He’s looking for God, love, and sex--but not necessarily in that order.
LENGTH: 1 hour 40 minutes (plus intermission)
CAST: 4M, 2F (38 characters)
The Seeker is based on my unpublished novel, The Nonbeliever.
A reading was presented at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock in Manhasset, NY, January 2014.
SEMI-FINALIST, Promising Playwright Award, Colonial Players, Annapolis, MD, 2015.
SEMI-FINALIST, Princess Grace Playwriting Award, 2015.
“The play has a plethora of ideas to offer… I hope many companies will take an interest in it…”
- InterAct Theatre Company, Philadelphia
“The concept is fresh & interesting… a set of characters that are mysterious, opinionated & determined to find their place in life… vivid personalities that crash & play off of each other well.…”
- Pittsburgh Public Theater
“…Tommy’s quest for spiritual enlightenment [is] compelling, deftly spanning multiple time periods and locations to examine the nuances of human nature.”
- Arena Stage, Washington, DC
“…an interesting & prescient basis for a play.”
- Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia
“…pass along our encouragement for its development.”
- Ten Grand Productions, NYC
If that's all there is, my friend, then let's keep dancing.
- Peggy Lee
While in a coma awaiting whatever comes next, Tommy Hamilton reviews his life’s rocky spiritual and romantic journey. A parade of figures, real and imaginary—including a Borscht-Belt comic, Liza Minnelli, Dolly Parton, and others—assists him in his review. He sees himself in his twenties as his love for a troubled young man at a Christian retreat in Maine prompts him to accept Jesus into his life until he uncovers a sex scandal, and the young man runs away. In his thirties, having renounced Christianity, Tommy starts to lead a hedonistic life while enjoying a successful career in advertising in New York. When he has a close call during the AIDS epidemic, he seeks solace in a group that follows an Indian guru. When he visits the guru’s ashram in India, he runs into the man he loved in Maine again, and they resume their relationship while struggling with the organization’s homophobia. Back in New York, they settle down together until a tragedy tears them apart. In his forties, Tommy gives up his spiritual quest but finds peace and happiness with a different man until he succumbs to a heart attack at his gym. In the end, he can’t avoid the most troubling spiritual question of all: “Is that all there is?”
Various locations in New York, Maine, India, and Tommy Hamilton’s imagination.
Actor # 1 (male): Tommy Hamilton
Actor # 2 (male): Christian Barrie
Actor # 3 (female): Molly McCormack
Actor # 4 (male): Professor Brumbaugh, Paster Dave, AIDS Ghost, Master Guruji Singh, Man With Flyers, Praying Man, Shady Man, Patrick
Actor # 5 (female): Mrs. Hamilton, Aunt Mildred, Liza Minnelli, Doris Day, Speaker, Peggy Lee, Jillian, Dolly Parton, Woman at Gym
Actor # 6 (male): Comic, Mr. Hamilton, Kevin, Anonymous Man, Mr. Jeffries, Uvi, Max, Man at Pier, Mourner, Barker, Man at Gym
The entire play takes place in the mind of Tommy Hamilton, with most of the action occurring in flashbacks. One approach to producing the play is to consider the use of projections to suggest its various settings. (A proposed list of projections is provided with the script.) A few props and pieces of furniture can be added as necessary. At several points, the older Tommy Hamilton addresses the audience via voiceover. As indicated, the stage is frequently in blackout when this occurs. However, perhaps on some of these occasions—and necessarily throughout the final scene of the play—a hospital bed should appear on stage. The bed should be occupied by a sleeping patient (the older Tommy Hamilton) hooked up to some medical equipment.
PART ONE: CHRISTIAN TRIANGLES
A white hospital curtain forms a backdrop across the stage. Lights come up slowly. A large playground slide rolls into view from stage right, positioned so that the ladder end remains offstage. Tommy Hamilton enters sliding down the slide. Wears running clothes.
Hey, don’t shove me!
Tommy stands up. Brushes himself off. Checks his pockets urgently.
Shit, where’s my inhaler?
(calling out—toward the top of the slide)
Hey, where’s my inhaler?!
The slide retracts and exits. Tommy looks around.
Where am I?
Drum roll and cymbal crash. Spotlight up. A Borscht Belt comic enters. Holds a microphone.
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? So, 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 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?”
Damn—you’ve heard it!
The comic exits pulling the hospital curtain off with him. The curtain reveals a hospital bed upstage 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.
Is this part of the show?
Tommy inspects 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?
Now will somebody please tell me what I’m doing here? Hey! WHAT AM I DOING HERE?
