Mister Universe

This article originally appeared in Southern Exposure Vol. 14 No. 3/4, "Changing Scenes: Theater in the South." Find more from that issue here.

Besides featuring Southern playwrights and excerpts from their plays [see articles beginning p. 83], Southern Exposure sponsored a playwriting contest in conjunction with the publication of this special issue on Theater in the South. Our judges picked two scripts from over 50 that were submitted: Potato Girl by Christine Rusch and Mr. Universe by Jim Grimsley. Since Potato Girl is a short one-act play, we have included the complete text. Two excerpts only from Mr. Universe have been included because of its length and our limited space.


"I was born in eastern North Carolina," says Jim Grimsley, "and lived in New Orleans and now in Atlanta. I write about the people I know. I write about poor and working­class people. I couldn't write about rich people or even the upper middle class because I don't know them. I write about the people I do know."

Grimsley's Mr. Universe will be produced next year at Seven Stages in Atlanta. Mr. Universe is his sixth produced play. Others have been stage by Atlanta companies. He has published short stories in Carolina Quarterly and other literary magazines.

Mr. Universe is a play about outcasts. In a run-down apartment building on Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans, four neighbors share a night of events that results in the destruction of all their lives, beginning when two drag queens (Judy, Drag Queen One, and Vick, Drag Queen Two) find wandering in the streets a mute muscle man, apparently having been beaten up. With the help of their friend, Katy Jume, a wild, tough beauty who lives downstairs from the drag queens, they take the Muscle Man home, bandage his wounds, and try to decide what to do with him.


Excerpt 1

In this first excerpt Katy and Drag Queen Two are talking in the living room while Drag Queen One is changing clothes. Katy tells what happened to her that day.


KATY: Girl did I tell you I was hired to do me a commercial? Yes ma'am, just like that Brooke Shields. On T.V. Don't look at me like I'm crazy, I'm not lying. (Exits to the kitchen but continues talking.) I'm going to be the Mammarismo Girl. You know what that is? The Mammarismo Exercise Bra? Lord they gave me one and I thought it would pinch me to death. Got these big wires across it. I told them I would take the job but damn if I wear one of them ugly things except on the commercial. You ought to get you one, maybe it would develop you some breast.

TWO: I don't want no breasts I can't drop in a drawer.

KATY: You mean you don't want a fine set of these here like I have.

TWO: Noo sweetheart.

KATY Anyway, I be standing in front of the camera and I have on this big bra, honey, and the tops of my boobs is all pooched out, and I pucker my lips and say, "Mammarismo the Exercise Bra, the Bra with the Squeeze that Pleases." Can you hear me? "Mammarismo, the Exercise Bra, the Bra with the Squeeze that Pleases." And I got a scarf around my neck and the wind just blowing and blowing from this big nasty fan they got set up. I believe I'll get me some dark glasses too. I be standing there with nothing on but these dark glasses and a big bra. You never seen anything like it. I will be more fine than fine.

TWO: Don't get that cake on my floor.

KATY: You don't hold no truck with me honey, this floor is already filthy. If you stand still too long the roaches be crawling up your legs.

TWO: When do you do this commercial?

KATY: What commercial? Oh yeah. I don't know. They call sometimes tomorrow or the next day. I make$500 in one day if you can believe it, and I get my hair done free. They gave me a bra too and I'm going to fasten it to the wall and use it to hold up my bookshelf where I keep my magazines. I read Star Weekly. You ever read that? Girl you can find out everything. I read about this woman who had a monkey for a baby because she got the wrong sperm. Some kind of sperm or something. Can you believe that? She was getting artificial disseminated and had a monkey. I say it serve her right. Nobody going to stick any needle in my sweet cake, no no no. I'm not having a monkey for a baby for nobody, I don't care how smart that monkey is. Bad enough having a baby for a baby.

TWO: Do you have a baby?

KATY: I got a little girl, she live with her Grandmama.

TWO: I got a little son.

KATY: Who do you think you're talking to?

TWO: No, I really do. His name William Zachry. He lives with his Mama.

KATY: You really are serious.

