Thursday

A TEAM PLAYER - a short play about a murder/suicide...

A Team Player is based loosely on a murder/suicide incident in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey. It was expanded into a full-length in 2007.

A Team Player was fun to write. It flowed out of me like a river. It got readings and productions in 2004, 2005 and 2006. It won a playwrighting award up in Canada.

The best production was in Columbus, Ohio, in 2005 by Madlab. Michelle Batt was the director. Cindy Frazzini, Jim Azelvandre and Robert Stretch performed their parts wonderfully. They got a fine review in the local paper:

team review4





Character Breakdown

Cop..............................male, twenty-something
Maddie..................................female, early 40s
Henry.......................................male, early 60s






Technical Requirements

Police uniform, wheelchair, softball bat, softball, 2 softball mitts



(Bare stage. COP standing. Behind him, HENRY,
MADELINE and wheelchair)


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COP:
At ten in the morning, Madeline wheeled Henry out to the swimming pool. Like so.
(As he describes, MADELINE & HENRY come
forward and demonstrate)

Positioned him on the pool deck at the deep end. Like so. Eased herself onto his lap, strapped herself in. She used one of those expandable belts,

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running it under the seat and pulling it tight, securing it over her thighs, like so. Then she switched the motor on and they drove into the pool. They sank together.
(MADELINE & HENRY retreat upstage)
The coroner took one look. No sign of forced entry, no sign of violence. Called it murder/suicide. First murder in this town in fifty-one years. I grew up next door to Henry. I recall before Madeline, there was another woman. Then one day, the other woman was gone.
(Beat)
Dad and I were in the back playing catch. And there was Madeline, doing stretching exercises. I said in my six year old voice, Are you the new mommy?



MADELINE:
Yep, that's me, little guy. I'm the new mommy.



COP:
She had a terrific laugh. She was really tall. And when she bent over to shake my hand, I thought I caught the scent of the ocean.



MADELINE:
Nice handshake. He's gonna be a little toughie.



COP:
My Dad said, Yup. He's my little baseball player. She gave me her sweatband.



MADELINE:
All real ballplayers have sweatbands.



COP:
I thought, Wow! No one had ever given me a sweatband before. She grinned. Great grin. Then she scrunched down next to me.



MADELINE:
When a lady gives a little boy a sweatband, that's a sign of a special friend. Are you going to be my special friend?



COP:
Sure. You bet And every year, until I was eighteen, I got a birthday present from Madeline and Henry. It was always from Madeline and Henry. Never the other way around. And it was always athletic gear. Like when I was ten, I got a chest protector. I was second string catcher on my Little League team. I noticed right away with the chest protector, I got more innings behind the plate. I started noticing Madeline at my games. Occasionally, Henry came with her. But usually, it was Madeline by herself. She always sat alone and she always watched the whole game. Not like the moms and dads who only watched when their kid was out there. Sometimes I'd get a note. Never signed, but I knew who it was from.



MADELINE:
Choke up, Benjamin, stop swinging for the fences. Benjamin, keep the ball in front of you. Use your knee, Benjamin, use your knee to block the plate.



COP:
She came to my football and basketball games too. Including the big game against Immaculata. Mom and Dad weren't there. But Madeline was. Right at courtside. I'm matched up against a big dummy. I'm eating him alive. His coach's giving him hell. Suddenly, five minutes into the second half, I'm on the floor bleeding from my forehead. Blood in my eye blinding me. I feel Madeline pulling me to my feet.



MADELINE:
Flagrant foul! Eject him, ref! Get that hoodlum off the court!



COP:
The ref hits our bench with a technical because of Madeline. Their coach comes at me and Madeline. I hear her saying.



MADELINE:
Keep coming, I'll drop you like a bag of dirt!



COP:
Meanwhile, my guy's at midcourt snickering like a typical Catholic asshole.



