Soon to become Minnesota’s longest running play: “Enter Coughing”
by William Prendergast
Today’s inspiration comes to us from the boys over at Minnesota Public Radio. Their excellent Polinaut blog featured this rather cynical observation about our state’s proposed smoking ban:
Posted at 11:42 PM on May 11, 2007 by Tom Scheck
The Minnesota House is taking up the smoking ban bill at 11:20 on a Friday night. The bill bans smoking in bars and restaurants throughout the state. There are a few exemptions. They include a a disabled veterans rest camp, farm buildings, heavy commercial vehicles and theaters where an actor can light up.
That leads to this question: What happens if a bar owner puts a stage in his place and has a regular play going on throughout the night? Afterall, all the world is a stage. A true cultural legacy bill. Audience participation encouraged.
(Scene: An empty stage in a popular bar in downtown Minneapolis. Set: Simple furniture, two chairs, a table, and a respirator. Time: the present.)
(“Bar Patron” enters. Bar is an idealistic young smoker out for a night on the town. He strolls casually out on to the stage, a cold Leinie’s in his hand.)
Bar: Ah, what a night! What a night, for life, for love, and for—(takes a pack of cigarettes from out of his pocket and holds it up, waggles his eyebrows)—theater!
(He sets his beer on the table, reaches into his pocket for a Bic lighter and lights up a smoke.)
Bar: Mmmm…that tastes good. So soothing, so mellow… so round, so firm, so fully packed. But what’s this?
(Another Bar Patron enters, stage right. She is also round and firm and fully packed.)
Another: Hey, there.
Bar: Hey, yourself. (to audience) Never have I seen such a bewitching goddess. Could it be that she, too—
(Sees that she is lighting up a cigarette.)
Bar: Oh, joy! Oh, rapture! (to Another) You too are a smoker?
Another: And why not? Is not all of life a stage, and all of us merely players?
Bar: Will you be mine and bear my addiction-prone child?
Another: (lowering her eyes) Well…
(Just as she is about to say “yes,” an anti-smoking Nazi appears. Armband, jackboots, ticket book.)
Anti-Smoking Nazi: Stop! I command you both in the name of the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes! Extinguish those cancerous baubles, or (waves ticket book) or feel the wrath of the state!
Bar: Fear not! He has no power here, my treasure. For this is land of magic and illusion, where (cough) the law’s writ (coughs) does not run! We are all but characters (gasps) in a drama, and must play our (coughs) parts. (takes a hit from the respirator.)
Anti-Smoking Nazi: (to audience) Can this be true? That the mighty solons of the legislature have left at least this much freedom abroad in the land—the freedom to play at smoking on the stage?
Another: True indeed, and the truth will set you free! Light up, minion of oppression. (extends her lighter to him) This is the flame of freedom, which burns for all!
(Anti-Smoking Nazi takes out a cigarette, takes the light, inhales.)
Anti-Smoking Nazi: (looks about him, astounded) Then it is true! Here we are free!
Bar: We shall always be free--at least, here in our little world of make-believe. (to audience) So now—join us on stage, you who would inhale the sweet smoke of freedom! Join us on stage, take part in our play, light up and improvise amongst yourselves, ‘til the curtain rings down on us all.
(The audience clambers on to the stage and smokes and ad-libs dialogue until closing time, when a play about after hours drinking and cheap one night stands commences out in the parking lot.)