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Charles William Boyes

 

 

The Meaning of Dada

 

A One-Act Play by Charles William Boyes

  

 

 

(A black and white laden apartment. On the walls, hand painted artwork of all different styles, all seemingly conflicting with the other. JOANNE is perched on the couch [CS] with her legs resting on an ottoman. Directly in front of her is an antiquish coffee table and to the sides of the coffee table two single chairs. There is one door located against the back wall SR, which leads to the hallway and another with only a frame against the SL wall leading down the hall to the kitchen and bedrooms. There is a bar BSL and other various amenities that coincide with a posh city apartment. Joanne’s fiancée, TIMOTHY approaches her.)

 

TIMOTHY

(Kissing her forehead) That’s just the sort of problem you solve by taking a Xanax, turning out the light and going to sleep.

 

JOANNE

(Sighing) I suppose you’re right.

 

TIMOTHY

(Walking away from Joanne and towards a mirror SL) Of course I am. <Pause> What time are they supposed to arrive?

 

JOANNE

Do you mean Tad and Casey or Roger?

 

(Timothy is examining himself in the mirror. Throughout the subsequent dialogue he adjusts the bow tie he is wearing, arranges his hair and uses his hands to dust off his tuxedo.)

 

TIMOTHY

Both. Either.

 

JOANNE

Well Tad and Casey originally said seven, but then I told them that the play started at eight and that they must come by for drinks…

 

TIMOTHY

And so?

 

JOANNE

And so they said they’d be here by six.

 

TIMOTHY

And Roger?

 

JOANNE

Well now, he couldn’t make it for drinks. Which is a shame and I even told him it was a shame because really it is. I did want to have a good talk with him about his new book. I mean it’s just like all the others, none of which I understood to begin with, making this one much harder to comprehend.

 

TIMOTHY

(Leaving his spot in front of the mirror and making his way to the mini-bar to finish off a glass of champagne he had left.) But I thought you said you hadn’t ever read one of Roger’s books.

 

JOANNE

Well I haven’t. I meant to, at least I had the intent to mean to, but The New York Times Book Review said I mustn’t and so I didn’t. But I did buy one as an act of charity because when I was in the bookstore I saw his book…which one was it? The first one?

 

TIMOTHY

I haven’t the faintest idea. The Los Angeles Times said it wasn’t even worth remembering the title and I didn’t. Which did make my conversations with him that much more difficult.

(Timothy moves over to the bookshelf, BSL and commences rummaging through the six rows of books.)

 

JOANNE

Anyways, I saw it on its own display shelf nonetheless, just sitting there with not one copy gone. Well I just felt horrible for Roger and bought one. And the answer is seven.

 

TIMOTHY

Well if seven is the answer, what is the question?

 

JOANNE

What time will Roger arrive?

 

TIMOTHY

Won’t that make us late?

 

JOANNE

Don’t be silly…they can’t possible start the play until we arrive. I mean, how would it look if the play were to start and the five seats down in front, front row centre, were not filled? That would look abominable. They would probably stop the run altogether. And could you imagine what the Chicago Sun-Times would have to say? (Turns to Timothy) What are you looking for?

 

TIMOTHY

(Stops searching) I thought it would be a nice gesture if we had a copy of Roger’s book on the coffee table. You know, show him how much we support him and how much we enjoyed the book. Because there is no better review for a book than a place on the coffee table. You could take the reviews from the Detroit Free Press, the Miami Herald and L.A. Weekly and none of them would matter, so long as the book was on a reputable coffee table.

 

(He continues looking.)

 

JOANNE

Even the Washington Post?

 

TIMOTHY

(He thinks before answering) Perhaps not the Washington Post. But definitely Seattle Weekly.

 

JOANNE

Besides, don’t you think it’s far better for a book to be placed on a reputable night table than a reputable coffee table?

 

(Timothy stops all together and goes back to the mirror, for one final inspection)

 

TIMOTHY

Now why would that be far better?

 

JOANNE

(Leaving her seat and approaching Timothy. She aids him in his struggle to straighten his tie.) Well I don’t know exactly, we both know that you are the more logical of the two of us, but wouldn’t it make the author feel better to know that you are in the process of reading the book than actually finished the book? Would it not make him or her feel rather absurd if you were actually done the book? What else is there you can do with the book once you finish reading it besides put it on a coffee table? Yes, I believe I am right the best place for a book is on the night table. 

 

TIMOTHY

(Going back to the bookshelf) And certainly not on the bookshelf or in the bathroom.

