Josie's husband. About 60; quiet with a sense of resigned
About 65; vivacious, scheming, charming.
About 50; hefty, and forceful. Cornell graduate in Comp Lit.
The "mediator." About 60; chubby, as she likes to eat. When
mediation fails, watch out ...
About 80; hard of hearing.|
|The living room at the Zehligs' house.|
One evening in spring.
Ca. 45 minutes
|Tonight, Josie is hosting the Book Club -- a most welcome immersion in things intellectual. Her husband Bert has different expectations, however, and so he stands by with coffee and cookies, an ear cocked for signs of trouble ...|
From Scene 1
SUZIE: Oh! Henry! We need to talk to you!
JOSIE: (To SUZIE) Yes, why don't we
SUZIE: (Shouting) About Althea
HENRY: Althea? Oh no, I don't think she was stuck on the bridge. Just the truck. Thought I saw her car parked there, though, by the bridge. Yes, I think
SUZIE: (Bellows into HENRY's ear.) Althea wants to make a motion of some kind!
HENRY: A motion? Ah!
JOSIE (Voice Off): Oh, Althea!
ALTHEA (Voice Off): Ugh! What an evening it's been already!
JOSIE: (Voice Off) Really?
ALTHEA: Would you believe there was a truck stuck on the bridge?
JOSIE: Yes. Isn't it amazing!
ALTHEA: It was standing on its head when I got there. And so was the driver.
MARION: I saw him being pulled out of the truck. You think he was all right?
ALTHEA: It depends on your standards, I suppose. He was shouting.
MARION: Yes, what was it?
ALTHEA: You want it verbatim? He was shouting, "I'm not goin' out to buy diapers! I'm not! A man's got to draw the line somewhere." By my standards, that qualified him as "not all right."
JOSIE: Diapers! At a time like that!
MARION: I suppose it's an issue in his life.
ALTHEA: He's a male chauvinist, if you ask me, and he's had his comeuppance.
MARION: Isn't that rather a tough line to take with the unfortunate creature? He did have a shocking accident! I suppose he was concussed.
ALTHEA: He didn't look it.
HENRY: Son of a gun! Ha! (Makes notes in his book while EVERYBODY looks confused for a second.)
MARION: Oh! (Pause) Uh how does somebody look when they've had a concussion?
JOSIE: Pale and shaky, I should imagine.
ALTHEA: Exactly. And this truck driver was the glowing picture of health. Ruddy and robust.
SUZIE: Henry thought he saw your car there. Were you organizing things, or what?
ALTHEA: Well, I wasn't going to just drive away and let things muddle along in their usual way. Of course, I stopped the car and got on the phone immediately.
JOSIE: Of course!
MARION: Whom were you calling?
ALTHEA: The council members, obviously.
JOSIE: The council members? All of them?
ALTHEA: Everybody except Derek Worstman.
HENRY: Remarkable! (Makes notes in book.)
MARION: (Confused by HENRY:) Oh! (Beat) Why not Derek Worstman?
ALTHEA: I had a falling out with him over the landfill, and he called me the most filthy names you can imagine. I wasn't going to listen to any more of that.
SUZIE: But you called everybody else.
ALTHEA: Yes, of course. Who else was going to do it?
JOSIE: What did you tell them?
ALTHEA: I told them I will mobilize public opinion against the entire town council, every single council member, unless they hold an emergency session this very hour
MARION: Good idea!
ALTHEA: And finally agree on the new bridge
MARION: About time!
ALTHEA: And actually put it there A-S-A-Humanly-P!
HENRY: (Looking up from his book; confused) What?
JOSIE: As soon as Humanly P! Right on!
MARION: Strong language!
SUZIE: And what did they say? The council members?
ALTHEA: Nothing. I wasn't going to stand around waiting for them to come up with some lame excuse for goofing off! I just hung up and called the next on the list.
HENRY: (Engrossed in the book:) Ha! Not bad! (Continues reading and making notes in his book.)
MARION: (Confused by HENRY) Oh! (Pause) And you had all those phone numbers in your wallet?
ALTHEA: Not in my wallet exactly. In my organizer.
