Note: The following is a decades-old play of mine, recently revised from two acts into a one-act and preceded by a new, very long (!) preface in prose. I find I’m now more interested in the preface — really, it’s a kind of memoir — than in my recent revision of the play itself. The preface gets into my struggles as an aspiring playwright in the 1980’s, in relation to certain larger political and historical struggles of that period, and it makes some connections between that strange period and this one. I also include the revised playscript in case it helps the preface/memoir make some kind of sense. WordPress doesn’t easily allow proper script formatting, but it’s more or less readable.

I think the rest is self-, putting it mildly, explanatory.

WH

LAST BLUE YODEL FOR THE NEW NEW MAN
– or –
NINETEEN EIGHTY FIVE

a white cis-het male fantasia on national themes
– and –
a goodbye to the theater in the form of a one-act comedy
as recently revised by the author

copyright 1989-2019   William Hogeland   all rights reserved

WARNING! DO NOT ATTEMPT TO STAGE THIS PLAY! “CLOSET” OR “LYRICAL” DRAMA ONLY!

________________________________________________________

PREFACE

It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.                                                                    — Oscar Wilde (also an epigraph for Susan Sontag’s “Against Interpretation,” 1964)

Your mother. Your father. Your whole generation.
         — children’s street cursing, postwar Brooklyn

The problems with this play are personal. And the problems with this play are political.

The play now titled “Last Blue Yodel for the New New Man,” or “Nineteen Eight Five,” and now accompanied on the title page by some new descriptors and a warning, and accompanied as well as by this preface, was originally produced, and horribly, in the summer of maybe 1989. The version presented here is a very recent revision; the original, my second and final full-length play, was written in my late twenties and early thirties. I was so blocked after my first play, “Manners” — it had an Equity showcase production in maybe ’82 and a staged reading at the Williamstown Theater Festival in maybe ’83 and went no farther — that it took a lot of time and painful confusion to get this one out.

Hence the personal problems. I began this play with literally no idea for a play.

I didn’t want to have an idea for a play. Having ideas for plays isn’t how I’d been drawn into playwriting. It’s true that with “Manners” I’d developed something imperfectly resembling a play based on an idea for a play. I’d even started working, with great difficulty, on another play in that vein, but then the well-known, highly experienced agent who was encouraging me, Gloria Safier, suggested that my next play should be something “more startling” (I think that’s an exact quote) than “Manners,” and because I was getting nowhere with my supposedly ongoing new play, I decided Gloria was right and abandoned it.

Yet my process for writing “Blue Yodel,” if writing is even the word, was by no means Gloria’s fault. Nor was the result. I decided all by myself that “more startling” should mean “without an idea for a play.” I’d come to playwriting, most recently anyway, from what seemed at the time long immersion in what we used to call conceptual art, minimalism, and performance art. So to jump-start a totally new play, and to make it startling, I decided that all I really had to work with were some ambitions, some anxieties, and some theatrical and dramaturgical patterns. Not an idea, not a story or a character. Not even a mood. Just ambitions. Anxieties. Theatrical and dramaturgical patterns. That’s all.

My ambitions? Banal. Gloria representing my next play, followed by global adulation.

My anxieties were more idiosyncratic. I’d been beset by a bad feeling, genuinely obsessive, that by not having served in the Vietnam War, I’d failed myself, missed something critically important, had no real purpose. This feeling was unexpected, to say the least. Hoping not to serve, and fearing that I might have to serve, had marked my teenage years. Then, the year I became eligible for the draft, the draft bill wasn’t renewed by Congress. Those of us subject to the draft who turned eighteen in 1973 were issued draft cards, the last of the Vietnam era, but my memory is that ours classified us just slightly differently from those who had turned eighteen just the year before and all the way back to our fathers, and we knew, some of us with enormous relief, that we wouldn’t be drafted to fight in Vietnam.

And yet here I was, a decade later, supposedly entering maturity and deeply unsettled to find myself reading Michael Herr’s Vietnam book Dispatches not with relief, or even guilt, but with some kind of creepy envy. I began leafing through the magazine “Soldier of Fortune.” I wondered whether there might be a role for me as a mercenary.

Luckily, I seem to have known, somehow, that this embarassing delusion should serve as an occasion not to start training for illicit paramilitary operations but for making a work of art. Still, I thought I had a feeling for why some men might go the paramilitary way, and I was very partially beginning to learn, even then, that my anxieties really had to do, of course, with other matters.

As to the dramaturgical and theatrical patterns. They involve the process by which this play keeps insisting on revealing itself as a play but also self-destructs as such. And that has to do, I guess, with the question of what the play’s about, or, first, with my need for the play not to be about anything, at least not as a starting point. My only method was to derive whatever there might be to say by pursuing the compulsion to perform, on a stage, an imitation of an action in the form of an action (as Aristotle may have once put it). What the peculiar action of the particular play might turn out to consist of — that had to be unknown to me when I started writing, or whatever I thought I was doing.

And so it was determined that, with only those ambitions, anxieties, and patterns to work with, my new play would have to emerge from a confrontation with a blank page rolled into a typewriter (yes, kids, a typewriter); a blank, maybe terminally stymied creativity; and a desire to create something more startling than “Manners” so Gloria would represent me and I would become celebrated. In a deadly process of constiptated composition, the thing that became the play “Blue Yodel” was forced out as sluggishly and painfully as possible during the end of my twenties and into my early thirties.

I move on quickly to the original result: so off-the-wall, so hard even to assess, that finding a production was almost impossible. At one point, this work, though today a quick one-act, had not only two full acts but also a third act that nobody could read, let alone consider, really a whole adjunct play, part of it written in a kind of made-up Old English, part of it invoking Hitler’s last days in the bunker, which in itself took more than a year to write. Even back then, I knew I had to cut that act entirely.

Still, by ’88 or ’89, I had what I called a “two-act comedy” that was supposed to dismantle itself in the course of performance. The work was indeed more startling than “Manners,” and with a vengeance, yet in another sense it went backward. “Blue Yodel” really recapitulated everything I’d been trying to do artistically since the mid-1970’s at Oberlin College, brought all that to fruition, and — I think now — ruined it. Making the original play an impossible piece of work. Written by an impossible piece of work. Who had dedicated big parts of the years of his retreating youth to failing, mainly, to write it.

So those are some of the personal problems with the original play revised here.

I do sometimes wonder what Gloria Safier would have made of it. She’d stopped sending me her kind, tough, encouraging responses to my occasional letters — yes, children, letters, exchanged via the U.S. mail — and I thought she’d lost interest in me, assuming, with good reason, that I’d failed to feed the relationship. She’d dropped me, was my presumption.

It wasn’t until many years later and the invention of the Internet search engine that I learned that Gloria had died while I was writing “Blue Yodel.” She was 63, my age when starting to write this preface. My not knowing, at the time, that she died may say more than enough about where I was at, as a person supposedly trying to make a mark, or as a person of any kind.

* * * *

I have some understanding of all of that now, in part because I stopped occasionally reminiscing about the play and got busy, not so long ago, rewriting it. I mean I just took an afternoon off from my real work, which had long since become writing narrative prose history, and freelancing as a writer-for-hire, and set myself to see about “fixing” a many-decades-old script.

You can’t learn anything about old work by thinking about it. You have to do something to it. Throw it out, mostly. But instead of throwing this one out, I did the impulsive rewrite presented here.

My motivation for diving back into “Blue Yodel” had something to do with having had coffee, a day or so before, with a once-close friend I hadn’t seen in like thirty years.  We ended up hanging out for hours, and I left full of memories, and with some regrets, but also with the happy sense that I’d been carrying old business around for way too long, without even noticing it, and that I wasn’t carrying it around any more. I’d thought I was well over our having gone our separate ways decades earlier. I found that it would have been very unfortunate not to have reconnected. I was grateful. Getting older has benefits.

And this was someone I’d known and worked with in the years even before I went down the road with my three-act and two-act versions of this play. Those were a very few years. When we were young and full of ourselves and, though always careful to evince total skepticism about everything, genuinely optimistic, I think, about the future of our work in the world.

So I began that recent afternoon thinking, “What if I got this beloved old thing I keep reminiscing about to make sense? Would I ever want to try to produce it somehow?” And I ended the day stumbling out of the office, alternately mumbling and shrieking, if only in my head (I hope), something like “This thing was never meant to be produced.  It’s about not being produce-able.  It’s nothing but a huge fuck-you.  I never really wanted this play to work; I wanted theater itself not to work. It’s not a beloved old thing, it’s a thing of rage and hatred. Especially self-hatred.” Or fragments to that effect.

I was elated. The play had always rankled: as the last play I wrote, it meant my failure as a playwright. Now that I’d cut it down to size and turned it into the one-act version presented here, I could see in living, bleeding color all that I’d once so thoroughly dedicated myself to doing (hence the expanded title and new descriptors on the title page). I felt about a thousand pounds lighter. I’d long maintained that it was the awful production of “Blue Yodel” that had finally sent me running from the theater, a production so bad (and, man, it really was awful) that it drove me to prose fiction and screenwriting and essay writing and finally, skipping a lot of steps here, and a multitude of other failures, to writing narrative history. That’s the story I’d sworn by, and as narrative history, it’s bullshit, obviously. Nobody really stops trying to have what we used to call a life in the theater because of a bad production. My last play was built to implode, to collapse the theater, and me along with it. My way out. My way of marking the fact that I’d passed the thirty-year point without having had much effect. A self-immolation, taking as many people with me as possible.

That’s just metaphor, of course, and mixed metaphor at that. But the painted veil of this mixed metaphor feels gauzy. Given all the self-immolation and taking others with me, the question of what, if anything, finally emerged as the play’s ostensible subject, its story, does have to come up. Because self-immolation and taking others with him are what my character John ends up trying to do too.

* * * *

What, then, did this play — both in its original version and maybe more clearly now, in the revised version — turn out to be, in the old-fashioned sense, about?

To the extent that my overdetermined act of theatrical self-collapse can be said to be about anything other than catapulting my sorry ass out of the theater, I see face to face what I once saw through a glass darkly. I ended up dramatizing, in the late 1980’s, the final plight of the genteel romantic hero of American fiction, whom I thought of as real, and who takes himself to be not merely real but spectacularly real. I mean the white, straight, Protestant-extracted, bourgeois young man, constructed as at once a norm and a universal aspiration, launched in American fiction by Tom Sawyer and carried to the heights by F. Scott Fitzgerald — with ancestry in one of the most popular characters of the nineteenth-century American stage, Hamlet — as he emerges, for his last gasp, in the post-1960’s America epitomized by the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

The problems with this play are political.

By the time Reagan’s second term began, in 1985, the heroic modernism of the great European and American male playwrights, those who caused me so much anxiety of influence, had become politically and culturally exhausted. The heroic upward mobility of the WWII generation that literally produced me was exhausted too (yes, this is of course in part — and far more obviously in the play itself — a way of getting at my ideas and feelings about my father). Supposed replacements for those twinned burned-out heroic phenomena were countercultural utopianism and anti-heroic post-modernism. They’d outlived their strictly limited usefulness even more quickly than what they purported to replace.

