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PLAY: Uphill

UPHILL

(c)2017 David Lefkowitz

totalpost_at_totaltheater.com

*

UPHILL

TIME & PLACE feel modern but have no fixed year or location. In fact, UPHILL may be played 2on an empty stage.

NOTES: One actor plays Sisyphus throughout, whereas two or three different actors may play the reporter.

 

CHARACTERS

Sisyphus – An exceptional athlete

Reporter – An unexceptional journalist

 

SCENE I

Lights go up on SISYPHUS, a virile athlete in his thirties, wearing sports gear, stretching, and doing conditioning exercises. After a few moments, the REPORTER, an eager newbie in his 20s, enters. notebook and pen in hand.  He watches for a bit and starts making notes.

Sisyphus finishes one round of exercises and takes some breaths.

SISYPHUS
You press?

REPORTER
Yes, sir. The Courier.

SISYPHUS
Courier, huh? What happened to Katsaros?

REPORTER
Oh, he retired last year.

SISYPHUS
Did he? Good. They should have put him out to pasture long ago.

REPORTER
He was pretty hard on you.

SISYPHUS
It was my first year. First time out of the box. This was three years ago. And what does he write?

REPORTER
I think it was —

SISYPHUS
This no-talent hack writes, “In fine, fit fettle though he be. . .”

REPORTER
I know. He was kind of addicted to alliteration.

SISYPHUS
“In fine, fit fettle though he be, Sisyphus, a newcomer to the grand Greek tradition of Boulder Escalation, strikes me as having the muscles but not the mettle to get the job done.” The muscles but not the mettle.

REPORTER
I read that. For background.

SISYPHUS
Where did he get the nerve? The hubris to pronounce me unfit at my very first meet.

REPORTER
He could be harsh. But hey, that year, you made it about halfway.

SISYPHUS
I know I did. I know exactly what I did. I was trying to push a boulder up and up and up the hill, and the whole time, in my mind, It’s Katsaros says this, Katsaros says that. I’m a blowhard, I’m a braggart, I’m inadequate because i have the muscles but not the mettle.

REPORTER
Right, but you came back the next year and still didn’t quite —

SISYPHUS
I made it up much higher. But I had blister on my hand, and I just couldn’t endure —

REPORTER
I know. I read all the stories. Last year, too. You got within twenty meters.

SISYPHUS
Achh, I don’t know what that was. Some jinx. Some trick of the wind.

REPORTER
May I quote you on that?

SISYPHUS
You can quote me saying that this year, I am better, stronger, mentally ready. Anyone betting against me this year will be crying for mercy at Mount Olympus.

REPORTER
Have you changed your strategy?

SISYPHUS
I have. Instead of pushing from the center of my chest, I’m going to use my right shoulder. It’ll give me much more torque and a way to get under the last third of boulder.

REPORTER
(reading from his notebook) Would you say that the gods are in your favor today?

SISYPHUS
I never second guess the gods. The temperature’s cool, my body’s strong, and I have the will.

(sound of a bell ringing, off. Sisyphus readies to exit)

Time for me to prove Katsaros wrong. Good to meet you. Hey, am I your first story?

REPORTER
I’ve written a couple of calendar things, but you’re my first big scoop.

SISYPHUS
Congrats! Watch me make you famous.

REPORTER
Ha! I’ll settle for turning in my copy and getting paid. I’ll leave you the glory.

SISYPHUS
Suit yourself. Anyway… (motions with his thumb that he’s going)

REPORTER
Good luck to you.

SISYPHUS
Won’t need it. It’s going to happen.

(Sisyphus exits to begin the competition.
We now hear the sound of a stadium crowd cheering in anticipation.
The Reporter moves to the edge of the stage and cranes his neck to watch.
The crowd cheers and cheers and then…
awwww…disappointment.

The reporter clucks, then starts writing in his journal as he exits.)


SCENE II

(Lights signal a time shift.
After a moment, enter Sisyphus. He wears a different athletic outfit but hasn’t aged.
He begins his exercises.
Soon the reporter returns. He is now noticeably older, perhaps with a short beard.)

SISYPHUS
(after a beat) You again, huh?

REPORTER
Me always.

SISYPHUS
How long have you been on this beat now?

REPORTER
Twenty-one years.

SISYPHUS
And they punish you with me?

REPORTER
Ha! Well, At least I don’t have to cover discus or javelin. Plus, they figure I’ve known you so long, there’s a human interest angle even in that.

SISYPHUS
I remember your first story about me. It was the year my shoulder went out.

REPORTER
I know.  Bad break.

SISYPHUS
I eased up just a little to take a breath, and the rock slammed straight into my upper arm.

REPORTER
Amazing that you made it back next year.

SISYPHUS
I don’t quit. Sisyphus Never Quits.

REPORTER
Ha, that was one of my headlines.

SISYPHUS
I know. I cut it out and posted it in my weight room over the barbells.

REPORTER
Wow. Thanks. Not used to athletes using ME for inspiration.

SISYPHUS
Well, you’re not like that jerk, Katsaros.

REPORTER
Katsaros, I remember him: the guy I took over for. Gods, was it really two decades ago? I feel so old.

SISYPHUS
You should get some exercise Keeps you in fine, fit fettle.

REPORTER & SISYPHUS
(laughing) Katsaros!

REPORTER
You haven’t aged a day, though.

SISYPHUS
(points to his body) Not out here. (then his head) In here, though. I’ve aged plenty.

REPORTER
People can be cruel.

SISYPHUS
Sometimes I don’t blame them. Twenty-three years you try and and try and try.

REPORTER
And you get so close. Sometimes.

SISYPHUS
Last year. A hair’s breadth from the top. (enraged) Gaah!

REPORTER
It was a freak accident. A bird startled you.

SISYPHUS
This black wing swept across my eyes.

REPORTER
And down you went.

SISYPHUS
People mocked and called me “birdbrain.” “Failures of a feather fall together.”

REPORTER
That wasn’t my headline.

SISYPHUS
I know. You’ve always given me a fair shake. (laughs) You may be my only fan.

REPORTER
Ehh.. I can’t say I’m a fan. Objectivity and all that. Let’s just say, if you win —

SISYPHUS
WHEN I win.

REPORTER
When you make it happen, I won’t begrudge you the happiest celebration this side of Olympus. I’ll even raise the first toast.

SISYPHUS
Well, then get the wine ready, because it’s today. I feel it.

REPORTER
(back to note-taking mode) What’s special about today? New technique? Some interesting wrinkle?

SISYPHUS
Shh. It’s a secret. Every year I tell you my strategy. This year, I keep mum. Just for me.

(A bell rings, off)

Destiny calls.

REPORTER
Do your best. Hey, I never got to ask: when you win, what then? What will you do?

SISYPHUS
No idea. (laughs) Take up discus.

REPORTER
Or javelin.

SISYPHUS
Or write about sports for a newspaper.

REPORTER
Ha, tell me you won’t sink that low!

SISYPHUS
Fair enough. Maybe I’ll just keep pushing a rock up a hill.

REPORTER
And I’ll keep pushing a thousand words onto a piece of paper. Not so different.

SISYPHUS
At least you finish your column.

(beat)

REPORTER
Good luck.

(They shake hands. Sisyphus exits.
The reporter stands at the edge of the stage to watch. There is crowd noise, though not as loud and boisterous as in the first scene.
The Reporter gazes hopefully towards the event. Then, as ever, disappointment.
The reporter sighs and takes a moment before starting to write his column. He exits writing.)

 
SCENE III

(Lights signal another time shift. Sisyphus returns once more, again in a different
outfit but still looking youthful. He exercises.
Enter the Reporter, slowly and with a cane. He has a white beard now. He watches and starts to remove a pen and notebook from his pocket, but he’s shaky.
Sisyphus stops his exercises to steady the Reporter and help him.)

REPORTER
Thanks.

SISYPHUS
It’s good to see you, Theo.

REPORTER
You, too, champ.

SISYPHUS
How long has it been now?

REPORTER
Since I started? Forty years.

SISYPHUS
Has it really?

REPORTER
And I’ve never missed a meet.

SISYPHUS
Ha, there are a few times I wished you’d missed. Almost every time.

REPORTER
The last couple, you came so close. Like two years ago, I thought you had it, I really did.

SISYPHUS
It grazed the top. Actually touched the apex, but then the gravel slipped under it. I almost cried. Don’t write that.

REPORTER
What can I write?

SISYPHUS
Write that Sisyphus, after forty years of attempts and thrilling near misses, finally achieved perfection. He pushed the rock to the top of the mountain. He did not waver. He did not doubt. He did not fail.

REPORTER
You believe this is your time?

SISYPHUS
I know it. I have been righteous and careful and —

REPORTER
Do you think the gods owe you? After all this time, will they work for you instead of against you?

SISYPHUS
You know I can’t — won’t — answer that.

REPORTER
Well, do you have a specific technique this year that —

SISYPHUS
Yes. Instead of putting the weight front and center, I’ll be angling towards my left
shoulder. That’ll give me more mobility.

REPORTER
But back when you used your right shoulder —

SISYPHUS
That was years ago. I was a kid. I mean, are you writing the same things now that you were decades ago?

REPORTER
Kind of.

SISYPHUS
Well, that’s a shame. Switch it up a little, why dont’cha?

REPORTER
As a matter of fact —

SISYPHUS
Life’s too short to be doing the same things over and over again the same way.

REPORTER
(chuckles) I guess it is. Still, I’m gonna miss this.

SISYPHUS
(stretching) Who wouldn’t miss this? The fresh air, the crowd, the sport. Admit it, you love it as much as i do. And that moment when I get that rock way up on that —

REPORTER
This is my last year.

SISYPHUS
— hill and stand there… What?

REPORTER
I’m retiring.

SISYPHUS
Are you okay, buddy? You’re not —

REPORTER
No, I’m fine. It’s just time.

SISYPHUS
(shaken but shaking it off) Well, then you picked the best time to do it because this is it.

(bell rings, off)

You will have the best day and the biggest story and the finest memory of your life.
Something to tell your grandkids: “I followed this athlete year after year. And each time he came this close to godlike. Until one day, that last day. The world shook. And your grandpa Theo was there.”

REPORTER
(after a pause, holds out his hand) It’s been a pleasure. And an honor.

SISYPHUS
(shaking the Reporter’s hand) Thank you. Really, thank you. And now…onward.

(Sisyphus exits.
The Reporter hobbles to the edge of the stage.
We hear some crowd noise, faint and disinterested.
The Reporter cranes his neck to see)

REPORTER
Come on. You can do this. Get your shoulder in. That’s it!  That’s it! Just a bit more! You’ve got it! YOU’VE GOT IT! COME ON —

(An “aww” and mocking laughter from the small crowd.
The Reporter starts to write but stops…to begin sobbing.
Slowly he recovers, then writes, then reads aloud:)

“Once again, victory was in the mighty grasp of Sisyphus, and once again, the sublime was snatched from him in the final seconds. Was it fate? A miscalculation? A cruel joke on a good man? Or was it the gods giving us one more reprieve because they know that as thrilling as victory might have seemed today, after all these tries, it will be even more stunning next year. This reporter has a good feeling about that. Just wait and see. Next year.

(The Reporter lowers his notebook and gazes off towards the hill. Lights slowly down.)

END OF PLAY

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DOWN CAME THE SUN

(a play in one-act)

by David Lefkowitz

David Lefkowitz

totalpost@totaltheater.com

©2000 David Neil Lefkowitz

______________________

CHARACTERS

Alex – 46, a woman, attractive but shaggy, alert but eternally bemused.

Steven – 20, nearly a man, good looking, almost a model or “GQ” type.

SETTING

Outdoor bar and lounge of a waterfront restaurant in Mallory Square, Key West.

______________________________________________________________

DOWN CAME THE SUN

(Characters face the audience as if they’re looking out into the spectacular Key West sunset, which may be painted, projected, or imagined behind them.  We might also see a wooden railing separating the edge of the restaurant’s lounge area from ocean.  Background sounds of people milling and drinking, with light reggae playing underneath.

It is deep into the late afternoon.

Alex, an attractive if shaggy 44-year-old woman, reclines on a deck chair.  Barefoot, she wears a sun dress with a light sweater folded on her chair by her legs.  At the foot of the chair lie a pair of sandals. A nearly-finished margarita rests on a plastic table near her.  Also on the table are extra napkins and a salt shaker.

Alex takes a sip from the margarita glass.

We hear the sound of a motorboat going across the water, followed by scattered, supportive applause.  Alex raises her glass)

ALEX

Sail on, baby.  Sail away and don ‘t look back.  (turns to the audience) They zip across the water, leaving nothing but a trail of ripples and white foam.  Look away for a second, and it’s all gone.  Ah, but when those little boats are moving in the sun, there is only freedom, and power, and speed and a shine across the waves.  I, however, am rooted to this spot.  Free as far as my checkbook will allow, powerful in my not-so-powerful womanhood, fast but slowing down, trying to shine but getting duller by the moment.

(Crossing back from the bar area is Steven, 20, very much the all-American collegian on spring break. He holds a basketful of nachos, one of which he crunches.  He passes the table near Alex and points at the salt)

STEVEN

You mind?

(Alex motions “by all means.”

Steven salts one chip and eats it. He turns to the audience)

STEVEN

She’s past 40.  Gotta be.  Gotta be.  Maybe 39.  Or says she’s 39 and is really 42.  Nice bod.  No rings.  Hello, hello.

(Steven vigorously salts his nacho chips)

ALEX

(to audience) Hello, stranger.  Said the spider to the fly.  Hello, hello.

STEVEN

Awright, now we’re talking.

ALEXA

salt man, eh?

STEVEN

(offering) Well, try one.

(Alex obliges)

STEVEN

Even with the cheese…

ALEX

(finishes, nods) Needs salt.

(Steven liberally salts the basket)

ALEX

Easy hon, save some for the chips on the bottom.

STEVEN

It’ll filter down.

(Steven tries a chip)

STEVEN

Ahhh.  On the eighth day, God invented the nacho.

ALEX

Actually, he took it from the rib of a sleeping tortilla.

(Steven offers her another.  She accepts and salts it herself)   `

 

STEVEN

Hell of a scene, huh?

ALEX

Never been?

STEVEN

Key West?  First time.

ALEX

You look like a spring break veteran.

STEVEN

Last year was Hilton Head.

ALEX

Fun?

STEVEN

Rainy.  You’d hit the beach, get a volleyball game going, then it rains for an hour.  Come back out, crash a barbeque, suddenly everyone’s stuck inside with a hurricane warning.

ALEX

It’s not as if hurricanes are unknown in these parts.

STEVEN

You’ve been through a couple?

ALEX

Do I look it?

STEVEN

No, I mean –

ALEX

No, no hurricanes.  Been through an earthquake, though.

STEVEN

You’re kidding.  Here?

ALEX

No, Pasadena.

STEVEN

When’d you move?

ALEX

No move, just visiting.  I needed a break.

STEVEN

(nods in sympathy) I know what that means.  Still, leaving California to vacation in Florida…that’s kind of like –

ALEX

Putting down a dish of ice cream to eat a candy bar?

STEVEN

Wow, you like to relate things to food.

ALEX

(looking at her glass) And drink.

STEVEN

Hey, you need a refill?  Just finished my shift.

ALEX

Shift?

STEVEN

Hotel next door.  Hired me as a part-time lifeguard for the week to handle the extra hours during spring break.  Pays for half the trip.

ALEX

So back home you’re a…sophom –

STEVEN

Junior.  Psych major.  University of Missouri.  And that’s the last I wanna hear about college for the next (looks at Alex’s watch) five days.  Wow, it’s getting late.

ALEX

Not on my clock.

(Alex hands Steven her glass)

STEVEN

Another?

ALEX

No..make it a strawberry daiquiri.

(Alex fishes through her purse for money)

ALEX

I take it you’ll be pina colading it?

STEVEN

No, why?  Do I look like a colada man?

ALEX

Well, you’re not a Zombie.

STEVEN

(laughs) Thanks.

ALEX

And you’re still green but you’re no Grasshopper.

STEVEN

Unless I get Sex on the Beach?

ALEX

With a Screaming Orgasm to follow?  (pause) Don’t even think of replying.  Here’s ten for my daiquiri and whatever else for you.

STEVEN

Cool.  Back in a few.

ALEX

I’ll be here.

STEVEN

(hesitates) I’m almost afraid to leave this spot.  I don’t wanna be stuck at the bar when the sun goes down.

ALEX

The sun’ll wait for you.

STEVEN

It better.  I came all this way to see it.  (points to sun)You don’t move till I get back.

ALEX

Oh, it’s a polite little fireball.  It won’t.  (Steven shrugs and hurries off to get the drinks)

ALEX

(watching the horizon, quietly, drily) “Sunshine on my shoulders, makes me happy.”  I wish.

(Alex squints and stretches out her hand, palm turned up)

ALEX

There you go, sun.  Rest on me awhile.

(Steven, preparing Alex’s drink, casually watches her from across the stage)

STEVEN

(turns to audience) A little kooky.  Kooky but hot. I can probably get something off her, I just don’t want some lizard-skin husband busting in with a shotgun.  Ahh, he’s probably with some 20 year old and telling her he’s working late at the office.  (shrugs) S’what I would do.  Well, maybe I can be her 20 year old tonight.  She’s totally up for it.

