Drama: Zayd Dohrn

ZAYD DOHRN was born underground and raised in New York City. His plays are published by Samuel French and have been produced off-Broadway and across the country, including at Naked Angels, Steppenwolf, the Public, and the Vineyard Theatre. He is currently writing screenplays for The American Film Company and Vox3 Films, and developing a drama series at HBO. He earned his MA from BU, his MFA from NYU, and was a two-year American Playwriting Fellow at Juilliard. He teaches playwriting and screenwriting at Northwestern University.





(A house – immaculate, hermetically sealed.)
(Downstage is a sitting area: a couch, a chair, an ottoman, and a glass coffee table.)
(Two large air filter units stand in the corners of the room. They are towering, over six feet tall.)
(The windows are covered with shades, and the room is dark despite the daylight visible around their edges.)
(Downstage left is a foyer leading to the front door. Up left is a hallway leading to a bathroom and den. Up center, a door to the kitchen.)
(There is also a staircase up to the second floor.)
(In the half-light seeping around the shades, MAXINE, 46, comes down the stairs. She is dressed in simple cotton pajamas and a paper surgical mask covering her nose and mouth.)
(She approaches the large air filter units and switches them on, releasing twin jets of vapor into the room.)
(The sound of boisterous laughter comes suddenly from offstage and MAXINE jumps. She hesitates for a moment, listening, and then runs lightly into the kitchen.)
(Just as she exits, the front door opens, and SIDNEY, 49, and JIM, 26, enter, laughing.)
(They are both dressed in sneakers and gym clothes, their shirts dark with sweat.)
(SIDNEY wears a clunky knee brace, a headband, and glasses with a strap to hold them on his head.)
(He carries two squash racquets and a small black duffel bag.)
SIDNEY. –Incredibly dirty. Filthy, I mean–
JIM. Can’t wait.
SIDNEY. Oh, you’ll love it, yeah. Disgusting. Right up your alley.
JIM. I’ll take that as a compliment.
SIDNEY. You should. You should. The man was tragically out of place in the seventeenth century. Everybody else is out composing religious epigraph. Occasional poetry celebrating the birth of another inbred mutant, next in line to be Duke of Yorkshire or what have you, and this guy’s out at court, seducing their wives with these smutty– take your shoes off, Jim, all right? (tossing his own shoes on the floor) -these smutty sonnets, satires. Absolute pornography. Of course, he did quite well for himself. You know, corseted aristocratic women love being talked dirty to…
(JIM laughs, kneels to remove his sneakers.)
JIM. You sound a bit jealous.
SIDNEY. Ah, well who wouldn’t be? A libertine. A courtier, you know. Totally engaged in the world. Living his life. The precise opposite of the academic poet with his head in the clouds and his libido in a lock-box so as not to offend the fucking Pulitzer Committee. Of course, he caught syphilis. The just punishment for all godless perverts. His nose rotted right off his face, like a melting popsicle.
JIM. Lovely.
SIDNEY. He had to have a shnozz cast in bronze strapped to his head with a leather belt just to show his face in public. But he kept writing until his brain was liquefied. And screwing too, apparently. Dead at 33. It’ll inspire you, I guarantee. Or at least turn you on.
JIM. At this point, either one would be fantastic.
SIDNEY. (calling up the stairs) Maxine? I’m home!(no response) Jim– Have a seat. I’ll go get it.
JIM. Nice place.
SIDNEY. (looks around) Oh? Yeah, it’s– I hardly notice, now, to tell you the truth… We bought it years ago, when things were cheap, so now we can’t ever leave…
(JIM laughs, and SIDNEY starts to exit.)
(JIM takes out an envelope, removes a type-written letter.)
JIM. Sid, do you mind signing this now, or–
SIDNEY. Sure. Put it over there. I’ll get my pen.
(He exits, towards the study.)
(JIM puts down the letter, wanders over to one of the air filters and sticks his face in the jet of vapor, cooling off.)
(MAXINE enters, from the kitchen, still wearing her mask. She sees JIM and stops. He looks up, sees her through the clouds.)
