LIVING WITH NEUTRINOS


a play by Max Pearson



From an article in the April, 1996 issue of Scientific American:

"Thanks to physics, obsessive apocalyptists now have another means of destroying life on Earth: lethal neutrinos. Neutrinos are subatomic particles that appeared in experiments in the 1930s but were invisible, that might have some mass but then again might not ... The vast numbers of neutrinos produced by the sun and other celestial bodies generally pass through Earth each day without causing harm. Yet once every 100 million years, a massive star collapses within a couple dozen light-years of Earth, silently ... The silent ones may be deadly. As a star collapses, it releases prodigious quantities of hyperactive neutrinos. These energetic neutrinos could ricochet off atoms in organic tissue, causing the atoms to tear through cells, rip apart DNA, and thereby induce cancer and cellular mutations severe enough to wipe out many species ..."

"Atomic and subatomic particles are mostly space, as is eloquently illustrated by the analogy of a pea at the centre of St Paul's dome (the nucleus), surrounded at the periphery of the dome by flying sugar grains (electrons)." - Noel Hodson

"Since particle-like behavior and wave-like behavior do not to belong to light itself but to our interaction with light, then it appears that light has no properties independent of us. The next step of this logic is inescapable. Without us, light does not exist." - Gary Zukav



Note: The following script is not rendered in standard play format. Scripts will be made available to theatres upon request.

A cast of characters list is not included here. You'll get to meet them as they come along. Just as I did.





The play is set in a small restaurant on
the Boliver Peninsula. The year is 2012.

ACT ONE, SCENE ONE


AT RISE: LOLA, creased from a life of sun and alcohol, is perched on a stool at the counter, her bottle of bourbon bagged safely within reach. ROBERT is sitting at a table drinking coffee and reading a newspaper. He is pale, thin, in his twenties. AURORA, a young hispanic, is at another table, sleeping. Her head is resting on her arms. MARGE is wiping down the bar. She is an attractive middle-aged woman; frank, controlling, and wary of strangers.


ROBERT: The doctor died.

LOLA: Whassat?

ROBERT: Doctor Cooney. He died.

MARGE: Cooney died? When?

LOLA: You read that in the newspaper?

ROBERT: Yeah, right.

LOLA: How old is that paper?

MARGE: When did he die? (ROBERT shrugs.) Well, how did you find out?

ROBERT: I went over to his house last night for some pain pills. His car was parked in the drive so I figured he was home. And I could hear Rags inside, barking and carrying on like she had a cat shoved up her ass. Anyway, when I knocked on the door no one answered. I went in and found Cooney stretched out on the floor, clutching at his heart.

LOLA: Godamighty! Did he suffer?

ROBERT: From the expression on his face I'd say he probably did. And by the way, this copy of the Chronicle is four days old.

MARGE: I wonder when it happened.

LOLA: Did he stink?

ROBERT: Lola, with my sinuses I can't even smell this coffee.

MARGE: Cooney came in for lunch yesterday. He seemed all right then.

ROBERT: You serve him the meat loaf?

LOLA: Where did you get a Houston newspaper?

ROBERT: Guy at the store gave it to me.

MARGE: A stranger?

ROBERT: He was pretty strange. Said he was passing through.

MARGE: Passing through? No one passes through Boliver anymore. Not since the ferry blew up.

ROBERT: Maybe he was lost - now don't get xenophobic.

MARGE: You didn't ask?

ROBERT: I asked for the paper. (sighs) He was driving a black BMW, for what that's worth.

LOLA: Quite a bit, I'd say.

ROBERT: He probably came down Highway 87. That would put him on Bayside Road.

MARGE: You didn't mention that the ferry isn't running? You didn't tell him he'd have to turn around and go back the way he came?

ROBERT: He'll figure it out when he gets to the landing.

(LOLA slides off her barstool and joins ROBERT at the table.)

LOLA: Maybe he murdered Doc Cooney.

ROBERT: Lola, please.

MARGE: Cooney died of a heart attack, Lola.

LOLA: Or it was set up to appear that way.

MARGE: What did he look like?

(ROBERT clutches his chest, makes a face.)

MARGE: Not Cooney, you ass. The stranger.

ROBERT: Nice looking. Well dressed. Severe sunglasses.

MARGE: How old was he?

ROBERT: Too young for you.

(SAL enters. He is in his mid-thirties, has an average build and a friendly face. He's wearing slacks and a rumpled dress shirt. Loose tie.)

MARGE: Did he look like a troublemaker?

SAL: Did who look like a troublemaker?

LOLA: Some stranger Robert picked up at the store.

ROBERT: Not picked up. Ran across.

MARGE: You want a beer?

SAL: What time is it?

MARGE: Like that matters.

SAL: Whatever's cold, then.

(MARGE opens a bottle. SAL makes a face.)

LOLA: Would you look at this? (She snatches the paper from ROBERT.)

ROBERT: I was.

LOLA: Them nutrients are still bombardin' the earth. No let up in sight, says here.

ROBERT: They're neutrinos, Lola, not nutrients. Nutrients are what makes us healthy. It's neutrinos that are killing us.

SAL: Put that on my tab.

MARGE: You wish.

SAL: You know I haven't tried a case in six months.

