Semifinalist winner of the City Opera House Young Playwrights Festival
Jane the Great
By Paul Oh
Cast of Characters
JANE Just old enough to not be middle-aged. JIM’s wife.
JIM Wears a red scarf. JANE’s husband.
OTTO JANE’s friend. Coroner. Prone to screaming.
Mortuary of a big city.
AT RISE: Night. JANE sits on a bench at the edge of the light shed by a flickering street lamp. It is raining. She is reading a soggy newspaper.
JANE The funny thing about being left in the rain is that I actually love it.
(Beat) I used to get so excited about rain. Back home …
(Beat) Well not “Home” but home. Where I’m from. You know, home. (Beat)
Back home the rain would make the dust settle and give the air this mineral taste.
(Jane smacks her lips.)
I haven’t found that taste anywhere else that I’ve lived. Definitely not here, what with the smog and the blacktop and the people.
(Beat) There are so many people in cities. I always forget until I move back to one.
(Beat) So many people … It’s like they’re climbing all over each other to reach the sky, and all they manage to do hide it away from us on the ground.
(Beat) It’s been years since I saw the sky. The real sky, with horizons so broad it’s like they’re reaching to pluck you off the ground. I used to just lie and stare up at it, hoping that, maybe, it would pick me. That I’d just fall upwards and never stop falling.
(Beat) How could I have hated it so much? Home, that is. I mean home. Home, in the desert. Where I was born and most who live there are born, grow old and die.
(Beat) I don’t know why that little community felt so claustrophobic. Having your neighbors nosing into your life is so much better than drifting from place to place, going—
(Beat) Where am I going?
(Beat) Where was Frank going when he left? I’ve found his son Otto but I never had the guts to ask.
(Beat) And, well, Jim of course. Even married to the man, I forget about him.
(Beat) Forgetting’s easier than having to remember what I once hoped for with him. I was looking for an anchor and ended up trapped.
(Beat) How do you tell a person that they’re the second worst mistake that you’ve ever made?
(Beat) Oh, God. Did I just say that out loud?
Thinking about home does that to me, I guess. No wonder people think I’m strange.
(Beat) I have so many thoughts, it helps to sort them out, out in the air. It just feels good to talk and know that someone’s listening even if it’s just me, you know?
(Laughs) Well of course you kn—
(A red scarf loops around JANE’s neck, cutting off her words. The light flickers more frequently as JANE is choked to death. When JANE dies the lights go out completely.)
(END OF SCENE)
AT RISE: Mortuary lit by white lamps. Five steel tables lie empty. JANE lies on the sixth one. There is a tag on her toe and she is covered by a sheet. A bag of her possessions sits on the table next to her. JANE rolls out of herself.
(JANE unconsciously avoids looking at her corpse.) I don’t remember coming here. Did I have a stroke or something?
(JANE realizes that she’s in an advanced state of undress. She grabs her possessions from the table and starts to dress.
JANE looks around the mortuary. Her eyes continue to skip over her corpse.)
Weirdest hospital I’ve ever been to.
What in the—
(JANE starts to walk toward the door before being jerked to a stop inches away as is she has reached the end of a chain. Curious, JANE turns and looks at her ankle.)
(OTTO enters, sees JANE, screams, and exits.)
Otto? What’s he doing here? I thought he worked at the morgue …
(OTTO peeks around the door.) Otto, what’s going on?
(OTTO creeps in, warily.) Otto, it’s me. Jane.
OTTO (Shaken) Jane … you’re dead.
JANE I’m dead?
JANE If I’m dead then how can I be standing here?
OTTO If you’re alive then why are you lying there?
(OTTO points at JANE’s corpse. JANE notices her corpse for the first time.)
(JANE walks over. She lifts the sheet covering her corpse’s face and stiffens. She clearly doesn’t know how to react. She frowns and smiles and finally her face slackens.)
(She takes a moment to regain her composure.)
I guess this isn’t a hospital then. (Beat)
And this makes me … What? A ghost?
OTTO How would I know?
JANE Isn’t this
OTTO What? This? The morgue? Death? Sure, I know about death. But why the hell would I know any- thing about …
(OTTO gestures back at JANE) Your … un-death?
