HOLLYWOOD AT SUNSET
a play in three scenes
by Robert Patrick
Hollywood at Sunset © 2009, Robert Patrick
Poster by Andrew Adam Caldwell
For more information about the author, or to inquire about these or any other play by the author, please contact:
1837 N. Alexandria Ave. #211
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(The TIME is October, 1993. It is sunset. It is always sunset. The SETTING is the obviously low-rent Silver Lake (Los Angeles) living room of Aron and Penn.
(There is a door to a kitchen and the outside world, and another to a bedroom. Upstage, a large plate-glass window looks north on the distant Hollywood hills, with a few palm trees in between. The walls bear gaudy film posters of 30’s and 40’s classic films, plus one for a cheap-o horror movie, Blood Gulper, onto which has been pasted a magic-markered sign, “ACTUALLY WRITTEN BY PENN PALMER.” Some photos of Aron playing basketball. A portable phone somewhere. Center, a shabby sofa and coffee-table. Empty junk food containers, and the bags they came in, on the coffee table. Downstage to one side, a TV set and VCR on the floor with their backs to the audience. Stacks of videotapes.
(At rise, PENN, late 20’s, handsome and energetic, in a bathrobe, sits on the floor raptly watching the end of It’s a Wonderful Life on tape on a TV whose back is to the audience.
(As the climax of the film begins, we hear an offstage door slam. ARON, early 20’s, gorgeous and gloomy, in jeans, T shirt, and leather jacket, enters bearing bags of take-out food. Penn doesn’t notice Aron. Aron glances at the TV and makes a face.
(During his monologue, Aron unpacks food from the bags, throws the empty containers from the coffee-table into the older bags, exits with garbage to the kitchen. He reappears, removes his jacket, and sits to eat. Penn continues to watch the movie. )
ARON: (Doing the above business) Penn, honey, I’m home. (No response from Penn. Cynically)…Wish you were here. (Trying to cheer himself up) It’s beautiful out. All you need is a light jacket. So I took off everything but my light jacket and walked through the supermarket with my dick dangling. (No response from Penn) At the checkout counter, they weighed my dick as meat. It was too big. We couldn’t afford it. They chopped it off. So you can introduce me to your parents now. I’m a girl. (No response from Penn) Sigh. Sunset’s coming on. The traffic lights make Hollywood Boulevard look like Christmas in October…I got Moo Goo Gai Pan…I got Pork Egg Foo Yung…I got my man. Who could ask for anything more? (No response from Penn) The A.M./P.M. was out of generic cigarettes. I had to use your mother’s credit card to get gas. Again. Sigh…The bus-stop across from the A.M./P.M. has a poster for a new movie. I thought at first it was called “Stallone Snipes.” But they’re only in it. Sly and Wesley. That sounds like your description of yourself in a personals ad. “Los Angeles gay white male. Hollywood-Silver Lake area. Television writer. Wants to be a film director if he grows up. Into bondage with videotape. Very sly and wesley. Will even very occasionally have sex as a last, desperate resort to make his unemployed house-husband shut up so he can concentrate on non-colorized classics.” Honey? Penn? Honey?
(Aron gets up with a container of food in his hand. He goes to
Penn, takes Penn’s hand, and puts the container in it. Penn, still
rapt on the movie, idly takes food from container and tastes it. The
movie ends. Penn wakes as from a dream and notices the food in
PENN: Aron! Honey!
ARON: No, it’s Moo Goo Foo Yung.
PENN: You scared me.
ARON: You’re always scared. You just blame me.
PENN: And you’re angry.
ARON: I’m always angry. You just never notice.
PENN: (removing tape from VCR) Look, It’s a Wonderful Life!
ARON: No, it’s a wonderful movie.
PENN: I want to make a wonderful movie.
ARON: I want to make a wonderful life.
PENN: Sigh. Have you seen life lately? My chances are better than yours.
ARON: Yeah? Have you seen the movies lately?
PENN: I’d sell my soul to make a great movie.
ARON: You already sold it to write bad television.
PENN: Can I sell yours, then? You’re always saying it belongs to me. Can we sell it to someone to get me a movie?
ARON: You already have every movie ever made.
PENN: No, I don’t tape anything made after 1986.
ARON: How can Hollywood have fallen so far so fast?
PENN: I know. I don’t know. In sixty-six years of sound films, we’ve gone from “Garbo Talks!” to “Stallone Snipes!” (Waves tape) But there have been advances. Technical advances. Tape. Videotape is an advance. A person can own movies.
ARON: And vice versa.
PENN: At home we only watched It’s A Wonderful Life at Christmas!
ARON: This is our home. And we watch it constantly.
PENN: Well, it’s my favorite movie.
PENN: I am not!
ARON: Yes, you are. But Psycho is your favorite movie.
PENN: Yes, I am. But no, it’s not. Really and truly, Vertigo is. I wish I could see it in a theatre. All that anguished, impossible, inescapable love.
ARON: I get enough of that at home.
PENN: Huh? Oh. Ha. Cute. But Vertigo is my favorite.
ARON: Then how come you’re always playing Psycho in the shower with me?
PENN: Oh, you thought that was a knife!…I love Psycho, though. I think I’ll plagiarize it for the series. The Silver Sleuths meet Psycho!
ARON: Why would an eighty year old retired detective couple be at the Bates Motel?
PENN: To wash their hands? My folks always stop to wash their hands.
ARON: I wouldn’t, of course, know.
PENN: You wouldn’t know, of course. I’ll write all my favorite Hitchcocks for The Silver Sleuths! Vertigo! Psycho!!
ARON: Strangers on a Train.
PENN: No. The rhinoceri would reject Strangers on a Train. Homosexual implications.
ARON: They wouldn’t reject it.
PENN: They would. You don’t know them.
ARON: I know you. They wouldn’t reject it.
PENN: Why wouldn’t they?
ARON: You’d never submit it.
PENN: Why wouldn’t I?
ARON: Homosexual implications.
PENN: …Maybe I would. They’re planning to shoot the series in Australia. Everything is backwards in Australia. It’s, like, spring there now. And sunrise, right? Maybe everything’s backwards. Maybe we’d be normal.
ARON: Maybe we’d be Lesbians.
PENN: Maybe things would be different down there…Aron?
ARON: You figured out that my name backwards is “Nora?”
PENN: Huh? Ha. No. Cute. No, what if I had something to tell you? Would now be a good time?
ARON: Springtime in Australia? Sure.
PENN: (Decides to change subject)…I Confess!
ARON: To what?
PENN: I Confess! Hitchcock’s thriller about a man with a hideous secret he can’t reveal! I’ll write I Confess! Shadow of a Doubt! Notorious! Frenzy!
ARON: (Shocked) Frenzy?
PENN: I know, I know. It’s Hitchcock’s weakest, but still, when that camera pulls back onto that perfectly ordinary street while inside that flat, that psychopath is committing erotic homicide! You have to admit.
ARON: I do. I have to admit.
PENN: It’s an important film. It inaugurated the whole genre of graphic violence.
ARON: Until now Stallone Snipes.
PENN: But there’s Cameron. We have Cameron! Terminator is a perfect film!
ARON: And Aliens.
PENN: Which extended the genre of gratuitous gore to include a female hero! The most generous feminist gesture Hollywood has made!
ARON: Or is likely to.
PENN: Or is likely to. Let’s watch Aliens. You like Aliens. It has human feelings. You like those. Can we watch Aliens?
ARON: We watched it last night.
PENN: Then how about The Abyss? Not the director’s cut. Frankly, I think the studio’s cut is superior.
ARON: You squeal when the rhinoceri cut your scripts.
PENN: That’s because they’re wrong about mine. Mine are impeccable. I have learned from all the greats before me. My scripts are impeccable!
ARON: (Goes to window) And they peck at every one of them.
PENN: They don’t know good work when they see it.
ARON: They must. They always cut it.
PENN: I try to work the great stuff into the plot so they can’t cut it, but then they just cut the plot.
ARON: They hate great stuff.
PENN: They’d make more money if they left it in.
ARON: They hate great stuff more than they love money. That’s the only possible explanation why TV and movies are so awful.
PENN: No, you know why TV is so awful. I told you.
PENN: When they first invented TV, they brought it to the movie moguls and begged them to take it over. But the moguls thought it was just a toy, and said, “No.” So they took it to radio people. They were used to doing a show a week, even a show a day, because all they needed was a script and a microphone. But all of a sudden they were doing a play a week. That’s not impossible—people do it in summer stock—but it lasted all year, and it started killing people. Then they started instead of doing them live, taping or filming, and all of a sudden they were making a movie a week—and not ten-minute little silent things you could shoot in a morning. Half hour, one hour talkies. Fifty-two a year—and that’s impossible. So they got the idea of series, so they could just make the same movie every week. But that only added tedium to the turmoil. No one could stay sane in it except neurotics wracked with self-doubt. If their work failed, they could blame it on the insane system. But If it turned out to be even decent they could say, “See? I’m so great that I triumphed over all obstacles!” It’s addictive for any anxiety addict. It’s a jungle-gym for self-hating homosexuals.
ARON: And why are movies so awful?
PENN: Because I’m not making them.
ARON: And why aren’t you?
PENN: Because they won’t let me!
ARON: They who?
PENN: Well, so far, everybody in the world. That’s why I love Woody Allen. He’s independent. You know his movies are just like he wanted them. The late ones, anyway—the failures. Let’s watch Shadows and Fog.
ARON: Let’s watch sunset.
PENN: (Joins Aron at window) The street or the event?
ARON: Hollywood at Sunset. What an address.
PENN: Hollywood at Sunset is not an address. It’s an era.
ARON: Our era…In the high noon of Hollywood you would have been famous by now.
PENN: Talking like that is the quickest way into my pants.
ARON: With your wit and style you could have been like Ernst Lubitsch or Preston Sturges.
PENN: Oooh, what a director! Let’s watch The Lady Eve! When Henry Fonda says “Snakes are my life,” and Barbara Stanwyck replies, “What a life.” What a movie! Let’s watch it. Do you want to watch it? You don’t. Want to watch it. We’ll watch what you want. To watch. What do you want? To watch?
ARON: What a life.
PENN: (rummaging in food bags) What a Life? Do we have that? Who’s in that?…Did you get fortune cookies?
PENN: Why not?
ARON: Because I don’t want to know what’s coming…What would you do if you caught me sleeping with another man?
PENN: I’d shoot myself.
ARON: What would you do if you caught me talking to your mother?
PENN: I’d shoot yourself! Why would you want to talk to my mother? Why would you even ask such a thing?
ARON: You think they don’t know about us? After eight years?
PENN: They’re capable of infinite denial.
ARON: You’re capable of infinite denial.
PENN: It’s genetic. You’d make them uncomfortable. They’d think you were Jewish. They don’t know “Aron” is Elvis Presley’s middle name. Believe me.
ARON: They’re your family. I’m your family.
PENN: They’re not my family. You’re my family.
ARON: You know my family.
PENN: I’ve forgiven you for that.
ARON: You hate my family.
PENN: So do you. You said.
ARON: That’s not the point.
PENN: What, then, is?
ARON: We live in total isolation.
PENN: We don’t. Your mother leaves four hours of phone calls every day.
ARON: All right; I live in total isolation.
PENN: What am I? A hologram?
ARON: We’re one person. That person lives in isolation.
PENN: You should get out more.
ARON: I don’t want out. I want in.
PENN: (Mock-sexy) Come get in.
ARON: I want back into the human world.
PENN: (Smites his brow) Oh! You think my folks are human!
