Crime or Emergency

Available in Library

Drama/Comedy/Shamanistic Cabaret, Full Length, Flexible set, Piano Required
A routine medical examination goes critical, spirals. Inner, personal violences take hold and multiply. A play meant to challenge our normalized expectations of cause and effect, to suggest post-logical incoherence as the basis of human motivation, feeling, and violence, and to threaten our Aristotelian/Stanislavskian conceptions of contemporary American theater and identity as we safely understand it. Contains impossibly expensive stage directions and early Bruce Springsteen songs.

Read Sample

[Scene 5.]
LACEY is coming home from yet another hard day at work. She lives in an apartment complex that was built in the mid nineteen seventies. Her door is a robust orange color and the carpets are light in color and the furniture is all rush and caning with cushions. There is a window-like opening between the kitchen and living area and there are three stools. There are also replicas of rare and exotic plants throughout the apartment. Two sliding glass doors lead onto a concrete balcony. LACEY sadly puts her bag down on one of the chairs at the small dinette set, and deposits her mail in a pile on the table. She hangs her keys on a little hook by the door. She sighs heavily, and confronts the audience.

LACEY:
I wasn’t always a nurse. I used to be a flight attendant. I worked for Eastern Airlines, back in the heyday, way before they ever thought it would be possible that they would ever fold.
[She heaves another sigh]
I was tall and thin then. I was like a reed of sea-grass. That was when I first got this apartment. Back then it was a pretty glamorous little place to live. I even had an affair with one of the pilots. You won’t believe me when I tell you that they used to measure the circumference of our thighs. Once a month. If you were more than seventeen inches twice in a row they fired you. Pretty daunting, but I was young and I didn’t worry about that kind of thing. A lot of things were different then. There was still a diving board at the pool back then, and there were parties and the whole complex would go. People were more into earthy crafts and pottery, but their lives were not earthy. Our lives were more “airy-fairy, unserious, perhaps insufficiently careful.” I enjoyed myself, everyone made sure they did things that they enjoyed. Whatever your ‘thing’ was, that was what you did and no one questioned you. I won’t make a comparison to now. I know I’m stuck. But recently I went to a place that had been a camp. And it was so great. The bathrooms and the rooms were not finished off, but the structure of two by fours inside the places were exposed, so you could see the homemade handiwork, you got the feeling that they had been built by one very adept carpenter over a period of time. And the two by fours were painted white. Even in the bathrooms and showers. There were corners and shelves built in, for soap or for toilet paper or what not. It was nice. Very practical, and comforting. You didn’t examine things to make sure they were clean. It didn’t matter as much. Because there was still care put in. The walls themselves were painted bright, strong blue. Which you appreciated especially at night. Just a light bulb in the ceiling with a beaded metal pull cord. It felt like childhood, it felt like someone had cared. And it was a privilege to be there, to spend time there. I hope I never forget it. Instead of roaches and rats, there were spiders and deer curled up out back in the woods in the sunshine.
[She sighs.]
There aren’t roaches and rats here. Sometimes I imagine that there’s more to this apartment. I see different hallways that lead to different rooms, with wallpaper, almost Victorian era, and none of these rooms have wallpaper. Maybe a loft space, maybe something more contemporary, with a yard somehow, an old yard with green grass that is fine and cool and stone walls and children running around, nice children, not like what I see these days, and families, and rickety old iron gates. Private and friendly. Plants in heavy white plaster potters. People hiding in their houses and you finally get to go in and see them, and talk to them. Chances are they’re out of practice and don’t know how. But sometimes that’s better. It’s not as exhausting.

The doorbell rings. She answers it. It’s HOWARD. He looks around to see if anything’s changed since the last time he was here.

LACEY:
When was the last time you were here?

HOWARD:
Either when you were sick, or when you had people over for a meeting. It looks nice.

He sits down.

HOWARD(CONT’D):
I think Mary might come over too. I think she might be interested.

LACEY:
Mary, Mary, Mary. Let me get changed. Do you know where everything is in case you want something to drink or something?

HOWARD:
I’ll just wait until you’re back.