JANE To be fair, this old body seems to be …
(JANE slaps her corpse thrice.) pretty thoroughly dead.
(OTTO shields the corpse.)
OTTO Don’t do that.
(JANE pokes her corpse twice.)
Stop it. You’re remarkably blasé about this, Jane. Are you sure that you’re all right?
(JANE hoists herself onto the table and examines the corpse’s face.)
JANE Well obviously one of us isn’t all right.
(JANE nods at her corpse.)
But I feel pretty good. If a little aimless. That’s nothing new though.
(JANE clears her throat and looks back at the corpse.) When did I get so wrinkled?
(JANE pokes her corpse in the gut to OTTO’s obvious discomfort.)
I guess it’s no big surprise. It was probably a heart thing, right? Jim always did tell me that my morning doughnut would be the death of me. Heh.
(As OTTO listens, his expression grows more incredulous.)
OTTO You actually have no idea about what happened, do you?
Jane. You were murdered.
(OTTO points at the corpse’s neck.)
Strangled. You don’t remember?
(JANE gasps and holds her hand to her own throat.)
JANE Jim’s car broke down or something and I was thinking about home.
Back in the desert. And then …
(JANE’s expression sours.)
The lights flashed and— (Beat)
I woke up here.
I dressed after I woke up. How could I do that if I was a ghost? Why didn’t I notice my corpse? None of this makes any sense.
OTTO Well, maybe you just imagined that you put the clothes on.
(JANE reaches over and slaps OTTO. OTTO yelps and holds his cheek.)
JANE (Sarcastically) And I guess you just imagined that, did you?
OTTO Hey, I don’t see you coming up with anything.
(They sit thinking. OTTO raises his hand and opens his mouth as if he had a sudden idea. He meets JANE’s eyes and shakes his head and returns to thinking. JANE jumps off of the table.)
JANE What if this is a Shakespearean thing? My sorta death?
OTTO You think that witches did this?
OTTO Or fairies. Like Puck? That seems farfetched. Or—
JANE Hamlet, Otto. I was talking about Hamlet. ‘Avenge me’ you know?
OTTO Oh … You could’ve just said that.
JANE What if I’m a restless spirit because of my murder? Maybe if you can get me closure, I will move on. (Beat)
Vengeance and then that’s it—
(JANE’s triumphant expression darkens and her shoulders sag. She chokes back a sob and rests her face in her hands.)
What’s wrong? (OTTO looks at the corpse and clears his throat.)
Besides the obvious, I mean. (JANE looks up at OTTO.)
JANE I always wanted to do something with my life, you know? Like, I wanted to help people. I wanted to have done something great. I wanted be SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE. So that when I died, Someone would say, “Remember Jane? The great …”
(JANE makes grasping motions)
I can’t even imagine how I would’ve made an impact. I don’t even have a real life that I’m leaving behind. I lived but I didn’t LIVE, you know. What’ll the obituary say? “Jane died. She is survived by her husband.” What the hell kind of life’s story is that? I only married him because that seemed like something that a REAL person would do. Like, like … Just by marrying him I could find wherever the hell I was going. Just something, anything instead of …
OTTO Instead of?
JANE (Roaring) Playing patty cake with my own GODDAMN corpse!
(JANE slaps her corpse again. OTTO flinches. A red tuft of wool is dislodged from the corpse’s creased neck. They sit in silence until JANE notices the wool. She points it out to OTTO.)
JANE What the hell? Is that wool?
OTTO Huh, it looks like it.
JANE Was I strangled with wool?
Who strangles a person with wool?
OTTO Well, were you wearing wool?
JANE God, no. It’s too itchy
OTTO (Excited) Then it must have come off the murder weapon.
(OTTO places the wool into a vial and heads toward the door.)
I’ll be right back.
JANE Where are you going?
OTTO (Calling over his shoulder)
I’ve got a wool guy. Or rather a wool girl. That doesn’t sound right. I’ve got a wool specialist. Technician? A wool technician.
(OTTO’s voice trails off as exits through the door. JANE runs after OTTO and trips because of the invisible tether.)
