I Dream the Woman Electric

Nikola Tesla @ Lukaves

Nikola Tesla @ Lukaves

I Dream the Woman Electric, a love story about the greatest scientist in history, is a play in two acts inspired by the life of Nikola Tesla and written by Jock Doubleday. The scene text found below is an excerpt from the play and has been reprinted with permission from the author. The characters of Young Nikola, Nikola, and Ana are inspired by their corresponding historical figures. Which theater will be the first to produce the play?

 He eliminated love from his life; eliminated women even from his thoughts.

John J. O’Neill, Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla (1944)

Characters
(in order of appearance)

NIKOLA – Nikola Tesla, master of the realm. 45.

ANA – Nikola Tesla’s first love. 17.

YOUNG NIKOLA – Nikola Tesla as a young man. 18.

ACT II

SCENE 1 – Meadow on the outskirts of Smiljan, Austrian Empire

(Lights up on bare stage. Nikola enters momentarily and paces the stage.)

NIKOLA
The Dreamer dreams of a woman he never met in real life. Why does he ignore the many real-life women he has known? Frances Evelyn Greville, Countess of Warwick; Milka Trnina, opera singer; Elsie Ferguson, “Aristocrat of the Screen”; Princess Elizabeta Vilma-Ljvov Parlagi, painter, the only painter to whom he submitted for portrait; May Cline, author of “The Principles of Bird Flight”; Anne Morgan, daughter of financier J.P. Morgan and his faithful advocate and friend. Any of these intelligent, beautiful, interesting women might inhabit his dream. But instead he dreams of a blonde stage actress he never met. Of course, none of these women, real or fictional, could ever compare to Ana . . .

(Ana, an etheric brunette, 17, enters. Lights fade to half on Nikola. Ana meanders through a meadow on a partly cloudy day on the outskirts of Smiljan.)

Smiljan @ xbrchx

Smiljan @ xbrchx

ANA
(To herself)
The earth bisects the sky. Or does the sky bisect the earth? Hm. . . . Which is stronger, earth or sky? One is dense, compact, but the sky contains this hard, heavy ball without any seeming effort! . . . . How does yellow sunlight produce green grass? And, when green grass is denied sunlight, why does it turn yellow like the sun?! . . . There should be a book listing mysteries and their possible answers. Hmm. . . . Does a bird sing without thought, or does he know his melody? Is a bird more sophisticated than a person? Birds sing and fly and build nests . . . and people sit in school and look out the window and are occasionally allowed to go outside and jump into a mud puddle. Which is smarter? A frog or a person? A frog is content in a mud puddle, but a young boy destroys it by repeated splashing and then wishes he could have it back again, and a young girl tries to see her reflection but sees only mud.

(Young Nikola enters in hunter’s garb and hides behind a tree before Ana sees him.)

ANA (CONT’D)
I will compose a poem titled, “Nuances of the Day.” All birds will be included, as will clouds and frogs and . . . Everything that is true will be included.
(Clearing her throat)
The tree . . .
(Shrugging)
That’s the truth! “The tree.” There it is!!
(Continuing)
The tree . . . stands — But can we say it stands? A man stands, yes. But a tree . . . we must say reaches down with its roots deep into the earth and stretches up into the sky. Thus: The tree, quietly — unlike noisemaking man — reaches down into the damp earth and stretches up into the . . . Of course, reaching and stretching are conscious things. Humanity reaches consciously for the stars, strives to sing the notes upon the page, consciously, but in striving often fails. A tree cannot fail. Growing, being, is not a conscious endeavor. A bird cannot fail. His flight is always perfect, in all possible winds on all possible days —

(She notices Young Nikola’s boot partially hidden by the tree.)

ANA (CONT’D)
A foot! And yet, we cannot say it is a foot! It is a boot! A hunter’s boot! We merely assume there is a foot inside this hunter’s boot, and assumption will not bring us closer to the truth.

(Young Nikola appears and bows.)

