How Does It Taste, Dear? A Marital Farce Performed in Six Acts by Jen Karetnick

How Does It Taste, Dear? A Marital Farce Performed in Six Acts by Jen Karetnick

Drama, Vol. 4.4, Dec. 2010

Note: This four-character play can be made interactive with the introduction of food service during every scene or other types of audience participation. Scenes can be performed progressively in various restaurants or as one-act plays. As the play progresses, actors are required to play several roles, ranging from babies to the elderly, in scenes.

Cast (throughout):

Act One: Wings and Wild Things

It is 1997. Husband and Wife are thirty years old. They are seated in a booth at a Miami sports bar watching the World Series. Large screen TVs hang over both their heads. Husband, boyishly handsome and wearing a Florida Marlins jersey, is obviously rooting for the home team. Wife, attractive, slim, and dressed in stylish workout clothes, couldn’t possibly be less interested in baseball.

Patron, sitting directly behind husband, stares at Wife whenever she isn’t looking in his direction and blatantly eavesdrops on their conversation. But whenever she tries to catch him at it, he snaps his head up sharply toward the television screen. Husband does the same thing in reverse, staring at the TV whenever Wife is speaking and only looking at her when he senses she’s glaring at him.

Wife: (sighs, picking at her cuticles): The weird thing about sports bars is the way you feel all these masculine eyes on you. Of course, the men aren’t really watching you. They’re really looking at the televisions right above your head. (She looks at Patron, who has been watching her. Patron immediately looks up at the television. Wife goes back to picking at her fingernails. Patron goes back to looking at her.) Or maybe that’s just their excuse. Maybe they are watching you, staring down into your cleavage, but pretending to watch the TVs the moment you happen to glance over. (She looks over Husband’s head at Patron, who has been watching her again. They repeat the same eye play.) It’s a kind of voyeurism, isn’t it? But acceptable. A publicly acceptable voyeurism. Especially for those who like to watch women eat. Those who get excited by watching women put food in their mouths and suck on straws and, well, masticate. They must imagine you are doing other things, sexual things, when all you are really doing is nourishing your body. Except nourishment is kind of a loose term in a place like this, where everything is deep-fried in a vat of rancid oil that has touched hundreds of other peoples’ orders of food. Why aren’t all these men at home, after all, staring at their own wives or girlfriends nourishing their own bodies? (Wife looks at Patron for a third time. Instead of looking away, this time he winks broadly at her.) Sports bars can really give you the creeps if you think about it. If only there were something good on TV to distract you, other than sports of course, that would help, don’t you think?

Wife: (turning to her husband): I don’t suppose they could turn one of these gigantic televisions to Wheel of Fortune or something.

Husband: Are you nuts? It’s game 5!

Wife: Which will be just like game 4. Throw, swing, miss, throw, hit, catch, miss, throw, start over. It’s all the same.

Husband: Actually there’s been a lot of hitting in this Series. If you at least tried to understand the nuances of baseball…

Waitress (wearing bright red lipstick, dressed in teeny shorts, teeny shirt, half-apron and heels, holding a drink tray; interrupting): Dude! (She gives Husband a complicated handshake that he seems to know. Wife looks on, bemused.) Great to see you. Whassup??? (she draws it out like the characters do in the Budweiser beer commercial. She’s hip and very appealing.)

Husband: Dudette! (He’s almost embarrassed to utter this, as he should be, according to Wife, who is now slightly incredulous.) Back at ya, girl.

Waitress: You wanna Samuel A?

Husband: Yeah, same old, same old. You know me, never an exciting moment. Sam Adams for breakfast, lunch and dinner. (They both laugh overly long as if it’s the funniest thing they’ve ever heard. Husband is obviously brilliant.)

Waitress: Got it. (She jots it down on her notepad, taking a long time and spelling out loud. She finally turns to Wife.) Hi! Is this your first time here? (brightly)

Patron (jumps out of his chair): NO! Liván, how can you just serve up a pitch like that? Of course Alomar’s going to eat that up! (He shakes his fist at the screen above Wife’s head.)

Wife (shooting Patron a dirty look): Ah, no, I was here with him (she jerks head toward Husband, who is now leaning over the back of the booth mumbling with Patron about the Marlin’s loss of the lead in the third inning) last night, and the night before that. In fact, we sat in this exact same booth. (Pause.) Twice.

Waitress: Can I get you something to drink? Would you like to see the beverage list? We have beer on tap, 2-for-1 well drinks, frozen cocktails… (She pauses and eyes Wife’s attire)… mineral water…

Wife: I’ll have a glass of the same lousy, over-oaked, malolactic Chardonnay I’ve had for the past two nights, thanks.

Waitress: Oh, ya know what? We just ran out of Chard. (She pronounces it with a hard ch, like chocolate.) I’m so sorry. (She taps her pencil on the pad and smiles at Husband, clearly not sorry at all.)

