Hey nerds. So friends at a theater company called Wildclaw, do this really cool annual contest where they present a program of short horro plays - radio plays, with a live band and Foley artist providing live sound accompaniment, etc.
Very cool event. This year was the first time I submitted. I'm not really a playwright, and I've never created anything just for audio, so it was a cool challenge.
Mine was not selected, but I had a good time writing it. While I would not regard it as a fully satisfying short play, I believe it's a diverting genre sketch.
It's entitled The Unkindest Cut. Here it is:
The Unkindest Cut
ROSE: A server in a roadside diner. She’d rather been anyplace else, but does
a conscientious job. She might be in her 30s. She does not seem youthful.
DENTON: A calm, violent stranger. He is in his late 30s. Civil, mostly, but
COOK: Owner/short order cook of roadside diner. Overworked, old, used up.
SOUND: THICK RUBBER GLOVES - LIKE
INDUSTRIAL GRADE YOU’D WEAR
WHEN WORKING WITH SOLVENTS -
TUGGED ONTO HANDS.
SOUND: STEEL TOOLS AND
IMPLEMENTS LAID WITH CARE ONTO A
SOUND: A MAN, GAGGED, AWAKENS
SUDDENLY, TERRIFIED. HIS SCREAMS
ARE MUFFLED BY THE GAG THAT FILLS
A surgeon, where he is freed of the obligation to preserve life, can explore more
fully the limits of his own gifts, and he finds the freedom to pioneer bold
techniques, pure techniques. And even, where he is diligent, something like
SOUND: HE TRIGGERS A BONE SAW,
MAN SCREAMS THROUGH GAG.
SOUND: SCREAMS INTENSIFY AS THE
BONE SAW BITES INTO A SCALP AND
SKULL. BONE SAW CYCLES DOWN.
MAN PLEADS THROUGH GAG. SCALP IS
SHUCKED OFF LIKE THE LEAVES FROM
A WET EAR OF CORN. SCREAMS
CRESCENDO AND TRAIL OFF.
TIME HAS PASSED.
SOUND: THE BELL AT THE TOP OF
DINER DOOR DINGS SOFTLY,
SIGNALING THE ARRIVAL OF A
CUSTOMER. SIZZLE OF THE GRILL,
SCRAPING OF UTENSILS, ETC.
Need a menu?
Nope. Don’t think so. You got chicken-fried steak?
What’s good, then?
Kay. Where’s the nearest place?
Like eighty miles west. That’s how we stay open. Chicken-fried steak?
SOUND: DENTON SIPS COFFEE, DINER
SOUNDS, LATE NIGHT CHATTER OF A
HANDFUL OF PATRONS.
A ribbon of road in the dead of night - some patch of nowhere at the edge of
some garbage town. Places like this offer up as many patients as a surgeon can
SOUND: A SHARP DING! OF THE BACK
OF A SPATULA SWATTING A BELL.
SOUND: PLATE SLIDES TO A REST ON
Here you go. Enjoy.
Don’t be too sure.
Not this one, I think. This patch of nowhere would be a poorer parcel of nothing
SOUND: CLEARING AWAY DISHES.
We’re about to close up. So if you could settle up the check…
Yeah, pal. Let’s head out, OK? You don’t gotta go home, but you can’t stay here.
This one. That. Right there. That is the line that killed you. A cliché - a rehearsedsounding
cliché - mouthed a thousand-thousand times before. A meaningless
placeholder of a thing, the insinuation of sound where none was needed. I will
go to work on this one. Cliché is like ear wax - it accretes inside us, providing
nothing but the dank reminder of our own decay. Making us incrementally more
disgusting, deafening us a bit to world outside us, till our ears are cradling oily
little pools of disease right in our own goddamn heads. Scoop it out, most would
tell you. But it only reasserts itself; it only recolonizes its cave, like a slow, sickly
tide. I say lop off the ear. And butcher the host. Burn the corpse. Salt the earth.
