Why You Can’t Put a Wheelchair on the Stage

Conceived by Rani Deighe Crowe with Jill Summerville
* Monologues from Macbeth and Henry VI by William Shakespeare
** Dialogue from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Additional references to A Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, Noises Off by Michael Frayn, and the musical Chicago
First staged reading Open Circle Theatre, Washington, DC


ACT I

Scene 1

Lights up. A special on an empty wheelchair center stage.

Director One enters, considering the wheelchair, making a wide circle.

DIRECTOR ONE

But what does it mean?

Director Two enters, followed by Director Three. They examine the wheelchair.

DIRECTOR TWO

It must be a metaphor.

DIRECTOR THREE

It will upstage the actors.

DIRECTOR ONE

Is it a tragedy?

DIRECTOR THREE

It will throw off the levels.

DIRECTOR ONE

Is it existential?

DIRECTOR TWO

It makes me sad.

DIRECTOR THREE

It moves so slowly. It’s gonna throw off the blocking. Maybe we can decorate it?

DIRECTOR ONE

Trapped in the modern condition…

DIRECTOR TWO

Exactly.

DIRECTOR THREE

Put it on a higher level? Do we have hydraulics? Or a flat? Where’s the stage manager?

DIRECTOR TWO

Just put it in the background. It’ symbolic.

The directors stop suddenly and stare at an actress with canes entering, moving slowly and loudly.

The directors silently watch her cross the stage and sit in the chair. The actress stares at the audience. Prepared to take direction. The directors huddle.

ALL THREE DIRECTORS

Shit.

DIRECTOR ONE

Now what are we supposed to do?

DIRECTOR THREE

It must be outreach night.

DIRECTOR ONE AND TWO

Outreach night!

Director Three approaches the wheelchair.

DIRECTOR TWO

Excuse me.

ACTRESS

Yes?

DIRECTOR TWO

Sweetie, are you sure you’re in the right place?

DIRECTOR ONE

       (Covering the actress with a blanket)

You look cold.

DIRECTOR THREE

Let us show you to the wheelchair section.

               AS THE DIRECTORS GRAB PART OF THE WHEELCHAIR AND START PUSHING IT TOWARD THE AUDIENCE.

DIRECTOR TWO

Thank you so much for coming.

DIRECTOR ONE

You’re such an inspiration.

The actress pushes back from the directors and moves herself back into the spotlight.

ACTRESS

I’m your actor.

Pause

I am waiting for you to direct me.

The directors huddle.

DIRECTOR THREE

Do you know any wheelchair plays? I’m classically trained.

DIRECTOR ONE

Normally, I’d cast an able-bodied actress…

DIRECTOR TWO

A wheelchair might help illustrate the character’s dependence…

DIRECTOR ONE

Maybe-

DIRECTOR TWO

… a physical manifestation

DIRECTOR ONE

Maybe.

They stare at the actress, considering…

DIRECTOR ONE

The Glass Menagerie!

       (to the Actress)

You’re crippled. You’re dependent. But you resent it.

Lights out.

The actors scramble to their places.

         LIGHTS UP WITH A WASH.:

Director Two becomes TOM. Director Three takes the spotlight and becomes AMANDA. Director One watches intently from the audience.

DIRECTOR TWO

The play is a memory…   gentleman caller…

DIRECTOR THREE

All that money up the spout.

DIRECTOR TWO

Blue Roses

DIRECTOR THREE

Jonquils. Jonquils. Jonquils.

DIRECTOR ONE

  (to Actress, feeding her lines)

Admit that I’m crippled… Admit that I’m crippled-

Actress halts everything.

ACTRESS

No. No. No. Laura? Have you no vision? Gimme Amanda.

     SPOTLIGHT COMES ON.:

ACTRESS

The typing instructor didn’t even know who you were. All that money just gone up the spout!

The picnics and dances. My gentlemen callers! Lovely. Everywhere filled with jonquils. And   then I met your father…

The Directors stare.

ALL THREE DIRECTORS

Huh.

DIRECTOR ONE

That was interesting.

DIRECTOR TWO

Yeah.

DIRECTOR THREE

Let’s do Lady M.

DIRECTOR ONE

Oooh.

