ISSUE 4 · SPRING 2010
Automat: An Interpretation
MARTIN RAMSEY, late 30s, artistic, intense, somewhat of a dreamer
DELILAH PERKINS, 30s, elegant looking but impassive, not used to human interaction
MARTIN (older), 50s, scruffy, slightly unstable but harmless
DELILAH (older), 40s, slightly older; everything else the same
RALPH, the security guard, late 50s, graying hair, works only as hard as necessary, his job is not his life
DOCENT, 40s, female, energetic, intense, very intelligent but condescending
TEENAGE BOY, about 15 years old, bright, energetic, sarcastic
Night, A MAN walks on a sidewalk past a coffee shop with a large glass window. He stops, backs up and looks inside.
The man is MARTIN RAMSEY. He is in his late 30s and he wears a worn tweed jacket, khakis and boots. A book bag is slung over his shoulder. Inside the cafe, an elegantly dressed WOMAN in her 30s is seated alone at a table with a steaming cup of coffee in front of her. She wears one dark glove, a green coat and a yellow hat, and her name is DELILAH PERKINS. The scene inside is a replication of Edward Hopper’s 1927 painting, Automat.
Martin remains standing outside, staring at the woman. Delilah looks out, but she does not acknowledge the man. Martin starts to walk away, but then returns and enters the coffee shop.
We hear a small bell jingle as Martin walks in and stands in front of Delilah.
MARTIN: Hello. I’ve seen you in here a few times.
DELILAH: Well what made you decide to come in now?
MARTIN: I don’t know. You looked especially sad tonight.
DELILAH: (surprised) Am I sad? I didn’t realize it.
MARTIN: you just look it. That’s all. Are you waiting for someone?
DELILAH: I have the sense I should be waiting for someone. But I am not expecting anyone in particular. Would you care to sit down?
MARTIN: Thank you. I will warm up a bit.
Martin sits down next to Delilah. He looks around and then spots something on the floor. He reaches down and picks up a glove.
MARTIN: (handing her the glove) I think you dropped this.
DELILAH: Oh, I do that all the time. Thank you.
Martin extends a hand in a greeting.
MARTIN: My name is Martin Ramsey.
DELILAH: (shaking his hand) Nice to meet you. My name is Delilah.
MARTIN: (still holding her hand) Your hand is warm.
DELILAH: Yes, it’s nice and toasty in here. Tell me about yourself.
MARTIN: I’m an artist, but of course that doesn’t pay the bills. So I work nights as a custodian at an office building downtown.
DELILAH: You know, you look like an artist.
MARTIN: Really? Thanks.
DELILAH: No, thank you for coming in. It’s nice to have someone to talk to for a change.
Martin reaches in his book bag and pulls out a sketch pad.
MARTIN: Do you mind if I draw you while we talk?
DELILAH: No. Go ahead.
Martin grabs his pencil and starts drawing.
MARTIN: Where are you from?
DELILAH: I am not really sure. All I know is I woke up one day and found myself sitting here, staring out at the street and drinking a cup of coffee.
MARTIN: So you must be a little lonely then, with no one else around?
DELILAH: A little I guess, but I’m used to it.
Martin looks at his watch and then holds it to his ear.
MARTIN: That’s funny. My watch stopped. Do you know what time it is?
DELILAH: No. There’s no clock in here.
MARTIN: Well I better get going or I’ll be late for work.
DELILAH: You have to leave so soon? We just met.
MARTIN: Yeah, I’m sorry. But my boss will dock me if I’m late even five minutes.
He stands up, gathers his sketch pad and places it inside his book bag. He moves to the door, then turns back and looks at Delilah.
MARTIN: It was very nice meeting you Delilah. It meant a lot to me.
DELILAH: Same here. Please come back again soon.
He exits and the bell rings.
Inside a large art museum gallery space, a security guard, RALPH, is taking a nap. An older Martin, who is in his 50s with a scruffy beard, stands in front of Edward Hopper’s Automat painting with his hand touching the canvas.
A female DOCENT in her 40s walks into the gallery space with her back to the security guard and the man in front of the painting.
