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Walter’s New York Denouement

An exclusive restaurant in Manhattan.

Tess Adams, eighty-three, a legendary actress, is dining with Arthur Fields, a very successful actor in his late thirties. They have just been seated. Their waiter, Walter, an actor playwright in his thirties, comes to take their order.

Walter: Good evening Tess. How are you?

Tess: I’m fine, Walter. This is Arthur Fields, as I’m sure you know. Arthur, this is Walter, the best waiter I’ve ever had, and as you know I’ve had many excellent waiters.

Arthur: Pleased to meet you. (frowns) I know you, don’t I? Did you work at another restaurant in Manhattan before this one?

Walter: No, I’ve only worked here. Ten years now. I think you know me from my play. Funny You Should Mention It.

Arthur: Oh my God. The play that made me. You’re Walter Iverson. Now I see you. How great to see you again. And thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing your marvelous play. Changed my life beyond my wildest imaginings, and in the best of ways.

Walter: I had longer hair back then and no glasses and no mustache.

 Arthur: I remember, and I also remember you said very little during rehearsals, though whenever you did say something, it was spot on. I had no idea you were a waiter. I had you living in France, writing your next masterpiece.

Walter: Thank you for having me there. Sounds divine.

Tess: You wrote Funny You Should Mention It, Walter? Why didn’t you tell me?

Walter: Never came up.

Arthur: (to Tess) I’m not exaggerating when I say his play made me. (to Walter) That was your first play, wasn’t it? Surely you’ve written others.

Walter: Several. In fact, I thought you’d been sent the two I wrote especially for you. Or so my agent told me.

Arthur: Never got them. I’ve been in LA and London most of the last seven years. A few weeks into the run of your play everything just exploded for me, and things haven’t calmed down since.

Walter: Well deserved.

Arthur: Thank you. I would love to read the plays you wrote for me, and any others you’ve got.

Walter: I could ask my agent to try again, though that didn’t seem to work the first time.

Arthur: Who’s your agent?

Walter: Natalie James.

Arthur: Ah. Well let’s not worry about her until I read your plays and want to option them. Can you bring them by our apartment? I’ll give you the address and my phone number and we’ll hook up.

Tess: I’d love to see your plays, too, Walter. Any parts for me?

Walter: I always write parts for you.

Tess: Then do bring me copies when I come next week.

Walter: I will. And now to the business at hand. We have two fabulous specials tonight.

Tess: Oh just do as you always do. You know what I like. I’m giving Arthur supper, so do as you always do.

Walter: (to Arthur) I’ll be bringing red wine. Will that be satisfactory for you?

Arthur: Whatever Tess says.

Walter: (bows) I shall return.

Walter exits.

Arthur: That man is a genius. Did you ever get to see Funny You Should Mention It?

Tess: Three times. Best thing I’d seen in years and years, and there’s been nothing as good since, except maybe Mavis Appleton’s Hamlet which was great fun, though certainly nothing new. I wonder why Walter’s agent didn’t send you his plays.

Arthur: God I hope he’s not on somebody’s shit list.

Tess: I hope not, too. He’s the sweetest person.

Walter returns with a bottle of red wine, which he opens and pours for both of them to taste.

Tess: (after her taste) Splendid.

Arthur: (after his taste) Fantastic. I’ll want to get a case of that.

Walter: (filling their glasses) I shall write down the particulars for you.

Arthur: Thank you. (drinks) So whet my appetite, Walter. What are the plays you wrote for me about?

Walter: The first one, which I finished about a year after you starred in my play, is called Café Epiphany. It’s about an Episcopal minister who loses his faith, and in the depths of despair decides to open a coffee house in a forsaken neighborhood. This precipitates a gathering of oddballs, romance ensues, and our hero’s faith is reborn.

Arthur: Sounds fantastic. Can you bring it by tomorrow?

Walter: As early as you say.

Tess: What about the other one?

Walter: The other one is called Lover of Love. It’s a comedy of sorts, but serious, too. About a happily married couple. Or so it seems until the husband – the part I wrote for you, Arthur – discovers his wife has two lovers, a man and a woman who are as unaware of each other and the husband, as the husband was unaware of them. Without telling his wife’s lovers who he is, the husband manages to meet both of them, and eventually the four convene for a roller coaster second act with a surprising denouement.

Arthur: I can’t wait to read them. Ellen and I have been hunting for years to find a good new play to do together.

Walter: I have three others I think you’d like, too.

Arthur: Bring us all your plays. Please.

Tess: (gazes at Walter) And to think for all this time I never knew what you did besides wait on me.

The lights dim to darkness.

