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Gene of Hope

A play in one act and two scenes

by Alfred de Grazia

©Copyright 2001 by Alfred de Grazia

Five characters carry the play. One is a 35-year-old research geneticist, rigidly idealistic, effusive and repressed at the same time, wearing a lab uniform and a hat that is cocked rather than smashed down over her ears, conceivably attractive physically because of her clear melodic non-whining voice and her shapely ears and her behind, or is it her lovely but evanescent smile and shapely ankles?

The second party is a 60-year old research geneticist in charge of her section. He is remarkably fat and bouncy for a research scientist, with little pig eyes unfortunately emphasized by his long white gown and black oxford slippers peeping out. His name is Dr. Melvin Brainsley.

The third personage is a twenty-eight-year old, tall, handsome, blond man who is the Supersafe Industrial Insurance Company agent servicing the needs of the Genice Laboratories, inc. His name is Ivanhoe Mac Iver, known to some as "Ivan the Terrible."

Finally there is a Fire Chief. And his paid informer, Finky Schlepp.

Most of the stage hardware consists of long lab tables, loaded with computer stuff, microscopes, tubes, bottles, and whatever else typically is to be found on these surfaces (let Rube Goldberg inspire the set designer). The long tables are separated by an aisle that recedes (by the use of mirrors far into the rear of the stage there to be dimmed out). No one else is in sight.

Dr. Anna Klein is the woman and is working at one table on the left of stage as the curtain opens. A lab chair is pushed back across the aisle.

Scene 1

Anna: muttering like a bee at her task. She moves an object, buzzes, Makes another move, buzzes, etc. Shakes a flask and looks at it ZZZZZZZatzatzzatzzzzzzzzt . Stretches out to pull a microscope to herself. ZZZZZummmzummmzzzz . Bumps her elbow on clamp. Damn!.

Brainsley and MacIver walk in from right, each carrying a noteboard.

MacIver: I'm sorry to catch you at this late hour, but the traffic from Kennedy Airport, you know how it is.

Brainsley: A few minutes don't matter. I wanted to show you how the 2GB solution will not break down, even when we put twice as much as you recommend of 2bG-forcer in it. But the molecules run around as if they are trained by a drill sergeant.

This is Dr. Anna Klein here. She is not part of the experiment. She is cleaning up some genome tailings. This is Ivanhoe MacIver, AnnAnna He works for our insurers.

(They nod and say "Pleased to meet you.")

Brainsley: What keeps you so late, Anna? Making up for your reckless youth?

(To M.) Ana was a dancer once, then she studied social work, then became a rug weaver before she decided to take her doctorate in organic chemistry.

Anna: Why did you ever hire me, truthfully?

MacIver: I might guess at some reasons.

Brainsley: Careful, Mr. MacIver, we've had some weird cases of sexual molestation popping up. Distracting a scientist at work was one of them, an outsider, too, from the Beard Chemocycle Company.

MacIver: I know the case and the guy.

Anna: Are you the same and one and only Ivan the Terrible?

MacIver: Yes, but that was from my football days. I am protecting nature in my spare time now.

Anna: Conservation of natural resources, like?

MacIver: No, more like preventing intrusions into natural processes with the new tools of biotechnology.

Anna: Like against cloning and radiation of plants and genetic change, you mean, I suppose.

MacIver: Rather so.

Brainsley: We'd better excuse ourselves, Ivan, if we want to settle this little matter of the 2GB solution before I have to leave.

MacIver: Sure. But one question, please, before we leave. Dr. Klein, your equipment looks rather old-fashioned, like they came out of an old Dr. Frankenstein movie. Any reason for that?

Anna: Absolutely. They're props. We're putting on a show here. Can't expect the audience to get any kicks out of this dull computer setup and these tiny capsules where the action is taking place. Why I even wear fancy stockings, too, to help the cause. See? (She lifts her coat to show sheer black stockings with pink butterflies.)

MacIver: (with a puzzled grin) Sure thing. Another time, Dr. Klein, good luck.

Scene 2.

The men have left but B returns. Anna is still buzzing.

Brainsley: What are you actually up to, Anna?

