A SWEET HOUR'S SPORT
This is a one act play, set at an elite women's college on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Please comment nicely!
[THE CURTAIN RISES on a seedy college rec room late at night. Jazzy music wails a sad lament. A short, dumpy-looking old woman hunches over the pool table, lines up a shot, and sinks the ball with effortless ease.]
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: There, you see that? The perfect shot! No one would ever guess I'm really from Queens. I shoot pool like an aristocrat! [Lines up another shot, sinks it.] But what do I get for it? Jane Austen! That's what I get! [Mimicking the other faculty members.] 'Oh, you're pretty good, Mary. But Jane Austen was better. Jane was a lady!' Well Jane Austen is dead. And buried in the ground. She's been dead for over two hundred years! And if Jane was here right now I could beat her. I'd kill to prove I'm a lady!
[While the mad professor is still mumbling away, an eerie light glows at stage rear. A tall, awkward figure in black approaches the pool table.]
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: Who the hell are you? This is Barnyard, a private women's college. No men on campus after dark!
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: My name is Abraham.
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: [Sniffs disdainfully] Abraham Lincoln? Sorry. My specialty is literary fiction, not American history. And besides, you're dead! Just like Jane Austen! Why couldn't she come for a visit?
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: Miss Jane Austen wasn't chosen for this particular mission. They wanted me, humble Abraham. I've got a date for midnight with a certain young lady in Morningstar Park. If I miss it I'll be just like the fellow who turned out for church wearing nothing but his underwear!
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: The earthy humor of the American frontier is lost on me, I'm afraid. I'm a cultivated Manhattan scholar. Do you mean to tell me that you and Jane Austen ended up together in heaven?
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: Well, we're not angels. We can't save anyone. But when the innocent die, we come to take them home.
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: [Shuddering] Mr. Lincoln, keep away from me. You're the angel of death! [To herself] He looks like a rube, too.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: [Gently] Would it really be so terrible to go, ma'am? You've accomplished great things. Just like me, you were born poor but worked hard to achieve education and success. We're both Americans.
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: [Covering her ears] No, no, no, I'm not an American! I'm a Barnyard College professor of literature. Barnyard is an exclusive private college for privileged young ladies. No Irish need apply!
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: [Surprised] Why you were a student here once, weren't you ma'am? But please don't worry. My appointment is not with you. I just thought I'd stop in and shoot some pool to pass the time.
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: [Surprised but with a hint of mockery] You shoot pool, Mr. Lincoln? Surely Honest Abe would never have mastered a big-city game played by shady immigrants and Catholics!
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: [Casually, but with a lawyer's caution] I don't believe I ever said I mastered it, ma'am. I said I felt like playing a game or two. Would you care to join me?
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: I've seen that episode! You challenge me to shoot pool, and even though you look like a rube it turns out you're a real hustler. And then I lose and I have to die!
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: [Picks up a pool cue] Why yes, you have to die, ma'am. Everyone does. Death is a very democratic institution. Only tonight is not the time, and this college rec room is not the place. So if you stay on campus until after midnight I reckon you'll be safe enough. [Casually makes a shot, but scratches like a beginner.] Tarnation!
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: [Picks up a pool cue, in a breathy Scarlett O'Hara voice] Why, whoever taught you to play pool, Mr. Lincoln? I've known nuns who could have made that shot! [Casually sinks a shot.] Yes, Blessed Mother!
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: You're a mighty fine pool player, ma'am. You shoot just like Jane Austen.
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: Jane Austen plays pool? With you?
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: [Carefully lines up another shot.] Everyone plays pool in heaven, ma'am. Miss Jane used to say, "Mr. Lincoln, you are not only a lousy pool player, you are the ugliest man I have ever seen!" And I'd always say, "why, ma'am, I can't help that." And then she'd say, "no, but you didn't have to come to heaven, did you? You could have gone to the other place!" [This time he makes the shot] Miss Jane taught me the game. It took me a hundred years to beat her. That's because she's a lady. You can always tell a lady by the way she shoots pool!
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: [Thoughtfully] So if I beat you, I can say I've beaten Jane Austen!
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: I reckon so.
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: Ha! [Sinks a shot] I can see I'm in no danger of being hustled by you, Mr. Lincoln. Of course I learned the game of pool from my grandmother, and she was a lady!
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: Wasn't your grandmother a poor immigrant, ma'am?
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: No! [Sinks a shot] My grandmother was haughty, aristocratic and refined. She never really fit in with our vulgar neighbors in Queens. She belonged in Paris, modeling medieval chastity belts at the Moulin Rouge, or surfing on the Riviera with Marcel Proust! My grandmother was so elegant that Marie Antoinette invited her to Halloween tea. Grandmother declined the invitation only because Edith Wharton wanted her to go trick-or-treating with Henry James. The three of them went as the Three Musketeers!
