A SHOW OF HANDS
A One-Act Play
By Michael Martin
REGULAR #1 (Tall, white middle-aged man)
REGULAR #2 (Old white man, poor eyesight, sitting to left of Regular #1)
REGULAR #3 (Old white man, hard of hearing, sitting to right of Regular #1)
REGULAR #4 (Middle-aged black woman)
REGULAR #5, BRADLEY (30-year-old white man.)
THE TALENT (Pencil breaker on Talent Night.)
Tuesday Night, Talent Night. Roadside bar with no name in Flor-Ala, Alabama. Save for the cigarette machine, no amenities. At Stage Right, shelf of bottled liquor, all behind a wooden bar where our five regulars sit on the only five barstools.
AT CURTAIN, all dark, save for the spotlight on a small band stage, Stage Left. Slowly, lights over bar come up. Enter music: “Right On,” Marvin Gaye. The five regulars on barstools facing away from bar. They are turned on their stools and pointed toward the band stage; under a bright spotlight, the evening’s talent has finished his first set—breaking a hundred pencils, one at a time, against his knee. He has risen from his small chair to applause and exited the stage, taking an empty coffee can, once filled with #2 pencils, with him. Center Stage, between the bar and the stage, are a throng of faceless people, huddled in front of the band stage, unseen.
REGULAR #2 We never get it.
REGULAR #3 It’s why we keep coming.
REGULAR #2 It’s got something to do with something.
(At end of bar, REGULAR #4 is trying to break a Number Two pencil against her knee. She has laid a pencil across her bird finger, weaved it through the fingers on either side of the bird finger, slamming the pencil over and over against her knee, with no success. Finally she gives up and tosses pencil onto floor. BRADLEY walks in, returning from bathroom, sits on last available barstool.)
REGULAR #4 All those pencils.
REGULAR #1 Perfectly fine.
REGULAR #4 Fine, perfect pencils.
REGULAR #3 Obliterated.
REGULAR #2 Broken to bits.
REGULAR #3 To Kingdom Come.
REGULAR #2 How does he do it?
REGULAR #4 Do we need to know?
REGULAR #1 We think we do.
REGULAR #2 I’m giving it five stars.
REGULAR #4 You did that last week!
REGULAR #3 Two thumbs up for me.
REGULAR #1 You give everything two thumbs!
REGULAR #4 I wouldn’t show my damn face for a second set—
REGULAR #3 Leave them wanting more!
REGULAR #2 Someone else said that first.
REGULAR #4 Someone else always says something first.
BRADLEY I need me a beginning. A middle. An end. Say I had a hammer. Hammered in the morning. Hammered in the evening—
REGULAR #4 But not, like, All over this land?
REGULAR #2 A pity!
BRADLEY A waste!
REGULAR #1 We’re only here to say what we saw!
REGULAR #3 My father fell for peculiar weather and let me live in his cage of birds.
REGULAR #4 Means nothing!
REGULAR #3 But the end has an ending!
(Two Beats.) (Lights dim behind bar. Music fades out. Slowly.)
REGULAR #1 He’s back on stage.
BRADLEY I talked to him when I was in the bathroom.
REGULAR #2 I bet he was different.
REGULAR #3 Everyone’s different in real life.
BRADLEY He yakked my ears off.
REGULAR #4 Didn’t say shit on stage.
REGULAR #1 I got him pegged as a chit-chatter. Was THE TALENT a chit-chatter in real life?
BRADLEY Maybe. Mostly. I guess...
REGULAR #4 That’s one big-ass coffee can THE TALENT’s got.
REGULAR #1 Uh-oh.
REGULAR #4 Did the dude just pull a goddamn gun out the coffee can?
REGULAR #3 He didn’t do that last week!
REGULAR #4 It’s always been just about pencils!
REGULAR #2 Shouldn’t we run? I think we should run.
REGULAR #1 We’re shocked.
REGULAR #3 Stunned.
REGULAR #1 Show of hands. Who saw this shit coming?
(No hands up.)
REGULAR #3 Is he talking? I think he’s talking.
REGULAR #2 I can’t see a thing.
REGULAR #3 Where’s the mic?
REGULAR #4 TALENT don’t use no mic!
REGULAR #1 It’s part of the act.
REGULAR #3 His shtick.
REGULAR #1 Nothing but the sound of breaking pencils—
REGULAR #4 No easy thing.
BRADLEY Why haven’t we run away?
REGULAR #1 Maybe we think it’s part of the act. That’s probably what we’re thinking.
REGULAR #3 Plus he locked the only door.
REGULAR #2 So there’s nowhere to run!
