(Sometime in the near or far future. At rise, MAX and ALICE are seated at a table in the middle of CAFÉ GENTRY, a newish bistro in a New York City-like metropolis. They’re a blandly attractive couple dressed in seemingly seamless all-black clothes. Their wait-person, GRACE, is mid-introduction.)
GRACE: …now, I have to know: have you been with us before?
MAX: Well, she—
ALICE: We’d like the spiel.
ALICE: Treat us like we haven’t. Grace, was it?
ALICE: We’d like the spiel, Grace. Whole thing. (A little smile.) Please.
GRACE: Happy to! So. The first thing to know about Café Gentry is that – though, yes, this is a table, and, yep, those are plates and napkins and silverware, and of course I hope you brought your best appetites! – we’re not really a restaurant, per se. Not only that. Do you know what I mean? Café Gentry is an “immersive experience,” as our owner-slash-head-chef likes to say. “A monument to culture long gone.” Think Colonial Williamsburg. Think Medieval Times. OK?
GRACE: Good. That’s important, because there’s history all around you – and history is exactly where we’ll start.
ALICE: (to MAX) We’re getting the spiel.
MAX: I thought the spiel involved food. Specials or whatnot.
(ALICE shoots MAX a look that shuts him up, then turns back to GRACE.)
ALICE: He’s sorry. Go ahead. History.
GRACE: I want you to look around.
(ALICE sweeps her head to and fro, making two or three near-360-degree arcs. MAX’s gaze is more or less level.)
ALICE: (to MAX) Look. A. Round.
MAX: I’m looking. I see bricks.
GRACE: (laughing) A-ha! But not just any bricks. See, for blocks and blocks in every direction – including the very ground on which this restaurant sits – there used to be a thing called a housing project.
(At this, MAX – a man who loves projects – perks up.)
MAX: We happen to have a bit of a housing project on our hands right now.
ALICE: She doesn’t want to—
MAX: Sprucing up a hell of a period piece – I’m talkin’ pre-Changes, way back. Called a, uh…
ALICE: Dammit, Max—
MAX: It’s a, uh… help me, honey.
ALICE: (exasperated) A tenement.
MAX: A tenement! You wouldn’t believe the bones.
GRACE: Never heard of one. Sounds nice. But this is a different thing, different kinda project. You folks aware of the poverty era?
(The couple nod gravely.)
GRACE (cont’d): It’s incredible, all we’re still learning about the time. One thing we know for sure is that these housing projects, they were big brick hulks, huge buildings, throwing the—
ALICE: (whispering)…the poor.
GRACE: —that’s right, the poor: thrusting them into the sky. All huddled together, is what the literature says.
ALICE: Also terr—
GRACE: Right? I think so, too. Really something else…
(As GRACE continues to speak, a man dressed as a BUSBOY appears from somewhere behind her. He approaches the table hesitantly at first, then with the gathering determination of an improviser joining a scene. For a while he stands directly behind GRACE, entirely unnoticed. He wears a skeptical expression.)
GRACE (cont’d): … Anyway, those bricks you see – real bricks, locally sourced – they’re from the housing project that sat right here.
GRACE: Not a nice place. Again: according to the literature. And when the Changes got far enough along…
ALICE: Yes, then what?
GRACE: Well, the record gets fuzzy.
BUSBOY: (muttering) The record, for fuck’s—
GRACE: (startled) Oh!
BUSBOY: So sorry, so sorry. Just, ah, seeing if you guys needed anything cleared away.
GRACE: They just got here. (She eyes him more closely.) I don’t think we’ve met…
BUSBOY: I’ll just… excuse me. My fault.
(He backs offstage, still paying close attention to the proceedings at the table. If he inadvertently catches the eye of either diner he gives an apologetic grin, a little wave.)
GRACE: As I was saying—
ALICE: Something about the Chang—
MAX: I’m noticing white stuff. What’s the white stuff in the corner.
GRACE: Excellent observation, sir, and a perfect segue. That’s called asbestos. Also farmed directly from the ruins…
(From offstage, we hear a yelp of laughter. As GRACE continues, the BUSBOY rematerializes, this time holding a MOP, which he fans very slowly across the floor as he glides his way back over to the table.)
GRACE (cont’d): …They used it to insulate the buildings: you know, keep everybody warm – it was good for that. Turns out it also killed you dead if you inhaled enough of it. All kinds of cancer, and—
BUSBOY: You know, I’ve got a cousin—
GRACE: Who in the—
BUSBOY: —and I hate to interrupt you here, but my cousin, when we were kids, he had a pet rock, right? You ever have a pet rock? (To MAX) You look like you might’ve had a pet rock.
MAX: I think I might’ve.
BUSBOY: So he had this pet rock. Weird thing, though: it was, like, blinding white. Almost glowed. He named it Powder, and he carried it around with him everywhere he went. (He pats his pants pocket.) This pocket, right here.
GRACE: I don’t know what you’re—
BUSBOY: Turns out: clump of asbestos.
BUSBOY: That’s what we said. Now he’s got a tumor the size of a head on his hip. Also named Powder.
ALICE: So you’re saying… I mean, you lived there?
GRACE: Impossible. History, remember? Long gone. This was ages ago.
BUSBOY: This was, like, a week ag—
GRACE: (laughing nervously) Like I said, “immersive experience!” Looks like we’ve got some kind of reenactment on our hands!
BUSBOY: Apartment 3B. It was right here until very recently. (He fishes around in his pocket.) Still got my keys somewhere—
GRACE: And I want to assure you, by the way – our asbestos has been neutralized by a spray. Not to worry.
ALICE: I’d actually like to hear more from the, uh, reenactor?
BUSBOY: Busboy. Real busboy. And sure, my pleasure!
MAX: This is fantastic.
BUSBOY: See those little flecks of color on some of the bricks? Kinda vomit-hued?
MAX: That was my next thing to ask, I swear.
BUSBOY: That’s called lead paint.
GRACE: I was getting there.
BUSBOY: Stunt your growth, kill your sperm, send your kids into a semi-permanent daze – you name it.
BUSBOY: That’s what we said! Go ahead and touch it if you want.
ALICE: So you mentioned your home? I mean, what exactly happ—
GRACE: And here ends the dramatic portion of the evening!
ALICE: I just don’t see how—
GRACE: Who’s hungry?!
(MAX throws up his hand. The BUSBOY shrugs, slips his up too.)
GRACE: (reciting what’s left of the “spiel” in manic, twitchy fashion) Every item on our menu is a… is a loving, artisanal recreation of a dish from before the Changes.
BUSBOY: (shaking his head) The Changes…
ALICE: (to the BUSBOY) This is what I’m saying.
GRACE: For our first special – well, let me back up. Are you aware that pigs used to have feet?
MAX: We’ll take two.