As a high school drama coach and director, Linda Howard Cooke sometimes had a hard time finding plays she liked enough to produce. Following the old adage, “If you want it done right, do it yourself,” she started writing scripts that provided strong roles for female students. 

 

As a result, “Death by Public Speaking” came out in 2014 through Brooklyn Publishers. Brooklyn published her one-act comedy in 2016 titled, “I’m a Princess – Get Me out of Here!” in 2016 and 

“Operation: Dessert Storm” in 2019. 

 

In the summer of 2019, the Angels Theatre Collective in Lincoln, Nebraska produced two of Linda’s short comedies, "It's a Worry-full Life" and "Playbill, Play Ball." Elderidge Publishing released "Playbill, Play Ball" in December 2019.

Three Characters Attempting to Avoid Suicide (on the Gary Stringer Show)

Linda Howard Cooke

Characters

Gary Stringer- tabloid TV talk show host

Gustave Flaubert- author of Madame Bovary

Leo Tolstoy- author of Anna Karenina

Kate Chopin- author of The Awakening

Emma Bovary- Flaubert’s fictional character 

Anna Karenina- Tolstoy’s fictional character

Edna Pontellier- Chopin’s fictional character

2 Security guards- break up the fights (non-speaking)

Security 1- runs a special errand for Kate

Audience- teens and twenty-somethings stir up fights between guests (may be offstage voices)

Authors and fictional characters may have accents – French for Gus and Emma, Russian for Leo and Anna, American for Kate and Edna.

Costumes

Authors and fictional characters may wear costumes appropriate to the time period in which they lived (or were written), or wear very simple, monochromatic costumes.

Gary – suit and tie

Security – black jeans and t-shirts that say “Security”

Audience – modern dress

Set

A TV Tabloid talk show: a stage with six chairs

Chairs for audience members

Maybe cameras, boom microphones, monitors (optional)

 

Props

Hand mic

One or two water pitchers, six drinking glasses

 

Sound effects

Boxing bell

Theme music for show opening

AT RISE:  Theme music. A title card warns “This show may contain immature content.” ANNA, EMMA and EDNA are seated onstage. GARY enters [via a stripper pole, if possible]. Audience stands, pumping their fists in the air and chanting "Ga-ry!, Ga-ry!". GARY shakes hands with some in the front row of the audience. The audience sits and settles down.

GARY

Thanks everyone, for tuning in to “The Gary Stinger Show.” Today’s episode, like all our episodes – deals with cheaters and revenge! Our first guest today is Emma. Tell us about yourself, Emma.

EMMA

Well, Gary, I was born in France.

GARY

Oo la la, Frenchie!

EMMA

(embarrassed for Gary)

Ah, yes. My husband and I lived in a small village where he had a medical practice. I was a stay-at-home mom to my little girl. 

GARY

And when was this?

EMMA

Oh, about a hundred and sixty years ago.

GARY

I know what you mean. Some days I feel so old...

EMMA

No, seriously, it literally was over a century ago. And let me tell you, country life in 1856 was a total snooze fest. I wanted more … and eventually I had an affair.

AUDIENCE

Ooo!

GARY

Juicy! Now let’s meet Anna, our second guest for today. What’s your story, Anna?

ANNA

I come from Russia, Gary. I had a little boy, and like Emma, I was a full-time mother. My husband was a government official. 

GARY

Did he work for the Reds? Are you a commie?

ANNA

What? No! I was born only about twenty years after Emma here. The Communist revolution was long after my time.

GARY

Hmmm… Well, let’s say I believe you … for now. Please go on with your story … [under his breath] … pinko.

ANNA

Like Emma, I became dissatisfied with my circumstances, and had an affair with another man.

AUDIENCE

Ooo!

GARY

And are you here to confess to your husband about the affair?

ANNA

No, I already came clean with Alexei. I asked for a divorce, as a matter of fact.

GARY

 How did he respond?

ANNA

He refused; he wanted to keep up the appearance of a happy marriage for the sake of his career. Eventually my situation became unbearable, and I committed suicide by throwing myself under a train.

GARY

(nodding calmly)

Emma, did you have a similar experience?

EMMA

Well, my husband never found out about the affairs –

GARY

Affairs? Plural?

AUDIENCE

(ad lib) 

Ooo! Skank! Ho! Tramp! Etc...

EMMA

Two, yes. My husband was clueless and never knew, but I did commit suicide, just as Anna did, except I poisoned myself with arsenic.

GARY

(Unable to come up with an intelligent response) 

Wow. Yeah, wow. Well, that brings us to our third guest today. Her name is Edna, and she’s from the good ole’ U.S. of A. Welcome, Edna. Tell us about yourself.

EDNA

Thank you, Gary. I was born in 1899, so I suppose that makes me the baby of the group. Like Emma and Anna, life as merely a wife and mother had become meaningless for me, so I too sought solace in the arms of another man.

AUDIENCE

Ooo!

GARY

Did you husband discover your affair?

EDNA

Affairs, plural, Gary. Two – just like Emma.

AUDIENCE

(Again, ad lib

Ooo! Skank! Ho! Tramp! Etc...

