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SLOW BOAT TO CHINA

Represented by Paul Thain
For licensing rights contact:
paul@stageplays.com


AT RISE – The SETTING is minimal to abstract.  SHE and HE are at home where sunlight pours through an opened window.  SHE is toiling over the loose pages of her handwritten memoirs while HE moves nervously about.  


SHE: (After some consideration.)  You’ve no right to accuse me of that. 

HE: I have every right.  Have you ever considered how it affects others? 

SHE: Others? 

HE: Me. 

SHE: Ah, you.  So, that is what you mean by others. 

HE: They say we’re all connected.

SHE: To anyone I know?

HE: Ha ha. I only want what’s best. 

SHE: What nonsense.  No right. No right to accuse me of that. If I am indifferent, as you say, to anything it is to the unfounded accusations of the well-meaning. 

HE: That would be me.

SHE: Please! That I choose to remain inside with my memories and my thoughts on this last dreary day of summer does not make me a deserving target for your antagonism. 

HE: See?  See what I mean?  That’s the sort of thing that really ticks me.  Tick,
tick, and tick.   It’s so unnecessary. 

SHE: Then, don’t provoke. 

HE: It was not my intent.  I’m sorry you saw it that way. 

SHE: So am I.  (A very long pause.)  I have heard it is an angel passing. 

HE: Huh?

SHE: The awkward silence.

HE: Ah.  When was that?
SHE: Just now.  (A confused pause.)  What was I saying?

HE: "Don’t provoke."

SHE: Ah, yes.  Don’t provoke.

HE: I was just trying to motivate you.  I thought today was special. 

SHE: I don’t need motivation.  I need to be left to my work, like every other day. 

HE: You’ve stayed locked up in this house all summer. 

SHE: I’ve been working on my memoirs.  I’m trying to remember. 

HE: Sorry.

SHE: You’re beginning to get under my skin. 

HE: Is that a bad thing? 

SHE: Very. 

HE: Summer’s come and gone and you haven’t taken one walk through the woods
with me. 

SHE: I don’t like the woods. 

HE: Of course you do.  You’ve always liked the woods. 

SHE: Only as metaphor. 

HE: That wasn’t always the case. 

SHE: People change.  I don’t like them anymore. 

HE: People?  You don’t like people? 

SHE: That’s right—people and woods.  Do you have a problem with that? 

HE: No.  But how can anyone stop liking the woods?  It’s like suddenly not liking
the ocean—or magic. 

SHE: I never liked the ocean and there is no such thing as magic. 

HE: But if you had—if you believed? 

SHE: I can’t.  If I could, I would reserve the right to change my mind.  Besides, you
know perfectly well that I never learned to swim. 

HE: There’s nothing to learn.  Everybody knows how to swim. 

SHE: So you’ve told me. 

HE: Only because you haven’t had to.  If you had to, you would.

SHE: This body can’t.  I tried.  It sank.  

HE: Knowing you, you’d probably drown just to prove me wrong. 

SHE: That is a problem, isn’t it? 

HE: I’m not asking you to swim.  I’m asking you to walk.  You can walk, can’t you.

SHE: Of course I can walk. 

HE: Then walk with me—through the woods. 

SHE: I’ve already told you that I’m working.  Don’t you have papers to correct—
students to fail? 

HE: No, finished—too early in the semester.  (A pause to watch her.)  Am I in there? 

SHE: In my memoirs?  (HE nods “yes.”)  What do you think? 

HE: I think, if you could, you’d figure out a way to avoid ever having to mention me by name.  I will forever be known as he, him, the husband or, God forbid, the other. 

SHE: For the love of God. 

HE: I thought you were an Atheist?

SHE: Go out and play. I wash my hands of you.  You’ve too much time on your hands.  Do something to further your cause. 

HE: Unlike you I have no cause, no impending destiny with celebrity.   I’ve thrown my dreams for the unobtainable out the window years ago. 

SHE: Please don’t make fun of me. 

HE: And while you’re washing your hands of me take a good look at them.   Look what all those years of holding onto countless unrealized dreams have done to them.  At least I had the good sense to let go. 
SHE: Is that what you call it—good sense? 

HE: I’m not in pain and suffering while playing beat-the-clock with the grim reaper. 

SHE: Not so grim, perhaps. 

HE: You don’t know that. 

SHE: (More to herself.) Maybe I do. (To HE with anger and disappointment.) You think giving-up is the answer?  You might have been a great writer—a notable observer of Human culture. 