MADELINE:
Number eight marked you. You better mark him back or he wins. Doesn't matter if you scored twenty-seven to his five. He wins if you don't mark him.

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COP:
I can't do that.



MADELINE:
Then you're a coward. Do you want to be a coward?



COP:
She gives me a hard shove. At which point my instincts basically take over. I know I got to him. I know I took him down. I know I got my ass kicked. We forfeited the game. I got booted off the team. My Mom cried. My Dad bellyached about how I ruined my chances of getting into Rice or Duke. I didn't care. I wasn't exactly Rice or Duke material. The next day, we're at Neil Homedale's house down in his basement. With my teammates listening in, I called Immaculata. Uh hi, this is number twenty-four, Mountain Lakes High? Would you please tell that dogass number eight, if he wants his front teeth, he can pick them up at twenty-one Hanover Road. Go Lakers! Damn, that felt good!



HENRY:
Damn it all! Damn it all to hell! What do you do when it gets to a point where everything stagnates? Where everyone's in a deep funk? Where nothing seems to advance with a purpose? You ask yourself, is this what it's all about? Is this as good as it gets? You recall how you used to look forward to each dawn as a fresh miracle.

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Now, you just want it to end. Because you're too numb and burnt out to care anymore. Maddie was twenty-two. I was forty. She had gorgeous eyes. The first thing she did was knock me down. She was incredible. She was. Well, let's just say she was in a higher league. She was a friend of a friend. She came with Danny Benes' sister, Lynnie. Lynnie and Maddie had this dog-walking business. People too busy to walk their dogs hired Maddie and Lynnie. And speaking of dogs, it was the dog days of August, 1984. Early evening. Sokol versus Scores for the league fastpitch trophy. Sokol's a Czech social club. I'm Czech. Proud of it. Scores is this sports bar that sponsors a team. For a bunch of fat drunks, they're not bad. It was a tough game. Final score, twelve to nine, us. I crushed everything in sight. Four for four. Two doubles. Two home runs. Six ribbies. Read 'em and weep. Afterwards, we all headed back to Scores for the post-game bash. You know the saying. Losers cry. Losers buy. Lynnie sits next to me. "You and Danny had a great game." Her brother Danny went two for four. Lynnie introduces us. "Maddie, this is Henry Slezak. He tells everyone hes a bigshot Republican attorney. So be nice to him, maybe he'll let us walk Reagan's dog." Maddie's sitting directly across the table. I grin. Yeah, I heard about you guys. Walking dogs for Yuppies. Talk about a scam.



MADELINE:
It's not a scam. We do it all. We bathe. We groom. We babysit. Tell all your rich Republican clients.



HENRY:
Do these Yuppies ever actually get to see their dogs?



MADELINE:
'Course they do.



HENRY:
Well, I'm just a simple attorney. Don't have time for a dog. So what did you think of my four for four?



MADELINE:
You were pretty good.



HENRY:
Pretty good? Whaddaya mean? I had an MVP night.



MADELINE:
Their pitcher wasn't exactly making you work.



HENRY:
What are you talking about? He could bring it.



MADELINE:
His pitches had "hit me" written all over them.



HENRY:
Say what?!?



MADELINE:
Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing. There was no movement on his ball.



HENRY:
I suppose you could do better.



MADELINE:
Better than him.



HENRY:
Tell you something, Lynnie. You got a helluva partner here. She's got some balls. Lynnie giggles. I turn back to Maddie, I bet you couldn't.



MADELINE:
I know I could. I could dust you on two pitches.



HENRY:
Dust me? Youre gonna dust me?!? You hear that, Danny? Bright Eyes here says she can dust me. Danny rolls his eyes. Tell you what, Bright Eyes. If you can dust me, I'll buy you the best steak in town. Just name the time and place.



MADELINE:
First of all, my name isn't Bright Eyes. Secondly, I don't eat steak. But you can buy me a salmon fillet.



HENRY:
You mean, if you dust me.



