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The Gift Of Speech

A fun Christmas story about people who inherit the ability to hear animals speak on Christmas eve while other people think they’re crazy.

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The Gift Of Speech

A fun Christmas story about people who inherit the ability to hear animals speak on Christmas eve while other people think they’re crazy.


Author:    Ellen West

Synopsis:

Bets believes she and her granddaughter, Fran, have inherited the gift of hearing the animals talk on Christmas Eve. Is she crazy or is she blessed? This is the story of their amusing and sometimes hazardous journey to the truth.

The Gift Of Speech

The Gift of Speech

By 

Ellen West




Gift of Speech 

Copyright 2003

by Ellen West

All Rights Reserved

CAUTION: Professionals and amateurs are hereby warned that GIFT OF SPEECH is subject to a royalty.  It is fully protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America, the British Commonwealth, including Canada, and all other countries of the Copyright Union.  All rights, including professional, amateur, motion picture, recitation, lecturing, public reading, radio broadcasting, television, and the rights of translation into foreign language are strictly reserved. 

The amateur live stage performance rights to GIFT OF SPEECH are controlled exclusively by Drama Source and royalty arrangements and licenses must be secured well in advance of presentation.  PLEASE NOTE that amateur royalty fees are set upon application in accordance with your producing circumstances.  When applying for a royalty quotation and license please give us the number of performances intended and dates of production.  Royalties are payable one week before the opening performance of the play to Drama Source Co., 1588 E. 361 N., St. Anthony, Idaho 83445, unless other arrangements are made. 

Royalty of the required amount must be paid whether the play is presented for charity or gain, and whether or not admission is charged.  For all other rights than those stipulated above, apply to Drama Source Company, 1588 E. 361 N. St. Anthony, Idaho 83445.

Copying from this book in whole or in part is strictly forbidden by law, and the right of performance is not transferable.

Whenever the play is produced, the following notice must appear on all programs, printing and advertising for the play, “Produced by special arrangement with Drama Source Co.”

Due authorship credit must be given on all programs, printing and advertising for the play.

No one shall commit or authorize any act or omission by which the copyright or the rights to copyright of this play may be impaired.

No one shall make changes in this play for the purpose of production without written permission.

Publication of this play does not imply availability for performance.    Both amateurs and professionals considering a production are strongly advised in their own interests to apply to Drama Source Company for written permission before starting rehearsals, advertising, or booking a theatre.

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, by any means, now known or yet to be invented, including mechanical, electronic, photocopying, recording, videotaping or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.


CAST OF CHARACTERS

LORENZO A large intelligent dog

FRAN A woman in her 20s

BETS A woman in her late 70s, Fran’s grandmother

BART A good looking man, thirtyish

STAN A good looking man, thirtyish

MUTT An ugly, scraggly mutt

DONKEY A shy creature with a Middle Eastern accent

ANIMALS A variety of animals

Note: The animals can be represented however resources and creativity allow.

SETTING

The decaying library of a baronial mansion.  A terrace is visible beyond the windows of the library.

Note: The set can be minimal, with drapes for the French door and furniture.

TIME

Christmas Eve, the present, and an autumn and Christmas Eve long ago.



Scene 1

SETTING

A once very elegant library, but it has now been given over to the care of animals, so it has become a bit frayed.  There are birds in cages, a snake in a vase, a turtle crawling around the floor.  The two armchairs beside the table are covered with elegant but torn scarves and cloths, the curtains are frayed by cats’ claws, etc.  But the room is nevertheless cheerful.  To one side is a wall of books and a fireplace in the center with a clock on the mantle and a door to a back hall to the kitchen part of the house and back entrance. A 1940s telephone sits on a table in the back hall.  Across the room is a double-doored entrance from the center hall. Across the upstage wall are windows through which we can glimpse a terrace and on occasion animals.  A door in the wall to the terrace stands ajar. 

