A One Act Play
By G. L. Horton
copyright © 2003
WINNIE and JACK, a married couple of long standing, have walked
over to the home of their neighbor JAY and his chic young second
wife MIMI to meet them for a cocktail before going out together
for dinner at an inexpensive local restaurant. WINNIE stops JACK
just outside, before he knocks on JAY's front door.
WINNIE Before we go in, Jack: I want it understood. Not a word.
JACK But what if Jay or Mimi brings it up?
WINNIE Change the subject.
JACK I'll try, but--
WINNIE I'm warning you. I've had all I'm going to take. One more
word and I'll scream. Two more and I file for divorce.
JACK You've been screaming since yesterday.
WINNIE I'm just beginning. This night out is a time out-- don't
JACK Jay and I don't really have a lot in common, beyond collecting--
WINNIE Find something!
JACK What? The weather?
WINNIE Sure-- the weather. Your business. Whose lawn has the
JACK Jay's bound to talk about his. He's --
WINNIE I can stand his.
JACK You can, eh?
WINNIE In small doses, it's even amusing.
JACK Why is his amusing and mine grounds for divorce?
WINNIE Other than that I don't have to live with it, so it doesn't
bore me blue?
JACK Other than that.
WINNIE I wish to God I knew. Maybe it's because my dear old aunt
Matilda used to take me to musicals.
JACK Oh, right. Like you started out as an English major, eh?
WINNIE Whatever. The fact is that I can stand his collection,
but yours has pushed me over the edge. Have I made myself clear?
JACK Very clear.
WINNIE Good. Now that you're warned: are you ready?
(JACK knocks. JAY opens the door and invites them in.)
JAY Jack! Winifred! Come on in. (JACK & WINNIE enter) For our
drink or two before strolling over to Angelo's I made old fashioneds.
I hope you like them.
JACK That's -- fine.
JAY We've got other booze. Brandy to beer....
JACK Whatever. As long as it doesn't mean I can't have Chianti
with my pasta?
JAY All it means is this is an Old Fashioned Happy Hour. Winifred?
WINNIE I'm an old fashioned girl. I'll drink to Happy Hours.
JACK And happy days. (toasts) But--- aren't we waiting for Mimi?
WINNIE Is she working weekends again?
JAY That's show biz. If Mimi doesn't arrive by the 2nd drink,
we'll meet her at the restaurant.
JACK Does Angelo's count as a restaurant?
JAY Maybe not on your scale--.
WINNIE Jack's scale is Domino's. Eaten cold.
JAY I can't wait to hear about your latest coup, Jack. How'd
it go at Brimfield?
WINNIE Perfect weather. Wasn't it, dear?
JACK Eh? Oh, yes.
WINNIE Maybe that's why Jay's business has started to pick up.
Hasn't it, dear?
JACK Well, not to the extent it used to be. But we're--
JAY Hanging in?
JACK Hanging on, at least. But Winnie has a point. The good
weather gets people feeling more positive, ready to travel again
and spend money.
JAY A full house I bet, at Brimfield: first weekend this summer
it hasn't rained.
JACK Quite dry, even in the parking lot. Pretty full.
WINNIE Too full.
JACK But then the weather has been good for gardening, too,
eh? Wouldn't you say, dear?
WINNIE It rained Thursday. Not much: around 6 am.
JACK Perfect for the garden, that kind of morning shower, eh?
JAY Is it?
WINNIE Not like the flip between deluge and drought we've had
to deal with.
JACK Have you noticed Winifred's lilies' lately?
JAY I can't say that I have.
JACK Winnie's always --a --um-- mentioning them. Their --uh....
JAY What about them, Win?
JACK Yes, dear. What about them?
WINNIE They died.
JAY Oh? I'm sorry.
WINNIE Jack's not.
JACK Yes I am! I liked your lilies. Was from the freak weather,
I suppose. No sense crying over spilt rain, eh?
WINNIE It was from neglect. And depression. Same conditions
that put old Mrs. Brewer down Lantern Lane in the hospital. (pause)
I'll have another old fashioned please, if you don't mind.
JAY That's why I made them-- glad they're a hit. (pours one
JACK Haven't had one in years, eh?
WINNIE In decades. Thanks.
JAY Old fashioneds are so old fashioned they're retro chic, Mimi
JAY Don't we have something else to toast?
WINNIE I doubt it.
JACK The weather?
JAY Don't be modest, Jack. I know you pulled off something. When
you came back from Brimfield you looked like the cat that ate
JACK You're right, Jay. As usual.
JAY What's the triumph this time?
JACK I'd rather not say.
WINNIE We'd both rather he'd not say.
JAY O, come on.
JACK It's nothing, really.
WINNIE It is nothing. Really.
JAY Nothing? Let me be the judge. I'm going to keep teasing
you until you tell me.
WINNIE Oh, for God's sake: Jack filled in his Cleveland set.
JAY All right! Congratulations!
WINNIE At a cost that boggles the mind.
JACK Was a bit steep.
