“Deep in the Woods”
Two-act play written in 2006 for the Brush Creek Players in Silverton, Oregon. In consideration of Brush Creek Playhouse’s tiny stage (and the unities), I set the play in a cabin much like the cabin I built in 1972 in Jean-Claude van Itallie‘s woods in Rowe, Massachusetts. In consideration of Sam Shepard’s criticism of my early plays, relayed to me recently by Wolfgang Zuckermann, that the characters and situations were not interesting enough, I based the characters (very loosely, to be sure) on people I know and plunged them into a dire contemporary situation: they are taking refuge after a devastating terrorist attack on the city where most of them live. It is all too real, but I lightened the texture (I hope) with dream sequences and a couple of Trolls or troll-people (shamelessly mimicking the Ogres in Guy J. Jackson’s wonderful play “The Flight of the Butter Boy”).
I took a slot in the Brush Creek season, wrote the play, revised it twice, and was all set to build and direct a production, beginning rehearsals December 1 and opening January 12, 2007. Alas, I didn’t find enough actors. Hardly anyone showed up for auditions; I cast them all. A non-actor friend agreed to play the central role. I had seven of the nine people I needed, including several I was particularly looking forward to working with. But when it came time to start, two key roles were still unfilled, and I had nowhere else to turn. I couldn’t even do a readthrough so I regretfully cancelled. I would like to have seen it.
Anyway I’m glad to have written another play.
“Deep in the Woods”
Characters (in order of appearance)
Susan, a runaway mom, 34, blonde, depressed
Frank, her cousin, a middle-aged writer
Bob, an artist, somewhat bearish
Stephen, a friend and neighbor, retired
Chris, a college student
Louise, Bob’s wife, a costume designer
Sibby, Chris’s little sister, 12
A rustic cabin deep in the woods. Entry door from porch up left. Bunk bed against the wall, right, the lower bunk wide enough for two. Door upstage of it leads off to outhouse. Table and chairs, left. Counter, upstage center, with camp stove, simple kitchen setup, faded Buddha banner on the wall above it.
Night, late. SUSAN is discovered sitting at the table. The room is dark except for a single candle. She thinks, seems to listen, speaks to an imaginary person sitting across from her.
SUSAN: I know what you are thinking. But it is not true. I am happy, or I would be if I could only get you to take me seriously. I beg you. Stop treating me like an idiot, or a generic madwoman, or a case history you are researching for your thesis. I am a person just like you. Don’t you love me anymore? (The imaginary person gets up and crosses the room.) Where are you going? See what I mean? (Shakes her head.) Listen to me, talking to myself. Susan, get real! (A noise, off. She is startled, then frightened. She blows out the candle.)
(After a moment a distant flashlight beam flickers across the window in the left wall.)
FRANK (from some way off): There it is. I told you. I am not making it up.
BOB: I don’t see anything.
FRANK: Up there, through the trees. High up on top of the rock. You can see the porch and the window.
BOB: Thank God.
FRANK: Come this way. The path is over here. (Footsteps are heard crashing through the underbrush. )
BOB: I thought we were lost.
FRANK: I did too, for a minute. The path was so overgrown I thought I had lost it. When Louise was here it was the middle of winter. Everything looked completely different.
BOB: I can’t climb up this rock. It is ridiculous.
FRANK: Come around this way, I told you. Follow me. Why do you have to be so independent? Follow the path. There are steps.
(FRANK comes up onto the porch, stamping his boots, and shines his flashlight in the window. Everything is neat and tidy. SUSAN is out of sight under a heap of blankets on the upper bunk.)
BOB (from farther off): What do you see?
FRANK: It looks the same. Everything is in its place, exactly the way I left it. It always amazes me that the cabin is still here. I expect to find it trashed and violated, or a jagged pile of charred timbers. I have hideous visions.
BOB (coming up onto the porch): It looks all right to me.
FRANK: Yes, it’s fine. No one has been here. Are you okay?
BOB (Breathing hard, shines a second flashlight in the window, looking around): I am dripping with sweat. I can’t catch my breath. I hate this. My heart is pounding. I will probably die. That hill is much too much, too steep, too long. We should have made two trips!
FRANK: You made it, though. We’ll get you in shape.
BOB (after a pause): Can’t we go inside?
FRANK: Après toi, cher Alphonse.
(He pushes the door open and BOB warily enters. BOB is outfitted with a large backpack with a folding easel strapped to it and carries a large cardboard box of groceries in his arms. FRANK has a duffel bag slung over his shoulder and a shoulder bag with books and writing materials and carries two plastic gallon jugs of water. He goes back out and gets one more. They set down their flashlights and unload.)
BOB: What now? Is there a light?
FRANK: Yes, yes, there is everything you can possibly desire. Try to calm down.
BOB (taking off his jacket and his shirt): I am so hot I can’t stand it. I want to go jump in the lake. Is there a lake at least?
FRANK: No lake. Sorry.
BOB: Turn on the air conditioning. Turn on a fan at least. (He flops in a chair.)
FRANK: You will be all right. (Silence while he takes down a lantern from a hook, lights it, and sets it on the table. The glow reveals more of the room but it is still darkly shadowed.) I am so happy to be here. I love this place so much. To me it is heaven.
BOB: Can we open a window at least?
FRANK: Of course. (The window swings up and hooks, leaving just a screen.) Voilà! Actually there is a lake, two miles over the mountain. There is a beautiful trail. We can go.
BOB: I am not going back until they clean it up.
FRANK: That could be quite a while. Possibly never.
BOB: I am not going to breathe that stuff.
FRANK: Well, we are here, we made it. Thank God. I could not believe that traffic. I thought we were going to just sit there until we all ran out of gas. We could have died on the highway. (Sits.) I still don’t understand why we left without Louise.
BOB: She was gone. I told you. She had left. She left me. She was not coming back. I told you that. Weren’t you listening?
FRANK: I thought she was on tour. I understood she would be home by now, or before long.
BOB: That’s what she said.
FRANK: That’s what you said.
BOB: That’s what she told me to say. I don’t know why. What is the point? She left. She was not coming back anyway.
FRANK: Well, what, you think she is sleeping with someone else?
BOB: Well what do you think?
FRANK: How would I know?
BOB: She slept with you.
FRANK: I mean someone else.
BOB (rolling his eyes): Oh, swell.
FRANK: That was different. I mean, I was the neighbor. It was her idea, and it seemed like a good idea. She said you didn’t care.
BOB: I don’t care.
FRANK: It was only for fun. You know it was not serious.
BOB: I thought you were gay.
FRANK: Not entirely. Not anymore. Évidement.
BOB: But you still could be.
FRANK: I suppose so. Sure. I don’t know why not.
BOB: This place is very romantic. Isn’t it? (Turns down the light, which was smoking.) Sexy. Isn’t it?
FRANK: I think so.
BOB: I mean, that’s the whole point, isn’t it?
FRANK: Not the whole point. I come here by myself and work.
BOB: I mean, I always wondered what it would be like to do it with a guy.
FRANK: Are you telling me you never fooled around with other boys? I don’t believe it.
BOB: Well not for a long time. Not knowing what I know now.
FRANK: Is sex the problem? She seems pretty hot to me, if you don’t mind my saying so.
BOB: Sex is not the problem. I don’t know what the problem is. Her career may not be going anyplace. She thinks I am holding her back. But I am not! I am trying not to!… So how about it?
FRANK: Let’s just get ready for bed and see what happens. I am seriously tired. First I am going to put all this stuff away. (He rises and unpacks, putting away supplies on shelves upstage, clothes on pegs on the back wall, talking as he moves about.) We have enough food for a week if we hold back. We can walk into town. It is about four miles. If supplies are not getting through, I know a farmer down the road, he is a prince, we can talk to him. It may be some while before there is any more gasoline. But there is plenty of food this time of year. We should only think a week or so at a time. That is more than enough, for now. (Tidying up, he pulls a tangled blanket off the upper bunk and discovers SUSAN.) Susan!
SUSAN (sitting up): Hello, boys.
BOB (outraged): Who is this? I thought we were alone here. Were you going to lie there and listen to our private conversation? And whatever else? Give me a break!
