Hannah Lee Defrates
Imprisoned and disgraced from their surreal society of plague doctors, Meadowlark and Caraway seek escapism to escape the inescapable, even if for just one moment.
Meadowlark- disgraced plague doctor; not as tough as they appear
Caraway- disgraced plague doctor; not exactly timid, but not tough; has a lot of abandoned dreams
Sage- plague doctor; nonspeaking role
Thyme- plague doctor; nonspeaking role
*All characters are suited to all races and genders and are at least 18 years of age.
Any time after the invention of washers and dryers
A laundry room-turned prison of sorts
(At rise: The sound of a dryer beginning a cycle pierces the darkness. Lights up on a basement laundry room. The floor is made of stained black and white linoleum. The walls are peeling and yellowed. On one wall there is a row of washers; on another, a row of dryers. On another wall hangs a succession of sepia-ed photo portraits of people in vintage-looking clothing. There are two windows and a door, but all three are covered in thick blackout curtains so that the only light comes from a flickering overhead fluorescent. In one corner of the room, there is a red, thermoplastic-coated picnic table, strewn with plastic place-settings and faded playing cards. MEADOWLARK, a plague doctor, sits at the end of one of the benches.)
MEADOWLARK: (Half-singing) Fifty-six bottles of crap on the wall, fifty-six bottles of crap. Take one down, pass it around. Fifty-five bottles of crap on the wall. Fifty-five bottles of crap on the wall, fifty-five bottles of crap. Take one down, pass it around. Fifty-four bottles of crap on the wall, fifty-four bottles of crap—
(The door opens, and through the curtains come three additional plague doctors. SAGE, THYME, and CARAWAY. SAGE and THYME force CARAWAY onto the bench, chaining them to the picnic table and leaving from whence they came. As soon as they leave, MEADOWLARK continues…)
MEADOWLARK: …Take one down, pass it around. Fifty-three bottles of crap on the wall. Fifty-three bottles of crap on the wall, fifty-three bottles of crap. Take one down, pass it around. Fifty-two bottles of crap on the wall…
(CARAWAY puts their head in their hands.)
MEADOWLARK: …Fifty-two bottles of crap on the wall, fifty-two bottles of—
CARAWAY: Could you please not?
CARAWAY: I think you know what.
MEADOWLARK: Oh. The song?
MEADOWLARK: I think it’s a nice song.
CARAWAY: It isn’t. And it doesn’t even make any sense. Why would anyone, first of all, have so many bottles of crap? And why would they “take them down and pass them around”?
MEADOWLARK: Fine. We can sing something else. (singing) Row, row, row, your boat—
MEADOWLARK: Seriously?! What do you suggest I sing then?
CARAWAY: Could you just not sing? Please.
MEADOWLARK: What else do you expect me to do?
CARAWAY: I don’t know. Just please let me have a moment.
MEADOWLARK: You know what? No. I was here first.
CARAWAY: That’s not exactly something to be proud of.
MEADOWLARK: Maybe not. But I’ve got seniority. So—
CARAWAY: How are you so calm?
MEADOWLARK: Who said I was calm?
CARAWAY: Sorry. You just don’t seem worried.
MEADOWLARK: I know what happens here. Why worry about what’s inevitable?
CARAWAY: Easy for you to say.
(They sit in silence for a moment. Then, spotting a broken plastic fork on the table, CARAWAY picks it up and begins to attempt to carve their name into the table. A horrible squeaking, scraping noise results.)
MEADOWLARK: Oh, so you’re allowed to do that, but I can’t sing?
CARAWAY: Sorry. I’ll be done in a minute.
MEADOWLARK: What are you trying to do?
CARAWAY: Make my mark.
MEADOWLARK: Like a dog?
CARAWAY: Ew. No. I just want to leave something of me behind. My name at least.
MEADOWLARK: What are you doing that for?
CARAWAY: Honestly? I want folks who’ve never met me to miss me when I’m gone.
MEADOWLARK: And you think that’ll do it?
CARAWAY: I don’t know. Maybe. I…It’s all I got.
MEADOWLARK: You’re a fool.
CARAWAY: Well, we can’t all just sit here nonchalantly!
MEADOWLARK: What do you expect me to do?
CARAWAY: I don’t even know why I’m talking to you.
MEADOWLARK: Okay. Then stop.
CARAWAY: I guess I just—
MEADOWLARK: Thought we would band together and escape or something? Would never work. Cause let me tell you. These fellas… (They tug at the chains anchoring them to the table.) Unbreakable.
(They don’t talk for a long time. Then…)
CARAWAY: I’m sorry but this just isn’t fair!
CARAWAY: Aren’t you at least a little upset?
MEADOWLARK: (mumbling) Yes. At you.
