Picture Perfect
by Ella Embry

For Joseph, who deserved so much more.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
The Gatekeeper between Heaven, Hell, and the Remolding Room.

 

PATRON
A recently dead college student.

A modest photo gallery: A door center with two pictures on either side and a bench in the middle. Over the door is a glowing red light. One picture is the positive of a beautiful image - the other is the distorted negative of the same picture. The pictures are large enough and inviting enough to step through.

PATRON is on stage as curtain/lights rise. He/She is CENTER staring at the red light above the door. They do not seem to be at all interested in the eye-catching pictures to either side and are instead enraptured by the door with the red light.

Beat to establish the mystery of the scene.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER steps through one of the pictures onstage.

Beat.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER approaches the PATRON with the same air as a passionate curator.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Hi. Not interested in the rest of the exhibit?

PATRON
Oh! No, no sorry. I had a quick look around but none of it was as interesting as this.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
What draws you to it?

PATRON
I dunno, man. Just... the simplicity of it all.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Hm.

PATRON
Yeah, like. It’s just a door and a light above it. What does it mean? Where does it go? I don’t know! It’s just there! I mean - don’t get me wrong those pictures are awesome and really well done - but there’s just something about this door....

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Would you like to see inside?

PATRON
What? Isn’t it just a piece of art?

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Well, yes. And no. I made sure that all the art here is completely functional.

PATRON
Oh! So you’re the one that did this?

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Again, yes and no. I’m a bit of a middle man, really. I have two bosses who commissioned the pictures a while ago; I usually just talk to patrons, help them find their way, that sort of thing. The door, though? That’s all mine.

PATRON
Wait - so only two pictures?

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
We only needed two.

PATRON
What for?

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
(chuckles warmly)
Well, there are really only two places to go after death.
*beat*

PATRON
I’m - I’m dead?

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
How else did you think you got here?

PATRON
But - but - but wait! Wait! No. NO! I can’t be! I can’t be dead!

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Why not?

PATRON
Because I’m only 19! I turn 20 next month and I have to finish my sophomore year of college because next year -

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
There won’t be a "next year."

PATRON
Yes, there will! I’m almost done with GECs and then I can start taking the classes I actually like!

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
What classes were those?

PATRON
They ARE meteorology. None of this English 102 shit that I have to get through before the actually interesting stuff.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
So clouds, rain, weather patterns? That sort of thing?

PATRON
Yeah!

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
And what were you going to do with that?

PATRON
I AM going to get my degree in meteorology. The dream’s to be a TV Weatherman. I’ve already been to the local station a few times so that’s good. And I’m going to get an internship next summer.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
That sounds like it was a good dream.

PATRON
IS. IS a good dream. I’m going back. I’m not dead - you can’t keep me here. Does that door lead out? Is that why it’s special?

The make a dash to grab at the door and THE PHOTOGRAPHER calmly waits. The PATRON tries desperately to open the door but it will not budge.

PATRON
WHY WON’T IT OPEN - LET ME OUT!

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
I’m afraid it only opens for me.

PATRON
Well then open it! Let me out!

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
I’ll open it in due time, but it won’t take you back. There is no going back because you’re dead.

PATRON
No! I’m not! I can’t be!

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
And why not? Don’t try to use your age as a reason. Millions of people much younger than you have died and walked through my gallery. Being young doesn’t mean you’re invulnerable despite however indestructible you may feel at 20. Let’s think. Come on, you can’t stay mad at me forever. Think back to what you were doing before you got here. Hm?

PATRON
I was... driving. So what?

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Drunk? That’s how the story usually goes.

PATRON
No, I’m not stupid. It wasn’t even a weekend so don’t you try to pin that sob story on me. I’m not dead.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Oh, you are. Hmm, texting perhaps? That’s a fairly new one I’m finding more and more common.

PATRON.
I... I don’t.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Ah! And there we have it. Texting and driving, tisk tisk.

PATRON
I wasn’t though! And even if I was I’m a really good driver so there’s no reason I’m dead!

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Regardless. You are dead. You died.

