Pleasure Machine, a play by David NGUYEN

David Nguyen

(This play was originally performed in FronteraFest 2013)

FronteraFest

ABOUT
Pleasure Machine, by David Nguyen. Eddie has a good life: A loving relationship, a lifelong friend…He is happy and content with his life. While he isn’t one to complain, he finds it curious how his life has ended up so nicely. Through light conversation, he explores the idea that his life may not be all that it seems.

 

Scene 1
(EDDIE and JULIE are comfortably in love.)

EDDIE
Why are you with me?

JULIE
What are you talking about?

EDDIE
Why are you with me? You’re beautiful. Kind. Compassionate. You accept me for all of my faults. And then you tell me they aren’t faults. They’re just…me.

JULIE
That’s the thing. It’s you. I can’t explain it any way else. I could be kind and compassionate to any man, but it’s simply you I want. I don’t know what else there is.

EDDIE
But look at me. I’m not exactly the most handsome man in the world.

JULIE
Oh, Eddie. You should know better than that, to think that looks are the only thing important.

EDDIE
I know that looks aren’t the thing, but it’s not nothing either.

JULIE
Eddie, stop being so insecure with yourself. One day I might just get fed up with it.

EDDIE
I just had to ask. To be honest, I’m not so insecure. You’ve made me the confident man I am today. I am me. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

JULIE
That’s it.

EDDIE
What?

JULIE
That’s why I’m with you.

EDDIE
I wasn’t confident in the beginning.

JULIE
Don’t make things difficult. Just be. With me.

EDDIE
Why are you with me? I hope we stay together.

JULIE
Why would you say something like that?

EDDIE
I can’t predict the future. As well as things are going now, I can’t say whether or not it will remain so.

JULIE
Yes, but you can say that for anything, so what’s the point of thinking about it?

EDDIE
That’s a foolish question.

JULIE
Excuse me?

EDDIE
For one thing, we can’t disregard the future just as we can’t forget our past. Haven’t you heard by now that we can learn from our past to avoid mistakes in the future?

JULIE
But I’d rather live in the moment. Haven’t you heard of that one?

EDDIE
That can’t be constant.

JULIE
Why not? Why can’t you just take it moment by moment and deal with things as they go along.

EDDIE
Such European sensibilities…

JULIE
Oh, don’t label it like that. This idea is no more European than it is human.

EDDIE
What if the moment that leads to your death comes along? And for the sake of the argument, death is unavoidable. But you could have avoided it had you looked out for it in the first place.

JULIE
Well of course I would try to do the obvious thing to avoid death.

EDDIE
Well then you can’t very well live moment to moment. That has to take planning. Foresight.

JULIE
Don’t take things so strictly.

EDDIE
There’s hardly anything to argue if you don’t define your intentions well enough. And for another thing, we are allowed to hope, no?

JULIE
Yes, of course.

EDDIE
And so, without any knowledge of the future, I will do the best I can to keep your heart. And I hope I am successful.

JULIE
You know, it is probably naïve of me to think that we would find no troubles down the line. But when I’m with you it’s as if nothing else in the world can harm me.

EDDIE
I think there’s truth in that statement.

JULIE
Whatever happens, I have a strong feeling that we’ll be together in the end. Definitely by age seventy.

EDDIE
Seventy! Let’s hope we’re not dead by then. You never know when that moment will strike.

JULIE
With all your planning, I’m sure we’ll be fine.

EDDIE
You’ll hit seventy before I do. Do we both have to be at least seventy or just you?

JULIE
Just me. A few years won’t matter to you and I’m sure you’ll be happy to return to me.

EDDIE
It’s almost like you’re granting me permission! I could very well refuse your advances, I’ll have you know.

JULIE
Oh, Eddie. In that moment neither of us will be able to refuse each other. But you know that man is powerless against woman.

EDDIE
Oh, really!

(JULIE runs off, with EDDIE in gleeful pursuit.)

(End scene 1)

Scene 2
(MARK and EDDIE are conversing.)

