Woman Wonder by Bethany Larson
This Play is the copyright of the Author and must NOT be Performed without the Author's PRIOR consent
This play was written for seven women to perform. The names used in
the choral pieces represent the actresses who performed the premier
production. However, the play can be performed by any number of women
of any ethnicity and variety of ages.
The play consists of spoken dialogue, monologues, and poetry. The
diversity of formatting will signal these various modes.
The playing space is empty. Perhaps a platform or more than one, a
ramp, stairs or a ladder is visible. The effect is that this is
prepared for transformation… of the space and of the action. Slowly
fade in distinct area light as actors enter the stage. The actors
acknowledge one another visually as they move to their first position,
but do not speak. Yet.
The lights shift, bringing the players into focus.
ALL: Woman Wonder.
HANNAH: That’s the title.
KRISTEN: It’s flipped.
CIERA: You want to read it,
SKYLAR: hear it,
DERNISHA: think of it,
STACEY: the other way around.
ALL: We know that.
CHRISTINA: But this… show??
CHRISTINA: is not about Diana Prince,
CIERA: or Lynda Carter
HANNAH: or Gal Gadot
KRISTEN: This is about woman wonder.
LONDON: She is tall,
KRISTEN/SKYLAR/STACEY: She is me.
DERNISHA/CHRISTINA: She is her.
STACEY/LONDON: She is you.
ALL: She is us. And she is wonder-full.
SKYLAR: What is it to be a woman on planet earth in the 21st century?
How can I…
SKYLAR: be both tired and energized at once?
HANNAH: Navigating the modern world without mythological super-
DERNISHA: Let’s find out.
- - - - PART I: CHILDHOOD - - - -
I tug at her skirt.
She tells me to wait
She has to wash off the dirt
On my hands with her hands.
Fingers and knuckles
Splashing water and sudsy soap
Where are mine and which are hers?
I just want to hold her hand.
And then we dry.
And she picks up the baby.
When I was about four, my older brother and I were in the back yard
playing house. We had a couple of dolls that were like Cabbage Patch
Kids, except that real Cabbage Patch Kids were too expensive, so my
mom had made these at home herself. Anyway, my brother was playing the
dad, and I was the mom, so he told me, “You’re the mom, so you get
to decide the names of our kids.” I was pleased with this small
empowerment, even though at that young age I knew it wasn’t fair…
but I didn’t complain because it benefited me.
So I told my brother, “I know the perfect name! It’s one I heard
on TV, and I think it’s so beautiful! We should name our son
Jamal.” My brother proceeded to laugh, enjoying being older and more
worldly than I was. When he finally stopped laughing, he said, “You
can’t name our kid Jamal. That’s a black name.” I was completely
confused. I had never been exposed to the idea of race or skin tone
making any kind of difference or being meaningful. Until that day, I
had managed to maintain some childhood innocence. I remember
wondering what my brother even meant that Jamal was a ‘black’
name. How can sound have a color?
I am six when they move in across the street.
Of the five children in the Massengale brood, I am older only than the
last boy, Ronnie. The rest of them are bigger, meaner and louder than
any humans I’ve ever encountered. Everything about their manner
My family is about Mozart. Books. Chess sets. Soft tones. We watch
Star Trek together.
Their family, it seems, is about country music, BB guns, yelling, and
the crack of a slap on exposed skin. Their father, a trucker, is
rarely home, so Jean, the mother, is forever forced to scream in her
effort to control the wildness of the five children.
My mother has always worked. Jean seems to rarely leave the Massengale
So, since my mom’s hours require that I have before and after school
care, Jean offers to have me come across the street.
During my year of Kindergarten, another woman, Pat, had watched me
after school. We only had half days in Kindergarten, so in the
afternoons, I’d go to Pat’s, have some sort of Campbell’s soup,
watch Duane Elliot and Floppy on television, and fall gently to sleep
on her couch until my own mother would arrive, take my hand and walk
with me the block to our own house.
When Jean offers to watch me after school, she does so standing on our
front porch, surrounded by her loud, big kids, a cigarette dangling
from her lips. My own mom, conflicted by her awareness that Jean and
her brood need the money, but sensitive to the fact that Pat had done
just fine by us, looks at me, and says: “Honey, what do you want?”
Carla, easily five years my senior and a girl whose rough and ruddy
skin makes me think of something boiled, glowers at me, defying me to
say no. “She wants to be with us,” Carla insists. She puts her
hands on her hips and stares down at me, greasy dishwater blonde hair
brushing her shoulders slightly.
“Is that what you want, honey?” my mom asked. She is always trying
to get me to speak up, assert myself, indicate some sort of response.
I stare at Carla, my chest tight, and nod mutely.
At my nod, the tense moment erupts in too much sound. One of the brood
offers a harsh bark of a laugh. Ronnie leaps and claps his hands over
his head. Jean’s smoker’s cough gets the better of her as she
exhales. There will be a little more money to supplement the Avon
sales. My mom sighs.
And when Carla’s lips turn up in a slow, mean hybrid of a grimace
and smile, I am afraid. But I am also silent, holding on to the quiet
in a death grip.
