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“The Wrong Questions,” Act One, Scene Two

30 Dec
“The Wrong Questions,” Act One, Scene Two

The following’s an excerpt from my play “The Wrong Questions.” For those who came in late, CHARLIE, GINA, MATT, and SARA have known each other since college. SARA has abruptly left her husband, MATT, and is currently staying at CHARLIE and GINA’s home for a few days.

SCENE TWO

(EARLY MORNING THE NEXT DAY — GINA is in the living room, dressed for her morning run. Her outfit does not look like something in which one actually sweats. She is stretching throughout the scene, in a way that gradually becomes more absurdly dramatic. CHARLIE enters. He is not dressed for running.)

GINA
I didn’t hear you come to bed.

CHARLIE
Sorry, Matt was a wreck. We wound up talking most of the night.

GINA
Like college all over again. Not that I mind your consoling him. Matt certainly needs you now.

CHARLIE
It took a while to convince him not to race over here and beg Sara to come back home.

GINA
Poor dear. Perhaps Matt should consider letting her go. For his own sake, of course.

CHARLIE
Never gonna happen. He’s as crazy about her now as he was when they met.

GINA
Why? I mean, I would never question love, but it was always an interesting match. Sara’s so… unique. And Matt’s always had such refined tastes.

CHARLIE
Yeah, not like me.

GINA
Excuse me?

CHARLIE
You know, he was the art lover and foodie. Sara was never into that. Would you like some coffee?

GINA
After the run. Mango-Pineapple smoothie before. I assume you’re not joining me?

CHARLIE
I would but I’m wrecked. Think I’ll have some coffee and maybe go into the office for a couple hours. There are just a few things I need to get done.

GINA
I see.

CHARLIE
I know I’ve been slacking. I’ll get back into the swing of things next week.

GINA
Sure you will. Besides, it’s not me you’re disappointing. It’s yourself. And the running community. Unlike me, they can be very judgmental.

(SARA enters.)

GINA
Good morning, honey. I’d hug you but I’m about to get all sweaty. Charlie can hug you, though.

(CHARLIE hugs SARA. She does not return it.)

CHARLIE
Mornin’. How’d you sleep?

SARA
Fine.

GINA
So glad to hear it. Not that there was any doubt: The mattress is latex foam, which is eco-friendly with better temperature control, the sheets are 1500 thread count, and you had that bed of nails at home. Your choice, of course, but it couldn’t have been good for your back.

SARA
I slept the same as I always do.

GINA
Really? Give it some time. You’ll get used to comfort and never want to leave! But I should get going myself. I’ll be back in about an hour. (to CHARLIE) Didn’t you want to head into the office? Don’t worry about keeping Sarah company. She’s got that book she’s reading.

SARA
I finished it last night.

GINA
How nice. Would you like a recommendation for your next one? My book club just began that very exciting novel that’s everyone’s been talking about.

SARA
That’s fine. I’m actually about to start “Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World.”

GINA
Well, doesn’t that sound like something you’d enjoy!  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must run – literally!

(GINA exits. SARA sits on the couch with her book.)

CHARLIE
So, how’s our Runaway Bride this morning?

SARA
I don’t understand your reference.

CHARLIE
It’s a Julia Roberts movie. It was on TNT the other night. She leaves guys at the altar.

SARA
That’s not what I did.

CHARLIE
No, I guess not. You did get married. And it’s been 8 years.

SARA
7 years and 4 months.

CHARLIE
And now you say you don’t want to do it anymore. Be married. Sorry, Gina told me what you said last night. Hope that isn’t a problem. We tell each other everything.

SARA
No, that’s fine. She can share information with whoever she wants. Though, didn’t Matt tell you first?

CHARLIE
Sure. But you know there’s what you tell him and what you tell Gina.

SARA
Why would it be different?

CHARLIE
People like to confide in Gina. The women at her job, our female friends, even my sister… they all adore her. They think she’s a “righteous dude.” (laughs)

SARA
OK.

CHARLIE
Yeah, right, you wouldn’t have seen that. Sorry. Anyway, I just assumed you might be more comfortable talking to Gina.

SARA
My comfort wouldn’t change the reality of the situation. It is what it is.

