by Alice Wright
An absurdist play in which two guys find themselves in a hole—literally.
A Play for Four Actors
(Two men in black clothing are lying on the ground looking up at the “sky.” The stage is completely dark except for a straight vertical spotlight where the two lie. The light should encompass an area big enough for the audience to see the entirety of the two and for the two to move but not walk any significant distance. Behind them is an enlarged version of Esher’s endless stairs. Clothes should be lightly soiled, partly to indicate that they’ve been there for awhile.)
N-B: Didn’t you say something?
N-B: Oh. (Beat. Beat.) Bob?
N-B: How’d we get in here?
B: In where?
N-B: In this pit.
B: You said you remembered.
N-B: I don’t.
B: You idiot. (Silence. The two stare up into the light.)
N-B: How’d we get here?
B: We fell.
N-B: (Hoists himself up on one elbow, surprised.) When?
B: (Sarcastically) Don’t you remember?
N-B: It all seems such a blur.
B: We fell when we stopped.
N-B: Oh… (Pause) Stopped what?
B: (Sarcastically) Breathing…what do you think?
N-B: I think I don’t have any idea what you mean. Are you just trying to confuse me?
B: One has to do something for fun.
N-B: Oh… (Pause) It started awhile ago… the dark.
B: It started when we were born.
N-B: No, it started after that. I remember the light. (Stands up.) Not just that one either.
B: (Bored) You’ve been seeing things again.
N-B: I haven’t! (Pause.)
B: I remember it too.
N-B: Then why’d you say I was imagining things?
B: For fun.
N-B: You’re sick.
B: I know.
(Pause. N-B sits down.)
N-B: (Looking off as if seeing something) It was beautiful.
B: (Same.) Red and blue.
N-B: Not so solid.
B: (Back to current surroundings) You don’t think so?
N-B: No. It’s more ethereal.
B: Was more ethereal.
N-B (Snaps back to reality) You bastard.
B: Least now you have company.
N-B: I did have company.
N-B: You don’t know them.
B: You’d be surprised!
N-B: My wife.
B: Don’t know her.
N-B: (Absentmindedly) I wonder where she went.
B: She lived.
N-B: How do you know that?
B: (Gestures to surroundings.)
N-B: Oh. (sits down)
B: That much’s for certain.
N-B: (Fiendishly) Nothing’s entirely for certain.
B: Then that ‘nothing’s entirely certain’ is uncertain.
B: (Exasperated.) Nevermind.
N-B: Who did you see?
B: No one.
N-B: Oh, come on. No one? No lover, brother, sister, mother, father, friend? No one?
B: No one.
N-B: (Lies down, arms crossed under head.) That must have been dull.
B: It wasn’t—just lonely.
N-B: Well, I can imagine that.
N-B: (Goes into philosopher position, rolled on side with elbow propped arm supporting head.) Do you remember… (Pause. Makes sure B is paying
attention) Do you remember when we used to study together.
B: You mean at school?
N-B: I don’t remember studying anything anywhere else.
B: You don’t remember anything at all.
N-B: There’s something to that.
B: Descarte. I think therefore I am.
N-B: What are we then?
B: Flesh, blood, and hide.
N-B: You make us sound like animals.
B: (Sits up.) Aren’t we? We go along like them. Never thinking of anything more than our immediate pleasure. Never even thinking. Just looking to our comfort, our stability, our safety. Not caring for anyone but ourselves.
N-B: (Smiling) We had some good times though.
B: Yeah. (Happy for a second, then happiness fades.) And look where it got us.
N-B: (Inquisitively, curiously, as if not sure how this had happened) In a pit…
(N-B sits back, contemplating this turn of events. B begins paring his nails, either (or both) with teeth or nail on nail. Pares a little too close, catching the quick. Curses under his breath. N-B, having forgotten what he was thinking about, begins making shadow puppets with the light.)
B: Have you got a band-aid?
N-B: (Absorbed in puppets.) What?
B: Band-aid, have you got one?
N-B: No…why do you ask?
B: (Holds up finger)
(Pause. B either sucks on finger or staunches bleeding with shirt (for comedic effect B could staunch bleeding on N-B’s shirt, making N-B uncomfortable or confused or some emotion that I haven’t the wit to think up.)
(Pause. Shadows begin moving. One of them passes a hand over the light. Has to pass it above B and N-B.)
N-B: (Points up at light.) There! Did you see that?