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: [Amused] That's a fine tall tale, ma'am. I can see why you're considered an important American writer. Just like Mark Twain!
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: [Stiffly] I have no interest in being labeled an American writer.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: But your first two books were set in Queens! I loved Last Rites and The Sisterhood of Virgins. [Lowers his cue] Mighty sad reading, though. Like when Johnny next door gets killed in Vietnam. You really made me feel how much America lost when those young men died. I wish someone could write like that about America today. So many gone! [Sadly sinks a shot]
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: [Proudly] Yes, I was a Sixties chick. But my world is here, in civilized Manhattan. I'm not trying to capture "the American scene." And as you would know by now if you really read my books, my heroes are Edith Wharton and Henry James.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: [Confused] Weren't they American writers?
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: They didn't want to be. [Shoots and misses] My grandmother was a lady!
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: My grandmother didn't even know how to read. [Sinks a shot] My family history is nothing but "the short and simple annals of the poor." Still, I understand how you feel, ma'am. I wish we'd had more refined immigrants like your grandmother here in America when I was President. Oh, there were some fine Irish patriots. Some of the best regiments in the Union Army were Irish. But there were some . . .
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: [Stiffly] My grandmother had nothing to do with the Union Army.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: I know that, ma'am. [Sinks a tough shot, starts moving around the table with better form] The sad fact is, for every Irish patriot who died for the Union, or went surfing on the Riviera with Marcel Proust, there was always some unhappy Irishman who didn't want to fight, who just wanted to raise hell with the blacks. Maybe I asked too much of them. In any case, in 1863 I watched them destroy a whole city, your city. That's the other kind of Irish. Of course you probably never met those folks.
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: I grew up in a neighborhood full of them. But they never understood me, and I never understood them. That's why I left. [Blows a shot] Barnyard College may be located in Manhattan, but it is not part of America. It's an alternate universe! The girls who come here to read Jane Austen and develop their fine minds are infinitely pure, uncontaminated by our mistakes. I would die for any one of them.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: I believe you, ma'am. [Sinking one last tough shot] And I believe that's the game.
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: Oh yeah? Well, I want another game! [The aging feminist professor is about to throw a childish temper tantrum, but just then a pretty blonde Barnyard student wanders into the room]
THE GIRL: Hey, Professor Muldoon! It's me, Tricia Whitebread. I'm in your freshman classics seminar. I know it's late, but I couldn't sleep and I've been feeling kind of depressed lately. Would you like to play some pool?
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: Sorry, I've got a game already.
THE GIRL: [A bit confused] But there's no one else here!
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: [In a towering rage] I'M CONDUCTING BUSINESS! NOW GET YOUR LITTLE CHICKEN ASS OUT OF HERE!
THE GIRL: [Terrified and in tears] But . . . but I thought at Barnyard . . . I thought we were a family! [Stamps her foot] Fine! I'll go off campus to play! [Still sobbing, the girl storms off. Somewhere a clock chimes midnight.]
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: Say, was that Tricia Whitebread? I'm running late! [Puts down his pool cue and takes out his fancy gold pocket watch]
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: You have an appointment with her? But she's just a girl!
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: She's older than half the boys who died at Gettysburg. And in about five minutes some nasty little boys are going to kill her, just around the corner in Morningstar Park.
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: You mean gang bangers? Muggers? Rapists? Blacks? Mr. Lincoln, the girl is innocent! You've got to stop them!
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: When I was President of the United States, I couldn't stop the Irish from roasting innocent black children alive right here in New York City. What makes you think I can save one foolish girl?
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: But the blacks all know you! You could teach them . . . educate them . . . talk to them like fellow Americans!
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: That was your job, ma'am. Back in the Sixties, you wrote so well about Johnny dying in Vietnam. But you kept quiet about the rest, about the secret price your people paid in blood to rule this city. Long ago, the blacks died so the Irish could live. Admitting you're an American would mean admitting you knew the truth all along. And so the dying continues, on and on, until every drop of blood shed by the lash is answered by a drop of blood shed by the sword. You wanted to write literary fiction. You wanted to be a lady. Now be a lady and let me pass by. We both know what it means to watch the young die for our mistakes.
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: This is on me? The death of a young woman at the hand of savages is on me? [She spits at him] You're not Abraham Lincoln. You're a monster! A devil! I hate you! I hate America!
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: [Sadly] And America is the poorer for it. Good-night, ma'am. Here has been a sweet hour's sport.
PROFESSSOR MARY MULDOON: Come back here you baby killer! What do you know about hard choices? What do you know about women's lives? Pig! Peasant! Protestant! [to herself] Well, what was I supposed to do? Offer to trade places with the girl? Give my life for her? [Grabs her pool cue and makes a crazy wild shot, sending balls flying.] I'm a lady! I'm a lady! [Totally frantic, she throws her cue, then starts hurling everything she can put her hands on as THE CURTAIN FALLS]