Nuclear

A 15-minute play by Sean Finnegan

This is a play I wrote in 2010. I am proud to say it was selected best in the state of NSW and performed professionally in a program called Writers OnStage

CHARACTERS:

JOHN Ė A soldier, returning home after serving in the army. Quiet, introspective, he joined the army to escape. He has returned to try and revisit his childhood.

LUCILLE Ė Johnís eccentric mother. She has created her own world, and is overtly hostile to anything that threatens its stability.

ALBERT Ė Johnís father, an office worker and train enthusiast. His and Lucilleís marriage is strained. He retreats into his trains like a turtle retreats into a shell.

ELLY Ė Johnís sister, in the final year of school. An activist with no tangible passion for her causes.

 

 

NB: This play should be performed in an intimate space.

The play opens on a small apartment. Two doors stage-left lead to the kitchen and to Ellyís room. A door stage right leads to Johnís room. A door upstage centre leads out of the apartment into the hallway. This is Lucilleís territory. Everything is floral and extremely tidy. The only items of set are: A fold out couch centre-stage, covered in plastic protective wrap. The base of the couch is secured by a padlock, preventing it from opening. One barred window, next to the front door. A model train track emerging from a cat-flap on Johnís door, running from Johnís room across downstage and then up behind the couch, making a circuit of the stage. Occasionally, a model train makes the circuit.

 

 

†(JOHN enters carrying his duffel bag and wearing his army fatigues. He drops the bag and sits on the couch. He looks around, and looks restlessly at the kitchen door. He gets up, goes to the door, and raises his hand to knock. He stops himself, suddenly thinking better of the whole thing and goes and grabs his bag. He heads towards the door just as LUCILLE bursts through the kitchen door wearing an atrociously floral apron, sees John, and screams with happiness.)

LUCILLE

John! Itís so good to see you! Oh when you called and said youíd be coming back, I nearly died with happiness!

(She throws her hands up and rushes to hug John, grabbing hold of his bag as she does so.)

JOHN

Mum, I didnít say I was coming back, I said I might-

LUCILLE

Nonsense! Absolute nonsense! You can stay for as long as you like, John, absolutely no limits! This is your home, and itís great to be back - isnít it?

 

(John shakes his head and begins to walk to his room, but is pulled back by Lucille holding his bag.)

OhÖ John, Iím afraid I turned your room into a rumpus parlour!

JOHN

(he stops) A what?

LUCILLE

A rumpus parlour. That's what I call it, anyway. Your father calls it a games room, but I much prefer ďrumpusĒ. Itís such a neglected word, and I feel so sorry for it Ė itís sort of like ďgirtĒÖ You only ever hear the word ďgirtĒ in the national anthem, and nowhere else. I mean, have you ever heard someone use it outside of the anthem? Of course not! Why just the other day, I decided to use it in conversation with Miriam - you remember Miriam, the rather decrepit old darling downstairs? Well I was talking about the state of her balcony and I said ďMiriam, I simply adore the way your roses girt your petuniasĒ. I mean the poor girl knew what I meant straight away when I reminded her of its use in our anthem, but it's the fact that I had to remind her that really makes my point! (A pause. A train comes from Johnís room and begins to make the circuit around the room. Lucille and John stare at it as it passes. It spurs Lucille into conversation again.) Ah, yes. The room has your father's model train set in it, as well as the pool table and the stereo. Itís sort of expanded a little bit since he first bought itÖ

JOHN

(He is annoyed. He looks at his old room longingly) I really wanted to pick up some things from my old room...

LUCILLE

Well, your father and I were thinking we'd fold out the sofa, just like we used to when you had your little friends over for sleepovers. And you can sleep there for as long as you like Ė we donít want you to feel that youíre an inconvenience. You can stay as long as you like - as long as you keep it spic and span and fold it up every morningÖ Now, are you hungry?

JOHN

Mum, I donít think I made myself clear. Iím not stay-

LUCILLE

(interrupting) I've got some cold frankfurters in the fridge. I don't know what you've been eating, but I can barely see you, you're so thin! I'll heat them up.

(Lucille exits into the kitchen, and John takes a seat on the sofa.)

 

(offstage) Oh yes, you haven't seen the new microwave. It's a Samsung. I always said the Japanese know appliances, even if your father is always ďLGĒ this and ďLGĒ that. I could never own anything LG! Iíll never trust the Koreans. Not after Apocalypse Now!