SOUND: INDUSTRIAL DISHWASHER
THRUMMING, SCRAPING OFF FLAT TOP,
ETC. - THE SOUNDS OF A CRAPPY
RESTAURANT SHUTTING DOWN FOR
SOUND: BELL AT TOP OF DOOR DINGS.
SOUND: BELL DINGS, DOOR SWINGS
SHUT, ROSE THROWS DEAD BOLT.
SOUND: CLOSING BLINDS,
RESTOCKING SUGAR PACKETS, ETC.
SOUND: FEW LIGHT TAPS ON GLASS OF
THE FRONT DOOR.
(Through door, speaking loudly.)
No. I know. I was just here? I forgot something.
SOUND: BOLT THROWN OPEN, BELL
Right. Hi. I was just breaking down. Didn’t see anything where you were sitting.
No. You wouldn’t have. It’s not a thing. And, if we’re getting technical. I guess,
really. I didn’t forget. I’m just back.
SOUND: KITCHEN DOOR SWINGS OPEN
What’s this, now?
Says he forgot something. That’s not a thing. And he didn’t forget.
We’re closed up, Mister.
So… you better…
Yes. I will. I am.
Did you need…?
Nothing. Thank you. You.
You. You know Hippocrates?
Hippocrates. Greek. Father, supposedly, of modern medicine. Hippocratic oath?
Heard of the Hippocratic oath?
Look. Mister --
Have you. Heard of. The Hippocratic oath? Simple question.
Sir. We need to --
Yeah. I mean I guess so. It’s the thing, the, like, pledge that doctors take. When
they, I don’t know, get sworn in, or whatever.
Pretty good. Essentially correct. Bonus round --
(Interrupting, trying to assert authority
she knows she does not have.)
Sir. It’s time for you to leave, please.
No. Bonus round: what is the first principle of the Hippocratic oath?
What? I don’t know that.
Bedrock of all medical intervention. Precursor to any drug…
SOUND: HE LAYS ITEMS ON COUNTER.
Or surgical procedure.
Whoa. What, what is that shit? Why are…?
SOUND: HEAVY METAL IMPLEMENT
HITS COUNTER WITH A CLANG.
All right, Mister. That’s enough. I own this place, and I’m asking you to leave.
Right now. Rosie. Call the cops.
SOUND: DEAD BOLT SLAMS HOME.
THEY ARE LOCKED IN.
Stay where you are. There is to be surgery. You assist, or you go under the
SOUND: ROSE stifles a sob.
What. Is the job. Of a surgeon?
Mister. Your crazy ass seems to believe that tonight it’s your job is to get on my
last nerve. You march out that goddamn door right now. I’m calling the State
Police barracks right now. They will be here in less than six minutes. And they
will haul your nutjob ass into the lockup.
Call if you must.
Ringing. You’re gonna wanna make tracks, pal.
SOUND: FAINT, FAINT RINGING, TINY,
DESPONDENT. RINGS FOR A WHILE.
Still ringing, is it? I think you find, Mr… Proprietor. That the State police barracks
- ugly brick building - squat, like strip-mall chiropractor, or something? Six and
four-tenths miles south on I-80.
SOUND: TINNY, FAINT RINGING.
HANDSET REPLACED IN CRADLE.
What… whattayou mean “empty”? There’s like eight guys on duty down there.
Verb tense. Eight guys, technically, are down there. Nobody is on duty. The
commander there. Big fella. Ruddy face. Hendricks, I think? Bushy blond
mustache, yeah? Here it is.
SOUND: AN UPPER LIP, CONTAINING
HENDRICKS’ MUSTACHE, LANDS WITH
A SQUELCHING SPLAT ON THE
COUNTER. ROSE SCREAMS.
Is, is that Danny’s MUSTACHE?
Right, yes. Obviously. Wait. “Danny” - that’s Hendricks, yeah? Then, yeah.
That’s his. (Catching himself, amused.) Was. Verb tense.
