the voice of the prairie

50  Download (0)

Full text

(1)

The Voice

of the Prairie

A PLAY

by

John Olive

I

SAMUEL

WFRENCH

FOUNDED r830 New York Hollvwood London Toronto

(2)

CAUTION: Professionals and amateurs are hereby warned that TI IE V()f(]~

OF 771E PRAIRIE is subject to a royalty. It is fully protectcd under the copy­ right laws of the United States of America, the British Commonwealth, in­ clllding Canada, and all othcr countlies of the Copyright Union. All rights, including professional, amateUI; motion picture, recitation, lecturing, public reading, radio broadcasting, tele\~sion and the rights of translation into for­ cign languages are strictly reserved. In its present form the play is dedicated to the reading public only.

The amateur live stage performance rights to 71 IE VOl( 1~ OF TI IE PRil1­

R!E' are controlled exclusively by Samuel French, Inc., and royalty arrange­ ments and licenses must be securcd well in advance of presentation. PLEASE NOTE that amateur royalty fees are set upon application in accordance with your producing circumstances. When applying for a royalty quotation and license please give us the number of performances intended, dates of pro­ duction, your seating capacity and admission fee. Royalties are payable one week before the opening peIformance of the play to Samuel French, Inc., at 45 W. 25th Street, New York, NY 10010.

Royalty of the required amount must be paid whether the play is pre­ sented for Charity or gain and whether or not admission is charged.

Stock royalty quoted upon application to Samuel French, Inc.

For all otl1er rights than those stipulated above, apply to Susan Schulman, 454 West 44th Street, New York, r-..'Y 10036.

Particular emphasis is laid on the question of amateur or professional readings, permission and terms for which must be secured in writing from Samuel French, Inc.

Copying from this book in whole or in part is strictly forbidden by law, and the right of performance is not transferable.

vVhenever the play is produced the follOwing notice must appear on all programs, printing and advertising for the play: "Produced by special ar~

rangement with Samuel French, Inc."

Due authorship credit must be given on all programs, printing and advel~

tising for the play.

No one shall commit or authorize any act or omission by which copyright of, or the right to copyright, this play may be impaircd. No one shall make any changes in this play for the purpose of

production. I

Pu blication of this play does not imply availability for performance. Both amateurs and professionals considering a production are strongly ad­ vised in their own interests to apply to Samuel French, Inc., for written!

permission before starting rehearsals, advertising, or booking a theatl-e.j No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmittcd in any form, by any means, now known or yet to be invented, including mechanical, electronic, photocopying, recording,

~deotap-ing, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. ISBN 978-()..573-69076-1 Printed in U.S.A. #24047

-

-No one shall commit or authorize any act or omission by which the copyright of, or the right to copyright, this play may be impaired. No one shall make any changes in this play for thc purpose of production.

Publication of this play does not imply availability for performance. Both amateurs and professionals considering a production are strongly ad­ vised in their own interests to apply to Samuel French, Inc., for written permission before starting rehearsals, advertising, or booking a theatre. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retTieval system,

011

u'ansmitted in any form, by any means, now known or yet to be invented,] including mechanical, electronic, photocopying, recording, videotaPl ing, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher~

IMPORTANT BILUNG AND CREDIT

REQUIREMENTS

All producers of THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE must give credit to the Author of the Play in all programs distributed in con­ nection with performances of the Play, and in all instances in which the title of the Play appears for the purposes of ad­ vertising, publicizing or otherwise exploiting the Play and / or a production. The name of the Author must appear on a separate line on which no other name appears, immediately following the title and must appear in size of type not less than fifty percent of the size of the title type.

In ADDITION: the following billing credits must be included in all programs for bus and truck, LORT and LAAT produc­ tions:

Orignially commissioned and produced Artreach Minne­ apolis, Minnesota.

Expanded version produced by Hartford Stage, Hartford,

CT

l

l

(3)

This play is for Julie

4

The People of the Play

POppy SUSIE

DAVEY FRANKIE'S FATHER

LEON SCHWAB WATERMELON MAN

DAVID QUINN JAMES

FRANKIE JAILER

FRANCES REED

And various and assorted PASSERSBY , NEWSPAPER VENDORS, GOSSIPMONGERS, SCHOOLCHIL­ DREN and other offstage VOICES.

NOTE: although originally written to be played by three actors (two men, one woman) the play has been done successfully by six performers (four men, two women). THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE was commissioned by Artreach, a Minneapolis-based professional touring company. The play was produced and toured around the midwest in the fall of 1986. The production was pro­ duced by Julia C. Buzard and directed by Steven Dietz. Costumes were by Lori Sullivan, lights and sets were by Michael Murnane and the production was stage man­ aged by Kris Nelson. In the Artreach production:

James J. Lawless played: Actor 1, Poppy, David Quinn, Frankie's Father, Newsstand Vendor, the Wa­ termelon Man and other offstage characters and VOIces.

Kevin Kling played: Actor 2, Davey, Leon Schwab, James, the Jailer, and various and miscellaneous characters.

(4)

Reed and other assorted offstage characters and voices.

THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE was written to be played on a mostly bare stage with a highly portable set. The Artreach production utilized a wall unit made of wooden slats which was placed directly upstage. En­ trances and exits were made around the sides of the unit and also through a door in the middle. The performers were onstage and visible at all times; at the ends of scenes, the actor simply left the main playing area and stepped behind the wall unit where he/she prepared for the next entrance. All sound effects were live, created by the actors behind the wall unit. This created a rough­ hewn theatricality which worked very nicely.

Subsequent productions ofthe play, while they have for the most part used three actors, have tended to be more "produced," relying on taped music and sound effects, heightened lighting, and more detailed settings. (A sam­ ple fioorplan ofsuch a production, at the Wisdom Bridge Theatre in Chicago, designed by Michael Philippi, is included in this edition of the play) Costume changes in these productions-as well as character transformations- for the most part take place offstage. These productions have also worked very well. There is a wonderful "performance theatricality" created when three actors play twenty plus characters in the course of an evenmg.

However, the play has been very successfully produced with more than three actors. At the Hartford Stage Com­ pany, in a production directed by Norman Rene, the

6

Michael Countryman played: Poppy, David Quinn. Knowl Johnson played: Davey, and various school­ children and other offstage voices.

David Schramm Played: Leon Schwab.

Alice Haining played: Frankie, and offstage voices. Barry Cullison played: Newspaper Vendor, Frankie's Father, James Watermelon Man, Jailer, others. Brenda Currin played: Susie, Frances.

Hartford Stage is a large "mainstage" kind of space (es­ pecially in comparison to the other theaters in which the play's been done) and the larger cast gave the play the size it needed to fill the theater. The larger company made it possible to match actors more closely to the age of the characters they played. This gave the production stronger emotional resonance. I've found that a three actor version has a stronger performance theatricality and a lot of exciting narrative energy, as the audience is always having to figure who the actors are playing at any given moment. The six actor version has more size, more resonance, more emotional truth and vitality. Potential producers should decide for themselves, based on the size oftheir playing space, their audiences, and their own personal preferences. The play could even be done with more than six actors.

The text for both the three and six actor versions is es­ sentially the same. I've added some stage directions indi­ cating staging possibilities when more than the three

(5)

actors are used. The final scene, however, is written dif­ ferently. I've added an appendix which contains a slightly different version of the scene, to be used when more than three actors are performing the play.

The Place ofthe Play

Various locales in the United States of America: the backroom ofa hardware store, a farm, a cliff, a backyard, a street, an expensive suite at Kansas City's Muellbach Hotel, a parlor, a train platform, a jail cell, a shed, etc.

The Time ofthe Play

The play takes place in 1895 and in 1923, jumping back and forth.

8

The Voice of the Prairie

ACT I

(MUSIC: bright and uptempo. ACTORS 1,2, and 3 enter)

ACTOR 1. 1895.

ACTOR 2. The sharp rocks, the sea blue like steel. ACTOR 3. I tell you, you can feel the Lord's breath in his blood.

ACTOR 1. You gotta remember how I'm deaf. ACTOR 2. Poppy was a strange man.

