Olympians

In Heather Burt's two-act play, Olympians, a laundromat-café on the outskirts of an Olympic host city becomes the scene of opportunistic scheming, surreal climate changes, and tragic loss. 

Below you'll find a brief synopsis and an excerpt. If you're interested in reading the full play script or discussing the possibility of workshopping or production, please get in touch: hburt(at)telus.net.


SYNOPSIS

The Olympics are on — both Summer and Winter — and Will Laurence’s laundromat-café, located far from the hype of the Games, has been booked for an intimate gathering of Canadian Olympic Team members. Determined to move up in the business world, Will sees the gathering as an opportunity to connect with Olympic money. He’s also counting on the help of his customer April’s well-connected fiancé. April, however, has other things on her mind. Obsessed with protecting the romance of her wedding and the exclusivity of her relationship, she devises a plan to keep the visiting best man from invading her home. But the plan depends on the cooperation of her sister, Maeve, for whom relationships of all kinds have become more trouble than they’re worth. Committed to no one, Maeve has embarked on the exhausting project of doing only what she wants — and what she currently wants is to seduce Will.

Drifting in and out of the volatile negotiations between these three is Percy, a stuttering homeless man with a passion for athletics. Percy’s most urgent concern, now that his downtown shelter has been swept away in the Olympic clean-up of the city, is finding enough money to buy lunch at the 7-11. The project to which he devotes himself most zealously, however, is preserving the memory of Canadian Olympic athlete Percy Williams, a track star who ran for the pleasure of it and eventually, alone and debilitated, committed suicide. 

While Percy never quite manages to drum up enthusiasm for his hero, or spare change for his lunch, Will, April, and Maeve briefly organize themselves to accomplish their goals. But their self-serving gestures of collaboration are doomed. 

 
OLYMPIANS (excerpt)
 
CAST OF CHARACTERS
(in order of appearance)
 
 
WILL:             owner of the laundromat-café, late 20s
 
PERCY:          a homeless man, mid 40s
 
APRIL:           customer, late 20s
 
MAEVE:         customer, April’s older sister, early 30s
 
MAN &
WOMAN:      customers, police officers, Team Canada reps, reporter
                        20s or 30s (played by the same two actors)
 
The setting is a laundromat-café in an unnamed Canadian city. The laundry area, stage right, features washers and dryers in the background and, in the foreground, a long table on which customers do their sorting and folding. To the far right, either on another table or hanging from the ceiling, is a television. Throughout the performance the TV is on, playing coverage of the Winter Olympics. The sound is muted, unless otherwise indicated. Lighting on the laundry side is bright and white. The laundry area must be entered through the café. The café, stage left, features a service counter in the background. There is a glass case with baked goods and other snacks, an espresso machine, and a cash register. Either to the left or right of the service counter is a door leading to the customer washroom. In the foreground are three tables, each with a chair or two, and a magazine rack. To the far left is another television, playing coverage of the Summer Olympics. The sound is muted, unless otherwise indicated. The lighting is warmer and dimmer than on the laundry side. Customers enter the café through an imaginary door in front of the tables, a little off to the left. A narrow apron in front of the whole establishment serves as the sidewalk outdoors. A transparent screen, raised for much of the play, serves as the exterior wall of the establishment. The laundromat side of the wall has a window, the café side a door. At the base of the wall is a stoop, on which people sit.
 
The time is early twenty-first century. Half of the characters dress in winter attire, the other half in summer attire. The Olympics are on.
 

ACT ONE
 
Scene 1
 
It is night. The screen/wall is lowered, but the audience is able to see the actors on the other side. The chairs in the café are mounted on the tables. WILL is mopping the floor of the laundry area and watching the television. The volume is high enough that the audience can hear it. On the table is a small pile of folded laundry, a box of laundry detergent, and an empty green garbage bag. As the TV announcer speaks, PERCY emerges from the customer washroom, wearing only boxer shorts and shoes and carrying an armload of clothes. He has long, matted hair and a long, greying beard. He shuffles unsteadily to the laundry area. 
 
TV VOICE 1: . . . where we’re about to sign off after another day of fierce competition
in these Winter Games. As you can see from the medal standings, Canada continues to hold its own, with five gold, seven silver, and four bronze. But it’s not over yet, of course, and we’ll be back tomorrow with full coverage of the men’s and women’s downhill events, as well as more figure skating, speed skating and a special feature on the history of the Olympic flame, which you can now see on your screen, burning through the night and throughout the entire Games. From all of us here, a very pleasant evening —
 
WILL yawns and mutes the television.
 
WILL:             Did you use the Irish Spring?
 
PERCY:          (looking down) Yes.
 
WILL:             You tidied up in there? The sink and the floor and everything?
 
