Imagine the City (Act 1)

Editor’s Note: We are thrilled to publish the first act of the three-act sci-fi play, “Imagine the City,” by playwright and writer Darine Hotait. Her work illuminates the thin lines between life and death, construction and destruction, and reality and unreality. Darine skillfully pairs the ordinary with the odd, and allows readers to experience the familiar as it rips at the seams of confusion and disorientation in her works. Enjoy the orbit in Act 1 below, and to leave room for mystery, we have listed the synopsis of the play at the end of the act.

Imagine the City: Act 1

By Darine Hotait

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Act 1

SCENE ONE: BEIRUT PORT

CHARACTER NAMEBRIEF DESCRIPTIONAGEGENDER
MonaA harmless girl overcome by irritation20Female
LisaA delicate flying robotN/AFemale
Beiruti ManA dead man35Man
Beiruti WomanA dead woman35Woman
BeirutisA group of dirty and ill people sleeping on their suitcasesAllAll
A robotA defective cleaning robot on wheels N/A/N/A

SETTING: A video is projected onto a screen in the background as wide as the stage, revealing a panoramic view of Beirut City. The city manifests signs of abandonment. Mountains of garbage rise between and above buildings. A flock of seagulls flies across the screen, their squawks echoing over the city. The camera stops in front of a sign that reads “Beirut City Harbor.”

The main lights fade on. The stage is an extension of the harbor’s platform. The video remains as an active city background.

BEIRUTIS lie on the floor motionless atop their suitcases. Their clothes are ripped and covered in dirt. Visible sores and cuts can be seen where their skin peeks through.

LISA, a small female robot, hovers above the BEIRUTIS. Floating from one to the next, she scans each with her eyes by emitting a red laser light.

LISA

(singing quietly)

Softly, as in a morning sunrise, the light of love comes stealing, into a newborn day.

MONA, a 20-year-old Beiruti, wakes up as LISA hovers above her head.

MONA

(annoyed)

Not you again. Leave me alone — go away!

MONA grasps for something to throw at LISA, but can’t find anything to pick up.

LISA

(singing even louder)

Softly, as in a morning sunrise—

LISA hovers within arm’s reach. MONA tries to hit her out of the air, but LISA flies to the side. Frustrated, MONA sits up, but sees her suitcase isn’t next to her anymore. She nervously looks around for it. She sees it under the legs of one BEIRUTI. She yanks it from under his legs and clutches it close to her chest. LISA whizzes to MONA’s side.

MONA

(upset / to Lisa)

Filthy animal!

MONA stands up and looks behind her towards the city. She looks in front of her towards the sea. Confused, she takes a very small binocular out of her pocket. She again looks towards the sea. LISA flies in front of MONA and blocks her view.

MONA

Move it!

LISA doesn’t move. MONA steps to the right and left, but LISA mirrors her every move, blocking MONA’s line of sight.

MONA

I know you understand me. Move it, I said.

LISA

I can see beyond the horizon. What is it you’re looking for?

MONA

Where are they? Why aren’t they here yet?

LISA

They? They who?

MONA

The Good Samaritans.

LISA flies behind MONA, who keeps scanning left and right with her binoculars.

MONA

It’s too foggy. I can’t see a thing.

LISA hovers in front of MONA and looks towards the horizon. LISA’s eyes flash.

LISA

Nope. No Good Samaritan in sight.

MONA looks around at all the BEIRUTIS who remain motionless by her feet.

MONA

I am sure they will be here any minute.

LISA

For your safety, please put on your mask.

MONA walks around and looks at everyone. She finds a small pocket mirror next to a BEIRUTI woman. She picks it up. She holds it in front of her. She freezes in shock and tosses the mirror, which lands on a suitcase a few feet away from her. Her hand flies to her mouth. After a moment, she takes a few hesitant steps and picks up the mirror again. She squints at her reflection. She touches her face.

MONA

Oh my God! What happened to my face?

MONA falls to her hands and knees.

MONA

I need to take a shower — I need to change!

LISA

Dear girl…

MONA

I am going to jump in the sea and clear this filth off my skin. If they come, let them wait for me — I won’t be late.