CHARLIE
That’s what I’ve always liked about you. You’re a straight shooter. Would you like some coffee?

SARA
Yes, that’d be fine.

CHARLIE
Coming right up – so espresso, cappuccino, or latte?

SARA
Plain coffee is fine.

CHARLIE
Oh. Yeah, we actually got rid of the regular coffeemaker to make space for the second espresso machine.

SARA
You have two espresso machines? Don’t they do the same thing?

CHARLIE
No, that’s not true. The first one we got is more traditional. You can really control your extraction and get a café quality cup. However, the newer one is completely automatic. It does everything for you, which is preferable for large dinner parties. I usually use the automatic one because I can’t really tell the difference but Gina says she can. And she likes having both of them. Hey, I know. I can make you an “Americano” – it’s espresso and water. It kind of tastes like regular coffee.

SARA
That’s fine.

CHARLIE
OK, just a sec.

(CHARLIE exits living room to kitchen. He starts to speak while making the beverages, but the noise from the espresso machine is too loud. SARA reads her book until he returns after a moment with two cups, one of which he hands to her.)

CHARLIE
That’s my first Americano, so let me know if it’s too strong or too weak.

SARA
(taking a sip)
It’s fine.

CHARLIE
Great! Always happy to try new things. Though, I am surprised you wanted regular coffee.

SARA
Why is that?

CHARLIE
You’re reading that coffee book. So, I figured you liked coffee.

SARA
I do. That’s why I’m drinking it.

CHARLIE
No, I mean really liked coffee. Doesn’t the book go into aromas, blends, and the right beans to use?

SARA
Actually, it focuses on the history of the coffee trade, particularly the slavery and exploitation involved in its mass production.

CHARLIE
Well then. I guess that’s “Sara Story: Return of the Jedi.”

SARA
I don’t understand your reference.

CHARLIE
Oh, that’s my way of keeping track of the anecdotes about you. The one about the books you read would be the sixth. (pause, as SARA still does not know what CHARLIE is talking about.) “Return of the Jedi” is the sixth “Star Wars” film.

SARA
OK.

CHARLIE
So, I was talking to the girls this morning. They’re at Gina’s parents for the weekend. I said, “Guess what? Your Aunt Sara’s staying with us.” And they asked, “Where’s Uncle Matt?” Kids just know, you know?

SARA
Not really. What point are you making?

CHARLIE
They know when people belong together.

SARA
They probably just asked about Matt because they usually see us together. I don’t think it’s anything more than that.

CHARLIE
I dunno. Kids are pretty insightful.

SARA
I think they’re still at the age when they just observe things around them without adding their own emotionally biased conclusions. Unfortunately, children usually grow out of that.

CHARLIE
I have to say: The circumstances might not be ideal, but it’s honestly great to be able to sit here and catch up. You remember the old times? The four of us? We took that trip to Scandinavia for Leigh’s wedding. We were a bunch of kids, roughing it in a hostel.

SARA
That was Matt and me. You and Gina stayed in hotels.

CHARLIE
Yeah, well, we would have. Gina was up for it. She’s really adventurous, but she knew me. She knew I’d never get a good night’s sleep because I’d be concerned about how all the men there would be looking at her. Some of those guys in those hostels have never seen a woman like Gina before.

SARA
In Sweden?

CHARLIE
You know, not necessarily the guys from the country itslef, but from what I understand the guys who stay in those places.

SARA
Like Matt?

CHARLIE
No, I mean, you know what I mean.

SARA
No, I don’t.

CHARLIE
Forget about where we stayed. The trip itself was great, so much fun. Remember that night in Copenhagen? We went to the amusement park. You guys wandered off after dinner. You wound up watching the fireworks as the park closed. It was really romantic. Remember that?

SARA
Yes. But how do you?

CHARLIE
Huh?

SARA
That was just Matt and me.

CHARLIE
Oh. Well, he told me, of course.

SARA
OK.

CHARLIE
He thinks about that night a lot.

SARA
OK.

CHARLIE
Won’t you miss it? Nights like that.

SARA
How can I miss what has already happened?