YOUNG NIKOLA
Good day.

ANA
Good day.

YOUNG NIKOLA
It is a fine day.

ANA
Indeed it is. And what would a young man such as yourself be doing in this green meadow far from town on this fine day?

YOUNG NIKOLA
Listening to a young woman compose a poem.

ANA
Oh. You are not out hunting?

YOUNG NIKOLA
No. In fact, I am escaping the Draft, today.

ANA
Ahh.

YOUNG NIKOLA
I am embarrassed to say it. My family is not happy with my decision. But I feel that it is a necessity, for reasons that are long to tell. Thus, today, I have endeavored to make myself look like a hunter, in case anyone should stop me on the way to Tomingaj.

ANA
Near Gračac?

YOUNG NIKOLA
Yes.

ANA
Shh! . . . You are on an adventure!

YOUNG NIKOLA
I do not like killing, nor do I want to be killed, for reasons that are probably obvious. I want to do great things!

ANA
Let me guess. In architecture? . . . Philosophy? . . . Art?

YOUNG NIKOLA
I love all of these subjects. But I have a special interest in —

ANA
Don’t tell me! . . . Let’s see: You have eyes that speak of a vast intelligence —

YOUNG NIKOLA
I could not be vastly intelligent because I am still young.

ANA
Ah, but your eyes are not young. My mother says I have a special gift of insight — that I can tell what people are at the very core of them. I will divine your true nature, sir.

YOUNG NIKOLA
No one has ever done that!

ANA
Then this is a special day for you. . . . I notice, first, that you are the best-dressed hunter I have ever seen. Immaculate! Even your gun is clean!

YOUNG NIKOLA
I am quite particular about my habits.

ANA
I believe that your hunter’s outfit, hanging on your frame on the outside for us to see, tells the perfect truth about your inside, your soul. You are very clean on the inside, sir. This I believe. Scrubbed. The fabric of your soul is like new linen. And with your linen soul, your crisp and textured self, you stride into the world seeking something — something. What is it you seek, sir?

YOUNG NIKOLA
It is difficult to explain . . .

ANA
Something elemental . . .

YOUNG NIKOLA
Yes . . .

ANA
Perhaps — the larger fabric from which we are cut?

YOUNG NIKOLA
Yes. Yes! Fabric! Fabric! That is exactly right! The fabric of the universe! This is what I seek. Your mother was right!

ANA
You are a natural Philosopher. The Aristotle of the Austrian Empire.

YOUNG NIKOLA
Ha ha ha, simply a seeker in the expansive world.

ANA
Mmhmm . . .

YOUNG NIKOLA
I humbly hope one day to hold the title of “Engineer.” Beyond seeking, I want to build my own world within the larger one. It is so exciting to —

(Ana sniffs the air.)

ANA
A storm is coming. You should be on your way, good sir. You do not want to get your beautiful clothes wet.

YOUNG NIKOLA
(Disappointed)
Well . . .

ANA
Do you think the world has always had lightning?

YOUNG NIKOLA
Yes!

ANA
What about snow?

YOUNG NIKOLA
Um . . . possibly. Do you like snow?

ANA
I have always wondered if it is ecstasy for a raindrop to become a snowflake.

YOUNG NIKOLA
That is quite —

ANA
To become suddenly crystalized. Have you wondered this, sir?

YOUNG NIKOLA
Uh, well —

ANA
I have often wondered if snow remembers its life as rain. And I wonder if rain remembers its life before the cloud . . . when it was in the ocean or in the rivers or drifting in a pond. I wonder if flowers mind snow very much, especially when their delicate petals have just appeared. Do flowers have a name for snow? Does snow have a taste that flowers like? If a flower were to write a poem about snow, what would it write?

YOUNG NIKOLA
Put a pen in a flower’s hand —

ANA
Exactly.

YOUNG NIKOLA
I do not know many young people who care about the world. Most of the young people I know are bullies and care nothing for knowledge. This is why I chose to escape the war, because bullies grow up and become leaders, and then they lead us off a cliff . . .