Wife (sighing loudly): Okay, well, what other white wines do you have by the glass?

Waitress: We have Pinot Grigio (she pronounces it peen-ott grigg-o) and White Zinfandel.

Wife (winces): I’ll take the Pinot Grigio (emphasizing the correct pronunciation), but just so you know, White Zinfandel doesn’t count as white wine.

Waitress: Sure it does. It’s like, white’s in the name.

Wife: No, actually it’s pink. It’s a blush wine. They just call it White Zinfandel because the zinfandel is a red grape and they don’t let the first press sit on the lees at all. After crush, they separate the skins out and let the wine ferment without it being colored too much… (She pauses when she realizes that Waitress, Husband and even Patron are all now staring at her)… anyway, I’ll have the Pinot Grigio.

Waitress (obviously not writing it down): Sure, let me get that for you. (She saunters away, swinging her tray—along with her butt.)

Husband: Do you have to do that?

Wife: Do what?

Husband: Make people feel stupid.

Wife: Are you kidding? I didn’t make her feel stupid. She is stupid. And did it ever occur to you that stupid people don’t even know they’re stupid, and therefore can’t be insulted when someone smarter corrects them? For the goddess’ sake, she should know how to pronounce what she’s serving. And know what it is!

Husband: There you go again.

Wife: There I go again what?

Husband (snorts): The goddess’ sake? Oh-so-lofty and pretentious.

Wife (staring): Um, I’ve said that since college when I took that feminist Norse mythology course, remember? It’s just a habit. What I thought was our private joke. In fact, if I remember correctly, you’re the one who made it up!

Husband: Well, some habits are made to be broken. Like rules. Or bones, like the arm I diagnosed today on that idiot five-year-old who jumped off his swing. Again. Like he did six months ago, when he broke his ankle.

Wife: Oh, you mean habits like going to the same sports bar three nights in a row? Why are we here, anyway? Are there no other restaurants with inedible chicken wings and weakly brewed beer playing the World Series in all of South Beach? Or how about this: Couldn’t we stay home and order in a pizza? Think of the money you spent on that huge TV going to waste because we’re… not… watching… it!

Patron (leaning over the booth,helpfully): That’s not a bad idea, you know. Could save you in beer money—buying a six-pack’s always cheaper. I know this guy…

(This time, it’s Husband who shoots Patron a dirty look and waves him off. Patron slides back into his seat. Waitress returns.)

Waitress: ‘Kay, here we go. One Mr. Adams for you (giving Husband a secretive but sunny smile) and wine (setting glass down abruptly so some sloshes out). Now, what would you like to order? (looking at Husband first)

Husband (flirting): You know my business.

Waitress (laughing): Yes, I do. Naked and hot?

Patron (audibly, on a moan): Oh, yes, please!

Husband: Uh, yes, thanks, unbreaded and spicy, that’s the way I like my wings, all right. And with blue cheese and celery, please.

Waitress: Right. Sauce and sticks. Gotta have the toys to build up to the main event. (She winks and turns to leave.)

Wife: Excuse me!

Waitress: Yes?

Wife: I’d like to order, too.

Waitress: Oh, I’m sorry. Do you need to see a menu? Also, we have a special on the beer-battered deep-fried shrimp.

Wife: No, I don’t need to see a menu! And I know about the special! It’s the same one you’ve had all week! And I know this because I’ve been here—twice, as I’ve mentioned!―and you’ve been the one serving me! (She visibly calms herself.) Look, since there’s nothing healthy to eat here, just bring me the same thing you did last night—the beer-battered deep-fried shrimp with cocktail sauce and a side salad with lemon. And no, I do not want bacon-flavored bits or pre-baked croutons with artificial Asiago cheese on my salad. Then I will proceed to peel the breading off my shrimp like I did last night and when the busboy comes to get the dirty dishes, he can make another snide comment about how my manicure was ruined. And he won’t notice that I don’t even have a manicure.

Waitress (to husband): Wow. PMS?

Husband: No, MLB. Not a Marlins’ fan.

(Waitress and Husband both crack up, high-fiving each other. Wife looks on in growing anger, then reaches over and taps Husband on shoulder, first gently, then more roughly when she gets no response. Patron avidly watches the plays between game and trio. Waitress reacts hurriedly when she sees her face.)

Waitress: Whoops, I think I see an order up. Be right back.

Wife (to Husband, angrily): What the hell?

Husband (watching game again]: What?

Wife: You’re flirting with her right in front of me!

Husband: No, I’m not. Just chill. Did you have a bad day at work? The Wine Shrews slow on advertising? I told you none of those male winemakers would get the Shakespeare reference.

Wife: No, you ass, I’m having a bad day at dinner. You can’t be bothered to talk to me, but when she comes over, you’re all ears. I’m getting pretty sick of this shit, I can tell you. (Pause.) Are you having an affair?