ARON: They sound so interesting. Your mother’s a school principal. Your father writes about silent movies.
PENN: They’re dull. They live in front of the television.
ARON: We’re dull. We live in front of the television.
PENN: Yes, but we watch classic films. They watch the kind of bilge I write. With the sound off. Dad turns it off.
ARON: I wish you would. We never talk.
PENN: Nor do they. So being with me is like being with them. Satisfied?
ARON: Big-time, no.
PENN: Well, they’re probably not satisfied either. There! Don’t you feel an endearing one-ness with them?
ARON: You see people all the time.
PENN: I see agents and producers. They’re hooved. They’re ungulates.
ARON: You go on location with them. You go to dinners at their homes.
PENN: Writers don’t take their wives to work with them.
ARON: They take them to dinner.
PENN: Oh, boy! “Hi, Mrs. Gerbelstein. Thank you for demanding me. Your husband says great things about your taste, but I see he doesn’t half do you justice. Do accept this quart jar of Elizabeth Taylor’s ‘Passion’; I hear you drink anything. By the way, the smoldering jock with the Elvis attitude is my male lover, Aron. I hope it’s not boy-girl seating!”
ARON: You told me most of the writers are gay.
PENN: Yes, but they’re all married.
ARON: We’re married.
PENN: Nowhere on this planet—where, by the way, I make my living—our living?
ARON: Do you think we’re fooling anyone?
PENN: No one is fooling anyone. Most of the writers are gay. Most of the directors are gay. Most of the actors—no, all of the actors are gay.
ARON: Well, then? Everybody must know it.
PENN: Everybody does know it. But you can’t admit it. The director for last week’s episode? He wore a pink-triangle T-shirt. Every morning before they went to work shredding my script, the producers ritualistically said, “Well, he won’t need a helicopter for the aerial shots, because fairies can fly.”
ARON: Did they fire him?
PENN: I got so sick of it I had to speak up.
ARON: (Insistent) Did they fire him?
PENN: (Ignoring the question) I looked them straight in their eyes—which is easy because their eyes are so close together—and I said, “So does he get his day’s shots done? Does he make his day?” And they said, “Yeah.” And so I said “So?” So they shut up—until the next day.
ARON: DID THEY FIRE HIM?
PENN: NO, BUT THEY HATED HIM! They despised him!
ARON: And you defended him. Why can’t you stand up like that for yourself?
PENN: I’ll never have to as long as they think I’m straight.
ARON: Like if they never see me?
PENN: Even then they would. You’re so butch, sugar.
ARON: So what’s the problem?
PENN: You’re the one that thinks that there’s a problem. I just want to watch Henry and Barbara.
ARON: We’ve watched it a hundred times.
PENN: I like to know what’s coming.
ARON: I want to talk.
PENN: I don’t.
ARON: Why not?
PENN: Because I know what’s coming.
ARON: You’re ashamed to be seen with me.
PENN: Naw, you’re so beautiful, who’d notice me?
ARON: There’s no reason for you to be ashamed of me.
PENN: I’m not. I’m ashamed of myself.
ARON: For what?
PENN: For being ashamed of you.
ARON: That makes no sense.
PENN: I know. No one would ever think you were gay.
ARON: Not unless I fall down crying at your feet in frustration.
PENN: (mock bored)…Again?
ARON: No. Never again.
PENN: Good. I hated that.
ARON: I hate arguing with you.
PENN: You’re arguing without me. I’m going to watch a movie.
ARON: All we ever do is watch movies and fuck.
PENN: And fight.
ARON: I don’t want to fight.
PENN: And you don’t want to watch movies. Is it that you want to fuck?
ARON: No, I want something else.
PENN: You want us to put on our capes and masks and go fight crime?
ARON: I want you to be proud of me.
PENN: Ooooo, I’m not anything of you. I just love you. And Henry. And Barbara.
ARON: But not your family?
PENN: Henry and Barbara are my family.
ARON: Or my family?
PENN: Ernest Borgnine and Madeline Kahn?
ARON: You just want us to stay locked up here forever while you lead a double life.
PENN: I told you that when I married you.
ARON: I thought you’d change.
PENN: Why should I change? You told me I was perfect.
ARON: It’s never going to change, is it?
PENN: Of course it’s going to change. I’m making more money with every assignment. Pretty soon they’ll actually start airing Silver Sleuths and I’ll get even more money. If you’ll be patient, pretty soon we can move to Bel-Air or something. We can have our own swimming pool. You can have your own basketball court. We can have twin Ferraris.
ARON: With matching license plates?
PENN: No, way too faggy.
ARON: So we’ll live behind a ten-foot wall in Bel-Air.
PENN: Twenty-foot. Sky’s the limit.
ARON: Like Jack and Jim?
PENN: I wish they were named something besides “Jack and Jim.”
ARON: All alone behind a million-dollar wall.
PENN: “Jack and Jim.” It’s a nursery rhyme.
ARON: Jack makes movies and Jim redecorates. And redecorates. And redecorates—
PENN: “Jack and Jim went up a him—”
ARON: —all alone forever, like a couple of vampires.
PENN: (mock-offended) Puh-leeze. You know I prefer “hemo-sexuals.”
ARON: Oh, stop.
PENN: Well, don’t start that Anne Rice vampire stuff, then, okay?
ARON: I wish you’d read her books so you’d know how I feel.
PENN: I read the first one. All of it. That’s how much I love you, baby.
ARON: Don’t you ever feel like that? Outcast, alien?
PENN: The only way in which I feel like a vampire—
ARON: Yes, what? Please, what?
PENN: (with simple sincerity for once)…I used to live for the reflection of myself in your eyes. I looked so beautiful and so bright to you. But now when I look in your eyes I don’t see anything. Like vampires don’t cast a reflection.
ARON: You are beautiful. You are bright. I do love you. You just don’t love yourself.
PENN: I’m not supposed to have to. You’re supposed to. You did. Oooooo, I hate those books. Vampires stay just like they are on the night they’re made, right? I should have caught you in a better mood.
ARON: (Sits on sofa) Our life is just a fucking joke to you.
PENN: (Groucho Marx) I’ll settle for a joking fuck.
ARON: I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
PENN: I should of stood in bed. We should of stood in bed. I’ll tell you what. I’ll get on your lap if you get off my back.
ARON: You don’t take anything seriously.
PENN: (Sits on Aron’s lap) Is this lap taken? Seriously.
ARON: You completely accept society’s judgment of you.
PENN: I do not. I skulk and hide so society won’t notice me.
ARON: You see life as a Woody Allen movie.
PENN: Better than an Anne Rice novel.
ARON: I think I see it pretty clearly.
PENN: Like I made you into one of the undead?
ARON: Don’t start trying to entertain me.
PENN: I came up to you in a graveyard and said, “Wanna lick this system?”
ARON: You practically did.
PENN: You were dying for it.
ARON: I did die for it.
PENN: You did not. And you were so.
ARON: I was so. You were so pretty.
PENN: So you begged me to make you one of the undead.
ARON: (getting silly-sentimental) I did not…I just said, “Wanna neck?”
PENN: I hate it when you write better lines than I do.
ARON: And you swept me away to this cold and haunted castle.
PENN: Well, you wanted to get married.
ARON: I wanted to get married. (Grins) I was sick of all those one-bite stands.
PENN: Oh, stop it.
ARON: Besides, it was you that proposed.
PENN: It was a pick-up line. I used it on everyone.
ARON: I wasn’t, of course, to know that.
PENN: If I’d known we were going to play vampire, I’d have just said, “You’re my type.”
PENN: It needs work.
ARON: Maybe I need work.
PENN: Idea: go get work.
ARON: What if I did?
PENN: I yield. What if you did?
ARON: Would you be jealous?
PENN: Of what exactly?
ARON: If I got work?
PENN: Punch line, please?
ARON: If I got work directing?
PENN: (Tenses)…Before I do?
ARON: Prism asked me to direct the next set of ten karaoke videos.
PENN: (Relaxes) Oh, honey, that’s great. Really direct? Not just produce?
ARON: You’re not jealous?
PENN: (Lightly, contemptuously) Well, of karaokes?
ARON: (Stands, dumps Penn on floor) Oh, that’s right!
PENN: I said something. When someone stands up and dumps me on a floor, my refined vampire sensibility tells me I said something.
ARON: “Just” karaokes, huh?
PENN: (Rising) Well, it ain’t features, is it?
ARON: Anything I do is “just,” right?
PENN: Hey, I thought I was supposed to be the one with low self-esteem. How can you care what I say? I don’t care what I say!
ARON: Because you should! Besides, wouldn’t a person with high self-esteem be all the more sensitive to put-downs?
PENN: No, I think if you esteem yourself, you’re less vulnerable to outside opinions. Besides, it wasn’t you I put down, it was karaokes. Are you karaokes?
ARON: But wouldn’t a person with self-esteem identify with his work?
PENN: Well, I would think—oh, what are we doing? I don’t think. I just skim my internalized middle-class check-list for the appropriate immediate means of denying feeling. I can’t even conceive of self-esteem, much less identify it. Besides, you yourself are always putting down offers to produce karaokes because they’re “just” karaokes.
ARON: Please shut up.
PENN: Why? Am I in error? Is my memory amiss on this fine point? Have you not of late rejected Prism Productions’ every offer to produce karaokes because they are, after all, “just” karaokes? Hm? Hm? Am I wrong? Is there a glitch in communication on this matter? Are you—
ARON: Look, could we get Woody Allen out of this room so we can talk?
PENN: …That hurt. I think I am Woody Allen.
ARON: I refuse to apologize to Woody Allen.
PENN: Why? What’s wrong with Woody Allen? I ask you, does he make his day?
ARON: Make mine. Stop clowning around. Be sensible.
PENN: If I only had a brain.
ARON: If you only had a heart.
PENN: Isn’t that ungrammatical? Doesn’t the phrasing, “If I only had a heart” suggest that one would then have nothing but a heart? Ought it not in fact to be, “If only I had a heart”?
ARON: As in, “I’d kill you—if only I had the nerve.”
PENN: I think tonight you have only the nerve. You’re like something exposed by a dentist. What did I say to make you withdraw your lap?
ARON: You put down my achievements.
PENN: Which achievements?
ARON: There you go again.
PENN: I didn’t say “What achievements?” as if you had none. I distinctly said, “which,” suggesting more than one. You’ve produced and assistant-directed and all-but-directed those last two—
ARON: (Interrupting) “Just” karaokes.
PENN: Unjust karaokes, then! Is that better?
ARON: You shouldn’t put them down.
PENN: You put me down. With a bump. You put them down. You turned them down!
ARON: Because you wanted me to come up to Montreal. Where all I did was hide.
PENN: You wished, perhaps, to bring me box-lunches on the set?
ARON: You could have gotten me a job on the picture!
PENN: I’m a writer! I have no clout! I couldn’t get a prop a job on a picture!
ARON: You could have tried!
PENN: I? Could have tried? Have we met?
ARON: Quit kidding. I want to talk.
PENN: About what?
ARON: Self-esteem issues.
PENN: Not from me it doesn’t.
ARON: You place no importance on my career.
PENN: I don’t? You turned the job down!
ARON: To be with you! Because I value you!
PENN: So what should I do then? Quit mine to be with you?
ARON: Oh, I can end this branch of this quarrel by just admitting I didn’t mind giving up my karaokes.
PENN: You should.
ARON: Should what? Admit it? Mind? Give them up? What?
PENN: (Correcting him) You mean “which.”
ARON: Which, then?
