Short Studies on Great Subjects


Seven characters are arrayed across the stage, some sitting, some standing. They begin delivering their lines in no particular order or rhythm. Each repeats his or her lines over and over, varying the length of time between them. It does not matter if the characters speak them simultaneously with the other characters. In fact, it's advisable that they do. The play ends when the overlapping lines reach a suitable density, or when there is silence. Either will do.

The characters and their lines are as follows:

Luther, a street entrepreneur, selling used books from folding tables. He is big, black, handsome, cleanly dressed. He has a moustache like Billy D. Williams. He speaks to his assistant, Ernesto: "What’s with the bad attitude? You gotta be happy. When you’re happy, good things happen to you."

Ernesto, Luther's assistant. He is small and very thin. He may be homeless, or he may have a room somewhere. He 's missing several teeth, his hair is permanently scruffy, and he has several days' growth of beard. His clothes are well worn. He listens intently to Luther, then, squinching up his eyes, says loudly: "What?"

Atalya, who works in an office. She's about 32 years old, thick but not fat. She's huddled in a chair, sitting on her jacket but hugging herself for warmth. Occasionally she whispers, "I'm cold" or "I'm hungry."

Larry, a backhoe operator, large and fleshy, with sandy blonde hair, wearing a football team jacket. He sits on a bench, back straight, with his hands on his knees. His eyes betray tiredness. Occasionally he lets out a huge silent yawn that, after several seconds, resolves as a perfect, sustained B natural, one octave above middle C.

Rahkim, slim and muscular, with a wifebeater shirt and gold chain, speaking into a phone: “Listen, old man, I ain’t playing wit’ you. You give me that money or I'ma never let you see your grandkids again."

Maria, a 70-ish Italian-American with a Brooklyn accent, wearing a muted skirt, sensible flat shoes, stockings, a dark coat. Her hair is in a perm, and she holds a purse. She speaks to an unseen bakery clerk: "A pound of the sfingi, dear, and make sure it's fresh."

Phil, rough, drunk, middle-aged, in a well-worn leather jacket and black jeans, leaning with his elbows on a table, face jutting forward and barking: “Hey, cousin, get ovuh here!” Then pausing, looking hurt, and continuing in a quiet voice: “It’s nice to be nice.”

Matt Hannafin