Chez Rikers: An Urban Fable

by Charles Leipart

Stageplay


 

CHARACTERS:
THE MASSEYS, MEG and SAM. : A well-to-do couple in their 60s.
THOMAS: A waiter, 20s.
CAPTAIN HERALDO: Hispanic/black, 40s.
THE PATTERSONS, CLAIRE and GUY: Neighbors to the Masseys, in their 50s.

SETTING:
New York City. An indefinite future, a time of change.

Evening. A prison cell on Rikers Island.

 

In darkness, a sound collage of urban rioting: helicopters, police and ambulance calls, sirens, shouting, confusion, angry rap music. Then:

Evening. A prison cell on Rikers Island. A wall of jail bars running across the back; a harshly lighted corridor beyond.

At center, a small, linen-covered dining table, quite elegantly set with candles, crystal, silver, and two dining chairs.

THE MASSEYS, MEG and SAM, a well-to-do couple in their sixties, dance about the cell. MEG in a torn evening gown, a single strand of pearls about her neck; SAM in a soiled tuxedo with a torn sleeve.

THEY waltz elegantly about the cell, as a WAITER in a white serving jacket, plays “MOON RIVER” on the accordion, hitting occasional wrong chords.)

MEG              
(Singing softly as she dances)
“Moon River, wider than a mile, I’m crossing you in style someday—”

WAITER        
(Wrong chord)
Sorry. My accordion’s a bit out of tune.

MEG              
(Still dancing)
That’s all right, Thomas. You’re doing beautifully. Always keep a few standards in your repertoire. You’ll make good tips.

WAITER                    
Yes, ma’am.

He concludes the song with a flourish.

MEG and SAM applaud him. He removes the accordion.

SAM                          
Well done, Thomas. I’m quite astonished that you found our dining chairs.

WAITER                    
I could only locate the two, sir. The Requisitions Bureau is way behind in the inventory.

MEG                          
We are most grateful, Thomas. Fortunately the Special Protections Team allowed me to take Nanna’s chest of family silver with us.
(Touching the table setting)
It adds so much to the table setting, don’t you think?

SAM                          
We had no idea, Thomas. What was going on. We had just returned from the Museum Gala dinner. We were still in our evening clothes. Who would have thought it?

WAITER                    
The Revolution, sir. It was time.

MEG                          
We would like our other ten dining chairs back, Thomas, if you could put a word in.

SAM                          
Will the Captain be stopping in tonight?

WAITER                    
Yes, sir. To make sure everything is as it should be.

SAM                          
Yes, as it should be. Right. Very good, Thomas.

WAITER                    
Shall I clear the appetizer, sir?

SAM                          
Please.

MEG                          
And tell Pedro the grilled baloney was exceptional tonight.

WAITER
(Clearing small dishes from table to a service trolley at side)
It came across fresh from Hunts Point this morning.

MEG                          
And what was that sauce again?

WAITER                    
Catsup and mayonnaise, ma’am.

MEG                          
Lovely. I must have Pearl try that when we get home.

Pause.

WAITER
Yes, ma’am.

He finishes clearing dishes to the service trolley, crumbs table.

MEG paces about.

MEG
God, I could kill for a cigarette.

SAM
You’re doing wonderfully, dear. It’s been eighteen days.

MEG
Don’t remind me. You’re looking at a Carlton 100’s junkie, Thomas.

MEG goes to a cot at one side, takes up a comb and piece of broken mirror from under a pillow.

She attempts to comb her hair and check her reflection, full-figure, in the bit of mirror.

MEG
I believe I’ve put on a few pounds, Sam—eating like there’s no tomorrow.
(Checking her teeth)
You don’t think you could find me some floss, do you, Thomas?

WAITER                    
It will cost you, ma’am.

MEG                          
Oh, yes, that is the new system, isn’t it? Toothpaste, two pearl earrings, shampoo, an alligator shoe. Never mind, Thomas, I’ll do without.

WAITER                    
As you wish, ma’am.

SAM
(As the WAITER is about to exit with dirty plates—)
Thomas, one moment—

He steps aside to WAITER.

WAITER
Yes, sir?

SAM
(Speaking quietly)
Did you get them?

The WAITER takes two black capsules from his jacket pocket, holding them out to SAM.

WAITER
Black Morphies, sir. They’re quite painless and fast-acting.

MEG
Sam, what are you two whispering about?

SAM
Nothing, Margaret. The waiter was just getting me something for my headache.

MEG
Be careful, Sam. I still don’t trust the Tylenol.

SAM
Will my watch do?

WAITER
The watch will do nicely, sir.

