My friend, Alan, has a monthly theater group at the local library which hosts an event he likes to call “Instant Theater.” One of the games he plays is this: given two phrases, you must write a play using the first phrase as the opening line, and the last phrase as the closing line of the play. You have until the next meeting to write it, and then the actors perform it with no rehearsal, instantly.
Here is the modest contribution to the genre I wrote some time ago. The opening phrase I was given was, “It’s very humid out,” and my closing phrase was, “The annual spring luncheon.”
(PAT and ED are sitting in separate chairs, side by side facing front.)
PAT: (Turning away from ED, peering at something) It’s very humid out.
PAT: Yes, humid.
ED: How can you tell?
PAT: I’m looking out the window.
ED: I know you’re looking out the window, but how can you tell?
PAT: Because it’s wet.
ED: You see water?
PAT: I think so.
ED: You don’t see water.
PAT: I think I see water.
ED: Believe me, you don’t see water.
PAT: It could be water.
ED: Believe me, you don’t see water.
PAT: I thought I saw a drop.
ED: That would be impossible. That would be physically impossible, Isaac Newton impossible.
PAT: So what is it?
ED: I don’t know. A reflection. An artifact. I don’t know.
PAT: Dark out there.
ED: What’s it like?
PAT: The dark?
PAT: It’s pretty chilling. It’s like a blanket covering you, but the dark goes on forever.
ED: No light?
PAT: You can’t see?
PAT: Very far away. Very far away. A pinpoint. You can’t see from there?
PAT: It’s strange how things work out. How are you holding up?
ED: Easier than I thought it would be. I guess that’s the point of the training. When the time comes, it’s relatively easy.
ED: Who was the fourth President?
PAT: Why do you care?
ED: I was arguing with Sharon and I couldn’t remember who it was. It was either Monroe or Madison.
PAT: Monroe, no, I think Madison. No Monroe. Could be Madison. Federalist Papers. Monroe was the short one. I think Madison.
ED: You sure it wasn’t Monroe?
PAT: I don’t know, I get them mixed up. That’s what you talk about with your wife?
ED: Yes. That’s what passes for foreplay.
PAT: Sounds exciting.
ED: You never know what’s going to turn on some women.
PAT: Something to look forward to.
ED: Harder for you when you’re busy or just like this?
PAT: What do you mean?
ED: Well two months is a long time. Do you like to be busy? Or better when we’re on these half hour breaks?
PAT: I don’t know. I suppose busy is good. Although I like the breaks too. I like having the time to just be still and contemplate, thinking about the universe, thinking about how amazing this all is, how lucky we are. I was wondering if there would be a shift in my model of the world being up here for so long. And I think there has been. I think my perspective has changed. Neil said that was the big thing for him, that was the amazing thing for him, more than even the walk, just seeing just how small the Earth really was, how much it was really just one more little infinitesimal speck of the vast overall structure.
ED: How has it changed for you?
PAT: After a month and a half? It’s not so much, for me, about what’s out there, it’s about what’s inside me. Inside my brain. Like Shakespeare. The whole world inside that globe of my head. Even in the vast emptiness of just the two of us, the worlds I imagine, the universes I create. In this strange sort of solitude, I am the god of empires, the ruler of landscapes green, rocky, ocean-lapped. Look there, there’s a shepherd, barefoot in the break of a jagged mountain range calling to his sheep. Now look, armies clashing in the jungle, snipers ducking as bullets try to end their lives. Look, a lover with a rose she no longer knows what to do with, and See! a railroad car heading to the unplanned funeral of the family in the third seat.
ED: They haven’t called.
ED: It’s six thirty eight. They haven’t called.
PAT: It’s not six thirty eight.
ED: It’s six thirty eight, look in front of your nose. It’s been thirty eight minutes. They’re eight minutes late. What is that supposed to mean?
PAT: Look at the clock by the left panel. What does it say, you should be able to read it.
ED: Six thirty nine.
PAT: That’s strange. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything.
ED: Call them. Call them. Call them.
PAT: Right. Ground control, Pat, come in please. Ground control, this is Pat, come in please, over.
PAT: Ground control, this is Pat, come in please, over. Ground control, this is Pat, come in please, over.
ED: Check the mike.
PAT: Ground control, Houston, this is Pat and Ed. Ground Control. Money makes money and the money that money makes, makes more money. Ground control. (Pause) The mike is fine.
ED: We’re off the flight path.
ED: We’re off the flight path.
PAT: Well correct it for heaven’s sake.
ED: There are no position parameters.
PAT: How can there be no—
ED: I don’t know! There are no position parameters!
PAT: What are you nuts, read the freakin’ parameters.
ED: Do you see anything, do you see anything? If I could read the freakin–
PAT: There’s got to be—
ED: There isn’t!
(Pause. They stare at the empty screen)
ED: It’s completely blank.
PAT: It’s completely blank.
ED: Try the mike again.
PAT: Ground control this is Pat, Pat and Ed. Ground control this is Pat and Ed, come in please.
What time is it?
ED: Six forty-four.
PAT: Fourteen minutes.
ED: They should have contacted us.
PAT: Maybe they’re trying to and can’t get through. Maybe that’s what happened. We have–
ED: Nothing happened, nothing happened! It’s six forty-four and they’re supposed to have contacted us. We have epic equipment failure, that’s what we have.
PAT: What do we do? There’s a procedure. There’s a procedure for everything.
ED: There’s no procedure—
PAT: There’s a procedure for everything. The next–
ED: You just did the procedure, I just did the procedure, there’s no more procedure–
PAT: You can’t not–
ED: What’s next, nothing’s next! Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing.
PAT: You can’t just—
ED: Can you see anything?
ED: Out there.
PAT: I told you—dark.
PAT: I remember when I was a kid I used to spend the whole car ride to the country with my face against the window, watching the scenery change, trees, telephone poles, cars, farmland, motorcycle with a girl on the back–red hair, holding on to the leather jacket of the guy in front. I used to pretend that we weren’t going anywhere. We were at the drive-in movies and everything outside the window was a movie where I had to guess the story.
ED: We only had two more weeks.
ED: It would’ve been Joanie’s birthday. Three years. (Pause) I think I need to go to the bathroom.
PAT: I love: My mother. I love: My sisters. My brother. Camille, God help me. God.
The beach. Plums.
ED: Joanie. Sharon. Poplar Avenue. Softball. Flying. Space.
PAT: Music. The Beatles. Lucy in the Sky. Patton. Johnny Depp. Sam Shepard. Gus Grissom.
ED: Yuri Gagarin. Neil Armstrong. William Shakespeare. Nikolai Lobachevsky. Albert Einstein. Ella Fitzgerald. John Glenn.
PAT: Charlie Parker. Salt Peanuts. Django Reinhardt.
ED: “All the Things You Are.”
PAT: Newport Jazz Festival. The 1969 World Series Mets.
ED: New Year’s Eve, 2003. Hiking every year in the mountains. Parent –Teacher Day.
PAT: One more.
ED: One more?
PAT One more.
ED: Last one. Last one. (PAT and ED clasp hands)
(Pause. Quietly) Fireworks on the river. The annual spring luncheon.