Long Way Down
by Isabel Bobrik
“Long Way Down” is a language-based play reminiscent of the abstract plays of Marie Irene Fornes. This ten-minute play is inspired by the story of Orpheus and Eurydice as well as the grief of wives whose husbands were lost to the Civil War. Its narrative traces the grief of war-torn widow Genevieve as she gambles blindfolded against a solemn Dealer for the life of her husband and former veteran William. Amidst this poker game, the blindfolded Genevieve, guided by William’s ghost, must further face an onslaught of distraction, treachery, snarkiness, and smoke rings blown into her face by the Conductor, who wants nothing more than to load William onto her train and ship him into the afterlife. The Dealer’s candlelit quiet pressuring of the game to move forward is its own portent of the despair to ensue. Genevieve must save her husband by delving into a world where the dealer always wins, the odds are stacked blind, and one only has until the train arrives to save their loved one’s life. Can Genevieve save her husband from disappearing and herself from grief before the candles are blown out? Or will she lose her husband, forcing her to face her despair alone?
Abstraction, Drama, Civil War, Love, Grief, Poker
GENEVIEVE: (F, late-20s) the warmhearted widow
WILLIAM: (M, early-30s) the dead husband
DEALER: (M, mid-70s) a solemn quiet man wearing small golden spectacles
CONDUCTOR: (F, mid-50s) Dealer’s wife, a pushy and obnoxious smoker
1st Movement: 1861, Empty Stage
2nd Movement: ????, Poker Table at the Edge of the World; an empty stage with a poker table
3rd Movement: 1866, Genevieve’s Kitchen; cozy with a table for two, one chair at the window
(LIGHTS UP on GENEVIEVE and WILLIAM, posed for a dance. WILLIAM wears a Civil War Union officer uniform, while GENEVIEVE wears a lovely, loosely-fit dress. A song such as “Dream of Flying” by Brian Crain fades in, and the two share a waltz. They smile gently to one another until…)
(The song nears its end. WILLIAM sways to a stop and holds her still, then presses a kiss onto her lips. She wraps her arms over his back. They step away from one another, holding hands.)
(After a moment, he pulls her close one last time and spins her away from him.)
(They don’t really speak. Their voices play over the speakers.)
WILLIAM I love you. Goodbye.
(She wrings her hands together as he waves and walks offstage.)
(GENEVIEVE steps forward to go after him but freezes, breath catching. She places a hand over her lips as stagehands bring out the next set, sit her down, and blindfold her.)
(At the poker table at the edge of the world. The DEALER sits at one side, a precarious candle lit beside him. His wife, the CONDUCTOR in blue overalls, leans over his shoulder with a cigarette. GENEVIEVE sits blindfolded. WILLIAM sits beside her as GENEVIEVE plays against the DEALER.)
(A train whistle howls in the distance.)
WILLIAM Jenny… Jenny, darling, it’s your move.
DEALER I don’t have all evening.
GENEVIEVE Oh. Oh! I’m sorry… it’s rather difficult with…
WILLIAM I know. I know. Just play.
(She fumbles for her chips and lays down a few cards.)
WILLIAM Excellent! Wonderful!
(WILLIAM folds a hand over hers and smiles.)
WILLIAM Yes. Keep going.
(The DEALER watches them idly above his spectacles.)
DEALER (Flatly) At this rate, you may win.
(WILLIAM glares at him.)
CONDUCTOR (to DEALER) You’re playing to lose?
(The DEALER does not respond.)
CONDUCTOR No women at the table, huh. Typical.
GENEVIEVE Am I not—?
DEALER Best not to engage her. She’s tempting.
CONDUCTOR (Wry laugh) Says you.
DEALER And repulsive.
(The CONDUCTOR rolls her eyes.)
WILLIAM She’s distracting you. Focus, Jenny… please…
(She fiddles with her cards and bets a few chips. The DEALER’s buy-ins grow higher and higher, stacks of chips pushed forward.)
(The sound of a chugging train fades in, gradually growing in volume.)
(WILLIAM stands and paces.)
GENEVIEVE Your rugby mates miss you.
WILLIAM I know.
GENEVIEVE Your mother misses you.
WILLIAM She tells me every night. I know.
GENEVIEVE I miss you.
WILLIAM (Anger) Genevieve, I know!
(Silence. GENEVIEVE folds. The DEALER collects some of her chips.)
WILLIAM No, no, no—
GENEVIEVE ‘I know,’ he says! And then what!?
WILLIAM Jenny, I—I’m sorry. Gen, please.
GENEVIEVE Then what?!
