Anne Hamilton/Hamilton Dramaturgy


THE SHOEBOX, A 10-Minute Play

With this week’s very sad national scandal unfolding at Penn State, I decided to post this play that I wrote in February. It will appear in my 2011 anthology of plays and poetry to be published by Hamilton Dramaturgy Press.

THE SHOEBOX

By Anne Hamilton

© February 25, 2011

Cast of Characters

SARAH SIMONS,  a fifty-ish woman, any race or ethnicity .

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE PHONE,  a fifty-ish woman, any race or ethnicity.

Place

Split set: SARAH’S living room/THE OTHER PERSON’s kitchen.

Time

The Present.

(It’s late. SARAH is sitting on a couch downstage right watching late night tv and eating from a big bag of potato chips.)

(THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE sits in a straight-backed chair at an old kitchen table upstage left. She is eating an ice cream bar and takes a huge bite just before she dials the phone.)

(The phone rings just as SARAH has stuffed a handful of chips into her mouth.)

SARAH (her words muffled by the presence of the potato chips)

Hello, this is Sarah. Don’t mind me I’m just sitting her eating potato chips.

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE

Hello?

SARAH

Yes, hello. I said I’m eating potato chips.

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE

Hello, is this Sarah? I’m sorry you probably can’t hear me very well because I’m eating an ice cream over here. Chocolate. I got one of those Haagen Dasz bars with the cholcolate coating. Chocolate hazelnut coating. So that’s what I’m eating.

SARAH

You’re really going to have to speak up because it sounds like you’re speaking dutch over there.

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE

No, I can’t learn foreign languages. I said I’m eating hagen dasz. Not ben and jerry’s. I can’t stand those wacky containers. Too many damn colors and what is up with those stupid jokes? They aren’t even funny. Those two smoked too much pot in the 60’s. they’re good people, though, good people/

SARAH (she has swallowed all the potato chips in her mouth by now)

Excuse me, who did you say this was?

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE

Was, is and ever will be. It’s Karen. Karen Simkowitz.

SARAH

Who?

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE

Karen Simkowitz. We were together in homeroom.

SARAH

What?

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE

We were together in home room in high school. In 9th grade.

SARAH

I don’t even remember you, but even if I did, what are you doing calling me in the middle of the night? I thought you must be my sister, or that someone in my family died.

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE

Well, you see, someone has died. It’s our homeroom teacher, Sister Mary Judith.

SARAH

What? Why should I care if some old nun from the 1970s died/

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE

That is a shameful thing to say, Sarah Simons. A very shameful thing to say/

SARAH

/I don’t care. I don’t want some stranger calling my house late at night/

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE

Well, when I tell you why you should care, you might change your mind.

SARAH (turns this phrase over in her mind)

“When I tell you why you should care, you might change your mind.” When she tells me why I should care I might change my mind. (to her). That doesn’t even make sense. I’d have to care first, and then change my mind.

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE

You’re being very critical, Sarah. That poor nun devoted her life to teaching us and you are sitting there not even caring and you don’t even want me to tell you why you should care.

SARAH

I didn’t say that, I just said that what you’re saying doesn’t make sense.

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE

(taking another bite of ice cream so her mouth is full. She doesn’t take criticism well.)

Well, now what you’re saying doesn’t make sense because I didn’t say anything yet that could make sense or not make sense. And you’re really not being very charitable.

SARAH

What? I can’t hear you. You’re going to have to speak up.

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE

(speaks more loudly, but still inarticulately)

I said I didn’t say anything yet to make sense or not make sense, so you needn’t be so critical and uncharitable.

SARAH

Well, I picked up the phone five minutes ago, so if you haven’t said anything yet I don’t know what we’ve been talking about all this time.

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE

(stuffs the whole bar into her mouth. The wooden stick is protruding from her mouth. She’s speechless.)

SARAH (waits)

(Pause.)

Karen?

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE

(no answer. She is sucking on her ice cream pop.)

SARAH

Karen?

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE

(no answer. Her feelings are hurt.)

SARAH

Karen, look, I know you’re there. I can hear the ice cream melting. Why don’t you just tell me why you called me here, in the middle of the night?

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE

(pauses.)

It’s not the middle of the night.

SARAH

All right. It’s only a quarter to twelve. Why don’t you tell me what’s so important about Sister Mary Judith’s death?

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE

(swallows the last of the ice cream bar, wipes her mouth with a paper napkin.)

All right. So you remember Jimmy DiLeo and Michael Schu/

SARAH

Karen, I don’t remember anyone from high school. It was a very long time ago.

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE

They’re important to the story.

SARAH (to herself.)

So now there’s a story.

(to Karen)

All right, Karen. Tell me the story.

(while Karen tells the story, Sarah starts absentmindedly eating potato chips. She continues through to the end, when she freezes during the line, “Sister Mary Judith died…”.)