MARGE: Then drive to Beaumont and hustle up some business. Hang out in emergency rooms. Chase an ambulance. I'm sure you remember how. It's like riding a bike.

SAL: Marge, there are no ambulances left to chase. EMVs don't turn a profit these days. Organ banks are all dry. Hospitals post armed guards at the door. HMOs and insurance companies are but pleasant memories from a simpler time.

MARGE: Jeez.

SAL: I'm afraid America's health care system has become cash and carry. It's an attorney's worst nightmare.

LOLA: I never understood about those, uh, nutrios. Will someone please explain to me just what the hell happened? Seems like I woke up one morning and everything had turned to shit.

ROBERT (to SAL): Go ahead. I've tried till I'm blue in the face.

SAL: It's like this, Lola. (choosing his words carefully) The sun, our sun, is a star.

LOLA: Don't talk down to me, Sal. I went to secretary school.

MARGE: If you shut up for a minute you might learn something.

SAL: Now there's another star not far from our own sun, astronomically speaking, that exploded. It became what's known as a supernova.

ROBERT (goes to the counter with his coffee cup): Could I have a refill?

MARGE: Sure.

SAL: And this supernova, Lola, when it exploded, released an infinitesimal number of subatomic particles.

LOLA: I'm with you.

SAL: Good. Since that star, or rather the remnants from it, is 8.1 light years from the earth, and since these particles, which are the neutrinos, travel at the speed of light, it takes them exactly that long to arrive here. Are you still following me?

LOLA: Like crab on chicken neck. But the part I don't understand, Sal, is those, uh, neutrinos. What are they?

ROBERT (returns to his table): This is where communication breaks down.

SAL: Nutrinos are subatomic particles.

LOLA: You said that already. What do they look like?

SAL: You can't see them, Lola. They're invisible. They're like atoms but much smaller, smaller than electrons even. They're all around us, even as we speak.

LOLA: Uh huh.

ROBERT (to MARGE): You'll notice that even fried, her mind attempts to grasp quantum physics.

SAL: The reason we're dying from radiation poisoning is because these particles are tearing through our bodies, spraying us like buckshot, colliding with our cell structure.

LOLA: Uh huh.

SAL: Which in turn causes the cells to mutate and grow at an alarming rate.

LOLA: Um.

SAL: And that, my dear, is why we're getting tumors. It's why we all have cancer.

LOLA: Godamighty.

SAL: And not just us. Every animal on the planet is dying.

MARGE: Except roaches.

SAL: Yes. Except for cockroaches.

LOLA: Yeah, I've seen them sumbitches crawling' inside my microwave. On high, they still wobble.

SAL: It's as if the Earth is expriencing a global nuclear holocaust, but in slow motion. Remember Chernobyl? When was that, forty years ago? That was small potatoes complared to this. And it only affected a small portion of the planet.

ROBERT: You're wasting your breath.

LOLA: I hate to admit it, Sal, but I think you are. They didn't teach us that stuff at Massy Business College.

MARGE: Robert said Cooney died.

SAL: Doc Cooney?

MARGE: Only doctor on High Island.

SAL: What happened?

MARGE: Heart attack.

ROBERT: I walked in and found him last night.

SAL: Took the coward's way out, did he?

ROBERT: It looked like he suffered, if that makes you feel any better.

SAL: Old fool. He could at least have had the decency to minister to our needs before kicking the bucket.

MARGE (to ROBERT): Did you call Shep?

ROBERT: Yeah, I called him.

MARGE: What did he say?

ROBERT: He said he'd take care of it.

LOLA: I have my suspicions about Shep.

MARGE: Oh, Lord.

LOLA: I don't think he's burying us like he claims he is. I think Shep's been taking the corpses out in that old shrimp boat and dumping them in the Gulf.

SAL: And what makes you think that?

LOLA: I know the man. Known him for thirty-eight years. In fact, I might have seen Shep last week, dragging a body along East Pier. It was the middle of the night. Fog was coming in, water lapping against the rocks. In the distance I could see a baseball cap, arms and legs tugging at a human form, pulling it across rotten planks. Ka-thump, ka-thump, ka-thump.

SAL: Only thing she left out was a hounddog baying at the moon.

ROBERT: Was it Shep?

LOLA: I was drunk so I can't be sure. But there was a certain shadowy resemblence.

MARGE: Shep is paid by the community to bury the dead. It's his job. It's been his job since the mortician passed away.

LOLA: But that don't mean he does it! Does it?

ROBERT: Does it matter? Worms or fish, it's all the same. In the end, we're lunch. We're a snack.

LOLA: It does matter! I been stewing over this. Now listen. What if some of us outlast the worms and the fishes?

ROBERT: Why are we having this conversation? Who gives a damn? Isn't it enough the world is ending? Do we have to analyze the leftovers?

SAL: Robert's right. Let's move on to cheerier subjects. I know! The Spring Crayfish Festival! I've devised a theme.

MARGE: Sal, you gotta be kidding. Do you honestly think the town council is going to hassle with a goddam crayfish festival? I mean, who'd come?

SAL (with dignity): I would come. Last year I had a wonderful time. You did also, if memory serves.

MARGE: Our local population, in case you haven't heard, has shrunk considerably since then. What would be the purpose? I can't remember the last time I saw a tourist.

TO BE CONTINUED ...



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