Jackie & the Beans Talk is a modernist play. Jackie has a big assignment due in drama class tomorrow—she has to re-imagine Jack & the Beanstalk in a modern theatrical style—but all she seems to be able to do is nap. Lucky for her, the modern theatrical styles make house calls, and even in Jackie’s dreams, they prove to be passionate about their innovative approaches. From realism to anti-realism, and points in between, Jackie gets immersed in the avant-garde theatrical movements of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries; and Jack’s classic fairy tale will never be the same again. This comedy also includes added materials including improvisation and acting exercises, a project for students and questions for discussion and research. You can find these other fantastic plays by August Mergelman in our Script Library: Spider Besider, Fancy Nancy & the Ants, Persephone, The Magpies, By Jove, A Merry Interlude at Camelot, Mum’s the Word, The Vixen, Couth, Pantalone’s New Pantalones, The Honest Impostor, The Weaver Girl & the Cowherd, The Dragon & the Pearl, Polly Peachum & the Pirates, Lady Scottish Play, Penny from Heaven, The Cat Noir, Trade Trade Secrets, North Paws.
As a playwright, August Mergelman has one simple goal: to bring classical works to the modern audience. It seems that so many of the world’s great dramas are obscured by their own magnitude. August does not believe that any of history’s great playwrights would truly want their works to be intimidating or bewildering. First and foremost, they were showman; they crafted their works to be engaging, challenging, and most importantly, entertaining. As a fourth-generation Colorado native, August is proud of his western heritage, which is manifest in several of his western settings. His works have been featured in the Playwrights’ Showcase of the Western Region and the Rocky Mountain Theatre Association’s playwriting Competition.
Excerpt from the play:
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Jackie — a bright teenage Girl who tends to procrastinate
Girl — a youngster who knows how to wheel and deal
Dad — Jackie’s attentive father
Eric Harper — a teenage boy who plays the guitar
Naturalism — a beatnik idealist
Jack — a gullible young peasant in a fairytale world
Mother — his mother
Symbolism — a benevolent spirit, much like a fairy godmother
Expressionism — a ghoulish, humorless figure dressed in black
First Head — one of the giant’s four heads; greedy
Second Head — another; prone to cursing
Third Head — another; unfriendly
Fourth Head — another; dimwitted
Surrealism — a jovial figure with a whimsical moustache
First Da — a Dadaist; an erratic and irreverent intruder
Second Da — another
Third Da — another
Dairy Farmer — a kind, but poor peasant
Arbitrator — a proponent of Theatre of Social Action
Harp/Princess — a captive musician
Biomechanic — a theatrical manifestation of Constructivism
Futurism — a brash maniac
Realism — Naturalism’s twin brother
Punisher — an administrator of Theatre of Cruelty
Absurdism — a blasé observer
Lulubelle — Jack’s milk cow
Axe — a ninja; Jack’s trusty tool
(There are several major locations, none of which need to be represented elaborately. Consider using projections to suggest the following locations—Jackie’s living room, Jack’s cottage, the exterior of the castle on a cloud, the treasure room, and the base of the beanstalk. An area to the side may be specially lit for Jackie and her literary guests.)
(In her living room up left, Jackie lays on a couch reading a big, stuffy-looking book.)
“Modern Modes of Theatre” (Yawns.) “The dreaming mind ultimately conquers the wakeful mind.” That doesn’t even make sense. (Lays her head down.) Actually… that makes perfect sense.
(She sleeps. Sound effect—dream music. A younger girl, a product of the dream, appears down right. In the dream, the other characters may address Jackie directly, but Jackie stays on the couch and talks in her sleep.)
If I had a bike that cool, I’d ride it everywhere. I’d ride it to school, to daycare. I’d ride it from the living room to the kitchen… Just outta curiosity, how many speeds does it have?
(Asleep.) Just the one.
Hey, that’s all you need… Just outta curiosity, how much would you sell it for?
Just outta curiosity, how much you got?
All I have is this beanbag that I made at daycare today, but the seam’s coming out, and it’s leaking beans.
(Considers the offer.) Okay. You got yourself a deal.
(The gleeful girl fades from view. Sound effect—magic music. Dad enters left, talking on a phone.)
You seriously traded your bike for a leaky beanbag? Are they at least magic beans?
I knew you were going to ask me that.
Oh, well. You were too big for that bike. It was headed for the thrift store, anyway.
My thoughts exactly.
Speaking of magic beans, your big drama project’s due tomorrow. “Jack and the Beanstalk” in a modern theatrical style. Did you check out what you needed at the library?
(Eric enters right, unseen by Dad.)
(Grins.) Oh, yeah. I checked him out… I mean, I got a good look—book! I got a good book. I gotta go, Dad.
(She sighs. Sound effect—dream music. Dad exits right, looking at his phone suspiciously.)
When I was first learning, my fingers got sore, but not anymore. Why do you ask? You play guitar?
No, but I don’t have anything against it—I mean…
I know what you meant. How’s your drama project coming? Mine’s barely started.
I’m gonna go home and do it right now.
Me, too, but before you go, Jackie, there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you…
(Lights fade on Eric.)
I’m afraid it’ll have to wait, Eric. I’m about to wake up…
(Eric exits right. Jackie wakes up.)
Oh, my gosh. What was I thinking? Oh, well. That’s not exactly how it happened anyway. (Takes a bean from the beanbag.) I wonder if these beans are magic. (Leafs through the book with a sigh.) Sometimes, after I wake up from a little nap… (Reclines again.) I like to take a little nap.
(She sleeps again. Sound effect—dream music. Naturalism enters left near Jackie.)
(Note—whenever Jackie is talking to a bean, any other characters on stage should freeze.)
Little sister, you got a big project due tomorrow in drama class.
(Asleep.) I know. Who are you?
Read the bean that’s in your hand.
(Little by little, wakes and becomes more enthusiastic.) Naturalism… Oh, you’re the literary style I’m going to write my play in. Nice. We’re gonna serve the audience up a slice of life—no embellishments. We’re gonna rip the heart out of humanity, raw and bleeding and real…
Easy, little sister. You gotta walk before you can run. How ’bout we start with Jack’s Mother?
(Lights up on cottage up right. Mother sweeps around the table and two chairs.)
She and her son are people of the earth. They’d like to be more than peasants, but the man keeps ’em down. That’s the way it’s always been, and the way it’ll always be.
Yikes. That’s a pretty grim point of view.
(Naturalism shrugs. Jack enters right and sits at the table.)
Well? What did you get for her?
A good home.
What’s that supposed to mean?
The butcher only wanted to butcher her.
So I sold her to the Dairy Farmer.
But the Dairy Farmer doesn’t have any money!
I know. So he gave me these. (Presents a fistful of beans.) He says they’re magic.
(Sound effect—record scratching. Jack and Mother freeze.)
Uh-oh. The word magic is the magic word. Time for me to split, little sister.
What do you mean?
I’m Naturalism—no Goblins, no genie’s in bottles, and definitely no magic… But don’t look so sad, little sister. We might meet again, someday.
(Naturalism exits left. Jack and Mother unfreeze. Mother throws out the beans and exits right. Jack puts his head on the table and sleeps. With a sigh, Jackie picks another bean and flips through the book. Symbolism enters right, but ignores her.)
(Reads.) “Symbolism.” Nice. (Sees Symbolism.) It’s an honor to meet you, Symbolism. We studied you in class, and I really like your point of view. I mean, why should we only look for truth in the physical world when there’s, like, a whole galaxy of symbols out there? Hello?
(Waves her hand in front of Symbolism’s eyes.) Symbolism?