Cast of Characters
MISS MARSHALL: The P.E. teacher, a woman in her 30’s.
AMANDA: The tomboy, a girl in her early teens with a bandaged knee and a
MR. KENT: The principal of a middle school, a man in his 40’s.
Scene The principal’s office of a middle school.
A middle school somewhere—anywhere—in the United States. The set is divided into two areas: the waiting area outside the principal’s office, and the interior of the principal’s office. The year is 1953, and, just to provide context, this is five years after the publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, the first volume of The Kinsey Reports. It is the same year as the publication of the second volume: Sexual Behavior in the Human Female.
A thirteen-year- old “tomgirl,” in pigtails with her shirttail untucked, sits disconsolately on a bench outside the office, apparently waiting to be disciplined. She has a black eye and a bandage on her knee. Her name is AMANDA. A woman enters the waiting area from the hallway. She is tall, with short, unstyled hair, no makeup, no jewelry, and extremely sensible shoes. She does wear a skirt, because, after all, this is 1953. This is MISS MARSHALL, the physical education teacher. And, yes, she is. As she enters, AMANDA looks up.
MISS MARSHALL: Hi, Mandy.
AMANDA: Are they gonna expel me?
MISS MARSHALL: I don’t know. It is your third fight this term…
AMANDA: (Protesting.) But it was the boys who—
MISS MARSHALL: (Cutting her off.) I know… I know… But you know the school has a policy. (AMANDA looks down. MISS MARSHALL takes pity on her.) Let's see that fist.
AMANDA: (Looking up.) What?
MISS MARSHALL: The fist you used.
AMANDA: (Brightening.) Oh… (She shows MISS MARSHALL her fist.)
MISS MARSHALL: Did you remember to keep your thumb tucked?
AMANDA: (Eager to please her mentor.) I did!
MISS MARSHALL: And you threw your punch from the shoulder, not the elbow?
AMANDA: (Becoming very excited.) Yes, ma’am! You wanna see it? (MISS MARSHALL smiles. AMANDA rises.) Well, Roy was standin’ here, and Tommy’s here, and Sam is behind him, so I figure if I punch Tommy first, he’s gonna fall into Sam, which is gonna give me enough time to take care of Roy. SO… I turned kinda sideways to Tommy, so’s to keep an eye on Roy, like this—(Just then the door to the principal’s office opens, and MR. KENT appears standing in the doorway. MR. KENT is the principal. He is impeccably dressed with a striped tie that matches the grey of his suit as well as the blue of his eyes. His wavy, blond hair would make him appear younger than his forty years, were it not offset by a pair of severe wire-rimmed glasses. He is, as they say, “light in the loafers.” MR. KENT clears his throat, and AMANDA freezes.)
MR. KENT: (Sternly, but not unkindly.) Amanda. (He turns to the P.E. teacher.) Miss Marshall, I appreciate your coming by the office on such short notice.
MISS MARSHALL: Not at all. You caught me between my sixth grade P.E. class and my fifth-grade health class.
MR. KENT: (To AMANDA.) Now, young lady, if you don’t mind waiting a few more minutes, I would like to speak to Miss Marshall first. (AMANDA drops anxiously back on her bench. MR. KENT waits to usher MISS MARSHALL into his office. She follows him, but, just before reaching the door, she turns with her back to the principal, smiles at AMANDA, and holds up both her fists. AMANDA bursts into a huge grin, and just as she is holding up her fists in salute, MR.KENT turns and catches the gesture. She quickly pretends to be grooming her pigtails, a look of contrition on her face. The two adults disappear into the office, and as the door closes, AMANDA jumps up, performing a victory dance, which includes a replay of the knockout punches. The lights go out on the waiting area and come up in the principal’s office.)
MR. KENT: Well, Miss Marshall, I think we have ourselves a situation. (He laughs, and MISS MARSHALL smiles.) I understand she knocked one of the boys unconscious.
MISS MARSHALL: Roy Dobbins.
MR. KENT: Roy! (MR. KENT nods and laughs again.)
MISS MARSHALL: And she knocked out Tommy Crawford’s front teeth. (He shakes his head.) Poor Sam got the worst of it. Two black eyes and a broken nose.
MR. KENT: (Wiping his glasses.) Well, I’m sure they had it coming.
MISS MARSHALL: They did. They harass all the girls, but especially Amanda… (Her eyes meet his.)… Because she’s different. MR. KENT: (Uncomfortable.) I don’t doubt it. Well… take a look at this and tell me what you think. (He hands her a piece of paper.)
MISS MARSHALL: What is it?
MR. KENT: It’s the letter of expulsion to Amanda’s mother.
MISS MARSHALL: (Reading it and handing it back.) What do you want me to say?
MR. KENT: Well, I know you’re Amanda’s favorite teacher, and that you’ve met with her mother, so I was hoping that you might be able to help her understand--
MISS MARSHALL: (Cutting him off.) I don’t understand. The boys started it. Amanda was only defending herself.
MR. KENT: Miss Marshall, the boys were using words. I can’t expel them for that. Amanda chose to use her fists.
MISS MARSHALL: Sometimes that’s what it takes to be heard. And words can cut deeper than a knife. You must know that. (An uncomfortable pause.)
MR. KENT: Well, the school has a policy—
MISS MARSHALL: (Cutting him off.) Maybe it needs a new policy.
MR. KENT: Maybe that’s true, and that’s certainly something you can propose to the school board the next time it meets.
MISS MARSHALL: Which will be too late for Amanda.
