shut up and dance

(a pair of friends are in a bar, waiting for the night to begin. others mill about. a DJ stands towards the back, readying music. the OWNER is also nearby)

MARTY: Finally, some good old-fashioned relaxing at our favorite bar on campus.
ZEKE: Man, I thought tonight would never come!
MARTY: Yeah, Tuesday always seems so far off when it's Monday.

(the DJ is ready and begins speaking)

DJ: Hey everybody, ready to flash back to the tunes of yesteryear?
ALL: Yeah!
DJ: Well look out 'cause here comes the eighties!

(an eighties pop song, something upbeat like 'Karma Chameleon' or whatever begins playing. people make a move as though they're going to start dancing but suddenly stop)

ZEKE: Hey, what's this?
DJ: It's one of those classic pop songs...(everyone gives him a blank look) You know, from the eighties...
MARTY: God, I've heard this song thousands of times.
DJ: Okay, how about this one? (puts on another eighties song, same reaction)
ZEKE: The lyrics are inane.
MARTY: I'm really sick of synthesizers, too.
DJ: But isn't it fun? It's retro! Aren't we being fun and ironic by playing a song from...(he realizes that he's getting nowhere)
ZEKE: I'm sick of these songs...again.
MARTY: Let's go.

(everyone shuffles off. the OWNER comes over to the DJ, worried)

OWNER: They're leaving! They're all leaving! Throw on another song!
DJ: Sir, they're gone. It's hopeless. They don't want to hear 80's pop songs.
OWNER: But why not? They eat that shit up! Nothing packs 'em in like eighties flashback nights!
DJ: The problem is this, sir. In order to make these theme nights work, we have to pretend that these people are actually doing something hip and inventive, "alternative", if you will, to what they customarily do. Unfortunately, though, it's not. The eighties aren't "back" - they never left. It's just not possible to flash back to something that never stopped. If you think about it, sir, we've been reminiscing about the eighties since 1988.
OWNER: But...
DJ: Metaphorically, sir, the eighties stepped out to go to the bathroom for about fifteen minutes in 1992, but they came right back and have been here ever since.
OWNER: So you're saying...
DJ: If you consider that we play crap from as far back as 1979, you realize that that decade has been going on for almost twenty years now. And I think people are actually finally sick of the eighties.
OWNER: Can we switch to nineties theme nights?
DJ: What little music that these people heard that was actually produced in the nineties was all hip-throwbacks and "homages" to seventies rock bands.
OWNER: More "irony".
DJ: That's right.
OWNER: Damn.
DJ: Supposedly there was some music made somewhere that was original, but it never made it onto the "modern rock" stations that these kids listened to, so they wouldn't recognize it anyway.
OWNER: But we can't expect people just to show up and drink at a bar! We need some clever theme gimmick to bring them in!
DJ: I know, sir. But music doesn't have any answers for you.
OWNER: (idea dawning) Hmm...what if...

(the lights quickly go dark. the DJ's voice booms)

DJ: Super plentiful greetings, favored alcoholics! Welcome for Kung Fu Night at Local Joyful Drinking Establishment!

(lights go up. everyone begins acting in a hyperkinetic, frenzied fashion. the OWNER stands behind the bar serving drinks. MARTY and ZEKE walk in)

MARTY: Now at long last we take refuge!
ZEKE: I was for certain that this time would never come actually!
MARTY: How little you know, my fool-hearted companion! (they throw back their heads and laugh) The storm of human war outside wears upon greatly all of us.
ZEKE: A moment for all good men to be at peace.
MARTY: Indeed!

(MARLA walks in)

MARTY: Marla!
MARLA: Ah! Using my eyes, I recognize you Marty.
MARTY: And foolish Zeke as well!
MARLA: Foolish Zeke! (all throw back their heads and laugh)
ZEKE: And how proceed the expeditions of Clan Theta, ally Marla?
MARLA: Oh! Death and devastation. The house of Delta must fall!
MARTY: How tragic it is, the suffering and calling for help.
MARLA: The time of dancing upon barns is near (ZEKE grows noticeably uncomfortable), and still battle rages like angry wildebeest.
MARTY: Why do you fill your mouth with silence, Brother Zeke?
ZEKE: (quickly) I grow weary, that is all. Sensei offers no relief for exhausted warriors. He demands much calculus!
MARTY: Think not on such topics. Now, to drink alcohol into oblivious stupor!
MARLA: Most fortuitous, Marty!
ZEKE: Player of music! Play music!
DJ: Right away! (speed-thrash music begins to play)
ZEKE: And alcohol! You! Old man! Supply us with our callings for a dollar!

