The Fastest Girl in the World

play adapted from a Greco-Roman myth in Ovid’s Metamorphoses by Ursula Dubosarsky , illustrated by Kerry Millard

CHARACTERS

ATALANTA, a young woman who can run REALLY fast

IASUS, her father HIPPOMENES, a young man VENUS, the goddess of Love

ASSORTED BOYS, who want to race ATALANTA

ASSORTED GIRLS, friends of ATALANTA

Scene One

The wild woods of ancient Greece. ATALANTA and her father, IASUS, are in the middle of an argument. ATALANTA is carrying a bow and arrow, clearly impatient to be off hunting.

ATALANTA: Dad, I told you, I want to go deer hunting. Just forget this husband stuff. There’s no way I’m going to get married to some silly boy just to please you.

IASUS: Atalanta, dear daughter, listen to reason— ATALANTA:Why should I listen to you? Great father you’ve been. You left me on a hillside when I was born, just because I wasn’t a boy!

IASUS: Come on, darling, let bygones be bygones. That was a long time ago.

ATALANTA: Dad, you left me to die! If that big brown bear hadn’t come along to look after me—

IASUS: Well, bears are very good mothers, I believe. You know, warm and caring. Lots of hugs. I read about it in a book. Now if I’d left you somewhere to be raised by a lizard, or a jellyfish, I’d understand your complaints—

ATALANTA: Have you ever tried having a conversation with a bear? And as for those hugs, I’m lucky I wasn’t squashed to death!

IASUS: Um, well, I’m not saying it was the perfect upbringing but—

ATALANTA: Look, Dad, I’m not going to argue about it. All I can say is, you can hardly be surprised that I’m a bit on the wild side. I’ve had to hunt for my own food since I was a baby.

IASUS: Yes, darling, I know. That’s why you’re such a fast runner. It’s incredible, you’re the fastest runner in all of Greece. I’m so proud of you.

ATALANTA: Huh!

IASUS: And so will your husband be, I’m sure. Imagine how useful to have a wife who can catch a wild boar and rip it to shreds with her own delicate hands!

ATALANTA: I said forget it, Dad!

IASUS: But darling, really, a nice husband, a nice home, some dear little children—

ATALANTA: Bear cubs, don’t you mean?

IASUS: A lovely wedding! We could have a big party and invite all our friends—

ATALANTA: Have your own lovely wedding, why don’t you, if you’re so crazy about the idea?

IASUS: (getting down on his knees, beseeching) Atalanta! Daughter! I beg of you. I know I’ve got my faults as a father—

ATALANTA: Oh yes.

IASUS: But I’m an old man! Couldn’t you just do this one thing for me? This one little iddy-biddy thing? It would mean I could die in peace.

ATALANTA: (aside) I am going NUTS with this. When will he ever  stop  talking  about  marriage?  Hmmm. Maybe  there’s  a way. (Turning to IASUS) Dad, how about this? I promise you I will marry—

IASUS: (leaping to his feet) Oh joy!

ATALANTA: The first boy who can beat me in a running race. Ha!

(ATALANTA laughs and marches off in triumph, leaving IASUS

dumbfounded in the middle of the stage.)

Scene Two

Elsewhere in the woods. ATALANTA is stalking about stealthily with her bow and arrow. She does not see HIPPOMENES, also with a bow and arrow, come in from the other side.

HIPPOMENES: I thought I heard a deer running past. I wonder where—(He  sees  ATALANTA  and  stops  in  his  tracks.) Oh! Who’s that? (Slowly, softly, he steps a bit closer.) What an amazing girl. She’s so strong, so beautiful. I wonder who she is? (He  comes closer. ATALANTA is so intent upon the hunt that she doesn’t notice him. He coughs slightly.) Um, hallo!

ATALANTA: (crossly turning on him, then back again) Shhh! (Respectfully, HIPPOMENES waits as ATALANTA moves forward, raising her bow and arrow in the air. She releases the arrow into the wings. It makes a thudding sound.)

(With  irritation) Missed!

HIPPOMENES: (sympathetically) Too bad.

ATALANTA: (noticing him properly at last) Who are you? HIPPOMENES: Um, I’m Hippomenes—um, Hippo for short, if you’d prefer, I mean—(He holds out his hand to shake, but ATALANTA has already moved off, in pursuit of another deer.) Um, what’s your name?

ATALANTA: (not looking back at him, raising her bow and arrow) Shhh!

HIPPOMENES: ( following her, whispering) Sorry. What’s your name?

(Again he waits as ATALANTA stalks her prey. But after a moment, she lowers her bow and arrow, and turns back to HIPPOMENES, smiling ruefully.)

