia. But what in the world can he be wanting?
Agazzi. The way to find that out is to have him come in. [To the BUTLER.] Show him in, please.
[The BUTLER bows and goes out. A second later PONZA appears, aggressively, in the doorway.]
[PONZA is a short, thick set, dark complexioned man of a distinctly unprepossessing appearance; black hair, very thick and coming down low over his forehead; a black mustache upeurling at the ends, giving his face a certain ferocity of expression. He is dressed entirely in black. From time to time he draws a black-bordered handkerchief and wipes the perspiration from his brow. When he speaks his eyes are invariably hard, fixed, sinister.]
Agazzi. This way please, Ponza, come right in! [Introducing him.] Signor Ponza, our new provincial secretary; my wife; Signora Sirelli; Signora Cini; my daughter Dina, this is Signor Sirelli; and here is Laudisi, my brother-in law. Please join our party, won't you, Ponza?
Ponza. So kind of you! You will pardon the intrusion. I shall disturb you only a moment, I hope.
Agazzi. You had some private business to discuss with me?
Ponza. Why yes, but I could discuss it right here. In fact, perhaps as many people as possible should hear what I have to say. You see it is a declaration that I owe, in a certain sense, to the general public.
Agazzi. Oh my dear Ponza, if it is that little matter of your mother-in-law's not calling on us, it is quite all right; because you see . .
Ponza. No, that was not what I came for, Commendatore. It was not to apologize for her. Indeed I may say that Signora Frola, my wife's mother, would certainly have left her cards with Signora Agazzi, your wife, and Signora Agazzi, your daughter, long before they were so kind as to honor her with their call, had I not exerted myself to the utmost to prevent her coming, since I am absolutely unable to consent to her paying or receiving visits!
Agazzi [drawing up into an authoritative attitude and speaking with some severity]. Why? if you will be so kind as to explain, Ponza?
Ponza [with evidences of increasing excitement in spite of his efforts to preserve his self-control]. I suppose my mother-in-law has been talking to you people about her daughter, my wife. Am I mistaken? And I imagine she told you further that I have forbidden her entering my house and seeing her daughter intimately.
Amalia. Oh not at all, not at all, Signor Ponza! Signora Frola had only the nicest things to say about you. She could not have spoken of you with greater respect and kindness.
Dina. She seems to be very fond of you indeed.
Agazzi. She says that she refrains from visiting your house of her own accord, out of regard for feelings of yours which we frankly confess we are unable to understand.
Signora Sirelli. Indeed, if we were to express our honest opinion . . .
Agazzi. Well, yes, why not be honest? We think you are extremely harsh with the woman, extremely harsh, perhaps cruel would be an exacter word.
Ponza. Yes, that is what I thought; and I came here for the express purpose of clearing the matter up. The condition this poor woman is in is a pitiable one indeed -- not less pitiable than my own perhaps; because, as you see, I am compelled to come here and make apologies -- a public declaration -- which only such violence as has just been used upon me could ever bring me to make in the world . . . [He stops and looks about the room. Then he says slowly with emphatic emphasis on the important syllables.] Signora Frola is mad.
All [with a start]. Mad?
Ponza. She's been mad for four years.
Signora Sirelli [with a cry]. Dear me, she doesn't seem mad in the least!
Agazzi [amazed]. What? Mad?
Ponza. She doesn't seem mad: she is mad. And her madness consists precisely in believing that I don't want to let her see her daughter. [His face takes on an expression of cruel suffering mingled with a sort of ferocious excitement]. What daughter, for God's sake? Why her daughter died four years ago! [A general sensation].
Everyone at once. Died? She is dead? What do you mean? Oh, really? Four years ago? Why! Why!
Ponza. Four years ago! In fact it was the death of the poor girl that drove her mad.
Sirelli. Are we to understand that the wife with whom you are now living . . .
Ponza. Exactly! She is my second wife. I married her two years ago.
Amalia. And Signora Frola believes that her daughter is still living, that she is your wife still?
Ponza. Perhaps it was best for her that way. She was in charge of a nurse in her own room, you see. Well, when she chanced to see me passing by inadvertence on her street one day, with this woman, my second wife, she suddenly began to laugh and cry and tremble all over in an extreme of happiness. She was sure her daughter, whom she had believed dead, was alive and well; and from a condition of desperate despondency which was the first form of her mental disturbance, she entered on a second obsession, believing steadily that her daughter was not dead at all; but that I, the poor girl's husband, am so completely in love with her that I want her wholly for myself and will not allow anyone to approach her. She became otherwise quite well, you might say. Her nervousness disappeared. Her physical condition improved, and her powers of reasoning returned quite clear. Judge for yourself, ladies and gentlemen! You have seen her and talked with her. You would never suspect in the world that she is mad.
Amalia. Never in the world! Never!
Signora Sirelli. And the poor woman says she is so happy, so happy!
Ponza. That is what she says to everybody; and for that matter she really has a wealth of affection and gratitude for me; because, as you may well suppose, I do my very best, in spite of the sacrifices entailed, to keep up this beneficial illusion in her. The sacrifices you can readily understand. In the first place I have to maintain two homes on my small salary. Then it is very hard on my wife, isn't it? But she, poor thing, does the very best she can to help me out! She comes to the window when the old lady appears. She talks to her from the balcony. She writes letters to her. But you people will understand that there are limits to what I can ask of my poor wife. Signora Frola, meanwhile, lives practically in confinement. We have to keep a pretty close watch on her. We have to lock her up, virtually. Otherwise, some fine day she would be walking right into my house. She is of a gentle, placid disposition fortunately; but you understand that my wife, good as she is, could never bring herself to accepting caresses intended for another woman, a dead woman! That would be a torment beyond conception.
Amalia. Oh, of course! Poor woman! Just imagine! Signora Sirelli. And the old lady herself consents to being locked up all the time?
Ponza. You, Commendatore, will understand that I couldn't permit her calling here except under absolute constraint.
Agazzi. I understand perfectly, my dear Ponza, and you have my deepest sympathy.
Ponza. When a man has a misfortune like this fall upon him he must not go about in society; but of course when, by complaining to the prefect, you practically compelled me to have Signora Frola call, it was my duty to volunteer this further information; because, as a public official, and with due regard for the post of responsibility I occupy, I could not allow any discredible suspicions to remain attached to my reputation. I could not have you good people suppose for a moment that, out of jealousy or for any other reason, I could ever prevent a poor suffering mother from seeing her own daughter. [He rises.] Again my apologies for having intruded my personal troubles upon your party. [He bows.] My compliments, Commendatore. Good afternoon, good afternoon! Thank you! [Bowing to LAUDISI, SIRELLI, and the others in turn, he goes out through the door, rear.]
Amalia [with a sigh of sympathy and astonishment]. Uhh! Mad! What do you think of that?
Signora Sirelli. The poor old thing! But you wouldn't have believed it, would you?
Dina. I always knew there was something under it all.
Signora Cini. But who could ever have guessed . . .
Agazzi. Oh, I don't know, I don't know! You could tell from the way she talked . . .
Laudisi. You mean to say that you thought . . .
Agazzi. No, I can't say that. But at the same time, if you remember, she could never quite find her words.
Signora Sirelli. How could she, poor thing, out of her head like that?
Sirelli. And yet, if I may raise the question, it seems strange to me that an insane person . . . oh, I admit that she couldn't really talk rationally . . . but what surprises me is her trying to find a reason to explain why her son-in-law should be keeping her away from her daughter. This effort of hers to justify it and then to adapt herself to excuses of her own invention . . .
Agazzi. Yes, but that is only another proof that she's mad. You see, she kept offering excuses for Ponza that really were not excuses at all.
Amalia. Why, yes! She'd say a thing and then take it right back again.
Agazzi. If she weren't downright mad, how could she or any other woman ever accept such a situation from a man? How could she ever consent to talk with her own daughter only by shouting up from the bottom of a well five stories deep?
Sirelli. But if I remember rightly she has you there! Notice, she doesn't accept the situation. She says she is resigned to it. That's different! No, I tell you, there is still something funny about this business. What do you say, Laudisi?
Laudisi. Why, I say nothing, nothing at all!
The Butler [appearing at the door and visibly excited]. ted]. Beg pardon, Signora Frola is here again!
Amalia [with a start]. Oh dear me, again? Do you suppose she'll be pestering us all the time now?
Signora Sirelli. I understand how you feel now that you know she's mad.
Signora Cini. My, my, what do you suppose she is going to say now?
Sirelli. For my part I'd really like to hear what she's got to say.
Dina. Oh yes, mamma, don't be afraid! Ponza said she was quite harmless. Let's have her come in.
Agazzi. Of course, we can't send her away. Let's have her come in; and, if she makes any trouble, why . . . [Turning to the BUTLER.] Show her in. [The BUTLER bows and withdraws.]
Amalia. You people stand by me, please! Why, I don't know what I am ever going to say to her now!
[SIGNORA FROLA appears at the door. AMALIA rises and steps forward to welcome her. The others look on in astonished silence.]
Signora Frola. May I please . . . Amalia. Do come in, Signora Frola, do come in! You know all these ladies. They were here when you came before.
Signora Frola [with an expression of sadness on her features, but still smiling gently]. How you all look at me -- and even you, Signora Agazzi! I am sure you think I am mad, don't you!
Amalia. My dear Signora Frola, what in the world are you talking about?
Signora Frola. But I am sure you will forgive me if I disturb you for a moment. [Bitterly.] Oh, my dear Signora Agazzi, I wish I had left things as they were. It was hard to feel that I had been impolite to you by not answering the bell when you called that first time; but I could never have supposed that you would come back and force me to call upon you. I could foresee the consequences of such a visit from the very first.
Amalia. Why, not at all, not at all! I don't understand. Why?
Dina. What consequences could you foresee, madam?
Signora Frola. Why, my son-in-law, Signor Ponza, has just been here, hasn't he?
Agazzi. Why, yes, he was here! He came to discuss certain office matters with me . . . just ordinary business, you understand!
Signora Frola [visibly hurt and quite dismayed]. Oh, I know you are saying that just to spare me, just in order not to hurt my feelings.
Agazzi. Not at all, not at all! That was really why he came.
Signora Frola [with some alarm]. But he was quite calm, I hope, quite calm?
Agazzi. Calm? As calm as could be! Why not? Of course!
