Full Stage Script: "All the Light-Hearted Souls"

"All the Light-Hearted Souls" was produced by Calgary's 8-0-8 Productions in November 2005 as part of their collaborative stage show "nigh". Six scenes by six different writers told individual stories of encounters with The Man, the gatekeeper between life and death. "All the Light-Hearted Souls" was directed by Meg Wilkie and starred Ted Lach as Alex, with Jed Tomlinson as The Man. This scene opened the show.

All the Light-Hearted Souls

By Marilyn Anne Campbell


The MAN waits. Mid-40s ALEX ambles in
from off stage.
Dressed in dusty work clothes
and a ball cap, ALEX peers
around, casually
checking out the sparse surroundings.

MAN: Were you looking for something more?

ALEX finally looks to the MAN

ALEX: Uh, hey.
(ALEX pulls off his cap awkwardly, not sure if this is a formal affair.)
I guess I was expecting fancier. But you know, I like this. It’s simple.
(He tucks the cap in the back of his pants.)
I wish they still buried people in plain pine boxes. I kept meaning to make one for myself before I retired. Guess I shouldn’t have waited, huh?

MAN: You’re rather chipper, considering.

ALEX: Might as well enjoy what’s left.

MAN: So obviously you do know where you are.

Satisfied with the set-up, ALEX takes stock of what other clothing and personal items have made the trip.

ALEX: Me? I’m still lying in sawdust on the floor of Milltech Manufacturing. Hey look, I even brought my wallet!

The MAN looks around at their surroundings.

MAN: You don’t perhaps think we’re past that?

ALEX: (Re: wallet) Don’t leave life without it.

MAN: I was referring to the sawdust.

ALEX: Oh, trust me, no ambulance has been called. I was the only one still working and security won’t walk through again for almost an hour. Guess you could call this the ultimate in overtime.
(ALEX smiles, but the MAN doesn’t.)
So, uh, no, I’m still lying there with my final neurons firing and for some reason, they’ve come up with you.

MAN: You believe this a dream.

ALEX: I know this a dream, a hallucination, a whatever. No matter what you call it, it’s just the last few brain waves crackling through my grey matter.

MAN: And when they stop crackling?

ALEX: Then I guess its lights out, isn’t it?

MAN: What if they’re already out?

Looking in the wallet now, ALEX pulls out a battered driver’s license.

ALEX: See now that’s not possible. If I’d shuffled all the way off this mortal coil I wouldn’t be able to answer annoying questions.

MAN: So there can be no answers after death?

ALEX: Look, it’s like Descartes, friend. “I think therefore I am”. Conversely, once I’m not, that’s it for thinking. Once I finish dying we’re finished having this conversation.

MAN: There are other schools of thought.

ALEX: None that I appear to be a card-carrying member of.
(The MAN doesn’t answer. ALEX puts away the wallet.)
Guess I’m not as chipper as you thought. Hey wait, was that supposed to be a death-by-woodworking-machinery joke?

MAN: How should I know? You claim to be the brains of this operation.

ALEX: It’s not a “claim”, the science is clear. My heart may have stopped but my mind still has a few minutes left. That’s all those near-death lights and tunnels are and that’s all this is. Believe you me, if there was ever a time I wished there was an afterlife, today would be it.

Suddenly the MAN lunges forward and grabs ALEX’S arm roughly.

MAN: How many minutes?

ALEX: Ow, hey—

MAN: How many minutes until the brain is dead?

ALEX: Four, four to six.

The MAN pulls ALEX close and twists just enough… to reach ALEX’s
digital watch. The MAN pushes a few buttons and lets go calmly.

MAN: Okay.

The MAN sits. ALEX checks the watch. And the wrist.

ALEX: Okay?

MAN: You appreciate science, logic — so an experiment. We’ll wait it out. If you blink out of this little encounter before the timer goes, then you were right and your brain will finally be dead with no soul to carry on. But if you’re still around after six minutes then I’m really here. And so are you.

The MAN leans back comfortably.

(ALEX also sits)
(The MAN closes his eyes as if to nap while he waits.
ALEX looks around.
(ALEX checks the watch again.)
Good idea.
(ALEX fidgets for a moment. Finally -)
Look, in case…
(The MAN “wakes up,” feigning surprise that ALEX isn’t content to wait.)
In case this is it, could we at least have a conversation?

MAN: You want a chat with your own firing neurons?

ALEX: Won’t be the first time I talked to myself. Although I guess it will be the last.

The MAN rises and ALEX follows suit.

MAN: Alright then. Dovetail joints.

ALEX: What?

