Set: The decaying back patio of a slowly-collapsing Georgian mansion in NW6. Unkempt teak chairs straddle uneven pavement and general clutter. Big, blindingly colourful injection-moulded plastic toys limit the space. On one side there is a barbeque. At the centre of the patio back wall, four steps lead to a dying lawn. A digital camera is on a white plastic table.
The stage is in darkness. An outdoor patio light flicks on. ABIGAIL, a 39-yr-old American storms outside from the flat and lights a longed-for cigarette. Her husband, SIMON, 40 and Welsh, follows her out and takes a seat. He has two glasses and a bottle of cold white wine in a cooler.
Simon: Machiavellian in his genius.
Abi: Utterly magnificent performance. Peerless.
Simon: Dare I ask what time it is?
Abi: I know. We started at 7:00.
Abi: Two hours of parental distraction schemes executed beautifully followed by a shining eleventh hour. The last volley comes in when I’m about to switch out the light. It’s ingenious! He’s got me three nights in a row now. Two nights ago . . .
Simon: I remember. Wait. “I want to see Zach and Linda!”
Abi: “I want to see Zach and Linda! I love Zach and Linda. “
They both glance towards Zach and Linda’s flat next door.
Simon: It doesn’t compare to “I love Muddy Waters”, though, does it?
Abi: “I want to watch Muddy Waters on DVD.” Any two and a half year old with that much taste deserves to stay up. He earned it. Honestly, I’m impressed by all of them. Tonight? 8:15? Let’s call Kebin! – that one was pretty good, too. Played all the right notes. Who does Mommy really want to talk to? Who is Mommy always talking about? Uncle Kevin. What is Mommy scared of? Losing touch with her family in America. That kind of strategizing is psychological warfare.
Simon: Reminds me of my time in ‘Nam.
Abi: (laughing) I hate it when you say that. You were never in Vietnam. It’s disrespectful to the people who went.
Simon: (dramatically checking for eavesdroppers) Bob the Builder was in Vietnam?
Abi can’t contain her laughter.
Simon: It explains a lot, actually. (pause) That mutual attraction.
Abi: (still laughing) You were not attracted to Bob the Builder! It’s not funny. It’s extremely transgressive humour. Seriously.
Simon: (lascivious) But he can fix it.
They sit in silence.
Simon: I got quite a kicking today.
Abi: I know you did. I am sorry.
Simon: You must have enjoyed it a little.
Abi: It is usually me getting beaten to shit in there, Simon.
Simon picks up the camera.
Simon: Why do you have a camera outside?
Abi: I’m working on the nature documentary.
Simon: Oh, right.
Simon peruses the pictures.
Abi: I’m thinking about staying up tonight to try to get a fox. I figured I could lure one with some cat food.
Simon: (still looking) I must say, that spider looks terrifying.
Abi: I know! This is the side of moving to the UK that no one talks about. The bugs are a lot scarier.
Abi: To me. I know where I stand with a cockroach. I have no idea with a spider like that. It’s scary.
Simon: (referring to another picture) What are those?
Abi: You can’t really see them. They’re ants. This is the Orlando, Florida of the ant world. They all come here. They all live up by that tree.
Abi leads Simon up the stairs to the garden.
Simon: Lordy me. There’s thousands of them.
They return to the patio together.
Abi: You did have the Sky Repairman.
Simon: Yes, I was quite relieved I had that to talk about.
Abi: Do you want to switch therapists?
Simon: I think she’s fair enough. I don’t know.
Abi: You don’t even want to go.
Simon: I’m willing to go. As long as you keep threatening to kill people so I have lots of evidence to show that you are the crazy one, not me.
Abi: Look, even Ruth said that dealing with Sky is enough to drive anyone crazy. I think that a perfectly sane person would have threatened to beat the shit out of him too in my situation. It’s just. I shouldn’t have said it on his voice mail. That was idiotic.
Simon: Yes, it was.
Abi: What are we going to do about the oven?
Simon: The oven?
Abi: The oven is broken. That’s why I haven’t cooked dinner for the last two months.
