Possible Art

POSSIBLE ART

A Short Play in the Revolution Cycle

by

J. Nelson Leith

CHARACTERS

JESS. A woman in her mid-20s.

DINA. [pronounced dee-nah] A woman in her mid-20s.

MORRIS. A man in his late 20s. He wears a very tight hipster jacket.

_

SCENE

An art gallery. A sign on the wall says CABELL UNIVERSITY CENTER FOR PROGRESSIVE ARTS.

MORRIS

Welcome to the Center! I got your email. I was forwarded… anyway… You guys are working with a social justice program?

JESS
(handing him a card)

We’re working with Decimize. It’s pilot program for uplifting talented but underprivileged youth.

MORRIS
(examining the card, back and front)

Decimize. Isn’t that the one parents are mad about because they were taking their kids away?

DINA

A few kids were reported to CPS because they were in abusive homes.

JESS

Anyway, we’re looking for ways to relaunch. And redirect. I’m doing the visual arts program, ultimately trying to identify kids with real potential and guiding them toward commercial graphic design.

MORRIS
(visibly uncomfortable)

We’re more into social justice and awareness here.

JESS
(blankly)

So are we. That’s what I’m talking about. Helping underprivileged kids move beyond socioeconomic and environmental factors.

MORRIS

Well, we’re more focused on raising awareness of social issues.

(uncomfortable pause)

So… You’re a Cabell alum, right? You were in the Mediating Identity seminar when I was still TA-ing. How did you get into vocational counseling?

JESS
(as if reciting an oft-repeated explanation)

After getting my degree in visual arts, I found out how hard it was to pay bills … with art alone.

MORRIS

Yeah, Kendall said you’re cutting hair now?

JESS
(shares a look with Dina)

Yes.

MORRIS
(wiggles his shoulders in a vaguely shrug-like motion)

Well. That’s kind of like art.

DINA

She’s actually a well-known stylist. She gets event referrals from across the country. Boston. San Francisco. Danny Ambrose picked her to do his hair before he went on Ellen.

JESS
(trying to change the subject)

What’s this called?

(She gestures at a wall presenting what looks like a giant piece of bacon
next to a shadow box filled with dirt
next to a shadow box filled with thin strips of paper)

MORRIS
(excited)

Oh! This is called “Thug Atlas.” Kenneth Miles.

This is a map of the United States, battered and deep fried.

This is a map of Iraq, burned to ashes.

And this is a map of Afghanistan from a paper shredder. Because, you know, all of the cover-ups.

(He looks over his shoulder)

Ooh, be right back. I need to greet some visitors.

(Jess and Dina nod him off.)

DINA
(surveying “Thug Atlas”)

What do you think?

JESS

So, essentially he went to Books-a-Million, bought 30 dollars worth of maps and cooked them.

DINA

And shredded one.

JESS

Right. To raise awareness of something everyone knows happened and has to be explained, after the fact, because you can’t really get it from just looking at a box full of confetti.

DINA
(leaning close)

Jesus! Look at these prices.

MORRIS
(rushing back)

So sorry! Would you like to see more? Get an idea of what we do here at the Center?

JESS

Yes.

DINA

Sure.

MORRIS
(leading them around a corner)

This is Herchitecture by Hanna Povich.

(Jess and Dina are visibly aghast)

DINA

It’s … it’s a wall of vaginas.

MORRIS

Actual ones. Well, I guess casts of actual ones. Povich—

JESS

There must be a hundred vaginas here.

MORRIS

Well…

DINA

These are casts? They look like rubber.

MORRIS

They’re made of a special material designed to simulate the feel of real flesh. Povich mixed each batch to simulate the individual feel of each volunteer. Some softer or more firm than others, so they are as real as possible. Here, it’s all in the exhibit summary.

(He waves toward a card on the wall.)

DINA

So, people are supposed to touch them?

MORRIS

Oh…

JESS

If I wanted to touch a vagina, I’d just touch a real vagina.

DINA
(aside to Jess)

You can touch my vagina.

JESS
(stick her tongue out at Dina)

DINA
(under her breath)

Or that.

MORRIS

You’re not supposed to touch them. That’s the point.

JESS

The point of making them feel real is so that nobody would feel them?

MORRIS

It’s an artistic slutwalk.

(uncomfortable pause)

Actually, if you read the card, women are allowed to touch them if they want. Men are not allowed to touch them. The point is—

JESS

I think I get the point. So, the artist…

MORRIS

Hanna Povich.

JESS

She got to touch all over them.

MORRIS
(annoyed)

Of course.

DINA

Clever ruse. I wish I had thought of that.

JESS

How many are there?

MORRIS
(leaning to read the exhibit summary)

There are… 67 pieces in the exhibit.

