Rich Ritter - The New Voice of the American West

Parts of Speech: A One Act Play Suitable for the Classroom or Stage

NARRATOR (a bespectacled college professor dressed in tweed jacket and speaking in a soothing academic voice, each part of speech enters the room when cued): After another contentious disagreement between Verb and Noun concerning an unexpected shift from transitive to intransitive that left Noun perplexed and humiliated, Noun has convened a meeting of all the parts of speech to resolve the matter. As you can see, Noun is already sitting behind an ornately-carved wood table waiting for the parts of speech to arrive at the small windowless room illuminated by candles. (Narrator gestures around the classroom) A shimmering dress flowing across her graceful legs, feisty Verb is ready for action as she strolls to the front row and sits directly across from Noun. Pronoun, dressed in monotonous gray from head to toe and tired of standing in for Noun (and feeling a bit underappreciated), sits behind Verb and stares at the floor. Wearing colorful but clashing bow tie, shirt, pants, and a dapper porkpie hat, Adjective immediately searches for his best friend Noun when he enters the room, and then saves a seat for Adverb because he knows that she is usually late. Preposition follows closely behind and upon arrival at one of the folding chairs appears confused: should he sit on it or under it? Conjunction, full of youth and verve, but not particularly interested in the meeting or its agenda, skips into the room and quickly glances around so that she knows who is attending or not and then she snuggles next to Pronoun (who she has always admired). Interjection enters with crashing footsteps and a loud exclamation to announce his arrival, but no one pays him a bit of attention because they’ve all heard it before. Adverb finally appears a few minutes late: she would have made a special effort to arrive on time if Verb or Adjective had called the meeting, but she has never fostered a meaningful relationship with Noun. Shall we listen in as the meeting begins?

NOUN (pounding a varnished wood gavel repeatedly on the top of the wood table): First an announcement: I would like to remind the group that the Articles are attending a jazz festival in the city of New Orleans and do not return until the end of the month. I see that Adverb has finally arrived—late as usual I might add—so let us begin the meeting. Although I asked you all to call me “master” last week, and “Bob” yesterday, please refer to me as “president” today. Better yet, call me “President Bob,” if you don’t mind. Now, the reason that I—President Bob—have called this meeting, is to—

VERB (her voice quivering with anger, interrupts): What right do you have to call any meeting at all. Just because you are the subject of a sentence and can change your name to Bob, Davenport, toaster, or psychology as you please doesn’t give you the right to order the rest of us around. I would like to move that you change your name to “blockhead” or “fool,” or better yet, “ignoramus.”

Verb turns and addresses the other parts of speech

And furthermore, I would like to point out that he’s not the boss of us, even if he decides to change his name to “boss.” Who’s willing to support me and second the motion?

The other parts of speech sit quietly and do not respond

Anybody? Doesn’t anyone in the room have the guts to support me on this? Am I the only one who is willing to take action?

CONJUNCTION (raising her slender arm): I would like to point out that Verb could not have made that motion without my help, and….

PRONOUN (standing and waving his arms): I would like to point out that Verb, bless her heart, used me repeatedly without ever mentioning “Bob” or “president.” But as usual, I get no respect for the important role I often play in syntax.

ADJECTIVE (removing the dapper porkpie hat from his exquisite head and using it to gesture): Oh shut up you silly Pronoun. You don’t even exist unless the wonderful Noun, which I often modify into something truly wonderful, establishes the primary subject and therefore the primary purpose of the sentence. Without the all-important “Bob” there is no “he” whatsoever. And without magnificent me, sentences would become as dull as a lackluster pronoun.

