Sneak Peek–Before the Parade Passes By

It’s Sneak Peek Friday!  Here’s a blast from the past–I’ve been working on getting this transcribed into digital form, so it’s been on my mind.  Before the Parade Passes By was the prequel to my first play, Everything’s Coming Up Roses, and featured Jim Pillmeier as Sidney J. Stein.  He also played the role when it was done in New York, my very first official NY playwrighting credit.   The story of that star-crossed production can by seen here: https://pettiplays.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/my-first-new-york-show-embarassment-with-a-spotlight/.  Our excellent original cast when we did it at Bard included Mary El, Joseph P. Morgan, Michael Vanacore and Ellen Boswell.  Enjoy.

Since I brought up Mary El’s name, I’d like to announce that my talented wife has just been cast as Little Edie in 90 Miles Off Broadway’s production of Grey Gardens, directed by Joe Gayton!  She will be ridiculously good in this role.

Check out my blog about the Grey Gardens ladies here:  https://pettiplays.wordpress.com/2011/01/26/grey-garden-my-favorite-hot-messes/.  Have a great weekend everybody.

Before the Parade Passes By

Copyright  (c) 1997 by Brian C. Petti

bcpkid AT gmail.com

ACT I

Scene 1

A funeral parlor.  There is a kneeler front center facing the audience.  Behind the kneeler are rows of foldout chairs.  CHRISTOPHER, JENNIFER and MOTHER sit in the front row, lost in thought.  CHRISTOPHER is 28, dressed tastefully and conservatively in keeping with his personality, which is careful and self-conscious.  JENNIFER, 23, is dressed in a black dress.  She seems lost amid the events around her, as if she has given up trying to be seen or heard.  Their MOTHER Rebecca Wregget is a former actress whose attractiveness has settled into a weathered, disappointed look.  She stares ahead emotionless. 

The wake is for Nelson Wregget, a semi-famous children’s book author. 

Also in attendance is a couple in their fifties, Nelson’s brother TIM and his wife MARY.  Assorted others filter in and out of the upstage parlor doors, as the wake is open to the public.  An UNDERTAKER stands in the back of the room.  When dialogue is spoken, only people involved in the conversation can hear it.

TIM

Death is a real pain in the ass.

MARY

How profound.

TIM

That’s exactly it–when we talk about death, why must we be profound?  Death cheapens our lives.  Look at my brother.  He did such and such and made this and that and what happened to him?  He died.  That’s all.  He was here on minute and gone the next.

MARY

We’re here for more than a minute.

TIM

The rest of it’s just a set-up.  Like From Here to Eternity, we’re just living out the soap operas of our lives unaware of our impening doom.  Everything leading up to that last minute is foreplay.

MARY

If only your foreplay lasted so long.

TIM

Sex, that’s a perfect example.  We think if we have children it will make us immortal.  It won’t.  It’s all an illusion, the work we do, the food we eat, the books we write–it’s all just a trick to keep us from thinking about them Kamikase planes swooping down.

MARY

You never wrote any book.

TIM

What?

MARY

You said, “the books we write” but you never wrote a book.

TIM

I was making a point.

MARY

Your brother Nelson was the writer.  You sell insurance.

TIM

And where is he for all his success?

TIM points toward the corpse.

MARY

The man was famous from writing children’s books.  He won more awards than he could count, and all you see as important is his death?

TIM

His books have a life of his own.  His is over.  Nobody lives to read their own epilogue.

MARY

This from the man who makes a living off the fear of impending death.  He’s got kids too you know.

TIM

You’re not getting it.  The mantle of generations…it’s all crap.

MARY

There’s still heaven.  He was a Catholic.

TIM

If there’s a single reason the Irish have allowed themselves to be trampled, it’s their childlike insistence that comfort and joy can wait until after we croak.  We don’t live on, we just die.  Kaput.  Over.  His two kids had better realize…

MARY

Three. Chris, Jen and Sidney.  You always forget Sidney.

TIM

Oh yeah, the fruit.

MARY

Don’t be common.  He’s your kin.

TIM

His father disowned him when he was fifteen.  That makes him a nephew once removed.

