In her new monologue Alfred, Gwen, and Steve, theater artist Jean Ann Douglass reflects on the theme of eavesdropping and Ecclesiastes 7:21:
Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you–
Alfred, Gwen, and Steve
I bought the wig and mustache when we moved offices.
The interior designer thought it would be a befitting status symbol if I had a private bathroom in the corner office.
In the old days, I would carry flats and patterned thigh-highs I would never wear into the bathroom, hidden in my shoulder bag.
After I had changed, it was always a matter of minutes before I’d hear something worthwhile.
Sometimes it was just teary calls to husbands and patient instructions for nannies.
But then two people would greet each other while washing their hands and just talk about their work day. It was the kind of chat everyone became too scared to have with me back in the 90s.
That stall was where I’d get my best ideas: where the women piss and shit and sigh unguarded sighs.
My wig’s name is Alfred.
My mustache’s name is Gwen. She’s named after my grandmother.
Alfred isn’t named after anyone.
My two friends and I now visit the Irish pub on the corner every Friday.
The company thinks I work from home, thinking executive thoughts. Blaggard’s thinks they have a shy retiree that nurses a hot toddy fifty-two days a year.
When work lets out, I’ve already established myself at the center stool of the bar. My employees file in at 5:01 and fill in around me, the last stragglers to leave the office getting stuck ordering their vodka sodas next to the weird, quiet, old man.
I learned the first day that Alfred and Gwen weren’t enough, and they were joined by Steve, my tinted glasses.
An old man at the bar is inconspicuous, unless he’s silently crying womanish tears as jokes fly around him, coworkers letting off steam at the end of the week.
From the Artist:
Some of my most formative experiences involved hearing things that I wasn’t supposed to hear. I’ve overheard things that were painful to hear. I’ve overheard things that helped me understand people more deeply.
This passage struck me because it admonishes eavesdropping, not because of the intrusion on other’s privacy, but because the honest things that people say about you when they think you’re not listening might be painful to hear.
It also touches on power dynamics, and implies that people who are lower in status will always say bad things about people with higher status behind their backs. That may be true. Power is complicated.
I wanted to explore the act of purposefully eavesdropping, especially when you know that you will hear things that hurt. Things that are personal. There’s a part of me that wishes I could hear everything that people say about me when I’m not around, and I know that desire is dangerous.
Jean Ann Douglass is a performance artist whose original work has been seen at The Kitchen, CPR—Center for Performance Research, DUMBO Arts Festival, chashama, Monkeytown, Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans, Lost Horizon Night Market, Marian Spore, FringeNYC, New Orleans Fringe Festival, and in rental trucks all over the country. She has collaborated on projects at 3LD, Trinity Rep, The Flea, Bushwick Starr, and on various streets and rooftops in Brooklyn. MFA: Performance and Interactive Media Arts (PIMA), Brooklyn College. BFA: Dance and Theatre, Tulane University.
This work was curated by Lauren Ferebee.
This poem is copyrighted by the artist and used here by permission.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™