Small-Cast One-Act Guide Online


"Strips" [complete script]

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Owen, Kari Ann (American playwright, 1949- ), "Strips,"

a tragedy in English, set in a state prison outside San Francisco, 1997,

3m1f,

© 1997 by playwright, script available below or at http://137.229.18.65/~fxblr/art/strips.html, rights available from Kari Ann Owen. Owen says,

Dramatis Personae "Steve (m), 30, a prison chaplain, compassionate, dedicated, fairly inexperienced and scared; Wes (m), 65, a guard, scared, blunt (although not sadistic) and barely hanging on for the sake of his wife, who is dependent on his health insurance; Susie (f), 19, extremely traumatized by the death of her best friend, and desiring revenge, comfort, protection and nurturing-all at the same time; Lonnie (m), 40, a convict in on "three strikes, you're out" for multiple drug-related offenses, bright, and very, very angry.

Comment "These roles can be played by men and women of any ethnicity."



(A PRISON. HOWLS OF CONS, SCREAMING FOR THE STRIP. SUSIE IS TALKING TO STEVE, A CHAPLAIN,

AND WES, A PRISON GUARD, BEFORE SHE STRIPS FOR THE CONS. SUSIE IS A TOUGH-TALKING

MARSHMALLOW. WES, THE GUARD, IS OLD AND TIRED. THE CHAPLAIN, STEVE, IS YOUNG, RECENTLY

OUT OF SEMINARY AND CANNOT BELIEVE HE IS CONSENTING TO THIS. THROUGHOUT THE PLAY,

BUZZERS AND PRISON-RELATED ANNOUNCEMENTS ARE HEARD. THE AUDIENCE SHOULD BE MADE

TO FEEL AS IF THEY ARE ALSO IN PRISON.)

WES(to STEVE):

Yeah, Chaplain--

STEVE:

Steve. Okay, Wes?

WES:

Steve. Like I said, I'm retiring.

STEVE:

I wish I were, and I just got here. Strippers--

WES:

Strippers as recreation? What the hell is this? They can't afford barbells anymore?

STEVE:

Some of the boys sued. This is now one of their First Amendment rights. They call it "therapy"--

SUSIE:

But it is therapy! They're quieter after climaxing. My friend Chris once told me--quieter than after working out.

WES:

I guess you would know.

SUSIE:

You got a problem with that?

WES (to STEVE):

If she was my daughter--

SUSIE:

I'm right here!

WES (pausing):

Sorry.

STEVE:

Honey, you can back out now if you want--

SUSIE:

Want two four-letter reasons for me to do this?

WES:

Please.

STEVE:

Sure.

SUSIE:

Rent and food.

STEVE (pausing):

Not the only reason. Right?

SUSIE:

Hey, I'm clean, if that's what you're... They checked me three times! (PAUSING) A lot of girls can't do this clean!

WES: A powerhouse.

STEVE (giving her his card):

You call me, Susie. Anytime you need to talk. Okay?

SUSIE (hesitating, then taking the card):

Get out of here.

WES:

No. Rules.

SUSIE:

For what? I don't think I want God's pal to see--

WES (a softer tone):

Right... Sometimes the cons go nuts... Chaplain Steve did his first hostage negotiation last week. He was great. We might

need him.

SUSIE:

That's... that's nice someone can do something good for people. (QUCK PAUSE) It gets that bad?

WES:

You worried, sweets?

SUSIE:

No!

WES:

There are more guns out there than in Bosnia.

SUSIE:

All for me? To protect me? If my dad could see me now.

WES:

I wish he could, too; he'd get you out of here. (LOOKING AT HIS WATCH) It's showtime. I think I'll make an appointment

for Confession.

STEVE:

The First Amendment? I wish my dad would get me out here, too. Except he's dead--

SUSIE:

Mine, too.

WES:

What did you do? Kill him?

STEVE:

That's enough.

WES:

Okay, let's do it! (FIRST CROSSING HIMSELF, THEN GOING OUT ON STAGE TO THE CONS) Gentlemen... Oh,

my God... (READING FROM A PIECE OF PAPER) America's sweetheart: Susie, the Patriot Missile of Strip!

(SUSIE STEPS OUT ON THE STAGE. THE MUSIC IS LOUD, BUT NOT LOUD ENOUGH TO DROWN HER

OUT. HER STRIP IS INTERSPERSED WITH HER MONOLOGUE.)

How y'all doin'? You raunchy, sick, disgusting bunch of murdering creeps. (RESPONDING TO A CON) How do I feel? I

feel great! I'm looking you worms in the face... It's taken two years! Hey, you got no horns: what a surprise!

