Joan and George’s living room. A fire burning in the hearth.
Joan, 72, and Marilyn, 75, actresses and retired psychotherapists, are sitting on the sofa with scripts in hand. Joan’s husband George, 74, a playwright and retired English professor, and Marilyn’s husband Michael, 76, a realtor and actor, are seated in armchairs, also with scripts in hand. They are reading the last scene of George’s new play The Odyssey of Walter Iverson.
George: (reading stage directions) The living room in the home of Walter, 47, and his wife Sasha, 45. They are entertaining their good friends Anna, 55, and Fred, 62. Sasha and Anna and Fred are in the living room enjoying after-dinner wine by the fire, while Walter is down the hall in the children’s bedroom telling Steven, 7, and Elizabeth, 5, a bedtime story.
Michael: (reading Fred) I’m always amazed at how cooperative your kids are about going to bed. With our kids, every night was a battle royale to get them to brush their teeth and get in bed. They were wild things compared to your kids. What’s your secret?
Marilyn: (reading Anna) Well for one thing, they don’t let their kids watch television and have sugar before going to bed, which we did. Silly us.
Joan: (reading Sasha) And they love the bedtime stories Walter tells them. They often go to bed before their bedtimes just to get him started telling stories.
Anna: Lucky children.
Fred: I was never good at making up stories. I read Dr. Seuss to our kids until I thought I’d go insane, but I’ve never been very good at making things up.
Sasha: The hero and heroine of Walter’s bedtime stories, coincidentally, have our children’s names, but they are not, Steven and Elizabeth insist, our children. But really they are.
Fred: And what do they do in these stories?
Sasha: Well they have sidekicks. A very tall boy named Doofus who loves pizza more than anything, a fast-talking, wise-cracking girl named Mimi, and a robot named J97 who makes terrible puns. The five of them go on treasure hunts and fly their spaceship to other planets and build amusement park rides in their backyard. Things like that. With lots of trips to the pizza parlor.
Anna: No wonder they want to go to bed.
George: (reading stage directions) Walter enters and sits in an armchair.
Fred: Aesop returns.
George: (reading Walter) What have I missed?
Anna: We were just hearing about the stories you tell your kids.
Fred: What was the plot tonight?
Walter: Lately we’ve been building a multi-story tree house with lots of interior decorating going on. The four chairs in the living room are small trampolines, and the amazing futuristic kitchen is presided over by two robots, one with a British accent, that’s J97, and one with a French accent named N65. The kids did most of the telling tonight so there wasn’t much plot, but the décor was to die for.
Anna: Speaking of décor, what do you think of the set for your new play?
Walter: I love it. Brad and Phyllis have outdone themselves. Worthy of Broadway.
Fred: I only wish you were playing the lead, Walter. I know you want to focus on directing, but you really are Felix.
Walter: Felix is twenty years younger than I am. I think Jason’s gonna be fine in the role once we get through another forty or so run-throughs. And Amy and Teresa are marvelous. I’m very pleased with how things are going.
Fred: Is it true?
Walter: Is what true?
Fred: Everything that happens in the play. Did all that really happen to you?
Walter: (ponders this) It really did. Only the names and titles of plays have been changed to protect the innocent.
Anna: There’s so much happiness in the beginning, and then so much sorrow. So much love and camaraderie, and then so much deceit and cruelty.
Sasha: And then happiness again at the end.
Walter: The roller coaster of life.
Fred: Seems so unfair. Not only to you, but to the world. To be deprived of your marvelous plays.
Walter: Not unfair. Just the way things unfolded, if one thinks of life as an unfolding, which I do. And look where I ended up. In this lovely place with Sasha and our children, and with you, our marvelous friends. With our theater company of zealous players, speaking of love and camaraderie.
Anna: Even so, I don’t think I could have survived your heartbreak.
Walter: Oh I didn’t survive. I died and had to be reborn so I could carry on. Just as you and Sasha and Fred have been reborn many times in this lifetime.
Sasha: (raises her glass) Here’s to rebirth.
George: (reads stage directions) Fred and Anna and Walter raise their glasses, too, as the lights fade to darkness. The End.
George, Joan, Marilyn, and Michael put down their scripts and sit in silence for a long moment.
Marilyn: It’s a marvelous play, George. Your best yet.
Michael: I agree. Made me cry, and I almost never cry.
George: Not too schmaltzy an ending?
Joan: No. Not at all. Besides schmaltz is good for the heart.
Michael: And is it true? Did all that really happen to you, George?
George: Not to me. To someone I used to be. A long time ago.
Marilyn: Now be honest. If you had it to do over again, what would you do differently?
George: Not a thing. Not a single thing.