The Dream (rev. 1)

The Dream by
John Burnham

Characters:
Todd Overlander: Mid thirties, lawyer Todd’s ex wife: Mid thirties
Gus: Indeterminate age, Psycho-Therapist

Setting:
The first scenes are in Gus’ office. The last scene is in Todd’s office.

Props and Sets:
Gus office: The furniture is two comfortable chairs and a coffee table. There are no diplomas on the wall—there could be tribal masks or new age art. There are two doors.

Todd’s office: Smallish space, the furnishings typical for a lawyer in the early phase of his career.

Synopsis:
Todd Overlander has been diagnosed with ALS. His wife divorces him and his work suffers. A therapist brings him out of depression with unorthodox therapies.

Costumes:
Todd wears different clothes for each scene—mostly dark, conservative business suits. He might wear casual attire for one or two scenes. In all instances, he should appear neat, but not expensive.
Gus wears a different, colorful shirt for each scene. In all scenes he is wearing a Rastafarian hairdo, conservative slacks, and slippers with bunny-rabbit nose and ears.

Italicized lines are character’s thoughts or internal dialogue.

 

Scene 1
SETTING: Gus’ office
Lights up on the main stage where Todd stands as if he’d just walked in. One of the doors is open.

RECORDED WOMAN’S VOICE: The doctor will be right with you.

The door closes. Todd looks around.

RECORDED VOICE of TODD:

Maybe seeing a shrink the first thing today isn’t a bad idea. It’s not my first choice, but the boss might be right; I should talk to somebody.

(Gus enters through the other door. Todd looks at him with mild surprise and stops dead at the sight of the slippers. Gus extends a hand.)

GUS:
Good morning, Mr. Overlander. May I call you Todd?

(Todd’s attitude is pouty and petulant.)

TODD: Uh, sure.

GUS:
Thanks Todd. I’m Gus. Please be seated.

(Both men seat themselves.)

RECORDED VOICE OF TODD:

Okay, bug guy, let’s get on with the “How are we feeling?” or “What do you think?” crap.

GUS:
I see you’re not thrilled to be here. Can you tell me why?

TODD:
It’s not that I don’t want to be here particularly. I don’t enjoy being anywhere. My life is in the tank.

GUS:
‘Life is in the Tank’—That’s a good turn of phrase. But, I want you to know that you don’t have to be here if you don’t want to. The last thing I want is to add to your discomfiture.

(Todd begins to warm slightly.)

TODD:
Aaah, It’s not about what I want or don’t want. I know several cops who say you’re the reason they were able to navigate rough water. I don’t doubt that you’re good, but I spent all my time in those required psych classes thinking Freud and Jung were class A jerks.

GUS:
I know nothing about their characters, but I don’t find anything useful in their hypothesis.

(Todd registers surprise.)

TODD:
You mean you’re not going to suggest my mom is to blame for all this?

(Gus registers amusement.)

GUS:
Hardly. If that’s what you are dreading, I’ll promise to not probe your background. Let’s talk about the here and now. Getting back to what you said about your life being in the tank, was this morning particularly ‘tanky’?

TODD:
You might say that.

GUS:
Would you care to describe it for me in detail?

(Todd begins to relax.)
TODD:
I suppose. I reached out to shut the alarm clock off. Every muscle seemed to hurt—like I’d been playing soccer. But that wasn’t the case. It has been five, or six months since the guys let me know they were getting a game up. They never go that long without a game There must have been a game—maybe two —but somebody “forgot” to invite me. Funny, how people seem to “forget” you when you’re down. The soccer thing was probably one more instance. So, I wondered, what’s with this aching in all my muscles? Is this the start of things getting bad? I looked at the dresser. The letter was still there. It’s the official notice that my divorce is final.

(Todd falls silent, looking at his hands. Gus studies him compassionately for awhile.)

GUS:
Have you had any odd, strange, or out-of-the ordinary experiences lately?.

(Todd looks at Gus in disbelief.)

TODD:
How th…th…well, how did you know?

(Gus smiles inscrutably.)

GUS:
I don’t ‘know’ anything specific. It is common for people in your situation to have unusual experiences that give me clues to how I can help.