SUZIE: Of course! (Lower, to JOSIE:) What exactly is an Organizer?
JOSIE: (Whispers:) Not something I have!
MARION: I hope the other bridge is in better shape, or we'll all be stuck in our little corner of the world forever.
BERT: Perfectly solid, they say.
ALTHEA: The time! My God, this awful business has upset our whole schedule.
JOSIE: Yes, let's get on with the book. I peeped at Robert's Rules, so I'm all revved up for chairing.
MARION: I'll have another cookie, Bertie. To keep up my energy for the discussion.
BERT: A cookie. Absolutely. Have two.
MARION: Thanks. (Takes three and munches.)
JOSIE: No speaking with full mouth.
SUZIE: All in Robert's Rules?
JOSIE: Augmented by Josie's Rules.
MARION: (With full mouth) What is that, actually: Robert's Rules?
HENRY: Well! I'll be ! (Makes more notes.)
MARION: What? (Beat) Oh!
ALTHEA: It's what they don't follow at the Town Council meetings.
SUZIE: But we do?
ALTHEA: It might not hurt! (Laughs.) Which brings us back to where we started: the book!
JOSIE: Yes, of course, the book. "Maine Elegy." The book. Well! It seemed to me one of those affairs where life crumbles all around. Which I gather is the thing to write about these days
ALTHEA: Hasn't it always been? Decadence and decay - so much more interesting than ordinary wholesomeness.
HENRY: Ha! (Underlines furiously.)
JOSIE: (Thrown off by HENRY) Oh! Well! What I mean to say is, the question I want to ask is, did you notice how the specific crumbling is mirrored in the general crumbling? Very interesting, didn't you think?
SUZIE: The crumbling?
JOSIE: There is grandmother, wearing all her jewelry on her body even at night; and the son dumping his wife and kids to run off to New York with his gay lover, only to overdose and lie around in a terrible mental hospital; and daughter Elsa setting fire to Father's car, declaring it's an instrument of the devil. And meanwhile the town is slowly falling apart, brick by brick, shop by shop.
MARION: Yes, I saw that question, on the Web.
JOSIE: (Dismayed:) Oh, did you?
MARION: Yes. I thought it was a good one.
SUZIE: You find this on the Web?
MARION: From other book clubs, you see? I don't know why they post it on the Web, but they do.
ALTHEA: (Sweetly:) That way, we don't have to think so hard.
SUZIE: When I tried to go on the Web for something, the computer just claimed it could not "detect my modem." Why can't it detect it? Where do you think it's hiding?
MARION: Did you plug it in?
SUZIE: What? The modem? Where is it? How do you plug it in?
ALTHEA: (Laughing with suppressed scorn:) How about Roberts' Rules? Shall we (plug them in)?
JOSIE: That's one of those dangerous questions: Where is my modem? It starts a day-long witch hunt.
SUZIE: It does? So what (do I do)?
MARION: The phone line. Did you plug in the phone line?
SUZIE: Of course. It's always plugged in.
JOSIE: Yes, but into what?
SUZIE: The phone, of course.
ALTHEA: (Laughing:) I thought I'd heard something about Roberts' Rules?
HENRY: (Still reading) Nonsense! Impossible! (Makes another note in his book while everybody recovers from the interruption.)
JOSIE: I'll send Bertie over. He'll fix it for you, Suzie. He's a whiz at these mysterious things.
SUZIE: Oh, will you really do that for me, Bertie?
BERT: (Alarmed) What?
JOSIE: Plug the phone line into her computer.
BERT: I think I might manage that.
ALTHEA: Well! (Laughing, though with more effort) We didn't get too far with Josie's original question, did we?
SUZIE: Question? What was the question?
JOSIE: Did it strike you how the specific crumbling is mirrored in the general crumbling.
ALTHEA: A good question, as Marion pointed out. Sanctified by assorted Web sites.
MARION: Yes. It did. It really did.
MARION: It struck me. Definitely. (Silence.)
SUZIE: (To JOSIE, whispering:) About these rules, Robert's or what have you: you weren't really serious, were you?
