Thursday, December 25, 2008

Caller on the Line: a short play

A short theatre piece. I saw it produced in late 2007 and was surprised at how well it worked. It was also published here.


Cast of Characters

Stan: an executive

Mom: Stan’s mother

Sarah: a secretary, offstage



Scene

Stan’s office.

Time

The present.

SETTING: An office with a desk.

AT RISE: STAN sits at the desk, working on a laptop computer. He drinks amber liquid from a liquor glass. A telephone sits on one corner of the desk. It rings. STAN presses a button on the phone.

SARAH
Mister Garland.

STAN
Yeah, Sarah.
SARAH
I have your mother on line one.

(Stan does not respond.)

SARAH
Mister Garland?

STAN
Yeah. I’m here.

SARAH
Should I go ahead and take a message?

(STAN pauses, then sighs.)

STAN
No. Go ahead, put her through.

(STAN presses phone button.)

STAN (awkwardly)
Yeah, Ma. Hey!

(A spotlight illuminates MOM, stage left. She is sitting in an armchair with a phone in her lap.)


MOM
Your father’s circling the drain.

(STAN yawns and leans back.)

STAN
Do what, now?

MOM
Your father. He’s circling the drain. Pulling the dirt in over him. Giving up the ghost. You know?

STAN
Are you trying to say he’s dying?

MOM (sarcastically)
You always were my brightest boy, Stanny.

STAN
Yeah, so what’s the old bastard’s problem this time? Ebola? Black plague? Alien anal probe? What?

MOM
He’s in the hospital.

STAN
So he’s graduated from daily doctor visits to inpatient mode? Way to go, Dad!

MOM
He’s decided to starve himself to death. Just decided it was a good idea, you know?
(long pause)
Stanny? You still there?

STAN (stunned, quiet)
Yeah, Ma. Yeah. I’m here.
(long pause; laughs awkwardly)
Well, you have to give him credit. It’s original. The old man thinks he’s Gandhi, or what?

MOM
Have you been drinking, Stanny?

STAN
No, Ma. No. I’m good. Just real tired is all.


MOM
OK. Because you sound like you’ve been drinking, and it’s only two in the afternoon, is why I’m asking.

STAN (a bit peeved)
I’m clean and sober, Ma. Cross my heart and hope to die. OK?

MOM
OK, that’s good. But like I was saying about your father, it’s like he’s set his mind to it, you know? I mean, it’s not like there’s anything wrong with him.
(pause)
He just decided to go ahead and starve himself to death. Just like that.

STAN
Yeah, OK. So why are you of all people breaking a sweat over it?

MOM
I’m not. I just always seem to wind up getting stuck playing messenger boy between your dear old father and you kids every time he does one of his little psychodramas. Why the hell is that, Stanny?

STAN (chuckles)
Simple, Ma. You’re the only one that’ll still take his calls. The rest of us got call screening.

MOM (after awkward pause)
Do you think you should give him a call, Stanny?

STAN (evasively)
No. What for?

MOM
I don’t know. Sort out any unfinished business? Try and penetrate that thick skull of his? Tell him to stop being so melodramatic? Whatever?
(long pause)
Do you think maybe you should call him? Are you there, Stan?

STAN
No.

MOM
No, you’re not there? Could’ve fooled me.

STAN
No, I don’t think I should call him.

MOM
Ah. OK.
(awkward pause)
I mean I’m not saying you should or anything, I’m the last person who’d say any of you should give your father the time of day, you know? I just figured, you know, because of how everything went, and how it all ended up, that –-

STAN
Like I said. I don’t think I should call him.

MOM
Why not?

STAN (after long pause)
Because I don’t think I should call him, that’s all. It’s not complicated. Look, Ma. We both know that as soon as the old man realizes his little drama routine isn’t going to make him the center of attention, he’ll get bored with the whole thing and get back to drinking his Scotch and smoking his smokes and flashing that million-dollar smile.

MOM
I don’t think so. No, I don’t think so this time. I really do believe he means to do it. He seems, I can’t explain it exactly, it’s almost like he’s relieved somehow, like he’s okay with it.

STAN
Come on, Ma. You can’t possibly think he’s serious.





MOM
Stanny, you know how his mind works, if anybody does. I sure as hell never did. Took me a long time to figure that one out, let me tell you. It’s like this. Your father’s going to starve himself to death because he doesn’t have an audience anymore. It’s like your father’s not even there when there’s no people around.
(long pause)
Looking back, I really do think it’s always been that way. Always. If he walks into an empty room, it’s like it’s still empty.
(pause)
You there, Stanny?