TODD:
Had a weird dream a coupla nights ago…

(Todd’s voice trails off suspiciously.)

GUS:
Care to tell me about it?

TODD:

Well, it was more like a feeling than a dream. I dreamed that I woke up feeling really good — not about anything in particular — just good all over and good about everything around me. Actually, it was great.
GUS: (interrupting)

You say it was a dream. You didn’t actually wake up to experience this?

TODD:
It must’ve been a dream. I can’t imagine anything like that actually happening. But, it was different from other dreams. Everything around me looked normal. There was none of the usual dream stuff. I was just lying there in the dark, enjoying the way it felt. There was no sense of time. I don’t know if it lasted a few seconds or several hours.

GUS: (jumping in as Todd hesitates)
Care to elaborate on why you ‘can’t imagine anything like that actually happening?

TODD: (has difficulty answering)
I haven’t articulated the whole disaster to anybody. Maybe it will help if I do. I can’t imagine feeling good again. Two years ago, I went to the doctor about some tingling and numbness. He ordered tests. The diagnosis came back ALS. A few weeks ago, my divorce became final.

(Again, Todd falls silent and Gus studies him.)

GUS:
You don’t look like somebody who was diagnosed with ALS two years ago.

TODD:
Yeah, I haven’t noticed any actual change. As I said, I felt achy all over this morning. That might be the start of things getting bad.

GUS:
So, you haven’t experienced any physical changes?

TODD:
No, but it is hell waiting for it to happen. Thinking about it is affecting my work. Concentrating on anything is difficult when all I’ve got to look forward to is losing my faculties.

GUS:
Thank you for sharing this with me. I know it’s been difficult. I won’t ask for more. Instead, I’d like to propose a little exercise.

TODD: Exercise?

GUS:
Yes, I’d like to propose you bring that dream to mind every time you start thinking about the ALS or the divorce.

(Todd doesn’t reply; Gus watches him.)

GUS:
I think that’s enough for today. Why don’t we end the discussion here?

TODD:

Yeah, I would like to get out of here. I’ll think about what you said.

(Lights fade)

SCENE 2
(Lights up on main stage where both men are seated wearing different apparel.)

GUS:
How was last week?

TODD: (less compliant than he was at the end of the previous scene) Not much different.

GUS:
Did you think about the dream?

TODD:
Hey, it’s tough to think about a dream when you know you’re going to die soon.

GUS:
Exactly what was your doctor’s prognosis? I mean how much time do you have left?

TODD:
The…uh…doctor…er…didn’t exactly give me a time frame.

GUS:
Then, how do you know your death is imminent?

TODD: (exasperated)

Dammit! People always die from ALS! It’s just a matter of time.

GUS: (patiently)
Dammit yourself. My death is just a matter of time and I don’t have ALS. You don’t know for certain that you will die before I do, now do you?

TODD: (petulantly)
I’m certain to die before you do.

GUS:
Why are you so certain? Is the disease progressing?

TODD:
Er…not exactly.

GUS:
So, are you not allowing a phantom — something for which you have no substantial evidence — to dominate your thinking and control your attitude?

TODD:
But…the doctors…the diagnosis…what am I supposed to think?

GUS:
Your reaction is quite typical. I don’t fault you for it. What I’m asking is that you examine the thoughts of your impending demise and ask if they serve you.

TODD:

Serve me?

GUS:
Yes, are they a benefit or a detriment? Do they lift you up or push you down?

(Todd studies Gus for a moment and then looks around the room as he ponders.)

TODD:
It’s no question that they push me down, but I’ve never thought of having a choice.

GUS:
Most people don’t think they have a choice about what goes on inside their heads, but we do. We can choose what occupies our thinking. How do you feel when you think about the ALS and the divorce?

TODD:
Depressed, despondent.

GUS:
Do you like that feeling?

TODD: Hell, no

GUS:
And, how do you feel when you think about that dream?

TODD:
Pleasant, comforted.

GUS:
Do you like that feeling?

TODD: Certainly

GUS:
Now imagine yourself in a video store. As you look at the titles, you recognize that you will enjoy some of the stories while you won’t enjoy others. Which group will you pick from?

TODD:
The enjoyable ones, of course.

GUS:
In that situation, you pick something that serves you without thinking about it, don’t you?

