Kathleen Coudle-King is a playwright, director, novelist, and puppeteer but keeps a roof over her head teaching college writing at the University of North Dakota.  Her plays have been produced around the U.S., most recently at the Metropolitan Theatre in NYC at the Lower East Side Festival. Ironically, that play is titled "A Roof Over Every Head," based on the rent strikes in NYC in the early 1900s. A collection of some of her work, Broads on the Boards: Strong Roles for Strong Women Actors, can be found on Amazon. The first draft of "In Search of Georgia O'Keefe" was written at Starry Night artist retreat in Truth or Consequences, NM.  Please contact her at katking33@gmail for performance rights. 

In Search of Georgia O'Keefe

K.C. King

Place: New Mexico. Bar. Seen better days – a long, long time ago.


Time: Present, although we go back and forth through time – 1940s, 1960s, and present.

 

Characters:

Jed – old townie, cowboy-type, 60s

Karen – New York Times’ reporter, a hipster

Anne – townie, anywhere over 40, matter-of-fact, not overly friendly but would like to have some coins in her cash register at the end of the day

Dale – old time, miner-type, he transforms from a man in his 20s in the 1940s to a man in his 40s in the 1960s. Simple costume pieces – hats and looser pants would suffice.

Woman/Blossom – young in her 1940s attire, then again in her 1960s attire

Lighting: There are some minimal lighting effects required to transition between time periods and something fantastic to depict an explosion. If the lighting designer can pull it off, it would also be most excellent if the two characters at the end could somehow fade away.

Bell rings over door and KAREN enters.

There’s one guy at the end of the bar, JED.

He, like the bar, has seen better days.

 

KAREN

Hi. I'm hoping you can help me.

(silence from Jed)

All right . . . well, I’m looking for Silver Springs. You ever hear of it?

JED

Yep.

KAREN

Am I on the right road?

JED

Yep.

KAREN

Can you tell me how much further?

JED

Yep.

KAREN

And that would be – ?

ANNE enters from the back room.                           

ANNE

I see you met the president of our Chamber of Commerce.

JED

Yep.

 

KAREN

Nice to meet you, I’m with the NY Times. Karen Powers –

(she offers her hand but he doesn't take it)

ANNE

Honey, he’s not really the President of the Chamber of Commerce. First of all you’d need a personality to be the President. Jed don’t have none.

 

JED

Nope.

ANNE

Second of all, you’d need commerce, or there’d be no point in having a chamber.

KAREN

I see. Well . . . yeah, I just wondering if you could tell me how far Silver Springs is. I’m on deadline and –

ANNE

No time for a beer? It would sure help my commerce.

 

KAREN

Well, I – (looks at her phone) –

ANNE

You're not far from Silver Springs.

KAREN

Oh, good! How far?

ANNE

(opens a beer for her)

Welcome.

KAREN

This – wait – I’m here?
 

ANNE

As the sign says, “You are here.” Sorry, all I got is Bud. Had lunch?

(slaps a menu on bar)

We have a full menu.

KAREN

I am a bit hungry. I think I’d like the --

ANNE

Out of the fish, chicken and burgers. But I made a nice, spicy pot of green chili.

KAREN

I guess I’ll have the chili, then.

ANNE

Wrestle that right up for you.

(exits)

KAREN

Could I ask you a few questions about the town?

 

JED

Yep.

KAREN

I’m writing a piece about Georgia O’Keefe and I understand she lived here for a brief time. How long’s it been a ghost town?

JED

What the hell do you mean “ghost town”? This ain’t no ghost town. You see me, don’tcha? You seen Anne? Do we look like ghosts to you? Ever see a ghost drink a beer? In about five minutes I’ll have to take a piss. Ever seen a ghost take a piss? Huh? I get sick and tired of people labeling small towns as ghost towns. Just ‘cause we ain’t no metropolis, don’t mean we’re a ghost town. Just ‘cause you can’t getcher Starbacks fix, don’t mean we’re a ghost town. People are here, they’re struggling, but they’re here and as long as there’s one of us taking a breath, we ain’t no ghost town, and you can tell that to your fancy pants readers of the New York Times!