The lights come back up on the spacious living room of a two-bedroom Manhattan apartment. Larry, an actor in his thirties, is sitting on the sofa, gazing into his laptop computer. The apartment door opens and Walter enters, home from his restaurant job.

Larry: (looks up from his computer) You look exultant. Did you meet someone marvelous? Get a call back?

Walter: No. (hangs his coat by the door) But I waited on Tess Adams as I do every Thursday, and her guest tonight was none other than Arthur Fields.

Larry: Oh my God, I love him. He’s so hot, and he’s in absolutely everything these days. And he’s married to Ellen Coleman who is beyond anything. Do you think he’s gay?

Walter: (puts a kettle on for tea) I gave up guessing long ago, Larry. Wrong too many times. Vincent would know at a glance, but not I.

Larry: Speaking of Vincent, he called from Des Moines about a half-hour ago, desperate to speak to you. Says he aches for Manhattan. Poor dear. Stuck in the hinterlands.

Walter: (sits in an armchair) I’ll call him in a little while. How was the show tonight?

Larry: Brutal as ever. There’s a reason all the other dancers are in their early twenties and not in their mid-thirties like yours truly. Two hours of hip-hop anymore is about ninety minutes too many for me. I have to do the play twenty-seven more times, and then I must take a break or I may never walk again.

Walter: Maybe you should stop now. You don’t want to injure yourself.

Larry: I can’t break the contract. I must stay in good with the casting director. She loves that I’m older. I know I can get through twenty-seven more shows. I have to. And then I’ll pray the next time she wants me, there’s much more singing and much less dancing.

Walter gets up to make tea.

Walter: Want some tea?

Larry: (gets up) No, I’m gonna crash. See you in the morning.

Walter: Sleep well.

Larry: Oh I will. Like the dead.

Larry exits and Walter carries the phone to the dining room table where he sets down his mug of tea and dials Vincent’s number. Vincent is Walter’s former apartment mate, an actor who lived in New York for seventeen years before moving to Iowa to teach high school Drama.

Walter: Vincent. Walter. (listens) What’s going on? (listens) Good old Diary of Anne Frank. A high school favorite. (listens) Oh don’t worry about that. Please, Vincent. You’ll pay me back some day. I’m fine. Take your time. (listens) I mean it, Vincent. I’m fine. Please don’t worry about the money. All in good time. (listens) You’re welcome. (listens) Well… no. Not dating anyone. Almost done with the second draft of Little Giant Changes. Thank you for your notes. They were very helpful. Oh and you’ll like this. Tonight I waited on Tess Adams, and her guest was none other than Arthur Fields. (listens) Yes. Gorgeous as ever. And guess what? He never got my plays. Proclaimed to Tess that Funny You Should Mention It made his career. (listens) Yes. And he wants to read Café Epiphany and Lover of Love and all the others, too. (listens) No, I’m gonna hand deliver them. Either Natalie never sent them or Arthur’s agent didn’t pass them on to him. (listens) Who knows? (listens) I’m trying not to be paranoid, but the longer I’m in this business, the harder it is not to think something is very rotten in Denmark, AKA Manhattan. (listens) That’s a lovely thought, me being on the faculty in Des Moines with you, but if I give up here I’m moving to the left coast. (listens) No, not LA again. (listens) I don’t know. A small town where I can be in plays and experience this thing I’ve heard about called quiet. (laughs) I love you, too. Sleep well.

The lights fade to darkness.

When the lights come up again, we are in the office of Walter’s agent, Natalie James. Natalie, a woman in her fifties, is sitting at her desk, Walter sitting across from her.

Natalie: I’m glad you called, Walter, because I’ve been meaning to have you come in and sign documents to formally terminate our representation agreement.

Walter: (stunned) Why do you want to terminate our agreement?

Natalie: It’s been seven years since you had a new play produced, and though Funny You Should Mention It still gets a few small productions every year, we just think it’s time to clear some space. Any future residuals from your play will go directly to you, and we will no longer take twenty per cent.

Walter: And the seven subsequent plays I gave you to shop for me?

Natalie: We will have nothing further to do with those plays. All rights reverting to you. We have a box for you at the front desk with all the copies we had on hand.

Walter: May I ask when you stopped shopping them?

Natalie: I’m not sure what you mean.

Walter: How long ago did you stop sending my plays to actors and directors and producers and theatre companies?

Natalie: (invents something) Oh maybe a year ago. Two years? Not sure.

Walter: Why didn’t you tell me then?

Natalie: Well… because it wasn’t that I didn’t want to show them, there just wasn’t any interest in you.

Walter: And the plays I wrote for Arthur Fields? Did you ever send them to his agent as you said you would?

Natalie: That was eons ago, Walter. I’m sure I did.

Walter: Well… so be it. Bring forth the termination documents.

