THE BABY AND THE BALLERINA

A Play 

by Hannah Gregory

 

Cast of Characters

ELLA Twenty-five years old. Is a former ballerina who misses the stage and is devoted to CLARA. 

 

CLARA Three months old. Is the daughter of ELLA and ANDY. 

 

SHERRY Sixty years old. Is the mother of ELLA and is enthusiastic about ELLA’s career. 

 

ANDY Twenty-eight years old. Is the husband of ELLA and the father of CLARA. Works for a tech startup and is absorbed by it. 

 

Scene

An apartment in Chicago, Illinois; a house in Michigan 

 

Time

The present. 

 


Scene 1

 

AT RISE: A dark bedroom in an apartment in Chicago. Thunder crashes and CLARA is crying. ELLA hurries into the room and goes to CLARA.

 

ELLA

Shh, shh, shh. Don’t cry. Shh. Mama’s here. Don’t cry. Please don’t cry. Mama feels so awful when you’re sad. 

 

(CLARA stops crying.)

 

That’s better, little one. I guess you woke up, huh. You woke up and cried for Mama, didn’t you? Well, Mama’s got you.

 

(ELLA picks up CLARA.)

Oh! You are getting so big, pumpkin. Look at you! Mama has to hold you with two arms now.

 

CLARA

Mmmmmm-ma. Mmmmmm. 

 

ELLA

Mmmm-ma? What are you saying? Maybe you’re saying Mama, smart girl. And that’s right. That’s so right. I am Mama. And who are you? You are Clara, of course. And it’s a beautiful name.

 

CLARA

Mmmmmm-mmmmm.

 

ELLA

Do you know who you’re named after, baby girl? You are named after Mama’s very first leading role: Clara of the Nutcracker. Oh pumpkin, I wish you could have seen me. It was perfect. My costume was gorgeous, the music was beautiful, and I felt so wonderful, spinning and leaping in the center of that stage. I was so very young then, only thirteen, and all the older girls were terribly jealous when I was picked. Absolutely everyone I knew came to watch me dance, and they all told me what an amazing Clara I made. They were all so supportive of me back then. My parents swore that by the time I was eighteen, I’d be the prima ballerina of some prestigious company. And I believed them. I believed every single, wonderful thing that they said about me.  

 

(ELLA doesn’t appear to notice as CLARA begins to whine. ELLA hugs CLARA closer.)  

 

(Wistfully)

I so badly wanted to be the brightest star in ballet. But I don’t think that all those well-meaning adults were telling the truth, baby girl. I wasn’t extraordinary. Oh, I did the movements well enough, and God knows I had the passion but… I just didn’t have that spark. You know, that little glimmer of genius that somehow transforms a dancer from a human being into a bird or a fairy or pure fire. It’s that little bit of magic that creates truly amazing stars, and I just don’t have any. 

 

(ELLA shakes her head and sighs. CLARA’s whines grow louder.)

 

But it doesn’t matter, I suppose. I’ve done well, haven’t I? I mean, I did join a ballet company and I’ve been in several productions. Never the lead, but someone’s got to play a supporting role, right? We can’t all be princesses; some of us must be the peasants. And I did enjoy it. I truly loved every second I spent on every stage, even though the audience wasn’t really there to watch me. It was all so completely amazing. It’s just… I always thought that someday, the director would see me. That he’d look and not see this twenty-something try-hard, but instead a beautiful and earnest artist whose imperfections maybe even added to the effect. I thought that one day, it’d be my chance to be in the spotlight. If I just stuck around long enough, I’d get my chance. 

 

(CLARA begins to cry. ELLA rubs CLARA’s back and CLARA quiets.)

 