TODD: Yeah…I guess.

GUS:
So, why not exercise the same sort of prudence regarding the videos that run in your head all the time? When you find thoughts about the ALS or the divorce creeping into your mind, Think about that dream. Dwell upon it. Work at reliving how good it made you feel. Visualize yourself living an experience that would make you feel that way.

TODD:
Hey, I’m not into New Age hocus-pocus.

GUS:
New Age? What do you think Abraham Lincoln meant when he said ‘People are about as happy as they want to be?’

TODD:
I donno. What do you think he meant?

GUS:
I think he was suggesting that we create our own environment with our attitudes. It’s not ‘New Age.’ It’s ancient wisdom that can be found in most cultures, from the very ancient to the modern.

TODD:
Do you mean I can just think about that nice dream and everything will turn around?

GUS:
No, I’m not giving you a recipe to make things better. What I am saying is that you can make a conscious decision to occupy your mind with negative or positive thoughts. Negative thoughts will lead to depression. Positive thoughts will open your mind to possibilities. You can make the inside of your head a garden or a wasteland; it is your choice. Reliving the feelings of that dream will cultivate the garden.

(Gus rises)

GUS:
Think about it. Come up with some arguments. I’ll see you next week if you want.

(LIGHTS FADE)

SCENE 3
SETTING: Gus’ office.
(Lights up on main stage where both men are seated wearing different apparel.)

GUS:
How was last week?

TODD: (more agreeable than before)
Better. It does sort of work to think about the dream instead of my situation. I think I’m concentrating on my work better. That is, unless I get to thinking about my wife. I can’t seem to shake going around in circles about that.

GUS:
Was the divorce connected with the ALS?

TODD:
Yes…no…sort of…I guess it had been coming for a long time. The ALS was the catalyst.

GUS:
‘Catalyst’ is an odd choice of words.

TODD:
Well, she wasn’t happy with me working for the Public Defender’s office. She wanted me to practice a more lucrative form of law. She hated my pro bono work. The longer we were married, the more dissatisfied she seemed to be with everything I did.

GUS:

Would it be too painful to give me some examples?

TODD:
I guess not. I was already working for the Public Defender’s office when we were married. Our first big argument was when we sat down to work out our budget. She was…was…well…I guess incensed is the word. She was incensed that any lawyer would bring home—as she put it—such a puny pay cheque. She said I should start looking for a better paying position immediately. I told her it wasn’t about the money. I tried to explain that I became a lawyer because I wanted to help people who needed a lawyer but couldn’t afford one.

GUS:
What was her reaction?

TODD:
She looked at me like I was from Mars and stomped out of the apartment. I think she went to see her mother.
Every month thereafter we had a fight. She’d load up the credit card and I’d try to explain that we couldn’t afford some of the stuff. She’d counter that I could make enough money to easily cover her purchases if I just would. Sometimes, she’d prepare for these exchanges by getting me a job interview that she’d spring on me while we were arguing.

GUS:
SHE would arrange a job interview for you?

TODD:
It could have been her dad that did the actual arranging. He’s fairly well connected.

GUS:
Did you go to the interviews?

TODD:
Most of them.

GUS:
Did they actually offer you more money?

TODD:
Upon occasion, numbers were suggested that were more than I was making, but I never let the conversation get around to an actual offer. Since I wasn’t interested, that would have been unfair. I tried to make it clear, as soon as possible, that while I appreciated their time, the interview was a mistake.

GUS:
What happened when you got home?

TODD:
The shit hit the fan. Quite similar to what happened if she found out I was doing pro bono work.

GUS:
Do you do a fair bit of that?

TODD:

Yeah. I’d do it all the time if I could afford to.

GUS:
Did you two talk about why you went into law and where you wanted to take the practice before you were married?
(pause)

TODD:
No, I don’t guess we did.

GUS:
After it became apparent that you two had widely differing goals, did you discuss separation?

TODD:
She threatened to leave a couple of times.

GUS:
And, your response?

TODD:
I don’t threaten very well.

GUS:
She must have been quite frustrated.

TODD:
You might say that.

GUS:
So the ALS was a last straw?

TODD:
Yeah, I should have seen it coming, but I was surprised when it did.