(FURTHERING THE STRIP)

You like it?

(FURTHERING IT A LITTLE MORE) You want it? How bad? Let me hear you. (LOUD YELLS) I can't hear you!

(LOUDER YELLS) ALL RIGHT! (TEASING THEM A LITTLE MORE, THAN STOPPING) I mean all right, that's

enough. Because that's all you're getting.

(SITTING DOWN ON THE STAGE. THE DERISIVE YELLING IS OVERWHELMING)

Shut up! Shut up! If you want any more, SHUT UP!!

(THE CONS ARE SILENT; WES MOVES TO TAKE HER OFF THE STAGE. STEVE PLEADS WITH HIM FOR

CAUTION; WES GIVES SUSIE THE "FIVE MINUTES OR ELSE" SIGN.)

One of you killed him. Two years ago. My best friend, Chris. You're all a bunch of lying, murdering cowards! You like to kill!

It's fun! You even gear up for it, like I gotta nerve myself to get up here and do this strip to feed myself! I HATE you! I hate

you more than anybody else in the world, even my father, and he almost killed me a couple of times. He taught me to get

skinny and strip, so he could buy drugs. I'm Daddy's little girl! You like 'em thin, right? (SHE WAITS FOR AN ANSWER;

IT DOESN'T COME. Right? (PAUSING) I eat one meal a day, even when I can afford more! The clubs where I work, the

managers carry tape measures and notebooks. Am I thin enough? You better answer, or no more skin! Am I thin enough?

AM I?

(SOME OF THE CONS ANSWER, LIKE YOU WOULD ANSWER A COMPLETE NUT CASE.)

Good boys. Good little maniac murderers. Okay, Fat Wes, turn the music back up!

(SILENCE. SHE BUMPS AND GRINDS A LITTLE. MORE SILENCE.)

Turn it up... Turn it up! Please! Don't leave me alone here!

LONNIE (from the audience):

Why don't you go home?

SUSIE:

I am home. Men who kill, that's home.

(SHE STRIPS A LITTLE MORE, TO SILENCE, THEN FREEZES, HEARING THE SILENCE.)

LONNIE (standing up):

I said, why don't you go home?

SUSIE:

Because my best friend is dead. (BUMPING AND GRINDING A LITTLE MORE) He was murdered, and today I'm

gonna make someone care--

LONNIE:

Who the hell cares about us?

SUSIE:

Who the hell cares that some biker got knocked off in Oakland for defending a kid stripper?

LONNIE (pausing):

Do your job, bitch.

(SUSIE STRIKES A LEWD POSE AND STANDS STOCK STILL.)

LONNIE:

My thing's only half hard... C'mon, you ho'! You're paid for it!

SUSIE:

My friend drew a 357 Magnum on someone who tried to rip me off. And he's dead, and you're gonna pay! (STRIP

MOVEMENT)

LONNIE:

Go home! (OTHER CONS START JOINING IN) Go home!

(THE MUSIC COMES UP. AFTER EVERY MOVEMENT, THERE'S ANOTHER "GO HOME," AND SUSIE

TEASES A LITTLE MORE.)

SUSIE:

Chris is dead, so beg!

LONNIE:

Fuck you,bitch!

SUSIE:

He's dead-- beg! For Chris and Dad and me--

LONNIE:

My daddy had me scoring for him til he OD'd and died! Bitch-- why can't you keep your fucking mouth shut?

SUSIE:

Because my friend is dead, and one of you killed him!

(STEVE AND WES GET UP FROM THE AUDIENCE. WES SIGNALS TO BROTHER OFFICERS: BELLS OR

BUZZERS GO OFF, AND THROUGH A LOUDSPEAKER WE HEAR THE CALL FOR CELL C0UNT. STEVE

GOES TO LONNIE, TAKES HIM ASIDE AND BRINGS HIM AND SUSIE INTO THE OFFSTAGE AREA.)

STEVE:

You're going to talk to each other.

SUSIE AND LONNIE (ad lib):

Are you crazy? What the hell can we talk to each other about-- ETC

SUSIE (to LONNIE):

You're all alike. I hate you!

LONNIE:

You bitches always offer and withhold, offer and withhold-- Ads, bitches on the street in their shorts and miniskirts and tight

goddamn jeans you can see their damn panties through-- We even get it here on TV! Even nuns are shucking their habits--

You're all pros! And I didn't kill your friend!

SUSIE:

You killed somebody!

(LONNIE IS SILENT.)

STEVE:

Susie, you can't hold these men responsible for what they didn't do.