ACTOR 3. God bless all here.

(ACTOR 3 exits. LIGHTS roll. A tavern. POPPY, an old Irishman, and DAVEY, his young grandson, look around the place, smiling expectantly. DA VEY's ex­ cited, barely able to contain himself)

POPPY. (In a booming Irish brogue) God bless all here!

(DAVEY giggles-it's a weird, high-pitched laugh. HE sits, watching POPPY, rocking back andforth, swinging his legs, laughing softly. POppy takes out a pipe, scrapes a Lucifer match across the stage, lights the pipe and puffs on it, getting

it

going. Clouds of blue pipe­ smoke. A storyteller) Well now. I knew of a man one time, and he was every bit of seventy years old when he decided to part from single bliss. He didn't have the sense when he was young, and he was too old when he got the courage. Like a lot more of us. Now. You'll be askin', and well you might, what would a man, seventy years old, be wantin' with a young wife? (Pauses, puffing his

(6)

pipe.) Well, I suppose they could say the rosary together.

Heheheheh .. , (Laughs, then coughs. HE looks

around the tavern, smiling.) A thirsty afternoon, is it not? (Beat. Then DA VEY laughs, again in his distinctively odd giggle. POppy reacts, almost as

if

on cue.) Oh. The

poor lad. Little Davey Quinn. My youngest sister's youn­ gest daughter's only boy. The bastard offspring of a vile and dishonorable British cavalry officer. Those "proper" Englishmen, they change their tune when they get to Ireland. He's deaf, the lad. (DA VEY reacts for a brief

moment, then smiles, swinging his legs, as before.) It

breaks my heart. But, you know, the Lord speaks to him, sure, there's Godlight in his eyes. (Beat)

r

d accept a glass of whisky and be happy for it, I can tell you that truly.

(Looks about expectantly, then continues, disappointed.)

Anyway, this man I'm telling you about, Pat Kelly. He had a little house, and he had a little land, and I suppose in a fit of drunkenness you might be tempted to call the place a farm. So. Pat decided to marry. Now you'd be hard put to find anyone to persuade you that Gloria P. Linsky was any sort ofbathing beauty. For it wasn't true. She'd a laugh like an ass's bray and a face as ugly as a plateful of mortal sins. (To someone in the audience:) Oh, madam! you've a laugh as clear and lovely as snow water dancing through gold nuggets. Surely you'll buy an old storyteller a glass ofwhisky. Ah, God love ya. Davey! Davey! (DAVEY doesn't move.) Oh. (POppy whacks on the back ofhis head. DA VEY leaps up. POppy

points, speaking deliberately.) Whis-ky! (DA VEY runs

off) The poor lad. Madam, you're a rose-cheeked vision of beauty. No! It's not true! You're telling me a filthy lie.

It can't be rouge! (DA VEY brings POppy a glass of whisky.) Together, madam, you and I could create leg­

ends. (Knocks back the whisky. then sits. going on with

the story) Like a lot more of us, Pat suffered from the

damp and the rheum and the creakin' in the bones. It's a cursed affliction, I can tell you. And Pat, fancyin' himself a spry aul fella, his weddin' night fast approachin', well, he began castin' about for a cure. Says Laherty, "Have you never been bathing in the sea water, Pat? All them salts and minerals, it's a grand tonic. There's English people as travels miles and pays a ransom, just for a dip in it. Oh, sure, it's a grand tonic for everything. So. Pat fixed up his cart. And he found his ass. And offhe went. Now, the place where we were living was about forty miles from the sea. And you could count on the toes of one foot all the people from our town who'd ever seen the damn thing. Pat arrived in the evening. The red sky, the sharp rocks, the white foam dancing and hissing like snakes, the sea blue like steeL Oh, God! How I miss Ireland. (Beat) There, sitting on the seawall was a fisher­ man. From Kerry. They eat salt for breakfast, those Ker­ rymen. "Is that the sea?", says Pay, "'Tis," says the fish­ erman. "Tell me," says Pat, "And tell me no more: what would you charge me for a barrel of it?" "Ten shillings," says the fisherman, thinking to himself, my God, they're biting on dry land today. "I'll take two," says Pat, and off home he went. WelL Came the big night. We were all there, and all the poteen for miles around. Pat set the barrels up in front of a big roaring fire, with a blanket hung up, too. He was a very modest man, was Pat. And ugly. He started in to leaping like a lunatic from one barrel to another, splashing about like a seal. He very nearly ruined all his marriage plans with one leap he made. Well, he was cured. So he went back to the sea, for a further supply. And there, sitting by the seawall, was the same fisherman. Waiting for him. Pat looks out to sea. The tide was out that day. Says Pat, "It must be in

(7)

12 THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE 13 great demand! 'Tis nearly all gone!" (POppy stands,

immediately. DA VEY works the audience, hat in hand, smiling winningly) A nickel for the storyteller! Eh? A

coin for poor Davey? Let him touch you. I tell you, you can feel the Lord's breath in his blood. He's blind, the poor

lad-DAVEY. Poppy, no.

POPPY. -blind as a bat. A drunken British sailor­ DAVEY. Poppy! (Whacks POppy with his hat, then points to his ears) Deaf.

(Beat. POppy draws himse/fup with as much dignity as he can muster. DA VEY stands by him, protectively.)

POPPY. Come along, Davey. Let us not debase our­ selves with these pagans any further. Give me your arm.

(LIGHTS roll. Night. A clearing in the woods. DA VEY helps POppy sit, by a campfire. The FIRE glows.

Weird orange shadows dance on their faces. DA VEY puts a blanket around Poppy's shoulders. POppy shivers)

DAVEY. You gotta remember how I'm deaf, Poppy. POPPY. Whisky.

DAVEY. Hm? POPPY. Whisky.

DAVEY. There's no whisky. POPPY. There's a quarter bottle.

DAVEY. No. (POppy shivers again.) Cold, eh? For

August. We'll make the river tomorrow. Hey, Poppy. Rivers are . . . ? Cmon. Rivers are . . . ?

POPPY. God's blood flowing through the earth.

(DA VEY laughs again, in his weird high-pitched giggle,

THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE

rocking back and forth.) Some day, lad, some citizen'll

hear you laughing like that and they'll hear Satan in it,

hear him- (Voice rising, with a crazy edge in it)­

cackling like a dying rooster, and then they'll send you off to some house of bedlam!

DAVEY. Poppy. Lie down. Sleep. Listen to the fire.

(DA VEY takes POppy gently by the shoulders and lays him down, tucking the blanket in. LIGHTS roll. Fading)

Fried chicken. White gravy all over potatoes with little black things in it. Onions baked in the fire. Go to sleep, Poppy. Catfish boiled in beer. (DARKNESS) Berries and

cream, and butter allover my face. Green apple pie oozing with caramel and cinnamon. Ham and redeye gravy.

(LIGHTS up. ACTORS 2 and 3 enter.)

ACTOR 3. 1923! The magic of ether.

ACTOR 2. The future. I don't know what to say. ACTOR 3. Miss Emily loves you. (Exuent. LIGHTS roll. The backroom of a hardware store. LEON SCHWAB enters. HE's a 1920's era dandy-loud suit, gaudy tie, etc. He's a hustler, hyperkinetic, corrupt. HE puts a stack ofrecords down on a table. The table also holds a large, old-fashioned radio microphone. It's round, crude-looking and huge, big enough to cover the

face ofanyone speaking into it. There's also an old-fash­ ioned Victrola record player. Also a pint bottle ofwhisky.

LEON tries a switch on the microphone. HEfrowns.)

LEON. (Brooklyn accent) Hello! This is Leon

Schwa-Damn it. (Goes downstage to a Window) Hey,

Dwight! Sorry. Duane. I have trouble telling you two apart. Tell you what. I think I'll sew a big D on each a

(8)

your shirts. Never mind. Look, crank it up. Pull the white cord. Not that! God almighty. The cord. Yeah. Harder! Harder! Harder! Yeah! Good. Now. Yank the switch on the transformer. Careful, don't touch anything else, or you'll get a-(SFX: a loud electronic POP, from offstage) Y'okay? Ouch, eh? Is it making a noise? Good.

