| FROM THE MUSE | BY BENNETT VOGT | MAY, 2013 |
The stage is bare and black except for four seats. They should be designed to mimic seats on a train as much as possible. The seats are paired and separated by a thin aisle. The audience must have a row through the middle that lines up with the gap between the chairs. At the back of the stage there is a single curtained entrance in what is otherwise an impenetrable wall. Speakers should be set up around the performance space, but concealed, to provide the sounds for the train ride. The stage is lit brightly from the sides and minimally from the front to provide the illusion that light comes only from imaginary windows on either side.
At the beginning of the scene, two men are sitting in the chairs stage left, and a woman is sitting in the chair on far stage right. The woman is looking out the window and listening to music on headphones (EMILY). The man on the right is reading (DANIEL); the man on the left is asleep with his head back against the seat (ARCHIE). DANIEL and EMILY are approximately the same age, but ARCHIE is significantly older.
A train horn blares to open the scene. ARCHIE awakens and mimes the opening of a shade on the window of the train, at which point the stage left lights illuminate his face.
ARCHIE [Turning around in surprise towards DANIEL] Oh hello!
DANIEL Good morning.
ARCHIE How long have I been asleep? Did you get on at Columbus?
DANIEL Nope, Pittsburgh.
ARCHIE Well, then I have been asleep a while. [Pause] Did I miss anything?
DANIEL I wouldn’t know. I’ve been reading, and I’d like to get back to it now if you don’t mind.
ARCHIE Oh of course, didn’t mean to disturb you. [Looks out the window and taps on his chin for a few seconds] Trains are by far the best way to travel.
ARCHIE They are reasonably fast and give you a view of the world that you wouldn’t get otherwise.
DANIEL [Still reading] Yep.
ARCHIE When you’re driving, it’s nearly impossible to enjoy the experience. You’re so caught up in where you’re going, how to get there, how much gas is left, and where you’ll stop to eat. And oh, I get such bad shin pains from pressing the accelerator. [DANIEL gives up on the book and puts it down exasperatedly; ARCHIE turns to him.] But I digress, because the point is that on a train, you have everything with you, the directions aren’t your responsibility, and you’re free to look out at the beautiful countryside. Don’t you agree?
DANIEL Sure. [Tries to go back to reading]
ARCHIE Oh and don’t even get me started on planes! The noise is so bad you can never sleep, and you always feel cooped up. I admit it’s better now that people aren’t allowed to smoke, but still, people were made to live with more space. It’s hard enough to forget about hurtling through the air at breakneck speeds.
DANIEL I really don’t see how a train is much different. It’s still confining…
ARCHIE Oh I’m really sorry, I’m annoying you again aren’t I? But it’s a problem with the whole world. Cities just keep getting more and more crowded because everyone thinks that’s the place to live and work. Well, I bet they all secretly find it unbearable being so close to one another.
DANIEL I’ve lived in cities all my life and never felt that way.
ARCHIE Well I mean I suppose it depends on the city. Some are quite nice, but where’re you from anyways?
DANIEL I ah, I grew up in Albany but I went to college in Pittsburgh.
ARCHIE Oh okay. I’m from Chicago originally.
DANIEL Then I suppose you would know about big cities.
ARCHIE Well I mean different strokes for different folks, but tell me this isn’t a better view than a disgusting city street. [He gestures out the window.]
DANIEL It’s boring! Just miles and miles of corn, wheat, corn, little houses, and more corn. I prefer Dickens’ intriguing, marshy landscapes.
ARCHIE Dickens!? That’s what you’re reading? Isn’t that just one of those awful “great” books they make you read in high school? It seems like it’s never going to end and then it turns out everyone’s related somehow, right?
DANIEL I don’t know, I just try to read it every two years. It’s such a rich book that I manage to notice something new every time. See? [Shows ARCHIE the back cover of his book] Every time I find something new or interesting I mark it with the date and the page number. It’s like a little game I play with the books I reread.
ARCHIE And evidently it requires a great deal of concentration.
DANIEL I suppose I should apologize.
ARCHIE Oh please, it’s my big mouth’s fault. Or perhaps your fault for choosing to sit next to me.
[EMILY gets up from her seat and walks to the back of the stage, going through the curtain. When she does this, ARCHIE turns around to check her out as she leaves.]
DANIEL You’re a perv. [He scans the back cover of his book again]
ARCHIE Naw, I’m just old. [Turning back to DANIEL] Say why didn’t you decide to sit next to her? I’m a little too old for her but she’d really go for you.
