A Qne-Act Play
by Exl Schloss
Scene:A large university office -
replete with furniture and office
equipment including a wide
wooden desk tilted upstage ri^t
of center, a swivel i chair behind
it, four chairs lined up against the
wall upstage center, a double
door to the left, and a water
cooler jutting out from the side of
^e door. Downstage left, is what
at first appears to be a movable
blackboard, although a beige
curtain is covering it from view
when the play begins. Directly in
back of the board is a computer.
To the right of the desk is a huge
trash can filled with pieces of
paper and I.B.M. cards spewing
brth uliginous waste, looking as
though left over coffee has been
profusely dumped into the
At rise: A student enters through
the large double door and sits
down on a chair to wait his turn to
speak with his advisor. He is
rather lanky with long arms and
a thin bodily frame, but he has an
attractive face with prominent
features to compensate for his
middling physique. His eyes are
fairly deep set, giving his face a
discerning and sensitive ex
pression. He is well dressed,
taking a definite pride in his
appearance. It is obvious from
the very beginning that he is new
at this game, although at all costs
he tries to remain aloof by
maintaining a cool demeanor,
which is slowly giving way to an
ebullition of feeling. The seat at
the desk is facing away from the
audience, so that all that can be
seen is cigarette smoke filtering
above the desk and floating
across the room in rapid con
figurations. The student is totally
out of breath. There are beads of
sweat pursing the sides of his
brow as he raises his arm to draw
the moisture away from his eyes.
He drops down into the chair with
a feeling of great relief as if a
burden has been slowly lifted off
the weight of his back. He throws
his papers onto another chair
along with a copy of the current
college catalogue, and bends
down and rubs his left ankle. He
shifts his body to adjust his shoe
and notices Uie water cooler in
the comer of the room. He walks
toward the machine, only to
discover that there is no water in
the cooler after he takes a cup
from the dispenser. He pushes
the cup back into place with an
annoyed expression. This con
scious realization of thirst instills
in him a new sense of urgency
and impatience to get rid of
unfinished business. He crosses
over to the desk and coughs
unintentionally. He coughs again,
but this time with theatricalized
Keith: Hello there! Excuse me.
Sir...Sir, I need you to initial my
course cards before I complete
registration. It won’t take very
long but I’d like your advice on a
couple of matters, I really would.
If you’re too busy now I could
always come back later today.
I’m very flexible.
(Keith waits patiently for a reply.
When he doesn’t receive one, he
continues with less certainty;)
My name’s Keith Sorenson. I
should be on your list somewhere.
I know there’s a space for me in
your files. At least, I hope there
is. There should be, unless there’s
some mistake. I believe you’re
my faculty advisor for this
coming semester. Maybe not...
(He accidentally turns the back
of the chair around by lightly
putting one of his hands on its’
arm. As the chair spins about,
Keith jumps back in a startled
expression of disbelief; instead of
his advisor sitting there, a large
tape recorder is in its place with a
cigarette inside the hole of one of
the jacks and a large sign ap
pearing on the back of the chair
wiUi letters that spell: “Out to
Hello, I’m Keith Sorenson!
(He switches the machine on with
his index finger as though he
were aggressively attacking an
enemy in battle with a downward
RECORDING: (With the in
tonation of an insipid telephone
operator) Hiis is a recording
presented by the board of higher
education, in conjunction with
Harold Eck, State Superin
tendent of iHiblic Instruction.
(There is a shift in inflection as
her voice suddenly becomes
extremely effusive and con
descending in tone.) On behalf of
the Liberal Arts faculty, welcome
to the university! Along with
twenty-five thousand other
students, you will have the
privilege of working closely with
all of us. It is our inimitable
resolution to make this world a
better place to live in, for those of
you who already live there. On
your faculty advisor’s desk in the
upper left-hand comer, you will
notice a multiple choice
questionnaire which must be
completed by every student who
wishes to register for un
dergraduate cr^t. If you have
not received your matriculation
number as of yet, take your social
security number and divide it by
the year in which you were bom,
and Qien carefully transfer this
niunber to your answer sheet.
Round off the number you
receive to the nearest 100th and
black in the appropriate grid
making sure that every number
is included, remembering that 0
is a number too! When you finish
this, you may begin work! But be
sure to write with a L. and C.
Hardtmuth test scoring pencU
(although it should be clear to the
student by this time, that this is
not a test). Your pencil should be
numbered 655 making certain it
is not a 657 pencil instead, which
is only applicable to candidates
going for their master and juris
doctor degrees. These may be
purchased on the fifth floor of the
new modern language building,
which is across campus to your
left. If at any time you have a
question, raise your hand and
someone will call on you.
