Two men enter.
Both are young.
Ray is frantic, over-excited, pushing to the front of the stage and eager to seemingly shout at the audience in front of him.
The other (Mort) is more cautious, quiet on his toes, working his way more slowly to the front. He carries a book in his right hand, and casually flips through the pages every now and then throughout.
Ray: It’s like all these people are just walking around dead in their lives and you want to shake them and say; wake up, you’re alive; move, be animate, shake your limbs, exercise your heart and mind; don’t smell the roses, get on a plane to the English countryside and stuff your entire face into a rose bush until your face is bleeding in red rose drops of red rose petals and your eyes don’t work anymore.
[Mort is walking around reading the book. He reads the following passage.]
Mort: Unlearn to live, who scarce have lived at all.
Ray: Yes. Yes, that’s it! Where’s that from?
Mort: It’s this French poet, a play called The Dream of Augustus. A rather trite and monotonous affair I believe.
Ray: It’s perfect… unlearn to live, who scarce have lived at all. Yes. Yes. They need to unlearn all the nonsense they’ve been taught; to re-energise, to actually come alive once more, or for once, or for the first time in their lives. To be free from all the thoughts that have been forced upon them, to be free to think again.
Mort: To live.
Ray: To love.
Mort: To life.
Ray: To die.
[Ray emphasises the point with his hands.]
Ray: That is true freedom. But society chains me to this desk job and demands I work 9-5 or shames and ridicules and humiliates me for the rest of my natural term if I don’t. And then they have the gall to call it freedom – to suggest a writer is as free as an investment banker. It is merely freedom to live beneath a glaring man. It is why so many people choose to be the one to glare instead of the one to be glared at – it feels freer. It feels free, like a free activity. I am promoting shame, I am shaming this person, this man, this man in his pyjamas writing a sonnet when he should be doing his day job – fool man! Shame, shame, shame, I am saying. And what is he doing? He keeps on writing. The gall. The gall and the travesty. What a spiteful little man. Little vermin. Little fool. Let me crush him beneath my freedom.
Mort: You exaggerate. You have as much freedom as any banker.
Ray: I do not!
Mort: You do.
Ray: How do I?
Mort: Well you have the freedom to talk to me, for instance. We can talk of all kinds of things.
Ray: Oh great freedom. It towers over us.
[Gestures to the sky]
Ray: You are of very little importance Mort, no matter what your mother and father told you when you were younger. Talking to you is great fun, but ideas between two people only produce offspring once. Ideas between a country generate an entirely new generation.
Mort: You want a new generation then? That’s your ultimate goal? A new legion of fools?
Ray: Yes, yes. New people. New thinkers. New believers. A great resurgence of the Renaissance once more but for the second time in history amidst the youth of today. Freedom to think again, to feel and love; to cherish the cherisable and perish the unperishable; chase and be chased; think and be thought of; fondly and kindly and connected to this humdrum blind love of humanity.
Mort [Incredulous]: From a small suburb in the outskirts of London?
Ray: First there was Rome, then the Italian city-states, and then, they will say, the suburbs of London. What glory awaits us in this quest.
Ray: I assume you’re coming along? You always come along with my schemes.
Mort: I haven’t agreed to anything.
Ray: Come to think of it you have been decidedly quiet since we first stepped onto this stage to begin what appears to be a theatrical performance but is merely a polite conversation between two friends.
Mort: I have doubts.
Mort: Well –
Ray: Don’t tell me, you are one of the dead people! Not you Mort. Not you too. I have lost so many – First there was my good friend Bill, who took an office job at twenty, then Sandy, my lovely Sandy, lost to us at twenty-five to an accounting desk job in the States and now my best friend Mort. Not Mort, anyone but –
Mort: I don’t –
Ray [Faintly]: Oh woe. Oh me.
Mort: Feel dead.
[Mort pokes himself, as if to make sure.]