FRANK: Bob, Susan. Susan, Bob. Susan is my cousin. What are you doing here?
SUSAN (flirtatious): And who is Bob?
FRANK: How did you find your way? How did you get here? I didn’t see any car down by the road. Did you hide it? I hid mine. I don’t want anybody to know there is a house up here.
SUSAN: Why are you hiding? I came on the bus yesterday morning. I called Stephen and he picked me up in town. He invited me down to his house for dinner last night but then he said he was going away. I have been here the whole time. It is very nice. I hope you don’t mind. I don’t want to be in the way.
FRANK: No, no, Susan, I am delighted. You are entirely welcome. Come down.
BOB: So you don’t know about the attack.
SUSAN: I am not dressed.
FRANK (yawning): That’s all right, stay there then. We are going to bed anyway. I am totally exhausted. (To BOB) You can have the bed. I will sleep in the hammock.
SUSAN: What attack?
FRANK (unfurling a hammock and hanging it diagonally across the room): We will tell you all about it in the morning. Bob, you can pee off the porch, I do, or there’s an outhouse out back.
BOB (sitting on the lower bunk, taking off his boots): I am all right. I am beat. You are right. (Takes off his pants and crawls into bed.) I will see you guys in the morning. Sweet dreams.
SUSAN (to FRANK, quietly): Can I have a drink of water?
FRANK (pouring her a cup of water from one of the jugs): Didn’t you have any water? I left water in the woodshed. Do you want something to eat?
SUSAN: I am not hungry.
FRANK: We are here now, you will be all right.
SUSAN: I thought he was going to kill me.
FRANK: Who? Joe?
SUSAN: I am not making it up. It is not all in my mind. That is what they are telling me. They talk about chemicals and genetics but what they mean is, I am deluded. How do you like that? They are all in it, even Nicky. Well, maybe not Nicky. He is only two.
FRANK: You were right to leave, then. What happened? He didn’t used to be like that. I can’t imagine him doing anything to hurt you.
SUSAN: He must have. Why else was I so mad? Why was I hitting him?
FRANK: Well we will have plenty of time to talk about it tomorrow. Go to sleep now. Rest your mind. You can’t do anything about it tonight. Let it go. Darkness is confusing. It is not our natural element. Night thoughts are dangerous and misleading.
SUSAN: You don’t want to think about it.
FRANK: I do. I really do. I am just talked out for now. I’m sorry. (Kisses her.) Goodnight, sweetie. I am glad you are here. I am glad we are all here safe and sound.
SUSAN: Me too. Thank you, Frank.
FRANK: Sleep tight. (Having taken off his shoes, he extinguishes the lantern and climbs into the hammock by the light of his flashlight. He turns it off. After a moment BOB winks his flashlight at FRANK from the lower bunk.) What? What is it?
BOB: So I guess not, huh?
FRANK: Goodnight, Bob.
(After a moment music is heard, faint at first: it might be “Daphnis & Chlöe.” FRANK’s head glows blue in the hammock. As he dreams a figure—DREAM DANCER—rises from the shadows and dances on the table in blue light. It is not so much a dance as a slowly mimed sequence of expressions addressed to the audience, as follows:)
—Hunched over, grotesquely contorted, he mimes a greeting, with exaggerated smiles and fawning.
—Abruptly, he recoils as if slapped or insulted, cowering, hiding his face, pitiful, victimized.
—BOB appears and thrashes him with a leafy branch.
—Dream figure collects himself, straightens, and repeats the greeting in a charming and natural manner.
—He stiffens, withdrawing behind a cold propriety.
—Shaking himself free, he dances sinuously, liquidly, as the light turns rosy, with fast, flamboyant gestures.
—Gradually centering and relaxing, he stills and stands looking at the audience, letting them look at him.
He slowly looks and begins reaching upward as the lights and music fade out.
(Sound of breathing.)
Early the next morning. Bright sunlight streams in through the window. FRANK, barefoot, is discovered hooking back the hammock out of the way. The lower bunk is empty; BOB’s pack is gone. SUSAN is asleep. FRANK starts to sweep the floor, changes his mind, finds a pen and notebook in his shoulder bag, and sits at the table to write. Instead he speaks:
FRANK: What can I say? It is news, it is public, everyone saw it on tv, the talkers are already telling us what to think, making phrases. By now the politicians have got hold of it. Nobody cares how I feel or what I think, that we had it coming to us, we have been asking for it for years. That energy was artificial, there was no way it could last. Something had to give. This is the beginning… It is not my field. My field is love and intimate feelings, beauty, meaning, time the betrayer. No one needs me to say that the world is full of tragedy and pain. The world is full of everything. My religion is joy and kindness. I want people to be happy. And why not? We were not trapped or asphixiated or incinerated, we are here, it is a beautiful morning. I feel wonderful. (He puts away the notebook and resumes sweeping.)
SUSAN (sitting up, yawning and stretching): What time is it?
FRANK: I have no idea. We don’t need numbers here. Morning time.
SUSAN: I’m sorry, I should have swept.
FRANK: That’s all right. I like to sweep out the cabin when I first arrive, poke into every corner and roust out the spiders and mice. Did you sleep well?
SUSAN: I am so depressed.
FRANK (sweeping): Understandably.
SUSAN: No, it is chemical. I thought it was psychological. I thought it was my fault, I was doing something wrong. But it is not.
FRANK: Of course not.
SUSAN: It is his fault. I’m kidding. It is no one’s fault. It is organic. (She squirms into a robe and climbs down. During the following she splashes water into a bowl on the counter, washes her face, brushes her teeth, then throws the water out the door.) The meds help, but they make me feel weird. The first few weeks it was great, gray clouds rolling away and the sun breaking through. But it isn’t real. I feel a sort of flutter in my… (Gestures vaguely at her chest.) And I completely lost interest in sex. I am not taking them anymore. So I am pretty low.
FRANK: Have you tried St. John’s Wort? I swear by it. St. John’s Wort makes me the cheerful person you see before you. (She laughs.) I mean it.
SUSAN: I’ve stopped taking anything.
FRANK: I haven’t seen you since Easter. What happened after that?
SUSAN: Did you hear us fighting?
FRANK: No, I thought everything was fine. I had a lovely time. I always do.
SUSAN: I was glad you were there. Protecting me.
FRANK: I had to get out of the city. I don’t know why I always expect it to be warm at Easter. Some image of sunny Easter egg hunts when I was a little boy. Come to think of it, I had a coat on, and a little cap. Little boys don’t feel the cold. So where is Nicholas?
SUSAN: He is there with his dad. He is fine. (Tears.) It is not his fault. It is me!
FRANK: Honey, Susan, stop. (Puts his arms around her.) Shh. Breathe. Stop torturing yourself, for heaven’s sake! There, there. Let it be. Be here. Brush your hair. Have some breakfast. (He disentangles himself and sets out spoons, bowls, granola, milk, and yoghurt. SUSAN brushes her hair.) I wonder what happened to Bob. His pack is gone too.
SUSAN: You rejected him.
FRANK: Don’t be silly.
SUSAN: He wanted to have sex with you.
FRANK: It doesn’t matter. Or am I missing something?
SUSAN: Why else are you here?
FRANK: That may be why Bob came, but I came to get out of the city. I love the city, as you well know. It turns me on like nothing else, like oxygen. I love to weave my way through so many different kinds of people all busy and caught up in their lives. The energy is thrilling. But after a couple of months it gets to be too much. I also need trees, real air, weather, silence, calm. That’s why I have this cabin. He wanted to see it. I know his wife.
SUSAN: Frank, people have insides.
FRANK: We were well on our way when the thing happened, and we just kept on going. The traffic was unbelievable. Fortunately, we were at the front end of it. I don’t know what happened to everybody else. It is a complete nightmare. We are lucky to be alive.
SUSAN: What? What happened?
FRANK: I don’t even know what happened. Some kind of explosion or synchronized implosion that took out the power in this whole half of the country, apparently. A huge cloud of smoke and poisonous smelling fumes oozed up from underground. We got a whiff of it as we were crawling out through the suburbs. Then fires everywhere. The city disappeared behind us in a thick yellow cloud, glowing from within.
