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Asteroid City (2023) | Transcript

Following a writer on his world famous fictional play about a grieving father who travels with his tech-obsessed family to small rural Asteroid City to compete in a junior stargazing event, only to have his world view disrupted forever.
Asteroid City (2023)

Asteroid City takes place in a fictional American desert town circa 1955. The itinerary of a Junior Stargazer/Space Cadet convention (organized to bring together students and parents from across the country for fellowship and scholarly competition) is spectacularly disrupted by world-changing events.

 

* * *

(CLOCK TICKING)

(LIGHTS CLANK)

(MICROPHONE FEEDBACK SQUEALS SOFTLY)

(SWITCHES CLICKING)

Tonight’s program takes us backstage to witness firsthand the creation, start to finish, of a new play mounted on the American stage.

Asteroid City does not exist.

It is an imaginary drama created expressly for this broadcast.

The characters are fictional, the text hypothetical, the events an apocryphal fabrication, but together they present an authentic account

of the inner workings of a modern theatrical production.

Our story begins, of course, with an ink ribbon.

Conrad Earp, playwright, native of upper Wyoming, well-known for his romantic poetic tapestries of life west of the Rocky Mountains.

(KEYBOARD CLACKING)

There is little amusement to be had, however, in watching a man type.

Skip ahead, then, past the lonely, agonized months of composing, revising, polishing, editing, rewriting, cutting, pasting, pacing, doodling, and solitary drinking, and join our company as they take the stage for their first readthrough rehearsal.

Location, the Tarkington Theater, 345 South Northwest Avenue.

(BELL RINGS)

Curtain rises on a desert bus stop halfway between Parched Gulch and Arid Plains.

Main scenography includes a 12stool luncheonette, a one-pump filling station, and a ten-cabin motor court hotel.

Upstage left, the Tomahawk Mountains.

Highest peak, 11,000 feet.

Upstage right, an unfinished highway overpass which vaults up 20 feet, then chops off midair behind a permanent roadblock.

Center front, an impact crater one hundred feet in depth and diameter encircled by a low Little League variety chain-link fence.

(TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWS)

(TRAIN CHUGGING)

Offstage, distant, a 650car freight train which click-clacks by at five miles an hour.

Note to chief electrician, the light of the desert sun is neither warm nor cool but always clean and, above all, unforgiving.

Cast, Augie Steenbeck, war photographer, early 40s.

His son Woodrow, 14, also known as Brainiac.

Midge Campbell, late 30s, film actress.

Her daughter Dinah, 15.

June Douglas, schoolteacher.

Ranch hand Montana, above.

Grif Gibson, fivestar general.

Sandy Borden, Roger Cho, J.J. Kellogg.

Clifford, Ricky, Shelly.

Stanley Zak, 65, retired.

The action of the play takes place in September of 1955.

Act one, Friday morning, 7:00 a.m.

Act two, the next day.

Act three, one week later.

(BLUEGRASS MUSIC PLAYING)

MAN: (SINGING) Last train to San Fernando

Last train to San Fernando

If you miss this one You’ll never get another one

Beedeedeedeebombom to San Fernando

Last night I met my sweet Dorothy

She said “Tomorrow I join in sweet matrimony”

But if you act all right

Oh, you can take me out tonight

We can wine and dine and get back in time

For the last train to San Fernando

Last train to San Fernando

Last train to San Fernando

If you miss this one You’ll never get another one

Beedeedeedeebombom to San Fernando

(GUITAR SOLO PLAYING)

(SONG ENDS)

(WIND WHISTLING)

(BELL CLANGING)

(ROADRUNNER CHITTERS)

(TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWS)

(WIND HOWLING)

(METAL SQUEAKING)

(BIRD SCREECHES)

(RUMBLING IN DISTANCE)

(ENGINE RUMBLING)

(WHIRRING)

(METAL SQUEAKING CONTINUES)

(BIRD CALLING)

GIRL: (FAINTLY) It’s a dead snake.

Flat snake.

Poke him in the head with this stick.

(CHATTER CONTINUES INDISTINCTLY)

I wander the streets

(ENTRY BELL JINGLES)

And the gay crowded places…

Five orders of flapjacks and a black coffee.

But somehow it seems

That my thoughts ever stray

To our last…

Who needs to pee?

Nobody needs to pee.

I don’t.

Our average speed is 83 feet per second.

Poor fuel efficiency due to excess wind resistance.

Probably the luggage rack.

Based on data before the loss of power, obviously.

High in the sky…

What do you little princesses want to drink?

Oh, we’re not princesses.

I’m a vampire.

I’m a mummy in Egypt who got buried alive…

I suck people’s blood.

…and came back to life

with its head chopped off.

I’m a fairy.

How about a glass of strawberry milk?

(BOMB EXPLODES IN DISTANCE)

(RUMBLING)

What was that?

Another atom bomb test.

(SONG CONTINUES FAINTLY INSIDE)

(CAMERA CLICKS)

(BIRDS CALLING)

I’ve seen this combination of symptoms twice before in the ’52 Estate model.

In one case, it was a quick fix of a 75cent part.

In the other case, it was a difficult, costly, time-consuming disassembly and remantling of the entire drivetrain and lubrication mechanism, which didn’t work.

The motor exploded itself, and the body was stripped and sold for scrap.

There it is.

(CLUNKING LOUDLY)

(GLASS SHATTERS)

Well, which one have we got?

We’re about to find out.

(CLOCK TICKING)

(SQUEAKING)

(TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWS IN DISTANCE)

(ENGINE STARTS)

You got the first one.

How much do I owe you?

Nothing.

Ten dollars for the tow.

(ENGINE BACKFIRES)

(AIR HISSING)

(METAL CREAKING)

What’s that? Wh-What’s that?

I don’t know.

(SPARKS POPPING)

(RATTLING)

I think you’ve got a third problem we’ve never seen before.

(LINE RINGING)

(GIRLS CHATTERING INDISTINCTLY)

MAN OVER PHONE: Zak residence.

Romulus, this is Augie Steenbeck.

Good morning, Mr. Augie. The gate is open.

No, we’re not there.

You’re not here?

May I speak to Mr. Zak?

Yes, Mr. Augie.

(GUN FIRES)

(SIREN WAILING)

(GUNFIRE AND SIREN CONTINUE IN DISTANCE)

You’re not here?

We’re not there.

The car exploded. Come get the girls.

The car exploded?

Parts of the car exploded itself, yes.

Come get the girls.

I’m not their chauffeur.

I’m their grandfather.

Where are you?

Asteroid City.

Farm Route Six, mile 75. Come get the girls.

I have to stay here with Woodrow.

What are you talking about?

The thing for Woodrow. We’re there.

Hmm.

Hello?

How’d they take it?

They didn’t.

No?

No.

No.

Yes.

You didn’t tell them still?

I still didn’t tell them.

You promised.

I know.

The time is never right.

The time is always wrong.

Are you okay?

No.

You never liked me, did you?

I never loved you.

You always thought I wasn’t good enough for her.

Yes. We’re saying the same thing.

Gas up the Cadillac.

Okay.

Tell the kids.

I will.

I’ll be there when I get there.

(SIGHS)

(CAMERA CLICKS)

It’s the end of that car.

Andromeda, check under the floor mats. Come on.

Pandora, check the side pockets.

Cassiopeia, check the cracks between the seats.

Take everything. What do you think, Woodrow?

I think it’s kind of sad.

(HORN HONKS)

(AIR BRAKES HISS)

(ENGINE STOPS)

Rest stop, 13 minutes.

Head count.

CHILD: One.

CHILDREN: Two. Three. Four.

Five. Six. Seven. Eight.

Nine. Ten.

All present.

Let’s give thanks for a safe journey. Billy?

Dear Heavenly Father, we thank thee kindly for a terrific bus ride.

I ate three boxes of Cracker Jacks, got a dog whistle and a miniature map of the original 13 colonies.

Also, we saw a coyote get run over by a 14-wheeler and left him flat as a pancake.

Boy, oh, boy. What else?

The bus driver had to stop twice because Bernice couldn’t hold it.

Could so.

JUNE: Amen.

CHILDREN: Amen.

JUNE: Lunchtime. Line up single file.

(MUSIC PLAYING OVER STEREO IN DISTANCE)

My word. It’s hot.

It’s the desert. What’d you expect?

I don’t know if I expected one thing or another, but I’m wilting like a cut petunia.

Humans don’t wilt.

Don’t they?

DINAH: No, wilting is a phenomenon by which a petal, leaf, or stem…

Do you dare me?

Dare you what?

To eat this hot pepper.

It’s an experiment.

No, don’t do it.

Hot pepper.

Holy Toledo. That’s Midge Campbell.

Where? Who?

Right smack in back of you.

Don’t look.

That must be her bodyguard.

Mr. Cho, yes? Hello.

You’re in cabin seven. Well, tent seven.

Here’s the key, but there’s no door.

Just a flap. Tent flap. (SNICKERS)

Tent?

I know.

I upgraded the electrical system Tuesday morning.

Better lighting, power for the ice machine and a wall-mounted bug zapper.

Unfortunately, a mistake got made, and cabin seven burned to the ground.

It’s a tent now.

We don’t want to sleep in a tent.

Of course. I understand.

