Ralph Smith of Schenectady, New York’s Coming-Out-to-His-Wife Options

by Peter Marino[easy-media med=”8444″ mark=”gallery-Pbkalr”]

Ralph Smith of Schenectady, New York’s Coming-Out-to-His-Wife Options
A One-Act Play in Ten Minutes
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Ralph Smith of Schenectady, New York’s Coming-Out-to-His-Wife Options
A One-Act Play in Ten Minutes

CHARACTERS

RALPH SMITH: white, professional man nearing 50; inclined toward conflict-avoidance;

MADGE: Ralph’s wife, also almost 50; a homemaker and caretaker; accommodating but forthright; (We see MADGE as RALPH perceives her, as if the conflict in his head is being played out for us. The real MADGE is not actually on stage.)

NARRATOR: flashy, handsome male; dressed formally in a dark suit; speaks like a TV game show announcer; he can ring a bell after each option to punctuate;

TIME: Present

PLACE: MADGE and RALPH’s living room,
Schenectady, New York

SET: A minimal set with a folding chair needed. Also, a door of some sort, either free-standing or part of a set, would be useful. A copy of Redbook. A piece of paper. Dream music if possible. Several things can be improvised as noted (cigarette holder, for example) but use real props if you have them.

Synopsis
Ralph Smith is a rather nondescript white man on the eve of turning fifty. He enjoys the comforts of his middle class life and doesn’t want to upset his domestic tranquility. Yet he’s unable to ignore the turmoil he feels for having deceived his wife Madge about his secret gay life. In this play, Ralph contemplates real and impossible ways of breaking the news to Madge, including insinuating conversation openers, a census taker, a Redbook survey, and haiku. Ultimately he has to decide whether it’s more humane–to Madge and to himself–to be honest with her or to continue to live in silent deceit.

SCENE: RALPH enters in pajamas. He paces the stage for a few seconds. The NARRATOR bursts in through the door and approaches the audience as if he is warming them up for a show. RALPH, indifferent to NARRATOR, continues to pace.

NARRATOR

(TV announcer voice)

Welcome to Ralph Smith of Schenectady, New York’s Coming-Out-to-His-Wife Options. Option Number One, “Ten Attention-Grabbing Conversation Openers.” Conversation opener Number One.

RALPH

The kids are still alive, so any bad news I might have can’t be the worst thing you could hear, right?

NARRATOR

Conversation opener Number Two.

RALPH

Do you love me, I mean really love me? Because, you see, I don’t know if a woman can love a man the way a man can love another man because a man is a man and knows how he needs to be loved. (beat) And I’m not just talking about sex here.

NARRATOR

Conversation opener Number Three.

RALPH

Madge, you know how some people are left-handed and others are right handed? Golly, how did I pretend to be right handed all these years?

NARRATOR

Number Four.

RALPH

(with an improvised pencil and pad in his hand)

Let’s see, what do we need from the grocery store eggs, pasta, bread, muscles, washboard stomachs, chiseled jaws, husky voices, downy legs.

NARRATOR

Number Five.

RALPH

(getting nervous)

He wasn’t just the gardener. He was an epiphany.

(NARRATOR and RALPH speeding through their lines now)

NARRATOR

Number Six.

RALPH

It’s not me, it’s my mid-life crisis talking. So don’t go killing the messenger.

NARRATOR

Number Seven.

RALPH

Madge, what if the birds and the bees all had penises?

NARRATOR

Number Eight.

RALPH

Remember how you wouldn’t consider couples therapy?

NARRATOR

Number Nine.

RALPH

(improvises holding up a bill)

See this three-dollar bill?

NARRATOR

And finally, conversation opener Number…

(MADGE enters in a nightgown and slippers, interrupting NARRATOR.)

MADGE

(pointing to NARRATOR)

Ralph, who is this?

RALPH

Madge?

NARRATOR

And finally, conversation opener Number…

RALPH

(to NARRATOR)

Shut up.

MADGE

Who is he, Ralph?

RALPH

Somebody. Somebody in a dream. My dream. I’m imagining things. Him. You.

MADGE

Okay.

(turns to leave stage)

RALPH

I want you to help me with this.

MADGE

It’s your dream.

RALPH

Well, I need your help with this. Please?

MADGE

Ralph…

RALPH

Please please please?

MADGE

Oh all right.

RALPH

(to NARRATOR)

Go ahead.

NARRATOR

Ralph Smith of Schenectady, New York’s Coming-Out-to-His-Wife Option Number Two, Haiku.

RALPH

(holds up an imaginary piece of paper and recites to the audience, counting syllables on his fingers as he reads)

How to say to this
wife of mine that I am a
fan of Patsy Cline?

