28.5.05

this is the text of the play I wrote last night

Darkness on the Edge of Town, by Matt Cibula.

Characters:

Adam, a guy.
Barbara, a woman.
Chuck, another guy.
Yael, the Vengeful Spirit of Dramatic Tension.

Setting:

Three chairs. One table. Some flowers in a vase, which might be thrown across the room. That’s how these things go. Also, there are wine glasses, and wine.

Curtain opens to reveal Adam and Barbara sitting uncomfortably at the table.

ADAM. So, when is he coming?

BARBARA. I told you, he’s supposed to be here any minute.

ADAM. He’s late.

BARBARA. He’s always late.

ADAM. Did you like that about him?

BARBARA. Oh for God’s sake.

Barbara gets up from her chair, a little faster than she probably wanted to, and then she catches herself and tries to act cool. Without knowing it, she starts to pace.

BARBARA. Adam, if it’s going to be like this…

ADAM. Well, look at it from my point of view, okay? You were involved with this guy for a long time. You loved him. But then you left him.

BARBARA. Right so far.

ADAM. So now we’ve been married for three years, ostensibly happy together, and suddenly he’s coming to visit? What are we going to do, hang out and reminisce about our glory days?

BARBARA. You’re drunk.

ADAM. You’re right. And I’m pissed off and nervous and confused.

BARBARA. And paranoid.

ADAM. And rich, and successful. I may not be the sexy fun guy like Chuck, but I’m good to you, aren’t I?

BARBARA. (Bored) Yes, Adam, you’ve always been very good to me.

ADAM. Try not to say it with quite so much contempt, okay?

BARBARA. I am so tired of this! Adam, I have told you a thousand times that you have nothing to worry about. Chuck is a very good guy, but we were not right together. You are a very good guy, and we ARE right together.

ADAM. Then why does he have to come here? What is the purpose of this weird little visit on a Sunday afternoon when all I want to do is watch some basketball?

BARBARA. Because he called me and asked. We aren’t children, Adam. We can’t just pretend that inconvenient people don’t exist.

ADAM. Oh, but we can. (Pours a big fat glass of wine.) That’s why we moved here to Fairview in the first place, right? (Takes a too-big swig of it.)

BARBARA. What is that supposed to mean?

ADAM. Oh, I think you know.

BARBARA. Well, maybe I just want to hear you say it.

ADAM. Maybe I’ll say a few things you don’t want to hear.

BARBARA. Maybe I will say a few things you don’t want to hear.

ADAM. All right, then!

BARBARA. Bring it on!

Cue: THE PULSATING HUM.

ADAM. Well, that’s the doorbell. He’s here.

BARBARA. That’s not the doorbell….

Chuck enters. He is as scruffy/sexy as Adam is uptight/careful, but he’s not a bad guy; just misunderstood. He slinks into the room.

CHUCK. Hey.

BARBARA. (It becomes clear in an instant that she is still in love/lust with Chuck) Whoa.

CHUCK. The door was open, I didn’t think you’d mind if I let myself in.

ADAM. (Strides over to shake Chuck’s hand) You must be Chuck.

CHUCK. Yeah. You’re Alan?

ADAM. Yes. Well, no. Adam, actually. Adam.

CHUCK. Oh, yeah, sorry about that. (Pause) Hey, Barbie.

BARBARA. Hi, Chuck. (She comes over, they do that thing where they don’t know whether to shake hands or hug. Eventually, they hug.)

ADAM. Can I pour you some wine, Chuck?

CHUCK. No, thanks. I don’t drink anymore.

BARBARA. Really?

CHUCK. Yeah, I been dry a couple of years now.

BARBARA. Rehab?

CHUCK. No, just stopped. It was gettin’ in the way of a lot of stuff I wanted to do, so I just quit.

ADAM Well, good for you. That’s a good strong choice, if it’s getting in your way. I, on the other hand, love wine too much to do anything that strong. (He drains his glass, goes to pour another.) Barbara?

BARBARA. No, thanks, I don’t think I will. So, Chuck, come on in, sit down, make yourself at home.

CHUCK. Thanks. It’s a long ride over here.

Cue: THE PULSATING HUM.

BARBARA. Oh, honey, there’s the phone. Could you get it?

ADAM. That’s the phone?

BARBARA. I downloaded a new ringtone.

ADAM. Okay. (Exits, a little tentatively. THE PULSATING HUM stops.)

