Conceptualives (A Short Play)

31 Plays in 31 Days #8

(A large video screen, or a series of large video screens, or just the glow of a large video screen.)

(BRIGHT looks around confused for a while.)

BRIGHT
Have I… been here before?

(BRIGHT wears a microphone, and the sound engineer manipulates BRIGHT’s projected voice to sound echo-y and authoritative when BRIGHT speaks lines as “BRIGHT VOICE.”)

BRIGHT VOICE
It should be familiar.

BRIGHT
Oh?

BRIGHT VOICE
Welcome back… Bright.

BRIGHT
Bright? My name is Albrecht.

BRIGHT VOICE
This time.
No longer.

BRIGHT
I’m dead then.

BRIGHT VOICE
Obviously.

BRIGHT
Not heaven. Nor hell.

BRIGHT VOICE
Correct, you’re quicker than last time.

BRIGHT
Well, all right. This is, what…
Wait, let me guess…
The…
The third time around?

BRIGHT VOICE
Well done.

BRIGHT
It’s coming back to me.
Does this mean I’m moving up in samsāra?

BRIGHT VOICE
More likely it is evidence of your soul getting accustomed to the cycle, like a stiff spring gaining elasticity, like a new wheel wearing a groove.

BRIGHT
So I didn’t do better this time?

BRIGHT VOICE
There is no “better.” It is up to you to judge.

BRIGHT
Me?
Where’s God?

BRIGHT VOICE
If God exists, you have yet to find Him, Her, It or They here. Perhaps God has abdicated the management of resurrection, since souls seem perfectly capable of managing it themselves. Or perhaps it is simply the basic machinery of an accidental universe. You’ve searched before, but found no evidence.

BRIGHT
Then who are you?

BRIGHT VOICE
You’re talking to yourself.

BRIGHT
Yes, but you know more than me.

BRIGHT VOICE
It has always seemed to me that in this outside place, my intuition takes on a different and external voice instead of being trapped inside. Perhaps, I have thought in the past, I, as a soul, am two entities in one, and the process of dying is simply a process of the intellect being separated from the intuition. I’ve read all the religious texts; nothing is ever for certain, but it is interesting to think about while I decide.

BRIGHT
Decide?

BRIGHT VOICE
You do some of the work here.

BRIGHT
Okay, fine. I have to decide how I’m going back. How I can be the most help. As who.

BRIGHT VOICE
You don’t have to, of course. You can wait around outside for as “long” as you please.

BRIGHT
Lonely.

BRIGHT VOICE
Time has no meaning here. You can’t be lonely if you haven’t been alone for so much as a millisecond. Just a moment ago, you were alive, and Albrecht.

BRIGHT
Yes… Albrecht… what a funny guy.
I was pretty funny.

BRIGHT VOICE
I’m inclined to agree, but I’m biased.

BRIGHT
I feel pretty good about that one.
I mean. I did some bad things.
I bankrupted the charity with mismanagement.
And my poor sister.
Oh and I outlived my daughter and son, that was a bad choice. I think I probably picked out a lifeline that was going to last me a long time, and didn’t think about the consequences.

BRIGHT VOICE
Learning and wearing grooves.

BRIGHT
Overall I felt not too bad when I was dying, I remember. Not as bad as when I was Akira. Though probably not as good as when I was Clara.

BRIGHT VOICE
You’ve remembered them all. That will help in the decision-making.

BRIGHT
Why did you call me Bright?

BRIGHT VOICE
We’ve learned something. Go on.

BRIGHT
Uh.

BRIGHT VOICE
Go on.

BRIGHT
Is it just a reference to my shining soul?

BRIGHT VOICE
Uh, no.

BRIGHT
Does “Akira” mean bright?

BRIGHT VOICE
Bingo.

BRIGHT
All my names have meant “bright.” Is that a clue to my immortal soul?

BRIGHT VOICE
I think it’s just that, after Clara, we decided always picking someone named “Bright” would make it easier to keep track. Plus, with so many choices, how do you narrow it down without a few arbitrary restrictions? Luckily, almost every culture has many people named as such.

BRIGHT
How do we know ahead of time what the name will be?

BRIGHT VOICE
Time…

BRIGHT
So I can see all time.

BRIGHT VOICE
Not precisely, it seems.

BRIGHT
Seems?

BRIGHT VOICE
Feel out. You’re sharp enough now, you can reach out.

(The TV screens hum and various images and colors flash through them.)

