Full-Length Play

The German Question

A Play by William Fowkes

In the beginning there was ... the spin. 

 

(Original title: THE GERMAN LESSON)


LENGTH: 1 hour 30 minutes (no intermission)

CAST: 3M, 2F (9 characters)

 








The cast of The German Lesson, 2010 Great Plains Theatre Conference Playlabs, Omaha, NE



PRODUCTION HISTORY

 

Presented as THE GERMAN LESSON at the 2010 Great Plains Theatre Conference Playlabs in Omaha, NE on June 2010.

 

First reading (as THE GERMAN LESSON) held at the Dramatists Guild in New York, April 2008

 

 

AWARD

 

Runner-up (as THE GERMAN LESSON) for the 2008 Robert J. Pickering Award for Playwrighting Excellence, Coldwater, Michigan

 

 

SYNOPSIS

      

THE GERMAN QUESTION is about spinning the truth. For many politicians and public relations spin-doctors, the truth is whatever they say it is. Sadly, this strategy works to an astonishing degree. But what happens when those who spin the truth for a living find their lies backfiring in their own lives?  In this play, Trevor Greystone is a prime specimen of the PR species, a professional paid to put the best possible spin on things. Despite his calm exterior, however, we discover that his life is spinning out of control and that he has a plan to free himself from his past and make amends for some of the lies he has committed. In the end, this play is about self-deception, self-knowledge, and authenticity.

 

SETTING 

The Greystone living room in New Rochelle, New York.

 

TIME

2003

 

CAST BREAKDOWN

A Cast of 5

Actor # 1  

Trevor Greystone. Works in PR. Married with daughter. Likeable and easy to please, but secretive. Age 48.

Actor # 2 

Jerry Hobart. Jerry’s neighbor and best friend. Married. A friendly guy. Age 50.

Louie Allemano. Married. Cocky. Obnoxious. A womanizer. Age 40s.

Actor # 3

Chuck O'Brien. College student. Athletic. A bit pushy and goofy. Age 19.

Ira Klopnick. Struggling songwriter. Single. Frustrated, pessimistic, and insecure. Age 30s.

Actor # 4 

German Instructor (voiceover).

Margaret Allen. Single. Timid. Fearful. Age 50s.

Dr. Vivian Sedler. Therapist. Speaks with an accent. Wise and supportive but weary. Age 75.

Actor # 5

Beth Greystone. Trevor’s wife. Intelligent and competent. Hardened by her anger. Age 40s.

 

SCENES

Scene 1. March 2003. A Saturday afternoon. German Instructor Voiceover, Trevor Hudson, Jerry Hobart, Chuck O'Brien, Margaret Allen.   

Scene 2. That evening. Trevor, Ira Klopnick, Louie Allemano, Margaret. 

Scene 3. The next Saturday afternoon. German Instructor Voiceover, Trevor, Beth Greystone. 

Scene 4. FLASHBACK: Two months earlier. Trevor, Dr. Vivian Sedler.

Scene 5. Late March 2003 (two weeks after the beginning of the play). German Instructor Voiceover, Trevor, Beth, Jerry, Chuck, Dr. Sedler.

 

 

 


AN EXCERPT

 

Scene 1: March 2003. A Saturday afternoon. The Greystone family living room in New Rochelle, NY.


A German lesson CD is playing. Trevor Greystone is straightening things up, preparing for company. He imitates the voice on the CD as best he can.   

 

VOICEOVER

Very good. Next question: Ist das Hotel schön? [*Translation: Is the hotel nice?]

                                                           

TREVOR GREYSTONE

Ja, das Hotel ist schön. [Yes, the hotel is nice.]

 

VOICEOVER

Very good. Next question: Ist die Katze blau? [Is the cat blue?]

 

TREVOR

Nein, die Katze ist NICHT blau. [No, the cat is NOT blue.]

 

VOICEOVER

Very good. Next question: Ist das Haus schmutzig? [Is the house dirty?]

