The Calamity

2M, 2W. One post-apocalyptic world. Developed at The Playwrights Realm in New York City, at Voxfest at Dartmouth, and at Northern Stage. Finalist, Bay Area Playwrights Festival.

*     *     *     *

An isolated mountain town at what is starting to seem like the end of the world. A virus of unknown origin has swept the land. The government is unresponsive. The power has gone out. Communication with the outside has become impossible. A town decides, after hearing a final police transmission from a nearby village, that the plague is heading their way. They hastily decide to quarantine themselves and refuse to let anyone back in – even residents who may be returning home.

After refusing entry to Sadie, a returning college student, the townspeople hunker down and realize they may not be able to cooperate with each other. Who will be in charge of food and the rest of their dwindling supplies? Will they continue to pay for items? Who will maintain order? And how will they accommodate the fact that some of them – like Sadie’s father – are suffering more than others?

As the townspeople grapple with growing internal discord, they realize that in sealing off the town to save their lives they may have lost their community, and their sense of themselves, instead.

*     *     *     *

(A sample scene from early in the play. MARY, a shut-in, sets up a table and chairs for us as she talks.)

MARY. Next evening. December 19th. By some minor miracle I’ve made it to dinner: a table with place settings and two unopened cans of beans.

(She sits.)

Now what?

(Drums her fingers.)

Oh hell.

(She opens a can and eats out of it. Her husband GORDON, the town selectman, comes in from the cold and stomps his boots.)


(He hangs up his jacket.)

Sullivan’s gonna be up a second straight night guarding the bridge, we call a meeting to get more volunteers, and no one shows up. Can you believe it!?

MARY. Yup.

GORDON. How are we going to make decisions if people are scared to meet face to face? It makes communication impossible.

(He approaches the table, sees the can.)

Huh. What’s this?

MARY. Can opener?

(Without missing a beat he opens the can, spoons the contents on his plate, and puts a napkin in his lap.)

GORDON. We figured out a solution though. Kind of a workaround for human paranoia. Wanna hear?

MARY. Nope.

GORDON. Ben and I found his dad’s hand-cranked mimeograph. And got it to work! Who would’ve thought, in this day and age, how quickly you revert once electricity’s gone!

(He takes out a newsletter.)

What do you think? Eh? The first edition of the Highgate Bee!

MARY. That’s what you’ve been doing all day?

GORDON. We’ll put these in front of people’s doors. The ones who won’t venture out, the crazies who duct-tape their windows –

MARY. They’re not crazy.

GORDON. – even they’ll open their door for a sheet of paper. Look. There’s a request for volunteers. Space to write in proposals for a vote –

MARY. I see.

GORDON. We’ll print a ballot on the bottom, collect it the next day, and tally it up. It’s like we’re virtual before the virtual age!

(He takes a bite and grimaces.)


(Dinner’s over. He gets up.)

We got an open bottle of red anywhere?

(He hunts for wine.)

MARY. Gordon? This gives me the impression you’re thinking long-term, but we never discussed when the lockdown’s supposed to end. So … when’s it gonna end?

GORDON. It hasn’t even been two days. If we stay organized there’s no way we won’t make it till Christmas.

MARY. And then?

GORDON. We make it to New Year’s.

MARY. And then? Easter? Memorial Day? Alternating between black and brown beans? I’ve been trying to get you to talk for days.

GORDON. What do you mean? We’re talking.

MARY. We are?

GORDON. Sure. We just had dinner.


MARY. Of course. What was I thinking.

(She fumes, then grabs the newsletter.)

Lookie here! You mean I can write my very own selectman!?

GORDON. Very funny.

(She writes.)

MARY. “Dear Sir: I hereby propose to kill every dog in town.”


MARY. Starting with Harper, Charlotte’s Doberman, who picked through the garbage last night for three hours while I was trying to sleep!

GORDON. What’s wrong with you!?

