The stage is dark except for a spotlight downstage center into which a woman walks. She is ideally dressed in the style of a Puritan, with a white bonnet and a one-piece black dress.
Woman: In 1639, John Pynchon of Springfield, Massachusetts was imprisoned for performing an immodest and indecent stage play.
A man joins her in the spotlight. He is dressed in a more contemporary and casual manner—for example, blue jeans and a wrinkled work shirt.
Man: In the twentieth century, the New England Watch & Ward Society could cause a play to be “Banned in Boston” if they thought it was scandalous. (He looks at Woman, extends his hand to her and she clasps it.) Today, we are free to express ourselves on stage as we see fit, without fear of punishment or censorship.
Woman: But at the same time, America’s Ten-Minute Play Industry has become the source of the most offensive, degrading and licentious spectacles imaginable.
Man: Are we better off today than we were when actors were imprisoned for their art?
Woman: Watch and listen, dear audience, and you be the judge.
The stage goes dark. When the lights come up, the woman is seen sitting stiffly in a chair, reading from a “side” of dialogue from a playscript, as the man ambles onstage in a relaxed manner. There is another chair positioned next to hers.
Man: (Singing) Doo-da-doo, doo-da-doo-doo-doo—baby, baby, baby. (Notices woman and speaks) Excuse me?
Woman: (Icily) Yes?
Man: Is anybody sitting here?
Woman: No. (Referring back to her text) “I am a goodly Christian woman.”
Man: That’s okay—I don’t mind. (He sits down, looks at her script.) Getting into character, huh? (The Woman ignores him.) You here for an audition?
Woman: (Annoyed at his interruption) Yes.
Man: Oh yeah? What are you reading for?
Woman: A play about the Salem witch trials.
Man: Oh. (beat) You trying for a part as a witch?
Woman: (Ignoring him) “God has made me what I am—I cannot change!”
Man: Okay—fine. (beat) I can keep myself busy here. (He begins to flip through a “side” of dialogue.) Heh-heh-heh. (Turns to woman.) Some of these ten-minute thingies are pretty funny.
Woman: “Oh—the demons have returned!”
Man: (Ducking as if under attack) Where?
Woman: Please—I’m trying to memorize my lines!
Man: Excuse me! Sheesh.
Woman: “I am but a tool in the hands of the Lord. He hath forged me in a hotter crucible . . .”
Man: Oh—I get it. “The Crucible,” huh? Arthur Miller—highbrow stuff. (beat, looks at his side) You know, he was married to Marilyn Monroe for awhile. (beat) “Beauty and the Brain” they called ‘em. (beat) That’s why I started doing drama.
Woman: (Curious for the first time) Why?
Man: Pardon me for being blunt, but it’s all about the babes. You watch—there’ll be about three women for every man reading tonight.
Woman: I hope I will be one of the chosen ones.
Man: (With a leer) By me?
Woman: No—to perform in a play.
Man: Oh. (beat) I’m sure you’ll do all right. (beat, as she doesn’t answer, then flirtatiously) I’ll help you with your lines if you’ll help me with mine.
Woman: (beat, then modestly) All right.
Man: Great—let’s go. (He grabs her by the arm and they stand up.) Here—we’ll do mine first. (He hands her some sheets of paper stapled together.) You be the woman and I’ll be the man.
Woman: I should certainly hope so.
Man: Okay—I start off. Let’s see—I work in a pharmacy and you’re a customer—got it? (The Woman looks at him dubiously.) “Good morning, ma’am. Can I help you with something today?”
Woman: “Yes—I can’t seem to find my deodorant.”
Man: “You smell okay to me.”
Woman: (Glares at him) “I mean my brand of deodorant.”
Man: “Oh, oh—sure. Well, if we don’t have your brand, we’ve got plenty to choose from.”
Woman: (Looks at script) “I want my brand.”
Man: “We’ve got regular, extra-dry and super-dry, which will turn your armpits into little deserts.”
Woman: (In her original character) This is a vulgar piece.
Man: “If it’s still a problem, you could try dress shields.”
Woman: No . . .
Man: “Those little white things girls used to wear . . .”
Woman: I don’t want to do this anymore.
Man: Why not?
Woman: This is truly the work of the devil.
Man: Hey—I’ll take any part I can get. Humor me will you? (In character of pharmacist again.) “Here’s your deodorant—Muller’s Extra-Strength Anti-Perspirant—on sale too!” (Hands woman an invisible article) “Anything else I can help you with today? Need any feminine hygiene products?”
Woman: (Looks furtively around her, as if she has heard a noise) I beg of you—do not speak of this to anyone!
