Serving Justice

Dalise wrote the following one-act play for a creative writing course she took at Tarrant County College in 2014. It addresses the complicated ethical questions surrounding capital punishment. It has been edited from its original format to make it more easily readable. (SR = Stage Right, SL = Stage Left, UC = Up Centre, O.S. = Off Stage, V.O. = Voice Over)

CAST OF CHARACTERS

Meredith, late 20s, a wife and mother

Arthur, mid to late 60s, a man on death row

Nathan, about six, a son

Mr. Smith, mid 40s, a detective-like man

The action throughout takes place in Arthur’s mind, in what appears to be his former dining room, but is actually his execution room.

Time: Begins in the late 1970s, ends in the present.

SYNOPSES OF SCENES

ACT I

Scene 1: Arthur’s dining room around the dinner table, dinner-time, late 1970s.

Scene 2: Same room with table removed, revealed to be Arthur’s execution room, the present.

ACT I

Scene 1

TIME: Late 1970s. Dinner-time.

SCENE: Arthur’s dining room at the dinner table, set with plates, drinks, silverware, etc. Entrance SR.

AT RISE: ARTHUR is seated at the head of the table, with NATHAN at his left. MEREDITH ENTERS carrying a large roast chicken on a tray. ARTHUR and NATHAN smile at her as she sets it down on the center of the table.

MEREDITH: (breathes a sigh of relief as she sets down the chicken) Wooh! I hope my boys brought their appetite!

ARTHUR: (turns to NATHAN) Nathan, why don’t you get up and help your momma grab those peas and potatoes? We can’t leave all the work to the pretty ladies.

(NATHAN nods at ARTHUR and begins to stand up, but MEREDITH puts her hand up.)
No, no. You just sit right there, Nathan. Us pretty ladies like to do all the work. Especially when our boys have big news…
(She raises her eyebrows suggestively at NATHAN and EXITS SR.)

ARTHUR: (turns back to NATHAN) Ooh. Big news, huh? Looks like someone’s holding out on me. Well, c’mon tiger, what is it?
(reaches over and tickles NATHAN playfully)

NATHAN: (giggles and blushes, then speaks excitedly) Oh nothing…just that I got first place in the Spelling Bee! I beat everybody in the whole class, even Cathy Simpson. She couldn’t even spell tomato! Easy, T-O-M-A-T-O. And now, Mrs. Phillips said I get to compete against the winners from all the other first grade classes and if I win, I’ll be… (climbs up chair and makes a super hero impression) …SUPER SPELLING MAN!

MEREDITH: (ENTERS SR carrying two bowls and laughs as she sets them next to the chicken, plops down in the empty chair at ARTHUR’S right, and begins serving the meal) Okay, “Super Spelling Man”, sit down. It’s going to take more than being a super speller to make you that big and strong. So eat up, and if you eat all your dinner, maybe you can have some of those Super Speller chocolate chip cookies I made you for dessert.

(NATHAN sits.)

ARTHUR: (turns to MEREDITH and pouts) What about Daddy? Does Daddy get any Super Speller cookies?

MEREDITH: (turns to ARTHUR with a playful grin) Oh trust me, if Daddy eats all his dinner, then Mommy will make sure Daddy gets dessert. (leans in to kiss ARTHUR. ARTHUR raises his eyebrows and leans in as well.)

NATHAN: (smacks his hand over his eyes) EWWWWWW! You guys are gonna make me throw up!

ARTHUR: (laughs and pulls away from MEREDITH) He gets that over exaggeration from your side of the family! (picks up the knife to point at MEREDITH then begins carving the chicken) But all kidding aside, this really looks fantastic Meredith. Thank you. I couldn’t ask for a better wife. And I’m so proud of you Nathan. I know I’ve seen you studyin’ that dang spelling book for weeks, and what did I tell you? Practice…

NATHAN: (interrupts) …makes perfect! I know, Dad. Hey, after dinner, can we go out front and play catch? I still gotta break in that mitt Aunt Lisa got me for my birthday.

ARTHUR: That’s up to your momma, son. I don’t want those delicious cookies of hers to get cold.

MEREDITH: Oh, the cookies will be fine dear. You two boys go out and have fun. But you better hurry and finish eating, ‘cause I don’t want you outside after dark!

