Ahead by a Century/North American for Life
Cast Of Characters
Craig, a writer in his twenties/thirties
Emily, a writer in her twenties/thirties
Justin, a writer in his early thirties
Calvin, a writer in his late thirties
Kate, a writer in her twenties
Andrew, a writer in his forties
Steve, a student in his early twenties
[The set is divided in two. On the left is a living room and on the right, a writer's room with each side divided by a door. The living room consists of a couch, coffee table and chair. The writer's room consists of a round table with comfortable chairs all around it. The door that separates the two sides of the stage should be a freestanding doorframe with a door inside. It is naturally shut.
We begin in the living room with the other side in darkness. In the living room, EMILY is sitting on the couch, reading a manuscript, while CRAIG sits in the chair. EMILY is wearing a sweater and a long skirt, while CRAIG is dressed in a sweater with a collared shirt underneath and khaki pants.
Once the lights are raised, the reading should continue for a moment or two until EMILY sets the manuscript down and looks thoughtful. At first, CRAIG does not notice this.]
EMILY: It's brilliant, Craig. I'm amazed, blown away... speechless. The characters, the form, the style, the themes—they're perfect. I don't even know what to say really. I've never read anything like this. It has elements of modernism, but also of postmodernism and...I don't know what else. It's unique and completely new. Oh god, you're so brilliant. [She kisses him on the lips] You know that, right?
CRAIG: You always have been my biggest fan. How can I trust you? [Pause and then he laughs] Thank you, Emily.
[They kiss again]
EMILY: Where did this come from? It's so far beyond anything you've ever done.
CRAIG: I don't know. I've been experimenting with the rock song structure for a while and this time, it simply clicked. I can't explain it.
EMILY: I'm astonished. This will no doubt make Craig Leblanc a household name -- or at least a well-respected one in literary circles.
EMILY: I mean it! I know you've had trouble breaking through, but this will do it. “Sinful Exile” is it, Craig!
EMILY: No maybes. I know it. I believe in you so much. Soon--
CRAIG: Soon I'll be as well-known and read as you are?
EMILY: That's not what I meant. That's not what I meant at all. How can you even think that let alone say that?
CRAIG: It's true.
EMILY: No, it's not.
CRAIG: You're not well-known and read? Emily Janovitz isn't one of this generation's great poetic voices?
EMILY: I don't know. And I don't care.
CRAIG: You should. I do.
EMILY: Why must it always come back to this? It's not like being a young Canadian poet makes me more or less well-known to the average person.
CRAIG: In the right circles, it does.
EMILY: Why do you care?
CRAIG: Because I know you do. You deserve to be with the new hit novelist who writes a column for The Globe's review section, not with a failed writer with an MA.
EMILY: I'm not having this fight again.
CRAIG: It's not a fight. It's fact.
EMILY: Do you want to hear another fact? I don't care about whatever new hit novelist is writing a column for The Globe or who the literary establishment of the country considers groundbreaking--
CRAIG: So you're groundbreaking now.
EMILY: I just care about you and the fact that I love your writing. Everyone else may not know how talented you are, but I do. And if they never find out, I won't care. I'll be the only one who knows how brilliant you are and it will be my little secret. Something between us.
CRAIG: I tell myself that success doesn't matter, because it doesn't. What interests me is pushing the boundaries -- in creating new art. Of finding original ways in which to tell stories the likes of which have never been conceived of let alone fully realized. But. But, but, but, dammit, I am so sick of being your little secret and being the underappreciated, put-upon artist. I don't just want blind success for the sake of success. If I wanted that, I would have packed up long ago for LA and just dove head-first into being a script doctor who makes millions of dollars a year without actually having anything he's written made into a movie. I don't want that, but -- but, I want something. I want a balance, Emily. Is that too much to ask? For a balance? Goddamn. Do you know what I mean?
EMILY: Yeah, I do.