WILLIAM It goes without saying. You know I miss Ron and Jacob and Michael. You know I miss Mom. (Beat) You know I miss you. More than anyone.
GENEVIEVE All it takes is the empty seat by the window.
(Silence. The DEALER lays out cards and bets. GENEVIEVE resumes playing, to WILLIAM’s relief.)
WILLIAM I know.
GENEVIEVE Stop it. Stop saying that.
WILLIAM What do you want me to say?
GENEVIEVE I don’t know.
WILLIAM (Mocking) I don’t know.
(GENEVIEVE breaks with a laugh.)
WILLIAM How you light up when you laugh.
(The DEALER and CONDUCTOR exchange glances.)
(The CONDUCTOR gets up and blows a puff of smoke in WILLIAM’s face.)
WILLIAM I—Please don’t.
CONDUCTOR What, think you’ll die?
GENEVIEVE Is she bothering you? What’s she doing?
WILLIAM Don’t worry. Keep playing.
CONDUCTOR No, you should get up and take a good hard look at this fool. Join the seeing world, honey!
(The CONDUCTOR reaches for the blindfold. WILLIAM slaps her hand.)
CONDUCTOR What? I’m allowed to talk at my own poker table!
WILLIAM Leave her alone.
DEALER You don’t really want that.
(WILLIAM falls into his seat.)
(The sound of the train resumes. Onto the next stop.)
WILLIAM I—I. Yes. And no, but…
CONDUCTOR Selfish pig.
GENEVIEVE Will, what’s wrong?
WILLIAM Nothing, nothing. Keep playing. I can handle them.
CONDUCTOR I’ll say.
DEALER Leave them be.
CONDUCTOR What, you want a turn?
(His turn. The DEALER lights another candle and fixes his spectacles.)
WILLIAM What are you doing?
DEALER I’m old and gray. I have to see.
WILLIAM And she can’t?
DEALER You want her to?
GENEVIEVE I hate it when you fight.
(The CONDUCTOR finishes her cigarette. She tosses it and lights another on the candle.)
CONDUCTOR Well, what does she want? (To GENEVIEVE, puffing) What’s the little lady want?
WILLIAM She’d like to win. Fairly.
(The DEALER and CONDUCTOR laugh.)
WILLIAM What’s so funny?
CONDUCTOR You, apparently. But I’ve never found mimicking someone especially funny. (Mocking him) Oh…. wuh…. I don’t know….
GENEVIEVE Now, listen here!
WILLIAM It’s fine. Gen, it’s fine.
GENEVIEVE No, it isn’t!
WILLIAM Genevieve, please, I just need you to–
(The DEALER flips cards. He sits back.)
DEALER Oh… my God.
CONDUCTOR What is it?
(The CONDUCTOR looks down at the cards and perks up.)
CONDUCTOR Well, I’ll be damned.
(WILLIAM furrows his brows and looks down between the cards.)
CONDUCTOR If it isn’t the first time in a million years…
GENEVIEVE Did I win?
DEALER You won.
GENEVIEVE I won! Will, I won!
WILLIAM No, Gen, hang o—
CONDUCTOR Come see your prize, honey! You won!
GENEVIEVE I can’t believe I… (motioning to the blindfold) and even with this…! It’s really going to be alright, isn’t it?
CONDUCTOR We’re so proud of you both.
WILLIAM Don’t! Please! He’s lyi–!
(As she unties the blindfold, the DEALER blows out the original candle.)
(The sound of a train slowing to a halt.)
(WILLIAM’s expression falls. He slowly walks offstage.)
(Dim light from her candle illuminates GENEVIEVE who holds the blindfold in her hands and stares steadily at the DEALER.)
DEALER I’m sorry.
GENEVIEVE I know. I know.
(GENEVIEVE breaks into tears.)
GENEVIEVE I know.
(The CONDUCTOR strokes her hair. The DEALER rises from his seat and puts a hand on her shoulder.
(The pair lets go and leaves the stage as GENEVIEVE stands. The next set is brought out.)
(WILLIAM sits in a chair by the window, staring outside. Waiting.)
(GENEVIEVE sits by herself at a small table with a lone chair, tears streaming down her face. She is illuminated by a candle.)
(A train whistle howls in the distance. WILLIAM walks offstage.)
(A song such as “I’m Making Believe” by Ella Fitzgerald fades in through a gramophone. GENEVIEVE takes a sharp, shaky breath and stands.)
(She pushes the chair back into the table and resumes her seat. BLACKOUT.)
Dedicated to Eddie Bobrik. Love you, Papa.