She leads a tour group. They stop in front of the painting.
DOCENT: And now we come to one of the prized pieces in the collection of the Des Moines Art Center. This is Edward Hopper’s Automat, which was created in 1927.
As she turns around, she points to the painting and then notices the man touching the canvas.
DOCENT: (yelling) Damn you Martin, get away from there.
She rushes up to the man, grabs his shoulders and pulls him away from the painting.
DOCENT: (to the guard) Wake up Ralph.
MARTIN: I wasn’t doing anything, just talking.
DOCENT: You shut up.
She grabs Martin’s arm and marches him over to Ralph. She then shakes Ralph vigorously until he awakens.
RALPH: (groggy) What is it?
DOCENT: This is the last time Ralph. He’s not to come in here again—ever. Got that? Now escort him out.
MARTIN: What’s the big deal?
DOCENT: Just leave. And you’re banned from the museum. If you come back again, I’ll press charges.
RALPH: Come on Martin, I’ll walk you out.
Ralph escorts Martin out of the gallery space.
DOCENT: (to the group) I’m sorry you had to witness that. Some of our visitors are a little overeager. And that gentleman has been somewhat unbalanced since losing his wife a few years ago. Again I apologize. Let’s move on to the next work in our American collection.
She leads the group out of the gallery space.
The older Martin stands outside the museum’s front entrance. He is carrying a brown paper bag and he paces nervously. He then spots Ralph, who is reporting for his shift. Martin rushes up to Ralph and grabs his arm, but Ralph pushes him away.
RALPH: Get away from me Martin. You’re gonna get me fired.
MARTIN: Please just let me in for a few minutes. I had a breakthrough yesterday.
RALPH: Look, I know we’re friends, but I can’t risk it.
MARTIN: Just take a look at what I’ve got in the bag for you.
Martin opens the bag for Ralph. Ralph reaches in and pulls out a bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey.
RALPH: Oh boy. You know this isn’t fair.
MARTIN: So you’ll let me in?
Ralph lets out a deep sigh.
RALPH: Yeah, but come around back so she doesn’t see you. And you can’t stay long, she starts giving tours at 11 a.m.
MARTIN: OK Ralph.
RALPH: I’ll meet you out back.
Martin races along the sidewalk in front of the museum and circles around the block to reach the back entrance.
Ralph opens the back door for Martin, who sneaks inside.
Ralph leads Martin along a wide corridor that opens into one of the gallery spaces. Not all of the lights are on, but we can distinguish Automat hanging prominently on one of the walls.
RALPH: (pointing to painting) Well, there’s your girl. Try not to maul her this time. And you’ve only got an hour or so, and then you’re out.
MARTIN: I got it. No problem. Go enjoy your whiskey.
RALPH: (with Irish brogue) I’ll just have a sip or two my lad. And I will toast to your health.
MARTIN: Thanks a lot Ralph.
RALPH: (in normal voice) You’re welcome Martin. Just don’t get caught.
Ralph carries the paper bag with the whiskey inside and walks away from Martin. Martin sits down on a bench in front of Automat.
Night, The younger Martin stands outside the coffee shop. He waves at Delilah, who smiles when she sees him. Martin enters and the little bell rings again.
MARTIN: Hi there.
He picks up Delilah’s glove with his left hand and holds it out for her. When she reaches to grab it, he pulls it behind his back and instead offers his right hand. She laughs and they shake hands. Martin then gives her the glove. She sets it on the table.
MARTIN: How are you?
DELILAH: I am well. Please sit down.
MARTIN: (sitting down) Thanks. I’ve been thinking a lot about you. I’ve missed you.
DELILAH: (surprised) You have? I’m hardly worth missing.
MARTIN: Nonsense. I’ve been thinking . . .
DELILAH: (interrupting) About what?
MARTIN: Well that’s what I’m trying to tell you. Um, I was wondering, would you like to come out with me?
DELILAH: Oh, I don’t know about that.
MARTIN: You see, I have tonight off, and I thought maybe we could grab dinner together. I know a great Italian place downtown.
