Project 629

BY WARREN GLOVER

CHARACTERS

JI: A Chinese man, in his fifties.

BO: Ji’s 17-year old daughter.

THE GHOST OF CHAN: Ji’s dead wife and Bo’s mother.

FANG: A Communist Party bureaucrat.

THE VOICE OF A

BEREAVED MOTHER

SETTING

The living room of a soon-to-be-demolished house in Beijing, China.

TIME

Today.


 

JI kneels prostrate, facing the audience, a bowl on the floor before him.

CHAN stands in front of JI. CHAN announces the setting of the play.

CHAN: The living room of a soon-to-be-demolished house in Beijing, China. Today.

CHAN EXITS [STAGE RIGHT].

JI raises his upper body from the floor and – still kneeling – begins to CHANT INCANTATIONS.

The sound of BO’s voice, SINGING (O.S.) from [STAGE LEFT].

JI stops his chanting and glares towards the source of the interruption. He takes the bowl and holds it high above his head; an offering, BO’s singing now studiously ignored.

FURIOUS KNOCKING at the front door [STAGE RIGHT].

JI: Damn it!

MORE FURIOUS KNOCKING.

FANG (O.S.): Help! Help me! Let me in!

MORE FURIOUS KNOCKING.

Let me in! Have mercy.

JI prostrates himself again.

The SOUND OF WIND CHIMES. ENTER CHAN’S GHOST, smiling. JI rises to his feet and goes to her.

JI: My love.

MORE FURIOUS KNOCKING.

BO, dressed provocatively in a short skirt, Western fashion, rushes in from [STAGE LEFT].

BO: Are you going deaf in your old age, Father?

FANG (O.S.): Help! Save me!

JI’s attention is on CHAN’S GHOST, who looks as if she’s conversing with JI.

JI: Whoever it is, send them away. I’m busy.

BO opens the door. In falls FANG. He’s covered in dust and grime and is bleeding from a cut on his forehead.

BO: It’s the bureaucrat.

FANG: For God’s sake, close the door. I barely escaped with my life.

BO: I didn’t think you believed in God? I thought you were a good little Communist?

FANG: This isn’t a time for joking. For pity’s sake, close the door. Don’t let them find me.

BO: What’s happened?

FANG: Wang Lei set himself on fire. I tried to help him but got attacked by a mob.

BO: Mob? By ‘mob’ you mean our friends and neighbors?

JI breaks away from his preoccupation with CHAN’S GHOST.

JI: Close the door, child. I can smell the stench of burning flesh from here.

CHAN’S GHOST looks pained.

BO SLAMS the door shut.

JI spits into a spittoon.

FANG takes out a handkerchief and dabs at his wound.

Control your anger, child.

BO: Poor Wang Lei. His mother will be devastated. It’s all your fault, bureaucrat.

FANG: Don’t call me that. I was your neighbor and friend until not too long ago.

BO: [To JI] Why should I control my anger, Father? As if the death of another innocent wasn’t bad enough, thousands of us will lose our homes tomorrow. And it’s his job to see that we leave.

[To FANG] You’re no friend of ours now. You might as well have set Wang Lei on fire yourself, you turncoat. If you ask me, Wang Lei is a hero. A martyr. Whereas you…you’re a murderer.

JI: Enough! Show some respect to your elders.

CHAN’S GHOST reaches out a hand to JI.

BO: Respect? Respect should be earned, Father. Not taken for granted. Where would we be if–

JI: I said enough! How dare you speak to me this way in front of our guest?

JI and BO glare at each other. CHAN’S GHOST looks on, pained.

BO: He’s not a guest. He’s a gangster. Wake up Father and smell the– 

FANG: Mm…the smell of jasmine here is much more preferable to that barbecued…Well, for the life of me, I can’t understand why you fellows would rather kill yourselves than accept our generous relocation package.

BO: “Our generous relocation”? “You fellows”? See, I told you. You’re a Party man through-and-through now. You’ve changed, Fang. I used to think you were quite nice.

