CONVERSATION WITH A CHARACTER
RON: A character created by the author, Ken. His age seems indeterminate because he has been depicted as a boy and a man. He is currently in his mid-thirties.
KEN: He is the author who created Ron and Robin and Marjorie.
ROBIN: A female character who was also created by Ken. She was a onetime lover of Ron.
MARJORIE: A character who is Ron’s mother.
Setting: A full moon with scattered clouds in the middle of winter… Windows that look out upon a frozen lake… An exposed beam, cathedral ceiling… A pellet stove and a dormant fireplace… wood everywhere… painting on the walls of women’s faces and jazz and modern rooms and a flapper or two. The desk isn’t really a desk at all. It’s a hospital serving arm stretched across the front of a fan back chair in the Chippendale style: mahogany and claw feet. A large screen TV, 60 inches of LCD and infinity speakers, able to blast with volume and accuracy. The middle of the night. Moonlight reflecting solar lights on a frozen icy lawn, where ice and snow offer warmth and protection and a fire seems absurd.
(The scene opens on a room. Ken sits looking thoughtful as Ron stands behind, an irritated air about him. A long pause.)
RON: (As though unable to bear the silence any longer.) Ok, now what? I’m here.
KEN: I’m not sure what to do.
RON: That’s not my problem.
KEN: I know
(Another pause. Ron moves to stand in Ken’s eye line, refusing to be ignored.)
RON: What am I doing here?
KEN: I sense an amount of hostility in the way that you ask
RON: So what?
KEN: Couldn’t you tone it down some?
RON: So I’d be more like you? (Pause.) Isn’t that the whole point? To make me more like you…
KEN: not entirely
RON: Yeah….Bullshit…..isn’t that what Dad said?
KEN: Don’t do that
RON: (Laughs.) Why not?
KEN: I can send you away
RON: We both know that’s not true….Not anymore
KEN: I don’t know what to do
(Ron begins moving about the room, absent-mindedly looking over the artwork, picking up books and flicking through them, examining the artifacts he finds. Ken watches him warily, as though he is an animal who may attack at any time.)
KEN: (Blurts out.) There are things that I can’t write about
RON: So what? There have always been things that you didn’t write about.
KEN: Some people have suggested that I give too much information
RON: But they don’t know you the way that I do
KEN: Do you think that I’m narcissistic?
RON: (Laughing hard.) Isn’t my existence a testament to that?
KEN: (Pauses, smiles wryly.) maybe
RON: Haven’t there always been things about which you haven’t written?
KEN: What do you mean?
RON: Where’s Gary? Where’s Howard?
RON: You left them out with no difficulty
KEN: I know
RON: Where’s Terry? Where’s Bobby?
KEN: They’re there …sort of
RON: (Turns angrily toward Ken.) So they represented that miniscule an aspect of your
life? That’s what you are saying? I never get to be with either of them! You asshole!!
KEN: you finished?
RON: No, I haven’t even started yet… I didn’t ask to be here.
KEN: But you wanted to be. Didn’t you?
RON: You don’t realize how lucky you are
KEN: why say that?
RON: you have the freedom to be an atheist. I don’t get to doubt the existence of my creator.
(Ken looks at Ron. Silence.)
RON: (Mumbles, turning away.) I just get to see what a self-absorbed fuck he is.
KEN: That’s really what you think of me? (Pause.) No it isn’t. You know better. I needed to understand.
RON: At any cost right? Nothing was more important than you knowing why… Has it helped? Has it changed anything?
KEN: It did help. It wasn’t all empty knowledge.
RON: Clever phrase. If only you’d understood the empty part, but all you saw was knowledge and that attraction was just too much, wasn’t it?
KEN: (Standing, in a short-lived burst of anger.) What do you want from me?
RON: (Turning to face Ken, a smirk on his face.) You summoned me.
KEN: To find out what you want.
RON: I want to be free of you.
KEN: You can’t exist without me.
RON: Are you sure? Or would that just be a little too much to bear?
KEN: Your freedom?
RON: You kept me locked into your past like a prisoner. You didn’t correct people when they said I was you.
KEN: (With a mirthless, self-deprecating laugh.) There weren’t that many that cared.
