14+ characters. 4F; 5M; 5+ Either; Flexible casting; 10 pages in length. Approximately 15 minutes running time. A vaudeville comedy for teens (with classroom materials) written by August Mergelman.

Penny from Heaven is a hilarious vaudeville play! Chip and Penny comprise the ventriloquist act that has taken Vaudeville by storm. When Penny becomes suddenly animated, she carelessly gets lured away from the security of home. In no time at all, she finds herself the unwitting heckler of a medicine show and then the featured performer at Dee Dee Barnum’s Dime Museum. Discouraged by his failed efforts to find Penny, Chip has taken a booking at the Whale Wharf Theatre, which is the lowest of Vaudeville’s low. Only the pervasive power of love, coupled with Penny’s plucky luck, could reunite the act. This fantastic play 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, The Cat Noir, Trade Trade Secrets, Jackie & the Beans Talk, 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 Playwrighting Competition.

Excerpt from the play:

CAST OF CHARACTERS

Chip Chandler — a ventriloquist
Penny Pasternak — his mannequin
Reporter — interviews Chip in a dream
Dr. Cowles — a snake oil peddler
Tambo — a ruffian
Bones — another
Morris — a booking agent
Dee Dee Barnum — the proprietress of a dime museum
Barker — the wearer of a sandwich board
Emcee — announces the performances at the Whale Wharf Theatre
Heckler — a vulgar man
First Dancing Girl — a dancer at the dime museum; becomes a Folly dancer
Second Dancing Girl — another
Extras — crowd members

(Lights up on Chip’s home. Reading a magazine, Chip reclines in a high-back chair right. Penny, a wooden doll, reclines on a trunk up center.)

Chip
(Stands and crosses to the doll.) Would you take a look at that, Penny? The cover of Variety. It doesn’t get any better than that. At least, that’s what they tell us.

(He kisses the doll on the head and puts her to sleep in the trunk.)

Chip
Goodnight, Penny. Sweet dreams.

(Chip sits back in his chair and drifts off to sleep. Reporter enters left.)

Reporter
Chip and Penny, the ventriloquist act that’s taken Vaudeville by storm. Chip, now that you two have hit the big time, how’s the view from the top? Lonely?

Chip
(Asleep and dreaming.) Naw. Penny might be made of wood, but we keep each other pretty good company.

Reporter
Some have suggested that Penny is the little missus you never had time for. What do you say to that?

(As Chip responds, the Reporter drifts off right.)

Chip
I say, it’s always a comfort to have her by my side. That way, I never have to worry about how she’s spending my money.

Penny
(Springs from the trunk.) Our money. That reminds me, Chip—I need to run to the hardware store and buy some new varnish. You know, you haven’t painted a new coat of shellac on me in over three years.

Chip
All right, all right.

(Still half asleep, Chip gives Penny a dime.)

Chip
Here ya go, dear.

Penny
Oh. Well, that’s probably enough for the cheap stuff. (Crosses left.) I guess that’s all you think of me.

Chip
Okay, okay. (Digs deeper in his pocket.) Here… And a little more for the penny arcade.

Penny
Thanks, ya big softie.

Chip
Don’t mention it.

Penny
Chip, are you sure these three little dimes are worth more than three nickels? Nickels are so much bigger.

Chip
I’m sure.

Penny
If you say so.

Chip
I say so. I also say, don’t get sidetracked on the way to the hardware store.

Penny
Me? Wha-da-ya take me for?

(Exits left.)

Chip
(Starts to wake.) I take you for a real… (Confused.) …a real…? (Comes to and sees that she’s gone.) Penny? Penny! Where ya goin’? Hardware store, I guess. (Almost out the door.) Oops. Better get my hat first. (Rushes to get his hat.)

(Curtain closes.)

Penny
(Enters left in front of the curtain and skips across the apron.) Hardware store first? Penny arcade first? No, hardware store first. I promised Chip… hardware store… Who am I kidding? Penny arcade it is. But first, what’s this?

(Curtain opens to reveal a medicine show. There is a placard reading “Dr. Cowles’s Comet Pills.” Music Cue—the end of “Music, Music, Music.” Bones and Tambo flank Dr. Cowles. Extras may be watching the show. Alternatively, all crowd noises may come from offstage.)

Dr. Cowles
Step right up! Step right up!

(Penny stops to watch the show.)

Dr. Cowles
Ladies and gentlemen, in the name of motherhood and Fatherhood, Wifery and Husbandry, it’s time to prepare yourselves and your kinfolk for the approach of Halley’s Comet.

Tambo
Hooley’s Comet?

Dr. Cowles
Halley’s Comet. That’s right! Any day now, this celestial menace will be peeking its head over the horizon of the night sky, blazing a trail of pestilence and plague in its wake. Listen up, good folks, and we’ll tell you why everyone is talking so much about Doctor Cowles’s Comet Pills.

Bones
Speaking of speaking so much… You know, I got a brother-in-law who talks so much—

Dr. Cowles
Bones, how much does he talk?

Bones
He talks so much that—

Penny
His wife bought herself a parrot and joined three bridge clubs just to get some peace and quiet.

(The Crowd laughs.)

Tambo
Oh, yeah? Well, I got an uncle who talks so much that his best pal took a vow of silence.

Dr. Cowles
Why did his best pal take a vow of silence?

Penny
Just so’s the two of them would have something to talk about.

(The Crowd laughs.)

Bones
Well, my Aunt Maple—rest her soul—she used to talk so much that…

Penny
Her own funeral was interrupted three times.

(The Crowd laughs.)

Dr. Cowles
(Suddenly solemn.) But death is no laughing matter when the terrible tail of a comet rains diphtheria and dementia on the denizens of our dear city. You mustn’t, however, let worry furrow your brows. For a paltry seventy-nine cents a bottle, Dr. Cowles’s Comet Pills will fortify your immunity to any and all cosmic contaminations!

Penny
(Laughs.) Doc, that’s the funniest one I’ve heard yet!

Dr. Cowles
(Motions to his endmen that it’s time for Penny to be going.) Ladies and gentlemen, let’s have a round of applause for this clever little lady as my two able assistants escort her away.

Penny
Escort me away? We was just gettin’ started. Did you ever hear the one about…

(Bones and Tambo carry Penny off right.)

Dr. Cowles
And now, if you will watch closely… (Continues in silent pantomime.)

Chip

(Enters left.) Penny? Penny? I didn’t find you at the hardware store. Where are you? I think we might get booked at The Palace, but they want both of us together. So do I, actually.

(Exits right as the curtain closes. Bones and Tambo enter right with Penny and escort her across the apron.)

Penny
What’s the big idea, fellas? I wanted to see the rest of the show.

Bones
Yeah? Well, the three of us is gonna take a little walk instead. Say, has anyone ever told you you look a lot like the dummy in that ventriloquist act? What’s her name? Penny. Chip and Penny.

Penny
No, actually. Nobody’s ever told me I look like her on account of I am her.

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