 

JOANNE

(Now examining herself in the mirror) You are absolutely right. The bookshelf implies utter indifference towards the book, and the bathroom…well, that is certainly no place for a novel, a collection of essays or short stories maybe, but never a novel.


TIMOTHY

Do you remember where you put it?

 

JOANNE

I couldn’t tell you, honestly. In fact, I may not have purchased it at all. Or I may just be trying to block the entire incident out of my mind. It would be rather traumatic buying a book, which critics labeled, “flat”, “uneventful” and “plot-less.” Just find another novel, something modern preferably with some nice cover art. Something that will draw attention, yet not draw attention away from the table. (Is silent for a moment as she realizes something. Before she begins she moves for the phone.) Which reminds me, I must call Rosanna and leave a message for her saying we’ll be able attend on the 32nd. When she told me about it I insisted that there was no 32nd of this month, or any month for that matter. But she said that I just had to come, so how could I refuse?

 

(Joanne dials the number)

 

TIMOTHY

It wouldn’t be proper.

 

JOANNE

You couldn’t be more right. Yes hello Rosanna, this is Joanne…hello?…hello…Oh you, uh, picked up Rosanna. This is you isn’t it? <Pause> Of course it is, how silly of me. I was just calling about your party. <Pause> Yes the one on the 32nd. Unfortunately Timothy and I won’t be able to attend. <Pause> Why not? Well we’re in the middle of this novel by a friend of ours' Roger do you know him? <Pause> An excellent author, you should consider looking into reading or at least buying his book. Anyway our schedules are so tight this month that we won’t be able to finish the book until the 32nd and we couldn’t miss that. <Pause> Yes I’m sorry as well. <Pause> All right then; by the way is your answering machine not working? <Pause> It is? Alright then, goodbye. (She hangs up.)

 

TIMOTHY

I thought you said we had agreed to go to Rosanna’s.

 

JOANNE

(She paces back and forth across the apartment floor.) Can you believe she picked up the phone? And on top of that, she told me there was nothing wrong with her answering machine. How dare she. What a contemptible nerve that woman has. It’s not that I don’t like her, because I do, she throws the most wonderful Bastille Day parties, but why on earth would I want to talk to her? Sometimes, the most sensible people make no sense.

 

TIMOTHY

Does that mean that sometimes people make perfect sense?

 

JOANNE

(She stops pacing and helps Timothy in his search for the book.) No, of course not. It’s just that sometimes they make no sense whatsoever. But, no, nobody ever makes perfect sense. That’s simply irrational.

 

TIMOTHY

Why did you suggest that she read Roger’s book? Didn’t you read what Modern Review said about suggesting it to a friend?

 

JOANNE

I know full well what Modern Review said about suggesting the book. But it made perfect sense for me to tell her to read that “incomprehensible” book after what she did to me. It was all very nerve-racking.

 

TIMOTHY

I don’t doubt that, not for a moment. I can’t name a single person who actually wants to talk to another. It just doesn’t happen anymore. But tell me, how did it make perfect sense for you to tell her to read Roger’s novel when you said, and I quote, “nobody ever makes perfect sense…”?

 

JOANNE

(Walking away from the shelf and Timothy. She sits in the chair to the right of the coffee table.) You’re paying far too much attention to what I’m saying - the content of it all I mean, but I suppose that’s why you are the more logical of the two of us. However, you must promise to try to pay more attention to how I say things, rather than what it is I’m saying. Otherwise, how do you expect us to ever get along? And how on earth could I ever consider getting married if all you want to do is listen to what one another has to say?

 

TIMOTHY

(Carrying a pile of books he comes and stands behind her.) You couldn’t be more right. (He kisses the back of her neck.) From now on I assure you I will completely disregard what you say and focus all my attention on how you say it.

 

(Timothy returns to the shelf.)

 

JOANNE

We should have no problems, then. Once a couple stops listening to one another, all communication trouble that could arise is averted. That’s what’s wrong with the Western culture, and all of society really. If everyone just stopped listening to one another all the aliments of the world would be solved. And just think of all the problems that could have been avoided if people weren’t listening: World War I, Watergate and the fall of communism in Russia, not to mention the IRA attack at the summer Olympics. All situations brought about by mankind’s inability to love and ignore thy neighbor.

 

(Joanne lights a cigarette. Timothy joins her empty handed. He takes a seat on the couch.)