SAM slips his watch off his wrist, giving it to the WAITER. The WAITER goes out with dirty plates.

MEG
Sam, was that necessary?

SAM
What, my love?

MEG
Giving him your gold Rolex.

SAM
I haven’t any money, Meg.

MEG
He might have taken a check.

The WAITER returns to the cell.

MEG
—Oh, Thomas, I never thanked you for the lovely job you did on the table.

WAITER
You’re welcome, ma’am. The Captain said very particularly you were to have the best.

MEG
What did I tell you, Sam? We have friends in high places!

WAITER
Shall I bring on the entrées now?

MEG
Please.

WAITER
That’s the Macaroni and Wieners for Madam, and the Chipped Beef on Toast for Mr. Massey.

SAM
That’s right, Thomas.

MEG
And Thomas, could you ask Pedro, not too pink on the wieners?

SAM
Pink will be fine, Thomas.

WAITER
Very good, sir. And, sir—I recommend you have them with espressos, it cuts the bitterness.

MEG
Espressos, Sam? Are you sure? Won’t it keep us up?

SAM
I don’t think so, dear. Two espressos, then, please, Thomas.

The WAITER nods, starts out, then—

WAITER
—sorry, ma’am, one last thing. Will you be wanting a priest?

MEG
A priest? Heavens, no, Thomas. I think a hairdresser would be more in order.

WAITER
Yes, ma’am.

 He steps out the cell door.

MEG
A priest, Sam. What a bizarre suggestion.
(Stopping the WAITER)
Thomas, wait. Lock the door after you, please.

SAM
Leave it open, Meg.

MEG
Sam, are you sure? You never know who might be roaming the corridors.

SAM
Just pull it to, young man.

WAITER
Yes, sir.

The WAITER pulls door to, exits up the corridor with the serving tray.

MEG
We have to have security, Sam. You can never have too much security. There was a stink bomb thrown in the yard during exercise this morning.

SAM
Was there?

MEG
Didn’t you smell it?

SAM
I was in scrubbing the urinals.

MEG
It turned out to be a protest by some of the regular inmates—over our taking over the accommodations. We’ve spoiled them, Sam. Giving them choice Manhattan real estate, right in the middle of the East River. Just think what the President’s people could do with this property. A wonderful luxury high-rise condominium, with beds and beds of lovely tulips all along the electrified, high-security fence. We ought to ship these felons upstate, Sam—way, way, upstate. Beyond Schenectady. That’s more like punishment. How do I look?

SAM
Fresh as a daisy.

MEG
Liar.
(Regarding herself again in the bit of mirror)
God, Angelo will scream when he sees my hair. I believe you’ve gotten a tad grayer in the few weeks we’ve been here. Don’t worry, dear. We’ll be back home in our own beds tonight.

SAM
Where did you hear this?

MEG
That was the word in the toilets tonight. Matron said they were shipping us all home tonight after dinner. Angelo can give you a little touch-up on the sides. No need to get slovenly, Sam

SAM
No. No need.

MEG
Cheer up, Sam. You look like death warmed over.

THE PATTERSONS, CLAIRE and GUY, fifties, come along the corridor, also in worn evening clothes and wearing yellow rubber gloves: GUY with a toilet plunger, CLAIRE with a toilet brush in hand. Over their evening clothes, they wear green t-shirts printed, “NYC DEPT. OF CORRECTION”.)

CLAIRE
Wait, Guy, I think we took the wrong turn. This isn’t our cellblock.

MEG
Claire Patterson, what on earth are you doing?

CLAIRE
Guy, it’s the Masseys. They sat across from us in the evacuation van.

GUY
(to SAM)
Hello there, old sport. Missed you at exercise.

CLAIRE
We’ve just done our latrine duty. We left it sparkling.

GUY
SPARKLING. To show we’ve been rehabilitated. To the NEW THINK. “LESS IS MORE.”

CLAIRE
We love the NEW THINK. “MORE IS LESS.”

GUY
Love it!

CLAIRE
(Pressing her face against the cell bars)
Oh, look at that table setting! The whole nine yards, Guy. You’re certainly going out in style, Meg.

GUY
We thought we’d have ours is the cafeteria. Along with all our new friends from Drug Detox.
(to CLAIRE)
We’d better move on, dear. We’ll be missing cell check.

CLAIRE
We mustn’t do that. We want to follow all the rules. Like we’ve always done. They’ll see and perhaps—

Pause.