CRAIG: I'm just sick of beating my head against the wall and making money by writing CD reviews under a pseudonym because I don't want “Craig Leblanc” associated with something a lowly as a CD review when he's destined for greater things. And the funny thing is, I love doing CD reviews. I love it. I just want something more. Not just for me, but for you too.
EMILY: Craig, I don't--
CRAIG: Don't. Just don't. There's nothing you can say that will change anything.
EMILY: Alright. I won't say it then.
CRAIG: God, I never thought rejection would fuck me up so much. I never really thought I'd have to face it. I was aware that I would, but I never really thought that it would happen to me. That, somehow, I would be one of those few who hits it out of the park first time up to bat. You know, like...
EMILY: Like me.
CRAIG: Like you. [Pause] I've got to stop doing that.
EMILY: Yes, you do.
CRAIG: I can't help it.
EMILY: Is it because I'm a woman or your girlfriend or--?
CRAIG: It's because you're not me. Even if I can't stand poetry. [Laughs]
EMILY: [Laughs] Bastard!
CRAIG: [Continues to laugh] I can't help it! I'm sorry, but I fucking hate that shit!
EMILY: [Continues to laugh] I hate you.
CRAIG: I hate you too.
[They kiss and then hug and remain hugging]
EMILY: It'll happen for you soon.
EMILY: And even if it doesn't, it doesn't make the work any less brilliant.
EMILY: What do editors and readers know anyway?
EMILY: Look at James Joyce: he was rejected repeatedly until someone finally recognized his genius. And I'm sure there are thousands of brilliant artists who were never discovered. It's just the way of the world.
CRAIG: Yeah. I guess you're right.
EMILY: Of course I am. Now let go, I've got writing myself to do.
CRAIG: Yeah, yeah. [They stop hugging and she exits upstage] Fuck. [He sits down on the couch and begins to look over his manuscript. He does this for a few moments until the mail is delivered through the mail slot in the door. He goes over, picks it up off of the floor and begins looking through it as he walks back to the couch. It is mostly bills, letters and flyers, except for one larger brown envelope.] Bill, bill, letter to Emily, bill, pizza flyer, letter to Emily, [reaches the brown envelope] letter to... [His face brightens a little and he tears the envelope open and reads the letter before looking heartbroken. He sits there for a moment until EMILY enters again.]
EMILY: I forgot my tea. You know I can't-- [Sees CRAIG] What? [CRAIG doesn't look at her, he just holds the letter out to her and she takes it] What is--? [Reads] “Dear Mr. Leblanc, We would like to thank you for your submission, 'Sinful Exile,' but regret to inform you that...” Oh, Craig.
EMILY: I'm sorry.
EMILY: They're idiots not to want... Craig?
EMILY: When did you finish this story?
EMILY: He thanks you for your submission of “Sinful Exile.”
EMILY: You said you finished it today and I was the first to see it.
EMILY: So, I'm just curious.
CRAIG: I finished it two months ago and sent it off right away. I wanted to wait before showing you.
CRAIG: [Stands up] Don't. Just don't.
CRAIG: Don't comfort me. Don't. They hated the story, Emily. They rejected it. I poured my heart and soul into it and they... So, don't.
EMILY: Don't take it so hard, Craig.
CRAIG: How else am I supposed to take it?
EMILY: If you want to make it, you need to have a thick skin.
CRAIG: Oh. Thank you very much for the advice, Emily. I'll have to remember that for next time. [He goes towards the door]
EMILY: Where are you going?
CRAIG: Out for a walk.
EMILY: Don't just walk away; we need to finish this.
CRAIG: I'm done with this.
EMILY: Craig, don't. Please.
CRAIG: Yeah, well. Fuck. Disappointing you's getting me down.
[CRAIG walks through the door onto the other side of the stage and the lights go down. Before fully entering that side of the stage, he removes the sweater and untucks the short-sleeved button-up shirt underneath. He also removes his shoes and his pants, with a pair of shorts underneath. He puts on sandals. He then walks over to the table and has a seat.