Man: Well, it is a sensitive subject. (beat) Er, let’s try your play if this is making you uncomfortable. What’s it about? (She hands him his side and another one.)
Woman: A night in the forest.
Man: Okay—where do we start.
Woman: I’ll begin. (Composes herself) “They cried me out for a witch!”
Man: (Back in character of pharmacist, after looking at side.) “We don’t have mental health products in this pharmacy.”
Woman: That’s your play, not mine.
Woman: “The only evidence against me was that my husband’s hair fell out in clumps.”
Man: (Out of character) That happened to a cat of mine once. (beat) I used to listen to a lot of Coltrane.
Woman: “On a few occasions we went into the woods at night. The story went ‘round that we were seen leaping over a bonfire—flying!”
Man: That’s kind of a weird play you got there. Who wrote it?
Woman: I did. It is from my own experience.
Man: Oh. (beat) Your line.
Woman: Let’s see. (Picks up last line in a monotone) “we were seen leaping over a bonfire—flying, (with animation now) when all we were doing was dancing.”
Man: (Out of character) Oh—dancing in the woods. Kind of a keg party?
Woman: (Out of character) What is a keg party?
Man: Well, you get a keg of beer, and you go out in the country, and somebody opens their car doors and puts on some music, and then maybe there’s some dancing. You like to dance?
Woman: Surely yes, I would like to—but it is forbidden. (beat)
Man: Oh—like “Footloose.” Kevin Bacon was great in that. Okay—let’s see—where are we here. “Goodie Thompson—you have a choice. Either confess to witchcraft or be crushed to death by stones.” Geez—they didn’t give you many options back in those days, huh?
Woman: Not really.
Man: (Suggestively) Why don’t you and me do some dancing right now?
Woman: Now? But we are in the middle of a play!
Man: Doesn’t matter—this ain’t exactly Hamlet. (Looks to back of house) Music Maestro, if you please!
Maceo Parker’s “Them That’s Got” or another instrumental funk tune begins to play. The man moves his chair to the side and motions for the woman to do the same.
Man: Now—all you gotta do is feel the rhythm and start to move to it. Like this. (Begins to sway). Here’s a couple of real simple ones. The Twist. (beat, as he demonstrates) The Swim (mimes swimming motion, then holds nose, extends the other hand in the air and sinks lower as he bends his knees). You try it.
Woman: Me? But I can’t.
Man: Sure you can. Do The Skate. (Mimes the arm motions of a skater as he slides his feet across the floor) All good dances of the early 60’s—before the “psychedelic” era. C’mon.
She begins to mimic him stiffly, a tight-lipped expression on her face.
Man: Now you got it. Boogaloo! Shingaling!
The woman begins to smile as she finds the rhythm. After a few moments, a Puritan cries out from the house.
Puritan 1: There she is! (Music stops suddenly)
Two players, male or female, emerge from the house.
Puritan 2: Get her!
They begin to pelt the woman with rolled up pairs of socks, preferably grey in color so that they look like stones.
Man: What the . . .
Puritan 1: She is possessed by the devil!
Puritan 2: She must be killed!
The Man moves to protect the woman, but one of the Puritans intervenes and the other continues to pelt the woman with stones.
Woman: Oh . . . oh . . . (she falls to the floor and expires slowly.).
Man: (Breaks free of the Puritan’s hold and walks over to the woman to inspect her corpse) You stoned her to death over a lousy ten-minute play?
Puritan 1: You should see what we do for a one act.
Puritan 2: Burn you at the stake for that, we would!
Puritan 1: (To Puritan 2) I don’t know what we’d do for a full-length–
Puritan 2: Two act with an intermission?
Puritan 1: Right.
Puritan 2: Torture ‘em first, then kill ‘em!
Puritan 1: Cool.
Man: Jesus . . .
Puritan 2: He blasphemes!
Man: (Cautiously apologetic, to Puritan 2) Sorry–”Jiminy Xmas.” (To Puritan 1, indicating Woman) You didn’t have to do that!
Puritan 1: It’s good exercise.
Puritan 2: I think you’re losing your fastball.
Puritan 1: That last one was a change up.
Puritan 2: Really?
Puritan 1: Yeah—I took something off it.
Puritan 2: Pulled the string, huh.
Man: You two are nuts!
Puritan 1: What? This is how we have fun!
Man: Fun? You call this fun?
Puritan 2: Look, we can’t dance, can’t play cards, can’t play tenpins . . .
Puritan 1: Flying a kite is completely out of the question!
Man: So you stone people to death?
Puritan 1: (Genuinely offended) What would you do in my situation?
Man: For God’s sake!
Puritan 2: (Raising a stone) Watch it . . .
Man: (Ignoring Puritan 2) Get out and do something, have some fun, put on a play.
