Diabolic Cabaret

Beth Escudé i Gallès

Illustration by Naï Zakharia


Followed by the spotlight, EVE enters. She is dressed in a costume inspired by the legendary images of nudity and the famous fig leaves. She uses a microphone to speak to the spectators as she passes among the tables on the way to the stage.

EVE:  Daughters and sons, Töchter und Söhne, filles et fils, figlie e figli, filles i fills, hijas e hijos, good evening.

From the way I'm dressed, I'm sure you've guessed who I am, right? (Pause. The ASSISTANT hands her an apple.) You get it now? They told me that tonight our audience is well educated.

First of all, forgive me if I don't speak English correctly. I'm a foreigner: a Paradisiac. Or, if you prefer, a Paradisani. That is, from a part of the Middle East. Unfortunately, it's a region that you haven't forgotten lately: Iraq, at least. For the great powers, it's still, without doubt, a desirable paradise—desirable for symbolic and historical reasons, of course.

Tonight I want to talk to you about a subject that I know well, indeed the only subject I know well: Guilt. Overwhelming Guilt. (Pause.) Look at those faces! Sounds boring, no? Yes!

As you all know, Eve means “She who is possessed by the devil.” And that ought to make you suspect that I'll lead you down the garden path if I can. At times you'll feel that my talk is convincing and you'll agree with some wild ideas. But beware: Eve, who is possessed by the devil, always lies. Including what I just said.

But to make it more . . . enjoyable, I've invited several artists who will help me present this concept from varying perspectives.

That said, I have the pleasure of starting this cabaret performance off with one of the most spectacular women in the history of Guilt: Helen of Troy, guilty, no less, of the destruction of a city.

Helen, as a little girl, was happy. By herself, in the quiet of the palace, she practiced the simple magic tricks that her father, the great magician Zeus, taught her. It was a way of distracting children while he went out to seduce mortals. She put on little shows for the birthdays of her brothers and sisters and for other family celebrations. And she was happy. But we know that happiness only lasts as long as childhood does. And in those days, childhood didn't last long.

Having Helen here today is a special privilege. I have to confess that it's been difficult to convince her to perform again since that fateful Trojan War, which affected her greatly even though she was on the winning side. She only agreed when I promised her that she could tell her real story. As you know, Eve means “She who always keeps her word.” So, please welcome BEAUTIFUL HELEN! (Music. EVE exits.)


Enter a sideshow freak: a bearded dwarf, dressed in classic Greek style. She carries a bag for magic tricks. Her speech has a certain upper-class tone. The music fades out.

HELEN:  Go ahead and laugh. It doesn't matter to me. I laughed myself when I found out that they call me Beautiful Helen.

When they married me off to Menelaus, the king of Sparta, I was already horribly ugly. The real beauty was my sister Clytemnestra. She was gorgeous, the slut! (Laughs.) When I was abducted by Paris, the prince of Troy, I was still that ugly, or worse: where there wasn't hair, there was acne. But (putting a colored handkerchief in her magic bag) rumor had it (pulling a white handkerchief out of the bag) that I was the more beautiful. And that beauty was sufficient reason for the Greeks, under the command of my brother-in-law Agamemnon, to mount a powerful army against the Trojan enemy in order to free me.

But it wasn't an easy task. Not at all. Artemis calmed the winds, making it impossible to cross the Aegean Sea. She would favor the Greeks only on one condition: that they sacrifice my little niece, Iphigenia, Agamemnon's daughter. (Puts a colored handkerchief in the bag.) Now Agamemnon, brother of Menelaus and leader of the Greek army, loved his daughter very much, but he weighed the political situation and decided, as head of a “responsible government,” and in the name of justice and honor, to resign himself to a little “collateral damage” in the military exploit. And so he would sacrifice little Iphigenia. (Blows inside the bag and takes out a white handkerchief.) With wind in their sails, the Greeks happily were able to proceed to Troy and rescue precious Helen. (Laughs. Addressing someone in the audience who is laughing.) Maybe they meant my inner beauty.