WINNIE A bit!
JACK I was braced to go even higher.
JAY Considering what it means to you.
JACK. Yes. I was very pleased. Triumph may be a bit strong,
but I'm very pleased. Was. It's water over the dam, now. Say,
do you still have water in your basement, Jay?
JAY Who cares? On to the next triumph! Way to Go, Jack!
WINNIE If going's what Jack wants.
JAY Why not Duluth next?
WINNIE Because it's boring?
JAY But Jack's a real artist....
JACK Thanks, Jay.
WINNIE If buying junk's an art.
JACK It's mostly patience. I knew that a Coolidge House brochure
would turn up, all I had to do was position myself where I'd be
likely see it when it did.
JAY You've been waiting for that last Cleveland a long time.
JACK Almost five years.
JAY Plan to take Winnie out to celebrate?
JACK Not really. My wife is -- upset.
WINNIE If we don't change the subject you'll discover just how
JAY I see.
WINNIE Do you?
JACK There's no reason you should be in the middle of this,
JAY No-- I'm-- interested. Isn't that what friends are for?
WINNIE Depends, doesn't it? On whose friend you are.
JAY You know I'm fond of both of you--
WINNIE I hear that if there isn't a storm tonight the weather
might be fine again.
JAY If you can talk through your problems, using a sympathetic
WINNIE Go right ahead. I'm going to powder my nose.
JAY Second door on the left.
WINNIE I sincerely hope that by the time I get back we'll be
on to a different subject.
JAY Cripes, Jack. How do you stand it?
JACK Winifred sees it the other way round. How can she stand
JAY This is serious, Jack. There's nothing more important in
life than having a real partner to share it with-- a soul mate.
I thought you two were among the fortunate. Not that Winnie is
your salvation, like Mimi's to me, but that you were deeply compatible.
JACK Me, too. I had no idea. I mean, Win teases and nags, but
I never thought she was ready to leave me. I'm in shock, eh?
JAY Sure you're in shock. Who wouldn't be?
JACK After so many years.
JAY You're a model husband: that's what you are. A model. If
your wife can't see the beauty of what you're doing...
JACK When I showed the Coolidge House to her? She went crazy.
Tried to grab it away from me and tear it up.
JACK Said it's ugly and stupid.
JAY Well, sure. You might as well admit that.
JAY Well, it is, isn't it?
JACK My new Cleveland?
JAY All your Clevelands.
JACK Not to me.
JAY Eye of the connoisseur? Or eye of the beholder?
JACK What do you mean, "Eye of the beholder?"
JAY That's how she sees it. Ugly-- and yeah, sort of stupid.
But beauty's not the point about art, is it? Not any more.
JACK Of course not.
JAY No soul, that woman. No sense of the whole aesthetic. Did
you mention Andy Warhol?
JACK Should I?
JAY She's liberal arts. She'll recognize the name. Stupid can
be beautiful. If Winnie thinks your Clevelands are ugly, I've
got gallery catalogs--
JACK She says it's ugly even compared to the rest of my collection.
JAY Ugly's way too strong. Your collection is-- plain.
JACK I suppose. To an outsider.
JAY The least common denominator of Americana. Mass marketing's
JACK She says my ugliness is getting uglier.
JAY Is it?
JACK Only in the sense that there's more. She says she can't
bear to wake up in the morning knowing that I'm hunting out more
JAY Hauling out the big guns, is she?
JACK My collections are crowding her out. Boring her to death,
chasing away our friends, gathering up dust and sucking out all
JAY Does Winnie use the dust gizmo when she vacuums?
JACK She can't, she says. Not with folders and boxes taking
over entire rooms.
JAY She's exaggerating.
JACK Yeah. But not much, eh?
MIMI Hi, gang! (MIMI enters in a rush, dropping a big bundle
of manila MS envelopes on the nearest surface)
JAY Lovvie dove! In good time.
MIMI Sorry to keep you waiting, Jack.
JACK Not at all. Jay's determined to make us happy, an hour's
worth anyway. (indicates his cocktail)
MIMI Did you save me a drink, Slugger? (holds glass for JACK
JAY One old fashioned, coming up. (indicates mail bundle) Looks
like a good haul.
MIMI The P.O. box was so full they had some stashed behind the
JACK Are those what I think they are?
MIMI Play scripts. Originals.
JACK You get that many in a week?
MIMI This is just two days'.
JACK That's worse than I am! But they're not all over in heaps.
Where do you put them all?
MIMI These are going right into Jack's study. I'll be back in
a jiff. (turns to exit)
JACK Do you keep some in the garage?
MIMI The secret is triage.
JAY Ninety percent we don't keep.
MIMI Ninety nine percent! (pops back to say line, then exits)
JAY Winifred needs to get out more. Not Angelo's pizza joint.
Treat her to a French restaurant, and tickets to La Boheme. Nothing
like Puccini for romance.
JACK At the moment I can't afford it.
JAY You? You make four times what I do.
JACK Do I? You're the one with the glamor job.