JOHN

(noticing the padlock on the couch) Why is there a padlock on the couch?

LUCILLE

(offstage) Oh, the darn thingís broken. Wonít lock, or something like that, it wonít sit right if you donít stick that thing on now. Your father put it on, with his new skills in DIY no doubt. Now donít tell your father I said this, but I think he has a faint anti-Japanese sentiment. Itís the only explanation for why he doesnít trust one of the most reliable brands on the planet!

(She re-enters carrying a frankfurter, making it ďwalkĒ in the air as she goes to John.)

(In a bad German accent) Here comes Mr Frankfurter!

JOHN

Iím not hungry.

LUCILLE

Youíre just like your father! He never likes it when I personify food... Like him in every way but the racism, of course. Not to be critical, not to be critical... but I think he gets it from his father, from the war. We all have our vices, remember John. We all have our little nagging flaws, but that's no reason to be critical.

(She has forgotten the frankfurter during her spiel, but now offers it to John.)

JOHN

I donít want it.

(She hears nothing of it and shoves it into his hands.)

LUCILLE

I mean youíre father is the... decent... man heís always been; and you canít criticise, not in this day and age... Yes, well, hopefully that will put some meat on your bones. Your father should be home any moment, then Eleanor gets home from school, and then we'll get that sofa business sorted out and have a good little catch-up-

JOHN

Do I at least get a plate?

LUCILLE

(ignoring John) A bit of a reminisce, a new exploration of how we've all evolved and changed in our time of separation. I'm sure you have lots of stories!

JOHN

What do you expect me to do with this?

LUCILLE

(taking it back) Well if you didnít want it, John, you should have said! Well, Iím sure youíve had some absolutely life changing and affirming experiences in your time in the army, and Iím sure that weíd all like to get to know the new you... (Lucille suddenly becomes very serious. She takes a slow bite of frankfurter.) Donít do that to me again. Do you know how I found out that youíd joined up, John? The police told me! After I filed a missing persons report! It wasnít right John. It wasnít good. Do not. Do it. Again. (John stays silent, not breaking eye contact. After a pause, Lucille suddenly bursts into a cheerful smile, the moment forgotten, and takes another bite.) Oh, youíre forgiven John! Of course you are! (She finishes off the frankfurter) Perhaps just give us a little warning the next time you decide to enlist in the armed forcesÖ

 

†(John gives her an annoyed look, rises, grabs his pack and moves to his bedroom door. He attempts to open it, but finds it is locked. Another train comes out, nearly hitting his foot, with a roll of toilet paper sitting on a car. He jumps to avoid it. Lucille sees the train, and suddenly remembers something.)

Ah! ďPlyĒ.

JOHN

What are you talking about? Mum, why is this locked?

(He continues in his efforts to open the door.)

LUCILLE

(slowly creeping closer to John) ďPlyĒ. That's another word you don't hear a lot. The only place you hear the word ďplyĒ is when toilet paper is concerned. Or wood. I suppose it means ďlayersĒ or something similar. But really, if I was to use the word ďplyĒ in everyday conversation, you wouldn't have a clue what I meant! If I said that I wanted you to get me a multi-ply cloth, you wouldn't know- Oh. That doesn't really work, does it? I suppose it's a pun, of sorts. Multi-ply, multiply... Yes, well you do get what I'm trying to say, don't you?

(She has reached John, and now looks at him expectantly for some input.)

JOHN

Um... Yes, Mum. People forget words when they don't have much use.

LUCILLE

Exactly! You always sum things up so well, John. You summed up my multi-plyer. Ha! Do you get it? It's another pun. I do believe if I pull off one more I'll have a running joke on my hands... (the train whistles on the other side of stage, drawing both their attentions) Ah! Before I forget, John, Miriam was ecstatic about your return. She has this one missing false tooth now, makes her whistle like a steamboat whenever she lets loose a plosive. She says you must visit before the end of the week, and she'll even bake up some of those... homely biscuits. You remember those, don't you John? (The train has finished its circuit, and goes back into the room. John bends down and attempts to get his hand in the cat flap to see inside, but he cannot get it back open.) John? John, itís rude to ignore people when theyíre speaking!

JOHN

(irritated) NoÖ No I donít remember.