Already sitting at the table are JUSTIN, CALVIN, KATE and ANDREW. All are dressed very casually, except for CALVIN and ANDREW, who are both dressed a little nicer. Pants, shoes, maybe even a suit.
On the table are laptops and notebooks, along with magazines and books and food and all of that good stuff that writers of a sitcom would have in their writing room.]
CALVIN: And with us today is Andrew, who is doing a profile on me for USA Today.
ANDREW: Pretend like I'm not even here.
CRAIG: Wait, you're doing an article on Calvin?
ANDREW: Um, yes.
ANDREW: Excuse me?
CRAIG: Why are you doing an article on Calvin? We're already into the new season and he's not doing anything that newsworthy beyond this show. What's the reasoning behind doing a story on Calvin?
ANDREW: I... I don't understand what you mean.
CRAIG: Sure you do. I want to know why I've gotta be on my best behavior today. The real reason. Andrew.
ANDREW: Whoa. You're a little intense, aren't you?
CRAIG: Sure, and you're not dodging the question, reporter-boy.
JUSTIN: Jesus, Craig, just shut up and let the man write his story. Who gives a fuck?
CRAIG: I do.
CALVIN: [Laughs nervously] Sorry about this.
CRAIG: Tell me.
CALVIN: A real kidder this guy.
CRAIG: Tell me.
JUSTIN: Can we just get to work?
CRAIG: New girl: quiet.
JUSTIN: For fuck's sake, Craig.
CRAIG: So... you gonna answer me?
ANDREW: I honestly don't know what you're talking about. My editor just gave me the story. I could care less about why he wants it.
CRAIG: Fair enough. [Pauses] Forget it. Let's work. Yay. Go work. Make with the funny, new girl.
KATE: Fuck you.
CRAIG: [Laughs] I like that.
JUSTIN: Anyway...we need to fill a third of the episode. Something involving Ricky.
KATE: New girlfriend?
JUSTIN: Don't we do that every week?
CRAIG: Of course we do. We're working on a fucking sitcom.
CALVIN: Hey! [Motions to ANDREW]
CRAIG: Sorry. [Says slowly to ANDREW] We... are... working... on a... fucking—that's eff you see kay eye en gee—sitcom. I'll try to talk slower from now on.
CALVIN: Craig, shut up.
JUSTIN: I just don't think we want to get repetitive.
CRAIG: Heaven forbid.
KATE: Well, what if the girl turned out to be a guy.
JUSTIN: Cross-dresser or hermaphrodite?
KATE: I don't know.
JUSTIN: They did a cross-dresser on The Drew Carey Show.
CALVIN: Isn't it transgender or something now?
JUSTIN: That's only for the ones who get the operation I think.
KATE: Transsexual maybe?
CRAIG: That's what transgender used to be.
CALVIN: So is cross-dressing even an acceptable term anymore?
JUSTIN: Hey, how about she has a penis?
CALVIN: I like it.
CRAIG: This week on Cubicle Nation—a chick with a dick!
JUSTIN: I love it.
KATE: What about the censors?
CRAIG: What, do you think we're going to show the chick with the dick's dick on national fucking TV, Kate? You like that kind of shit, don't you? Like going downtown and trolling for the whores with a little bit extra in their panties, huh?
KATE: Fuck you.
CRAIG: You said that already today. Come on, you can think of something original.
KATE: Just shut up.
JUSTIN: Yeah, yeah, can we address the chick with a dick before descending into chaotic rounds of insults?
CRAIG: “Chaotic Rounds of Insults.” Huh. That would make a good band name.
KATE: Well, what can we show and what can we say? We need to know that.
JUSTIN: I don't know. I don't think they've dealt with this on TV much.
CRAIG: An episode of Freaks and Geeks has something like this, but that episode never aired.
JUSTIN: Because of?
CRAIG: The show was cancelled before it had a chance to air.