JAY Glamor? What a crock. Just cause my paycheck is from a TV
station? I sit in a windowless room and call up business guys
and try to talk them into adding another inch to their classified.
The pay is squat.
JACK But doesn't Mimi..?
JAY Oh, yeah. Mimi's is a glamor job! Instead of calling from
the basement, she gets dressed in designer outfits and pitches
the ads over lunch. Same shit, but better pay. We could never
afford to collect the way you do.
JACK Yeah, well, the guy who had the missing Cleveland could
sense how bad I wanted it. He wrung out my balls.
JAY Jack! You disappoint me.
JACK That's really why Winnie's so pissed, of course.
JAY The money?
JACK Don't you think?
JAY Well, can you blame her?
(MIMI returns, wearing comfortable shoes and a casual blouse.
She listens silently.)
JACK It's not her money, it's mine. If I want to spend it on
JACK The hell it is!
JAY You don't want to test that theory in a divorce court, my
JACK It's not gonna come to that. Other than this, Winnie's
MIMI Where is Winnie?
JACK "Powdering her nose."
MIMI In the bathroom?
JAY This is not going to blow over. You vowed your wife "My
worldly goods I thee endow.." but now your collection is
MIMI Is that how she feels?
JACK Damn right it is, and we've passed reason. She's threatened
to hire a dumpster -- have my whole collection hauled away.
MIMI And she's locked herself in the bathroom?
JAY Might be the best thing that ever happened to you, Jack!
JACK The hell you say!
JAY Mimi, tell Winifred to come back in here. Tell her we're
on her side. (MIMI exits)
JACK You are?
JAY Jack, I think you're addicted.
JACK Eh? But you--
JAY Shh! Don't get defensive: listen. You've crossed the line,
my friend. Instead of a collection that amuses and expresses you,
you've got one that's made you a prisoner. You're a slave to it.
JACK Ten minutes ago you called me an artist.
JAY Not necessarily a compliment. Not only are artists egomaniacs,
they are also obsessive-compulsives. Easy marks for anyone who
understands what makes them tick.
JACK Jay, what are you telling me?
JAY Change, Jack. Listen to your wife and save your life by
JACK But I'm--
JAY Not your core, Jack, not your heart, but your modus operandi.
No, don't object till you hear me out. I used to be like you--
a slave to the stuff. When it was taken away from me and I found
myself broke and homeless, I was damn near suicide. I thought
I'd be better off dead. But it was all a mistake. I lost sight
of the big picture. I mistook the parts for the whole.
JACK Forest for the trees kind of thing?
(MIMI and WINNIE re-enter, arm in arm)
JAY For the trees? Yeah-- sort of. The right direction. But let
me start from the top. Winifred, this is something you need to
understand, too. Basically, there are two different species of
collector. A Great Divide. The first kind is typically a rich
guy. He collects stuff that everybody agrees is valuable: Rembrandts,
Roman coins, vintage race cars. He may in fact like the stuff,
but maybe not-- he likes buying it and hoarding it. The most important
thing is the price tag, and having stuff that other rich guys
will pay him a lot more than what he paid for it when he gets
ready to sell. You recognize this guy?
JACK Of course I do, but--
JAY But that's not you or me, right?
JACK Not me, anyway.
JAY We're the other sort. Artists. Collectors for the collection's
sake. It's not what we collect, it's what we make of it-- true,
JACK True, but...
JAY That's the art part. Though to someone who doesn't get it,
who has only a primitive aesthetic and doesn't see what we see,
our collections look like junk.
JACK Like to my wife.
JAY You don't want to lose her! Believe me, Jack. My first wife
gave me the same ultimatum: the manuscripts or me. I didn't realize
it, but Sarah was my one link to sanity. Six months after I lost
Sarah, I lost everything.
JACK You did? I didn't know.
JAY It's not a pretty story.
JAY Manuscripts and all.
JACK Your entire collection?
JAY Every scrap. Years and years of my life's work. My very identity--
because back then that's who I thought I was.
WINNIE Yet somehow you survived it.
MIMI Not just survived. He's thrived.
JAY But it was a close call.
JACK I can imagine.
JAY I know you can, Jack. We're two of a kind.
MIMI A dying breed.
JAY No! I was at the time, but that was then. I changed.
WINNIE You're still a collector.
JAY But thanks to Mimi, I'm the right kind. Not doing what Jack's
MIMI Spending all that hard earned money, like you were one
of the millionaires-- no wonder your wife is bullshit.
JAY You're cheating on her, plus you're not being true to your
MIMI Your own genus of genius.
JACK How the hell do you get that, eh?
MIMI You and Jay. You're the second sort, right?
WINNIE What "second sort"? The broke sort?
MIMI Collectors for Collection's sake.
JAY Superficially, we may look like a working class version
of the rich guy. But at heart, at the deepest level, the stuff
is immaterial. It's not what we collect, it's what we make of
MIMI Is he right?
JACK I agree with some of what you say, but..
MIMI You're confused, that's all.
