(Leading Man saunters down the aisle, plonks himself in the front row, turns to the audience and rolls into his schpiel. Veteran theatregoers squirm in their seats. Something’s awry. Players do not communicate with those behind the fourth wall.)
Did some ingénue rewrite the play? Did someone in the cast die?
(slow and deliberate)
I hope you’re all comfortable.
(He scans faces looking for twitches, frowns, racing pulses. He repeats, raises his volume, cranes his neck, pretends to seek an answer from someone in the back, then rivets his eyes on a portly fellow right in front of him.)
(PORTLY FELLOW turns red in the face.)
I forgot the question.
(Scattered laughter in THE AUDIENCE.)
(LEADING MAN throws a biting glance into the balconies. He focuses on an ATTRACTIVE WOMAN, so intensely that she feels his breath in her face.)
Wouldn’t want you and all your friends here to feel uncomfortable.
(He widens his arms as if to embrace the audience.)
Because we paid good money for your artistry, sir...if you have any!
(More scattered laughter from THE AUDIENCE.)
(LEADING MAN darts toward the stage and jumps on. He places fists on his hips and lets out a merry, inviting Robin-Hood laugh, but he’s losing the audience.)
Writing a play is easy. You know why? Because everyone has memories.
(He runs to the edge of the stage, pretends he can’t stop and falls right off. Bouncing up, he throws one arm forward, points his finger at a NEATLY DRESSED MAN.)
You! Sir! You have a good life, yes or no?
NEATLY DRESSED MAN:
Yes, pretty much.
And you have a great idea for a movie?
(Before NEATLY DRESSED MAN can answer, a REDNECK yells from THE AUDIENCE.)
I got one. It’s about some hackneyed actor who kisses my ass!
(REDNECK turns and executes a perfect full moon. Most people laugh.)
Ah, I see I’ve been out-classed.
(NEATLY DRESSED MAN stands up and addresses the audience.)
NEATLY DRESSED MAN:
I came to see a play, presumably starring you, an up-and-coming thespian...and the writer, supposedly an established figure among this fine city’s literati. If this twaddle is part of the play, I find it a poor choice, more distraction than interaction.
Aha! Life’s basest form: the Critic!
(LEADING MAN bends towards NEATLY DRESSED MAN / THE CRITIC.)
Well done, Ralph. You’re completely believable. Remove your mask and take a bow!
(Anger flashes across THE CRITIC’s face.)
Oh well, you deserve to know the truth.
(LEADING MAN walks back up the aisle. He hops onto an aisle seat and tightrope-walks along the seat-backs. People lean forward to accommodate him. Suddenly he stops, balances motionless, then inexplicably, begins to rise into the air. Scatter of gasps. He floats gently toward the center of the theatre.)
Compared to the stage, I am minuscule.
(His voice is tiny, though everyone hears him clearly.)
In your minds, I can achieve miraculous proportions!
(His body rapidly expands, first lengthwise, stretching like rubber. Then he inflates until he hovers like some sort of mad Zeppelin.)
(from the audience)
Is that the best you got?
(Poof! LEADING MAN instantly snaps back to normal size and whizzes down, into YOUNG MAN’s lap.)
I have infinite resources, Sonny. Come fly with me.
(LEADING MAN plants his lips on YOUNG MAN’s, then pulls him into the air with the kiss, mouths stretching like bubble gum. LEADING MAN whisks YOUNG MAN on stage and as he releases him, YOUNG MAN’s lips snap back in a loud cork-out-of-the-bottle noise.)
(THE AUDIENCE howls in laughter.)
You’re a hit!
(LEADING MAN moves behind YOUNG MAN and whispers in his ear.)
Is that the best you got?
(YOUNG MAN whips round to face him but keeps spinning instead. As he whirls faster, a flat razor disk forms around him, expanding until it reaches LEADING MAN and slices straight through him.)
(LEADING MAN’s top half slides to the stage, squealing and grunting. He runs on his palms, off stage right. His bottom half shuffles off, stage left. In an instant, the stage bursts into white flames.)
(All is silent but for the fluttering.)
(THE AUDIENCE become moths and flutter one by one into the white fire.)
(Only one is spared: THE CRITIC.)
(heading for the exit)
Seen it a million times before.
(He trips over LEADING MAN’s bottom half, which kicks him in the head until THE CRITIC’s skull splits wide open.)
(A large white snake emerges from the cracked skull.)
(It unlocks its jaw and swallows THE CRITIC whole, then the bottom half of LEADING MAN and a few scraps worn carpet before slithering through an air vent into the street.)
was born and bred in the wilds of Brooklyn. Now he lives alone on a hill overlooking the Reno Basin in Northern Nevada. When "the Big One" hits California, Rich will be on beachfront property.