A Winter’s Seige
About the play
This play should come across as a dramatized memoir. The piece came to me as I thought about my own family experience, as well as the idea that as we age we become in many ways like our parents, taking on the hierarchal roles as one generation dies off and another ages to take the place of the patriarchal (or matriarchal) role in the family. In this piece, we have 59 year old Joseph Kahl coming to visit his aging father. Yet before he enters the home, he pulls out Shakespeare’s Sonnets, a collection of work with which he has had a love-hate relationship throughout most of his academic and professional career. As he aged, growing in both wisdom and experience (though not always maturity as you’ll see in the play), his appreciation of the Sonnets grew as well. It is through the wisdom of Shakespeare that he approaches his own memories, seeking to understand each one while still holding on to some of his own youthful cockiness and sarcasm. The opening scene presents us with Joseph’s own issues, both as a teen and as an adult, with the hierarchal order of his family. As the play progresses, his own arc and that of his father’s will climax in two big reveals: the death of Willis Kahl, Joseph’s grandfather, and the steady onset and decline in the mental health of Edward Kahl, Joseph’s father. Each scene, like the scene you are about to read, will be arranged in parallel fashion so as to further develop the themes within this play.
While other characters, such as Joseph’s grandmother, who died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as Joseph’s mother and sister, these have not been thought up as of yet.
To what degree the Sonnets will be thematically woven into the story, I am not certain, but this scene will certainly not be the only moment in which they appear.
(OLD) Joseph Kahl
59; teacher of high school English Literature and Drama. He is the play’s narrator.
The following characters are played in the past as Joseph Kahl narrates the action, looking back on each scene as a part of his memory.
(YOUNG) Joseph Kahl
19; a younger version, as in memory
49; his father.
75; Joseph’s grandfather and Edward’s father. When he speaks, his voice is gruff and much louder than everyone else’s. He should come across as generally grumpy.
17; Joseph’s Brother
45; Joseph’s uncle and Edward’s brother
(OLD JOSEPH enters. He is reading from a book, a complete collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets, small enough to fit in his back pocket. It is tattered, suggesting that this is a book he carries with him wherever he goes. Behind him, the framing of a house. This is where the play’s action takes place in memory. OLD JOSEPH stops center stage in front of the house.)
When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery, so gaz’d on now,
Will be a tatter’d weed, of small worth held
(Holding the book up and looking at the audience.)
Ha! Shakespeare’s Sonnet 2. I didn’t have much of an appreciation for it when I was a teen. When I got to college, I still didn’t. Not for his Sonnet’s anyway. Though my professors certainly helped to kindle some appreciation for his work in theatre classes. I only hope I can do the same for my own students. I doubt it. At least not in the present. Teenagers: youth’s proud livery soon to be nothing more than a tatter’d weed besieged by forty winters. (Making a sweeping gesture of himself) Exhibit A.
(He gestures toward the house behind him. It lights up with activity. EDWARD and WILLIS enter. WILLIS is shuffling a deck of cards in his hands. He and EDWARD sit at a card table set up in the living room. DAVID is in the kitchen busy putting snacks together on a tray.)
Oh. Exhibit B, my father. And Exhibit C, my grandfather. He’s dead now. Not in this scene, I mean. But now, in the present. Just so there’s no confusion. Dead 30 years ago.
(DAVID exits kitchen with a tray and enters living room.)
Oh. Exhibit D, my uncle. My father and uncle, would you believe are in their mid to late 40s? Good genes. They are still mistaken for being in their 30s. Not sure what happened to me. Must be my healthy regiment of cigars and scotch.
(While the three men at the card table pass around the snacks and sample them,OLD JOSEPH crosses the stage and sits on a bench off to the side of the house. He pulls out a
cigar, sniffs it, drawing in its scent. Shrugging his shoulder, he places the cigar in his mouth.)
But enough about me, at least for the present.
(Lights dim on OLD JOSEPH and brighten on the living room.)
WILLIS: (to EDWARD) Where’s Joey and Paul?
OLD JOSEPH: Joey. I always hated that name. Joe. Joseph. Not Joey.
EDWARD: They’ll be here. I told you.
DAVID: (Laughing. Munching on chips) You said that fifteen minutes ago.
EDWARD: C’mon. Let’s just pass out the cards.
WILLIS: (Grumbling as he begins to pass out the cards) Can’t even keep a handle on your own kids.
DAVID: Pop. The boys are playing, too. If Ed says they’ll be here. They’ll be here.
(WILLIS, in mid-pass, glares at DAVID, then at EDWARD. He continues to pass out the cards for three.)
EDWARD: What’re you doing?
WILLIS: They’re not coming. I told you.
(The game commences)
Then being ask’d where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days
(Musing) Yes. Where? Where were the treasures of my father’s lusty days? I can’t. Remember. (Smiling) Probably out hanging with friends. This was winter break right after my first semester of college. (shuddering) The holidays. Family obligations. You know how it goes. (Beat. Turning toward the house) Ah. Here we are.
(YOUNG JOSEPH and PAUL enter from the front door of the house, which opens into the living room. Quickly, they strip off their winter coats. EDWARD stands and approaches.)
EDWARD: Where’ve you two been?
YOUNG JOSEPH and PAUL: (Exchanging a glance) Out. (They giggle)
EDWARD: You smell like pot.
