The Last Act - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

The Last Act

(Dedicated to the memory of the late Dr. Robert  Suddards Joyce (far right),  a professor in the Department of Speech Communication and Theatre Arts, and director of theatre at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse from 1966 until his retirement in 1995. He directed more than 100 plays. In 1990 he also served as a visiting international professor at the University of London, Goldsmith’s College and was the co-founder and artistic director of the Theatre of Monmouth in Monmouth, Maine. He also was a co-founder of the Wisconsin Touring Theatre Company, which toured small towns in Wisconsin with a repertoire of classical, modern and children’s plays, and served as the artistic director of the theatre company from 1979 to 1985.  He passed away on May 21,  2001, shortly after his third production of Hair. He loved his Scotch on the rocks in the 1970s. Make it a double. He was 65.)

The stage consists of a typical middle-class kitchen complete with a wooden table and four chairs, refrigerator and counter. On the counter is a bowl of fruit and a magazine about guns.  Off to the side of the kitchen is a living room with a television set, a sofa, a loveseat, and coffee table with a TV Guide.  Several bookcases are displayed with plays of Eugene O’Neil and Shakespeare. The curtain slowly rises and the audience can hear actors arguing in muffled sounds. Someone says  “load the gun” while another says, “Where is it?” The actors finally realize the curtain has risen and another voice is heard, cursing while others say, “Get out there.”

Jimmy: (Offstage) Hi Mom! Hi Ralph, I mean Herman. I can never get that right. I’m home. How’s it going, buddy? Yes, yes you’re such a good boy. You old moocher. Did you miss me? Don’t answer that! (Enters kitchen) Mom, Mom! Want to see my gun I told you about on the phone? (He keeps it his pocket.)

Jean: I thought I heard you. It’s so good to have you back. (They embrace.) I missed you so much. My have you grown. Oh, but you’re so skinny. Don’t you eat? You can have all the food you want. I froze the Thanksgiving turkey leftovers a few months ago and there is plenty for you. I just went shopping and the refrigerator is stocked. What do you want to eat? Here make yourself a sandwich. There’s cold meat in the refrigerator. Here. Have a bayana. (She catches herself and stresses all syllables when she repeats.) Have a banana.

Jimmy: Oh Mom. I just got home. I kind of like to sit back and take it easy. ( He waits for her to speak then realizes it is his line.) Oh. Where’s Dad?

Jean: He’s at work. He should be back around five. Do you want fish or steak ?

Jimmy: Steak is fine.

Jean: Or, I could defrost a chicken?

Jimmy: No just steak.

Jean: Are you sure?

Jimmy: Yes, I’m sure.

Jean:  Are you sure you’re sure?

Jimmy: Would I say I’m sure if I wasn’t sure?

Jean: I’m not sure. (Pause) Guess what?

Jimmy: What?

Jean: Guess.

Jimmy:  I can’t.

Jean: Come on.

Jimmy: All right. (He thinks. He thinks some more. Not done thinking. Finally, he comes up with it.) Pot roast

Jean: (Puzzled) Huh?

Jimmy: We’re having pot roast instead of steak.

Jean: No that’s not it.

Jimmy: I hope not. I mean you disguise pot roast in so many ways like soup surprise, goulash surprise, why not go for all the marbles and have steak surprise?

Jean: No I’m not doing disguises tonight. It’s the real thing.

Jimmy:  Oh, you mean like COKE.

Jean: Yes. (She laughs) like COKE.

Jimmy: We’re having COKE instead of COKE. I mean steak instead of COKE. (To himself) Damn. I never say that right.

Jean: (She continues as if not to hear the last line.) No, silly, we are having steak. Now sit down and relax and have your bayyana. (She corrects herself quickly and then works out her lips a bit.) Banana. (Jimmy sits and eats.) So tell me, what have you been doing with yourself lately?

Jimmy: (He’s completely lost.) Huh?

Jean: (Getting upset) What have you been doing with yourself?

Jimmy: (Still lost) Huh?

Jean: (More upset) What have you been doing with yourself?

Jimmy: (Searching for his line and then yells ) Line!

Voice backstage: Oh, well, I …

Jimmy: Oh, well, I …

Jean: Finally, I can see you didn’t make many trips to the barber?

Jimmy: Mom, please.

