A Little Princess by Hess Oster

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This Play is the copyright of the Author and may not be performed, copied or sold without the Author’s prior consent

Scene Eight: Storytelling in Sara’s Room

    (In SARA’s room. As the lights come up, BECKY is sleeping in
    SARA’s chair. The doll Emily is on her lap, and a cleaning rag is in
    her hand. SARA sneaks up, not noticing BECKY, and crouches beside the
    bed, to speak to the audience. She has already changed into her
    nightgown.)

    SARA: This time, I’ll catch Emily, before she pretends to be
    nothing but a doll! (She jumps up quickly, shocking poor BECKY) Aha!

    BECKY: (Startled awake, and very frightened. She looks at Emily, and
    places her guiltily on the bed) Oh, miss! Oh, miss! I beg your pardon,
    miss. Oh, I do, miss!

    SARA: (Trying to calm her) Don’t be frightened. It doesn’t matter the
    least bit!

    BECKY: I didn’t go to do it, miss. It was the warm chair—an’ me
    bein’ so tired. It—it WASN’T impertinence! (SARA laughs, and BECKY
    begins to realize that she is not in trouble). Ain’t—ain’t you
    angry, miss? Ain’t you goin’ to tell Miss Minchin?

    SARA: No! Of course I’m not. Why, we are just the same—I am only a
    little girl like you. It’s just an accident that I am not you, and you
    are not me.

    BECKY: An accident, Miss? Really?

    SARA: Really. Have you finished your work? Is it safe to stay?

    BECKY: Me Miss? Stay here with all these fine things? (BECKY admires
    SARA’s room) Once, I seen a princess. I was in the streets and they
    was crowdin’ her as she walked by. You dress just like her!

    SARA: My papa says that all girls are princesses, so I sometimes
    pretend that I am one. If I was a real princess, I could scatter
    largess to the populace. I pretend that doing things people like is
    scattering largess. What shall I do for you, BECKY? Would you like
    some cookies? (SARA does not wait for a response, but runs to fetch a
    tin full of cookies).

    BECKY: Oh, miss! That will be nice an’ fillin’. It’s fillin’ness
    that’s best. Sponge cake’s a ‘evenly thing, but it melts away
    like—if you understand, miss. These’ll just STAY in yer stummick.
    (She begins gobbling them, and eating the crumbs off of her apron).
    But I has to eat ‘em careful, miss, cos if I leaves crumbs upstairs
    the rats come out to get ‘em.

    SARA: Are there RATS there? Oh, BECKY! I wish I could do more for
    you. I know! You must stay for the story tonight. A few of the girls
    will be here!

    BECKY: Me, miss? No! I couldn’t be with those other girls, oh no
    no! I have to go!

    SARA: (seeing her distress) Wait! BECKY, hide behind this chair, and
    no one will even know you’re in the room! (BECKY is about to argue,
    but there is a knock at the door).

    LOTTIE: (from off-set) SARA?

    SARA: Hurry, BECKY! (SARA hides BECKY under an oversized chair,
    propping a pillow or two in front of it so that she is invisible to
    the others, but the audience can still see her.)

    BECKY: What are you doing to me, Miss?

    SARA: (whispering) I’m scattering largess! (She jumps on the bed just
    as LOTTIE opens the door.)

    LOTTIE: Mama Sara, I heard you talking! You shouldn’t start the
    make-believe without me! (SARA scoops up LOTTIE and sits on the bed
    with her, handing her Emily to hold)

    ERMINGARDE: (Coming in after LOTTIE, and looking guilty) Um, Sara? I
    might have told a few other people about the story, Sara. I hope you
    don’t mind (she hurries to her spot).

    (At this point, all of the girls rush in, and their lines are ad
    libbed and whispered quickly. Oh! A real story! Shhh! Stop shushing
    me! Stop shoving me! Be quiet, or Miss. Minchin will hear you.
    Eventually, they all gather around and on the bed in various position,
    and then a hush falls as they stare expectantly at Sara.)

    SARA: Once upon a time…

    (JESSIE and VICTORIA suddenly rush in. Their fighting can be heard
    from out in the hall)

    JESSIE: Hurry up or we’ll be late!

    VICTORIA: Stop yelling at me!

    JESSIE: I wasn’t yelling!

    VICTORIA: Yes you were, you always do!

    JESSIE: I told you—

    VICTORIA: Why do you always have to—

    (The girls notice that everyone has been listening to them, and
    sheepishly seat themselves. All eyes again turn expectantly to Sara)

    SARA: Once upon a time…

    (LAVINIA rushes through the door, panting, then stops, straightens
    herself up, and haughtily deposits herself by the bed, perhaps
    scooting someone over in the process.)

    LAVINIA: You may continue.

    SARA: This is a story of India. (Flourish of Indian music. This will
    be a continuation of the earlier story. SITA, RAMA, and RAVANA enter
    in their own pool of light.) High in a tower, Princess Sita was kept
    prisoner by the evil, terrible, ten-headed demon Ravana.

    RAVANA: Marry me!

    SARA: —Ravanna commanded. But Sita refused.

    SITA: I am the wife of a beloved prince!

    SARA: —¬¬she said.

    RAVANA: Ha ha ha! He is dead. I killed him myself!

    SARA: —said the demon.

    RAVANA: Now, you will stay in this tower, and be my prisoner, until
    you agree to marry me!

    SARA: Sita had never felt so alone. She waited, alone in her tower,
    knowing that her RAMA was dead. (SARA pauses dramatically. The girls
    are saddened by this, believing it to be the end of the story, but
    SARA suddenly stands up on her bed, growing more energized and
    expressive. This next part of the story happens very quickly).

