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 fucking 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 and you need an ambulance with a red rose cross on it to come and save your blood-soaked eyes from falling out. Do all that. Then come back to me and tell me you love your job. Tell me with complete sincerity in your eyeless face that your life is perfect as it is now.
[Mort is walking around reading the book. He reads the following passage out loud.]
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 think…
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. Not this political garbage they harp on about. I can write a hundred treatises with my much-vaunted free speech. But society chains me to this desk job and demands me I work 9-5 or shames and ridicules me for the rest of my natural term if I don’t. And then they 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 does he do? 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 of all people have as much freedom as an investment banker.
Ray: I do not!
Mort: You do.
Ray: How so?
Mort: It’s not so bad as you make it out to be.
Ray: Yes it is.
Mort: No it isn’t.
Ray: Yes it is.
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. Between us, I should suggest, neither of those would occur, what with neither of us possessing the correct appendages for each other’s –
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; to perish the unperishable; to chase and be chased; to think and be thought of; fondly, kindly and connected to this humdrum blind love of humanity.
Mort [Incredulous]: From a suburb in Sydney’s Inner Western suburbs?
Ray: First there was Rome, then there were the Italian city-states, and then, they will say, there were the Inner Western suburbs of Sydney. Between the two of us –
Ray: I assume you’re coming along? You always come along with my schemes.
Mort: I haven’t agreed to anything. Hold the revolution; the horses are still being fed.
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 good old Bill. Took a desk-job in an office at twenty, then Sandy, my lovely Sandy, lost to us at twenty-five to an accounting job in the States. 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… is just not the way the world works. People can’t just up and quit their jobs. The economy would go into 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 rest of the world burned. What is an artist’s brush to a freefalling economy?
Ray [Bored]: You are being practical again.
Mort: Practicality is the way the world works.
Ray: Practicality never works well with any of my plans.
Mort: I 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%.
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, in the cubicle next door. They stare 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. Do as you’re told, quietly, without thought or reservation. They’re really just all inputs and outputs, all 1’s and 0’s. It’s like they’re a computer being told to use another computer. 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 about them at all.
Mort: Riiiiiiiight. Robotic people. You’ve really gone off the ledge now, Ray. How do you awaken these robots? Unplug them? What is this masterful plan of yours?
Ray: 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. No shame nor impracticality nor sarcasm can work between friends.
Mort: We’ve talked for long enough for me to say anything I want to you.
Ray: Three years isn’t that long. And when I first met you in University you barely knew yourself. In that first class you asked the teacher so many simple questions as to prove yourself the biggest idiot in the room.
Mort: The plan Ray, what’s the plan?
Ray: The plan is simple. What we –
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? Or do you intend this to be a course of some kind?
Ray: Simple. It can be condensed into a single day. 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 classes have gone to your head.
Ray: It’s not art that has made me 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 upcoming 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 in 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 the suit overlords? 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’m doing is significant, the whole world is changed by which companies are in charge – by whom buys and who sells. Creating monopolies is a great way 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? Was it before or after you started your new job?
Mort: Well I think you are being a little unfair. I’m not some 2D personality. I sign various types of contracts, and work with various types of TNC’s.
Ray: And you are being a little disingenuous.
Mort: Well I feel just as alive today as I did 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 a collapsing of a lung.]
Mort: I am not dead. I am alive and kicking.
Ray: Not physically dead. No. 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 will help me.
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 is about. The functionality of things – the efficiency, making things work without thinking about them, streamlining, as you so condescendingly say. What’s so wrong with streamlining life?
Ray: We have banished beauty, 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 back against it. 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. Be yourself, and let your body and mind become one thing; not at war with themselves, with each other – but in beautiful peaceful calm, marching with meaning and beauty into the calm, tidal embrace of the world.
Mort: But what does that even mean? You’re speaking in allegory and riddles.
Ray: No Mort. I am speaking in myth. Joseph Campbell once said 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 back to life. You simply have to agree to my one-day course. You will be my first test subject, my Frankenstein’s monster.
Mort: You realise the irony of selling me a one-day course, 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 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 first thing is poetry. They forgot to teach us in High School that poetry is actually enjoyable when read aloud. It’s in the rhythm. 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 again. Where did our old 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]
[Mort and Ray enter the stage from the left, into a forest. Trees surround them, and they come to a clearing between the trees, within which they stand.]
[Each carries a book of poetry.]
Mort: This is stupid.
Ray: Not stupid. Enlightening.
Mort: Enlightening my ass. This idea of yours is a direct rip off of that movie, Dead Poet’s Society. That was also just a bunch of whinging kids with strict parents, running into the woods. It sounds exactly like us, you know.
Ray: And the guy that killed himself.
Mort: Oh yeah, well exactly. That’s no way to do things. We wouldn’t do that.
