Welcome to… Theatrical Thursday!
I design and illustrate theatre posters – a lot of theatre posters – for clients in New York, Atlanta, DC, and my hometown Portland, Oregon. It has been my good fortune to create posters for world premieres (from Stephen King & John Mellencamp, Craig Wright, and Stephen Sondheim), Opera (Aida, la Traviata, Madame Butterfly) and classics alike (1776, Blithe Spirit, Mame, the Mousetrap).
I also wrote (and occasionally performed) short pieces for No Shame Theatre – it was a lifeline, an outlet, and a chance for me to learn with professional writers and directors Todd Ristau and Clinton Johnston. Many of these pieces were topical and timely, a few seem to hold up, and one or two still get performed.
A Painful Death
Arthur Halliday – A rumpled unshaven man with bloodshot eyes and messy hair.
Joan – A patient, composed and erudite Librarian
(Arthur is seated stage left – under a spotlight – at a table that has unopened bills, a pack of cigarettes, an ashtray and miscellaneous office supplies. He stubs out a cigarette, avoids opening any more of the mail on the table and nervously fiddles with some paperclips as Joan speaks.)
Joan: (speaking from offstage) This is Arthur Halliday. He lost his job as Worldcom’s CFO on December 10th. His girlfriend Jennifer broke up with him on the 11th. His wife Erica left him on the 12th and took his Lexus. His accountant Dave was arrested on the 13th. His lawyer Gordy committed suicide on the 14th.
Arthur is under investigation for embezzlement and insider trading. He is more than three hundred thousand dollars debt. He owes more than two thousand dollars in unpaid parking tickets alone…
Yesterday, the big men came and took all his worldly goods. All they left was this table and and a few kitchen appliances.
The SubZero Freezer (spotlight), the DeLonghi Espresso machine (spotlight), and the Garland Gas Stove (spotlight). Arthur knows that tomorrow, they’ll cut the gas off too…
After considering his options, Arthur has finally made up his mind.
(Arthur gets up, deliberately goes over to the stove. He turns on the gas, opens the door, kneels down and puts his head inside. After a long beat, Joan steps onto the stage.)
Joan: Arthur. Please take your head out of the oven.
(Arthur starts violently and bashes his head on the roof of the oven, before swearing, standing up, rubbing his aching head, and looking incredulously at Joan.)
Arthur: Who… Who… Who are you lady? How’d you get in here?
Joan: Please, sit down. It’s important that you listen to me closely Arthur – literally a matter of life and death.
Arthur: But I… Who are you?
Joan: My name is Joan, I’m a librarian. You obviously need help, and I’m here to help you.
Arthur: (sitting down a little woozily) Help?
Joan: Yes, Arthur. Help. You were trying to end your pain and suffering by putting your head in the oven. It’s important that you understand that’s not the right thing to do.
While it’s true that more than one million people will try to end their own lives this year,
(on a roll now, she turns toward the audience in a statistical reverie)
Most will not succeed, and some will live on – in even greater agony than before.
While the US has suicide rates far below those in Asia, those rates invariably grow in bad economic times. The loss of a loved one, employment, or honor.
Arthur: (still holding his aching head, as he cuts her off) Lady! Why are you wasting my time with all these statistics? I just don’t care! I’m over it.
Joan: (patiently) You’d like to be “over it” Arthur. But until you hear me out, your chances aren’t good. A lot of people try to end their lives each year – More than you’d think. But so many of them, like you, forget the importance of pain.
Joan: Yes, pain.
Arthur: I’m not forgetting pain lady. I’ve got enough pain for a family of four.
Joan: And your mental anguish only increases your likelihood of making a critical mistake. I refer to physical pain, Arthur, physical pain. It’s crucial at moments of transition – In matters of life and death. You knew that when you were a newborn, you’ve just forgotten over time.
My sisters (admiring) who swerve into oncoming traffic , or throw themselves off cliffs, they understand. But we souls who fear the pain– (self conscious) we who research obscure toxins, venoms and asphyxia – we who take “the coward’s way out” – never truly get out Arthur. We have to stay where we were, where we are– forever. With the shame and horror of our shattered lives always around us. Without sufficient pain, we never transcend. We never move on. I don’t want that to happen to you Arthur. I’ve watched over this household far too long to watch you make that mistake.
Arthur: Jesus… You’re serious about this? You mean you’re a…
(Joan nods self-consciously)
Arthur: (panicky) Jesus… oh, Jesus! I gotta think this through. (Arthur pulls out a cigarette.) Got a match?
(Joan smiles wryly, pulling out a match. As she reaches out to light his cigarette there’s an immediate blackout and an earthshaking ka-boom)