Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Alma Mater

I wrote a play for my wife's theater class.
I'm copying and pasting Act 1 Here.
Ustedes tell me if you like it.

Scene 1

THE SCENE: The platform on Stage Right (Platform 1): The dorm room of a New England Boarding School. The furnishings can be determined by the director, but should be sparse and look like they were expensive when they were made fifty years ago.
The platform at Center Stage (Platform 2): A classroom with a white board, seats, and an overhead. There should be an open table like a lab table in the back of the room.
The platform at Stage Left (Platform 3): A solidly furnished office. It should not be gaudy in any way, but should be solidly classic, the desk of a man who’s accomplished things and doesn’t need to decorate his office in power colors to feel like a man. The desk should be clean. There are no pictures. To the left of the desk there should be a small service with a bottle of Scotch, preferably expensive, a small ice bucket, and four glasses.
AT RISE: A student at the school, dressed very casually (sweats and a t-shirt) is practicing singing the school alma mater. She does the proper things trained singers do when singing, but isn’t necessarily good.
SARA: (singing) My alma mater strong and true, with strength and justice in your halls; proudly I now sing to you, and evermore shall heed your call. My alma mater brave and wise (Stops, shakes her head frustrated because she doesn’t think it’s good) That’s no good. (Starts again) My alma mater strong and true, with strength and justice in your halls; proudly I now…
Enter Jessie and Emily
JESSIE: (Looks at Sara and Emily puzzled as to why the heck she’s singing) I…I hadn’t even thought about that.
EMILY: She’s got tryouts
JESSIE: Oh, good. Thought my sister’s best friend had gone crazy.
SARA: (Stops singing and walks over to the girls) Look at you, all professional. (She puts on a mock “grandma” voice) You know, when I met you, you were just a kid…now look at you. What are you studying again?
JESSIE: Journalism.
SARA: Really? I always thought you wanted to be a lawyer?
JESSIE: Not anymore.
SARA: What happened?
JESSIE: I dated a law student. That ended my desire to do law…and for a while my desire to talk to guys. This guy—don’t get me started-- But I love Journalism—I’ve got this awesome professor who used to write for the Washington Post. He’s brilliant in his assessment of the changing role of the media in American political development, particularly the development since Watergate, he’s actually working on a…
SARA: Yeah…sounds smart. Now tell us about College guys.
JESSIE: Well, they’re like high school boys, only more stupid and more drunk. Except for some, who are…who are better. And what’s weird is that lots of the high school stuff is pretty much gone, jocks who are smart…dorks who are cool. It’s weird.
EMILY: Nice. Tell me, what’s the single biggest difference? Spare me NO details.
JESSIE: In high school, guys just acted like we’d be around forever. In college they tend to be in more of a hurry. But they’re still…you know…boys…so they’re about half stupid. There was this guy who tried to win me over, he’s a tiny bit lame, and he’s driving me home after a movie, and he starts acting crazy. I’d been pretty bored, so I’m thinking about my homework. I’ve got this look like Mom used to get when Grandpa talked about Amway. Yu know, vaguely interested but mostly trying to think of how to render myself unconscious with a nearby object such as a napkin, or his tie.
Emily: Yeah
Jessie: So he starts in all, “I’ll change for you”
SARA: Oh my God!
JESSIE: I know. Molly bursts in, obviously frustrated, throws her book at the floor, and then does one of those stupid things people do when they’re madder than they are coherent, like sit down and stand back up or something.
MOLLY: One more night of that babbling moron sending me to dig in the cold and I swear!!
JESSIE: Penny for every time I’ve hear that. So maybe college boys aren’t all bad. Hey Molly.
EMILY: Thompson again?
MOLLY: Yes. (She should look mad and cute)
EMILY: Fill Jess in, maybe she can help. She’s old and wise and old.
JESSIE: (Assumes a pose like a TV cop and grabs a pen and paper off of a desk) My name is Jessie Cantwell. I solve problems. Fill me in.
MOLLY: OK, so I’m taking the Junior Science lab with Dr. Thompson. His thing is he didn’t make it as a college prof so he’s taking it out on me (The girls give her a look like, or maybe you’re just stupid.) Hey…Really that’s what it is.
MOLLY: So we all have to get lab partners and do this project and I end up with Meredith who is totally sweet and cool but in a real smart kid way. And she decides that our project should be taking soil samples at different places on the campus. The deal was that she would do all the work and I was going to sign my name, do a little bit, and hook her up with a hot guy from Calvert as a trade. But now she had a sudden transfer for “personal reasons” and I’m stuck doing the whole thing. Word is “personal reasons” means pregnant, so maybe she didn’t need me for guys after all.
JESSIE: Hold on—you said a sudden transfer?
MOLLY: Well yeah. I guess she didn’t want to show. Is that weird?
JESSIE: Stop. Tell me again—there was a sudden transfer for personal reasons after she was working on a science project.
JESSIE: Girls, listen to me. When I was in High School there were two girls. They were so sweet, just perfect. Going into their senior year they were forced to transfer. Nobody knows exactly why, but let’s just say it wasn’t PG. Picture this—Dean Morgan in his office telling it like it is.

