A Play: “The Trouble with Sirens”

[Editor’s Note: Following is another short play of mine which received a reading at the Baltimore Playwrights Festival.]

The Trouble with Sirens

Setting:
The present, in the living room of a middle-class home.

AT RISE:
(A suburban living room. RICHARD and NICK are sitting on a sofa, looking at textbook in front of them.)

RICHARD
Odysseus wants to experience the beauty of the Siren’s calls, but he also understands the dangers involved, so he takes precautions to keep himself and his crew safe.} The sailors bind Odysseus to the mast of the ship, so he won’t act on his temptation by the Sirens. His men have beeswax in their ears, so they won’t hear the sirens’ calls. Homer is saying that we can’t just give in to our desires. Sometimes we need others to stop us from hurting ourselves in the name of temporary pleasure. Make sense?

NICK
Why can’t he see the sirens? What’s so bad about seeing them?

RICHARD
The beauty of their song is a trap. It will lure them into danger and their ship will crash. Everything Odysseus will be looking for will be destroyed.

NICK
I still don’t understand how listening to a song can cause any trouble.

RICHARD
It’s the moral of the story. Have you ever wanted something and you know you shouldn’t have it? That it’s bad for you?

NICK
This one time, my cousin Sue Ann was changing her clothes by the window while I was tossing the ball around with my daddy out in the yard, and—

RICHARD
Well, yeah, I guess. If it helps you to understand The Odyssey…

(beat)

I wouldn’t write about that experience in your blue book, though.

NICK
There’s just so much stuff to think about—themes and climaxes and protons and that kind of stuff…

RICHARD
Protagonists, you mean?

NICK
Huh?

RICHARD
Never mind.

(beat)

We have two hours to get you ready for this test. You’re gonna be fine.

NICK
You sure? Coach said if my grades drop—

RICHARD
I know, you’ve mentioned that about four times this afternoon.

NICK
I’m just nervous is all.

RICHARD
Don’t be. Just focus and follow along with me. Now, after the ship passes the sirens, the next adventure they have is—

(We hear a door open offstage. Both men look up. EVE calls cheerfully from another room.)

EVE
I’m home, Richard!

RICHARD
Oh shit.

NICK
What’s the matter?

RICHARD
Nothing. Let’s get back to—

(EVE enters. She is a woman in her early forties, stunningly attractive.)

EVE
Hello dear…

(A pause, EVE stares at NICK. Her voice takes on a different, sultrier tone.)

Why, hello, handsome.

RICHARD
Mom, this is Nick. I’m helping him with some World Lit stuff. He’s got a test coming—

EVE
I’ve seen you in the papers, haven’t I?

NICK
Yes, ma’am.

EVE
You’re the quarterback. The one that might go pro.

NICK
Yes, ma’am. Nick Simmons.

EVE
I’m Eve Carson, Richard’s mother.

NICK
Pleased to meet you, ma’am.

EVE
Drop the ma’am, sugar. We’re all friends here.

RICHARD
Uh, mom… His test is coming up tonight. Nick needs to study.

(beat)

What happened to your date? Weren’t you and, uh, what’s-his-name going out this afternoon?

EVE
Sonny? Yeah, well, we did go out but I am so tired of always doing the same thing with him. Every date we go out with his friends. I’m just so bored with the whole lot of them and I told him so. I caught a taxi home.

RICHARD
I’m sorry to hear that. Now if you’ll excuse us—

EVE
His friends weren’t nearly so nice as yours, though. They were always getting high on mescaline and racing their Harleys around and getting into fights.

RICHARD
What?!?! Who are these people?

EVE
Sonny’s biker friends.

RICHARD
Bikers?

EVE
The Hell’s Angels.

(beat)

They’re not as much fun as you’d imagine.

(RICHARD sits, gaping. NICK looks nonplussed.)

Anyway, you boys enjoy your studies. I’ll be in the other room.

(She exits. RICHARD and NICK exchange a look.)

NICK
Your mother seems nice.

RICHARD
Sorry she interrupted.

NICK
The Hell’s Angels?

RICHARD
She’s got a lot going on now, ever since my dad left she’s been feeling her oats. Let’s get back to—

(EVE reenters, carrying two bottles of beer.)

EVE
You kids are working so hard. I thought maybe you’d like a little refreshment.

RICHARD
We’re studying—

NICK
That’s great! Thank you, Mrs. Carson.

(NICK takes a beer and swigs from it. RICHARD looks at him, sighs and takes his beer, too.)