LUCILLE

Of course you do! She's a lovely lady, and she loves your company. It would be extremely nice of you if you paid her a visit. I'm sure it would considerably brighten up her existence. There's not much to it these days - poor dear. Apart from those two great hounds of hers - the Great Danes. You remember those? Of course you do. Great, equine beasts. I could never, in my life, permit such an animal in this apartment. For one thing, an animal should not nearly outclass their owner in terms of size - it's simply unnatural! (Lucille begins to panic at the image.) Great hanging jowls! Mucus everywhere, no sense of cleanliness. Unhygienic! Oh, but that's not the worst part. The worst part is, of course, that their heads are the same height as the dinner table! They can just walk right up, and have their choice of the pickings. Imagine that! Sitting at the table, enjoying your meal, when a great big slobbering snout edges past and ruins your entire meal! That is not the action of a pet, but an animal marauder in your very home!

JOHN

(giving up on the cat flap) Dammit!

LUCILLE

I know it's a terrible thing to say, and I do adore Miriam and all, but sometimes I wish... I wish she was a ďcatĒ kind of senior...

 

(ALBERT enters through the front door after a long dayís work. He does not initially acknowledge or notice John or Lucille. He removes a train conductor hat from his briefcase and heads towards Johnís room, but stops when he sees John.)

ALBERT

John! (Albert runs to embrace his son, but trips and falls flat on his face. John looks embarrassed.)

LUCILLE

Yes. Well. Cats are fundamentally cleaner animals. They can be trained to go... you know... in litter boxes. They clean themselves. They're very clean - why else do you think the Egyptians worshipped them?

ALBERT

(picking himself up) What's the old bat on about now?

LUCILLE

Albert!

ALBERT

Bat!

LUCILLE

Albert, I really... Well would you like a frankfurter, anyway?

JOHN

How are you, Dad?

ALBERT

Iím fine, but sheís mad. Not really sure what the tipping point was... I am sorry, but your mother wouldn't let me use the guest room, and I got this huge set for a bargain from the hobby shop... so I sort of... stole your room. I only meant it for the train set, but your mother took it as a† call to arms and made the whole thing a games room-

LUCILLE

Rumpus parlour!

ALBERT

-what we normal people call a games room. I've been meaning to turn it back into your room all week, but I sort of got side-tracked. Itís just... Model train sets have a way of growing entirely by themselves. Look here! (He reaches into his briefcase again and pulls out a model set.) Pastoral hills! A small slice of rural-northern-English paradise. I was going to assemble it straight away, maybe get you to help with the gluing.... But now that youíre back... I suppose the room is rightly yours.

JOHN

Look, Iím sorry to disappoint you two but Iím not staying.

LUCILLE

(ignoring him) Albert, I worked my fingers to the bone for that games... Rumpus parlour. Are you really going to throw away all of that work?

 

(Albert has opened the box and begins showing the contents to John. John is uninterested, but smiles anyway. To Albertís surprise, the set seems to consist mainly of large power-lines: around 9 inches long, with long, entangled power cords.)

ALBERT

This canít be rightÖ Man at the shop must have made a mistakeÖ Anyway, Lucille, you worked my fingers to the bone. I don't know why you insisted on a pool table. I donít even play pool!

LUCILLE

Nobody actually plays pool! It's a casual sport! And what will you do with your train set? That guest room is off-limits to you and that evil, evil super-glue you use. Itís bad enough you let it scab over your fingers and you pick at it over and over.

ALBERT

Well, I...

(Albert appears to go through some kind of huge inner struggle. He puts the train set down on the couch, keeping a power-line, looks at it, and sighs. Another train comes from Johnís room. John dives towards the door, trying to get his hand into the flap, but it closes again. He tries to pry it open, but it doesn't budge.)

I... guess I'll throw the set out.

LUCILLE

Throw it out? That was expensive! We may not run the tightest ship Albert, financially I mean, but I know exorbitant wastage when I see it!

ALBERT

Weíve got to put ourselves before... John before ourselves!

LUCILLE

Well... But... What about all your work? All those hours wasted? Sometimes youíre just too stubborn, Albert!

ALBERT

(He idly begins untangling the wires) Well I could just migrate to the guest room-

LUCILLE

Over my cold, dead corpse! Oh dear. I hate arguing! What if Miriam heard?

ALBERT

That wasn't an argument. It was just a... rumpus.