 

TIMOTHY

Most eloquently put, darling. I managed to dutifully note the way you expressed each word. (He leans in, as if what he is about to say may embarrass her.) But I must point out; World War I was a fictitious war. It never really took place except, of course, in a novel. The title escapes me now, but I distinctly recall the critic at the New York Post describing it as, “compelling” and “eerily prolific.” (He leans back against the couch.)

 

JOANNE

(Genuinely confused and curious.) But if World War I never took place in reality, how did World War II come about?

 

TIMOTHY

To save you from a drawn out and predictable history lesson let me just say it happened because of the world’s natural order. Part one transpired in fiction and was quickly followed up by a sequel in reality because of the success of the novel. It went through all the necessary and proper stages of becoming real life from art: novel, critic, reality. Now can you imagine what would happen to the world as we know it if one of those stages were to be removed? No art would mean no critics. With no critics there could be no reality and with no reality…well, um, the circle just sort of stops there doesn’t it? I’ll have to rethink that. (He stamps out his cigarette.)

 

JOANNE

(Stamping hers out.) I will not have you thinking tonight. What sort of significant other would that make me look like if you had to resort to thinking to occupy your time? Besides circles can’t stop, that’s why they’re circles.

 

(The door chime, playing ‘I Just Can’t Wait to be King’ sounds.)

 

Oh, that’ll be Tad and Casey.

 

(Both jump into action, racing to the mirror and straightening themselves out. They do some quick tiding of the bookshelf as well.)

 

TIMOTHY

But it’s only 5:30. I thought you said they wouldn’t be here until six.

 

JOANNE

Why wouldn’t they be half an hour early? People are tired of that whole being on time and fashionably late idea. (Joanne goes back to the mirror. Timothy remains at the bookshelf until he finds a book, looks over it carefully and walks towards the coffee table.) They always felt they were missing something, which may or may not be important, so they started showing up early to make sure they got it all. When you think about it, it makes you wonder why it hasn’t been like that all along. I mean people like to know things; they like to be knowledgeable. It’s just so perplexing. Did you find a suitable book for the coffee table?

 

TIMOTHY

Yes I’ll set it there now. (He sets down the book.) I decided upon The Informers by Bret Easton Ellis. You have read that haven’t you? Because if you haven’t I should put it there, it would make Tad and Casey’s questions of the book harder to answer if you haven’t read it.

 

(Joanne, reluctantly, moves away from the mirror and goes to stand next to Timothy, who is examining and basking in his placement of the book.)

 

JOANNE

I’m almost certain that I read it, but it would have been a while ago and the plot seems to be melding together with one of the Bronte sisters’ novel’s plots, but I do remember that the San Francisco Chronicle highly praised it and so that should be enough to get us through any questions they may have about it, as long as they haven’t read it or any conflicting reviews for that matter.


TIMOTHY

No, no. Tad and Casey are much more into the thrillers of the 1950’s than the Glam-Brat Pack novels of the 80’s, as one of the Canadian publication labeled it.

 

(Joanne seems concerned with the placement and moves in for a closer inspection.)


JOANNE

I’m positive we’ll be fine even if they have read it. Once they start talking about it, it will jog my memory.

 

TIMOTHY

I do hope so. It makes it so hard to fit in when you are clueless as to what your friends are discussing, even if they are guests in your apartment.

 

(The door chimes sounds again.)

 

Are you going to get that?

 

JOANNE

Well I’d like to, but I can’t decide if you placed the book the right way on the table. Not that I’m taking away from the way you arranged it; it isn’t without it’s own quintessential charm. But it’s off-centred and simply looks as though it was tossed there nonchalantly. (She arranges the book to her liking.) I do think it would look better straightforward.

 

TIMOTHY

But now the entire scene looks far too manipulated. It looks as tough you placed the book there as a conversation starter, an intellectual centrepiece instead of what it should be, a read in progress. And you did say that one should, for all intents and purpose, never finish a novel.

 

JOANNE

(She moves for the door. Timothy returns the book to its original position before following.) Have it your own way, but I just hope they don’t think we’re the type of people that…you know…read for pleasure rather than social status. (She opens the door. Tad and Casey enter. They are both dressed as elegantly as Timothy and Joanne. Tad in a tuxedo and Casey in a gown.) Tad. Casey. How are you?

TAD

(Kissing Joanne’s cheek.) Hello Joanne. How are you?

 

CASEY

(Air kissing both cheeks.) Joanne, it’s wonderful to see you again.

 

TIMOTHY

(Shaking Tad’s hand.) Tad, how’s everything. (Kissing Casey.) Casey, you look enchanting.

