What you are about to read is a play, a one act play.
I don’t want the audience distracted by a set change if it can be avoided. I would rather have the audience fully engaged until the bitter end. Yes, the bitter end.
During this one act play the audience will not be afforded the opportunity to ‘let the mind wander’. None.
During this play you will be a part of narration and darkness. Imagine a narrator with the soothing voice of a Loren Greene, Canada’s Voice of Doom, a soft and caring voice. And what of darkness? Darkness is merely an absence of light.
Oh, and where does this play take place, as in geographical location? It could be anywhere. It could be in rural Canada, rural North America, or a rural anywhere. Anywhere where there is a chunk of leather, a barn and a lesson to be learned.
As you will soon see this is not a completed play that is in any way ready for the stage. What it is, is an extension of the previously presented short story, The Lesson. I have decided to present it in this fashion so as to expand the narrative, increase the emotional level through dialogue and to further humanize the characters. The rest is left to your imagination.
Visualize the stage from where you are seated in the audience. You are looking at a backdrop with two wings right and left. The backdrop takes up only one third of the rear of the stage and is centered in the middle. Almost all of the stage is taken up by the kitchen and almost everything in this play emanates from this kitchen.
The right wing of this set is on a generous angle from the rear. This is so everybody in the audience can see it. It consists of a door to the outside, closest to the audience, and a window that is to the left of the door. There is also a screen door that bangs shut when it closes, you know the kind, the kind with a long and heavy spring.
The backdrop consists of a set of kitchen cupboards, no doors, a kitchen counter, a wood burning stove and a door to the living room. The counter contains the usual kitchen paraphernalia, a small kitchen table and three chairs that are more or less in the middle of the room, that room being the stage.
The left wing of the stage, again on a generous angle, consists of a scene of a country road, that being a dirt road, a few trees and a raised portion, quite simply a bank. This scene is quite stark and somewhat bleak. Perhaps several slightly dilapidated buildings could be in the back ground, a tree, or even a piece of farm machinery.
That is enough.
There are four main characters:
Mother known as Mum
Dad known as Farther
Daughter known as Sister or Girl
Son known as Boy
It is early September. The heat of the summer is mercifully gone, the nights are cool and the air is fresh. Fall is in the air and the one room school is open for business. A time of year best used for moments of reflection, the hustle and bustle of summer being over, and with the cooler nights comes a predictably good nights sleep.
Mother and daughter are in the kitchen. A spot light lights up the kitchen and the right wing. The dirt road is not to be seen.
Mother: we have a lot to talk about.
Daughter: I know
Mother: So who?
Daughter: Mum, I can’t tell you, I could never tell you.
Mother: Do I know this person?
(The daughter looks her Mother in the eye and without any expression says…)
Mother: What will we do?
Daughter: We could move away. We could move a long way from here. We could move somewhere, any place would do.
Mother: You know that that isn’t going to happen.
Daughter: I know
Mother: You are starting Grade Nine, this is not the way we had it planned.
Daughter: I know.
Mother: All you say is, “I know.” I need a little more!
Daughter: I know
(The daughter shuffles her chair to look more squarely at her mother.)
Daughter: Mum, I can look after this. I talked to the teacher who knows a nurse who works some at the high school in town. She thinks she can help me out.
Mother: And what if she can’t?
Daughter: She will, I know. Mum, we have to move, we have to get out of here.
Mother: No, we can’t. Your father would never hear of it.
Daughter: I didn’t really have him in mind.
Mother: Stop talking like that, he’s your father.
Daughter: I’m only too well aware of that.
Mother: Stop it, nothing will come of this conversation and you know it. We won’t be going any where.
Daughter: Mum, look at how we live. Look at this place. You’ve been in here for over twenty years, look at it. The cupboards don’t have doors, the linoleum on the floor is worn to shreds, we don’t even have a bath room. The house stinks.
Mother: Lets not fight about this, this is where we are and it will have to do. There isn’t any way out of this, you know that as well as I do.
Daughter: No, that’s not good enough, we don’t even have running water, we have a dumb pump in the kitchen sink. I’m sick and tired of having a bath in the wash tub in the living room and Dad walking in on me. I’m sick of it.
Mother: He’s your father.
Daughter: Mum, no, I’m sixteen years old, I don’t need that! How would you feel?
Mother: I know
Daughter: There you go! Saying, “I know.”
(There is something of a semblance of laughter, the conversation ends on a peaceable note, and the daughter gets up and starts to exit through the living room door.)
Daughter: I’ll work this out Mum, it will be O.K.
Mother: I know, I guess it will get worked out one way or another.