(Goes back to the microphone table. HE's getting ner­ vous, expect'ant. HE takes a swig ofwhisky, then hits the microphone switch, speaking into it again, loudly) Hello! This is Leon Schwa . . . (Still not working. LEON's annoyed. Crosses back to the window) Duane! Sorry. Dwight. Where'd Duane go? Never mind. Look, is the transformer making a nice humming sound? You know, a . . . humming sound? Never mind, just try the white switch on the amplifier. Yeah, right there, you got it.

(SFX: the static electronic POP, from offstage, as before)

Y'okay? Good, Here we go. (Takes a pull from the bottle, takes out a watch, looks at it) Late. Probably he's not even coming. Who cares, let'sjust get going. (Sits infront ofthe microphone. Takes a deep breath. Quite nervous)

Okay. Speaking English. Let's go. (Hits the switch. LEON speaks in a loud, tense voice, trying to affect a downhome sort ofsyntax, but it doesn't really take: HE's too nervous, too much of a New Yorker.) Hello! This is Leon Schwab! The voice a the prairie, the wave a the future, right in your very own parlor, coming to you thanks to the magic of the ether and the genius of man­ kind! Isn't this fun!? Phillips and Zenith radio sets now available at Morris Hardware! (An obvious rhyme) Get 'em while they last, they're goin' real fast. (Laughs. It's forced, but HE is starting to get warmed up.) We'll be here tonight, making music and talking talk until the stars come out and the cows come home. So turn your

radio on!!! (Cranks up the Victrola, gets it spinning, then starts a record. MUSIC: scratchy 1920's era hillbilly, uptempo and twangy. LEON takes a deep calming breath. And a swig of whisky. HE stands, goes to the window.) Hey, Dwight and Duane! (Laughs) You guys slay me. How old're you two? Really? You married? I mean, to women? Yeah, well, I guess there aren't that many single twin sisters in the SandhiUs, eh? Right. Lis­ ten. I'm on· the air, so-It means I'm broadcasting, Yeah. So don't let anybody touch the equipment. Bad things could happen, somebody touches that stuff. They could die. Seriously, Yeah. And if that Quinn character shows up, send him right in. (SFX: the needle jumps across the the record, SCREECHING. LEON dashes to the table.) Damn! I mean- (Into the microphone, smoothly) Dang. If this ain't the finest country in the world. Ain't nobody can't get rich. All's you need's a little luck, and, hey, I'm your luck! That's right, folks, 'cause I'm here to give you the news about Miss Emily. Miss Emily has the Power. Should I invest in stocks? Which ones will make me rich? Ask Miss Emily. The August rains gonna come? Ask Miss Emily. Should I say yes to Clem Perkins even though he smells funny? Ask Miss Emily. She's got the gift. I mean, I could tell you stories. (SFX' KNOCKING on the door) No two ways about it. (Dashes to the door, opens it) Cmon in, you're late. (Dashes back to the microphone) Satisfaction is guaranteed. Just send your question, along with one dol­ lar, to Miss Emily, Box 1717, Kansas City, Missouri. That's Miss Emily, Box 171, K.CM.O.

(9)

16 THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE 17

ken man, looking quite nervous, hat in hand, wearing coveralls. He looks at LEON, not sure what to do. LEON gestures: come-on-in-and-close-the-door)

DAVID. (Steps into the room) Mister Schwab, 1 ­

LEON. (Covers the microphone with his hand) Shut up.

DAVID.Oh.

LEON. Remember, folks. Miss Emily loves you. God loves you. And I love you. (Gestures to DAVID: Take­ off-you-coat-and-sit down. DAVIDfrowns, confused and nervous, not sure what he means.) That's Miss Emily,

Box 1717, K.C.M.O. (Another rhyme) She'd love to

know what you think of the show. (Cranks up the Vic­ trola. More MUSIC: twangy hillbilly. LEON relaxes.) I

hate this music.

DAVID. (Apologetic) Mister Schwab, 1­ LEON. What was your name again? DAVID. David Quinn.

LEON. It's easy. All you need to know DAVID. Mister Schwab, 1­

LEON. Will you shut-(Stops himself Beat. Realizes that something is wrong) Alright, what?

DAVID. Well, I can't do it.

LEON. (Pats him on the shoulder, trying to flatter him)

Of course you can do it, you were great. You had those people at the - What was that place?

DAVID. The feed store.

LEON. The feed store, right. You had 'em in the palm of your hand. I never knew these people could actually laugh. Just do itrhere.

DAVID.: I dDn't know how I did it there. I never do that. LEON.')fou;reIl:ervous. No problem. Look at me, I'm

sonerv{)llS,.Jbave>~to chain myself in bed every night. Here. (Holds out the whisky) Get drunk.

THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE DAVID. (Takes a step backward) Oh. No.

LEON. It's real stuff. Canadian. DAVID. No.

LEON. This is your chance to make history! You'll be the first farmer in Nebraska to tell a story on the radio.

DAVID. Well, I don't know what to say.

LEON. (Patiently) Like yesterday, you know, that story

about the old codger you used to travel around with. DAVID. Poppy.

LEON. Yeah! It was a great story. (SFX: KNOCKING on the door) Damn it. Just . . . hold on.

DAVID. I can't do it.

LEON. The story from yesterday, I told you. Look, just sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. (DA VID sits. LEON rushes to the door.) Oh. Hey, Sheriff. Pleasure. How are you. Come on

it. (LEON exits. From offstage:) I've heard a lot about

you. (NOTE: in a production using more than three actors, the SHERIFF might actually appear onstage. HE should be a serious looking man, wearing a three piece suit. HE and LEON should step upstage, talking inaudi­ bly. Focus should clearly be on DAVID: DAVID sits at the table, very uncomfortable. A moment. Then the MUSIC stops. Silence. DA VID frowns. He looks at the Victrola. He nudges it with his hand. Nothing. HE clears his throat, not sure what to do.)

LEON. (From offstage) Excuse me, Sheriff.!(Bursts in, runs to the microphone) Hello! We gotta special treat for

you tonight, folks, we got a guy here, a lot of you know him, he's a local storyteller. Oh, he tells great stories. And he's sitting right here. (Whispers to David) What's your

name again?

DAVID. (Frightened) David Quinn, but I

LEON. (Into the microphone) David Quinn! What's

(10)

crophone. Beat. DA VID looks at him, panicked.) Come

on.

DAVID. My . . . Poppy. (LEON points at the

micro-phone.)Oh. My- (DAVID's lips touch the microphone. SFX: an electronic CRACKLE, then a nasty sounding POP) Aaaaggghhh! (Snaps backward, holding his mouth, a wild look on hisface. LEON laughs, genuinely amused, but in a smooth announcerly way.)

LEON. (into the microphone) Ha, ha, ha. David's a funny fellow, isn't he. Ready, David? (LEON covers the

microphone with his hand.) Look. I didn't have time to

get the thing grounded, so you have to talk directly into the microphone. but don't touch it. (Into the micro­

phone) So here he is, everyone. David . . . . ?

DAVID. Quinn.

LEON. David Quinn! (Exits. NOTE: The sheriff

should also exit at this point,

if

he is onstage. From off­ stage:) So, Sheriff. What can I do for you?

(A long moment. DAVID'sfrightened,jurious at LEON, embarrassed. He looks at the microphone as though afraid

ii

might bite him. Finally, he leans forward and begins speaking, very tentative, in a tight, high voice, swallowing.)

DAVID. My . . . Poppy was a . . . strange man. Oh, he . . . sure was.

He-LEON. (Arguing; we catch only a few fragments) Li­ cense? I don't need no license, whaddaya talking about?

DAVID. (Distr.acted) Sometimes, he used to dream about butterflies, then he-I mean, he thought he was a . . . butterfly. He'd say, "Who's having this dream, me or the butterfly? Am I a drunken Irishman dreaming I'm a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I'm a . . ." Oh, boy.

