Pistachios Act II

This play takes place in the summer of 2016. It is the final act of a play that I wrote and co-produced for the Minnesota Fringe Festival of that same year.
The story is about two brothers, Marvin and Gary, who are getting together for a family reunion, though one of them has recently found out that the other has left the faith that they both grew up in. The second act is where they confront each other for the first time after the revelation that Marvin has become an atheist, and Gary is doing his best to come to grips with this situation.

ACT [2]

Later that summer, at the family reunion, GARY is sitting by himself in the kitchen preparing some hors d’oeuvres as he waits pensively for MARVIN to arrive.

GARY
(To the audience as NARRATOR)
An atheist? What does that even mean? And then he just hung up. You know, I’ve had a lot I’ve had to do to get this reunion together, so I’ve tried to not think about it. But I can’t not think about it. God is everything to this family, so… I don’t know.
(He sits at attention at the sound of his brother entering the house and greeting family members in the other room.)

MARVIN
(Off stage.)
Say, where’s Gary?

GARY
So I suppose I just find out.
(GARY turns and looks at the door, waiting for the prodigal brother to walk through. He hears Marvin come closer as he continues to greet other relatives. Once he enters the scene, he gives GARY a big smile beneath his nervous eyes. He has a growler of beer hanging in his hand. Both men stare at each other with a pregnant pause, unsure of who should speak first or what should be said.)
Hi, Marvin.

MARVIN
Hi, Gary.
(GARY stands and the two men give each other an awkward hug.)

GARY
Glad you could make it.

MARVIN
Yeah.
(Beat)
Took the train.

GARY
Oh yeah?

MARVIN
Yeah. Amtrak.

GARY
Funny, I’ve never taken a train anywhere. It used to be the only way to travel.

MARVIN
Oh, and it’s great. I’d do it again.

GARY
Great. I’ll have to try it some day.

MARVIN
Maybe when you come out to Oregon to visit.

GARY
(He sits on the idea for a moment.)
How could you?!

MARVIN
Excuse me?

GARY
You know what I mean. How could you turn your back on us like this? On God? Our Lord Jesus Christ? How could you deny Jesus?

MARVIN
Ok, just hold on a minute. You need to…

GARY
No, I don’t need to do anything. I’m already where I need to be. It’s you that… I don’t know where you are anymore.

MARVIN
What does that even mean? I’m here. Standing in your kitchen. I’m right in front of you.

GARY
You know what I mean. I know you know what I mean.

MARVIN
I do. I’m just trying to get you to see what I mean.

GARY
And what’s that?

MARVIN
That I didn’t go anywhere. That I’m still Marvin. I’m still here, in every way that’s meaningful.

GARY
I know you know that’s baloney. Yeah, sure, you’re here in the kitchen, you made it to the reunion, but the most meaningful part of you died somewhere in Oregon.

MARVIN
You can’t mean that.

GARY
You know that I do.

MARVIN
(He sits on the idea for a moment.)
I didn’t come here to fight.

GARY
And what did you think we’d do?

MARVIN
(Beat)
Have a beer?
(He holds up the growler he carried in. GARY softens at the peace offering and silently pulls out two glasses. MARVIN pours the beer.)
It’s a hefeweizen. Thought that’d be a good summer beer to bring. Tastes like sunshine.
(Beat.)
I know I said I’d bring something else, but this is from Widmer. Actually, I do have a couple other growlers from other breweries too. We don’t need to crack open everything right away though.
(Beat. GARY takes a big swig.)
Or do we?
(He sits down, eating the fact that his joke fell flat.)
Not bad, huh?

GARY
I’ve had it.

MARVIN
Oh, c’mon, Gary. You gonna be a sourpuss this whole weekend?
(Beat.)
“Use the Spirit, Luke.”

GARY
(He starts to smile, but stops.)
No, you can’t make that joke anymore.

MARVIN
Ok, fine. I’ll stop if you imagine James Earl Jones telling me he finds my lack of faith disturbing and you still don’t laugh.
(GARY is trying to not smile, but eventually allows himself.)
See!