CHUCK. So, wow. This place is some kind of mansion.

BARBARA. Yes, I suppose it is.

CHUCK. You guys seem really happy here.

BARBARA. Do we?

CHUCK. Well, I don’t know. I guess this is the kind of place you always wanted to live, huh?

BARBARA. What are you talking about?

CHUCK. Oh, nothin’. It’s just…well, it’s just that this is the kind of life I could never give you.

BARBARA. Chuck! That had nothing to do with it!

CHUCK. It didn’t? You sure about that?

BARBARA. It was complicated. We were young. I was young. I… (verge of tears)

CHUCK. You what?

BARBARA. Chuck – (She bursts into tears and they hug)

ADAM. (Re-entering the room, at which point Barbara and Chuck stop hugging) No one was on the phone. (Sees that Barbara is crying) Barbara, are you okay? (She nods, but Adam stares at Chuck.) Just what exactly were you two talking about in here?

Cue: THE PULSATING HUM.

ADAM. What the hell is that noise?

BARBARA. Yeah, I guess that wasn’t the ringtone.

CHUCK. I’ve never heard anything like it before.

ADAM. It’s some kind of pulsating hum or something. (THE PULSATING HUM gets louder)

BARBARA. It’s coming from over there.

Suddenly, Yael appears. (Smoke? Lighting tricks? A fanfare? Anyway, as soon as we see her, the P.H. stops. Everything should stop: she must seem like a punk-rock funk goddess, or something equally impressive.)

CHUCK. Whoa.

BARBARA. Wow.

ADAM. Who are you, young lady?

YAEL. I am Yael, the Vengeful Spirit of Dramatic Tension!

BARBARA. What?

YAEL. Whenever situations are hackneyed and lame-oid, Yael appears. When stock characters have nowhere to go, Yael guides them home.

CHUCK. You talk about yourself like you’re not, y’know, yourself.

YAEL. That is called third-person.

CHUCK. (He has already counted them) More like fourth-person.

ADAM. How did you get into my house?

YAEL. Yael does not “get in” anywhere. When she is needed, Yael appears. That’s what Yael does.

BARBARA. Well, how about you just disappear your ethereal little self on out of here? We were doing just fine.

YAEL. You were doing nothing of the sort. You’re obviously still in love with him (indicates Chuck), but you don’t want to leave the comfortable life that he (indicates Adam) is able to provide for you.

ADAM. You…you’re still in love with Chuck?

BARBARA. No! I mean, yes! I mean…oh, I don’t know what I mean anymore!

YAEL See, it is crap like that that really pisses Yael off to no end. When people go around acting like this, with the muttered imprecations and the swallowing of emotions and the unspoken longings, Yael must call bullshit.

CHUCK. Why? People do have problems, you know.

BARBARA. Yeah, it’s not like everyone can always go around expressing themselves all perfectly all the time.

ADAM. I must agree. Whoever you are, how dare you sit in judgment of people who have real emotions and realistic reactions to those emotions?

YAEL. Well-spoken, Adam, but utterly off-base. Yael knows that real people have real emotions. But what has been happening here is neither real nor emotional. It is stock and it is rote and it must be stopped.

CHUCK. What do you mean?

YAEL. Because Yael knows exactly what will happen from here on in. You, the lusty ne’er-do-well with a heart of gold, obviously desire your former lover, the bird in the gilded cage, the one who has chosen gold over love, the sterile mansion on the hill over the tarpaper shack built on dreams and held together with kisses.

CHUCK. Hey! I live in a duplex!

YAEL. The whole scenario might as well be a Bruce Springsteen song or something.

CHUCK. It’s next to a park! It’s a safe neighborhood with good schools!

YAEL. Everyone is always supposed to root for couples like you. It’s been the same for thousands of years, from Euripedes all the way to “Desperate Housewives.” But Yael says: NO MORE!

Cue: THE PULSATING HUM. It is medium/loud at first, but fades down quickly

BARBARA. Well, so what if I do have feelings for Chuck? What’s the problem with that?

YAEL. Barbara, your desires are not the problem. It is the way you are going about it.

BARBARA. What do you mean?

YAEL Foolish mortal! Wake up! We’ve just been through this so many times before: O lost love this, O class conflict that, O yearning blah blah blah. Do you seriously not know how this will turn out?

BARBARA. Hey, you’re not being fair! I just only saw him again this afternoon!

