A Play in One Act
By G. L. Horton
copyright © 2005
The lobby of a small theatre, one of several in the Off Broadway
district of Boston. There is a big poster on the back wall:
THEATER FACTOTUM presents FALLs EARLY DRAFTS, a marvelous
marathon of staged readings. See tomorrows hits today,
and help shape the Theatre of the Future!
followed by a list of 4-7 plays and their scheduled starting
times. The producers can make up their own list of titles, but
#3 on the list should be Desperate House Boys by C.L.
Shutt followed by #4 Isabellas Belles Or The Reign
in Spain by Robin Waters. The readings are running behind
schedule and people who are waiting to see the next show are seated
in chairs along the wall until the current audience clears out
and the house will be opened for them to take their seats inside.
There is a steady murmur of conversation from the assembled crowd.
Sitting on chairs left to right are the audience members we can
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
IKE, a nerdy young man wearing a baseball cap, with an iPod in
his pocket and buds in his ears. He seems totally absorbed or
even asleep. Next to Ike is
MARCIA, a youthful 60, rather flamboyantly dressed, and next to
SHIRLEY, quite elegant, approximately the same age as Marcia,
and next to her
GWEN, a local playwright of indeterminate age.
BEN, a rather cranky character whose clothing is somewhere between
sedate and funky and suggests that he might be either an academic
or a theatre techie, enters and sits in the 5th chair, on the
BEN (to GWEN)
Itll be at least another 10 minutes before Isabellas
Belles is on. They're running late.
MARCIA (to no one in particular)
An hour late? How can they run an hour late?
BEN (to MARCIA)
With new plays it's hard to predict...
House Boys was over 20 minutes ago. They're still
discussing in there.
GWEN (to BEN)
Want to go in and listen, Ben?
Sometimes the discussion's more interesting than the show.
Not to me. (takes a copy of American Theatre from
his briefcase and begins to read, making notes on the margins.)
Big audience, for a staged reading. They had to put in more chairs.
Catchy title: Desperate House Boys.
It was pretty funny. Not much to talk about, though.
Never stops the opinion-mongers.
Good cast for it. Great comic timing.
Whos in it?
I didnt recognize them. Maybe you would? (gives his program
I promised my niece Id see her in Isabelles
Belles, but if it's going to make me late... What time does
Francescas close? Can I get my money back...?
SHIRLEY (to Marcia)
Dont give up. I saw this companys last marathon, and
it was very enjoyable.
Were the plays all about gays?
(Lobby sound fades. BEN, IKE, and GWEN freeze and listen.)
Uh, I-- uh--. There were quite a few gay characters --
All the plays Ive seen recently were either about power
mad Peters who want to shtupp all the Jennifers and cheat all
the patsies or goodhearted gay Jefferies who just want to love
Jeremies but the whole asshole world is out to ruin their lives.
Im so sick of that. I hate it.
GWEN (to IKE, distracting others)
These actors are all Equity! Ben? (shows program)
BEN (looks at program)
For a full production theyd have to re-cast.
Hating gays is not a very attractive attitude.
I dont hate gays! I love gays, my familys full of
them! But Im sick of sick plays, and sick of guys. Soapbox
or soap opera, when was the last time you saw a mother who isnt
Face it, dear. Boys are what its all about. Movies, TV,
the newspapers: men tell the stories, men are the stories. Whats
the difference if theyre shtupping Jennifers or each other?
Heroes are 12 years old at heart, and for them women are props
What about girls? When I was 12 there were characters to identify
Saint Joan? (sound of lobby chat rises again)
Red Riding Hood.
Dorothy of Oz.
The wicked witch.
Which wicked witch?
All of them! All that beautiful wickedness!
Ive warned my niece theres no future for her in todays
theatre: and Ive loved theatre since my Dad first took me
Thank you for the program. (offers it back to IKE -- dialog
Me, too! My grandmother took me to South Pacific,
and it was heaven. But these little South End theatre companies
I discovered them when I was walking over from Copley to the antique
shop across Tremont street--
You can keep it. (refuses program)
Your scarf-- is that from the Asterisk at Copley?
Want a gummy bear? (IKE takes one)
I have one just like it! (shows her matching scarf)
No thank you. (refuses candy. Begins to scrawl notes on program)
What good taste you have!
BEN (to GWEN)
These are real fruit, not sugar.
I hope you didnt pay full price?
