A Play Featured in The One Who Did Nothing by O.G. Rose

Giving Them What

Photo by Jez Timms

Characters

The President
The Scientist

Setting and Stage: A room with a table; a bright light hangs overhead. There is a key on the table and a box with a keyhole in the top. The rest of the stage is dark. To the left of the stage, outside the light over the table, stands a scientist in a lab coat.

Full Performance

(From the right, the President of the United States stumbles out, dressed in a suit, looking around.)

The President (hands dusting his coat as if he doesn’t know what to do with them): How deep are we underground?

The Scientist (arms held straight at her side): We must hurry, Mr. President.

(The President jumps.)

The President (startled): You weren’t hard to miss.

The Scientist: Are you waking up?

The President: Something in the drinks tonight.

The Scientist (slight smile): Please, sit.

The President: Was that an order?

The Scientist: Sit.

(The President sits down in the chair and scoots it up to the table.)

The President (picking up the key): For my condo?

The Scientist: Put it in the box and turn.

The President (chuckling): I read about the Milgram Experiment.

The Scientist: Harvard, no doubt.

The President: Top marks.

The Scientist: Please, it won’t be long before they come back for you.

The President: My bodyguards?

The Scientist: I can’t get into specifics. This is our only chance.

The President: To turn a key?

The Scientist: This is about something bigger than us.

The President: Bigger than me?

The Scientist (nodding): There’s no going back.

The President: What will happen?

The Scientist: No need to overthink it.

The President: I asked a question.

The Scientist: What people have dreamed about happening for centuries.

The President: Communism working?

The Scientist: Much more important.

(The President offers her the key.)

The President: Can’t you?

The Scientist: It must be the most powerful man in the world.

The President: It must?

The Scientist: It must.

(The President leans back in his chair.)

The President (tapping the key on the table): What will happen?

The Scientist: Something unbelievable.

The President: Republicans will cut military spending?

The Scientist: Everyone in the world will know the truth.

The President: They’ll think like me?

The Scientist: You misheard.

The President: About aliens?

The Scientist (excited): The truth — everyone will know!

The President: 2 + 2 = 4?

The Scientist: What is the case!

The President: Roe?

The Scientist: Wittgenstein!

The President: Frank, you mean.

(The Scientist pauses and rubs her nose.)

The Scientist: Is this a joke?

The President: That’s what I was thinking of asking you.

The Scientist: Changing the world is never a joke.

The President: You mustn’t have tried.

(The President drops the key on the table.)

The President: Who are you again?

The Scientist (with a slight bow): All that matters is who you are.

The President: Flattering — answer the question.

The Scientist: It doesn’t matter.

The President: It does.

The Scientist: This doesn’t have to be difficult.

The President: It won’t be if you start providing answers.

The Scientist: I’m offering you all the answers you could ever want.

The President: My staff told me that I was going to meet one of the world’s greatest geniuses.

The Scientist: I’ll be no one special if you turn the key…

The President: So, you’re special?

The Scientist: …just one of the many who will know everything there is to know.

(The President holds up the key.)

The President: Today is April first.

The Scientist: Easter too.

The President (pauses): You honestly think I think you’re that stupid?

The Scientist: I wouldn’t lie to you.

The President (staring off): Liars never lie about that…

The Scientist: I wouldn’t lie to the President.

The President: I lie to myself all the time.

The Scientist: You have that authority.

The President (nods slightly): So, are you a genius or a comedian?

The Scientist: You’re the only one here who matters, in the end.

The President: Don’t be so hard on yourself.

The Scientist: Honesty is easy.

The President: Ever tried running the world?

The Scientist: All that matters is if you help.

(The President rubs his eye like he has something in it.)

The President: I don’t see what you’re getting at.

The Scientist: You will if you turn the key.

The President (still rubbing his eye): Everyone will know the truth, huh?

The Scientist: Everyone.

The President (stops rubbing): Will angels start singing?

The Scientist: Floating people aren’t part of the design.

The President: Does it plug everyone into The Matrix?

The Scientist: Harvard must get better by the year.

(The President points at the box.)

The President: Seriously, how does it work?

(The Scientist walks up behind the President and puts her hands on the President’s shoulders.)