N-B: That up there!
B: (Squints into light.) I don’t see anything.
N-B: It was there. A hand.
B: Now you really are seeing things.
N-B: I saw it! (Pause) It might have helped…
B: (Snorts in disgust.) Have you ever known things to have helped before?
(B turns away. N-B keeps staring at the spot where the hand was then begins looking around. Unsure whether he’s forgotten or just shrugged it off.)
N-B: So what do you want to do?
B: Do? What’s there to do? We’re in a bloody pit, remember?
N-B: (Looks around uncertainly) For a moment it seemed like we weren’t. (Pause) We could tell jokes.
B: Like what?
B: Heard it!
N-B: I hadn’t finished!
B: Still 'heard it'.
N-B: You’re no fun.
N-B: How long do we have to stay in here?
B: 'Til we get out.
N-B: When’s that?
B: When they want us to.
N-B: Oh… (Pause) Who?
B: (Points up towards light or towards audience depending on interpretation.)
(Pause. N-B gets up and begins walking around the edge of the circle, stepping over B’s legs if they get in the way.)
B: What are you doing?
B: (Looks around) To where?
(N-B stops. He has seen one of shadows. Shadows should have appeared upstage by now inconspicuously.)
N-B: Do you see that?
B: (Not paying attention.) See what? (Shadows disappear, slowly and smoothly.)
N-B: That. (Shadows are gone. N-B is confused. Looks at B and shakes it off. Begins walking again.)
(Pause. N-B stops. Sudden revelation on his part.)
N-B: What about this one--a rabbi and a priest walk into a bar…
B: Can’t you think of anything--original?
N-B: That wasn’t original?
N-B: Hmm…could’ve sworn it was. (Pause) Are you…?
(Pause. N-B begins walking again. After a time, he stops and looks around into the audience. He cannot see the audience in actuality so there should be no sense of recognition or hope for help.)
N-B: Do you ever feel like someone’s staring at you?
B: Are you still joking?
N-B: No, I’m serious. I get the distinct impression that we’re being watched.
(Both look around, boring holes into the audience. Direct eye contact. Shrug.)
N-B: Must just be me.
(Pause. N-B sits down next to B, thinking.)
N-B: You know. You’d think we’d be very secure, lying here in a pit. Contented really. (Pause.) I mean that does seem to be what we keep looking for—safety. And what’s safer than nothingness? It’s a total lack of danger.
B: A total lack of anything.
N-B: (Nods) Still… (Pause. N-B has sunk off into his own thoughts. B waits for him to continue.)
B: (After awhile) Still what?
N-B: Hmm…? Oh, I don’t know.
B: You were about to say something.
N-B: (Sincerely, since he has, in all sincerity, forgotten.) I was?
B: You idiot.
(Pause. N-B gets up and walks to the edge of the circle and begins looking up and down.)
B: What are you doing?
N-B: Looking for a way out.
B: (Exasperated) We’ve been through this before.
N-B: Have we?
(B, still exasperated, gets up and begins looking up and down the other “wall.”)
B: See anything?
N-B: No. (Pause) You?
B: No. (They look for a few more seconds before giving up and sitting down next to each other in the middle of the circle.)
N-B: Well, that was a waste.
B: Of what?
N-B: Of time.
B: (Angry) We’ve got time! That’s pretty much all we do have.
N-B: Not indefinitely.
B: No… I suppose not.
N-B: (Near tears) It’s all my fault!
B: (Bemused, teasing.) What, that we’re not immortal?
B: Then what is it then?
N-B: (Sniffles) I’ve forgotten.
B: Well if that’s how it is otherwise, ‘Let all my sins be remembered.’ (Pause) At least then I can remember what I’m about.
N-B: That’s not original either.
B: None of us are truly original. It’s all been done at some time or another. The same tools being used to create different sets of nearly identical things. Like blocks.
B: Blocks. Those blocks you’d play with as a child. ABC, 123 and so on. It’s all the same just different ways.” (Pause) “I suppose it’s the ‘nearly’ that counts then.
N-B: Nearly what?
B: Have you been listening at all? I could have said something that blew the doors off of the world as we know, and you’d just stand there with that blank look on your face.
N-B: Sit there.
B: Sit there.
N-B: If it’s all been done before though…
B: You caught that at least then?
N-B: (A bit haughtily) I’m not deaf.
B: (Resigned) No-- just stupid.
