Eat at Joe’s
By Pete Bowers and Charles Berman
Performed at Drakhorse Dramatists' festival 200 Miles off Broadway, summer 2016.
Joe - husband and restaurateur
Denise - wife of restaurateur
Spiro - formerly down on his luck man, now maitre d’
Customer - a person who wants dinner
(Denise opens the door with a key. She is talking on the phone and holding her handbag. Spiro is already onstage, a towel folded over his arm. He is dressed in a tuxedo that looks like it was made up of mismatched pieces found in a dumpster.)
Denise: Alright, Mom. Just got back. No, I told you. I'm sorry. We really would like to go to the ice cream social. And we miss Debbie. But you know how Joe gets brain freezes. And it's so hard to get him out of the house when NCIS is on. Ok. Yes. I know. Love you too Mom. Ok. Yes. Bye bye.
Spiro - (with a fake French accent) Madame, do you have a reservation?
Denise: (turns around, startled) Ahhhh!
Spiro - Jesus Christ, lady!
(She looks down at his clothes. They are a messy imitation of waiter clothes)
Spiro: What's the matter?
Denise - (worried she is mixed up) Um… This is my house, isn't it?
Spiro - (French) We strive to make our patrons feel at home.
Denise - Ok but… Wait! That ‘s my couch! That's my… Junk mail! I AM at home! What the hell? Who are you? Where’s Joe? What are you doing here?
Spiro - Working. You don't seem to have a reservation, so what are you doing here?
Denise - I live here!
Spiro - You live in a restaurant?
Denise- I do NOT live in a restaurant!
Spiro - Make up your mind!
(Denise pulls out her cell phone)
Denise: Listen. You are going to get out of my house right now, or I am calling the police.
(Spiro pulls a phone out of the host’s lectern. If there isn’t one he takes it out of his pocket)
Spiro: Madam, you will please stop making a disturbance in my restaurant or I am calling the police.
(They stare each other down for a minute).
Denise: OK. Dialing right now.
Spiro: I have them on speed dial.
Denise: I’m two digits in.
Spiro: What’s their number?
Spiro: No, the speed dial number.
Denise: It’s number three.
Spiro: How did you know?
Denise: That’s my land line!!!
Spiro: Sorry officer. Wrong number. I meant to dial information.
(He puts down the phone. )
Spiro: I’m sorry, madam. It would appear that you do have some connection to this establishment.
Denise: This is not an establishment!
Spiro: (Whisper) That’s a fancy way of saying restaurant.
Denise: I’m losing what little patience I have left.
Spiro: Madam ( he switches to an American accent ) with all due respect, this is the first job I’ve had in five years, and it’s my first day, and I really, really need this. So can we start over again?
Denise: How is this a job? Housebreaking and pretending to be a waiter is not a job. Who hired you?
Spiro: The… um, proprietor hired me. ( He switches back to a French accent) If you’ll wait a moment I will see if he’s available. In the meantime, do you have a reservation? (Beat. Urgently) (American accent) Please? Just go with it!
Denise: No! I don’t need a reservation in my own house!
Spiro: Madame, it’s…
Denise: Yes it is! My name is on the lease!
Spiro: ( French accent ) Well, in that case, let me see if I have an available table.
Denise: There’s only one table!
Spiro: I may be able to squeeze you in the back room.
Denise: That’s my bedroom. And you may not squeeze me in there!
Denise: I have mace.
Spiro: Oh! Well, right this way.
(Spiro pulls a chair out for her).
Denise: Oh, thank… NO! This is ridiculous! I demand to speak to the owner!
Spiro: I will get the owner immediatement.
(Spiro goes the get the owner immediatement. Denise puts her legs up on the table).
Denise: MY table!
(She looks again).
Denise: Aww! And now I got mud on it!
(She starts wiping off the mud. Doing so, she notices the plates).
Denise: This is the good china!
(Joe comes in wearing his best version of the suit a restaurant owner would be wearing. He is holding a mysterious box behind his back).
Joe: Bienvenido to Le Chateau du Ailments!
(Spiro pops back in)
Spiro: It’s pronounced aliments.
Joe: Thank you, Spiro. What he said.
Spiro: Also, I found the owner, Madame.
Denise: Joe!! What is going on? Why is there a waiter in our house? Please?
Spiro: It’s pronounced maitre d’.
Joe: Oh Denise! Isn’t it great? Isn’t it wonderful?
Denise: That’s difficult for me to say since I don’t know what it is. But… I don’t think so.