DIRECTOR TWO

Yeah.

DIRECTOR THREE

Can you do Lady M?

ACTRESS

Out damned spot.

DIRECTOR THREE

More movement.

Actress uses hands.

ACTRESS

Out, I say!-One, two. Why, then, ’tis time to do ‘t. Hell is murky!

DIRECTOR THREE

Across the stage.

Actress starts wheeling herself.

ACTRESS

Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier, and afeard?

DIRECTOR THREE

   (to Director Two)

Puppet her. A la Julie Taymor’s Tempest.

Director Two grabs the back of the chair and moves the actress around as if she were a giant puppet.

ACTRESS*

What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?- Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him. The thane of Fife had a wife: where is she now?– What, will these hands ne’er be clean?–No more o’that, my lord, no more o’ that: you mar all with this starting. Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh!

DIRECTOR ONE

That is so interesting.

DIRECTOR TWO

My turn. Everybody in wheelchairs.

The directors all run off stage. A small set of steps and two doors are rolled on stage.

           BLACKOUT. :

Everyone scrambles to get in places. We hear things being knocked over.

       LIGHTS FADE UP.:

Director Three rolls on in a wheelchair carrying a plate and a phone with a never ending cord that gets wrapped around everything as they move.

DIRECTOR THREE

Sardines. Sardines. Where’s my head and where’s my sardines?

Director Three rolls in and out of the doors. Director Two and Three roll onto stage, Director Two has a bra around their neck.

DIRECTOR THREE

Hackam Sackam and Clackam. Can’t wait to get out of these clothes-

    (They start bumping into the steps.)

I mean into something warm, I mean, into something wet, I mean, you know what I’m talking about.

DIRECTOR TWO

My contacts!

Everyone stops. Looks at the ground.

ACTRESS

Ladies and gentlemen, the performance will start in three minutes. Ladies and gentlemen, the performance will start in one minute. Ladies and gentlemen, the performance will start in five minutes. Ladies and gentlemen…

EVERYONE

        (yelling)

Selsden!

They all bow. The steps and doors are rolled offstage.

ACTRESS

A musical? I’ve always wanted to do a musical.

  BLACKOUT.:

Lights fade up on the four characters in wheelchairs backlit behind prison bars. They make sexy-like poses that change with vampy musical beats. And jazz hands. Lots of jazz hands.

DIRECTOR ONE

Abled

DIRECTOR TWO

Selfish

DIRECTOR THREE

Rude

ACTRESS

Dipshits!

Repeat two times. Faster each time.

EVERYONE

They deserved it. They sure deserved it. They can eat shit. And I’d do it again and again.

ACTRESS

I went to the groceries and this able bodied couple were parked in the handicapped parking space with their beautiful new SUV. So I ran my wheelchair into their car. I ran into twenty- two times.

EVERYONE

They deserved it. They sure deserved it. They can eat shit. And I’d do it again and again.

DIRECTOR ONE

Abled

DIRECTOR TWO

Selfish

DIRECTOR THREE

Rude

ACTRESS

Dipshits!

    LIGHTS FADE OUT. LIGHTS FADE UP.:

DIRECTOR TWO

That was fun.

DIRECTOR ONE

      (to Actress)

You know, you’re not bad.

ACTRESS

Thank you. You’re not bad yourself.

DIRECTOR ONE

I’m a little rusty.

DIRECTOR TWO

Let’s do another. Lights!

          BLACKOUT:

The extra wheelchairs disappear in the blackout. Directors One and Three sit in the audience.

Lights up on Actress, wearing a minimal costume suggestion of Juliet. Perhaps a long-haired wig. Director Two wears a minimal costume suggestion of a nurse. **

ACTRESS AS JULIET

Come hither, nurse. What is yond gentleman?

DIRECTOR TWO AS NURSE

The son and heir of old Tiberio.

ACTRESS AS JULIET

What’s he that now is going out of door?

DIRECTOR TWO

Marry, that, I think, be young Petrucio.

ACTRESS

What’s he that follows there, that would not dance?

DIRECTOR TWO

I know not.

ACTRESS

Go ask his name: if he be married. My grave is like to be my wedding bed.

DIRECTOR TWO

His name is Romeo, and a Montague; The only son of your great enemy.

