This is a short play of mine that I've been shopping around to various short play festivals. A few days ago, it was one of 8 shows selected to be part of the HamilTEN Short Play Festival. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it, and any critiques/improvements you think are fitting. Thank you!
Keith: The brother. Smug and pretentious with a bit of dry wit. He tries to avoid conflict no matter what. He just wants to read his novel in peace.
Ellen: Keith’s sister. Extreme, paranoid, an over-reactor who stresses over nearly everything.
A small suburban house in post-apocalyptic 2012.
Two of the world’s apocalypse survivors attempt to carry on life after the end of the world.
(Scene opens on an empty living room, with Keith sitting in an armchair reading a novel. Ellen comes storming in.)
Ellen: Where is it?
Keith: Where is what?
Ellen: Where is what? You know what.
Keith: Do we have to play this game right now? I’m trying to finish my-
Ellen: You took it, didn’t you?
Keith: Still lost, Ellen.
Ellen: My Diet Coke! You drank my can of Diet Coke.
Keith: No I didn’t.
Ellen: The can is sitting right next to you!
Keith: You said I drank your Diet Coke, you used the past tense. While, in reality, I’m still working away on it.
Ellen: I can’t believe you.
Ellen: I am so... so angry right now.
Keith: I don’t understand why you would be.
Ellen: That was the last can, Keith!
Keith: The last can?
Ellen: The very last.
Keith: We still have a ridiculously large supply of bottles, have some of that.
Ellen: Don’t even go there.
Keith: Go where?
Ellen: You know full well that it always tastes better out of a can.
Keith: Of course I do. That’s why I took the can.
Ellen: You are such an asshole.
Keith: Easy, Ellen.
Ellen: That’s your problem right there. You think all this is easy, you think everything is easy.
Keith: So what if I do? Better than stressing over every little thing like you do. I’m content. You should try putting yourself in that frame of mind for a change.
Ellen: I can’t stand living with you sometimes.
Keith: Would you mind? I’m trying to finish this chapter.
Ellen: That was my can, Keith. It was my can, I claimed it, so it was my can.
Keith: What are we, five?
Ellen: You stole my can, Keith!
Keith: I didn’t steal anything.
Ellen: No? Then what do you call it?
Keith: I call it a man trying to enjoy his novel with an ice cold low calorie soda beverage. If that’s a crime, lock me up.
Ellen: I hope you’re satisfied.
Keith: Just have some out of a bottle.
Ellen: It’s not the same!
Keith: Well, there’s not much else you can do, is there? Be thankful for what you have.
Ellen: Says the man who just takes anything he wants any time he wants it. You can’t do that anymore, Keith!
Keith: Says who?
Ellen: Says me.
Keith: And who says I have to listen to you? I’m the older one. Now, I really want to finish this-
Ellen: You have to listen to me if you want this to work!
Keith: We’re going to be fine.
Ellen: You don’t know that.
Keith: No, I don’t.
Ellen: Then how can you say that? How can you say it?
Keith: Better to be optimistic.
Ellen: My optimism wore off a long time ago.
Keith: That’s quite apparent.
Ellen: You drank my goddamn Diet Coke!
Keith: Oh, will you let it go?
Ellen: No! That was my Coke.
Keith: Why don’t you just have a can of regular Coke?
Ellen: Do you want me to punch you?
Keith: Alright, here. (Keith picks up the can and drinks the remainder in one gulp) Take one of the bottles and fill this can up. Same thing.
Ellen: It’s not the same thing, and you know it.
Keith: Well I’m sorry Ellen, but that’s the best I can do for you. Take it or leave it. Now please, this chapter-
Ellen: Screw your book.
Keith: Easy there, sweetie.
Ellen: Don’t call me that.
Keith: It’s just a Coke, Ellen! My god!
Ellen: It’s not just a Coke, it’s the Coke. The last one in this house. The last one on this street. The last one in this whole freaking country for all we know! And I wanted it.
Keith: Come on now, we can’t even be sure we’re the only two people left, let alone be sure that I just drank the last Diet Coke.
Ellen: No, not the last Diet Coke, the last can of Diet Coke.
Keith: Right, sorry, the last can of Diet Coke.
Ellen: Oh, I could just hit you right now.