Simon: It’s been a blessing.
Abi: Simon, we need to get on this so we at least have an oven for Thanksgiving.
Simon: It’s July.
Abi: It’s not a joke, Simon. These things take so long.
Simon: We can take a trip this weekend.
Abi: I think research will take up the first week. We know nothing about stoves, we don’t know how to get rid of the stove we have, we don’t know how to install them. I couldn’t find anyone on yell.com who did stove installation. Weren’t you there when I asked the electrician about it? He said he didn’t know either.
Abi: Do you know how to install a stove? Is it innate knowledge on this island? The electrican is from Australia. There, apparently, they have people who install stoves.
Simon: Could we have one evening that doesn’t turn into a lecture about what a terrible place this is?
Abi: As soon as you agree to move back to the States.
Simon: Find a job there and I’ll move tomorrow.
Abi: For a man who started his wedding speech with “green card”, you’re turning out to be a little bit of a disappointment.
Simon: What was the line? (Pause) I know, “Two words sum up what Abigail means to me. . . . Green Card!”. Tell me that didn’t get a big laugh? That got a big laugh.
Abi: He said “zebra” today at school “Zebra!”. And he ends his abc’s with zed. Zed, not “Z”, Simon.
Simon: That doesn’t matter.
Abi: I don’t want him to grow up in a place with dangerous wildlife and third world living conditions! We have to move out of London.
Simon: Yes, sweetheart.
Abi: (sighs) Maybe we have to move to Switzerland.
Simon: You want to move to Switzerland?
Abi: Not really. But I don’t want to stay here and you don’t want to go to the States so maybe the fairest thing to do is to settle in a neutral country.
Simon: That makes sense.
Abi: And there are upsides. Good skiing. The Swiss are really democratic and efficient and they have a certain emotional health that people on this island lack.
Simon: Are you going to say it? (He studies Abi) Everyone on this island has a broomstick rammed up their ass.
Abi: Not everyone. Come on, now! You have to judge the person, not the people. (candid)
Simon: You saying that. It’s like hearing you complain about old fatso being whiny.
Abi: Why is it like that?
Simon: Because you’re the whiniest person I’ve ever met.
Abi: (whining) I am not. (pause) And that is going to come back and bite you in the ass the next time we see Ruth. “You’re the whiniest person I’ve ever met.”!
Simon: You are the whiniest person I’ve ever met. I love you anyway.
Abi: I do think old fatso runs the risk of being adopting some pretty negative attitudes about life if he stays on this island.
Simon: You’re right. He’ll never have the opportunity to lynch anyone here. Here he won’t grow up thinking that his government has a divine right to run the affairs of the whole world. He’ll run a terrible risk of knowing that there are places in the world outside of the United States. He is likely, if he stays in Britain, to have a sense of history. He runs the terrible risk of being better educated than his spoiled American cousins. Educated in history, and art. He might understand that something in South Beach that was built in 1930 is not an ancient building.
Abi: But that’s exactly what you always said you liked about the States. That it’s a young country. That it perceives itself of having unlimited potential.
Abi lights another cigarette.
Abi: Sometimes I think it would be better for him to grow up here.
Abi: But sometimes –
Simon: - here we go. But sometimes . . .
Abi: Of course in the U.S. too much of everyone’s identity is caught up in what they do – their job. And in their money. That’s bad. But I think it’s worse to be here and have not enough of your identity tied up in what you do. People have terrible attitudes about their jobs. They don’t care and they do a shit job and they get away with it. Inefficiency everywhere. I don’t want old fatso to think that’s acceptable. It’s not a good attitude toward life.
Simon: Not everyone has that attitude.
Abi: You’re right. But people are class-bound here and I don’t want him thinking like that. It’s so offensive. What you are born to is all you can aspire to be. That’s the attitude. It comes from your worship of the monarchy. You think some people are better than others by accident of birth.
Simon: It’s a terrible attitude.
Abi: (puzzled) Yes.
Simon: Now, your brother in Omaha, he has a good attitude.
Abi: (Groans, pierced in defeat) Damn.
