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EXCERPT FROM THE ACQUISITION A Full-Length Play By Stephen Bittrich
CONTACT ME FOR A FULL COPY. 3 SCENES ONLY - FROM VARIOUS POINTS IN THE PLAY.
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Copyright © 2006,
by Stephen Bittrich
(Draft: November, 2006)
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"THE ACQUISITION" BY STEPHEN BITTRICH Act I, Scene 1 SETTING: The sprawling grounds of WILLIAM AINSWORTH's Willowbrook Estate near Bishops Waltham in the county of Hampshire. September 10th of 1815. AT RISE: JULIA HIGHTOWER, 20s, handsome, proud and clearly distraught, paces about the garden. AINSWORTH, late 30ish, rich and rakishly handsome, enters the lengthening evening shadows and observes her a moment before he speaks. AINSWORTH There you are Miss Hightower. I was beginning to think I'd be called upon to fish you from the trout stream. JULIA Beg your pardon, I required a bit of air. AINSWORTH Ah, yes. Lovely evening for it. (pause) And are you sufficiently pleased with the grounds of Willowbrook? JULIA Of course. AINSWORTH Splendid--then you approve? JULIA Who could find fault with...the grounds, Mr. Ainsworth? AINSWORTH No indeed. No indeed. (beat) But then I derive from your careful inflection that there is that at Willowbrook which you could find fault with, Miss Hightower. JULIA I--I cannot-- AINSWORTH Ah, tush, tush, not another word of it. (beat) Beautiful, clear night. Did you take in the full moon rising above the peat bogs? JULIA I marked it. AINSWORTH Dramatic indeed. (pause) You know, Miss Hightower, I rather blush to say, but the highlight of my trip to Sussex this summer was not the tedious family business which beckoned me thither, no, no, but rather my brief sojourn in Heathfield and the various social gatherings during which I was privileged to make the acquaintance of you and your family. JULIA (with a taste of irony) It was a thrilling season. AINSWORTH And during the picnic at Lady Woolcock's estate I must confess I was incredibly smitten with your wonderful charcoal sketches of the countryside. It is thrilling indeed to discover a woman of such varied and studied accomplishment. Upon leaving there, I admit, I could think of not much else for sometime...but you...and your beautiful sketches. JULIA You flatter, Mr. Ainsworth. AINSWORTH No, indeed, I do not. From very early in our acquaintanceship, I very greatly wished to be...connected to you and your great talent--to have some ownership in it. JULIA Ownership? AINSWORTH And when your family took lodgings in Hampshire late in the summer it seamed a fortuitous event indeed. JULIA Quite fortuitous. I must return to the house, Mr. Ainsworth. It grows cold. AINSWORTH Then let me warm you, Ms. Hightower...Julia. JULIA No-- AINSWORTH Please, take my coat. JULIA I fear the chill has deeply set in. There is no remedy you can provide. AINSWORTH (relinquishing all false civility) I grow weary of these intrigues and double entendres. I am not a stupid man, Miss Hightower. I know the particulars for your family's visit. Plainly, your parents mean to parade you about polite society as a farmer at the county fair flaunts his choicest pig-- JULIA Mr. Ainsworth! AINSWORTH --but, and please excuse my audacious candor, you won't be winning any ribbons, I'm sorry to say, nor any husbands either for that matter, because, as sordid as it may be, there are scurrilous and unseemly tongues that wag this way and that 'round this tiny little hamlet. And they wag, Miss Hightower, about you. (JULIA appears almost dizzy from AINSWORTH's utter lack of decorum) JULIA I'm sure...I'm sure I haven't the faintest notion-- AINSWORTH You are a marked woman. There it is. Sorry to be the bearer of ill tidings. But there 'tis. You may as well sew your old maid's weeds forthwith because no suitors of any repute will be knocking at your door. JULIA How dare you, sir! AINSWORTH I dare, Miss Hightower. I am the first born son of the wealthiest man in Christendom. In all truthfulness, mere social convention is a paltry constraint for my sizeable wealth and stature. I dare... because I can. The fates, however, have been less kind to you. Being without a male sibling, your birthright, such that it is, has been entailed away, and your future, but for the unsecured and certainly meager offerings of an obscure male relative, can promise nothing more than abject poverty. JULIA (after a beat, regaining her