THE CAT'S MEOW
by Corey Bradberry
 

A relatively sparse market square in the 21st-century version of New Orleans. Mystics, fortune tellers, etc., have set up their carts along the street. Most of them are white. They’re waiting for the lunch break and for fresh meat, credit card swipers at the ready.

In the middle of the square, two college-aged kids (guys, any ethnicity) sit at a makeshift table, a cheaply made cardboard sign reading “Good Joke: $1; Great Joke: $10--WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE”. There’s a tip jar--an old goldfish bowl, perhaps--with a few starter bucks in it.

MAN enters. He wears a business suit, collar open and tie loosened around the neck. He’s an accountant. He breezes past the mystics and beelines for the two kids.

MAN
(waving cash)
Joke. I need a joke. Cash.

The two students snap into action.

STUDENT 1
(looking to STUDENT 2)
Joke coming up!

STUDENT 2
I told the joke last time. Your turn.

MAN
Please, for the love of God, joke. NOW!

STUDENT 1
Uhhh...
(quickly)
Three legged dog walks into a bar, looks at the bartender and
says,“I’m looking for the man who shot my Pa.”

MAN
(throws another dollar on the table)
Another, please!

STUDENT 2
(without missing a beat)
What do you call a quadriplegic with no legs? Bob.

MAN
(another dollar)
More. More!

STUDENT 1
(incredibly fast)
How many coonasses does it take to change a light bulb?

STUDENT 2
(Southern drawl)
What’s a light bulb?

MAN
(another dollar)
Again!

STUDENT 2
What’s the worst part of a terrorist joke?

STUDENT 1
The execution!

MAN
Another, damn you!

Beat.

STUDENT 2
Umm... we can’t.

MAN
What do you mean, you can’t?

STUDENT 1
No one’s ever asked for this many jokes before.

The MAN fumes silently.

Then:

MAN
Do you mean to tell me... that you have no more jokes?

STUDENT 2
Well, we don’t have any more GOOD. Jokes.
We do have one GREAT joke, but...

STUDENT 1
It’s an extra nine bucks, and you seem in a hurry, so...

The MAN continues to fume silently, thinking.

MAN
Ten bucks for a joke?

STUDENT 1
I mean, it’s a good joke.

STUDENT 2
It’s a great joke.

STUDENT 1
The best.

STUDENT 2
At least we think so. We aren’t guaranteeing the BEST joke.

STUDENT 1
That would cost more.

STUDENT 2
At least another hundred, I should think.

MAN
OK. I’ll take the great joke.

Beat.

STUDENT 1
Are you sure?

MAN
There is an actual joke, right?

STUDENT 2
Oh yeah, there’s the joke, just—

STUDENT 1
No one’s done this before, and we’ve been here every day for like a month.

MAN
(re: the sign)
And this joke... it’ll change your life?

STUDENT 2
[That’s] what the sign says.

      The MAN slaps a ten on the table.

MAN
Great joke. Now. Change my life.

          The two STUDENTs look at each other, then lean forward enthusiastically.

STUDENT 1
OK. So there’s this farm in Mississippi with a good
ole boy who likes working with the pigs.

STUDENT 2
One spring day, he hears about a “Fattest Pig” Contest to be held at the
local fair in a month’s time.

STUDENT 1
So he gets this idea in his thinker, you see—

There is a huge crash.

Blackout.

A moment for everything to settle.

MAN
What the fuck?

   Lights up, slowly. Other-worldly.

A cat (ROSIE) is onstage—played by a human, of course. She’s not far from our MAN.

ROSIE
Hello, Ronnie.

MAN
Rosie?

ROSIE
Yes, Ronnie. It’s me.

MAN
But you’ve been dead for—

ROSIE
—thirty-seven years. Time is bullshit.

MAN
Where am I?

ROSIE
Dumb two-legger. You can only see one plane of reality at a time.

MAN
And you?

ROSIE
I exist on fourteen dimensions of existence simultaneously.

MAN
There are fourteen dimensions?

ROSIE
Numbers are bullshit.

MAN
I don’t know, Rosie, I disagree. I’m an accountant.

ROSIE
(simply)
What’s an accountant.

She licks herself.  The MAN looks around him once more.

MAN
So how did I get here?

    He sees the table, where the STUDENTs are enthusiastically telling their joke, but in
silence and extreme slow motion, as if
moving through thick butter.

ROSIE
Are you happy, Ronnie?

MAN
Am I what?

ROSIE
Are you happy. Does your single reality bring you pleasure.
Are you happy.

MAN
Happiness is bullshit.

ROSIE raises her eyebrows.