SUSAN: That’s horrible!
FRANK: Yes, it is! It’s unimaginable. Horrible things happen. We know that. I don’t mean to be glib. I just can’t take it in.
SUSAN: What are we going to do?
FRANK: I have no idea. Wait for information. Live on the land. Love each other. Hope for the best.
SUSAN: Which is what?
FRANK: Which is not good, admittedly. But the granola is good. Do you want coffee?
SUSAN: Why not?
FRANK: There you go, that’s the spirit. (Busies himself with the stove.) I am getting married, did you know that? No, of course not, I haven’t told anyone.
SUSAN: To a woman?
FRANK: Of course to a woman. I mean, yes, that’s the idea.
SUSAN: I thought you were gay. Excuse me.
FRANK: Not really. After Tyler died I didn’t want another man.
SUSAN: How exciting!
FRANK: It is! I have been dying to tell you!
SUSAN: Who is the lucky victim?
FRANK: You don’t know her. I was not finding anyone in the city so I went on a field trip.
SUSAN: What do you mean?
FRANK: I don’t know how to put it. City women are all too, what, fully formed, too busy for romance, scrambling. That doesn’t make sense. Camilla is fully formed and has plenty to do. It just wasn’t going to happen. Anyway I am sick of the city. She lives on a farm in the middle of Kansas.
SUSAN: I hope she is as pretty as her name.
FRANK: I met her at a reading in Salina. I was out there for six months last winter working on a book, lying low. Her land is nowhere near anything so I am sure she is all right. Worried about me. I am not much of a worrier. She is pregnant, we are having a baby. I am moving out there. I had already decided. So that is my plan. What is yours?
SUSAN: I am so confused. I don’t know what is real and what is just in my head.
FRANK: Well, in the meantime this is not so bad, hey? I am happy you are here. You can stay as long as you need to. (Footsteps on the porch, a knock at the door) Who can that be? (Calls) Entrez, venez.
(STEPHEN, a close neighbor, retired, enters followed by CHRIS, a younger man.)
STEPHEN: I have your hitchhiker. I have no room for him. I am sorry.
FRANK: I didn’t tell him to knock on your door.
STEPHEN: Well, what was he supposed to do? There was nobody else on the road. It was almost dark. He was not going to get a ride around the mountain. Who else was going to open their door to a stranger? The people around here are more likely to shoot him. He is not an animal.
FRANK: Thank you for taking care of Susan.
STEPHEN: We are friends. You don’t own her.
FRANK: I didn’t know you knew each other.
SUSAN: Of course we know each other.
STEPHEN: She was a student of mine.
FRANK: I didn’t know that.
STEPHEN: You must not have been paying attention.
CHRIS: He said I could probably sleep in your woodshed.
FRANK: I was thinking of moving out there myself. It is getting a little crowded in here. (To STEPHEN) Why are you so mad at me? What have I done?
STEPHEN: I am coming apart. I said I was sorry. I already have a full house. People keep turning up. Other people keep not turning up. It is too horrible. (Tears in his eyes.) I can’t stop crying, and I don’t even know anything.
FRANK (Embracing him): I know, darling, it is too much to take in. I am in shock myself, half the time not half making sense. But isn’t this what we wanted, in a way, to come all the way back to the land, rediscover ourselves as naturally human, honestly animal? This is our original environment after all, or mine, anyway. I am of Druid blood. Weep for friends and loved ones, weep for strangers, weep for ruined art and devastated dreams. But for ourselves, we might as well exult in the challenge! This is the change we have been waiting for. It had to happen.
STEPHEN: You are raving. You are a monster. You are insane. (Starts to leave)
CHRIS (To STEPHEN): Thank you for last night. I didn’t mean to impose.
STEPHEN: I will see what I can find out for you. She may be better off at the camp.
FRANK: I’m sorry, tell me your name?
FRANK: Chris. Good. Christopher Robin. Jesus Christ. You are exactly what we need, youth, strength, you can help me get some work done around here. I wish I had planted a garden.
CHRIS: It is not too late.
STEPHEN: It is, actually. The nights are already starting to get cool.
FRANK: I am not planning to stay here long anyway, but other people may want to. You can cut wood, that would be useful. And we have to do something about water. What do you think, Susan?
SUSAN: It is your cabin.
STEPHEN: I am going. I am glad you made it safely. Come over if you need anything, I will do what I can.
FRANK: Thank you, Stephen. We will be all right.
STEPHEN: I hope so. (Goes.)
FRANK: You told us you knew where you were going.
CHRIS: I did. I do. I didn’t want you to get the wrong idea. I am not helpless.
FRANK: Of course not. You can walk and talk. You don’t have to be afraid of me. What do you care what I think?
CHRIS: You wanted to be alone.
FRANK: Why do people think that about me? I need a few hours to myself every day. More than that is boring. You can’t live by yourself. What is the point? All right, you can stay. I am moving into the woodshed. Make yourself at home. (Gathering up his things.) Did Stephen feed you? I am sure he did.
CHRIS: Why didn’t you say I could stay here in the first place?
FRANK: I had something else in mind. It doesn’t matter. This is my cousin Susan. This person is a total stranger. I stopped for him because he reminded me of myself at an earlier moment. He spent the night with Stephen, as it turns out. (He goes out.)
SUSAN: Welcome to the madhouse. I am up there. (Indicates upper bunk.) You can sleep underneath me.
CHRIS: I couldn’t fall asleep until it started to get light. The night was too dark. I kept thinking he was going to come in.
SUSAN: He may be gay but he isn’t desperate.
CHRIS: Thanks a lot!
FRANK (Sticks his head back in; to CHRIS) We will work in an hour and a half. I will come get you. (Goes.)
SUSAN: Don’t mind him. These guys read too much Waugh when they were in college. What are you reading? Where are you in school?
CHRIS: I am a junior at State.
SUSAN: That is so sweet. And what are you doing in my life? Never mind. It is lovely to meet you. I mean it. I needed a new face. And a new body. What about you? Are you gay?
CHRIS: Not really. Why do you ask?
SUSAN: I just want to know. We are sharing a room. Are you like a sister, or are you going to try to look up my shorts? I’m sorry. I’m sure you have perfect manners. Where is your family? Are they all right?
CHRIS: There are no phones. There is no electricity. There is no gasoline. I don’t know anything.
SUSAN: Are they in the city?
CHRIS: Yes, they were at home, they were finishing a film. My sister is at a camp not very far from here. That’s where I was trying to get to, but we were running out of gas so he had to come straight here. It is on the other side of this mountain, on the lake. I can walk through the woods when my leg is better. I broke my ankle. I just got the cast off.
SUSAN: Sit down.
CHRIS: Thank you. I can barely stand up. I am going to lie down, if you don’t mind. Is that all right?
SUSAN: I am hiding from my husband.
CHRIS (Stretching out): Is he looking for you?
SUSAN: He hit me.
CHRIS: What did you do?
SUSAN: I didn’t do anything. I was depressed.
CHRIS: I mean, what did you do when he hit you?
SUSAN: I left. I took a bus. I thought he would come get me.
CHRIS: Does he know where you are?
SUSAN: It is pretty obvious. Where else would I be?
CHRIS: He must be worried sick. Did he hurt you?
SUSAN: No. I don’t know. I don’t think he actually hit me. I may have dreamed it. He is the kindest man in the world. I probably hit him. Then I was scared. We live in the middle of nowhere. I needed to get away.
CHRIS (Groggily): And now all this.
SUSAN: It was a complete misunderstanding. That is the very worst thing, when the person who understands you better than anyone else doesn’t understand you. You feel more alone than ever, as if everything is hopeless. Do you know what I mean? Have you ever been in love?
(CHRIS has fallen asleep with one leg hanging off the bed. She tenderly lifts it in and makes him more comfortable. He snuggles down. She hesitates, then kisses him on the forehead. He reaches for her and pulls her to him as—)
(Lights fade out.)
An hour and a half later. FRANK comes in from outside, goes to CHRIS, who is asleep in the lower bunk, hesitates, then shakes him by the shoulder.
