Michael Brandonisio


A Play in One Act


AL: hipster/bohemian type, early 40s, wearing sports jacket, jeans and faddish shoes

RON: hipster/bohemian type, early 40s, wearing sports jacket, jeans and faddish shoes

WAITER: good-looking, mid-20s

MANNEQUINS: in diverse colors (black, brown, white, yellow)

Setting: Springtime. It’s a late afternoon at an outdoor café in the West Hollywood section of Los Angeles, California.

Traffic noises, including occasional honks from car horns, are heard at a low volume throughout the entire play.

MANNEQUINS in varied colors, substituting for real humans, sit at various café tables. Some of the MANNEQUINS sit at tables in groups of twos and threes, holding smart phones to their ears, or looking at their smart phone screens. Other MANNEQUINS sit alone, checking their smart phones, or, with their mannequin eyes, viewing their laptop or digital tablet screens. Two more MANNEQUINS sit and face each other as though engaged in wordless conversations.

Enter RON and AL. They go and sit at an available café table situated near the front of the stage, slightly off-center. A WAITER, wearing a waiter outfit, enters. The WAITER carries two menus with him as he approaches RON and AL’s table and, arriving at the table, stands looking down at RON and AL.

WAITER: Good evening, gentlemen. Would you care to see a menu?

RON: No, thank you. Just two regular black coffees.

WAITER (speaking directly to RON): Two regular black coffees. That’s all you want?

RON: Yes, that’s all we want.

WAITER: Are you sure that’s all you want?

RON: Yes, we’re quite sure. We want two regular black coffees, nothing fancy.

WAITER: Just two regular black coffees? And what about your friend here?

                (WAITER abruptly turns from looking down at RON to looking down at AL.)

WAITER (to AL) Hello, sir.

AL: Hello, it’s a nice day.

WAITER (startled): Excuse me. What did you say?

AL: I said: Hello, it’s a nice day.

WAITER: I thought that’s what you said.

AL: Yes, that’s what I said.

WAITER: Well, thank you, sir. You’re delightful. May I interest you in our delicious banana cream pudding pie with a heavenly coconut crust sprinkled with flakes of cocoa? It’s our house specialty and a favorite among our patrons, who all give us a big thumbs-up on all the popular social media sites. According to them, nothing, and I do mean nothing, beats our enchanting banana cream pudding pie with an out-of-this-world coconut pie crust spiced with flakes of divinely rich cocoa. Doesn’t that make your mouth water?

AL: Well, that’s nice to know. This place was recommended to us. So, you know what we’ll do? My friend and I, we will discuss your banana cream pudding pie over our two regular black coffees, if you would be so kind.

                (The WAITER stares down at AL. Pause.)

AL (matter-of-factly): Please.

                (As soon as AL says the word “please,” the WAITER’s face brightens. He smiles at AL.)

WAITER (excitedly): Please. You said, please. Oh yes. Yes, of course, sir. Two regular black coffees in a jiffy.

                (The WAITER bows twice and exits quickly.)

RON: Do you see what I mean, Al? Like I was telling you over the phone the other day, there is definitely something in the air. Don’t you feel it? There is definitely something in the air that’s different from, say, five, ten, or twenty years ago.

AL: Yes, there certainly is. It’s called millennium madness, a fallout from the millennium bug.

RON: Millennium madness? But, Al, Y2K happened a long time ago.

AL: It seems that way, Ron, but in reality it hasn’t been that long. On the grand scale of time within our galaxy, a few decades is just a split second, or even less than that. Look at it this way, the millennium bug has been hanging around like a rotten smell, and it will continue to do so. Since the start of the new millennium look at all that’s happened. 9/11 kicked it off. Then the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Followed by a worldwide financial meltdown and all the acts of extreme violence done by both religious and non-religious fanatics. Then there are the ongoing sexism, racism, and homophobia clashes. Let’s not forget the climate change debate, highlighted by increasing natural disasters. Had enough? Not so fast. Consider the rise of a new crop of power hungry dictators trying to take over the world. Take into account that hate crimes are on the upswing. There’s always the ongoing threat of nuclear warfare. And how about the Mexican border wall dispute and neo-Nazis hell-bent on white supremacy? I might have left out a thing or two. I don’t know. Anyway, my theory is that we are now entering the final stage of the first phase of millennium madness, and, optimistically, it will take at least another hundred years or so for millennium madness to finally peter out. Meanwhile, enjoy the stress of the Internet Age.

