Innocence Beyond Recognition

Setting: Bedside in the E.R. at 9 A.M.

Characters:

DAVID: college student. DAVID has burns and ash covering his clothes and face. DAVID has matted hair and is wearing a t-shirt and pajama pants.  He was a good student in high school, but is struggling in college.

KATIE: good college student. JIMMY’S girlfriend. KATIE looks worn out and has a ratty sweatshirt with the name of the college across it and sweatpants.

JAN: KATIE’S supportive friend, nice, believes everything DAVID says. JAN is played by the same actor as the NURSE.

DAVID’S MOM: hovering mom-ish, frumpy clothing with unbrushed hair, late 50’s

DAVID’S DAD: construction worker, rough around the edges, t-shirt and jeans, late 50’s

NURSE: mid-20’s, pretty, nice, wearing scrubs

PROFESSOR: nerd-y in appearance and in social skills, mid-40’s. PROFESSOR is a professor of history. S/he is both JIMMY’S and DAVID’S professor. S/he knows DAVID somewhat, but not a great deal about him.

DAVID sitting on the side of the bed, not lying. There are two chairs. KATIE’S eyes are puffy and red, and is just now coming out of shock and JAN is starting to comfort DAVID.  KATIE, JAN and DAVID look very drained with tearstained cheeks; they have been talking for some time.

DAVID (to KATIE):

And that’s when I smelled the smoke. (Sniffle) I leapt out of bed and started crawling for the door. I did what they always tell you in Elementary school and put the back of my hand to the door to feel how warm it was and if it was safe to escape that way.

KATIE (worried):

Oh, that must have been so scary! All the smoke, so hard to see — (more to herself) I don’t think I could have handled it.

DAVID (remembering it):

It — it was very bad. I felt like I was being burned at the stake.

KATIE:

Did – did you see Jimmy? Did you hear him? (Beat, voice softens) What was he like when he died?

DAVID (as if replaying it in his head again):

Katie, you don’t want to know. It was . . .  Katie, you don’t want to think of him like that. His last moments were (sighs) I don’t know how to say it.

JAN (calming for both DAVID and KATIE):

Just say it. Take your time.

DAVID (hard to come up with the words):

He was — he was a traitor to his — his character. He wasn’t himself.

KATIE (very upset, confused):

What do you mean, David? Was — was he crying? Was he in pain? Why was Jimmy a — a traitor to his — character?

DAVID (frazzled):

Oh, uh — he wasn’t your Jimmy. Katie, you don’t want to think of him like that.

KATIE nodding giving recognition to what DAVID had said

Jan (comforting both KATIE and DAVID):

I am sure anyone wouldn’t be themselves. It must have been hard to breathe. You must have been so scared and still saving that guy!

DAVID (voice rising):

But Jimmy died because of me!

JAN:

Tell that to the family of the boy who you saved! You were so brave, David!

DAVID (interrupting)

I’m no hero, Jan, even as much as you would like to think of me as one.

JAN (confused and a bit upset):

What’s the matter!? Why do you keep on insisting that you are not?! You not only saved your life, but also his! You should be proud of yourself. What was the guy’s name?

DAVID:

Peter. He is —

JAN (interrupting DAVID):

He is one of the best guys on the football team. With those skills of his, he might be going professional.

DAVID:

Yeah, he might. But Jimmy was going to become a teacher. Katie, remember how Jimmy was always there when we needed help.

KATIE (nodding her head in remembrance):

Yeah, he was a real natural when it came to teaching.

DAVID:

He was there every time I was so confused on my math and he always stepped me through it without getting mad at me. Or how when you got your heel stuck and the mud went all over your dress and how he acted like a goofball (KATIE laughs sadly) to make more people notice him than your ruined outfit. Man, I am going to miss him.

KATIE (crying):

Oh, David, I miss him so much! I — I don’t know (JAN rubbing her back comforting her) how I — I am going to get through this. He — he  . . .

DAVID (not as broke up about it, but still sorrowful):

He was a great guy, he was perfect to a fault.

