Play in the Drawer: Rob Handel

The playwright in captivity

Welcome to a new Sightlines series (I'm sure your anticipation has been furious) wherein we ask playwrights to treat us to an excerpt form a yet unproduced play. We're beginning with the fine ladies and gentlemen of 13P and her to inaugurate the series is Rob Handel. Handel recently won the 2007 Helen Merrill Award for Emerging Playwrights and he's using it to develop the play, tentatively titled Captivity Narrative. You can find his first scene, which includes puppets, rope, and duck jokes, after the jump.

Handel's play Millicent Scowlworthy was developed at the O'Neill Playwrights Conference and produced in New York at the 2006 Summer Play Festival (SPF), for which Rob was awarded a residency and staged reading at the Donmar Warehouse in London. Aphrodisiac (which I loved!) was developed at the Public Theater "New Work Now" Festival and produced in New York by 13P.

CAPTIVITY NARRATIVE (first scene)

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JESSICA, 17, wearing sweat-soaked running clothes, sits in the middle of the floor in a nice bedroom. She is absorbed in digging pebbles out of the soles of her sneakers with a butter knife. One hand holds the foot steady while the other holds the knife.

After a while, her concentration dissipates. Her movements stop. She stares at nothing, elsewhere.

She comes back to herself, holds the knife up in front of her eyes and looks at it in amazement. It can now be seen that her wrists are tied together with duct tape.

Quickly she looks towards the door. She hurries to the bed and hides the knife under her pillow. Quick, light footsteps are heard climbing the stairs. JESSICA slips under the duvet, so only her head is visible, and feigns sleep.

The door opens. A 9-YEAR-OLD GIRL peeks in, sees JESSICA asleep, withdraws, shuts door. (The GIRL is a puppet.) The footsteps descend the stairs.

JESSICA waits a moment, goes to get up, falls out of the bed. Now, strangely, her ankles are duct-taped together, and her wrists are taped together behind her back instead of in front of her.

She crawls downstage and tries to stand up. A different set of footsteps is heard climbing the stairs. JESSICA rolls under the bed.

Two taps on the door.

MOTHER (outside door) Jessica? She’s here.

JESSICA She can come up.

(MOTHER opens door.)

MOTHER You want to meet her up here?

JESSICA Yes. I’ll meet her up here.

MOTHER What are you doing under there?

(Longish pause.)

JESSICA I dropped something.

(MOTHER exits, closing the door.

JESSICA comes out from under the bed and stands up. She is not tied up at all.

She goes to her desk, puts a hand out and uses it as a barre while she runs through some ballet positions.

Unable to flex her toes due to the sneakers, she sits at the desk to untie them. Footsteps on the stairs.)

KIM (off, approaching) Jessica?

(JESSICA crosses to the door but is pulled up short and nearly falls. One of her feet is tied to the desk with a six-foot rope.

She sits at the desk again to examine the problem. Two knocks. She shoves the six feet of rope under the desk out of sight, and positions herself so someone entering and sitting on the other side of the room won’t see her feet.)

JESSICA Come in.

(Enter KIM, 40, probably blonde.)

KIM Hi.

JESSICA Hi.

(JESSICA gestures to the chair where she wants KIM to sit. KIM sits.)

JESSICA Sorry if I smell. I’m a big runner. I’ve been running at least three times a day.

KIM (surprised, indicating window) Don’t the camera crews —

JESSICA I’m faster than them.

KIM Of course.

JESSICA I used to read Runner’s World from the grocery store. And Self.

KIM But you couldn’t -- You weren’t able to go running when you were... (trails off)

JESSICA (helpfully) When I was in captivity? No. But I ordered athletic wear. You can really barely see it. The weight gain. I don’t know what they’re giving you such a hard time for.

KIM You’ve been following -- You’ve heard about that.

JESSICA You can’t see ten pounds. I mean, come on.

KIM (a hint of weariness) It’s not ten pounds. (suddenly this conversation strikes her as absurd) I didn’t realize you were -- a fan.

