Sunday, April 08, 2012

Another Play's Another Thing

As some folks may know, in 2009 and 2011, two of my plays—Past and Present Tense and Takeoffs and Landings—were performed as staged readings at the Colonial Little Theater in Johnstown, NY, as part of their annual New Play Festival. It's a lot of fun, and it's highly educational, seeing performers struggle with impenetrably dense dialogue and long speeches that don't make any sense. (Nota bene: never include the word "metastasize" in a script—for many reasons!) Ergo, I have attempted to bear in mind all these lessons while writing my submission for the 2012 New Play Festival (deadline is in June, I believe)—a second-ish draft of which I have included below, for those who may be interested.

What's it about? The more or less official blurb:

A buddy comedy about death? Why, yes! When 30-something Mark Houghton learns he has six months to live, he has no idea what to do with the time he has left. Help comes from an unlikely source: the Not-So-Grim Reaper himself, Death, who personally—and ironically—teaches Mark how to live...

Famous Last Words
A Play in Two Acts

by Richard Romano

Characters
Mark Houghton, 36
Death (aka Harvey), eternal
Tom, 31, college professor, neighbor of Mark
Barbara, 32, wife of Tom
Sam Duggan, 36, best friend of Mark
Liz, mid- to late 30s, Mark’s romantic interest
Dr. Price, early 50s, Mark’s doctor
Charles Biddlesworth, 147, reanimated dead guy

Setting
Boston, MA, current date
Act I, Scene 1—Dr. Price’s office
Act I, Scenes 2–7—Mark’s apartment
Act II, Scenes 1–4, 6—Mark’s apartment
Act II, Scene 5—Dr. Price’s office


Act I, Scene 1
Dr. Price’s office. Mark Houghton sits in a faux leather chair in front of a desk, stacked messily with papers and other materials. Diplomas and other personal, professional, and medical adornments festoon the walls. On the desk is a life-size model of the human heart, which comes apart to view the ventricles and auricles within. As Mark awaits the doctor, he picks up the model heart and plays with it. 
After a beat (not of the heart), Dr. Price enters. He carries a small portable computer uncomfortably. 
DR. PRICE
Mark.
(He startles Mark, who drops the heart on the floor.)
DR. PRICE
(seriously)
Please don’t break my heart.
MARK
(picking up the pieces, putting it back together, and replacing it on the desk)
Oh, some of us just can’t help it.
DR. PRICE
I’m sorry to keep you waiting.
(He drops the computer indelicately on the desk and sits down.) 
MARK
I don’t think I’ve ever been in your actual office. You have a lot of neat toys. I like all the office supplies with the names of drugs on them, especially that Viagra clock they’ve got on the wall in the blood lab. It’s weird that the hands are always pointing to 12:00.
(Dr. Price is a humorless man who finds nothing amusing. He pays little attention to what Mark is saying.)
DR. PRICE
Mark, how long have you been my patient?
MARK
Um...let’s see...when I first started seeing you I was 21 and weighed 155 pounds. So...15 years or 25 pounds, however you choose to measure it.
DR. PRICE
Next week will actually be our 15th anniversary as doctor and patient.
MARK
I’m sorry, I didn’t get you anything.
DR. PRICE
That’s okay. Mark, you’re the kind of patient I refer to as a “loss leader.”
MARK
Happy anniversary to you, too.
DR. PRICE
What I mean is, I have made no money off you. You’ve never even had so much as a hangnail. I mean, I built a new house two years ago and it was constructed almost entirely from gallstones.
MARK
Yuck.
DR. PRICE
No, not literally. What I mean is, it was paid for by patients with gallstones, sinus infections, kidney stones, the occasional sports injury, that sort of thing. Medical problems beyond the annual physical.
MARK
Sorry.
DR. PRICE
No, that’s a good thing.
MARK
I like to think so.
DR. PRICE
Which is what makes what I have to tell you so difficult.
MARK
Uh, oh.
DR. PRICE
You know, blood tests are funny things.
MARK
I’ve always found them a laugh riot. With the needle and the sharp, stabbing pain...
DR. PRICE
What I mean is, any given blood test can only ever find something we’re looking for. It’s not like I can run a scanner over someone and it’ll tell me everything that’s wrong with them automatically. We can only look for specific disorders and confirm or refute that they exist. In your case, I never suspected that you ever had anything wrong, since you never showed evidence of any symptoms. So I always just had your cholesterol checked, and some other routine things, and that was it. Nothing exotic.
MARK
And last week, you refused to tell me what my cholesterol was. Then you asked for more blood. Have you been getting hooked on all those vampire movies?
DR. PRICE
When we first did your bloodwork two weeks ago, someone screwed up somewhere. Perhaps it was an incorrect checkmark on the lab form, maybe it was some kind of lab error, I don’t know. But I was suspicious of the results. If there was one screw-up, there’s no guarantee there wasn’t another. I couldn’t even be sure it was your blood. So I ran the test again, personally overseeing it. And unfortunately, the retest confirmed the previous results.
MARK
I sense something bad coming.
DR. PRICE
(pauses gravely)
This is very difficult, so I won’t sugarcoat it. You have an extremely rare blood disorder called Cahner’s Syndrome.
MARK
Cahner’s Syndrome? As in “Wrath of...”?
DR. PRICE
Reed, actually, after Reed Cahner, the physician who first identified it.
MARK
What is it?
DR. PRICE
Basically, over a period of time, your blood cells start to deform and distort, eventually rendering them incapable of transporting the substances they need to deliver to the organs of the body. As a result, the organs themselves start to shut down leading, ultimately, to death.
MARK
(getting scared)
Good God. How does one get this thing? I bet it was that guy I sat next to on the Green Line last month.
DR. PRICE
No, actually it’s more or less genetic. You inherited it from some family member or ancestor.
MARK
Sure, other people get money or property. What do I get? A horrible disease. All right, so what’s the cure?
DR. PRICE
(pause)
I’m sorry, but there is no cure. 
(Mark sits back, lost in thought for a moment. Dr. Price looks at him sadly.)
DR. PRICE
We could run the test again, but I’m positive we would get the same result.
MARK
So...how long...how much time...
DR. PRICE
The way it looks now, about six months, maybe seven.
MARK
Six months, maybe seven?! That’s...that’s all I have left?
(Mark gets up and starts pacing around the office.)
MARK
I mean, I’m 36 years old. Not exactly the prime of life, but I thought for sure I’d have, what?, another 40 or maybe 50 years left.
DR. PRICE
I know this is difficult, Mark. I can recommend some therapists if you want counseling—
MARK
I don’t want counseling! I want my damn life back! So all those years where I didn’t drink, or smoke, or do drugs, and tried to lead a reasonably healthy life—what was that for anyway? How was that not just a colossal waste of time?
DR. PRICE
It wasn’t a colossal waste of time. You are in great shape.
(Mark stares viciously at him.)
MARK
Great shape! Yes, I’m a vision of perfect health—oh, except for the blood disorder that’s going to kill me in six months, maybe seven! 
DR. PRICE
That’s not what I meant.
MARK
Then what did you mean?! What kind of world do we live in where you can live the healthiest life you can and you still get screwed? What kind of quack medicine do you people practice here, anyway?
DR. PRICE
I know you’re upset...
MARK
Upset?! You bet I’m upset. And this Reed Cahner...when did he discover this thing?
DR. PRICE
1963.
MARK
1963?! And no one’s found a cure for it yet?! Why the hell not? And this Dr. Cahner—if he even was a doctor. Did he just go, “Hey, I found this deadly disease, oh, but finding a cure for it will interfere with my golf game, so screw anyone who gets it!”
DR. PRICE
Only three people in all of recorded medical history are known to have contracted it, one of them being Cahner himself.
MARK
I feel honored to be a member of such an exclusive club.
DR. PRICE
Now, Mark...
(Mark grabs the model heart from the desk and drops it on the floor, where it breaks into several pieces.)
MARK
There! I broke your heart. Hardly a fair trade, but I’ll take what I can get.
(He storms over to the door.)
MARK
You will not be getting paid for this office visit.
(He slams the door as he leaves.)
BLACKOUT

Act I, Scene 2
Mark’s Boston apartment—the living room. On stage right is the front door, on the upstage wall is a large window. Just downstage from the window is a small dining area. Downstage, a sofa and coffee table face the audience. An armchair is just to stage left of the table. Death is sitting quietly in the armchair, staring at the front door. He is dressed not in black cloak, nor is he carrying a scythe, but casually in a burgundy polo shirt and khaki slacks. He looks to be in his mid-30s, is fit, and to look at him you’d think he was an insurance salesman and not the bringer of doom to all living things. 
There is a tapping and scraping on the front door, as if someone were having difficulty getting his key in the lock, which is in fact the case. The door finally opens, and Mark—a bit drunk—tumbles into the apartment. He closes the door behind him, then stares at his key curiously. 
MARK
(to the key)
Don’t do that again.
DEATH
Well, look who’s finally home.
MARK
(startled; a tiny bit slurrily)
Who the hell are you?
DEATH
(squints to get a better look)
You’re drunk.
MARK
(starts out haughtily indignant...then gives up quickly)
Sir, I will have you know that I am not... Yes. Yes, I am.
DEATH
Good. In the next six or seven months, you will have the urge to drink, smoke, indulge in other various substances, and generally behave in a reckless fashion. Give in to those urges. Don’t be a hero. So what was it—a few good shots of bourbon?
MARK
Well, I tried bourbon. I said, “Barkeep, give me your finest bourbon.” But I grew up utterly hating the smell and taste of alcohol, so I wasn’t quite able to choke it down.
DEATH
So what did you get drunk on, Nyquil?
MARK
When I was 12, my mother let me have a taste of her banana daiquiri, and I kind of liked it, so...
DEATH
(claps his forehead)
You got drunk on banana daiquiris?! Not exactly Dylan Thomas, are you?
MARK
No, I’m— Wait a minute. Who the hell are you and what are you doing in my apartment?
DEATH
I am Death.
MARK
Beth? That’s a femmy name. And you’re making fun of me for a couple of banana daiquiris?
DEATH
No, not Beth. Death. With a D.
MARK
Oh, come on. Either this is the strangest home invasion ever or I’m so drunk I’m hallucinating you.
DEATH
Bananas and rum are not exactly known for their psychedelic properties.
MARK
If you’re Death, where’s the black cloak and the scythe? Why do you look like an insurance agent on casual day?
DEATH
I am billions of years old and harvest the souls of all living creatures. I don’t think at this point I need to dress to impress. Although, actually I personally don’t do so much soul harvesting anymore.
MARK
You’re outsourcing death? 
DEATH
In a way. As the human population increased over the centuries, I had to create a race of Soul Wraiths to handle the actual harvesting. I’m mostly in a managerial position now. So when your case came across my desk—
MARK
You have a desk?
DEATH
I’m speaking metaphorically.
MARK
Ah.
DEATH
So when I read about your...situation, I took notice. And I’m here to help you.
MARK
You’re here to help me? Assuming I even believe that this isn’t just a figment of my imagination.
