Afterlife Celebrity Rehab: A Play
ALLIE VILLARREAL

White Room

Sterile, white room, with a woman in white standing behind a half-circle of 7 chairs holding a stack of pamphlets.

Voice-Over

2016 Class-A Group arriving in 3, 2,… (Buzzer.)

David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Nancy Reagan, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Gene Wilder, and Florence Henderson all enter in this order, in line, looking around and receiving a pamphlet from the woman in white. Each takes a seat in the semi-circle.
 

Penelope

(To each as she hands them their pamphlet) Hi everyone! I’m Penelope and if you will just take one of these, yes, hi, and take a seat in one of the chairs. (Counting.) One, two, three… (Counts rest silently.) Yes! Well, it appears you’re all here so…

Florence

I’m sorry. I don’t mean to interrupt, but as the last one to… pass over, let’s say, I’m fairly certain there should be more of us here, shouldn’t there?

Penelope

Ah, yes. Well, you see, this is the Class-A celebrity rehabilitation which here in the afterlife we kind of reserve for pop culture icons that achieve, let’s call it a “household” status of celebrity. I don’t make the rules about the groupings, but I can tell you that there is a system in place. Both Garrys — Shandling and Marshall — were largely unknown when we polled the under-25 group and with Anton Yelchin even among younger people we usually had to follow up with, “You know, that Russian kid from Star Trek.”

Alan

He’s not even Russian…

David

But surely Leonard Cohen. He was another hugely influential musician like Prince and myself.

Prince

Yeah, man, but no one remembers the songwriters. You gotta be (gestures with hands) an icon, you know?

David

Fine, but—

Nancy

I suppose I have to be the one to say it, but I honestly don’t know this Leonard.

Alan

He wrote that “Hallelujah” song that was in Shrek.

Nancy

Ohhhhhh yes, that was a lovely song! I greatly enjoyed his voice in that movie.

Alan

He’s not the one who sang it in the movie…

Nancy

Oh. Well…

Penelope

I believe my point has been made. Rest assured the likes of the great Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones, Elie Wiesel, and all the rest are being well taken care of in the Class-B and -C groups. Besides we have so much to do so it’s best for us to keep the groups to a more manageable number. Now with that out of the way let me be the first one to welcome you to… (with gravity) The Afterlife! (Pauses for response.) Alright… well, there’s usually more of a reaction from the non-celebrities, but I guess that makes sense. If you all will please look at your pamphlets—

Alan

(Reading the title of the pamphlet) “You are dead. Now what?”

Penelope

Thank you so much for asking, Alan! (Laughs.) Just kidding. Yes, I know the pamphlets may seem a bit…

Nancy

Dark?

David

Macabre?

Muhammad

Blunt?

Gene

Morbid?

Penelope

I was going to say concise, but yes, fine. Though the pamphlets are a bit of… well, those things, let me assure you that we intend to make this transition as positive, yet thorough, as possible. Before we get started are there any other preliminary questions I can answer for you?

David

Yes, I’m a bit curious… is this nirvana? Or heaven or something? I had what one might consider an evolving spirituality and I’m just wondering where we landed on that.

Muhammad

Islam is the one true religion. This and everything is a gift from Allah.

Penelope

I am sure this answer will be unsatisfactory to both of you, but there really is no word or name for this place or for any creator; at least not one I could tell you. It is our hope that by experiencing this “afterlife” — as we have affectionately adopted from you humans — you will come to know and understand the unnameable entity that is the benevolent architect of life, time, and space. So really the answer is yes to all. You can call this and them as you see fit, but the rest I’m afraid will come in time. Anything else?

Nancy raises her hand with the grace and politeness of a former first lady.

Penelope

Yes, Nancy, and you don’t have to raise your hand.

Nancy

I would like to know when I will be able to see my Ronnie again, please.

Gene

Oh yes, I have to say seeing Gilda again would be… really special.

Nancy

Gene, have you forgotten your current wife, Karen, already? She’s probably heartbroken after your passing and here you are more excited to see Gilda!

Florence

Nancy, dear, please, jealousy is not a good color on you. Besides, I’m sure no one even remembers Ronald Reagan had a first wife.

Prince

I’m sure he remembers her just fine seeing as how she beat you here to him.

Nancy

(Huffs) Excuse me I….

Prince

Look, lady, I’m just saying…

Several others chime in, arguing and naming people they want to see, etc.

