A Pawn Piece (1978 play): Act I
(The curtain opens on a blackened stage. DEREK, who is laying on a sleeping bag, opens his eyes as a natural-coloured spotlight inches down to him, like a sunrise, gradually lighting up the surrounding area to show that he has spent the night in the woods. As the spotlight gets larger, the stage lights, still natural, should come on gradually, during his soliloquy. DEREK yawns, stretching his arms. Then he gets up from his sleeping bag.)
DEREK: Good morning, World. What a good sleep I’ve had. Funny, I don’t remember dreaming. I usually do. (Yawning again) Well, what do I have planned today? Nothing much, I’m afraid. I’ll just have to see what comes along. Who knows? Maybe I’ll have an exciting adventure today. I could play “War”, that’s always lots of fun. (Machine-gunning) Rat-tat-tat-tat. Rat-tat-tat-tat. (Bazooking) Ppftt–KABOOM. Ppftt-KABOOM. Or I could play “Cops and Robbers”. Yeah, that would be good. (Bullhorning) All right, Mugsy, we’ve got you covered. come out with your hands up, or we’ll come in there blasting. (Yelling) I’ll never give up, you’ll have to come in to get me. (Shooting) Ptchw. Ptchw. (Moaning) Oh, you got me. Or maybe I should play “I Spy”. (Quickly) I-spy-with-my-little-eye (slower) some thing that is green. (Altered voice) This tree? (Normal) No. (Altered) That tree? (Normal) No. (Altered) I don’t know; I give up. (Normal, laughing) The forest: you couldn’t see it for the trees. How about a “Riddle”? Here’s one of my favourites; I made it up myself. (Seriously) Riddle me this: what killed the cat before
DEREK (continued): satisfaction brought it back? (Lightly) Give up? Curiosity. I think maybe I’ll play “King of the Castle”, instead. (Singing) I’m the king of the castle and you’re the dirty rascal. No, I guess they’re all hard games to play by myself. I suppose I’d better go and look for someone to play with. (DEREK begins to go for a walk) Where does a twelve-year-old boy like me find a friend? Especially in the woods. Maybe I’ll have to go to the ‘wouldn’ts’ to find out. (Comes upon KLUNK sitting in his way; KLUNK wears huge glasses, one lens broken, the other cracked, and a dingy. rust-coloured coat. On his breastcoat pocket hang several metals of honour, slightly disheveled.) What’s that over there? He looks like a real wreck. I wonder how he got like that: he looks as if he’s dead. (The lighting changes to purple, here.)
KLUNK: I’m not dead; I’m just rusting.
DEREK: Pardon me?
KLUNK: You heard me, you young whip; I said I’m just rusting, I’m not dead.
DEREK: Don’t you mean ‘resting’?
KLUNK: Rusting, resting: what’s the difference?
DEREK: Rusting is the process of covering metal with that reddish-brown coat you’re wearing.
KLUNK: That’s not what I meant.
DEREK: Well, what did you mean?
KLUNK: I meant I was spoiling myself with disuse.
DEREK: That’s the same as resting.
KLUNK: See, I told you!
DEREK: Why didn’t you just say you were getting rusty?
KLUNK: You’d probably think I meant it the other way.
DEREK: I guess so, but shouldn’t you be feeling refreshed?
KLUNK: With a fresh coat I might.
DEREK: A fresh coat?
KLUNK: Of paint, I’m getting tired of this colour.
DEREK: No, not paint, air.
KLUNK: Air? What for?
DEREK: Fresh air to feel refreshed in. No, I mean: don’t you feel refreshed in this fresh air?
KLUNK: This fresh air is the reason I need fresh paint.
DEREK: Because you’re rusting?
KLUNK: Yes, I think you understand now.
REK: I don’t really. Why couldn’t you have just said you were resting?
KLUNK: I hate admitting that I’m not in active service. They shouldn’t have retired me.
DEREK: Who are “they”?
KLUNK: My superiors, of course. Oh, sorry, I forgot: you don’t know who I am. May I introduce myself?
DEREK: Of course!
KLUNK: I am Colonel Klunk, retired, mobile division.
