by Shira Piven
The following text was constructed by rearranging material I mostly chose not to include in a short play I wrote called “McMillan and Shapiro,” which was performed last month as part of a 10-minute play festival. The text in italics is taken from notes given by my husband, Adam McKay. It is not intended for performance.
WORKING TITLE: Man and a woman on a train.
Don’t set in on a train
SCENE: Man and a woman on a train.
Don’t set it anywhere. Start the show with a recorded voice with static announcing: “The following scene takes place in a world of solid bright green where occasionally a sound like an elephant mixed with a fat man’s sneeze is occasionally heard....
A silent scene.
Sound of a crowd.
A series of freeze-frames. We see the pair waiting for the train service to start. She takes a pair of stockings out of her purse and puts them on. This is not a seduction. She is cold and simply forgot to put them on. She turns slightly away from him. They glance at each other more frequently, until finally we see them talking to each other. We do not know what they are saying until…
“...Due to budgetary constraints and a fallen tree none of these elements will be physicalized.” Maybe a stuttering assistant announces this information.
The man is reading a paper. They speak in
W: I played all gigs with them until 1970.
M: Was he a very religious man?
W: Sometimes he was.
Some ideas for names: Chet. Chet Bandage. The Claw.
W: Do you know that in this country, there
have been hundreds of utopian societies, including one where people were divided
into groups of a particular number, all with very minute and specific tasks,
almost like bees.
M: Is this true?
W: Yes. There were about 40 of these groups. And none of them survived. Very long. One only survived for two months.
M: But some did. For years at least.
W: Yes. I have read it in a book. In books.
I also think you can play around with the episodic frames of the relationship even more. Like a beat where the guy is playfully outraged: “How can you not like it? Ah! That’s crazy!” “I just don’t, that’s all.” “How? Wow! It’s beautiful!” Then she says angrily, “I just don’t, okay?” Pause, lights out.
M: Here’s one thing I love -- quiz
W: Like the horse and his man?!
M: Yes. Especially.
W: OK: If you were an elephant, where you ride?
M: On the plains. On the plains.
M: If you had no hat in the hot, hot jungle, would the winter ever arrive?
W: Only if it were a straw hat.
M: If you were a horse and your man fell off, where would you go?
W: To market to market to buy a fat pig. If you were three goats and your master was out, what would you eat?
M: All of the books.
W: Did we win?
M: I’m not sure of how it’s scored.
W: Two points per animal, one per vegetable, no points for man, and other references get the bone.
M: I never played such a variation—
W: What are the fruits of labor?
W: No fruits, no fruits unless you observe the day of rest.
M: No fruits?
W: Only if you observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
W: Other than children what is the seaside for?
M: For birds.
W: A more correct answer would be, for the ladies in their suits, for the lovers with their picnics, for ants, for fish that have arced onto land, and for birds that love and devour them.
M: Marvelous. Extraordinary.
W: Oh no. Oh no. (She is pleased)
I like the quiz show but it’s a bit rough right now. You could fix and re-insert it. (Other ideas for names: Friendly pilgrim. North. Pamela’s girl.)
M: Not to play the cliché, but they
W: On trains. On trains.
Or some such abstract or absurd description.
M: Not bad at all.
W: Yes. Yes. Maybe it is.
M: Only time will tell us, isn’t that so?
W: Yes. I suppose so. But who will let us know then? (Pause) How will we know then?
Another beat: “What are the drawbacks of having your stomach stapled?” “I’m not sure.” Beat. “Hmm. I’m not thinking of doing it. I just wonder what the drawbacks are.”
Take what you will. I love the beat with the obese mother and them singing and laughing.
You are sweet and tiny for a large woman.
Love Jim Jim
Shira Piven is a director, teacher, and writer. She lives in New York.
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