GUY
Now, now, none of that. Come along, Pumpkin.
(Leading with his toilet plunger)
LESS IS MORE…

CLAIRE
Yes, MORE IS LESS. More or less…

She hurries off down the corridor after GUY, waving her toilet brush. Pause.

MEG
Claire’s been a bit queer lately.

SAM
How so?

MEG
In the toilets. This afternoon. She started crying.

SAM
Crying. What about?

MEG
About it being their last night. I would think she would have been glad to be finally going home. She didn’t have any soap, poor dear. I lent her mine.

SAM
That was kind.

MEG
Yes. Funny how quickly people get attached. To their surroundings. If we weren’t leaving tonight, I was going to ask the Captain if I could have some fabric to make a curtain for that little window. The sun shines right in my eyes in the morning. But I shall miss it. Our little cell. It reminds me of that one-room stone cottage we leased on Crete for our honeymoon. You’d go fishing in the morning and I’d pick oranges. Except, we had a sea view.

Pause. SAM is lost in thought.

MEG
Is something wrong, dear? You look a bit grim. Don’t worry, we’ll be home tonight. And you’ll be back terrorizing the trainees at the bank tomorrow.

SAM
I may not be going in tomorrow.

MEG
Now, now, none of that. You’ve gotten lazy, we both have, sitting around here with nothing to read but back issues of the WATCH TOWER. But now that the emergency is over, we both have to get back to work. I’ve got to get back to the gift shop at St. Luke’s, the inventory must be a nightmare.

SAM sits down on his cot.

MEG
Try not to mess up your cot, dear. I want to leave everything in good order, just as we found it.

SAM
Quite right, my dear.

MEG
I was bungalow monitor at Camp Chateaubriand. I could be quite brutal with a fine. We were responsible for making our own beds, and it was absolutement, de rigueur to speak French at table at mealtime. VEUILLONS FAIRE ÇA CE SOIR, MON CHÉRI?

SAM
Not tonight, Margaret.

MEG
Your French will never improve if you don’t practice, Sam. TO GO. The irregular verb ALLER—JE VAIS, TU VAS, IL VA, ELLE VA, NOUS ALLONS, VOUS ALLEZ—I go, you go, he goes, she goes—

MEG and SAM
WE ALL GO.

Along the corridor comes CAPTAIN HERALDO, Hispanic/black, forties, quite dapper in beret, ascot, fatigues, boots, revolver. He carries a sable coat over his arm, and a bottle of red wine. He has a disfiguring scar on his left cheek.

CAPTAIN
I hope I’m not intruding.

MEG
(Clapping)
Oh, bravo, bravo, our savior!

CAPTAIN
Cómo está?

MEG
Oh, muy bien, el Capitán.

CAPTAIN
What beautifully made beds.

MEG
How nice of you to notice.
(Cueing SAM to stand)
Sam.

SAM
We were just taking a stretch between courses, Captain.

CAPTAIN
I took the liberty of bringing down your sable. It might be a bit chilly later in the evening.

MEG
Thank you, Miguel.

She steps forward, the CAPTAIN helps her into her sable coat.

MEG
Please forgive my odor, Captain, but I haven’t been able to send home for a change, and Matron confiscated my little bottle of Eau de Guerlain. Brrrr, these old structures are like barns. But then, we can’t expect Chez Rikers, can we?

CAPTAIN
A joke. Ha.

MEG
(Gaily)
Ho!

The WAITER returns down the corridor, with covered dishes on a tray.

MEG
Sam, I want you to call the President first thing in the morning. You have his private number. Oh, thank you, Thomas, set our dinner on the serving cart.

WAITER
The President has resigned, ma’am.

MEG
Resigned? Donald, resigned? Can he do that?

CAPTAIN
The peaceful transition of power, madam. The President and his family have retired to their vacation retreat in St. Petersburg.

MEG
St. Petersburg? I didn’t know they had a second vacation home in Florida.

SAM
Russia, Meg. You remember, the Little Russian White House.

MEG
For how long?

CAPTAIN
Their stay appears to be a permanent one. He took his golf clubs and a hairdresser.

MEG
How sad. A man with so much business expertise. You’d be foolish not to use him, Captain.

CAPTAIN
We have used him well.

MEG
Will you be joining us for dinner, Captain? Thomas, another chair.

CAPTAIN
I’ve already had mine.

MEG
(Little girl disappointed)
Oooooohhhhhh…

CAPTAIN
I thought you might enjoy a bottle of 1995 Mouton-Rothschild from my private cellar—and a rather ripe Brie de Melun—

He takes a small cheese from his pocket, giving it to MEG.

