"Everybody's gotta be some place"

According to the book of American short plays my sister owns, this 15-minute piece by David Ives is the Hamlet of one-act plays. It's not quite Shakespeare, but this gem is probably one of the most perfect short plays ever written. I saw it recently in a showcase of short plays, and it was by far the most popular piece of the night. In some ways, it's like an extended Monty Python sketch, but it does have all the essential ingredients of a play - characters, dialogue, subtext, plot and a begining, middle and end.

btw : what follows is a synopsis of the play. If you intend to see it, it's probably best not to read this.

It begins in an New York diner. The tone is already made surreal by the bizarre menu, featuring such delicacies as pig's feet, deep-fried gizzards and cream of liver soup. A single person, Al, is seated at a table in the diner. Smiling broadly, he orders some soup and a quadruped from the indifferent waitress. Then his friend Mark stumbles in, looking disturbed.

Mark is disturbed because of an odd sequence of events that had occured that day. He went to a drugstore and asked for some aspirin, only for the clerk to look at him strangely and say, "oh we don't have that sir". He tried to buy the Daily News and ended up getting the Toronto Hairdresser. He asked a cab driver to take him to 52nd street. The driver offered to take him to Newark instead.

Al tells him to calm down and explains what's going on. Within our greater reality, there are tiny pockets of sub-realities called Philadelphias. When you're in a Philadelphia, you never get what you ask for. The city of Philadelphia itself is just a giant Philadelphia. This is why it produced the cheese steak - something no human being would ever actually ask for. Al tells Mark not to worry. After all, everybody's gotta be some place.

As he's explaining this, the waitress delivers a message to Al - he's just been fired. Al thanks her and carries on smiling. Mark, stunned, asks him what's wrong - Al loved his job. Al replies, "simple - you're in a Philadelphia, I'm in a Los Angeles, and life is beautiful". He then starts talking about how his wife left that morning, and how he's planning to deveolp the story as a script for Paramount.

Mark is still upset and wondering how to cope with his Philadelphia. Al explians to him that it's simple, all he has to do is order the exact opposite of what he wants. As an excercise, Mark tries to order a Bud and a burger.

He calls the waitress - who herself is in a Cleveland, which is like death but not as good - by yelling "HEY WAITRESS, FUCK YOU!". She promptly asks to take his order. He asks for coffee. They're all out. He asks for milk. She looks at him strangely and say, "oh we don't have that sir". He then lists off the names of every brand of beer available, which they don't have ("Heineken?" "Try again" "Rolling Rock?" "Out of stock" "Becks?" "Next"). Eventually, she says the only beer that they have is Bud. Mark says he doesn't want it. She rushes off to get it.

Al congratulates Mark on his success and continues talking about his film script. The waitress comes back and gives Al his order - a cheese steak. He calls her back and says he ordered the pig's feet. She looks at him strangely and say, "oh we don't have that sir". Al suddenly realises that he's slipped into Mark's Philadelphia. Then it strikes him that he's just lost his wife and his job. He rushes out to make some phone calls.

Mark sits in silence for a while before noticing the waitress. "Care to stand?" he asks. She smiles and takes Al's seat. "Please don't tell me your name," he says. She tells him it's Sharon. "Feel free to starve," he says, pointing at the steak. She gratefully tucks in.

Mark smiles and leans back in his chair. "Yup." he says as the lights fade, "everybody's gotta be some place."