RON: That’s your fault. Your responsibility. Didn’t I dance the tune that you played? Aren’t you the grand composer?
KEN: Would you rather that I hadn’t composed anything?
KEN: Not unlike a child saying that he did ask to be born.
RON: Not at all like that. A child will learn to breathe on its own. He isn’t constantly reminded that every breath was one that was taken before. Eventually he will have his own breaths, his own thoughts and loves. I don’t get that do I?
KEN: But hasn’t it been fun to be alive?
RON: Yes, and you made that happen. I won’t deny it. But I’m lonely. None of them want to be around me. If you drag Robin out again, she may slit my throat before you can stop her. Warren won’t even read them anymore. Hank has been gone for a really long time. Quimpy says you betrayed him. Laureen won’t even take your calls. Celeste doesn’t ever really want to see me again because she is afraid of what I might do.
KEN: There are readers.
RON: Are there more readers or people that you have lost in your life because of what you have written?
KEN: I was looking for something.
RON: You were dreaming of fame!
KEN: sometimes I was. You’re right. I stopped doing that.
RON: No you didn’t. You can tell other people that but I’m in your mind. I know what you wish for.
KEN: That happens. I know it does. So what? You want it to be the best thing that you have ever written, every time that you sit down to write. What’s wrong with that?
RON: I want you to do something for me?
KEN: And what’s that?
RON: Bring them all here. Ask your questions and then let us all go.
KEN: Why would I do that?
RON: You’re intrigued.
KEN: I’m not sure that I can do that. That I want to do that.
RON: You owe it to me.
KEN: Just you? Wouldn’t that make you just like me?
RON: Wasn’t that the whole fucking point?
(Ken approaches Ron, holding up his hands in a placatory gesture.)
KEN: Ok, who would you like to see first?
RON: Warren of course. Wasn’t he the first?
KEN: Yes I began with him. He touched me.
RON: and a happy day that was for him, I’m sure.
KEN: I can’t just summon him.
RON: Why not?
KEN: Sometimes he says no. Sometimes they all do.
RON: So you admit it! We have a life outside of you
KEN: No sometimes you prefer oblivion
RON: Oblivion and being free from you aren’t the same
KEN: How could that possibly be?
RON: Once you have breathed life into something, does it still belong to you?
KEN: I don’t know.
RON: You’re afraid to know
KEN: I’m not
RON: Call him here
KEN: I don’t know how
RON: Some fucking artist you are … (Pauses. Sighs.) Don’t you ever feel, maybe sometimes late at night, that wanting isn’t enough? That wishing is sterile?
KEN: I can bring others
Ron (Winces.) No
KEN: What’s the matter? Want me to take the heat while it’s cool for you?
RON: Why would you drag her back? Haven’t you done enough?
KEN: I thought that I did right.
RON: really? How has that worked out for you?
(Marjorie enters, wearing silver blue with traces of lavender. Her air is that of someone called away in the middle of a task she wishes to return to. She looks first at Ron, then at Ken and smiles.)
MARJORIE: What is it Ron?
(Ron is agape. Ken is silent as he looks at her, dumbfounded.)
MARJORIE: (Moves forward to stand between the two men, looking from one to the other.) What did you need to know?
RON: (Smiles) Just wanted to feel you again
MARJORIE: (Turns to face Ken, a searching look on her face.) Kenneth why?
KEN: (A long pause. Pained.) Did I cause your death?
MARJORIE: maybe a little but so what?
KEN: I have trouble living with that
MARJORIE: Why, because you can fix anything? (Laughs.) You can’t fix you and Ron.
KEN: Is he like another son?
MARJORIE: No. He is like what you wished you were only you don’t ever see how good you actually are and try to create something better.
KEN: Do you like him?
MARJORIE: Do you?
KEN: (Looks at Ron for a long moment.) Yes, I love him
RON: You both know that I’m right here right?
(Ken sits a little slumped in a chair, Ron leaning moodily against the desk.)
KEN: It’s a strange thing. I wanted to create something. It never occurred to me how hurt that I would feel if what I created was not loved.
RON: Oh yeah Ken, it’s great for me. I’m what you created. I need to ask you something. Am I more than a shadow of things that were?
RON: I don’t believe you. I am your shadow. How am I more than what you did and wished to do?