JIM. Hi– (beat) Jim… Sorry, one of Sidney’s–
(SIDNEY reenters, reading from a well-thumbed
SIDNEY. “Worst part of me, and henceforth hated most, Through all the town a common fucking-post, On whom each whore relieves her tingling cunt, as hogs–”
(He sees MAXINE and stops. She hovers by the swinging door, motionless.)
SIDNEY. Hey– Hon, I didn’t hear– This is Maxine– come on in– my wife. Max, Jim.
JIM. Hello.
MAXINE. (recovering herself) Sorry, I was a bit. I didn’t expect– Sidney, you didn’t tell me you were bringing someone.
SIDNEY. Yeah, sorry. Spur of the moment thing. Kid was taking advantage of my advanced age over at the fitness center, and–
JIM. It was really close, actually.
SIDNEY. It was not. He mopped the court with me. And he’s never even played squash before. Is that embarrassing?
JIM. I thought you were letting me win.
SIDNEY. I was, the first game.
(SIDNEY kisses MAXINE’s cheek. She pushes him off.)
MAXINE. God, you’re dripping with sweat, Sidney… You didn’t even shower?
SIDNEY. No, there was a line. And we got to talking, and I realized Jim’s never read the Earl of Rochester, which is a travesty, really, when you come to think about it. And we have two copies lying around here, just–
MAXINE. So does the bookstore.
SIDNEY. Yeah, well, Jim’s a grad student, Honey. We can’t expect him to pay for his own books. He needs that money for cigarettes, booze, and hookers.
JIM. True.
SIDNEY. Anyway, I wanted him to meet the family. It’s a good subject for him, don’t you think?
MAXINE. If you say so, Sidney… I just didn’t realize I should have put down newspaper before you came home. (She laughs. To JIM, confidingly:) He’s like a child sometimes, you know. Spends all day wallowing in the mud, and then comes home with his pockets stuffed with all sorts of… Would you like something to drink? I’m sure Sidney hasn’t offered.
JIM. No, thank you. I should probably get home, actually.
MAXINE. Are you sure?
JIM. Yes, I’ve got a lot to–
MAXINE. Oh… Well then, it was really nice–
SIDNEY. No, wait. Stay. Have a drink, Jim. Keep us company. We insist, right?
MAXINE. Sure. Bottled water? Juice? Wine?
JIM. Water would be great.
JIM. No thanks.
(MAXINE exits to the kitchen.)
(SIDNEY picks up the book.)
SIDNEY. (reading) “–On whom each whore relieves her tingling cunt, As hogs do rub themselves on gates and grunt.”
(JIM laughs.)
JIM. I can see why we didn’t cover him in eleventh grade English. Mrs. Crenshaw would have had a stroke.
SIDNEY. It’s a shame though, don’t you think? High school boys are the ideal audience for this stuff… (tossing JIM the book) Here, bone up.
JIM. Thanks.
SIDNEY. I got to play the Earl once, you know, at an MLA colloquium. A bunch of us dressed up as writers from history: Milton, Blake, Shelley, Langston Hughes. We’re supposed to be having this serious conversation about– “genre” something or other. And I’m sitting at the table, with my bronze nose, powdered wig, and massive leather codpiece. Shouting about my “clammy joys” and “liquid raptures.” Surprised it didn’t end in a lawsuit, actually. Some terrified librarian…
(MAXINE reenters, with a glass of water only a tiny bit full.)
MAXINE. Here you go.
JIM. Thanks. Great.
(He puts the book down on the coffee table and takes a careful sip of water.)
MAXINE. So, you’re one of Sidney’s students? A poet?
JIM. Trying to be.
MAXINE. You must be good. He only likes the good ones.
(JIM smiles, embarrassed.)
JIM. I haven’t written anything good in years, to be honest.
SIDNEY. He’s being modest. He’s very talented. Although, he did drop a full letter grade at the gym today.
JIM. Sore loser.
(SIDNEY laughs, drops his duffel bag on the couch. MAXINE goes around to the chair and notices something on the carpet.)
MAXINE. Oh, Sidney, look! You tracked mud all over the floor!
SIDNEY. What mud?
MAXINE. Look, it’s–
SIDNEY. We took our shoes off as / we came in.
MAXINE. Well, is this mud, or / isn’t it?
