Play #68 (Make-up #15) - The Transit Plays by Sheila Callaghan
The Transit Plays is really a collection of five short plays loosely connected by a common interest with modes of transportation, but I’m going to post them as one play. The tone of these plays is sort of ethereal and contemplative – perhaps attempting to point to something essential about the experience of traveling by each of these modes of transportation in a world that never really stops moving anyway. It would be difficult to say that anything really “happens” in any of these plays, if you’re looking for traditional Aristotelian or realistic notions of plot. But there is certainly a lot going on – most of which I’m sure I’ll miss on this cursory read. But at least I’m in the spirit! I read these plays and wrote this response on an airplane!
The titles, in order, are Plane, Boat, Car, Bike and Train. In Plane, Jack, Brenda and Thomas are all sitting on an airplane – is it about to take off? Are they always already in the air? Brenda observes the cornerless uniformity of the surroundings – nothing sharp, everything carefully planned and contoured. She seems to find this comforting. Jack, on the other hand, is pretty sure they’re all going to die. Thomas can’t stop eating/regurgitating luggage (though it’s checked rather than carry on, so he should be perfectly fine), and he seems disturbed by the lack of corners to define and delineate differences and progress.
Boat is a strange sort of cycle play in which Jessica, Karen, and Henry move through five variations on standing and waiting on a ferry. There are certain ingredients that remain the same – Karen removing her shoes, the presence of newspapers, peering over the railing of the ferry – but there is always some important difference. Maybe one of them jumps overboard. Maybe one of them is thrown. Maybe there is a catastrophe. Maybe they are all dead already. Callaghan specifies that everything happens very slowly in this play. Perhaps the sloth and repetition are unavoidable on the plodding ferry.
The entirety of Car is a monologue by Megan, who is talking on her cell phone while she drives somewhere. She switches between calls, she discusses her own chronic sense of discomfort, she speaks to a refrigerator repair man who, it seems, has already arrived at her home when she gets there. It is not enough to be traveling from one point to another, she must always already be in multiple places at all times. And the final moment, when she reaches up to touch the repair man’s face is a sort of lovely, grounding moment where she is finally allowed to be where she is and nowhere else.
Bike is another monologue by a character named Gunther who sits on the grass beside his bike watching for his ex-girlfriend and feeling the frustration of her absence or her anger or her betrayal… or her something. Though a person does ride by on a bike, Gunther only sits beside his. When he does finally ride off at the end, a church bell rings once (having rung many more times earlier in the short script), and it begins to snow. There is a sense of a new beginning possible in this ending.
Finally, there is Train, in which Wallace sees the melon-bodied, repulsive Joe stomping up the aisle toward him. He is immediately disgusted by the smelly, overweight, dirty man, so when Joe falls in the aisle, Wallace pretends not to notice. Joe notices Wallace pretending not to notice and tries to give him more chances to reach out to help this fellow man. Because Joe knows that he has tar in one bag and “flight” in the other, and that if Wallace does not help him, there will be consequences. Unfortunately, Wallace reaches out to Joe just one moment too late, so his feet are already tarred to the ground, and a pigeon flies pecks out his eyes. In the end, he falls on top of Joe and they dissolve into the floor together as one grotesque mess – finally the same.
In transit, sometimes we are pressed together among strangers, sometimes we are alone, sometimes we move quickly, sometimes we stagnate, sometimes we find what we are looking for, sometimes we don’t. The painful poeticism of these pieces points to a dissatisfaction in this world of constant motion that I find interesting. I would love to see a staging of these plays together, to see the ways in which they pick up each other’s refrains, creating a strange sort of ode to motion.