The Scientist: There’s a way to find out.

The President: Aliens?

The Scientist: Like I said…

The President: Aliens.

The Scientist: I won’t repeat myself.

(The President uses the key to scratch his head.)

The President: My truth?

The Scientist: The truth.

The President: Factual or transformative?

The Scientist: You’re splitting hairs.

The President: I’m clarifying terms.

The Scientist: There’s no need where everything is clear.

The President: About how the universe came into being? What God was doing beforehand? If abortion is murder? If I shouldn’t have won the last election?

The Scientist: Those would constitute some examples, yes.

The President: Just turn this key and poof, everyone will be enlightened?

The Scientist: Everyone will know the truth.

(The President lifts the key to insert it into the keyhole.)

The President: Well then, what are we waiting for?

(The President stops.)

The President: Will I know if everything I think right now is true?

The Scientist: That depends: are you thinking?

(The President stares up at the Scientist.)

The President: Will I remember what I believe?

The Scientist: What does that matter?

The President: Will people accept what they know?

The Scientist: It’s truth.

The President (shaking head): You don’t understand. Will people know the truth or just see it?

The Scientist: Are you asking if people will recognize the truth?

The President: I’m asking if the truth will get stuck in people’s heads, like a splinter?

(The Scientist covers her mouth.)

The Scientist: What an awful image.

The President (struggling to find words): Will the truth flash or stay in people’s minds?

The Scientist: Does that matter?

The President: Will they have to know everything?

The Scientist: Excuse me?

The President: Or will they be able to convince themselves that what they’re seeing is an illusion?

(The Scientist walks from behind the President to the side of the table with her hands behind her back.)

The Scientist (making a point to stand straight): I don’t think you need to worry about that.

The President: It’s my job.

The Scientist: Truth matters to me too.

The President: True, but while you just have to worry about information, I have to manage the responses.

The Scientist: Why are you concerned about how people will react to knowing the truth? Truth frees. Do free people bother you?

The President: If you believed in Krishna your whole life, and suddenly you knew Islam was right, and you couldn’t escape what was in your head — lots could happen.

The Scientist: God is a superstition.

The President: In a minute, you might suddenly know there’s God.

The Scientist: Theoretically.

The President (eyebrows raised): Quite a pill to swallow…

(The Scientist walks to the other side of the stage.)

The Scientist (hiding frustration): I’ll accept whatever is the case.

The President: That part of the case?

The Scientist: I’m committed to it.

The President: You have no idea how you’ll act when you encounter your commitment.

The Scientist: It wouldn’t be a commitment if I did.

The President: True, but what about everyone else? Even if you could handle it, others might start tearing society apart — alien thoughts in their minds, unable to escape them.

The Scientist: I don’t think that will happen.

The President: We’ll know when I turn the key.

The Scientist: Mr. President, please.

(The President puts the key on the table.)

The President: If I’m going to do this, you need to explain to me how people will know the truth.

The Scientist: Neuroscience isn’t my specialty.

The President: Are they going to be happy with it?

The Scientist: What’s your definition of “happy?”

The President: Or is it going to sit in their minds without them having any idea what it is or what to do with it?

The Scientist: You don’t need to worry.

The President: Can I know that before turning the key?

The Scientist: It’s like most things.

The President: Convenient.

(The President pushes out his chair. He rises and straightens his coat.)

The President: Time to go.

The Scientist: Where?

The President: I don’t believe any of this.

The Scientist: Then turn the key.

The President: Why?

The Scientist: You think nothing will happen.

The President: Convenient.

The Scientist: If you think so.

The President: I should have you arrested.

The Scientist: For giving you a chance to change everyone’s lives?

The President: Yes.

(Silence. The President pulls out a cigarette and lights it.)

The President: Smoking allowed?

The Scientist (slight smile): Turn the key.

(The President chuckles and turns his back to the Scientist and walks to the right. The Scientist remains on the left of the stage.)

The President (watching the smoke from his cigarette rise): People should learn the truth for themselves.

The Scientist: No one ever has. Not Buddha, not Jesus, not Einstein — all we’ve ever known is a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of all there is to know. Turn the key. Everything will change.