Keith: I think you should be grateful.
Ellen: For what?
Keith: We survived everything, you survived everything. God knows how or why we were saved, but we were. We have our life, we have our health, we have a house with barely a scratch on it, and we have to be grateful.
Ellen: What’s the point?
Keith: Look, if we ration it carefully, we have enough food in the basement to last us at least another year-
Ellen: And what happens when it’s all gone?
Keith: Well, I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Ellen: There’s nothing left, Keith. Anything edible is in ashes.
Keith: We’ve got enough for now.
Ellen: Yeah. For now.
Keith: And we still have plenty of bottles of Diet Coke, and you know damn well it’s still good, so stop being a spoiled little brat about it.
Ellen: I’m not a spoiled brat.
Keith: Then take what you have and don’t complain. Beggars can’t be choosers.
Ellen: We’re not beggars, we never asked to be here. We don’t even know how any of this happened.
Keith: I don’t think we ever will.
Ellen: There had to be something, something to trigger it all, you know? And that trigger had to have been triggered by something else, and something before that. Like a Domino Effect thing.
Keith: You’re over-thinking.
Ellen: And and and, I mean, it could have started anywhere, absolutely anywhere! It could have been you, or, or me, or... oh God, Keith! It could have been that can!
Keith: What are you talking about?
Ellen: That can of Coke ended the world, Keith! That can of coke was a cog in the moving gears of what ended the world, and it’s to blame! It, it did something that made that something do something else and it kept going and going until ‘Bam!’ the world died and everything died with it. And you drank from it, you drank it, you put your mouth on the filthy opening of the thing that killed everything we ever knew and loved, oh god!
Keith: You sound crazy.
Ellen: Maybe I’m the only logical one here, Keith. It all makes perfect sense, don’t you see? Don’t you see what I’m saying?
Keith: Oh I see what you’re saying. I just think it’s complete bullshit.
Ellen: Think whatever you want, I know the truth!
Keith: No you don’t! You just came up with that crackpot rationalization on the spot.
Ellen: But maybe I didn’t. Maybe it was... maybe it was whatever ended the world! Maybe it was sending signals to my brain, you know? Feeding me information, maybe it chose me! Maybe it chose me to know, to know everything.
Keith: Or maybe you just need to get some good sleep.
Ellen: Come on, take me seriously, hear me out! I’m right, I can feel it.
Keith: I have my doubts.
Ellen: You just drank the thing that made everyone go up in flames. How do you feel?
Keith: A bit like burping, to be honest with you.
Ellen: Just listen to me, Keith! I’m being serious with you right now.
Keith: Could have fooled me. You know, I’m starting to think you need more than sleep.
Ellen: Why are you trying to be funny? Every time you open your mouth, out comes yet another stupid, stupid little joke that contributes nothing to anything, no matter what the situation is. For Christ’s sake, take something seriously for just once in your life, please!
Keith: Will you quiet down please?
Ellen: What, afraid the neighbours will hear us? Oh, wait...
Keith: Now you’re the one trying to be funny.
Ellen: I’m just angry, Keith. Oh, I’m so angry with you! You embraced the thing that ruined life as we know it, and you don’t even care.
Keith: Imagine that.
(Keith stands from his seat, book in hand, and begins to exit)
Ellen: What are you doing?
Keith: I’m going to go find a quiet place where I can finish this damn chapter. I urge you not to follow me.
Ellen: You can’t leave!
Keith: Hmm... Looks to me like I can.
Ellen: Be serious. I’m not done talking to you yet.
Keith: Funny, I’m done talking to you.
Ellen: Stop hiding from everything!
(Keith suddenly stops, and turns to face Ellen)
Keith: What did you just say?
Ellen: Your entire life, as long as you’ve been alive, you just hide. You’re a coward.
Keith: I’m not a coward.
Ellen: You ignore all your problems until they all just go away, disappear, and you don’t have to deal with them. Well guess what, dear brother? This problem isn’t going away.
Keith: I know that.
Ellen: Then deal with it!
Keith: I don’t want to if I don’t have to.
Ellen: Why are you hiding?
Keith: Because if I didn’t, I’d end up just like you.
Ellen: What’s that supposed to mean?