WINNIE Oh, is that all? All that boring expensive worthless--
that's just confusion?
JACK I used to be a stuff zombie, just like Jack. I was so into
collecting "valuable " manuscripts that I let everything
MIMI Family, friends, finances-- nada.
JACK I neglected to pay my rent, and then went out of town on
the trail of a lost play by Tennessee Williams.
MIMI Cashed out his life insurance so he could put in a high
JACK While I was gone, my landlord executed an eviction, impounded
everything. But that wasn't the worst: you've got to imagine this.
Imagine seeing it with your own eyes, feeling it with a collector's
heart... He dumped the collection. Dumped it! Hauled it all away
and wouldn't even tell me where till it had all been burnt and
JACK I can't believe it.
MIMI Believe it.
JACK It's unimaginable.
JAY The first edition O'Casey. The signed letters from Shaw
and Barrie and Arthur Miller. Corrected drafts of 3 plays that
JACK Oh, my God.
JAY Gone. Destroyed. Vaporized.
JACK What kind of barbarian--?
MIMI To him it was trash, so he trashed it.
WINNIE Were you at least insured?
MIMI Are you?
JACK Of course.
MIMI What kind of policy?
WINNIE We have household.
MIMI You're not insured. Don't kid yourself. In the fine print,
your collection's trash. Unless you insured it specifically, as
art, as one entire work of historical sociological art beyond
the physical medium it is printed on, to the world it's not worth
JACK Are you sure?
JAY Take my word.
MIMI Unless you've got a law firm paid more than the insurance
company's law firm, you're screwed.
JACK Oh my God. I've got to re-insure it-- properly.
WINNIE Or sell it.
MIMI Insure it specifically.
JACK Right away. Tomorrow.
WINNIE Tomorrow's Sunday.
MIMI Get one of those Antique Roadshow goo-goos to appraise
it. Talk up the sentiment, the Americana. Highball Everything.
WINNIE But what do you expect will--?
JAY Jack's got a huge investment there, and it should be insured
at the most optimistic valuation imaginable.
WINNIE Won't that make the payments high?
JAY It would if Jack were going to keep it.
JACK If I were going to keep it! Are you out of your mind?
JAY No, my friend, you are. Jack: you're compulsive. An addict.
JACK You're crazy.
JAY Not so. I was, but I recovered. Thanks to Mimi-- but also
to a landlord who dumped everything that mattered to me. I don't
think anybody is going to do you that favor, so you're going to
have do something drastic.
MIMI Free yourself, yourself. With a little help from Winnie
and your friends.
WINNIE Not Jack. I'm the one who wants to be free!
MIMI Jack will, too, when he understands.
JAY Jack, do you want to own your collection, or have it own
JACK Not like that, eh?
WINNIE Like what?
MIMI A little fully covered selective disaster. Fire or flood.
JAY That's Ok, Jack. It doesn't have to be like that.
MIMI A well timed fire that cuts your inventory and nets you
everything you've laid out all these years plus, say, a 300% markup?
I think that would go a long way towards making your wife a happy
JAY The you'd be on the same side?
WINNIE The same side? I'd rather be married to a lunatic than
a criminal, thanks anyway.
MIMI Be that as it may, the first step to freedom is shutting
off Jack's cash outflow.
JACK I won't give it up!
JAY You won't have to.
MIMI Just stop paying for stuff.
JACK You mean steal?
JAY Not "steal". You could go to jail.
MIMI Besides, your wife just said--
JACK Then how?
MIMI Simple. Ask for it.
JACK If this is a joke...
JAY No, no. We couldn't be more serious. Listen: if you asked
the guy who sold you the Coolidge House to give it to you instead,
he wouldn't bite. I understand.
MIMI You and he are playing the same game-- equal opponents.
He had to extract the best price possible, or he's a loser.
JAY That's part of the fun, right? The bluff, the con, the market
savvy. Am I right?
WINNIE I think you're dead on.
JAY Jack gets a thrill-- or it's reasonable even to say a high--
out of matching wits with somebody who values what he values,
who plays by the same rules.
MIMI But that's the wrong game, Jack!
JAY You may win the battle, but you lose the war. You'll end
up alone in a house collection-crammed to the point that you're
living in tunnels, slowly starving yourself to death because the
game of feeding your obsession is all that matters to you. Take
my word-- I could be there myself by now.
MIMI Without me, you would for sure.
WINNIE Without me, too. I refuse to live like this any more.
JACK But it's my game, eh? I'm a player or I'm nothing.
JAY You can play. Just new rules.
MIMI The first rule is easy: no money at risk. Set it up so you
can't lose. Play with people who don't even realize, so you don't
have to ante up.
MIMI Use your wits. I don't know your strategy exactly, because
I don't know beans about your objects. I told Jay we'd be perfect
partners for show biz: cause I know business and Jay knows shows.
JAY For me, the play was the thing. Especially in manuscript.
Remember, I'd lost my whole hoard. I was dead broke. How could
I collect again, without scouring antiquary shops or bidding at
auction? Using money I didn't have?