CARAWAY: Because I’m pissed. Because to tell you the truth, I think we’ve been scammed.
MEADOWLARK: How do you figure?
CARAWAY: It isn’t enough they got our pasts and our presents. But now they get to take our futures away. They shouldn’t have that kind of power. It’s—
MEADOWLARK: You had a future? Good for you, buddy.
CARAWAY: Well. I mean, there were things that I wanted. Plans. Goals, I guess.
MEADOWLARK: And what were they?
CARAWAY: I don’t think I want to tell you.
MEADOWLARK: Sheeshamole! You wanted silence, so I gave you silence. But then you wanted to talk. So, I’m talking. And now you don’t wanna? Make up your mind! Is it not enough that we’re here? Why must you torture me?
CARAWAY: Me? Torture you?
MEADOWLARK: That’s what I said. So, are we talking or not?
CARAWAY: Well, I’d rather not sit in silence.
MEADOWLARK: So, talk. You said something about plans or something.
CARAWAY: I…uh…On second thought, it might be a little personal…I—
MEADOWLARK: Fine. I didn’t want to talk about that anyway.
CARAWAY: Then why—
MEADOWLARK: I just thought you did.
CARAWAY: Not with you.
CARAWAY: I mean, I don’t even know you.
(They sit for a moment and let the words sink in. Then, MEADOWLARK takes off their hat and mask and plops it onto the table.)
CARAWAY: Oh. Um. I’m Caraway.
(CARAWAY removes their headgear as well.)
MEADOWLARK: So, are you gonna cut the crap now and tell me your freaking thing, or what?
CARAWAY: Okay. But you have to promise not to laugh.
(MEADOWLARK attempts to cross their heart.)
CARAWAY: I wanted a full life. A job. To get married. To have a family. To be happy. Pretty generic stuff. Stupid, right? Doesn’t matter though. Not anymore anyway.
MEADOWLARK: C’est la vie et c’est la mort.
CARAWAY: Is that supposed to make me feel better?
MEADOWLARK: No. I don’t know how to make you feel better. I was just speaking French.
MEADOWLARK: But hey. What if you could still have all of that stuff you wanted?
CARAWAY: But you said—
MEADOWLARK: I know. But I mean what if we did all of it? Here.
MEADOWLARK: What other time we got?
CARAWAY: Okay. Fine. Let’s do it, I guess.
(MEADOWLARK sits up straight, picking up a plastic fork and a playing card, as if they were a pad and a pen.)
MEADOWLARK: Your credentials are remarkable and your references, impeccable. So, Dr. Caraway, what do you think you could bring to this job?
CARAWAY: I…um…I believe myself to be quite skilled in the art of bloodletting.
MEADOWLARK: Ah, yes. Phlebotomy. I see here some have referred to you as the “leech whisperer.”
CARAWAY: Yes. That is true. The leeches hear my voice…and obey?
MEADOWLARK: Impressive. Impressive. How flexible are you with your schedule?
CARAWAY: I…I am very flexible.
MEADOWLARK: Ah. Can you do a split?
CARAWAY: Right here?
MEADOWLARK: Whenever you’re ready.
CARAWAY: I…uh, can’t do a split.
MEADOWLARK: Good, good. That was a test. Acrobatics distract from the profession. It is a very good thing that you are not engaged in that tomfoolery. Well, Dr. Caraway, you have proven to us that you are more than qualified. We look forward to your joining us at the practice.
CARAWAY: I got the job?
MEADOWLARK: You got the job! Congratulations! Now what’s next? You wanted to get married, right?
MEADOWLARK: Great. Let’s get married then!
CARAWAY: For real?
MEADOWLARK: I mean, you can’t just fake ‘get married.’
CARAWAY: Oh. Uh. Meadowlark. Uh. I don’t know how to say this, but when I said I wanted to be married to someone…I…well…To be honest, I just don’t think of you. At all.
MEADOWLARK: And you think I think of you?
CARAWAY: Fair point.
MEADOWLARK: Besides, you didn’t say anything about love. You just said marriage. I can do that.
(The two turn away from each other, busy themselves making bouquets of old playing cards and head ornaments of plastic utensils.)
MEADOWLARK: You ready?
CARAWAY: As I’ll ever be.
(Slowly they turn to face each other. MEADOWLARK hums a wedding march. CARAWAY tosses torn up pieces of a playing card like rose petals.)
MEADOWLARK: Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join this doctor and this doctor in holy matrimony.
CARAWAY: Meadowlark, do you take Caraway to have and to hold, in plague or in health, till death do you part?
MEADOWLARK: I do. And do you, Caraway, take Meadowlark to have and hold, in plague or in health, till death do you part?
CARAWAY: I do.
MEADOWLARK: Now the rings.
