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The Woodcutter

  • Post category:Prose

Note from the Editor: The inspiration from Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard forms the basis of this play, but it is Leonardo’s voice that colors it and makes it their own. 


A One-Act Play inspired by Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard

Winner of Modern Language and Foreign Literature’s ChekovFest Writing ContestCharacters:
BENNY – Owner of the mountain home in West Virginia.
BETTY – BENNY’s twin sister.
BURMA – BENNY’s wife.
SHIRLEY – BETTY and BENNY’s older sister.
JOY – BETTY and BENNY’s cousin.
JERRY – JOY’s husband.
SceneBENNYSHIRLEYJOY, and JERRY are sitting on the wooden porch outside BENNY’s home in the mountains of West Virginia. There are two empty rocking chairs, indicating places for other characters. There is a screen door behind the chairs that leads to the kitchen. It is February. The characters are dressed in layers – hats, scarves, etc. – but shed them as the scene goes on. They are holding mugs of coffee. 
JOY: I seen on the news this morning that it will get up to 78 degrees today.
SHIRLEY: I hope the woodcutter gets here before the heat hits. Else he’ll burn up.
JOY: I believe this time last year there was snow out in the mountains when the woodcutter came. Now it seems like everything’s already in bloom.
SHIRLEY: That’s true. The dogwood trees done got some little white flowers. And I can see the pink petals peeking through on Burma’s tulips.
BENNY: That may be so. But the woodcutter’s still gotta get us through the winter.
SHIRLEY: That’s right. He always comes in February to get us through the winter.
JOY: (taking off her hat and fixing her hair) Warm weather don’t mean he shouldn’t come.
Enter BETTY. She is already dressed in spring clothes and has considerably more energy and spunk than the others.
BETTY: (coming through the screen door, fanning herself) Shew, it’s getting hot out here. Y’all oughta trade that coffee for some iced tea, don’t you reckon?
SHIRLEY: Yes that’s a good idea.
JOY: I’d like some, too.
BENNY: I’m fine with the coffee.
JOY: (looking at JERRY, who is reading a newspaper) What about you Jerry?
JERRY: Well… I suppose this coffee is fine.
BETTY: (playfully) You men are awfully stubborn now. Shirley, Joy, let me take those mugs in for you.
JOY and SHIRLEY hand over their mugs.
SHIRLEY: Why thank you, Betty. (begins unwrapping her scarf) You’re a doll –
BETTY: Hey, just because we’re switching to iced tea doesn’t mean we should waste this good coffee. (laughing) I guess I’ll have to finish these off for you.
(BETTY gulps down one mug of coffee, then begins sipping on the other.)
BETTY: You know I heard on Dr. Oz the other day that coffee is good for your heart.
JOY: (nodding in agreement) Well you know Jerry drinks a whole pot of coffee every morning and his heart is beating great. His blood pressure ain’t so high these days either. Isn’t that right, Jerry?
JERRY: (uninterested, slightly distractedHmm… I guess so.
SHIRLEY: I don’t know. I heard on the radio last week that some line worker out in Nebraska drank so much coffee one day he had a heart attack. Died right there on the spot.
BETTY: (stops sipping for a moment) Are they sure it was due to the coffee?
SHIRLEY: That’s what they said. Although I guess you never can be sure.
BETTY: Well… I’ll take my chances. Can’t let this go to waste! (gulps down the last of the coffee) Now I’ll go get you ladies some sweet tea. (twirls around, reaching for the door)
BENNY: Hey Betty (unbuttoning his coat), when did Burma say lunch would be ready?
BETTY: After the woodcutter gets here. You know Burma likes to let him eat with us.
BENNY: Oh, that’s right. When’s he gonna get here then?
BETTY: Could be any minute. He usually shows up around this time of the morning. Right before you get too hungry. (goes inside the house) 
SHIRLEY: (shedding her shawl) Hopefully he gets here soon. It’s gonna be hot before too long.
BENNY: Don’t worry about him, he’s strong enough.
SHIRLEY: I suppose so, yes.
BENNY: You oughta be worrying about Betty. She has so much energy it makes me nervous.
JOY: Well she was head majorette in high school. She still has all that spunk in her.
BENNY: That was over 50 years ago. She probably just drinks too much coffee.
JOY: Well you know she can still do that cartwheel and catch the baton behind her back.
SHIRLEY: Oh, I love watching her tricks! Let’s ask her to do one of them fancy flips when she gets back out here.
BENNY: Don’t encourage it, she’s liable1 to break something.
SHIRLEY: She stood on her head for us after supper last Sunday!
BENNY: Yes, but what happens the first time she can’t do it anymore? She’s gonna hurt herself.
SHIRLEY: She’s not so fragile, Benny.
BETTY enters again, two glasses of iced tea in hand. 
BETTY: Here you ladies go. Now give me all those hats and scarves and whatnot and I’ll hang them up inside.