LEON. (Of!) It's a free country, the airwaves're free! DAVID. Then, the next night, it'd be snakes. He hated them. The snake dreams. But after a while, that's all he - Well, I think I might be getting ahead of myself. These days, I'm always ahead of . . . myself. Coupla times, now, I've lapped myself at the stretch.

(A moment. DA VI D's out ofsteam. He stares, quite fro­ zen, at the microphone. Pause)

LEON. (Offstage) Yeah, yeah, I know. Excuse me, Sheriff. (Enters. Looks at DAVID. Beat. DAVID's fro­

zen. LEON rushes to the microphone.) Hello! (DAVID reacts. started.) Back to . . . David right away, but I did

wanna mention that I ran into Jack Morris, over to Morris Hardware, and it tUnIS out he just got in a line of the prettiest little Philco radio sets you ever did see, a welcome addition to any parlor arrangement. Prices'll neverbe lower. Invest in a radio now. Remember, The magic ofthe ether is the wave ofthe future! Here's David!

DAVID. There's nobody out there.

LEON. They're there, believe me, they're there. Now tell 'em a story; A funny story, like in the feed store. Come on.

DAVID. (Into the microphone) Well, now. (LEON

exits. From offstage:)

LEON. Glass a the good stuff, Sheriff? Fell off a truck in Saskatchewan.

DAVID. Poppy used to say, "Only dead people stay in one place." Poppy was the worst confidence man in the U.S.A. He was a legend. One time, he tried to fleece an old lady out of her-Well, he wound up-Well, we both wound up-(Beal. DAVID relaxes, visibly. He

(11)

20

21 THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE

shadowy. DAVID is isolated in a spot.) What I'm think­

ing of, right now,

is-DAVEY (Offstage) AND DAVID. (Simultaneously) Ber.:.

ries and cream, and butter allover my face.

(DA VEY enters. HE sits, in the same position as in the earlier scene with POPPY. Thefire glows, shadows dancing onDAVEY's face.)

DAVEY. Green apple pie oozing caramel and cinna­

mon. Ham and redeye gravy dripping on hot fresh fry­

bread. Grits and onion soup. I'd like to live inside a loaf of bread and then eat my out.

(Laughs, giggling and rocking back andforth)

DAVID. I was a weird kid. Still am. Well, anyway, the

fire died. Fires do. It was a no-moon night, black and it was wild with stars. And it was in the deepest part Gf the night I heard Poppy dreaming. Moaning, rolling around, crying out in a sort oflittle girl voice, "No. No. No! Get away from me, you bitch-devil, away! Nooooo!" He was thrashing and flopping about like a dying fish.

(DAVEY's weird high laughter bubbles over POPPY/ DAVID's voice. He sits up) Poppy always made me

laugh, no matter what he did. Suddenly, he sat up. His eyes were hard and blue and wide open and his skin was marble white. An Irishman.

DA VEY. (to "Poppy') Which one, Poppy, which one

was it? Was it bad? Was it real bad? Which one?

DAVID. "Snakes." Then he snarled at me. "Whisky!

Get me that whisky or I'll beat you within a yard ofheU, you freak of nature!" (DA VEY laughs) Poppy always had a soft spot in his heart for me.

DAVEY. (Gives Poppy whisky) Here, Poppy, here. You

THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE

want me to tell you the dream? Okay? Maybe make it go away. Okay?

DAVID. The fire was sucking air out ofthe black dirt. DAVEY. How's it start? Hey, Poppy, how's it-? DAVID. "I'm driving my wagon-"

DAVEY AND DAVID. -through a forest- .

DA VEY. (Takes over) Yeah, yeah!(Tells the story, with none ofPoppy's skill and assurance, but with a genuine storyteller's instinct nonetheless, rocking back andforth, excitedly) And the road's narrow, and the trees are close to the road, it's like a canyon, and the trees are so green they look wet. There's a house off to the left. The team stops. How come they're stopping? Yousee a house. Why, it looks familiar! It's the stone house you were born in, in Ulster. What's an Irish shanty doing in all these trees? "Hyup! Hyup!" The team won't move!

DA VID. Hyup! Hyup!

DAVEY. Then you see her. In the doorway. Who is it,

Poppy, who is it? It's . . . . (In a surprisingly deep mas­

culine voice) Mother.

DAVID. Mother. Poppy's eyes were as wide as wells. DA VEY. The sainted woman who raised you and beat you when you were bad. You lash at the team, but the whip's turned into a snake! Mother beckons. You go to her. You enter the house. That sound, what's that sound, like green wood on a hot fire, that hisssssssssing sound? It's . . . Mother. She reaches for you. Her arms are snakes. Her fingers are tiny snakes. Her eyes are snake tongues. She's . . . glad to see you! She loves you so. She embraces you! And then she sings! (Sings, in a sweet

Irish tenor)

When Irish eyes are smiling Sure, 'tis like a morn in spring

DAVEY AND DAVID. (Together)

(12)

22

You can hear the Angels sing

(DA VID laughs, long and hearty, his head thrown back. A release - as though he '5finally exorcising a ghost)

DAVEY. That's right, Poppy, you laugh. Laugh, Sleep.

(DA VEY goes to "Poppy," wraps the blanket around him)

DAVID. When I touched him, POppy's skin was hot, dry, rough. Like a snake's. Well. The next morning, I got up to pee. . . .(LIGHTS roll. Morning. DAVEY stands, goes to the edge of the clearing.)

DAVEY. Hey, Poppy. Poppy, guess what. (Turns. Frowns) Hey, Poppy.

DAVID. Then I touched him again. (DAVEY goes to "Poppy," kneels. hesitates, then reaches out to touch him. HE pulls his hand back with a sharp intake of breath) Poppy. (DAVEY snatches the blanket. HE stares, horrified, at "Poppy." DAVID watches him. Beat. Suddenly, DA VEY runs to the edge of the stage. HE turns. A moment: DA VID stands, looking at DA VEY. Quick beat. Then DA VEY runs ojI DAVID sits.) I ran. I

don't know how far. I guess I ran until I came to the river. God's blood moving through a gash in the earth.

(LIGHTS roll. We're back in the hardware store backroom) And then. . . . Well, that's another story. I

loved my Poppy. He was a strange man. (Beat) The end.

God bless. (Stands, moves away from the table not sure to do, smiling, rather oddly- the story has leji him in a strange mood. LEON enters)

LEON. (Goes straight to the microphone) Hello! That was ...

DAVID. (Into the microphone. shouts) David Quinn!

LEON. (Gentlv pushes David out of the way) David

Quinn. A special storytelling treat. The show's not over! Keep those sets on! This is more fun than sleeping! This is the future! (Cranks up the Victrola. MUSIC: the usual hillbilly) You okay?

DAVID. I guess so.

LEON. That was . . . real good. Different. But I'm sure the folks got a lot out ofit. What can I say? (DA VID laughs. It's light, high-an echo of DAVEY's laugh.)

Well, you enjoyed it. That's one anyway. DAVID. Jeez, I did it.

LEON. Yes, you did do it, that's true. Thanks again. Well. . . .

DAVID. The money.

LEON. Money? Oh, damn, didn't I . . . ? DAVID. You didn't.

LEON. Well, never mind, who cares, I'll take your word for it. Urn . . . ?

DAVID. One dollar.

LEON. A buck!? I said a buck? You only talked an hour, less than an hour. Last night I paid the banjo picker with the glass eye a buck and he played for three hours. Alright, tell you what, we'll split the difference. Here's fifty cents.

DAVID. It's a buck.

LEON. (After a beat, leans into the microphone) We're

coming to you through the magic of the ether, skipping through the stars and bouncing offa the clouds. Tum your radios on!

DAVID. There's no one listening. LEON. You'd be surprised.

DAVID. Fifty cents worth of people.

LEON. That's right. The prairie's big, farms are few. Fifty cents is the best I can do.

(13)

24

THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE 25 LEON. Leon Schwab. Take the fifty cents. David

Quinn. (Holds out the coins. DAVID takes them.)

Thanks again.

(LIGHTS roll. ACTORS 1 and 3 enter.) ACTOR 3. 1895.