[The members of the company all nod in confirmation.]
Signora Frola. Oh, my dear friends, I am sure you are trying to reassure me; but as a matter of fact I came to set you right about my son-in-law.
Signora Sirelli. Why no, Signora, what's the trouble? Agazzi. Really, it was just a matter of politics we talked about . . .
Signora Frola. But I can tell from the way you all look at me . . . Please excuse me, but it is not a question of me at all. From the way you all look at me I can tell that he came here to prove something that I would never have confessed for all the money in the world. You will all bear me out, won't you? When I came here a few moments ago you all asked me questions that were very cruel questions to me, as I hope you will understand, And they were questions that I couldn't answer very well; but anyhow I gave an explanation of our manner of living which can be satisfactory to nobody, I am well aware. But how could I give you the real reason? How could I tell you people, as he's doing, that my daughter has been dead for four years and that I'm a poor mad mother who believes that her daughter is still living and that her husband will not allow me to see her?
Agazzi [quite upset by the ring of deep sincerity he finds in SIGNORA FROLA's manner of speaking]. What do you mean, your daughter?
Signora Frola [hastily and with anguished dismay written on her features]. You know that's so. Why do you try to deny it? He did say that to you, didn't he?
Sirelli [with some hesitation and studying her features warily]. Yes . . . in fact . . . he did say that.
Signora Frola. I know he did; and I also know how it pained him to be obliged to say such a thing of me. It is a great pity, Commendatore! We have made continual sacrifices, involving unheard of suffering, I assure you; and we could endure them only by living as we are living now. Unfortunately, as I well understand, it must look very strange to people, seem even scandalous, arouse no end of gossip! But after all, if he is an excellent secretary, scrupulously honest, attentive to his work, why should people complain? You have seen him in the office, haven't you? He is a good worker, isn't he?
Agazzi. To tell the truth, I have not watched him particularly, as yet.
Signora Frola. Oh he really is, he really is! All the men he ever worked for say he's most reliable; and I beg of you, please don't let this other matter interfere. And why then should people go tormenting him with all this prying into his private life, laying bare once more a misfortune which he has succeeded in mastering and which, if it were widely talked about, might upset him again personally, and even hurt him in his career?
Agazzi. Oh no, no, Signora, no one is trying to hurt him. Nor would we hurt you either.
Signora Frola. But my dear sir, how can you help hurting me when you force him to give almost publicly an explanation which is quite absurd -- ridiculous I might even say! Surely people like you can't seriously believe what he says? You can't possibly be taking me for mad. You don't really think that this woman is his second wife? And yet it is all so necessary! He needs to have it that way. It is the only way he can pull himself together; get down to his work again . . . the only way . . . the only way! Why he gets all wrought up, all excited, when he is forced to talk of this other matter; because he knows himself how hard it is for him to say certain things. You may have noticed it . . .
Agazzi. Yes, that is quite true. He did seem very much excited.
Signora Sirelli. Well, well, well, so then it's he!
Sirelli [triumphantly]. I always said it was he.
Agazzi. Oh, I say! Is that really possible? [He motions to the company to be quiet.]
Signora Frola [joining her hands beseechingly]. My dear friends, what are you really thinking? It is only on this subject that he is a little queer. The point is, you must simply not mention this particular matter to him. Why, really now, you could never suppose that I would leave my daughter shut up with him all alone like that? And yet just watch him at his work and in the office. He does everything he is expected to do and no one in the world could do it better.
Agazzi. But this is not enough, madam, as you will understand. Do you mean to say that Signor Ponza, your son-in-law, came here and made up a story out of whole cloth?
Signora Frola. Yes, sir, yes sir, exactly . . . only I will explain. You must understand -- you must look at things from his point of view.
Agazzi. What do you mean? Do you mean that your daughter is not dead?
Signora Frola. God forbid! Of course she is not dead!
Agazzi. Well, then, he is mad!
Signora Frola. No, no, look, look! . . .
Sirelli. I always said it was he! . . .
Signora Frola. No, look, look, not that, not that! Let me explain . . . You have noticed him, haven't you? Fine, strong looking man . . .
[Editors's note -- in the original 1922 translation the paragraph continues as follows:]
Well, when he married my daughter you can imagine how fond he was of her. But alas, she fell sick with a contagious disease; and the doctors had to separate her from him. Not only from him, of course, but from all her relatives. They're all dead now, poor things, in the earthquake, you understand. Well, he just refused to have her taken to the hospital; and he got so over-wrought that they actually had to put him under restraint; and he broke down nervously as the result of it all and he was sent to a sanitorium. But my daughter got better very soon, while he got worse and worse. He had a sort of obsession that his wife had died in the hospital, that perhaps they had killed her there; and you couldn't get that idea out of his head.
[Editor's note -- a footnote by the translator in the 1922 edition gives the original 1917 Italian of the paragraph:]
Signora Frola. No guardino . . . guardino . . . Non è neanche lui! . . . Mi lascino dire. Lo hanno veduto -- è cosè forte di complessione . . . violento . . . Sposando, fu preso da una vera frenesia d'amore . . . Rischiò di distruggere, quasi, la mia figliuola, ch'era delicata . . . Per consiglio dei medici e di tutti i parenti anche dei suoi (che ora poverini non ci sono più) -- gli si dovette sottrarre la moglie di nascosto, per chiuderla in una cas de salute . . . ecc.
[Editors's note -- but in the 1952 edition of this translation in Eric Bentley's Naked Masks, Bentley has changed the rest of the paragraph above to read as follows (the implication being that the original Italian text states that Ponza's physical lovemaking was too violent, and so the earlier translation was bowdlerized for 1922 audiences):]
violent . . . when he married my daughter he was seized with a veritable frenzy of love . . . he risked my little daughter's life almost, she was frail . . . On the advice of doctors and relatives, even his relatives -- dead now, poor things -- they had to take his wife off in secret and shut her up in a sanatorium. And he came to think she was dead.
[Editor's note: and then both texts continue:]
Just imagine when we brought my daughter back to him -- and a pretty thing she was to look at, too -- he began to scream and say, no, no, no, she wasn't his wife, his wife was dead! He looked at her: No, no, no, not at all! She wasn't the woman! Imagine my dear friends, how terrible it all was. Finally he came up close to her and for a moment it seemed that he was going to recognize her again; but once more it was "No, no, no, she is not my wife!" And do you know, to get him to accept my daughter at all again, we were obliged to pretend having a second wedding, with the collusion of his doctors and his friends, you understand!
Signora Sirelli. Ah, so that is why he says that . . .
Signora Frola. Yes, but he doesn't really believe it, you know; and he hasn't for a long time, I am sure. But he seems to feel a need for maintaining the pretense. He can't do without it. He feels surer of himself that way. He is seized with a terrible fear, from time to time, that this little wife he loves may be taken from him again. [Smiling and in a low, confidential tone.] So he keeps her locked up at home where he can have her all for himself. But he worships her -- he worships her; and I am really quite convinced that my daughter is happy. [She gets up.] And now I must be going. You see, my son-in-law is in a terrible state of mind at present. I wouldn't like to have him call, and find me not at home. [With a sigh, and gesturing with her joined hands.] Well, I suppose we must get along as best we can; but it is hard on my poor girl. She has to pretend all along that she is not herself, but another, his second wife; and I . . . oh, as for me, I have to pretend that I am mad when he's around, my dear friends; but I'm glad to, I'm glad to, really, so long as it does him some good. [The LADIES rise as SHE steps nearer to the door.] No, no, don't let me interrupt your party. I know the way out! Good afternoon! Good afternoon! [Bowing and smiling, she hurries out through the rear door. THEY all remain standing, astonished, stunned, looking into each other's eyes. Silence.]
Laudisi [coming forward among them]. So you're having a look at each other? Well! And the truth? [He bursts out laughing.]
COUNCILLOR AGAZZI'S study in the same house. Antique furnishings with old paintings on the walls. A portière over the rear entrance and over the door to the left which opens into the drawing room shown in the first act. To the right a substantial fireplace with a big mirror above the mantel. A flat top desk with a telephone. A sofa, armchairs, straight back chairs, etc.
As the curtain rises AGAZZI is shown standing beside his desk with the telephone receiver pressed to his ear. LAUDISI and SIRELLI sit looking at him expectantly.
Agazzi. Yes, I want Centuri. Hello . . . hello . . Centuri? Yes, Agazzi speaking. That you, Centuri? It's me, Agazzi. Well? [He listens for some time.] What's that? Really? [Again he listens at length.] I understand, but you might go at the matter with a little more speed . . . [Another long pause.] Well, I give up! How can that possibly be? [A pause.] Oh, I see, I see . . . [Another pause.] Well, never mind, I'll look into it myself. Goodbye, Centuri, goodbye! [He lays down the receiver and steps forward on the stage.]
Sirelli [eagerly]. Well?
Agazzi. Nothing! Absolutely nothing!
Sirelli. Nothing at all?
Agazzi. You see the whole blamed village was wiped out. Not a house left standing! In the collapse of the town hall, followed by a fire, all the records of the place seem to have been lost -- births, deaths, marriages, everything.
Sirelli. But not everybody was killed. They ought to be able to find somebody who knows them.
Agazzi. Yes, but you see they didn't rebuild the place. Everybody moved away, and no record was ever kept of the people, of course. So far they have found nobody who knows the Ponzas. To be sure, if the police really went at it, they might find somebody; but it would be a tough job.
Sirelli. So we can't get anywhere along that line! We have got to take what they say and let it go at that.
Agazzi. That, unfortunately, is the situation.
Laudisi [rising]. Well, you fellows take a piece of advice from me: believe them both!
Agazzi. What do you mean -- "believe them both"? . . .
Sirelli. But if she says one thing, and he says another . . .
Laudisi. Well, in that case, you needn't believe either of them!
Sirelli. Oh, you're just joking. We may not be able to verify the stories; but that doesn't prove that either one or the other may not be telling the truth. Some document or other . . .
Laudisi. Oh, documents! Documents! Suppose you had them? What good would they do you?
Agazzi. Oh, I say! Perhaps we can't get them now, but there were such documents once. If the old lady is mad, there was, as there still may be somewhere, the death certificate of the daughter. Or look at it from the other angle: if we found all the records, and the death certificate were not there for the simple reason that it never existed, why then, it's Ponza, the son-in-law. He would be mad.
