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A Pincus Senior Center Affair to Remember

Act One
Scene One

OVERTURE: Medley of songs from 1955. Rock Around the Clock, Ballad of Davey Crocket, Yellow Rose of Texas, Unchained Melody, etc.

AT RISE: There is a spotlight on RACHEL SHAPIRO, almost 30. She is our narrator/ observer/ participant recalling her story from the past. She is looking about at the stage setting. Comfortable in the present, she is insecure and self critical when she participates as she was then, in years past. MUSIC stops.

RACHEL: (To audience) Hello, and thank you for coming to our show tonite – (Pause) Both of you. We have a lovely story to tell you. Once upon a time, there was a place in Brooklyn called the Sheldon Pincus Senior Center. This is how it looked when I first became director there. The center wasn’t fancy. It was a place to hang out, play cards, have lunch, or just be with other people. Most mornings, a few of our regulars played cards. You could tell the ones who were close friends by how much they fought with each other.

(LIGHTS COME UP on the recreation room of the Sheldon Pincus Senior Center. It’s modestly furnished with two card tables with three or four card table chairs each. There are several other chairs at both ends of the stage. There’s a stand with a phone and an old fashioned radio. It’s late September, 1955. Two senior citizens, ARNOLD KAPLAN and OSCAR SALZMAN are playing cards at one of the card tables. ARNOLD appears to be a mild, modest, self-educated man – and he is. There is, however a driven, ambitious side to him which we will gradually see. He is married and would make a comfortable, reliable uncle. OSCAR is an emotional, impatient widower who wears his feelings on his sleeve. Blustery, gruff, as an uncle he might scare you at first until you realize he’s jello inside. Both have little formal schooling although Arnold is more introspective. They’re dressed in clothes appropriate to retired members of the working class.)

ARNOLD: (Quietly puts cards down) Gin.

OSCAR: (Jumps up, slaps the table) Kaplan, you ganef, every hand you keep winning. You’re cheating on me?

ARNOLD: I just remember the cards, Mr. Salzman.

OSCAR: (Slaps the table again) Aha! Remembering the cards you don’t call cheating?

(Grumbling, OSCAR sits down and deals the cards. ARNOLD and he play again.)

RACHEL: (To audience) I started working there the year that Eisenhower was president, the Brooklyn Dodgers were going to face the New York Yankees in the world series again, and a retired tailor at our Center wrote a short story about a love affair that was published in the newspaper, the Jewish Forward, and later made into a successful movie. (Beat) It was also the year that I learned to believe in miracles. And myself. It was the fall of 1955 and I was talking to my boss, Mrs. Molly Pincus.

(Enter MOLLY PINCUS, a stylish senior citizen. Formally well dressed, all in black. Uptight, and over-protectively critical of Rachel. Molly wants her to make good, but is filled with doubts and concerns and shows it.)

MOLLY: Rachel, you’re getting along all right? Things aren’t too complicated for you?

RACHEL: (Nervous) So far everything’s fine!

MOLLY: Well, this is your second week working here. I’m glad you’re not making as many mistakes as I expected.

RACHEL: (Feigns appreciation) Thank you, grandma.

MOLLY: (Business like) No grandma or grandmother here. It’s Mrs. Pincus here at the center.

RACHEL: (Eager to please) I’ll remember, “Mrs.” Pincus.

MOLLY: A young girl can’t afford to be careless for a single moment. Although, frankly, your mother and I are both worried. You’re not married. You’re not even engaged yet. And you’re close to 30.

RACHEL: Maybe I’ll be an old maid.

MOLLY: Wash your mouth out with soap! – You need to get engaged and married, and start a real life.

RACHEL: I have a real life – sort of.

MOLLY: You graduated college, in theater arts of all things, you know how I feel about the theater, and you don’t even have a teaching credential to fall back on in case your husband dies if you ever get married.

RACHEL: Is being single a crime?

MOLLY: Absolutely! What on earth do you want? Mr. Perfect? A miracle?

RACHEL: If that’s what it takes.

MOLLY: Give up on miracles. Just get married. (Shrugs) Enough of this talk. I’ll be joining you for lunch next Monday.

RACHEL: (Tries to be enthusiastic) Why not make lunch this Friday? Rabbi Gimel Farkas is coming in then and he’ll lead us in a study group after lunch. His topic will be Health Care for the Elderly.

