Read an Excerpt THE VALUE OF NAMES AND OTHER PLAYS
By Jeffrey Sweet
Northwestern University Press
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Chapter One THREE SKETCHES
While working on Something Wonderful Right Away, I thought I would better understand the work created by The Second City by attempting sketches myself. Two of the following pieces-"The Award" and "Separate Vacations"-were originally written as exercises while I was a member of the New York Writers Bloc. "Cover" began as an outline I wrote that my friends Stephen Johnson, Sandra C. Hastie, and I then used as a basis for improvisations we did together. I finished the piece by rewriting a transcription of these improvs. All these pieces appeared in a revue called Holding Patterns that was presented by the Body Politic Theater in Chicago in 1981. The show was directed by Tom Mula and featured a cast that included Andrew Gorman, Tim Halligan, Felicity LaFortune, and Audrie J. Neenan. An off-off-Broadway production directed by John Monteith for the Directors Company included Fran Brill, Colleen Dodson, Bob Higgins, and Lee Wilkof.
The reference to Andros in "Separate Vacations" is a little nod in the direction of my late friend, actor-playwright Anthony Holland, who used to improvise verses at The Second City about a New York poet's obsession with goat-boys. "Cover" anticipated With and Without, which also began improvisationally and dealt with the politics of marriage. There is nothing remotely autobiographical about "The Award."
THE AWARD SEPARATE VACATIONS COVER Lerner Charles Frank Nadine Marty Myra Diane Russell
[LERNER, a well-dressed man in his midthirties, is discovered holding an award he has just been given.]
LERNER: Thank you. This is an honor I never dreamed I'd ... I mean, the Charles Jensen Briggs Award! There are so many people to thank. Professor Herman Krause, who was the first to encourage me. The Leona Fielding Foundation for the funding, because, let's face it, this does cost money. And, of course, my colleagues in the lab-Ira Crutcher, Fred Jory, Anita Pleshowsky, and Andy Kramer. And, of course, I want to ... Wait a second, did I say Anita Pleshowsky? I'm sorry. I meant Anita Petrakoff. Petrakoff, Pleshowsky-you can see how I might, uh, confuse ... [Trying to remember] Pleshowsky. Anita Pleshowsky. Oh, yes. I remember Anita Pleshow-we were in high school together. That's right. Mr. Champion's homeroom. Oh yes, I used to think that Anita was about the neatest person in the world. I would write her notes in social studies. Also in music, English, math, and hygiene. I would have written her notes in gym, but, of course, boys and girls don't do gym together. Though sometimes I would see her and the other girls in Mr. Champion's class running laps around the playground in their blue shorts and tops.
My feelings for Anita Pleshowsky were ... Well, I thought about her, I dreamed about her, I followed her home and peeked through the window of Alma Ferret's School for Charm, where she took classes every Saturday at 10:30. She played very hard to get. If she saw me looking at her, she would look away, or make a face, or stick her tongue out.
And then, one day, Mr. Newman, the school counselor, called me into his office. He said to me, "Morris, um, I realize that you are a young man-a growing young person-and young people your age start to develop. And this development is sometimes awkward, sometimes painful. Sometimes we find ourselves attracted to another young person-a young lady, say-and we try to express our feelings. This is normal, this is natural. But sometimes the young lady in question doesn't feel the same way we do. This is something we must learn to accept. You in particular must learn to accept this because you find yourself in this situation. You know the young lady I'm referring to, Morris. Now, I think it would be best for everyone concerned if you cool it, OK? Do you understand what I mean? Good. You may go back to your class."
I think of this now. I think of Mr. Newman and the red wisps of hair on his knuckles. I think of the blush that I could feel suffusing my young cheeks upon learning that my secret yearnings and communications were not as secret as I had hoped. I think of these things, and I laugh.
For I have gotten over you, Anita Pleshowsky. You were once the object of my fantasies and daydreams, but that was fifteen years ago, and a lot of time has passed. Other women-nicer than you, smarter than you, prettier than you-have favored me with their company, and not one of them ever found cause to stick her tongue out at me.
I am beyond the reach of your cruelty. No, your sadism! I am untouched by it. Unmoved. If you were to phone me now, if you were to dial the number here-area code (212) 555-3076-if you were to call and say, "Morris, I am sorry. Morris, I want you. Morris, can you ever forgive me? Morris, please hold me in your arms and let me know the joy of you!" ... I would hang up. Just try it and see.
That number again is (212) 555-3076.
Thank you for this lovely award.
[Two couples-CHARLES and NADINE and MYRA and RUSSELL-run into one another in a theater lobby.]
MYRA: Nadine, Charles! NADINE: Well, hello, you two!
RUSSELL: You enjoying it?
NADINE: The play?
MYRA: From the reviews I didn't expect too much, but I'm having a good time.
NADINE: I do wish they wouldn't try to do the accents.
RUSSELL: We were just saying how long it's been since we've seen you.
CHARLES: We've been away.
NADINE: On vacation.
CHARLES: Just returned last night.
RUSSELL: Where from?
NADINE: The Hamptons.
