Thumbs by Gavin Kayner

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This Play is the copyright of the Author and must NOT be Performed without the Author's PRIOR consent

Characters

ISAAC GRABER:

A precocious college student.

DOC:

A young psychiatrist.

MOTHER:

Isaac's world-weary mother.

FATHER:

Isaac's rough-hewn father.

MINISTER:

Pastor of a church.

CARL BELL:

A wry university professor.

ANNA COHEN:

A vivacious university student.

Synopsis

Isaac, a young man, stripped of any emotional, spiritual, intellectual
ballast, mutilates himself in protest. With the help of a
psychiatrist facing his own dilemma, Isaac struggles to confront his
past and the mutilation itself. In the struggle, both men come to
terms with the vagaries of life.

Scene

Various but seamless.

Time

20th Century.

ACT ONE

SCENE

SETTING:

The stage is set with five distinct places. These are: a
psychiatrist's office, a kitchen, a church, a dorm room, and a
classroom. All these places can be suggested by a simple set piece.
ISAAC needs to move in and out of the spaces unimpeded.

AT RISE:

DOC is in his 'office' speaking on the phone. CARL sits in his
classroom. MINISTER in his church. ANNA lies on the bed in her dorm
room. MOTHER and FATHER sit upstage against the backdrop in the
kitchen. ISAAC stands stage left down of the kitchen masking the
chopping block and hatchet from the audience - transfixed.

DOC
Two months. Six. They don't know! Of course I'm angry. It's not
something you rationalize. She just celebrated her third birthday.
Third. That's not enough for her and not near enough for me. Yes.
Okay. Come as soon as you can.
(Hangs up.)
Damn-it!

ISAAC comes alert and looks DOC'S way DOC touches the framed
photograph on his desk.

DOC
I can't let you go.

ISAAC
(To Doc.)
Let go?
(To audience.)
Why? When we're made to hang on. It's true. Evidence? I give you
the - thumb.
(Displays his thumb.)
And not the -
(Displays the end digit of his right hand.)
Finger. Yeah. The thumb. Defined by The American Heritage
Dictionary of the English Language as the short first digit of the
human hand, opposable to each of the other four digits. Opposable - I
love four syllable words. You can have thumbs up and thumbs down.
You can thumb a ride, thumb down a page, thumb your nose at. Make a
thumbnail sketch. Be under someone's thumb -.
(Looks at DOC.)
Or have the truth squeezed out of you by thumbscrews.
(Looks at his watch. To DOC.)
It's time.

DOC
(Faces ISAAC.)
What?

ISAAC
It's time for my appointment. Graber. Isaac.

DOC
Yes, certainly. Come in.
(ISAAC enters the office.)
I'm Doctor Morton.

DOC extends his hand. ISAAC ignores it.

DOC
Have a seat.

ISAAC
(Remains standing. Surveys the room.)
I'm sure you can't wait.

DOC
How's that?

ISAAC
You know - to hear my dirty little secrets. Probably salivating.

DOC
I'm a clinician not a...

ISAAC
Rubbernecker. A Peeping Tom.

DOC
Helping people get well is a better job description.

ISAAC
The miracle worker.

DOC
You don't believe in miracles?

ISAAC
I'm here aren't I? I'm standing on my own two feet aren't I?

DOC
Yes, you are. Are those miracles?

ISAAC
They work for me.

Lights up on CARL.

CARL
(Stands)
Class, I give you Homo sapiens. Two young men thrown together by what
some would call their fate. In the shirt and tie, the psychiatrist.
A thirty-three year old father of a terminally ill child. His wife
says she's a blessing from God. Today he is having difficulty
internalizing that concept. His patient Isaac Graber is a student of
mine attending the local university on a full academic scholarship.
Isaac was transferred from the surgical wing of County General
Hospital to this ward. Both men have a lot on their minds. And why
not? The Homo sapien's brain is a formidable size.

Dim lights on CARL. Sits.

DOC
Yes, I take your point. Can I get you anything? Water? Tea?

ISAAC
You can get me out of here.

DOC
That's up to you.

ISAAC
Apparently not.

DOC
When people - injure themselves it's important...

ISAAC
To put them in cages.

DOC
To keep them safe until they are no longer in danger of cutting...

ISAAC
Short their lives?

DOC
Yes. Sometimes.

ISAAC
For the greater good?

DOC
I suppose.

ISAAC
I suppose -? One of your non-committal trade words?

DOC
Non-judgmental.

ISAAC
Right. Let our neuroses run wild then blame them for -. Yeah, well.
When do we start?

DOC
We already have.

ISAAC
No wonder I feel better.

DOC
Good. Then let's continue. I see you were born in upstate New York.

ISAAC
I was born in a teacup. That's what she said.

DOC
Who?

ISAAC
My mother.

DOC
And you believed her?

ISAAC
I believed everything. Didn't you?

DOC
You were a child.

ISAAC
An orphan.

DOC
Who lived with his parents. That seems a contradiction.

ISAAC
Yes.

ISAAC and DOC check one another.

DOC
Right. So, tell me about your mother.

ISAAC
She made me what I am today.

DOC
Even if that were true, you are responsible from here on in.

ISAAC
This won't put me back together!

DOC
Some of that has already been done.

ISAAC
(Shift.)
I hardly knew her.

DOC
A son knows his mother better than most.

ISAAC
She birthed me, okay? End of story.

DOC
You lived with her.

ISAAC
I lived in her house.

DOC
I fine distinct...

MOTHER enters kitchen.

ISAAC
The woman was a monster, Doc. She chewed tobacco, wore Army boots and knitted sweaters out of chain mail. She...

MOTHER
Isaac.

ISAAC ignores her.

ISAAC
Ate gingerbread men and lured...

