Summer 2021

Teatime With HRH The Cowardly Lion — Jennie MacDonald


Reading by EcoTheatre Lab

Characters:
(in order of speaking)

HRH THE COWARDLY LION: A lion, king of the forest, king of the beasts, The Cowardly Lion of The Wizard of Oz. A bubbly if fearful monarch still surprised at his elevated position.

OSTRIC: An ostrich, also a footman or footwoman, that is, footbird.

ANN T. LOPE: A young lady antelope reporter making a name for herself.

PEOPLE: An imaginary crowd that comes and goes through the audience.

Time & place:

Teatime. A sunny palace verandah with a table set for tea and two chairs.

Running time:

Approximately 10 minutes.

Tag line:

The Cowardly Lion always wanted the courage to be king. With Dorothy’s help, he found it and became king of the forest. But what happens when tourists on safari start arriving at the palace?

Synopsis:

The Cowardly Lion of Oz always wanted the courage to be king. With Dorothy’s help, he found it and became king of the forest. On a day when a reporter comes to tea, tourists on safari keep interrupting the interview. Finally, under increasing pressure, The Cowardly Lion has to take a stand he never expected.

This short work touching on biological diversity and valuing animal rights and autonomy was inspired by my time in southern Africa and the ongoing tragic news of the declining numbers of lions across the African continent, captured in headline events like the killing of the majestic lion Cecil in Zimbabwe, his cub Xanda a year later, and the 90% decrease in the lion population across Africa in the past 100 years.

Performance Inquiries: https://jenniemacdonaldwriter.com/contact/

 


(The verandah of HRH THE COWARDLY LION’s palace. A table is set for teatime. Two chairs. OSTRIC makes a minuscule adjustment to the flatware, slightly shifts the silver teapot, and stands at attention just behind the table, checking his wireless earphone. Although the characters represent animals, the actors move and speak like human beings. The PEOPLE behave, well, as people do.)

HRH THE COWARDLY LION
(Off. Peers out from behind the curtain.)

Is she here, yet?

OSTRIC

Not yet, sire.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION
(Enters fretfully, wearing a fine robe and crown.)

Oh, I do wish she would come, so we can get this over with. All this attention–it’s overwhelming. How do you like my new robe?

OSTRIC

Of course, it’s not for me to say, sire, but I think it very fine, indeed.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION
(Swishing about.)

Yes, it is, isn’t it? Satin, of course, not cotton, not chintz. It’s the best part of all this regal life.

(Takes a cake from the table.)

Except for the cakes. And the pillows. And the carriages. Those are all very nice. But beyond that, my fine, feathered, friend, take my advice: Be careful what you wish for.

OSTRIC
(Adjusting the remaining cakes so the missing one won’t mar the arrangement.)

As you say, sire.

(Taps his earphone and nods.)

Yes, send her in.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION
(Trembling.)

She’s here? What’s her name again?

OSTRIC

Ann T. Lope. She’s the host of a podcast called Where Are They Now? It’s one of your favorites.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

Oh, yes. She interviews such interesting characters.

ANN T. LOPE
(Entering.)

Your Majesty, it’s a pleasure. Thank you for meeting with me today.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION
(Shyly.)

Oh, that’s all down to OSTRIC. He says I have to work on my brand, make myself more visible, you know.

ANN T. LOPE

In your position? Don’t you get out all the time?

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

It’s difficult.

ANN T. LOPE

I’m sure. A king among his subjects. Everyone wanting something from you.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

Oh, no, that’s not the real reason. It’s just that I’m . . . well, I’m . . . afraid.

ANN T. LOPE

Afraid? How interesting. May I sit down? I won’t bite, I promise.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

Do you like cake? I like cake.

(OSTRIC pulls out a chair for him and the other for ANN. ANN set a recording device on the table, which OSTRIC moves slightly to suit the teatime arrangement.)

ANN T. LOPE

Do you mind if I record? For the podcast.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

Wonderful! Do have some cake.

(OSTRIC receives a message on his earphone.)

HRH THE COWARDLY LION cont.

You’ll have to excuse OSTRIC. He’s always on that thing.

OSTRIC

Pardon me, sire, but those people are back again. They promise not to interrupt but wish to come through.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

Again? Oh, very well. Send them through–just through the garden, mind you. They can see us from there.

ANN T. LOPE

People?

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

Yes, yes. They like to come and see me in my natural habitat. Take a photo to show their friends back home, that sort of thing.

(Pointing at the PEOPLE passing into the audience.)

