Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Stampistas

In homage to Murray Schisgal

Scene: a dingy office. Two desks side by side, facing the audience. Each desk has two stacks of manila folders, of varying colors, at opposite sides of the desk. In between, there is a standard office blotter. Each desk also has four revolving racks holding rubber stamps, with about fifteen stamps per rack. There are also five stamp pads open on each desk: black, blue, green, red, purple.

Seated at the desks are, to the right, Maristella, a somewhat worn woman in her late 40s, once highly attractive in a dark, Mediterranean way, now faded, her dark hair streaked with gray, her jawline beginning to sag, her body a bit thicker than it was. At the left, Leon, a man in his early 50s, his graying hair thinning, developing a double chin, perhaps forty pounds heavier than he should be. He wears a wedding ring. She does not.

Throughout the action of the play, both Maristella and Leon continue to work. Their work is to take a folder from the stack of files to their immediate left, place it on the blotter, scrutinize each piece of paper in the folder, select the appropriate stamp from the appropriate rack, stamp it on the appropriate ink pad, then on the paper. After each piece of paper is stamped, it is turned over to the left, and the process continues with the next piece of paper. Once the last piece of paper is stamped, the entire folder is closed and placed on top of the stack of folders to their immediate right. At intervals throughout the action, Angela, a thin, graying woman in her fifties dressed entirely in gray, will enter from the right carrying a fresh stack of folders. She will place the folders on Maristella’s left side, pick up Maristella’s right stack, place it on Leon’s left side, then remove Leon’s right stack and exit to the left. She never speaks. And her presence is never acknowledged.

At start: we hear the sound of stamping in darkness. Lights slowly fade up. Silence for several beats. Then:

MARISTELLA: Do you think they’re buying a cheaper brand of ink these days?

LEON: What?

MARISTELLA: The ink. Does it seem cheaper to you?

LEON: Cheaper?

MARISTELLA: It doesn’t last as long.

LEON: It doesn’t?

MARISTELLA: No. I need to re-ink the black every day now.

LEON: Every day? You sure?

MARISTELLA: Yes. Definitely cheaper. Turns gray by four o’clock.

LEON: You don’t want to re-ink at four. No point.

MARISTELLA: I don’t. But then I have to in the morning.

LEON: Everything’s cheaper. The paper.

MARISTELLA: Yes. Much lower quality than it was when I started. You have to be careful to stamp lighter than you used to.

LEON (chuckles): I used to be able to pound the shit out of . . .


LEON: Sorry. Lost my head there for a minute.

MARISTELLA: Still, you’re right. We used to be to pound the stamps as hard as we wanted.

LEON: You could work off frustration that way.

MARISTELLA: Yes. Angry at the supervisor for being a creep—

LEON: Remember Powers! The way he’d hang over you—

MARISTELLA: Practically breathing in your face. Stank of Sen-Sen.

LEON: He hung over you more than he hung over me.

MARISTELLA: Don’t remind me. He was creepy.

LEON: I had a hard time not laughing the time you hit him in the eye with with your stamp. Just swung it up to stamp extra hard and caught the creepy bastard right in the . . .


LEON: Sorry. But you stopped him.

MARISTELLA: I wanted to. And you’re right. He was a creepy bastard. Got what he deserved.

LEON: Yeah. They promoted Glancy when they fired Powers.

MARISTELLA: They shoulda promoted you, Leon. You had seniority.

LEON: Yeah, well. I never could play the brown-noser like Glancy. Or Ritter when Glancy quit. Or Walker after Ritter died.

MARISTELLA: But you’re great at what you do. The best.

LEON: You think so?

MARISTELLA: Everybody says so. All the girls in the pool tell me, “Maristella, you’re so lucky to be working right next to Leon.”

LEON: Yeah?

MARISTELLA: “You’re right,” I say. “He’s a real virtuoso. A regular Liberace with the stamps. It’s a joy to watch him.”

LEON: Yeah? (He stamps with renewed panache. Angela comes through.)