CHARLIE
What if Cindy finally gets married? Gina thinks it’s cruel to even dwell on it because that ship has probably sailed. We don’t think she’s serious about it. She won’t even let Gina edit her online profile. But let’s say a miracle happens and she meets someone. And maybe that person lives somewhere interesting.  And it was a childless wedding. It would be another big trip opportunity for the four of us. Potentially another romantic night. How can you miss out on that?

SARA
Why would Cindy invite me to her wedding? We barely know each other.

CHARLIE
She knows you as well as she knows Amy. Amy invited Cindy to hers, so Cindy would have to invite you both.

SARA
Amy didn’t invite me to her wedding.

CHARLIE
That’s different. Besides, Amy’s family was more concerned about money than Cindy’s would be. I don’t want you to take that the wrong way. I don’t like stereotypes but this is just one case where Amy’s family is really incredibly cheap.

SARA
OK.

CHARLIE
But I think we got off track. See, I think that when you’re upset with someone, you tend to get stuck in the moment and not remember the good times you’ve had or think about the good times you’re going to have.

SARA
Who are you upset with?

CHARLIE
No, not “me” you. “You” you.

SARA
I’m not upset with anyone.

CHARLIE
You just left your husband!

SARA
That’s true, but I’m not upset with him.

CHARLIE
Look, Gina wouldn’t think I should tell you this because it might spook you, but I talked to Matt last night.

SARA
OK.

CHARLIE
Does that surprise you?

SARA
No, you’re friends.

CHARLIE
He feels like you’re punishing him.

SARA
I’m not.

CHARLIE
That’s how he feels.

SARA
I’m still not.

CHARLIE
He says you won’t accept alimony, so he has no idea how you’re going to survive. Sorry, Gina always says we shouldn’t talk about money.

SARA
You do it all the time.

CHARLIE
Really?

SARA
You mention cross-country trips, dinners at expensive restaurants. You have two espresso machines.

CHARLIE
Well, I guess it’s wrong to directly reference money.

SARA
I have no issue with it. It’s a statement of fact. Anyway, I’ll be fine without Matt’s money.

CHARLIE
It’s your money, too.

SARA
No, it’s not.

CHARLIE
He feels like it is.

SARA
It’s still not.

CHARLIE
He says the offer still stands for you to stay at the house during all of this. He’s happy to find someplace else for the time being.

SARA
I’ll be fine at the motel until I save up for the deposit for an apartment.

CHARLIE
What are you going to live on?

SARA
I’m getting a job.

CHARLIE
Really? Aren’t you taking this a bit too far? What if you and Matt get back together?

SARA
That’s not going to happen.

CHARLIE
Hey, I hear you. I’m a listener, you know? And I hear what you’re saying. You spent your twenties taking classes and working part-time in bookstores and now you’re in your thirties and you want to start building a career. I understand completely. So, what are you going to do?

SARA
I’m applying to be a cook at the diner.

CHARLIE
The diner? You mean that place downtown?

SARA
No, not the “ironic” diner. The actual diner off the freeway.

CHARLIE
That’s still there?

SARA
Yes, but it’s struggling. More chain restaurants are opening off the same exit.

CHARLIE
It’s just weird that you’re going to be a cook.

SARA
It’s what I studied in college.

CHARLIE
Well, sure, but you didn’t do much with it when you graduated. And then you went back to school but took so many different classes, it was hard to determine what you were actually going to end up doing, which was always “Sara Story: Fellowship of the Ring” – the first one.

SARA
I think it will be satisfying work.

CHARLIE
But why the diner? Matt really wanted you to work at his restaurant. And I told him that you probably were reluctant to mix business and pleasure. That’s tough on a marriage, but there’s no reason you couldn’t be a sous chef someplace decent, especially with Matt’s connections. Hey, I doubt that diner’s beef is grass fed. I mean, you really want to make grilled cheese all day?

SARA
Yes, I do. I’m not interested in a lot of bells and whistles. I think it’s senseless to take something as simple as grilled cheese and tomato soup and turn it into Fontina and Gouda on Focaccia with soup made from tomatoes with names. People used to be perfectly content without knowing the names of the tomatoes in their soup.

CHARLIE
Well, Fontina and Gouda on Focaccia is what Gina and I learned to make at that couples cooking class that Matt got us for our anniversary last year. We enjoy it. Sure, it takes a little longer and tastes about the same, especially after the second beer, but I think it’s earned its place in our repertoire.