PATRON
Listen, okay, there is no way that I can be dead. No way. I’ve got too much to do. Okay? I’ve got things to do.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Like what?

PATRON
Like graduate! Get a job! Find a spouse! Maybe have a few kids, I dunno! The world is my oyster - I can be anything I want to be! And out of everything I just wanted to be a meteorologist. Talk about clouds and rain and storms on TV and how awesome weather can be and - and I don’t think that’s too much to ask!

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
I suppose not, in the grand scheme of things.

PATRON
Okay great then! Open the door and let me out!

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
I told you, that door doesn’t lead "out." There is no "out" but either up, down, or being mixed back into the pot.

PATRON
What? Wait, mixed back? What do you mean mixed back? I get the whole Heaven and Hell thing but mixed back?

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Do you know why the entrances to Heaven and Hell are pictures and not the pearly gates and fiery lake you’ve no doubt heard so much of? Because souls work a lot like pictures. When you take a picture it has a positive and a negative image to it. Either one can result from developing it, but regardless of whether the picture comes out beautiful or hideous, you can still recognize what the subject is.

PATRON
A person’s soul?

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Precisely. And -

PATRON
So a person’s soul is basically up to you and how you develop it? And you just get to decide who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell? Here I thought we had free will. Here I thought we didn’t have to work to get into Heaven or Hell - we were just supposed to accept Jesus or whatever and that was supposed to fix everything.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Oh, it’s not up to me to develop - it’s up to you. You spend your whole life, however long or short, developing a final image that I get to see and then send off into the appropriate haven. Make sense? And as for the "accepting Jesus or whatever" thing, isn’t accepting Him a choice? An action that shapes who you are and what you do?

PATRON.
Sure, sure. Okay. But what about the mixing back? You can’t mix pictures into each other. Or! Is that like after someone’s done their time in Purgatory and they’re mixed back into Heaven?

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Neither, I’m afraid. Perhaps mixing isn’t the right word. This is the Remolding Room. Does that help?

PATRON
No. It doesn’t.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
You see. Those who don’t develop their soul, or their picture, into something idiosyncratic are reused, re-purposed, remolded. It’s a process my Head Boss came up with to prevent wasting good, raw material. There’s nothing better to create with than a human soul so we melt, mix, burn, smelt, however you’d like to phrase it, those who haven’t produced a clear picture.

PATRON
So... reincarnation? The Hindus had it right?

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Not quite. These specific souls won’t just be sent to inhabit a new body. They’re remixed into... let’s say a big vat of all the souls that could be. After they’ve been mixed back in, a new soul is created with the same element.

PATRON
Okay... But if the soul is a picture why is it called the Remolding Room? You don’t mold a picture, you take it.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Ah. Well, we used to use a button molding process to remix those who haven’t lived true to themselves, but it became outdated. Photography is a much cleaner, smoother way of doing it. Just a little "snap" at the - what did I call it? - vat of the soul material and you’ve got a new print ready to be developed. Plus, it’s a lot easier to ask someone to step through a photo than it is to ask them to step through a button.

PATRON
Am I - I’m not - Where am I going? Do you know?

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
I do know. And you do too.

PATRON
No. NO. I have been unique! I have developed a clear picture! And I think it’s a good picture too, a pretty one like that one!

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
How have you developed clearly? Make a case for yourself.

PATRON
Well, I was my own person! I didn’t let people at school or my parents tell me how to think or dress or anything. I went to church with my family sometimes. I wasn’t terrible! I didn’t do anything completely shitty to anyone else. Some alcohol and weed, yeah, but I don’t think that means I came out like a negative. And I love weather! That is a totally unique love and I betcha no one else wants to be a meteorologist as badly as I do. That’s something!

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
I’m afraid there is no such thing as "unique."

PATRON
Yes, there is! Everyone has something special about them that makes them - well - them!

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
If everyone is unique, then no one is.

PATRON
That doesn’t make sense.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Think about it, if everyone has some sort of special quality that sets them apart from the rest of humanity, then is anyone really special? Is anyone really unique?