ACTOR 1. I can feel your freckles.

ACTOR 3. He giggles like a girl when he does it. Thisisa good world.

ACTOR 1. Take my hand. ACTOR 3. Come on.

(LIGHTS roll. A farmyard. A bright hot afternoon. SFX' BARNYARD SOUNDS, birds, a distantly barking dog, etc. DA VEY enters, HE moves carefully across the stage, not sneaking per se, but moving warily. HE stumbles-HE's exhausted, emotionally drained. HE stops by a barn, listening. A GIRL enters, quietly following DA VEY, smiling. DA VEY doesn't hear her. DA VEY pushes the barn door open and steps into the barn. The GIRL stands in the doorway, then takes a step inside. DAVEY hears her, turns. SHE charges.)

FRANKIE. AAAGGGHHH! (Tackles him, wrestles with him, laughing)

DAVEY.OOf!

FRANKIE. Gotcha! Gotcha, you thief, you chicken thief, you horse thief! Hal Gotcha! (Leaps to her feet, stands in the barn door, effectively blocking it, poised for another tackle, breathing shallowly, excitedly) This is the only door. You're caught. Penned in like a squeaky runt pig. Try and get by me.

DAVEY. You're a girl.

THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE

FRANKIE. Scared? Scared ofa girl? Maybe you should be wearing these skirts. Hal (Lunges at him. DA VEY jerks backward, slips, falls, then scrambles to his feet.)

You fell! Hal Cowshit! You fell in fresh cowshit! It's what you deserve, you thief. Now c'mon, try and get by me so I can whip the devil out of you.

(DAVEY takes offhis hat and throws it down inJrustra­ tion. FRANKIE moves toward the sound. DA VEY taps thefloor with hisfoot, experimentally,frowning. FRANKIE moves toward the sound.)

DAVEY. You're blind.

FRANKIE. You scared? Scared of a blind girl? Come on!

DAVEY. I can't.

(FRANKIE shoves the barn door closed. LIGHTS roll. The stage becomes dark, shadowy.)

FRANKIE. We're even. Come on.

(Feints toward DA VEY. HE leaps aside. SHE chases him. Etcetera.)

FRANKIE. Ha! Ha! DAVEY. Ha!

FRANKIE. Hal Hal (DA VEY makes a break across the barn and FRANKIE tackles him, bringing him down with a resounding thud. ) You're a dangerous chicken thief! We'll string you up at sunrise! We'll stretch your neck and whack at your feet with bullwhips! Ha!

(FRANKIE puts both her hands on him and explores his body with sudden intensity. DA VEY reacts instinctively,

(14)

pulling away.) Sh. Don't move. (Explores him. It's in­ tense, sensuous, but not at all erotic. DA VEY's tense.)

Punk. Underfed punk. Underfed Irish punk. DAVEY. How do you-?

FRANKIE. I can feel your freckles. Mama hates the Irish. "Horse thieves." You walk a lot and you need new shoes. Are these your only clothes? What happened to you? You're a waifl They threw you out. Runt. Charity case.

DAVEY. Hey.

FRANKIE. (Struggles to hold him) Wait a ­ DAVEY. (Pulling away) Don't.

FRANKIE. (Authoritatively) Hold still. (DA VEY obeys. FRANKIE touches his eyes, gently.) You been cryin'. What happened to you? Did your mama die? My mama's dyin'. She's in the house right now. Dyin'!

(DA VEY starts to cry. FRANKIE turns her head away. Moment) Well, go ahead and cry ifyou gotta but don't do it too loud or Father'll come out and kill you dead. He does dirty things.

DAVEY. My Poppy died.

FRANKIE. You loved him. Everything dies, Irish. DAVEY. Not me.

FRANKIE. (Laughs) Me either. (Continues her explo­

ration) You're very handsome.

DAVEY. (Reaches/or her) My tum.

FRANKIE. (Slaps his hands away) Irishman!

DAVEY. Hey, you live in that big house? You must be rich.

FRANKIE. Not me. Papa. Here he comes. DAVEY. Huh?

FRANKIE. Sh.

FATHER. (Offstage, approaching) Frankie! Hey, Frankie!

FRANKIE. He's drunk. He'll kill you, Irish. FATHER. (OJ}) Frankie!!!

DA VEY. (Frightened) What'm I gonna do? FATHER. (Still off) Where the hell are you!?

FRANKIE. (Whispers to DAVEY) Up here. In the hayloft.

Be quick! (DAVEY scampers into the hayloft.)

FATHER. (Enters) Frankie! (FATHER shoves the barn

door open. He's silhouetted in the door, swaying drunk­ enly, breathing hard and shallowly. FRANKIE cowers.)

There you are. Oh God, look at you, you're covered with filth, and your mother is dying, dying! You oUghta be chained up

FRANKIE. Don't hit me.

FATHER. What'll I do with you? I can't be expected to care for a freak, can I? My wife is dying! (Staggers into the barn, suddenly stops) There's somebody else here.

FRANKIE. (Ina little girl voice) Mama's calling to you, Papa.

FATHER. Eh? What?

FRANKIE. Don't hit me. It's Mama. I can hear her. She wants you.

FATHER. Oh, God!

(Starts toward the house. FRANKIE runs after him.)

FRANKIE. Papa. Better lock the bam door. I heard voices. Maybe it's more a them bums comin' off the freights. I betcha it is. I heard 'em, over there.

(FATHER pulls the barn door closed, and locks it. SFX: the RA TTLE

0/

the chain, the sound

0/

a padlock snapped shut. FRANKIE is smiling. SHE stands by the barn door, listening. DA VEY jumps down from the hayloft and pulls at the door. Locked)

(15)

28 THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE 29 DAVEY. Hey. Hey!

FATHER. (Offstage by now) Frankie! Back to the house!

FRANKJE. Coming, Papa! DAVEY. HEY!

(FRANKIE exits. DA VEY pulls at the door. LIGHTS roll. Night. Very dark. No moon. DAVEY sleeps, curled up on thefloor. FRANKIE enters. SHE stands in the doorway, a silhouette, holding a plate offood. DAVEY's dreaming, muttering softly. FRANKIE goes to him. Sits)

FRANKJE. (After a moment, softly) Hey, Irish.

DAVEY. (Starts, awake and frightened) Aaaggghhh! Hey. You scared me.

FRANKIE. I scare everybody. It's one of my best tal­ ents. Papa beats me for it.

DAVEY. Where the hell've you been!?

FRANKIE. (Holds out the plate) Here. (DAVEY grabs it, takes a piece offood, eats it ravenously.)

DAVEY. Where've you been? You think I like bein' locked up in a barn? At least in jail they got light.

FRANKIE. Mama died. (Moment. FRANKIE is very still, eerily calm. DA VEY looks at her.) I can hear Papa crying. I can hear the whisky sloshing in his bottle. Pretty soon, he'll start in to whackin' at me with his hand. Ooh, he likes that slappin' sound. He giggles like a girl when he does it. Then, sometimes, he. . . .

DAVEY. What?

FRANKIE. You know. (Beat) I know she's dead, 'cause he made me touch her. I won't cry. Touch me. Any­ where. This is a good world. (DA VEY touches her, tenta­ tively. SHE suddenly embraces him, desperately. A

mo-THE VOICE OF mo-THE PRAIRIE

ment. THEY comfort each other. Then FRANKIE lets him go.) You need a bath, Irish. (Takes another deep breath) Being blind is wonderful. Every breath, and you're in a new world. (Stands) We better go.

DAVEY. Go?

FRANKIE. I'm ready. Bring the food. Too bad we don't have any of Mama's bread, then we wouldn't need any­ thing else.

DAVEY. Where we going?

FRANKIE. Up to you. Once I get past that gate, I'm lost.

(Beat. Shouts) I'm gonna live in a million different worlds! Papa wants to put me in a home. No! No! (Beat)

Well, come on. DAVEY. It's dark.

FRANKIE. Take my hand.

(They go to the door. FRANKIE stops, turns. A beat. Exuent. LIGHTS roll. Enter ACTORS 1 & 3.) ACTOR 1. 1923. It's like a rabbit that shits money. ACTOR 3. That's the kinda guy I am.