Anna: It's a 904 contract clause project, on my own time, unpaid, unsupported, and allowed as along so long as no dangerous operations are performed, with a half share in any proceeds from a patent or copyright and credit to the company in any publications.

Brainsley: Fine, but what is it, can't you tell me?

Anna: I could. But you would laugh at it, jolly fellow that you are, and I do not like to be laughed at! Besides you are in a different field. You're a hardware guy, and all I do is play on the software. I have permission from the Boss to manipulate up to fifty genes, with six months to finish the game. So if you want to date me, such as you a\have been trying to do since we met and you hired me in order to date me, you'll have to wait for six months.

And as for that Ivanhoe fellow, keep him away from me. He's bad medicine. I think I know what he is up to. He's a fundamentalist friends-of-science creep. His chief purpose in life at the moment is to block projects in science that might deal with the really great problems of life, like mine.

Brainsley: Like what?

Anna: Like whether persons who have great faith in some person or cause have a gene to account for their faith

Brainsley: Come again? What are you saying?

Anna: (with forced patience) I say that a moral quality can be solidly based on a gene or combination of genes.

Brainsley: And are you not saying too that you can create that moral quality

called faith and by the same token destroy its opposite.

Anna: That I don't know, but possibly.

Brainsley: But what is faith? You cannot even define it, much less - or should I say therefore - find that it has any material existence.

Anna: The fact that a thing doesn't crawl around the room does not mean it doesn't exist.

Brainsley: No, and you can make a poison gas that cannot be smelled, seen, heard, touched, or tasted. But it works. And it works in very precise ways. You can define it by its chemical formulAnna You can contain it, disperse it, and observe its effects. What moral quality has such a potential?

Anna: What are the moral qualities, you may well ask:

I can call up a short list of them on my screen. (She reaches forward from where she has been swinging in her chair, and makes two quick clicks.) On the screen appears a list of thirty qualities: honesty, loyalty, faith, generosity, love, charity, initiative, obedience, hope, etc. ) So far, taking twenty virtues, and twenty vices like dishonesty, aggressiveness, hatred, unfaithfulness, dirtiness, obscenity, and so on, I have been matching them with the known functions of the few genes that are to some degree known.

Brainsley: But how can you even imagine such connections? Genes have no virtues or vices. They simply exist. They are there. They act.

Anna: All action is either a virtue or a vice. It must have either good or bad effects. Therefore the gene has to be moral. So long as it functions, it creates a situation that is either favorable or unfavorable to the condition of some part of the body that is acting in some certain way that may be externally effective, internally effective or both.

If you don't know it now, Dr. Brainsley, you soon will -- .but I'm sure you do. All organisms are unified. Including the humans. All psychic events are physiological events, and all physiological events are psychological, even social, if you prefer. The corollary is : every event in life is both physical and spiritual.

And therefore every event has moral consequences, that is, is moral or immoral. But it is you and me and Gandhi, and Stalin, and Pope John-Paul and Mao and Mussolini and Jimmy Carter who tell us whether an event is good or bad.

So the essence of good or bad starts with the gene, and these plenipotentiaries just put their stamp or approval on whatever happens as a result of the genes. So genes are good or bad.

When Dawkins refers to "the selfish gene" he is playing with words and spreading confusion, and he is trapped, too, by Darwinian contradictions, calling the gene one moment good and the next moment bad, tangling it all up with the supposed game of survival of the fittest.

But I am pushing aside all of this confusion and I am going to find a good gene, an important one, one such that the human race would be inconceivable without it.

Brainsley: I am listening.

Anna: The gene of hope.

Brainsley: Ouch.

Anna See here, look at ourselves, our humans to the number of seven billions. What are we but suppurating existences, living on hope, if we feel alive at all. And that has been the way of the race throughout history from the first collection of operative genes recognizable from its behavior as humanoid. Human history has been mostly mutual hostilities and strife, and the tortures of natural catastrophe and disease. And the usual solution is to put humans through more sufferings. Add sufferings wherever they are not in order to show that we appreciate that we are about to suffer worse fates if we do not suffer enough voluntarily. Read the Old Testament, read the Hindu, the Teuton, the Syrian, the Greek, the Roman, and the ample histories of the Shinto, the Christian and the Muslim. They are accounts of how to avoid suffering by increasing your suffering. Even the Buddhists, with their cult of indifference. Have you ever considered how vile and harmful you'd be if you were indifferent to everything that happens around you or even elsewhere?