OK, thanks. (takes candy, returns bag. BEN reads his book &
Asterisk has the best sales.
This theatre is a bargain. too. I came here to see a musical,
1/3 what it cost me in New York, and between you and me they did
a better job, so I keep--
Not Bat Boy?
My grandsons seen Bat Boy 11 times. He wanted
to get me.
11 times! And you wouldn't go with him?
Not after he played me the CD! I want real music, not cheesy send-ups.
(BENs candy bag rattles when he gets a piece out. He
is interfering with GWENs eavesdropping. GWEN grabs BENs
hand and hisses Ben! Stop Crinkling! BEN looks at
her as if shes gone demented, shrugs, goes back to his book.)
Some people say Sondheims responsible, but for me--
I like Sondheim! I'm not against difficult! Just knee jerk camp.
The A.R.T. has sunk so low I just cant bear to go.
Talk about sinking! Did you see Richard II?
The swimming pool and sodomy?
What is it with directors and on stage water?
The only way they know to make a splash?
That and drag casting! Did you see Dido?
I canceled my subscription. Let them trash the classics on somebody
I dont care how good an actor is! I dont want to see
a man as a burley-Q Venus, or a Didos Nurse out of Monty
Python! And not a critic in town to say That stinks! That's
offensive!" Its no excuse to cite the Greeks and Shakespeare.
(BEN goes for a bear from his candy bag, GWEN stops him, signals
him to be quiet so that she can hear SHIRLEY and MARCIA. Now Ben
understands: he listens too.)
The Greeks and Shakespeare were pigs! They beat their servants,
locked up their wives, made mince meat out of anybody who pissed
off a priest! These days women have the right to vote: why not
a little dignity?
It's like we're back in the fifties.
Some ways, it's worse. Trading the right to be supported after
marriage for the right to fool around beforehand isnt so
smart a bargain.
More like trading Manhattan for a handful of glass beads.
Course the support thing was always iffy, and Alimony? Just a
I got alimony.
Wow. You must have had a gunsel of a lawyer. Only woman I ever
heard of got alimony, her husband did something he didnt
want in the newspapers.
That may have been a factor.
My three marriages were like an expensive hobby. On top of kids,
which are a full time no pay job.
How many children do you have?
Three husbands, one kid with each. Total 17 years married, which
optimistically is less than a quarter of my life.
(BEN begins to take notes in a notebook.)
More than enough, Id say! My ex is still a factor to be
reckoned with. Mister Bigbucks. Generous with his children; Ill
give him that.
You're lucky. I took my deadbeats to court.
Not so very lucky -- Samuel didn't have much when we split.
It was after that he made his millions. Im nice to his successive
wives-- not so nice that hed worry, though. It's paid off.
My son is in business with him.
So do you do the holidays?
The children and grandchildren and I gather with him and his current.
Whose house do you go?
We meet at a good restaurant. Price for Samuel is no object, and
good restaurants tend to stay up and running longer than Sams
My oldest son is married to a man.
(SHIRLEY looks up. Perhaps the whole theatre is listening?
Lobby sound bumps up. GWEN pantomimes that Ben should hide his
note-taking. IKE has his eyes closed.)
Ill have another gummy bear, please.
That happens, these days.
He was married to a woman first and I have a granddaughter from
that. Then he divorced her and the next thing I know Raymond is
marrying this man. In a good restaurant catered ceremony, with
tuxes and a cake and some lesbian who claimed to be a rabbi. Violin,
canopy, breaking the glass, the whole magilla. His father was
pretty good about it, actually. I mean the jerk behaved surprisingly
well. Although anybody could see that he was shocked.
Anybody over 60 is bound to be shocked. Doing it in a really expensive
restaurant helps the old fogies get over it.
Id get over it faster if I didnt have to see all their
goddamn plays! Like you say, the women might as well be furniture!
When we were girls, who ever imagined that a man could marry the
groom? Let alone my own son.
My youngest son did it, too.
Its a small world. They both used Rabbi Rachel, am I right?
Raymonds partner has two kids, and together they're adopting
My son tells me they're going to hire a surrogate to carry on
the Stern family line. Samuels will pay-- if the surrogates
Besides those I have grand kids 16, 12, 6, and 4. Wonderful thing,
grandchildren. Makes it all worth while.
I have 9 so far. My oldest grandson is at Brandeis.
You must have married very young.
