The History of Why the Chicken Crossed the Road, de Jennye James



CHARACTERS -
CLARK
ELIZABETH


SETTING
- Office of Knickerbocker Magazine in New York City, 1847



[At rise we see a small print shop with a large desk, a printing press, and papers stacked everywhere. There is a window looking out on New York City. We see that the sun is setting. LEWIS CLARK sits reading at the desk. He is wearing a suit that is unkempt. A clock chimes. CLARK looks up to see what time it is.]


CLARK: Elizabeth! Elizabeth, hurry up with that. The draft is due in an hour!


[ELIZABETH rushes in carrying a large stack of papers. She is wearing a simple dress and an apron smeared with ink.]


ELIZABETH: Here they are sir …


[Just before she reaches the desk, she trips and the papers go flying.]


CLARK: Elizabeth! Must you be so clumsy.

ELIZABETH: I’m sorry sir. So sorry. [ELIZABETH begins to pick the papers up off the floor.] It’s just been a long day.

CLARK: Yes it has been. And it will be even longer if you don’t hurry up! You know how these writers get if the magazine isn’t on schedule. If The Knickerbocker is even one day late they will have my head …


[ELIZABETH finishes gathering the spilled pages and sets them in front of CLARK.]


ELIZABETH: I’m sorry Mr. Clark. I will be back in jiff with your tea.


[ELIZABETH exits. CLARK begins to sift through the pages. Music begins to play softly.]


CLARK: What a mess that girl … Elizabeth. I swear sometimes … I don’t know why I hired her.

[He sings.]
SHE’S CLUMSY
SHE’S LATE
SHE’S WAY TOO CHEERFUL
THAT GIRL …
HER TEA IS AWFUL
I’D RATHER DRINK COFFEE, UGGH
HER SPELLING’S ATROCIOUS
HER WRITING EVEN WORSE
THAT GIRL

I DON’T KNOW WHY
ELIZABETH …
THAT GIRL


[ELIZABETH returns with the tea, narrowly avoiding a second spill. She sets it on the desk.]


ELIZABETH: Anything else sir?

CLARK: No. No that’s all.


[ELIZABETH begins to exit, but just before she gets off stage, CLARK calls her name.]


CLARK: Elizabeth!

ELIZABETH: Yes Mr. Clark?


[CLARK picks up a page and points to it.]


CLARK: What is this?

ELIZABETH: A riddle, sir.

CLARK: A riddle?

ELIZABETH: Yes. You told me just last week that I could write one riddle for this next edition …

CLARK: I did?

ELIZABETH: Yes Mr. Clark.

CLARK: Hmmf. And this is your riddle?

ELIZABETH: Yes.

CLARK: I don’t like it.

ELIZABETH: You don’t?

CLARK: No I don’t.

ELIZABETH: Does that mean you are not going to print it…? I worked so hard.

CLARK: Hard work alone does not merit a place in my magazine. It must be worthy as well. And most importantly … I must like it. Otherwise what kind of an editor would I be?

ELIZABETH: [To herself] A fair one …

CLARK: I’m sorry Elizabeth. I just think this particular riddle is … well … bad. If you can come up with another within the hour I will consider printing it. Otherwise … there is always next month.

ELIZABETH: There is no way I can come up with another in an hour! Are you sure you won’t consider this one? Do you even understand it?

CLARK: How dare you question my understanding!

ELIZABETH: What I mean is … will you let me tell the story behind it?

CLARK: We haven’t the time.

ELIZABETH: Please Mr. Clark! It will only take a minute or two. Maybe after I explain it then you will underst … like it better.

CLARK: Alright, you have two minutes to convince me that this riddle is indeed a valuable addition to this edition. Although I’m not sure how much that it is going to do …


[Music begins playing softly as she speaks.]


ELIZABETH: Thank you Mr. Clark! You see it all started on Monday morning … I was running late …

CLARK: You are always running late …

ELIZABETH: Anyways … I was coming down Forty-fifth between Broadway and Sixth I think … when all of the sudden this thing appeared out of nowhere and ran across the road … nearly tripping me …

CLARK: Doesn’t take much to do that …

ELIZABETH: [Sings.] THIS THING
A BLUR I COULD NOT SEE
RAN RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME

WHAT WAS I TO DO?
WHAT HAD CAUSED MY SLIP?
WHAT HAD INTERUPTED MY MORNING TRIP?
WHEN I LOOKED TO SEE
WHAT HAD STARTLED ME
ALL THAT WAS THERE
WAS A LITTLE CHICKEN

CLARK: A chicken?
ELIZABETH: A CHICKEN HAD CROSSED THE ROAD
I BEGAN TO CONTEMPLATE

WHERE WAS HE GOING?
WAS HE LATE?
WHY DID THE CHICKEN CROSS THE ROAD?