Brainsley: That's enough. Spare me more of your lunacies. I am a scientist.

Anna: Lunacies you call them. You yourself only escape certain lunacies of the human race, but not, for example, the robotic mechanistic, bureaucratizing sufferings of the scientific man, the scientoid.

You, for example.

Brainsley: Anna, there's a difference. We men are Y and you are X and never the twain shall meet, ha,hAnna We have found that the disease of depression is more common to women than to men. Why? Because a particular gene promoting depression must be housed in the X but not Y chromosome. But the questions are many. How many shapes and forms do depressed feelings take? Which of the depressed feelings are rational -God knows that there are many perfectly valid reasons for feeling depressed - when you lose your loved ones, your fortune, your house, your leg or arm, your job, or even an election of some boob to the office of President.

Now I'll give you a research design. Get equal random samples of men and women in a given population and discover how many in each sample are suffering these misfortunes, then locate the X chromosome people and check to be sure that more of them are depressed in general, and then examine the depressed to find the responsible gene. Ha, hAnna

Anna: You are assuming, of course, that the depressed people are bound to be pessimistic and without hope. And you tell me and I believe you that more women than men are depressed. You think I could not discover the guilty gene in the mess of genes that are in both the Y and X chromosome?

Brainsley: Thou hast spoken. In fact, you will come up with umpteen kinds of depression and hope, and no specific gene that is responsible.

Anna: Bullshit. Every one of the fifty genes that I am authorized to examine I chose because it was implicated in some activity, some behavior pattern, that has to do with hope, extreme hope. On the theory of psychosomatic medicine, there is bound to be a genetic connection between parallel behaviors of the somatic and psychosomatic. All I have to do is to find the physical illness that is physically closest to depression. Lurking there will be the gene of depression and missing there or obscured or canceled will be the gene of hope.

You can't imagine what a difference it will make in the human race. Once I have found the gene of hope in the human genome, I can transfer it from the egg of one human (or even an appropriate animal (a hopeful monster, yes) to another who lacks it. All children will then truly be born equally hopeful.

Brainsley: His method was sloppy, but have you considered using Craig Venter's method that was so successful in the end. Just put a gene of hope into every x chromosome of every egg. The gene of hope is probably the anti-depression gene as well. You'll be bound to prevent half if not more of the cases of life-long depression.

Anna: Furthermore, I'll tell you the grandest secret of them all. The gene of hope is probably the same as the gene of faith and charity, so we would ensure universal faith, hope and charity, which that wicked misogynist St. Paul once preached to the world.

Brainsley: If I were you, I would not hold such high hopes. Or maybe, it's just that I'm so much older.

Anna: I suppose you want me to say that you are hardly too old for you know what. But I won't say it. I would rather ask you if you are not more than a little jealous of what your young female colleague is about to discover.

Brainsley: You wrong me. I am not jealous, and I simply have a normal personal concern about my young attractive colleague, and how she spends her evenings. (He is nevertheless leering at AnnAnna)

Anna: Now, let's be clear, Dr. Brainsley, you have zilch chance of getting into my pants.

Brainsley: (heatedly)You misunderstand me. First you have thousands of combinations to work out before you can begin to see the statistics emerging that you hope for.

Anna: No matter. We shall have the gene, that's the telltale heart of the matter.

Brainsley: (ignoring her) You'll be the pawn of an ever larger movement of the young to get rid of the old. Their high hopes index will make them uniformly aggressive and capable of geriatric suicide, call it mass euthanasia if you will.

Anna: No, this is just the beginning. We'll develop a hope chemical that will counteract the aggressive gene or whatever it is if swallowed three times a day beginning at the age of eighteen months.

Brainsley: You're ahead of yourself by a few leap years.

But worst of all, you will, if successful, be creating a world of humans full of hope, no matter how bad the circumstance of life are. Nobody will do anything to remedy his personal condition if he is so all-fired hopeful.

Be more realistic.

I've got to say goodbye now.

(Aside) What a nut!

