Despite being involved in theater for over 20 years and having dabbled in creative writing off-and-on since childhood, I’ve never really had any desire to try my hand at playwriting. I have vague memories of writing a one act back around 1999 sometime, but it has been lost to the ravages of time (and damaged harddrives). All that has survived is this 10 minute piece that I scratched out back in 2001.
The premise is basically a ridiculous conversation about the odds of falling in love. I’m reasonably sure it was born from an actual thought I had one night where I tried to seriously calculate the math involved (expressed by the character Pete in the stretch run of the play). I have no idea if it is any good as a performance piece (my gut instinct is “no”, as it’s too talky), but it makes me snicker every time I read it, which explains the file itself has survived all these years despite me never bothering to share it with anybody (until now).
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AGAINST THE ODDS
by Gordon Ellis
PETE – Male, mid 20’s to early 30’s
CHRIS – Preferably a female, mid 20’s to early 30’s. Could also be male.
(The set consists entirely of a dining table and it’s two chairs with nothing else visible. At open CHRIS is seen sitting at the table reading a newspaper and sipping on a coffee or juice. PETE enters, attempting to tie a necktie and failing at it.)
PETE: Morning, Chris.
CHRIS: Morning, Pete.
PETE: How goes it?
CHRIS: Fine. You?
PETE: Not bad. Not bad. (pause as he works on the tie some more, stopping and starting over if necessary) You working today?
CHRIS: Yeah. At nine.
CHRIS: How about you?
PETE: I may stop in for a bit. Catch up on a few things.
CHRIS: I see.
PETE: After that I’d thought I’d go over to the mall and fall in love.
(PETE continues to struggle with the tie. He lets out an exasperated breath.)
CHRIS: So what’s with the tie?
PETE: I dunno. I thought it might help.
CHRIS: Help what?
PETE: The falling in love thing.
PETE: Why? You think the tie’s too much? Maybe I should go with the turtleneck.
PETE: What do you think?
CHRIS: About what?
PETE: Tie or turtleneck?
PETE: The tie’s a bit stuffy, I’ll grant you that. But I dunno, I always thought the turtleneck made me look kinda sorta, you know… pretentious. Maybe I’ll stick with something more neutral. Button-down maybe. Oooh, or a polo.
CHRIS: Why not just a t-shirt?
PETE: Ick. Are you kidding? I don’t want to send out the wrong vibe.
(CHRIS has until this point remained focused on her newspaper. It isn’t until now that she finally lays it flat on the table and actually turns her full attention to PETE.)
CHRIS: Alright, I give. What are we talking about?
PETE: I told you. I’m going over to the mall to fall in love. Weren’t you listening?
CHRIS: I thought so.
PETE: Alright then.
CHRIS: I also thought you were kidding.
PETE: Well I wasn’t.
CHRIS: I’ve since gathered as much.
PETE: (now fed up with his inability to get the tie right) Agh, forget it. The tie is definitely out.
CHRIS: What are you doing?
PETE: I’m getting dressed, what does it look like?
CHRIS: Dressed to fall in love?
CHRIS: So you’re serious about this?
PETE: Of course I’m serious. Why wouldn’t I be serious? This is a very serious subject.
(PETE begins to unbutton his shirt and eventually removes it.)
CHRIS: You’re actually going over to the mall with the intention of falling in love?
PETE: Sure. Why? You say that like the idea is absurd or something
CHRIS: That’s because it is.
PETE: To you maybe.
CHRIS: To lots of people.
PETE: Not to me.
CHRIS: You realize, of course, that it’s not exactly that easy?
PETE: Sure it is.
CHRIS: Falling in love?
CHRIS: Love? L-O-V-E? As in, two people sharing a mutual bond; linked on an emotional and metaphysical level they can neither see nor control?
PETE: Don’t forget sex. That’s a big part of it too.
CHRIS: That kind of love? That’s what you’re talking about?
PETE: The one and only.
CHRIS: Mmm. And you think you’ll find this at the mall, do you?
PETE: I hope so.
CHRIS: So what, like on a shelf at Sharper Image or something?
PETE: (with a sigh) Please, Chris, let’s not be childish about this. Of course I don’t intend on walking into a store and buying a box of love. Let’s be serious.
CHRIS: But yet you think you can find it at the mall?
PETE: I’m pretty sure. At the very least it’s a place to start.
CHRIS: I see.
(PETE disappears off stage to change his shirt. CHRIS shakes her head and returns to her paper. PETE returns pulling a turtleneck sweater over his head. CHRIS drops the paper again.)
CHRIS: So dare I ask what makes you think you can simply go over to the mall and fall in love?
PETE: Why must everything be so difficult with you?
CHRIS: I’d just like to know where you got this crazy notion that you can just decide when and where you’re going to fall in love. It’s not like going to the dentist, Pete. You can’t just make an appointment.