(Alex uses the fingers of her other hand to gently stroke the “sun” on her palm)

ALEX

Tell me, sun, am I getting too old for this?  What do you do when you’re too old for Key West and too young for Miami?  I’ll tell you what you do.  You eat nachos and talk to boys named…my God, I don’t even know his name.  He has yet to ask mine.  Typical.  Well, my sun, my sun, stay up a while longer…we’ve got al-l-l-l night.

(Alex closes her palm into an upturned fist.

She brings her hand to her mouth and blows on the closed fingers, “releasing” the captive sun as she opens them again)

STEVEN

Hey.

ALEX

Hey.

(Steven hands Alex her drink)

ALEX

You’re a love, thank you.

(They clink glasses and sip)

 

STEVEN

It’s gonna be a real red sunset.  Usually it’s orange-ish but this one… Red.

ALEX

Psychology major, huh?  Whaddya think, the red is for suppressed anger?

(Steven shrugs)

ALEX

Or maybe it’s the heat of passion.  Raging, unbearably hot.

STEVEN

Could be.  I mean, no one can get close enough to…touch it.

ALEX

Not so much red as…deep pink.  Don’tcha think?

STEVEN

(flustered) Kind of in-between…!

ALEX

Pink.  The color’s pink.  I think it’s embarrassed.  Everybody staring at it, all over the world.  My shy, blushing sun.

STEVEN

(caught off-guard) Huh?  Oh, well, it better put on a show.  I can see sunsets in Missouri.

ALEX

I hope you won’t be disappointed.

STEVEN

Nah, it’s pretty gorgeous.  (pause) Hey, what were you doing?

ALEX

Hmm?  When?

STEVEN

Just before, while I was…  I was watching you from over there.  Your hands.  Some kind of T’ai Chi thing?

ALEX

(shakes her head) No, it’s a “try me” thing.  (pause) Lifeguard, huh?  Guess you’ve made a lot of friends already?

STEVEN

Couple o’ guys from Michigan State.  We’ll probably hit the Crab House later.  I think Hemingway used to go there.

ALEX

You know what they say..

STEVEN

Key West is the best place on earth to get crabs.

(Alex finishes the sentence with her, and they both laugh.

Alex stretches out her hand again, this time making an open circle with her index finger and thumb)

STEVEN

Now what are you doing?

ALEX

Measuring.

STEVEN

Hey.. (playing along, Steven covers his crotch with his hand)

ALEX

Not that, silly.  This may sound really strange, but I’ve been watching the sun for twenty minutes, really closely, you know?

STEVEN

Yeah?

ALEX

And I don’t think it’s moved.

STEVEN

What do you mean?

ALEX

Out here, no buildings, no smog, no distractions.  You keep your eye on the sun during dusk, you can see it move.  Plops down into the water like a slow-motion Alka Seltzer.  Pllllip.  But I’ve been examining the sun since I got here, and I don’t think it’s moved half an inch.

STEVEN

(shrugs) Prob’ly the reflection on the water, or something.  Makes you think it’s higher than it really is.

(Alex holds out her fingers to measure the distance between the sun and water again.After a moment, Steven does the same)

STEVEN

I feel like that guy on “Kids In The Hall.”  You know.. “’m crushing your head…I’m crushing it.”

ALEX

(puts her hand on his) Don’t crush the sun, dear, it’s got enough trouble.

(Alex reclines in the chair)

STEVEN

How’s your daiquiri?

ALEX

(nods) Want a sip?

(Steven nods and moves to take straw.  Suddenly, he points)

STEVEN

There!  It moved!

ALEX

What, the sun?

STEVEN

Just a little.

ALEX

No, it didn’t.

STEVEN

Yes, I saw it.  The bottom was right there on the cloud, see?  Now the middle is closer to that wispy part.

ALEX

You moved.

STEVEN

Huh?

ALEX

The sun didn’t move, you did.  You changed positions and now the horizon’s at a different perspective.

STEVEN

No way.

ALEX

Yes way.

STEVEN

Look, I’m not a science major, but I know if I stay on the same level, it’s not gonna matter which way I stand.

ALEX

That’s what you think.

STEVEN

Oh yeah?

ALEX

Tell me, has it moved again?

STEVEN

Since I –

ALEX

Yeah.

(Steven looks.  Measures with his fingers)

STEVEN

Well, no.

ALEX

By this time, the sun should have moved from there down to there.  That’s what sundown is, the sun going down.

STEVEN

Maybe he doesn’t have anyone to go down on.  (laughs) Sorry.

ALEX

(pause) Do you?

STEVEN

What?

ALEX

Have anyone?

STEVEN

Here?

ALEX

Anywhere.

STEVEN

Back home.

ALEX

Yes?

STEVEN

Someone.  Nothing serious.  You?

ALEX

I have the sun.  I have Mallory Square on a summer afternoon.  I have the blue and infinite sky.

STEVEN

And?

ALEX

And men when I need them.

STEVEN

How often do you need them?  (embarrassed) I mean, no, that’s not what I –

ALEX

I need them…about one-third as often as I need a fine daiquiri.  About one tenth as often as I need a beautiful sunset.  (to audience) He’s thinking of asking me if this is my tenth sunset.

STEVEN

Is it..your tenth?

ALEX

(nods) Mmm hmm.  Only it’s not a sunset.  It’s a sun-stay.

STEVEN

Look, it’s going down, you’re just not noticing.

ALEX

Oh, really?

STEVEN

You think it’s gonna be light out at ten o’clock?  At midnight?  No, in a couple of minutes, whoosh, like a three-pointer.

(Steven mimes a basketball move)

ALEX

You’re an idealist.  (stops him from replying) S’okay, you’re young.  (pause) Bad boy!  You’re supposed to say, “so are you.”

(Alex takes a big swig of her daiquiri and sets it down)

STEVEN

Do you drink a lot?

ALEX

(laughs) Enough.  But even these fuzzy eyes place the sun right there.

(Exasperated, Steven nevertheless squints and looks)

STEVEN

I dunno.  I still think you’re messing with me.

ALEX

Messing with you?  The universe hangs in the balance, and you call this idle chit-chat?

STEVEN

The sun has gone down for fifty zillion years and never missed a day; why would it stop now?

ALEX

Never missed a day?

STEVEN

No, of course n –

ALEX

What about the bible?

STEVEN

Huh?

ALEX

In the bible.  Joshua was fighting…some tribe.. (to audience) The Amorites. (to Steven) And God made the sun stay up in the sky 24 straight hours so the Israelites could win.

STEVEN

Yeah, right.  Why couldn’t they win in the dark?  I mean, if God could make the sun stay up all day, he could make the Israelites win in pitch black.  Hell, they could’ve snuck out unseen.

ALEX

That’s not the point.  I’m just saying, there’s precedent.

STEVEN

Well…what would happen if it didn’t?  Wouldn’t the universe explode or something?

ALEX

Not necessarily.

STEVEN

Like that “Twilight Zone,” where everything’s moving closer and closer to the sun and burning up, except it’s just a dream and it’s really moving farther away and people are freezing to death.

ALEX

Maybe nothing will happen.  Maybe it’s all just the same, only God’s forgotten us.  He’s onto some other universe, screwing up some other planet.  One day he looked at the Earth and finally said, “This?  My master plan is this?”  And he just got up and walked away.  He left the sky up; too much trouble to take down.  No time to roll away the grass or drain the oceans.  Nothing he wanted to take with him.  He just waved his almighty hand and left.

STEVEN

Guess we’re lucky. Could’ve gone whoosh in a pillar of fire.

ALEX

(seductively) Or a “big bang.”

(Steven laughs uncomfortably, then uses his fingers to measure again)

ALEX

Well?

STEVEN

It moved.

ALEX

You lie.

STEVEN

No, just a little, it moved.

ALEX

Wanna bet?

STEVEN

How?

ALEX

It’s nearly eight.  We give it fifteen minutes.  If the sun goes down, you get everything in my purse – enough to treat your buddies to dinner and lunch tomorrow.

STEVEN

And what if…?

ALEX

The sun stays up?  (Steven nods) You get me.

(Steven makes a few vague motions to make sure he comprehends.

Alex nods.  They stare at the horizon)

 

STEVEN

(to audience) I’m not sure, but I think I scored.  No wait, if the sun…  Did I strike out?  God,  these older women.  Usually, you just listen through the b.s., make `em feel like you ‘re paying attention, nine times out of ten, they’re yours.

ALEX

(to audience) Nice going, Alex.  Why don’t you just throw yourself on him like a quilt?

STEVEN

(to audience) I just don’t wanna seem too eager.  I’m not sure I am eager.

ALEX

(to audience) Well, it’s out there now, nothing I can do about it.  (looks at Steven but still talks to audience) And why not?  That sun’s lookin’ pretty strong in the sky, and I’ll take that as a sign anytime.

STEVEN

(to audience) I just hope she’s not really, really weird.

(both look toward at the horizon)

ALEX

Which one are you rooting for?

STEVEN

Which are you rooting for?

ALEX

I asked you first.

STEVEN

I dunno.  Things to be normal, I guess.

ALEX

Gee, thanks.

STEVEN

No, I mean…  What are you rooting for?

ALEX

An eternity of golden sunlight.

STEVEN

Well, what if – Why does the sun have to stay up if we want to…?

ALEX

Because this one has to be special.  Not just another…

STEVEN

Another?

ALEX

Like every other.  I’m tired of meeting clean-cut preppies from the Ivy League.

STEVEN

I’m not Ivy –

ALEX

All think you’re so smart.  So indestructible.  All think you’re so hip because you know there’s nothing worth caring about, so you don’t care about anything.  Except making money, getting laid, tanning your hides in the Key West sunshine.

STEVEN

What’s wrong with that?

ALEX

No offense, hon.  But I been there..done and done and done that.

STEVEN

Well, I haven’t. This is my second year, and I work my butt off.  I want a little fun.  I  wanna get wasted and toasted and laid and have, like, a great time all week.  No harm, no foul.

ALEX

No meaning either.

STEVEN

What’s it supposed to mean?  It’s spring break.

ALEX

I know.  It’s just that I look at you and I don’t even see you, I just see “thing,” young thing.  You could go back to your buddies and send another one in your place, it wouldn’t make a difference.  I could take a sack of flour, put it on a plane, send it back to your parents, they’d still say, “Hey kiddo, how was your trip?”

STEVEN

I don’t think so..

ALEX

I’ve been you, I’ve known you, I’ve screwed you, I’ve left you.  It’s been fun, young thing, but I’m getting old.

(Alex leans back in her chair, tilts her head back and waits for a reply.  Steven, unsure what to do, hesitates.)

ALEX

(to audience) Does he have the fortitude to walk away when he’s being insulted?

(Pause.  Steven turns to leave)

ALEX

No, wait.  Sorry.  I should know better.  You didn’t know whether to walk away or spill your drink on me or wait for the punchline.

STEVEN

Sorta..

ALEX

But you’re such a horny little pumpkin, you didn’t wanna give up on me until you were absolutely sure you weren’t getting any.  Crotch one, Boy zero.

STEVEN

Why are you being such a bitch?

ALEX

For Pete’s sake, I’m throwing myself at you. Virtually guaranteeing a night of unfettered frolic with an experienced older woman. The least you could do is work for your prize and let me vent a little.  Win me over instead of just carting me off like a suitcase.

STEVEN

What makes you think I’d wanna be with someone all weird and insulting?

ALEX

Because you’re young and priapic, and I might be the best offer you get all night.

STEVEN

Is that so?

ALEX

All vacation, maybe.

STEVEN

I thought you wanted it special.  Not just another college kid.

ALEX

Listen, umm…?

STEVEN

Steven.

ALEX

Steven, I could give some speech about how very special you are, how I crave your youth, your energy, how I want to rock your world so you can shake mine a little bit.  But the truth is, I don’t care who you are.  You’re here, you’re cute, I’m tired.

(Steven turns to leave again; she grabs him)

ALEX

And you are the key to the rest of my life.

STEVEN

Look, I don’t know what you –

ALEX

Honey, hear me out; the sun is at a standstill…

STEVEN

Not that again.

ALEX

And I have nothing in my life but these napkins in my hand and your blue eyes to hang on.

(Steven nods and tries to appear intuitive)

ALEX

I’ve got a full dance card now, but flip forward a decade.  My boobs down to here, my skin like an alligator purse.  Rich husband with a chain of stores in Boca, or no husband and my small apartment in Pasadena.  Menopause when I’m fifty, cancer when I’m sixty.  They won’t even have to waterproof my casket, just stretch my skin across the box.

STEVEN

Everybody wants to live a little while they’re still young.  Why make such a big deal –

ALEX

It is a big deal.

STEVEN

So?  In ten years I’ll be married.  Probably.  Have a kid or two.  Job as an accountant eating up fifty hours a week.  I won’t see this place again.  I’ll be stuck dragging the kids through Disneyworld.  Gray hair, stomach out to here…

ALEX

You’ll look good.

STEVEN

Okay twen – thanks – twenty years.  Thirty.  Getting old isn’t the end of the world.

ALEX

It is when you’re bored.  It is when you stare at your reflection in the water, and the thoughts in your head don’t match the body staring back at you.

STEVEN

You’re only as old as you feel.

ALEX

Tell me you didn’t say that.  Tell me a 21-year-old poster boy –

STEVEN

20.

ALEX

(laughs) Tell me that Captain America, built like a goddamn gay centerfold, didn’t just say age is all in the mind.  It’s like a movie star saying, “It’s not about the money.”

STEVEN

So if I say, “looks aren’t everything, you’ll take that the wrong way, too, right?

ALEX

(pause) You’re really not cheering me up, Stevie boy.

STEVEN

Hey, you look fine.  I wouldn’t be standing here if, you know…but if you lose your looks in a couple of years, so what?  Happens to everybody.

ALEX

I’m not everybody, hon.

STEVEN

First girl I dated in high school.  She was tutoring me in biology.

ALEX

I’m sure she was.

STEVEN

Total fox, every guy was hot for her.  Plus she was on, like, every extracurricular activity, carrying a 3.8 average.  Last year of high school she put on twenty pounds.  I think her dad died or something.

ALEX

Or something?

STEVEN

We only went out a couple of times.  She was more interested in this older guy in her French class.  Anyway, she still made honor roll, and she went to the prom with one of the hottest guys in our grade.  The whole world didn’t collapse because she packed on a few.

ALEX

No shit, Sherlock.  I know the world doesn’t collapse.  Life goes on whether you’re 100 pounds or 150 pounds.  Whether you’re 46 or 66.

STEVEN

You’re 46?

ALEX

(pause) And a year from now, I’ll be 47.  And then 48.  And you’ll be a senior.  Perhaps.  And this place will still be selling drinks.  And those boats will be oceaning by.  And the water will still be salty and green.  And those clouds will regroup into other clouds.  Just because the world goes on doesn’t mean you have to go on with it.

STEVEN

So what do you do…  (shrugs) stop?

ALEX

It’s an option.

STEVEN

Yeah, I mean, if you’re desperate.  If you’re sick or you can’t take care of yourself, you can.. you know.. But not if you’re okay and things can still change.

ALEX

(laughs) Sweetie, at my funeral, you know what I want?  No prayers, no sermon.  I want busloads of kindergarten kids.  Little pampered boys and girls in their fluffy coats and mittens. Put up a big sign right by the grave so all the children can see:  “Beware: It only gets worse. Love Alex.”

STEVEN

You’re Alex?

ALEX

Took you awhile.

STEVEN

Sorry.

ALEX

I can just see you all through high school.  “Well, thanks for a lovely evening, uh, cheerleader number three. Hope you don’t get pregnant.”

STEVEN

Why do you have to be like that?

ALEX

Like what?

STEVEN

Like all high and mighty about sex  (lowers his voice) when you’re the one who’s coming on to me!

ALEX

I’m 46 years old; I’ve earned the right to be melodramatic.  And besides: you won the bet.

STEVEN

There is no bet!

ALEX

Oh, don’t be such a sore winner.  Sun stayed up.  Let’s hope you can, too.

STEVEN

(fending her off) Look, you’re very attractive, very nice, but I don’t want something weird here.

ALEX

Keep the day going, Steven.  The sun won’t go down until you pull me out of this place.

STEVEN

Look, please, people are starting to –

ALEX

Forget people.  They’re just scared because the night won’t come.

STEVEN

The sky is getting darker, whether you believe it or not.

ALEX

Not yet!  Look at how light it is.

STEVEN

Why are you the only one obsessing on this?  Look at them.

ALEX

This isn’t about everybody else.  This is about you and me.  Give me a reason to live through the night.

STEVEN

Aw jeez…

ALEX

Rescue me from my boredom.  Save me from all this.

STEVEN

All this WHAT?  What do you need saving from?  From sitting on a deck chair?  Drinking margaritas and hitting on younger guys?  There are ten thousand women in Grand Rapids who’d trade places with you in a minute.

ALEX

Aren’t you bored by it all?  Doesn’t life seem pointless, and repeated, and not worth the time it takes to live it?

STEVEN

You’re only seeing the bad stuff.

ALEX

Good or bad isn’t the point.  It’s just empty.  Just “there.”

STEVEN

And that’s all there is for you?  No family?  No friends?  No hobbies?  No job?  No –

ALEX

You wanna know what keeps me going?  Sex and sunshine, baby.  Sex and sunshine make it worth hanging around.

STEVEN

Well okay.  Whatever it is.  Maybe your life is really terrible, I dunno, I don’t think I wanna know.  But you found two things that get you through.  Which makes you luckier than some.  (Alex shrugs dismissively) And you’ve done okay for yourself.  Considering those are the two things you love most, you came to the right place.  Key West in the summer is sex and sunshine. You can spend all day getting a tan and all night goin’ horizontal.

