© 1991 by R.M. Usatinsky
All rights whatsoever in this play are strictly reserved and applications for permission to perform it, etc., must be made in advance, before rehearsals begin to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first performance of ELOISE was given at The Chicago Dramatists Workshop, December 9, 1991, with the following cast:
The play was directed by Luke Wilkins; the stage manager was Kimberly Wetherell.
Scene: 1965. A park in Chicago’s far north side. It is early autumn, about four thirty on a Friday afternoon. Two men in their early forties are sitting at opposite ends of a park bench. HAROLD, a salesman, is dressed in a light grey suit. The other man, JOE, is dressed in khaki trousers, a white Oxford cloth shirt and a brown corduroy blazer.
HAROLD. They’re putting in tennis courts.
JOE. Excuse me?
HAROLD. That’s what all the construction stuff is. Their putting in tennis courts out back of the field house.
JOE. Oh, that’s nice. If you play tennis, that is. Basketball’s more my game.
HAROLD. I don’t play personally. My wife was on the tennis team in high school. I went out for track and field.
JOE. So you’re a runner.
HAROLD. Not anymore. Osgood-Schlatter. My knees are for shit. I was hoping for a pool really.
JOE. A pool?
HAROLD. I was hoping they would put in a swimming pool instead of tennis courts. They could freeze it over for ice-skating in the winter. Seemed more practical. A swimming pool, that is.
JOE. My cousin Lawrence drowned at High Ridge Y last summer. Haven’t been into swimming much since then.
HAROLD. Drowned uh. A young kid?
JOE. Fourteen. They say he had a cramp. No one saw what really happened. My aunt Marie says he probably hit his head and passed out in the water.
HAROLD. I remember when I learned how to swim. We drove to California when I was nine. My uncle Jack had this huge house with this huge pool. Scary. Wouldn’t even walk along the edge. Uncle Jack thought I was being a sissy and one day he picked me up, threw me in the pool and said, “there now you’re a big boy and you can swim.”
JOE. Did you?
HAROLD. Yeah. Nearly drowned, but I was swimming. Drunk up half the water in the pool, but I was swimming. Yeah, I was really hoping they would put in a swimming pool instead of tennis courts. Would have been more practical. I’m a practical kind of guy.
JOE. [Gesturing at children playing in the distance.] Those your kids?
HAROLD. No. My wife took the girls up to Nippersink for the weekend. I’ve got some fix up work to do around the house—a leaky gutter and a basement window that need replacing, some kids threw a baseball through it last week; you know how it is trying to keep up a house; married right?
JOE. Uh, not exactly.
HAROLD: A confirmed bachelor. I like he sound of that.
JOE. Confirmed and re-confirmed.
JOE. You could say that. I live with my mother. My father passed away last year and—
HAROLD. [Standing up.] Sorry, got to run. There’s the Petersen bus. I’m meeting someone. Hey, nice talking with you. See you around.
JOE. Yeah, see you around. [He exits. JOE reads a newspaper as fifteen seconds elapse.
Enter HAROLD.] Not on the bus?
HAROLD. No. And I’ve been waiting almost an hour. I knew this was a bad idea.
JOE. That what was a bad idea?
HAROLD. Say, you were married once, let me ask you something—man to man. Did you ever…you know, fool around?
JOE. You mean did I ever cheat?
HAROLD. Yeah, you know, a little something extra on the side.
JOE. No. Can’t say that I did.
HAROLD. So why’d you divorce?
JOE. Because my wife was having a little something extra on the side.
HAROLD. Holy shit. So you left her.
JOE: So she left me.
HAROLD. Holy shit! Bad luck Mack.
JOE. So I take it you’re meeting another woman.
HAROLD. I guess that wasn’t hard to figure out. I’m nervous as hell. I never
done anything like this before. I mean I’m a good husband, a good father. A provider. A family man.
JOE. But there’s something missing.
HAROLD. Yeah, something missing.
JOE. And you thought that by having an affair you’d be able to make up for whatever’s missing, right?
HAROLD. I don’t know what I thought.
JOE. Funny, my wife said the same thing. She didn’t know what she thought either. So, who’s the woman? Someone from the office, right?
HAROLD. Not exactly. And you’re gonna think this is crazy. To tell you the truth I got this gal’s number from the night bartender at Cine’s.
JOE. The Greek with the fake eye.
HAROLD. You a regular?
JOE. I pop in from time to time. So you got in touch with this…
HAROLD. I called her up last week.
JOE. And you arranged to meet here.
HAROLD. The park was her idea actually. I don’t live too far from here—Budlong Woods.
JOE. So what will you do when she gets here?
HAROLD. I don’t know. Say hello. Take her to Fulton’s on Clark for a drink and then go back to my place.
JOE. And then?
HAROLD. Well you know what happens then, Mack.
JOE. No. I mean after that. After she leaves. After you finish with her. What happens then?
HAROLD. Nothing happens. She goes home and I go about my business.
JOE. And just like that all your problems just disappear? That lonely feeling. That feeling
that something’s missing…
HAROLD. I guess I didn’t give it much thought.
JOE. No, I guess you didn’t
HAROLD. Hey wait a minute. Sounds like you’re passing judgment here or something.
JOE. No, not at all. It’s just that I find the whole thing a bit curious, that’s all.