PETE: Gee, you don’t say. Any more helpful tips?
CHRIS: Yes. The turtleneck makes you look pretentious.
(PETE leaves once again, pulling the turtleneck off as he goes. CHRIS laughs to herself. When PETE returns he is trying on a polo shirt.)
CHRIS: So you’re sure it’s going to happen today.
PETE: Sure what’s going to happen?
CHRIS: That you’re going to fall in love.
PETE: Chris, this isn’t like waiting to be struck by lightning. It’s not merely a random occurrence. You have to be a willing participant in order to fall in love. You have to be proactive. That’s what I’m doing. I’m being proactive.
CHRIS: By going to the mall?
PETE: What’s wrong with the mall? I like the mall. I like shopping in the mall. If I am going to fall in love it might just as well be with someone who also enjoys shopping at the mall.
CHRIS: Point taken.
PETE: Besides, there’s quite a fine variety of women at the mall. It’ll increase my odds of success greatly.
CHRIS: What about men?
PETE: What about them?
CHRIS: There’ll be plenty of men at the mall too.
PETE: Yes, and your point?
CHRIS: Won’t that increase your odds as well?
PETE: It might, if I was into men. But I’m not, so they’ll have no bearing on my chances of success.
CHRIS: I see. So now you’re saying that not only can you predetermine when and where you’re going to fall in love, but you’re also able to predetermine what sex you’re going to fall in love with?
PETE: Well duh.
CHRIS: Don’t you think you’re unnecessarily limiting yourself?
PETE: Look, I can’t help who I am. I’m not into guys. If I was, then yes, your point would have merit. But it just so happens that I, Peter Barrington, am straight. And without getting into a separate philosophical debate over the nature of what makes some people heterosexual while making others homosexual, let’s just concede the fact that I’m straight and therefore will not be falling in love with any men, either today or at any time in the future.
CHRIS: How can you say for sure?
PETE: How can I say for sure? It’s simple. I’m not gay.
CHRIS: Not now, no.
PETE: Not now, not in the future.
CHRIS: But how do you know that? For sure?
PETE: Because I know. I don’t like men. They don’t do anything for me. Physically. Sexually. I’m not an admirer of the male form. Nothing about men turns me on. When I see a hot looking woman I think, “hey, she’s a hot looking woman”. When I see a hot looking man I think, “hey, I bet he knows a lot of hot looking women.”
CHRIS: And you don’t think that can change?
PETE: Oh, for the love of… fine. Fine. I’ll concede to you the point that there is a possibility, however infinitesimal it may be, that I could wake up some day to the realization that I’m sexually attracted to men equally, if not more so, than I am to women. Yes, that possibility does exist.
CHRIS: So if the possibility exists, why limit yourself?
PETE: Because it is an extremely remote possibility. As of this very moment in my life I have found myself physically attracted to a man exactly the same number of times I found myself attracted to this chair. NONE! Now, had I been harboring some sort of deep seeded chair fetish all these years, then perhaps I would open myself up to the possibility that there is equal chance of me falling in love with the bar stool as there is the woman sitting on it. But to date the ratio of chairs I have seen to chairs I have wanted to hump is about 0-to-10. Whereas the ratio of women hovers somewhere around… 7-to-10. Understand?
CHRIS: Wow. So you’re giving yourself a 70 percent chance of falling in love? No wonder you think it’s so easy.
PETE: I never said that.
CHRIS: Well, you just said you were attracted to 7 out of every 10 women you meet, which unless my math skills are failing me, figures out to 70 percent. Assuming of course that you encounter at least 10 women today, which I tend to think you will.
PETE: See, now you’re putting words into my mouth.
CHRIS: No I’m not. You just said–
PETE: What I said was that 7 out of every 10 women I meet I want to nail. I didn’t say anything about falling in love with them.
CHRIS: There’s a difference?
PETE: Of course there’s a difference! Just because I find a women physically attractive enough to sleep with doesn’t mean I wanna marry her. It just means I find her appealing enough in some way to deem worthy of sex. Maybe she’s got a really great body but a butt-ugly face. Or maybe she’s really cute but with a totally unappealing figure. Or maybe she’s really good looking from a surface point of view, but lacks that sort of inner beauty that is necessary to really make her attractive to me.
CHRIS: Fascinating. Absolutely fascinating. So tell me, what would you say is the percentage of women you meet that you actually have a chance of falling in love with? Given that 70 percent of them qualify as sexually attractive.
PETE: (thinks) Fifteen.
CHRIS: Fifteen? Fifteen percent?
PETE: Sounds about right.
CHRIS: So of the 70 percent you find physically attractive–
PETE: Eh, eh, eh… not necessarily attractive, but passable enough to sleep with.
