While on the “Q TRAIN” in New York City, Anna terribly shy young woman, is obsessing on an assignment her therapist has given her: to talk to a stranger. At the next subway stop Doug gets on the train and attempts to get Anna’s attention to the fact that her purse is unzipped. Anna flinches, and Doug resents what feels like a snub. Last to enter the train is Niaz, a Muslim woman wearing a Hijab. She accidentally bumps into Anna, and apologizes; but her apology is ignored, leaving Niaz resentful.
The train jolts to a stop. Doug, noticing that Niaz is wearing a Hijab and studying a chemistry book, jumps to the conclusion that she is a terrorist. He questions her, aggressively, and she explains that she is a nursing student. He doesn’t believe her, and his level of tension escalates. Anna is afraid for Niaz and feels she has to do something, “ANNA’S DECISION”, but cannot imagine what. Finally, Anna turns to Niaz and strikes up a seemingly irrelevant conversation. After a moment of hesitation, Niaz catches on to Anna’s strategy and converses, thus successfully frustrating Doug’s attempts to provoke her.
The train once again jolts, the lights dim. Doug’s anxiety and rage give way to a full panic attack. Niaz recognizes Doug’s symptoms, and she reaches out to him with a Farsi song she learned from her mother “RUMI”. Anna joins in counterpoint (in English), and the song succeeds in calming Doug.
After he recovers, Doug asks Niaz to forgive him for verbally attacking her. Niaz tells him she won’t forgive him, not until she knows he has changed his behavior in the future.
The train lights come back to normal, and it resumes its journey. Doug exits at the next stop. Anna asks Niaz if she will go to the movies with her this coming weekend. Niaz says no -- but only because it’s Ramadan. They agree to go to the movies sometime in the future and leave the train “Q TRAIN (reprise)”.
ANNA: Female Identifying, 18-35, nervous, and frightened.
NIAZ: Female Identifying, 18-35, confident Muslim who wears a hijab.
DOUG: Male Identifying, 18-35, nervous, scared and belligerent.
SUBWAY ANNOUNCER: Subway worker, unseen.
In 2017, Bystander was originally produced by Summerfest! at the Hudson Guild Theater in New York City, New York.
In 2018, Bystander was subsequently produced in Theatre Now's SOUND BITES Festival at the Signature Theater in New York City, New York.
ED LEVY wrote the libretto and lyrics for Bystander (Best Short Play or Musical; NY Summerfest, Hudson Guild Theater, 2017, Theatre Now’s SOUND BITES 5.0, Best Music; Signature Theater). He wrote the lyrics for Uncomfortable Sex (Players Theater Short Play Festival, 2017). He has had 3 short musicals produced at Lincoln Center (Across a Crowded Room, 2017 and 2015). In August of 2018, his ten minute play Picket Line, 1936 was produced at the Association for Theater in Higher Education conference. Ed studied lyric writing at BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop. He is a member of the Dramatist Guild, the Directors Guild of America, and BMI.
ERIC GRUNIN is a composer, lyricist, and book writer. Recent work includes full-length musicals Brooke Astor's Last Affair (Music; Chicago Musical Theater Festival, 2019; Emerging Artists Theater, 2013) and Our Woman, Frank Thompson (Music & Lyrics; Musical Theater Factory/Playwrights Horizons Downtown, 2017). Also music for short musicals Bystander (Sound Bites 2018, winner "Best Music"; Hudson Guild, 2017, winner "Best Short Musical") and We're Still Here (Lincoln Center, 2019). Also book for Dybbuk of the Opera (Lincoln Center, 2019) and RansomWHERE? (Lincoln Center, 2017). He has contributed songs to MuseMatch (Feinstein's/54 Below, 2018), and The Resistance Cabaret (The Tank, 2016 & 2017); blogged for Ryan Scott Oliver's CrazyTown; and reviewed for TheaterScene. He is an alumnus of the BMI Musical Theater Workshop, and holds a Doctorate in Composition from Juilliard.