SIDNEY. Honey, there’s no way–
(She kneels, sniffs the carpet.)
MAXINE. Uh! It’s not mud.
MAXINE. No! It stinks, Sidney! It’s dog shit. God, look at that.
SIDNEY. Look at our shoes, Maxine. They’re in the foyer. Safe and / contained.
MAXINE. It’s on your socks then. How does anyone get shit on his socks? Do you just walk around barefoot all day looking for filth to stomp through with your disgusting meaty hooves?
(JIM nervously checks his socks.)
SIDNEY. Our socks are clean, Max. Look. Maybe somebody tracked it into the locker room at the gym then, and it’s on… I don’t know. I’m sorry, all right?
(MAXINE laughs. She pulls her surgical mask down so it hangs loosely around her neck.)
MAXINE. (to JIM, lightly) It should be illegal, don’t you think, Jim? In Singapore they just shoot all the dogs. To keep the city clean. Here we put them on leashes, wander around, and let them spray the sidewalks. And then we clomp through the manure like we’re living on a farm, and nobody seems to notice. Nobody cares. In a few more years, people won’t even be able to walk. We’ll all need skis and snowshoes to get around… You’re not a dog lover, are you?
JIM. Not especially.
MAXINE. Good. Suddenly I thought I might have put my foot in my mouth. I do that sometimes. Luckily, I don’t track through feces first, like Sidney does.
JIM. Ha. I prefer cats.
MAXINE. Uch! Cats, blechh. You don’t have cats at home, do you?
JIM. Uh… Well, my parents have two, but–
MAXINE. No, but you don’t live with them now?
JIM. My parents? No. I’m a little bit / old for–
MAXINE. I meant the cats.
SIDNEY. Leave it alone, Maxine. You’re embarrassing him.
JIM. No, that’s all right.
MAXINE. He seems quite confident.
SIDNEY. Don’t let the good looks fool you. He’s shy.
MAXINE. Sidney had a rat once, you know, when we met–
JIM. Really?
SIDNEY. A hamster, actually.
MAXINE. A rodent, anyhow. He kept it in the kitchen, can you believe that? Next to the sink. Every time we had breakfast, I just wanted to barf. Finally, I dumped the squeaky thing down the garbage disposal and hit the switch. (She imitates the sound.) I’m joking, of course.
JIM. Ha…
SIDNEY. Hilarious.
MAXINE. We gave it away. The pound or something, wasn’t it, Sidney? Do they have a pound for hamsters?
SIDNEY. All right, Maxine. Enough.
MAXINE. Enough what? This is called “small talk.” I’m entertaining our guest. Somebody has to. You can just walk in and throw crap on the floor, but when I try to–
SIDNEY. You’ve made your point… I’ll clean it up.
MAXINE. No, don’t bother. Don’t bother. You’ll just smear it around and make it worse. (to JIM) Have you ever noticed that men are incapable of cleaning up the slightest mess? I think it’s because you pee standing up, you never really practice a proper wiping motion. Every day I mop an absolute carpet of pubic hair off the bathroom floor. The boys don’t even seem to notice.
(JIM laughs, politely. MAXINE puts her mask back on and exits, to the kitchen.)
SIDNEY. Sorry about that… We have kind of a cleanliness fetish going on here. In case you hadn’t noticed.
JIM. It’s all right. My mom’s a neat freak, too.
SIDNEY. A “neat freak.” Well, that’s a good way of / putting it.
JIM. I didn’t think we– tracked anything in here though, honestly.
SIDNEY. No. She– imagines things, that’s– I’m afraid Max has kind of um…lost track of what’s real and what’s… (He trails off.)
JIM. Whatever the opposite of real is?
SIDNEY. Hm. Exactly. (He smiles.) In any case, you’re here now. An outside observer. A witness to our surprise.
JIM. What surprise?
SIDNEY. Oh, well. We could all use a bit of objectivity, Jim.
What do they call it? In a science experiment? The “control?” I’m an inmate here myself. Can’t very well study the asylum, now can I?
JIM. Well, you both seem like you’re on the spectrum of normal to me.
(SIDNEY laughs.)
SIDNEY. Wait a while.
(MAXINE enters, carrying a bucket and a rag.)
