A New World
/ a public service announcement /
written by jack richardson
"Look down here. What is this? What on earth can it be? /
A quaint little town, fit for you and for me!"
The town of Border Falls, a 1950s parody by way of Dr. Seuss, is suddenly plunged into chaos following the public utterance of a forbidden word. Desperate to restore order, the town turns to a renowned Word Exterminator, and charges him with uncovering the culprit.
But when the Exterminator dismantles their means of communication, each member of the town - a happily married couple, a disgruntled teenage boy, a shady mayor and his assistant, and an Officer of Public Relations - is forced to confront the ugly truths behind their pristine facade...
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
In Order of Appearance
GEORGE, Billy’s father
MARTHA, Billy’s mother
MAYOR CLUMP, Mayor of Border Falls
TRENT, the Mayor’s assistant
SUE, a Public Relations Enforcer
BILLY, the Miscreant
THE WORD EXTERMINATOR
AMBASSADORS OF TANGELLO & THE WEST
The play takes place in the fictional town of Border Falls, an amalgam of 1950s fashion and Dr. Seuss.
I imagine it would work best with minimal set and staging.
The roles of the Narrator and Word Exterminator are doubled.
In which a Forbidden Word is spoken, and the services of a Word Exterminator are employed.
In which the Exterminator investigates, and the town finds itself unable to converse in a civilized manner.
In which conversation takes a turn for the worst, and a tri-nations War is unavoidable.
ACT ONE: THE WORD
Look down here. What is this? What on earth can it be?
A quaint little town, fit for you and for me.
A town with neat lanes, and a market, and more;
a school, and a hall with a big old red door.
And the sign on the bridge that leads out of town
(it’s surrounded by water, on all sides, all around)
names the town Border Falls – what a joy, what a name!
I doubt that you’ve ever heard any the same.
Its people are kindly and prone to nice thought,
caught, as they are, in a social time warp.
For instance, look here, out of all of creation:
a couple in need of some friendly narration…
I’m away now to work.
No rest for the wicked. I’m taking the Merc.
Have a good day!
Will do. Au revoir.
I’ve packed for your lunch celery and foie gras.
And tonight I’ll bake duckling and serve it with bread.
Sounds simply divine. I’m so glad that we’re wed.
So pleasingly charmed is this everyday scene.
They’re such a sweet pair. What a joyous routine!
Now this town of the Falls, without trouble to rent,
was blessed with the finest of chief government.
The Mayor went by name of one Augustus Clump.
(He’s the man we see here, red of face and quite plump.)
How he sits at his desk and he twirls his gold chain,
his manner as keen as his shrewd business brain…
Trent, have you ever seen skies so relaxed?
I tell you this town has no levy or tax
on happiness which it accrues by the score.
How could one say they’d want anything more?
Indeed it is fine sir, the timbre of day.
Sir has such a keen eye, and a word for the way
the town seems to blossom and flourish and grow
under his patronage.
And I’ll have you know
that of all of my duties, my tasks small and great,
the best are all those that put food on my plate.
So selfless and sure, sir’s nobility.
Perhaps two or three…
The wheels of bureaucracy turn briskly on.
(It’s almost a shame we can’t linger for long.)
But here comes young Sue, with her official sash,
neatly avoiding a bicycle crash…
Watch out there, Miss Prim! Look alive now! Don’t worry!
My gears were just… You know… Got caught in the… Sorry!
Dear young Miss Sue, with her pride and her station –
a stalwart Enforcer of Public Relation.
Though she’s hardly to blame, she could be accused
of being, perhaps, a touch over enthused?
So. The town you’ve not heard of, with it’s name, Border Falls
(since that’s what it reads on the grand old Town Hall)
is a town between two quite unusual lands:
one made of fruit trees, another of sands.
Now the land full of fruit trees (a delicate sort)
is famed for its juices it sells by the quart.
It goes by the title of Grand Old Tangello.
Its people wear trousers of mustard and yellow.
Those colors arouse such bold memories in me,
the hue and the shade… I was born there, you see.
It sits to the East of our dear Border Falls,
with its school and its lanes and big old red door.
So chummy are they, the nation and town,
that their friendship is noted for miles all around;
matched only in scale and perhaps nothing less
than their love for the land that lays off to the West.
For the West of the town between it and the East
(the town Border Falls, you’ll remember, at least)
is a land made of sand, all coarse and all shale,
with hardly a drop of fruit cider or ale.
No plant will grow there, not an apple nor fig.
It’s a stark, barren place, fit for no one to live.
Yet the people who thrive there aren’t sad, not a jot:
they couldn’t be wilder to their life or their lot.
For the rich desert sands there are bursting with gems,
rubies and sapphires and garnets and rens.
So the people who live there, the sands of the West,
wear these gemstones like sequins, on shoes and their vests.
Loopy as loons…
(Think the folk from the Falls.)
To wear such fine things on your socks and your smalls!
But they mean it in kindness and care not a bit,
for they trade them gold-dust, and fine sand, and jade chips.
Commerce is fine for the everyday man –
and who doesn’t delight to indulge, when one can?
And so Border Falls, between West and the East,
had two grandly neighbors whom it liked none the least.
For there’s nothing so precious as friends who are friendly,
more worldly or richly, or princely or merry.
But friendships (no matter how strongly are founded)
can find their foundations quite rudely rebounded.
For wars can we waged and good feelings interred,
with something as simple and prim as a word.