DEATH
What do you want, that I should start killing things? That’s not how it works.
(There is an INSISTENT KNOCK at the front door.)
TOM
(offstage, from outside the door)
Mark! Are you home? We have big news!
DEATH
All right, Banana Boy. Let them in. You’ll find that they won’t be able to see or hear me. I am apparent only to you.
(Mark heads toward the door.)
MARK
So you’re like Harvey.
DEATH
Harvey?
MARK
The giant invisible rabbit that only Jimmy Stewart could see. It was a movie. And a play, actually.
DEATH
Sounds like a winner.
MARK
It’s actually one of my favorites.
(Mark opens the door and Tom and Barbara enter hurriedly. Tom is clutching a hardcover book.)
TOM
It’s out!
BARBARA
His book is finally published!
(Tom hands the book to Mark.)
TOM
What do you think?
(Mark stares at the cover.)
MARK
E: The Secret History of the English Language’s Most Popular Letter. You wrote a book about the letter e?
TOM
Absolutely.
MARK
Tom, I see you every day. How come you never told me you were writing a book?
TOM
I wanted it to be a surprise.
BARBARA
It’s quite fascinating, you know.
TOM
It’s not just English, either. It is also the most commonly used letter in French.
BARBARA
And German.
TOM
Danish.
BARBARA
Swedish.
TOM
Norwegian!
BARBARA
Ooh, Hungarian—
MARK
I get it. I get it. Really.
(Death shakes his head.)
MARK
Well, Tom, this is great. I hope it, uh, does well. 
BARBARA
Tom’s doing a signing at the Harvard Coop tomorrow. You should come.
MARK
You live across the hall and spend half your time in my apartment. Can’t you just sign one here?
TOM
(seems a bit disappointed)
Sure, I could probably do that.
BARBARA
The university will have to give him tenure now.
MARK
Or at least an “e” for effort.
TOM
Ha ha. That’s good. Did you know that you have to make a conscious decision to not use the letter e?
MARK
I never really thought about it.
(Death is getting quite visibly bored.)
BARBARA
In fact, someone even wrote a novel that was famous for not having a single e in it.
MARK
Must have been a real page-turner.
TOM
It was called...Dang, I can’t remember the title or author...It’s in Chapter 7 I think...
(Tom starts intently flipping through the book. Barbara raptly watches him over his shoulder. Death gets up and walks over behind them. He points to Tom.)
DEATH
I can tell you when and how this one is going to die.
MARK
Please don’t.
TOM
Oh, this’ll just take a minute.
MARK
No, not—
DEATH
About 40 years from now. You know, there are reasons why 70-something professors should not have gymnastic sex with undergraduates.
MARK
Please—
DEATH
I mean, it’s gonna be ventricles a-go-go.
(He mimes something exploding out of his chest.)
MARK
Thank you for that.
BARBARA
Hmm?
MARK
No, nothing. I’m—
DEATH
Of course, he’ll be a widower by then. You know, the number of fatal steamroller-based accidents annually can be counted on the fingers of one hand. But still...
MARK
All right!
TOM
(he’s found it)
Gadsby! By Ernest Vincent Wright.
MARK
Thank you.
(Tom snaps the book shut. He and Barbara move to leave.)
TOM
Anyway, I have to record a podcast for the book’s Web site. I’ll let you know when it’s up.
MARK
I’ll look forward to it. By the way, do you notice anything...different about this apartment?
(Tom and Barbara look around. They look right at Death but don’t notice him at all.)
TOM
No, not really. Your apartment hasn’t changed in six years. 
BARBARA
Is there something we should notice?
MARK
No, not at all.
TOM
Anyway, gotta run.
BARBARA
See you later.
(They exit. Mark turns back to Death.)
MARK
All right, Harvey, you’ve won this round. Unless you really are a figment of my imagination. So what is it you want from me?
DEATH
You’re going to die in six or seven months.
MARK
(has a surge of realization)
Thanks. Tell me something I don’t know.
DEATH
I know exactly when, of course, but I can’t tell you.
MARK
Why are you here now? Are you that eager to knock me off?
DEATH
You misunderstand what I do. My role in the cosmic scheme of things is not to cause people to die. It’s the natural consequences of their lives that do that, whether it’s disease, accident, murder, or what have you. I’m just there to...turn out the lights, so to speak. Escort their souls to the next level. I—or now my Soul Wraiths—can’t actually kill someone who is not destined to die at a given moment. Or even, for that matter, prevent someone from dying. At least not without grave consequences.
MARK
Grave consequences.” Good one.
DEATH
I hadn’t even intended that.
MARK
So who’s your boss? God?
DEATH
We don’t call him that, but, you know, we all report to someone.
MARK
So what do you want with me?
DEATH
To help you live! To help you get the most out of your life before the end finally comes.
MARK
What’s wrong with my life?
(Death gives him a stare.)
DEATH
Oh, come on. What’s your daily routine?
MARK
Um, I don’t know. I go to work.
DEATH
Right—and what do you do?
MARK
I’m head of Tech Support for a health care provider. 
DEATH
Head” of Tech Support?
MARK
Well, okay, not really head, but I’m the senior person on the team. I’ve been there for 8 years. I make decent money.
DEATH
Uh huh. And most of your day is spent doing...
MARK
Maintaining the company’s network infrastructure. Helping people with their computer problems. Yelling at people for hitting “Reply All,” or using their birthdays as their passwords, or for downloading viruses. You know, all that sort of thing. 
(shrugs)
It’s a job. It’s what I do. It’s probably a bit late for me to become an astronaut or Nobel Prize-winning scientist.
DEATH
Fine. And when you get home from work?
MARK
I don’t know. Usually go online or read a book. Chat with Facebook friends. Occasionally watch TV. Tom and Barbara come over a lot and we hang out. I sometimes go out with other friends. What do you want me to do?
DEATH
What did you do last night?
MARK
I don’t know. I—
DEATH
You sat on the couch with your laptop computer and spent three hours looking up the cast of The Brady Bunch on Wikipedia.
MARK
Well, I was curious about something. Look, what’s your point?
DEATH
I’ve known plants that get more out of life than you. Now you’ve got six or seven months left and all you have to show for it is a modestly satisfying job and intimate knowledge about The Brady Bunch.
MARK
I think I’m largely ahead of the curve. 
DEATH
When’s the last time you had a date?
MARK
I knew you were going to go there at some point. You apparently already know the answers to these—
DEATH
When?!
MARK
I don’t know. A few months ago maybe.
DEATH
When was the last time you had a second date?
MARK
You’re pure evil, you know that? Everything everyone in every culture says about you is true. It just so happens that just two weeks ago I had a long-distance relationship with someone I met online.
DEATH
And how did that work out?
MARK
(getting a little embarrassed)
Well, you know, Webcam-uh-sex has its problems.
DEATH
Uh huh...
MARK
Right in the middle, Skype lost the connection, so I had to redial.
DEATH
Okay...
MARK
And I guess I clicked the wrong name in my Contacts list...Well, who would have expected my grandmother to be at her computer at that hour?
(Death claps his hand to his forehead and shakes his head.)
MARK
I should never have installed it for her.
DEATH
Okay, to summarize: you’ve not had a physical date in months and for as long as anyone can recall the highlight of your sex life has been accidentally flashing your grandmother on a Webcam.
MARK
Just kill me now.
DEATH
You need my help.
MARK
To learn how to live?
DEATH
Yep.
MARK
From Death.
DEATH
Gotta love the irony.
(There is a KNOCK at the door.)
LIZ
(offstage, from behind door)
Mark? Are you in?
DEATH
Ah, a potential paramour.
MARK
No, that’s Liz, my neighbor. And I’d appreciate you keeping your comments about her ultimate demise to yourself.
(Mark opens the door and Liz enters. She is in her mid-30s, brown hair, glasses, pretty, in a scholarly kind of way. She is holding an open laptop computer. Throughout this scene, Mark’s bearing and general attitude make it fairly clear that he wishes she were more than just a neighbor.)
LIZ
Is your WiFi working? I desperately need to send an e-mail and my net is down again.
MARK
Yeah, sure. By all means.
LIZ
Thanks.
(She parks on the couch and starts typing on the computer. Death watches, bemused.)
MARK
You know, have you tried restarting your router? That might solve the problem. Or you could need a new cable modem. Those things don’t last forever. I could take a look at it if you’d like.
LIZ
(distractedly)
Nah, that’s all right. It doesn’t go out often. Just when I need it urgently.
MARK
Ah.
LIZ
Although, maybe I should take you up on that offer.
DEATH
In about 50 years—
(Mark spins around and with a stern expression on his face, points a finger at Death, as if to say “Don’t you dare.” Death holds up his hands in surrender.)
DEATH
All right, all right. I get it. 
(catches on)
Oh, I get it. I may have been around for only about 3.5 billion years, but I’ve picked up a few things. 
MARK
(to Liz)
Well, just let me know. Um...can I get you anything?
LIZ
No, I’m good, thanks.
MARK
Ah, good, because I don’t think I actually have anything, unless you’re craving packets of soy sauce or a bottle of ranch dressing.
LIZ
Not right now. Maybe later.
(Mark can’t tell if she is distracted or joking.)
MARK
Ah.
DEATH
You should ask her out.
MARK
No.
LIZ
Hmm?
MARK
Not, not—
DEATH
Go on. What are you afraid of? Come on! Carpe diem! Seize the fish!
(Mark gives him an odd look. Death shrugs.)
DEATH
Since Latin died as a language, I’ve gotten a bit rusty.
(Mark shakes his head. Liz finishes up and stands. She takes the laptop and heads toward the door.)
LIZ
Thanks, Mark. You’re a livesaver!
MARK
Any time.
(Liz exits. Death stares at Mark disappointedly.)
MARK
What are you looking at?
DEATH
That, my young mortal friend, was opportunity not only knocking, but coming in, parking itself on your couch, and using your wireless network. 
MARK
Liz is just a friend.
DEATH
Oh, come on. A blind man could tell that you wished you and Liz were more than just friends.
MARK
Yeah, well...
DEATH
What are you afraid of?
MARK
Rejection, of course. What just about every male with a hopeless infatuation is afraid of. What do you think? 
DEATH
You neurotic mortals. I tell you, life is wasted on the living. Maybe she won’t reject you. Ever thought of that?
MARK
Of course. But if I never actually bring it up, then there is at least one universe in which Liz and I are together.
DEATH
Okay, now you’ve lost me.
MARK
It’s like Schrödinger’s cat.
DEATH
Huh?
MARK
The classic thought experiment from physics. You put a cat in a sealed box with a bottle of poison. In a given period of time, there’s a 50-50 chance that a trigger will cause the bottle to break, releasing the poison and killing the cat. But since the box is sealed, anyone outside the box doesn’t know if the cat is alive or dead. Until someone actually looks, the cat can be said to be in both states simultaneously. People who theorize that there are parallel universes say that in one universe the cat is alive and in the other the cat is dead.
DEATH
Killing a cat? That’s gruesome.
MARK
Oh, this coming from Death.