MOTHER
Isaac! Don't tell stories, Isaac. Stories cause people grief. And
isn't there enough grief in the world already? Besides they're a
waste of time. We've got work to do. The sun's already up for
hours.

ISAAC
She's not a safe place for me.

DOC
It's only memory.

ISAAC
Exactly. Who needs it?

DOC
You do.

MOTHER
Isaac, if I have to come get you, you'll be one sorry boy.

DOC
Go on. Go see her. I'm right here with you.

ISAAC
Damn the consequences.

DOC
I think you've already realized those.

ISAAC crosses to the kitchen on the following-.

ISAAC
My mother was raised a farm girl with a fierce Protestant work ethic.
She owned and operated a restaurant and weekdays was up before dawn
and home after dark. Home Cooking she called it, but the business was
neither her pride nor her joy. And let me tell you, the customer was
not always right.

(Scrambles into the kitchen. He's seven years old.)

MOTHER
(Drying teacups.)
Finally. Don't make me call you twice. Your breakfast is stone cold
and rightly so. I won't have you pestering the neighbors. There are
too many things to do and not enough time to do them.

ISAAC
(Sits and mimes eating.)
It's Saturday and the first day of summer vacation.

MOTHER
And none of your sass. The seasons change, but our responsibilities
don't.

ISAAC
I like summer best.

MOTHER
At least the pipes don't freeze.

ISAAC
In three weeks I'll be seven.

MOTHER
If you survive till you're eighteen, then we'll celebrate.

ISAAC
Can I see David? Before he goes away.

MOTHER
When the work is done.

ISAAC
David says his mother is pregnant.
(Nothing from MOTHER.)
She's going to have a baby. Were you pregnant?

MOTHER
I don't remember.

ISAAC
But I was a baby.

MOTHER
Of course you were. Eat your breakfast. Then see to your chores.

ISAAC
(To DOC.)
She never had time for me, but this morning I was persistent.
(To MOTHER.)
How was I born?

MOTHER
(Considers this - notes teacup in her hand -.)
In a teacup. Yes, that's right. Babies come in teacups. Here. This
one.

ISAAC
(To DOC.)
She set the china cup on the table. I took it up in my small hands as
if it was a religious relic.
(To MOTHER.)
Was I pretty?

MOTHER
You were a baby. Nothing pretty about that.

ISAAC
David said he weighed eight pounds when he was born.

MOTHER
He's bragging. Doesn't pay to brag.

ISAAC
How much is eight pounds?

MOTHER
A whole lot more than it ought to be.

ISAAC
Can it fit into a teacup?

MOTHER
An entire life can fit into a teacup.

ISAAC
How...?

MOTHER
I'll see to the laundry. Clean up after yourself while I'm out.

MOTHER sits off. ISAAC examines the cup.

ISAAC
(To DOC.)
I hid the cup in my room. On those long, lonesome days, I'd stare
into its luminous bottom at the image of my muddy features. And
wonder.

DOC
What happened to it?

ISAAC
(Sets cup on the floor.)
It broke.

DOC
Accidentally?

ISAAC
Hell, no. I - dropped it.
(Steps on cup.)
The way the pieces crumbled under my foot was very gratifying.

DOC
You were angry?

ISAAC
Try bitterly disappointed.

DOC
Because it wasn't true?

ISAAC
Because none of it is true, Doc. Come on. You're patronizing me.
Evidence to the contrary, I'm not some blithering idiot.

DOC
I know your scholastic record. Impressive.

ISAAC
You came prepared. Good. But it won't change anything. An overpaid
conversationalist with a degree can't right what is wrong.

DOC
And not God?

ISAAC
You don't waste much time.

DOC
I'm following your lead. They found the Bible open to the Gospels in
your house. A page was torn out. Did you do that?

ISAAC
Follow my lead and we're going right over a cliff.

DOC
If we have to.

ISAAC
Noble sentiment. But that is a lose-lose game.

DOC
This is not a game, Isaac.

ISAAC
(To DOC.)
That's where you are wrong, Doc. This is the ultimate game. Survival
of the fittest. The weak and the crippled and the slow-witted are
slaughtered first. Then the innocent.

DOC
Who are the innocent?

ISAAC
The babies. Yeah. Did you know hyenas feast on baby zebras as they
exit the birth canal? They gather around the white-eyed mother
clicking their teeth like eager diners sharpening their cutlery. In
the midst of delivery, those hellish hyenas are already ripping at the
newborn whose first experience in life outside the womb is pain and
terror. Its first, last and only experience.

DOC
That would upset any...

ISAAC
Upset? Oh, that is banal. You've got to do better, Doc.

DOC
I'm not the patient here.

ISAAC
Maybe you are. Did you ever think of that? Maybe this is your way of
getting at your own - tortured psyche. Maybe I should charge you
instead.

DOC
More of your - games.

ISAAC
Games. Yeah. Good idea. Got any tucked away in your bag of tricks?

DOC
No.

ISAAC
Why not? With those losing is temporary and non-lethal.

DOC
And winning is just as temporary.

ISAAC
But at least you have a chance to win! And the rules are the same for
everybody: The rich, the poor; the Catholic, the Hindu; the scientist
and the palm reader.

DOC
They're diversions. That's all.

ISAAC
But beautiful, congruent diversions.

DOC
Were you playing games when you...

ISAAC
Damn-it. I'm more than that. Treat the whole person - isn't that
what the teach you? Listen to what your patients are saying. Christ,
I can't do both jobs here.

DOC
Some practice that pedagogy.

ISAAC
Well, practice it with me. I won't be toyed with.

DOC
And I won't be dictated to. Unraveling what you did to yourself is
our job - not idle banter.

[End of Extract]

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