FRANK: Rise and shine. Time to get to work.
CHRIS (groggily): What? What is it?
FRANK: Time to work.
CHRIS: I was not asleep. I was just… Where is…?
CHRIS: Where is Susan?
FRANK: How should I know? Pull yourself together. I need your help. Seriously. (CHRIS collects himself.) There is a spring a little way up the hill and an old water tank and a pipe but everything is all clogged up with leaves and debris. I never could deal with it. I have been carrying water from Stephen’s house but if we can get it working again it would be a big improvement with so many people here.
CHRIS: I am not staying. I have to go find my sister.
FRANK: Well don’t go yet. Please. Stay a day or two, at least.
CHRIS: My ankle is barely healed.
FRANK: This won’t hurt you. We can find you a stick. What are you going to do when you find her? You can’t go back to the city. The city is…
(SUSAN comes in from the back door.)
SUSAN: What did you find out?
FRANK: There is no way to go anywhere. The car radio still works. A couple of stations were on the air. The cities are…
FRANK: I’m sorry, were your…?
CHRIS: My parents. Everybody. What?
FRANK: Pretty much finished. It was bad. It was worse than I thought. I am sorry.
CHRIS: Oh God!! (Breaking down. SUSAN starts to go to him, thinks better of it. After a moment’s hesitation, CHRIS throws his arms around FRANK, weeping on his shoulder, gasping and moaning. FRANK looks over his shoulder at SUSAN.)
FRANK (comforting him): My poor boy. There now. Maybe they made it out. A lot of people did. You can’t be sure. But it is… (To SUSAN) Your guys are all right, I am sure of it. Only the big cities were targeted. They got most of them. Some new electronic viral thing turned the whole system against itself, and blooey! The gas was an unintended consequence, they think, all that insulation burning up. Collateral damage. (Hugs CHRIS)
SUSAN: What should I do? I have to go back.
CHRIS (pulling away): I’m all right.
FRANK: There is no hurry, absolutely. There is nothing you can do except pray, if you pray. Wait and see. Trust your feelings but don’t fall apart. This is a moment for patience and equanimity. (Goes out.)
CHRIS (to SUSAN): So what was that about? Why did you run away?
SUSAN: I am sorry, I didn’t mean to get started, you looked so sweet, but we can’t just…
CHRIS: Why not? I don’t understand. You are not too old. I mean, I am old enough.
SUSAN: We don’t even know each other. You don’t know anything about me. I am not the person I seem to be. I am not what you see or imagine. Inside I am bleeding, I mean metaphorically, my heart is leaking feelings I can’t control. You don’t want that.
CHRIS: Don’t you like me?
SUSAN: I am married. I am a mother with a little child.
FRANK (returning): Excuse me, fellow humans. Work first, private affairs later.
SUSAN: Go on, go ahead. I am not going anywhere.
CHRIS: I can’t, I …
FRANK: Yes, you can. You have to. Go get the shovel out of the woodshed. (Takes him by the arm and pushes him firmly out the door. To SUSAN) I am not sure this helps.
SUSAN: I haven’t done anything, not yet. He is a sweet boy. I don’t think he is interested in you.
FRANK: That is unworthy of you, Susan. Stop it immediately. Well, maybe it is just what he needs.
SUSAN: I feel so sorry for him. I mean, we’ve had our lives, but he is just at the beginning.
FRANK: I haven’t had my life! I am just at the beginning, how dare you? Susan, you are depressed. You need to meditate. Stop thinking. Take your pills! Where are your pills, do you have them with you? I mean it! (SUSAN fetches a pill from her bunk. FRANK pours her a glass of water and watches her swallow it.) Good. We say we want things to be smooth and predictable, but we get bored when everything is too easy, we crave disaster to put us on our mettle, we create it ourselves if we have to. This will make him strong. You too. Me.
(CHRIS comes in with a shovel, tears in his eyes. SUSAN goes to him and gives him a kiss.)
CHRIS: I am ready.
FRANK: Off we go.
(They leave, FRANK whistling a jaunty tune. SUSAN turns away to straighten the bedding. Behind her back BOB silently comes in the back door camouflaged with leaves and branches.)
BOB: Are they gone? Where are they going? Who was that with him?
(SUSAN is startled and momentarily terrified, not recognizing him at first.)
SUSAN (backing away): What do you want? You can have anything you want. Help yourself. Just don’t touch me!
BOB: It’s me, Bob. What?
SUSAN: Oh, Bob, oh. What happened to you? Why are you dressed like that?
BOB: No one must know that you are here. I mean it. There are some very strange desperate people out there, and it is not getting any better. I want them to think I am as crazy as they are so they won’t think I have anything and follow me to steal it. You should not be alone. Where is Frank? Who is the guy with him? Sorry, I am a little wound up. I made a lean-to. It is fine. This was too weird.
SUSAN: They went up to the spring.
BOB: Is there a spring? I am glad to hear it. We are lucky to be in the mountains where there is plenty of clean water and good air. It is not going to get seriously cold for a couple of months. We can live on wild mushrooms.
SUSAN: I am not going to eat wild mushrooms.
BOB: I know about mushrooms. I mean I actually know. I am an experienced mycologist. I can show you which ones are poisonous, and it is a only a few. The others are fine. Trust me.
SUSAN: I don’t trust anyone who says trust me.
BOB (in her face): What is your problem, lady? Are you getting your period? Haven’t you taken your pills?
SUSAN (Slaps him, hard. Then): You asked for that. Are you supposed to be protecting me? Go away.
BOB: Take it easy. I was just checking in, making sure everybody is happy.
SUSAN: I have a gun.
BOB: Show it to me.
SUSAN: Not unless I have to.
LOUISE (off, calling): Hello. Hello. Is anybody there? Friend. I am a friend. Can I come up?
BOB (Looks out the window): Oh no! It’s Louise. My wife. I am not ready for this. You have not seen me. (He ducks out the back door.)
SUSAN (calling out the front door): Come on, it’s all right. It is just me. You can come up. Please do. Come in.
(LOUISE comes up on the porch and enters, a large, loud woman, florid and winded from the climb. She is stylishly outfitted, and a towering pack makes her look even bigger.)
LOUISE: Oh, Lord, I forgot what a hill that is. I am totally done in. Here, help me take this thing off. That was a hump and a half. I feel like a Marine. I hope you have water. I am going to sit down.
SUSAN: Please. Have a seat.
LOUISE: Thank you. Is Bob here? I am his wife, Louise. You have heard of me, yes? I was here with Frank last winter. (SUSAN gives her water.) Thank you. We were out on a truck and bus tour and they were heading back, God only knows why. I knew Bob was here with Frank so I got them to drop me off. I walked up from the town. Do you know Bob?
SUSAN: Did you see anybody? What’s going on?
LOUISE: Nothing is open. Everybody is afraid of running out of gas so nobody is driving. Everybody is afraid. I saw two different groups of armed men walking on the road but I heard them coming before they saw me and hid in the woods until they passed. I don’t want any misunderstanding. It is a lovely walk. I love the way the road winds along the creek and then climbs up out of the trees on the side of the mountain and the view opens up across the high meadows. You wouldn’t know anything had happened, except it was so quiet. No hum of machines, near or far, no airplanes marking up the sky, just the breeze and the creatures. Even here you could never get away from machines. I’m sorry. Who are you?
SUSAN: I am Frank’s cousin. Susan. He is up in the woods working on the plumbing. Bob is here somewhere but I don’t think he wants to see you.
LOUISE: Of course he wants to see me. He is such a baby! Bob was angry with me for sleeping with Frank so he has blown it up into a ridiculous fantasy that I have abandoned our marriage. It was his own fault. What am I supposed to do when he goes away for weeks at a time and there’s a handsome horny friendly guy like Frank all by himself right upstairs? I am crazy about Bob, and he feels the same way about me. He is so passive-aggressive! Is he all right?
SUSAN: I don’t know what he is normally like. We are all pretty much on the edge.
LOUISE: Not Bob. Bob is cool. And what is your problem? Seduced and abandoned? You can’t expect much from Frank, nice as he is. Anyway, I didn’t.
