In 1944 the Danish writer and actor Ruth Berlau, broke and pregnant with Bertolt Brecht’s baby, took refuge in Peter Lorre's home in California. This is my imagining of what happened there.
RUTH, an actress and writer, pregnant and in love with BIBI
INGA, a starlet, living with LOTSI
CELIE, an actress, married to LOTSI
LOTSI, a movie star
BIBI, a famous playwright
Scene 1: A nice restaurant in Manhattan. LOTSI and INGA are at a table with drinks.
LOTSI (seeing RUTH offstage): Ruthy! Here! Ruthy!
RUTH: Oh, my God, it’s you.
LOTSI: You’re acting like a fan, Ruthy.
RUTH: I am a fan. Bibi says of all the actors he’s ever worked with, you’re the only one who really understands him.
LOTSI: Did he really say that? Is he here with you?
RUTH: No, he’s in California. With his wife.
LOTSI: How long have you been in New York?
RUTH: For a while. I’ve been working at the Office of War Information, doing radio shows for Denmark. Anti-Nazi stuff, you know.
LOTSI: That’s why I’m in town too. I’m making broadcasts for the Germans. I’m still quite popular there, I’m told.
RUTH: Everybody loves you, Lotsi.
LOTSI: Anything I can do to finish off that bastard Hitler, I’ll do.
RUTH: It can’t be much longer now.
LOTSI: From your lips to God’s ears. And I’ve been doing other radio shows too, in English, the usual commercial stuff. “Mystery Scary Playhouse of the Air,” that sort of thing. They like using me in these thriller suspense shows. I sell a lot of cigarettes for them.
RUTH: Yes, I heard you last night, that play about the man who kills his wife. You were very good. Very sinister.
LOTSI: Well, you know these Americans, they love their murderers. Have you met Inga?
LOTSI: Well, this is my Inga.
INGA: Nice to meet you.
LOTSI: Sit down. (She sits.) Want a drink?
RUTH: Thank you.
LOTSI (signaling to a waiter): So, how do you like your radio job?
RUTH: I lost it.
LOTSI: Oh no. Why?
RUTH: Somebody finked on me. They told the Office of War Information I’m a Communist.
LOTSI: Why should that matter to the war information office? The Communists are on our side.
RUTH: Well, that’s what they say. But the capitalists are more afraid of us than they are of the Nazis.
LOTSI: This is outrageous. It shouldn’t matter if you’re a Communist. You’re supposed to be able to believe anything you want to believe in America, it’s in the Constitution.
RUTH: You’ve lived in Hollywood too long. You’ve been brainwashed by corporate capitalist propaganda.
LOTSI: True, true. Would you like something to eat?
RUTH: No, I feel sick.
LOTSI: What’s wrong?
RUTH: Morning sickness.
LOTSI: But it’s not morning, Ruthy.
RUTH: I get it all the time. Maybe the baby’s sick.
LOTSI: Well. So. You’re going to have a baby. Are you?
RUTH: Yes, I’m going to have this one.
LOTSI: Congratulations. Is it Bibi’s?
RUTH: Of course it’s Bibi’s. Which makes it all the worse he’s on the other side of the country, in Hollywood, with his wife.
LOTSI: Yes, that’s where my wife is, too.
RUTH: But I don’t have the money to go out there, and I want to see him so much, with the baby coming. Can you lend me enough for plane fare?
LOTSI: Of course. (Takes out his wallet)
RUTH: And I don’t have anywhere to stay either.
LOTSI: No, you couldn’t stay at his house. With his wife and children there--too crowded. I know. (Takes out his keychain, searches for key) I have a house right near where he lives. I’ll give you the key and you and Bibi’s baby can stay there. There.
INGA: No, that’s the key to your wife’s house. (As LOTSI looks through his keys) That’s the cottage at Lake Arrowhead. This is the one. (LOTSI gives RUTH the right key.)
RUTH: How many houses do you have?
LOTSI: There’s the ranch out on the canyon--
INGA: That’s where we live.
