This is a short play for schools or colleges which aims to raise student awareness of social and political issues of racism and armed occupation. It is particularly relevant to the situation in the occupied countries of the near-orient (middle-east) and in particular the situation in Palestine. It seeks to examine the emotional tensions as they are played out within the home of one family. This single focus is chosen in order that students and others may be able to better identify with and understand some of the complex human dynamics at work in those societies fractured by historic divisions and rival claims.
Characters. A narrator, a father, a mother, a teenage daughter and a younger son.
[Low Music playing ‘There’s no place like Home‘ until ready to start. Narrator could control this.]
[Scene: The drama takes place in the kitchen of a house. The kitchen table is set for four places. The father and son walk in and sit at the table, while the mother follows and moves between work-tops and table, dishing out food. The father is silently talking earnestly to the son. All action freezes as the narrator - sitting at one side and to the front of the stage, - addresses the audience;]
Narrator: (to audience) “Dear students, ladies and gentlemen - esteemed guests (if there are any). Welcome to what may appear to some of you to be a normal happy home. Alas! As with many things, not all is as it seems! You are about to eavesdrop on a really difficult dilemma. Here we see a family. One in which the parents have been averagely passionate (quizzical expression) - hence two children! (pause) Yes two - one is on her way home from college and will arrive shortly. They are having a meal at home in a house they consider their own. The father inherited it from his parents before the children were born. But as I say - not all is as it seems.” (turns eyes to stage)
[original movement commences]
Father; “..and so we should treat people with respect and dignity son. The golden rule - you must always remember the golden rule - it is ‘treat people as you would like to be treated yourself‘. Do you understand?”
Son; “I understand father - will I…..”
[The son is interrupted by the distant banging of trays or saucepans off-stage and muffled voices chanting. ‘Down with the wall’! The daughter rushes in, books in her hand.]
Father: (Looking toward the daughter resignedly ) “Now …what’s going on“.
Daughter: (Breathlessly) “They are protesting at the wall we’ve built across the end of the garden.” “They say they can’t get to their allotments now - and their kids can‘t get to school.”
Son: (to himself but audible) “Wish I couldn‘t get to school!” [Son empties his pockets of toy tanks, guns and planes and starts to play with them.]
Mother: (looking toward the ceiling and gesturing) “Can‘t get to their allotments?” “Is that all!”“Well its their own fault I say.” “They shouldn’t have thrown stones through the windows, damaged the tennis court or pulled down the washing line.”
Daughter: “They say the wall is not for protecting the house at all - but to steal even more of their part of the grounds!”
Father: (in a dismissive tone) “Their part of the grounds indeed! They are very lucky we let them have the garden shed to live in and they are extremely fortunate that we have put up with their protests over all these years. I remember the time when me and your mother had no where to live. When your grandfather left us this house and the few acres it was a real Godsend.”
Daughter: “That’s another thing.” “They say this house and grounds were theirs until grandfather came with lots of his army friends, threatened them with guns, cleared their Grandparents out of the house and then moved in himself.”
[noise off-stage gradually lessens and finally stops.]
Father: (Brusquely) “That’s nonsense they left of their own accord. Just like they have now. And (looking between mother and daughter) in war possession is nine-tenths of the law and Granddad‘s gun (shapes hand like a gun and blows imaginary smoke off the end of his fingers) was the other tenth”. (the son copies him with a plastic gun) “They should go and live with their relatives, like many others around here have done.”
Daughter: (frowning/questioningly) “But they say they weren’t at war with Granddad or anyone else when they were kicked out. They say they were just living peacefully tending their allotments, when they were forcibly evicted all those years ago. ”
(earnestly) “Can’t we just give them half the grounds and let them build a new house, then we can all live in peace?”
Mother: (Looking at her daughter) “New House? Live in Peace?” “They don’t want peace! They want this house back!” “The ‘right-to-return’ they call it.“ Then where would WE be.”
[Daughter sits down at table. Characters freeze:]
Narrator: “There have been several attempts at negotiating a peaceful solution to this particular occupancy problem but it always fails. This is because - as we shall see - the present occupiers are convinced they have a superior claim on ownership of the house and all the adjoining land. Therefore they will not budge.
Father: “Anyway according to the records, (with an exaggerated hand waving gesture with pointed finger at some distant horizon) if we go back far enough, our ancestors owned all this land.”
Son; (looking up from his pretend war games) “Which records are those Dad?” “Do we need to go as far back as the Beatles or Elvis‘s records?”