LACEY goes to change. HOWARD makes an effort to hang out and cracks his knuckles. He looks around the apartment, looks at LACEY’s mail, but becomes ashamed a little and looks steadily at the floor in front of his chair. As he stares his sense of shame becomes gradually overwhelming. By the time LACEY returns in her around-the-house clothes, he is in tears.

LACEY:
Howard! Jesus, what is it!

HOWARD shakes his head and covers his eyes, tighter, tighter! He is ashamed to show anyone his shame, let alone one of his subordinates from work. LACEY, wanting to fix it, wanting to find out what is wrong, tries to pry his hands from his eyes.

LACEY(CONT’D):
Come on, Howard! Oh, HOWARD! Howard! Jesus!

It is so upsetting and frustrating and unexplainable that LACEY starts crying too. She gives up trying to pry his hands from his eyes and starts slapping HOWARD in exasperation and boxes his ears. He falls off his chair onto the carpet. He cries and cries, sobbing now, in pain, and LACEY, feeling instantly horribly guilty, covers her own face and cries very hard.

LACEY(CONT’D):
Oh, my God! Oh, my God, I don’t know why I did that! Why did I do that? Why! Why! Oh, my God!

Not knowing what else to do, she launches around the room in tight circles, bellowing and crying.

LACEY(CONT’D):
Oh, God forgive me! I didn’t mean it! I don’t know why I did it! I don’t know why! I don’t know why! I don’t know why I DID that!
(she sobs and sobs and tries to scream)
Why! Why! Why! Oh, God! God help me! God forgive me!

She cries and sobs and runs around and around. HOWARD cries more softly, curled into a ball on his side.

LACEY(CONT’D):
I’m sorry. I’m so sorry Howard. I guess I didn’t know what else to do.

She kneels down by HOWARD and pulls him up onto her, encircling him with her arms. It seems to help, and they stay that way for a long time. A tiny trickle of blood runs slowly out of each of HOWARD’s ears. The doorbell rings.

HOWARD:
That must be Mary.

LACEY:
Mary? It that you?

SONJA:
No. It’s Sonja. Howard’s girlfriend.

LACEY:
Sonja?

SONJA enters.

LACEY:
I’m afraid I’ve done something terrible. Something terrible and violent in just an instant, before I even knew what I was doing. I feel awful. I think he’s okay, but that’s no excuse. Sonja, Howard’s my boss. And I trust him. I don’t know why I did this. I boxed his ears.

HOWARD:
I was having a hard time to begin with. But I didn’t know it. I didn’t know it until I got here and you went to go get changed. It just became so quiet in here.

SONJA:
What should I do? Do you want me to leave? Is this a crime or an emergency? Should I call the police?

LACEY:
I might feel better if you called the police and pressed charges. I feel terribly, terribly guilty.

HOWARD:
Lacey, I feel guilty too. I feel like I’m just as guilty as you. Like I provoked you. I didn’t know I was provoking you to violence, but apparently I was. What’s strange is, I feel very, very close to you right now. I’m shivering. Sonja.

LACEY:
Sonja, I don’t know what to tell you to do. Maybe we should wait until Mary gets here.

SONJA:
Maybe she could help us define it. Maybe I should sit down. Or should I leave?

HOWARD:
I don’t want you to leave.

LACEY:
Would you mind sitting on the floor with us? It’s clean.

SONJA:
Okay.

LACEY:
Sonja, I’m so sorry. I’ve never been a violent type person. And I don’t want to make excuses about this.

HOWARD:
You mean about that woman last week?

LACEY:
I don’t want to say that she is why this happened. I have a strong feeling that that would be a cop-out.

SONJA:
I hate talks about responsibility. Sometimes things like this happen. And they happen very quickly, Lacey. I was always afraid of heights and I never knew why. But the reason is because when I’m up high, all I can think about is how easy it would be to jump right off, before I even know what I’m doing. My sister has the same weakness, and she is a different type of person altogether from me. You want me to call the police on you perhaps because you’re afraid. You’ve discovered a new part of yourself and you don’t know what to do. But how often do we discover a new part of ourself?

A knock at the door.

LACEY:
Mary? Come in.

MARY enters slowly and assuredly.

LACEY:
Mary. I don’t know what else to say except things aren’t the same as they were when we spoke on the phone. I’ve slapped Howard and boxed his ears and we’re trying to figure out what to do.