CALVIN: Should we call legal then?
JUSTIN: Are you insane?
CALVIN: Excuse me?
JUSTIN: You want to call legal? Voluntarily?
CALVIN: Well, we need to know how far we can push it with this hermaphrodite story.
CRAIG: Chick with a dick story.
CRAIG: Say “chick with a dick” instead of hermaphrodite.
CRAIG: It's funnier.
CRAIG: We're comedy writers.
CALVIN: What does that have to do with anything?
CRAIG: Everything, I'd imagine.
CRAIG: Not fucking whatever!
CALVIN: You've been an asshole all day, Craig. What's your problem?
CRAIG: You, Calvin. All of you. This show. This fucking town! This goddamn fucking town.
JUSTIN: Could you guys leave us alone for a few minutes?
CALVIN: Why do you get to talk to him?
JUSTIN: Because he's my friend.
CALVIN: And why do we have to leave?
JUSTIN: To show Andrew the set.
CRAIG: Get the fuck out.
KATE: Come on, guys.
ANDREW: Does this happen often?
CRAIG: Hey, newspaper-boy? Fuck off.
ANDREW: Can I quote you on that?
CRAIG: Fuck off.
JUSTIN: Just leave, please.
[Exit CALVIN, KATE and ANDREW stage left]
JUSTIN: So, what's up, man?
JUSTIN: No, what's up? Why are you such an ass today?
CRAIG: I'm always an ass.
CRAIG: Besides, Calvin could have given us some warning before bringing in that writer.
JUSTIN: Come on.
CRAIG: I have the stink of rejection upon me, my friend.
CRAIG: What do you mean “And?”
JUSTIN: You're a writer. We all have the stink of rejection upon us.
CRAIG: Happened yesterday.
JUSTIN: Alright, alright, alright, alright, alright, alright, alright, alright. What happened?
CRAIG: I had a meeting with Soda Pop Productions yesterday. Pitching this screenplay I've been working on called “Shaving Legs.” It's a teen romantic comedy. You know, high school, puberty, all that shit. I go in, say the title and they pass. All I said was the fucking title. They wouldn't even listen after that. Said that if I thought for a second that that was a good title, then obviously I wasn't meant to work with them. So fucking embarrassing.
JUSTIN: Um... wow.
CRAIG: My career is a joke.
JUSTIN: You write comedy.
CRAIG: It's a bad joke.
JUSTIN: You write sitcoms. [Pause] “Chick with a dick” is funny.
CRAIG: They laughed at my idea in that meeting.
JUSTIN: What do they know?
CRAIG: They made the number one comedy of the summer this year.
JUSTIN: It wasn't funny though. Obviously they have no taste if they'd unleash that monstrosity upon the world.
CRAIG: I've been working on the damn thing for four years.
JUSTIN: A teen romantic comedy called “Shaving Legs?”
CRAIG: Yeah. So?
JUSTIN: Let me guess, it has a scene where during a date, a girl realizes she forgot to shave her legs and then can't have sex with her date for fear he'll be turned off by the hairy legs?
CRAIG: Fuck you.
JUSTIN: How did they not pick that up? Sounds stupid enough for their tastes.
CRAIG: I know. Baffles the hell out of me.
JUSTIN: I don't see why you want to write movies anyways.
CRAIG: More money, more respect, less Calvin.
JUSTIN: All good points. You also have more people changing your stuff though. And actors with even bigger egos.
CRAIG: True. More money though. Help me get laid maybe.
JUSTIN: Teenage comedic romps do rate slightly higher than sitcoms on the laid-o-meter.
CRAIG: At least sitcoms of this calibre.
JUSTIN: Seinfeld this ain't.
CRAIG: Fuck. I need to get some water or pop or something. You want anything?
JUSTIN: I'm good.