Sirelli. You mean to say you wouldn't give in if we stuck that certificate under your nose tomorrow or the next day? Would you still deny . . .
Laudisi. Deny? Why . . . why . . . I'm not denying anything! In fact, I'm very careful not to be denying anything. You're the people who are looking up the records to be able to affirm or deny something. Personally, I don't give a rap for the documents for the truth in my eyes is not in them but in the mind. And into their minds I can they say to me of themselves.
Sirelli. Very well -- She says he's mad and he says she's mad. Now one of them must be mad. You can't get away from that. Well which is it, she or he?
Agazzi. There, that's the way to put it!
Laudisi. But just observe; in the first place, it isn't true that they are accusing each other of madness. Ponza, to be sure, says his mother-in-law is mad. She denies this. not only of herself, but also of him. At the most, she says that he was a little off once, when they took her daughter from him; but that now he is quite all right.
Sirelli. I see! So you're rather inclined, as I am, to trust what the old lady says.
Agazzi. The fact is, indeed, that if you accept his story, all the facts in the case are explained.
Laudisi. But all the facts in the case are explained if you take her story, aren't they?
Sirelli. Oh, nonsense! In that case neither of them would be mad! Why, one of them must be, damn it all!
Laudisi. Well, which one? You can't tell, can you? Neither can anybody else! And it is not because those documents you are looking for have been destroyed in an accident -- a fire, an earthquake -- what ou will; but because those people have concealed those documen in themselves, in their own souls. Can't you understand that? She has created tor him, or he for her, a world of fancy which has all the earmarks of reality itself. And in this fictitious reality they get along perfectly well, and in full accord with each other; and this world of fancy, this reality of theirs, no document can possibly destroy because the air they breathe is of that world. For them it is something they can see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and touch with their fingers. Oh, I grant you -- if you could get a death certificate or a marriage certificate or something of the kind, you might be able to satisfy that stupid curiosity of yours. Unfortunately, you can't get it. And the result is that you are in the extraordinary fix of having before you, on the one hand, a world of fancy, and on the other, a world of reality, and you, for the life of you, are not able to distinguish one from the other.
Agazzi. Philosophy, my dear boy, philosophy! And I have no use for philosophy. Give me facts, if you please! Facts! So, I say, keep at it; and I'll bet you we get to the bottom of it sooner or later.
Sirelli. First we got her story and then we got his; and then we got a new one from her. Let's bring the two of them together -- and you think that then we won't be able to tell the false from the true?
Laudisi. Well, bring them together if you want to! All I ask is permission to laugh when you're through.
Agazzi. Well, we'll let you laugh all you want. In the meantime let's see . . . [He steps to the door at the left and calls.] Amalia, Signora Sirelli, won't you come in here a moment?
[The LADIES enter with DINA.]
Signora Sirelli [catching sight of LAUDISI and shaking a finger at him]. But how is it a man like you, in the presence of such an extraordinary situation, can escape the curiosity we all feel to get at the bottom of this mystery? Why, I lie awake nights thinking of it!
Agazzi. As your husband says, that man's impossible! Don't bother about him, Signora Sirelli.
Laudisi. No, don't bother with me; you just listen to Agazzi! He'll keep you from lying awake tonight.
Agazzi. Look here, ladies. This is what I want -- I have an idea: won't you just step across the hall to Signora Frola's?
Amalia. But will she come to the door?
Agazzi. Oh, I imagine she will! Dina. We're just returning the call, you see . . .
Amalia. But didn't he ask us not to call on his mother-in-law? Hasn't he forbidden her to receive visits?
Sirelli. No, not exactly! That's how he explained what had happened; but at that time nothing was known. Now that the old lady, through force of circumstance, has spoken, giving her version at least of her strange conduct, I should think that . . .
Signora Sirelli. I have a feeling that she'll be awfully glad to see us, if for nothing else, for the chance of talk. ing about her daughter.
Dina. And she really is a jolly old lady. There is no doubt in my mind, not the slightest: Ponza is mad!
Agazzi. Now, let's not go too fast. You just listen to me [He looks at his wife.] -- don't stay too long -- five or ten minutes at the outside!
Sirelli [to his wife]. And for heaven's sake, keep your mouth shut!
Signora Sirelli. And why such considerate advice to me?
Sirelli. Once you get going . . .
Dina [with the idea of preventing a scene]. Oh, we are not going to stay very long, ten minutes -- fifteen, at the outside. I'll see that no breaks are made. Agazzi. And I'll just drop around to the office, and be back at eleven o'clock -- ten or twenty minutes at the most.
Sirelli. And what can I do?
Agazzi. Wait! [Turning to the LADIES.] Now, here's the plan! You people invent some excuse or other so as to get Signora Frola in here.
Amalia. What? How can we possibly do that? Agazzi. Oh, find some excuse! You'll think of something in the course of your talk; and if you don't, there's Dina and Signora Sirelli. But when you come back, you understand, go into the drawing room. [He steps to the door on the left, makes sure that it is wide open, and draws aside the portière.]. This door must stay open, wide open, so that we can hear you talking from in here. Now, here are some papers that I ought to take with me to the office. However, I forget them here. It is a brief that requires Ponza's immediate personal attention. So then, I forget it . And when I get to the office I have to bring him back here to find them -- See?
Sirelli. But just a moment. Where do I come in? When am I expected to appear?
Agazzi. Oh, yes! . . . A moment or two after eleven, -when the ladies are again in the drawing room, and I am back here, you just drop in -- to take your wife home, see? You ring the bell and ask for me, and I'll have you brought in here. Then I'll invite the whole crowd in! That's natural enough, isn't it? -- into my office? . . .
Laudisi [interrupting]. And we'll have the Truth, the whole Truth with a capital TI
Dina. But look, uncle, of course we'll have the truth -- once we get them together face to face -- capital T and all!
Agazzi. Don't get into an argument with that man. Besides, it's time you ladies were going. None of us has any too much leeway.
Signora Sirelli. Come, Amalia, come Dina! And as ,for you, sir [Turning to LAUDISI.], I won't even shake hands with you.
Laudisi. Permit me to do it for you, madam. [He shakes one hand with the other.] Good luck to you, my dear ladies.
[Exit DINA, AMALIA, SIGNORA SIRELLI.]
Agazzi [to Sirelli]. And now we'd better go, too. Suppose we hurry!
Sirelli. Yes, right away. Goodbye, Lamberto!
Laudisi. Goodbye, good luck, good luck! [AGAZZI and SIRELLI leave. LAUDISI, left alone, walks up and down the study a number of times, nodding his head and occasionally smiling. Finally he draws up in front of the big mirror that is hanging over the mantelpiece. He sees himself in the glass, stops, and addresses his image.]
Laudisi. So there you are! [He bows to himself and salutes, touching his forehead with his fingers.] I say, old man, who is mad, you or I? [He levels a finger menacingly at his image in the glass; and, of course, the image in turn levels a finger at him. As he smiles, his image smiles.] Of course, I understand! I say it's you, and you say it's me. You -- you are mad! No? It's me? Very well! It's me! Have it your way. Between you and me, we get along very well, don't we! But the trouble is, others don't think of you just as I do; and that being the case, old man, what a fix you're in! As for me, I say that here, right in front of you, I can see myself with my eyes and touch myself with my fingers. But what are you for other people? What are you in their eyes? An image, my dear sir, just an image in the glass! They're all carrying just such a phantom around inside themselves, and here they are racking their brains about the phantoms in other people; and they think all that is quite another thing!
[The BUTLER has entered the room in time to catch LAUDISI gesticulating at himself in the glass. He wonders if the man is crazy. Finally he speaks up.]
Butler. Ahem! . . . Signor Laudisi, if you please . . . Laudisi [coming to himself]. Uff!
Butler. Two ladies calling, sir! Signora Cini and another lady!
Laudisi. Calling to see me?
Butler. Really, they asked for the signora; but I said that she was out -- on a call next door; and then . . .
Laudisi. Well, what then?
Butler. They looked at each other and said, "Really! Really!" and finally they asked me if anybody else was at home.
Laudisi. And of course you said that everyone was out!
Butler. I said that you were in!
Laudisi. Why, not at all! I'm miles and miles away! Perhaps that fellow they call Laudisi is here!
Butler. I don't understand, sir.
Laudisi. Why? You think the Laudisi they know is the Laudisi I am?
Butler. I don't understand, sir.
Laudisi. Who are you talking to?
Butler. Who am I talking to? I thought I was talking to you.
Laudisi. Are you really sure the Laudisi you are talking to is the Laudisi the ladies want to see?
Butler. Why, I think so, sir. They said they were looking for the brother of Signora Agazzi.
Laudisi. Ah, in that case you are right! [Turning to the image in the glass.] You are not the brother of Signora Agazzi? No, it's me! [To the BUTLER.] Right you are! Tell them I am in. And show them in here, won't you?
[The BUTLER retires.]
Signora Cini. May I come in?
Laudisi. Please, please, this way, madam!
Signora Cini. I was told Signora Agazzi was not at home, and I brought Signora Nenni along. Signora Nenni is a friend of mine, and she was most anxious to make the acquaintance of . . . Laudisi, . . . of Signora Frola?
Signora Cini. Of Signora Agazzi, your sister!
Laudisi. Oh, she will be back very soon, and Signora Frola will be here, too.
Signora Cini. Yes, we thought as much.
[SIGNORA NENNI is an oldish woman of the type of SIGNORA CINI, but with the mannerisms of the latter somewhat more pronounced. She, too, is a bundle of concentrated curiosity, but of the sly, cautious type, ready to find something frightful under everything.]
Laudisi. Well, it's all planned in advance! It will be a most interesting scene! The curtain rises at eleven, precisely!
Signora Cini. Planned in advance? What is planned in advance?
Laudisi [mysteriously, first with a gesture of his finger and then aloud]. Why, bringing the two of them together! [A gesture of admiration.] Great idea, I tell you!
Signora Cini. The two of them -- together -- who?
Laudisi. Why, the two of them. He -- in here! [Pointing to the room about him.]
Signora Cini. Ponza, you mean?
Laudisi. And she -- in there! [He points toward the drawing room.]
Signora Cini. Signora Frola?
