Drama The Filth issue

In Search of Lost Soap: A Playlet

By Wayne Koestenbaum


an outdoor market in Marseille

dramatis personae:

Soap Vendor, whose name, we eventually learn, is Blaise Orange
Marcello Mastroianni
Judy Garland
Loïc, the soap vendor’s assistant


SOAP VENDOR: What can I offer you in the soap department?

MARCELLO MASTROIANNI: I’m resting between roles. Soap might not be my first priority.

VENDOR: Stars need to stay clean.

MARCELLO: Dirt has been my calling card. 

VENDOR: Rose? Chèvrefeuille? Muguet? Citron vert?

MARCELLO: A deep blue annihilating scent suits my mood. 

VENDOR: Outremer? The English call it ultramarine.

MARCELLO: Oltramare.

VENDOR: In La dolce vita, you bore witness to the void. 

MARCELLO: I’m beyond voids now. I want solidity.

VENDOR: When you bathe? Or when you’re dressed? 

MARCELLO: Penthouse magazine is running a feature about me. 

VENDOR: Are you nude?

MARCELLO: Yes, but underwater. 

VENDOR: Can a reader glimpse your private parts?

MARCELLO: The water, a complicated color between ultramarine and toilet paper blue, provides a modesty shield.

VENDOR: Smell this soap. Our newest scent. Bark. L’écorce. 

MARCELLO: It’s very masculine.

A woman approaches the soap vendor’s booth.

JUDY GARLAND: These soaps are much more beautiful than the soaps I wasted my money on in London.

MARCELLO: Excuse me, are you Judy Garland? 

JUDY: Do I look like Savonarola?

MARCELLO: Let me buy you a bar of soap. Any scent
you desire. 

JUDY: To celebrate our accidental rendezvous?

MARCELLO: I want to celebrate coincidence in general. 

VENDOR: Am I included in the celebration?

JUDY: You’re like the dirigible in the conversation. You float by, with a careless demeanor. And yet you’re the deus ex machina.

VENDOR: I’m planning to shut down my soap business by September. Meanwhile, I’m trying to take advantage of the summer crowds.

MARCELLO: Perhaps Miss Garland would be interested in your new bark soap? 

VENDOR: L’écorce.

JUDY: I want a soap that smells like Ma Griffe, by Carven. Carnation. 

VENDOR: Must it be an exact match, or do you tolerate deviation?

MARCELLO: Perhaps something more extravagant for Miss Garland? 

JUDY: Extravagance got me fired from Annie Get Your Gun.

VENDOR: Monsieur Mastroianni mentioned voids a few minutes ago. Before your sudden arrival on the scene.

MARCELLO: Some soaps are filled with void.

VENDOR: Because you’re seeking solidity, you’ll want to avoid the void soaps.

JUDY: It’s as if our sudden meeting in Marseille were a kind of Swiss cheese — Gruyère, if you will.

MARCELLO: A meeting filled with holes? A strange-tasting encounter? 

VENDOR: Gruyère is an overrated cheese. I prefer Brousse.

JUDY: I had Brousse last night, after my eleven o’clock show. The Brousse was unpleasantly lumpy.

MARCELLO: That sudden wind! I almost got knocked over. Miss Garland, how did you manage to stay standing?

VENDOR: The mistral of Marseille affects men more strongly than women. 

JUDY: I didn’t sense anything powerful. Just a pleasant stirring.

MARCELLO: I feel it again. That wind. A terrible force.

VENDOR: You develop sea legs — or mistral legs — if you live here long enough.

JUDY: I’m proud to announce that I have mistral legs.

VENDOR: I’d love to get a photo of the three of us together. Let me ask my assistant, Loïc, to take a shot.

Loïc emerges from the back of the soap vendor’s booth.

LOÏC: We have only two exposures left in this roll, and the camera shop is closed for the weekend. The Brousse inspector is coming tomorrow morning, and I want to take his picture.

JUDY: Save your precious film for the cheese inspector.

MARCELLO: I’ll be back next summer, and you can take my picture then. Perhaps Miss Garland also plans to be here next summer?

JUDY: I don’t have a predictable schedule. 

VENDOR: After September, I’ll be closed for good.

MARCELLO: Today, then, from my point of view, is the funeral of your soap booth. 

JUDY: The death of the booth.

VENDOR: I plan to pursue other pleasures. 

MARCELLO: But no more soap.

JUDY: Once you leave a job, you want to “wash it right out of your hair,” as the song goes. 

MARCELLO: Do you want to practice closing down your booth?

JUDY: No. Don’t practice the scene. Save your melodrama for the day itself. You don’t want the performance to come across as stale when you say goodbye to your booth.

VENDOR: My tears will be real.

MARCELLO: It’s the least we can do, Miss Garland and I, to buy a dozen bars of soap each. 

JUDY: Precisely. That’s how we do funeral.

VENDOR: It’s not a funeral.

JUDY: Funeral is in the eye of the beholder.

MARCELLO: There’s that wind again. I’m exhausted from battling it. 