(Speeding onward.) If there are
no questions, we may be^
automatic recording in
KEITH: Wait! I was wondering
RECORDING: (Jumping right
in) Last name? I must caution
you that for every incomplete
answer, there’s an incomplete
person on record in our files. Last
RECORDING: First name?
RECORDING: Middle initial?
RECORDING: If you can’t
remember your middle name,
see our admissions supervisor at
your earliest convenience.
KEITH: Supposing you don’t
have a middle name?
RECORDING: (Flinging in
vective) Your address?
KEITH: 1299 Lexington Avenue.
KEITH: New York.
KEITH: New York.
KEITH: New York. Now you’re
getting the idea!
RECORDING; Name of parent
KEITH: Bentley K. Sorenson.
RECORDING: Your mother’s
RECORDING; Religion? This is
optional information on your
p^, however, if you have no
reli^ous preference put none,
and we wUl be glad to make a
decision for you. The rest of this
questionnaire will not be self-
explanatory, so please consult
your student advisor for further
assistance. This is Mary J.
Hancock wishing you the very
best for a most successful
academic year at the university.
(After a pause of perhaps ten
seconds, Keith walks back to
where he was sitting, taking a
questionnaire form from his
advisor’s desk along with him.
The minute after he sits down,
the tape recorder starts up again,
repeating the same speech we
have just now finished hearing.)
On behalf of the Liberal Arts
faculty, welcome to the
university! Along with twenty-
five thousand other students, you
will have the privilege of working
closcly with all of us. It is-
(Keith’s advisor enters the room
and completes the rest of the
sentence in a derisive and
colorless chant with the staid
auQiority of a Gregorian monk in
prayer, except that he walks to
the desk in a brisk military
stride, rather like an army of
ficer, or better yet an automaton
operated by remote control. He is
a man in his late thirties; a man
who has learned how to settle for
second best by slowly giving way
to the system. There are sporadic
signs of life in him, of a human
being who has been denuded of
human response in his everyday
transactions with humanity. He
is almost completely bald with a
few strands of hair cropping up
here and there. It should be noted
that by the end of the play, he is
completely bald. His scalp is very
dry with abundant fl^es of
dandruff snowing down from his
remaining hairline. He is dressed
in a faded ash-colored suit which
is a bit too wide.)
MR. MULLER: -Our inimitable
resolution to make this world a
better place to live in, for those of
you who already live there. (He
turns off the machine.) Now are
there any questions?
KEITH; Are you my faculty
MR. MULLER; Frankly, your
guess is as good as mine. Perhaps
KEITH: Here’s my registration
card. Are you Mr. Muller?
MR. MULLER: Already I’ve
gained your confidence. That’s
very rewarding for a teacher, you
KEITH: My name’s Keith
Sorenson. I’m very happy to
(He puts out his hand in a friendly
gesture. Muller hands him back
his course cards methodically,
without looking up from his
MR. MULLER: Write your name
and date on the dotted line.
KEITH; Sorry, I didn’t know I
was supposed to.
MR. MULLER: Always write
your name for identification
purposes. You wouldn’t want to
lose well earned credit. (He looks
Keith over.) I can see you’re a
KEITH: (A bit sheepishly) Yes,
it’s my first year out here. I’m
from back east.
MR. MULLER; You didn’t have
to teU me.
KEITH: Why? How did you
MR. MULLER; WeU it’s not very
hard to spot an unblemished
^ape in a package of raisins, is
it? (He laughs in a vituperative
manner.) Let me see your
schedule cards. What’s your
major going to be?
KEITH: English literature.
MR. MULLER You’re from New
York, aren’t you?
KEITH; Right again. (Somewhat
proudly) I’ve lived there all of my
MR. MULLER: Oh! (Suddenly
he becomes exhuberant and
warm, although underneath it all,
he is merely being facetious to
the point of ridicule.) Then you
must know my cousin, Arnold
Muller, he used to run a Serbo-
Croatian bakery on Second
Avenue and Seventy-eighth
KEITH; (Incredulously) No, I
don’t think so.
MR. MULLER: -Or how about
Esther Holgrave? She was a
great fumigator in her day. She
was even quite salubrious when I
knew her! If you know what I
mean. I wonder what’s become of
dear old Essie. (Reflectively) Of
course people change.
KEITH: Are you originally from
MR. MULLER: Yes, I grew up in
the city and did my un
dergraduate work at Columbia,
but that was years ago. What
high school did you go to?
KEITH: Marshall Mcluhan.
It’s a new progressive art school.
Have you heard of it?
MR. MULLER: It’s kind of a
New World YMCA, isn’t it?