NATHAN: (stuffs mouth) I’m done! (NATHAN runs from the table and EXITS SL.)

ARTHUR: (glances down at NATHAN’S plate, then back at MEREDITH) He didn’t finish his peas.

MEREDITH: We’ll let him slide, just this once.

ARTHUR: (gazes lovingly at MEREDITH) You’re too good to us, you know that? (He stands, reaches out his arm towards her, bows his head slightly, and speaks in a cheesy overly suave voice.) May I?

MEREDITH: (She looks down and smiles, then looks up at him, gives him her hand, and responds in an equally cheesy over suave manner.) Why yes, you may.

(CROONER style music begins to play as MEREDITH stands, spinning into ARTHUR’S arms, and they begin to dance. The song ends as ARTHUR dips MEREDITH down and NATHAN ENTERS SL.)

NATHAN: (runs in wearing ball cap and carrying baseball mitt) C’mon, Dad! The sun’s goin’ down!

ARTHUR: (pulls MEREDITH up, gives her a pat on the rear, and turns to NATHAN) Alright, son. I’m comin’. (glances down at the dirty dishes on the table, then back at MEREDITH) You sure you don’t want any help with…

MEREDITH: (stern) I’m fine. Now go. (stacks up plates from the table and EXITS SR)

NATHAN: (runs excitedly to the door at UC and opens it to find Mr. Smith standing there. He takes a nervous step back and looks up at ARTHUR.) Uh, Dad. Whose…

MR. SMITH: (ENTERS UC through the door and looks directly at Arthur) Why, Hello Arthur.

ARTHUR: (confused) Uh, who are you? What are you doing here in my home?

MR. SMITH: (calm, yet assertive with a slight Boston accent) You know who I am, Arthur. And you know why I’m here.

ARTHUR: (angry and slightly scared) I…I think it’s time for you to leave.

MR. SMITH: I can’t leave, Arthur. You know it just as much as I know it. I can’t let you escape.

NATHAN: (scared) Dad?

ARTHUR: (looks down at NATHAN, back up to MR.SMITH, then back down at NATHAN) Why don’t you go on back to your room, okay son? (NATHAN puts his head down and EXITS SL)

MR. SMITH: Who you talkin’ to Arthur?

ARTHUR: (raises voice) Look, Mister. I don’t know who you are. And I don’t know what possessed you to walk into my home and bother me and my family tonight. But I’ve already told you once, and I’m only gonna tell you this one more time politely. I think it’s time for you to leave.

MR. SMITH: Now Arthur, there’s no reason to get your panties in a wad. I’m only doing my job here. Now I can see you’re a little confused, so let me help you out. We’re going to take this one step at a time – together. First off, I’m not bothering your family because you don’t have one. They’re dead. And they’ve been dead for a while now, too.

ARTHUR: Okay Mister! That’s it. You’re obviously insane. I’m calling the cops. (looks over to SR and yells) Meredith! Meredith! Get the phone and call the police, Meredith! (turns back to MR.SMITH) Alright, my wife’s calling the cops now guy. They’ll be here any second, and I wouldn’t wanna be you when they show up.

MR. SMITH: (puts head in hands, mutters inaudibly under breath, then looks back to ARTHUR) Cops, Arthur? Really! Must we do this every time? Your wife did not call the cops. Your wife is dead, Arthur. Meredith is dead. The cops cannot and do not want to help you. The cops put you here. The cops put you here because you murdered your wife. You murdered your wife, then you murdered your son, and now the state’s going to murder you. And that’s justice.

ARTHUR: (takes a step towards MR. SMITH and speaks with a low, threatening tone) I’ve given you plenty of chances to stop this bullshit. Now you have five seconds to get the fuck out my house before I do commit a murder. But first, I’m going to show you you’re wrong about my family. I would never lay a hand on either of them and they are not dead! Meredith! Nathan! Get in here! (pauses but there is only silence, EXITS SR, O.S., calls desperately) Meredith! Nathan! Meredith! Son!

MR. SMITH: (walks over to the dinner table, grabs a chicken leg, and takes a bite. He then looks around the room and speaks DOWNSTAGE with his mouth full) I must say, for a crazy guy, this is a pretty nice spread he’s got here. The mind may be fragile, but it sure can be beautiful.