MR. KENT: She made a strong choice, Miss Marshall. And she has caused some serious injuries… (MISS MARSHALL says nothing. MR. KENT drums on his desk for a moment. Looking up, he becomes very formal.) I’m sorry… I was hoping that you might be willing to make this easier for the girl, but I can see that you’re uncomfortable with that, and I accept that. So, thank you—(He rises to usher her out of the office.)
MISS MARSHALL: Mr. Kent—
MISS MARSHALL: I would like to ask you a question. May I?
MR. KENT: (Uneasy.) I suppose.
MISS MARSHALL: Did you fight?
MISS MARSHALL: Did you fight?
MR. KENT: (Confused.) They wouldn’t take me… My eyesight was poor—
MISS MARSHALL: I didn’t mean the War. I meant did you fight when they called you names? When you were Amanda’s age?
MR. KENT: I’m not sure what you’re getting at, Miss Marshall.
MISS MARSHALL: I think you know exactly what I’m getting at, Mr. Kent. And I want to know, “Did you fight back?”
MR. KENT: (After a long silence.) No, I did not. All they had to do was take my glasses, and I was at their mercy.
MISS MARSHALL: So what did you do… if I may ask?
MR. KENT: (A very long pause.) Actually, I became skillful at negotiating. I would find out what I had that might be useful to certain of them—composing their papers for them, or buying them things. And I would create alliances.
MISS MARSHALL: (Nodding.) Well, Amanda is not a good student, and her family is poor. But she can fight and she can win.
MR. KENT: Outside of school, Miss Marshall… outside of school. (He opens the door. MISS MARSHALL closes it, again.)
MISS MARSHALL: I taught her.
MR. KENT: (Taken aback.) What?
MISS MARSHALL: I taught her to fight. She wanted to learn.
MR. KENT: I see. Do you want me to have to fire you as well?
MISS MARSHALL: Not at all. I want you to understand that I believe in fighting. And I will fight you.
MR. KENT: I see. And just how do you propose to do that?
MISS MARSHALL: I shall send an anonymous letter to the school board suggesting that your morals might be somewhat less than what is desirable in a school principal and that they might want to look into your living situation with your "housemate."
MR. KENT: (Smiling.) You hardly seem in the position to make that threat. There have already been more than a few rumors about the P.E. teacher and her "companion."
MISS MARSHALL: Teachers lose their jobs all the time, Mr. Kent, and for a variety of reasons, but it’s more unusual for a school administrator—especially a principal— to resign suddenly in the middle of the term, and especially after so many years of outstanding service.
MR. KENT: (A long pause.) And just how would you propose explaining to these boys’ parents and to the school board why this girl is still here?
MISS MARSHALL: You’re a clever man. This could be a real opportunity to exercise those skills at negotiation and alliances.
MR. KENT: Touché. And now, may I ask you a question? (She smiles.) Why do you care so much about this girl?
MISS MARSHALL: (Angry at the insinuation and dead serious.) Because that’s my job.
MR. KENT: (He looks at her for a moment, and then, with a sigh, he drops the letter of expulsion into the trash.) You win.
MISS MARSHALL: Thank you, Mr. Kent. It’s been a pleasure. (She exits. As she leaves, the lights come up on the waiting area. AMANDA leaps up, anxious to hear the verdict. MISS MARSHALL looks at her sternly for a moment, before she speaks.) Report to class early tomorrow and I’ll teach you the roundhouse kick. (MISS MARSHALL begins to exit, and we hear MR. KENT calling from his office.)
MR. KENT: (Offstage.) Amanda…!
AMANDA: Yes, sir! (She runs to his door, turns, and looks back at her teacher. MISS MARSHALL holds up her fists, and AMANDA returns the gesture.)
End of Play
Carolyn Gage is a playwright, performer, director, and activist. The author of nine books on lesbian theatre and seventy-five plays, musicals, and one-woman shows, she specializes in non-traditional roles for women, especially those reclaiming famous lesbians whose stories have been distorted or erased from history. Her work is widely produced, and in 2014 she was one of six featured playwrights at UNESCO’s World Theater Day in Rome. She has won the national Lambda Literary Award in Drama and her play Ugly Ducklings was nominated by the American Theatre Critics Association for the prestigious ATCA/ Steinberg New Play Award, an award with given annually for the best new play produced outside New York. She has also been awarded numerous grants and fellowships from the Maine Arts Commission, the Maine Women Writers’ Collection at the University of New England, the Astraea Foundation, Lewis and Clark College, the Oregon Institute of Literary Arts, and the Oregon Arts Commission. Her papers are archived at the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College.
Black Eye Copyright 2008 Carolyn Gage. Caution: Professionals and amateurs are hereby warned that Black Eye is subject to a royalty. It is fully protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America, and of all countries covered by the International Copyright Union (including the Dominion of Canada and the rest of the British Commonwealth), and of all countries covered by the Pan-American Copyright Convention and the Universal Copyright Convention, and of all countries with which the United States has reciprocal copyright relations. All rights including, but not limited to, professional, amateur, recording, motion picture, recitation, lecturing, public reading, radio and television broadcasting, video or sound taping, all other forms of mechanical or electronic reproduction, such as information storage and retrieval systems and photocopying, and the rights of translation into foreign languages are expressly reserved. Particular emphasis is placed on the question of readings and all uses of this play by educational institutions, permission for which must be secured in writing from the author or the author's representative. No amateur or stock performance or reading of the play may be given without obtaining, in advance, the written permission of the Author. All inquiries concerning professional and amateur performance rights should be addressed to the Author via her website.