This play was written and performed for the Feb. 26, 2012 Tabler 24-Hour Play Festival. Quon Duong played Jack, and Emily Kastner portrayed Lorelei.
A small town neighborhood in anywhere, U.S.A. Jack, a male reporter for a local news station, is reporting on yet another fire in a long string of suspected arson cases. The burned remnants are assumed to be in the background. No one is around except for one nondescript woman [Lorelei], “looking” at the charred remains of a house. Two chairs sit in the background, but pay no attention to them for now.
Jack: (pantomiming holding a microphone) This is Jack Chen reporting for Local News 11, Live at 5. We’re live at the scene of what police suspect may be yet another attack in the string of arson cases that have sprung up across town over the past few weeks.
(As Jack continues to talk, Lorelei notices him and surveys him from afar. She slowly creeps up to him as his report continues without him noticing.)
You can’t see it now, but just a few moments ago, this place was still crawling with firefighters and police officers. As you can see, the remains of the house are still smoldering slightly.
Lorelei: (she has come up directly behind him now) I like that word.
Lorelei: smoldering. It has such a fun sound.
Jack: (to unseen cameraman) Cut! (to Lorelei) Right, um, I’m in the middle of taping a report for the 5 o’clock news so…
Lorelei: I love the 5 o’clock. For channel 8?
Jack: No, 11. (thinks for a moment) Wait a minute, did you see the blaze?
Lorelei: Of course, I’ve been here since it started.
Jack: How would you like to be interviewed for the 5 o’clock news?
Lorelei: But I don’t like channel 11.
Jack: What difference does it make which channel it’s on? You’ll be on TV!
Lorelei: I suppose…
Jack: Fantastic. George, roll in 3, 2, 1. Jack Chen here, reporting for Local News 11. I’m live at the scene of the latest in a string of suspected arson cases with Miss… Hold it. What’s your name?
Jack: I mean your full name.
Lorelei: Lorelei Esmeralda Gonzalez-Smith.
Jack: Alright, start it up again George. O, you didn’t stop. I’m Jack Chen, and I’m reporting for Local News 11 live at the scene of the latest in a string of suspected arson cases. Here with me is Lorelei Gonzalez-Smith, who witnessed the blaze. Miss Gonzalez-Smith-.
Lorelei: Please, call me Lorelei.
Jack: Fine, Lorelei. Can you tell me what you saw here?
Lorelei: There was a fire.
(Jack waits for her to continue. When he sees that she is not going to, he prompts her.)
Jack: Yes, and what else happened?
Lorelei: Well, what do you think happens when there’s a fire? There’s lots of smoke and flames. Ashes are flying through the air. And the little licks of flame build up and keep building…
Jack: Was there anyone in the house?
Lorelei: O no. I always make sure there’s no one at home.
Lorelei: Do you have any other questions? I think I left the stove on at my neighbor’s house.
Jack: How long did the police take to arrive?
Lorelei: Well, it was the firemen first. Sorry, firefighters. Wouldn’t want the women’s lib people on my ass. Anyway, they showed up and started hosing it down. Silly really. They didn’t even wait to see if it was a gas fire or a regular wood fire. You know, water doesn’t do anything to gas fires.
Jack: But the police…
Lorelei: Yes, yes. They came, too. Somebody sets a few fires accidentally on purpose and suddenly everyone’s up in arms about the smallest house fire. They’re actually quite common you know. In 2010 alone there was an estimated 362,100 fires. And that was just in residential buildings!
Jack: What do you know about the alleged arsonist?
Lorelei: You know I really have to go.
Jack: It’s you isn’t it? You’re the person who’s running around town burning everyone’s house down!
Lorelei: Now just a moment-
Jack: You nearly killed my sister’s cat! Not to mention my niece. Why are you doing this? Who do you think you are?
(He has been slowly backing Lorelei up toward stage left. At this last question, she stops and faces him squarely.)
Lorelei: I am Lorelei Esmeralda Gonzalez-Smith, and I can do what I damn well please! (She slaps/pushes him and takes the invisible microphone. Facing directly into the camera, she begins to speak.) Good evening, this is Lorelei reporting for Local News 11. Did you know that this has been taped even though I’m going to ensure you quite emphatically that it is not? I have to because I showed up long after the fire was put out, and to make it seem that I’m not completely incompetent as a journalist, I have to say that it’s simply because I was waiting for you, the audience, to join me. Not that anyone is actually watching this crappy channel anyway.
Jack: Give me that (The two struggle over the invisible microphone) George, put the damn camera down and help me. (He clearly does nothing) Are you still filming? (Jack is incredulous, and Lorelei manages to pull away as he angrily yells at the cameraman.)
Lorelei: I’m Jack Chen for News 11. I’m Jack Chen for News 11. I’m Jack Chen for News 11. Don’t you ever want to say anything else? Don’t you ever get tired of the same crappy job and the same crappy stories that no one cares about? Don’t you want to do anything more with your life?
Jack: I like my life just the way it is!
Lorelei: Then why have you been burning down people’s houses, Jack? (Jack freezes) I know what you’re thinking, ‘Well, I wasn’t expecting that.’ Don’t bother trying to run away.
(He looks as if that’s exactly what he’s about to do, but then he collects himself.)
Jack: I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m a good, upstanding citizen. I’ve never set fire intentionally to a house in my life.
Lorelei: Accidentally on purpose.
Jack: No, it wasn’t on purpose at all! I mean, I’ve never done that. It’s you! You’re trying to pin it on me. You’re trying to trick me, to trap me, to make me take the fall for you! I’m a journalist! I see right through you!
Lorelei: Jack, if you just remain calm, no one will hurt you.
Jack: You can’t arrest me. Even if I had done something wrong, which I haven’t. George, put that damn camera down!
Lorelei: He won’t. He’s not your cameraman. In fact, he’s not even there.
Jack: What do you mean he’s not there? Of course he’s there. He’s standing right in front of me. I can reach out and hit him. In fact, I think I will. (swings and hits empty air, throwing himself off balance to land on the ground.) What… What happened?
Lorelei: Jack, (crouches down beside him) Do you recognize me?
Jack: Yes, you’re Lorelei Esmeralda Gonzalez-Smith, the crazy woman I’ve been interviewing.
Lorelei: Close. You’re the crazy one. Do you know where we are?
Jack: My hometown. We’re standing outside the Spencer place about an hour after it burned down.
Lorelei: No, Jack. (She leads him to the chairs) We’re at the St. Eugene Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
Jack: What? What? I don’t… (He begins to remember) No. No. O God no. Jasmine…. Tina… I didn’t… I didn’t mean…
Lorelei: Jack, calm down. It’s ok. I’m here with you. It’s alright. This is good. You’re remembering. You’re coming back to yourself.
Jack: I don’t want to come back to myself! I killed my sister, and my niece, and the cat… I burned down the house.
Lorelei: Was it on purpose?
Jack: Of course not! It was an accident.
Lorelei: How so?
Jack: I forgot to turn off the stove…
Lorelei: But you didn’t stop after that.
Jack: No, I…
Lorelei: You burned down three more houses, and at the last one, you were finally caught.
Jack: I always wanted to be a journalist.
Lorelei: But you couldn’t hack it.
Jack: No… Then, the fire… (He slowly stands and faces the audience. He is silent for several moments. Then, he pantomimes holding a microphone and begins to speak.) This is Jack Chen for Local News 11 reporting to you live at five.
Lorelei: (facepalms) Damn it.