MOLLY: Rabbi Farkas is 91. His topic is always Health Care for the Elderly.

RACHEL: He says he’ll tie it in with the book of Exodus.

MOLLY: At 91, everything for Rabbi Farkas is now about Exodus. No, no Fridays for me. Besides Monday is the 3rd anniversary of my starting this Center. It’s a better time for me to come.

RACHEL: (Resigned) Yes, Mrs. Pincus.

MOLLY: (Softens tone) I don’t mean to be so critical of you, Rachel. I want you to do well here. Just keep things exactly as they are. I’ll see you later today. And please, stop waiting for a miracle. Don’t be so fussy. (Exits)

RACHEL: Yes, “Mrs.” Pincus. Whatever you say, “Mrs.” Pincus. (To audience) Was I really waiting for a miracle? The dictionary says a miracle is an event that takes place that contradicts natural law. I once asked my father: “Papa, do you believe in miracles?” “Rachel,” he said, “we live in Brooklyn. If you’re a Brooklyn Dodger fan, you have to believe in miracles. The Dodgers have never won a world series. This year, for example, they’re playing the New York Yankees who have won the world series 16 times, the last 5 straight with Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, and Yogi Berra. We have Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, and Jackie Robinson. Will they be enough? Or will it take a miracle for the Dodgers to beat the Yankees?” (Shrugs) That’s the kind of support I got at home. My life was dependent on the Brooklyn Dodgers.

(Entering together are senior citizens ESTHER WITKIN and SYLVIA RABINOWITZ. ESTHER is a sweet, unsophisticated, modestly educated widow who has devoted her life to husband, children, and the grocery store. She’s past strong emotion and passion – or so she thinks. She’s wearing a simple house dress. SYLVIA is the opposite. She’s a brash, extroverted, married woman who wastes little time on subtleties. She wears more colorful, loose flowing clothes. A little cleavage shows.)

ESTHER: (Looks carefully at Rachel) Rachel, are you all right?

(RACHEL leaves narrator role and becomes a participant again.)

RACHEL: (Anxiously) Hello, Mrs. Witkin. I just saw Mrs. Pincus. She came over to check on things.

SYLVIA: You mean check on how you’re doing your job? (RACHEL nods sheepishly) No wonder you’re nervous. Mrs. Pincus is a fussy lady. Everything’s got to be ipsey-pipsey by her.

RACHEL: Next week is the center’s anniversary. I’d like to make a special luncheon event for Mrs. Pincus.

ESTHER: We should do special. Her husband passed away four years ago, may he rest in peace. Since then, Mrs. Pincus is a lonely woman.

SYLVIA: Find her a man. That’s more special than lunch!

ARNOLD: (Looks up) I could read some of my poetry.

SYLVIA: (Surprised) Mr. Kaplan, you write poetry? I thought you’re a tailor.

ARNOLD: I am, Mrs. Rabinowitz. But, in between the stitches, I needed things to think about. So, I wrote little stories and poems. I still write. Even poems about here. (Takes out a notebook and reads) “Each day, through the door we enter, a second home, our Pincus Center, we eat our lunch, we meet our friends, and play some cards, till the long day ends.”

SYLVIA: (Amazed) Words with rhymes, yet. Mr. Kaplan, you’re more than a tailor. Tell your wife a poet – a writer – we got, right here in the middle of us. And you’re it.

ARNOLD: My wife already knows. She’s too busy to listen. Bessie left the 6th grade 50 years ago. Now, she wants her high school diploma. So, by day she takes classes and by night she studies. She wants to get good grades so I’m by myself most of the time.

SYLVIA: (Sympathetically) Oy. You marry with the intellectuals, you lead a lonely life.

RACHEL: Mr. Kaplan, can you write something special for Mrs. Pincus for giving us this center?

ARNOLD: Of course. She deserves it.

(OSCAR now goes into an arguing mode with ARNOLD, who, not as mild as he looks, gives as good as he gets. They’re loving combatants who jump up and down and slap the table for emphasis.)

OSCAR: She deserves it? Pfeh, Kaplan! You think Mrs. Pincus does this just for us? She’s a capitalist. She gives to save taxes. Better you should write “Roses are red, violets are blue, for stealing your money, I say thank you!”