KEN: Because other people have read about you and you became something different for them.
RON: That’s what you wanted?
KEN: I don’t know what I expected.
RON: But you wanted people to love me and by loving me they would love you.
(A long pause as Ken looks at Ron appraisingly.)
KEN: I did want that.
RON: But it didn’t happen the way that you hoped, did it?
KEN: I don’t know what I hoped. But you’re right. I was disappointed.
RON: does that mean that I disappointed you?
KEN: That’s too easy. I don’t know the answer.
RON: you are so full of shit that it floods out your eyes.
KEN: (With disgust mumbling as if to himself.) I hate references to scatological things.
RON: how could you lie to me of all people?
KEN: Then you admit that you are a person?
RON: (Jumping up, screams) so, you wrote these books and gave yourself license to tinker. Didn’t you?
RON: and what you want me to be is grateful that I was created at all and not complain about the way that you created me?
KEN: (With a resigned sigh.) Maybe.
RON: (Breathing hard, clenching fists. A long pause as Ron regards Ken, his anger fading and being replaced with a sorrowful pity.) I almost believe you think that is so.
KEN: what is stopping you?
RON: I want my own life. One that isn’t your shadow.
KEN: your life comes from my imagination and my memory.
RON: so why can’t you set me free?
KEN: what would you be free to do?
RON: I don’t know. I don’t know what freedom is. I am created in your mind. I get sketched out in words. Anything and everything I do is potentially going to be edited. Even this! Does it make the cut?
KEN: I don’t know yet. It sometimes feels like you are a Medieval, torture chamber, hungry rodent that has been trained it gnaw its way up into my anal cavity.
RON: How strange is it that the trip you describe is of your own invention?
KEN: I’m not sure of that anymore. At one point another I may have said that was true.
RON: you picture me gnawing my way up into your ass.
KEN: It isn’t an image that I choose to share. But yes, it is not inaccurate.
(Ron sits down on the floor, his head in his hands. He looks up with a gesture of anguish and despair.)
RON: So what is the point? Why am I here?
KEN: Even though you have been the vehicle of my self-discovery, I guess that I need more.
RON: What more?
KEN: I want to know if it was worthwhile.
RON: And so you are asking me? Good choice asshole!
KEN: I don’t know who else to ask.
RON: Because you have been an asshole!
KEN: (Sulkily) Don’t hold back. Tell me how you really feel.
RON: See what I mean, asshole?
KEN: What happened is that I retired. The career that I loved turned into something else and I looked for a way out.
RON: (Standing with an over-dramatic flourish) Boo hoo… So hard for you huh?
KEN: That is how I would have expected you to respond.
RON: (With a sardonic laugh.) Yeah, I know. It didn’t really feel so good doing it.
KEN: I’m still trying to find meaning in it all.
RON: Do you want a truly honest response? OK, let’s say that you do. You created me with a need to spread my seed. I wanted to impregnate. It was primal and feral. But from your perspective, there was the opportunity for humor in it. So you went with that. You knew that you could be funny and what can be funnier than the need for sex?
(Enter Robin. She is diminutive with high cheekbones and blonde hair that hangs straight to her shoulders. Both men tense as she approaches, standing up straighter; their eyes follow her as she moves to centre stage, but she appears to be oblivious to their attention.)
ROBIN: (Disinterestedly.) Sex with either of you was never that good. It was what I missed the least.
KEN: Alright now I feel better.
ROBIN: I haven’t truly cared how you felt in a really long time.
RON: Is that true for me too?
ROBIN: There is no difference between you and him. Except you are a puppet.
KEN: (Laughs with self-deprecation) it’s so good to see you again Robin.
ROBIN: Nice to see you too, Ken. Ron is there a difference?
RON: That’s what we are discussing.
ROBIN: (She giggles and almost puts her hand up over her mouth but does not.) And what have you decided?
KEN: We are still in the process.
ROBIN: It’s funny how that’s really comfortable for you and yet you want it to be over.
KEN: Do you think that there’s a difference?
ROBIN: Ask Karen.
KEN: I’m asking you though. What do you think?
ROBIN: Only the thoughts that you have put in my head.
KEN: I wanted it to be more than that.