DANIEL Her blaring music would’ve been worse for my reading than your snoring. [Writing in some new numbers]
ARCHIE Whoa, I snore? Why didn’t you—oh never mind. But still why the hell wouldn’t you sit there? Treat it as a challenge, you know? Strike up a conversation with her, get her to take off her headphones, and see where that might end up. She seems like a nice girl.
DANIEL From behind anyways.
ARCHIE I see you won’t easily forgive me for that. But seriously, it’s these kinds of interactions that make a confined space bearable.
DANIEL I still say it was more bearable before you woke up, but in any case I can’t see where it would end up. I’m married.
ARCHIE You’re married!? So young? C’mon, that’s just foolish.
DANIEL I’m not that young. Yesterday was my twenty-eighth birthday.
ARCHIE Well I suppose you’re putting me to shame then, being fifty-six and not even married yet.
DANIEL It’s never too late they say.
ARCHIE Well I’d love to meet those who say that. Besides, you’re acting like it’s a crime to speak to the other gender just because you are married. Nothing has to come of it necessarily.
DANIEL Sure, but not the way you intended it at first. Listen, I’m gonna go get something to eat. Try not to jump that girl when she comes back.
ARCHIE I’ll do my best. [Smiling] My name’s Greg by the way.
DANIEL [Refusing to shake ARCHIE’s extended hand] Daniel.
ARCHIE [Sarcastically over his shoulder] Guess we’re friends now.
[DANIEL gets up and walks to the rear curtain. He almost runs into EMILY coming back. They do an awkward dance to get around one another, and then she comes back toward the seats, headphones still over her ears. ARCHIE takes out a piece of paper and writes furiously until EMILY arrives at his latitude. He hides the paper and turns to her.]
ARCHIE Hey, excuse me. [She doesn’t hear him at first and starts to sit down] Excuse me!
EMILY Hello? [She is startled and removes her headphones, looking at ARCHIE.]
ARCHIE [Gesturing to seat next to his] Come and sit here for a minute.
EMILY Won’t your friend come back and want it?
ARCHIE We’ll be done before that happens. [She sits cautiously. Pause.] Hand me that bag hanging on the side of the chair you’re sitting on please.
[She does, and he holds it in his lap for a little while.]
EMILY Won’t your friend want that back?
ARCHIE Oh he’s not my friend.
EMILY Oh. Shouldn’t we put it back then?
ARCHIE No, no.
EMILY Why not?
ARCHIE [With sudden gravity] Listen, my name’s James de Vries, and I’m going to need your help.
EMILY Well, uh, sure. With what?
ARCHIE Well you see, I’m a bounty hunter. You know what that means right?
EMILY You mean like ‘Dog?’
EMILY The reality TV star? Runs around Hawaii with a mane of blond hair, sunglasses, and a leather outfit? [Skeptically] I have to say I don’t see much likeness.
ARCHIE Oh I don’t watch much television, but I do go around looking for the criminals and freeloaders the police just can’t catch. See, look at this. [Produces a small badge from his right pocket and hands it to EMILY; she is appropriately amazed]
EMILY Wow. How did you get this? [Tracing its six-pointed star outline with her finger]
ARCHIE A couple years studying criminal justice and then a few other training sessions. My profession is in high demand, but it doesn’t really pay regularly. Generally I have to work really hard to find the baddies: talking to contacts at phone companies, and sitting stakeouts and such. But today, I think one has just dropped right into my lap. [Bounces the shoulder bag in his hands]
EMILY Who do you think that guy is?
ARCHIE Well, lately I’ve been hearing from my sources about a guy in Philly: incredible mastermind it would seem. He’s actually managed to embezzle several million dollars from the city hall. Imagine that! See most people think it’s just plain corruption, but my friends and I think there’s something more going on.
EMILY And you think it’s him? That seems farfetched.
ARCHIE I know, I know. I hesitate to think I’ve been that lucky. Just something he said tipped me off…
EMILY I couldn’t hear a word. [Pointing at headphones on her neck] What did he say to you?
ARCHIE He said that he just got married, but I didn’t see a ring on his finger or anything. It’s a really lame excuse to explain why you would be traveling alone, but it’s great for explaining why you’re flush with cash after just combining bank accounts with your spouse.
EMILY I suppose so. But maybe he is married and just couldn’t afford it? Then he wouldn’t be guilty at all.
