For the last two years, I have been a last-minute substitute playwright for Hutchinson Community College’s 24 Hour Plays. The concept is quite nifty with everyone involved meeting at the college at 9:00 PM. We all introduce ourselves to each other by telling one talent we possess and a little about a prop and costume piece we brought as potential items that could be used in one of the plays. Then all leave but the playwrights who select a cast and then each write a 7 to 10 minute one-act play. After that, the playwrights go home during the early morning hours, and the actors and directors begin their work soon after. At 7:30 PM, the plays are performed, and all wraps up by 9:00 PM.
A friend and I were talking about my play from this year’s show. It is easy to see it was inspired by topics that became blog posts (and also a New Year’s Resolution) I was pondering around that time (see here and here). Rather than to let the play hang out on my computer for the rest of its life, I figured I could try something different with this blog for this week and post it here for others to read. A quick warning – it was written between the hours of 11:00 PM and 4:00 AM.
A Technical Glitch
All three are charming and clever college students.
Eliza – A quick-witted female college student
Darcy – A charismatic male college student
James – A quirky male college student
The hallway of a college building. All three students are sitting on different benches and on their phones. Their heads are down staring at their screens. For about thirty seconds or so, the students just stare and type away at their phones when the lights flash and then the students start to look at their phones perplexedly before starting to look at each other somewhat shyly.
Darcy: turning to Eliza. Hi, uh, hey.
Eliza briefly glances at him before going back to fidgeting with her phone.
Darcy: turning now to James. Hey. Um, is your phone working?
James: Pauses a bit. No, it’s dead. Just like that. I just charged it too.
Darcy: Mine too. This is strange. What do you think it means?
James: I don’t know.
Darcy: Miss. Is your phone working?
Eliza: Annoyed and with some disdain. No.
Darcy: So yours too, then?
James: What if all phones are dead?
Darcy: They can’t be.
All three continue to fidget with their phones as they try to get them to turn back on.
Eliza: Seriously. Mine won’t turn back on.
James: Same here.
Eliza: Argh. I needed to respond to that text.
James: And I was in the middle of reading about quantum mechanics.
Darcy: It was Instagram for me.
Collective sigh heard from all three.
Darcy: Progressively more dramatic. We may actually have to have face-to-face conversations. I know – The horror. The dread. How are we going to ever do such a thing?!
James and Eliza both look at Darcy. Darcy first has a deadpan expression before a smile breaks.
Darcy: Oh come on. We may be Millennials, but we are not idiots. So what class are you two waiting for?
Eliza: Slightly more amused by Darcy. Marriage and Family. And you?
Darcy: Public Speaking. I even have a speech today.
A little awkward silence as the three look back at their phones before Eliza and Darcy each finally put them aside or away.
James: Do you think there is a deeper meaning behind this?
Darcy: Well, you are the philosopher among us, so you would know.
James: Maybe we are emerging from Plato’s cave?
Eliza: Or maybe there was just a huge technical glitch?
Darcy: And maybe you are a buzz kill?
Darcy and Eliza trade looks for a second. Darcy is amused and Eliza has a death glare. Then Darcy returns to being serious.
Darcy: Maybe it’s the first step of war? First wipe out our phones and then next the people?
James: starts going through his backpack before pulling out a gas mask. I have a gas mask!
Eliza: Why do you have a gas mask?
Darcy: Why shouldn’t he have a gas mask?
James: I also have a jester’s hat. Pulling out a jester’s hat.
Darcy: And jesters know all.
James: Putting on the jester’s hat and smiling. So meaning or no meaning? Frankl or Sarte?
Eliza: No meaning.
Darcy moves to sit by Eliza while James continues to contemplate the situation with his phone.
Eliza: Sighs. Hi.
Darcy: So come here often?
Eliza: Well, this is a college, and my class is just down the hall, and we are in the middle of the semester, so you could say I do. Well, at least three times a week.
Darcy: Funny. I don’t think I have ever seen you here before.
Eliza: Funny indeed.
James: Looking now directly at his phone. Maybe it’s Descarte. I think; therefore, I am! I think; therefore, you work! . . . Hmm, you don’t work.
Eliza: On a side note, what kind of line is “So come here often?” anyway?
Darcy: A classic one.
Eliza just looks at him.
Darcy: Fine. It’s a cheesy line, but I’m a cheesy guy. What should I ask instead? How’s your day? I could, but you would say, “Fine.” And we would be back to where we are now.
James: Truth! But what is truth? Erich Fromm, I look to you.
Eliza: Fine. Pauses. Do you come here often?
Darcy: Funny enough, about three days a week.
Eliza: And yet, I never have seen you. Small world.
James: Disney? Nah. It’s not Disney.
More silence as Darcy and Eliza look around a bit more.
Eliza: So what is your speech about?
Darcy: Well, it’s — Pauses for just a bit. It’s cheesy.
Eliza: I’m noticing a theme, but cheese can be good.
Darcy: Especially smoked gouda. Anyway, it’s our show and tell speech so we were supposed to bring something meaningful to share with the class.
Eliza: With a slight smile. And you brought cheese?
Darcy: I should have. I’m kind of hungry right now. Instead, I uh. Just a second, Runs over to get his bag, pulls out a baseball, and holds it up. I brought this.
Eliza: Oh, you’re a baseball player. Let me guess. You hit a home run that won the game, and that’s the ball.
Darcy: Not exactly . . . or at all.
James: Perhaps Aristotle knows the answer. He pulls out a book and starts looking through it.
Eliza: So what’s the story, Babe Ruth?
Darcy: Did you just call me, “Babe”?
Eliza: Not in that way, so don’t get your hopes up. What’s the true story behind the ball?
James: Truth once again! Is there ever such a thing? One truth or multiple? Or alternates?