GUS:
Can you recall exactly when and how you finally knew?

(Todd swallows hard.)

TODD:
Yeah, one day, I was working at my computer. I had the headset on and hit the button to make a call. Instead of a dial tone, I heard her voice on the upstairs extension. Not wanting to disturb her with clicks and pops, I waited for her to finish the sentence before I broke in and excused myself. As she finished the sentence, I hit the mute button instead. She had just said, ‘I don’t intend to be anybody’s care-giver.

GUS: (interrupting Todd) You were eavesdropping?

TODD:
I hadn’t meant to snoop, but I continued to listen. Sure enough, her intention was to bail on me. Over the next few months, I tried to bring the subject up numerous times so she could tell me what she was really feeling. She reacted to the first few attempts with frustration. Then, the reaction turned to anger and finally, hostility. One day, there was a registered letter from her lawyer waiting for me at the office. It stipulated that divorce proceedings were underway and requested I remove my belongings when I came home that evening. The lawyer I retained that day advised me to comply. She was never satisfied with anything I did! I can’t believe I didn’t know what she was like before I married her. Several people told me she was running around, but I wouldn’t listen. Even before the ALS hit me, she was prospecting for someone else! That’s why I used ‘catalyst.’ The ALS gave her justification for what she’d wanted to do for a long time.

GUS:
Do you suppose, Todd, that’s all she had to work with?

(Todd registers shock.)

TODD: What?

GUS:
Please consider this possibility. People usually do the best they have with what they’ve got. Some people have the capacity for altruism, some can’t get beyond self-interest.

(Todd becomes miffed, replies in a growl.)

TODD: And?

GUS:
Perhaps you didn’t actually know her. Perhaps the person you thought you were marrying was an ideal of your own construction. While her actions may be less than honorable, they might be the best she can do.

TODD:
So, I was a complete fool, marrying somebody I didn’t even know.

GUS:
Hardly We all do it. Are you familiar with the song “I Never Was The Man I Used To Be?”

TODD:
I don’t think so. Who was the artist?

GUS:
Boxcar Willie.

TODD: Boxcar?

(Gus shows amusement.)

GUS:
You’re not a country music fan?

TODD:
Jazz is more my thing.

GUS:
No matter. That song is about a guy who can’t live up to what his wife remembers him to be. It’s an accurate commentary on most marriages. We spend a lot of time being disappointed in the other person because they don’t measure up to what we thought they were. There is no real failure on either side. It is a natural consequence of how we are equipped. Your creating an unrealistic picture of your ex before you were married is part of being what you are. In fact, it may be a trick of nature. I wonder if any children would be conceived if we could see one another as we actually are when we are courting.
The challenge before you now is to see the situation without assigning fault. She went into the relationship without realizing what was important to you. You went into it without knowing what she had to work with.

(Todd is sullen.)

TODD:
I’ll think about it.

(Lights fade)

SCENE 4

SETTING: Gus’ office
(Lights come up on Todd and Gus sitting in the office.)

GUS:
Well Todd, what’s it been since our first chat, five, six, weeks?

TODD:
This is week six.

GUS:
I suppose it’s time you tell me if you think it’s been a worthwhile investment of your time.

(Todd looks around uncomfortably, squirms a bit, becomes resigned.)

TODD:
I guess it’s time to come to jesus; I gotta admit you’re right. I do have a choice about how my mindscape is going to look. And, it is a win-win situation. If I concentrate on making my thoughts a garden and something totally unforeseen happens to get my life out of the tank, I’ll have saved myself a lot of grief during the interim. On the other hand, if nothing changes, I will have lost less because I wasn’t miserable.

GUS:
That’s a good way to put it. I’ll have to write it down.

TODD:
Occupying my mind as you suggested was tough at first, but I’m surprised at how easy it’s getting. Your shock therapy seems to be working.

GUS:
“Shock Therapy?”

TODD:
Yeah, every session is pretty much the same. I talk a little bit and then you make a shocking statement that sends my mind into uncharted territory.

GUS:
That’s an interesting observation. I’ll have to think about it.

TODD:
Don’t tell me the technique isn’t planned.