composure) And yet...I do not tremble, Mr. Ainsworth. AINSWORTH (after a beat, taking her in) And yet you do not. There is much to be admired in you, Julia. JULIA And much to be abhorred in you. AINSWORTH And still...such an abhorred man as I might yet be your salvation. (beat) I like you, Julia. JULIA Mr. Ainsworth, you've said quite enough. AINSWORTH Are you surprised? Yes, I like you. You are as handsome a specimen as ever I've seen, lively and energetic, talented in music and art, intelligent almost to a fault. These attributes, I daresay, when matched with my own myriad graces, could well produce exceptionally pleasing off-spring. JULIA Thank you for you astute observations, Mr. Ainsworth, but despite your previous reference to prized livestock, you'll be surprised to learn, I am no farm animal. Producing "exceptionally pleasing off-spring" is not my life's chief objective. AINSWORTH (ignoring and pressing on) Be assured, I am not looking for love, Julia, and I am quite certain that you do not love me. However, I do require a wife, a partner, in the business of expanding my honorable lineage. It is a grand, unbroken line spanning centuries before me, and I am called upon to bid adieu to the temptations and distractions of my youth and perform my family duty. I see you as a worthy candidate. JULIA Mr. Ainsworth, though your described partnership of convenience is no doubt brimming with fruitful promise, you will be shocked to discover your eloquent declaration of affection met with rejection. I hope the disappointment will not linger with you for long. Good evening, sir. (SHE starts to leave, and HE cuts her off) AINSWORTH Julia, certainly you are not ignorant of what I can offer a woman such as yourself in a "partnership of convenience" as you describe it. Not that I care a jot for social mores, but you cannot be completely unaware that your very reputation has recently been called into question. Your association with a local artist, a certain Monsieur Legard, whose name alone inspires suspicion, is fatty meat for the maw of outrage, namely, the elder matrons of Bishops Waltham. JULIA My association with the gifted Mr. Legard is of my concern alone-- AINSWORTH Unjust, I know. Your guilt in this acquaintance, real or imagined, pure or impure, has set you alone and adrift at sea. And I alone am your last hope for security, Ms. Hightower. JULIA Really, Mr. Ainsworth, I think you missed your calling. Prize pigs, gristle filled maws, adrift at sea. It seems you have a bent toward the poetic. But perhaps you should have said, "I alone might offer a sturdy mast and sail"...or "I alone am a fruitful uncharted isle in your course" or better still "I alone am the God Poseidon deigning to grant fair seas for your passage home." AINSWORTH Perhaps I might have. JULIA Mr. Legard, whom, as you have intimated, is of French heritage is in fact as true an Englishman as you or I. He is my friend, and his skill with either brush or chisel is equal to anything I have seen displayed in the National Gallery. I admire his talent. AINSWORTH Yes, I agree he is talented. I've seen his nudes. He's an eye for detail. (SHE starts again to leave. HE grabs her arm) JULIA Mr. Ainsworth, you will let go my arm! AINSWORTH (pulling her close) The deal is sealed, Ms. Hightower. Your parents have already accepted my offer of matrimony and despite social proprieties dictating the contrary, have accepted a generous gift of real estate in this accord. You have been sold-- JULIA --I will not bow-- AINSWORTH Nay, but you will! As I said, Miss Hightower. You have been sold. I possess the painting! JULIA Wh-what did you say? AINSWORTH I possess the painting. And I think you must know the one I mean. JULIA Impossible... AINSWORTH (quiet and vicious, in her ear) It did not come cheaply. (beat) You now sit precariously on the edge of ruin. If you do not accept my magnanimous offer, you will suffer the pangs of social ignominy that only an itinerant leper might endure. And moreover, I am quite certain that Mr. Legard will never in his short career see profit from a single painting in all of Hampshire. You will give me satisfaction. (The Willowbrook Rectory bell tolls 6 times during the course of the following exchange) JULIA Have you no heart? Have you no soul? I--I love him. AINSWORTH I know. (beat) The rectory bell begs the question...will we be married? (Before Julia can answer, the lights fade to black) (END OF SCENE)
Later in the play...
