In the future, aging and death have become annoyances of the past, thanks to a process of the downloading of the digitized soul into another host body, or Module. This is something only the very wealthy can afford, and if you are rich enough you can be anyone you desire. A comedic look at greed and the value of life— and death.
The play opens on an upscale high-rise apartment with a large bay window revealing a futuristic cityscape. Daniel Totten (55 years old, past his prime physically and mentally) sits alone as music plays (a 1990s indie-rock song) while he occasionally and laconically swipes the air in front of his face. A projected slideshow behind him reveals what he is looking at: a series of family photos from long ago, and yet none of the pictures contain anyone that looks like he might have at a younger age.
The futuristic sliding front door whooshes open revealing Al Totten, a devilishly good-looking and nattily attired man in his mid-30s. Al beckons to Daniel, who seems oblivious to anything but what is being projected in front of his face. “Honey!” Al continues to call out, until Daniel finally has to be poked by Al to be made aware of the presence of another. With a tap of Daniel’s finger to his temple, the music ceases and the slideshow disappears. Daniel is confused and not very happy to be disturbed from his “writing” (though the blank notebook next to him hints that his writing session wasn’t very productive anyway), but he quickly becomes alarmed when it occurs to him that Al might be home early from work because of some kind of emergency. Al confirms his fears by informing him that their son, Chadwick, has died.
This news is naturally very upsetting to Daniel, but Al seems strangely calm. “Obviously, it’s not as bad as all that.” It turns out Chadwick’s soul, in data form, is being downloaded at that very moment in a brand-new body, or “module”, and they’ll have their son back in no time in the bright, shiny body of a 24-year-old, despite the matter that he is in fact in his early 50s. Furthermore, it appears that the manner of Chad’s death wasn’t quite an accident, and he and Al had been planning this switchover for a couple weeks, despite the exorbitant cost of the procedure and the module itself. This is news to Daniel, once the breadwinner and leader of the family when his career as a novelist was going well. Al (or more accurately, Alice) had to download into the body of a man to achieve her huge success in real estate, a booming industry due to climate change and constantly-changing sea levels.
The scene is interrupted with the arrival at the front door of a very attractive young woman that is unfamiliar to Daniel, though she seems to insist that they know each other VERY well. Al’s hackles are raised, especially when the young woman reveals that she’s carrying Daniel’s baby, and then goes on to suggest that they all become one big happy family, raising the child together. This inspires Al to grab a weapon, and a chase around the living room ensues, until cooler heads prevail before anyone is hurt. Daniel suspects a joke is being played, and a shake of the young woman’s hand, initiating a transference of data between them, reveals that this person is in fact their old friend Phillip Fain. He has recently downloaded into this new module, that of a college co-ed that died of alcohol poisoning at a frat party. “Not a mark on her!” he proudly proclaims. He then haughtily details the process of going to the Life Forever Industries showroom just as her body was being wheeled in on a gurney. He made the down payment then and there, and the download started right away. Phillip has paid big money many times over to be eternally young and attractive, it would seem, though this is the first time he’s opted to go female. It’s an interesting choice for a man who has a history of preying on the very gender he has now willingly become.
Alice heads back to work. Phillip asks for a white wine in place of the whiskey he used to enjoy, Daniel drinks club soda in place of the alcohol he used to enjoy for many years before coming sober. In the ensuing private conversation between two old friends of over 60 years, the gulf that has grown between them becomes apparent. Daniel has become more secluded in general. The world has changed and become colder and strange, and Daniel was old-fashioned even when he was a young man (and still in his birth body, having partaken in downloading once, 30 years prior). He made his fortune, after all, writing novels that were primarily set in the 1990s, 20 years before he and Phillip were even born. Nostalgia has gone out of style, alas, and so did his books. There is some hope on the horizon, however: a publisher is toying with the idea of a huge reprint of Daniel’s entire canon, putting him back on the map. He’s been waiting on pins and needles for the call to come any day.
Scene 1 ends with Daniel finding that he did in fact receive a call, but the voicemail isn’t from his agent. In the virtual window that appears in front of his face, he swipes and points and is obviously affected by what he hears. He rings the caller back and leaves his own voicemail, expressing his happiness that she called and that he can’t wait to see her, but his halting and awkward manner suggests that it wasn’t an easy call to make or receive.
The next day, Daniel is confronted with the reality that not only is his eternally-adolescent middle-aged son now in his early 20s again, but that he has chosen the body of an African-American in which to reside for the foreseeable future, at least until he gets bored again. Chadwick has only a very cursory understanding of the culture of which he just appropriated, consisting mostly of urban slang and popular stereotypes. Al gets home from work, and mother and son are delighted to see each other, but there is no time to celebrate. Al has to change and get ready for the visitor they are expecting. When Chad asks who that is, he reacts with childlike pouting to the news that his sister is expected any moment.