DEREK: How do you do, sir?
KLUNK: Not too well, I…
DEREK: My name is Derek.
KLUNK: If you’re going to ask me a question, young man, why won’t you let me answer it?
DEREK: What did I do wrong?
KLUNK: You were interrupting me.
DEREK: No, I wasn’t; you interrupted me.
KLUNK: I did no such thing!
DEREK: Yes, you did. I was trying to be polite by introducing myself and you spoke out in the middle.
KLUNK: But you asked me a question.
DEREK: What question?
KLUNK: ‘How do you do?’
DEREK: That’s only a polite acknowledgement of your introduction before I begin mine.
KLUNK: Whoever heard of such a preposterous idea?
DEREK: I have.
KLUNK: Who taught it to you?
DEREK: My mother, why?
KLUNK: It doesn’t make any sense to ask a question like, “How do you do?” and then not expect an answer.
DEREK: But it’s not a real question.
DEREK: Because I didn’t mention what it is that I wanted to know how you did.
KLUNK: What?! I don’t follow what you’re saying.
DEREK: Exactly! If I don’t say something like, “How do you do chestnuts on an open fire?” how can you answer?
KLUNK: Oh, but I thought the question was, “How do you do anything?” I was going to tell you that it’s with great difficulty.
DEREK: I can believe it.
KLUNK: Well, then, why are we having such a difficult time talking to each other?
DEREK: Probably because you do everything with great difficulty.
KLUNK: Don’t get smart with me.
DEREK: There: you just said something that doesn’t make any sense.
KLUNK: What was that?
DEREK: You said, “Don’t get smart,” when you really meant “smarten up.”
KLUNK: Smarten up what?
DEREK: My act.
KLUNK: Is that what this is: an act?
DEREK: No. I just meant that the whole alternate saying is, “Smarten up your act.”
KLUNK: Then say what you mean…
DEREK: And mean what you say, right? This just goes to show that the English language can be very confusing to those who are learning it for the first time. For example, did you realize that sometimes opposites can mean the same thing?
KLUNK: Like what?
DEREK: Like, a slim chance is the same as a fat chance. Then, there’s the differences in idioms between young people and old people.
DEREK: Yes, what would you think if I told you to ‘be cool’?
KLUNK: I don’t know: it doesn’t make any sense.
DEREK: See, we’re experiencing what’s known as a ‘generation gap’.
KLUNK: I remember a General Motors, but no General Shungap.
DEREK: It’s hopeless talking to you; you don’t understand anything I’m saying.
KLUNK: How do you know? You haven’t asked me anything, or so you say. Would you like to know how I got to be here, in this condition?
DEREK: Yes, I would.
KLUNK: Then, why didn’t you ask?
DEREK: I felt that you might misunderstand my intentions.
KLUNK: I realize you’re an intense young man, Derek, but there’s no reason to get tense.
DEREK: Colonel Klunk, what are you talking about?
KLUNK: You said you were in tensions.
DEREK: That’s not what I intended.
KLUNK: Were you speaking in the present tense?
DEREK: As in a grammar lesson, yes. I find the present tense and the past perfect.
KLUNK: So do I; I like the past better.
DEREK: Do you mean that we agree on something?
KLUNK: I suppose we do.
DEREK: Please tell me about your life, especially before you began to rest, er, rust.
KLUNK: Since I’m sure you wouldn’t want to hear my story from the very beginning, I’ll start with my career.
DEREK: Please do.
KLUNK: Please do what?
DEREK: Please do begin your story with your career.
KLUNK: Good. I thought you might be pulling another “How do you do?” on me.
DEREK: In a way I was.
KLUNK: In what way?
DEREK: It’s polite to say “please do” when you want to encourage someone.
KLUNK: I’ve already got enough courage for both of us, so why bother?
DEREK: Never mind. I can’t explain without ruining your story. Please continue.
KLUNK: Continue what?
DEREK: Your story.
KLUNK: I haven’t started it, yet.
DEREK: Sorry, sir.
KLUNK: No, I’m not sorry: it turned out all right. It’s just that I could have had more service at the front.
DEREK: Your front?