ANA
I want to write a book of questions, and when I am finished, I will answer them, for no one else can.

YOUNG NIKOLA
Ha ha, good. I have questions, too.

ANA
Like what?

YOUNG NIKOLA
Why have we created guns before we have created flying machines?

ANA
Ha ha.

YOUNG NIKOLA
When we have created flying machines, will we ever wish to walk again, or will we only wish to soar and soar, forever? Are mechanical wings the answer to the problem of human flight, or are vessels in the sky the answer?

ANA
Men and women flying with wings like angels! Sailing ships in the oceans of the air! . . . I think you and I are like wolves on the outskirts of the village. And back home, our friends and family sit huddled like sheep, waiting for our fangs!

YOUNG NIKOLA
I will not be home for a long time.

ANA
I would not eat my sister. She is too young — and too cute! Cuter than I.

YOUNG NIKOLA
You are very beautiful.

ANA
Are you certain?

YOUNG NIKOLA
I think so. Yes. I’m certain.

ANA
(Sincerely)
I’ve wondered. There’s no way to discover if one is beautiful. This is the only question one cannot answer for oneself.

YOUNG NIKOLA
I feel like I’m dreaming, to meet such a beautiful woman.

ANA
I’m not a woman, yet. . . .
“My skirts are not out /
Of that, there’s no doubt.”
A poem, by me.

YOUNG NIKOLA
I do not know what it means for your skirts to be out.

ANA
Like petals. Blooming.

YOUNG NIKOLA
Oh. I think you have bloomed quite well! But whatever you are, flower or woman, I am in love with you.

ANA
No no no! I do nothing but read books! And sleep! I am nothing! No one!

YOUNG NIKOLA
I think books make you someone. I’ve read hundreds of books.

ANA
Hundreds . . . !

YOUNG NIKOLA
Yes. I am sad because there are too many books for me to read in one lifetime. But only a few books have reached my soul . . .

ANA
Yes. Mine, too.

(A long moment as they regard each other.)

YOUNG NIKOLA
I would like to introduce myself. My name is —

ANA
No no no no! DO NOT SPEAK YOUR NAME!!

YOUNG NIKOLA
What?

ANA
A name is a prison for the soul!

YOUNG NIKOLA
Oh. But —

ANA
No!

YOUNG NIKOLA
But — I am in love with you.

ANA
That is impossible! Only a tree or a bird or a frog could be in love with me. Are you a tree? A tree can see beyond the horizon —

YOUNG NIKOLA
I want to see beyond the horizon . . .

ANA
And a bird —

YOUNG NIKOLA
Can fly —

ANA
Of course. But even better, a bird can sing. Do you have a song like birds, sir?

YOUNG NIKOLA
I do a very good frog.

ANA
Is there a song that rises from your breast so beautiful that all of nature is entranced? We are not talking about the croak of a frog, sir. We are talking about a melody of ornithological making, a melody irrepressible, joyful, unapologetic, swift, uniquely yours, uniquely exciting. Do you have such a song, sir? Will you sing it for me?

YOUNG NIKOLA
(Humming a minor melody)
Hmm, hmmm hmmm hmmm. hmmm hmmm hmmm hmmm hmmm . . .

ANA
Humming is not singing.

YOUNG NIKOLA
(Singing the melody)
Laaa, laaa laaaa laaa, laaa laaa laaa laaa . . .

ANA
A new species of bird, perhaps? The Hunter-Sparrow, we would call him?

YOUNG NIKOLA
I —

(Ana runs toward the wings.)

YOUNG NIKOLA (CONT’D)
Where are you going?

ANA
I must fly! You are a lovely bird, and an acceptable human, but I must go home!

(Ana exits.)

YOUNG NIKOLA
Wait!! What is your name?

(Ana re-enters.)

ANA
If I tell you my name, good sir, will you promise not to call it out?

YOUNG NIKOLA
I —

ANA
Never to say it out loud?