ATALANTA: It got away. Ah, well, you know what they say, you can’t kill ’em all.

HIPPOMENES: (gazing at her in admiration) Er, no, I suppose you can’t.

ATALANTA: (noticing his intense stare) You’re not from round here, are you?

HIPPOMENES: No, just visiting. ATALANTA:Visiting? What’s to visit in this place? HIPPOMENES: Well, it’s a bit embarrassing actually.

ATALANTA: Look, I was brought up by a bear. NOTHING embarrasses me.

HIPPOMENES: (sheepishly) Well, the thing is, my dad says I have to get married. He sent me travelling to find a wife.

ATALANTA:What’s wrong with that? I thought all men wanted to get married. That’s what I’ve been told, anyway.

HIPPOMENES: Oh I’d like to get married, but where am I ever going to find a wife who likes the same sorts of things I like? ATALANTA: What do you like?

HIPPOMENES: Um, well, hunting, (holding up his bow and arrow) mainly, I guess. But also fishing, wrestling, running … ATALANTA: Running?

HIPPOMENES: (getting excited) Oh yes, I love running. I am such a fast runner.You should see me. My dad reckons I’m the fastest runner in the whole of Greece.

ATALANTA: Well, that is flatly ridiculous.

HIPPOMENES: Hey, wait till you’ve seen me.

ATALANTA: I don’t need to see you. Anyway, shhh, I can hear another deer. I think it’s over that way. I’ve got to go. See you some time.

HIPPOMENES: But wait! I didn’t even get your name!

(ATALANTA dashes offstage in pursuit of the deer. HIPPOMENES gazes after her, in a lovesick manner.)

Scene Three

HIPPOMENES is now sitting sadly on a rock, shaking his head. HIPPOMENES: That girl! She’s amazing. She likes hunting! And running! Maybe even wrestling! (Groaning) Oh, I think I’m in

love!

(There is the sound of shimmering music. VENUS enters, tossing glitter about her.)

VENUS: Did someone say love?

(HIPPOMENES hardly notices her; he is thinking about ATALANTA) HIPPOMENES: (dreamily) Mmm.

VENUS: (swooping over) Then you are in luck, dear boy.You know

who I am, of course?

HIPPOMENES: (not really paying attention) Mmm.

VENUS: (sharply) I’m Venus!

HIPPOMENES: (Realising politeness is called for, he stands up and shakes her hand ). Oh.Venus. How do you do?

VENUS: (taken aback by the handshake) Yes. Venus. (She tosses more glitter about in a meaningful way. HIPPOMENES starts coughing underneath it all.) The goddess of love, you idiot!

HIPPOMENES: (suddenly much more interested) Oh, that Venus! (He wipes glitter from his face.) Maybe you can help me. I’m in love! VENUS: (sweetly) Ah! I thought so.

HIPPOMENES: (in a rush) I don’t know her name. But she just ran past here. She had a bow and arrow and she’s beautiful and strong and so fast, fast as a deer—

VENUS: Hang on a minute. She sounds familiar. Did she happen to mention that she was brought up by a bear?

HIPPOMENES: ( jumping up and down) You know her! What’s her name?

VENUS: Oh, I know her all right. Her name’s Atalanta. But there’s a problem, I’m afraid. She’s just this moment sworn only to marry a man who can beat her in a running race.

HIPPOMENES: I can do that! I’m fast.

VENUS: Not as fast as she is. HIPPOMENES: How fast can she be? VENUS: Faster than any man alive.

HIPPOMENES: (throwing himself down next to the rock, dejected) Then what am I to do?

VENUS: Come now, you forget! (Tossing more glitter about) I am Venus, the goddess of love! I will help you.

HIPPOMENES: (coughing) Can you really?

VENUS: Here, take this. (She hands him a small sack.)

HIPPOMENES: What is it?

VENUS: (dropping her voice to a whisper and looking around theatrically) Shh! Something she won’t be able to resist. Come with me. I will explain everything.

(HIPPOMENES and VENUS exit conspiratorially in a cloud of glitter.)

Scene Four

An open area. There is a carnival atmosphere. ASSORTED BOYS AND GIRLS are milling about in excitement. A flag at one end of the stage indicates the starting line of a race. IASUS is waving his arms in the air, trying to get the ASSORTED BOYS to line up.

IASUS: All right, all right, settle down, everyone. Could you lads try to show a bit of order? We’ll be starting the race very soon.

BOY ONE: Where’s Atalanta?

BOY TWO:Yeah, where is she?

BOY THREE: I’ve come miles for this race!

GIRL ONE: Is it true? Is Atalanta really going to get married? GIRL TWO: I can’t believe it. She said she’d NEVER do such a thing.

