The Clever Artifice
(vocal/chamber septet version)
VERSION: Two sopranos, two mezzos, string quartet, saxophone (sop./alto/tenor/bari.), percussion, piano
(only available in hard copy)
DURATION: 50 minutes
HARRIET, mezzo soprano, 33-40 years old, dignified, formal, manner
HETTY, soprano, Harriet’s inner self, proud, haughty, “flapper-girl” mentality
MARGARET, soprano (highest voice), 30-37 years old, overbearing, garish
MAGGIE, mezzo soprano (lowest voice), Margaret’s inner self, melodramatic
Scene 1 – Harriet Goodrich, an upper class woman, is expecting a visit from an acquaintance, Margaret Caldwell. As Harriet fixes last minute details, she stops in front of a large mirror hanging in the room. Instead of seeing her reflection, Harriet sees her inner self, Hetty, played by a second actress. Hetty emerges from the mirror and the two begin to have a heated conversation. Hetty says that she will never forgive Harriet for not marrying painter, John Caldwell, who is now Margaret’s husband. Harriet claims that John was “too poor a gamble” and instead married wealthy, Charles Goodrich. Determined to win John back, Hetty schemes with Harriet about what to say when Margaret arrives.
Scene 2 – Margaret arrives, shadowed by her inner self, Maggie. Over tea and pastries, Harriet and Margaret exchange pleasantries while Hetty and Maggie interject sideline commentary. Maggie laments that life has been difficult for Margaret and John. They have recently returned to New York from Paris with little money, or prospects for work. Margaret hopes Harriet will agree to have her portrait painted by John, and subsequently get John into Harriet’s affluent social circles. Maggie’s jealousy lashes out as Margaret, accidentally spilling tea
all over Harriet’s dress. In the ensuing chaos, Hetty claims that Maggie spilled the tea on purpose while Harriet tries to cover up being aghast. Margaret fusses over cleaning up the tea. After the foursome settles down from the tea incident, Margaret carefully tries to arrange a portrait deal without Harriet suspecting that such a deal is exactly why Margaret came. Simultaneously, Hetty coaches Harriet to boast about her wealth and connections in hopes of persuading Margaret to set up a painting session with John. Absentmindedly, Harriet lets it slip that John painted her once many years previously. Her surprise disclosure upsets Margaret and Maggie, and triggers memories for Harriet and Margaret of the first time they each posed for John. As all four characters are caught up in reverie, they reveal true feelings about their marriages, and how life has arranged itself. Coming out of their reminiscing, Hetty pointedly asks Margaret if she is going to have her over for a portrait sitting. Maggie pleads with Margaret that they need the money. Pretending to be delighted with the plan, Margaret and Maggie leave.
Coda – Alone again, Harriet and Hetty wonder what to wear to the portrait session. Hetty asks, “What about Charles?” After briefly deliberating, Harriet ironically answers that she will tell Charles the truth: She is going to have her portrait painted by John Caldwell.