For towns are like people, like one man alone:
weak without windows or walls made of stone.
And while one bad word can bring one man down,
so can one word ----
Bring down a whole town.
That word can be:
“Landslide” or ----
“Earthquake” or ----
Or meaner in meaning, like:
So it was that one evening, much like this, golden brown,
that a word that should not be was heard in Falls town.
It rang from the rooftops and skittered down streets,
and all that did hear it did leap to their feet,
did cover their ears and stand shocked, all agape,
for never before was it heard in this place.
A word of such meanness, such badness and fizz,
it pains me to tell you that that one… word… is…
A huge foghorn noise, loud enough to rattle the heavens. GEORGE runs into the kitchen, where MARTHA is washing dishes.
What on earth? Am I dreaming?
What was the awful fantastical keening?
What did you say? I’m afraid I can’t hear.
My earphones are in – did you say something, dear?
The sound! That bad word! It rattled the house!
A profane proclamation from some unknown mouth!
It was filled with such verve that I woke with a start.
Look at my hand, how it shakes! My poor heart
is rattling my ribs like a hutch of fine china,
it’s shot out my nerves and aroused my angina…
I’m so sorry, George, I do sympathize,
but I heard not a peep of the word you heard cried.
I was doing the dishes with Enya, you see.
What was the word? Can you repeat it for me?
I’m afraid I dare not, it’s of such conflagration:
it’s not a word you hear heard in polite conversation.
In fact, it’s a word (now the thought has awoken)
one should never, not ever, hear heard aloud spoken.
My dear, I’m confused. Did you dream it or not?
Perhaps you just think that your poor nerves are shot?
You know how you get when you sleep after tea.
It wasn’t just gas, or a sound on TV?
I know well what I heard,
it was hardly an ad-break or disgruntled turd!
Look here, them next door, the neighbors are massing.
They’ve heard it too ----
Perhaps it’s a gassing?
I’ve heard that gas lines, when they’re pricked, prompt an air
causing hallucinations. But I suppose they’re quite rare.
Perhaps it’s the cause of some space energy?
(Solar flares in the strata play havoc with me.)
Did you see a collection of strange eerie glows?
Any psychic phenomena? Séance? UFOs?
This is serious, woman, and down to the wire –
it’s an earthquake or rampant and raging wildfire.
A disaster, my dear – something equally rank:
a tsunami, tornado, or worse (to be frank),
a force of linguistically nuclear scale.
Even thinking about it is making me pale…
Surely not, George, it’s as bad as it sounds?
It might have been ----
Please woman, mischief abounds!
I’m going outside.
Something needs doing. It’s more than my pride
can stand to let such an unseemingly word
be uttered in principle, let alone heard.
Perhaps there’ll be riots, or looting with bats -----
I really do hope it does not come to that.
I’m taking my coat. I don’t plan to be long.
We’ll rally the neighbors and find out what’s wrong.
This outrage can’t stand, it’s morally void.
We’ll put it on ice like a lanced hemorrhoid!
GEORGE goes to exit.
Be careful George, please, I don’t know what I’d do
if something should happen and by chance I lost you.
You’re my life, as you know, so just have a look see –
just peek at this mess and then come back to ----
The door slams.
MAYOR CLUMP storms into his office, tying his bathrobe. TRENT is busy answering the ringing phones.
Hooey and humbugs and jumping jack flash!
Cockerels ablaze, what in Pete’s sake was that?
What gross indiscretion results in this flub
so startling I nearly fell out of the tub?
Aren’t the laws clear, regarding that word?
That that word is a word that should never be heard?
In all of my years as an upstanding Mayor
of the town, Border Falls, such a quiet place where
the tone is on par and our lives are sedate,
the mail is on time and the buses not late.
Now, what is this? A scandal or blight?
Controversy’s rude: I’d retired for the night.
Clean sailing. Fair winds. It was all going fine.
Now it’s all fu ----
Sir your wife’s on the line?
She wants to know what was that terrible bray.
It’s startled her poodle. Sir, what should I say?
Tell her to wait, I’ve more needs to attend.
If her poodles are pooched they can kiss my rear end.
I’m the Mayor, am I not? A pillar in strife?
I’ve more grist on my plate than the whims of my wife.
Certainly, sir, I can pass that along.
Now the fire department is asking for ----
How many times must we run through the drill?
Emergency service shan’t answer until
we sound the alarm. It’s a drain on our funds.
Gas is not cheap for each engine that runs.
We must do what we can to prevent anarchy.
(Or anything costly – it reflects bad on me.)
The town has been shaken, their heads will be reeling…
we must be seen to respond with compassion and feeling.
We must keep our heads now and try not to fret.
I trust we are not at some dire stage yet?
I’m afraid it’s unclear sir, the going is tough:
details are sketchy, all reports are quite rough.
They say the word came without wherefore or warning,
yelled perhaps from a rooftop, or steeple, or awning?
Somewhere up high, and at quite a great pitch.
The source is elusive, a mystery which
has flummoxed the bureaus, though their tests will soon see:
they’re searching for airspeed and velocity.
Keep me informed, I want every report:
no one must sleep ‘til the culprit is caught!
Keep the scientists working (as scientists should).
Have their memos all filed.
Honestly, Trent, what a world do we live in,
where people can’t live with the words they are given?
Gone are the days of a small carefree life,
where all one need heed are the sneers of one’s wife.
Where a word such as that word would never be spoken.
