On Any Given Winter Wednesday Night
By Alan Haehnel
1. As written, this play is performed with 15 actors. This number is not set in stone. Directors have my permission to re-assign lines to accommodate whatever cast size works best.
2. The ensemble varies throughout the play; most scenes have fewer than 15. The reason for this is simple: I subtracted the number of named characters in that scene from the overall ensemble. This way, those playing named characters, the “townspeople,” will be able to exit the stage for costume changes, if desired. Again, if this convention does not work for a particular director, it can be altered.
3. In its entirety, “On Any Given Winter Wednesday Night” is a full-length play, running about 90 minutes. However, directors should feel free to cut scenes or portions of scenes to get the show to whatever length works best for their needs.
4. If you have the talent and inclination, this would be a great show for using projections on a screen over the set. The names of the various scenes could be displayed at their beginnings, and then photos, pictures and videos could enhance the scenes themselves. I would just caution that these visuals not be too literal nor too busy.
5. A note about punctuation and delivery. Since this play is written in poetic form, actors might be tempted to pause at the end of each line break. This tendency will kill the pace of the show. Unless I have placed punctuation at the end of a line, the actor should not pause. Moreover, if the line goes from one actor to the next and I have not punctuated the transition, the actors should strive for a pause-less transition. If I do think there should be a pause between actors, I have included ellipses.
(Open to an empty stage. The ensemble enters, bringing in boxes of various sizes. The ensemble members, speaking their lines as they work, unhurriedly but efficiently arrange the boxes into a configuration. Once the arrangement is set, lights come up within the boxes and shine through windows cut into them to create a picture of a town at night. Throughout the play, the ensemble stands, sits on and moves amidst the boxes.)
Scene 1: Introduction
1A: On any given winter Wednesday night,
1B: In any given town you might pass through,
!C: Behind the flashing windows, in the lighted rooms,
1D: There dwells…
ALL: A tribe.
1E: On average, across this country,
A tribe of seven hundred fifty-two.
1F: Circumscribed not by blood
Or political affiliation
1G: But by virtue of simple habitation
Within established boundaries.
1H: A tribe defined by lines
Inscribed upon some map.
ALL: On any given winter Wednesday night
1I: We find them.
1K,L,M: Go Eagles!
1O, 1A, 1B: Eat ‘em up, Tigers!
1D,1E,1F: You got no answer for the Panthers, baby!
1G: Bulldogs,Vikings, devils, rams and bears
ALL: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah...
(Each ensemble member finishes this chant with a different mascot, shouted simultaneously.)
1H: Their tribal totems,
The tools of their identity,
The symbols they shout and wear.
1I: But here, day over,
School behind them,
There is no single story
That defines them.
1J: That is our task.
1K: A big ask, 15 of us to represent 750,
give or take.
1L: Make no mistake--50 per is a lot.
ALL: We got it.
1M: But, in order to fulfill this tall order
1N: This will be one of those deals
Where the characters wheel
In various directions.
1O: We’ll be testing your agility,
Your mental flexibility
1A: To keep track of the various personalities
We portray up here tonight.
1B: The very same person might
Narrate one moment
1C: Then gyrate around to become
1D: A character commented upon.
1E: Brother becomes mother becomes son.
1F: In other words, pay attention.
1G: Get past your dismay
That I might play
The part of a boy.
Other than the plumbing
Maybe there’s more that engenders
Us to each other
Rather than renders us
We have to respect
That on various spectrums
We’re all all over the place anyway.
So say I’m a boy,
Or a grandmother,
in the midst,
I am and can be myriad,
And that’s not deranged.
Scene 2: Private Battles
(The Ensemble re-arranges the set into a new view of “the town” as they speak the first lines of the scene. This is the convention at the beginning of each named scene.)
2A: Remember way back a minute ago
We spoke of a tribe
You might drive by
And wonder about?
2B: 752 strong could shout
They go to the self-same school.
2C: But once they’re scattered
At the end of the day,
Who are they?
2D: Well, one of them is Max Nunez.
He had mono for a month,
Missed a ton of classes
Which he now has to make up.
2E: Most of the teachers
Are picking and choosing
Just a few things
For Max to do,
But not old Mrs. McCrady.
MAX: Man, I hate that lady.
No, for her, for me to get credit,
I have to write, write, write
And then edit
A three-thousand-word essay.
Who even has that much to say?
Especially about this lame quote
She gave me as a topic.
Talk about rotten.
Listen to this:
2F: “Be kinder than necessary
For everyone you meet
Is fighting some kind of battle.”
MAX: Rattle that around in your brain
For a while, see if it
Doesn’t drive you insane.
That’s by James Matthew Barrie,
By the way,
Best known as the author of Peter Pan,
With the pirate and the fairy.
2G: “Everyone you meet is fighting
Some kind of”
MAX: So what? I’m supposed
To picture everybody marching?
ALL: Hup, two, three, four!
2H: Get into line;
Life is a war!
ALL: Five, six, seven, eight!
2I: Nobody’s got it
All that great!
ALL: Nine, ten, eleven, twelve!
MAX: Speak for yourself, J.M. Barrie!
