(note, in light of the hysteria playing out on cable news, I thought I’d share my short play originally presented as part of THE FEAR PROJECT… it seems even more current today… now available in The Joshua James Project and, as noted, the performance royalties on this work are free for amateur production. )
SAM: A man in his late 40s, very dry and fatalistic.
GINNY: An actress in her 20s, prone to outbursts.
MOOG: A hipster musician.
BEVERLY: A woman in her late 40s, early 50s, a voice of reason.
SETTING: Gate 13 at JFK.
GATE THIRTEEN AT JFK.
(Scores of people sit waiting to board. One man, SAM, clad in a suit and tie and carrying a briefcase, stands and catches people’s attention.)
SAM: Excuse me, I’m sorry, but excuse me, everyone, can I have your attention? Please? Before they allow us to board, there is something very important I need to share with all of you. My name is Sam Hunnicut, I’m forty-four years old, I’m an account associate with Bristol-Meyer, I have a wife, two children, three cats and a large mortgage. I’m an ordinary man living an ordinary life and I just want to say, before we all get on this airplane, that I have been suddenly overcome with an overwhelming sense of doom and I’m absolutely convinced that we’re all going to die. Thank you.
(SAM sits down. GINNY, a young woman, jumps up.)
GINNY: What the HELL is wrong with you?
SAM: I just thought everyone should know.
(MOOG, a hip young guy, chimes in.)
MOOG: You’re saying this plane is going to crash?
SAM: This plane will crash and we’re all going to die.
GINNY: Are you crazy! Stop trying to scare us!
SAM: I’m not deliberately trying to scare you or anyone. I simply thought you’d want to be informed.
GINNY: If you’re NOT trying to scare anyone, you’re doing a piss-poor job of it, you fucking psycho.
(A middle-aged woman, BEVERLY, stands.)
BEVERLY: Listen everyone, let’s all just calm down, please. It’s quite natural to feel nervous. We’re going to be fine, you’re going to be fine, sir. You’re just afraid of flying.
SAM: I’m not afraid of flying. I fly all the time.
MOOG: So what’s the big deal, man?
SAM: This time it’s different, this time I have a premonition, a vision or what-have-you, that this plane we are about to board is destined to go down screaming in a twisted fiery ball of death and destruction.
GINNY: Oh my GOD!
BEVERLY: Please, this isn’t helping any of us—
SAM: Of course, I could be wrong, I’ve been wrong about other things.
MOOG: Like what?
SAM: Reagan, I was really wrong about Reagan and Reaganomics, a huge miscalculation.
BEVERLY: See? None of us is omnipotent, I myself never thought rollerblading would be as popular as it turned out to be.
SAM: Enron, really wrong about Enron. Beanie babies. The euro-dollar, took me by surprise. Rap music, never thought that would cross over. The DeLorean. The XFL. My marriage, big mistake. So I’ve been wrong about a lot of things.
GINNY: Why is it every time I leave my apartment all I run into are lunatics?
SAM: I should add, however, that those were mistakes in judgment, I never had the premonition I have now about any of those things. I’ve had a premonition like this only ONCE before.
GINNY: Oh really. You’ve had this “psychic email” before? When?
SAM: 2004 American League championship, Sox down three games to none to the Yanks. That’s when it hit me for the first time, the premonition, I somehow knew the Sox would pull it out and win it all in spite of the odds. I almost called my bookie and put down a thousand dollars on Boston at twenty to one. But I didn’t, damn it. I should have bet ten or twenty grand but I didn’t, I was afraid of getting my legs broken if they lost. I didn’t know at that time how right my premonition was.
MOOG: Fuck me, man, this is freaking me out.
BEVERLY: Listen to me, please. Everyone. THERE IS NOTHING TO BE AFRAID OF. We are all going to be fine. My cousin was a stewardess for fifteen years and was never in a crash. You are safer on an airplane than you are in a car on the freeway.
GINNY: Which is why I DON’T DRIVE! Oh God, oh God oh God. Oh good God, why does this happen? Why oh why did I agree to an audition in LA, I should have just sent a tape, it’s not even a real show, it’s on the fucking food network! I’m an actress, why should I have to audition for something on the FOOD NETWORK? Why should any self-respecting actress have to audition to be a CO-HOST for a FUCKING COOKING SHOW? This is insane, I’m not going to DIE FOR A COOKING SHOW!
BEVERLY: It’s okay, honey, I swear to you, there is nothing to be afraid of. Thousands of planes crisscross this country every hour of the day with no incident-
MOOG: Some planes DO crash, though, right?
GINNY: Planes crash, don’t try and tell us they don’t crash, we see it on the news! Planes crash or they’re hijacked, engines fail, the toilets don’t work and sometimes passengers get food poisoning, shit like that happens, don’t try and tell us it doesn’t happen because WE KNOW IT HAPPENS!
BEVERLY: Please calm down, there are incidents, yes, but statistically-
GINNY: Oh God, I’m freaking out, I’m going to have a breakdown, I swear I’m having a heart attack right now!
