Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Ask Me Anything

I attended a master playwriting class taught by Tina Howe (Coastal Disturbances, The Art of Dining) at the William Inge Theatre Festival last month. A couple of days before the class she gave us an assignment: "write a 10 page scene in which two or three characters go through an activity that changes them forever." I had originally planned to submit a scene I'd written several years ago, but after thinking about it, I decided to go with something new. So the day before the class during a break between sessions, I sat down at the computer in my room at the Apple Tree Inn and batted out this little piece in about an hour. Ms. Howe's last admonition on the assignment was "Have a ball!" -- and I did.

Ask Me Anything

Scene: An office. A desk with a chair and two other chairs. A small stack of folders is on the desk.

At rise, STEVE is standing next to the desk. MARTIN enters. He is carrying a folder.

MARTIN: I’m here for the interview.

STEVE: Right. Take a seat. (MARTIN sits in one of the chairs. STEVE indicates the folder.) Is that your application?

MARTIN: Oh, yes. Sorry.

(Hands it to him. STEVE opens the folder, leafs through some of the papers, then sits behind the desk, still reading the papers. MARTIN watches him intently.)

STEVE (reading papers): Hmm. (Turns a page.) Hmm.

MARTIN: Something wrong?

STEVE (still reading): Hmm.

MARTIN: What is it? Did I leave out something?

STEVE (closing folder): You do realize that the position you’ve applied for is extremely sensitive. We’ll need to do a thorough background check on you.

MARTIN: I signed the waiver. But...

STEVE (interrupting): Yes, I see you signed the waiver. Very good. But there’s more to this than just signing the waiver saying that you will allow us to investigate everything about you going back to, oh, high school and beyond. This is, after all, a very sensitive position in the company.

MARTIN: Really? I didn’t know that. I thought...

STEVE (interrupting): You thought you were applying for the data entry position in the accounts receivable department.


STEVE: That position has been filled.


STEVE: But you caught our eye in another area.

MARTIN: Oh, really? What?

STEVE: Well, as I said, it’s a highly sensitive position. You’d be responsible for some very confidential information and the processing thereof. So I’m going to have to ask you some questions that will determine whether or not you’re the right person for the job.

MARTIN (hesitant): Okay.

STEVE: You sound hesitant.

MARTIN: No. It’s just that...

STEVE (interrupting): You thought you were applying for another job.


STEVE: You did sign the waiver, though. It would be a pity to let that go to waste. And you did go to all the trouble to come down here – get dressed up nicely – for this interview. And you’re probably just what we’re looking for in this highly sensitive job.


STEVE: So I’m going to ask you these questions.


STEVE: Good. Ready?

MARTIN: Yes, sir.

STEVE: Have you ever had sex in a public place?

MARTIN (stunned): What?

STEVE: I’m sorry, I’ll speak up. Have you ever had sex in a public place?

MARTIN: Uh....

STEVE: Perhaps I should have asked if you’ve ever had sex and then gone from there.

MARTIN: Why....?

STEVE: We have to know these things. You did sign the waiver.

MARTIN: How, uh, how...uh, what do you mean by “public?”

STEVE: In a park. A parking garage. A public toilet. A glory hole. A tea room.

MARTIN: I don’t even know what some of those places are.

STEVE: Certainly you know what a park is.

MARTIN: Well, yes...but a – what did you call it – “glory hole?” “Tea room?”

STEVE: Oh, then you’re not homosexual.


STEVE: If you were a homosexual you’d know what those terms meant.

MARTIN: Well, I...

STEVE: Are you homosexual?

MARTIN: Can you ask me...

STEVE: You signed the waiver.

MARTIN: I know, but still....

STEVE: You’re not a homosexual?

MARTIN: Yes. I mean no.

STEVE: Yes to which question?

MARTIN: The first one.

STEVE: You mean yes to sex in a public place and no to being homosexual?

MARTIN: No... and .... yes.

STEVE: So that’s a no to sex in a public place but yes to being homosexual.