Natalie: Denise will take care of you at the front desk. I’m just swamped. Good luck.

Walter walks out of Natalie’s office as the lights fade to darkness.

As the lights come up, Arthur Fields ushers Walter into a swank living room.

Arthur: Sorry about the mess. We just got back from LA and we’re leaving for London in three days. Something to drink?

Walter: Coffee?

Arthur: Coming right up. (calls) Max? You there?

Max, a middle-aged British fellow, emerges from the kitchen.

Max: Yes, Arthur.

Arthur: Max, this is Walter Iverson. He wrote Funny You Should Mention It, the play that lifted me out of poverty and anonymity so I could hire you to take care of us.

Max: (to Walter) Very pleased to meet you. I saw the off West End production of your play at the Guinness and laughed until I cried. Brilliant.

Walter: Thank you. I went over for rehearsals to help translate the American English into British English, and I had a great time. Should have stayed over there.

Max: I went twice because I laughed so hard the first time, I missed half the lines. I’m surprised it didn’t jump to a bigger theatre and run for years. (to Arthur) What may I get for you?

Arthur: Coffee and something to nibble on, please.

Max: Right away.

Ellen Coleman, Arthur’s wife, a beauty in her thirties, enters from the hallway.

Ellen: (crossing the room to shake Walter’s hand) I’m Ellen.

Walter: A pleasure to meet you. I’m an ardent fan.

Ellen: As we are of your plays. They’re magnificent.

Arthur: They really are, Walter. We’ve been reading the scenes together every day for the last week, though we’re supposed to be learning our lines for the movie we’re making in England. Your lines, trust me, are immeasurably better.

Walter: I’m thrilled you like the plays.

Arthur: We love them. All of them. And especially the ones you wrote for me.

Ellen: Please. Sit down.

Walter sits on the sofa. Max enters with a tray bearing three coffee mugs and a plate of cookies, which he sets on the coffee table.

Arthur: (sits beside Walter) Thanks Max.

Max exits. Ellen hands a mug to Walter, a mug to Arthur, and takes the last mug for herself.

Walter: I appreciate your taking the time to see me, and I’m ecstatic you love the plays.

Arthur: I wish I could say we were going to produce them, which we would love to do, but we can’t because… (looks at Ellen) there’s a problem.

Walter: I thought there might be, given my recent dismissal by my agent, though what the problem is I can’t imagine.

Ellen: Your agent just ended things with you?

Walter: A few days ago.

Ellen: I wonder why she waited so long?

Walter: What do you mean?

Arthur: Walter, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but according to everyone we’ve spoken to… and we talked to several very well-connected people, you’ve been persona non grata in the biz for at least five years now. No one knows why, but apparently you are toxic.

Walter: Toxic. As in poisonous?

Arthur: As in not to be associated with.

Walter: (in shock) For the last five years?

Ellen: I’m so sorry, Walter. It’s sickening, but… it’s what happens sometimes. We know several other people this has happened to, though none of them had written seven plays we’d love to produce, but… we can’t.

Walter: (awareness dawning) Oh my God.

Ellen: Remembering something?

Walter: Five years ago I was cast in a leading role in Martin Veld’s new play, Never Friends.

Arthur: Huge hit. Soon to be a movie. Which part?

Walter: Milton. The bartender. My big break as an actor. And three days before opening night, I was fired. No explanation given. I was wrecked for months. And when I climbed out of my depression, I called Susan Volk… you know Susan. She produced Funny You Should Mention It. And she said she’d call me right back, but she never did. And when I called her again the next day, her secretary took my number, but I never heard from her. And Desmond Jones, who I thought was my great friend after he was in my play with you, he wouldn’t talk to me either. I thought it was because he’d become too big a star to associate with little me, but maybe not.

Arthur: He’s one of the people we called.

Walter: What did he say?

Arthur: He said he was told by his agent to have nothing to do with you or he would regret it.

Walter: But why? All I’ve ever done is write plays and audition for parts and… (muses) No wonder except for a summer stock gig in Maine, there’s been nothing for five years. Nothing. And I didn’t do anything wrong. I know I didn’t.

Ellen: I’m sure you didn’t, Walter, but it just takes one person in a position of power to turn against you, and you can be knocked out of the running forever.

Walter: Someone who doesn’t even know me? Why would they do something like that?

Arthur: The people we spoke to have no idea why you were blacklisted. And they looked into it for us because we love these plays and wanted to know if there was any way we could make things right again for you, but that’s apparently not possible.

Walter: So I’ve been blacklisted for no reason except… I’m me?

Arthur: Maybe someone was offended by your play. Or maybe someone was enemies with someone who was involved in the production of your play, and when the play was a success, they took revenge on you. Or maybe someone resents you for succeeding with your play without paying your dues. You did come out of nowhere, and the entrenched ones hate that, especially if you didn’t use the opportunity of your success to make nice with those above you.