SAM: I knew this stockbroker during the crash of eighty-seven, he jumped out of a twenty-story window and the autopsy revealed he died not from the fall but from a heart attack he evidently suffered prior to impact.
GINNY: That’s it, fuck it, I’m not doing this. I’m outta here.
BEVERLY: Wait a second, please wait. I will admit that bad things do happen from time to time. Plane crashes, tidal waves, preemptive wars and fixed elections, unfortunate events do happen. They can happen on a plane, in a cab or in a bathtub. Bad things can happen to us anywhere at anytime. It’s important for us to take precautions and be safe, but neither can we run from the possibility of unfortunate events. If we hide, if we cower in fear, afraid to take two steps from our caves, well, that may not be dying, but it’s not what I call living, either.
GINNY: Fuck you, I’m outta here. Who else is going? (to MOOG) Are you coming?
MOOG: Fuck man, I can’t. I can’t. I gotta get on the plane.
GINNY: You don’t think looney-tunes here could be right?
MOOG: I hope to God he ain’t, but even if he is, I still gotta get on the plane, man.
GINNY: Are you nuts?
MOOG: I gotta go, it’s my band man, they’re waiting for me in L.A. We have a private audition with a major label, it’s tonight and if I don’t show … this is our big break, this is what we’ve been working for, for ten years, me and my band have grinded it out, pinching pennies for demos and headshots, playing shithole dives at four in the morning for no money in front of a few drunks and our girlfriends, we ate shit and paid our dues until we finally got a manager and now we got a chance, a chance to do this for the Big Time. If I don’t show they’ll kill me. I hope he ain’t right, but even if he is I still gotta go. This is my dream, I let this go, I let it slip through my fingers and have to go back to waiting tables, no health insurance, sponging off my folks and girlfriends, I don’t know if I even want to live anyway. I’m getting on this motherfucker no matter what happens.
GINNY: You’re a MUSICIAN? A MUSICIAN? I am definitely not getting on this fucking plane NOW!
SAM: She’s right, you know, a lot of musicians have died on airplanes.
(Many other passengers, silently watching, get up and immediately leave.)
MOOG: Fuck me. Dude, I’m telling you, if this is some kind of sick reality TV show prank, I want you to know I’m not signing any release and you won’t be able to use ANY of this footage, for real.
(Very brief pause.)
GINNY: Wait a minute, I’ll sign a release, is it a network show?
SAM: This isn’t a reality show, I’m not messing with you, I’m totally serious, I really did have a premonition and you should use this chance to change flights if you can.
BEVERLY: If what you’re saying is true, then why are you still here?
BEVERLY: Why are you still here, why haven’t you changed flights?
SAM: Well, I could be wrong—
GINNY: But you don’t think you’re wrong, do you? You believe this plane is going to crash!
(Very brief pause.)
SAM: I don’t really have much to live for, anyway. That’s why I’m not afraid.
BEVERLY: You’re saying that you’re suicidal?
SAM: Not suicidal, I’m not nearly that ambitious. I guess you could say I’m just ambivalent on living or dying. It wouldn’t really matter to me, either way.
BEVERLY: Why not?
SAM: Well, I’ve done pretty much everything I can do, up to this point. I got my college degree, got married and bought a house. I’ve worked for the same company for twenty years as an account associate, which is fancy talk for salesman. A man of twenty-eight was promoted over me, just recently, he has no experience in the job, he’s just younger and prettier and now I report to him. I’m basically being put to pasture, in no uncertain terms, even though I’m twenty years from retirement I’ve been deemed unnecessary to management and pretty soon I’ll be forced out. With the mortgage I’m carrying, that’s basically a quick trip to extreme poverty. So it doesn’t matter what happens, not really.
MOOG: Shit on a stick, I don’t believe this. I hope to Christ you’re not seated next to me for the whole flight.
BEVERLY: What about your family?
SAM: What about them?
BEVERLY: Don’t you think they’ll need you, that they’d miss you?
SAM: My wife despises me, she won’t admit it but it’s true. I know because I read it in her journal last week. It takes all her will power just to look at me in the morning without screaming. Twenty-one years of marriage and she’s hated me since year two. She was just too afraid to leave me. In her eyes I am good for only two things, paying the bills and impregnation. Paying the bills will soon be out and impregnation is now past us. She’d been badgering for children for years and I finally gave in. We have two.
(SAM stands up and stretches.)
SAM: My son, Brandon, he’s five and a homosexual. My five-year old son is homosexual. I know because he told me, he said, “Daddy, I think I’m a homosexual.” Not only does HE know he’s a homosexual and I know he’s a homosexual, anyone that’s ever MET him knows he’s a homosexual. He came out of the womb a homosexual and knew it when he opened his eyes. I love my son, but I thought I’d have years to prepare for the possibility of a homosexual teen-aged son, not a homosexual five year-old son, it’s too much to even rationally consider, and one thing I know is that there is nothing I can say or do that will in any way help him with the truly shitty adolescence he’s about to embark on. I’ve got nothing and as a result, if he lives, he’ll be sure to hate me for not being able to at least give him one decent piece of advice on anything. Add to that, I’m about to be unemployed so the dance lessons he wants will be out of the question and he’ll never forgive me for that.
