A bit of context (about context):
Ordinarily, when I'm, say, submitting a play for consideration by a theatre, I offer little in the way of comment on the piece except for the obligatory brief synopsis. Plays scripts are more like symphony scores than novels. They aren't really meant to be read, but performed. It takes a lot of experience and a bit of innate ability to read a play and really see it staged in your mind. Loathe as they are to admit it, most literary managers and artistic directors aren't really capable of making this sort of conceptual leap. And sometimes, thus, good plays fall through the net, while lesser, more "reader-accessible" scripts get picked and produced. Ah well: just one of the may pitfalls of this arcane craft. I don't recommend it to the instant gratification seeker. Come to think of it, I don't recommend it to anyone.
So know that the italicized text following this, but prior to the actual play, contains spoilers, not of the plot variety, but of the symbolic-and-thematic-intentions-of-the-author kind. I kinda hate doing this, but I have to believe that it makes up in small piddling part for the lack of actual dramatic impact that only comes with witnessing a live performance.
I've been intrigued for at least a few years now about the problem of horror in theatre. I'll get more into exactly what I mean by that in some later node. For now suffice it to say I wanted to write a play, and I wanted it to be scary. Some intervening actual horror, the death of my father, the death of a good friend and colleague waylaid me for a while, and when I got back to the project I decided it was probably savvier from an experimental perspective to write a bunch of small attempts, than one long play that may or may not winding up being scary. I could then maybe try to stage my short experiments, and use what I learn in the process to create a longer form, if I was still into the idea.
So one of my ideas started with this simple germ: what if two random people met and discovered they were having each other's dreams. From here I began lightly building in my favorite freest fashion, by just randomly associating and seeing where it takes me. I thought of Queen Mab and went back to read Mercutio's famous rant. Spiders seemed to be prominent in that speech, so I let that take me further on. I leave it to you to find the connections, such as they are. I soon decided that only one of the characters should be dreaming the other's dream, thus leaving more opportunity to explore and offer up the "who's dreaming who?" question.
Ironically, E2 is an strangely ideal place to place this particular play in script form. With pipe-links and nodeshells, a playwright can give a dream play some nice added subconscious depth. After all, what is this place but a poor geeks' scratchings at the collective unconscious?
What I ended up with pleases me more than most short plays I write. I think it has the potential to be fundamentally frightening when staged before an unsuspecting audience, but we'll have to wait a while to engage that experiment. When we do, I'll let you know how it goes.
(A woman, Mabel, sits next to an open seat.
Drum enters from behind the seat. He stops at Mabel.)
DRUM: May I?
MABEL: By all means.
(Drum sits. Mabel speaks again after a beat, in a somehow different voice.)
MABEL: By all means.
DRUM: I'm sorry.
MABEL: Of course you are, dear.
DRUM: What? . . . . I'm sorry? I'm afraid I don't understand.
MABEL: Of course, dear, of course. Afraid. Don't understand.
DRUM: Okay. Maybe I should - -
MABEL: They're only blankers' box.
MABEL: No need to stare. The're only blankers' box, and I'm afraid you're afraid after all don't you know.
DRUM: (beginning to get up): Yeah, okay. I think I'm gonna--
(He sits before a thought stops him.)
MABEL: Was I just talking? . . . Spouting nonsense?
DRUM: Well, I'm not sure I. . . sure.
MABEL: Do I seem different now?
MABEL: Than just earlier, just then, when I was speaking nonsense.
DRUM: I suppose. Sure. Look I--
MABEL: Stay. There's no other seats. Please stay.
DRUM: That's all right.
MABEL: I'll stand if you go. So stay. Let's both be comfortable. No more nonsense talking. I'm better now, right?
DRUM: Sure. You weren't . . . . Sure.
MABEL: I was dreaming of course.
DRUM: Oh, you were . . .
MABEL: Sleep talking. I do it more and more.
MABEL: I couldn't tell you why?
Drum begins to relax a bit, closes his eyes. The lights blink on and off for just a second, as if the train were passing through an arch.)
What was I dreaming?
DRUM: I-- don't know.
MABEL: Well, of course I don't expect you to know. I don't think I'm crazy. Wait. . . I'm a spy. I'm a spy in this vast place. Only maybe it's not so vast. It has boundaries. I know it. Maybe it's a forest, dark, but beautiful and welcoming. Then again, maybe it's an old-fashioned department store, the same, dark, welcoming vast, it takes up the whole block, or maybe three or four. In any case, forest or department store, it's crawling with people, all pleasant, and darkly beautiful. So why am I here? I want to stay here. But now I'm in the sand. On a beach. It's a beach. But where's the water. I can't see it. I wanna see the water, see the big waves, there's some solace in them, I know it. But all I can hear is this damned gull. "Aidee!", it screams. "Aidee!" And then I realize, this is my name. It's screaming for me. And I am a darkly beautiful woman named "Aidee".
Here's the strange thing. Are you listening?
DRUM: I'm sorry.
MABEL: It's not my dream.
DRUM: It's not?
DRUM: It's someone else's dream?
MABEL: Someone else's. Completely.