Father: (Looking patronisingly at Son) “No son! I mean the written records. Records written in that most precious of books.” [father stands up and pulls a dusty book off a shelf. Blowing dust accidentally onto the son’s head and then quickly rubbing it in his hair reads title] “Its here! ‘Tales of Old’ as verified by authentic Theomancy and ancient custom.” (nods with conviction)
Narrator: (to audience.) “Theomancy! The art of discovering the revealed truth by consulting oracles. Much favoured in ancient Greece. The oracle at Delphi is said to have informed Croesus that if he went to war with the Persians ‘a great empire would be destroyed’ It was! - It was his own! A truly Homer Simpson moment that was! So that is what Theomancy is - consulting oracles! A little bit better, perhaps than Botanomancy or - insights revealed by the distribution of herbs or even Meteoromancy - interpreting future events from the appearance of meteors. Or my favourite Crithomancy - predicting outcomes by studying the dough of cakes. (puzzled grimace) “What perceptive mind ever thought of that! At least with that one if you don’t discover what’s going to happen, you have something nice to eat afterwards. (turns back to stage).
Father: (taps book) “Its all in here!”
Daughter: “Oh that old volume of myth and legend. Some lovely romantic stories in it Dad, but we can’t believe all that‘s written in there!”
Father: (still stood up.) “Well I’ll admit it’s a bit far-fetched in places, but it does say our people where here a long time ago - and that makes it good enough for me!”
Daughter: “Yes but so were many other people, (imitating fathers exaggerated hand gesture pointing at the same distant horizon) if we go back far enough; and before them nomadic people; and before them, Neanderthals, and before them….”
Mother: (interrupting daughter and finally sitting down herself) “Now you listen to your father young lady and don‘t be coming up with any of those new fangled ideas. You’ll be saying we are descended from monkeys next - like that Darwin fellow. If the ‘Tales of Old’ and your Dad say‘s Grandad was entitled to this house, then that should be good enough for you.“ (Pleadingly) “Please sit down and eat your meal.”
[daughter sits down]
Father: (Also sits down, puts book on table, leans across and gently touches his daughters arm) “My dear princess, I appreciate your gentleness and kindness, especially to those less well off. But in this case you are mistaken. The only way to deal with those kind (gesturing toward the direction of the previous off-stage noise) is to get rid of them for good.”
Mother: (nods and sighs) “Dad’s quite right.”
Daughter; (withdrawing her arm) “What do you mean get rid of them for good! Surely you don‘t mean….?” (breaks off)
Father: (reassuringly) “No, no! I mean they should be rounded up, put in a nice big truck - one with seats mind - no standing up - and not too crowded - and taken elsewhere.”
Son: (brandishing toy gun) “When I‘m in the army, I’ll round them up for you Dad.”
[Mother smiles at this and shakes her head knowingly.]
Mother: (handing son a homework book) “Isn’t it time you did your homework? Shakespeare this week isn’t it?” (son scowls takes book and opens it up to read with his finger tracing the lines and silently mouthing the words)
Daughter: “Take them where” What will they do? How will they live?
Father: (firmly) That’s not our problem, princess. Those people will survive. (jerking his head toward outside). That kind always do! Our problem is to live safely in our own home.”
Daughter: “But you’ve always taught us to show concern for others and try to help people whenever we can.” What about the Golden Rule? (Pleadingly) Why can’t we help them?”
Father: “Yes, Yes, quite right! And providing the showing of concern for others doesn’t inconvenience us too much, that is a perfectly good way of being a nice caring person. But when helping others means giving up something precious ourselves - I’m afraid that’s an entirely different matter.”
[actors freeze motion.]
Narrator: (To audience) “Oh dear THAT old problem. How many of us haven’t wrestled with that one. Sparing the odd copper or two in a collecting tin for some African famine or new water hole is all well and good, providing we don’t have to part with something substantial or do something seriously difficult. They say Britain became prosperous because of colonialism and slavery, but did WE colonise anything? (an inclusive gesture) Did we ship any slaves? Or work them to death? No! So (shrugging shoulders) what can be done in such circumstances? (looks back at actors)
Son: (looking up from book) “Dad it says here….
Father: “Shush son. Not now!” (looks at daughter and shakes his head) “It’s a fact of life now - we just have to accept it. What’s done is done and unfortunately nothing else can alter it! They will just have to learn to accept it and go away and stop pestering us. Eventually they will - you‘ll see. “
Daughter: (in a raised accusative voice) “No they won’t - why should they! And there is something we can do to alter it! (pointing offstage) “We can apologise to them for their previous eviction from this house. We can share half our ample grounds with them. We can help them build a new house. We can treat them with respect and dignity and learn to get along with them.”
(silence and slight pause)
“If we don’t - we will keep on getting bricks through the window and slogans painted on the walls like Granddad did before us. (agitated) Don’t you realise that their children’s children may not be as patient as them and eventually might want revenge as well as taking the house back!”
