Wednesday, December 11, 2013

King John's Christmas

(This week, I decided to post one of the children's plays I wrote for Plays magazine but couldn't sell because the poem it quotes won't be in the public domain for eleven years. So enjoy!)

King John’s Christmas
by Amy Green
Adapted from the poem by A. A. Milne

Freddy—servant boy
Emma—servant girl
King John—a selfish ruler
Lord Hastings
Lady Hastings
Young John

Setting: King John’s office. There is a desk at center, with stacks of papers and several Christmas cards propped up on the edge.

At Rise: Minstrel, carrying a guitar or other stringed instrument, stands down right. Housekeeper and Freddy stand at far left. Emma is scrubbing the floor near center stage.

MINSTREL: Well, it’s Christmastime again. And that reminds me of a story from my days playing music in the royal court of old King John. Maybe you’ve heard of him.

FREDDY: Heard of him! He’s a regular slavedriver, that one.

HOUSEKEEPER: Only thing stiffer than him are his dress shirts—after he has me iron them a dozen times each.

FREDDY: Nothing but work, work, work, every day of the year. (He and HOUSEKEEPER exit left.)

EMMA: Even on Christmas.

MINSTREL: That’s right. Even on Christmas. He’s an interesting man, that King John.
(Strumming guitar)     King John was not a good man–
                                    He had his little ways.
                                    And sometimes no one spoke to him
                                    For days and days and days.

(KING JOHN enters right, followed by PEASANT.)

PEASANT: Please, sir, if you’ll just let us cut down some of the wood from the trees around the palace, we’ll be able to stay warm this winter.

KING JOHN: I already said no, didn’t I? Or can’t you peasants hear?

PEASANT: Our ears are probably frozen, sire.

KING JOHN: Now get out of here. You’ve already gone over your three-minute appointment time. Aren’t you supposed to be catching salmon for my royal Christmas feast?

PEASANT: But the royal fishing pond is completely iced over, sire!

KING JOHN: That’s why they invented ice picks.

PEASANT: Please, Your Grace, it’s Christmas time.

KING JOHN: Yes, so I’m told. Tis the season for me to be jolly and all that. And guess what? Salmon makes me jolly. Now go catch those fish. (PEASANT bows and exits.) Minstrel!

MINSTREL: Yes sire?

KING JOHN: I want to write a letter.

MINSTREL (Scrambling to collect writing supplies): Ready, sire.

KING JOHN: “To the Duke of York, You are a bad-tempered, smelly boar, and if you ever beat me at cards again, I shall come to your summer mansion and burn it to the ground. Yours Most Cordially, King John.”

MINSTREL: Are you sure you want to send that?

KING JOHN: Of course. He started it. Oh, and if you could put a stamp on the envelope that says, “Merry Christmas. I hate you.”

MINSTREL: They don’t make any stamps like those, sire.

KING JOHN: No? Well, draft a letter to the royal postmaster ordering him to make some. I’m sure they’ll be quite popular at this time of year. (KING JOHN goes to his desk and pages through the papers, occasionally checking a pocketwatch.)

MINSTREL (Strumming):      King John was not a good man,
                                                And no good friends had he.
                                                He stayed in every afternoon…
                                                But no one came to tea.

KING JOHN (Calls): Housekeeper, it’s tea time. (HOUSEKEEPER enters left with tea tray.) Four sugar cubes, please.

HOUSEKEEPER: Your teeth will rot if you keep drinking down that much sugar, sire.

KING JOHN: What does it matter? I can always get new ones. (There is a knock at the door. He is instantly excited.) Visitors! (Clears throat) I mean…someone disturbing my tea. I suppose we’ll have to let them in. Minstrel, get the door.

(MINSTREL goes to offstage right, and returns with LORD and LADY.)

LORD (Stiff): King John.

KING JOHN: Lord and Lady Hastings. Caroling at all your friends’ houses, I suppose? How dull.

LADY: We’re not caroling.

LORD: And if we were, we certainly wouldn’t be coming here.

KING JOHN (Disappointed): Oh.

LORD: We stopped because we were going on a sleigh ride past your property, and one of the runners broke.

LADY: We were hoping you could help us.

KING JOHN: Ah, a sleigh ride. I imagine you were sharing a blanket, staring into each other’s eyes, sipping a cup of hot chocolate….