KLUNK: No, at the front of the driving forces. You know, the ones on highways, streets, county roads, concessions.
DEREK: Did you make concessions?
KLUNK: Yes, they were the roughest to overcome.
DEREK: In what way?
KLUNK: Sometimes they were the only way to get to where I wanted to go.
DEREK: Do you mean home?
KLUNK: Yes. I loved the garage I called my home. It was so restful, compared to the outside world.
DEREK: Did you make it home very often?
KLUNK: What, the garage? Every time I got there. Let’s just say that fighting the traffic made it all worthwhile.
DEREK: Where’d you fight traffic?
KLUNK: I told you before.
DEREK: You did?
KLUNK: Yes, the highways, streets, county roads…
DEREK: Et cetera.
KLUNK: Yes, that land was something.
DEREK: What land?
KLUNK: The Belle Province, of course. All of the instructions are give in that language you just spoke; it causes confusion, but the trip there is worth the hassle.
DEREK: I wasn’t speaking French.
KLUNK: Sure you were: you said, “Est cette terre, eh?”
DEREK: No, I didn’t; I was saying the Latin phrase, ‘et cetera’.
KLUNK: They sound so much alike; what does it mean?
DEREK: And so forth.
KLUNK: Is that anything like, ‘he was told to come forth, but came fifth and lost the race’?
DEREK: No, more like, ‘whatever is following as previously indicated.’
KLUNK: Well, if he came fifth, he certainly would be following.
DEREK: You’re not following what I’m saying, again.
KLUNK: Where is it leading this time?
DEREK: I’m not sure.
KLUNK: Then I’ll thank you not to interrupt me again.
DEREK: Alright, Colonel Klunk, I won’t.
KLUNK: Thank you. Now, where was I?
DEREK: I think you were fighting traffic.
KLUNK: Ah, yes, that reminds me of the good times.
DEREK: What good times?
KLUNK: Mostly, the excursions I took into that country to the south of us.
DEREK: Are you referring to the U.S.?
KLUNK: Of course, I mean us. Who else would be north of the United States?
DE$REK (closing eyes in exasperation): Where’s you go?
KLUNK: Open your eyes, I’m right here.
DEREK (opening eyes): No, I mean where did you go in the United States?
KLUNK: I told you before, the highways, streets…
DEREK: Never mind, I understand.
KLUNK: Do you? They used to be our enemies, you know. That was long before the “Auto Pact” was signed.
DEREK: Who won?
KLUNK: There are still those of us who think we did. But when you hear their version, it makes you wonder.
DEREK: Why, what happened?
KLUNK: While we were gloating about the increase in employment with new production locations, they were laughing all the way to the bank. Haven’t you noticed that their troops have infiltrated our ranks?
DEREK: Why hasn’t anyone done something about it?
KLUNK: I guess that the American influence has permeated through our entire society so much, that any attempt to rid ourselves of their culture could endanger the survival of our own heritage.
DEREK: You’ve told me about the Great War, now tell me why you’re here, and how you came to be in such a dilapidated condition?
KLUNK: Like every good solider, I did as I was instructed to do. My commanding officer was a slave driver. He kept making me take part in weekend skirmishes in the North, until I had engine failure. My heart hasn’t been the same since: I just couldn’t put it in my work. After sitting for several years in someone’s back yard as a reserve, I was finally retired. It was a smash-up retirement party.
DEREK: It must have been more like a demolition derby.
KLUNK: Do you think so? Anyway, after the bash, they dragged me to this lonely spot to wait for the end.
DEREK: When will the end come?
KLUNK: I’m not sure. I’ve been told that old soldiers never die, they just rust away.
DEREK: I think this is where I came in.
KLUNK: So, where are you going, when you leave?
DEREK (indicating Stage Right): I don’t know. Maybe I’ll go that way.
KLUNK: For what purpose?
DEREK: To find a friend to play with.
KLUNK: Then you had better be going. I wouldn’t want you to miss your directions at this stage.
DEREK: Okay. Thank you, Colonel Klunk; it’s been fun.
(As DEREK walks toward S.R., the curtain falls for a brief intermission.)