(SCOOTER walks in. the bar becomes silent)

SCOOTER: (throwing back his head and laughing) Hah! I see no stable of warriors. I see only cucumbers! Hah!
OWNER: No! No fighting! There is to be no fighting! You will not ruin my bar again!
MARTY: Step back, vile Scooter.
SCOOTER: I will take no instruction from you, servile dog!
MARTY: Too long have you smelt of poor odors! This dance floor will not suffer your stanky!
SCOOTER: Hah! My clan is the mightiest! It will be I who lays the girl out!
MARTY: Not as long as trees are wood!

(they leap and attack each other)

ZEKE: Marla! Stars shine in your ears.
MARLA: Oh! How sweet.
ZEKE: I would favor moments spent with you, dancing upon barns.
MARLA: First you must establish your manhood.
ZEKE: My nipples grow excited. I shall!

(ZEKE stands up and addresses the battling pair)

ZEKE: Stand aside, Marty! I will fight this battle. The rogue has dishonored my roommate's sacred dishtowel and he will donate the payment in blood!
MARTY: You? A half-man? Can you do it?
MARLA: Beware, Marty! Treachery!

(SCOOTER delivers a crushing blow. MARTY flies ridiculously far across the stage)

ZEKE: Scooter! This will not suffice!
SCOOTER: You cannot defeat me! I will destroy you!
ZEKE: You do not know that my kung fu is mighty!

(ZEKE throws a fireball at SCOOTER, who flies backwards)

ZEKE: My iron palms are powerful!
MARLA: Oh! Zeke! You have saved the day!
ZEKE: Now let us become drunk with much vigor.
OWNER: My bar! You ruined my bar!
ZEKE: Silence old man. This is no time for the foolish elderly!

(everyone onstage throws back their head and laughs. all except the OWNER and the DJ leave. they return to normal)

DJ: I don't think it's going to work, sir. Dead customers don't drink.
OWNER: That's true. But, damn it, we need a theme! What if...

(lights go down, then up again. MARTY and ZEKE have returned. they are gangsters)

DJ: Welcome to 1920's flashback night!
MARTY: Yeah, see, the feds won't dare chase us in here, see...
ZEKE: But why, boss? Why we gotta go on the lam?
MARTY: Because this is the big score, numbskull! We're on the top of the world now!
ZEKE: I ain't goin' down the river again!
MARTY: That's right kid, you ain't. If some greasy cop asks for your ID, don't show it! Fill 'em full of lead first!

(lights down, then up. they are in a Victorian romance now)

DJ: ...takin' you back to the Victorian era!
MARTY: Marla!
MARLA: Marty! My long-lost love, torn away from me by the cruel Mr. Chadwick at the orphanage!
MARTY: This is my companion Zeke, he is the cousin of my sister's second husband's illegitimate nephew's child!
MARLA: Oh, Marty! Let us never be apart again!

(SCOOTER enters)

ZEKE: Oh, no! It's the cruel land-baron Scooter Fleming!
SCOOTER: Hah! Little people, feel my cough! (he coughs)
MARTY: Oh dear! I seem to be contracting falls and dies)
MARLA: Marty! Oh no!
ZEKE: Marla!
MARLA: Zeke!
ZEKE: Marla! However far away you go on the dance floor, I will find you!
MARLA: Oh, Zeke!

(lights down, then up upon the Vietnam War)

DJ: Welcome to 'Nam flashback night.
ZEKE: Kam's. Shit. I'm still at Kam's. The crowd throbs like a nightmare come to life but Marty lies still, still as death itself. Because he is dead. The only one who had a soul, and they got him. The bastards shot him. War is hell.

(lights go down, then up. in the Old West, ZEKE confronts SCOOTER)

DJ: ...retro-flashback to the 1880's!
ZEKE: I'm callin' you out, Scooter.
SCOOTER: I'll plug you just like I plugged your pal, cowboy.
ZEKE: Partner, you're about six horses short of a stampede.

(they shoot. SCOOTER falls)

ZEKE: These are the fastest hands on campus, sucker.
MARLA: Zeke, I...

(lights go down, and then up)

MARTY: Nightlife is exhausting, man. Let's get a slushie.

(they start to leave. the eighties song from before begins to play. smiles dawn on everyone's face)

ZEKE: Hey, I sure wasn't expecting to hear this!
MARTY: What a surprise! A retro-favorite of ten minutes ago!

(everyone dances)

OWNER: Praise God almighty, the eighties are back!

shut up and dance by marc heiden october 1998