PENN: Should not give them up. Should not not mind giving them up. You’re good.
ARON: It’s not what I want to do.
PENN: We all often wonder what you do want to do.
ARON: I don’t know!
PENN: I know. You want to fraternize with my mother. Which frankly strikes me as less of an achievement than directing a good, terse, relevant karaoke.
ARON: So you don’t mind if I do them?
PENN: Honey, if you want to do karaokes, just or unjust, then, oh! How I’ll believe in those karaokes!
ARON: Thank you, Katherine Hepburn in Holiday.
PENN: With Cary Grant. Did I ever tell you that in the right light you look like Cary Grant?
ARON: Minutes after we met. Right after you proposed. You want to go to bed and finish this in the morning, don’t you?
PENN: No, I want to go to bed and never mention this again.
ARON: Fine. Neither do I. Why not let’s finish it right now?
PENN: Finish it?
ARON: Yes. Don’t you want it finished?
PENN: (genuinely struck) Oh, Jesus God. You’re leaving me.
ARON: I’m what?
PENN: Oh, that isn’t what you meant?
ARON: Leaving you? Why would you think I was—oh, my God!
PENN: I misunderstood you. I’m faint.
ARON: Why would I leave you?
PENN: Why wouldn’t you?
ARON: I can’t leave you! I can’t live without you! Why would you say that?
PENN: I’m afflicted with a dramatic imagination. And now you’re editing it.
ARON: Have you been thinking about leaving me? Is that it?
PENN: Be real. I can’t even think about thinking about leaving you. I’d never leave you. We’re married.
ARON: Audrey Hepburn in Two for the Road. If I ever do leave you, it’ll be because you keep smuggling classic actors in here.
PENN: Well, you talk like them. You break my heart.
ARON: You taught me to talk like them. Don’t cry about it.
PENN: It’s my repartee. I’ll cry if I want to. Besides, you could leave me. You did leave me.
ARON: I got six blocks.
PENN: Those were the worst six blocks of my life.
ARON: I parked and waited for you.
PENN: I was never so humiliated.
ARON: I said I was sorry.
PENN: Walking six blocks down Hoover crying like a baby.
ARON: I said I was sorry. I meant it.
PENN: When I saw you parked at Maltman, I burst out crying.
ARON: You were already crying.
PENN: I doubled the effect. Don’t ever leave me again.
ARON: Don’t ever call me a fucking faggot again.
PENN: Don’t ever kick me out of a car again.
ARON: I did not.
PENN: You opened the door.
ARON: I said, “If you don’t want to ride with a fucking faggot, get out!”
PENN: I read that as an eviction.
ARON: All newlyweds quarrel.
PENN: You promised me then that we never would again.
ARON: All men lie.
PENN: I believed you.
ARON: Well, I believed you when you said you wanted to marry me.
PENN: Turns out I did.
ARON: Well, so, then maybe I told the truth. Maybe we’ll never quarrel again.
PENN: At least not like that.
PENN: That was the worst moment of my life.
ARON: (amused in spite of himself) It was not.
PENN: It was too.
ARON: The worst moment of your life was when Mia Farrow accused Woody Allen of child-molestation.
PENN: …That was pretty bad. But I think she just felt neglected. Whoops.
ARON: I should accuse you of child molestation. Maybe you’d notice me.
PENN: I didn’t molest children even when I was one.
ARON: You suburban WASPs miss out on everything.
PENN: The nearest I came to child-molestation was not knowing you were only seventeen.
ARON: I wonder if there’s a statute of limitations on child-molesting?
PENN: I was only twenty myself, your honor. You were in a bar.
ARON: (narcissistic) I was in a tank-top.
PENN: You were almost in a tank-top.
ARON: I’d just seen Flashdance and was wearing everything off one shoulder like Jennifer Beals.
PENN: You drove me almost crazy.
ARON: In my opinion you went well over the edge.
PENN: You pulled one strap up and the other fell down.
ARON: I practiced that for hours.
PENN: Why did you waste it on me?
ARON: You made me nervous.
PENN: I made you nervous?
PENN: I almost lost the use of my knees and I made you frantic?
ARON: You were so beautiful I went cross-eyed.
PENN: Cross-eyed and knock-kneed, the love team of the century.
ARON: I didn’t know what else to do so I grinned at you.
PENN: I almost lost control of my bladder valve.
ARON: You just stared at me. You were so challenging.
PENN: I was helpless.
ARON: I never knew how to start conversations in bars.
PENN: I did.
ARON: I know.
PENN: I always asked people to marry me.
ARON: I wasn’t, of course, to know.
PENN: You took me seriously.
ARON: I took you.
PENN: I took you.
ARON: I’m glad you did.
PENN: I love you.
ARON: I love you.
PENN: (from fear of true feeling)…Shouldn’t we fuck now?
ARON: (Walks away) Oh, watch your mouth. Watch your movie!
PENN: Bring that back here!
ARON: Don’t call my ass “that”!
PENN: I know you want to. I was on that lap, you know!
ARON: I’m going to go jerk off.
PENN: Don’t you dare.
ARON: (turning, confronting Penn) Try and stop me.
PENN: Oh, don’t do this.
ARON: Throw me down and tear my clothes off!
PENN: You’re being challenging like Susan Hayward in The Conqueror. Don’t do that!
ARON: Take me, break me, shape me to your will.
PENN: I’m from Whittier!
ARON: Overcome your upbringing.
PENN: You think I can’t?
ARON: I know you won’t.
PENN: You know I can’t.
ARON: I know you’d better.
PENN: All right, I will!
ARON: In your dreams.
PENN: I’ll ravish you till no other man can please you!
ARON: In my dreams!
PENN: You and me has had this date from the beginning!
ARON: (the hot mood lost) Oh, Jesus!
PENN: What? Jesus what?
ARON: That was a quote from A Streetcar Named Desire
PENN: (rushes to tapes) Oh, let’s watch that! Where is that?
ARON: Where am I?
PENN: And when we get to the rape scene, I’ll show you.
ARON: They cut the rape scene.
PENN: We’ll restore it. (Penn puts Streetcar in VCR.)
ARON: I don’t want to watch a movie.
PENN: I’m afraid I don’t understand that sentence.
ARON: I—don’t want—to watch—a movie.
PENN: That’s the one.
ARON: Give me that!
PENN: Don’t call A Streetcar Named Desire “that.”
(Aron rips tape out of VCR. Shocked pause from Penn, staring at
the movie in Aron’s hand, then up at Aron.)
PENN: …I sense a turning-point in our relationship. Is that what I’m supposed to sense?
ARON: Yes. We’re going to be separated for a while.
PENN: (genuinely shocked) How did you know?
ARON: They want me to go away.
PENN: (relieved and then flippant) Oh…Spirit voices command you, “Joan, save France”?
ARON: Prism wants me to go to Nevada for three weeks to shoot karaokes.
PENN: (Laughs) Oh, no!
ARON: What? Why? What?
PENN: No, nothing, really, I just had this flash: you in snowshoes with a Winchester, shooting the dread karaokes.
ARON: Did you hear what I said?
PENN: I made a bad pun on it. We may assume I heard it.
ARON: Well, what do you feel?
PENN: Baffled and blue-balled. What am I required to feel?
ARON: They want me on location. For three weeks.
PENN: You can shoot ten karaokes in three weeks?
ARON: I know my job, Penn. But we’ve never been separated for three weeks.
PENN: I went to Canada to rewrite Blood Gulper for three weeks.
ARON: You brought me up for two.
PENN: I was going crazy. Obviously I had gone crazy.
ARON: You hid me halfway across Montreal in that gay-ghetto hotel. I saw you four hours a night.
PENN: I hated it.
ARON: Hiding me? Seeing me?
PENN: Loved you, hated Montreal. People should speak English or not speak.
ARON: So what do you think?
PENN: What do I think? You know what I think. I think Stanley Kubrick’s major error in filming Lolita was not casting Hayley Mills in the title role. What do you mean, what do I think?
ARON: You want me to go?
PENN: It’s Nevada. You can commute.
ARON: It’s way the fucking hell-and-gone doomsday desert Nevada. Quonset huts and moonscape. I’ll be stuck there unless major injuries require my removal by helicopter.
PENN: Like under the credits of MASH!
PENN: I’m sorry. Are there not Jeeps?
ARON: You know Prism has less money than public education. I’ll be there for three weeks!
PENN: We couldn’t like meet in Reno?
ARON: We couldn’t like meet.
PENN: I’d ball you in Reno. We don’t know anybody in Reno.
ARON: No Reno. No retreat. If I go, you sleep alone for three weeks.
PENN: Jesus, I’d be on the ceiling.
ARON: Or back in the bars, eight years older.
PENN: Or on the bathroom floor with slit wrists. Or out a window like Joanna Pettet in The Group. Don’t go. I’ll get rich and buy you your own karaoke company. Local.
ARON: Or you can come with me.
PENN: To the ends of the Earth, yes. To that end, no.
ARON: I can get you a job. Give you a job…You are free to think about it for a second or two to avoid making a reflexive response that you’ll regret for the rest of your life.
PENN: My producers need me here. They’d die without me to degrade.
ARON: I’m waiting.
PENN: The desert’s all scorpions. I saw The Wild Bunch.
ARON: I’m not waiting very much longer.
PENN: Agnes Moorehead and Susan Hayward and John-for-the-love-of-God-Wayne all got cancer from fallout in that desert. Clark Gable got heart-attacked. Norma Shearer in The Women got divorced in the desert. Harrison Ford got chapped!
ARON: You don’t want to go with me.
PENN: No. Before that, I don’t want you to go. You asked me. I told you. I don’t want you to go away and leave me milking myself. I’d go nuts. I’d commit aberrations with your underwear.
ARON: You don’t want me to go, or you don’t want to go with me, or you don’t want people to see us together, or you’d be humiliated working under me, or what? What don’t you want?
PENN: I don’t want you to go because I don’t want to be without you. I don’t want to go with you because there wouldn’t be any Blockbuster video outlets. I don’t want people to see us together because we’re so beautiful they’d think we were a mirage and leave us to shrivel up like Margo in the last reel of Lost Horizons. And I love being under you and have repeatedly offered to take that position tonight, if you will re-run and recall. There, you’ve forced me to be sincere, an unprecedented achievement. What more do you want out of life?
ARON: This is a career chance for me and you want me to give it up because you’d be horny, but not so horny that you are willing to come so we can be together, because you, (a) feel it would be demeaning to you to be employed in a situation where I am boss, and, capital A, you don’t want anyone, not even a crew that loves, honors, and respects me, to know we stick our dicks up each other. Is that right?
PENN: If you say so.
ARON: That won’t do!
PENN: I don’t do deserts. I don’t want to work on karaokes because it would be a step down for me, just as directing same is a step up for you. I don’t see the necessity for me to dress in drag and roll around Nevada on a skateboard waving a fairy wand, no. Does that answer any or all of your innumerable questions?
ARON: So you’re ashamed of me, ashamed of my work, and ashamed of our relationship, is that it?
PENN: Don’t you mean, “are those them?”
ARON: Penn, I cannot take any more of this!
PENN: You are not taking, you are giving. Please don’t give me any more of this. You’re making me crazy!