Simon: Your brother in Omaha thinks we are going to hell because we drink wine and you work outside the home and he thinks your parents are going to hell because they go to church with gay people. Your brother won’t let Kevin in the house – his own brother - because he’s gay. Those are the kinds of attitudes we should foster in our son.
Abi: I would never move back to Omaha. We would have to move back to one of the coasts.
Simon: One of the coasts!? I thought you only wanted to move back to Washington?
Abi: Well, actually sometimes I get scared that you might be right. I might not like it there now. I’ve changed. I don’t know if my friends have. They haven’t been away. We all have kids now, sure, that’s different, but . . . I don’t know. I used to think I knew so much about the world before I moved here. Now I realize I only knew about the United States. And now how I see the United States really differently. Maybe if the Democrats win the next election.
Simon refills their glasses.
Abi: God, we might really have to move to Switzerland.
Simon: We don’t have to move Cambridge.
Abi: I think your heart is set on it.
Abi: That’s good. Really?
Abi: But then we’re left with someplace outside of London like Surrey- very green and very white. White people pretending to be happy. I can’t live there either.
Simon: It would have to be someplace with good schools for old fatso.
Abi: I guess. I mean, that’s an important thing.
Simon: And we can get a decent-sized house if we buy in Cambridge.
Abi: Ahhh! You go straight to buying a house together. Why do we have to do that already?
Simon: We’ve been married for five years. We have a child together.
Abi: Those weren’t capital investments.
Simon: You don’t trust me enough to buy a house with me.
Abi: It’s a big deal!
Simon: You have my name tattoed on your ass.
Abi: Getting married is here (swipes around her knees). Getting your name tattoed on my ass was here ( swipes waist-high). Having ol’ fatso is here (swipes at neck level). But buying a house and settling down? Leaving the city?
Simon: You can’t stay here forever.
Abi: I like the crime and poverty. I think it’s educational for old fatso. And look, you would still work in London while we lived in Cambridge. That’s the crazy thing. I think you would hate that long commute every day. Simon, you would be on a crowded train ten hours a week. Two hours a day. You barely see the boy during the week as it is.
Simon: I’m willing to commute.
Abi: Of course you’re willing. But, well, it feels like what I said in the session today.
Simon: I thought it a particularly good shot.
Abi: I know you thought it was mean. I’m trying to tell you what it feels like to me.
Simon: That I want you to buy me a house near my mother?
Simon: (changing the subject) The lawn really does look terrible.
Abi: I know. I keep thinking that I should say something to Linda but then I think, really, this is between me and Zach and I just can’t gage what his reaction would be. If it was me, and I killed my neighbours’ lawn with weedkiller, I would be mortified. Zach, I just don’t know. Maybe it would be good for him. It probably would be. He needs to come down a peg or two. He’s too cocky. He thinks he knows everything. But then, everyone does when they’re sixteen, don’t they?
Simon: I don’t think I ever did. I don’t think at that age I thought I knew everything.
Abi: Then you stand before me a man much transformed from his youth.
Simon: Shall I go get you some more cigarettes?
Abi: Thank you.
Simon: Do we have any sparkling cold?
Abi: If you’re going to go get me a drink, you can just look for yourself, honey.
Simon: The whole time. You beat up on me the whole time.
Abi: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. The question infers that I am in charge. I don’t want to be in charge.
Simon goes inside.
Simon: That’s all you want.
Abi puts out her cigarette. Linda, her neighbour, enters through the yard and down the stairs. Linda is 50 and American.
Abi: Linda! How are you!
They hug American style.
Abi: How is it going? How’s Leo?
Linda: Leo is great.
Abi: Where is Zach?
Linda: Zach is still in the States with his grandmother.
Abi: And how did your mother like Leo?
Linda: It was ridiculous.
Abi: Did she like Leo more than you? That’s what my mother did with Simon.
Linda: She’s very upset with me.
Abi: And is Leo back in Amsterdam?
Linda: No, he’s staying here for a few days.
Abi: So what’s that like?
Linda: It’s good.