JOSIE: Are you kidding? Just showing off! A joke!
SUZIE: You relieve my mind. I thought you'd flipped!
ALTHEA: What do Roberts' Rules say about whispering off the subject?
JOSIE: It counts as one strike, I believe.
MARION: One strike? And then?
JOSIE: Three strikes gets you five minutes time out.
SUZIE: How delicious! I haven't had time out since kindergarten, I think! Do we get stars for good behavior too?
JOSIE: Yes. One star gets you one cookie.
MARION: I've already used up six stars! I'll never catch up. Nobody can behave that well!
HENRY: (Clears throat) I found this passage which I thought was rather interesting.
ALTHEA: (Laughing, but the irony showing:) Hear, hear! A passage!
HENRY: I'll read it. "Dotty sat in the rocking chair with a far-away expression, her needle-point project growing like a malignant mushroom in her lap, day and night. You could tell the time by the power of the stench from the canals: two o'clock was the high point, making breathing a filthy chore. The water had a taste of death. Late in the afternoon, Arthur would go out with a stick, looking for snakes. Dotty hardly looked up from her needle point as the warped door slammed shut after him." Striking passage, I thought. Rather striking.
SUZIE: Yes, very striking. Gruesome. Who was Dotty? I don't seem to remember.
MARION: They had canals in Maine? That's strange.
SUZIE: Last year when I was in Venice I saw a man actually fall in the canal. Not the Grand Canal, but a small one.
JOSIE: Did somebody push him in, you think?
SUZIE: No, I believe he fell over a dog.
MARION: What? How can you fall over a dog?
SUZIE: It was a small one. It got between his feet, you see, and off he went into the water.
JOSIE: Was he OK?
SUZIE: He seemed to be, except for swearing in some language like Swedish or Danish.
MARION: Was he a Swede, then?
SUZIE: I suppose so. Doesn't one usually swear in one's original language?
JOSIE: Of course, if he swallowed the water, he might have died not right away but two weeks later.
SUZIE: I never thought about that! Perhaps he did!
MARION: My cousin came back from Peru with some bacterial infection they never figured out at all. Two years later, he was still spending most of his time in the bathroom.
ALTHEA: (Sweetly:) Might this be a time to invoke Robert's Rules?
SUZIE: (Whispering, to JOSIE:) What exactly do Robert's Rules say?
JOSIE: (Whispering:) How would I know?
SUZIE: I thought Oh, never mind!
HENRY: (Clears throat:) I made a note on another passage.
ALTHEA: (Triumphantly:) Another passage! Hear, hear!
HENRY: I'll read it: "The burglars had not found much worth taking, except the ancient computer. They had left the water purification equipment which Arthur had taken as payment from their only guest, Mr. Pooper. Reverse osmosis, Mr. Pooper had called it. Arthur had yet to figure out how to connect it to the water pipes. When he managed that, the trickle of rust-colored foul water presumably would emerge from the faucet sparkling and sweet-smelling."
SUZIE: That's great.
HENRY: Sorry? (Looks confused.) There is more. "All of a sudden Arthur could not bear this living grave another minute. He walked into the night and did not return. Dotty remained in her rocking chair, working on her needle point. Sometimes she wondered if he had gone to start a new life; but on the whole she thought it more likely that the gators had eaten him, bones and all."
HENRY: Not very compelling, I thought.
SUZIE: No? What's wrong with it?
MARION: Mr. Pooper? I'm not sure
JOSIE: Perhaps it should be Popper.
MARION: Yes, that sounds much more likely!
HENRY: They surely would have taken the reverse osmosis water system. It's much more valuable than an ancient computer. It's just not compelling.
SUZIE: I see. Unless they didn't care much about clean water. Having drunk the rusty water all their lives
JOSIE: You really think the alligators would eat the bones and everything?
SUZIE: I wouldn't put it past them.
MARION: But in Maine? I thought
ALTHEA: (Barely controlling herself:) May I suggest that we take a little break.
JOSIE: A break? We're just getting into the thick of things.
ALTHEA: (Still controlled:) The thick of things, perhaps - but what things?
MARION: What things? What do you mean?