ARON: I can’t stand our love-life being wholly separate from the rest of our lives. It’s cut us off from our families, from the friends we might have, from the work I might do at any rate, from all the normal associations everyone else has. You know I can’t give you up, but the result is I’ve had to give up everything else that makes life worth living, and the horrible thing is that it isn’t even necessary. This isn’t the nineteenth century, it’s the nineteen-nineties, and there’s a new world out there that people have fought for and died for, that we could be a vital, contributing part of, but because you are ashamed of loving me—ashamed of loving me!—we’re trapped in a horrible make-believe world where every day brings more recriminations and reconciliations and regrets and reprisals and re-re-re-re-re-runs of the same drab, fucking, pointless material, and if we don’t do something about it, come to some decision that opens up our life and our world, we’re going to kill what we’ve got—and whether it’s your fault for asking for it or mine for accepting it, what we’ve got is all I’ve got, and I can’t lose it! I can’t live without it! I don’t have anything else, and I think I am going to go off the deep end unless you learn to take my arm and walk out in the sun and let us live a rich, deep, full life together!
PENN: Well, that can’t happen. I am not defending myself, and I am not blaming you, but this is the way I am. I was this way when you took me. You knew it, and I’m sorry, but I can’t change. I can’t walk out in the sun with you. I’m afraid. Despise me, detest me, desert me, but I cannot, cannot do it; I don’t want to; I’m not going to; I can’t. I won’t expose myself to failure and danger and ridicule. I don’t see what good it would do anybody if I can’t get work, or if I get killed by kids with baseball bats, or if I kill my parents by telling them I’m gay and wind up killing myself in an insane asylum. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, this is it. This is the way I am, and it’s the way you are, too, and you had better learn to adjust to it, because it is never going to change. That’s it, Louis! You’re a vampire! Wake up and smell the coffin!
ARON: You make a joke out of everything!
PENN: Everything is a joke!
ARON: I can’t laugh anymore. (Grabs coat, car keys) Goodbye, Penn.
PENN: Come back here!
ARON: Not for the world with a wall around it!
PENN: I wouldn’t offer you the world. The world is horrible.
ARON: I’m about to find out.
PENN: Don’t leave me alone!
ARON: Come crying after me!
PENN: I can’t!
ARON: You did!
PENN: I didn’t know you were waiting for me!
ARON: I’m not anymore! (Aron exits.)
PENN: Aron! Aron!
(Aron re-enters. Penn stands, startled. Aron throws down the tape
of A Streetcar Named Desire, grabs the take-out food cartons,
throws them in a bag, and exits again. Penn goes to the door.
SOUND of CAR STARTING.)
PENN: Don’t take the car! Aron, I need the car! I’ve got a meeting tomorrow! Aron! They want me to go to Australia for a year with the series! To story-edit! For a year! It’s big time! It’s big money! I get to direct! To direct, Aron! But I can’t take you! Aron, don’t go!
(SOUND of CAR PULLING AWAY.)
Don’t let ME go!
(Penn leaves door, picks up A Streetcar Named Desire, goes to
VCR. He inserts A Streetcar Named Desire in it, .punches button
on VCR, looks through other videos. JAZZ MUSIC, opening
credits of A Streetcar Named Desire.)
“They told me to take a streetcar named ‘Desire.’” No, they told me not to take it. It’s a wonderful life. It’s a neurotic’s jackpot. Gone with the wind. I’ll think about it tomorrow. Snakes are my life. What a life. Two for the road. Strangers on a train. Shadows and fog. Lost horizons. Vertigo. Psycho. Frenzy. The abyss. Aliens. Aliens. Aliens. Aliens. Aliens.
—end of scene one—
(The TIME is February, 1994. It is sunset. It is always sunset. The SETTING is the same.
(The room is much neater. The Blood Gulper poster is gone. In its place hangs a promo poster of The Silver Sleuths, reading, “COMING THIS FALL!” There are some conspicuously expensive items. A large chart of the male musculature hangs on the wall. An exercise bench has been added.
(At RISE, Aron sits on the bench, doing exercises. He takes a occasional swig from a bottle of Gator-Aid. He wears a tank-top with the legend “SYDNEY.”
(To one side, Penn sits at a desk in Australia, holding a telephone. The desk has a computer, and is littered with American food, such as Wonder Bread, Jif peanut butter, etc. On the floor beside Penn is a large Federal Express box, from which he takes other American food now and then.)
(At home, the PHONE RINGS four times. Aron barely glances at it as he exercises. After the fourth ring—)
ARON: Hello, Penn.
PENN: Jesus, you sound like Darth Vader! Are you on the speaker-phone?
PENN: Because you’re spending my salary with both hands? Sorry, joke. I’ll go on speaker, too. (Punches button and puts down handset). There. Now I can eat with both hands.
ARON: You sound like you’re in a tomb. Are you still writing in that cramped little closet?
PENN: You’re not going to make all the closet jokes again, are you?
ARON: No, I just thought when I left you’d spread out a little.
PENN: I would, from all this eating, if I didn’t have eternal diarrhea. I nearly moved the computer into the bathroom last week. But I’m all better now. It was the Australian food, I know it was. From now on I’m going to eat only what you send. I’m recovering on Fruit Loops! After I didn’t have you here to cook for me anymore, I went out and ate something called “eucalyptus” or “billybong” or something, and my stomach started pumping in and out like John Hurt’s in Alien. Oh, God, it is Alien down here. Except that they don’t eat you—or take you into their hive! They don’t even talk to you. They talk to each other, in this dialect that sounds like tape recorders running backwards. It’s more like Body Snatchers. Except nobody has snatched my body yet. Has anybody snatched yours? I know, I promised not to ask. Just nod. It’s certainly not like Crocodile Dundee. The most adventurous thing that’s happened is when I realized I was driving on the wrong side of the road and almost crossed over to the other side before I realized that I wasn’t! I can’t understand anything that’s happening around me. It’s like being back home in Whittier—and being eight!…Have they put you on a respirator?…(British) Are you there?
ARON: Yes, I’m here. I didn’t know you required response.
PENN: So where was I?
ARON: I haven’t the foggiest—
PENN: Oh, I remember! So after this traffic cop let me go—because apparently American TV production is their major growth industry down here—I got to the meeting with the new producers, and they said they just loved the script. It was the Rebecca rip-off episode, did I read you that?
PENN: I read you that?
ARON: At two dollars and fifty cents a minute.
PENN: God, I know, you should see the phone bill here. At least they use Arabic numerals. It’s gotten to about a thousand dollars, so it’s like fifty cents real money—
ARON: Five hundred dollars.
PENN: Right, chicken-feed, besides, I think I can trick them into paying my phone bill because of those contract clauses the first set of producers broke, so—
ARON: Penn, they’ll probably deduct it from your salary.
PENN: (Holding script) That’s all right, they seem to have stopped paying my salary, sigh, again.
ARON: Oh, no.
PENN: Anyway, let me read you this scene—
ARON: Our phone bill here is like three hundred dollars.
PENN: Well, let me just call you from here like this from now on. Here, this scene—
ARON: If you’ll tell me ahead of time what time you’re going to call—
PENN: How can I when I never know what time it is where?
ARON: It’s five hours earlier there, and it’s tomorrow.
PENN: (Pause)…You probably think that helps.
ARON: Just keep one clock set to L.A. time.
PENN: I think the clocks here run counterclockwise.
ARON: (Correcting him) That’s water down the drain.
PENN: That’s big of you, but it still confuses me. (Giggles) I wonder if I can use that in the script.
PENN: Why not?
ARON: Because it’s fresh and funny.
PENN: Thank you so much for reminding me. Okay, now, anyway, here’s the scene first the way I wrote it. You remember that Daphne is trying to live up to Todd’s dead first wife’s reputation for horsemanship? Horsewomanship?
PENN: Horsepersonship. Anyway, she, Daphne, comes out on Nemesis, his, Todd’s, dead wife, Charlotte’s favorite horse, and he, Todd, says, “TODD: Daphne, what are you doing on this horse?” and she—
PENN: —Daphne, says, “DAPHNE (sarcastically) I got up here for the view. (seriously) I’m riding him to the fox hunt, what do you think I’m doing?” and he—
PENN & ARON: Todd.
PENN: Todd, God—says, “TODD: Get off that horse. He’s a killer.” And she, not understanding his rage, says—
PENN & ARON: “DAPHNE: (flippantly) Well, then I’m safer up here where he can’t see me.”
PENN: Right! You remember! And Todd says, “TODD: Daphne, get down this minute or I’ll pull you off!” and she says, “DAPHNE: Have you been hitting the juleps? This horse is a lamb.” And he says, close-up, “TODD: He killed Charlotte, I tell you! And if you don’t get off, I swear that you’ll die too!”
ARON: And that’s when she goes to our charming retired detective couple with her suspicions that Todd killed Charlotte.
PENN: Right, but that’s not what’s important.
ARON: So you say.
PENN: So I went in and they extended the scene to me and said, “We don’t, like, understand this.” And they were holding it so it was right-side-up to me, so I turned it around and said, “Try reading it this way.” Because I couldn’t believe that anything bipedal had any trouble with it.
ARON: Bipedal? You told me they walk with their knuckles dragging.
PENN: No, that was the second set. These are the third set, the ones that say they want crisp, literate scripts.
ARON: Did they say you can direct?
PENN: Yes, yes, I’ll tell you about that, but, so, anyway, they said, “Hey, explain it to us.”
ARON: They said? They speak in chorus?
PENN: Huh? Ah. Ha. Yes. Right. No. Cute. That was Edith, the hard black woman—
PENN: —with the power shoulders—
ARON: -with the power shoulders—
PENN & ARON: —that stick out like diving boards.
PENN: Right! Like diving boards. She calls herself the first black female series producer in the northern hemisphere, and I haven’t had the heart to remind her she’s in the southern.—
ARON: —in the southern. If only you had the heart.
PENN: —and I said, as delicately as I could manage, “Explain what?” And she pulled down her power sunglasses, which were so big she looked like a Mouseketeer cap had fallen over her face, and I turned to Roderick—the ex-dry-goods dealer? —and I said, “What, pray tell, exactly, is it that eludes you in this preternaturally lucid exchange?”
ARON: (amused despite himself) No, you didn’t.
PENN: No, I didn’t. I said, “Can we make sure that we are, literately and crisply, on the same page?”
ARON: God help me.
ARON: Oh, nothing. I just love you. “On the same page.” Go ahead.
PENN: (baffled) Oh. Do you? Good. Yes. Then. Roderick said, “The dame is on the killer horse and it don’t throw her off?” And I said, “Roderick, if it had, I probably would have indicated it somewhere in the script.” And he said, “It don’t make sense. If it’s a killer, why don’t it throw her off?” And I said, “Well, that’s what arouses her suspicions, see, like, that the horse is so gentle?” And he shuffles the pages, even though the scene is on one page, and his eyebrows collide and he says, “It don’t say that here. She don’t say that.” And I took the page from him—which was easy because he doesn’t yet have opposed thumbs—and showed him in the next paragraph where Daphne tells the Silver Sleuths that her suspicions were aroused because the horse is gentle as a lamb—which she does, incidentally, say right there in the scene with Todd—And Malcolm the Mannequin opened and closed his mouth just like a real boy and said, “It’s too confusing for them assholes that watch TV.” And they all blinked and nodded—in chorus, in chorus—and I licked my lips because I felt a salt deficiency coming on, and I said, “But that’s the suspense element. She’s on the horse, then we cut to her sitting in the old couple’s office, and she says, immediately, immediately she says, “DAPHNE: That’s when I began to get suspicious. Believe me, that horse is as gentle as a lamb. I’m beginning to wonder if Todd didn’t kill Charlotte.”
ARON: And the old lady says, “Oh, dear, I’d really rather not believe that.”
PENN: She always does. Don’t you love that? That’s my mother. My mother always says that.