JUDY: Twelve bars of carnation soap please.

VENDOR: Œillet.

MARCELLO: And I will opt for bark. Twelve bars. 

VENDOR: Écorce.

JUDY: The tedium of school!

MARCELLO: Funerals are often tedious, despite the energizing effects of sorrow. 

LOÏC: I am required by profession to be the bearer of
bad tidings.

MARCELLO: Speak up, young man.

LOÏC: This soap shack is going out of business because my master is on the verge of death. 

VENDOR: I could live forever, despite what the doctors say. 

JUDY: We’re all phoenixes.

MARCELLO: I’m still in my first flush of fame.

JUDY: I have a sudden wish to take Loïc under my wing and protect him from future misfortune.

VENDOR: Am I the embodiment of Loïc’s misfortune?

MARCELLO: Is it still the funeral of the booth, or have we moved on to a different scene? 

JUDY: Liza’s flying in to Nice tomorrow night. That’s my next scene.

VENDOR: I don’t have a next scene.

LOÏC: I want to stay within the confines of this current scene. 

JUDY: Loïc, come join Liza and me in Nice.

LOÏC: May I request a per diem?

MARCELLO: That wind again! You all seem oblivious to its effect. 

JUDY: The mistral seems to have singled you out for punishment.

VENDOR: Do you deserve punishment, Mr. Mastroianni, or is the wind’s action arbitrary? 

MARCELLO: Nothing in this scene is arbitrary… Miss Garland, I know of a private beach a few miles north of here, along the coast.

JUDY: Skinny-dipping?

VENDOR: Nudism and naturism are rife in the Midi. 

LOÏC: I haven’t yet partaken of nudism.

JUDY: You’re too young.

MARCELLO: Miss Garland and I would like our two dozen bars of soap, if you please. 

JUDY: And then we’ll head for that nude beach.

LOÏC: Am I still invited to Nice tomorrow, to meet Liza?

MARCELLO: Come with us to the beach, Loïc.

VENDOR: Here are your twelve bars of bark. And here are your twelve bars of carnation. 

MARCELLO: Monsieur, if you regain your health, I invite you to be my guest at Cannes. 

VENDOR: I accept your generous offer.

JUDY: You shouldn’t accept offers so quickly. Women will think less of you. 

VENDOR: I am beyond the court of public opinion.

JUDY: Mr. Soap Man, do you have a name?

MARCELLO: How rude of us! We took you for granted as a prop. A diving board, as it were, into the pool of coincidence.

LOÏC: His name is Blaise Orange.

BLAISE: In lycée, all the boys laughed at me because of my surname.

JUDY: You requited them for their mockery by becoming a successful soap vendor. 

LOÏC: Actually, Blaise Orange is on the verge of death.

JUDY: It’s the funeral right now. 

MARCELLO: Death of a booth.

JUDY: Arthur Miller wanted to rewrite Death of a Salesman for me. He proposed calling it Death of a Shopgirl.

MARCELLO: You found it demeaning?

JUDY: Most roles are demeaning, whether or not disparagement appears in the title. 

MARCELLO: Chaplin did vagabonds. You can do shopgirls.

LOÏC: I’m going home now to pack my bags for the trip to Nice tomorrow. 

MARCELLO: Bring a swimsuit, in case we decide to forgo the nude beach. 

JUDY: We won’t forgo it.

BLAISE: And I will stay behind and keep shop.

MARCELLO: Your position, for now, is stable. 

JUDY: Come September, everything will fall apart. 

BLAISE: Thank you for coming to the funeral.

MARCELLO: Miss Garland and I made the funeral possible. 

JUDY: We’re the underwriters, if not the undertakers.

LOÏC: And I am the messenger. Or the chorus.

MARCELLO: I’m worn down by the mistral, but I’m still clothed, so I can claim the high road of decency.

JUDY: The funeral portion of the afternoon is finished. 

MARCELLO: We can thank Loïc for catalyzing funeral. 

JUDY: And we can thank Loïc for catalyzing nudism.

LOÏC: I feel suddenly important, though for most of the afternoon I’ve been ignored.

BLAISE: I’m planning to die extremely slowly. By next year I may still be alive to meet you all in Cannes.

MARCELLO: I stumbled onto this booth in a moment of boredom. But I seem to have found magic.

BLAISE: Magic in the form of Judy Garland?

MARCELLO: Magic in the form of soap, and all the coincidences that soap inaugurates. 

JUDY: I’m accustomed to playing second fiddle to soap. I’m the side effect of soap.

LOÏC: I will be modest on the beach. I promise to behave.

BLAISE: I can vouch for Loïc. I’ve never had an apprentice more chaste, more dutiful.

LOÏC: As the rising star du jour, and as the side effect of soap, a role I share with Miss Garland, I hereby adjourn the meeting.




Wayne Koestenbaum is a writer and artist from San Jose, California who lives in New York. He has published twenty-two books, including The Cheerful Scapegoat, Figure It Out, and The Queen’s Throat.