MARY

Fool.

TIM

What did I do now?

MARY

I was referring to your brother, but come to think of it you’re a fool too.

TIM

What does it matter?  We’ll all end up like Nelson some day, stuffed in a box.  You’re Deborah Carr and I’m Burt Lancaster and we’re waiting for the bombs to drop.

MARY

You’re no Burt Lancaster.

TIM

(beat) And you’re no Deborah Carr.

JEN

How old was I?  I couldn’t have been more than seven, but I still recognized his voice on the phone, you know?

CHRIS

I know.

JEN

The whole thing is so mysterious.  Even biblical.  He’s like the Prodigal Son.

CHRIS

Too bad there’s no fatted calf to kill.

JEN

What’s wrong?

CHRIS

Nothing.

JEN

It’s almost like a rebirth.  Daddy dies and this new life appeared.

CHRIS

Your older brother is no bundle of joy.

JEN

Sidney’s new to me.  I barely remember him.

CHRIS

Don’t get your hopes up.  He may not be all you expect.

JEN

I think he will be.  I’m sure my life will change when I meet him, I just feel it.  I took this Anthropology class once and the professor said, “This class will change your perspective of the world around you forever.”

CHRIS

Did it?

JEN

No.  But I remember her saying it as if it were yesterday.

CHRIS

No wonder you quit college.

JEN

I quit because I fell in love.

CHRIS

Right, the Colonel.  Where is the old dog anyway?

JEN

That old dog can do fifty push-ups in under a minute, which is more than any of you white-bread lawyers could do in an hour.  He’s only forty-seven.

CHRIS

How can my little sister be married to someone who lived through the Eisenhower administration?  So where is the middle-aged Romeo?

JEN

France.

CHRIS

Reliving Normandy?

JEN

Army business.  (apprehensively)  I left a message at his hotel room two days ago. 

CHRIS

Oh.  (beat)  I’m sure he’ll make it back for the funeral.

JEN

I hope so.  (pause)  I miss him so much.

CHRIS

He’ll be here as soon as he can.

JEN

I mean Daddy…I meant Daddy.

SIDNEY enters through the back door.  He is wearing sunglasses and mildly inappropriate clothing–a bit too fabulous, perhaps with a scarf.

MARY

Look who just walked in.  No, don’t look!

TIM

How am I supposed to see if I can’t look.

MARY

Just glance quick.

TIM coughs and takes a peek.

TIM

Who is he?

MARY

Your nephew Sidney.

TIM

Why would he show up here?

MARY

I’ll take a wild dress and say because they’re having a wake for his father.

TIM

They hated each other.

MARY

You have to love people when thy’re dead.

TIM

Will you love me when I’m dead.

MARY

You sell insurance.  I’ll adore you when you’re dead.

MARY peeks at SIDNEY herself.

Nobody is talking to him.

TIM

I guess they’re all happy with their wardrobe choice.

MARY

C’mon, we’re going to reintroduce ourselves.

TIM

Are you kidding?

MARY

He’s your nephew and we’re going to make him feel comfortable.

TIM

It’s a funeral parlor.  You don’t want to be too confortable here.

MARY

Get up in the name of all that is holy and talk to your nephew.

TIM and MARY move to where SIDNEY is standing.

TIM

Hello.

TIM turns immediately to leave, but is stopped by MARY.

MARY

Hi.  Aren’t you Nelson’s son Sidney?

SIDNEY

Indeed I am.

MARY

I don’t know if you remember, it was so long ago.  I’m your Aunt Mary and this is your Uncle Tim.

SIDNEY

Of course I remember.  You’re both exactly the same.  Except older.

MARY

Yes.  (there is an awkward pause)  So…how are you?

SIDNEY

Still gay, how are you?

MARY

We’re fine. (beat)  Uncle Tim still sells insurance.

CHRIS

He’s here Mom.

MOTHER

I saw him.  It doesn’t matter.  This is your father’s day and I won’t let anyone upset that.

CHRIS

Do you think he’ll try?

