Act 5, Scene 1: Irene’s Twilight Zone
See whole poem, "The Main Show," and index of scenes.
(Spotlight opens on the lobby of the theater. Characters who remain in the lobby enter the theater, which remains dark. Joan the nurse tells the tour guide to also go in, and the narrator hangs back awhile.)
Go ahead in. I’ll stay with my patient.
Anyway, this is a family occasion.
The next Irene Goodnight film is about to start.
Standing by the door, I can hear the narration.
I’ll describe the opening shot to set up the next part.
A lightning strike hits a woman, lost at sea
In her thoughts in her bed as the reality
Of her life and its ripples impart
Their meanings to her bodily.
(The narrator enters the theater. The spotlight stays on the lobby while the audio of the movie is overheard, beginning with an overvoice, 1950s-style.)
This is the tale of a woman filling a small niche,
A heroine who is not famous, powerful, or rich,
But a housewife with a passionate heart
And the mind of an idealist.
(Joan and the audience overhear the dialogue of a family at the dinner table.)
“How are you? I’m trying to read your mood.”
“I’m just fine. Do you all have enough food?
Hey, try not to talk while opening your maw.”
“Question: Why do bad things afflict people who are good?”
“Because good means being poor.” “Now, how immense
Is the universe? No rational explanation makes any sense.
It ends, then nothing, not even space. Or
It’s infinite; or it extends infinitely from where it ends.”
“I bought some Dixie cups with riddles. Are they fun?”
“What lives in a web and wields eight guns?”
“What?” “A shooting spider.” “Funny. Haw-haw.”
“Here’s a good riddle. How much is one plus one?”
“1+1=11 if you move the actual symbols.
In binary code, it equals 10. Add a bubble to a bubble,
And the sum is 1. Then, 1+1= nil
If the combo explodes; and a lineage if the pair is a couple.”
“Go watch The Twilight Zone. I’ll clean.”
A housewife stays apart from the family scene
And looks back from much later when she’s ill,
Intersecting the narrator’s search in a time in-between.
(The housewife hears words from The Twilight Zone intro.)
There is a fifth dimension, as vast as space
And as timeless as infinity.
(The housewife continues the intro with her own words.)
Is the sink where the woman rinses swill
Off plates, and sees her face through another’s gaze.
(What follows is a dialogue between the narrator and the woman in a fantasy realm represented by special lighting.)
What brings you to my little shrine?
Your fantasies just happen to align with mine
And our states of mind have found a time within time,
That is, your nuclear war anxiety and its result;
And my bucket-list wish to speak with you as an adult.
A fuck-it list.
Yes, our fates have been an insult
To our capacity for feeling. Some of the thrills
In the poem I'm writing are the tendrils
That reveal feeling people to be people of the hills.
After much research, I began perceiving
How the theme of overlords versus outcasts kept weaving
Through key stories and commanded my believing.
I started a new life in these mountains because of
The cause of independence and flight from the jaws of
Rapacious dogs. The retreat was not always passive
As you know with the ghetto wars in Warsaw.
And I learned about the Kikuyu around Mount Kenya
And even Neanderthals fleeing humans above the savannah.
I know when underdogs manage to prevail, you wept;
And H-bombs had you shaking in bed while others slept.
I’ve been shaking lately.
Yes, President Kennedy kept
A lid on the warheads.
We didn’t know that yet.
But on TV throughout the day the news is
Russia has missiles in Cuba, and the U.S. has
Them pointed at Moscow; and people in crisis
Flee a nuclear holocaust that will destroy all
Life on Earth. Who would not recoil
From this? Yet our military leaders embroil
Us in a perfect storm of hard line bluster.
I don’t understand. Children will suffer.
(The narration of The Twilight Zone episode is heard from the living room.)
A little girl gets lost beyond a buffer
To the fourth dimension. Her parents bring her home
But the window had been closing on the Twilight Zone.
I’m lost in a twilight zone. Children have been my touchstone.
Helping children flower is the power to which you’re called.
Your light under a basket has become a secret locked in a vault.
I fear children being hurt, and it being partly my fault.
(The monster’s heartbeat is heard.)
Our time is running out. Our window is closing.
(The monster’s heartbeat is heard again)
The monster is getting closer. Listen closely.
I see the future: the unnerving insidiousness of MS.
I’ve been afraid to tell you about my date with ALS.
I’m so sorry. Yet, our distress presents tests
To our dream selves to profess: Yes, yes, yes.
Yes to the swirling paths one’s life-graph takes.
Yes to diverting and reversing losing streaks.
Yes to loving others, though their turns seem oblique.
What’s that all-seeing voice with which you speak?
It’s the wisdom that true singularity makes unique.
It’s the voice I’ll give you when you kiss my cheek.
(The narrator goes over to his mother and kisses her cheek.)
(An announcement over loudspeakers interrupts the action.)
Residents of Havenglade and fans of Irene,
For a period of a day each of you’ll be screened
For avian flu and put in individual quarantine.
(Stage lights begin to fade.)
(Old Man Job and Fred take a position stage left of the Narrator. An official separates Fred from Job.)
Heaven and Earth have now become a Hell.
Skies darken. Storms rage. Rivers swell.
It reminds me of when virtue sickened and cities fell.
(The narrator moves to the front of the stage in darkness.)
A pig on its side, diseased, squealing for mercy,
Its eyes closed, legs twitching involuntarily,
No thoughts except its seemingly unending agony.
(A light shines on the narrator and the spotlights on Job and Fred darken. The following lines are spoken by a chorus of voices located in the dark. Rather than breaking up the poem with separate lines for speakers, they will be indicated by parenthetical inclusions within the text.)
(Anti-God) As harmony is Heaven’s prize, song
Harmonizes with fear and rides along
To the end of the ride. (Godling) As art is long
And life’s short, an artful twist
Artfully outwits death. (First girl) As the future exists
For future survivors, hope is tendered by sacrifices.
(Tour Guide) In the interior of fear, tumblers turn, walls fall.
Who’ll first answer the isolation ward call?
(The soldier moves towards the narrator.)
I’m so sad to have to leave you all.
(Lights go out.)
Bye, son. You’ll be fine in the unspoken unknown.
(Monster’s heartbeat is heard.)
Act 5, Scene 1 ends.
Rob Neufeld, 2019