Anna: Goodbye, now. (He withdraws and she mutters} Coward. Men are such cowards.


Scene 3:

The same Lab scene is practically unrecognizable. Broken glass, blackened furniture, wisps of smoke, overturned chairs, all evidence of recent explosive fire. Center stage are Anna, Brainsley and Ivanhoe, surveying grimly the dismal scene. A new Character is present, a Fire Chief., wearing the appropriate helmet.

Anna: I didn't expect to see you back so soon, Mr. MacIver. (He is staring glumly at the scene.)

Fire Chief: This is your company's third fire since Halloween, Mr. MacIver. Are you teaching your clients not to fall behind on their premium payments?

MacIver: No, Chief, ha, ha, we blast them to encourage all the inadequately insured laboratories to come to us for more insurance.

Brainsley: You might as well say that the Chief sets the blazes so he can get his picture on television and a fatter budget for fire-fighting.

MacIver: You had better keep still, if ever I saw a case of professional jealousy it was in your fat face and beady eyes.

Anna: All right, now that you are all even with each other, what the hell is this female researcher going to do? My project has been burned to pieces. My career has been blasted. The Boss will never give me another fifty genes. I'll sue you both for millions.

Fire Chief: You all think you are so smart, you intellectuals. As soon as I heard that this lab had been burned and heard what was going on in it, I knew it was arson and who did it.

All: Who, Who, Who?

Fire Chief ignores them and yells: "Call up Finky Schlepp!"

A character who looks like Finky Schlepp comes on stage.

Fire Chief: (proudly) We always give Finky immunity from prosecution for informing on cases like this.

Chief: Finky, did you throw that incendiary bomb into this lab at exactly 4 AnnaM. this morning?

Finky: Yessir, I did, Chief.

Chief: Who paid you to do it?

Finky: Ivan the Terrible did it (pointing to M).

M says ironically, Oh my God, I wish it were me..

Chief: Did anybody else pay you to do the job?

Finky: Yes, this guy did. Pointing to B.

Brainsley bursts into a jolly laugh that dwindles to a rasping cough.

Chief: Is that all, Finky?

Finky: (Takes a long pause) Nossir, Chief. She did ( fingering Anna).

Anna sets up the buzzing of an angry hornet.

Chief: How'd it happen, Finky?

Finky: Well, you see, Chief, whenever I see Ivan the Terrible look wild-eyed, I figure there'll be some action, so I follow him.

Then I listened to them all talking. They was all noivus-like.

So I drew myself pulled back and when Ivan is the first guy to leave, I pull him over, show him my fire-bomb, and say, how about it for a hundred bucks.

Then when the second guy leaves, I do the same, saying, hey why not get rid of that viper's nest with a little blaze, and I pocket another century.

Finally the lady closes down. She's looking very grim, and I tell myself, why not, can't hurt to try. So I say, Dr.? Yes? Have you abandoned hope? She looks at me as if I were a priest or magician or something and says, how did you guess, yes, I found it out today, now I know; it won't work. So I says, for a hundred dollars you'll have nothing to explain and be a martyr. And I shows her my little fire-bomb. She says, Are you crazy? And I says, No, but you are.

She shuffles around in her bag and comes up with fifty. "That should be enough. I didn't have a chance. I'm only a poor weak woman."

You know, women are cheapskates. But I took the fifty anyway.

Then I threw the bomb and afterwards I went to confession before six o'clock Mass where my priest said that what I did was not so bad since such labs were disfiguring the act of Creation, which only God is allowed to do.

Chief: And then reported to the authorities, me, of course.

Good job, Finky.

You can all go home now. There's no need to arrest you, no cameras around to testify.

But you can expect anything this afternoon. First I have to consult with the Prosecutor -- (sneering at them) to see whether we can bring in a conspiracy charge, in addition to the arson charges. That would make the cheese more binding. (Exits)

Finky: (Affrighted) Wait for me, Chief. (Exits)

MacIver: I am not leaving until I tell my side of the story. He stands stock still, but the curtain is beginning to descend.

Brainsley: I am staying until this matter is straightened out. The curtain continues to descend.

Anna: And so am I. Right here ! And she stamps her foot and buzzes as the curtain closes.



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