ARON: Does she?
PENN: Sure, she does. Oh, right. Well, never mind. Listen. Are you listening?
ARON: Listening. Learning. Proceed.
PENN: Why are you breathing so hard?
ARON: I’m doing curl-ups.
PENN: God, how long is your hair?
ARON: Never mind.
PENN: Are you turning into a hippie? Do any of the people in that gym know that you know me?
ARON: No. They call me “Sydney.”
PENN: Good lord, why?
ARON: A private joke. Go on.
PENN: All right. Okay, so they—the producer-substitutes—say, “That’s too late. The audience has to be told everything at once or they’ll click to another channel.” They live in terror of boring a faraway unseen audience.
ARON: A fear I wish you shared, Penn.
PENN: But what else can you do but just accept that what amuses you will entertain other people?
ARON: You can’t do that if you need to feel superior than your audience.
PENN: But it’s an immediate cut. The information they’re worried about follows immediately! I waved my finger over it and showed it at each of them in turn and said, “See? See? It’s there, immediately after. And it’s even in the horse scene itself. She says, Daphne says, ‘DAPHNE: This horse is a lamb!’” And they all couldn’t look me in the face, and I had that old familiar realization: they hadn’t any of them actually read the script. God knows who did, and who wrote them a note about that point. And so I had done it again, put them on the spot. They either had to stick to their guns or admit they didn’t know what they were doing—and the last thing any rhinoceros will admit to is being wrong
ARON: This happens whenever you go into that room, Penn.
PENN: No, this was worse! They got rabid. Have you ever been trapped with rabid rhinoceri? And all the time wondering if you’re going to fall up and hit the ceiling fan because the whole fucking continent is upside down? You know how all the cafés and things have these threatening-looking ceiling fans?
ARON: No, Penn, I don’t. You locked me in the house the whole week I was down there, remember?
PENN: Oh, God, you’re lucky. You look up and you feel like Red October is coming down on you. Anyway, they went insane. The Mannequin said, “You can’t have Todd say he’ll ‘pull her off.’ It’s too suggestive of masturbation.” And I said, “Only if he thinks Daphne’s a man, Malcolm.” And Edith said, “Hey, has anyone seen The Crying Game?” And she actually advanced the idea that Daphne could really be a man! And they sat there and “explored the idea” for two hours! I’m sure if she’d seen that Mel Gibson movie with me last night, she’d have said, “Hey, why can’t she pull out a Magnum and shoot the horse?”
ARON: Don’t watch Mel Gibson movies. He’s a homophobe.
PENN: Yeah, well, Liz Taylor and Ed Asner don’t happen to have theatrical features in general subequatorial release right now. Anyway, they finally threw the real ringer at me: They said I had to cut the horse scene entirely because it costs too much insurance to have actors ride.
PENN: Yes, well, you know that, and I know that, but do you wanna know what I think?
ARON: Yes. You think that with the exception of Carrie and The Shining, Hollywood has failed Stephen King.
PENN: What? Stop. I think the truth is the second set of producers stole all the money and these are trying to get me to reduce all my scripts to monologues on a single set!
ARON: So are you going to get to direct this one?
PENN: When would I? With all the rewrites they throw at me, I’ll be writing clear through the shooting schedule. Besides, I only wrote it so I could direct the fox-hunt scene to show I have scope—
PENN: —and they edited out the horses!
ARON: So are you—
PENN: So unless you can buy Long Island socialites in red coats scampering on foot across countryside shouting “Yoicks!”—
ARON: So you’re not directing?
PENN: …No, not yet.
ARON: (exploding) So fucking come home! That’s the fifth time—
PENN: Sixth time.
ARON: —sixth time they’ve done you out of directing and they’re not going to stop! I don’t know if they stole the budget money—
PENN: The prior “they” stole the budget money.
ARON: —but I do know that they’re suckering you into doing three writers’ work and cutting your salary in half—and not even paying you that—by waving this directing hallucination at you. Come home! It’s not worth every night listening to you go through this sadistic suffering. I’m watching you sink in a pool of sharks and I can’t even hold you close and cry. Come home!
PENN: But I want to direct!
ARON: They won’t let you direct.
PENN: They promised!
ARON: For nearly a year!
PENN: They guaranteed it!
ARON: On paper?
ARON: Then they lied!
PENN: I can’t believe that!
ARON: Why do you keep trusting these people? Hang up, pack up, use that open ticket and get home!
PENN: I can’t walk out on a contract!
ARON: They’ve violated it twenty times!
PENN: Don’t yell at me. Yell at them!
ARON: If I was there, I would!
PENN: Why are you yelling?
ARON: Because you’re so far away!
PENN: I can’t leave! It would ruin me in the business!
ARON: What a business!
PENN: And is it better there? Huh? You left to do your karaokes, you left me all alone down here so you could do your karaokes—
ARON: You kept me chained in the basement.
PENN: I did not!
ARON: All but.
PENN: You wouldn’t have left to do your karaokes if I’d been displaying you all over Australia?
ARON: We’re never going to know, are we?
PENN: Well, you did it, you left me, you left, you left me because Prism promised you the karaokes, you left, and you prepared them and designed them and did the budgets for them and then they fucked you over and hired that Korean director! So how is it better there?
ARON: It’s better if you’re here!
PENN: I can’t come! I can’t!
ARON: They mistreat you and then you mistreat me. Why do you stay with them?
PENN: For the same reason you stay with me. For the money, honey!
ARON: What? Never mind. Goodbye.
PENN: Don’t hang up on me, you fucking faggot.
PENN: I knew that would get your attention.
ARON: How dare you say a thing like that to me? If I cared about the goddamned money would I be begging you to come back to me when they owe you for weeks and weeks?
PENN: I just said it for the rhyme. “Money, honey…”
ARON: Aside from maintaining this place and paying your debts—
PENN: I know, I know.
ARON: —our debts, and buying a couple of second-hand things we needed anyway—
PENN: I know, I know.
ARON: —and survival, absolutely all I’ve spent any money on is the gym!
PENN: I know.
ARON: If you want me to stop going to the gym—
PENN: No, God, no, go, you’re getting so beautiful. Send me more Polaroids, I ruined those. Do you want to have phone sex?
PENN: It’s on them.
ARON: Especially not on them.
PENN: All right, cool down. I’m sorry…Who took those pictures?
ARON: …My trainer.
PENN: Deuce. Right. What kind of name is Deuce? As in Irma La Douce? Does he wear slit skirts and swing his purse in doorways?
PENN: Or is it like Mussolini, Il Duce? Does he stand on balconies and review his troops?
PENN: Oh, right, he lives in Santa Monica and jogs with his dogs on the bogs—
ARON: The beach.
PENN: The beach, the beach. We have a beach here where it rains six days out of seven. I have to keep rewriting chase scenes to take place on escalators…Why aren’t you with him now?
ARON: He’s in New York.
PENN: Good God, are you going to go all flabby?
ARON: No, I’m training at home. I bought a bench-press.
PENN: That’s that rack guys fuck personal trainers on in porn, isn’t it?
ARON: I hate you a whole lot.
PENN: So how much was it?
ARON: Not much, compared to my round-trip ticket to the bottom of the world.
PENN: Oh, well, I suppose I can use it too, when I come home. I may use it, mayn’t I? Or is it sacredly dedicated to Douche?
ARON & PENN: Deuce!
PENN: Deuce! Sorry!
ARON: Why do you talk about him that way?
PENN: Because you won’t talk about him at all. He’s like your imaginary playmate.
ARON: There’s nothing to talk about. He’s my trainer.
PENN: What’s he in New York for if you’re paying him all my money to train you?
ARON: He’s auditioning.
PENN: For what? Richard Simmons?
ARON: He’s an opera singer.
PENN: He’s an—oh, wait, do permit me to get this straight—he’s an opera singer?
ARON: Shut up.
PENN: An opera singer gave you that U-2 tape which you said I should listen to intently because it’s “really deep”?
ARON: Just shut up.
PENN: No, wait, this is getting interesting. I know we agreed that since we’re a year apart we can both get laid if we just don’t tell each other, but tell me this: this character who on my money is auditioning in New York while letting you sag in Los Angeles, are you not sleeping with him?
ARON: Good night.
PENN: No, I didn’t ask “Are you sleeping with him?” That would be breaking the rules, but I think I am within my rights to ask if you are not sleeping with him.
ARON: I’m hanging up now.
PENN: Don’t hang up on me, you fucking faggot.
ARON: Don’t say that to me.
PENN: Works every time.
ARON: Don’t ever call me that again. No. Do. Go right ahead. Call me anything you want. I don’t care any more what you call me.
PENN: May I call you “Sven”? I’ve always loved that name, “Sven.”
ARON: Go ahead. God! I’m free as a bird.
PENN: Don’t use clichés. That reflects on me…Aron, I’m sorry. I have no right to criticize your friend. God knows I wish I had one.
ARON: Did you not get laid?
PENN: Yes, I did. Not. I go into these alleged gay bars and everyone looks like Munchkins. I heard Australians were all tall. That must be a rumor. Started by gnomes.
ARON: If you got laid, would you tell me?
PENN: No. I’d be afraid you’d leave me.
ARON: There, you keep me locked up. Here, I’m a world away. Leaving you would be either impossible or redundant.
PENN: I’ll be back. Everything will be all right. Everything will be all right when I get back. There’s guys here I could have. When we’re real old I’ll tell you if I did. But I don’t want them. I don’t want anybody but you. Yours.
ARON: I can’t get anybody but you. I go into bars and I must project hostility like a rap-group.
PENN: I wouldn’t want anybody but you even if I could.
ARON: I’m here.
PENN: I wish you were here.
ARON: I won’t come back down there and be mistreated. I’ll wait here.
PENN: To be mistreated?
ARON: Probably…Jim died.
PENN: …I read in the paper. Did you go to the funeral?
ARON: I read it in the paper, too. Jack didn’t ask any gay friends to the funeral unless they were famous.
PENN: Well, maybe we will be by the time Jack dies…So what’s he gonna do?
ARON: I imagine live forever alone…They’re making a film of Interview with the Vampire.
PENN: I’m sorry. You love those stupid books. That’s swell, Aron.
ARON: No, they’re in trouble. Tom Cruise refuses to play gay.
ARON: But Anne Rice took ads in all the papers telling her fans not to go see it. Maybe Cruise will give in!
PENN: Or come out…I called earlier. Where were you?
ARON: Obviously, out.
PENN: It’s what? Five or six there? Sunset? You weren’t at the gym at sunset. It’s full of yuppies. They wear shorts in the showers.
ARON: No…I was at Deuce’s.
PENN: …We have the worst connection. I thought you said you were at Deuce’s.
ARON: Please don’t start.
PENN: Pray tell, since Renaissance Man is off auditioning for La Forza Del Destino, what do you find to do at Deuce’s? Aberrations with his underwear? Does he wear underwear?
PENN: Did you take my car? Or was this an absentee jogging assignment?
PENN: Or is this too sacred to discuss with the gink who is after all only footing the bills?
ARON: I’m feeding his dogs while he’s away!…Penn?
PENN: Please, just stop. I’m really angry and there’s no point to it. I can’t get any angrier and I’m not going to get any less. Let’s just go sideways and talk about something else. What have you seen?
ARON: Penn, baby—
PENN: I’ve been watching the local TV. They have this new show called Absolutely Fabulous. I can’t describe it. Two wacked-out hippie-mod leftovers in London plus one-of-them’s rundown, uptight daughter. An epigrammatic laugh-fest, a hard-hitting, lighthearted look at a leftover generation in a turnaround world. Why, I described it after all. I must be really gifted. Now! What have you seen?
