The people have spoken... The October People's Choice Award goes to Maury Zeff for his short play, The Universe on Ice, presented as a staged reading at the Monday Night PlayGround season opener/inaugural Planet Earth New Play Festival on October 20 at Berkeley Rep. Congratulations, Maury!
Courtesy of Mr. Zeff, we're pleased to share the first two pages from the award-winning script. Enjoy!
THE UNIVERSE ON ICE
by Maury Zeff
Cast in Order of Appearance:
NARRATOR – Male – 30s to 50s – Any race – Physically imposing. Stentorian British accent, the most authoritative voice you’ve ever heard. Reminiscent of the very self-assured, stodgy narrators from documentaries of an earlier era.
SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON – Male – 30s to 50s – Caucasian – Hearty, sturdy, stocky. The great polar explorer. British accent with the mildest Irish brogue. Unflaggingly confident, relentlessly ambitious, ravenously hungry. Focused on the singular goal of reaching the South Pole.
EMPEROR PENGUIN – Male – 20s to 30s (but needs to be able to play adult and adolescent) – Any race – Diminutive. Confident, outspoken, principled, impassioned. Has the physicality of a penguin and the gravitas and strength of character of an emperor. Wants humanity to leave him and his egg alone. (Although PENGUIN is a serious character, actor should use the unique physicality of penguins to contrast the character’s seriousness.)
REAR ADMIRAL ROBERT E. PEARY – Male – 30s to 50s – Caucasian – Physically imposing. American, with a vague, ironic resemblance to a walrus. The slightly less great polar explorer. Ruthlessly ambitious, occasionally lecherous, ravenously hungry. Desperately wants to reach the pole—the northern one.
POLAR BEAR – Female – Any age – Any race – Physically imposing. Maternal figure, protective, gentle. Wants to know how the hell she got here, but, even more, wants to protect her family and home.
(A fierce wind howls over an empty stage. Wind blows throughout play. Actors playing humans should brace against the wind accordingly.)
The great polar historian Raymond Priestly once said, “When disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.”
(SHACKLETON enters, carrying a rifle, braced against the polar squall.)
(Studying his compass, staring in disbelief at the ground in front of him.)
Is it to be believed? 90 degrees South, 0 degrees West? Have I finally reached the pole?
Antarctica is the endemic habitat of the Emperor Penguin, penguindom’s largest species. Phylum Chordata. The female of the species lays a 13.5 centimeter egg that the exhausted bird transfers to the male, who incubates the egg for sixty-four days during the long Antarctic winter.
(PENGUIN waddles on with large egg attached to his belly or legs, or carries egg and places it gingerly on the ground before nesting it in his body. Throughout the play, he is struggling to keep the egg safe.)
(Reaching for his rifle) Fresh meat!
(Trying to protect egg with flippers) Whoa, easy, Ernie! I’m going to be a daddy.
You know my name? Wait…What am I saying? You bloody speak?...English?
You speak Penguish?
I must be hallucinating. Three days wandering in this cold and snow will do that to a man.
Commander Robert E. Peary has been described as “undoubtedly the most driven, possibly the most successful and probably the most unpleasant man in the annals of polar exploration.”
Oh God, not Peary!
(Annoyed) Peary? Really?
(PEARY enters, bundled in furs against the sharp wind, carrying a rifle.)
(Studying his compass) 90 degrees North, 0 degrees West. At long last, I’ve reached the pole.
Ah, Commander Peary, conqueror of the Arctic.
(Aside) In your mind, at least.
A penguin? At the North Pole? Preposterous. You’re not supposed to be here.
I’m not supposed to be here? I’m not the one whose ambient scrotum temperature is 12 degrees.
(Raising his gun toward PENGUIN) Well, it makes no difference. Fresh meat is fresh meat.
(Waving his flippers) Hey, hey, I’m incubating an egg here!
(Looking through the site of his gun) Splendid. An omelet too.
Do I come into your home and wave a gun in your face, threatening your family?
(Clears throat; to Peary; as Jerry Seinfeld used to say to Newman) Hellooooo…Peary.
(PEARY turns toward SHACKLETON, puts down gun when he sees him.)
(Coolly) It’s an honor, Sir Ernest.
Join us for the next Monday Night PlayGround on Monday, November 17, at Berkeley Rep and choose your own favorite. Click here for more info.