Joe: Look! Look!
Joe: How do you not know what it is? It’s a restaurant! (Pause) In our house!
Denise: Yes. (Pause). OK. WHY is it a restaurant in our house?
Joe: Because people get hungry Denise. People need to eat. And we, WE, get to feed them. What do you think? Isn’t it great?
Denise: What… part of it? Wait no! No it isn’t! You turned our house into a restaurant!
Joe: I know!
Denise: But Joe…
Denise: Turn it back?
Denise: Turn it back, Joe. The joke’s over. You really got me.
Joe: You’re serious.
Denise: As serious as Doug.
Joe: Yeah, he’s really serious.
Denise: I know right. Like more serious than US!
Joe: (Sadly) I guess so. I mean, he didn’t turn his house into a French restaurant. (Pause) But wait! Maybe this will change your mind. (He hands her the gift that he has been holding)
Denise: You had time to open a restaurant… and get me a present?
Joe: Well, it HAS been a busy day.
Denise: Didn’t you go to work today?
Joe: Well, interesting thing, actually…
Denise: You didn’t go, did you?
Joe: I… went long enough to quit!
(Denise slowly sits down at the table in shock. She unthinkingly puts her napkin in her lap, then throws it down angrily when she notices)
Joe: And can I tell you? I felt even better than I expected. It was the most wonderful, freeing sensation.
Denise: Wonderful? Freeing? Giving up on your steady income is freeing?
Joe: Yes! It means I don’t have to work for it anymore! I never have to do what a boss says just for a paycheck ever again in my life!
Denise: What about rent? The car payment? Insurance? The phone bill? The heat bill? The electric bill? The bill from the company that organizes all our bills?
Joe: Why do we PAY for that?
Denise: Well, I don’t want to do it. Joe, how on Earth are we going to LIVE?
Joe: (Grandly) Well, honey, I am glad you asked that. We are going to live…. (he reveals the present which is a tall chef’s hat) …. like THIS?
(Behind this speech, we see Spiro lead a customer into the restaurant, seat him at the table, and hand him a menu.
Joe: Happy anniversary!
Denise: That’s next month.
Joe: Do you like it?
Joe: Uh… why not?
Denise: Because thanks to this, I am going to go to jail for murder.
Joe: Ha, ha! Uh. Sarcasm, eh?
Denise: I don’t like it because -- and correct me if I’m wrong -- the act of giving me a cartoony chef’s outfit just after you have turned our home into a restaurant seems to imply that I would end up, you know, working for the restaurant. Which would, A, mean that I am now a restaurant worker, and, B, mean supporting your idiotic plan to turn our home into a restaurant. Oh, God.
Joe: It’s not cartoony! I thought it was a little silly at first too, but I looked online and apparently that’s how chefs really dress? Look! Lemme find my… (He looks for his laptop or cell phone to show the picture he found on the internet)
Denise: It doesn’t matter!
Joe: No, it’s alright. Just and minute and I’ll…
Denise: No, forget it. I just talked to my mother ten minutes ago. And now I have to call her and tell her than my entire life has fallen apart. And my husband is unemployed. And probably insane. And now there’s a homeless guy bringing strangers into my living room! Just FINE!
Joe: Um. Actually I think they should be called maitre d’s and customers. You know, in the, uh, lingo.
Denise: Fuck the lingo! I want to go home! But I am home! Joe, what happened to you?
Denise: Don’t you “huh” me! You know exactly what I’m talking about! When I left home this morning you were… you! Now you’re nothing like you! You know why I married you? You’re predictable! Dependable! Like a rock!
Joe: In a good way?
Denise: USED to be in a good way! Now you’re just as intelligent as a rock!
Joe: Wow. That’s kind of insulting.
Denise: It’s supposed to be insulting. It’s an INSULT.
Joe: Oh. Well, that’s really not called for.
Denise: Yes it is! You just turned my home into a place of business and destroyed our source of income!
Joe: Why do you keep saying that?
Denise: Saying what?
Joe: About having no income?
Denise: (Spluttering and stuttering) Because we need income!
Joe: Even after the lottery thing?
Denise: YES even after the… what lottery thing?
Joe: Crap! I forgot to tell you!
Denise: Joe! Did you do that thing again where you try to tell me something but completely leave out the main point of the story?
Joe: You mean like that time when we went to Stewart's cafe?
Denise: Huh? Which time?
Joe: And I wanted my money back but they wouldn’t give it to me?
Denise: Because you forgot to tell them that the meal gave you food poisoning!