The peace and tranquility not easily broken.
When I was a boy, we were more cavalier:
we had no need for words you did not need to hear.
In other towns, maybe, this behavior might stand,
but not in our Falls. On my watch. My land.
I can’t help but feel that this word’s a mirage…
You don’t think it’s ----?
Well, the East is all right, with their fruits and their ale…
and the West, I suppose (though there’s nothing but shale
to be said of their fortunes, their gemstones aside)…
but why should we need them to prosper and thrive?
Security? Commerce? A brisk easy trade?
Out of them all, Border Falls makes the grade.
I’d not be surprised, our good luck plain to see,
that their envy has turned into rank jealousy.
Our town is the gem among cheap filigree.
Why should we need them? They’re trash. You agree?
Sir I can’t say, I’m a policy minion:
I make it a habit to have no opinion.
Now your wife’s called again, seems she’s in quite a tizz:
seems her poodle’s decided no longer to live?
Post-script addendum, I’ve just got a call:
seems a great many people have marched to Town Hall?
Green nectarines! When it rains but it pours!
Best put this to bed, since they’re all out of doors.
Call a meeting in town, we’ll sort this out quick! (Moves to exit)
Sir’s still in his gown? Should he change?
(Off) Shit a brick!
BILLY is sitting on the railing of the bridge out of town. SUE stands on the riverbank below with her bicycle, wearing her “Public Relations Enforcer” sash.
William B. Wilder! You up there!
Oh hi Sue.
I saw your dumb cap and I thought it was you.
What on earth are you doing, up there on your own?
It’s well past your curfew! You should be at home!
I was… watching the moonrise. Just passing some time.
Loitering and lurking.
Why not? It’s no crime.
That bridge is off limits, to the young and the old.
For once in your life, would you do what you’re told?
What if you’d fallen? Or dropped on your head?
What would your mum say?
Who cares? I’d be dead.
Get down here at once, or I’ll be forced to resort
to write up your name in my evening report.
And then where would you be, with your name in my book?
Adrift in a boat up a creek made of ----
I don’t make the rules, Bill, I’m just paid to enforce,
if you come down right now there’s no need for recourse.
I heard a commotion, saw the lights in the Falls.
Seems the curfew tonight, as it is, can suck balls…
The town’s in a state; everyone’s out of doors.
There’s been a disturbance: someone’s shouted a clause
of such vigorous vile and virulent hate,
it’s thrown the doors wide and kept us up late.
BILLY (Jumping down)
What kind of bad clause? Like a slur, or a curse?
A swear-word? A slander? Or something much worse?
Something or other, the details are hazy.
Comment is pending. Bureaucracy’s lazy.
What do you know? You’re just part of the gripe.
They pay you in sashes to swallow their tripe.
Relations are vital – the public needs aid.
It’s beside the point if you think I get paid.
I don’t do this for cash, I do it to help –
and I’ll not be belittled by some tardy young whelp.
BILLY (Approaching her)
You belittle yourself in that sash, don’t you see?
And you’re not even three full years older than me…
BILLY is standing suggestively close to SUE, making her uncomfortable.
Those are two different things, three years in between,
so forgive me discarding the thoughts of some teen
who can’t even drink, by the word of the law,
or drive, or place bets, or as yet shave his jaw.
You can’t even use words reserved for adults.
Instead you’ve been stuck with that juvenile schmaltz.
It’s all “oh golly gosh”, and “gee-wiz”, and “well heck”…
“balls” is about as extreme as you’ll get.
When it comes to expletives, you’re all out of luck.
You can’t even say bullshit, or dick-cheese, or -----
Look, I really can’t dally, I’m due at Town Hall –
the Mayor’s called a meeting to help quell the squall.
It’s all hands on deck; I’m not out here to roam.
I’ve no time to linger, so please – just go home!
SUE points resolutely. BILLY reluctantly exits. SUE watches him go, then exits.
Now it had been a long while since the town last convened,
since motions were carried and vote tallies gleaned.
Since their wise and wide leader, the giddy Mayor Clump
(his credentials as vast as his sizable rump)
had taken the chain and satin gold sash,
the town had not wanted for renown or for cash.
He was a leader well known for his humor and verve,
a shrewd business dealer and kicker of curbs
not prone to high drama or fervors or spin.
When he voiced an opinion, you could bank it was him
behind every last word, every thought and good deed.
He’d given the town everything it could need.
He’d parleyed a truce, and a trade (nothing less),
between the rich lands of the East and the West.
He’d made the Falls town a real haven to live.
(None knew that he had a less noble motive.
If they did they would name his good nature as creaky,
and describe him with words like “deceitful”, or “sneaky”.)
But right now those bad aims were as far from his thoughts
as attending a soiree in denim blue shorts.
Right now his attention was needed to fall
on the hubbub and burley that filled the Town Hall…
At the Town Hall. MAYOR CLUMP stands at a lectern. GEORGE, MARTHA, TRENT and SUE are among the hubbub of gathered townspeople.
Thank-you for coming, you’ve done us all proud
in taking your seats without being too loud;
for sharing my sense of unbridled compassion,
and milling and massing in such a neat fashion.
The hour is late and I know you’re all shaken,
I’m here to relieve any source of vexation.
We’ll throw open the floor now to questions and queries.
We’re keen to hear all of your thoughts and your theories
regarding this meeting of which you all know
has brought us all here. Anyone?