HAROLD. Curious. What’s so curious?[He laughs.] Men have been cheating on their wives every minute of every day since the beginning of time. And if their not cheating they’re thinking about cheating. I can tell you that for a fact, pal.
JOE. So that makes it okay.
HAROLD. There you go passing judgment again. I don’t think I’m enjoying our friendly little chat anymore.
JOE. Look, you’re right. I guess I was passing judgment. I apologize.
HAROLD. You make it sound like I just woke up this morning and decided to cheat on my wife. Well let me tell you Mac, it’s not like you think. I work hard for a living. And for what? What do I have to show for it?
JOE. You said you’ve got a family and nice home—Budlong Woods. Not too shabby.
HAROLD. Yeah, nice home, that I’m constantly fixing something in because something always needs fixing. Christ, I’m thinking about changing my profession and becoming a full-time handy man. That way when something goes on the fritz I can just call myself and send myself the bill. I’d make a damn fortune off myself!
JOE. I still don’t get the part where you feel the need to look elsewhere for companionship. Don’ t you talk to your wife?
HAROLD. Sure I talk to my wife. About the bills, about the girls, dance lessons and glasses, corrective shoes, the leaky roof. Sure I talk to my wife.
JOE. Look, everyone has bills to pay, kids and leaky roofs and all that. I’m just not getting the part about the cheating, about what is that you feel is missing from your life that you feel an affair with a total stranger could fix. What’s it really about pal?
HAROLD. I don’t know. Maybe it’s the adventure, the challenge. Maybe it’s just because everybody’s doing it—hell I don’t know—and maybe it’s just because I’m looking for something that’s just not there.
JOE. That’s just not where?
HAROLD. [Raising his voice.] I don’t know—in the bed maybe! Why not? Is that what you wanted me to say? And maybe you just weren’t good enough in the bed and maybe that¡s why your old lady hit the road. And maybe I’m just plain fed up to here with everything. I just ain’t happy with nothing anymore. You understand all that Mac?
JOE. And you think that this woman will make you happy?
HAROLD. I think that I don’t give a damn about this woman! How’s that?
JOE. I didn’t mean to get so personal or to get you all riled up.
HAROLD. Just forget it. I’m being a jerk. It’s been a long week….
JOE. Well, I guess I’ll be going then.‹
HAROLD. Look, I hope I didn’t say anything to offend you.
JOE. Forget it. No harm done. I’ll see you around sometime.
HAROLD. You know, I hate to finish off on a bad note. Why don’t you stay, I’ll go. You were here first anyway—it’s your bench…or maybe we could…just talk for a little while. Or I could just shut up and mind my own business, hell I don’t know. It’s been one hell of a week..
JOE. [Pause.] There’s the Petersen bus.
HAROLD. [Looking.] Uh…that’s okay, I can see the stop from here. Hell, I don’t even know what this Eloise broad looks like. I keep expecting Rita Hayworth to walk over and tap me on the shoulder. Could turn out to be a real dog anyway.
JOE. What you said before about how nothing makes you happy anymore…what is it exactly that doesn’t make you happy anymore?
HAROLD. I don’t know. I don’t think nothing makes me happy anymore. My job don’t make me happy, my wife don’t make me happy, life don’t make me happy no more.
JOE. And your kids?
HAROLD. My girls? They’re precious. Marsha comes home every week with first prize in the spelling bee. Stacy can do twenty somersaults—in a row. And Randi—she’s my baby—she comes up to me the other day and says, “daddy, when I grow up I want to be a doctor so that when you’re old like grampa Ted, I can make your heart start again so you won’t die. How do you like that? And you ask me about my girls. If there’ s one thing in this whole damn world that makes me happy it’s those three precious girls.
JOE. But isn’t the happiness that they give to you a reflection of the happiness that you and your wife transmit to them?—happiness that comes from the happiness inside of you?
HAROLD. Happiness? Inside of me? What happiness? In this miserable heel who’s about to be unfaithful to his wife, break his wedding vows and probably screw up his life and family in one fell swoop. Yeah, right. You’re looking at the happiest slug in the world Mac. A real happy man, that’s me alright. You’re so smart, so tell me so we’ll both know, where do I get all this happiness that you’re talking about?
JOE. You don’t get it from anywhere. It’s always been there. From the day you were born. The happiness that’s your birthright. The happiness that’s s unique to you and that no one else has. The happiness of just being alive, living, seeing things, hearing things, touching…things…people.
HAROLD. [Looking.] I guess she wasn’t on that bus.
JOE. No. I guess she wasn’t.
HAROLD. Maybe she won’t show up after all.
JOE. Would it be so bad if she didn’t?
HAROLD. You know something, I’m glad I met you—that we talked—that you listened. I guess I’m just a bit confused, going through a bad phase, that’s all.
JOE. We all get confused and we all go through bad phases now and then. Life has a way of being confusing now and then.
HAROLD. Well…I better be getting home and get started on that gutter. My wife’ll kill me if it ain’t not done when she gets back.. [Pause.]You know, I feel good…that we talked. You’re a nice guy. [The two men stand and shake hands. Exit HAROLD. JOE watches as he goes. Enter FATHER FRAWLEY, a priest in his sixties.]
FATHER FRAWLEY. Good afternoon, Father Eloise. Saving souls in the park again today I see…[FATHER FRAWLEY puts his arm around JOE. The two men slowly walk away.]