KATIE (using a tone of sad disbelief):

Huh  . . . I just can’t talk about him in the past tense right now, too soon. It still doesn’t seem to me like he’s gone. (Sob) D-did, did (sigh) you know, one of the firemen found an engagement ring (voice breaks) near Jimmy’s nightstand? It just wasn’t fair.  I  . . .

DAVID (avoiding a response to this news, almost like he is in his own world):

What if fate choose wrong? Katie, I did what I did, but I can’t help from blaming myself. What if it was reversed, (stressed) what would Jimmy do? What if —

JAN (tired):

David, don’t twist fate. Don’t get trapped in the world of what if’s. You said that you did your best, and that is all that matters. (Sigh)

KATIE (in her own world of pain):

I just feel like this is all a dream. That this is a crazy nightmare that I just can’t wake up from.

JAN (still comforting KATIE, but more focused on DAVID):

I know this is a hard time to bring it up, but weren’t you and Jimmy fighting about something recently?

DAVID (frazzled):

Yeah, but it doesn’t matter now. None of it matters now. (sigh) Should I have done things differently? I mean it just happened so fast.

JAN (not in an accusatory tone, but more comforting):

Why do you keep on coming back to that you should have done more? You are the only person to save anyone besides himself. You are not some failed superhero, you had so much courage! You are a hero, even if you don’t feel like one. So stop throwing this pity party for yourself. (Beat) (In more of a teasing manner) You need to stop worrying that handsome head of yours with these thoughts, mister. No girl is gonna want you if you have all this negative energy around you.

All three laugh.

DAVID (nodding):

I . . . I think I just need some time to think it all through and take it all in.

Jan:

Yeah, Yeah, of course. You said that your parents are driving up?

DAVID:

Yeah, about an hour ago I had to call them because they couldn’t figure out how to use the phone to text me. Parents! (laughs) They’ll be here in a couple hours. So they’ll be here soon enough, giving me time to sleep a little.

KATIE:

Okay, bye David. I’ll see you in a couple of days. (Hug) Remember, you did everything you could and  . . . and Jimmy isn’t your fault. (Breaks down in tears)

KATIE exits stage left

JAN (solomon):

I better run after her. I hope everything works out okay. Bye. (hug).

JAN exits stage left. During this next scene JAN’S actor should change into the NURSE.

DAVID sits all alone and then the lights dim and a spotlight is just on him.

DAVID (in his thoughts as a soliloquy):

The fire outside the door wasn’t bad. I heard screams and ran towards Peter’s room. I yelled through the door to see if he could hear me. There was no response even though seconds before he was screaming. That’s what fire does to someone, makes you fear for your life and not care at all about what you are doing. Peter would have never been caught dead screaming like that on the field. I kicked the door in and almost stepped on a crumpled heap of Peter. I slowly dragged him out and closer to the exit when I passed Jimmy’s door. I could see Jimmy’s hand grasping at anything to drag himself out of his room. I put Peter down.

Lights return to normal

DAVID’S MOM and DAVID’S DAD enter from stage left. Time has passed since Katie left. DAVID’S MOM rushes over to DAVID and strokes his hair. DAVID’S DAD stands.

DAVID’S MOM:

Sweetie, sweetie, oh sweetheart how are you? Ohhh, look at those burns on you! Has no one been in here to help my poor helpless baby!

DAVID (moves away a few inches):

Mom! The staff here has been very nice and I’m okay. My friends came by a few hours ago, actually. I could go home if I had a place to stay. I’m fine. I’ve been all checked out.

DAVID’S MOM (standing close by, but not touching DAVID):

But you look terrible!

DAVID’S DAD (gruff):

Honey, he was in a fire, of course he is going to look terrible.

DAVID’S MOM:

I’ll sue the college! Yes, that is what I’ll do. They put my poor little helpless baby in harm’s way when he is supposed to be here getting an education, not being a stand-in firefighter! You could’ve died!

DAVID:

Mom! You don’t understand. I keep on telling everyone that it’s my fault but they just can’t understand. It starts making me wonder if I am wrong. (Laugh) And please don’t sue.

DAVID’S DAD (tilts his head at DAVID’S confusing words, but lets it go):

She’s been like this the whole way up here. I couldn’t talk a single bit of sense into your mother.

