Sunday, November 13, 2011

English for Beginners - Act 1, Scene Two

It is late evening.  The sun has set.  MIKE, AJ, ANNE, CLYDE, GREG, FRANCIS, SADIE and BRIAN all sit huddled around the fire pit, which is a glow with a large fire.  They are all wrapped up in their coats and each other.   They are all holding scripts and discussing them by the light of cell phones. They pass around various bottles of booze.
MIKE is in his early thirties.  He is a tender man who worries a great deal.  GREG is also in his early thirties and cuddles with his boyfriend FRANCIS who is younger in both body and spirit but is actually just a little older.  Where GREG is serious, FRANCIS is whimsical.  SADIE sits with her arms in a motherly way around BRIAN.  SADIE is in her late forties and looks it, but attempts to project her younger self.  BRIAN is the youngest of the crowd, just barely twenty one.  AJ is in his forties and is always a little bored and tired looking.  ANNE and CLYDE are as they were before, but are not touching.  JASON often fiddles with his phone and from time to time it beeps.  
AJ
The thing is, if this was a musical -

BRIAN
I don't really want it to -

AJ
No, I don't mean it should be a musical.  It's just that it would be easier to get everyone on stage and in place right away.  There would be a big dance number, everyone would have a line that would tell the audience who they were and what they wanted, then it would be reiterated in the chorus and it would all be done in seven snappy minutes or less.

BRIAN
But I don't want -

AJ
No, I know you don't want that and I can see that.  I'm just saying you've got a scene in here that does nothing at all for a super long time, it's unmotivated and unstructured and boring.  

ANNE
I completely disagree.  I think a musical number in this scene would be completely out of place.  There's no singing the rest of the show.

AJ
Again, I'm not saying -

SADIE
But I love all the sexual tension!  I think you would just loose that if they were signing and dancing!

AJ
For the last time, I don't –

ANNE
Not to mention, this is a serious drama. 

MIKE
No, I get what AJ is getting at, but how would Brian solve the problem?  I mean, if you set a play during a New Year’s Eve party, there has to be a party.

JASON
Right, but I think one of the issues is that all of the characters are treated like main characters. 

AJ
I think Jason - it is Jason right?

JASON
Right.

AJ
I think Jason is on the right track.  You can't make this show a big an ensemble piece.  There’s just too many characters.  Some are going to be background, some atmosphere and some are going to be plot points.  You can’t help that.  There’s just too many characters go get to know them all. And I know, you have to get all the characters on stage, but the bit at the end between the two lovers is what everyone is waiting for.  Either find a better way to get everyone on in a way that serves the play or just cut to the end.  

SADIE
But it’s great build up to the sex with Mavis and Richard.  It’s like all those people are in the way and they have to work the whole scene to just try and get alone.  And when they do…BAM!

AJ
The thing is, it can't support it's own weight -

ANNE
I think you just don't get this show at all.

BRIAN
No, I understand what AJ -

ANNE
Don't give into him, Brian -

CLYDE
Anne -

ANNE
Ok, ok.  I think I know what we need to do. Let's organize this discussion. Brian. First. We need your initial reactions.  Then we'll go around the group and do the same thing.  These are not good or bad, guys, just things that really stuck out or struck you or made sense to you.  One or two words.  Popcorn. Brian.  Go.

BRIAN
Ok. Thank you, Anne.  Always putting us in our place. Thank you.  Oh my god, I was so nervous you guys! But, anyway, it was great.  I felt really good about, just, the whole thing.  You know?  

ANNE
Popcorn Brian.  Just images, phrases, ideas that you liked that you are happy with.

BRIAN
I’m really happy with the bird imagery. 

ANNE
Good good. Alright. Let's go around.  Clyde? Remember.  Popcorn.  Images.  Just things.  Quick. Quick. Quick.

CLYDE
Ok.  Uhm.  High stakes.

ANNE
Good.  Good.  Keep going.

SADIE
So sexy. Can I say that again?

ANNE
Yes.  Next.  Let's just keep it moving. Greg?