REGULAR #3 Usually there is.
REGULAR #4 Has THE TALENT ever shot anyone on Talent Night?
REGULAR #1 We would have noticed.
BRADLEY We’re always here.
REGULAR #4 I just got a new grand baby. I have to live!
REGULAR #1 It must be terrifying loving someone so much.
REGULAR #3 Maybe THE TALENT is doing something special.
REGULAR #2 A World Premier.
REGULAR #1 But the world seems somewhere else.
REGULAR #2 We need to run to somewhere else.
REGULAR #3 What’s keeping us here?
REGULAR #1 We’re traumatized.
REGULAR #4 Paralyzed.
REGULAR #2 Frozen in our tracks.
BRADLEY Deer in the headlights.
REGULAR #4 Oh, hell no.
REGULAR #2 THE TALENT is pointing at you, BRADLEY.
REGULAR #4 Oh. Hell. No...
REGULAR #1 He wants BRADLEY on stage.
REGULAR #2 Someone he trusts.
REGULAR #3 Perhaps the only man who’s ever listened to him.
REGULAR #2 It’s BRADLEY’S kindness.
REGULAR #3 Such an open face.
BRADLEY I don’t even know the guy’s name.
REGULAR #2 But he knows yours!
REGULAR #3 All the way through this darkness we heard him call you.
REGULAR #2 Save us from THE TALENT, BRADLEY!
REGULAR #3 Save THE TALENT! From himself!
BRADLEY Must I?
REGULAR #3 You have misgivings?
REGULAR #4 One burden too many?
REGULAR #2 But it’s your calling.
REGULAR #3 Your face.
REGULAR #2 A purity.
REGULAR #1 Some simple destiny.
(Beat.) (BRADLEY looks intently at THE TALENT on stage. Points to himself.)
(BRADLEY picks up bottle of beer off bar, walks through the crowd and darkness toward stage. Sound of his boots climbing stage.) (Two Beats.)
REGULAR #4 Now why in fuck did he go and do that?
REGULAR #2 We just told him to.
REGULAR #4 Weren’t we just trying to make him feel good?
REGULAR #3 God bless you, BRADLEY!
REGULAR #2 I can’t see a thing—
REGULAR #3 I can’t hear.
REGULAR #1 (Stretching neck to see over crowd.) BRADLEY has to break five pencils in a row. Or—
(Points finger to head like gun. Pulls finger trigger.) (Beat.)
REGULAR #4 Mother of God.
REGULAR #2 So BRADLEY has to fight for his life.
REGULAR #4 The indignity.
REGULAR #3 Under a spotlight.
REGULAR #1 And blindfolded.
REGULAR #4 What damn difference does it make, blindfolding BRADLEY?
REGULAR #3 Perhaps a dramatic affect.
REGULAR #2 Some visual thing.
REGULAR #1 Up front. Near the stage. Everyone, so casual. Cool.
REGULAR #2 Maybe they believe in BRADLEY.
REGULAR #3 We believe in BRADLEY!
REGULAR #1 We don’t believe in BRADLEY! We don’t believe in anything! Who even knows BRADLEY’s first name? Show of hands.
(No hands raised.)
REGULAR #4 I thought BRADLEY was his first name.
REGULAR #1 BRADLEY’s his last name!
REGULAR #4 So what’s BRADLEY’s first name?
REGULAR #1 We don’t know.
REGULAR #2 Does anyone know my name? Someone say they know my name.
REGULAR #4 Who gives a fuck! (Points to REGULAR #2) You’re blind. (Points to REGULAR #1) You’re tall. (Points to REGULAR #3) You’re deaf, and I’m black and that up there is Something BRADLEY breaking pencils. These fuckers out here just blocking our view of the event.
(Pause. Drinking. REGULAR #1 cranes neck forward to see what’s happening on stage.)
REGULAR #1 Oh, hell yes! He got that first one. By God, Something BRADLEY destroyed that pencil!
REGULAR #2 BRAD-LEY!
REGULAR #4 Say nothing loud. You’ll stir the evil up there.
REGULAR #1 He’s taking his time weaving the second one through his fingers. Calm. Certain. Oh, so concentrated.
REGULAR #4 We love him for that.
REGULAR #1 THE TALENT seems to be giving Something BRADLEY some pointers.
REGULAR #2 So there’s ambivalence.
REGULAR #3 A good sign.
REGULAR #1 THE TALENT is holding Something BRADLEY’s hand—
REGULAR #4 And aiming the pistol at his head!
REGULAR #1 He got it. (Pause.) He got it.
REGULAR #3 I heard that pencil, by God. KA-BOOM!
