Playaday: Eglise de Stains, Utrillo

#56—Animate a favorite painting with words.

I love this painting. I’ve had a print of it since high school and it now hangs in the kitchen. I wrote this sitting on the couch in our son’s house on the 12th, surrounded by the clamor of grandchildren.

CHARACTERS

Jean

Marie

SETTING

 Rue Jean Durand, Paris, looking toward Eglise de Stains as painted by Utrillo.

JEAN

The street is strangely empty today. Where is everyone?

MARIE
Perhaps they’re in church?

JEAN

Why would they be there? It is not Sunday. It is not a holy day.

MARIE
True. Perhaps a funeral?

JEAN

We’d know about a death, surely.

MARIE
Oh I don’t know. We don’t know everyone in the neighborhood now. Why lives in the house with the green shutters?

JEAN

Somebody new, I think. I don’t remember.

MARIE

Well then. Perhaps there was a death in the house.

JEAN
I don’t think the neighbors are all in church, Marie. No one rang the bell. And there is not a cat, hnot a pigeon, not a dog in sight. No one opening a window. No one calling hello. It is silent as well as empty Strange.

MARIE
Wait, Jean! I have a thought. Remember Maurice?

JEAN
The painter.

MARIE

Yes. He stood yesterday, right where we stand, with his easel and palette and brush, looking the way we are looking now, down the street, toward the church, all down the street to where it bends away.

JEAN

Yes, yes, what of it?

MARIE
Let us walk down the street, this silent street, to the house at the very end, the one with the red roof.

JEAN

Why?

MARIE

Let us just do it, Jean. Step. One foot out. Step.

JEAN
Marie! I cannot lift my feet. They are stuck in this, this. . . 

MARIE
Paint, Jean. This grey paint. The street is painted now. It is empty of everything but paint.

Playaday: Schubert of the Pampas

#60—“The Schubert of the Pampas” describes composer Carlos Guastavino. Describe yourself as “The…. of the . . . “

(I’m going to be offline over the weekend, but I’ll still try to write my playlets, which I shall post on Monday. This one wrote itself. The characters inhabit a Play for Voices that I wrote which will be a podcast sometime in February.)

CHARACTERS

VICKY—a retired lawyer—queen of the courtroom

SHARON—a massage therapist—supreme organizer

NANCY—a former priest—queen of the sacristy

LINDA—a retired nurse

SALLY—a matriarch—NOT an angel

They are old women who have been friends for years.

Setting:  A coffee shop, the middle of a conversation.

VICKY

No, I didn’t always want to be a lawyer. When I was a kid, I wanted to be Queen.

LINDA

What? Queen? Vicky! Where did you get that idea?

VICKY

The coronation movie. I saw it when I was, what? Three? Did you see it? Elizabeth, like a fairy tale princess with that gown and cape and crown and the scepter and the orb and the sword. . .

LINDA

(Ironic.)

Well, I must say it affected your taste in clothes. Those little suits of yours.

NANCY

You do wear nice jewelry.

VICKY

That’s due to Sharon. If you like nice jewelry, have a spouse with good taste, I always say.

SHARON

That’s my girl. Queen of the Courtroom.

NANCY

Well, what about you, Sharon? Was massage therapy even a thing when we were kids?

SHARON

I vaguely remember a large Swedish masseuse  in some movie or other. But no. I wanted to be a secretary.

NANCY

That was basically the choice, wasn’t it? Teacher, nurse, secretary, housewife.

SALLY

And I picked housewife. And I don’t regret it at all.

SHARON

Why should you, Sally? You’ve raised a batch of great kids. And grandkids, too. Without being the “angel in the home,” too.

SALLY

Right. Anyone who calls me an “angel” would be in serious trouble. But back to you, Sharon. A secretary. Why?

SHARON

I like order. I like office supplies. Folders and stickers and file boxes and rolodexes and pens and pencils and. . .

VICKY

Oh no! You got her going! Everything in our house is labeled and filed! Sharon, Supreme Organizer!

SHARON

(Primly.)

However. You can find things in our house, can’t you? And it really helps me with the business.

VICKY

All true, all true. Nancy. Were you one of those girls who dreamed of being a priest or an astronaut or something girls couldn’t be?

NANCY

As a matter of fact, I was. I wanted to be a priest. But when the dust had settled, when I began to realize that dealing with a parish and trying to talk about a god I only half believed in, I saw that it was at least partly about the stuff. 