Darcy: Well, my dad and I used to always go down to the park when I was a kid. One time I found this ball outside of the ball diamond long after a game was over. I still remember it just sitting there in the grass. Well, I picked it up and it’s been with me ever since. That day, he and I started to use it to play catch. It would go back and forth between us just like the conversations we would have. He lightly tosses the ball to Eliza who catches it. So this ball just represents all of those times he and I would play catch, and, in his own way, be there for me.
Eliza: That’s a nice story. She tosses the ball back to him. He catches it before he sits down next to her.
Darcy: Thanks. So what are you covering in Marriage and Family today?
Eliza pulls out her notebook and Darcy looks down towards the pages.
Eliza: Are you familiar with the 36 questions that lead to love?
Darcy: I am guessing “Come here often?” is not one of them.
Eliza: You guess right. Anyway, these questions supposedly can lead two people to fall in love with each other if they spend the time answering them and time looking into each other’s eyes.
Eliza and Darcy both pause as they look into each other’s eyes for a second before realizing what happened and looking away.
Darcy: Wow! That sounds fascinating.
Eliza: It really is.
Darcy: What’s an example of one of the questions?
Eliza: When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
Darcy: That’s embarrassing.
Eliza: That’s the question.
Darcy: Well, on my way to school this morning, Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the USA” may have been on the radio, and I may have broken into song, and there may have been witnesses.
Eliza: And you may have thrown your hands up because they were playing your song. Butterflies fly away.
Darcy: I’m noddin’ my head like, ‘yeah.’ I’m movn’ my hips like, yeah.
Darcy and Eliza sort of singing: I got my hands up, they’re playing my song. I know I’m gonna be okay. Yeah, it’s a party in the U.S.A. It’s a party in the U.S.A.
Eliza and Darcy are laughing now together. James is still looking through the book.
James: So Aristotle, is it fate or is it freewill?
Darcy: So what’s one of your talents besides getting people to admit to singing Miley.
Eliza: That’s the big one.
Darcy: What’s a bigger one?
Eliza: I can say the alphabet backwards?
Darcy: You can?
Eliza: I can.
Darcy: Prove it.
Eliza: Z, Y, X, W, V, U, T, S, R, Q, P, O, N, M, L, K, J, I, H, G, F, E, D, C, B, A
Eliza: Smiling and proud of herself. Thanks! What’s one of your talents?
Darcy: I can click my heels.
Eliza: Like a leprechaun?
Darcy: Sure, like uh leprechaun.
Eliza: Prove it.
Darcy gets up and proves it. Eliza claps.
Eliza: Bravo. Bravo.
Darcy: This is going to be forward, but your boyfriend is a very lucky guy.
Eliza: I don’t have a boyfriend.
Darcy: So you may be free for a date on Valentine’s Day?
Darcy and Eliza continue to smile at each other while James has picked up the pace and intensity with his reading.
Darcy: So what is another one of those questions to fall in love?
Eliza: Why? Are you wanting to fall in love?
James: Extremely fascinating! It’s multiple.
Darcy: So another question?
Eliza: Let’s see. Looks at her notebook. How about what is your most treasured memory?
Darcy: That’s easy. Playing catch with my dad.
Eliza: Out of all of your memories?
Darcy: Without a doubt.
Eliza: Why is that?
Darcy: It was just simpler times . . . and he was still here.
Eliza: Oh, I’m sorry. I uh –
Darcy: So, uh, what’s, uh, what’s your most treasured memory?
Eliza: Well, I am definitely becoming quite fond of this one.
Both Eliza and Darcy look at each other and smile.
James: Jumps up. Except this one never happened.
James: Never happened. It’s all a parallel world. I just was reading all about it. The quantum mechanics article. It all makes sense now.
Darcy: What about quantum mechanics?
James: It gets into multiverses. There was a glitch, and we were thrown into one I think, but you can feel the energy throwing us back to where we always were.
Eliza: But we are here.
James: And not here. Phones don’t just die. They disconnected because of the glitch. For a second, we jumped to another multiverse, but we didn’t belong.
Darcy: So they never died, but rather they just never connected.
James: Exactly. You are actually right back there. Pointing to Darcy’s original bench. Darcy taking all of his things seems pulled back to where he was all while looking at Eliza.
Eliza: But I liked him here.
Darcy: And I liked being there.
James: But that wasn’t the way our world actually worked.
Darcy: But I remember everything.
Eliza: He clicked his heels.
Darcy: She said the alphabet backwards.
Eliza and Darcy: We sang Miley.
James: You don’t get it. It was a taste of what might have been. None of it happened.
Darcy: Why do I want to get my phone out?
Eliza: Why do I want to do the same?
James: We can’t fight it.
Eliza: And jesters know all.
Darcy: Looking at Eliza. I don’t even know your name.
Eliza: It’s –
Eliza and Darcy go back to looking at their phones just as they were doing before. James puts his jester hat back in the bag and resumes his position on the bench as his phone returns to both hands.
James: It was just all a small break into another universe, and now we are back to how it always was.
James then goes back to looking at his phone and the lights flash again. All three of them are back to being glued to their phone. Then James gets up and walks away looking at his phone. Darcy still glued to his phone stands up next. He gets the ball out of his bag and has it in one hand while his phone remains in the other. Meanwhile, Eliza has stood up, still looking at her phone. Darcy’s ball slips from his grip and rolls right toward Eliza. She looks up from her phone and stops the ball with her foot before picking it up.
Eliza: Here you go.
He reaches out for the ball and their hands touch with both pausing for a second as their eyes lock.
Darcy: Do I know you?
Eliza: I don’t think so but –
And then the dinging of text messages happen. Both look at each other one last time before looking back at their phones and walking away in different directions with their eyes glued to the screens.