In 1980, The Salt Lake Acting Company presentedCURSE OF THE STARVING CLASS. In this play by Sam Shepard, James Morrison played Wesley.
Wesley, in sweatshirt, jeans and cowboy boots picks up pieces of a broken door and throws
them methodically into an old wheelbarrow. Ella, Wesleys mother, enters the kitchen.
She is a small woman wearing a bathrobe and pink fuzzy slippers, and her hair is in
rollers. She winds an alarm clock as she sleepily watches Wesley. Last night, Ella locked
her drunken husband out of the house, and he broke down the door trying to get in.
"Did you call the cops?" Wesley asks her. -- "Yes," she tells him. -- W: "He wasnt threatening you?" -- E: "He broke the door down!" -- W: "He was trying to get in." -- E: "He could have climbed through the window." -- W: "He was drunk! Its humiliating to have the cops come to your home. Makes me feel like were someone else. Like were in trouble or something." Ella assures him that it is his father whos in trouble, not them.
Ella starts to cook breakfast as Wesley returns to his chore. He notices that the Packard is gone and wonders if his father is staying in a hotel somewhere.
Emma, Wesleys younger sister, comes into the kitchen. She has her 4-H uniform on and is carrying a bunch of charts. Her project was to make a chart showing the correct way to cut up a chicken. She lays the charts on the table and heads for the refrigerator.
Emma finds her chicken for her 4-H project is missing from the refrigerator. "Wheres my chicken?" Emma screams. Ella tells her, "Dont start screaming in here. Go outside if youre going to scream."
Emma steps outside, screaming all the way. Wesley comes inside and asks what all the screaming is about. Ella tells him about the chicken. He yells out to his sister, "Shut up out there! You shouldve put your name on it if you didnt want anybody to boil it!" Emma yells back, "Eat my socks!" When Wesley notices the charts on the table he asks Ella what they are. She tells him about the 4-H project. Wesley replies, "Anyone knows how to cut up a chicken."
Emma is still yelling from outside. "If Id come across a chicken in the freezer I wouldve asked someone first before I boiled it!" "Not if you were starving!" Ella yells back. Emma responds, "No one is starving in this house! We dont belong to the starving class!"
While his mother and sister are busy yelling at each other, Wesley pushes Emmas charts onto the floor and unzips his fly. He proceeds to urinate on them.
Ella finally notices what Wesley is doing and yells to Emma. "Emma! Your brothers pissing all over your charts!" Ella goes back to eating her breakfast.
As the day progresses, Emma decides to run away from home on horseback. Ella asks Wesley to go to the stable and stop her. Wesley tells her, "Shes a good rider."
Ella decides to let the subject drop and informs Wesley that they will be rich soon. "Wheres this money coming from?" he asks. "Im selling the house, the land, the orchard, the tractor, and the stock. Everything! It all goes." "Its not yours," Wesley tells her. "Its mine as much as his!" She lets him know that she plans not to tell his father about this decision. When asked where she thought shed go once their home is gone, Ella says Europe.
Ella tells Wesley that she has hired a lawyer friend who will take a percentage of the sale for payment. Wesley protests, "This is where I live." -- E: "Some home. It doesnt even have a front door now. Rains going to pour right through here." -- W: "Youre crazy."
Wesley gets angry and decides to go feed the sheep. Emma comes into the house, her clothes covered with dirt. She tells Ella that the horse dragged her. Ella reminds her that she told her that horse was loco. Ella tells Emma her plans to go to Europe. Emma doesnt think it will work because they would still be the same people.
Taylor, Ellas lawyer friend, shows up at the house. Emma invites him in and starts asking a lot of questions about why he wants to talk to her mother. Taylor becomes agitated when Emma wont summon her mother and continues to grill him.
Wesley enters and fixes a small pen in the kitchen. He leaves and comes back with a sick lamb. He tells Taylor that the lamb has maggots, and he wants to treat him. Taylor questions the idea of keeping a sick lamb in the kitchen. Emma tells him they dont have any food anyway. She goes on to explain that her brother pissed on the floor and she points out her charts. Taylor asks her if she always talks to strangers this way. Emma finally yells for her mother.
