From “Nocturama”

Brooklynite Skaggs Bernstein (26, self-loathing, recently dumped by his girlfriend, Meghan) has returned home to Vermont to live with his mother.

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Dec 1 2009, 12:00am

Annie Baker is a playwright from Amherst, Massachusetts. Her other plays include Body Awareness (Atlantic Theater Company, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominations), Circle Mirror Transformation (just finished a twice-extended run at Playwrights Horizons), and The Aliens (upcoming at New York City’s Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, spring 2010). 

Annie tells us: “
Nocturama was a lot of fun to write. It’s also the play that no one will produce. I wrote it during a period of crippling self-hatred and depression, and I was interested in how, even if you’re a well-intentioned depressed person, you can still really screw up the lives of everyone around you just through the things that being depressed can make you say. I was also interested in what we mean when we say ‘depressed.’ I was also interested in the way liberal-seeming white people talk about black people when they’re not around. I was also interested in historical house tours and melancholic female 19th-century poets (Emily Dickinson in particular), and at the peak of my insane depression I was attending three historical house tours a week and getting obsessed with the (always female) historical house tour guides and their fanatical interest in the minutiae of dead people’s lives.”


Brooklynite SKAGGS BERNSTEIN (26, self-loathing, recently dumped by his girlfriend, Meghan) has returned home to Vermont to live with his mother, JUDY, 58, and her boyfriend, GARY, 60. Skaggs spends his days talking to Judy about his depression and flirting with a local historical house tour guide. He also likes to torment Gary, who is overweight and addicted to video games. Gary has just raided Judy’s secret stash of expensive chocolate. This scene takes place late in the play.

SCENE FOUR: THE LIVING ROOM
Lights up on Skaggs sitting on the couch, eating saltines and drinking directly from a huge bottle of ginger ale. Judy is sitting next to him with a cup of tea.
 

SKAGGS

Do you ever think about what people will say about you at your funeral?

Judy nods.
 

SKAGGS

You like fantasize about it?
 

JUDY

Sure.
 

SKAGGS

Good. That makes me feel like less of an asshole.

Gary enters the room, sits down in an armchair, and turns on his laptop.
 

SKAGGS

Do you want to be cremated or buried?
 

JUDY

Um… cremated.
 

SKAGGS

OK. See, I’m glad I asked. ’Cause if you like got run over by a car today Gary and I would have had no idea like… what your wishes are.
(calling out)
Cremated, Gary!

Gary nods, not taking his eyes off the computer.
 

SKAGGS

Buried for me.
 

JUDY

OK… I don’t want to think about that.
 

SKAGGS

Fine. But just…
(he whispers)
…buried.

Judy nods.
 

SKAGGS

Hey, Gary. Can I check email for a second?
 

GARY

I just started playing Nocturama.
 

SKAGGS

Please? My laptop is being really weird.
 

GARY

Hold on. I have to pause it.
(pause)
OK.

Gary stands up and steps aside. Skaggs dashes over and starts typing. After a second, he stops and looks up at Gary.


SKAGGS

Thanks.

Gary shrugs. Skaggs stares at the computer.
 

JUDY

Anything good?
 

SKAGGS

Just something from Elijah.
(a long silence while he reads the email)
Huh.
(after a while, to Gary)
OK. Thanks.

Skaggs stands there, thinking. Gary sits down and goes back to playing his game.

JUDY

What did he say?
 

SKAGGS

Weird.
 

JUDY

What?
 

SKAGGS

He’s moving to LA.
 

JUDY

I thought he was working for that photographer downtown.
 

SKAGGS

Yeah. No. I mean, he was. But he, uh… his older brother is like a reality-TV producer? Apparently he’s gonna move there and be a PA for this new show. He’s like driving there in his car next week.
 

JUDY

Ech. Reality TV.
 

SKAGGS

Some of it isn’t that bad, Mom.
 

JUDY

It’s awful.
 

SKAGGS

You don’t even watch it. You just think it’s bad ’cause you read articles about it.
(after a pause)
Anyway. He said he could get me a PA gig if I want it.

Gary and Judy both look up.

JUDY

You’re not gonna say yes, are you?
 

SKAGGS

No. I’m not… I can’t have a job right now. I mean, I’m totally dysfunctional.
(pause)
That would be insane, right?
(They don’t respond. Skaggs scratches his head.)
That’s great that he’s going, though. LA is cool.
 

JUDY

I don’t know. It’s not so cool if the job is meaningless and you’re not helping anyone or creating anything worthwhile.
 