ARCHIE Yes, that is possible, but then he said he was looking forward to going west and buying up some real estate.
EMILY Oh. Well that is contradictory…
ARCHIE Also, he got on at Pittsburgh right? I was asleep so I don’t remember.
EMILY Yeah he almost missed the train, he was panting when he got on, I remember.
ARCHIE Well if he was on the run from Philly and wanted to cover his tracks, he’d probably have to change trains. He’d be running so he wouldn’t get stuck in one place.
EMILY I guess he was very harried…
EMILY Man I cannot believe I might have been a seat away from a real criminal. How do you prove it though?
ARCHIE I’m not sure. Philly PD said they were getting close to him, but there were absolutely no electronic records! [He opens the bag and begins to look through it.] Hold this for a second. [Puts Daniel’s wallet on her lap]
EMILY Umm, remind me why you need my help?
ARCHIE Well I wasn’t hardly going to go through this bag without you knowing why. [Takes out a copy of Macbeth and opens it] And besides you—oh my god.
EMILY What? What is it?
ARCHIE I think I know how he got away with his crime… Look at all these numbers and dates. [Shows her the back cover of Macbeth] He must’ve slowly added more and more money to the accounts, and he managed to keep it all off record by writing it in works of literature. Jesus! What a find. [Starts reading the page more carefully] Quick, look in his wallet.
EMILY Excuse me?
ARCHIE [Not looking up from Macbeth] Go on, we got him! Look in his wallet.
EMILY What am I looking for? [Slowly opens wallet]
ARCHIE Well, a friend of mine at the police department told me that some fake driver’s licenses have been issued recently in the Philly area. Last time we talked I took down this list of places. [Takes out the sheet of paper from earlier] Half of them are just kids who want to get into bars and clubs, but the others are people who are really up to no good. I think the culprit is on the run with fake ID, and he’s gonna try and get far away with that money. He said his name is Daniel and that he grew up in Albany. So, um, New York State driver’s license?
EMILY [Removing it from the wallet] Yes.
ARCHIE Ok, well he said his birthday was yesterday, so June 15th?
EMILY Yeah, June 15th!
ARCHIE Well that’s settled then, it’s him, and his fake name’s Daniel. I just need his credit card number so I can check his accounts later.
EMILY Of course. [Grabs a credit card and reads it out, Archie writes down on the sheet of paper] 6754-9453-0902-8854.
ARCHIE Quick, let’s put all this back.
[He puts the book back. She puts the wallet back and hangs the bag on the chair. They sit there for a brief pause.]
EMILY [Hands on knees] This is probably the craziest thing that’s happened to me, ever. Are you gonna arrest him?
ARCHIE Oh no sweetheart, that’s not my job. I’ll just tell those who can where he is, and probably collect a reward. All in a day’s work. What’s your name again kiddo?
EMILY Oh I don’t think I said earlier, but it’s Emily. [She shakes his hand.]
ARCHIE Thank you so much for your help Emily. I couldn’t have done it without you.
EMILY You’re welcome.
[At this point, DANIEL comes through the curtain and walks down the aisle.]
ARCHIE You’re very pretty, you know that?
EMILY Umm, yeah, I-I mean no. I mean thank y—
DANIEL [Leaning on the chair] He isn’t bothering you is he?
EMILY What!? Oh him? Me? No… No, everything’s fine. [Nervous laughter. Pause.] You want your seat back?
DANIEL Um, yeah, that would be nice.
EMILY Alright I’ll just go back—ah, over there. [Moves to her seat and immediately puts her headphones on]
DANIEL [Sitting] What did you say to spook her so badly?
ARCHIE Oh nothing, just a little story. I was mostly interested to see if I could actually get you to interact with her.
DANIEL How’d that go?
ARCHIE Miserable failure evidently.
DANIEL Seriously though, what did you tell her? I haven’t seen someone that frightened in years. Was it something I—
ARCHIE No, no you didn’t do anything. I was telling her a story… about a boy named Archie. You might like it. I happen to think it’s rather like Dickens.
DANIEL Well do tell. [He puts his book back into his bag without much consideration.]
ARCHIE Well, Archie was a young boy growing up in the city. His single mother didn’t have enough money to pay for childcare, and she couldn’t bring him to work, so what she did was leave him at a local playground during the middle of the day.
DANIEL That’s awful!