 

TREVOR

                                         (suddenly)

Stop!!


Trevor turns off the CD player.

 

TREVOR

Enough already! “Das ist genug!” Why am I doing this to myself?


Trevor goes to look at himself in a mirror.

 

TREVOR

Gott im Himmel! [God in heaven!] Look at you! You’re a mess, Trevor Greystone! I wouldn’t want you. … Look at those bags! Have you been sleeping at all? … And people coming tonight! Why did I agree to that? They’re going to know things aren’t all right—those sick little busybodies!


Trevor sits down. Puts his face in his hands for a moment.

 

TREVOR

                                         (coming up for air—calmly)

Okay. Let’s review.

                                         (slowly—pointing to each body part)

Das Gesicht.

[The face.]

Das Haar.

[The hair.]

Die Augen.

[The eyes.]

Der Mund.

[The mouth.]

Die Ohren.

[The ears.]

                                          (speeding up)

Das Haus.

[The house.]

Die Tür.

[The door.]

Das Fenster.

[The window.]

Das Dach.

[The roof.]

Der Boden.

[The floor.]

Das Auto.

[The car.]

Das Flugzeug.

[The airplane.]

Der Zug.

[The train.]

Die U-Bahn.

[The subway.]

Die Autobahn.

[The highway.]

(fed up)

Ah!!!!!!!

                                                 (calming down)

Okay…deep breaths. … In. … Out. … Good. … Calm. … Am I supposed to serve them food? … Executive decision: no food. Good. … Drinks? … Clearly no alcohol. Water and soda. Period. … Okay, back to my lesson.


Trevor gets up. Turns the CD player back on.

 

VOICEOVER

Geht es dir gut? [Are you all right?]

 

TREVOR

Yes, I’m fine.

 

VOICEOVER

Wirklich? [Really?]

 

TREVOR

YES, REALLY!!

 

VOICEOVER

Okay, then. Next question: Wo ist das Telefon?                               [Where is the phone?]


The doorbell rings.

 

TREVOR

Ach! Ich komme! I’m coming!

 

Trevor opens the door.

 

TREVOR

(acknowledging his visitor)

Wilkommen in meinem Haus! … [Welcome to my house!]

                                       (unsure)

Or is it ZU meinem Haus?

                                       (beat)

Oh, just come in, Jerry!


Jerry Hobart enters hesitatingly.

 

JERRY HOBART

Do I have the right house? The last I checked, the Greystones spoke English.

 

TREVOR

                                         (joking)

Haven’t you heard? We’re becoming polyglots.

 

JERRY

Poly-whats?

 

VOICEOVER

Next question: Wie alt ist Heinrich? [How old is Heinrich?]

 

JERRY

You know, if you go off and join the Nazi party, it’s gonna mean the end of our friendship.

                                           (beat)

What are you doing, anyway?

 

TREVOR

I’m practicing my German.

 

JERRY

I didn’t know you had a German.

 

Trevor turns off the machine.

 

TREVOR

German. Deutsch. The language of Goethe [pronounced Gerta], Hegel, and Brecht.

 

JERRY

Was that a Nazi law firm?

 

TREVOR

Would you please spare me the Nazi jokes?

 

JERRY

That would eliminate half of my repertoire!

 

TREVOR

(exasperated)

I don’t have time for this! There’s more to German and Germany than the Nazis, you know.

 

JERRY

Well, don’t tell my grandparents that—they spent time at Dachau, you know.

 

TREVOR

(suddenly serious)

Oh, I’m sorry, Jerry. You never mentioned that before.

 

JERRY

Yeah—they took a Biscotti Bus Tour of Germany’s concentration camps.

 

TREVOR

Very funny.

 

JERRY

No, seriously—they took lots of pictures.

 

TREVOR

(impatiently)

Okay—why did you stop by?

 

JERRY

I’m your best friend. I don’t need a reason.