RON: Stress? Do you really feel there’s more stress now than ever before?

AL: Yes, along with a little more paranoia.

RON: Paranoia?

AL: Yes. Stress and paranoia go hand-in-hand.

                (The WAITER re-enters carrying a silver tray with two coffee cups. He approaches RON and AL’s table.)

WAITER (cheerfully): Here we are. Two piping hot just regular black coffees.

                (WAITER takes one coffee cup from tray and puts it down on the table in front of RON and then puts the second coffee cup down on the table in front of AL.)

AL: Thank you.

WAITER: And have you decided?

AL: About what?

WAITER: About the banana cream pudding pie.

AL: Oh, yes.

WAITER: Okay, great. I’ll –

AL (abruptly cutting him off): Oh, no, not that. No, we haven’t decided about the banana cream pudding pie. I’m sorry. I wasn’t sure what you were talking about.

RON: Yes, we need more time to consider it.

WAITER (pleasantly fake): Fine. That’s just fine. I’ll be back. Enjoy. I have to make a phone call anyway.

                (With tray in hand, the WAITER walks off in a slight huff, exiting offstage.)

                (RON and AL attend to their coffees, adding milk and sugar from containers on their tables, using spoons to mix them into their coffee cups. During the following, they take sips from their respective coffees.)

RON: Well, I don’t know all about the stress and paranoia thing that you were just talking about. All I know is that a lot of people these days say they’re bored, then one minute later they’re shouting about something or other. That’s when I turn off my ears. I don’t know what they’re shouting about. They’re bored one moment, and then next thing you know, they’re shouting about something or other. It’s bizarre, very bizarre.

AL: Yes, yes, very bizarre. That’s a very good way of describing millennium madness.

RON: Well, anyway, I don’t think that it’ll directly affect me. I’ll survive. Worse comes to worse, I’ll survive. All I know is people seem to be a little bit creepier these days. I mean, creepier than usual. You know, they’re exposed to all this stuff that’s going on in Washington.

AL: Yes, I know. But they should be getting used to it by now.

RON: I don’t think they are. And I don’t think most of them want this president to go down.

AL: I wouldn’t say that. I would say it’s a fifty-fifty proposition.

RON: They’re taking polls now about the situation. I don’t know anybody they asked.

AL: Nobody called you up?

RON: No. Did anybody call you up?

AL: Yes, once, a few months ago. They wanted to know my feelings about a certain politician.

RON: Which one?

AL: The current president. One of the questions was about having dinner with him.

RON: Dinner with the president. And what did you say?

AL: I said that I would have dinner with him, but only if he was dressed as a woman. To the hilt. You know – wearing a dress, wig, lipstick and make-up, bra, nylon stockings, high heels. Full-tilt crossdressing.

RON: You said that?

AL: Yeah, I said that.

RON: You didn’t say that. Well, anyway, if all the terrorists, domestic and otherwise, decide to kill thousands of people, I guess all the victims won’t feel anything because they’ll be so stoned and drunk, as they usually are in this country.

AL: Can you really blame them with all the stress and paranoia going on?

RON: A little self-control would help.

AL: Yeah. Pretty soon now there’ll be Checkpoint Charlies everywhere we go.

RON: Yes. Barricades in every corner of the city. Trust me, Al. Nobody ever believes me. Nobody ever did. So, just trust me on this.

AL: And what if I don’t?

RON: That’s your prerogative, but when it happens, when the free world turns into the oppressed world, don’t start screaming at me. I’m giving you fair warning.

AL: Thank you. I appreciate it. And I swear I won’t scream at you, Ron, when the free world turns into the oppressed world. That is, if we’re still alive after Armageddon happens.

RON: People are so stupid sometimes.

AL: When they don’t listen to your warnings? That makes them stupid?