DEATH
Does the Humane Society know about this Schrödinger fellow?
MARK
It’s not an actual, physical experiment. No one has killed a cat. It’s a thought experiment. 
DEATH
Well, why not use a rat or a cockroach?
MARK
How the hell do I know? Maybe “Schrödinger’s cockroach” doesn’t have that certain je ne sais quois. Anyway, the point is that right now, any potential relationship between me and Liz is like the cat. Until I make an observation—ask her out—both outcomes, that she has rejected me and that she and I have become...involved, exist simultaneously. So there is at least one universe in which we are together.
(Mark smiles smugly at his seemingly impeccable logic. Death stares at Mark for a beat.)
DEATH
Wow.
MARK
What?
DEATH
That’s incredible.
MARK
What?
DEATH
I have never heard such an elaborate explanation for being a complete wuss.
MARK
I’m not being a wuss.
DEATH
You have got to be the only person who has ever used quantum physics to justify being too scared to ask a woman out.
MARK
I can’t imagine I’m the only one. I’m sure many physicists have.
DEATH
As someone with intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the universe, I can safely tell you that you’re barking up the wrong tree with your Many Worlds Interpretation. We’re talking strict Minkowski space. 
MARK
Huh?
DEATH
Ha! Touché. Anyway, we’re going to work on all this. 
MARK
Because you’re going to help me get a life.
DEATH
Because I am.
MARK
Are you Death or an obnoxious fratboy?
DEATH
Is there a difference? Anyway, tonight, eat, don’t drink, and be boring, for tomorrow you live. Go look up the cast of Gilligan’s Island on Wikipedia.
(And with that, Death exits through the wall at stage right.)
MARK
Boy, did Ingmar Bergman get it wrong....

BLACKOUT
Act I, Scene 3
Mark’s apartment, as before, the next day. It is afternoon. As there is a KNOCK at the door, Mark walks swiftly out of the bedroom, crosses through the living room, and opens the door. Sam enters, talking on a cellphone.
MARK
Hey, Sam, I—
(Sam holds a hand up to indicate that Mark hold on. Sam walks into the center of the room and stands, talking on the phone. Mark closes the door and looks over at Sam, bemused.)
SAM
(on phone)
What does Peter say?...Uh huh...
(Death appears from out of the wall through which he had disappeared in the previous scene. He is crooning a lounge version of the old classic rock tune “[Don’t Fear] the Reaper.” At first, he is oblivious to Sam.)
DEATH
(singing)
Seasons don’t fear the reaper
Nor do the wind and the sun and the rain
Come on baby...don’t fear...me! Hey!”
More cowbell! Wha—
(He nearly bumps into Sam, whom he wasn’t expecting to be standing there.)
SAM
(on phone)
Well, tell Terry that I said he’s toast if he doesn’t get that done by Thursday.
(Death looks over at Mark, points to Sam, and gives a quizzical expression.)
MARK
My support system.
(Death walks over to Mark.)
DEATH
Right. Sam Duggan. You know, you wouldn’t think this to look at him, but he’s actually going to live to be 103. In about three years, he’s going to become Mr. Fitness Buff.
MARK
That’s got to be the least convincing thing you’ve said to me.
(Death shrugs.)
MARK
Anyway, would you mind giving us a few minutes? You make me nervous.
DEATH
I make you nervous?
MARK
Yes, odd as it may seem, the presence of Death in my living room makes me nervous. Call me crazy. Go play a game of chess or something.
DEATH
(starting to leave)
I never cared much for chess. But Pictionary...that’s a whole other story.
(Death exits back through the wall at stage right. Mark shakes his head. Sam clicks the phone and puts it in his pocket.)
SAM
(gravely)
Mark, I drove down as soon as I got your message and could get away. What couldn’t you tell me on the phone?
MARK
Better sit down.
(Mark gestures to the couch. Sam sits uncomfortably and looks up at Mark, who paces restlessly as he speaks.)
MARK
You’re the only person I’m telling this to for now, so I’d appreciate it if you not say anything to anyone. I’m telling you because we’ve been best friends since high school, and you’ve always been there when I needed you.
SAM
And you, too. I mean, you introduced me to my wife. I owe you an awful lot.
MARK
Anyway, I went to the doctor yesterday and...
(pause)
Well, long story short, I have six months to live. 
SAM
Are you serious?
MARK
Maybe seven.
SAM
(on the verge of tearing up)
Wow. I mean...I have no idea what to say. That’s terrible. What is it?
MARK
Some weird-ass blood thing that practically no one has ever heard of except the guy who discovered it. I spent last night researching it extensively and, yep, I’m doomed.
SAM
Oh, Mark... How do you feel?
MARK
Physically I feel fine. Emotionally...I don’t know.
SAM
I can imagine. Well, no, I can’t really imagine. But what you must be going through is awful.
MARK
It’s funny...well, not funny ha-ha...but it’s strange that the idea of...you know... That isn’t really what’s getting me. It’s just that I was still under the impression that my life was really just beginning. It’s a shock to realize that’s not the case. It’s like that Pink Floyd song, “And then one day you find 10 years have got behind you, no one told you when to run.” I started thinking about what I had accomplished in life, and really came up with nothing. 
SAM
I wouldn’t say that.
MARK
Oh, I would. But in my own defense, it’s not like I was just being lazy and unmotivated.
SAM
Who’s saying that you were?
MARK
(looking over to where Death disappeared into the wall)
Well, no one really. But you know, my dad died when I was 10 and the only things he left behind were bar tabs and gambling debts, so I had to go to work to help my mom out. And then when I was 17, mom got sick.
SAM
I remember.
MARK
So I had to work, and help raise my little sister. When mom died, I was 18, and I had to take care of my sister, so I didn’t even get to go to college until I was 25. I majored in computer science not because I had any great love for it, but I was pretty good at it and it seemed like a practical career choice. So most of my early 30s were spent trying to get a job, and with recessions and outsourcing, that wasn’t easy. When I got the job at MediCorp, I wasn’t about to take it for granted. So when people ask me about my dreams and ambitions, well, I never had the luxury of being able to even think about what I might want to do with my life. I did what I had to do. Maybe if I were smarter or more determined or whatever, I could have done both, I don’t know. And I am still single, so there’s that, too.
SAM
Maybe, maybe not. I mean, just for the record, I’ve never thought of you as being lazy or underachieving. As you said, you did what you had to do.
MARK
I know. But maybe Death is right. Maybe it has been a poor excuse for a life. I mean, I—
SAM
Wait, wait...back up a sec. “Maybe Death is right”?
MARK
(smiles sheepishly)
I’m speaking metaphorically. Anyway, now that I have only six mon–
SAM
Or seven.
MARK
Or seven. Now that I have only six or seven months left, I want to do something...I don’t know...substantial, but I honestly can’t think of anything.
SAM
Well, what do you want to do?
MARK
That’s just it. I can’t think of anything! I feel like I’m on Final Jeopardy—ha! I have the answer but I can’t come up with the question.
SAM
You like movies. You’ve always been a huge movie buff. 
MARK
I don’t know. Spend my last six—
SAM
Or seven.
MARK
months watching movies? 
SAM
You could make a movie. It would be pretty easy these days. A $200 Kodak videocamera, maybe a microphone. You’ve probably got iMovie on your Mac. Post it online....
MARK
Yeah, I suppose. Man, who knew that one’s impending doom could be so complicated!
SAM
You’re certainly calm enough about all this. 
MARK
I’m really not.
(They pause and think for a moment.)
MARK
You know, I could have been a world-famous ballet dancer if it weren’t for one thing.
SAM
What’s that?
MARK
I can’t dance.
(Sam makes the SOUND OF A DRUM RIMSHOT. They smile, and Mark sits down next to him.)
MARK
I’ve never even been to the ballet. On the other hand, I’ve never actually been to a live basketball game either.
SAM
Maybe you should create some kind of combination. A basketball ballet. A Basketballet. It could make the next Celtics-Lakers game a bit less disappointing.
(They laugh.)
MARK
I’ve never visited any state west of the Mississippi ....I’ve never eaten sushi....I’ve never learned a foreign language. I just can’t help thinking about all the things I’ve never done.
SAM
Think of this as your big chance. Most of those things are pretty easy to do.
MARK
That’s true.
SAM
You should write a book about it, too.
(Mark is intrigued.)
MARK
Actually, I’ve got a better idea. A blog. I’ll blog my last six months.
SAM
Or seven months.
MARK
Right. I don’t know if anyone has done that before. But I’ll need to keep doing interesting things. 
(He starts to think. Sam’s phone RINGS and he looks at the display.)
SAM
Sorry.
(Sam stands up and answers the phone. As he walks over toward the window, Death enters from his usual wall. He looks over at Sam.)
DEATH
Has he hung up yet or is this a new call?
MARK
I’ve got it, what I’m going to do for the next six or seven months. I’m starting a blog.
(Death stares blankly at him.)
MARK
Did you—
DEATH
A blog. You’re starting a blog. You have six or seven months to live, and you’re starting a blog? Good grief. I give up.... 
MARK
Not just a blog. The point of the blog is to write about all the new things I’m going to be doing for the first time. 
DEATH
This should be good. Like what, Bungee jumping off the couch? Googling “Florence Henderson” with one hand tied behind your back?
MARK
Ha ha, very funny. Tell me something. You know exactly when I’m going to die, right?
DEATH
Yep.
MARK
Right. And exactly how I’m going to die?
DEATH
You betcha.
MARK
And all of this has been written and is predetermined no matter what I do, right?
DEATH
Well, within certain parameters and tolerances, but, yes, essentially.
MARK
Certain parameters and tolerances...right. Anyway, if I were to go...say, skydiving tomorrow, I’m guaranteed to survive it.
DEATH
Hmm...well-played. You know, you’re not as dumb as you look. Yes, you’re right. But, you know, the point of doing those sorts of things is to think you’re cheating death. When you know the outcome in advance, that kind of misses the point.
MARK
Whatever. Ha!
(Sam is finished on the phone and walks back downstage.)
MARK
Sam, this weekend, I’m going skydiving.
SAM
Skydiving? Mark, you hate flying. What makes you think you’ll like plummeting any better?
MARK
I don’t expect to like it. I’m just doing it. For the blog. After all, what could happen?
SAM
What could happen”?
MARK
Aw, don’t be such a wuss.
DEATH
Oh, brother.
BLACKOUT
Act I, Scene IV
Mark’s apartment, late afternoon, the following Saturday. As the scene opens, the lights stay out. Mark’s voice is heard, reading his blog post.
MARK
(voiceover)
My name is Mark Houghton and welcome to the debut of my “Famous Last Words” blog. Over the next six or seven months, I’ll be sharing a little bit of my background, but for now, let me just say this: I have six months to live. Maybe seven. I have a rare blood disease for which there is no cure, and the point of this blog is to chronicle my last months on Earth. Does that sound really self-indulgent? You bet! But bear with me... A few years ago, I was out with some friends and someone asked the question, “If you could go back in time to any event, what would it be?” My best friend Sam said, without hesitation, “To the first time I kissed my wife.” Gary, another buddy of mine, said, “Back to 1977 so I could see Star Wars again for the first time.” Now, I’ve had first kisses, and I’ve seen Star Wars, but there are many things I’ve never done before, and this blog is going to be a chronicle of those experiences. First up: this Saturday, I am going skydiving for the first time...