ALTHEA: Well! For instance, we have considered the crumbling of that family, including grandma, who insists on sleeping with all her jewelry on.
SUZIE: Why do we need a recap of all this? I don't see the point.
ALTHEA: The point is that it wasn't grandma at all who went to bed with all her jewelry. It was great-aunt Georgina.
JOSIE: Great-aunt Georgina!
SUZIE: But it says on the jacket
ALTHEA: I have no doubt it does. But it's wrong.
JOSIE: Don't be silly!
ALTHEA: (Getting nasty:) One thing I never am is silly. If you don't believe me, open the book and check: you'll find no mention of any grandmother whatsoever.
SUZIE: But why would they
ALTHEA: Why? Because the senseless creature who wrote that jacket copy never read the book! She was probably just an editorial assistant. And no doubt she had better things on her mind than reading "Maine Elegy" - such as rushing out to lunch with her boy friend
JOSIE: Well, all right, so we all made a mistake. You made your point. Let's get back to the book.
SUZIE: Yes. Considering that we are a book club - and not a class of naughty third-graders.
ALTHEA: Well, I don't know about book club - dust jacket club seems to be more like it, at this point.
BERT: Cookies, anybody? Or can I interest you in a refill on the coffee?
SUZIE: Coffee? Hmm (Shakes head; takes cookie.)
ALTHEA: Perhaps just one more cookie. (Takes a cookie.)
MARION: Yes, why not. (Takes two cookies.) As Josie says, why don't we get back to the book.
ALTHEA: Yes. The book. I'm afraid there is another tiny problem here.
ALTHEA: Yes. You see, we've been listening at length to some passages supposedly depicting the crumbling of life in southern Maine.
JOSIE: Yes. It's always good to have some concrete examples to discuss. Gives the whole thing so much more meat.
ALTHEA: Obviously. I agree. Only in this case, what we actually heard about was the crumbling of life in north central Florida!
SUZIE: How can that be!
ALTHEA: Simple. The passages were from the book we discussed two weeks ago.
MARION: I thought there was something odd about it!
JOSIE: Yes, it seemed familiar!
SUZIE: Isn't that something.
HENRY: I found another rather interesting passage. I'll read it, if I may. (Clears throat) "Mr. Pooper, as it happened, filled a gaping void in their strange existence "
SUZIE: Mr. Pooper again!
JOSIE: I think it must be Popper.
MARION: Henry, it's the wrong book!
HENRY: Popper? Oh yes, it's Popper! Why do I say Pooper? Very funny! (Laughs, begins again:) Well: "Mr. Popper, as it happened, filled a gaping void in their strange existence "
SUZIE: (Walks over to HENRY and bellows into his ear:) Wrong book, Henry! It's the wrong book!
HENRY: Wrong book? (Looks at cover, shrugs.) "Gone with the Sun."
SUZIE: Exactly. We're discussing "Maine Elegy."
HENRY: Maine what? What's that?
HENRY: "Maine Elegy"! First thing I hear about this. Let me have a look. (Takes book, retreats to corner and reads.)
MARION: Of course, Henry had to miss the last meeting, because of the flu, so he lost track of the fact we already discussed "Gone with the Sun."
JOSIE: Yes, of course. That explains it.
ALTHEA: If you don't mind my saying so, I believe it's time to add some fresh blood to this Book Club.
SUZIE: Fresh blood?
ALTHEA: Yes. Some people who are really serious about books.
JOSIE: Are you saying we are not?
ALTHEA: Oh, no, of course not! But sometimes, the discussion strays a little, you have to admit.
SUZIE: We're not going to turn this into another contest of who can grow the biggest turnip, are we?
ALTHEA: Turnip? Who's talking about turnips? All I'm saying is, since this is supposed to be a Book Club, let's have some discussion of the book. So far, we've discussed mostly the canals of Venice, into which a man fell last year; bacteria from Peru, which immobilized another man in the bathroom; the eating habits of alligators with respect to human bones; and where modems might be hiding in computers.
JOSIE: Well, we've only just started.
BERT: Cookies? Coffee? [Scene 1 continues ...]
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