HE: I thought I was. 

SHE: Well . . . you might have been successful at it. 

HE: We’ll never know, will we? 

SHE: That puts you in a win-win situation, doesn’t it? 

HE: If you say so. 

SHE: Can’t lose now, can you? 

HE: Guess not. 

SHE: Am I supposed to feel sorry for you? 

HE: You’re not supposed to feel anything. 

SHE: Good, because I don’t. 

HE: I know. 

SHE: Stop it.  You don’t know anything. 

HE: I know you’ve been at those memoirs a lifetime. 

SHE: That’s what it takes, a lifetime!

HE: Not much left in this lifetime’s tattered grab bag.

SHE: When I finish them—

HE: When you finish you’ll be no further along than you are now.  No celebrity for
you, I fear.
SHE: Wretched man.

HE: Not so much as a kewpie doll for all your barren efforts. 

SHE: Barren?

HE: Efforts.

SHE: I see. 

HE: Creative endeavors.

SHE: You know perfectly well I couldn’t!

HE: I don’t recall our ever really trying. 

SHE: Then there is nothing to talk about.  Subject closed. (Panicking.) What were we talking about?

HE: Stay with me.  We were talking about birthing art and literature.  I was talking about realizing a sense of worth. 

SHE: I realized my worth a long time ago.  That will always be mine no matter what I forget. 

HE: Not much to hold onto when all else fails—when the mind addles and memories begin to lie. 

SHE: All my memories are in my memoirs.  (Clutching a pile of papers.)  Every one of them in here—the details of a human life.  Nobody is going to take them.  Nobody!

HE: Nobody will.  (Reaching out for the papers.)  It’s okay.  Stay with me. Hand them to me.

SHE: No!  This is my life!  (Sits and organizes pages on the desk before slowly lifting both hands to where she can examine them.  After a pause.)  Oh my God.  I don’t remember their being . . . 

HE: The hands of an old woman dispel the slightest illusion of youth. Is that what you see?

SHE: How typically cruel.  

HE: For the moment.  The wrinkles, the liver spots, the veins—

SHE: With a man, it is his lips.  The corners of his lips are cut with deep creases that tremble with fear and uncertainty. 

HE: I’ve nothing left to fear and I’ve never been certain of anything.  Any tremors that you see are from years of unsolicited criticism—thank you very much. 

SHE: I believe you fear the truth. 

HE: What truth?  Your truth? 

SHE: The truth of yourself.  You have begun to believe the many lies you have told yourself all these many years. 

HE: Not so many. 

SHE: Years or lies? 

HE: Years. There were never lies. 

SHE: Plenty enough. 

HE: Never lies.

SHE: Lies you’ve told yourself!  You can no longer afford not to believe them. Not at your age, sir.  You are far beyond that point.  The pain of others has become your only pleasure.  You insulate yourself with the pain of others. 

HE: Whose? 

SHE: Mine, to begin with.  The more you inflict the less you feel of your own. 

HE: You’ve become rather sinister in your decline.  Is it deliberate? 

SHE: I am still able to think before I speak, if that is what you mean. 

HE: I’m not sure.  That may be what I mean.   Perhaps that is why you sound like one of your unfinished—though highly quotable—manuscripts. 

SHE: It is a sound earned honestly.  I may not have published but I have not perished.  Unlike you who has taken on the vernacular of his students. 

HE: Honestly? 

SHE: I am always honest with you. 

HE: Really? 

SHE: Absolutely. 

HE: (A sly pause.) But not about the boys. 

SHE: The boys? 

HE: You had your boys? 

SHE: And you your girls. 

HE: Sometimes there were boys. 

SHE: I always suspected that. 

HE: Did you? 

SHE: Often. But then, I had a few girls too. 

HE: You’re kidding? 

SHE: No.  It was a time when we were all experimenting. 

HE: I don’t remember a time when we were all experimenting. 

SHE: You were busy taking the road most traveled. 

HE: It was the path of least resistance. 

SHE: You were busy trying to be the next Carlos Castaneda as I recall. Whatever happened? 

HE: He was a fake.

SHE: A miscarriage of convenience no doubt. 

HE: No doubt.  So what about the time you were experimenting and I was busy being the genius. 

SHE: I’ve done much that you are not aware of. 

HE: Really?  Such as? 

SHE: Had I wanted you to know I would have told you long ago.  I have my own
interior life. 

HE: You are an evil woman, plainly and simply. 

SHE: Some of the memories are certainly evil—most having to do with you.  It’s all
around us, isn’t it? 