ARCHIE Now you shouldn’t think that Archie’s mom was negligent or uncaring; it’s just that with the closest family members being miles away this was the best solution she could come up with. Besides, many daycare groups and parents with kids used the playground throughout the day. Archie didn’t enjoy his time at the playground much though. Even at such a young age, Archie was somewhat aware of the perils of his situation. When groups of kids showed up at the playground he had to try and blend in with them. He had to make sure that nobody noticed he was there alone, but when the groups left he had to hide under a green plastic slide. Archie spent hours carving designs with rocks under that slide waiting for his mom to come back. Even when he was surrounded by a crowded mass of other yelling kids, he was still alone.
DANIEL Where did you hear this story?
ARCHIE Oh, you know, one picks up these stories on a nomadic life. Anyways, one day Archie was under the slide carving a picture of some animal or other, I forget, when he heard footsteps coming toward him. I—, I mean Archie, thought that it was all over then. He’d been found out, and he’d be taken away from his mom forever. Instead, the head of a kind-faced man appeared around the corner of the slide. “You lose your parents?” he asked. The crow’s feet around his eyes deepened when he spoke.
DANIEL Oh no…
ARCHIE Why do you say that? This story hasn’t even gone any damn place yet! The man was the first person Archie had ever really talked to besides his mom. He even sat beneath the slide with Archie! They talked about their favorite playground equipment and Archie’s mom. They even worked together to finish the drawing of the unicorn, or Pegasus, or whatever. After a while of this the man said he had to get home, and Archie asked to go with him, and the man was happy to oblige.
DANIEL Oh please don’t go on, I see why she was so freaked out now.
ARCHIE Stop interrupting dammit! Just as they were about to leave, Archie’s mom showed up. She came storming up the sidewalk to where Archie and the man were holding hands. The man didn’t even let go until she had whopped him three times. The man then turned and hustled away, and Archie never saw him again.
DANIEL Oh thank go—
ARCHIE But Archie never forgot what his mom told him that day! That you can’t trust people just because they smile, or help you finish your drawing, or sit with you under a slide. Most people are like those gruff and grim and heartless characters in Dickens. So worn down by life that they’re willing to hurt another person. She told m—Archie that he couldn’t trust a single person, that he had to do everything he could to survive without them. Or outplay all of the other people’s agendas with his own. She tried to teach a three-year-old the word “agenda,” honestly…
[Pause during which the train clattering on the track can be heard]
DANIEL [Sheepishly] I actually met my wife at a playground.
ARCHIE Did you now? Not the first place I’d go to pick up gals.
DANIEL No, no it wasn’t like that. You see, during college I lived off campus and was part of a neighborhood watch. I used to patrol between Chestnut and Aberdeen Streets between nine and midnight. Anyhow, one night I heard a noise in the playground. I figured it was some teenagers trespassing so I went through the gate with my flashlight on and yelled “neighborhood watch! Who’s there!?” The response was laughter, and in retrospect I suppose I was being kind of ridiculous, but in the moment I was taking myself very seriously. I followed the laughter until I realized someone was hiding under the slide. When I shone my light there I saw a beautiful brunette who was nearly crying with laughter. “You got me!” she exclaimed and then set into another peal of laughter. [Laughs] Six months later I married that girl, and she’s the one I can trust most with anything. [Goes into his bag and takes out a picture of her from his wallet.]
ARCHIE Oh, don’t the two of you just look wonderful.
DANIEL Yeah, she’s still back in Pittsburgh. I didn’t have enough money to get her a ring, but that’s why I’m on my way to Omaha. I’ve got a job lined up there. Hopefully, she’ll follow me later and I think we’ll start a family.
ARCHIE Just wonderful…
[Train horn blares. EMILY jumps up and scrambles to get her bags from behind her seats. She stands in the aisle, still listening to music.]
DANIEL Well this is the stop where I have to change trains believe it or not. I think that despite how this started it’s actually been lovely to meet you Greg.
ARCHIE See you again maybe.
[They shake hands, DANIEL laughs and gets up to grab his bags. EMILY leaves first, rolling her bags down the aisle through the audience. DANIEL follows with the shoulder bag and another roller. ARCHIE is left sitting in his seat. The train horn blares again. He takes the sheet of paper he wrote the credit card number on out of his pocket, looks at it for a beat, then promptly rips it up. He goes back to staring out the window.]
ARCHIE You’ve gotta have a better agenda, Archie…
[He mimes closing the blinds. The stage lights go out.]