(a short stunned silence - all look at daughter except son still with his head in homework book.)
Mother: (looking away) “Tut! Build a new House indeed!”
Father: (in rising tones) “Get along together?… Get along together? …We can’t get along together. They’re not like us! They’re entirely different!”
Son: “Dad it say’s here; (reads out loud tracing finger along lines)
‘If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?‘
(looks up at Dad.) What does it mean Dad? What did Shakespeare mean? (desperately) “We’ve got to say what it means for our homework!”
[actors freeze as narrators addresses audience]
Narrator: “A nicely contrived piece of homework what! It just happened to occur at that precise moment - very lucky for the playwright - I say.” (leans forward and says conspiratorally) “The daughter doesn’t know it yet. Biological scientists working on the genome project have arrived at some interesting facts. 85% of the total amount of genetic variation in humans occurs among average population groups just like us in this room/theatre. Only a 6% variation occurs between races. Which means the idea of race and racial purity was more of an 18th century invention rather than a fact. And not a very good one - like Victorian electric shock therapy to cure headaches. Or measuring women’s heads to prove they were educationally inferior to men. Yes it turns out that the difference between peoples is largely cosmetic. (leans back) Although it must be said, for some people, (caressing cheek) cosmetics can be important when ‘you know you are worth it! (leans forward again) “But when the daughter learns of this discovery from within biological science - in next terms biology - what will she say to her parents then?“ (turns back to actors.)
Son: (still with finger on page of book.) “Can you tell me what it means Mum?
Mother: “I don’t know son - better ask your father (slight pause while she picks a dish up - nudging son with a knowing smile) “Go on - ask him again!”
Son: “Dad?” [son looks at father questioningly]
Father: Well I guess it is Shakespeare making the point that we - er - we humans - er - all of us - er - well -hum (clears throat) - we are all basically the same. (warming to the task) We all bleed, we all laugh, we all cry, we……
Daughter: (interrupting) “Yes! but we don’t all live in overcrowded garden sheds or have a wall built between us and our allotment - do we!”
[A crashing of glass sounds off-stage and a stone rolls along the floor with a paper wrapped around it. Father moves across bends down and picks it up. Peels off the paper and squints at it, turning it upside down and back again. After unsuccessfully feeling in his pockets for his glasses he hands the paper to the daughter. - chance here for some non-verbal action as suggested in comments below.]
Father: (passing paper to daughter) “You read it. I can’t find my glasses.”
Daughter: (reading slowly and clearly) “It says’;
’We don’t want to fight with you, we just want to share this land. But you must recognise our right to exist as equals with you and help us build a new house here on this land or return this one to us and we will help you build a new one. Also let us have an equal say otherwise there will never be peace between us. We will never leave this land. Our parents, grandparents and their grandparents have lived here for generation after generation. This is our home. We belong here.’
(she looks up)
“Well! - “What do we say to them this time?”
Mother: “Ask them to go away!.
Father: “Ask them if they want me to Bulldoze their shed down again.”
Son: (with a frown to himself but audibly) “Ask them will they do my homework!”
[Daughter turns to audience with hands outstretched looking upward and a look of wide-eyed disbelief on her face.]
[All freeze while narrator speaks.]
Narrator: “We have arrived at the end of our little family dilemma. What should they do? What would you do in those circumstances? More as importantly! What should the people cut off for generations in the Garden shed do? What would you do if your family had been evicted from your own home, you were forced to live in your old garden shed and a wall was now obstructing you getting to your only source of food and the children to school?” “We hope you will think about such questions and reach appropriately humane conclusions.”
“And now a word of caution. If during the last quarter of an hour any of you have been making parallels between this family dilemma and any wider instances of illegal or disputed occupation, then that is purely down to your own vivid imagination.”
“I have been requested by the author to assure you that any similarities between the tragic human conflict portrayed here and larger events elsewhere - those in occupied Palestine for example - are purely coincidental. (Leans forward again and says) “And if you believe that assurance you are not half as bright as you all actually look. - Thank you!”
[Narrator joins cast on stage and introduces cast by name and role.]
[Then all bow.]
The suggestions of facial expression and gestures are merely guidelines and the actors should be free to adopt them or their create their own. The role of son is the least vocal, but an opportunity exists for this character to engage in some non-verbal male-like/boyish behaviour to lighten the atmosphere. Things such as pulling tongue out at his sister, pretending to bomb tea-cups with his toy plane and pieces of bread, The mother too can interact with this by heading some of it off. ie quickly pulling a tissue out of her apron and wiping sons finger or lightly scutching the back of his head at a remark of his. These or any other such humorous actions if adopted need to be judiciously spaced in specific places so as not to distract from the serious points being made.