Post Road Magazine #19

OVERTURE: A Riff on the Sin of Despair - A one-act play

Roy Ira Glassberg

For my grandson, Finn


CAST OF CHARACTERS

Priscilla - A facilitator, sixties, younger than the rest.

Endor - Gaunt and shaky; halting of speech.

Morton - A transplanted New Yorker.

Stubb - His boyhood friend.

Brenda - Good girl.

Rinaldo - A Latin.

Dorothy - A poetess.

Ova - A scrambled egg.

Tyler - A bundled up man with a hat in a wheelchair.

Taylor - A bundled up man with a hat in a wheelchair.

Clytemnestra

Cassandra


SETTING

The activities center of a senior citizen facility, an agile brain training class in progress. Dominating one corner is a large, flat screen monitor on which are written the words "The End" and "press start to continue." The participants sit in a rough arc from where they can view the screen. TYLER, bundled up in his wheelchair, sits apart. OVA and TAYLOR are absent.

PRISCILLA rises, presents herself before the class, and sets her clicker down, point


PRISCILLA

(Referring to the video just screened)

How tedious. What a bore—useless, unsatisfying, an unconscionable waste of our time. Brenda? Brenda dear, there's no reason to be taking

notes. There's nothing there you need remember or would ever want to recall; so let's, all of us, let's just banish it from of our minds forever, shall we? Mmm? All right then! Back on track, back to our purpose of improving our memories, strengthening them, working them out, keeping what's there intact. Ah me. This week's homework was lists. Can anyone tell me—


MORTON

Wait a minute, hold on! I don't get it. What's the story?


PRISCILLA

Story, Morton?


MORTON

Yeh—if it was such a terrible video, useless this and that, why show it?


Oh, Morton—

PRISCILLA

(Can't he ever leave things alone?)

(And then, fast as that—a flash of memory, anger, the beginning of an expletive, perhaps Good god!)

Good!


(From which she immediately recovers)

—question, Mort. As most of you know, I've been off at a brain trainers conference in Reno. Sponsored by, quote unquote, The Congress for Cognitive Fitness. It was a long two days. Academics upstairs in the meeting rooms delivering papers, wanting never to perish. Software developers in the ballroom below, cheap freebies, booths and demos. People with programs to sell. I had hoped to come back with something useful—but there was nothing.

(Beat)

On the last evening after the last session and the booths had closed, an academic approached me—better groomed, less seedy than the rest— and, having engaged me in conversation—Descartes and the mind body problem I believe—pressed his opus upon me—what you have just seen—and asked if I would beta test it for him. Can't remember his name. Something of a long term lapse I hope.


Dr. C.D. Hepplewhite, Ph.D.

BRENDA

(Standing)

PRISCILLA

Thank you, Brenda. Good-good. You've recalled the credits. Now I have too.


BRENDA Professor of Anatomy and Cognition.


Yes, Brenda, thank you.

PRISCILLA


BRENDA

Writer, Producer, Director, Voiceover, Power Points, Visuals—


PRISCILLA

(A bubble of acid rises)

—How could he? He did nothing to stop me from assuming that he understood me! . . .I had, after all, suggested quite plainly our situation— our needs—that here we are residents of senior living, dealing with memory loss, developing strategies to reverse it, stop it, or slow it down—sharing techniques to remember simple lists—grocery lists, task lists: "mail letter," "renew subscription."

(Perhaps a bit of a build)

Given that, given where we are, could not the man have seen that we, here, ought not to be devoting our precious locker space to learning the positions of the medulla oblongata, the lateral sulcus, and the pons? And that this might not be the best way for us to allocate our assets?


And the Hippocampus.

BRENDA


(Sits)


PRISCILLA

Yes, Brenda. Thank you. And did you notice those arrows swooping through the brain? I couldn't tell if they were turning counter-clock or clock. They seemed to switch, like one of those illusions. . . .