Daughter: Mum, stop it, it’ll be O.K.
(Daughter exits and her younger brother comes in to the kitchen)
Son: Hi Mum
Mother: Hi, your Dad’s going to be home tonight.
Son: I know, I didn’t get the wood split like he wanted.
Mother: You did your share.
Son: So, sister’s going to be all right?
Mother: She’ll never be all right but she’ll survive this, they all do.
Son: But who?
Mother: I don’t know and she won’t say.
Son: But she doesn’t even have a boy friend.
Mother: I know.
Son: Does Dad know?
Mother: I don’t think so. I don’t know how. He’ll find out soon enough.
Son: Does Dad like working in the woods?
Mother: I think so, it’s a job.
(During this conversation the mother is getting supper ready and doing the usual kitchen chores.)
Son: I did the chores and put fresh hay in the horse stall. I should have done the wood.
Mother: That’s all right. Your Dad will be coming down the road soon, why don’t you go and meet him?
The boy exits through the kitchen door, the screen door bangs shut and the light on the kitchen fades to black. Momentary blackness…then the son and dad enter the stage on the left side through a slight space on the side of the set closest to the audience. As they talk they slowly make their way towards the back of the stage. Stage lights light up the road and rural scenery. …..
Son: Hi Dad!
Son: How was your week?
Dad: My week? It went.
Son: How long will the mill be running?
Dad: Not long. You get everything done?
Son: Pretty much. I did all the chores and put fresh straw in for the horse. I’m doing real good in school and I need for you to help me with a project.
Dad: Like I have time for your school work!
Son: It’s easy Dad! It’s about all different kinds of wood and you’re good at that. And I did my homework every night.
Dad: You get that wood split like I told you?
Son: No, I tried to get it done but every time I started it something else came along.
Dad: You should have done it. I wanted it split and in the shed.
Son: Dad, I’ll do it next week. It’s only September, we have lots of time.
Dad: I told you to do it this week and I meant it.
Son: Dad, next week, I promise.
(the Dad displays a flash of anger)
Dad: You should have done it this week like you were told. You’re gett’en the barn.
Dad: You’re gett’en the barn, right after supper.
Son: No Dad! Come on, it was busy.
Dad: Don’t come on me. I’m working in the woods all week and you’re telling me it was busy. I’ll show you busy! And don’t give me any more of that ‘come on’.
Son: But Dad!, I had a lot of homework and stuff. I’m going to make it into Grade Eight next year, easy.
Dad: You listen to me. After supper you go out and get the horse out of the stall and take the belly strap off the harness. You get in the stall and wait for me there. You got that?
Son: No Dad, please.
Dad: Don’t argue!
Son: Dad, I can do the wood tomorrow, it’s Saturday, I can do it easy.
Dad: You’re a little late.
Narrator: And so it was. A conversation between a father and his young son. A conversation about working in the woods, wood that hadn’t been split, and oh yes, gett’en the barn. Welcome home.
(While the narrator is speaking they exit through a small space at the rear of this scenery, circle around the back of the set, and enter through the kitchen door. The dad enters first followed by the boy who reaches back and stops the screen door from banging shut.)
Mother: Hi, you’re home, supper is almost ready.
Dad: Boy’s get’en the barn!
Mother: What, what do you mean, boy’s gett’en the barn? What’s he done?
Dad: Not what he’s done. What wasn’t done.
Mother: What, what do you mean!?
Dad: Didn’t split the wood like I told him.
Mother: Oh my God, we had a terrible week, dreadful. Wood was the last thing we had time for.
Dad: I told him to do it and I wanted it done.
Mother: Don’t be so crazy! That wood can wait for a month.
Dad: He’s gett’en the barn and that’s all I want to hear out of you!
Mother: No, this isn’t right, you haven’t been home five minutes and we’re fighting, this is not right!
Dad: It’s right by me and that’s all that counts!
Mother: Don’t talk like that. Why are you acting so crazy?
Father: I said what I said and I’m not talking anymore about it to you!
(At this point his daughter enters the kitchen through the living room door.)
Dad: You have a good week girl?
Daughter: Yes, Dad.
Dad: Why’d you look at your mother when you said that?
Daughter: No reason, I didn’t know I did.
Dad: Look at me when I talk to you.
Daughter: Sure Dad.
Dad: You’re getting to be quite a little woman now aren’t you, all filled out and lady like.
Daughter: I guess.
Dad: Look’en like your mother when I first came around, first took her out.
Daughter: I guess.
Dad: What grade are you in this year?
Daughter: Grade Nine Dad.
Dad: That’s just about where your mother was when I met her. See that you don’t grow up too fast. You know what I’m talking about.
Daughter: Yes, Dad, I know what you’re talking about. You should know.
Dad: What!? What did you say?
Daughter: Nothing Dad.
Dad: There you go, looking at your mother again. What the hell’s going on around here anyway? What did you say?
Daughter: Nothing Dad.
Dad: You looked right at me and said I should know.
Daughter: I know I did, I’m sorry.
Dad: Don’t give me sorry, what did you mean?
Daughter: Dad, it’s just that you said that I look a lot like Mum when you first came around and took her out, when she was young, that’s all.
Dad: I sure hope so.
Daughter: And you never miss a chance to catch me having a bath!
Dad: That’s not true.
Daughter: That is true!
(At this point the daughter jumps up and storms out of the kitchen and into the living room)
Mother: Did we really need that?
Dad: She’s the one acting so cagey. What’s going on?
Mother: Nothing we need to talk about now. Hey you guys, supper’s on the table!
(The lights dim to almost dark and slowly return to normal to mark the end of the main meal.)
Narrator: And so it was, supper eaten in silence, well, mostly silence. Mostly.
Dad: That sure was a good supper Mother. Beats the hell out of that slop they feed us out in the woods.
(the Dad appears to take on a jovial tone)
Mother: Good, I thought you’d like it. I thought that camp food was pretty good.
Dad: Not this camp. That sure was good pie mother, any pumpkins left out there?
Mother: Sure, a whole field of them.
Dad: Girl, cut me another piece of pie. You sure are look’en grown up.
Daughter: Dad, I’m just growing up, that’s all.
Dad: This sure is good pie. Boy, get to the barn!
(another flash of anger from this psychopath)
Son: Dad, no, please.
Dad: Get to the barn or I’ll do it right here!
Son: Dad, you don’t understand.
Dad: I’ll give you don’t understand. Get to the barn!
(The boy slowly gets up from the table but does not move towards the door.)
Mother: My God! Don’t do this to your son. He doesn’t deserve this He’s a good boy!
Dad: You shut your mouth.
Mother: No, don’t do this to him. Don’t start on him.
Dad: It’s started, boy, get to the barn!
Mother: This isn’t right. You just got home. We had a nice supper. What’s the matter with you? You chased one son away, isn’t that enough?
Dad: I made a man out of his brother and I’ll make a man out of him.
Mother: No! No you won’t! When was the last time you saw this son you made a man of? When? When was the last time he came home?
Dad: I don’t care if he ever comes home.
Mother: You can’t do this!
Dad: Watch me. Call it a lesson in life. Boy! Get to the barn!
(The boy exits the stage via the kitchen door and the dad sits at the kitchen table until the Narrator is finished reading. Then he gets up and goes to the barn via the kitchen door.)
Narrator: And there we sat. We sat on the bank of a slight elevation above the road. It was a narrow dirt road that ran through the village; a narrow dirt road that separated this cluster of houses. At the time we didn’t know just how narrow it was. None of us were old enough to drive.
The narrowness of this road meant that secrets were hard to keep. Loud voices coming from a house didn’t stop at the road. Voices in anger and rage. All kinds of voices, some frightened and crying. There were others that were hurtful, haunting, and hard to forget.
Opposite to where we sat on the bank was the barn. It was a rural version of ‘a great hall of justice’. It was in this barn that one of the great lessons in life was about to play out.
There we sat, transfixed. We sat there in some kind of perverse anticipation. Why not? We didn’t know any better.
Word had spread quickly. One young boy heard the exchange between the dad and his son. The word was out and all of us knew what ‘gett’en the barn’ was all about.
We didn’t really know what was about to take place. We had only heard about it. We didn’t know what this deranged monster of a father was about to do.
So there we sat, waiting for justice.
The barn was so close to the road that we could hear the harness being lifted from the hooks from where it hung on the wall. We could hear it being taken apart.
We could hear the horse being led from the stall. We didn’t know about the fresh straw.
And so it was.
It was time.
Dad: Grab the manger!
Son: No Dad, no!
Dad: Wait, I told you to get your shirt off!
Son: No Dad, please!
Dad: Get it off! That’s more like it. You had better learn to do what you’re told.
Son: Dad, Please…..
Dad: Grab the manger! Boy, this is for you!
(At the moment the dad says, “This is for you!”, the theater goes instantly black, the audience hears the CRACK of the leather and then the lights slowly start to come on but only a dim illumination)
Dad: That was for you boy!
Dad: And now for the wood!
(When the dad says ‘wood’ the theater goes instantly black….the audience hears the CRACK and also hear the boy shuffle forward…..the lights slowly come on as before)
Dad: That was for the pile of wood you didn’t split.