Meanwhile in Troy, Paris had behaved like a perfect gentleman. And he continued to be a perfect gentleman. And I began to suspect that from him I'd get nothing but respect. Weekends, when I acted a bit giddy, he kept away from me, saying that because I was the daughter of Zeus and the wife of the king of Sparta he felt inhibited . . . (Laughs bitterly.)

The end of the story you already know: the Greeks invaded Troy with that wooden horse trick. They killed King Priam and all his male heirs and burned the city. I'm guilty of a lot of bloodshed. All of it shed for Beautiful Helen. (Tries to laugh.)

At the least, I thought I could count on a wild, Homeric night of lovemaking with my Menelaus under the silk tent that presided over the victors' camp. But (opening the bag and running her hand through it to show that it is empty and there are no tricks), not so much as a kiss. Nothing here; nothing there.

In the days after the victory, Menelaus was busy with the reconstruction of Troy and calculating the money to be made from tolls on the route to the Black Sea. Along with his brother, they set up profitable customs offices for the Greeks in Hellespont. And I waited for him there, in the tent.

(She puts all the white handkerchiefs in the bag.)

Later, when we returned to Sparta, the citizens welcomed us with cheering: him, for being the most worthy and honorable king, and me, for being the most desirable woman. And that's how I'm remembered by history.

But, in spite of all that, I know and have never doubted (Taking out a colored handkerchief) that I'm ugly.

(Music. Blackout.)


EVE (from behind the curtains):  I know what you're thinking, yes I do: “Mamma mia, what is she doing talking about Guilt here at (name of location for this show)?” Well, we're in the right place, because Guilt is the perfect subject for theater.

The recognition of Guilt is the ideal turning point in tragedy. The accusation of Guilt gives rise to conflict in bourgeois drama. The admission of Guilt with its accompanying corrective action is the inevitable scene in melodrama. Avoiding Guilt is the hilarious device of farce.

(She comes out from behind the curtains.)

We don't mean Bacchus then. It's not a matter of extravagant and exotic gods. I, Eve, your Eve, am the goddess of the theater, whether you like it or not. I am the hostess for the dramatic show of the Western world. Because I represent Guilt, my dear children. I am the theme and the protagonist. Adam is the co-protagonist. The serpent makes it a triangle, creating disharmony and conflict. God is the producer and set designer.

But, my children, who is the playwright? Have you ever thought about who wrote the super drama of Genesis? No? Well, you ought to think about it, because of what it has cost you. Aren't you bothered in the least by the unknown narrator? A being very similar to God: omnipresent and omnipotent, above good and evil, who writes the script and puts into place what will be the origin of all men. Who chooses what to tell and what not to tell, with meaningless signs, false expectations, a kind of biblical Sam Shepard.

Considering that it's a book of revelation, you could think that this playwright was a witness to the events. Someone objective who was present and secretly took notes of what happened in the first days of creation. A sort of paparazzo in the glamorous world of Eden.

Not at all. The history of our origins was written after the events. Quite calmly, as is fitting for a professional charged with a literary task of such editorial importance. And how did he write it if he wasn't present? (Pause.) DICTATED BY GOD HIMSELF.

Ah! God's dictation! So much has been written in the name of God. That is so useful for those who are prohibited from writing. And God has been practical in taking advantage of it. Practical and even—although it’s hard to believe—indispensable for women with creative urges. You'll see, you'll see. (Pointing to the stage.)

Without further ado, I want to introduce the second performer of the evening, coming to you directly from 10th-century Saxony. Here with us is the nun Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim, the first woman playwright of the Christian era, also known for good reason as the “great voice of Gandersheim.” Please welcome our guest! (Applause. Introductory music while EVE dresses as HROTSVITHA.)

translated from the Catalan by Phyllis Zatlin