CLYTEMNESTRA

(Stage, East End London)

. . . Oh yes! I remember. In the Sunday papers when I was a girl. Canning Town. You look at them one way, and then the other way, and they change—you decide if it's to be the faces or the vase—and in a moment it is. Reversed, switched, just like that—

(Mini-beat)

Your newspapers are very different here! You don't have those (coyly)

naughty ladies with their boozums exposed, waiting on page three. . . .

(A little shake or thrust, less is more, and a nano-glance at Stubb)


She was talking about brains.

MORTON


PRISCILLA

We have a new member today, one we've heard about from Morton and have been expecting: Morton's friend, Stubb. Welcome, Stubb, welcome to Sunshine Senior Living, and to our class, the Agile Brain. So, tell us, how long have you two known each other? And how did you meet? When? Where? Tell.


MORTON Public School 167. We were in the same class.


On Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn.

STUBB


STUBB and MORTON

(Quick, one-two)


STUBB Near the Brooklyn Public Library.


MORTON

Near the cafeteria where the bookies hung out.

And the year was the year we won: Brooklyn won the World Series. It felt like that—the entire world: America—for the first time ever—beating guess who, hey? Hey who! Nineteen Fifty-Five, October. Baseball.

(Mind flip)

Which made up for that . . . miserable . . . bastard . . . wretched son-of-abitch: Ralph Branca!


DOROTHY

(Audible intake, tut or sniff)


They stole the signs, Mort.

STUBB

MORTON Part of the game. Part of the game.


PRISCILLA

Ah yes. Perhaps everyone knows what's being discussed, mmm? . . . Hmm. Stubb, a brief 101, later, if we have the time?


STUBB Oh sure, glad to, it's an interesting story.


PRISCILLA

I'll call upon you should the moment be right. (Beat) All right then. Now, having been stupefied by that dreadful film, I suggest we get back to being ourselves. And— Regardez-moi, s'il vous plaît—here is Plan A. All with me? mmm? So then: I'll start down the row calling names, and, when you hear yours—listen-listen!—Do say a word or two about yourself by way of introduction. (To STUBB) I'm Priscilla, by the way.


That says the end.

ENDOR


PRISCILLA Yes, Endor. Stubb, this is Endor.


Hello, Endor, my pleasure.

STUBB


That says the end.

ENDOR


PRISCILLA

(Chirpy lite)

Yes, indeed, Endor. It has part of your name in it.


ENDOR There's no such thing as the end!


PRISCILLA

Mmm? —And why not? You'll have to tell us all about it, briefly.

ENDOR

There's no such thing as the end. Zeno of Elea proved it with the paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise. We make progress, progress—


PRISCILLA Yes, progress is good, Endor, we all want that.


ENDOR

We progress. Yes, indeed, move up oh yes: closer and closer and closer, closer, close—closer close, close, close, close, just . . . almost . . . yes . . .


DOROTHY (Whimpers)


Right there, yes; almost—

ENDOR


DOROTHY

(Again . . .)


And you never get there.

ENDOR


DOROTHY

(Con brio)


Fucking drama queen.

MORTON


ENDOR

Closer and closer, slower and slower

No such thing as a point.

Cause imaginary, effects illusion

A slurry of chaos and noise.


DOROTHY

(Rising, daggers at Morton, then addressing PRISCILLA.)

I have a poem.


There is no end.

ENDOR

PRISCILLA

You may have a point, Endor. Yet, we do step over cracks in the sidewalk, my experience. Yes, Dorothy, we do want to hear; let's hear your poem. Wait! It's not long and dreary is it?


It's short.

DOROTHY


ENDOR

There's no such thing as a point! How can something without spacial or temporal existence be said—


Put a dish on it, Endor.

CLYTEMNESTRA


DOROTHY It has . . . There's graphic language.


Anyone not fine with that?

PRISCILLA


But appropriate to the voice.

DOROTHY


PRISCILLA Mmm, yes, that's important. Yes.


DOROTHY

(Breath)

The title is: "The Moment Before His Enlightenment."


