Author, Actor, Playwright, Excellent Parallel Parker


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Thursday, July 28, 2011

In Which I Post a 10-minute Play, THE RELIC

From July 13 – 24, I attended the Southampton Playwriting Conference, and every other day, had a workshop with Emily Mann, the noted playwright and artistic director at McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ. Emily is a great fan of “free writing,” and for 10 days, that’s what we did.

It goes like this: Emily gives us a prompt: “It’s all your fault.” That becomes the first line of the play you will write, without stopping, for at least 20 minutes. The idea is not to come to the play with any preconceived ideas about plot, characters, or setting. You just start writing and “discover” where you are as you compose.

I’ve never been a fan of this approach. I have trouble fooling myself into believing my characters will subsume my will and take on lives of their own. At some point (preferably early), the author has to make choices. Otherwise, you do the writing equivalent of a vamp. Backandforthbackandforthbackandforth with no discernable purpose.

But if you give over to it, someone eventually jumps up and does something. Pulls someone’s hair. Opens a file drawer and pulls out a pair of snakeskin boots. Eats a bad ├ęclair. That’s when the fun starts.

And I had fun!

Here’s what I wrote for the prompt “Not one dime.” Since the exercise, I’ve tweaked about 20% of it. Please leave a comment and tell me what you think. (If you like it, please don’t steal it. It’s copyrighted.) Rated MAL.

THE RELIC

SETTING:            A cruddy pawn shop in Manhattan.

AT RISE:             BOBBY, a scavenger just this side of homeless, stands opposite PHIL, the proprietor.

            PHIL  
Not one dime.

            BOBBY  
Aw, c’mon!

            PHIL  
She’s in bad shape, Bobby.

            BOBBY  
But she’s gotta be worth SOMEthing.

            PHIL  
Not to me.

            BOBBY  
But maybe to one of your customers, right?

            PHIL  
Have you taken a close look at her?

            BOBBY  
You could fix her up.

            PHIL  
I’m not in the business of fixing up, Bobby. I’m in the business of selling. Take her out of here.

            The door bell jingles. A distinguished GENTLEMAN ENTERS.

            GENTLEMAN  
Excuse me.

            PHIL  
Yessir.

            GENTLEMAN  
Do you have any Beanie Babies?

            PHIL  
A couple, yeah. In the glass case over there. Let me know if you’d like to see anything.

            GENTLEMAN  
Thank you kindly.

            HE EXITS

            BOBBY  
People still buy Beanie Babies?

            PHIL  
Hell, yeah.

            BOBBY  
How much?

            PHIL  
I think I got a couple hunnert on the ones in the case.

            BOBBY  
A couple—! Jeezus. What’d you pay the poor bastard who sold them to you?

            PHIL  
I’m getting’ kinda busy here, Bobby, so if you don’t have anything else.

            BOBBY  
Well, I do, actually. Have something else.

            PHIL  
            (Sighs.)
Let’s see it then.

            BOBBY produces a fist-sized box, places it delicately in front of PHIL.

            PHIL  
What’s this?

            BOBBY  
Open it.

            PHIL  
You open it.

            BOBBY opens it. PHIL grimaces, disturbed.

            PHIL  
What is that?

            BOBBY  
A relic.

            PHIL  
What do mean, a relic?

            BOBBY  
You know. A piece of a saint.

            PHIL  
This is a piece of a saint?

            BOBBY  
Swear to God.

            PHIL  
What piece?

            BOBBY  
Don’t you wanna know which saint?

            PHIL  
No, I wanna know which piece. I don’t like the way this thing looks.

            BOBBY
It’s a uterus.

            PHIL
Say that again?

            BOBBY
It’s a uterus.

            PHIL
Get outta here.

            BOBBY
Touch it.

            PHIL  
I ain’t touchin it. You touch it.

            BOBBY places the gray, shriveled organ in the palm of his hand.

            PHIL  
Jeezus. A uterus. Ugly thing, ain’t it?

            BOBBY  
It’s old.

            PHIL  
It’s also ooghing me out. Get it outta here.

            BOBBY  
Don’t you wanna know what saint it belongs to?
           
            The GENTLEMAN ENTERS.

            GENTLEMAN  
Hello. Sorry.

            PHIL  
Yessir.

            GENTLEMAN  
May I see the Beenie Baby in the case?

            PHIL  
Yessir.  Which one?

            GENTLEMAN  
Both, if you don’t mind.

            PHIL  
Yessir. I’ll bring them to you. Won’t take a second.

            PHIL EXITS.

            BOBBY  
So. You collect Beanies, huh?

            GENTLEMAN  
I do, yes.

            BOBBY  
Like, for your kids, or whatever?

            GENTLEMAN  
No, for me.

            BOBBY  
That’s cool.

            GENTLEMAN  
You collect Barbie dolls?