REGULAR #4 A sweet sound.
REGULAR #2 A million pieces!
REGULAR #4 Show of hands. Is Something BRADLEY as good as THE TALENT? Goddamn, Mr. Something BRADLEY!
(All hands way up.)
REGULAR #3 An exhilaration!
REGULAR #2 But a sadness too.
REGULAR #3 Always it seems.
REGULAR #2 Some nagging melancholy.
REGULAR #1 An accompaniment.
REGULAR #2 Can’t be shaken off.
REGULAR #3 No man should have to fight for his life under a spotlight.
REGULAR #1 It’s why we feel what we’re feeling.
REGULAR #2 Survival, best done in the quiet. In a kind of dark.
REGULAR #3 Like here.
REGULAR #1 A solitude.
REGULAR #2 An endless prayer.
REGULAR #3 Always something to drink.
(Pause. Drinking. A despair visits the REGULARS. They each inhabit their own quiet reflection.) (Beat.)
REGULAR #2 Sore afraid.
REGULAR #1 THE TALENT wants Something BRADLEY to break two pencils. In one hand. At the same time.
REGULAR #3 THE TALENT did that last week.
REGULAR #2 Is it impossible?
REGULAR #3 It’s not right.
REGULAR #1 The rules are changing.
REGULAR #3 He’s a snake—
REGULAR #1 A serpent.
REGULAR #3 THE TALENT is trying to get inside Something BRADLEY’s head.
REGULAR #1 I bet Something BRADLEY really feels alive in the world about now.
REGULAR #2 He’s almost dead!
REGULAR #3 It’s all so tenuous.
REGULAR #4 Last week was nothing like this!
REGULAR #1 Maybe it was and we didn’t notice.
REGULAR #2 A woeful and willful ignorance.
(Beat. Sound of pencils snapping in half.)
REGULAR #1 It is done.
REGULAR #4 I want to die!
REGULAR #3 He broke ’em both?
REGULAR #4 Jesus God!
REGULAR #2 This time sounded different than the others.
REGULAR #4 A gentle break. Yet remarkable.
REGULAR #1 Like the click of a light switch in the dark.
REGULAR #3 Show of hands. Did that sound wondrous or what?
(All hands up.) (Beat.)
REGULAR #1 One more pencil...
REGULAR #4 And then a return to our arms.
REGULAR #2 An endless embrace.
REGULAR #4 A night to remember.
REGULAR #3 Let’s clap. Can we quietly clap?
REGULAR #2 Like we do for the poets!
REGULAR #3 For Something BRADLEY.
REGULAR #1 A modest show of encouragement.
REGULAR #2 It won’t be easy—
REGULAR #3 It’ll sound strange, considering—
REGULAR #2 Not natural.
REGULAR #4 Let’s do it anyway.
(All Four REGULARS stand, gently clap their hands.)
REGULAR #2 It felt good.
REGULAR #4 Necessary.
REGULAR #1 THE TALENT wants all the bar lights turned out.
REGULAR #4 The last pencil.
REGULAR #2 What style.
REGULAR #1 Only a spotlight.
REGULAR #3 So exciting.
(Out go the few lights over bar.)
REGULAR #2 (Standing in amazement.) I can see everything better now.
REGULAR #4 Oh, man. He’s out of pencils. Is he out of pencils?
REGULAR #1 Can it be?
REGULAR #2 Should I cry or laugh?
REGULAR #3 The coffee can. Empty.
REGULAR #4 THE TALENT’s run out the door!
REGULAR #2 And Something BRADLEY—
REGULAR #3 —on the floor. Crawling under the crowd!
REGULAR #2 He’s crawling home toward us—
REGULAR #3 Like a baby.
REGULAR #1 A soldier.
REGULAR #2 A dog.
REGULAR #4 Stand up, Something BRADLEY! On your feet!
REGULAR #3 (Pointing to REGULAR # 4) That pencil she threw down is long gone!
REGULAR #2 Move! Move!
REGULAR #3 Get your chairs out the way!
REGULAR #2 Check over here, Something BRADLEY!
REGULAR #1 And there!
REGULAR #4 Make room for Something BRADLEY!
REGULAR #1 (To unseen Barkeeper.) Drinks! Drinks!
REGULAR #2 Help me get him back on his feet.
REGULAR #3 Let me touch him too!
REGULAR #4 Let me hold the little baby!
REGULAR #1 I salute you, Something BRADLEY!
REGULAR #2 Let me pet his face!
REGULAR #1 Something BRADLEY! Stand! Stand and tell the world what it’s like to be alive!
(Enter music: “Make Me Wanna Holler,” Marvin Gaye)