May I say, I think you’ll find it very comfortable.

Is the young gentleman in distress?

He’s thirsty.

Of course. I understand.

Uh, juice preference, please? Apple, orange, or tomato?

(BANGING)

Excuse me, sir?

This bucket of nuts just stole my quarter.

I beg your pardon.

(SWITCH CLICKS)

(COIN CLINKING)

MAN OVER STEREO: (SINGING) She lived so long till her head got bald

Taken a notion not to die at all

Ida Red, Ida Red

I’m a plumb fool about Ida Red…

AUGIE: You’re probably wondering why we didn’t pack your mother’s suitcase.

It’s because she’s not coming with us on this journey.

She can’t come.

She got too sick.

And, to put it bluntly, after all the surgeries, therapies and interventions…

(DOGS BARKING)

…after two years of struggling and suffering, she succumbed to her illnesses.

I’m sorry.

I didn’t know how to tell you then.

I couldn’t figure out how to tell you later.

I didn’t know what to do.

The time was never right.

You’re saying our mother died three weeks ago?

Yes.

When is she coming back?

She’s not coming back.

Let’s say she’s in heaven.

Which doesn’t exist for me, of course, but you’re Episcopalian.

Come here. Let me hug you.

Okay. Sit back down.

Did you know already, Woodrow?

I think so.

She’d been away so long.

WOODROW: Mmmhmm.

(INHALES DEEPLY)

(EXHALES) Yeah.

We’re gonna be okay.

Your grandfather’s on his way.

We’re gonna stay with him for a period of time which is yet to be determined how long it’s gonna be.

Is she in there?

Yeah.

She’s in the Tupperware.

(WIND WHISTLING)

Cremated.

Are we orphans now?

Huh?

Are we orphans now?

No.

Because I’m still alive.

(SHUDDERING)

When my father died, my mother told me, “He’s in the stars.”

I told her, “The closest star, other than that one, is four and half lightyears away with a surface temperature over 5,000 degrees centigrade.”

(SCOFFS)

“He’s not in the stars,” I said.

“He’s in the ground.”

She thought it would comfort me.

She was an atheist.

The other thing she’d say which is incorrect… “Time heals all wounds.”

No.

Maybe it can be a Band-Aid.

Your concept of time is completely distorted, though.

I don’t think any of you except Woodrow even understands what 15 minutes means.

Fifteen minutes is 6,200 hours.

Exactly.

That’s not your fault.

If you could have anything in the world to eat right now, what would it be?

The character of Augie Steenbeck in the imaginary tale of our production was to become famously and indelibly connected to the actor who created the role, a former carpenter discovered in a bit part by the play’s director, Schubert Green.

I’ve finished my correspondence, Analisse.

Please bring me my cocktail and my pill.

Remember, the gentleman…

Oh, no.

…referred by Mr. Green has arrived.

No. Send him away.

Put him up at the Salty Skipper or the Lighthouse Inn and tell him to come back in the morning but not before 11:00.

The occasion of the first meeting between playwright and player is now, in our fanciful telling, a matter of theatrical lore and legend.

Setting, late autumn, late afternoon, a seaside village outside the grand metropolis.

Oh, no, again. II beg your pardon. I’m sorry.

Did Miss Watson not inform you? I’m indisposed.

I know, but the ice cream would’ve melted.

What’s this?

I think it’s the one you like.

Gooseberry Wriggle from the Frosty Spoon on East Rotterdam.

I wrapped it in sawdust, newspaper, and peanut shells.

You shouldn’t waste your spending money on an old fool like me.

Well, they gave me ten dollars bus fare, so I bought us a half bucket, hitchhiked, and pocketed the change.

Cool and delicious.

How long have you been in the service?

The service? What service? I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Well, unless I’ve been deliberately misinformed, I believe those stripes indicate the status of a ranking corporal, second class.

Oh, no. II’m G.I. Number Three in Bugle Boy Blows the Blues.

Was, anyway. We closed tonight.

I see. Property of the wardrobe department.

Not anymore.

How was it, by the way?

The play? It stunk.

Mmm.

Mind if I crack open a window?

Uh, not at all.

It’s sweltering, isn’t it?

Even the daisies and buttercups are drooping…

That window sticks a bit. That window sticks a bit!

(GLASS BREAKING)

(BIRDS CHIRPING)

(LAUGHING)

You broke my window.

Why does Augie burn his hand on the Quicky-Griddle?

Well, I don’t even know myself, to tell you the truth.

I hadn’t planned it that way.

He just sort of did it while I was typing.

Is it too extraordinary for you?

Uh, I guess, the way I read it, he was looking for an excuse why his heart was beating so fast.

Oh.

Oh, what an interesting sentiment.

I love that idea.

Maybe he should say it. It’s a very good line.

No, I suppose not. Not necessary.

(BUTTON CLICKS)

(RECORD PLAYER WHIRRING)

(DOOR OPENS AND CLOSES)

(SOFT MUSIC PLAYING)

It’s a fact, we’re not alone.

The alien stole the asteroid.

Long thought to be a lunar splinter fragmented from the lesser moon of the hypothetical planet Magnavox27, now considered a rogue pygmy cometette, according to the encyclopedia.

Obviously, she would’ve said something to him.

I’m certain of it. Your mother, I mean.

She would’ve gotten him to tell us the secrets of the universe or yelled at him or made him laugh.

She would’ve had a hypothesis.

You remind me of her more than ever.

She wasn’t shy.

You’ll grow out of that.

I think your sisters might be aliens, too, by the way.

When I met your mother, she was only 19.

She was smoking a cigarette, reading a paperback, taking a bath in a swimsuit on a rusty fire escape a flight and a half below my camera position.

Sometimes, I sometimes still think I still hear her here breathing in the dark.

Who knows, Woodrow?

Maybe she is in the stars.

(MUSIC STOPS)

You’re perfect.

(SOFT MUSIC PLAYING)

Okay?

Okay.

(MUSIC FADES)

(WIND WHISTLING)

(INSECTS CHIRPING)

(ROADRUNNER CHITTERS)

(BUS DOOR OPENS AND CLOSES)

(MUSIC PLAYING QUIETLY)

(BUS ENGINE STARTS)

MONTANA: Hold on, partner!

MAN 1: Zut alors.

MAN 2: Oh, no.

MAN 3: When’s the next one?

MONTANA: Sunday morning, I think.

(SIREN BLARING)

(GUNS FIRING)

(CLEARS THROAT)

Drink your juice.

(CLEARS THROAT)

(CAMERA CLICKS)

You took a picture of me.

Uh-huh.

Why?

I’m a photographer.

You didn’t ask permission.

I never ask permission.

Why not?

Because I work in trenches, battlefields, and combat zones.

MIDGE: Really?

Uhhuh.

You mean you’re a war photographer?

AUGIE: Mostly. Sometimes I cover sporting events. My name is Augie Steenbeck.

MIDGE: Mmm-hmm.

(SLURPING THROUGH STRAW)

What are you gonna do with it?

That picture.

Hmm. Well, if it’s any good, I guess I’ll try to sell it to a magazine, now that you mention it.

“Midge Campbell eating a waffle.”

Make me a print first, to approve.

Uh-huh.

This is Dinah.

This is Woodrow.

DINAH: I have a question.

AUGIE: Uh-huh.

Have you ever been shot with bullets?

Have I ever been…

Uh, once or twice, just grazed.

He got shrapneled in the back of the head, too. Show her.

MIDGE: Hmm.

I don’t say I forgive you yet, by the way.

(MICROPHONE FEEDBACK SQUEALS)

Welcome from the United States Military-Science Research and Experimentation Division, in conjunction with the Larkings Foundation.

We salute you.

(APPLAUDING)

Each year, we celebrate Asteroid Day, commemorating September 23, 3007 BC, when the Arid Plains Meteorite made Earth impact.

The itinerary for this three-day celebration includes a tour of the newly refurbished observatory with Dr. Hickenlooper and her staff, a picnic supper of chili and frankfurters with an evening fireworks display, the viewing of the astronomical ellipses at its peak just before midnight tonight, and finally, the awarding of the annual Hickenlooper Scholarship after Monday’s banquet lunch.

Now, I’ll start by presenting the commemorative medals, but first, I’ll do my speech first, which you’ll also receive in a folio edition as a souvenir.

(CLEARS THROAT)

(INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC PLAYING)

(AMPLIFIED THUMPING)

(CLEARS THROAT)

Chapter One.

I walked to school 18 miles each morning, milked the goats, plucked the chickens, played hooky, caught fireflies, went skinny-dipping in the watering hole, said my prayers every night and got whipped with a maple switch twice a week.

That was life.

Chapter Two.

My father went off to fight in the war to end all wars, it didn’t, and what was left of him came back in a pine box with a flag on top.

End of Chapter Two.

Next, I went to officer school, and 20 years passed at the speed of a dream.

A wife, a son, a daughter, a poodle.

Chapter Three. Another war.

Arms and legs blown off like popcorn, eyeballs gouged out, figuratively and literally.

The men put on shows under the palm fronds dressed as women in hula skirts.

That was life.

In the meantime, somebody else’s story.

A man thinks up a number, divides it by a trillion, plugs it into the square root of the circumference of the Earth multiplied by the speed of a splitting atom, and voilà, progress.