ACTOR 1. What do you people eat out here? ACTOR 3. I miss her something fierce. ACTOR 1. Let's go.

(LIGHTS roll. Bright daylight. DAVID QUINN'sfarm. LEON enters. HE's carrying a very heavy old-fash­ ioned radio. 1920's straw hat. Sweating freely.)

LEON. Hey, Quinn! Quinn! Yeah, you! It's me, re­ member me, Leon Schwab? Cmon over here, I wanna talk to ya! Take a break! (Puts the radio down. Wipes his sweaty face. Sits) I hate to see a grown man die. Come on!

(16)

(DA VID enters, wearing afarmer's coveralls, wiping his face with a rag.) Look at you. You look like an honest-to­ God fanner.

DA VID. Afternoon, Mister Schwab.

LEON. (Awkwardly, uncomfortable with the local nice­ ties) Afternoon, Quinn. Real dang hot, eh?

DAVID. Sure is. Say, is that a radio? LEON. You never seen one before? Yeah. DAVID.Oh.

LEON. It's a present. Me to you. Free for nothing. DAVID. Yeah? How's it work?

LEON. You gotta plug it into a car battery. Won't run onAe.

DAVID. But how does it work?

LEON. How the hell'm I supposed to know that? It's . . . magic. Some Italian invented it.

DAVID. Well, thank you. People sure liked my story, eh? Folks been coming all the way out here,just to tell me so. I never had so many people stopping by. Gus Bunsen told me had thirty-two people in his parlor and at least ten of'em went into Morris Hardware and bought radio sets, the next day. Jack Morris told me. (LEON smiles politely, pretending to be fascinated by all this.)

Well . . . It was . . . very enjoyable. I appreciate the chance to do it. I think about my Poppy all the time, but I never talk about him. From now on, I wilL So . . . thanks. And thanks for the radio.

LEON. It's the kinda guy I am. (QUINN starts to leave)

Listen, Quinn. lowe you four bits. DAVID. No.

LEON. No, really, I ­ DAVID. Forget about it.

LEON. (Digging in his pockets) I'm serious. DAVID. So'm I. You

don't-LEON. Here,

take-DAVID. -owe me anything.

LEON. -the money, please, take the­ DAVID. No, I

don't-LEON. (Shouts) Take the money! (Grabs DAVID's hand, slaps the money into it, then moves away, wiping sweat offhisface, trying to stay calm) You oughta stay off them tractors. Bad for the digestion. I got this old truck, and these prairie roads, sometimes I got to stop and blow breakfast. You should see me. Those your sons? Howdy, boys! Howdy! (Waves, smiling broadly. Beat. The smile fades.) I have trouble talking to people around here.

DAVID. Threshing crew.

LEON. Oh. What do they . . . thresh? Never mind. Listen. Quinn. All that stuff about your . . . Poppy, is that all true? (Beat. DA VID turns, moves away, very uncomfortable.) Snake dreams. I'm from New York. We don't dream like that. Well, who cares ifit's true. None a them bible stories is true and look at the way they get people all wound up. I mean, I been places it rained forty days and nothing floated away.

DAVID. You been around. LEON. Yeah. You too, eh? DAVID. Yeah.

LEON. You must have a lot a . . . stories. (Another beat. DA VID seems nervous. HE sits, not looking at LEON.) Quinn?

DAVID. I guess I do, sure. I do.

LEON. You alright? Pardon me for asking, but people around here, I don't know. I had a lady bust out crying on me the other day and all I did was tell her a joke.

(Beat) Look, I got a proposition for you.

DA VID. You want me to tell stories on the radio. LEON. Well, yeah.

(17)

32

THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE

DAVID. I was afraid a this. Oh, Lord. (Beat) I . . . tell

stories all the time, damn good stories. too, but I only tell 'em when I'm alone.

LEON. (Slight pause) Oh.

DAVID. I travelled around with a girl named Frankie. I gotta lotta stories about that.

LEON. We gotta keep it clean. DAVID. Frankie was blind. LEON. Great.

DAVID. Telling that story about Poppy, it made me feel like I stole something and got away with it.

LEON. (Slight pause) Gee.

DAVID. I miss Frankie something fierce.

LEON. Maybe she's got a radio. (DA VID laughs, heart­ ily) These boxes, they do things to people. Out here on

the prairie, people need these things. You don't have to ride all day just to hear another voice besides your wife's. They buy 'em like crazy. After you told that story about Poppy we sold forty-two sets in one day. That's a record. These things are like rabbits that shit money.

DAVID. How often would I tell the stories?

LEON. Every night. Except when we're setting up, and travelling.

DAVID. Travelling?

LEON. Yeah. The way it works, we get connected with the local hardware store, somebody to sell the sets. Then we broadcast from the roof. We get the local fat lady to sing Stephen Foster. Tonight, I got a crooning

cowboy-DAVID. Wayne Louks.

LEON. Yeah. You know him? DAVID. He's real excited.

LEON. He's beside himself. I was gonna ask him for

THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE

five dollars, but I decided to let him sing for free. Kinda guy I am. Anyway, we sell the sets like crazy, then we

move on.

DAVID. What do folks listen to when we leave? LEON. (Slight pause) I don't know, I never asked. (Beat) Radio's the future! We're the first! Hackin' our

way through the wilderness a the great plains, we're making history here! The Voice of the Prairie. Whad­ daya say, you interested? (Beat) You own this farm?

DAVID. I think so, yeah. LEON. You . . . think so?

DAVID. Crazy old lady died and she gave it to me. I was just passing through. Threshing wheat, like these guys.

Nobody ever told me to leave. Till now. Damn. LEON. Y'okay?

DAVID. How much you gonna pay me, Mister Schwab?

LEON. (Smoothly, in his element now) Call me Leon.

Well, David, I'll tell ya, jeez, I don't know. Expenses're high. You know. The way everything's going up these days. I'm carrying a big note on the broadcasting equipment.

DAVID. Ten dollars a week. LEON. Ten dollars a week!

DAVID. Yes. And a, what do you call it, every time you sell a radio set, I get a

-LEON. A commission!? Good God, what do you peo­ ple eat out here!? Ten dollars a week!

DAVID (Laughing, waving to the threshers). Hey! You

guys want this farm!? (To LEON) Poppy used to say,

"Never turn down an unexpected invitation to travel."

(LEON stares at him. DAVID smiles.) And you'll have

(18)

LEON. Four dollars a week. Five. Six.

DA VID. Ten. Jack Morris told me you're marking those radios up two hundred percent.

LEON. No commission.

DA VID. Commission on every set after . . . ten a day. People'Ulove my stories.

LEON. (Slight hesitation) Deal. DAVID. That your truck? LEON. Yeah.

DAVID. Let's go.

LEON. (Incredulous) You gonna pack?

DAVID. There's nothing in there I need. I'm ready. I got four bits in my pocket already. (Exits. LEONstarts to follow.)

LEON. Wait!

(Grabs the radio gift, then hurries off, after DAVID. LIGHTS roll. ACTORS 1,2 and 3 enter.)

ACTOR 1. 1895. I need you. ACTOR 3. Pretty young, I think. ACTOR 2. I got no stories now!

ACTOR 3. You're the hungriest guy I ever travelled with. Jump.

(LIGHTS roll. Night. SFX: a TRAIN pounding along the rails. Loud. LightsJlashing. DA VEY and FRANKIE are poised at the door ofa boxcar.)

DA VEY. Jump!

FRANKIE. Jump? Now? DAVEY. Jump!

FRANKIE. Now!?

DAVEY. Now, yes, now, Jump! JUMP! (POUNDING

ojihe train crescendos. FRANKIE and DA VEYjump, hit the ground, rolling head over heels, sprawling by the tracks. FRANKIE's laughing wildly.) Ow.

FRANKIE. Did you hurt yourself?

DAVEY. (Holding his knee, grimacing) No! I'm fine! Are you okay?

FRANKIE. Let's do it again! DA VEY. Let's eat.