Greg
Intense.

ANNE
Great.  Francis. 

FRANCIS
Not gay.

GREG
Francis!

FRANCIS
What?  Every play he's ever written has been about a gay couple.  It's the first thing that came out.

ANNE
That's good.  That's the way it works.  Popcorn.  It's all good. Popcorn.

MIKE
Confusing.

ANNE
Yes.  Love can be confusing.  Next.

AJ
I think he meant that the scene was confusing.

ANNE
I'm pretty sure Mike meant that the lead characters where in a confusing situation, AJ.  But thank you.  Next.  Popcorn.

MIKE
Well, that's true but -

ANNE
Good. Next.

JASON
Classical.

ANNE
Wonderful.  Great.  And I'm last so I'm going to say...sparkling.  Great.  Now.  Let's take in a deep breath.

AJ
Wait, I don't know what you mean by "sparkling".

ANNE
The dialogue.  I found it sparkling.

AJ
In what sense?

CLYDE
It's just part of the exercise.

ANNE
It's a descriptor that came to my head and I felt it was true.

AJ
Sparkling? But what does that even mean?

SADIE
This coming from a critic.

AJ
What is that supposed to mean?

SADIE
I've heard critics say "that actress was just sparkling".

AJ
I've never said that...unless someone was actually, literally sparkling.

SADIE
I think Anne -

ANNE
Now we go around again and we ask questions of the playwright.  Brian, you don't need to answer them, but keep them in mind when you go back to do rewrites.  All around again.

MIKE
Are these questions about...what...exactly?

ANNE
Like...if you where to ask Shakespeare...what exactly did you mean by "to be or not to be?" Or...what's with all the ghosts?  Like that.

MIKE
Gotcha.

ANNE
Clyde?

CLYDE
Where is Richard going before she stops him from leaving?

SADIE
To find the bird.

JASON
I don't think we're supposed to answer for Brian.

SADIE
Oh.  Sorry.  It's just that I thought it was obvious.

CLYDE
I don't think it's a literal bird, Sadie.

SADIE
Oh!

ANNE
Let's just keep it moving.  Sadie?

SADIE
Was it a literal bird?

ANNE
Good.  Next?

BRIAN
I can’t answer?

ANNE
No.  We’re just letting you know what questions we have.  You keep them in your head and they’ll inform your writing process. Greg?

GREG
Why can't they be together?

SADIE
Why is everyone asking obvious questions?

ANNE
Sadie.  Let's keep it going.  Next.

MIKE
Why did you name her Mavis?

ANNE
Good good. Next.

FRANCIS
Oh my god! That is totally my question too!

ANNE
If you aren't going to take this seriously -

AJ
We're taking this game as seriously as we can.

ANNE
This isn't a game, AJ.  It may seem that way to you, but we are discussing seriously the serious work of a serious writer.

CLYDE
It's Jason's turn.

JASON
When -

FRANCIS
No.  Fuck this.  I want to get back to the Mavis question.

ANNE
No, we have to keep this moving. It's my turn -

AJ
You do realize you've skipped Jason and you've skipped me twice.

BRIAN
I thought you went already.

AJ
I haven't gotten to say a word.

ANNE
You've said plenty.

AJ
And what is that supposed to mean?

CLYDE
God damn it's cold, isn't it?  Maybe we should find another log for the fire.

JASON
There isn't any more wood.

MIKE
Where the fuck is Julia?

SADIE
I have to pee.

GREG
Look, Anne this is a great feedback tool but I’ve got to be honest. Brian, I really don’t get the central relationship.

SADIE
Oh come on.

GREG
No, really. He loves her, she loves him.  They want to get together.  They are completely stupid emo-sad for each other.  They should just be together. I mean, why not? There's nothing really keeping them apart.   I mean at first literally you have the party and the crowd keeping them apart, before that it was distance, but now that they are in the same room and no one else is around, why does the sex have to be guilty?

SADIE
She's married.

GREG
So?  She doesn't love her husband, certainly not the way she loves Richard. 