MIMI A way that still gives him the thrill of the chase?
JAY A way even more thrilling than the mano-a-mano buys? There,
I was matching wits with collectors. Now, I take on artists.
MIMI Crucial question: Who has the stuff the collector wants,
but isn't looking at it the way a collector does, with a collector's
JAY In Jack's case...?
JACK Well, some people save hotel brochures as souvenirs of some
trip or special occasion. Maybe a honeymoon--
MIMI Forget that! It's sentiment. Nostalgia is for chumps.
JACK But that's how they turn up at flea markets and estate sales--
MIMI Sure! Once the chump is dead. Nostalgia is nada to the heirs.
JAY The exceptions are the people you want to exploit, not the
ones you let set the terms.
MIMI Think about who might want appreciation. Who needs stroking?
JACK You mean like from the companies? Ones with ads on them?
MIMI Good thinking! But even more: the graphics guy who did the
design, the publishing company that printed it--- no matter how
crappy the actual product, there are always people who are invested.
Flatter those people, they'll give you the stuff you want.
JAY Flatter them enough, and they'll give you a whole lot more:
original drawings, designs that were never printed, autograph
copies, introductions to people looking for a good home for uncle's
Willy's trash. Uncle Willy's trash is your treasure.
JACK I can't believe it's that easy.
MIMI It's a magic formula. It's what successful non profits
do for a living.
JAY Lead into gold.
JACK People just hand their stuff over?
MIMI Sure they do! I just lugged in about twenty pounds of proof!
JAY They beg you to take it!
MIMI You should see Jay's correspondence. Let me get some of
JACK Other collectors would--
JAY Jack. Do a reality check. My theory is that your field of
interest is like mine; there's a thousand makers for every appreciator.
Am I right?
JACK I suppose so.
WINNIE Suppose!? Except for maybeforty nuts who bid against
each other, you couldn't pay people to give a hotel brochure house
JACK I admit much of it is only of historical interest. But
the best designs are---
JAY Screw the best! Your new Cleveland isn't by any stretch
a "best", is it?
JACK It's not a best per se, but--
JAY It's crappola! Cheap and stupid! Your wife's in fact right,
JACK But it completes--
JAY Your order. You are the one who puts it in context. You
give it value. An arbitrary value based on a pattern that you
and a few other collectors recognize. Am I right?
JACK From a certain point of view, I suppose--
JAY But from the point of view of Jane & Joe Average, it's junk.
So I say, you don't want to deal with Jane or Joe. Like you don't
want to deal with other collectors.
JACK So who do I deal with? (MIMI re-enters with letters)
JAY With the artistes. 'Cause there are two sorts of art, and
the sort that makes up 90% is concocted by a pathetic wimp who
is in mortal terror of being a no-talent fraud: and they'll give
you anything if you just act like the stuff's good and you're
a fan. (holds up some letters)
WINNIE It's hard to believe that of a person who's intelligent
enough to write a play.
MIMI You think so? Read these.
JAY Pathetic is too mild a term.
MIMI They're lunatics.
MIMI Classically deluded. Delusions of grandeur, delusions of
reference. They all think they are the gods' undiscovered gift
to their era, on the brink of a brilliant career.
WINNIE Well, of course they can't all be....
MIMI None of them! Zero. Zilch.
JAY When was the last time a playwright had a brilliant career?
MIMI I'll give you a hint. I wasn't born yet.
JAY You know what the average playwright makes?
WINNIE I don't suppose it's very much.
MIMI Zero! Zilch.
JAY The average been-produced union member so called professional
play writer doesn't even clear paper and postage costs.
JACK Is that the truth?
JAY Why should you be surprised? How much do you make on your
JACK It will pay off, eventually. It's only a matter of time...
JAY That's what you all think, jerks! If at first you don't succeed,
try better, try harder. Just persevere, fame and fortune will
MIMI Fame's more than fortune, obviously. If he thinks you're
his ticket to immortality, a playwright will give you the shirt
off his back.
JAY Or hers.
MIMI Oh, yeah. Women are the worst.
JAY Gullible underdogs, desperate for scraps of attention.
JACK Just attention?
MIMI That's all it takes.
JAY "Attention must be paid!" As our national Hagiographer
of Losers so eloquently put it.
MIMI Attention's simple and sweet-- cause you can promise the
moon and there are no criminal penalties for stopping payment.
JAY Which leaves you with plenty left over for your own life,
and your wife.
MIMI Win might come to appreciate the game herself.
JAY You could discover a soul mate. With luck, a woman who shares
your passion and brings out your killer instinct. (hugs MIMI)
MIMI What you call luck I call destiny, Slugger. (embraces Jay)
JAY We were made for each other, Catlady.
MIMI Our partnership written in the stars.
WINNIE I still don't understand what it is that you do.
JAY You want a demonstration? Claws ready, Meow- Meow?
MIMI Sure. We just got a second query letter. Guy named Thompson.