SARA
But it’s still a grilled cheese sandwich.

CHARLIE
Yeah, like my lobster burrito is just a burrito.

SARA
By definition, it is still a flour tortilla wrapped around a filling. Adding more expensive or exotic ingredients does not change its basic nature.

CHARLIE
Hey, I know where you’re going with this. I took an existentialism class in college. But here’s the thing. Can I be honest with you for a moment?

SARA
You don’t need my permission.

CHARLIE
You’re upset with Matt, I get that. But the thing you have to understand is that he is 100 percent committed to making this marriage work.

SARA
That’s fine. I’m not.

CHARLIE
He’ll even go to counseling with you if that’s what it takes.

SARA
What would be the point? The purpose of counseling is to preserve a marriage, which I don’t want to do.

CHARLIE
You know, compromise is not a dirty word.

SARA
I never said it was.

CHARLIE
Don’t you think you’re being a little selfish?

SARA
Yes.

CHARLIE
What?

SARA
You’re right. It wasn’t a mutual decision: I want to end the marriage and Matt does not. I understand this is hurtful to him but I’m proceeding anyway.

CHARLIE
But you don’t want to be selfish. No one wants that.

SARA
I don’t think it’s about wanting to be selfish or not. I’ve decided to end the marriage, so I’m fine if being considered selfish is the ramification of that decision.

CHARLIE
Did he forget your birthday or something? Just between you and me, I sometimes need my assistant to remind me of my anniversary. I always think it’s the week after. Matt’s pretty good about that sort of thing, but you have to understand it’s a difficult time for him. He’s nervous about opening the restaurant. Maybe he hasn’t been listening to you as much, not hearing what you have to say. See, I’m a good listener. I’m in tune with what my wife needs, which is why we’re so happy. But Gina does her part, too. She tells me what she wants.  That’s what’s so great about her. She’s a real open person. I’m not saying you’re not. But you have to admit you can be a little hard to read. No one has the faintest clue why you left Matt.

SARA
I couldn’t have been more clear: I left because I don’t want to be marred anymore.

CHARLIE
Come on! Everyone wants to be married.

SARA
I don’t.

CHARLIE
But you were. So something must have happened. You can tell me. We’ve known each other almost 15 years!

SARA
13 years and 4 months.

CHARLIE
So, an awful long time. You shouldn’t be afraid to talk to me.

SARA
I’m not.

CHARLIE
It feels like you are.

SARA
I’m still not. But you’re right. I did choose to get married. It’s what I wanted at the time. I liked the efficiency of marriage, the communal living and shared resources. I thought it was wasteful for two people to live in two places when two people could live in one place.

CHARLIE
Right, you were in love.

SARA
I think that statement is unrelated to what I’m saying.

CHARLIE
(overlapping)
And you wanted to still feel like you’re loved. I get that. It’s easy for a guy to get distracted with work and responsibility and not pay as much attention to the most important person in his life. I don’t have that problem. Gina is there for me. You know, how in those trust exercises, where your partner is behind you to catch you if you fall? That’s Gina. She lets me know if I’m falling, not doing my part. Again, it’s not a judgment about you. You might not have that innate sensitivity that Gina does, so maybe things got to a boiling point. But believe me, Matt hears the tea pot whistling.

SARA
I don’t understand your metaphors.

CHARLIE
Not important. What is important is that Matt hears what you’re saying loud and clear. Sure, maybe he hasn’t been as attentive in the romance department as he should have been. In fact, I told him just last month, “Gina gets fresh flowers at work every two weeks. And I vary the day of the week so it’s spontaneous.” Matt said you don’t like flowers or candy. Now, that makes it tougher but I said he needed to listen and hear what you were asking for.

SARA
I didn’t want anything.

CHARLIE
That’s what you say, sure, but just try to be more expressive with your feelings. I guarantee you’ll see an improvement. It’ll be like night and day. I’m telling you, Matt wants to fix this.

SARA
There’s nothing to fix. Well, to be clear, I don’t think anyone can fix the natural progression within a marriage from an equal balance to someone holding total power over the other.

CHARLIE
I have to disagree with you there. Gina and I have been married longer than you guys, and you can’t say that I have “total power” over her.