MIKE
No, I really think she loves her husband.  I mean, she married him.

SADIE
And Richard is such a great guy.  He would never be a home wrecker.  He's not going to mess up her life.  He's going to wait for her to come and find him, isn't he?

GREG
This isn't Anna Karena we're talking about here or Doctor Zvago.  Mavis just needs to get a divorce and move in and then they can be happy.  All of them.

MIKE
Except Mavis' husband.

FRANCIS
See! Listen to it!  I can’t even take it seriously! I don’t care if Mavis stays married or fucks that guy or jumps off a cliff.  Girl needs to get her ass to a judge and change her name to something normal!

BRIAN
It was my mother's name.

SADIE
And I love it.

FRANCIS
Your mother? Mary please.

ANNE
Just take it all in Brian, keep what you like and throw away what you don’t. 

CLYDE
You know, I've never heard that name in my life.

AJ
I think you could change her name and won’t make a damn bit of difference.

SADIE
AJ is on our side! The name stays!

FRANCIS
Jason.  What do you think?

JASON
I don't know.  I always end up naming characters after the people around me too. 

FRANCIS
You named a character Laura in your last play, didn't you?

JASON
Yeah, but -

MIKE
I didn't know that.

SADIE
To Mavis or not to Mavis? That is the question.

JASON
I mean, if the name has meaning to you - 

SADIE
Hooray!  Out numbered Francis!

ANNE
The point is, Brian, don’t listen to anyone here.  You need to do what the voice in your head is telling you to do!  

AJ
Ha!

ANNE
Just shut up AJ.

AJ
Need another drink Anne?

MIKE
Let's take the temperature of this conversation down a notch -

ANNE
I’m not going to stand for someone being cruel and abusive to a new writer.

BRIAN
I’m not really -

CLYDE
Nobody was being cruel.  We were just reading Brian's script to take up time until someone got here with the keys.

ANNE
Oh, so.  This all doesn’t count then.  We should all just let him get away with it.

AJ
If the next two weeks is just going to be a lot of dick swinging –

ANNE
Fuck you!

GREG
Alright enough! Enough enough!  We are all hungry and tired and cold and we all have to pee and none of us are thinking clearly or calmly.

ANNE
I'm -

GREG
I know exactly what you are doing Anne.  You've put on your super woman costume and you are going to defend Brian from the big bad AJ.  But Brian can put on his big boy pants and defend himself just fine.  Brian...the point is there's too many people in the scene and we don't know what any of them want or even who they are or why they are there.  It all hast to matter.  Everything they say and do has to matter.  It’s not like real life where people just show up because they are told to, the story has to be significant enough so that there is a reason to tell it.  Nobody just puts every day life on the page, you have to put extraordinary life on the page.  If everyone just shows up, shakes hands, drinks a cocktail and comments on how lovely the weather is your audience will be asleep before anything good happens.  And Mavis is a great name for a woman in her 80’s who hoards feral cats in her mobile home.  No one who fucks the way you want Mavis to fuck is named Mavis.   

ANNE
But -

GREG
Oh for god's sake Anne if he didn't want feedback he wouldn't have brought it out.  Chill the fuck out already.

SADIE
Gee dad.

GREG
Whatever Sadie.

MIKE
Who’s next?

ANNE
I'm going for a smoke.

SADIE
Can I bum one?

BRIAN
I’ll come too!

ANNE
Clyde?

CLYDE
Sure.

ANNE, CLYDE, BRIAN, and SADIE all exit to the stairs where they break out the cigarets and light up.  CLYDE comforts ANNE who is visibly shaken.  The two groups are now out of earshot of each other.   
JASON, MIKE, FRANCIS, GREG and AJ all sit in silence.  

AJ
Has anyone tried Laura recently?

MIKE
Yeah. She's not answering.  She's probably still at rehearsal.  I tried Julia a half an hour ago -

FRANCIS
What about the owners?

MIKE
I don't have the number.  Laura does.

GREG
Then I guess we'll just have to sit and wait a little longer.