Ellen: Or maybe an ex-lover became lovers with one of these people and convinced them to punish you for jilting her.

Walter: I’ve never jilted anyone.

Ellen: Or so you think.

Walter: Who are these people who have so much power? Don’t you have power? You’re two of the most famous actors in the world.

Ellen: We are tiny fish in this sea of sharks.

Arthur: Bit actors in the larger play.

Ellen: And the person or people who did this to you live on the highest floors of the castle. So far above us we will never know who most of them are. And the few we do know, we are oh socareful never to offend them.

Arthur: Else they will do to us what they did to you.

Walter: I don’t want to believe this is true, though if it is, everything that’s happened to me in the last five years makes perfectly horrible sense. So let’s say it is true. That no one will read my plays or give me a part. Any advice as I’m about to turn thirty-five?

Arthur: Get out of town. And that includes LA and London. Find a good place to live, write your plays, and some years from now try again when the dust has settled and your enemies may have forgotten why they hated you.

Walter takes a last sip of coffee and stands up.

Walter: I hope I haven’t compromised you by coming here.

Arthur: (gets up) If anyone asks, we’ll say we were celebrating the eight-year anniversary of the production of your marvelous play that made me. For which I will be forever grateful.

Walter: As I will be forever grateful knowing you loved what I wrote for you, and that my plays were worthy of a larger audience despite the intercession of the evil ones.

Ellen: Walter?

Walter: Yes?

Ellen: Your plays are more than worthy. They’re works of genius. And it breaks our hearts we can’t bring them to the world.

fin     

Unrequited piano solo by Todd

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Walter Demolished

The spacious living room and kitchen of a two-bedroom Manhattan apartment. Walter, an actor and writer in his early thirties, is sitting at the kitchen table writing a play. He comes to a stopping point, sets down his pen, and gets up to put a kettle on for tea. The apartment door opens. Vincent, Walter’s apartment mate, enters. Vincent is an actor in his late thirties.

Vincent: Mail call. Forgot my reading glasses and I’m useless at the shop with out them. (hands several pieces of mail to Walter) All for you. As usual.

Walter: Merci.

Vincent: (gets his reading glasses off the kitchen counter) How’s the writing going?

Walter: Good. (looks through the mail, stops at one of the letters) Oh my God. This looks like a check rather than a bill. From the Waxman Theatre in Milwaukee.

Vincent: (clasps his hands) Let us pray.

Walter: (opening the letter and extracting a check) Eight hundred and seventeen dollars and forty-two cents. My little play that keeps on giving.

Vincent: Congratulations.

Walter: Magic money. (frowns at another letter) What’s this?

Walter opens the envelope, extracts a single-page note, carries the note to the table, and sits down to read.

Vincent: Fan mail from some flounder?

Walter: (stunned) No.

Vincent: What is it?

Walter: (holds out the note to Vincent) Can’t be true.

Vincent reads the note and grimaces.

Vincent: This is just some crackpot who got hold of your address and thought he’d have some fun fucking with you.

Walter: Why would he do that?

Vincent: Who knows? The world is full of these creeps.

Walter: Would you read it to me? My vision blurred when I looked at it.

Vincent: Walter, listen to me. This is just some whacko, jealous of your success. Just let it go.

Walter: Did he sign it?

Vincent: Yes. Thomas. No last name.

Walter: (looks at envelope) No return address.

Vincent: Of course not. He doesn’t want to correspond. He wants to harass you. They’re called trolls, and they’re to be ignored at all costs.

Walter: Please read it to me.

Vincent: (reluctantly reading) Your girlfriend Maureen is unfaithful to you. Thomas. (shakes his head) Nonsense.

Walter: That should be illegal.

Vincent: It is. And if you get another one from him, we’ll go to the police. (sets the note on the table) I have to get back to the shop. You okay?

Walter: A bit rattled. I’ll survive.

Vincent: I wouldn’t even mention this to Maureen if I were you.

Walter: That will be difficult because she’ll be here any minute.

Vincent: Oh God, Walter. This is exactly what these psychos want. To fuck up your life. Just burn the stupid thing.

Walter: I probably will. Thanks. Walk safely.

Vincent: We gonna go out tonight and celebrate the massive residuals?

Walter: Thai food, at least.

Vincent: That’s the spirit. (goes out) Ciao.

Walter picks up the note and reads it again.

Walter: Just what I didn’t need.

Walter goes into the kitchen and restarts the kettle for tea. He’s getting out a couple mugs when the door opens. Maureen, a lovely woman in her thirties, enters with a bag of groceries.