GARY
(Holding his glass up.)
This is pretty good beer.

MARVIN
Yeah, not bad, huh? So did you find out any other good breweries around here to check out. We could hit up a few while I’m back in town.

GARY
Um, yeah, I don’t know. There might not be time to go out at all.

MARVIN
Are you kidding? I know I haven’t seen everyone in awhile, but a whole weekend with mom and dad without making it out to a bar?

GARY
I suppose you’re right. They might think something’s wrong.

MARVIN
I’d hate to let them down by hanging out with them.
(They laugh.)
We definitely have a little time tonight.

GARY
Ok, I just don’t know if I want to go out.

MARVIN
And why not?

GARY
(Beat.)
You’re trying to act like everything is normal, like everything is like it always was, but it’s not.

MARVIN
Don’t you want to? Act like that, I mean?

GARY
Of course! I’m trying.

MARVIN
So let’s just have a nice weekend. I didn’t want to tell anyone, but it just kinda came out. And you know what? I’m glad it did because keeping it in was just… ridiculous. So I’m glad you know at least… Not sure about everyone else just yet.

GARY
Don’t worry, I didn’t tell anyone.

MARVIN
Thanks.
(Beat.)
I know I need to tell them.

GARY
You do. I don’t think I want to be the one to do it.

MARVIN
(In a sarcastic tone.)
I suppose if you let it slip, sometime after the weekend, I wouldn’t be too upset with you.

GARY
(He pauses with a smile.)
It is good to see you.

MARVIN
(Raises his glass to cheers.)
See, it doesn’t have to be any different.

GARY
Want some pistachios?
(He pulls a dish out with nuts.)

MARVIN
Yeah, that sounds great. It must be a special weekend, what with the pistachios and all now!

GARY
Hey, it’s been awhile since we’ve all been together. That’s pistachio worthy, I’d say.

MARVIN
How’d these things get to be such a big thing in the family anyway?

GARY
That was dad. He would always talk them up before buying any…

MARVIN
Oh right! So what was the deal with that? Was he just trying to get us into healthier snacks or something?

GARY
I don’t know. We’ll have to ask him.

MARVIN
(He pulls out a nut that’s still fully sealed.)
He probably bought stock in deez nuts and was doing his part to promote long-term profits…
Ah, crap.

GARY
What?

MARVIN
(He fidgets with it.)
Got a default one.

GARY
Huh?

MARVIN
Don’t you remember? That was dad’s pistachio dad-joke. De-fault, as in without fault line, no crack. That and it’s the default way the nuts come.

GARY
Oh right, now I remember. Eh, just throw it back in. We’ll deal with it later. I know a good technique for cracking them.
(MARVIN tosses the nut back in with the others.)
So… Morals. Do you believe in them?

MARVIN
How do you mean?

GARY
Murdering is bad. Kindness is good. Lying is bad. Generosity is good. Do you agree?

MARVIN
Yeah, of course.

GARY
So where do you get your morality from?

MARVIN
Huh?

GARY
Your sense of morality? Where do you get it from?

MARVIN
Well, I suppose the same place you do.

GARY
(Matter-of-factly.)
So you get it from God.

MARVIN
No.

GARY
That’s where I get it.

MARVIN
No you don’t.

GARY
So now you’re omnipotent too? You know where I get my morals better than I do?

MARVIN
Gary, c’mon now.

GARY
Do you?

MARVIN
No. I mean… No. Morality is just, well; we all know basic right-from-wrong. And, and people from all different countries, people who have never heard of Christianity, are just as moral as anyone else. Morality is something that people just have.

GARY
It’s something that we have because God gave it to all of us. So you’re right, it’s something that we have because God our creator has written it on our hearts. Paul describes it in Romans 2.

MARVIN
And he gave it to everything? He gave it to dogs, and deer, and all the other animals of the world?

GARY
Maybe, but animals weren’t created in God’s image. So morality is a concept for humanity. But anyway, you already said that just humans have morality, so what about the animals?