Joe: Yes! That’s exactly what this is!!
(Spiro comes out)
Denise: Misour. The customer is waiting in the dining room. He wants the special and he has been very patient.
Joe: (Exasperated) Fuck the customer! (Or: Screw the customer! if cursing is not allowed)
Spiro: You are getting off to a great start as a restauranter.
Joe: Yeah, well… You’re homeless!
Spiro: And you have a customer. That can hear everything we’re saying. And wants the special.
Denise: The special? The special?
(She angrily storms into the kitchen, grabs a can of Spaghettios, opens it, and slams it down in front of the customer.)
Denise: Is that SPECIAL enough for you?
(The customer shrugs and begins to eat, but continues watching the conversation).
Denise: (after gathering herself) OK Joe, why don’t you tell me what’s going on, without skipping the main reason for this whole mess. From the beginning this time.
Joe: Ok. The beginning. Remember when we met? Twelve years ago? At the ice cream social?
Denise: Oh my God! Not the literal beginning! Would you PLEASE just tell me what the hell you are doing, starting at the point when stuff that has to do with it starts to happen!
Joe: Well , that’s what I’m doing.
Denise: Ok. Make it good. There’s a guy here who thinks you’ve employed him and another one eating alphabet soup…
Spiro: Spaghettios, madame.
Denise: (Raising a warning finger at Spiro) And I just want a drink. I think I’m going to need it.
Spiro: Right away, madame.
Denise: Oh! Well, thank you. Alright Joe, what’s the story?
Joe: OK. So we met. And you helped me get over that giant brain freeze.
Denise: Why do you keep eating ice cream?
Joe: It tastes good. Anyway… remember that time? We went to a restaurant after.
Joe: I’m just trying to tie in the restaurant thing. You know it’s always been our dream. We wouldn’t have to do real work. Just sit back, and…. well it probably is a lot of work running a restaurant. But it’s not that weird a dream, is it?
Denise: I remember when you had this dream. You woke up screaming because one of the customers kept throwing hot soup at you.
Joe: No, that was a nightmare. I mean a dream as in “the American dream.” Like a goal.
Denise: That you really want but you you can never achieve, so it’s like a dream that you have when you’re sleeping?
Joe: Yeah, exactly! This was our dream.
Denise: OK. For the sake of argument let’s say I agreed with you. Then what?
Joe: OK. So I forgot breakfast this morning. Little did I know at the time, by the end of the day the apartment would be so filled with food and food prep equipment that it would be impossible to forget breakfast!
Joe: So I stopped at the convenience store to get something. And I picked up a banana, but then it slipped out of my hand. I bent down to pick it up, and there were ten dollars just lying on the floor.
Denise: Your lucky day.
Joe: That’s what the cashier said! He said I should invest it in a lottery ticket.
Denise: Seriously? You’ve never play the lottery.
Joe: Not with my OWN money. So I figured, “What the heck?” and I bought it. And guess what?
Denise: Nine dollars change?
Joe: No, these tickets cost ten dollars.
DenIse: Ten dollar lottery tickets?? If you can afford to pay ten dollars for a lottery ticket you don’t need to win the lottery!
Joe: There are some that cost twenty.
Denise: That’s ridiculous. It’s like a tax on really stupid people.
Denise: Um… sorry.
Joe: We’re getting off track.
Denise: Well, anyway…
Joe: Yeah, anyway, so I bought the lottery ticket. And guess what?
Joe: I won.
Denise: You won?
Joe: Yes! We never have to work again! We can afford to spend all our money on frivolous white elephant ventures that will probably fail, like starting a restaurant in our apartment! And if it trashes our apartment, we can go live on a houseboat! Or six houseboats! Or… something else a really rich person would want to do!
Denise: Wow. I always thought we were really unimaginative. I liked that. It was stable. Then you did this restaurant thing and I thought you were crazy. But it’s actually about the least imaginative thing you could do after winning the lottery.
Joe: Uh… thanks?
Denise: So… so tell me! How much did we win?
Joe: Ten thousand a week for life.
Denise: You’re kidding.
(Joe hands her the ticket)
Denise: Um… you really never have played the lottery before, have you?
Joe: Nope! Could you imagine? The first time I ever played I won the jackpot!
Denise: Are you sure that’s what you won?
Joe: Sure! Look at the top. “$10,000 a week for life” in big letters. Then underneath, where I scratched off, it says, “You won!”
Denise: You have to scratch under that to see WHAT you won.
Joe: What do you mean WHAT I won? This is the ticket for the ten thousand a week.