MEG
Lovely. Hmmmmmmm—smell this, Sam. Thomas, take this, will you? We’ll have it with our salad. Una copa de vino, Capitán?

CAPTAIN
Please.

MEG
And a glass for the Captain, Thomas. Por favor. Sam, offer Miguel your chair.

SAM pulls out his chair, offering it to the CAPTAIN.

MEG
I want to thank you for closing down the airport. We’re sleeping much better now.

CAPTAIN
(Examining chair)
This chair is Duncan Phyfe.

MEG
Yes, we only have the two left—that’s all we could salvage from our dining room set. That and the family silver.

The CAPTAIN picks up a piece of silver from table, studying it.

CAPTAIN
PAUL REVERE. The GEORGE III pattern.

MEG
Yes, Sam’s mother’s. Part of a setting for twelve. Minus two demitasse spoons Pearl dropped down the disposal.

CAPTAIN
Charming. Such a sense of occasion.

MEG
Please sit.

The CAPTAIN sits in chair.

MEG edges her chair over, to sit next to the CAPTAIN.

MEG
We’d like to thank you for saving our lives. It’s such a shame, really, all this civil disruption. Just when America was getting so great again.

CAPTAIN
And so white.

MEG
Yes. Well. As the French are so fond of saying, “Plus ça change, plus la même chose!” Are the barricades and barbed wire still up on Park Avenue?

CAPTAIN
They’re down now. We’re replanting the azaleas.

MEG
Thank goodness. We owe you so much. We owe you our lives. As soon as law and order are restored, we’d like to have you to dinner. There are some people you should meet.

CAPTAIN
I’d like that.

The WAITER pours wine, passes glasses around.

MEG
Thank you, Thomas. I’d like to propose a toast. TO THE AMERICAN SPRING.

SAM/CAPTAIN
THE AMERICAN SPRING.

MEG
SALUD.

SAM/CAPTAIN
SALUD.

They drink.

MEG
(Approving the wine)
Fruity, yet full-bodied. Very nice. THE AMERICAN SPRING. Such a catchy name for a movement. It almost sings of Hope and Possibility!

SAM
Ring-a-ding-ding.

A look between the CAPTAIN and SAM.

SAM
How did you come up with it?

CAPTAIN
Our marketing boys worked it up.

SAM
Every revolution needs a good branding.

MEG
“AMERICAN SPRING—The Change You’ve Been Waiting For.” Lovely.

SAM
That, I think, says it all.

CAPTAIN
Gracias.

MEG
Like Sam did at the bank—“T. GRAFF FINANCIAL—Banking on the Future.”

SAM
Too bad we got it wrong.

CAPTAIN
No problem. We’re working with the Wall Street boys now. They see opportunities with us for new financial products.

MEG
Really? I hope you’ll let us in. It’s what we’ve always wanted, Sam and I. More opportunities. A better world. For everyone.

 THEY drink silently, then—

MEG
If people could just be satisfied with their lot. That’s what we were taught. Acceptance. Keep your hands folded neatly in your lap until it’s your turn to talk.
(She does so. Beat)
I mean, there are some things you simply cannot change. Certain inequities are built into the system. That’s what gives society its stability. There will always be the haves and the have-nots. Read Jackie Collins, read Barbara Cartland. The truth is there. The Good Book said it best, “The Rich are always with us.”

SAM
I think that was the Poor, Meg.

CAPTAIN
We’re just doing a little necessary re-structuring right now.

MEG
You have to. That’s what Sam does at the bank every few years. He re-structures. Shakes things up, puts the fear of God into the little buggers. It keeps everybody on their toes.

She drinks.

CAPTAIN
Exactly.

MEG
I’m sorry you can’t join us for dinner. We understand it’s our last night.

CAPTAIN
Yes, it is.

SAM
Tell us about your scar, Captain.

MEG
Oh, yes, do. Does it hurt?

CAPTAIN
Only when I smile.

He smiles painfully.

End of Excerpt.

 


Charles Leipart is a former Fellow of the Edward F. Albee Foundation. A native of Chicago, he is a graduate of Northwestern University and a member of the National New Play Network’s New Play Exchange. He lives and writes in New York City and is a member of The Dramatists Guild and ASCAP. Chez Rikers: An Urban Fable was read in the theater for the New City, New Blood reading series in June 2017. His play Cream Cakes in Munich was awarded first prize in the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival One-Act Contest 2016. Swimming at the Ritz, his original portrait of Pamela Churchill Harriman, was developed with award-winning BBC director David Giles and supported by the Arts Council England, with a U.S. premiere at the New Jersey Repertory Company in 2015. www.charlesleipart.com

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