LINDA

The stuff?

NANCY

Yeah. The music and the stained glass and the incense. And—the clothes. You know? The robes. They were pretty nice.

VICKY

I get it, Nance. If I was Queen of the Courtroom, you were. . . 

NANCY

Queen of the Sacristy.

LINDA

What’s a sacristy?

NANCY

The dressing room. Backstage. Yeah. That works. But not queen, when I think about it. More like, oh, I don’t know, clown. 

SALLY

Clown?

NANCY

That’s not right either. Impressionist, maybe. But that doesn’t matter any more. What about you, Linda?

LINDA

Nurse. Nurse LInda all the way. The Florence Nightingale of Milwaukee. I still miss it.

VICKY

Craziness. I can not imagine wanting to take care of sick people.

SHARON

But you used to take care of deranged people, love. Some of those clients of yours. . . 

VICKY

Different, different. They didn’t barf and need bedpans.

SHARON

I hate to break this up, but I have a client in half an hour so I’ve got to run. See you all next week?

(Stands.)

SALLY

God willing and the creek don’t rise. Yeah, I’d better get going, too.

(They all stand, and exit, talking quietly, as the curtain falls.)

Playaday: Cover an Indiscretion

#32—Cover up an indiscretion

CHARACTERS

Person One—co-host of the dinner party

Person Two—co-host of the dinner party.

Persons Three through Six

Setting: A dinner party.

For the first ten minutes, the people make polite dinner party conversation, ad lib.

Suddenly, there is a raspberry noise and all is briefly silent. Person One wrinkles their nose and looks pointedly at Person Two.

PERSON TWO

It was the dog.

PERSON ONE

We don’t have a dog.

Curtain.

Playaday: A Birthday Poem

#47—Birthday poem for someone whose birthday is that day

Characters:

Bev, whose birthday it is

Everett, a poet

They are drinking coffee in a cafe.

BEV

Okay, Ev. It’s my birthday. I have graced this earth for seventy years and I want a poem.

EV

I’ve tried. I’ve really tried, but I just can’t find the words.

BEV

Come on, you’ve had a whole year to work on it.

EV

Well come on yourself. Occasional poems are not my forte.

BEV

What do you consider your forte? Those obscure things you get published in the little weird magazines that nobody reads but other obscure poets?

EV

Well, yes. I guess so.

BEV

What’s the point in being a poet if you can’t write a little birthday poem for your old friend, huh? What’s the point?

EV

Okay, okay. Here. (Takes a notebook and pen out of his pocket.) Give me a minute. Drink your coffee or something.

(He writes in silence while she drinks her coffee and looks around.)

BEV

Done yet?

EV

No! Just shut up and let me work!

BEV

Okay, okay. You don’t have to be hostile about it.

EV

Urf.

(More silence.)

EV

Okay. Here it is. Ready?

BEV

I’ve been ready since early this morning. Go for it.

EV

(Stands.)

For Beverly.

Seventy years you’ve graced the Earth.

I’m glad your mother gave you birth.

I hope you’re here for many more,

but who knows what life has in store?

Happy Birthday then, dear Bev,

from your buddy, the poet Ev.

(Sits.)

BEV

(Stands and applauds, sits again.)

There. That wasn’t so bad, was it? What would I do without you?

EV

Bah.

CURTAIN

Playaday: A Fork that Changed my Life

Prompt #21 A fork that changed your life

What kind of weird poems did we write with these prompts? Good grief.

CHARACTERS

MARLENE

GEORGE

Setting: Lunch at a Senior Center. Marlene and George are seated next to one another, eating. George drops his fork which lands under Marlene’s chair, and she picks it up.

GEORGE

Thank you. 

MARLENE

You’re welcome. I haven’t seen you here before. Are you new in town?

GEORGE

Not new in town so much as new to the Center. My wife passed away last year, and my daughter made me come here today because she says I’m eating funny. I tried for awhile, you know, but I got tired of cooking for one. 

MARLENE
I know what you mean. My son got me coming here, too. Mine was popcorn and cocoa for dinner. What was yours?

GEORGE

Cheerios.

MARLENE

Yeah, you can’t get very far on popcorn and cheerios. I resented it for awhile, but my son was right. The food’s not too bad here, and I like that they give you a sandwich for supper, too.

GEORGE

Do they really?

MARLENE
They do. They’ll come by with a box when they bring the desert. Pretty good deal. Not as good as my cooking used to be, but—I don’t have to cook it.