And so there was apparently nothing left to do, nothing authentic anyway, for that young straight white man, so long privileged as the exemplar of human progress, both in American fiction and in the real-life political economy of the United States, the very type that might then have seemed in ultimate flower, culturally expanded and ethnically enriched by the unprecedented upward mobility, in large segments beyond the genteel and the Protestant, of the WWII generation. And yet there was nothing authentic left to do for the young man who had grown up in the shadow of the Vietnam War, and then, at the last minute, found himself relieved of the moral obligation to be or not to be in that war. Nothing left to do, apparently, but trip out on mounting anxieties, whose sources and expressions might today be defined, more facilely than they might have been then, as a deadly mix of commitment-phobia, homophobia, misogyny, white fragility, and moral panic over gender fluidity: in today’s parlance, “toxic masculinity,” with a dose of blackface thrown in for good measure. Even a dash of Francophobia. Because why not.

All that, combined with a fear of early death associated with sex. Such a fear may haunt many young people’s dreams, their types aside. During those grim years of the U.S. AIDS crisis, fear took on horrendous qualities not in dream but in real-life catastrophe.

I must add something else that may seem impossible to believe now. When I began writing what became this play, none of the cliches and stereotypes defining the “boomer” generation, so familiar today, had been established or even hazarded. The latter part of that so-called generation hadn’t made any real mark at all. The term “yuppie,” long superseded now, was coming into common parlance, via, I seem to recall, some news reporting on the marketing strategy behind Gary Hart’s 1984 presidential-primary campaign. There had been some tut-tutting by elders about the emergence of a “me generation.” But our self-bedazzled public celebration over arriving at each ordinary passage of life, so irritating to succeeding generations, and now starting to peter out, hadn’t even started yet. Nobody in the rising adult generation, when I was realizing I must be part of it, seemed to be trying to define and characterize our generation’s peculiarities.

Just me. Or so I somehow thought. The play’s main character, John, became an avatar of what I seem to have been trying to define, politically, on my own, in the absence of much cultural input, as a generation. Of course by “generation,” I only meant the latest iteration of the genteel romantic hero, as defined above. That’s a particularly poor definition of a whole generation. Yet I came to bury my generation, not to praise it, and in that context, certain defining features of the good old genteel romantic hero came radically into question.

What my character John explicitly knew, without understanding its purports, is that the pervasive cultural “centering,” in today’s terminology, at once deliberate and reflexive, of the agon of a person like him had long since run out of any and all moral steam, real or illusory. John’s efforts to invent solutions to that problem are unlike mine, aside from being, like mine, idiosyncratic. At first, all I could identify as a generational characteristic, and therefore all I sought to skewer by endowing John with, was the kind of vapid, insistent connoisseurship, especially regarding the roots of pop music, that John evinces early in the play. Then, thanks really to the theatrical and dramaturgical patterns I was maniacally imposing on the action, and not to any idea I thought I had, I found myself also endowing him with an extreme, chameleon-like talent for manipulation, and with a cynical insight into certain otherwise self-assured and successful women’s attractions to the men who are precisely wrong for them. This low game of deception, low “playacting,” or really just acting — playing off two women, the ultimate in vapid connoisseurship, now shown as destructive — is what his father’s ghost discovers John in the act of carrying out. Or it’s what John is carrying out, when he discovers the theater audience watching him, and takes it to be his father’s ghost. Either way, John tries to defend the game against what he presumes to be his father’s critical gaze, calling the game an expression of the end after the end, the post- after the post-, an expression of the satisfaction he claims to take in having no means or desire for forward movement. Just as I was, John is pleased to think he’s post-avant-garde.

But the manifest weakness of his own defense — it’s borne in on him by the paralysis he experiences in being silently watched by the audience, my metaphor for crippling self-consciousness — awakens within him certain Oedipal horrors. They include an eruption of what was called, in that day, genderbending or genderfuck and is called more sophisticated things these days. In recoil from that part of himself, he takes flight into “morning in America” fundamentalism, childish military posturing, outright violence against women, and finally the destruction of the world that gives him life: the illusion managed by theater art itself, the only thing sustaining him as a fictional projection.

I’ve only just seen this, and it shocks me. In his final moments on stage — they stand in the recent revision just as originally written in the 1980’s — John devolves from my inchoate psychological critique of what was then called the Reagan Democrat all the way not to a Trumpist but to a projection of the performative emptiness of Trump himself.

I was ahead of my time after all. The voice of a generation. I don’t mean that in a good way.

That whole story is based on John’s axiomatic certainty, when he begins, that his social type makes the dramatic action he carries out the most real and legitimate dramatic action, the only dramatic action that truly matters; and his equally axiomatic certainty, which he also begins with, that it’s really no action at all. Such is the irresolvable conflict that leads him to expose the entire history that produced him as not only toxic (to me, that’s an effect) but also as existentially fraudulent (to me, that’s a cause). John denies all that. He denies it to the point of devolution, self-immolation. To the point, I only now see, of boiling all the way down to Trump. He denies it because he believes it.

He may be wrong, of course. Both Amy and Sophia, my other two characters, have other ideas. But John has a perverse charisma (the key feature of the genteel romantic hero, why else project him?). His perverse charisma traps them, at last, in the nastiest parts of his psyche.

But no, they’re not trapped. Despite being forced by me to serve as foils for John’s anxieties, and then being rendered, I fear, nearly robotic in my latter-day take on Oscar Wilde’s Gwendolyn-Cecily discovery scene in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” and then being kidnapped into a deranged delusion, and finally being physically terrorized, Amy and Sophia will get home someday: find their way into some play of their own. When they regard the o’erthrown mind of John, they’re no Ophelias.

For one thing, unlike Ophelia, they’re not alone. I now recall discovering, when completing the original play, that the only moments of genuine emotion occur in the final dalogue between the two women. I recall that it was in writing early versions of that dialogue that I began to unblock as a writer. For John, comedy takes over; for them, comedy dissolves. These women are evidently brave enough to walk, imaginatively, down from an imaginary icy mountain and to walk, physically, out of a physical theater. I must have hoped that I too was capable of bravery.  So my Amy and my Sophia — my love and wisdom? — bear the classic aspirational burdens of women written by men.

John isn’t brave enough. He’s gone behind a screen, never to reappear. Not in my lifetime, anyway. For him, the show is over.

* * * *

So much for what the play seems to be about.

In assessing what value it may hold, all these decades later, if only for me, I find plenty of things not to like about the theatrical self-demolition machine I invented in the days of my receding youth, a machine emerging from my anguished struggles with ancestors real and artistic and my obsessively restricted sense of the uses of performance. A question that arose even in the ’80’s, for example: Who really wants to watch this guy go through what the play itself condemns as nothing but a grim and hateful process, leading nowhere?

It’s hard to overstate the influence, possibly underrated today [ALREADY AN UPDATE: SINCE I STARTED WRITING THIS PREFACE, THERE’S BEEN A BIG REVIVAL], that Susan Sontag’s astonishing collection Against Interpretation and Other Essays, published in 1965, had on certain intellectually and creatively adventurous young people who achieved majority not long before the dawn of the 1980’s (I date the Wilde crack at the top of this preface to that book’s lead essay, first published in ’64 in the briefly indispensable “Evergreen Review,” edited by Barney Rosset). Even people who didn’t read Against Interpretation thought they knew what it said. A lot of us did read it, at least in part, and talked about it, and not in our college classes: the book was still too young to be canonized there. It was already old enough to serve, for some of us, as a classic, even a how-to.

When Against Interpretation came out, I was ten and still really doing what John, in the play, reverts to: playing army. By the time I encountered the book nine or ten years later, its influence had become so pervasive that the freshness was beginning to wane, especially no doubt for Sontag herself; she’d moved on. In ‘65, her book was as new as anything could be. Only shortly later (as it now seems to me), by the late ’70’s and early ’80’s, the book’s hair-raising originality — it’s still original — was invested with a reassuring sense of Ur-text. Here was the map to what some of us thought we might do creatively and intellectually. The book ushered us back to the basics of a radical art. To become grownup artists, we only had to do what it said.

That’s a total misreading of the book. For some of us, for some time, it was a creative misreading. In some hands, maybe a stronger misreading than in others.

Most relevant to the choices and tropisms that led to the original “Blue Yodel” are Sontag’s writings on theater. Among many brilliant stabs at defining a new aesthetic, Against Interpretation re-clarified the work of the modernist and postmodernist playwrights of the late-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries: Sontag linked their work directly to the avant-garde arts of the late 1950’s and early ’60’s, the mode just preceding the Woodstock-nation utopianism that marked the teenage years I was leaving behind when I encountered the book in the mid-’70’s. Exciting to me was Sontag’s explicit rejection of the “seriousness” (her scare quotes) marking postwar mainstream American drama, epitomized for her by the work of Arthur Miller. Especially in the essay “The Death of Tragedy,” Sontag’s re-statement of the theatrical history of the West gave intense validation to artistic, intellectual, and personal experiences and desires I was struggling with in my late teens and early twenties. It’s amazing to recall and hard to explain my excitement, my provisional sense of hope, that came from that validation.

“The Death of Tragedy” is really a celebration and criticism of a book by the critic Lionel Abel, but I didn’t know Lionel Abel, and I haven’t filled myself in on him now. This preface is about what affected me when I was young, and affected my play “Blue Yodel”: Sontag’s riff on Abel, not Abel. I easily read around the fact that the pretext of her essay was somebody else’s work. Who cared. Who cares now.

What Sontag says in “The Death of Tragedy,” evidently via agreement and disagreement with Abel, is that there’s no such thing as the death of tragedy — a topic much in middlebrow discourse when she was writing the essay — because after the Greeks, tragedy was never much of a mode in Western drama anyway. That’s a radical proposition. Tragedy, for both Abel and Sontag, requires un-self-consciousness, and from Shakespeare to Beckett and beyond, it’s precisely self-consciousness that has driven Western drama: its most famous characters possess innate theatrical performativeness. The avant-garde performance culture of the mid-twentieth century thus stands in a long line of what Abel called “metaplay.”

The mature me can’t locate the metaplay phenomenon in the best of Chekhov and Ibsen. Nor am I sure I can place “Oedipus Rex” in the “unselfconsciousness” frame. Too, Sontag takes Abel to task, and thus makes her larger points, for leaving out any discussion of comedy, which Sontag sees both as the critical component underlying all metaplay, and as the salient characteristic of the modernist and postmodernist riffs on metaplay that emerged in the mid-twentieth century. Still, what Sontag celebrates in “The Death of Tragedy” is the centrality to Western drama of metaplay, and I think that’s what I absorbed from her first book as a whole.

I think I need to say, and it’s with even more reluctance than when mentioning my “Solder of Fortune” phase, which at least looks kind of funny in retrospect, that by the time I arrived in my twenties I’d become plagued by a moment-to-moment form of anxiety that it would be mild to call self-consciousness. I won’t go into all that here. It would take a whole other essay, and it’s not the kind of thing I think I write about well, at least not in a form like this. What’s relevant to this preface, and especially to my character John’s peculiar relationship to the theater audience, is that beginning in my late teens, I was waging a kind of desperate, unexpressed, tortured, and I guess I’d now have to say obsessive struggle to escape from a misery that took the form of an exhausting, gutting hyperconsciousness of existentially isolated selfhood. Technical terms might be depersonalization and dissociation, but they’re not helpful, or even accurate, really; in a weird way I was suffering from a slow and painful awakening from dissociation, but if I’d know that then, it wouldn’t have helped either. I did begin to see some hope — maybe misguided, but any port in a storm — in ceasing to struggle against that miserable experience and instead find ways to embrace it. Overt performance began to seem the only useful way to do that (I’d always been a theater kid anyway, but I couldn’t put that together at the time). And while I don’t recall using the term, what Sontag calls metaplay, in opposition to Miller-like naturalism, seemed the only honest way of performing the thing I felt forced to perform.

