Play in the Drawer: Jason Grote

Plaid About You: Jason Grote

Welcome to the triumphant return of the Play in the Drawer feature. This week we feature an excerpt from "This Storm is What We Call Progress" by New Dramatist and fellow blogger Jason Grote.

Jason Grote's plays include 1001, This Storm is What We Call Progress, Hamilton Township, Maria/Stuart or Platzangst, and Box Americana. Current and upcoming: 1001 in New York (with P73 - visit 1001nyc.com for info) and Seattle (with ACT); commissions from Clubbed Thumb, Denver Center Theater, and Ensemble Studio Theatre; and a collaboration with the performance group Radiohole. He is a member of PEN and New Dramatists, and a contributor to Comedy Central's "Indecision 2008" blog. Visit him at jasongrote.com.

After the jump, Storm excerpts.

THIS STORM IS WHAT WE CALL PROGRESS

0. ONLY THE ANGEL OF HISTORY

Black, cold. A LONE OBOE wails a plaintive note. Then, a repetitive, crackly rhythm, perhaps like the sound a needle makes on the inner ring of an LP when it is done playing, perhaps an old, tinny German waltz, perhaps some combination. CHANNAH, a sepia ghost in outdated clothing appears. She is obscured, perhaps in half-light or behind cheesecloth. She speaks with a comically exaggerated Yiddish accent.

CHANNAH Valter? Valter? (Beat) By your words I conjure you, incandescent, sublime. Up through my knees and thighs sacred and obscure citations run, into my womb and stomach, my breasts, arcane impure language in my lungs, emerging out my mouth, a cloud of narrative elements in hot ghost breath. Of syllables I construct you. I build you as I am built, from words in the ground planted, spiraling upwards, with thorns they got, into the unknowable nebulae of a disused and indifferent God, blessed be He. Yisborach, v'yistabach, v'yipsoar, v'yisroman, v'yinaseh, v'yishador, v'yishallen, v'yishallol, sh'meh d'kudsho, b'rich hu.

VALTER, a hunchbacked ghost, appears. Like Channah, he wears outdated clothing and speaks in an exaggerated Yiddish accent.

VALTER What? What, who is calling me?

CHANNAH Valter. You are as handsome as you ever were.

VALTER I was never handsome.

CHANNAH Still to hear your voice is lovely.

VALTER You too. Like high cheekbones on a thin face.

CHANNAH We dance?

VALTER Yah.

In the half-light, the sounds of their footsteps, dancing: Tap-tap. Tap-tap.

CHANNAH You have been to the pictures?

VALTER Yes, yes. Many times. Practically I live there, in the picture houses. Not haunting the screens I am, too much they got the living up there, flat ghosts of actors, with the cosmetic surgery, living in California. Doing the exercises for the pectoral muscles. The space between the projectors and the screen I occupy, a cloud of dust illuminated by the light of the movie. This is what I am - a cloud between the meaning and the production of the meaning. All the time I watch. Many times I have seen this Charles's Angels and still I do not understand. Yet look away I can not.

CHANNAH Feh. The shiksa womens in tight clothings you stare at.

VALTER Perhaps.

CHANNAH You have seen this film: Matrix?

VALTER Yah.

CHANNAH What you think?

VALTER Quite enjoyable. Very much I like when the woman with the rubber dungarees kicks the policemens: HA!

CHANNAH This I do not like.

VALTER What, the kicking?

CHANNAH This film, it says to us there are two kind of people. The real people and the ones made only of numbers and you may try to convert the number people but if they do not follow then you may kill! And this I do not like for how is it different from any other mindless brutish messianic totalitarian philosophy!

VALTER Feh. Just policemens they kill. Good riddance.

CHANNAH You are bitter.

VALTER And Channah - would you not be?

They do not speak. Tap-tap. Tap-tap.