Mayor Clump, as you know, my name’s George Geoffrey Wilder.
I’m a freelance auteur and bureaucracy writer?
I write for the news of our dear hamlet town,
the Border Falls Tattler?
I’ve seen it around…
(Firmly) A fine publication, a tabloid of strength.
The Mayor has been known to peruse it at length.
I know that we’re here at this ungrateful hour
to discern and locate, with executive power,
the source of the sound that has left our peace broken:
the source of the word that should never be spoken.
Straight to the point – there’s a chap I admire.
Sir, you’re a man to which all can aspire.
No doubt, as you know, at the strike of the hour,
not long after sunset… the evening turned sour.
A Forbidden Word was heard soiling our streets,
tainting the air with its imperfect reek.
Like a thundering klaxon it rumbled and rocked,
and all that did hear it did swoon from the shock.
So stunned by this word, what it meant and implied,
that my wife’s beloved poodle exploded and died.
My heart lurched and raced, and my vision was blurred!
I was washing the dishes and did not hear a word…
The gears on my bike seemed to shift and reverse.
So we all, in some way, have been touched for the worse.
Now, I’d hardly be one to decry our few laws.
We have, as it’s known, really one vital clause
that governs the way we must conduct our lives,
to ensure Border Falls may still prosper and thrive.
Commonplace law is as simple as treacle:
“Do unto those…”
“Be kind to all people”.
“Try not to steal”…
And “Don’t leave without paying.”
These laws – and still more of them – go without saying.
These are laws you may find in most any old place,
common in meaning to each creed and race.
What sets us apart (and what makes us unique),
is the eloquence with which we converse and we speak.
We alone, in the world, belove words like we do.
It’s a love shared by him, and by her, and by you.
We make beauty from chaos. We are tutored from youth
to speak, in our way, the true essence of truth.
Through rhymes we discern how to each play our part.
We find method and meaning to express our heart.
The laws and our words give us courage to see
the way to delight is through unity.
How to love and relate, and to grow and to laugh.
A life without rhyme is a life lived by half.
And so to this end, we have but one simple tenet:
The word that’s forbidden? Never. To. Say it.
Now. We’re a town with neat lanes, and a market, and more:
a school, and a hall with a big old red door.
Hardly the place to field such a disturbance.
I think you’ll agree there’s no need for recurrence
of such nasty words, such unwholesome excitement.
This breach of our law needs no further indictment
from the good sleepy folk of Border Falls town.
Let government policy hunt this word down.
The source will be found while his hands are still red.
In the meantime, I urge you: return to your beds.
Sleep all your stress and your troubles away,
arise new and refreshed with the shining new day!
All applaud as MAYOR CLUMP leaves the lectern.
Inspiring, sir, you’re a true paragon.
You’ve placated them well.
Let us hope you’re not wrong.
The hour grows late and my patience skeletal;
time I withdrew from these pestilent people.
It’s a sin, such dependence. Their needs I can’t duck.
Whether they sleep or not? I could not give a fu…
Heavens above, what a hectic night, George!
Isn’t it grand that we townsfolk can forge
such a neat family unit, so supportively free.
Aren’t we the model of community?
My dove, we’re the best, and I will not be named
as biased or bothersome, although I am famed
and admit this quite freely, let me not tell a fib,
that my writings in print may be less… inclusive.
I find it inspiring, and quite a relief
that we as a people can overcome grief.
That even in times that are quite terrifying,
our strength is a virtue in times that are trying.
Just one of the boons between us and the rest,
like the flimflam chicanery well known in the West.
The East is the same, without scruple to boot
(though they’re famed – rightly so – for the size of their fruit).
It’s time we retired.
Work is at nine. I don’t want to be fired.
GEORGE and MARTHA exit. SUE approaches the MAYOR.
Sir please let me say: you inspire us all.
There’s not been a Mayor yet in all of the Falls
who instills such a feeling of pride as you do.
I’m honored and privileged to serve under you.
Certainly, Sue, and I thank you most kindly.
You know I’d not ask for your services blindly.
I lead as I do for the good of the whole
in the hope that one day we will all share that goal.
Truly inspiring. Be careful – I’ll weep.
Now if sir is entitled to his beauty sleep…?
Of course, and I shall, unless Sue has some slight?
No sir, I do not.
Then I bid you good night.
MAYOR CLUMP and TRENT exit. SUE blows her whistle.
All right then, folks, time to get this in gear:
you don’t have to go home but you sure can’t stay here!
So the townsfolk retired to sleep restlessly,
in the quaint little town fit for you and for me.
Such singular happenings were hardly the norm.
(Border Falls, after all, dearly liked to conform.)
When slumber did take them, carefree and serene,
they dreamed of the days as they always had been.
Truthful and perfect in every which way,
awaiting the dawn of a shining new day…
The next morning. BILLY sits at the kitchen table. MARTHA enters with a basket of washing.
Well what have we here? Can my eyes be proved able?
What honor is this – my son at my table?
Time marches on, as a general rule.
It’s passed nine o’clock. Why aren’t you at school?
Class was sent home.
Is that so?
Yeah that’s right.
No one can deal with the bullshit last night.
So they sent you all home, since their minds weren’t at ease?
That seems unlikely. And language, Bill, please.
What you say with your friends now, God knows I can’t help,
but at home you’ll comply; with the shock we’ve all felt
the last thing I need is you acting a fool.
Out with it, Billy. Why aren’t you at school?