LUCILLE

Now that's just cruel, Albert.

ALBERT

No, it's effective. Very different things.

JOHN

The cat flap is broken, I canít open it. And I think my door is locked. (He gives up and rises.) You donít have to worry about my room. Iím not staying.

LUCILLE

Oh!

ALBERT

I thought you were back for good!

JOHN

No, Iím sleeping at an friendís place for a while and then getting my own apartment.

ALBERT

This... (He pauses for a second to attack a particularly fiendish knot.)...is still your home!

LUCILLE

Of course it is, John! I wasnít serious about the sofa. We'll get your room up and sorted. I didn't think it would be a big deal, personally, but if it's an issue for you then it's absolutely no trouble.

ALBERT

Exactly John. No rush.

JOHN

No, itís ok, really!

LUCILLE

I thought you could stay!

ALBERT

Itís alright, John. I can restructure Albertville to allow for a bed!

LUCILLE

I wonít stand for it! You heard your father; heís ready and willing to alter the trains to make room.

ALBERT

No question about it! (He gives up on the knot, putting it back in the box) It is possible to co-exist with the trains, John.

LUCILLE

Please stay, John! Iíll get you some more frankfurters!

 

(Elly enters through the front door and sees John. She does not want to see him. She attempts to sneak past everybody and into her room. Albert, however, spots her.)

ALBERT

Elly!

LUCILLE

Look, Eleanor, Johnís home. (To John) See, John! You canít leave; youíve got so much catching up with Eleanor to do!

JOHN

Hey. Long-time, no-see.

ELLY

I will not be silenced!

 

(She exits into her room and slams the door. There is an uncomfortable pause. A train comes from Johnís room.)

LUCILLE

Oh dearÖ I'm sure she's just tired, John.

ALBERT

Come on Lucille, I think we both know-

(John goes to Ellyís door.)

JOHN

(knocking) Elly?

LUCILLE

She's just tired, Albert. She's probably had a big day.

ELLY

Go away!

LUCILLE

(desperately) She's at a stressful stage in her schooling and we have to support her through these troubled times!

ALBERT

Lucille, I don't think that that's the problem here. She's always been a bit iffy about John's decision to-

JOHN

Elly, what the hell is wrong?

ALBERT

-join the armed forces.

 

(Elly opens the door, holding a palm-card Ė in doing so forcing John to jump backwards, knocking the train off the tracks.)

ELLY

(reading) As a proud member of the Youth Against War movement, I hereby announce my protest against being forced to share residence with a member of the military, who has engaged and assisted in illegal occupation of numerous foreign countries and the persecution of the population of said countries. I believe, as a free and concerned citizen, that assisting this war criminal in any manner including but not limited to board is tantamount to treason. The form of this protest will be boycott, of both family gatherings and activities involving said member of the military. (She slams the door in Johnís face. Albert wails, and runs over to the derailed train.)

JOHN

Oh. (He retreats back to the sofa area and sits heavily.)

ALBERT

My train! Eleanor Macrae Smith, you get out here right now!

ELLY

(offstage) I respectfully refuse.

ALBERT

(Cradling the train) Not too much damageÖ (To Ellyís door) Let me in! Youíve gone too far this time!

ELLY

(reluctantly) You may enter to negotiate terms.

 

(Albert puts his conductor cap on, braces himself and exits into Ellyís room, still holding the crippled train.)

LUCILLE

Oh John, I'm very sorry that Elly is being so immature. Ever since she got involved with that damn movement sheís been so opinionated! Sheís really ďdividedĒ the family... There! There it is! Another mathematical pun. It's a running joke now! Oh I knew those classes would pay off. (John rises and grabs his bag. Lucille ignores him.) I did a course down at TAFE on Public Speaking, and one of the subjects was Complex Humour. It's really opened my eyes to the world of Subversion and Unexpectedness. (He goes to the front door and attempts to open it, but finds it locked.) The lecturer said - three jokes, following the same pattern, and it becomes ďrunningĒ. The jokes feed off each other to make more a more humour as time goes on. It's fascinating really. I tried it out Miriam the other day, and I can tell you she almost died of laughter! (John has been struggling with the door, and now looks at Lucille suspiciously.) Oh, my... What a terrible thing to say, at her age! But she did enjoy it, there's no doubt about it...