JIM. You’ve got a great place here, Maxine.
MAXINE. Thank you. We bought it when things were cheap, so now we can’t ever leave.
SIDNEY. I already told that one, Honey.
(She laughs, pulls the mask down again.)
MAXINE. Oh, well… Married couples are so tedious, aren’t they, Jim? It’s like sharing one brain. One small, feeble, bisected brain.
(She starts to clean the carpet.)
JIM. Can I–
MAXINE. That’s all right. I got it… Are you from the city?
JIM. No, from Michigan, actually.
MAXINE. Oh, whereabouts?
SIDNEY. A hick from the sticks, Darling. We’ll have to instruct him on the mysteries of sidewalks and / traffic lights.
JIM. Just outside of Detroit, actually. Thank you very much.
MAXINE. (pleasantly) I love the Midwest. I’m from Milwaukee, originally. It’s so much more wholesome, don’t you think? Compared to the coasts…
SIDNEY. “Wholesome.” Ugh.
MAXINE. Really. You know that since 9/11, New York City has been the most polluted place on the planet, Jim?
JIM. I didn’t, no.
MAXINE. Yeah. The EPA did an environmental assessment, they won’t even release some of their findings. There’d be mass exodus. If people knew– We’re blanketed in clouds of asbestos, vaporized plastics, VOCs, lead paint, jet fuel. It’s all carcinogenic. Not to mention the consequences for sufferers of asthma and allergies. It’s like we all just inhaled two office buildings. In our lungs. Three hundred fifty stories of steel and concrete and glass, along with three thousand bodies. Charred flesh, human hair, bone. Cut ten years off the life expectancy of every person in the city, probably. And we’re worried about global warming? (She laughs.) Of course, Sidney won’t even think about leaving Manhattan. He’s like Woody Allen. Except not funny.
(SIDNEY laughs.)
JIM. My friends all thought I was nuts to move here now. They all think it’s a matter of time, you know, before the next biological attack, or dirty bomb…
MAXINE. Well they’re right, but actually that’s the least of our worries now. Look at the air. I mean, we’re living on top of this giant cesspool. And then we’re surprised by these massive upticks in premature births, infant asthma, lung cancer, autism?
SIDNEY. (interrupting) How are the kids, Maxine?
MAXINE. Oh, they’re– (She glances at the stairs.) Sarah’s running a slight fever, I think, but she’s pre-menstrual, so maybe that’s normal, I’m not sure. Davey hasn’t had a bowel movement since Tuesday… I’ve given him a laxative, but–
SIDNEY. So, they’re fine.
MAXINE. Well, if you don’t want details, Sidney.
SIDNEY. You kidding? I love details. Tell us more, please… Let’s break out the spreadsheets.
MAXINE. (to JIM) I’m sorry. Our children are ill, so–
SIDNEY. That’s a matter of opinion.
MAXINE. Is it?
SIDNEY. Why don’t we call them down? Introduce Jim to the next generation.
MAXINE. They’re studying.
SIDNEY. They can take a break. Anyway, how’s he supposed to form an accurate opinion if he doesn’t get the full freakshow?
MAXINE. All right, fine… Call them down. If you want to take that risk.
SIDNEY. That risk? That’s a bit dramatic, don’t you think? I mean our guest will start to feel unwelcome here. He’s not some disease– Some spore we might accidentally inhale.
JIM. I’m sorry, maybe I should–
SIDNEY. (without turning) Sit.
MAXINE. (laughs) Don’t worry, Jim. Stay. Relax. It’s fine. A familiar squabble. It comes out of affection. Mostly. (to SIDNEY) Well then… At least clear your things off the couch, Sidney. This isn’t a toxic waste dump, after all.
(She picks up his duffel bag.)
MAXINE. What’s this, your dirty jock strap?
SIDNEY. Yes, Max. It’s so big I need a separate bag to carry it around in.
(For some reason, both SIDNEY and MAXINE find this very funny. They laugh.)
(MAXINE drops the bag on the coffee table as SIDNEY goes to the foot of the stairs.)
SIDNEY. (calling) Sarah? Davey? Come down a minute?
(He crosses back to the sitting area. MAXINE puts her mask back on.)