I was 20.
I was 19. A young 19, a baby myself. What did I know?
VOICE OVER LOUDSPEAKER
Thank you for your patience, people. The house will be open in
about 2 minutes. (Lobby noise fades for Loudspeaker, rises
(GWEN, hands clasped in prayer, mouths O please dont
stop, O please dont)
I knew nothing. A baby myself, Im having babies. 1,2,3,4.
(GWEN and BEN resume taking notes)
Id just about figured out how to be a mother when Boom!
Im dumped! So I have to figure out how to be also a father
and a college student and a breadwinner and deal with all sorts
of stuff I dont think my parents ever dreamed existed outside
So what did you do?
The worst. I fell in love. Husband number one was a pervert in
his own way, but number two liked number 2! That particular shit
made the jerk I first married look like Mahatma Ghandi.
Ghandi was only Mahatma to the world. To his wife, he was a jerk.
(BEN snorts at this. GWEN stifles him with a tissue, and BEN
turns his stifled laugh into a discreet cough)
Well, Ive been a jerk too, in my own humble way. After number
3 its live and let live, but only with boyfriends.
Why do we call them that? Theyre too old to be "boys",
and not mensch enough to be friends.
The first time a so-called boyfriend sprawls on my sofa and expects
me to wait on him, it's "Bye bye Birdie". Back to the
vibrator. Greatest invention of the twentieth century.
The twenty first century improvements are pretty special, too.
Really? Am I missing something?
Where do you go for yours?
Walgreens?! Try the Fetish Flea!
Fetish Flea? Wheres that? (the lobby is very very quiet,
Wherever thay can get away with it! Sweetie, youll be astounded!
Exercise balls with attached battery-powered dildo, or a booty
tooter butt plug. A flesh-lite tongue that never tires. Satisfaction
You want subtle? Kama Sutra arousal oil, sensitivity swabs,
tickle toys like the busy bee vibrating pantie-- brightens up
a boring committee meeting. Want to go?
When and where?
Next Saturday at the Armory. No chance of running into anybody
Wed better we do this incognito. Scarf, wig, sunglasses,
exchange jackets and keep our heads down. You dont want
to come face to face with your son in law!
VOICE ON LOUDSPEAKER
The house is now open. You may take your seats.
(Lobby noise up full)
Im Shirley Stern. I've got a card. (gets it out)
My name's Marcia Feldman. Where are you sitting? (takes card)
(GWEN rises, looks at her ticket)
(BEN rises, looks at his ticket)
Way back and to the other side.
(BEN takes GWENs ticket)
Well get together afterwards.
BEN (holds out tickets, offering)
Ladies? You can have our tickets if you like. G 14 and 15.
We arent a couple, just colleagues.
Id prefer sitting farther back.
Well-- (takes tickets, looks to Shirley for agreement)
SHIRLEY (sudden panic)
No, thank you! (exits quickly, out of the theatre, hissing
to MARCIA as she goes) Call me!
(MARCIA glares at others, pushes tickets back at Ben, sails
into the theatre in high dudgeon)
Well, you screwed that up, Ben.
Probably be too far away to overhear them anyway.
Maybe I dont need to bother seeing Isabellas
I think everyone wanted to applaud the show we had here in the
You suppose the box office would give me a refund?
You got your moneys worth!
Did Shirley really say that her son was hiring a surrogate??!!
I think I missed some of the best stuff? Especially in the beginning,
from the one who was facing away.
Mrs. Samuel Stern. Isnt there a Samuel Stern of about the
right age who runs Consolidated Charities?
I wish Id gotten a peek at her business card.
You want to hire her, or blackmail her?
I was thinking of calling her up, you know, pretending to be a
client. See what she has to say in a different context.....
Youre going to put them in a play.
I only caught about half. But its a start, and if youd
let me see yours--
Id have gotten it all if you didnt make so damn much
We could collaborate...
I just need ten minutes, and I got at least six. Make up your
You can hear the part you missed, if you want.
I recorded it all, right here. (the pocket iPod. IKE shows
them the microphone on which he has recorded the conversation,
hands them each one of the ear buds. He turns on the sound, and
GWEN and BEN listen, start to correct their notes)
But I wouldnt go to the trouble of writing a play, if I
Ill have this little show edited into a podcast and broadcasting
over the Net before I go to sleep tonight. Twenty first century
improvements really are pretty special.