SUSIE:

All alike. All alike!

STEVE:

LONNIE, what do you think about that?

LONNIE:

Think? Think? I think you need to go home to your mama, bitch.

STEVE:

Where is your mom, Susie?

SUSIE (pausing):

I forget the name of the jail.

STEVE:

And you, Lonnie?

LONNIE (hesitating):

Likewise. What the fuck: I never saw her that much anyway.

STEVE:

Susie--

SUSIE:

Me, neither. Her and my dad...

LONNIE:

But you're out on the streets, getting it. I can't do shit, and you come in here, shaking and stripping... then stopping-- Whose

bright idea was this, Chaplain Steve? The First Amendment? First Amendment ho's you can't even fucking touch?

SUSIE:

I don't get to touch nobody, either!

STEVE:

I'll bet Chris--

SUSIE:

Chris always touched me. We'd take off every Monday, Monday through Thursday for the country. Sonoma. Napa. He'd

pack me behind him on his bike, and if we ran out of gas I'd fuck somebody. But that was okay, 'cause he took real good

care of me. We'd eat like pigs and sleep in big, soft beds. His bike was even insured. Legit. He was gonna rip off some

yuppie scumbag's hog and get us off the streets with the money. No more stripping; no more rooms with rats or guys shooting

each other outside your window while you'e trying to sleep.

STEVE (to LONNIE):

You hear her?

LONNIE (long pause, then barely audible):

Yeah.

STEVE:

What happened to him, Susie?

SUSIE:

We were walking to my job at the club, and someone grabbed my purse. Chris knocked him down and the guy came up and

shot him in the head. Took two seconds. I don't... I don't remember much between then and now... (POUNDING OUT THE

WORDS ON STEVE'S DESK) Why, God? (TO STEVE) Why?

(STEVE HOLDS HER WRISTS TO PREVENT HER HURTING HERSELF)

SUSIE (to LONNIE, who responds with "STOP!" and "QUIET!" every time):

Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

LONNIE:

What the fuck do you want me to come up with?

SUSIE:

Tell me...

LONNIE (pausing, then barely audible):

Oh, what the fuck; we're all buried... (LOUDER) Sometimes you sweating and screaming inside from the shit you copped,

and all you can think of is, "I gotta have it." Now. And you see some purse flashing, and who cares what's holding it? You just

gotta have it.

SUSIE:

Then Chris is dead.

LONNIE:

Yeah, and you're in some goddamn coffin with bars. Forever. For the rest of your life. 'Cause you never got clean. You like

that, Miss First Amendment?

STEVE:

Lonnie, you're here 'cause you're sick. Some countries treat it as a sickness.

LONNIE:

That's right--

STEVE:

But in the U.S.--

LONNIE:

I also killed someone.

SUSIE (pausing):

You were real sick. So you shouldn't pay?

(LONNIE IS SILENT)

SUSIE:

Look, I get hauled in for hustling. That's not ripping someone off or killing someone. So you shouldn't get put in here for

murder?

LONNIE:

I didn't mean to! It's the dope: you think it cares who the fuck gets in its way? Like you, bitch! You wanted revenge. Did you

care about us?

(PAUSE)

STEVE:

Susie, what happened to Chris' murderer?

SUSIE:

Twenty-five to life. He's still alive, and Chris is dead, and I'm alone.

LONNIE (a sad old laugh):

That's the color of the sky. Get used to it.

SUSIE:

Can't it change? I used to stare at the dreams in my head like a TV. Until Chris died. Yesterday, I was on his bike, hugging his

back. A few years before that, putting a Barbie doll to sleep in the tub, where the bullets wouldn't get her. Then two months

ago, kneeling in blood in an alley, holding half of Chris' head. Food has no taste, the sky has no color. And Frankenstein could

do your strips: that's how you move. You don't care, and no one cares about you. Lonnie, you think you could get me some

dope?

LONNIE:

No.

SUSIE:

I oughtta off myself. Shit, I can't do nothing.

LONNIE:

Hey--

SUSIE:

I let them down. I let my job down. Even if they're bastards, they still paid for it.

LONNIE:

It was the state's dumb idea, anyway. Chaplain, it's count.

SUSIE:

Oh, God, suppose the state won't pay me?

STEVE:

Lonnie, if you think this strip stuff is a bad idea--

LONNIE (laughing):

Are you kidding?

STEVE:

I'll help you get rid of it.

LONNIE:

Fat chance, if it costs less than more guards.

STEVE:

We'll write some letters. I know some reporters. We'll can it-- okay?

