Exit, Pursued by Dalton Day


Dalton Day’s dramatic poem/drama-like literary work is made up of 41 one-act plays. The plays are as one-act as they come – minimalist drama, let’s say. And perhaps here “act” from one-act really means that the plays consist of a single act or action, and sometimes not even that.

All the plays have fascinating and detailed titles – and the titles are just as important as the plays they are followed by, especially because in many cases, nothing happens in the play. (There are some which only contain the description of the scene, and nothing else.)

The recurring characters of the plays are You and Me. This makes me immediately excited because second person literature is one of my long-time obsessions, and Dalton Day even develops it further by using both the second person and the first person, with intriguing results. If there’s a You and there’s a Me in a play, the question immediately arises: which one am I? Which one should I identify with? It’s a difficult and exciting choice, and I sometimes switch positions even during the course of a single play – sometimes I feel closer to Me, and sometimes I feel I’m the You the Me of the plays is talking with.

And sometimes You and Me seem to be the same – there’s a play, for instance, where You and Me appear to read each other’s mind, and they start and finish each other’s sentences. In cases like this, understanding and harmony seem possible. (One-Act Play In Which There Is A Blueprint, & That Blueprint Is Ignored Entirely)

Understanding and harmony are, by the way, rare pleasures here, because the main themes of the plays are the difficulties of (love) relationships, breakups, losses, and the impossibility to understand and know another person. And all this is heart-breakingly sad – this all-permeating feeling that we’re alone – even when we’re with the person we feel the closest to. So – there’s existential angst here, a lot.

And besides that there’s a lot of beauty and tenderness – because it seems we must and will do everything in order not to feel so immensely lonely. In one play, for instance, You is afraid of hands, so Me offers to trade hands. After switching hands, You is still afraid of hands – and now Me is afraid of them, too. Could this be love? Caring? Making strange gestures so that the other is not alone in their fear? Taking on the other person’s fear, sharing it? Perhaps. (One-Act Play In Which Not All Problems Can Be Solved, & Not All Problems Are Problems, But Even So, Some Are)

And there’s also a lot of musings about how love and relationships work – how it’s always the people we love the most (or who love us the most) who bring us down, trap us, hide the wonderful richness of the world from us – but it’s also possible that they don’t trap us, they don’t tie us down – perhaps they are the ones who keep us from falling apart. (One-Act Play In Which The Weather Is Just An Echo Of The Weather Before It)

These feelings aren’t only present in personal relationships – they go out and encompass the whole universe. In one of my favorite plays (One-Act Play In Which Change, Change, Change) You and Me talk about how one of them was deeply shaken when Pluto ceased to be a planet – because we’re already used to it in everyday life that things and emotions change, and that something that was true today will only be a memory by tomorrow – but for the same thing to happen on a planetary, universal scale, that can be much too hard to bear.

I feel this cosmic melancholy, the sadness of the thought that things cannot be expressed, neither here on earth, nor out there in the universe. You, for instance, is on the moon once, and with the last breath, You shouts into the universe, where voice doesn’t carry, the thing that had never been voiced before. (One-Act Play In Which Hands Are Irreplaceable)

And in some plays, even words are missing – there’s only a silent glance towards each other from the two ends of the world, and even if the glance connects you with the other, it’s impossible to know whether you’re even thinking about the other person when you look at him. And it’s equally impossible to know whether the experience is the same, whether it can be the same. In one play, for instance, there’s the question of what happens when someone looks into the sun. Here’s part of the conversation between Me and You:

YOU: Tell me what happens when you look into the sun.
ME: Oh, well, I, I don’t know. I don’t know what happens.
YOU: Then tell me what happens when I look into the sun.

(One-Act Play In Which The Earth Has A Circumference Of 24,902 Miles, For Once)

The immensely intimate, personal and emotional character of the plays is both offset and emphasized by the important role the audience plays here. In many plays, there are descriptions about the reactions of the audience, there’s a play where the audience members are the players, and there’s one where the audience members flee the theater because the smoke alarm goes off, and they don’t see what finally happens between the characters. Which brings us to the eternal epistemological question: did it happen if no one was there to see it? (One-Act Play In Which You Forget To Laugh)

I’m glad I saw this play happen, on paper at least.