Echoes - Fall of ‘38 by Jane Prendergast

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

Act I
      Scene 1
      September 26, 1938.A modest but comfortable apartment in Brooklyn,
      NY. At rise, JUDITH,a housewife in her late 40s,is setting the table
      for dinner, humming the chorus of the “Battle Hymn of the
      Republic” as she works. She stands in front of the fan, enjoying the
      cold air. MICHAEL, her handsome 20 year old son, enters on his
      wheelchair. He is wearing a bathrobe. He mimes looking through an
      imaginary window between him and the audience. There is an afghan over
      his legs.
      We hear elevator noise, children playing in the street.

      Noise fades.     
      JUDITH: You’re not dressed yet?
      MICHAEL: I’m dressed. Don’t you like “understated casual
      JUDITH: You know your father doesn’t want to see you like this at the
      dinner table.
      MICHAEL: What should I get dressed for? I’m not going anywhere.
      JUDITH: For self-respect. Why don’t you put clothes on and let me
      take you out to see the leaves. The maple tree on the corner’s
      completely red. What a sight!
      MICHAEL: Good for it. Red now, but in a month it will be bare as
      Russia. And, by the way, I do respect myself.
      JUDITH: It doesn’t show.
      MICHAEL: We should go up to the lake. I’d get dressed for that.
      JUDITH: Now? They closed three weeks ago on Labor Day.
      MICHAEL: It doesn’t matter. There’ll be someplace else to stay.
      There’s lots more leaves up there.
      JUDITH: Most of those year-round places are restricted. Besides, your
      father has to work and I can’t manage you and wheelchair by myself.
      MICHAEL: Dad could help you get me in. Somebody could help us on the
      other end.
      JUDITH: What somebody? And suppose you had to go. Suppose we had a
      MICHAEL: You’re always imagining the worst.
      JUDITH: The worst? The worst is what your father would be like if we
      left him in this crisis.
      MICHAEL: (mocking) Oh, no! Another crisis! Worse than yesterday’s or
      maybe the day before.
      JUDITH: Very funny, Michael. Even the Times has banner headlines.
      This one may be real.
      MICHAEL: Then he’ll be at Party meetings night and day; he wouldn’t
      even notice that we’d gone.
      JUDITH: Doesn’t it bother you – a war, maybe a hundred thousand
      people dead in Europe?
      MICHAEL: It’s over there, Mom, not here. I cared about “over
      there” once, remember, see what it got me?
      JUDITH rubs MICHAEL’s back
      JUDITH: You must be hungry; you’ve had nothing since your breakfast.
      MICHAEL: Not really. I ate breakfast late.
      JUDITH: Late, late, that’s the theme song for this house. You ate
      late, your father’ll be late for dinner. There’s an emergency meeting,
      so what else is new? I could give you something now, it would hold you
      until he gets here.
      MICHAEL: I don’t need holding. I’m not hungry.
      JUDITH: You could have an apple. I’ve got cheese, olives…
      MICHAEL: Oh, for God’s sake. Stop with the menu, already.
      JUDITH: I’m only trying to take care of you.
      MICHAEL: I know, but stuffing food down my throat’s not taking care
      of me.
      JUDITH: I’m not stuffing…
      MICHAEL: You always did. From as early as I can remember. At least
      then, when I was a kid, I could get some exercise. Now…
      JUDITH: All you have to say is “no”. “No, thank you” would be
      more than I could hope for.
      JUDITH continues working and humming chorus of “Battle Hymn of the
      MICHAEL: Day-dreaming?
      JUDITH: What?
      MICHAEL: That song (sings, parodies) “Solidarity Forever”
      JUDITH: Don’t make fun of that.
      MICHAEL: It irks me. I’ve heard it once too often.
      JUDITH: People are getting killed for the right to sing that song.
      MICHAEL: But not us. We’re comfortable.
      JUDITH: Should I go man the barricades, Michael? If I got killed,
      Michael, who’d take care of you?
      MICHAEL: I can just see you on the barricades, Mom, in the Bonwit
      Teller blouse you wear to Party socials..
      JUDITH: I can support the workers without getting myself killed..
      MICHAEL: And look nice while doing it.
      JUDITH: Oh, I am so tired of you sneering at everything.
      MICHAEL: I’ve earned the right to sneer a little.
