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PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 27.2 (2005) 61-75

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Celestial Excursions

(Act I Excerpt)

The fear is that we won't go gently or abruptly into that good night. We will hang on in the endurance trials of old age, forever rehearsing in the early morning twilight, fortified by a few hours of faulty sleep, the plot or why there is no plot, the explanations, the why, the lists, the old grievances, never to be settled now, the stories never told or passed on, the interruptions, the terrifying proportions, everything larger than it is known to be, distorted in the mirror, and again and again.

Old people are interesting because they have no future. The future is what to eat for breakfast or where did I leave my shoes. Everything else is in the past. Is this understandable? Reading Faulkner at seventy-two made me wonder what I could possibly have understood when I read the same story at twenty. The reason is, it takes one to know one.

So, sometimes, old people break the rules. Especially the rules of conversation and being together. They break the rules because, for one reason or another (illness, anger, damage, enough of that, whatever), the rules no longer apply for them. They are alone. Sometimes they are sad. Sometimes they are desperate. Mostly they are brave. Mostly they have given up on the promises of religion—life after death, immortality, etc. Mostly they are concerned with dignity. Living with dignity. And dying with dignity.

But they are still obliged, as human beings, to make sounds. They are obliged to speak, whether or not anyone is listening.

Act I ("Is It Light, Yet?") is a series of personal recitals, separated by short bulletins of what some of the rest of the people on earth are up to.

Act II ("Asylum") is a dialogue between four guests at Assisted Living and the counselor, who is trying to explain to them that the burden they feel, which might seem to be explained in words, is not to be relieved by finding the word of escape, and in fact will never be relieved. Occasionally the guests break into song to relieve the tension. [End Page 61]

Act III ("The River Deepens") is a series of reminiscences in a mixture of past and present tense. The importance of the reminiscence is its persistence.

—Author's note

ACT I: Is It Light, Yet?

Just Dwayne Hey, old man.
I am in the witness protection program.
What's your name?
I mean, your full name.
Just Dwayne.
Don't you have a last name?

(Chant) Chorus for Characters

Now, what's your name?
Dwayne. (four)
No, I mean, what is your full name?
Just Dwayne. (two)
Don't you have a last name?
Dwayne. (three)
How many syllables in . . . what's that name?
Dwayne? (five)
Sounds like three, but it means two.
Or we have it mixed up with twaine.
Dwayne. (one)


A group of so-called fictitious characters
is just as bad as a group of so-called real ones.
They cause arguments among themselves
(and, curiously, among the so-called real ones.)
They fight among themselves.
They have affairs that are kept secret, and those affairs
change the unspoken agreements of the relationships within the group.
You can't trust them at anytime or anywhere to be telling the truth.
The real ones are the same way, so, there's no difference,
except that we are used to the behavior of the real ones.
Or we think we are.
But the unreal ones get by unnoticed.
They get written about and their reasons are taken seriously,
and if they are really old—in the sense of "outdated"—
sometimes there is a question about whether they were real at one time [End Page 62]
and somebody just made them unreal.
But generally we take them more or less as they come.
The real ones can pretend to be the unreal ones, of course.
This is called acting.


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pp. 61-75
Launched on MUSE
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