Scene 2

THE SCENE: The office, eight years earlier.
AT RISE: Dr. Morgan, a distinguished man of around fifty, stands and pours a drink. He does so meticulously, raising the ice to 2” above the glass, dropping it, waiting and repeating for two ice cubes. He carefully pours the scotch to just above the ice and sits at his desk. He takes a sip, checks his watch, sits at his desk, and there’s a knock. He takes another sip, shakes his head, and stands at his desk raising his glass as if to toast
MORGAN: (Quietly) To immortality, and to this school. (He softly sips the scotch, sets it on the service, and slides it away.) Enter Girls.
AMANDA: Dr. Morgan, thank you for meeting with us.
MORGAN: Girls, I’ve investigated the rumors that I’ve been hearing. I spoke with the other party involved and am confident that this is done.
AMANDA: Yes sir.
JULIE: But what should we do?
MORGAN: If you stay we’ll make sure that you aren’t in his class. If you leave know that I will still use my contacts with the best schools to help you. You will always have a place here, do you understand that.
MORGAN: Girls, you have a decision to make. Make your calls.

Scene 3
THE SCENE: Platform 2
AT RISE: Mrs. Davis is at the board lecturing. Students are taking notes. Molly, Sara, and Emily are sitting close enough to whisper back and forth to each other.
SARA: (To Emily) When did your sister head back to Dartmouth?
EMILY: Last night.
SARA: Did you think what she was saying was weird?
MOLLY: Not at all, some college boys are hot, but guys are guys.
SARA: No, the other thing?
EMILY: The transfer thing?
SARA: Isn’t it a bit weird, the only sudden transfers I can think of, all in the middle of a weird science project.
EMILY: Kids transfer. Dads lose jobs, people fail or miss home. Every junior in Thompson’s class has a big project this term.
SARA: Yeah, but 3 girls, all brilliant, do a science project and then suddenly transfer for personal reasons during their junior year.
MOLLY: Maybe the science teacher is a perv?
EMILY: No, it’s a different guy. My sister said the old one was pretty creepy, but he was a legend. He has that big statue in the courtyard.
DAVIS: Class, let’s begin.
Whose woods these are I think I know.
 His house is in the village though; He will not see me stopping here
 To watch his woods fill up with snow.
Ladies, this begins what poem?
DANIELLE: Yeah…that’s exactly what I care about…
DAVIS: Ladies…
EMILY: Stopping by woods on a snowy evening?
DAVIS: Very well done Emily. This poem was written by whom? (There should be a few wrong answers and some uncomfortable silence).
CAROLINE: Robert Frost?
DAVIS: Very good. Class, please read the first stanza. Tell me what it feels like.
SARA: Molly, what exactly are you studying?
MOLLY: Poetry
SARA: No, in science. What are you studying in science?
MOLLY: Soil.
SARA: Soil?
MOLLY: Soil. Yeah I know. Meredith was really into it… thus the deal with the hot guys in trade for work.
SARA: What did you find?
MOLLY: Dirt.
DAVIS: (Milling around the class like good teachers do. She catches the girls and gives them a mean teacher look). Girls…Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods…remember?
EMILY: Sorry about them.
DAVIS: Sara, what does this poem feel like?
SARA: I’m sorry, I don’t know. It’s a guy stopping in the woods, and it’s snowing out.
DAVIS: Nice. (Writes, “Basic Plot—Man stopping on the woods on a snowy evening” on the board). As she’s writing the girls keep talking.
SARA: What were they studying?
SARA: (Davis hears them) The first girls who were forced to transfer.
DAVIS: (More angry than she should be for kids talking in her class) Girls, you cannot speak again or you will be asked to leave. Don’t talk about that topic here. Now Emily, what do you know about this poem?
CAROLINE: Well, it feels like a lullaby. It’s a pretty scene.
DAVIS: That’s right. Do you like Robert Frost?
CAROLINE: (Kind of embarrassed. Speaking quietly and with little confidence) Yeah. I think it’s pretty. My grandpa used to…
SARA: (Cutting in) Well, Mrs. Davis, I suppose it would be important to know what happened before…you know…before this scene. Do we know what happened before?
DAVIS: I don’t know, that’s a good question. (To Sara) Write that down.
KYLIE: We know he’s got a lot to do.
DAVIS: Yeah, miles to go before he sleeps.
DANIELLE: He’s trying to decide if he should just hang out in the woods or get back on the horse and go.
DAVIS: Good job, thank you for deciding to join us today Danielle. Does he get up and go or maybe just stop.
EMILY: Mrs. Davis, I think it’s important to know who all of the characters are.
MOLLY: And maybe we need to know why he’s there. Why do the characters do what they do?
DAVIS: Hmm…Wrapping up, what gives every story excitement?
KYLIE: Isn’t it conflict? A good guy and a bad guy?
DAVIS: Yes…can you clear that up, all stories aren’t good guy bad guy.
KYLIE: Ok (Flipping through notes) people or groups with competing interests.
SARA: Who is the bad guy in this story?
DAVIS: (Ignores Sara as if the doesn’t hear her.) It’s very important to recall that stories need a conflict. (To Sara) Your story has conflict. To break apart any story make sure you know who the villain is.
SARA: Mrs. Davis, who is the villain in this story?
DAVIS: When you look, I think that you’ll eventually find that the villain is (Bell, she stops herself) Look at the story a few more times, and check your notes. Girls, please get to the main room for Dr. Morgan’s “State of the School” address.

