Full-Length Play

The Seeker

A Serious Comedy in Two Acts                  by William Ivor Fowkes

If that's all there is, my friend, then let's keep dancing. - Peggy Lee

 

LENGTH: 1 hour 50 minutes (plus intermission)

CAST: 4M, 2F (43 characters)

 

SYNOPSIS: Tommy Hamilton is looking for God, love, and sex--but not necessarily in that order. At the moment, however, he's in a coma, reviewing his life and wondering, "Is that all there is?" Spanning 30 years of gay history, this play examines the relationship between gay men and organized religion as well as the impact of the AIDS crisis.

 

SETTING: Tommy Hamilton's mind, with stops in Ohio, New York City, Maine, and India.

TIME: 1972-2000

 

THE SEEKER is based on my unpublished novel, The Nonbeliever.


HONORS & PRODUCTION HISTORY

 

2015: SEMI-FINALIST, Promising Playwright Award, Colonial Players, Annapolis, MD.

 

2015: SEMI-FINALIST, Princess Grace Playwriting Award.

 

2014: READING, Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, Manhasset, NY.

 


EXCERPT

 

ACT ONE

 

PART ONE: CHRISTIAN TRIANGLES

 

[PROJECTION: “Part One: Christian Triangles”]

 

A white hospital curtain forms a backdrop across the stage. Lights come up slowly. A large playground slide rolls onstage, positioned so that the ladder end remains offstage. TOMMY HAMILTON enters sliding down the slide. Wears running clothes. 

 

TOMMY

Hey, don’t shove me! 

 

TOMMY stands up. Brushes himself off. Checks his pockets urgently. 

 

TOMMY (CONT’D)

Shit, where’s my inhaler?

                                                            (calling out—toward the top of the slide)

Hey, you! Where’s my inhaler?!

 

The slide retracts and exits. TOMMY looks around.

 

TOMMY (CONT’D)

Where am I? Patrick—are you here? Patrick! Hey, what’s going on? 

                                                            (hopefully)

Wait—have you arranged a surprise party for me?

 

Drum roll and cymbal crash. Spotlight up. A Borscht Belt COMIC enters holding a microphone.    

 

COMIC

Ladies and germs! Have we got a fantastic show for you tonight! Some of your favorite entertainers will be joining us. But first—have you heard the one about the Plotnick diamond? Ya see, this woman’s admiring the ring on the lady sitting next to her on a flight to Miami and says, “Excuse the intrusion, but I can’t help admiring your ring. That diamond is so lovely!” “Thank you. It’s the Plotnick Diamond, you know.” “It has a name? How wonderful!” “But it comes with a curse.” “A curse? How romantic!” “Believe me, it’s not romantic! It’s horrible!” “What’s the curse?”

 

TOMMY

Mister Plotnick?

 

SOUND: Rim shot.

 

COMIC

Damn—you’ve heard it! 

 

The COMIC exits pulling the hospital curtain off with him, revealing a hospital bed upstage or off to the side occupied by a sleeping patient. The patient is hooked up to some medical equipment, including a mechanical respirator with its tube in the patient’s mouth, an intravenous feeding tube, and a catheter. 

 

TOMMY

I don’t get it. Is this part of the show?

 

TOMMY inspects the patient.

 

TOMMY (CONT’D)

                                                            (to the patient)

Do I know you? You look vaguely familiar. But, hey, you don’t look so great! How long have you been lying there like that? . . . Sorry—I didn’t catch that. 

                                                            (calling out)

Hey, will somebody please tell me what I’m doing here? WHAT AM I DOING HERE?

                                                            (in a normal voice)

Or are you telling me I’m the show? Frankly, I wouldn’t be my first choice for primetime entertainment, but okay, I can go along with that. And who’s the audience?

                                                            (to the audience)

You?

(to the patient)

Or you

                                                            (to the audience)

Damn—I wish I’d brought my saxophone! And I really wish Patrick were here. He loves a good show. How about if I just talk? 

                                                            (to the patient)

What would you like to know? . . . You’re not very talkative, are you? Okay, I’ll take it from here. 

                                                            (to the audience)

I’ll tell you a story. It starts in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, where I always drove my parents nuts asking too many questions.  

 

Lights up downstage left on MR. HAMILTON reading a newspaper. Wears glasses, white shirt, and loosened tie.

 

MR. HAMILTON

(responding to a question)

Because if you don’t mow the lawn, Tommy, it will become wild.

                                                            (responding to another question)

Because the neighbors won’t be happy. 

                                                            (and so on)

Because we have to get along with our neighbors. 

                                                            (and so on)

Because no man is an island. 

                                                            (snapping)

Fine—go live on an island!

 

Lights down on MR. HAMILTON. Lights up downstage right on MRS. HAMILTON whisking something in a bowl. Wears a nice dress and apron. 