(in a normal voice)
Or am I the show?
(to the patient)
Am I supposed to entertain YOU?
All right, what would you like to know?
You’re not very talkative, are you? Okay, I’ll do the talking. You’ve probably noticed I ask a lot of questions. It drove my parents nuts.
Lights up downstage left on Mr. Hamilton. Wears glasses, a white shirt, and a loosened tie.
(looking up from his newspaper—responding to a question)
Because if you don’t mow the lawn, Tommy, it will become wild.
(beat—responding to another question)
Because the neighbors won’t be happy.
(beat—and so on)
Because we have to get along with our neighbors.
Because no man is an island.
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.
Because your vegetables are good for you.
Because they have important nutrients in them.
I don’t know what nutrients are. I just know you have to eat them to live.
Why should you live? What kind of a question is that?
And don’t forget your inhaler!
Lights down on Mrs. Hamilton.
So, what was my problem? Well, for one thing, my asthma always made me self-conscious and a little nervous. I thought I could collapse at any moment. On top of that, I was always anxious about the world around me and needed a lot of reassurance that things would be all right. 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 what I wanted to do.
Lights up on 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?
Yes, I realize that’s a question with no answer, too.
Lights up on 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. and Mrs. Hamilton and the patient. Tommy pulls the hospital curtain from offstage across the stage and exits. Curtain reveals Professor Rosenstein, who steps forward to address the audience.
[PROJECTION: a view of Columbia University]
All right, men of Columbia—and ladies from Barnard—imagine a triangle. Now tell me—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.
(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.
I’m going to blow your mind!
(in a normal voice)
It was a trick question! This green object 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 triangular OBJECTS do. Now—WHEN do you think triangles came into being?
(waiting for an answer)
(staring disapprovingly at the class)
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.
Professor Rosenstein was right—he DID blow my mind. Because if triangles existed beyond earthly time and space—if they were ETERNAL—then so were ALL mathematical concepts. Think about that! That meant an eternal realm might really exist—and it might contain all sorts of wonderful things. Maybe even minds or other conscious beings. And I bet there was no asthma out there! I didn’t know—but this was all a lot more exciting and meaningful to me than anything they ever talked about at my family’s church back in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
Tommy pulls the curtain off. Rolls a pulpit onstage. Steps up to it.
Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to participate in College Youth Sunday, but I've come here to tell you all to go home! I mean, why do you keep coming here every Sunday? I know you have questions—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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
Lights out on Mr. Hamilton. Lights up on Mrs. Hamilton. Wears a black shroud over her head.
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.
I’m so sorry for your loss.
…At least he didn’t… I feel a little… I think I need to sit down.
Tommy exits quickly. Returns with a chair.
Here you go, Mother.
Mrs. Hamilton sits down. Slumps in chair. Has a few spasms. Collapses completely.
Tommy shakes his mother. She is dead.
I’m so sorry for your loss.
Lights out on Mrs. Hamilton. Lights up on the patient.
(to the patient)
My parents weren’t even 50 years old. 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 as closely as possible.
(to the audience—quietly and conspiratorially)
To be honest—the way he looks—I’m not sure he’ll make it through the night.
Lights down on the patient. A phone rings. Tommy answers the phone.
Aunt Mildred enters talking into her phone. (Aunt Mildred, in her 70s, is all dressed up and sports a beauty shop hairdo.)
(in her Maine accent)
Tommy, de-uh. It’s your Aunt Mildred. Ah’ve been worried about yuh. Goin’ right back to college after yuh parents died—that couldna been easy.
But I didn’t know what else to do—I was paralyzed. I know it didn’t seem it sometimes, but I loved my parents.
Ah know yuh did.
They were my best friends. Sometimes they were my only company.
Well, ah think maybe a change of scenery would do yuh some good. How about comin’ up to Maine for the summa.
Oh, I wouldn’t want to impose.
Yuh wouldn’t be imposin’. I plan to put yuh to wuk—I want yuh to help run ma bookshop in Boothbay Hahbuh [Harbor]. AY-yuh, there’s no remedy for grief like good hahd wuk. And ah’ve got a spare bedroom over the kitchen with its own entryway, so yuh’d have plenty of privacy—most of the time. Promise me yuh’ll think about it!
I will. Hey, do you know what time it is?
Aunt Mildred checks her watch.
Good—there’s plenty of time.
Aunt Mildred exits.
(to the audience)
Aunt Mildred was right. Working in her bookshop helped. But I was still sad and lonely most of the time…until one afternoon.
END OF EXCERPT