Strange Days…

Well, this is an odd time we’re living in.  And that’s an understatement, of course.  But here we are, variously unemployed, trying to determine (among other things) what theater is at the moment.  Or what it can be… should be…  My various upcoming gigs have been canceled, postponed, turned into Zoom readings, etc.  But we’re figuring it out!  And I’ve written a couple of little things, one of which I’ll share below.  The other (a monologue) will be part of Reign or Shine’s Love Drunk: Quarantine Edition in a few days, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, stay safe, stay connected, and be well.

Here’s a little play:

CHEEK TO CHEEK

By Laura Hirschberg     ©2020

CHARACTERS:

OLIVIA: Female, 30, owner of a small grocery store.

MARCUS: Male, 55, her father.

SETTING:

A small grocery store. Night. The shelves are practically empty. A bag of flour has been ripped open and dropped on the floor. It’s not quite a war zone, but it is the end of a very long day. Outside, the streets are more or less deserted.

(At rise, OLIVIA is alone at the checkout counter, trying to reconcile the day’s receipts. She’s making decent headway when MARCUS tries to open the store’s locked front door. The door rattles, but holds. OLIVIA ignores it. MARCUS knocks.)

OLIVIA: (mostly to herself) We’re closed.  (Knocking continues. Insistently. OLIVIA responds more audibly:) We’re closed! (To herself:) Asshole.  (Knocking continues. OLIVIA puts down her receipts, crosses to the door, muttering:) Why even invest in a “closed” sign if they’re not gonna read the “closed” sign? Paid good money for the “closed” sign…  (More knocking. OLIVIA is at the door.) We’re— (She stops, recognizing who’s knocking.)  Oh.

MARCUS: (from the other side of the door)  Liv, it’s me.

OLIVIA: I can see that.

MARCUS: What?

OLIVIA: (A little louder) It’s a glass door. I can see that it’s you.

MARCUS: Oh. Yeah. (Beat) You gonna let me in?

OLIVIA: We’re closed.

MARCUS: Yeah, I—I saw the sign. The sign on the door. I know you’re—Look this is kinda silly.

OLIVIA: You need something?  (Beat. No response.)  Cuz we’re out. Of pretty much everything.

(MARCUS holds up a full grocery bag.)

MARCUS: I don’t—I came to see you.  (OLIVIA gestures to herself, does a little turn. Ta da. She begins to walk back to the counter. MARCUS rattles the door again.)  I just wanted to… check up on you. See if you’re all right. Come on, kiddo.

(OLIVIA crosses back to the door.)

OLIVIA: Don’t try to pull the “aw shucks” dad routine with me. You were never really an “aw shucks” kind of dad.

MARCUS: Is that what you wanted me to be?

(Beat. OLIVIA opens the door.)

OLIVIA: Can I help you?

(MARCUS steps over the threshold, towards Olivia. OLIVIA steps back. MARCUS stops. Puts down his bag, reaches into it, and pulls out a single large daisy. He holds it out to Olivia.)

MARCUS: Had to fight somebody for this. Well, not fight, but uh… it was kind of a battle. Weird. Everybody’s going crazy for toilet paper and white bread and I almost get punched in the face over a daisy. Said it was for my daughter. Guy did not care. Meanwhile, he’s holding a whole bouquet of… I dunno. Mums? Is that what they’re—? Anyway, we’re screaming over this—people are just going nuts out there, you notice? And I’m about to stand on an apple box and do five minutes on “give me liberty or give me death” or something and a security guard comes over and basically shoves the flower into my hand and gives me to the count of ten to get out of the store.

OLIVIA: (Gesturing to the bag of groceries)  So you didn’t pay for those?

MARCUS: (slightly surprised) Huh. I guess not. Hey, not for lack of trying. Or anyway, I wasn’t gonna beg the security to let me back inside to pay for my shit.

OLIVIA: Yeah. (Beat) How much of that story was bullshit?

(MARCUS looks at her for a beat.)

MARCUS: Only about 25%. Asshole guy was definitely holding onto a bouquet of mums though. (Holds up daisy again.) And this is for you. Really.

(OLIVIA looks at the flower for a moment. Takes it. Steps back.)

OLIVIA: Thanks.

(She takes the flower back to the counter, where she looks for a cup or water bottle to put it in—as good an excuse as any to keep a little distance from Marcus, who stays put in the middle of the store floor. OLIVIA finds a large empty hand sanitizer bottle and sticks the flower into it. She places the makeshift vase next to her pile of receipts and stays behind the counter.)

MARCUS: So you doin’ all right?

OLIVIA: I mean… (She gestures around the store.)

MARCUS: Hey, it looks like business is good.

OLIVIA: Yeah. Yeah. Business is mayhem. I basically sent everyone home. The stock boy, the cashiers. They’ve got people at home, so I figured they should do the whole quarantine thing. Speaking of—what are you doing out?

MARCUS: We’re allowed to go out. It’s not like Outbreak out there or anything.

OLIVIA: It kind of is.

MARCUS: I’m fine. This’ll all blow over. It’s like the flu.

OLIVIA: Yeah. The flu kills people, Dad.

MARCUS: You’re out.

OLIVIA: I already said—I can handle the store. We’ve gotta stay open, so—

MARCUS: Nah, I mean. You asked what I’m doing out. I knew you’d be out here. Figured you’d be on your own.