Look, there they are. Smile, my dear.

(The two of them smile politely, pose, and wave to the PEOPLE downstage. Cameras click and flash. They watch the PEOPLE exit. OSTRIC pours the tea. HRH THE COWARDLY LION and ANN partake of tea and cakes through the following.)

ANN T. LOPE

It’s very generous of you.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

It is?

ANN T. LOPE

To let them just parade through the royal gardens like that. I mean, don’t you find it a little intrusive? Especially if they haven’t made arrangements beforehand.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

Oh, it’s just once in a while, although more often since I became king. They do stay outside the gates and try not to bother me. I’m trying to get used to the attention, but I confess I miss the days of roaming wherever I wanted. It’s not easy being a king–and a coward.

ANN T. LOPE

But I thought you found your courage–with Dorothy’s help?

HRH THE COWARDLY LION
(A realization.)

You. Are. So. Right. OSTRIC! Where is my medal?

OSTRIC
(Coughs to cover his words.)

Sire, you are wearing your medal.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

I am?

(Fumbles with his royal robes. A large bow is covering the medal.)

Bother these furbelows.

(Yanks off the bow and flings it away. Holds up the medal adoringly.)

Ah, yes, I am! Yes! I have courage! It says so right here on this medal that the wizard gave me! How could I have forgotten?

(OSTRIC receives a message on his earphone. Nods.)

OSTRIC

Pardon me, sire, but those people are back again. They promise not to interrupt but wish to come through.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

Again?

(Looks at ANN.)

ANN T. LOPE

You don’t have to allow this, Your Majesty. This is your space. Your teatime. They can come back later.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

You’re right! They can come back when I say so. Tell them, OSTRIC.

(OSTRIC turns away, conveying the message and listening to the response.)

OSTRIC

I’m afraid they are insisting, sire. After all, you’ve always let them come to observe you whenever they wanted to before. It will take time to get them accustomed to a new system.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

All right. But this is the last time without a royal invitation. Absolutely the last. And I’m not happy about it.

ANN T. LOPE

That’s the spirit, Your Majesty. Boundaries. It’s all about setting boundaries.

(The two of them nod and wave to the PEOPLE downstage. Cameras click and flash. The PEOPLE exit. OSTRIC pours the tea. HRH THE COWARDLY LION and ANN partake of tea and cakes through the following.)

HRH THE COWARDLY LION
(Sighs.)

I do wish they wouldn’t lean on the gates like that. They’ll smudge the polish. I miss Dorothy. And the wizard. People were different then.

ANN T. LOPE

How about this interview, Your Majesty? The listeners of Where Are They Now? want to know.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

Want to know what?

ANN T. LOPE

Want to know what you’ve been up to since you went off to see the wizard and became king. They want to know where you’ve been, what you’ve been doing, whom you’ve met.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

Oh, that. Well, mostly, I’ve been right here, my dear.

ANN T. LOPE

Right here?

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

In my palace. In the forest. King of the forest. King of all the beasts. King. Hear me roar.

(She waits.)

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

Well, here since I got back from traveling the world, meeting the heads of state, seeing the great cities, though none compare with the Emerald City, let me tell you. But do you want to know the most interesting thing?

ANN T. LOPE

What’s that?

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

There are statues of lions all over the world.

ANN T. LOPE

Really?

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

People like to put them on their doorsteps–at palaces and libraries and regular houses. Whenever I was feeling lonely or worried, I would go find a statue of a lion and commune.

ANN T. LOPE

That sounds nice, I guess. It’s not like there are a lot of real lions to talk to.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

But why?

ANN T. LOPE

Don’t you know?

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

There used to be. There used to be lots of us. Lots. I guess I’m pretty unique these days. But I’d rather not talk about that.

ANN T. LOPE

And now that you’re back?

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

The ruling stuff–it’s not so bad. I kind of like the routine. But you know what I like best?

(Leans in conspiratorially.)

(ANN does the same.)

ANN T. LOPE

What?

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

Some days I go away from the palace, down into the meadow, and have a nice curl-up deep in the grass. It’s warm, and you can play with those frondy things, and gaze up at the sky and just watch the birds and the clouds and think. Sometimes there’s a rainbow. And I watch it and wonder when Dorothy will return. We could get together with the Scarecrow and the Tin Man and just have a picnic.

(OSTRIC receives a message on his earphone.)

OSTRIC

Pardon me, sire, but–

HRH THE COWARDLY LION
(Miserable.)

Don’t tell me. Those people are back again.