Laudisi. Exactly! [With an expressive gesture of his hands and even more mysteriously.] But afterwards, all of them -- in here! Oh, a great idea, a great idea!
Signora Cini. In order to get . . .
Laudisi. The truth! But it's already known: all that remains is the unmasking.
Signora Cini [with the greatest surprise]. Oh, really? So they know the truth! And which is it -- He or she?
Laudisi. Well, I'll tell you . . . you just guess! Who do you think it is?
Signora Cini [ahemming]. Well . . . I say . . . really . . . you see . . .
Laudisi. Is it she or is it he? You don't mean to say you don't know! Come now, give a guess!
Signora Cini. Why, for my part I should say . . . well, I'd say . . . it's he.
Laudisi [looks at her admiringly]. Right you are! It is he!
Signora Cini. Really? I always thought so! Of course, it was perfectly plain all along. It had to be he!
Signora Nenni. All of us women in town said it was he. We always said so!
Signora Cini. But how did you get at it? I suppose Signor Agazzi ran down the documents, didn't he -- the birth certificate, or something?
Signora Nenni. Through the prefect, of course! There was no getting away from those people. Once the police start investigating . . .
Laudisi [motions to them to come closer to him; then in a low voice and in the same mysterious manner, and stressing each syllable]. The certificate! -- Of the second marriage!
Signora Cini [starting back with astonishment]. What?
Signora Nenni [likewise taken aback]. What did you say? The second marriage?
Signora Cini. Well, in that case he was right .
Laudisi. Oh, documents, ladies, documents! This certificate of the second marriage, so it seems, talks as plain as day.
Signora Nenni. Well, then, she is mad.
Laudisi. Right! She must be, mustn't she?
Signora Cini. But I thought you said . . .
Laudisi. Yes, I did say . . . but this certificate of the second marriage may very well be, as Signora Frola said, a fictitious document, gotten up through the influence of Ponza's doctors and friends to pamper him in the notion that his wife was not his first wife, but another woman.
Signora Cini. But it's a public document. You mean to say a public document can be a fraud?
Laudisi. I mean to say -- well, it has just the value that each of you chooses to give it. For instance, one could find somewhere, possibly, those_letters that Signora Frola said she gets from her daughter, who lets them down in the basket in the courtyard. There are such letters, aren't there?
Signora Cini. Yes, of course!
Laudisi. They are documents, aren't they? Aren't letters documents? But it all depends on how you read them. Here comes Ponza, and he says they are just made up to pamper his mother-in-law in her obsession . . .
Signora Cini. Oh, dear, dear, so then we're never sure about anything?
Laudisi. Never sure about anything? Why not at all, not at all! Let's be exact. We are sure of many things, aren't we? How many days are there in the week? Seven -- Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday . . . How many months in the year are there? Twelve: January, February, March . . .
Signora Cini. Oh, I see, you're just joking! You're just joking! [DINA appears, breathless, in the doorway, at the rear.]
Dina. Oh, uncle, won't you please . . . [She stops at the sight of SIGNORA CINI.] Oh, Signora Cini, you here?
Signora Cini. Why, I just came to make a call! . . . Laudisi, . . . with Signora Cenni.
Signora Nenni. No, my name is Nenni.
Laudisi. Oh yes, pardon me! She was anxious to make Signora Frola's acquaintance . . .
Signora Nenni. Why, not at all!
Signora Cini. He has just been making fun of us! You ought to see what fools he made of us!
Dina. Oh, he's perfectly insufferable, even with mamma and me. Will you excuse me for just a moment? No, everything is all right. I'll just run back and tell mamma that you people are here and I think that will be enough. Oh, uncle, if you had only heard her talk! Why, she is a perfect dear, and what a good, kind soul! . . . She showed us all those letters her daughter wrote . . .
Signora Cini. Yes, but as Signora Laudisi was just saying . . .
Dina. He hasn't even seen them!
Signora Nenni. You mean they are not really fictitous?
Dina. Fictitious nothing! They talk as plain as day. And such things! You can't fool a mother when her own daughter talks to her. And you know -- the letter she got yesterday! . . . [She stops at the sound of voices coming into the study from the drawing room.] Oh, here they are, here they are, already! [She goes to the door and peeps into the room ]
Signora Cini [following her to the door]. Is she there, too?
Dina. Yes, but you had better come into the other room. All of us women must be in the drawing room. And it is just eleven o'clock, uncle!
Amalia [entering with decision from the door on the left]. I think this whole business is quite unnecessary! We have absolutely no further need of proofs . . .
Dina. Quite so! I thought of that myself. Why bring Ponza here?
Amalia [taken somewhat aback by SIGNORA CINI's presence]. Oh, my dear Signora Cini! . . .
Signora Cini [introducing SIGNORA NENNI]. A friend of mine, Signora Nenni! I ventured to bring her with me . . .
Amalia [bowing, but somewhat coolly, to the visitor]. A great pleasure, Signora! [After a pause.] There is not the slightest doubt in the world: . . . it's he!
Signora Cini. It's he? Are you sure it's he?
Dina. And such a trick on the poor old lady!
Amalia. Trick is not the name for it! It's downright dishonest!
Laudisi. Oh, I agree with you: it's outrageous! Quite! So much so, I'm quite convinced it must be she!
Amalia. She? What do you mean? How can you say that?
Laudisi. I say, it is she, it is she, it's she!
Amalia. Oh, I say! If you had heard her talk . . .
Dina. It is absolutely clear to us now.
Signora Cini and Signora Nennin [swallowing]. Really? You are sure?
Laudisi. Exactly! Now that you are sure it's he, why, obviously -- it must be she.
Dina. Oh dear me, why talk to that man? He is just impossible!
Amalia. Well, we must go into the other room . . . This way, if you please!
[SIGNORA CINI, SIGNORA NENNI and AMALIA withdraw through the door on the left. DINA starts to follow, when LAUDISI calls her back.]
Dina. I refuse to listen to you! I refuse!
Laudisi. I was going to suggest that, since the whole matter is closed, you might close the door also.
Dina. But papa . . . he told us to leave it open. Ponza will be here soon; and if papa finds it closed -- well, you know how papa is!
Laudisi. But you can convince him! . . . You especially. You can show him that there really was no need of going any further. You are convinced yourself, aren't you?
Dina. I am as sure of it, as I am that I'm alive!
Laudisi [putting her to the test with a smile]. Well, close the door then!
Dina. I see, you're trying to make me say that I'm not really sure. Well, I won't close the door, but it's just on account of papa.
Laudisi. Shall I close it for you?
Dina. If you take the responsibility yourself! . . .
Laudisi. But you see, I am sure! I know that Ponza is mad!
Dina. The thing for you to do is to come into the other room and just hear her talk a while. Then you'll be sure, absolutely sure. Coming?
Laudisi. Yes, I'm coming, and I'll close the door behind me -- on my own responsibility, of course.
Dina. Ah, I see. So you're convinced even before you hear her talk.
Laudisi. No, dear, it's because I'm sure that your papa, who has been with Ponza, is just as certain as you are that any further investigation is unnecessary.
Dina. How can you say that?
Laudisi. Why, of course, if you talk with Ponza, you're sure the old lady is mad. [He walks resolutely to the door.] I am going to shut this door.
Dina[restraining him nervously, then hesitating a moment]. Well, why not . . . if you're really sure? What do you say -- let's leave it open!
Laudisi [bursts out laughing].
Dina. But just because papa told us to!
Laudisi. And papa will tell you something else by and by. Say . . . let's leave it open!
[A piano starts playing in the adjoining room -- an ancient tune, sweet, graceful, full of pain, from "Nina Mad Through Love" by Paisiello.]
Dina. Oh, there she is. She's playing! Do you hear? Actually playing the piano!
Laudisi. The old lady?
Dina. Yes! And you know? She told us that her daughter used to play this tune, always the same tune. How well she plays! Come! Come!
[THEY hurry through the door.]
The stage, after the exit of LAUDISI and DINA, remains empty for a space of time while the music continues from the other room. PONZA, appearing at the door with AGAZZI, catches the concluding notes and his face changes to an expression of deep emotion-an emotion that will develop into a virtual frenzy as the scene proceeds.
Agazzi [in the doorway]. After you, after you, please! [He takes PONZA'S elbow and motions him into the room. He goes over to his desk, looks about for the papers which he pretends he had forgotten, finds them eventually and says.] Why, here they are! I was sure I had left them here. Won't you take a chair, Ponza? [PONZA seems not to hear. He stands looking excitedly at the door into the drawing room, through which the sound of the piano is still coming.]
Agazzi. Yes, they are the ones! [HE takes the papers and steps to PONZA'S side, opening the folder.] It is an old case, you see. Been running now for years and years! To tell you the truth I haven't made head or tail of the stuff myself. I imagine you'll find it one big mess. [He, too, becomes aware of the music and seems somewhat irritated by it. His eyes also rest on the door to the drawing room.] That noise, just at this moment! [He walks with a show of anger to the door.] Who is that at the piano anyway? [In the doorway he stops and looks, and an expression of astonishment comes into his face.] Ah!
Ponza [going to the door also. On looking into the next room he can hardly restrain his emotion]. In the name of God, is she playing?
Agazzi. Yes -- Signora Frola! And how well she does play!
Ponza. How is this? You people have brought her in here, again! And you're letting her play!
Agazzi. Why not? What's the harm?
Ponza. Oh, please, please, no, not that song! It is the one her daughter used to play.
Agazzi. Ah, I see! And it hurts you?
Ponza. Oh, no, not me -- but her -- it hurts her -- and you don't know how much! I thought I had made you and those women understand just how that poor old lady was!
Agazzi. Yes, you did . . . quite true! But you see . . . but see here, Ponza! [Trying to pacify the man's growing emotion.]
Ponza [continuing]. But you must leave her alone! You must not go to her house! She must not come in here! I am the only person who can deal with her. You are killing her . . . killing her!
Agazzi. No, I don't think so. It is not so bad as that. My wife and daughter are surely tactful enough . . . [Suddenly the music ceases. There is a burst of applause.]
Agazzi. There, you see. Listen! Listen! [From the next room the following conversation is distinctly heard.]
Dina. Why, Signora Frola, you are perfectly marvellous at the piano!
Signora Frola. But you should hear how my Lena plays!
[PONZA digs his nails into his hands.]
Agazzi. Her daughter, of course!
