#31Plays31Days #31. “PLAYING WITH MATCHES”

phoenix-bird-of-fire-tattoo-1827375

PLAYING WITH MATCHES

(a short play by Paul Hagen dedicated to the memories of Knox Bundy and Everett DiNapoli)

THE GENTLEMAN, wearing a voluminous overcoat and fedora lights a match center stage.

THE GENTLEMAN

The thing is, when it comes to life, you strike and see what catches.

But in the end, the only thing we do is play with matches:

No matter what you do with them, the one thing not in doubt

Is that where there’s a fire, fire eventually goes out.

The first match dies, and THE GENTLEMAN lights another match, now located in a different corner of the stage. It seems as though he got there with a preternatural swiftness.

THE GENTLEMAN

Some never really light or sputter in then out, unused;

The key to dealing with these ones is not to get to bruised;

Not focus on the many things they’ll never let you see.

Just trust the fires they would light were never meant to be.

The second match dies, and THE GENTLEMAN lights another, now in a third location.

THE GENTLEMAN

Some last just long enough to be of service – light a candle

Or a pilot light or cigarette. They’re easy ones to handle;

Though forgettable in their way, they are not easily slandered;

‘Cause there’s not much to remark on when a match is just that standard.

The third match dies, and again THE GENTLEMAN seems to jump through time and space to light a new match on the other side of the stage.

THE GENTLEMAN

A few burn bright enough that they can cause a conflagration

That captures the attention of the world or of a nation,

And fewer still will light something that’s singular, sublime,

To spark imaginations and withstand the cold of time.

The fourth match dies, and THE GENTLEMAN appears, once more, center stage, lighting one last match.

THE GENTLEMAN

Perplexing are the ones who seem to snuff themselves out short

Though many seem bright burners at first, then get out of sort –

Stop burning long before they should, and when they disappear.

Leave us to wonder if they knew how bright they seemed from here.

Before the match can go out,  the GENTLEMAN stoops and lights a fuse, which sputters across the stage to light a grand conflagration on the back wall, where the outline of a phoenix bursts into flame and then all lights go out. End of #31plays31days2015.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

#31Plays31Days #30. “YOU CAN’T SPY THAT”

$(KGrHqR,!kwE8Nu(vfT4BPKOyj(8Bw--60_35

YOU CAN’T SPY THAT

(a short play by Paul Hagen)

The family is in their SUV on a road trip. MOMMY is a chunky, enthusiastic woman wearing a bright, polka-dotted halter top and oversized sunglasses. DADDY is driving – and chain smoking cigarettes and occasionally sipping from a flask of whiskey. JUNIOR is extremely heavy for a boy his age and tearing through a huge bag of gummy worms. MISSY is slim and bookish, wearing thick, round-rimmed glasses that give her a bird-like quality.

MOMMY

Hmm… Let’s see… I spy with my little eye something… big

JUNIOR

Is it bigger than a bag of Gummi Worms?

MOMMY

Yes.

MISSY

Is it bigger than this car?

MOMMY

Yes.

DADDY

Is it bigger than a building?

MOMMY

Yes.

JUNIOR

Is it bigger than a Tyrannosaurus Rex?

MOMMY

Yes.

MISSY

Is it bigger than a building?

MOMMY

Yes.

DADDY

Is it bigger than a mountain?

MOMMY

Yes.

JUNIOR

Is it something inside the car?

MISSY

That’s a stupid thing to ask.

JUNIOR

Why?

MISSY

If it’s bigger than a mountain, how could it also be in this car.

MOMMY

But, Missy, honey, it actually is something that is both bigger than a mountain and also right here inside this car.

MISSY

Oh, no! Not again!

MOMMY

What?

MISSY

Is it also something outside the car?

MOMMY

Yes.

MISSY

Aw, Mommy!

MOMMY

Now, dear, it’s Daddy’s turn to ask a question.

MISSY sighs dramatically.

MISSY

Is it “The Love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”?

MOMMY

Honey, it’s Daddy’s turn.

MISSY

But that’s is, isn’t it? It’s “The Love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”? Again?! Isn’t it?!

MOMMY

Yes, it is.