PRONOUN (speaking to Noun but keeping the corner of his eye on Adjective): Adjective always takes your side of the argument no matter what you say and ignores the rest of us. I don’t care what you call yourself. Without me, things would get pretty repetitious around her. Can you imagine? Bob decided to take a walk. On the way Bob met John, and Bob invited John to lunch. As Bob and John continued to the restaurant Bob and John ran into Sally. Bob invited Sally to lunch as well, and Sally accepted. Bob and John and Sally then walked briskly to the restaurant, and when Bob and John and Sally arrived Bob and John and Sally asked the head waiter, whose name was Fred, for a table near the window. Fred directed Bob and John and Sally to a table, and then Fred handed menus to Bob and John and Sally, and after a while Bob and John and Sally ordered lunch.

ADVERB (speaking cautiously because she had never developed a direct working relationship with Noun): I frankly disagree. Although he is often flamboyant I genuinely appreciate Adjective and truly enjoy chumming around with the remarkably colorful guy. As a matter of fact, I honestly enjoy hanging around with amazingly supple Verb too, and, not surprisingly, sometimes I even hang around with myself.

NOUN (pounding the gavel on the table again in response to Verb’s earlier motion): Look at the mess you’ve created, Verb! I can’t even start the meeting because of your intemperate outburst! I swear, sometimes it’s impossible to figure you out. You dart around in the past, present, and future. You change your mood from indicative to imperative at the drop of a hat. You shift from transitive to intransitive and then back again whenever you feel like it. Your voice is never the same, sometimes active and sometimes passive. And don’t even get me started on your so-called subjunctive mood. Frankly my dear, working with you is absolutely maddening!

INTERJECTION (finally perking up): Yikes and gadzooks! Did someone say “outburst”? Holy crap!!—that’s my job!!!

PREPOSITION (still trying to find a comfortable position under the chair, and then rising and stepping on top of the chair to speak above the din): This whole discussion is flying over my head. If someone doesn’t get to the point fast, I’m heading through the door, down the stairs, and across the street to that quaint little pub on the boulevard, the one below that charming bed and breakfast on the second floor.

VERB (the tempo of her words rising): Listen here, President Boob…do you think it’s any fun trying to keep up with you? First you’re singular, then you’re plural, then you’re a collective noun, and then you take a coffee break and turn the whole mess over to Pronoun so that you don’t have to do any work at all, and I have to conjugate all over again.

NOUN (closing his eyes and shaking his head) The name’s Bob—President Bob—and I expect an immediate apology for calling me President Boob.

VERB (rolling her eyes): Read my lips, President Blob. I will not apologize. I have not apologized. I am not apologizing. I will not be apologizing anytime soon.

ADVERB (clapping her hands and smiling broadly): I sincerely love it when she conjugates so remarkably.

NOUN (shaking the gavel at Adverb): Adverb, I can’t even remember a single time when you supported me on an issue. You always side with Verb! What is your problem?

CONJUNCTION (surprised and alarmed and speaking to both Noun and Verb): Can’t the two of you just work together and come to some sort of agreement and stop all this fighting? After all, can you really write a decent sentence with only a noun or only a verb? I don’t think so. I think both of you are important and that you should stop arguing so that we can all go home and relax and enjoy the evening and get on with life.

Pausing to think before continuing

And if you really want a genuine problem to complain about, try the experience of some writer replacing you with a lowly semi-colon in the middle of a compound sentence and then you’ll know what true rejection feels like or maybe you won’t and this conversation will never end.

ADJECTIVE (waving the crisp, clean porkpie hat in the tense air of the stuffy little room): You think that’s bad. How do you think it feels when some thoughtless writer mistakenly uses you to modify a scandalous verb or another glittering adjective? Try that for a mortifying event.

Then turning to Adverb

No intentional offense, my humble friend. You probably feel the same when an insensitive writer uses you to modify a salacious noun, or even a lackluster pronoun.

PRONOUN (he suddenly stands, sniffs, and wipes a tear from his eye): Here we go again. Lackluster pronoun. How come I never get to be the salacious one? Why does everybody always assume that I’m boring? I ask all of you: who ever thinks of me as salacious? Anybody? Any one of you? I would like to be thought of by someone in this room as salacious once in a while. Is that too much for me to expect from any of you?

