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Harmony Falls by Mary Beth O’Connor

Harmony Falls by Mary Beth O’Connor

Drama, Vol. 3.3, Sept. 2009

CHARACTERS
Herb and Sophie, the hosts of the dinner party
Charlie, little Sophie, and unnamed baby, their children
Kenneth and Angela, neighbors
Marge and Ralph, neighbors
Amber and Paul, neighbors
Hugo and Sam, neighbors

SCENE ONE: Living Room. A piano tuner crawls out from underneath a baby grand.

Tuner: There, that should do it. He runs his fingers over the keys.

Sophie: The music of the spheres!

Tuner: That’s a nice piano you’ve got there.

Sophie: It was my mother’s, may she rest in harmonious peace.

Herb calls from off stage: Sweetheart!

Sophie: In here darling, just listen! She plays a chord.

Herb enters, one ear cocked toward the piano as if being pulled along by the sound.

Herb: Marvellous! Sublime! Thank you MaMa! (looks up).

Tuner: I’ll be going then—

Sophie: Oh thank you, thank you!

Electrician: I’ll just leave the bill—

Sophie, dreamily: What? Oh, yes.

Herb: Let me give you a check. (Walks out with tuner)

Phone chimes an ascending scale. Sophie appears not to hear it.

Herb returns, puts his arm around Sophie’s shoulder.

Herb: Darling.

Sophie: Angel.

They stand transfixed for a moment.

Herb: Now, if we could only get the chandelier rewired, we could throw a dinner party!

Sophie: In my beloved mother’s honor!

Herb: She was so kind to leave us—he waves his hand in a wide gesture—all of this!

SCENE TWO

Dining Room. An electrician is just descending a stepladder placed underneath an elaborate chandelier.

Electrician: There, that should do it. (He walks over to light switch and flips it. Chandelier lights up.)

Sophie with her hands together as if in prayer: Wonderful! Isn’t it beautiful? I haven’t seen that since—

Herb from offstage: Sweetheart! Is it working?

Sophie: Darling, come quick and see.

Herb enters and stops in his tracks as if overcome by the sight: Marvellous! The light from up above—surely your mother smiles down upon us all.

Sophie smiles radiantly.

The Electrician shifts from one foot to the other : Well, I’ll be going th—

Sophie: Oh thank you, thank you!

Electrician: I’ll just leave the bill—

Sophie, dreamily: What? Oh, yes.

Herb: Let me give you a check. (Walks out with electrician)

Phone chimes an ascending scale. Sophie appears not to hear it.

Herb returns, walks over to Sophie and puts his arm around her shoulder. Phone stops chiming.

Herb: It’s very tasteful.

Sophie, dreamily: It’s as if each one of those crystal pendants were a note and they’re all singing together a great symphony of light!

Herb, proudly: My love.

SCENE THREE

Later in the Week. Living Room. Sophie on couch, Herb standing.

Herb: And remember darling, just because you can’t see your elbows, don’t think they escape the eyes of others.

Sophie: You tiger, my angel, my daemonian.

Herb, handing Sophie a bunch of freshly picked pansies: For you, my love, that you should not forget me throughout your dulcet hours.

Sophie: Velvet furry faces, Tickle-my-fancy, you set my heart at ease!

Herb: Be sure to manage a rest period of twenty minutes before dressing for dinner…

Sophie: Good one!

Sophie chucks him under the chin with the flowers and small clods of dirt drop off the roots: Say, did you pull these from old lady Tucker’s garden?

Herb shrugs, blushing

Sophie: You bad boy. Now we’ll have to dredge up our imaginary dog again. She pauses, looks around, pretends to let out an ear splitting whistle, calls: Here, Spot!

Herb, alarmed : Precious angel! Please don’t do that!

Sophie, straightening his tie: Darling, it’s in dog range only—are your ears all right? And don’t forget to pick up the sole fillets at the fish monger on your way home.

Herb, nodding: Remember dear, if you should choke on a fishbone it’s perfectly all right to leave the table immediately.

Sophie: Without begging pardon?

Herb, nodding: In this case, yes—page 42. Perhaps a bit of a study?

Sophie, doubtfully: If I can get the children tired out enough to nap—

Herb: Yes, I’m glad you mentioned that. Be sure to set them at an interesting game early in the day, so they can romp. Holds up an imaginary book as if quoting. They will then want a rest at your busy time.

Sophie: Ummm. (looking off dreamily)

Herb: And call to mind a few amusing anecdotes…

Sophie: I know—The ideal hostess is never tired or worried and has a fund of mellifluous conversation.

Herb beams at her: My love—

Sophie hands Herb a paper bag, kisses him on the forehead. He exits. Sophie enters the living room where a boy, 5, and a girl 4, are running around the coffee table. She has a headband with a feather stuck in it. He has a cowboy suit on and is waving a toy pistol, yelling, “Stop! Stop! You’re dead!”

Sophie: Charlie, little Sophie, keep it melodious, please!