MADELINE:
I mean, when I dust you.



HENRY:
So how about let's do it right here? Outside?



MADELINE:
You are really pushing it.



HENRY:
That's what I'm good at, pushing it. Okay, winner crows, loser owes. She shakes, strong handshake. I get a bat, two softballs. We gather in the alley behind Scores. Half the people in the bar come out. We pace it off, a piece of cardboard for a plate. I flip her the softballs. Here you go, Bright Eyes, two balls, two pitches. I settle into my crusher stance. She has her game face on, staring me down. For the first time, I focus on the whole Maddie. Inside, it was across a table covered with beer steins, the air thick with smoke. I see she's about five ten, long straight black hair, long legs, long arms, giving me a Sparky Lyle smirk. I give her my Thurman Munson scowl. I spit. She winds up, strides and releases. A riser toward the middle of the plate letter high. Looks easy. I stride into it, beginning my swing, just as it leaps up and flashes past my chin. I pick myself off the asphalt, you trying to kill me?

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MADELINE:
Oh gee sorry. Guess it slipped.



HENRY:
Want me to move closer? Make it easier for you?



MADELINE:
You just worry about your hitting, Slugger.



HENRY:
I dig in. Her back to me now. She's holding the ball up to her face, talking to it. Then she turns, gives me an Al Hrabosky Mad Hungarian glare. I counter with my Gary Carter unflappable grin. I'm thinking, she jammed me last time, she's setting me up for the outside corner. She nods,winds up, strides, a little crouch just before she releases. The ball starts out low, rising quickly and heading toward the outside corner of the plate. Aha! Just as I guessed. But, as I shift my body, it tails inside and kind of drops. I pop up weakly to the mound. She one-hands it.



MADELINE:
I'll have that salmon cajun style.



HENRY:
Damn! Was she ever good!



MADELINE:
Damn you, Henry Slezak. Damn you! Damn you! Damn you! No! No, wait. Stop. I didn't mean that. I take it back. I don't want you damned. At bottom, you're as good a man in your way as there has ever been. A wonderful provider. A wonderful lover. A wonderful companion. And a very stubborn man. The word no is not in your lexicon. Does not compute. You bought a dog. Twice a week, you knocked on my door with some canine issue. I said, no, go away. Then the gifts started coming. Gift after gift after gift. I said no, no, no. Take them away. Then you camped on my doorstep. I said, go away. But I had to let you in or you would have caught pneumonia out there. The gifts kept coming. I kept saying no, but you broke me. You're a big attorney. You know how to break people.



HENRY:
I want you on my team, Bright Eyes. We'll be world class.



MADELINE:
World class. You like that term.



HENRY:
So tell me. What's it gonna take to add you to the Henry Slezak roster?
(He hands her a pen and a pad)
Here, go ahead. You write a number. Then I'll write a number. Then we'll compare, see if we're in the ballpark.



MADELINE:
Ballpark. Another favorite Henry Slezak term. Then you divorced your wife.



HENRY:
(Holds up a thick legal document)
Look, Bright Eyes. The settlement agreement. I cut Candace from the squad. She's a free agent now.
(Turns to the last page)
See that number? That's what it cost to buy out her contract. You wanna know something? I would have paid ten times that amount because.

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MADELINE:
Because you were resolved to clarify your life, bring the essential things into sharp focus. You said you were intent on clearing out.



HENRY:
Clearing out the clutter. Clearing out the chaos. I need to revive. Renew. Refresh. Rejuvenate. You're worth the investment, Bright Eyes, because you.



MADELINE:
Because I represent simplicity. Your word, Henry. You were so sure you had me caught in your web. So sure of yourself. So sure of your purpose. And you were right. Who could resist you?



HENRY:
(Takes folded sheet of paper from pocket.
Unfolds it. Hands it to her)

The prenuptual agreement. Hereinafter called, The Agreement. Everyone's using them these days. And they're a good thing. Think of it like a contract to play for a team. Defines your relationship to the team. Outlines your.