Later, my forays out of the meta, and into various approaches to realism, led me to think that the tricks of dramaturgy employed by writers like Miller, when they’re good, are metaplay too, in that they’re technical, and they visibly conjure illusion; they might just as well be accepted as part and parcel of the whole bloody, messy business of the art form. At the time, however, I didn’t like blood and mess. My commitment became intensified into a too-rigorous, too-pure, too-clean practice. I was to save myself by doing nothing but getting self-consciousness, in performance, front and center in a more extreme way than anyone ever had before. This practice existed not in order to find a new theatrical language, but to devolve the whole process of artmaking, to expose the real nature, as I’d unhappily discovered it, of the self: to make exposing and devolving the act of performance serve as metaphor for the collapse of the delusions that keep us from experiencing, in a second-by-second way, the awfulness of that isolation. Such was my sacred, self-tasked errand. It pushed me into minimalist, highly formalist studies in repetition, out of Gertrude Stein, Robert Wilson, and Steve Reich, and then, with “Blue Yodel,” into a very slight, very tentative elaboration of my original purity. Elaboration, in the sense that I was now putting some thin meat on the formalist, structuralist bones — deriving a thin plot, we might say, and a thin character, out of my abstracted, unmeaning, repetitive, self-conscious performance of painful, futile self-consciousness.

Crucially: Beckett had already done what I was trying to do. And Beckett had done it with masterful beauty and discipline, changing the world, putting a stamp on a century, inimitable. Because reading Beckett made me, like so many others, feel less alone, I was supremely conscious of what he’d done. But that only made my situation worse, made my point. After Beckett, there’s really nowhere to go. (I was unable, at the time, to view as relevant any possible differences in the size and originality of his talent versus mine. And I hereby forgive myself for that.) He’s visible in this play, most obviously in the insanely detailed stage directions for Amy’s and Sophia’s repeated crossings stage right to stage left. Yet the real work this play might have done, just for me, and for the longer arc of work that I couldn’t yet imagine coming, is getting me out from under Beckett. The slight artistic advance I experienced in trying to write “Blue Yodel” came from connecting an existential anxiety that had once seemed so pure as to be void, literally, terrifyingly, of any content or subject matter at all, to the more narrative kind of anxiety — the “generational” problems discussed above — that I began experiencing in my late twenties.

So now I had some actual, if thin, content. For me, that slight shift really did represent an advance, a tendency toward humanization, toward personalization, toward having a “voice,” as we used to say, that wasn’t Beckett’s but some raspy croaking of my own.

Now, I should note that by the time I wrote, or tried to write, “Blue Yodel” I’d absorbed and largely forgotten about Susan Sontag and “The Death of Tragedy.” Against Interpretation was the wallpaper, always there, characterizing the space, no longer registering. Part of what so constipated my process is that I still believed in my sources without having consulted them lately. I must have just somehow vaguely taken it on faith that there was still an intellectual and artistic world — call it Early Susan — that would embrace my production, whenever I might at last bring my production forth, because my production adhered so closely, in my mind, to Early Susan’s definitions of the good (yes, this is also of course in part — though far less obviously in the play — a way of getting at my ideas and feelings about my mother). When the American theater was celebrating the playwriting of, oh, let’s say A.R. Gurney at its worst, Lanford Wilson at its more or less most okay (come back, Arthur Miller, all is forgiven!), I still insisted that everybody who counted dug Genet. I was writing directly against Gurney and Wilson (Wendy Wasserstein, Michael Weller, etc. . . . ), and I expected Early Susan to catch me as I fell, get me up on my feet, slap my butt and send me on my way, shoulders back, shirt tucked in, best foot forward. I should have checked to see if She was still around.

Early Susan was gone. The art that She was drawn to had never subscribed to Her ideas — it had inspired Her ideas. What I was doing in “Blue Yodel” turned out to be not only weirdly old-fashioned but also pretty much inexplicable, in the real-world terms of the day. In the real world, I was trying to get meetings with new agents (since I assumed Gloria, like Early Susan, had disappeared on me), and submitting the play to nonprofit repertory companies, and being asked whether there was any chance I’d gone to Yale, because that was where the zany Christopher Durang had gone, and the Yale connection could be so helpful to a playwriting career nowadays. . . .

Out in the real world, I fell. I was cast down. Not Hamlet but Ophelia, most deject and wretched. I was alone, and because my aloneness was the world I had created, I must still have preferred it to any other world.

What I think now, though, is that I was writing, in “Blue Yodel,” not only against Gurney and Wilson, et al. I was also writing against Early Susan.

There’s no mother to speak of in “Blue Yodel.” Yet now I think it was Early Susan’s influence that my most intense anxiety latched onto. Despite my total disrespect for trends represented at their worst by Gurney, despite the persistence of my obsessively self-conscious focus on self-consciousness, I was finding metaplay . . . played.  The performativeness of Hamlet and Vladimir and Estragon marked a sensibility I’d felt uniquely called-upon to take past its nth-degree conclusion, past its end, but now I saw that what had really come to an end was metaplay itself, at least metaplay in the mid-century manifestations defined by Against Interpretation. In the 1980’s, Sontag’s great subject, camp, for example, was over. If the whole straight pop culture thinks it’s doing 24/7 camp, then there’s no camp, a fact I could see, all the way back then, quite clearly and explictly. I kept saying that yelling, “I love it, it’s so tacky!” had become the opposite of subversive. Sometime in the mid-‘80’s, the magazine “People” ran a story flogged on the cover as “Trashy Summer Reading.” Just a few years earlier, that story would have been called “Great Beach Reading.” Wrapping the same old crap in air-quotes and an arch tone had suddenly become a thing. The thing became so pervasive that younger people today may not know that for thousands of years before the 1980’s it was a thing entirely unknown to straight culture. You can call that the triumph of camp, but when camp triumphs, it’s dead, because camp was never really about the same old crap. The film director John Waters complained at some point in the ’80’s or ’90’s that people were always dragging him off to terrible restaurants to revel in their awfulness. What he really wanted, like anyone else, was a decent meal. It was enough already.

National politics too had become, in the ‘80’s, metaplay. Who was more self-consciously performative, yet somehow also totally unconscious, than Ronald Reagan? The whole time I was down in a deep, dark hole trying to write “Blue Yodel,” Sontag was way ahead of me, once again, on these and many other scores.

So: Can you write a parody of metaplay? While also writing a metaplay? While also writing a play, specifically a comedy, on your peculiar social type’s failings and bents, falsely defined as your whole, still inchoate, generational type’s failings and bents, a play that is also a dissection of comedy itself, and yet a play that you hope will crack up audiences, and that you also desperately hope will appeal to the literary managers and artistic directors of the middlebrow American national theater — the new “serious” — as it organizes itself, in the 1980’s, around a host of nonprofit professional repertory companies? Also: can you do any or all of that and write a play that is a work of art through which you hope to create an image of your own, tortured, fed-up self?

No, no, no. You absolutely can’t.

But something like that is what I thought, half-consciously, I was doing in the original “Blue Yodel.” And I guess that’s why I thought you should have to sit in an audience and be roped into watching John go through what the play itself condemns as nothing but a grim and hateful process, leading nowhere. My play looks like it’s about a father problem, but precisely to the degree that John, in a Peter Pan sort of way, has no mother — in John’s case no mother to speak of — my play reflects an even deeper, more successfully denied mother problem. In concluding the essay “Against Interpretation,” Sontag famously proclaimed “What we need is not a hermeneutics of art but an erotics of art.” A creative misreading of mine, and I think a weak one: she was talking about criticism, not art itself. With “Blue Yodel,” I was proudly offering Long-Gone Early Susan, not an erotics of art, but an art of thanatopsis.

* * * *

So what’s to like?

What I like about the play, now, as I’ve streamlined it here (making the struggles discussed in this preface look so ponderous, so top-heavy, given the brevity of the revised script!): even back then, I see, I couldn’t arraign or satirize or expose anything that I wasn’t implicated in. That only begins with John’s music-appreciation stuff in the early part of the play, which is straight-up self-parody of my real life at that age. John’s paramilitary phase toward the end parodies my passing fancies, and his journey from one to other, though unplanned by me when I started writing, told me something unedifying about myself and my kind.

I wasn’t born yesterday, so it does cross my mind that such a position and such a strategy might be a function of generations of privilege. I’m also aware that developing a critique by enacting it in a work of art, and developing a work of art by enacting a critique, are themselves susceptible to criticism, especially when it comes to the comic mode, which is my mode, at least in this play. Such criticism is ongoing in this second decade, now closing, of the 21st century. See as a leading example Hannah Gadsby’s extraordinary monologue “Nanette.” It too is metaplay, and it self-immolates, for what I think are purposes related to but far other than mine in 1985, but despite the end of camp, I still can’t believe that taking off the mask gets you any closer to truth. The opposite, if anything (another famous Oscar crack: “to be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up”). I don’t know what Gadsby might think about that now. This preface not only carries on an old struggle with my misreading of Early Susan but also engages in a new struggle with “Nanette.”

But all I really wish is that I could have done just what I was doing in the late decades of the twentieth century with less fear and loathing, less inhibition, greater authenticity, more courage and creativity (more like Gadsby, it occurs to me). I leave this, my second and final play, standing on a mountaintop. But it’s not John’s icy mountaintop at dusk, in the frozen twilight of male fragility. It’s more like a high perch, offering a long, clear, well-lit view into the near distance. My play squints hard toward the revival of authentic comic delight, also out of the spirit of metaplay, and also supposedly not about anything, that was to be “Seinfeld,” a phenomenon at least as thrilling to me, when it came along, as the works of Moliere, and if that makes my rejection of the “serious” even more total than Early Susan’s, that’s actually good. If in this decade now closing, certain conservative aspects that I’ve come to see as inherent to comedy must expose “Seinfeld,” for many obvious reasons, to dismissal, I nevertheless take the liberty of thinking my play presaged that last-gasp laugh-track sitcom, if only in a perverse and negative way. So to this preface’s struggle with Sontag, and its struggle with Gadsby, add a struggle with Larry David.

I also note, nearly in closing, that metaplay wasn’t really played. Not at all. If it ever did fail, it’s back and flourishing now. I’ve already mentioned “Nanette.” Two plays by playwrights of, importantly, color also come to mind off the top of my head: “An Octoroon,” Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s brilliant riff on Boucicault, and on so much else; and in the 2019 theater season Jackie Sibblies Drury’s “Fairview,” a hilarious, I guess, yet also truly harrowing work operating at the boldest extreme of metaplay. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway smash musical “Hamilton” can been seen as metaplay, as can Heidi Schrek’s monologue “What the Constitution Means to Me,” and there are others. Whatever one thinks of any these shows — for the purposes of this essay, I’m against interpretation — maybe there’s a rebirth underway.

The final wish I have is that there were lessons here for novice writers. But my experience got so, well, bad, when I was a novice, as this play and its preface must suggest, that I have to hope others have better experiences and leave it at that. The only lesson, for those of blocked talent having a very hard time of it, might be: if you’re capable of change, you might do something about changing, and if you do something about changing, you might somehow survive. Become more like Amy and Sophia than John. Survive artistically. That’s all I mean. All I mean here.