Do you know what, baby girl? Last night, I found some old pictures of me. They were hidden in a shoebox that was tucked in the very back of the closet. I didn’t even know it was there. There were so many photos in that box: twenty years’ worth. One was from when I was five, dressed in a fluffy pink tutu for my first dance class, another was from my first day dancing professionally at eighteen, so serious in a plain black leotard. And at the very bottom of the stack, I found a picture taken about a year ago, when I was a swan in Swan Lake. That was my last role, you know. About a month later, I found out that I was having you and… I had to stop performing. Anyway, in that photo of my last dance, I’m crouching in a tiny dressing room with stage make-up slathered all over my face. My arms are draped around a few other dancers dressed in silvery leotards, and I am beaming. I’m grinning toothily at the camera, and I look so, so happy. Last night, staring at that picture, I realized something. I can’t go back to being that elated ballerina. My entire career… Well, it’s pretty much over. It’s done, and I’ll never be seen now, because I had you, little darling. And you mean so, so much to me. I’d never trade you for anything, not even for all the Sugar Plum Fairies in the world. But it still hurts to think that I won’t ever return to the stage. It’s impossible to even pretend that I’d be allowed to. My company won’t want me, not now. They’ll have moved on. I know the drill. Dozens of new, fresh-faced little girls will have clamored to take my place, and they will all have been able to do my part just as well as I was. I guess I’ve always been replaceable. I’m nothing special, and that’s all there is to it. It’s just a fact. 

 

(ELLA adjusts CLARA on her shoulder and walks towards the window of the bedroom.)

 

So, here we are, little one. Neither of us is going anywhere. Let’s dry our tears. No point in crying. Things are as they are, and goodness knows we can’t change them. There. No more crying. C’mon baby girl, let’s go watch the rain. It’s so pretty, today. Look at the way it splashes on the windows. Look at that, little one. And do you hear the thunder? It’s so loud! Mama loves the thunder. I think you do, too, pumpkin. Look at that smile! Look at you smile.

 

(A phone rings.)

 

Huh. Who do you think is calling us, pumpkin? Who’s calling Mama and Clara?

 

(ELLA walks over to the dresser and picks up a cell phone. She looks at the screen and sighs.)

 

Would you look at that, baby girl? It’s Grandma. Should we answer? 

 

CLARA

Mmmmmmm, mmmmmmma. 


ELLA

I’m afraid you’re probably right, little one.

 

(ELLA taps a button on her phone. SHERRY appears in her own home onstage. SHERRY is also talking into a phone.) 

 

SHERRY

Ella! Finally! I’ve been trying to get a hold of you all morning. I have the most wonderful news. Where are you? Can you talk? Oh, never mind; I can’t wait any longer to tell you. I have just found a wonderful job for you. It’s perfect, simply perfect.

 

ELLA

Wow, Mom. It was so nice of you to think of me, but I’m not looking for—  

 

SHERRY

You can thank me later, darling. Now, listen to this: the prep school downtown is looking for a dance teacher! Do you know the one I’m talking about? It’s that high school that always has those poor girls wearing the most atrocious ties. St. Catherine’s, I think it’s called. How else can I describe it? It’s this big, gray building with little eagles carved into its entrance and… You don’t remember it, do you? It’s been so long since you visited home…

 

ELLA

Mom, I remember St. Catherine’s and it’s great that they’re hiring. But I can’t apply for that job. I live here now, in Chicago, and you and that school are all the way up in Michigan. Andy will never want to move; you know that. Besides, that school has their teachers working at all hours. I’d always be teaching, and Clara’s still so little. I can’t leave her, not yet.

 

SHERRY

Don’t be ridiculous, Ella. I thought you wanted to dance again. Haven’t you been moping about not being able to since Clara was born? Here’s your chance to get back to ballet. My sources tell me that the post is quite prestigious and very technical. You would teach actual ballet to competent students, not twirls to three-year-olds. I know it’s not quite what you wanted, I know it’s not the stage, but the pay is good, and you might find that you love teaching. I’d be happy to watch Clara for you, if that’s what it takes for you to feel comfortable. Your father and I want to see more of your sweet baby anyway. We could help you move too! It would be a quick job; you haven’t got many things, just a few boxes of your clothes and of Clara’s toys.

 

ELLA

Mom, I can’t move. I really can’t. Andy has his work here; our lives are here. I can’t just uproot my family.

 

SHERRY

I don’t see why. Really, you haven’t given me one good reason why you and Clara couldn’t live a bit closer. Michigan has so much to offer: a job for you, grandparents for Clara, and… Well, I suppose your husband doesn’t gain anything from moving. But that man gets everything he wants. No one tells him no, and it goes to his head. Andy has such an inflated sense of self-importance, Ella. I really don’t see how you put up with him. I, personally, can’t stand listening to him drone on about that startup of his for more than five minutes. How can any man be so in love with himself? If Andy doesn’t want to come to Michigan, maybe you should just leave him in Chicago. It’d be no loss. I mean, really, he’s always so… absent. From your life and from Clara’s. Wouldn’t it be easier to leave all your loneliness behind in Chicago? 

