List of Characters
Scene is the plain setting of a courtroom. There is a podium UC with a seat, at which a single JUSTICE sits, gavel in hand. To the left and out of the way sits a STENOGRAPHER at his/her typewriter, which produces a constant clacking sound. To the right of the Justice is a CLERK, standing still and silent, holding several pieces of paper. There are two tables with one chair each downstage, angled so that each forms a 45 degree angle with the curtain line. The tables are on opposite sides of the stage; the one on the left is that of the PLAINTIFF, while the one on the right is that of the DEFENDANT. Each player sits alone at his/her table, glaring at the other with animosity.
JUSTICE [striking gavel]: Court in session at 10:17 PM on the night of October 12, 2010. The court will now hear an opening statement from the plaintiff.
PLAINTIFF rises. Immediately the STENOGRAPHER begins typing faster.
PLAINTIFF: Thank you, Your Honor. Ladies and gentlemen, beyond these walls, out in the real world, a horrible tragedy is occurring. As I speak to you today, a young woman, perhaps 24, is being held hostage by a man who demands of her something that is not his. He wants money from this hardworking woman, who is perhaps a mother, perhaps a daughter. He is willing to kill her to get it, holding a knife to her throat. She cries, and yet he does not see her tears. She wails, and yet he does not hear her voice. She is scared, scared for her life, and yet he does not feel her anguish. Your Honor, I respectfully submit that this woman be released. After all, how are we human if we have lost our humanity?
PLAINTIFF sits. STENOGRAPHER resumes a normal typing pace.
JUSTICE: The Court will now hear an opening statement from the Defendant.
DEFENDANT rises. STENOGRAPHER slows down the typing pace.
DEFENDANT: Ladies and gentlemen, the Plaintiff would have you believe that the man in question is a monster, that his actions are heartless deeds spawned by the Devil himself. That is not the case. I ask each of you to picture a man. His clothes are torn to rags. His skin is stretched so tightly over his face you might think him a skeleton. You can count his ribs from three feet away. He is reclining on a bed of broken glass and upturned stones, his head tilted back over a cinderblock, mouth gaping, tongue lolled out. He is dead. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what will become of the man in question if he releases the woman. He needs the woman’s money not to buy a Ferrari, or a bag of weed, or a night with an escort. He needs to eat. He will not hurt the woman…
PLAINTIFF: Then why does he have a knife?
STENOGRAPHER pauses typing, then resumes.
JUSTICE [banging gavel]: Let the Defendant finish!
DEFENDANT: As I was saying, he will not hurt the woman, only frighten her. He only needs money—forty dollars at most—to buy himself meals for the next few days. Do not deny him the chance to live, Your Honor. Throw out the Plaintiff’s suit against this poor man. Thank you.
JUSTICE: The Court will now allow the Plaintiff to introduce evidence on its behalf.
PLAINTIFF: Thank you, Your Honor. I believe the Clerk has a transcript of the woman’s reaction to this situation.
CLERK [coming forward]: I do.
PLAINTIFF: Please read it to the Court.
CLERK ruffles through his papers until he finds one, from which he reads. STENOGRAPHER accelerates typing pace.
CLERK: The woman is crying. She cannot look her accuser in the eyes, but buries her face in her hands. Her pocketbook swings from one shoulder. She tries to speak, but the words turn into sobs as soon as they leave her lips.
DEFENDANT: Objection, Your Honor! This is a biased account!
STENOGRAPHER pauses, then resumes.
PLAINTIFF: I did not write this statement, Your Honor. It comes from a neutral observer.
JUSTICE: Overruled. Continue, Clerk.
CLERK: The woman is attractive. Blonde…
DEFENDANT: Objection, Your Honor! Relevance!
STENOGRAPHER pauses again, then resumes.
JUSTICE: Sustained. Clerk, are there any more relevant observations?
CLERK: Not by my opinion, Your Honor.
JUSTICE: All right. The Court will hear no more of this transcript. Plaintiff, make your case.