Somewhere in the house, a baby starts to cry. The children race out the kitchen door into the back yard, pretending to scream at each other. Sophie lies down on the living room floor and puts her feet up on the sofa. She begins to recite:

Sophie: During your baby’s first year you must take care to properly tune him or else his whole life will be forever out of whack, causing great harm to mothers—to mothers? to others?—as well as himself. With such a short memory span as babies, and increasingly teens and even adults, possess, even a few short minutes spent tuning each day can— Hmm. If you become discouraged, keep in mind that all babies are born out of tune, not just yours, and that some babies tune faster than others, and some keep their pitch better. Babies must be tuned to the octave since, as well we know, the most pleasing interval is the major third…

The phone chimes.

Sophie: Lady of the house speaking.

Sophie listens.

Sophie: But they were just here a moment ago—

Sophie listens.

Sophie: Yes, I—

Sophie listens.

Sophie: Dangerous?

Sophie listens.

Sophie: I am sorry. Just send them home, would you? Thanks so much. See you later? Bye.

Sophie puts down the phone. It chimes again immediately, a third above that last chime note. She leaves the room. Goes to the kitchen door, calls out singsong:

Sophie: Char-lie, Little So-phie. Char-lie, So-phie.

The children enter, running.

Sophie: Charlie, go upstairs and sing to your baby brother, please.

Charlie: Aw, Mom, do I have to?

Sophie: Yes, you must. You have perfect pitch and Little Sophie doesn’t. Yet.

Charlie slams his pistol back in his holster, clumps up the stairs.

Sophie: Sophie, go practice the piano. See if you can find the out-of-tune notes.

Sophie sighs and lies down on the floor again, her arms around an imaginary dog, scratching behind his ears.

SCENE FOUR

Living Room, later that day.

Sophie is sitting on the floor in front of the coffee table, reading a magazinewhile her elbows are propped on lemon halves set into small bowls.

Sophie, laughing at the magazine: Oh, this is too good! I must remember this one!

Sophie removes herself from the lemons, opens a small plastic box and pulls out an index card, scribbles on it. Meanwhile steam/smoke enters the room.

Sirens in the background, getting closer.

Enter 2 firemen pulling a hose through the door behind them. Sophie looks up, surprised.

Sophie: Whatever is the matter?

Firemen shoot water from hose as they approach the kitchen offstage. One disappears through the doorway.

Charlie appears still dressed in cowboy suit and begins to shoot at the fireman still in the living room.

Charlie: Bang, Bang! You’re dead!

Fireman 2, shutting off his hose: Son, this isn’t a game. You’ve got to learn to keep a better eye on your mother. Haven’t you been properly tuned yet?

Charlie, crestfallen, begins to cry.

Sophie: How dare you talk to him like that! I’ll have you know he has perfect pitch.

Fireman 2: Oh yeah? What note is the siren, you little maestro.

Charlie, pulling himself up to his full height and clearing his throat as if for a recitation: It commences at a high B flat and descends to E flat.

Fireman 2, pleased: Okay then. No more of this cowboy stuff. Be a man.

Charlie, abashed : Yes sir.

Fireman 1 emerging from kitchen: Ma’am, your presence in the kitchen?

Sophie rises and follows him.

SCENE FIVE

That evening in the dining room.

“It’s a Wonderful World” is playing as neighbors enter from the living room laughing and chatting. They gather around an oval table that is centered directly under a large chandelier. The table is set with flowers and candles as well as china and wine and water glasses. The water glasses have varying amounts of liquid in them. The guests have not seated themselves yet.

Sophie, beaming at everyone: Welcome, welcome neighbors. We are charmed and delighted to enjoy your melodic presence in our harmonious abode.

Herb looks at his wife with pride.

Sophie: Is everyone prepared?

They nod and smile. Each makes a gesture in the air with thumb and middle finger, as if to flick a bug off a newspaper.

Herb: One, two, three!

On three, each guest leans forward and pings his or her water glass. All of the glasses ring with the same note.

Marge: Perfect!

Sophie, relieved: Ahh.

The guests sit down. Throughout the meal whenever one of them takes a sip of water, they immediately refill the glass to the correct level and check it (ping).

Ralph: May I have some of that Chardonnay? It looks absolutely French—or from the French-speaking portion of California at any rate.

Marge titters.

Hugo, down the table near the bottle picks it up, puts his ear to it, nods, and passes it to him. Ralph fills his wine glass and checks the note. Herb and Sophie lean forward anxiously.

Ralph takes a sip, refills his glass: Ping. Definitely the tonic.

Marge laughs deliriously.

Amber, conspiratorially: I heard that the Maxwells finally resorted to hiring a 3-piece orchestra!

Paul: Now, now, Amber.

Amber: Well, I mean, it seems like a reasonable solution when you just can’t—

Paul shoots his wife a look.

Amber: Don’t you think?

Herb exits toward the kitchen. Kenneth pours himself a glass of red wine, pings the glass, drinks, refills it, pings again. Nods with satisfaction.

