Joan and George’s living room. A fire burning in the hearth.
Joan and Marilyn, actresses and retired psychotherapists, are sitting on the sofa drinking wine. Joan’s husband George, a writer and retired community college English professor, and Marilyn’s husband Michael, a realtor and actor, are playing Ping Pong somewhere in the distance, the sound of their game faintly audible.
Joan: Drum roll please… (clinks glasses with Marilyn) George is writing a play.
Marilyn: I thought he was never in a million years going to write another play. Isn’t that what he proclaimed on New Year’s Eve?
Joan: He proclaims that after every play when no theatre company besides ours wants to produce it. Then time heals the wound and off he goes again.
Marilyn: Well I’m thrilled. I love his plays. If it were up to me, he’d win a MacArthur and be a national treasure. What’s the new play about?
Joan: The inadequacy of language to reveal the hidden sorrows that make us what we are.
Marilyn: Is that what he told you?
Joan: No, I came up with that a few years ago, for those awkward moments when people ask George what his plays are about and he answers by making spluttering sounds.
Marilyn: The inadequacy of language to reveal…
Joan: The hidden sorrows that make us what we are.
Marilyn: Do you think that’s true? We’re shaped by our sorrows?
Joan: Ooh I like shaped better than made. May I plagiarize you?
Joan: Yes, I think we’re shaped by our sorrows and our joys, though I interpret George’s spluttering sounds to mean our sorrows.
Marilyn: I’d say we’re shaped by imitating our parents and siblings, if we had any, and by the time we’re five-years-old, we’re a fait accompli.
Joan: With parents and siblings providing most of our primal joys and sorrows.
Marilyn: In my case, mostly sorrows.
Joan: I was on the phone with Tina yesterday and heard myself sounding exactly like my mother talking to me when I was Tina’s age. Gave me the chills.
Marilyn: I know the feeling.
Enter George and Michael. They claim glasses of wine from the coffee table, Michael strikes a pose by the fire, and George sits in an armchair.
Joan: Who won?
Michael: Who always wins?
George: I got lucky.
Marilyn: (to George) Joan says you’re writing a new play. Do tell?
George shrugs and makes a spluttering sound.
Michael: A new play? Are we in it?
George: Of course. You’re in all my plays.
Marilyn: I never recognize myself.
George: (to Marilyn) That’s a wonderful line. (picks up his notebook and pen and writes) I never recognize myself. Monologue to follow.
Michael: I rarely do either. Except for the accountant in Simple Math. That was me, right?
George: His manner of speaking is definitely you.
Marilyn: Who am I in Simple Math? You cast me as Louise, but she’s more Joan than I. (looks at Joan) I had so much fun playing you. Couldn’t believe how many laughs I got being you.
Michael: None of us in the cast thought the lines would play so funny, though George told us they would, and the audience roared from start to finish. Sold out the entire twenty-seven-show run. Standing Room Only. We could have run it for another month if not for the annual Neil Simon nipping at our heels. I’m campaigning to stage it again next season.
George: (to Marilyn) In answer to your question, you’re not a specific character in Simple Math, but your essence dominates the first act.
Marilyn: I was so sure that play was going to be a huge success for you. But then I think that about all your plays.
George: Yet none of them ever make it out of our little town. Except for the first one, which I wrote before I moved here and long before I knew how to write.
Michael: If only you hadn’t learned. Think where you’d be today.
George: Can’t imagine.
Joan: We can be fairly certain you wouldn’t have moved here and married me. Another big success and you’d have married a famousactress and lived on a country estate an hour by train from your piede-à-terre in Manhattan.
Michael: Where you hobnobbed with other famous writers who didn’t know how to write. Daiquiris at the Algonquin. Schmoozing on yachts at Cannes.
George: Thankfully that was not my destiny, and I moved here and married Joan and we had our marvelous children and I wrote plays for you to be in and…
Marilyn: And we’re glad you did. But surely you wanted another success. Your plays are so good.
George: Of course I wanted another success. Still do. Though I must say, the little taste I had of that other life was not… nourishing.
Michael: How not nourishing? Money. Fame. Producers and directors clambering for your next play.
George: Clambering for another play like the first. Which is not my way. And the deeper truth is, I didn’t really click with anyone on those upper floors of the cultural pyramid. Lots of hungry ghosts, as the Buddhists would say, but no one I could relate to emotionally or creatively.
Marilyn: Which is no doubt why they couldn’t relate to your subsequent plays.
George: Seems so.
Michael: So it was you who closed those magical doors because you didn’t like the people who were holding them open for you. Created your own fate.
George: Our lives are made of the choices we make.
Joan: And by endlessly enacting two or three foundational psychodramas from our childhood.
George: That’s a good title for an evening of one-acts. (writing it down) Three Foundational Psychodramas. A theatrical pastiche.
Michael: (to Joan) So are you suggesting we are little more than the aftershocks of our childhood?
Joan: Unless we get well.
Marilyn: And we can’t get well by enacting or writing the same drama again and again. We have to break character in order to learn a new way of being.
George: To sing as only we can sing.
Michael: I don’t think I’ve ever broken character. Never had a reason to. I play myself as a husband and father. Play myself selling real estate. And when I get cast in a play, I play myself. Seems to work just fine.
Marilyn: We only intentionally break character when our old character no longer serves us.
Joan: And speaking of serving… let’s eat.