            BOBBY  
Yeah. I can’t unload this bitch, though. I think she’s been hung from one too many ceiling fans, if you know what I mean.

            PHIL ENTERS, places two Beanie Babies on the counter.

            PHIL  
Here you are, sir.

            GENTLEMAN  
Do you mind if I examine them?

            PHIL  
Knock yourself out.

            The GENTLEMAN takes out a loupe and examines the Beanies as a jeweler might.                    BOBBY looks at PHIL as in “Getta loada this guy.”

            PHIL (cont.)
Excellent condition as you can see. The original tags are still on them.

            GENTLEMAN  
I’ll give you $50 for the pair.

            PHIL  
A hunnert.

            GENTLEMAN  
Seventy-five.

            PHIL  
Sold.

            BOBBY  
Jeezus. $75 for that Chinese crap?

            PHIL  
Hey!
            (To the GENTLEMAN)
I’m sorry, Bobby ain’t right in the head.

            BOBBY  
There’s nothin’ wrong with my head.

            GENTLEMAN  
Quite all right. You’ll take a check?

            PHIL  
I prefer cash if you have it.

            GENTLEMAN  
Of course. Here you are.

            PHIL  
Lemme get you a bag here.

            GENTLEMAN  
That won’t be necessary.

            THE GENTLEMAN puts one Beanie Baby down the front of his pants, then the other.             

            GENTLEMAN  
Thank you.

            PHIL
Sure. Come again.

            The GENTLEMAN EXITS.

            PHIL  
Takes all kinds, huh?

            BOBBY  
Thank God he didn’t buy my Barbie.

            PHIL  
I’m lockin’ up, Bobby.

            BOBBY  
What about my uterus?

            PHIL  
Put it on eBay.

            BOBBY  
I didn’t even tell you the saint yet.

            PHIL  
I don’t care. Take it with you.

            BOBBY  
It’s Mother Teresa.

            PHIL  
Mother Teresa.

            BOBBY  
Yep.

            PHIL  
That’s Mother Teresa’s uterus.

            BOBBY  
Yep.

            PHIL  
Lemme see it again.

            BOBBY opens the box, puts it carefully in front of PHIL. PHIL picks up the uterus and throws it across the room.

            BOBBY  
Hey! Goddammit, Phil!

            BOBBY retrieves the uterus.

            PHIL  
I’m lockin up, Bobby.

            BOBBY  
A little respect here! It’s not a fuckin’ tennis ball.

            PHIL  
Let’s go.

            BOBBY  
What about my Barbie?

            PHIL  
Time for her to go, too.

            BOBBY  
Ten dollars, Phil.

            PHIL  
Not interested.

            BOBBY  
You owe me.

            PHIL  
How you figure?

            BOBBY  
You just threw Mother Teresa’s uterus across the room.

            PHIL
Cut the crap, Bobby. You stole that thing, whatever it is, from the Body Exhibit.

            BOBBY
It’s a uterus.

            PHIL
That may be, but it don’t belong to no saint.

            BOBBY
Says you.

            PHIL  
Out. All three of you. Let’s go.

            BOBBY  
Ten dollars for my Barbie!

            PHIL  
No deal.

            BOBBY  
Five!

            PHIL  
If I give you five, you’ll get out?

            BOBBY  
Swear to God.

            PHIL  
Aw right.

            HE opens the cash register.

            BOBBY  
For another buck I’ll throw in the uterus.

            PHIL sighs, gives him another buck.

            BOBBY  
Thanks, Phil. I’ll see ya tomorrow.

            PHIL
I’m all aflutter.

            BOBBY leaves.

            PHIL picks up Barbie with one hand, picks up the uterus with the other, and makes them             talk to each other. Simply, with no malice. Childlike, even.

            PHIL  
(In a Barbie voice) Bitch.
(In an old lady voice) Whore.
(In a Barbie voice) Scag.
(In an old lady voice) Tennis ball.

            PHIL smiles at his own silliness, then places the items on the shelf.
            The door jingles. A WOMAN ENTERS.

            PHIL
Help you, ma’am?

            WOMAN
Well, I don’t know. I’m looking for a gift for “the man who has everything.”

            PHIL
Kind of gift?

            WOMAN
I don’t know, really. I thought maybe you might have an idea. Something old and creepy?

            PHIL
Does he like Barbie dolls?

            WOMAN
No, I don’t think so.

            PHIL
Well, I do have one thing. It just came in today. Tell you the truth, I'm not sure what it is.

            HE lifts the box from the shelf and places it in front of her.

            WOMAN
What is it?

            PHIL
Open it.

            SHE opens it.

            PHIL
Bet he doesn’t have one of those.

            WOMAN
Oh, my God. It’s Mother Teresa’s uterus!

             PHIL reacts.

            END