Penelope

Everyone! Everyone please! Please can we just… (Penelope loses her cool.) QUIET!!! (They stop.) I was told you celebrities were a difficult bunch… (Sighs.) Listen, there is so much about existing in the afterlife that you do not yet understand. All corporeal and social constraints that once limited you no longer exist here. You now have an eternity to unlearn everything you once knew while discovering new truths about the limitless forms that love and relationships can take in the afterlife! So though I’m sure you have more questions, I think we should really move on with our first session. To start off, if we could all go around the room and just say how we are feeling right now in this moment. Who would like to start us off?

Muhammad

I’ll go first seeing as how even speaking has been a struggle for me for quite some time. I feel unburdened. For the last 32 years leading up to my death I struggled with Parkinson’s. I was Champion of the World and that disease was my trial. I strived each day to meet it taking solace in my work, my family, and my faith, but damned if it wasn’t a trial. I thought of death five times a day — every time I prayed — but Allah gave me strength and courage and has brought me here to freedom and peace at last. With death, I feel I have truly championed the world. Alhamdulillah.

Penelope

Thank you for sharing, Muhammad.

Nancy

Yes, thank you. You were a good friend to Ronnie especially during his campaign for re-election and I want to thank you for that as well.

Penelope

Nancy, does this mean you would like to share?

Nancy

Oh, I’m sorry. Yes I can go. I… I believe I feel grateful. Not for dying per se, but for the life and work, for the opportunity to be reunited with Ronald, and for being free from the constraints of a life led in the public eye. That’s all.

Penelope

Thank you, Nancy.

Gene

I think I would like to follow that, my dear. I also feel quite grateful. I was afforded a lot of opportunity and love in my life, but with fame also came expectation and I would sometimes find that difficult. After Gilda died and the work slowed all I would get was, “Why aren’t you doing movies anymore? Do you think you’ll do any more movies? Don’t you miss doing movies?” It’s quite easy for us to be assigned a role in society after achieving success in a certain field, and though I am proud of what I did and the joy I like to think I put into the world, I am more excited by the ability to be whoever I choose without feeling I am disappointing others.

Penelope

Thank you, Gene, that was lovely.

Alan

I just want to say, Gene, that you did bring quite a lot of joy to the world and I just think you are fantastic.

Gene

I really appreciate that, Alan. I think you’re wonderful as well.

Alan

(Chuckles) That’s really quite sweet of you to say. I am unable to describe exactly what I’m feeling now, I’m afraid. I suppose I feel rather neutral about the matter. Though I knew my time was coming and quite soon I would have been pleased to have continued working for an eternity. I loved what I did because I was picky about what I did, as I believe you were as well, Gene. Life was kind and I hope this one shall be even more so. Thank you.

Florence

My goodness! You all are truly wonderful and I am so glad to be here amongst you all, but I have to say I was not quite done living. That may seem selfish for someone who lived to 82, but I felt good and strong until the very end. I guess what I feel is surprised; not sad, exactly, but life was very good to me even at my age. (Laughs generously.) Well, I suppose there can be more of that here, eh Alan? (All laugh graciously except Prince and Nancy.)

Penelope

That is a valid sensation, Florence. Thank you for sharing.

David

You know, I am feeling quite at peace. Life was a pleasure and, like some of you here, I knew I was dying and I wrote and crafted a farewell to my fans and life as I knew it in the form of Blackstar. Life was an exciting adventure to the end and now I feel fulfilled. Though I miss Iman, I know it won’t be forever until we meet again.

Penelope

Prince? You’ve been awfully quiet. How are you feeling right now?

Prince

See, nah, I’m not there with the gratitude yet. I think you’re all a group of cool cats, but it was not my time. I’m sorry. I feel, disappointed. My life was dedicated to music and art and I had so much more to give to the world and my fans and I just think it’s unfortunate that now that is over so there you go.

Penelope

Thank you for sharing those feelings, Prince. This brings us to why we are here and why we do this rehabilitation. When you lose your life, it can often feel like you’ve lost everything. This is our opportunity to confront our regrets, what we’ve lost, and begin to focus on what we can gain. I would like you all to go around and say something you are looking forward to here in the afterlife. Okay? Who’s first?

Muhammad

I think I’ve already mentioned mine. I’m most excited to be able to speak and move freely once more.

Penelope

Very nice. See? A very simple, but lovely thought. Thank you.

Nancy

I am most looking forward to being reunited with Ronnie, of course.