LOTSI: Then the place on the lake. Then the place where Celie lives, that’s three. Then there’s the one by the ocean, that’s where you’re going to be, with Bibi’s baby. And Bibi will be right up the road, and he can come visit you whenever he likes.
INGA (to RUTH): That’s an interesting ring you’re wearing.
RUTH: Bibi gave it to me.
INGA: Is it white gold or silver?
RUTH: It’s made of iron. Like Bibi himself.
Scene 2: Ruth addresses the audience as the scene is changed.
RUTH: If you’ve ever traveled to the west coast of America, you know what it would be like to go to Mars. I’m from Copenhagen, I’m used to ocean mists that soften the air. But here in the California desert the air is so dry you can see a canyon twenty miles away and it looks like twenty meters. All perspective is lost. When you come to California the women say, “Oh, your skin is so beautiful.” Their skin is like onion paper. The dryness sucks all the moisture out of their flesh. What is this place going to do to me, I wonder.
Scene 3: LOTSI’s oceanside house in Hollywood. LOTSI and INGA are being affectionate with one another. RUTH walks in on them.
LOTSI: Hello. Inga, you remember Ruthy.
INGA: Yes, hello. How are you feeling.
RUTH: Sick. Like somebody poisoned me. What happened in here?
LOTSI: I’m sorry. I don’t think it’s been cleaned in a while.
RUTH: Don’t you have any servants here?
LOTSI: I don’t know, I haven’t seen any.
RUTH: The garden’s gone wild too.
LOTSI: Yes, we used to have a Japanese gardener, but they took him away, with the other Japanese, you know, to the camps.
RUTH: Oh, my God, the detention camps. I forgot about them.
LOTSI: Don’t get frightened. It’s only the Japanese that get put in the camps.
RUTH: Not Germans? Bibi’s German.
LOTSI: Well, there are some camps for Germans--but not Bibi, nothing can happen to him, he’s under my protection. I’m an American citizen now, you know. And besides, they wouldn’t do anything to Bibi. He’s too valuable for propaganda purposes. They wouldn’t dare do anything to the greatest dramatic poet of the twentieth century.
RUTH: No, no one can touch him. I’m just feeling anxious, nervous.
LOTSI: For a woman in your condition, it’s natural.
RUTH: It’s really all right if I stay here?
LOTSI: Of course.
RUTH: Will you be staying here?
LOTSI: Well, we’ve been living at the place on Mandeville Canyon, but if you’d like us to stay, we’ll stay.
RUTH: You say Celie’s not living here?
LOTSI: Well, you know Celie. She always turns up sooner or later wherever I go.
RUTH: I don’t want to be around any fights.
LOTSI: We never fight. We’re all just one big happy harem here. Much better than what you’re used to.
RUTH: And we don’t have to worry about the police coming?
LOTSI: Ruthy, the police are very nice here in America.
RUTH: No visits from the narcotics squad, you promise?
RUTH: I’m just asking an honest question.
INGA: You’ve got a hell of a lot of nerve.
INGA: This man took you in off the street. Where your great, famous boyfriend left you. Homeless and knocked up.
RUTH: Well, I can just leave.
INGA: Where will you go? The home for unwed mothers?
RUTH: I have money.
INGA: Yes, because HE (meaning LOTSI) gave it to you.
LOTSI: Now remember, I just promised Ruthy, no fights. Ruth, I promise you, there won’t be any trouble with drugs. I don’t do that stuff anymore.
RUTH: I’m not trying to insult you, I just need to know the truth.
LOTSI: It’s the truth. I’m clean, I’m off the stuff.
INGA: Lotsi hasn’t touched morphine since he met me. He promised me. Look at his arms, not a mark on them, and I can guarantee the rest of him’s like that too.
RUTH: You have to understand, I have to be careful. I’m already in trouble because of my politics. You can do what you want because you’ve got the studio to cover for you. I’ve got to look out for myself.
LOTSI: Do you think I’d do anything to hurt you? While you’ve got his baby in there? What do you think he’d do to me if anything happened to you?