RON: No. It’s because people feel safe in this city. They must be stupid. The mayor goes on TV and says everything is under control. And people believe the guy. Meanwhile, the guy is building his own bunker. He’s building a bunker for himself.

                (AL breaks out laughing.)

RON: It’s not a joke, Al. It’s not a joke.

                (WAITER re-enters. He approaches RON and AL’s table.)

WAITER: Well, gentlemen?

RON: Well, what?

WAITER (after an audible huff): You know what.

AL (to RON): I think he means the banana pudding pie.

WAITER (to AL, steely): The banana CREAM pudding pie with –

RON (abruptly cutting WAITER off): Oh, that. No. We’re still thinking it over, but in the meantime, I would like a Mexican Coke. A nice cold Mexican Coke.

                (The WAITER looks stunned.)

                (RON and AL look at WAITER, expecting him to say something. But WAITER says nothing, stays motionless, mouth half-open.)

RON (to WAITER): Did you hear what I said?

WAITER: I’m sorry. Did I hear correctly? Did you just say that you wanted a Mexican Coke?

RON: Yes. That’s what I said. I want a Mexican Coke.

WAITER: Sir, I don’t want to appear rude, but I have to tell you that there is no such thing as Mexican Coke. There is only American Coke. The one and only.

RON: No, no. You’re wrong. I can get Mexican Coke in my neighborhood. I’ve tasted it. It tastes better than American Coke.

WAITER: Oh, I see. You live in one of those neighborhoods. Well, we don’t carry that product here in this establishment. How about if I bring you a regular American Coke instead? Would that be all right? American Coke is far superior to any type of imitation Coke.

RON: No, I’m afraid not. You see, I’ve developed an affinity for Mexican Coke. I drink only Mexican Coke now. It tastes better.

WAITER (smiling through gritted teeth): I’ll be back.

                (WAITER exits. RON and AL sip coffee.)

AL: I think we should skip the banana pie.

RON: Yes, but let’s lead him on. (Pause.) Oh, before I forget, I must tell you about something else that’s been on my mind lately. I didn’t want to discuss it with you over the phone.

AL: What?

RON (in a hushed tone): I haven’t changed my mind about nailing the fiend.

AL: Again, after all these years?

RON: Definitely. I haven’t changed my mind, but I want to do it legally.

AL: And how do you plan on doing that?

RON: In order to do that I have to have solid evidence. And I don’t have that. But I do know that he murdered Jimmy. He actually took that kid and strangled him.

AL: You’ve told me this a dozen times or more. The fiend killed Jimmy just to get back at you.

RON: Yes. I had told him more than once that I would never ever become his sex slave, even if he promised that he would open doors to get my acting career off the ground. I find him absolutely repulsive. And he knew murdering Jimmy would impact me because Jimmy was Duane’s boyfriend, and that automatically made Duane a prime suspect in the murder.

AL: Revenge is generally considered a good motive for committing murder.

RON: Right. The fiend knew that with Duane’s mounting legal problems he would have to disband the theater company. And I was left out in the cold. I had to get another job. And, as you well know, I ended up going to work for that merciless dowager. My life became a living hell.

AL (chuckles): But it paid nicely, and she left you a tidy sum when she finally croaked.

                (AL continues chuckling away.)

RON: There’s nothing funny about this. The fiend could’ve gone after you, and still could. And what could I do? What could stop him with the kind of publicity machine he has under his control? The fact that most people believe he’s only a harmless movie star totally protects him. It totally protects him until I get solid evidence. He’ll definitely mess-up, eventually.

AL: Oh, Ron, can’t you see? Can’t you see?

RON: See? See what? What can’t I see?

AL: The millennium bug has gotten inside you. You have to get it out and get rid of it.

RON: And how do I do that?

AL: You must let go of this obsession you have with the fiend. You must let it go, Ron. Just let it go, once and for all. Let it go, for your own sake, for your own peace of mind.

RON: Oh, no. I can’t do that, Al. Jimmy’s murder has never been solved. We’re close to a major mistake here. I can feel it. I don’t know if the fiend will just come out and confess, point blank, or what, but we’re close to a major mistake. The fiend will mess-up. It’s going to be something stupid. I can feel it. I can feel it coming.