DAVID’S MOM:

I have a right to be upset when my baby could have been taken away from me! Now David, you said that you felt that those boys lives lost was your fault!?

DAVID (starts to pace):

You know that four of my buddies died in that fire. Guys that had their whole life in front of them and because of a — a terrible fire those lives are gone. Too soon, way too soon. Three were on another floor. But Jimmy was in the room next to me. Jimmy died because of me.

DAVID’S MOM and DAD:

David!

DAVID (still pacing):

I felt like I was doing something good when the fire broke out; I saved one person’s life, but failed to save another. (DAVID sitting down on the bed looking even more tired than before)

DAVID’S DAD (to DAVID’S MOM):

Do you think he hit his head on somethin’?  ‘Cause my boy isn’t thinking straight. (turns to DAVID) Why would you blame yourself for something like that? It’s like saying that you couldn’t help save a lady from being mugged in the next city over. It is not your responsibility unless you are the police or mugger. You did all right, David.

DAVID tirely nods

DAVID’S MOM:

How could my beautiful boy ever feel like such an atrocity could be his fault! You are a hero! That boy Peter is alive because of you! Cupcake, you did everything you could. (DAVID’S MOM comes over to DAVID and rubs his back and shh’s him. DAVID puts up with her, but is clearly uncomfortable)

DAVID’S DAD:

Yeah, son. Your mother is kinda right, for once. Don’t beat yourself up.  You should be proud of yourself. You helped someone, that took determination and sacrifice. Now only if you could carry on those traits into your studies, you could really achieve something!

DAVID’S MOM (gives DAVID’S DAD a smack on the arm):

Carl, you shouldn’t talk about that when your son could have died!

DAVID (stands up, starts to attack his parents out of frustration about his grades, with venom, confused on how to react, first time taking the “hero” side):

Will you guys just lay off lecturing me on my grades for just a minute?! That’s all you guys ever do! Does it seriously take a fire to make you guys come and see me? You think you can just swoop in here and save the day?! Well, I am not in middle school anymore. Mom, you are always babying me, I am an adult whether you like it or not. (Sarcastic) I am sorry that I never thought you were my hero like a lot of my friends do about their dads, but you are no Superman. You know, there are no real heroes in the world, but just people who decide who lives and dies at their feet. There are no Captain Americas or Spider-Mans, just people who get caught in the crossfire and decide to do something about it. [Beat] So what are you even doing here?

DAVID’S DAD (angry and hurt):

David! I don’t know what has gotten into you, son, but I don’t like it.

[Beat] (All in shocked silence at the escalation)

DAVID’S MOM (trying to calm the situation, standing close to DAVID, but not touching him):

Sweetheart, you are experiencing the five stages of grief for your friend, I read the book, you know. And right now you are –

(DAVID so full with rage, he almost cannot talk)

DAVID’S DAD (interrupting):

David obviously doesn’t care about a book you read. It’s not his fault for once and that’s final. If he is going to beat himself up over something he didn’t do then it might make him a stronger man, but no book is going to help him.

DAVID’S MOM (to DAVID’S DAD):

I’m only trying to help! My son is in need of his mother’s wisdom!

DAVID’S MOM and DAVID’S DAD get so wrapped up in their fight, they forget about DAVID altogether.

NURSE enters stage left.

NURSE:

Excuse me, Mr. and Mrs. Kowalski, but it seems you’re getting David more worked up than doing good for him at this stressful time. David, needs calming, supporting people right now, and I am afraid that you aren’t really doing that. If you could, please leave, that would be in your son’s best interest.

DAVID’S MOM (to NURSE):

But . . . But don’t we need to sign some forms or something being his parents for release. He needs to come home with us for a place to live.

DAVID (his rage has calmed but visibly stressed):

I’m not still twelve with a broken arm, Mom. And I am making arrangements in the morning so that I can still go to school. I’m fine. (DAVID points towards the door) Please, just go.

DAVID’S MOM:

But you haven’t seen us since last summer and you just survived a fire and I am a loving mother who needs to take care of her poor helpless baby. You need me –

DAVID’S DAD (interrupting again):

He said go and you’re making a scene.

DAVID’S MOM and DAVID’S DAD exit stage left.  Bickering can be heard leaving the stage.

