Bag Lady, a monologue (of about 55 minutes), premiered at the Theater for the New City, NYC, in November, 1979, with Shami Chaikin directed by Elinor Renfield, costumes by Mary Brecht, music by Peter Golub. Later Bag Lady, with two other short plays by van Itallie, Sunset Freeway and Final Orders, was produced at the Manhattan Theater Club, NYC, directed by Steven Kent.

Bag Lady takes place on the streets of New York, which this "bag lady," born in pre-holocaust Europe, calls home. She goes about her business, stuffing her shopping bags with assorted oddments. When she feels assailed by voices of passersby, she responds to them both humorously and belligerently. She ruminates on the past and present, proclaiming her sovereignty as the quintessential urbanite. She is the city, with all its terrors, and in the end in style a little like a Zen monk, she imagines the nuclear end of New York.


"…vintage van Itallie … a poetic interpretation by a discerning playwright …" New York Times.


CLARA: (mumbling, putting her walking stick carefully by her): O.K. You never know...Inspect the damages... light...the discard bag, that’s light...

(She has settled on the ground in front of the bench, surrounded by her bags. She sets up one bag as a discard bag. She spills the contents of another bag on the floor. Street noises. Amongst her stuff she finds a clock. She calls out to a passerby.)

What time is it?

(She goes back to her bags.)

I never seem to have a clock that works. Who cares? Sometimes it’s now, sometimes it’s five minutes ago... Sometimes it’s twenty years from now when the city will be over. Who cares?

(She looks into her little bag.)

Only essentials.

(She takes out things one by one.)

White tablecloth. My clock. Brandy. The flowered teapot... Got to go. Only essentials. My little bag. The Marseilles pictures.

(friendly, to the audience)

I have a piece of velvet here I want to show you. You wouldn’t happen to have a bottle of brandy on you, would you? I love velvet and old silk. Old silk and old satin. I like sequins and tassels and all that trash too. Would you believe I’m a virgin? I am. A man tried to rape me once when I was sixteen but I pushed him out of the car. He was the best friend of – some people I was staying with. New Brunswick, New Jersey. Can’t stand the suburbs.


Published in America Hurrah and Other Plays, Grove/Atlanitc, 2001. Acting edition by Dramatists Play Service both in a separate volume and in Early Warnings.