The Happy Existentialist
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[ed. note: this piece was rejected by eyeshot. Jeremy sent the rejection slip and I was going to post it online with the piece, but decided not to at the last minute. Oh well.]
The Happy Existentialist (Dark stage. On the back wall, a projected quote: "I have never felt a day of despair in my life"--Jean-Paul Sartre. The quote fades as lights come up on Jean-Paul Sartre in a Paris cafe. He sits, smoking a cigarette. Staring out blankly, suddenly he giggles, but stops himself as Simone de Beauvoir and Albert Camus enter.)
Simone: Jean Paul, we were waiting for you outside the theater. Where were you?
Sartre: I'm sorry, I couldn't bear to see it.
Camus: Your own play? This was the premier, and you missed it!
Sartre: I know. I'll see it later. I just wasn't in the mood.
Camus: Which mood?
Sartre: Does it matter?
(Pause; they each take drags from their cigarettes and stare off blankly.)
Simone: There was something I've been meaning to say to you. To both of you.
Sartre: What's that?
Simone: I don't think that love is any more potent than death, and love is never so certain as death. But still, the woman in society poses as a promise to life, to bring life, as if it were an obligation, with or without love. So this is what we have, here to embrace or give up altogether. (Pause) I'm thinking of taking dance lessons.
Camus and Sartre (together, mumbling, nodding) Yes, hmm, sounds good.
Camus: That reminds me of something.
Sartre: What's that?
(Camus and Simone laugh dryly.)
Simone: Jean Paul, what's wrong? You're not yourself.
Camus: Ah, you mean Nothingness?
Sartre: No, just nothing.
Simone: You mean the absence of Being?
Sartre: No, just nothing. Nothing. Little "n," no ness (giggles)
(Simone and Camus gasp)
Simone: What was that?
Sartre: Just a hiccup. (giggles)
Camus: That was no hiccup, that was mirth! You're giggling!
Sartre: Am not! (giggles)
Simone: How could you? Look out the window, Jean Paul: The sun hides like a coward, the river flows indifferent, and the children, the children have all boarded themselves up to sulk and whittle away their youth. There is no room for joy, here. How could you be so irreverent?
Sartre (about to burst, then laughs): OK, I admit it! I like . . . things! I like noodles and puppies and little fat babies! Oh, life is delightful, isn't it?
Camus: But what about your writings? Were you being inauthentic when you said that "Man is condemned to be free"?
Sartre: I said that? Well that's rather silly, isn't it? Freedom is wonderful! I am free to skip and run and, oh, watch this (Sartre tap dances and ends in a flourish) Tada!
(Camus takes a swig on absinthe and hold his head.)
Simone (weeping): I can't believe the man I love is so lost in delusion.
(Sartre takes Simone, grabs her hand and whips her around, pulls her close and starts to ballroom dance.)
Sartre: Come, Simone. I will dance you out of despair.
Camus: This is an outrage!
Sartre: Knock knock.
Simone: Stop it.
Sartre: Knock knock.
Simone: I'm not playing this game.
Sartre: Hello? Ah, hello? Knock knock!
Camus (beyond drunk): Someone answer that damn door!
Simone (weeping): Who's there?
Simone: God who?
Sartre: You, babe. I god you.
Simone (giggling through her tears in spite of herself): Stupid . . . (giggling more, hitting him softly) Stupid joke.
(Sartre dips her, kisses her deeply)
Simone (smiling): You bastard.
Camus: Ha! I get it! The solidarity of collective consciousness is a dance! Ha! (laughs, slaps his knee) Nothing, no ness! Ha!
(The lights become warmer, music rises from the next room. Simone and Jean-Paul continue to dance in wild circles as Camus does the hambone and swigs merrily, all dancing and humming in tune with a divinity they feel but don't recognize, embracing this moment, forgetting the past, unaware of the future, where post-structuralism's severe shadow will cast back over their graves through the works of Julia Kristeva and Hélène Cixous, who will dismiss existentialism as not only passé, but dead. They dance on, knowing none of this, only now.) Simone (laughing): You magnificent bastard.
Jeremy Richards can always be a happy existentialist at Uber.