Jean. All you need is a trim. Just a little (She struggles with the word little,  and repeats it several different ways.) bit off the front and back. Paul had his haircut. There is no reason why you can’t look just as nice as he does. Long hair is out. Just like jeans. They are out.

Jimmy: Mom, will you please …

Jean: A good haircut will make you look so much older. You look like a little (again struggles with the word little and decides to change it to small.) kid with your hair that way. It will help you get a real job.

Jimmy: Mom, I just got home. Let’s not start.

Jean: Start? Who’s starting. All I’m trying to … (Pause as she waits for him to say his line.) All I’m trying to … (Pause) All I’m trying to … (She whispers something in his ear) All I’m trying to …

Jimmy: All you’re trying to do is to tell me what to say or do again.

Jean: No I’m …

Jimmy: Yea you are. Look every time I come home you tell me what to do, when to do it, where to do it and how to do it. Well, did it ever occur to you that I don’t want to do know what to do? I mean for a change I’d like to discover things out for myself. (He looks in the mirror) I need a haircut.

Jean: Your appointment is at 10:30 tomorrow.

Man: (A middle-aged drunken man dressed in Shakespeare outfit enters and appears lost) Ophelia, Ophelia. Get me to a nunnery.

Jimmy: (Startled by the man’s strange entrance.) Come again.

Man: (A little unsure of himself) Ophelia? Ophelia. Get me to a nunnery.

Jimmy: That’s what I thought you said.

Jean: This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening. (Muttering to him) You’re a day early. That opens tomorrow. This show is a one-time deal because of the ending.

Jimmy: Who’s he?

Jean: Who?

Man: Ophelia, Ophelia.

Jimmy: Him.

Jean: Ah, well, he’s you know.

Jimmy: I know? Oh, of course, I know but why don’t you tell me and every one of them (audience) anyway.

Jean: Well … he’s Uncle Stan. Yea that’s it. Hello Uncle Stan.

Man: Ophelia?

Jean: No, I’m not Ophelia, but I’ll get you to a nunnery. (To Jimmy) I think he’s sick. (She smiles at the Man. This way Uncle. (They both exit and they argue offstage about the fact he’s in the wrong play and the wrong time. Jean re-enters) You’re appointment is at 10:30.

Jimmy: You mean you already made it.

Jean: I called as soon as I heard you were arriving. You know you have to think ahead these days.

Larry: (Entering kitchen) That’s right Jimmy.

Jimmy: Dad. (Firm handshake)

Larry: You have to think ahead. Take me for example, your mother did but that’s another story. Anyway, I made it through … oh shit. Let me try this again. (He re-enters.) That’s right Jimmy.

Jimmy: Dad! (High five this time)

Larry: You have to think ahead. Take me for example, ah forget that. I hate that joke. Anyway, I made it through college in three years. Worked my tail off but got the degree. And with a degree, you get a job and with a job you get money, and with money you get all this – (looks for something to points to but can’t find much).  (To Jean) Hey, you like the pointing. I just added that.

Jimmy: And with this, you get a pain in the butt.

Larry: What?

Jimmy: Nothing. Oh, go ahead. Please. I’m fascinated. They are fascinated. (pointing to the audience)

Larry: You are stealing my pointing thing. You are fascinated? I mean, of course, you are. Well, what I’m trying to say is, well, ah well, you see your, I mean that you. Let me put it another way. Jean, you know.

Jean: Yes, I know.

Larry: Good. Then explain it to him.

Jean. Me? Well, what your professor is saying is give up this acting nonsense and take up something practical. You don’t have to be at the bottom of a food chain. I mean you want to be a waiter for the rest of your life?

Larry: Please Jean, when I need your translating experience, I’ll ask for it.

Jean: But you said, “Explain it to him.”

Larry: Don’t bother me with petty details. Now what I was really trying to say is Jimmy give up this artist/waiter nonsense and take up something practical. What’s on TV tonight? (Picks up a TV Guide) Redford and Newman are just the greatest. What would the world be without them? God, we need actors.

Jimmy: Practical? I’m not a waiter.

Larry: What?

Jimmy: You said take up something practical.

Larry: Well, then do that too.

Jimmy: Dad, you don’t understand.

Larry: No, Jimmy you don’t understand. Did you just take my line?