(The lights come on and the front door opens. Tom walks in, followed by Barbara. They help in Mark, who is limping badly. Sam lags behind, talking on a cellphone. Tom and Barbara escort Mark to the couch, where he sits down, exhausted. Sam lurks in the background upstage, walking back and forth on the phone, oblivious to everything else. Barbara has an icepack, which she gives to Mark.)
BARBARA
Here, put this on your ankle. It’ll keep down the swelling.
TOM
What on Earth possessed you to jump out of a plane?
BARBARA
You can’t even make it to the top of the Prudential Building without getting vertigo.
MARK
It’s something I’ve always wanted to try.
BARBARA
Really? 
TOM
At least you only sprained your ankle. It could have been a lot worse. 
BARBARA
Like if your parachute didn’t open.
TOM
Or you got sucked into the engine of the plane.
MARK
The plane had propellers.
BARBARA
You could have been shredded by the propeller.
TOM
You could have landed on a highway.
BARBARA
Or on a farm right in the path of an oncoming combine.
MARK
Thanks, guys. You know, you really are a great comfort.
TOM
We’d stay, but I have to go do a signing in Brookline.
BARBARA
We’ll be back to check in on you later.
MARK
Thanks, but I’ll be fine. It’ll just be sore for a couple days.
TOM
Well, you take care of it.
BARBARA
Holler if you need anything.
MARK
I will, thanks.
(Tom and Barbara exit. Death enters from his usual wall. He sees Mark and the crutches and LAUGHS.)
DEATH
Oh, jeez. Look at this.
MARK
What are you, Archie Bunker all of a sudden?
DEATH
So you really did it. You jumped out of a plane. I am so proud of you. 
MARK
Death be not proud”—
DEATH
Stop that! I hate that poem. How did you feel? Exhilarated? Did it feel like you were really living?
MARK
No, I felt like I was really vomiting, because I was. It was absolutely, utterly, 100% awful. I was dizzy, and nauseous, and ill, and puked on another skydiver below me. Then I thought it would be cool to blog from the upper reaches of the atmosphere and I ended up dropping my iPhone, so I hope it didn’t crash through someone’s roof. 
DEATH
Oh, brother. Only you. 
MARK
Never again.
(Sam hangs up the phone and comes downstage. He looks at Mark, then over at Death, but does not see Death. He looks back at Mark.)
SAM
Who are you talking to?
MARK
Myself. I figured you were on the phone, so...
SAM
How’s the ankle?
MARK
I’ll live.
(Realizes what he just said)
Hah!
SAM
I have to head home, but I’ll pop down tomorrow and see how you’re doing. I’ll also get those Celtics tickets for Monday night.
MARK
That would be great.
SAM
I was also going to get tickets to the Boston Symphony. They’re doing Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. I thought that...
DEATH
That’s always been one of my favorites.
MARK
Go for it. I know nothing about classical music and it’s about time I learned. There might be a quiz in the afterlife.
DEATH
I can actually tell you that there isn’t. 
SAM
Okay. I’ll be seeing you tomorrow then.
MARK
Thanks, Sam.
(Sam exits.)
DEATH
So skydiving is out.
MARK
Big time.
DEATH
Basketball, the symphony. That’s not my first choice for whooping it up in one’s waning days, but it’s a start. 
MARK
I’m so happy you approve.
(There is a KNOCK at the door.)
LIZ
(from outside)
Mark, you home?
DEATH
(in all seriousness)
Now listen to me: This is your chance to ask Liz out. If you chicken out, I swear I will take you now. 
MARK
I thought you couldn’t do that.
DEATH
Ethically, no. Physically, yes. I’m serious. 
MARK
Okay, okay. If you could please disappear.
(Death heads over to the wall. Liz KNOCKS more insistently.)
LIZ
(from outside)
Mark!
DEATH
I’m serious.
(Death exits.)
MARK
It’s open!
(Liz enters carrying her laptop computer. She sits down on the couch next to Mark.)
LIZ
Thanks. I really have to send a file and, what do you know, my network is out again.
(She types and clicks.)
MARK
(with great difficulty)
Um, Liz...how long have we known each other?
LIZ
(seemingly not paying attention)
Mm?
MARK
How long have we known each other?
LIZ
I don’t know, four months? That’s about how long I’ve lived here.
MARK
(not sure what this line of questioning was going to accomplish)
I was wondering...it seems like the only time we ever see each other is when your, your network is... I was wondering if you’d like to have dinner with me tomorrow night.
LIZ
(abruptly stops typing; looks over at Mark)
Mark, are you asking me on a date?
MARK
You used my name. That can’t be good—
LIZ
What the hell took you so long?
MARK
(taken aback)
What?
LIZ
What took you so long? I’ve been coming in here for I don’t know how long...You do know that I could just pick up your network from my own apartment?
MARK
I guess that’s true. I never thought—
LIZ
I kept coming here, hoping you would ask me out at some point.
MARK
Well, why didn’t you bring it up? Women are allowed to ask men out these days. I read that somewhere.
LIZ
You think it’s only guys who are shy and insecure and afraid of rejection?
MARK
Well, no, I guess not.
LIZ
Anyway, the answer is “yes.”
MARK
Yes” that it’s only guys who are shy and afraid of rejection?
LIZ
No, silly. “Yes” that I’ll have dinner with you.
MARK
Great. Uh, I can cook pretty well.
LIZ
That’s a plus. It would suck if we got food poisoning.
MARK
Yeah, that wouldn’t be my first choice. Any food allergies? Dislikes?
LIZ
Not really.
MARK
Anything that requires rabbinical supervision?
LIZ
(laughs)
No, I’ll put anything in my mouth.
(awkward pause)
Well, anyway. On that note...
(She stands and picks up her computer.)
MARK
I’ll see you tomorrow night. I assume you don’t need directions.
LIZ
I think I’ll be okay. Until then...
(They look at each other and nod awkwardly. Liz exits through the front door. Death reappears as usual.)
DEATH
See? Was that so bad?
MARK
Surprsingly, no.
(beat)
Now I just have to learn how to cook.
DEATH
D’oh!
BLACKOUT
Act I, Scene 5
Mark’s apartment, the following evening. As the scene opens, the lights stay out. Mark’s voice is heard, reading his blog post.
MARK
(voiceover)
Bob Dylan once sang, “When you got nothin’ you got nothin’ to lose” which has become my mantra as of late. Well, sort of. Anyway, I finally did it. I finally asked out the woman I have been wanting to ask out for eight months. And she said yes!
(The lights come on. The dinette table is set for a romantic dinner—candles, etc. Liz sits at the table. Mark enters from the kitchen carrying two plates of food. He sets one in front of Liz, and the other one at his own place setting. He sits.)
LIZ
This looks and smells great.
MARK
A salmon recipe I got from my Epicurious iPhone app.
LIZ
So you phoned this meal in?
MARK
(chuckles)
Technically, yes.
(He pours some wine. They clink glasses, and they sip. Liz grimaces.)
LIZ
Oh, my...
MARK
(also not that thrilled with it)
Is that how wine is supposed to taste? I don’t drink and know nothing about wine. Someone at work gave me this as Christmas present. Was it a good year?
LIZ
(takes the bottle and reads the label)
It has no year—it just says “Wednesday.” Hm. “Pete’s Pinot.”
(She spins the bottle around and reads the back label)
Pete’s Pinot is made from real grapes.” Better than wax fruit, I guess. “Aged in real big vats until our master winemaker says it’s ready to be bottled. Pete’s Pinot is rich in unusual taste and fruitiness.” They got that right. “It is meant to be enjoyed with food or by itself.”
MARK
What other options would there be?
LIZ
Good question. “Pete’s Pinot will tickle your pallet”—“palate” spelled “p-a-l-l-e-t.”
MARK
It’s perfect for drinking in a warehouse, I guess.
LIZ
...and delight your tummy.”
MARK
Good grief.
LIZ
Enjoy this very young wine.” Young wine. I think it’s more like child abuse.
(She sets the bottle down.)
LIZ
I think we’ve made fun of the wine enough.
MARK
(laughs)
I think so.
(Liz tastes the salmon.)
LIZ
Mmm...the salmon is fantastic, though.
MARK
Thanks.
(They take a few forkfulls.)
MARK
You know, we’ve known each other for I don’t know how many months, and I have no idea what you actually do. For a living, I mean.
LIZ
I’m an anthropologist.
MARK
Really.
LIZ
Mm. I teach at BU, although I’m on hiatus for a year to work on a book. 
MARK
I’m surrounded by academics. Tom teaches at Emerson, Barbara is at BC, and you’re at BU. What’s your specialty?
LIZ
(a little awkwardly)
Okay, this is a bit awkward, but...um...death. 
(Mark drops his fork and it clatters to his plate noisily.)
LIZ
I know, that’s not the best topic for a first date...
MARK
No, no, it’s not that. So your book is about... 
LIZ
My thesis is that a particular culture’s approach to death is reflective of the larger ethos of that culture.
MARK
How so?
LIZ
Well, death is perhaps the one thing that everyone on Earth shares. Regardless of any of our religious, cultural, or national differences, we’ve all got that one thing in common. So death rituals, and even the attitude toward death itself, are an interesting mirror of a specific culture. Arnold Toynbee, for example, has identified three main attitudes toward death: acceptance, denial, and defiance. We in the West tend to be rather death-defying.
MARK
Well, we try.
LIZ
Our own culture’s commercialization and industrialization of death via the funeral business has pretty much taken us as individuals out of the process, and made death something we pay someone else to handle so we don’t have to deal with it. I think in some ways, that’s why we’ve become more scared of it. 
MARK
I can see that.
LIZ
Unlike other cultures that have a much closer relationship to the Earth. I could go on, and anyway, it’s rather more involved. I’m actually leaving on a six-month trip around the world in two weeks.
MARK
A six-month trip?
LIZ
To investigate the death rituals of a wide variety of cultures.
MARK
So...a Club Med vacation, then.
(Liz laughs.)
LIZ
Or Club Dead. Yeah, it’s probably not a dream vacation, but it’ll be good for the book. Anyway, sorry to freak you out with that topic.
MARK
No, no. Actually, it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’ve started writing...fiction. A first-person fictional narrative about someone who found out he had six months to live. You know, documenting the mind-set, what they would do with the time...
LIZ
Like what?
MARK
I’m sorry?
LIZ
What would your fictional protagonist do with six months left to live?
MARK
Well, you know, get out of the house a bit more, finally ask out the girl he’s had his eye on, that sort of thing. 
LIZ
That’s kind of mean.
MARK
What?
LIZ
It’s kind of mean, when you think about it. This guy knows he’s going to be dead in six months. If the relationship takes off the way he hopes, then that means the girl is going to make an emotional investment in a relationship that’s doomed. And in six months, when he’s pushing up the daisies, she’s going to experience all this grief. And just so what’s-his-name can get a quick lay? 