OLD JOSEPH: Shit! I forgot about that.
OLD JOSEPH and YOUNG JOSEPH: (Giggling. YOUNG JOSEPH hits PAUL on the shoulder.) Guilty as charged.
EDWARD: (Closer, as if to intimidate YOUNG JOSEPH) Please don’t. Not today. Your grandfather’s here. (YOUNG JOSEPH goes complete deadpan) He’s got prostate cancer you know. So please be kind.
YOUNG JOSEPH: (Looking at PAUL) We will.
(EDWARD shifts his gaze and glares at PAUL.)
PAUL: (Rolls his eyes and lets out a loud sigh) Geez. Dad. Really?
YOUNG JOSEPH: Fine. What’re we playing?
EDWARD: Ask your grandfather.
(EDWARD turns and YOUNG JOSEPH and PAUL follow.)
OLD JOSEPH: You know. It really wasn’t my idea. The pot, I mean. It was my brother’s. He’s the wild one in the family. I only went along because… well… damn. That shit was really good. But I digress:
To say, within thine own deep sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.
DAVID: Pop. The boys are here. I told you.
WILLIS: (Grunting) I suppose you want to play.
YOUNG JOSEPH: (Sitting) Ummm… yeah. Good to see you grandpa.
WILLIS: (Waving his hand as if swatting away YOUNG JOSEPH’S remark) It’s Spades. You know how to play?
EDWARD: Yeah, pop. They know how to play. We played last-
WILLIS: Will you shut up and let the boy speak?
(Silence. Everyone awkwardly staring at each other while simultaneously avoiding WILLIS’S cold glare.)
YOUNG JOSEPH: (Realizing all eyes are on him) Yeah. 13 cards each. We bid tricks. No more than 13 total.
WILLIS: (Narrowed eyes) That’s right. (Looking around the table) We have too many players.
PAUL: It’s okay. I’ll go.
EDWARD: No.You sit. (Looking to DAVE) Dave?
DAVID: (He has been diving into the snacks this whole time. He realizes he’s been asked a question) Oh. Sure. I’ll sit out. Maybe deal.
WILLIS: I’ll deal. Joey, you’re on my team.
(WILLIS deals. Each player grabs his cards, examining them closely, until all have been passed out. DAVID should watch and eat with silent amusement in the following.)
YOUNG JOSEPH: 6
WILLIS: You can’t bid six.
YOUNG JOSEPH: Why not?
WILLIS: It only leaves 3 tricks left.
YOUNG JOSEPH: So…
PAUL: It’s okay. I’ll bid three. I think I can get three.
WILLIS: (Pounding the table) You can’t. That’s too many.
YOUNG JOSEPH: We can’t? Why? Because it’s against your rules? Your way of playing?
WILLIS: Don’t talk to me about rules. I’ve been playing this game longer than you’ve been alive. I’ve won big in the casino. What have you done?
YOUNG JOSEPH: I… fine… four. What’re you bidding?
WILLIS: (Growling) 2.
(The game commences. OLD JOSEPH looks on with amusement. He cuts his cigar.)
OLD JOSEPH: You mind if I smoke? (Puts the cigar in his mouth, ignites a lighter and holds it close to the cigar, but not close enough to light it. He puts out the light.) No. You’re right. Crowded theatre. Someone’s bound to complain. (Puts away the lighter, but keeps the cigar out, occasionally sucking on the cut end.) Watch this.
WILLIS: You can’t do that!
YOUNG JOSEPH: I told you I’d get six tricks.
WILLIS: (Throwing the cards down) Game over!
(The players all stare in stunned silence at WILLIS as he gets up)
PAUL: God! This is why I hate playing with him.
EDWARD: (Following WILLIS into the living room) C’mon Pop. It’s just a game.
OLD JOSEPH: (with a chuckle) How much more praise deserv’d thy beauty’s use.
DAVID: (Congratulatory) Nice work, Joey. He hates to lose.
YOUNG JOSEPH: But we’re on the same team. We won this time.
DAVID: (Grabbing WILLIS’S hand) Looks like he had a few tricks still to play.
(EDWARD comes over, leaving WILLIS in the living room. EDWARD stands at the table and stares at YOUNG JOSEPH)
YOUNG JOSEPH and OLD JOSEPH: (Returning EDWARD’S gaze)
If thou couldn’t answer – ‘This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse-’
(EDWARD turns and walks into the kitchen. DAVID follows.)
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
(The frame of the house dims to shadows, leaving the scene frozen as if in time.)
OLD JOSEPH: You see, he couldn’t. My dad, that is. Never a job well done. Nothing.
(The frame of the house dims to black. OLD JOSEPH stands and walks to center stage.)
Which brings us to this point. Like my father before me, I go to make my obligatory visit. But we don’t play cards. No. Never cards. His game is Backgammon. Sometimes he wins. Sometimes I do.
(OLD JOSEPH steps into the frame of the house and the lights come up. EDWARD, much older now, is sitting at the same table with Backgammon open before him. OLD JOSEPH sits.)
It’s your turn, Pop.
(EDWARD grunts. And makes his move. OLD JOSEPH does the same. The game continues in this way as OLD JOSEPH speaks, looking directly at, but not speaking to EDWARD.)
This were to be new-made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold.