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Spotlight: Eissa Saeed

Dine In: A Play in One Act

The last 'Spotlight' of 2020 is on Eissa Saeed's play that encapsulates the ennui and disillusionment of the millennial generation when it comes to matters of the heart. Set in an Italian restaurant, the play follows Andie, a non-gendered server as they try to balance serving customers with their own stream-of-consciousness, until a strange customer arrives.

Cast of Characters

Andie: 36, server at Tony’s, single and bitter about it. Pronouns: They/Them.

Eto: 27, lone diner Pronouns: They/Them.

Gemma: A black woman, 45, Frida’s partner. Frida: A Latina, 42, Gemma’s partner. Dan: A white man, 22, college senior, dating Sara, brassy jock. Sara: A white woman, 21, college junior, dating Dan, good girl. Artin: A man, 37, hot-shot lawyer, charmer, asked Colette out on a date. Colette: A trans woman, 28, classy fish, know it all, on a date with Artin. Scene STAGE LEFT: A kitchen window overlooking the dining room. Upstage, there is a small but well-stocked bar. STAGE CENTER & RIGHT: A cozy, warmly-lit Italian restaurant, hues of red and green adorn the room. Three tables set flank the rest of the stage.


Scene 1

SETTING: Tony’s is a cozy pizzeria tucked away in a midtown alleyway. The food is cheap but hearty. The aesthetic is “warehouse brick oven.” Even the neon anthropomorphic pizza slice on the wall has its own Instagram tag. GEMMA and FRIDA sit at the table closest to the kitchen counter, DAN and SARA occupy the middle table, and ARTIN and COLETTE sit at the right table, all enthralled in their own worlds.

AT RISE: ANDIE stands at the counter of the bar, collecting a tray of drinks. As the lights fade in, they glare at each table, examining each guest with the utmost precision while the diners talk among themselves in dim lighting.

(A spotlight finds Andie just as they notice the audience.)

ANDIE Oh, hi! Welcome to Tony’s! I’m Andie and I will be serving you tonight! Wait, no– that came out wrong.

(Andie shuffles and straightens their uniform as they shuffle downstage.)

ANDIE What I meant… is that I’ll be serving you a delicious but absolutely unhealthy dose of my frustrations tonight. Why? Well, look at me—

(Andie does a celebratory turn for the audience.)

I’m a bitter, 30-something server still waiting tables at the prime watering hole for people who are either disgustingly in love or actively in the pursuit of it.

(Andie gestures towards the diners and wretches.)

Excuse me.

(Andie almost wretches again but catches their breath.)

I’m okay— I’m okay. Look, I’ll level with y’all. I do have a dark void where one’s beating organ should be but take a LOOK AT THIS—

(Andie flings both arms towards the tables.)

If you lucky motherfuckers have love, at least have the decency to keep it to yourself. I’m just—

(Andie walks back to the bar, pours a shot of something. Anything. Downs it and leans against the bar as they look into the audience.)

What?! I said I’m bitter. Let me live.

(Andie walks back downstage to face everyone. They’re fired up.)

Now, where was I? Yes— Three tables, six people, twelve hands aching to hold another, not because they’re in love— that’s what everyone tells themselves.

(Andie takes us on a tour. First to Collette and Artin’s table.)

The real reason why any of these people are here… It’s because no one wants to go to bed alone. Life is easier when you know someone’s… there.

(Andie pulls out a chair next to Collette. She and Artin still talking.)

Isn’t that what you all want? To feel wanted? By someone who lingers on each word that leaves your dumb mouth. Isn’t that what you want? Someone who’s an 11 but thinks the world of you even though you’re barely an 8 on a good day. Someone you steal mozzarella sticks for because fuck capitalism. Someone who wakes you up every morning and holds your hand while you make peace with the fact that you woke up. AGAIN.

(Andie’s tone drops. They disappear into the thought. BEAT.)

Just… someone.

(Andie snaps out of it and perks up instantly. They put the chair back and walk up to Dan and Sara’s table, who’re holding hands and smiling at each other.)

See, I don’t know a lot but I do know love. I know it to be harsh, and cruel, and painful, but when it’s good, mama, it is good. I keep thinking it’s not love that I hate, I hate that I know what it’s like. What it feels like. Ignorance in that sector is heaven. If you never taste it, put your heart in a safe down on Main Street because once you feel it, all you do is long for it.

(Andie turns around and Dan and Sara staring into each other’s souls, and at once kneels by their table and proceeds to close their eyes in prayer.)

Dear god, if you can hear me, please grant me the strength not to slap these stupid smiles off these skinny mayo packets right here. Amen.

(Andie leaps up and walks to the bar.)

And then there’s everyone who tells you: “But Andieeee, you’re so smart, you’re so attractive! It’s just around the corner! You won’t even see it coming!”

(At the bar, Andie grabs a tray and pours drinks.)

And that’s likely my problem because love has never been subtle about making entrances into my life. It always hits me like a giant concrete wall closing in on me with the speed of a jet engine. It is terrifying and messy and who has time for that shit! Believe me if love walks in here tonight, I will see it coming.

(Andie starts for Frida and Gemma’s table when a bell dings and Eto enters from stage right. LIGHTS UP on the whole room, chatter and soft restaurant music fade in.)

ANDIE Hey, darlin’, welcome to Tony’s. Table for two?

ETO Just one, please.

ANDIE (Confused) Just one?

ETO Just one.

ANDIE Just you?

ETO Just me.

ANDIE I- I… don’t have any tables right now but you’re welcome to hang out at the bar if you’d like.

ETO That sounds perfect.

(Andie’s eyes slim out in confusion.)

ANDIE …Let me just drop of these drinks and I’ll get you a menu.

(Eto walks to the bar, takes off his jacket and settles in.)

(To the audience) Just ONE?!

(Andie turns to the last table.)

Alright, ladies, here we are, a gin and tonic and the house red. Are we ready to order or would you to hear the specials again?

GEMMA No, I think we know what we want.

(Andie pulls out a tablet from their apron.)

ANDIE ’Course ya do, what’ll it be, gals?

FRIDA Let’s start with the citrus and arugula salad and then some arancini for the table… And I’d like the lasagna, please.

GEMMA And I’ll have the bolognaise.

ANDIE Excellent choices! Let me holler this at Tony and I’ll be right back with your salad and arancini.

(Andie moves to the window and drops off the order, places a menu in front of Eto. They move like lightening when working.)

Let me know when you’re ready.

(Before Eto can respond, Andie is downstage. LIGHTS ON ANDIE.)

ANDIE LESBIANS! They’re my favorite customers. They show up, they know what they want, they eat, they leave you a massive tip, they leave. I mean, look…

(Gemma and Frida clink their glasses.)

…They’re just so happy.

(Andie fawns. BEAT.)

Now, before one of you lot turns out to be superintendent of the P.C. police and goes, “you don’t even know them, how can you be so sure,” but—

(Andies swings their arms toward the women just as they kiss. They turn toward the audience and wearing the face of a seasoned braggart.)

Real talk though — this is the kind of love that makes me want to jump off a building out of sheer jealousy and immense joy at the same time. Don’t be fooled, this bliss has a price and that price is cold hard compromise. Y’all think lesbians, of all people, have the time to wait around for their soulmate to show up?! Speaking of, none of that soulmate bullshit in here, please. Because, strictly statistically speaking, let’s be real, there are like, what, 7 billion people in the world? 7 BILLION. That’s 9 zeros, sis. That’s a whole lotta zeros. The chances that your person — the one who was made for you — is just one person?

(Andie cackles. Howls, even.)

Monogamy is the lie that the religion of heteronormativity is built upon, sheeple. If you’ve ever felt the whole one-person-for-a-whole-lifetime concept makes no sense — and if you’re honest, you probably have — that’s because IT DOESN’T! Think about it, if you could only eat, say, tuna sandwiches…

(Andie nods their head toward the lesbians.)

…for dinner for the rest of your life, could you? If you said, yes, stop lying. How do you expect a person to promise not to try new cuisines and flavors and textures FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES!?

The point is — they’re lesbians. They’re programmed for happiness. I bet a decade ago, they flipped a coin to decide which one of them got to take a turkey baster on a very special trip, and ended up with the perfect set of gorgeous, mixed-race, forward-thinking, penta-lingual twins who live in a fancy suburban, gluten-free, progressive incubator with more hyphens to their names than mere humans can fathom.

(Andie looks at them again.)

It’s just so pure. They love each other and it fills up the room, and I’m… in awe. But I hate it — and maybe that’s how it’s supposed to feel.

ETO Excuse me?

(LIGHTS UP. Andie runs over.)

ETO I’m ready—

ANDIE Sweet, what’ll it be?

ETO The puttanesca, I had it here a couple of months ago and I could eat that stuff every night.

(Andie deadpans at the audience.)

ANDIE You got it, bud. Anything to drink?

ETO Just water.

(Andie drops off the order at the window, and in one swing: pours water, places the glass in front of Eto, grabs two menus from the counter, and is off to Colette and Artin’s table.)

ANDIE Hey guys! How’re we doing?

(At the bar, Eto chugs the water, retrieves a flask from his jacket, and not at all conspicuously fills up the whole glass with vodka.)

COLETTE Hi! Good, good, we’re doing really good.

ANDIE Great, can I get y’all started with some drinks?

(Eto downs half the glass and winces.)

COLETTE (Locking eyes with Artin) Sure, drinks sound like fun.