MARK
Well, I had meant it to be a bit more romantic than that.
LIZ
(pauses, then grimaces)
Listen to me. Sorry, I shouldn’t play literary critic. I should probably read it first.
MARK
No, that’s all right. I’m always eager for feedback.
LIZ
Can I use your bathroom? I’ve got a bladder the size of a juice glass.
MARK
Um, yeah, sure, it’s—
LIZ
(standing)
I know. My apartment is laid out the exact same way.
MARK
Ah.
(Liz exits. Mark stares down at the table thoughtfully for a moment. Death enters; he is not in a good mood. He storms in and sits down heavily in the armchair sighing in a way that sounds close to growling. Mark gives him an annoyed look and rises, walking down to him.)
MARK
(hushedly, so Liz doesn’t hear)
Harvey! What are you doing here?
DEATH
Good help is so hard to find.
MARK
I’m sure it is. Look, I’m in the middle of a date right now. Can we do this some other time?
DEATH
In a Park Avenue penthouse suite in Manhattan, a Wall Street investment banker with more money than brain cells decides to consume enough cocaine to paralyze a herd of bull elephants.
MARK
Good for him. Can we—
DEATH
Not unexpectedly, his cardiopulmonary system goes supernova, and that’s that. 
MARK
I’m sorry but—
DEATH
So one of my Soul Wraiths, who knows perfectly well what the correct procedure is, decides to have a bit of fun. Instead of escorting the banker’s soul—such as it is—to its proper destination, he decides to take it down to the Lower East Side and put it in the body of a very large cockroach. This is a complete violation of every protocol we have. The roach and the banker’s soul within it are, as you would expect, completely dazed and disoriented.
MARK
I would certainly expect that.
(No he wouldn’t.)
DEATH
The roach staggers out into the street where it is immediately run over and crushed by a bus. The Soul Wraith finds this amusing and in his amusement neglects to capture the escaping soul which then diffuses away, again in complete violation of every protocol.
MARK
I hope you nailed his ass. Its ass. Whatever.
DEATH
No, since I am the one responsible, I was the one whose ass was nailed.
MARK
What does that mean exactly?
DEATH
I was given a warning. Two more violations and that’s it for me.
MARK
You’re Death. What can they do, kill you?
DEATH
Worse...make me mortal. I’ll be incarnated into the world and made of flesh and bone.
MARK
It’s not as bad as you think.
DEATH
(glares at him)
What skills do I have that I can ply in your world? 
MARK
Actuary? Hit man?
DEATH
Cute. I’ll end up a...pizza delivery guy or something.
MARK
There you go...Bringing new meaning to the term Tombstone Pizza.
(Death glares at him again. The sound of a TOILET FLUSHING comes from offstage.)
DEATH
Sounds like a romantic evening.
MARK
Would you cut that out. Look, I’m right in the middle of my date with Liz. I’ll be happy to talk this over with you tomorrow. This date was your idea, you know.
(Death stands and starts to leave.)
DEATH
All right, all right.
(Liz enters.)
DEATH
Go get ‘em, tiger.
(Death exits.)
LIZ
Who were you talking to?
MARK
What? Oh, um, cellphone call. It was...Barbara, about Tom’s party next weekend.
LIZ
Ah.
(Mark gestures for her to sit down on the couch. She does, and he sits down next to her. He starts to put his arm around her, but can’t determine if that would be appropriate and ends up flapping his arm up and down awkwardly behind her head for a few moments. Finally, she looks over, and, in frustration, grabs his arm and puts it around her.)
LIZ
(chiding)
How old are you anyway?
MARK
Some of us never outgrew our awkward phase.
(beat, then imitating Cary Grant)
So how does a girl like you get to be a girl like you?
LIZ
You’re doing Cary Grant? What are you, like 90 years old?
MARK
I like old movies. Besides, what actor today can anyone even imitate? They’re all kind of bland and devoid of personality. 
LIZ
That’s a fair point. But if you do Jimmy Stewart, I’m leaving.
MARK
Anyway, so how did a nice girl from ...wherever you’re from get an interest in death? 
LIZ
You smooth talker, you. I’m originally from Oradell, New Jersey, which I’m sure you’ve never heard of. 
MARK
Can’t say that I have.
LIZ
And if you ask me what exit off the New Jersey Turnpike it is, you’re a dead man.
(That statement doesn’t elude him.)
LIZ
When I was a kid, I had an uncle. Uncle Charlie. Uncle Charlie was a force of nature. He used to call himself Uncle Mame, as he was always traveling somewhere or other and would come back with these crazy stories about his exploits. He was such a character, and I always looked forward to his all-too-brief returns from wherever he had been. He was my mother’s brother and he never got along too well with my father, who was a bit more staid and conservative, but I thought he was the greatest. When I was about 7 or 8, Uncle Charlie died of AIDS—this was in the early 80s before anyone knew what AIDS was. I was completely crushed, of course. He was the first person I had ever known who died, and it just seemed so...bizarre and unreal that someone could here one minute, boisterous and laughing, and the next they’re gone, and then you’ll never see them again.
(Mark nods because he knows exactly what she is talking about.)
LIZ
My mother was in charge of the funeral arrangements and she took me along and— I know this sounds really weird, but I was fascinated by the whole funeral home experience. I had never been to a funeral before, so it all was completely new and strange to me.
MARK
It’s new and weird and strange to everyone. And experience doesn’t help.
LIZ
I’m sure. But I just got curious about the rituals involved, and the...hardware, and all the accoutrements. The iconography. So for the next few years, and into high school, I started taking books out of the library about death and death rituals. Any time I had the opportunity to do a paper or give a presentation on the topic, I took it. 
MARK
Boy, you must have been the most popular girl in school.
LIZ
(laughs)
No, I can’t say that I was.
MARK
That’s okay. I would have lost all respect for you if you had been. My high school experience was pretty much like Carrie but with a bit less pig’s blood. Or at least I think it was pig’s blood. I’m not entirely certain whose or what’s blood it was.
LIZ
You will probably not find this surprising, but I blew off my senior prom to go see The Seventh Seal at the Film Forum in New York.
MARK
(laughs)
I never went to mine either.
(pauses for a beat; more quietly)
Actually I missed my prom because my mother had to be rushed to the hospital. 
LIZ
Wow, I’m sorry.
MARK
It was a long time ago. 
(with sudden cheerful exuberance)
In a galaxy far, far away, and there is no point in dwelling in the past.
(He grabs her hand and stands.)
MARK
Forget high school and forget death, assuming there’s a big difference. I want to show you something. Have you ever been on the roof of this apartment building?
LIZ
No, I haven’t.
MARK
Even with the city lights you can still make out a few stars and one of my few scant abilities is being able to name them.
LIZ
You know the names of all the stars?
MARK
Well, the ones you can see from the middle of Boston, which isn’t all that many. But even if we were out in the country, I could still do a pretty good job of naming them all.
LIZ
That would be impressive.
MARK
Hey, I only subscribed to Sky and Telescope for 25 years. Come on.
(He leads her out the front door.)
BLACKOUT
Act I, Scene 6
Mark’s apartment, the following morning. As the scene opens, the lights stay out, although there is sunlight coming through the upstage window. Mark’s voice is heard, reading a blog post.
MARK
(voiceover)
The stars whose light reaches us are literally billions of years old. Much of the starlight that can be seen from the roof of a Boston apartment building has been traveling for thousands of years. Against this backdrop, whether one’s life is 80 years, 100 years—or even a mere 36—really makes no difference in the grand scheme of things. It’s an infinitesimal amount of time. We use the word “lifetime” to refer to something that is—or seems—extremely long. “It was a lifetime ago.” “His legend will last a lifetime.” And yet, if it’s a human lifetime we’re talking about, it’s really no time at all. But the evening I spent with Liz seemed to last a lifetime—would that it could have been the lifetime of star.
(The lights come on, and Liz enters from the bedroom side of the apartment. She is wearing the same outfit she wore in the previous scene, albeit thrown on hastily. Mark follows, wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt.)
MARK
You’re sure you have to go. You can’t just stay here and we can...well, you know.
LIZ
Oh, I wish I could. But I’ve had this appointment for weeks. 
MARK
What’s in Baltimore anyway?
LIZ
Believe it or not, there’s an Edgar Allan Poe scholar who has some stuff he thinks might be good for the book. It probably won’t, but I might be able to use it at some point and he would be a good contact to have.
MARK
Quoth the Raven, “Baltimore!”
LIZ
Something like that. Anyway, I’ll be back tomorrow and we can, um, pick up where we left off. 
MARK
I’ll have the pit and the pendulum installed while you’re away.
LIZ
And pick up a cask of Amontillado, which would probably be better than Pete’s Pinot, now that I think about it. And think about what we talked about.
MARK
I will.
LIZ
All right. Bye, then.
(They kiss.)
MARK
Safe travels.
LIZ
Thanks.
(She exits through the front door. Across the room, Death enters from his usual spot.) 
DEATH
Well, well, well. 
(Mark is a tad embarrassed.)
MARK
Yes.
DEATH
Mark got lucky.
MARK
Yes.
DEATH
Mark scored.
MARK
You know, I’m 36 and you’re a couple billion years old. Must we talk like teenagers?
DEATH
Yes. Yes, we must. I just want to say how proud I am of you right now.
MARK
Yeah yeah yeah.
DEATH
Anyway, back to business. There’s someone I think you should meet.
MARK
Someone you, Death, think I should meet. Is this going to be creepy?
DEATH
Not at all. He’s a gentleman who died in 1859 and I plan to reanimate him so he can talk to you about a few things.
MARK
We need to sit down and discuss the definition of the word “creepy.”
DEATH
Okay, maybe “reanimate” isn’t the most accurate word to use. It’s more like recasting him in his original likeness.
MARK
Oh, that’s so much better. Besides, how much could I possibly learn from someone who died in Victorian England? It’s not like we’re going to have an awful lot in common.
DEATH
Well, he died at the same age as you. 
MARK
Yeah, but 36 was not an unusually young age to die back then. 
DEATH
True, but he still may be able to offer some valuable perspectives. Charles Biddlesworth worked in a counting house for an import company in London. His coworker conspired to steal his job and sell his children to an orphanage in the north of England. A mutual friend got wind of this plot and told Charles, who attempted to have his coworker killed. But Charles himself was stabbed and his body thrown in the Thames.
(There is a KNOCK at the door.)
MARK
I stand corrected. We have tons in common.
(as he walks to the door)
Am I suddenly in a Charles Dickens novel?
(He opens the door. Barbara enters, carrying a giant wooden letter E. Mark stares for a beat.)
MARK
You know, my life seems to have taken a very surreal turn at some point.
BARBARA
Excuse me?
MARK
Never mind. What’s this—it looks like something from extreme optometry or something.
(Death laughs. Mark looks over at him.)
BARBARA
It’s for Tom.
MARK
(sarcastically)
Oh, really?