Delilah takes a sip of her coffee and looks down. Martin places his hand on top of hers.
MARTIN: I really do like you, and it’s only dinner.
DELILAH: I like you too Martin. It’s not that I don’t. It’s just, it’s somewhat complicated.
MARTIN: How can dinner be complicated? I don’t understand.
DELILAH: I’m not really supposed to leave. This is where I’ve been placed. I know it sounds strange and I can’t explain it, but I don’t think I can leave.
MARTIN: You make it sound like someone’s forcing you to stay here. That makes no sense.
DELILAH: I know Martin. It’s just the way things are. I have been here my whole life. I think I’m supposed to stay here. And I don’t know if I would feel safe out there—with all those people.
MARTIN: (looking outside) Yes, but what kind of life is this, sitting here and watching other people live? Don’t you want to experience something? You can’t be happy in here all alone.
DELILAH: I understand what you’re saying, really I do. But I don’t think people have much control over their own happiness. And who’s to say one life is better than another? This is all I know. I’m comfortable with it.
MARTIN: (grabbing her hands) Well I’m not. I’ve loved you my whole life. Do you know how long it took me just to get the nerve up to come in here and talk to you?
DELILAH: I know, and I appreciate it.
MARTIN: I don’t want your gratitude Delilah, and I don’t want to get into a philosophical discussion with you. I want to be with you. That’s all. I want to share my life with you.
DELILAH: I don’t know how you can say such a thing. You hardly know me.
MARTIN: I’ve seen you sitting here so many times before. I’ve witnessed your sadness and I want to take it away. And I want you to be happy with me. I know this may be unexpected, but I really do love you.
DELILAH: You’re wasting your time on the wrong person. I told you I am supposed to stay here.
MARTIN: You may think you’ve been put here for a reason, and that you have no say in your own life, but you can leave anytime you want. If nothing else, come out to dinner with me tonight. If you don’t like it, or you feel uncomfortable, I’ll bring you right back.
DELILAH: Well I do enjoy your company, and I am a little hungry.
MARTIN: Okay then. Let’s go.
Martin starts rushing toward the door, while Delilah stands up. She remains standing in place for a beat. Martin swings open the door and the bell rings. He then looks back at her.
MARTIN: Let’s go. I’m starving.
DELILAH: I can’t Martin.
Martin closes the door and comes back to the table.
MARTIN: What do you mean you can’t?
DELILAH: This is unreal. I am not real. I know you want me to be, but I’m not. I’m sorry Martin. I’m only a figure in a painting.
Delilah sits back down.
MARTIN: I don’t understand.
DELILAH: I told you. I’ve been made for the sole purpose of sitting here in this spot. Go on my friend. Enjoy your dinner, I’ll still be here anytime you want to see me or feel like chatting.
MARTIN: I’m sorry. I’m confused. I really wanted this so bad. I thought, I thought maybe you did as well.
Delilah grabs Martin’s hand and kisses it.
DELILAH: Goodbye for now Martin. Please, for your sake, find someone who can return your affection. You deserve to be happy.
Martin starts walking toward the exit. He then stops, gazes out the window at the street and then turns around. He comes back to the table, holds Delilah’s hands and kisses her on the lips. He then releases.
MARTIN: You can’t tell me that wasn’t real.
DELILAH: Martin, please understand. It’s just not meant to be.
MARTIN: Well I don’t believe it. You’re a person, not a stationary object. You have free will and you can leave if you want to.
DELILAH: I’m afraid Martin. Okay, I’m afraid to go. But I do want to be with you. If only it were possible.
MARTIN: It is possible, if you believe.
He picks up the glove resting on the table and hands it to her.
MARTIN: Here, put this on. It’s cold outside.
She obliges and slips on the glove.
MARTIN: Now just stay close to me. This can work. I think we can make it happen—if we both want it.
Martin pulls Delilah’s chair out from the table and helps her up.
MARTIN: Come on. We’re going out to dinner. That’s all.
Delilah kisses Martin on the cheek.