MAXINE. (re: the dog shit) Don’t mention this to the children, Jim, all right? They’ll worry themselves sick. Who knows what this mutt had in his system. The fleas. Worms–
(SARAH, 19, and DAVEY, 17, appear at the top of the stairs. They are pale, fragile, kind of weirdly beautiful.)
(DAVEY has on a paper mask like MAXINE’s, covering his mouth and nose. SARAH’s face is uncovered.)
(JIM stands as they come in.)
JIM. Hello–
SIDNEY. Guys, this is Jim. One of my students. Sarah. Davey. Our kids.
JIM. Good to meet you.
SIDNEY. Come. Chat.
(They come down the stairs together and sit on the couch, across from JIM.)
(JIM sits too, uncomfortably aware of his own body, his damp clothes.)
JIM. Sorry… We just came from playing– I’m a little bit–
SIDNEY. Jim’s in my class this year, guys. I thought he and Sarah might be able to talk shop.
SARAH. James– Corrigan? Is that your–
JIM. Uh, yeah, how did you..?
SIDNEY. Sarah reads all the literary journals. Kenyon Review. Threepenny. Cover to cover, right? Keeps track of the new talent.
JIM. Oh.
SIDNEY. She knows an up-and-comer / when she sees one.
JIM. I don’t know if I can still / be considered–
SARAH. I don’t keep track. You make me sound like such a stalker. (to JIM) I hate most of it. Just love to torture myself with mediocrity, that’s all.
JIM. Thanks.
SARAH. Oh, I don’t mean you. I didn’t mean– I like some of yours… The early ones. “Inside-Out Man.” That was good.
SIDNEY. Davey? Are you gonna say hi?
DAVEY. Hello.
SIDNEY. Jim’s the best writer in the program this year. A future star. Although his grade did drop a full letter on the court this after–
MAXINE. You already used that one, Sidney.
SIDNEY. So I did. I did… (He chuckles.) Jim, you want to stay for dinner? You must be starving.
(SARAH and DAVEY both glance at MAXINE. She watches SIDNEY.)
JIM. Oh, I don’t think I can, I’m uh–
SIDNEY. Come on. We don’t get visitors often. Keep us company. We’ll call it extra credit.
MAXINE. Sidney, I don’t have enough for–
SIDNEY. We’ll supplement. Must have something lying around. Leftovers? Ten minutes. Jim, what do you say?
JIM. I’m not really dressed.
SIDNEY. It’s not black tie.
JIM. Well, but I don’t want to intrude…
SIDNEY. Oh, come on, mealy-mouthed Dear Abby social etiquette bullshit! You’re a starving poetry student. Your professor just invited you to a free dinner. Complimentary calories. Eat!
JIM. (laughs) Okay.
SIDNEY. All right then. I should warn you though, we have vegans here, so if you want a T-bone or foie gras, look elsewhere.
JIM. No, I’m pretty much a vegetarian myself, actually.
MAXINE. Are you?
SIDNEY. Well then, you’ll fit right in. The only animals we like to slaughter in this house are dogs and– what? Hamsters, Max?
(SIDNEY laughs.)
(DAVEY suddenly takes a deep, rattling breath.)
(They all look at him.)
SARAH. Davey?
SIDNEY. Hey, what / is it?
MAXINE. You having a reaction?
(DAVEY nods)
SIDNEY. (to JIM) No problem. Don’t worry–
MAXINE. What is it, Honey? Can you tell? Something on the–
SIDNEY. Why don’t you go upstairs, Dave. Rest a bit.
MAXINE. We’ll turn on the filters. Clear it out. Okay?
(DAVEY nods and makes his way carefully up the stairs, holding the railing.)
JIM. Sid, I should really go– You guys have a lot going on here, and I’m–
SIDNEY. Don’t be ridiculous. This happens sometimes. Asthma. He just needs to lie down, take some deep breaths. He’ll be okay. Trust me, he soldiers through. You’ll get used to it. I still have to sign that letter, right? After dinner.
(DAVEY has disappeared upstairs. The others sit in an awkward silence.)
SIDNEY. Maxine? Shall we?
MAXINE. Are you trying to make a point, Sidney?