RUTH: I don’t know.
LOTSI: I’m going to take care of you, Ruthy. And the baby.
RUTH: What room can I have?
LOTSI: Any one you want.
RUTH: Are there clean sheets?
LOTSI: I’m sure there are somewhere...don’t worry, I’ll get somebody to clean this place up. Just relax. I’ll get you a drink.
RUTH: I should be drinking milk.
LOTSI: Is there any milk, Inga?
INGA: I haven’t the faintest idea.
LOTSI: I’ll see to it that you get some milk. Some water, that I can get you. (Gets water from the bar)
INGA: Is this your first baby, Ruth?
INGA: It’s exciting, isn’t it?
RUTH: Have you ever had a baby?
RUTH: You’ve never had a baby, Lotsi, have you?
LOTSI: Not that I’m aware of. No. The way I live, it’s not a good idea.
RUTH: So you’re not going to have any, you two.
LOTSI: I didn’t say that.
INGA: Well, not right now. But when he gets his divorce, and I get my divorce, we’ll think about it.
RUTH: You’re divorcing Celie?
LOTSI: Well, I’ve, you know, talked to her about divorcing me, and she’s amenable. It won’t change anything. I’ll still take care of her, I could never just.... I owe her so much, she’s done so much for me, and she’s had so much trouble because of me. I could never abandon her.
INGA: I’m going to go get ready. (Exits)
RUTH: Will that one still let Celie into the house after you’ve divorced her?
LOTSI: Celie will always be welcome in whatever house I’m living in. Nothing’s going to change. Celie’s my best friend and she always will be. Inga knows that.
RUTH: My man’s wife won’t let me in the door. I never get to see him.
LOTSI: He’ll visit you here.
RUTH: I hope she doesn’t stop him.
LOTSI: She can’t. He’ll come.
RUTH: (Makes phone call) I want to talk to Bibi. (Reacts as though someone hung up hard on her.)
(INGA enters, dressed to go out for the evening)
LOTSI: Inga and I are going to go out and have something to eat. Would you like to come with us?
(RUTH shakes her head)
LOTSI: You want to wait here for your Bibi to come, is that it?
INGA: Have a good time.
(LOTSI and INGA exit.)
RUTH (dialing phone again): At least Bibi and I can be alone together. (On phone) I just want to talk to Bibi. ( Is hung up on again. Lies down and closes her eyes as the lights go down.)
Scene 4: The lights come up again; it’s dawn. CELIE enters with groceries. Sees RUTH, who’s stirring in her sleep, waking up. CELIE puts down groceries, picks up a glass from the bar and cleans it with her handkerchief, pours milk into it, and gives it to RUTH, then exits with groceries. RUTH sips milk. LOTSI enters, takes pills with a glass of liquor.
LOTSI: How are you feeling, Ruthy?
RUTH: I think a rattlesnake must have bitten me. Where’s Inga?
LOTSI: She’s gone swimming.
RUTH: Celie’s here.
LOTSI: Where is she, is she sleeping?
LOTSI: Always with the cleaning. It’s not so bad in here. What are you drinking? Milk! Want some brandy in it?
(CELIE enters with some breakfast on a tray for RUTH)
CELIE: Lotsi, I got some of those cinnamon rolls you like for breakfast.
LOTSI: Ohh, thank you but I’m on a diet.
CELIE: Dieting doesn’t make you thinner, just hungry.
LOTSI: You’ve never been fat in your life.
CELIE: There’s nothing wrong with a little plumpness.
LOTSI: In Hollywood you have to be thin or they won’t let you in front of a camera.
CELIE: You’ve made lots of pictures when you were a little soft in the tummy, and you were adorable.
LOTSI: That was in Germany.
CELIE: You can get away with it here too. All you need is a good tailor, and it doesn’t matter what shape you are, when you’re a man, anyway. Look at Charles Boyer. He goes around in those big suits like a tank around him. You should see all that he’s hiding in there.