 

CASEY

Thank you, Timothy. Here we brought this for you. (They produce an odd looking piece of modern art. Evidently a piece that could be interpreted many ways.)

 

JOANNE

(Taking the piece.) Oh, how marvelous. Isn’t it marvelous, Timothy?

 

TIMOTHY

How could it be anything but marvelous? Let’s put it over here.

 

(Joanne hurries the piece over and places it next to the bookshelf. All stand and admire the statue, with the occasional sigh of satisfaction.)

 

JOANNE

I don’t think I would be exaggerating if I were to say that that is the most breathtaking gift we have ever received.

 

TIMOTHY

It certainly would be among the best. We tend to be weary of modern pieces of suprematism, because of the varying views of the art critics it’s just so hard to pinpoint the meaning and purpose of it. But this one doesn’t leave itself open for much interpretation; it’s rather clear what the artist’s motivation was.

 

JOANNE

I couldn’t agree more…I mean, it’s obvious that, and I believe I am unanimous in this, the artists motivation was…

 

TIMOTHY

Depression.

 

 

TAD

Rage.

 

CASEY

Apathy.

 

JOANNE

Happiness.

 

(An awkward silence as each realizes that their opinion differs from that of the others. All move away. Tad towards the couch, Timothy to the bar and Casey and Joanne to the chairs.)

 

TIMOTHY

(En route to the bar.) Can I get you guys something to drink? That is why you’re here isn’t it?

 

TAD

Of course, what other reason could we have? I’ll have a vodka martini.

 

TIMOTHY

Casey?

 

CASEY

Nothing for me thanks. I’m on a liquid/carbo free diet.

 

(Timothy mixes the drinks.)

 

JOANNE

I’ve heard about those, but doesn’t it make, well, everything rather difficult?

 

CASEY

A little. Slightly. But one must make sacrifices in the pursuit of greatness. Just like Albert Einstein who gave up bathing in order to think more clearly. Don’t ask me what the two have in common, but I assume that it had something to do with chemical compounds, which is not within my grasp of understanding.


TIMOTHY

(Handing a drink to Tad and holding one for himself. He sits on the arm of the couch.) Here you are. I’ve never heard of that.

 

TAD

Oh yes, it was in a television program we saw an advertisement for on one of those educational channels, but since we always have the mute function on, we didn’t get a chance to hear what it said. However, we were able to piece it together from the ad and a review the next day in The London Times which I skimmed over.


JOANNE

Did I tell you who else would be joining us tonight? Roger…


TAD

Yes, yes, the author. Wonderful person, a pleasure to talk to, although I do wish I could find another author to introduce as an acquaintance. From what I’ve heard he has trouble defining his purpose.

 

TIMOTHY

So you have met him?

 

TAD

No, I don’t believe so. Why would you assume that?

 

TIMOTHY

No reason.


JOANNE

He is rather disappointing as a writer I agree.

 

CASEY

(Leaning forward and picking up the book that was placed on the table.) Well now here’s an interesting novel. The Informers by Bret Easton Ellis


JOANNE

Timothy, how careless of you to leave a book lying around. I must apologize. We aren’t usually so absentminded as to leave hints about our sophistication lying around.


TIMOTHY

(Places his glass down on the coffee table.) Terribly sorry. I don’t know what came over me. Have either of you read it?

 

CASEY

I haven’t, but Tad has told me a good deal about it.

 

(Joanne is silent for a moment and shoots a glance towards Timothy before responding.)

 

JOANNE

Oh…you…have read it Tad? What did you think of it?

 

(There is a knock at the door followed by the chimes.)

 

(In a hurried voice.) I’ll get it. (She rushes for the door.) Hello Roger, how are you? Won’t you come in? Everyone…Roger is here.

 

(All acknowledge the man at the door. He is wearing a blue uniform and carrying a package. He looks very confused at the attention he is receiving.)

 

JOANNE

You’re a little early aren’t you? But welcome nonetheless. (She turns away from the Delivery Man.)

 

Delivery Man

(Confused) Excuse me? Um…I, uh, have a package…it’s for your neighbors. They aren’t home and I was hoping you could sign for it.

 

(He raises the packages to Joanne who had made it halfway across the room before stopping and turning back to the door.)

 

JOANNE

I’m not sure I understand what you mean Roger (She laughs, inappropriately loud to try and get the attention of the others who are immersed in their own conversation and do not notice.) I get it…oh Roger, you are as confusing in life as in literature; I will give you that.

 

Delivery Man

I’m…my name isn’t Roger. It’s Curtis. I’m with Bellows Parcel Delivery. I was looking for someone to sign for this package, that’s all.

