Read an excerpt from Beautiful Man & Other Short Plays
Erin Shields’s latest book Beautiful Man & Other Short Plays is a powerful collection of three plays about the inner lives of women. The title play is an eviscerating satire of gender roles in popular culture that imagines a world in which women are the subjects and men are the objects. As three women dissect the latest Hollywood blockbuster, narrative after narrative of strong female characters fold into each other, fusing into a brutally recognizable story.
This excerpt follows the women describing a movie in which a cop is traumatized and can’t give enough attention to her husband, who was trying to surprise her for their anniversary. They describe the cop, Rosie, sitting down to watch TV, and then:
PAM: I think we can hear him crying.
JENNIFER: I don’t remember hearing him cry.
PAM: He feels betrayed, he feels used, he feels alone.
JENNIFER: That might be true, but we don’t see him in the bedroom.
SOPHIE: No, we just see Rosie on the couch
watching an historical drama.
PAM: Would you call it an historical drama?
JENNIFER: Well, there are historical elements
but the series is based on a fantasy novel.
SOPHIE: On a series of fantasy novels, that’s right,
but it’s basically set in medieval times.
JENNIFER: Right, things are the way they were.
SOPHIE: Class struggle and infant mortality.
PAM: Swords and horse-drawn carts.
SOPHIE: Famine, disease and war.
JENNIFER: But aside from historical elements,
there are dragons and witches and ogres
for the characters to fight.
SOPHIE: And the characters are honest.
JENNIFER: They are true to the emotional stakes of the scene
even when there are ogres.
SOPHIE: Which is just what Rosie needs.
PAM: A fantasy set in an augmented medieval past
acted with honest intention.
JENNIFER: I love the director,
she’s so fucking good.
PAM: Everything she does is so fucking good.
SOPHIE: There’s the queen.
JENNIFER: Right. Queen Ruth.
PAM: But the peasants call her Queen Ruthless
even though she’s doing the best that she can.
SOPHIE: Yes, the crown weighs heavy on her head.
JENNIFER: She’s in charge.
SOPHIE: She’s the one who makes all the decisions
and there are so many decisions to be made.
Decisions that impact the well-being
of her entire kingdom.
It’s a lot to handle.
JENNIFER: A lot to handle, yes, but she’s a benevolent leader.
SOPHIE: Benevolent, yes, but cruel when she has to be.
And sometimes she has to be cruel.
Especially to her husband.
JENNIFER: What’s his name?
SOPHIE: I can’t remember.
PAM: But he looks beautiful in red
so he’s always wearing red,
and he smiles dutifully and says things like:
BEAUTIFUL MAN: What is your will, m’lady?
JENNIFER: And his part gets bigger as it goes along,
as the series goes along he becomes
a more important character.
PAM: Yes, a more essential character.
SOPHIE: But for the first five episodes he’s either sitting beside
PAM: Looking beautiful in red—
SOPHIE: While her advisors bring her one problem after the next—
JENNIFER: Or sometimes he’s naked in their bedroom.
SOPHIE: Yes, she likes to chain him up.
PAM: He likes it too.
You can tell by the look on his face.
SOPHIE: Yes, he likes it too but it’s mainly her decision,
because when she’s stressed out
the thing that most relaxes her,
that releases all tension,
is to lie on her bed eating grapes
and drinking wine while the king licks her toes like a dog.
JENNIFER: Does he wear a collar?
SOPHIE: Yes there’s some sort of collar
attached to a chain.
PAM: And he’s hard for it.
PAM: The whole time he’s got a boner.
SOPHIE: And you can really see the boner
because he waxes his pubic hair.
JENNIFER: I’m not sure that part’s historically accurate.
PAM: That he waxes his pubic hair?
SOPHIE: But you have to be able to see the boner so I’m glad there isn’t hair.
JENNIFER: I like that they show you the boner.
It makes the whole thing more real.
PAM: And I think it’s really his boner.
JENNIFER: The actor’s?
PAM: What’s his name?
JENNIFER: Sometimes they get a boner double if the actor is too shy. It’s written into his contract.
SOPHIE: Yes, I read an article about a man
who was a boner double.
PAM: But the director.
JENNIFER: I love the director,
she’s so fucking good.
PAM: The director, she insisted that the actor use his own boner,
which I really just think is so brave.
SOPHIE: I guess, but he’s got a great boner,
so I can’t imagine it would have been an issue.
JENNIFER: Unless he had injections?
PAM: Or some sort of operation and he was worried we’d see the scars.
SOPHIE: That’s possible, yes, but regardless it’s worth it
because it makes the whole thing more real.
JENNIFER: Yes, it makes the whole thing more real.
SOPHIE: And Queen Ruth takes her time to deal with the boner.
JENNIFER: Yes, she makes him wait until she’s ready.
Sometimes her advisors are in the room
talking to her about various strategies to quash her sister’s revolt
and the king is licking her toes
and she’s just ignoring him
until she can’t ignore him anymore
and she tells her advisors to leave.
SOPHIE: Or even sometimes she doesn’t.
JENNIFER: Yes, she doesn’t really care
if her advisors are there or not
and sometimes she likes to have them there
so she can demonstrate her power.
PAM: And she yanks at the chain around the king’s neck
and pins him to the floor
and slides down upon him
with pointed urgency.
SOPHIE: And at that moment she’s able to put aside
all the cares of her kingdom—
JENNIFER: The dragons, the ogres, the plagues.
SOPHIE: She puts all those cares behind her
while she fucks her beautiful man
into making sounds like:
BEAUTIFUL MAN: Uh uh uh uh uh uh . . . don’t stop don’t stop don’t stop.
SOPHIE: But sometimes she has to stop.
JENNIFER: She finishes first and doesn’t have time
to wait around for him.
SOPHIE: She’s got things on her mind.
JENNIFER: Important things.
SOPHIE: Life or death things.
And it’s fine if he wants to fuck all day,
what does it matter to him,
but she’s the queen and there are people depending on her.
Want to know what happens next? Get your copy of Beautiful Man & Other Short Plays now!