Scene 4
THE SCENE: Someplace we’ve never been, maybe a chapel or lecture room. Platform 2 will be set with a podium, and Dr. Morgan will be speaking from that podium. We’ll call this the “Chapel” from now on.
AT RISE: Dr. Morgan will take a sip of water and speak directly to the audience. The actors will be set in among the audience.
Morgan: Students, thank you for attention. I speak to you today not merely as your headmaster, but as a steward of a great tradition--a tradition holding the finest minds of a generation. Women who write history have studied here, have laughed here, have sat in those seats and learned from the finest teachers, have become heroes here.
I speak to you, the faculty and board, to remind you of the greatness you have created. I do not think of you as employees and donors, or even as brilliant educators and captains of industry. I speak to you in a greater capacity, your true capacity—your role as storytellers.
The halls of our school are haunted with heroes: with stories of those who have gone before. And let me tell you a story.
More than two hundred years ago John and Abigail Rothchild embraced each other at the funeral of their daughter. They wanted a tribute worthy of her character, her service, her dedication to hope, truth, wisdom, and learning. She was a hero, one of the girls who put herself in harms way to bring water to the minute men. She was killed and they felt moved to create a school to build wisdom and character for young women in America. They invested the family fortune and the rest of their lives into making this vision—a vision that seemed crazy at a time when few girls were educated and America was still just an idea—into a reality. This happened because even by a grave site someone decided to write a story.
And let me tell you a story.
One hundred years ago there was a fire that began above our chapel. The campus was leveled from wood to ash. The buildings were gutted. If ever there was a time to surrender the vision this was the time. Instead some people got together and carried on. They rebuilt. They worked together. They found the resources, the passion, and the sweat to carry on the vision. The school continued through this challenge because somebody decided to write a story.
And let me tell you a story.
Ten years ago, Thomas Janson of Janson Chemical came into my office. His daughter had gone here and he made a simple statement. “Our athletes must have facilities worthy of the school’s greatness.” Our girls now have one of the finest facilities in the country at any level. This happened because someone wrote a story.
And let me tell you a story.
Last year a student, Emily Cantwell, came to me and said she thought that our school could do more to serve the community. She established a tutoring program by which our girls are teaching and learning from kids from a very different background. Because someone wrote a story.
And let me tell you a story.
Last night I was walking through out courtyard and I stopped by the stature of my great and now gone friend, the legenday science teacher James Shelby. I stood before him in the courtyard and thought of Caesar’s line about the heaven’s crying forth the death of princes. These halls are haunted with heroes. Eight years ago we lost a storyteller.
His legacy includes a thousand students, fifty PhDs, and one Nobel Prize winner. People for whom he said, Let me tell you a story.
I’ve told you stories, but now I implore you to leave this rooms comfort, walk these haunted halls and write the next story.
Thank you. (Exit Morgan and students, Emily, Sara, and Molly should sit close to the platforms).