AJ
Well, I’m so glad I came.  And by the way, thanks for the ride Mike.  I'm so happy I carpooled instead of bringing my own car.  I've always wanted to be stuck on the island of misfit toys.  

GREG
It’s not always going to be this bad. Just don’t engage with her.

AJ
I don't engage tacky dikes with obsessions for circus freaks. 

FRANCES
Ha!

AJ
I want it on record that she provoked me.

GREG
I just don’t want every feed back session to devolve into a cat fight.  

AJ
Oh I don't mind that.  I just don't want to be the target. I mean, come on. I’m tired of sitting in rooms talking about our plays the way we would talk about our alcoholism.  Hushed tones and reverent head nodding, followed by backstabbing and gossiping.  Why can’t we just do it all out in the open?  I think all of our writing would be better for it.

FRANCES
But I like back stabbing and gossiping.  

AJ
If we can’t be honest with each other who can we be honest with?

JASON
But, you mean about our plays.  Right?

AJ
Oh, of course.  We can’t be honest about real life.  That’s why we’re in theatre isn’t it? 

JASON
But that's an interesting question.  If we were all, right now, to break into song and sing out that one line that would tell the whole world what we wanted and why we were here…what would it be?

FRANCES
My song would be a Ke$ha song, so it would be about looking like pimps and going dancing.

GREG
Of course it would be.

FRANCES
Yours would be some boring Nick Drake song.  I’m sad and the world is sad.  

GREG
No, it would be totally be the Eurythmics - 

FRANCES
Oh, sweet dreams are made of these. Who am I to disagree?

GREG
I love you so.
They kiss.
AJ
Jesus Christ. Someone call Anne back, I need something bitter to cut all the sweet.

FRANCIS
Jealous?

AJ
To quote my favorite playwright "Mary, please!"

MIKE
I want to try and get a hold of Laura.
MIKE exits with the phone to the far end of the porch. 
FRANCIS
What’s your song Jason?

JASON
Right now, it would be about being cold.

AJ
I’ll drink to that.
They drink and continue talking in quiet voices unheard during the following. SADIE, CLYDE, BRIAN and ANNE all settle into the steps and look out into the dark.
SADIE
Do you think it would be OK if I just peed in the bushes?

BRIAN
Gross.

CLYDE
Why is that gross?

BRIAN
I don’t pee outdoors.

ANNE
How do you camp?

BRIAN
I don’t camp.

SADIE
But I really have to go.

ANNE
Then just go.  No one will know.

SADIE
I’ll finish this cigarette then I’ll go.

BRIAN
Was the play really that bad?

ANNE
Don’t believe AJ.  The play is great.

BRIAN
Really?

ANNE
Really.

SADIE
I’d see it.  And I still like the name Mavis.

BRIAN
I think I might change it.  

ANNE
Don’t do anything you don’t want to do.

BRIAN
No.  But it did seem to be a big deal so maybe…you know…

ANNE
Just as long as it is your decision.  

CLYDE
What did you bring to read Sadie?

SADIE
I’m still working on “My Thorny Rose.”  

ANNE
Is that the same one you've been working on? 

SADIE
Yeah.  I was feeling bad about how long I had been working on it.  You know six years is so long and I feel like I’ve barely gotten it down, you know?  But then I went and saw your show –

ANNE
What show?

SADIE
That little workshop a year ago?

ANNE
Oh, yeah.  God I completely forgot about that.

SADIE
In the program it said you had been working on that play for five years and I thought, hey! So it’s not so easy as spitting them out.  You know?  And if this playwright who I really respect is taking a long time then I guess its just part of the process.  You brought that play here, right?  The one about the circus people?  The one from the reading?

ANNE
Yeah.

SADIE
See.  That makes me feel so much better.

ANNE
Good.  Good.

SADIE
I’m going to go pee.

BRIAN
So gross.
SADIE exits all the way down the stairs into the dark to pee. 
CLYDE
Are you OK?

ANNE
Yeah.  I’m fine.  Too much to drink.

CLYDE
What's going on?