LONNIE:

Yeah. (HE BEGINS EXITING, THEN TURNS AROUND)Uh...Susie.

(SUSIE TURNS AROUND TO LOOK AT HIM.)

I'm shit sorry. (PAUSING) Don't come back!

(HE EXITS.)

STEVE:

I'm worried about you.

SUSIE:

Yeah.

STEVE:

You want help, someone to talk to?

SUSIE:

Chris is gone, Steve. He's gone.

STEVE:

I know. I'm sorry--

SUSIE:

I did... I did a wrong thing, Steve.

STEVE:

You were hurting. You were hurting real bad.

SUSIE:

I want to stop. I want to stop stripping!

STEVE:

I know where you can get some help. But you can't kill yourself, Susie. You can't do that to me--

SUSIE:

To you?

STEVE:

I care. I care a whole lot.

SUSIE:

Me? About me?

STEVE:

I'll make some calls. You need a whole lot of help--

SUSIE:

I don't want to end up like Lonnie. Or my mom!

STEVE:

A hell of a way to get three meals and a bed, huh?

SUSIE:

I know people who fuck up just to get off the streets.

STEVE:

Not you, Susie. There are other ways to--

SUSIE:

I miss Chris. I miss the wind!

STEVE:

He's up there, still loving you.

SUSIE:

He used to call it Harley Heaven. Lots of wind and food and big beds in motels--

STEVE:

You don't have to wait for heaven to eat and sleep in a safe place.

SUSIE:

He's up there, waiting. (PAUSING) Help me, Steve. I'll go along with... anything you find, anything you dig up. Anything you

say. But it's so nice to know that somewhere, someone's safe. And that he's waiting. When I die, I won't ever be alone.

(ENTER WES)

WES:

They're locked down. (TO SUSIE) That was one hell of a strip. You plan that?

SUSIE:

If you didn't like it, why didn't you stop it?

WES:

Because there's a little town in New York called Attica, and I really like my throat.

SUSIE:

Your throat?

STEVE:

There was a riot there--

WES:

Cons took guards hostage. And Mr. Rockefeller couldn't wait long enough for some liberal politicians to talk them back into

their cells. He sent in some force, and guess who bought it? Bitch, you could have gotten us killed out there!

STEVE:

She knows that-- she was up there. Wes, someone had to stop it.

WES:

I'm leaving. Any guard staying on post after this needs a shrink. Suicide Prevention.

SUSIE:

I'm... sorry.

(PAUSE)

SUSIE:

I... I mean it; I'm sorry. I hurt too much not to do something. My best friend is dead; he got murdered! (TO WES' SILENCE)

I didn't mean to fuck things up this bad. I didn't!

(SHORT PAUSE)

WES:

I got a wife, three kids and seven grandkids. My wife has breast cancer for the second time; my oldest and middle daughters

are both divorced, and my youngest... (TO STEVE) She's a female you: wants to save the world with a Bible and a hug. Huh:

she says. She wants kids, too, but she wonders if it's fair to bring any kid into this world.. Oh, she believes in God. But

people? (PAUSE) I used to be pretty sure of everything: God, my family. My job: the cons even liked me. This was thirty

years ago. Now I get up every morning, praying to make it to retirement because of the health insuarance.. Every morning I

beg God to bring me home at night to my wife, who's dying, and (TO SUSIE) you almost killed me. You come in here again,

I'll lock you up with them.

STEVE:

Go home, Wes. Tell your wife I'll be over tomorrow.

WES:

One more day, Steve. Until retirement, or 'til the state retires me. For my wife: just get me through, dear Lord, for one more

day... Until she dies. Then I'm going to chain myself to a boat, without even a generator. Who needs this world? I can't even

read the newspapers anymore!

(EXIT WES)

STEVE (to SUSIE, not unkindly):

Is that the revenge you wanted?

SUSIE:

We're all so scared--

STEVE:

Susie, I want you to go now. Leave me your number; I could have you a bed in a battered women's shelter by tomorrow.

There's also a network of safe houses for prostitutes wanting to leave the business--

SUSIE:

Where?

STEVE:

All over. You'll be going far away from here.

SUSIE:

That's okay. I don't know anyone here. (PAUSING) Will you be all right if you stay here? I don't want anyone to blame you

for what I did.

STEVE:

I'm like Wes. I wouldn't mind being let go. Not if the state is willing to keep them sick. And punish them for being sick, over

and over. Until they kill.

SUSIE:

I wish... someone had been there for Lonnie.

STEVE:

I'm here. I guess. Okay, give me your number and get out of here.

SUSIE (giving him her number):

When will I hear from you?