 

ELLA

I’m not leaving Andy, if that’s what you’re suggesting. 

 

SHERRY (Sighing)

Why? 

 

ELLA

I am married to Andy. I married him two years ago in a tiny Church near his parent’s house. You were there, remember? 

 

SHERRY (Impatiently) 

I know that, Ella. I wouldn’t complain about Andy half as much if he wasn’t related to us. But I don’t see your point. 

 

ELLA

My point is he’s my husband. And Clara’s father. To leave would be to give up on all that. Clara and I would be alone. If I left… 

 

SHERRY

You’d be happier. 

 

ELLA

I’m not sure that I would, Mom. I’m not sure it’s that simple. 

 

SHERRY

Well, obviously I’m not saying that moving would be simple, but you always sound so miserable when you call. Honey, I just want what’s best for you. And I think home is what you need right now. 

 

ELLA 

But I’m not sure that I want—

 

SHERRY

Come home, Ella. Take the job. Let me help you.

 

(CLARA begins to cry loudly. Neither SHERRY nor ELLA speaks for a minute.)

 

ELLA (Softly)

Clara’s hungry. I’ll call you tomorrow, okay? 

 

SHERRY 

Fine. But think about what I said, Ella. Bye, now. 

 

(SHERRY hangs up the phone. SHERRY and her home disappear from view. ELLA moves toward the door of the bedroom, still carrying CLARA, who has quieted.)

 

ELLA

Well, what do you think, baby girl? Do you want to live in Michigan? You’ve never been, I know. But maybe we could use a change. And you’d like it there; I’m sure you would. 

 

(Scene ends.)

 

Scene 2

 

AT RISE: The kitchen of the apartment at night. ELLA sits at a table. ANDY enters the room and ELLA stands to greet him. 

 

ANDY 

Ella, you’re still up. Wow, late night for you, huh. It’s like ten. Where’s Clara? 

 

ELLA

She’s sleeping. She’s been in bed since about seven.  

   

ANDY

Well, good for you, I guess. It’s nice that you got some free time, tonight. Doesn’t seem like you’ve had much since Clara was born. 

ELLA

I was actually a bit lonely after she fell asleep. I’ve gotten so used to having her with me. She’s nice to talk to.

ANDY

And I’m sure that the pair of you must have fascinating conversations. Anyway, I’m off to bed, so… 

 

ELLA

My mom called today. 

 

ANDY

Did she?                             

 

ELLA

Yes, Andy, she did.

 

(Andy sighs. He sits on kitchen chair and tips it onto its hind legs. ELLA remains standing.)

 

ANDY 

Okay, I’ll bite. What did Sherry have to say? Wait, I’ll guess. Ummm, she wants to move in with us because your dad’s driving her crazy. No, no… She’s flying to Guatemala to teach ballet to under-privileged children and insists that you come along. No… Hold on, I’ve got it. She’s sure that I can’t possibly be Clara’s father, and demands that you get a paternity test. Sherry says that I’m really much too awful to be related to your daughter and… Ella, you’re not smiling. That’s not what you mom wanted, is it? 

 

ELLA

Andy, my mom wants me to move back to Michigan. There’s this job that she heard about. A school in her town needs a dance teacher and—

 

ANDY

Ella, you don’t need to work. Really, my job at the startup more than allows you to stay home with Clara. Money is not an issue. 

 

ELLA

I know, and it’s not the money. I just… miss dancing. I miss it like crazy. Ballet was such a big part of me for years and years… I feel sort of empty without it. 

 

ANDY

Ella, honey, if you miss ballet so much, just go take an adult dance class. They have them down at the community center.  

I’m sure we could get a baby-sitter to come in for one night a week. Clara would be fine, and it would be good for you to reconnect with your old pastime. You’ve seemed so withdrawn lately. Kind of depressed, honestly. Maybe you should go see your doctor, too. He might be able to prescribe some pills to, ah, lift your spirits.  

 

ELLA

You don’t get it, do you? Dancing isn’t my hobby, Andy. It was my entire life before Clara. Now, I can’t even play the Nutcracker without you making me shut it off. Ballet has been totally stamped out of my life; of course I seem depressed. Those dance classes at the center aren’t going to do a thing for me, either. I know what they’re like. They’re taught by teacher who knows nothing about ballet, and they are made for first-time dancers. I have been a ballerina for twenty years, Andy. I am hardly a beginner. 