Jean: What doesn’t he understand?

Larry: What doesn’t who understand?

Jimmy: I understand.

Larry. No, I understand. I think that’s my line again.

Jean: Well, I don’t understand.

Larry: It’s simple. I’ll explain it to you. (Softly) I love this. Jimmy. Don’t take this the wrong way. But you are a lazy piece of shit.


Larry: Well, what do you have to say to that. I said that pretty good, didn’t I? Can we redo that section? I love that part.

Jean: (Give’s Larry the eye) Jimmy?

Jimmy: I’m not going to say it.

Jean: What?

Larry: You have no choice. It’s written down.

Jimmy: Look I know where it’s going to lead and I don’t want to end it like that. We can ad-lib. We don’t have to go there.

Larry: I don’t understand. You earned your role.

Jimmy: We’ve gone through that already.

Jean: Funny.

Jimmy: I thought it was a rather good one myself.

Jean: Jimmy face it. It’s all down in ink. Nothing changes. Not even you. We just have to learn to understand and accept ourselves the way we are. That’s the way it’s written. You might as well do it. We can skip to the end if you want?

Larry: But I have some more lines. Will I get paid the same?

Man: (Two men enter) Sorry repossessing furniture.

Larry: Don’t take that chair. (They take the chair and exit.) That’s mine.

Jean: What’s going on? They are an hour early.

Jimmy: What do you mean what’s going on? Don’t you know? It’s all down in ink. Nothing changes. Remember?

Larry: They took my chair.

Jean: Ah, forget about your chair.

Larry: That’s easy for you to say. You still have your chair.

Jean: OK, Jimmy don’t say it. It’s not going to change things and it’s not going to stop us. Right, Larry?

Larry: Huh?

(A man dressed in black sticks his head through the door and looks around. The audience sees him but the characters can’t except Jimmy, who is quite scared.)

Voice offstage: Not yet.

Jean: Larry?

Larry: Yeah that’s right. It’s not going to stop.  I mean, it’s not going to stop. I t’s not going to stop who?

Jean: Us.

Larry: Yea, Us. (The man leaves)

Jean:  So Jimmy, you told us about a gun when you called us … (Long pause. No reaction so she changes the subject) Did you pass the audition? What happened? (Jimmy falls asleep)

Larry: Oh, now he’s not going to answer. That’s your son for you.

Jean: He’s our son.

Larry: He doesn’t take after me. I’m at least rational. Am I getting my chair back?

Jean: And I suppose I’m not?

Larry: You said it not me.

Jean: What did I say?

Larry: If you don’t know what you say when you say it then I don’t know what to say after you say what you say. Did that make sense?

Jean: Oh, you’re so rational. (Coughs to wake up Jimmy.) Oh you’re so rational. (She shoves Jimmy to get his attention because it’s his line.) Oh, you’re so rational.

Jimmy: (Awakes, yawns, groans like a cow) Spanish. Spanish. Oh, Spanish. I hate Spanish. there ought to be a law against having to take a 7 a.m. Spanish. It’s not Kosher. Well is it?

Jean: (Getting upset because Jimmy fails to say his line.) Oh …you’re … sooo … rational.

Jimmy: Oh, me again. Well, I suppose. (Yells) LINE.

MAN backstage: (Whispers)  Will you guys stop fighting?

Jimmy: Huh. Say again.

MAN backstage: (Louder)  Will you guys stop fighting?

Jimmy: Got it thanks. Will you guys stop fighting? You know what happens when you fight.

Girl: (Enters as a cheerleader) Fight, fight for the blue and the white. They’ll … (She forgets the line.) They’ll …(She begins again.) Fight, fight for the blue and the white. They’ll. (She forgets again and leaves crying.)

Jean: What was that?

Larry: She pulled a Jimmy can’t remember anything – except for that crying part. Nice touch.

Jean: (Whispers loudly) She just left.  Just like that. There goes her Tony.  That leaves four pages of an empty script. (Back on cue) What was that?

Jimmy: Hell, if I know. Larry cast her. Let’s just skip ahead. (Back on cue) As I was saying, when you fight, you get a sore throat and then you get your tonsils out. I  got mine out. See. Anyway, when they were taking my tonsils out they decided as long as they were at it they might as well take out the appendix – although I think they had to make a left turn or was it a right turn? Not sure.  But they took a tooth and the nose buds as well. Thank God for Obamacare because it was covered.

