Joan and George’s living room. A fire burning in the hearth.
George, a retired English professor, is working on a new play. Tonight he has invited Clare, a young actress, and Boyd, a young actor, to read a scene from the play. Joan, George’s wife, an actress and psychotherapist, is on hand to add her thoughts and feelings to the revelatory process.
Boyd is standing in front of the fire, perusing his script. Clare, script in hand, is sitting on the sofa with Joan, and George is seated in an armchair.
George: So… I very much want to hear your thoughts about this scene, but before either of you tell me anything, I’d like to hear you read the scene.
Clare: Can you say a little about these two before we read?
George: I will be happy to tell you about them after your first reading, but I’m most curious to hear how you read this based solely on the lines.
Clare: Okay. (gets up and joins Boyd in front of the fire) You want us to stand close together or…
George: Whatever feels comfortable.
Clare takes a couple steps away from Boyd, after which he moves a step closer to her, after which she moves a little further away from him.
Clare: (to Boyd) This okay?
Boyd: Yeah. Fine.
George: (reading) Lisa and Walter are aspiring actors and good friends. They have both lived in Manhattan for several years and the scene begins as they arrive in Walter’s apartment after attending a play.
Lisa: (as they enter) I can’t believe we stayed for the second act.
Walter: It was dreadful.
Lisa: Why did we stay?
Walter: Well I won’t speak for you, but two people in the play are friends of mine and I didn’t feel right about walking out on them.
Lisa: Who do you know besides Carol?
Walter: Jason Lewis. The plumber.
Lisa: Speaking of dreadful. It was embarrassing how bad he was.
Walter: Fortunately, Jason is immune to embarrassment. Something to drink?
Lisa: I’d love some wine. Red, please.
Walter: Coming right up.
Lisa: (looks around) Where’s the fabulous Vincent tonight?
Walter: (getting wine for both of them) I can hardly believe I’m saying this, but quite out of the blue, the fabulous Vincent moved back to Iowa. Three days ago. (brings her wine) He got a teaching job in Des Moines. High school Drama.
Lisa: (aghast) High school Drama? Shoot me.
Walter: A chilling thought, I know, but he’s deep in debt and plans to live with his mother until he can dig his way out.
Lisa: How depressing. He’s such a good actor.
Walter: Better than anyone we saw in the play tonight.
Lisa: Hard to tell. The play was abysmal. Like a bad sitcom. Emphasis on bad.
Walter: Up for a Tony.
Lisa: You’re kidding. Where did you hear that?
Walter: New York Times.
Lisa: But it’s the worst kind of derivative drivel.
Walter: What play have you seen recently that is not derivative drivel? And don’t say Shakespeare or Shaw or Ibsen. They don’t count.
Lisa: Poor Vincent. (looks around again) So have you found a new roommate? Dreamy location. Quiet. Big rooms. I love this place.
Walter: I was gonna ask you before I put out the word. You said you wanted to find a new place.
Lisa: Me? Live here with you? Oh Walter, we’d have sex all the time and ruin everything.
Walter: We wouldn’t have to have sex all the time.
Lisa: How could we not? We like each other too much. We’ll probably have sex tonight. But not in a relationship sort of way.
Walter: Oh? In what sort of way would we have sex tonight?
Lisa: In a friends-having-sex way, because neither of us is in a relationship right now and we’re helping each other satisfy the needs of the flesh. And we love each other. As friends. But if we were roommates we’d have sex all the time because it would be so convenient, and then it would become our habit and we would be in a relationship.
Walter: What would be wrong with that?
Lisa: Nothing. If we weren’t young aspiring actors. But we are, and don’t pretend you don’t know what that means in terms of being sexually available, possibly, to people who can open the requisite doors.
Walter: Since when have you been sexually available to people who can open the requisite doors? The only people I’ve ever known you to sleep with couldn’t open anything but your refrigerator.
Lisa: Are you saying I hook up with losers?
Walter: No. I’m saying you love for love and not for gain.
Lisa: Yeah, well I’m done with that. If necessary.
Walter: I want to say I’m shocked, but I’m not. Just sad.
Lisa: I’m twenty-nine, Walter. I came here to act, not to sit in the audience. And you did, too. And since you’re no movie star’s son and I’m no movie star’s daughter, we know the routine.
Walter: I did come here to be an actor and to write plays, and everything you say is true, the difference being that I came here looking for love, too. And I met you. And if I had to choose between you and making it as an actor, I’d choose you.
Lisa: You’re such a romantic.
Walter: I can’t help it. You push all my romantic buttons.