SIDNEY. What point would that be? It’s not as if this is unusual, is it? You don’t think it’s anything serious?
MAXINE. Sarah? Are you–
SARAH. I’m fine, Mom.
MAXINE. You sure?
SIDNEY. We’ll let them talk then, okay? (to JIM) You washed your hands, right? You’re sterile?
JIM. As a mule.
(SIDNEY laughs.)
SIDNEY. Smart ass. Believe this kid? (ushering MAXINE into the kitchen) Ask her about her work, Jim. Don’t take no for an answer. Trust me, she wants to talk about it.
(SIDNEY and MAXINE exit. JIM and SARAH sit there, awkwardly.)
JIM. So. Your work..?
SARAH. Guess you’re Dad’s new favorite, huh?
JIM. Uh. I wouldn’t say that. Just a / student.
SARAH. “Friend?”
JIM. I don’t know. I guess we hit it off. A bit.
(She nods at the piece of paper on the coffee table.)
SARAH. Recommendation letter?
JIM. Yeah.
SARAH. Made you write it yourself, didn’t he?
JIM. (laughs) I did a draft, yeah. He’s a busy guy, so– I don’t mind.
SARAH. I hope you were lavish in your praise. You mind?
(She picks up the letter.)
JIM. Uh– It’s a little embarrassing, actually. I’d prefer if you didn’t–
SARAH. (reads) “James Corrigan is the most talented and promising young poet I have met in over two decades of teaching–” Wow. Congratulations.
JIM. He told me to be “obscenely generous,” so…
SARAH. What’s it for?
JIM. A fellowship. At Stanford. I don’t know…
SARAH. Just what we need, right? More Stegner poets. Gag. (JIM laughs.) He took you to play squash though. That’s a good sign. He must think you’re good. He chooses someone each year, you know. We hear all about that. He believes in um… Apprenticeship. One-on-one guidance. The ancient Greeks. Of course, he’s never brought one of you home before…
JIM. I’m honored.
SARAH. Are you?
JIM. Shouldn’t I be?
SARAH. I think it’s annoying, actually, picking favorites based on this macho male bonding bullshit. Squash? (She picks up the book.) The Earl of Rochester? How’s a woman supposed to get noticed if the professors all prefer men?
JIM. Many of the professors notice women, trust me.
SARAH. Gross.
JIM. (laughs) Well… Better that he hangs out with me then? At least we know his intentions are pure.
SARAH. He took me to play once, you know, when I was a kid. I was scared. Whacking a ball around a room the size of a refrigerator, it seems insane. And the locker rooms there are filthy. Like trekking through a sewer.
JIM. Imagine what the guys’ room is like. Ten times worse. At least. (beat) Hey– Your dad said you wanted to talk about your work, right? Can we–
SARAH. No, I don’t–
JIM. “Don’t take no for an answer.”
SARAH. Too bad.
JIM. Uh… (laughs) Okay… I can’t force you.
SARAH. He’s just trying to be provocative. Ignore him.
JIM. Tell me something at least, so I can say I–
SARAH. “Tried?” What do you want to know?
JIM. Something about– something you wrote? Anything? I’m interested, really…
SARAH. Yeah, right…
JIM. No, I am. I am. Come on.
(SARAH looks at him.)
(She reaches in her pocket and takes out a folded piece of paper. She unfolds it and glances at the page.)
(She rubs the piece of paper between her fingers, considers, and then holds it out to him.)
(JIM takes the paper. He reads, looks up at her, reads more. She watches him carefully.)
(He puts the paper down.)
JIM. Guess it runs in the family, huh?
SARAH. Oh please.
JIM. I’m serious. I’m not even surprised. I mean, your dad’s a genius, after all. Maybe it’s hereditary.
SARAH. Genius genes, you think?
JIM. I’m jealous. How’d you come up with this? If you don’t
mind my–
SARAH. Oh, I saw a documentary once. Discovery Channel. About a group of spiders, in Africa? They had gotten so big they could hunt live chickens– (JIM laughs.) And there was a picture of this one spider, standing over a dead bird. This big. (She demonstrates.) He had dragged it out of a coop in the village, like a coyote. And when they took the cameras down into the spider hole, where all these huge things lived, feeding on KFC, they found a live frog down there, with all the spiders… They were keeping it, as a pet, bringing it food, and cleaning up its waste, grooming it–
JIM. (laughs) That’s the sickest thing I ever heard.