ALEX

I try, Steven.

STEVEN

And you know you look good.  You know guys are still after you.

ALEX

Much better, Steven.  Keep going.

STEVEN

I don’t have to tell you you have a terrific body.

ALEX

You don’t HAVE to but…

STEVEN

(getting the hint) You have a terrific body.

ALEX

Thank you, Steven.  You like?

STEVEN

Yes…

ALEX

I like my body, too.  (moves close to him) Everybody likes my body.  (She his face in her hands and kisses him softly) But my heart just wastes away.

(They look at each other.  Alex kisses him again, gently at first, then more deeply.  After a moment, they turn and address the audience)

STEVEN

We went back to her hotel.  She put some nice music on the radio and I waited while she went to the bathroom.  She came out in a long robe, and we lay down on the bed.  She put her head on my chest.  I wanted to start doing stuff but she said `not yet, so I held off.  And that was okay, no rush.  So we talked. About her childhood.  My old girlfriends.  My dad’s temper.  Her losing her mom.  Her favorite books.  My favorite bands.  How we both liked ice skating.  And so many times I wanted to…but I could see it didn’t…I dunno.

ALEX

He was very sweet.  A break came in the conversation, and I started to touch him.  I ran my fingers down his chest and kissed the side of his neck.  He responded immediately and grabbed at my nightgown, but it was too fast.  I said, `sorry…no..not… He was upset and frustrated but he stopped.  He was gonna go, but I just asked him to put his arms around me and hold me very close.

STEVEN

She looked like she was gonna cry, which I didn’t wanna deal with.  So I made some joke and that got her out of it.

ALEX

We lay there talking, laughing about one of his professors, me remembering a senile French teacher I had in eighth grade.

STEVEN

We started talking about TV shows, so I turned off the radio and put on the TV and we flipped through channels for awhile.  We watched a couple of shows on the cartoon channel and then flipped some more.

ALEX

One of the channels was x-rated, but it was all scrambled and you couldn’t really see what was happening.  The sound was still good, and I thought Steven was getting aroused, but he was just laughing and making fun of the dialogue.  We flipped some more.

STEVEN

Then I got up at one point and she said –

ALEX

Don’t go.

STEVEN

I laughed and said, “I’m just going to the bathroom.”

ALEX

We were both

STEVEN

Embarrassed..

ALEX & STEVEN

but it was okay.

STEVEN

When I came back to the bed

ALEX

I was lying on my stomach with my robe off.

STEVEN

I started rubbing her back.  Then her legs.  Then…higher..

ALEX

He turned me over.  I helped him undress.

STEVEN

We didn’t talk anymore.

ALEX

I didn’t think anymore.

STEVEN

It was cool.

ALEX

We didn’t make the earth move, we just had a nice time.

STEVEN

Better than nice.

ALEX

Better than nice, and just what the doctor ordered.

STEVEN

(mimes a basketball shot) Whoosh.

ALEX

And we cuddled.

STEVEN

You know, because they like that.

ALEX

The curtains were closed. But I could tell the light was changing.  I found my robe and went to the window.

STEVEN

She opened the curtains, and it was still dark, but you could just see the top of the sun over the horizon.  “So beautiful,” she said.

ALEX

As he put his arm around me.

STEVEN

Guess the sun made it down after all.

ALEX

He said.  I said, “We don’t know that.  We never actually saw it go down last night.”

STEVEN

“Yeah, but…it had to have, otherwise it wouldn’t be coming back up,” I said, putting on my jeans. She said:

ALEX

(to Steven) That’s a bit simplistic, no?

STEVEN

What’s wrong with simple?  Everything I do at school is so complicated and tricky.  This behavior pattern could mean all these things.  This equation can be solved using x or y or negative z.  This word is Spanish has eight different tenses.  If I look at the sun, I just wanna see the sun.

ALEX

What if the sun’s tired and wants to be the moon for awhile?

STEVEN

I think the sun should be pretty happy just the way it is.

ALEX

But what if it isn’t?

STEVEN

(shrugs) It can play the moon.  Shade itself.. Make believe it  s got craters and NASA junk all over it.  And when it gets tired of playing the moon ..

ALEX

It goes back to being the sun again.

STEVEN

It never stopped.  It was always the sun underneath,  (to audience) I said, returning to the window.

ALEX

“That’s depressing,” I said, as he put his hand on my shoulder.

STEVEN

Perfect example a teacher gave us: A guy gets up in the morning, and he puts on a gorilla suit.  He goes out to the zoo, gets into the zebra cage and starts eating from a bucket of raw fish.  He looks up and says, “hey everybody, I’m a fire engine. But really, what is he?

ALEX

A nut?

STEVEN

(laughs) Well, yeah.  But he’s a guy.  Not a zebra, not a dolphin, not a fire engine.  Just a guy who got up in the morning and decided to do all these goofy things.  And you know what?  The very next day, he puts on a suit and tie, goes to work, pays for gas, reads the newspaper, watches TV and goes to sleep.  Just like all the other days before.  The freak-out didn’t change anything; he is what he is.

ALEX

Which means that under this fabulous, libidinous, 20-year-old supermodel, mother-of-the-year and Nobel Prize-winner…

STEVEN

Is a 46 year old, pretty, sexy..

ALEX

Aging..

STEVEN

funny, smart..

ALEX

Not brilliant..

STEVEN

Normal, decent…

ALEX

Divorced, childless..

STEVEN

Capable, independent…

ALEX

Unhappy..

STEVEN

Person.  There’s stuff you can’t change.. Like getting older.. But there’s lots of things you can.

ALEX

Not so easy when you get my age.  You settle into things… you settle for things.

STEVEN

Okay.. So?  Everybody does stuff we don’t really wanna… At least be happy when you‘re getting what you want.

ALEX

Back to sex and sunshine.

STEVEN

Maybe that’s enough.

ALEX

It’s not enough.

STEVEN

So…find something that is.

ALEX

Like what?

STEVEN

I dunno, that’s on you.

ALEX

What if there’s nothing?  What if I look the rest of my life and I don’t find anything else?

STEVEN

(shrugs) Then get more sex, and get more sunshine.

ALEX

(laughs heartily) Suggestion duly noted.

STEVEN

But maybe get sex from someone you care about… love…

ALEX

And don’t get so much sun that I burn up.

STEVEN

Well, you  re the one who controls the sun, so…

ALEX

Oh no, no no..  That was you.

STEVEN

Me?  You know, we never actually saw the sun go down last night… so that was…

ALEX

You letting me win?

STEVEN

(shrugs and smiles) Sure.

ALEX

Don’t be modest.  Look how the sun is pouring into the room.  Feel how sweet and warm it is every place it touches.  And it’s all your doing.

STEVEN

Hey, I’m a talented guy.

ALEX

More than you know.  (kisses him on the cheek) You take care. And don’t abuse your power.

STEVEN

Oh, I will – won’t.  I don’t want the moon and stars getting mad at me.

ALEX

(to audience) We laughed.  And he stayed just a moment longer to cast a glance out the window.

STEVEN

So you really think I made the sun stay up?

ALEX

(pause) Oh yes.

(They hug and Steven walks offstage.  Alex turns to watch him disappear)

 

ALEX

Not in the sky, in me.

(Steven leaves the stage, lights fade)

END OF PLAY

*******************************************************************************************************

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DEATH OF A MANURE SALESMAN

(one-act play)

by DAVID LEFKOWITZ


David Lefkowitz

totalpost@totaltheater.com

(c)1996 by David Lefkowitz

_________________________

DEATH OF A MANURE SALESMAN

(A woman in black and two young men stand by an open gravesite.

A priest stands nearby, as does a middle-aged man.

When lights come up, everyone on stage has a hand or handkerchief in front of his face.

Much coughing and choking.  Sound of flies buzzing)

BIFF

(muffled, into his hand) Oh man…

PRIEST

(waving a hand in front of his face, grimacing) Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to – oh, just cover him up.

(Happy gags.  Biff swats flies)

BEN

I really should say a few words.

MRS. LOMAN

Ben please, back at the apartment.

BEN

(fingers holding his nose) Willy was just an ordinary man.  A manure salesman.  Not a hero..

(The Priest begins spraying Lysol on the general area of Willy)

BEN

Not a villain.  (weakening) He didn’t lie.  He didn’t steal.  He didn’t –

MRS. LOMAN

Bathe.

(Ben turns away and heads offstage to be sick.

The Priest stops spraying and quickly exits)

HAPPY

Biff, race you to Ben’s car!

(Biff nods vigorously and hurries off after Happy.

Mrs. Loman runs off as well.

The stage is empty for a moment.

One by one, daisies, tulips and roses spring to life from Willy’s place.

Tomatoes, cucumbers and other vegetables are tossed up as well.)


THE END

*****************************************************************************************************

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SEAWEED FOR THE GAMBLER

(a pathological monologue)

by

DAVID LEFKOWITZ

David Lefkowitz

holvoe_at_aol_dot_com

(c)1995 David Lefkowitz

SETTING:

A back room of the U.S. Mint building in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The room is, for our purposes, stark white from top to bottom, or it will be when the lights are turned on.

In this room are two large, black garbage bags, full, tied at the top. There is also a green metal cabinet with a green-handled broom leaning up against it and a small, white, plastic Christmas tree.  The walls are bare but for an oversized green button, right smack in the center.

Since the audience have entered, they’ve been hearing the Muzak of Christmas:  Rudolf,  Jingle Bells, White Christmas — in all their glorious background pleasantness. The click of a light switch and its concurrent lighting change signal the beginning of our play, but the music continues, as Muzak invariably must.

Enter COLE.

Efficient, moving briskly, he smiles at the audience, yet his expression is somehow not imbued with the Yuletide spirit.

Cole is dressed in a white pantsuit – white shirt, jacket, pants — with a green tie.

Cole opens a pocket diary, checks his watch and makes a notation. That done, Cole moves to the green button, hesitates a moment, then slams his palm against it.

The audience is then treated to aloud, persistent grinding and crunching noise. This continues as Cole opens the metal cabinet and takes out a beat-up, red duffel bag.

From the cabinet, Cole also removes two paperback novels, a black umbrella and a red coffee mug, all of which he stuffs into the duffel bag.

He then checks his watch and silently counts back from 10.  At the stroke of zero, he hits the button again, and the noise grinds to a halt (though the background Christmas Muzak instantly reasserts itself)

COLE

(to audience) Excuse me.

(Cole moves to exit the way he came in.

Before he leaves, he stops and adds:)

Merry Christmas.

(A few moments later, we hear the clanging of a heavy door and its subsequent locking.

Cole returns, dragging another large black bag, which he deposits near the others)

(to audience) Actually, I hate Christmas music. I resent it filling my precious air, but there it is. Some radio station hot-shot probably said, “Play this, it’ll promote Christmas cheer. But it doesn’t. I’d be a helluva lot cheerier listening to the Beach Boys. Or nothing, I’d rather hear nothing. But no, every bus station, every freaking store in the mall, same thing you get here: (mimics) Rudolf, the red-nosed reindeer, had a very shiny nose…  Rudolf probably drank and had a position in middle-management. All in all, I’d rather listen to The Gambler.

(Cole pushes the green button and says, over the noise)

That’s The Gambler.

(He switches the machine off)

In the other room.  It is the other room.  Which is bigger than this one, my office.

(He looks around and checks his watch)

So you guys are the last group of the day.  You don’t mind staying a little longer, do you?  Even in this room, with me?  I know you’d rather be with the coin guy. Everybody loves watching nickels on the sorting bin.  Ooh.  Wow.  It’s almost embarrassing how easy my job is.  I was over-qualified when they hired me, and I’m over-qualified now.  Which suits me fine.  Just give me my paycheck; I’ll challenge myself in my spare time.

(Cole hums along to the background music)

Two thousand people a day have to listen to this.  Most of the time, they’re not paying attention, really.  They’re looking around, taking pictures, buying souvenirs. Don’t even hear the music until they’re in the bathroom – which is the right place for it.  Incredible how they can take a perfectly good holiday and turn it, bit by bit, into nothing.  Beautiful hymns, songs my family used to sing around the dinner table.. now it sounds like this.  Remember looking forward to the end of December because it meant Christmas was coming?  Now all the catalogues come in August, and Christmas starts the day after Halloween.

(Cole takes a baseball off the cabinet shelf)

This was a Christmas gift. 1977, autographed by Mike Schmidt, best player the Phillies ever had. A few years ago, it was actually worth something. Now he mass-produces them. Baseball number 2,400 out of 55,000 limited-edition copies.  But it was one out of one when my cousin caught a fly ball in the stands and waited an hour after the game to get it autographed. One out of one; what’s the price tag on that?  Speaking of which… Counting what’s in my wallet…

(Cole takes out his wallet and quickly thumbs through its contents)

…counting the tragic amount of money in my billfold, but not counting what’s in your wallets and pocketbooks, ladies and gentlemen, can you guess how much money is in this room right now?  (to no audience member in particular) Nice try. But it’s more in the area of 3.7-3.8million           dollars. Yup.  Forgive the pun, but it’s in the bag.  Hard to believe, but these Hefties contain more money than I’ve made, am now making, or will ever make in my lifetime. And if you’re wondering, what would a guy like me do with that kind of money, let me assure you, I’d do.  I’d do just fine.  And then I’d do some more.  We always get people who say, “Oh, I’d hate winning the lottery; I wouldn’t know what to do with all that money.  What to do with all that money?  Ever heard of real estate?  Municipal bonds?  Women?

(Cole walks behind the three Hefty bags, pointing to the first bag)

Here’s a three-story house in Newport, Rhode Island, with a live-in maid and twelve acres in the back. (bag number two) Here’s enough money to send Missy and Bucky to Yale for the rest of their lives.  (third bag) Robert Redford paid a million dollars to sleep with Demi Moore in that movie?  Here’s Demi, Julia Roberts and a platonic dinner with Meryl Streep.  (thinks) Ah, what the hell.

(He takes money out of his wallet and tosses it onto the third bag)

Meryl’s hot.  Now children, parents, visitors to this magnificent government building with that cool, refreshing name: (sucks in some air, the music has stopped) “Mint.”  I don’t have to tell you money in itself is not important.  It’s what money can BUY…

(Cole laughs kiddingly while re-pocketing his cash)

The best things in life, as they say.  Good health you cannot buy. Waking up in the morning, feeling young and alive, who needs money?  Of course, if you get up feeling lousy, and you have to go to the hospital, and they give you a dozen tests and two dozen prescriptions, and you can’t afford health insurance… (shrugs) Only money.  And love?  Love is free.  Of course, if you get married, and you want to live somewhere, and you don’t want the landlord screaming at you every month, and maybe you want to have a baby… Only money, right Melissa?  (offering to the audience) Want some?  Me too.  Three million dollars, and you and I can’t have a penny of it.

(vicious grin) Makes ya mad, doesn’t it?  Makes you want to take a handful of cash just for spite.  Makes you want to fill your knapsack and then try sneaking past the guards at the front desk — don’t try it, they check.  They’ll be checking me real hard tonight.  It’ll be Dominic.  Nice guy, no brain surgeon.  He tells me about the Eagles, I give him the latest on the Phillies.  Not that we’re great buddies, but he’s a colleague. An equally underpaid toiler in the money mine.  Tonight — wanna bet? – tonight I’m a stranger.  “Hey, Cole, dude, sorry to hear you got laid off, blah blah blah, the chic in personnel’s a bitch, and she overreacted, blah blah blah, but she’s just doing her blah, blah blah…empty your pockets.”

(A voice comes over the loudspeaker.   Cole mimes and mimics the words)

VOICE

Good evening.  It is now 5:05PM. This building is officially closed to the public and will re-open Monday at 10AM.  All un-authorized persons on the premises please report to the main entrance as soon as possible.

(Cole gestures as if to say, “don’t pay any attention”)

VOICE

If you require assistance locating the main entrance–

COLE

You’re more screwed up than I am!

VOICE

– our security staff will be glad to help you.  Those remaining in the building after closing time without proper consent will be subject to prosecution under Federal law. (Cole mimes terror) Thank you for your cooperation.  Have a good evening.

COLE

Sieg heil.  (to audience) Hey, don’t look at me cross-eyed; we’re all in this together.  I mean, you won’t be prosecuted.  Or hurt.  Don’t anybody panic or anything.  (pause) I could’ve stolen so much money from this place.  Now if they find a dollar stuck to the bottom of my shoe, they’ll sic the Feds on me.  They wouldn’t press charges, but kiss my unemployment benefits goodbye. $214 a week, six months.  This…

(Cole gives the first bag a tiny pinch)

This!

