Published by Samuel French in Ten-Minute Plays: Volume 5, 2000
Ten-Minute Comedy, 7 pages
"Is this a good idea? Is this really, really, really a good idea?" - Jones
When I decided to take a look at Martin's Tattoo, I never expected to stumble upon one of the greatest pseudonym mysteries in theatre today. Jane Martin doesn't exist, and no one knows, for sure, who is behind her works. This is especially astonishing considering she won the 1994 American Critics Association New Play Award and was once nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Like any good theatrical mystery, rumors abound. Most often, the true author of Martin's work is thought to be Jon Jory, the former Artistic Director of the Actors Theatre of Louisville. As Martin is Louisville's most produced playwright, this would prove somewhat problematic. Of course, the identity has never been confirmed and remains a suspicion. What is known is that Jory has directed the premieres of all of Martin's plays and serves as her occasional spokesperson. I also noticed that, within the volume of ten-minute plays, Martin's was the only piece without a page detailing information from the first production, such as cast, dramaturg, stage manager, and so on. The copyright is "by Alexander Speer as Trustee." (Speer is a former Executive Director of the Actors Theatre of Louisville. His name has also been floated as a possible identity for Martin.)
But enough sleuth work. Let's look at the words on the page.
The basic set up of Tattoo is that three females have all realized they have the same lover, a man named William. Together, they lore him to Link's (short for Linchovna) place, where they have one of her Russian friends, Vladimir, concealed in another room. As soon as William realizes all three women are there, he goes on the attack. They're intruding in his affairs. A lot of the humor in the piece comes from William's ridiculous reasoning, like his positing that he's a very complex person and isn't actually cheating on any of them as a different part of him responds to each of them. The piece climaxes when the ladies reveal that they have written a detailed account of his sexual activities for the day and tell William to make a choice. Either they fax the account to a list of his family, friends, and business associates, or they will have Vladimir tattoo it on his butt.
The aspect of the play that stood out to me the most was that the ending remained surprising. Even though it is called Tattoo, a fact that admittedly slipped my mind as I was reading, I was not expecting this outcome. Like Willian, I thought the ladies had brought Vladimir there to kill him, especially because one of them, Jones, was extremely nervous about what they were going to do.
Incidentally, Martin manages to keep the piece light and chipper, despite the serious subject matter, through the dialogue. Link in particular has a lot of humorous lines, like knowing that a knock on the door has to belong to Vladimir because "only Russian knocking is knocking so deliberate as this." When William asks her what's she doing after she locks the door, she quips, "I am making here old-fashioned totalitarian state," and she explains Vladimir's background as, "In Russia this man is thoracic surgeon, but in America he is tattoo artist. Such is fate of Russian people." She may be a bit one note, as are the other lovers, but each of them is very different from each other. Though they certainly skew closer to caricatures, this works for a short piece as, as the audience, we instantly know who each one is and can clearly see their differences. This adds to the humor as, like he claims, William doesn't seem to have a clear type.
My only question about Tattoo is the inclusion of Russian dialogue. It appears to be written out phonetically in Western characters - "Tih uh-púz-dah-vá-yesh." - and includes, in parentheses immediately following each line, the English translation - "You are late." - but there is no indication in the script that there would be any subtitles or translation present for a live audience during a performance. As Link and Vladimir have several exchanges in Russian (with Vladimir in fact only ever speaking Russian), I'm curious as to the impact this might have.
As far as I can tell, Russian speakers and non-Russian speakers would have two different experiences. Russian speakers, understanding the dialogue, would have more information. They would know, for example, that Vladimir was late and that he has another appointment in an hour. While non-Russian speakers would not get this information, it is not essential to the plot. In their case, I think that hearing the Russian dialogue would only serve to increase the tension and perhaps even lull the audience further into the idea that Vladimir is dangerous, especially as Jones seems quite frightened by his speaking Russian.
Overall, I enjoyed Tattoo. It's a piece I'd like to see performed as I'm interested in how an audience would react to not being able to understand some of the dialogue. The piece is quite well written and one of which Jane Martin, whoever she is, should be proud.