delillo’s one-minute play: a meditation on the “gradually shattering” nature of human relationships?

Vol 4 No 4

”The Mystery at the Middle of Ordinary Life” by Don DeLillo, is a blip of a vignette in which a wife wonders aloud in front of her perplexed husband how couples survive the inevitable banality of marriage. It’s enlivened by the director, Anastasia Traina, who stages the conversation with the woman (Ali Marsh) stretching her back over a large beach ball and speaking with her face upside down to the audience, as the man (Joe LoTruglio) touches her as if initiating foreplay.


—from Bruce Weber, The New York Times, June 21, 2001, at:



Don DeLillo

The Mystery at the Middle of Ordinary Life



MAN and a WOMAN in a room.

WOMAN: I was thinking how strange it is.

MAN: What?

WOMAN: That people are able to live together. Days and nights and years. Five years go by. How do they do it? Ten, eleven, twelve years. Two people making one life. Sharing ten thousand meals. Talking to each other face to face, open face, like hot sandwiches. All the words that fill the house. What do people say over a lifetime? Trapped in each other’s syntax. The same voice. The droning tonal repetition. I’ll tell you something.

MAN: You’ll tell me something.

WOMAN: There’s a mystery here. The people behind the walls of the brown house next door. What do they say and how do they survive it? All that idle dialogue. The nasality. The banality. I was thinking how strange it is. How do they do it, night after night, all those nights, those words, those few who do it and survive?

MAN: They make love. They make salads.

WOMAN: But sooner or later they have to speak. This is what shatters the world. I mean isn’t it gradually shattering to sit and listen to the same person all the time, without reason or rhyme. Words that trail away. The pauses. The clauses. How many thousands of times can you look at the same drained face and watch the mouth begin to open? Everything’s been fine up to now. It is when they open their mouths. It is when they speak.


MAN: I’m still not over this cold of mine.

WOMAN: Take those things you take.

MAN: The tablets.

WOMAN: The caplets.


MAN: Long day.

WOMAN: Long day.

MAN: A good night’s sleep.

WOMAN: Long slow day.

[Lights slowly down.]



Zoetrope: All-Story 4, no. 4 (Winter 2000): 70-71. The notes indicate that this piece "was originally written for a benefit evening at the American Repertory Theater. Reprinted in South Atlantic Quarterly 99, no. 2/3 (Spring/Summer 2000): 601-603; reprinted in Harper’s, January 2001: 37.