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Ventriloquism (A Screenplay)
(A man, late twenties, is sitting at a small, wooden kitchen table with no tablecloth. Opposite him is a woman, maybe a few years older with black hair almost to her waist. She wears a casual, floor-length dress and is sitting on the edge of her seat, clearly uncomfortable. He is wearing simple khakis and a collared shirt and is slumped back in his chair, one arm slung over the chair back and the other resting on the table. Also on the table top is a sealed business envelope at which they are both staring. The whole stage is dark except for a wide spotlight which illuminates the table and its two occupants.
After several long moments, the woman, Joni, makes the first move. She reaches across the table and picks up the envelope, then flips it over to examine the other side. As she does this, the man, Sam, takes a sharp breath as if he’s afraid for her to touch it.)
Joni: Well, not opening it isn’t going to make it go away. We need to at least figure out what we’re dealing with so we can decide what to do.
-She makes to open the envelope.-
-Sam hesitates, then reaches across the table and snatches it out of her hands and flings it back on the table, throwing himself back in his chair. He stares at it for a moment longer, then leans over to pick it back up and opens it delicately, holding the letter close to his face and placing the envelope back on the table top. Joni slumps back into her chair as Sam reads the draft notice to himself, muttering the words indistinguishably. Joni waits, clearly impatient. It is apparent that Sam has read the letter several times.-
Sam: Well, what did you think it says? There’s not really anything surprising about it.
-He flings the notice back on the kitchen table. Joni hesitates, then picks it up and reads it herself. When she’s done, she sighs then puts it back on the table.-
Joni: It doesn’t change anything, Sam.
Sam: It changes everything. All this time, all the protests, all my talk of fighting back and I still have the mindset of that stupid little kid from the suburbs. I still thought it wouldn’t happen to me. Even after everything, I thought I was…
-He scoffs, disgusted with himself.-
As if I was any different from the rest of them.
Joni: You are different, Sam, because you aren’t alone and you aren’t going to charge into it like an idiot.
-She straightens up in her chair and takes on an almost bossy tone, but she’s clearly shaken.-
Joni: You have options. Now it might seem extreme, but there are ways to avoid this. We just need to make and execute a decision, and quickly.
Sam: Run away.
Joni: No, it’s not running away, Sam, don’t you get it? It’s… it’s… it’s not running away.
Sam: I belong to them now Joni. Even if I ran away, I wouldn’t know when I could come back, and what, you and Jack would move with me? Three siblings just trying to make ends meet? You couldn’t survive in Canada, and you know it. So, what, I have to just fold my life into a duffel bag and hitch a ride north? If I do that, they win, Joni. They win. After everything.
Joni: (Becoming frustrated) So what, Sam, are you saying that they won’t win if you go? Oh, why didn’t I think of that? Maybe if you do exactly what they tell you, fly off to some wasteland and watch men butcher children, maybe then you’ll have really beaten them. Yeah, that’ll do it.
-Sam leans across the table.-
Sam: I can’t leave, Joni, I can’t just run. I’m supposed to be a leader, I’m supposed to do what others can’t. I wont just live in a hotel in Canada while Jack gets teased all through high school for having a coward for an older brother. I’d rather sleep in s*** for a year than run out of here with my tail between my legs; don’t you get it? I won’t let them call me a coward, not after all I’ve done, all I’ve fought for. You’re my sister He pauses, then slumps back in his chair. You couldn’t possibly understand.
Joni: No, Sam, you don’t understand. We’ve spent the better part of two years learning about this war and what it’s doing to the whole world, what it’s torn to bits and the monsters it’s built from the rubble. We’ve seen men on the television doing things that would have made them cry to witness a few months earlier. (Pause) Maybe it’s not all about you.
Sam: (interrupting) What the hell do you mean it’s not about me? It’s my name on the f****** envelope, isn’t it? It’s my ass that’s property of the Armed Forces, not yours. And it’s –
Joni: Don’t you get it? She stands up quickly, then turns her back on him, walks a few paces, then spins back towards him. She walks back and plants her hands on the table, still standing. That war will destroy you. It will eat you from the inside out and it will make you do things you don’t have the imagination to come up with now. The cowardly thing wouldn’t be to run, it would be to go. If you go, it’ll be because you were afraid of what people thought of you, afraid of you’re status as a role model. Well excuse me if I don’t give a f*** about your g****** reputation when it’s being countered by every idea of morality we’ve been screaming from the beginning. And until you can look me in the eye and tell me that you think going to fight this travesty of a war is the right thing to do, I’m not letting you get twisted into something sinister over some petty sense of pride. I won’t let you. So help me, I’ll… I’ll… lock you in a closet.
-Despite obvious effort, Sam chuckles at the last line. After a moment of shock, Joni grins too. The moment ends as suddenly as it began and Joni sits back down heavily, suddenly exhausted. One hand rests on the table. She bows her head, close to tears. Sam reaches across the table to take her hand.-
Sam: It’s gonna be fine, Jo, ok? It’s gonna be fine.
-His eyes wander and he suddenly chuckles again.-
God, I’ll never forget when mom locked me in that closet. How old was I? Seven? Eight?
Joni: (Sniffs) Ten.
Sam: Ten? Jesus.
We don’t have to decide anything right now, ok? But you need to be prepared for either decision. I understand this affects a lot of people, but in the end, it’s my call.
Joni: That’s not good enough for me, Sam.
Sam: It’s all I got, Joni. I know it’s hard, but I have a responsibility that you just can’t understand. I have people that look up to me, and people that will talk about me behind my back if I turn cowardly now. I have expectations to try and balance Joni, and no matter what you say, they matter. It’s complicated.
Joni: (distantly) It’s pretty simple when you think about it, Sam. We’re born fighting and we die fighting. (Suddenly intense) In the end, we can only hope to God we fought for the right things.
The stage goes dark.