GARY

Did the affair bring you … satisfaction? 

EDNA

Not so much. In the end he left me, and I drowned myself.

GARY

Well, I’m sure we’re all sensing a pattern here. So ladies, kindly tell our audience what brings you all here today.

ANNA

We want to confront our authors about the pathetic way they wrote us.

AUDIENCE

Ga-ry! Ga-ry! Ga-ry!

GARY

Okay then, fair enough. Let’s bring out our next group of guests: Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary; Leo Tolstoy, author of Anna Karenina; and Kate Chopin, author of The Awakening.

[GUS and LEO start to enter. When faced with hisses and boos from the audience, they give KATE a “ladies first” gesture, and hide behind her as she enters. The three of them take their seats onstage.]

GARY

Welcome authors, and thanks for appearing with us. Do any of you know why you’re here?

LEO

I have no idea. But I love a mystery. I love a long, long drawn out story, with dozens and dozens of characters...

EDNA

Who cares! We want to know why you killed us!

KATE

Killed you? What?

GARY

Maybe we need to make some introductions. Do you authors recognize these ladies? Their names are Emma Bovary, Anna Karenina and Edna Pontellier. 

GUS

Unbelievable.

KATE

You're just as I pictured you.

LEO

You’re not how I pictured you – how can that be when I invented you?

ANNA

You don't own me.

(The two security guards enter)

GARY

Ooo! Sparks are flying already! Each of you authors wrote that these women had extramarital affairs, and let me tell you, they are angry.

LEO

I think I understand Gary. Such actions, such relations are, well ‘indelicate,’ but it was necessary for …

ANNA

Oh, we don’t mind about the affairs. They were fun … while they lasted. Why shouldn’t women explore their sexuality?

GUS

I'm afraid I don't understand.

EMMA

Of course not, because you’re a dimwit!

GUS

Ungrateful wench! Do you know I went on trial for obscenity because of this work? I defended you in a court of law!

EMMA

Cry me a river, you hack.

(EMMA lunges at GUS. Boxing bell rings. Security steps between them and gets them seated again.)

EDNA

What we object to is that as soon as the affairs ended, you made us all commit suicide.

([A pause as authors sit deadpan)

KATE

Oh, that.

GARY

Gus, your book was the first one published. What do you say to that?

GUS

(To KATE and LEO

The two of you wrote heroines who had extramarital affairs … and then committed suicide, just like I did with Madame Bovary?

KATE

(Embarrassed) It appears you started a trend, monsieur.

 

GUS

A trend?

 

LEO

It was an homage, mon ami.

 

GUS

An homage?

 

KATE

Stop repeating everything we say!

GUS

Who are you to criticize repeating someone else? Either of you!

KATE

(Nervous

Now, Monsieur Flaubert, you know what they say: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

GUS

The sincerest form of Plagiarism! I’ll sue you both!

(GUS lunges for LEO. Boxing bell sounds. Security half-heartedly breaks them up.)

GARY

Wow! Even the authors are mixing things up. Our show certainly is exciting. Especially for people who don't have lives of their own.

GUS

Even their names – Emma and Edna - are similar to my Anna.

(to the characters)

How do you even tell each other apart?

EDNA

Oh no you didn’t!

(EDNA lunges at GUS. Bell sounds. SECURITY gets them seated.)

GARY

Okay now, have a drink and cool off.

(Security guards pour glasses of water for characters and authors. Reluctantly, they all take a sip.)

GARY

Now, Edna, let’s get your perspective. Why is this so awful? 

EDNA

You’re seriously standing there, asking me what’s so awful about committing suicide?

GARY

Actors love doing juicy death scenes such as yours. And after all, we all have to die of something, right?

EDNA

For one thing, we all left behind small children! Would it have been so awful for us to live to old age and die in our sleep?

KATE

You can’t have a story without conflict, surely you understand - 

EDNA

Of course! You may have written us as childish, but we’re not idiots! We’re saying that we could have left something better for our children than what you gave us. You could have had us rise above our conflicts … if you had any creative talent at all, that is

KATE

You’ve got some nerve! What artistic work did you ever create?

EDNA

Nothing … thanks to you, writing me as a whining malcontent!

(The two lunge at each other. Bell sounds. SECURITY makes a meager attempt at breaking them up.)

 

EMMA

Edna’s right! Bad enough that Gus made my character go into crippling debt, after my suicide, my daughter’s surviving parent also died. Then you killed off the grandmother in whose care she was left. 

ANNA

(to Gus) 

Finally you left her little one with an aunt who sent her to the workhouse. You didn’t miss a trick, did you?

EDNA

Effin’ A! You could have made Emma’s husband assertive enough to help her manage her excesses. They wouldn’t have gone into debt, and could have lived to see their daughter grow up!

LEO

Oh shut up, you harpy tarts! What do you know about literature?

ANNA

I am literature!

LEO

Only thanks to me, you ingrate!

(LEO throws water in ANNA’s face and she sputters in shock. A ruckus breaks out among all. AUDIENCE cheers them on. SECURITY separates them and seats them again.)