Where you manifest your destiny-
by coming as you are. It has a
very good reputation. In fact, it’s
quite well-known in the east-but
what I want to know is, what are
you doing way out here in ‘God’s
KEITH; (Almost to himself while
Mr. Muller is typing) I wanted to
get away from home. I was too
close to evei^thing, I guess. I had
very few friends in high school. I
was pretty much of a loner,
although, I tried very hard to
make friends-perhaps I tried too
hard. I couldn’t coi^orm to their
way of life. I refused to be
dragged down to their level in
order to be accepted by a group
who never really cared about me
in the first place. They freaked-
out every night in some aban
doned basement in the East
Village. It all seemed so easy for
them. They used to all hang out
after classes were over for the
day at Mae’s Luncheonette. Some
stood around the store and some
went in, and some just walked on.
As I passed, I could smell the
greasy meats jumping in time to
a tuneless jukebox. It was all so
ugly. I needed to get away from
all that, unless they saw
something I didn’t see. But why
couldn’t they let me know. I guess
I have to find out for myself.
MR. MULLER: (Suddenly
changing his tune by becoming
indifferent again:) I don’t know
what you expect to find out here.
KEITH: (A bit overwhehned) I
must admit I didn’t realize there
were so many students. It must
be very easy to lose your way.
But I’m really looking forward to
all my courses. I signed up for
creative writing, French, art
history and humanities. In
humanities, I can do everything I
did in high school, except see
Stacy Fine put on her underpants
during class discussion - I’ll do a
little painting, music ap
preciation, wood shop, home
MR. MULLER: Have you read
your course descriptions very
carefully? (Keith remains silent
as he looks up at Mr. Muller.)
You haven’t read them at all,
have you? It stands to reason.
Everyone enters this university
under the impression that they
can sign up for finger painting as
long as they receive their credit
by the time they graduate.
PAGE 3 ■ N.C. ESSAY
Nothing could be further from the
KEITH; But that’s aU I wanted.
MR. MULLER; That’s all that
everyone wants, but you can’t
have what you want around here.
I know from previous experience.
You eat what’s placed in front of
you. You’ll have to settle for
KEITH; I wasn’t trying to pull
any punches, Mr. Muller.
(Trenchantly) I was good at
MR. MULLER; What were you, a
virtuoso on the kazoo? I bet you
were at that. Pretty good with
your hands, huh? Is everyone
supposed to applaud when you
flush the toilet? There’s one toilet
flusher in every school. How are
we supposed to judge all of you in
succession? You’re only a
number around here and you’d
better get used to that amoral
KEITH; Then if I can’t take
MR. MULLER; (Interrupting
him) I never said you couldn’t
take humanity, just as long as
you don’t plan to take them on my
time. The world’s too crowded as
KEITH; What does the course
MR. MULLER: What does life
consist of? That’s a good question
and I don’t know the answer
myself. We’ll have to consult our
college Bible. (He takes from his
desk the current college
catalogue; as he thumbs through
it:) Humanities, under H....Of
course you’ll have to get special
permission from the Dean of
Liberal Arts, as humanities isn’t
normally open to freshmen-or to
anybody else for that matter. But
maybe you can talk him into it.
Do what you can, feel him out, -
wheedle your way into his groin.
(He finally finds ^e page he was
looking for.) Introduction to
Humanities: The cultural life of
the Western World as it
developed in literature, art and
philosophy from the Greeks to the
present. Amen! Unfortunately,
freshmen composition is a
prerequisite, so I’m afraid
there’s very little you can do but
find another course in its place.
KEITH: That’s what I thought I
wanted, but it wasn’t what I
wanted after all. Aren’t there any
independent study programs,
where you can just sit down
under a tree and read a good book
MR. MULLER: Even if you don’t
receive any credit?
KEITH; Even if you don’t
receive any credit.
MR. MULLER: It’s caUed sitting
down under a tree and reading a
good book for fun.
KEITH; Is it pass-fail?
MR. MULLER: You don’t even
have to show up for class, if you
don’t want to! (Impatiently)
Listen, you’re wasting my time. 1
can’t decide for you. You decide
on what courses you’re planning
to take - and then you bring me
the course cards, and I’ll initial
them along with signing your
schedule. If you don’t have any
more questions, I think I’ll feed
all this data to my half-brother.
(He saunters over with a pile of
papers he is carrying from his
desk to the computer.)
KEITH: Thanks very much for
your time. I should be back in a
little while. (Keith starts to leave
after he collects all of his things
together. Under his breath:)
That’s all I wanted all the time,
humanities. I even signed up for
it...That’s all 1 really wanted. (He
suddenly notices something in his
registration packet.) Wait a
minute Mr. Muller, I knew I
forgot to ask you for something. I
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