CLARK: That makes no sense …

ELIZABETH: Exactly!


[Sings.]


WHY DOES A CHICKEN CROSS THE ROAD? I SAID
THE PEOPLE, THEY ANSWERED

THE BUTCHER, HE SAID
TO AVOID MY KNIFE

THE HUSBAND, HE SAID
TO FLEE FROM THE WIFE

THE GROCER, HE SAID
TO GET TO THE GRAIN

THE BAKER, HE SAID
JUST TO BE A PAIN

THE MAID, SHE SAID
TO SEE WHAT IT’S LIKE

THE WORKER, HE SAID
GOIN’ ON STRIKE

THE POET, HE SAID
I DON’T KNOW WHY

AND YOU KNOW
NEITHER DID I

Why does a chicken cross the road? Where could he possibly go?

THE CARPENTER, HE SAID
TO GET A PINT

THE WIFE, SHE SAID
HE GOT A FRIGHT

BUT THE PAINTER
OH HE WAS BRIGHT
A GREAT IDEA, HE HAD
WHAT IF?
WHAT IF IT CROSSED?
TO GET TO THE OTHER SIDE

I THOUGHT AND THOUGHT
AND DECIDED
THAT THIS CONUNDRUM
THIS MYSTERY
MAYBE, JUST MIGHT
MAKE A GOOD RIDDLE

CLARK: But does it? I still don’t know if I like it.

ELIZABETH: But Mr. Clark…


[Music begins.]


CLARK: Don’t “but Mr. Clark” me.


[Sings.]

ELIZABETH
DEAR LITTLE ELIZABETH
YOU ARE SO YOUNG
SO NEW IN THIS WORLD

ELIZABETH: But…
CLARK: DON’T FRET
YOU’LL GROW
YOU’LL LEARN
YOU
WILL
SEEEEE
YOU WILL SEE
MY DEAR
THAT THIS WORLD
THIS PLACE THAT WE LIVE
IS HARD TO UNDERSTAND
BUT YOU MUST
KEEP A COOL HEAD
SO AS NOT TO SEEM
LIKE A GIRL
A GIRL WHO DOESN'T KNOOOWWW

KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE
TO LEARN ABOUT
DIFFERENT THINGS
TO KNOW WHY
THE SKY IS BLUE
THE GRASS IS GREEN

IT’S A PRIVILEGE
TO KNOW
TO LEARN
TO UNDERSTAND
TO BE A SCHOLAR
NOT FOR EVERYONE
IT ISN’T

ELIZABETH: But I want to know …

CLARK: What do you want to know, my dear? I will tell you.

ELIZABETH: I want to know everything.

CLARK: Well I can’t tell you that … There’s not the time and I must return to my work.

ELIZABETH: Wait! I have one more thing to say about the riddle.

CLARK: Alright. One more thing. I still don’t like it though.

ELIZABETH: I was thinking just now … what if the chicken? What if it’s like everything?

CLARK: What do you mean child?

ELIZABETH: What if the chicken crossing the road is like everything? The same as the reason we do anything. Like why we print a magazine every month.

CLARK: We print the magazine because people read it.

ELIZABETH: But is that really why? Why do people read? Why do they do anything? What if the chicken crossed the road, just because others did before him. Just because that’s all he knew how to do. What if it was just to fill his time?

CLARK: Elizabeth. Are you suggesting that this riddle is akin to the great question of the universe?

ELIZABETH: I don’t know … What is the great question of the universe?

CLARK: “For what purpose do we do the things we do throughout our life?” The meaning of life, child.

ELIZABETH: Then I guess I am.

CLARK: Hogwash!

ELIZABETH: What?

CLARK: I still don’t like it. Come up with another for next month and we will see.

ELIZABETH: But Mr….

CLARK: No. No. You go finish cleaning the types. You may go when you finish.

ELIZABETH: Yes sir. I will see you tomorrow.


[ELIZABETH exits and CLARK returns to his work.]


CLARK: Now. Where was I? Ahhh. “Why did the chicken cross the road? A riddle by…”


[CLARK takes his pen and crosses out ELIZABETH’s name and replaces it with his own.]


“Lewis Clark.”


[Blackout.]

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