Wesley asks Taylor if he is going to tell his father about the selling of their house. Taylor explains its not necessary. He tells Wesley that his father is in hock up to his ears and that his mother has no choice but to sell. Wesley doesnt believe that his father is in debt.
Ella finally comes into the room in a dress and carrying a handbag. She greets Taylor and mentions to Wesley that they are going out to lunch to talk over business. She orders Wesley to get the lamb out of the kitchen.
After they leave, Wesley checks the refrigerator. He slams the door and stares at the lamb. "Youre lucky Im not really starving. Youre lucky this is a civilized household. Youre lucky its not Korea and the rains are pouring through the cardboard walls and youre tied to a log in the mud and youre drenched to the bone and youre skinny and starving, but it makes no difference because someones starving more than you are. Someones hungry. And his hunger takes him outside with a knife and slits your throat and eats you raw. His hunger eats you, and youre starving."
Weston, Wesleys father, knocks over the garbage cans trying to enter the house. Wesley bolts from the room. Weston makes his way into the kitchen carrying a duffel bag full of laundry and a sack of groceries. He sets his things on the table and turns to look at the lamb inside the makeshift fence. He questions the lamb if he is inside the house or outside. "Even with the door out, this is the inside, right?" He wonders what the lamb is doing inside.
Weston looks inside the refrigerator and sees that its empty. "Zero! Absolutely zero! Nada! Goose eggs! Weve done it again! Weve gone and left everything up to the old man again! All the upkeep! The maintenance! Perfect!" He yells, "I dont know why we keep a refrigerator in this house. All its good for is slamming." He picks up the groceries and starts loading them into the refrigerator.
He doesnt notice Wesley entering the room and standing behind him. "Theres no more miracles!" he continues. "No miracles today! Theyve been all used up! Its only me! Mr. Slave Labor himself come home to replenish the empty larder!"
"Whatre you yelling for? Theres nobody here." Wesley finally asks. Weston responds, "What the hell are you sneakin up like that for? You coulda got yourself killed!"
Wesley asks his father what he has in the bag. Weston tells him groceries." Wesley asks, "What kind of groceries?" "Artichokes! Good desert artichokes. Pickem up for half-price out in Hot Springs." Wesley asks, "You went all the way out there for artichokes?" Weston responds, "Course not! What the hell you think I am an idiot or something? I went out there to check my land." Wesley asks, "What land?" Weston answers, "My desert land! Now stop talking! Everything was all right until you came in. I was talking to myself and everything was all right."
As Wesley continues to question his father on the land, he finds out that Weston bought an acre and a half of land. It also turns out that he borrowed the money to pay down on the land -- which turned out to be a hoax. He tells Wesley he was even thinking of selling the house, but not to tell mother about that. Wesley asks him where hed go. "Mexico," Weston tells him.
Hammers, nails, saw and wood are lying on the kitchen floor. The fence enclosure and lamb are gone. A big pot of artichokes is boiling on the stove. Emma is sitting at one corner of the table making a new set of charts. Wesley is busy measuring wood, then sawing it and nailing pieces together.
Emma looks up from her charts, "Do you think shes making it with that guy?" -- W: "I think she is." -- E: "Shes after him for his money." -- W: "Hes after our money. Why should she be after his?" -- E: "Shes after more than that. Shes after esteem. She sees him as an easy ticket. She doesnt want to be stuck out here in the boonies all her life." -- W: "She shoulda thought of that a long time ago."
E: "How come you didnt tell me when Pop came in last night?" -- W: "He just brought his dirty laundry and then left. He brought food too. Artichokes." -- E: "Theyre probably half way to Mexico by now." -- W: "Who?" -- E: "Shes snuggling up to him and giggling and turning the dial on the radio. Hes buying her hotdogs and bragging about his business." -- W: "Shell be back. If youre not doing anything, would you check the artichokes?" -- E: "I am doing something." -- W: "What?" -- E: "Im remaking my charts." -- W: "You should be doing more important stuff." -- E: "Like checking the artichokes?" -- W: "Yeah!" -- E: "You check the artichokes. Im busy."