Penelope

Of course! You could not know the kind of unity one can experience with other beings here. I am really quite excited for you.

Nancy smiles demurely, clearly excited.

Alan

Mine is of a similar strain, though different variety. I look forward to connecting with the great actors and artists that have arrived before me. It is quite the opportunity.

David

Yes, and the musicians! God, the vast realm of talent of which we get to join the ranks. That bit has got to be just the coolest, don’t you think?

Florence

I find it so hard to pick something to look forward to when I hardly understand what’s waiting for me so I suppose I’m simply excited for what is to come.

Penelope

That is such a lovely attitude, Florence. Thank you.

Prince

Well, I’m just a little guitar playing man and that’s all I ever really looked forward to so why change gears now?

Penelope

Well…

Gene

I’d like to continue with my passion also. I didn’t start writing books until later in life, and I think I would very much like to focus on that for now.

Penelope

You see…

The following overlaps and trails as they pair up and begin making plans with one another.

David

Sign me up for the music making, Prince / I think we have quite the opportunity…

Florence

I think it would be so lovely to do some more acting, especially with you, Alan… /

Nancy

Do you think, Muhammad, that you, Ronnie, and I could… /

The chatter continues loudly, until…

Penelope

(Visibly upset, voice raised) I’M SO SORRY.

Silence.

Penelope

I… you all… this is my first celebrity group. I just… (sigh) I’m sorry, but you don’t get to be celebrities anymore.

Silence. Then…

Gene

What are you saying, sweetheart?

Penelope

I heard once a saying from humans that “if everyone’s special, then no one is.” In a way, that’s what this afterlife is like. Everyone is special.

David

Darling, that sounds lovely. I don’t think anyone would be upset by that. We don’t have to be “special” to make music or act or anything for that matter. In fact, connecting through art is often a great equalizer.

Penelope

You don’t understand. I’m saying you aren’t even musicians anymore. You aren’t actors or writers or dancers or fighters or… or anything. There are no jobs here. There’s no work to be done. Not even relationships. Husband or wife, or even man, woman, person — those were all just titles and names to distinguish each of you from others. You’re free of all that now!

Nancy

(Gravely) I don’t want to be free of that. I don’t need to be anything or anyone, but I need to be with Ronnie.

Penelope

(Gently) And you will be! In a way… you will all be with everyone who has ever come before and all who will come after. Everything that makes you, you — your memories, experiences, relationships — it all melts away as you join a great web of individuals in what I can only describe as a conscious space.

Prince

Nah… No…. I tried not to cuss too much in life, but this is fucked. I can’t… I’m all for us all “coming back home,” but this is not the way… I don’t know who the gatekeeper is here, but I’m out. (Prince stands and looks for an exit).

Florence

(To Prince) I… I don’t think there’s any…

Prince

THERE’S GOTTA BE, DAMNIT. Who am I if not my music? I’ve changed my name. Fuck names. I don’t need to be Prince, but I have to make music.

Florence

You are more than what you made, brother.

Prince

No, what I made was more than me! I wasn’t even done yet! (Laughs.) There’s no him! Didn’t you hear her? You’re joining a blob! No you. No him. No nobody. How is that okay with you? Any of you?!

David

(Stands to meet him.) Listen a moment. You and I both know what it was to be someone and then someone else and then not at all, ‘Artist Formerly Known as Prince.’ Think of it as that, but more. We were so small even in our brightest hour. What we did isn’t gone, it exists, and continues until it doesn’t, and that bit is what makes life and death and all of it.

Penelope

(Stands abruptly.) Please… Thank you, David. (He sits.) I cannot fathom how difficult this must be for you all. To go from being known by everyone to not even knowing yourself must be… terrifying, and I’m not asking you to be ready… yet. But I promise to do my best to help you be ready. I promise that what you are letting go will be in exchange for something beyond your comprehension. And I promise that through this process all of us here, especially me, will honor and cherish everything that made you, you. (Taking his hands) Prince, think of the most beautiful piece of music you have ever heard. Truly think of it. What’s coming is even more gorgeous and you get to listen to it forever. Not only that but you get to become a writer of the greatest symphony to ever exist. In pursuit of that, will you at least sit and listen a little longer? (Pause.) Not that you have much of a choice… (Kind laugh.)

Prince

You’re right. I don’t have a choice. So go on, girl.

Penelope

Thank you. (Smiles. Shifts.) Now if you will all go around and share your earliest memory…

 
Bench

End.

 





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