YAEL. Yael is not trying to be fair. Yael is only interested in truth, only in cold hard truth, only in hot throbbing truth.

ADAM. Well, what IS the truth?

YAEL. It is clear to Yael that Barbara and Chuck are meant to be together.

CHUCK. Awesome!

BARBARA. Hey, I haven’t decided that!

YAEL. But you know it to be true.

BARBARA. Not necessarily.

YAEL. But you do.

BARBARA. It’s a tough decision!

YAEL. No, it is not. You love Chuck. You want to run away with Chuck. You want to leave this cushy comfort for the hardscrabble existence of your old boyfriend.

CHUCK. What the hell is hardscrabble? I work for the DOT!

YAEL. And you don’t think you have the inner resources, the moxie, the toughness that such a life requires. But you do! Remember those halcyon days, the two of you racing in the street, hemi-powered drones cruising down the boulevard?

BARBARA. It was kind of fun wrapping my legs ‘round those velvet rims…

CHUCK. They’re still racing down at the trestles…

BARBARA. But that blood it never burned in my veins.

CHUCK. Are you happy in this house up in Fairview? And this style you’re trying to maintain?

BARBARA. There’s too much pressure! Why do I have to make this decision right now?

YAEL. If this was a soap opera, you could stretch this out for months; on a prime-time show, weeks; in a regular movie or play, two hours. But none of us have that kind of time. Yael has important business to attend to. The matter must be decided in (looks at watch) two minutes.

ALL. Why?

YAEL. (Indicating audience) Behold!

The other three characters look out and see the audience for the first time. They are shocked, and gasp three times together; the first is for shock, the second for horror, the third for disgust.

BARBARA. Wow. Um, okay, okay, okay, love or money, easy boring life vs. hard exciting one…this isn’t easy!

YAEL. And yet, you must decide. Now.

BARBARA. (Looking back and forth quickly) Then my mind is made up. I’m a romantic fool. Chuck: I choose you.

CHUCK. Yes! (They clinch, kiss, whatever.)

ADAM. (Grabs heart as if stricken, but more like “shoot that poison arrow through my heart” than “I’m having a heart attack”.) That is a pain that will linger.

YAEL. So it is decided then? Would you mind signing these documents attesting to that? For Yael’s records?

BARBARA. (Signing) Yes, it is. Oh, Chuck, I missed you so much!

CHUCK. (Signing) I missed you too, Barbie. (Turns to Adam) Sorry it had to work out like this, man.

ADAM. It’s okay. I understand.

BARBARA. Are you angry, Adam?

ADAM. No, Barbara, I am not angry. It won’t be easy, but I will survive.

YAEL. Yes, he will.

CHUCK. How do you know that? You can probably see into the future, huh?

YAEL. Yael has her ways of knowing. In addition, Yael is in love with you, Adam.

PERSISTENT HUM stops short. All are stunned.

YAEL. Yes, it is true. Do you think Yael could be in the presence of such a kind, intelligent, patient, and handsome man without falling in love with him? Is Yael made of stone? And is this not a super-hunk?

BARBARA. I did not see that coming.

CHUCK. Yeah, me neither.

ADAM. Oh, and I did?

YAEL. Adam, come with Yael. We can enjoy your large mansion and humongous disposable income together. And when it is time for me to right another dramatic wrong, come with me; we shall travel at incredible speeds around the universe! You shall be free of all earthly cares! Plus, you will get to be with Yael, who is a whole lot hotter than Barbara.

CHUCK. Hey!

BARBARA. Why you little ectoplasmic ho.

YAEL. Whatever, skank. Adam, will you be Yael’s boyfriend forever?

ADAM. Um…

CHUCK. Dude, you’re even thinking twice about this?

BARBARA. You too?

ADAM. Okay, sure, I’m in. Come here, you Vengeful Spirit of Dramatic Tension you.

YAEL. Oooh! (They hug.) Barbara, have your things packed in an hour. Yael is the mistress of the mansion now. The beautiful mansion on the hill. The kind of which Yael has dreamed ever since she was a young spirit.

(Exeunt, pursued by a PERSISTENT HUM.)

CHUCK. Well, glad we got that all cleared up. Okay, Barbie, grab your stuff and I’ll be out in the truck. Better get a move on, though – got a race tonight, out ‘neath Abrams Bridge.

Chuck exits. Barbara is dumbstruck, staring out at the audience, as lights come down and the PERSISTENT HUM comes up and it is the

END.

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