* * * *

In the spirit of Shaw — another incalculably pervasive cultural influence during my formative years, now almost totally ignored — this preface is getting longer than the play itself. I guess I’ll wrap it up.

This play used to be called “A Blue Yodel for the New New Man,” and it used to have two acts. (The country singer Jimmie Rodgers called a number of his songs blue yodels, a repertoire I was into at the time but which has nothing to do with the play that I can now discern.) In this new version, per the title page, it’s a one-act called “Last Blue Yodel for the New New Man,” or “Nineteen Eighty Five,” followed by the new descriptors. I mean one of those descriptors to make clear that the play is also in conversation, as they say today, with the most famous theatrical phenomenon ever to look at the 1980’s, “Angels in America.” Yet another struggle: with Tony Kushner.

The revised version also comes with this note: “Warning: Do not stage this play! ‘Closet’ or ‘lyrical’ drama only!” I mean closet or lyrical drama in the sense of those dramatic-form poems of the English Romantic era that weren’t really producible plays, like Shelley’s “Prometheus Bound.” “Lyrical drama” and “closet drama” is what they were called, and that’s what I think my play really is, in the end, with this preface attached: a Romantic poem, taking the form of a vicious parody of the late twentieth-century avant-garde metaplay, and yet leveraging metaplay’s long history all the way back to “Hamlet,” whose hero is an ancestor, too, of English Romanticism.

As such, I do find this very late revision of “Blue Yodel” interesting — at least as off-brand vanity projects go — and I even think it might have something to offer readers, with this preface attached. I think, that is, that my lyrical closet drama does say something, naturally partial, naturally compromised, about the white American cis-het genteel romantic man arriving at the age of thirtyish around 1985, and about certain moods of the Reagan period whose post-post-post consequences we’re living with, horribly enough, today. And while I don’t write much about myself any more, except in this preface, I think the play also says something about me. So if it says something about me, and something about theater, and something about 1985, maybe this piece of work is more or less OK now.

WH
2019

________________________________________

LAST BLUE YODEL FOR THE NEW NEW MAN,or, NINETEEN EIGHTY FIVE

_______________________________________

TIME AND PLACE
Fall, 1985. A city apartment; later, an abandoned country house.

CHARACTERS

JOHN
Thirty years old. Phenotypically the Northern-European product of various American frontiers. Socially a mid-1980’s urbanite. His type, when we first see him, was known about thirty years before the action of this play, non-ironically, and would be known again, beginning about ten years after the action, pseudo-ironically, as the hipster. As such, he wears the black jeans, t-shirt, and high-tops of the day; his manner is notably calm and cerebral. But when we next see him, his type is that known at the time of the action as the yuppie: he wears a fedora and a 1930’s-influenced suit with suspenders; his manner is notably wired and talkative. But John’s type, costume, and manner will be subject to further extreme change.

AMY
Fortyish. Flirtatious, demanding, sophisticated. She wears an expensive take on what was known at the time of the action as thrift-shop chic.

SOPHIA
Pronounced “Suh-fie-uh. 21. Driven, earnest, precocious, preppie. Baggy khakis, boots, sweater.

_______________________________

JOHN’s one-room apartment. A window showing night outside on a city street. The set uses only half the space; the other half is dark.

JOHN and AMY are entering, shedding outer layers of clothing. AMY, fortyish, flirtatious, sophisticated, wears an expensive take on thrift-shop chic; JOHN, calm and cerebral, wears black jeans, a t-shirt, and high-top sneakers.

AMY
Oh this madcap life.

JOHN
I realized something tonight about blues.

AMY
These glittering nights. The casual way you throw down the admission fee as if it were nothing more than four dollars. Because it is actually four dollars. Can I have wine?

JOHN
(getting her wine and himself a beer)
Why are the players nobody knows about always the best? He didn’t seem to decorate the form. He just played it over and over.

AMY
And over, too.

JOHN
So the blues is classical. And radical. It’s okay if it’s a little grating.

AMY
Sixteen songs mainly about penis size can be just a little grating.

JOHN
You don’t need some jazz technician writing new melodies to “Embraceable You” and so on.

AMY
Well, I actually may need something more on a Friday night after a hard work week than folding chairs in a dusty loft with an older gentleman playing guitar. Try to keep in mind you’re a younger man. Work hard, play hard. Displays of ostentation.

(JOHN touches her.)

AMY
Then again.

(They sit on the couch and look at each other.)

AMY
I’m afraid you like me for my face.

JOHN
Okay?

AMY
Hi.

JOHN
Hi.

AMY
Don’t be smug.

JOHN
(looking in her eyes)
It’s kind of dark and hazy in there.

AMY
Mm.

JOHN
I can see what it was like before the Big Bang.

AMY
A great void. How nice. So. Can I see you tomorrow night?

JOHN
No, Amy. You know I have to see my brother.

AMY
What a surprise.

JOHN
I’m sorry. Hey, come here.

AMY
I was going to break with tradition and make you a fabulous offer. Don’t even think about asking me what it was now. I was going to take you out dancing, if you must know. At the Ostrich Head, if you must know.

JOHN
Dancing. Me.

AMY
So you’re embarrassed about my age.

JOHN
Come back here.

AMY
Then why don’t I ever get to meet your brother?

JOHN
You don’t want to actually meet Ambrose.

AMY
Why don’t I?

JOHN
He’s a mess, that’s all. Let’s go back to the Big Bang.

AMY
So you’ll spend a Saturday night with a mess and not with me.

JOHN
I have to, Amy.

AMY
Want to.

JOHN
I don’t want to. I can’t stand him.

AMY
So you see him every other night. The whole time I’ve known you. All summer, all fall, six whole months, every other night. We can’t go away for the weekend and I’m not supposed to mention it? You never tell me anything about him and I’m not supposed to mention it? I’m mentioning it.

JOHN
All right. All right, I’ll tell you. Tonight, I’ll tell you.
(pause)
It goes back to when Dad died. Mom fell apart. We were kids. I was fifteen. He needed me, and he never grew out of it. He’s a mess.

AMY
What does that mean, a mess. Coming from you, a mess probably means he likes to have fun.

JOHN
Maybe. You’d probably find him, what can I say, hipper and cooler than me. In fact, however, he’s a mess. So, bed, yes?

AMY
No!

(BLACKOUT.
Lights up on the other half of the space. A mirror image of the first set: the same apartment, oriented in the opposite direction. The window again shows night on the street.

JOHN and SOPHIA entering the apartment, shedding outer layers of clothing. SOPHIA, 21, precocious and idealistic, wears khaki pants, sweater, boots. JOHN, his manner now wired and talkative, wears a fedora and a ’30’s-influenced suit with suspenders.)

SOPHIA
No!

JOHN
Look, I know last night was Friday night, I’m sure you had a tough week, I know, I know, I know, but I had to see my brother.

SOPHIA
Please.

JOHN
Hey, listen, I’ll tell you about him, okay? Maybe it’s time to do that. Maybe tonight’s the night. So if you want to hear it, okay, it all goes back to when Dad died, Mom fell apart, we were kids, I was fifteen, Ambrose needed me and he never grew out of it and that’s all there is. He’s a mess. So–.

SOPHIA
A mess, like what, like he reads a book every once in a while?

JOHN
Sure, yes, I guess you’d think he is brainier than me. More of an intellectual. So what. He’s a damn mess.

SOPHIA
If you’re so close why haven’t I ever met him? Because he’ll say you’re fucking a teenager?

JOHN
Because I refuse to fuck my life up introducing him to people I might have to face again. And you’re not a teenager. Drink?

SOPHIA
So totally irresponsible. If you really cared about him–.

JOHN
Let’s have a little nightcap, Sophia.

SOPHIA
I cannot believe you never told me this. All these months, you blow me off me every other night to see him and you never bother till tonight to explain that he needs you?

JOHN
Well, I did just explain it to you. Hey, what a night, huh? What weather!

SOPHIA
If you really cared about him–.

JOHN
Saturday night! The fall! The city!

SOPHIA
Don’t do that.

JOHN
The bridge!

SOPHIA
Goddamn it, John.

JOHN
The rivers converging. The harbor, the cliffs. The bridges lit up like crowns, sculptures rising out of the bay, party boats cruising. The neighborhood. Crackheads and CPA’s out bopping, co-ops and tenements, the bodega that sells real estate, the rare cheese store that sells real estate, the real estate office that sells real estate. You had fun tonight.

SOPHIA
There are things to do in this city besides dance–.

JOHN

Name one.

SOPHIA
Plus these places you go are ridiculously expensive.

JOHN
Live for today. I get paid okay–for a history teacher, since really that’s just money for doing absolutely nothing. Look, next time we can do whatever you want.

SOPHIA
Oh, no. No way.

JOHN
No, what did you want to do?

SOPHIA
No.

JOHN
Come on.

SOPHIA
You’ll laugh.

JOHN
(laughing)
I will not laugh.

SOPHIA
This film, the Czechoslovakian thing, the documentary? The one I saw last week. I really want you to see it. I’ll see it again.

JOHN
Yeah, what’s it about?

SOPHIA
These people, these amazing women? They pick beets? It’s like, it’s this whole industry, and–.

JOHN
They. Pick. Beets!

SOPHIA
Asshole.

JOHN
I know, older man, I’m supposed to be turning you on to high culture, but come on. I’ve forced you to listen to music you had never even heard of. You had no idea how good the old swing can be.

(He puts on the fedora and jumps on her. As he talks and they wrestle around the room, ending up by dancing.)

JOHN
It’s all about the roots. Tonight you were two-stepping with second sons, bumping into diplomats, you’ll be doing the one o’clock jump on page three tomorrow morning, and it’s all because of me. Yes?

SOPHIA
(angry, laughing)
No!

(BLACKOUT.
Lights up on JOHN and AMY on the first set. JOHN is wearing the jeans, t-shirt, and sneakers. No time has elapsed since the first blackout.)

JOHN
Yes, come on. Bed.

(He drains his beer.)

AMY
Let’s live together.

(He spits out beer.)

AMY
It would have been more romantic tomorrow night at the Ostrich. I’m saying it anyway.

JOHN
But you already know. You must know. I couldn’t chip in. You’re a producer. You prefer the fancy lifestyle. I’m a history teacher. And at a private school. I work very hard at my calling and I make not very much. That’s just the way it is. I know people think I must have money hidden away somewhere, because people have heard of my dad. But he left me nothing. There was just enough to keep Mom in her sunbelt condo till she spent it all up and died. And the house in the country, which is worth almost nothing by now, since by now it must be almost falling down. Which is all okay with me, because I don’t need money.

AMY
The house in the country you’ve never even invited me to.

JOHN
Because I never go there.

AMY
You wouldn’t.

JOHN
Living together would be great, but I just don’t make enough for that.

AMY
So your father spent all his money. He must have had fun. You must actually know what you’re missing.

JOHN
I’m not missing anything. Teaching really is kind of a calling, and I don’t want much. Just my teaching and my thoughts. And you.

AMY
Where’s my coat.

JOHN
What.

AMY
This has nothing to do with money. You just want to go on the way we are.

JOHN
Wait.

AMY
No.

JOHN
Yes.

AMY
(getting her coat)
No!

JOHN
All right, all right, you’re right. It’s not the money. I’ll tell you what’s really going on. This may be hard to handle.

(AMY stops.)

JOHN
It’s Ambrose.