    But he wasn’t dead! (they gasp) And all along he was searching for
    his lost princess, and the monkey prince told Rama where to find her,
    and he came to the tower, and he slew the demon (at this moment, both
    RAMA and SARA act out the motion of drawing an arrow, swinging around
    to aim, and firing it. When they do so, the girls duck to avoid the
    swinging aim)

    And when Sita saw Rama, she ran into his arms (the girls sigh
    audibly).

    But they could not yet be together. (Sara takes on a character voice)
    ‘You have been in the demon’s castle!’ said the wise men. ‘Now
    you must pass the test of fire, to see if you are still pure.’

    Sita stood in front of a billowing blaze. The flames reached up to
    the sky. She looked through the fire, and she could see Rama on the
    other side of it, but she had to cross through the flames to reach
    him.

    SITA: Rama! Rama!

    SARA: —she cried.

    LOTTIE: (Entranced by the story, and imagining that she is a part of
    it) Rama!

    BECKY: (Swept up in the story, and forgetting that she is supposed to
    be hiding) Rama!

    (Lights suddenly go out on the dancers. All heads turn toward the
    sound of BECKY’s voice. BECKY slowly reveals herself by standing.
    She looks as though she is afraid someone might hit her.)

    LAVINIA: (Pointing accusingly from the opposite side of the room))
    That servant girl has been listening! (Sara steps between Lavinia and
    Becky).

    SARA: I knew she was listening. Why shouldn’t she?

    LAVINIA: Well, I do not know whether YOUR mamma would like you to
    tell stories to servant girls, but I know MY mamma wouldn’t like ME to
    do it.

    SARA: My mamma! I don’t believe she would mind in the least. She
    knows that stories belong to everybody.

    LAVINIA: I thought your mother was dead. How can she know things?

    SARA: Do you think she DOESN’T know things?

    LOTTIE: Sara’s mamma knows everything. So does my mamma. The streets
    are shining, and there are fields and fields of lilies, and nobody
    cries. Sara told me.

    LAVINIA: You wicked thing. Making up fairy stories about heaven.

    SARA: It’s not a story, it’s true!

    LAVINIA: I don’t believe it.

    JESSIE: Sara has been pretending to be a princess, Lavinia. She says
    it has nothing to do with what you look like, or what you have. It has
    only to do with what you THINK of, and what you DO.

    LAVINIA: I suppose you think you could be a princess if you were a
    beggar. I think I’ll begin to call you Your Royal Highness.

    LOTTIE: (Beginning a tantrum, she falls to the floor) Why are you
    always so mean! (The other girls begin speaking at once, trying to
    defend Sara and shush one another. Lottie’s cries grow louder.)

    LAVINIA: Lottie! If you don’t stop crying, I’ll slap you!

    SARA: Well, I’d like to slap you! (The others gasp and are shocked
    into a hush. They look at SARA incredulously)...but I WON’T slap you.
    We are not little gutter children. We are both old enough to know
    better.

    LAVINIA: Ah, yes, your royal highness always knows better!

    SARA: It’s true. (She looks to the other girls for support) Sometimes
    I do pretend I am a princess. I pretend I am a princess, so that I can
    try to behave like one.

    LAVINIA: (Her lackeys have stood to flank her, but all of the others
    girls are on Sara’s side) Dear me. I hope, when you ascend the
    throne, you won’t forget us!

    SARA: (As if making a promise) I won’t. (Lavinia holds her ground for
    a moment, then the three of them exit in a huff. Sara looks at the
    other girls, who are all impressed that she has won the battle.)

    (Blackout)

    A Note from the Author:

    When I set out to direct A Little Princess with my mid-sized middle
    and high school drama department, it was because I had loved the story
    so much as a child, and because film productions of Burnett’s work
    had proven so moving; I felt confident that I would be able to find a
    children’s theatre version of the play that would work well with my
    students. However, I was quickly disappointed by the scripts
    available. One seemed intended only for elementary-aged performers.
    Another seemed to have cut the character of Becky almost entirely.
    Most simply lacked the sense of drama that I hoped to
    achieve


    Another problem was of course the story’s ending. The
    question of whether Sara’s father should die, as Burnett wrote, or
    live, as film adaptations since the 1939 Shirley Temple version have
    depicted, was a major point of concern for me. I wanted to respect
    Burnett’s work, but felt that the inheritance of the diamond mines
    was not a very satisfying ending for children that had grown up with
    the film—nor did it come across as any less far-fetched than the
    reappearance of the seemingly dead Captain Crewe. I wanted a version
    with a more hopeful ending.


    I also struggled with what I saw as a very pale cultural palette in
    most available scripts. As I began to explore A Little Princess, one
    element to stand out was the presence of multi-cultural storytelling.
    Though this aspect of Sara’s upbringing in India is central to the
    book, it is often lost on stage. In this version, I have sought to
    correct that by using storytelling as the ribbon that ties the play together.

    Sara finds beauty in life, even in its harshest moments, because she
    sees herself as part of a greater story. Friends are drawn to her
    because they want to be a part of the stories that she knows, such as
    the epic Ramayana of India, which tells of the separated lovers Rama
    and Sita. In many ways, the story of the Ramayana parallels Sara’s
    life. Like Sita, Sara is separated from a loved one, and placed in
    dangerous situations that test her faith and her character. Both young
    women are told lies that are designed to rob them of hope, and both
    have endings that express a preservation and eventual overflowing of
    that hope. I wish for audience members to leave the theatre feeling a
    bit of that hope themselves.

    I am so grateful to have worked with Burnett’s heartwarming
    material, and hope that this version is performable, dramatic, and
    accessible to talented young performers.

    They are stories.

    They are very good stories.

    Hess Oster

[end of extract]

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