DEATH
Now, Mark...
MARK
Sorry.
BARBARA
I want it to be a surprise for his party tomorrow. Can I hide it here?
MARK
Sure. I’ll put it in the bedroom.
BARBARA
The book is selling really well. In fact, a quote from it was used in the New York Times Acrostic Puzzle last Sunday. 
MARK
Wow, you’ve hit the big time.
DEATH
Tsk.
BARBARA
Tom’s already thinking of doing a follow up but can’t decide between A or I. 
MARK
That would be a tough decision. He can be the Sue Grafton of scholarly publishing.
(Barbara looks sad for a moment.)
MARK
I’m sorry. I actually like Sue Grafton.
BARBARA
No, it’s not that. It’s just—
MARK
What?
BARBARA
Tom did a signing yesterday at a Barnes & Noble up in New Hampshire and he did a short reading and was heckled.
MARK
Heckled? In a Barnes & Noble?
BARBARA
These two kids just kept insulting him about what a stupid idea for a book it was.
MARK
First of all, that has to be a town starved for entertainment when the hot thing for kids is to go to a bookstore and heckle an English professor. What, isn’t it cow-tipping season yet?
BARBARA
I know it’s an unconventional idea for a book. You think it’s a good book, right?
MARK
Why are you letting a couple of jerks from New Hampshire ruin your enjoyment of this?
BARBARA
Well, even at the university Tom said there have been a few...comments.
MARK
Who cares what they or anyone think? Look, I make a few jokes here and there, but I’m very fond of Tom and you and if you’re happy then I’m happy. I did read some of the book and to be honest it’s far more interesting than I was expecting, and Tom is a very engaging writer. Just remember that there will always be people who hate to see others enjoying themselves. Just don’t worry about it. 
BARBARA
So you think he should do more books in the series.
MARK
I think Tom should write a book about anything he wants. You know, we spend so much time living on someone else’s terms, doing what’s expected of us, or what other people think we should be doing. Lately, I’ve come to the conclusion that life is too short for that crap.
(Death starts clapping.)
BARBARA
My, you’ve become rather philosophical lately. It must be because you’re finally sleeping with Liz.
(Mark looks over at Death accusingly.)
DEATH
Hey, don’t look at me! Who am I gonna tell?
BARBARA
It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. You two are perfect for each other. 
MARK
Well, we’re trying. Anyway, I have to get my day going. 
BARBARA
Right, I’ll let you get going. Thanks for the pep talk.
MARK
Any time.
(Barbara exits.)
MARK
Actually, I have a doctor’s appointment this morning to see how things are deteriorating.
DEATH
That’s the spirit! Oh, and look for Charles Biddlesworth sometime in the next 24 hours.
MARK
Can it be at least during normal waking hours? Being visited by the walking undead in the middle of the night is the very epitome of “creepy.” 
DEATH
Gotcha.
MARK
You may also be interested to know that for lunch I am having sushi for the first time.
DEATH
That’s it—live life on the edge!
MARK
Oh, shut up.
(Mark exits to the bedroom.)
DEATH
(calling after him)
Actually, I’ve always found sushi to be the epitome of creepy.
BLACKOUT
Act I, Scene 7
Mark’s apartment, the following afternoon. The front door is open, and the SOUNDS OF A PARTY come from outside, across the hall. Mark and Liz enter, she holding a wineglass, he a bottle of water.
LIZ
(gasping)
Man, it’s good to be able to breathe. 
MARK
I know. Who knew this many people would show up for Tom’s book party? It’s like Groucho Marx’s stateroom in there. 
LIZ
Wow, another ancient movie reference. When’s the last time you saw a first-run movie?
MARK
I don’t know. When did Citizen Kane come out? 
LIZ
Ha ha.
MARK
Well, aren’t they just remaking everything these days anyway? So, technically, I have seen all the “new” movies. Didn’t I see on Netflix that they remade Arthur
LIZ
They did.
MARK
Tell me any contemporary cast is going to be better than Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli, and Sir John Gielgud. 
LIZ
You’d be surprised.
(beat)
Have you thought about...what we discussed?
MARK
I have.
LIZ
And...?
MARK
It’s not an easy decision to make. I—
LIZ
(puts down her wineglass)
Hold that thought.
(She heads toward the bathroom.)
MARK
Right—bladder the size of a juice glass. 
(Liz exits. Death enters from his usual spot.) 
MARK
(casually)
Hey.
DEATH
The party seems to be a rousing success. 
MARK
Perhaps I have a future in event planning.
(hits head with his hand; mockingly)
No, wait, that’s right, I have no future in anything. 
DEATH
Have you told Liz yet?
MARK
No, but I’m mustering up the courage. 
DEATH
If you’re going to...do this thing she suggested, then you really have to.
MARK
I know, I know. It’s just the past 10 days have gone so well and I don’t want to blow it. 
DEATH
So here’s a question: have you thought about any last words?
MARK
Last words?
DEATH
You know, what you want to say on your deathbed that will go down in the annals of history. Something like “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country,” or “It is a far far better thing I do now than I have ever done before,” or even “Either that wallpaper goes or I do.” 
MARK
First of all, Nathan Hale was a hero who fought in the Revolutionary War. Secondly, Sidney Carton was a fictional character and his last words were written by one of the greatest novelists of all time. Third, the Oscar Wilde quote is probably apocryphal. And fourth, I’m an IT guy, not a famous patriot, or writer, or anything, so who cares what my last words are?
DEATH
You should. A little something to leave behind. To be remembered for. Post it on Twitter or Facebook. That’s probably what Sidney Carton would have done.
MARK
It certainly would have made A Tale of Two Cities a pretty silly book.
DEATH
Yeah, but you know Oscar Wilde would have been on Twitter if he were alive today. He’d be worth following.
MARK
Yeah, but not too far.
(Liz returns from the bathroom. Death walks downstage and sits in the armchair. Mark looks at him uncomfortably, but shakes it off.)
LIZ
Okay, so, what have you decided?
MARK
Before I answer, there’s something I have to tell you. 
LIZ
Oh?
MARK
Something very...important.
LIZ
More important than the fact that you have Cahner’s Syndrome and have six, maybe seven months to live?
(Mark is speechless for a moment.)
MARK
You knew?
LIZ
Oh, yeah.
MARK
But...when...how...?
(He glares over at Death.)
DEATH
You keep looking at me like I can tell anyone!
LIZ
That first night when we had dinner. Your “fictional” account of the guy with six months to live. It seemed pretty obvious, but when I got home the next morning I googled it and as it happens your blog came up toward the top of the first page of hits.
MARK
What can I say, I’m pretty good at search engine optimization. 
LIZ
I found it rather touching and at times profound.
MARK
You’re not mad? What about it being “mean” to have asked you out in the first place?
LIZ
By all rights, I should be mad, and, objectively, it is pretty selfish and mean. But. Just as you had admitted in your blog that you were attracted to me the first time we met, well, so was I. And given that it took four months for us to get together, well, why ruin it now?
MARK
You should have said something!
LIZ
And so should you!
MARK
I did...eventually. 
LIZ
You know, guys always harbor these ideas that women are perfect entities who are always cool and in control of everything. Well, we’re not. Some of us are just as insecure, and foolish, and paranoid as you guys are. Despite a few torrid affairs over the years, usually at conferences, when it comes to normal dating and relationships, I’m just as clueless now as I was 20 years ago.
MARK
I guess I’ve pretty much been the same way.
(beat)
Torrid affairs?
DEATH
Just let it go!
LIZ
That’s not important. Look, when you have both parties in a potential relationship who are clueless, well, it’s gonna take a while for them to get their act together. But I’m just happy that we have got it together, and even if it turns out that it may only be a six-month-long act, I’m willing to take that risk.
MARK
I’m glad to hear that.
LIZ
So...
MARK
Well, with that out of the way, I can’t see that I have any choice but to say yes. It would be my very great honor.
LIZ
Excellent.
(Death claps. Mark glares at him. At that point, Barbara enters, holding a wineglass and looking flustered.)
BARBARA
Whew! Our apartment is packed!
LIZ
I know. Hell of a turnout.
BARBARA
Mark, thank you so much for putting all this together. I hope we don’t run out of food or drinks. 
MARK
We’ll see what the savages have devoured in an hour so and run down to Shaw’s if I have to.
(The three of them stand upstage near the dinette set. Sam enters through the front door, talking on a cellphone, and walks past them, obliviously. They watch him walk past as he exits on the other side of the stage.)
MARK
Now there’s one of your 24-hour party people. 
LIZ
Hey, a movie reference that’s less than 50 years old! I’m impressed.
BARBARA
By the way, Mark, there’s a very strange man looking for you. 
MARK
A strange man looking for me?
BARBARA
He sounds British.
MARK
Oh, God...
(He again glares down at Death.)
BARBARA
And I do mean “strange.” He’s obsessed with the microwave oven. In fact, he was astounded by everything in the kitchen. It was like he had never seen electrical appliances before. Then someone turned on the TV to get some kind of ball score and he sat in front of it transfixed. Is he someone you know?
MARK
Um, sort of. Someone from...uh...work. 
BARBARA
I told him you were over here across the hall, but then Tom showed him an iPhone and some game called Angry Birds. It’ll be a while before he makes his way over here. 
MARK
That’s perfectly fine.
(As it turns out, he arrives pretty quickly. Charles Biddlesworth looks to be in his late 30s, has a British accent, and depending on the availability of costuming, is dressed in period Victorian clothing, or something more contemporary. He enters staring at an iPhone.)
CHARLES
What is this devilry? These exploding birds launch themselves at these glass and stone structures, attempting to kill these...pigs. And the pigs just sit there awaiting death! Why don’t they run?
MARK
Perhaps you’re expecting a bit much from a video game.
(He snatches the phone from Charles and hands it to Barbara.)
CHARLES
(looks around)
But then what else can one be expected to do when Death sits among us!
(He points at Death, who is sitting in an armchair.)
LIZ
What?
CHARLES
Death!!
LIZ
I’ll confess that Mark doesn’t have great taste in furniture, but I’d hardly describe that chair as “death.”
MARK
Hey!
(to Barbara and Liz)
Actually, if you could please give us the room? This won’t take long. I hope.
(They exit.)
MARK
All right, so what profound words of wisdom do you have for me?
CHARLES
You are the one who is due to shuffle off his mortal coil?
MARK
Yes, I guess. In six months. Maybe seven.
CHARLES
Then I only have but one thing to say to you.
MARK
Shoot.
CHARLES
DO IT NOW!
MARK
(startled)
What?
CHARLES
Kill yourself now. Right now. This very minute. Don’t wait another moment. You don’t want them to do anything more to you.
MARK
Who do what to me? The only one who is doing anything to me is Liz and, well, I have no objections to that.
CHARLES
It’s all a tissue of delusions! Rest assured, they are plotting your downfall. They will steal all your money, rob you of your property, then leave you for dead. Does this town have a river?
MARK
(chuckles)
Yes. The Charles, actually.
(Charles screams.)
CHARLES
Expect to see the bottom of it sooner rather than later.