Ponza. Didn't you hear? "How my Lena plays! How my Lena plays!"
[Again from inside.]
Signora Frola. Oh, no, not now! . . . She hasn't played for a long time -- since that happened. And you know, it is what she takes hardest, poor girl!
Agazzi. Why, that seems quite natural to me! Of course, she thinks the girl is still alive!
Ponza. But she shouldn't be allowed to say such things. She must not -- she must not say such things! Didn't you hear? "She hasn't played since that happened"! She said "she hasn't played since that happened"! Talking of the piano, you understand! Oh, you don't understand, no, of course! My first wife had a piano and played that tune. Oh, oh, oh! You people are determined to ruin me!
[SIRELLI appears at the back door at this moment, and hearing the concluding words of PONZA and noticing his extreme exasperation, stops short, uncertain as to what to do. AGAZZI is himself very muck affected and motions to SIRELLI to come in.]
Agazzi. Why, no, my dear fellow, I don't see any reason . . . [To SIRELLI.] Won't you just tell the ladies to come in here?
[SIRELLI, keeping at a safe distance from PONZA, goes to the door at the left and calls.]
Ponza. The ladies in here? In here with me? Oh, no, no, please, rather . . .
[At a signal from SIRELLI, who stands in the doorway to the left, his face taut with intense emotion, the LADIES enter. They all show various kinds and degrees of excitement and emotion. SIGNORA FROLA appears, and catching sight of PONZA trembling from head to foot, worked up into a state of positively animal passion, stops, quite overwhelmed. As HE assails her during the lines that follow, SHE exchanges glances of understanding from time to time with the LADIES about her. The action here is rapid, nervous, tense with excitement, and extremely violent.]
Ponza. You? Here? How is this? You! Here! Again! What are you doing here?
Signora Erola. Why, I just came . . . don't be cross! Ponza. You come here to tell these ladies . . . What did you tell these ladies?
Signora Frola. Nothing! I swear to God, nothing!
Ponza. Nothing? What do you mean, nothing? I heard you with my own ears, and this gentleman here heard you also. You said "she plays." Who plays? Lena plays! And you know very well that Lena has been dead for four years. Dead, do you hear! Your daughter has been dead -- for four years!
Signora Frola. Yes, yes, I know . . . Don't get excited, my dear . . . Oh, yes, oh yes. I know . . .
Ponza. And you said "she hasn't been able to play since that happened." Of course she hasn't been able to play since that happened. How could she, if she's dead?
Signora Frola. Why, of course, certainly. Isn't that what I said? Ask these ladies. I said that she hasn't been able to play since that happened. Of course. How could she, if she's dead?
Ponza. And why were you worrying about that piano, then?
Signora Frola. No, no! I'm not worrying about any piano . . .
Ponza. I broke that piano up and destroyed it. You know that, the moment your daughter died, so that my second wife couldn't touch it. She can't play in any case. You know she doesn't play.
Signora Frola. Why, of course, dear! Of course! She doesn't know how to play!
Ponza. And one thing more: Your daughter was Lena, wasn't she? Her name was Lena. Now, see here! You just tell these people what my second wife's name is. Speak up! You know very well what her name is! What is it? What is it?
Signora Frola. Her name is Julia! Yes, yes, of course, my dear friends, her name is Julia! [Winks at someone in the company.]
Ponza. Exactly! Her name is Julia, and not Lena! Who are you winking at? Don't you go trying to suggest by those winks of yours that she's not Julia!
Signora Frola. Why, what do you mean? I wasn't winking! Of course I wasn't!
Ponza. I saw you! I saw you very distinctly! You are trying to ruin me! You are trying to make these people think that I am keeping your daughter all to myself, just as though she were not dead. [He breaks into convulsive sobbing.] . . . just as though she were not dead!
Signora Frola [hurrying forward and speaking with infinite kindness and sympathy]. Oh no! Come, come, my poor boy. Come! Don't take it so hard. I never said any such thing, did I, madam!
Amalia, Signora Sirelli, Dina. Of course she never said such a thing! She always said the girl was dead! Yes! Of course! No!
Signora Frola. I did, didn't I? I said she's dead, didn't I? Arid that you are so very good to me. Didn't I, didn't I? I, trying to ruin you? I, trying to get you into trouble?
Ponza. And you, going into other people's houses where there are pianos, playing your daughter's tunes on them! Saying that Lena plays them that way, or even better!
Signora Frola. No, it was . . . why . . . you see . . . it was . . . well . . . just to see whether . . . Ponza. But you can't . . . you mustn't! How could you ever dream of trying to play a tune that your dead daughter played!
Signora Frola. You are quite right! . . . Oh, yes! Poor boy! Poor boy! [She also begins to weep.] I'll never do it again: Never, never, never again!
Ponza [advancing upon her threateningly]. What are you doing here? Get out of here! Go home at once! Home! Home! Go home!
Signora Frola. Yes, yes! Home! I am going home! Oh dear, oh dear!
[She backs out the rear door, looking beseechingly at the company, as though urging everyone to have pity on her son-in-law. She retires, sobbing. The others stand there looking at PONZA with pity and terror; but the moment SIGNORA FROLA has left the room, he regains his normal composure.]
Ponza. I beg pardon for the sad spectacle I've had to present before all you ladies and gentlemen to remedy the evil which, without wanting, without knowing, you are doing to this unhappy woman -- with your compassion.
Agazzi [astonished like all the others]. What? You were only pretending?
Ponza. I had to, my good people! It's the only way to keep up the illusion for her, don't you see? I have to roar out the truth that way -- as if it were madness, my madness! Forgive me, I must be going, I must go to her. [He hurries out through the rear door. Once more THEY stand astonished and silent looking at each other.]
Laudisi [coming forward]. And so, ladies and gentlemen, we learn the truth! [He bursts out laughing].
The same scene. As the curtain rises, LAUDISI is sprawling in an easy chair, reading a book. Through the door that leads into the parlor on the left comes the confused murmur of many voices.
The BUTLER appears in the rear door, introducing the police commissioner, CENTURI. CENTURI is a tall, stiff, scowling official, with a decidedly professional air. He is in the neighborhood of forty.
The Butler. This way, sir. I will call Signor Agazzi at once.
Laudisi [drawing himself up in his chair and looking around]. Oh, it's you, Commissioner! [He rises hastily and recalls the butler, who has stepped out through the door.] One moment, please! Wait! [To CENTURI.] Anything new, Commissioner?
Commissioner [stiffly]. Yes, something new!
Laudisi. Ah! Very well. [To the BUTLER.] Never mind. I'll call him myself. [He motions with his hand toward the door on the left. The BUTLER bows and withdraws.] You have worked miracles, Commissioner! You're the savior of this town. Listen! Do you hear them! You are the lion of the place! How does it feel to be the father of your country? But say, what you've discovered is all solid fact?
Commissioner. We've managed to unearth a few people.
Laudisi. From Ponza's town? People who know all about him?
Commissioner. Yes! And we have gathered from them a few facts, -- not many, perhaps, but well authenticated.
Laudisi. Ah, that's nice. Congratulations! For example . . .
Commissioner. For example? Why, for instance, here . . . well, here are all the communications I have received. Read 'em yourself! [From an inner pocket he draws a yellow envelope, opened at one end, from which he takes a document and hands it to LAUDIsI.]
Laudisi. Interesting, I am sure. Very interesting! . . . [He stands, reading the document carefully, commenting from time to time with exclamations in different tones. First an "ah" of satisfaction, then another "ah" which attenuates this enthusiasm very much. Finally an "eh" of disappointment, which leads to another "eh" of complete disgust.] Why, no, what's all this amount to, Commissioner?
Commissioner. Well, it's what we were able to find out.
Laudisi. But this doesn't prove anything, you understand! It leaves everything just where it was. There's nothing of any significance whatever here. [He looks at the COMMISSIONER for a moment and then, as though suddenly making up his mind, he says:] I wonder, Commissioner, would you like to do something really great -- render a really distinguished service to this town; and meanwhile lay up a treasure in heaven?
Commissioner [looking at him in perplexity]. What are you thinking of, sir?
Laudisi. I'll explain. Here, please, take this chair! [He sets the chair in front of AGAZZI's desk.] I advise you, Mr. Commissioner, to tear up this sheet of paper that you've brought and which has absolutely no significance at all. But here on this other piece of paper, why don't you write down something that will be precise and clear?
Commissioner. Why . . . why . . . myself? What do you mean? What should I write?
Laudisi [insisting]. Just say something -- anything -- that these two old acquaintances of Ponza's whom you managed to get hold of might have said. Come, Commissioner, rise to the occasion! Do something for the commonwealth! Bring this town back to normal again! Don't you see what they are after? They all want the truth -- a truth that is: Something specific; something concrete! They don't care what it is. All they want is something categorical, something that speaks plainly! Then they'll quiet down.
Commissioner. The truth -- a truth? Excuse me, have I understood you clearly? You were suggesting that I commit a forgery? I am astonished that you dare propose such a thing, and when I say I am astonished, I'm not saying half what I actually feel. Be so good as to tell the Commendatore that I am here!
Laudisi [dropping his arms dejectedly]. As you will, Commissioner!
[He steps over to the door on the left. As he draws the portières and swings the door more widely open, the voices become louder and more confused. As he steps through, there is a sudden silence. The POLICE COMMISSIONER stands waiting with a satisfied air, twirling one of the points of his mustache. All of a sudden, there is commotion and cheering in the next room. Cries of delight and applause, mixed with handclapping. The POLICE COMMISSIONER comes out of his reverie and looks up with an expression of surprise on his features, as though not understanding what it's all about. Through the door to the left come AGAZZI, SIRELLI, LAUDISI, AMALIA, DINA, SIGNORA SIRELLI, SIGNORA CINI, SIGNORA NENNI, and many other ladies and gentlemen. AGAZZI leads the procession. They are all still talking and laughing excitedly, clapping their hands, and crying "I told you so! Fine! Fine! Good! How wonderful! Now we'll know!" etc.]
Agazzi [stepping forward cordially]. Ah, my dear Centuri, I was sure you could! Nothing ever gets by our chief!
Company. Fine! Good! What did you find out! Have you brought something? Is it she? Is it he? Tell us?
Commissioner [who doesn't yet understand what all the excitement is about. For him it has been a mere matter of routine]. Why, no . . . why, Commendatore, simply . . . you understand . . .