(looks at letter) Ken Thompson. Sent you his script a year ago
JAY Letter worth reading?
MIMI Not really.
WINNIE You don't read them?
JAY They're all the same. At least the sane ones are: just the
carefully worded inquiry that doesn't reveal either the desperation
or the fantasy behind it.
MIMI Like it was a business. (they both explode with laughter)
JAY But there is the occasional masterpiece. The grandiose paranoia
that makes the whole enterprise worth while.
MIMI But our Ken here isn't one of those.
JACK Who is he, then?
MIMI Typical "emerging" writer. Jay read about him
on a web site.
JAY Won some two bit play contest in Chicopee.
JACK Where's Chicopee?
JAY Damned if I know. Now. Listen to this. (MIMI dials number).
WINNIE What are you doing?
JAY Setting up the demonstration. Showing Jack that there's
a free country out there, begging to be conquered.
JACK What makes you think he's even going to answer?
JAY He'll be there. Sitting by the phone, waiting. Writers can't
help it, attention is like catnip. (phone is answered)
MIMI Kenneth Thompson? This is Roanoke Repertory Theatre calling.
Mr. Bailey would like to talk to you. Please hold a moment? (smiling,
MIMI pushes a button and hands the phone to JAY, who muffles the
mouthpiece with his hand, giggling, while an official-sounding
recorded Theatre schedule plays)
WINNIE Now what are you...?
JAY Giving his overactive imagination a chance to get in gear.
MIMI Playing him the recording of our "season"!
JACK (baffled) Eh? But you don't have a ---?
(JAY and MIMI can barely contain their mirth. The Roanoke Repertory
recording plays quietly, while the couple recover sufficiently
for Jay to cut it off and talk)
JAY Ken? It's Jay Bailey here. How you doing? ............ Oh,
I'm fine, too. Better-- I'm really in a kind of glow, here. My
board was really really positive about your play. Your writing
impressed the hell out of them.......... Yeah, we do. Really!........
Unfortunately we won't be able to, though. At least not next season.
But I do want to hang on to it. See, right now we just don't have
anybody in our casting pool who could do it justice. ....... Yeah,
for Allison. I mean, what would an actress who could play Allison
be doing here in Roanoke? But we do have somebody great who'd
like to work with us........ Not just a good actor-- a killer
draw. If we could find this guy the right vehicle, we'd have to
beat off his fans with sticks. It occurred to me that maybe you
might have something, something else, that.... Older guy, semiretired.
Big in made-for-TV flicks in the early nineties, but good. Made
his chops early with Pinter and Shakespeare.......... No. I can't
say his name. You understand. ......... Cause his f-ing agent
doesn't know he's looking to do an f-ing play! Out in the sticks,
yet! Even if you don't watch TV, you'd know this guy. He's a household
word! Thing is, you got a play with a part for him? Strong, charismatic,
versatile-- a guy who could do The Scottish Play, or Tyrone in
Long Day's Journey? ....... Great! Pack 'em up and get em to me.
Attention Jay. You've got our PO Box, right? ...... Terrific!
I can't wait. If he likes your script, we're golden, Ken. Gotta
go now-- there's a VIP heading into my office. (hangs up) See?
Like candy from a baby.
MIMI Ken'll send along another signed cover letter, carefully
worded to sound sane and important yet modest and friendly. He's
JAY Desperate to give me something.
MIMI Probably send three scripts-- Overnight Express!
JACK Is this Ken a good writer?
JAY How the hell should I know?
MIMI That's not the point, is it?
JACK You must want the plays of writers who're famous. Or going
JAY What for?
WINNIE Isn't that what "emerging" means?
JAY Well, yeah. But that's in the real world.
MIMI Maybe if Jay was looking to make money. But there IS no
JAY I've freed myself from that delusion.
MIMI Besides which, there's no way to predict fame or fortune
from a script. It's like betting on what tree will be struck by
JAY Although-- the internet has made handicapping easier. Doesn't
predict good, but it does track celebrity. Course, in dollar terms
it doesn't matter what the playwright gets famous FOR.
MIMI Serial murder. Becoming Pope.
JAY Who'd have guessed an obscure talentless Polish play cobbler
would become Pope? It's like a punch line.
MIMI And not just your run of the mill Pope, but a retrograde
WINNIE I don't think you ought to--
JAY Now that's celebrity! If I had one of John Paul's scripts
along with a nice groveling note of gratitude, I'd be on top of
the heap, auction-wise. Plus, the worse the note is, the more
it would be worth.
WINNIE What do you mean, "worse"?
MIMI Well, worse would differ by the kind of celebrity.
JAY The upside-down postage stamp's the hot one.
WINNIE So for the Pope upside down would be?
JACK Swear words, eh? Sex scenes?
JAY Or more likely, sucking up to a sleazy producer. The most
valuable memorabilia of a "great man" is one where he
looks like a fool.
MIMI Fortunately, any fool can write a play.
JAY And as I learned the hard way through stupefying experience,
only fools do! Once upon a time, I worked as a LORT theatre's
JACK What's a LORT theatre?