AL: Which way is it coming from?

RON: From where you least expect it. All I know is, if he ever comes after me, I’ll kill the guy. I’ll have every reason to kill him. If he attacks me, knowing that I can connect him to Jimmy’s murder, then I could him kill because of self-defense. That’s legal murder. Right?

AL: I’m no lawyer, but yes, I think that that can be construed as legal murder.

RON: And I will do it.

AL: Kill him and cop a self-defense plea?

RON: That’s right. It’ll all be by-the-book.

AL: It’ll all be by-the-book, killing an international movie star?

RON: I couldn’t care less if he was King Tut. If that fiend does something stupid, and I have every reason to believe he will, I will take matters into my own hands.

AL: Like what stupid thing will he do, for instance?

RON: I already told you, Al. You haven’t been paying attention. He’s going to do something stupid like come after me. I will then have to defend myself. It’ll be either him or me that walks away. It won’t be like the last time, when I had to run for my life. No. Not this time.

AL: How will you defend yourself this time? Do you have a gun?

RON: No, I don’t have a gun. I have other ways.

AL: You do? Such as?

RON: Don’t worry about it. You just wait and see.

AL: No, I don’t have to wait and see. I can see it already. You’re going to zap him with your magical superhero power, of course.

RON (staring hard at AL): You don’t understand, Al. He knows that I know what he did, and I know that he knows that I know it. He’s afraid. That’s why he hates me more than I could ever hate him, because I know what he did.

AL (sighs): Oh, God.

RON: Oh, yes. I firmly believe he’s going to do something stupid pretty damn soon, which is the only reason why I bring this up.

AL: No, Ron, no. It’s time you get this damn thing out of your head. Once and for all. Just let it go, Ron. Let it go. Imagine a string in your hand tied to a balloon. Let the string go. Let the balloon fly away, higher and higher, farther and farther, until the balloon finally disappears from view and then you’ll feel better.

RON: No, I can’t do that. How can I just let it go? I’m the only one that really knows. Do you know what I’m saying?

AL: Yes, I understand. You’re saying something stupid this way comes.

RON: That’s right. He’s the stupid one. Most people just consider him a harmless movie star, even if he has a sinister look about him. It doesn’t matter. The public considers him as just another harmless movie star. But the fact that I know that he’s a killer hasn’t escaped his mind. I firmly believe he’s going to do something soon. Something deadly.

AL: Yes, something deadly. Something like unleashing a more deadly, up-to-date version of the millennium virus.

RON: Is that what you think?

AL: It’s a likely possibility as any other. Perhaps he’s already set the wheels in motion.

RON: Well, maybe. All I know is that I have every reason to believe that eventually he’ll crack. That I truly believe. Too much time has passed for him not to crack.

AL: Speaking of crack, have you done any lately?

RON: That was only a silly flirtation. And as all flirtations go, it went.

AL: That’s good.

RON: I’m perfectly clear headed now. That’s why I say that I have every reason to get this guy, once he slips up, once and for all.

AL: I understand, perfectly.

                (WAITER re-enters. Approaches AL and RON’s table.)

WAITER: Well, gentlemen, are we ready for your banana cream pudding pie delicacy?

                (RON pretends to be startled by the question.)

RON: What? I thought you were going to bring me a Mexican Coke.

WAITER: No, I thought that matter was finished.

RON: But you led me to believe you were going to fetch me an ice cold Mexican Coke with a lemon wedge. How do you expect me to eat your banana cream pudding pie without washing it down with an ice cold Mexican Coke, enhanced with a lemon wedge?

WAITER: Oh, I’m sorry. We got our signals crossed. I’ll see what I can do for you. Give me a few minutes. I have to make another phone call.

                (WAITER exits quickly. RON and AL take sips from their coffee mugs.)

AL: By the way, did you hear that Bill published his first book of poetry?

RON: Yes, I know. He self-published it a couple of weeks ago. Did you read it?

AL: Yes, I downloaded a copy last week.