Abi: You are falling so hard for this guy, Linda. For God’s sake, be careful.
Linda: I know. But. . .
Abi: You’re ridiculous. You look like you’re twenty years old. You already told him you loved him, didn’t you? Oh my God, Linda, you did.
Linda: I know it’s crazy.
Abi: Of course it’s crazy. And I want to tell you to slow down but then I keep thinking about me and Simon. I had his name tattooed on my ass after I had known him for four weeks. So I can’t really say anything. Except maybe prepare yourself for dark times ahead when all of this falls apart.
Linda: You don’t mean that. Where’s Simon?
Abi: Simon is getting me cigarettes. Let me get you one. I’m going to tiptoe out though because the little one has just gone to sleep.
Linda: He’s so cute.
Abi turns to leave.
Abi: Yeah. Just how I imagine Stalin at two-and-a-half.
Abi tiptoes out. Simon returns with a glass of Champagne for Abi.
Simon: Ah, lovely Linda.
Simon kisses Linda’s cheek.
Simon: So good to see you, lovely girl.
Linda: I want to thank you again for helping Zach with that essay for school. That was so nice of you.
Simon: Yes, well, I’m a nice person. But tell me all about you. How is Leo?
Linda: Leo’s great.
Simon: Well, good.
Linda: How are you?
Simon: Oh, the same old, really. We’re doing fine.
Linda: That’s good. Abi told me you were seeing Ruth.
Simon: (shocked) Yes.
Linda: I think it’s great. I think it can be really helpful. You’ve been through so much.
Simon: Yes, I have. But I’m only doing it because of Abi. She needs it.
Linda: She says the same thing about you! Now, where is she?
Simon: Probably moving old fatso before she comes out with your wine.
Linda: She seems like she’s doing really well.
Linda: But no one ever seems crazy to me. I mean it. No one. I always see their point. Actually, I probably seem crazy to her. To you.
Simon: (ironic) Not at all.
Linda’s mobile rings in her pocket.
Linda signals that she will take the call up in the garden and exits. Subdued sounds of her phone conversation are perhaps heard. Abi returns with a bottle of Champagne and two flutes.
Abi: Thank God we have an excuse to break this out! I’m so glad you’re here.
She notices Linda isn’t there.
Abi: (to Simon) Where is she?
Simon: She had a call.
Abi: Oh. I can still open it, you think? Do you think?
Simon: You told her we were seeing Ruth.
Abi: That’s all she knows.
Simon: She thinks it’s because there is something wrong with me too.
Abi: There’s something wrong with everybody. Learning to accept that it the path to enlightenment. You know, I was thinking in there, Si. Really, I don’t want to work any more. It’s a fine job, but I just don’t believe in it. So I might as well just stay home with Old Fatso.
Simon: That’s fine.
Abi: Actually, really what I was thinking was that I would become an activist. In the States. Before the next election.
Simon: A what?
Abi: A freedom fighter. A Jedi warrior. One thing I believe in is the United States. I know it’s stupid, but I do. And I feel like everything I believe in about the United States is in jeopardy, right now, this very minute. All the things making it a great country are slipping away – it’s so bad right now. I don’t know. I’ll write articles. I’ll go door-to- door.
Abi: I would like Old Fatso to grow up in a truly free country. Even if that kid never lives in the States, he’s half American. And all that is good about that description is slipping away.
Simon: But then I have to work to pay for your botox.
Abi: But you haven’t come up with any other options. So you might as well make some money for old fatso while I try to save the world.
Abi: What do you think?
Simon: I’m not going to find a job in the States that will support you just because you’re ashamed that your old friends in Omaha vote Republican.
Abi: Well, not with that attitude you’re not.
Linda returns. Abi hands her a flute of Champagne.
Sorry, Love, but this suddenly got very political and soap boxy. There are a few nice bits you added, but I mostly like the first draft best.
The bit about the brother, although interesting, is delivered on a silver platter of exposition.