Maureen: Hi Sweetheart.

Walter: Hey.

Maureen: I brought fish tacos for lunch. I’m starving. You?

Walter: Not starving, but definitely esurient.

Maureen sets the bag down and they embrace and kiss.

Maureen: Make love after lunch?

Walter: What a nice idea. Except… I’m a little preoccupied with something that just came in the mail.

Maureen: (concerned) What is it?

Walter: I think it’s just a crank note, but it upset me, so…

Maureen: May I see it?

Walter: (goes to the table to get the note) Came in the same mail with a little check for the Milwaukee production of Funny You Should Mention It.

Maureen: Well that’s good news.

She takes the note from him, reads it, closes her eyes, and sighs in exasperation.

Maureen: I’m so sorry about this, Walter. This is a guy I had a little fling with before you and I got together, and he’s been bothering me ever since. (opens her eyes) I’m so sorry he resorted to this.

Walter: Thomas who?

Maureen: No one you know.

Walter: He’s been bothering you for four years and you never told me about it?

Maureen: Not four years. More like two.

Walter: Two? But we’ve been together for four years. I gave you a key to this apartment four years ago when we vowed eternal love? Remember? After splendiferous sex? We had a kind of ersatz wedding ceremony?

Maureen: Of course I remember. We dated for two years, and been exclusive for two.

Walter: (sits down at the kitchen table) Forgive me, but… you’re Maureen, right? Maureen Silverstein. And I’m Walter Iverson. Is that your understanding of things?

Maureen: (comes and sits down near him) Sweetheart, it took me a little longer than you to fully commit. That’s all.

Walter: What are you talking about? We lay in my bed, four years ago, and vowed to be each other’s one and only. And we repeated that ritual hundreds of times. Starting four years ago. Now you’re telling me you slept with other people for the ensuing two years?

Maureen: Two other people. Ever so briefly. A three-day fling with this idiot Thomas while you were in London and… (hesitates) a little something with Francis.

Walter: Francis Hoffman? He who directed the staged reading of Funny You Should Mention It and then directed the Onyx Theatre production? Otherwise known as the world premiere of my play that ran for a hundred and seventy-three glorious nights? That Francis?

Maureen: Yes.

Walter: Was your little something with him before or after he directed my play?

Maureen: Before. Months before.

Walter: Did he read my play because you slept with him?

Maureen: (lying) No.

Walter: How could you not have told me about this?

Maureen: It happened, Walter. A long time ago. It’s not happening now. I’m only sleeping with you now. Francis and Thomas are ancient history. And so what if Francis did read your play because he and I had a little fling? He didn’t love your play because of that. He loved it because it’s a great play. And you’re a great playwright. And you and I love each other. Madly. And everything is fine now, despite this hideous attempt by Thomas to ruin our happiness two years after the fact.

Walter: I’m feeling a bit lightheaded. Maybe we should eat.

Maureen: Good idea. (jumps up and goes to get the tacos) I should have told you, Sweetheart, but they were so not important to me. Or to us. (puts tacos on plates) You want something to drink?

Walter: Not important to us. What does that mean?

Maureen: (brings the food to the table) They were momentary little meaningless flings. (goes to fetch water for them) Little nothings at the tail end of my days as a single person.

Maureen returns with glasses of water, sits down, and begins eating.

Walter: (unable to eat) Little nothings at the tail end of your days as a single person. The two-year tail end?

Maureen: Long ago.

Walter: The difficulty I’m having with your explanation is that I’ve been living with the belief that we were monogamously committed to each other for the last four years, and now you’re telling me that though I was monogamously committed to you, you were not so committed to me until two years ago, and my success, such as it is, is very likely the result of your not being monogamously committed to me. And though I don’t want to over-dramatize things, everything I believed we were to each other seems not to be the case. Seems, in fact, to be a charade.

Maureen: (finishes her mouthful) I understand why you feel that way, Sweetheart. But our relationship is not a charade. It’s a beautiful and very real thing. And I’m deeply committed to you. (gazes at him) This is just a misunderstanding. That’s all.

Walter: What am I misunderstanding?

Maureen: You think I cheated on you, and I didn’t. The misunderstanding is that you thought I was completely committed to you before I actually was. But now I am and have been for two years. So this seemingly new information is really very old news and has nothing to do with us now.

Walter: Then why does it feel like it has everything to do with now? Which is to say, I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to believe you or trust you again. (gazes at her) And I hope you know that my reaction to all this new old information has nothing to do with you having sex with them, and everything to do with you lying to me. You deceived me, Maureen. For two years.

Maureen: I never lied to you. I just didn’t tell you because it happened long before we were a full-blown couple, and because it was part of my process of getting to the point where I was ready to fully commit to you.