(Pause)


Yes, we're waiting.

PRISCILLA


DOROTHY No. I won't!—I want Morton to read it!


Put it to rest, Dotty.

MORTON


Morton? Mmm? What say?

PRISCILLA


Never.

MORTON


DOROTHY I want Morton to read it; it needs his voice.


I'd rather die.

MORTON


PRISCILLA

Well, we seem to be at an impasse, and I'm hoping that the gentleman will rise up, ride in, and break it. So I ask, Morton—in the interest of peace— not justice—no, no, on that we do agree—would you mind? Then we can move on.


All right, let me see, what is it?

MORTON


DOROTHY

Morton? . . . Morton dear: a small break, a caesura, a bit of a pause between the next to last line, penultimate . . . and the last. Pause. And then think, forward.


MORTON

(Rolls eyes up.)


DOROTHY

And let the title flow into the body. Let it flow directly: "The Moment Before His Enlightenment," and then, into it, directly. And remember: a little pause before the last.


MORTON The Moment Before His Enlightenment Rubin said to his out-of-town friend

It's different here than New York

Here the pedestrian has the right of way

You in the crosswalk

You own the street

The cars have to stop for you

And fuck'em if they don't want to

It's the law.


Here

(Stepping forward)


(Pause)

I don't understand the end. That's the end? "Here"? With no period? It's just: "It's the law.

Here . . ."?

(To the class, seeking justice )

Shouldn't there be a period before the end?—It just ends? There's no period before the end? Shouldn't there be a period before the end?


ENDOR

What is the difference between here and there?


MORTON

(This to Endor; whether as a question or flat-faced depends on actor and director.)


A "t"


Infinity.

ENDOR


DOROTHY

(To MORTON)

The voice trails out into the ineffable.


PRISCILLA

Thank you, Dorothy; good arc. Now shall we go back to where we were a few moments ago?


ENDOR Hoo, hoo, this I want to see. Never.


PRISCILLA

Again, I'll proceed down the row calling names, and if all goes well and we get to you, do say a few words—few—about yourself by way of intro-

duction. Our time is limited and everyone needs their turn.

(Calling the first name)

Clytemnestra.


CLYTEMNESTRA

(Rises, something like a curtsy.)

They call me Clytemnestra because they said I did in me husband in the tub. But I only found him there.


Thank you. Who's next?

PRISCILLA


CLYTEMNESTRA

I fancied the name, I did, and I took it. So much for them.

(Sits)


All right, let's see. Cassandra.

PRISCILLA


Yes, I'm here.


Cassandra?

CASSANDRA


(Beat)


PRISCILLA


Yes, I'm here! Present.

CASSANDRA


Cassandra, are you—

PRISCILLA


CASSANDRA

(Gestures widely (sic))


Ah yes, there you are.

(To STUBB)

Stubb, Cassandra says hello.

PRISCILLA


I can speak for myself.

CASSANDRA


PRISCILLA That's a good one. Who'll be next? Ahh, Brenda.

(To STUBB)

Brenda bakes. She baked our date squares today. Simply scrumptious. Tell us how you do it, Brenda.


BRENDA

Hardly a secret. I simply follow the directions—the directions exactly— add nothing and leave nothing out. And this—as a guiding motif—has been the secret of a satisfied and sustainable life.


Oh. Wait.

OVA

(Obese, frazzled: rushes in, halts—)


(Rushes out)


PRISCILLA

Since our time is somewhat limited, why don't we combine our introductions with today's lesson and give Stubb a sense of what we're about here.

(To STUBB)

Lately we've been developing strategies for memorizing lists. And while each of us may have our own idiosyncratic style—peculiar to our selves—self? Self!—the underlying principles remain the same—stay present in the moment. Remain grounded here and now, and grasp your mast if Sirens sing.


Is that a bug or a floater?

ENDOR

(To CASSANDRA)


I can't see anything.

CASSANDRA


It's a bug.