 

MRS. HAMILTON

(responding to a question)

Because your vegetables are good for you.

                                                            (responding to another question)

Because they have important nutrients in them. 

                                                            (and so on)

I don’t know what nutrients are. I just know you have to eat them to live. 

                                                            (and so on)

Why should you live? What kind of a question is that?

                                                            (more urgently)

And don’t forget your inhaler!

 

Lights down on MRS. HAMILTON. 

 

TOMMY

So, what was my problem? Well, for one thing, my asthma always made me self-conscious and a little nervous. At any moment, I could break out into a coughing fit. And sometimes these fits were so bad I felt like I was on the verge of . . . well, I don’t even want to go there. On top of that, I was always anxious about—well, everything! That’s why I asked so many questions. I was afraid of anything I didn’t understand. What if gravity suddenly gives out, and we all float up to the sun and get burned alive? What happens after we die—will anything we did in this life matter? Oh, and the big one—what do you do with your life if you don’t know why you’re here in the first place? Sometimes thinking about these questions made me a nervous wreck. I think they have drugs for that now, but back then, I was on my own. So when I headed off to college, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

 

Lights up on MR. HAMILTON.

 

MR. HAMILTON

I didn’t say you can’t major in philosophy, Tommy. I just said you should think twice about it. All those questions with no answers. Where’s that going to get you? 

                                                            (responding)

Yes, I realize that’s a question with no answer, too.

 

Lights up on MRS. HAMILTON.

 

MRS. HAMILTON

Listen to your father, honey. The Beekmans’ son majored in philosophy, and now he refuses to get out of bed.

 

Lights down on MR. & MRS. HAMILTON and the patient. TOMMY pulls the hospital curtain from offstage across the stage and off, revealing PROFESSOR ROSENSTEIN, who steps forward to address the audience.           

 

[PROJECTION: a view of Columbia University]

                                                                                    

PROFESSOR ROSENSTEIN

All right, men of Columbia—and ladies from Barnard—imagine a triangle. Now tell me this—where do triangles exist?

                                                            (studying the audience for a moment)

Okay—let’s try a little demonstration. 

 

A TEACHING ASSISTANT enters. Carries a painting of a green triangle. 

 

PROFESSOR ROSENSTEIN (CONT’D)

                                                            (pointing to the painting) 

Focus on the green triangle in this painting. 

                                                            (responding to a question from the class) 

No—I’m not going to hypnotize you. 

                                                            (dramatically)

I’m going to blow your mind! You see—it was a trick question. This green object made of paint isn’t really a triangle at all, is it? Triangles are nothing more than three-sided geometrical figures. As such, they don’t exist in space. Only triangularly shaped objects do. Now—when do you think triangles came into being? Careful—it’s another trick question.

                                                            (waiting for an answer)

No one?    

(staring disapprovingly at the class)

Oh, I hope you don’t think they were invented by human beings.  

 

TOMMY pulls the hospital curtain back across the stage in front of PROFESSOR ROSENSTEIN and the TEACHING ASSISTANT. Leaves it as a backdrop. 

 

[PROJECTION OFF]

 

TOMMY

Professor Rosenstein was right—he did blow my mind. Of course we didn’t invent triangles! We discovered them, because they’d always been there, just as they’ll always be there when we’re long gone. And if triangles exist beyond earthly time and space—if they ‘re eternal—then so are all mathematical concepts. Think about that! That means an eternal realm might really exist—and it might contain all sorts of other wonderful things. Maybe even minds or other conscious beings. And I bet there’s no asthma out there! I don’t know—but this was all a lot more exciting and meaningful to me than anything they ever talked about back at my family’s church in Ohio.

 

TOMMY pulls the curtain offstage, revealing a pulpit. 

 

TOMMY (CONT’D)

                                                            (sermonizing at the pulpit)

Good morning. I appreciate your invitation to participate in College Youth Sunday, but the only reason I’ve come here is to tell you all to go home! I mean why do you keep coming here every Sunday? I know you have questions—have questions—believe me, I have questions—but this is definitely the wrong place to address them. Guys, do you think these boring services and rituals accomplish anything? 

 

TOMMY starts to heave and cough. Uses his inhaler. Calms down.

 

TOMMY (CONT’D)

 (catching his breath)

I’m fine . . . I’m fine . . . So . . . So, why do we need this church? Why can’t we all just sit around in a field somewhere—believers in God or Buddha or triangles or nothing at all—and just talk? Amen and peace! 

 

TOMMY pushes the podium offstage and exits. Lights up on MR. HAMILTON.

 

MR. HAMILTON

It’s easy to mock religion, Tommy, but where will that leave you when you’re lying there on your deathbed? Have you thought about that? 

 

Lights down on MR. HAMILTON. Lights up on MRS. HAMILTON.