SKAGGS

…Yeah.

A pause. Skaggs peers over Gary’s shoulder.

SKAGGS

So that’s Nocturama?
 

GARY

Uh-huh.
 

SKAGGS

What… like… what is it?
 

GARY

What do you mean?
 

SKAGGS

Like what… what’s the game?
 

GARY

It’s, uh… well, you’re kind of in this underground world.

Gary is still focused on the game. He doesn’t take his eyes off the screen.

SKAGGS

OK.
 

GARY

And, uh… you can’t really see much, because you’re moving through these caves?
 

SKAGGS

(peering over his shoulder)
Are you in a cave now?
 

GARY

Yeah. And, uh… you can… I mean, it’s complicated. You… you can buy different sources of light from the priestesses, and, well, there’s this underground sort of church? It’s hard to explain. But, uh… that red thing I’m holding…
 

SKAGGS

You’re the muscle-y guy?
 

GARY

Yeah. That’s a divinity ball. I earned that on the first level. You’re basically… Hold on.
(a fit of tapping on the keyboard)
I had to kill that shaman.
 

JUDY

(from the couch)
You killed a shaman?
 

GARY

He was evil.
(Judy sighs and shakes her head.)
Anyway, you’re descending, you’re descending into the, uh, heart of this underground world, and the lower you go the darker it gets, so the more protection and, uh, light you need? And there are these… there are these killer rats and, uh, cave beasts? But if I’m… I’m pretty well stocked so I can just…
 

SKAGGS

Whoa. You just killed that rat.
 

GARY

Well, I eliminated him.
 

SKAGGS

What’s the difference?
 

GARY

He might come back later.

Gary keeps playing the game while Skaggs watches, rapt.


SKAGGS

Those graphics are insane, man.
 

GARY

Yeah. It’s pretty good.

A long silence while Judy watches Skaggs watch Gary play Nocturama.
 

SKAGGS

What’s like the goal?
 

GARY

Oh. Well. You don’t really know until you get to the… but I’ve played it before, so I know. You… you enter the core, you go in—
 

SKAGGS

The core of what?
 

JUDY

Core of the world?
 

GARY

Well. Kind of. You go in, and there’s this, uh, sorceress, she’s the one who removed all the light… that’s why you’ve had to buy it on the black market the whole time…
 

SKAGGS

…OK…
 

GARY

…and, anyway, you, you go against her, you have this big fight, and then if you kill her—
 

SKAGGS

Wait. You’ve actually killed her?

Gary nods, still playing.
 

GARY

Yeah. If you kill her… she sort of melts away and she turns into this little boy. Lying on the ground. And you—
 

JUDY

You kill a little boy?
 

GARY

Well, you don’t know you’ve killed a little boy until after you’ve killed him. But then… you pick up his dead body—
 

SKAGGS

How do you know to do that?
 

GARY

The game just does it for you. It’s a graphic. You take him in your arms, and you absorb his curse so he can live again.
 

SKAGGS

That’s the end of the game?
 

GARY

Uh-huh.
 

SKAGGS

Whoa.

Judy gets up and goes into her bedroom. She opens her sock drawer and starts looking through it.
 

SKAGGS

What are you doing now?
 

GARY

I’m negotiating with a spearwoman.
(after a pause, quietly)
You should take that job.
 

SKAGGS

What?
 

GARY

Don’t tell your mom I said that.

Judy reenters.

JUDY

Where’s my chocolate?

Skaggs and Gary both look up.

JUDY

My chocolate is gone. (to Gary) Did you find it?

Gary doesn’t say anything.

JUDY

GARY.

Gary doesn’t respond. He keeps staring at the computer.

JUDY

Oh my God. That is… I’ve… you can’t… I can’t believe this! You’ve never… I hid that so you wouldn’t be tempted to—
 

SKAGGS

Chill out, man. I ate it.
 

JUDY

No, you didn’t.
 

SKAGGS

I did. Yesterday. I ate the whole thing. I needed like a sugar high or whatever.
 

JUDY

(after a pause)
It’s really expensive chocolate, Skaggs.
 

SKAGGS

I’ll buy you a new one.
 

JUDY

It’s five dollars a bar.
 

SKAGGS

Whatever. You said I could have some.
 

JUDY

I didn’t mean the whole thing.
(after a pause, to Gary)
Sorry.
 

GARY

It’s OK.