ENDOR


Wait!


Who is that?

OVA

(Rushes in, halts before getting to her chair) (Rushes back out)

STUBB


BRENDA

(Rises)

Her name is Ova. It means egg in Latin. She's obese.

(Sits)


PRISCILLA


Attention s'il vous plaît. Everyone . . . Let's help Priscilla with the tiller, shall we?—On course. On course again! Now, is everyone present and on board? Mmm?

(To STUBB)

All right then. Last week, we were discussing our individual methods for setting lists in memory.

(Beat)

Rinaldo, we haven't heard from you. Do you have some special way that you're fond of—some particular technique that helps you to recall your lists? Share, Rinaldo! Tell us: How do you do it? How do you keep your items in mind?


RINALDO

I breathe in their scent and I picture what lies beneath, and then I run my fingers everywhere and feel the weight, and give a little squeeze, there and here—and if I am bold—and I am usually quite bold—I taste.


Bravo, Rinaldo.

PRISCILLA


(To the others)

The man has done his homework!

(Aside to STUBB)

Summer fruits and vegetables were this week's assignment.

(To class)

Does anyone else have a system they want to share? Mmm? Yes, Brenda.

BRENDA

(Rises)

We categorize: fruits with the fruits and nuts with the nuts.

(Sits)


Wait. —I need—


What's her problem?

OVA

(Rushes in and stops) (turns, rushes back out)

STUBB


Ova. Wait!

PRISCILLA

(Rushes after OVA, speaking quickly)


CLYTEMNESTRA

(Mini-beat as she considers PRISCILLA'S last)

No, it's more than that.


RINALDO

I have heard her living quarters—Chaos. Nowhere to sit, no surface from which to eat. Just papers, waiting; books piled on their stomachs with yellow spines cracked.


DOROTHY

I feel sorry for her, poor thing. To see her racing about.


Frantic.

CLYTEMNESTRA


RINALDO Heaps and piles. It will never get done.


ENDOR How can an infinite series have a finite sum?


DOROTHY

She starts for something she's remembered—a shrub needs watering, a

plate of birth control food for the ground squirrels, and she's on her way. But then she spots something else—it'll only take a second—just needs doing—if she doesn't do it now, she won't remember it and it'll go undone. Just take a sec, and then—she remembers a petition she's forgotten to mail. Just a sec; she'll be back—and on the way . . .


She never gets anywhere.

BRENDA


A real sucker for causes.

MORTON


No cause. . . . No such thing.

ENDOR


(A metronome)

No cause, no effect, no cause . . .


MORTON

Told me that back in the 70's she was part of a bunch that went to Washington to levitate the White House. They were going to put an end—once and for all—to the abuse of power.


No effect.

ENDOR


(Beat)


CLYTEMNESTRA

Was anyone else struck by Priscilla's response to the video? I took her mood, as peculiar.


BRENDA

The video was ordinary—an example of its type, nothing more.


MORTON

I can't see what she was getting so excited about.


CLYTEMNESTRA

For myself, I found the part about the pellucidum and the various pleasure centers quite engaging—


I see . . .

CASSANDRA

(Rising, eyes closed, perhaps an arm out, sensing the mist)


Oh no! Not this again! Please!

MORTON


CASSANDRA

I see Priscilla and the gentleman—the voice from the video—wanting, wanting, waiting, wanting—and then: —Oh no, I say no more.

(Sits)


ENSEMBLE

No, no, no, that's crazy! Be serious! How stupid! Never! There she goes—

at it again!


You're wrong.

BRENDA


CLYTEMNESTRA

A touch of My Sin? No, no, I can hardly imagine it.


MORTON Who'd want to get involved with that?


A pleasant fiction.

DOROTHY


RINALDO

In any event I see that it is now time for our break. Therefore, if you will excuse me.

(A little wave, starts out, others follow, leaving STUBB, CLYTEMNES- TRA, ENDOR and TYLER.)


End of Part One of One

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