Scene 5
THE SCENE: The girls' room, after the speech.
AT RISE: Sara, Molly, and Emily are sitting around the room doing homework.
EMILY: Nice speech from Doc Morgan
MOLLY: It was ok—I liked the part about you. He used his old Janson story again; I wish he’d just talked about you more. Sara, how’s the practice for the choir thing?
SARA: Good. Girls, what do you think about Jessie’s transfer girls now.
EMILY: (Annoyed) I think we’re not detectives and if it was a thing we’d have heard of it by now.
SARA: No you don’t
EMILY: Excuse me?
SARA: No, you don’t?
SARA: Because you were trying to tell me something in Davis’s class.
EMILY: Oh was I? Was that before or after I stared at you and mouthed shut up twice.
MOLLY: I’m going to check my email.
SARA: The way you talked in class, that’s not how you talk. You knew that you struck a nerve with Davis. She basically told us. You didn’t shut up, which is what you would have done. Instead, you looked at me and said, “We need to define the characters.”
EMILY: I was talking to a teacher about a horse, not sending a message.
SARA: You know what?
EMILY: What?
SARA: You were. You pay attention. Davis was spooked. Your sister was spooked. You think there’s a connection, and you were trying to send me a message. And you know what else?
EMILY: What?
SARA: You were right. Your sister looked scared about that story, like there were some weird rumors and like maybe the thing with the girls ties to the thing with Mer. If it’s nothing we waste a very little bit of time, feel stupid for three minutes and then go to class, it there is a connection we’ll have answers. There’s one thing I know for sure, and so do you.
EMILY: What’s that?
SARA: Meredith was not a nerd who got pregnant.
EMILY: She was my friend. I miss her. She…her mom used to send her a box of cookies every week. She liked peanut butter cookies. They were awful. Always burned. If you tried enough you could almost pretend that the burn was like the caramelized part of campfire marshmallows at camp when you were a kid. We would always share them, and always try. Maybe she was just trying to get rid of them. I would always lie and pretend they were great, and she’d lie too, and we’d sip milk and eat awful cookies, then send back a postcard that said thank you, please send more. She was my friend. Sara, what do you think happened to those girls before?
SARA: I don’t know, but if middle aged men are like 17 year olds they do stupid stuff for money, love, or power. My guess was…well I don’t know, and I don’t know how it ties to Mer, but we have two hero girls transferring amidst rumors of an admittedly brilliant but also kind of creepy hero teacher. I think what happened then was maybe pretty simple.

