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It's Nelly's World

Second Chances: A Play in Not Quite Two Acts

alec vanderboom

ACT I, scene 1

The lights go up, but not all the way; we see the stage is empty. A spotlight searches, finds nothing, goes out again. A figure enters stage left, walks across, exits stage right. Another enters stage right.

Actor A. At any given moment, we do not know what is in the next one. This is why we should not believe either the darkness or the light will stay; the sun goes up, the sun goes down.

A third figure walks down the center aisle of the theater. At the proscenium, she looks for stairs to the stage front left, finds none. She implores Actor A wordlessly; he finally walks downstage to offer his hand, hoists her up from the orchestra pit.

Actor B. [to Actor A] Thanks--I couldn't have gotten up here without that. [Pauses, looks around] In fact, I couldn't have gotten much of anyplace without a hand reaching toward me out of the half-light, I realize now. It keeps happening, when I least expect it. I've known darkness--you all have. [gesturing to the audience] Didn't you have the experience, too? I mean, when something terrible happened, and you thought this was the way it was going to be for all time? Terrible, unrelieved terribleness? And then you found there were others out there, waiting to give you back what you thought you had lost forever? I mean, you didn't know they were even there, watching, knowing! And you didn't know you had missed those parts of yourself they gave you back? I guess when the sun goes down, the sun comes back up.

Upstage, the spot lights suddenly on a rosebush that wasn't there before. It goes black, then lights on a man holding an open book. Goes black again, then
lights on a beautifully decorated birthday cake on a pedestal. Offstage, the sound of a motorcycle starting.

ACT 1, scene 2

The curtain rises on a gym exercise room. It is filled with machines--rowers, bicycles, treadmills, elliptical trainers. Actor 2 is on one of the latter, in a row of otherwise empty machines. There is only one other machine being used in the whole room. We can see she has been there for some time: sweat rolls down her face and wets the collar of her shirt. She is watching the small screen in front of her. Then a man comes through the door to the room, towel around his neck. The stage lights grow dimmer and dimmer as he strides past three rows of machines and directly to the one she is in. He goes by three empty machines, then throws his towel on the bar of the machine next to hers. We see that something has come over her: although she still stares at the television screen, her movements slow, and the look on her face is one of confusion, disbelief, and a sort of terror mixed together. She knows who he is. The source of this darkness. He plugs in his iPod and begins to peddle. Their arms are so close that if they wanted, they could reach over and touch each other. She knows him well, better than any other man save her father, and maybe better than that. She had thought he knew her too. But now, one foot away, he has not even noticed she was there. Her movements slow to a stop. She silently gets off her machine. He peddles faster, absorbed in his music. She walks deliberately toward the exit, and as she does so smoke rolls across the floor, rising up until it obscures the man, and she is gone.


Actor A. The road presents two forks. [gestures] But one cannot in fact be taken: see, a tree has fallen. One must take the left fork, then. The obstacle changes everything that comes after. The shadow of the tree remains. The traveler knows it is there, preventing a return, preventing the discovery of all that may be by the wayside along the other road. It may be beauty. It may be success, happily ever after. Or maybe not. The left fork, unfortunately, is a narrower way. It turns to dirt, and is muddy in places. [Actor B enters upstage right, walking hesitantly, then more quickly, then nearly stops, bewildered; a spotlight comes up right on the place before her, and her look brightens as she picks her way around a boulder, then continues] It is fortunate, a blessing, that the traveler never knows what is on the other road, the one she was prevented from taking. It is ever thus, for all who walk. And you--you all walk on. [The actor who crossed the stage in Act I now appears from opposite Actor B, walking toward her. The lights go down as they continue to pick their way forward. We will never see what happens at the place they meet]

Music up: a string quartet plays something plaintive yet light.