Weston shows up drunk. He finds out that Ella went off with a lawyer named Taylor. Weston mentions that its been all night and asks why isnt she home yet. He wants to know where they went. Wesley tells him he doesnt know. Weston rambles that he found a buyer for the house. Wesley asks who his father sold the house to. Weston answers, "Some guy. Owns the Alibi Club downtown. Said hell give me cash. Enough to get to Mexico. They cant touch me down there. Wesley asks, "Who?" Weston snaps back, "None of your goddamn business. Why is it you always drive yourself under my skin when Im around? Why is that?"
When Wesley tells his father that Ella is planning to sell the house too, Weston explodes. "Ill kill her! Ill kill both of them! Wheres my gun? I had a gun here!" Weston falls onto the table and decides to stay there. He warns Wesley to leave him alone.
Ella comes home with a bag of groceries. Wesley asks her where her boyfriend is. She tells him not to be insulting. Ella says, "He went down to look at his pathetic piece of property, I guess." Wesley wants to know how she knows about the property in Hot Springs. "I just know thats all. I just happen to know he was screwed out of five hundred bucks. Lets leave it at that." But Wesley puts two and two together, "Taylor sold it to him right? How else would you know? Hes been sneaking around here for months. Hes venomous." Ella asks, "Why are you so bitter all of a sudden?" Weston replies, "Its not all of a sudden."
Ella tells Wesley that she sold the house. He lets her know that Weston beat her to it. As they argue back and forth, Ellis, the owner of The Alibi Club, comes in. He tells them that he has the deed to the house and that he has brought the fifteen hundred in cash as promised. Ella cant believe that Weston would sell the house at that price. Ellis comments that fifteen hundred is what Weston owes. Ella tells Wesley to make Ellis leave, but he threatens Wesley not to try. Wesley asks whom his father owes the money to. Ellis tells him he doesnt stick his nose in other peoples business but that they were hard fellas. Wesley wants to take the money to pay his fathers debt, but hes also worried that Weston will run off with it. He asks Ellis if he will give the money to his fathers debtors. Ellis refuses, saying he did his part by delivering the money. Wesley decides to take the money and deliver it himself. Ella pleads with him not to take the money but Ellis hands him a bundle.
Taylor appears with attaché case in hand. When he hears whats going on, he tells Ellis that Weston couldnt sell the property because he was incompetent. Wesley taunts Taylor by telling him, "Too slow on the trigger, Taylor. Took it right out from under you, didnt he?" Taylor tells Wesley its just a matter of going to court. Ellis tells him that he checked the deed at city hall and everything was legal. Taylor lets him know that since Weston is prone to fits of violence, and that hes unable to get insurance and unable to hold a job that he has a good case for proclaiming Weston psychologically and emotionally unfit to be responsible for his own actions. Taylor adds that Weston was absent from his home ninety percent of the time and had a jail record. "Its an open and shut case."
As Taylor and Ellis are arguing over the situation, a policeman appears in the doorway. He asks for Mrs. Tate, then tells her that he is Sergeant Malcolm, Highway Patrol. He informs Ella that her daughter, Emma, is in jail. Ella asks him what she did. "It seems she rode her horse through a bar downtown and shot the place full of holes with a rifle. Place called The Alibi Club." Ellis, hearing this, grabs the money out of Wesleys hand, "I know he sent her down there. I wasnt born yesterday, ya know! You just tell him when he wakes up out of his stupor that hes in bigger trouble than he thinks! He aint seen nothin yet! And just remember that I own this place. Its mine!" No one notices Taylor leaving. Ellis leaves the house with cash in hand.
Sergeant Malcolm informs Ella that she has to come down to the jailhouse to sign papers for Emmas arraignment. Weston suddenly sits up, and they look at each other. Ella runs out of the house.