AMY
Oh, stop.

(AMY goes to the door and stops in the doorway.)

AMY
What about him.

JOHN
He needs me.

AMY
Oh crap. So what! Crap!

JOHN
I told you, Amy, I’m like the anchor.

AMY
Tell me how living with me would hurt that very hip and cool mess your brother.

JOHN
It won’t be this way forever.

AMY
And why is that.

JOHN
He’ll grow out of it. He just needs time.

AMY
You need time.

JOHN
All right.

AMY
Temporarily.

JOHN
Yes.

AMY
Damn it.

(AMY starts to leave.)

JOHN
Will you be back?

AMY
I don’t know. No!

(Exit AMY, slamming the door.

BLACKOUT.
Lights up on JOHN and SOPHIA on the other set, dancing. JOHN wears the suit and fedora. No time has elapsed since the second blackout.)

SOPHIA
John?

JOHN
Mm?

SOPHIA
Let’s get married.

(They stop dancing.)

SOPHIA
I wanted to see you last night and say that, that’s why I was so pissed you were seeing Ambrose.

JOHN
Married? What the–. Hey, you’re just a baby. Married. Let’s dance.

SOPHIA
But I’m precocious. You know I even graduated from high school early, and college, it’s just the way I am. I’m out of law school now, I met you and I want to get married. I’m good for you. You don’t take anything seriously, that’s cool, I  know you’re good for me too, but I am serious and I am going to have an impact. I mean an impact for good. You can laugh at that only because you can’t be serious about anything. Isn’t that why you’re still teaching at that rich-kid school?

JOHN
I knew there was a reason. Now, look–.

SOPHIA
Don’t you see that is so gross? If you were serious about teaching, I’d be like great, but–.

JOHN
Serious. About teaching.

SOPHIA
It is what you do, John, every day.

JOHN
Not every day. I get those all-important vacations. Beats working.

SOPHIA
Life is work . . .

JOHN
Sorry, didn’t mean to bring up beets.

SOPHIA
. . . And you just want to play!

JOHN
Yes. But now I am just incredibly tired. Last night…Last night, Ambrose and . . . And wow, can we talk about this later?

SOPHIA
What did you do in the war?

JOHN
The what.

SOPHIA
The war, how did you get out of it?

JOHN
That war. I was too young.

SOPHIA
Yeah, right.

JOHN
By a whole year. Thank you. I’m only thirty! To you that’s an old man, but the boys came home. They ended the draft. I was safe. Let’s go to bed.

SOPHIA
So how do you feel about that?

JOHN
Feel about that? Relief, if I ever think about it at all. Which I don’t. Bed.

SOPHIA
You were a teenager. During the war you were in high school. You didn’t know then that it would all end, that you wouldn’t have to go. Your dad was a famous liberal and everything. I bet you went to all the rallies and demonstrations and stuff. Didn’t you?

JOHN
So?

SOPHIA
So you were involved!
(off his look)
Like politically! What happened to that? I am good for you.

JOHN
Sophia, I was a kid. I was out of school in the streets, with my friends, in big crowds, and it’s like the October Revolution, it’s the Liberty Tree. Stopping traffic. Sneering at cabdrivers. Middle-aged people today like nothing better than bragging about what they did then. They weren’t kids like me, those were the best years of their lives. Fine, everyone has to sit through war stories, I had to hear all about the Battle of the Bulge. But you’re too smart to get all misty over that stuff. That’s not you. You’re the eighties. Mohawks. Dreadlocks. Jams. Pearls and biker jackets and skateboards and shades. That’s your generation. The kids I teach just want to make some money. I just want to have some fun helping the kids along.

SOPHIA
God damn it, John, you’re the kid.

JOHN
Okay, sure.

(SOPHIA turns away and starts crying.)

JOHN
Hey. Oh hey! Hey!

SOPHIA
I really hate your guts right now.

JOHN
Look, there’s a real reason I can’t get married, not now. I’ll tell you. Okay? Don’t cry, okay? Sophia? Okay? I’ll tell you.
(pause)
It’s Ambrose.

SOPHIA
Bullshit.

JOHN
He needs me.

SOPHIA
How would getting married hurt your brainy intellectual mess of a brother?

JOHN
I told you, Sophia, I’m like an anchor, but it won’t be this way forever. He’ll grow out of it. He just needs time. Temporarily.

SOPHIA
You’re such an asshole!

(She runs into the bathroom and slams the door. JOHN expresses exasperation and follows her.

A knock on the apartment door.

JOHN stops and goes to the door and opens it. AMY stands in the doorway.)

AMY
Yes. I know. broke the sacred rule. If I’d called I wouldn’t have come. Can I come in? What on earth are you wearing?

(The sound of water running in the bathroom.)

AMY
Is somebody here? Who’s in the bathroom?

(JOHN stares at her. The water shuts off.)

AMY
Oh, great! Oh, great, who’s here? I should have known. Oh, God, please, John, a hat?

(She knocks the hat off his head. JOHN abruptly relaxes and smiles.)

JOHN
Oh, I get it. You think I’m John.
(laughing, holding out his hand)
Hi.
(off HER stare)
Ambrose.
(off HER stare)
John’s brother?
(off HER stare)
Come on, he must have at least mentioned me, at least. We’re twins?

AMY
John!

JOHN
This shit’s been happening all our lives. Look, he and I were hanging out tonight–like we often do–but I kinda sleazed him outta here so I could use his place. He really never mentioned me? Man, it’s like I sometimes think he’s actually embarrassed by me.

AMY
Oh. Now.

SOPHIA
(from the bathroom)
Who is it?

JOHN
Hang on a second, Sophia, stay there a minute, we have company!
(to AMY)
The girl’s crying. I hate to be rude but maybe we could meet formally some other time? Sorry, bad timing.

AMY
(staring)
Oh. My. God.

JOHN
Maybe we’ll all get together sometime, okay, but?

AMY
Oh my God.

JOHN
Don’t worry, I’ll tell him you were here. . . .

AMY
Your hat.

(She comes in, picks up his hat, and puts it back on his head.)

AMY
I’m so sorry. I’m shocked.

JOHN
No big deal, no problem.

(JOHN looks out at THE AUDIENCE and shares amazement at the risk he’s taking and his  pleasure in its success.)

AMY
It is just so odd!

JOHN
Yeah, so, adios, and–.

(In a double-take, JOHN looks out at THE AUDIENCE again. He registers THE AUDIENCE’s presence and stares at it, startled.

Throughout the following exchange, JOHN becomes increasingly aware of and shaken by THE AUDIENCE’s presence. AMY remains unaware of THE AUDIENCE.)

AMY
You know, I’m beginning to see differences.

JOHN
You are.

AMY
They’re subtle, though.

JOHN
They are? Listen, Am–. . . . ‘eyyy, ma’am, what did you say your name was?

AMY
Amy. Hi.

JOHN
Amy, it’s about my girlfriend. Crying, locked bathroom, medicine cabinet, drugs, razors, ever go to the movies, okay?

AMY
I’m sorry, I’m going.

JOHN
Great to meet you and everything.

AMY
(suspicious)
Wait a minute . . .

JOHN
No, thanks for the memories, Amy, but I gotta.

AMY
I’m sorry, Ambrose. I’m going. I am.

(AMY backs out the door, staring at him.)

JOHN
Bye!

(Exit AMY. JOHN slams the door and turns to THE AUDIENCE.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
Where did you come from?

(Enter SOPHIA from the bathroom.)

SOPHIA
So? Are you alone?

JOHN
I mean . . . I think so.
(to THE AUDIENCE)
Who are you?

(SOPHIA remains unaware of THE AUDIENCE and JOHN’s communication with it.)

SOPHIA
Who was that?

JOHN
(to SOPHIA)
Some friend of Ambrose’s, Amy maybe? She can’t find him, I just didn’t want her to see you all upset . . .
(to THE AUDIENCE)
She doesn’t know you’re there.

SOPHIA
Hello, you’re spacing.

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
She doesn’t hear me talking to you.
(to SOPHIA)
Oh! And you know, that reminds me, did I ever tell you me and Ambrose are identical twins?

SOPHIA
You are?

JOHN
(to SOPHIA)
Yeah, and the thing is, I can’t get married now and that’s partly why. Ambrose is like…
(to SOPHIA, looking at THE AUDIENCE)
Ambrose is a a mess, but, hey, it won’t be forever. He’ll get over it–.

(HE breaks off, increasingly befuddled by his consciousness of THE AUDIENCE.)

JOHN
(to SOPHIA)
So do you want to break up? Say no.

(SOPHIA shakes her head.)

JOHN
Good. So. Let’s… Listen, maybe I should drive you home.

SOPHIA
Do you want to be alone?

JOHN
We’re both kind of freaked, tired.

SOPHIA
I guess I can use some alone time. You don’t have to drive me.

JOHN
It’s late.

SOPHIA
You’re parked, cabs are here all night these days.

JOHN
I’ll walk you to a cab.

SOPHIA
They’re always on the corner. It’s okay, really.

JOHN
Really really?

SOPHIA
Really. I’m just a little shaky.

JOHN
Me too. I’m sorry, baby. You know. This Ambrose shit.

SOPHIA
I’m sorry I was crazy. I hate that.

(They hug, JOHN looking past her at THE AUDIENCE.)

JOHN
(to SOPHIA)
Want to do something tomorrow?

SOPHIA
Call me. Yeah, I do.

JOHN
Of course I’ll call you.

(Exit SOPHIA.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
Wow! . . . So! . . . Where did you. . . ? What do you . . . ?
(silence)
This is. . . I can’t exactly say what this is. I can’t see you clearly, you know, this isn’t like seeing, exactly, you just sort of appeared, out there, a sort of a big . . . presence . . . past some sort of an edge . . .
(laughing)
. . . like an existential type of edge.
(silence)
You don’t speak? Whatever you are? Only I speak?
(silence)
Okay.
(silence)
Wait. Wait. This is so familiar. Exactly this whole set-up, me here, you there. What was that?
(silence)
Dad?
(silence)
It’s you! Isn’t it! It is. I didn’t expect this. I stopped worrying about ghosts long before you ever died. Wow! This is great. Why? Why now? Fifteen years later? Oh my God, this is great! Pretty neat trick I’ve got going here, isn’t it? It’s nothing, really. Just sort of a gift. I’ve had it for a long time now. They just look at me. Suddenly I can just . . . become exactly what they always wanted, and, you know, it’s never what they think they always wanted. Not at all. Usually it’s exactly the opposite of what they think they always wanted, and that’s the whole trick! Tonight, though, oh, tonight was one for the books. I’ve never had to actually be Ambrose before. And it worked! I made it work! Sometimes, I’ve learned, it’s really amazing what will work.
(silence)
So. Dad. I don’t–. Is something bothering you? Is there something about all this, me, them, that bothers you?

(During the following speech, JOHN undresses to undershorts and a t-shirt, then takes sweatpants from a chair and puts them on. He carries a chair downstage and sits in it.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
Well I guess I can see how you might be surprised. Even disappointed. It’s true, I guess. It’s true I don’t take meetings with the President. I don’t manipulate Congress and save rivers. Or whatever you were doing. I don’t hang from a cliff by my fingernails. In the ice, after midnight, alone. You probably had such a full and active life you forgot you could die, but that’s not me. No ropes? Ecstatically drunk and no flashlight and no ropes? In one night you broke every climbing rule you ever made me memorize. I unlearned all the knots overnight. I find I live happily without any action at all. You’ve come upon me tonight exercising my one and only talent. So if you’re disappointed, I can understand that. But this is me.