MYRA: Greece and the Hamptons?
NADINE: Charles went to Greece; I went to East Hampton.
CHARLES: We take separate vacations.
MYRA: I didn't know that.
CHARLES: Oh yes, every year, for years.
RUSSELL: I didn't know that.
CHARLES: Oh yes.
NADINE: Each of us packs up his or her own valise and it's off to our separate pleasures.
RUSSELL: Don't you miss each other?
NADINE: Of course we miss each other, but we find it sort of recharges the batteries.
CHARLES: Well, we're in different places, having different experiences. When we return, we find we have so much more new to share with each other.
NADINE: Interesting sights, adventures-
CHARLES: Fascinating people.
RUSSELL: Yes, I can see.
NADINE: For instance, do you know about Michael Clement?
MYRA: He's an artist, isn't he?
NADINE: That's what he's famous for, of course.
MYRA: There was an article in New York magazine.
NADINE: Well, he lives in the Hamptons.
RUSSELL: You met him?
MYRA: What's he like?
NADINE: Very shy, very sweet.
NADINE: A perfect animal in bed.
CHARLES: Did you sleep with him?
NADINE: Didn't I tell you?
CHARLES: I don't think so.
NADINE: I'm sure I told you.
CHARLES: Did you?
NADINE: You remember. I showed you the picture he gave me.
CHARLES: The one of the bridge? The little red bridge?
NADINE: I showed it to you this morning.
CHARLES: At breakfast.
NADINE: That's right.
CHARLES: Of course. I'm sorry, it must have slipped my mind. I'm not senile, swear to God. You believe me, don't you, Myra?
MYRA [slightly shocked at this turn in the conversation]: Uh, yes.
CHARLES: So he was good?
NADINE: Michael? Mmmmm, yes. A great attention to details.
CHARLES: I would have guessed as much from his brushwork.
NADINE: Though he had nothing on you.
CHARLES: Oh, darling, you embarrass me.
NADINE: No, it's true. You're still ultimo for me, my dear.
CHARLES: You're too kind.
By the way, Russell, I have hellos for you.
RUSSELL [recovering composure]: Yes?
CHARLES: Harold and Adrienne Lampert.
RUSSELL: Oh, uh, how are they?
CHARLES: Doing splendidly. Harold's based in Rome now, you know. But your name came up, and he asked me if I saw you to say hello. So, hello from Harold. And Adrienne, too, of course.
RUSSELL: Well, thank you.
CHARLES: Ran into them on the boat. Spent a most enjoyable evening. They showed me some very interesting permutations on that Tibetan position. Myra, you know the one I mean.
MYRA: Uh, no.
CHARLES: I gather women find it particularly provocative. Something you might want to look into, Russell.
NADINE: Is it as uncomfortable as it looks?
CHARLES: Initially, yes. But if you learn to relax the proper muscles, penetration is really remarkable.
NADINE: You tried it, did you?
CHARLES: Well, first, of course, Harold and Adrienne demonstrated. And then I tried with Adrienne. I must say I was a bit apprehensive.
CHARLES: I don't like to do that which I cannot do well.
NADINE: That's very true; he doesn't.
CHARLES: But they were most supportive, so it worked out very well indeed.
NADINE: You must show me tonight.
CHARLES: Of course. They made me promise I would.
NADINE: Share the wealth, so to speak.
NADINE: They were always terribly generous.
CHARLES: Lovely people.
NADINE: Very dear. Don't you think so, Russell?
RUSSELL: Very friendly.
NADINE [offering to MYRA and RUSSELL]: Raisinets?
MYRA and RUSSELL [with a start]: No, no, thanks.
CHARLES: Oh, and I didn't tell you-
CHARLES: I'm sorry, I don't mean to monopolize the conversation-
RUSSELL: No, no, you're not.
CHARLES: It's just that I happened on an exquisite goat-boy.
NADINE: Oh, I'm so happy. You did find one this year.
CHARLES [to RUSSELL]: Have you ever had a goat-boy?
RUSSELL: Not that I can remember.
CHARLES: You don't know what you're missing. His name was Andros.
NADINE: What a lovely name.
CHARLES: You know, I think you would have taken to him.
CHARLES: After all these years, I think I know your taste, and, yes, I feel reasonably sure you would have just eaten him up.
NADINE: Well, perhaps next year I'll go to Greece-
CHARLES: And I'll go to the Hamptons!
[They laugh together playfully.]
NADINE: You know, I haven't had a really good goat-boy in years. Or goat for that matter.
[They laugh as RUSSELL and MYRA attempt smiles.]
CHARLES: Oh, isn't that Edna and Gilbert Gersheney over there?
RUSSELL: I don't think so.
CHARLES: Why do you say that?
RUSSELL: I'm afraid they're getting a divorce.
NADINE: Oh no.
CHARLES: The Gersheneys?
RUSSELL: I'm afraid so.
NADINE: But they've been married how long?
CHARLES: It must be thirteen-
NADINE: Thirteen years?
CHARLES: What a shame.
CHARLES: I'm really quite shocked.
NADINE: Sort of makes you stop and think, doesn't it?
