Gary Winter

THE WHITE ROOM

 

CHARACTERS

WOMAN:          40’s-50’s.

MAN:               60’s.    

YOUNG WOMAN:     30’s.       

 

Characters can be of any ethnicity, but should all be of the
same ethnicity.

SETTING

A white room. A white counter. A white curtain that leads to files (unseen).

Stacks of white index cards are on the counter.

 

MAN wears a white smock, an off-white dress shirt open at the collar. He wears white gloves.

WOMAN and YOUNG WOMAN wear clothing suitable for summer  travel.

 

          Support from MacDowell Colony.

          The White Room was a finalist for ATL’s
          2009 Heideman Award.

 

The White Room

 

          A white room. MAN sorts white index cards
          on a white counter. He wears white gloves and
          a white smock. WOMAN sits patiently on a
          white chair. She writes names on a white pad.

MAN
(Inspecting a card)
Charcoal.

WOMAN
Yes? Unusual?

MAN
No. Supplies were scarce in those days.

                         Silence. He sorts cards.

WOMAN
Do the crowds bother you?

MAN
Most people pass by this building.

WOMAN
Like me; they are unaware.

MAN
Yes.

WOMAN
A shame. But I suppose it allows you to get on with your work.

MAN
Yes.

                         YOUNG WOMAN walks in.

YOUNG WOMAN
Is this the archives?

MAN
Yes.

YOUNG WOMAN
I have come a long way. With my husband. I could have stayed at the hotel bar and watched the summer Olympics with him but that would just be avoiding things. Wrestling is on today. I believe the Romanians will win.

                    Pause. She looks around.

YOUNG WOMAN (cont’d)
There where no signs. How do they expect anyone to find this place?

WOMAN
I don’t think it’s his fault. He only works here.

YOUNG WOMAN
Lucky an old man in the town told me where to find it.

WOMAN
Maybe this person is the sign.

MAN
Do you have a list?

YOUNG WOMAN
Yes, but I left it at the hotel. With my husband. My head feels like it’s screwed on backwards when I’m in a foreign country. I would slit my throat if I had to work in a place like this.

WOMAN
Why don’t you call your husband for the names?

YOUNG WOMAN
He’d think I was a fool for forgetting the list.

MAN
You can write the names down here.

WOMAN
Yes.

YOUNG WOMAN
I have trouble remembering the names. And the spelling..

MAN
The spelling should be perfect. And neat.

WOMAN
That’s why I’m taking so long.
My first list was sloppy and he returned it to me.

MAN
You can mail the list to me and I can mail a response.
Please include a return envelope with your address on it.

YOUNG WOMAN
My list is at the hotel bar watching the Olympics.

                         Young Woman exits.

WOMAN
How long have you worked here?

MAN
My father held this position before me. This very same building. This very same room. I was just a boy then.

WOMAN
I see.

MAN
You understand I was just a small boy.

WOMAN
Yes, I understand.

MAN
Very young.

WOMAN
I can see that.

MAN
My father taught me everything when I became of age. The extensive filing system, the correct air temperature, the correct paper to use, everything.

WOMAN
It is such important work.

MAN
My father was a professional.

WOMAN
I’m sure he was.

MAN
It was tiring work. He came home tired.

WOMAN
I know how that can be.

MAN
Yes, we all do. But he came home very tired. And often very late. And often very sad. I didn’t understand why, because I was so young.

WOMAN
Did you ask your father what the cards were for?

MAN
My father was not the type of person one could hold a discussion with.

                         Pause.

WOMAN
My husband would not join me. As much as I tried to convince him to come with me he said it would do no good. Better to leave things in the dark, he says. I realized at that moment that this is how it has always been with us. And I thought how funny it is when you know someone for so long a time and then there is something you don’t know about them. Not a little thing of course, although it seems little at first, but it then becomes something that has the ability to put you both on a new direction.  It is as if we were walking together for many years, come to a turn in the road, and one goes left and one sits down. Just like that.

MAN
Often times a person will come here at a delicate moment in their life. Often the are..on the edge of something.

WOMAN
Yes. Brink. Edge. Yes, it’s all the same.

MAN
The brink of something.

WOMAN
Like a discovery.

MAN
Yes.

WOMAN
A discovery.

MAN
Yes. It is strange but it happens often. I thought about conducting some sort of study. But then again I’m not a psychiatrist and it would interfere with my work. But it happens, and then they go back to their lives.

WOMAN
Like birds, things fly away.

                         Woman takes out a bottle of pills
                         from her bag. She is uneasy.

WOMAN
May I have some water?

                         Man exits.
                         He returns with a glass of water.

WOMAN (cont’d)
Thank you.

                         She swallows the pills. The Woman closes her eyes. The Man looks at her then continues his work.         

WOMAN (cont’d)
I’m not one of those people who think it is okay..their way of doing things..imposing things on others. Not like that at all. It’s just..you could say..not meaning this in any way..pointing a finger at anyone..not anger either. But you could say I am somewhat entitled.

                         Pause. The Man looks at her. He exits, returns with a glass of water, drinks, then continues his work.

WOMAN (cont’d)
I’m not better than anyone else, is what I’m saying. But again, it’s not like many people travel this far. So one does feel the urgency to return home with something.

MAN
And what would your husband say?

WOMAN
What?

MAN
If you returned home with nothing?

WOMAN
We have separated.
         
                         The Young Woman enters, upset.