SHIRLEYJOY, and JERRY remove the last of their winter clothes and hand them over to BETTYShe drapes the coats and scarves over her arm.
JERRY: (as BETTY is taking the clothes) Thank you, Betty.
JOY: Yes, thank you. You know, I really can’t believe this hot weather!
SHIRLEY: This year we’ve got a February spring!
BETTY: (laughing) February spring, that sounds about right. (looking at BENNY) Alright, come on Benny, hand over that old coat.
BENNY: I’m fine.
BETTY: Really now, you’ll be sweating like a pig.
BENNY: I said I’m fine.
BETTY: Suit yourself. But in ten minutes you’re gonna be asking me to take it inside for you.
BENNY: No I won’t.
BETTY: (playfully placing a hat on her head) Whatever you say. (goes back inside)
JOY: She sure does have an awful lot of energy. In and out, constantly on her feet.
BENNY: What did I tell ya?
JOY: Well, it doesn’t make me nervous though. I wish I still had that kind of youth. And to think, I’m younger than her!
SHIRLEY: You have plenty of youth left in you, Joy. Just look at your skin! You barely have a wrinkle on your face.
JOY: Oh, that’s not true…
SHIRLEY: It is! I’m all pruned up and you’re as fresh as ever.
JOY: Well, if you say so. Thank you. I still wish I had half the energy Betty has.
BENNY: We oughta put her out in the field to chop that wood. At least we could eat lunch quicker.
JOY: She does still mow her own lawn… and with a push-mower to boot!
SHIRLEY: We’re not putting Betty out in the yard! I’m sure the woodcutter will be here soon. At least I hope so. I do worry about him being out in the heat.
Enter BURMA, a glass of iced tea in hand. She takes a seat in the empty rocking chair next to BENNY.
BURMA: (as she enters and takes her seat) Alright, I got that pot roast in the slow cooker since yesterday evening and it’s just about done. Everything else is ready to go. Now I can just enjoy the fresh air until the woodcutter gets here.
BENNY: How about one of them biscuits as a snack? I’ve been smelling them all morning.
BURMA: We should wait for the woodcutter. You know he likes my biscuits, too. If you get started on them they’ll all be gone by the time he gets here.
BENNY: What he don’t know won’t hurt him.
BURMA: Benny, just be a little more patient.
Enter BETTY, nibbling on a fresh biscuit. She moves to the empty rocking chair between SHIRLEY and JOY, but she doesn’t take a seat.  
BETTY: (as she enters) Burma, you know I love these fresh biscuits! Mmm-mmm! I have been trying to make them like you for years but they always come out terrible.
BENNY: Maybe you oughta quit trying.
BURMA: Benny! What he means is you can come over and eat biscuits with us whenever you like.
BENNY: Well if she gets to eat one now, then we should all get one. What do you say, Jerry?
JERRY: It don’t really matter to me. I’d eat a biscuit but I can wait, too.
BENNY: Well that settles it then. Betty, why don’t you bring us all a biscuit to snack on?
BETTY: Sure thing! (takes a bite of her biscuit) Boy, I sure do love these. (she twirls around and makes her way back to the door)
BURMA: (as BETTY is going in the house) Just make sure you save some for the woodcutter!
JOY: Well, you know, I shouldn’t be eating too many biscuits anyway. I seen in a magazine that cutting down on bread helps you lose weight. I’ve been trying to lose a few pounds.
SHIRLEY: Joy, I don’t know what you’re worrying for!
JOY: Easy for you to say! You’re skinny as a rail.
SHIRLEY: But I’m also crooked as a question mark. I’d rather have a little meat on my bones and be able to stand up straight.
JOY: There’s nothing wrong with you, Shirley. We’re all family here, and we’re all beautiful in the eyes of the Lord.
BENNY: The Lord must not see too well, then.
BURMA: Benny! That’s enough. Don’t make me get up out of this chair.
BENNY: Yes ma’am.
Enter BETTY, a plate of biscuits in hand. She hands them to JERRY and he takes one and passes the plate along. She gets to her seat just in time to snatch one as the plate goes down the line. 
BETTY: (as she’s passing off the plate) Here we go! Fresh biscuits for everyone! (as she’s hurriedly sitting down) And one more for me!
JOY: Burma, these biscuits are delicious as always.
SHIRLEY: Yes, indeed!
BURMA: Well you’re all very welcome. Can’t have a big family meal without everyone’s favorite part.
JOY: I guess the last time we all got together for a meal was when the woodcutter came in October.
BETTY: We really oughta get together as a family more often.
JOY: You’re right, Betty.
SHIRLEY: That would be nice. I always look forward to our family meals.
BENNY: Well, I look forward to the meal we got waiting inside right now. I wish the woodcutter would hurry up and get here so we could go ahead and eat and he could get to work.
SHIRLEY: That sun’s gonna be beating down right on him! Bless his heart!
BENNY: (adjusting his coat) I don’t care if it’s hot enough to burn the fleas off a dog’s ass, I just want my damn wood chopped. That old cherry tree fell down in November after that big frost tore it right in two and it’s just been laying there in the middle of the yard waiting for the woodcutter. Along with everything else that’s gotta be chopped.