(Mark glares at Death, who just shrugs.)
CHARLES
Now I must go before they know I have returned.
(He exits.)
MARK
Well, that was helpful. Thanks.
DEATH
That didn’t quite pan out quite like I had hoped.
MARK
Good to know.
(Liz returns.)
LIZ
Who was that guy? He just told me I should dump you in the Charles “straight away” and be done with it.
MARK
It’s—a minor disagreement at work. Some people just don’t want to upgrade to the new version of Windows. Please just forget about it.
LIZ
Gladly. Listen...you really need to tell Tom and Barbara. Soon.
DEATH
(mocking)
Yeah, you need to tell Tom and Barbara.
(Mark glares at him again.)
MARK
I will. I’ll do it tonight. I can only imagine how they’ll respond. They’re freakishly parental to me, even though I’m older than they are.
LIZ
They mean well.
MARK
I know. That’s what worries me.
(Tom and Barbara enter. At the same time, Sam comes out from other side of the apartment, oddly not talking on his cellphone.)
SAM
Did you meet that weird British guy?
MARK
Were you in the bathroom this whole time?
SAM
Well, on the phone.
MARK
Thank God for that. Anyway, while I’ve got you all here, I have an announcement to make.
BARBARA
(a little too eagerly)
Is it about Liz?
MARK
Sort of.
BARBARA
Ooh!
MARK
No, not— As you may know, she’s leaving next week for a round-the-world trip as part of a research project. She’s asked me to accompany her and I’ve agreed. We leave on Wednesday.
SAM
Wow.
TOM
That’s terrific. I was worried about her going alone. She could be kidnapped by terrorists.
BARBARA
Or stranded in the desert with no water.
TOM
Bitten by a poisonous snake or frog.
BARBARA
Eaten by cannibals—
MARK
Guys! Please.
(Death finds this all very amusing.)
LIZ
Bitten by a poisonous frog?
BARBARA
(to MARK)
Do you have your passport?
MARK
Yes, I have a passport.
TOM
What about your job?
MARK
I’m on, uh, hiatus.
BARBARA
What will you do for money? 
MARK
I was thinking of exchanging U.S. dollars for whatever local currency is required. I’ll see how that works out and then improvise accordingly.
BARBARA
No, I meant will you have enough?
MARK
I think I’ll be fine.
TOM
Well, I think that’s great.
(checks his watch)
Anyway, the party is breaking up. Jasper Fforde is doing a reading and book signing on campus at four and I want to slip him a copy of the E book.
MARK
Say, do you have a version of the E book as an e-book?
TOM
(thinks deeply, then erupts in a eureka moment) 
My God, that’s completely brilliant! I must call my agent.
(He and Barbara go to leave.)
MARK
Are you guys going to be around later?
BARBARA
We should be. Stop by any time.
(They exit.)
SAM
I should head out, too. That’s great news about the trip, Mark. I’ll stop by tomorrow to see how things are going.
(his cellphone rings; he answers it)
This is Sam.
(Sam exits.)
LIZ
Poor Sam. When was the last time he had a conversation without that goddamn phone ringing?
MARK
He could always turn it off, but even though I love Sam like a brother, I think he overestimates his own importance.
(he pulls her toward himself amorously)
However, I could never overestimate your importance. We’re basically all alone now...
(Well, aside from Death, who is still sitting in the chair.)
LIZ
(pulling away gently and heading toward the door)
Actually, I want to go to the reading, too.
(She walks hesitantly toward the door. Mark simply stares at her. She turns around.)
LIZ
Hell, we’ve got an hour and a half.
(She charges back toward him, grabs his hand, and pulls him into the bedroom offstage.)
DEATH
(calling after Mark)
I’ll just wait here.
(A DOOR SLAMS offstage.)
DEATH
Okay, then.
BLACKOUT

Act II, Scene 1
Mark’s apartment, late afternoon, 5-1/2 months later. As the scene opens, the lights stay out. Mark’s voice is heard, reading his blog post.
MARK
(voiceover)
Whew! Why is the last leg of any trip the most difficult? I am writing this post from the Los Angeles airport. If you have been following these blogposts for the last five-and-half months, you know that most of our many travel arrangements have gone extraordinarily smoothly—even the ones that involved riding on large mammals. But now, literally the last flight, from L.A. to Boston, was abruptly cancelled just as we got in from Chile. We managed to rebook but now that flight has been delayed by two hours. If I die in this airport, I swear I’m taking someone with me!
(The lights come on and the front door opens. Mark and Liz exhaustedly enter. They are carrying lots of luggage, rucksacks, and other travel materials. They are followed by Tom and Barbara.)
MARK
I have never been so happy to see this apartment! Hello, couch. Hello, chair. Hello, dinette set.
LIZ
(charging through the apartment)
Hello, bathroom...
(She exits.)
MARK
(singing à la “The Sound of Silence”)
Hello, bathroom my old friend...”
(to Tom)
Thanks for picking us up at the airport. We really appreciate it. Sorry for all the delays. I hope it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience. Honestly, I couldn’t deal with the Blue Line, or the endless search for a cabdriver who both speaks English and knows how to get anywhere in Boston.
TOM
It was no trouble.
BARBARA
How are you feeling?
MARK
Very tired, although I think it has more to do with the traveling than with...you know...thingie.
BARBARA
Well, you just get some rest for the next few days.
MARK
Yes, I am going to sleep like the d— like the...really tired.
TOM
You’re going to have to tell us all about the trip. We followed your blog posts, but I’ll bet that was only a small part of the fun. 
BARBARA
What was your favorite place? I’ll bet it was Thailand.
TOM
Or Bali.
BARBARA
Ooh, Tahiti would have been nice.
TOM
Let’s not discount Europe just because it’s less exotic.
MARK
(holding up his hands)
Actually, I’d say either the Galapagos Islands—
TOM
What was Liz researching on the Galapagos Islands? 
MARK
Nothing, really. We threw that trip in just for me. So either the Galapagos or Easter Island.
BARBARA
Easter Island? Really?
MARK
For a place that has a giant-head-based economy, it’s a surprisingly cool place.
TOM
Well, you must tell us all about it.
BARBARA
When you’re rested.
TOM
And have had something to eat.
BARBARA
And have—
MARK
I will. I will. Thanks.
(Tom and Barbara exit. Liz returns from the other side of the apartment. She grabs the luggage she had been carrying.)
LIZ
Well, I am going to sleep for days.
(looking at Mark carefully)
You’re okay?
MARK
(a little snippily)
Yes, I’m fine. I’m just a bit tired, and I can’t imagine why.
LIZ
All right. I’m just starting to get a little worried. It’s almost been six months and I’ve noticed you getting a little weaker.
MARK
It’s just the traveling. 
LIZ
(doesn’t really believe him)
Okay, okay.
MARK
Still, I wouldn’t have missed this trip for the world.
LIZ
And it was the world.
MARK
Good point. 
LIZ
I’ll see you in the morning.
MARK
Good night.
(They kiss, and Liz exits. After she is gone, he collapses on the couch. He appears to be in some degree of pain, which he had been concealing. Death enters from his usual spot.)
DEATH
Welcome back, wayward traveler.
MARK
Harvey! Long time, no see. I havent seen you since Japanwhat, two months ago? Thanks, by the way. That was the weirdest food poisoning I ever gotI thought for sure it was...thingie.
DEATH
Thingie”?
MARK
That’s what I’m calling it, yes. Anyway, I appreciate your pointing out that it was only food poisoning. I was about to cancel the rest of the trip, and it would have been a shame to have missed the South Pacific.
DEATH
Well, I got into a bit of trouble about that, and after the Wall Street banker/roach incident, I have two strikes against me. I thought it best to lay low for a while. 
MARK
That’s a fair point.
(Mark is getting groggier and groggier.)
DEATH
You realize you have one more thing to do.
MARK
(his eyes are closing)
Mmm?
DEATH
You have to ask Liz to marry you.
MARK
Remind me in the morning.
(He is asleep. Death stares at him.)
DEATH
I’ll see myself out.
BLACKOUT
Act II, Scene 2
Mark’s apartment, mid-afternoon, a couple days later. Mark is lying on the couch in his pajamas talking on the phone. He talks a bit slower, and is a bit weaker than previously. When he moves, it is obvious he is in some amount of pain.
MARK
(on phone)
That’s great. I got back a couple of days ago and have been recuperating so blogging has been light, but—...No, that’s fine. Sure, send me a PDF of the contract and I’ll send it right back...Great. Thanks.
(He hangs up. Liz enters from the bedroom, carrying a suitcase.)
LIZ
I really really don’t want to leave you alone right now.
MARK
Look, it’ll be fine. I’m perfectly okay.
LIZ
Mark, you are not perfectly okay. And it’s been three days since we got back, so your “it was all that traveling” excuse is getting a bit old. I know what’s going on. It’s not like any of this is a surprise.
MARK
I’m seeing Dr. Price tomorrow, so we’ll find out.
LIZ
Anyway, if this meeting in New York wasn’t really important, I wouldn’t be going. And if I had an editor who had entered the 21st century and was familiar with Skype or teleconferencing—
MARK
It’s really all right. By the way, you and Tom are not the only ones in this building who are published authors.
LIZ
Well, there’s that creepy guy on the second floor who wrote some sort of “manifesto.” But that was self-published. 
(beat)
Wait—do you mean you’re...?
MARK
Welcome to this conversation. Yeah, while we were away, apparently the Famous Last Words blog went viral, and an editor at a New York publishing house saw it and wants to make a book out of it.
LIZ
You mean charge someone for something they can already read for free?
MARK
Pretty much, yeah. Although there will be some “value-added” content.
LIZ
Like what?
MARK
I don’t know. Maybe I’ll fix the typos. 
LIZ
Anyway, that’s fantastic!
(She kisses him.)
MARK
You know what really sucks?
LIZ
I know what really sucks.
MARK
Right. I won’t get to see it in print.
LIZ
That does really suck. But you don’t know that. It’s possible Cahner’s Syndrome isn’t 100% fatal. If only three people have ever been diagnosed with it, statistically, that’s an insignificant sample size to draw any conclusions at all.
MARK
Distorting and deforming all one’s blood cells is never a good thing. And aren’t you the one who’s been saying that I’m getting worse and worse?
LIZ
I’m trying to handle this whole thing as best I can.
MARK
You and me both.
LIZ
Anyway, I’ll be back first thing in the morning, and we’ll check in with Dr. Price and see what we’re dealing with.
MARK
I’ll be here.
(They kiss.)
Have fun in the Big Apple.
LIZ
Ugh. Did you know my editor still uses carbon paper?
MARK
I didn’t think anyone still made carbon paper.
LIZ
Don’t throw any wild parties while I’m away.
MARK
Damn, now I have to cancel the strippers.
LIZ
See ya.
MARK
Oh, one more thing.
LIZ
Sure.
MARK
Will you marry me?
(Liz is somewhat taken aback.)
LIZ
Talk about catching a girl off-guard. Um, yeah, sure, of course. 
(beat)
You’re sure this disease is fatal, right?