Agazzi. Hush! Give him a chance! . . . Commissioner. I have done my best. I . . . but what did Signor Laudisi tell you?
Agazzi. He told us that you have brought news, real news!
Sirelli. Specific data, clear, precise! . . . Laudisi [amplifying], . . . not many, perhaps, but well authenticated! The best they've managed to trace! Old neighbors of Ponza, you see; people well acquainted with him . . .
Everybody. Ah! At last! At last! Now we'll know! At last!
[The COMMISSIONER hands the document to AGAZZI.]
Commissioner. There you have it, Commendatore!
Agazzi [opening the sheet, as all crowd around him]. Let's have a look at it!
Commissioner. But you, Signor Laudisi . . .
Laudisi. Don't interrupt, please, the document speaks for itself! Agazzi, you read it.
Agazzi [to LAUDISI]. But give me a chance, won't you? Please! Please! Now! There you are!
Laudisi. Oh, I don't care. I've read the thing already.
Everybody [crowding around him]. You've read it already? What did it say? Is it he? Is it she?
Laudisi [speaking very formally]. There is no doubt whatever, as a former neighbor of Ponza's testifies, that the woman Frola was once in a sanatorium!
The Group [cries of disappointment]. Oh really! Too bad! Too bad!
Signora Sirelli. Signora Frola, did you say?
Dina. Are you sure it was she?
Agazzi. Why, no! Why, no, it doesn't say anything of the kind! [Coming forward and waving the document triumphantly.] It doesn't say anything of the kind! [General excitement.]
Everybody. Well, what does it say? What does it say? Laudisi [insisting]. It does too! It says "the Frola woman" -- the Frola woman, categorically.
Agazzi. Nothing of the kind! The witness says that he thinks she was in a sanatorium. He does not assert that she was. Besides, there is another point. He doesn't know whether this Frola woman who was in a sanatorium was the mother or the daughter, the first wife, that is!
Everybody [with relief]. Ah!
Laudisi [insistingly]. But I say he does. It must be the mother! Who else could it be?
Sirelli. No, of course, it's the daughter! It's the daughter!
Signora Sirelli. Just as the old lady said herself!
Amalia. Exactly! That time when they took her away by force from her husband! . . .
Dina. Yes, she says that her daughter was taken to a home.
Agazzi. Furthermore, observe another thing. The witness does not really belong to their town. He says that he used to go there frequently, but that he does not remember particularly. He remembers that he heard something or other! . . .
Sirelli. Ah! How can you depend on such a man's testimony? Nothing but hearsay!
Laudisi. But, excuse me! If all you people are so sure that Signora Frola is right, what more do you want? Why do you go looking for documents? This is all nonsense!
Sirelli. If it weren't for the fact that the prefect has accepted Ponza's side of the story, I'll tell you . . .
Commissioner. Yes, that's true. The prefect said as much to me . . .
Agazzi. Yes, but that's because the prefect has never talked with the old lady who lives next door.
Signora Sirelli. You bet he hasn't. He talked only with Ponza.
Sirelli. But, for that matter, there are other people of the same mind as the prefect.
A Gentleman. That is my situation, my situation exactly. Yes sir! Because I know of just such a case where a mother went insane over the death of her daughter and insists that the daughter's husband will not allow her to see the girl. The same case to a T.
A Second Gentleman. Not exactly to a T! Not exactly to a T! In the case you mention the man didn't marry again. Here, this man Ponza is living with another woman . . .
Laudisi [his face brightening with a new idea that has suddenly come to him]. I have it, ladies and gentlemen! Did you hear that? It's perfectly simple. Dear me, as simple as Columbus's egg!
Everybody. What? What? What? What?
The Second Gentleman. What did I say? I didn't realize it was important.
Laudisi. Just a moment, ladies and gentlemen! [Turning to AGAZZI.] Is the prefect coming here, by chance?
Agazzi. Yes, we were expecting him. But what's the new idea?
Laudisi. Why, you were bringing him here to talk with Signora Frola. So far, he is standing by Ponza. When he has talked with the old lady, he'll know whether to believe Ponza or her. That's your idea! Well, I've thought of something better that the prefect can do. Something that only he can do.
Everybody. What is it? What is it? What is it?
Laudisi [triumphantly]. Why, this wife of Ponza's, of course . . . at least, the woman he is living with! What this gentleman said suggested the idea to me.
Sirelli. Get the second woman to talk? Of course! Of course!
Dina. But how can we, when she is kept under lock and key?
Sirelli. Why, the prefect can use his authority -- order her to speak!
Amalia. Certainly, she is the one who can clear up the whole mystery.
Signora Sirelli. I don't believe it. She'll say just what her husband tells her to say.
Laudisi. She must speak before the prefect. Of course!
Sirelli. She must speak with the prefect privately, all by himself.
Agazzi. And the prefect, as the final authority over the man, will insist that the wife make a formal explicit statement before him. Of course, of course! What do you say, Commissioner?
Commissioner. Why certainly, there's no doubt that if the prefect were so inclined . . .
Agazzi. It is the only way out of it, after all. We ought to phone him and explain that he needn't go to the trouble of coming here. You attend to that, will you, Commissioner?
Commissioner. Very glad to! My compliments, ladies! Good afternoon, gentlemen!
Signora Sirelli. A good idea for once, Laudisi.
Dina. Oh, uncle, how clever of you! Wise old uncle!
The Company. The only way out of it! Yes! Yesl Fine! At last!
Agazzi. Curious none of us thought of that before!
Sirelli. Not so curious! None of us ever set eyes on the woman. She might as well be in another world, poor girl.
Laudisi [as though suddenly impressed by this latter reflection]. In another world? Why yes, -- are you really sure there is such a woman?
Amalia. Oh I say! Please, please, Lamberto!
Sirelli [with a laugh]. You mean to say you think there is no such woman?
Laudisi. How can you be sure there is? You can't guarantee it!
Dina. But the old lady sees her and talks with her every day.
Signora Sirelli. And Ponza says that, too. They both agree on that point!
Laudisi. Yes, yes. I don't deny that. But just a moment! To be strictly logical: there must be a phantom in that house.
All. A phantom?
Agazzi. Oh, go on with you!
Laudisi. Let me finish. -- It's the phantom of the second wife, if Signora Frola is right. It's the phantom of the daughter, if Signor Ponza is right. It remains to be seen if what is a phantom for him and her is actually a person for herself. At this point it seems to me there's some reason to doubt it.
Amalia. Oh, come on! You'd like us all to be as mad as you are!
Signora Nenni. Heavens: how he makes my flesh creep!
Signora Cini. I can't think why you enjoy frightening us like this!
All. Nonsense! It's a joke, a joke!
Sirelli. She's a woman of flesh and bones, rest assured. And we'll have her talk, we'll have her talk!
Agazzi. You suggested it yourself, didn't you? -- having her talk with the prefect?
Laudisi. Certainly the woman from that house should talk with the prefect -- if there is such a woman -- and if she is a woman!
Signora Sirelli. Dear me, dear me! That man simply drives me mad.
Laudisi. Well, supposing we wait and see! Everybody. Well, who is she then? But people have seen her! His wife! On the balcony! She writes letters!
Police Commissioner [in the heat of the confusion comes into the room, excitedly announcing]. The prefect is coming! The prefect!
Agazzi. What do you mean? Coming here? But you went to . . .
Commissioner. Why yes, but I met him hardly a block away. He was coming here; and Ponza is with him.
Sirelli. Ah, Ponza!
Agazzi. Oh, if Ponza is with him, I doubt whether he is coming here. They are probably on their way to the old lady's. Please, Centuri, you just wait on the landing there and ask him if he won't step in here as he promised?
Commissioner. Very well! I'll do so! [He withdraws hurriedly through the door in the rear.]
Agazzi. Won't you people just step into the other room?
Signora Sirelli. But remember now, be sure to make him see the point! It's the only way out, the only way.
Amalia [at the door to the left]. This way, ladies, if you please!
Agazzi. Won't you just stay here, Sirelli; and you, too, Lamberto?
[All the others go out through the door to the left.]
Agazzi [to LAUDISI]. But let me do the talking, won't you!
Laudisi. Oh, as for that, don't worry. In fact, if you prefer, I'll go into the other room . . .
Agazzi. No, no, it's better for you to be here. Ah, here he is now!
[THE PREFECT is a man of about sixty, tall, thick set, good natured, affable.]
Prefect. Ah, Agazzi, glad to see you. How goes it, Sirelli? Good to see you again, Laudisi. [He shakes hands all around.]
Agazzi [motioning toward a chair]. I hope you won't mlnd my having asked you to come here.
Prefect. No, I was coming, just as I promised you!
Agazzi [noticing the POLICE COMMISSIONER at the door]. Oh, I'm sorry, Commissioner! Please come in! Here, have a chair!
Prefect [good-naturedly to SIRELLI]. By the way, Sirelli, they tell me that you've gone half nutty over this blessed affair of our new secretary.
Sirelli. Oh, no, governor, believe me. I'm not the only one! The whole village is worked up.
Agazzi. And that's putting it very mildly.
Prefect. What's it all about? What's it all about? Good heavens!
Agazzi. Of course, governor, you're probably not posted on the whole business. The old iady lives here next door. . . .
Prefect. Yes, I understand so.
Sirelli. No, one moment, please, governor. You haven't talked with the poor old lady yet.
Prefect. I was on my way to see her. [Turning to AGAZZI.] I had promised you to see her here, but Ponza came and begged me, almost on his knees, to see her in her own house. His idea was to put an end to all this talk that's going around. Do you think he would have done such a thing if he weren't absolutely sure?
Agazzi. Of course, he's sure! Because when she's talking in front of him, the poor woman . . .
Sirelli [suddenly getting in his oar]. She says just what he wants her to say, governor; which proves that she is far from being as mad as he claims.
Agazzi. We had a sample of that, here, yesterday, all of us.
Prefect. Why, I understand so. You see he's trying all the time to make her believe he's mad. He warned me of that. And how else could he keep the poor woman in her illusion? Do you see any way? All this talk of yours is simply torture to the poor fellow! Believe me, pure torture!
Sirelli. Very well, governor! But supposing she is the one who is trying to keep him in the idea that her daughter is dead; so as to reassure him that his wife will not be taken from him again. In that case, you see, governor, it's the old lady who is being tortured, and not Ponza!