Weston folds washed laundry on the tabletop. He has on a clean shirt and jeans and has shaved. He seems sober now and in high spirits. The lamb is back in the kitchen in a fence enclosure. Weston is talking to the lamb. "No lamb has had it any better. Its warm and free of draft, now that I got the new door up. No coyotes. No eagles. Should I tell ya something about eagles? True story? Once I was out in the fields doing the castrating, its not my favorite job. I had maybe dozen-spring ram lambs to do. I had em all gathered up away from the ewes. It was a crisp, bright type a morning. Air was real thin and you could see all the way across the pastureland. Frost was still right close to the ground. I was working away when I feel this shadow cross over me. I could feel it even before I saw it take shape on the ground. Huge and black and cold like. I look up; half expecting a buzzard or maybe a red-tail, but what hits me across the eyes is this giant eagle. Now Im a flyer and Im used to aeronautics, but this sucker was doin some downright suicidal antics. Real low down like hes coming in for a landing. I watch him for a while then turn back to my work. I do a couple more lambs and the same thing happens. Except he was lower this time. Like I could almost feel his feathers on my back. Then up he went again. I watched him longer this time and I figure out his intentions. He was after those testes. Those fresh little remnants of manlihood. I decided to oblige him and threw a few a them on top a the shed roof. I just went back to my work again pretending to be preoccupied. I was waitin for him this time. I was listening hard and watchin the ground for any sign of blackness. Nothing happened for about three more lambs. All of a sudden he comes like a thunder clap. Blam! Hes down on the shed roof with his talons taking half the tar paper with him, wings whippin the air, screaming like a bred mare then climbing straight back up into the sky again. I started yellin my head off. I dont know how it was coming outa of me but I was standing there with this icy feeling up my backbone and just yelling my fool head off. Cheerin for that eagle. Id never felt like that since my first day I went up in a B-49. Every time I cut a lamb Id throw those balls up on the shed roof. And every time hed come down like the Cannonball Express on that roof. And every time I got that feeling."
Wesley asked, "Then what?" Weston asked him if he was listening because he was talking to the lamb. Wesley asks, again, what happened. But, Weston asks his son what had happen to his face. Wesley tells his father he ran into a brick wall. Weston asks, "Why dont ya clean up?" Wesley still wants to know what happened. Weston says, "I aint tellin it again." Wesley replies, "Then I aint cleaning up!"
Weston wants to know whats wrong with Wesley. Had he been drinking and is he drunk? Wesley told him he was trying to get their money back from Ellis. Wesley told his father, "He ran off with the money. And hes got the house too." Weston corrects him, "Ive got the house! Ive decided to stay. Im stayin. I finished the new door. Did you notice?"
Weston tells Wesley that he is going to fix the place up. He relates to his son a revelation that occurred this morning while walking around the orchard. Weston says it didnt feel like him. It was some character in a dark overcoat and tennis shoes and a baseball cap. "I didnt feel like the owner of a piece a property as nice as this. I started wondering if the real owner was gonna pop up out of nowhere and blast my brains out for trespassing. Then it stuck me that I actually was the owner. That somehow it was me and I was actually the one walking on my own piece of land. And it gave me a great feeling."
Weston tells Wesley that he came back to the house and took a bath and shaved. He also did the laundry and fixed a breakfast of ham and eggs and made fresh coffee. Wesley questions the ham and eggs and checks the refrigerator. "Mom bought this stuff. Im starving." Weston suggests, "Look, go take a bath and get that crap off your face, and Ill make you some ham and eggs. What is that crap anyway?" Wesley answers, "Blood." Weston says, "he took a few swipes at ya, huh? Well go wash it off and come back in here. Go on!" Wesley says, "He wouldnt give me the money, you know." Weston answers, "So what. The guys a knucklehead. Dont have the brains God gave a chicken. Now go in there and clean up before I start swingin on you."
Ella enters, but Weston doesnt pay any attention to her. She asks, "Whats this lamb doing back in the house?" Weston answers, "I got him back on his feet. It was nip and tuck there for a while. Maggots clear up into the small intestine." -- E: "Spare me the details." -- W: "Where you been anyway?" -- E: "Jail."