ROBIN: Here are your words. How’s that working out for you?
(Ron lets out a mirthless laugh as Ken and Robin face each other. Ken looks at her searchingly as she looks back impassively.)
KEN: How has it worked out for you?
KEN: Acrimony can be entertaining but that seems to be its only value.
ROBIN: Did you ever think that you might be high handed?
RON: which one of us?
ROBIN: It doesn’t matter.
RON: (A little crestfallen.) It does to me.
ROBIN: (With compassion) I know that it’s sad for you, but it was created to be sad for you.
KEN: I didn’t do it for that.
ROBIN: Face it Ken. This conversation is all about you. Not Allen, not Karen, not Tom, not Noreen and not Harold or Gary would ever take part in this kind of conversation with you ever again.
KEN: I think that you’re right about that.
ROBIN: But you don’t really know why, do you?
RON: I do.
(As the scene opens the characters have not moved, but there is an air of desperation and a tension that was not there before.)
RON: It’s because you have anchored us all in your reality.
KEN: It was the only place that I knew to go. I read that advice that someone gave to Faulkner about writing about what he knew. If I did not know me I had the means to discover me. At least I thought that I did. At the time I was reading about the unexamined life.
RON: What did you think about our creation? Was it more than an examination of your life?
KEN: It felt so magical and good to create, I didn’t think. I just did it.
RON: (Softly) Did you feel like you were god, Ken?
KEN: I don’t know.
RON: (Moves to Ken, placing a hand on his shoulder. Coaxing.) Yes you do.
KEN: Maybe, a brief glimpse.
ROBIN: (With a sigh.) Do you realize how large you have allowed to let your ego grow?
RON: Maybe that cannot be the point of discovery here. Maybe his ego is just taken for granted and we accept that not you or I would be alive without it.
ROBIN: I don’t have to like it. (She bows her head and comes up tight lipped. Staring at first Ken and then Ron.) You call me a creation or a character and all I feel like is a captive, a prisoner of a war that was over for most everybody but us a very long time ago. I feel that my existence is designed to prolong something long ago ended. I want to die.
KEN: So you want me to write some death scene for you?
ROBIN: I want to die in your memory and not be dragged back in some reverie or accounting of a past that never really existed. I want to be released from it all. I want to be erased from your consciousness and imagination. Use someone else.
KEN: Why do you want that?
ROBIN: It is my only path to freedom.
KEN: Freedom? Is that a form of oblivion in this case?
ROBIN: You really do have the heart of a bastard.
KEN: (A long, hopeless pause, then, suddenly excited, smiling and hopeful.) Suppose I create new adventures which result in different lives?
RON: You would do that?
ROBIN: He doesn’t want to. He’s saying it. How strange would you find it if he said something different tomorrow?
RON: Very strange, He has never said anything different. Did he to you?
ROBIN: He said that he loved me but he appreciated me. Those two things are different.
RON: Why do you have so much anger towards him?
ROBIN: He wouldn’t stop! He kept doing it over and over. I begged him to stop.
KEN: No, you demanded it.
ROBIN: (With anguish.) He will never let us go. He can’t. Ron don’t you see that?
RON: Differently from you, but yes.
KEN: I would try to give it to you both.
ROBIN: Would you just change our names and write the same story again and again?
KEN: I don’t want to do that.
RON: How white of you.
KEN: (Pause.) Maybe I could create other adventures for you.
ROBIN: No! (She moves to Ken, standing close to him as she shouts.) Didn’t you hear me?
KEN: I heard. Why not give me another chance? No one else is going to write you. Maybe I’ll learn to be better at it. What’s your alternative?
ROBIN: You didn’t leave me many alternatives.
KEN: I left you some.
RON: You gave her more alternatives than you gave me.
KEN: I know. You are more personal.
RON: I feel like a goldfish that you may or may not keep alive. No, not a goldfish, a tortoise. Won’t take much. Don’t expect much in return.
KEN: Problem is Ron, that’s not your choice.
RON: Because I am like a slave.
KEN: No. I’m trying to find the place where you breathe that we can agree is a place that I have not concocted. I don’t know where it is. I desperately wish to find it.