LADY (Smiles): That’s right.

KING JOHN: Well, you can do all of those things while walking back to your manor on foot.

LORD: So…you’re not going to help us?

KING JOHN: If I don’t grant any of the requests the peasants make to me, why should I grant yours? I’m an equal opportunity oppressor.

LADY: You’re a cruel and heartless man.

KING JOHN: So I’ve been told. Enjoy your walk in a winter wonderland. (LORD and LADY exit.)

MINSTREL (Strumming):      King John was not a good man,
                                                Yet had his hopes and fears.
                                                They’d given him no present now
                                                For years and years and years.

(EMMA comes in with a stack of letters, and FREDDY carries in a bundle of firewood.)

EMMA: Mail for you, sire.

KING JOHN: Oh, look, another Christmas card. (Opens it, looks inside) “To our magnificent ruler, wishing you all the holiday cheer that you so richly deserve.” How nice. (Tosses it away, opens the next one) “Warm wishes for a man who directs our nation with wisdom and diligence. May you have peace and prosperity in the coming year.” Yes, yes, do go on. (Throws it down) Add them to the pile, housekeeper. I have business to attend to. (He exits.)

EMMA: That’s nice—the things those people said.

FREDDY: Even if they’re not true.

HOUSEKEEPER: Oh, it’s worse than that. Take a look at the handwriting. (Shows them cards)

FREDDY: Why, they’re all exactly the same!

HOUSEKEEPER: That’s right. He writes them to himself every year. Just sits there at his desk when he thinks no one’s watching, and says nice things about himself.

EMMA: But why?

FREDDY: Because no one else is going to say something nice about terrible King John.

EMMA: I guess that’s true. But why bother to send cards to himself?

HOUSEKEEPER: Even the meanest of men get lonely, child.

EMMA: I feel sorry for him.

FREDDY: Don’t. He has no one to blame but himself. (FREDDY and HOUSEKEEPER exit, but EMMA stays, picking up a piece of stationary from the desk. KING JOHN sneaks on, and she hides behind the desk.)

KING JOHN: Good. They’re gone. Time to write a very important letter. (Walks to the desk, takes a piece of paper and pen. Still standing, he begins to write.)
            I want some crackers,
            And I want some candy;
            I think a box of chocolates
            Would come in handy;
            I don’t mind oranges,
            I do like nuts!
            And I SHOULD like a pocket-knife
            That really cuts.
            And, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
            Bring me a big, red, india-rubber ball!

EMMA (Standing): Are you…are you really writing a letter to Father Christmas?

KING JOHN: What are you doing there? I could have your head for eavesdropping on royalty!

EMMA: I just didn’t think you’d be the type to write to Father Christmas.

KING JOHN: Yes, well, there’s a first time for everything. (Thinks) Maybe I should make a public declaration. Just to make sure he sees it. No, no, couldn’t do that.

EMMA: Why not?

KING JOHN: Because then…people would know that I care. That I notice the fact that no one likes me. Don’t you see, little girl? A king isn’t supposed to need people.

EMMA: Everyone needs people. Especially at Christmas. It’s a time for us to be with our family and friends.

KING JOHN: Well, if you haven’t got any friends, you have to settle for presents.

EMMA: But those won’t ever make you happy, not really.

KING JOHN: Easy for you to say. You’ve probably gotten little toys and candies every year for Christmas.

EMMA: Didn’t you? When you were young? (They freeze. YOUNG JOHN enters left.)

YOUNG JOHN (Throwing a tantrum): Someone knocked down my snowman! I demand that the criminal be found and executed! (Starting to storm off) And I’d better get those new boots I asked for, or I am going to be very upset. Hey, servants, I want hot chocolate! (He exits.)

KING JOHN: No. Never. And maybe it was my fault all along. Maybe I deserve this.

EMMA: No one deserves to be alone on Christmas.

KING JOHN: At any rate, I’m going to attach this letter to the chimney. He’s sure to see it there…isn’t he?

EMMA: I think he will. (Both exit, as MINSTREL enters.)

MINSTREL (Strumming):      King John was not a good man –
                                                He wrote this message out,
                                                And got him to this room again,
                                                Descending by the spout.

