Literature-wise, I cut my teeth on plays. My father was an avid amateur actor in the San Francisco Bay area, and I grew up reading him his lines. By the time I was sixteen, I had read a ton of popular plays from the 1950’s through early 1970’s. From there I read Chekhov, Ibsen, Odets, Ionesco, Albee, Miller, Beckett, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neil–and, always and forever, Neil Simon. And Shakespeare for my next three thousand lifetimes, which won’t be nearly enough time to appreciate half of that other-worldly genius.
I myself have never been able to resist writing in play form, even though I know people aren’t generally used to reading stuff presented in that fashion. (And yes, I have written a full play. It’s called Speak of the Devil, and is unlikely to ever be performed, because its two main characters are Satan and God—and the Satan character curses. A lot. In his final year, my father read the play. He said, “This is an extraordinary work. But too many fucks in it, yeah? Directors will have a hard time with that.” Others have told me the same thing: take out the swearing, and we’ll produce this play. But in what world does Satan not curse?)
Below is a mini-mini play of mine, titled My Whole Childhood in Five Minutes. If you’ve read my novel Everywhere She’s Not then you will recognize some of the dynamics at play here. This is written in the style of . . . I don’t know what you’d call it. Ionesco meets Beckett meets Spongebob Squarepants, or something like that. It’s more allegorical, I suppose, than strictly literal. It’s . . . mega-realism. I dunno. I write these things the way they demand to be written, basically. This one’s of the artsy variety. Hope you like/get it. I’ll more than understand if you don’t.
[The curtain rises on the SHORE FAMILY: DAD, MOM, their 11-year-old-daughter LUCREZIA, and their seven-year-old-son JOHN. Their evening supper has commenced. The year is 1963: the culture jam between “I like Ike” and “I like major hallucinogenics.”]
MOM [to DAD]: How was your day at work today, honey?
JOHN: Oh, pretty good, thanks for asking. You know how it is: reading, writing, whatever the heck fractions are. It’s all so boring you wanna hang yourself from a tetherball rope—but whaddaya gonna do? [MOM and DAD stare at their son as if he were from Mars.]
LUCREZIA: You should have let me drown him when he was a baby.
MOM [to LUCREZIA]: I like him better than I do you, Fatty. [To DAD] Anyway, honey, did everything go all right today?
DAD: Whattaya’ want from me? Sure. Everything went fine. Perfect. Wonderful. Couldn’t be better. Now, do you mind if I eat my dinner in peace? I can’t talk anyway. I’ve gotta save all my strength to cut through this pork chop.
LUCREZIA: Here! Look what I do! [She grabs the meat off her plate with both hands and furiously gnaws on it.]
MOM [after a moment silently staring at LUCREZIA]: I had a good day today. I discovered that—
DAD: Get your elbow off the table, son. You’ll never go to college and get a good job if you don’t stop eating like an animal.
JOHN: Unless I majored in zoology, right? Then I could probably get a degree just for eating like an animal. Man, I’d get a PhD if I learned to eat like a frog. Have you ever seen a frog’s tongue? How’d ya’ like to eat with one of those things? Wouldn’t it be a drag to be a frog, and go for a fly, and then just forget how to rewind your twenty-foot-long tongue so you could store it in your head again? Then you’d just be sitting there, surrounded by all this tongue. Then you’d see another fly, so real quick you’d try to ball up your tongue, and just throw it at the thing. But your weird frog arms can’t handle that. So then you start starving to death. And—
DAD: Will you please clam up? What is the matter with you? I swear, it’s like trying to eat next to Soupy Sales. Except he’s actually funny.
JOHN: Well, sure he is. He’s named Soupy Sales. It’s like naming your kid Bozo. If you wanted me to be funnier, maybe you should have named me, like, Chuckles. Or Boom-Boom. Or Spanky! Spanky Shore! Automatically hilarious!
DAD: Shut up. Shut up right now.
JOHN [chuckling to himself]: Toodles. No—Squishy. Squishy Shore!
DAD: That’s it. You’re grounded.
LUCREZIA: Yeah! You’re grounded!
JOHN: What? Why am I grounded? How is it my fault that Squishy Shore is a funny name? Also funny: Ditzo. Or Dippy!
DAD: Why are you like this?! I’m telling you right now to shut up. Do not say one more word.
MOM: Now, dear. Remember what the doctor told you about your heart.
DAD: Livin’ with this goddamned kid, I’ll be lucky if I live to fifty.
LUCREZIA: Yeah. You’ll be lucky if you live till you’re twenty-five.
JOHN: He’s thirty-seven now, Lu. I mean, c’mon. That doesn’t exactly take fractions.
LUCREZIA: You’re a fraction!
MOM: Now, now, children. No arguing at the table. Let’s just have a nice, quiet dinner, shall we? Your father works hard every day, and we should all just . . . [She stops, and rolls her eyes skyward.] What’s that? What? [Pause.] Come in, Venus. This is Rhapsa, Keeper of the Earthen Flame. [She closes her eyes.] I can hear you now. Go ahead.
DAD: Oh, great. Time for another episode of Looney Tunes.
JOHN: Except Looney Tunes are funny.
MOM [back from her trance]: Oh, my children. My dear husband. I bring such wondrous news. The Overseers from the basin of the Helix Sea on Venus have informed me that I am soon to begin the Purification of the Final Incarnation. How I have yearned and hoped for this day, when I would be declared worthy to take the 7th Step to Cosmic Nirvana! Is this not a miraculous revelation, my beloveds?
[They all stare at her in silence.]
JOHN: Yeah, mom. That’s really great.
DAD [throwing his napkin down on the table]: Well, that’s it. I’ve got a son who can’t shut his mouth, and a wife who talks to Venusians. I’m outta here. [He exits, returning almost instantly with two packed suitcases.] Good-bye, kids. I’ll call you, probably, as soon as I get a phone in my new place. Try not to end up in jail.
LUCREZIA: But what about me, Daddy?
DAD [kissing her]: I love you most of all, Tubster. I’ll miss you whenever I think of you at all. Same with you, boy—but less. Adios!
[Both children jump up from their seats and throw their arms around their father.]
LUCREZIA and JOHN: Don’t go! Please! Don’t leave us alone with her! She’s insane!
DAD: Stop it. Let go of me. Listen, kids, I’m sure your mother will be much more normal when I’m gone. Now, good-bye. I love you both. We’ll do fun things on weekends, or whatever.
[DAD exits. From offstage we hear a door opening and slamming shut. JOHN and LUCREZIA seem to melt onto the floor.]
JOHN: [slowly reaching out to his sister] It’s you and me now, Lu. We can make it through this together, right?
LUCREZIA [kicking at his hand]: Wrong, loser. Try to touch me again and I’ll break off your hand.
MOM [coming downstage while looking skyward]: Hello? Yes, yes, I hear you. May the light fill you, oh Enlightened Ones. Please, tell me what I must do in order to fulfill your purpose for me here on earth. I promise you that I will obey.
[While MOM, eyes closed, is listening to her voices, JOHN, who has again reached out for his sister, hesitantly pulls his hand back to himself. Both he and LUCREZIA slowly curl up into the fetal position.]
[Fade to black.]