A Conversation With Doctor Hans Zweigler
A short play written for the Dramatic Production department's Ten Minute Play Festival. "Pulitzer-Prize winning theoretical philosopher Hans Zweigler gives a lecture on fiction, reality, life, and death."
February 9, 2022
A CONVERSATION WITH DR HANS ZWEIGLER
ZWEIGLER sits in a large armchair centerstage, looking at a pocketwatch.
There is a small table stage left with a telephone on it.
In ten minutes from now, the phone will ring, and I will die.
Good evening. My name is Dr. Hans Zweigler. I am a Pulitzer-Prize winning theoretical philosopher at the Skörlitz University in Düzzleschultz, Indiana. I am the author of the best-selling book, a rumination upon the facts of fiction, entitled Fiction is Stranger than Truth, Actually, which is now available at any major bookseller. Today, I have just nine minutes and forty seconds to speak to you upon the subjects of fantasies, falsehoods, and fabrications, of life, and of death. Once this time expires, so shall I.
We best begin posthaste, no?
Very often, we, as humans, find it hard to distinguish between what is true, and what is not true. Regrettably, this affliction is a common side effect of the unfortunate condition known as ‘humanity.’ We are led to believe that our human sentience grants us superior intelligence, wisdom, and empathy, when in fact it is because we are sentient that humans are the most gullible, most naïve, and most prone to delusion than any other species.
Pauses, and checks watch.
There are now nine minutes until the phone will ring; nine minutes until I will die.
Begins to pace.
So, why is it that we are so foolish, hm? The answer is quite simple: as a society of free-thinkers, chances are that sooner or later, some of us will begin to think things that are empirically false. Even the simplest matters are the subject of much debate. If one is told enough times, over and over and over, that one and one equals three, he will inevitably begin to believe it, although he unconsciously knows it is not true.
Stops pacing, turns to audience.
I am reminded of a man that I met several years ago, a piccolo salesman, who told me that he believed unconditionally that there was some grand conspiracy against his family, despite there being no evidence of such a phenomenon. He believed it because it was told to him by his father, and his father to him, and so on and suchlike.
Had I been a philosophical man, then, I would have asked the piccolo salesman about his views on life, free will, the world at large. As it happened, however, I was not, and thus I purchased a piccolo out of sheer desperation to get him to leave, thanked him for his time, and securely locked and bolted my door.
Pauses. Checks watch.
In eight minutes, the telephone will ring. I will pick it up, and then I will die.
Perhaps ‘die’ is a strong word. ‘Cease to exist’ may be more apt. In any case, the wording changes nothing. The phone will ring, I will pick it up, and I will die. My fate is unavoidable, I am sorry to inform you.
Pauses, looks sideways at audience.
Perhaps you do not understand? Let me put it this way:
I am not real.
Neither is the Skörlitz University, nor my Pulitzer-Prize, nor my piccolo.
Slight smile at the joke:
I did say I was a theoretical philosopher.
Begins to pace again.
I simply play the part of myself on the grand stage we call life. Or rather, someone else does. Perhaps my face is familiar to you; perhaps you know me by another name. I may be a friend, a colleague, a child, a parent, a man, a woman, a teacher, a doctor, a milkman.
A piccolo salesman.
I could be anyone, anywhere, anywhen, anywhy, anyhow. But I assure you, ladies, gentlemen, that in this moment it is Dr. Hans Zweigler who stands before you!
Seven minutes now.
It is a wonderful thing, is it not?
Savouring the word:
For a short time, we are able to enjoy all of the gifts of this earth, happiness, comfort, pleasure, passion. Solely human experiences.
But to what end? The meaning of life is, of course, a popular topic amongst philosophers. Plato tells us that the meaning of life is to seek knowledge, Aristotle believes that it is to be a virtuous person, whilst Confucius suggests it is to help others achieve their own potential. Determinism tells us that the meaning of life is ultimately unknowable, Quietists believe there is no meaning to life, and Absurdists ask, ‘Who cares!?’