I’m not a scientist. You are.

End of Chapter Three.

Junior Stargazers and Space Cadets, we watch transfixed as you enter into uncharted territories of the brains and spirit.

If you wanted to live a nice, quiet, peaceful life, you picked the wrong time to get born.

That’s my speech.

(AUDIENCE APPLAUDING TEPIDLY)

Be notified, you are each the guardian of your own safety.

Maintain alert caution throughout the following demonstrations.

To Ricky Cho, for his work in the field of aeronautical induction, the Collapsing Star Ribbon of Success.

To Clifford Kellogg, for his work in the study of particle disintegration, the Black Hole Badge of Triumph.

To Dinah Campbell…

It’s fueled by cosmic radiation instead of sunlight.

GIBSON: …for her work in the area of botanical acceleration…

Unfortunately, it makes all vegetables toxic.

GIBSON: …the Red Giant Sash of Honor.

To Shelly Borden, for her work in the realm of mineral fabrication…

I synthesized an extraterrestrial element.

It’s going to be added to the periodic table next year.

GIBSON: …the Distant Nebula Laurel Crown.

To Woodrow Steenbeck for his work in the sphere of astronomical imaging…

It may have applications in the development of interstellar advertising.

GIBSON: …the White Dwarf Medal of Achievement.

(AUDIENCE APPLAUDING)

Our tour ends here.

Thank you for your attention, and thank you to the Larkings Foundation for their generous funding.

(CROWD MURMURING)

(DEVICE BEEPING SOFTLY)

What do those pulses indicate?

DR. HICKENLOOPER: What?

Oh, the beeps and blips? We don’t know.

Indecipherable radio emissions from outer space.

Probably a red herring.

Does it change ever?

Not to my knowledge.

It’s a date, maybe.

It’s a date?

On the galactic calendar.

Maybe.

Mary, we think it’s a date on the galactic calendar.

MARY: What? Wow.

Is it always today?

(BEEPING CONTINUES)

MAN: (SINGING) Yippee-yay

There’ll be no wedding bells for today I got spurs that jingle jangle, jingle…

BILLY: We thank thee for the mustard.

We thank thee for the relish, and we thank thee for the onions.

We thank thee for the pickles, and we…

Head count.

One.

Two.

Three.

Four.

Five.

Six.

Dwight? Where’s Dwight?

Eight.

Dwight? Dwight?

J.J: Less than 0.0000% chance exists of extraterrestrial life in the entire universe.

Dwight!

It’s a scientific fact.

Other than space bugs and microscopic worms.

I assertively disagree.

So do I.

It’s not a scientific fact.

It’s not even a number.

Pass the pickles, please.

How’s the chili?

Fine, once you add the hot sauce.

Thank you.

MAN: Sparkler?

Consider the constants… endless space and immeasurable time.

The likelihood is increased by a factor of infinity.

Where’d you get that?

The cantina machine.

Where’s the cantina machine?

SANDY: The cantina machine?

Can you see anything with those on your face?

Hmm.

Oh, gadzooks. Wh-What’d you…

What did you do to deserve that?

Nothing.

Who hit you?

Nobody.

It’s greasepaint, to feel like my character.

Oh. How does she get a black eye?

In the story.

Well, she doesn’t in the story.

It’s on the inside.

Okay.

It’s supposed to be, anyway.

It’s on the inside. All right.

EXECUTIVE: The Larkings Foundation claims permanent, incontestable rights.

That’s right.

They’re ours. We own them.

Incontestable rights to all patents or inventions derived from any and every submission, without exception.

Not for teenagers. Read the fine print.

The projects all belong to Uncle Sam.

(FOOD CRUNCHING)

(DISHES CLINKING)

I call it “Triple Orbit and Return without Burning Up in the Atmosphere.”

Why are you sitting there all by yourself?

You.

Hmm?

Uh, are you shy?

I’m a late bloomer.

So I’ve been told by my parents.

Are you intimidated by us?

No.

Let’s do a personality test. What’s your name again?

Woodrow L. Steenbeck.

Hmm.

What’s the “L” for?

WOODROW: Lindbergh.

Everybody look at Woodrow.

I agree. Shy but not intimidated.

Move over here, Woodrow.

Brainiac, huh?

Yeah, brainiac.

It sort of goes without saying, doesn’t it?

Everybody already knows we’re abnormally intelligent.

That’s true. My mother made it for me.

It’s supposed to be funny, according to her sense of humor, but it’s not as hilarious as it was originally.

Oh, really? How come?

Because she was alive then. Now she’s dead.

Oh.

Haha.

What was she like?

My… Oh, my mother?

She was, um…

Like this.

When did you lose her?

Officially, this morning, but I think I already knew.

CLIFFORD: Howdy.

DINAH: What are you doing up there?

Just enjoying the desert air.

You dare me?

DINAH: Dare you what?

CLIFFORD: To jump off this bungalow.

It’s an experiment.

No.

I love gravity.

It might be my favorite law of physics at the moment.

HOST: Players of the stage, a tribe of troubadours and nonconformists.

They lead unconventional, sometimes dangerous lives, which nourish and elevate their artistic aspirations and illuminate the human condition.

Next, ten weeks later, the eve of Asteroid City’s first public preview.

A drawing room on board the Apache Plainsliner bound for the California coast.

(KNOCKING AT DOOR)

It’s open.

Schubert says you got to come back.

If I’m so important, why isn’t he here himself?

Probably too busy. Too busy to go chasing after you.

They sent me. You know who I am?

I think so. Understudy.

The understudy. That’s right. Let me just, uh…

(BREATHING HEAVILY)

He said, if you’re crying, I read you this one.

No, that’s not it. Here it is.

If you’re hopping mad, I read you this one.

Give me both.

Not what he said. He said, if…

Give me both.

“Tell her she’s a stuckup, lowclass snob but she’s got no good reason to be. If she sasses you, sass her back. Tell her she’s a borderline neurotic with an Achilles heel complex.”

That’s the second one.

“Tell her she relies on her beauty like a wobbly crutch. It’s her deepest weakness. Tell her she’s got the potential for genuine greatness, but I say with absolute certainty she will never achieve it.”

Anything else?

Uhhuh. He said, if you’re cool and collected, which I think is what I think you seem to be, then that means you probably really don’t want to come back and I got to give you this.

Read it.

Not what he said.

He said this one’s private. Just the two of you.

He said that… Hehe said…

“Dear Kim, I’m sorry I shouted and called you a spoiled bitch and a minor talent and broke your glasses and threw them out the window. Given that I have always considered you to be the most consummately gifted living actress and a person of great intelligence and character, these statements and actions do not accurately reflect my true feelings. Yes, I may be a manipulative snake, as you once characterized me behind my back… you see, I do have my sources, but I love you like a sister, other than that one time in the bathroom the day we met, which has never been repeated, as we both know. I never meant to hurt you or insult you or offend you in any way, only to try with the few tools I have at my disposal to do my job, which is to make it work. Forgive me. We open tomorrow night, with or without you. Without, our entire devoted company will suffer complete disaster and tragic calamity, as will a brilliant, fragile genius named Conrad Earp. With, you will enjoy the triumph of your career, which does not matter in the least. All that matters is every second of life onstage and our friendship. Your servant, your director and, if I may, your devoted mentor, Schubert Green.”

(TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWING)

What’s your name, understudy?

(THUNDER CRASHES)

HOST: They continued through the night as far as Ohio, then disembarked and caught the return flight arriving two hours prior to curtain.

The talented understudy immediately replaced the original Woodrow.

J.J: I strongly question whether your daughter’s Silly Putty resembles anything from outer space.

It’s not Silly Putty.

I’m sorry, but I doubt it.

It’s called S’morestozium.

This is excellent.

Thank you.

It’s really all the machine’s doing.

What the devil do you know about astrogeology anyway, J.J, whatever that stands for?

I just maintain the workings.

Shelly’s thesis is supported by…

Flimsy, outdated evidence.

I beg your pardon?

Not in my opinion.

I liked the Silly Putty or S’morestozium, in fact.

I’m just quoting what he said.

Your son’s project might very well have killed us all today, by the way.

Coming from the family that brought us the electromagnetic death ray.

It’s a weapon.

Of course it’s lethal.

So you admit it.

Not to mention Brainiac’s flag.

I mean, is he trying to provoke World War III or something?

The jet propulsion belt is eminently safe.

I’d allow an eightyear-old boy to operate it.

In fact, I did… Ricky’s cousin Chip, and he broke the solo flight altitude record.

They’re strange, aren’t they?

Your children, compared to normal people.

Yes.

That’s correct.

It’s true.

Hmm.

DINAH: After that, the second person says the name the first one said, then adds another.

Then the third person says both plus a new name.

And then the next person keeps going, and so on in a circle.

It’s a memory game. Get it?

I’ll start. Cleopatra.

Cleopatra, Jagadish Chandra Bose.

Like that?

Exactly.

Of course. Yes.

SHELLY: Got it.

Cleopatra, Jagadish Chandra Bose, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek.

(THUNDER CRASHES)

Cleopatra, Jagadish Chandra Bose, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, Paracelsus.

Cleopatra, Jagadish Chandra Bose, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, Paracelsus, uh, Kurt Gödel.

Oh, the Vienna Circle.