MABEL: Who knows?
DRUM: So how do you know the dream?
MABEL: How do I know it?
DRUM: You said it wasn't yours. How could you have dreamt it?
MABEL: I closed my eyes and dreamt it, didn't I? How else would I have known it?
DRUM: I-– I'm confused. You dreamt someone else's dream?
MABEL: That seems obvious, doesn't it?
MABEL: You mean to say it's never happened to you?
MABEL: You just dream your own dreams?
DRUM: I don't dream.
MABEL: You're lying.
DRUM: No, I'm not. I haven't dreamed since I was kid.
MABEL: A kid?
DRUM: Ten maybe.
MABEL: Don't dream?
MABEL: Not since a kid?
DRUM: I'm sorry. But could I. . . ask you--
MABEL: To be quiet?
DRUM: I'm just very, very tired.
MABEL: You work hard.
DRUM: I'm wiped, yes. Very much. Thank you.
MABEL: You should try and relax.
DRUM: That's easier said than done.
MABEL: Well, many things are.
(Another blink of darkness.)
DRUM: People are afraid.
MABEL: I know.
DRUM: Why should people have to be afraid?
MABEL: I don't know.
DRUM: I know why they shouldn't have to.
DRUM: Faith.... You have to have faith in not being afraid.
MABEL: You have to?
DRUM: It's about freedom.
MABEL: I love freedom.
DRUM: So do I.
MABEL: Do you think we love it as much as each other?
MABEL: I mean. . . do you think I love it as much as you do, and . . . vice versa.
DRUM: I -- I always think of those four paintings.
MABEL: I love paintings.
DRUM: By that guy, famous guy, I don't remember, but . . . "The Four Freedoms" they were called. Freedom to Speak. Freedom to worship. Freedom from want. Freedom from fear.
MABEL: Freedom from want?
DRUM: Freedom from fear.
MABEL: You can be free from wanting?
DRUM: It's an expression. It means something different from what you mean.
MABEL: Are you sure?
DRUM: I'm talking about fear.
MABEL: And freedom. You're a freedom fighter.
DRUM: Sure. Why not?
MABEL: But you're not a soldier yourself, are you? I mean, not really.
DRUM: Actually, I think of myself as a soldier, yes.
MABEL: Yes, but. . . of course you do.
DRUM: No one supports . . . let's put it this way, I can't imagine anyone supporting the guys over-- and gals-- overseas more than me. We're all soldiers, when you think about it. Either you're a soldier or you're not fighting and if you're not fighting you might as well be on the other side, and if you're on the other side, well then you're a soldier on the other side, right? So in any case, no matter how you look at it, you're a soldier.
MABEL: That is a distinctly fascinating perspective, and intricate. Is "intricate" the word?
DRUM: My job is to support the men ideologically-- and women-- to make sure they are supported, that they have a mission and that that mission is supported.
MABEL: Well, it sounds very important. Your job.
DRUM: Well, I'm just part of a bigger thing.
MABEL: I don't doubt it for a moment.
(This time there are two blinks of darkness, the second one rather more sustained than the first.)
MABEL: Were you trying to sleep?
DRUM: Just resting my eyes.
MABEL: How delightful. My father used to use exactly the same phrase. "Resting my eyes." He'd be sitting, eyes shut, kicked back in his ratty, wool recliner. And I'd climb into his lab and say, "Whatchya doing?", and he wouldn't move. And then I'd pull his eyelids open, and ask "Whatchya doing?" And he'd say, "I was resting my eyes."
DRUM: That's funny. I have almost exactly the same memory. Right down to the ratty recliner and the pulling the eyes open.
MABEL: I'm sorry. I seem to have stolen your memory.
DRUM: Not all. I'm just saying that we have a similar memory. It's funny.
MABEL: Strange or ha ha.
DRUM: I –- I really couldn't say.
The lights that come up after a moment are strange. Drum's eyes are closed, his head tipped toward Mabel. She reaches over and brushes a lock of hair back from his face.
This time, the lights come up normally.)
DRUM: Look, there are basically three kinds of knowing. You can know what you know. You can know what you do not know. And you can not know what you don't know.
MABEL: Hmmm. What about the fourth? Not knowing what you know.
DRUM: That's not possible.
MABEL: No? In your heart?
DRUM: If you don't know, you don't know. End of story.
MABEL: In your heart? How would you know?
DRUM: If I don't know, I don't know. Certain logic is indisputable.
MABEL: It is?
DRUM: By definition.
MABEL: Oh. I suppose I wouldn't know.
Strange lights up. Both Drum and Mabel stare straight ahead.
Then normal lights up.)
MABEL: I'm in a classroom. With wooden floors. A nun is teaching the class, but I'm not certain there are any other kids but me. Maybe her name is Sister Maureen Mary Joseph. I'm in trouble. The nun calls me to front of the class. She's very short. She only comes to my chest and I'm in kindergarten. She swings a ruler at me, or a pointer maybe, but she misses 'cuz she's shrinking. Oh, she's mad now. With every swing she misses and gets a little bit smaller. It's horrible. She's nearly the size of a doll. She is the size of a doll. She is a doll. She topples over. And I run. And I run down the wooden corridor outside 'cuz I know that three men are chasing me, three men that Sister MMJ is sending, to grab me. Oh my god I am so scared I'm running I'm running don't let me trip I'm running--
DRUM: You're full of shit.
