The Four of Us: A Play

The Four of Us: A Play

by Itamar Moses

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From the author of Bach at Leipzig (Faber, 2005) comes a play about loyalty, integrity, and the price of success. When Benjamin's first novel vaults him into literary stardom, his friend David, a struggling playwright, is thrilled for his newfound success . . . or is he? Should Benjamin help David by using his new connections? Can David even expect such favors from his friend? More importantly, who should pick up the tab at lunch? Hailed as a writer who "makes the kinds of stylistic gambles that should be applauded" (Eric Grode, The New York Sun), Itamar Moses proves once again with this inventive exploration of the evershifting ground of friendship that he is a playwright to watch.

The Four of Us had its off-Broadway premiere in March 2008 at Manhattan Theatre Club.

"Clever [and] smart…[The Four of Us] suggests that Moses will be displaying a big range as his career unfolds."—The San Diego Union-Tribune

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780865479890
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 03/18/2008
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 128
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

Itamar Moses is the author of several plays, including Outrage, Celebrity Row, and The Four of Us.

Read an Excerpt

The Four of Us

A Play

By Itamar Moses

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2008 Itamar Moses
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-9629-7



(An Indian restaurant.)

(DAVID and BENJAMIN, both twenty-four, have just finished lunch. The bill is on the table.)

BENJAMIN: What do you mean?

DAVID: I, uh, have something for you. Here, let me ... (DAVID begins to rummage in his bag.)

BENJAMIN: What, like a present?

DAVID: Kind of.

BENJAMIN: Oh, oh, that's —

DAVID: In, uh, in honor of the occasion.

BENJAMIN: You're already taking me to lunch, you don't have to —

DAVID: No, no, don't worry. It was simple. And free. I'm resourceful like that.

(DAVID stands a photograph in a simple wooden frame on the table.)

BENJAMIN: What's this? (Pause.) Is that me?

DAVID: Yeah, that's you, uh ... at work. On the book.


DAVID: So that's you ... finishing it, I guess.

BENJAMIN: I didn't finish it until I got back to school. Remember, you came to visit.

DAVID: So: starting it. I forget which. Anyway, it seemed appropriate.

BENJAMIN: Where did you find this?

DAVID: What do you mean? I took it out of my photo album from, from Prague, from that summer.


DAVID: That's the problem with spending a summer in a country where you don't know anybody? With just one friend? All my pictures are of you.

BENJAMIN: Well, we can probably assume that all mine are of you.

DAVID: We probably can.


BENJAMIN: Though, actually, I never got mine together into an album.


BENJAMIN: No, they're all in some shoe box in my parents' house. (Beat.) What did you write that summer?

DAVID: I, uh ... What do you ...? A play.

BENJAMIN: No, I figured, but: which one?

DAVID: The one about the, uh ... You know what? It was terrible.

BENJAMIN: I'm sure it wasn't.

DAVID: It was. I was an undergraduate. I had just read Ruskin for the first time and I for some reason thought that his ideas about Gothic architecture in The Stones of Venice might make a good subject for a play. It was terrible.

BENJAMIN: You don't know that it was terrible.

DAVID: I saw it. I put it up at school that fall.

BENJAMIN: Maybe it was ruined by the director.

DAVID: I directed it myself. Because nobody else would. Because it was terrible. Like, two weeks ago? Becca saw it on my shelf and asked to read it? And I let her read everything. And I was like, "No, please. It's terrible."

BENJAMIN: Well, maybe it ... paved the way for something good later on.

DAVID: We can only hope.


BENJAMIN: How is Rebecca?

DAVID: Good. Uh, really good.

BENJAMIN: Things are good?

DAVID: Things are really good. It's ... getting kind of serious.

BENJAMIN: And you're good with that.

DAVID: I'm great with that. No feelings of emotional claustrophobia, no inexplicable depression, no anxiety attacks, it's a whole new ... phase for me. Someone to share my popcorn at the movies.

BENJAMIN: You're very fortunate.

DAVID: Thanks. I know. Thank you. We should all get together.


DAVID: You, me, Bec, and Emily. For dinner, or something.

BENJAMIN: Oh. Uh ...

DAVID: What.

BENJAMIN: We kind of broke up, actually.

DAVID: What?

BENJAMIN: Me and Emily.

DAVID: Are you serious?


DAVID: When?

BENJAMIN: I guess ... a little over a month ago.

DAVID: What?