The Austrian logician.

Correct.

Cleopatra, Jagadish Chandra Bose, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, Paracelsus, Kurt Gödel, William Bragg.

CLIFFORD: Which one?

RICKY: There’s two.

William Henry Bragg.

CLIFFORD: I prefer the son.

SHELLY: The father’s better.

Cleopatra, Jagadish Chandra Bose, Antonie van…

OTHERS: Leeuwenhoek.

Paracelsus, Kurt Gödel, William Henry Bragg.

And the new one.

Lord Kelvin.

Cleopatra, Jagadish Chandra Bose, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, Paracelsus, Kurt Gödel, William Henry Bragg, Lord Kelvin…

Midge Campbell. Can I say her?

As long as she’s a real person, you can say anybody you like.

CLIFFORD: Cleopatra, Jagadish Chandra Bose…

Including my mother.

SHELLY: She’s my idol.

My turn. Jagadish Chandra Bose, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, Paracelsus, Kurt Gödel, William Bragg, the father, Lord Kelvin, the mathematical physicist, Midge Campbell, your mother, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the rocket scientist.

I don’t know if this game works with us.

Uh, brainiacs, I mean. II think it might go on forever.

SHELLY: I don’t mind.

In my school, nobody’d play this game with me in a million years.

Plus, the names would be too obvious.

I know my next one… Diophantus.

BOTH: Wait until it’s time to say it.

Try it backwards, Brainiac.

Say the new one first.

Hojo Tokiyuki, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Midge Campbell, Lord Kelvin, William Henry Bragg, Kurt Gödel, Paracelsus, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, Jagadish Chandra Bose… Cleopatra.

(INSECTS CHIRPING)

(THUNDER CRASHES)

Put out that cigarette, Dwight.

Oh, hold on. Hold on.

You men should be ashamed of yourselves. Are you?

Yes, ma’am, but we didn’t give him that.

Didn’t you?

That cigarette.

He just must have got it his own self…

Dwight!

…from the cigarette machine.

(ANIMAL HOWLING IN DISTANCE)

I almost believe you.

Let’s go.

So long, Dwight.

So long, Dwight.

(PLAYING UPBEAT TUNE)

MIDGE: Was I ever there?

Was I ever there?

Was I ever there?

Memorizing my lines.

Uhhuh.

Approved.

(MUSIC PLAYING QUIETLY)

MAN: (SINGING) As I walked out in the streets of Laredo

As I walked out in Laredo one day

I spied a young cowboy…

I do a nude scene. You want to see it?

Huh? Did I say yes?

You didn’t say anything.

Uh, I meant yes. My mouth… My mouth didn’t speak.

MIDGE: It’s a monologue.

Pretend it starts when I step out of the shower.

That you are a cowboy

These words he did say

(KNOB SQUEAKS AND WATER RUNS)

As I boldly walked by

Come sit down beside me and hear my sad story

I’m shot in the breast and I know I must die…

When you first picked me out of the secretarial pool, I had $111 in my bank account.

I lived alone with a cat and a parakeet in a one-room dishwater flat.

I sold the DeSoto to lend you the down payment for my engagement ring.

It was spring.

I’m not sore.

I know you’re a good man.

I’m not sorry.

I never deceived you.

Remember me as a blur in the rearview mirror.

Was I ever there?

Did you actually see me?

I can’t even see myself anymore.

But here I am.

Let’s get divorced.

It’ll be done tastefully, of course.

We cut to the back of my legs when the towel falls down.

(AUGIE MUMBLING)

Sometimes… They sometimes do a stunt double.

MIDGE: Sometimes.

I don’t know if I like beards, by the way.

AUGIE: Oh.

Can I take another picture?

Not for publication.

I thought you never ask permission.

AUGIE: Don’t move.

(CAMERA CLICKS)

I prefer to play abused, tragic alcoholics, and one day, I’ll probably be discovered lifeless in an overflowing bathtub with an empty bottle of sleeping pills spilled all over the floor, but the sad thing is I’m actually a very gifted comedienne.

That’s true.

Are you married?

I’m a widower, but don’t tell my kids.

Why not?

I-I… I mean, I wasn’t going to.

All right. Okay.

Yeah. (MUMBLES)

Oh. I’m sorry.

Thank you. They do know, by the way, but just barely.

(FOOTSTEPS APPROACHING)

What do you swap for out of this particular jukebox, mister?

MOTEL MANAGER: Of course. I understand. This machine sells land.

Land, you say?

Yes, indeed.

The properties just beyond these cottages, in fact.

Out of this here soda pop machine?

Yes, indeed.

Well, now, I ain’t calling you a liar to your face, but that sounds to me like some kind of toads-windle.

Of course. I understand. It’s not a toads-windle.

You put in the money, you receive a notarized deed to the land.

How big a spread?

For $10 in quarters, approximately half a tennis court.

Put the potion in it.

Friskity, triskity, briskity, boo.

Knickerty, knockerty, tockerty, too.

And with this spell, Mama comes back alive!

God save these bones.

(CAR DOOR OPENS)

(FOLK MUSIC PLAYING QUIETLY)

What’s in the Tupperware?

Freight train, freight train

Going so fast…

He finally told you.

I don’t know what train he’s on

Won’t you tell me where’s he gone…

Who’s this old man?

Poppy, I think.

You don’t remember me.

I remember his smell.

(SNIFFS)

We’re not going to abandon my daughter at a motel in the middle of the desert, buried next to the communal showers.

You’re ruining the funeral!

He’s making her go to hell!

If you torture us, we’ll sacrifice you.

I understand.

Thank you for your clarity.

I’ll tell you what, let’s leave her alone in the ground until tomorrow morning.

Then we’ll exhume the Tupperware, bring her with us in the Cadillac and bury her again this weekend in the backyard next to the seventh hole at Rancho Palms, where I live in a beautiful house with a swimming pool.

Agreed?

Mmm-hmm.

Okay.

Let’s hope a coyote doesn’t dig her up in the meantime.

Nothing we can do about it anyway.

(FIRECRACKERS CRACKLE AND POP)

Ooh. Look at that.

(INSECTS CHIRPING)

(OWL HOOTING)

Tonight, you’re in for a real treat.

I don’t know how many of you ever observed an astronomical ellipses before.

In fact, can we get a show of hands?

Nobody?

Wow. Okay.

Well, what you’re gonna see is a very simple dot-dot-dot… three pinpoints of light inside your refracting box, which may not sound very exciting at first, until you consider how those dots managed to transmit themselves across a thousand billion miles of space onto that little scrap of black cardboard.

Twice every 57 years, when the Earth, the sun, the moon, and the galactic plane of the Milky Way all combobulate along the same angle of orbital interest, the radiant energy of three neighboring stellar systems induces a parallel ecliptic transit, thus all but proving the hypothesis of celestial flirtation.

The hitch, of course, is that the math doesn’t work.

But maybe one of you one day will be the genius who solves that problem.

The event will begin in 30 seconds.

Remember, if you look directly at the ellipses rather than through your refracting box, not only will you not actually see the effect but you will burn the dots straight into your retina, probably permanently.

I know that for a fact, because they’re still burned into mine from when I was 11 going on 12.

That’s when I realized I wanted to be an astronomer, which is another story.

Here we go.

(INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC PLAYING)

There it is.

AUDIENCE: Ooh!

DR. HICKENLOOPER: Uh, these are just such marvelously luminous colors, aren’t they?

Very exciting. Does everybody see it?

BILLY: I don’t. I just see a staple.

Yipe! It works.

MIDGE: Are you Shelly?

SHELLY: Yeah.

MIDGE: I’m your idol. What’s your rank?

Commanding secretary.

I was a Cookie Trooper myself.

Really? Wow.

What’ll they say in Squad 75?

Hmm?

(MUSIC CONTINUES)

(LOW HUMMING)

(MUSIC CONTINUES)

(CAMERA CLICKS)

(CLEARS THROAT)

(MUSIC ENDS)

The, uh, alien stole the asteroid.

(BELL RINGS)

HOST: Schubert Green, born Shylock Grzworvszowski.

Director, immigrant.

Known for his limitless energy, his voracious enthusiasms… a wellknown actress described him sexually as an animal, specifically a rabbit, and his long, deep, and intimate relationship with success.

What do you think, Lunky?

Good.

(FOLK MUSIC PLAYING)

I’m not going to ask what the hell’s going on here.

His wife Polly left him for an allstar second baseman during the first week of rehearsals.

My living quarters.

Oh, Rose

My Rose Marie…

Sign this.

Oh, no.

(SIGHS) It’s Clark’s report card.

Uhhuh. What’d you think it was?

I thought maybe we were already divorced.

Oh.

Not yet, but eventually.

He made the honor roll again.

Oh, Rose Marie

I love you

I’m always dreaming…

(MIMICS SPEED BAG SOUNDS)

I’m staying at Diego’s penthouse.

Clark’s at my mother’s. The apartment’s empty.

Why don’t you just go home?

I don’t think I should be alone in a building with real windows.

(ELECTRICITY CRACKLES)

(MUSIC STOPS)

(POWER WHIRRING)

(MUSIC RESUMES)

Makeup cuts my hair and shaves me.

Costumes washes my dungarees.

This is where I belong, for now.