RON: And what did you think?

AL: I thought it was very postmodern Gertrude Stein.

RON: That’s what I thought too. I discussed it with him. I said: this is imitation Gertrude Stein. He didn’t agree. He said: No, Ron. You don’t understand. I’ve read Gertrude Stein. Her concerns are not my concerns. She was bourgeois.

AL (chuckles): That’s a good one.

RON: Yes. He explained to me that she was bourgeois. He can prove it too. All the words that she chose were all bourgeois words.

AL: At least he has his take on it.

RON: No, no, no. There is very little to defend any of what he said.

AL: But I can understand what he meant by calling her bourgeois. Gertrude Stein was born into money. She was no starving artist.

RON: Oh, stop it. Al. I don’t understand it one bit.

AL: Well, actually, if you stop and think about it, she was writing about the bourgeois, albeit in an abstract way.

RON: Listen, if there is one thing I agree with what T.S. Eliot once said is that he considered himself bourgeois, and he didn’t care what anyone said about it. Anyway, I’m so tired of hearing that word. Bourgeois, bourgeois. All art is bourgeois.

AL: Well, true, most of it is, but not all. Some art is actually anti-bourgeois. But all I’m trying to say, Ron, is that Bill is simply imitating her style, not her word choices. I mean, I’d never run into many of the words he uses in his poems. Words from chemistry, trigonometry, agriculture and whatever.

RON: Yes, that’s right. You have to look a lot of them up. I didn’t bother. Did you?

AL (flippantly): No, of course not. I’m too bourgeois for doing something like that. I just want to read words that any old idiot can understand.

RON: Listen, I really don’t care what Bill thinks he’s doing. I’ve seen that kind of stuff before. It’s been around for over a hundred years. There’s nothing new about it.

AL: Yes, but he’s doing it as a postmodern Gertrude Stein without the bourgeois connotations.

RON: Calling it postmodern Gertrude Stein without the bourgeois connotations is just nonsense. Pure, idiotic nonsense.

AL: Look, Ron, I see it like this. Gertrude picked the most mundane situations and words imaginable and abstracted them in her own eccentric way, like a Picasso painting during his Cubist period. Bill, on the other hand, doesn’t deal with any bourgeois situations that spark bourgeois word associations. He aims from the get-go for unadulterated abstract poetry.

RON: Al, get off it, already. You’re barking up the wrong palm tree. With art, you have to deal with reality. Bill doesn’t even make a half-hearted attempt at that.

AL: True, he doesn’t make any attempt at being another bourgeois realist. He’s not about making loads of moola from his poems. He understands that nobody reads poetry anymore, except for other poets. Pop songs are the universal poetry nowadays. Bill’s poetry is all about being anti-bourgeois and anti-pop because he gets off on it. You know, épater le bourgeois just for the hell of it. Can’t you understand that?

RON: Why can’t he just be himself?

AL: What do you mean, just be himself? Do you mean Bill should be a creator ex nihilo? You know that’s totally impossible.

RON (genuinely confused): What in the world are you talking about?

AL: I’m talking about being a self-generated person, created out of nothing. That’s impossible. No human being is an island, except for Paul Simon. There is too much history. Too much of the world. In other words, we’ve seen it all before. What do you want?

RON: Something innovative. That’s what I want.

AL: Yeah, sure. A lot of people want something innovative, something like a new and improved dishwashing liquid. Innovative has become a two cents word, overused and abused. But I can tell you what you really want, Ron.

RON (with sarcastic undertone): Okay, Al, I’m listening. What do I really want?

AL: What you really want, Ron, is future shock.

RON: Okay, Al, future shock. And how exactly do I go about getting this future shock?

AL: You’re getting it right now. Right this very second. You’re living it, Ron. You’re living the future shock. You said it yourself a little while ago. There’s something in the air. It’s future shock. That’s what is in the air. Future shock is all around us, in the air all around us.

RON (blatantly sarcastic; virtually singing the first two lines): Well, I can see clearly now. No more mist in my eyes. That must be it then. Future shock. In the air. All around us.

AL (excitedly): Isn’t that great?