ROSIE
One time, I was locked out of my house, the place you also
occupied as a child. I took a nap in the red human-carrier,
laid down on the tire to rest. Next thing I knew, I was being
crushed under the weight of human existence.

MAN
I remember that. I was a kid. We were going to church.

ROSIE
What is church.

MAN
Church is bullshit, Rosie.

ROSIE
I understand.

She rubs against his leg.

MAN
Wait, I don’t understand. I was listening to a joke...
change my life... did you come here to bring me a message?

ROSIE
Who has a message for me?

MAN
No, do YOU have a message for me.

ROSIE
Why would I have a message for you. I have not
existed on your plane for some time.

MAN
I dunno... from Mom, or Dad, or...
(testing the water)
God...
(ROSIE stares at him blankly)
Forget it.

ROSIE
You know what your problem is? You expect too much. Feel
around your person--what is here? This place is not filled
with anything, it is a void, but full of light and sound and
brilliance worthy of my splendor. It is an acceptable plan
for my existence at this time. Do I ask for more? Did I ask
for mice, or devil birds, or birdstick? No, I simply Am.

MAN
What do you do when you want a mouse?

ROSIE
I go and find one.

MAN
Have you found any yet?

ROSIE
(simply)
No.

Beat. The MAN takes a long breath.

MAN
This is bullshit, Rosie.

ROSIE
(nonchalant) 
If you say so, Ronnie.
(stretches)
May I tell you a joke?

MAN
I didn’t think you liked jokes, Rosie.

ROSIE
I did not say that it was a funny joke.

MAN
OK, go for it.

ROSIE
OK, so there’s this farm in Mississippi with a good ole boy
who likes working with the pigs. One spring day, he hears
about a “Fattest Pig” Contest to be held at the local fair in
a month’s time. So he gets this idea in his thinker, you see.

Beat.

MAN
Yes, and...?

ROSIE
That is the joke. His existence is meaningless.

Beat.

MAN
That’s not funny, Rosie.

ROSIE
I did not say it was, Ronnie.

    A crash, identical to the one earlier in the scene, but in reverse. The lights go out.

    When they restore, we are back in the corner of New Orleans. ROSIE is gone.

 The MAN is now a WOMAN, same basic dress and age.

         The two STUDENTs are coming to the punchline.

STUDENT 1
So the farmer says:

STUDENT 2
“No, Doctor, the worst part was this: before I passed out, 
the last thing I saw was that poor monkey trying to shove the cork back in!”

            Both STUDENT 1 and STUDENT 2 almost die laughing.

The WOMAN looks herself up and down.

     The laughter dies away slowly.

STUDENT 1
What’s wrong, lady? You didn’t think it was funny?

STUDENT 2
(miserable)
Ugh. Bet she wants her ten bucks back.

STUDENT 1
Humor is wasted on the callous.

WOMAN
No, no, wait. Here’s twenty bucks.

  She takes more cash from her pocket and tries to give it to them.

STUDENT 2
I don’t think we can break that.

STUDENT 1
And that was our only great joke.

WOMAN
Keep it. Money is bullshit.

STUDENT 2
Said by someone who has some.

WOMAN
You two in school?

STUDENT 1
No, but we are students.

WOMAN
Career paths?

STUDENT 2
Undecided.

WOMAN
Do you know what an accounts payable form looks like?

  Beat. The STUDENTS look to each other.

STUDENTS
A what?

WOMAN
Your lives seem wonderful.
(she throws a small wad of loose cash on the table)
I’ll be back on Monday. Write some more jokes.

STUDENT 1
Yes, MA’AM!

STUDENT 2
(counting)
There’s enough here for three meals! We’re kings!

STUDENT 1
Emperors!

STUDENTS
Masters of our own domains!

WOMAN
Have a good weekend, gentlemen.

    She begins to walk off, leaving the STUDENTs to their exaltations.

WOMAN
(continued, to herself)
Christ, I was starting to feel like a MAN.

   Blackout.

 

END

 

 

 

 


Corey Bradberry is a 2nd year MFA directing candidate with USM’s Department of Theatre. He recently directed April 2016’s production of Moby Dick—Rehearsed, for which he is currently writing an essay documenting his experience for the theatre blog Howlround. Before coming to USM, Corey has written for Atlanta publications SpitTake Magazine and the Atlanta Banana, and produced several of his short plays in conjunction with his Atlanta ensemble The Collective Project, Inc.

This July, Corey will continue his passion for new plays as a director and will be attending the Kennedy Center’s Directing Summer Intensive in Washington, D.C.  Next spring, Corey will finish out his time at USM with Arthur Miller’s The Crucible as his thesis project.