Silence, Cunning, Exile

Article excerpt

DONALD: The young Thomas Wolfe.

BERYL: The infant Thomas Wolfe.

FRANK: Don't you start!

BERYL: I'm not the one who started.

SUZIE: I'd like to know what it means.

Pause. About the Play

Silence, Cunning, Exile was developed, in part, at the Sundance Institute Playwrights Laboratory. The world-premiere production of the play was presented by American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge, Mass. as part of the A.R.T. New Stages program, made possible by a grant from the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust. The production was directed by Ron Daniels and began performances on April 1, 1993. Silence, Cunning, Exile is scheduled to be produced by Seattle Repertory Theatre, under the direction of Marcus Stern, from January 26 through February 13, 1994, and by the New York Shakespeare Festival in the 1994-95 season.

The Characters

Suzie, a small, shy woman, light on her feet. Her gaze is immense, steady, powerful, touched with melancholy--the gaze of the outsider. In her steadiness of regard, she seems unprotected by the ironic stances, the small and large distancing devices, commonly used to ward off the world. At times, she can appear deeply feminine, full of warmth and allure; at others, haggard, sexless, closed into herself. Ages from early 20s to early 40s.

Donald, a self-possessed, understated man of considerable charm. An aspiring actor, he moves well. One might imagine Fred Astaire or the Bing Crosby of White Christmas as his ideal. Ages from mid-20s to mid-40s.

Frank, a big, expansive man, bursting with untempered enthusiasms. His tolerance for frustration is low. Ages from mid-20s to mid-40s.

Beryl, a woman whose strengths--intelligence, outspokenness, a generous nature, and healthy good looks--are, when she is first seen, beginning to suffer from a miscalculated marriage and a growing dependence on alcohol. Ages from mid-30s to mid-50s.

Nicole, a model

Kiki, a sometime model; an exotic dweller at the fringes of the art and fashion worlds. One glimpses now and again through her droll exterior the toughness of a survivor. Her age is open.



Man (or Woman) at Party

Isaac, an artist. Intense; full of sleepless, abrasive energy. Ages from mid-40s to mid-60s.

Homely Transvestite

Fat Prostitute

Inert Man


The unnamed roles, with the exception of the Fat Prostitute, may be double or triple cast.




Martha's Vineyard, New York City and London.

Playwright's Notes

Silence, Cunning, Exile was inspired by events in the life of Diane Arbus, as described in part in Patricia Bosworth's book Diane Arbus: A Biography. The playwright is grateful to Ms. Bosworth for the diligence, care, and human sympathy of her work. Silence, Cunning, Exile does not, however, purport to represent real persons or their conversations, actions, or motivations. It is purely a work of dramatic fiction.

I would like to thank Kurt Beattie for his encouragement over the last four years; David Kranes, Gloria Muzio, Conal O'Brien and an unfailingly kind and perceptive cast at the Sundance Institute for their contributions to this script; Robert Brustein, Ron Daniels, Bob Scanlan and the American Repertory Theatre for a stunning combination of hospitality, sensitivity, integrity and humor; and Bob Cumbow and Alice Leiner of Perkins Coie for their moral support and the generous donation of their skills.

Silence, Cunning, Exile is dedicated to Ann Richards.



Scene 1

Dark stage. The flash of a photographer's strobe lights Suzie, a woman in her mid-40s, facing forward, gazing as if into a camera. There is an armchair behind her. Sound of shutter opening and closing (to be repeated with every flash).


The flash reveals her standing in front of the armchair, as before. …