N-B: That hurt. (Pause. N-B sniffles.) I can’t help it!
B: (Comforting N-B) There, there. Don’t take it so strong. I didn’t mean it.
N-B: I’m all you’ve got, you know.
B: Yes, I know. (Pause. Somberly.) How well I know. (Pause. N-B pulls himself together.)
N-B: (Resuming) If it’s all been done before…
B: (Encouraging) Go on.
N-B: I am! (Pause) If it’s all been done before, who’s to say that what you just said hasn’t been done before? Who’s to say that we haven’t been done before.
B: (Wickedly) We have.
N-B: (Pause, as N-B tries to sort this comment out.) No, not that kind of ‘done’! Is that all you can think about?
B: This is the first I’ve mentioned of it!
N-B: That you remember.
B: (Warningly) Don’t start.
N-B: Anyway… (Pauses a second) Anyway… (Straining to remember, trying to keep a straight face for B. Finally B catches on.)
B: You’ve forgotten haven’t you…
N-B: (Having forgotten what he is trying to remember) Forgotten what?
B: (Gets up and begins walking around agitatedly.) Hello? Hello?
N-B: (Pushes himself up onto one elbow) What are you doing?
B: Trying to get out of this damn pit.
N-B: Bob, we’ve done this…
B: I know. I know we’ve done this before. I know it’s hopeless. I know I’ll probably die here with only that light and you for company! But a man’s gotta hope! For something… anything… no? (Throughout this bit B should be trying to find a way out, kind of frantically, then dying down towards the end. Towards the end he also stops talking to N-B and is more talking to the pit, to the air, to himself. Pick one or something else and roll with it.) It has to be here somewhere. They wouldn’t just leave us with nothing. Something, something has to be here. It can’t just be wall and sky. It’s too simple! There has to be a way out. There’s always a way out! (Scrabbles about a bit more. Realization dawns on him.) There’s no way out. (Pause while this sinks into B’s brain. B is in a fury/panic.) For mercy’s sake! Let us out! What have we done to deserve this, hmm…? We were just two guys having some fun. Sure a few people got hurt. But that’s life. Life hurts. We were just helping along the inevitable! (Wait for some response.) Please… please.
(Pause for somber or three count for comedic.)
N-B: Guess they aren’t easily persuaded…
B: (Snaps) Shut up, you.
N-B: (Taken a back) What? I was just saying…
B: I know what you were saying and I don’t want to hear it.
(B turns away in a rage. N-B makes a few smart-aleck faces and/or gestures behind his back.) (Pause. B sits down again, legs up towards chest.)
B: (Depressed) They don’t listen.
N-B: Not that we can see. Or hear…
B: (teasing) Not that you can remember.
(Pause. B gets in more comfortable position)
B: (Looks uncomfortable, fidgeting.) Umm… Norb? What if… what if you knew that everything you did was just a repetition of something you’d done before. And you couldn’t do anything new. Nothing whatsoever. What would you do?
N-B: (Not taking this seriously) Well, I wouldn’t exactly have a choice would I?
B: True. (Slight pause.)
N-B: (Sees that B is in distress.) I guess I’d feel a little hopeless though. Controlled, you know?
B: Yeah, I know. (Slight pause. Looks at N-B.) What if, though, you didn’t know you were repeating? Would it really matter? I mean, if you didn’t know, everything would be a surprise anyway.
N-B: (Thinking to self.) Hmm… (Drifts off.) (Pause) (Different tone, one of conclusion.) Hmm…
B: (Excited, expecting answer.)What?
N-B: I was just thinking to myself. Thinking about knowledge.
B: (Disappointed) Oh. (Two count.) Do you even know what knowledge is?
N-B: Maybe it’s best not to know. Maybe it’s best not to know anything. It hurts you know?
B: (Sad. Thinking of own troubles.) Yeah…
(N-B looks at him, surprised by the sincerity in voice. Shrugs and spaces out again.)
N-B: Were you ever in love?
B: Oh, I don’t know. (Three count) What about you?
N-B: A couple of times.
B: Really? With who?
N-B: (Thinks back) Nice girl. She was intelligent, a biology major. We met over a dissected frog. Great legs. Hers, not the frog’s. We used to talk together. About nothing really…and everything. She and I, we’d go to the park on Saturdays and throw rocks into the fountain. She’d aim at the statues, I’d aim at the pigeons. I loved her more than anything.
B: You married her then?