JAY "League of Resident". It's a small but union house.
WINNIE What's a literary manager?
JACK You know that, Winnie!
WINNIE I haven't a clue.
JAY Nor did I, Winifred. Nor did I.
MIMI Jay's job was to read the slush pile. Unsolicited scripts.
JAY And at first I did. Oh, my God. I can't describe the boredom.
The mind-numbing nerve-shattering unadulterated boredom. How can
writers string together every behavioral or verbal cliche known
to mankind and still not hit on a plot? Or-- even just by accident--
a character? As for what passed for ideas! From this mountain
of tedium I would dutifully extract the one tenth of one percent
of scripts that showed even a glimmer of promise, and dump them
into what our Artistic Director optimistically called "Development."
WINNIE What's "Development"?
JAY What indeed? (sings the G&S tune from Pinafore) "Never
mind the why and wherefore..."
MIMI When a theatre works on a script with the writer, they call
JAY Development!? Give me a break! There are two sorts of playwright
circulating the System: the My Words Are From Mt. Sinai and Engraved
In Stone assholes and the Please Somebody Tell Me What I Should
Write wimps-- and neither of them can be "developed"
any more than a prune pit can grow into a pine tree. The System's
WINNIE There's a System?
MIMI There's always a System.
JAY Not so! Only if you have two factors: one, somebody's pouring
in money; and two, nobody really gives a shit. The money is for
Development, not for plays-- so Development is what you get.
MIMI Not that any of this matters. The collector just--
JAY It matters to me!
JAY I mean it used to. When I was caught up in it.
MIMI Which thanks to me you've got over.
WINNIE I'd like to hear about it.
MIMI About what?
WINNIE Jay's job in the theatre.
MIMI Some job! Did you even get paid?
JAY Sort of.
MIMI How much?
JAY Damn little.
MIMI How often?
JAY Hardly ever. But it was still a better deal than for any
MIMI Like those wannabes, he was addicted. JAY To "art".
MIMI No: To being artistes.
WINNIE Wasn't it Mark Twain who said "No good writing was
ever done except for money?"
MIMI Jay had all the classic symptoms. Compulsive, guilt-ridden--
JACK Why guilt-ridden? Eh?
WINNIE He wasn't plagiarizing?
JACK Or squandering his IRA, then?
MIMI No, he was working his tail off for peanuts.
JAY Nobody in theatre HAS an IRA.
MIMI He wasn't even covered by Social Security, if you can believe
it? That a normal man with a Master's degree could fall so low--
JAY But that wasn't the guilt.
JACK Was it-- sex and drugs?
JACK Well you do hear a lot of that sort of thing.
WINNIE The casting couch and all. JAY I didn't do casting. Or
coke. All I did was read, and I could never do enough. More than
2000 scripts a year. Forty scripts a week. Always behind, and
getting further-- behinder and behinder. Every script another
stone around my neck.
MIMI He'd be desperate for reasons to chuck one out. Spare himself
WINNIE Why "chuck one out"?
JAY It's one less to have to read.
MIMI Because it doesn't meet the criteria.
JAY Wrong format, wrong type size. Too many characters, wrong
ages; needs a kid, or a dog, or a fly space. Too many sets, not
enough sets. Anything! So I can with a clear conscience pop it
back into the SASE with the "sorry doesn't suit" letter
and don't have to face line after interminable line of clunky
WINNIE It's all clunky bad?
JAY No, some of it's slick bad.
WINNIE 2000 scripts and not a single one worth while?
JACK Seems impossible, eh?
WINNIE Improbable, anyway. Even Jack's collection has one or
JAY I took statistics. I know it's improbable-- that's why my
conscience was never clear. I'd wake in the night, from a dream
where one of the ones I sent back won the Pulitzer.
MIMI So what? Stinkers win, some times. That doesn't mean the
writers know their ass from their elbow.
JAY I trained as a dramaturge. I read all the greats, the canon
from Aristotle onwards. I know what works. But would they listen
to me? Hell no.
MIMI The only part of "promising" that applies to
these creeps is the "ass" part. They're not "pro"s--
they never will be.
JAY Oh, no. They're too good for that!-- which is a big laugh,
cause every one of them is a know-nothing. They'll make stupid
changes suggested by any Tom Dick or Harry in the audience, or
re-write the second act to please their Aunt Tillie--- but when
I tell them what's wrong and how to fix it, oh no! They've gotta
be true to themselves, gotta tell it like it is.
WINNIE Well, don't they?
JAY Don't they what?
WINNIE Have to tell it like it is? Express their own truth, as
they know it?
MIMI But they don't know it!
JACK Well, some of them must. Mustn't they? Eh? I mean, at least
about something. Just from living their lives.
WINNIE They say everyone has a story---
MIMI Not one-- not a single ass from an elbow! These scribblers
don't live their lives-- they live in some artsy fartsy fantasy.
JAY If they had any sense of fact or reality, they'd realize
the game's impossible. They'd quit.