MAN: Dovetail joints. I’ve never known how to make one. Fill a figment in.

ALEX: I thought we’d talk about… I don’t know—the meaning of life or something.

MAN: But you already worked that out on your own—you thought therefore you were, end of story. When it comes right down to it, you spent more time at Milltech than you did reading philosophy. Or doing anything else, for that matter.

ALEX: That doesn’t mean I — oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. I see what this is! You would think, you would think I wouldn’t have to explain myself in my dreams.
(The MAN just shrugs.)
My sister must have worked her way right into my subconscious!

MAN: What was it she used to say to you?

ALEX: Used to? What happened to Simona?

MAN: Nothing.

ALEX: Oh. Me. Right.

MAN: “Alex, you could do so much with your ideas.” “Alex, not everyone has a chance to understand the world like you do.”
(The MAN deftly snatches the cap from where it was still
tucked in the back of ALEX’s pants and holds it up.
“Alex, you’re better than this.”
ALEX grabs the cap back.

ALEX: Hey now, the pay was good, the people were nice, my hands were busy and my thoughts were mine. Life doesn’t get much better.

MAN: Not for you, anyway.

ALEX: Oh, I don’t believe this. I do not believe this. You know what I said about conversation? Forget it. I will just go quietly into this good night.

ALEX pulls the cap on in defiance.

MAN: By all means. Remove yourself, be a spectator.

ALEX: A what?

MAN: A spectator. One who… spectates…

ALEX: I am not a spectator.

MAN: …wait, is ‘spectate’ a word?

ALEX: Why would you even say that?

MAN: It sounds like it should be a word.

ALEX: Stop trying to be funny.

MAN: Oh, I’m not. But you always went for the punchline.

ALEX: You’re damn right I did.

MAN: So you’re happy with the way you lived your life? (The MAN leans over, checking the time left on ALEX’s watch.) The life that has three minutes left?

ALEX: Sure.

MAN: That’s it? All those pages Descartes took the time to write, all the songs and poems and art and the late night conversations that went into the morning—all those things made by other people trying to understand the world and your final analysis is “sure”?

ALEX: What more do you want?

MAN: I thought I was an extension of you. What more do you want?

ALEX: Nothing. I already told you— (gestures around them) I like things simple.

MAN: Yes, that. You know, simple is one thing but I still would have expected neurons like yours to make this more interesting. Crossing a river. In conversation with a raven. Playing chess, even. Nothing else appeals?

ALEX: No. Well, there was one take on death I always respected. The Egyptians, I mean, at least they kept it clear-cut.

MAN: Because things were made quantifiable.

ALEX: Huh. Yeah, I guess that was the clincher.

The MAN produces a balance scale.

MAN: A simple measurement then. Either your heart is too heavy with evil deeds or it is pure and as light as the feather.

ALEX: You don’t have a feather.

MAN: You expect that will be the problem?
(ALEX quickly moves away, feigning interest in the far wall.
The MAN tips the scale gently side to side, making it clink.
It’s a mere device, Alex.

ALEX: I just said I respected it, not that I had any plans to participate.

MAN: Of course you didn’t. You’re one who spectates.

ALEX: Wait, I didn’t mean—

MAN: Before an Egyptian’s heart could be weighed they had to make a presentation before judges. An account of their life.

ALEX: I know that.

MAN: Well?

ALEX: Well I guess you get to be jury and executioner, too?

MAN: Oh Alex, I’m not here to judge you.
(The MAN makes a subtle gesture and the house lights
blaze up full. ALEX squints out at the audience.
Before lights out we’ll try lights up.

ALEX: What is this?

MAN: One last chance to participate.

ALEX looks out at the audience, uncomfortable that they’re looking back.

ALEX: Yeah… well, like you said — I’m the brains of this operation, so no dice.
(ALEX gives a ridiculous magician’s gesture, trying
to make the audience vanish. It doesn’t work.
People need furniture, you know.
(ALEX looks at the MAN and the empty space)
Normal people. The kind who have wallets and watches.

MAN: It’s not about what you made on the job, Alex. It’s about what you made of your life.

ALEX: Will this shut you up? If I do this?

MAN: I’m not one to interrupt.