(Cole gives the bag a vicious kick)

Wow.  I heard some of you gasp.  Gasp!  Like I’d kicked a nun in the face or something.  Forgive me.  But priorities, ladies and gentlemen, really.  This place, you kick a bag of money, it’s like spitting on a crucifix. The Mint is the sacred palace of privilege… the monastery of moolah.  Money is born here.  Conceived on drawing boards and vomited up from cauldrons of nickel soup and copper gravy.  Cut into identical rectangles, stamped into uniform circles, out they march into the real world.  The march of the mercenary soldiers.  Passing from hand to hand, fondled, folded, ripped, dropped, crumpled, crumbled and thrown, used and used and used and used until finally they come back here.  Bow your heads, folks; this is a funeral parlor, where money comes to die.  When money is old and worn out, or just old, we ship it straight back to its cradle.  You saw the coins.  We melt them down and turn them right around again into new little soldiers, ready to do battle in the marketplaces and backrooms of the world.  For dollar bills — that’s my area… was… the outcome is not so rosy.  First, they’re packed into giant bins, like you saw in the other room.  The bins are then wheeled to a heavily-guarded storage room.  See, by now, the money is worthless; the serial numbers are officially yesterday’s news. But who knows that?  If I walk into a grocery store with a 1988 series $5 bill, F32 dot dot dot dot dot dot instead of F35 dot dot dot – you think the Paki behind the counter has a clue?  It’s not stolen money, just out of date.  Yesterday, it was something, today nothing.  And the U.S. Government has two armed policemen, a $90,000 temperature sensor, and a quarter-million dollar alarm system guarding nothing.  I asked my former boss if I could maybe be paid to guard nothing, she said, I was over-qualified.  And yet, nothing is still too much for Uncle Sam.  Nothing says, “I was something once, I could be something again.  I just need your help.  Come, take me, use me, turn me into something once more.”

(Cole touches the bags)

Imagine three million tiny voices whispering in the ears of every person who enters this place: “Psst.  The Treasury Department may think I’m nothing, but you know better.  Take me home, spend me.  The more you take, the more I can do.”  I think you see why the Fed can’t have that.  They need to turn nothing into less than nothing as soon as possible.  Now, if they tell you it’s garbage but it still looks like money, all sorts of naughty deeds are possible.  But if they say it’s garbage, and it LOOKS like garbage, everyone can sleep at night.  Hence, The Gambler.  That was not my nickname, by the way.  The name goes all the way back to the 1970s – only a few years after we got the machine.  It’s a Sullivan-Dynamic AP-500 with a late-model, TW-Ten-Ninety-One double-capacity holding bin.  Obvious why we needed a nickname. “Shredding Machine” sounded so vicious and final.  You put something in a shredding machine, it’s kaput.  A few years ago, one of our employees went crazy and stuck his hand down there. This was before they put in the automatic shut-off, so The Gambler kept right on shredding.  (mimics) “Money money chomp chomp chomp.  What’s that, a hand?  All the same to me, chomp chomp.  Meat with my fibre, chomp chomp.. Handburger chomp chomp chomp.”  If he hadn’t been wearing a ring on his middle finger, the whole arm would’ve gone in.  As it was, by the time Josephine got to the manual override, this guy was down to a thumb and a stump.  She told me you could see the blood on the rotors – greasing up the machine, I imagine – but the skin and cartilage had already gone into the Ten-Ninety-One.

(There’s a knock on the door.  Cole hushes up. He checks his watch.  Another knock)

COLE

(in a whisper) Sorry, we’re closed.

(Cole waits another moment, then continues his story)

They wrapped a shirt around the guy’s hand – his thumb bush – and got him to the hospital.  Totally in shock.  He just kept staring at the bloody shirt around his fist as if to say,  “Oh, there is less of me now.  This morning, I woke up with ten fingers; now I have six.One day there will be none.  That is how things are.”  They had to call a special sanitation crew to dispose of the entire day’s output, which was classified as hazardous waste.  So now, somewhere along the three miles of Three Mile Island, floating in a river of glow-in-the-dark industrial piss, are a pointer, a fucker a snapper and a pinkie.

(Cole illustrates with four fingers of his right hand)

And 23 million dollars.  Usually we just bury the money.  There are city dumps the Mafia charges an arm and a leg to use, and Uncle Sam is happy to foot the bill.  Is someone here getting an extra paycheck from the deal?  Noooo.  Is it me?  No.  To be fair, it costs as much to be rid of money as it does to manufacture it.  Which is not so different from people.  A maternity ward, a funeral parlor; an incubator and a casket.  Pricewise, they might as well be interchangeable.  Pricewise.

(Another, louder knocking on the door.  Cole hushes up.

More knocking.  Cole scampers to turn off the light switch.

In the dimness, Cole hides behind the three bags.

For the next few moments, he will speak in a stage whisper.

His head rises above the bags)

COLE

(giggles) Nobody here but us greenbacks.

(More knocking. Again Cole ducks behind the bags.

After a moment, Cole rises once more.

He whispers harshly in the direction of the door)

COLE

Go away!  You’re looking for Cole Harrison?  Check the other room.  Maybe he was eaten by The Gambler.  (to the audience) I still haven’t told you why they call it that.  It’s very simple:  a gambler always has hope.  It may be 99 point dot dot dot percent sure he will lose his money. But there’s always the ghost of a shot that the ten dollars he throws on the roulette wheel will turn into a hundred.  The hundred smackers he bets on a horse will come back ten thousand. Ridiculous odds, but at least there are odds.  (his voice rising) If I, or whoever that bitch gets to replace me… If I throw a million dollars in that room to be annihilated, it’s nice to imagine there’s a chance – a chance – the machine will spit back ten million.  “Congratulations, you poor  bastard, you broke the bank.  You risked losing everything, but it paid off.  You gambled and won.”

¸

(Silence for a moment.  No more knocking, so Cole reverticalizes the light switch)

COLE

(soberly) Even I’m not crazy enough to think that could ever happen.  You put 3.7 million

dollars in the machine, you get 3.7 million back.  Only now it looks like this:

(Cole rips open the top of one Hefty bag to reveal a bag filled with what appears to be grass clippings.

He stares disconsolately at the top of the bag. He begins to sing:)

COLE

“If I were a rich man, dada dada dada dada dada dada dada dumm … All day long I’d dada dada dumm ..If I were a wealthy man.”

(Cole thrusts each hand into the bag, producing two fistfulls of shredded green paper)

“I wouldn’t have to work hard, yada dada dada dada dada dada dada dumm …If I were a very very rich, very very dada dada man.”

(On “man,” Cole opens his fists and releases a confetti shower of minced money on each side of him)

Look everyone, it’s snowing!

(Cole reaches into the bag and spreads more green shreds about)

American snow, soft and cold, though not exactly virgin.  Shall we decorate the tree?  Yes, every Christmas tree looks better with $50,000 on it.

(Cole dances around the tree, singing and humming and releasing sprays of green tinsel)

COLE

“I’m dreaming of a green Christmas… Da da da dada dada daaaa …” Where’s the Muzak when you need it?

(Cole grabs two more handfuls to disperse)

“Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!”  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Cole sings Cole.  Look at me, I’m Father Christmas.  I’m Santa Claus spreading his gifts.  Money for everyone but me.

(Cole sinks to his knees near the bag.

He takes a small handful)

Here’s the vacation I never took.  (spilling some onto the floor) Here’s the stereo system I never bought. (spills more onto the floor) Here’s the five-carat engagement ring Melissa never got.  With the two of us working, we could have…

(Pulling himself together, Cole takes another scoop)

And here – here’s my fucking pension.

(Cole throws it across the floor.  Another scoop)

And here’s my rent for the next thirty years.

(Cole hurls it and surveys the room)

I could’ve lived like a king.  A king with his queen.  But now, what is it?  Paper.  Green grass, but nothing grows.

(Cole opens his duffel bag)

Pretty soon they’ll force the door open and push me out.  They’ll gaze at my winter wonderland and think, “What a mess.” They’ll check my pockets, and my shoes, and the bottoms of my shoes, and maybe my asshole at this point.  (smiles, to audience) Yours, too. But they won’t find anything.  Not one single, solitary blade of grass.  Actually, they don’t look much like grass.

(Sound, off, of an electric drill)

More like seaweed.  Yeah, seaweed.

(Cole grabs a few strands from the bag and opens his mouth.

He stops, as if reacting to audience dismay)

What?  People eat seaweed.  The Japanese, they eat it like it’s made out of money.

(Cole tastes a shred or two.  Nods approval.

He kneels by the bag and scoops up a huge handful.

More knocking along with the drilling)

I wasn’t expecting guests for dinner.  (to door) Sorry folks, I know you’re hungry. We’re all hungry, but this is just for me.  A meal fit for a future millionaire.

(As Cole digests his first mouthful, we hear the sound of a large metal object hitting the ground)

ELECTRONIC VOICE

Door will open in ninety seconds.

(Cole thrusts both of his hands into the bag)

COLE

I’m sure it will, Mr. Alarm.  But you’ll have to tear my hands off before I let go of the money.

(Sounds of gears grinding)

COLE

(to door) It’s okay, Josephine, I forgive you.  “The raise wasn’t feasible,” you said.  And the rest of my salary wasn’t feasible either, you said.  No prob, Josie.  I’ll even pay for the chair I broke in your office.  Here.

(Cole pitches a clump of seaweed towards the entrance)

COLE

Buy yourself a whole couch.

(He pitches a smaller clump)

And a heart to go with it.

ELECTRONIC VOICE

Door will open in sixty seconds.

COLE

(to audience) I’m sorry, I can’t eat with all this noise.

(Cole walks to the button)

I want music with my dinner.  Fine music for fine dining.

ELECTRONIC VOICE

Door will open in forty-five seconds.

COLE

If that’s you, Melissa, you had your chance.  You didn’t want me when I had nothing, you sure ain’t getting me now…When I have everything.

ELECTRONIC VOICE

Thirty seconds.

(Cole surveys the room, then slams the button to activate The Gambler.

The resulting squall nearly, but not quite, overpowers the countdown.

Content, Cole sits on the middle Hefty bag and continues his dinner, oblivious to the din.

He even smiles and sways his head as if enjoying the sweetest concerto)

ELECTRONIC VOICE

Fifteen seconds.  Fourteen seconds.  Thirteen seconds…

(Light begins to stream in from the entrance side, intrusion being imminent.  Cole stops eating)

ELECTRONIC VOICE

Five seconds.  Four seconds. Three seconds…

(Cole, holding two clumps of seaweed in his hands, turns to look towards the entrance.

Just as the count reaches zero, the sound of a heavy door banging open ends all the other noise abruptly.

In silence, Cole looks toward the light)

COLE

(shrugs) S’only money.

(Lights quickly fade out.)

END OF PLAY

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BLIND DATE

(a one-act comedy)

by David Lefkowitz


David Lefkowitz

holvoe_at_aol_dot_com

http://www.totaltheater.com

(c)1986  David Lefkowitz  / (revised 2008)

—————————————————-

CHARACTERS

Man

Woman

Waiter

SETTING

One table at a small, almost elegant, continental restaurant.
The table is covered by a huge white cloth, the front of which hangs down to the floor.

Two napkins, two glasses of water, a vase with two real roses in it, and a bottle of ketchup sit on the table.

The lighting is subdued but gradually becomes brighter as the play progresses.

BLIND DATE

(A man and a woman sit facing each other at a small restaurant table.

They sit.

He forces a polite smile.

She responds in kind.

He forces another smile.

So does she. Barely.

The man dabs his forehead with his napkin.

The woman sighs.

They sit.

The man casually looks around for a waiter,

then shrugs.

The woman unzips her pocketbook

and nonchalantly pokes through it.

She removes a small, battery-operated hand fan from the pocketbook.

She switches it on and begins moving the fan around her face.

The man watches her.

The woman brings the fan down to her neck.

She pushes her hair back.

The man sips some water from his glass.

She unbuttons the first button of her blouse and fans her upper chest.

The man again searches for a waiter.

The woman turns the fan off and puts it back in her pocketbook.

The man, almost unconsciously,  begins drumming on the table.

His rhythmic drumming gets louder and more urgent.

The woman looks around with mild concern.

The drumming becomes fierce and unrestrained.

The woman’s embarrassment turns to fear.

She takes the roses out of the vase and carefully places them on the table.

She grabs the vase and throws the water at the man.

He stops drumming.
He wipes his forehead with his napkin.

They sit.)


MAN

Thank you.

(The woman nods. Pause)

MAN

You’d think they’d turn the air conditioning on.

WOMAN

Be nice if they could spare a waiter.

(She looks around for one)

MAN

­I’ve never eaten here before.

WOMAN
Don’t apologize.

MAN

­I’m not apologizing.
WOMAN

Well, you should.

(Pause.
The man absentmindedly starts drumming

on the table.

The woman shoots him a look.

He stops)

MAN

Sorry.

WOMAN

You’ve got a nice sense of rhythm.

MAN

Thanks.. I.. I try.

WOMAN

Do you play drums?

MAN

Uh…no.

WOMAN

Gosh, those witty responses just keep rolling off your tongue, don’t they?

MAN

Sorry.

WOMAN

You’re so defensive.

(The woman tugs at the front of her shirt and rustles it back and forth to cool off.)

WOMAN

What are you looking at?

(Realizing he’s been staring, the man looks away)

WOMAN

I mean, I’m wearing a bra, for Chrissakes.

(The WAITER then appears.

He is blind and legally deaf.

He enters wearing dark glasses and carrying a white cane.

With surprising rapidity, he brushes past the table and tosses two menus onto it)

MAN

Excuse me, could we –

(The waiter has disappeared)
WOMAN

How do they stay in business?

MAN

(shrugs) They’re well known for their desserts.

(The man hands her a menu and studies one himself)

WOMAN

Was he blind?

MAN

Who?

WOMAN

The waiter.

MAN

I didn’t notice.  (pause) Know what you’re gonna have?

WOMAN

I think I’ll go with the swordfish.

MAN

I’m gonna try the oysters.

(The woman sets her menu down and eyes the man sharply)

WOMAN

Is that supposed to tell me something?
MAN

What?

WOMAN

Oysters?  (pause) I’m not easy, you know.

MAN

(grim) So… where are you from originally?

WOMAN

Guess.

MAN

The gaping pit of hell.

WOMAN

(pause) I’m from New Jersey.

MAN

I was close.

(The man smiles at his wit.

The woman doesn’t.  Pause.
The man uses his water glass to refill the vase.

He replaces the flowers, carefully arranging and rearranging them)

WOMAN

Is this supposed to demonstrate your sensitivity?

MAN

(exasperated) Look, you’re not even… (pause) This is obviously uncomfortable for both of us, but you could at least make an effort.

WOMAN

(long pause) I hear oysters are very mealy this time of year.

MAN

Is that so?

WOMAN

Not only that, they say you’re better off staying away from seafood altogether.

MAN

(shrugs) I had some juicy clams last night.

(The woman removes the roses and throws water in the man’s face again)

WOMAN

Pig!

MAN

Maybe we should both just leave.

(The woman gathers her purse.

We hear the sound of a tapping cane as the waiter approaches.

The woman stops her motions.

She sits.  The waiter stands)

MAN

(pause) Can we help you?  (pause) I said, can we help you?  (Pause. The man rises) Look, we were just in the middle of leaving anyway, so you might as well..

WAITER

(loudly) GOOD EVENING!   ARE YOU READY TO ORDER?

MAN

We’re on our way out.

WAITER

THANK YOU, SIR.  WOULD YOU LIKE TO ORDER NOW?

WOMAN

(sitting) I’ll have the swordfish, please.

WAITER

WHAT?

WOMAN

I said, I’ll have the swordfish, please.

WAITER

(nods, pause)  WHAT?

MAN

SWORDFISH

WAITER

I’M NOT TALKING TO YOU.  (to woman) Is that to stay or to go?

WOMAN

(unsure) To stay..I guess.

WAITER

WHAT?

WOMAN

I’M STAYING  (to Man) For now.

(The waiter takes the order by scrawling it in the air with his finger)

WAITER

YOU WANT VEGETABLES WITH THAT?

WOMAN

What do you have?

WAITER

WHAT?

(The waiter bends sideways and cocks the woman his better ear)

WOMAN

What kind?

WAITER

PEAS.

WOMAN

(pause) That’s it?

(The waiter begins pounding on the floor with his cane.

He stops)

WAITER

KEEPS AWAY THE RATS.

MAN

(loudly) I think I’ll try the milk-fed veal.

WAITER

YOU WANT THE VEAL?

MAN

­Yes.

WAITER

YOU SURE?

MAN

Well..

WAITER

IT’S OLD.

MAN

It’s not fresh?

WAITER

WHAT?

MAN

IS THE VEAL FRESH?

WAITER

IT DOESN’T COME WITH SALAD.

MAN

Oh, for – WHAT WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?

WAITER

THE SPECIAL.

MAN

(long pause) WHAT IS THE SPECIAL?

WAITER

THE SPECIAL?

MAN

YES!

WAITER

I DON’T KNOW, I’LL CHECK.

(The waiter reaches for his imaginary book and begins turning pages in the air)

WAITER

What’s today?

MAN

Huh?

WAITER

I ASKED YOU WHAT DAY IT IS.  WHAT ARE YOU, DEAF?

WOMAN

(intercedes) IT’S THURSDAY!

WAITER

THURSDAY SPECIAL IS…OYSTERS.

MAN
I’ll go with the veal.

WAITER

(collecting the menus) YOU WERE WARNED.

(The waiter exits, shouting towards the kitchen)

WAITER

ONE SWORDFISH, AND A VEAL FOR THE ASSHOLE!

WOMAN

(pause) Boy, you sure showed him.

MAN

What is your problem?

WOMAN

You depress me.

MAN

Sorry.

WOMAN

That’s the third time you’ve apologized.

MAN

If you’re gonna be like this, why did you even answer my ad?

(The woman unzips her purse and removes a toothbrush.

She dips it in her water glass and begins brushing her teeth)

WOMAN

I’m a masochist.  Sadist? Sado-masochist?  Maso-sad… It has something to do with castration.

MAN

(crossing his legs) So what do you do exactly?

WOMAN

Music therapy.  I work with slow children.

(The woman puts her toothbrush back in her purse)

MAN

Sounds very rewarding.

WOMAN

You know how hard it is to communicate with those stupid little bastards?