SUSAN: I have to get home. I have a real baby.
LOUISE: What are you doing here?
SUSAN: I needed a break.
LOUISE: You can’t go anywhere today so forget it.
SUSAN: I can’t just twiddle my thumbs.
LOUISE: Of course you can. What do you think everybody else is doing?
BOB (coming in): Darling! What a delightful surprise! I am delighted to see you!
LOUISE: I love your outfit.
BOB: I knew you would.
LOUISE: Can I hug you?
BOB: Please do. There are plenty more branches and leaves. (They embrace.) Oh, there is plenty of you, too! You feel wonderful. Yum yum! Are you really here? I was afraid you were not coming back.
LOUISE: I told you, I had to take that job. It was going to Broadway.
BOB: I thought you were just saying that, for something to say.
LOUISE: No, I told you. You should believe what I say.
BOB: I want to.
(SUSAN goes out.)
LOUISE: Then do. I am sorry about Frank. Really, I thought you would think it was funny.
BOB: I don’t satisfy you.
LOUISE: You do, you satisfy me like nobody and nothing else. You totally satisfy me. I love you. I adore you. Stop tormenting yourself. So how was your night with Frank?
BOB: It isn’t funny.
LOUISE: It is. It is ridiculous.
BOB: That woman was here.
LOUISE: I see. Ha ha.
BOB: No, really, I am glad to see you. I am tremendously relieved. (Pulls her close.) Mmm. How did you get here?
LOUISE (in his arms): I walked. I need you. We need each other.
BOB: I could not agree more. Right now, eh? I built a lean-to. Come on. Bring your stuff. Here, let me.
LOUISE (shouldering her pack): I have it. Lead on, Lothario.
BOB (as they go out the back door): Come live with me and be my love, and we will all the pleasures prove…
(After a moment the front door silently opens and a 12-year-old girl in a Brownie uniform enters. It is SIBBY. Wary and alert, she inspects the cabin carefully, looking in all the corners. She finds a banana, eats half, and puts the rest in her pocket. She is about to leave as…)
(Both doors fly open revealing the TROLLS, MA in the front door, PA in the back. They are large, fierce, and threatening. SIBBY backs away toward the audience as they step into the room. The TROLLS’ voices are low, thick, and adenoidal, as if their nasal passages are completely blocked, and their delivery is dazedly ill-natured when they are not broadly “natural” or idiotic: they have no social skills.)
MA (to PA): Wazzy fight—snuss, sno fuffle snuss.
PA: Take a daisy. Sumfug zit smerge. Swark soozle!
MA: Gwoff, zen, dumbettle stoffoo. Smome, licked.
PA: Smome surf gofflit. Wuffle. (To SIBBY): Jes stopped by to say ‘howdy.’
SIBBY: You talk?
PA (prompting her): ‘Howdy.’
SIBBY: What do you want? Oh! Howdy.
PA (advances and shakes her hand, practically knocking her off the stage): Howdy!
SIBBY: Easy there!
MA (laughing so hard she has to lean on the sink): Howdy stranger!
SIBBY (escaping around to the other side of the table): Hey, whoa, what is this? I am looking for Frank. You know Frank? The writer? (The TROLLS are frolicking.) I am sorry, is this your house? (Takes out the half banana.) I am sorry, I should not have taken your banana but I didn’t have anything for lunch.
MA (cracking herself up): Nababa wabba nana. (She grabs the banana and eats the rest of it, drops the banana peel on the floor, deliberately slips on it, and falls down, laughing uproariously.)
PA (to MA): Smazy surf, Ma. (to SIBBY) Dummy fight. Smee flecks. Troll fong fingna swu… swu…
SIBBY: You are trolls? Is that what you are trying to say?
PA: Troll fong fingna swub trim smaggle woosmick. Troll snick whatsa moomin smaggle.
SIBBY (scared but also laughing): No, I’m sorry, I don’t buy it, cut it out! Who are you really? (MA and PA both roar at her and make frightening faces and gestures.) All right, all right, trolls, fine.
PA (nicely): Howdy.
SIBBY: What do you want? I don’t even live here. I am not the host. (PA sits at the table.) Where do you live?
PA: Under bridge. (Points off left.)
SIBBY: What bridge? That is a mountain, not a river.
PA: Not a real bridge.
MA (on the floor): Apple pie.
SIBBY: I wish.
PA: Surf, Ma. Gar fline single. Neasy mackle human.
MA: Ha ha.
PA: Sniggle! (to SIBBY) Ma needs human speak to. Practice. You teach.
MA: Practice teach. Ha ha.
SIBBY: You will have to get up off the floor.
MA (rolling on her back, wriggling, scratching): This good here. Feel good. Mmmm! You try.
PA (encouragingly): Go ahead.
SIBBY: I think I won’t, thank you. (Looks out the door.)
PA: No one come. No one laugh. Frank dig. His pup hold pipe.
SIBBY: Not his pup. I mean, my brother is not his child, if that is what you mean. We are not puppies.
PA: Good. You teach.
MA: Puppy muppy?
PA: You teach.
SIBBY (giving in): Little dog. (Gets down on her hands and knees and acts like a puppy, licks MA’s hand, etc.) Puppy. Puppy. (Sits up, pats herself on the chest.) Person. (Puppyish, MA tries to play with SIBBY, who jumps up.) Not puppy, person!
MA (Imitates her, sitting up and pounding herself on the chest): Not puppy, person.
SIBBY: Well, maybe not.
PA: Not person? Ma? Not puppy!
SIBBY: I thought you were trolls.
MA: Ha ha.
PA: That was joke. Ha ha. Troll people.
SIBBY: I am glad to know that. Where do you live?
PA: Under bridge. I mean…
MA: Under rock.
PA (lifting her up): Good, Ma! You get!
SIBBY: I mean, do you live in the forest, here? Can you survive without going to the store? What do you eat? (MA and PA exchange guilty looks.) Can you show us? We can’t go back. I don’t know how to find food. I don’t eat very much.
MA: Gleb star.
PA: Human, Ma.
MA: We you show.
SIBBY: We show you. I mean, we will show you. Good.
MA: Hungry now? (She gets down on the floor and starts looking for bugs.) Eat you. Here some good.
SIBBY: No, no, not now. Stop. I don’t want to know. We have plenty of food. We will be all right. Tell her to stop.
PA: Not now, Ma. Later.
MA: I find!
PA: Swark! Snuss!
MA (comes up with a bug, advances on SIBBY): Smee, smiggle, poffit, gloptu!
PA: Human, Ma!
MA: Fresh, good, eat, yum yum!
(SIBBY runs out screaming. MA is taken aback.)
PA: No you thank, she mean.
MA: Why she say? (Choking up.) Mars biff meant woggin lammickle. Nerp oh nipt! Moo leafer quail! (Bursts into sobs.)
PA (putting his trollish arm around her): Naminiminoma, Ma, namonimna, omanamanim, namonimanamo. (She calms.) Plopa wassu good. Human.
MA (putting the bug on the table): We leave. (Smashes it with her fist.) She later eat.
Late afternoon. CHRIS and SIBBY are at the table playing gin rummy. SUSAN has pulled a chair up to the window and is reading a book by the fading light from outside. Sound of rain.
SIBBY (laying down her cards): I am going out with two.
CHRIS: I was about to gin.
SIBBY: I know you were. I thought I would get my card but I couldn’t wait any longer.
CHRIS: You are too good for me. Is this what you did at camp?
SIBBY: Of course not. They kept us busy every minute. We had canoeing, archery, handicrafts, swimming, and campfires, and we went for two overnights, one of them on top of the mountain. Then everything fell apart. The police came and took away our councilor. The other girls in my tent were a hopeless bunch of spoiled suburban brats. It was not going to work.
CHRIS: How did you know I was here?
SIBBY: I didn’t know you were here. A man came and told me. I wanted to get away from there and he walked me over here and pointed me up the trail. I thought you were at home with Mommy and Daddy. We are orphans now, I guess.
SUSAN (putting down the book): I can’t see well enough to read. I can’t concentrate anyway.