JANE (Calling after OTTO)
A wool technician?
(JANE stares at the door for a beat after OTTO leaves. She turns to her corpse.)
Well it’s just you and me now. I guess that I’ll take it as a compliment that he’s so excited to solve our murder.
(Beat) That sounded bitter. He clearly loves being of service in whatever way he can. I just envy his excitement. I wish I could feel like that again. I really do wish that I helped someone. I had all those years. All those chances. I thought that marrying Jim was what I could do to help. Help him. Help me …Maybe that’s what I did wrong … There was never an us. Even when I was reaching out to him, I was really just reaching for something to stop my drifting. There’s no way that he didn’t feel my resentment—Oh my God. His scarf.
(Beat) His scarf …
(JANE looks up from her hands as the lights turn on at JIM’s entrance. He is wearing a red wool scarf. He stares at JANE.)
JANE Jim! What are you doing here?
JIM (Ignoring JANE) What the hell?
(JIM’s mouth opens and closes. JANE takes one look at the scarf and she nods sadly as if it was only confirming what she already knew.)
Am I seeing things or—
JANE I see that you’re wearing the scarf from our honeymoon, Jim.
(JIM touches his throat, missing his scarf. He continues to stare at JANE but now he’s looking pointedly away from her neck. Before he can respond, OTTO strides through the door)
OTTO The wool is used by this one scarf company—
Oh hey Jim, when’d you get here …
(OTTO notices JIM’s scarf. OTTO looks at his wool sample and then back at JIM’s scarf.)
(JANE rubs her temples.)
JANE That’s it, huh? Say you didn’t do it. Hell, say that you did. Say something.
JIM What is there left to say?
(OTTO dials 911. JIM assesses how difficult it would be to kill OTTO. JIM shrugs and winces slightly. He turns to JANE.)
I was done. You always acted like our marriage was some kind of favor to me. Like you were going to save me from myself or something. And you never let me do even the smallest thing for myself. “We don’t have the money.” I just wanted you to stop patronizing me. Like hell we didn’t have the money. You inherited an entire fortune. I just wanted a freaking television. I snapped, I killed you and pulled something in my shoulder. Happy?
(JIM rolls his shoulders. OTTO stares, his phone held limply in his hand.)
I don’t have the money, Jim. I haven’t had it for years.
JIM Jane I’m not stupid. Where’s the money?
JANE There’s no money. Not anymore.
JIM But your grandfather’s—
JANE I gave it away.
JIM Who could’ve possibly used that much money?
(JIM seems to be unaware of the irony of his statement. JANE gives him a long hard look before replying.)
JANE Donated it to Saint MacGuffin’s Orphanage. Their lives were harder than mine, and we didn’t need it.
JIM I think I would’ve read about a donation that large.
JANE It was anonymous, dumbass. I didn’t want my name attached to that money.
JIM (Stammering) Oh my God. I killed you over a TV. What is wrong with me? I … I’m sorry.
(JIM stammers and sinks to the floor. He cries into the scarf. JANE nudges JIM with her foot and he whimpers something about the police and cries harder.
JANE speaks to OTTO.)
JANE (Melancholy) My murderer lies here at my feet, his spirit broken. Am I supposed to feel fulfilled? I don’t mean to knock this whole restless spirit thing but this feels pretty cheap. I may have solved my own murder but I still haven’t done anything remarkable.
OTTO What are you talking about? You GAVE AWAY a fortune. No one’s that selfless, at least no one that I know.
JANE That was nothing. I wasn’t using it; why would I want it? Anyone would have given it away. The kids needed homes, places to BE, who was I to keep that from them?
OTTO (Exasperated) Now you’re not listening to yourself. YOU gave those kids homes. That was you. No one forced you to do it. That was you and you were great.
(JANE opens her mouth to protest but then she pauses and smiles)
JANE I was, wasn’t I? ( A bell tolls outside of the door. JANE walks toward it)
OTTO Jane! Where are you going?
JANE Can’t you hear that?
OTTO Hear what?
(JANE looks puzzled for a second before nodding. JANE smiles broadly before opening the door.)
(END OF PLAY)
Paul Oh 12th Grade, Homeschooled