DINA

Two short of a metaphor.

MORRIS
(looking over his shoulder)

Sorry again. More visitors, and my assistant is late. Be right back.

(He exits)

DINA

Jesus.

JESS

Mary … and no Joseph.

DINA
(looking over the wall of vaginas)

I don’t know if I’m in heaven or hell. At least these don’t have price tags.

JESS

Yeah. Yes, they did.

DINA
(nodding)

Yeah, I guess so.

MORRIS
(rushing back)

So sorry! People are very excited about the live show.

JESS

Live show?

MORRIS

“The Descent of Man.” Jeremy Bivens. He traveled around the world and collected sperm from different ethnic groups.

JESS

What?!

DINA

Collected how?

MORRIS
(shrugging)

The old-fashioned way, I guess.

DINA

Gross!

MORRIS
(rolling his eyes)

So. There are five jars of it in a, like a flower or star shape… a pentagon, around this central jar, which is empty.

JESS

Did the Center pay for this?

DINA

Or the University?

MORRIS

The trip? No. His parents did. Professor and Dr. Bivens.

(uncomfortable pause)

They sent him on the trip, but they didn’t know he was working on an art project. They’re not very happy about it now. They’re… you know… a little conservative.

DINA

Dr. Bivens is head of the Women’s Lit department.

MORRIS

Well, I guess it’s all relative.

JESS
(shaking her head as if to clear it)

What’s the “live show”?

MORRIS

He pumps the pedal and it squirts the five jars into the empty one below.

JESS

How did he keep it … fresh? Would it get, I don’t know… coagulated?

DINA

I think I’m going to be sick.

MORRIS

I really don’t know how he preserved the materials. This is an art gallery, not a science museum.

(pause)

And, really, it’s not a tradesman’s … not a training center, a vocational center.

JESS

What are you trying to say?

MORRIS
(pulls the Decimize card from his jacket pocket, flips it back and forth)

Maybe this isn’t really what you’re looking for. I mean, this is socially progressive art we do here. Social justice and awareness.

JESS
(glaring at the casual way he’s playing with the card)

What we’re addressing is a social justice issue.

MORRIS

I’m only saying. If you’re just trying to help poor kids get into drafting or cosmetology…

DINA
(pointing at Morris’s face)

Listen, asshole!

JESS

Dina?!

DINA
(still staring down Morris)

No, I’m sick of this smug little Scaramouche and his ridiculous … pretentious … too-tight, hipster jacket!

Last week Jess did hair for a wedding in Hansville. You know the old saying about people dating one step up or down? Well this couple was the whole staircase. One of them looks like Ryan Reynolds and the other was more like … whatever the opposite of that is. I don’t know what makes it work, but it clearly was working, because they were getting married.

(Morris opens his mouth as if to interrupt)

But this poor guy knew his fiancé was gorgeous and he was mortified that he’d look like an ogre in the wedding photos. So Jess sits him down and looks him over and decides it’s all in his jawline, which is about as symmetrical as a Picasso. So she brings his hair forward around the sides of his face, punches up the natural waves into a curl, frames his eyes and his mouth, which were fine once that condemned building of a skull was no longer visible.

She tells him not to sweep it aside, and tells the rest of the wedding party not to let him mess with it. “Think of it as a veil,” she says.

So he looks in the mirror, and is instantly calmer. Not happy, but calm enough to let the excitement of getting married carry him through it. And, it all went over great, the march, the vows, the rings, the kiss. And when the photos came back, because of Jess’s eye and her vision and the work she did, he looked like a god.

He wept. His husband called Jess right then and they wept together, over the phone, thanking her.

(She jabs a finger in Morris’s chest)

That’s art, you poseur motherfucker. That’s improving people’s lives. She took a guy who got a rough hand from genetics and gave him the best day of his life for the price of a haircut. That’s justice. And she does that every goddamned day helping kids out of the shit-holes they’ve been born in so they can making a decent living doing what they’re good at. That’s justice.

You think what you’re doing here is better than that? What is this shit?!

(She waves at the walls)

Some halfwit pyromaniac ruins some road maps and you want to sell them at five hundred bucks a pop? Some psychopath tricks dozens of women into letting her fondle their va-jay-jays and you want to put it on a wall to shame and taunt men? Some legacy brat takes his glory hole on a round-the-world tour and you think making a cocktail of the results is social awakening? Social justice?

You are a fucking idiot!

(turns to Jess)

Let’s get the fuck out of here.

(They turn and take several steps toward the door as Morris stands with his mouth open.)

JESS
(grabs Dina’s arm, stops, and turns her around)

Thank you.

(She kisses Dina, first just lips-on-lips, then more fully, an I-really-mean-it kiss)

 

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