GEORGE

It’s better than my cooking, but I guess it doesn’t take much.

MARLENE
So what do you do to pass the time?

GEORGE

Photography. I used to be a pro, so I’ve got some good equipment. I still try to take a photo or two every day.

MARLENE
What kind of photos? People? Buildings?

GEORGE

Macro. Little stuff. Leaves and frost crystals and things like that. Insects. 

MARLENE
So there’s always something, right? Wherever you look?

GEORGE

There is. Right here, for instance. I could take a photo of this lettuce, up close. It has fascinating texture. All those little ribs and the variations in color. I should have brought my camera. Maybe

MARLENE
You’ll have to do that next time. You could do a whole series “Senior Lunch.” Maybe they’d even hang it up here. They do hang paintings. I bet they would.

GEORGE

Interesting thought. I’ll bring the camera. What about you? I mean, how do you pass the time?

MARLENE
The time. Sometimes it seems there’s so much of it to pass.

GEORGE

And despite that, it goes by so quickly.

MARLENE
I heard someone say that when you’re old, the years go quickly and the days go slowly.

GEORGE

I think that’s true.

MARLENE
But I pass the time in front of my computer screen. I’m a writer. 

GEORGE

Novels? Poems?

MARLENE
Plays. In fact, I’ve got one coming out next week. 

GEORGE

Where?

MARLENE
Right across the street here. The Community Players. It’s not Broadway, but they’re pretty good and it’s fun. You should come. I’ll get you a ticket if you like.

GEORGE

Thanks. That would be great. Maybe we could catch some dinner first. Real dinner, in a restaurant.

MARLENE
Now that would be a change. I hate eating alone, in a restaurant.

GEORGE 

So do I. What’s the play called?

MARLENE

You’re not going to believe this.

GEORGE

Try me.

MARLENE
It’s called “A Fork that Changed My Life.”

(They both laugh.)

Playaday: Most Feared

Prompt #74—what do you most fear?

CHARACTERS

DOG

MOUSE

DEER

OWL

Setting—the edge of a forest.

MOUSE

(Enters, creeping, searching the ground and looking up.)

Food. Something here. Seeds. Over there. Gotta find. Dry grass. Little holes. Winter coming. Need snow. Cover, cover, cover. Owls. Foxes. Hungry. Melting. Freezing. Sky. Oh, sky. Nothing. Shelter, need shelter. But food. Seeds. Over here. Owls at night. Hawks. Foxes. Need food. Winter coming.

(Exits, scurrying.)

DEER

(Enters wary, sniffing, listening.)

Not time yet, but they’re coming. Every tree on the edge of every clearing, every clump of grass and brush can hold a death. Listen, listen, move with care. Alert, stay alert. Not time yet, but soon. The leaves have fallen, my breath blows a mist. It will be soon.

DOG

(Enters, looking around.)

Where are they? Where did they go? I went too far, maybe. There was a rabbit and a squirrel and some deer and something I don’t know, and I followed and I followed and they were still behind me and now I don’t know. I could hear them calling but now I can’t hear them and maybe they’re lost. I don’t want to lose them. What would they do, lost in the woods. How would they find their way home. The wind is wrong. I can’t hear them, I can’t smell them. What shall I do? Go this way? Turn back? I don’t know, I don’t know. Where are they? Where are they?

(Exits.)

OWL

(Enters silently, calmly. Stands still and looks around for a long time, then moves on.)

06. Playaday: Theoretical Dog

Prompt #49    In flat country, “if your dog runs away, you can watch him for 3 days.” What’s the Vt equivalent?

CHARACTERS

FLATLANDER

VERMONTER

SETTING

A bar.

FLATLANDER

Where I come from, if your dog runs away, you can watch him for three days. What’s your claim to fame?

VERMONTER
Why would your dog run away?

FLATLANDER

I don’t know. Maybe he’s chasing something.

VERMONTER

If my dog ran away, I’d just call her, and she’d come. ‘Course if she was after a squirrel, it might take her awhile. But sooner or later, she’d get stopped by a river or something.

FLATLANDER

But the point is, what would be your equivalent, here in these hills? What can you boast about to a flatlander like me?

VERMONTER

Well, first off, I wouldn’t call you a flatlander. Pretty sure that’s what you folks call yourselves when you move up here.

FLATLANDER

What do you call us?

