Melissa Leilani Larson’s Pilot Program, an excerpt

March 21, 2017

The play PILOT PROGRAM is a supposition in which Abigail and Jacob Husten are asked to be part of a pilot program restoring polygamy to contemporary Church practice. In this scene, Abigail and Jacob ask Heather, Abigail’s good friend and former student, to join them in the pilot as their second wife.

JACOB: Sorry I’m late. Can I get you anything, Heather? Water? Pellegrino?

Images courtesy of Plan-B Theatre, by Rick Pollock

HEATHER: Whatever’s easiest. (JACOB disappears into the kitchen.) You guys. You two. You don’t look like you’ve changed a bit.

ABIGAIL: I don’t know that we have.

HEATHER: That’s fabulous.

ABIGAIL: You think so?

HEATHER: So many people get married for the wrong reasons. Too fast, outside pressure… You guys are the real deal.

ABIGAIL: Have you… Is there someone? In your life?

HEATHER (Lightly:) That trail of shattered dreams goes off in a direction I no longer choose to travel.

ABIGAIL: Really.

HEATHER: I have things to do. Places to visit. I’m doing three months in the Alps come June. Just me, Margaret Atwood, and Switzerland.

ABIGAIL: Sounds lovely.

(JACOB re-enters with water glasses for all.)

HEATHER (To JACOB:) You know, I used to have the biggest crush on you.

(JACOB and ABIGAIL exchange a look.)

JACOB: Did you know about this?

ABIGAIL: I did not.

HEATHER: I knew nothing was ever going to happen, of course. But I used to think about what it would be like to date a guy like you.

(Awkwardness.)

HEATHER: I’m sorry. That was a crazy thing to say. I didn’t realize it would be—

ABIGAIL: Don’t worry about it. We were— I was thinking about something else, is all. I got distracted.

(JACOB sits beside ABIGAIL. Takes her hand.)

JACOB: Heather.

HEATHER: Yeah.

JACOB: You’re a fine editor, Abby tells me.

HEATHER: Well, that’s a bit of a flattery.

JACOB: Congrats.

HEATHER: Thanks.

JACOB: Yes. Well.

ABIGAIL: Well.

HEATHER: Well?

ABIGAIL: Um. As I said before, we’re glad you’re here. We have something to—ask you.

HEATHER: Really.

ABIGAIL: Yeah.

HEATHER: Okay.

ABIGAIL: We—Jacob and I— We’ve been asked to a part of something potentially—

JACOB: Unprecedented?

ABIGAIL: Oh, there’s precedent. Historic?

JACOB: And a little insane.

HEATHER: Now I’m intrigued.

ABIGAIL (To JACOB:) Do you want to—?

JACOB: You’re doing just fine.

ABIGAIL: But shouldn’t you— Shouldn’t it be you? Who asks?

JACOB: It’s coming from both of us. I think it has to.

ABIGAIL: What would you think about coming back to Salt Lake? Permanently?

HEATHER: I’m pretty sure I would loathe it.

JACOB: Not exactly what we were hoping for.

ABIGAIL: It could wait. Until after your trip. After Switzerland. When you’re ready.

JACOB: We’d want you to be ready.

HEATHER: What exactly— You said, “hoping for.” And you’re both so—on edge. What’s going on?

ABIGAIL: A really awkward question, and a peculiar request. Margaret Atwood would probably love to write about it.

HEATHER: Not like I haven’t already scored quite a few points in the awkward department.

JACOB: Well, there’s the baby thing.

ABIGAIL: We’ve been thinking about how to— About other things to try.

JACOB: And we’ve tried. We’ve tried so many. I worry that we— (ABIGAIL shoots him a look.) I can’t help it. I worry about hurting you. How much experimenting can a body take?

ABIGAIL: I bruise easily.

HEATHER: I’ll do it.

ABIGAIL: You will?

HEATHER: You want to have a baby. And you need a surrogate. I can do that. I think I can, anyway.

ABIGAIL: No— I mean, thank you, but—

JACOB: I didn’t even think— Wow.

HEATHER: Isn’t that what you want?

ABIGAIL: Not exactly.

JACOB: It’s very thoughtful.

ABIGAIL: Yes. Incredibly sweet. But nine months— (To JACOB:) I don’t know if I can say it.

JACOB: Of course you can.

HEATHER: Moving back to Salt Lake, though. That’s another thing altogether.

ABIGAIL: Heather, I’m asking— We’re asking— for something considerably more.

HEATHER: … … More?

ABIGAIL: We’ve been asked— Jacob and I have been called to be part of a new program in the Church. We want you to do it with us. I guess— What we’re asking is if you’d be interested—willing, I suppose—to, um, marry us. Him. But it would also be me. We don’t need an answer now.

JACOB: You can think about it.

ABIGAIL: We would rather you thought about it.

JACOB: Of course. Take your time.

HEATHER: You’re saying— What you’re saying— It’s not possible. (She laughs.) I just— You’re asking me to marry you? Both of you? That’s nuts.