Denise: Do you have a quarter?
Joe: I have like practically infinite quarters.
Denise: I just need one.
Joe: (Looks through his pockets) I’m out. I guess we’re too rich for cash these days, huh? (Laughs feebly)
(The customer hands Denise a quarter. She scratches the ticket).
Denise: Well, you definitely won.
Joe: We should take a vacation next. Somewhere expensive like Niagara Falls. Or we could BUY Niagara Falls!
Denise: How about we only buy one of those little models of Niagara Falls?
Joe: Hmm. That’s not very extravagant. They only cost, like, what?
Denise: Ten dollars. You won ten dollars.
(Spiro re-enters with a drink in hand)
Spiro: Your Brandy Alexander, madame.
(She downs it and collapses into a chair)
Joe: Did you say ten dollars?
(He sits in another chair. They are on either side of the customer).
Joe: On the bright side, I didn’t lose.
Denise: Just your job. And possibly our home. Oh, and hope for the future. That’s kind of lost at the moment.
Spiro: Your check, sir.
(Spiro places a restaurant checkbook on the table)
Customer: Awwwwwww! ( he points at Denise and Joe, indicating he wants to see how things turn out)
Spiro: I have a feeling that the restaurant is about to close.
( The Customer gets up and puts a Fifty Dollar bill on the table. He looks at Denise and Joe for a moment then walks out. Spiro starts clearing the plates)
Denise: ( sighs ) So…..
Denise: What are we going to do now?
Joe: Honestly, I hadn’t put a lot of thought into anything past this point.
Denise: Can you get your job back?
Denise: What if you ask nicely?
Joe: If you were there… If you had seen what I… I called my boss so many… I mean I smeared his desk with… No, I can’t get my job back.
Denise: Oh, OK.
Joe: You know, in a couple of years we’re gonna look back at this and la…
Denise: No! No we won’t!
( The phone rings, Spiro answers it, after a moment he starts to write something down)
Denise: You know, I really don’t want to hear your voice right now. I don’t want to look at your face. In fact, I kind of wish that you weren’t even here.
Joe: Well that’s a bit of an overreaction.
Denise: ( slowly turns to look at him ) Overreaction? OVERREACTION?! You want an overreaction! Fine! Joe, I want a d…
( Spiro rushes over )
Spiro: Hold on! Hold on! Before anyone says anything they can’t take back….. Something, I don’t know, weird just happened.
( pause while Joe and Denise wait for him to continue )
Denise: What is it already!
Spiro: I just took a reservation.
Denise: A reservation for what?
Spiro: Dinner. A party of six. They said they liked our Yelp review and can’t wait to try us out.
( Joe gets out his phone to look up Yelp )
Denise: What’s a Yelp review?
Spiro: It’s like, you know, when somebody puts up a review on Yelp.
Denise: I think I want to hit you.
Joe: Oh my god! Listen to this! “ The most entertaining night I’ve had in a long time, taking dinner theater to a whole new level, with a cliffhanger for dessert. I’ll be back tomorrow.. The dinner special was so bad it was amazing. I have never been so amused. I have never seen concept art married so closely and so masterfully to dining. Never have I encountered such a stunningly ironic gustatory satire on the inauthenticity and disposability of modern culture as experienced through cuisine. A masterpiece of artistic contempt. Don’t cheat yourself and head over to “Le Chateau du Ailments” for a truly unique experience”
Denise: So… a modern art guy reviewed your restaurant?
Joe: Our restaurant Denise! Our restaurant! And he loved it.
Joe: We can still spend ironic money!
Spiro: He’s got a point.
Denise: And us having an argument over your stupidity…
Joe: Was theatre!
Denise: Like anyone would go to this if it was a play in a theatre. At least it means I get to keep telling you about your stupidity.
Joe: That was going to happen anyway! Now we can get paid for it.
Denise: Joe. How much money do you think we can make doing… this?
Joe: Um. I’m sure we could get….
Spiro: (Looking down at the table) Fifty dollars for a can of spaghettios?
Denise: Spiro, go to Costco and get all the SpaghettiOs you can. Wait -- get the ones with the meatballs.
Spiro: Right away, boss’ wife.
Joe: Wow. Maybe finding that ten dollars was worth it after all.
Denise: No it wasn’t. You’re still in idiot. But let’s milk this for what it’s worth till you can get another real job.
Joe: I can live with that.
(A big sign with ‘The End” written on it descends from the ceiling. Or the play just ends. Up to you).