Saturday, March 8, 2008

THE GRIEF PROJECT by Suzanne Bachner

VERONICA: I have a project I want to write with you.

SUE: With me?

VERONICA: I have a kernel. The kernel of an idea and I want to collaborate with you.

SUE: I just got rid of a bad Hollywood writing partner. I don’t want to work with someone else. Like that.

VERONICA: Well, really, I want you to write it. It’s about my father. Sort of.

SUE: I love your Dad.

VERONICA: I know you do. That’s why I wanted you to write it.

SUE: Isn’t it too soon? After his death?

VERONICA: I like to say passing.

SUE: I’m sorry, passing. Isn’t it too soon after his passing? To do a project. I mean, for you.

VERONICA: Just meet me. And we’ll talk about it.

SUE (to AUDIENCE): I meet her at a super trendy overpriced health food restaurant in West Hollywood. We sit outside. She drinks iced tea and watches me eat. (to VERONICA) What’s your kernel?

VERONICA: My kernel is this: it’s a short film. It’s called “Visiting Hours.”

SUE: Nice title.

VERONICA: I know. I thought you’d like it. It would be a showcase for me. I’d be the star.

SUE: I thought you said it was to honor your father.

VERONICA: It is. The credits are going to say “In Loving Memory” and all that.

SUE: Okay. Your Dad used to call me Sue “The Bach” Bachner. And I used to call him Charles “The Chuck” Goldfarb. I think he liked that.

VERONICA: That’s why I want you to write this. I thought of you first. I want you to write it and for Kenneth and I to produce it, and he can have a small role in it if there is one, but that’s not important and I’ll star in it.

SUE: I’ve really had pretty bad writer’s block since the divorce.

VERONICA: Oh, sweetie, I’m sorry to hear that.

SUE: And honestly, Veronica, the last time you and Kenneth said you’d produce something, Patrick and I ended up producing it.

VERONICA: That’s just how it worked out. If you really want to move forward, you shouldn’t dwell on the past. I mean, if I were you, I wouldn’t even mention your husband’s name.

SUE: Ex-husband.

VERONICA: You know what I mean. I told Kenneth not to be friends with him anymore.

SUE: They were really close. I told everyone—you included—that I didn’t have a problem with people being friends with him. We’re in a very small community. I would have preferred that Wendy hadn’t slept with him—

VERONICA: Totally breaking the girl rule.

SUE: Yes, but I didn’t want all these other relationships to be casualties just because we split up.

VERONICA: You’re too nice.

SUE: I don’t think so.

VERONICA: You know, your divorce was really tough on me.

SUE: I’m sorry.

VERONICA: It really triggered me.

SUE: Are you worried about you and Kenneth?

VERONICA: Not at all. We’re golden. It just brought up a lot of issues I have because of my parents divorcing when I was six and feeling completely scared and abandoned and rejected and blamed.

SUE: Well, I might have tried harder to work things out with Patrick if I had known this would be so hard on you.

VERONICA: Thanks. Can I taste that?

SUE: Sure. Take some. Let’s get you a plate.

VERONICA: Oh, no. I just want a nibble. No, no fork. I’ll use my fingers.

SUE: You’re like a little bunny.

VERONICA: Kenneth thinks it’s cute.
(VERONICA looks at her Blackberry.)

SUE: Do you have somewhere to be?

VERONICA: No, it’s not that. I just thought that we were going to talk about the project, and not about your problems. I mean, I’m more than happy to talk about that at another time.

SUE: Oh, okay. So you penciled me into today with an agenda.

VERONICA: Exactly. A very worthy agenda. I think you’re the person to write this short.

SUE: Maybe not now. I told you when we first talked…

VERONICA: Let me tell you the kernel.

SUE: Ah, yes, the infamous kernel.

VERONICA: I think you’re going to want to write it once you hear the kernel.

SUE: Okay. Tell me the kernel.

VERONICA: Okay. A woman—me—slips into a coma, maybe she has some kind of tragic accident, I don’t know, we can figure this out. But the short mostly takes place in a hospital—so that way we’re only dealing with basically one location—and this beautiful young woman is in a coma in this hospital and she’s visited by all these random people in her life—the bagel guy she sees every morning, her manicurist, her yoga instructor, her doorman, as well as her family and friends, but it’s the everyday people, salt of the earth kind of regular people who we wouldn’t expect to visit her at all. Those visits, those people, are the heart of the film. And it’s called “Visiting Hours.”

SUE: Yes, you mentioned that.

VERONICA: What do you think?

SUE: Woman in coma gets visited in the hospital by bagel guy.

VERONICA: Yes, basically. In a nutshell. And all the visits are really short and snappy, so we can film them in like half a day and maybe get celebrities or well-known character actors to make cameos. We can draw on the vast pool of talent that Kenneth and I have collaborated with over these past years of being working actors in the business. Like maybe even Eli Wallach would do it.

SUE: Be the bagel guy?

VERONICA: I don’t know. Or something else. What do you think?

SUE: I can’t see Eli Wallach as the bagel guy.

VERONICA: Never mind that.

SUE: So what happens? What happens in the story?

VERONICA: What do you mean what happens? I told you what happens.

SUE: You gave me a kernel.

VERONICA: I said I was giving you a kernel. That’s why I came to you. So that you can figure it out. I just want to act. I just want a project. And I want you to write it.

