Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris: A Recreation in Two Acts

July 18th, 2009

Requirements:  35 parts which can be played by 5F, 8M

Setting:  The bedroom and study of Frank Harris in Nice.  Prominently displayed in one corner is a life-size plaster reproduction of the Venus de Milo.  For the flashback sequences, there is a limbo area downstage, and also various platforms upstage.  Mid-morning, late August, 1931.

Plot:  Because he was the editor of the prestigious Fortnightly Review and then the Saturday Review, and also because he had a knack for cultivating and befriending all the important people of his day, Frank Harris was the toast of London society by the time he was in his early 30s.   Among his intimates were George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, the Prince of Wales, Princess Alice of Monaco, etc.  But Frank lived lavishly and squandered his wealth.  To raise money, he wrote and published My Life and Loves, his scandalous autobiography which was immediately banned as pornography, and seized by authorities on both sides of the Atlantic.  When the play begins, Frank Harris is again penniless at age 76 in 1931, living with his unmarried daughter in a small apartment in Nice.  His old friend George Bernard Shaw is coming to visit, and Frank expects to borrow money from him.  While waiting for Shaw to show up, Frank entertains his daughter with wonderful stories from the past, and it is through these stories that we learn not only about his scandalous “life and loves,” but also his spectacular “rise and fall.”  When Shaw finally appears, we get a battle of wits between the two men.

Theme:  It goes without saying that there can be great platonic friendships between men, and also between women, but is friendship between men and women ever truly possible, especially if sex is involved?

Notes:  Frank Harris is portrayed in this play by three different actors–Young Frank from age 11 to 18, Middle Frank from age 26 to 60, and Old Frank from age 61 to 75.  The three Franks see each other and talk to each other throughout, but Young Frank knows about himself only through age 18, and Middle Frank  only through age 60.  Old Frank is the only one who knows his entire history but, at age 76,  his memory is starting to fail him; to say nothing of the fact that, all his life, Frank Harris has always been accused of twisting and sometimes even fabricating facts to suit his own literary purpose.  As he puts it, “Facts frequently get in the way of the Truth.”  This play tries to portray the Truth as Frank Harris saw it.

History:  The play was first produced in Lawrence, Kansas by the Lawrence Community Theatre, on April 23-27, 1980.  Mary Doveton was the director.  It was subsequently produced Off-Broadway in New York by Shelter West Company, October 27-Nov. 20, 1983 and Jan. 20-Feb. 12, 1984.  Judith Joseph directed.

Sampling of reviews:
“In Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris, we come to understand this unusual and many-faceted man….With Shaw, Wilde and Harris sharing the stage, you’d expect witty dialogue, and it’s there in abundance.” — N.Y. Theater Voice
“Lim has skillfully told the whole story…with humor, pathos and dramatic force.” — Glenn Loney, After Dark
“Well-crafted structure.” — Village Voice
“A highly-literate script….Lim has become the most noteworthy of our regional playwrights.” — The Kansas City Star
“Titillating and provocative…something like witnessing historical figures come to life in a wax museum.” — The Lawrence Journal-World

Short scene from the play: Old Frank is telling Middle Frank and Young Frank about the first woman he married, an older woman who also happens to be a very wealthy widow.  In the flashback that follows, MRS. EMILY CLAYTON emerges from “the memorhy pool,” dressed in a fashionable evening gown of the late 1880s.  MIDDLE FRANK has wandered off by himself at an evening party, and she has followed him to the library. She watches him downing his port.

YOUNG FRANK: (Incredulously.)  I was married to that?  Oh, surely, I could have done better.  Even Mrs. Mayhew in Kansas was better than that!

OLD FRANK: (Laughing.)  That is a widow worth over ninety thousand pounds.  Also, after three decades of marriage to a man 38 years her senior she was plainly ripe for…

EMILY:  Mr. Harris?

MIDDLE FRANK: (Turning around to face her.)  Yes?

EMILY:  I was beginning to think you’d left the party without saying goodbye to anyone.

MIDDLE FRANK: (Pouring himself another glass of port.)  Oh no, Mrs. Clayton.  I wouldn’t do that.  I was just…

EMILY:  Hiding from all the mothers with unmarried daughters?  Ahhhh, Mr. Harris, you must get used to that.  Eligible young bachelors are a rarity in our circle. Tell me, how does it feel to be the most talked-about man in London tonight?

MIDDLE FRANK:  Am I the most talked-about man in London tonight?

EMILY:  Come, come, Mr. Harris.  It’s not everyday a 30-year-old maverick gets appointed editor of the Fortnightly Review!  (Pause.)  And what do you think of our unmarried daughters?  Some of them can be quite charming, I’m told.

MIDDLE FRANK:  I’m afraid I really do not care for young girls.

EMILY:  Oh?

MIDDLE FRANK:   (Obviously enjoying himself.) Women are, in my opinion, like wine.  Red Bordeaux is like the lawful wife:  an excellent beverage that goes with every meal, always acceptable, but entirely predictable.  If a man accustomed to Red Bordeaux wants something more exhilirating, chances are he’ll turn to champagne.  Champagne is like the woman of the streets:  always within reach, although its price is out of all proportion to its worth.

EMILY:  Please continue with your analogy.  I find the conceit most stimulating.

MIDDLE FRANK:  Moselle is the girl of fourteen to eighteen:  light, quick on the tongue, has little or no body.  The memory of it is fleeting and fragile.  Burgundy I think of as the woman of thirty:  more generous, more body, a perfume which lingers.
(He refills his glass again.  He holds up the decanter of port and smiles.)
And then we come to port, the woman of forty or older:  richer and sweeter than all the others, keeps excellently and ripens with age, but can only be drunk freely by youth.  Yes, if one is young and vigorous, the best wine in the world is crusted port, half a century old.

EMILY:  And you, Mr. Harris, which of all these wines do you prefer?

MIDDLE FRANK: ( A twinkle in his eye.)  It is port I am now drinking.

OLD FRANK: ( To YOUNG FRANK.)  Ahhh, you were in your element then!  Magnificent, just magnificent!EMILY: ( Slowly.)  Mr. Harris, I have at home a very fine bottle of crusted port.  I’ve been saving it since my husband died.  If I give a small party Friday next and promise to let you sample the port, will you come?

MIDDLE FRANK:  Of course.  I will be delighted

EMILY:  Good.  I shall send my carriage to fetch you….Until next Friday, then.  Goodnight, Mr. Harris.

(End of scene.)

Availability:  From Aran Press, and also from the author.

One Response to “Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris: A Recreation in Two Acts”

  1. Benjamin Smithon 10 Nov 2009 at 3:05 am

    I have been contemplating these lines from your play since you presented them in our class session. I felt like looking up some other quotes on wine to see if yours was truly one of the best I’d yet read.

    I found but one that I think warrents mention…

    “Burgundy makes you think of silly things, Bordeaux makes you talk of them and Champagne makes you do them.” — Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savare

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