{As the lights come up, we hear the commotion of animals  followed by a holiday song. Lorenzo leads the animals onto the terrace and comes down center.}

Lorenzo:   {Speaking above animals to audience} Well. . . .come in. . . .Well, come in. . . .WELCOMEIN!  WELCOMEIN!   {Shouting animals down} PIPE DREAM FOR A MINUTE. {To himself} Is that right?  Pipe dream?  Pipe up?  PIPE DOWN!. . . . Quietness!

{Animals subside good naturedly.}

Lorenzo:  These peoples are here to hear. . . .that can’t be right. {Gesturing around} Here. . . .{Pointing to ear }to hear?. . . .Anyway, they want to know the story of Pet Paradise.

{Lorenzo  comes downstage to the side and settles down to tell the story.}

Lorenzo:   Once upon a time, three important people owned Pet Paradise:  {Holding up incorrect number of fingers} One: Bets Farnsworth and Two: her granddaughter, Fran Farnsworth, and, of course, Three: my illustrious ancestor, named  Lorenzo, too. {Looking at incorrect fingers} Named  Lorenzo, also.

{Fran  enters front hall from upstairs, wearing a coat and carrying a suitcase.}

Lorenzo:  Fran was a sweet people, but she had a big problem:

{Fran enters library,  puts down suitcase.}

Lorenzo: She believed the world outside was better than Pet Paradise.  Yet she hated going outside because whenever she did they made fun of her.  They made fun of her because of her Grandmother Bets. Because outsiders thought Bets was a little strange, and if her grandmother was strange, then Fran must be, too. . . .

{Bets enters from back hall, accompanied by several animals and carrying a gerbil  in a cage. Lorenzo becomes an ordinary dog, incapable of speech, and romps up to Fran in an overpowering way as Fran  is taking  off her coat.}

Fran: Oh, Lorenzo, don’t!  You’re muddy.

Bets:  Of course he’s muddy, we both are.  We were talking to the goats in the barn. . . .{Noting suitcase} My word, Frances!  Are you going away for Christmas already?  What time is it?  

Fran:  It’s eleven o’clock.

Bets:  I mean, what time of year?

Fran:  It’s not Christmas, Grandmother.  It’s not even Thanksgiving.  I’m not going away yet.

{Fran drops into a chair.}

Bets: You’re just coming back, then.

Fran:  No.

Bets:  You’re not leaving and you’re not arriving and any case you haven’t told me anything about it.

{Fran rises and puts her coat on.}

Bets: You must be leaving.

Fran:  What am I doing. I can’t go.  {Taking off her coat, Fran takes the gerbil cage from Bets}  Here.  Let me.  Where are you going with the gerbil?

Bets:  You tell me.

Fran:  I suppose you were going to get medicine for her.  She seems to have a cold.

Bets:  How wonderful, Frances! 

Fran:  To have a cold?

Bets:   No, you diagnosed the gerbil!  You have the gift!

Fran:  {Giving back the gerbil and putting on her coat}  No, I don’t.

Bets:  A rare gift.  You communicate with the animals, just as I do.

Fran:  I don’t communicate with the animals, Grandmother.  You wish I could, but I can’t.

Bets: You just diagnosed the gerbil–

Fran:  She has a runny nose!  Anyone can see that.

Bets:  They can’t see that she’s a she.

Fran:  I don’t have any gift, Grandmother. Listen. I’m going into Waybridge. I have a job.

Bets:  A job, Frances! I had no idea you were looking for a job.

Fran:  Well, it’s just volunteer, at the animal shelter—

Bets:   Of course!  With your gifts with animals, of course they’d want you!

Fran:   I don’t have any gifts! They’re just desperate for volunteers.  {Assertively picking up suitcase}  I’ll stay in Waybridge and that’s what I’ve decided to do. Before it’s too late.

Bets:  {Checking clock}  It’s still morning.

Fran:  I mean in my life.

Bets:  You’re right, Frances.  You should’ve flown the nest before now.

Fran:  {Putting suitcase down}  I’ll come back on weekends.

