GUEST. (Speaks in an affable Southern drawl, which disappears halfway through Act I, turning into General American or Newscaster accent.)
A living room with a kitchenette upstage. A door leading into the bedroom. An archway over the hallway. A mirror on the hallway wall, a chest of drawers underneath.
A coffee table, two armchairs.
CHIEF enters through the archway. He is a stout, dignified middle-aged man, self-assured and confident. He is wearing a bathrobe and drying his hair with a towel.
The phone rings.
CHIEF (into the phone): Hello? Morning, my love… What? When? But we won’t have any time - I’ve got a department meeting at twelve… What? Just to talk? Are you serious? Well, all right… I’m always glad to see you, even when I don’t get to see all of you… Yes, my dear, I can turn a phrase, it’s my job, after all, my trade… All right, I’ll be waiting. But do hurry, all right? (Walks over to the mirror hanging in the hallway and brushes his hair with care.)
Phone rings. CHIEF picks up again.
CHIEF: Hello? Who is this? Oh, yes... Yes, good morning. Yes, I did read it… Well, to be frank, it’s not really my line of work. I’m not an economist; my discipline is political science… I’m sorry? Well, then you were misinformed. I don’t ghostwrite dissertations. In our department?.. I have no idea. And I don’t want to know, frankly. Pardon? Of course I give advice, but only to my students, friends or associates. Unfortunately, you do not belong to any of these categories. Oh? I suppose, theoretically... Our movement derives a lot of support from high net-worth entrepreneurs. We have a fund and accept contributions… It’s not really about dissertations, after all, is it? That’s all just window-dressing… The key is having a vision and a strategy for the future. People with vision always come out ahead in the end. You know what, come by our headquarters. I’m there almost every evening. We’re on 12 Lenin Street, in the building where the fish market used to be. All right. I look forward to meeting you.
Doorbell rings. CHIEF walks out into the hallway. A man enters, wearing a jacket underneath which one can see overalls. He is carrying a toolbox.
CHIEF: Can I help you?
GUEST: I’m from the gas company.
CHIEF: I never put in any work orders…
GUEST: It’s an off-schedule inspection.
CHIEF: Off-schedule? What does that mean?
GUEST: You have a serious problem. With gas.
CHIEF: Great. Last thing I need. All right, come on in.
GUEST takes off his jacket and puts it on the chest of drawers under the mirror. He heads towards the kitchenette
CHIEF: Hold on! At least wipe your feet – we’ve just had everything remodeled. Thank you!
GUEST enters the kitchenette, opens his toolbox and begins laying out tools and gadgets. CHIEF sighs and hangs the GUEST’s jacket on the hook. Looks at himself in the mirror. Picks up the phone, walks towards the far end of the living room and dials.
CHIEF: Hey, how’s it going… All right. Listen up. I spoke to the lieutenant governor… He said that the chief gave the green light to having our people in the regional election committee. So go ahead and get in touch with his assistant. You know, that shifty bald sunofabitch. He’s their eminence grise of committee appointments. Don’t put it off. Take him out to a nice eatery, let him stuff himself on haute cuisine. Make him understand that it’s time to think long-term. Drop a hint or two that we’re prepared to save him a spot on our future team, but he needs to earn that spot. Work this carefully: nothing overt, no direct promises. Above all, don’t spook him – we can’t have him tattling on us to his boss. All right, later.
Put down the phone, paces the living room. Looks at his wristwatch, meanders towards the kitchenette, where the GUEST is contemplating the gas faucet.
CHIEF: How is it going?
GUEST: Looking at it right now.
CHIEF: Everything is new here, you know. Only got installed last year. Were you the one who did it?
GUEST: No, it wasn’t me. I’m new.
Phone call. CHIEF walks off to the side.
CHIEF: Hello? Hey, pumpkin! Doing well, thank the Lord… What? See, that’s just close-minded. One ought to be moderately religious. It’s good PR. No, it’s not too calculating, nothing of the sort. It’s just common sense. How’s your mama?.. No! Really? But I saw them at someone’s get-together the other day, and they were all over each other... Well, they’ll work through it. Consider it a lesson for the future: never get involved with these so-called creative types. They are all airheads, and they have no work ethic. No, it’s not Schadenfreude. Yes, she’s your mother, exactly. And I’m your father. Well, good, good… How’s work? Aha. Well… Well, listen, darling, college and workplace are very different environments. Everyone always thinks their boss is an idiot. Just do what you were hired to do, and do it well. Have patience. A year from now you’ll be Chief Credit Officer, and in another two, you’ll be on the Board. If you don’t get married, that it. As for the boss, don’t pay him any mind. He’s not your competition. All right, ciao. Love you too.
Puts the phone down, looks in the direction of the kitchenette, shakes his head. Sits down in the armchair, takes a manuscript out of his briefcase, and reads it for a while, making half-hearted notes. Then tosses the manuscript on the coffee table, gets up, and walks over towards the GUEST.
CHIEF: How is it coming along?
GUEST: Well, I checked the faucet. Now I’ve got to look at the stove.
CHIEF: What is the matter, exactly?
GUEST: Leaks in the house.
CHIEF: Leaks? Bad leaks?
GUEST: Leaks are always bad.
CHIEF: Good Lord... You mean we could all… blow up?
GUEST: God forbid. That’s why we’re on this.
CHIEF (shaking his head): Everything in this country is so… Something just got done, and now it’s got to get redone.
CHIEF: It’s like with our driveway. They just put fresh asphalt down, and now sanitation crews are pulling it up again to muck around with the pipes… Did you drive here?
GUEST: No, I walked.
CHIEF: You’ve got it easier, then… I’ve got to drive through the mud and potholes again… Stop, traveler: no through traffic. Might as well be in Central Asia…
GUEST: Damn straight. There’s no one in charge.
CHIEF: I mean, whatever happened to taking responsibility, exercising some common sense… It baffles me that the nation hasn’t gone bankrupt yet.
GUEST: Nothing baffles me anymore, I tell you what.
CHIEF (walking away): How did you put this? ‘No one in charge’?
GUEST: Yeah. With any project, someone’s got to be in charge. Some big cheese who answers for the whole shebang. Don’t you think so?
CHIEF: Well, that’s true, I suppose. Except… you probably mean the government, don’t you?
GUEST: The government too. Why, do you disagree?
CHIEF: No, no, of course I agree… I support the government, naturally.
GUEST: What else do we got except the government?
CHIEF: What do you mean, ‘what else’? What about ourselves?
GUEST: What can we do? We’re just poor humble folks…
A play in Two Acts
by Anna Zaigraevа