Walter: So you’re asking me to re-imagine two years of my life and two years of our relationship, in a way I find highly unpleasant, and then forget all about it? I can tell you right now I’m not capable of that.

Maureen: So what are you saying? I was supposed to be celibate before we got together?

Walter: Please don’t resort to that. Of course I knew you were sexually active up to the minute we became sexually active together, and you knew the same about me. And I was happy to know you were a sex loving person. Sex is good. But after we started banging, if I may use that quaint expression, you made innumerable declarations, as did I, of only wanting to sleep with each other and nobody else. Did I mistake your hyperbole for truth because my hyperbole was the truth? Or were your declarations, if you’ll pardon my French, balderdash? I mean… how can I ever again believe anything you tell me?

Maureen: I don’t know.

Walter: Just imagine if out of the blue you learned that I deceived you for the first two years of our relationship. Could you ever trust me again? And was it just the first two years? Why would Thomas write now? Is it maybe because you’ve had a few more little nothings more recently than two years ago? Have you?

Maureen: (long pause) Yes.

Maureen gets up, gets her purse, extracts her keys, removes Walter’s apartment key from the chain, and puts the key on the kitchen counter.

Maureen: (goes to the door) Regardless of what you think of me now, I love you and admire you. And I always will.

Maureen goes out the door and closes it gently. Walter sits without moving for a long time. Now, in a state of shock, he eats a fish taco.

fin

Broke My Heart piano solo

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Walter Breaks Down

The spacious living room and kitchen of a two-bedroom Manhattan apartment. Walter, an actor and playwright in his late twenties, is lying on the sofa under a comforter, staring at the ceiling. Walter has lived in New York for two years and has been ill for several weeks.

The building entrance intercom buzzes. Walter remains lying on the sofa. The buzzer sounds again. With a great effort Walter gets up, feels dizzy, and sits down. The buzzer sounds a third time, and with a supreme effort, Walter goes to the door and clicks on the intercom.

Walter: Who is it?

Maureen: It’s me.

Walter: Oh hi.

He buzzes her in, opens the door a crack, and returns to the sofa. A few moments later, Maureen, Walter’s girlfriend, an actress dancer in her thirties, arrives with two bulging grocery bags. She sets them on the kitchen counter, hangs up her coat, and closes the door. Now she puts a kettle on for tea and starts putting away the groceries.

Maureen: How are you feeling today, Sweetheart?

Walter: Same. Weak. Tired. Every time I start to fall asleep, I start coughing. Forgot your key?

Maureen: No. It’s somewhere in my purse. I just didn’t have a free hand to look for it, and I forgot it was hard for you to get up. Sorry.

Walter: Not a problem.

Maureen: I made you some fabulous chicken soup. Lots of garlic to cure what ails you.

Walter: Would that it were so simple.

Maureen gets a quart jar of chicken soup out of a grocery bag, pours the soup into a pan, and sets the pan on the stove. Now she comes to Walter, feels his forehead, sits beside him, and holds his hand.

Maureen: Sweetheart, don’t you think maybe you should see the doctor again?

Walter: Why? The genius said there was nothing wrong with me, when there obviously is.

Maureen: That was three weeks ago. You’re not eating. You’re not sleeping. This is crazy. I want to make an appointment for you. Okay?

Walter: Okay.

Maureen goes to check on the soup.

Maureen: I heard from Francis today. He wants to share some notes with you before the reading. In case you want to make any changes. He said he’d be happy to come here to work with you.

Walter: I don’t have the strength to talk to him.

Maureen: (exasperated) Walter. You can talk to him for a little while. This is your play. Your dream come true. Are you that depressed?

Walter: (snaps at her) I’m ill. I can barely stand up.

Maureen: (calms herself) Can you sit up to have some soup?

Walter: (abashed) Yes.

With effort, he sits up as she brings him a bowl of soup on a tray.

Maureen: I’ll get you a piece of bread.

Walter: I’m sorry, Maureen. Sorry I snapped at you. (bows his head and weeps) Sorry I’m so fucked up.

Maureen: You’re not fucked up. (brings him the bread) You’re just having a hard time.

Walter: (looks at her) Why did this have to happen now? It’s like a bad dream.

Maureen: (sits beside him) Why do you think it had to happen now?

Walter: What do you mean?

Maureen: You asked the question. Why did this have to happen now?

Walter: I have no idea.

Maureen: You’ve been lying here for six weeks and you have no idea?

Walter: What are you talking about? I’m ill. That’s why I’m lying here. That wasn’t the question. The question was why did I have to get sick when I’m about to have a staged reading of my play?

Maureen: You don’t think there’s a connection?

Walter: What are you saying? That I’m faking this?