 

TREVOR

I’m kind of busy here. I’ve got people coming over tonight—and I’ve got to finish my German lesson.

 

Jerry sits.

 

JERRY

I won’t disturb you. I’ll just sit here. … Don’t mind me.

 

TREVOR

Well… Okay, then.

 

Trevor turns the CD player back on.

 

VOICEOVER

Let’s learn some proverbs: Friendship is golden: Freundschaft ist golden.

 

TREVOR

Freundschaft ist golden.

 

JERRY

(mocking Trevor and the CD)

“Freud’s shaft is golden?” … That’s a bit provocative, don’t you think?   

 

VOICEOVER

Tomorrow is another day: Morgen ist ein neuer Tag.

 

TREVOR

Morgen ist ein neuer Tag

 

JERRY

“Morgan is annoying Tod?” Then tell him to stop already!

 

Trevor turns off the player.

 

TREVOR

                                      (cutting Jerry off)

This isn’t working.

 

JERRY

Maybe you should try harder.

 

TREVOR

Would you mind coming back later?

 

JERRY

I’ll be quiet. I promise.

 

TREVOR

Is Kate’s mother here again? Are you hiding out?

 

JERRY

Where’s Elizabeth, speaking of wives?

 

TREVOR

Visiting her father.

 

JERRY

Again? She was there the last time I stopped by.

 

TREVOR

He’s still ill. Anyway, I’m enjoying the chance to focus on my German.

 

JERRY

There you go again! Your German what? … Shepherd? … Measles? … Potato salad?

 

TREVOR

Bad jokes don’t get any better with repetition.

 

JERRY

Seriously—how’s Beth? I haven’t seen her in ages.

 

TREVOR

She’s fine. Spectacular as always.

 

JERRY

Is she doing this German thing, too?

 

TREVOR

No, just me.

 

JERRY

And Caroline?

 

TREVOR

She already hates French. I’d never get her to study German, too.

 

JERRY

No, I mean how’s she getting on at Brown?

 

TREVOR

Oh, she’s fine. Doing all the usual fun college things—you know, like annoying her roommates; going to football games to watch young men inflict massive injury on each other; waiting till the very last minute to start working on her papers and then pleading for extensions…

 

JERRY

I haven’t seen HER in ages either.

 

TREVOR

You know college kids—you only see them when they run out of money.


Jerry bursts out crying.

 

TREVOR

Why should that upset you? She’s MY daughter. It’s MY money—and I’m fine.

 

JERRY

I’m sorry. I’ve been doing this a lot lately. For no reason, I just start crying.

 

TREVOR

I was just reading something about this in Scientific American. Apparently there’s an enzyme in the male brain that controls emotions. But it starts to dry up as we age—and then, suddenly, we start to cry.

 

Jerry starts crying again.

 

JERRY

So, that’s what you think’s happening to me?

 

TREVOR

Just a hypothesis.

 

JERRY

But I don’t have anything to cry about.

 

TREVOR

I think that’s the point of the article.

                                          (beat)

Also, was machen wir hier?

 

JERRY

What?

 

TREVOR

So, what are we doing here?

 

JERRY

You’re practicing your German, and I’m crying. … Just your typical Saturday afternoon in New Rochelle.

 

TREVOR

And I’m thoroughly enjoying it, but don’t you think we’d each be more successful at our task in private?

 

JERRY

(beat)

I lied.

 

TREVOR

You mean your parents never took that bus tour?

 

JERRY

I said I have nothing to cry about. But I do.

 

TREVOR

Oh? Good—mystery solved!


Trevor turns the CD player back on.

 

VOICEOVER

Everyone needs a family: Jeder Mensch braucht ein Familie.          

                       

TREVOR

Jeder Mensch braucht…

                       

 

JERRY

(cutting him off)

Don’t you want to know what I’m crying about?!

 

TREVOR

Of course not—that’s your personal business.

 

JERRY

But I want to tell you!

 

Trevor turns off the player.

 

TREVOR

(softening)

Of course—tell me.