BILLY hands MARTHA a note. She reads it. A beat. MARTHA begins to fold laundry irately.
I… struggle for words.
We speak and we speak and somehow we’re not heard.
How many times must we suffer and scold
before once in your life you will ----
Do what I’m told?
I don’t understand what you’ve got in your brain.
What objective rejection of schooling maintains
this anarchic place in our lives and in yours.
We didn’t raise you to slam closed certain doors.
I’m not closing doors, I’m just asking you why----
Bill would it kill you for once just to try?
Through learning we learn to become something more
than the person we were on the day just before.
And what if I don’t Mum? What if I’m not sure?
William, don’t argue! I’ve heard it before!
We do what we can to discover our place;
when your father finds out ----
Hon, have you seen my case?
I seem to have left it behind in my rush.
William. What’s this? Are you sick? Is it thrush?
Your son is not sick – his career paths are ended.
He’s taken up teaching?
Your son’s been suspended.
Suspended? Not my son, as I live and breathe!
I assume there’s good reason?
Here, George. Just read.
“To Whom It Concerns, from the desk of Miss Plinket:
to the owners of William, a truant delinquent.
Some time now we’ve feared for his learning and thought,
that all of our efforts will soon be for naught.
For examples too heinous and frequent to mention,
we hereby consign him to home schooled detention.
We regret to inform you of this sad result.”
William. I’m speechless.
George is this my fault?
Did I coddle him? Mother him? Wrap him in gauze?
Martha, don’t think it. We raised no lost cause.
No doubt there’s some influence stemming this rub.
Like alcohol… smoking…
You don’t think it’s----?
Tote smoking has always been our greatest fear…
Our son’s a…
Um, hello? I’m still here…
Young man, that’s no reason for needless oration.
I will not allow this experimentation.
My feet have come down, for the good of us all.
Your father is right Bill, it’s his shot to call;
as the man of the house, he’s a party of one.
He hasn’t asked what I’ve supposed to have done!
There’s naught I need hear, I have made up my mind.
Your conduct is shameful, your freedom resigned.
In the hope you might learn to love simple compliance,
your punishment is to thus suffer in silence.
Don’t I get a say in this?
You get none.
The privilege to speak is a prerogative some
seem to take much for granted. To abuse and discard.
(Who’d have thought raising a teen is so hard?)
Until you respect what we feel and think’s valid,
you’ll not speak a word. End of story. (Beat) Peri-od!
BILLY opens his mouth to protest. GEORGE points severely towards the door. BILLY storms out in silence.
Oh George, was there need for such harsh angry terms?
Martha, I hope it’s a lesson he’ll learn.
Doling out punishments brings me no joy,
but there seems no kind way to get through to the boy.
Sometimes I wonder what goes on inside
that cherubic head which no longer confides
in his mother, the person who loves him the best
(not discounting his father, who loves him no less).
His moodiness swims in some dark undertow,
and transformed him to someone whom I hardly know.
And now, with the stress of that Forbidden Word…
George, you don’t think it’s Billy who shouted----
Our son may be troubled – yes, certainly flawed –
but he’s savvy enough to avoid that bad word.
If we are the craftsman, our boy is our burl.
Sometimes I think----
I wish we’d had a girl.
The reception room outside Mayor Clump’s office. TRENT is at his desk, answering phones. SUE sits on a chair, waiting patiently with a copy of that morning’s newspaper.
All right, you’re booked in. Thanks for your call.
He’ll see you then. Ciao!
TRENT hangs up the phone. A silence.
Can I help you at all?
I’m here to see Clump.
Have you booked in a time?
It won’t take a moment.
So you haven’t, then? Fine.
Don’t worry, it’s not like life’s easy for me
when people don’t observe polite courtesy…
I wasn’t aware that I needed one.
Because you don’t think you’re some regular Joe?
The Mayor is quite busy. No need to implore.
It takes more than a smile to get through his door.
Well I am an Enforcer of Public Relations…
The phone rings.
One moment. Hello? Justice Trip! What elation!
Of course he can see you, he’s open at two.
I thought he was busy?
No, just to see you.
Trent, I can sense some vague hostility.
I’m getting the sense it’s directed at me.
Hostility? No, it’s distaste all the way.
I guess it’s the shade of my sash…
You don’t say?
Tell me you’re still not resenting my post?
I thought you above that.
You thought more than most.
Now I’m sorry to say that you’re fresh out of luck.
The Mayor’s schedule is full. I’m afraid that you’re stuck.
Perhaps if you come back the day after next…?
I could pass on a message, or ----
MAYOR (Opening his office door)
Trent, I am vexed!
Is it over then under and then round about?
The damn thing’s objecting to each twist and shout…
Sir, let me help you----
SUE (Rising faster)
Mayor Clump, is that tartan?
I’ve often found patterns more pleasing than Spartan. (Fixing his tie)
Now the Windsor is standard, if that’s what you require,
but the Rommel’s the thing for couture to aspire.
Thank-you, my dear, your advice is quite handy.
Please, take a seat. Ginger beer? Red wine shandy?
Thanks for the offer, I have to refute.
I’ve matters more urgent I need to commute.
Since the unpleasantness we encountered last night,
I’ve come to conclude that most things are not right.
What do you mean? All that flam is behind us.
Sir I demur, there is more to this madness.
In doing my rounds from the roofs to the curbing,
I’ve learned of events that are truly disturbing.
Stray pets: seven dogs and felines.