Ella is surprised that Weston is cooking and did the laundry. He tells her he even did some of her stuff, too. Weston asks, "So where you been? Off with your fancy lawyer?" Ella responds, "Ive been to jail like I said. I was visiting your daughter." -- W: "Oh, yeah? Whatd they nab her for?" -- E: "Possession of firearms. Malicious vandalism. Breaking and entering. Assault. Violation of equestrian regulations. You name it. Part of the inheritance, right?" -- W: "Right. Direct descendant." -- E: "Well, Im glad youve found a way of turning shame into a source of pride." -- W: "Whats shameful about it? Takes courage to get charged with all that stuff. Its not everyone her age who can run up a list of credits like that." Weston brings up Ellas family. "Gentle. Artists. Scientists. Professional people. Nobody raised their voices." -- E: "Thats bad?" -- W: "No. Just different. Thats all. Just different."
Ella expresses how tired she is, and Weston comments on how great the table is to sleep on. Ella pushes all of the clean laundry onto the floor and stretches out on the table. Weston tells her that when she wakes up hell have some ham and eggs ready and waiting.
Wesley wanders into the room completely naked and his hair wet. He looks at Ella lying on the table. He picks up the lamb and walks outside. Weston yells out, "Wes! Your breakfast is ready."
Wesley comes back in wearing his fathers baseball cap, overcoat and tennis shoes. Weston asks, "Whatre you doin in those clothes?" Wesley answers, "I found them." Weston continues, "I threw them out! Whats got into you? You go take a bath and then put on some old bums clothes thatve been thrown- up in, pissed in, and God knows what all. I cant fathom you, thats for sure. Whatd you do with the lamb?" Wesley answers, "Butched it." Weston asks, "Whatd you go and butcher it for? He was getting better." Wesley answers, "We need some food." Weston is furious, "The ice box is crammed full a food!"
Wesley opens the refrigerator door and pulls out all kinds of food and begins to eat it ravenously. Weston watches him, a little afraid of Wesleys state. "Whats a matter with you, boy? I made ya a big breakfast. Why didnt ya eat that? Whats that matter with you?"
Wesley keeps eating, throwing half-eaten food to one side and then digging into more. Weston says, "You couldnt be all that starving! Were not that bad off." Weston trys to wake Ella, but she wont wake up. "If this is suppose to make me feel guilty, its not working! I dont have to pay for my pass now. Not after this morning. You understand me? Its all over with because Ive been reborn. Im a whole new person now!"
Wesley stops eating and turns to face his father. "Theyre going to kill you," he says coldly. Weston doesnt understand. Wesley explains to him that he couldnt get the money from Ellis. That even though Weston has changed he still owes money. Weston cant remember owing any money but maybe it was for a car payment. He also doesnt remember signing anything. Wesley tells him he signed over the house. Weston argues, "I never signed anything." -- Wesley says, "You were drunk. How you going to pay them?" -- Weston: "I can sell the land." -- Wesley: "Its phony land. The guys run off to Mexico." -- Weston: "What guy?" -- Wesley: "Taylor. The lawyer. The lawyer friend of Moms. Ripped us all off."
Weston cant believe that something like this could happen. Not after he is on a new track. Wesley tells him, "Theyve moved in on us like a creeping disease. We didnt even notice. You better run. Take the Packard and get out of here." -- Weston: "I cant run out on everything. This is where I settled down! This is where the line ended! Right here! I migrated to this spot! I got nowhere to go! This is it!" -- Wesley: "Take the Packard."
Weston trys to figure out what happen. He had banked on things getting better. "They wouldnt be so generous if they didnt figure you had it comin in. They all want you to borrow anyhow. Banks, car lots, investors. The whole things geared to invisible money. Its all plastic shuffling back and forth. So I just went along with it thats all. I just played ball." -- Wesley: "You better go."
Weston rages, "The jumps I couldnt figure out the jumps. From being born, to growing up, to droppin bombs, to having kids, to hittin bars, to this. It all turned on me somehow. I kept looking for it out there somewhere. And all the time it was right inside this house." Wesley tells his father again that he must leave. He suggests that he go to Mexico. Weston thinks thats a great idea; he could start all over. He remarks that he may even find Taylor down there and get his money back. Weston looks at Ella and feels that she must have thought he was never coming back. Thats why she went off with Taylor. Weston looks at his wife and then his son. Then he leaves the house.