MAN

Does music help?

WOMAN

I play a lot of Vaughan Williams.  Keeps them quiet.

MAN

Greensleeves?

WOMAN

Every day for a month.  But one day, I’m gonna play the William Tell Overture at 78RPM and watch ’em bounce off the ceiling.

(They share a chuckle)

And yes, I did register the fact that you know who Vaughan Williams is, and I am duly impressed.  So..what law firm do you work at?

MAN

Silverman, Silverman and McCabe.  Small firm.

WOMAN

End up defending a lot of crooks?

MAN
We’re mostly real estate.

WOMAN

And you’re one of those lackeys who translate legal bullshit into everyday gibberish.  I’ve always felt that lawyers occupy the lowest point on the evolutionary scale.  Lawyers and people who eat veal.

MAN

If you’ll excuse me…

(The man rises and offers a parting handshake)

WOMAN

You have a lovely smile.

MAN

What’s the punchline?

WOMAN

No, you do.  It starts right above the chin and works its way around both sides of the jaw.  If you had dimples, you’d be a knockout.

MAN

You have two of the prettiest green eyes I’ve ever seen.

WOMAN

Too late.

MAN

­What?

WOMAN

You’re feeling guilty because I made the first move.

MAN

But you really do have –

WOMAN

It doesn’t matter; I beat you. It’s all in the timing.

(The man retreats and sits.

He stares into space, then up at the ceiling.

Slowly, he begins whistling “Greensleeves.”

The whistling quickens, soon becoming feverish.

The woman, unsettled, picks up the vase.

But before she can throw more water at the man,

He grabs her and kisses her passionately.

The waiter, oblivious, enters the scene, tapping his cane and carrying two trays of food.

The man and woman separate as the waiter feels his way around the table)

WAITER

WE WERE OUT OF SWORDFISH, SO I GAVE YOU A REPLACEMENT.

WOMAN

What?

WAITER

OYSTERS.

MAN

(out of breath) She doesn’t need ’em.

WAITER

WHAT?

MAN

Never mind.

(The waiter sets the food down)

WAITER

I WAS KIDDING ABOUT THE VEAL.

MAN

(smiles) I figured.

WAITER

IT’S DELICIOUS.  DON’T BE PUT OFF BY THE SMELL.

(The waiter exits.

The man sniffs his veal.

The woman takes a big sip from her water glass and swishes it around her mouth)

MAN

(pointing to her mouth full of water) Good for digestion?

(The woman nods.

The woman, cheeks puffed with water, searches for a place to spit it out)

MAN

What’s the matter?

(The woman points to her mouth.

The man hands her the empty vase, but she waves it off)

MAN

Swallow it.

(The woman shakes her head.

She opens her purse and considers using it)

MAN

Swallow it.  Please, swallow it!

(Losing air, she finally gulps it down,  choking slightly in the process.  Pause)

MAN

Didn’t kill you, did it?

(They begin eating)

WOMAN

You used your tongue.

(The man stops eating.

The woman continues.

The man eyes the veal with dismay)

MAN

Maybe we should just skip the meal and go right to the dessert.

WOMAN

What do I taste like?

MAN

Better than this veal.

WOMAN

No, really. I can’t taste my own mouth.  I thought maybe you could.

MAN

(thinks) Tastes like a nectarine.  A nectarine with bones in it.

WOMAN

Bones?

MAN

Teeth.

WOMAN

And my tongue?

MAN

At the center of the nectarine…

WOMAN

Uh huh…

MAN

Fleshy and magical…

WOMAN

Yes…

MAN

A big worm.

WOMAN

Stop it.

MAN

A juicy, bumpy bloodworm!

WOMAN

(almost in tears) Cut it out!

(The man takes her hand)

MAN

But it’s a sweet nectarine.

(She smiles.

He gently reaches for her face and strokes her cheek.

He moves to kiss her, but the intimacy troubles him, so he returns to his food)

MAN

How is it?

WOMAN

Very good.  How’s yours?

MAN

Could be worse.

WOMAN

(mutters) Timing.

MAN

Hmm?

WOMAN

Want some peas?

MAN

How are they?

WOMAN

Green.

MAN

No, thanks.

(They eat.

Simultaneously, they reach for the ketchup.

She expects him to defer and let go.

He doesn’t.

They have an intense tug-of-war with the ketchup bottle)

WOMAN

Let go!

MAN
You first!
WOMAN

Jerk!

MAN

Dyke!

WOMAN

Animal!

MAN
Frigid bitch!

(The woman twists the bottle and yanks it out of his hand.

She sets the bottle down proudly)

MAN

(pause) I let you win.

(The woman casually opens the bottle top and dips her finger in.

She begins writing on the tablecloth)

MAN

What are you – ? (reads) F..U.. Stop it. C„  Look, I’m sorry, okay?  I mean it.  K.

(She continues writing)

MAN

Please, this is very – M…E.  Fuck me.

(The woman smiles and licks her finger)

MAN
Timing.

(The man gallantly rises.

He lifts up the tablecloth and motions under the table)

WOMAN

(rises, facing him) This better be good.

(The woman ducks and goes under the table.

The man follows and lets the tablecloth down.

We see nothing except the occasional rustling of the tablecloth.

We hear the sounds of mussed clothing and unzipped zippers)

MAN

Okay, now…

WOMAN

Oh yes, honey, do it.

MAN

Yes.

WOMAN

Give it to me now.  Oh, God, don’t stop.

MAN

Baby. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

(The man’s yesses are punctuated

by the throbbing tablecloth)

WOMAN

Keep going.

MAN

I’m trying.

WOMAN

Oh, God.. (pause) Is it in yet?  Oh, Jesus..

MAN

Get ready.

WOMAN

Yes.

MAN

Yes.

WOMAN

Yes.

MAN

Yes.

MAN & WOMAN

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. YES!

(Long pause)

MAN

Yes?

WOMAN

Now you want to talk about it, right?

MAN
You don’t want to talk about it?

WOMAN

You want me to tell you how great you were.

MAN

Well…yes.  You were great, too.

WOMAN

I know.  But you’re only saying that because you want me to say it to you.

MAN

We don’t have to say anything if you don’ twant.

WOMAN

For God’s sake, at least put your arms around me.

(The tablecloth rustles.

The waiter enters, tapping his cane and pushing a bright red baby carriage.

He begins clearing the table, placing the plates in the carriage)

WAITER

FOR DESSERT, WE HAVE RASPBERRY MOUSSE WITH ORANGE SORBET, TRUFFLES IN FLAMING BRANDY, BAVARIAN MOCHA CHEESECAKE WITH RICH PECAN GLAZE, OR FRUIT CUP.  UNFORTUNATELY, WE’RE OUT OF EVERYTHING EXCEPT FRUIT CUP.  I’LL RETURN SHORTLY WITH YOUR FRUIT CUP.

(The man’s hand reaches out from under the table and snatches his leftover veal before the waiter can take it.

The waiter finishes cleaning up and exits with the carriage.
Loud sounds of chewing.  A burp.

The man lifts up the tablecloth and tosses the bones out onto the floor)

WOMAN

It’s hot under here.

MAN

I find it quite peaceful.

WOMAN

Of course you do, you came.

MAN
I don’t see how the two are related.

(The woman lifts the tablecloth and crawls out.

She is wearing the man’s shirt.

She sits)

WOMAN

Are you coming out?

MAN

I was looking forward to the mousse..

WOMAN

Cut it out!  The waiter’ll see.

MAN

(fluttering the tablecloth) I have a craving for something sweet…

WOMAN

That’s enough.  I don’t want to come down again.

MAN

Well, I’m not ready to come up.

(The woman kicks him)

MAN

Ouch!

(The man hastily crawls out from under the table)

MAN

You’re gonna kick me once too often, and then –

WOMAN

And then…what?

(Pause.The man sits)

WOMAN

Maybe we should pick the bones up.  The waiter might trip.

MAN

Why are you so concerned with the waiter?

WOMAN

He has your eyes.

MAN

Leave the bones there.  Serves him right if he trips.

WOMAN

Quiet!  He’ll poison your fruit cup.

MAN

(pause) Are we in love?

WOMAN

I don’t think that’s any of your business.

MAN

I’m curious.

WOMAN

(thinks) I find you attractive.

MAN

Physically?

WOMAN

Yes.

MAN

Anything else?

WOMAN

You turn me on.

MAN

Other than that.

(The woman shrugs)

MAN

Do you like the way I dress?

WOMAN

Yes.

MAN

The way I eat?

WOMAN

Not particularly.

MAN

My jokes?

WOMAN

Stale.

MAN

Lovemaking technique?

WOMAN

I didn’t know you had one.

MAN

I asked for this, didn’t I?

WOMAN

Yes.

MAN

(sighs) Politics?

WOMAN

Infantile.

MAN

Religious beliefs?

WOMAN

Naive.

MAN

Honesty is good for a relationship, right?

WOMAN

So they say.

MAN

Well, what about the way you eat?

WOMAN

What about it?

MAN

It’s nauseating.

WOMAN

Uh huh. My taste in art?

MAN

What taste?

WOMAN

Sexual prowess?

MAN

Slightly above average.

WOMAN

More specific.

MAN

7.5.

WOMAN

Almost worthwhile…

MAN

Hmm?

WOMAN

Almost worth putting up with me the rest of the time because I can get you hard.

MAN

I didn’t say that.

WOMAN

Why are you here, then?

MAN

It’s more than sex.

WOMAN

But it’s mostly sex.

MAN

Yes.

WOMAN

So, why are you here?  You’ve had your fun; there’s no reason to stick around.

MAN

I like you.

WOMAN

Bathing in the afterglow?

MAN

I think you’re a very special person.

WOMAN

You’re begging for seconds, aren’t you?

MAN

(pause) I’m here because I’m here.  And you’re here.  And right now, I can’t think of a better place to be.  You want me to make some eternal vow?  You want me to pretend I only want you for your mind? You don’t know what you want!  And I don’t know if I wanna marry you, screw you or throw you in a ditch somewhere.  But if nothing else, we’re still here.  Now either we can go; or we can sit here and try to understand what we have together.  Even if it’s just a bad memory of a lousy restaurant, can’t we just…sit?

WOMAN

(pause) We can’t sit here forever.

MAN

Well, if you want…we could go back under the table.

WOMAN

You really are a pig.

MAN

I was kidding.

(The woman rises and collects her things)

MAN

Look, I’m sorry.

(The man grabs a water glass and splashes his own face)

WOMAN

Don’t apologize.

(The woman takes money out of her purse and tosses it onto the table)

MAN

You don’t have to –

WOMAN

Yes, I have to.

(The woman starts to unbutton the man’s shirt)

MAN

(helpless) Keep it.

WOMAN

(rebuttoning) Thank you.

(She moves to exit)

WOMAN

So long.

MAN

Do you like raspberry mousse?

WOMAN

(stops) What?

MAN

I love raspberry mousse.  It’s very rich and incredibly sweet.  But a little of it goes a long way.  If you eat too much, you get sick.  And if you eat it too often, you get tired of it.  And you can order it a hundred times in a hundred different places, but it’s never as good as the first time you had it.

WOMAN

That’s why you can’t make mousse the meal. You order a whole dinner and hope the mousse tops it off.

MAN

But what if the meal stinks?  What if the mousse is all there is?

(The waiter reappears carrying a bunch of grapes)

WOMAN

In other words.. we didn’t have a relationship, so much as a dessert?

MAN

That’s something, isn’t it?  It’s not much, but it’s something.

WOMAN

(pause) You’re right. It’s not much.

(The woman exits.

The waiter approaches the man)

WAITER

YOUR FRUIT CUP. WE WERE OUT OF CUPS.

MAN

I don’t want it.

WAITER

Suit yourself.

(The waiter sets the grapes down and starts counting the money using touch, sound and smell)

MAN

How can you tell the difference between a single and a fiver?

WAITER

WHAT?

MAN

I SAID, HOW CAN YOU DISTINGUISH BETWEEN MONEY?

WAITER

IT’S AN ACQUIRED TRAIT.  YOU GET A FEELING FOR WHAT HAS VALUE…

(The waiter gently ruffles a fiver and pockets it)

WAITER
AND WHAT’S COMPLETELY WORTHLESS.

(The waiter tears a one-dollar bill to shreds

and lets it fall to the floor)

MAN

DID YOU EVER MAKE A MISTAKE AND TEAR UP A HUNDRED DOLLAR BILL?

WAITER

IF I DID, I DON’T WANT TO KNOW ABOUT IT.

(The waiter eats a grape)

WAITER

DID YOU SLEEP WITH HER?

MAN

(shocked) I…

WAITER

OH, COME ON!  YOU DID, DIDN’T YOU?

MAN

If it’s any of your business, yes, I –

WAITER

WAS IT GOOD?

MAN

Who are you to –

WAITER

IT WAS GOOD, WASN’T IT?

MAN

Yes.

WAITER

NOT JUST DURING BUT AFTER, TOO.

MAN

Yes.

WAITER

SHE’S GONE NOW.

MAN

Yes.

WAITER

YOU’LL MISS HER.

MAN

(nods)

WAITER

BUT YOU’LL GET OVER IT.

MAN

(nods)

WAITER

AND IN TIME, YOU WILL ULTIMATELY REFER TO THIS AS A QUOTE-UNQUOTE “WORTHWHILE EXPERIENCE THAT HAD ITS MOMENTS.”

MAN

You –

(The man angrily lunges at the waiter’s cane.

The waiter pulls away just in time, and the man lands in a heap on the floor.

The waiter gives him a whack with the cane)

WAITER

THE TRUTH!  IN SOME WAYS, YOU’RE EVEN GLAD TO BE RID OF HER.

MAN

Yes.

WAITER

BUT YOU’D TEAR THE HEART OUT OF YOUR CHEST TO HAVE HER BACK, WOULDN’T YOU?

MAN

Yes.

WAITER

WOULDN’T YOU?

MAN

YES.

WAITER

No, you wouldn’t.

(The waiter tosses the man a grape.

The man catches it and eats it)

WAITER

WHAT COLOR WERE HER EYES?

MAN

Blue.

WAITER

ARE YOU SURE?

MAN

(pause) No, I’m not.

(The waiter tosses the man another grape.

He catches it in his mouth and swallows it)

WAITER

On a scale of one to ten, she was a…?

MAN

I don’t know.

(The waiter temptingly holds up a grape)

WAITER

Think.

MAN

(pause) Seven and a half.

(The waiter viciously whacks him with the cane)

WAITER

BASTARD! She was at least an eight.  (pause) DID SHE TURN YOU ON?

MAN

Yes.

WAITER

EVEN AT THE END?

MAN

Especially at the end.

(The waiter throws the man a grape and steps forward)

WAITER

ARE YOU ALONE?

MAN

Yes.

WAITER

ARE YOU AFRAID OF BEING ALONE?

MAN

Yes.

(The waiter drops a grape in the man’s mouth and moves even closer.

The waiter now towers above the kneeling man)

WAITER

Do you know what love is?

MAN

Love is beautiful.

WAITER

(shakes his head) DO YOU KNOW WHAT LOVE IS?

MAN

Love is freedom.

(The waiter whacks the floor with his cane)

MAN

I’m trying…

(The waiter holds the grapes above and in front of the man’s head)

WAITER

WHAT IS LOVE?

MAN

I think it’s…

WAITER

LOVE!

(The man lunges for the grapes with his mouth.

The waiter pulls them higher Before the man can reach them)

MAN

I think it’s…

WAITER

THE MEANING!

MAN

I can’t…I…

WAITER

MEN.  WOMEN.

(The woman has gingerly walked back into the restaurant.

She stands, observing)

MAN

It doesn’t make any sense…

WAITER

HOW DO YOU FEEL?

MAN

Lost.

WAITER

WHAT DO YOU FEEL?

MAN

Pain

WAITER

WHY?

MAN

HER.

(The waiter puts a grape in the man’s mouth)

WAITER

WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM HER?

MAN

I don’t know.

WAITER

WHAT DOES SHE WANT FROM YOU?

MAN

I don’t know.

WAITER

WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM HIM?

WOMAN
His pain.  Over me.

MAN

Why?

(no response)

WAITER

HE ASKED WHY.

WOMAN

Just because.

(She walks over and takes the grapes from the waiter)

WOMAN

What does he want from me?

WAITER

He doesn’t know.

WOMAN

Ha.  And yet here we are.

MAN

Pathetic, huh?

WAITER

Yes, but not uncommon.  I ASK YOU AGAIN: WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LOVE?

MAN

I don’t know.

WAITER

DO YOU KNOW THE MEANING OF LOVE?

MAN

NO.

WAITER

DO YOU KNOW THE MEANING OF LOVE?

WOMAN

Of course not.

WAITER

DOES ANYONE KNOW THE MEANING OF LOVE?

MAN

NO!!

(The sobbing man clutches the waiter’s legs.

Pause. The waiter drops the cane.

He solemnly nods and begins to comfort the man as a friend.

The woman watches)

WOMAN

(sadly) No one.  No one ever.  But sometimes we learn in pieces.

(The woman puts down the grapes and squashes them beneath her foot.

She exits again.

The Waiter and Man watch her leave)

WAITER

NEXT TIME… LET HER PICK THE RESTAURANT.