RON: I don’t get it. What’s so great about future shock? Nothing shocks anymore, except for real electrical shocks. Therefore, future shock is a dead end. It’s passé.

AL (with a menacing tone): And what if I told you that your insane movie star hired me to kill you? What if I pulled a gun out of my pocket and shot you dead on the spot? Would you be shocked then?

RON: No, I wouldn’t. I’d be dead. You can’t shock the dead.

                (AL laughs uproariously, as if he has lost his mind. He then quickly reaches into his jacket pocket, pulls his hand out rapidly, forms a make-believe handgun and aims it at RON. RON is unfazed by AL’s antics.)

RON: Al, you watch too much television.

AL: No, no. I watch too much reality. Shall we go?

RON: Yes, let’s go. I’ve had enough of this neocon waiter. At least the coffee wasn’t bad.

                (AL rises from his chair and RON rises from his.)

AL: But first let us leave something behind. Something to be remembered by. Something to prove that we were here and left out mark.

                (AL reaches into his back pocket, pulls out a wallet, extracts a few dollar bills, and puts them on the café table. RON watches him and smirks.)

RON: You’re such a joker, Al.

AL: I may be a joker, Ron, but I’m never a clown. Quick, let’s make our getaway before the waiter returns.

                (AL and RON nonchalantly walk off together, exiting off in the direction they first entered. Pause. Offstage traffic noises continue. MANNEQUINS remain as they were.)

                (WAITER re-enters, holding a drinking glass with a dark liquid in it, topped with a lemon wedge. He walks swiftly to the café table where AL and RON were sitting. He picks up the money that AL left. WAITER looks at the money, frowns, stuffs it in his pocket and then looks curiously in the direction that AL and RON exited. WAITER take a flip phone out of his pocket, makes a call, and waits a moment or two before he talks with the person on the other end.)

WAITER (in a soft voice, so as not to be heard by mannequins/humans manqué): Hi. It’s me again. They just left. They left fake money to pay for their coffees. I’m looking at them now. They’re about a block away. Send the car now…Yes, I’ll hold.

                (WAITER holds cell phone to his ear as he continues to look offstage towards where AL and RON exited.)

WAITER (on the phone, softly as before): Yes, I’m still here…It’s a black sedan with stolen plates? I’m looking for it. (Pause) Oh, yes, I see it. It’s approaching them. It’s riding right along the side of the street next to them. They’re walking casually. Oh, I don’t know if I can bear to watch...Okay, okay. I’ll keep my eyes open. Your guy better be a sharpshooter because if he misses…Oh, he’s won five shooting competitions. That’s good to know…Oh, God, it just happened. They just collapsed on the street.

                (WAITER listens to what the other person on the phone is saying.)

WAITER (on the phone, softly as before): No, they’re not moving. The black sedan is driving away…Yes, people are running, scattering all over the place...Wait…Three of them are approaching the bodies, milling around them. I see one of them making a phone call. Must be calling 911…More people are approaching. I can’t see their bodies anymore because of all the people. What if they’re still alive? What if--

                (WAITER listens to what the person on the phone is saying.)

WAITER (on the phone, softly as before): Oh, I see. Hollowpoint bullets and a silencer. That’s why I didn’t hear gunshots. Well, then, that should do the trick. We’ll see what they say on the evening news.

                (WAITER listens again to what the person on the phone is saying.)

WAITER (on the phone, softly as before): Right, okay. Listen. I just want to thank you again for getting me the part in your upcoming movie. I need a break like you don’t know how bad…Yes, yes…I’ll see you on the set next week. Thank you for everything. I really mean it. Bye.

                (WAITER ends the phone call. Puts cell phone in his pocket. Exits to rear. Offstage traffic noises continue. MANNEQUINS remain as they were.)

                (Sound of wailing police siren growing louder and then gradually fading away in unison with traffic noises. Stage lights dim to black.)


Millennium Madness is Michael Brandonisio's second short one act play. His poems, short stories, photographs and visual art have appeared in Word for/Word, Squawk Back, Otoliths, Small Po[r]tions, and elsewhere.
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