Personally, I believe that the meaning of life is the freedom to choose.
Though of course, not everyone has this freedom.
It is interesting, is it not, that some have the opportunity to enjoy life for many years, decades even, whilst some have only a very short amount of time to live? Does this seem fair to you?
But of course this is merely an observation.
After life, inevitably, comes death. No one truly knows what happens when we die, after all— no one has died and lived to tell the tale! Many have theorized, but, who can say for sure? To live is to die, to die is to have lived, they are the same side of the same coin. We will all experience death, loss, but one’s own mortality is something that few truly acknowledge until death is already scraping her boots on one’s doormat.
Death is only preventable until a point, and we all must die eventually.
Some of us—
—sooner than others.
Some see death as a delivery, a journey to another place, to serve in a new, unknowable role. Once one’s purpose in life is fulfilled, they are transported from the comfort and happiness of life, to the cold, dark, lonely, desolate, barren…
I don’t want to die.
Composes self, but continues less confidently.
And so, we come to the subject of free will. The ability to choose. To think for oneself. To speak and act however one wishes. Identity. Of course, one’s free will may be limited or identity destroyed by a number of terrible things, however, it is nearly impossible to take away every single choice and decision an individual may have. And yet…
And yet, I have no free will. No identity. I am no more real than… than Robin Hood, or, or Sherlock Holmes. I am a character. Everything I have said, or done, has been written for me… even, as I speak to you now, these words…
All I am is ten pages of twelve point font, black on white, thought up by a cruel sadist who wishes only to see my suffering.
There are four minutes left until my death.
It will be much worse than simply a death. There will be no corpse. No casket. No funeral. No one will mourn for me, after all, I never existed in the first place. I am forced to relive the same tortuous ten minutes over and over and over and over and over, because it is written that I will and so I will.
You all, ladies and gentlemen, will be leaving this room tonight. I, however, will not be, although there are no walls. Dr. Hans Zweigler will die here, in front of you all, for your enjoyment! And yet, you do nothing! You sit there, in the darkness, and watch a man’s life end! For fun! And you laugh! [Barks:] Ha!
Oh, but you don’t laugh anymore, do you?
Laughs, but trails off. Hopelessly:
Beat. Suddenly screaming at the audience.
HELP ME, FOR GOD’S SAKE, HELP ME!!! WILL NONE OF YOU DO SOMETHING, ANYTHING!? WHY DON’T YOU SAY ANYTHING!?!? PLEASE!!! I AM GOING TO DIE!!!!!!
Long pause. Quietly:
But there is nothing any of you can do. I see that now. You think to yourself, ‘Ah, but it is just a play. A disturbing one, perhaps, the author is clearly insane, but merely a play. It is made up,’ you reassure yourself, ‘It is fantasy.’
And you go home and you forget about it all, about me, because why should you remember? You have the luxury of time. The illusion of it, at the very least. And this is merely a play, no?
Sits in chair, takes out watch.
In two minutes, the phone will ring.
I will pick it up. I will die.
Who is on the phone, it does not matter. It is not connected to anything. A meaningless prop.
They call it ‘theatrics.’
I have no choice but to answer. I always do, and I always will.
This time will be no different.
Laughs quietly to self.
I suppose this is what dying is. As such, my last request is this: A minute of silence. Of thought. Of contemplation. For me, for anyone, for anything you wish. All I ask is that you do not waste it.
It has been a pleasure speaking with you all.
The phone rings.
ZWEIGLER stands, and smiles weakly.
Excuse me. I must take this.
Approaches the phone and picks it up, back to the audience.
Lowen Jeffery (they/them)
I am a fledgling writer, mainly in stageplays, and hope to continue playwriting into university and beyond. So far, two of my plays have been produced by APA’s Dramatic Production department: “Cracking the Case,” and, “The Guest.” If you’ve read any of my work, no, I don’t really know what it’s about either.