PLAINTIFF: There is one sentence in this syncopated transcript to which I would like to draw the Court’s attention. The woman is crying. Clearly, if her emotional reaction is enough to evoke tears, it must extend beyond mere apprehension. The woman is terrified. Fearing for her life. She doesn’t know if she’ll survive to see her family again. She thinks she may die, and for what? Forty dollars? Meals for someone who won’t support himself? It disgusts me. If you will not mandate that the man leave this woman alone, at least make him remove his knife. In the woman’s mind, that knife represents the demise of all she has ever lived for.
JUSTICE: Defendant, you may make your rebuttal.
STENOGRAPHER stops typing.
DEFENDANT: The Court must understand that the knife is an essential part of this operation. Yes, it is causing the woman some anxiety, but if the man does not threaten her, does not show her that he is in control, how will he get the money he needs? The woman may defend herself against an unarmed man, and there may be fighting…
JUSTICE: One moment, please, Defendant. Stenographer, shouldn’t you be recording this?
STENOGRAPHER: My apologies, Your Honor.
STENOGRAPHER begins typing at a slow pace.
DEFENDANT: Eventually, after the man has received his money and left the woman, she will forget her fear of the blade. Keep the knife, Your Honor, at least for now. Let it be the authority that keeps the man and the woman from killing each other.
JUSTICE: After listening to both arguments, I have decided that the man should put away his knife. He must resolve this situation without the threat of armed force.
PLAINTIFF smiles. STENOGRAPHER types at an accelerated pace.
JUSTICE [producing a piece of paper]: Clerk, execute this order.
CLERK: Yes, Your Honor.
CLERK takes the paper and exits.
JUSTICE: Now, we must work out how to proceed with the situation. Plaintiff, make your case.
PLAINTIFF [flustered]: I defer my argument, Your Honor.
JUSTICE: Very well. Defendant?
DEFENDANT: I believe the man should go ahead and demand what he came here to get—money.
PLAINTIFF: That is out of the question!
JUSTICE: Quiet, Plaintiff! I won’t tolerate another outburst. Explain your proposal, Defendant.
DEFENDANT: I submit that the man should tell the woman she may go free if she surrenders forty dollars. That should be enough to cover meals for a week.
JUSTICE: Very well. Clerk! We have another order for execution.
PLAINTIFF: Am I not allowed to rebut, Your Honor?
STENOGRAPHER stops typing.
JUSTICE: Haste is of the essence now. If that means sacrificing full consideration of the facts, then so be it.
CLERK appears onstage, carrying a new piece of paper. STENOGRAPHER resumes typing.
CLERK: Your Honor…
JUSTICE [with a piece of paper]: Execute this order right away.
CLERK: With your permission, Your Honor, a new development has arisen.
JUSTICE: Fine. Then relate it to the Court.
CLERK [reading]: As the man put his knife away, the woman took the opportunity to shove him away and attempt to flee. She tripped and fell.
PLAINTIFF: Your Honor, this development must be entered as evidence!
STENOGRAPHER accelerates typing speed.
JUSTICE: Very well. Read the rest of the transcript.
PLAINTIFF: The woman is scraped down one leg. Her blood is trickling onto the pavement. Without instruction, the man has advanced on her, and is bearing down upon her with a threatening countenance.
DEFENDANT: Objection, Your Honor! This is another biased account.
JUSTICE: Clerk, what is the source of this document?
CLERK: A neutral party.
DEFENDANT: Can’t you elaborate a little more?
JUSTICE [banging gavel]: This transcript is admissible. Let us get on with things. Plaintiff, your suggestion?
PLAINTIFF: Let her go. A healthy woman has no right to be attacked in this manner, let alone an injured woman. I reiterate my plea to the Court…
STENOGRAPHER types at lightning speed.
JUSTICE: You’ve made your point. Defendant?
DEFENDANT: I suggest the reintroduction of the knife. Let him show her, once and for all, who is in control.
CLERK: Haste, Your Honor. Haste is needed.
JUSTICE: The man shall produce his knife for a second time. Execute this order immediately.