(Slow fade out)

END OF PLAY

*********************************************************************

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KING SOLOMON THE WISE

(A biblical comedy)

by

David Lefkowitz

David Lefkowitz

holvoe_at_aol_dot_com

http://www.totaltheater.com

(c)1990 by David Neil Lefkowitz

SET: ROYAL CHAMBER OF JUSTICE, KING SOLOMON’S COURT

Represent it any way you like, but make sure there’s a mighty throne for his Highness flanked by two lecterns, one with an unbound manuscript on it.

TIME: 950 B.C., 11:30 AM.

CHARACTERS

KING SOLOMON – A very wise king

ISAAC BEN CHAYIM – A poor shepherd

ELIEZER BEN MOSHE – A poor shepherd

ROYAL BAILIFF

ESTHER – The stonemason’s wife

GEDALIA – Daughter of a streetcleaner

TWO BABIES – See author’s note*

QUEEN SOLOMON (BERTA) – She-bitch of Byzantium

GOD – A special cameo appearance

*Author’s Note:  Please resist the temptation to use live babies; the results will not be pleasant.

(King Solomon sits magisterially on his throne.  Two poor shepherds face him)

KING SOLOMON

According to Isaac Ben Chayim here, the alleged thief, we have a victimless crime.  Isaac admits to stealing your sheep –

ISAAC

Not stealing, borrowing – !

KING SOLOMON

(puts his finger to his lips to shush Isaac) – borrowing your sheep for a three week period.  And you, Eliezer Ben Moshe, readily admit said sheep was returned to you, well-fed, properly groomed – yea, verily in better health and spirits than before!

ELIEZER

Yes but –

KING SOLOMON

Shah!  The question is not whether Isaac Ben Chayim was wrong to use the sheep for sexual purposes (Isaac looks down), but whether it was good for the sheep.

ISAAC

(mutters) She never complained..

ELIEZER

You ruined her for other sheep!

(from offstage: plaintive baa-ing)

ISAAC

That’s right, baby, daddy loves you!

KING SOLOMON

Quiet, both of you!  Eliezer Ben Moshe, if I gave you the sheep, what would you do?

ELIEZER

Raise it, mate it with my stock of rams, fatten it up and eat it.

KING SOLOMON

Isaac Ben Chayim, what would you do with the sheep?

ISAAC

I would hold it.  And love it.  And cherish it forever and ever.

KING SOLOMON

You’re a very strange person, Isaac Ben Chayim.  However, against my better judgment perhaps, I have decided to let you have the animal.

ELIEZER

But your Highness!

KING SOLOMON

Isaac Ben Chayim, I’m convinced you hold strong feelings for Eliezer’s sheep –

ISAAC

Please call her Sadie.

KING SOLOMON

(pause) But I also believe you are merely infatuated, not in a deep and everlasting love.  When things are no longer so idyllic between you and…Sadie, when the magic is gone, you must return her permanently to Eliezer.  Who knows?  Maybe you and Isaac will then share a wonderful feast together.

BAILIFF

All hail the wisdom of King Solomon!

(Isaac and Eliezer smile and shake hands as the Bailiff shepherds them out.

We hear a contented baa-ing offstage)

KING SOLOMON

Damn, I’m good.

(The Royal Bailiff returns with two middle aged women.

He brings them before the King)


BAILIFF

Your Highness, may I present Esther, wife of Kalman the stonemason, who has lodged a complaint against Gedaliah, unmarried daughter of Feivel the streetcleaner.  Gedaliah has lodged a counter-complaint.

KING SOLOMON

(checking his parchment docket) It seems we have a custody battle.

GEDALIAH

This woman wants to take away my baby.

KING SOLOMON

Is this true?

ESTHER

Not her baby, Sire.  My own.

KING SOLOMON

Hmm.  Unless one of you is a man, the baby can’t belong to both of you.  (to Bailiff) Did you check for penises?

BAILIFF

Yes, Sire.

KING SOLOMON

Any?

BAILIFF

No, Sire.

KING SOLOMON

Pity.  Fetch the child.  Oh, and cancel my lunch.  (to Esther) Wife of Kalman, what makes you so sure the baby is yours?

ESTHER

A mother knows, your Eminence.  Two weeks ago my husband and I had our first child, a gorgeous baby boy.  We named him Irving.

KING SOLOMON

A gorgeous baby boy and you named him Irving?

ESTHER

Kalman’s uncle’s grandfather’s name was Izzie.  He died and we needed an “I”.

KING SOLOMON

Go on.

ESTHER

He slept in our bedroom and was never out of my sight.  But two days ago, Kalman and I went to sleep, and when we awoke in the morning, (sobs) Irving was gone.

KING SOLOMON

And you had him, Daughter of Feivel the streetcleaner?

GEDALIAH

From the very first day, your Highness!  If this women has lost a child, I feel sorrow for her, but she can’t be speaking of my child.  The baby I drew from my own womb, the baby I nurse each night until it slumbers against my breast, the baby I love more than life itself.

KING SOLOMON

(takes the swaddled child from the Bailiff) Daughter of the street-cleaner.  What color are your baby’s eyes?

GEDALIAH

Hazel.  With little flecks of blue that shine on a summer’s day.

KING SOLOMON

(nods) Wife of the mason, please describe in detail what is unusual about the baby’s toes.

ESTHER

All twelve of them?  Well, the left piggy is a wee bit shorter –

KING SOLOMON

Forget it.  (thinks) Answer this.  If your husband and your baby were both drowning in the river, which would you save first?

ESTHER

I can’t swim, your Grace.

KING SOLOMON

Assuming you could…

ESTHER

I would climb over Kalman’s lifeless, floating body to save my precious Irving.

KING SOLOMON

(to Gedaliah) If I offered you three million guldens to let me have custody of the baby for just one year – I’d return it to you afterwards, but you couldn’t see the child for twelve full months – what would you do?

GEDALIAH

I’d throw the money back in your face!  Your Highness.

KING SOLOMON

(to Bailiff) Bring me that bible.

(Solomon trades the Bailiff the  baby for the bible.  Solomon flips to the end of the bible)

KING SOLOMON

Hey, where’s the last chapter?

BAILIFF

Re-write.  The Lord said it needed more love scenes.

KING SOLOMON

How many wives can one man have?  (dismissive) Ah… (flips through bible) It seems this is a precedent-setting case.

(The women beam and go “ooh!”)

KING SOLOMON

Nothing to be proud of.  I simply have no criteria on which to base my decision except logic, the pull of my heart, and the great wisdom God has given me.

(Solomon trades back the bible for the baby.  Bailiff lays the bible on the other lectern)

KING SOLOMON

Esther, I ask you as a woman who loves and respects the Lord, who is watching at this very moment, are you the mother of this baby?

ESTHER

Yes.

KING SOLOMON

Gedaliah, as a God-fearing woman who must one day face His final judgment, are you the mother of this child?

GEDALIAH

I am, your Highness.

KING SOLOMON

(considers at length) I have no answer.  Wait!  Fetch me that table hither.

(Bailiff brings the lectern to the King who rises, carrying the baby)

KING SOLOMON

Since each of you bears even claim to this infant, and since I have no cause to suspect insincerity on either part, I must logically assume that you are both the mother of this child, and that this baby belongs to you equally.  But that raises the question, how can I bestow this infant upon one of you and still be fair to the other?  It grieves me deeply that I can think of only one way to settle this dispute.  Bailiff, may I have your knife?

(Bailiff removes a swiss army knife from his robe)

KING SOLOMON

I hold this knife – oops.

(King Solomon has opened the gadget to a spoon. He corrects the error)

KING SOLOMON

That’s better.  Behold, I stand over this blameless infant, knife at the ready.  I shall proceed to cut the baby in two.

BAILIFF

Sire –

KING SOLOMON

I know what I’m doing.

(to women) Half of the child will go to you, Esther, and half shall be yours, Gedaliah.  Unless either of you wishes to…No?  Then prepare yourselves, this may be bloody.  Any last words before I. . .?  Here goes –

(Solomon nearly cuts)

Either of you know which part you want?  Might as well fight it out now before…

(The women shrug complacently)

KING SOLOMON

White meat? Dark meat?  I’m making the incision.  (hesitates) Feel free to jump right in and stop me.

BAILIFF

King Solomon –

KING SOLOMON

Not you, Bailiff.  Sure hope this baby doesn’t scream in excruciating pain…  Going once, going twice?  SO BE IT!

(King Solomon cuts the baby in half.

The Bailiff gasps and turns away)

KING SOLOMON

There.  The deed is done.  Foolish, stubborn women.  Come, take the part you want and be off with you.  (pause) Well?

ESTHER

That’s not my baby.

KING SOLOMON

Oh, how fickle you are!

ESTHER

No, I mean that never was my baby.

GEDALIAH

Mine neither.

KING SOLOMON

What are you gibbering about?

GEDALIAH

(points to Bailiff) That’s not the child we left in his custody an hour ago.

KING SOLOMON

Bailiff?  What is the meaning of this?

BAILIFF

May I have a word?  (sotto voce) Your wife was here this morning.

KING SOLOMON

Which one?

BAILIFF

Number 842.  (pause) The obnoxious one you tolerate because she has a snapping –

KING SOLOMON

Yes, yes, what of it?

BAILIFF

You’re familiar with her usual complaint?

KING SOLOMON

She thinks I’m neglecting my marriage.  All my wives think that.

BAILIFF

Well, the Queen saw me carrying this infant, and she was carrying her own baby.  (laughs) And she got this crazy idea that you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between your own son and a stranger’s child.  So to teach you a lesson . . . she switched babies.

KING SOLOMON

That’s just so typical of Berta.  Always trying to trick me into — Oh no.  Are you saying – ?  (Bailiff nods) Why didn’t you stop me!

BAILIFF

I tried but –

KING SOLOMON

(Gestures to the two women) Did you — ?

(The women look down)

WOMAN’S VOICE FROM OFFSTAGE

Bailiff!  Where is that stupid Bailiff?  I want to see my husband!

KING SOLOMON

It’s her.  I’m dead.

BAILIFF

Maybe I can stall her.

VOICE GETTING CLOSER

Solomon!

KING SOLOMON

No time.  What am I going to do?  Hide the evidence!

BAILIFF

(Grabs baby halves) Where?

(The Bailiff and King search the room.  Bailiff checks behind the throne and removes a handful of “Concubine Beaver” magazines, which he hurriedly replaces)

VOICE GETTING EVEN CLOSER

I always get lost in these corridors..

KING SOLOMON

Jesus Christ!

BAILIFF

Who?

(King Solomon grabs the baby parts and runs to Esther)

KING SOLOMON

Lift your skirt!

ESTHER

Your Eminence!

(King Solomon stuffs half the baby under Esther’s dress and half up Gedaliah’s)

KING SOLOMON

Lift!  Go along with this, and I won’t punish you.

(Enter Queen Solomon, carrying a bag)

BERTA

There you are, darling.  I’ve been looking all over for you.

KING SOLOMON

Dearest, what a surprise!

BERTA

I was preparing a shopping list for the maid.  Tchotchkes for the baby: diapers, teething rings, pinafores –

KING SOLOMON

Do they still make those?

BERTA

That’s what I wanted to discuss with you.  Do you think our son looks better in sky blue or dark purple?

KING SOLOMON

Since he’s a royal child, purple sounds –

BERTA

(pushes King aside) I thought so too, but I wasn’t sure, so I brought some of his other clothes..

(Berta reaches into her bag and produces blue and purple bibs)

KING SOLOMON

I’d love to do this now, but court is in session.

BERTA

I’m sorry, how could I be so thoughtless?  Look at these poor defendants.  Whatever’s the matter?

KING SOLOMON

As you can see, they’re quite pregnant.  (King Solomon waits.  No objection so…)  And both claim the same fellow as the father.

BERTA

And where is this busy gentleman?

BAILIFF

He couldn’t make it.  Something unexpected came up.

BERTA

I gather that’s what got him in this mess in the first place. (moves to Gedaliah)  Dear Madam, have you had a difficult term?

GEDALIAH

No, your Grace. It’s as if I just conceived.

(King Solomon growls at her)

BERTA

Both women seem on the verge of labor.  Have they been examined by the court physician?

KING SOLOMON

Great idea!  (escorts women)  Doctor Zacharias is two flights down.  Tell him the King sent you, and you should each get your very own midwife.

BERTA

(Bringing the ladies back) No, we don’t have time.

KING SOLOMON

(Takes women from Berta) Of course we do!  Now it’s down the stairs –

BERTA

(Pushes Solomon out of the way) I’m afraid we’ll have to induce labor.  Ladies, prepare yourselves.

KING SOLOMON

Listen wife, we don’t want these children born in such a hostile environment, do we?  The birthing experience should be calm, a gentle process for both mother and tot.  Sometimes it takes hours, even days, for God’s guests to enter this world.

BERTA

That’s why your method is worthless, darling.  I use fear and intimidation; it’s ever so much more effective.  Ladies, on your way into court this morning, did you pass those guillotines in the field?  That big yellow one with the bloodstains is specifically for foolish young women who try to put one over on the Queen.  The blade is duller than the others, but that’s only because I use it all the time.  (to Solomon) Hark, do I hear water breaking?  (to women) You know girls, it’s very difficult to nurse a baby with blood shooting out of your neck.

(The terrified women lift their skirts; their “babies” drop to the floor.

Berta turns s-l-o-w-l-y towards the King)

KING SOLOMON

A double miscarriage!  See what you’ve done?

BERTA

Husband.  I want you to take a close look at those babies.

KING SOLOMON

Why prolong the agony of these poor –

BERTA

DO IT!

(The King kneels in front of Gedaliah’s baby)

BERTA

Look at that child.  What do you see?

KING SOLOMON

It’s definitely a boy.

BERTA

The other half!

KING SOLOMON

(moves to Esther’s bundle) It’s a cute, blonde haired boy.

BERTA

No more?  Does nothing strike you about this baby?

KING SOLOMON

(Trapped, King Solomon makes the best of things) Now that you mention it…Oh my heavens.  If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this was our child.  Look at the color of his hair, like a wheat field before harvest.  And those blue eyes, like yours.  And that big, wide mouth, like yo – mine. (tearfully) Berta, is these our baby?

BERTA

(pause) I was jealous.  You spent so much time at the temple and with those other women of yours, forsaking your own wife and baby at home.

KING SOLOMON

My Queen, I have obligations.  Most of my wives are territorial peace treaties, not marriages.

BERTA

(ignoring) I wanted to surprise you.  `If your duties prevented you from coming home,’ I said to myself, `why not come to you?’  I had the servants pack a box lunch so you and I and the baby could have a nice afternoon picnic.  Do some catching up, just the three of us.  But as I’m walking in your hallway, I see your Bailiff carrying an infant.  Adorable little thing.  When I asked whose offspring it was, he introduced me to these poor souls who explained their problem.  That’s when I decided to fool you, Solomon.  That’s when I switched their baby for ours.  I wanted to see how long it would take you to recognize your own child.  Now I know.

KING SOLOMON

(weeps, to the child) Forgive me, both of you.  Though I have sired many sons, you were my favorites.  I may not have been there for you as often as I should have, but I never stopped thinking of you, never stopped seeing your face before me every waking moment, my priceless child.

(Solomon sobs, checks the Queen’s reaction, sobs even harder).

KING SOLOMON

Tomorrow shall be declared a national day of mourning!  Every man, woman and child in my kingdom will shed copious tears over the loss of this innocent babe.  (to approaching Queen) I know it’s not much, but it’s the least I could do for poor little..little – junior.

(Berta eyes Solomon with anger, pity and disbelief)

BERTA

You putz!

KING SOLOMON

I forgot the baby’s name, in my grief I –

BERTA

You unbelievable shmeckelhead!

KING SOLOMON

(embarrassed, to onlookers) Her little nicknames..

BERTA

Do you think I’m dumb enough to trust you with a baby you’ve never even met?

KING SOLOMON

You’re distraught –

BERTA

Yes, I played a trick on you, but I figured you’d do something stupid like cutting the kid in half.  So I didn’t switch infants at all, I only told you I did.

KING SOLOMON

You mean, this really is their baby?

BERTA

(to the mothers) You win some…

(Esther and Gedaliah shriek and dissolve into tears.

Bailiff hands a baby to Berta)

BERTA

Here’s our royal offspring.  And if you’d been a real father, you’d have known from the beginning.

KING SOLOMON

Wife, you are wiser than I.  I should be overjoyed that my son is not really dead, but I’ve known him so little, his life or death meant nothing to me.  That changes immediately.  From now on, I will be a true father to this boy, and a husband to you.  Loving, caring, providing.  Does he have a name yet?

BERTA

Irving.  (Solomon makes a face) My Aunt Ida died.

KING SOLOMON

I love you, tiny Irving.  And in your honor, I decree that tomorrow, which was previously decreed a day of mourning, shall instead be a great holiday, for parents and children to rejoice in the strength, the privilege, of belonging to a family.

BAILIFF

All hail the wisdom of King Solomon!

(Esther and a revived Gedaliah look stonily at the Bailiff.

He whispers to the King, who approaches the women with affected cheer)

KING SOLOMON

Been a day, hasn’t it?  Look, if you’d told me the truth… Mistakes happen.  Here –

(King Solomon offers them the baby halves)

KING SOLOMON

Think of them as half-brothers.  (no response) You know, I’ve got dozens of kids at home, if you want a couple, I wouldn’t miss `em.

(Suddenly — thunder, lightning, tumult!)

BAILIFF

It’s the Messiah, he’s come!

GODLY VOICE

SHLOMO.

KING SOLOMON

(cowed) Yes Lord!

GOD

SHLOMO, IT’S ME, ADONAI.  THANKS FOR THE TEMPLE, IT’S VERY NICE.