(Looks at ANN.)

ANN T. LOPE

Unbelievable.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

You’re right! Not this time. Tell them, OSTRIC.

(OSTRIC turns away, conveying the message and listening to the response.)

OSTRIC

I’m afraid they are insisting, sire. And this time they want to see you . . . doing something.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

Doing something? Doing what?

(OSTRIC turns away, conveying the message and listening to the response.)

OSTRIC
(Clears his throat.)

They want to see your bloodthirsty side, sire.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

What?

OSTRIC
(Gestures at ANN.)

Maybe you could, you know . . .

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

What? What?

OSTRIC

You know . . .

(Growls at ANN. Awkward and embarrassed.)

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

What? No! I won’t. I’ve been a vegetarian all my life. I’m not going to start scaring others now.

ANN T. LOPE

Oh, if it will make them go away. Go ahead, Your Majesty. I don’t mind. Especially if it helps you out.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

How has it come to this? I apologize, my dear, in advance. Those people have no manners.

(He growls and roars, menacing ANN, who pretends to cower and whimper in response. The two of them grimace at the PEOPLE downstage. Cameras click and flash. A pause. The PEOPLE wait. Annoyed, HRH THE COWARDLY LION shakes his head like a cat with a bird, rattling ANN, too. Cameras click and flash. The PEOPLE exit. OSTRIC pours the tea. HRH THE COWARDLY LION and ANN no longer have any appetite for cakes.)

HRH THE COWARDLY LION
(Angry.)

Did you see those young ones trampling the lilies? That’s it. That is absolutely it. OSTRIC, order the gates locked. No admittance without an invitation. From now on.

(An urgent squawk sounds on OSTRIC’s earphone. OSTRIC listens and hurries away offstage.)

ANN T. LOPE

Good for you, Your Majesty. Mark that territory!

(OSTRIC returns.)

OSTRIC
(Anxious.)

Sire, I’m afraid they’ve moved the gates.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

What?

OSTRIC
(Assessing the offstage situation. Worried.)

It’s true, sire. They’ve put the gates across the verandah and locked them. We can’t leave.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

What?

(OSTRIC receives a message on his earphone.)

OSTRIC

Pardon me, sire, but–they say they want to–move in.

(The three of them watch as the PEOPLE return. There are no cameras clicking or flashing this time. Silence.)

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

 

Move in? What does that mean?

ANN T. LOPE

I’ve heard about people moving in on all kinds of places where they don’t belong. You have to stand up to them or they’ll just take over.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION
(Surveys the crowd.)

Hey, you, PEOPLE! This is my palace. This is my forest. You were welcome once, but you were not kind. You were not respectful. And now you are not welcome. Get out. This is my home and you do not belong here. NOW, GET THE HELL OUT!

(Long pause. They watch the PEOPLE slowly leave. HRH THE COWARDLY LION follows them to the end of the stage.)

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

And don’t come back!

(Long pause.)

ANN T. LOPE

Well, I think that did it.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

Do you, my dear? That felt really good. Like the time we were facing down the wicked witch. I told Dorothy, “Don’t you give those glam shoes to that witch just because she tells you to!”

OSTRIC
(Anxious.)

Sire.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

What?

OSTRIC
(Anxious.)

They’re coming back, sire.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

What?

ANN T. LOPE
(Joining the others.)

And they have–they have–they don’t have–

OSTRIC

They don’t have cameras, sire. They have–

(The PEOPLE file in. There is a sound of many guns being readied. Long pause.)

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

OSTRIC, am I still wearing my medal?

OSTRIC

Yes, sire.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

Good. Good. Otherwise, I would be afraid. But I have courage. ANN, my dear, you aren’t afraid, are you?

ANN T. LOPE
(Trembling.)

Not when I’m with you, Your Majesty.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

That’s good, my dear.

ANN T. LOPE

I think I should tell you now that I am an antelope, not a deer.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

Of course you are.

ANN T. LOPE

But I don’t mind being called a dear.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION

I’m glad, my dear.

(Long pause. They gaze at the PEOPLE. HRH THE COWARDLY LION takes a step downstage.)

I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid . . .

(HRH THE COWARDLY LION roars and prepares to spring.)

(Bright light up on the frozen characters. A roar of gunfire. ANN’s recorder falls to the floor.)

ANN T. LOPE
(Recorded voice.)

Do you mind if I record? For the podcast.

HRH THE COWARDLY LION
(Recorded voice.)

Wonderful! Do have some cake.

(End of play.)

The author: John Carter

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