ACTRESS

My only love sprung from my only hate! Too early seen unknown, and known too late! Prodigious birth of love it is to me, That I must love a loathed enemy.

DIRECTOR TWO

What’s this? what’s this?

ACTRESS

A rhyme I learn’d even now Of one I danced withal. One calls within ‘Juliet.’

DIRECTOR TWO

Anon, anon!Come, let’s away; the strangers all are gone.

They exit. Then quickly peak their heads out.

DIRECTOR TWO

What’d you think?

DIRECTOR THREE

Technically, you’re a little old for Juliet.

ACTRESS

Don’t even go there. That’s a whole ‘nother play.

DIRECTOR ONE

What about Beckett? That could work.

DIRECTOR TWO

Ooh!

DIRECTOR THREE

We stay away from Beckett.

DIRECTOR TWO

Oleanna? Could be interesting.

DIRECTOR THREE

Eh. Definitely no talkbacks.

DIRECTOR ONE

Albee?

DIRECTOR TWO AND THREE

No.

DIRECTOR ONE

Right.

DIRECTOR THREE

I have an idea!

    (to the Directors)

Take your seats.

Director Three takes actress backstage. Directors Two and One sit in the audience.

BLACKOUT:

Lights up on Actress sitting in wheelchair trimmed like a throne, wearing a minimal costume piece suggesting a queen. Perhaps a crown.

ACTRESS AS QUEEN MARGARET FROM HENRY VI*

Brave warriors, Clifford and Northumberland, Come, make him stand upon this molehill here, That raught at mountains with outstretched arms, Yet parted but the shadow with his hand. What! was it you that would be England’s king? Was’t you that revell’d in our parliament, And made a preachment of your high descent? Where are your mess of sons to back you now? The wanton Edward, and the lusty George? And where’s that valiant crook-back prodigy, Dicky your boy, that with his grumbling voice Was wont to cheer his dad in mutinies? Or, with the rest, where is your darling Rutland? Look, York: I stain’d this napkin with the blood That valiant Clifford, with his rapier’s point, Made issue from the bosom of the boy; And if thine eyes can water for his death, I give thee this to dry thy cheeks withal. Alas poor York! but that I hate thee deadly, I should lament thy miserable state. I prithee, grieve, to make me merry, York. What, hath thy fiery heart so parch’d thine entrails That not a tear can fall for Rutland’s death? Why art thou patient, man? thou shouldst be mad; And I, to make thee mad, do mock thee thus. Stamp, rave, and fret, that I may sing and dance. Thou wouldst be fee’d, I see, to make me sport: York cannot speak, unless he wear a crown. A crown for York! and, lords, bow low to him: Hold you his hands, whilst I do set it on.[Putting a paper crown on his head] Ay, marry, sir, now looks he like a king! Ay, this is he that took King Henry’s chair, And this is he was his adopted heir. But how is it that great Plantagenet Is crown’d so soon, and broke his solemn oath? As I bethink me, you should not be king Till our King Henry had shook hands with death. And will you pale your head in Henry’s glory, And rob his temples of the diadem, Now in his life, against your holy oath? O, ’tis a fault too too unpardonable! Off with the crown, and with the crown his head; And, whilst we breathe, take time to do him dead.

The directors applaud, rising to give the actress a standing ovation.

DIRECTOR ONE

I kinda forgot about the wheelchair.

They all look at Director Two, unsure if that is a good thing to say.

DIRECTOR ONE

I mean, it was there, obviously, but it wasn’t about that.

DIRECTOR THREE

Yeah.

ACTRESS

Exactly.

ALL THREE DIRECTORS

       (epiphany)

Oh.

THE END

 

 


Rani Deighe Crowe is a theater and film artist teaching screenwriting in the Creative Writing Program at Ball State University. Her award-winning short films Heather Has Four Moms, Beautiful Eyes, and Texting: A Love Story have screened at film festivals all over the world. Her poem, ‘Beautiful Eyes’ was published in the January, 2018 edition of The American Journal of Poetry. Her flash fiction story, ‘Church of Denial’, was published in the August, 2018 inaugural edition of Delay Fiction.

http://ranideighecrowe.com

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