MARTIN: I think so.

STEVE: You think?

MARTIN: Yes...I’ve never had sex in a public place.

STEVE: What about outdoors?

MARTIN: Why do you – I know I signed the waiver – but...

STEVE: We can’t run the risk of someone who engages in risky behavior being in a position that is highly sensitive. There’s all sorts of reasons – you can understand. Blackmail, temptation....

MARTIN: But what about being gay?

STEVE: Oh, that’s fine. We’re very open-minded. We just don’t want to find you being gay in a place that could put you at risk of some activity that would compromise you – or us. Now, the next question: Have you engaged in sexual activity within the last 24 hours.


STEVE: Are you sure?

MARTIN: Yes. I live alone. I don’t have a, uh, you-know, so...

STEVE: What about self-abuse?


STEVE: Jacking off.


STEVE: What about lusting in your heart? Did you turn on the TV and admire any men? Did you catch the Hamm twins on the gymnastics finals last night on ESPN?

MARTIN: No, I missed them.

STEVE: What about porn?

MARTIN: No, I don’t watch it.

STEVE: Never?

MARTIN: Once. It was...boring.

STEVE: Boxers or briefs?

MARTIN: Briefs...

STEVE: At the beach. Speedos or surfer jams?

MARTIN: Surfer jams...

STEVE: Cut or uncut?


STEVE: Hairy or smooth?

MARTIN: Uh...a little hairy.

STEVE: Muscular or athletic?

MARTIN: Me or...?

STEVE: You. I can’t see under that shirt and tie.

MARTIN: Athletic.

STEVE: Disco or techno?

MARTIN: Classical

STEVE: Ryan or Seth?

MARTIN: What? Who?

STEVE: On “The O.C.” Ryan or Seth?

MARTIN: I don’t watch it much...but they’re high school kids! I don’t ....Look, I really don’t see...

STEVE (interrupting): You signed...

MARTIN (over him): Yes, I know I signed the waiver! I don’t care. I’ll answer your questions! I just want to know why you’re asking me all these very personal questions. I’m not ashamed of who I am. Yes, I’m gay. But what does my choice of underwear have to do with whether or not I get the job?

STEVE: Because I need to know everything about you before you walk through that door. I can’t take a chance that some guy that I know nothing about is going to start seeing and doing things that are highly sensitive to the state of this company and maybe even to the state of this country. I have to know every waking moment what’s going through your head. I have to know what makes you tick. I have to know what makes you hard. I have to know ... right down to the last tingle in your crotch what it will take for you to not talk, not look, not even turn your head when the moment of truth arrives and you’re the last man between our security and the possibility of total compromise and the loss of everything that is holding us together. (A beat.) And I think you’re holding something back.

MARTIN: I’m not, I swear. I’ve told you everything.

STEVE: No. There’s something you’re not telling me.

MARTIN: Ask me again.

STEVE (looking over his shoulder): I can’t. It’s too late.

MARTIN: No! Ask me. I swear I’m not holding anything back. I’ll tell you anything. What do you want to know? Please.

STEVE (getting up from the desk, closing the folder): I think we’re done here.

MARTIN: What was it? What did I do? What didn’t I do?

STEVE: I can’t tell you. It’s too late.

MARTIN (pleading): Oh, God, please! Give me another chance! Tell me! Ask me anything!

STEVE: I think you’d better leave before I call Security.


STEVE (pulls a cell phone out of his pocket and presses a button): I’ve called Security.

MARTIN (practically begging): I need this job.

STEVE: Quiet, please! If you go quietly, no harm will come to you.

(He indicates the exit. MARTIN finally turns and stumbles off. STEVE watches him go, pulls the top paper out of MARTIN’S folder, folds it neatly, puts it in his pocket, slips the folder into the stack, then sits in one of the chairs. A moment later LEO enters and goes to the desk. He sits down and opens a folder, glances through it, then looks at STEVE.)

LEO: So, you’re here for the data entry position.

STEVE: Yes sir. Ask me anything.

End of play.