STAN (quietly)
Yeah, Ma.

MOM
What? I can’t even hear you, Stanny.

STAN
Yeah, Ma. I’m still here.
(sighs)
And like I said, I don’t think I should call him, that’s all.

MOM
Listen, I’m telling you, Stanny, you need to be the one to call him. It needs to be you. You need to call your father up and you need to tell him it’s wrong. Tell him it’s selfish and melodramatic, and tell him it’s just wrong! He’ll listen to you. If the idiot ever listened to anybody, he listened to you.

STAN (quietly)
I can’t do that to him, Ma.

MOM
God damn these phones! Are you sure you don’t have me on speaker? What did you say?

STAN (louder)
I said, I can’t do that to him, Ma.


MOM
What? Do what ‘to’ him? What are you talking about?

STAN
He decided, Ma. I’m not going to take that away from him. He decided. He did. I’m not going to help him be weak again, now that he’s finally decided. I won’t do that to him.

MOM
What the hell do you mean? You are making no sense to me, Stanny.
(pause)
You are drunk, aren’t you?

STAN (quiet, bitter)
Not yet, I’m not.

MOM
No, I didn’t get any of that. Can you hear me? Stupid phones. Hello?

STAN (almost to himself)
Judge, jury, and executioner. I can’t tell him he’s wrong to be any of those things.

MOM
Look, Stanny, you’re talking insane, you know what I mean? What the hell is this ‘I can’t tell him he’s wrong’ crap? What is that supposed to mean? Yes, you can! You sure can tell him, and you’re going to, you’re going to call him and tell him not to do this. Tell him he’s wrong to do this, God damn it!

STAN (after long pause)
I can’t, Ma. I can’t. (Long pause) Because he’s not wrong, Ma. He’s never been less wrong about
anything in his whole sorry-ass life. Leave it be, Ma. Leave him be. He needs to do this, and he’s right to do this. He’s been waiting most of his life to do this. Just waiting around trying to work up the guts to finally do it and get it over with. The best thing we can do is leave him alone to do this one thing right. Please, Ma.

MOM
Stan.
(pause)
Stan, listen. Please. You have to save him. Stan?
(long pause)
Did I lose you?

STAN (quietly)
I am saving him, Ma.

MOM
I can’t hear you, damn it. I told you a long time ago that these new high-tech phones aren’t worth a damn.

STAN
Yeah, Ma, look. I got calls stacked up like crazy here, and I’m five minutes late for a pretty important meeting. I really do have to get off this phone and get to work.

MOM
Stanny –-

STAN
Love you, Ma. Look, I got to go. I’ll call you later in the month, I think your birthday is coming up soon, I’ll call you then, you know?

MOM (quietly)
It was four weeks ago.

STAN (laughs awkwardly)
Ah, yeah. Damn it. You know me, I’m an airhead about that stuff. I’ll swing by the mall
and get you something nice for your birthday on the way home tonight.

MOM
Get your secretary to swing by, you mean.

STAN
Ma, look, they’re all standing right outside my office and I’m holding up all these people, so I have to go like right now. Bye, love you.


(STAN pushes the button to hang up. Spotlight over Mom immediately fades to black. Stan sits at his desk, staring, for a long time. STAN presses button on phone.)

STAN
Sarah? What’s my calendar look like for the rest of the day?

SARAH
You have the weekly download meeting in fifteen minutes, then the Mid-Atlantic forecast briefing from four to five-thirty.

STAN
Cancel them all, will you?

SARAH (after long pause)
Sure. No problem. Is everything okay?
(long pause)
Mister Garland?

STAN
Yeah, I’m good. Couldn’t be better. I’m just thinking I’ll take off early today. You’ll take care of all that for me, right?

SECRETARY
Of course. I’ve got you covered. You take it easy for the rest of the day, okay?

STAN (small smile)
Yeah. I will.

(Stan packs laptop in briefcase, drains his drink and exits SL.)


(BLACKOUT)

(THE END)

2 comments:

Kelvin Oliver said...

Greetings, hope you had a wonderful Christmas and celebrated this NEW year in style!

CrustyPolemicist said...

And same to you, Kevin. Great to see you here. btw, I'll be spending the majority of my time (and putting the majority of my future posts) at StephenJGallagher.blogspot.com. Things are heating up a bit, writing career wise, so I need a "respectable" blog to show to potential agents etc. Have no fear, my paint-peeling blog entries will continue to be posted here. ;-)