NURSE:

I can only imagine what high school was like! (Laughs) Get some more sleep; it’s the best thing to help you cope.

NURSE exits stage left

DAVID sits all alone and then the lights dim and a spotlight is just on him.

DAVID (in his thoughts as a soliloquy):

Jimmy looked up at me, pleading for me to help him. I took a step forward and gave him a hand to help him up. I hesitated and pulled my hand back. In that moment, I was just so angry. So full of rage it was worse than the fire around us. In that moment, all that rage was focused on the coward of a man before me. I know what I did was wrong. I know what I did wasn’t the moral thing to do. I am being portrayed as the hero, but I am truly the villain for what I did to Jimmy. Or better said, didn’t do. It was wrong. But in that moment, it felt so right. It was beautiful karma. It felt like the tables were finally evened out for what Jimmy had done to me. I reached  forward. With the flames crackling around us and Jimmy’s pleading eyes, I said “Justice.”

Lights return to normal

It is mid-afternoon when PROFESSOR enters, stage left, just when DAVID says aloud ‘Justice’ and the PROFESSOR hears him.

PROFESSOR:

What did you say, David?

DAVID (frazzled):

Oh, Professor, I didn’t hear you come in. I was just  . . . um speaking to myself to make sense of it all. And I was saying how unjust the fire was.

PROFESSOR (sitting):

Ahhh, yes it was. But it would have claimed one more victim if you weren’t there. Peter is one of my students and you saved his life. I was just here visiting my mother and thought I would check in on you.

DAVID:

Oh, at first I thought you were here to talk about my grades. How is your mother doing?

PROFESSOR:

Slipping, she is slipping very quickly.

DAVID (almost less convincing this time, just checking all his bases before truly giving in to the idea about being a hero):

Oh, I am sorry to hear that. Since you are here, give it to me straight please; I think it was my fault. I could have done things differently. Everyone keeps on telling me that I’m a hero and did everything that I could, but what if they are wrong?

PROFESSOR:

The hero’s dilemma! Which life is worth more? Did he make the right split second choice? Could he have done more? Tell me, David, do you keep on replaying it over and over again in your head?

DAVID nods

PROFESSOR:

Is there a moment when you think you could have done better? Something different that would have made a different outcome?

DAVID nods

PROFESSOR:

Tell the negative committee that meets inside your head to sit down and shut up! You were put in a situation and you reacted to the best of your ability not knowing if you would even make it out alive. You didn’t know the outcome as you do now.

DAVID shifts on his bed, but still intently listening.

You put your own life at risk. You helped others before yourself. You were scared, it was  in the middle of the night, boy, I hope you were more awake than you typically are in my class.

DAVID laughs.

What I’m saying is that you probably weren’t thinking clearly. Yes, you might have made better decisions, but you can’t change that now. Unfortunately, this night will hang on your conscious for the rest of your life. (Pause) Now answer me honestly, do you know who started the fire?

DAVID (calm, then questioning):

I don’t know who started the fire. Is that why you came here, to question me if I started the fire?

PROFESSOR (waves hand as if brushing off the question):

No, No. The police are suggesting arson, but they doubt it was someone from the dorms. The person who started the fire is responsible for the four deaths. Don’t blame yourself that you couldn’t save them from the situation you were all thrown into. Make sense?

DAVID:

So you’re saying that it is not my fault?

PROFESSOR:

David, it is not your fault.

DAVID (reserved):

That is the best explanation I’ve gotten. Thank you.

PROFESSOR:

I know that you and Jimmy were close friends, did he seem different at all to you in the last few days?

DAVID (confused):

What do you mean, Professor?

PROFESSOR (explaining it slowly):

Did he seem more stressed? Was he anxious about anything? Did he tell you at all how he was feeling?

DAVID (even more confused):

No, why? What makes you ask?

PROFESSOR:

Well, Jimmy is a rather stellar student and on his last exam, his name at the top was erased a few times. He knows his own name, right? (Laughs nervously) He did quite poorly on the test even though I thought he understood it well.

DAVID (understanding, but wants to know more):

What are you getting at here?

PROFESSOR (slowly):

The police are thinking arson, but what if Jimmy really . . .