BRIGHT
I do! I feel people! Vessels. Moments. Tastes.
What a plethora of bumblebees, these people. It’s like flipping rapidly through a book where every page is an entire home movie. It’s like someone made scrambled eggs out of the Discovery Channel. …Did I have the Discovery Channel in Germany? Oh, that’s right, I moved to New York for awhile.

BRIGHT VOICE
I wonder sometimes if other souls conceptualize their outside time as a TV screen, or if they do it as a wheel, or as a ballroom full of made-up half-remembered people, or as a portrait gallery.

BRIGHT
Hush. Stay on task.
Wow. Yeah. I can see their whole lives; I see lots of Azhars, Diptis, Huangs, Roxannes, Roberts- Oh, that’s a pretty one, bookmark that Robert… A number of Shivs, a Sirius or two…
Interesting, the Siriuses are all young ones.
I…
I don’t see their whole lives, most of them.

BRIGHT VOICE
You’re on the verge…

BRIGHT
When did I…
When did Albrecht die?
There.
Right there.
On [today’s month, today’s day, the current year]. [The current time] o’clock precisely.
But I… I can’t see beyond…
I want to see my grandkids grow up.
Why can’t I see?

BRIGHT VOICE
We’ve never quite figured it out before, because we were so enamored with the present-times we lived in, that the idea of a missing future evaded our intuition, shamefully.

BRIGHT
I can’t see past the last time I died.

BRIGHT VOICE
The latest time you died. The latest point in universal spacetime.

BRIGHT
I don’t think my soul is naturally inclined to metaphysics.

BRIGHT VOICE
Don’t suppress me.

BRIGHT
Hey!

BRIGHT VOICE
The point will become clear when you look at Clara.

BRIGHT
My first…
Hmm.
She died just a few moments from “now.”
I guess I can see just past Albrecht’s death, but by a matter of split seconds…
And Akira died right before Albrecht.
I picked concurrent lives?

BRIGHT VOICE
Go on.

BRIGHT
I can’t pick a life that ends later than the one I started-
But I can go all the way and-
Heck, look, I can pick Jesus of Nazareth if I want. I can feel… I mean that’s scary, but I can go all the way back to… A long time…
But not forward.

BRIGHT VOICE
What about Sirius?

BRIGHT
Little Sirius? Sirius Clark in Sheffield. Sirius Nash in Edinburgh. Sirius Hellman in Texarkana. Sirius Chin-Myers in Oakland. Ooh, a little girl one too, “Siria,” interesting, clever, possibly not well-thought out once you pronounce it aloud, but what can you do with those Latin endings…
Yes… I see… I can pick any of them. But… I don’t see their deaths.
Oh of course! Harry Potter. That’s where all these Siriuses… Siri-i… came from.

BRIGHT VOICE
So what do you think happens if you pick a little Sirius who-

BRIGHT
I think I’d want to be a woman this time, again.

BRIGHT VOICE
Or Siria-

BRIGHT
Do I really want to-

BRIGHT VOICE
Pay attention! What happens if you pick a little child to go live via, and that person keeps the soul past Clara’s end date?

BRIGHT
I… don’t know?

BRIGHT VOICE
Yes!

BRIGHT
Yes?
Yes, as in, it’s just a great unknown? I can’t see beyond the… the latest point my soul inhabited the universe?
Why did I pick only people whose lives I could see, then?

BRIGHT VOICE
Lack of conceptual stretchiness. Like I said, I’m better this time.

BRIGHT
I can… Oh God, I can-
Is it strange to say “Oh God” here?
Well I can feel all these lives ahead of me, in the great blue screen beyond… Like little gravity wells… I feel I could throw my soul into the indeterminate future say, 5, 10, 500, 5000, 50,000 years and I’ll land in a soul.
Wow, think of the possibility…

BRIGHT VOICE
Think of the unknown.

BRIGHT
The un-
Yes. Yes… that’s why I avoided the future in the past. Or uh avoided the future in the previous presents… this natural language thing doesn’t seem to help much with postlife timey-wimey confusions.

BRIGHT VOICE
The soul learns to communicate with language.

BRIGHT
I guess, but maybe if I could get back to something preceding it… I had to have something before I was Clara…
Anyways, that is scary… and enticing. An entirely unknown life… Could be almost anywhere, anyone… Good or horrible…
I must have truly grown as Albrecht.