SONJA:
We could use your input.

MARY:
What have you done about it so far?

HOWARD:
We’re talking about it.

MARY:
That’s the best thing you can do.

LACEY:
But don’t you think we better call the police or something?

MARY:
How do you feel about it Howard?

HOWARD:
I feel a lot better. I mean, I feel better than I did before I came here today. I’ve been feeling pretty bad lately.

SONJA:
We crashed our boat last week.

MARY:
Oh, I’m sorry. Was it traumatic?

SONJA:
It was violent in its own way - we could have drowned - and we were fighting. Howard said some pretty terrible things to me.

MARY:
Is that true, Howard?

HOWARD:
I think we both said terrible things.

LACEY:
I had a violent encounter last week also. We were talking about that possibility, but I think my actions stand alone.

MARY:
Then I’ll call the police.
(moving toward the phone)
Sonja, I’m doing an interview with Milcha later over drinks.

SONJA:
That’s great. Good for both your careers.

MARY:
Sure.

HOWARD:
Listen, Mary, do you think we could get by without the police here? I’m ringing a little but otherwise I’m fine. I actually feel a lot lighter. I don’t know if I want that kind of interpretation, you know?

MARY:
Lacey, do you feel like you’ve committed a crime?

LACEY:
Yes. But it’s a crime against humanity, through Howard. Not a crime against Howard. I don’t feel like local law enforcement is adequate.

MARY:
Who do I call for that?

LACEY:
Now I think I should see a clergyman instead.

SONJA:
Maybe we should just forget the whole thing. Lacey, you’ll want to forget when tomorrow comes.

MARY:
I’m leaving then.

HOWARD:
We’ll never forget it.

LACEY:
Mary, I’d rather you didn’t leave. We need an objective.

SONJA:
Howard, I brought my car. If you’d like a ride . . . we could go somewhere, talk . . .

HOWARD:
Lacey? Are you alright to be left by yourself?

SONJA:
She could come with us, too, if she wants, if you want . . .

LACEY:
That’s very kind, Sonja, but I feel I’ve intruded already.

SONJA:
I’m also thinking of Howard. He’s not going to be able to look you in the face at work if we leave now without you.

LACEY:
I might not be at work. Maybe it’s time for a change.

Piano music begins to play. SONJA and LACEY and HOWARD each share a long hug. MARY has left, and SONJA and HOWARD file out now leaving LACEY alone. LACEY sits for a moment, and then goes to one of her closets and begins cleaning it out. The lights fade, and the piano music takes over, picks up and is joined by many other instruments. The music swells.

Cast Requirements

Including Lost Acts: 11 men, 6 women, 1 gender neutral, 2+ Choruses/Crowds
Not including Lost Acts: 6 men, 5 women, 1 gender neutral, 1+ crowd

Set Description

Either prohibitively expensive with full-to-capacity parking garage, hospital corridors, onstage river with crashable boat, apartment complex, rodeo/crash-up derby arena, concert arena, or very spare with just a piano and selected props from any self-respecting props closet.

Press

“ ... feverish ...”
—Andy Webster, The New York Times.

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Press

“ ... remarkable ...”
—Amber Reed, The Brooklyn Rail.

“ ... the arrival of a terrific new avant-garde voice ... Kempson ... doesn’t write like any of the avant-gardists you’ve heard before. She has a passion for finely drawn characters, a perfect ear for dialogue and a short-story writer’s economy. Indeed, Crime or Emergency—despite its hipster cladding and brutal assaults on our senses—is downright literary.”
—Helen Shaw, Time Out New York

“ ... a piece of hysterical realism that plays out in a doctor's office, in a parking garage, at a rodeo, on a boat, etc. As both actor and playwright, Kempson has a gift for rendering the fairly normal as intensely weird ...”
—Alexis Soloski, The Village Voice

Production and Development History

Productions: Theater Bonn, Germany (2011); Great Plains Theater Conference, Omaha (2010); Performance Space 122 (2009); Fusebox Festival, Austin (2009); Soho Rep Studio Series (2008); Dixon Place (2007).

Workshop: Dixon Place (2005).

Readings: PBR Series (2007), Playwrights Horizons (2005)