VALTER I agree one thing they misunderstand, these filmmakers, is the numbers. I very much enjoy how they look, these cascading numbers, yah, and this idea that of them we are made. But they are wrong that it is a mechanical dream from which we can wake up, for all of this world we have dreamed, we have made ourselves and this world out of cascading letters and numbers and we cannot unmake it but only we can learn to read it. We no more want to escape it than should we want to escape the earth and air or the warmth of each other’s embrace.

CHANNAH These we are lucky to have. Still, I do not like this film.

VALTER Also I like the Peoples of Color in this film they get to do things. Too many films I watch from America, especially these movies of science fiction, the People of Color is like a canary in a mine. He is sent in first to determine how much danger is there, and always he is killed by the monster.

CHANNAH What is this people of color? You mean Negroes?

VALTER They are not Negroes now.

CHANNAH Why, what happened to them?

VALTER Still you have not known this? People of Color we call them.

CHANNAH Ah! How lovely. So then race prejudice is gone, we have triumphed over that particular demon of history? The president of the United States, he is a people of color?

VALTER Don't be smart. It is just more polite is all.

CHANNAH Fah. Such ways they got of hiding things now.

Tap-tap. Tap-tap.

VALTER We are shadows, Channah. Every year, more and more tired I grow. Even to dance with you makes in me a strange pain. This world sits, exhausted and dumb, paralyzed in a hurricane of texts, each louder than the other and each claiming to be more sacred. With unheeded warnings of the sad horrors we have seen, this new millennium we haunt.

Tap-tap. Tap-tap.

CHANNAH You have seen this film: Six Sense?

VALTER Not yet.

CHANNAH Hah. Then I will not spoil.

The music crescendos, fades.

1. ONLY THE SNEEZE

Lights up on a cluttered, dusty recording studio, much like the fantastic library in Prelude 1. Outside, rain. A WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN, late 50s, quizzes LILY, early 30s, an actress. When their lines appear in brackets, they are speaking their own language.

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Number 15.]

LILY [The invisible bicycle.]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Only the-]

LILY [Only the invisible bicycle.]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Number 16.]

LILY [The bathrobes of Sumer. Only the bathrobes of Sumer.]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Number 17.]

LILY [Only the groomed pet.]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Number 18.]

LILY [Only the velvet telephone of revelation.]

A BUZZER sounds. The Woman touches an intercom.

ADAM (V.O.) Yeah, hi, I'm the one, uh, I'm the, uh, one o' clock, my name's Adam-

She buzzes him in.

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Number 18.]

LILY [I said that one. Only the velvet telephone of revelation.]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Number 19.]

LILY [Only the sky.]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Number 20.]

LILY [Only the vandalized billboard.]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Number 21.]

LILY [Only the boy who is also a book.]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Number 22.]

LILY [Only the favorite dessert of God, blessed be She.]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Number 23.]

LILY [Only the Jewish singles event.]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Number 24.]

LILY [Only the land.]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Number 25.]

LILY [Only the every moment which is the door through which the messiah might come.]

Adam enters. He jumps at the sight of the woman's silver skin. Beat.

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Number 26.]

LILY [Only the subtexts of the prophets.]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Number 27.]

LILY [You have a customer.]

Adam gawks at them, uncomprehending.

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Let him wait. Number 27.]

LILY [Only the laughing tunnel.]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Good. Number 28.]

ADAM Um.

Lily smiles at him. The Woman ignores him.

LILY [Only the forbidden lunchmeat. He looks familiar to me. I feel like I know his face.]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Number 29.]

LILY [Only the winged surfboard.]

ADAM Excuse me... I'm here, for, uh... I'm the, um...

The Woman holds up a 'one minute' finger.

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Number 30.]

LILY [Only the many nostrils of the devil. Don't be mean to him.]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [I'm not being mean. He's early.] (to Adam; faint accent) You're early.

ADAM Oh. I, uh... Um.

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Number 31.]

LILY [Only the wooden galaxy.]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Number 32.] (to Adam) Sit, sit.

LILY [Only the grapes.]

Adam sits, bewildered.

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Number 33.]