MISSY

Mom, how many times do we have to tell you: that’s NOT the kind of thing you can spy in “I Spy”? You can pick a water tower. You can pick a cup holder. You can even pick the car we’ve been tail-gaiting for three exits. But you can not pick “The Power of Prayer”. You can’t pick any variation on “Guardian Angels.” And you certainly can’t pick anything even remotely like “The Watchful Gaze of a Gentle and Forgiving God”? And even if you could pick those kinds of things – which you should never ever do – I can’t imagine why on earth you’d think it was in any way okay to spy “The Love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” three times in the same game?!?!

MOMMY

But why not, dear? Those things are real, and they are evident to me.

DADDY takes a big, long swig from his flask, flicks the butt of his cigarette out of a window and lights a fresh cigarette.

DADDY

You know, I would never have guessed from easy you were in high school that you would turn out to be such a truly deluded wreck of a human being.

MOMMY, shocked, snatches the sunglasses from her face. JUNIOR begins to choke on his gummy words. MISSY sighs dramatically. Lights fade. End of play.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

#31Plays31Days Y4 29. “SPINSTER”

Spin-the-Bottle

SPINSTER

(a short play by Paul Hagen)

SEBASTIAN is an eighth grader whose clothes are too neatly pressed and whose hair is too carefully styled to make it likely that he will be a heterosexual when he grows up. He kneels alone in spotlight, presumably in an unseen circle of his peers.

SEBASTIAN

So Spin-the-Bottle? SUCKS for kids like me.

You think this is where I’m meant to be?

Stuck sitting in a circle on the floor

Of someone’s basement with this sad  decor.

Lips stained with fruit punch, oh yes, there’s appeal;

And which half-budded bosom should I feel?

Which braces full of leftovers to taste?

Which kid that I remember eating paste?

Which nose that needs kleenex and to blow?

Which gum that lost its flavor hours ago?

Do I hope for a boy? Get called a fag?

Or get a girl? Pretend that she’s in drag?

Perhaps a tomboy? Well, at least she’s mannish.

Or that shaved-head kid who seem Ku-Klux-Klannish?

But what if I get some girl with nice breath

Who doesn’t try to strangle me to death

With tongue maneuvers like a jungle snake?

What then of that am I supposed to make?

Are we then girlfriend/boyfriend? Well that’s gross.

But if she doesn’t want that? That’s the most

Embarrassing – a memory to haunt you.

When someone you don’t want won’t even want you.

If only I could got someone like me:

How awesome and amazing it would be:

To feel his freshly ironed oxford here;

To smell his dryer sheet scent drawing near;

To know his hair’s pomaded and blowdried;

And that he isn’t evil deep inside.

Except, alas, there’s no one here the same.

I guess there’s no one I can really blame.

With any group as different as we are,

There always are a few who are too far

Removed to find someone who will pair with us,

And be the one with secrets to share with us.

The price of being different? Yes, we’ll pay

With loneliness until at last someday

We find somewhere with people who’ll share more,

Or better taste, at least, in their decor.
SEBASTIAN sighs and spins the bottle. Lights fade as he looks, with distaste, at his circlemates – and the drapes. End of play.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

#31Plays31Days Y4 28. “SPARE SOME CHANGE”

Letter-to-a-Homeless-Person

SPARE SOME CHANGE

(a short play by Paul Hagen)

A PANHANDLER is sitting with a coffee cup containing a small amount of change on the sidewalk outside a fence around a large stone wall – that of a grand church or longstanding school. He wears a cap that has become fused to his tangle of wiry hair and beard. It’s difficult to tell where his clothes end and the stained newspaper with which he’s patched them begins.

PANHANDLER

Does it really matter to you who I am?

When you pass me, do you think I’m pulling a scam?

That at “end of shift” I just pack up and I punch out

And head home to the mansion you’re dreaming about?

Do you think, “I don’t care what he wrote on that sign!

That he’s sick? That he’s homeless? Nah, I bet he’s fine.”

Well, I guess, sure there’s gotta be some of those out there,

Who got some bright idea, took some time, figured out where

They could sit around for a bit, set up shop,

At a place where some fleeceable people will stop,

And amass enough offerings to make a living,

Then move along when passers tire of giving.

But for each of those guys, there are thousands of me

For whom begging for help seems to be destiny.

There were some of us getting the help that we needed

‘Til Ron Reagan decided that we had exceeded

Our welcome and closed mental hospitals, many.

And we went from getting some help to not any.

Or perhaps you think, “Well, if he needed a helper;

Then he could go seek out a bed at a shelter.”