ARTHUR: (ENTERS SL in a rage) YOU! WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO WITH THEM! I SWARE TO GOD IF YOU LAID EVEN A FINGER…

MR. SMITH: (rises out of the chair and puts his hands up, taking steps back as ARTHUR advances) Woah, buddy, calm down. You’re having a really hard time letting go this time. Jesus, Arthur, I was not expecting this. (looks at watch) Alright, here’s what we’re going to do, because I’m a man who likes to keep my deadlines. Just take a seat, right here, and give me two minutes to explain. (points at chair, then glances at watch again) Eh, better make it three.

ARTHUR: (sits down in chair and stares DOWNSTAGE) You have two and half.

MR. SMITH: (laughs) You got it, Arthur. Okay, what do you see?

ARTHUR: (looks angrily up at MR. SMITH) What kinda stupid question is that? I see my dining room, where I was enjoying a nice dinner with my family before you came barging in.

MR. SMITH: Okay, and what about over there? (points DOWNSTAGE at the audience)

ARTHUR: (rolls his eyes) My dining room window?

MR. SMITH: And what about outside it? What do you see outside your dining room window?

ARTHUR: I don’t know, grass…wait, who are all those people? (looks back up at MR. SMITH and starts to try and stand up) What are you trying to pull, huh? What the hell is this? Who are those people? Why are they watching me?

MR.SMITH: (rests his hand on ARTHUR’S shoulder and pushes him back down) Arthur, I know you loved your wife. And I know you loved you son. But, stay with me here. Try and remember. Remember 1978. You got let go that year, Arthur. After ten years, they let you go. You started drinking. I bet you drank more in that year than some do in their entire life. Meredith couldn’t take it anymore…

ARTHUR: (puts hands to ears and shakes head) No, no, no…

MR. SMITH: (raises voice) …She was leaving you Arthur. And she was taking Nathan with her. She’d told everyone, had it all arranged. But she picked a bad time to tell you, didn’t she Arthur? You were just one beer too many away from being able to accept that. So what did you do?

ARTHUR: (cries and shouts) NO! NO! NO!

MR. SMITH: (shouts) YOU KILLED HER, ARTHUR! (pulls tissue out of pocket and dabs sweat off of temples) You killed her.

ARTHUR: (falls to floor, throws hands up, and bellows) NOOOOOOO!

MEREDITH: (V.O. in terror) ARTHUR! NO! PLEASE! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? ARTHUR! AHHHHHHHH!

NATHAN: (V.O. scared and confused) Daddy?

MR. SMITH: (standing over ARTHUR but looking downstage) And little Nathan, poor little Nathan, had to open the door and find you there with the knife in your hand and his mother, dead on bloody on the floor. One last image burned into his brain before you killed him too.

NATHAN: (V.O. in terror) DADDY! NO! DADDY!

ARTHUR: (weeps)

(THE LIGHTS BLACK OUT)

(END OF SCENCE)

ACT I

Scene 2

TIME: The present.

SCENE: Execution room.

AT RISE: ARTHUR is strapped in the chair with MR. Smith at his left.

ARTHUR: (stares DOWNSTAGE, stoic) So this is it for me, huh?

MR. SMITH: I’m afraid so, Arthur.

ARTHUR: (looks up at MR. SMITH) You know, I never did remember who you were.

MR. SMITH: Who I am is unimportant, Arthur. But you can call me Mr. Smith.

ARTHUR: Mr. Smith?

MR. SMITH: Yes, Arthur?

ARTHUR: Can I ask you a question?

MR. SMITH: (looks down at watch again) Well, you just did. But I suppose I can spare you one more, as long as you make it quick.

ARTHUR: Oh right, deadlines. Well, I just wanna know, why you did it? Why did you tell me? You could of just killed me without telling me. You know, let me die happy.

MR. SMITH: Well, Arthur. I did it for them. (nods toward audience, so ARTHUR turns toward them) These people want justice. And I’m here to serve it to ‘em. And justice just isn’t justice if the guilty don’t know they’re guilty. Funny thing is… (pulls black bag out of pocket)…I gotta pull this over your face so they don’t have to remember me killing you ever again. But like I said, that’s justice.

ARTHUR: Goodbye, Mr. Smith.

MR. SMITH: (pulls black bag over ARTHUR’S head) Goodbye, Arthur.

(THE LIGHTS BLACK OUT)

and

FINAL CURTAIN.

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