Bets: {Picking the suitcase up and handing it to Fran, who does not take it}  I’ll look forward to weekends, then.

Fran:  There’s so much to be done in Pet Paradise.  You really do need me.

Bets:  Joe and Mary have helped me since long before you arrived. I’m sure they’ll continue long after you’ve gone.  {Bets forces the suitcase on Fran and hugs her}  I’ll be all right. Go find your dream out there, Frances.

Fran:  Do you really think I will?

Bets:  I know for certain that you can’t find anything if you’re not looking for it.  All I would say to you is to stay away from people who love money. You have quite a bit of it, and they may love the money instead of you.  (Releasing Fran)  Oh, and don’t listen to gossip.

Fran:  I won’t.  

Bets:  Oh, and Frances.  If anyone offers to teach you how to fly an aeroplane, please refuse.

Fran:  I will.  I mean, I won’t.  I mean, goodbye, Grandmother.

{With a final hug, Fran half runs to front hall. The door slams. Lorenzo looks puzzled.}

Lorenzo:  Owww???

Bets:  Flying is only for birds, as my poor son found out. Well, Lorenzo, we must remember that Frances has never been entirely comfortable in Pet Paradise.  

Lorenzo:  {Denial: yes she has} Nooo.

Bets:  Oh, it’s true.  She loves us but she’s always wanted something more.

Lorenzo:  {Disappointed}  Owww.

Bets:  Let us hope that she finds it out there.  {To gerbil} I’m sorry, little one, how selfish of me to ignore you when you have a miserable cold.  {Starts to front hall and upstair.} When they were children I was certain Frances and Stanley Segal would grow up to be a match.

Lorenzo:  Whooo?

Bets:  I forgot. That was in the time of your grandfather.  Stanley Segal was a neighbor child. A very, very special neighbor, if you take my meaning.  Stanley shared Christmas Eve with us.

Lorenzo:  {Disbelief}  Noooo!

Bets:  Yes, indeed.  Stanley came for Christmas Eve from the time he was in knee pants. Then he grew up and disappeared.  Grown-ups don’t have to disappear, but Stanley did.

Lorenzo:  {Mourning}  Owwww.

{Bets suddenly has an attack of arrhythmia and can’t get her breath.  She sits abruptly.  Lorenzo fusses.}

Lorenzo:  Oww???

Bets:  Stop that, Lorenzo.  What good does it do to fuss?  I’m sure he had his reasons. 

Lorenzo:  Whoo????

Bets:  Stanley.  He was a very sensible boy.  {To gerbil}  I have just the thing for your cold upstairs in my medicine cabinet.  {To Lorenzo and others}  Come along, then.

{Bet rises and exits to front hall and upstairs, Lorenzo and others following.}

END OF SCENE 1

Scene 2

{In the transition we hear animal sounds such as common barnyard cows, horses, chickens. Then these merge into an increasing crisis of alarm. It is evening. Mutt, scraggly and unkempt, with a stolen bone in his mouth, noses his way into the library and hides with it, gnawing away hungrily.  In a moment Lorenzo comes roaring after the Mutt and threatens to take away the bone.  Mutt growls.  Lorenzo barks. Bets  rushes in from the back hall.}

Bets: Here, here, what is this!  Oh, my goodness, a new guest.  {Mutt growls at Bets. Lorenzo growls at Mutt} Now, Lorenzo, stop that.  He’s just a youngster. He’s never had anyone to teach him manners.

Lorenzo:  {Self-pity}  Owwww.

Bets:  I know he took your bone, but surely that isn’t the only bone in Pet Paradise, now is it?  {To Mutt}  Now, come along to the kitchen and I’ll ask Mary to give you something more substantial than that old bone. {As Mutt  looks suspicious}  That’s right.  This way.

{With a smug look at Lorenzo, still holding the bone, Mutt  follows Bets  out back hall. Lorenzo frowns, defeated.  Then he hears front door open.}

Lorenzo:  Woof??