      JUDITH: It isn’t a little. It’s always and forever. And I’m tired of
      MICHAEL: So leave me alone.
      JUDITH: You were the one who wheeled yourself in here.
      MICHAEL: I came in here for some company. Not to get nudged about
      JUDITH: I offered you to eat. That’s all. Oh, God, I’m trapped here
      all day, listening to you. I wish one of us would die!
      Key turns in lock.
      MICHAEL: Daddy’s home
      ROBERT enters. He is dressed in a suit, and is carrying a stack of
      mimeographed papers. There is a newspaper, The Daily Worker, under his
      arm. He puts the papers down on the desk, and the newspaper, beside
      his plate on the table.
      ROBERT: What a meeting!
      JUDITH: Dinner’s waiting on the stove.
      ROBERT: Wait ‘till I tell you about it.
      JUDITH: Not now.
      ROBERT: We won, Judith…Seven to Four! Just before the vote,
      MICHAEL: Careful, Dad. she’s irritable tonight. The heat, maybe the
      long wait for dinner…
      JUDITH: Shut up, Michael. Dinner’s all dried out, I’ve been warming
      it so long..
      ROBERT: Michael, go wash your hands so we can eat. I seem to have
      walked in on something.
      ROBERT exits to kitchen
      We hear water running.
      JUDITH: And hurry up!
      MICHAEL: Compose yourself, Mom. You’re letting your temper show.
      JUDITH: I…
      ROBERT enters from kitchen, sits at table.
      ROBERT: Well, it certainly smells good, whatever it is!
      JUDITH: Lamb chops.
      JUDITH exits to kitchen, returns immediately with food.
      MICHAEL: Oh, fortunate we!
      JUDITH: There was a sale.
      JUDITH puts plates down. MICHAEL looks at his and pushes it away.
      MICHAEL: Are these those goddamn shoulder blades again?
      JUDITH: Yes, they are. Do you know how much loin lamb chops cost?
      ROBERT: We should be happy we have any kind of chop. People on the
      picket lines are starving..
      MICHAEL: So let’s pack the leftovers and send it to them. (softly)
      Cost isn’t why she buys them.
      JUDITH: What do you know about it? You don’t shop.
      MICHAEL: I know what’s kosher and what isn’t.
      JUDITH: (angrily) Listen, as long as I do the shopping, and the
      ROBERT: Okay, that’s enough, both of you! Aren’t I entitled to a
      little peace when I come home?
      JUDITH: Of course you are. Michael, you don’t like it, don’t eat.
      MICHAEL: Okay, okay. I wasn’t hungry anyway.
      MICHAEL throws down his fork and wheels himself to the hall.
      JUDITH: You see what I have to put up with?
      ROBERT: What I saw, you were giving as good as you got. Maybe better.     
      JUDITH: You’re not here all day. It’s like being eaten by a shark. He
      never stops.
      ROBERT: Look what he has to live with.
      JUDITH: You mean me?
      ROBERT: You know I didn’t mean that.
      JUDITH: This anger isn’t doing him any good. It won’t grow his legs
      ROBERT: What anger?
      JUDITH: What….? Didn’t you see?
      ROBERT: I heard you raise your voice to him. He reacted.
      JUDITH: He reacted to me reacting. He needles me all day. When you’re
      not here, it’s worse.
      ROBERT: I can’t judge what happens when I’m not here.
      JUDITH: What is it to him why I buy shoulder chops?
      ROBERT: I don’t like them either.
      JUDITH: Okay, so bring home more money. Then we can eat caviar.
      ROBERT: Did you buy them because they’re kosher?
      JUDITH: That’s ridiculous. My mother always made this kind. I’m
      comfortable with them.
      ROBERT: Your mother kept kosher.
      JUDITH: So that’s a crime?
      ROBERT: It’s reactionary. It keeps the Jews apart from everyone.
      “Have a cookie?” “Oh, no thank you, it might not be kosher!”
      Meaning “your food’s not clean.” What a friendly message! I
      thought we’d gotten over all of that.
      JUDITH: For the last time, I didn’t get the lamb chops because
      they’re kosher. They’re not even from the kosher butcher. You want to
      see the receipt? Why am I defending myself? All I did was clean your
      house and cook your dinner. I plead guilty! Guilty, your honor!
      ROBERT: I’m not complaining about your housekeeping. It’s the
      atmosphere here. I come home all excited from the meeting, but, no,
      you don’t want to hear. Then there’s yelling over dinner.
      JUDITH: (yelling) I didn’t “yell”!