Maureen: You’re obviously not faking, and I would never accuse you of that. I’m saying that until you got the news Francis wanted to direct a reading of your play, you were strong as an ox and we were making love every day. And a week later you wake up weak as a kitten, and now six weeks have gone by and you’re wasting away, though the doctor said he couldn’t find anything wrong with you. So I’m suggesting maybe there’s a connection between your illness and your success with your play, and maybe you need to take a look at that.

Walter: And how would you suggest I do that?

Maureen: Go to a psychotherapist.

Walter: With what money?

Maureen: I’ll lend you the money. When you can work again, you can pay me back. Or not. I don’t care. I want you to get some help.

The door opens and Vincent and Leo enter. Vincent is Walter’s apartment mate, an actor in his thirties. Leo is Vincent’s pal, an actor and massage therapist in his fifties.

Vincent: (cheerfully) No sex in the living room, kiddies. You know the rules.

Maureen: Fear not, Vincent. This is just soup foreplay.

Vincent: Smells divine. How’s our patient?

Maureen waits for Walter to answer.

Walter: About the same.

Vincent: Did you forget Leo’s giving you a massage today? My treat.

Walter: I don’t think I can do that today.

Vincent: You don’t have to do anything. You just lie there and Leo does the rest.

Leo: If you don’t want a massage today, I’m happy to give you one another time.

Walter: Okay. Another time.

Maureen: (stands up) I don’t think you want to get better, Walter. You should see yourself. The way you spurn any kind of help.

Walter: Here we go again. You do think I’m making this up, don’t you?

Maureen: I think this has everything to do with your play and nothing to do with your body, except your body is expressing how you feel about having success with your play. And the reason you don’t want me or Leo or anyone to soothe you is because you’re doing this to punish yourself.

Walter: Why would I do that? This is what I’ve always wanted.

Leo: I know this is none of my business, but if you’d like I could facilitate an investigation of what’s going on with you, Walter.

Walter: What do you mean?

Leo sits in an armchair near the sofa.

Leo: I was a psychotherapist before I became a massage therapist, and if you’re up for it, we could do a session of questions and answers and see what we find.

Walter: Now? I can barely sit up.

Vincent: Then lie down.

Walter: Why are you doing this to me?

Leo: Who are you speaking to?

Walter: All of you.

Leo: I’m doing this to help you.

Maureen: (sitting) So am I.

Vincent: (sits down) The time has come, my friend, to surrender to your angels.

Walter looks at all of them and surrenders to their good intentions.

Walter: Okay. (puts the soup tray on the coffee table) Lets have a session.

Leo: Good. Wonderful. How old are you, Walter?

Walter: Twenty-seven.

Leo: Your illness befell you seven weeks ago?

Walter: Yes.

Leo: What are your symptoms?

Walter: Exhaustion. Extreme weakness. A cough that disallows sleep. Zero appetite. Depression.

Leo: And prior to your depression, how was your life going?

Walter: Very well. (looks at Maureen) Wonderful partner. (looks at Vincent) Great housemate and friend. Good job. Some luck getting acting work. And Francis Hoffman is going to direct a staged reading of my play at New Hope.

Leo: How do you feel about having a renowned director stage a reading of your play?

Walter: (with no enthusiasm) Good. Great.

Leo: You don’t sound particularly excited about it. Or happy.

Walter: I’m ill.

Leo: I understand. So… what is the title of your play?

Walter: Funny You Should Mention It.

Leo: Good title. What’s it about?

Walter: It’s about the year in my life when I found out I was Jewish. When I was thirteen.

Leo: You didn’t know you were Jewish until you were thirteen? Why was that?

Walter: My mother was Jewish, and when she was a little girl during the Depression her parents changed their last name from Borenstein to Bailey to deal with the ferocious anti-Semitism of the time. My mother was twice stoned by other children when they found out she was Jewish. Literally stoned. In Los Angeles of all places. Which terror coincided with her parents insisting she deny her Jewishness for her safety and success in the world, and so… denying her Jewishness became her habit. She married a non-Jew, my father, and it wasn’t until I spent the summer with my Jewish grandparents in Los Angeles when I was thirteen that I found out I was Jewish.

Leo: The Baileys? I thought you said they didn’t want people to know they were Jewish. So how did you find out?

Walter: By the late 1950s they’d decided it was safe to come out, though they kept their non-Jewish last name. My mother, on the other hand, never felt it was safe to let anyone know she was Jewish.

Leo: How sad. And what do your parents think of you being an actor and a playwright in this theatre world that is so very Jewish?

Walter: They’re not happy about it.

Leo: Can you elaborate on that?