(SAM loosens his tie and undoes the buttons of his shirt collar.)
SAM: Christine is the youngest, she’s three and a monster. I mean really, she’s a monster. She’s not human. She’s a serial killer in progress. She enjoys causing pain. She once drove a corkscrew into my foot and giggled when blood came out. I’m totally serious, she kills things, we have to keep the cats separate from her, she tried to put one in the microwave. She tried to cook one of my cats. My wife insists it’s just a phase, but she also said that about our lack of sexual intimacy and that phase has lasted eighteen years. Short of electroshock therapy, Christine is certain to end up on a federal watch list some day. She’s my wife’s favorite, of course. She hates me. I know because she told me, she said, “I hate you, Daddy.” Someday she’ll grow up and kill me and you’ll be able to see the whole sordid tale on cable late at night.
(An announcer rings out over an intercom, can also be done live by a person.)
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and Gentlemen, sorry for the delay but the problem has been fixed and we are now prepared to board Northwest Airlines Flight 113 from JFK non-stop to Los Angeles. Please have your boarding passes ready.
(Nobody moves for a moment. SAM picks up his bag and looks at everyone.)
SAM: The one thing I did have was baseball. Now that the Red Sox have beaten the Yanks and went on to win the World Series, now that the curse of the Bambino has been lifted, I am for certain sure that I’ve seen everything life has to offer and so, even if this plane does crash, it will just be saving me from a dismal existence of poverty, anger, embarrassment and extreme boredom. So I’m not afraid of dying, I’m pretty much ambivalent about the whole thing.
(BEVERLY stands and picks up her bag.)
BEVERLY: I’m getting on this plane to visit my sister in Los Angeles. She’s in the hospital with breast cancer. She never smoked, drank or ate bad food and still she got cancer. She taught yoga and ran marathons and she still got cancer. She’s been fighting it for three years, she’s had two mastectomies and countless rounds of chemo and radiation treatments. She’s lost all her hair, half of her body weight and quite a few of her teeth. In spite of all that, she smiles every time I see her. Every time I see her, she smiles because she’s happy just to be alive.
(BEVERLY takes her bag and walks to the boarding gate.)
BEVERLY: She’s faced things that are much worse than a dead-end job, an unhappy wife and two problematic children. She’s faced pain and agony far worse than any of us here can imagine and she’s smiled through it all. She’s currently in the last stage. She’s dying soon, and if I don’t get on this plane, I won’t see her, hold her or get to share that smile of hers ever again. I’m more afraid of that than dying myself.
(Very calm and collected, BEVERLY stops right before she enters the boarding gate. She looks right at SAM.)
BEVERLY: So I’m getting on this plane, and shame on you, sir, for airing your fears as irresponsibly as you have and scaring everyone here, shame on you for making a scene here because you’re too scared to go to parent counseling or couples therapy or make a career change. Most of all, shame on you for being afraid and acting ambivalent about it. You may not fear death, but you are certainly scared of life. I’ll tell you this much. There are things in the world much worse than getting on an airplane. One of those things is being as AFRAID of life as you are.
(BEVERLY boards the plane. MOOG glances at SAM and then picks his bag up and enters the gate, boarding the plane.
GINNY, torn, finally picks her bag up and follows. She boards the plane.
SAM sets his bag down and slowly sits, unable to move.
END OF PLAY.
This play was developed as part of a playwrights group with The Barrow Group. It was later produced as a showcase there in 2005 as part of THE FEAR PROJECT, but ultimately this work was left out that show’s move to Off-Broadway.
It later received its professional premiere at Miami’s City Theatre in 2007 to good reviews, though I wasn’t able to attend that performance.
There is much I’m proud of in this play, not the least with what Beverly finally says at the end and how it sums up. It reflects what took me decades to learn for myself. And in the readings leading up to the workshop and showcase, it was electric.
The first production at The Barrow Group, however, was problematic. We had a first-time director. The actors playing Ginny and Moog were great, but the actors playing Sam and Beverly decided, once the play was on its feet, to just do their own thing and interpret their characters and lines how they saw fit, regardless of what the director or I thought.
“Sam” had already told me that he didn’t believe in memorizing lines or doing the same thing the same way twice, and so he was all over the place with no consistency. I had no idea what “Beverly” was doing when she was onstage, perhaps because she didn’t either. She was in her own world and wanted to do things the way she wanted to do them.
The performance of the play suffered greatly, as a result. There were times I wanted to slit my own wrists, all the more maddening because the next night might be good.
That’s the thing, as a playwright, you give someone a play of yours to do and it is literally out of your hands from that point on. Once you give it to them, it’s theirs and out of your control. They either do right by it or they don’t.
That’s the theatre biz, man. But the play remains one of my favorites.
Read that and 43 other royalty-free short plays in The Joshua James Project.