When I was small I watched my mother at her work around the house. She
could have been working outside the home as a teacher, but she decided
– and maybe my parents decided together – to stay home with my
sister and me. I knew she made all our meals, and she sewed clothes
for us, and she ‘kept house’.
When she washed our clothes she also ironed certain things. My dad’s
shirts, certainly. Probably some of her clothes. And she ironed all of
my dad’s handkerchiefs. Each white square laid out and pressed flat.
Then folded in half. Pressed. Folded again. And pressed again. When
she had a stack, she’d place them in one of his dresser drawers.
One day she asked me to iron them. I was so afraid. The iron was
heavy, and it breathed steam like a dragon.
She showed me how to hold the iron, where to place it, and how to
avoid being burned. Then she gave me a handful of hankies.
Even though she lowered the ironing board, my elbows stood out like
wings. The iron was hot. So hot. My mother’s stood behind me. When
I picked up the iron, it sputtered, and steam rose up around my hand.
I dropped it. But my mom reached for it, assuring me I wouldn’t get
I tried again, bracing myself for the dragon’s breath. I placed it
on the white square of cotton. Steam rose, but I wasn’t afraid of it
this time. I lifted the iron, and there on the white square was the
outline of the iron with several small circles imprinted in the
fabric. I pressed it again. My mother showed me how to move it in
gently forward/back motions. Before my eyes, the crumpled cotton
became serenely flat. As I put the iron aside, I felt the heat of the
fabric cooling. I folded it once, ironed again, and repeated the
process to make a tidy square of the square.
After that day, I ironed many handkerchiefs – and I did get burned.
Ironing made me feel important. Grown up. Which is funny, because now
that I am actually grown up, I don’t iron handkerchiefs. In fact, I
don’t iron anything unless I have to. It’s not part of my idea of
"womanhood." So, when my husband and I decided we wanted to be
married, I told him I wouldn’t be ironing his clothes (much less any
handkerchiefs he might be interested in using). Turns out, his mother
taught him to iron, too! And he’s better at it than I am. Who knew?
I come from 4C tip toeing through shards of broken dishes on the
floor, exiting the kitchen quickly before his anger sends another
teacup flying our way.
I come from the floor of the closet in my bedroom where a watermarked
and bitten copy of Charlotte’s web is hidden in the hamper, with
Wilber the remarkable pig I am never alone.
I come from a quiet knock on the door telling me now is the time to
slip back through the kitchen while his fury is paused and make my way
down to the landlady in 3b, because that unit has air conditioning
that works and an extra bedroom for Joey who has a beard but will
never grow up.
I come from Mrs. Bochelli with her thick calves and big bosoms, who
opens the door to 3b before I even knock, crushing me into her chest
confirming aloud my dad is the worst son-of-a-bitch renter she’s
ever seen, but won’t toss us out yet, because I’m a good kid and
my ma is a hard worker. Ladling a bowl of soup she sets a place at the
table and asks me what I’m reading.
When I was seven my parents divorced and my father moved overseas, and
we would only see him in the summer, when we’d fly across the ocean
on a shimmering silver jet plane. My brother and I, as unaccompanied
minors, would get first class treatment. The flight attendants would
pin golden wings on our shirts and whisk us down the jet bridge before
any of the other passengers took their seats. They’d offer us juice
and cookies, cooing over my brother’s chubby cheeks and blond hair.
Later during the night, somewhere over the middle of the Atlantic
Ocean, I would walk to the bathroom in my soft blue Delta slippers,
feeling the hum of the engines in my toes, amazed at the power that
kept me thousands of feet above the water. Nothing was more magical
than the hours we spent suspended above the clouds, knowing that my
father’s tanned face waited beyond the horizon.
So in junior high school, when my friends started talking about
careers, I decided to tell my mother about my dreams. “Mom,” I
told her one morning in the kitchen before school, “when I grow up I
want to be a stewardess.”
My mother’s sweet face, which had supported and encouraged me
through years of baseball and bad haircuts and non-conformist fashion
choices, suddenly looked concerned. “A stewardess? Why would you
want to be a stewardess?” I could hear the disappointment in her
“Because I want to be able to fly whenever I want to,” I told
She put down her coffee cup and peered at me over her glasses.
“Well, if that’s the case,” she said, “Why don’t you become
ME: I am visiting a girl friend from my ballet classes. She and I look
alike. I'm extremely quiet and shy.
MYSELF: My insecurities stem from a childhood of speech therapy and
parents who keep me at a distance. My desire for their love and
approval leaves me with an emptiness that I fill with the silence of
my own imagination. Ballet and art fill me.
ME: Although I do not have many friends, we have bonded. We've bonded
over ballet and shared desires to spend our lives in tutus and in
pointe shoes. I am determined that I'll become a ballerina. I'm
ecstatic to be invited to her house for sleepover. I imagine that
we'll giggle and practice various ballet positions. I might even draw
her a portrait.
MYSELF: My friend’s brother joins us in the basement. She and I
laugh and rearrange furniture to make forts from the excess of
cushions and blankets. Her brother leans against the pool table in one
part of the room and watches us.