ALEX: Fine. One account, coming up.
(ALEX turns to the audience. The MAN drifts upstage.)
Let’s see. I had a pretty good time, really. I got along with friends and family. Except Aunt Lori, but that’s hardly my fault. I never snapped at salespeople or sent back food. And I tipped. I mean, if they deserved it. Uh, I never asked for handouts or lied on my resume. I remembered birthdays, I recycled, I shoveled my sidewalk in winter. I never forwarded chain letters or, uh, I don’t know… worked in telemarketing. Oh! I never got married, so I was never unfaithful. Or (looks to MAN) would these guys care about cheating on girlfriends?
(The MAN mimes turning a key and locking his lips.)
Whatever, doesn’t matter. I never did that either.
(The MAN clears his throat.)
(The MAN taps his wrist.)
Oh, it’s…
(…And looking at the watch makes ALEX begin to grow nervous.)
Uh, I didn’t, I didn’t cheat anyone, ever. I didn’t lie or steal or… what would be evil deeds? See I didn’t, really I didn’t do much of anything, so there shouldn’t be a problem, should there?
(ALEX checks the watch again. Glances at the still silent MAN.
Turns back to the audience, beginning to panic.
Seriously, I mean I didn’t, I never hurt anyone. Not on purpose. I was nice to kids and puppies. Grown dogs too! All animals, and people. I was nice. I made jokes. I didn’t… I didn’t start any trouble. I didn’t start things.
(The audience is - hopefully - silent.
ALEX looks to the MAN pleadingly.
But I could have. That’s it, isn’t it? (Back to audience) Fine. I admit it. I never—I never went out of my way for anyone. I never tried to help people. I never tried to make the world better. I just sat around making bad jokes and using up the air. I wasted everything that was given to me. (Laughs bitterly) I never cheated on girlfriends because I never had them. I couldn’t devote that much energy to another human being. I couldn’t… oh man. I never had a family. Who will even…? I was nothing to anyone. I was nothing. (beat) Let me go back. Please! It’s not too late! It’s not- (glances at watch) I’ll do it better! I’ll do—I’ll do something! I promise, oh, just tell me what to promise and I will. (silence) He said it’s about… One who spectates. I’ll use the time, I swear. I’ll participate. I’ll make connections. I’ll make, I promise I’ll make a life. I just thought it would be there. I didn’t know I had to make a—

As the watch BEEPS the house lights fade off, sending the “judges” back into darkness.

MAN: Don’t ask for whom the watch beeps, it beeps for thee.

ALEX: Don’t! Don’t. I didn’t know.
(The MAN waits silently as ALEX peers out at the black.
Finally ALEX looks at the MAN standing there with the balance
scale and resigns to this fate. ALEX kneels before the MAN,
arms spread wide. Nothing happens.
That’s it then, right? Just end this. Weigh the stupid thing and let’s get this over with. Let’s get me over with.
(The MAN doesn’t move)
Take it! Come on, would you just take it?
(Nothing happens)
You have to do it.
(Still nothing)
I don’t know how to give you my heart!

MAN: Perhaps you should have practiced in life.
(Defeated, ALEX’s arms drop.)
The world never expected a benefactor. It just expected you to be a part of it. And you were, though not as much as you could have been. That hurt some people in your life and some who could have been in your life, but mostly that hurt you.

The MAN pulls ALEX gently to his feet.

ALEX: Isn’t there… Do I get punished?

MAN: Will you remember this?
(ALEX nods.)
Then that’s enough.

ALEX: But what happens now?

MAN: You move on. Here.
(The MAN produces a feather from his pocket and hands it to ALEX.)
Your jokes were pretty bad, but your good humour was genuine. That will be the feather in your cap.

ALEX looks at the feather he’s been given.

ALEX: In conversation with a raven, eh? (beat) Wait, was this…? So were the Ancient Egyptians right, or—?

MAN: Or did you choose this? I don’t recall a tradition for that. In your books, I mean.

ALEX: No… But there was Ghostbusters. With the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man?

MAN: Ah, well read and well rounded.

ALEX: Dan Aykroyd has skills.

MAN: So did the Egyptians. Still, the important answers are never easy - in life or anywhere else. But you’ll have ample time to think on the matter for yourself—thoughts you may share with others, if you’d now prefer. There are still choices to be made Alex and when those times come, you’d do well to remember both this (re: feather) and this (re: audience).
(Clutching the feather, ALEX starts to move off.)
And there really is nothing wrong with being a carpenter.

ALEX: I was a fabricator.

MAN: Still, people need furniture.

ALEX: Oh, hey, but I do know what a dovetail is—

MAN: Don’t worry about it.

ALEX: And I’m pretty sure ‘spectate’ is a word.

MAN: You’re the brains of this operation.

ALEX: No, apparently I’m the idiot.

MAN: Alex, a heart that is light may not only be free of burden—it may simply be empty. These days, one is just as likely as the other. You’re not as special as you think. Or as alone.

ALEX nods, and tucks the feather in the cap before exiting.