V I V A R I U M
by Chris Weidenbach
Joe Jack’s brother, 23
Denise Jack’s friend from work, late 20’s
Scene 1: A kitchen. A table with four chairs. A small cabinet. A refrigerator.
(Jack sits at a large table, eating cereal and reading a colorful comics page. He wears underwear briefs and a Hulk T-shirt. Enter Joe, neatly attired in a dress shirt and tie, carrying a suit jacket that matches his pants.)
Jack: Hey, look who’s here!
Joe: What’s the buzz, Jacko? Any cereal left?
Jack: (shaking the box) Yeah. What are you doing here?
Joe: I got a job interview downtown.
Jack: Right on.
Joe: Not ‘til eleven o’clock. Thought I’d stop by and say hi. Is Mom home?
Jack: No, she went to Florida to visit Aunt Joanie.
Joe: Oh. So check it out: Charles Schwab. I’m thinking it could be six figures.
Jack: You mean six people are going to interview you?
Joe: No, six figures means money. (beat) Six digits. (beat) A hundred grand!
(Jack nods with his mouth full.)
Joe: Can you pass the milk?
Jack: Oh crap, dude. (He picks up the milk carton.) There’s only like a half inch left.
Joe: That’s okay. (Joe dumps the milk in the bowl, then runs some water into the bowl.)
Jack: Whoa, that’s gonna taste nasty.
Joe: I just need something on my stomach.
Jack: Suit yourself. Hey, didn’t you take a film class on animation your last year at State?
Joe: Yeah. You remember that?
Jack: Yeah, it sounded cool. I was thinking—
Joe: That class was totally pud. I was all set to graduate early, and this dickhead counselor says, (switches to a snobby, nasal tone) “Your curricular record indicates a three-unit deficiency in the humanities.” So I found this class, Studies in Animation. Couldn’t believe it.
Jack: Was it cool?
Joe: It was awesome! Met once a week. You could skip like six times and just rent the videos.
Jack: What did you watch?
Joe: AND there was only one paper, and the prof was so laid back that everybody basically plagiarized it.
Jack: I was thinking I’d take a class at City College, kind of ease back into school, and they have this animation class.
Joe: Oh yeah?
Jack: Yeah. And I could still work at the market. Just one class.
Joe: What do you make at the market? If you don’t mind me asking.
Jack: Like twelve bucks an hour. Why would I mind?
Joe: No, just some people don’t think that stuff’s anybody else’s business.
Jack: Hmm. Well, that’s my pay—it goes up a little every six months or so.
Joe: You know, you get a business degree and you can make some serious cashish.
Jack: I like the market. Don’t really need much money.
Joe: Well, not here. But wouldn’t you like to get out of here?
Jack: I like it here. Mom and Dad are cool. It’s definitely affordable.
Joe: I know they’re cool—for parents. But— Hey, what time you got?
Jack: You’re the one with the watch.
Joe: Just double-checking. Sometimes the self-winding mechanism fucks up. I don’t want to be late. Did I show you this? (He holds up his watch for Jack to see. Jack looks and nods.) It’s not really a Rolex, but it was still a couple hundred bucks.
Jack: (smiling) So you think I’m sort of pathetic ‘cause I live with Mom and Dad, and have the same job I had in high school, and the same car and everything?
Joe: No, I just—
Jack: (still smiling) ‘Cause I sometimes think that.
Jack: Well, it’s kind of a classic loser move, right?
Joe: Well, it’s…
Jack: (in mock grandeur) Loserville! (He flips the page.)
Joe: So if you feel that way, why don’t you move out?
Jack: I just, you know, let it go. I start playing a game or drawing or something, and I just forget about it.
Joe: What about the Tank?
Jack: The Tank’s my dream car—gas and go!
Joe: That thing’s a bucket, man!
Jack: It runs.
Joe: Yeah, but wouldn’t you like to have your own place, where you could play loud music all the time and bring chicks home and stuff?
Jack: Pretty much been solo for awhile now. (Joe nods and averts his eyes.) How are things with your girlfriend?
Joe: Good! Real good. (beat) Wait, have you met Janet?
Jack: What? No, I meant Grace. Aren’t you—?
Joe: Um, me and Grace kind of cooled off. I still see her sometimes.
Jack: So who’s Janet? New girlfriend?
Joe: Yeah, kind of. I met her at work. She’s cool.
