For the Master Actor’s Workshop, Denver, CO.
The Last Night of Vera Renzci
Michael D. Kelleher
Approximate time period: 1921.
Location: Eastern Europe.
Plot synopsis: From the life of Vera Renczi, a female serial killer who poisoned a number of husbands and lovers, then entombed them in Zinc coffins in her basement.
Solo performance time: Approximately 5 minutes.
Demonstration: Range and versatility in a time period other than contemporary for a female of middle age.
Props: Glass of wine, wooden rocking chair, stage bare.
Enter stage left with glass in hand. Momentary pause. Scan ahead toward stage right. Sit down slowly in the chair. Sigh. Somber.]
Good evening, love. Good evening to each of you . . .
Sips from the glass, raises it in a toast.]
If I could only remember you more clearly . . . your face . . . your faces. Something more than these nine Zinc coffins, precious as they are. Something more warm and strong, the way you were before you came here. I am sorry, but I cannot recall your face . . . your faces.
Too many years have gone by since I held you and made love with you.
I am sorry . . .
[Scans ahead slowly, briefly examining each of the coffins.]
I cannot now regret what I’ve done to you over these many years. It was, after all, a way of showing you my love, my deepest, more pure, most true love. It was my gift to you. And, yes, it was a way of keeping you close to me, down here . . . forever, until this time came.
I am so sorry, love, that it all must end so soon.
[Pauses momentarily, dreamily, as if remembering.]
Was it painful, love? I’ve been told that it was not, and I pray that this was true. I’ve been told that it was like gently falling away, like slipping dreamily into the open arms of your only love.
Was it as they said? A certain numbness, a kind of sleepy tingling that started in your toes and fingers, and slithered pleasantly and easily along your skin like a warm, persistent summer breeze.
Was it like that, love? I’ve been told that this is true, and now I will know. I loved you too much to give you pain after pleasure. I cared for each of you too much for that.
I pray that what they told me of your last days, those precious hours, was true . . . true for each of you . . . and now true for me.
[Sips from glass.]
The doctors were so kind and understanding. Do you recall? They took their time to explain to me that you felt little pain, hardly any fear . . . none of you.
Just a falling away . . .
They remarked about my love and my devotion to you. Do you recall? They whispered to each other . . . How I would stay by your side, nurse you as best as I could . . . even keep you clean when they, themselves, would recoil from the stench.
I did that for you, love, for each of you in your proper turn, when the time was right, when I knew that I had you for myself . . . forever . . .
When the time came that you wanted to be mine . . . forever.
I was there, at your bed, love. There every day, each evening. There when you awoke in the night, coughing and with spasms so violent that I could not hold down your writhing arms. There, in those final moments, my hand in yours, my face close to yours, my breath on your cheek and yours on mine.
Finally, when you left me, when it was that time, I brought you down here, to our secret place, to love you in our special way, each of you, without intrusion or questions.
It was my greatest gift—my devotion to you.
[Voice stronger now.]
Now, love, there is something I must say to you . . . to each of you. It is about the dark time that we knew would someday come, and I am so very, very sorry . . .
[Raises glass toward ceiling, voice very strong.]
Up there, they are talking and chattering, and meeting in their pitiful hovels, in their dark corners, over their empty beds. The evil bitches . . . the ones who claimed you first, who said they loved you but gave you nothing of themselves! Those who would call themselves “wives.” Now, they are talking. Their cruelty is unfathomable! They have called me whore . . . the whore of Leeds, and a cruel murderess.
They have said that it is I who never loved you!
They are liars! Whores!
I loved each of you . . . loved you without limit, without compromise . . .
Without chattering in hovels and dark corners.
I loved you . . .
[Sips from the glass, stands, steps forward. Gently moves a hand across a coffin. Pauses momentarily, voice soft.]
It is worse, love. Much worse.
They have brought the Constable here, into our holy bedroom. He waits even now, at the top of the stairs. Can you hear him breathing and shuffling his feet, so anxious to have me?
They have told him what they believe to be true, what they want to be true—that I have killed you, not loved you. They want us to be forever apart. They want you back in their cold sheets, or in their cold, barren, childless ground.
But you are still mine . . . each of you.
[Thrusts an arm angrily upward.]
The bitches and whores are up there, not down here!
They know nothing of love!
They’ve mistaken your bed for your heart, my love . . . for each of you. They do not know how willingly you gave your love, nor how happily I took it from them!
[Voice very soft, tearful.]
Now . . . They have ended it for us.
Ended it for all of us . . .
[Returns to chair and sips from the glass. Moment.]
I am so sorry, love . . . so sorry to leave you here, in this frigid place, with no one left to care for you. This is not what I had hoped for us.
[Glances up momentarily, voice much stronger now.]
But I have something of a surprise for them!
Whores! Bitches! Men in dress blues with thick, curled mustaches and frozen hearts!
I have something just for them . . .
They will not rip us away from the place that we have shared for so long! They never loved you as I did, and they cannot hope to discover in death what they never valued in life.
They are the whores and bitches, not I! They only played at love, without commitment, without giving themselves to you . . . each of you. They could never know the wondrous, passionate love that only death can bring!
[Final sip from glass.]
I am so sorry, love.
I cannot go with the Constable tonight. I cannot face that cruelty, so far away from you, in a place where we cannot meet each evening as we do. I cannot abide the bitches and whores from whom you fled to my side!
I am not theirs, and neither are you . . . each of you!
So, love, I am joining you now, tonight, to take you away from these whores and bitches, and heartless men; to take you away from this dank basement, to take you to a warmer place where we can begin again . . . and alone.
Each of you . . .
[Head falls to chest, glass falls to floor. Close.]