Agazzi. The moment you see the possibility of that, governor . . . Well, you ought to hear her talk; but all by herself, when he's not around. Then you'd see the possibility all right . . .
Sirelli. Just as we all see it!
Prefect. Oh, I wonder! You don't seem to me so awfully sure; and for my part, I'm quite willing to confess that I'm not so sure myself. How about you, Laudisi?
Laudisi. Sorry, governor, I promised Agazzi here to keep my mouth shut.
Agazzi [protesting angrily]. Nothing of the kind! How dare you say that? When the governor asks you a plain question . . . It's true I told him not to talk, but do you know why? He's been doing his best for the past two days to keep us all rattled so that we can't find out anything.
Laudisi. Don't you believe him, governor. On the contrary. I've been doing my best to bring these people to common sense.
Sirelli. Common sense! And do you know what he calls common sense? According to him it is not possible to discover the truth; and now he's been suggesting that Ponza is living not with a woman, but with a ghost!
Prefect [enjoying the situation]. That's a new one! Quite an idea! How do you make that out, Laudisi?
Agazzi. Oh, I say! . . . You know how he is. There's no getting anywhere with him!
Laudisi. I leave it to you, governor. I was the one who first suggested bringing you here.
Prefect. And do you think, Laudisi, I ought to see the old lady next door?
Laudisi. No, I advise no such thing, governor. In my judgment you are doing very well in depending on what Ponza tells you.
Prefect. Ah, I see! Because you, too, think that Ponza . . .
Laudisi. No, not at all . . . because I'm also satisfied to have all these people stand on what Signora Frola says, if that does them any good.
Agazzi. So you see, eh, governor? That's what you call arguing, eh?
Prefect. Just a moment! Let me understand! [Turning to LAUDISI.] So you say we can also trust what the old lady says?
Laudisi. Of course you can! Implicitly! And so you can depend upon what Ponza says. Implicitly!
Prefect. Excuse me, I don't follow you!
Sirelli. But man alive, if they both say the exact opposite of each other! . . .
Agazzi [angrily and with heat]. Listen to me, governor, please. I am prejudiced neither in favor of the old lady nor in favor of Ponza. I recognize that he may be right and that she may be right. But we ought to settle the matter, and there is only one way to do it.
Sirelli. The way that Laudisi here suggested.
Prefect. He suggested it? That's interesting? What is it?
Agazzi. Since we haven't been able to get any positive proof, there is only one thing left. You, as Ponza's final superior, as the man who can fire him if need be, can obtain a statement from his wife.
Prefect. Make his wife talk, you mean?
Sirelli. But not in the presence of her husband, you understand.
Agazzi. Yes, making sure she tells the truth!
Sirelli. . . . tell whether she's the daughter of Signora Frola, that is, as we think she must be . . .
Agazzi. . . . or a second wife who is consenting to impersonate the daughter of Signora Frola, as Ponza claims.
Prefect. . . . and as I believe myself, without a shadow of doubt! [Thinking a moment.] Why, I don't see any objection to having her talk. Who could object? Ponza? But Ponza, as I know very well, is more eager than anybody else to have this talk quieted down. He's all upset over this whole business, and said he was willing to do anything I proposed. I'm sure he will raise no objection. So if it will ease the minds of you people here . . . Say, Centuri [The POLICE COMMISSIONER rises.], won't you just ask Ponza to step in here a moment? He's next door with his mother-in-law.
Commissioner. At once, Your Excellency! [He bows and withdraws through the door at the rear.]
Agazzi. Oh well, if he consents . . .
Prefect. He'll consent, all right. And we'll be through with it in a jiffy. We'll bring her right in here so that you people . . .
Agazzi. Here, in my house?
Sirelli. You think he'll let his wife come in here?
Prefect. Just leave it to me, just leave it to me! 1 prefer to have her right here because, otherwise you see, you people would always suppose that I and Ponza had . . .
Agazzi. Oh, please, governor, no! That's not fair!
Sirelli. Oh, no, governor, we trust you implicitly!
Prefect. Oh, I'm not offended, not at all! But you know very well that I'm on his side in this matter; and you'd always be thinking that to hush up any possible scandal in connection with a man in my office . . . No, you see. I must insist on having the interview here . . . Where's your wife, Agazzi?
Agazzi. In the other room, governor, with some other ladies.
Prefect. Other ladies? Aha, I see! [Laughing.] You have a regular detective bureau here, eh? [The POLICE COMMISSIONER enters with PONZA.]
Commissioner. May I come in? Signor Ponza is here. Prefect. Thanks, Centuri. This way, Ponza, come right in! [PONZA bows.]
Agazzi. Have a chair, Ponza. [PONZA bows and sits down.]
Prefect. I believe you know these gentlemen? [PONZA rises and bows.]
Agazzi. Yes, I introduced them yesterday. And this is Laudisi, my wife's brother. [PONZA bows.]
Prefect. I venture to disturb you, my dear Ponza, just to tell you that here with these friends of mine . . . [At the first words of the prefect, PONZA evinces the greatest nervousness and agitation.]
Prefect. Was there something you wanted to say, Ponza?
Ponza. Yes, there is something I want to say, governor. I want to present my resignation here and now.
Prefect. Oh, my dear fellow, I'm so sorry! But just a few moments ago down at the office you were talking . . .
Ponza. Oh, really, this is an outrage, governor! This is just plain persecution, plain persecution!
Prefect. Oh, now, don't take it that way, old man. See here. These good people . . .
Agazzi. Persecution, did you say? On my part? . . . Ponza. On the part of all of you! And I am sick and tired of it! I am going to resign, governor. I refuse to submit to this ferocious prying into my private affairs which will end by undoing a work of love that has cost me untold sacrifice these past two years. You don't know, governor! Why, I've treated that dear old lady in there just as tenderly as though she were my own mother. And yesterday I had to shout at her in the most cruel and terrible way! Why, I found her just now so worked up and excited that . . .
Agazzi. That's queer! While she was in here Signora Frola was quite mistress of herself. If anybody was worked up, Ponza, it was you. And even now, if I might say . . .
Ponza. But you people don't know what you're making me go through!
Prefect. Oh, come, come, my dear fellow, don't take it so hard. After all, I'm here, am I not? And you know I've always stood by you! And I always will!
Ponza. Yes, governor, and I appreciate your kindness, really!
Prefect. And then you say that you're as fond of this poor old lady as you would be if she were your own mother. Well, now, just remember that these good people here seem to be prying into your affairs because they, too, are fond of her! . . .
Ponza. But they're killing her, I tell you, governor! They're killing her, and I warned them in advance.
Prefect. Very well, Ponza, very well! Now we'll get through with this matter in no time. See here, it is all very simple. There is one way that you can convince these people without the least doubt in the world. Oh, not me -- I don't need convincing. I believe you.
Ponza. But they won't believe me, no matter what I say.
Agazzi. That's not so! When you came here after your mother-in-law's first visit and told us that she was mad, all of us . . . well, we were surprised, but we believed you. [Turning to the PREFECT.] But after he left, you understand, the old lady came back . . .
Prefect. Yes, yes, I know. He told me. [Turning to PONZA again.] She came back here and said that she was trying to do with you exactly what you say you were trying to do with her. It's natural, isn't it, that people hearing both stories, should be somewhat confused. Now you see that these good people, in view of what your mother-in-law says, can't possibly be sure of what you say. So there you are. Now, such being the case, you and your mother-in-law -- why, it's perfectly simple -- you two just step aside. Now you know you're telling the truth, don't you? So do I! So you can't possibly object to their hearing the testimony of the only person who does know, aside from you two.
Ponza. And who may that be, pray?
Prefect. Why, your wife!
Ponza. My wife! [Decisively and angrily.] Ah, no! I refuse! Never in the world! Never!
Prefect. And why not, old man?
Ponza. Bring my wife here to satisfy the curiosity of these strangers?
Prefect [sharply]. And my curiosity, too, if you don't mind! What objection can you have?
Ponza. Oh, but governor, no! My wife! Here? No! Why drag my wife in? These people ought to believe me!
Prefect. But don't you see, my dear fellow, that the course you're taking now is just calculated to discredit what you say?
Agazzi. His mistake in the first place, governor, was trying to prevent his mother-in-law from coming here and calling -- a double discourtesy, mark you, to my wife and to my daughter!
Ponza. But what in the name of God do you people want of me? You've been nagging and nagging at that poor old woman next door; and now you want to get your clutches on my wife! No, governor! I refuse to submit to such an indignity! She owes nothing to anybody. My wife is not making visits in this town. You say you believe me, governor? That's enough for me! Here's my resignation! I'll go out and look for another job!
Prefect. No, no, Ponza, I must speak plainly. In the first place I have always treated you on the square; and you have no right to speak in that tone of voice to me. In the second place you are beginning to make me doubt your word by refusing to furnish me -- not other people -- but me, the evidence that I have asked for in your interest, evidence, moreover, that so far as I can see, cannot possibly do you any harm. It seems to me that my colleague here, Signor Agazzi, can ask a lady to come to his house! But no, if you prefer, we'll go and see her.
Ponza. So you really insist, governor?
Prefect. I insist, but as I told you, in your own interest. You realize, besides, that I might have the legal right to question her . . .
Ponza. I see, I see! So that's it! An official investigation! Well, why not, after all? I will bring my wife here, just to end the whole matter. But how can you guarantee me that this poor old lady next door will not catch sight of her?
Prefect. Why, I hadn't thought of that! She does live right next door.
Agazzi [speaking up] . We are perfectly willing to go to Signor Ponza's house.
Ponza. No, no, I was just thinking of you people. I don't want you to play any more tricks on me. Any mistakes might have the most frightful consequences, set her going again!
Agazzi. You're not very fair to us, Ponza, it seems to me.
Prefect. Or you might bring your wife to my office, rather . . .
Ponza. No, no! Since you're going to question her anyway, we might as well get through with it. We'll bring her here, right here. I'll keep an eye on my mother-in-law myself. We'll have her here right away, governor, and get an end of this nonsense once and for all, once and for all! [He hurries away through the rear exit.]
Prefect. I confess I was not expecting so much opposition on his part.
Agazzi. Ah, you'll see. He'll go and cook up with his wife just what she's to say!