MONA grabs her suitcase and walks to the front of the stage. LISA flies in front of MONA, stopping her before the edge of the stage.

LISA

Where are you going?

MONA

To the sea.

LISA

It’s not possible. I can’t allow you to touch this water.

MONA

Who are you to not “allow” me? Move.

LISA

It’s for your own good.

MONA moves LISA with her hand.

LISA

No — don’t. Mona, don’t make me force you.

MONA stops and turns to LISA.

MONA

I need to wash. I need to drink.

LISA

Look. Look at this man here. Look.

LISA directs MONA to look at one of the sleeping BEIRUTIS.

LISA

See his skin. Look — look closely.

MONA steps towards the man. She reaches down and touches his skin, cold and lifeless. She jumps back, tripping over another BEIRUTI lying on the ground.

MONA

Oh my God — is he dead? What do we do? We have to do something. Should we call for help?

LISA

There is no one out there to call. It’s only us now.

MONA

What do you mean it’s only us? Look at this whole city — it isn’t empty! There has to be other humans out there. People with hearts, something you wouldn’t know anything —

LISA interrupts MONA by moving swiftly and hovering at a very close proximity to MONA’s face. LISA looks deeply into MONA’s eyes as though she were scanning her soul.

LISA

Listen! Mona! The water isn’t water anymore. The city isn’t city anymore! The humans aren’t humans anymore!

MONA

(imitating Lisa)

But robots are always robots. You know nothing about humans. Leave me alone.

MONA moves back towards the BEIRUTI man. She tries to wake him up.

MONA

Excuse me. Sir. Can you hear me?

She places her hand on the man’s shoulder and tries to wake him up. The man doesn’t move.

MONA

Sir. Hello, sir? You should wake up. I will call for help.

The BEIRUTI man doesn’t move. She steps closer, but soon backs away, coughing and covering her mouth, repulsed by the smell. Taking a deep breath, she lowers her head closer to his face.

MONA

I can’t hear his breathing.

LISA

Dear girl, this human is not here.

MONA touches the man’s wrist to check his pulse. Nothing. She places her head on his heart. Nothing. She jumps to her feet.

MONA

He’s dead! He’s dead.

LISA moves closer to MONA.

MONA

That must be his wife.

MONA steps towards the BEIRUTI woman lying by the man’s side. She bends down to touch her, but pauses.

LISA

Nothing will change. Just let it be.

MONA bends down and starts shaking the BEIRUTI woman.

LISA

(softly)

Don’t. I am telling you don’t.

MONA

Excuse me, miss. Hello. Excuse me!

The BEIRUTI woman doesn’t move. MONA shakes her again. No reaction. MONA brings herself closer to the woman only to discover that she is also dead. MONA slumps down by the woman’s side, one hand covering her mouth, and the other resting on the woman’s arm. MONA gasps, tears fall down her cheeks.

LISA

I told you there is no one out there. It’s only us now.

MONA looks back at the city. She stands up and takes a few steps towards it. She observes in silence. A few seagulls call in the distance.

A ROBOT on wheels travels from stage right to left. He sucks in the dirt from one spot and tosses it out from another spot. He goes unnoticed.

ROBOT ON WHEELS

(singing)

Softly, as in a morning sunrise, the light of love comes stealing, into a newborn day.

MONA walks back to her suitcase and sits down. Slowly, she opens it up and takes out some cloths. She starts covering the bodies of people. Once done, she sits on her suitcase, watching the sea. The squawks of seagulls are heard as they fly across the screen.

MONA

I will wait for them.

LISA hovers next to MONA.

LISA

Close your eyes.

MONA turns her head towards LISA.

MONA

So you and I are the only ones left in this city?

LISA

Close your eyes.

MONA looks at LISA for a long moment. She closes her eyes and faces the sea. LISA moves in circles around MONA’s head.

LISA

Like the city, abandon your thoughts. Stop thinking.

MONA opens her eyes.

LISA

Just close your eyes and imagine the city. Imagine. Imagine the city like you want it to be.

MONA closes her eyes.

The video of the city starts to change. The mountains of trash slowly disappear. The city’s sounds fade in from afar, until Beirut is once again a city hustling and bustling. Windows open. Curtains fly out of windows. The city is alive.