“Be kinder than necessary.” Right.
What about McGrady?
She sure wasn’t kind.
2J: Max looks out the window,
Peers through the falling
Curtain of snow
Separating him from his next-door
Neighbor, Jim Spaulding.
Of Jim, Max thinks
MAX: He’s not fighting any battle!
Women come to him like cattle
To the slaughter.
I ought to find the cause of his war
And immediately enlist.
2K: Pissed, Max sits, disconsolate.
2L: And what of Jim, whom Max has labeled
A battle-free chick magnet?
He doesn’t look like he’s bragging.
2A: The way he moves,
It’s like he’s dragging
Some heavy baggage.
JIM: No way. No way. No way, no way, no way!
2B: No way what?
2C: No way why?
2D: No way how and when?
2E: What’s the cause of your bother, Jim?
JIM: Women should go with men!
And men with women.
It’s plain as day.
It’s how I was raised;
It’s what I believe;
It’s the natural order of things.
You can’t just fling all that away
‘Cause somebody shouts,
“It’s a brand-new day!”
Some things need to stay
As they are.
As they were
As they should be.
2F: Who’s he trying to convince?
2G: If I had to guess
I think Jim’s feeling
Some kind of inner pinch.
JIM: No way, no freaking, possible way!
2H: These “no ways” are certainly
weighing him down.
JIM: So say I see some clown, some dude.
I happen to notice
The smoothness of his skin,
The shape of his eyes,
The symmetry of his physique.
Say his name is Pete.
I notice, so what?
That doesn’t make me a freak.
But what if I start to feel weak
In his presence?
What if I miss him so much
That I’m crushed
When he doesn’t sit near me?
No way, is there?
No way, right?
No way, no way, no way
In the world
That I could be,
I should be,
I might be,
I can’t be…
2J: So Max was totally wrong about Jim.
2K: A significant conflict is raging in him.
2L: That baggage he’s dragging is big.
2A: So Max’s battle is the aftermath of mono,
2B: And Jim’s is whether he’s homosexual.
2C: But that’s only two of the overall tribe.
2D: Can we decide, with confidence,
That J.M. Barrie spoke true?
2E: That everyone we can point to…
(The Ensemble members point out at the audience.)
2K: Everyone we might meet--
2L: Even you in the back,
Nipping from the bottle--
2A: Is fighting some kind of battle?
2B: Well, we certainly can’t be scientific.
2C: It would take too terrifically long
For us to poll and extol
All 752 to tell us the truth.
2D: So let’s let randomness have its due.
(to 2E) Give me a number!
2D: Off the top of your head!
2D: Never mind, time’s up;
2D: Give me a number!
2D: Checking the records
For any given winter Wednesday night...
2G: 558, a great number,
2H: One Mary Cecily Dyson.
2I: And what is Mary’s crisis?
MARY (on the phone) : His hat was crazy!
It kept falling off
And his hair was all messy--
He looked like a half rabid cat.
2J: Seems happy enough.
2K: Seems settled and sane.
2L: Inane conversation,
But nothing outside of the norm.
MARY: Just tell him to take a hike.
No, I don’t like him!
His brother, on the other hand,
I’d tangle with him
If you gave me the chance.
I’d angle a slow and long little dance.
My mind’s in the gutter?
What about yours?
2A: Mary Cecily Dyson seems immune
From the every-person battle
Barrie’s quote assumes.
2B: So. Two were besieged;
One was not.
2C: The saying is caught
In a lie.
2D: “Be kinder than necessary
For everyone you meet
Is fighting some kind of battle”?
2E, 2F, 2G: Prattle!
2H: Ding meets dong,
Ping meets pong,
J.M. Barrie is just plain wrong.
2I: And now, we move along.
2J: “Barrie is just plain wrong.”
I can’t buy that conclusion.
2L (sarcastic): Thank you for confessing your confusion.
We’re all uncertain at times.
2J: Okay, but this is important.
We haven’t fully sorted this out.
We’re given the image of Mary,
Laughing on the phone.
2A: Yeah, oblivious to any significant struggle.
2B: Listen to her.
MARY: I swear he was smoking a joint
Right in the back of the classroom!
Everybody could smell it,
But the whole time Mr. Parnellus
Is lecturing about how misspelling
Will ruin our lives.
It was hilarious!
2C: This silliness, if anything,
Is proof that some people
Shouldn’t be treated kindly.
2D: She needs a harsh dose of reality.
2J: She’ll get it.
Next week she’ll be inconsolable
When she learns
That her aunt’s cancer
Her death inevitable.
What’s more, to deepen
2E: Well, that’s a heady dose of heaviness.
2J: J.M. Barrie wasn’t wrong.
Maybe his quote should go,
“Be kinder than necessary
For everyone you meet
Is or was or will be fighting
Some kind of battle.”
2K: How ‘bout we vote?
All those in favor of the amended quote,
That what Barrie wrote wasn’t all that he felt,
2J: Thank-you. That pause was justified
And totally worth it.
2L: To be honest,
I think it was totally bull…
2A: Shifting our focus now
To another view of the crew
That has been entrusted to us.