YOUNG NIKOLA
I —

ANA
Never, ever!

YOUNG NIKOLA
I promise! I promise!

(Ana walks over to him, stands on tip-toe, and whispers in his ear.)

YOUNG NIKOLA (CONT’D)
Shall I whisper my name in your ear, too?

ANA
Well, on the one hand, there would be a pleasant feeling of balance — as our ears would similarly hold a whisper. But on the other hand, what if I call your name out in my sleep, one night, and everyone in the village hears?

YOUNG NIKOLA
No one will hear but me, because I am always up late reading, while everyone else is asleep. And if they did hear, you could just say, “It was only a dream!”

ANA
Mine or theirs?

YOUNG NIKOLA
Either one!

ANA
Then, good sir, you may speak your name softly in my ear — but very very softly, so even the birds don’t hear. Even the bending grass should remain ignorant.

(Young Nikola whispers in Ana’s ear.)

ANA (CONT’D)
We are imprisoned, good sir. Do you know?

(Ana blows him a quick kiss and runs offstage. Lights come down half on pensive Young Nikola. Lights up full on Nikola.)

Electric spark @ Manudnt

Electric spark @ Manudnt

NIKOLA
(To audience)
She married another. . . . I kept her name secret for many years, even from myself.

(Lights fade fully on Young Nikola, who exits just before darkness falls. Ana re-enters.)

ANA
(Entering)
Nikola, I am sorry.

NIKOLA
I am sorry, too.

ANA
You will not speak my name?

NIKOLA
I have forgotten it.

ANA
You have never been far from my thoughts. But you went to university. I did not know —

NIKOLA
If I would return?

ANA
You did not write me!

NIKOLA
I did not want to spoil the perfection of that day.

ANA
A letter would spoil it?!

NIKOLA
So I thought.

ANA
You were planning to return? To me?

NIKOLA
Yes.

ANA
If only I had known! I did not know — even if you were alive!

(A long moment.)

ANA (CONT’D)
Nikola, I did not mean to bring you sorrow. Would you like to pretend, for a moment, that we are still young? that we are back in the meadow, that day, on the outskirts of Smiljan?

NIKOLA
I do not think it is wise.

ANA
Because you are — angry?

NIKOLA
Because I am older. I do not wish to pretend. That was long ago. . . . And this is just a dream. I am 45 years old, and you are 17.

ANA
I did not think of that! Ahhh, I see. Whose dream is it? Yours or mine?

NIKOLA
Mine, I believe.

ANA
You will not kiss me — even in your own dream?

(A moment.)

ANA (CONT’D)
Ha ha, you are very disciplined. But this is the way of the scientist, yes?

(She approaches him.)

ANA (CONT’D)
And if I simply place myself in your arms? . . .

(She slides slowly into his arms.)

ANA (CONT’D)
(Shrugs)
The Dreamer compels me. . . .
(Whispering)
Is it terrible to have me in your arms, Nikola? Does it feel like we’re pretending?

(A long moment as they hold each other. Nikola does not answer.)

ANA (CONT’D)
Do you see the birds? The crows?

NIKOLA
No.

ANA
All the crows? You do not see them?

(Nikola shakes his head.)

ANA (CONT’D)
They are flying! Flying!

NIKOLA
I am . . . slipping . . .

ANA
Slipping? Kiss me quickly!

NIKOLA
I feel the need for oxygen. I cannot breathe . . .

ANA
We must kiss, Nikola! Hurry! We may never meet again! Even in dream! Kiss me!! Kiss me!!

(Before they can kiss, she and Nikola are pulled away from each other by invisible forces.)

ANA (CONT’D)
There is too much fog, Nikola! I cannot see you! . . . Nikola! . . . Call my name! . . . I know you haven’t forgotten!!

(A moment.)

NIKOLA
(Finally)
Ana! . . . Ana! . . . Ana! . . . Ana! . . .

(Lights down slowly on Nikola calling.)

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