MADELINE:
Outlines my duties and responsibilities as a member of the team. Specifies the rules and guidelines of the game.



HENRY:
The ump doesnt say work ball. He says play ball. K. I. S. S. Keep it simple. You got a question, go to the Agreement. Read the guidelines. Read the rules. It keeps things simple. Lets you focus on the game.



MADELINE:
I must admit, I like rules.



HENRY:
Rules are what separate us from the animals.



MADELINE:
Break the rules, suffer the consequences.



HENRY:
Do the crime. Do the time.



MADELINE:
Should Pete Rose be inducted into the Hall? Absolutely not! He broke the rules!



HENRY:
Exactly!

team07



MADELINE:
(Reads)
The parties to this marriage have discussed their future plans and desires relating to having/adopting children. Both parties hereby acknowledge they shall not have/adopt children once married. This provision is based upon an analysis of the parties present and anticipated family structure, financial situation and the lifestyle the parties anticipate having.
(He gives her a pen. She signs)
Of course I signed. And the next fifteen years were absolute heaven. Trips to Southeast Asia, East Africa, Peru, the Galapagos Islands, Sweden, Antarctica. Receptions at the White House with President Reagan and President Bush. My Henry, the big VIP, the donor, the political fundraiser. A man to be stroked and treated with respect. I on his arm, tall and thin and bright-eyed, basking in his glory. I could feel heads turning. Could you feel them, Henry? But time passes. That's what time does. You're not forty-one anymore. Three strokes in three years. 1999. 2000. 2001. Ding dong. Ding dong. Ding dong. Like a giant tolling bell. You're dead, Henry. The cupboard is bare. I feel empty, drained, sucked dry. Somewhere it says you're immortal through your daughters and your sons, but Maddie doesn't even have a dog. Because youre allergic to dander, Henry. I pretended the boy next door was mine. I celebrated his birthdays, his graduations, his Bar Mitsvah. I watched him grow. When he graduated from the Police Academy, I almost choked. I almost lost it. I almost said, I'm so proud of you, son.
(Beat)
So it's down to you and me, Henry. No regrets except it was much too short a season. But we made a heck of a team, didn't we? Winners. You know what they say about winners. You don't break up a winning team. Look what happened to the Sox after they sold Babe Ruth. But damn you, Henry Slezak! Damn you!

team01


COP:
Damn, you should see it! Town's filling up. Hotel's packed. Funeral's at one. Henry was a mover and a shaker, lots of bigwigs and high mucky-mucks paying their respects. People from the Reagan and first Bush administrations. And because of how he died, the media is here. The whole Department's on overtime. I hadn't seen Madeline for over a year. My job took up all my time. Even so, every now and then I'd get a snippet of information about her. People said after Henry's first stroke she pretty much kept indoors. She insisted on taking care of him personally. But, at the end, I saw that same attention to detail she used to apply to my batting stance. She was meticulous. Every bill paid off in full. The insurance policies laid out on the dining room table covered with post-it notes. A handwritten note directing that Romans chapter five and A Mighty Fortress be included in the funeral ceremony. Madeline's people were Lutherans.
(Lights up on a small table on which there's a
package. COP goes to package, opens it. takes
out letter, scans letter as he says the following)
Then a FedEx to me from an attorney firm. Inside, a short letter noticing me of two trust funds, each amounting to $10,000.00, set up for any children I may have. At the bottom of the letter, in Madeline's familiar script, the following: Remember, Benjamin, you are immortal through your daughters and your sons.
(Long pause)
Well, damn it all.

team03

(Blackout)









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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey, good to hear from you! And I'm glad you liked our production all those years ago - still one of my favorites

-Jim Azelvandre

playwrighter said...

Thank you, Jim. Great to hear from you. Please tell the others.