ARON: Not much.
PENN: It’s all that travel-time to the beach. Woops, nearly broached the subject, didn’t I? What did you say you’ve seen?
ARON: I saw Philadelphia.
PENN: What, you flew that far with him? Sorry. The Tom Hanks movie, you mean?
ARON: Right. Is it down there?
PENN: We’re just getting silent films. Up till now it’s been slide-shows. With sing-alongs.
ARON: It’s interesting, Philadelphia.
PENN: They’ll have to change the title down here. I mean, what does Philadelphia mean to this faraway audience?
ARON: Philadelphia means “brotherly love.”
PENN: You are talking to someone named “Penn.” I know that. My family quaked for centuries, remember?
ARON: They could call it “Brotherly Love.”
PENN: That might smack of homosexuality.
ARON: That’s what it’s all about.
PENN: I couldn’t agree with you more, and when I get back I’m going to show you—with manacles. But what’s the movie about?
PENN: Don’t kid me at two-fifty a minute.
ARON: They’re paying.
PENN: They’ll make me pay in other ways. Tell about the movie.
ARON: Tom Hanks is a lawyer with AIDS. He gets fired for it. He goes to Denzel Washington to defend him. Denzel. Defend Hanks.
PENN: I’m following the pronouns. Go on.
ARON: And Washington is prejudiced against gays.
PENN: I thought it was Philadelphia.
ARON: Denzel Washington. But he defends Hanks anyway and wins and Hanks dies.
PENN: Hanks plays actually gay?
ARON: He’s great! He glows! Like Lillian Gish! And Joanne Woodward is in it for about thirty seconds as his mother and she is Lillian Gish!
PENN: Is it any good?
ARON: Well—it looks like your rhinos produced it.
PENN: Which team?
ARON: The lot—in chorus. Hanks is this hot-shot brilliant lawyer, but he can’t defend himself, he has to go to a straight bigot. And to start with, his rabidly homophobic law firm has been promoting him like mad without even wondering why a good-looking success of thirty-something isn’t married.
PENN: It’s possible.
ARON: Don’t fool yourself! And-and-and Hanks has a party and Michael Callen’s there—
ARON: Michael Callen, the singer. He’s the founder of like a dozen groups that help people fired for being gay or for having AIDS get redress. If Hanks knows him to have him at his party he would know about these groups. It’s stupid!
PENN: When they get redress, is it as boys or girls?
ARON: Oh, shut up! It’s not a joke! It’s the first big Hollywood class-A movie about gays and they don’t even kiss!
PENN: Him and this Callas?
ARON: Callen! No, Hanks and Antonio Banderas.
PENN: He’s in it? He’s hot.
ARON: He plays Hanks’ lover and they can’t even kiss!
PENN: Because he’s got AIDS?
ARON: No, because it’s Hollywood!
PENN: I thought you said Philadelphia!
ARON: Will you stop? This is important! They have like this token scene to let you know he has a lover, and they can’t even kiss!
ARON: Because they won’t let them!
PENN: I thought Holly wouldn’t.
ARON: No, stop it. You do this. Every time something gay comes up, you make a joke of it. This isn’t a joke. My feelings are not a joke. This really happened. Really happens. People are fired and hounded and evicted for being gay, and you may not make jokes about it.
PENN: I’ll kill myself, if you like.
ARON: No, I don’t like. That’s the same thing.
PENN: What is what?
ARON: Killing yourself, making jokes, it’s that Woody Allen neurotic crap! Accepting things as they are and despairing or wisecracking about it, it’s the same thing. Never taking anything seriously, never taking yourself seriously, never, God knows, taking me seriously, just sitting down there letting them push you around, when you know they couldn’t survive without you, and they know they couldn’t. They know that you’re brilliant and hard-working and clever, and they also know that you’re gay and hate yourself, so they can push you around and you’ll take it and make them rich and famous while you’re getting fucked! I’m just sick of it!
PENN: Aron, quiet down!
ARON: Why should I? I try to tell you something that makes me sick, that makes me sad, that makes me angry—and you make stupid fucking hopeless Woody Allen jokes about it! This is real! This is a great big fucking movie, the only thing straight people will see all year about gays, and it’s a pack of sell-out lies! And kids, gay kids, this is all they’ll see, and they’ll be told they’re helpless wimps! How people think about us and themselves and everything will depend on it, and you don’t care!
PENN: What do you want me to say?
ARON: I want you to know what to say!
PENN: It’s your script. You write it.
ARON: Not for all the money in the world! You have got to start caring about yourself and then you’ll know what to say, how to care about me! I mean how to care about yourself. No, I mean how to care about me! I want Antonio Banderas to kiss Tom Hanks, and I’m angry that he doesn’t! I want Tom Hanks to defend himself!
PENN: Maybe he’s middle-class and can’t!
ARON: I want him to win that suit and then I want him to quit that fascist firm and go out in the streets with Antonio and Michael Callen and Quentin Crisp—
PENN: Maybe he can’t get a word in edgewise. Quentin who?
ARON: Crisp! And Larry Kramer—
ARON: —and waving a big flag saying “FUCK YOU FASCISTS!” Can you understand that?
PENN: My neighbors can understand it. If I hung up they could still hear you!
ARON: He died! He died!
PENN: Who? What? Who died?
ARON: Hanks! He didn’t even get to kiss his lover! He couldn’t defend himself! And then he dies! They don’t give us one fucking shot! And do you know what else they do?
PENN: They charge for phone calls.
ARON: They put Hanks on the stand and make him admit that he got AIDS the one night he ever went out and cheated on his lover. Like it’s a moral fault that he got AIDS. They only gave him a lover to make him feel guilty! And then they cut to Joanne Woodward’s wonderful face and she’s looking ashamed! AIDS isn’t a disease! It’s a punishment! God struck him down in shame and horror and fucking goddamned guilt. How can you let them do this to you?
PENN: To me? Where what who when why?
ARON: How can you let them treat us that way? Make you ashamed to stand up for yourself? Make you whore for their stupidity?
PENN: I didn’t write the movie!
ARON: No, but you would have! You would have sat down at the script conference and cut the kisses and the courage and the love and tenderness and added the divine punishment and the shamefaced mother! And you’d have cut his songs, too!
PENN: What songs? You’re too fast!
ARON: Michael Callen’s songs! He sings! At the party! And the Philadelphia soundtrack is number fucking one, and his songs aren’t on it!
PENN: You know this Michael Callen?
ARON: He died! Just now!
PENN: When did you learn so much about this?
ARON: Deuce had his album. Michael Callen’s.
PENN: He knew him?
ARON: Penn, thousands knew him! He was a hero. He fought for people like Hanks. And they threw him in for a fairy joke and gave his courage to Washington! And cut his songs!
PENN: Are you sleeping with Deuce?
ARON: Oh, God, oh, God.
PENN: I won’t be mad. In fact, it would make things clearer. We said we could sleep with people. It’s all right.
ARON: Oh, God, I don’t know how much more of this even I can stand. He had AIDS himself.
PENN: Deuce!?!?!? Did you sleep with him? Answer me!
ARON: Jesus God, I feel so all alone.
PENN: You slept with someone with AIDS?
ARON: No, Michael Callen had AIDS.
PENN: Oh. Well, that’s what comes of thousands knowing you…I’m sorry.
ARON: It doesn’t matter. What more can you do? You can’t do any more to me.
PENN: Wait up. I did what to you?
ARON: You wrote that movie, darlin’.
ARON: Philadelphia. Brotherly love.
PENN: You’re hyperventilating.
ARON: No, you wrote it. You wrote it when you were ten.
PENN: When I was ten, I was making Super-Eight rip-offs of Star Trek in my back yard in Whittier, please.
ARON: You wrote it like they wanted it. You had to. You wanted success so bad. You wanted money. You wanted acceptance. If the sign of acceptance was amputation, you’d have begged to be a basket-case. If it would win you Joanne Woodward’s radiant smile, you’d even have wanted AIDS. You wouldn’t let Antonio Banderas kiss you.
PENN: That I’d contest.
ARON: Not in front of your mother. Oh, honey, I miss you. That’s all I’m saying. That’s all I’ve been saying ever since I met you. I miss you. I’ve been missing you for almost six years. Come home. Come home to my arms.
PENN: Aron, I can’t. I can’t give up this chance.
ARON: No. I can see how it’s your big chance. It doesn’t matter. If you did come home I’d still miss you. Stay there. Play there. Be a good boy. Do as you’re told.
PENN: Okay, if you say so…That was a joke.
ARON: Don’t I know it.
PENN: But are you sleeping with Deuce?
ARON: Sigh. That is such an insult, Penn. That you would think I can’t have a friend without sleeping with him.
PENN: I’d rather you were. That I could understand. What bothers me is I think you’re in love with him.
ARON: Penn, if I was or not, it wouldn’t make any difference.
PENN: It makes a difference to me.
ARON: He wouldn’t have me anyway.
PENN: The way he’s got you looking, he wouldn’t have you?
ARON: Not if I looked like God.
PENN: Which god?
ARON: And do you know why he wouldn’t?
PENN: And do you know how much I hate rhetorical questions? I ask that rhetorically, of course.
ARON: Because he thinks I’m too fucked-up.
PENN: …I’ll kill him. No, you hire someone to kill him. Charge it to me.
ARON: And he’s probably right.
PENN: …I have to do some work.
ARON: You’ll do it at the last minute like you always do.
PENN: I don’t. Do I? I do, don’t I?
ARON: You do.
PENN: So what’s his boyfriend like?
ARON: He doesn’t have one.
PENN: I’m worried again.
ARON: He thinks he’s too fucked-up, too.
PENN: So what’s he going to do? Live forever alone?
ARON: I hope not.
PENN: So you are getting exactly what out of this relationship with him?
ARON: He has taught me to begin to care about myself.
PENN: From the outside in.
ARON: It’s a start. Until I meet your mother.
PENN: Oh, God.
ARON: Which god?
PENN: I have to work.
ARON: When you come back, I want to meet your mother.
ARON: You asked me what I wanted you to say? I want you to say, “Honey, I want you to meet my mother.”
PENN: I wouldn’t mean a word of it.
ARON: That’s okay. If we can’t feel the right thing, we still have to start doing it. Until we do feel it. Think how we look to the kids. Think what that awful movie taught them.
PENN: It probably taught them that if Tom Hanks plays gay, it’s okay.
ARON: That’s not what it taught you.
PENN: I haven’t even seen it!
ARON: That’s not what it will teach you, then.
PENN: You’re foretelling the future. I hate that.
ARON: Then change it.
PENN: Oh, God, I’m too tired for this. I have to work.
ARON: You know why I like Deuce?
PENN: Because he’s there? La Forza Del Propinquity?
ARON: Because I get something from him I ain’t been gettin’ at home.
PENN: You are sleeping with him!
ARON: No…He’s sincere.
PENN: …That’s what Sal Mineo says about James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause!
ARON: Sigh. What do they say in Rebel Without an Effect?
PENN: That was cute.
ARON: We have to do the right thing.
PENN: A film by Spike Lee.
PENN: I have to work.
PENN: And, honey?
PENN: Don’t worry. You’re right. I’m going to do the right thing. It doesn’t matter if I’m scared. Which I am. I’m going in there tomorrow and refuse to do one more stitch of rewriting until they say for sure that I can direct.
ARON: And put it in writing.
PENN: I don’t know if I can go that far.