But shelters fill up. Sometimes you get harassed there;

Or sometimes you can’t stand the bugs that have amassed there;

Sometimes people are sick there, and you’ll catch it too;

And, man, you just try having no home and the flu.

And for some of us, this is the plain, simple truth:

Some of us just associate pain with a roof:

Someone hurt us so bad back when we slept inside;

That the great outdoors became our one place to hide.

Life is hard. Make a step ahead, fall three behind.

You show up for free glasses and find out you’re blind.

Doesn’t matter how low or high your tight rope gets,

If you live in a world that’s just all out of nets.

A few misjudged life choices, we could be the same.

I’m not racking up winnings; you think it’s a game?

Shake your pocket and ask yourself: Would it be strange

For you to lose or drop or forget that spare change?

So why not leave it on purpose, instead.’Cause, you see:

That right here, it could really change something for me.

The PANHANDLER picks up his coffee cup of change and walks toward the audience, insistently. When he hits the edge of the stage, he falls forward toward the front row. Lights out. End of play.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

#31Plays31Days Y4 27. “ARE YOU REALLY PSYCHIC?”

carnac

ARE YOU REALLY PSYCHIC?

(a short play by Paul Hagen)

We are on the set of the game show “Are You Psychic?” which is designed to look like the inside of  fortune teller’s tent. At one podium stands indefatigable gameshow host MATT GURRY done up like Johnny Carson in his carnac photo. At the contestant podia stand a FORTUNE TELLER, a MEDIUM and an INTUITIVE. Mist shrouds much of the set, which also contains a large screen in the center. As spooky music plays and then fades, GURRY greets the studio audience.

GURRY

Welcome, ladies and gentleman, to another fraud-busting episode of “Are You Really Psychic?”

The audience screams the title along with GURRY and offers a frenzy of hooting and applause.

GURRY

Today, we’ll be putting to test the supposedly psychic capabilities of an Intuitive from Idaho!

The INTUITIVE is tall but slouches and looks like he’d be very bad at handling the crowd at a party.

INTUITIVE

I just have a feeling about things.

GURRY

A Mississippi Medium!

MEDIUM

I am connected to the spirit world, y’all!

GURRY

And a Floridian Fortune Teller.

FORTUNE TELLER

Okay.

GURRY

Our first challenge will be for our intuitive. Sir, if you’ll turn your attention to the screen, you’ll see a box.

The screen flickers to life and there is, indeed, a picture of a flammable-looking box.

GURRY

We have calculated the value of your life savings and placed something in this box that could be of greater, lesser or equal value.

INTUITIVE

I see.

GURRY

If you agree to let us set this box on fire, you will win a prize equivalent to your life savings. Or you can choose to take what’s in the box.

The audience applauds and shouts, “Burn it! Burn it! Burn it!”

INTUITIVE

My intuition tells me to burn the box.

GURRY

He wants us to burn the box!

The box bursts into flame.

GURRY

Now that it’s burning, should we confirm for you what is in that box? Not that you need us to tell you!

INTUITIVE

But go ahead anyway.

GURRY

It is your life savings.

INTUITIVE

You burned my life savings?

GURRY

We did.

INTUITIVE

But if I’m winning a prize that’s the equivalent of my life savings, that means I never really had a chance of walking away with anything more than what I started with.

GURRY

That’s correct.

INTUITIVE

That is grossly unfair.

GURRY

Seems like something an intuitive would have seen coming. Thank you for playing, sir.

Two masked assistants enter and drag the intuitive away.

INTUITIVE

Hey! This sucks! This show is the fraud – not me!

GURRY

Moving on to our Mississippi Medium: As our second contestant your stakes will be at least twice as high – but your reward is potentially at least twice as great – DOUBLE your life savings!

MEDIUM

Oh, wow. I mean… I had been informed about that by my special friends in the spirit world.

GURRY

Sure you were. But did they also tell you that we had your elderly mother…

One half of the screen lights up to reveal a close-up of a very unwell looking old woman in a hospital bed.

MEDIUM

Oh my God!

GURRY

And your only child…

The other half lights up to reveal a five year old boy, also in a hospital bed.

MEDIUM

What?

GURRY

And we have given one of them a dose of fatal poison.

MEDIUM

Are you asking me to gamble with the lives of my closest loved ones?

GURRY

But you’re a medium! You’re not gambling if you have already been told what happened by the spirits.