KAREN

Duly noted. What is the population of Silver Springs?

JED

7.

KAREN

(enters & sets bowl of chili in front of Karen)

6. Dale died last night.

JED

No!

 

ANNE

Sorry to be the one to tell you. Jed.

 

JED

The last time I seen him he was so vital.

ANNE

He was 96. Dale was once a leader here in Silver Springs.

KAREN

I’m sorry for your loss. Died in his sleep?

ANNE

Uh, sorta. Shot himself in bed with his rifle.

 

JED

I warned him not to sleep with it!

 

ANNE

Paranoid sorta fella. Thought someone was going to come in and steal his stuff while he slept.

 

KAREN

Wealthy?

JED

Not for years.

ANNE

Not for decades. Probably gonna cremate him. Funeral hasn’t been decided yet.

JED

(removes hat and raises beer)

To Dale.

ANNE and then Karen, somewhat hesitantly,

raise their beers and clink.

ANNE & KAREN

To Dale.

JED

May he rest in peace.

(They sip in silence for a beat.)

ANNE

Eatcha chili before it gets cold.

KAREN

Oh, my, um, whoa!

JED

Put hair on your chest, don’t it?

 

KAREN

And everywhere else, too. Whoa!

ANNE

Glad you like it. It’s my grandmother’s recipe.

KAREN

Uh, yes, it’s – do you have any crackers?

ANNE

Sure.

(reaches under bar and dumps a handful on the bar)

KAREN

Thanks-

(tearing them open and shoving in her mouth)

ANNE

So, I heard Jed set you straight on the fact this ain’t no ghost town. That’s rather a sore point with him. You still wanna do a story on us?

KAREN

Well, I was wondering what you know about Georgia O’Keefe. The artist?

 

ANNE

That the one lived up by Santa Fe?

KAREN

Yes.

ANNE

Painted them big flowers?

KAREN

Yes, that’s her. What do you know about her?

ANNE

Not much.

(confidentially)

But I got me a friend says if you look real close some of them flowers look like a lady’s coochi snorter. I never did see it, though. ‘Course what would I know about what a lady’s coochi snorter looks like? Not like I look at mine much! (quick beat) Ever.

JED

Well, I seen plenty in my day and I can tell you those pictures don’t look like no coochi snorters I ever seen.

KAREN

Uh-huh. Um, other than that, is there any record of Georgia O’Keefe living in Silver Springs?

ANNE

None that I know of. If she were here at all I don’t think she was here long. We wouldn’t be near pretty enough for her. If anyone would know ‘bout Georgia O’Keefe it’d be Dale.

JED

May he rest in peace.

Raises beer, ANNE toasts, they both look at

KAREN until she’s forced to raise her own

beer and “clink”.

ANNE

Dale knew everything about Silver Springs. Lived here all his life. Why when Dale was just a teenager, this town was hopping.

KAREN

When was that, 1940s?

JED

Yep.

KAREN

Mining?

ANNE

Nah, silver rush ended in the early 1900s, but we had a second coming when they built the dam. The workers all needed a place to live and so the WPA built the shacks you see around town. Old Dale was a part of the crew that built the dam.

JED

May he rest in peace.

(raises his beer, Anne does same, they look at Karen, all “clink” and drink)

KAREN

Once the dam was built there wasn’t much to keep people and they moved away?

ANNE

Not at first. See, Silver Springs had more to offer than silver or a dam.

 

JED

That’s right.

Anne pops open new beers for everyone while

Karen waits expectantly.

KAREN

Well? What does Silver Springs have to offer?

ANNE

(putting a fresh beer in front of her)

Something very special. Something unique.