CLERK exits. STENOGRAPHER slows down.
DEFENDANT: He might as well steal the purse too and be done with it.
PLAINTIFF: Steal the purse? I thought you only wanted money!
STENOGRAPHER speeds up.
DEFENDANT: I am only making this suggestion in the interest of time.
DEFENDANT: At any moment, the woman could cry out for help and end this operation altogether.
PLAINTIFF: At this rate you would have the woman murdered by the end of the hour!
JUSTICE [banging gavel]: Order! I warned you, Plaintiff. One more outburst and I shall excuse you from this Court!
PLAINTIFF [fuming]: I wish to speak to the Defendant directly, Your Honor.
JUSTICE: Sustained. Anything to get us out of here.
PLAINTIFF [to DEFENDANT]: You have no soul.
STENOGRAPHER slows down. DEFENDANT crosses to PLAINTIFF.
DEFENDANT: No soul? You say I have no soul? I am the one fighting for the survival of a human life. I am so adamant in my struggle that I realize it is necessary to make moral sacrifices to fulfill my goals. And you? You waltz into this courtroom an idealist. Your allegiance is to an arbitrary ethical code, a set of shaky standards built of ideas taken from this philosophy and that. There is no honor in what you stand for, Plaintiff. I say you are the one with no soul.
STENOGRAPHER stops typing.
JUSTICE [banging gavel]: Enough. We have wasted too much time already. Court will proceed with no further interruptions, understood?
PLAINTIFF and DEFENDANT nod. STENOGRAPHER resumes at a normal pace. CLERK enters.
CLERK: The woman is speaking, Your Honor.
JUSTICE: What is she saying?
Throughout the courtroom the VOICE OF A WOMAN is heard.
VOICE [desperately]: Please, sir…I don’t know you. Leave me alone. I have a daughter…she’s only three. I’m all she has in the world. Please, if you have any soul at all, let me go!
The VOICE trails off into sobs, then is silent. Not a sound is heard but the clacking of the Stenographer’s typewriter. The PLAINTIFF looks pleased, while the DEFENDANT is nervous. The JUSTICE, though, is the biggest wreck of all, looking as if he/she might die at any moment.
JUSTICE: Drop the knife.
CLERK: Your Honor?
JUSTICE: Tell him to drop the knife!
DEFENDANT: Your Honor, please! Take more time to consider your decision.
JUSTICE: Silence! I’ve had enough of your bickering—both of you! I came here to resolve this situation, and all I find are emotions, clashing head to head, unwilling to resolve a thing. This is no courtroom. This is a prison. A prison of thought. Just when I think I’m going one way, you tell me to go the other. I go back and forth, back and forth, unable to escape. And that’s because no dispute will ever be resolved here. So I bid you both farewell. Kill each other if you like, but don’t do it on my time.
JUSTICE exits. STENOGRAPHER types at a normal pace.
PLAINTIFF: You do not do your job well, Defendant.
DEFENDANT: Excuse me?
PLAINTIFF: You claim to support the best interests of the man in question, but you do not. You yield only to his basest instincts—hunger, lust, greed—but do not stop to consider the consequences. You do what he wants, tell him what he likes to hear, but you don’t do any good by him. You will destroy him in the end, Defendant. Desire shall be his downfall.
DEFENDANT [sarcastic]: Then tell me, Plaintiff, how can I do good by the man?
PLAINTIFF [after a pause]: I will argue with you no more.
PLAINTIFF exits. By now the CLERK has exited as well, leaving the STENOGRAPHER alone with the DEFENDANT. The typing continues at a normal pace.
DEFENDANT: Why are you still typing? The trial is over.
STENOGRAPHER pauses, glances at DEFENDANT, and resumes.
DEFENDANT: It’s over, do you hear me? It’s over.
No reaction from the STENOGRAPHER.
DEFENDANT exits. STENOGRAPHER continues typing, but reads aloud what he/she has written.
STENOGRAPHER: “The case of 10:17 PM…October 12, 2010…Conscience v. Desperation…”