PATRON
What about the whole snowflake thing? "No two snowflakes are the same so no two people are the same?"

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
True, genetically, biologically you are all different meat vessels for different souls. You can be individual, but you cannot be unique.

PATRON
Those two words mean the same thing! It’s the same thing! I was unique. I was individual. I don’t deserve to get "mixed back."

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
No, they are not the same. Individual, by definition, means distinct; a single thing or being. Unique means having no like or equal - the only one of its kind. And, I don’t know if you noticed, but there are quite a few humans on Earth.

PATRON
What about Martin Luther King Jr. then, huh? He was unique. Or Marie Curie? Or George Washington? Or Margaret Thatcher?

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
I see you were taking a history class before you passed. Just because someone becomes famous for great works, great discoveries, or noble deeds does not mean they’re unique. Do you think Martin Luther King Jr. was the first man to lead a civil rights movement in the world? That Marie Curie was the first woman in science to make great discoveries? That George Washington or Margaret Thatcher were the first to lead political movements and to change history? Changing history does not make you unique - it just makes you famous.

PATRON
So it’s hopeless. It’s just a shitty game. There’s nothing I can do to not get "remolded?" Life is just a big, fat joke and this is the sick punchline at the end?

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Not true. Was there nothing in your life worth living for? No one?

PATRON
Yes! I think. I was going to do something, I promise. I was going to find someone. I was just trying to get through school and all that stupid shit they make you do before you actually get to do something! Society sucks - I have to jump through all theses stupid hoops to actually be considered a person. No one really listens to you unless you’re like rich or famous or hot. You can’t really do anything until you’re an adult and even then it’s like impossible.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Everybody dies, but not everyone lives. You didn’t think to make opportunities for yourself? You didn’t think to fight for what you wanted?

PATRON
I didn’t know what I wanted. I guess I just, I wanted to be comfortable, you know? Call a few storms on TV, have a house I could afford, maybe a family, that sort of thing.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
You just let yourself be jostled about by those around you who made opportunities for themselves? No struggling, no passion, no definite individual.

PATRON
I guess. Is - is that what makes that door so attractive?

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Yes. Are you ready?

PATRON
No. Is there any way I can try again. I can do better!

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
No.

PATRON
Oh... Wow, I’m really tired all of the sudden.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
You’re coagulating - congealing into the raw soul matter I was telling you about. You have to be mixed in hot before you get too solid.

PATRON
Oh. That’s kind of gross.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
You get used to it. Come on, let’s go. I’m on a streak right now of not letting any souls get clotted.

PATRON
What’s the streak?

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
 132,606.

PATRON
That’s.. a lot. This week?

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Today.

PATRON
Oh.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Up, up.

PATRON
I just feel so tired...

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
I know. Let’s go.

PATRON
Will it hurt?

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
No. It should feel like stepping into a warm bath, I think. You know that floating feeling you get when you do that? Where you could just melt into the water?

PATRON
Yeah.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Just like that.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER leads/helps/carries the PATRON through the door with the red light above it.

Time passes: a beat or two after the two have made it through the door.

Finally, a new person enters the stage. Perhaps from somewhere in the audience, somewhere offstage, or someone who just entered the theater space. He/She walks onto the stage, into the set and becomes a part of the world. They wander around from piece to piece a bit aimlessly. THE PHOTOGRAPHER reenters from the door with the red light above it. They approach the new, newly dead person in the space.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Hi, welcome. See anything you like?

BLACKOUT - END OF PLAY


Ms. Embry is a junior BFA Performance major from Olive Branch, MS. She is an active member in the Southern Miss Honors College as well as Alpha Psi Omega. This school year, 2016-17, she performed in The Crucible (Abigail Williams) and Sleepy Hollow (Hilda Weintraub). Last school year she worked as Costume Design Assistant for As You Like It, Costume and Makeup Designer for The Yellow Sign, and Costume Design Assistant for The Seagull. She has also been a featured extra for the short film “Fighting Belle.” Ms. Embry is an avid learner and a passionate artist.