BETTY: What a shame that old cherry tree came down.
JOY: Yes, a real shame. I’ll hate to see it get drug out to the pasture.
BURMA: You remember years ago when the woodcutter would bring his guitar and strum for hours upon hours under that cherry tree? I used to love to sit out here and listen to him play and sing those songs…
SHIRLEY: Oh yes, I do recall that music.
BETTY: Always a nice treat.
JOY: He hasn’t brought that guitar along in years.
BURMA: He’d skip dessert and come out here and play til the sun set.
SHIRLEY: I remember that!
BETTY: Some great evenings we had here.
JOY: I wonder why he doesn’t bring it along anymore.
BURMA: There was that one song about the running horses that was always my favorite —
BETTY: Oh! I remember when the woodcutter was just a boy and he got his kite stuck in that cherry tree.
SHIRLEY: I remember that, too. Springtime. Tree was in full bloom.
JOY: I bet it would be blooming right now along with the dogwoods if it hadn’t split in two…
BENNY: Well it ain’t springtime yet. We could still get another frost this year.
BETTY: I wouldn’t count on it! I’m just roasting out here!
BURMA: Oh, speaking of roasting (standing up), I better go turn the pot roast off and set it out with the vegetables.
SHIRLEY: Let me come in and help you. I should get my potato salad out of the fridge. (stands up)
JOY: I’ll help, too. (stands up) Oh, and Jerry, could you go grab that box out of the car with the chips and crackers in it?
JERRY: Sure.
BURMASHIRLEY, and JOY make their way into the kitchen. JERRY exits stage leftThe stage seems abruptly empty. Only BENNY and BETTY remain in their seats. 
BENNY: Well I guess we’ll be eating soon in any case.
BETTY: The woodcutter will probably get here right on time to join us.
BENNY: You know, he’s an odd one that woodcutter.
BETTY: I guess so… He just has his own way of doing things, that’s all.
BENNY: That’s one way to put it.
BETTY: Well he is always here for us, same time twice a year to chop this wood. He’s the only one that can do it.
BENNY: The rest of us is either too old or too fat.
BETTY: (laughing) Benny, that’s not nice!
BENNY: What? Dwayne and Randy couldn’t get out here and do this. Nevermind they’re the same age as the woodcutter.
BETTY: Well, I suppose you’re right.
BENNY: And they live nearby. They should be the ones out here chopping up this wood. But they just ain’t capable.
BETTY: Especially not in this heat…
BENNY: They’d be sweating like a couple of fat hogs.
BETTY: (teasingly) Like you in that big old coat?
Sound of footsteps stage right.
BENNY: Very funny. I ain’t sweating anyway. You know it ain’t really springtime yet –
BETTY: (interrupting, looking stage rightWell look who’s here…
ThWOODCUTTER enters from stage right. He is dressed in a flannel shirt, jeans, and boots. He is carrying a splitting ax. 
WOODCUTTER: Hello mom. Hello Uncle Benny.
BENNY and BETTY: Hello there!
BENNY: Glad to see you finally made it.
BETTY: How was the drive up?
WOODCUTTER: Not too bad. Long.
BETTY: Ain’t you burning up in that flannel?
WOODCUTTER: It is rather warm out here. I suppose I should take it off before I get to work.
BETTY: (standing up) Well come on inside first, we’re just about to eat lunch!
BENNY: Yeah, Burma said we had better wait on you to get here.
WOODCUTTER: I think I should go ahead and get to work and eat after. It will be hot today.
BENNY: Well suit yourself. But we ain’t waiting for you to finish. (stands up) 
BETTY: Don’t worry, we’ll save you plenty to eat.
WOODCUTTER: Alright, I’ll look forward to it.
BENNY: Okay Betty, let’s get some food. I’m starving.
BETTY: (as they make their way inside) I know, I know. You’ve been patient enough. (over her shoulder, towards the WOODCUTTERLet us know if we can get you an iced tea or anything.
WOODCUTTER: Thank you. I will.
BENNY and BETTY enter the house. Lights slowly begin to fade. The WOODCUTTER makes his way across the porch, noticing the empty rocking chairs still moving. Chatter and sounds of glasses clinking together and plates being set out comes from inside the house. The WOODCUTTER pauses for a moment and looks over his shoulder at the door from stage left. Exits. Stillness for a moment. Lights continue to fade to the sound of very faint chatter from the house and the increasing sound of the ax chopping wood. Blackout. Pause. Silence.


Actor’s notes: BENNY may come across as gruff, but he should be a very playful character. Shining eyes, good spirit, cracking jokes. He is not mean or nasty, even though he can be short and sarcastic. It is all in good humor, and his family understands his personality.

Staging Notes: Order of characters’ seats is as follows, left to right (stage right to stage left)BURMABENNYSHIRLEYBETTYJOYJERRY. For seats, BURMABENNY, and BETTY should have rocking chairs. SHIRLEYJOY, and JERRY can have benches or regular chairs.