      ROBERT: You’re yelling now.
      JUDITH: Because you’re blind and can’t see what’s in front of your
      ROBERT: You made it unpleasant enough so Michael had to leave the
      JUDITH: So he’ll eat later. He said he wasn’t hungry anyway.
      ROBERT: I wanted to talk to him.
      JUDITH: He isn’t going anywhere. (loudly, exaggeratedly sweet)
      Michael! Your father wants to talk to you!
      MICHAEL: (off) Coming!
      JUDITH: See – that wasn’t hard at all.
      JUDITH piles dishes on the tray and exits to the kitchen. MICHAEL
      enters, wheels to table. He is holding a book.
      MICHAEL: I was reading, Dad. What’s the problem?
      ROBERT: No problem, Michael. I just wanted to talk to you.
      MICHAEL: What about?
      ROBERT: Not about anything. Just talk.
      MICHAEL makes an expansive gesture
      ROBERT: What are you reading?
      MICHAEL: A detective novel. Agatha Christie.
      ROBERT: (obviously disappointed) Oh. Any good?
      MICHAEL: It fills up my mind so I don’t think. Cheaper than opium.
      ROBERT: Hey, maybe paperbacks are the real “opium of the people”,
      MICHAEL: I guess.
      ROBERT: You should have been at the meeting tonight.
      MICHAEL: Good one, huh?
      ROBERT: (ignoring the mockery) We won! We’re supporting the Peace
      Resolution, seven to four, with Carl abstaining, of course, like he
      always does.
      MICHAEL: Peace Resolution, oh me, oh my. You guys on Neville
      Chamberlain’s side? The tool of Hitler? (MICHAEL picks up copy of
      Daily Worker, flourishes it at ROBERT and reads, pointedly slowly)
      Pro-Nazi Chamberlain….
      ROBERT: Read the headline.
      MICHAEL: I saw it.
      ROBERT: One hundred and fifty thousand German soldiers on the French
      border with their guns pointed right at Paris. Don’t you see what
      we’re on the verge of?
      MICHAEL: Sooner or later, what difference does it make? The whole
      world will look like Spain. What’s to worry? – we’re winning handily
      against the fascists. It says so right here.
      ROBERT: How can you, of all people, not want to work for peace?
      MICHAEL: What’s the point? After all the rallies, war will come.
      ROBERT: Not if we do what Stalin says. A sixty-five nation consortium
      to decide on the Sudeten Area. Sixty-five so Chamberlain can’t push
      his agenda.
      MICHAEL: So sixty-five’s the magic number. Amazing what people can
      ROBERT: What? Isn’t it obvious – war’s wrong!
      MICHAEL: (pulls afghan away, exposing his amputated legs to ROBERT)
      Except when it was right.
      ROBERT: That was different. (ROBERT re-adjusts afghan to cover
      MICHAEL’s legs)
      You should never have gone to Spain.
      MICHAEL: What’s the difference, me or someone else? If it wasn’t me,
      some other schmuck’d be sitting in some other Brooklyn bedroom,
      wondering what life’d be like if he still had his legs.
      ROBERT: Your mind. You could have helped the struggle with your mind.
      A strategist. A macher. Like Earl Browder, maybe even.
      MICHAEL: Don’t these machers, these big shots, don’t they
      ever…think about the boys they’re sending out there?
      ROBERT: Of course they do! We all do! That’s why aligning with the
      League for Peace was so important. (ROBERT picks up a mimeo’d sheet
      and hands it to MICHAEL. Read here…
      MICHAEL puts it down without reading.
      MICHAEL: I’ve read enough propaganda, Dad. After awhile, it just
      sounds silly.
      ROBERT retrieves the paper, smooths it, and replaces it on the
      ROBERT: Silly? This paper, that you don’t want to read, could change
      the course of history. If we can get enough people in all the nations
      to sign this paper – and we will – Hitler will back down.
      MICHAEL: If you say so, Dad.
      JUDITH enters from kitchen, carrying a plate of food.
      JUDITH: (briskly) Hitler can’t back down, not after all that
      screaming. Stalin knows what he’s doing, he wants to keep the Germans
      looking west. After the Nazis and the capitalists beat each other to
      death, the Red Army’ll roll in, nice and fresh, and pick up all the
      pieces. I kept your dinner warm for you.
      She puts the plate down in front of MICHAEL, who begins to eat.

[end of extract]

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