ANNE
Nothing.  I'm just hungry. 

BRIAN
Me too.  I’ve been thinking we should just order a pizza.

CLYDE
That sounds like a good plan.  Why don't you go ask Mike if that would be OK.

BRIAN
Ok.
BRIAN leaves them alone and goes to MIKE.  Their pizza conversation is unheard.
CLYDE
Why did you tell him his play was great?

ANNE
Well, it was better then I expected anyway.  That's something.

CLYDE
It's going to be a long two weeks.

ANNE
God I hate AJ.

CLYDE
We can leave any time you want.

ANNE
I'm not going.  He can go, but I'm not.

CLYDE
Just don't make things harder on yourself then they need to be.  This should be fun. I want us to have a good time and get some work done.

ANNE
I want that too.

CLYDE
You know, it would take away some of the stress if we just told everyone -

ANNE
No. I'm not ready for that yet.

CLYDE
Anne. It's not that big a deal.

ANNE
Maybe not for you, but it is to me.

CLYDE
We don't have to be a couple.  It can still be an open -

ANNE
Clyde.  I love you.  I love you this way.  Don't push me.  If you love me, don't push me.

CLYDE
Ok.  I just want you to be happy.
BRIAN returns.
BRIAN
Mike said -
The sound of a car pulling into the drive accompanied by the lights from headlights. 
SADIE
Ohmygodohmygodmygodohmygod!

ANNE
What?

SADIE
Julia just pulled up. 

CLYDE
Great!

SADIE
She caught me with my pants down!

BRIAN
Gross.

SADIE
Shut up!

CLYDE
Hey guys! Julia is here!

JULIA and LORELEI enter.  JULIA is burdened by bags.  LORELEI is cool and composed and carries only her own bags.  LORELEI is in her twenties and looks very much like she just walked out of Burning Man, almost everything she says is tinged with sarcasm. 
Everyone crowds around JULIA and LORELEI.  During the scene, hugs are passed around between the people who know each other.  JASON stays a respectable distance away and watches the action. 

JULIA
Hey everyone I’m so sorry.

SADIE
Did you see my ass when you pulled up?

JULIA
What?

MIKE
Julia, I was so worried.

ANNE
Where have you been?

FRANCES
Do you have the keys to get in.

GREG
Maybe someone should take her bags.

AJ
I’ll take this one.
AJ, MIKE, GREG and FRANCIS all take bags from JULIA.
JULIA
It was a mess.  Everything was a mess.  The store was closed, then I got lost, and I had to pick up Lorelei, but we hadn’t really arranged a spot before hand.

LORELEI
Hey everybody.

JULIA
Sorry.  Everybody, this is Lorelei.  She’s my friend from the troupe I was with this summer.  Lorelei this is Sadie, Greg, Mike –

FRANCES
The keys Julia.

GREG
Frances!

JULIA
Sorry.
JULIA looks for her keys and on finding them hands them to FRANCES who unlocks the door. ANNE, MIKE and GREG follow him in. 
FRANCES
What? It’s cold and dark out here. I’m just being practical.

MIKE
We’ll do introductions later.

JULIA
Is everyone here?

AJ
We’re still missing Laura and Alex.

LORELEI
Oh my god, are you totally gay?

AJ
I’m sorry?

LORELEI
Oh don’t get offended.  I just spent the whole fall in the ass hole of the world in the southwest and I haven’t seen a gay dude since May and god do I miss you guys.  It's like I'm back to civilization. 

CLYDE
Julia, do you have more bags in your car? Can I help you?

JULIA
Yeah, that would be great.
CLYDE and JULIA exit to get bags out of JULIA's car.  When he retrieves them, he brings them into the house.  Everyone inside is talking in animated happy tones about the house and the dinner.  The tones are a happy but low roar. 
LORELEI
Oh my god, is this where we’re staying?  This is so evil empire headquarters.  When Julia said retreat I figured a hotel or something.  Are we here for the whole two weeks?

SADIE
Isn’t it beautiful?  

LORELEI
Yeah.  If you like Ikea. 