EVE
So, you’re getting ready for a test, huh?

(She pulls up a chair next to NICK , turns it backward and straddles it.)

RICHARD
Uh, mom…

(A pause)

EVE
Oh! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hold you back.

(EVE stands up and turns the chair back around. She moves to exit and on the way tousles NICK’S hair and smiles at him. Their eyes meet and they share a moment. EVE exits.

RICHARD
So, The Odyssey…

(NICK is distracted, staring after the departed EVE.)

NICK
Uh-huh.

RICHARD
After they sail past the sirens, what happens then?

NICK
…sirens…?

RICHARD
Come on, man. The clock is ticking.

NICK
Um…

RICHARD
You’ve gotta focus.

(NICK seems to hear him.)

NICK
You’re right, you’re right. I’m sorry.

(A beat)

Where were we?

RICHARD
They’ve just sailed past the sirens. What does Odysseus do next?

NICK
I think the next thing they did was—

(EVE enters, carrying a Tupperware container.)

EVE
Anyone hungry? I have some cookies.

NICK
I’d like one.

(As EVE approaches, we realize that she has undone the top two buttons of her blouse. She leans over and extends the container to NICK. Her ample cleavage is on full display for the quarterback.)

EVE
They’re good. Trust me.

(NICK takes a cookie without looking into the container.)

NICK
I do have a sweet tooth…

EVE
I bet.

RICHARD
Mom, for fuck’s sake!

(EVE stands up quickly and turns on her son.)

EVE
Richard! Language!

RICHARD
I’m sorry, but—

EVE
I will not be spoken to like that in my house by my own son!

(EVE begins to tear up. She rushes from the room. NICK glares at RICHARD.)

NICK
What’d you do that for?

RICHARD
Look, you’ve got this test—

(EVE lets out an offstage sob.)

NICK
She’s your mother, Rich! Family is far more important than some stuffy old college exam!

RICHARD
But the coach said—

(Another sob. NICK stands up and moves toward EVE/)

NICK
If you don’t care that she’s hurt, I sure do!

RICHARD
Nick, come on—

(NICK exits. RICHARD sighs. He sits and waits, but there is no sound and NICK does not return. He taps his pen on the table, flips through his book, and reads for a moment. Finally, he stands up, agitated. He is about to go after NICK and EVE, but there is a knock at the front door. He goes to answer it. When he opens the door, a burly man wearing an eye-patch and a Hell’s Angels jacket enters brusquely.)

SONNY
Hey! Dick, right? How’s it fuckin’ hangin’?

RICHARD
You must be Sonny.

SONNY
No shit.

(Beat)

Your mom home? I gotta see her. Now.

RICHARD
She’s home. I can get her. She’s—

SONNY
Let me guess. She’s in the john. Bet she’s got her fuckin’ period, the way she’s been actin’ today.

(SONNY sits down on the couch and puts his feet up on the coffee table, knocking a few of the books off onto the floor.)
​​
​​RICHARD
Uh, can you please…

SONNY
Oh, shit. Did I fuck somethin’ up?

RICHARD
I’m just trying to tutor my friend. It’s no big deal.

(RICHARD scoops up his books and puts them in a pile next to the coffee table.)

SONNY
Somethin’ goin’ on with your mom? She used to like shootin’ pool with me and Dozer and Joe the Chink. All-a sudden she ain’t happy with that no more. Too fuckin’ good for it, like she’s some kinda fuckin’ princess.

(SONNY’S voice is growing angry. RICHARD senses the changing atmosphere.)

RICHARD
I think she’s just got a lot on her mind. She should talk to you. I’ll get her.

(As RICHARD moves to the door, we hear a rhythmic thumping, a headboard hitting a wall.)

SONNY
The fuck is that?

RICHARD
Sometimes, uh, when she’s running on her treadmill—and she does that when she’s stressed to blow off steam—it can get pretty lo9ud.

SONNY
You gotta love a woman who takes care of herself. Too many broads these days just sit around eatin’ fuckin’ ice cream and drinkin’ Schlitz until they got asses the size of a tank. Not your ma. She’s got an ass so tight you could bounce a quarter off of it.

RICHARD
Um.

SONNY
I caught Dozer lookin’ at her ass just the other day. I hadda break a pool cue over his fuckin’ head. I mean, he’s probably the best friend I got in the world, but you don’t mess with my old lady. I’m tellin’ you, if it hadn’t-a been Dozer—if it had just been some fuckwit banker asshole, I probably would have taken out my chain and whipped that cocksucker within an inch of his fuckin’ life.