DAVID (putting the pieces together):

What are you saying? (pause) Are you saying that the fire was a suicide? Are you accusing Jimmy of starting that fire?!

PROFESSOR (backing off a little, almost ashamed that he did not see the signs of where Jimmy might be headed):

I am not saying anything, but it’s something to think about. Was there anything at all that just didn’t seem right, David? We need to know if this was supposed to harm others on purpose.

DAVID (turning the situation to help him):

Jimmy always said that he wanted to be remembered, but I never thought it was in this way. (pause) Jimmy was a little angry at me for some reason the past few days which I don’t know why. He always seemed leveled headed though.

PROFESSOR (nodding):

Sometimes people keep the darkest parts of themselves hidden where no one else is allowed to see. Maybe he was really struggling and didn’t let anyone help. His anger might have been the outward signs of him cracking. (sigh)

DAVID:

Wow, I just never thought Jimmy, the nicest guy, would ever do something like that. Thank you for sharing that possibility, Professor.

PROFESSOR (getting ready to leave):

Jimmy had so much potential to do something really good. I — I just think it is so sad that he might have felt helpless in this way.

DAVID:

Yes, so heartbreaking. I think I just need to think it over before I tell anyone about it, if you don’t mind. This is his reputation here, and no one likes to speak ill of the dead.

PROFESSOR:

Yes, yes I agree. Take your time. Get well soon, David. I’ll see you around.

PROFESSOR exits stage left

DAVID sits all alone and then the lights dim and a spotlight is just on him.

DAVID (in his thoughts as a soliloquy):

I reached forward, grabbing his hair, and said, “Justice. This is justice for ruining my future. All you had to do was take the test and write my name on it. I would have graduated and gotten the best job. I would have gotten the perfect wife, had a big house, worn a nice suit. I would have been happy. But instead I am going to be thrown out of college and accused of cheating. All because you chickened out.” I stepped on Jimmy’s fingers with the heel of my foot and whispered, “Sweet Justice.” Jimmy screamed in pain, but anyone would have thought he was screaming for help. I wasn’t worried. Jimmy started coughing really bad from all the thick black smoke. It was then that I knew what I was going to do. Jimmy was beginning to go unconscious, so he was easy to move aside when I reached for the door. The door knob wasn’t hot so it was easy to lock it. I gave it one good kick to make sure it couldn’t break through. Suddenly, all the rage was gone. It felt so good. The fire was getting hotter and hotter and it was harder to breathe. I picked up Peter and carried him out of the dorm.

Lights return to normal.

NURSE enters stage left. She stands a few feet from DAVID.

NURSE:

David, I just have to say what you did was really heroic. I couldn’t  help but overhear that you kept blaming yourself for not saving your friend. Don’t blame yourself.

DAVID:

Oh, I know that now. I think it was just a first reaction. But thank you for the reassurance.

NURSE:

Good. You should feel proud of yourself.

DAVID:

Thank you. I didn’t catch your name by the way.

NURSE:

It’s Mary.

DAVID:

Mary, you seem really nice. You have been so supportive through all this, I really appreciate it.

NURSE (a little shy about it):

Thank you so much, David. (Pause) Once you get everything sorted out, would you ever want to go and get some coffee sometime?

DAVID (surprised but very happy):

That is so sweet of you, Mary. I’d love to.

NURSE:

This is going to be awesome! I mean who wouldn’t want to have coffee with hero?

DAVID smiles.

Lights slowly darken and curtain falls.


This play was performed at Michigan State University Young Playwrights Festival on May 15-16 2016.

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6 responses »

  1. This is honestly amazing! You developed all of your characters so well, they were literally flawless. And the ending was a perfect way to sum up the story! All I saw were a few grammatical errors. After the part where David’s dad calls his mom an ‘old bag,’ when David’s mom was speaking, she says ‘is’ instead of ‘this’. Also, when David’s mom is talking to the nurse, she says ‘But don’t we need to sign some forms or something being his parents for release.’ Maybe add a question mark or shorten the sentence? Anyways, I really hope this wins a contest! It’s great! Can’t wait to read more of your posts!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: I Am Getting Preformed! | Receive Grace 2 Show Grace

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