{As Lorenzo races to front hall, he collides with Fran as she enters with her suitcase, wearing her coat.  But she is not really irritated. She embraces him.}

Fran:  Oh, Lorenzo, I’m glad to see you. You’re the oldest puppy I’ve ever known.

Lorenzo:  {Happily}  Woof!

{Bets enters.}

Bets:  Frances! What a nice surprise. What time is it?

 

Fran:  It’s December, Grandmother.  Waybridge didn’t. . . . didn’t work out.

Bets:  Ah, yes, the animal shelter. I’m sorry. They didn’t like your work?

Fran:  Oh, it wasn’t that—

Bets:  I hope you aren’t going to tell me you changed your mind.  That’s a bad habit of yours, Frances.

Fran:  No, I came home because, because. . . .you know why, don’t you?

Bets:  No, I don’t.

Fran:   Because the doctor said you need me here.

Bets:  Need? It’s nice to have you here, but I don’t need you.  Whatever was Dr. Andrews thinking? 

Fran:  Grandmother, we’re worried about your heart. . . .

Bets:  Nothing wrong with my heart. Ask the animals.  

Fran:  You’re working too hard.  It’s confusing.

Bets:  What are you confused about?

Fran:  I’m not.  I think you are.

Bets: Who’ve you been talking to?  Mary?  Just because I gave dog food to the donkey.  I picked it up by mistake.

Fran:  The donkey?

Bets:  No, the dog food.

Fran:  You gave dog food to a donkey?

Bets:  The donkey didn’t mind.  I don’t know why you should.

Fran:  I mean. . . .there’s a donkey here?

Bets:  Isn’t it nice?  I’m hoping I can persuade him to stay.  {Lorenzo rushes to terrace, barking}  Oh,  Lorenzo, slow down.  I can’t understand a word when you’re so excited.  {Lorenzo continues to bark and harass Bets}  All right, Lorenzo, all right, show me what you mean. . . .

{Bets starts out the terrace.}

Fran:  Grandmother, where are you going?

Bets:  To see what’s upset Lorenzo.

Fran:  You can’t!

Bets:  What?

Fran:  I mean, it’s dark.

Bets:  Well of course.  It’s past eight o’clock.

Fran:  A, a storm’s coming!

Bets:  The moon’s out.

Fran:  But it’s predicted!

Bets:  Is that so?  {Going to front hall)  I’ll get my coat then.

Fran:  I can’t let you!

Bets:  When did you begin to give me permission to go in and out?

Fran:  I didn’t mean it to sound like that. I don’t think you should go outside in the dark with a storm coming.  Something might happen to you.  

Bets:  I’m concerned about the donkey.  

Fran:  Oh, Grandmother.  There’s. . . .probably the donkey’s gone back home by now.

Bets:  You don’t believe there is a donkey, do you?

Fran:  Maybe you saw something, a, a tree limb—

Bets:  Now you come along.  {Handing Fran Fran’s coat}  Come right along with me.  

{Bets leads Fran off through front hall, Lorenzo  barking and leaping around.  More animal commotion, then a flash of lightning outside and wind and rain. Bets and Fran hurry in from terrace, followed by Lorenzo,, protecting themselves from rain. Lorenzo does a big dog shake. Rain sounds continue.}

Bets:  Lorenzo! {Lorenzo puts his head down and his tail between his legs} You led us on a wild goose chase.  Or wild donkey chase, I should say.  You frightened the poor creature away. The donkey is our guest.  I want you to remember that—

{Bets staggers and Fran catches her.}

Fran:  Grandmother! Let’s get you to bed.

Bets:  You didn’t get to see the donkey.

Fran:  No.

Bets:  He found a place to hide, I’m sure.

Fran:  Lean on me.  I’ll put you to bed and bring you some hot milk.

{Bets and  Fran go to the front hall.}

Bets: Lorenzo, watch for the donkey.  And don’t chase him away! 