Much better.

Did you do the green?

Hmm.

It’s been a great ten years, Schubert.

I don’t regret a second of it.

Clark still loves you.

I still love you.

But not like before?

But not like before.

(DOOR OPENS AND CLOSES)

HOST: Schubert Green lived in the scenic bay of the Tarkington Theater for all 785 performances of Asteroid City.

Dark nights, he stayed in the Governor’s Suite of the Nebraska Hotel.

(DOOR OPENS)

POLLY: One last note.

When Midge makes her exit in Act Three, Scene Five, try having her say the line after she closes the door.

Hmm. Maybe we are doomed.

I will.

My Rose Marie

POLLY: Goodbye.

(FOOTSTEPS DEPARTING)

(SONG FADES)

(BIRDS CALLING)

(MAN SPEAKING INDISTINCTLY OVER PA)

(SIREN BLARING)

(AIRCRAFT PASSING OVERHEAD)

(ALL CHATTERING INDISTINCTLY)

(BEEPING SOFTLY)

(WHISTLING)

Here he comes.

I’ve just informed the president.

He authorized me to read and implement the provisions of National Security Emergency Scrimmage Plan X.

Here I go.

“The following top secret directive was mandated into law on July 1, 1950. In the event of unforeseen engagement with intelligent lifeform or forms from any planet not specifically defined as our Earth, be advised to initiate the following protocols. One, confirm said lifeform is not operating under the guidance of any hostile foreign terrestrial government.”

No, I don’t think he’s working for the Russians or the Red Chinese, but you never know.

He certainly didn’t give me that impression.

“Two, confirm the lifeform does not intend to annex, colonize, vaporize, or expropriate the resources of the sovereign territories of the United States of America.”

I doubt it. He took the asteroid and went.

“Three, identify and detain all possible witnesses and place them under group arrest for a period of no less than one week defined as seven calendar days during which time they be subjected to a prescribed battery of medical and psychological examinations and crossexaminations.”

Standard procedure. Already in the works.

“Four, secure the site, cease the dissemination of information, collect and transport the totality of evidence to a hermetically enclosed, deep-underground secret storage facility and publicly deny all aspects of the event, including its existence, for a period of no less than 100 years, defined as 36,500 days.”

End of directive.

That’s pretty clear.

Huh.

What do we tell them?

Who?

The Junior Stargazers, the Space Cadets, the moms and dads.

Midge Campbell.

OTHERS: Midge Campbell.

Tell them it didn’t happen?

(ALL LAUGHING SOFTLY)

No, obviously, we’ll have to formulate a suitable cover story.

(DEVICE CLICKING)

CLIFFORD: You dare me?

(MACHINES BEEPING AND WHOOSHING)

Dare you what?

To press that button.

I will break your neck.

SHELLY: That’s an alien eating an apple. That’s an alien doing jumping jacks.

That’s an alien in a top hat. That’s an alien climbing a ladder.

That’s an alien on a racehorse. That’s an alien…

DETECTIVE: Let’s take it from the top.

I told you 50 times, the alien picked up the asteroid…

“Alleged” alien.

I know what I saw!

It’s called a meteorite.

An extraterrestrial being.

This is a microfiche of your school newspaper.

Your byline accompanies an article criticizing the principal’s disciplinary methods.

Who were your sources?

I was in the sixth grade.

Just answer the question.

And I will not name names!

(SWITCH CLACKS)

(ELECTRICITY BUZZING)

(WHIRRING)

(FOOTSTEPS APPROACHING)

You dared me!

What did I say?

What did I say?

You dared me!

(MAN VOCALIZING)

(EXHALES SHARPLY)

All right. Um…

MAN: (SINGING) When I’m calling you…

I’m going to attempt to proceed with the lesson plan I originally prepared.

Just to keep orderliness under the circumstances.

I expect that some…

Some of our information about outer space may no longer be completely accurate, but, anyway, there are still only nine planets in the solar system, as far as we know. Billy?

Except now there’s an alien.

True, by all appearances.

Nevertheless, Neptune…

Fourth largest planet by diameter, Neptune orbits the sun only once every 165 years. Bernice?

Maybe the alien went there.

Well, maybe.

I don’t think anybody knows where the alien went or came from.

Yes, Dwight?

At first, I thought the alien was kind of sneaky, but now I think he was probably nervous to go to Earth.

He’s never been here before, I bet you.

Then why’d he steal our asteroid, then, if he’s such a gentleman?

These are all reasonable questions, but, at this time, let’s stick to Neptune because I haven’t had time to prepare any lesson plan on this subject we’re talking about.

The alien.

JUNE: The alien, yes.

And, by the way, I don’t mean to evade your questions.

I want to emphasize that you’re safe.

We all are, here on Earth.

Your parents have been notified of at least something.

America remains at peace.

(FOOTSTEPS APPROACHING)

Yes, Montana?

I’d like to parley a notion myself, if I could, June.

Um…

Okay.

(SIGHS SOFTLY)

I figure this here alien come from a tribe we don’t know nothing ’bout, do we?

Anything we say’d just be pure speculation.

But I tell you what I reckon.

I reckon that alien don’t mean no harm at all.

I reckon he just took hisself down here to have a looksee at the land and the peoples on it.

In the spirit of exploration.

See, I don’t look on a feller alien all suspicious-like.

No, he ain’t American.

No, he ain’t a creature of God’s green Earth.

But he’s a creature of somewheres, and so are we.

Now, let’s show the old feller some hospitality, and if he turns out to be a dirty dog, which I reckon he ain’t, well, that’ll be a job for the United States armed forces, and they ain’t never lost a war yet.

Thanky-do.

I agree with Montana.

Now, Neptune.

(WHIRRING SOFTLY)

Tell me, where do they go?

(MUSIC PLAYING SOFTLY)

The smoke rings…

Which way did he go?

Hmm. Well, I think he went from here to here to here to… I don’t know where.

My mother couldn’t remember which was which, so she made up her own constellations.

That one’s the Coat Hanger. That one’s the Leaky Faucet.

Over there’s Fried Egg with Spatula.

My mother is a constellation, oror at least part of one.

A Swiss scientist named a hypothetical star after her.

Really? What’s it called?

Midge Campbell X9 Major.

Midge Campbell X9… I’m gonna look it up.

WOODROW: Is she interested in astronomy, your mother?

Not exactly. She’s interested in stardom.

I don’t mean that as a criticism, by the way.

It’s her job to be famous.

Anyway, I’m sick of her face, but I love her voice.

She should do more radio.

DR. HICKENLOOPER: I never had children.

Sometimes I wonder if I wish I should’ve.

I discovered a hypothetical star myself, by the way.

Ooh. Where is it?

Which one?

Right there. Partly blocked by that burntout light bulb.

(CLICKING AND WHIRRING)

Uh…

What happened?

I don’t know.

(BEEPING)

(ALARM BUZZING)

(HEADS THUMP)

(BEEPING AND BUZZING STOP)

Oh.

WOODROW: Uh…

After you.

Sometimes I think I’d feel more at home outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

Oh, wow.

Me, too.

Did it come out?

Some people say a man…

I mean the other one.

Oh.

A poor man’s made out of muscle and blood

Muscle and blood and skin and bones

A mind that’s weak And a back that’s strong…

Okay.

Another day older and deeper in debt

Saint Peter, don’t you call me ‘Cause I can’t go

You feel different?

I owe my soul to the company store…

Hey. You feel different?

I don’t feel anything at all.

Me, neither.

Hmm.

I’m not a good mother.

Uhhuh.

I love my daughter, but I’m not a good mother because, unfortunately for her, she’s not my first priority.

On account of there’s always already the thing I plan to do next.

I love my daughter, by the way. I-I… I love all my children.

We have a magical time when we’re together.

I have another girl and a boy.

They live with my second ex-husband in Utah.

Uh-huh.

He rarely sees them, either.

Mmm-hmm.

I wish I felt guilty at least, but I don’t experience that emotion, if I understand it correctly.

Yes. (MUMBLES)

I’ve played it, of course.

So you’re saying you never feel guilty in real life?

Not to my knowledge.

I think because of my history with violent men.

Starting with my father, brother and uncles.

There’s always already the thing I plan to do next, too.

Usually, it’s a war.

Nobody can compete with that, can they?

Probably not.

I did a USO tour once. It was thrilling.

I owe my soul to the company store…

I think I see how I see us.

Hmm?

I mean, I think I know now what I realize we are.

Okay.

Two catastrophically wounded people who don’t express the depths of their pain because we don’t want to.

That’s our connection.

Do you agree?

Uh-huh.

Let’s, um…

Let’s change the subject, shall we?

(KNOCKING AT DOOR)

It’s open.

Hello?

MIDGE: In here.

(DOOR CLOSES)

(FOOTSTEPS APPROACHING)

Hello? Hello.

I’m just your neighbor, Stanley Zak.

I wanted to make sure you and your daughter have everything you might need at the moment.

Thank you. I think so.

What a strange experience this is, isn’t it?

I went to law school with your former agent, by the way.

Mort?

Mort. Yes, Mort.

Oh.

That came out.

Yeah, it came out. All my pictures come out.

Anyway, as I say, we’re just across the driveway, as my son-in-law seems to have established.

Send my best wishes to Mort and his family.

