Escaping the Labyrinth
romantic fantasy by Thomas Hischak
A winner of the AACT NewPlayFest, Escaping the Labyrinth was first produced by the Des Moines Community Playhouse in October, 2021. The play has been published by Dramatic Publishing Company.
Cast of Characters
BUD SCHLIEMANN - Aged 25 to 45 during the course of the play; an American grad student, a professor, then a scholar
HERMAN* - Aged late 30s; a cultured Greek man
DEE** - Aged 30s; a no-nonsense American waitress
MANOS*** - Aged 70s; an exuberant Greek restauranteur
JULIAN* - Aged 30s; a dashing European airline pilot
PAULA** - Aged early 30s; a sensitive British airline stewardess
DR. VALENCY*** - Aged late 70s; a philosophic college professor
HESTER** - Aged 30s; a smart prostitute
SARGE* - Aged 40s; an American military
OLD BUD*** - Aged 83
Note: the casting is flexible, using 1 to 3 women and 3 to 7 men
* can be played by the same actor
** can be played by the same actress
*** can be played by the same actor
Places and Times
Scene 1: Delphi, Greece, 1951
Scene 2: Dayton, Ohio, 1958
Scene 3: Dayton, Ohio, 1958
Scene 4: London, England, 1961
Scene 5: St. Louis, Missouri, 1964
Scene 6: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1966
Scene 7: Syracuse, New York, 1971
Scene 8: Delphi, Greece, 2009
The play takes place over a period of fifty-eight years, from 1951 to 2009. The different locations can be suggested by a few furniture pieces as described at the beginning of each scene. Lighting or projections can also help establish each locale.
In 1951, the graduate student Bud Schliemann is touring Greece and enjoying the antiquities in preparation for a career teaching and writing books about the ancient world. In Delphi he encounters a friendly but disconcerting man calling himself Herman and gets into a discussion about the fate of the ancient gods in the modern world. Eventually Herman reveals himself as the god Hermes who, after living through the centuries in different guises, has decided to return to Greece and take the River Styx to the Underworld and finally be at peace.
Bud dismisses Herman as crazy yet seven years later, while at a classics conference in Dayton, Ohio, he recalls that Herman said the goddess Artemis was working as a waitress in a Greek restaurant in that city. He finds and falls in love with the waitress who calls herself Dee. She argues that she is no goddess but Bud doesn’t care. They agree to meet the next day but by then Dee, who is indeed Artemis, has left town.
Three years later, while in London promoting his book Escaping the Labyrinth about the Greek gods, Bud recalls Herman saying that Zeus was working as a pilot for BOAC. He spots a pilot laughing at the cover picture of Zeus on the cover of his book in a book shop and Bud follows him where he overhears a private conversation in which the pilot Julian breaks up with his lover, the British stewardess Paula, for reasons he will not explain. Bud comforts Paula and eventually they fall in love, marry, and settle in St. Louis where Bud teaches. Three years later, his colleague in the classics department, Dr. Valency, meets with Bud at the amphitheatre in the city park and tells him he is retiring and is recommending Bud as the next department chairman. They part ways without Bud realizing that Valency is the god Dionysus who, like all the gods, has to keep moving.
In 1966, Bud is in Pittsburgh delivering a scholarly paper and encounters in a park the prostitute Hester to whom he confesses his unhappy marriage. By the time he realizes she is really the virginal goddess Hespia, she gets angry, tells him to leave his wife, and then gets rid of him. During a snowstorm in Syracuse in 1971, Bud gets drunk in a bar with Sarge who in his cups gets his wars all confused and Bud realizes he is Ares, the god of war. Sarge denies it yet breaks down and, when asked, tells Bud he doesn’t know where Artemis is.
Three decades later, the eighty-three-year-old Bud is terminally ill and decides to return to Greece before he dies. At Delphi, he discovers Dee who has not aged a day. She soon recognizes the old man as Bud whom she remembers with great affection. Like Herman, Dee/Artemis has decided to stop moving through the centuries and plans to take the River Styx to the Underworld and rest. She invites Bud to join her where they will have eternity together and he readily agrees, finally having found his goddess.