Dinner During Yemen

Karen Malpede

(NITA and RITA meet for dinner at RITA’s house. They are friends from work, among the remaining career diplomats in the State Department. NITA is more knowledgeable in the ways of real politic than RITA, who looks up to her. There is no need for realist props. In the first performance, the actors stood, with wine glasses in their hands.)

(A terrible cry is heard.)

NITA
Is that an animal?

RITA
Or a child.

NITA
Why ever for?

RITA
An animal must be.

NITA
In a trap, perhaps.

RITA
Animal-like.

NITA
When they get that hungry, I suppose.

RITA
That’s what I meant.

NITA
Civilization is but a veneer.

RITA
Why would anyone let their own child starve?

NITA
No one would, let, I suppose.

RITA
Not let, exactly.

NITA
It’s complex.

RITA
Totally.

NITA
Allegiances, patronage, family.

RITA
Names difficult to pronounce.

NITA
One can’t keep things straight in one’s head.

RITA
Civil wars are the absolute worst.

NITA
So much suffering for what?

RITA
Would you like some oysters on the half-shell?

NITA
Moon Shoals and Kumamoto.

RITA
Afloat in their own juice.

NITA
So smooth sliding down the throat.

RITA
I don’t think they cry like that.

NITA
Like what?

RITA
What we just heard.

NITA
A whimper, perhaps.

RITA
That’s what I meant.

NITA
When they get weak.

RITA
Must have been an animal caught in a trap.

NITA
Unsettling, nevertheless.

RITA
They turn their heads; unclench their little fingers and toes.

NITA
That must be so terrible to watch.

RITA
Oh, my goodness. I could not watch that.

NITA
I turn the channel; that’s what I do.

RITA
I meant if it were mine.

NITA
Yours?

RITA
Yes.

NITA
How could that be?

RITA
It couldn’t, of course.

NITA
Well, that is a blessing, is it not?

RITA
How ever do such terrible things come to pass?

NITA
Much of the world’s oil ships through the Bab al-Mandab strait.

RITA
Geography is destiny, do you agree?

NITA
Strategic link between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.

RITA
Gate of Tears, it’s been called.

NITA
Strategic locations usually are. Troy was.

RITA
Please, try the baked bass.

NITA
Absolutely divine braised buttery sauce.

RITA
Times recipe. It’s a proxy war.

NITA
The Saudis blockaded the ports.

RITA
It’s not helpful to criticize the Saudis.

NITA
Quite Right.

RITA
Saudi Arabia is our ally.

NITA
Delightful, this white Bordeaux.

RITA
We’ll move to a red with the beef.

NITA
“Nobody makes what we make and now we’re selling it all over the world.”

RITA
Is that so?

NITA
I am quoting President Trump.

RITA
Whatever was he talking about?

NITA
Missile defense systems.

RITA
Such a comfort, they are.

NITA
The Houthis shot a missile at Saudi Arabia.

RITA
Iran gave it to them. That made everything worse.

NITA
Our missile defense system knocked their missile right out of the sky.

RITA
Well, of course, it did.

NITA
I’ll take a piece of that roast beef.

RITA
Please.

NITA
Tender.

RITA
Grass-raised, organic.

NITA
If one is going to eat meat.

RITA
In moderation, our little sins.

NITA
No one in Saudi was hurt.

RITA
We can be thankful for that.

NITA
Please, I’ll take another thin slice of the beef.

RITA
War with Iran.

NITA
Iran has had it coming quite some time.

RITA
Yemen imports most of its food.

NITA
They grow coffee, for export, and khat.

RITA
What is that?

NITA
Feel good drug.

RITA
I’m glad they have some escape.

NITA
Frankincense and Myrrh, they used to grow.

RITA
How Biblical.

NITA
Medicinal, post-partum effects. Contract the womb. Clot the blood.

RITA
For Mary from the three Wise Men.

NITA
Khat, too, for Mary, do you suppose? (They laugh)

RITA
The Saudis won’t stop.

NITA
I suppose they think they have no choice.

RITA
As long as the Houthis, of course.

NITA
The Shiite Houthi.

RITA
Are they?

NITA
Zaidi, yes.

RITA
And the Saudis are Sunni.

NITA
Wahhabi. Wahhabis. Salafi.

RITA
They don’t like the Houthi.

NITA
The Houthi rebelled.

RITA
The Houthi promised the people reforms.

NITA
The Houthi want what they can’t have.

RITA
Al-Qaeda, of course, is taking advantage.

NITA
We’ve had to put boots on the ground.

RITA
That’s not so. Is that so?

NITA
I suppose so. Green Berets.

RITA
Air strikes, I know about.

NITA
We are simply refueling their jets.

RITA
Made by us. I’m full up.

NITA
Me too.

RITA
They might have been civilians.

NITA
I hardly think so.

RITA
Yes, in the market, 52.

NITA
Precision instruments, first-rate intelligence.

RITA
A wedding party. More than one.

NITA
The area is thick with insurgents.

RITA
On the happiest day of one’s life.

NITA
Was yours that?

RITA
No. Civilians in their beds.

NITA
They use civilians as human shields.

RITA
Barbarians.

NITA
He’s a charmer, the Saudi prince, Mohamad Bin Salman.

RITA
He let women drive. Such piercing black eyes.

NITA
I could not survive without my car.

RITA
The sewage system in Sana’a has stopped working.

NITA
The Saudis are in charge of the reconstruction.

RITA
That’s only fair; rebuild what you bomb.

NITA
Billions to be made in the private sector.

RITA
This is an aged white rind goat cheese, from Spain.

NITA
Weapons sales are essential to growth

RITA
Take just a taste.

NITA
2.3 billion promised to us by the Prince.

RITA
It has the slightest peppery tang.

NITA
Follow-up with this salted dark chocolate. My small contribution.

RITA
There’s cholera everywhere.

NITA
Chocolate is good for digestion.

RITA
The United Nations fears mass starvation.

NITA
Don’t get me started.

RITA
Just a small piece. Not terribly caloric.

NITA
On the United Nations.

RITA
Oh, yes, nobody likes them.

NITA
We had such great hopes.

RITA
For world peace.

NITA
World peace, yes.

RITA
We can still wish.

NITA
We still do, of course.

RITA
What a marvelous meal.

(A terrible cry is heard.)

END

© 2018 By Karen Malpede, revised version, all rights reserved.

Originally performed as part of “Imagine:Yemen” at the Irene Diamond Theater, Pershing Theater Center, June 25, 2018. Nita was played by Kathleen Chalfant; Rita was played by Dee Pelletier, the voice was George Bartenieff.

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