VERMONTER

Perhaps you don’t want to know. (Thoughtful silence.) But generally, we call you people from away. That’s all. 

FLATLANDER

You don’t like us, do you?

VERMONTER

Well, I don’t know. It all depends. We don’t like some of ourselves either.

FLATLANDER

That’s reassuring. But back to the original question.

VERMONT

All right then. Let’s see here. But first off, if your dog ran away, why would you watch him for three days? Why wouldn’t you just get in your truck and go get him? 

FLATLANDER

My dog wouldn’t run away. I don’t even have a dog. This is theoretical. I’m just curious about what’s the equivalent in the mountains.

VERMONT

There isn’t one, I guess. We keep our dogs pretty close to home.

05. Playaday: All Weathers

# 116   Loving the Weather as it is

CHARACTERS:

HUMMINGBIRD—Vivace, staccato.

BEAR—Largo, legato.

CROW—Rubato.

SETTING

 A Hillside, late summer.

HUMMINGBIRD

Good summer. Good nectar. Flowers. Feeders. Going. Going. Gone. Winter. Going. North wind. Going. Today. Going.

CROW

Hey, take it easy, little brother, take it easy. If you didn’t move so quick you’d be able to stay. Winter’s good here. Plenty of road kill, compost. Take it easy.

HUMMINGBIRD
Don’t. Don’t eat. Can’t. Meat. No. Nectar. No flowers. Feeders. Freeze. Going. Going.

BEAR

Well I don’t know about summer nectar or flowers or winter roadkillbut I know that tomorrow I’m going to the berry bushes around the old orchard in the abandoned pasture where the people put beehives so the bees could make some wildflower honey and I’ll eat and eat and eat and eat and the next day if the going’s good I’ll do that again and I’ll do it every day until the berries are gone and the apples are gone and it’s too cold for my nose and I’ll curl in my den and sleep and sleep and sleep and sleep.

HUMMINGBIRD

How can. You stay. I hate. Cold. Winter. Hate winter. Going. Going. Going. Good bye. Good bye. Good bye.

(Exits.)

BEAR

Don’t hate winter because I know how to do it all fat and warm and sleepy in my den dreaming deep about the spring coming the spring and coming out with my new cubs yes in the spring coming I’ll have some because they’re ready to grow now and sleepy feeding my little cubs in the den until spring so I don’t mind winter don’t mind spring.

CROW

Ah, but big sister, you don’t know the goodness of it, the light on the snow, the blue sky. You don’t know the glory of the storms. You’ve never huddled in a hemlock listening to the wind, or gathered with your gang to chase the owls—what a hoot on a winter afternoon! 

BEAR

(Stands and stretches.)

Going to the orchard now to the berry patch to see if the hives are still there with the honey and the grubs and the apples ripe and the berries ripe on the bushes all around and I’ll see you tomorrow Crow if you’re in the neighborhood and if you’re not I’ll see you around.

(Exits.)

CROW

Ah, a beautiful morning. And all weathers are alike to me. All weathers are fine with me.

(Exits.)

04. Playaday: Obliteration

#59   If you could obliterate something, what would it be?

Setting: A panel discussion program.

Characters:

The Moderator

The Reverend

The Doctor

The Teacher

The Scientist

MODERATOR
Welcome to “Expert Opinion.” Today’s experts are a Reverend, a Doctor, a Teacher and a Scientist. And today’s question:  If you could obliterate something, what would it be? Who wants to answer first?

REVEREND

That’s easy. I’d eliminate evil. It’s said that love of money is the root of all evil, but I’d go right for evil.

DOCTOR

Sickness, for sure.

TEACHER

Ignorance.

SCIENTIST

I’ll pass for now.

MODERATOR
Evil, sickness, ignorance, and a pass. All right then. Now if you’re joining us for the first time, you know that each panelist is allowed to ask a question of another panelist. They may ask only one question, and any or all questions may be asked of each panelist. So question away. Yes, Teacher?

DOCTOR

I’d like to ask the Reverend who decides what is evil?

REVEREND

The holy scriptures are very clear about what is evil. I know that there are misinterpretations of scripture going on all the time, but those of us who study it carefully are more than qualified to determine what is evil and what is good.

MODERATOR

Thank you. Next?

REVEREND

Well, I’d like the Doctor to tell me who decides what sickness is.

DOCTOR

The basic diseases, of course: cancers, heart disease, diabetes. And infections of all kinds. And mental illnesses, and disabilities.

