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Entries in Wildclaw Theatre (1)

Wednesday
Nov302016

My Deathscribe Failure

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

__________________________

SCENE 1

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

seething.

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

METAL TRAY.

SOUND: A MAN, GAGGED, AWAKENS

SUDDENLY, TERRIFIED. HIS SCREAMS

ARE MUFFLED BY THE GAG THAT FILLS

HIS MOUTH.

DENTON

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

artistry.

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.

ROSE

Evening. Coffee?

DENTON

Please.

ROSE

Need a menu?

DENTON

Nope. Don’t think so. You got chicken-fried steak?

ROSE

Sure.

DENTON

Any good?

ROSE

Not really.

DENTON

What’s good, then?

ROSE

Different place.

DENTON

Kay. Where’s the nearest place?

ROSE

Like eighty miles west. That’s how we stay open. Chicken-fried steak?

DENTON

(Resigned.)

Sure.

SOUND: DENTON SIPS COFFEE, DINER

SOUNDS, LATE NIGHT CHATTER OF A

HANDFUL OF PATRONS.

2.

DENTON

(VO)

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

harvest.

SOUND: A SHARP DING! OF THE BACK

OF A SPATULA SWATTING A BELL.

COOK

Order up.

SOUND: PLATE SLIDES TO A REST ON

COUNTER.

ROSE

Here you go. Enjoy.

DENTON

Will do.

ROSE

Don’t be too sure.

DENTON

(VO)

Not this one, I think. This patch of nowhere would be a poorer parcel of nothing

without her.

ROSE

More coffee?

DENTON

Sure. Thanks.

Time passes.

SOUND: CLEARING AWAY DISHES.

ROSE

We’re about to close up. So if you could settle up the check…

COOK

Yeah, pal. Let’s head out, OK? You don’t gotta go home, but you can’t stay here.

Ha.

3.

DENTON

(VO)

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

THE NIGHT.

SOUND: BELL AT TOP OF DOOR DINGS.

ROSE

‘Night.

DENTON

Yes.

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.

ROSE

(Hollering)

We’re closed!

DENTON

(Through door, speaking loudly.)

No. I know. I was just here? I forgot something.

SOUND: BOLT THROWN OPEN, BELL

DINGS.

4.

ROSE

Right. Hi. I was just breaking down. Didn’t see anything where you were sitting.

DENTON

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

COOK

(Wary.)

What’s this, now?

ROSE

Says he forgot something. That’s not a thing. And he didn’t forget.

COOK

We’re closed up, Mister.

DENTON

Right.

COOK

So… you better…

DENTON

Yes. I will. I am.

(Longish pause.)

ROSE

Did you need…?

DENTON

Nothing. Thank you. You.

COOK

Me?

DENTON

You. You know Hippocrates?

COOK

Wait. What?

5.

DENTON

Hippocrates. Greek. Father, supposedly, of modern medicine. Hippocratic oath?

Heard of the Hippocratic oath?

COOK

Look. Mister --

DENTON

(Interrupting, harsh.)

Have you. Heard of. The Hippocratic oath? Simple question.

ROSE

Sir. We need to --

DENTON

(Interrupting, authoritative.)

No.

(To COOK.)

Answer, please.

COOK

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.

DENTON

Pretty good. Essentially correct. Bonus round --

ROSE

(Interrupting, trying to assert authority

she knows she does not have.)

Sir. It’s time for you to leave, please.

DENTON

(Calmly.)

No. Bonus round: what is the first principle of the Hippocratic oath?

COOK

What? I don’t know that.

DENTON

Bedrock of all medical intervention. Precursor to any drug…

SOUND: HE LAYS ITEMS ON COUNTER.

6.

DENTON

Or surgical procedure.

ROSE

Whoa. What, what is that shit? Why are…?

DENTON

Syringe. Scalpel.

SOUND: HEAVY METAL IMPLEMENT

HITS COUNTER WITH A CLANG.

DENTON

Rib spreader.

COOK

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.

DENTON

(To ROSE)

Stay where you are. There is to be surgery. You assist, or you go under the

knife.

SOUND: ROSE stifles a sob.

(To COOK)

What. Is the job. Of a surgeon?

COOK

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.

DENTON

Call if you must.

SOUND: DIALING.

COOK

Ringing. You’re gonna wanna make tracks, pal.

7.

SOUND: FAINT, FAINT RINGING, TINY,

DESPONDENT. RINGS FOR A WHILE.

DENTON

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.

ROSE

(Dreading)

Yeah…

It’s empty.

SOUND: TINNY, FAINT RINGING.

HANDSET REPLACED IN CRADLE.

ROSE

What… whattayou mean “empty”? There’s like eight guys on duty down there.

DENTON

Verb tense.

ROSE

What?

DENTON

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.

ROSE

Is, is that Danny’s MUSTACHE?

DENTON

Right, yes. Obviously. Wait. “Danny” - that’s Hendricks, yeah? Then, yeah.

That’s his. (Catching himself, amused.) Was. Verb tense.

8.

SOUND: ROSE COLLAPSES INTO A

SEAT, SOBBING.

DENTON

(To ROSE) Yeah. OK. Let it out. Where was I? Oh. Right. (To COOK) What is the

JOB of a surgeon?

COOK

(Placating, wary, wanting to say

alive.)

To, to heal?

DENTON

Good. OK. To heal. He heals by what means?

COOK

He… cuts.

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.

(Pause.)

DENTON

That. Is What I’m here to do.

(To ROSE)

Will you assist? Or will you be the subject to a procedure, as well?

ROSE

(Choking back sob)

Just… let us go. Let us both go.

DENTON

(Calmly, as to a child)

Assistant? Or patient?

COOK

Rosie, you don’t have to --

DENTON

(Interrupting)

Assistant. Or patient. There is no third way.

9.

ROSE

I can’t… don’t…

DENTON

Decide. Now.

SOUND: DENTON ADVANCES ON HER,

SLOWLY DRAWING A LARGE AND

MENACING KNIFE FROM A LEATHER

SHEATH.

DENTON

There is no clearer border. In all the world. Than the edge of a knife.

(Pause)

ROSE

(To COOK)

I am so, so… sorry.

COOK

Rosie

ROSE

Sorry.

COOK

No.

DENTON

Good. Administer the chloroform.

SOUND: DENTON PRODUCES GAUZE,

BOTTLE, POURS LIQUID ON GAUZE.

DENTON

(To ROSE)

Don’t breathe deeply near this gauze.

(To COOK)

You. Remain still. You will not want to be conscious for this. The chloroform is a

mercy.

SOUND: COOK CRIES SOFTLY.

SOUND: ROSE PRESSES GAUZE TO

COOK’S FACE. HE SLUMPS OVER.

10.

DENTON

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

TRAY OUT.

DENTON

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.

DENTON

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.

DENTON

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.

DENTON

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

CATCHING.

11.

DENTON

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.

DENTON

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.

AND AGAIN.

END OF PLAY

12.