Smokes and Chickens

I recently did some writing for the stage for the first time in a long time (and for the first time ever where I wasn’t involved in the production.) It was for “The Box”, a project being staged at the Sacred Fools theater in L.A., where writers are all provided with a setting and characters and situations, and told to write scenes, while each being unaware of what the others were writing, and then the selected scenes are staged in random order over three nights, with some linking narration added. Seventy writers submitted, and 43 scenes by 35 writers were selected. Mine ran as part of the final night of the run, July 25, 2015. Since this particular set of scripts won’t ever be staged again, I figured I’d share them here. (The script here is as it was written; the producers trimmed it down some for time.

The characters used are Young Will, who has just returned from World War I and carries some secrets, and Molly, a suffragette.

Smokes and chickens”

by Nat Gertler

SETTING: The chicken farm, night.

AT RISE: MOLLY stands toward center, facing stage right, smoking a cigar. (All props can be mimed.) YOUNG WILL enters from stage left, walking backwards, skulking, really, a shovel in hand. He stumbles a bit, noisily, causing Molly to turn.

MOLLY

Hey!

YOUNG WILL

(startled)

Shh!

MOLLY

Don’t want to wake the chickens?

YOUNG WILL

I think they’re closing in on me.

MOLLY

They”?

(no response)

I’ll keep an eye out. If I see a “them,” I’ll let you know.

(takes a puff)

But why run here, of all places?

YOUNG WILL

I buried something here. A week ago. I need it.

(He scans the area, points to a spot.)

There.

(notices her cigar)

Could you put that thing out?

MOLLY

Cigars bother you? Or just a woman smoking them?

YOUNG WILL

No, it’s… in the war, they gave us all cigarettes. The cigarette makers donated them, free, said it was a patriotic thing, a gift to the boys. Couldn’t’ve been worse for us if the Kaiser had planned it. On a moonless night, you could see the tip of a cigarette glowing from a fifth of a mile away. Further, when someone was lighting up, a lot further. Made our boys easy to find, and that wasn’t good. And that was just little sticks. That stogie of yours…

MOLLY

(twisting the end of her cigar against the ground)

Got it. Was about to put it out anyway. Didn’t want to take it into the henhouse. Too much straw there.

YOUNG WILL

Why are you going into a henhouse at night?

MOLLY

To name the hens.

YOUNG WILL

Aren’t these Chicken Dave’s chickens?

MOLLY

Yes.

YOUNG WILL

And you’re going to name them because…?

MOLLY

Because Chicken Dave is the worst kind of male animal.

YOUNG WILL

Oh? Seemed like a nice guy when I met him. Bit of a joker, but nice.

MOLLY

That’s the worst kind. A total misanthrope, when he’s bad to you, that’s just part of who he is. But Chicken Dave’s the guy who if he knows that you’re hungry, he’ll bring you a sandwich. You know if you need help putting the fence up, he’s there. He’ll spend an hour on some silly prank to make you laugh. But if you want something that costs him nothing, like respect as a person or the right to vote, he’ll stand in your way. It’s bad enough that the mean folks are bad. When the nice folks are bad, it strips you of all hope.

YOUNG WILL

And naming the chickens will change that?

MOLLY

Just the hens. You see, Chicken Dave is a nice guy to his chickens… he thinks. He feeds them, he sings to them, he acts as if he loves them. Then when they stop producing eggs, he kills them. He eats them or sells them to someone else to eat. And that’s probably easy, because he just sees them as chickens, as just this group. It’s no problem turning chickens into chicken, fried, boiled, maybe chicken salad. But if they have names – if tomorrow I tell him “this one’s Brenda, this one’s Marguerite,” then maybe, next time he’s got the axe out, he’ll suddenly realize that he’s not “making chicken,” but he’s “killing Brenda.”

(YOUNG WILL starts to dig.)

YOUNG WILL

Maybe. Prob’ly not.

MOLLY

Probably not. One-in-five, one-in-six chance, I reckon. And it’s still not going to stop him from killing chickens, because that’s his business. But if I can get him to see hens as individuals, then I’ve set him down a path. Then I can make him see women as people, worthy of full personhood. Maybe.

YOUNG WILL

Prob’ly not.

MOLLY

Probably not. It’s a longshot. But I didn’t have anything better to do tonight. Wasn’t getting any more sleep.

YOUNG WILL

Why not?

MOLLY

Oh, bad dream. Bad, bad dream. And I’ve got a friend I’m worried about, she’s in a bad way. And my brain kept coming up with names for chickens.

(YOUNG WILL is on his knees, scraping something out of the hole he’s dug.)

MOLLY

You’ve found it!

YOUNG WILL

(lifting a locket out of the hole)

No.

MOLLY

No? It wasn’t that…?

YOUNG WILL

Locket? No.

MOLLY

So that means…

YOUNG WILL

Either someone took it, dug it up, and someone else later reused the same spot to bury this, or someone dug it up and swapped it for this.

MOLLY

B sounds more likely.

(YOUNG WILL opens up the locket. He recognizes something in it.)

YOUNG WILL

Oh!

(END)

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Published in: on July 27, 2015 at 4:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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