YOUNG WOMAN
Why do I need to know about the whores he visited when he was sixteen years old? Just now on the phone my husband tells me this. Hello, honey, there is something I never told you. I’m standing in the middle of this..place..and this is what he thinks of telling me. Is this supposed to bring us closer?

                         To The Woman.

YOUNG WOMAN (cont’d)
How long have you been married?

WOMAN
Seventeen years.

YOUNG WOMAN
I believe we are very delicate creatures but we need to learn to live with painful things. I realize this is considered unhealthy these days.

                         Pause.

YOUNG WOMAN (cont’d)
I hope we can patch things up.

WOMAN
You will.

YOUNG WOMAN
Do you have names for him?

WOMAN
Yes.

YOUNG WOMAN
How many?

                         Counts the names on her list.

WOMAN
Seventeen. And you?

YOUNG WOMAN
Three.
Are you frightened?

WOMAN
I don’t know.

YOUNG WOMAN
Maybe that’s not the right word. Are you nervous?

WOMAN
A little. But it’s just life. So not so much really.

YOUNG WOMAN
Oh.

WOMAN
Yes. Since being here I realize something.

YOUNG WOMAN
Oh?

WOMAN
How much history do we really want to know.

                         Pause.

YOUNG WOMAN
I don’t think I understand.

WOMAN
I can’t explain it any more than that. This place, where we are, this is just part of how things have been. If you stay in the town for a while I think you will figure it out. But you must look around carefully: look at the buildings, the town square, the homes, the place of worship, the people. Listen to the people speaking. I think you will begin to understand. But I do think you have to be ready to accept a few difficult ideas about the town, and I don’t think many people who come here are prepared to do that. So they leave with little understanding. And as far as I’m concerned, they are worse off for it. You have come all this way and these thoughts have not crossed your mind?

YOUNG WOMAN
I don’t think this way.

                              Pause.

YOUNG WOMAN (cont’d)
Well, I can see it will be a long wait. Seventeen names will probably take up the rest of the afternoon, and he hasn’t even begun to look for your names yet. You’ll save my place in line, won’t you? In case I decide to return.

                         The Young Woman exits.

                         The Man exits. The Woman waits for an excruciating long time.
                   
                         Finally, The Man returns with two white index cards. He gives the cards to The Woman. She reads them.

MAN
I will tell you something I don’t tell others. You have been patient and considerate of my duties, unlike other people who grumble and pace while I try to work. I am grateful for that. I am not above going out of the normal lines once in a while-when I think it is appropriate. Naturally if I were to stop and chat with everyone God knows when the job would get finished.

                         Pause.

MAN (cont’d)
There are fifteen missing cards.
There are a number of possibilities for this:

Number One: Those people-the missing ones-were rerouted elsewhere.

Number Two: Those people-the missing ones-did not make it
to this place because of illness and other factors.

Number Three: Those people-the missing ones-escaped
en route to this place.

Number Four: Those people-the missing ones-were placed aside as soon as they arrived in this place. And therefore there was no opportunity to produce a white card.

Number Five: Those people-the missing ones-slipped through the cracks-I think this is the correct expression. This was a rare occurrence, but in times of confusion mistakes have been made.

I assure you however that no cards have ever been lost or stolen. Since my father began this project and since I have continued it, I can say this with certainty.

                         The Woman sits down. She is visibly shaken. The Man exits and returns with a glass of water. He gives her the water and she drinks.
                        

WOMAN
Thank you for all your help. Even these two cards are
very important to me.

MAN
I have made copies of the cards so you may take them home.

                         The Man holds up copies of the cards.

MAN (cont’d)
Perhaps this is something you wish to show your family or people you work with. But so we do not confuse the original cards with the copies of the cards, please do as I instruct.

Please place the original cards on this end of the counter.
I will place the copies on the opposite end of the counter. When I say so, do this. Ready? Do it now.

                         The Woman places the original cards on one end of the counter and The Man places the copies on another end of the counter.

MAN (cont’d)
Thank you for your cooperation. You may take your copies now.

                         The Man scoops up the original cards and exits to the back with them. The woman takes the copies. Then The Man returns.

WOMAN
Well. Thank you again for your help. These two cards are very dear to me. At least I will know these family spent there last days here, and that is a comfort, somehow.

WOMAN (cont’d)
I sound so simple; perhaps there is more to it than that, something bigger, that I don’t know how to say yet. But right now I have these cards and this feels like, um, a victory of some kind.

May I ask you a question before I leave?

MAN
Yes, I suppose.

WOMAN
You lived in the town?

MAN
Then?

WOMAN
Yes-then.

MAN
Yes.

WOMAN
Did you know?

MAN
No. I told you already. I was a boy. I knew nothing.
It was hidden from me. Father came home each night, had
his beer and sat quietly. Our family did not discuss the weather, let alone any other matters. What could a boy know?

What could a boy possibly know?

WOMAN
I see.

MAN
What? What is it? But what?

WOMAN
Did you understand?

                         The Man and The Woman freeze.

Lights fade to black.

 

End of Play.

 

 

 

- - - - - -

Gary Winter is a member of OBIE Award-winning 13P. His plays have been produced at The Flea, PS 122, defunktheatre, Cherry Lane Alternative, Little Theater, Brick, HERE and The Chocolate Factory. From 1998-2008 Gary was Literary Manager of the Flea Theater, where he currently helps organize Pataphysics, workshops for playwrights.

 

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