I will, if and when we’re permitted contact with the outside world, though I don’t speak to him, to tell you the truth.

I love your hairdo like that.

Ugh, Christ.

MOTEL MANAGER: You see that wonderful crackly-patch right out there between the dead cactuses and the dried-up riverbed?

I think so.

That’s your parcel.

How much of it do I own?

Well, it’s actually an interesting financial mechanism.

You don’t technically own anything outright.

You own stock in the town in the form of a loan with a 50year maturity rate.

Then, at the end, the loan is forgiven.

You dare me?

How about water?

MOTEL MANAGER: Of course. I understand.

There isn’t any. This is a desert opportunity.

You dare me?

I heard you.

It’s an experiment.

I don’t care anymore.

I dare you or I don’t dare you. It doesn’t matter.

Do what you wish. I give up.

(SIGHS)

What’s the cause?

What’s the meaning?

Why do you always have to dare something?

I don’t know.

Maybe it’s because I’m afraid, otherwise, nobody’ll notice my existence in the universe.

Dare you what?

Yes, dare you what?

To climb that cactus out there.

Lord, no. No.

Please don’t.

MIDGE: Hello.

Hello. Hello.

We met before. I’m the mother of that Cookie Trooper who idolizes you.

I know.

Thought you might not recognize me out of uniform.

You were very good in the one about the tramp in the brothel who gets amnesia and becomes a pediatrician.

Thank you. Thank you.

You were very authentic.

That’s actually maybe my favorite character I’ve ever played.

I don’t know why nobody else liked it.

Oh. Yes. Me, neither.

Thank you. Some people liked it.

Oh, I’m sure. I did.

Who hit you?

Am I not in this?

Excuse me. I’m not in this.

Um, who hit you?

It’s on the other eye.

It’s greasepaint.

Some people did… Do like it.

Oh, I’m sure.

I thought it might have been your second ex-husband in Utah.

(KNOB SQUEAKS AND WATER STOPS)

(BIRDS SCREECHING)

If I sleep on a cot instead of the sofa bed, that might leave room for me to set up a darkroom in the pool house.

(GUN FIRING)

Is that possible as a compromise?

It depends on the measurements.

(ALARM BLARING)

It’s not that big.

I can actually carpool the girls to school by golf cart, you know.

If I cut across the 14th tee.

AUGIE: Oh, it’s that close to the elementary?

WOODROW: How can you two even think about this?

The world will never be the same.

What happens next? Nobody knows.

Will he visit us again? Will he speak to us?

What will he say? Why did he steal our asteroid?

Was it ours in the first place? Does he like us?

Nobody knows.

That’s true.

What’s out there? Something.

The meaning of life. Maybe there is one.

I hope you’re still Episcopalian.

You took his picture, Dad.

I’m a photographer.

WOODROW: Episcopalian?

(AIRPLANE ENGINE BUZZING)

(MUSIC PLAYING QUIETLY)

(GUN FIRING IN DISTANCE)

AUGIE: You really want us, Stanley?

STANLEY: No, but you need me.

She did love me, you know.

Who says she didn’t?

I’ve been on my own for 12 years, after all.

And remember, my wife drank herself to death.

“Drank herself to…” I don’t know what that means.

In my loneliness, or perhaps because of it, I’ve learned not to judge people, to take people as I find them, not as others find them, and most of all, to give complete and unquestioning faith to the people I love.

I don’t know if that includes you, but it included my daughter and your four children, so you’re welcome to stay with me for as long as you wish, whether I like it or not.

Which I don’t, by the way.

Stop helping us.

We’re in grief.

Me, too.

(GRUNTING)

Are you planning to abandon us?

Uh…

I was, as a temporary measure.

What?

But I decided against it.

I knew it. I sensed it.

I didn’t.

I’m not the wet nurse. I’m their grandfather.

I would’ve hired a babysitter in addition to you.

I’m not planning to abandon you anymore, even as a temporary measure, which is all it ever would’ve been.

I forgive you for considering it.

(DRIPPING)

(DEVICE BEEPING AND CLICKING)

(DEVICE PULSING RHYTHMICALLY)

(WHIRRING)

(CAMERA CLICKS)

(WIND WHISTLING)

CLIFFORD: Evening, soldier.

(FOOTSTEPS APPROACHING)

Can I ask you to stick this dime in the pay phone for me, please?

All public telephone service has been suspended until further notice.

I know it. The thing is, right before the hubbub yesterday, I made a trunk call to my cousin long-distance, and the operator let me owe the surcharge because all I had was three pennies.

I don’t feel right stealing from the telephone company.

(PHONE BEEPS AND CLICKS)

(WHIRRING)

(DIAL TONE DRONING)

(CRACKLING)

Although it might convey a different meaning on his planet.

It’s true.

If he even has a planet, by the way.

He might be nomadic.

Hmm.

Operator? Kismet9770.

Station to station.

OPERATOR: Stay on the line.

Thank you.

(BEEPING)

(PHONE RINGING)

Hello? Who’s calling?

(CLEARS THROAT)

Good evening, Mrs. Weatherford. It’s Ricky Cho.

May I have a word with…

Ricky, it’s after 9:00.

He’s already drinking his Ovaltine.

Can’t this wait until tomorrow?

I’m afraid not, Mrs. Weatherford.

II wouldn’t disturb you if it weren’t of the utmost importance to the Weekly Bobcat.

I just need a minute of his time.

All right, Ricky. Hold the line.

Some kind of romance between the two of you?

Skip, Ricky Cho!

What? Who?

Who? You.

Who?

You know who.

Us?

We only met yesterday.

I feel she doesn’t like me in that way.

Uhhuh. Well, I think you’re pretty smart, but I think you’re pretty dumb.

Hello?

Shh, shh. Hold it.

Skip? Ricky. We got a scoop.

(INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC PLAYING)

The first hints of the future existence of Asteroid City were revealed during a special seminar scheduled at the playwright’s request.

Conrad Earp, how can we help you?

Well, the thing is, Saltzie, I’d like to make a scene where all my characters are each gently, privately seduced into the deepest, dreamiest slumber of their lives as a result of their shared experience of a bewildering and bedazzling celestial mystery.

A sleeping scene.

A scene of sleep.

But I don’t know how to write it.

Yet.

Yet.

I thought, perhaps, if you and your wonderfully talented pupils just improvise, something might reveal itself.

Who wasn’t going to be famous?

On any given day, roll call in Saltzburg Keitel’s classroom was a now-dazzling list of undiscovered luminaries…

Linus Mao.

Lucretia Shaver.

Walter Geronimo.

Asquith Eden.

Mercedes Ford.

Even, unofficially, Jones Hall.

What’s it about, the play?

Mmm, infinity, and I don’t know what else.

Is there a title?

I’m torn. Maybe The Cosmic Wilderness.

Do you like that one?

Mmm, not really.

OTHERS: Uh-uh.

What’s the alternative? Title, I mean.

Well, it’s the name of the small town on the California/Nevada/Arizona desert where the story takes place.

Okay. Who here has ever actually fallen asleep onstage during a live performance in front of a paying audience?

SCHUBERT: Me.

I spent the first threequarters of Act Two of The Welterweight on a massage table with no lines till the last minute and a half.

One night, I nodded off.

On purpose, you did this?

(CHUCKLES) No.

Did you miss your cue?

Almost.

I heard it, and I woke up very scared, but I knew my lines.

Good morning, Schubert.

Good morning, Saltzie.

What brings you here today? We haven’t seen you in six weeks.

Lavender and Lemons opened last night to very good, uh… I might say raves, by the way.

I’m available.

What did he teach? Example.

Sleep, it’s not death.

The body keeps busy, breathing air, pumping blood, thinking.

Maybe you pay a visit to your dead mother.

Maybe you go to bed with your ex-wife or husband.

Maybe you climb the Matterhorn.

Connie, you wake up with a new scene threequarters written in your head already.

Schubert, you wake up with a hangover.

Important things happen.

Is there something to play? I think so.

Let’s work on the scene from the outside in.

Be inert.

Then dream.

Where are we, Connie? And when?

Talk to us.

Yes. All right.

One week later.

Our cast of characters’ already tenuous grasp of reality has further slipped in quarantine, and the group begins to occupy a space of the most peculiar emotional dimensions.

Meanwhile, the information blockade spearheaded by General Grif Gibson has been, it appears, incomplete.

(BELL RINGING)

(PEOPLE CHATTERING INDISTINCTLY)

(TRAIN RATTLING)

(BELL CLANGING)

(TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWING)

WOMAN OVER SPEAKER: Extra! Extra! Late edition!

Extra! Extra!

Late edition!

(DEVICE BEEPING)

I hope you’re aware, you and your accomplices may still face felony prosecution, possibly even a treason charge.

I’ll fight it all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary, and win.

(DOOR OPENS)

This just in, from the president.

He’s furious. Thanks a lot, Ricky.

I don’t know what to say, General Gibson.

I’m sorry.

Don’t apologize, Dad.

The public has a right to the truth.

You made your point.

This tribunal is a mockery!

What about Steenbeck, who took the photograph?

It’s on the front page of every newspaper on the planet.

Can’t we arrest him, as well?

Unfortunately, no.

He dropped a print in the mail to his photo agency first thing Tuesday morning, and the postman got it before we did. He’s innocent.

