The Novel vs. The Theater: The Final Days (A One-Act Play)

Moby Dick on Stage

Thar she blows!

(A courtroom.  The Judge sits at an imposing desk.  There is a gavel to the side.  He flips through a few pieces of paper, then looks up.)

JUDGE:  Okay.  Theater versus Novel.  Couldn’t work this one out?  Twitter, Facebook, shortened attention spans, no reason to leave the house, is that it?  The novel is dead, the theater is subsidized, so you’re going to battle it out… because you think there’s only room for one of you.  Okay, let’s get on with it then.  Theater, looks like you’re up first.  You’ve chosen to do ‘Moby Dick’ as if written by playwrights in ten lines or less.  You may begin.

(He glances at the paper on his desk.)

JUDGE:  (reading)  The playwright is William Shakespeare.

(Ishmael and Ahab stand in the courtroom.  Ahab has a jug of wine.)

AHAB:  The whale waxes desperate with tails and fins.

ISHMAEL:  To let it be, or not to let it be, that is the question.

AHAB:  Something is rotten on this ship of Pequod.  Here, have some wine.

ISHMAEL:  You drink it.

AHAB:  After you.

ISHMAEL:  You go first.

AHAB:  No, you go first!

(The Judge smacks the gavel.)

JUDGE:  (reading)  The playwright is Tom Stoppard.

(Ishmael enters from one side of the courtroom.  Ahab limps out from the other.  They meet.)

AHAB:  Who’re you?

ISHMAEL:  Call me Ishmael.

AHAB:  Is-mail?

ISHMAEL:  Close enough.

AHAB:  So you’re the new postman?

(The Judge smacks the gavel.)

JUDGE:  (reading)  Aristophanes.

(Ahab enters and sees Ishmael standing alone.)

AHAB:  Tell me?  What do you think of the fishermen on this boat?

ISHMAEL:  They’re all buggers.

AHAB:  And the Nantucketers?

ISHMAEL:  Buggers to a man.

AHAB:  And the rest of the country, what about them?

(Ishmael thinks about this.)

ISHMAEL:  By heaven, that’s a lot of people and almost all of them buggers.

AHAB:  Then how do we stand?

ISHMAEL:  We’ve been beaten by the buggers.

(Judge smacks the gavel.)

JUDGE:  (reading)  Neil Simon.

(Ishmael alone.)

ISHMAEL:  Traveling to New Bedford has been a whole new education for me.  I’ve found employment on a whaling ship run by a guy named Ahab.  This guy, Ahab’s got only one leg and he’s as tough as one of Momma’s chicken roasts.  Come to think of it, Momma’s chicken roasts had only one leg as well.

(The Judge smacks the gavel.)

JUDGE:  (reading)  David Mamet.

(Ishmael and Ahab arguing.)

ISHMAEL:  What whiteness?

AHAB:  The whiteness of the whale.

ISHMAEL:  The whale?

AHAB:  The whiteness of it.

ISHMAEL:  Whale of whiteness?

AHAB:  It means something.

ISHMAEL:  Whiteness?

AHAB:  F—ing whale’s a c—.

(The Judge forcefully smacks the gavel.  Sighs.)

JUDGE:  I went to law school for this?  (reading)  Okay, the next playwright is Samuel Beckett.

(Ishmael and Ahab.)

ISHMAEL:  Is this ship moving?  What are we doing out here?

AHAB:  We’re trying to find the whale.

ISHMAEL:  How’s your leg?

AHAB:  Swelling visibly.

ISHMAEL:  I can’t go on.

AHAB:  Let’s jump overboard.

ISHMAEL:  Okay, let’s jump.

(They don’t move.  The Judge waits.  Eventually, he smacks the gavel.)

JUDGE:  (reading)  Anton Chekhov.

(Ishmael and Ahab.)

ISHMAEL:  There’re no whales left.

AHAB:  No whales left?  Forgive me, my dear Ishmanov Yashmael, but the ocean is so big that
there must be more whales.

ISHMAEL:  The only thing about the ocean is that it is so big.  Look, Varya Ahabovich, my dear
friend, you must stop whaling and sell the fishing boat or else start transporting people to
Boston.  There is no other way out.

AHAB:  In the old days, ten, twenty years ago, you could’ve walked to Boston on the backs of
whales.  Leave me alone!

(Ahab limps out of the courtroom and shoots himself.  The Judge smacks the gavel.) 

JUDGE:  (reading)  Oscar Wilde.

ISHMAEL:  So your intent is to go after that big, white whale again?

AHAB:  That is exactly my intent.

ISHMAEL:  What if you lose the other leg?

AHAB:  So be it.  At least, I won’t find myself pacing in a circle.

ISHMAEL:  But my dear, Ahab, to lose one leg may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.

(Judge smacks the gavel.  He looks around.)

JUDGE:  So…  that’s it?  (flipping through papers)  All right, Novel, you’re up next.  Let’s see, you’ve chosen to do ‘Oedipus Rex,’ as if written by Cervantes, Tolstoy, et al.  This is a story about a man who kills his father and then sleeps with his mother, right?  Sounds charming.

(He smacks the gavel.)

BLACKOUT

You can purchase ‘THE LAST ISLAND’ here.

4 thoughts on “The Novel vs. The Theater: The Final Days (A One-Act Play)

  1. Hi David,

    not relating to this post, but to your post on writing.ie I couldn’t find a way to comment on the writing.ie site. I enjoyed your post and wish you all possible success with your writing. You are hugely accomplished already, of course and I am only a beginner.

    Anyway, my point is that your post on writing.ie refers several times to Edmund Hemmingway and I think you should edit it to read Edmund Hillary, unless you are being way too clever for me and merging Edmund Hillary and Earnest Hemmingway on purpose, in which case, apologies for being too stupid to appreciate the joke!

    Orla

    • Hi Orla: Thanks for your comments. I did intend to write ‘Edmund Hemingway, ‘ the similarities of Edmund Hillary and Ernest Hemingway proving irresistible. Thanks for seeking out my blog and good luck with your writing.

  2. I don’t know whether it’s just me or if everybody else experiencing issues with your website.
    It seems like some of the text on your posts are running off the screen.
    Can someone else please comment and let me know if
    this is happening to them as well? This may be a problem with
    my browser because I’ve had this happen before. Kudos

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