MARK
(smiles)
Cute.
LIZ
I really have to catch a plane. Can we discuss it when I get back?
MARK
Of course.
(They kiss again. She exits. Mark tries to get up, struggles, but it’s just not happening. He winces and makes a few groans. Death enters from his usual spot and watches Mark sadly. Mark finally gives up. He notices Death.)
MARK
I don’t suppose you could get me a water from the fridge?
DEATH
Sorry. I’d love to, but being incorporeal and all...
MARK
Damn.
(Sam enters the front door—surprise—talking on a cellphone.)
DEATH
Here’s someone who can help. Or maybe not. 
MARK
Hey, Sam.
(Sam doesn’t respond.)
DEATH
I can come back.
(Mark nods, as Death leaves looking concerned.)
MARK
Sam!
(Sam still doesn’t respond.)
MARK
Sam!!
(Still...no response.)
MARK
Oh, for the love of Benji...
(Mark picks up his phone and dials a number. Sam, in the midst of his conversation, takes the phone from his ear, and presses a button.)
SAM
(on phone)
Sam Duggan.
MARK
(on phone)
Sam! Dude! Little help here!
SAM
(on phone, sheepishly)
Oh, sorry...
(he hangs up)
Sorry. Liz called me a little while ago. She said to keep an eye on you. I was in the city so thought I’d drop by. How are you?
MARK
Not good.
SAM
Boy, it must be bad if you’re not even trying to hide it.
MARK
I have a favor to ask.
SAM
Sure, anything.
MARK
I just asked Liz to marry me. 
SAM
Hey, that’s great! Congratulations.
MARK
I just hope I’m not...too late. Anyway, should I make it, I’d like you to be my best man. 
SAM
I’d be honored.
MARK
It’ll be nothing fancy. Neither of us are religious, so it will just be a quick civil service. 
SAM
Whatever you need me for. I’m here. I’ll even turn my phone off.
MARK
Wow, now I feel honored. 
(pause)
It’s weird, isn’t it?
SAM
What is?
MARK
That I never “found God” or anything. Don’t people usually get really religious when they’re on their deathbeds?
SAM
I don’t know. Do they?
MARK
I think the thing is...I’m not really scared of dying. I don’t think there’s any afterlife or anything, or that I’m going to be cast into some sort of pit of agony for all eternity. I’ve led a pretty moral and ethical life. I never committed any crimes, tried to be nice to people, helped out friends and family when they needed it. I never worked on Wall Street.
(Sam chuckles.)
So I don’t think I have anything to dread. It’s just...there is so much here in the world I don’t want to give up. Having seen as much of the world as I have, it’s a really beautiful place, despite everything we’ve done to it, and I don’t really want to leave. If there is some sort of supernatural entity awaiting me, I don’t think he—or it—would be too upset with how I’ve spent my time. Unless he or it thinks I’ve been too boring for most of it. 
SAM
I don’t think you have anything to worry about.
MARK
Anyway, I’m going to grab a nap, so you can take off.
SAM
Do you need anything?
MARK
Nah, I’m good.
SAM
All right. Call if you do. 
MARK
Will do. Thanks.
(Sam leaves. Death returns and sits down in his usual chair.)
DEATH
You forgot to ask him to get you water.
MARK
I realized that if I have water I’ll only have to go to the bathroom and I’m not asking anyone for help with that. Tell me...
(gravely)
Is this...actually...um...it?
DEATH
Oh, who can say?
(In the remaining dialogue, Mark speaks more and more slowly, and gets progressively hoarser and weaker.)
MARK
Well...I thought you could. Oh, I get it. You’re being cagy because you don’t want to get in trouble again. 
(Death looks at him sadly.)
You know, I never thanked you. I was skeptical that when you said you would teach me how to live, that you would actually do it. In fact, I was not entirely sure you were real. Just a...figment of my imagination. Whether you’re really Death taking pity on me, or some vision emanating from my own unconscious, the last six months really did seem to make up for lost time. I feel like I’ve lived a lifetime in 180 days. And I owe you for that. And for Liz.
DEATH
Nah, it was all your own doing. But I am really proud of you. You’re one of the good guys, Mark.
MARK
Thank...you.
(Mark closes his eyes. Death stands up. He is very sad. He slowly exits. As he leaves, the lights dim. 
BLACKOUT
Act II, Scene 3
With the lights out, a snippet of the Jeff Buckley version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” plays, then abriptly stops as the lights come on.
Mark’s apartment, the next morning. Sun streams in through the window. Mark lies on the couch unconscious for a few beats. Suddenly, he sits bolt upright. He feels himself, his face. He looks around.
MARK
If this is the afterlife, can I at least get new furniture?
(He tentatively gets to his feet. He is in perfect health.)
I feel fine. I feel great! Am I still alive? Or is this what death is really like?
(He goes to the window and yells)
Am I alive?!
BOSTONIAN MAN
(offstage, from outside window)
Fuck you, asshole!
MARK
Well, I’m definitely still in Boston. 
(he returns to the center of the room)
Hah! What did that idiot Cahner know anyway?
BLACKOUT
Act II, Scene 4
Dr. Price’s office, later that same day. Mark and Liz are sitting in front of the desk. The heart that Mark broke in Act I, Scene 1 has a large silver strip of duct tape wrapped around it. Liz picks it up and examines it.
LIZ
Duct tape? This isn’t really how they do heart surgery, is it?
MARK
Depends on your HMO.
(Dr. Price enters carrying a clipboard. Dr. Price is reading what is on it intently.)
DR. PRICE
Well, this is one for the medical books, Mark.
MARK
You’re telling me...a blood test came back in less than an hour?
DR. PRICE
No, I meant this complete...reversal. There is absolutely no trace of any of the Cahner bodies.
LIZ
Cahner bodies? 
MARK
Where are they buried?
DR. PRICE
No, that’s the medical term for deformed red blood cells. When you were here back in December, six months ago, there was some Cahner deformation, but now there’s no trace of it, or of any pre-Cahner transformation.
MARK
The guy went nuts naming stuff after himself, didn’t he? 
DR. PRICE
This is unprecedented.
LIZ
Yeah, well, it’s not like there are a lot of prior cases to compare it to.
DR. PRICE
That’s true, of course. I want you back for a full physical next week, but my guess is you’re in perfect health.
(Mark and Liz are utterly overjoyed.)
MARK
Thank you! Just for that, I will buy you a new heart.
DR. PRICE
Oh, one thing...your cholesterol is a little elevated. I’d watch it on the fatty foods.
MARK
Okay, only just a ventricle.
BLACKOUT
Act II, Scene 5
Mark’s apartment, later that day. Mark, Liz, Sam, Tom, and Barbara enter, in great sprits. They leave the front door open.
TOM
So it just cured itself?
MARK
Apparently. One minute I was feeling like complete crap and couldn’t even get off the couch, the next morning, I felt great!
BARBARA
Well, that is the happiest news I have ever heard. 
SAM
I second that. Although now everyone who was following your blog will think you were faking it the whole time.
MARK
I think I can live with that. Ha!
LIZ
So we need to go out and celebrate!
TOM
Barbara and I have been up for 24 hours grading papers, and we just ordered a pizza for lunch.
MARK
Later on then. I just want to take this opportunity to thank you all for all your help and support. True, it turned out that it was all for nothing, but to be honest, I’m perfectly okay with that!
SAM
Well, that’s what friends are for.
MARK
And a lot of good came out of it, actually. I know this is a terrible cliché, but it’s true that the thought of dying made me appreciate life all that much more, and who knows if I ever would have asked Liz out if I hadn’t been...pressured into it.
BARBARA
I’m sure one of you would have said something eventually. 
MARK
But the trip around the world was incredible, and who knows if I ever would have done that otherwise. Anyway, that’s all I have to say, and I’m glad I get to...know you all for a lot longer.
BARBARA
Aww, thanks, Mark.
(Death—now HARVEY—enters the front door. He is dressed like a pizza delivery guy and carries a large pizza box. He knocks on the door.)
HARVEY
Anyone here order a pizza? No one’s home in 6C.
TOM
Oh, that was us.
(He pats his trousers.)
I left my wallet in the apartment...
(Mark looks at Harvey and stares. Harvey gives a smile and a wink.)
MARK
I got this. 
(Mark takes out his wallet, and beckons Harvey downstage to talk with him in relative private. The others stay upstage and talk quietly amongst themselves.)
MARK
Harvey, is that you?
HARVEY
In the flesh. For a change. 
MARK
Did— My miracle cure...was that you?
HARVEY
I pulled some strings, yeah.
MARK
But you got busted for it.
HARVEY
I am no longer Death. And to be honest, I don’t have a problem with that. 3.5 billion years is long enough for any job.
MARK
Wow, That was incredibly— I don’t know what to say. So...I see you got a new job. Pizza delivery boy, though. A bit of a comedown, but at least it’s a change of pace. 
HARVEY
(shrugs)
You haven’t seen the kitchen.
MARK
Where are you living?
HARVEY
I have no money yet, so I haven’t really gotten that far.
MARK
You didn’t really think this through, did you?
HARVEY
It was a spontaneous decision.
MARK
Well, look, Liz had just renewed her lease before we left back in December, and she’s going to be moving in with me, so I’m sure we could sublet her place to you and float you for a couple of months. 
HARVEY
That would be much appreciated.
MARK
We’ll also see how we can get you a better job. Damn...actually, I just realized I need to get my job back.
(Mark takes out his wallet and pays Harvey for the pizza; he introduces Harvey to the others)
Guys—this is...
(to Harvey)
What’s your name? I can’t introduce you as the Artist Formerly Known As Death.
HARVEY
(thinks)
Good question. “Harvey” works.
MARK
Guys, this is Harvey. He’s new in town, so I thought we’d help him out for a while.
TOM and BARBARA
Hi, Harvey.
LIZ
Welcome to Boston.
MARK
(to Harvey)
Come by when you get off work. We’re celebrating my not dying and if anyone should be invited, it’s you.
HARVEY
More banana daiquiris?
MARK
I think I’ll pass on the banana daiquiris this time. 
HARVEY
All right, I’ll see you tonight.
(He attempts to leave as he had always done, but bangs into the wall instead. He rubs his nose. Mark laughs, but the others give him an odd look.)
Forgot about that...
MARK
Yeah, you’re corporeal now.
HARVEY
That kind of sucks, doesn’t it?
MARK
You get used to it after a while.
(Harvey exits.)
BARBARA
Mark, here, have some pizza.
MARK
Well, I should watch my cholesterol. But, hey, you only live once.
SAM
Unless you’re a vampire.
(Mark takes a slice. The characters talk silently and eat. Mark’s voice is heard, reading his blog post.)
MARK
(voiceover)
Not that it’s entirely relevant now, but do I have any “famous last words”? Nothing terribly original, I’m afraid. But I do keep coming back to something the late singer/songwriter Warren Zevon said when he was living out his own last few months. He said about living that you should “enjoy every sandwich.” Or, perhaps, every slice of pizza. Because who knows when it will be the last.
THE END

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