TWO: I was married for about three years. Yes ma'am. Back when I was a real man.

KATY: What did you do with your wife to get that baby?

TWO: What do you think I did with her?

KATY: You mean you did just like a man does?

TWO: Katy, sweetheart, I'm not missing any parts. It's not all that complicated.

KATY: But I didn't think people like you could do that stuff with a woman.

TWO: Honey, a monkey could do it if he set his mind to it. If he could get over how funny looking you was.

KATY: Was your wife funny looking?

TWO: No, she was pretty. This blonde hair like you would kill for, and big thick lips, and she was pink colored all over, like a little lollipop.

KATY: Did you like her?

TWO: I loved her. But I got tired of having to try so hard. It was too much after a while.

KATY: What make you like men after her?

TWO: I liked men before, during and after her, that was the whole problem.

KATY: If my men ever tell me they like men better than me I cut they little head off right there. I mean it. I never did it yet, but I would. I could kill somebody for tricking me like that.

TWO: Why would it be a trick? I won't tricking anybody.

KATY: You must be crazy. You don't think your wife feel trick, sitting there home with that youngun and you out here spending more money on clothes than she does.

TWO: It wasn't like a trick, it was like I didn't know any better and neither did she. (One calls from off­stage)

ONE: Come in here and help me unhook this gown.

KATY: And you carrying on with something like that. Your little child ever come to see you?

TWO: Sometimes. (To One) I'll be there in a minute.

TY: You take him out to the bars with you?

TWO: Fuck off Katy, what do you think?


Excerpt 2

In this second excerpt the drag queens argue about what to do with the Muscle Man while Katy watches.


ONE: Why don't you sit down in his lap? Why don't you just crawl all over him since he likes you so much?

TWO: Did it ever occur to you he might be scared? He's been wandering around, got beat up, can't talk and Lord knows what else. We don't even know who he is or where he's from.

ONE: I'm not interested in his identity problems.

TWO: All you know how to do is try to be funny. (To the Muscle Man) Don't worry, I won't let them put the wig on you any more.

KATY: I didn't put any wig on anybody, you leave me out of this.

ONE: This girl is gone on this man, this young woman has lost her mind.

TWO: I'm not a bit crazier tonight than I was this morning.

ONE: Oh no honey. Now you have met the man of your dreams.

TWO: I have not laid a hand on this man except to put on his bandages and wash off his blood. You're just jealous because he likes me and mad because I won't let you play with him like he was a puppy.

ONE: Here is this handsome young man in our apartment who will do anything she tells him to do and suddenly she is the Mother Superior of Dumaine.

TWO: I wish you knew how sick you sound.

ONE: But what's wrong with that? This is a gift from God, this doesn't happen every day. Don't be a prude. You can't look a gift horse in the mouth as they say, not when it's a horse like this. (Goes toward the Muscle Man.)

TWO: Leave him alone.

ONE: You must be joking.

TWO: If you lay one hand on him I will pull every hair out of your head.

ONE: You really mean it.

TWO: You will be able to fry eggs on your head.

ONE: I'm over 21 dear, and unless I miss my guess so is he.

TWO: I'm bigger than you are.

ONE: Get out of my way.

TWO: I'll break your nose.

ONE: I'll scratch your whole face off. (They come as close to having a physical fight as possible without committing to it. Finally One breaks up laughing.)

ONE: This doesn't make any sense.

TWO: You'll think it's real funny when I put your suitcases on the street.

ONE: Don't start that shit.

TWO: I'm not playing with you.

ONE: I could understand if we were fighting over who's going to get him. But I don't see why at least one of us couldn't fuck him since he's here.

KATY: You don't have any babies of your own, do you Judy?

ONE: What?

KATY: You don't have any children do you? You ain't never took care of nothing but you.

ONE: What in the fuck are you talking about? I ain't said nothing about no baby. I just want to know what in the hell we brought him home for if we're going to treat him like a vestal virgin.

TWO: He was hurt and we brought him home to clean him up. He's scared and we're not going to bother him. Tomorrow we're going to find out who he is and where he belongs.

ONE: You're crazy. He's not going anywhere until I have some fun.