DAVID: Really.




DAVID: Just ... Oh. (Pause.) Uh. Why?

BENJAMIN: Um. What do you mean?

DAVID: For what reason?

BENJAMIN: It was ... time. It was just time.

DAVID: How long had you guys been together?

BENJAMIN: Four years. Four years on and off.

DAVID: And it was just ... time.

BENJAMIN: There were ... Let's say it became clear that there were things that maybe each of us wasn't going to be able to offer the other? That we maybe needed? Which had been fine in the past and was in fact still fine in the present but would pretty clearly not be fine at some point in the future? And so it was just ... time. (Pause.) So.

DAVID: Do you want to talk about it?

BENJAMIN: What do you mean?

DAVID: I ... don't actually know. Are you okay?

BENJAMIN: I think so. Yeah, I'm fine. (Pause.) I mean, I had a little bit of a hard time. When it first ... Actually, I tried to call you. (Pause.) I left you a whole series of messages, actually.

DAVID: Right, yeah. I was, you know ... I was out of town.

BENJAMIN: I know. It's fine. But, so, by now, I'm sort of ... (BENJAMIN shrugs. He is fine.)

DAVID: Okay. Well, so, but if you ...


DAVID: I don't know. I guess ... Okay.

BENJAMIN: Thanks, though. (Beat. The photo:) I mean, thank you. This is ... very nice.

DAVID: You're welcome.

BENJAMIN: I should probably put it away now, though.

DAVID: No, you should totally just leave it. And just be staring at this picture of yourself when the waiter comes over to get the money —

BENJAMIN: Right: "He brings it to every meal. It helps him to digest."

(BENJAMIN puts the photo away. DAVID picks up the bill and looks it over.)

BENJAMIN: You really don't have to do that.

DAVID: I said I would. That was the deal.

BENJAMIN: I ... guess it was. (Pause.) So where were you?

DAVID: What?

BENJAMIN: When you were out of town.

DAVID: Oh. I ... Didn't I tell you? I was a counselor.


DAVID: A, uh, a camp counselor. At ... This is funny ... At Young Musicians.

BENJAMIN: No kidding. What was that like?

DAVID: It was ... trippy. I mean, the place hasn't changed at all, and the kids are exactly the same, I mean, kid for kid, you can sort of match people up, there's the younger version of each person we were there with, you know. You remember.

BENJAMIN: Vividly.

DAVID: Right. (Old-man wistful) "The summer we met."


DAVID: And it was especially ... I mean, I don't know about you, but I was always kind of wondering what the counselors were thinking? Of the kids. Like, what they thought of us, if they thought any of us were going to be great superfamous rock star musicians, like we all thought we were gonna be? And it was weird. To know. That, in fact, the counselors are thinking: Wow, some of these girls are pretty cute.


DAVID: And also they were thinking: Ninety-nine percent of you will give up music entirely sometime in the next ten years.

BENJAMIN: Like we did.

DAVID: Like we did.

BENJAMIN: So ... why did you work there?

DAVID: For fun. And, you know: grad school. Free summers. I needed the money. And: grad school for playwriting, you don't work as an investment banker.



DAVID: So ... what happens now?

BENJAMIN: What do you mean?

DAVID: To ... I don't know. It's supposed to be this watershed thing, but what actually happens. To someone like you.

BENJAMIN: What do you mean to someone like me?

DAVID: I just mean: to someone specific who I know personally, I guess, as opposed to the abstract idea of a hypothetical first-time author who has sold a hypothetical first novel.

BENJAMIN: Well, I think in this case it will be the whole ... apparatus.

DAVID: The whole ...?

BENJAMIN: Just ... reviews. Public readings. A lot of those, probably.

DAVID: Okay.

BENJAMIN: Just because the publisher is sort of in a position where extensive promotion is probably smart.


BENJAMIN: And, you know, a book tour.

DAVID: Like an actual tour.

BENJAMIN: What do you mean?

DAVID: Of places all across the country.

BENJAMIN: Of, well, of several countries.

DAVID: Of several countries.

BENJAMIN: Well, of the countries in which the book is being published.

DAVID: How many is that?

BENJAMIN: I don't ... You know, I don't know the exact number offhand.

DAVID: So ... More than two?

BENJAMIN: Well ...

DAVID: So you're leaving town?

BENJAMIN: Not for a while. I mean, you know, the wheels turn pretty slow. It'll be a year before the thing comes out, and then I'll go.