SARA
No, I wouldn’t say that.

CHARLIE
Of course not, because we’re a very progressive couple. But I do have a responsibility to her, as she does to me. And we have a shared responsibility to the girls. And they’ll eventually have one for us when we’re old.

SARA
That’s a lot of responsibility.

CHARLIE
That’s what family’s all about. Sacrifice. You have to give a little. Gina and I don’t always agree, but we talk and we listen to each other and we compromise. For instance, I thought the walls in the guest room should be painted white. Gina wanted a pale green. So we compromised.

SARA
The walls are pale green.

CHARLIE
Yes, well, white wouldn’t have worked with the armchair Gina bought. See, that’s where listening comes in. Sometimes the compromise is that you’re the one who compromises. But the important thing is that you did it together.

SARA
OK.

CHARLIE
So, the compromise for you and Matt could be that he gives up on the idea of your working in the restaurant with him. And you would move back home and work on the marriage.

SARA
How is that at all equitable?

CHARLIE
You can’t look at it that way. Marriage and family’s all about sacrifice and compromise.

SARA
What if I don’t want to do either?

CHARLIE
That’s a little unrealistic. You can’t maintain a marriage and a family if you’re not willing to sacrifice.

SARA
That’s my point. I’m not interested in maintaining a marriage.

CHARLIE
OK, this is a feminist thing, right? I know how you feel. Matt made all the money. You felt like you had no control in the relationship. So, now you want to live on your own and make your own way. I can respect that, but you can still do that while keeping an open mind about your marriage. No matter what you feel Matt might have done, you can’t say he doesn’t know about sacrifice. He wanted to open his own restaurant years ago but he knew it wasn’t the right time. He had to think about you.

SARA
I never asked him to do that.

CHARLIE
Well, you don’t ask someone if you can sacrifice for them. You just do it because it’s what you should do.

SARA
I have to go. I need to take my application back to the diner.

CHARLIE
C’mon, you don’t wanna do that.

SARA
What do you mean?

CHARLIE
Can you really stand there and tell me you want to work at some greasy spoon diner?

SARA
Yes. In fact, I already did.

CHARLIE
You could work for me.

SARA
What?

CHARLIE
I mean it. There’s an opening at my firm for an admin. It would be no trouble. I’d just have to make a phone call. You’d get to have something separate from Matt but still in the real world.

SARA
I couldn’t do that.

CHARLIE
Oh, it’s not that tough. And don’t worry about working in the same office as me. I never talk to the admins.

SARA
No, I mean, I’m not interested in even assisting in the business of manipulating money for the sole purpose of deriving income from the ownership of property rather than the production of goods.

CHARLIE
Now, I don’t think that’s an entirely fair assessment of what we do. There’s also management of retirement savings – basically little old ladies’ pensions. Though, I guess there’s less of that given the current market, so maybe it is more of what you describe right now.

SARA
OK.

CHARLIE
I’m not saying I love it, but it allows me to provide for my family, which is the important thing. My dad hated his job but he never made much money, and like Gina says, if you’re going to do something you don’t like, you might as well get paid a lot for it.

SARA
Couldn’t you just do something that satisfies you?

CHARLIE
(puts on “mobster” voice)
Oh. Who’s being naïve, Kay?

SARA
My name isn’t…

CHARLIE
(overlapping)
It’s easy enough to get a job doing what you want, but it’s not so easy to get a job that lets you have the life you want. I want the right life for my family. They come first. I’m a family man. My job is just what helps me make them happy. Now, I thought about doing something else when I graduated, maybe teaching, and Gina was totally supportive. That’s how she is. But she knew how much I wanted a family, so she pointed out that if I taught, we’d have to put off having kids until we could get a house in the right neighborhood with the right schools. And there are all the basics that kids need that you have to consider – like the piano lessons and the jazzercise classes. See? That’s what you gain from marriage. Someone who is always thinking of you and putting you first.

SARA
Can’t you adequately put yourself first without the assistance of someone else?

CHARLIE
See, again, that’s just selfish.

SARA
But it’s not selfish if someone else does it for you?

CHARLIE
Right. Now, you hear what I’m saying.

.

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2011 in Social Commentary

 

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