“One is left with the horrible feeling that war settles nothing; that to win a war is as disastrous as to lose one.” – Agatha Christie.
Port Moresby, 1945. In an aircraft hangar on the edge of the Australian naval base, a young mechanic works obsessively on a downed Japanese Zero. As the enemy aircraft slowly returns to life, it begins to speak to him in ways the other planes do not, driving a wedge between his best friend, an American pilot, and his superior, an Australian doctor.
As the War moves towards its devastating conclusion, the young mechanic is forced to ask questions with uneasy answers: If your enemy had face, would we still see it as an enemy? And what's the point of living war, if you can't live with yourself after?
/ a play in one act /
written by jack richardson
CAST OF CHARACTERS
WILL, an Australian mechanic, late teens
RICK, an American pilot, early 20s
HOLIDAY, an Australian Medic, early 30s
The action of the play takes place during the Pacific war, from 1942 to 1946.
The set is constructed to look like the interior of a darkroom, with lines of photographs, many hundreds of them, crossing the stage. There is also space for projection and shadow play.
LIST OF SCENES:
SCENE ONE: Port Moresby. May, 1941.
SCENE TWO: HMAS Bendigo.
SCENE THREE: Port Moresby.
SCENE FOUR: HMAS Bendigo.
SCENE FIVE: Port Moresby.
SCENE SIX: Port Moresby. August, 1945.
SCENE SEVEN: HMAS Bendigo. September, 1945.
SCENE EIGHT: Port Moresby. October, 1945.
SCENE NINE: Hiroshima. January, 1946.
SCENE ONE: Port Moresby. May, 1942
The darkroom, strung with lines and lines of black and white photographs.
Will, moving among them:
WILL This corvette was built at Cockatoo Docks in Sydney. Took a little over two months to complete - barely any time to build a boat
that big. We commissioned on the 10th of May after a few of days of speed trials up and down the harbour. Bendigo, they said,
was the fifth of this class to be completed in Australia, and had promise of being the best. Speed was clocked at 15.7 knots,
which wasn’t bad, but we had high hopes for more to come.
Slipped from the buoy on Friday 16th for a short “shake down” cruise. Ship’s company proceeded on seven days’ leave, in two
watches. The crew had settled down excellently and seemed a good mob… if a trifle wild. And then, on July 4th, the great day
arrived: we put to sea on the first lap of our journey to Singapore.
We arrived in Townsville after five days of perfect weather. The boys called the ship the “fair weather” ship, and we believed
the ship’s cat, Smokey (whom we stole in Melbourne) to be the cause of this.
Rick joins him, moving from picture to picture. Will lowers a fresh sheet of photographic paper into the first chemical bath and begins to agitate it. Throughout the following, he moves the developing picture from one bath to the next.
RICK Wait. You stole a cat?
WILL Borrowed it.
RICK You just took it?
WILL Well I didn’t, Merv did. She’s around someplace. Tawney fur, big eyes.
RICK But you stole someone’s cat.
WILL We’ll bring her back in one piece.
RICK You boys really are from convict stock.
WILL We put to sea after doing Townsville so that they’ll never forget us. That afternoon we sailed through Albany Pass: very narrow,
the widest part being half a mile, but so deep in spots the Queen Mary could pass right through. Far and away the most
beautiful spot in all the Australian coastline, with this one big house just inside the southern entrance. Someone told me the
name of the man who lives there, but it’s gone.
Here. He came out to watch us pass. On the veranda, with a glass in his hand and a dog at his feet.
RICK I don’t see him.
WILL Thought you needed sharp eyes to fly a Mustang?
RICK That Kodak of yours wasn’t made for distance. The Contax II, however – that sports a lens by Mr. Zeiss himself. Thirty-five
millimetres of true European focus.
WILL Not bad, I guess, for German stuff.
RICK Never met a Kraut lens I didn’t like.
WILL Not many swimming ’round Manila, to my knowledge.
We stored ship in Darwin on the 22nd and sailed out on the last lap of our journey, arriving in Singapore on the 30th after a
calm trip through the Dutch East Indies.
You been to Singapore?
RICK Once. It was enough.
WILL In what way?
RICK The good way.
WILL Right? Mad crazy.
RICK You take all these yourself?
WILL Most of them. When I can spare the film. Clean reels are hard to come by, unless you got someone in supplies.
RICK All in all, a pretty impressive setup you got here for a ship short-stop.
WILL A bunch of the Herald journos kept complaining about having to send their reels to Townsville to develop. This was an old radio
shed. Me and some of the boys pitched in to seal the windows. I did up the light. The journos get their film lab, and us
amateurs get to use their fixer when the fancy strikes.
RICK What’s this place you’re all gathered in front of? Seems a bit above your pay-grade.
WILL That’s Singapore’s premiere house of refreshment: the Union Jack Club.