MIMI I mean, you just saw it yourself. The proof. That Ken-doll
we jerked around on the phone? Would you trust Ken-doll's version
of anything? Talk about La la Land!
WINNIE I can't believe this.
MIMI You want to believe your junior high English teacher. "Writers
are sensitive, writers are wise."
JAY Writers are idiots. Infantile mewlers and pukers who never
MIMI The smartest ones write ad copy, or best sellers. At the
Station, they're called Capital T "Talent"-- like the
On Airs. So, what are they? Tolstoys? And rest of us chopped liver?
JAY Nobody with a brain takes them seriously.
JACK Well, I don't know about that. I mean, I was no star in
English class, but it seems to me that a gift for telling stories
is a rather ..
JAY All hogwash. Lies, is all.
MIMI And when it comes to lying, Jay's got them all beat! Don't
JAY Thanks to you! My Muse, my inspiration. Together we've built
a work of art.
WINNIE Like a garden. A witch's garden.
JAY A poet's garden, imaginary but with real toads in it.
MIMI Frogs, Jay!
MIMI Every one of whom expects to be kissed and turned into royalty.
WINNIE And get royalties! (all laugh)
JAY By Jove, Win's got it! (claps the rhythm of "The Rain
In Spain", tangos with WINNIE) Ta ta ta ta -Ta ta ta ta -Ta
MIMI I think she's got it! (dances around JACK) This could be
the beginning of bliss! A whole new partnership, Jack. A new life,
a new game. One you can play together.
WINNIE Wait a minute. Old hotel brochures are not literature.
JAY Literature, history, advertising-- it's all texts. You're
the curator, the critic, the Absolute Judge. They report, you
MIMI These so-called poets and playwrights? Dumb as posts. At
least your Clevelands and Detroits had a purpose, Jack. However
WINNIE What you're saying is just beyond me. Can you honestly
claim that in all those manuscripts you've collected, there isn't
a single scrap of wisdom? Not a single passage from which you've
learned something about yourself or the world, or been moved to
some new depth of feeling?
JAY I can't vouch for the absence of a scrap. But I'm absolutely
positive I've never learned or been moved. I never read them.
JACK and WINNIE What?!?
MIMI We never read them.
WINNIE But then why..?
JAY Jack understands. They're Collectables. Jack doesn't go around
sleeping in the rooms advertised on his brochures.
WINNIE But if you don't read these plays, then what do you--?
MIMI Ninety percent, we toss right off. First page, first impression.
Ten percent we file, and follow the fortunes of the authors on
the Web. If they get famous, we sell them on eBay. If not, if
in five years name hasn't worked its way up in ranks of the search
engines? Time to toss the thing out: it's worthless.
JACK Still unread?
JAY Absolutely still unread.
JAY If you read them, they win.
MIMI They've seduced you.
JAY That's all they want, really. They're scum.
MIMI Hoping to suck you into their pathetic little lives.
WINNIE You're worse than Jay is! And Jay's worse than Jack.
JACK He is, isn't he?
WINNIE That doesn't mean I'm willing to put up with you.
JACK Even if I could change? Eh?
JAY Winnie's the one who should change, Jack! She could, you
know. That "royalties" joke showed promise. At least
she has a sense of humor.
WINNIE Sick humor!
MIMI Lighten up, woman! It's all a game.
JAY The men and women merely players.
MIMI If you were partners instead of in opposition-- JAY You
could be happy together. Be a team. Like we are.
JACK But-- I don't believe I want to be like you are.
WINNIE Oh, you're three of a kind, Jack. On the same one way
trip. They've just gone around the bend a little ahead of you.
JACK Winifred, please. I don't just love you. I admire you.
I don't ever want to be a person you'd lump in with these--
WINNIE You'd give it all up? For me? JACK For us. If I must.
For --. If this is---? Try to understand, though: the history,
the associations -- it'll be hard. I-- I could donate the collection
to a museum, and visit it, eh?-- Just occasionally?
WINNIE It's all right, Jack. We're going to be all right. Let's
JACK Uh-- sorry. You two. We appreciate your hospitality and
all-- but I think we'll have to skip the meal at Angelo's.
WINNIE We need to go home. But thanks, for a very -- enlightening--
JAY Happy Hour.
JAY Six to seven for drinks. That's Happy Hour.
JACK Why, so it is.
(JACK smiles at WINNIE, who smiles back and takes JACK's arm)
WINNIE So it is.
(They exit together. MIMI and JAY look at each other, shrug.
JAYS pours them each another drink, while MIMI begins opening
the 10 x 13 manila envelopes and taking out manuscripts. JAY looks
at the first page of each before passing sentence on it.)
(MIMI glances at the script, nods agreement, tosses it in the
wastebasket. They repeat this process with four more scripts)
JAY No. No. No. No. (pause) Maybe?
MIMI (looks at the "Maybe" script for a moment, then
shakes her head) No.
JAY (tossing out more scripts, as the lights fade) No. No. No.