FRANKIE. You're the hungriest guy I ever travelled with.

DAVEY. (Looking warily around) Let's get outa here before somebody sees us.

FRANKIE. They can't see us. We're invisible. DAVEY. Come on.

FRANKIE. Where are we?

DA VEY. I don't know. (LIGHTS roll. Daylight. A bundle of newspapers hits the stage) Newsstand over there. (Takes FRANKIE to the stand, picks up a paper, reads) We're in Natchez, Mississippi.

FRANKIE. Natchez, Mississippi.

DAVEY. (Eyes wide, shocked) Frankie. Oh, Frankie. Look!

FRANKIE. Yeah?

DAVEY. It's you. It's a picture of you, in the paper, on

the front page, Frankie, it's you! (Reads, with some diffi­

culty) "Runaway Blind Girl. Father Cries Come Home Sweet Girl, I Am Reformed." It's in every paper.

(FRANKIE's laughing. DA VEY snatches a paper, starts

to read.)

NEWS VENDOR. (Offstage) Hey! You. Kid. You gonna pay for that paper? Three cents. Hey! (NEWS VENDOR enters. DA VEYpulls FRANKIE away.) Come back here, both a you-Hey. It's her, it's the girl in the paper, it's Frankie the Blind Girl! Hey!

(19)

36 THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE 37

(Starts to chase them. SFX: a crash of THUNDER. LIGHTS roll. Dark night. A thunderstorm booms. The basement of an abandoned building. DA VEY pulls Frankie inside. SHE giggles. DA VEY has his hand over her mouth, trying to stifle her laughter.)

DAVEY. (Sotto voce, scared) Frankie. Stop it. Sh. Sh!

(Beat) You done? You finally done?

FRANKIE. (Voice muffled, nodding) Mm-hm.

DAVEY. I'm gonna take my hand away now. Okay? FRANKIE. Kay.

DAVEY. Okay. (Removes his hand. FRANKIE giggles. HE reclamps his hand over her mouth. SHE goes on laughing. DA VEY laughs too, in spite of himself. THEY're both out of breath. Suddenly, DA VEY jumps up.) What was that?

FRANKIE. I like it when everything's like this. The way you breathe. Fugitives! Hold on to me. That way I'll stay with you. Don't slip away. As long as we're together, they'll be blind. Hold me. (HE holds her. A moment)

Hey, Davey. DAVEY. What?

FRANKIE. There's someone in the alley. DAVEY. (Frightened) Really?

FRANKIE. Yeah. Sh.

(Pause. Then SFX: a BOTTLE SMASHING offstage, distantly. )

DAVEY. Drunk.

FRANKIE. Tell me another story.

DAVEY. I got no stories now. (Quick beat. DAVEY laughs, lightly, weirdly.) One time Poppy and the lads broke into a Protestant church. They hear voices, yelling.

THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE

"Filthy Papists!" And Kilty says, "Quick! Hide in the confessionals!"

(Giggles. Beat. Then FRANKIE laughs.)

FRANKIE. The moon's out. Hey, Davey, how old are you?

DA VEY. I don't know. Poppy never told me. Pretty young, I think.

FRANKIE. You're so bony. DAVEY. I'm hungry.

FRANKIE. You wanna do some kissin'? Our maid had a son, Walter, and we kissed a lot, but I'd rather try it with you. You wanna try?

DAVEY. Not really.

FRANKIE. There's nothing else to do. DAVEY. Well, okay.

(DA VEY kisses her lightly. A moment. THEY kiss again. DAVEY's enthusiasm increases. LIGHTS roll. DA VID is speaking into the radio microphone.)

DAVID. We were famous. We were a national sensa­ tion. This was the era of yellow journalism. The tabloids were abuzz with the saga of Frankie the Blind Girl, run­ ning away from the drunken father who beat her, mourning her sainted mother, disappearing with some kid hobo-me-into the vastness of the young nation. Well, it made for a pretty good story.

(LIGHTS roll. FRANKIE and DAVEY are curled up, sleeping. DAVEY stands, starts to move away. FRANKIE wakes up, abruptly.)

(20)

FRANKIE. Where you goin'? Hey.

DA VEY. Get some food. It's getting light out. FRANKIE. Lemme come.

DAVEY. No. FRANKIE. Yes.

DA VEY. They'll catch us.

FRANKIE. They won't. I been telling you, they can't see us.

DAVEY. They're looking for a blind girl.

FRANKIE. How'll they know I'm blind? Watch. (To imaginary passersby)Hello. Hello. Good morning. Af­

ternoon, ma'am, cute baby. Sir, may we help you? 'Cause I can see better with my ears than most people can with their stupid eyes!

DA VFY. (After a pause) I'll be right back.

FRANKIE. (Grabs him, suddenly intense) Davey, we

gotta stick together, they won't catch us if we stick to­ gether. That's a true fact. I can make'em not see us. But I need you.

DAVEY. You're just scared. FRANKIE. Scared! You-!

(Swings at him. DA VEY ducks and she misses- barely. SHE swings again and again. HE dodges, but SHE has an uncanny sense of where he is.)

DA VEY. Hey. Frankie. Hey. Ouch!

FRANKIE. You're making me mad. I'm not scared. DAVEY. Okay. Okay! Stop! Frankie!

(He grabs her. An embrace. FRANKIE takes his arm. Both smiling. LIGHTS roll. Night. Railroad tracks. FRANKIE and DAVEY crouch down, waiting. SFX: an approaching TRAIN, soft at first but building quickly.)

FRANKIE. I'm so hungry I think I could just float onto that train. (SFX: the sound of the TRAIN grows very loud. A train WHISTLE screeches.)

DAVEY. Here it is. (THEY tense.) Now! Jump!

JUMP!!! (THEY leap forward, into the night. BLACKOUT)

DAVID. (In the darkness, on the radio) I can still feel

the pounding of that steel, even today. It stays with you. On hot nights I can fall asleep remembering that sooth­ ing, boneshaking rhythm. (LIGHTS up. Night, in a hardware store backroom. DA VID's on the air, speaking into the microphone. Though more assured and relaxed than in the first story, there's still an intensity to his demeanor, a sense ofselfdiscovery- and he's not neces­ sarily comfortable with it.) Frankie could tell which box­

cars were empty, full, half full, what was in 'em, just by whackin' 'em with her fist. She could hear the yard bulls coming a mile off. She could hear their keys rattle, she could sense their dim, nasty thoughts. Riding freights with Frankie was like having my own private railroad. She made me feel like Cornelius Vanderbilt. (Pause. DAVID is very still. Then HE smiles.) Frankie stole a

chicken once. Now, if you've ever chased a chicken around a farmyard, you know what a feat that was, for a blind girl. And Frankie picked the meanest, nastiest, prissiest ole rooster there. She took off after that ole boy, down a gully, on into the woods, the rooster screaming, Frankie squawking. And she ran him down. I caught up with her, and I can still see her, see her sitting in a shaft of dusty sunlight, holding the rooster, petting him, talking to him. (Beat) What're we gonna do now? Eat him. How?

Cook him. How? We were completely empty handed. We had nothing. We were free.

(21)

41 THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE

40

gling shyly, and LEON's voice. LEON looks into the room.)

LEON. Susie, sh. He's still on the air.

SUSIE. (Offstage) Oh. Jeez. (LEON and SUSIE, a shy young woman, enter.)

DAVID. (Continues) So . . . Frankie let that bird go. I 'spect he led a chaste life after that. (Another beat. DAVID's very still. LEON leers as Susie. SUSIE stares raptly at David.) Well, all for now. Tune in tomorrow night, and Sunday too, we'll be here. God bless.

LEON. (Leans into the microphone, taking over, and showing off) God bless every darn one a ya. That's Davey Quinn, folks, the voice ofthe prairie. Isn't he wonderful? Don't touch that dial!

(DA VID moves away from the table. HE smiles shyly at SUSIE, not sure of what to say. SUSIE blushes.)

SUSIE. Jeez.

(DAVID exits, abruptly.)

