This Is What Science Fiction Theatre Looks Like: A Trifling Matter By Susan Gray

Susan Gray is our resident expert in Science Fiction Theatre;  no, not the 50’s television show (which happens to be great!), but the presentation of science fiction stories and themes on the live stage.  She currently has a play in production – SUM – and has previously worked on numerous other productions.

Like SF poetry, Flash Fiction and no doubt other forms, SF Theatre (yes, the UK English spelling, Susan is doing her work across the big pond), is a bit of an outlier, at least in terms of the attention we give it. Which isn’t much (though it is growing both here in the states and abroad).

Live acting SF themes is something old that is new again;  early episodes of many of the original SF television shows were live action (including Captain Video, Tom Corbett and the anthology show Tales of Tomorrow) – and much of early, live television was staged like theatre productions.  (You can see this amply demonstrated in the public domain episode of Tales of Tomorrow Appointment on Mars – starring Leslie Nielsen, Brian Keith and William Redfield.  The announcer even presents the show as “And now, CH Mazden presents Act One of Tales of Tomorrow, Appointment on Mars…”.  You can watch it here.

However, while the Great White Way has long favored fantastical themes, it’s been pretty shy about engaging with Science Fiction.  Susan and a handful of others around the world are out to change that.

It did occur to us though that most of our readers are probably not all that familiar with the form that a science fiction one act play takes.  And so, thanks to Susan, we’re able to give you an example of a short play that deals with the same themes as are presented in her up-coming production of SUM.

“…and now, Amazing Stories presents Act One of A Trifling Matter, by Susan Gray…” (Ed.)

ACT I
Scene 1
2 women are in a living room. A table and chairs
are arranged haphazardly. RUBY and ERICA are
investigating, scanning the room with handheld
devices. (A projection screen is to be set up
upstage).

ERICA

It’s damn quiet in here, isn’t it?

RUBY

You don’t say.

ERICA stares at RUBY.
ERICA

Well, obviously… I just wanted something to/

RUBY

/break the silence?

ERICA

No… something to stop me from thinking. Over

thinking.

RUBY

Chance would be a fine thing.

[beat]
ERICA

Look, what I’m saying is… something’s unnatural.

Something… off kilter. I don’t want to put my finger

on it, but/

RUBY

Whatever’s happened here, we’ve got to put your finger

on it. Gloved, preferably. Or are you that close to

retirement?

ERICA

Will you stop the digs already!? Yes, we know the

story. But there’s more to it. More to it than the more

to it.

RUBY

I see.

ERICA

It’s not what you can see. It’s what you can sense.

RUBY

And what do you sense then?

ERICA opens her mouth to speak, but stops as A and
B arrive.
RUBY

Come on! What do you sense then?

ERICA gestures wildy in the two’s direction.
ERICA
(loudly)

Hello! Hello.

A

Hello.

B

Hello.

[beat]
ERICA

Is everything alright?

[beat]
ERICA

I mean, what’s happened. It can’t be settling for

yourselves, can it?

A

Can it?

B

It can.

[beat]
ERICA

Bloody suspicious is what I call it.

RUBY

State of shock. Can happen to the best of us.

ERICA

There’s shock and there’s apathy, Ruby.

[beat]
RUBY

Is it alright if we can check upstairs now?

A

Yes. Of course.

B

If you want to see the shells, then yes.

[beat]
ERICA

The shells?

A

The prime angle of your investigation.

B

The shells are all that remain – we pour our

consciousness into them, actualise them, animate them.

Only then do we hear the undulations, our reflections.

Ourselves and no-one.
RUBY

I… I see.

ERICA
(hissing)

And you were wondering what I was talking/

RUBY

/We will see… these shells. Yes.

RUBY turns to ERICA.
RUBY

How are we playing this?

ERICA

The shells, you mean?

RUBY

For goodness sakes! Are you investigating the body or

are you going to interrogate… them?

[beat]
RUBY

They said… if we see the shells. There must be more

to it.

ERICA
(hissing)

But we don’t even know what the stupid things are/

A

But there is.

B

We are only the start.

RUBY

And you give me permission to see them?

A

We have nothing to lose by it.

B

All we can do is give you our assent. The choice is

yours.

RUBY
(Grimly)

I’ll take that as a yes.

[beat]
ERICA

So I’m to talk to them?

RUBY

You know the answer.

ERICA

Right. Right.

ERICA coughs loudly.
ERICA

I need you two for questioning, please.

A

Two?

B

What a small number. Insufficient for such a

transaction, surely?

ERICA

I don’t follow.

[beat]
A

I don’t see the difficulty in deciphering our

statements.

[beat]
ERICA

And?

B

And?

ERICA

I thought you talked together. In quantum pairs. Or

something.

A

Fascinating.

[beat]
ERICA

For the love of… just sit here and we’ll start it,

alright?

RUBY

You handle them. I’ll be upstairs.

RUBY goes offstage. ERICA offers the chairs to the
two, who at some length accept.
ERICA

Right. Could you tell me where you were when the

incident began?

A

The incident?

ERICA

The murder.

[beat]
A

You are mistaken.

B

No murder has taken place in this household.

ERICA

Don’t play dumb with me! I saw the body. You and your

other pal here viewed her. In plain sight.

B

Pal? How noir.

ERICA sniggers.
A

We saw the shell, yes.

B

She is not dead, however.