(He is now seated in the downstage chair wearing the t-shirt and sweatpants.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
Oh, I know, you probably think I’m making excuses. I turned out all defeatist and chickenshit, and you’ve heard all this before anyway, haven’t you. I remember. War stories. Real ones, not the metaphor. War stories from the actual war, the big one. The pubs and the cafes, and the ruins, the eerie ruins. The angry, sad citizens. They’re crying. “It’s the end of action, it’s the end of heroes, it’s all over.” And here’s the big smartass American, the liberator, celebrating, about to go home. You slam your fist down. You shake that little cafe table. “No! Now is the beginning! The old ways are over, it’s time to improvise, time to experiment!” War stories. So, yes, I know. That really was the last time there was anything new about saying there’s nothing new to say. The last time there was anything new about saying there’s nothing new to say happened, and was over, before I was even born. Now there’s no experiment left to make, but see, that’s okay with me. This is not the end. This is after the end. I’m not post. I’m post post. I read history, I teach history, I don’t make history. I don’t like forward movement, I like matrices, the fluctuating stasis, a mobile, a two-step.
(silence)
Like tonight. With the women. That I can do.
(silence)
But really not tonight, all of a sudden, because I can’t frankly seem to really do anything when you’re watching. To face facts, I have to admit that I almost lost it and blew it tonight!
(silence)
So. Please. Enough. Okay? This has been a, how shall I say, unique experience. But that’s it. I need to get back to my life. Goodbye.

(Lights begin fading out the apartment, finally leaving JOHN seated downstage in a pool of light surrounded by darkness.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
I said goodbye!
(increasingly uncomfortable)
Look, don’t waste your energy. If ghosts have energy, I wouldn’t know. I get the message. I know how you must see me. I can remember your opinion of schoolteachers. Which is what I am. A snotty kleenex in the sleeve of her blouse. It takes no more than a magazine article about faroff jungles to send her pulse-rate fluttering. She stays right where she was born. That is me. It is.
(increasingly anxious)
Can you blame her? You have no idea how the city’s changed in fifteen years. Seriously. There’s this constant beat under the street and sidewalk that shakes my bones. In broad daylight. And the air is so full of poisons now. They intrude. Blood’s so thin nowadays it can’t even begin to wash them out, blood’s not really blood any more, it’s industry’s river. I’m the back end of the city, the part of town where old tankers turn to rust in water, polluted water. One day I’ll notice a tiny scrape, or a pimple, and then a bruise flushing from my elbow to my armpit and my brain, after all, after all, the brain is only a zillion pleats and tucks. I’ll go hollowboned. I’ll go light as the light. I’ll dive, and swoop, I’ll be scattered . . .
(terrified)
It’s happening.
(gasping)
Now. There’s–!
(inhales sharply, holds his breath, exhales)
…there’s no time left. This must be–.
(inhales sharply, holds his breath, exhales)
…the last breath . . .

(He inhales sharply, holds his breath, and keeps holding it, staring at THE AUDIENCE. He holds his breath a long time, still staring. At the breaking point, he exhales and collapses, panting, looking down. He rises from the chair and paces around in the pool of light, trying to recover.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
I’m all right. I think I’m all right. I think so. Look. Okay, you’re right. You must be right. Something’s happened to me. What was that? Who was that? How did I get like that? What have I been doing to myself? What have I been doing all this time? I need to get out of here. Right? I need to be far away. Far away from this city. Far away from those women. Right now — right? — before something like that happens again. Where’s the car? I parked the car. Where did I park?

(Sound of a car-door opening. JOHN sits in the chair. Sound of the car-door slamming shut. JOHN relaxes slightly. Sound of the car starting, moving, accelerating.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
Nobody’s on the street this late. The traffic lights keep changing anyway, but it’s for nobody, so I can run them. The ramp to the freeway. Nobody’s on the freeway, either. Nobody’s awake out there in those houses. Nobody’s awake but us. Where should we go? I just can’t go off the deep end again like that. I’ve got to get out of town, breathe some clean air, do some hard thinking about my life. Cruising speed. I’m all right. Oh! Of course! I remember this feeling. I know where we’re going.
(happy)
We’re going to the country.

(The pool of light dims out. Sound of a car stopping, the car door opening and slamming. A new pool of light fades up on JOHN, now standing. The chair is gone.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
Wasn’t that great? The way those back roads came back to me, in the dark, every twist and turn, every downshift, just like you taught me. I’ve been away a long time. It’s chilly out here. The barn’s leaning, but it actually hasn’t collapsed. The house is okay. The fields down to the woods, like shadows, I can barely see them. Look. There’s that red glow, behind the hills. Dawn. Right where it always was, in the fall . . .
(calm)
It’s morning. Morning in the country.
(pause)
Let’s go in.

(Morning light comes up, revealing that JOHN is standing in a new set that uses the entire space: a nearly empty room, bare-walled and shabby, on the first floor of an old country house. Visible through a a big picture window in upstage wall are fall colors outside. A door stage left leads to a hallway; a door stage right leads outdoors. Downstage, an army trunk and knapsack of WWII vintage; upstage, near the window, a large folding screen, open and draped with a sheet.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
I forgot how big this house is. Even the spare room. With that door going right outside. I used to run in and out, I used to hide in here, I played in here on rainy days. What did I play with?
(going to the trunk and knapsack)
Your army trunk, your knapsack! Right where they always were. All this cool old stuff…

(From the trunk he removes a rolled army tent, olive drab fatigues, a cartridge belt, a canteen, some small books.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
Your army tent. Your fatigues. Cartridge belt. I used to practice self-defense moves out of these training manuals. The phrase-book! This was in case you have to communicate with the natives in the jungle…
(reading)
“Big American Yankee fella want eat now.”

(He pulls out a double-barreled shotgun, carefully wrapped in cloth.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
Your shotgun.

(He pulls the gun out of the wrappings and looks at it all over. He “breaks” the gun and looks inside it.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
Still loaded. Neat-o.

(He holds the gun “broken” in both hands. His manner becomes that of a ten-year-old boy, circa 1965.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
I feel much better. A minute ago, I was . . . I was having a bad dream? I think I was dreaming about the future! Like maybe twenty whole years in the future. And the future was all weird and stuff. On account of I was grown up. And in the future, a few people had actual computers in their actual houses. And there were two kinds of people: people who wore suits and the people who wore all black, and you had to eat all this spicy food. And heck, Dad, I had to play with . . . I had to play with girls. P. U.! Who were they? And then right before I woke up, it got almost like I was a girl too? Like some little old lady? No, I don’t remember, it’s going away. You know how in a bad dream it’s really scary, but when you wake up it’s so dumb? We’re not really in the future. It’s still now. I’m still me. No girls get to play here in real life. Girls just ruin junk. No girls allowed, just you and me, right, Dad? Boss-ay!

(He looks at the gun in his hands.)

JOHN
Hey, what do I think I’m doing? I’m not even allowed to be even touching this. It’s not mine, and it’s not a toy. I’m putting it down. I am.

(He gingerly hangs the gun, still in its “broken” position, on a peg on the wall.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
There, okay? Maybe I was still dreaming when I picked it up, I don’t even remember.

(He puts on the fatigue jacket. Meanwhile, the sound of a car rolling up the driveway and being shut off. A car-door slamming.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
I can learn to use the gun someday when I’m grown up. Right? I mean: SIR! I can use it when I’m grown up, SIR!
(shoulders back, saluting)
SIR awake again SIR. SIR ready for basic training SIR. SIR just you and me SIR.

(Enter AMY, opening the stage-right door leading outside. She wears a fur coat.)

AMY
Hello there.

(JOHN yells in surprise, spins around, stares at her. She comes into the room.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
Oh no! SIR who’s that SIR?
(To AMY, blocking her way)
You can’t come in, it’s not allowed!
(To THE AUDIENCE)
SIR alien intrusion SIR!

(AMY remains unaware of JOHN’s communication with THE AUDIENCE.)

AMY
Please say something. I know I shouldn’t have chased you, I couldn’t help it.

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
SIR Can’t make identification of the intrusion at this time SIR!
(To AMY, blocking her way)
Not allowed, come on . . .
(To THE AUDIENCE)
But SIR the intrusion acts like it knows me SIR!

AMY
John, what are you doing? Say something . . . Oh God! Oh no! Oh, I did it again, didn’t I? Oh, Ambrose, you must be sick of me. I saw John’s car, it never occurred to me you’d be here too.

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
Sir?

AMY
I’ve been driving for hours, I had to ask directions in the town, I didn’t have any real reason to think I’d find John here, but actually, I admit I never believed he doesn’t ever come here. We had a fight. He told you. I can tell. But I’ve got to see him anyway, no matter what he said. I feel guilty. I was obnoxious. How’s your friend, the one from the bathroom? It’s none of my business, just tell me to shut up. Is she here too? I’d love to meet her. Why isn’t there a phone here, it’s ridiculous!
(pushing past him into the room)
I’m sorry, Ambrose, just let me see John.

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
SIR the intrusion won’t leave SIR!

AMY
Say something, please. I guess he told you not to let me in if I came, but where is he?

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
SIR to expel the intrusion, I’m going undercover as this “Ambrose” guy SIR. Secret agent!

AMY
You were pretty talkative last night, now the silent treatment? Please, where’s John?

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
Step One: gather intelligence about what this Ambrose guy is like.
(to AMY, as Sean Connery as James Bond)
I’m Ambrose, and supposed to be talkative, am I. Fascinating. May I offer you a martini.

AMY
Well, I don’t know, coming from me–no, no, thank you–I guess I had the impression you’re supposed to be sort of the hipper, cooler one, you know.

JOHN
(Connery’s Bond)
Ah, I’m hip and cool, am I?

AMY
Extremely hip and cool, the definition of hipitude and coolness. Clearly I have no idea what I’m talking about, so just tell me where John is and I’ll leave you alone.

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
SIR step two SIR. Going under cover as “hip and cool.” Stand by for expulsion of the intrusion SIR.
(to AMY, snapping his fingers)
Hey, sweetpea! Hot socks! Oh you kid!

AMY
Excuse me?

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
SIR a slight bug in the operation of “hip and cool” SIR! Stand by for retry . . .
(to AMY:)
Hey, dreamboat! Twenty three skiddoo! Crazy, man, crazy!

AMY
What is it the hip-hop people say nowadays, “chill out”? Please, do chill out, Ambrose, and really, where is John?

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
Hip-hop? But that was was hip and cool in my bad dream about the future SIR! SIR the intrusion talks just like people in my bad dream SIR!

AMY
Please tell me where he is.

JOHN
(to the AUDIENCE)
SIR going under new cover as hip-hop SIR!

(JOHN begins to use terminology and syntax associated, at the time of the action of this play, with hip-hop, and then to make an effort at a form of rap that would come to be known, some years after the action, as “old school.” Yet his speech remains standard American, the ten-year-old manner persists, and he adopts no typically hip-hop-associated body language. His delivery is thus at odds with his speech.)

JOHN
(to AMY)
Yo. I be chill. Def. Word up. But, yo, give my man some room. Go home, girl.

AMY
Home? I drove all the way up here.

JOHN
Right? But hey, you gots to go.
You gots to go and that you know.
My man was down.

