Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Northern Lights

Here's one of my favorite things I've done.

NORTHERN LIGHTS
_____________
A One-Act Play

(CHARLIE and DAD, on the hood of a car, Dad seated forward, feet resting on the bumper, with Charlie reclined against the windshield, looking up at the sky. One of his hands is hidden to the audience.)

CHARLIE
Then there’s Cassiopeia – “The Ethiopian Queen.” See? It’s the “W”-shaped one. That’s her throne. (To Dad) I see you checking your watch! (Pause) The five major stars, from left to right – no. We’ll go by order of magnitude. Which would you prefer?

DAD
How ‘bout alphabetical?

CHARLIE
Anybody could do that … I know! Distance from Earth. At just 55 light years –

DAD
Charlie.

CHARLIE
What? We’re just killing time until the main event.

DAD
Killing it? We’ve barely laid a glove on it.

CHARLIE
Fine. What would you like to do?

DAD
Sleep. In my own bed.

CHARLIE
Don’t be silly, Dad. You’re 427 miles from your bed.

DAD
427.

CHARLIE
By car. As the crow flies, it’s more like –

DAD
(Stands up) I’m gonna take a nap.

CHARLIE
No! you’ll miss it!

DAD
Charlie, I’ll be right there in the car.

CHARLIE
But when it comes it’ll be too late!

DAD
Son, you dragged me out here –

CHARLIE
You’ll have missed the best part –

DAD
In the middle of the –

CHARLIE
(Gets animated, starts gesturing) Th-the instant where it unveils itself, Dad! That’s the key! That moment of … discovery, of transcendence! (The gun in his hand is revealed) It only comes once and we have to do it together. Otherwise …

(They both contemplate the gun)

DAD
Be careful with that thing, Charlie.

CHARLIE
Oh, I barely know how to use it.

DAD
That’s what worries me. (He sits)

CHARLIE
(After a beat, looking to the sky) They punished her. (To Dad) Cassiopeia.

DAD
My mouth tastes like metal. (Takes a swig of water)

CHARLIE
(A beat, then back to the stars) She was banished to the skies, sentenced to swing there, clinging to her chair, spinning round and round the North Star. The upside-down part – it’s supposed to humiliate her.

DAD
Charlie, how much longer?

CHARLIE
I really can’t say, Dad. The forecast said tonight.

DAD
So it’s like the weather.

CHARLIE
Yes … only less reliable. All I can tell you is we had a major solar storm 48 hours ago. Conditions are favorable. But there are lots of other factors. The intensity. The magnetic field …

DAD
So we wait …

CHARLIE
Of course. (A beat.) The skies are full of punishment. (Using the gun to point out constellations.) Callisto was turned into a bear by Jupiter’s jealous wife. See? Ursa Major, the Great Bear.

DAD
I thought they put them there to immortalize them … protect them.

CHARLIE
Protect them? I suppose. They put Orion on the opposite side of the sky from the scorpion that killed him. That was nice. Of course, Cepheus – that’s Cassiopeia’s husband – Cepheus he went up to the sky by his own right, chasing the Golden Fleece.

DAD
Charlie –

CHARLIE
That’s the way to go, all right. On your own terms.

DAD
Charlie … son … nothing’s been decided.

CHARLIE
Oh, bull!

DAD
Margaret’s going to take you in –

CHARLIE
Taurus the Bull, one of the forms taken on by Jupiter –

DAD
She promised to give it a chance –

CHARLIE
When he appeared to Europa, Princess of Phoenicia –

DAD
It doesn’t have to be like last time –

CHARLIE
The snowy-white bull with the polished horns and the gentle eyes you can make out the head and the shoulders shining shining like a jewel just to the side of Orion Orion where’s Orion? Orion!!

DAD
CHARLIE!!

CHARLIE
(After a long beat) They’re going to put me away again.

DAD
No. Not as long as you –

CHARLIE
Don’t burn their porch down?

DAD
Well … yeah. That, too. I was gonna say “behave yourself.”

CHARLIE
Oh. (Pause) The pills.

DAD
They’re good for you.

CHARLIE
Good for me. They make me not me.

DAD
That’s the point.

CHARLIE
(A beat.) Aunt Margeret. She’s so … intolerant.

DAD
She wouldn’t appreciate being kidnapped, if that’s what you mean.