DELILAH: I think you’re crazy Martin. But thanks for paying attention to me. You made me feel like a real person, and that’s never happened to me before.
MARTIN: I could never keep my eyes off of you. You were always real to me, always—even when they told me you weren’t.
He slips his arm around her.
MARTIN: Shall we go?
Delilah nods her head in agreement. They cross the coffee shop and reach the door. Martin opens the door and the bell rings once again. Delilah looks up at Martin.
DELILAH: Just don’t let go of me.
Inside the museum, the older Martin stands in front of the Automat painting, attempting to pull something out of the canvas. But he is alone. The Docent then enters the gallery space, leading a group of teenagers from a school. Ralph follows close behind.
Some of the students laugh when they see Martin making motions with his hands, still trying to pull a figure out of the painting but clutching only air.
MARTIN: (to the painting) You can do it Delilah. Hurry.
TEENAGE BOY: Look at this guy.
DOCENT: Martin. Hello Martin.
Martin remains facing the painting.
DOCENT: Martin, I told you never to come in here again. You must leave or I will be forced to call the police.
Martin turns around.
MARTIN: I’m sorry. I just had to see her. I wanted her to come out with me, but I guess she was right—she couldn’t.
Some of the students laugh once again. Ralph walks up to Martin and places his hand on Martin’s shoulder.
RALPH: Let’s go Martin. I’ll walk you out.
Martin and Ralph start to walk away.
DOCENT: Hey Martin.
Martin turns and looks back at the Docent.
DOCENT: Listen, you can come back anytime you want. Just don’t touch the painting—or even try to touch the painting.
Ralph and Martin exit the gallery space.
Ralph and Martin walk through a corridor of the museum and then reach the front entrance. Ralph hits a button that opens the automatic doors.
RALPH: Take care of yourself. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.
MARTIN: Bye Ralph. Thanks for being my friend. I know it isn’t easy sometimes.
Ralph smiles at Martin and they shake hands. Martin exits through the front doors. The doors close. Martin walks along the sidewalk in front of the museum. When he reaches the end of the block, he turns right and goes off stage.
Inside the gallery space, Ralph rejoins the Docent and the tour group. They are all looking at Automat. The female subject is missing from the frame.
DOCENT: Wait a second. This is most peculiar. Ralph, what’s happened to Automat? Something’s missing.
TEENAGE BOY: I think the woman in the painting is gone.
DOCENT: Yes, you’re right. How observant. Ralph, please call the police.
Ralph continues to stare at the painting. He appears baffled.
DOCENT: (screaming) Now Ralph.
The scream startles Ralph and he leaves to call the police.
TEENAGE BOY: You know, you probably should have called the cops earlier, when that weird guy was here.
The Docent glares at the Teenage Boy.
DOCENT: Thank you so much for your input. Ladies and gentlemen, we must end the tour now due to unforeseen circumstances.
With his head down, Martin walks on the sidewalk toward an outdoor café. Delilah, dressed in the same clothing as in the painting, is seated alone at a table, looking pensive. She also appears slightly older. A cup of coffee rests on the table, untouched. Delilah turns her head, notices Martin coming toward her, and stands up.
DELILAH: (waving) Martin, here Martin.
Martin does not see her and continues walking. Delilah runs up to Martin and grabs his arm, surprising him.
MARTIN: Delilah? Is that really you?
DELILAH: Yes, I’ve been waiting for you, and I was worried you wouldn’t find me. What took you so long?
MARTIN: What? I thought you were still in the painting.
DELILAH: No. I’m right in front of you.
MARTIN: Well where did you go? How did you get here? I mean, is it possible? Are you real, or am I just imagining this?
DELILAH: Oh Martin, please, enough questions. This is a love story, not a mystery. Just kiss me and you’ll know I’m real.
Delilah pulls Martin close to her and they kiss. They remain standing there, embracing, while pedestrians stream past them on the busy city sidewalk.
Francis DiClemente is a writer, photographer and video producer in Syracuse, New York. Inquiries concerning performance of "Automat: An Interpretation" should be addressed to the playwright at ffdholdATyahoo.com.