Ray: Then what is it? What is it? Say it. Say it. Say it. State all your reservations from the moon to the winter tides and back. Say it. Say it. Say it.
Mort: It’s just. I don’t mean to be rude. It’s just… your view… it’s just not the way the world works. People can’t get up and quit their jobs. The economy would be chaos for one. Absolute freefall. If everyone flew to England the planes would be packed – crowded. The rose fields would be crushed underfoot by this trampling Renaissance hoard of yours. What would the world become if you had your way? A bunch of artists scribbling paintings in Rome while the world around them burned.
Ray [Bored]: You are being practical again.
Mort: Practicality is the way the world works.
Ray: I’ve told you before: practicality never works well with any of my plans.
Mort: I also kind of like my current job.
Ray: You like your job? Are you mad? They say only 20% of people do.
Mort: I guess I’m in the 20%. It’s great fun, what with the intellectual demands – and it’s great to work with people, with clients, to get something done in the world.
Ray: Well can’t you be generous to the 80% of us who don’t enjoy what we do? Can’t you be kind to those of us who suffer? Can’t you think of anyone but yourself?
Mort: Sure, but how do you intend to carry out this insane plan of yours? Awaken the dead people, you say, what does that even mean?
Ray: The automatons.
Mort: The automato-what?
Ray: The automatons. The robotic people. The ones who cannot think but for the orders they receive. You’ve seen them, in your office block, in the cubicle next door. They sit staring blankly at a computer screen, clicking the buttons they’re told to click. Click. Click. Click. They get told – click this, click that, turn up at this hour, leave at that one. They do as they’re told, quietly, without thought or reservation. They use the computer when told. They’re really just inputs and outputs, all 1’s and 0’s. It’s like they’re a computer being told to use another computer; it’s like a computer factory. The silent workers working on their computer orgy at the behest of their masters in suits. Society calls them the ‘forgotten heroes,’ I like to think of them as the ‘forgotten losers’. The ones who don’t think; so that the rest of us can’t think at all.
Mort: Right. Robot people. You’ve really gone off the ledge now. How do you awaken these robots then? Unplug them? What is this masterful plan of yours?
Ray: I’m getting to that – christ, no need to use sarcasm on me. I’ve had my fair share of it and I can tell you, sarcasm doesn’t win arguments. The Greeks knew that. Only logic can win between us. No shame nor impracticality nor sarcasm can work between friends.
Mort: I’ve known you for long enough to say anything I wish.
Ray: Three years isn’t that long. And when I first met you in University you barely knew yourself.
Mort: The plan Ray, what’s the plan?
Ray: The plan is simple. What we will do…
Ray: What WE will do. Is. First – identify the dead people. Next, show them beauty and the meaning of life. Following which we will bring them back to life again, having helped them go through a rigorous epiphany on their own, facilitated by us.
Mort: That sounds very vague. How do you, for instance, show someone the meaning of life?
Ray: Simple. It can be condensed into a single day course. To begin with, wake up at 11am. Followed by three hours of poetry recital in the woods, followed by a long and laborious walk up a mountainside and a walk through a gallery of Cezanne’s at night, with lamplight shining in through the windows and couples making out –on the cold stone steps outside the gallery door where you enter, so as to remind you of lust and beauty. Dessert and tea to follow, followed by a brief debrief in the anteroom. If the day does not bring someone alive then nothing else will.
Mort: Cézannes? Really, Ray? Your art class has gone to your head.
Ray: It’s not art class that has made me mad Mort. It is life. To be alive again. That is what you are missing.
Mort: Me? Don’t bring me into this. I have nothing to do with this Renaissance of yours.
Ray: And you think I would not notice? You think I, of all people, wouldn’t notice my best friend dying inside while working at his new, conventional, corporate job?
Mort: Well I had hoped…
Ray: A fools hope.