 

JERRY

Kate’s leaving me.

 

TREVOR

What?! When?

 

JERRY

She doesn’t know I know.

 

TREVOR

Then how do you know?

 

JERRY

Okay, I don’t know she’s leaving me. I just know she’s having an affair.

 

TREVOR

Oh, is that all? Everyone has affairs.

 

JERRY

I don’t! … Wait, are you telling me you’ve cheated on Beth?

 

TREVOR

Not exactly. … Well, it’s complicated.

 

JERRY

What’s going on?

 

TREVOR

It’s nothing! And we were talking about you and Kate. All I’m saying is that if Kate IS having an affair, it may not be anything serious.

 

JERRY

I snuck a look at her emails last night. She’s been exchanging some very hot ones with someone named GreenwichHunk.

 

TREVOR

Oh, people lie on line all the time. It might just be a 13-year old girl.

 

JERRY

Are you saying my wife’s a lesbian?

 

TREVOR

If the girl’s 13, that would make Kate a child molester, not a lesbian.

 

JERRY

(outraged)

Trevor!

 

TREVOR

I’m just saying—you’re getting ahead of yourself. You don’t know anything about this hunky Greenwich person.

 

JERRY

So, you think he really IS hunky? They’re making plans. He invited her to come up to see him in Connecticut this afternoon.

 

TREVOR

That was silly. They could just as easily meet after work one night in the city, and no one would ever know.

 

JERRY

Whose side are you on?!

 

TREVOR

Who has an affair on a Saturday afternoon? Maybe it’s something innocent. Don’t you have a birthday coming up?

 

JERRY

And he may not be the only one.  She goes on line all the time—sometimes for hours on end. I’ve caught her in the middle of the night.

 

TREVOR

Maybe she just has insomnia.

 

JERRY

She doesn’t have insomnia! And if she did, she could read a book.

 

TREVOR

Maybe she doesn’t like to read.

 

JERRY

I know my wife! YOU don’t know my wife!

 

TREVOR

I’m just trying to help.

 

JERRY

And the mysterious appointments. The disappearances. I don’t always know where she is or where she’s been.

 

TREVOR

A person’s entitled to some privacy.

 

JERRY

                                         (exploding)

Trevor! Jesus! What’s the matter with you? Has your perfect little life made you indifferent to the sufferings of us lesser mortals?

 

TREVOR

Who says my life’s perfect?

 

JERRY

You have a perfect wife—you called her “spectacular”—and a brilliant daughter at an Ivy League school. While MY wife’s a cyberspace slut, and my twins are struggling their way through some far-flung branch of SUNY in a town no one’s ever heard of. 

 

TREVOR

(sudden change of tone—dismissively)

I can’t handle this right now.

                                         (irritated)

You’re not the only one with problems, you know!

 

JERRY

What problems?

 

TREVOR

(stiff and formally)

Excuse me, but I have things to do.


Trevor turns the CD player back on.

 

VOICEOVER

Let’s greet some friends: Wie geht es, Herr Schopenhauer? [How are you, Mr. Schopenhauer?]

 

TREVOR

Wie geht es, Herr Schopenhauer?

 

JERRY

Don’t you care? My wife’s leaving me!

 

TREVOR

You’re welcome to follow along. Otherwise, please be quiet.

 

VOICEOVER

Danke sehr gut, Georg. [Fine, thanks, Georg.]

 

TREVOR

Danke sehr gut, Georg.

 

JERRY

Trevor! I’m 50 years old! I can’t start out all over again! I’m ruined!

 

VOICEOVER

Wie geht es, Herr Hegel? [How are you, Mr. Hegel?]

 

TREVOR

Wie geht es, Herr Hegel? 

                                          (to Jerry)

C’mon—try it. You’ll feel better. … Wie geht es, Herr Hegel?                           

                                          (encouraging him)

Wie geht es, Herr Hegel?

 

JERRY

“Bill Gates’ hairy bagel.”