MARK
Life is good.

EDDIE
You don’t have to tell me that.

MARK
How can I complain when after a day of work, enjoyable work no less, I can meet up with you and have a
strong drink?

EDDIE
I’d say you can’t complain at all. Cheers.

MARK
Cheers.

EDDIE
How’s the album coming along?

MARK
Good news all around. As you know I’m getting the master tracks done. Already the couple tracks that are done sound great. But that’s not even the best of it all. I sent a demo to an agent and they want to see me play. They’re coming to my gig on Saturday night.

EDDIE
Fantastic. An agent! You’re really moving up. Getting somewhere.

MARK
Yes. I really am getting somewhere. I’m doing it. And that’s the best part.

EDDIE
Doing it?

MARK
Yes. Anyone can dream all they want, but it takes a real man to do it. To take action and at least try to accomplish your desires. I think that’s what separates the strong from the weak.

EDDIE
Oh, so am I weak?

MARK
Of course not, Eddie. You are in the midst of accomplishing your own desires. And you’re doing quite well, it seems. I’m not saying that you have nothing else to do in life, but I can remember you talking about wanting to be married ever since we were barely teenagers. I’ve always thought it was an odd thing for a man to want as his life goal, hardly ambitious in my view, but you do seem genuinely happy to be with Julie.

EDDIE
I am. I can’t imagine life without her.

MARK
How cliché.

EDDIE
It’s the truth. The beautiful truth. And it is ambitious. What makes maintaining a loving and lasting relationship any less valuable than achieving acclaim for one’s music?

MARK
I suppose you’re right. I was just never really into love.

EDDIE
You should try it. It’s euphoric.

MARK
Hm. It’s hard for me to imagine myself in a state of euphoria. It’s hard enough enjoying my current life without thinking about all that’s wrong in the world.

EDDIE
I guess it is kind of weird. I can’t really say I’ve felt much hardship in my life. My family’s well-off. Well-off enough to where we don’t have to worry about paying our bills. I’ve got great support. Friends like you. Everything just kind of fell into place for me.

MARK
Lucky man, Eddie.

EDDIE
Lucky. Super lucky, hm?

MARK
I guess so.

EDDIE
I mean, everything is working out for me. I’m in a happy relationship. I’m healthy. I’m…happy.

MARK
You sound like you’re not happy about being happy.

EDDIE
No, I am. It just seems almost too good to be true. We hear about those who live in poverty or those who starve or whatever else there is, and those people are really suffering. Not to mention the mere act of death. You can say the dead are at peace, but their families will suffer. Their friends. Or just even people who can’t pay their bills. Not all of them are slackers who spend without discipline. Some really have to withhold themselves from enjoying simpler pleasures like having a beer. I guess I feel a little guilty about being happy.

MARK
Eddie, you’re being too hard on yourself. It’s not like you fell into riches or were born into it. You worked hard to get where you are now. Even just statistically—

EDDIE
Oh, don’t get started with the math.

MARK
I’m just saying, there are billions of people in the world, and let’s say that happiness is assigned randomly, then there’s bound to be some people that just have it good, and you’re one of those people.

(EDDIE is skeptical.)

MARK (cont.)
See, math is useful.

EDDIE
I don’t think that’s how happiness works though.

MARK
What do you know? This makes me think of Nozick’s Pleasure Machine. You know what I’m talking about?

EDDIE
Kind of, something like The Matrix?

MARK
Kind of. Roughly, it’s Nozick’s argument against hedonism, for why pleasure is not our ultimate goal in life. You can hook yourself up to this machine which gives you whatever pleasures you want. You can think of it as a simulated reality. But most people would not want to stay hooked up to this machine because they’d rather experience real life. So there’s something else that Man is meant for, and it’s not pleasure. At least that’s what I get from it.

EDDIE
And why did you think about that?

MARK
Well you’re saying how your life is so good and happy. What if you were right now hooked up to this machine? Like in The Matrix.

EDDIE
And I know I’m in the machine?