MARVIN
No, I said… What was that, I said that people have morality. But other animals do too. I mean, elephants, for instance. They care for their young. They make friends. They develop relationships with other elephants that aren’t their kin, and even with other species. Is their interest in the well-being of other elephants and other animals not some form of morality?

GARY
Sure, there’s something there, but I don’t know if it’s morality. I think there’s a difference between defending your own kind and morality. Because when we’re talking about morality, say, in a courtroom for instance, there’s an offense and a debt to be paid… Well, I don’t know if that’s exactly the same thing, but from the evolutionary standpoint, that you’re talking about, it’s about survival of the fittest.

MARVIN
But what about the elephants with other animals?

GARY
I don’t think that happens.

MARVIN
Go on YouTube, you’ll see it!

GARY
And you just believe everything you see on the internet?

MARVIN
(Grabs a handful of pistachios.)
Seriously, just look it up.

GARY
(Reaches for some pistachios as well.)
So… are you and Ashley getting married or…

MARVIN
Because we’re living in sin?

GARY
No, I’m just… You’ve been together for awhile. Marriage happens. I’m just asking.

MARVIN
No, no, no, not after what we’ve been talking about, you’re not “just askin’.”

GARY
Seriously, Marvin, I was just wondering how things are going between you two.

MARVIN
So why didn’t you ask like that?

GARY
I don’t know! Fine, don’t answer.

MARVIN
(Beat.)
Things are good with us.

GARY
That’s good.

MARVIN
I don’t know if either of us are thinking about marriage, but, you know, we’re living together and we shop for toilet paper together… It just kind of feels like a formality at this point.

GARY
Yeah, ok. I can see that.

MARVIN
And an expensive one, too.

GARY
Still, I’d like to come to your wedding some day.

MARVIN
Yeah?

GARY
Well, yeah, of course.

MARVIN
You know we wouldn’t be getting married in a church, right?

GARY
That’s… Kind of painful.

MARVIN
I know. I know. But… It just is how it is. Things have changed, you know.

GARY
Changed. Yeah.
(Beat.)
I just don’t get it though. This change. How you could give up this gift, this precious gift of life and salvation, and for what?

MARVIN
It’s just how I…

GARY
But for what, Marvin? What did you give all this up for? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…”

MARVIN
My sanity! I gave it up for my sanity. Goddamn it, Gary, I know this is new to you, but people who leave their religion, they don’t see it as giving up anything. It’s about gaining something.

GARY
So again, what did you gain? You act like I’m not getting something, so explain!

MARVIN
Ok, yeah, I gained something because it’s all an illusion! A goddamn magic trick to make people think they can live forever, all for the low price of the use of your critical mind! I gained the right to think for myself without being scared to death of going to hell! I can look up at the night sky and imagine the vastness of the universe, and I don’t have to hedge all that I know with all that I’ve always been told is true, with the threat of me going to hell if I’m wrong in any way whatsoever! I can sit and wonder about stuff, about anything, without worrying that I’m mortally wrong. That’s what I gained. I lost my faith and found myself.
(MARVIN and GARY turn to the door after hearing their parents call to them from the next room.)
Yeah, we got some chips right there!
(He brings a bowl of chips out to the living room from the kitchen table. GARY, meanwhile, is sitting in stunned silence. When MARVIN joins him back at the table, they both sit in awkward silence for a moment. MARVIN holds a nut out to his brother as a piece offering.)
Pistachio?
(GARY slaps it out of his brother’s hand.)

GARY
You g… Mother…

MARVIN
Oh, for pete’s sake, just say it, Gary.

GARY
You know, when you first said on the phone that you were an atheist, I gave you the benefit of the doubt. Sure, maybe your faith was shaken, but no way did you become one of those hateful and angry atheists you see on TV that sue school districts for saying the Pledge of Allegiance. But now, why should I think that you’re any different from the evil legions that seek to remove anything good and Godly from our way of life?