DRUM: What's your angle, lady? Are you some kind of protestor? Is that it?
MABEL: Am I protesting?
DRUM: That's my dream.
DRUM: Sister Maureen Mary Joseph?
DRUM: That's my dream.
MABEL: You don't dream.
DRUM: My first nightmare.
MABEL: You said so yourself.
DRUM: My very first one.
MABEL: But you - -
DRUM: How fucked up is that?
MABEL: I had no idea- -
DRUM: Who did you talk to? Who would tell you such a thing?
DRUM: Who told that dream to anyone?
MABEL: Who told--
DRUM: And your other dream, the one where you're in some dark forest, or dark building, crawling with beautiful dark people, and then all the sudden your in the sand, and the gull is crying "Aidee", and you realize—
MABEL: I am Aidee.
DRUM: You don't think I know what that means? "Aidee?" I.E.D?
MABEL: You know what it means?
DRUM: Improvised explosive device?
MABEL: I'm an improvised explosive device?
DRUM: You're trying to say that's my dream, some dream you dream you dreamt. But I don't dream. See?
MABEL: I had no idea - -
DRUM: Crawling with darkly beautiful-- You don't see how obvious you are? You don't think I could dream that crap if I wanted, an airplane floating sickeningly out of the sky into the drink and I'm swimming molasses from the wreckage inevitable explosion but I have to know my daughters are trapped behind you don't think I could let that bubble in my brain if I wanted?
MABEL: Your brain?
DRUM: Do you know how much could bubble if I let it?
DRUM: Do you have any idea?
MABEL: I have no idea.
DRUM: Get the fuck away from me you crazy, crazy bitch.
MABEL: Of course.
(Mabel gets up to leave.)
Of course, I'm very sorry. I'm sure.
DRUM: Just go. Just --
Lights up. Strange.
Drum sits, staring blankly ahead.
Mabel enters and makes her way up the aisle to sit beside him.)
MABEL: You poor, poor dear. Don't dream? Dearie-dear, I can heal you. I'll fill your mouth with spiders.
(She puts her hand to Drum. His eyes shut and he begins, twitching and blinking.
Fade to black.
After a moment, strange lights rise on Drum alone, facing straight forward and speaking the following. As he does, Mabel appears behind and slowly approaches.)
DRUM: I'm watching a soccer game. It's fall. Trees on fire and big empty skies. The kids are in red and blue but it doesn't matter, 'cuz they're playing like kids all glomming round the ball. I mean, what do you expect? They're just kids for Christ's sake..
And then I'm the goalie, and I have a mask, but it's not hockey, but it's slippery, the ground, not my face, 'cuz it's winter I guess. And I'm terrified. And I think that's funny, 'cuz I'm the one with the mask but I'm terrified. And they're heading toward me, and one kid kicks another kid like a ball and the kid ball rockets at me and I realize my gut is a furnace blazing white hot blue and one by one they fire at me and into me my gut furnace. And it feels so good awful when they fire into me, just like--
MABEL: Sex then?
MABEL: It's like sex, isn't it?
MABEL: Have you always wanted to be entered?
DRUM: Yes. No.
MABEL: Is it like sex?
MABEL: Like rape?
DRUM: Yes. No.
(Mabel finally reaches him. Touches his shoulder.)
BOTH: Dying. . . . Yes. No.
In strange light, Drum climbs on top of Mabel and pounds her with his fists, ultimately strangling her.
They ride together quietly, eyes closed.)
DRUM: I never wanted . . .
MABEL: Of course. Of course not.
DRUM: You think I don't want . . . .
MABEL: Of course you do.
MABEL: Of course. Of course not.
DRUM: I refuse. . . .
MABEL: Of course.
DRUM: I utterly refuse. . . .
MABEL: Utterly. I understand.
DRUM: To be a victim.
MABEL: You refuse. I understand.
DRUM: It won't happen.
DRUM: It will not happen.
MABEL: Can be very noble.
(In strange light, Mabel climbs on top of Drum and begins passionately kissing him, mouth, neck and chest.
The ride together quietly, both their eyes open.)
MABEL: You're on a train. You're devastated and you don't know why, but what you don't know is that you absolutely know, in the way of knowing you can only know in dreams, that you have caused this. This devastation. You. And you cannot get off this train. You will not get off this train. You absolutely and utterly refuse. Anything less would be ignoble. So breathe.
(Drum bursts into wrenching fits of sobbing.)
There's nothing to be afraid of. Because as sure as reason you know that you cannot know what you absolutely know. Now beg.
DRUM: I will not.
MABEL: My beautiful boy. My soldier.
A long moment passes.
The train is empty.
Mabel, enters, walks up the aisle and sits.
Drum then enters up the aisle. He stops at Mabel.)
DRUM: May I?
MABEL: You may not. You may very well not.
End of play.)