{Bets and Fran exit. Rain sounds continue. Lorenzo goes to windows and stares out watchfully. Frightened by a lightning flash, Lorenzo hides behind the chair. Rain sounds cease.}

END OF SCENE 2

Scene 3

{Spotlight comes up on telephone in the back hall.  In early morning light, Fran, wearing a robe, enters from front hall, crosses library, and picks up the back hall telephone.  Lorenzo peeks at Fran curiously. Seeing him, Fran puts the telephone down and exits down the back hall. Lorenzo stretches and gets in the chair. A moment.  Fran returns,  prepares to pick up the telephone. Lorenzo perks his head up and Fran hangs up the telephone, exits. Lorenzo  gets up and follows Fran off back hall.  Spotlight fades on back hall then comes up on a new area which contains a telephone and desk and is part of the office of Davondale Institute for Better Living. The telephone rings. Bart, wearing a white aide’s jacket, dashes in and answers it.}

Bart:  Hello, this is the Davondale Institute for Better Living where the better you live, the liver you bet, hi, Pug Nose. . . .Aw, come on, if it wasn’t you I’d pretend one of the loonies answered the phone. I suppose you want to know what old lady Crocker left me in her will. . . .Yeah, she mentioned me.  “To John Barton,” she said, “faithful aide, the sum of. . . .”  Are you ready?. . . .Excited?. . . . Can’t wait to hear how much?. . . .{Holds phone away from ear as Pug Nose apparently shouts impatiently} Okay, okay. One hundred.  {Holds phone away}  No, not one hundred thousand, just one hundred.  One tenth of a grand.  In other words, almost nothing.  Looks like we can’t afford to get married this Christmas after all. . . .{Holds phone away from ear again}  Hey, listen, this is a hospital phone.  I can’t have this discussion on a hospital phone.  See ya later. . . .{Hangs up.  Off a woman screams.}  Ah, shut up. {Another scream.}  All right, all right.

{Bart exits but the Spotlight stays on the Davondale telephone. Spotlight comes up on the back hall telephone as Fran enters, determinedly picks up the telephone and dials, all in such a hurry that she is panting. The telephone rings in Davondale. Several times.  Fran is about to hang up when Bart picks it up.}

Bart:  {He starts talking as soon as he picks up the receiver}  Hello, this is the Davondale Institute for Better Living, where betting is living and living is betting.  I knew you’d be upset, Pug Nose, but I’ll fleece some other old nut.

Fran: {Panting}  Oh, excuse me, I think I’ve dialed the wrong number.

Bart: {Pretending he’s wrestling the telephone fron a patient, he speaks in a stern voice)  Give me that phone!  {In a scared female voice}  No, no, no. . . .{Stern voice}  All right, now.  Go back to your room, Mrs. Jones. . . . Hell-o, John Barton speaking.  Sorry about that.  One of the patients likes to answer the phone.

Fran:  Is this the Davondale Institute for Better Living?

Bart:  It is.  How may I help you?

Fran:  Do you take care of people who are. . . .who are seeing, I mean, imagining things that aren’t there?  People who are—

Bart:  Insane.  You’ve got the right place.  

Fran:  May I speak to Dr. Kitterling, please?

Bart:  He’s not available.  Give me your name and I’ll have him call you.

Fran:  Oh, no.  I’ll try later—

Bart:  You sound out of breath.  

Fran:  I was hurrying before my grandmother gets up—

Bart:  Your grandma chasing you?

Fran:  No!  I shouldn’t have called—

Bart:  Suit yourself.  If you want to give me your name I’ll have Dr. Kitterling call you back.

Fran:  I’m  Fran Farnsworth. I live in Pet Paradise.  I mean, Farnsworth Farms.

Bart:  Farnsworth Farms?  That’s your grandma?  Bets Farnsworth? That’s who you’re worried about?

Fran:  {A despairing statement}  You’ve heard about Grandmother.

Bart:  Sure, everybody knows about your grandma.  She’s the old lady that talks to the animals.