STEVE:

By the end of today, or tomorrow. Give me twenty-four hours. And (HANDING HER A CARD) call these guys if you need

to talk.

SUSIE:

Guys?

STEVE:

I guess "guys" is a funny word for a women's crisis line. But believe me, some of them look like guys. Some of the guys look

like girls. But they're great... got great big hearts--

SUSIE:

I'll... I'll call you tomorrow, too.

STEVE:

Please.

SUSIE:

Good... good-bye-- (STARTS TO CRY) Not good-bye-- Thanks-- I'm sorry-- Tell them I'm sorry-

(EXIT SUSIE)

STEVE (pausing):

Susie! Wait! Come back! Come back!

(ENTER SUSIE)

Don't go. Don't go now.

SUSIE:

What?

STEVE:

I'm scared. I'm... I'm scared you're going to die... kill yourself before... (HOLDING THE PHONE) before I get a return call.

Shelters, halfway houses: sometimes they get really overloaded; they're understaffed... Sit down. Please.

(HIS PANIC MAKES HER EVEN MORE NERVOUS)

Sit down.

SUSIE (hesitating):

You want a smoke?

STEVE:

I gave them up last year.

SUSIE:

That'll make you flip out.

STEVE:

I'm not flipping. Really.

SUSIE:

I just weird you out. Think I could get into the movies, doing that?

STEVE:

I want... I want you to pray with me.

SUSIE:

I don't believe in God, Steve!

STEVE:

Well, I do, and I want you to help me.

SUSIE:

Why? Because I have a loud voice, and you think he'll hear me better than you?

STEVE:

This isn't a joke--

SUSIE:

I don't believe in God, and even if I did, I wouldn't want him to see me.

STEVE:

Are you sure?

SUSIE:

Yeah... No!

STEVE:

Then do this for me.

SUSIE:

It's your Valium, right?

STEVE:

Right, and there are lots of people who need me in this pen--

SUSIE:

I need you. Wes needs you!

STEVE:

You guys can walk. You can go for help on your own. But that's the living dead in there: even if they get out, the Lottery's

almost more likely than a job any of these guys can live on. And their old neighborhoods will be worse... Don't hate them,

Susie--

SUSIE:

My friend is dead.

STEVE:

Your friend is dead. And where does it end? Your parents almost kill you; you hook and you strip, and Chris gets murdered

and you come in here with your body like... like a gun in their faces, and a couple of thousand guys get half-hard and almost

riot when you stop tickling their... Wes and I have to come back here. Lonnie has to live here. That's a rising volcano of hate

through those doors. You can't add to it, Susie. Don't kill the people who care about you--

SUSIE:

You and Wes can leave... You can get another job-- As long as I can keep from offing myself, I want you there for me--

Yeah, you're a great chaplain; you can always get another job--

STEVE:

There were fifty of us in line for this chaplaincy. Just getting the interview took six months. And Wes' health insuarance is

keeping his wife pain-free.

SUSIE:

That-- that sounds like a hostage thing, almost--

STEVE:

That's right. Don't cut our lifelines... the strength we need to come back here. No one-- no one really recovers from a suicide.

A friend of mine hung himself in seminary-- I am scared. Oh, God, I am so scared--

SUSIE (pausing):

I won't... I won't hurt you.

(STEVE GETS UP, HUGS HER)

STEVE:

I'll find you something. Maybe a room in a parish house? Or a rectory?

SUSIE:

A what?

STEVE:

A minister's house.

SUSIE:

With carpets? Clean bathrooms?

STEVE:

Maybe even a jacuzzi.

SUSIE:

Maybe you're too soft to work here.

STEVE:

I like seeing the power of God. Like today, with you and Lonnie.

SUSIE:

If you had your choice of any job, what would it be?

STEVE:

The Jesus shift in the afternoon. I could perform miracles, and sleep late. How about you?

SUSIE:

A singer. In a pretty dress, with a white rose in one hand, and a mike in the other-- Hey! You know someone once wrote a

song about me?

STEVE:

Sing it.

SUSIE (taking out her tape player):

I used to play this tape, and pretend someone... someone was talking to me when my dad was nodding out. Someone cared

about me, and wanted to know where I'd been...

(SHE TAKES THE TAPE OUT, AND PLAYS "WAKE UP, LITTLE SUSIE." AS THE TAPE PLAYS, SHE STARTS

TO DANCE, AND THEN TO CRY, POUNDING ON THE WALLS, THE DESK, STEVE'S CHEST)

Don't let me die! Don't let me, 'cause I still want to! Help me! Help me! Help me!

FADE TO BLACK

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