The library’s caught fire. There’s thirteen car fines.
The barber’s unable to dye or trim fringes.
The door of the hall has come off its hinges.
Tom Goldberg’s as blind as a Chilean miner.
There’s Miss Prim’s upset bowel and George Wilder’s angina.
The steeple is leaning, grout having eroded.
The grocer’s gone green. Your wife’s poodle exploded.
The tarmac has split between Third Street and Main.
Detritus has clogged up the storm-water drain.
The bridge, as it sits, on uneasy foundation,
has moved half a foot towards obliteration.
In short I can say, since our language was ravaged,
that the word that was heard has caused physical damage.
I see. This is worse than I could’ve suspected.
How are the townsfolk?
Morale’s been infected.
They’re asking me what is to do or be done.
Have you a plan?
Do we really need one?
No doubt we’re all pained by this unpleasant tryst,
but there’s no need for action that’s just alarmist.
Mayor I can promise, without being vain,
that there’s nothing “alarmist” in speaking it plain.
The town is in shambles – the Tattler agrees ----
MAYOR (Snatching her copy)
George Wilder’s newspaper’s featuring me?
Look at the headline.
That’s quite asinine…
Mayor, your standing in town’s on a downward incline.
I’ve done what I can to improve your PR,
but unless you act soon…
Trent, we must raise the bar!
Public opinion is all that I have! I mean…
we must do what we can (or at least, must be seen)
to reverse all the trouble that’s caused such a slight,
the result of the word we all heard late last night.
A gesture or sign that you’ve got it in hand?
Not as such…
If you have a plan that can preserve my bacon,
you’re hereby awarded an inflated station.
(And if it’s a way that saves dollars and cents,
I’m even inclined to offer you Trent’s.)
I can’t ask what you cannot afford;
Public Relations are ample reward.
To restore the whole town from our grammatic plight,
here’s what I’m thinking might set this all right…
GEORGE is sitting at his work desk, which is covered in copy paper and a typewriter. A framed picture of MARTHA and BILLY is tucked behind it. GEORGE dictates aloud as he types.
As my readers well know, and of course can accrue,
I’m a man most well known for my strong point of view.
This column is famed for its exposé style
of skewering fads and political bile.
Sensible folk know I say what is best,
while those with less brain dub me simply “racist”.
(Pauses, thinks, takes a puff on his cigarette)
Like the artisan craftsmen society marvel,
the Border Falls Tattler is my canvas, my marble.
With each writ and word you read carved on my page,
I give vent to your spleen and supplant your rage
for the problems that ail you, the large and the small,
that infect our dear town, the proud Border Falls.
GEORGE stops typing, reviews his work, likes it immensely.
Take, as you know, the prices on sale
in the Border Falls market, for Tangello ale.
The premium rate that we’re charged for such goods
imported from neighbors that supposedly should
have our interests at heart (and by this I imply:
to keep our hip pockets from being bled dry).
But what do we find, when perusing the aisles?
Price hikes! Inflation! We are scalped with a smile
by allies, it seems, with no interest in commerce.
Their motive, it’s clear, is to blatantly rob us.
And don’t get me started on gold from the West!
(Less said on the matter is probably best.
But I will say that any in need of rare rock
had best be prepared for a bad fiscal shock.)
So a question, I pose, to our beloved Mayor:
The trade treaties you’ve treated have proven severe
on the funds of your folk. What on earth can you do
to restore what is left of the faith left in you?
Most telling will be how he plans to bounce back
from last night’s most heinous of terror attacks…
The phone rings.
This is George at the desk of the Tattler Opinion?
Oh good afternoon, George.
Hello dear, how’s things keepin’?
Did you see my page spread in the morning edition?
Your piece on the crisis?
Yes, the verbal sedition.
Quite a marriage of text and a firebrand slogan –
sure to appeal to the simplest of bogan.
I agree with you, George, your words could not be fitter.
Your erudite thoughts are a hit on the Twitter.
But the reason I rang…
Yes, it made quite a splash!
It just goes to show you cannot be too brash
in presenting the facts as they are (not as we
sometimes think that we might often like them to be).
Exactly so, George, as you’ve often made claim.
Facts are for speaking and lies are for blame.
But if you’ll just let me speak, and I know I’m a chore,
but when I fixed up Bill’s lunch, and then knocked on his door,
and he ---
Hmm? What was that? Oh yes, lunch was divine.
Look, I’m just in the middle of penning a line.
The people need air for their griping carillon,
and it’s me that they turn to for learned opinion.
It’s been quite a morning, there’s no need to relate.
But if I don’t get this done, it’s my head on a plate.
George, if I can ---
Look, I’ll give you a bell
when I’ve sorted my word count. It’s giving me hell.
Now excuse me, my dear…
--- if you’ll just let me say…
See you soon! Bye!
--- but ---
GEORGE hangs up. MARTHA holds the dead receiver.
… your son’s run away.
There’s much to be said about Martha T. Wilder.
In some ways her story is larger than either
the tale of the town that we call Border Falls,
or the linguistic boundaries that build up the walls
of fear and intolerance, as we’ll soon see
(and what happens when fears are unlocked and set free).
But before she’s the savior of all the Falls folk,
she sits now at her table, her heart somewhat broke.
This domestic goddess of all she surveys
needs a much kinder word to help ease her malaise…
MARTHA and SUE sit at the kitchen table, drinking tea.