PENN: I can go that far. It scares me shitless just to think about it, but I’ll do it. I’ll go against every feeling I’ve got and I’ll do the Spike Lee. And in return, will you do something for me against your feelings?
ARON: What’s that?
PENN: Will you stop seeing Deuce?
ARON: No, honey.
PENN: You’re not willing to do unto me as I’m willing to do unto you?
ARON: In this case, no.
PENN: I don’t know what to say.
ARON: Say you have to work.
PENN: I have to work.
ARON: Go ahead. I love you. Don’t worry. Everything’s all right.
PENN: When did that happen?
ARON: Call tomorrow. This same time. I’ll be here.
PENN: Are you going to go feed the dogs?
ARON: Of course.
PENN: I’d much rather you wouldn’t.
ARON: I’m aware of that.
PENN: Those dogs are killers. They killed Charlotte.
ARON: I take a lot of killing. And besides, I’m holding the reins.
PENN: (scribbling it down) Oh, that’s good.
ARON: They’ll cut it.
PENN: But I’ll try. And honey?
PENN: Even if they don’t give me what I want—and they may not—
ARON: I know.
PENN: And even if I have to give in—which I may have to—
ARON: I understand.
PENN: I have a way to get back at them for all they’ve done.
ARON: What’s that, honey?
PENN: When I leave, the last thing I’m going to do before I leave my closet, I’m going to phone Juneau, Alaska, and leave the phone off the hook and stick the rhinos with a million-dollar phone bill!
ARON: Two million Australian.
PENN: Give or take a mil.
ARON: Lauren Bacall in How to Marry a Millionaire.
PENN: Right. And speaking of marrying a millionaire, I have to tell you something.
ARON: Tell me. It’s on them.
PENN: Some people from New Zealand were here and saw the rushes on the scripts I did—before the rhinos cut my best stuff. And these New Zealanders say they want me to come write and direct a feature film, maybe.
ARON: Penn, that’s wonderful!
PENN: Of my choice.
ARON: Oh, God!
PENN: I hate choices.
ARON: Why didn’t you tell me that before?
PENN: That I hate choices? Have we met?
ARON: That you’ve got a movie!
PENN: Because you made me talk about all that other awful stuff.
ARON: We’ve met.
PENN: So you see, it’s important that I get to direct a segment of the series so they can see I can direct.
ARON: Yes, of course, I understand that, Penn.
PENN: So it’s important that I get along with the rhinos.
ARON: I understand.
PENN: So you understand what I’m going through? I have to torment you about all the shit I have to put up with, I have to de-program on you because I’ve got to go through it all again tomorrow—
ARON: Penn, I understand. Your need and your honor have you caught in a relationship with someone who has everything that you want, and who uses your loyalty to put you through hell. Believe me, I understand.
PENN: Then you understand why a person can’t just walk out?
ARON: …Yes, I understand. I miss you.
PENN: God, I miss you, too. I get so confused with its being Tuesday there, and night—
PENN: —sunset, when it’s Wednesday here and noon. I keep asking, “What is Aron doing last night?”
ARON: That’s funny, honey.
PENN: Don’t leave me.
ARON: Come home.
PENN: I can’t.
ARON: I won’t.
PENN: But you won’t stop seeing—?
PENN: Well, then, when I come home, I’ll try to tell the folks about us. I can’t promise. I don’t want to. But I will. Try. But if I can’t…You’ll understand and stay with me?
ARON: …I will understand.
PENN: I’ve got to work. Even though I hate it. I have to “ring off.” As they say here. Have a nice day, honey.
PENN: Right, night. God, I’m always ahead of you.
ARON: Don’t I know it.
—end of scene two—
(The TIME is November, 1994. It is sunset. It is always sunset. The SETTING is the same.
(The coffee table is littered with junk-food debris again. The Silver Sleuths poster is gone. In its place is a home-made poster featuring a huge question-mark over the words, “WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY PENN PALMER, PRODUCED BY ARON BYRON.
(At RISE, no one is present.)
PENN: (Entering, removing jacket) I hate matinees!
ARON: (Entering with car keys) I hate matinees full of teenagers. I feel ancient!
PENN: At least at a matinee we know there were no real vampires present.
ARON: They come out about now.
PENN: So do thieves and bashers. Did you lock my brand-new car? Your brand-new car? The brand-new car I bought you? Some car or other?
ARON: I’m practically perfect. Of course I locked our car.
PENN: I’m not. I think I lost my sunglasses.
ARON: (Tossing them) I am. Here they are.
PENN: (Checking dead fast food) You are. God! I’m starving! I need to feed.
ARON: Compare us to vampires once more and I’ll leave you.
PENN: (Unimpressed) Right, again.
ARON: Fourth time does it.
PENN: Just bring food when you come crawling back.
ARON: You want to order in?
PENN: (Without anger) Don’t you have to feed the goddamned mother-fucking dogs?
ARON: Deuce is still in Florida. Yes, I’m feeding the dogs.
PENN: Then I’ll wait for you. Bring something back.
ARON: (Starting to leave) What do you feel like?
PENN: Like an abandoned child. No. Veal. Something bloodless.
ARON: (Pauses in door)…I don’t think your mother liked the movie very much.
PENN: I don’t think she did, either.
ARON: I kept hoping to hear her say, “Oh, dear, I’d really rather not believe that.”
PENN: She said it.
ARON: She never.
PENN: While you were on the floor looking for her sunglasses.
ARON: And I missed it.
PENN: You’ll get other chances. She’s one of our major losers of sunglasses…too.
ARON: It’s genetic….Do you think they liked me?
PENN: Aron, I don’t think they noticed you. They didn’t even notice the movie was about us. Are you going for food or should I learn to live on empty fortune cookies?
ARON: Did your father say anything?
PENN: No, he’s a silent movie fan.
ARON: He loved Silver Sleuths.
PENN: He still does, even with those idiots writing it.
ARON: Are you mad at me?
PENN: (Pointedly) I could eat you.
ARON: I’ll go get food…
PENN: (When Aron lingers)…But not yet, huh?
ARON: Your dad seemed to like the movie.
PENN: He probably thought I wrote it. And all talkies.
ARON: He was probably waiting for the Silver Sleuths to arrive and arrest the vampires.
PENN: Oh, please don’t suggest plots for Silver Sleuths. It’ll take me days to get one out of my head.
ARON: It’s taking months.
PENN: Huh-uh. Months to get the series out. Days to get a segment out.
ARON: Maybe that could be your movie. Silver Sleuths pursue vampires.
PENN: Who turn out to be their own kids. Puh-leeze.
ARON: Well, you’ve got to get started on something for it. If I’m going to be producing it, I need to see a script.
PENN: Nagging helps less than you can possibly imagine.
ARON: Have you come up with anything for our movie?
PENN: …Go feed the goddamned mother-fucking dogs. Don’t feed on them. I could never kiss you again.
ARON: You don’t have to keep calling them that, okay?
PENN: Look, I’m doing all the right things, right? I do not have the right feelings . I will not pretend to. I will not add hypocrisy to my sins like Dorian Gray, and watch the mouth of my already putrescent portrait curl in contemptible complacency.
ARON: Maybe you could write a movie version of Dorian Gray.
PENN: Yeah, maybe that could be the first class-A all-star Hollywood gay romance. (Snaps fingers) Oh, I forgot. We just saw it.
ARON: (Eager to discuss film) It was gay.
PENN: You’ve got to hand it that.
ARON: Tom Cruise came through.
PENN: Damned near came out.
ARON: So what did you think of it?
PENN: Go feed the GDMF dogs. Feed them clock-parts.
ARON: No, what did you think?
PENN: No, what did you think?
ARON: …I thought it was awful!
PENN: Oh, honey, I’m so glad! I thought I was going to have to lie and say I liked it!
ARON: You’d have done that for me?
PENN: Well, you love the silly book.
ARON: You’d have risked having your portrait curdle with complacency?
PENN: It would have swallowed its own face. I was filled with terror from the first moment of unnecessary narration.
ARON: I was filled with terror from the moment that fucking Gregorian chant came up under the opening shots, trying to fill us with terror. Like a monastic karaoke!
PENN: Yes! Like they couldn’t wait for us to get scared on our own.
ARON: It was like the joke opening of Ed Wood, for Christ’s sake.
PENN: I thought the whole thing was like an Ed Wood original!
ARON: Only not as funny.
PENN: Christ, I’m relieved. You love those GDMF books.
ARON: This was not like the books. The books are romantic, mystical.
PENN: This was like some lurid old Hammer horror flick.
ARON: Yes! I can’t believe Anne Rice wrote the script!
PENN: Well, who knows how many rhinos had their hooves on it?
ARON: True. God, won’t it be great in New Zealand where you can make exactly the movie you want?
PENN: …It was gay.
ARON: …It was that.
PENN: It couldn’t have been much gayer.
ARON: Considering that they couldn’t fuck.
PENN: Oh, they could now. As long as they die of AIDS after.
ARON: No, vampires can’t fuck.
PENN: They can’t? I forgot that.
ARON: And the film didn’t tell you. They didn’t give the proper—
ARON: —exposition of vampires’ various powers and limitations.
PENN: I know, and there kept being all this clumsy—
PENN: —narration, like when you least needed it.
ARON: Like, could they have used a good—
PENN: Structure man.
ARON: —structure man—
PENN: Like me.
ARON: —like you, or what?
PENN: I’m indispensable!
ARON: It never hit the points.
PENN: Except when the spotlight was on Tom’s fangs.
ARON: Oh, don’t.
PENN: I thought you hated it.
ARON: I mean don’t make jokes. We’re just starting to have an intelligent conversation—
PENN: Puns are intelligent. You have to perceive two meanings at once. That’s intelligent.
ARON: I’m sorry. I’m touchy.
PENN: I’m sorry—
ARON: You don’t need to be.
PENN: No, I meant that as a lead-in to a sarcastic remark.
ARON: Don’t be sarcastic.
PENN: About the movie.
ARON: Oh, I see.
PENN: I wasn’t apologizing.
ARON: I understand.
PENN: I will, if you want me to.
ARON: You don’t need to. You haven’t said anything to apologize for.
PENN: …Why does this keep happening? I mean with us being back together and me being accommodating and all?
ARON: It’s my fault. You’re so tense because you had to come beg me to come back from Deuce’s when you got home from Australia, and I made you introduce me to your parents. Okay? It’s my fault.
PENN: Some things are actually your fault?
ARON: All things. Please go on. You’re sorry…?
PENN: Yeah, I’m sorry, but Cruise…
ARON: …Go on.
PENN: Aren’t you going to say, “I can’t cruise, that’s why I came back to you”?
ARON: Am I really going to let myself be trapped on a small island like New Zealand with you?
PENN: An-y-way, Cruise. I mean it was brave for a homophobe like Cruise to stay on with the film after Anne Rice bullied them into keeping it gay—
ARON: Making it gay. I heard they actually re-shot some scenes.
PENN: Keeping, making, whatever.
ARON: No, I think they had to make it gay—
PENN: Well, that’s her public.
ARON: No, that’s not what I meant.
PENN: I’m sorry?
ARON: No, don’t be. I’m not contradicting you. You just misunderstood me.
PENN: Thus I’m sorry.
ARON: Please don’t be sorry. And let me finish. It’s all right. Don’t be afraid. We’re not having an argument. I meant that I don’t think the book is particularly gay. I think she probably meant it more as a metaphor for S-and-M. You know she writes mostly S-and-M books.
PENN: I guess I did.