CHARLIE
(Scoffs) Kidnapped. (Then notes the gun) Oh. (A beat) Mom would have been pretty disappointed in me, huh?

DAD
Your Mom would have made sure my service revolver was locked up.

CHARLIE
Yeah, she was funny. (Pause) How soon?

DAD
Coupla weeks. When I start the next cycle.

CHARLIE
Cancer the giant crab sent by Hera to nip at the heels of Hercules and aid the serpent … It’s a long story. (A beat) Dad, I’ll be good. I promise. Then when you come back –

DAD
(Gently) Charlie.

(They exchange a long look, then look away, Charlie down, Dad up.)

Hey, what’s that?

CHARLIE
What’s what?

DAD
That. The green light. Is that it?

CHARLIE
No, that can’t be it.

DAD
Are you sure?

CHARLIE
Maybe, I don’t know. (A beat) If it is, it sure sucks.

DAD
I wouldn’t say that …

CHARLIE
It does. It sucks! It’s supposed to be … grand. Dramatic! Breathtaking!!

DAD
It’s fine.

CHARLIE
FINE? It’s the Aurora-fucking Borealis! It’s supposed to be WAY more than fine! Where’s the color? Great … tremoring ribbons of color pealing across the sky! And the sound –

DAD
The sound?

CHARLIE
I expected there to be sound! I dunno, like a crackling or a humming or a whirring!! SOMEthing!

DAD
It’s fine without sound!

CHARLIE
(Waving the gun around) Stop saying fine! It’s not at all fine!! It’s pale and faint and-and not even close to … transcendent!!

DAD
Look, we just caught it on a bad night, that’s all!

CHARLIE
Fuck-up! FUCK-UP FUCK-UP FUCK-UP!! I’m a total fuck-up!!

DAD
You’re not a fuck-up! You’re just –

CHARLIE
CRAZY!? (Swings the gun around and points it at Dad)

DAD
A little, yeah!

CHARLIE
I brought you here for nothing. (Swings the gun back and points it at himself)

DAD
Charlie!

CHARLIE
Make a constellation after me, okay!?

DAD
Son, don’t!!

CHARLIE
Near the North Star, so it’s always there! Summer or winter! I don’t mind being upside down! (Closes his eyes and puts the gun to his head.)

DAD
Charlie, no!!

CHARLIE
(Pulls the trigger and it clicks. A beat. Several more clicks.) I don’t get it.

DAD
I took out the bullets. Back at the Citgo.

CHARLIE
So … this whole time, you were just … humoring me?

(They exchange a look)

Right. (A beat) But … if the gun was unloaded, why’d you let me go through that whole big dramatic thing?

DAD
I needed to see. To see if you’d actually … pull the trigger.

CHARLIE
A test. I failed. (A beat) So then, no Aunt Margaret’s, huh? “Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, go directly to jail” …

(A long beat)

DAD
Charlie, why the aurora? Why was that so important?

CHARLIE
It was for you, Dad. You’ve always wanted to see it.

DAD
I have?

CHARLIE
Sure. Don’t you remember? We were watching that National Geographic special. (He does the National Geographic theme)
Ba-ba-baaah-bump. About Alaska? It showed the auroras, and you said, “I’ve always wanted to see those.” Ba-ba-baaah-bump bah-bah-bah-BUMP-BUMP. It was a Sunday.

DAD
Sunday when?

CHARLIE
1978.

DAD
Oh.

CHARLIE
June 25. Anyway, I wanted you to see it before … I just wanted you to see it.

DAD
Well … thank you, son.

(A beat. The air starts to sparkle and glimmer. They look up in amazement.)

CHARLIE
It’s the Orionids!

DAD
The what?

CHARLIE
I-I was so caught up with the Aurora forecasts I completely forgot about the Orionids. Of course! It’s only like the third best meteor shower in the Northern Hemisphere!

DAD
It’s incredible. There’s … dozens …

CHARLIE
And there’s Orion – hence, “the Orionids” – he was hiding behind the trees.

DAD
Like fireworks …

CHARLIE
Better! See it’s the debris field from Haley’s comet. Even though it won’t be back until 2061, it’s left all these tiny particles of ice and dust in its orbital path. So the earth –

DAD
Charlie?

CHARLIE
Yeah, Dad?

DAD
Don’t spoil it.

CHARLIE
Right.

(They continue to gaze up, in awe, the light glowing off their faces.)

Copyright 2006 Danger Boy Productions

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