Jack: Man, Grace was super cool! And HOT!
Joe: No, yeah, totally. It’s just, I don’t know, I meet a lot of women through this investment counseling thing.
Jack: Grace know about her?
Joe: Hey now, don’t infringe upon my privacy rights. (Jack shakes his head. Joe gets up with his empty bowl.) See, if you get your own place, you don’t have to have everybody snooping around your business. (He slaps Jack on the shoulder, goes to the sink and rinses the bowl.) Is there any OJ? (He looks out the window.) Hey, some chick’s coming up the driveway.
Jack: Oh shit—what time is it?
Joe: Way too old to be selling cookies!
(Jack gets up and looks out the window.)
Jack: Dang it! It’s Denise. I didn’t know it was so late.
Joe: And who’s this Denise? She’s cute.
Jack: (heading quickly out of the kitchen) I’m supposed to help her get an iguana today. (Jack exits)
Joe: (still looking out the window) Yeah, she’s really cute.
Jack: (loudly, from offstage) She’s just a friend!
Joe: (exaggerative) Iguana!!! Exotic!!!
(A knock at the kitchen door.)
Jack: (loudly, from offstage) Can you let her in? Tell her I’ll be right out.
Joe: (opening the door—Denise appears) Sorry, miss, this is the service entrance.
Jack: (loudly, from offstage) Don’t be a jackass, jackass!
Denise: (a little confused) Uh, is Jack here? That was his voice, right?
Joe: Yes, it was.
Denise: Such a charmer.
Joe: You ought to see his Hulk underoos.
Denise: Oh, I bet he’s totally cute in Hulk underoos!
Joe: It’s a sight to see. I’m Joe, his brother. Hi. (He extends his hand.)
Denise: Nice to meet you. Denise. (They shake hands.)
Joe: Yeah, Jack told me. Good to meet you too. Come on in. We’ll violate the service entrance protocol.
Denise: I usually come in this way.
Joe: Yeah, everybody does. Protocol ain’t what it used to be.
Jack: (loudly, from offstage) I’ll be right there, Denise. That’s my brother, Joey.
Jack: (loudly, from offstage) My LITTLE brother.
Joe: I’m not the one wearing underoos!
Denise: Yeah, you’re all gussied up. Wedding or funeral?
Joe: I have a job interview.
Joe: Yeah, Charles Schwab. Pretty big fish. (He checks his watch.)
Denise: Well, I hope you get the job.
Joe: Shouldn’t be too tough.
Denise: (beat) Uh, confidence is good.
Jack: (mock-profound) Ah, but let not thy pride spill over into the realm of hubris!
Denise: (smiling at Jack) Hey, boy! (She hugs him.)
Joe: What’s hubris?
Denise: Ready to hunt the wild iguana?
Jack: More like an adoption.
Denise: (to Joe) I asked Jack to help me—adopt—an iguana, since we both have the day off and he’s had so much experience with reptiles.
Joe: You mean those little turtles? Are those things still alive?
Jack: Of course. And Luther’s getting big—he’s going to need a bigger vivarium soon.
Joe: Vivarium? Sounds like one of those drugs that make your cock crow!
Jack: Jesus, Joey—have some fucking manners.
Denise: It’s like an aquarium for reptiles.
Jack: “Aquarium” must sound like a drug that helps you swim better.
Denise: (laughing, softly pinching Jack’s arm) That’s funny, Jackie-Boy.
Jack: Every now and then I manage to achieve humor.
Joe: (to Denise) We were just talking about achievement.
Denise: Oh really?
Jack: Not really. I just told Joey I might take that class.
Denise: Oh, the animation class?
Joe: What you should do is just dive back in at State, load up on all the required stuff for the first year, then maybe go for a business major. (beat, as Jack and Denise stare blankly at Joe, sho is incredulous.) What!? What’d I say?
Jack: I didn’t really enjoy my year of required stuff at State.
Denise: Not much the business type, either, I don’t think. (Jack shakes head “no”.)
Joe: That’s the fast-track, trust me.
Denise: Oh, right—You’re the over-achieving brother who raced through college in like two years.
Joe: (smiling) That’s me. Three years. It did go by fast, though.
Denise: (to Jack) So are you gonna do it? We could go by there and get you registered before the pet store.
Jack: It’s also the word for a shop that specializes in reptiles.