Sophie: I heard the most amusing anecdote just this morning. It seems that—

Sophie is momentarily distracted by seeing Charlie and little Sophie sneak into the room behind their father.

Marge: I know this one! It’s the one about the husband who decides to bring his wife flowers. It’s charming.

Ralph: Now Marge.

Marge, pleasantly: Or is it the one about the fire in the kitchen?

Hugo: Do you have any beer, by chance? I’d be happy to get it—

Sam: I thought I smelled smoke. I’d love a beer.

Kenneth sips from his wineglass, refills it, pings it, smiles approvingly.

Sophie is watching the children, who are giggling and holding something in their cupped hands. She realizes what they are up to and smiles complicity at them, nodding her head toward Marge, who is looking the other way, continuing to tell her story to Paul on her other side.

Intent on their children’s prank, neither Sophie nor Herb answers Hugo or Sam, who shrug and push back their chairs. Little Sophie has crawled under the table and is heading for Marge’s place while Charlie sneaks up from Marge’s blind side. When Hugo rises he accidentally kicks little Sophie, who howls. Charlie at this very moment says at Marge’s ear—would you like to hold my snake? Marge shrieks.

Everyone stops still (as in a game of statues) and then looks around in apprehensive anticipation. Seconds tick by. Nothing happens. Everyone lets out a sigh of relief.

Hugo and Sam exit toward the kitchen.

Marge, in a tightly controlled alto voice: Sophie! She turns toward Herb: And you, Herb! We might all have been—

Hugo and Sam return, each swinging a beer bottle. As they part to go to their respective places, they clink bottles and listen to the pleasing sound.

Sophie, chastened, gets up to retrieve the main course.

Sophie announces: I will return momentarily to my dulcet guests.

Amber: I’ll go help Sophie.

Everyone nods.

Herb: Charlie, Little Sophie, present your sincerest apologia to our gracious neighbor Mrs. Potts, and then go on up to listen to your concerto.

Charlie: But Dad, you said—

Herb, loudly: Sing the sorry, young man.

Herb, softly: We’ll discuss it later.

Kenneth sips from his wineglass, refills it, tries to ping it but misses, looks confused.

Charlie and little Sophie, sing song: Sorry, Mrs. Potts.

Marge, mollified: They do have lovely voices, Herb. Little Sophie is really coming along.

Herb, smiling: Yes, you know how it is, the little angels. Sometimes one’s offspring just take a little longer—

Angela, who has been quiet to this point, begins to sob.

Marge: Oh dear.

Herb jumps up and goes to Angela, offers his handkerchief, and pats her shoulder awkwardly.

Herb: It’s all right. It’s all right. Don’t fret about the monogram.

Angela, sobbing and hiccupping: He just has no sense of pitch at all. I’m so frightened!

Hugo and Sam have drained their beers and lean across the table to clink the empty bottles.

Just then Sophie and Amber come in bearing platters.

Paul in a hearty baritone: Wonderful! I could consume a grand piano!

Everyone laughs.

Sophie and Amber serve everyone and place the empty platters on the sideboard, clattering the serving utensils against them like rhythm instruments in a final theatrical gesture. General applause.

Kenneth grabs Ralph’s soup spoon as well as his own and begins slapping them on his thigh, misses.

Everyone eats and chats casually with those on either side. Occasionally someone taps his or her plate rhythmically with a utensil.

Hugo, next to Sophie: May I say that your elbows are astonishingly smooth. How do you do it?

Sophie wagging her finger at him: Tut, tut, surely you don’t expect me to share my hard-earned beauty secrets?

Sam: Hugo soaks his in wee little cups of Heineken, but it just doesn’t seem to be working.

Hugo, in mock affront: Sam, how could you? But speaking of the divine brew…

He rises. At the same moment Kenneth reaches for the wine bottle, grazes it, knocks it over. It falls with a dull, empty thud. He smiles hopefully.

Angela shrieks, a high, harsh sound: I can’t take it anymore!

Everyone freezes.

Hugo whispers hoarsely: What’s that?

They look at each other, then up at the ceiling. The chandelier is vibrating, then rocking back and forth. The guests stand or sit completely terrified and motionless, as if by their own stillness they can get it to stop. But the rocking increases and the chandelier rips itself out of the ceiling and falls onto the table, crashing china and glassware in a melee of discordant sound. The guests look at one another in guilty astonishment.

Kenneth makes motions as if conducting.

In the distance and coming closer, sirens approach.

Charlie and little Sophie run into the room crying.

Charlie: They’re going to put me in jail.

Herb, uncertainly: No, they’re not.

Kenneth: I’ll go. It’s my fault.

Angela faints.

Sophie: My first neighborhood dinner party!

Amber: You see, hiring an orchestra isn’t such a bad idea.

Paul: Amber!

Charlie, head cocked toward sound of sirens: High B flat descending to E flat, ascending to D—uh oh.

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