Walter: I think from my mother’s point of view, she’s afraid… I don’t know… consciously or unconsciously, that people will find out I’m Jewish, which will lead to people finding out she is Jewish. And my father thinks being an actor and a writer is phony. Stupid. Cowardly.

Leo: He said that to you?

Walter: Many times.

Leo: That being an actor and a writer is cowardly?

Walter: Yes.

Leo: He said this to you recently?

Walter: I don’t speak to my parents very often, but when I do, my father never fails to let me know what he thinks of my career choice. His favorite expression is that I’m pissing my life away in the company of crackpots and losers and criminals. And my mother, in so many words, echoes him, though, ironically, she aspired to be an actor before marrying my father.

Vincent: Quite the neurotic soup.

Leo: Indeed. (to Walter) Yet you defied them.

Walter: Yes.

Leo: Must have been difficult. Must be difficult.

Walter: (whispering) Very.

Leo: What does your father do for a living?

Walter: He’s a doctor. A pediatrician.

Vincent: How’s that for irony?

Leo: Knows everything? Or thinks he does?

Walter: Oh. You’ve met my father?

Leo: Know the type. Was he abusive to you? Verbally? Physically?

Walter: (after a long hesitation) Yes.

Leo: Did he abuse you for wanting to be an actor and a writer?

Walter: Yes, and for many other things, too.

Leo: What other things?

Walter: Oh… he didn’t ever like me to… doesn’t ever want me to… (can’t find the word)

Maureen: Outshine him.

Walter: That’s actually a very accurate way of putting it. He’s a profound narcissist.

Leo: Likes to be the center of attention.

Walter: Always. And if I or my siblings or my mother ever became the focus of attention when he was present, he was not happy, and often violently not happy.

Leo: So let’s see what we’ve got so far. You’re not supposed to let anyone know you’re Jewish. You’re not supposed to be an actor or a playwright, and most especially not a successful one. As far as your parents are concerned.

Walter: (bows his head) Yes.

Leo: Yet here you are in New York succeeding with your play, which is all about being Jewish. Sounds like you’re breaking all the taboos, Walter. And doing so in a big way. A big successful public way. No wonder you’re having such a difficult time.

Walter raises his head and gazes in astonishment at Leo and Maureen and Vincent.

Walter: I’m trying to kill myself rather than defy my parents. To die before I can tell the world the truth.

Leo: You were doing that. Or part of you was. But now that you know the reason you’ve been ill, you can get well. And to expedite that, we need to get the energy of those people out of your body and out of your psyche so you can proceed with your life unencumbered by their psychoses. I don’t think neuroses is a strong enough word for what they implanted in you.

Walter weeps. Leo goes to sit beside Walter and allows him to cry for a time before firmly taking hold of Walter’s shoulders.

Leo: (strongly) Tell your father to get out of your body.

Walter: Get out of my body.

Leo: Shout it. “Get out of my body, Dad. Get out! Get out!”

Walter: (shouting) Get out of my body, Dad. Get out! Get out!

Leo: (shaking Walter) Again.

Walter: Get out of my body, Dad. Get out! Get out!

Leo: Now with all your might. (releasing him). Shout him out of you.

Walter: (shouting) Get out of my body. Get out, get out, get out!

Leo: Now tell your mother to get out.

Walter: (jumps up, shouting) Get out of me, Mom. Get out. I’m Jewish. So sue me. I’m Jewish and I’m a writer and an actor. And I’m proud of it. I love being an actor! I love who I am. So fuck you! Fuck you, Dad. Get out of me.

Leo: Keep going, Walter. Keep going.

Walter: (smiles) We could be here for a very long time.

Leo: I’ve got all day.

Maureen: Me, too. Go for it, Sweetheart.

Vincent: (leaps up) Get out of him, you fuckers. Get out of him!

Walter: (ferociously) Get out of me! Get out of me! And stay out!

Silence falls. Walter trembles with emotion, his killing depression vanquished.

 Leo: (stands up) Well done, my friend. (embraces Walter) Well done.

Vincent: (embracing Walter) We will do this every day until you’re completely well.

Walter: I already feel better. (embraces Maureen) Thank you so much.

Maureen: I need to do what you just did. My mother is too much with me. Way too much.

Leo: And now… I’m starving. Exorcisms always make me ravenous.

Vincent: You like Thai food? We are one block away from a most excellent Thai restaurant.

Walter: My treat.

Leo: I love Thai. Red curry prawns, please.

Vincent: I shall call in our order. (going to the kitchen phone) There’s beer in the fridge, Leo. Help yourself.

Leo: (goes to the fridge) Anybody else want a beer?

Walter: I would love one.

Maureen: (hugging Walter) Welcome back, Sweetheart. (to Leo) I’d love one, too.

fin

Pep Talk #1 a one-minute movie by Todd