 

MRS. HAMILTON

I think you embarrassed your father. And judging by that asthmatic attack, I don’t think God was too pleased either. 

 

Lights down on MRS. HAMILTON. Lights up on MR. HAMILTON.

 

MR. HAMILTON

Have you asked yourself . . .? Wait— 

(grabbing his chest)

Good God! What’s happening?

 

MR. HAMILTON suddenly slumps over in his chair. Tommy rushes back on stage.

 

TOMMY

Dad!

 

Lights out on MR. HAMILTON. Lights up on MRS. HAMILTON wearing a black shroud over her head.

  

MRS. HAMILTON

It’s not your fault, Tommy. The doctor said he’d never seen such a massive coronary. There’s nothing any of us could have done. At least he didn’t suffer. 

 

VOICE #1

I’m so sorry for your loss.

 

MRS. HAMILTON

At least he didn’t—Funny . . . I feel a little . . . I think I need to sit down.

 

TOMMY gets his mother a chair.

 

TOMMY

Here you go, Mother.

 

MRS. HAMILTON sits down. Slumps in the chair. Has a few spasms. Collapses completely.

 

TOMMY (CONT’D)

Mother!

 

TOMMY shakes his mother. She is dead.

 

VOICE #1

I’m so sorry for your loss.

 

Lights out on MRS. HAMILTON. Lights up on the patient.  

 

TOMMY

                                                            (shell-shocked)

My parents weren’t even 50 years old.

(to the patient)

How old are you, by the way? Oh, I don’t mean to suggest you’re going to die. Excuse me a moment.

 

TOMMY approaches the audience.

 

TOMMY (CONT’D)

 (quietly and conspiratorially)

To be honest—the way he looks—I’m not sure he’ll even make it through the night.  

 

Lights down on the patient. 

  

TOMMY (CONT’D)

At least I’ve got some more time—at least in my story. Remember, I’m only in college at this point, though between my asthma and my parents’ premature deaths, I’m becoming acutely aware how quickly our days dwindle down. So what dowe do with our lives if we don’t know why we’re here in the first place? I’m not talking about jobs and careers—that all sorts itself out. Or not. No, it seems to me we should be spending our precious, limited time seeking the most important things in life and screw all the rest. So, what are the most important things in life? Well, I’m not saying I figured this out all at once, but I gradually came to think there were three things at the top of the list: One—God. I don’t mean that supposed entity a lot of people feel compelled to worship. I mean that whole galaxy of questions—call them metaphysical questions—that you find yourself puzzling over on those cold, lonely nights when the urge to figure everything out comes crashing down on you. Unless you prefer to get drunk or stoned whenever you get that urge. Two—love. Connection. We’re born alone. We die alone. In between, don’t we need to love somebody? Somebody? Just be careful whom you choose. Three—when all else fails, there’s always sex. Yes, there will be sex in this story. I hope that makes you happy. It makes me happy. Though I guess it means the playwright better forget about trying to sell this play to the high school and family markets. Anyway, after my parents died, I went back to school—what else could I do? But I’m glad I did—because I took a philosophy class that changed everything. It was a course on phenomenology. Uh, maybe I better explain what that is. 

 

A phone rings. 

 

TOMMY (CONT’D)

Oh, excuse me—I better get that.

                                                            (answering the phone)

Hello?

 

AUNT MILDRED enters. (AUNT MILDRED, in her 70s, is all dolled up, complete with a beauty shop hairdo.)

 

AUNT MILDRED

(in her Maine accent)

Tommy, de-uh. It’s your Aunt Mildred. Ah’ve been worried about yuh. Without yuh parents, you’re all alone in the world. And goin’ right back to college after they died—that couldna been easy. So, ah think a change of scenery would do yuh some good. How about comin’ up to Maine for the summa.

 

TOMMY

Oh, I wouldn’t want to impose.

 

AUNT MILDRED

Yuh wouldn’t be imposin’. I plan to put yuh to work! I want yuh to help run ma bookshop in Boothbay Hahbuh [Harbor]. AY-yuh, there’s no remedy for grief like good hard work. Promise me yuh’ll think about it!

 

TOMMY

I will. Hey, do you know what time it is?

 

AUNT MILDRED checks her watch.

 

AUNT MILDRED

1972.

 

TOMMY

                                                            (to the audience)

I told you—there’s plenty of time. 

 

AUNT MILDRED exits. 

 

TOMMY (CONT’D)

Aunt Mildred was right. Working in her bookshop helped. But I was still sad and lonely most of the time—until one afternoon. Oh, in case you haven’t already figured it out—in those days I was gay. I mean I’m still gay, and it’s no big deal, right? But in those days it was still categorized as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association. But I didn’t let that stop me—as you’re about to see. 

 

END OF EXCERPT