MARVIN
Because I’m you’re brother… first of all.

GARY
There are other reasons?
(There’s a pregnant pause. MARVIN tries to decide how to respond, but he knows he can’t refute GARY entirely.)
Am I wrong?

MARVIN
Yes. I mean… Yes, I’m angry. But I’m not evil. And I’m not suing anybody.

GARY
You’re just not the same guy I thought I knew.

MARVIN
That’s why we’re… We need to, I dunno, get to know each other again. It’s not like I’m not your brother anymore, but things aren’t exactly the same either.

GARY
It never should’ve been a surprise that we’d be different people when we grew up. “When I was a child, I spoke as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
(MARVIN attempts to respond.)
Don’t you dare!

MARVIN
What?

GARY
I just pictured you saying that that’s what you did.

MARVIN
(He starts to laugh.)
Ok, I’m sorry, that’s just… Seriously though, I was actually going to say that’s First Corinthians. Or what is it now, One Corinthian?

GARY
(He starts to laugh.)
Oh my gosh, that’s right. Two Corinthians. I can’t believe it’s possible that he could be president.

MARVIN
No kidding. We don’t say his name in our house.

GARY
Profanity personified.
(Beat.)
At least you still remember the Bible.

MARVIN
Of course. I didn’t lose my faith because I forgot it. It’s still there.

GARY
(Finishing his beer.)
Any more beer in the growler?

MARVIN
Oh, yeah.
(He fills GARY’s glass.)

GARY
This is a hefeweizen, you said?

MARVIN
Yep. Widmer claims to be the first brewery to make this style commercially available in this country.

GARY
That true?

MARVIN
I guess. It’s a certain claim to fame.

GARY
Either way, it’s pretty good.

MARVIN
Isn’t it? This is actually the first beer we ever had together.

GARY
Yeah?

MARVIN
Don’t you remember? We were like, what, 19… Or I was at least, meaning you were like 17. My buddy picked me up a couple six packs and I snuck them into the basement. Mom and dad were gone for the evening and we got drunk until you threw up and I had to clean that shit up before they got home. Didn’t matter, of course, since they could smell right away that we’d been drinking.

GARY
Oh, right! And you tried telling them that I scraped my knee and what they smelled was the rubbing alcohol you used to clean the scrape.

MARVIN
Turns out they’re not as dumb as we thought!
(They laugh.)
Man, I can’t hardly believe that was over ten years ago.

GARY
That was the same summer we volunteered at Vacation Bible School. The first year that we both did together. Remember that?

MARVIN
Yeah, I remember that.

GARY
That’s what I was telling you before, how much you influenced me with your faith, with your devotion to God… You know, I always felt that you had a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but it was that summer that I knew you did. Or that I thought I knew you did.

MARVIN
What do you mean by that?

GARY
Well, you didn’t, did you?

MARVIN
No, no, at that time, I totally did. I loved God with all my being. I just… I dunno, you could say I fell out of love.
(Beat.)
You don’t actually think I was faking it or something?

GARY
No, well… I don’t know anymore! What do you expect me to say? Last I knew, you were a devout Lutheran, and now you say you’re an atheist. You seem oddly surprised when I wonder what else is different with you, or how long you’ve thought this. It’s said that those who leave the faith, their obedience to God, never had it in the first place. So what, is that wrong?

MARVIN
Yes. I just told you. I did believe. And now I don’t. It’s really that simple.

GARY
How can you be so flippant?

MARVIN
So flippant? You know, if you could just see this from my perspective, you’d see that I’m not actually being flippant at all. I’m just tired of trying to explain myself.

GARY
Don’t you think this is something worth explaining?

MARVIN
Sure, but I also feel like I’ve said my piece. I’m sorry if my explanation isn’t sufficient to you, but it’s what I got. That, and I don’t think that I’m the one that even needs to explain himself. I’m not the one making any claims about anything anymore.

GARY
Not making claims? Are you kidding? I think saying “there’s no God” counts as a claim.