The President: I don’t know about you, but I believe people should choose what they think.

The Scientist: Are you certain?

The President: I don’t like the idea of forcing something on everyone, especially not what I think is right.

The Scientist: Would you prefer to be wrong?

The President It’s not right!

The Scientist (opening her hand toward the President): People can’t freely choose what’s impossible for them to achieve, or willingly deny what they don’t fully understand. There’s no way for people to freely know the whole truth. To turn the key wouldn’t be a denial of any freedom, at least not of any possible.

The President (smoke rising around his head): Might give people more freedom, come to think of it. Where there’s more truth, there’s more liberty.

The Scientist: Exactly.

(The President puffs his cigarette.)

The President: I don’t know…

The Scientist: We can change that.

(The President chuckles and walks back to the table, picks up the key, and holds it up to the light.)

The President: So this is the new Bible.

The Scientist: The key of keys.

The President: To the mind of God.

The Scientist: If you’re one for poetry.

(The President drops the key down into his palm and clutches it, looking at the Scientist.)

The President: If you’re right, this thing will bring about that Second Coming religious people are always talking about. They think people will know everything. In the end.

The Scientist: Heaven on earth works for me.

The President: Lots of people are looking forward to it.

The Scientist: I’m sure.

The President: The belief helps them move forward.

The Scientist: Why not help them arrive?

(The President puts down the key and pulls out another cigarette.)

The President (half-joking): Do I need to turn the key to find out if you have a light?

(The Scientist pulls out a lighter.)

The President: Mine’s out of fluid.

The Scientist (lights the President’s cigarette): Smoking is terrible for you.

The President: That’s the rumor.

The Scientist: Would you like it not to be?

The President: Yes. Well, wait…

(The President puffs and removes the cigarette.)

The President: Thought underground nobody would see me.

The Scientist: Don’t worry, I’m nobody.

The President (puffs once more): At least dying young is good for the legacy…

(The President throws aside his cigarette and walks back to the other side of the room.)

The President: We’re going to do something terrible to people, aren’t we?

The Scientist: Turn the key.

The President: Great response…

The Scientist: Not everything terrible is terrible for you.

The President: Like running?

The Scientist: We’re wasting time.

The President: You still haven’t told me if knowing the truth means people will accept it.

The Scientist: People aren’t evil.

The President: Who said anything about evil?

The Scientist: If people knew the truth, they would believe it.

The President: That make you Catholic or Orthodox?

The Scientist: Progressive.

(The President shakes his head.)

The President: Everyone will lose their minds.

The Scientist: It might be the first time they don’t.

The President (dismissive sigh): If truth shows up in people’s heads and they don’t know — everyone will lose it.

The Scientist: I don’t understand how knowing the truth wouldn’t also entail knowing that the truth was true.

(The President falls silent.)

The President (struggling to capture the thought): But would they know the truth of the truth of the truth of the truth…?

The Scientist: No.

The President: No?

The Scientist: There would be an end to it.

(The President squints.)

The President (hesitant): Are we really talking about the truth?

The Scientist: We’re talking about everything that is the case.

The President: We’re talking about making everyone God.

The Scientist: Again, I don’t do poetry.

The President (motioning out toward the audience): But don’t most people?

The Scientist: If poetry helps them understand.

The President: Don’t you know about God?

The Scientist (shaking her head): I don’t even know what the word “God” means.

The President: That’s the point.

The Scientist: I see.

The President (rubbing his chin): I don’t know if I want to live in a world full of gods.

The Scientist: If I understand correctly, Christians already think everyone is like God.

The President: Similes aren’t all the same.

The Scientist: I’ve told you, I’m no bard.

The President: Everyone will know what God knows.

The Scientist: Turn the key, and you’ll see.

The President: Why are you so hellbent on this?

(The Scientist smiles and motions to the device.)

The President (not amused): Right…

(The President points at the Scientist’s head.)

The President: Will we know what everyone around us is thinking?

The Scientist: If subjectivity exists.

The President: What?

The Scientist: If people exist.

The President: You don’t think they do?

The Scientist: Right or wrong, what’s going on inside of people — those happenings are in fact happening.

The President We’ll know every fact?

The Scientist: If facts are true.