AMY
Excuse me?

JOHN
He had a frown.

AMY
What?

JOHN
He not freak,
He did not speak.
So you think you smart if you stay round here?
You make him mad, baby, have no fear:
He leave you–you be blue,
And I ain’t gonna wanna have to deal with you.
Don’t act like a fool, don’t act like a chump,
Heed my words and baby leave this dump.

AMY
(going to the stage-right door)
You are kind of a mess after all, aren’t you. You know, I think I’ll just wait for him outside –.

JOHN
I said, baby, no!
You gots to go!

AMY
Is that a car?

JOHN
A car?

(JOHN goes to the picture window and looks out. Sound of a car coming up the driveway.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
SIR the intrusion has reinforcements SIR!

AMY
Who is it?

JOHN
Yo! It’s . . . him!

AMY
I thought you said he was here.

JOHN
So maybe we got two cars! He went to town, but yo–.

AMY
Thank God.

JOHN
Let me talk to him for you. My boy was stoopit pissed.

AMY
Oh, he couldn’t be that mad.

JOHN
He sees you, he be illin. Go in that study, right down this hall.
(ushering AMY out the hall door, stage left)
It’s cool, girl, I got this.

AMY
You are crazy. Look, if John’s not running down this hall in four and a half minutes calling my name . . .

JOHN
Yo, all the way down there, third door on the right . . .

(Exit AMY, stage left. JOHN turns to speak to THE AUDIENCE but SOPHIA enters from the outside, stage right. She wears a down jacket.)

JOHN
(to SOPHIA)
Yo, I ain’t him!

SOPHIA
What?

JOHN
Ambrose?

SOPHIA
Ambrose?
(amazed)
Ambrose!

JOHN
Ambrose with some def lovelife advice. Get in that sweet ride and go back home.

SOPHIA
You are identical. Identical!

JOHN
Right? I’ll let my boy know you came by.

SOPHIA
John was supposed to call me today, he is so totally irresponsible. I knew he was running, and I’m going to call him on this bullshit for good. I was such a wimp last night. Oh, do you know some woman was looking for you? You’re not like I thought you’d be at all.

JOHN
What, now?

SOPHIA
From what John said, I just thought you’d be less, you know, talkative, or something. Aren’t you supposed to be the brainy intellectual one?

JOHN
(Connery as Bond)
Ah, so I’m intellectual, am I. Intriguing. Please have a martini.

SOPHIA
Totally brainy and way intellectual — no thanks — way intellectual like you’re the leading French deconstructionist. No, obviously I’m clueless, but come on, where is he?

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
French deconstructionist? SIR French deconstruction was brainy and intellectual in my bad dream about the future SIR! This new intrusion also talks just like people in my bad dream SIR! SIR now going under new cover as French deconstructionist!

(JOHN begins to use terminology, including words in French, associated at the time of the action of this play with advanced literary theory, yet his pronunciation of French words remains standard American and the ten-year-old manner persists. His delivery is thus at odds with his spreech.)

JOHN
(to SOPHIA)
Oui, oui. Because le difference is unexplained by the metaphysics of presence, your question — quote unquote where is he — bears the seeds of its own negation, and thus the new sentence –quote unquote go home now, at once, go home, please return
to your home — becomes equally if not more valid and so, voila, mademoiselle, I bid you adieu.

SOPHIA
He’s right. You are a mess. Is John here or what?
(calling)
John!

(SOPHIA pushes past him and exits stage left.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
The two intrusions from my bad dream are going to meet and join forces! I mean SIR they’re going to meet SIR!

(AMY appears in the picture window, unseen by JOHN, crossing from stage left to stage right. She disappears momentarily from the window, right, preparatory to entering the house.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
They talk like my bad dream, and this is all starting to remind me of my dream. Is it coming true? Sir?

(Enter AMY at the stage-right door.)

AMY
Time’s up, where is he?

JOHN
(to AMY)
What up?

AMY
I snuck out the study door and came around outside, to catch him. He came in here, didn’t he?

(JOHN pulls AMY back toward the stage-right door.)

JOHN
Chill, you’ll find him right outside.

(SOPHIA meanwhile appears in the picture window, crossing stage left to stage right as AMY did before, unseen by JOHN and AMY. She disappears momentarily from the window, right, preparatory to entering the house.)

JOHN
Check it . . .

(He sticks his head out the stage-right door, reacts to seeing SOPHIA’S offstage approach, slams the door shut, pulls AMY to the stage-left door.)

JOHN
He’s in the study for real!

AMY
No, he wasn’t there . . .
(calling off)
John?

(Exit AMY, stage left. Enter SOPHIA, stage right.)

SOPHIA
He came in here, didn’t he!

JOHN
No need, mademoiselle, for any display of denegation.

SOPHIA
Please give me a break, Ambrose.

JOHN
(ushering her to the stage-right door)
You quote unquote cannot not discover him just outside the archi-ecritur of this domain  –.
(reconsidering, ushering her instead to the stage-left door)
Pardon, I sent him to the study, down this way, third door. Courage!

(AMY has meanwhile appeared in the picture window, crossing left to right, as before, unseen by JOHN and SOPHIA. She disappears momentarily from the window, right, preparatory to entering the house.)

SOPHIA
Third door?
(calling off:)
John?

(Exit SOPHIA, stage left. Enter AMY, stage right.)

JOHN
He missed you? That’s wack.

AMY
He’s hiding from me, isn’t he.

JOHN
(indicating the stage-left door)
Nah, girl, he just went right through there.

(AMY, frustrated, exits stage left.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
SIR this won’t work very long SIR! Things from my bad dream are coming true! What can I do? Sir?
(silence)
Help me!
(panicked)
Ahh!

(JOHN runs to the stage-right door, but SOPHIA appears outside the picture window, crossing left to right, as before, and this time JOHN sees HER through the window. He freezes as SOPHIA disappears from the window, right, preparatory to entering the house. JOHN looks at both doors, frozen. Then he runs behind the screen, hidden from view. Enter SOPHIA, stage right.)

SOPHIA
That’s it, I’ve had it–. What the hell?

(Surprised, SOPHIA looks around the seemingly empty room. She goes to the stage-left door, opens it.)

SOPHIA
John? Ambrose?

(AMY meanwhile appears outside the picture window, crossing left to right. This time she stops, mid-cross, thinks, turns on her heel, crosses instead back the way she came, disappearing from the window, left.

Meanwhile, SOPHIA has started to exit at the stage-left door, but she stops, thinks, turns on her heel, crosses instead to the stage-right door.

Exit SOPHIA, stage right; enter AMY, stage left.)

AMY
This is no longer very entertaining–. What on earth?

(Surprised, AMY looks around the seemingly empty room.

Meanwhile SOPHIA appears in the picture window, crossing right to left, but she stops in mid-cross, thinks, turns on her heel, starts to cross back the way she came, stops again, thinks, turns on her heel and continues the original cross right to left, disappearing from the window, left.

Simultaneously AMY starts to exit at the stage-right door but stops in mid-cross, thinks, turns on her heel, crosses instead to the stage-left door, stops again, thinks, turns on her heel, and makes the original cross to the door stage right. Exit AMY, stage right. Enter SOPHIA stage left.

SOPHIA goes to the center of the room. Watching each door in turn, she waits. AMY appears in the picture window, crossing right to left. She stops in mid-cross and looks around. She goes to the window, looks in, and sees SOPHIA through the window. SOPHIA continues to watch the doors, unaware of AMY. AMY turns and crosses back the way she came, disappearing from the window, right.)

SOPHIA
(in frustration)
Goddamn it, I am going home.

(SOPHIA goes to the stage-right door and opens it. The door opens more quickly than she expected, pushed on the other side by AMY. Enter AMY, more quickly than she expected to. AMY and SOPHIA collide.)

SOPHIA
Hey!

AMY
Ow!

SOPHIA
Hi?

AMY
Hello? Oh! Are you the woman from the bathroom? At John’s apartment? Last night, I mean.
(gesturing off)
With him.

SOPHIA
Oh! You’re the woman when I was in the bathroom, at John’s.
(gesturing off)
You were looking for him.

AMY
I’m Amy.

SOPHIA
Sophia.

AMY
Sophia?

SOPHIA
Sophia. So I guess you found him then.

AMY
Still looking. Strangely enough. I was just speaking to your friend. Or whatever he is.

SOPHIA
I knew he was here somewhere. I was just speaking to yours.

AMY
So he is here, I knew it.

(They regard one another sympathetically. They speak together.)

SOPHIA
You know, I don’t know if I should say this, but–.

AMY
I’m a little hesitant to bring it up, but–.

SOPHIA
Sorry, go ahead.

AMY
No, no, what were you going to say?

SOPHIA
No, you.

AMY
Well, I just can’t help thinking. You seem pretty bright and sane. Oh, really, never mind.

SOPHIA
(encouraging)
No, no, it’s totally okay. Go on.

AMY
Well, you know, it can be hard to extricate oneself from certain kinds of bad situations. Especially if the situation equals a relationship.

SOPHIA
I know what you’re saying. Sure. Exactly.

AMY
I mean a man who’s really, well, I shouldn’t say this. But crazy may be the word.

SOPHIA
I was going to say something but I didn’t know. I’m glad you did.
(sympathetic)
He is kind of nuts. And I know it can be hard to get out of that kind of thing.

AMY
(sympathetic)
It can help to talk to someone who’s outside it all, yes?

SOPHIA
(encouraging)
You just have to think about you first.

AMY
(encouraging)
That’s right, that’s brave.

(Each waits for the other to begin.)

SOPHIA
What’s really cool is you don’t mind talking about your problem.

AMY
I just sensed you’d appreciate an objective ear. Excuse me?

SOPHIA
Because even admitting having a problem is a step. What?

AMY
We’re talking about your problem.

SOPHIA
You’re the one who’s with that crazy person. I was trying to be supportive, but okay, fine.

AMY
But you’re the one who’s with the crazy person.

SOPHIA
Oh, I’ve so had it with this!

AMY
You’ve had it? I’ve had it!

(SOPHIA goes to the stage-right door, AMY to the stage-left door. They open the doors and call at the same time.)

AMY and SOPHIA
John!

(They stare at each other.)

AMY
Let me get something straight.

SOPHIA
Let me ask you one thing.

AMY and SOPHIA
You’re not with Ambrose.

(Silence.)

AMY and SOPHIA
You’re with John.

AMY
John is fucking around on me with you. How unthreatening.

SOPHIA
John’s cheating with you? Ew.

AMY
But wait, last night, when I came to John’s apartment, you were hiding in the bathroom, but you were there with Ambrose! You’re seeing both of them? Revolting!

SOPHIA
You actually came and saw John while I was right there, in the apartment, in the bathroom! Gross! Wait, what? Ambrose? Me with Ambrose? Bullshit, I just met Ambrose a minute ago.

AMY
Sorry, that won’t fly, because I met Ambrose last night in John’s apartment, when you were there too, in the bathroom.

SOPHIA
I was with John last night when you came over!

AMY
No, that wasn’t John when I came over. That was Ambrose!

(Silence.)

AMY
I just had a thought.

SOPHIA
So did I.

(Silence.)

AMY
That was John?

SOPHIA
What makes me think there even is an Ambrose?

AMY
There’s an Ambrose because where else has John been all those nights he wasn’t with me.

(Silence.)

AMY and SOPHIA
Oh!

SOPHIA
Asshole!