SUE: Well, I like all the little people coming to visit her and having this connection.

VERONICA: That’s right. A connection.

SUE: I told you that the only people I’m friends with in LA are people outside the business—like my dry cleaner Serge and the lady who works there, Angie. They’re the only real people in LA.

VERONICA: You could put Serge in. Maybe Eli could play Serge.

SUE: But something dramatic has to happen.

VERONICA: I knew you’d be into this.

SUE: Well, right now there isn’t really a story.

VERONICA: I know. It’s a kernel.

SUE: A good short has to have a twist. What if people from her past and people from her future start visiting her too. Like her unborn children. Since she’s dying prematurely.

VERONICA: Oh, that would be interesting.

SUE: I couldn’t tell you exactly what would happen. I’d have to work on it.

VERONICA: I know. That’s what I had in mind.

SUE: Kenneth could play her husband.

VERONICA: He doesn’t really have to be in it. He may want to direct it. But I told him he had to use his own money to finance it if he wants to direct it.

SUE: Well, “it” doesn’t exist yet. But that would be fun. He must have some money from all those sitcoms, right? I know he’s always wanted to direct. And this one’s for Charles, right?

VERONICA: Oh, yeah.

SUE: I just have to question something.

VERONICA: Go ahead. I’m not attached to anything.

SUE: Well, if you want this as a vehicle for yourself, you may not get a lot of mileage out of playing a woman who’s in a coma for the whole film.


SUE: And it’s a little movie of the week, the coma thing. If we’re creating a film to honor your Dad, why don’t we tackle the matter at hand?

VERONICA: What do you mean?

SUE: I think she should have cancer. Like your Dad.

VERONICA: I don’t know.

SUE: When my parents had cancer and I thought I would lose them, all I wanted to do was take their place, be the one who was sick. That helplessness to me is the visiting hours experience. Why don’t we make a movie about that?

VERONICA: So you’re going to write it?

SUE: Yes. (To AUDIENCE.) And I did.


It’s a vise. Once that gripping machine opens and shuts down again there is no escape. First comes the enticement to get in, but then comes the engulfing, the swallowing whole. Just try to be my friend, that’s it, try and keep trying and once you do become my friend try to get away. You cannot, there’s a possessiveness such of which you cannot imagine.

Margie was very smart, and both her parents were doctors – pediatricians. She had a brother Arnold and younger sister Susie. I think her name was Susie. Everyone called Marjorie Samuels “Margie,” although to me she was far too mature – even at fourteen – to be called Margie.

Whatever possessed her to want to be my friend? I don’t know. I had nothing to offer her. She didn’t take French, she took Latin. I couldn’t help her out with French and I didn’t take Latin. I struggled with algebra and it’s quite possible she wanted to help me out. Whatever it was, she did have the courage to approach me; or was it compassion or worse yet, pity, that moved her to reach out to me?

I simply do not recall the details of the circumstances that brought us together. I was quite the loner during my freshman year at Presque Isle High School. She was kind and we laughed a lot. I think she genuinely enjoyed my company. I could be funny at times. Sometimes, even when I wasn’t trying to be funny, I was funny, I guess. I was just different than many of the other kids Margie knew. For one thing, I was bi-lingual and I’d come from a very different world than Margie and her friends knew. I’d never been in Girl Scouts or to a summer camp. But I knew and loved the woods. I’d never even learned how to swim because both my parents didn’t know how and taught me well to fear the water.

Margie could swim and ski and was very athletic. In gym class I was a total klutz. I feared the horse, the trampoline; I couldn’t somersault. Nothing that required my turning upside down was achievable for me. Playing volley ball was disastrous. I was a mess – a self-conscious unplugged kid, who was so out of sync that I must have appeared to everyone a pitiful waif.
But, Margie persisted and so for a brief time we became friends.

One day I invited her to my place. I think she’d wanted to see where I lived. At that time, I lived on Academy Street. I had seen her home, the big spacious white house that was located just at the corner of the University property and right off south Main Street as you head out of town. The University, a branch of the University of Maine located in Orono, was referred to as UMPI – University of Maine Presque Isle. The property was a rambling hilly stretch peppered with traditional looking academic brick buildings with white columns.

The Samuels house was a large almost mansion-sized white house with dark blue shutters. It was carpeted inside except for the spacious kitchen. It felt oddly stifling throughout the rest of the house and this feeling pounced on my sensibilities. Maybe all was not right with this family. Later, Marjorie shared with me that one of her uncles had committed suicide. Wow! This was a very different world than I had known.
I was honored that she felt she could share this information with me.

So, on this particular day after school we walked to my place, the dark, dingy little hole-in-the-wall apartment on Academy Street. Dad was not home and Mom was still working. I think Mom had left some baked brownies on the kitchen counter – so Margie and I had milk and brownies. We talked and then she got up to leave.

“Must you go now?”

“Yes,” she said. “I have to get home.” She put her coat and scarf and hat on and her gloves, took her book bag and headed for the door.

“Don’t leave, please, not yet. Please, Marjorie, don’t go.” And I threw myself between her and the door.

“DeAnn! I have to go home!” And her look became very serious.

I panicked. “No! Don’t go. Not yet.” I hugged the door.

“DeAnn, get away from the door, I’m leaving!”
I saw fear in the eyes behind her glasses. I stepped aside. She opened the door and left.