Wesley picks up some of the scraps of food on the floor and begins to eat them. He seems a little dazed to Emma as she comes in. "Mexico, huh? He wont last a day down there. Stupid going to Mexico. Thats the first place theyll look."
Emma is disgusted that he is eating food from the floor. Then she wants to know why he has on their fathers clothes. "I tried his remedy, but it didnt work. I took a hot bath, hot as I could stand it. Then freezing cold. Then walking around naked. Nothing happened. I went outside and I was freezing cold out there. I started digging around in the garage and I found his clothes."
Emma looks at her mother sleeping on the table and asks Wesley what she was doing. But Wesley is still crazed. "I started putting his clothes on. His baseball cap, his tennis shoes, his overcoat. And everytime I put one thing on it seemed like a part of him was growing on me. I could feel him taking over me."
Emma walks over to her mother and whacks her across the butt with her riding crop. "Wake up!" But Ella continues to sleep. Wesley continues babbling. "I could feel myself retreating. I could feel him coming in and me going out."
Emma asks Wesley if he has any money. He starts digging through the pockets of his fathers overcoat. Nothing there. He asks Emma how she got out of jail. "I made sexual overtures to the sergeant." She removes a big wad of money and a set of car keys from her purse. "Im going into crime. Its the only thing that pays these days. Its the perfect self-employment. Crime. No credentials. No diplomas. No overhead. No upkeep. Just straight profit. Right off the top. Im gone. Never to return. Im taking Moms car."
Ella wakes up. "EMMA!" Emma looks at her mother then leaves. Ella stares in horror at Wesley. She doesnt recognize him. "Weston! Was that Emma?" -- W: "Its me, Mom." -- E: "Go catch her Weston. Shes your daughter. Shes trying to run away. That horse will kill her." -- W: "Let her go." -- E: "I cant let her go! Im responsible."
Suddenly outside there is a big explosion, a flash of light then silence. Emerson comes into the house giggling. "Jeeezus! Did you ever hear a thing like that? What a wallop! Old Slater musta packed it brim full. I never heard such a God almighty bang in my whole career."
Slater, his partner, enters the house carrying the lamb carcass. "Emerson, get a load a this! What is this, a skinned goat?" "Lamb," Wesley corrects him, then asks, "What was that bang?" Emerson answers, "Oh that! That was just a little reminder. A kind of a post-hypnotic suggestion."
Wesley asks, "What was it that blew up out there?" Emerson answers, "Something that wasnt paid for. Something past due." Wesley inquires, "The car. You blew up the car?" "Bingo!" Emerson replies.
The two men warn Wesley that if he sees his old man he better pass on the info. They didnt like repeating themselves.
As Ella is staring at the lamb carcass in the pen, she speaks to Wesley. E: "Oh! You know what Wes?" -- W: "What?" -- E: "That story your father used to tell about that eagle. You remember the whole thing?" -- W: "Yeah." -- E: "I remember he keeps coming back and swooping down on the shed roof and then flying off again. What else?" -- W: "I don't know." -- E: "You remember. What happens next?" -- W: "A cat comes." -- E: "That's right. A big tomcat comes. He jumps up on top of that roof to sniff around in all the entails or whatever it was." -- W: "And that eagle comes down and picks up that cat in his talons and carries him screaming off into the sky." -- E: "And they fight. They fight like crazy in the middle of the sky. The cat's tearing his chest out, and the eagle's trying to drop him, but the cat won't let go because he knows if he falls he'll die." -- W: "And the eagle's being torn apart in midair. The eagle's trying to free himself from the cat, and the cat won't let go." -- E: "And they come crashing down to earth. Both of them come crashing down. Like one whole thing."
Synopsized from playbook, "Curse of the Starving Class" by Sam Shepard
Picture used with permission by Jack Vetterli. (Photographer unknown)