PERCY:          Yes.
 
            WILL sets his mop aside and shakes open the green garbage bag.
 
WILL:             Okay — throw your stuff in. I’ll do it tomorrow sometime. It’s gonna be                                dead in here. (shivers) I hear there’s snow in the forecast.
 
            PERCY drops his clothes into the bag. WILL eyes PERCY’s boxer shorts.
 
                        Are those shorts clean?
 
PERCY’s reply reveals that he speaks with a slight French Canadian accent and a moderate impediment, which slows his speech and causes long pauses as he attempts to force out words or syllables.
 
PERCY:          You . . . washed them last . . . week.
 
WILL:             (shakes his head) Take ’em off. There’s another pair in the pile.
 
PERCY removes his shorts and drops them in the bag. WILL twists the bag shut and tosses it under the table. PERCY turns to the pile of clothes on the table and begins dressing. The clothes he puts on are very shabby, with the exception of one shirt.
 
                        No one ever came back for that shirt. You may as well take it.
 
            PERCY puts on the shirt, which is too big for him.
 
                        Not bad. Maybe someone’ll leave you some decent pants one of these                                days.
 
PERCY:          I got these . . . pants in nineteen seventy . . . six.
 
WILL:             Yeah? They look it.
 
PERCY:          They had Olympics that . . . year. In Montreal.
 
WILL:             Yeah?
 
PERCY:          I wore these . . . pants.
 
WILL:             Where?
 
PERCY:          To the Olym . . . pics.
 
WILL:             You were at the Olympics?
 
PERCY:          Just track and . . . field. Bruce Jenner won the de . . .
 
WILL:             Decathlon? How’d you get in?
 
PERCY:          . . . cathlon. With a . . . ticket.
 
            WILL frowns, unsure whether or not to believe this.
 
WILL:             No kidding. So are you from Montreal?
 
PERCY:          Long time . . . ago. My father named me after Per . . . cy Williams.
 
WILL:             Who’s he?
 
PERCY:          Michael . . . Thériault.
 
WILL:             (baffled) Huh? Who?
 
PERCY:          My father.
 
WILL:             No, man. I mean who’s Percy Williams?
 
PERCY:          A runner. He got arth . . . ritis and committed sui . . . cide.
 
WILL:             Never heard of him.
 
PERCY:          Everyone . . . forgot him. He was the fastest man in . . . the world. In the                            1928 Olym . . . pics.
 
WILL:             Wow. Where was he from?
 
PERCY:          Van . . . couver.
 
WILL:             No kidding. (shakes his head) Never heard of the guy.
 
PERCY:          Everyone . . . forgot him.
 
WILL:             Huh. See, that’s the great thing about technology. It immortalizes stuff.
Anything big happens in these Games, they’ll have it all on film. Just hit the rewind and it all comes back to life. (pauses) They’ll have a lot of crap in there too, but that’s the price you gotta pay for saving the good stuff.
 
            WILL checks his watch and picks up the mop and the box of laundry detergent.
 
                        So, I gotta close up here. (pauses awkwardly) You going to that shelter for                            something to eat?
 
            They start walking toward the café.
 
PERCY:          They moved it.
 
WILL:             Where to?
 
PERCY:          They didn’t . . . say.
 
WILL:             Oh. (again pauses awkwardly) So where do you get dinner?
 
PERCY:          7-11 . . . sometimes.
 
WILL:             Right. (nodding, agitated) Well . . . that’s cool. They’ve got a good set-up
there . . . microwave and forks and stuff. I’ve eaten there . . . y’know, sometimes.
 
WILL drifts behind the café counter, where he stashes the laundry soap and mop.                         PERCY hovers in the middle of the café.
 
                        Okay, man. I’ll, uh, see you later.
 
            PERCY shuffles toward the door. WILL drums his fingers on the edge of the counter.
 
                        Stop in for a coffee if, y’know . . . if you feel like it . . . tomorrow. I’ll do                               your clothes for you.
 
PERCY:          Thank you.
 
            Just as PERCY steps outside, WILL snatches a muffin from the display case and bolts for             the door.
 
WILL:             Here. (thrusts the muffin into PERCY’s hands) It’s a bit stale; I can’t sell it.
 
PERCY exits left. WILL heaves a sigh and returns to the counter. The lights fade briefly to black.
 