ARON: And I’m sure she was surprised when all the gay boys picked up on it as a metaphor for gayness.
PENN: I sure did.
ARON: Millions of us did.
PENN: But don’t you think—
ARON: I don’t think she could have known.
PENN: The sequels are less specifically gay.
ARON: Yes, they—when did you read the sequels?
PENN: While you were away with Deuce and the GDMFD.
ARON: Really? That’s sweet.
PENN: I don’t have to read any more of them, do I?
ARON: No, no. That’s just sweet. Anyway, I was going to say that I agree with you, the sequels are much less specifically gay. I think she tried to get it all back in the sequels and even possibly to—
ARON: Yes, broaden it to feminism and nihilism and all kinds of things we may not even recognize—
PENN: But the first one—
ARON: The first one, yes, I think every gay boy read that as about being gay, about gay guilt—
PENN: You can say it: middle-class gay guilt.
ARON: Well, yes, but who’s not middle-class now that everybody has credit cards and debt?
PENN: Wow! That’s a genuine insight. Did Deuce teach you that? Maybe I should meet him.
ARON: Thank you? And so all of us took the vampirish outsiderness, and especially Louis’s cruel meanness because he hated being one…
PENN: …Yes? More? More. Please.
ARON: You know, somewhere there the metaphor runs out. Because it’s not particularly gay to victimize people. Not particularly.
PENN: Well, but we’re happy the movie is gay, right?
ARON: Yes, I was grateful for that, but wait, I think I’m halfway onto something here, wait—
PENN: Weren’t we talking about Tom Cruise?
ARON: Oh, right, yes, that wasn’t what I was thinking about, but wasn’t it pitiful—
PENN: He just can’t—
ARON: Actually cannot—
PENN: Just can’t act—
ARON: Act at all—
PENN: At all.
ARON: At all!
PENN: I mean, he’s not a bad actor—
ARON: I think he’s awful!
PENN: No, he’s not an actor at all!
ARON: Oh, right.
PENN: He doesn’t seem to have the slightest idea what an actor might do with his spare time—
ARON: I agree!
PENN: Such as observe human—
PENN: Behavior, and try to—
ARON & PENN: Imitate!
PENN: Imitate it, right.
ARON: Yes, he was just—
PENN: Just trying to act—
PENN: Unalloyed evil.
ARON: It was so inappropriate! Lestat’s not evil, just—
ARON & PENN: Resigned.
ARON: Resigned, right.
PENN: I’m sorry. Any adequate director would have taken him off into a corner and said, “Tommy, baby, your ambition is frightening enough, you don’t have to augment it.”
ARON: I can’t wait to watch you working with actors on the set of our picture!
PENN: …I liked Brad Pitt, though.
ARON: …I think I did, too.
PENN: He looked pretty.
ARON: Prettier than he has since A River Runs Through It.
PENN: And brunette!
ARON: And Cruise blonde!
PENN: Like Jane and Marilyn switching roles.
ARON: They should have switched roles, Cruise and Pitt.
PENN: That would have been interesting.
ARON: But it still would have left us with Cruise.
PENN: Pitt could have played both parts.
ARON: He could!
PENN: I liked him in the boudoir, tossing his hair like Rita Hayworth, trapped, petulant, spoiled—
ARON: God, he was!
PENN: Saying, “We live in total isolation; I want back into the human world.”
ARON: He didn’t say that.
PENN: Words to that effect.
ARON: Yeah, he was pretty realistic gay, I guess.
PENN: And the little—
ARON & PENN: Girl!
ARON: I loved her! Claudia!
PENN: Surefire supporting Oscar.
ARON: You think?
PENN: Oh, sure. And Landau bound to get it for Ed Wood.
ARON: Both vampires!
PENN: God, Oscars to two vampires. What have we come to?
ARON: As if we didn’t know.
PENN: Right. (They have a calm, thoughtful moment.)
ARON: …What holds us together?
PENN: La Forza Del Inertia?
ARON: What would we be like if you weren’t so scared?
PENN: And you weren’t so angry?
ARON: That could be your movie.
PENN: Science fiction.
PENN: …I’m not quite so scared anymore.
ARON: And I’m not so angry. (Long, searching look.)
PENN: …And you know another thing?
PENN: The direction!
ARON: Yes! Yes, what was he doing??
PENN: He had no feel for it!
ARON: I know!
PENN: His camera set-ups are blunt and inexpressive! They just illustrate the narrative, they don’t enrich it. It was like watching a slide show. It’s a romantic melodrama, is all it is, but he had no sense of the occasion, the moment, act endings, turning-points!
ARON: None! God, I can’t wait to see how you handle our movie!
PENN: …He should have seen Gone with the Wind and taken construction notes!
PENN: Crucial close-ups were missing.
PENN: To draw us into their feelings!
ARON: Where were their feelings?
PENN: Like we should have been involved with Cruise cruising Pitt—
ARON & PENN: For instance!
PENN: Not distanced like he was some kind of monster!
ARON: I couldn’t believe that!
PENN: And Pitt, we should have been zeroed in on Pitt’s face when he made the crucial decision to live as a vampire rather than die!
PENN: And especially when they involved the little girl in it all.
ARON: Oh, God!
PENN: The conflict!
ARON: We should have been—
ARON & PENN: Involved!
PENN: —in his loneliness, his doubt!
ARON: It should have been—
PENN: Grand! Huge! The major event of the story! The major question!
ARON: Can I let someone I love be involved in this?
PENN: Can I live without him?
ARON: What have I got to offer?
PENN: What is love?
ARON: What is need?
PENN: It should have been enormous!
PENN: Wagnerian! Do I mean Wagnerian?
ARON: I think so. Operatic! Overblown! What’s the word? Fuck!
ARON & PENN: Grandiose!
PENN: Grandiose! Important! What is love?
ARON: Yes, and you’ve hit it exactly, that’s exactly what I was trying to say before. It isn’t just about gayness, and I think it’s a mistake to say even that it’s just about S-and-M. Yes, maybe she meant it to be about that, maybe for her that’s what it’s about, just like maybe for all of us it’s about how we feel guilty about being gay—
PENN: You feel guilty about being gay?
ARON: For the sake of argument. For the sake of peace. But it’s not about that. I think it got away from her in the opposite way, not smaller about being about S-and-M or gay or guilty, but larger to being about love and what the fuck does it mean? What do we do in love’s name? What do we allow to be done to us? Can we help it? What do we pass on of our past to anyone we touch? What do we bring to love? What do we take from it?
ARON: What is it, baby? What’s been bothering you? I’m sorry I made you introduce me to your parents. It was mean. I was mean.
ARON: Thank you, baby.
PENN: No…I don’t know what to write my movie about.
ARON: …You can write it about anything you can imagine.
PENN: I can’t imagine that. Maybe I was better off with other people telling me what to write. Plagiarizing things other people had done.
ARON: You’ve got to believe in yourself. I believe in you. I’ll be there. We’ll be together.
PENN: Right out in the open in front of everyone.
PENN: …I liked Antonio Banderas.
ARON: …Oh. Yes. I did, too.
PENN: He was perfect.
ARON: Cold, dead, burned-out, yes.
PENN: I was very touched by his farewell scene with Brad Pitt.
ARON: When Pitt told him he couldn’t have him.
PENN: Because of the unforgivable things he’d done.
ARON: “I wouldn’t have you if you were the last monster on Earth.”
PENN: He didn’t say that.
ARON: Words to that effect.
PENN: It must be awful to be like that.
ARON: Like what? Pitt goes off alone, too.
PENN: To an eternity of one-bite stands.
ARON: Don’t be cute.
PENN: I don’t know why Pitt couldn’t stay with him. Life is short.
ARON: Not theirs. They live forever.
PENN: All the more reason to settle for someone real. Who wants to live forever alone?…Please don’t ever leave me.
ARON: …I’ll make every effort not to. That scene was very moving.
PENN: Best scene in the movie.
ARON: I thought so, too. We agree.
PENN: He still didn’t get kissed, though. Antonio Banderas.
ARON: Damned near, though.
PENN: Right. Damned near.
ARON & PENN: …Damned near.
PENN: I’d sell my soul to make a good movie.
ARON: Unfortunately, that’s exactly the wrong way to go about it.
PENN: Millions of people will see that movie.
PENN: It will gross millions.
ARON: It grossed me…Well…(Aron stands, holding car keys.)
PENN: Wait. I’m going with you.
ARON: To the beach?
PENN: To the ends of the Earth. New Zealand. The beach.
ARON: You don’t have to.
PENN: It’s the Spike Lee. It is, in fact, considering that I hate Deuce like a dog and dogs like the deuce, a major Spike Lee, and you owe me big time for it.
ARON: That’s sweet of you. Or—that’s sweet of you.
PENN: And we can stop and feed on the way back.
ARON: And that’s vile of you.
PENN: And…I want to stop at Videocentric…and get all the gay movies.
PENN: Yeah…Torch Song Trilogy.
ARON: They break up and get back together again.
PENN: Making Love.
ARON: They break up and take other lovers.
ARON: They alter the course of modern art and then one of them goes nuts.
PENN: Prick Up Your Ears.
ARON: They alter the course of modern art, then one of them kills the other and then himself.
PENN: Edward the Second?
ARON: Bigots kill them both.
ARON: They lose everything but live happily ever after.
PENN: Are there more choices?
ARON: La Cage aux Folles. They live happily ever after.
PENN: But in French. That is not happily.
ARON: But they do have sequels.
PENN: …Did you sleep with Deuce and the dogs while you were out there?
ARON: …I didn’t sleep at all. That’s why I let you beg me back.
PENN: So what does that leave us with?
ARON: They can’t kiss, and one dies. In shame.
PENN: And Interview with the Vampire.
ARON: They live—forever—
ARON & PENN: —forever alone.
PENN: …I don’t believe any of the choices.
ARON: Make your own.
PENN: Choice? Me?
PENN: I want to make a wonderful movie.
ARON: I want to make a wonderful life.
PENN: It’s been done. Not lately.
ARON: It’s always worth doing again! (Aron, shoving Penn out the door, clicks off the lights. The stage goes DARK as they EXIT. The PHONE RINGS.)****(See NOTE at end of script.) (THEY re-enter, Aron clicking the lighst back on.)
PENN: Oh, God, New Zealand sank in the ocean!
ARON: It’s probably one of our mothers. I can answer it now! Goody!
PENN: I fail to see how one proposition follows the other.
ARON: (Answers phone) Hello?…Oh, hi.
PENN: I fail to see how answering either of our mothers rates “goody.”
ARON: (Into phone) Oh, my God! I’m so sorry!
PENN: Your mother’s cat fainted?
ARON: (Into phone) Oh, you know you don’t even have to ask. I’ll be right there. (Aron hangs up.)
PENN: My father is sharpening a stake? What? What?
ARON: That’s Deuce. He’s back. His show closed. His car’s busted. He can’t go get dog food.
PENN: Oh, well, merry band! At last I get to meet this doozy. Let’s go.
ARON: I’m not so sure…
PENN: Hm? What?
ARON: I don’t know—I don’t think—…I think I had better go out alone.
PENN: …Say again?
ARON: I’m not sure—I don’t think I want you to meet Deuce.
PENN: …And whyever not, he asked, his great eyes swimming with confusion.
ARON: I—because of the way you talk about him…I’m scared.
PENN: …And I’m angry. (They stand looking at one another as—)
—end of scene three—
—end of HOLLYWOOD AT SUNSET—
***NOTE: The audience should think the play is over on this exit, and hopefully applaud.)