(The lights slowly illuminate as before,)
Dad: This one is for your useless sister, straighten up! Stand up!
(On ‘straighten up’ the stage goes black, the audience hears the CRACK and the boy cry out in pain. They hear the boy fall forward The same slow illumination.)
Dad: This one is for good measure. You learning boy!?
(As the dad says, “You learning boy”, the stage goes black and the audience hears the CRACK followed by the boy falling into the manger and one God-awful scream.
During this punishment the mother and daughter are sitting at the kitchen table and appear to be saying something to one another. The punishment process takes only two minutes at the most.
After the third CRACK the daughter speaks in an angry tone and looks directly at her mother.
Daughter: You really want to know who got me pregnant?
The mother never gets to reply.
After the word ‘pregnant’ the dad yells, “You learning boy”, the stage goes black, there is the one last crack and the one God-awful scream fills the theater
At this point the mother jumps up from the table, runs across the stage to the ‘rural scene’, pounds on a window that has been in the set all along and smashes the window. This is a stage window of course.
The word ‘pregnant’, the ‘You learning boy?’, the stage going black, the CRACK, the God-awful scream and the shattering glass all happen in quick succession..
As the mother is pounding on the glass she shouts:
Mother: “Stop cruelizing that boy!”
This whole episode represents, say, 5 to 10 seconds of mental chaos.
At the end of the scream the stage lights slowly return to normal illumination.
The daughter gets up and exits through the living room door
The dad enters the kitchen through the kitchen door. He looks at the mother and says…
Dad: Stay where you are!
(The mother slowly gets up and we see a thoroughly defeated woman walking into the living room. Moments later the dad exits through the living room door. At this point the narrator appears.)
THE NARRATION: At first glance this narration might appear to be a little long however the audience has been a part of some very violent and vivid action. The audience might like a chance to catch its collective breath and want to hear just how the scene with the boy, the dad, and the belly strap played out.
This scene could not be acted out on the stage. Firstly, the audience would know that the lashing with the belly strap would not be real. It would be a part of the acting. They would know that no real pain was inflicted on the actor playing the part of the boy.
In the darkness of the theater and out of view this punishment would be far more realistic.
The narrator walks on to the stage through the kitchen door and begins to read. The stage lights dim to almost black. A small light shines on the narration so he can read the summation. He begins to read….
Narrator: The boy had been brave. He had taken the belly belt from the harness and led the horse from the stall. Then he grabbed the manger, just as he had been told to do. He held on to the manger and waited. He only waited for a few minutes but to him it must have seemed much longer than that.
He waited for what he knew was about to come. Waiting for his lesson. He knew all about it. He fixed his eyes on a nail in the wall, just above his head. Then he waited.
As ordered, he bent his head forward and as he did his young shoulders lifted up towards the nail. It wasn’t long before the waiting was over.
CRACK…..The first laying of leather on skin.
Driven to his knees he picked himself up and waited. He did not cry out.
CRACK…..The second laying of leather on skin.
This time the boy was driven into the manger but still he did not cry out. He pulled himself up and waited. If silence has a sound that is all that was heard.
CRACK…..The third laying of leather on skin.
This time the boy was driven further into the manger. This time a single scream shattered the silence.
CRACK…..The fourth and last laying of leather on skin.
This time the boy was driven to his knees and he could not get up. He did muster up enough energy for one last scream. One God-awful drawn out scream, a primal scream, a scream for survival.
The boys on the bank heard all of this and they were frozen in fear. They were not ready for what had just taken place in the ‘great hall of justice’.
There were four CRACKS in all.
Four CRACKS of leather on skin.
Two screams from this young boy.
Screams too old for his age.
A primal scream to survive.
And a mother, pounding on a window, pounding on the glass, pounding too hard., don’t break…..don’t break the glass…..and then the sound of breaking glass.
The sound of shattering glass melded with that one last scream and blended into the evening air. Shattering glass playing its part in this madness.
And a mother crying
“Stop cruelizing that boy!”
All of these sounds came together
as though choreographed in a
cruel musical score.
And then silence.
The dad left the barn and walked back to the house. He ignored the crying of the mother and told her to stay where she was.
Did the young boy cry? I suppose that sooner or later he did.
And so it was,
a lesson in life,
You do note
none of the participants
what would it matter?
What can be said of a dirt road
dust in the summer,
muck in the spring.
What could be added
to a sound like ‘CRACK’,
leather on skin
to make it hurt more?
what of silence?
why embellish silence?
And now, dear friends in the audience, what will you take away from this little play? This lesson in life.
What are you thinking?