SOUND: ROSE COLLAPSES INTO A
(To ROSE) Yeah. OK. Let it out. Where was I? Oh. Right. (To COOK) What is the
JOB of a surgeon?
(Placating, wary, wanting to say
To, to heal?
Good. OK. To heal. He heals by what means?
RIGHT you are. He cuts. And what does the surgeon cut? He cuts away the
unnecessary; he removes the unwanted. In order for the host to carry on, he
slices away the unclean, he carves out the… affliction. The rot. The sickened
and malformed and useless.
That. Is What I’m here to do.
Will you assist? Or will you be the subject to a procedure, as well?
(Choking back sob)
Just… let us go. Let us both go.
(Calmly, as to a child)
Assistant? Or patient?
Rosie, you don’t have to --
Assistant. Or patient. There is no third way.
I can’t… don’t…
SOUND: DENTON ADVANCES ON HER,
SLOWLY DRAWING A LARGE AND
MENACING KNIFE FROM A LEATHER
There is no clearer border. In all the world. Than the edge of a knife.
I am so, so… sorry.
Good. Administer the chloroform.
SOUND: DENTON PRODUCES GAUZE,
BOTTLE, POURS LIQUID ON GAUZE.
Don’t breathe deeply near this gauze.
You. Remain still. You will not want to be conscious for this. The chloroform is a
SOUND: COOK CRIES SOFTLY.
SOUND: ROSE PRESSES GAUZE TO
COOK’S FACE. HE SLUMPS OVER.
Rose. ROSE. Open your eyes. Do not look away. To assist a surgeon, you must
remain sharp-eyed and fully present.
SOUND: DENTON’S BAG, HEAVY WITH
METAL IMPLEMENTS, COMES TO REST
ON THE COUNTER. HE PULLS A STEEL
Lay these tools on the tray, please. In neat rows.
SOUND: ROSE, SOBBING, REMOVES
IMPLEMENTS FROM BAG, LAYS THEM
WITH CARE ON THE TRAY.
SOUND: DENTON HEFTS COOK’S LIMP
BODY, LAYS IT ON COUNTER.
Let’s begin. ROSE. Open your eyes. I won’t tell you again. Put these on.
SOUND: ROSE AND DENTON PULL ON
HEAVY RUBBER GLOVES.
SOUND: IMPLEMENT SLID OFF OF TRAY.
Take these. Cut the shirt off him. We need to see what we’re doing.
SOUND: SURGICAL SHEARS SLICE
THROUGH COOK’S SHIRT. ROSE
MOANS SOFTLY, AND, FINISHED, SETS
SHEARS ON TRAY.
I know you don’t wish to watch this, Rose. Hand me that scalpel, please. But
believe me when I tell you: listening will be far tougher on you. When you listen
to a cut, and do not follow the blade with your eyes, the sound of it grows and
grows, expanding to fill every nook of your skull and fold of your brain. Observe,
now. Eyes closed for this first cut, Rose.
SOUND: ROSE SNIFFS, BREATH
That’s right. Here we go.
SOUND: AN EXQUISITELY SHARP KNIFE
BREACHES THE SKIN ON CHEST OF
THE UNCONSCIOUS COOK. FAINTLY AT
FIRST, BUT GROWING IN VOLUME AND
DENSITY, THE SOUND COMES TO FILL
THE WORLD - A MOIST, HUNGRILY
SLURPING PATH FROM COLLAR BONE
TO PELVIS WITH SOME SCRAPING AND
SNAGGING ON THE BONE BELOW.
BLOOD POOLS UNDER COOK’S BODY,
SPREADS ACROSS THE COUNTER,
SPATTERS THE FLOOR.
Good. Eyes open. Let’s get to work. Hand me the chisel and mallet, please. We
need to get through this sternum.
SOUND: WHILE ROSE GASPS,
GAGGING, STEEL MALLET STRIKES
STEEL HANDLE OF CHISEL. AND AGAIN.
END OF PLAY