ARNOLD: Salzman, what do you got against Mrs. Pincus?

OSCAR: She’s a capitalist! She’ll push you to be a capitalist too, someday!

ARNOLD: On my social security I’ll become a capitalist? Salzman, you’re not a socialist! You’re a communist!

OSCAR: For exposing the exploiters of the world, I’m a communist? What do you know about Mrs. Pincus?

ARNOLD: This building she gives us.

OSCAR: Gives us? You got a deed to the property? Who knows who Mrs. Pincus really is?

RACHEL: (Embarrassed) Uh, she’s my grandmother.

(All on stage are surprised, especially OSCAR.)

OSCAR: Grandmother? Your bubbe? (Ashamed) Oy. Rachel, why didn’t you tell us Mrs. Pincus was family who gave you a job?

RACHEL: (Embarrassed, to audience) What do I tell them? That I’m anxious and insecure? That my mother is anxious and insecure and neurotic? That I’m embarrassed I haven’t found my career yet, but I needed a job and the best one I could get was because my mother put in a good word for me with her mother? And that even here, I’m scared I’ll make too many mistakes and get fired and disappoint my family again. How much should tell them? What would it help? – I didn’t say anything.

OSCAR: (Guilt-ridden) Oy, it’s my big mouth! I can’t control it. Rachel, I apologize to you. My wife, may she rest in peace, when she was alive, my big mouth she controlled, but now, what do I? Insult Mrs. Pincus. For doing a good deed!

ESTHER: (Goes over and pats him) There, there, Mr. Salzman. It’s all right. We’ll have lunch soon. You’re not a bad man. You’re just a socialist.

OSCAR: Thank you, Mrs. Witkin.

(OSCAR, a lonely man, starved for more pats, looks meaningfully at ESTHER who goes to her table.)

SYLVIA: Rachel, it’s all right that from your family you had to get a job. You got to learn on somebody. Better you should make mistakes on us than on young people who remember everything. People who remember everything are trouble makers!

(SYLVIA sits at table with ESTHER.)

RACHEL: (To audience) That was my job. Being with ordinary people doing ordinary things. Things were pretty quiet that day until we heard yelling inside the building.

BORIS: (Offstage yelling) Hello! Hello! Is anybody here?

(BORIS ADLER, in a wheelchair, enters. BORIS, around 70, is dressed in an old-fashioned flamboyant style, with a cape, flowing scarf, and dark glasses. He behaves like your stereotypical self-centered actor.)

BORIS: (Looks about) So, this where the people are. Am I in the right place?

RACHEL: (Graciously) I don’t know. This is the Pincus Senior Center. I’m Rachel Shapiro, the director. What place do you want to be in?

BORIS: How much is lunch?

RACHEL: 65 cents.

BORIS: Free seconds?

RACHEL: Free seconds.

BORIS: Okay, I’m in the right place. Where do you keep the toilet for when I need it?

RACHEL: (Points) Over there. (Beat)This is Mrs. Witkin, Mrs. Rabinowitz, Mr. Kaplan, and Mr. Salzman. Who do I have the pleasure of speaking to?

BORIS: You don’t recognize me? Not even as an actor?

SYLVIA: (Excited) You’re an actor?

BORIS: Was. But, before I retired, I was an actor, director, writer, everything. – All right, if you’re going to hound me, my name is Adler. Boris Adler. (Expecting recognition, hoping for it) You heard from me?

RACHEL: Uh, no.

(All on stage shake their heads no. BORIS is subdued.)

BORIS: Well, why should you know me? I was just a working actor. But, a good one. So I wasn’t a star. I should have been. If my agents weren’t all dead.

RACHEL: Maybe you can help us. We need help with entertainment for a special luncheon.

BORIS: You can’t afford me.

RACHEL: What if we give you a weeks free lunches for helping us?

BORIS: (Considers it) You’re offering me three weeks of free lunches?

RACHEL: Two weeks.

BORIS: – I shouldn’t. – But, what actor ever turns down a free meal? Relents) – Done!

RACHEL: Maybe, you can do some kind of monologue.

BORIS: Only a monologue? Why not put on a whole show.?

...Scene One continues. Contact the author for more.

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