MOTHER

I wouldn’t put it past him.  Not a word from him in fifteen years–that’s not a loving son.

CHRIS

Dad was pretty rough on him…

MOTHER

Don’t speak badly about your father, not today.  He was my husband and my father and this day is to honor him.  Not for reconciliation, not for redemption–for him.

CHRIS

I’ll tell him to leave you alone for awhile.

JEN gets up and goes to SIDNEY, who has finished his conversation with TIM and MARY.

MOTHER

Yes, do that.  Tell him I’d like to bury my husband in peace.  I deserve that much.

JEN

Sidney?  Is it really you?

SIDNEY

I hope so, I’m wearing his garters.

JEN

It’s…I mean I am…

SIDNEY

You’re wearing my garters?  Do they pinch your thighs too?

JEN

No, it’s me.  Jennifer.  Your sister.

SIDNEY

Oh my Lord. let me take a look at you!  The last time I saw you, you were…

JEN

Seven.

SIDNEY

I was going to say devoid of secondary sexual characteristics.

JEN

Some things never change.

SIDNEY

Oh stop it, you’re perfect.  You have that Marian the Librarian meets Bugs Bunny thing going on.

JEN

Is that a compliment?

SIDNEY

Of course!  Bugs looks scintillating in drag.

JEN

So…what have you been doing with yourself?

SIDNEY

In the last fifteen years?  Let’s see…I’ve been platinum, fuscia, shocking red, and I had a violet rinse to coincide with my nipple ring period.  I’ve been Bette Midler, Marlene Dietrich, Josie from Josie and the Pussycats, Gloria Steinem, and even Barbra Streisand during a particularly weak moment, God forgive me, and I have better legs than any of them.  I’ve been East of Eden, North By Northwest, West of the Mississippi and South of France, if you know what I mean.  I’ve been…

JEN

My brother.

SIDNEY

Yes.  For a short time I was that too.

JEN

I missed you.

SIDNEY

How sentimental.  You missed your long lost gay brother.  There should be a Hallmark!  “Across the years, my love never lagged/’Cause through it all, I loved that fag…”

JEN

I heard so much about you.

SIDNEY

Truth is so much stranger than fiction.

JEN

It was all good.

SIDNEY

Now I know you’ve been misled.  Who’s been spreading these hideous lies?

JEN

Chris mostly.  And Mother sometimes.

SIDNEY

Really.  Well, since I haven’t seen either of them in quite some time, I wouldn’t put much stock in their opinions. 

JEN

I agree.  I’d like to get to know you. 

SIDNEY

Wasn’t that the Carpenters?  Or was it The Fifth Dimension.

JEN

What?

SIDNEY

I forgot, you Generation Xers don’t recognize any cultural reference pre-MTV.

JEN

You’re different…

SIDNEY

i(instantly defensive)  From what, those preconceived notions my dear brother and dearer mother drilled into your head?

JEN

No, different than I imagined.  I’ve been dreaming for years of the moment I would meet the brother I lost when I was seven.  I thought I would feel close to him immediately because we were blood.  I would tell him all about me and he would satisfy my endless curiosity about him.  I thought you would give me a chance to do that, but it seems you’ve already made up your mind about me.

SIDNEY

My dear, I have to make something abundantly clear to you.  If we are to have any type of relationship at all it is absolutely imperitive that I get to be the drama queen.  Now…let me introduce myself more properly.  My name is Sidney J. Stein, son of Rebecca Stein Wreggett and the deceased auter Nelson Wreggett, and for better or for worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, your brother.  Charmed to meet you.

JEN

I’m Jennifer.  My friends call me Jen.

SIDNEY

Does anyone call you Jenny?

JEN

No.

CHRIS moves over to where JEN and SIDNEY are speaking.

SIDNEY

Then that’s what I shall call you.

CHRIS

Jen, Mother would like to speak to you.

JEN

Look Chris, it’s really him!

CHRIS

Yes, I see that.

JEN

Where are you staying Sidney?

SIDNEY

I just arrived.  I figured I’d find a hotel.

CHRIS

Shouldn’t be so hard for you.  No luggage?

SIDNEY

I like to travel light.