"Your brother in Omaha thinks we are going to hell because we drink wine and you work outside the home and he thinks your parents are going to hell because they go to church with gay people. Your brother won’t let Kevin in the house – his own brother - because he’s gay. Those are the kinds of attitudes we should foster in our son."
If you pared it down to a conversation two people would have that already 'knew' the situation...it would be much more believable. This dialogue feels as if it's intended for the audience, not abi. For instance....there are no catch phrases people use when they are used to each other. They probably have a name for him like Right Winged Martin...or something.
Anyway....I think this is getting into different areas, and I kind of missed the first energy.
I went back and read your first draft, then read this one. I have to agree with Paddy re exposition: the first draft was sharper, more raw - the dialogue more lively. I read them both very fast, so I'm sorry if I misinterpret anything...
You've made it clear what each of the two main characters want. Then the trick is, I think, not to hammer that point home. There are clever references to the bugs (photographs) and the oven/stove (needed for thanksgiving). If you let those hang in the air, the audience will get that she yearns to go home to the States. You are planting the seeds, not giving the audience everything on a plate straight away: your second draft tends to feed us as much information as possible, leaving nothing to discover.
Your dialogue is witty. I would say beware of characters merging into one another. Think: what does he want? What does she want? Where is the conflict? I always think that if you cover the characters' names and just read the dialogue - and you can't differentiate between their speech patterns etc, then they're not defined enough. Maybe you should press on - don't try to edit too early. Get the play down. Find out about your characters - their backstories. Also - the point about the oven, photographs etc, it's sometimes useful to have your characters talk about something but there's the subtext there - i.e. what they're really wanting to say. The audience will pick on on that. Never underestimate the intelligence of the audience!!
Hope this helps. Move on with it. Don't get the blue pen out straight away. Write organically for a while and don't worry about it!
Please do press on, Swann. It's worth it. You have a great insight into two worlds and I, for one, think you're on to a very interesting theme.
The great thing about this site/forum is that we have the opportunity to encourage and give gut reactions without cutting people down. And we should always support one another.
I guess I'm saying this because I admire the fact that you're exposing your early writing to us and because we're all writers together. Also, I made the mistake of returning for an instant to The Play's The Thing forum and was hurt by what was said about me and my play - all based on a TV series, and quite vindictive. I've ignored it, but it still hurts. All praise to Edd, Paddy & Paul (Thain) for the tone and supportive nature of this forum. No-one deserves to be stepped on.
I think you've taken the play on, and got a little distance from the real life experience but at the same time retaining the truth and freshness of the original.
All experience is valuable for any writer.
And getting down on paper life's bugs big and small is theraputic; I agree there is a rawness in the first version, I just prefer the very good ingedients to be refined, cooked, and presented.
I should perhaps declare an interest in matters Anglo-American:
my current wip, is a comedy/ drama series about a British family who return to UK after the wife becomes seriously ill; and the life changes they make.
My good-virtual-buddy, Playfull has read the pilot and offered invaluable advice.
Btw, I agree with Kate concerning the positive aspects of this forum and am equally regretfull at the way Kate was treated elsewhere.
I'm new here, and so am hesitant to comment. But will anyway, since it's an open forum!
Liked both version a lot, and echo comments about the freshness and flow of the dialogue. And the fact that information is slowly parcelled out--a terrific way to handle exposition. Since we don't know which information is crucial, and which is color, we pay closer attention. Favorite brother is gay? Troglydyte brother in Omaha? (although that verges on cliche) Will these become strands?
Second version does get a bit didactic, starting with Si's speech about what fatso would learn by staying in UK. Tone shifts here, from the bantering of a couple very comfortable with each other, even though they may be having a terribly genteel and understated argument (and that tone is catured perfectly), to a set piece. Any way to soften that, or downplay it?
thanks for the welcome, Swann! Looks like an interesting group.
To clarify what I meant: by "set piece" I mean a speech that feels like it was written as a separate piece, then inserted more or less where it seems to fit. So it often seems a bit artificial, a bit forced, the playwright saying, "I really want this position expressed!"
Hope that helps. Look forward to reading more of Expatriate Marriage as it develops--