SUSAN: It is not your fault. It is everything. I don’t know what to do. I have abandoned the only people who care about me. They must think I hate them. I love them. Joe is doing his best. I don’t know why he puts up with me. (Up and pacing) This is so depressing. Can’t we light the lantern or something?
CHRIS: We need to conserve fuel.
SUSAN: What for? It is practically dark. We are all going to starve to death anyway. Or freeze, if we last that long. We might as well be able to see while we are still alive.
CHRIS: We are not going to starve. People lived here for thousands of years before they had electricity and cars and grocery stores and furnaces.
SUSAN: They were used to it. They knew how to sit around in the dark. They knew how to live on roots and berries. I am not going to eat bugs, I don’t care how thin I get.
(STEPHEN clumps up onto the porch and enters, rather wet, carrying a basket full of vegetables—carrots, broccoli, potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce.)
STEPHEN: Hello. Hello. How are you? Where is Frank? I have to talk to him. Why is it so dark in here?
CHRIS: Wow! Where did you get the lovely vegetables?
STEPHEN: I have a huge garden. I am afraid of raiders. Anybody passing can see it from the road, everybody knows about it. So we should pick it while we can. (Lighting a candle.) I have a root cellar they probably won’t find. Is he in the woodshed? You look pretty cozy. (Touches SIBBY on the shoulder.) I am glad you have your brother. It sounds like chaos over there. The camp was some kind of front for I don’t know what, a peace group or something, and most of it has been turned into a detention center. The kids are pretty much stranded. I wish I could do something for them but I have eleven people at my house and I don’t think I can handle any more.
FRANK (Entering): I thought that was your voice. Oh, look at the vegetables. How wonderful! Thank you!
STEPHEN: You are entirely welcome. I want to talk to you. Can we go ouside?
FRANK: It is raining.
STEPHEN: I know it is raining and I don’t care. I don’t complain about the weather, I appreciate it. I don’t want to get everybody worked up.
FRANK (Lighting the lamp and hanging it over the table): Well I don’t want to get wet. Shall I make some soup?
STEPHEN: Not for me.
CHRIS: Yes, Daddy.
STEPHEN: There is some kind of government functioning but apparently the military has effectively taken over. They are the only ones with fuel and communications. A squad came to my house and i.d.‘d everyone they could find. Two people hid in the coal cellar. That was stupid. They have emergency powers so they can do anything they want. They were pretty lax. I think they are saving us for later. I still have some kind of status around here but it won’t last when they realize how helpless I am.
SUSAN: I have a gun.
STEPHEN: Give it to Frank.
SUSAN (Glancing toward her bunk): I am not going to give it to Frank. Why, because he is a man? Because he is older? You don’t trust me.
STEPHEN: Of course I trust you. Where is it? (Goes to her bunk and starts rummaging in her things.) You can’t just have a gun. You have to have some training and some idea of what to do with it.
SUSAN: Stay out of my stuff. What are you doing?
FRANK: I don’t want a gun.
SUSAN: Get out of there. (She grapples with STEPHEN, pulling him away from the bunk bed, dragging the bedding off. The gun falls and they struggle for it.)
FRANK: Stephen, stop it! What is this? You are out of line. (Separates them.) I won’t have it. This is a peaceful house. Behave yourself! (SUSAN has the gun.) Susan, put down the gun.
SUSAN: He will grab it. Why does he want my gun?
FRANK: Why do you have a gun? You shouldn’t have a gun. You will get us all killed.
STEPHEN: Never mind, it is not worth fighting over. Let her keep it.
SUSAN (Sarcastic): Thank you very much!
STEPHEN: Is this how you treat your husband?
SUSAN: He would never act like that, he is a gentleman.
STEPHEN: I thought you said he dragged you down the stairs by your hair.
SUSAN: What is this? A trial? I refuse to answer. (Waving the gun.) I don’t have to explain myself.
FRANK: Honey, please, don’t fall apart on us.
SUSAN: You have no respect for me at all. I should never have come here. You just want to be guys together, I know all about it. Well, I have had enough of this. You can have your little romantic hideaway. (Starts to leave.)
FRANK (Blocking her way): Give me the gun, Susan.
SIBBY (Quietly): Give him the gun. Give the gun to Frank. (She goes to SUSAN, takes the gun, and gives it to FRANK, who stretches up to put it on top of a beam, out of sight and out of reach. SUSAN meekly complies, then runs out the back door into the rain.)
STEPHEN: Well done. Bravo! At least she won’t shoot herself.
FRANK (Closing the door): I am not going to shoot anybody. I am going to throw it in the lake.
CHRIS: Is there a lake?
FRANK: We can hike over the mountain for a swim tomorrow if it clears up.
STEPHEN: That sounds pleasant.
FRANK: You can’t imagine how much I love being here. This is my favorite place in the whole world. Well, one of my favorite places. I love Paris, and Rome, and London. Don’t get me started. I have always wanted to live here full time, but I could never do it by myself, I was too lonely, and nobody else could stand it. So this is very sweet for me. I will work for a couple of hours in the morning in the woodshed, and then we can go for a hike. Stephen, do you want to come with us?
STEPHEN: We’ll see. What I wanted to say is, I don’t think anybody knows you are here, and we should try to keep it that way as long as we can. They questioned me but I didn’t say anything about any of you. I don’t trust them. You are not on my property, technically, so I am not responsible, although they probably don’t care about niceties.
FRANK: We are not going anywhere. We are staying in the woods. I have to be on my way in a few days. But for now I am enjoying my friends and family and beautiful nature and getting some writing done. We are animals in our element, more here than in the cities, bodies in motion, in perfect harmony with the turning world, present together in this miraculous moment.
STEPHEN (After a pause): Praise the Lord!
FRANK: Thank you, Stephen. You are the best of neighbors.
STEPHEN: I do what I can. Bye, kids, see you later. (Bows out with his empty basket.)
FRANK (Turning to vegetables): How about that soup?
(Lights fade out.)
Later that night. SIBBY is in the lower bunk, reading a book by flashlight. Otherwise the room is dark. CHRIS is in the hammock.
SIBBY (After a time): Chris? Are you awake?
SIBBY: What are you doing?
CHRIS: Just lying here. Thinking. It is amazingy comfortable. Better than a bed.
SIBBY: What are we going to do?
CHRIS: About what?
SIBBY: Mommy and Daddy. We can’t just forget them.
CHRIS: I am not forgetting them. I was remembering them when they were young, when I was a little boy. They were so beautiful. They must have been in love. That is what making movies together was really about. That is what my dad said.
SIBBY: So what are we going to do?
CHRIS: We can stay here until we figure something out.
SIBBY: It is nice here. It is like camp should be. It is more like we are living in the forest with the foxes and porcupines instead of crammed into a hive full of would-be queen bees. It was never quiet for a minute.
CHRIS: I thought you liked it.
SIBBY: Except in the middle of the night. This is better.
CHRIS: There aren’t any activities.
SIBBY: I don’t mind.
CHRIS: Are you upset? Are you sad? How do you feel?
SIBBY: I’m all right.
CHRIS: I am waiting for it to get real. It hit me there for a second, then it faded away. It is coming back, I am pretty sure. I hope so. We need to feel it.
SIBBY: I feel it. I miss them, but now they are in heaven.
CHRIS: I hope so.
SIBBY: They were happy. I am glad they are dead. They don’t have to get old and sick and be miserable. Is that a terrible thing to say? I wish they were here. I wish I could see them.
CHRIS: I love you, sis.
SIBBY: I love you too.
(BOB comes stumbling in through the backdoor carrying SUSAN in his arms, apparently unconscious, both extremely bedraggled. LOUISE is right behind him with a lantern.)
CHRIS (Jumping out of the hammock): Here, you can put her in the hammock. (Holds it open.) Is she all right? What happened?
BOB: Perfect. (Lays her in hammock.) It seems like she’s asleep, but I don’t know how she could be.
LOUISE: It’s just lucky we found her.
BOB: She went over the rock in the dark and must have, I don’t know, hit her head or something. She was lying there at the bottom on the moss and grass, like Titania in her bower, as if completely relaxed. Nothing seems to be broken, but we couldn’t wake her up.