KING SOLOMON

I’m glad you like it, God.  I built it to your exact specifications.

GOD

THAT’S WHY I LIKE IT.  IT’S PERFECT.  AND THERE IS PEACE IN THE LAND.

KING SOLOMON

Yes, Lord.

GOD

AND FINALLY, THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL ACCEPT ME AS THEIR ONE TRUE GOD.  THAT IS WHY I HAVE CHOSEN THIS TIME TO BRING YOU THE MESSIAH.

(All tremble with rapture)

GOD

THE SAVIOUR OF YOUR SOULS.  YOUR BRIDGE BETWEEN EARTHLY TROUBLE AND HEAVENLY REST.

KING SOLOMON

I can barely speak for joy!  My Lord, where is he?

GOD

AS THE PROPHETS FORETOLD, I PERFORMED A MIRACLE.  AT FIRST, I CONSIDERED BLESSING A RIGHTEOUS WOMAN WITH A VIRGIN BIRTH, BUT PEOPLE GET REAL SKEPTICAL ABOUT THAT STUFF, SO INSTEAD, I GAVE MY BABY TWO MOTHERS.  BOTH ORDINARY, HONEST WOMEN TO RAISE MY CHILD AS THE SAVIOR OF ALL MANKIND.

BERTA

Two mothers?

GOD

YES.  WHY, AS LUCK WOULD HAVE IT, THEY’RE IN THE COURTROOM AT THIS VERY MOMENT.  ESTHER, WIFE OF KALMAN; GEDALIAH, DAUGHTER OF FEIVEL.  (God applauds) TAKE A BOW, COME ON, YOU DESERVE IT.

(the women bow)

GOD

NOW, WHERE IS MY CHILD, THAT HE MAY BRING THE WORLD TO AN END AND WITH IT, UNIVERSAL JOY AND SALVATION?  SOLOMON, WHAT ARE YOU HIDING BEHIND YOUR BACK?

KING SOLOMON

Lord, would I hide anything from you?

(The two women snatch their babies from Solomon and hold them up for God to see)

KING SOLOMON

Look, I can explain –

GOD

(thunder) WRETCH!!!  YOU HAVE KILLED THE MESSIAH!

KING SOLOMON

Oh shit.

GOD

MINUTES AWAY FROM ETERNAL PEACE, EVERLASTING HARMONY, YOU BUTCHERED MY EMISSARY TO MANKIND!  NOW THERE CAN BE NO SALVATION!  INSTEAD, YOUR KIND WILL BE SCATTERED ACROSS THE EARTH, HATED, DISTRUSTED, TORMENTED BY ALL.  SIX MILLION OF YOU WILL DIE AT THE HANDS OF A LUNATIC NATION.  YOUR LAND OF MILK AND HONEY SHALL BE A LAND OF BLOOD AND ANGUISH.  AND ALL YOUR WOMEN WILL BE LOUSY LAYS!

BAILIFF

No, not that!

GOD

THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF MISERY AWAITS HUMANITY, AND IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!

(God exits, amidst general alarum.  Everyone glares at King Solomon)

BAILIFF

All hail the wisdom of –

ALL

Shut up!

(Berta swats him with baby Irving.

Gedaliah and Berta throw their babies at Solomon’s head.

Bailiff turns to audience as music rises under:)

BAILIFF

We hope you liked our little play

And all the people in it

We’ll dim the lights and take our bows

in just another minute.

GEDALIAH

But first we have a moral,

A message to impart

ESTHER

When making big decisions,

You have to trust your heart.

(Isaac & Eliezer re-enter)

ISAAC

Stand by your convictions deep

And follow each one through;

And truly, you can have your sheep

ELIEZER

Yes! And eat it, too!

(Isaac holds a soggy condom, Eliezer chews a leg of lamb)

BERTA

Children have a way of growing

fast and free and far.

While they’re young, you’re best off knowing

who and what they are.

SOLOMON

So ends our tale of lambs and limbs

and babies chopped in half.

Thank you for your kind applause

We hope we made you laugh.

GOD

GOOD NIGHT, ME BLESS, AND AMEN!

(Lightning, thunder, music up)

END OF PLAY

**********************************************************************

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THE SKY IS CALLING

(a one-act play)

by DAVID LEFKOWITZ

David Lefkowitz

holvoe_at_aol.com

(c)1994 David Lefkowitz

CHARACTERS

EMMETT FINDER: White, middle-aged, corporate, harried.

MISS VALENTRIA: Black, middle-aged-to-older, sturdy, unflappable.

PLACE: An airline terminal at a major American city.

TIME: Late fall, today or tomorrow.

SETTING: The sparest representation of a nondescript airline terminal.

Sound of an airplane flying fills the air.

(Miss Valentria waits, in uniform, for the next passenger)

VOICEOVER

(woman’s voice) Last call, flight 619 to Phoenix, with a connection at Dallas/FortWorth.Final boarding, Gate 3.

(Miss Valentria smooths out her uniform and stands in front of the metal-detecting conveyor belt.

She sinks solemnly to her knees; the lights slowly shift to a deep blue. Miss Valentria’s words vary from cantorial chant to steely beseechment.)

MISS VALENTRIA

Please…bless them.  Keep them safe.  Let them have lives to live.  Like a nurse bringing a baby to its mother, may the wind carry this flight to safety.  May their gods give them hope and may that hope see them gently to their homes and loved ones.  Blue and infinite sky, mind well the children, transported in airships that hang like earrings upon your warm sun, clouds brushing against them like wisps of an old man’s hair.  Mind well, and keep them safe.

(Miss Valentria has risen, her arms and legs astride. With a sweep of her hand,

the lights return to normal, and all music and effects cease, except, perhaps, some Muzak, which wafts in the background. Miss Valentria returns to her station and checks her watch.

Huffing and puffing, in runs Emmett Finder)

EMMETT

(gasps) Traffic.

MISS VALENTRIA

No problem.  Put your bag on the conveyer.

(Emmett complies)

MISS VALENTRIA

Come through, please.

(Emmett walks through the metal-detector doorway.  It beeps.  Emmett groans)

MISS VALENTRIA

Keys?  Spare change?

(Emmett nods and empties his pockets.

He goes back to the doorway and walks through again, beeping)

MISS VALENTRIA

Any other metals?  Jewelry?  A knife?

EMMETT

(abruptly) I don’t carry a knife.

MISS VALENTRIA

Wristwatch?  Wallet?  Credit cards?

EMMETT

(chuckles) Sure you’re not a mugger?

MISS VALENTRIA

(gives him a look) Positive.  Anything else with metal?

(Emmett has emptied his pockets and turned them inside out)

MISS VALENTRIA

Try again.

(He does.  He beeps)

EMMETT

I don’t believe this.

MISS VALENTRIA

That coat have a zipper?

(Emmett nods in exasperation. He removes the coat)

EMMETT

What about the belt?

MISS VALENTRIA

We’ll see.  Try it.

(Emmett walks.  He beeps)

MISS VALENTRIA

Belt.

EMMETT

Am I going to miss my flight?

MISS VALENTRIA

You still have a little time.

EMMETT

God, everything that could go wrong.  First my travel agent messes up the dates, then I’m on the phone two hours with America West begging them to change the tickets.  They can’t, they have to invalidate the first ticket and draw up another.   Fine.  They put me on everhold, the whole day is going by…

(Emmett walks through the doorway…  and beeps)

EMMETT

Oh for –

MISS VALENTRIA

Calm down, sir.  Just step over here.

(Miss Valentria produces her magic wand)

EMMETT

Then the traffic.  I’ve never seen anything like it.

(Miss Valentria waves her wand over him.  It beeps)

EMMETT

What the – ?  I have a zipper in my pants.  I hope it doesn’t come to that.

MISS VALENTRIA

Me too, sir.

EMMETT

What could it be?

MISS VALENTRIA

Do you have anything in your pockets?

(Emmett motions to his turned-down pockets)

MISS VALENTRIA

The other pockets.

(Emmett feels for his suit pockets.  He gasps.

Embarrassed, Emmett reaches into his  shirt pocket and removes a small solar calculator. Miss Valentria lays it on the  conveyer belt)

MISS VALENTRIA

A calculator can do it.

(Miss Valentria tries the wand again)

EMMETT

I’m sorry.  It doesn’t even occur to me that I –

(The wand beeps)

MISS VALENTRIA

Do you have another calculator, sir?

EMMETT

No! I don’t have another calculator.  I don’t have anything metallic on me.  Not a pen, not a bracelet, not a –

MISS VALENTRIA

Your teeth.

EMMETT

Pardon me?

MISS VALENTRIA

Fillings in your teeth.

EMMETT

(pause) Could be.  How do you propose I remove them?

MISS VALENTRIA

What’s your name?

EMMETT

Emmett.

MISS VALENTRIA

Emmett, let’s just see what happens.

(Miss Valentria holds the wand to Emmett’s mouth.  Nothing)

MISS VALENTRIA

Nope.  Not the teeth.

EMMETT

Great.  Wonderful.  Let me go.

(Miss Valentria passes the wand  down the rest of Emmett.  It beeps)

EMMETT

Where is the beeping?

MISS VALENTRIA

That’s what I’m trying to find out.

(Miss Valentria holds the wand at the top of Emmett’s head and slowly moves it down his face.  It beeps incessantly until it comes to his mouth.  It stops)

MISS VALENTRIA

Not the teeth.

EMMETT

I know.

(Miss Valentria continues the scan.  The wand beeps all the way down Emmett)

EMMETT

I suppose the next question is…am I made of metal?

MISS VALENTRIA

Well, do you have any metal in your body?  Skiing accident?  Vietnam?  Something in your knee?

EMMETT

I had a hernia operation when I was fourteen.   Perhaps the doctor left his watch in my abdomen.

MISS VALENTRIA

You’re not ticking, Emmett, you’re beeping.  And I’m stumped.  I’m gonna call the guards for a full search.

EMMETT

A what?  Oh, no.

MISS VALENTRIA

Problem?

EMMETT

A cavity search?  I need this?

MISS VALENTRIA

Emmett, it’s painless.  And it’s done by men.

EMMETT

There’s nothing to find.  I mean, I’ve heard of people smuggling drugs by, you know.  But I doubt you’ll find many who insert guns up there.

MISS VALENTRIA

I’ve seen stranger.

EMMETT

No, you haven’t, you’re just being difficult.

MISS VALENTRIA

On the contrary.  I want to get you through this as quickly and painlessly as possible.

EMMETT

Of course.  You never know who has a flame-thrower hidden under his foreskin.

MISS VALENTRIA

Sir, I’m sorry.  But it’s my job to ensure the safety of all the passengers.  I realize that can be inconvenient.

EMMETT

Yes, yes, it’s just…I’m not a criminal.  I’m not carrying any weapons, I just want to get on that plane and, and…

MISS VALENTRIA

And what, Emmett?

EMMETT

And..take off.  Go away.

MISS VALENTRIA

To Phoenix.

EMMETT

If I’d known this would be a problem… the traffic.. I would have kept my original reservation.  For next Thursday.  “No, “I said.  “I can’t wait that long.  It took two hours to convince America„West, and now it’ll take another two hours to convince you.  Maybe I do have a watch in me; my life ticks away in airports and boardrooms.

MISS VALENTRIA

Is this a business trip?

EMMETT

Not…not really.

MISS VALENTRIA

Vacation?

EMMETT

Yes.  Yes, a long vacation.

MISS VALENTRIA

Where’s the wife?

(Emmett looks at her, clueless.

Miss Valentria takes the holding tray

and shakes it)

MISS VALENTRIA

The ring.

EMMETT

The wife is home.  As is the child.

MISS VALENTRIA

Some vacation.

EMMETT

Yes, well.

MISS VALENTRIA

They didn’t want to go?

EMMETT

To Phoenix?  Who wants to go to Phoenix?

(They share a chuckle)

EMMETT

No, Holly’s got school…

MISS VALENTRIA

Ah, how old?

EMMETT

Seventh grade.  That makes her eleven..twelve, no eleven.

(Miss Valentria stares at him)

She has a birthday coming in August, I just can’t remember which right now… I’m a little nervous.  Would you at least tell them to hold the plane so it doesn’t take off without me?

MISS VALENTRIA

They’re not leaving.

EMMETT

Excuse me?

MISS VALENTRIA

The plane’s delayed.  Some bad weather heading up through Virginia.  They’re waiting to see which way the storm passes.

EMMETT

So I’m not going to miss my flight, Miss…Miss?

MISS VALENTRIA

Valentria.

EMMETT

Valentria .  That’s a pretty name.

MISS VALENTRIA

Thank you.

EMMETT

Complicated name.  Miss Valentria, may I get on that plane?

MISS VALENTRIA

You can do as you please if you only stop beeping.  Why are you beeping, Emmett?

EMMETT

All right.  I confess.  I’m the Road Runner and the coyote’s after me.

(Miss Valentria holds the wand

to Emmett. It beeps)

MISS VALENTRIA

If he catches you, you’re through.

EMMETT

Very funny.

MISS VALENTRIA

Is that her favorite cartoon?

EMMETT

Whose?

MISS VALENTRIA

Holly.

EMMETT

Uh, no.  She likes Beavis and Butthead.  I like the Road Runner.  Actually, she doesn’t watch much.  Twelve now.

MISS VALENTRIA

Not eleven?

EMMETT

No, twelve.  Last year she discovered “All My Children” and a sea change took place.  Daddy’s little girl.  (rueful chuckle) You think that’s a given.  A constant.  Suddenly she’s screaming at Barbara –

MISS VALENTRIA

Your wife?

EMMETT

Screaming at her about…nothing.  Dinner being served at 6:30 instead of 7.  The sneakers we won’t let her buy.

MISS VALENTRIA

She screams at you?

EMMETT

Me?  No.  She’s too bored with me to waste her precious vitriol on my account.

MISS VALENTRIA

Kids can be a drag.

EMMETT

As can jobs, Monday mornings and airline terminals.

MISS VALENTRIA

Where do you work?

EMMETT

Where do I work?  National Inter-TeleCom.

(Miss Valentria looks puzzled)

Cellular phones.  From anywhere to anywhere.  Helping America get from here to there.  From Austin to Boston.  From PA to Santa Fe.

(Miss Valentria nods in recognition

of the slogans)

That’s the ideal…no dead spots.  Wherever you are, you can reach the other party, no matter where they are.  It’s coming sooner than you think.

MISS VALENTRIA

How are you involved?

EMMETT

(shrugs) Years ago, they had coolies laying down railroad tracks.  Now they have me laying forth a stream of technical jargon, paving the information super highway.

MISS VALENTRIA

All de livelong day.

EMMETT

They pay me well.

MISS VALENTRIA

So when you’re in Phoenix, let’s say.  You can be sitting in some airport lounge or something, three o’clock in the morning, in the middle of a sandstorm, whip out your cordless phone and call Barbara and Holly?

EMMETT

Sure.

MISS VALENTRIA

Even though the time zones are different?

EMMETT

Absolutely.

MISS VALENTRIA

But you can do that with a payphone.

EMMETT

(caught up short) Yes, but say I’m in a car, or on a plane –

MISS VALENTRIA

We have a phone on the plane. (parroting) “For in-flight telephone service, please insert calling card or credit card..”

EMMETT

Yes, well, that’s part of it.

MISS VALENTRIA

Do you like your job?

EMMETT

I’m not even sure what my job is, but I’ve been doing it well for seventeen years.

MISS VALENTRIA

So you’re proud of what you do, but you still hate it.

EMMETT

Would you be here if you won the lottery?

MISS VALENTRIA

Fair question.

EMMETT

Good, may I go now?  Have I proven to you that I’m part of the great normal?  The happy miserable with a front lawn and theatre tickets.  And soccer practice and visiting hours once a week.  Taxes every April and Christmas once a year.  I get up, go to work, come home, spend time with the woman I married, worry about the child-woman we call our daughter.  I buy menswear. I make phone reservations for lunch.  I get on airplanes and fly, unencumbered, to my destination.

MISS VALENTRIA

You also beep.

EMMETT

I NEVER BEEP!  I’ve been to a dozen different cities over the last three years, not once have I beeped.  I come to you, and suddenly I’m radioactive.

(Miss Valentria draws a breath

and raises her finger;

Emmett cuts off her thought)

EMMETT

No, I wasn’t at Three Mile Island, or Chernobyl.

MISS VALENTRIA

So what’s in Phoenix?

EMMETT

Nothing’s in Phoenix.  I mean, it’s there, it’s a city.  Like any other small, agreeable city to explore.

MISS VALENTRIA

To get lost in.

EMMETT

Whatever.

MISS VALENTRIA

Still hot there.  How long are you going for?

EMMETT

A week.  Maybe two.

MISS VALENTRIA

Maybe two?  United Inter-telephone.

EMMETT

National Inter-TeleCom.

MISS VALENTRIA

Yeah, they understood?

EMMETT

I’m taking a week.  If I choose to stay longer, I’ll deal with it then.

MISS VALENTRIA

As will Barbara and Holly.

EMMETT

Yes, I think Barbara realizes…

MISS VALENTRIA

What?

EMMETT

It’s not a separation, or anything like that.  It’s just a vacation.

MISS VALENTRIA

From her.

EMMETT

From everything.

MISS VALENTRIA

And she gets a vacation from you.

EMMETT

No argument.

MISS VALENTRIA

And the kid?

EMMETT

Holly will notice I’m gone in exactly three days: when she’s fighting with her mother and needs my approval to do something foolish.  The father-daughter thing.