(MINSTREL exits, and KING JOHN enters, dressed in a bathrobe.)

KING JOHN: Well, it’s Christmas Eve again. Time to wait. (Fiddles nervously.) Father Christmas wouldn’t deny such a simple request, and from such an important man…would he? I mean, what did I ever do to him? (He freezes. YOUNG JOHN, wearing a crown, stomps on, holding a piece of paper. HOUSEKEEPER follows him.)

HOUSEKEEPER: Prince John, what’s the matter?

YOUNG JOHN: I just finished opening my presents. I got a book on military strategy, five pairs of socks, and this dumb crown.

HOUSEKEEPER: Why, that’s a beautiful crown. Pure gold, probably.

YOUNG JOHN: But I wanted a rubber ball.

HOUSEKEEPER (Patting his head): Perhaps if you’re a very good little boy next year, Father Christmas will bring you what you wanted. (She exits left.)

YOUNG JOHN (Writing a letter): We’ll see about that. “Dear Father Christmas, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that my royal stocking remains empty. In addition, I received none of the items on my list. I will hold off punishment from you and your elf workers, but only if this situation is corrected. Should you ignore my request, I will pelt your sleigh out of the sky with icy snowballs. Yours Most Cordially, Prince John.”

KING JOHN: Right. Except that one time…. (Stops, listens) Is that him? He can’t go on past…can he? He’ll bring one present, anyhow–the first I’ve had for years. Oh….
            Forget about the crackers,
            And forget about the candy;
            I’m sure a box of chocolates
            Would never come in handy;
            I don’t like oranges,
            I don’t want nuts,
            And I HAVE got a pocket-knife
            That almost cuts.
            But, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
            Bring me a big, red, india-rubber ball!

(MINSTREL enters right and stands there.)

MINSTREL (Strumming):      King John was not a good man,
                                                Next morning when the sun
                                                Rose up to tell a waiting world
                                                That Christmas had begun,
                                                And people seized their stockings,
                                                And opened them with glee,
                                                And crackers, toys and games appeared,
                                                And lips with sticky sweets were smeared,
                                                King John said grimly:

KING JOHN: Nothing again for me. (HOUSEKEEPER, FREDDY, and EMMA enter and watch him.) Well, what are you all staring at? Time to get the Christmas banquet ready. The guests will be here soon!

HOUSEKEEPER: But…no one is coming.


MINSTREL: The guests all cancelled, sire. Especially the Duke of York. He seemed quite angry.


MINSTREL: The bad-tempered, smelly, boar.

KING JOHN: Oh, right. Why would I want him here, anyway?

FREDDY: Did you get any presents, King John?

KING JOHN: That’s enough chit-chat. I have a celebration to get to. It’s a good thing no one else is coming. A wonderful thing, actually. That way, I can eat all of the salmon by myself. (Servants, except EMMA, begin to exit.) And I certainly don’t care about Father Christmas and his silly little tradition of bringing presents.

EMMA: That’s not true, is it?

KING JOHN: Of course it is. I don’t care. Not one bit.

EMMA: I’m sorry.

KING JOHN (Sighs): I did want crackers,
                                    And I did want candy;
                                    I know a box of chocolates
                                    Would come in handy;
                                    I do love oranges,
                                    I did want nuts!
                                    And, oh! if Father Christmas, had loved me at all,
                                    He would have brought a big, red,
                                    india-rubber ball!

EMMA: I can’t bring you any of those things, sire. But…here. (Hands him a folded piece of paper)

KING JOHN: Why…it’s a Christmas card. A real Christmas card. (Opens it) To King John—a very merry Christmas to you.”

EMMA: I know it’s not very much….

KING JOHN: No, no, no. This means a lot to me. (Uncomfortable) I…ah…that is…thank you.

(A red rubber ball is thrown into the room toward KING JOHN, who picks it up, awestruck. There is the sound of jingle bells in the distance.)

KING JOHN: I don’t believe it!

EMMA: It looks like Father Christmas didn’t forget you after all.

KING JOHN (Dancing around): Aha! I got a present! Merry Christmas, everyone!

(MINSTREL enters.)
                                                MY BLESSINGS ON YOU FALL
                                                FOR BRINGING HIM
                                                A BIG, RED,

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