MARVIN
Fine. But it’s not a claim that means anything; I’m not saying that I know anything about what happens after I die. Or how the mind behind the universe insists I have sex.
(GARY attempts to interrupt.)
Oh, don’t even try to claim that He doesn’t. Evangelicals have been on the forefront of sex-shaming and gay bashing for decades.

GARY
Alright, but I still don’t see how you can say you’re not claiming anything, or that it doesn’t mean anything. What about your eternal soul? What about fruits of faith, giving your love back go God? What about the fact that Jesus Christ died to redeem you of your sins? Does that all mean nothing?

MARVIN
Yes!
(Beat.)
You finally get it. None of that means anything to me anymore. God and Jesus, they’re no different to me than any of the ancient Greek and Roman gods. It’s just a story. A bunch of symbols and analogies that people wrote down to help them make sense of a crazy and confusing world. And nothing more.

GARY
I see. So that’s really what you think? That’s the real you that I’m supposed to get to know again?

MARVIN
It is.

GARY
You know, you might be an upstanding citizen. A good neighbor. But I don’t know how you can be my brother, not like this.

MARVIN
You don’t really mean that.

GARY
And why should I not?

MARVIN
Because I am your brother. I mean, I’m here, in your kitchen. I’ve always been here. You can’t just make that go away.

GARY
But you’re not my brother in Christ!
(Beat.)
I just can’t see how to break through on this one. It’s too much. I don’t know how many times during this conversation, where I’m trying to get to know you again, that you’ve basically destroyed any notion I still had of you being the person I once looked up to. Is this how it’s going to be from here on? I may not know all there is to know about the new you, but everything new about you is about as awful as I could imagine it could be. You’ve denied Christ. You’ve insulted our… My deepest beliefs. The things that make me me. But you still want me to accept you for being you?

MARVIN
There’s always a way, Gary. I know its hard right now, and I know I said some things that are tough to hear, but I’m not trying to insult you.

GARY
So, what, you’re just a natural at it now?

MARVIN
(Beat.)
You know, I’m just going to give you that. I don’t have a good response. This is why I was so worried about coming here, about letting anyone know that I didn’t believe in god anymore. I knew it was going to hurt you. And I never wanted to do that. At some of my better moments, I imagined that you all could find out that I was an atheist and be a little bummed, but still accept me for being me because you know that I’m still a good person, and that’s all that matters. But I knew… I knew that that was being optimistic. And that hurts, knowing that there’s something — whether it’s made up or real — that could get between family like this.

GARY
The family of Christ is my family.

MARVIN
I suppose I should’ve guessed you’d say that. Now at least I can say that I’m not the only one who can say things that hurts his family because he’s trying to be honest.
(Beat)
So now what?

GARY
Now?

MARVIN
Yeah. Are we mortal enemies now? Casual acquaintances? Strangers? What?

GARY
(Beat.)
I don’t want to answer that question.

MARVIN
We need to decide at some point.

GARY
Probably. In the meantime, can we just act like everything’s normal?

MARVIN
Yeah, I’d like that. We don’t need to decide right now.

GARY
It’s a reunion, after all.

MARVIN
I was good with pretending everything was normal to begin with.

GARY
Everyone’s here. We haven’t seen each other for awhile. At minimum we can have a good weekend.

MARVIN
I’d like that.

GARY
We don’t need to ruin mom and dad’s weekend.

MARVIN
No, they wanna see all of us. And we need to take a family picture later.

GARY
Right, yeah. We need to take a picture. We can decide later.

MARVIN
(He fidgets with a ‘default’ pistachio.)
Say, you said you had a technique for opening the default ones. Could you show me?

GARY
Yeah, I’d be happy to.
(He takes the nut from his brother to demonstrate how to open it. As MARVIN holds his hand out for the nut, GARY steps forward in a single pool of light as if to speak his final words as NARRATOR. But he only gives a coy smile, speaking with his eyes that he is simply at a loss for words at the beginning of this new chapter of his family’s story.)

FADE TO BLACK