Fran:  Lots of people talk to their pets.

Bart:  But she thinks they talk back. Well, no wonder you’re worried!  Bets Farnsworth.  That old lady’s been missing her marbles for years.  Tell me.  What does she really do on Christmas Eve?  Bloody sacrifices, that kind of thing?

Fran:  No! You shouldn’t listen to gossip. 

Bart:  Okay, okay. So what does happen?

Fran:  I don’t know. She sends us all away, but it’s not what you think. She does it for me! She wants me to have a normal Christmas and, and, with a family and everything, so she sends me to Mary’s sister’s house.  She does it so I can have a normal Christmas. I’m sorry I bothered you. 

Bart:  Wait, don’t go away mad!  Don’t you want some help?  

Fran:  My grandmother’s a wonderful person.

Bart:  Sure she’s a wonderful person.  But something made you think she’s gone over the edge, so to speak.

Fran:  She thinks there’s a donkey. . . .Never mind.  I’ll manage.

Bart:  She sees donkeys that aren’t there?  Ooohh, that’s a bad sign.  But, don’t you worry. Put the whole matter right in my hands.

Fran:  I don’t mean to sound rude, but who are you?

Bart:  Me?  I’m. . . .{His voice deepens and alters as he assumes the persona of a doctor}  I’m the director of Davondale.

{Lorenzo enters behind Fran  and listens.  Fran does not see him.}

Fran:  I’ve been talking to Dr. Kitterling all this time?

Bart:  That’s right.  It may sound strange to you, but I have to screen my calls.  I can’t take just any case that comes my way, but your grandmother interests me. 

Fran:  Maybe I should think about it.

Bart: {Becoming Bart again}  No!  You need to let me do all the thinking.  What rhymes with Bart?

Fran:  With what?

Bart:  Bart. That’s me, John Barton.  {Becoming doctor}  My, my middle name. John Barton Kitterling. But they call me Smart Bart.

Fran:  What?

Bart:  Smart!  Smart rhymes with Bart!  {Screams off.  They continue. He becomes Bart again)

Woops. My fans are calling me. Gotta go.  {Becoming doctor}  I’ll, uh, I’ll have my secretary call and make some arrangements for the {Muttering rapidly to cover inaccuracy} neurotic-o-pathetic examination of your grandmother.  We find it goes smoother if she has a dose of {Muttering again}anti-psycho-medi-cillin beforehand.

Fran:  Examination?  I don’t think Grandmother would let you do that.

Bart:  That’s why we need the {Muttering} anti-psycho-potion. . . .tate. I’ll be there myself in person. This afternoon, Miss Farnsworth. . . .it is Miss?

Fran:  Yes.

Bart:  About five. 

{Bart hangs up gleefully. Fran hangs up. Lorenzo harasses her.}

Fran:  Oh, Lorenzo.  Grandmother really needs help and I can’t cope with it alone.  I really can’t.

{Fran exits off back hall with Lorenzo following.}

END OF SCENE 3 

Scene 4

{In the transition, animals whine, blending with wind sounds. It is now broad daylight.  We hear the honking of geese.  Doorbell rings off.  Bets amswers it. She greets an unseen person.}

Bets: {Off}  Yes?  You must be lost unless you’re the new veterinarian.

Stan:  {Taking Bets by the hands and swinging her into the library}  I’m not lost, Bets.  I’m Stan Segal.  Don’t you remember me?

Bets:  I can’t believe my eyes!  I must be hallucinating.  May I touch you?

Stan: Sure.  In fact—

{Stan hugs Bets. Animals gather on terrace to watch. Lorenzo tries unsuccessfully to get Stan’s attention.}

Bets:  Oh, Stanley.  I thought the world had swallowed you up.

Stan:  It did.  But it spit me back out.

Bets:  Oh, good.

Stan: {Noticing Lorenzo} And you must be Lorenzo.

Bets:  That’s right.  Lorenzo the Third.

Stan: {Going to terrace where anima

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