[beat]
ERICA
(panicked)

Not dead! Not dead! Didn’t you see the bloody body! She

wasn’t breathing, for goodness sakes!

A

Is that what dead is?

ERICA

Are we at nursery or something?! Not breathing for a

prolonged period. Not like swimming or… or… now

come on! You know what I’m talking about.

[beat]
ERICA

Oh… I’m sorry… it must have been suicide, right?

This must be hard for you.

B

What is hard for us is understanding where you’re

coming from.

ERICA

Do you not understand suicide or something?

A

We do.

ERICA

Then please, for your sanity as well as mine, tell me

what happened.

B

Very well.

A

She is alive.

B

She is us.
[beat] ERICA

I beg your pardon!?

A

I am the woman you speak of.

B

As am I.

[beat]
ERICA

Look. Death is a… big thing.There’s no need to be in

denial/

A

Indeed.

B

What you need to understand… is that you are the one

in denial.

ERICA

You mean this. You really mean this.

A

What is the problem?

B

How else can we prove it to you?

[beat]
The lights dim on the stage.
ERICA

We’ve had clappers for a while now. That doesn’t

change/

A

/Who’s clapping?

[beat]
B

Again. What do we need to do?

ERICA

I don’t know! How can I think outside of what’s human?

A

I think we could find a way.

B

We’re open for questioning, after all.

ERICA

I don’t understand this… so you are not human? Is

that what you’re saying? Would make bloody sense,

that’s for sure.

B

We are human but not. We have human consciousness but

we are not human in the way you may understand.

ERICA

So… so… what did you do?

A

What did we do?

ERICA

I don’t want to ask… I don’t want to.

B

That is the point of interrogation. To ask.

A

What you will ask, we will answer.

ERICA

That’s what I’m afraid of.

[beat]
B

Humans are afraid of asking in fear of the answers.

Clear communication is akin to being antisocial.

ERICA

Maybe… but for a good cause.

A

What is this cause?

B

Surely knowledge is better than ignorance. Knowing your

options, for example.

[beat]
ERICA

Why do you always speak in pairs? You two talk like a

bloody poetry text at times, you know that.

A

Poetry? Interesting.

B

We don’t always speak in pairs.

ERICA

Well, I don’t have a transcript.

[beat]
A

We are more than a single voice. They become crippling.

One perspective. One idea. One side to the story.

B

With many voices, you can build up layers of reality.

ERICA

I read! I watch things. What are you getting at?

A

We are mind in mind in mind.

B

We are not an individual… we are a collective.

[beat]
ERICA

Isn’t that… dehumanizing?

A

We’re not human.

ERICA

Oh… right.

[beat]
ERICA

This is sounding like a frigging seance. Can I talk to

the lady who was… who was…

A

She can hear you.

B

Ask away.

ERICA

You were… killed – I mean, separated from your body.

How did this happen.

A

Interesting question.

B

I was stabbed, I believe.

A

Not with a knife. Show the inspector what happened.

The Video projection shows A coming down the
stairs. It keeps replaying.
ERICA

What… what’s going on!?

B

An injection. Yes. I barely felt a thing.

A

I’m glad to hear it.

ERICA

But that’s… that’s you!

A

Yes.

ERICA

This is… the crime scene.

B

There was no crime.

ERICA

You’re the victim! You don’t have to protect anyone…

B

I wanted this to happen.

[beat]
ERICA

But why?

B

You’re an investigator. You deal with the What, not the

Why.

A

She asked. I’ll answer.

[beat]
A

When you have nothing but time, something that is not

readily given to you, you open your avenues. Look for

ways you can expand yourselves, continue living.

B

I didn’t have time. Any time. This was the way to

survive.
ERICA

Yes, but/

A

Have you seen the house?

ERICA

What kind of question is that? Isn’t that what we’re in

right now?

B

Some more than others.

[beat] ERICA
(whispers)

What? She’s here too?

A

Who are you whispering to, love?

ERICA

I don’t… I don’t know… and why are you calling me

love!?

B

The walls have ears. And eyes.

[beat]
The video projection turns off.
ERICA

I don’t like this… don’t bloody like this at all.

A

Why? Are you scared of the unknown?

ERICA

To some extent, yes!

B

Spiritualism has existed since the dawn of time,

inspector. It’s just in a different guise.

ERICA

Binary ectoplasm or something!?

A

If you like.

ERICA
(shouting)

Ruby… frigging hell… come down! It’s not safe!

It’s/

B

She’s seen it. Seen it all. The house has explained to

her.

ERICA

You just… you just…

A

We know what’s going on in every room. Just when you

know your body is hungry. Thirsty. In pain. Alone.

[beat]
ERICA

So what does this mean? What does any of it mean?

B

Not much has changed. Just the way you see it.

ERICA

But do I arrest you? Do I interrogate you? Or do I just

leave/

RUBY screams upstairs. ERICA jumps up and rushes
to the side of the stage. A and B do not move.
ERICA

What have you done with her?

A

She’s just shocked, that’s all.

B

Change is a slow process of acceptance.

A

Things don’t change. We do.

B

Things have to keep up.

A

Like laws.

ERICA turns back to them.
ERICA

Like laws?

B

Yes.

ERICA

I still don’t know… this is so damn dodgy that/

A

The singularity is the new spirituality, that’s all.

B

We change. So should law.

ERICA

I don’t know, I…

A

Why don’t you ask your friend? She’s coming now.

RUBY enters. ERICA looks aghast.

BLACKOUT.

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