JOHN

Is there a key for the door anywhere? Iíd better go, itís obvious she doesnít want me here. I might meet up with some friends at the pub and catch up.

LUCILLE

Donít be ridiculous John! Youíre fresh from the army. Now isnít the time to hang around a pub like some kind of distasteful veteran! Youíve got to mix with the right people, revitalise your social life Ė and quickly! Evangeline-

JOHN

I canít open the doorÖ

LUCILLE

-You remember Evangeline, my good friend from down the hall - she's having a dinner party in a few weeks, and her daughter is going to be there. You've always fancied her, so we thought it might be a good opportunity to meet up, and have a little chat.

JOHN

I don't remember her.

LUCILLE

Oh, I'm sure it will all come flooding back the moment you lay eyes on the little darling.

 

(Elly's door opens. Elly strides in, followed by a flustered Albert. He considers saying something, decides against it, and kneels down to place the train back on the track.)

JOHN

(moving towards the door) I really think I shouldÖ

ELLY

(yelling) Iím going out!

LUCILLE

Oh no youíre not! You are grounded for that last remark to John. Attacking him, unprovoked, just when he arrived home! Just when he was most vulnerable, most exposed, you attack him!

 

(Albert has fixed the train, and it begins to work its way around the track again. Albert follows it, keeping it safe and shoving Lucille out of the way. Elly reaches into her pocket and pulls out another palmcard.)

LUCILLE

Oh, God, not again!

ELLY

As I am over 18, and legally not a minor, I am able to come and go from my place of residence as I choose. My parent or guardian is legally unable to stop my passage. If my parent or guardian wishes it, he or she may choose to evict me from my place of residence. Does my parent or guardian wish to take this course of action, yes, no?

(The train goes into Johnís room, and Albert opens it easily and follows it inside, the door closing behind him. John looks surprised, and tries to open it again, only to find it still locked.)

LUCILLE

Oh Elly no! Donít leave us, anything but that!

JOHN

(turning to speak to Lucille) Is there any way I can get into my room? I just wanted to get some things before I go...

LUCILLE

(to Elly) Oh darling, we donít resent you at all for your beliefs. We all have our little faults, but itís the ability to look past them that defines us! (Albert re-enters, but closes the door before John can see inside.)

ELLY

Iím going to the protest at... that place near the cinema. Itís important! It means something! Weíve got to stop polluting... CFCs and ozone are threatening the arctic and itís up to the youth of today to stop it! (fumbling with another palmcard) CO2 emissions! Thatís the real culprit here! Every year, over- (She drops her palmcards) Crap!

JOHN

Look, itís alright. I shouldnít have come back; itís just made things worse. Iím going to goÖ

ALBERT

(Placing himself in front of the door) Donít leave, John, please? Youíre just angry... At least stay until youíve cooled off.

 

(Blocked unintentionally by Albert, Elly gives a huff of resignation and sits down on the couch armrest, looking longingly at the door. A train comes out of Johnís door, with a key riding on a car. Albert sees is, giving a relieved gasp and throwing up his arms.)

It lives!

LUCILLE

See, now isnít this nice. Weíre finally together again, a big happy family! (The train lets loose another hoot, startling Lucille. John sees the key, grabs it and goes to the front door as Lucille has another revelation.) ĎFontí! A uniform style of lettering. Everybody knows what it means when you're talking about computers with Times New Greek, but god forbid you ever bring it up in common conversation! Just like the others Ė girt, plyÖ Iím going to make dinner! Ready in half an hour, then weíll get this whole business sorted.

(She exits into the kitchen, humming happily. John attempts to open the door, but finds that the key does not fit. He looks at his own room, then down at the key.)

ALBERT

Well, I suppose thereís no time like the present to start the revolution in Albertville. I suppose a restructuring was inevitable, but alas that is the greatest burden of the serious model train enthusiastÖ

(He straightens his conductor cap and exits into Johnís room. Ellyís phone beeps as she receives a text message.)

ELLY

(to John, reading off her phone) Fascist!

(She exits into her room, slamming the door. John looks at a loss. He goes to the front door again and gives it another try, but it is still locked. He goes to his bedroom door and tries to open it with the key, but it does not open it either. He goes and sits on the couch. He notices the padlock again, and tries the key. It unlocks, and he reluctantly begins to unfold the bed.)

 

(Black out. THE END.)