ABIGAIL: It is what it is.

HEATHER: …So this is happening.

ABIGAIL: Pretty much.

HEATHER: Do you think I’m that desperate? That lonely?

ABIGAIL: No—

HEATHER: What makes you think I want to be your second wife? Anyone’s second wife?

ABIGAIL: I thought it would be better to ask someone I knew. Someone I already loved and admired.

HEATHER: You admire me?

ABIGAIL: Of course I do. You have ambition. Drive. You’re a force to be reckoned with. It’s only a matter of time before you have a book contract of your own.

HEATHER: He’s your husband.

ABIGAIL: I’m not giving him to you.

HEATHER: Then what are you doing?

ABIGAIL: Sharing. Him.

JACOB: Still in the room.

HEATHER: How does this work exactly? I’ll tell you, I was the kid on the playground who didn’t want to take turns on the swings. I’d run out of class first to claim mine, and then I wouldn’t give it up, all recess long, until someone pulled me out of it. I suck at sharing.

ABIGAIL: I don’t know. I guess that’s what we have to figure out.

HEATHER: What do you mean, you don’t know?

ABIGAIL: I mean, I don’t know.

HEATHER: You’re asking me to— How can you not have a plan?

ABIGAIL: This is all new to me too. All right? We all know what the ideal would be, and that this is not it. I thought, What can I do to make this situation more tolerable?

HEATHER: And the answer was to call me.

ABIGAIL: I can’t explain it. But yes.

JACOB: Look. We know how crazy this all sounds. I don’t know that we’ve completely come to grips with it ourselves. But you’re the closest thing she has to family. Her students are her children.

HEATHER: …I used to wish you were my sister. I looked for excuses to visit you in your office almost every day. Coming here was like— Are you saying this is my only chance? To get married?

ABIGAIL: Of course not.

HEATHER: I wanted it a long time ago, when I was an undergrad and a fairy tale wedding was what everyone wanted. But finishing BYU single was liberating in a way. I didn’t need to get married to be whole. I was— I am me. I have a job. I support myself. I go to church on Sunday and I think how blessed I am to be in complete control of my life. To only have to worry about what I want. Sometimes, though, there is that little nagging feeling that something—someone is missing. I’ll come home late from work, and my apartment is dark and quiet. Most days, I relish the quiet. But now and then I can’t help but wonder what those floors would sound like with more than one person walking across them. I sit on the couch and pull a blanket around myself and wish I could be—held.

ABIGAIL: Honey—

HEATHER: It’s nothing new. I’m fine. Marriage is not a part of my plan right now. It hasn’t been for a while. I’m thirty-three. So what? There’s nothing wrong with being single at thirty-three.

JACOB: No. Of course not.

ABIGAIL: This was a bad idea. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have presumed. I was being selfish. I didn’t think— I didn’t mean to insult you.

JACOB: Not at all. We were trying to figure out who would—work best with us. Abby thought of you first.

ABIGAIL: I miss you. I miss our talks. I thought that if we were crazy enough to do this thing, Jacob and I, then you were the natural choice to do it with us. The thought just came into my head, an item to check off on a to-do list. Like it was ordinary. Expected.

HEATHER: “Kindred spirits.” That’s what you used to call us.

ABIGAIL: Yes. I still believe it.

HEATHER: I should go.

(But she stops. Her expression is thoughtful.)

ABIGAIL: You’re exhausted, I’m sure. Where are you staying? We have a spare room upstairs. I should have told you that in the first place.

JACOB: We’ll pay for the room.

HEATHER: Abby(ABIGAIL looks up at her tone.) Abby, I— What happens if I say yes?

ABIGAIL: Are you— Did you— Feel something? Just now?

(HEATHER sucks in a breath. She is blinking back tears. Somehow she manages to nod. ABIGAIL takes HEATHER’S hand in both of hers.)

ABIGAIL: Okay, then. Okay.

Melissa Leilani Larson’s plays include THE EDIBLE COMPLEX (seen by 15,000 children in 40+ Utah schools), PILOT PROGRAM (Plan-B Theatre), LITTLE HAPPY SECRETS (Salt Lake Acting Company Fearless Fringe), MARTYRS’ CROSSING (Edinburgh Fringe), and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (Miami University Ohio; first commissioned by Brigham Young University), among others. FREETOWN won the 2015 Ghana Movie Award for Best Screenplay and the Utah Film Award for Best Picture. Mel’s current work-in-progress, SWEETHEART COME, was a 2016 O’Neill National Playwrights Conference semi-finalist. Mel is the Dramatists Guild Ambassador for Utah, a member of the Plan-B Playwrights Lab, and a 3-time Association for Mormon Letters Drama Award winner. She holds a BA in English from BYU and an MFA from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop.

Shelah

(Co-Editor-in-Chief) teaches English at BYU and French at a Salt Lake City middle school. She has an addiction to her Audible account, hates making dinner, and embraces the chaos of life with a husband, six kids, a dog, a lizard and four rabbits.

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