The President: Is everything that exists a fact?

The Scientist: Basically.

(The President turns to the Scientist, confused.)

The President: So everything is part of the truth?

The Scientist: It’s a lot to take in.

The President: We’ll know how many grains of sand line the oceans? How many flower petals are dancing in the wind? How many birds have flown too high and lost their breath? How many hearts are pumping blood in Bangladesh? How knowing about how many grains of sand line the ocean impacts us? How —

The Scientist (same tone): We’ll know the truth.

The President (shaking head): People will lose their minds…

The Scientist: Only one way to find out.

The President (shaking his head): We can’t do this.

The Scientist: Have faith.

The President: Faith?

The Scientist (eyebrows raised): It would be irrational not to believe in belief.

The President (shaken): We’d know if abortion was murder, if free trade was good, if we should establish a single-payer system…

The Scientist: Absolute knowing at its grandest. Beggars can’t be choosers.

The President: I’ve never begged.

The Scientist: Never?

The President: Never.

The Scientist: Then turn the key and find out that you’re not lying to yourself.

The President: You don’t think I’d remember?

The Scientist: No one remembers much of what they’ve lived through.

(The President walks quickly to the other side of the room and stands near the Scientist’s face.)

The President: I’m just conscious of what this could do to people.

The Scientist: Set them free?

The President (ignoring her): If I could turn that key and just make me know everything, I would, but I can’t do that, can I?

The Scientist (motions to the box): Find out.

The President (more agitated): Stop with the mind games! I’d love to turn that key and make everyone know who’s right about the Middle East, LGBT rights, religion — everything! America might finally stop eating itself. But everyone will lose it.

The Scientist: I understand.

The President: You’re just saying that.

The Scientist: Turn —

The President (backing up): Shut up! Shut up. You think this will bring people together? It will destroy us.

The Scientist (nodding): Well, I’d like to know what I think.

(Silence.)

The President (softly): People will know absolutely everything?

The Scientist: Everything true.

The President (shaking his head): Too vague.

The Scientist: If anything isn’t vague —

The President (interrupting): I can’t take the risk.

The Scientist: Have faith.

The President: Faith without wisdom —

The Scientist (interrupting again): Calling yourself wise to hide your fear, are we?

(The President reaches into his coat for a cigarette and quickly pulls out his hand empty.)

The President (mumbling): This is ridiculous…

The Scientist: Care to prove it?

The President: No technology can pry open heads.

The Scientist: Then why not — ?

The President: I said stop with the mind games!

The Scientist: Forgive me. I shouldn’t have implied you’re scared.

The President: I’m not scared!

The Scientist: You’re brave enough to confirm your true motives for running for President, no doubt.

The President: It was for the people!

The Scientist: Of course.

(The President stomps back to the table and takes a seat. He scoots his chair up to the box. Silence.)

The President (softly): I’m not scared.

The Scientist: I know, I think.

­(Silence.)

The President: People will know when I lied to help them.

The Scientist: Not if you meant everything.

The President: I’ve probably lied when I meant to be honest…

The Scientist: Mighty men are men.

The President: Everyone will know what I meant.

The Scientist: Don’t worry, everyone will know what they meant too.

The President: I just wanted to do what was right.

The Scientist: Don’t you want to know that you succeeded?

(The Scientist points at the box. The President takes his time to reply.)

The President: Will we be free?

The Scientist: Nothing is free

(The President picks up the key.)

The President: This has to be a joke.

The Scientist: There’s nothing to fear.

The President: Did you invent this box?

The Scientist: I had help.

The President: From aliens?

The Scientist: Would you want to know if they exist?

(The President looks at the box and puts the key into it. He stops.)

The President: My mother is going to know everything.

The Scientist: She’s still alive?

The President: My wife too.

The Scientist: Then she’ll know you meant it when you told her that you loved her.

The President: Right…

(The President rises from the table, leaving the unturned key in the box.)

The President: I don’t want to hurt them.

The Scientist: Is hurt always bad?

The President: Do you really want to know?

The Scientist (with a deep breath): Everyone will be in the same boat. It will all cancel out.

The President: When everyone knows they believed lies their whole lives?