MEDIUM

How can this even be legal?

GURRY

You’re wasting time, Medium! In mere moments, one of these people will die from a fatal dose of poison, and you can give only one of them the antidote. Whom do you choose?

MEDIUM

Uh… Spirit friends… Speak to me… Who gets the antidote?

GURRY

I cannot stress any more firmly that you need to hurry.

MEDIUM

The spirits tell me that you could not possibly poison a child; so please give my mother the antidote.

On the screen, an orderly pours a small cup of liquid into the old woman’s mouth. Much of it dribbles out.

GURRY

And did your medium choose correctly?

Suddenly, the child on screen begins to convulse and is soon transparently dead.

MEDIUM

No! Oh, God, no! My baby!

GURRY

I’m sorry, but it was actually your child who’d been given the poison, which either means that you are a giant fraud or that your spirit friends have grossly misled you.

MEDIUM

This is insane. What have you done?

GURRY

This might not be the best time, but we have another surprise for you. In the moments leading up to today’s show, your mother also died of natural causes.

MEDIUM

What?! This has got to be some kind of joke.

GURRY

Everyone you love is dead!

The audience applauds as the masked assistants return to remove the MEDIUM, who rages as she is pulled off set.

MEDIUM

I’ll kill you! I’ll kill every last one of you bastards! My baby! My mommy! My mommy and my baby!

GURRY

Which means your day may be the luckiest or most unfortunate of all, Fortune Teller!

FORTUNE TELLER

Okay.

GURRY

Because, as the contestant in our third round, you will get to play RUSSIAN ROULETTE!

FORTUNE TELLER

Okay.

GURRY

We will give you this gun, which has six bullet chambers. And only one of them will be loaded.

FORTUNATE TELLER

Okay.

GURRY

You will shoot the gun six times, five times directly at your own head, and then once into the head of someone you love – meaning that most likely you will die but there is also the slim chance that you will instead become a murderer.

FORTUNE TELLER

Okay.

GURRY

But on the slim chance that you make it through this round, you’ll be fleeing the authorities with THREE TIMES your life savings!

FORTUNATE TELLER

Okay.

GURRY

I’ll reveal who you’ll be shooting at, but only when you are ready to shoot at him or her! Are you ready to take our challenge?

FORTUNATE TELLER

Okay.

GURRY hands FORTUNE TELLER the gun. She holds it up to her chin and pulls the trigger three times in quick succession. The audience gasps, but she is unharmed.

GURRY

You’re halfway there!

The audience applauds wildly.

GURRY

Are you ready to find out what loved one you’ve chosen to shoot in the head?

FORTUNE TELLER

Okay.

GURRY opens an envelope.

GURRY

It’s… Matt Gurry? Wait! Me? Oh, sh-

FORTUNE TELLER holds the gun up to GURRY’s head. He winces, but it clicks again – another empty chamber. The audience goes wild. GURRY exhales in obvious relief and composes himself.

GURRY

Well, that was very tricky, but now that you know there’s still one bullet in that gun, how do you feel?

FORTUNE TELLER

Okay.

GURRY

Well, go ahead then.

FORTUNE TELLER shoots at herself again. We hear the click of another empty chamber.

GURRY

Wow! One more chamber. Say goodbye!

FORTUNE TELLER

Okay.

GURRY moves safely away from the FORTUNE TELLER and braces himself. FORTUNE TELLER pulls the trigger. The gun jams.

GURRY

Wow! I never thought I’d say this but… we have a winner! Wow! Congratulations! We’ll see you next time on “Are You Really Psychic?”

The audience shouts the title along with GURRY and applauds wildly. GURRY takes the gun from FORTUNE TELLER and warmly shakes her hand. As the applause continues, he laughs and pantomimes shooting himself in the head, as though to imitate her recent victory but his finger slips and he accidentally shoots himself and crumples to the floor.

FORTUNE TELLER

I saw that coming.

Lights out. End of play.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

#31Plays31Days #26. “HEADING HOME BLITZED”

the+most+fashionable+drunk+ever

HEADING HOME BLITZED

(a short play by Paul Hagen)

TRYSTAN, an overserved, overweight hipster, is on a subway car. It’s late at night and most people seem to be concerned with trying not to fall asleep to paying attention to him. A spot lights him up and he stands to make his case.