Act I, Scene 10 SETTING: A park on Lady Woolcock's estate in Sussex. August 15th of 1815. AT RISE: JULIA and ANNA WORTHINGTON, 17 garrulous and silly, but possessing an untapped wisdom, sketch in the grass. ANNA Oh! It's no use. I cannot draw a tree, Julia. It looks like a great ugly bush. How you can sit and draw sticks and grass with such passion is an astonishing feat of magic. JULIA Draw what you see. You will improve. ANNA Yes, that's what I'm afraid of. I cannot imagine an undertaking more frightfully boring. JULIA Perhaps then you should take up the flute. ANNA The flute? Oh no, no, no. I shouldn't be able to sing whilst playing the flute. Fine gentlemen like young ladies who sing. JULIA Do they indeed? ANNA It has been my experience. JULIA I think, Anna, at 17, you may have a vast many more experiences that may surprise you. Just wait and see. ANNA Oh, there's no improving it! (after a beat, frustrated) Should we not return to the picnic, Julia? I fear this self imposed isolation may well be construed as a slight to Lady Woolcock-- JULIA Go then if you wish, Anna. ANNA --not a woman one would wish to neglect, I assure you. Well, I cannot leave you alone. JULIA Why can you not? I wish to draw, and you have made it perfectly clear that drawing holds no great interest or importance for you. You should make your escape while you can. ANNA Because, my dear cousin, you need me as your protector. JULIA Do I? Against whom may I ask? ANNA Why against Mr. Ainsworth, of course. JULIA Oh him. Humph. ANNA Do not tell me that you do not find him handsome. JULIA Very well then, I shall not. ANNA ...and do not forget charming...and rich. JULIA I will concede that he is rich. He's conveyed that plainly enough in his dress and manner, and I have no reason to disbelieve it. ANNA And why should he not convey that in his dress and manner? He is a man of distinction and class. Should he instead wear the garb of a tradesman and speak in a lowly accent? Or...perhaps he should cover himself in paint splatters and speak of-- (quoting LEGARD) --"capturing that which is vulnerable in art." JULIA You are not so old, dear Anna, that I might not put you over my knee and give you a sound spanking. ANNA You wouldn't dare! (AINSWORTH enters) AINSWORTH What would she not dare, Miss Worthington? ANNA Mr. Ainsworth! Just in time. You must save me from my cousin. She has threatened to spank me if I let slip certain secrets that she holds locked inside her heart. JULIA Anna! AINSWORTH Well, this is most intriguing! But I shan't inquire what these dark secrets are, Miss Worthington, as I do not wish to see you spanked...nor I do not wish to see Miss Hightower in the slightest compromised. ANNA You are a gentleman, Mr. Ainsworth, even if my cousin does not...that is to say...oh, never mind. JULIA Yes, never mind indeed. AINSWORTH And what do you sketch most intently, Miss Hightower? May I be permitted to see? JULIA Merely sticks and grass, nothing more. AINSWORTH I should be most honored to view your sticks and grass. JULIA Very well. (AINSWORTH kneels beside her) ANNA Mr. Ainsworth, you shall sully your beautiful clothes on the bare ground. AINSWORTH No matter. Is that not the aim of a country picnic, to take some of the earth back with you on your clothes...and in your heart. (JULIA nearly rolls her eyes at this. It is not much more sentimental than that which LEGARD has sincerely uttered to her on occasion, and yet coming from AINSWORTH, SHE finds it ridiculous) AINSWORTH (cont'd) Let me see what you have created, Miss Hightower. JULIA Very well. (SHE hands over her sketch) AINSWORTH Thank you. (AINSWORTH is clearly taken aback. HE had not expected JULIA to possess such talent) ANNA You see, Julia, he is speechless, so smitten is he...with your great talent with...trees. JULIA It's quite all right Mr. Ainsworth. You needn't heed any ridiculous utterance emanating from my cousin's over-taxed mouth. AINSWORTH I must see more. JULIA Sorry? AINSWORTH I must see more of your drawings. Have you a portfolio of your work? JULIA I've not--I do have a collection of drawings, but I've not it with me. Why are you so interested, Mr. Ainsworth? ANNA Perhaps he is a lover of great art. JULIA Then he would hardly feel the need to see my portfolio. AINSWORTH I am indeed a lover and collector of art, among other things, though I do not profess to be an expert in what makes a composition noteworthy. I do not know "what is art." But I do know what pleases me, and your hand pleases me greatly, Miss Hightower. I am intrigued. I feel I need...a wider spectrum of your work to truly judge your merits as an artist. JULIA With all due respect, Mr. Ainsworth, I do not undertake these artistic diversions to be judged. It is merely for my own amusement and edification. (beat) But if you insist, I shall send you my portfolio for you perusal. AINSWORTH Thank you, but you mustn't send it to me. There is that danger that the precious cargo may be lost or damaged. No, no, I will call upon you and your family in person. Do you have any fixed engagements tomorrow? Or might I pay a visit in the afternoon? JULIA (somewhat reluctantly) We have no...fixed engagements. ANNA Nor have I. AINSWORTH Then you must stay the night at your cousin's, Miss Worthington, and I shall call upon the both of you at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. (HE rises) AINSWORTH (cont'd) Well, I must pay my respects to the rest of Mrs. Woolcock's party. I have not seen many of them in all of three years. To my duty. (JULIA is about to rise and bow) AINSWORTH (cont'd) Please do not rise, Miss Hightower. Continue your drawing. Ladies, until tomorrow. (HE bows slightly) JULIA Mr. Ainsworth. (ANNA curtsies) ANNA Mr. Ainsworth. (AINSWORTH exits) ANNA (cont'd) Oh, oh, oh, can you believe it, Julia? JULIA (continuing her drawing) Keep your composure, Anna. He will hear you. ANNA He will call upon you, Julia, and he will fall in love with you, and then you will marry. JULIA And then we will all eat cheese upon the moon. Don't be silly. ANNA And why mightn't he fall in love with you, Julia? JULIA Because he is very rich, and the rich need other rich people to increase their fortunes. And if he did harbor even the embers of such feelings, they would certainly die from lack of nurture, as I have no particular feelings for him, polite and rich though he may be. ANNA And why do you not have particular feelings for someone who is perfectly good? JULIA Because he is perfectly good. Perfect in every way he is... but there is something hollow in his manner. I cannot read his true nature, his true passion. ANNA I suppose you prefer penniless artists who talk endlessly about their passions. JULIA That's quite enough. Poor in pocket or poor in character. I choose the former. ANNA I am sure you do. Until your stomach grumbles, then perhaps your bent will be to the latter. (beat) And I think you are wrong about Mr. Ainsworth, Julia. I think there is some great secret passion in him, just below his genteel manner, that may yet be revealed. (beat) I do believe it. (The lights fade to black) (END OF SCENE AND ACT)
Later in the play...
Act II, Scene 2 SETTING: AINSWORTH's Willowbrook Estate in Hampshire. September 27th of 1815. The bedroom of the new MRS. AINSWORTH on the night of the wedding. AT RISE: JULIA readies herself for bed. AINSWORTH can be heard shouting OFF STAGE. AINSWORTH (O.S.) Julia! Julia! (AINSWORTH bursts in, coat off, shirt loose at the collar, breathing heavily, a bit nervous) JULIA What do you mean, sir, bursting into my bed chamber? Did I not bid you good night? AINSWORTH I--I trust you are comfortable. JULIA What do you want? AINSWORTH You are my wife. I believe some familiarity is commonplace. JULIA I am tired from the journey. AINSWORTH Yes. Is there anything I may do for your present comfort? JULIA Leave me. (HE lingers) JULIA (cont'd) Well...what do you desire? AINSWORTH I-I desire what husbands through the ages have desired from new wives. (HE advances on her and kisses her deeply. SHE does not resist, but when HE has drunk his fill, HE pulls away, and SHE looks upon him coldly and speaks with utter calm) JULIA Though you may indeed view me as a prize that you might keep upon a shelf or hang upon your wall, I am in fact a living breathing woman with a mind and soul unique to all the world, and singularly my own--never to belong to another--unless I so choose. You may never touch this about me. You may never own this about me. This truth is sound and immutable. (HE releases her and backs away. HE looks at her for a long moment, then turns out of the room without a word) (The lights fade to black) (END OF SCENE)
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