MARK
Let’s say you don’t. You made the machine so that you would just plug in and live your perfect life. And this life you’re living right now is it. Are you okay with that?

EDDIE
I don’t know. To be honest, that makes me a little uncomfortable.

MARK
I think it should. But hey, don’t worry about it. Because we don’t know you’re in a machine. And this is your life! It’s good, it’s happy, don’t worry about it! I mean, I’m pretty sure I exist, not that it really helps you, but if I exist, how can you be in a machine?

EDDIE
I guess that’s right. The sayings of a mathematician, philosopher, and musician. You’re a weird one.

MARK
No weirder than a rational mind claiming Love is his end.

(End Scene 2)

Scene 3
(JULIE walks by, and EDDIE gives her a sudden kiss.)

JULIE
What was that for?

EDDIE
I love you. So much.

JULIE
I love you too.

EDDIE
And the fact that you love me back just makes me so…happy.

JULIE
You’re not being sarcastic, right?

EDDIE
No, no, of course not. It’s just for some reason, I feel over-privileged today. I got into a conversation about it with Mark and of course he just gave me more to think about.

JULIE (playfully)
Well don’t think about it. Think about me. Think about me in your arms, my lips on yours, my hand in your hand.

(They kiss.)

EDDIE
Julie…If this wasn’t real life, would you give it up?

JULIE
What do you mean?

EDDIE
Well, say this is a life we just created for ourselves. This life we’re living right now where we’re happy and together, say it’s fake. Would you step out of this life and return to your real one?

JULIE
Is my real life different from this one?

EDDIE
Yes, maybe drastically. Maybe we’re not in love. Maybe we don’t even know each other.

JULIE
No, I wouldn’t, because I can’t imagine living without you.

EDDIE
That’s sweet, Julie, but really. Really put yourself in the situation. This life isn’t real. Would you stay in this world and be with me?

JULIE
So this world is fake. And there’s another, real world that I have no knowledge about.

EDDIE
None at all. Maybe you’re life is fantastic, who knows? Maybe it’s not. Maybe your job’s different. Maybe you’re in a relationship with someone else.

JULIE
Why would I be with you here if I have a boyfriend there? Unless I’m unhappy out there. I’d hope I would just break up with the person instead of escape to this world.

EDDIE
Well let’s not put it like I’m just an escape.

JULIE
You’re the one who’s posing the situation.

EDDIE
You’re right. Let’s just say you’re not in a relationship out there.

JULIE
Okay.

EDDIE
Really, we don’t know what’s out there. The crux of it all is if you would be willing to give up this life. If you knew this life was completely fabricated, this perfect, happy life, would you leave it behind for the sake of living in reality?

JULIE
I don’t know. Yes…no…I don’t know. I don’t like this. This is a stupid question.

EDDIE
The question doesn’t really mean anything. It’s all hypothetical.

JULIE
Think about what you’re asking me. You’re essentially asking me to make a choice between happiness and reality. You or reality. How does someone answer a question like that? This is my life. What would you choose?

EDDIE
I don’t know what I would choose.

JULIE
Exactly. How can you expect me to come up with an answer for it?

EDDIE
I don’t need an answer. I just wanted to talk about it and wonder about it. I’m not saying that this will actually affect our lives.

JULIE
But how does someone choose a simulation over reality. If I knew this was all fake, I don’t know if I could stay here. What person would do that, Eddie?

EDDIE
That one guy in the Matrix did.

JULIE
Don’t be a smart ass.

EDDIE
I’m sorry. I’m sorry. That was a stupid question. Let’s forget about it. This is life. This is our life. We’re not in a fake world. I love you. I would never choose anything but you and I know you would never choose anything but me. Go ahead to bed, I’ll meet up with you in a little bit, okay?

JULIE
Okay.

EDDIE
Julie, we’re okay. I love you. I say it not to convince you but because I just love saying that. And you know that.

JULIE
Yes. I do. I love you too.

EDDIE
Okay, go ahead, I’ll be right there.