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE

So, you remember Jimmy DiLeo and Michael Schumacher. Alright. So they were in Sister Mary Judith’s homeroom class, too, and they used to collect the money for the magazine drives. Remember, we used to have them all the time? PEOPLE and TIME and NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC and such. (As she’s speaking, she’s tearing open another ice cream bar and she starts to eat it as she speaks). Mmmm. And so one day, I remember I was giving Jimmy DiLeo my money and I thought he was cute and I tried to make a joke and I said, “So is that a new car stereo I heard about that you got with all this magazine money?” Is that a new car stereo I heard about. I was never very much good with words. But Jimmy went white as a sheet and Michael said, “Hey, Karen, that’s really not funny. Sister Mary Judith trusts us to collect the money and that’s what we do. Stealing is a sin and so is lying.” Well I felt so stupid, I couldn’t even look at him for days. I just put my money in an envelope and along with the order slip and I put it in that shoebox on sister’s desk and I was so happy when that darn magazine drive was over. I don’t know why we had them all the time, they never really raised money for the school, just caused a lot of extra work for the students and the parents. It was totally not worth it. Anyway, when the spring came, and time for another drive, Jimmy wouldn’t volunteer to collect the money again, and neither would Michael Shumacher, so Sister Mary Judith asked for another volunteer and I put my hand up. I felt so guilty that I had made such a stupid joke that I decided I had to do some penance and that was the way to do it. So I started collecting the order slips and the cash and at that time Catholic schools would accept checks because parents weren’t bouncing them so much, and I put them in the shoebox on Sister Mary Judith’s desk. Well, one day I opened the box and there was no cash. Even the order slips were gone. I didn’t know who had taken them, I just knew that I would be blamed. So I went up to sister and told her, “The slips, they’re gone. Oh, and also the money.” Well, her face went red. “What do you mean the money is gone? Don’t you realize how important that money is to keep this school running so we can give you kids a Catholic education? Do you know how much we sisters – and your parents – sacrifice for you? (at this point, SARAH is nodding absentmindedly and flipping through channels with the remote and eating potato chips freely).

SARAH

I remember when that money went missing. I never saw a nun get so angry.

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE

Yeah, and she took it all out on me.  “You’re going to detention every day, young lady, until you either find out where that money went, or you make it up with your own allowance. You were in charge and you are responsible.” Well, I could never make up that money with my allowance,  I didn’t even know who had ordered what magazine. So I swallowed and I said, “It’s not my fault, sister. I didn’t take the money and I don’t know who did.” “Not your fault, not your fault. Yes, it is your fault, young lady, you’re responsible and you’re going to pay for it.” Well I went home and told my mother and she was furious. She went to speak to the principal and he sided with the sister, and well, we didn’t know what to do. It was too late to put me in a different school and besides, we had already paid tuition and I’m sure we couldn’t get even a partial refund, so I went back to school the next day but I didn’t go to detention and I sort of had this stand off with sister Mary Judith, do you remember? She wouldn’t look at me and I wouldn’t look at her. She wouldn’t call my name out when she was taking roll, she would just skip over my name, and then she didn’t write me down as present and I started getting absences on my record and the principal called my mother at home and asked why I wasn’t coming to school and my mother said, “She is going to school. Maybe that rogue nun of yours isn’t writing her down as present every day” and the principal, well, he got off the phone and that was the end of that until we graduated and went out into the real world and I didn’t have to deal with Catholic schools or magazine drives or fundraisers or car stereos or attendance sheets or order slips ever again. (She is out of breath.)

(There is a long pause.)

SARAH

Karen? (No answer.) Karen. Is that the end of the story? (No answer. Long pause.) Karen, why did you call me?

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE

(slowly)

(she finds it hard to say the next lines) Sister Mary Judith died in a maximum security prison last week. (Long pause.) She had been having sex with the boys in our homeroom for a very long time. Since they were freshmen. And they had a lot of evidence against her. It was Jimmy DiLeo. And Michael Shumacher. And others. It was a very long trial. And they all testified against her. And when she died. After she died, they told me – they found me – and they told me – that she took the money. From the shoebox. In the homeroom. She was buying them gifts. Like the car stereo. With the magazine drive money. For our Catholic school.

(There is a long silence.)

SARAH

Karen, I’m sorry.

(Long pause.)

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE

I want to know. Why she did that to me.  Was it because I don’t speak very well? Is it because….

Why did she do that to me, Sarah? Am I stupid, Sarah? Am I a bad person? Tell me. I need to know.

(SARAH doesn’t know what to say.)

SARAH

Um, I don’t know, Karen. I don’t know why she did that. Maybe it was because. She thought you wouldn’t tell on her. Maybe she knew… that you were… are… a good person. A good, real, Catholic person, who learned what was right in Catholic school. And wouldn’t do harm to another person. Maybe she… deep down… respected you. Because you would never, ever do… um, what she did. Yeah. I think that must be it.

(Silence.)

SARAH

But we’ll never know, Karen. We will just never know. And maybe… it’s better that we… That you, don’t. Maybe it’s better that you don’t know what was in that mind of hers. You’re better off without that kind of… of knowledge.

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE

(visibly relaxes. She has found her answer.)

(Long pause.)

THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE

Thank you, Sarah.

(Silence. THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE puts down the ice cream stick that is in her hand. )

I guess it’s over. It’s all over now.

SARAH

Yes. It is. (Pause). Karen? (Silence ) Karen? (Silence). Karen, I’m going to hang up now. You…have a good night. Goodbye, Karen. (SARAH hangs up the phone.)

(KAREN is silent, staring off into space.)

(After a long pause, the lights begin to go down)

END OF PLAY.

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