HE: What?  Evil or memories? 

SHE: Both, I imagine.  I am underwater with my memories, some good and some not so good, fly through the liquid ether like fishes.  It’s all here.  (Holds up a handful of pages.) Every bit of it.  Our ideas.  Our choices.  Our dreams.  Our lives.  We never really saw it—our lives—just momentary flashes. 

HE: Fish. 

SHE: Fishes.  Fish is plural when they’re all the same.  I’m talking about more species than you know. 

HE: So you say. 

SHE: Yet I remain, as always, unchanged, here—the eternal haven for the spiritually actualized.  Now, I am tired of this game. 

HE: Not yet. 

SHE: Yes, now.  You wear me out. 

HE: Where am I in your scenario? 

SHE: Right here next to me. 

HE: Precarious, at best. 

SHE: It was your choice.  It has always been your choice. 

HE: I didn’t choose wisely. 

SHE: (A thoughtful silence.)  Who does? 

HE: I don’t suppose it’s too late. 

SHE: For what? 

HE: To change, to make another choice, to move on, to be somebody else, somewhere else—another time, another place. 

SHE: It’s not too late.  You’re just too frightened by the idea of it. 
HE: Maybe . . . maybe not. 

SHE: Exactly what kind of loss do you think you’d be to me? 

HE: Someone to remind you of yourself.  Someone to reflect upon.  I’d be a great loss. 

SHE: Does it never occur to you that I may no longer need reminding—that I may no longer like what I see through you? 

HE: Who would you be without me?  You have no friends to speak of. 

SHE: Neither have you.  You’ve chased them all away. 

HE: There are my associates at work. 

SHE: They’re hardly friends. They’re anthropologists. 

HE: What does that mean? 

SHE: It means they are not your friends—just the people in the anthropology department of a backwater college giving you the appearance of friendship and deference out of fear for your age. 

HE: I see. Tick, tick, tick and the older we get.

SHE: I’m talking about the mindset. Anyway, I’m not afraid to find out.  There’s always the door. 

HE: There’s always that.  

SHE: Which side would you prefer to be on? 

HE: I’ve made my choice. 

SHE: Have you?  Or have you gone with the flow?  Is that what your students say, “Go with the flow?”  Is that the current vernacular? 

HE: It’s been around awhile.

SHE: But certainly applicable. You go with the flow and you imagine yourself divinely dispensed of responsibility.  (Raising her voice.)  I repeat, what side of
the door do you choose? 

HE: This side, with you.  It’s where I am, isn’t it? 

SHE: It is.  But, if I were not here? 
HE: But you are. You’re beyond provocative. You want to know where I’d be without you, is that it? 

SHE: I want to know who you would be without me. 

HE: (After a thoughtful pause.) I think I would be afraid.

SHE: (Softening.) Perhaps, I would find it—difficult.  Where will we go?

HE: After here?

SHE: Yes.

HE: I don’t know.  How could I? 

SHE: I want to go with my memory intact. 

HE: What does it matter?

SHE: I believe it does.  I don’t want to go in installments, chapter by chapter—all at once or not at all.

HE:  There’s no such thing as not at all.

SHE: You don’t know that.

HE: No.  (Pause.)  I’ve thought about ending it.

SHE: What?

HE: (After a pause.) Divorce. 

SHE: Have you?  

HE: Often. 

SHE: So have I. 

HE: Has it been all that bad—all these years? 

SHE: Does it matter anymore? 

HE: Forty years and we’re still together. 

SHE: That long?

HE: Does it seem that long?

SHE: (After a pause.)  I can’t remember. What were we talking about?

HE: Stay with me. We were reminiscing about our romance. 

SHE: Our romance? When did . . .

HE: In the beginning. We enjoyed each other’s company.

SHE: From time to time. 

HE: There were times I wanted to kill you. 

SHE: There were times you nearly did. (Touching her neck.) The scar hasn’t
faded very much, has it? 

HE: I try not to look at it. 

SHE: So do I. 

HE: I try not to think of it. 

SHE: So do I.  The things one remembers. 

HE: It was an accident. 

SHE: I know.  But, like most accidents, it could have been avoided. 

HE: I wasn’t aiming to hit you. 

SHE: I know.  You weren’t aiming at all.  You were reckless.  You couldn’t control your anger. 

HE: I was young. 

SHE: I know. 

HE: I’m so sorry.

SHE: I know.

HE: What was it about? 

SHE: I don’t remember. 