JEN

We can’t let you sleep in a run-down hotel.  Why don’t you stay at the house with us?

SIDNEY

I don’t think…

CHRIS

That’s probably not a good idea.

JEN

At least come back and have a drink with us.

CHRIS

I’m sure Sidney has other things to do…

SIDNEY

I’d love to.

JEN

This is wonderful.  The family back together after all this time.  I think I might cry.

SIDNEY

Drama queen…

JEN

Sorry, I forgot.  I’ll have to remember not to upstage you.

JEN goes back to her mother. CHRIS is left with SIDNEY, and is keenly aware of the public nature of their conversation. 

CHRIS

Hello Sidney.

SIDNEY

Why hello Christopher.  Fancy meeting you here. (beat)  I’m sorry, was there anything else you thought I should add?

CHRIS

What are you doing here?

SIDNEY

Well, it’s a Tuesday, and I don’t let a Tuesday go by without hopping on a bus and driving ninety miles north to frequent a local funeral home.  You meet so many interesting people if you bring Kleenex.

CHRIS

Why are you here, Sidney.

SIDNEY

For the same reason you’re here, to pay repect to my dear, departed father.

CHRIS

After all this time?

SIDNEY

I did have to wait until he passed on, didn’t I?

CHRIS

So this is the moment you pick to drop back into everyone’s life.  Your father’s wake is the perfect opportunity to make your grand entrance.

SIDNEY

Do you think it was grand?  I was aiming more for subtle chic with a dash of sophisticated panache.  I’d be appalled if it came off as merely “grand”.  I should have worn a pillbox hat…

CHRIS

Still concerned only with yourself.

SIDNEY

It’s a little too late to be concerned about Father, isn’t it?

CHRIS

It’s a little late for a lot of things. 

SIDNEY

How ominous, how knowing, how…intentionally opaque.  You should write screenplays Christopher.  You ahve a way with a loaded, yet meaningless line.

CHRIS

There was only one writer in this family.

SIDNEY

Now’s your chance.  You don’t have to compete with the great Nelson Wregget.  Only his ghost.  But I suppose we’ll all have to wrestle with that one.  The residue of a famous father.  Listen to me, I’m the gay L. Ron Hubbard: “How do fathers castrate their sons?” Faganetics, page 69.

CHRIS

Cut it out.

SIDNEY

What’s the matter Christopher?  If there’s one thing we could always share it was an overwhelming resentment of our dear Daddy.

CHRIS

This isn’t the time or the place.  Mother sent me over here to ask you to let her bury her husband in peace.  I intend to see that happens out of respect for my father and respect for her.

SIDNEY

How conventional.  You respect the man if you feel you must.  Say your prayers and kiss his hand and shed a small, yet significant tear as they lower him into the ground.  Just don’t expect me to join you in your… ordinary grief.

CHRIS

I’m warning you, Sidney.  This is not your stage.

SIDNEY

Every floor I stand on is my stage, brother mine.  Another result of my star-crossed upbringing.  So let me warn you: contribute some witty dialogue or stay in the wings, either way Mama’s gonna have his say.

UNDERTAKER

Ladies and gentlemen, if you would be so kind, please pay your respects before we end the viewing for tonight.

SIDNEY

Time to pray for father’s immortal soul, Christopher.

CHRIS

You know what Mom wants.  I suggest you let her have it.

SIDNEY

I intend to.

All of the family make a quick prayer before the casket and file out.  MOTHER doesn’t acknowledge SIDNEY’s presence.  SIDNEY and JEN exchange a few words in pantomime, then JEN leaves SIDNEY alone.  SIDNEY approaches the casket awkwardly and kneels, aware of his own ridiculousness.  He looks a bit apprehensively up toward God, then decides He probably isn’t watching.  SIDNEY stands.

How to say all I have to say.  How about a showtune?  This is from Hello, Dolly, words and music by Jerry Herman.

“Because you treated me so rotten and rough.

I’ve had enough of feeling low,

So wave your little hand and whisper ‘so long dearie’,

Dearie should have said ‘so long’ so long ago.”

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