Postage Due: A Ten-Minute Play
(Based on an actual event)
By Wendell Abern
SCENE: SMALL OFFICE IN REAR OF LOCAL THEATRE. DESK WITH CHAIR, AND CHAIR FACING IT. BOOKCASES, CABINETS, TABLES AND CHAIRS ARE ALL PILED HIGH WITH MANUSCRIPTS.
MAN, 40ish, ESCORTS WOMAN, 30ish, INTO ROOM.
MAN: Please take a seat, Miss …
WOMAN: Finley. Roberta Finley. Mrs. (SITS DOWN, HE SITS BEHIND DESK.)
MAN: And how can I help you, Mrs. Finley?
WOMAN: Are you the artistic director? Mr. Belmont?
MAN: No, Mr. Belmont is busy, I’m afraid. I’m his assistant. Philip Varon.
ROBERTA: Why are you afraid?
PHILIP: I beg your pardon?
ROBERTA: You said you were afraid.
PHILIP: Um, it was just an expression. Now how can I help you?
ROBERTA: Well, it’s kind of personal.
PHILIP: Kind of personal. Um, can you tell me the subject, in general?
ROBERTA: Well … Mr. Belmont owes me money.
PHILIP: Walter owes you money?
ROBERTA: Very good, Mr. Varon.
PHILIP: May I ask – generally, that is – how much?
ROBERTA: Two dollars and forty cents.
PHILIP: Two dollars and forty cents. Mrs. Finley, is this some kind of joke?
ROBERTA: It’s not a joke to me! I’ve got three kids at home! Two dollars and forty cents is a box of Pampers!
ROBERTA: Excellent, Mr. Varon. Just excellent!
PHILIP: What? What’s excellent?
ROBERTA: The way you repeat things. “Pampers.” That was just plain outstanding, the way you said it. “Pampers.” A cross between concern and conviction, I’d say. Hasn’t anyone ever told you how good you are at repeating things, Mr. Varon?
PHILIP: No. No one has ever … Mrs. Finley, can you tell me how Mr. Belmont incurred this debt?
ROBERTA: (DIGS INTO HANDBAG, PULLS OUT LARGE ENVELOPE) Sure. See, I sent him a play that I wrote. It was called, “Vegetable Bloat.” Do you remember it?
PHILIP: I only read manuscripts when Mr. Belmont wants my opinion.
ROBERTA: Well, I sent in “Vegetable Bloat” in this self-addressed stamped envelope, like you’re told to do if you want the manuscript returned, right? But by the time Mr. Belmont returned it, the postal rates had gone up three times.
PHILIP: Three ti — (STOPS)
ROBERTA: Wow, nothing gets by you, does it?
PHILIP: Um … when did you send us your play, Mrs. Finley.
ROBERTA: Valentine’s Day! I’ll never forget that. See, “Vegetable Bloat” is a love story: lamb chop lover falls for a vegan vegetarian. Sending it on Valentine’s Day just seemed so appropriate!
PHILIP: But Valentine’s Day was only –-
ROBERTA: Of 2014. Valentine’s Day, 2014. Four years and two months ago. (NO RESPONSE) Shall we call Guinness?
PHILIP: Mrs. Finley …
ROBERTA: See, that’s why I didn’t understand his rejection slip. It said something like my content not being consistent with the broad range of material he’s considering for this season. But I didn’t know if he was talking about 2014 or 2018.
Anyway, when I sent the play, the postage was one dollar and ten cents. Now it has gone up to three dollars and fifty cents. When the mailman delivered the manuscript, he told me that I’d have to give him an additional two dollars and forty cents. Which I did. So I came to see Mr. Belmont. To get reimbursed.
PHILIP: Mrs. Finley, this theatre receives hundreds of manuscripts each year.
ROBERTA: I never bothered you before. I mean, I e-mailed a manuscript just before Albert was born — he’s now nine — but I never received it back. That’s why I sent “Vegetable Bloat” with a stamped return envelope.
PHILIP: Yes, as we grow, we keep getting more and more –
ROBERTA: You see, I was very impressed by what Mr. Belmont said in the Dramatist Guild Quarterly in its millennial edition in 2000: “Any artistic director who does not read every manuscript himself or herself should not be running a theatre.”
PHILIP: Of course, but —
ROBERTA: I did send another play, too. In a stamped, return-address envelope, In 2009. Which I did receive two and-a-half years later. By that time, we’d moved from the city to Weston, Gary – my husband – changed jobs, I gave birth to our daughter, the mid-term elections …
PHILIP: Yesyesyes …
ROBERTA: And just last month, Mr. Belmont was quoted as saying, “Manuscripts will be returned in six to twelve months, but please be patient.”
PHILIP: Oh, well that …
ROBERTA: I think it’s wonderful when someone as important as Mr. Belmont encourages people to be patient, don’t you? (REACHES INTO HANDBAG AGAIN AND HAULS OUT SMALL CALCULATOR.)
So I made some projections, based on my experiences with Mr. Belmont. Anyone who sends a play to Mr. Belmont next week, should expect to be patient until (CLICKING AWAY, THEN LOOKS UP WITH SMILE) September of 2023.
PHILIP: (ANGER GROWING) Mrs. Finley, this theatre is considered one of the most important showcases in the country for new playwrights? Especially female playwrights! How do you think Judith Meriwether got started? Francine Wells? Dorothy Bergman? They all attended our workshops! Our workshops, Mrs. Finley! These playwrights started in our –
ROBERTA: Were they breast-feeding? Were any of them breast-feeding? See, if I could breast-feed in a workshop, I could attend! But I’d have to —
PHILIP: (SHARPLY) Mrs. Finley! (PAUSE) Two dollars and forty cents, right?
ROBERTA: Oh, and here I thought you’d forgotten.
PHILIP: (OPENS TOP DRAWER OF DESK AND REACHES INSIDE CIGAR BOX.) We’ll just pay you out of petty cash. (COUNTS OUT MONEY AND PAYS HER)
ROBERTA: Well, thank you so much, Mr. Varon. This saves me a painful discussion with Gary.
PHILIP: Glad to help.
ROBERTA: (WALKS TOWARD DOOR, THEN STOPS.) Hey I just had a great idea, Mr. Varon! When I send in my next play, I’ll send it to you personally.
PHILIP: I’m afraid that would be impossible, Mrs. Finley.
ROBERTA: Once again, afraid. Why, Mr. Varon? You said Mr. Belmont does give you some manuscripts to read.
PHILIP: It would be impossible, that’s all. (PAUSE) Last month, Mr. Belmont inaugurated a new policy. (LIGHTS START TO FADE) From now on, the only manuscripts we’re accepting must come from literary or theatrical agents.
PHILIP AND ROBERTA STARE AT EACH OTHER AS STAGE GOES BLACK.