HE: You’d think one would remember something like that. (After a pause.) What do you think causes that? 

SHE: That? 

HE: Causes one to forget? 

SHE: I haven’t forgotten. 

HE: Then, what was the argument about? 

SHE: I don’t remember. 

HE: But you—

SHE: No, I didn’t.  I said—

HE: You hadn’t—

SHE: The incident.  The blood.  I could never forget that. 

HE: I thought—

SHE: I know what you thought. 

HE: Then you really don’t remember how it began? 

SHE: No. 

HE: Neither do I. 

SHE: So you said. 

HE: Just the incident . . . the blood . . . the waiting. 

SHE: The waiting, yes—always the waiting. 

HE: I might have been a murderer.

SHE: Easily.

HE: But you survived.

SHE: Barely.

HE: I’m so sorry. 

SHE: I know. 

HE: So you said. (After a pause.) There were times I . . . I too, nearly died. 

SHE: But, not by my hands. 

HE: No, not by your hands. 

SHE: You’re not going away, are you? 

HE: You mean from here?  Now? 

SHE: Yes. 

HE: No. (Removes Post-It notes from desk, writes on one and attaches it to her.) 
“Wife.”

SHE: I’m not going to get any work done today, am I? 

HE: It’s doubtful.  (Writes and sticks a note to his chest.)  “Husband.”

SHE: All right.  What do you want? 

HE: I want us to take a walk in the woods—before the sun sets.  Tomorrow is the first day of fall and you haven’t left this house all summer. 

SHE: I’m sure that is an exaggeration.  We spent three weeks in Europe.  Is your memory that short? 

HE: That was last summer. 

SHE: It was not. 

HE: Think about it. 

SHE: There’s nothing to think about.  (After a pause. Alarmed.)  Oh my God.  It was last summer.  How could I have forgotten?  How did that—

HE: (Comforting.) It’s okay.  Stay with me.

SHE: (Worried.  A bit frantic.)  How did I—

HE: (Physically soothing her.)  You just got lost in your memoirs. 

SHE: Yes.  In my memoirs—safe.

HE: Yes.  Safe.

SHE: Where I can read about my living.

HE: Yes.

SHE:  It’s all in there—my life.

HE: Preserved.

SHE: In my memoirs.

HE: Yes.

SHE: (After a pause.)  I’ve been thinking—

HE: About?

SHE: That walk in the woods . . .

HE: Yes?

SHE: Still?

HE: Yes.

SHE: Now?

HE: Yes.  But first—

SHE: First?

HE: Dance with me. 

SHE: There’s no music. 

HE: Does it matter? 

SHE: I may have forgotten how. 

HE: Just like you’ve forgotten how to swim? 

SHE: I told you, I never could swim. 

HE: Yes, and you don’t believe in magic. 

SHE: No, never could. 

HE: But you could dance. 

SHE: I could dance.  God, how I could dance! 

HE: How we could dance.  Hold me. 


(The MUSIC of a "Slow Boat to China." SHE slips into his arms. They dance.) 


SHE: You’ve done it.  You’ve got me dancing.  Are you happy now? 

HE: More than you know.  (They dance, slowly awkwardly at first. SHE isn’t sure about dancing. HE sings.)  "I'd like to get you on a slow boat to China / All to myself alone . . ."

SHE: That’s our song!

HE: I know. Happy anniversary. 

SHE: (After a pause.)  Is it really?

HE: Really.

SHE: Happy anniversary to you, too. 

BOTH: (Sing.) ". . . I'd like to get you on a slow boat to China / All to myself alone . . ."

SHE: How many years?

HE: You don’t remember? Forty. We’ve been together forty years. Remember?

SHE: That many?

HE: Stay with me. The world will end soon. 

SHE: Ours will. 

HE: Afraid? 

SHE: Would it help? 

HE: Don’t see how. 
SHE: Nor I. 

HE: It’s been a life. 

SHE: That it has. 

HE: Yes. 

SHE: You'll tell me when it's over? We shouldn't want to dance too long. 

HE: I will tell you when it's over. 

SHE: Thank you.  (Touching the Post-It note on his chest.)  Husband.

HE: (With a warm smile, touches hers.) 

Wife.  (After a worrisome pause.)  Are we going to be all right—the two of us?

SHE: If I remember. 

HE: You’ll remember.  I’ll be here to help you remember.

SHE: Promise?

HE: Promise—right up to the end. 


The MUSIC, "Slow Boat to China" swells whileLIGHTING dims to BLACK OUT.