"Who Am I This Time?"

A One Act Play by Christopher Sergel based on the short story by Kurt Vonnegut

180122566-Christopher-Furlong.jpg
The backstage drama upstages the onstage drama in this production. Christopher Furlong

This one-act play began as a short story written by Kurt Vonnegut. First published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1961, it became part of the collection of 25 Vonnegut stories called Welcome to the Monkey House in 1968.

Format. This is a play set in contemporary times. The script is 35 pages long. The given circumstances are that a community theatre company has a new director who is about to cast and direct his very first show for the group called the North Crawford Mask and Wig Club.

All the company members speculate on whether their best actor, Harry Nash, will take the lead part. The director and other producers also wonder who will play the leading lady.

Cast Size. This play can accommodate 10 actors.

--Female Characters: 7

--Male Characters: 3

Roles

Harry Nash is a curiously shy man who works at a hardware store and has no social life that anyone is aware of. Before Harry even makes his entrance in the play, conversations among the company members and the director who speaks directly to the audience reveal that "On stage he's never Harry Nash.... The moment the curtain goes up, he's body and soul what the script tells him to be." Then, at work on the following Monday, his personality is "...about as blah as the leaf rakes."

Miss Sawyer owns the theatre and, up until the current production, she has also been the director of all the plays presented there.

Mary is Miss Sawyer's assistant.

Newt is the newly appointed director of the upcoming play. He has chosen to produce August Strindberg's Miss Julie. But, he says, "If Harry doesn't take the lead part (of the arrogant servant who gets involved with the title character), I'm not directing."

Helene is an attractive young woman who leads an empty life, but when she is cast in the role of Miss Julie, her scenes with her costar Harry are intense and electrifying.

(Note: The script is written so that the audience never witnesses these passionate scenes; instead, the other characters—especially the director Newt—discuss them and explain what has happened during rehearsals and performances.)

Members of the Company: These small supporting roles serve the purpose of communicating background information and attitudes. Beyond the first eight pages of the script, however, they have little to no involvement in the action.

--George

--Diana

--Susanne

--Catherine

--Nancy

Plot. Newt pays Harry a visit to ensure that he will audition for the play. Harry’s only question is “Who am I this time?” He auditions for the role and is as spectacular as usual with a script in his hand.

Newt meets Helene and encourages her to audition. She does, but her audition is abysmal. Before dismissing her and over Miss Sawyer’s objections, Newt asks Harry to read with Helene. The results are transformational. Helene and Harry act together and the sparks fly. They are cast as the leads.

“Helene and Harry set such a pace that everybody in the production was half crazy with excitement,” explains Newt. Both performances of the play are stellar.

Miss Sawyer observes that Helene has fallen in love with Harry, but everybody knows his habit of disappearing during curtain calls, avoiding the cast party, and returning to his reclusive ways.

Is Helene in love with the man or with his character? Can she get Harry to change?

Setting. A small town

Set. Most of the action occurs backstage at the theatre. There are two small scenes played in Helene’s and Harry’s workplaces.

Costumes. Everyday attire for rehearsals is the predominant costume need. In the scene following the curtain call, the actors wear costumes that suggest participation in the play.

Content issues? None really. Any potentially problematic scenes are described after the fact instead of played out in real time.

Approximate running time: 50 minutes.