LILY [Only the quiet moon. I like this one. He's cute.]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [He looks like a chicken. Number 34.]

LILY [Only the old ship of Zion. He doesn't look like a chicken.]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Like a scrawny chicken. Not enough of him to make a soup. Number 35.]

LILY [Only the drugged angel. You are so mean.]

Adam SNEEZES.

LILY Bless you.

ADAM Lotta dust in here.

LILY I know. It's terrible.

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [If you don't like it you can go home. Him too. Number 36.]

LILY [Only the recurring dream. I remember. He was in my dream.]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Who, him?]

LILY [Not his face, but his body. I'm sure of it. He was naked. And he unzipped himself, his skin, from his neck to his thing, and he pulled himself open, but inside him was the sky, and in the sky were thousands and thousands of bicycles.]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN Feh. [No accounting for taste.]

LILY [What? Why do you say that?]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [You are going to sleep with him.]

ADAM Excuse me. It's ah-- it's one.

LILY [With him? He's just a boy.]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [God doesn't lie. The bicycle is a sexual machine. It is like wheels coming from inside you. In your loins. You transport yourself with wheels that are coming from inside you.]

LILY [Really? That doesn't sound very sexy to me.]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [You're sure it was him.]

LILY [Maybe.]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Ask him to lift up his shirt.]

LILY [I'm not going to ask him that!]

ADAM Excuse me. It's one o'clock.

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Then ask him. If he believes.]

LILY [In what?]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Start with angels.]

LILY Do you believe in angels?

ADAM Do I... What? Angels?

LILY Yeah.

Beat.

ADAM (taken with her) Uh. Well. Sometimes. You know, that's... I was, I was coming here from my apartment, walking to the train. And I have to go through, you know, that gigantic Jehovah's Witness compound in Dumbo, that huge... like those empty offices filled with, like, I don't know, back issues of The Watchtower or whatever? Those skyways that connect the buildings so the Jehovah's Witness's feet never have to touch Brooklyn asphalt?

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [What is he talking about?]

LILY Sh.

ADAM You know, it's always totally empty, and I'm talking through there, and I see this tiny dead bird, and I'm like, 'oh, poor sparrow,' but I get closer and it's like bright yellow, and I'm like it's actually a canary! And I'm thinking where the hell did this canary come from, like maybe it was an escaped Jehovah's Witness canary and it tried to get out one of the top windows but it wasn't strong enough to fly through the winds along the East River, or maybe like one of the Jehovah's Witnesses in the compound sent the canary out to find out if it was safe to walk around Brooklyn but it wasn't so it died. Or maybe it was just a very small, very helpless dead angel.

Beat.

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [He is as smart as a chicken too.]

LILY [Don't be mean. Am I really going to sleep with him? Is he Jewish?]

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN [Ask him.]

LILY Are you Jewish?

ADAM What? What kind of a... yes, actually, I'm, uh, half Jewish, half Irish, so I don't know whether to sue you or kick your ass. (painful silence) Not, uh, I'm not... I mean, I'm not planning on suing you or... uh, kicking your... But actually that's interesting that you should ask that because I'm doing this, I'm an actor, and I'm doing this like one-man, uh one-person show, that's what I'm here for, I've got this... American Shylock, it's called, and it's about, you know, how Jews are just, we're assimilated into, we're this new thing, you know, not new, but we're white people now, which is historically, and, Shylock's, you know Shylock? From like The Merchant of Venice? Shakespeare? Anyway, Shylock's like this cowboy, I mean not literally a cowboy, but--

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN You are in room five.

ADAM I wasn't-- Uh, I was--

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN You have only an hour. After, the room is booked.

ADAM Can I switch to another room?

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN After, the whole studio is booked.

ADAM I, it's, the whole place is empty.

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN One hour you pay for, one hour you get.

ADAM It's almost ten after.

WOMAN WITH SILVER SKIN So hurry! In you go! Now! Hup hup! [You want to stay and listen?]

LILY [Am I going to sleep with him once or a lot of times?]

Blackout.

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