Acclimation

Man in ParkaI am working on a short article about Samuel Beckett’s play Krapp’s Last Tape and so this reminded me of a short play I had written about a year ago that I called Acclimation. This is because my friend Kristen McHenry had mentioned that it reminded her of this play. I disagree completely, but she must have been perceptive or I clear, because I did write it after having discovered Beckett’s Act Without Words both I and II, but especially I. In this play, a man is playfully tortured by the universe. He is hot, so a carafe of water is hung down, just out of reach. But the universe provides! A box is lowered. He climbs upon the box, but the carafe is only raised farther up. The play ends with the man giving up, regardless of the hope that the universe tempts him with.

When I discovered the play, I read it again and again. To me, it is as truthful of the human condition as Waiting for Godot. But frankly, far harder to shake. As I thought more and more about it, I got the idea for a similar play that deals with my own very personal battle with the universe: acclimation. It seems I am forever putting on and taking off clothes in order to attain the right temperature. In my case, this is likely due to my misspent youth and its negative effects on my Hypothalamus. But I’m sure at least that there are many menopausal women who relate. The play, of course, is deeper than this. Or not. In some ways it is just a romp: a silly theater piece for a comedic actor. I hope someone enjoys it.

How to Read a Play

I have found that most people have difficulty reading a play, and this one is more difficult than most. A play cannot be read the way a novel is. You must convert every stage direction into an image. So when I write that the man removes his cap with his right hand, you must imagine the man in your head removing the cap with his right hand (which would be on his left as you see him in the theater). Otherwise, you won’t experience the play.

Acclimation
by Frank Moraes © 2010

Dimly lit stage, stronger light focus in the center. A man walks on from stage right and stops just right of the light focus. He is dressed as if he is in the arctic: he wears a parka with a hood and heavy boots. He faces the audience and when he speaks, he addresses the audience directly.

Man: Good evening!

He pulls the hood down to reveal that he is wearing a ski mask.

With his left hand, he pulls the ski mask off his head and drops it on the ground in the light center, while he pulls the parka hood back on. He unzips the parka three-quarters the way down, and then thinks better of it; he zips it back up to half-way up. He reaches inside the parka with his right hand and produces a ski cap at the same time as he pulls the parka hood back with his left. With both hands he puts the cap on and puts the parka hood back up.

He shivers exaggeratedly. He smiles. He thinks for a moment, and then quite suddenly unzips the parka all the way, removes it and throws it on top of the ski mask.

He thinks. He feels his body, and looks concerned. He looks down at the parka and picks it up. He studies it. No. That’s not it. He sees the ski mask. He drops the parka and grabs the ski mask, putting it on his head. He sighs. And then stops.

He pulls the ski mask off with his right hand and then the ski cap with his left hand. He throws the ski cap down on top of the parka angrily and put the ski mask back on. He pets his ski mask from his forehead to the back of his neck, as if brushing his hair back. He is comfortable.

He sits down on the floor and looks at his heavy boots. He looks at the left boot, then the right, then the left again. He pulls the boot off and throws it on to the cloths pile. He smiles and then suddenly becomes concerned. He pulls the ski mask off of his head with his right hand and puts it on his left foot. He thinks about it for a moment, then looks disgusted. He pulls the ski mask off with his left hand and throws it on the pile.

He reaches for the boot he just removed and stops. Then he grabs it and places it next to his left foot. Quickly, he pulls off his left sock and puts the boot back on. He then removes his right boot, removes his right sock, and replaces his right boot.

He jumps to his feet triumphantly, but is quickly concerned. He reaches down into the pile and grabs the ski cap. He places it on his head. Then, without thinking, he begins unbuttoning his shirt. We see a thermal undershirt beneath it. He finishes. He unbuttons his shirt cuffs and starts to take the shirt off before abruptly stopping and sitting again.

He grabs his socks from the pile. He removes his right boot, puts the sock back on, and throws the boot onto the pile. He repeats the process with his left foot.

Again, he jumps to his feet triumphantly, but is again quickly concerned. He reaches down into the pile and grabs the ski mask. He removes the ski cap, throws it on the pile and puts the ski mask back on. He sighs—scratches his right cheek with his right hand through the ski mask.

Impulsively, he rips the shirt off and throws it on the pile. Then he unbuttons his pants and removes them—also throwing them on the pile. Standing in thermal underwear and socks, he hugs himself and dances lightly from one foot to the other. He looks down at the pile of cloths.

He grabs the parka and puts it on, again hugging himself for warmth. Slowly, he releases his grip on himself, as he warms up. Finally, his hands hang down to his sides and the parka is open in the front. He pulls the parka back so it is still on, but no longer covers his shoulders.

Slowly, he pulls the ski mask off his head with his right hand and looks at it. Then he looks down at the ski cap, but gives up the thought. He takes the mask with his left hand and throws it on the pile.

He pulls his right arm out of the parka and then his left arm out. Holding it with his left hand he drops it onto the pile. Standing next to the pile of close with his arms outstretched, he sighs heavily and then smiles broadly.

Man: Good night!

The man grabs all of his cloths and exits stage right.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Acclimation

  1. Maybe it’s because I took a contemporary theater class recently, but I didn’t have any problem reading this. I actually quite enjoyed it, and found myself chuckling at the image of this guy trying every combination of layers he has to get used to the weather. :)

    Kayla

  2. Thank you. I think it would be a good piece for a theater arts student’s senior project. It is the kind of writing that makes me appreciate actors. With the right actor, it would be very good. With a bad actor, it would be horrible.

    I felt I should put the little bit about how to read a play for protection. Also, as I read through it for typos, I noticed I had no idea what was going on because I wasn’t imagining it.

    Thanks again.

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