Denise: I didn’t know that.
Joe: That’s weird.
Denise: Let’s sign you up!
Jack: I don’t know. I still haven’t talked to Jerry about my schedule.
Denise: It’s just one class. Screw Jerry. He’ll work around it.
Jack: I’m just not sure I really want to deal with it. I mean, what if it’s totally hard, or there’s a lot of technical reading?
Joe: HA! Reading!? It’s a class watching cartoons!
(Jack huffs out a little laugh and looks at the floor.)
Denise: (Directly, to Joe) No, it isn’t. It’s a digital video animation class. Making animated films.
Jack: Don’t you love the word ‘cartoon’? What songs are best for when you’re driving?
Denise: (smiling, rolling her eyes) You’re a riot, Jackie.
Joe: Sounds like a waste of tuition money to me. All they want these days are business degrees with a little work experience, and (making a little touchdown signal with both hands) Boom! If you really attack it, taking summer classes and intersessions, you could finish in two and a half years.
(Denise looks from Joe to Jack and back, inquiringly.)
Denise: Uh, have you two met?
Jack: Joey’s pulse beats a little faster than mine.
Joe: Look, the animation thing sounds fun, but you’ve got to shoot for something more solid, follow the job market forecasts.
Denise: (to Joe) Digital animation is huge—TV, movies, web-based media—PIXAR!—It could be a (she mimics the touchdown signal) fast-track to great money. (to Jack) And definitely a chance to make a living doing something you really like. (to Joe) Have you seen Jack’s drawings?
Jack: Those aren’t really—
Denise: He just showed them to me last week. I was blown away! They’re really good.
Joe: I’m just saying where the money’s at—the good money—
Denise: Well, we can’t all have jobs telling people which oil company to invest in.
Jack: (holding his palms out in a calming gesture.) Wait, wait…
Joe: Like I said, that’s where the money is.
Denise: Is that all you care about?
Joe: Well, I’m starting to learn a little bit about wine.
Denise: Life’s about passion. Finding it and following it.
Joe: Gotta make a living.
Denise: Doing what you have to do until you can do what you love to do.
Joe: Disney just bought PIXAR for billions of dollars—the brokers of that deal are definitely not living with their parents.
(Jack laughs, small, muffled. Denise frowns.)
Denise: Don’t laugh at that, Jack. That’s not funny.
Joe: Just trying to make a point.
Denise: (calm, but perturbed) What a stupid, mean-spirited thing to say.
Joe: I was just kidding.
Denise: (to Joe) You don’t get it at all, do you? (beat, Jack still smiling) Jack, stop smiling. He’s not funny.
Jack: What! It’s a little funny. I only laughed a little.
Joe: I’m just saying this is how you get ahead.
Denise: (turning her back on Joe, and facing Jack) Let’s go get this lizard. (END OF SCENE 1)
Scene II: The kitchen, several hours later.
(Jack and Denise enter, each holding one end of a vary large glass box containing some rocks and plants.)
Jack: Let’s set it on the table. I want to wash it out
Denise: Okay. (They set it on the table.)
Jack: I can’t believe that guy asked me if I was gay—and right beside that case where the two frogs were mating!
Denise: I’m telling you: take it as a complement. Obviously he thought you were cute.
Jack: Yeah, well, Joey would appreciate his aggressiveness.
Denise: You do have that vulnerable, androgynous charisma thing.
Jack: I never knew I was such a prize.
Denise: You’re totally cute.
Jack: You might want to make a note that once guys reach the drinking age, they don’t like the word ‘cute’ to be applied to them anymore.
Jack: It’s just sort of un-masculine. (Tarzan-y) Me man, not boy.
Denise: Okay. Noted. Hey, speaking of the drinking age, do your folks have any white wine around here?
Jack: It’s barely past Noon!
Denise: I just adopted a reptilian being! Let’s celebrate!
Jack: They don’t drink wine. My mom likes gin & tonics sometimes. You like those?
(Jack opens the cabinet and removes a green bottle.)
Jack: There’s half a bottle of gin, (he opens refrigerator) but no tonic.
Denise: Rats! How ‘bout orange juice?
Jack: Nope. I could go to the store down the street.
Denise: Yes! I’ll start cleaning out this tank.
Jack: Okay. Um, if anybody calls, just let the machine get it.
Denise: Your family has a robot?