DAVID: How long are you going to be gone?

BENJAMIN: Well, intermittently. But for a year or so. And then the paperback comes out. So: two years.

DAVID: What about your job?

BENJAMIN: I quit my job.

DAVID: Oh. (Pause.) Okay. Um. (Pause.) Look, I've been refraining from asking. Out of ... I don't know. Decorum. But.

BENJAMIN: (He knows what's coming.) Um ... DAVID: How much money are we talking about exactly?

BENJAMIN: I'd ... rather not say.

DAVID: You don't have to be embarrassed.

BENJAMIN: Um. I'm not.

DAVID: So tell me.

BENJAMIN: I just, I think ... No.

DAVID: Okay.

BENJAMIN: Is that okay?

DAVID: That is ... just fine.

(DAVID takes a sip of water.)

BENJAMIN: Two million dollars.

(DAVID spits a mouthful of water all over BENJAMIN.)


DAVID: Are you fucking serious?

BENJAMIN: What the hell is wrong with you?

DAVID: I'm sorry. Here, let ... Take my napkin.

BENJAMIN: I've got one, thanks.

DAVID: I'm so sorry.

BENJAMIN: It's okay.

DAVID: God, I spit all over you.

BENJAMIN: Well, that's ... It's actually sort of the reaction I was expecting, only I imagined it as more figurative and less literal.

DAVID: I'm sorry. (Pause.) Are you fucking serious?

BENJAMIN: Yes. I figured you'd ... read it in the paper, probably, soon, anyway.

DAVID: Uh. Yeah.

BENJAMIN: So I figured what the hell.

DAVID: How the fuck did that happen?

BENJAMIN: What do you mean?

DAVID: Uh. How on God's green earth did such a thing take place?

BENJAMIN: Well, the details of the business are pretty dull, actually.

DAVID: I promise you they're not.

BENJAMIN: No, really, it's kind of depressing.

DAVID: What is?

BENJAMIN: The way that this works. It's very depressing.

DAVID: Um. How is that?

BENJAMIN: I don't ... (Pause.) All right: you remember that agent I first had? Celeste's agent, who she set me up with?

DAVID: Okay, I know she was your teacher? But it's still so weird to me when you call her Celeste.


DAVID: Because she's sort of an august-famous-novelist personage, and I tend to think of her in terms of her full name and so it's weird.


DAVID: That's all.

BENJAMIN: So, remember when I was working with her agent? How she'd kind of send the book to publishers one at a time, and as each one turned it down, she'd, you know, she'd move on to the next one?

DAVID: Yeah. You were kinda bummed about that, I ... Actually, I thought that's what all your messages were about, you know, when I checked them from out of town? If I'd known it was about Emily —

BENJAMIN: It's fine.

DAVID: No, really, I'm really really sorry I've been so hard to reach lately, it's been ... like I said, things with Becca have been getting serious, and I was really busy, I've been sending scripts out a lot, trying to, you know —

BENJAMIN: It's fine.

DAVID: No, I know, but —

BENJAMIN: Um. It's really. Really. Fine.


DAVID: Okay.

BENJAMIN: Okay. So. Yeah, right around while Emily and I were breaking up, I switched to a different agent who has this sort of different approach? Where the manuscript is submitted to maybe a dozen publishers simultaneously, and then, on some designated day, there's, basically, a ... bidding war. And, I guess, the strength of this approach is that there's a psychology at work, where the very fact that other publishers are making offers creates a sense that it's okay to do so. That you don't want to be the one who let it go.

DAVID: And then you go with the one who offers the most money.

BENJAMIN: Um. It depends.

DAVID: In this case two million dollars.

BENJAMIN: Oh, no, no, that's everything together, that's with international rights from all the various —

DAVID: Okay. But, so —

BENJAMIN: Plus the film rights —

DAVID: So ... (Beat.) I'm sorry, film rights?

BENJAMIN: Anyway, the point is, in my case, I went with the publisher that I felt most ... comfortable with, the, the strongest rapport with the editors. The most ... at home.

DAVID: So somebody offered more than that?

BENJAMIN: Well, no, as it happened, it also turned out to be the place that offered the most money, yes.

DAVID: What a coincidence.

BENJAMIN: Well, it's not, not really, if you think about it, because it does speak to a level of passion about the work, and also at that level it's really an investment in the future, because they're never ever going to earn back that advance from the sale of this book, and they know that.