Judy walks back over to the couch and sits back down, dejected. Skaggs’s cell phone, which has been sitting on the ground, emits a small beep.

JUDY

Your phone just beeped.
 

SKAGGS

Yeah.
 

JUDY

Does that mean you have a message?
 

SKAGGS

Yeah. Meghan called.
 

JUDY

Are you gonna listen to it?
 

SKAGGS

Eventually.
 

JUDY

You’re kidding me. You’ve been pining away for a month and you don’t want to—
 

SKAGGS

It’s… the prospect of actually like hearing her voice in my ear after all this time is like… and she has this condescending thing she does? When she like knows she’s fucked up or in power or something? She sounds all kind of drippy and apologetic and like… I don’t know if I want to listen to her be like, Heey, I got your email, or whatever.
 

JUDY

I thought you missed her.
 

SKAGGS

I do. I do. But I miss… I like miss the time we went to visit her dad in Point Reyes. I mean, that was like two years ago. But I keep thinking about it. We were just really happy and relaxed and… I don’t know. I mean, it kills me, ’cause like that version of us is like totally dead.
 

GARY

(not looking up from the computer)
So you miss yourself.
 

SKAGGS

Yeah. I mean, her too.
 

JUDY

This is… this is perfect for EMDR. I’m telling you.
 

SKAGGS

Aggh.
 

JUDY

Because… it’s… you keep focusing on this memory. It’s obsessive thinking. What you need to do is find a way to process the memory and acknowledge it without causing yourself pain.

Skaggs shakes his head.

JUDY

I’m gonna do it.

Judy gets up and runs out of the room. Gary keeps playing Nocturama.


SKAGGS

Hey, Gary.
 

GARY

Uh-huh.
 

SKAGGS

I wanted to, uh…

Judy comes back in with her little EMDR contraption.

JUDY

OK. We’re gonna do it.
(she dims the lights)
Do you want to… hmm. You need to be relaxed. Why don’t we…
(she throws a bunch of pillows onto the floor)
You can just kind of prop yourself up on these.
 

SKAGGS

Jesus. You’re really excited about this.

He sits on the ground in front of the couch. Judy puts a pillow beneath his head and surrounds him with other pillows.

JUDY

Are you comfortable?
 

SKAGGS

I don’t know. Yeah.

Judy turns on the green light on the EMDR contraption. Gary pauses Nocturama and watches.

JUDY

OK. I’m gonna… just follow this with your eyes. Back and forth.
(Skaggs follows it with his eyes)
Yup. Now. Before we… before we go into the memory, I want you to ask yourself a question. Ask yourself: “What is the best way I could feel, to be at my best in this situation?”
 

SKAGGS

Wait, what?
 

JUDY

When you’re… the next time you experience this memory, how would you like to react? Don’t stop following the light.
 




SKAGGS

Uh… I guess I’d like to not feel depressed?
 

JUDY

Can you state that positively?
 

SKAGGS

Uh… I guess I’d like to feel not… sorry. Um. I’d like to feel calm?
 

JUDY

Good.
 

SKAGGS

And… uh… hopeful?
 

JUDY

Good.
 

SKAGGS

I thought I wasn’t supposed to feel hopeful.

Judy stops moving the light.

JUDY

Why?
 

SKAGGS

You said to Abandon Hope.
 

JUDY

That’s… that’s about living in the present. It’s OK to feel hopeful, um, in a memory.
(Gary shakes his head. Judy starts moving the light again.)
OK. Now… take your time… but just… just start going through the memory. Start narrating it.
 

SKAGGS

The whole thing?
 

JUDY

Just… live it again. But don’t close your eyes.
 

SKAGGS

OK. Um… we’d been dating for like ten months. We were staying in LA… and, uh, we decided to drive all the way up Highway 1 to her father’s house in Point Reyes.
 

JUDY

Just be back in it. Try to be back in it.
 

SKAGGS

OK. Uh. We’re driving. We’re in her aunt’s Jetta. We leave LA. We take 10 West to Santa Monica and then we put on, OK, so as we’re turning onto 1 we put on Joni Mitchell and we play “California” like right as the ocean comes into view and we start laughing at ourselves at, like, how cheesy we’re being but it’s actually like I actually feel kind of incredible and like the ocean is on my left and Meghan is driving and her window won’t roll up so her hair is like in her mouth and I keep putting my hand on her leg.
 

JUDY

You’re doing really good.
 