Scene 6

THE SCENE: The office, eight years earlier.
AT RISE: Dr. Morgan stands and pours two drinks. He does so meticulously, raising the ice to 2” above the glass, dropping it, waiting and repeating for two ice cubes. He carefully pours the scotch to just above the glass and pours the second glass. He checks his watch, sits at his desk, and there’s a knock.
MORGAN: Enter Mr. Shelby.
SHELBY: Shelby will walk quickly in as if measuring his steps, sit at his desk, and pull a pipe from his pocket. Shelby should look like a science prof from central casting, patches on the sleeves, the pipe, etc.
You wanted to see me sir?
MORGAN: Jim, I’ve heard some things.
SHELBY: Absolutely baseless, I’m sure. Students struggle, I teach a hard class, they say things and they don’t know the weight of their words.
MORGAN: I know, and I’m sure the allegations are nonsense, but understand my position. Things like this can kill a school.
SHELBY: Dr. Morgan, John—Nothing happened.
MORGAN: And nothing will happen, but I need this to go away. Things like this can kill a school.
SHELBY: Yes, yes of course.
MORGAN: I need this to go away.
SHELBY: Yes sir. Stands to leave
MORGAN: First a toast. Stands and raises his glass, “To immortality, and to this school.” Exit Dr. Shelby, Morgan sets glasses on service and pushes it away.
Girls, Enter! Enter Julie and Amanda
AMANDA: Dr. Morgan, thank you for meeting with us.
MORGAN: Girls, I’ve investigated the rumors that I’ve been hearing. To be clear I lack the information that I need to take action.
AMANDA: But, Dr. Morgan…he
MORGAN: Girls, I’ve heard you, and we will continue to investigate, but without more evidence—a witness, a photo, a pattern—I cannot remove a tenured and indeed legendary teacher. I know that’s hard to hear, and I will do everything I can to insulate you, but right now all that we can prove is that Shelby is socially awkward and eccentric. It should be some comfort to know that I’ve spoken with him about this matter and have confidence that it is done.
AMANDA: That should be of some comfort?
JULIE: But what should we do?
MORGAN: If you stay we’ll make sure that you aren’t in his class. If you leave, know that I will still use my contacts with the best schools to help you. You will always have a place here, do you understand that.
MORGAN: Girls, you have a decision to make. Make your calls.

Scene 7
THE SCENE: The girls’ room, the same time
AT RISE: Girls are sitting exactly as they were before.

EMILY: OK, maybe, but some things don’t make sense.
SARA: Like what?
EMILY: Well to start, Shelby dies around that time, why does Morgan put up a statue for a guy who might be a freak? Enter Molly, who hears that the girls aren’t fighting anymore and comes back in.
SARA: OK, maybe to remember the good times, or he thought the accusations or fake, or politics…I don’t know.
EMILY: And also, what happened to the girls after they left our fair Alma Mater?
SARA: They transferred and…I don’t know…went to Brown and Princeton or something and work as young lawyers or starving coffee shop workers and they drive Passats or BMWs or old gray Accords.
EMILY: Then why do you care? A dead teacher and some young professionals...who cares. You think there’s more, or you’d be doing homework right now. If we’re going to chase this... You’re not worried about a barista’s love life—you’ve got one of your feelings—and so did Jess. What do you think happened?
SARA: (Silent for a longer time than feels comfortable) I don’t know. There’s still something missing.
EMILY: Yeah. Two kind of similar things happened like eight years apart. You think there’s something tying it together.
SARA: Molls—what exactly were you studying?
MOLLY: It’s boring.
SARA: Yeah. I’m nerdy. What were you studying?
MOLLY: It’s fantastically unrelated to scandalous romance. (Sara looks at her to say “hurry up”) We were doing soil samples. We put this big pipe thing into the ground to grab samples of soil—we did like 3 on a spot and then move to a different place.
EMILY: Tell us more?
MOLLY: I don’t know more.
EMILY: Think harder.
MOLLY: I don’t…I’m sorry; it was really Mer’s thing. Hold on—I’ll run and get my notes. (She leaves).
SARA: Emily, listen to me. I called Jessie and got their names.
EMILY: You called my sister?
SARA: Yeah, and I got their names. Amanda Boller and Julie Carson.
EMILY: You called my sister?
SARA: Yeah, keep up. I looked up their junior thesis at the library.
SARA: The report was on file, but information was all blacked out, and the abstract page said, “Academic Board finds incomplete” and that’s all.
EMILY: So you learned nothing?
SARA: Hold on, so I looked at the master list—it doesn’t give details but it lets me know what they were studying?
EMILY: What?
SARA: Guess?
SARA: Soil samples.
EMILY: Soil samples.
SARA: So that raises an interesting question.
SARA: Why does everyone who digs into the ground here suddenly get asked to transfer? Enter Molly, she busts into the room similar to last time but this time clearly shocked and saddened.
EMILY: Molls—what is it—I didn’t mean to be mean? (Recognizes Molly’s sadness is something bigger, stands up with Sara and goes to Molly)
MOLLY: It’s, it’s Meredith. It’s Mer—she was killed.