DAVID: Uh-huh.

BENJAMIN: I mean, look, it's not as if doing it the other way doesn't have exactly the same problem.

DAVID: What problem? I didn't say anything.

BENJAMIN: I mean, either way, people will always do the safe thing. If everybody's making offers, the safe thing is to make an offer. If they know they're the only publisher looking at it, the safe thing is to reject it. So in neither case does it really have to do, really, with the, you know, the extant, objective quality of the book itself, it just has to do with ... hype. And that's not because you're engaging with the business in one particular way, or in another particular way. It's just because you're engaging with the business ... at all. Which is depressing.

DAVID: Right. I guess that's ... true. (Pause.) So what were you doing while this was going on?


DAVID: The bidding war.

BENJAMIN: Uh. Answering the phone. Taking notes. (Pause.) Feeling increasingly uncomfortable. I don't know.

DAVID: So ... who bought the film rights?

BENJAMIN: Some ... I don't know. This actor. Some actor. His name didn't mean anything to me.

DAVID: What was it?

BENJAMIN: I don't remember. I don't really follow those things very much.

DAVID: Uh, yes, I know you don't.

BENJAMIN: So, but yeah, I'm supposed to meet with him about it sometime in the next few months. Which I'm sort of dreading.


BENJAMIN: Because I don't really have any interest in being involved. I mean, it's not a medium I'm ... It's a fun idea, but my work on this particular story is done, you know? So ...

DAVID: So ... (Pause.) I mean, is there a role in it he wants to play, or ...?

BENJAMIN: I think he maybe wants to direct it? But I actually have no idea really.


DAVID: Nothing. Never mind. (Beat.) I mean: Congratulations!


DAVID: No, seriously, this is great. It is just great. (Pause.) It's, uh, it's amazing. It's incredibly cool.

BENJAMIN: Thank you.

DAVID: It is cool. You know what the coolest thing about it is?


DAVID: That ... Well, I sort of never had any doubt, you know, for either of us, that we could make lives out of this, doing our writing, and teaching writing, and basically just, you know —

BENJAMIN: Cobble it together.

DAVID: Exactly. Right. Cobble it together. But now you're ...


DAVID: Solvent. You know? Just from writing. Just ... to write. Like ... forever.

BENJAMIN: Not forever.

DAVID: Right, but for a long, long ... I mean —

BENJAMIN: No, you're right. And, I think, ultimately, that's got to be the rationale.

DAVID: For what?

BENJAMIN: For ... these kinds of sums.

DAVID: What do you mean?

BENJAMIN: Like, for example: I spoke to the woman who's publishing the book in Spain? And she said to me, she said: "Don't drink. Don't smoke. Exercise. Take care of yourself." And I just thought: What a wonderful thing to say to someone.


DAVID: Well, it's great. It's really really great.

BENJAMIN: Thank you.

DAVID: I just hope that, uh ... that having that much money just kind of dropped in your lap, you know ... that much time ... doesn't turn out to be in some way, kind of ...


DAVID: Totally spiritually corrupting.


BENJAMIN: What are you talking about?

DAVID: You know, I think it probably, I think it's probably not the best thing in that regard.

BENJAMIN: For what?

DAVID: For ... you know, it ... it just ... I think it must just cheapen it.

BENJAMIN: Cheapen what?

DAVID: Whatever. That's just what I think.


BENJAMIN: That's not what you think.

DAVID: What do you mean?

BENJAMIN: You have never in the past said anything that would lead me to believe that that is what you think.

DAVID: Well, sometimes we don't know what we really think of something before we are faced with the, the stark reality of it. I'm not saying it's what I think now. I'm just ... wondering. You are free not to wonder. It is probably in your interests not to do so.

BENJAMIN: Are you okay?

DAVID: Why? Yeah. I'm fine.

(DAVID takes out money and puts it on the bill, signals for the waiter. During which:)

BENJAMIN: You really don't have to —

DAVID: (Overlapping) Yeah. Yeah, I do. I said I would.



DAVID: What?

BENJAMIN: Do something surprising.

DAVID: What do you mean?

(BENJAMIN picks up his glass of water and brings it close to his lips.)

BENJAMIN: Say something really shocking.

DAVID: Oh. I get it. Ha-ha.


Excerpted from The Four of Us by Itamar Moses. Copyright © 2008 Itamar Moses. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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