Husband (unreasonably mad): What? Look, honey, I’ve got my hands full at the practice seeing every snotty little kid in this city just so you can play around all day getting your tragically doomed esoteric wine magazine off the ground. Have I once asked you if you’re having an affair or, God forbid, to get a real job? No. I wipe noses and asses for a living, and you drink Chateauneuf du Pape. (snottily) Oh, excuse me, did I say that correctly? Was my accent okay with you?

(Wife sits silently, looking at him. She shakes her head.)

Wife: A simple no would have been sufficient. But at least now I know how you really feel about my magazine. At least that’s finally out in the open. (She rises slowly, with dignity, from the booth.) I’m going to the ladies.

(Wife walks Stage Left where Soft Balls door is marked. She pulls out cell phone and dials. Meanwhile, Husband sinks head into hands but can’t resist peeking up at game. Lights dim over Husband and brighten over Wife.)

Wife (very upset): Hi… Yes, we’re at dinner. Yes, the same place. (Pause.) No, I don’t know why he’d take me here if he’s shtupping the waitress. It’s almost like he’s bragging about it, or wants me to see that he’s still desirable to other women, I guess. I did ask him about it. Sort of. He was kind of inappropriately angry when I mentioned the word “affair.” (Pause.) I know that’s a sign. So yeah, he’s probably having one. He didn’t exactly deny it, more like turned the conversation to another subject. In fact, attacking The Wine Shrews that he used to be so supportive of. (Pause.) Well, what can I do? It’s not like I’m going to leave him, especially if I don’t know for sure. We’ve been together since college. I just finished putting him through med school and his residency. We’ve got all these loans. I can’t quit now. (Pause.) Besides, I still love him. Or I did when I left the house this evening. I’m sure this is just a phase. He’s probably just really tired. Pediatricians are notoriously overworked. They’ve got like ten whiny kids and overwrought moms to see every hour… I’m not defending him. (Pause.) Yes, I can hear her. (Pause.) Yes, I understand she has colic. Okay, I know you’ve got to go. Yes, yes. Go take care of the baby. (Hanging up the phone.) At least you’ve got one. (She exits Stage Left into Soft Balls).

(Lights brighten over Husband, whose head snaps up when cheers erupt from television set.)

Patron: Yes! Yes! Alou’s my boy! Alou’s my boy!

Husband: A three-run homer! Unbelievable! His second in two games!

(Husband and Patron jump up from booths, high-fiving and cheering. They link arms and begin dancing. Waitress approaches with food. Husband grabs her and plants a long, earnest kiss on her lips. Husband and Waitress start making out. She is still holding the tray so it is amusingly awkward. Patron stares. Soft Balls door swings half-open and Wife’s leg starts to emerge a little at a time Rockette’s style. Patron grabs Husband to break the liplock and faces him toward door. Husband scrambles into seat and straightens himself, but doesn’t notice a big blotch of red on his shirt. Patron launches himself back into his booth and frantically tries to draw Husband’s attention to his shirt. Waitress busies herself placing food on table. Wife returns, slides into booth. Waitress edges past Wife, avoiding all contact with her. Wife and Husband stare at each other.)

Wife and Husband (together): I’m sorry. (They laugh.)

Wife: Maybe I am a little tense about the magazine not catching on. I was so sure about it.

Husband: Don’t worry. It will. You’re right—there aren’t any female-targeted wine magazines on the market. I really didn’t mean what I said. You’re breaking new ground, and I’m proud of you. It’s only a matter of time. (Pause) Besides, you’re right about me.

Wife (horrified): You’re having an affair?

Husband (forced laugh): No! I mean, I haven’t been paying much attention to you. Between my patients and this Series, well, I’ve been a little distracted. I’m sorry, I really am. (He smiles and pats her arm.)

Wife (taking a deep-fried shrimp from her basket and peeling away the breading): Okay. Sure. But could you possibly explain that red stain on your collar? (She points to the stain.)

Husband: What? What’s that? (He reaches up and feels the wetness. His smile fades.)

Wife: Is it… my cocktail sauce? I have the little plastic thingy for it, but it’s mostly empty. (She shows him and frowns.)

Husband (tasting his finger and sighing in relief): Yes! Yes it is.

Wife: How the hell did it get on your shirt?

Husband: Oh, the waitress was putting down the food just as Moisés Alou scored a three-run homer, and I jumped up right into her. She spilled the sauce onto my shirt. I guess we were all a little excited. (He chuckles breathlessly.) She’s bringing you another one right now.

(Patron, eavesdropping, gestures wildly to Waitress, who hurries over with a ramekin of sauce and places it on the table. Husband takes the shrimp from Wife’s hand, dips it in the sauce and feeds her. Wife eats warily.)

Husband (guiltily): How does it taste, dear? What, are you crying?

Wife: (wiping her eyes): No, of course not. It’s just the horseradish. It must have gotten up my nose. (She pauses and sniffs loudly.) You know how that stings.

End of act

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