(JULIE exits. EDDIE sits down.)

EDDIE
I’m being silly. Asking questions that don’t even matter. I’m happy. Just be happy.

(Black out. When they come back up, EDDIE is hooked up to a machine. His eyes are closed. JONATHAN and LAURA are on opposite sides of him tending to the environment. They are employees played by the same actors as MARK and JULIE respectively. EDDIE wakes up)

EDDIE
What? Where am I?

JONATHAN
You’re at Personal Utopia, Mr. Larson. You’ve just experienced a day in your perfect life. Remember to control your breathing as you reorient yourself to reality. How are you feeling Mr. Larson, are your memories coming back to you?

EDDIE
Mark?

JONATHAN
No, Mr. Larson, I’m Jonathan. You’re back here in the hookup room. This is your sixth appointment with us since you were recommended to us from Dr. Glason.

EDDIE
Mark, what are you saying?

JONATHAN
Mr. Larson, my name is Jonathan, and you have just reentered reality.

EDDIE
Reality? What? No.

(sees LAURA)

EDDIE (cont.)
Julie!

LAURA
I’m sorry, sir, but my name is Laura.

EDDIE
No. Julie. What are you talking about? Stop saying nonsense.

LAURA
Sir, it’s not nonsense, it’s the truth. My name is Laura. I only just saw you today.

EDDIE
(starts to understand and slowly breaks down)
No. No. Oh god…

JONATHAN
Sir, sir? Damn it, will you get him a cold towel, Laura?

EDDIE
My beautiful Julie…

LAURA
Sure.

(Exits.)

JONATHAN
Mr. Larson, are you okay? Remember to breathe.

EDDIE
This can’t be true.

JONATHAN
Mr. Larson, just keep breathing and you’ll be able to recollect yourself.

EDDIE
Put me back…

JONATHAN
I’m sorry, your appointment is done, but we can schedule you for another appointment.

EDDIE
No! I need to go back. I need to go back to Julie.

JONATHAN
Mr. Larson, there is no Julie. She is simply a creation of your imagination.

EDDIE
You lie! You li—…Please. I didn’t get to finish my day.

JONATHAN
I’m sorry?

EDDIE
My day wasn’t finished. I was just cleaning up for the night. I’m supposed to get to sleep. Then I wake up here. I fall asleep, and I wake up here. You owe me that.

JONATHAN
(checks readings)
I’m sorry, Mr. Larson, it looks like you’re right. I don’t know how that happened. We’ll plug you back in so you can finish and we’ll make sure that issue gets resolved immediately. As an apology and to show that we care about your satisfaction, you’re next appointment is on us, is that all right with you, Mr. Larson?

EDDIE
Yes, yes, just put me back in.

JONATHAN
Okay, sir.

(EDDIE returns to sleep. LAURA enters with the cold towel.)

LAURA
He’s back in?

JONATHAN
The machine malfunctioned for some reason. He didn’t get to finish his day.

LAURA
So we have to go through that again?

JONATHAN
Probably not. He probably reacted that way because he didn’t get to sleep. I’ll have to say something about that to the higher ups.

LAURA
Goodness. That was awful. It made me feel like what we’re doing might not be good. He seemed more depressed and upset than he did going in.

JONATHAN
A one-time thing. It will probably be fixed. It’s not so bad.

LAURA
I don’t know. I don’t think I’d ever use it.

JONATHAN
No one’s forcing you to. No one’s forcing you to do this job either.

LAURA
I know.

JONATHAN
Check his readings. And be ready. He could come back out soon.

(An advertisement plays over the speakers. As it plays, lights slowly black out, the last focus on EDDIE, hooked up. The advertisement eventually fades out. Are you feeling like things just aren’t working out the way they should be? Things that used to brighten your day aren’t fun anymore. Come see us at Personal Utopia, where you can take all the things you’ve dreamed up and make them reality. Ask us about our special rates, and our staff will find you the perfect option you desire. Our specialized doctors are trained in the latest technologies…)

March 5, 2013 9:02 pm