SKAGGS

OK… so we drive up, up, up, and like through Malibu and the hills are all brown and we almost turn off in Topanga Canyon but, uh, then we don’t… and there are all these little people down by the ocean and she keeps being like, “Should we stop here?” And I’m like, “We’re gonna be driving past beach for the next nine hours, wait until we get to Big Sur.”

A pause.

JUDY

Keep going.
 

SKAGGS

I’m just remembering how fucking bossy I was.
 

JUDY

Stay in it.
 

SKAGGS

…So we drive and we drive and, uh, we stop in Santa Barbara ’cause her cousin is a bellhop at the Four Seasons and he… he was actually a pretty cool guy, and he like worked all these extra hours to get us a free room, which is crazy, ’cause the Four Seasons is like $2,000 a night… so we drive into the parking lot and this like guy in a suit takes our car and Meghan’s cousin leads us to this villa building or something covered in red flowers and we have this huge room and we just go fucking nuts and run around in little circles on the carpet. We’ve like never been anywhere this nice in our lives. We both came from these like weird single mothers who live in cold places in New England and never take vacations.

No offense.
 

JUDY

I’m not here.
 

SKAGGS

So we’re in this gigantic like amazing hotel room and there are all these little shampoo bottles in the bathroom and we jump up and down on the bed and then we have sex and she starts like crying during it but in this really nice way and I remember she—
 

JUDY

No “I remember.” Stay in the present.
 

SKAGGS

…She like bites my shoulder while we’re having sex and it leaves this little mark and I look in the mirror afterward in the bathroom and see this like pink circle on my shoulder and I smiled, sorry, I smile, and I look at my reflection smiling, I’m smiling like a dumb shit, so happy, and I’m like: “Who is this guy?” Like I don’t even recognize myself. And for a second this fear goes through my body. This weird icicle of fear. I’m like: why am I here. What am I doing. I should be back in Brooklyn practicing and like maybe having a beer with Elijah but instead I’m at the Four Seasons with this person who like I look into her eyes, Jesus Christ, it’s so cheesy—
 

JUDY

It’s not cheesy.
 

SKAGGS

—and it’s like all the moments in my life have led up to this one. Blah blah blah.
(pause)
Anyway. We’re like these happy assholes and the next day we keep driving, we drive up to Big Sur, we stop and look at these fucking seals or sea lions or something, I forget, and at some point we stop in, uh, San Luis Obispo and after that Meghan starts calling me Obispo… which now that I think about it is such an infantile, stupid thing to call someone but at the time I thought it was incredibly charming or something and then we switch places and uh…

He pauses.

JUDY

What?
 

SKAGGS

I’m censoring a certain part of the story.
 

JUDY

Don’t.
 

SKAGGS

Yeah. I actually should.
 

JUDY

I’m not judging you.


SKAGGS

OK… uh… I start driving and then like somewhere just before we’re coming into San Francisco she gives me a blow job and it, like, feels so fucking good and I keep saying: “The top of my head is coming off.” I can’t stop saying that—“The top of my head is coming off”—and I’m driving into—
 

JUDY

This happened while you were driving?
 

SKAGGS

Yeah. See. That’s why—
 

JUDY

She gave you oral sex while you were driving?
 

SKAGGS

Yes.
 

JUDY

(quietly)
You’re lucky you didn’t get into an accident and her severed head didn’t go flying through the windshield.
 

SKAGGS

Great.
 

JUDY

Sorry.
 

SKAGGS

Jesus, Mom.
 

JUDY

Please keep going.
 

SKAGGS

This is exactly why I didn’t—
 

JUDY

Just… when you’re done? I have a story about something like that… sex in the car? And, um… one of the people actually died.

Skaggs stands up, throwing the pillows aside.

SKAGGS

I’m done.
 

JUDY

Skaggs.
 

SKAGGS

I’m done. It’s over.
 

JUDY

I want to hear about Point Reyes!
 

SKAGGS

No way. No way. And you know what? I don’t give actually give a fuck anymore. About any of it. So good job.

Skaggs gets up and walks into his bedroom. Judy and Gary look at each other.

JUDY

Have you ever done that?
 

GARY

What?
 

JUDY

Sex in the car.

Gary nods. Judy sighs and shakes her head. Skaggs storms back in and snatches his cell phone off the kitchen table.

JUDY

Are you gonna listen to Meghan’s message?
 

SKAGGS

I’m calling Elijah.

He storms back into his bedroom and shuts the door. Judy shrugs.

JUDY

…I don’t know. I think maybe it helped.

Blackout.
 

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