Larry: I didn’t know you had your nose buds taken out. Can you still smell?

Jean: What’s this have to do with anything. I don’t recall you ever saying this or reading this.

Jimmy: Are you sure? It’s not like we ever had a rehearsal. You can’t rehearse this thing. Are you really sure?

Jean: Yes, I’m sure.

Jimmy: Are you sure you’re sure?

Jean: Would I say I’m sure if I wasn’t sure.

Jimmy: Déjà vu

Jean and Larry: Huh?

Jimmy: Sorry, thought I’d ad-lib that Déjà vu thing. Pretty good. Eh?

Larry: You can’t do that.

Jimmy: I just did.

Jean: It’s not allowed. Union rule. You have to do what the union says. Unions have power.

Jimmy: We’re not in Wisconsin.

Jean: It’s not allowed.

Jimmy: Why not? It didn’t get a big enough laugh last time.

Jean: But it would have gotten a bigger laugh this time if you didn’t make up things.

Jimmy: How do you know?

Jean: Repetition is funny.

Jimmy: What?

Jean: Repetition is funny.

Jimmy: Then how come no one just laughed.

Larry: Will you guys stop it? I don’t know who’s who anymore.

Jimmy: Anything for a laugh.

Jean: Try looking in the mirror.

Larry: That’s not written down.

Jimmy: (To Jean) Why? Have you done that before?

Larry: Can we please finish this conversation? I’d like to get home before Bowling for Dollars.

Jean: This is your home.

Jimmy: Oh is that on tonight?

Larry: Yes. I got my card in this time. They are going to call me and I’m going to win the $500.

Jean: Oh Jesus.

Jimmy: That’s on Channel 12. Right?

Larry: Yes, I can feel it. I’m getting lucky tonight.

Jean: You guys. Stick to the script.

Larry: You must like the show, Jimmy?

Jimmy: Who me? Not really. I hate it.

Jean: Are we going to get back on track and finish this.

Larry: She’s right. Let’s get on with it.

MAN: (A man enters with a snapping board) Take 37 or is it 38? Who the hell cares anyway?

Larry: The audience is waiting. Hey, they are filming this too? Cool.

Jimmy: Let them wait.

Jean: What?

Jimmy: Let them wait. I have to go to the bathroom.

Jean: You can’t do that.

Jimmy: You want to watch. (He exits)

Larry: Oh great! Now what?

Jean: Don’t look at me. Think of something.

Larry: Me?

Jean: Yeah, you.

Larry: I don’t think. I’m an actor.

Jean: Well you’re supposed to be the director too.

Larry: Sh … I wanted that to be a secret.

Jean: Oh what does it matter now. We all made fools of ourselves. I know we should have done this play with paper bags over our heads.

Larry: Oh, Jean. It’s not that bad. (The front row walks out). Although it’s not that good. We will salvage this somehow.

Jean: You’re just saying that to be nice.

Larry: Now you know, I’m never nice.

Jean: That’s true.

Larry: Good! Now that we have that settled, what should we do?  (He has a twinkle in his eye)

Jean: I don’t know.

Larry: What do you mean you don’t know?

Jean: That’s what I said.

Larry: I know.

Jean: You know?

Larry: No.

Jean: Yes, know.

Larry: What do you mean, yes or no?

Jean: I don’t know.

Larry: That’s where we started from (They break off thinking what to do.) I got it. I got it. (More eye twinkling.)

Jean: What?

Larry: You know?

Jean: Are we doing this again?

Larry: No.

Jean: Here we go again.

Larry: This is not a rerun.

Jean: Then what is it? (They stare at each other.) Oh, come, now Larry. Right here? In front of everyone. Just because last night we did it in an elevator, doesn’t mean that we should…

Larry: Oh Jean, it’ll be fun.

Jean: For us, I’m sure it will be, but for them?

Larry: Don’t worry.

Jean: I’m not. It’s just that …

Larry: Lot’s of people …

Jean: I’m sure they do but …

Larry: Relax, You’ll enjoy it. I’ll get the checkerboard.

Jean: Checkerboard! (The toilet flushes.)

Larry: Now there won’t be time.

