“The Life Line” by A. Nelson

An original play  written in CW 205:  Introduction to Creative Writing with Dr. Carlos Dews — Spring Semester 2010

 

“THE LIFE LINE”

 

Characters

PETER ANDERSON, Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

CYNTHIA CHRYSLER, Assistant Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

VOICE OF SUPER BOWL ANNOUNCER, coming from the TV

Setting

Peter’s House. Super Bowl Sunday.

Lights up to reveal PETER speaking to a small group of employees at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in his living room.

PETER

Thank you all for coming to my Super Bowl party. I decided to host this party for many reason. Firstly, so that we can all get to know each other, and interact outside of the work environment. Secondly, because I have an announcement. This Super Bowl, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has a strong reason to cheer on the Eagles. I have made a bet with Director Thompson, at the San Diego Museum of Art, that we are going to win. Go Eagles! Let’s watch.

(PETER picks up the remote off of the

coffee table and turns up the volume)

SUPER BOWL ANNOUNCER

Welcome back to Super Bowl Forty-Five. This epic game has been one for the history books. The Philadelphia Eagles and the San Diego Charges have both played exceptional games. How about that interception by the Eagles in the 3rd quarter. Right now the game is tied, 14 to 12 with the Chargers leading and 5 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Let’s see which team wants to win more, which team’s fans will be celebrating tonight, which city will have the bragging rights, and which coast has the winning Super Bowl team. San Diego kicks off.

PETER

(Yelling over the TV) Catch it! Catch it! Catch it! Run! Run!

SUPER BOWL ANNOUNCER

(Cont.) And the Eagles receive the kick and make it to the forty-yard line.

(CYNTHIA stands up from the couch and walks over to PETER, she motions to him to follow.They both walk into the kitchen)

CYNTHIA

Peter, do you have a second?

PETER

Of course.

(CYNTHIA stands between PETER and the small TV set up on the kitchen counter)

CYNTHIA

I never understood why the Super Bowl is so important. It’s a stupid game without any meaning. People only watch the Super Bowl for the commercials now, and besides-

PETER

(Interrupting) It’s not just a stupid game. It’s a game that is quintessential to the American spirit. You’re right, it’s commercialized, but that’s part of what makes it American. It’s a part of the fabric of our identity. From the very beginning, it distinguished us from those rugby-playing Brits.

CYNTHIA

Please, you make it sound like it is as important to the American identity as the Revolutionary War. I can almost hear Patrick Henry, ‘Give me the Super Bowl, or give me death.’ Anyway, I wanted to ask you about that bet you made with the San Diego Museum of Art(CYNTHIA waits for PETER to volunteer more information)I wanted to ask why you made the bet. I can’t understand what would provoke you to make the bet.

PETER

Well, the bet is mutual. Director Thompson and myself both bet that our teams would win the Super Bowl. I made the bet because –

CYNTHIA

(interruption) And what exactly did you bet with?

PETER

We both bet that the losing team would send an object from their collection to the winning team for a year-long loan.

CYNTHIA

(Shocked) An object from our collection! My God! You bet an object from our collection that Philadelphia would win the Super Bowl. Wait, which object did you bet?

PETER

(Confident) This is the best part. I bet Winslow Homer’s painting of the Life Line, and Director Thompson bet Winslow Homer’s drawing of the Life Line that Homer created in preparation for the painting. The objects belong together. It will make for a good show because when they are together people will be able to examine the way Homer composed his canvases.

CYNTHIA

(mad) A good show? The Super Bowl is a good show. Losing a valued object of our collection because a Philadelphia football team loses a stupid game is not a good show. It’s pathetic. It’s something a gambling addict would do. You’re the Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, not some high roller at Las Vegas. This is irresponsible. Your reckless behavior will not be tolerated. As soon as I meet with the Board.

PETER

I don’t think the Board needs to be brought into this.

CYNTHIA

Of course the Board needs to be told about this. Don’t you understand that the painting is worth money? Last time I checked, Winslow Homer’s watercolors were selling for around 4 million in the Auction Houses. And you’re betting with one of his oil paintings. Of course this is under the jurisdiction of the Board. The Board is in charge of keeping this institution profitable. And, I might add, keeping you in check.