MISS VALENTRIA

(laughs) I know the sound of that.

EMMETT

Your father?

MISS VALENTRIA

Quite a man.

EMMETT

You had a special relationship?

MISS VALENTRIA

Have.  He’s still alive.  So’s yours.

(Emmett blanches, she reads his face)

But not for long.

(Emmett looks up, pained)

How long?

EMMETT

A few more weeks.  Or maybe not.

MISS VALENTRIA

Something in particular?

EMMETT

Sorry, I try not to talk about cancer without a drink in my hands.

MISS VALENTRIA

Nobody likes hospitals, Emmett

EMMETT

That’s why he’s not in one.  Yet.  The home we’re using has been very supportive of keeping him…  We’re waiting until the last possible moment.  We’ve waited past the last possible moment.

MISS VALENTRIA

Is it very bad?

EMMETT

For whom?

MISS VALENTRIA

(pause) It’s none of my business.

(Emmett laughs at this.

Miss Valentria sits on the conveyer belt)

MISS VALENTRIA

But do you think it’s fair to leave Barbara alone with all this?

EMMETT

Should something happen…?

(Miss Valentria nods.

Pause, Emmett exhales)

I don’t care.

MISS VALENTRIA

Ouch.

EMMETT

Maybe I’ll care tomorrow.  Next week.

MISS VALENTRIA

Two weeks.

EMMETT

But not now.  Now I’m staring at a 747 jet, big and beautiful, wings wide enough to encircle me and take me flying across continents, beyond time, away from life and death and chatter and the need to deal with everything, everyday, every minute.

(Emmett walks to Miss Valentria)

EMMETT

And you won’t let me get on that plane.

MISS VALENTRIA

I?  No sir, leave me out of it.  That doorway won’t let you get on.

EMMETT

But you’ve seen me!  You know I have no metal to detect.

MISS VALENTRIA

Right.  Obviously, it made a mistake.

EMMETT

Obviously.

MISS VALENTRIA

And it’s up to me to correct the error of its ways, so you can get where you belong.

EMMETT

Exactly.

MISS VALENTRIA

But how?  How do I prove to that archway that you should be getting on that plane?

EMMETT

I don’t know.  Reason with it.

MISS VALENTRIA

I’m trying.

EMMETT

(dismissive) Right.

MISS VALENTRIA

Watch me now. (goes to doorway) Mister Archway, you are looking at a man.  An ordinary, decent human being (Emmett laughs sourly) who wants to run away to the 48th state.  Sit in the burning sun, eat Mexican food, rub up against Saguaro cacti, kick around some Apache bones and try to forget himself.  He’s paid for his ticket – you have paid for your ticket, Emmett?

(Emmett nods and searches for his ticket.

He produces it)

MISS VALENTRIA

And he went through a lot of trouble to make this flight.  Not next week, not a year from now, but here at gate three.  And you won’t let him go.  Why not?  It’s his life.   He’s coming back in a week or so, right?  You are coming back, aren’t you, Emmett?

(Emmett doesn’t answer;

he doesn’t know)

MISS VALENTRIA

Oh, Emmett.  Think of what you’re doing.

EMMETT

I don’t need a lecture, I need a boarding pass.

MISS VALENTRIA

Every day I’m at this terminal.  I see a thousand people head through.  I don’t know if they’re going away or coming home.

EMMETT

Maybe they’re just going where they need to go.

MISS VALENTRIA

Why do you need to go, Emmett?

EMMETT

Because I’m tired, and I’m getting older.  And right now, the people who are supposed to make my life bearable aren’t doing a very good job of it.

MISS VALENTRIA

You know, your daddy can’t help what’s happening to him.

EMMETT

I know, I just… I feel that if I simply sit down on that plane, overhead compartment locked, seatbelt fastened…  Look out the window – I have a window seat.  See the runway moving behind me, away from me.  I swear, by the time I ‘m in the sky, it’s almost anti-climactic.  I might hit Dallas/Fort Worth and grab the next plane home.  Really.  But I need 30,000 feet between me and this planet.

MISS VALENTRIA

And what if that’s not enough?

EMMETT

Then I need 30,000 feet and a week.  Or two.  However long I need to vanish before I can rematerialize.  Reconfigure the atoms of Emmett into someone who looks like me, only happier.

MISS VALENTRIA

I’m at this terminal everyday.

EMMETT

So you said.

MISS VALENTRIA

Thousands of people who don’t even make eye contact.  Meanwhile, I can see the most private stuff in their luggage.  Undershirts, framed photos, packs of condoms (she eyes Emmett. Emmett averts his gaze). Everything’s so perfectly pressed.  Neat stacks of clothing.  Different personal items in each compartment.

EMMETT

So?

MISS VALENTRIA

Then they go wherever they’re going, do what they need to do.  They come back and now there’s clean laundry in a lump and dirty laundry spilling out of plastic bags.  And there’s talcum powder sprinkled over everything, just like Mr. So And So warned Mrs. So And So would happen. And the zipper on the suitcase is half-broken because they had to buy just one more ceramic dish.  A whole world of change has gone on in that suitcase.  Any relation to the neat little carrying bag with the SS monogram on it is way, way gone.  But the people… (pause) They stay exactly the same.  Same habits, same problems.  The world don’t change, Emmett, just the baggage.

EMMETT

And that is why people drink.  And that is why they take drugs. And that is why those of us with a little money and a college education find legal ways to escape.

MISS VALENTRIA

Answer me this: Do you still love your wife?

EMMETT

Wife or life?

MISS VALENTRIA

Wife.

EMMETT

In a certain way.  Not unconditionally, not as before.

MISS VALENTRIA

And Holly?

EMMETT

Yes.  The father-daughter thing.

MISS VALENTRIA

Do you love your life?

EMMETT

(pause, firmly) No.

MISS VALENTRIA

Not your life?

EMMETT

No, not the way it is.

MISS VALENTRIA

Then change it.

EMMETT

I am.

MISS VALENTRIA

No, you’re just changing the view, the window’s still dirty.

EMMETT

Miss Valentria, if I get on the Expressway, turn around and head back home, I don’t know what I’ll end up doing.  I might look Barbara in the eye and say, “Divorce me.”  Go and tell my daughter just what a disappointment she is to me.  March into the vice-president’s office and say, screw you and your cancer-causing cellular phones.  And then maybe it’s over to dad’s room, crank the bed up and tell him, “Pop, if you’re going to die, then do it already.  If there was a cure, I’d say bravo! Hang on you brave son of a bitch.  But it’s over.  You’re a lost cause, old man, give it up and let me go.  Every week there’s less and less of you, but still enough for the physical therapist to say, “Oh, he’s in good spirits today!.”  Fuck your good spirits, pop, they’re killing me.  Stop dragging on and on and on and oh God, I have a life!  And I’m sorry, but there’s no room for your death in it anymore.  I’m sorry.

(Emmett, upset, sits quietly for a moment)

Sorry for myself, as well.  What a pretty picture.  (motions to the conveyer) Why don’t you run me through that thing and see if it picks up the remnants of a soul?

MISS VALENTRIA

No machines for you.  You’re already putting yourself through the wringer.

EMMETT

Rather awful, huh?

MISS VALENTRIA

What is?

EMMETT

The good son, abandoning his father in the hour of his greatest need.

MISS VALENTRIA

It’s hard.  You hate seeing him in pain.

EMMETT

You weren’t listening.

MISS VALENTRIA

Yes I –

EMMETT

Listen to me.  It’s not about him.  It’s about me being tired.  It’s about this disease of his sucking the time out of my life with no reward for my patience.  At the end of it all, I don’t get my father back.  He dies tomorrow, he dies six months from now, what’s the difference, except all this time and money wasted?  I can’t waste any more.

MISS VALENTRIA

The time you spend with him.  Emmett, how can you call that wasted?

EMMETT

I used to visit on Thursday nights, dreading it but also steeling myself for the inevitable.  It felt so profound, you see, always saying goodbye for the very last time.  And then afterwards, leaving his room and walking down the corridor.  Knowing if I got a phone call that night, I’d feel in my heart I’d said everything that needed to be said.  All the so longs and I love yous.  Now I say hello, putter around for a respectable twenty minutes and secretly hope I get home in time to watch “E.R.”

MISS VALENTRIA

Is that why you feel guilty?  Because you don’t want to spend twenty minutes a week dwelling on death?

EMMETT

I do want to dwell on it.  I want to be filled with rage, and sorrow, and all these big, wrenching emotions.  I want to squeeze his fingers and talk about his life, my life, life on this fireball earth.

MISS VALENTRIA

Then why don’t y-

EMMETT

Because we did!  Months ago.  Every Thursday: “Goodbye pop, I love you.  I’ll take care of Barb and Holly.  Thank you for everything.  I know you’ll be watching me up there wherever I go.  Big handkerchief finish.

MISS VALENTRIA

Sounds like you’re luckier than a lot of people who never get to say those things.

EMMETT

But how many times can you say goodbye?  How many times can you say, “I’ll miss you” over and over before you start wishing them gone so you can start missing them?

MISS VALENTRIA

You’re losing me, Emmett.

EMMETT

I’m staring at my watch.  I’m wondering about  “E.R.”  I’m thinking what movie to see over the weekend.  I’m flashing to the million things I have to do if only I didn’t have this endless distraction.  This weight on myneck. (pause) Do you hear what I’m saying?  To my father?  How dare you waste my valuable time by dying slowly?  How dare you… (pause) Pretty soon I’ll start to hate him.

MISS VALENTRIA

Emmett, you’re going broke on hatred.  But you’re spending it all on yourself.

EMMETT

I’d say self-loathing was in order for someone who wants his father to die because it’s too bothersome to keep him alive.

MISS VALENTRIA

Is that what you think about yourself?  Caring for your daddy’s a chore you’ve gotten tired of?  Is that what’s inside you, Emmett?

EMMETT

(jumps up) You know what’s inside me.  Here, I’ll show you again.

(Emmett bounds to the metal doorway. It beeps. He stands there as the beeping continues)

EMMETT

The trick’s on you, Miss Valentria, and all your sophisticated machinery.  Beep, beep, beep.  What a laugh!  I’m setting off alarms like there’s something in me, but there’s nothing.  It’s hollow.  I’m burned out from the inside.

MISS VALENTRIA

You don’t believe that.

EMMETT

Listen.  (pause, the beeping) Might as well be my heart beating.  Just a mechanical pulse keeping the organism going.  Everything else gone.  The marriage part, dead.  The parent part, finished.  The dutiful son part…

(Emmett bows his head and hangs between the door frames.  He moves forward, and the beeping stops)

EMMETT

I’ve been reading this book, by a rabbi, of all things.  “How to Cope When Hope Says Nope,” or some such nonsense.

MISS VALENTRIA

Does it help?

EMMETT

According to this man of the cloth, all I need is a good cry every now and then.

MISS VALENTRIA

You sound unconvinced.

EMMETT

You should’ve caught me a month ago.  I had to carry a pack of tissues to work just in case I lost control.  Barbara was starting to worry about me.  I couldn’t mention Pop without my eyes turning three shades of bloodshot.  I was Mister Sensitive, ooh, so proud of myself.  Ever hear the Sinatra song, “Glad to be Unhappy?”  That was Emmett Finder.

MISS VALENTRIA

Now you’re still unhappy, but not so glad.

EMMETT

(smiles) Sophistry, Miss Valencia.  I’m impressed.

MISS VALENTRIA

And you’re not crying anymore.

(Emmett shakes his head in assent)

Salt water all dried up?

EMMETT

Completely.  I’d have to import my tears from the Colorado River.

MISS VALENTRIA

You couldn’t cry if you wanted to.

EMMETT

(pause) No.

MISS VALENTRIA

Emmett, your father’s dead.

(A moment for Emmett, stunned)

EMMETT

W-what do you mean?

MISS VALENTRIA

He’s left you, Emmett.  Gone to another world.

EMMETT

How..?

MISS VALENTRIA

Don’t ask me how I know.  What do you feel?

EMMETT

Who called you?  Is there someone waiting for me?

MISS VALENTRIA

Listen to me, Emmett.  I don’t see any tears in your eyes.

EMMETT

I told you, I can’t cry anymore.

MISS VALENTRIA

Your father’s dead, Emmett.

EMMETT

Even if he is –

MISS VALENTRIA

Do you accept it?

EMMETT

Yes, I accept it.  I’ve been waiting for months.

MISS VALENTRIA

And you’re all cried out.

EMMETT

I wish I weren’t…

MISS VALENTRIA

That’s right.  You wish you could feel it.

EMMETT

I do feel it.

MISS VALENTRIA

But not like before?

EMMETT

Less and less.

MISS VALENTRIA

What about the funeral? The cemetery?  Will you cry then?

EMMETT

I don’t know.

MISS VALENTRIA

Will you feel it?

EMMETT

Probably.  I hope so.

MISS VALENTRIA

What if you don’t?

EMMETT

I don’t want to think about that.

MISS VALENTRIA

Oh Emmett, that’s all you’ve been thinking about.  Don’t you see?

(She puts her arm around him)

Pretty soon you’re going to be looking into your father’s coffin.  You’ll watch his body as it’s lowered into the ground.  And Barbara, and Holly, and Barbara’s family, your family, everyone will be there, watching.  Watching you (a glance from Emmett) You have to be the protective father and the grieving son.  And the dignified leader.  In control but not too unemotional.  You’ll be expected to cry.

EMMETT

I don’t care what they expect.

MISS VALENTRIA

That’s right, Emmett.  But you’ll want to cry.  It’s your father’s funeral; how will you feel about yourself if you don’t choke up?

EMMETT

No worse than I feel now.

MISS VALENTRIA

How do you know?  You’ve spent the last few weeks not crying just so you’d have something left over for when it counts.  But funerals aren’t business meetings, Emmett.  You can’t plan how you’re gonna feel; project the number of tears you’re gonna drop.  See, you’re almost crying now, and you weren’t planning on that.

(Emmett tries to rise

but Miss Valentria holds him back)

All those times you’d left your father’s room, thinking they were the last time.  You’d done your duty, only next week you had to do it all over again.

(Emmett bows his head) How many times can you go through that before it becomes a cruel joke?  God crying “wolf.”  (mimics) “Emmett, he’s dying; get it all out now, you won’t have another chance.  Oops!  Sorry, Emmett, he’s hanging on for another week.”  The next week, “He’s really dying this time, Emmett.  Better open up your soul and wring it clean – Naww, just a dress rehearsal.  Your daddy’s stronger than I made him.  Come back next Thursday, we’ll try it again…”

EMMETT

Oh, Christ.

MISS VALENTRIA

Were you afraid, Emmett?  Afraid there’d be nothing left?  Afraid if you kept on crying, when it came time to say goodbye, really goodbye, there’d be nothing inside you to give?

(Emmett looks at her,

on the verge of tears)

Is that why you closed yourself off?  Storing away feelings the way a hibernating bear gathers his sleep for the long summer?  So that maybe when the time came to stare into the face of your father, for the last, last time, you could say, “these are my tears, see how I love you.  This is my heart, see how it breaks for you.”

(Emmett is crying.

Miss Valentria hugs him)

MISS VALENTRIA

And so you ran.  Away from your father.  Away from your wife and daughter.  The people who kept reminding you of what you ached to forget.  Because each time you felt a tug, that was one less emotion you’d have when it really counted.  But it counts now, Emmett .  It counted two months ago, and it’ll count two years from now when you go and watch a movie, and someone in it will remind you of your father.  And you’ll be the only one crying in that theater, but you won’t care because, God, it will hit you.  Hard.  And it will count.  And it’ll hit you whether you run away to Phoenix or…PA or Santa Fe.

(Emmett chuckles into her shoulder)

From anywhere to anywhere.  It can even hit you in an airport.

(Emmett wipes his eyes)

EMMETT

Yes.

MISS VALENTRIA

Your face is all red.

EMMETT

(smiles) That’s okay. (pause) What do I do now?

MISS VALENTRIA

I can’t tell you that.

EMMETT

I know.  I was only…

(Emmett reaches in for his ticket) Can you tell if this ticket is non-refundable?

MISS VALENTRIA

(smiles) Go ahead.  If they give you any problems, I’ll say I just couldn’t let you on the plane.

(Miss Valentria motions to the metal                                                                                doorway.  Emmett collects all his things)

MISS VALENTRIA

(after a moment) For what it’s worth, I hope you stay married.

EMMETT

For what it’s worth, so do I.

MISS VALENTRIA

And your father.

EMMETT

Yes?

MISS VALENTRIA

I don’t know if he’s.  .  I only said that.  .  I hope he lives as long as God intends him to.  And I hope you keep visiting him.  Even if it means missing “E.R.”

(Emmett smiles.  He comes over and hugs Miss Valentria)

EMMETT

Usually when you see spiritual people at an airport, they’re running around banging tambourines and asking you to sign a petition.  But you…

(closes his eyes a brief moment, then wags his finger knowingly)

You are blessed.

MISS VALENTRIA

(laughs) You’re sweet.  How can you tell?

EMMETT

Because I just blessed you.

(Emmett gently lifts his hand as a gesture of goodbye.

He turns to leave and starts to walk around the metal-detecting doorway.

He changes his mind and deliberately steps through it without a sound.

Miss Valentria stares after him, then turns towards the waiting plane.

Once more, the lights shift to deep blue.  She lifts her hands and raises her head.

Now we hear the sound of a plane taking off, louder and louder.  Then, quickly but not abruptly, the lights and sounds fade completely out.)

END OF PLAY

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