A SCREAM (O.S.)/SOUND of a FEMALE VOICE, WAILING, outside.

That’ll be Wang Lei’s mother.

All three–JI, BO and FANG–stand listening. SILENCE.

FANG: May I trouble you for a glass of water?

BO glares at FANG then leaves the room. FANG glances anxiously around before addressing JI.

Have you signed the documents I gave you yet?

JI: No. And I’ll not sign. You know this house has been in my family for generations. It was taken from us once, during the Cultural Revolution. Never again.

FANG: But you can move to a more modern house.

JI: My wife died in this house.

JI turns towards CHAN’S GHOST. CHAN’S GHOST smiles.

I shall not leave her.

FANG: That was a long time ago.

BO returns with a glass of water.

FANG: Thank you.

FANG drinks.

Ah! That’s better. The dust of the construction sticks in your throat.

BO: Are you sure it’s not the hypocrisy that’s choking you? You promised you’d never sell.

FANG glares at BO.

But that was before you took the job at the Department of Eviction and Displacement.

FANG: It’s the Department of Housing. And believe me, it’s thirsty work trying to talk all you stubborn mules into doing what’s good for you.

BO: Are your parents happy that you sold out?

FANG: You know very well Mum and Dad had to move away. For their health.

FANG notices the altar JI was praying to at the beginning–i.e. he faces the audience.

You know, Ji, it’s no use clinging to the old ways, thinking her spirit is somehow tied to this house. Ancestor worship is fit only for superstitious peasants. Don’t you think?

BO: Ha! He’s insulting us in our own house now. If my father wants to pray for my mother’s soul, why shouldn’t he?

FANG: No reason that I can see.

JI is engrossed gazing at CHAN’S GHOST, who appears to be talking to him.

[TO BO] Look, do yourselves a favor. Make him sign the collection papers. There will be no compensation if he doesn’t sign.

JI: Compensation? Do you really think, comrade, that you can ever compensate me for stealing the house where I lost my wife, and my daughter’s mother?

BO: I hate to say it, but what option do we have, Father? It’s a bitter pill, but we should swallow it.

FANG: You should listen to your daughter. She is wise…

[To BO] As well as beautiful.

Besides, it’s just bricks and mortar. Age and time do not wait for people. And neither does the government. Take the money. Invest in your daughter’s education. After all, learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.

JI: Just bricks and mortar? You have no idea.

JI points towards a window [STAGE LEFT].

Do you know we have walnut and date trees in our courtyard that are over a hundred years old? Does your compensation reflect that?

FANG: You can’t stand in the way of progress.

BO: Resistance is futile?

FANG: Change is inevitable.

BO: Change isn’t always for the better.

FANG: Embrace the new China!

BO: What about people like my father? People who have lived here all their lives? What about community?

FANG: Build a new one. Don’t live in the past. This suburb is history now.

BO: History is Ghandi. The anti-apartheid movement. Martin Luther King.The Arab Spring. Resistance is fertile.

FANG laughs.

FANG: Quite the young radical, aren’t we? You should be more careful what you say. You never know who may be listening. Let me tell you something. History is written by the victors. Don’t be on the losing side here. You can’t win. As you say, it’s a bitter pill, but at least it has a sugar coating. Swallow it and move on.

BO: As you did? What made you take this job? Is it really as you say, for Mummy and Daddy? Or is it for the new car I’ve seen you driving around in?

BO and FANG glare at each other.

Is that a new suit?

FANG: I don’t have to answer to you. A man has to live. A man has to provide for his family. I work for our government. It’s a job. When you leave school and join the real world, you’ll understand.

BO: Oh! You’re a–

JI: Enough! I want you to go now.

JI turns towards CHAN’S GHOST, who resumes “talking” to him.

BO sees FANG to the door [STAGE RIGHT]. As she does so she retrieves the bowl from the floor where JI left it.

BO: What is it that’s being built here? What is so important that the government wants us out. There are thousands of us, so it must be costing the Party, a pretty penny.

FANG: I can’t say. It’s confidential.

BO: You don’t know?