BRIGHT VOICE
Clara, Akira, Albrecht. Somewhere between them/you all of us/you, some measure of essential fear was learned out of us/me. Us/me/you/one self-

BRIGHT
Stop that, come, stay tethered.

BRIGHT VOICE
Sorry, the language gets me going.

BRIGHT
I see why we need to be a partnership.

BRIGHT VOICE
Mm.

BRIGHT
So, do I pick the unknowable future…
Or the certain past…
Do I get to actually make the choices for myself, if I go into the future? Instead of slotting into choices already made?

BRIGHT VOICE
Once you go back, of course, no choices have been made.

BRIGHT
But I’ll make the choices I saw when I chose the body to ensoul.

BRIGHT VOICE
Who’s to say? Perhaps you make different choices. Who would tell us we did it different? Maybe when we were Albrecht, our sister was a first-time soul setting the course uncharted, and maybe our wife was a returner soul, the fifth or fiftieth to inhabit that body… who’s to say she didn’t live it differently than the last time?

BRIGHT
Well now we get into that multiple-universes stuff… Which I guess doesn’t matter because I can’t sense any “channels” outside of this one… my TV-portal will only show me one life for each body.
So I can pick a certain past- or at least, a certain starting point and who knows if maybe I take Jesus this time if I end up doing all that, or if I end up saying “all right, Pontius, I’ll take back what I said, just don’t crucify me.”
Or, I can pick a completely uncertain future. And maybe come out as a psychopath.
But is my soul able to be molded into a psychopath?

BRIGHT VOICE
How much of a person is their soul, and how much is their body and circumstances?

BRIGHT
Yes, thank you, that’s what I was asking.

BRIGHT VOICE
You’re moving into the decision-making phase. All I can do is intuit things. I intuit that the future is scary, unknown, wild, exciting. I intuit a desire within us to be Mother Theresa this time, and I intuit a worry that, knowing everything she had done for good in the world, it wouldn’t be much of an achievement to just slot in and “run that program.” But, to take some unknown future body and make a Mother Theresa out of it… That excites me, to a level possibly beyond the fear.

BRIGHT
But… here’s a question that seems to…

BRIGHT VOICE
Leap to mind… Does a body live without a soul?

BRIGHT
The answer would seem to be ‘no’…

BRIGHT VOICE
And following that logic…

BRIGHT
Even the bodies that lived horrible lives as sad, self-loathing loners or rapists or were tortured and killed as toddlers…

BRIGHT VOICE
Were ensouled, which means one of two things:

BRIGHT
Three! Three things!

BRIGHT VOICE
There’s the revelation…

BRIGHT
Some of them for sure were first-time souls, but not all of them… But how many of the remainder would be souls like me, who were outside and after and chose to go back to live that life, seeing its whole tragic course? I mean, some of them thought they might do better, but how many babies die in the first year… There’s a-

BRIGHT VOICE
Gap, unaccounted for- The third-

BRIGHT
The third thing! The third option. People who lived in the previous past, jumping forward into the unknown… and landing in a child soldier, or child prostitute, or, to their subsequent horror-

BRIGHT VOICE
After death, looking back- a murderer…

BRIGHT
As in, someone who died in 1242 leapt forward and ended up in Osama bin Laden or John Wayne Gacy… What a chance that is…

BRIGHT VOICE
Who would take that chance? Is a 1 in a million chance at a future MLK worth a one in a million chance at a future Stalin?

BRIGHT
Do I not get to decide whether that future me becomes an MLK or a Stalin or, more likely, an average but good-humored and decent fellow like good old Albrecht?

BRIGHT VOICE
It’s all a matter of risk. Risk, potential, and reward.

BRIGHT
Well, that’s it. That’s the decision… is it John Lennon, or John or Jane Doe of the year 2100?

BRIGHT VOICE
There will always be a next time…

BRIGHT
I’m just going to go, before I regret my choice preemptively.

BRIGHT/BRIGHT VOICE
Let’s do it.

(Pause.)

(The TV becomes brighter and BRIGHT sinks to the floor sleepily. The TV cycles through numerous cycles of bits of human voices and ephemera, like a slot machine, until it slowly settles and comes to rest on the sound [and image] of a human heart beat.)

(End of play.)

writing time: forgot to track specifically, estimated 1:30

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One comment

  1. […] a play about hanging out at 7-11s late at night, and wanting to write a tense but realistic play 8) Conceptualives – someone tries to figure out the nature of the afterlife Came from long having had the idea of […]

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