MADGE

That’s stupid. I–she–Madge wouldn’t know these code words for the gay life.

(turns to leave)

RALPH

No, no, wait. How about this?

(cues NARRATOR)

NARRATOR

Coming Out Option Number Three, More Poetry.

RALPH

Beauty is truth and truth is beauty.
The truth is I’m queer.
Ain’t that a beauty?

NARRATOR

(walking toward door)

Ralph Smith of Schenectady, New York’s Coming-Out-to-His-Wife Option Number Four:

(goes behind door and peeks out to say)

A Census Taker.

(knocks on door continually; MADGE answers it warily.)
(speaks in a dull, perfunctory voice)

Number of cars?

MADGE

Two.

NARRATOR

Number of children?

MADGE

(proudly)

Three.

NARRATOR

Number of gay people in the household besides your husband?

(MADGE slams the door in his face. She moves center stage. NARRATOR follows her with the chair and copy of Redbook. MADGE sits. NARRATOR stands behind her for these lines. She opens magazine.)

NARRATOR

Ralph Smith of Schenectady, New York’s Coming-Out-to-His-Wife Option Number Five, however unlikely, a survey in Redbook. Survey topic: Is Your Husband Really a Man?

(NARRATOR is even more animated and rapid-fire.)

Question Number One.What causes you to wonder about your husband? Do you ever wonder… A….why he doesn’t own cologne but comes home late wearing (shouting) five different brands? (normal tone) One point.
B….why he is able to give your daughter (shouting) accurate dating advice? (normal tone) Two points.
C….why he is solemnly quiet watching TV (shouting) when it’s wrestling? (normal tone) Three points.

(MADGE makes a mark in the magazine.NARRATOR looks over her at her responses.)

Question Number Two. Does your husband buy, or perhaps even have a subscription to, any of the following publications?

A….Muscle & Fitness?
B….Men’s Health?
C….Tuscan Spank Master?

(MADGE looks quizzical, makes a mark in the magazine.)

And finally, question Number Three. If you found out your husband was having an affair with your best female friend, which of these is closest to what your reaction would be?
A. Make him end it and be glad he’s actually cheating on you with women. One point.
B. Divorce him, though be glad he’s actually cheating on you with women. Two points.
C. Be incredulous because you were certain he had little interest in women. Three points.
D. Ask your best friend if she has a cock. Eight points.
Now add up the numbers and calculate the homo percentile your husband falls into.

(MADGE looks at the numbers, then faints, a melodramatic, ridiculous swoon to the floor.)

NARRATOR

Ralph Smith of Schenectady New York’s Coming-Out-to-His-Wife Option Number Six.
Morpheus takes care of it. (beat) Madge tosses and turns in a fitful sleep. She starts to whimper as if in the middle of a bad dream.

(MADGE does these things from where she lies.)

We hear dream music in the background.

(Sound cue: Dream music if possible)

(RALPH improvises holding a cocktail glass and a cigarette in a Noel Coward kind of manner. A female audience member could be planted so that Ralph can interact with her during this. MADGE opens her eyes, sits up. looks at RALPH.)

Ralph is talking with someone and flirting. But that voice and that tone unsettle her more than the action itself. Madge tries to force away the dawning truth. She says…

MADGE

(exaggerated innocent voice)

I believe…I believe this dream is telling me, telling me…Ralph is having an affair. (beat) With another woman. Okay, I understand. And I accept. I’m ready to wake up now. Gosh, I’m almost relieved. I thought it meant something much worse. (beat) What are they saying? What is he saying? (panicked) Is he going to leave me?

(looks at RALPH and imaginary woman)

Oh Ralph, Ralph, Ralph. Please don’t leave me! No no no!

(MADGE, breaking coquette character, throws up her hands in disgust, addresses NARRATOR in an aggressive tone much in contrast to her late innocence.)

All right, that’s enough. Madge would not do this.

NARRATOR

(getting nervous and speeding up)

Ralph’s delivery has somewhat of an effeminate affectation. He says…

RALPH

So I told Hubert, “Forget it. I will not live with avocado appliances.”

MADGE

Oh Jesus. Hubert?

RALPH

I said, “I don’t care if you have to tear the whole fucking kitchen out. Get rid of them!”

MADGE

I said enough!

(RALPH and NARRATOR jump at her command and face her, upbraided.)

It’s not going to work this way, Ralph. You’re not going to work any conversation openers in. And I–she–Madge is not going to happen upon some preposterous gay survey. And what’s the point of this dream revelation? You can’t control what Madge dreams. If you want to come out to her, Ralph, you’re going to have to say it. Just say it.

NARRATOR

(dares to continue)

And it turns out he’s flirting with a drag queen…

MADGE

Fuck off.