HIM: “I’ve got an idea. Let’s play a game.”
ME: My friend looks at me. Her body stills, her smile falls, and she
slowly nods in agreement. I look between the siblings and agree that a
game could be fun.
HIM: “We’ll play kiss or kill. Go!”
ME: My friend jumps and darts to another corner of the room and finds
a hiding spot. I look for a corner in which to squeeze my small body.
I feel hands around my shoulders. I'm caught! I wonder if it’s my
turn to be “it.” Instead I'm guided to the pool table.
HIM: Stay here.
ME: He turns off the lights.
HIM: Go under the pool table and lay on your back
ME: I crawl under the pool table and lay on my back. He places his
body on mine and holds down my arms. He quietly explains the game to
HIM: It's your choice – do you want to kiss or to be hit?
ME: Those are the only two choices.
MYSELF: The answer is obvious to my 8-year old self; Who wants to be
hit? I don't remember ever being kissed or held, but the playground
can be violent. I understand being hit. I don’t like it.
ME: I make my choice.
MYSELF: In response he places his mouth onto mine and forces my mouth
open with his tongue.
ME: I don't know what to do. I stay still.
MYSELF: His hands move under my shirt while he kisses me.
ME: Is this what it means to be kissed? If it is, I'm happy that my
mother and father have never kissed me.
MYSELF: His hands move and unbutton my pants and pull them down my
thighs. His hands roam and touch my private places.
ME: I can feel the fur that covers him.
MYSELF: He presses his boy parts against me.
ME: I don’t like being kissed, but I made my choice.
I had three brothers, and we were Catholic. During advent our parents
made us sit in a circle and recite the rosary – the entire rosary
– in unison. We went to Catholic school. On Sunday we weren’t
allowed to have breakfast before mass and the Eucharist, because
Cheerios or pancakes couldn’t be in our stomach at the same time as
Jesus was in there.
So it should be no surprise that all of my brothers served as altar
boys. I saw them go backstage in the church, come out wearing cool
robes and be in charge of lighting candles with a huge gold stick. So
cool. I was really excited when I thought about how old I had to be
before I got to be an altar boy. Somehow it just never occurred to me
that there was one important aspect of being a successful altar boy
for which I wasn’t quite suited.
So when my younger brother was asked to be an altar boy, I was
incensed. What in the name of St. Peter was going on?
I stayed after church one day specifically to ask the priest about it.
Intimidated, I asked him if I could be an altar boy the next week. He
looked surprised, kind, and sad at the same time and told me that I
wasn’t allowed to be an altar boy, because it was training for the
priesthood and girls couldn’t be priests. He started to turn away
from me, but I stopped him by asking, “Why not?” He said that in
the Bible it says that women shouldn’t speak in church. Well that
didn’t make sense because my mom had been doing gospel readings ever
since I could remember. He said, “Well, that’s fine but they
can’t lead the mass.” I told him I didn’t want to lead the mass,
I just wanted to light the candles. He told me girls couldn’t even
do that. He started to turn away again. I asked him if he would write
a letter to our bishop to request special permission. He told me no
and walked away.
I remember standing there alone, in the empty church, completely
confused. Why were they disenfranchising me? I was smart, I was
devout, and I would make the best altar boy in the history of the
While I didn’t know it at the time, that was the moment I became a
feminist. I refused to accept his decision. I refused to accept that I
was not valued.
So the next Monday in my fifth grade class at St. Cecilia, I held a
protest. I told my teacher at the beginning of the day that if I
wasn’t allowed to speak in church then I wouldn’t speak in class
either. I refused to speak for the rest of the day. This continued
through the week.
She yelled at me. She reported me to the principal, Sister Marilyn. I
still refused to speak.
Finally she told me that if I didn’t speak, I would be expelled.
Terrified, but absolutely sure I was right, I finally spoke. I looked
at Sister Marilyn and said, “If I can’t be an altar boy, I don’t
want to be here anyway.”
The next week, Sister Marilyn had a conference with my parents. I was
not invited back to St. Cecilia for the following year.
I was kicked out of Catholic school, for wanting to participate in
Catholicism. And I’ve never regretted it.
I was visiting my 7-year-old niece when Hillary Clinton got the
nomination from the Democrats to be the first viable female candidate
for President. I asked my niece, “Do you want to be the first female
President?” She thought for just a second, then responded, “No –
that’s dumb.” Alarmed and worried, I asked her, “Why is it
dumb?” My niece quickly noted, “Well, I should be, like, at least
the third female President.” That kid is going places.
SUPER HERO vs. SUPER VILLAIN
Reasons why I might be a super hero:
I like to wear costumes.
Reasons why I might be a super villain:
I like to create trouble.
STACEY: She longs to be held
CHRISTINA: She doesn’t see in black and white
LONDON: She is the quiet, shy one
HANNAH: She rehearses her domestic role
KRISTEN: She tries to be a tiny mouse
CIERA: She wishes she had a place, anywhere
SKYLAR: She dreams in shattered worlds
DERNISHA: She spreads her wings
STACEY: She dreams in living inspiration
CHRISTINA: She defies expectations in a single bound
[End of Extract]