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November 2, 2010

The Conversion: A play in one act

THE CHARACTERS:

BEN, a boy.

EVAN, a boy.

THE HOST, a host.

MEPHISTOPHELES, a demon.

THE SETTING:

Top Notch Beefburgers, an 80’s-style diner nestled deep in the heart of Beverly, on the South Side of Chicago. BEN and EVAN are sitting in a booth. They look sleepy and comfortable. Between them sit two milkshakes, two halves of an enormous Western cheeseburger, and a turkey patty melt. There is a large painting of an Alpine scene on the wall beside them. BEN’s medium-sized strawberry milkshake is almost full. EVAN’s small-sized chocolate malt is nearly empty. The cry of a fishmonger can be heard. It is growing dark outside. A long truck passes.There is a long silence before either of them speaks. BEN is looking down at his milkshake. EVAN is looking at the painting.

BEN: I should have gotten a small.

EVAN: I should have gotten a medium.

(Pause)

BEN: So what do you think of this place?

EVAN: I really like it. Chicago really doesn’t have nearly enough diners that make me feel like I was born in 1963 (referring to the ubiquitous wood paneling and Tiffany lamp dimness à la “The Family Den”).

BEN: I completely agree. The atmosphere here is really quite strange. I’m not sure I understand anything about it, but it really is quite immersive. Almost surreal, you know? The plants, the lights, the signs, the neighborhood, the clientele…

EVAN: (nodding in agreement) I know.

BEN: (glancing down to the cup of sauce he has been dipping his fries in) And this sauce!

EVAN: (nodding in agreement, and with a Bette Midler-ish intonation) Divine.

BEN: (glancing down at the Western cheeseburger he has been eating) And this burger!

EVAN: (nodding in agreement) Extraordinary. I didn’t know you could put that much cheese on anything. Physically, I mean.

BEN: It does seem to violate a law of nature or two.

MEPHISTOPHELES appears with a clap of thunder.

MEPHISTOPHELES: I’m going to have to disagree with you there, Ben. I found the food to be merely passable, the atmosphere gaudy, and the sheer distance for the average Chicagoan to be a downright offense to the senses.

EVAN AND BEN: (chidingly) Mephistopheles!

EVAN: Now see here, Mephistopheles, I think you are being far too critical! This restaurant has a lot to offer. The food may not be high cuisine, but it is delicious, soulful, and quite reasonably priced. The experience alone is really worth the cost!

BEN: (glancing down at the patty melt, in awe) And these portions!

EVAN: (nodding in agreement) Immense!

BEN: (looks up, meets MEPHISTOPHELES’s eyes) And besides, Beverly is hardly an ordinary neighborhood. Why, the other shops around here seem to be almost as strange as this restaurant here! Certainly there would be value in coming down here for a day, even if you’re just going to explore! Do you remember that strange little antique store? Or that extra-large to extra-extra-extra large clothing depot?

EVAN: I do indeed. I didn’t know you could make vests that large. Physically, I mean.

MEPHISTOPHELES: (with hesitance) It does seem to violate a law of nature or two.

BEN: (chidingly) Quality is more than proximity, Mephistopheles.

MEPHISTOPHELES: I suppose you may be right, boys. This all really does sound quite interesting. I don’t suppose you’d let me have some of your milkshake?

BEN: Help yourself! I should have gotten a small anyways.

EVAN: (ruefully) I should have gotten a medium.

MEPHISTOPHELES takes a sloppy spoonful of BEN’s milkshake and disappears with a clap of thunder and a bevy of quails. The boys chat for a few more minutes, then finally get up and drift over to the far counter where they meet THE HOST and pay for their meal. Money is exchanged. A door opens behind them, and a gust of cold air sneaks in.

THE HOST: (offhand, but sincere) Have a good evening.

BEN AND EVAN: (in unison) Farewell, stay well, eat well!

Somewhere, a door opens. Somewhere another one closes. BEN and EVAN, two boys, step out into the cold night. A siren bleats in the distance. They step into their car and start driving the wrong way to get back home. Nobody knows where they are going, and nobody knows why. Their car slides away into the darkness, and we are left behind. The siren keeps on bleating, getting fainter now, and Top Notch Beefburgers is left perspiring in the evening dew. A cat dies, the curtain falls.

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