OLIVIA: Yeah?

MARCUS: And you’ve got that anxiety thing. You’ve always had—I thought you might be scared. Cuz it’s a lot out there and—Anyway. I came over cuz I thought you might need somebody.

(Beat. OLIVIA doesn’t know how to respond. She briefly goes back to her receipts. MARCUS notices the spilled flour on the floor and attempts to sweep it up with his hands. Suddenly the lights go out.)

OLIVIA: Shit!  (In the dark, she tries to make her way towards the back of the store. She collides with something.)  Ow!

MARCUS: You OK?

OLIVIA: Just trying to get to the fuse box.

MARCUS: You got a light?

OLIVIA: I’ll have plenty of light when I get done with the fuse box.

(OLIVIA continues clattering her way towards the fuse box. MARCUS finds his way to the counter. He takes a lighter out of his pocket and lights it. OLIVIA stops.)

MARCUS: You want an extra set of hands, or do you feel good about basically sticking your fingers into a great big electrical socket?

OLIVIA: That’s not what I’m—(Sighs) Yes. I could use an extra set of hands. Come around.  (MARCUS makes his way to Olivia. They find the fuse box. None of the fuses are blown.)  Dammit.

MARCUS: Must be a blackout.  (OLIVIA takes a few deep breaths)  You OK?  (OLIVIA crosses to the door. She looks through the glass at the dark street, then leans her head against the door.)  Worried about the ice cream melting?

OLIVIA: (A little laugh) Yeah.

MARCUS: What’s it look like out there? Mass panic?

OLIVIA: Not yet.

MARCUS: See? Bright side. Easy to find it if you look.

OLIVIA: OK. Enough.

MARCUS: What?

OLIVIA: You can stop.

MARCUS: What’re you—Ow!  (The lighter goes out.)  Hang on a sec.  (MARCUS finds his grocery bag. Pulls out a battery-powered lamp. Puts it on an empty shelf and lights it. OLIVIA laughs.)  What?

OLIVIA: What, are you like… the Boy Scouts now? Like… a whole troop of Boy Scouts?

MARCUS: I dunno. I was in the store and everyone was in crazy survival mode and I guess I caught a bit of the paranoia. It’s good right? The lamp? I think it’s for hurricanes or something.

OLIVIA: You should go. (Beat) I mean. It was nice of you to come, but… We’re not doing this.

MARCUS: Why not?

OLIVIA: Cuz you’re not taking a global pandemic and turning it into family therapy time. It’s just weird, man. Fucked up and weird. And kind of insulting.

MARCUS: How’s that?

OLIVIA: This is what it takes? To get you through the door?

MARCUS: Hey, I’m here, aren’t I?

OLIVIA: Gold star for participation.

(Loud noise from the street. OLIVIA startles, pulls herself together, and slides down to sit on the floor with her back against the door.)

MARCUS: Are you counting?

OLIVIA: Hmm?

MARCUS: When you were a kid, you’d get panicky and we’d try to settle you down and you’d count by twos. Sometimes… um… do you want to–?

OLIVIA: I’m fine. Really.

MARCUS: Yeah?

OLIVIA: Well no…. Not really. But at least I’m in good company now, right? Like… who’s OK?  (Beat. MARCUS returns to his task of sweeping up the spilled flour.)  You really don’t—Dad, you don’t have to do that.

(MARCUS stops for a moment, looking at the flour in his hand.)

MARCUS: You know what this reminds me of?

OLIVIA: Hmm?

MARCUS: Top Hat.

OLIVIA: What?

MARCUS: Used to be your favorite. Fred Astaire and—

OLIVIA: Yeah. Fred and Ginger. What about it?

MARCUS: Well, you know the scene. He’s been keeping her awake with his tap dancing and he wants to make nice so he throws some sand on the ground and soft-shoes her to sleep.

(MARCUS throws a big handful of flour on the ground and slowly attempts a soft-shoe tap dance on top of the mess. It’s not Fred Astaire, but it’s not bad. He makes an effort for a while, but suddenly he’s self-conscious and stops.)

OLIVIA: Why’d you stop?

MARCUS: Making a mess.

OLIVIA: It was already a mess. (Beat) That was nice. Um. I didn’t think you’d remember that movie.

MARCUS: Of course I do.

OLIVIA: I mostly remember watching it alone.

MARCUS: I mostly remember watching it with you. (Beat) Breathing easier?

OLIVIA: Actually, yeah.

(OLIVIA stands up. MARCUS holds out his hand.)

MARCUS: Dance?

OLIVIA: I don’t think we should. Supposed to keep our distance.  (MARCUS nods. He takes another handful of flour and throws it at the floor near Olivia’s feet. OLIVIA jumps back.)  Hey!

(MARCUS shrugs. He holds his hands out as if he were holding a dancing partner, even though Olivia is at least six feet away.)

MARCUS: Dance?

(Beat. OLIVIA uses her foot to spread out the flour in front of her, then steps onto her patch of dance floor. She lifts her arms to hold her father’s hand and rest on her father’s shoulder. At a distance. MARCUS begins to hum Irving Berlin’s “Dancing Cheek to Cheek” and together he and Olivia dance to the music, always keeping their distance, lit by the glow of the hurricane lamp.

They continue to dance as the lights fade to black. End of play.)