 
Scene 2
 
It is the next day. As the lights come back on, WILL takes the chairs down from the tables in the café. He has changed his clothes. A MAN enters the laundromat carrying a bag of clothes. He and WILL converse briefly, but the audience hears only muffled voices. The MAN crosses to the laundry area and dumps his clothes into one of  the washers. WILL goes behind the service counter, where he flicks on the television and begins tidying up with a rag. As he cleans, which he does somewhat compulsively throughout the scene, he watches the Summer Olympic coverage on the television. The volume is just high enough for the audience to hear it. The MAN crosses back to the café and orders a coffee to go. He returns to the laundry area and transfers his clothes to the dryer, then he leaves the establishment and exits right. APRIL and MAEVE enter right, each carrying a full bag of laundry, and pause in front of the café, peering through the window. APRIL, in winter clothing, is rubbing her arms; MAEVE, dressed for summer, is fanning herself.
 
 
APRIL:           That’s Will. Daniel’s gonna be helping him get his own restaurant or                                   something.
 
MAEVE:         Are they friends?
 
APRIL:           No. Will just started blabbing about his big plans one time when Daniel
was here, and Daniel said he knew some people who could help him get some kinda new business loan. He’s like the SPCA or the Salvation Army or something. He can’t say no. I mean, it’s one of the reasons I’m marrying him — his niceness, I mean — but it gets to be a bit much sometimes.
 
MAEVE:         (studying Will) He’s good looking. Don’t you think?
 
APRIL:           Who? Will? How would I know?
 
MAEVE:         Oh, that’s right; I forgot. Other men don’t exist for you anymore. (pauses)                          Or does that not officially happen till after the wedding?
 
APRIL:           Hardy har.
 
MAEVE:         Wow . . . he’s really into that cleaning. Is he gay?
 
APRIL:           Yeah, right. He hit on me last year.
 
MAEVE:         Really? Did you sleep with him?
 
APRIL:           Maeve. All he did was ask me to a hockey game. (pauses) And tell me he                             thought I was really hot.
 
MAEVE:         So why didn’t you sleep with him?
 
APRIL:           I was with Daniel last year.
 
MAEVE:         So?
 
APRIL:           (heading for the café door) You’re sick. (opens the door) Anyway, what do you                          care what some guy looks like?
 
MAEVE:         I’m not blind.
 
APRIL enters the café. MAEVE follows, wiping her forehead.
 
            Is this place air-conditioned?
 
The screen/wall lifts. WILL mutes the TV and stands up straight, at attention almost.
 
APRIL:           Hey, Will.
 
WILL:             Good afternoon, ladies.
 
APRIL:           This is my sister. She’s staying with me.
 
WILL:             Pleased to meet you, April’s sister.
 
MAEVE:         (glances at APRIL then smiles) You too. I’m Maeve. 
 
WILL:             Are you in town for the Olympics, Maeve?
 
MAEVE:         No — I’m doing a course. Do people actually come just to see those                                                things?  
 
WILL:             The Olympics? Oh yeah. People go nuts for this stuff.
 
MAEVE:         Wow.
 
WILL:             Yeah, you’re lucky you got a place to stay. I hear it’s impossible to find a                            hotel room these days.
 
MAEVE:         Mmm. You must be doing good business. (smiles flirtatiously)
 
WILL:             Not really. Too far away from the action I guess.
 
MAEVE:         Too bad. It’s a nice place. (to APRIL) So where’s the machines?
 
APRIL:           Through there. I’m gonna get a coffee first. It’s freezing.
 
            MAEVE heads for the laundry area. WILL calls after her.
 
WILL:             Can I get you something to drink, Maeve? Cappuccino? Americano?
 
MAEVE:         No, thanks. Maybe later.
 
WILL:             Need any quarters?
 
MAEVE:         I’m fine. Thanks.
 
            As the conversation between WILL and APRIL carries on, MAEVE dumps her laundry             on the table and begins sorting it. As she sorts, she fans herself.
 
WILL:             Your sister’s nice. Is she married?
 
APRIL:           No. And she’s not into men anymore either.
 
WILL:             Really? You mean she’s . . .
 
APRIL:           I dunno what she is, but she’s got a girlfriend. They live together.
 
WILL:             Wow. Too bad. 
 
            APRIL scowls.
 
                        Oh . . . I don’t mean . . . I just mean she’s really . . .
 
APRIL:           Never mind. Let’s talk about something else. I’ve had enough of my sister                                    this week to last the rest of the year.
 
WILL:             (shrugs) Sure. So . . . what can I get you?
 
APRIL:           Uh . . . decaf cappuccino?
 
WILL:             Decaf cappuccino.
 
APRIL:           Have you got 1% milk?
 
WILL:             Ran out. Sorry. I could mix the 2% and the skim.
 
APRIL:           No . . . make it skim. Why’s it so cold in here?
 
WILL:             You serious? It’s, like, forty degrees today. You must be coming down                               with something.
 
APRIL:           I better not. I so don’t have time.
 
            APRIL rests her laundry bag on the floor and turns to watch the television. WILL                       begins preparing the coffee.
 
