"If you cant beat 'em, Zen-out."
-Israel Horovitz, It's Called the Sugar Plum

Where's Wally?
    ANNOUNCER: Cambridge. Frank Weeks Simpson, 21 . . . was pronounced dead on arrival last night at Massachusetts General Hospital. He was run down and killed as he slipped under the wheels of a passing automobile on Mount Auburn Street in Cambridge. The pavement was wet from last night's heavy rainfall and Simpson, riding a skateboard, slipped and fell, just as the moving car was upon him. The driver of the car was 22-year old Harvard student Wallace Zuckerman . . .

Thus begins It's Called the Sugar Plum (Dramatist's Play Service), an engaging one act play by Israel Horovitz about the dashed hopes of two college students with underlying narcissistic tendencies. On the one hand, we're presented with Joanna Dibble whose fiance' is the victim we learn of at the play's opening. She's an art student, wrought with anger at the demise of her husband-to-be. On the other hand - balancing Joanna's anger - is Wally Zuckerman, a Lit major who's at once remorseful and relieved over the prior night's incident. Remorseful for obvious reasons; relieved because a respectable judge witnessed the accident, therefore manslaughter charges will likely not be leveled against him.

The action takes place in Wally's apartment. When Joanna shows up to confront the hapless man who's spoiled her plans, she seems genuinely anguished; he, sincerely remorseful. For all appearances they're complete strangers, but under the power of Horovitz's pen things are not always what they seem.

After a few pages of fending off Joanna's anger and accusations, Wally's able to calm her down by turning the conversation to her painting. Joanna, as it turns out is no stranger to Wally. He's familiar with her paintings and saw her on stage in a play. Joanna welcomes the opportunity to talk about herself. Wally has a gift for words, and uses it to wrench some sympathy from Joanna. He speaks in images, playing with the sounds of words. Joanna, the visual artist, is immediately caught up in his seduction, until she realizes he has every newspaper mentioning the accident.

    JOANNA: Every word of it that's in print, you have. You're making a collection. How many other people are you planning to run over? Look at all these blank [scrapbook] pages. How are you going to fill them up?

Wally's nothing if not good at changing the subject. He spars with Joanna, turning the conversation once again. He describes the work he does for a living (hauling meat). He describes it with such romanticism Joanna - stars in her eyes - proclaims, "Meat. I adore meat . . . I think it's beautiful you handle meat . . . It's the essence of life."

"Something finally happened. What in hell do you think

I've been waiting for? Now it's gone . . . Where is Wally?

Huh? Where is Wally in all of this?"

A side of us wants to like Wally, but there is a nagging suspicion he has hidden intentions toward Joanna. His conversation feels staged - a performance - to avoid facing what he's done, accident or not. Joanna welcomes the attention, oblivious to any hidden agenda. Then he strikes: "Joanna, I love you . . . Ever since the play I've loved you." Joanna - on the rebound? - reciprocates.

The story could end there, leaving one to wonder if the death of the fiance' wasn't accidental. That's not enough for Horovitz. Not one to paint characters without questionable mores, just pages before the play's end it's revealed that Joanna went to the papers that morning and in tabloid-style confession, shared the most intimate details of her relationship with the victim. This enrages Wally, and we see them both for what they are: publicity mongers. She's furious over the picture they ran of her; she gave them a stack to choose from. He's furious because his story - his fifteen minutes - is being over-shadowed by hers.

    WALLY: I sit in the rooms. I cram my head fat with nothing at all. Why? Don't you understand? Something finally happened. What in hell do you think I've been waiting for? Now it's gone. It's gone. It's nothing . . . Where is Wally? Huh? Where is Wally in all of this?

In the end, they really do deserve each other. As the play closes, Wally is spinning another story. He promises Joanna he'll take her to see the sunrise, and a boat called the Sugar Plum. "It's called the Sugar Plum," he tells her. "The Sugar Plum." Then, quizzically, "I think it's called the Sugar Plum," and we're confident it is not.

posted 02/11/01