Jack: Oh, I get it.
Denise: Lead balloon.
Jack: No, it’s funny—sort of.
Denise: Go to the store. Should I just use dish soap and water?
Jack: Yeah, that’s fine. Use the green sponge—it won’t scratch.
Jack: Okay, see you in a few. (Exits)
(Denise gets the supplies and begins cleaning out the vivarium.
Joe enters, a lightly stunned look on his face.
Denise turns to notice him briefly, then resumes her cleaning.)
Denise: How’d the interview go?
Joe: (beat, scratches his head) They would ask me a question, and I would jam on it for a few seconds—you’re not supposed to talk too much in interviews—and then they’d just sit there, staring at me, these two guys, like they were waiting for me to say something else. (beat) It was so weird. I’ve never had an interview like that before. (beat) It sucked. (beat) I think they hated me.
Denise: How many job interviews have you gone on?
Joe: A few. My bank job, and the job I have now, and a work-study job in college.
Denise: Well, that’s not very many. Maybe this one will help you down the road.
Joe: Maybe. (He sits down at the table.) Where’s Joe?
Denise: Uh, he went to the store.
Joe: Oh. (Looking in the vivarium) Where’s the iguana?
Denise: Waiting period. Gotta wait three days.
Joe: Really? That’s longer than the gun waiting period.
Denise: C’est la vie.
(Joe watches as Denise scrubs some film off the glass sides of the vivarium.)
Joe: So Jack says you two are just friends.
Denise: We’re good friends.
Joe: From the market, right?
Denise: That’s where we met.
Joe: That’s how I meet most of the—well, the last two girls I went out with.
Joe: Yeah. It’s great, you know? You’re automatically gonna have a lot in common, so the conversation never drops out.
Denise: Yeah, I guess so.
Joe: Like you and Jack—you two seem to have a nice time talking together.
Denise: Yeah, but we don’t talk about grocery stores.
Joe: That’s probably wise. (beat) But you and Jack aren’t like dating, huh?
Denise: No, just—good—friends.
Joe: So, if you could find a way to forget that you think I’m this money-grubbing prick for a minute, do you think I could maybe take you out to dinner sometime?
Joe: Yeah, seriously. Or we could meet for coffee?
Denise: Uh, no—seriously.
Joe: Um, okay. (beat) Ouch. (beat) May I ask why?
(Denise stops cleaning.)
Denise: Look, Joe, I don’t think you’re a prick. A little status-conscious, but not a prick. And Jack says that you two being different has never stopped him from thinking you’re a good guy, a good brother.
Joe: Yeah? He said that?
Denise: Uh-huh. (She resumes cleaning the glass.) And I’m sorry I got so upset with you earlier. I just hated to hear you putting Jack down—that crack about Disney executives not living at home was really obnoxious. And I hated the way Jack just took it—laughed even—like he believes it. He needs to be, I don’t know, cheered on or something. He has talents, but he doesn’t seem to take himself seriously. He needs to be encouraged, supported, you know?
Joe: Yeah, that’s why I try to tell him what I would do if I were him.
Denise: More like if he were you. I don’t think you two are on the same course in your life journeys.
Joe: Yeah, that’s definitely true.
(Denise stops scrubbing abruptly.)
Denise: That’s the kind of crap I’m talking about.
Joe: No! No, I just meant that I agree with you. Really. I was thinking about it on my way back here after my interview. I felt like a total failure, like missing this job was the worst thing that ever happened to me. Then I thought of Jack. He wouldn’t give a flying, uh, fig about what a couple of starchy business guys thought about him. He’d just tune in a heavy-metal station and head-bang and sing off-key all the way home to his turtles and comic books.
Denise: (laughs) I could see that. (She resumes cleaning.)
Joe: It’s like a kind of strength.
Denise: It IS a kind of strength.
Joe: One I don’t have.
Denise: Me neither. I hate failure. I think that’s part of why I like him so much.
Joe: I can see why he likes you—I mean several reasons, and I only just met you.
Denise: The young tycoon flatters me.
Joe: It’s the truth.
Denise: Okay, but take it easy.
Joe: Okay. (beat) But what about my invitation? You never gave me a reason.
Denise: I don’t have to.
Joe: No. No, you don’t have to.
(Denise scrubs to a stop, and looks at the clean glass walls of the vivarium, checking for spots. She puts down the sponge.)