PETER

It’s a year-long loan. It’s not like we are losing 4 million dollars. Besides, there is a long history of making Super Bowl bets, mayors of cities do it, Governors do it, and everyone else does it. Hell, they even make Super Bowl odds at Los Vegas.

CYNTHIA

Peter, you can’t make bets with objects from our collection without telling anyone. Why did I hear this just today? Don’t you think you should have at least told me about it before you finalized it? Telling me would have been the least you should have done. You should have also proposed the wager to the Board.

PETER

Cynthia, I don’t need to waste the time of the Board members by asking them permission whether or not I can do my job. Besides, I would be happy to give you a full report of how well the year-long exhibition goes with San Diego’s drawing hanging next to our painting in our gallery after we win the Super Bowl.

CYNTHIA

But this has never been done before. We have never had a Director make bets with the museum collection. This is exactly why I am the assistant director, to determine whether or not this type of action is appropriate. Personally, I feel like a year-long loan is too long.

PETER

In comparison to our museum’s history of almost a century a year-long loan is fraction of time. It will be over before you know it.

CYNTHIA

Peter, I think you know that we are losing more and more visitors every year. We are losing money from donations every year. Times are tough. The last thing we need is to start losing our collection. I don’t think people come here to see empty canvases. It doesn’t matter how long the loan is. Removing a painting from our collection is a big deal.

PETER

I think that you are blowing this out of proportion. I don’t think you understand some of the reasons why I made the bet, which I would gladly explain. But honestly, this is just a really unimportant bet I made with director Thompson over twitter. It’s not the end of our museum.

(CYNTHIA’s cell phone rings. She looks to see who it is)

CYNTHIA

Sorry, I have to take this. (on the phone) Hello (beat) Yes, Dave, I’m actually speaking to him right now.

(CYNTHIA walks into the corner of the room and continues talking on her cell phone. PETER focuses his, takes the remote and turns up the volume on the TV)

ANNOUNCER

Welcome back to Super Bowl forty-five. We have two and half minutes left and the game is tied at fourteen to fourteen. The ball is switching hands and the Eagles are kicking off.

PETER

Miss it! Miss it! Miss it! Damn! Tackle him!

(CYNTHIA hangs up the phone and walks back her chair and takes a seat. PETER continues to watch the game)

ANNOUNCER

The Charges catch the ball and made it to the thirty-yard line. And now it’s time for the Ford Fun Fact of the game, there is more than just city pride on the line this Super Bowl, in an unusual break of formality, the Directors of both the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the San Diego Museum of Art have each bet a painting that their team will win this year’s Super Bowl.

(We can hear the employees of the museum cheering in the living Room)

CYNTHIA

Now the whole world knows how reckless you are!

PETER

At least the world knows about us now. You just said it, the number of visitors we have is reducing every year. One of the reasons I made this bet was for the publicity. Yeah, this might be the first time that we have ever done something like this, but at least it draws attention towards us. The bet gives our institution some needed free publicity. You just heard the most far-reaching advertisement for the Philadelphia Museum of Art that has ever been broadcast. And it was free!

CYNTHIA

(stubborn) It still made you look reckless.

CYNTHIA

I was talking to Dave, the accountant for the museum, before the game started. He said that he has finished the monthly budget report. It doesn’t look good. The last show took a hit to our budget. Times are tough for museums.

PETER

That’s another reason why I made the bet. Times are tough and if museums are going to survive these challenging economic times we have to partner up and work with each other. This bet allowed me to get to know the Director Thompson over at the San Diego Museum of Art. In fact, he already told me that he is looking forward to creating an exhibition between our two museums.

CYNTHIA

Don’t you think there was a less embarrassing way to create a relationship with another museum? Why not a traditional show or a simple exchange of objects.

PETER

Why not a traditional show? Because I am also trying to change the perception of the museum. People think that museums are places for stuffy academics. They don’t feel welcome or comfortable when they come here. I’m trying to change that. Not only by changing the atmosphere of the building, but also by changing the way that people see what I do. What better way to show people that museum are places for everyman, than to show people the directors of museums making a Super Bowl bet.