Prefect. Oh, don't worry as to that! I'll question the woman myself.
Sirelli. But he's more excited than he's ever been before.
Prefect. Well, I confess I never saw him just in this state of mind. Perhaps it is the sense of outrage he feels in having to bring his wife . . .
Sirelli. In having to let her loose for once, you ought to say!
Prefect. A man isn't necessarily mad because he wants to keep an eye on his wife.
Agazzi. Of course he says it's to protect her from the mother-in-law.
Prefect. I wasn't thinking of just that -- he may be jealous of the woman!
Sirelli. Jealous to the extent of refusing her a servant? For you know, don't you, he makes his wife do all the housework?
Agazzi. And he does all the marketing himself every morning.
Commissioner. That's right, governor! I've had him shadowed. An errand boy from the market carries the stuff as far as the door.
Sirelli. But he never lets the boy inside.
Prefect. Dear me, dear me! He excused himself for that servant business when I took the matter up with him.
Laudisi. And that's information right from the source!
Prefect. He says he does it to save money.
Laudisi. He has to keep two establishments on one salary.
Sirelli. Oh, we weren't criticizing how he runs his house; but I ask you as a matter of common sense: he is a man of some position, and do you think that this second wife of his, as he calls her, who ought to be a lady, would consent to do all the work about the house? . . .
Agazzi. The hardest and most disagreeable work, you understand . . .
Sirelli. . . . just out of consideration for the mother of her husband's first wife?
Agazzi. Oh, I say, governor, be honest now! That doesn't seem probable, does it?
Prefect. I confess it does seem queer . . .
Laudisi. . . . in case this second woman is an ordi. nary woman!
Prefect. Yes, but let's be frank. It doesn't seem reasonable. But yet, one might say -- well, you could explain it as generosity on her part, and even better, as jealousy on his part. Mad or not mad, there is no denying that he's jealous!
[A confused clamor of voices is heard from the next door.]
Agazzi. My, I wonder what's going on in there!
[AMALIA enters from the door on the left in a state of great excitement.]
Amalia. Signora Frola is here!
Agazzi. Impossible! How in the world did she get in? Who sent for her?
Amalia. Nobody! She came of her own accord!
Prefect. Oh, no, please -- just a moment! No! Send her away, madam, please!
Agazzi. We've got to get rid of her. Don't let her in here! We must absolutely keep her out!
[SIGNORA FROLA appears at the door on the left, trembling, beseeching, weeping, a handkerchief in her hand. The people in the next room are crowding around behind her.]
Signora Frola. Oh, please, please! You tell them, Signor Agazzi! Don't let them send me away!
Agazzi. But you must go away, madam! We simply can't allow you to be here now!
Signora Frola [desperately]. Why? Why? [Turning to AMALIA.] I appeal to you, Signora Agazzi.
Amalia. But don't you see? The prefect is there! They're having an important meeting.
Signora Frola. Oh, the prefect! Please, governor, please! I was intending to go and see you.
Prefect. No, I am so sorry, madam. I can't see you just now! You must go away!
Signora Frola. Yes, I am going away. I am going to leave town this very day! I am going to leave town and never come back again!
Agazzi. Oh, we didn't mean that, my dear Signora Frola. We meant that we couldn't see you here, just now, in this room. Do me a favor, please! You can see the governor by and by.
Signora Frola. But why? I don't understand! What's happened!
Agazzi. Why, your son-in-law will soon be here! There, now do you see?
Signora Frola. Oh, he's coming here? Oh, yes, in that case . . . Yes, yes,...I'll go! But there was something I wanted to say to you people. You must stop all this. You must let us alone. You think you are helping me. You are trying to do me a favor; but really, what you're doing is working me a great wrong. I've got to leave town this very day because he must not be aroused. What do you want of him anyway? What are you trying to do to him? Why are you having him come here? Oh, Mr. Governor . . .
Prefect. Come, Signora Frola, don't worry, don't worry. I'll see you by and by and explain everything. You just step out now, won't you?
Amalia. Please, Signora Frola . . . yes, that's right! Come with me!
Signora Frola. Oh, my dear Signora Agazzi, you are trying to rob me of the one comfort I had in life, the chance of seeing my daughter once in a while, at least from a distance! [She begins to weep.]
Prefect. What in the world are you thinking of? We are not asking you to leave town. We just want you to leave this room, for the time being. There, now do you understand?
Signora Frola. But it's on his account, governor . . . it's on his account I was coming to ask you to help him! It was on his account, not on mine!
Prefect. There, there, everything will be all right. We'll take care of him. And we'll have this whole business settled in a jiffy.
Signora Frola. But how . . . how can I be sure? I can see that everybody here hates him. They are trying to do something to him.
Prefect. No, no, not at all! And even if they were, I would look after him. There, there, don't worry, don't worry!
Signora Frola. Oh, so you believe him? Oh, thank you; thank you, sir! That means that at least you understand!
Prefect. Yes, yes, madam, I understand, I understand! And I cautioned all these people here. It's a misfortune that came to him long, long ago. He's all right now! He's all right now!
Signora Frola. . . . Only he must not go back to all those things.
Prefect. You're right, you're quite right, Signora Frola, but as I told you, I understand!
Signora Frola. Yes, governor, that's it! If he compels us to live this way -- wells what does it matter. That doesn't do anybody any harm so long as we're satisfied, and my daughter is happy this way. That's enough for me, and for her! But you'll look after us, governor. They mustn't spoil anything. Otherwise there's nothing left for me except to leave town and never see her again -- never, not even from a distance. You must not irritate him. You must leave him alone. Oh, please!
[At this moment a wave of surprise, anxiety, dismay, sweeps over the company. Everybody falls silent and turns to the door. Suppressed exclamations are audible.]
Voices. Oh! Oh! Look! There she is! Oh! Oh!
Signora Frola [noticing the change in people, and groaning, all of a tremble]. What's the matter? What's the matter?
[The COMPANY divides to either hand. A LADY has appeared at the door in back. She is dressed in deep mourning and her face is concealed with a thick, black, impenetrable veil.]
Signora Frola [uttering a piercing shriek of joy]. Oh, Lena! Lena! Lena! Lena!
[She dashes forward and throws her arms about the veiled woman with the passionate hysteria of a mother who has not embraced her daughter for years and years. But at the same time from beyond the door in the rear another piercing cry comes. PONZA dashes into the room.]
Ponza. No! Julia! Julia! Julia!
[At his voice SIGNORA PONZA draws up stiffly in the arms of SIGNORA FROLA who is clasping her tightly. PONZA notices that his mother-in-law is thus desperately entwined about his wife and he shrieks desperately.]
Ponza. Cowards! Liars! I knew you would! I knew you would! It is just like the lot of you!
Signora Ponza [turning her veiled head with a certain austere solemnity toward her husband]. Don't be afraid! Just take her away! Go!
[SIGNORA FROLA, at these words, turns to her son-in-law and humbly, tremblingly, goes over and embraces him.]
Signora Frola. Yes, yes, you poor boy, come with me, come with me!
[Their arms about each other's waists, and holding each other up affectionately, PONZA and his mother-in-law withdraw through the rear door. They are both weeping. Profound silence in the company. ALL those present stand there with their eyes fixed upon the departing couple. As SIGNORA FROLA and PONZA are lost from view, all eyes turn expectantly upon the veiled lady. Some of the women are weeping.]
Signora Ponza [having looked at them through her veil, speaking with dark solemnity]. What else do you want of me, after this, ladies and gentlemen? There is a misfortune here, as you see, which must stay hidden: otherwise the remedy which our compassion has found cannot avail.
The Prefect [moved]. We want to respect your compassions madam. It's only that we'd like you to tell us . .
Signora Ponza [slowly, and with clear articulation]. Tell you what? The truth? Simply this: I am the daughter of Signora Frola . . .
All [with a happy intake of breath]. Ah!
Signora Ponza. . . . and the second wife of Signor Ponza . . .
All [amazed and disenchanted, quietly]. . . . What?
Signora Ponza [continuing]. . . . and, for myself, I am nobody!
The Prefect. No, no, madam, for yourself you must be either one or the other!
Signora Ponza. No! I am she whom you believe me to be. [She looks at them all through her veil for a moment, then leaves. Silence.]
Laudisi. And there, my friends, you have the truth! [With a look of derisive defiance at them all.] Are you satisfied? [He bursts out laughing.]
[Illustration from Right You Are (a stage version by Eric Bentley), Columbia University Press, 1954, photo by Florence Vandamm. The first one is the correct one -- if it seems that way to you! It shows Edward G. Robinson in the role of Ponza and Beryl Mercer as Signora Frola.]
[The 1950's revival of this play, by Bentley, who was an associate professor at Columbia University, is of particular significance because it came at a time of McCarthyist attacks on American universities -- in 1952 it was staged in the Brattle Theatre near Harvard. Bentley remarks in his introduction, "Pirandello is defending the person against the dehumanizing influence of society. His special care [symbolized by Signora Ponza at the end] is for the sanctity of the intimate affections, the right to possess your soul in peace and privacy. These ideas are as old as Antigone but have become more relevant than ever with the rise of the police state. And it is not just fanatics -- Communists or the persecutors of Communists -- who are open to attack. 'Many of our best friends' have for years been boosting the public interest and the objective fact above the private interest and the subjective fact. The inner life of man has been neglected and mocked, without any perceptible public gain." Bentley in his extensive notes does report that the Brattle Theatre audience laughed after the play's references to "conspiracy" and "subversive activities" to get at the "truth" -- perhaps nervously?]
[Bentley's 1954 book also gives a translation of a short story that is said to be the source for the play, "La signora Frola e il signor Ponza, suo genero," from Novelle per un anno. The ending of the story is even more ambiguous, as Signora Ponza does not appear. The title of this play has been variously rendered in English as "Right You Are (If You Think So!)," "And That's the Truth!," "As You Like It," "And Thinking Makes It So," and "It Is So! (If You Think So)."]
[Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936) received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1934. This play received its world premiere in Milan's Teatro Olimpia, June 18, 1917, and was first published in La nuova antologia in 1918. Arthur Livingston (1883-1944) was professor of Italian at Columbia University]
[For a page in Italian with a short biography and links to the original of this play along with others, please see http://www.liberliber.it/biblioteca/p/pirandello/index.htm ]