GUS

What you bleeding heart snowflakes can’t seem to grasp is that these works reflect the times in which they were written. 

EMMA

Writers could have changed the times with their work.

LEO

I believe we did, you ignorant bimbo!

(EMMA lunges for LEO. Boxing bell sounds. Security steps in. SECURITY 1 exits)

GARY

This is the point in the show where, after egging them on to violence, I pretend to try to reconcile the opposing parties. Sometimes we do this by offering our guests a cake to snack on, and never to throw at each other or smash on someone’s face. 

(SECURITY 1 returns, carrying a cake, hands it to GARY.)

KATE

I don’t think cake is going to fix this, Gary.

GARY

Maybe not, but let me ask the fictional characters: can you say anything positive about the way you were written?

 

EDNA

You mean, like, “It was sure nifty to spend time on the beach … before I drowned myself.” Something like that?

EMMA

Or, “My house and my clothes were the envy of the village … until I went bankrupt.” Is that what you mean? 

ANNA

Now friends, let’s not be snarky. I really am grateful to Leo for one thing: He gave my lover the same first name as my husband, so I never had to worry about calling out the wrong name in bed. So … thanks for that.

(ANNA laughs as EDNA and EMMA give her high fives.)

EDNA

You go, girl!

EMMA

Way to be, chica!

AUDIENCE

Ga-ry! Ga-ry! Woo-hoo!

GARY

Okay ladies, all kidding aside – is there any hope of reconciliation? Is there anything that might repair your relationship with your author?

EMMA

Only one thing: We want you to re-write us and let us live.

GUS

Absolutely not! I refuse on the grounds of creative integrity!

KATE

As do I!

LEO

I agree! Our books are classic works of literature.

AUDIENCE

(ad lib

Boo! Go tell it to Oprah! Bunch of snobs!

EDNA

We don’t need you alleged artists. We can write our own endings. We want to be different from one another, unique individuals, not imitators of one another.

KATE

What the three of you fail to understand is that you can’t write anything, because you are fictional characters!

EMMA

Well, guess what, sister? In this scenario, the three of you are fictional as well!

(KATE, GUS and LEO look at each other in alarm. Tenuously, they reach out and touch one another to see if they are real.)

LEO

Can this be true?

KATE

Dear God, she’s right! We are fictional!

EDNA

How does it feel, suckers?

GUS

I … I’m not sure I want to go on.

LEO

Neither do I! Which way to the railway station?

KATE

Which way to the shore? I’m going to end it all!

ANNA

Can’t take it, huh?

EMMA

Wussies!

EDNA

That decides it – we’re taking over! Emma, your story came first so we’ll start with you. I say … I say you got out of debt by getting a job … a job as a designer – interiors or clothing.

EMMA

am pretty good at that sort of thing!

ANNA

Damn right you are!

EDNA

And Anna, I realize how personal this is … but you do show some signs of mental illness – paranoia and schizophrenia.

ANNA

I can’t deny it. I did some nutty stuff by the end, and I was constantly depressed.

EDNA

What if we got you some kind of therapy? Then maybe you could maintain your relationship with Alexei – one of the Alexeis, take your pick.

LEO

I hate to break it to you, but psychotherapy in the 1870s wasn’t all that spiffy. 

ANNA

Hard to imagine the results being much worse. I’ll risk it.

KATE

This is ridiculous! You ladies can’t just slap newer sensibilities on works from previous centuries. You can’t throw in modern enlightenment about mental illness, women’s rights to work or to divorce.

AUDIENCE

Go tell it to Oprah, you snob!

EMMA

The authors do have a point – we can’t just tie things up with a neat happy bow. One of us may have to lose primary custody of our children, at least.

EDNA

(Considers a moment

That’s a rough blow … but … but I think I could handle it if I at least have visitation. I mean, being a mother is the most important thing to me, but it’s not the only thing. I always wanted to become an artist. If I could see my sons on weekends, and open my own studio, I’d be so happy!

GARY

I can’t believe I’m the one saying this, ladies, but I have to agree with your authors: This is not real life.

ANNA

You got that right. It’s not reality. It’s fiction. So I’m going to have a profession, too. I’m going to be … a writer, maybe a novelist.

GUS

You don’t have the talent to be a novelist – you’d be lucky to become a lowly playwright.

ANNA

Stuff it, you blowhard! You took away our control, and now we’re taking it back. And here’s what you can do with your professional integrity.

(ANNA scoops up a handful of cake, and aims it toward LEO.)

 

LEO

Wait! Wait! 

(ANNA freezes, listening.)

LEO

(grasping at straws

One might argue that suicide is the ultimate control, you chose your own endings.

ANNA

(Pauses, shakes her head

What a crock of shit!

(ANNA smashes the cake into LEO’s face. EMMA does the same to GUS and EDNA to KATE. Then it’s a free-for-all. GUS rips off EMMA’s wig and throws it into the audience. The AUDIENCE goes wild!)

GARY

(Shouting over the fray

There you have it, folks! Till next time, take care of yourselves and each other.

(Curtain down, or sound the boxing bell. End of Play.)