PETE: No problem. Just want to clarify. Wouldn’t want to give the impression that I actually find 70 percent of the world’s female population “attractive”.
CHRIS: Just fuckable.
CHRIS: Okay. Well, point taken. So moving on, of the 70 percent you’d be willing to sleep with, only about 20 percent of those would you be willing to date.
PETE: Oh, no. I’d say of the 70 percent maybe… 60 percent I’d be willing to date.
CHRIS: 60 percent? But what about the other 40 percent?
PETE: What 40 percent?
CHRIS: The 40 percent between the 60 percent and the 20 percent?
PETE: You mean the 40 percent between the 60 percent I’d be willing to date and the 20 percent I give myself a real shot at finding love with?
PETE: Ah. Well they get eliminated for different reasons.
CHRIS: There are more?
CHRIS: Oh, do tell.
PETE: Well… we take the initial 70 percent…
PETE: And as I said we can then eliminate about 40 percent of those as being merely passable enough for sex but nothing further.
CHRIS: Leaving us with the 60 percent.
CHRIS: Because the initial 70 percent has now become it’s own separate 100 percent.
PETE: Right. Now of that 60 percent we can cut out about 25 percent as having personalities that I will be turned off by. Women with completely contrasting viewpoints as me, or interests and hobbies I find boring and/or stupid, that kind of thing.
CHRIS: I see. Go on.
PETE: Where’s that leave us?
CHRIS: 60 percent minus 25 percent would leave you with 35 percent. Of which 20 percent is already allocated to the ones you actually give yourself a shot with, which leaves you with… (thinks) …15 percent to play with.
PETE: Ok. Done.
CHRIS: So how do you account for that 15 percent?
PETE: That would be the percent of women that wouldn’t want me.
CHRIS: (shocked) Out of all the women in the world, you think only 15 percent don’t want you?
PETE: No. Out of all the woman who would have trickled down to that final 35 percent, of those I’m saying about 15 percent wouldn’t want me. I’m quite sure that a vast majority of the other 65 percent I’ve already cast off would be as equally willing to do the same with me.
CHRIS: They would if they heard you referring to them in percentages.
PETE: Hey, you asked. Besides, I thought I was being a bit generous with that 15 percent.
CHRIS: Oh, yes. Very modest of you.
PETE: So anyway, there you have it.
CHRIS: Indeed. Of all the women you will come in contact with today, be it verbally or merely just women you see, you’d say about 15 percent you would fall in love with if given the opportunity?
PETE: Actually, the numbers are bit less than that. You see, that 15 percent is merely the percent I’d have a chance of falling in love with. There are any number of reasons why some of those wouldn’t work out.
PETE: Yes. I mean, a great number I’d lose out to simple fate.
CHRIS: Fate? Now we’re including fate into things?
PETE: Sure. Just because I meet them and I’m attracted to them and might ultimately find them suitable as a mate doesn’t mean that such facts will be clear to me at first glance. Maybe they’re having a bad hair day. Or it’s that time of the month and as a result they’re especially moody. There’s no telling what kind of outside forces could influence that initial meeting. Sometimes that initial meeting is all you get. Fate can be a bitch.
CHRIS: You don’t say.
PETE: Indeed. I’d say to be on the safe side we should probably go half of the 15, rounding up to eight.
PETE: Yes, eight. Eight percent.
CHRIS: Eight percent of all the women in the world?
PETE: Actually… (CHRIS sighs) I should have been clear in the beginning. That initial pool of women we were referring to wasn’t actually the entire female population of the world.
CHRIS: It wasn’t?
PETE: No. We can safely eliminate anyone who’s age places them beyond the bounds of good taste. Obviously I’m not going to fall in love with a six month old newborn or a 75 year old granny. At least, not at my present age. Even if I did, I’m pretty sure it would be more along the lines of some sort of sick perversion than real love. So I wasn’t including them in the original equation.
CHRIS: That may very well be the most disturbing thing I have ever heard.
PETE: What? You think I should leave the old ones and the babies in there?
CHRIS: No, I’m talking about the entire thing. The fact that you can distill it all down to such a precise number. It’s truly horrifying.
PETE: Tell me about it. Eight percent? It’s a wonder a guy’s got a fighting chance at all. So whattya think… go with the polo?
CHRIS: Might as well. You’re already facing insurmountable odds as it is.
PETE: Yeah, well, it’s a burden we all live with.
CHRIS: And yet, despite these overwhelming odds you’ve given yourself, you think it’s just a simple case of going down to the mall and making it happen?
CHRIS: All because you’ve decided that today you’re going to fall in love.
PETE: Well yeah, that and…
CHRIS: And? There’s an “and”?
PETE: Yeah. That and the fact that I’m meeting that new temp from the office at about 2 o’clock. (to the audience) I think she digs me.
© 2001 Gordon Ellis.