Puritan 1: (Slowly, as if considering this) Put . . . on . . . a play?
Man: (Emphatically) Yes!
Puritan 2: Now I know he’s evil!
Man: (To Puritan 1) No, really—you should try it.
Puritan 1: Me?
Puritan 1: (In a stage struck tone) But I’ve never acted before.
Man: Here, take this (hands him a side).
Puritan 1: What is it?
Man: It’s a side.
Puritan 2: (To audience) No, this is an aside.
Puritan 1: You want me to read this heresy?
Man: Give it a shot. I’m the pharmacist and you’re the customer.
Puritan 2: (To Puritan 1) Be mindful of thy duty . . .
Puritan 1: (Hesitantly) “I also need something for an overactive bladder.”
Man: “Walk this way.” (He minces off a few steps.)
Puritan 1: “If I could walk that way I wouldn’t need bladder control!”
Puritan 2: (Shaking his head) I fear for your everlasting soul.
Man: (To Puritan 1) That was good, but play it a little straighter.
Puritan 2: Straight is the way, and narrow is the gate.
Man: “Here you go—Depends.” (Hands him an imaginary box from a shelf.)
Puritan 1: (Looks up from side) Depends on what?
Man: Stick to the script.
Puritan 1: Oh. Uh, “Are you sure these really work?”
Man: “Little old ladies at casinos stuff them in their panties when they’re playing the slots!”
Puritan 2: And now gambling!
Man: (To Puritan 2) Hey listen—why don’t you just butt out? (To Puritan 1) Your line.
Puritan 1: “I guess that will be all for today.”
Puritan 2: Then let’s head back to Salem.
The woman who has been stoned begins to groan.
Puritan 2: I told you she was a witch! (Raises hand and starts to throw one last sock-rock at her.)
Man: Guys, hold it. Leave her alone.
Puritan 1: She’ll get more sympathy from the audience if we finish her off.
Man: We only have about a minute to go.
Puritan 1: What do you mean?
Man: (Points at his watch) It’s a ten-minute play.
Puritan 2: (To Puritan 1) Are we allowed to mock the conventions of the genre like this?
Puritan 1: How should I know—I’m a frigging Puritan.
Woman: (Groans again)
Man: (To audience) Can someone help us out here? We’re like—Four Characters in Search of an Ending.
Puritan 1: (To audience) You want to go funny or poignant?
Voice: (From offstage, or in the house) Poignant!
Puritan 1: (In direction of voice) Thank you. (beat, takes breath, then begins in a more serious and dramatic tone). “The world’s a stage, but this stage is our world. We have thrown stones that were meant to land light as fiction, but instead have fallen heavily as the truth upon this poor women’s head. If she dies, so dies our play.”
Puritan 2: (Beat) Now what?
Man: Put her in the audience. By the end of the night there’ll be plenty of people sleeping. She’ll blend right in.
They lift the woman fireman-style, with one Puritan under each of her arms, and take her into the house, where they speak to someone sitting in the front row or on an aisle.
Puritan 1: Excuse me? Do you mind if we take your seat?
Puritan 2: You get a $3 credit at the snack bar.
Man: That’ll get you a large popcorn, or a pack of red licorice.
After an audience member agrees to leave his/her seat:
Puritan 1: Thank you.
Puritan 2: Much obliged.
They position the woman on the vacated chair, where she can slump against someone next to her if desired.
Puritan 1: There we are—good as new.
Puritan 2: No one will ever know.
The woman begins to groan, and regains consciousness.
Woman: (To man) What happened?
Man: These two religious fanatics tried to stone you to death.
Woman: (To Puritans) I have told you before, I’m not a witch!
Puritan 1: (Grudgingly) All right. (Gestures towards audience) How ‘bout them? They’re watching an ungodly play.
Puritan 2: Yeah—can we chuck some stones at them?
Man: They’re paying customers.
Puritan 2: Er—how about you?
Man: Sorry—can’t kill the protagonist.
Puritan 1: (Mocking him) Ooo—he’s a “protagonist”! (To Puritan 2) C’mon—let’s get out of here.
Puritan 2: Yeah. Let’s go take in a good sermon or something.
Man: Suit yourself.
The Puritans exit through the house, grumbling as they go.
Puritan 1: There’s no good community theatre anymore.
Puritan 2: What’s the point, now that we’ve got cable . . .
Woman gets up and wobbles somewhat unsteadily to the stage, where she joins the man.
Man: So ends our unhappy little tale.
Woman: The moral is this: You must choose between a virtuous life, and the evils of the stage.
They bow. Curtain
Performed by NY Theatre Unlimited as part of its Bad Play Festival.