MYRA: Yes, it does.
CHARLES: Why can't people get along?
NADINE: Oh, it looks as though the second act is going to begin. Meet us afterwards for drinks?
RUSSELL: That sounds like a good-
MYRA [cutting him off]: I'm afraid our sitter wants us back by ten thirty.
NADINE: I know how it is.
CHARLES: Well, then, some other time. Dinner perhaps.
MYRA: We'll talk.
NADINE: Call you soon.
[CHARLES and NADINE exit. A beat.]
RUSSELL: You know, honey, I've got two weeks vacation coming-
RUSSELL: But maybe it would-
MYRA: Don't even think it.
[An office. FRANK is working at his desk. MARTY enters.]
MARTY: Work, work, work.
FRANK: Oh, Marty.
MARTY: I'm early.
FRANK: You're early.
MARTY: If I'm interrupting-
FRANK: No, this is nothing. Just odds and ends.
MARTY: Nice office.
FRANK: Oh, that's right-you've never been up here, have you?
MARTY: No, this is the first time.
FRANK: Well, you've got to take a look out this window. I've got a view that will knock your eyes out. My big status symbol.
MARTY: You've got to be good, they give you a window like this. They've got to like you.
FRANK: See Jersey over there?
MARTY: I'll be damned, Jersey.
FRANK: What's great is to watch thunderstorms come over the Hudson. Hell of a show. Lightning and thunder.
MARTY: Always said that was the best thing that could happen to New Jersey.
FRANK: Well, OK.
MARTY: No, I'm impressed. I really am. This is very nice.
FRANK: Yes, I'm very-
MARTY: So, you all set and ready to go?
FRANK: Just let me put this stuff away.
MARTY: Take your time.
FRANK: Where's Diane?
MARTY: Oh, she'll be along in a few minutes. I told her to meet me here. She had an appointment across town, so I figured-
MARTY: Actually, I'm glad I got here a little earlier. There's a favor I want to ask of you.
FRANK: Ask away.
MARTY: OK. Well, see, as a topic of conversation, it may come up during the evening where I was last night. And it would make it a lot easier if we could decide between us that I was with you.
FRANK: To say that?
MARTY: Not to say necessarily, but to sort of give the impression that we were together. It would make things a lot simpler for me. I mean, if it comes up.
FRANK: You want me to say-
MARTY: Just to say-
FRANK: That you and I-
MARTY: That we were-
FRANK: Last night.
FRANK: You want me to lie.
FRANK: Not well. You want me to lie.
FRANK: That's what you're asking.
MARTY: I wouldn't-
FRANK: Is that what you're asking?
MARTY: Well, yes.
FRANK: To lie?
MARTY: A little bit. Just to give the impression so that Diane won't worry. To avoid confusion and upset for her.
FRANK: I see. You want me to do a favor for you for her.
MARTY: I couldn't have said it better myself.
FRANK: Where were you last night? I mean, I have to know.
MARTY: It doesn't matter.
FRANK: Well, yes, it does. I have to know whether you're wanting me to tell a white lie or a black lie.
MARTY: It's a white lie.
FRANK: How white? I mean, where were you?
MARTY: I was out.
FRANK: Alone? With someone?
MARTY: With someone.
MARTY: Diane wouldn't understand.
FRANK: A woman?
MARTY: She'd take it the wrong way.
FRANK: You were out with another woman.
MARTY: Yes, I was out with another woman.
FRANK: I see. And that's a white lie?
MARTY: It's no big deal.
FRANK: I'm sorry; I can't do it.
MARTY: Hey, really, it's no big deal.
FRANK: No, I wouldn't feel good about it.
MARTY: Why not? It's just a little favor.
FRANK: It's not a little-you're asking me to lie to her. You don't understand. She's my friend.
MARTY: Aren't I your friend?
FRANK: You're my friend and she's my friend. But she's not my friend because you're my friend. I mean, it's not that you and I have a primary friendship and she's a secondary friend by extension. You're both primary friends.
MARTY: I understand that.
FRANK: There's trust, and that's part of the relationship. And you don't break that trust.
MARTY: I'm not asking you to break the trust. I'm asking you to spare her confusion and upset.
FRANK: You're asking me to lie to her.
MARTY: To give a different impression of the truth.
FRANK: A false impression, which is a lie.
MARTY: You've never told a lie in your life?
FRANK: That's not the issue.
MARTY: Of course it's the issue. You're saying you don't tell lies.
FRANK: I'm saying I will not tell this lie.
MARTY: How do you decide when you will or will not tell a lie?
FRANK: I try not to lie.
MARTY: But what makes you decide if you'll tell a given lie? Say that an opportunity for a lie presents itself-how do you decide if you'll tell it?
FRANK: This is not the issue.
MARTY: You have told lies, haven't you? You've told lies in the past.
FRANK: I have, but that has nothing to do with this.
MARTY: You just won't tell a lie for me.
Excerpted from THE VALUE OF NAMES AND OTHER PLAYS by Jeffrey Sweet
Copyright © 2008 by Jeffrey Sweet. Excerpted by permission.
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