N-B: No… (Short pause)
B: I remember a girl once. It was before you and I met. She was something to see. I wouldn’t have married this one either, except for…except for when she smiled. Dumb as a doornail. But that smile… If I could just have any part of that, things would still be alright. (Uncomfortable) Well, you know the rest.
N-B: I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.
B: Why am I not surprised…? (Uncomfortable Silence.)
N-B: What did we do wrong?
B: Who? What?
N-B: (Ranting) With them, with everything! I mean, you’d think we were villains or something, the way we’re being treated. Thrown down in a pit and forgotten with only each other for company. (Slight pause) I mean, I know I haven’t been that bad. Not evil… right? (Looks to B for comfort)
B: Well? (N-B keeps staring at him. B realizes N-B wants him to answer the question for him (n-b)) Hell! I can’t tell you!
N-B: (Breaks gaze and begins pacing) I know. I know.
B: Asking me impossible questions…
N-B: I know. I know. (Calms down and sits down.)
B: What do you mean by evil anyway? Everything’s not black and white, you know. (N-B looks around at black and white surroundings questioningly. Is about to say something when B starts to talk again. B is not angry, just explaining. Bit of a rant.) I mean, who’s to say who’s right? We may all be wrong for all we know. For all anyone knows. In truth, we really have no idea what the divine wants except what we’re told by religious demagogues with wicker baskets. For all we know, sacrificing virgins could have been the correct answer. It’s been done before.
N-B: Everything’s been done before. (Three to five count) I thought there were no atheists in foxholes.
B: No, there are. (Three count.) (Slowly. Making clear that he himself is disturbed by the situation. Laughing at himself.) Just very disturbed ones.
N-B: There actually is a basis to that you know. Religion. It all comes down to “be nice to one another” really. Not a bad thing considering.
B: You only say that because that’s what you’ve been taught.
N-B: (Starting up again) It’s all my fault.
B: Another catechism of the Catholic church.
B: What was it this time?
B: (What else should I have expected?) Of course. You honestly don’t remember anything do you?
N-B: What was the question?
B: (Laughs. Through his laughter.) The sad thing is I’m not sure whether you’re joking or not.
N-B: Neither do I. (Pause.)
N-B: (Starting up again) It’s all my fault.
B: As is everything.
N-B: Gives one a sense of accomplishment.
N-B: (Experimenting. Shouts.) Help!
N-B: (Looks around for the shadows. Disappointed.) Nothing.
(Shadows appear again. Circle around the circle peering into it at the two. N-B vaguely feels what’s going on. Sees the shadows. Begins to say something to B, but checks it. Stares back at the shadows. Is trying to figure them out and vice-versa. His shadow tries to touch him through the light, but ends up just placing hand on the “side of the pit” (practice this with miming, has to be crisp.) B does the same. Stare at each other. Suddenly N-B gasps and falls back. Shadows flitter away.)
N-B: Christ! Get me out of here! (Begins clawing at the stage.)
B: What the hell is going on?
N-B: (Scooping back big clumps of air, pausing every once and a while to catch his breath/ talk) I saw them! It had my face. He was me, but not me.
B: (Holds N-B’s wrists together. N-B is hysterical.) What the hell are you talking about?
N-B: Them! They are us. Or we are them-- or something. I don’t know. (N-B goes into a kneeling position (child pose for you yoga people out there) with hands grasping at head. He is whimpering or shaking or both. B pulls him up and tries to knock some sense into him.)
B: Get a hold of yourself! Get a hold of yourself! (N-B stops, but is still shaken.) Good. Now what is this all about?
N-B: (Sits up, leaving legs in child pose.) (Pitiful) I saw me. (Child pose grasping knees) It was horrible.
B: So? What else is new?
N-B: (Wailing) You don’t understand!
B: Try me.
(Pause while N-B summons the courage to relate what he has seen.)
N-B: I saw me.
B: You already said that. (N-B stops. B tries to coax him on.) What’s so terrible about your reflection? (Smirks) Other than the obvious.
N-B: You don’t understand. It wasn’t my reflection. It was a different part of me. Different from the skin and bones. (Remembering. Looking into mind’s eye.) It was glittering and shifting.
B: What do you mean?
N-B: I dunno. It frightened me though…
B: (mutters) I could see that.
N-B: (No longer talking to B) … It’s as if I were seeing my own ghost. My own soul.