Dee (Deandra) Totten does arrive, a harried-looking woman at the age of 50, and it is quickly apparent that her relationship with the rest of the family is complicated. She and her father are cordial though distant, her demeanor with her mother can be best described as icy, and things between her and her brother are openly hostile, especially when she takes in, and remarks on, his new appearance. Dee and Chad brawl like brother and sister until he leaves the room in a huff, leaving her with her parents. She informs them that she has news that she felt she must deliver in person: that she is dying of pancreatic cancer. The doctors say she has about three months.
An argument ensues. Al insists that Dee must have her data downloaded into a new body at once. Dee absolutely shuts this down immediately, being a life-long opponent to this practice that only the extremely wealthy can partake in at the expense of the rest of the world. Daniel can only sit idly by as mother and daughter go at it, voice levels rising by the second. It all comes to a head when Al reveals that Dee’s data is already uploaded and stored in the Heaven Database, a result of a process that Al took it upon herself to conduct when Dee had a minor operation as a teenager. Being downloaded into a new body would be even more simple than Dee had ever imagined. Dee stands firm, proclaiming before a dramatic exit that she will make sure her mother sees “the bloody end of every one” of the new modules she buys for her.
Before Daniel can recover from the information he’s just received and fight he witnessed, Al begins using her persuasive skills on her husband to do the only thing that might save their daughter’s life: download into a new module himself. Daniel has been dragging his feet for many years about getting a new module despite being long overdue, perhaps sharing the same misgivings that he daughter has. Another argument erupts, this one ending with Daniel breaking down and admitting to Alice that the financial situation that they have come to as a couple is what’s really bothering him. Al has been the one keeping them afloat for years now, and it is a threat to Daniel’s self-worth. Al assures him that it’s merely a short-term situation, and as the two of them live through eternity together, they will continue to take turns supporting each other through changes of fortune. Daniel tearfully agrees to let Al pay for a new module, and the row appears to be over, until she broaches the subject of him perhaps doing what their friend Phillip did: choosing a female module.
This suggestion opens the conflict all over again, exposing issues that have been smoldering between them for many years, especially in the time since Alice took on a male module. Their intimacy and sex life has suffered, and though they swore that the love between them is the only thing that matters, they both have to admit that things aren’t the same. Alice doesn’t help matters by issuing an ultimatum: download into a female module, or else. She is, after all, the one paying for it. Daniel walks out. End of Act I.
Act II opens on Dee’s apartment, a much more modest (putting it kindly) abode than the one afforded by her parents. Her father is paying a visit, having nowhere else to go except for the hotel room he rented the previous night. Dee is sure he’s there at the directive of Al to talk her into reconsidering her position, but he promises her he has no agenda. Dee reveals that she had to leave her teaching job at a local university because of her illness, and now works part time at a law firm. Her girlfriend has moved out. She will likely die penniless and alone. But at least she has her ideals. She allows her father to spend the day at her place while she’s at work, and then perhaps they can have dinner later. And then he must leave. He gladly accepts.
Meanwhile, back at the high rise, Alice is receiving a curt text message from her husband that he is fine but won’t be home for some time. The intervention that she was planning with Phillip and Chadwick will have to wait, apparently. Chad leaves to go out and party with his friends, leaving Al and Phillip to catch each other up on their respective changing lives. Phil is struggling to adapt to his new existence, taking in the pros and cons of being a woman in the late 21st century, and in general. He finds it easier than ever to pick up women, but he’s finding the sex confusing and strangely unsatisfying. Al reveals that she loves being a man, having a power that she could never fully live up to as a woman. She also admits that she hasn’t remained faithful to Daniel, which they agree is only natural considering that the sex life between them has almost completely dried up. As they continue to drink and reveal more about themselves, they become emotionally— and physically— closer to each other, until they give into to their urges and begin heavily making out on the couch.
Later that evening, Dee and her father have just finished their dinner. As the lights rise, Daniel is finishing a phone call that seems to affect him in a way that is difficult to ascertain, both to the audience and himself. Dee enters with a drink, a nightly ritual she engages in the help with the physical and mental hardships she faces due to her cancer. The alcohol also loosens her lips and inhibitions, and father and daughter have a heart to heart in a manner they haven’t in many decades, discussing their regrets and grievances with each other and themselves. Dee admits that much of her refusal to allow herself to continue her life has to do with not wanting her mother to win, even if it means she herself has to die to achieve it. She asks her father not to use what she has told him in a time of weakness against her, but Daniel assures her he isn’t one who should be trying to persuade anyone to live longer than they want to. He reveals that the call that he just received was from his agent, informing him that his books are being republished, he’ll be going on a worldwide book tour, and he’ll be remembered again. However, the publishers did have some hesitance in doing so, questioning if an artist’s true relevance can really be measured appropriately while that person is still alive.