SADIE
I do! I could totally get completely lost there.  I love your name, by the way.  So beautiful. 

LORELEI
Yeah. Thanks. And you are?

SADIE
Sadie.  Just Sadie.  Like the Beatles song except it isn't from that at all.  And it's not short for Sarah.  My parents were a little weird. Anyway, it's funny because we were just talking about unusual names.  I wanted to name my daughter onion, you know because you can peal an onion back and get layers and layers...but I ended up going with Rose, of course, by any other name and all that.

LORELEI
Onion. I totally love it.  You should totally rename her Onion.

SADIE
Oh, she’s in her twenties now.  Kind of hard to rename a kid then!

LORELEI
Wow.  You must be so old.  It’s great that you’ve come out to this thing with all these young people.  Mostly old people have their lives all put together by now and are doing important things.  But you are like totally going back to your roots aren’t you? Is this some kind of midlife crisis? 

SADIE
Oh. No.  I just hooked up with Laura in a class once and she invited me along.

LORELEI
That’s great.  Hey, I’m going to go put my stuff down and head into the kitchen. It was nice to meet you.
LORELEI exits without having paid any attention so SADIE at all.  JASON, who has been listening, walks up to SADIE.
JASON
Well, she seems like she’s going to be entertaining.

SADIE
I read in a book recently that the best way to make friends is just to start talking like you already are best friends.  They way children do.  Just go up and start talking about things that are significant.

JASON
I don't think she read that book.

SADIE
I don't want to spend two weeks with strangers.

JASON
But you know almost everyone here, don't you?

SADIE
Mostly just from being in the same room.  Sometimes I do feel like I'm in some sort of mid life crisis.  I don't want to seem like the old fart who's hanging around kids to feel young.

JASON
We're not kids any more.

SADIE
Brian is just a year older then my daughter. But what about you? What is it like for you?  You don't really know anyone here really. This isn't even your state.


JASON
Francis and Laura and I go way back.

SADIE
What was Francis like before Greg?

JASON
The same but not as happy.  Not as sure of himself.  He seems settled now.

SADIE
Like Laura. What about you? I don't see a ring. Girl friend or boy friend back home?

JASON
Just a cat and a desk.  And you?

SADIE
Two divorces and a daughter. 
JASON's phone beeps.  He takes it out.
JASON
Sorry. It’s just family stuff back at home.  

SADIE
Oh.  I know how that is.  I'll leave you to it.  Don't stay out too long.
SADIE moves inside.  Now JASON is alone with his phone.  There is a lot of talk and commotion in the house as lights are turned on and everyone moves into the kitchen and spreads out. A car pulls into the driveway. After a moment LAURA enters.  She is beautiful, intelligent and just the type of woman you would imagine being talked about all night. 
Laura

JASON
Hello Laura. 

LAURA
Hey Jason. 
They embrace.  The hold lasts longer then it should.  LAURA pulls away first.
LAURA
Did you come right from the airport?

JASON
Yeah.  

LAURA
How’s your mom?


JASON
Not good.

LAURA
I’m sorry.  You didn’t have to come you know.

JASON
I needed this.

LAURA
I’m so sorry Jason.  I wish I could have been there for you.  How was the funeral?

JASON
I don't want to talk about it. 

LAURA
Is everyone here?

JASON
I don’t know.  Most people are, I think.

LAURA
Great. I'm so sorry I'm late. Did I miss dinner?

JASON
Nope.  You have a great sense of timing. 

LAURA
Well, then I'd better make my entrance.  Are you coming?

JASON
No.  Not yet.  

LAURA
I'm so happy you're here. I've been looking forward to this all year.  I really do think this is going to be amazing.
JASON and LAURA embrace again.  LAURA pulls away again, but more reluctantly this time.    
LAURA
Well.  I might as well get this thing started.   I really am so happy you are here.  Soon as we get a second we need to sit down and talk.  Catch up.  

JASON
I'd like that.
LAURA does go in.  A general cry of happiness when she does.  JASON's phone beeps.  He just watches her.

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