Sample

SCENE 1

A dark room. Waiting becomes apparent, as we hear the occasional rumble of thunder. Someone bumps into something.

MICHELSON
Shhhhhh!

(We hear fiddling about.)

MARGARET
Ouch!

MICHELSON
I said be quiet now, please! Listen!

(Papers rustle, glass clinks, thunder rumbles. A lamp begins to softly glow, illuminating Albert and Margaret sitting at opposite ends of a large table, upon which is arrayed a low-standing technical device with many parts.)

MICHELSON
Don’t do that! We must have total darkness, or I won’t be able to see the results.

MARGARET
Albert, you want to hear things in silence, and see things in the dark.

MICHELSON
What?

MARGARET
Do you suppose to taste without eating? My, my, I should be offended, or perhaps relieved? Have you severed your feeling from touch also? My goodness, think of our children! They were both fortunate that we chanced about their experiments when we did.

MICHELSON
I cannot fathom what you’re prattling on about.

MARGARET
Oh, I know we’re soon to use other senses. Will you make astrology of your astronomy, and this device of yours translate celestial words for us?

MICHELSON
Margaret, please. I asked you here to help balance the interferometer, not narrate it!

(Margaret turns up the lamp so the room is completely lit.)

MARGARET
Well then let’s shed some light on the matter. Perhaps you’ve already discovered something?

(She walks to stand behind Michelson. He is focused on his device.)

MICHELSON
It’s something, all right. As clear and obvious to me as you are, standing right…

(She puts her hands on his shoulders, surprising him.)

MARGARET
The results are in: Surely you can feel my touch, Albert. Is there hope yet for our earthy science? What does this instrument tell you?

(Michelson stands.)

MICHELSON
Your spoken words travel as disturbances in the medium of air, to be registered as pressure on the membrane of my ear-drum, where they are converted into impulses my material brain can identify. If not consistently comprehend, I might add.

This is how waves are communicated, not only in this space of ours, but across the vast distances of outer space. It’s how I can also perceive some degree of animal magnetism which operates on my mind, truth be told, sending your feminine, well, emanations to it. So science tells me not only the substance of our discourse, but reveals the mechanical, impermanent secrets of your witchcraft.

MARGARET
Oh. So no lasting evidence of my touch, nothing registering my physical self so close to you? Is it just a disturbance in the air you feel, or is it me? I know that I should speak to you with the beating of my heart.

MICHELSON
And trade our messages with one another via a drum? A Morse Code love song of the Red Indian?

(Margaret starts to speak but stops herself.)

MICHELSON (Continued)
The Interferometer, Margaret. Edward will be here shortly with the calculations for the test. Our control conditions must match, or we can’t repeat the experiment. Time. We don’t have much time. The storm is practically upon us. We need to run the test while the room remains undisturbed.

MARGARET
Soon, I must run the machinery in our kitchen and prepare dinner, or our children will be disturbed. You repeat your experiment, and I mine.

MICHELSON
Please stand by that mirror over there. I must calibrate it.

MARGARET
You did that all of ten minutes ago, Albert.

MICHELSON
Please.

MARGARET
Is this supposed to be open?

(They both sing “In This Open Drawer”)

Notes written to myself,
keys to forgotten doors,
pencils without points:
In this open drawer.

Funny bent paperclips,
a ball of rubber bands,
all the bills we’ve paid:
In this open drawer.

Hidden in a corner,
a handle rarely pulled,
straining on its hinges,
a bottom bulging full.

Beneath the empty wrappers,
push the past aside,
I don’t know what we’ll find:
In this open drawer.

Once we used it a hundred times each day,
for finding things to use,
or putting other things away.

It could be a bore, or something more.
Garbage can or book?
Do we dare take a look
in this open drawer?

MARGARET
I can perceive myself, so I can confirm that the light is functioning properly. Albert, what do you want me to do?

MICHELSON
Nevermind, I’ve found…

MARGARET
Albert, how can you discover so much, yet find nothing? You should be looking forward to sitting down with your adoring sons and daughter, and enjoying their own little discoveries and inventions. I know that you know exactly where you can find it.