[CRAIG walks to the door and the lights go down. He changes into black pants, black dress shoes and a suit jacket, with a longer black overcoat over that. JUSTIN exits while the lights are down. When CRAIG is ready, the lights on the first side of the stage come back up.
EMILY is sitting on the couch, reading a book. She is wearing something similar to what she was wearing at the beginning of the play. CRAIG knocks on the door and she gets up and opens it.]
CRAIG: Can I—?
EMILY: Oh. Sure, sure.
CRAIG: [Enters] Thanks.
EMILY: Let me get your—
CRAIG: Thanks. [Taking off his overcoat] This place hasn't changed much.
EMILY: [Takes his coat and hangs onto it, not knowing what to do] I guess not.
CRAIG: You look good.
EMILY: Thanks. You do... [Pause] So, you're in town for--
CRAIG: Oh, just a visit home. Figured I'd come by and see how you...well, you know.
EMILY: Yeah. Uh, have a seat.
CRAIG: Oh. Yeah. [Sits on the couch]
EMILY: How've you been?
CRAIG: Pretty good. Working hard, all of that. I, uh, I got your latest collection. It was good. I particularly liked Uptight Winter . Don't know why. I just, y'know, did.
EMILY: It's one of my favorites, too. [Pause] I've seen the show.
EMILY: It's funny. [Sits down after setting CRAIG's overcoat on the back of the couch]
EMILY: No “but,” just “it's funny.”
CRAIG: Oh. Thanks. It's... it's not exactly what I want to be doing, but it's fun most of the time. The other writers are all good people. Funny.
CRAIG: We just finished work on the Christmas episode a few weeks back. It's just one of those typical office Christmas party stories, but it's got some funny stuff in there. Stuff that, you know, builds on the characters and plays off of their traits and stuff like that. You know?
CRAIG: And the, uh, money is... sorry.
EMILY: No, what?
CRAIG: Nothing. God.
CRAIG: [Standing up] I should go. This was a bad idea.
EMILY: No, wait. Did I say something wrong?
CRAIG: No. No, you didn't.
EMILY: Sit back down. I haven't seen you in so long.
CRAIG: [Sits back down] Okay. Maybe for a bit.
EMILY: Would you like some tea?
EMILY: Lots of milk, lots of sugar.
[EMILY exits stage right. CRAIG sits there for a bit and then picks up the book that she was reading, which is sitting next to him. He examines it for a minute before setting it down. At this point, STEVE enters from upstage, wearing just boxers and a bathrobe. His hair is messy and he looks as if he's just woken up. When he speaks, CRAIG is surprised and jumps up.]
STEVE: Ey, man.
CRAIG: Oh! Uh, hey.
STEVE: [Extending a hand] I'm Steve.
CRAIG: Uh, Craig.
STEVE: Craig... Craig Leblanc?
STEVE: Emily's mentioned you. You write for “Cubicle Nation,” don't you?
CRAIG: That's right.
STEVE: Cool, cool. That's a decent show there. Too bad about the timeslot change. No way you guys're gonna survive on Tuesday nights.
STEVE: Those network suits are nuts. Don't have any concept of how to build an audience. I mean, how many times has your show been pre-empted for some sporting event or presidential address or something? Five? Six times? How can they expect to build a solid following that way?
CRAIG: I know, it's something we—
[EMILY comes back in.]
EMILY: Oh. Steve. You're up.
STEVE: [Walks over and kisses her on the cheek] Yeah, I was just talking TV with Craig here. Is there any coffee?
EMILY: In the kitchen.
STEVE: Cool. [Exits]
CRAIG: He seems...cool.
EMILY: He's a student. He's a very talented young writer, actually.
CRAIG: I wouldn't expect anything else.
EMILY: Look, Craig, when you—
CRAIG: [Interrupting] I think I should be going. [Grabs his overcoat] Tell Steve thanks for his comments on the show and I'll...whatever. Just...just whatever
EMILY: Okay. Goodbye, Craig.
[CRAIG exits through the door and the lights fade out. End.]