Ray: But he did it because he was dead inside. And we will come alive once more, and see why his act was never a good option to begin with.
Mort: I doubt poetry can help with that.
Ray: Think of poetry as a sort of maxim for the soul; a direct dialogue between your head and heart. And think of literature as a way of discovering who you are, by discovering the life of somebody else. Living through them, so to speak.
Mort: Again with the allegory.
Ray: Well let me give you an example. Thomas Gray.
[Ray prepares himself, pushing out his chest and lifting up his head high, as if to tower to the top of the trees]
Ray: All are men/ Condemned alike to groan/ The tender for another’s pain/ The unfeeling of his own.
Ray: How does that make you feel Mort?
Mort: Well, I don’t feel a thing.
Ray: This is much worse than I feared.
Mort: I am not dead inside! Poetry just doesn’t resonate with me.
Ray: But doesn’t your job make you feel like no one cares about your troubles? And you, finding it difficult to care about theirs? Don’t you see what Gray was getting at?
Mort: That does happen, I suppose. But then I just get drunk, or we go out to office drinks or lunch rugby or something and people just move on. You know, we just move on with our lives. Like normal people.
Ray: Ah huh! Move on. We are constantly moving, aren’t we Mort? Moving beyond; moving passed; moving faster. Moving. It’s moving isn’t it, how much we are moving? It could move a man to tears.
Mort: A strange man.
Ray: A real man.
Mort: A coward.
Ray: An honest man. Why are you scared Mort? This is the key to it, isn’t it? You sit in your boardroom meetings, you go around the room asking people about their weekends –you don’t give a shit- you hear the answer, you nod, you pretend, you smile, you assimilate, you condone, you obliterate all rebellious instinct in your soul – and then, you move on. The weather. Oh I love that place. Move on. I miss Mary Sue so damn much – oops, honest thought. Suppress. Suppress. Move on.
Mort: It’s called talking to people.
Ray: Small talking.
Mort: As opposed to –
Ray: Big talk. Grand talk. Metaphorically mind-exploding, universe collapsing, back-bending, energy-generating – talk.
Mort: There’s no such fucking thing.
Ray: Oh yes there is. As Keats said, there are those of us who know “Of noble natures, of the gloomy days/ of all the unhealthy and o’er darkened ways.” That kind of talk – big talk.
Mort: You expect me to talk like a poet?
Ray: I expect you to think beyond the two-bit phrases that get taught to you in law school. I expect you to actually think for yourself, in your own language, using your own phrases, your own buzzwords, your own creations and definitions and voice. I expect you to have a voice. Who are you Mort, without a voice? Relying on another’s? Being seduced by that other’s? Who are you, Mort? Do you even know who you are? Do you even know?
Mort: I know what I want from other people.
Ray: That’s not the same thing.
Mort: I know what I want from the world.
Ray: Do you know what the world is? Do you know what humanity is? What makes us distinct from other animals? What makes you distinct from me?
Mort: My capacity to make money.
Ray: Our soul Mort, our soul. Most animals can procreate and eat and breathe in the air. Humans; humans are greater than that. We can imagine; create; rationally think and analyse and make believe and make conceive; enjoy sex, seduce each other in long-form ways, for years; entertain. We are so much more than our base instincts – and yet we cap our whole species on a course to greed alone. On a course to office boredom and lifelong depression; suicides at 40 and great big maternity leave celebrations – when no one gives a shit that the baby is even being born, nor should they perhaps, without more to celebrate than what any other animal can do. We are all ignoring our unique human capacities and instead focusing on our basic instincts; the instincts that every animal on earth possesses. What is the role of humanity, as compared to that of the animal?
Mort: It’s weird how you keep saying that sex is not some base animalistic instinct, but offspring are. I’m no catholic, but surely sex is just as animalistic as anything else you mentioned? Your plan is to lead this life of hedonism – sex and debauchery. Our basest of instincts, right?
Ray: No Mort. Sex is not animalistic. Humans are among the few unique animal species to gain pleasure out of sex. The vast majority of animals find sex to be a painful, quick and awful experience. We, like dolphins, are among the few species to actually have the capacity to enjoy it. It is almost uniquely human to have a loving, fulfilling and pleasurable relationship. That is something to celebrate. That is something that is uniquely human, not animalistic whatsoever. Animalistic sex is unpleasurable, unsensual and unconsensual – that’s what sex is like in the animal kingdom. Ours is nothing like that, when we do it properly.
Mort: Well what if I have a loving, fulfilling and pleasurable relationship with money?
[Ray lets out a large sigh]
Ray: The woods aren’t helping…
Mort: But they’re dark and deep, aren’t they? Dark and deep. This is so pointless, Ray. So utterly pointless. I don’t even get what we’re doing out here. I should just go home.
Ray: No Mort. Not home. Not yet. It is time to climb the mountain.