(She laughs.)

MARY. The fact that you’re asking is so interesting.

(She takes the wine he poured for himself.)

We talking now?

(Takes a long drink.)

How’d the plague spread in the Middle Ages? Hmm? I realize paying attention isn’t your strong suit, so let me remind you: Fleas. Well, dogs get fleas –

GORDON. This isn’t that kind of plague!

MARY. – run off into the woods, chase squirrels and other disgusting little creatures –

GORDON. We don’t know what this is!

MARY. Exactly –

GORDON. “Bleeding through their skin.” That’s all we heard –

MARY. Thanks for the reminder! People bleeding through their skin, their insides pouring out like a sack with a hole in it, from some unknown cause. I feel so much better! (Pause.) I expect this in the newsletter tomorrow. The methods of their demise can be determined, though I prefer something painful –

GORDON. I’m not putting this to a vote.

MARY. Why not?

GORDON. It’s inflammatory! We need to develop a consensus –

MARY. The illusion of consensus.

GORDON. A habit of working together –

MARY. The illusion of working together.

GORDON. Or we’ll be at each other’s throats in a few days.

MARY. Like we aren’t already?

(He pounds the table.)

GORDON. Stop it! Stop interrupting me!

(A triumphant sigh.)

MARY. I love it when you prove my point.

GORDON. You’re being cruel.

MARY. It won’t be much of a town if you exclude all the cruel people.

(He clears the table but can’t hold back for long.)

GORDON. You want my official response as selectman? Charlotte likes her dog. She’d rather give up her neighbors – the two of us – than her dog. People who don’t have dogs like dogs, and people who don’t like dogs like other people to think they like dogs, so no one’s going to vote for your fucking proposal! They’re just going to get angry because it’s dehumanizing to start selecting animals for extinction based on some delusion –!

MARY. Delusion!?

(Picking up the newsletter.)

You think this is evidence of clear thinking?

GORDON. Of course.

MARY. At least I didn’t decide to guard the bridge out there without warning people –

GORDON. Oh come on, everyone knew.

MARY. Not everyone was here!

GORDON. How were we supposed to inform people out there without going out there!? It reached Shelton! Ten miles away! “Bodies everywhere!” The last known utterance of a cop over the shortwave whose name we’ll never know! Now my only job, for which I work twenty hours a day for nothing – except for these exquisite dinners – is to implement what people decide and try to protect us so you can sit around all day and fantasize about killing dogs!

MARY. I NEED SLEEP! I haven’t slept since the power went out –

GORDON. Really?

MARY. – wondering if the only thing on the other side of the darkness is – is darkness, then wondering if there actually is something out there, then wondering which is worse, ’cause I sure as hell don’t know anymore. (She stops herself.) While you were playing Mr. Our Town Cub Reporter I went to Dr. Kasper and asked for some sleeping pills or something to manage the withdrawal from the meds I’m on but soon will not be on because the only pharmacy is twenty miles away. I tried to point out that facing the prospect of the end of the world is a bad time to go off your meds. What do you think he said? Huh? To the wife of the guy who threw a duffel bag at his daughter last night and told her to “make do”? What are the chances he threw that back in my face?

GORDON. I’m sorry, I –

MARY. Set us against each other and lock the door and what do you expect? People are half crazed already. Wait till this thing rides into town on a flea’s ass or whatever and see how well we cooperate.

GORDON. I didn’t know. I swear.

(He puts his arms around her. She finally relaxes.)

Maybe I can set you up in a quieter part of the house? Away from the street?

(She pats his arm and can’t help smiling.)

MARY. That’s so like you. The world’s ending, as far as I can tell, but you want to move the mattress to another room. That’s – kind of touching, you know?

(She downs her wine.)

That dog better not clang the garbage can tonight while I have ten pillows over my head or he’ll get a surprise. And I don’t need a ballot measure to do it.

Want to read more? Contact me for the script.