LOTSI: Have you seen it?
CELIE: Boyer is famously faithful to his wife, you know that.
LOTSI (to RUTH): Aren’t you going to eat your rolls?
RUTH: I just want coffee, thank you.
(LOTSI eats RUTH’s breakfast)
CELIE: Well, you drank all your milk, that’s good.
RUTH: Is Bibi here?
LOTSI: I don’t think so. Is Bibi here?
CELIE: I haven’t seen him.
(INGA comes in from swimming)
INGA: Lotsi, don’t eat that.
CELIE: Would you like some breakfast, Inga?
INGA: Just coffee, thanks.
INGA: I’d kill to get as thin as she is.
INGA (To RUTH): How are you feeling?
INGA: Did you sleep here last night? No wonder you’re tired. You should have slept in a bed.
RUTH: I didn’t know which ones hadn’t been used already.
LOTSI: I’ll get someone from one of my other houses to come and clean up.
(CELIE comes in with coffee for everybody)
CELIE: Lotsi, what happened to the cook?
LOTSI: I don’t know.
CELIE: Did you send her to one of the other houses? Or did you forget to pay her?
LOTSI: It’s not up to me to look after these things.
CELIE: No, but you’re supposed to check up on the people who work for you once in a while to make sure they’re still working for you.
LOTSI: I have work to do myself.
CELIE: Yes, thank God, or what would happen to all of us? They’d deport us as indigents.
LOTSI: I like taking care of everybody.
CELIE: Yes, you’re very good to us.
(CELIE wipes LOTSI with napkin. INGA exits)
CELIE: You should tell her not to walk all over the house with sand on her feet. No wonder it’s so dirty in here. How old is that girl?
LOTSI: About twenty-four, I should say. I always did like a mature woman.
CELIE: You thinking of having children with her?
LOTSI: I hadn’t thought of it.
CELIE: Maybe Ruth will inspire her.
LOTSI: Are you looking forward to the baby, Ruthy? Don’t worry, we’ll take good care of you.
RUTH: It’s nice of you to be so good to me.
CELIE: We’ve got to look after each other out here in the desert. But the war won’t last forever. Where do you think you’ll go after the war, Ruthy?
RUTH: I have no idea.
CELIE: I wouldn’t think you’d want to stay here.
RUTH: I can’t speak the language, I can’t find work. What’s here for me?
CELIE: Do you think you’ll go back to Denmark?
RUTH: I’ll go wherever Bibi’s going.
CELIE: Just you and Bibi and the baby, and his wife and children?
RUTH: I’ve traveled in that caravan before, one more time won’t hurt me. Besides, by that time he’ll be divorced, and I’ll be the wife traveling with the extra women and children.
CELIE: How are you going to live till then? Will you and the baby stay here?
RUTH: No, I’m getting out of here as soon as I can. I never would have come here if I’d known it would be so crowded.
CELIE: Where will you go? Do you have other friends to stay with?
RUTH: No, but I have a little money.
CELIE: Enough for you and the baby?
RUTH: Not really.
CELIE: Well, how will you live?
RUTH: I suppose I could always get a tent.
CELIE: A tent?
RUTH: I’ve done it before. I just pitch a tent on Bibi’s lawn. His wife doesn’t like it, but there’s nothing she can do about it. Bibi can see me any time he wants, that’s the best part. It makes sense when you live in the desert, to live in a tent.
CELIE: You’re going to live in a tent with a baby?
RUTH: It’s all up to Bibi. If that’s what he makes me do, I’ll do it.
CELIE: Well, that may be all right for you, but you can’t have a baby in a tent. Do you have any relatives that could take care of the baby till you get settled?
RUTH: All my relatives are in Denmark.
CELIE: Ruth, you’re really going to have to sit down and think this thing through.
RUTH: But how can I. Everything that’s going to happen depends on Bibi, and I don’t know what he’s going to do. When are we going to be together? Will he have money to support us? There’s no way for me to know.
(c) 2004 by Anne Sharp. All rights reserved.