LEON. (On the radio, continuing) We got hog prices, and we got fashion tips, and household hints! And we got real music, none a that hillbilly garbage that slime quack plays in Kansas City! (Beat. LEON continues, smoothly and persuasively, trying hard to be sincere.) And folks, I wanna remind you again to write to your Congressman and help fight the threat to our God-given right to free­ dom of speech. No Federal Communications Commis­ sion. No licensing. Keep Davey Quinn on the air and defend our Constitution! Remember, Miss Emily says: keep the airwaves free and keep America free, too. Miss

THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE

Emily loves you. Davey Quinn loves you. Susie loves you.

SUSIE. Jeez.

LEON. And I love you. That's Miss Emily, Box 1717, Kansas City, Missouri. And now, here she is, folks, the singer all you Oklahomians'd be requesting ifonly you'd ever heard of her. She's the greatest. Bessie Smith! No hillbilly! I hear one more banjo I'll go berserk! (Cranks up the Victrola. *MUSIC: Bessie Smith blues. LEON looks around-no David- then smiles at Susie.) He gets real sensitive when he does the stories. (Exits. From off:) Quinn, there's somebody here wants to meetcha. I promised her. C'mon.

DAVID. (Offstage) Leon, I can't. LEON. She's real pretty.

SUSIE. Jeez.

LEON. (Still oJj) You can be weird later. Come on. t'mon! (DAVID and LEON enter.) Susie. Meet Davey Quinn. The voice of the prairie. Susie's been proposed to, but I've recommending a career in radio. It's the future. A hundred years from now, people'll be wearing radios in their hats.

SUSIE. I really love your stories. Last night, Mama cried. Me, too.

(DA VID and SUSIE look at each other, both smiling shyly and blushing. LEON notices this, and pulls SUSIE away.)

LEON. He's shy, Susie. Hey, Quinn. Payday.

*CAUTIONARY NOTE: Permission to produce this play does not include permission to use any Bessie Smith music in production.

(22)

42 THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE 43

(Takes out a wad of cash and starts peeling bills off it. SUSIE reacts.)

SUSIE. Jeez.

LEON. Brings tears to your eyes, eh? Time for a raise. DAVID. No, Leon.

LEON. Oh. sure. That was a real good story tonight. DAVID. Oh, sure. That was a real good story tonight. DAVID. We haven't sold a radio all week, you don't have to give me a ­

LEON. Quinn.

SUSIE. Everybody's got a radio now, ever since that KFKB started. Kansas First, Kansas Best. (Laughs, starts talking (). mile-a-minute. LEON becomes agi­ tated.) Doctor Brinkley and his goat gland operations.

Grandpa wants one. Grandma said no. Huh-uh. The receptions real good, even this far away. Everybody lis­ tens to KFKB.

LEON. Quinn!

DAVID. (Notices Leon's agitation) Oh. I'm ...going outside.

SUSIE. Oh.

LEON. (Winks lewdly) Good idea.

DAVID. Very nice to meet you, Susie.

SUSIE. Jeez. (LIGHTS roll. Night. Behind the hard­ ware store. DAVID sits on the ground.)

LEON. (As he goes oJlwith SUSIE) Susie, come to New

York with me. I'll take you up to Harlem. You like jazz? SUSIE. Mister

Schwab-LEON. I think you have something in your eye. SUSIE. Mister-Hey. Hey! (SFX: SLAP, skin on skin)

LEON. Ow.

(The blues MUSIC fades. A moment. DAVID alone. SUSIE enters, approaching DAVID, shy and nervous.)

1

j

,

I

THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRlE SUSIE. (Finally) Are you bein' crazy now?

DAVID. (Reacts, startled) Eh? Oh.

SUSIE. Mister Schwab says the stories make you crazy. Maybe you wanna be alone. Y'know, to . . . calm down.

DAVID. (Stands politely) No, no. Have a . . . piece of

ground.

SUSIE. (Giggles) Well, okay. (SUSIE and DAVID sit. Beat. Neither knows what to say. Finally, SHE blurts:) Is

Frankie the Blind Girl a true person? I know, that's a dumb question. Teddy-That's my fiance. He says I should write everything down and show it to him before I talk. He makes me mad.

DAVID. It's not a dumb question. Yes, she is a true person.

SUSIE. I bet she was wonderful.

DAVID. She was. She's so wonderful, I'm not even sure she was reaL All these stories . . . Well, I don't know where it comes from. Scares me.

SUSIE. Mister Schwab told me you don't make the stories up, you just sit in front ofthe-the-the­

DAVlD. Microphone.

SUSIE. Yeah, and out they come. Must be scary. Like dreaming.

DAVID. I always pretend I'm talking to Frankie. Even when I'm talking to myself, I'm talking to Frankie.

SUSIE. "I hope it rains, Frankie. H "Boy, I sure need a

bath, eh, Frankie?" Oh, that's so romantic. I'm a very romantic person myself. Teddy's not. Is she dead?

DAVID. I don't know. She just disappeared. One mo­ ment she was there and then. . . .

SUSIE. Oh, Davey. Oh.

DAVID. We were eating watermelon, and Frankie was stuffing red watermelon meat into her mouth, by the

(23)

,

I

44 THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE f THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE 45

,

fistful, I can see it, the juice is running down her chin. We SUSIE. (Plowing on ahead)-on KFKB! Wouldn't

were always so hungry. that be great? Think how many people could hear him.

SUSIE. That's right.

1

Thousands and thousands. In the paper, I read this story

DAVID. And I . . . licked the juice off her chin. about KFKB, and there was this big circle- (Using

SUSIE. Oooooooohhhh. . . . Jeez.

l

LEON's chest to demonstrate)-with Kansas City in the

DAVID. Yeah! Like that! middle, and these was Kansas, and Nebraska, and Iowa,

SUSIE. Do I remind you of her? Urn, what happened and

Missouri-after you licked the juice offa Frankie's face?

DAVID. A man locked me in a shed for a week. I never

(LEON turns away.)

saw her again. She just disappeared.

SUSIE. Oh, Davey Quinn, that's so tragic. Don't be sad.

Frankie loved you. (DA VID moves away. SUSIE goes to DAVID. Susie.

him.) My very own Davey Quinn story. Oh, I'll never SUSIE. 'Cause Teddy says you guys go less than a

forget it. hundred miles and

KFKB

goes everywhere. Besides, the

DAVID. (Embarrassed, trying to calm her) Susie. Hey, government's gonna make you guys stop.

Susie. I've got to stop this. DAVID. Susie.

SUSIE. No! Don't stop! Oh, Davey, you have to tell the SUSIE. Well, that's what Teddy says. He's pretty smart.

whole world about Frankie! Oh, Davey. (Beat. SUSIE looks at LEON. LEON's visibly upset.)

What'd I say now? Jeez.

(Starts to kiss him. Then, from offstage, SFX: a static LEON. (Struggling to stay calm, bitterly) You're sharp, electronic POP.) Susie. Teddy deserves you. Hey, Quinn. Let's get out of

here. This lousy hick town, I hate it.

LEON. (Ojj) Ow! SUSIE. Hey.

SUSIE. (Reacts, startled, jumps away from DA VID) LEON. I hate alla these towns. (Suddenly explodes,

Oh! shouting angrily) I hate Herbert Hoover! Lousy Secre­

DAVID. Leon just turned the generator off. Broad­ tary of Commerce, he's not gonna come all the way out

cast's over. here just to shut me down!!

SUSIE. Davey. You should tell your stories on KFKB. SUSIE. (After a slight pause) President McKinley came

Think how many people could hear you then. Oh, what a here.

good idea! LEON. (After a beat) Aaaggghhhl!! (Beat. LEON sobs.)

LEON. (Off, upset) Quinn! (Enters, agitated) Quinn, Oh! (HE's struggling to control himself DA VID and

wegotta- SUSIE watch him. LEON wipes his eyes.) Hey. Hey, I'm

SUSIE. (Excited) Mister Schwab, I was just telling crying. Lookit me. Tears. Get a jar.

Davey Quinn, he should tell his stories- SUSIE. (Afier a beat) WelL I better go.

Figure

Updating...

References

Related subjects :