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The Big Because
by Marcus Del Greco
PHILIPP (recorded voice, reflective and a bit journalistic, mirrored by the action onstage of a middle-aged man, Philipp, readying himself in his bedroom): I was dressing up for an important occasion. For some time I'd thought that everything in the world around me had been going wrong. Nothing in all my years of scientific research had lead me to find a single morsel of peace of mind. Neither the vertigo of inebriation nor the rock of sobriety had succeeded in inspiring a satisfactory conclusion. I was a stranger on an alien planet, foreign to both the love of other beings... and of myself.
As a chemist, I knew that in theory any mixture, no matter how odd and jumbled, could be broken down to its component elements. Its nature could be described in sure terms, and all doubt would soon evaporate under my scrutiny. I soon found, however, that these laboratory comforts disappeared when I put on my raincoat and left the corporation building for home. The weight of the world would pour down upon me, confounding and inexplicable. I would ride home with a profound sense of soul-deflating mystery.
Lost to any sort of larger comprehension, I decided that perhaps it was my own mind that needed examination. Any of our human perceptions, after all, are subject to the accuracy of the instruments we use to perceive. It was on a morning like any other that I finally decided I was insane...
PHILIPP (live onstage, speaking to audience and adjusting tie. Light change): Today I commit myself to the Lemon County House for the Mentally Disturbed. (pause) Wish me luck. (Forces a half-smile for courage, then walks off upstage as though he were resigned to a grim mission.)
(Lights reveal a white hospital desk, behind which a clerk sits or stands. On the other side of the desk, Philipp, offering a small plastic insurance card. Their actions support the narration.)
PHILIPP (recorded voice): At first they wouldn't let me in without papers, but as soon as I showed them my health insurance they were more than eager to have me as a patient.
PHILIPP (onstage): Today I officially sign the papers committing myself to six months of treatment.
(Signs papers, lights fade to black)
(Lights come up again to show Philipp sitting with an analyst, holding silent conversation...)
PHILIPP (recorded voice): I approached my own therapy like I had approached scientific experiments in my research. I listened closely to every observation made of me, and even borrowed some of the better texts from the specialists at the hospital. I don't know if Bob, my analyst, knew quite what to think. For awhile I'm sure he believed me as crazy as I believed myself. But soon he began to question my need for treatment.
BOB (into a hand-held cassette recorder): 2:35 PM... just met with Philipp Sternlieb for the fourth time this month. He still appears stable, is of remarkable intelligence, and seems to perceive reality in a normal way. However, he is troubled by the fact that he can't prove his perceptions. He believes his mind is a... faulty instrument or something. Treatment: this man needs a hobby.
(Clicks off recorder. Blackout.)
(Lights up on Philipp packing his suitcase in his hospital room...)
PHILIPP (recorded voice): After I'd been at the hospital for two months, my insurance company caught wind of the... uniqueness of my file. Though I wished to continue my experiment, I wasn't ready to spend my savings on a prolonged stay.
(Philipp onstage stops packing to think)
But I still felt far from my goal. I had strained to apply every sliver of logic in existence to the problem at hand: whether my perception of reality was truly reality. Logical thinking had brought me no further than the point at which I started. I still had no proof that my perceptions were no more than illusory impressions of what was really happening, and somehow I felt empty without this proof. Was the room around me an actuality, or was I creating it in some all-smothering dream? And the woman in that painting... why did I perceive her as ugly? What specific features of hers in some way offended me? None! Yet still she was ugly. And why on earth would they hang a picture like that in a home for the mentally disturbed? (Goes back to packing, shaking head. Lashes up suitcase and begins to exit) I left the hospital that day still at a loss for answers...
(Lights up on Wendy, the artist, clothed in a painter's smock well smudged with oil colors. She may even have palette and brush. No set.)
WENDY: So this really straight-laced guy comes knocking on my door, right, and he says "Hey, I've been a scientist all my life but I can't seem to find all the most important answers." So he goes on to say how he thought maybe the arts could help him in a way the sciences couldn't. So I said, "Wanna be my apprentice? We'll starve together!"
(Lights up on Philipp in oily smock, painting with palette and brush on an easel. The audience doesn't get to see the painting...)
PHILIPP (recorded voice): I worked with Wendy for several months, and learned to paint beautiful landscapes. I didn't, however, find any answers to the gnawing questions that had been haunting me. Were my perceptions representative of Ultimate Truth, or was I somehow deluded? And were my landscapes truly beautiful, or were they received as warped signals through my twisted optic nerve?
(Enter Wendy, coming up quietly on Philipp, who has lapsed into deep thought while regarding his painting. Her first word surprises him...)
PHILIPP (gasps, hand over heart): You surprised me!
WENDY (she is intent on the painting): ...it's beautiful!
WENDY: It's beautiful!
PHILIPP: (as though to try out the statement) It's beautiful.
PHILIPP (looking increasingly pensive and troubled): But... why? Why is it beautiful? What specifically?
WENDY: The colors.
PHILIPP: More than that. What about the colors? Aren't they just the manner in which we sense light waves?
PHILIPP: And what are light waves but rather minuscule amounts of energy zooming through the universe for no particular reason?
WENDY (angry): Will you let me speak! (gets his attention, calms down) It's the color, the line, the texture... it's the whole composition that tells you whether it's beautiful or not. You perfect the parts to achieve the whole.
PHILIPP: Yes, but if the parts we perceive are only a bunch of tiny illusions, then the entire picture is an illusion. Our entire reality, composed of its many little parts, is an illusion!
WENDY: And what if it is? Even if it is all an illusion, we know we can at least bend it to what we want it to be. And I still think your painting's beautiful!
PHILIPP: But why?
WENDY: Because! It's intuition, that's all. You explain it through logic. That's the scientist in you! It's beautiful simply because it is!
PHILIPP (still onstage, now to audience): I'd still like to know why.
(Lights up on Philipp and Wendy in bed together. The audience sees their heads and shoulders above the covers. As Philipp's recorded voice begins, they kiss and are soon completely beneath the blankets. Much movement...)
PHILIPP (recorded voice): Wendy wasn't the type of woman I'd ever expected to fall in love with. I found the whole affair rather difficult to explain. But as the months went on, I began to realize that I was... happy.
(The two emerge from the covers, and Wendy lights a cigarette. This is an affectionate scene...)
PHILIPP (eyes far away): What you say if I told you I loved you?
WENDY: I'd say 'I love you, too.'
WENDY: Yes, of course! I do love you, Philipp. Haven't I told you before?
PHILIPP: But why?
WENDY: Why haven't I told you?
PHILIPP: No, why do you love me?
WENDY: Because I do!
(Wendy kisses and embraces him, and two are once again working their way beneath the blankets...)
PHILIPP (recorded voice): I eventually got over my need for proof and explanations. Wendy told me once that the wisest philosopher she ever heard was the one who said "shit happens". But more than anything, she helped me to loosen up a little. Whenever I asked the question "Why?", she made me understand that it was "okay" to answer, "Because..."
(Lights fade to black as Philipp and Wendy continue making love...)
Marcus Del Greco has been writing for the page, stage, and record since 1992. He founded mindmined.com in 1998 and continues as editor and developer of this domain and a small network of other creative websites. He lives in Alton, New Hampshire.
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