Jimmy: Don’t go in there.  Something died.

Jean: What kind of entrance is that in front of an audience?

Larry: It’s enough you leave us here with nothing to say or do. But do you have to tell people the bathroom smells? That’s gross.

Jimmy: What do you want me to say?

Jean: Be a little more discreet. Again, that’s not written down. You just make up things.

Jimmy: Discreet? Huh. OK. The bathroom smells … unique. By the way, I’m not making it up. It does smell … unique.

Jean: Oh, forget it. I’ve had it. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry. I just can’t perform with, with it. I, I just can’t continue. (She storms off stage.)

Larry: Now look what you have done.

Jimmy: I’m sorry. How about the bathroom smells … different.

Larry: You’re not going to get away with this. Just remember, Jimmy words are not the issue. Action is. That’s all that counts. What you say means nothing. What you do means everything. And you have no choice but to do the script. Your’re caught. There’s no way out and you know it.

Jimmy: Huh?  Sorry I wasn’t listening. What did you say?

Larry: Do you know what you are? Do you know?

Jimmy: No, but you’re going to tell me. Right? Wait, maybe I better take notes. (Grabs a notebook) I’m ready.

Larry: You’re not well. That’s it. Your mind is warped. I think it’s a case of brain drain. In other words, in medical terms, you’re sick. (He exits) Jean, Jean, Jean.

Jimmy: (Writing down) Sick. S … I … C … K. They’re gone. Great. I don’t need them. I don’t need anyone. I suppose you want me to continue. I guess it doesn’t matter. My part is real easy.  Let me do the rest of my lines. It goes like this. Maybe … Interesting … Huh? Oh! Well … hell’s bells … but … Yes … No … Yes … No … (To the audience) Thank you.  (Bows)

That was one of the most moving scenes ever written. I wonder if it will work as an audition piece.  (Runs through those same lines again) I better work on that later. I better write that down. It’s always good to write things down, that way they’re written down. Speaking of auditions. Yes, JEAN I GOT THE PART. WHAT DO YOU THINK I’M DOING!


Well, now what? I guess we can’t do the play unless I could find a dress to play Jean or something. Any of you want to take off your dress? You in the front row?  Sorry that was rude. I didn’t mean to sound like a pervert. Anyway how about if we ah, oh, I know. I got it. Questions. Questions? No questions. OK, well I have a question … ah … um … what’s the capital of Rhode Island?

Voice in the audience: Who cares? Bring out the hook?

Jimmy: What do you mean who cares? What’s this with a hook. All right. All right. I’m leaving. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bore you. I should have just continued with the play. It’s a good play and I hope you see it sometime. But I guess you can’t because it’s real. I mean the play can only be done once. You see I’m actually Jimmy. No, I’m really him. Jimmy Olson. For real. Tonight, I just didn’t want to face the truth. I mean how would you like it if you found out the one thing in life you wanted to be you can’t because you lost all confidence in yourself. Every time, you try you only fall down. If only I was Superman. But I’m not. Well, I’m tired of falling. So you see, I didn’t want to face the end. I wanted an alternative ending. But noooo, they wouldn’t let me. Stick to the script, they said.  So I played the avoider. But what’s the use. The playwright has made up his mind. He thinks he’s God or something. I don’t know. Well, I’ve talked too long anyway.

Man: (Man dressed in black enters the stage.) It’s time.

Jimmy: OK I got to go. Oh, if you want your money back. Forget it. They don’t do that here.

(A gunshot is heard.)

(Blackout and curtain)

Curtain call:  Everyone enters the stage one by one and lastly Jean and Larry enter together. They are crying. They all bow. Jimmy is absent. Maybe he had an early Spanish class. They all exit.

Man: (Enters as audience is leaving and he is frantically looking for Ophelia.) Ophelia. Ophelia. Ophelia! (It then dawns on him.)  Oh shit. That’s tomorrow. Right. (Runs off stage.)

Fade to black.

About the author

Timothy W. Maier

Timothy W. Maier started out writing music, fiction and poetry and then turned to news writing where he spent the past three decades at news organizations in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C. More recently he was the managing editor at the Baltimore Examiner. He now spends time with his family, dogs, trains for marathons and works as a media consultant. Contact the author.

Comments are closed.