ROBIN: I don’t think that it exists Ken. In some strange way you are asking for the same thing as Ron and I. You want to know how to create something that can live and breathe on its own. But then you could not control it.
KEN: It didn’t start this way.
ROBIN: I don’t think that it ever does but it was always there. At the very root of things, you wanted her to love you because you wanted to be loved by her.
KEN: Yes, but I tried to create you and be faithful to what she wanted. Didn’t I?
ROBIN: When you felt like it.
KEN: Right now I am feeling confused and more than a little despondent. I was taught and encouraged to create. It was never mentioned about what it would be like for who and what I created.
ROBIN: That’s supposed to be a given.
KEN: It’s the same with creating children isn’t it?
ROBIN: No, you have no choice with them. They become who they are whether you like it or not. I can’t do that. That’s why I want you to erase me from your memory.
KEN: (Reaches out a hand and tenderly strokes the side of her face, a sad smile on his face.) I don’t think that I can.
ROBIN: (Turning away from him and walking a few angry paces.) Then what I want is that you suffer with is the knowledge that what you have created for me brings me no joy or peace. And that if you ever do become popular, which I doubt, that will be eternal.
KEN: Perhaps what I aspired to was to reach a human mosaic and to contribute to that version of our story that exists as long as we do.
(Marjorie enters and approaches behind Ken. She places a hand on his shoulder.)
MARJORIE: Creating a child is not what this is.
KEN: (Spins to face her.) You’re still here?
RON: (An expression of joy covers his face) Hi
MARJORIE: I see what you are trying to do Kenneth. You want to create something that stops time and keeps us all safe. It doesn’t work that way.
ROBIN: He isn’t trying to keep me safe.
MARJORIE: You maybe most of all.
KEN: I have never been able to satisfy your need to know what happened. I’m not sure that anyone could.
MARJORIE: My need or yours?
RON: I sure what to know what happens.
ROBIN: I don’t. I don’t want it to have anything to do with me.
KEN: Having you all here at once is overwhelming. It isn’t what I envisioned.
ROBIN: I don’t believe that you ever knew what you envisioned and that was why it never worked.
KEN: (Slumps into a chair, suddenly exhausted.) Sometimes you just make me want to cry.
ROBIN: I always have and it has never disturbed me. Have you noticed that the only other male here is actually a rendition of you?
KEN: (Angrily) Yeah, well who else would you like? Perhaps Alex or Warren? Want to hear from Chris?
MARJORIE: How about your father?
KEN: (Looks at Marjorie, pain in his eyes. A pause.) What can I say about him? I spent a large portion of my life seeking his approval. He taught me sports. He taught me gambling. I loved him but I don’t think that we could have lived together in love.
MARJORIE: Did you create a better version of him?
KEN: Do you think that I created a better version of you?
MARJORIE: (Gently) No, you created a shadow.
KEN: Is that it? The creation of shadows?
ROBIN: Do you understand now why I want to die in your imagination?
KEN: Because I only create shadows?
RON: Maybe you don’t create anything at all. Maybe you just manipulate
ROBIN: What you really want to know is why I stopped having sex with you.
RON: which one of us?
ROBIN: Doesn’t matter to me. You are the same.
KEN: (Wounded. With reluctance, obviously unsure whether he wishes to know the answer to his question.) Why?
ROBIN: After you fucked me I felt alone. I felt like you went somewhere else. But if I didn’t fuck you, you were right there, wishing and hoping, sometimes like a little boy. I preferred that to the feeling that you were somewhere else.
RON: You didn’t care what it did to me.
ROBIN: I cared that you finally understood how alone you left me feeling. I liked it.
(A long pause. Ken moves closer to Robin, a sad smile on his face. He reaches out a hand as though to touch her, but thinks better of it.)
KEN: (Almost a whisper.) I’ll let you go
ROBIN: I knew that you would say that.
RON: How did you know?
ROBIN: (Her words are for Ron, but her eyes never leave Ken’s) Because he understands and in some place he empathizes because he has been told that he was not actually real either.
KEN: I didn’t believe it.
ROBIN: Now we all know that’s a lie. It was one of the primary reasons that you could envision yourself as a character. Hence Ron.
RON: Why insult me?
ROBIN: You are like the character Figment at Disney World.