LISA

(with her voice and over the city sounds)

Imagine the city. Imagine it like you want it to be. Imagine.

The video progresses while the sounds of the city merge in harmony with LISA’s voice, repeating the same line over and over again.

LISA

Imagine the city. Imagine it like you want it to be. Imagine.

An unfamiliar sound is heard from afar. MONA suddenly opens her eyes.

MONA

(looking towards the sea. Then shouts.)

They’re here!

(stands up)

Here! Over here! We’re here! Hello!

The video immediately fades back to the grave city. A flock of gulls travels through. Their squawks fill the air. LISA stops intoning the same line over and over again. MONA waves her hands energetically.

MONA

(to Lisa)

Why can’t they hear us?

LISA

There’s no one out there.

MONA moves closer to the front edge of the stage. She jumps up and down in place and shouts even louder.

MONA

Hello! I am Mona. From Beirut. Do you hear me? I am stuck here. They’re all dead. Do you hear me? Hello? Hello?

LISA

Poor girl.

MONA

Hello! I am Mona. This is Beirut here.

Behind the city in the projected video, a massive wave is seen approaching. It curls over the city slowly and as it approaches MONA, the light on stage starts to fade. MONA’s voice continues repeating the same line over and over. Just before the stage falls into total darkness, LISA flies in swiftly and lifts Mona off the ground.

Classical music fades in, interspersed with rhythmic whistling sounds.

The stage is dark. A spotlight fades in slowly, revealing an unconscious MONA hanging loosely in the air beneath LISA. MONA is now wearing an oxygen mask.

They appear to be traveling through space and slipping past stars and space objects. 3D projections behind them give a sense of space.

LISA

(switching to a robotic voice)

Substance in possession.

VOICE

(OFF STAGE)

Copy.

The light fades out.

END OF ACT I


SYNOPSIS: “Imagine the City” is a science fiction stage play that feels like an illumination of the darker parts of Beirut’s soul and its decaying society in crisis. From a social commentary point of view, this play is an ironically dystopian take on Beirut’s metaphorical future. Mona, a frustrated Beiruti, waits by the sea port to be evacuated to a better place by the Good Samaritan. But her escapism plan is disrupted by Lisa, the flying robot, who seems to have knowledge of both the past and the future. Through the supernatural connection between Mona and Lisa, we are often confused about whether the city is floating or even existing. “Imagine the City” recollects the cityscape and its memory through collective existentialism.

Mona and Lisa are the inseparable portrait of a decomposed Beirut. Just like in Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, “Mona Lisa,” the characters in the play pose in front of an imaginary landscape. Act 1 of this three-act play feels like a short-lived moment in Mona’s life that ends with an ordeal blown out of rational proportions. The wave at the end of Act 1 is seen again in Act 2, as a signpost within a conscience system wherein Mona’s mind is being uploaded and her memories are being altered by a group of robots identical to Lisa. We discover that they are watching Mona’s memories while downloading and erasing data of their choice.

What will Mona do when she wakes up to find herself trapped in an alternate consciousness? Will she be able to recollect her memory of the city and that of the humans who make it?


darine

Darine Hotait is an American Lebanese writer and film director. Born in Beirut, her family emigrated to the America when she was 11 years old. At that time, Darine discovered her love for writing. She started writing her diaries and poetry at her grandmother’s home in Detroit. Later, Darine relocated to Los Angeles to attend the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, where she completed her MFA in screenwriting and film directing. Darine wrote and directed a number of award-winning short films such as I Say Dust, Beirut Hide and Seek and more. Her films went on to screen at notable film festivals and received prestigious distribution.

Her work mainly focuses on bridging literature and cinema while embodying a scientific approach by giving predominance to the science fiction genre. She is currently working on her debut science fiction feature film, Symphony of a Flood, which was recently selected at the International Scriptwriter’s Pavilion in the Cannes Film Festival and was one of five finalists of the Hearst Screenwriting Competition. Darine is also the founder of Cinephilia Productions, an incubator and frequent contributor to the development of filmmakers from the Middle East and Africa through its various initiatives, occupying the space between ideation and production. She resides in New York City and frequently travels across the Middle East.