The Glorious Struggle of the Charismatic Hero
by Ebony Payne-English
Synopsis: The Glorious Struggle is a play that confronts the uncomfortable truths about being a high-functioning depressed queer in America. In this dark comedy, we follow six characters through their struggle with coming of age, suicide, relationships, and politics. The Glorious Struggle breaks the fourth wall and the mold to grant audiences the opportunity to mourn, heal, and cope together while honoring the journey of the artistic black gay intellectual.
INT: MT. ZION CARIBBEAN BISTRO
There is an open mic night in progress. Lights come up on THE CHARISMATIC HERO sitting at the bar talking on the phone. THE CHARISMATIC HERO looks down the bar, recognizes someone, waves and continues their phone conversation. As THE CHARISMATIC HERO is waving, DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY enters into viewpoint. She thinks THE CHARISMATIC HERO is waving at her, smiles, waves back, and sits beside them to begin a conversation.THE CHARISMATIC HERO looks confused and scoots their chair further away. DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY realizes her mistake, shrinks in embarrassment and orders a drink. While she waits she begins to eavesdrop on THE CHARISMATIC HERO’s phone conversation.
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: (Failing to notice that the woman seated beside them is eavesdropping) I just feel so…lost. Like, all the time. It feels like I’m looking at myself from outside my body and everything about my life is all wrong….what do you mean how do I respond to that feeling? Like everybody else with good common sense. I get high or drunk or sexed, sometimes all three. (beat) Ugh..I don’t know how it makes me feel…alive I guess. (the host of the open mic calls THE CHARISMATIC HERO to the stage) Look, I gotta go. I’m up. Ok. Love you too.
(THE CHARISMATIC HERO steps up onto the stage and approaches the microphone.)
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: Peace family. Y’all already know I’m bad with introductions so I’ll just say this is a short poem I wrote yesterday on the bus while staring out the window and looking at all the new white people walking around my neighborhood.
(clears throat and takes a shot)
The fact of the matter is Andrew Jackson was allergic to the sun
It’s fiery kisses blistered his skin
Turned his pious pale into putrid pink
I think that’s why he was such an ornery bandit
Everything on this planet is fueled by rays
But that Jackson shade be the coldest countenance
That Jackson hate be a youthful fountain of “if you can’t be them, kill them”
If they thrive in the light, write a pact such as The Indian Removal Act
To ensure the perpetuation of your place in this nation
Even if in nature you have not one
The trail of tears the people of the sun have cried
Floods the Mississippi River some nights
Does not evaporate with the mourning
Yet without warning the sun rises with the spirit of 125,000 ancestors daily
We innately continue to melanate and display compassion for those like
Andrew Jackson who possess a tragic allergy to humanity, life and light
If only a prescription would suffice…
(THE CHARISMATIC HERO chuckles and shrugs their shoulders)
That’s it. Be blessed. Buy black. Good night.
(The crowd erupts with snaps and cheers. THE CHARISMATIC HERO returns to the same seat at the bar. The woman who was eavesdropping is still in her seat and for the first time they make eye contact)
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: (Tilts her head and smiles) A bit presumptuous don’t you think?
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: Excuse me?
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: Your stage name. The Charismatic Hero? That’s kind of an asshole thing to call yourself.
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: I’m currently writing a book called The Glorious Struggle of the Charismatic Hero. Its a collection of twenty-seven poems I wrote about the one time I tried to kill myself but ended up driving myself to the hospital before my wrists bled out because I decided to save myself instead. And I’m not an asshole.
(THE CHARISMATIC HERO takes a shot)
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: Pronouns?
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: Relevance?
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: Your pronouns, love. What are they?
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: (takes a good look at her and chuckles) Look, is there something I could help you with? I don’t enjoy small talk or strangers but I do enjoy this show and if it’s cool with you, I would like to focus my energy on that right now.
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: Oh, my bad homie. Don’t let me hold you up. I’m sure there’s nothing I need that you could help much with seeing as how I have an excellent sense of direction and you…well…you’re lost. Your words, not mine.
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: (stands) Yeah, I’m going to walk away right now before you find out why it’s not cool to trigger strangers. (begins to walk away)
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: (shouts after THE CHARISMATIC HERO) I got stood up ok! I invited my ex here and he said he was coming and then sent me this wack ass text after I blew him up for 30 minutes talking about he’s feeling lost and how I’m toxic and some other dumb shit, I don’t know. The key quote of the entire text thread though is (does air quotes) do you realize how exhausting it is to be in love with someone who struggles with depression?