GUS:
The truth of the matter is that I don’t plan the sessions. I’m not enough of an egotist to think my education or intelligence has the resources to help you. All I can do is to listen.

TODD:
But you make suggestions and give us “things to think about.”

GUS:
You’re not the only one I’m listening to. As you talk, I try to listen for the voice of the universe, the non-local intelligence, god, or whatever you want to call the power that’s higher than us. If I’m successful, I’ll hear what you need to hear.


TODD:
But…but…anyone could do that. You wouldn’t need all the degrees you have and the training you’ve gone through.

GUS:
It is indeed unfortunate that one must jump through all those hoops to be in a position to apply wisdom that’s available to anyone.

TODD:
I wonder if that’s why those other guys you’ve helped won’t talk about exactly what you did.

GUS:
They don’t? That’s interesting. Can you elaborate?

TODD:
A good example is my boss. He used to be a real micro-manager. He was a supreme pain in the ass; you couldn’t make a move without checking with him. He started coming to you after his son committed suicide. Now, he’s happy to let us do our own thing until we figure we need help. He has this plaque on his desk that reads “Don’t think of me as the boss. Consider me the navigator on the sea of confusion.” And, he lives by it.
When he noticed that the ALS and the divorce were getting me down, he offered to set things up for sessions with you. At first, I declined. When he kept offering, I kept asking him exactly what you did. To this day, he’s never told me. Although he gives you full credit for getting him out of the dumps, he won’t talk about exactly what you did.
The cops I talked to were the same deal: full credit for helping them through rough waters but not a peep about exactly what you did. Do you swear your patients to a code of silence?

(Gus laughs heartily.)

GUS:
If they told you, it would only add to your confusion. I didn’t tell any two of them the same thing. Each person is unique. No two people need exactly the same thing. What you need and the order in which you need it depends upon so many factors that it is quite beyond the processing power of the human mind. All I can do is listen and relay the information.

TODD:
So, what are you hearing today?

(Gus’ eyes twinkle)

GUS:
It’s a zinger. I’ve been wondering how to introduce it. Are you ready?

TODD: Fire away.

GUS:
Go there now and never leave. Dwelling from, not upon, the space you intend to inherit is the fastest way to change absolutely everything. Be it done unto you exactly as you believe.

(Todd ponders, Gus remains silent.)

TODD:
Boy, that’s a mouthful. How did you come up with that?

GUS:
That’s not an original. It’s a quote.

TODD: From who?

GUS:
I wish I could remember.

TODD:
Lay it on me again.

(Todd pulls pen and paper from his pocket and writes furiously as Gus repeats.)

GUS:
Go there now and never leave. Dwelling from, not upon, the space you intend to inherit is the fastest way to change absolutely everything. Be it done unto you exactly as you believe.

(LIGHTS FADE)

SCENE 5

SETTING: Gus’ office

(LIGHTS UP. Todd is sitting comfortably, looking around.)

(Gus enters, Todd displays genuine pleasure at seeing him.)

GUS: Hi Todd.

(Gus seats himself and looks at Todd. He grins.)

GUS:
Tell me the great news!

TODD:(looks baffled.) How’d you know?

GUS:
I don’t ‘know’ about anything specific. Your aura tells me you are basking in a glow of happiness. Whatever made you this happy is good news for both of us.

TODD:
When I was going on eighteen months without any change in the symptoms, my specialist began to wonder. As he reviewed the original tests and diagnosis, he found a few things that didn’t make sense.

(Gus holds a hand up)

GUS:
Didn’t he make the original diagnosis?

TODD:
No, My General Practitioner ordered the tests and they were interpreted by someone on the hospital staff.

GUS:
Ok, sorry to interrupt. Please go on about this latest visit with your specialist.

TODD:
In his opinion, the test results could mean ALS, but there was room for doubt. During the past couple of months, he ran a battery of ALS-specific tests. Not one of them has come back positive. I don’t have ALS! Since he told me, I’ve been living the feeling I had in that dream. I feel really good, not about anything in particular, just good all over and good about everything around me. It’s wonderful! The days are a euphoric buzz: I relate my good fortune to everyone who will listen. A few of my colleagues make noises about malpractice suits, but what can you expect? They’re lawyers, probably doing the best they can with what they’ve got. I couldn’t wait to tell you.