ARTIN Yeah, I’d like a—

COLETTE The gentleman would like a Manhattan, and I would like a martini. Dirty, and don’t shake it.

(Artin looks on silently. He sits back, shrugs, and smirks at Colette.)

ANDIE Cool, I’ll be right back with those while you decide on food.

(Andie hands them menus and walks behind the bar, the other end from Eto. LIGHTS ON ANDIE. Andie puts a martini glass and a short tumbler on the counter and begins to shake a cocktail.)

ANDIE That table is my favorite, not because Colette right there is one of my favorite humans on the planet but because every move on that table is being carefully calculated so that it may result in each party’s intended goal for the night. And when those goals are aligned, god bless.

(Andie begins pouring the drinks.)

Let me break it down… That hot shot right there is sincerely convinced with his usual charm devices at his disposal that, god willing, he will be ge-tt-in some to-night! It’s cute, really… He totally came in here with a plan to charm the lady and do that thing that hot dudes do in movies where they’re just so goddamn slick and self-assured that they order for you. So, Colette just pulled that shtick over there and totally threw off their power dynamic, and therefore, shot up the roster to become my absolute favorite table of the night.

(Andie sets the drinks on a tray and walks back to their table.)

The Diners (Les Soupeurs) by Pablo Picasso (1901) at the RISD Museum

I mean, come on, it is entertaining. Watching people trying to maneuver through a conversation with a stranger, especially when they have an end game in mind? Oof.

(Andie sets down the drinks in front of the diners, smiles, and walks away before stopping. They turn and walk to the edge of the stage and whispers.)

I may have neglected to mention one tiny detail about this situation that I realize is quite crucial. Colette, my #1 girl right here, used to be my bud Colin three years ago. And this dude has nooooooo idea.

(Andie walks back and share a quick wiggle handshake with Colette on the way.)

Colette and I talk about this a lot and there’s really no set protocol for when and how you tell someone who asks you out about your transition. My opinion? After drinks, before dinner arrives. So if he’s a dick, you at least have a drink to throw in his face. And if he dashes, she got a friend around. So… she brings ’em and we scan ’em down until we’re sure he’s cool.

(LIGHTS UP. Andie goes to the counter to pick up a basket of bread sticks, a salad, and a plate of arancini and takes it to Gemma and Frida’s table.)

ANDIE Here we go! Your salad and arancini. Your mains should be ready soon, can I get you guys refills?

FRIDA We’re good, thanks.

(A steaming plate of spaghetti appears on the counter. ANDIE darts back and brings it to Eto at the bar.)

ANDIE Here you go, puttanesca. I see you’ve found yourself something to drink.

ETO Uh… I’m so-

ANDIE Don’t worry about it.

(Andie winks and turns toward the audience.)

I truly am a saint, I know.

(LIGHTS ON Andie, who walks back downstage and turns to look at Eto, who’s devouring the pasta.)

Puttanesca. The slut’s pasta. Spaghetti tossed in a chunky tomato sauce with the fire of chili pepper flakes, the lasting burn of garlic, and the holy trinity of salt heaven — olives, capers, and anchovies. It comes from Naples, which is a horny town, I hear…

(Eto, with spaghetti hanging from their mouth, turns to the audience.)

ETO It’s actually Roman.

(Andie’s eyes widen. BEAT. Silence. Andie is still.)

ANDIE The fuck? You can hear me?

ETO Uh… I guess? Your friend seems cool. Sounds like it’s rough for her.

(Andie looks at Eto.)

ANDIE What the fuck is going on?

ETO I don’t know, man, I dropped some acid this afternoon and I don’t know… I feel like I’m swimming through people’s thoughts.

ANDIE Through vodka maybe.

(Eto laughs and gets up. He licks his fingers and walks up to Andie, who takes a step back.)

ETO What’re you doing up here anyway?

(Eto notices the audience.)

WHOA! Wait, whaaaaaat.

(Eto smiles brightly. Their eyes light up. They wave at the audience.)

Who are these people?

ANDIE My friends?

ETO Your friends?

ANDIE My friends.

ETO (Still waving at the audience) Uh huh.

ANDIE How are you here? You’re not supposed to be up here.

(Eto stops waving and looks at Andie somberly.)

ETO Oh! I’m so sorry.

(Eto walks back to their seat. LIGHTS UP as soon as they sit. Andie, thought confused, runs over to the middle table where Dan and Sara are seated.)

ANDIE Uh, how are- how are we doing? May I clear these plates for you?

DAN Yeah, thanks so much!

ANDIE (To Sara) How was the gnocchi?

SARA So good! I wanted to be buried in gnocchi when I die.

ANDIE Well, that’s kinda morbid. But I’ll pass on the compliments. Would you guys like dessert? Tony makes a mean tiramisu and he used the swanky stuff for today’s batch.

(Andie keeps checking over their shoulder to see what Eto is doing. They’re eating in silence.)

DAN (To Sara) Sure, would you like some?

SARA I don’t know if I want any, I’m pretty full.

DAN Oh, come ooooon, it’s our anniversar, we have to get dessert.

ANDIE OH! Congratulations! Dessert’s on the house, then. What number are we celebrating?

SARA Three. Feels like a lifetime already.

ANDIE (Toward the audience) I bet.

DAN Yeah, we met at a party when I was a sophomore.

ANDIE Isn’t that sweet, you guys go to Beckett?

DAN Yeah, I’m graduating next week.

ANDIE Even more cause for celebration, then. I’ll be right back with your tiramisu.

(LIGHTS ON Andie.)

Oh good god, these children. THREE YEARS?! I’m still so horrified every time I meet people who are sosure at such a young age. Live a little, sis! You don’t even know what life has to offer. Sleep around, figure out what you like, and then go lookin’ for it. Just live for fuck’s sake. But look at them!

(Andie turns toward them for a second and lets out a sigh.)

People. You pre-frontal cortex isn’t fully developed until you’re 25, 23 if you’re a lucky woman, but that means you biologically lack the capacity to make any serious decisions about your life in your 20s. Yet, everywhere, every day, some stupid high school love affair turns into a lifelong commitment to a person they won’t recognize a few years down the line. These two are probably going to get married and have weekly scheduled sex that will result in exactly two and a half kids before they realize they’re trapped in a loveless marriage that seemed like a GREAT idea at the time. And the only winner in that situation is your kids’ future therapists. And that’s in addition to college!

(Eto is back downstage, waving at the audience, ignoring Andie.)

ETO …Or maybe they’ll be perfect for each other.

ANDIE Why the fuck can you hear me?!

ETO I have no idea but the fact that I can hear you… Isn’t that wild?

(Andie glares at Eto. If looks could kill…)

ETO Look, I just feel like maybe you’re a little lonely.

ANDIE Oh? And what makes you think that?

ETO (Smiling as if they’re floating) Just a hunch.

(Andie walks over to Eto and intimidates them. Eto retreats.)

ANDIE Well, I got a hunch that you don’t wanna fuckin’ try me.

ETO There it is!

ANDIE What are you on about?

ETO You hide your thoughts and you save them up for your friends here because you don’t want to say them out loud because you’re worried that if you say them out loud, no one will like you and if no one likes you, then you can’t like you, and what’s worse than being lonely? Being unlikeable.

(Andie scoffs and lets out a couple of sarcastic slow claps.)

ANDIE I guess you’d know a thing or two about being unlikeable if you’re a scrawny little kid who goes out to dinner high out of your mind. Oh yeah! You think I didn’t catch the vodka on your breath when you walked in? Who the fuck goes out to dinner alone anyway?

(Eto gets in Andie’s face and breathes heavily. Their nostrils flare, their eyes fill up. Andie stares them down. LIGHTS UP. Eto runs to get his jacket and exits in a rush. Andie, relieved, walks over to Colette’s table.)

ANDIE Are you guys ready to order?

ARTIN Oh, so sorry, we haven’t even looked at the menus yet – could we have a few more minutes?

ANDIE Okay, I’ll be back in a few.

(Andie looks off-stage to check for Eto. Dan raises his arm and snaps his fingers.)

DAN Hey! The dessert?

ANDIE Coming right up.

(Andie walks to the counter. LIGHTS ON Andie.)

Okay, rule number one to getting a server’s attention: DO NOT FUCKIN’ SNAP YOUR FINGERS!! Your fingers do not possess magical abilities to get you service any faster. The only thing it will do, however, is increase the likelihood of me fucking your shit up for my plea—

(Dan walks over to Andie and taps them on the shoulder.)

ANDIE UGH! The fuck is going on today?!

DAN Hey, hi, I need some help. But first, can you please pretend like I’m asking you for directions to the bathroom?

ANDIE Uh, sure, it’s down the hall, to the left.

DAN Yeah, I know. I need you to slip this into the dessert.

(Dan pulls out a ring and hands it to ANDIE, trying to hide the whole thing from Sara.)

ANDIE (Looking at the audience) Oh, for cryin’ out loud.



Eissa Saeed is a poet, screenwriter, and playwright whose work employs communication tactics to create narratives that challenge sociopolitical ideas. His play Home/Sick, centred around a Muslim-American family reconciling with queerness, was shortlisted for the 2018 Theatre503 Playwriting Award. In 2019, Eissa was a Qalambaaz Screenwriting Fellow and developed a feature script titled In His Name. By day, Eissa works as a media strategist at New Heights Communications and also with the UNFPA to promote family planning services in Pakistan. Eissa holds a BA from Bennington College and an MA from the George Washington University.


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