 

TREVOR

Be serious!

 

VOICEOVER

Phantastisch! [Fantastic!]

 

TREVOR

                                        (enthusiastically)

Phantastisch!

 

JERRY

(flatly)

Phantastisch.

 

TREVOR

C’mon, you’ve really got to throw yourself into it.

 

VOICEOVER

Let’s go on a train trip: Wo ist der Bahnhof? [Where is the train station?]

 

JERRY

                                       (screaming with mock enthusiasm)

Wo ist der Bahnhof?!!

 

TREVOR

That’s the spirit!

 

VOICEOVER

Wo ist die Wechselstube? [Where is the currency exchange?]

 

TREVOR

Wo ist die…

                                         (struggling)

Wechsel… die wechsel…

 

JERRY

C’mon, that’s an easy one. Wechselstube! Wechselstube!

 

VOICEOVER

Wo ist die Gepäckaufbewahrung, der Herrentoilette, und die Fahrkartenschalter[Where is the baggage checkroom, the men’s room, and the ticket office?]

 

TREVOR

Are you kidding me?


Trevor gets up suddenly. Turns off the machine.

 

TREVOR

I think that’s enough German for today.

 

JERRY

Jeez—I was just getting into it!


The doorbell rings.

 

TREVOR

Saved by the Glockenklang!


Trevor opens the door. Chuck O’Brien enters.

 

CHUCK O’BRIEN

Hey, Mr. Greystone!


Chuck charges past Trevor into the room. Sees Jerry.

 

CHUCK

Oh, hey, Mr. Hobart!


Trevor addresses the empty doorway.

 

TREVOR

Good to see you, Chuck. Why don’t you come in?


Trevor closes the door. Chuck sits. Makes himself at home. Trevor remains standing.

 

TREVOR

Can I help you?

 

CHUCK

No thanks—I’m not thirsty.

                                          (to Jerry)

How about you, Mr. Hobart?

 

JERRY

No, I’m okay.

 

CHUCK

                                           (to Trevor)

We’re okay.

 

TREVOR

I mean, why did you stop by?

 

CHUCK

Oh—I need to see Mrs. Greystone.

 

TREVOR

She’s not here.

 

JERRY

She’s visiting her father. He’s ill.

 

CHUCK

Oh. … Hey, is it okay if I hang out here for a few minutes?

 

TREVOR

(defeated)

Sure.


Trevor sits.

 

TREVOR

 

So…how’s college treating you? Hamilton, right?

 

CHUCK

No—Colgate.

 

TREVOR

That’s right—they’re right down the road from each other. Beautiful campuses—we checked them both out on our college tour last year.

 

JERRY

Please don’t torture me with tales of beautiful college campuses! All the colleges WE visited had concrete plazas and bars on the windows. … Or was that our prison tour?

 

CHUCK

You took a prison tour? That’s cool!

 

TREVOR

Jerry’s just trying out some new material for his comedy act.

 

CHUCK

(to Jerry)

You’ve got a comedy act?

 

TREVOR

Never mind.

 

CHUCK

Hey, was that German I heard in here?

 

JERRY

Yeah, Trevor’s studying German. But he’s not doing very well.  

 

CHUCK

I’m studying German, too!

 

JERRY

Maybe you could help him.

 

CHUCK

I’m only taking it because of our foreign language requirement. I was sick of Spanish, so I thought it might be cool. But it’s NOT. It’s really hard! Three different genders. All those declensions. And that weird sentence structure—give me a break! Why are YOU studying it?

 

TREVOR

I’m planning a trip to Germany.

 

JERRY

I’m your best friend—how do I not know that?

 

CHUCK

Carrie never mentioned it.

 

TREVOR

Caroline’s not going. Neither is her mother. Just me.

 

JERRY

Oh, it’s a business trip?

 

TREVOR

Well, PERSONAL business.

 

JERRY

I don’t get it.

 

 

[END OF EXCERPT]