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The Willows by the Western Gate


Scene One
The curtain rises on an effulgent moon shining upon a simple, infinitely peaceful Chinese garden. Stage left is a section of the monastery, and stage right we can see a part of the modest home of the Widow Cheng. Far upstage center, behind the garden, is a series of diminishing willow trees.

The interior of the home is, at the moment, darkened by a scrim. But the lights are flickering within the safe, sparsely furnished room at the end of the monastery. WAN LEI, a handsome young man about 20, is sitting on the bed, book in hand, desperately attempting to study. Near him sits YANG, a monk of an indeterminate age, engrossed in a prayer book. The music is lovely and serene. Suddenly WAN slams his book shut.

I cannot concentrate!
You have said this since you arrived
Three days ago.

How can I bother about the examinations
When there is such a moon!

Your father would be most disturbed.

I realize you told him you would watch over me.
But forget my father, dear friend,
And come look at the moon.
Oh, Yang,
I admire you
Leaving the capitol
And joining the monastery.
You are so at peace with yourself.
But I was fated to be a monk,
And you are fated to be a poet.
If you would only study for your examinations…
The capitol is not the place for a poet.
The air is clouded
And the people are lonely.
I wander the streets in search of beauty,
And sometimes I see a child
Whose eyes reflect the light of the sun.
I reach out to him
For only a moment
To know such eyes still exist.
But the child must one day grow,
And his eyes will dim---
And so I wander the streets
In search of beauty,
In search of peace.
Do not be fooled by that moon.
Bandits cover the mountainside.
Only last month
They looted and plundered
A neighboring village.
They would not dare harm the monastery.
But they would loot and burn the neighboring houses.
My friend the Widow Cheng
Lives unprotected
With her daughter
In that house there…
How can you talk of bandits
When there is such a moon!
  (BOTH stand gazing up at the sky. Then soft lights rise in the Widow Cheng's living room. It is very sparsely and simply furnished, but  with a rare lovely screen in the upper corner.   WIDOW CHENG is at a table arranging a lovely bouquet of peonies. As she sings, the scrim rises. Her delicately beautiful young daughter, MEILAN, is seated at the left of the table engrossed in a slim volume of poetry.)
                             The blossoms grow more fragrant as the years go by
                             For the plant is more in love as the summers pass.
                             It loves the sweet cool rain,
                             It loves the bright warm sun.
                             And the blossoms that I touch
                             Are the flower of its love
                             The blossoms grow more lovely as the years go by
                             For the plant is more in love as the summers pass.
(As she finishes the aria, music of tension and excitement bursts forth, and her maid, BEITESEN, dashes in from stage right, runs to the door and knocks furiously. WIDOW CHENG unbolts the lock. BEITESEN, breathless and terrified, goes immediately to the table and begins to gather articles into her arms.)               BEITESEN We must flee, madam,
We must flee!
The bandits have looted the village!
We must flee to the monastery!  (MEILAN drops her book and goes for some of the valuables. There is great commotion as the THREE WOMEN fill their arms with as much as they can carry.)
Houses have been looted
And shops have been burned,
And the streets are strewn
With broken bodies and torn arms.
Oh, we must flee, madam,
We must flee!
Take only the few valuable we have.
We shall store them in the monastery.
  (THEY hurry into the garden. BEITSEN continues her jeremiad. Something falls from MEILAN's hand and SHE stoops to retrieve it.)
                              Children have been violated,
                              Their little forms crushed
                              Then tossed aside like ragged toys.
                               I have broken the jade goddess.
                              We have no time, Meilan.
                              We must hurry.
                              But father had given it to me…
                              Meilan, I beg you…
  (WAN and YANG have heard the commotion and observe from their window.)
There is the Widow Cheng!
Something is wrong!
Come, we must help. (THEY scurry  from the room.)
                              Homes once filled with light and laughter,
                              Now ashes along the river Hsiang!
          Meilan, please!
                                               (stopping suddenly)
          The river Hsiang!
          What village did the bandits destroy?


                                                                          WIDOW CHENG
                    But that is two hundred miles from here!
                              I know, madam,
                              But bandits travel quickly,
                              They have horses with wings upon their hooves,
                              And swords sharpened by the wind.
          You wicked girl!
          That is the third time you have frightened us
          In the past month!
          But, madam, it is better to be prepared…
 (YANG and WAN rush from the monastery door.)
          Widow Cheng! What is wrong?
It is nothing.
Forgive us, kind Yang.
It is nothing
But the imagination of our servant girl.
                               (Bowing with embarrassment, taking Meilan's hand)
Come, daughter.
                               (sharply, as she sees BEITESEN gazing longingly at Wan)
Beitesen! (THEY retreat back into the house. WAN stares after them.)
          Her name?
          Widow Cheng.
          The daughter, old fool.
                                       (tasting it upon his lips)