 

(ANDY returns the chair’s legs to the floor. He stands and walks toward ELLA.)

ANDY

Whoa, Ella. I’m not suggesting that you are. Deep breaths, okay. You’re going kind of ballistic on me and it’s just because you’re tired. Come on, let’s get you to bed and we can talk more in the morning. 

 

ELLA

I want to talk about this now, Andy. We need to talk now. Please. You won’t be here tomorrow. You’re never here.

 

ANDY

I really don’t see what there is to say, Ella. Once you’ve rested, you’ll see that everything is fine. You’ve got a safe home, a healthy baby, and a husband who loves you: pretty much everything a person could want. It’s all okay. 

 

ELLA

No. No, it’s not. It’s not okay. None of this is okay.

 

ANDY

Look, Ella, I’m sorry life hasn’t turned out like you wanted it to. I’m sorry that your career never took off. I’m sorry that you had Clara. Alright? I’m really sorry. Is that what you wanted to hear?

 

ELLA

I’m never sorry that Clara was born. Never. 

 

ANDY

Okay… great then. Everything’s good. Can we go to bed now? 

 

ELLA 

I’m not sorry that Clara was born, and I don’t regret giving up the stage for her. I will never regret that. But something is still missing inside of me. I have a hole in who I am and no idea how to fill it. I’m not a ballerina anymore, so who am I? Clara’s mom, Andy’s wife, Sherry’s daughter, sure, but those are roles, not identities. I don’t have a clue who Ella is. Maybe going home would help me figure it out. Maybe going alone would give me more space to.  

ANDY

Aww, come on, Ella. Don’t be dramatic. You just need—

 

(Off-stage, CLARA cries. ELLA walks in the direction of the cries.)

ELLA 

That’s Clara. You can go to bed. My baby needs me. 

 

(Scene ends.)

Scene 3

 

AT RISE: It is the next morning in the kitchen, and a light rain raps on the kitchen window. CLARA sits in a swing while ELLA washes dishes.

ELLA

Would you look at that: it’s still raining. Mama loves the rain, baby girl, but some sun would be nice. 

 

(ELLA stops washing dishes and walks over to CLARA’s swing. ELLA sits down in a chair beside it.)

 

I have some news, pumpkin. Grandma called again this morning, way before you woke up. Do you know what she said? Well, poor Grandma called to tell us that the job at St. Catherine’s filled a bit quicker than she had been expecting. There really is no point in us thinking of moving to Michigan now; Grandma and Grandpa can’t support us if I’m not working. Our chance to go home is gone, baby girl. 

 

CLARA

Bleh, bleh.

 

ELLA

Yep, sweetheart, I feel yucky too. But I don’t really think that Michigan would have made us feel any better. And as lonely as we are here, I’m not ready to be alone. We still need your daddy, no matter what Grandma says. We need him in your life. So, I guess I’m just going to have to soul-search in Chicago, though I have no idea what it is that I’m looking for. What do you think, Clara? Who can Mama be now? I suppose you and I will have to find out together.   

 

CLARA

Mmmmmmm-mmmmmma. 

 

ELLA 

I’m glad that you agree, little one. 

 

(ELLA stands and lifts CLARA out of her swing.)

 

Well, what shall we do? We’ve got nothing but time, you and me. You know what? I have an idea. 

 

(ELLA pushes the kitchen chairs away from the center of the kitchen and turns on the radio. Cheerful classical music plays from it.) 

 

What do you think Clara? Do you like the music? I love it. I really, really do. And it’s great for dancing. So, what do you say? Do you want to dance with me, pumpkin? Because I’d love to dance with you. Ready? Here we go. 

 

(ELLA and CLARA slowly dance around the kitchen, spinning in circles.)

 

What do you think, baby girl? Is this fun? You’re smiling like it is. Should we try going faster? 

 

(ELLA speeds up slightly, and CLARA begins to giggle.)

 

Listen to that laugh. It’s such a beautiful laugh.

 

(They continue to dance.)

 

I love it when you’re happy, Clara. It makes me feel like I did when I danced beside prima ballerinas. I knew that no one in the audience would look away from them and see me, but just being in their presence felt meaningful. That’s like you, sweet pea. You are the center of my world; the spotlight is trained upon your beautiful little face. And I’m always going to be here, in the background. 

 

(Scene ends.)