NOUN (attempting not to snigger): I, your president and leader, would be more sympathetic to your plight if you could ever come up with a decent gender-neutral personal pronoun. The other parts of speech and I, your president, have waited for years.

PRONOUN (his sad expression turning to a sneer): I’m working on it, but every time I throw something out for consideration everyone laughs at me. For example, “shim” was not well received by anybody. Neither was “herm.” Frankly, I’m running out of options.

VERB (leaning provocatively against the back of the chair and giggling): Well, you have to admit that both “shim” and “herm” are ridiculous, but not as ridiculous as your earlier attempts. I still remember the unfortunate day you announced “shis.” That surprised everyone, including the Articles. One false keystroke by a writer and who knows what kind of trouble she might get into with the editors.

NOUN (standing and pointing the gavel randomly around the room): Enough of gender-neutral personal pronouns. This meeting is turning into a chaotic event. Will someone please make a legitimate motion so that we can achieve a concrete result?

VERB (also standing and waving her arms): Sure, I don’t mind taking some action since everyone else appears unwilling to do so. I retract my earlier motion, since you found it so offensive, and move that there is no point to this meeting and that we adjourn posthaste.

ADVERB (aggressively jumping to her feet): I happily second the motion—and what a wonderfully clever use of the adverb “posthaste.” Very few writers have properly appreciated that lovely word in my recent memory.

ADJECTIVE (throwing the now rumpled porkpie hat across the room just below the mottled ceiling in need of a fresh coat of pristine paint): And I third the astonishing motion by exquisite Verb. I can see now that I have made a serious mistake by not getting to know this lovely woman better, an unfortunate occurrence that I intend to rectify.

NOUN (his voice shaking and now pointing the gavel directly at Adjective): You can’t third a motion, Adjective. And stay away from Verb. The two of you have nothing in common. For starters, look at the clothes you wear. Look at that tie. Look at that shirt. Good grief!

INTERJECTION (exclaiming in a slow crescendo): Did someone say good grief! GOOD GRIEF!!!!

CONJUNCTION (dancing and clapping and smiling): I love it when someone uses “and” at the beginning of a sentence. I wish more writers would do that. It gives me chills.

PREPOSITION (crawling out from under the chair again): Can’t we just call an end to this meeting and all head through the door, down the stairs, and across the street to that nice little pub on the boulevard below the bed and breakfast on the second floor? That’s my recommendation.

NOUN (slamming the gavel on the table): Order! Order! Get your butts in those folding chairs immediately. Order!

NARRATOR (the parts of speed argue distantly in the background and follow the narrator’s cues to leave the room): And so it went for another seven minutes or so, when Preposition, who could not tolerate another moment under the chair, finally took matters into his own hands and headed through the door. And then Conjunction followed, and right behind too. Soon Verb—glad for the opportunity to taunt Noun once again—waved goodbye to Noun with a confrontational flip of her hand and dashed out of the room. Adverb closely followed verb. Adjective ignored the tedious hammering of the ponderous gavel and the chaotic shrieks of Noun and also followed Verb because he wanted to get to know her better (although this is a separate and quite heartrending story of a tragically doomed relationship). Then Interjection yelled several irreverent exclamations, but luckily most of the other parts of speech were out of earshot, and when he had bolted from the room only Noun and Pronoun remained.

Narrator glances first at Noun and then at Pronoun

But our story is not quite finished yet.

NOUN (slumping into his chair and then tossing the gavel onto the table): I give up. There’s no way these unruly parts of speech will ever agree on anything. That’s it. I just give up.

Pronoun, the only one left in the room, stands and raises his hand

Yes Pronoun, what do you want now?

PRONOUN (glances at his shoes for several seconds before looking up at Noun): I’ve been considering something.

NOUN (obviously disillusioned with the collapse of the meeting): Yes, yes…get on with it.

PRONOUN (suddenly brightening): What do you think of “heesh”?


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