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: Are you asking me or…
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: No, no, no, I’m not asking you. That’s what that piece of shit said to me. I’m the depressed person he’s in love with and doesn’t want to be because my sadness makes him feel tired. If I had a stage name, I guess it would be Depressed Girl With The Good PUSSY.
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: That’s actually kind of lit…as a stage name I mean.
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: I apologize for triggering and or antagonizing you. I just wanted someone to talk to. I was afraid to go home feeling this way.
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: Apology accepted. Are you good now? Do you need a hotline number?
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: Yeah, no, I’m good. I guess I just had to get it out.
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: Blessings then. I hope you have a better night. (walks away, sighs, and turns around) Do you smoke weed?
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: Yep!
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: I got a pre-roll we can split if you want. The owner lets me smoke on the patio if you care to join me.
(They exit to the patio as the open mic continues inside. THE CHARISMATIC HERO sparks up a blunt and passes it to DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY.)
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: So what are you into? How do you cope?
(DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY takes two puffs and passes it.)
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: Nah, go ahead. Smoke. I got plenty.
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: (continues smoking) I paint black women.
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: Word. Like, body paint and all that?
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: (passes it back to THE CHARISMATIC HERO who accepts and begins to smoke) Nah, like on murals and large canvases and all that. (pulls out cell phone and begins to show images of her work)
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: Whoa. This is doooooope. Like, how are you able to paint something so detailed that big? That’s crazy.
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: It’s really just a matter of scaling. If I can draw it in my sketchbook, I can put it on a wall. I just use larger proportions. The hardest thing about muralling for me was using spray paint. It makes things so much quicker but it is very different from a paint brush.
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: (takes another puff and passes) I always wished I could draw but never had enough patience with myself to learn. You can keep the rest, I’m feeling good right about now.
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: (puts the blunt out and slides it behind her ear) Yeah, me too. Your plug has some good. Please send my compliments.
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: (chuckles) I got you. But for real though, stay up alright. (turns and heads back to toward the door to the venue)
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: (shouts after THE CHARISMATIC HERO) I used to sit behind you in history class. I wasn’t going to mention it because the fact you don’t remember me is humiliating enough but I wanted to tell you that you’re the only reason I didn’t drop out. I wanted to hear what you had to say. I enjoyed your debates with Mr. Button very much.
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: MR. BUTTON’S CLASS!!! Yoooooo….that was so long ago. Please don’t charge it to my heart, beloved. I’ve smoked a lot of weed and have been through a lot of things since then.
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: Nah, you’re good. I just figured I’d mention that before I regretted not mentioning that.
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: No but seriously, I’m glad you did. Mr. Button’s class is the reason I became a history professor. Instead of complaining about the misinformation, I decided to disseminate the correct information.
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: Wow…that’s very noble of you although the fact that it rhymed is hella corny.
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: (chuckles) Well….what can I say? Life is a poem you know? That call you ear-hustled me on tonight was about me taking this professor of African American Studies job with an Ivy League.
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: Damn bruh, congratulations! That’s huge.
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: Is it though? I mean, I’m honored by their consideration but teaching the over privileged offspring of the 1% African American Studies is not at all how I planned to gain my tenure.
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: Whatever nigga. They paying over privileged 1% Ivy League professor salary?
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: Now you know I’m taxing. To move to Connecticut?! Yeah, they gon’ have to pay me double but that’s not the point.
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: Ok. I’m picking up what you’re putting down ol’ Glorious Struggle head ass. But I say, the greatest way to get revenge on these crackas is your paper. GET YOUR MONEY!!!! Everything else will fall in line.
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: Good night ,Theresa.
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: Would you look at that? I thought you didn’t remember me.
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: I didn’t at first. But I do now. Peace and light. (they hug and THE CHARISMATIC HERO returns to the show while DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY stays on the patio and lights the blunt back up)
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: (to audience) So what you don’t know is, in less than six months The Charismatic Hero will be dead. The Charismatic Hero kills themself on Christmas Eve this year after a series of meaningful yet unfortunate events. So, check it. The Charismatic Hero meets me here, shares an uber with me home, is persuaded to accept a job at Yale, moves to Connecticut, locks themselves out of their staff apartment, a neighbor calls the police thinking The Charismatic Hero is a burglar, the police arrive and begin escalating the situation, one of The Charismatic Hero’s students walks by and tells the police that The Charismatic Hero did in fact live there, the police then leave. The neighbor that called the police comes out to apologize and explain. Turns out Sad Dad over here is married to a Crazy Karen who spotted The Charismatic Hero trying to open the window from the outside. Sad Dad offers The Charismatic Hero some LSD as restitution. The Charismatic Hero accepts and in a horrific display of poor judgment, invites the student to come along for the trip. And that’s when shit started to get all fucked up.
(DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY leaves the patio and re-enters the venue. She walks over to where THE CHARISMATIC HERO is standing and whispers something into THE CHARISMATIC HERO’s ear. THE CHARISMATIC HERO processes the information pleasurably.)
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: Damn, it’s like that huh? A few minutes ago, you were waiting on your ex to come in here and take you back but now you’re trying to show me the Fenty?! This is why women deserve less, I tell you. (laughs out loud)
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: A few minutes ago, you said you weren’t an asshole. Now look at you, slut shaming like a donkey of the day. This good PUSSY and I are very disappointed in you we must say. We had such high hopes. Ain’t that a bitch.
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: (chuckles) Oh no, please don’t misunderstand me, I will fuck you. Extraordinarily. Without a second thought about buddy. I just wanted to make sure I understood you correctly, that’s all. I’m on team soulmate you know? (giggles and takes another shot)
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: Nigga please! Don’t try and cop a plea now.
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: What made you choose here of all places to rekindle with your ex? I’m here every week and I’ve never seen you before. Also a bar where drunken strangers are performing emotionally charged poetry all night is probably not the most ideal spot for romance.
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: I was trying to be spontaneous. Besides…I like drunken strangers and emotionally charged poetry. (beat) How did you learn to write poems?
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: I don’t know. I always could I guess. When I was little, I used to write my own Easter speeches. My dad thought it was cute. He used to tell me I was going to get rich writing the words for Hallmark Cards. I liked the way it felt to impress him so I kept writing.
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: Awww, that’s sweet.
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: Living the dream right? Turns out that I’m queer though…and so…Jesus hates me…and as a result, my dad is no longer impressed with anything about me including the fact that we’re related. (takes another shot)
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: So if you don’t impress him anymore, why do you continue to write poems?
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: Because I like the way it feels to be impressed with myself…and the only time I feel that way is when I’m writing, when I’m performing, or when I teach.
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: Do you really like Fenty?
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: What’s not to like?
DEPRESSED GIRL WITH THE GOOD PUSSY: Take this Uber with me and I’ll show you the new collection.
THE CHARISMATIC HERO: Alright, bet. (pulls out cell phone to request Uber) What’s the address?
The two exit stage together.
Ebony Payne-English is a poet, lyricist, playwright, and educator from Duval County. She is the first woman to establish her own chapter of the international poetry organization, Black on Black Rhyme. Ebony is the 2017 Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville’s Emerging Artist and recipient of the Spoken Word Gala’s 2017 William Bell Humanitarian Award. Ebony currently serves as Executive Director of The Performers Academy, a 501(3)(c) arts education organization, and is a founding member of the Board of Directors for Southern Fried Poetry, Inc. which produces the largest adult regional poetry slam in the nation. Ebony is the author of the graphic novel, The Random Happenings, as well as an award-winning poetry collection, Secrets of Ma’at. Ebony’s critically acclaimed play, On Purpose, was her debut as an American playwright and was soon followed by her 5 play series, The Goddess Experience. Her debut film, Kuongoza, is the winner of Best Artistic Film at the 2021 Detroit Black Film Festival.
Write It Out!
When we think of AIDS-themed plays, we may harken back to the 1980s and 1990s: The Normal Heart, by Larry Kramer, Love! Valour! Compassion!, by Terrence McNally, or Angels in America, by Tony Kushner, to name a few. But if you are interested in moving beyond the canonical, which tends to center white, gay and cisgender men in their narratives, there are many plays to check out. This 2002 anthology would be a great start: Positive/Negative: Women of Color and HIV/AIDS: A Collection of Plays, edited by Imani Harrington and Chyrell D. Bellamy. Or The Baltimore Waltz by Paula Vogel. Or Before It Hits Home by Cheryl West. Or one in two by Donja R. Love. And pay close attention to the pieces coming out of Write It Out!, the workshop series for people living with HIV created and taught by Love, with program manager (and fellow playwright) Timothy DuWhite. We are so glad the following writers (and others) are sharing their talent and insights with the world:
The Glorious Struggle of The Charismatic Hero by Ebony Payne-English, Write It Out! 2020 cohort
Blood Spill, by Lee Raines, Write It Out! 2020 cohort
Five Years by Alfredo Trejo III, Write It Out! 2021 cohort