Supposedly, he did a nude of Midge Campbell, too.

Midge Campbell?

Ooh, Midge Campbell.

As you know, boys and girls, your parents arrived late last night by military helicopter.

They’ve been sequestered in that metal hut over there for the past several hours while the government scientists explain the situation to them, although everything’s already in the newspapers.

It’s my understanding they’re about to go onto this closed-circuit television set at any moment.

Everything’s connected, but nothing’s working.

Let’s carry on with the lesson plan, then. Billy?

I did the alien’s flying saucer with a hubcap and a chicken pot pie tin.

JUNE: Good work. Very accurate.

Jupiter, fifth planet from the sun, largest in our solar system…

Yes, Bernice?

I did the alien on his home planet.

JUNE: Well done. How wonderful.

Due to extreme atmospheric conditions, an anticyclonic storm has raged on Jupiter’s surface for over–

Yes, Dwight?

I wrote a song about him.

Oh. Um, this may not be the time for a musical performance.

Let’s…

(FOOTSTEPS APPROACHING)

Uh, yes, Montana?

Pardon the interruption, June.

The boys and I heard old Dwight was scribbling up a little warble, so we learned ourselves to play it.

(STRUMS BANJO)

One, two, three.

Howdlydee…

(DWIGHT SINGING)

Howdlydee…

(FAST BLUEGRASS MUSIC PLAYING)

Howdlydee, howdlydee

(WHOOPING)

Howdlydee Howdlydee

Howdlydee, howdlydee

Howdlydee, howdlydee

Come on, y’all!

Hop on one foot, skip on two

Dance the Spaceman Howdlydo

Bounce on four foot Spring on three

Let’s be spacemen Howdlydee

Howdlydee Howdlydee

This was on an old roll I forgot to develop in the glove box.

“Self-Portrait with Shrapnel.”

Do page 45.

(AUGIE CLEARS THROAT)

“What have you done? How could you?”

It says “shouting and crying.”

Uhhuh.

So shout and cry.

“How could you!”

“How couldn’t I?”

“How couldn’t you?”

“That’s what I’m asking.”

“It was over already. You were free. What’s the point of committing suicide when there’s nothing left to escape?”

“Maybe that was the problem all along.”

“Stares for a moment.” (MUMBLING)

And then it says I smash everything off the shelf.

So smash everything off the shelf.

(GRUNTING)

“Such a sickening waste.

“Think of the people. Think of the places. Think of the world…”

Use your grief.

For a rehearsal? I’m not even in this picture.

I’m a war photographer.

Use your grief.

All right.

“Such a sickening waste. Think of the people. Think of the places. Think of the world you could have seen, Dolores.”

“I’ve already seen it.”

She still is… uh, is-is she a ghost?

It’s not clear.

Uh… (SNIFFS)

Then the, uh… The…

Then the coroner comes in, orders me out of the room.

I slowly turn away and close the door.

Scene.

My sandwich is burning.

(DOOR OPENS)

(SIZZLING)

(DOOR OPENS)

(BLOWING)

My daughter saw us.

What?

Oh, uh, Dinah saw us.

Through this window, in your bedroom yesterday.

(LIVELY JAZZ MUSIC PLAYING)

Did you, uh, tell her we were rehearsing again?

I didn’t think of that. I should’ve.

But it’s too late, because I admitted everything.

Did she tell Woodrow?

Hard to say.

She can keep a secret.

I don’t know if she will.

This isn’t the beginning of something, Augie.

Isn’t it?

Is it?

Probably not.

Unless maybe it is.

I don’t like the way that guy looked at us.

What guy?

The alien.

Oh. How did he…

How did he look at us?

Like we’re doomed.

Maybe we are.

(BUZZING SOFTLY)

(SIZZLES)

(BOTH GASP)

What did you just do?

I burned my hand on the Quicky-Griddle.

Why?

It’s not clear.

Show me.

You really did it.

That actually happened.

(GUNS FIRING RAPIDLY)

Pull.

(CRACKLING AND WHIRRING)

How long can they keep us in Asteroid City? Legally, I mean.

Well, I’m not an attorney, but I’d say as long as they like.

I think we’d have to file an injunction and successfully argue the case. Six months to a year?

Of course, we’d also need to initiate a civil suit for loss of income.

Maybe we should just walk out right now.

I’m not sure they could stop us without killing somebody.

Interesting idea.

What kind of mileage you think that jet pack gets?

Ask Roger or his son.

Apparently, he’s being prosecuted for revealing state secrets.

They’ll never make it stick.

I’m in no hurry.

I like the desert. I like aliens.

Pull.

(FOOTSTEPS APPROACHING)

GUARD: How’d you get that back?

The projects remain under secure lockdown.

No Stargazer is permitted personal access without the express permission…

My son invented this death ray.

That may be true, but my orders are…

Step back.

Easy, fellas.

We’re not in Guadalcanal anymore.

Okay, okay, okay.

Everyone, please. It’s been a difficult quarantine.

I’ll zap you right now!

You stole your projects!

GIBSON OVER RADIO: Goddamn it, tell them to stand down!

Stand down! You hear that?

General Gibson says, “Stand down.”

You married?

Of course.

We’ll reconfiscate the projects at a later time.

Probably after dinner.

Try it.

DINAH: Tab Hunter, Doris Day, out, Jack the Ripper, out, Bing Crosby, Shirley Temple, out, out, Orson Welles, Lucille Ball, out, Marlon Brando, out, Queen Elizabeth, Mickey Mantle, out, out, Yul Brynner, Louis Armstrong, out, Lana Turner, out, Betty Grable, Ella Fitzgerald, out, out, Rock Hudson, out, Jerry Lewis, out, out, Greta Garbo, Karl Marx, out, Joan of Arc, out, Charles Darwin, Walter Pidgeon, out, Emily Dickinson, Galileo, out, out, Pontius Pilate, out, Ernest Hemingway, Jackie O…

Who’s responsible for stealing my radio telescope, my signal processing receiver and my entire spectrographical monitoring network?

They’re trying to contact the alien.

Well, I appreciate that, but what about Dr. Hickenlooper?

If you’re trying to contact the alien, include me.

Did you hear anything from him so far?

No.

DR. HICKENLOOPER: Huh.

What’s all this?

WOODROW: I put the American flag just to be patriotic.

Now we need to really mean something.

A universal message, not only to earthlings.

We already thought of everything we could think of…

a cross, a star, a four-leaf clover, letters, numbers, hieroglyphics.

What’s the point of projecting a star onto the moon?

Exactly.

I ask that sincerely.

How about “E equals MC-squared”?

I still think it’s…

They know that.

It’s too easy.

This is our chance to be actually worthwhile in our lifetimes.

I see what you mean.

Whose turn was it?

Oh, the middle of mine.

I’d better start over.

Cleopatra, Jagadish…

A word, Woodrow.

About the, uh, settings on the spectrograph.

Over here, if you wouldn’t mind.

DINAH: …Kurt Gödel, William Henry Bragg…

DR. HICKENLOOPER: The, uh, warning label indicates that the, uh…

It’s all worthwhile in your lifetime.

This, I mean.

Okay.

Your curiosity is your most important asset.

Trust it.

Okay.

Trust your curiosity.

Okay.

The resources of my lab will always be available to you.

After this thing is over, I mean.

You could maybe sort of be my protégé, if you like.

Oh, wow. Maybe we can prove the hypothesis of celestial flirtation and get the math right finally.

Wow. Let’s try.

I think I see the dots from space burned into your eyeballs.

I’m sorry about your mother.

I miss mine, too, and she died 46 years ago.

Thank you.

I’ve already petitioned the State Assembly to change the name of the town from Asteroid City to Alien Landing, U.S.A.

This municipality might end up being the center of a vast community of Stargazers and Space Cadets.

It’s a historic offering.

(JINGLING)

GIBSON: As you know, the Asteroid Day itinerary had to be suspended last week due to the factual reality of our circumstances.

However, I have an announcement to make.

Dr. Hickenlooper and the Military-Science Research and Experimentation Division, in conjunction with the Larkings Foundation, have officially selected a recipient for this year’s Hickenlooper Scholarship, and you’re all going home first thing tomorrow morning.

The president has opted to lift the quarantine by executive decree.

(ALL CHEERING)

I’d like to take this opportunity, and, by the way, all of this year’s projects, setting aside my own differences of opinion with Ricky Cho, were of the very highest caliber, without exception, to officially declare, uh…

(CROWD MURMURING)

What’s happening now?

Scholarship…

What’s happening now?

I don’t know.

It’s today again.

(BEEPING)

(CROWD MURMURING)

(INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC PLAYING)

It’s been inventoried.

(CROWD GASPING AND MURMURING QUIETLY)

Under the provisions of National Security Emergency Scrimmage Plan X, the lifting of the quarantine, which I just announced, is now canceled or at least postponed due to the unexpected new event which just…

(CROWD CLAMORING)

(CLAMORING CONTINUES)

Why does Augie burn his hand on the Quicky-Griddle?

I still don’t understand the play.

What?

(WHOOPING)

(CLAMORING CONTINUES)

Where are you going?

I’ll be right back.

MAN: I don’t play him as an alien, actually. I play him as a metaphor.