CARAWAY: Oh crap! I forgot about the rings!
MEADOWLARK: No, you didn’t. Here they are.
(MEADOWLARK slips their finger into one of the links on their chains. CARAWAY follows suit.)
MEADOWLARK: I now pronounce you married. You may now kiss your spouse.
(The two strain as far forward as their chains will allow…which is not far. They eventually settle for air kisses. After, MEADOWLARK picks up a plastic plate from the table and chucks it at the floor.)
(The plate doesn’t break, but instead clatters against the linoleum, remaining intact. The both of them lose their composure, breaking into a shared fit of laughter.)
CARAWAY: So, we’re married now.
MEADOWLARK: So we are.
CARAWAY: Now what?
MEADOWLARK: Just…give it a moment. Take it all in. It is your wedding day after all.
(They take a moment of silence.)
MEADOWLARK: Okay. Let’s go on our honeymoon.
MEADOWLARK: Of course.
CARAWAY: What? How?
MEADOWLARK: It’s the logical next step. Besides, you said you wanted a family…
CARAWAY: Yeah…but…maybe not now…seeing as…and…oop…So, you see?
MEADOWLARK: Yeah. We’re gonna do it anyway. I say we honeymoon in the Laundry Room.
CARAWAY: I say we don’t.
MEADOWLARK: Party pooper.
CARAWAY: No. Hold on. Because it’s not the Laundry Room where we are.
CARAWAY: It is the beach. A beautiful, tropical island. Feel the warmth?
(The two stop to observe the humidity of the room.)
CARAWAY: Smell the soft breeze?
(They sniff the air, catching whiffs of laundry detergent.)
CARAWAY: Hear the waves splashing upon the sand?
(They listen for the sound of the dryer, tumbling and whirring.)
MEADOWLARK: You’re right. And it’s all very beautiful, my love. (beat) Okay! Time to make a baby!
MEADOWLARK: Sorry. I mean “start our family.”
CARAWAY: Meadowlark. Sweetheart. Let’s just not…
(MEADOWLARK does not take no for an answer. They make an obscene gesture. Grimacing, CARAWAY mimics it back at them. Then MEADOWLARK picks up a card from the table and flashes it at their spouse. It bears the King of Spades.)
MEADOWLARK: Here’s our son. Isn’t he the ugliest baby you’ve ever seen?
CARAWAY: (laughing with relief) Yeah. He’s pretty hideous. He gets that from your side of the family.
MEADOWLARK: Hey! Well, either way, what shall we call him?
CARAWAY: How about Reginald?
MEADOWLARK: Reginald? That’s an awful name.
CARAWAY: Call a spade a spade, and I say we call this one Reginald.
MEADOWLARK: If you insist.
(They laugh. MEADOWLARK slides the ‘Reginald’ card across the table. CARAWAY catches it and mimes rocking it to sleep.)
CARAWAY: Goodnight, sweet boy. This world is screwed but here’s hoping you won’t be.
(Eventually CARAWAY puts the card down. As they do, they notice the dryer that has been tumbling the whole time has begun to slow.)
CARAWAY: Finally asleep. Now it’s just you and me.
CARAWAY: So, Meadowlark, we’re married now, but I don’t know a single thing about you.
MEADOWLARK: There’s not much to tell.
CARAWAY: I’d be interested in anything you were willing to tell.
CARAWAY: Come on. I shared my thing. And I mean…we’re technically married, so it would be nice to know something about you.
MEADOWLARK: Fine. Okay. I—
(They are interrupted by the beeping of a dryer. At the sound of it, MEADOWLARK’s demeaner softens.)
MEADOWLARK: I’m dying today.
(MEADOWLARK searches for the right words, but none come.)
(The sound of a door. In through the curtains come SAGE and THYME. The two go over to the table and unchain MEADOWLARK, seizing them and pulling them to their feet. MEADOWLARK does not struggle.)
CARAWAY: No. (to SAGE and THYME) Put them down! You can’t just do that! (to MEADOWLARK) You can’t just leave me. Not like this! It’s not fair. Meadowlark.
MEADOWLARK: (face crumpling) Good thing we didn’t say anything about love…just marriage. It’s a good thing…
(SAGE and THYME begin to lead MEADOWLARK away.)
MEADOWLARK: (twisting their head to face CARAWAY one last time) Caraway. Thank you for the future, love.
(SAGE and THYME force MEADOWLARK out through the curtains, leaving CARAWAY alone to dissolve into the feelings they are feeling. Then, after a moment…)
CARAWAY: (Singing softly) Ninety-nine bottles of crap on the wall, ninety-nine bottles of crap. Take one down, pass it around. Ninety-eight bottles of crap on the wall. Ninety-eight bottles of…
(The lights fade to black.)
[End of play]