(Gus sits back and regards Todd fondly. There is a period of silence.)

TODD:
Do you remember telling me, ‘Dwelling from, not upon, the space you intend to inherit is the fastest way to change absolutely everything?

GUS:

Yes.

TODD:
Do you think I changed things by trying to occupy my mind with the good feeling in that dream?

GUS:
Some of the people who study such things are convinced we create our own reality by what we allow to preoccupy our minds.

TODD:
What do you think?

GUS:

I think my opinion is not important for anyone but me. I think you need to concentrate on the reality of this experience. Don’t worry about why or how; just enjoy what is happening.

TODD:
Where do I go from here?

GUS:
I don’t know, but you will—when the time is right.

(LIGHTS FADE)

SCENE 6

SETTING: Todd’s office

(Todd is seated at the desk in his office.) (LIGHTS UP. The phone rings, Todd picks it up.)

TODD:
Todd Overlander.

RECORDED FEMALE VOICE:
Oh, Todd, I just heard! It’s wonderful. You must be so happy.

(Todd registers that he is not happy to hear her voice)

TODD:
Yes, I am that.

RECORDED FEMALE VOICE:
I’m so glad for you! A wonderful person like you doesn’t deserve an awful disease.

TODD: Thanks.

RECORDED FEMALE VOICE:
Uh, I have a letter for you. I opened it by mistake.

TODD:
Probably junk mail.

RECORDED FEMALE VOICE: No, it’s from a law firm.

TODD:
Did you read it?

RECORDED FEMALE VOICE:
You know, I had this handful of letters. I slit them all open and started pulling the contents out to stack the bills together and throw the junk away and…

(Todd gets angry)

TODD:
And, you looked at the contents of the letter before you realized it wasn’t for you?

RECORDED FEMALE VOICE:
Yes, yes, that’s just really what happened.

TODD:
Ok, so what did it say?

RECORDED FEMALE VOICE: It regards a Helen Bethune.

TODD:
I remember; a typical case of someone who genuinely needed a lawyer not being able to afford one.

RECORDED FEMALE VOICE:
It seems she had some money but didn’t know it.

TODD:
Incredible. She lived on the poverty line since her husband died.

RECORDED FEMALE VOICE: Where will that money go?

(Todd struggles to maintain a civil tone)

TODD:
Lawyers will probably eat it up.

RECORDED FEMALE VOICE:
But…you’re a lawyer. Does this mean that all the pro bono work you did is starting to pay off?

TODD:
What ‘this’ means is more paperwork for me. The chances of my seeing any of the money are next to nil. Please reseal the envelope, mark it ‘Please Forward’ and drop it in the box.”

(Todd laughs at the absurdity of his getting any money from the Bethune estate.)

RECORDED FEMALE VOICE:
I was hoping you’d come by and pick it up.

(Todd becomes angry again)

TODD:
Just reseal the damn thing and forward it to me.

RECORDED FEMALE VOICE:
But…but…I’ve been thinking. I…ah I think…like…we may have been a little hasty. I’d like to see you so we can talk.

TODD:
If you want to talk, I’d suggest you hang up and call somebody who cares.

(Todd hangs the phone up and sits there, looking at it. He’s not happy with himself. He continues to look at the phone. After a time, it rings again. Todd recoils, reaches for it, hesitates, and finally picks it up. He answers hesitatingly)

TODD:
Todd Overlander.

VOICE OF GUS:
Gus here, Todd. Something’s come up. I’d like to cancel our session tomorrow if you are amenable.

TODD:
Um…well…sure. I hope it’s noting serious. Er…we are on for next week…for sure?

VOICE OF GUS:
There’s no crisis, just the regular stuff that comes with raising kids. You sound disappointed. I can juggle things if you need a chat.

TODD:
No, there’s no need for you to rearrange things. Your request took me by surprise, that’s all. I just said something ugly to my ex. I don’t want to be that way.

VOICE OF GUS:
But, you do have the tools to change it now, don’t you?

TODD:
Yes. “Go there now and never leave. Dwelling from, not upon, the space you intend to inherit is the fastest way to change absolutely everything. Be it done unto you exactly as you believe.”

(LIGHTS FADE)

—30—

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