Mort: To give it a go. To try out law for a few years as a career, and then see from there. It’s the least I can do. I sort of owe it to…
Ray: To who? To your boss? To whom do you owe your time except yourself, and how much of it can you waste in the spare hours between morning and evening; the hours you spend toiling away on someone else’s dream?
Mort: Corporate mergers are significant events! They aren’t ‘someone else’s dream.’ The work I do is significant, the whole world is changed by which companies are in charge. Creating monopolies in industries also helps to –
Ray: Streamline society? Boost efficiency? Create dividends? When did you start talking like a robot Mort, plugged into a list of buzzwords instead of talking like a human being?
Mort: Well I think you are being a little unfair there. I’m not some 2D personality, my job involves many different types of mergers. I sign various types of contracts, and work with various types of TNC’s.
Ray: A little disingenuous.
Mort: Well I feel just as alive today as the day before I started. I feel just as I did on January 1st.
Ray: That means you were dead to begin with! How did I not see it in time?
[Ray ruminates on this, walking in circles.]
[Mort lets out a huge sigh, as if the collapsing of a lung.]
Mort: I am not dead.
Ray: Not physically dead. No, not yet. But spiritually dead. I heard a philosopher say the apocalypse will be one of two kinds: either we will blow ourselves up, or we will destroy what it means to be human, the very essence and soul of humanity. You are not physically dead yet Mort. You are the latter. You are dead inside.
Mort: I don’t suspect that a gallery of Cezannes and watching people fuck on a stairwell will help me become undead, even if I were dead to begin with.
Mort: Well I don’t see how it would work, this scheme of yours. I don’t even quite get the problem to begin with. I’m perfectly happy in my job, as are my colleagues. We have a nice, simple life – going in to work, going home to our families. No complexities, no surprises. It’s this simple day in, day out routine. That’s what life’s about. The functionality of things – efficiency, making things work without thinking too much about them, streamlining, as you so condescendingly said. What’s so wrong with that? The more we streamline, the more free time we have.
Ray: Free time to do what? More streamlining? The problem is that we have banished beauty, just as Camus predicted we would. And you, Mort, you are keeping it in exile. You are at the barricades, with the men in suits, with your arms pressed against the precarious breach. Each seeping of light, each painting, each vista and poem that seeps through to your delicate hands awakens something in you – makes you feel, makes you breathe, makes you want to take flight and fly into the wilds — naked on the beaches — peeling back the edges of the sky to grasp at the heaven beyond. But still, you push it back. Still you push at the barricades. Still, you defy beauty’s march upon your body and mind and soul.
[Ray moves and grasps Mort by the shoulder]
Ray: Surrender to the pull Mort; be yourself, take your life in your own hand and make it your own. Burn the suit; lift the lid, and throw away your pretentions of being this false friend of corporate life.
Mort: But what does that even mean? You are speaking in allegory and riddles.
Ray: No Mort. I am speaking in myth. Joseph Campbell tells us that myths are true, in so far as the metaphor is true. You, Mort, are metaphorically dead to me. This is true. But I can bring you to life again. You simply have to agree to my one-day plan. You will be my first test subject, my Frankenstein’s monster.
Mort: You realise the irony of selling me a one-day plan, while proclaiming to hate corporate life? Back at the office we sell one-day conferences on contract law for a killing.
Ray: I am ironic Mort. You are dead. Which one of us has a worse disposition?
Mort: Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I am dead.
Ray: I knew it.
Mort: It’s a hypothetical. I guess the first stage would be a poetry recital in the woods?
Ray: Yes Mort. The thing they forgot to teach us in High School is that poetry is actually enjoyable when read aloud. It’s all in the rhythm. The staccato. The putt, putt, putt, of poetry, that makes it, and us, come alive.
Mort: And the woods?
Ray: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep,” said Frost. We must go dark and deep, to be light and alive once more. Where did our friend Gandalf go to be reborn? Deep, deep into the earth. Dark and deep, Mort. Dark and deep is the key.
[Both men exit the stage]