Sue, thank-you for coming.
No problem, I’m free.
It’s not often most people want teatime with me!
I mean… I’m mostly too busy, to take some time out.
Public Relations is like the Girl Scouts:
Once you’re inducted, there is no escaping
the grueling work hours and Pavlova baking.
Still, it was kind to take time from your schedule.
I’ve no one to talk to. I’m feeling quite dreadful.
I don’t know what’s wrong with my son as of late.
I’m afraid that I’ve failed him. I just can’t relate
as to why he’s so troubled, so angry and grim…
I’m sure it’s a hormonal phase that he’s in.
My brother went through something almost the same.
It passed, just like wind. He came back once again
to the charming and cheerful young fellow he’d been.
He’s a missionary now. He plays jazz violin.
Billy had always been fond of Coltrane…
But George put a pin in that (he thought it profane).
He said music needs structure in order to shine…
I always thought Armstrong sounds rather divine.
I suppose the same principle’s needed to raise
a hot-tempered boy to the gentleman stage…
Oh Sue, I’m so lost! Please don’t mind that I phoned.
But I’m out of my mind now my son’s fled from home…
Miss Wilder, what’s that? Bill’s missing?
I took him his lunch, and his curtains were drawn.
I thought he was sulking, and lost in the gloom,
but when I turned on the light, he was not in his room.
Let’s not be too rash now. It is a school day…
Perhaps he’s attending, and not run away?
He’s barred from it, Sue, they’ve made it a rule.
There’s been trouble, you see, with his teachers at school.
He’s forbidden from mingling and spreading the thing
that’s shaken our lives and got hooks lodged in him.
What on earth have I done? There’s somewhere I’ve erred…
Perhaps it’s because of the word that was heard?
That bad one, the one of insidious clout?
I’ve been helping the Mayor to turn that thing about.
That’s nice of you, Sue. You’re full of good stuffing.
(I know you’re not Public Relations for nothing.)
But as for the word and its threat to my son…
its been quite a while since this bad thing begun.
And besides, I don’t feel that just one single word
could have such a bad impact on all those who heard.
Why, in Grand Old Tangello, we’d say with a smile:
“The truth can be seen without dressing in style.”
Words are just words without thought or bad meaning…
We give them weight that our heart feel’s worth feeling.
That’s quite a nice thought, and I hope that it’s true.
We could use some good feeling before this week’s through.
Bill’s often been found at the bridge out of town –
I’ll look for him there as I cycle my rounds.
I wish I could be of more help.
Sue you are.
Just talking to you’s raised my spirits quite far.
Then I’ve done as I should as a public official:
Government servants aren’t all artificial!
But I should make a move; I’ve got heaps on my plate.
There’s a meeting tonight, and I shouldn’t be late.
The Mayor’s got a plan to help make things more ruly
(based on a thought posed to him by yours truly)!
Don’t worry Martha, just you sit tight.
Bill and this word? It’ll all turn out right.
SUE buckles up her helmet and leaves. MARTHA sighs and clears up the cups.
Good honest Sue, she’s such a kind soul.
She sees only the best of the best in us all.
I know in my son that there’s plenty to see…
and sometimes in George… but perhaps that’s just me.
The folk of the town spent the day in a tizz,
still rocked, as they were, by that bad word’s bad fizz.
But like soldiers who suffer enough from shell shock,
they eventually rallied and pulled up their socks.
The steeple was braced and the Main Street was seen to.
The library extinguished. The bridge fixed with glue.
A calm place was found for Miss Prim to recline.
They even found homes for some lucky felines.
The last thing to mend was the door to the hall.
(What use did it have all sealed up? None at all.)
So the fix-it man sat till the town filed in,
waiting, once more, for the Mayor to begin…
At the Town Hall. MAYOR CLUMP stands at a lectern again. All the townsfolk are in attendance.
Ladies and gentleman, citizens please,
if you’ll all take your seats, we’ll start shootin’ the breeze.
First thing I’ll say is, I’m proud of you all
for soldiering on through the face of the squall.
Let’s move straight to business. It’s why we’re all here.
Let’s waste no more time in allaying your fears.
Thank-you sir. I am pleased to announce
the Mayor’s office has come, without shadow of doubt,
to a practically sound and ingenious solution
to end all the chaos and verbal pollution.
The numbers are good, and accounts, to be frank,
for the solution we pose ---
Well it won’t break the bank.
Ladies and gents, without further ado,
it’s my great distinct pleasure to present to you
the man who’ll expose the linguistical hater:
the incomparably capable Word Ex-term-ator!
The WORD EXTERMINATOR takes to the stage, carrying a banjo. He starts to play.
Evenin’ folks. Forgive me if this sounds… crude. I’m somethin’ of a stranger here myself. So I apologise if I seem a little… rude. But I have an ear for words. A gift, I guess you’d say. Which might be easier to your ear… if I explain it… Well… in this way…
Since the world was set to turnin’
There’s a fire that’s been burnin’
Deep down inside this humble heart o’ mine.
It’s the need to speak and listen
To the words that seem to glisten
In the silence of the soul of all mankind.
Like a beacon
Out in the dark
We would find the sounds that speak for us
And cling on to their spark.
How far we’ve come
Since those dark days
Since we found the words that put us on our way.
Now society has rules you know
(And you can say I told you so)
Without them what are we but chimps in suits?
Sometimes when all our plans fall through
And words you thought were kind to you
Are better off unsaid and rendered mute.