(NARRATOR freezes in place.)

Nearly thirty years, Ralph, that’s what it’s been. So stop with the nonsense. Just say it. You want to tell her you’ve been with lots of men, so be a man.

RALPH

(wheedlingly)

Can I write it in a letter?

MADGE

A letter? In the twenty-nine years we’ve–you and Madge–have been together, not a love letter, not a sweet little note, barely more than a line on a greeting card. And now all the sudden you want to write a letter? To tell her this? This?

RALPH

Please? Please don’t make me say it to her face. (beat) Please? Just a letter. No more bullshit.

MADGE

(after irritated pause)

Oh, go ahead.

NARRATOR

(jumping in)

Ralph Smith of Schenectady New York’s Coming-Out-to-His-Wife-Option

(MADGE is pushing NARRATOR upstage.)

Number Seven. A letter. A useful mix of candor, commitment, and
(turning his back to audience) bullshit. (freezes)MADGE
Write it, then.

RALPH

(tentatively, improvises writing a letter)

Dear Madge. (beat) It’s not that I’m completely gay. In fact… (growing hopeful) in fact I really believe I’m only about 20% homosexual and that means I’m 80% heterosexual, which is more. You know how bad I am with numbers.

(speeding up as more bullshit occurs to him)

And…uh…I’m going to be 50 soon, and I feel the need to let that other 20% out and experience life within that 20% which is an important part of my existence. Otherwise I will never be a whole person and without wholeness, a man can never really attain happiness. Just ask Viktor Frankl. He survived the concentration camps of World War II. Certainly you and I can survive this comparably small crisis.

MADGE

(disgusted)

No. You promised if I let you write a letter…

RALPH

But I didn’t even get to the part about how Nature makes people this way and how she really screwed up with me because I’m not even completely half gay, just 20% and how…

(MADGE looks at the floor.)

What?

MADGE

You think this is what she deserves? Ralph, for christsake you complain if your dinner’s not on time, and this is how you’re going to tell her? At least be truthful about how you’ve lied.

RALPH

I’m afraid.

MADGE

You ought to be. Why tell her, then?

RALPH

I don’t know.

MADGE

Have you thought about what you might lose? What about the children?

RALPH

Theresa could probably handle it, and Phillip is old enough. They’re adults.

MADGE

But you can forget about Robbie. A seventeen-year-old boy? You think he’ll be marching in parades with the gay dad he’s so proud of? You can forget about him.

RALPH

She might fall apart. Madge might.

MADGE

That’s the real bullshit. Madge can handle anything. She’s not the weak one.

RALPH

Madge takes care of everything. She’s always taken care of everything. But it would hurt. Bad.

MADGE

So? Why tell her? Why do you want her to know for certain? Why now, and not the first twenty-nine years of this life lived after dark?

RALPH

I guess…(beat)I want her approval.

MADGE

Oh jeez…

RALPH

I want her to know and I want things to stay the way they are–our home and kids and everything. But no more big secret. No more sword hanging over me. I want her to help me…

MADGE

Help you turn straight?

RALPH

No, to deal with it. And make it less awful that I haven’t told her all these years.

(beat as MADGE observes him steadily)

MADGE

You write the letter. She’ll–I’ll–allow that much. Go ahead. Write it.

(exits)

RALPH

(calling after her like a little boy)

Madge?

(when she doesn’t respond, looks at NARRATOR)

Hey.

(NARRATOR turns around.)

Okay.

NARRATOR

(nods; speaks in normal, compassionate voice now)

Ralph Smith of Schenectady New York, husband of Madge, father of three, has one option left.

RALPH

(writes, or improvises writing, but on real paper)

Dear Madge. You don’t know how many times I have written this letter in my head, and even how many times I’ve committed a few lines to paper and then ripped the incriminating words to shreds. Just like anything that’s unreasonable and bitter, I’ve put it off, and time has gone by. Many years have gone by.

(beat)

And now, I realize, I have two options. (beat) I can say something to you and lose you or, even if I don’t lose you literally, lose what we had, the trust between us that I haven’t deserved.
(beat) Or I can continue to lie with my silence, as I have been doing since we were married, even before that. Which means continuing to live with the stabbing guilt that overtakes me when I’m least expecting it, and always dreading that reckoning day will come.

(beat)

But I can change–a little. Not change the you-know-what, because you can’t change that. I’m gay, Madge. I am.

(beat)

But I can stop the double life. If I stop now, stop my life after dark: the deceit, the brushes with the law, the chancy sex, then I think I can be redeemed. I think I can be forgiven.

(beat)

If I finally start behaving like a man who, despite everything, loves his wife, then I think I can be redeemed. I think I can be forgiven.

(tears up the letter)

(Blackout)

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