TRYSTAN

I like to think that when I head home blitzed;

That no one’s ever seen someone like this.

Well, they must have seen people drunk, I’m sure.

But no one who is drunk, like me, I’m sure.

For even if I’m too blacked out to know

Tomorrow how tonight’s commute did go.

I’m still just so impressed, and so are they;

By all the vigor with which I sashay.

TRYSTAN navigates his way through the subway car and suddenly hurls himself at the pole like an aggressive stripper.

TRYSTAN

Did I just hit that pole with practiced ease?

Like Liz Berkley in “Showgirls”, I serve sleaze!

And what could folks want to see more now than

A show of strip-aerobics from a man?

The subway comes to a stop and TRYSTAN stumbles out onto into a typical Williamsburg, Brooklyn street scene. He is shouting at the top of his lungs.

TRYSTAN

And will I serenade you at full voice?

You’re front row at the concert! You’ve no choice

But to withstand it when my voice gets grating.

Awoken babies punish procreating!

An angry neighbor throws a jarful of the leftover pickle brine at TRYSTAN, who doesn’t even flinch as he continues to dance his way homeward, humming to himself. Finally, TRYSTAN comes lurching up to his stoop, jams a key into the lock and tugs it this way and that with cartoonish vigor until he finally breaks off the key off in the lock and – when he realizes this – none too gracefully sits down on the steps.

TRYSTAN

Someday I’ll try that moderation deal.

When forced to face a wake-up call that’s real.

‘Til then if I break my key in the door,

I’ll just think, “Hey, that’s what a locksmith’s for!”

TRYSTAN dials a locksmith on his phone.

TRYSTAN

Hello…? Yes… I broke my key off in the door… How long!?!?!? How much!?!?!? Shit.

As lights fade, we hear a neighbor shout from a window.

NEIGHBOR

You motherfucker! If you don’t stop that singing late at night, I’m gonna come down there and kill you.

TRYSTAN hangs his head in shame as lights fade to black. END OF PLAY.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

#31Plays31Days Y4 #25. “THE GAME OF COUNTING SHEEP”

86omfpkufwg3khyhx4zqa7ylt.1000x750x1

The Game of Counting Sheep

(a short play by Paul Hagen)

COLIN is a British grade school boy. His unruly mop of hair is adorned by his uniform tie, loosened and then re-tightened like a headband. The rest of his outfit is a hodgepodge of his school uniform, more casual clothes, topped off by a collection of promotional wristlets and sweatbands and bits of string and chain. Over all this is a fine sheen of spilled sugary beverages and the remains of candy and bits of hastily eaten crisps. He is playing a video game in bed.

COLIN

I play all the games, you know. I mean, I hardly ever sleep.

But there’s one I’m just no good at: It’s the game of Counting Sheep.

And my Dad says, “Just keep trying.” Right? And Mum says, “Go to bed.”

But I dunno why they these bleating beasts are meant to calm my head.

So I get all snuggled up in here and tightly close my eyes

And l say, let the sheep come!!! And then I watch the the carnage rise.

A screen flickers to life, showing – at first – cartoon sheep blissfully hopping over a fence, but as COLIN begins to describe sheep carnage, they are dispatched with per his graphic instructions.

COLIN

I count out sheep with machine guns! And I blow them down with tanks!

And I drown them one by one beside a river’s muddy banks;

I come at them with katanas and I cut them down to chops;

And I choke one with my bare hands until I feel his heart stops;

I use nunchucks to break legs of lamb, a shotgun to one’s belly;

And poetically – I pop one via stuffing with mint jelly;

I’ll dropkick some into space, run others over with a truck;

I’ll throw ninja stars into their eyes – cuz they don’t know to duck;

I’ll dismember some to make a scene that’s serial killer creepy;

And yet, for some strange reason, it won’t seem to make me sleepy.

COLIN  stops staring at his video game for a moment and regards the audience more calmly.

COLIN

If I’ve learned anything from watching parents it is this:

They need something to fall asleep, more than a goodnight kiss.

Cuz Mum, she likes her Xanax, Dad likes Ambien and scotch.

Then they like putting movies on they don’t stay up to watch.

And yet even when they’re deeply dosed, sometimes they wake up still.

And what I’ve learned is: You can always take another pill.

COLIN returns to his video game. He looks like he may never sleep for the rest of his life. As he plays madly, lights fade to red and then to black. End of play.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment