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Posted: Thursday February 19, 2015
Sample this book! It’s not shoplifting if we give it to you.

Morris Panych’s new play, The Shoplifters, comes out in print in about a month. In this riotously funny new comedy, we meet Alma, a seasoned career shoplifter with strong convictions about social justice and economic equality, and her frazzled accomplice, Phyllis, as they are apprehended at the grocery store by Dom, an overzealous rookie security guard. Guided by the strictness of his born-again Christian belief, Dom is ready to handcuff the culprits and call the police, but his affable senior partner, Otto, intervenes with a more sympathetic view of the crime: “It’s just a couple a steaks.” As Alma, Phyllis, Dom, and Otto share their wildly different takes on the situation, complex views on morality and ethics begin to emerge.

Here on Meta-Talon, read the first scene from the play.


ACT ONE

Scene 1

Lights up on the stockroom of a large supermarket. The walls of this airless enclosure are piled dizzyingly high with boxes and crates of various sizes; a metal door with a small window separates the room from the noisy outside world of the store. A bare light bulb hangs over a long table. Seated at one end of the table is ALMA, a tough piece of work in her sixties, very canny and alert. At the other end stands DOM, a boyish, slightly awkward security guard in his early twenties, wearing an ill-fitting uniform. He has one leg propped up on a chair as he stares down his captive. In DOM’s holster is a walkie-talkie that he speaks into occasionally, but what we hear back is indecipherable static. In the centre of the table are two large steaks, wrapped in butcher paper, as well as a pen and blank piece of paper.

DOM
Okay, let’s try this again.

Beat.

Name?

ALMA
I’ll talk to the other guy.

DOM
You’ll talk to me.

ALMA
Where’s the other guy?

DOM
Your full name, please.

ALMA
When did you start here?

Beat.

Yesterday? Today?

He sits, picks up the pen.

ALMA
I’ll wait.

He clicks the pen repeatedly.

ALMA
Extra security – what for, I’m asking myself.

DOM
Because I’m replacing him; any more questions?

ALMA
You?

Walkie-talkie static. DOM leaps to his feet to answer.

DOM
Ten-four.

More static.

I thought it was “ten four.”

Walkie-talkie.

No, not yet.

Walkie-talkie.

Okay. Over and out.

Walkie-talkie.

So what do I say?

Walkie-talkie.

Can I say “over”?

Walkie-talkie.

So, how do we know when it’s over?

Walkie-talkie goes dead.

Hello?

He puts down the walkie-talkie, sits again.

ALMA
So, what – they’re retiring him?

DOM
Who?

ALMA
Great, I’m dealing with amateurs now – upstarts.

DOM
You’re the amateur, lady.

ALMA
Don’t “lady” me.

DOM
Don’t “amateur” me. I’ve taken the Security Guard and Private Investigator multiple-choice exam. Twice.

ALMA
But what’s your on-the-job experience? This is what everybody’s wondering.

DOM
I have twenty-ten vision in this eye.

ALMA
I’m not talking to some rookie.

DOM
Duly recorded. (writing) Will not talk.

ALMA
What about the other eye? Is that in working order?

DOM
It can spot a thief.

ALMA
Are you familiar at all with the myth of Prometheus?

DOM
Are you familiar with the law?

ALMA
He stole fire from the gods. You suppose that was such a bad move?

DOM
There is only one God and you didn’t steal any fire from him; you took a sixteen-ounce rib steak and stuck it under your dress.

ALMA
Why would I put meat under my dress? There’s enough bacteria down there.

DOM
I can’t believe you just said that.

ALMA
You’re not ready for the big leagues, mister. You can’t even keep your acne under surveillance.

DOM
You want to play this game? I can play this game. I can go all the way, lady.

ALMA
Sit down! This is not how it’s done. You haven’t even got my name out of me and you practically already burst a blood vessel.

DOM
We got a first name.

ALMA
Is it my real first name?

DOM
You tell me.

ALMA
I told you, I’m not telling you anything.

DOM
So what’s your name?

ALMA
Try a different approach, why don’t you. Relax me into the situation. Relax me. You got a cigarette?

DOM
No.

ALMA
That’s too bad; a cigarette is really the way to go.

DOM
That is not a valid or a safe request.

During the following speech, ALMA pulls a new box of tissues out of her purse, tears it open, removes a tissue and coughs into it, and then wipes her mouth.

ALMA
Oh, you’re going to play by the rules. You might want to check the rule about properly identifying yourself when you apprehend somebody, especially an innocent customer.

Beat. DOM clicks the pen repeatedly.

ALMA
And don’t click your pen. It only makes you seem impatient.

DOM
Maybe I am.

ALMA
Don’t be; it’s a process.

He stops.

ALMA
You think this is just about a lady stealing a steak? I can turn this whole thing inside out in two minutes.

DOM
So you did steal it?

ALMA
Steal what?

DOM
You said, just now, you said, “Do you think this is just about a lady stealing a steak.” I’m gonna write that down.

He starts to write.

ALMA
It’s Alma.

DOM
Huh?

ALMA
My name: Alma.

DOM
Before it was Sandra.

ALMA
When?

DOM
Over by the dairy.

ALMA
Well, we’re not over by the dairy, and it’s Alma now. If you thought it was Sandra, then why are you asking me what my name is?

DOM
Because I like to ask questions?

ALMA
You see? That’s how it’s done. Small talk; the ebb and flow.

DOM
Ebb and what?

ALMA
Flow. Like we’re having a conversation over drinks and a bowl of those fancy nuts.

DOM
Which ones?

ALMA
I don’t know – the fancy ones.

DOM
I have a nut allergy.

ALMA
Oh, the sensitive type.

Beat.

ALMA
It would help if you smiled, even in a sardonic way.

DOM
Smiling is not encouraged.

ALMA
So, where’s my counsel?

DOM
Not here.

ALMA
Do you know anything, whatsoever, about the law in this country? This is not the Middle East here. We are not in China, big boy. I have rights.

DOM
What rights? To steal expensive meat?

During the following speech, ALMA digs a new package of emery boards out of her purse, rips the back off, and proceeds to file down a hangnail.

ALMA
I am not moving forward with this conversation, under the mistaken assumption that I have stolen anything; meat or otherwise. For the time being, let’s just say I’m under investigation and leave it at that.

DOM
Fine. I got all day.

ALMA
What, you don’t think there are other people out there, robbing this place blind? You think the moral fabric of this neighbourhood is woven so tight that the minute you leave your area, all criminal activity comes to a grinding halt?

DOM
My colleague is looking out for me, but thank you for your concern.

ALMA
No he isn’t; he’s somewhere else with Phyllis.

DOM
Is that her name?

ALMA
No. Who?

DOM
I’m going to write that down. See? Writing it down. Friend. Phyllis. Partner in crime.

ALMA
It starts with a P and she’s not my friend.

DOM
Who isn’t?

ALMA
This woman, whoever she is. This – Phyllis woman.

DOM
All the same, your friend-who’s-not-your-friend Phyllis – the minute you dropped the meat out of your dress, threw up her hands and shouted, “I don’t know her!” And then the meat dropped out of hers.

ALMA
Well, there you are.

DOM
Where? Where am I?

ALMA
She doesn’t know me.

DOM
Who doesn’t? Phyllis?

ALMA
Jesus was crucified with the thief; did you know that?

DOM
Don’t talk to me about Jesus! Where did the meat come from if you didn’t put it under there?

ALMA
Oh, you want to get into a philosophical discussion.

DOM
I don’t need to. We have cameras.

ALMA rises.

ALMA
I’m getting bored with this.

DOM
Sit down!

DOM raises the pen like a knife.

ALMA
That’s a pen you got there.

DOM
You don’t know what I’m capable of.

ALMA
Listen to me, you little punk, and I’ll tell you something: the minute you walk into this place you are being ripped off, so don’t talk to me about stealing. You think it’s an accident that all the expensive items are easily within reach, but you can’t find the milk; that the carefree, relaxing music is dulling all your senses? You know what kind of profits these people make, subtly massaging money out of your pocket? You think it’s an accident that the candy bars are stacked at the till, child level? Or maybe you don’t give a shit. Maybe you like being the stooge; running around like some jackass chasing after women with meat in their dresses, Mr. Security Guard with the shiny new badge.

DOM
I don’t see you getting any 15 percent employee discount!

ALMA
Sure, plus I don’t get to wear that uniform. Is that what makes you feel so big? It doesn’t fit, by the way. Look at those shoulders. They got you walking the aisles looking like you’re two sizes too small for this job.

DOM
The uniform is pending.

ALMA
They haven’t actually hired you, have they?

DOM
I’m in training.

ALMA
Oh, so those are training pants.

DOM
These are the pants of authority, lady.

ALMA
I’m looking at a second stringer.

DOM
And I’m looking at a thief.

ALMA
With which eye? I can’t tell.

DOM
This one.

He stabs himself in the eye with the pen.

DOM
Ummg! Ow. Ow!

ALMA
What did you do?

DOM
Nothing.

ALMA
You just jab yourself?

DOM
I’m done talking with you for the time being.

ALMA
Really? We just got started.

Covering his eye, he rushes for the door.

DOM
Excuse me.

ALMA
Let me have a look at that.

DOM hurries out, shutting the door behind him. ALMA follows him and tries the door – it’s locked. She tries again, jiggling the handle.

ALMA
This is false imprisonment!

She turns back toward the room, considering her situation. Suddenly the fight is gone; she seems tired, almost lifeless.

ALMA
I can’t believe this.

For a long beat she is motionless, and then she sits up, pulling herself together.

No. I am not done, yet.

Blackout. In silhouette, we see OTTO, a security guard in his sixties, enter and escort ALMA out the door. He returns momentarily, followed by DOM.


Look for The Shoplifters in Spring 2015.