JESSICA Oh yeah. I watched you every day.

KIM You don’t have that -- when people meet me sometimes -- you don’t seem at all starstruck.

JESSICA I’m a celebrity too.

KIM Right.

JESSICA I thought you’d want to interview me after I escaped. You understand why I had to wait a week since the press conference, right? I didn’t want to tell my whole story all at once and have people get bored.

KIM Sure. You say you ordered athletic wear?

JESSICA I would tell him what I wanted out of the catalog, and he’d order it for me. He’d order whatever I wanted in the way of clothes. He was always asking me if I was comfortable. “Are you comfortable?” I should save this for the cameras. Or did you want to practice the interview ahead of time?

KIM No, actually, I wanted to meet you ahead of time so we could agree on whether there’s anything in particular I should ask you about. Normally my producer would be talking to your lawyer or representative about this, but I understand you always speak for yourself. So I felt I should do the same.

(JESSICA smiles. KIM smiles back. Then JESSICA is back to business.)

JESSICA You can ask about anything except whether I was physically abused.

KIM Sure.

JESSICA That’s standard in these cases.

KIM Even a yes or no?

JESSICA I’m willing to talk about anything else.

KIM Sure. Of course, people, you know -- it will kind of be the elephant in the room. Some people feel that other victims can feel empowered by hearing --

JESSICA I would like to talk about my faith in Jesus Christ. That’s more important, right? You know, Jesus can make a raped woman a virgin again. He can do that, and he can give a nine-year-old girl the strength to wait as long as necessary and become as strong as necessary to escape from captivity. Even if it takes eight years.

KIM That is so powerful and so interesting, Jessica. Will you say that again, just like that, in the interview?

JESSICA I don’t know. About the raped woman? It might distract people if I said that on the air. I was making a point about my faith to you, as a woman to a woman.

KIM Sure. I think what it is -- is people want to know that it’s possible to go through something as extraordinary as what you went through and yet be able to have a normal life.

JESSICA It’s only been a week that I’ve had a normal life. But I believe if you have faith, if you really want to be free, you can get access to the strength you need. There are some problems adjusting. I don’t know how long they’ll last. There’s the light thing. Extension cords, they’re a problem.

KIM Why extension cords?

JESSICA He used extension cords at first. From my bedroom. Then when we got to his house he switched to duct tape. I guess he didn’t think to bring duct tape with him. Do you know the duck joke? A duck walks into a store, goes up to the manager, says (using a really annoying duck voice) EXCUSE ME! DO YOU HAVE ANY DUCK FOOD? The manager says, No, I’m sorry, we don’t have any duck food. The duck looks disappointed, goes away. The next day, the duck comes into the store. Goes up to the manager. EXCUSE ME! DO YOU HAVE ANY DUCK FOOD? The manager says, No, I told you yesterday, we don’t have any duck food. The duck looks sad, goes away. Next day, duck comes into the store, goes up to the manager. EXCUSE ME! DO YOU HAVE ANY DUCK FOOD? Manager says, No, and if you come in here again, I’m going to nail your little webbed feet to the floor! The duck looks heartbroken, goes away. Next day, duck comes into the store. Goes up to the manager. EXCUSE ME! DO YOU HAVE ANY NAILS? The manager says, no. DO YOU HAVE ANY DUCK FOOD? (She cracks up laughing.) Saying duct tape always reminds me of that joke.

KIM (ready to get out of here) I’ve never heard that one before. I guess we’re set. If you think of anything else, you can call my cell anytime. The number’s right there.

(KIM leaves her card on the desk and shakes JESSICA’s hand.)

JESSICA Thanks, Kim.

KIM Thank you. I’ll see you Monday.

(KIM exits and we hear her footsteps descend the stairs. She has left the door open. JESSICA rises and walks quickly towards the door, falls down. She is still tied to the desk. On the floor, she silently chastises herself.)

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