Saturday, February 18, 2012

Second Chances: A Play in Not Quite Two Acts

ACT I, scene 1

The lights go up, but not all the way; we see the stage is empty. A spotlight searches, finds nothing, goes out again. A figure enters stage left, walks across, exits stage right. Another enters stage right.

Actor A. At any given moment, we do not know what is in the next one. This is why we should not believe either the darkness or the light will stay; the sun goes up, the sun goes down.

A third figure walks down the center aisle of the theater. At the proscenium, she looks for stairs to the stage front left, finds none. She implores Actor A wordlessly; he finally walks downstage to offer his hand, hoists her up from the orchestra pit.

Actor B. [to Actor A] Thanks--I couldn't have gotten up here without that. [Pauses, looks around] In fact, I couldn't have gotten much of anyplace without a hand reaching toward me out of the half-light, I realize now. It keeps happening, when I least expect it. I've known darkness--you all have. [gesturing to the audience] Didn't you have the experience, too? I mean, when something terrible happened, and you thought this was the way it was going to be for all time? Terrible, unrelieved terribleness? And then you found there were others out there, waiting to give you back what you thought you had lost forever? I mean, you didn't know they were even there, watching, knowing! And you didn't know you had missed those parts of yourself they gave you back? I guess when the sun goes down, the sun comes back up.

Upstage, the spot lights suddenly on a rosebush that wasn't there before. It goes black, then lights on a man holding an open book. Goes black again, then
lights on a beautifully decorated birthday cake on a pedestal. Offstage, the sound of a motorcycle starting.

ACT 1, scene 2

The curtain rises on a gym exercise room. It is filled with machines--rowers, bicycles, treadmills, elliptical trainers. Actor 2 is on one of the latter, in a row of otherwise empty machines. There is only one other machine being used in the whole room. We can see she has been there for some time: sweat rolls down her face and wets the collar of her shirt. She is watching the small screen in front of her. Then a man comes through the door to the room, towel around his neck. The stage lights grow dimmer and dimmer as he strides past three rows of machines and directly to the one she is in. He goes by three empty machines, then throws his towel on the bar of the machine next to hers. We see that something has come over her: although she still stares at the television screen, her movements slow, and the look on her face is one of confusion, disbelief, and a sort of terror mixed together. She knows who he is. The source of this darkness. He plugs in his iPod and begins to peddle. Their arms are so close that if they wanted, they could reach over and touch each other. She knows him well, better than any other man save her father, and maybe better than that. She had thought he knew her too. But now, one foot away, he has not even noticed she was there. Her movements slow to a stop. She silently gets off her machine. He peddles faster, absorbed in his music. She walks deliberately toward the exit, and as she does so smoke rolls across the floor, rising up until it obscures the man, and she is gone.


Actor A. The road presents two forks. [gestures] But one cannot in fact be taken: see, a tree has fallen. One must take the left fork, then. The obstacle changes everything that comes after. The shadow of the tree remains. The traveler knows it is there, preventing a return, preventing the discovery of all that may be by the wayside along the other road. It may be beauty. It may be success, happily ever after. Or maybe not. The left fork, unfortunately, is a narrower way. It turns to dirt, and is muddy in places. [Actor B enters upstage right, walking hesitantly, then more quickly, then nearly stops, bewildered; a spotlight comes up right on the place before her, and her look brightens as she picks her way around a boulder, then continues] It is fortunate, a blessing, that the traveler never knows what is on the other road, the one she was prevented from taking. It is ever thus, for all who walk. And you--you all walk on. [The actor who crossed the stage in Act I now appears from opposite Actor B, walking toward her. The lights go down as they continue to pick their way forward. We will never see what happens at the place they meet]

Music up: a string quartet plays something plaintive yet light.



Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

I know no one's going to get this one. So I'll just pre-empt the wondering right now.

Yes, that was a true story.

And yes, this is awfully oblique. Some things I find hard to say full-on.

Anonymous said...

Ahh,the trail not traveled. As a guy, I really get that. And the tree across the trail, used to happen to me all the time when I had my Yamaha DT 250.See, I get that.

The guy in the gym? Love lost? Go on, tell me how wrong I am.

Cool, I like the play. Darkness and light. Mystical.

As a motorcyclist it speaks to me.

Sal Cuciti
Highland, NY

Anonymous said...

If I didn't get it, it still hit home.

Really? On the machine next to you... I remember the pain when I called and he asked who it was. Fifteen years and he didn't know my voice anymore.

If not that tree blocking the road, there would have been so many more obstacles ahead. I suspect the view in the end would not have been worth the effort. Even on the very hard days, I am glad to have veered off when I did.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Fifteen years for you, too, Anonymous? Wow. I wonder if there's something about that particular number . . .

Your tale too speaks of something truly incredible: either some people are capable of compartmentalization that defies my understanding of how we really connect with others, or they might never have had what we call souls in the first place.

But for me, pain was less the feeling than epic incredulity. I'm sorry you felt that pain. Terrible to be given it by someone who once professed to love; surely that should give one a lifetime bye on malice?


Sal: you got it, indeed.

Anonymous said...

I suppose pain comes in part from the realization that you could be so utterly wrong about something you believed with soul-certainty. I tend to be less adamant about things these days.

I wish you the best in your journey on this new, unchosen, but hopefully more joyous, road.

Anonymous said...


That's one seriously passive agressive move on his part. Worthy of a verbal showdown or a punch in the face. Here of course you went one better - show a writer some respect or she may turn you into a character.

Married people ignore each other all the time while sitting right there. Some for years. That's even worse. I think at a certain point you gotta count your blessings being cut loose and having a second chance. My wife would disagree and I have been told I am getting no such second chances. This from a woman who calls me her best friend.

If I were to get that type of a second chance ( not wishing for it) I hope I wouldn't waste my time looking around for " true love". Or the easter bunny. Then again, nature is pretty powerful, with a whiff of chemicals she can make you 16 again ( mentally) and before you know it you are a character in her play and you never had a chance to think about it. So, you never know.


Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

"I suppose pain comes in part from the realization that you could be so utterly wrong about something you believed with soul-certainty."

Yes. Absolutely. Now I know not to trust anything.

And I know that everything comes in bargain form. What I gained: freedom from darkness, happiness, my own voice again. What I lost: companionship, the sense that life's goals--and challenges--are shared with someone else. But what I gained far outweighs what I lost. And there is, I suppose, always the chance that I could regain the latter. That is not for me to know.

But . . . And this is a huge "but." There was a child involved. His losses are his alone, and he did not gain what I did. The injury sustained in the loss of nearly everything he knew--the ground under his feet--will be there forever, in some form. Just ask any child of divorce. Even grown up, they are always children of divorce.