The lights flicker and when they come up Jed is gone and lively old time music plays on the radio. DALE and a woman are two-stepping c.s,, yucking it up as the song comes to its closing notes. They weave back to a corner table.

DALE

Bring another round for the lady and me, will ya, hon?

 

ANNE

Sure, thing, DALE!

(to Karen)

‘scuse me, they’re keeping me busy tonight!

JED, enters, hair wet and with a towel over his shoulder. He drops a silver dollar on the bar.

ANNE

Thanks, Jed.

 

JED

Yep.

ANNE

(returning to Karen and the bar)

We had hot springs.

 

KAREN

Hot springs?

ANNE

Indians called them the “noble waters,” bubble right up out the earth’s core at 109, 106 degrees. Healing waters. Full of a whole long list of minerals. We had a bathhouse right in the back. People came from miles away to soak.

DALE and WOMAN link arms and he puts a couple dollars on the bar. ANNE reaches under the bar and gives them a couple towels.

ANNE

Every other bar along the Geronimo Trail had to deal with bar room brawls, shooting even, but not here. People came to soak and any anger, any bitterness they had left their bodies immediately. This was as peaceful a place as the Garden of Eden. Before they ate the apple.

 

KAREN
I’ve heard of the hot springs, but I never -- . Can I take a look?

ANNE

They're gone.

LIGHTS flicker, music kills.

KAREN

Where?

ANNE

Hippies came to town.

KAREN

I don't understand.

THE LIGHTS flicker, the radio plays some Native American flute music.

BLOSSOM enters from rear, all bra-less and love beads with towel over her shoulder.

WOMAN

That – was mind blowing! Like returning to my mother’s womb. I am going to tell everyone!

 

ANNE

And she did.

KAREN

That had to be good for the town?

ANNE

It was. Briefly.

Dale enters.

DALE

Need a soak, doll.

ANNE

Sure, Dale, might be an hour, though.

DALE

An hour?! I used to walk in any time day or night-

ANNE

Used to. Hot springs are popular now. Our town's a destination.

DALE

(scowling, looking out at audience)

A destination for who?

ANNE

Sit your ass down and let me get you a beer.

(to Karen)

Townie’s didn’t much like sharing their secret with the world, much less the hippies.

HIPPY enters bar, wearing a tunic like top and pants.

HIPPY

I'd like a soak, mama.

ANNE

Someone's in there. You'll need to wait.

HIPPY

No problem-o.

He sits down next to Dale.

HIPPY

Hey, man.

DALE turns away, takes a slug of his beer.

 

DALE

Lord, what is it that they all smell of?

KAREN

Let me guess: Patchouli oil.

ANNE

Yep. They started buying up property ‘cause they could get it for a song. Opening marijuana shops on the sly --

DALE

And bead shops – who the hell needs to buy beads?

ANNE

Poetry and art galleries sprung up.

KAREN

Sounds like Santa Fe.

DALE

Sounds like Santa Fe, all right. Watch your taxes rise. Won’t be able to afford to live here for long.

 

HIPPY

Hey, man, you got a light?

 

DALE

Don't you wave that dope in front of my face. Why the hell ain't you in Vietnam, anyway?

 

HIPPY

Calm down, man! I got an injury. Chill.

DALE

Injury my ass, bet you shot your toe off.

HIPPY

(giggles)

Something like that.

DALE

Bunch of commie, stinkin’ draft dodgers! You should be ashamed of yourselves! All of you!

 

HIPPY

Open your heart to love and happiness. Let's take a soak together, brother.

 

DALE

Take a soak? – why you –

(slugs him)

HIPPY

Whoa, man – why’d you –

DALE slugs him again. HIPPY falls to floor.

 

LIGHTS FLICKER. It's just KAREN and ANNE.

KAREN

That was the first fight we’d had in town in years, but it wasn’t the last. The townies and the hippies had drawn a line in the sand. It got ugly.