SCIENTIST

We’ve been down that road before. Besides, artists. . . 

MODERATOR
No comments, please until the next round. Next question.

SCIENTIST

Ignorance, Teacher. Why ignorance?

TEACHER

Well, you’re a scientist, so you should know. Ignorance is the root of all evil, in my experience. It’s where prejudice and resistance to progress come from. And I have a question for the Reverend. Would you alone decide what is evil?

REVEREND

Oh no. I’m certain that if I were allowed to obliterate evil, the Lord Himself would decide.

MODERATOR

Now for the comment round. Each panelist may make one comment, either directed at another panelist, or in support of their own viewpoint. Who would like to begin?

DOCTOR

A minute ago, the Scientist implied that the elimination of disease would lead to eugenics and the demise of the arts. A small price to pay, I think, for the well-being of the whole population.

REVEREND

I partially agree with the Doctor, though I certainly believe that illness is given to man as a test, as a punishment, or as a vehicle to reveal the glory of God.

TEACHER

And the Reverend’s comment confirms my opinion exactly. Appalling ignorance that leads to witch hunts and wars and all manner of suffering.

SCIENTIST

However. There is ignorance of that kind, and there is another kind of ignorance as well. The kind of ignorance that causes people to say “I wonder why. . .” All great discoveries arise because of that kind of ignorance, the kind of ignorance that may be overcome with curiosity and experiement. We are here today, sitting in comfortable chairs, using microphones, wearing useful clothing, because of that kind of ignorance. And so I will answer today’s question by saying that if I could obliterate something, it would not be ignorance, but certainty. Certainty is the problem with the Reverend’s response, and the problem with the Doctor’s. Certainty is the root of all evil. I am certain that. . . 

MODERATOR

Thank you all. I see our time is up. Join me again next week for “Expert Opinion.”

03. Playaday: Snufkin

Prompt # 111:  SNUFKIN

CHARACTERS

Snufkin:  a free-spirited character in the Moomintroll world

Interviewer

SETTING

Two chairs in a TV talk show set

At Rise:

The Interviewer is seated and the other chair is empty.

INTERVIEWER
Good evening. Tonight our special guest is Snufkin, known to Moomintroll fans as the enigmatic, free-spirited wanderer.  Snufkin spends summers with the Moomins, and when they get ready to hibernate, he goes south. What does he do in the winter, and where does he go? These are questions that—perhaps—we’ll hear the answers to. Please welcome our guest, Snufkin.

(Snufkin enters. Interviewer rises, they shake hands, sit.)

INTERVIEWER

Welcome, Snufkin. I must say it’s a delight to meet you in person. I’ve read so much about you.

SNUFKIN

I imagine.

INTERVIEWER
Well, the question tonight on everyone’s mind is: Where do you go in the winter, when the Moomins are hibernating?

SNUFKIN

Here and there. 

INTERVIEWER

We all know that the coast of Finland is cold in the winter, which is why the Moomins hibernate. I assume that, not being a Moomin, you prefer a warmer climate in winter?

SNUFKIN

Yes.

INTERVIEWER

I can see that you’re not eager to reveal your secret. I expect you’d be overwhelmed with your fans if they knew where you were.

SNUFKIN

Maybe. Maybe not. It depends.

INTERVIEWER
On what?

SNUFKIN

On the fan. On where I decide to be.

INTERVIEWER
I see. Well, can you tell us what you do?

SNUFKIN

Maybe.

INTERVIEWER
Do you live in your tent? Do you fish? Do you play your mouth organ?

SNUFKIN

Yes.

INTERVIEWER

I understand that you compose new tunes on your mouth organ. Do you compose while you are in the south?

SNUFKIN

It depends.

INTERVIEWER

On what?

SNUFKIN

On the tune.

INTERVIEWER
Do you have your mouth organ with you?

SNUFKIN

Yes.

INTERVIEWER

Could you delight our audience with a tune?

SNUFKIN

Maybe. It depends.

INTERVIEWER

(Exasperated.)

On what?

SNUFKIN

Do they know how to listen?

INTERVIEWER

(To audience.)

Do you know how to listen?

AUDIENCE

Yes.

SNUFKIN

All right then.

(Takes mouth organ from his pocket and plays a tune. As he plays, the interviewer stands and begins to dance, eventually dancing down into the audience. They form a chain and dance out of the theater. Snufkin keeps playing until they are all gone, then puts his mouth organ in his pocket and exits.)