The Scientist: A small price to pay

The President: How do you know it’s small?

(The Scientist motions to the box. The President shakes his head.)

The President: It’s all mind games with you.

The Scientist: You really think blessing the world with truth is a mind game?

The President: What else could it be?

The Scientist: Sir, have you watched the news lately? People are crazed out there, wanting to know what’s going on. Help them!

The President: I am the news.

(The President looks at the Scientist hard and then looks away.)

The President: This is a nightmare…

The Scientist: Countless people have died dreaming of this opportunity.

The President: Why don’t you turn the key yourself?

The Scientist: Care to find out?

The President: Not one for responsibility?

The Scientist: You’re the elected one here.

(The President rubs his eyes.)

The President (tired): There has to be another way…

The Scientist: We can find out.

The President: This is a joke.

The Scientist: People last century would have said the same about computers.

The President (slight chuckle): Funny.

(Silence. The Scientist suddenly yells.)

The Scientist (furious): Do you realize how much unnecessary suffering has been going on while we’ve been here playing?!

(The President is startled; he stands still. He waits to reply.)

The President (softly): I don’t want my wife knowing everything about me.

The Scientist (bitter): Selfish!

The President: People won’t want their loved ones knowing everything about them either. For their sake.

The Scientist: You don’t know that.

The President: I’m thinking of them.

The Scientist: The benefits outweigh the costs!

The President: The world might end.

The Scientist (frustrated): The world will end if we don’t bring everyone together! Pluralism has been a disaster. It won’t be long before nukes start going off.

The President: Truth will unify the world?

The Scientist: What else could?

The President: Force. Death.

The Scientist: Interested in another 9/11, are we Mr. President?

(The President stiffens; he doesn’t move.)

The President: Predictable counter.

The Scientist: Predictable coverup.

The President: Coverup?

The Scientist: Another 9/11 would be useful.

The President: Go to hell.

The Scientist (shaking her head): I don’t know what to think. You answered so quickly. Too quickly.

The President: I said go to hell.

The Scientist: I’m sure you wouldn’t want to…

The President: I’m a good man!

The Scientist (thought trailing off): …but life is life.

The President: See for yourself!

(The President grabs the key, thrusts it into the box, and turns it. Silence.)

The Scientist (with a deep sigh of relief): Thank you, Mr. President.

The President: And?

The Scientist: And now the world will know the truth.

(Silence.)

The President: But nothing’s happening.

The Scientist: We’re deep underground, though not so deep that we won’t be impacted.

The President: I said nothing’s happening.

The Scientist: You had to be the one to do it. Made it more interesting anyway.

The President: Made what more interesting?

The Scientist: People will go through with it, the order being from you. They know you’re down here. A video of you confirming the order is airing on all the networks. Russia has advanced too close to the Baltics, shown willingness to do the unthinkable.

The President: You’re not making sense. Don’t you have to make sense?

The Scientist: You’re not up there to show that the video is a deepfake.

The President: I don’t understand. Why don’t I understand?

The Scientist: God has been waiting for the right time to come back.

The President: You said you didn’t do poetry.

The Scientist (excited): I worked so long for this day.

The President: You said everyone would know the truth.

The Scientist: Everyone will meet God.

The President: There is no God.

The Scientist: God is nothing.

The President: I’m supposed to understand.

The Scientist: All around the world, thanks to you, nukes are in the air.

(All the lights in the theatre go off.)

The President (in the dark): You’re joking. This is an experiment…

The Scientist: I studied you for years…

The President (speaking simultaneously): …to see how I would react. A Milligram Experiment.

The Scientist (simultaneous): …the most powerful man in the world.

(In the darkness, the curtain lowers. Behind it, the table is flipped over. There are sounds of a scuffle, of a violent fight; then, silence. The audience decides for themselves when to leave.)

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For more, please visit O.G. Rose.com. Also, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and follow us on Instagram, Anchor, and Facebook.

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O.G. Rose

O.G. Rose

Iowa. Broken Pencil. Allegory. Write Launch. Ponder. Pidgeonholes. W&M. Poydras. Toho. ellipsis. O:JA&L. West Trade. UNO. Pushcart. https://linktr.ee/ogrose

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