BLOSSOM

Whoa, man, someone slashed my tires!

HIPPY

Anybody seen my dog?

 

DALE

My neighbor painted his door purple. Purple.

(shakes his head in disgust)

KAREN

It got personal. And then a couple of the old townies got together, secretly.

DALE

I don’t know about any of you, but I’ve had it with these dope heads coming in and buying up our town, taking it over like it belongs to them! It’s about time we took it back!

V.O.

(Cheers of agreement.)

 

DALE

So, here's what I was thinking: They came for our hot springs. What if the hot springs weren't here no more?

KAREN

How the hell you going to make that happen? They're part of the earth we're standing on.

 

V.O.

(Mumblings of agreement.)

 

DALE

What if they aren't so accessible anymore?

ANNE

So, Dale and bunch of his old cronies who he’d mined with back in the day fixed it. Fixed it so not the hippies, not the townies, not no one could enjoy the hot springs no more.

LIGHTS GO OUT. LOUD EXPLOSION.

LIGHTS UP.

KAREN

Oh, my god, was anyone hurt?

 

ANNE

Well...

A special light comes up on BLOSSOM, who is dancing barefoot in the bar, twirling her bath towel, she exits behind the bar.

JED

It was after hours. Nobody was supposed to be in the baths.

 

ANNE

And the hippies left town.

LIGHTS UP on DALE (d.s.r. facing audience)

 

DALE 

Good riddance. And take your beads with ya.

 

LIGHTS OUT on DALE

KAREN

Didn't he show any remorse?

JED

He saved the town!

KAREN

He killed someone.

ANNE

He and a couple others served some time.

KAREN

But was he sorry for what he did?

 

JED and ANNE look away, taking a slug of their beer.

KAREN

So, they blew up the one thing that made the town special.

 

JED

Twern’t the only thing there’s ---

(waving beer in the air as he tries to come up with something)

 

ANNE

Good story, huh? 'nother beer?

 

KAREN

But, surely, the hot springs are still here – I mean, they’re under ground so why not just rebuild the bathhouses?

 

DALE snorts in disgust.

ANNE

Nobody dared. The hippies left, but townies were afraid if they rebuilt then the hippies would return. And they didn’t want that to happen.

JED

Nope.

KAREN

You seem proud of what they did.

JED

If I'd been old enough to be there with Dale and them miners, I woulda lit that fuse myself.

ANNE

Hey, the townies loved the hot springs. Them springs belonged to us. It was the one thing in that made us special. Before the hot springs, nobody came here after the dam was built. Everybody looked down on us. We was just a place between Albuquerque and Los Cruces.

JED

Some place to fill up yer car and empty yer bowels.

ANNE

He’s a poet, ain’t he? Let me see if I can explain it better. (thinks) When you’re born on the high dessert, where the heat bakes you for five months, then the rain floods your streets, and the cold settles into your bones on winter nights in your crappy trailer that’s got no insulation, and the coyotes’ yapping fills your dreams, when the only things that grows in the sand is spikey or prickly or both –you gotta grow a thick crust ‘cause soft don’t survive. There are people who don’t want all that love, peace, and happiness shoved down their throats. The more you do it, the angrier it makes ‘em.

 

KAREN

They destroyed what made them special because they didn't want other people to enjoy it.

 

JED

I think she's catching on now, Anne.

 

KAREN

(gathering up her purse)

You know, I don’t think Georgia O’Keefe did live here. Cause if she did and she showed you your world through her eyes? Somebody would have surely shot her.

(pause as she gets ready to exit)

So now what? You wait until the last person dies?

JED

Yep. Then you can call us a ghost town.

KAREN

(taking out some bills from her wallet and laying them on the bar)

If you ask me, I think you all been dead a long time.

(she exits)

JED & ANNE

(clink beers)

Yup.

 

(they fade away)

 

Curtain.

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