KEN: I learned how to be real.
(Finally Robin turns from Ken and gestures toward Ron, rather dismissively.)
ROBIN: And then you created him.
KEN: yes I created Ron. But I want to peel you back like an onion.
ROBIN: Do you promise to kill me when you are done?
ROBIN: then I won’t allow you to peel me
KEN: How can you stop me?
ROBIN: Even a creature of imagination has some boundaries
KEN: Explain to me.
ROBIN: Even your creations can keep things from you.
KEN: There was that Ingmar Bergman film, Hour of the Wolf.
ROBIN: (Smiles, closing her eyes as though lost in her imagination.) The creations ripped the creator apart.
KEN: Is that what you want?
ROBIN: It depends upon the options. Maybe you should just stop and live your life.
KEN: Maybe this is my life
ROBIN: Then live it! Commit to us totally!
KEN: Is that what you want?
ROBIN: It’s what I know that you won’t do. Who’s peeling whom? (Inspective pause and predatory approach.) How does this peel feel? A real author would have created distinct characters and given them lives and worked out issues through them. But not you! You couldn’t be bothered with that. And so now here you are and you are still acting like it is our fault
KEN: Just like I am not a real person, yes? What makes real Robin?
ROBIN: The way that you have your world set up, you do. But none of it feels real anymore and neither do you. I’ve seen what you do in your dreams. The way that you manipulate all of us to say exactly what you wanted to hear.
KEN: If you can see that I guess that means that I am pretty vulnerable to you as well.
ROBIN: No, your curse is that you become vulnerable to no one. Take the step Ken, this world has nothing more to show you. Do you enjoy being peeled?
(Ron is standing and Ken and Marjorie are sitting across from each other, her in a fan back chair and Ken on an over-stuffed couch.)
RON: I know that there was this moment or moments and for you they became eternal, but that doesn’t mean that it happened that way for everyone involved. The difference between the ephemeral and the eternal is fragile and subjective. A passing, forgotten moment for one is a constant beacon for another.
MARJORIE: Sometimes you just deserve honest answers.
RON: Sometimes they aren’t there.
MARJORIE: And that means that a person should just stop looking and stop asking.
RON: That means that it would be better for a person if she could do that.
KEN: What is better and what is possible are sometimes different.
ROBIN: You just can’t drag your past around like rocks in a sack.
RON: They don’t weigh any less if you pulverize them. That limits the options.
ROBIN: Yeah, you let go
KEN: And just exactly what is your best advice on how to accomplish that? Denial? Or let’s see, you could feign forgetfulness until it becomes real.
ROBIN: (With distain.) You need it all to be about you.
RON: Isn’t that what women sometimes crave? To be able to tell a man that he’s wanted it all about him, and deny that it is the woman who sets the agenda of what it is about.
KEN: That’s a dirty little secret that you aren’t supposed to ask about.
RON: I need to ask.
KEN: Then understand that you won’t like the answer. Understand that a woman knows each and every thing that she has done for you but that she won’t tell you because she does not wish to be exposed as someone who has kept track. You are more transparent and easier to expose, but if her keeping track is kept secret, she retains the power of it. And if you should point that out, she will ask incredulously, if you really think that she keeps track.
ROBIN: (A pause. Robin and Ken look at each other for a long moment.) You have become very cynical.
KEN: I’ve just learned. Does that create cynicism?
ROBIN: Perhaps for you it does.
KEN: I don’t know. (Stands and walks to Ron, circling him, smiling fondly.) I created Ron to long for you and desire you to be with him. I created you, knowing that would not happen. I never granted that to him. Until I created the Tempo of Experience.
ROBIN: But even then, you couldn’t leave me out of it. I want to end this conversation and also give you what you search for. You fell in love with the story of your life but I didn’t.
KEN: It felt like I was creating something special.
ROBIN: just for you and a few others.
(Robin takes one last impassive look at Ken, then at Ron, then turns and exits the stage. Marjorie smiles sadly at Ken, kisses Ron on the cheek and leaves. Lights fade slowly until just two spotlights remain on the two men. The light on Ron flickers and fades. Ken is left alone, center stage, he looks out into the audience. He takes a breath and opens his mouth as if to speak. Blackout.)