CHRIS: I’ll get Frank.
BOB: Frank is not going to be able to do anything. She will be all right, or maybe not. She was pretty far gone to begin with.
CHRIS: What do you mean?
LOUISE (To SIBBY): Stay there, you’re all right. (Straightening the upper bunk) We should get her into bed so she can warm up. Here, lift her up. (They cooperate in lifting SUSAN from the hammock and laying her in the upper bunk.) I will get her out of these clothes and into something dry. (CHRIS stows away the hammock. LOUISE takes care of SUSAN during the following.)
BOB: This is too weird.
LOUISE: Grow up, Bob.
BOB: Are you kids all right? Aren’t you completely freaked out?
BOB: I feel like I am in a caveman reenactment, you know? Let’s all get together out in the woods and pretend it is 1776. This is a park, right?
LOUISE: No, it is not a park. We are deep in the woods. This is wild country full of wild animals and extreme weather. The earth has not been tamed. We are not in control of what happens.
SIBBY: Will you stay with us?
BOB: No, thanks. We have a place of our own, it’s cool, it’s not far, you can come over tomorrow when it’s light, maybe you will want to come live over there. I can show you how to make a watertight roof out of branches and leaves. Let Frank have his hermitage.
CHRIS: I have to get to a phone. We need to get in touch with our parents.
LOUISE: Maybe in a couple of days. Things are getting organized. The city is over. Otherwise nothing will be any different, you will be amazed. The locus of power is virtual, invulnerable, even if the people at the top are the last ones standing.
BOB: I don’t think so.
CHRIS: It is different for us.
BOB: We are back in the dark ages now. I’m not surprised, I saw it coming. We missed our chance to fix the world. Nothing matters now but art.
LOUISE: She is breathing peacefully. Her pulse is regular. She is warm enough.
CHRIS: I hope she’s all right.
LOUISE: We all do. (She goes to BOB, who puts his arm around her.)
CHRIS (To SIBBY): Can I lie down in there with you?
CHRIS: It’s pretty narrow.
SIBBY: Can I be on the outside?
CHRIS: I’m so sleepy. I don’t know what’s the matter with me.
SIBBY: Do you want a backrub?
CHRIS: That would be wonderful.
SIBBY: Take your shirt off.
(FRANK comes in from the woodshed wearing a caftan.)
FRANK: Well, this is a pretty scene. Did Susan come back? Do you want to sleep here?
BOB (Indicating upper bunk): We’re fine where we are. I mean where we were. Where we are going to be.
LOUISE: She fell off the rock. We found her down below.
FRANK: What did she say?
LOUISE: Nothing. She is as you see. We wait.
FRANK (Shakes her): Susan! Susan, wake up!
SUSAN (Waking): What? What time is it?
FRANK: Are you all right?
SUSAN: Why wouldn’t I be?
FRANK: Did you dream?
SUSAN: No. I don’t think so. (Sitting up.) Now I remember. How did I get into bed? Whose shirt is this? What was I so mad about?
LOUISE: It was lying there.
CHRIS (Muffled): It must be mine.
FRANK: Well, I’m glad you are feeling better.
SUSAN: Was I sick? I was. That’s why I am here. I am better now. I need to go home. I want to be with Joey and my baby.
FRANK: Soon, darling. Not tonight. Soon.
CHRIS: Keep rubbing.
SIBBY (Lies down): I can’t stay awake.
FRANK: Go to sleep now. Everything will be different in the morning.
SUSAN: I have such a bump on my head. (Lies down. FRANK covers her and also tucks in the sleeping youngsters in the lower bunk.)
(BOB and LOUISE have sat down at the table and are holding hands.)
LOUISE: This is very kind of you to have us all here, Frank. I mean it.
FRANK: I am glad you are here, it is a great comfort to me. I wish you would come sleep in my woodshed tonight. The bed is enormous. I get lost in it by myself.
LOUISE: Go ahead, Bob.
BOB: Thank you both, but maybe not right now. I am interested in exploring a new simplicity.
FRANK: It is going to rain all night. You will be miserable.
LOUISE: We are reasonably dry, actually, on a floor of boughs. It is partly a cave. Unless you are really too lonely by yourself in there.
FRANK: I really am, to tell you the truth.
LOUISE (With a look at BOB): Come on then. We could all use a snuggle.
FRANK (leading the way): Like puppies.
(They go off together, taking the lantern with them. After a moment, music, perhaps Mendelssohn; green light glows on SUSAN’s head.)
— In low green light, the TROLLS appear frolicking like puppies, softly yipping and growling.
— DREAM DANCER materializes in fairy wings and steps over and among them like a fairy ballerina: a somewhat extended choreographed sequence.
— TROLLS rise, lift DREAM DANCER in their arms, and pass him back and forth or manipulate his body in the air, eventually placing him upright on the table.
— Like a magician, the DANCER makes a series of gestures and enchants the TROLLS, who become a courtly couple, elegantly bowing and dancing a romantic minuet in vivid colored light, manipulated like marionettes by the DANCER from above.
— SUSAN stirs and cries out in her sleep; TROLLS and DANCER freeze, music stops. SUSAN very slowly rolls toward the edge of the bunk. She pauses at the edge; TROLLS and DANCER gasp. Then she falls out.
— Lights go out before she lands, on her feet, with a thump.
SIBBY (Sitting up in the dark): What was that?
CHRIS: I don’t know. (Pause) Did you hear a thump? I thought it was a thump in my dream. I dropped you on the kitchen floor. Are you all right?
SIBBY: I am fine.
CHRIS: Is somebody there?
SUSAN: It is me, Susan. Where are you?
CHRIS: What happened?
SUSAN: I fell off the cliff.
SIBBY: Are you all right?
SUSAN: I am standing up.
CHRIS: Don’t move.
SUSAN: I am not. I am standing perfectly still. I could stand here all night.
CHRIS (To SIBBY): Where is the flashlight? You had it.
SIBBY: Here it is. (She turns it on and shines it up at SUSAN, who throws up her arms to shield her face and gives a little shriek. SIBBY turns the light down to SUSAN’s feet.) Sorry.
SUSAN: I am going back to bed. (The light follows SUSAN’s feet as she climbs up into her bunk, then goes out. In the dark) Thank you and good night.
SIBBY: Sweet dreams.
SUSAN: You two too.
SIBBY: You too, Chris.
CHRIS: I won’t drop you, Sibby.
SIBBY: I know you won’t.
CHRIS: This is not a dream. This is life, and it is precious being living here together. I feel like the luckiest person in the universe. Good night, sweetie, I love you.
(Silence. Hoot of an owl.)
Early the next morning. Birds singing. SIBBY extricates herself from behind CHRIS, tiptoes across to the front door, and goes out, leaving it open. Sunlight pours in.
Waking, SUSAN sits up, feels her head, comes down. She seems confused. She washes her face, then brushes her hair, looking at herself in a hand mirror, gradually feeling better. CHRIS wakes and watches her.
CHRIS: You are very beautiful. Is it all right for me to tell you that?
SUSAN: It is a beautiful day.
CHRIS: Come closer.
SUSAN (Goes to him): You’re very affectionate.
CHRIS: I am. I am an affectionate person. I am just beginning to realize that. Everybody needs affection. The touch of another skin. Warm. Smooth.
SUSAN: You are giving me the shivers.
CHRIS: Lie down with me.
SUSAN (Hears something): Shh. Wait a minute.
(SIBBY tiptoes in preceded by her shadow. She is carrying a bunch of wildflowers. CHRIS pretends to sleep.)
SIBBY: I thought you were asleep.
SUSAN: Look at the pretty flowers. How sweet you are!
SIBBY: There are mushrooms everywhere. I never saw so many. I expect we could eat them.
SUSAN (Putting the flowers in a glass on the table): Bob knows about mushrooms.
SIBBY: We will also need some chickens. We could live on mushroom omelettes.
SUSAN: Aren’t you frightened? I am terrified. I am afraid we will starve, or freeze to death, and turn against each other like savages.