Denise: Okay. I don’t have to, but I’m going to. One reason. And if you ever tell Jack, I’ll slash your tires.
Joe: You’re brutal. I love it.
Denise: I realized it today. (beat) I’m completely in love with him.
Denise: I’ve slashed tires of enemies before.
Joe: I’m sure you have! (beat) But why not tell him?
Denise: I’m just not ready to tell him yet.
Joe: Look, Denise, you clearly don’t know everything about Jack.
Denise: What do you mean?
Joe: I mean he would be super-pumped to know you were into him, that he even had a chance to be with someone like you.
Denise: Will you please back off the complementary throttle a little bit?
Joe: No, not on this. This is huge. I think you might be the only real friend he’s got. What about that thing you said about always doing what you want to do in life?
Denise: That’s not exactly what I said.
Joe: Jumping in with both feet.
Denise: Definitely didn’t say that.
Joe: Come on, you know what I mean. Tell him! I mean, talk about encouraging and cheering somebody on! It would make his day…his decade! …his LIFE!
Denise: You think so?
Joe: He’s my brother!
(Jack enters, carrying a bag of groceries and whistling. Joe and Denise turn to face him.)
Jack: Hey, Joe. Hey, Mizz Lizard Lady.
Joe: Hey bro.
Denise: Hey Mister Turtle Herder.
Jack: (holding up each item as he names them) I got some milk, some OJ, and some ginger ale.
Joe: Ginger ale? Kinda old-timey, isn’t it?
Denise: My stomach was a little queasy after so much time in the house of reptiles.
Jack: How’d your interview go?
Denise: What did you say, Joe?—cheerful and informative?
Joe: Yeah, it went, you know, okay. I’ll have to wait and see.
Jack: Alright. I hope it works out.
Joe: Yeah, it should be good. If not this time, then the next one for sure. (beat) Thanks for your encouragement.
(Denise smiles at Joe, then at Jack.)
Joe: (getting up from the table) Hey, I should get going. I got some work I could finish this afternoon.
Denise: It was good meeting you, Joe.
Joe: Hey, same here! Glad we got to end on a better note. Maybe I’ll see you over here again sometime.
Denise: Yeah, or maybe could go out sometime. Jack says you usually have at least one girlfriend—maybe we could go out for dinner as a foursome or something.
Joe: (glancing at Jack, then back to Denise) Uh, yeah, that’d be cool. (He chucks Jack on the shoulder.)
Denise: Jackie-Boy, will you pour me some of that fine Ginger Ale on ice? I think I should lie down for a little bit. (She rises and starts to leave the opposite direction from Joe.) Is it okay if I go up to your bedroom? Will you bring my beverage up to me?
(Jack looks at Joe, who gives Jack a wide-eyed shrug before turning to go.)
Jack: Okay. I’ll bring it right up to you.
Denise: Thank you, sweetie. (She exits.)
(Jack and Joe again exchange looks of surprise and curiosity.)
Joe: Have a good rest of the day off, bro. See you soon.
Jack: Right on, Joey. Take it easy.
Joe: I will. I promise. (He exits.)
(Jack pours two tall glasses of gin and ginger ale. He puts the groceries in the refrigerator, and the green bottle back in the cupboard. Then he takes the green bottle back out of the cupboard, and gets the ginger ale out of the refrigerator, and carries them with the two glasses in Denise’s offstage direction.)
END OF PLAY
Fall 2016 Poetry reading list — built by our class:
Fall 2015 Students’ Choice Poems:
The Fish by Elizabeth Bishop https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/fish-2
VIVARIUM by Chris Weidenbach (opens as a Word doc. Also posted at the bottom of this page!)
Stories of Edgar Allen Poe–at ClassicReader.com:
Here is the Character Sketch document:
–Links are coming soon!
Alice Walker on Democracy Now!
On the 30th anniversary of the publication of “The Color Purple,” we speak with author, poet and activist Alice Walker about her groundbreaking novel and its enduring legacy. Set mainly in rural Georgia in the 1930s, the book tells the story of a young, poor African-American woman named Celie and her struggle for empowerment in a world marked by sexism, racism and patriarchy. The novel earned Walker a Pulitzer Prize in 1983, making her the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer for fiction. Walker explains the origin of the book’s title and explores some of its central characters and their connection to her own family history.