(beat)

No shit.

(SONNY laughs. RICHARD joins him, uncomfortably.)

RICHARD
She, uh, shouldn’t be long. This kind of thing never really is.

SONNY
So where’s your friend?

RICHARD
Huh? Who? What now?

SONNY
You said you was tutorin’ a friend. He in the head or somethin’?

RICHARD
…yes?

(We hear an audible offstage moan from EVE. The pounding is getting faster.)

SONNY
She must really be workin’ hard.

(RICHARD laughs nervously.)

RICHARD
She doesn’t make things easy on herself, that’s for sure.

(beat)

Or on me either.

SONNY
Good mothers are tough. They’ll beat your ass if they hafta. They’re not afraid to show some tough fuckin’ love.

(We hear the sounds of spanking—three or four loud slaps, followed by an animal grunt. The banging stops.)

RICHARD
She motivates herself with a short round of applause after each run.

SONNY
Is she okay? Sounded like somethin’s about to die in there.

RICHARD
I’d say she’s probably pretty tired. She might go right to sleep now. Maybe you should just come back tomorrow.

SONNY
Fuck that. I rode all the way over here and I’ve been sittin’ here waitin’ for her. Let me just pop in and talk to her before she goes to bed, Big fuckin’ deal.

(SONNY stands up and moves toward the door, but RICHARD blocks his path).

RICHARD
Really, she’s probably about to jump in the shower. She wouldn’t want to be disturbed.

SONNY
Like I ain’t never seen her naked?

RICHARD
I appreciate that, but—

(NICK re-enters, fastening the front of his pants.)

NICK
I’m sorry to make you wait, Rich—

(NICK spots SONNY on the couch. He looks at RICHARD, who smiles meekly.)

RICHARD
Nick, this is my mom’s boyfriend, Sonny.

(There is an awkward pause.)

NICK
I think I’d better be going. I don’t want to be late for that test.

(NICK begins to gather his things. EVE enters as she speaks. She is wearing a bathrobe, tied loosely around her.)

EVE
Thanks for the kind words, Nick. I feel much—

(She stops when she sees SONNY.)

What are you doing here?

SONNY
I’m talkin’ to you. I wanna find out why you left this afternoon.

NICK
I’ll see you later, Mrs. C. Thanks, Richard.

EVE
Don’t go, Nick. Sonny’s the one leaving.

SONNY
Like hell.

(beat)

Is this why you left? So you could fuck Junior over there?

RICHARD
Listen, I’m sure there’s some other explanation—

SONNY
She was exercisin’, huh? I bet she was.

(SONNY pulls a knife and moves toward NICK, who backs up until he is against the wall.)

NICK
Please, mister… Don’t hurt me…

SONNY
I’ll make you beg harder than that.

NICK
Oh god, I can see why Odysseus didn’t go to the sirens when they called…

(SONNY pauses.)

SONNY
What the hell are you talking about?

(While SONNY is distracted, Richard brings a copy of The Odyssey down on his head with great force, knocking him cold. RICHARD looks down at the unconscious man.)

RICHARD
And that, Nick, is why studying literature is important. You never know when that piece of knowledge can mean the difference between life and death.

EVE
We’d better restrain him until the police arrive. Nick, you know where I keep the handcuffs.

NICK
Yes, Mrs. C.

(NICK exits.)

EVE
I’m sorry, Richard. I never would have guessed that Sonny would be like this.

RICHARD
He takes mescaline, mom.

EVE
Well so do I and I don’t go around pulling knives on people.

(NICK re-enters with the handcuffs. They fasten SONNY to the coffee table, EVE kicks the knife across the room.)

EVE
I’ll get my cell phone and call the police and wait here with him. The two of you should probably go before he comes to.

(beat)

Bye Nick.

NICK
See you later.

(She exits.)

NICK
I’m nervous about this test, Richard.

RICHARD
Don’t be. You dealt with the siren’s temptation and fought the Cyclops. I think you understand Homer.

NICK
Thanks.

(NICK heads for the door. RICHARD goes with him.)

RICHARD
But Nick? If I ever have to listen to you and my mother again, I’m going to give your dorm address to Dozer and Joe the Chink.

​​NICK
Who are they—?

​​RICHARD
Let’s hope you never have to find out.

(BLACKOUT)

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About semiblind

Bringing you stark existentialism since 1981.
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