MICHELSON
What? Oh, dinner? Margaret, it has no initial conditions, no controls, no hypotheses to test. There’s no meaning inherent to it, and nothing to conclude from it. What does it matter when we eat, or what, for that matter? A dinner tonight, last night, last week, or the leg of mutton eaten by King Henry 200 years ago! Earlier, later, sometimes not at all. Isolated experiences. Manifestations of our random stroll through unstructured, purposeless time.

MARGARET
I see it as a manifestation of hunger.

MICHELSON
My dear! There has to be something more. Something underneath, and between, and around, and beyond. Something that unites all of those moments into an endless sea that links you, me, that leg of mutton, and every moment past and yet to come. This interferometer is the most sensitive device ever conceived by man. It will perceive the aether through with all things communicate and move, from the distant stars, to animating the contractions of the the muscles responsible for our conversation right here.

I will know it tonight, Margaret. I will see what is there, what is here right before us. Don’t you see, Margaret? We are not alone.

(Margaret tips the mirror so the light disappears, returning the room into near- darkness.)

MICHELSON
The light, Margaret, the light.

MARGARET
Albert?

MICHELSON
Yes, well if you’d…

MARGARET
I already know that.

MICHELSON
That? What is that?

(Michelson switches on a bright beam of light and illuminates a spot on the wall. It moves slightly as he adjusts something on the table.)

MARGARET
I’m over here.

MICHELSON
I’m not looking for you, Margaret. Is your mirror in place?

MARGARET
Yes. It’s where you left it last time.

(The light moves to the mirror on the table, which reflects it across the table to a third mirror, creating a closed system.)

MICHELSON
Excellent. Lights?

(Margaret turns the light on again. Thunder booms.)

MICHELSON (Continued)
We must hurry.

MARGARET
Yes, I must. Dinner beckons, whether you hear it or not.

MICHELSON
What? Oh, yes, well, maybe. We’ll see, certainly. If I can’t join you before the experiment, I’ll find something later.

MARGARET
We will be where you left us. Perhaps we should have an experiment to determine whether or not you will appear.

MICHELSON
Yes, somewhere, somewhere. Where is it?

(Margaret exits.)

MICHELSON (Continued)
There. Finished. Margaret, I have been thinking of a poem. You must know it. My dear?

Margaret?
“On the wide level of a mountain’s head
(I knew not where, but ’twas some faery place)
Their pinions, ostrich-like, for sails out-spread,
Two lovely children run an endless race,
A sister and a brother!
This far outstripp’d the other;
Yet ever runs she with reverted face,
And looks and listens for the boy behind:
For he, alas! is blind!
O’er rough and smooth with even step he passed,
And knows not whether he be first or last.”

Not first or last. Now. Tonight.

(A loud knock offstage. Michelson goes to the door and opens it.)

MICHELSON (Continued)
Margaret?

(Walter enters, carrying a small package.)

MICHELSON
Ah, Walter, you arrive right on cue.

(Walter hands Michelson the package, and pats dust from his pants.)

WALTER
I rode as fast as I could. There’s a doozie of a storm comin’, and Bea don’t much like loud noises.

MICHELSON
Doesn’t, Walter.

WALTER
Yep, she don’t, not one bit.

MICHELSON
No, I meant…

WALTER
This unfairmeter isn’t good with thunder anyway, right?

MICHELSON
Interferometer, Walter.

WALTER
Yep, it’s not good.

MICHELSON
Walter. Initial conditions must be constant. Sound waves through the air can shake the table, disturbing the streams of light, which we will measure again to find proof of the Earth’s movement against the ether’s tides. Any interference will spoil the outcome of the experiment.

WALTER
You got a Y‘Don’t-Interfere-With-My-Ometer.’

MICHELSON
What?

WALTER
Ya’ll should call it a ‘Scared-Of-Thunder-Mometer,’ or something. Don’t make sense, not one bit.

(Michelson pauses, as if contemplating an answer, then stops himself. Walter walks to table and is about to lean on it.)

WALTER (Continued)
Well Professor, I must say that…

MICHELSON
Stop!

(Walter freezes.)

MICHELSON (Continued)
Don’t touch that!

WALTER
Don’t?

MICHELSON
Yep, not one bit. The slightest touch, or misdirected breeze would force me to recalibrate all of the settings. We need to get this final mirror positioned without affecting the others.

(Michelson looks around the laboratory and then scans the audience.)