Keith: Look at you, Ellen. You get a damn paper cut and all hell breaks loose.
Ellen: So what if I’m a little sensitive?
Keith: No. Calling mom and dad because you have a hangnail is more than a little sensitive.
Ellen: Look, you’re not me, alright? You don’t know me, you don’t know how I feel, you don’t know what I feel when things happen, so you can’t talk about it, okay?
Keith: Who are you going to call now, Ellen? Everyone’s gone.
Ellen: Maybe if you let me call mom and dad over when I needed them, they’d still be here.
Keith: Don’t blame this on me.
Ellen: I don’t. I blame it on that fucking can of Diet Coke. That fucking. Can. Of. Diet. Coke.
(Ellen grabs the can forcefully)
Keith: What are you doing?
Ellen: Ending this. Right now.
(Ellen violently scrunches and tears apart the can in her bare hands before tossing it across the room.)
Keith: Your hands are bleeding.
Ellen: I know.
Keith: Doesn’t it hurt?
Ellen: Not really. It actually feels pretty good. Stings a little. (A beat) What do you want for dinner?
Keith: Are you cooking?
Ellen: Yes. What do you want?
Keith: Whatever spoils faster. Get rid of that first. Save the preserved stuff for when we’ll really need it.
Ellen: Alright then. Go finish your chapter.
Keith: I appreciate that.
Keith: Yes Ellen?
Ellen: I hate you.
Keith: I love you too. How do you feel now?
Ellen: It’s over.
Keith: Right. Right Ellen. It’s all over.
(Ellen exits. Keith sits back down, opens up his book, and continues his reading. There is a faint ticking of a clock heard in the background. Blackout.)
Hi, Michael. I don't know if you still want feedback, since the play's already slated for production.
My feeling is that the beginning goes on for *way* too long. Between the first line and the place where anyone mentions what they've gone through, I've lost interest and kind of lose the rest of the play. You can tighten it way down, especially in the parts where Ellen is just giving stock responses like "I hope you're stasfied" and "I could just hit you" that don't move the play forward.
Overall, there just doesn't seem to be a lot happening. Two people argue over a can of Coke; one of them has sort of a mini-breakdown; the can gets ripped; everyone goes along their merry way. Honestly, I didn't feel engaged and barely made it to the end.
I also feel that both characters could use more development. Ellen doesn't do much besides be hysterical; Keith doesn't do much besides be smugly superior. If they are the *only two people left in the entire world* (which you gloss over without satisfying explanation), surely they will have a bit more to say about their state of affairs.
I realize I've been harsh, and obviously the HamilTEN festival committee disagrees with me, but this seems like an interesting premise that needs to be pushed a lot further before it's an interesting play.
I just find it difficult, in shorter works (this play is 8 pages long in total) to offer up significant character development without seeming forced, contrived, or unrealistic. I tried giving just enough to know exactly what these two characters are all about. The rest is just subtext.
My goal with this piece was to depict the relationship between two sibling survivors of the end of the world. It's based on my own relationship with my sister and I thought it would be interesting to explore what the relationship would be like if we were the only two people left in the world. That's where the piece came from.
Ellen's stock responses are deliberate, in that she is unable to keep up with Keith's superior intellect. They fight on a regular basis, most of them instigated for entertainment purposes by Keith, and she knows that although she'll never win, there's still a part of her that hopes she'll get lucky one day. She simply doesn't have the ammunition that her brother does, and fills in those empty spaces of not knowing what to say next with predictable babble that at least keeps the conversation going. Even if she never wins, she wants to see how long she can last before she throws in the towel. The Diet Coke is just one of those little comforts that Ellen holds. Without said comforts, there's little reason to be happy.
While I do totally agree that the opening may drag a bit and parts need tightening, I think Keith and Ellen are far enough into their "situation" that they've reached a point of just trying to make the most of what they've got left. If they don't try to live life as it was before the world ended, they go insane. While the events surrounding the setting of the play are a catalyst for the characters' behaviour and dynamic, these events are now secondary as the characters are accustomed to the new circumstances they are facing.
That said, I AM more of a dialogue guy... it's fleshing out the dialogue into compelling drama that I'm still trying to develop, and I appreciate the very helpful feedback and food-for-thought.