GIRL THREE: Looks like she’s changed her mind. (ATALANTA saunters in casually.)

ATALANTA: Well hello everyone. Goodness, what a lot of, um,

competitors.

IASUS: You’re so popular, darling. See how many boys want to marry you!

ATALANTA: Yeah, well, let’s see how keen they are when I tell them my special rule for the race.

IASUS: Special rule?

ATALANTA: Yes, I thought of it myself. The rule is—whoever beats me in the race can be my husband—

ASSORTED BOYS:Yaay!

ATALANTA: But whoever doesn’t beat me, will—

IASUS:Yes?

ATALANTA: Be put to death!

ASSORTED BOYS AND GIRLS: Ahhh!

IASUS: Atalanta, you can’t mean that.

ATALANTA: Oh yes I can. I’ll kill them myself if I have to. (Everyone gasps in horror.There is a short silence.)

BOY ONE: Er, I don’t know about this

BOY TWO: Um, how fast is she?

BOY THREE: I mean, what if I get a stitch?

BOY ONE: This doesn’t sound like much fun any more

BOY TWO: I’m out of here.

BOY THREE: Me too!

IASUS: Atalanta, look, they’re all leaving!

ATALANTA: Ha! Cowards the lot of them.

IASUS: (hands on his head in despair) Oh, Atalanta.

(Suddenly onto the stage steps HIPPOMENES, with the small sack

VENUS gave him on his shoulder.The crowd falls back.)

HIPPOMENES: (dramatically) I’ll race you, Atalanta!

ATALANTA: (recognising him) You! HIPPOMENES:Yes, me. I’ll race you. ATALANTA: Are you sure?

HIPPOMENES: Quite sure.

IASUS: Look, young man, whoever you are—

HIPPOMENES: (shaking hands) Hippomenes. Pleased to meet you, sir. IASUS:Yes, er well, you see, when I announced this race I didn’t know she was going to do this. This put-to-death stuff.

HIPPOMENES: It’s quite all right.

IASUS: But she’s very fast.

HIPPOMENES: So am I.

IASUS: I mean, really fast.

HIPPOMENES: So am I.

(IASUS stands back, shaking his head in amazement.)

IASUS: Atalanta, here is a young man who is willing to risk his own death to marry you. What do you say to that?

ATALANTA: What do I say? I say good luck to him! (ATALANTA and HIPPOMENES gaze at each other in a stand-off.)

IASUS: (shrugging) All right then. We have a race. (Raising his voice.) OK everybody.We’re going to start. In lane one, we have my daughter Atalanta—

ASSORTED GIRLS: Hurray! Yay! Go Atalanta! IASUS: And in lane two, we have— HIPPOMENES: (politely) Hippo, if you like.

ASSORTED BOYS:Yay! Hurrah! Good luck! Hope you don’t die!

IASUS: Hippo, Atalanta. Are we ready? (The crowd falls silent.) On your mark, get set, GO!

(The race begins. HIPPOMENES and ATALANTA take off and run right off the stage.The crowd of BOYS AND GIRLS gathers together, pointing, watching at a distance.)

GIRL ONE: Look at them go!

BOY ONE: What a race!

GIRL TWO: Atalanta’s winning!

BOY TWO: No, it’s Hippo. Look, he’s passing her!

(The crowd runs off the stage in excitement, following the race. Enter

HIPPOMENES, panting. VENUS appears beside him.)

HIPPOMENES: (stopping for breath) Oh, she’s fast all right! I’ve never known a girl who can run so fast. I’m ahead now, but I won’t be for long.

VENUS: I  warned  you, didn’t  I?  But  that’s  what  my  secret weapon is for.

HIPPOMENES: I don’t know,Venus, it doesn’t seem fair.

VENUS: Fair! Do you want to die, or be married? HIPPOMENES: Gee, when you put it that way— VENUS: Quick, she’s coming! Just do it!

(VENUS ducks behind a tree as ATALANTA enters at a run. HIPPOMENES reaches into his sack and pulls out a golden apple, which he throws in front of ATALANTA. She stops in her tracks, taken aback.)

ATALANTA:What on earth’s that? (Bending to pick it up.) A golden apple. How beautiful!

VENUS: (hissing and shoving HIPPOMENES) Quick! Go on! Run! (HIPPOMENES runs off. After a moment, remembering the race,

ATALANTA does too, apple in hand. The crowd of ASSORTED BOYS AND

GIRLS enters excitedly.)

GIRL THREE: Why did she stop?

BOY THREE: Now he’s really ahead of her!

(The crowd runs off shouting. Again HIPPOMENES enters, panting more than ever, shadowed by VENUS.)

HIPPOMENES: (bent  over)  I  can’t  keep  this  up. It’s  killing  me. (VENUS points meaningfully at the little sack.) All right, all right. Oh I do so want to marry her. I’ll have to do it again!

(He reaches into sack as ATALANTA enters at a run, throws down  a second golden apple in her path, then ducks behind a tree. Again ATALANTA stops to pick it up.)

ATALANTA: Another one of these beautiful things. (She frowns, looking  around, and  spots  the  cowering  HIPPOMENES.) Hey, what’s going on? Are you trying to cheat or something! Well, you’re not going to win that way, my friend.

(She tosses the apple down and runs off at a top pace, followed by

HIPPOMENES and VENUS. The crowd of ASSORTED BOYS AND GIRLS

re-enter.)

GIRL ONE: Why did she stop again?

BOY ONE: Hippo’s going to win!

GIRL TWO: No he’s not!

BOY TWO: The race is nearly over!

GIRL THREE: Here they come!

BOY THREE: They’re neck and neck!

(The crowd falls back as ATALANTA and HIPPOMENES come running in, side by side.Their pace is slow and they are clearly exhausted. VENUS follows right behind HIPPOMENES. IASUS enters, with a finishing line pole.)

VENUS: (hissing in HIPPOMENES’ ear) Go on! One last time! Just do it! The race will be yours!

(HIPPOMENES, puffing and panting, reaches into his sack, takes out the third golden apple and tosses it up in the air. It falls to the ground in front of ATALANTA.)

ATALANTA: (looking down, breathing heavily) Not another one! I must keep running. Oh, but it’s so lovely. I can’t resist …  If I just quickly reach down …

VENUS: (aside) I’ll fix it for him. (She tosses glitter lavishly over the apple as ATALANTA stoops to pick it up.)

ATALANTA: Oh, but it’s so heavy! It’s pulling me down! This is ridiculous. How heavy can an apple be?

(As ATALANTA struggles with the magically heavy apple, HIPPOMENES falls forward over the finishing line.The crowd erupts in cheering, leaping up and down.The golden apple slips out of ATALANTA’s grasp.)

ASSORTED  BOYS  AND  GIRLS: Hippo’s  the  winner!  Hippo’s  the winner! Hurray! Hurray for Hippo!

(Delighted, IASUS comes forward, putting his arms around ATALANTA

and HIPPOMENES.)

IASUS: Now, dear children, you can be married!

HIPPOMENES: (hanging his head, shame-faced) I’m sorry, Atalanta. I know I cheated with those golden apples. But I so much want to marry you. Will you marry me? Do you mind?

ATALANTA: (rolling her eyes, but recognising defeat) Oh, all right. I suppose I have to now.

HIPPOMENES: (overjoyed) We can hunt all day and swim and fight and fish and—

ATALANTA: All right, all right. Less talk, more action. Let’s go hunting then! Get your bow and arrow!

VENUS: (coming forward, her arms crossed self-importantly) He-hem? And what about me?

HIPPOMENES: (gazing utterly lovesick at ATALANTA) Hmm?

VENUS: (with growing anger) You don’t even say thank you! To mighty Venus, who used her powers of love (tossing her glitter about furiously) to make your dreams come true?

HIPPOMENES: (looking only at ATALANTA) What did she say?

ATALANTA: (impatiently) Who cares about her?

VENUS: Vile ingrates! I’ll show you who cares! You, you snivelling wretch, (pointing at ATALANTA) were brought up by a bear, but now see how you both like living (she throws up a huge flurry of glitter)—as a pair of LIONS!

(VENUS exits in a huff. ATALANTA and HIPPOMENES fall to the ground and roll briefly offstage.When they re-enter, they have the appearance of a lioness and lion.)

ATALANTA: (proudly on all fours) ROA-OA-OR! HIPPOMENES: (answering, shaking his mane) ROA-AOR! IASUS: (rushing forward, horrified) Atalanta! Daughter!

ATALANTA: ROA-OA-OR!

IASUS: (jumping back, terrified) Daughter! (Miserably to whoever will listen) This is not exactly the wedding I had in mind.

BOY ONE: (to IASUS) Cheer up, sir, she looks quite happy.

GIRL ONE: Sort of suits her.

BOY TWO: Don’t know about him though.

GIRL TWO: He’s happy as long as he’s with her.

BOY THREE: They can chase deer all day long now, I guess. GIRL THREE: (crouching down, pretending to be a lion) GRRRRRRRRR!

(ATALANTA and HIPPOMENES roar back, pace the stage and leap about contentedly, as the BOYS AND GIRLS look on in amazement and delight.)

THE END