AMY
Bastard!

SOPHIA
Asshole!

AMY
Shithead!

SOPHIA
Asshole!

AMY
Schmuck! I am going to break his kneecaps.

(The screen shakes once.)

AMY
What was that?

SOPHIA
I’m going tear him limb from limb.

(The screen shakes a few times.)

SOPHIA
What the hell is that?

AMY
I am going to cut his balls off.

(The screen shakes violently without stopping. AMY and SOPHIA approach the screen. Together they pull it. The screen falls forward and lands on the floor, revealing JOHN, crouching on the floor, head down, hands over his head, shaking.)

AMY
Oh, please, John.

SOPHIA
Oh, give it up!

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
They’re gonna cut my balls  off, and you won’t even help me!

AMY
It’s time to start talking.

SOPHIA
Just try to bullshit your way out of this.

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
If I was grown up I’d show them! And you too!

AMY
Why won’t you talk!

SOPHIA
You’re so full of shit!

JOHN
I need to grow up, I need to grow up, how can I grow up!

SOPHIA
Fine, John. Just fine. That’s it.

AMY
You’ve made your point. The hint is finally taken.

JOHN
Hey, I know!

AMY and SOPHIA
Goodbye, John.

(JOHN rises and grabs the shotgun from its peg on the wall.)

JOHN
Yes!

AMY
John, for God’s sake, put that down.

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
Too bad if I’m not allowed. Too bad if it’s yours. I had to take it, and what are you going to do about it? You never do anything, do you. All you ever do is watch.

(JOHN pulls off the fatigue jacket, revealing bare chest. He pulls a bandanna-headband out of a pocket and puts it on his head. Holding the gun “broken” over one arm, he moves around the room, checking out the environment in the stealthy, practiced fashion of a guerrilla fighter. He has lost the ten-year-old manner)

AMY
John, what are you doing–.

JOHN
Quiet!

AMY
You can’t keep changing who you are every time you get caught.

JOHN
Didn’t I just tell you to be quiet?

AMY
You can’t!

(JOHN goes to AMY and SOPHIA and hits SOPHIA in the face. SOPHIA drops to her knees. AMY kneels beside SOPHIA. They rise together and run for the door. JOHN blocks their way. They duck and go down again, looking up at JOHN.)

JOHN
You walk around like human beings, but it takes nothing to shut you up. You can start by closing your mouths when I tell you to.
(to AMY)
Is that clear? You, the noisy one, is that clear? Or she gets it again.

AMY
All right!

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
There’s no trick to any of this. Is there.
(to AMY and SOPHIA)
Because survival in this wilderness will require a certain level of discipline.

AMY
John. Stop.

JOHN
You can at least see where you are, can’t you? You can see the sunset.

AMY
Sunset?

SOPHIA
He’s lost it, he’s not faking.

JOHN
You can feel the cold. You can see the ice. The cliff. I’m on the mountaintop at last.

AMY
(rising, touching JOHN)
None of that’s here.

SOPHIA
Amy.

AMY
(to JOHN)
You have to stop. You have to try and think.

JOHN
What do you think you’re doing.

AMY
Do you know me? John.

JOHN
You want to breed, don’t you. That’s what filth does, breed.

AMY
Stop. John.

JOHN
You want me to slip into the muck. The spongy, gassy swamp. My skin bloom with warts and flaps and coils and sprout like a lawn. Mushrooms popping out my eyes.

AMY
You’ve got to try to stop.

JOHN
I’ll be petrified wood, getting hollower and lighter all the time.

AMY
Stop it!

JOHN
I’ll be deaf, I’ll be blind, I won’t know where I am. That’s what you want.

(JOHN swings the barrel upward until it joins the stock with a loud click and the gun is straight, pointing at AMY.)

JOHN
But I do know where I am. On the mountaintop, by the cliff, in the snow and ice, at last.

(AMY holds the gun barrel in her hand.)

AMY
No.

(JOHN jams the barrel into AMY’s belly. She continues holding the barrel.)

JOHN
I’ll blow you open.

AMY
No.
(to JOHN, but looking at SOPHIA)
Just stop.

JOHN
I am going to shoot you, and I am going to do it now.

(With JOHN distracted, SOPHIA moves behind him.)

AMY
No.

JOHN
I’m taking the safety off.

AMY
Don’t.

JOHN
I did.

AMY
No!

JOHN
Now!

SOPHIA
No!

(SOPHIA jumps and wrenches the gun away from JOHN.)

SOPHIA
You crazy fuck, I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you!

(SOPHIA and AMY stumble away from JOHN, SOPHIA still holding the gun. JOHN turns away from them. He looks out at THE AUDIENCE in anguish.

The room fades away, replaced by a snowy clearing near an icy cliff-edge, just after a winter sunset. A few stars and the crescent moon are visible in the sky. The trunk and screen remain where they were, now surrounded by the snowy evening scene.)

SOPHIA
What’s happening!

AMY
What happened to the light!

SOPHIA
It’s cold. This is snow!

AMY
It happened when you took the gun!

(SOPHIA throws the gun down. JOHN still stares at THE AUDIENCE.)

SOPHIA
This can’t be real.

AMY
But it’s happening to both of us.

SOPHIA
I don’t know if you’re here!

AMY
I’m here!

SOPHIA
This must just be happening to me! In my head!

AMY
No, I’m here!

SOPHIA
How do I know that!

AMY
So how do I know! Oh. I see your point.

(AMY and SOPHIA reach for each other.

The sun sets. Clouds begin to cover the moon and stars.

Abruptly JOHN grins and shrugs.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
All right, I think that’s about it. Thank you. That’s the end. Thank you very much!

(He bows with a flourish and steps backward into the darkness and disappears. AMY and SOPHIA have continued hugging.)

AMY
You feel real.

SOPHIA
Yeah, but.

AMY
Don’t think.

SOPHIA
How can I not think!

AMY
Just look at me and talk.

SOPHIA
Okay.

AMY
We have to make some kind of decision. But don’t think! Talk.

SOPHIA
You’re warm anyway.

AMY
You’re warmer than me. How’s your mouth?

SOPHIA
Hurts.

AMY
Come on.

SOPHIA
Come on where.

AMY
Away from whatever this is. This mountain. That crazy place he was describing. Don’t think!

SOPHIA
Wait. Where is he?

AMY
That cliff is icy. Maybe he fell?

(JOHN re-enters.)

JOHN
(to AMY and SOPHIA, sotto voce)
Hey, girls, that’s it. It’s the end.

(HE smiles at THE AUDIENCE and bows again. AMY and SOPHIA don’t see him.)

AMY
Don’t think. Let’s go.

JOHN
(sotto voce)
What the hell is this, girls, we got people out there.

SOPHIA
Shouldn’t we take some stuff?

AMY
I don’t know. Yes.

JOHN
I’m gonna fire you for this. It’s over now!

SOPHIA
(putting items from the trunk into the backpack)
Backpack. Sleeping bag. Tent. Rope. Cooking stuff. Matches, good! A compass . . .

(She studies the compass.)

AMY
What?

SOPHIA
The needle. It’s just spinning.

(She throws the compass back into the trunk.)

JOHN
You’re making me look bad here, girls, very bad…

(SOPHIA puts on the backpack.)

AMY
Let’s go.

SOPHIA
Which way?

AMY and SOPHIA
Away from the cliff.

(AMY and SOPHIA come down from the stage into the house and peer around.)

JOHN
(full voice)
Okay, that’s it. Give me some lights. Lights! Now! Lights!

(Stage lights come way up. The clearing disappears. The stage is revealed as a stage, the back wall visible.)

JOHN
House lights too!

(House lights come up.)

JOHN
Now, what the hell’s happening here, ladies?

AMY
(peering up the aisle)
It’s so dark.

SOPHIA
It’s going to be even darker when we get out of this clearing.

AMY
We have to just start.

JOHN
It’s time for the main act. What are you doing?

(SOPHIA and AMY hold hands and begin walking carefully up the aisle toward the back of the house.)

AMY
Are we going uphill?

SOPHIA
It’s going to get totally dark now. Be careful. These trees are close together.

AMY
Light a match.

SOPHIA
It’s better to get used to the dark.

AMY
I have no interest in getting used to the dark.

SOPHIA
We should save matches.

(AMY and SOPHIA reach the back of the house.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
I’ll work this out, you’ll get what you came for, don’t worry.
(to AMY and SOPHIA)
Hey! Girls! Very funny but come on! I’m gonna lose the people here!
(to THE AUDIENCE)
This’ll be the best thing you’ve ever seen, no matter what.

(JOHN strips off his sweats and bandanna. He’s wearing only an acrobat’s jockstrap. He’s ripped.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
Gotta love it so far, right?
(To AMY and SOPHIA)
All right! I’m ready to start! Can we cut the crap!

SOPHIA
You know? There’s kind of a trail going in there.

AMY
No.

SOPHIA
Look.

AMY
Light a match!

SOPHIA
(lighting a match)
It is a trail. It’s narrow, but the snow’s all packed down and it’s not as deep. Someone’s come through here before us.

AMY
It must go somewhere.

SOPHIA
(shaking out the match)
Downhill! Cool.

JOHN
Damn it, this is getting embarrassing!

AMY
Do you hear something?

JOHN
It’s time to get up here and get dressed!
(to THE AUDIENCE)
Or undressed, if you know what I mean . . .
(to AMY and SOPHIA)
Because the people are anxious to meet you, ladies…
(to THE AUDIENCE)
Chick artistes. Like I needed this today.

SOPHIA
Oh man, what if it’s John, what if he fell, what if he’s lying down there!

AMY
It’s just branches, in the wind. Don’t think.

SOPHIA
I say we go real slow, without matches, and see if we can stay on the trail.

AMY
Stay on the trail. I like that.

JOHN
(yelling)
I got a show to do here!

SOPHIA
Ready?

AMY
Are you?

SOPHIA
Scared?

AMY
Yes. Cold?

SOPHIA
Yes.

AMY and SOPHIA
Let’s go home.

(Exit AMY and SOPHIA at the back of the house.)

JOHN
(yelling after them)
You dumb bitches, this whole show’s all me, I pulled you up outta the gutter, without me you’re garbage, you’re nada–!
(cajoling)
Hey, come on now, what did I do? Come on. That was a prologue, that was just a comedy teaser, you get too involved. Now you got me questioning your professionalism! I gotta wonder, girls: where’s your sense of humor! Take a joke!
(to THE AUDIENCE)
Look, it’s not like they’re a big part of the act, I’m the act, I’m the show, believe me. I’ll be honest with you, this is for the best. Lately I’ve been feeling a little bit held back. I was going have to let them go anyway, quite frankly, actually tonight, as a matter of fact, right after the show. So they were history anyway. I can handle this alone, no problem. Where’s my screen?

(He picks up the screen and stands it up.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
It’s useful for exits. Now to clean up this mess . . .

(He picks up his clothes and stuffs them in the trunk, then pushes the trunk behind the screen.)

JOHN
(to THE AUDIENCE)
The costumes might come in handy later. You people have no idea what I can do with just a screen and a few scraps. Like I need a supporting cast. You’re about to have the time of your life. Believe me.
(grabbing his crotch)
Unh! Okay? Now don’t go away!

(He turns, gets a running start, and performs a cartwheel that carries him out of sight behind the screen.

Stage and house lights fade.

One light holds on the screen.

BLACKOUT.)

END OF PLAY