Lisa: So let’s say you choose me and I choose you. Then what? We teach high school Drama? Rent a little house in Des Moines and have two kids and a dog? And when the kids start school, I go back to college and become a social worker like my mother, and our kids star in their high school plays and come to New York to try to make it as actors, but they don’t make it, because even though they’re every bit as talented as we are, we raised them not to sleep with people to get parts. So eventually they come home and live with us while they dig their way out of debt. Generation after generation. On and on to the end of time.
Walter: Or… you move in with me and I don’t give up being an actor, and neither do you. We’ll just be together supporting each other while we keep trying.
Lisa: And then the part of a lifetime comes along. And you have a brilliant audition. And the part is yours if you’ll just let the director fuck you. And when you come home that night, after he’s made you feel worse than you’ve ever felt, do you say to me, “Honey. Great news. I got the part. Had to let the director fuck me and I’ll have to let him keep fucking me for a while, but I got the part and now I’m on my way to the top and I’ll take you with me.”
Walter: Not I.
Lisa: And I couldn’t either if I was in a relationship with you. But if I’m not in a relationship, in order to fulfill my dream, I think I can.
Walter: That’s not my perception of you, but… if you say so.
Lisa: I’ll think of it as a rite of passage. My sacrifice to the high priests of theatre.
Walter: And if the play flops? A second rite of passage? A third? A fourth? We both know people who sleep with whoever they think they need to sleep with, and they are not happy, not pleasant, not kind. And it doesn’t even help most of them get parts.
Lisa: That’s because most of them don’t have the talent. And I do.
Walter: I know you do.
Lisa: And so do you.
Walter: More wine?
Lisa: No, I should go.
Walter: You sure? Cold and dark and dangerous out there. Warm and sweet and lovely in here.
Lisa: I’m sure.
Walter: Then take a cab. Please? My treat.
They embrace delicately.
Lisa: Thanks, Walter. You’re a peach.
The scene over, Clare resumes her seat on the sofa while Boyd remains standing by the fire.
Boyd: I don’t buy it. I’m sorry, George, but… it’s such a tired old cliché. That you have to sleep with the director or the producer to get the part. That’s not even true. Oh maybe it happens some of the time, but I mean… I haven’t lived in New York or LA, but… I just don’t believe it.
George: You think talent wins out no matter what?
Boyd: Yeah for the most part. This is just sour grapes. They aren’t making it, so they blame it on not sleeping with the right people.
George: Is that how they come across to you?
Boyd: Yeah. Couple of losers. And she’s tired of being a loser, and he’s a dweeb.
Clare: I… it feels true to me. I don’t want it to be true, but that’s not really the point. I think the point is he loves her more than he wants to be a star, and she’s not there yet and may never be. It’s the moment when they come to the great divide.
Boyd: That’s bullshit. This scene has been done a million times before. And even if it is true, who cares? That’s life. Get on with it. Quit complaining.
George: I hear what you’re saying, Boyd. That you don’t think what Lisa and Walter believe is true. But do you believe they believe it? You know what I mean? Was the scene real to you even if you don’t agree with what they think?
Boyd: Oh yeah. Felt totally real. Two people jealous of other people succeeding, so they rationalize their jealousy with the usual bullshit.
Clare, visibly upset, stands up.
Clare: (to George) I’m so sorry, but I have to go. I’ll… I’ll send you some notes.
George: (gets up) Fine. Or call me. Whatever works for you.
Boyd: We’re done? Don’t you want us to read the scene again?
George: I don’t think it’s necessary. (gives each of them a check) This is a small honorarium for helping me. Thank you so much.
Boyd: (looks at the check) Wow. Thanks. I guess this makes me a professional now.
Clare: Thank you, George. (looks at Joan) Thank you, Joan.
Joan: (to Clare) Oh sweetie, could you stay a few minutes longer? I want to show you that dress I was telling you about.
Clare: The dress? Oh yeah, that dress. Sure.
George accompanies Boyd out.
George: Thanks again, Boyd.
Boyd: No problem. And thanks for the dough. Really appreciate it.
George returns to the living room.
Clare: (to George) I’m so sorry he said what he said to you.
George: It’s fine. His response was nothing new. And as he said, he’s never been an actor in New York or Los Angeles. And he did shine a bright light on the challenge of telling the truth in a way people will accept.
Clare: Did this happen to you? It feels so real to me.
George: It did. Though I don’t think I’ve quite got the scene right yet. They really do love each other, and that has to come through or the scene won’t work.
Joan: (to George) I think you should read it with Clare. And then you’ll hear what the scene needs.
George: (looks at Clare) You up for that?
Clare: (meeting his gaze) Very much.