SARAH. I know, isn’t it? I felt so bad for the frog though. Don’t you think? Down there, all alone, with those things? This foreign species? But I don’t know, maybe he was happy. Maybe they were friends. Maybe he felt taken care of… (beat) So, I wrote a poem about it.
JIM. Sent it out yet?
(SARAH shakes her head.)
Why not?
SARAH. I don’t know. Uncomfortable.
JIM. Your dad knows people. He could probably–
SARAH. Oh, yeah, No, I know. I just don’t want to have people shitting all over my poems right now. They’re private.
JIM. You showed me.
SARAH. I was curious.
JIM. About what?
SARAH. Whether they’re any good.
JIM. You must know they are.
SARAH. I wanted– an outside opinion.
JIM. Why me?
SARAH. Because you’re here. Because you’re a guy. Because I’m pathetic and insecure. I don’t know. I was trying it out.
JIM. And?
(SARAH shrugs.)
(He looks at her.)
Hey– Can I ask you something?
SARAH. What?
JIM. How old are you?
SARAH. Why..? Nineteen.
JIM. I knew it.
SARAH. What?
JIM. Child prodigies depress me. A reminder that I’m old and fucking ordinary. I’m twenty-six, right? When I was nineteen I was probably writing like– white-boy rap lyrics and dirty rhymes on the bathroom stalls.
SARAH. I’m not a child.
JIM. You’re still in high school?
SARAH. No, I’ve graduated, basically.
JIM. “Basically?”
SARAH. Well, we’re home-schooled, you know… Mom’s a certified high school teacher. I have a diploma. But there’s no ceremony or anything. We had a cake. They bought me a laptop.
JIM. You made out like a bandit, trust me. Ceremony’s the worst part.
SARAH. Yeah…
JIM. So you’re applying to colleges now, or…
SARAH. Keep a secret?
JIM. I think so. Sure.
SARAH. I already applied. To St. John’s? In Annapolis? I was accepted. Got the package yesterday.
JIM. Congratulations.
SARAH. Yeah. They have excellent health services there, you know. One of the best in the country. Ten full-time doctors, and an ICU right on campus–
JIM. Wow.
(She blushes, realizing she’s said something strange.)
SARAH. I have a family history, you know, so I have to think about–
JIM. No, sure. I understand. I’m just–
SARAH. Going away to college would be–
JIM. A big step.
SARAH. Right. (beat) My mom doesn’t know yet. That I applied. That I got in. We didn’t want to upset her, until. So. It’s gonna be a big surprise tonight.
JIM. I’m sure she’ll be ecstatic.
(She nods uncertainly.)
So what did you mean “the early ones”?
SARAH. What?
JIM. You said before. You liked my “early ones…”
SARAH. Oh, I don’t know. I just–
JIM. You think my recent stuff is–
SARAH. No no no, I–
JIM. Shit, right? (He laughs.) That’s why I came to New York. Hoping for…inspiration. Or something. That your dad would rub off on me.
SARAH. And has he?
JIM. Not yet. Not yet, but I’m hopeful. Another year before I have to throw in the towel, go to law school or something…
SARAH. Hey, you want to hear some music?
JIM. Sure, what do you–
SARAH. Bach? Shubert..?
JIM. Oh, fine. I’m illiterate with that kind of– I know more like, The Ramones. The Cure, y’know…
SARAH. Punk music.
JIM. Well… Nerd-punk by now, I guess.
(She nods awkwardly, gets up, turns on the stereo. Music starts to play.)
(JIM mock-cheers, making the sound of a crowd at a rock concert. It falls flat.)
(SARAH sits back down.)
JIM. So… You don’t wear a mask. SARAH. No.
JIM. Your mom said you were sick.
SARAH. Mmm. My brother’s mostly– Well, we’re all allergic to certain things. Borderline MCS? So. We have to keep the place clean. Immaculate, really. It’s kind of a full-time job, for all of us. But as long as I’m here, I’m pretty– safe.

“Sick” has been produced across the country and is published by Samuel French.