As his daughter drifts off to sleep, Daniel pours himself a big glass of whiskey and begins writing with more earnestness than he has mustered in many years.
Days later, Alice shows up at Dee’s apartment in search of her husband, who has gone off the radar. It is he who answers the door when she knocks, allowing her in, Dee nowhere in sight. He explains that he needed some time and was going to come by that night to explain things. Al assures him that no explanation is needed and that they can go forward with a new understanding. Their time apart has done them both some good, and she sees now what is important. Daniel understands this to mean that it’s best that they part on good terms and go their separate ways, but Alice corrects him by saying that it’s more important than ever that they tighten their family circle and venture into the future as a unit. In fact, she suggests that they should widen their family, by adding Phillip into the mix, and having a new baby once Daniel transitions into a female module.
At that moment, Phillip himself enters from the bedroom hallway with messy hair and wearing nothing but a long T-shirt. Obviously not expecting to find Alice there, things become very awkward. Much like in the first scene, Alice reacts with violent jealousy, furious that Phillip would sleep with her husband (even though, in essence, Alice had just been suggesting a three-way marriage only moments before). Phillip is confused, looking at Daniel, asking, “Wait, she doesn’t know?” At this, Daniel takes Alice’s hand, data is transferred, and Alice learns that the man standing in front of her is not her husband, but her daughter. Phillip discreetly excuses himself, and Dee explains to her mother that Daniel arranged with Life Forever Industries to come pick up his body and take it, along with Dee, to their headquarters for a download. He then deleted his own data from the Heaven Database, and drank himself to death. Daniel Totten, in solid and data form, is gone from the world.
Alice is furious, accusing Dee of killing her father, but a letter that Daniel wrote to her on the night he died helps her to understand. Daniel felt it was his time to die, especially with the understanding that it would give his daughter some extra time to fix her mistakes and absolve her regrets of wasted time. Mother and daughter acknowledge that they are both starting over in a sense, and they both have the gift of time to work through their individual and mutual difficulties. At the given moment, they decide to start by taking a walk together.
McGowan’s rich imagination challenges our expectations at every twist of its deliciously disturbing plot.
–Los Angeles Times
Daniel Totten – 55, male, Caucasian. Appears to be 55 years old but in actuality is 80, and feels twice that old. Once a hugely successful novelist, he is now being kept financially alive by his wife. His current body was once a solid, magnificent thing, but now is as weathered and beaten down as his state of mind.
Al Totten – 35, male, any ethnicity. Daniel’s wife, Alice, appears to be a handsome 35-year-old man. In reality, she is 90 years old and experiencing the prime of her life. Power and wealth suits her, but perhaps a little too well.
Chadwick Totten – 24, male, African-American. Daniel and Al’s son is the eternal adolescent, despite just turning 53. His birthday gift from mom is a nice, shiny, young body to spend the next five or six years in, because Chad would rather die than ever be over 30.
Dee Totten – 50, female, Caucasian. Deandra is Daniel and Alice’s estranged daughter, 50 years old in appearance and reality, because she has refused all her life to engage in the body-swapping activities the rest of her family has profited from. She is a writer like her dad, but never nearly as successful.
Phillip Fain – 22, female, any ethnicity. Phillip was once a short, overweight, slovenly man that lost most of his hair in his late teens. With the benefit of a very large trust fund, in his 55 years he has been able to experience many times over the luxury of being ridiculously attractive. His current physique is that of a gorgeous young woman, exactly the kind he used to prey on.
Setting: A large metropolitan area in the United States, in the year 2095.
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A Long Day’s Journey Into Night’s Tyrones and Death of a Salesman’s Lomans, but with Hanna-Barbera’s loony cartoony Jetsons.” –Hollywood Progressive
“Neil McGowan’s play… is part sci-fi yarn, part comic farce and part timely social commentary. It’s hard to pin down its style, but one thing is certain: McGowan’s rich imagination challenges our expectations at every twist of its deliciously disturbing plot.” –Los Angeles Times
“Brilliantly melding over-the-top humor and the darkest of comedy with some very serious undertones, McGowan’s tale is hugely entertaining – but also highly thought-provoking.” –Splash Magazine.
"There's some diabolical stuff going on in this play, and it's so much fun. The show's got shocks, laughs, and it leaves you with something to think about after you've left the theater. Fans of science fiction, this is not the show to miss." –LA Theatre Bites
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