Can be a pain (Can be a pain)
Especially when our words dry up
And leave us like the rains.
What’s there to do
No hope you see
Why, a Word Exterminator’s what you need.
Since I’m certified to speak ’em
And more so snare and keep ’em
I travel ’cross the face of this wide land.
Helpin’ folk where able
to bring peace back to their table
To find the words to help them if I can.
What are words
But thoughts in space
Crystallized in speakin’ and unique to kin and race?
How can we know
Just who we are
Unless we know we’re spoken to
With words made just for me and you
I’m here today to show you what to do
To get you through.
Thank-you, my friend, for that… quant introduction.
A perfect example of form over function.
I’ve taken some time and I’ve studied your speakin’,
the better to con-tri-bute to this town meetin’.
If my syntax is hazy, I hope you’ll excuse it.
The words of all cultures are common (he strums a chord on the banjo) in music.
As you’re all now aware, or at least have inferred,
this man is a master of rooting out words
that have, without warning or adult permission
gone on to cause havoc or foster sedition.
He once stopped a plague of irrational nouns,
and extracted a Communist out of a crowd.
He made the mistake of distributin’ slander
with flyers promotin’ his crude prop-o-ganda.
His record is sterling, no fault in his purpose.
Credit to Sue, for suggesting his service.
He’ll sort out our strife (for a nominal fee).
I read all about him in Wordsworth Weekly!
We’ve called him to town to account for our plight:
To find that bad word and set things to right.
Excuse me please, Mayor, but about that bad word.
I’m quite certain I know what the word is you heard.
My gosh he works quick.
All that remains is to find the culprit.
Of course. For without knowin’ who,
the chance of recurrence is likely.
He or she might still harbor some lingerin’ need
to un-leash again that bad word that they freed.
People like these tend to spread dissidence
that can threaten the stablest of town governments.
I suppose then in light of this startling news,
I petition a vote with a motion to move
executive powers to your noble quest –
to help you to do what you think is the best.
The Mayor moves to vote on the rights of our savior.
Can I call for a show of all hands in its favor?
What was that? Who spoke up? Come on now.
Who is it?
Me, George. And I resent this powwow.
Thank-you, George Wilder, your feelings are noted.
But issues of town are best left to those voted
with clearer intentions in hard times or war.
Not journalists ---
Sir! (Whispers to the Mayor)
(Politically) But I acknowledge the floor…
No offence to the Wordsman, I’m sure he’s a wiz
at rooting out pronouns and rouge adjectives.
But what need do we have to accuse our own kind?
Don’t overreact dear, I’m sure that you’ll find ---
Mayor Clump, I resent this sad state of affairs
(and feel free to stop me should I put on some airs)
but there’s something not right with this time and this place:
some trouble runs deeper than in creed or in race.
Dare we dismiss the vague role and interest
of the neighboring towns to the East and the West?
Granted, their friendships were struggles to forge,
but what if they’re not all they seem to be?
Now, far from my mind to make such a refrain
(and please keep in mind that I’m speaking this plain),
but I’ve never thought much of the need to relate
to others of origin other than fate
has set down beside us, one man to his brother –
for if he has one, what need is another?
We of the Falls are a capable sort.
What outside opinion could sort out our rort?
I believe the proposal, for all its extremes,
is hardly as dire as George Wilder dreams.
I admit I’d not thought of some outside inference…
(You thinking at all is a rarish occurrence…)
Folk of the Falls, now I’m sure you’ll agree,
we need sort out this rub and thus sleep peacefully
in our beds, knowing now that the vile villain is caught,
locked behind bars, and far from our thoughts.
Be it foreign or local, this dark ugly threat,
the Extractor of Words will lay it to rest.
We need closure – a respite – relief for our brains,
to ensure that this never can happen again!
Those in favor?
A pause. All hands show.
All right then. We’re all in agreeance.
The motion is carried. The search can commence.
Control of this matter defers now to him.
I assume you’ve some thoughts on just how to begin?
Based on the rhythm and flow of your speech,
it was really quite clear to deduce the word which
brought you to such a bad state of dismay.
So on that myst-e-ry we can call it a day.
The culprit that spoke it will take some more probin’.
I’ve some questions need asking and clues need decodin’.
But to do that and more (and be warned, full disclosure)
I must test your best mettle before this is over.
Do you swing by these terms?
Yes, the vote is explicit.
Well if that’s what you want, on your heads must be it.
The word that was spoken was spoken alone.
A statement – a fragment – no phrase to call home.
In order to trace it and put it in chains…
I’m afraid I’ve no choice but to un-leash it again.
You don’t mean…
We must suffer it twice?
Mayor, this is nonsense!
Now, we must all sacrifice
a few… civil liberties… in aid of this cause.
I’m certain it’s speaking has ample reward?
No doubt, my good Mayor, though it pains me to say
it’s the only way forward: there’s no other way.
The road to the truth is a hard road to go.
I think you’ll soon learn that you reap what you sow.
Truth feeds on us all with insatiable hunger,
and whatever don’t kill us, well… it just makes us stronger.
No you mustn’t say ---
They gasp. Hands fly to ears at the sound of the word. A shocked silence. GEORGE is the first to recover his outrage.
This outrage can only be dubbed as a… a…
Mayor Clump, you can’t really allow this man to… to…
He has no words, literally. Another very, very long silence.
Oh my good God… (She faints)
END OF ACT ONE