(Pause. B goes over and begins examining/picking at another nail. N-B is held in the trance of his own poetry. Drifts out of trance into thinking... hard. Finally…)
N-B: I remember! I remember! (Looks at B. Slowly, trying out each word as he says it.) The sour tasting mornings
B: (“Pretty good” look)
N-B: The neon-fretted nights.
N-B: (Trying to impress B) The cold fringed mornings of our ever changing lives.
B: (Thinks about it for a second) Nah.
N-B: (A bit miffed. Pauses before starting up again, more to himself now. Throughout this poem/ speech he is drifting farther and farther into his memory and further and further away from reality.) Every day feeling the same and always saying, ‘today I’ll do something different’ til you glance at the clock and then you have your same bowl of cereal. Misty nights filled with terror and regret, hugging onto my pillow and whimpering as the memories of dead days assaulted me. And the dark… (Crying) I wanna go home!
B: What home? We haven’t got a home.
N-B: I wanna go home! (Is crying. B stands up. Begins to go towards N-B, but instead goes towards Stage Right side of circle, slightly off center. Looks up at the light.)
B: Are you enjoying this? What’s the fucking point? Do you just like making him cry, making him hurt, making me hurt? (Two count while he thinks, reorganizes attack.) Whoever told you to create this damn pit and that damn light was wrong. Dead wrong. It’s no use. (Not sure whether last line is about pit or ranting at the light.) (B growls. Looks at N-B, sick smile. Frustrated, angry, taking it out with raging at the light and attacking N-B’s belief in it while at same time trying to comfort N-B. Glares up at light while protecting N-B.) Whatever is up there, it’s probably not what you think it is. (Soothes N-B. Silence with a few sniffles while B and N-B settle down. N-B finally pulls himself together.)
B: There. Now, what was that all about?
N-B: (Pause. Explains at first reluctantly and then freely, having given himself up to his memory.) It was something I used to say when I was a child. Whenever anything frightening or bad happened. ‘I wanna go home.’ And then there’d be my father or my mother, holding me. I’d be safe. Everything was fine again. And now, for some reason, I just keep saying it-- even though I know there’s no one there. (Smiles, sadly) Stupid, huh?
B: (Sincerely) No.
(Sniffles. B puts an arm around N-B, comforting. Pause with intermittent sniffles. Finally, N-B leaps to his feet.)
N-B: We’ve got to get out of here.
B: (Getting up more slowly) Norb…
N-B: No, I’m serious! That’s why we haven’t gotten out of this pit! We haven’t tried hard enough. We haven’t wanted it ‘til now. We thought we wanted it, but we didn’t. Not ‘til now. (Takes off his jacket.) Here, help me with this.
N-B: Come on, take off your jacket. We can tie them together. (Takes off watch.) That can hold the end. It’ll be like a grappling line.
B: Norb. (Sees he’s determined. Takes off jacket and hands it to him.)
(N-B ties the two jackets together then ties the watch to the end with one of the sleeves. Holding onto one end, he throws the end with the watch upward towards the light. Jacket and watch fall back to the ground again inside the circle. Repeat two more times. Finally, B and N-B just stare at the watch where it has fallen. Pause. N-B goes over and picks up watch. Puts his ear to it. Shakes it.)
N-B: It’s stopped. (Looks at watch then at self. Back and forth. Tries to put his ear to his heart.)
B: What are you doing?
N-B: Listening. (Tries this a bit longer then gives up and places hand on heart. Nods as if to reassure himself then goes back to B)
(Pause. B and N-B go back to the middle of the circle.)
N-B: I guess we’ll never get out of here, will we?
B: (Pause. Inner struggle. Looks at N-B a few times trying to make up his mind. Take no more than a ten count. Finally…) There’s still hope. (N-B brightens a little. B smiles, weakly, and pats him on the back.) There’s still hope yet.
N-B: Didn’t you say something?
N-B: Oh. (Three count) Bob?
N-B: How’d we get in here?
B: In where?
N-B: In this pit.
B: (Sad mixed with “I knew this was going to happen” mixed with anger) You said you remembered.
(Director’s Note: If you want to get really ambitious, you can start from anywhere and lap any three or five lines. Get so audience realizes that they’re looping. This edition is set up to start and end with the previous lines. This can be done with any other part of the script provided that it makes sense. Preferably right after one of the many pauses in the text. Suggested, but not recommended. Also all stage directions are recommendations not commands. They aren’t set in stone.)