WILL:             So how’s Daniel? He hasn’t been in for a while.
 
APRIL:           He’s good. We’re both insanely busy . . . getting ready and everything.
 
WILL:             Did he, uh, happen to talk to those people he knows yet . . . the ones from                                     that agency?
 
APRIL:           What’s that? Oh, yeah . . . I’m not sure. (distractedly) Don’t worry though.                          He’ll do it. He’s Mr. Commitment.
 
WILL:             Oh yeah, for sure. I don’t wanna pressure the guy. There’s no big rush or
anything . . . Well, y’know, I’d like to get going on this as soon as I can . . . but whenever Daniel gets the chance, that’d be great. (pauses, apparently focused on the coffee-making) So, what kind of course is your sister in town for?
 
APRIL:           Some political science thing. Or sociology. I’m not sure. It’s all professors
and grad students, but they weren’t smart enough to figure out that having their shindig overlap with the Olympics was a really bad idea.
 
WILL:             No kidding. So, you been watching the Games?
 
APRIL:           I wish. (turning back to WILL) Do you have any idea how much stuff needs                                     to get done for a wedding?
 
WILL:             Oh yeah, that’s right. The big day’s coming up. Is it this weekend or something?
 
APRIL:           Yeah, right. I’d be a complete basket case. There’s three months to go and                                     I’ve got, like, a thousand things to do every week. (Pauses, examining her fingernails) We hired a planner, though. It’s like having a personal trainer or something; I talk to her practically every day. But she’s really keeping us on track. You gotta stay organized, or the whole thing just gets completely insane. Know what I mean?
 
WILL:             Oh yeah. For sure. I got suckered into planning my parents’ 25th
anniversary party. That was insane. Never again. (looking past APRIL at the TV) Hey, April, check out this race. It’s the men’s 400m final. I saw it live this morning.
 
            WILL hands APRIL her coffee. APRIL gives him a five-dollar bill; he gives her some                     change. APRIL turns lazily back to the television.
 
These guys are incredible. I mean, you look at their eyes when they’re in the starting block — like now; look at that! — and it’s like they’ve focused their entire life into this one moment. Seriously — their whole life is condensed into this thing that’ll be over in forty-five seconds. (shaking his head) Can you imagine?
 
APRIL:           (shrugging) Seems kind of a waste.
 
WILL frowns and turns up the volume. They watch the race, WILL more intently than APRIL.
 
TV VOICE 2: (breathlessly enthusiastic) . . . has already made up the stagger! An
explosive start from Washington, and now he’s pulling ahead, with Dominic Charles and Stéphane Lambert close behind. Washington’s lead is looking strong, but will he be able to maintain it? Hard to say in these conditions, with — Oh . . . and . . . look at this! It’s . . . Ibrahim Opara, closing in. Where did he come from?! Ibrahim Opara, of Nigeria, is coming on very strong. Washington’s losing ground now. There seems to be . . . yes, there’s something definitely wrong with the American runner, and it’s Opara and Dominic Charles of Jamaica . . . Yes, Opara and Charles . . . and it seems to be all over for Washington. Opara and Charles are battling for the gold, with Stéphane Lambert holding on in third . . . Opara and Charles . . . Opara really pouring it on . . . and it’s Ibrahim Opara, in a spectacular and surprising finish!
 
TV VOICE 1: And indeed, as we mentioned earlier, it was heat exhaustion that put
Julius Washington out of the picture in that 400m final. Not surprising, when you consider that temperatures —
 
            WILL mutes the television.
 
WILL:             I don’t think it’s a waste.
 
APRIL:           What about all those guys who just lost? What’s in it for them?
 
WILL:             It’s the intensity of the experience. Think of it as a Zen sort of thing. You                               ever done meditation?
 
APRIL:           Nope.
 
WILL:             It’s great. You should try it sometime. Anyway, these runners . . . they’re
completely focused . . . on themselves. It makes them more alive. Y’know? If I were one of those guys, I wouldn’t really care if I won or not. I mean, a medal would be amazing, but seriously, I’d be competing against all the other junk in my life. Seeing if I can pare it all down to the essentials and find out what I can really do. It’d just be about me. Know what I mean?
 
APRIL:           So . . . ? What? Do none of these guys have families? What about their       
girlfriends? Are you saying their wives and girlfriends are part of that other junk? If Daniel decided to devote his whole life to some forty-second race, we’d be getting a divorce pretty quick.
 
WILL:             (smiling) You’re not even married yet.
 
APRIL:           You know what I mean. 
 
WILL:             Hey, don’t get me wrong. No offence to your boyfriend’s athletic abilities,                                   
but I don’t think you got anything to worry about. I’m sure all he's thinking about is you.