The Linguist (Scene 1)

For reference, see character thumbnails.


[downstage, NELL sits on a park bench by herself; upstage, a mother and child are playing tag on the playground; the child falls and scrapes their knee]

MOTHER:     Okay now honey, we’d better go back to the car and put a Band-Aid on this.

CHILD:     But I want to keep playing!

[MOTHER pulls the reluctant child offstage]

NELL:     [finger continuously jerking in a cursive motion]     “Playing,” the present participle form of “play,” defined as “a dramatic composition or piece; drama performance on the stage” or in this case “activity for amusement or recreation,” derived from the Old English “plegian,” meaning “to exercise” or the Middle Dutch “pleien,” meaning “leap for joy or dance.”     [nervously pretending to write on her thigh]

[other mini-scenes–some silent, some not–play out in the park while NELL, oblivious to those around her, continues to ‘write’ on her thigh and mutter to herself until another woman, REESE, comes over]

REESE:     Hey…     [sitting down next to NELL and hugging her]     How have you been?

NELL:     [rapidly]     Struggling with altschmerz and striving to achieve a state of liberosis so that I am not visited by the nighthawk of dead reckoning ‘toutes les nuits.’     [translation: every night]

REESE:     What now?

NELL:    [reciting]     “Altschmerz,” noun, meaning “weariness with the same old issues that you’ve always had, the same boring flaws and anxieties you’ve been gnawing on for years.”  “Liberosis,” noun, meaning “the desire to care less about things—

REESE:    Ha! Same old Nell. I’ve missed you. It’s crazy to think we haven’t seen each other since the wake—

NELL:     “Wake,” a traditional vigil kept over a corpse—      [REESE recoils]     —before burial, sometimes accompanied by feasting or merrymaking; formerly in England, the practice was held in honor of the patron saint—

REESE:     Jesus Christ, Nell, don’t talk about dad’s funeral like that!

[pregnant pause; Nell goes back to ‘writing’]

REESE:     Could you just turn it off for a minute? I came to tell you that the lawyer finally sorted out the will. We’re both inheriting—

NELL:     “Inherit,”—

REESE:     C’mon, Nell, cut it out! [rubs her face; then a light dawns]     Remember that game we used to play as kids? Madam President? You be the interpreter and I’ll be the president, okay?

[NELL nods]

REESE:     [as if giving a speech]     My fellow Americans, I have gathered you here today to discuss a very important matter to the citizens of these United States.

[meanwhile, NELL is translating this into sign language for the ‘audience’]

REESE:     The matter at hand is the status of the Abbott estate. The patriarch of the family has recently passed away—

NELL:     A euphemism which means—

[REESE taps her ear as if listening to an imaginary earpiece; NELL stops herself and goes back to signing]

REESE:     [choking on this word]     The deceased’s will decreed that each of his descendants, being of sound mind—      [beat]     —and both having reached the predetermined age of 35, would between them receive the sum of all Mr. George Abbott’s liquidated assets under his sole ownership. All assets, such as the family manor, that remain in his wife’s name, Mrs. Cynthia Abbott, are excluded from this inheritance. The total of the sum to be bestowed upon the Abbott daughters will be revealed and distributed upon one condition…

[NELL’s hands are hanging in midair, awaiting the next sentence to translate, unaware that REESE has purposefully stopped talking; after a beat, NELL looks questioningly at REESE]

NELL:     [with a small smile]     Did the teleprompter go haywire?

REESE:      No, I just wanted you to look at me.

[NELL averts her eyes]

REESE:     Anyway, the condition is that we have to go together to hear the executor ‘bequeath’ us. [putting out a hand]   And please don’t give me a full history of the word bequeath.

NELL:     I’ll think about it.

REESE:     You’ll think about it? Nell, this feud is silly, just—

[loud church bells cut her off, chiming twelve times; NELL gathers her bag and rises from the bench to go; REESE rises too and tries to stop her]

REESE:     [shouting over the nearby bells] Please, don’t go before—

NELL:     [loudly, but calmly]     It’s noon. My lunch hour is over. It’s not my fault you were late. [she exits]

—End Scene—

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