RICK I’ve not had the pleasure.
WILL Benefits of a convict past. Not that we got much passed the front door.
RICK Boats. Coast line. Booze bars. They let you take all these? The boys in brass?
WILL Of course. Well… nah, not really. If the Japs ever come aboard, these are first things to go in the drink. Can’t risk them in
enemy hands, knowing who’s who about town, what ships are where, which coves we weigh anchor. But there’s one of us on
every ship, y’know.
RICK One what?
WILL A bloke with a camera, who likes marking time, like me.
RICK You mean arm deep in grease and a smile on his face?
WILL Grease is just my day job. Once we make shore, it’s all about the darkroom.
Rick finds a stack of mail among the pictures. Will checks on the developing image. He moves it to a fresh bath, sets a small egg timer, and agitates it again.
RICK What’re these?
WILL Oh, them? Just some letters from home.
RICK Hope the news isn’t urgent - they’re not opened.
WILL That so strange?
RICK You kidding? I get a letter from home, I drop my bird outta the sky. And I mean that. Wheels-up nosedive, right on the beach.
WILL Well go on, do the honours then.
RICK You sure? If you gotta girl back home, I ain’t takin’ blame for no heat…
WILL It’s hot enough at 30 above. And in case you forgot… (Both hands are in the chemical stop-bath)
RICK All right, all right. But don’t say I didn’t ask…
“Our dearest William. A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”
Geez, kid - better late than never, huh?
“We hope this finds you safe and well, and enjoying your time in humid Port Moresby.”
What d’you reckon, Will? Hot enough for you?
WILL Yeah, keeps the fixer loose.
RICK Atta boy.
“Tropical summer must be quite a change from stuffy old Mel-born” /
RICK What you said.
“You’ll be happy to know your father’s Hay Fever has been quite tolerable this season, although his love of Granny Smiths has
inflamed his acid reflux.”
Jesus Christ. Colourful bunch.
WILL You going to read it or not?
RICK “The garage is doing well, though we miss your extra set of hands. You’ll be happy to know that your sister sat her exam last
Friday, and in typical Susan form, has passed top of her class. She plans to lodge her application with the Women’s Auxiliary
first thing Monday morning.”
RICK A patriot. I like her. “Your father and I think she should take a position at the Alfred, but there’s no talking her round. You’ve set
a bad example for her, but we’re still very proud.”
WILL Thanks Mum.
RICK You’re welcome. “Stay safe and well, and please write to us soon. All our love and wishes…” Yeah yeah yeah… “Mom and Pop
(Looking at the picture enclosed with the letter)
You got a nice family there, Will Stanton.
WLL They finally sent one. ’Bout bloody time.
Will takes the picture from Rick, looks at it, smiles.
RICK (Holding the letter) You got somewhere I should put this?
WILL Oh, you can put that in the bin if you like.
RICK A letter from home? In the trash? You sure about that?
WILL There’s one for negatives by the door. Why? You think I should keep it?
RICK Not to tell a man how to treat his own property, but a letter from home is something I’d think he’d want to hold on to.
WILL That’s all right. I’ve got everything I need to hold right here.
Will looks at the picture again, then pegs it with the rest of the photos on a line. He looks at the collection, please at the range of memories it holds.
RICK They told me you boys had an upside down way of thinking, but I think you take the cake. (The egg timer goes off.) Hey!
Will removes the finished photograph from the chemical bath. He looks at it; squints; turns it on its side; squints again.
WILL What is that?
RICK That, my friend, is the shark of the South Pacific, the bane of every ace to set foot in her skies: the A6M Mitsubishi Zero-class
fighter plane. Thirty feet long, twin mounted guns, kill rate: twelve to one; and she’s sitting six degrees off my stern, two fifty
hundred yards and closing.
WILL Two fifty? That close?
RICK Close enough to see the wind, pal.
WILL You’re up there, flying, with this thing behind you, and you… you took its picture?
RICK How could I not? Look at it! Cherry red eyes, oil sheen coating, shoulders green as polished glass. The speed! You can see it
move! Ain’t you ever seen anything so goddamn perfect in all your life?
A long beat as both admire the plane in the photograph.
An announcement is made over the Port PA system, calling a regiment to the yard.
RICK Shit, that’s me, pal. I gotta make tracks. Thanks for this. I do appreciate it.
WILL No worries. Do you mind if I make a copy? Full credit, of course.
RICK Knock yourself out. And if I happen to come into another box of, oh, I don’t know, let’s say… 35 millimetre…?
WILL In the interests of maintaining international relations, I expect you’d distribute such contraband among your fellow friends and
soldiers. For the war.
RICK Oh, of course. For the war.
They shake hands.
RICK Rick Miller.
WILL Will Stanton.
RICK Glad to know you, Will Stanton.
WILL Same to you, Rick Miller.