SIBBY: Why are you talking that way? I am a little girl. You are grown up, you are supposed to be strong. I can’t take care of you.
SUSAN: How old are you?
SIBBY: I am twelve. How old are you?
SUSAN: You are right. I will try harder. Look, sweetie, would you mind going away for ten minutes or so? Walk around some more. Explore. See what’s out there. I need a little privacy with your brother.
SIBBY: What for? Oh. All right.
SUSAN: I will give you some breakfast when you come back. Don’t get lost.
SIBBY: I won’t. Don’t worry so much. (Goes.)
(SUSAN hesitantly approaches CHRIS. He reaches up and draws her to him. She allows him a rather perfunctory hug and immediately pulls away.)
CHRIS: What? What’s the matter?
SUSAN: You are a sweet boy but this is not happening.
CHRIS: What did I do wrong? (In a dramatic voice) You want to, you know it’s true.
SUSAN: No, it is too crazy. Not for you, I know. Listen, do you know what my situation is? Try to think about something besides yourself. Open the shutters. I am not some mystical wood nymph awaiting your all too human nectar. I come with a story that has other characters in it, a patient husband, an adoring little boy. They need me. I need them.
CHRIS: I need you.
SUSAN: I will be your friend. You be mine. Don’t be boring. I am not the one. Face it.
CHRIS: I thought…
SUSAN: That was yesterday. It comes and goes. Today I understand everything. I am the mommy, for a start. (Setting out breakfast.)
CHRIS (Coming to her, seductive): You are not my mommy.
SUSAN: Well I am not your girlfriend either, so forget it.
CHRIS: Oh all right. Boo hoo.
SUSAN: You don’t seem very serious.
CHRIS: What do you want from me?
SUSAN: I am trying to get a grip. It is not easy, believe me.
CHRIS: So am I. I am acting. I am moving ahead with my life in spite of what I can’t help. This is a normal morning, in that sense at least.
SUSAN (Breaking down): I have to get back to my family.
CHRIS (Comforting her): See, that is normal too. These are normal tears. We are still ourselves, for better or worse.
SUSAN: Better. I am better.
CHRIS: I always liked you, even wacked out.
SUSAN: Thank you, sweetie. You are a nice boy…man…sorry. I mean it. But don’t start again. Sit down. Eat something.
(STEPHEN taps on the door and sticks his head in. Breakfast happens in a scattered way throughout the following scene.)
STEPHEN: Is everybody up? I saw Sibby flitting about deep in the trees, but she did not see me. (To SUSAN) There is a bus going at noon supposedly. I bought you a ticket. We had better get you there way early, it is sure to be packed.
SUSAN: Oh thank you, I am so happy!
STEPHEN: Don’t get too happy.
SUSAN: No, I know.
STEPHEN: The situation is stabilizing. The losses are terrible. We are all shell-shocked.
CHRIS: Is there any word from the city?
STEPHEN: The worst elements are taking over, naturally, but what else is new? It is better than chaos. I sound like a fascist. No, nothing. It is dead.
BOB (Entering): We must have been the last ones out.
STEPHEN: At the edges some people will recover, supposedly. I am sorry for you kids, really, I am, believe me. My own parents were already gone, but I have lost dear friends. It seems wrong to give up on them, doesn’t it, but there does not seem to be any hope.
BOB: I hated the city. I felt like my head was going to explode half the time. It was dirty and crowded and noisy and smelly. People don’t have to live like that.
STEPHEN: Don’t be stupid. All the good stuff comes from the city. The rest of the world only exists to feed the city. The city is where the best people go to do great things and think. This is not a nation of farmers. The city is the essence of our civilization.
BOB: You must be kidding. The city was a sludge pit. Have you looked around lately, I mean off the avenues, outside the development zones? Great swathes of nightmare inhabited by zombies. Even the better lives are grotesquely distorted, driven by a relentless need for money, satisfied only by buying. The city is a weird abberation. The country humors it, amused by its pretensions.
STEPHEN: I know all about it. My personal preference is for half and half. But these are not normal times, we can’t expect to live normal lives.
BOB: That is what they want us to think.
STEPHEN: I know, I know, things are never good. But there are certain moments in history that stand out—the Fall of the Roman Empire, the Black Death, the World Wars. I more and more believe another one of those is coming upon us.
LOUISE (Coming in, to BOB): What are you doing, leaving me in there with him? Shape up! (To others) Good morning.
BOB: I hate the city.
SUSAN: Then why were you there?
BOB: I am an artist. I have to be. Nothing else is real, art-wise.
CHRIS: I am a city kid. I thought it was cool. I don’t know what to do now.
STEPHEN: Go back to college in the fall. It will happen. I will help you. We all will.
BOB: Anyway, I am giving up the game. I don’t want a career, I just want to paint.
LOUISE: What about me?
BOB: Don’t worry, there are theatres everywhere.
LOUISE: I want to do Aristophanes. (To STEPHEN) Can we rehearse in your barn?
STEPHEN: I imagine.
BOB: I’m with you. But first we have to work on our house.
CHRIS: Do you need help?
BOB: We sure do.
CHRIS: Is there really room for Sibby and me?
BOB: We can make you a room. It is a big cave.
SUSAN: Have some breakfast first.
FRANK (Entering and going to the stove): Who wants coffee? Isn’t this the most glorious morning you ever saw? I hope everybody slept well and had beautiful dreams. (He kisses BOB and LOUISE, then kisses CHRIS and SUSAN and STEPHEN as well.) Good morning, good morning. Stephen, you are well, you and your guests?
STEPHEN: I came to invite you all to dinner. The moon is full tonight so it will be easy to find your way back up the hill. Susan is going home on the noon bus.
STEPHEN: The bus is running. Only the city was affected, as it turns out.
LOUISE (To FRANK): We are all clearing out of the cabin. You can have your solitude all day, and then we will get together in the evening for pagan rites. This is not going to be a long break, I mean to enjoy it.
CHRIS (Goes out on the porch and calls): Sibby. Where are you? Come back. Breakfast. Sibby. (His voice fades into the distance.)
FRANK (To SUSAN): You seem well.
FRANK: I’ll say.
SUSAN: You could have just hit me in the head.
FRANK: I wanted to, several times. So Joe did not…?
SUSAN: Joe would never hurt me. He won’t even swat a fly. It is against his religion.
FRANK: I like Joe.
SUSAN: So do I. I can’t wait to see them.
FRANK: Bring them up here sometime.
SUSAN: You don’t mind?
FRANK: I would love it. I am not going to be here but you can come on your own. Now I want to work for a few days. I am trying to finish a play before I get married. I don’t need to know what else is going on.
STEPHEN: I will keep you informed.
FRANK: I truly wish you wouldn’t. What does it matter, honestly? I can’t do anything about history but try to stay out of its way. I vote, but it only counts if millions of people agree with me. This was a close call. I don’t ascribe my good fortune to my own moral qualities, like some I could name, but it would be ungrateful not to make the most of it.
BOB: You sound like Louise.
FRANK: We are a pair.
LOUISE: That’s why you like us.
FRANK: That’s why we can’t take ourselves seriously.
LOUISE: Too bad, but not really. Bob is the guy for me. (Presses close to him.)
FRANK (To STEPHEN, who is scowling): Don’t look at us like that.
(CHRIS and SIBBY come in wearing crowns of wildflowers.)
CHRIS: Can we go to the lake?
STEPHEN: Stay on this side if you do. Don’t go anywhere near the camp.
SIBBY: Why not?
STEPHEN: You probably should not go at all. You are safe here. Why look for trouble?
FRANK: We can go this morning, and come back before the heat of the afternoon.
BOB: What are we waiting for?
SUSAN: We are all here. (A noise, off.)
SIBBY: No, wait, I promised. (Opens the door.) Come in, please. (MA & PA TROLL enter, formal and alert.) May I introduce…the Trolls.
PA (Enunciating carefully): Pleased to…
MA: …meet you. (They laugh delightedly.)
FRANK (Beaming): Isn’t it wonderful? Come on, let’s go.
(They do not move.)
Copyright © 2006 by Michael Smith. All rights reserved.