CYNTHIA

You think that museums are for everyman. I don’t think you want that type of person to come into our museum. You know, the kind of person that watches the Super Bowl, drinking beer and eating nachos. That’s the kind of person you want to come to our museum.

PETER

Yes I am talking about that type of person, the everyman, the average Joe, they are the people that I want to visit our museum.

CYNTHIA

But did you have to gamble a piece of high art? It’s so low brow.

PETER

I think it creates a popular interest in the art. I made the bet because I think people can identify with the Super Bowl. They know what Super Bowl bets are about. They might not understand Winslow Homer. They might not be familiar with the Life Line. But at least they will have one connection the art in this museum.

CYNTHIA

You have gone over the top, I think you are taking too big of a risk for this well established museum.

PETER

(excited) That’s exactly it! I’m taking a risk. Something the Board could never do. I might be making a mistake, but I’m doing something. And I think I am doing something exciting. I’m challenging the status quo. I’m making people rethink what being a museum director is all about and for that matter what museums are all about. We are well established but we are also losing money and the public’s interest. It’s time to shake things up around here. It’s time to change the way we do things. Did you ask me why I didn’t ask for the Board’s approval? Maybe because you guys never take any risks. You would never take the leap of faith. You never jump out on the life line. We are drowning like the woman in Winslow Homer’s painting, we are a drowning institution and the board isn’t making the leap of faith onto the life line to save themselves. To save us. (pause, looks right at CYNTHIA) Look, I’m on the same side that you are on. I want the arts to become popular again. I want this institution to succeed. But we need to make some changes. You know as well as I know that our last show was a disaster. What was it? How local artists evoke the art of Van Gogh. How kitsch. No wonder it did not draw big crowds. It was a boring show.  It’s time that we invite guest curators to do a show. It’s time we let some young professionals work here, who have fresh ideas, who want to take risks, can will –

(Suddenly distracted by the TV. PETER grabs the remote and turns the volume up)

ANNOUNCER

The ball is intercepted by Philadelphia. He’s running. Number thirty-two, Brent Walker is sprinting down field. The path is clear.

PETER

Run! Run! You can make it!

ANNOUNCER

Touchdown Eagles!

(The applause from the employees in the living room can be heard, while PETER celebrates the touchdown.

Cynthia watches in amazement.)

PETER

(yelling) We did it! Oh my god! We won. The Eagles are going to win the Super Bowl!

ANNOUNCER

With thirty seconds left, I don’t think I am taking too big a risk and announcing that the Eagles are this year’s Super Bowl champions.

(Turns the volume down)

PETER

I knew we were going to win. Philadelphia is a better team than San Diego, anyway.

CYNTHIA

(Slightly smiling) So Homer’s drawing of the Life Line is going to come here?

PETER

Yeah, it looks like the San Diego Museum of Art is going to loan us the drawing for a year. We will have to hang it next to our painting. It will look great in our American collection.

CYNTHIA

You know, I think you are right. That will make a good show.

PETER

Now that I know Director Thompson, maybe we can work something out. Maybe a more traditional exchange. Look the game is about it end.

(PETER starts watching the TV again. Turns the Volume up)

ANNOUNCER

Ten seconds left until the Eagles win the Super Bowl. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. And the Eagles win the Lombardi trophy this year.

(PETER’s phone buzzes. He looks and holds the phone so that he can read it)

PETER

Look I got a text from Director Thompson. He says, ‘Good game and a good bet between two new friends. I look forward to personally delivering our drawing of Winslow Homer’s the Life Line and seeing it hanging in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.’

PETER

I’ll have to introduce you to him, when he comes. Maybe you can tell him how disgusted you are that two museum directors would ever make a bet.

CYNTHIA

I guess it wasn’t that bad of an idea. I bet you won’t remember.

PETER

What are you going to bet, one of our Rodin sculpture?

(They both laugh. PETER turns off the TV. CYNTHIA starts to walk off stage, then stops at the sound of the phone ringing. PETER picks it up)

PETER

Hello, this is Peter Anderson (pause) yes, I’m Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Pause) Oh Charles Wingate, from the BBC? (Pause) You want to do a story about the bet we made? I can tell you all about it.

(EXIT CYNTHIA. BLACKOUT)

—written by Andrew Nelson

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