JOANNE

(Baffled) You’re not Roger?

 

Delivery Man

No ma’am. As I said my name is…

 

JOANNE

(Indifferently interrupting Curtis) If you are not Roger why would you think your name is of any importance to me? Unless of course you belong to the some sort of cultured circle that Roger does. Well do you?

 

Delivery Man

I deliver packages. That’s my job. Can you sign for this?

 

JOANNE

(Getting aggravated) You must go now. I cannot have artless package delivers cluttering my doorway when I am expecting an artist friend at any moment. You understand I’m sure?

 

(He begins to protest, but is halted when Joanne shuts the door and goes back to the others to resume her seat.)

 

TAD

What happened to Roger?

 

JOANNE

Apparently that was not Roger.

 

TIMOTHY

It wasn’t? Are you sure?

 

JOANNE

I’m not but he seemed to be. Well if that wasn’t Roger he did bare a striking resemblance to Roger. At least I think he did. His face escapes me for the moment. Do any of you ever have that problem?

 

TAD

You wouldn’t believe how often that happens to me. I’m constantly saying, ‘Isn’t that…’ or ‘That looks just like…’ It’s a real problem, but I swear it really isn’t my fault. Everyone just looks so similar these days it’s hard to tell anyone apart.

 

TIMOTHY

You see dear…it’s nothing to fret about. She gets so worked up about the slightest things.

 

CASEY

(Picking up the book) Tad, what were you going to say about the book?

 

TAD

Ah, yes. The Informers. It was truly remarkable. The interconnectedness of all the stories within it, really kept me interested. What did you guys think?

 

 

TIMOTHY

Tad…correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t that what Seattle Weekly said about the work? Not that I’m insinuating that you're incapable of free thought. It’s just don’t you think it’s a little…pretentious to pass off reviews done by professional critics as your own?

 

(A beat.)

 

TAD

(Quietly) It wasn’t from Seattle Weekly. It was from the San Francisco Chronicle.

 

JOANNE

Timothy, perhaps you should put the book back on the shelf.

 

TIMOTHY

Indeed.

 

(He takes the book from Casey and returns it to the shelf. The others remain silent until he returns.)

 

CASEY

What time is Roger supposed to arrive?

 

JOANNE

Well, he said seven. No…he didn’t actually say “seven”, but that was the implication I got when he did not return my invite for six. I could only assume that that meant he could not make six, but would be here by seven. Do you think I was wrong to take that for granted?

 

TAD

Heavens no! Why would you doubt his attendance? He has no reason to miss this invite for drinks and the theatre.

 

TIMOTHY

(Leaving his seat and going to stand behind Joanne) You have no reason to worry darling. He said…or at least implied his presence, and we should trust Roger. He may be an inept writer, but he is a good-natured human being.

 

JOANNE

You’re right. You must be right. He’ll be here. How silly of me. So what have you heard about the play tonight, Casey?

 

CASEY

The Village Voice said that it was the prototypical play of the year. Apparently, and this is just a retelling of the critic’s P-O-V, the play stars not one person. It consists of lights fading on and off for two and a half hours and the most peculiar part is there is no intermission. How can a play expect to survive if they don’t have an intermission? When are the patrons expected to mingle and banter?

 

TAD

I’m not sure I understand dear. No stars? Where does the money from ticket sales go?

 

 

TIMOTHY

From what I’ve heard all proceeds from “Look Closer” go to support the Save the Studios Foundation. It’s raising money so that film companies can afforded to maintain the twenty million dollar a flick actor’s lifestyle.

 

TAD

As long as it’s a worthy cause. What rating did it receive?

 

CASEY

Four Gore Vidal’s out of five naturally.

 

JOANNE

I’ve just thought of something. What if Roger assumes that we were meeting him at the theatre? I mean he is just that sort of person, not wanting to inconvenience anyone. Perhaps he thought that because he was going to be late we’d meet him there.

 

TAD

It’s both possible and probable.

 

TIMOTHY

Well in that case we should be off.

 

(They all stand to leave.)

 

We wouldn’t want to leave him waiting, would we? We can be down there in half an hour. That gives us plenty of time.

 

(They head for the door. Tad and Casey exit. Joanne is in the doorway looking around blocking Timothy.)

 

TIMOTHY

What is it, Joanne?

 

JOANNE

I’ve just never realized how empty this place is. We should really look into getting something to fill the empty space with.

 

(They exit.)

 

 

 

The End

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