JI: Of course, he doesn’t know. He’s just a dogsbody. A jobsworth.

BO: Is it a palace for the Politburo?

FANG: Don’t be disrespectful to the Party.

BO: The Party’s over. At least Mother would think so if she was still here. She was an enthusiastic member of the Communist Party, wasn’t she Father?

JI holds out his hand to CHAN’S GHOST. She takes it.

JI: Your mother would find what the Party is doing now a betrayal.

FANG: Comrades! Friends! Please, I’m just trying to do my job. And do the right thing by you. I’m trying to help.

BO: Why? Why do you want to help us?

FANG: We were neighbors for years. I’ve known you since you were a little girl. Besides, isn’t it obvious?

FANG steps closer to BO.

I’ve always liked you, Bo. In fact, now you’re a woman, I’d like to ask you for a date.

BO holds the bowl out to FANG. FANG looks puzzled as he picks out a date, holds it up to his face [so the audience can see it] and examines it.

FANG: That’s not what I meant.

BO: Tell me what Project 629 is, and I might think about it.

JI: What are you two whispering about? Didn’t I ask you to leave?

BO: Is it a bomb shelter? A nuclear bunker?

FANG: I’m not at liberty to say what Project 629 is. It’s top secret.

BO sidles closer to FANG. She caresses his cheek as she snuggles up to him, teasing.

BO: I bet it’s a brothel for all you bureaucrats. It’s the only way you’ll ever find love.

JI: Enough! Go to your room, child! And you! Get out of my house.

FANG: I’ll be back at nine for the papers. Sign them or be out on your ear.

FANG takes a step towards BO. He seizes her cheeks with his hand.

Until tomorrow.

FANG opens the front door, checks that it’s safe to leave, and exits.

CHAN’S GHOST ushers JI towards BO.

JI: Why do you have to be so crude and insolent, girl? You bring me nothing but shame.

BO: And you bring me nothing but grief. I didn’t ask to be born. It’s not my fault she–

JI raises a hand to strike BO.

CHAN: No!

JI turns away and slumps to the floor.

JI: I’m sorry, my love. It’s so hard without you.

JI begins to weep. CHAN’S GHOST stands over him, distressed.

BO, oblivious to the GHOST, reaches out and clasps JI’s shoulder.

BO: Father, please. You have to let go.

 CHAN’S GHOST gazes tenderly at BO.

BO: It’s time to face the truth, Father. The deadline is tomorrow. You have to say goodbye now. To the house. To memories.

JI looks up at CHAN’S GHOST.

JI: We have to leave the house, my love. I’m sorry.

CHAN: It was bound to happen someday. I’m surprised it took this long.

JI: I’m afraid I’ll never see you again.

BO: Don’t be silly, Father. I’m not going to run away. You can’t get rid of me that easily.

BO goes to lie down.

Talking to that bureaucrat has given me a headache.

JI approaches and sits beside BO. He strokes her hair.

JI: I’m sorry, Bo. I haven’t been much of a father.

BO: Dad, don’t. I know it hasn’t always been easy.

BO closes her eyes.

CHAN’S GHOST joins them. JI starts to SING a LULLABY.

CHAN’S GHOST smiles and EXITS.

When BO is asleep, JI stands and goes to a cupboard [OFF STAGE]. He takes out/returns with some documents, a pen and a length of rope. He takes them to a table and sits down on a stool. He peruses the documents with pen poised to sign.

JI looks over at BO and SIGHS HEAVILY as he signs the papers. He looks around the room, savoring his memories.

JI stands and goes over to where BO is sleeping. He kisses her gently and makes the sign of a blessing. He stands watching her for a moment, then goes back to the table. He picks up the rope and a stool and exits towards the courtyard–[STAGE LEFT].

BO sleeps.

A CRASH (O.S.) as the stool is kicked away and falls to the floor.

BO wakes up suddenly. She raises herself on an elbow and listens.

BO: Father?

The SOUND OF WIND CHIMES.

CURTAIN


Image Credit: “Red Backway” by Cait Smith

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