That’s my interpretation.

Metaphor for what?

II don’t know yet. We don’t pin it down.

Schubert. Schubert.

Schubert! Schubert!

Huh? Yes.

What’s wrong? Are you on?

Technically, but General Gibson just started the scene where the president doesn’t accept his resignation.

I’ve got six and a half minutes before my next line.

I need an answer to a question I want to ask.

Okay.

Am I doing him right?

Oh.

Well… (CLEARS THROAT)

I told you before, there’s too much business, with the pipe, with the lighter, with the camera, with the eyebrow, but aside from that, on the whole,

in answer to your question… Sit down.

You’re doing him just right.

In fact, in my opinion, you didn’t just become Augie.

He became you.

I feel lost.

Good.

He’s such a wounded guy.

I feel like my heart is getting broken, my own personal heart, every night.

Good.

Do I just keep doing it?

Yes.

Without knowing anything?

Yes.

Isn’t there supposed to be some kind of an answer out there in the cosmic wilderness?

Woodrow’s line about the meaning of life.

“Maybe there is one.”

Right.

Well, that’s my question.

I still don’t understand the play.

Doesn’t matter.

Just keep telling the story.

You’re doing him right.

I need a breath of fresh air.

Huh.

Okay, but you won’t find one.

Right.

(DRONING SYNTH MUSIC PLAYING)

(CLOCK TICKING)

(WIND WHISTLING)

WOMAN: Hello.

Oh. It’s you, the wife who played my actress.

Hmm. My scene was cut after one rehearsal.

We still use your photograph.

Hmm.

You remember the dialogue?

No.

We meet in a dream on the alien’s planet.

Magnavox27.

Actually, it’s one of the moons of it.

You say, “Did you talk to the alien?”

I say, “Not yet.”

You say, “Why not? I thought for sure you would’ve yelled at him or made him laugh.”

I say, “Or asked him the secrets of the universe?”

You say, “Exactly.”

I say, “I think he’s shy.”

You say, “So’s Woodrow, but I’m sure he’ll grow out of it. I mean, at least I hope he will, without a mother.”

I say, “He’s a late bloomer, but maybe I think you’ll need to replace me.”

You say,

“What? Why? How? I can’t.”

I say, “Maybe I think you’ll need to try.

“I’m not coming back, Augie.”

Then you take a picture of me and start crying, and I say…

“I hope it comes out.”

And I say, “All my pictures come out.”

(CAMERA CLICKS)

Hmm.

Good memory. Why’d they cut it?

Running time.

Now I’m First Lady-in-Waiting to the Queen Consort in Fruit of a Withering Vine.

You missed your cue.

June and the cowboy are already necking in the station wagon.

They’re bandaging the understudy’s hand right now.

Oh. It’s you.

We almost would’ve had a scene together.

Hello.

Hello.

(CLOCK TICKING)

Six months into the run, the company received the news, a catastrophic automobile accident.

Conrad Earp, American playwright unequaled in passion and imagination, dead at 50.

CONRAD: I’d like to make a scene where all my characters are each gently, privately seduced into the deepest, dreamiest slumber of their lives as a result of their shared experience of a bewildering and bedazzling celestial mystery, but I don’t know how to write it.

(SNORING)

You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep.

MAN: What was that?

(MURMURING)

What’s happening?

You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep.

MAN: What? WOMAN: That’s not true.

MAN: Say it again. WOMAN: Who cares?

You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep.

Why should you?

Maybe not.

Of course.

Uh, yes.

You can’t wake up…

If you don’t fall asleep.

You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep.

You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep.

You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep.

ALL: You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep.

You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep.

You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep.

You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep.

You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep.

You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep.

You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep.

You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep.

You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep.

You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep.

(INSECTS TRILLING)

(MUSIC PLAYING QUIETLY)

Somewhere there’s music How faint the tune

Somewhere there’s heaven How high the moon…

Uh, where’d they go?

Good morning, Mr. Steenbeck.

Juice preference, please. Apple, orange, or tomato.

Where’d they go? Everybody.

Of course. I understand.

The president lifted the quarantine after all, at midnight.

He sent the whole gang home, the troops, the cowboys, the Junior Stargazers, and Space Cadets.

You are free to return back to wherever you came from.

We had 11 checkouts this morning.

I guess you overslept.

They returned your science projects, by the way.

Hmm.

Tomato.

Right away.

(DOOR OPENS)

The plan was to shovel it up and take her with us.

Like I said, we’ll exhume the Tupperware.

We don’t have any burial rights to this plot here.

I would question whether it even is a plot.

It isn’t.

PANDORA: Don’t murder my mother’s ashes!

ANDROMEDA: He’s killing her!

No, no, no, no. Let us pray.

Poppy!

Dear Heavenly Father, we thank thee for the life of this magnificent woman, who was once just a little girl like these three witches in training.

Not in training.

We are witches.

Part witch, part alien.

Like these three witches at one time.

We had no intention of permanently burying her next to this unmarked cactus, but I no longer have the strength to fight for her dignity, nor neither does Augie.

Do you?

No.

So we’ll defer to the wishes of her stubborn daughters.

Woodrow, any final farewell?

I don’t believe in God anymore.

Fair enough.

Amen.

GIRLS: Amen.

Friskity, triskity, briskity, boo, knickerty, knockerty, tockerty, too.

Mama is in the ground.

Say the prayer for Mama.

Mama, we’ll say the prayer, too.

You are beautiful…

(DOOR OPENS AND BELL JINGLES)

AUGIE: Five orders of flapjacks and two black coffees.

(DOOR CLOSES)

Thanks.

(MUSIC PLAYING QUIETLY)

Who needs to pee?

WAITRESS: How about a glass of strawberry milk?

GIRLS: Mmm. PANDORA: Yes, please.

Somebody win that scholarship?

I did.

When?

Last night.

General Gibson slipped it to me in line at the communal showers.

I think he just wanted to get it over with.

It’s actually a standard-sized check of typical dimensions.

The big one’s only for show.

Wow.

Congratulations, Woodrow.

That’s, uh, stupendous.

You must be some kind of a genius.

I agree.

You must be some kind of brainiac.

Has it got any strings attached to it?

It’s made out to you personally.

How do you plan to use it?

I’ll probably spend it on my girlfriend.

What do you write in that little book?

Next year’s project, confidentially.

Gee, whiz. Look at that. Whoa.

Wow. Is that possible?

Is that possible?

(FOOTSTEPS APPROACHING)

WAITRESS: Midge Campbell left you her address.

It’s just a post office box.

(WHISPERS) What happened that night I saw the…

That’s none of your business, Stanley.

I know. Of course it isn’t.

I only ask because Woodrow told me

Dinah told him.

I understand. I understand.

I understand.

I went to law school with her former agent.

Anyway, I don’t object.

She’s actually a very gifted comedienne.

That’s true.

(BOMB EXPLODING IN DISTANCE)

(RUMBLING)

CASHIER: Another atom bomb test.

(GUNS FIRING OUTSIDE)

(SIREN WAILING)

(FOLK MUSIC PLAYING)

WOMAN: (SINGING) Freight train, freight train

Going so fast

Freight train, freight train

Going so fast

I don’t know what train he’s on

Won’t you tell me where he’s gone?

(CAMERA CLICKS)

Woodrow, let’s go.

(WOMAN VOCALIZING)

Don’t know where

He’s heading for

(ENGINE STARTS)

What he’s done

Against the law

(TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWS)

Got no future, got no hope

Just nothing but the rope

(VOCALIZING)

Freight train, freight train

Going so fast

Freight train, freight train

Going so fast

I don’t know what train he’s on

(ROADRUNNER CHITTERS)

Won’t you tell me

Where he’s gone

(VOCALIZING)

He lost his reason Lost his life

He killed his friend in mortal strife

He must keep moving like the rolling skies

Just awaitin’ till he dies

(VOCALIZING)

Freight train, freight train

Going so fast

Freight train, freight train

Going so fast

I don’t know what train he’s on

Won’t you tell me where he’s gone

(VOCALIZING)

When he dies just bury him, please

Way down the end of old Chestnut Street

Poplars at his head and feet

And tell them he’s gone to sleep

(VOCALIZING)

Freight train, freight train

Going so fast

Freight train, freight train

Going so fast

I don’t know what train he’s on

Won’t you tell me where he’s gone

(VOCALIZING)

(SONG FADES)

(WIND HOWLING)

MAN: (SINGING) You

Can’t wake up

If you don’t fall asleep

You can’t fall in love

And land on your feet

You won’t smell the roses

If you never plant a seed

And you can’t wake up

If you don’t fall asleep

You can’t make an entrance

If you keep missing your cue

And you won’t pick a winner

Till you learn how to choose

You’ll never find the treasure

Unless you dig deep

And you can’t wake up

If you don’t fall asleep

Oh, you’ll never

Have memories

Worth keeping

Oh, you’ll never

Find the truth

You are seeking

While you are sleeping

But you can’t wake up

If you don’t fall asleep

So go live your dreams

And live them real deep

There is some counting money

And there’s some counting sheep

Oh, you can’t wake up

If you don’t fall asleep

If you don’t fall asleep

(SLOW INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC PLAYING)

(SONG ENDS)

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