(They stamp in silence for a couple of beats.)

LEON: Maristella?


LEON: Can I ask you something?

MARISTELLA: Sure. You know you can always ask me anything. How long have we worked together?

LEON: What is it? Twenty years?

MARISTELLA: It’s twenty-seven. And four months.

LEON: Really! Seems like just yesterday—you were so nervous.

MARISTELLA: Well, it was my first job out of business school. And you weren’t very helpful.

LEON: I wasn’t? What do you mean?

MARISTELLA: Don’t you remember? You were worried that there wouldn’t be enough work for two people. You even said so. You said you were scared they’d fire you. Since you earned more money than me. And you'd just gotten married.

LEON: I said that?

MARISTELLA: Yes. But you were wrong.

LEON: I guess so.. Here we are, twenty seven years later—

MARISTELLA: And four months.

LEON: And four months. And they’ve kept us busy stamping all that time.

MARISTELLA: So what did you want to ask me, Leon, after twenty seven years and four months? What?

LEON: Oh. Can I use your A-68? Mine’s gotten too worn down. I asked Walker for a new one last week, but she hasn’t gotten one.

MARISTELLA: Did you fill out the requisition form?

LEON: No, I just asked Walker.

MARISTELLA: Well, she’s not going to do anything about it without the right form.

LEON: I guess you’re right. Walker’s such a tight ass about regulations.


LEON: Sorry. But she is. I’ll fill out the form at break. Can I use yours for the time being?

MARISTELLA: Only if you’ll leave where I can reach it if I need it.

LEON: OK. (she selects a stamp from one of the racks and hands it to him. Perhaps their hands touch) Thanks. (he uses the stamp, then puts it on the edge of his desk) It’s good of you to share.

MARISTELLA: Happy to share. Always. All you have to do is ask. (smiles to herself)

They stamp in silence for a beat or two. Leon uses the A-68 twice more, putting it on one of his own racks absentmindedly.

MARISTELLA: Just think. Twenty seven years.

LEON: And four months.

MARISTELLA: How many stamps do you think we’ve worn out in that time?

LEON: Hundreds. Thousands. How about all the ink?

Angela comes through.

MARISTELLA: Gallons of ink.

LEON: But it’s always a challenge.

MARISTELLA: Working here is really a challenge. What did you have in mind?

LEON: To do it right. To get the stamp in just the right place, with just the right pressure.

MARISTELLA (admiringly): Like I said, you’re a true artist.

LEON: Well, I don’t know about being an artist. But it’s rewarding, to do the job right.

MARISTELLA: Yeah. But still, there are other things in life.

LEON: Sure. But not as important.

MARISTELLA: Some things are more important.

LEON: Like what?

MARISTELLA: Happiness. Fulfillment. Companionship. Love.

LEON: But we have all that, don’t we? I mean, I’m happy in my job. Fulfilled even. You and I get along. And I have Francie. Are you happy?

MARISTELLA: Mostly. But I don’t have a Francie.

LEON: What? You want a Francie? Are you telling me something I didn’t know? Are you – what do they call it now – happy? Like Rosie O’Donnell?

MARISTELLA: You mean ‘gay.’ And no, I’m not. But I’m alone.

LEON: But not at work. You and I are a team at work. We make a great team.

MARISTELLA: At work, yeah. A great work team. Great. That’s sure fulfilling. (reaches for A-28 stamp. It’s not there.) Where the fuck is my stamp?

LEON (in disbelief): Maristella! What did you say? Did you say “Fuck”?

MARISTELLA: You bet your ass I said “fuck,” putz. Where the fuck is my stamp?

LEON: What stamp?

MARISTELLA: My A-28, you prick. You borrowed it. Give it back. I need it!

LEON: Jesus! Take the goddam stamp! (Throws it to her. They both stamp with increased vigor, pounding the papers. Angela passes through. They continue to stamp with vehemence. Lights fade.)

End of play.