Firing Squad: A High School Production
Back in 2006 I was a high school senior. I also wanted to grow up to be a playwright. Fortunately, my high school teachers indulged my artistic self importance and my classmates were eager to try out something “serious.” So, I wrote this play, Firing Squad. They even let me direct it. Still blows my mind. My only regret is rejecting the use of blood packets. There could have been SO MUCH BLOOD.
Firing Squad is a series of eight vignettes about people being executed by firing squad (obv). Opening night was captured on video by buddies of mine. I’ve cut out sections of the footage because in our production, since we had no sets, we charged the set crew with removing the corpses of our actors. The lights were not bright enough to allow those “set changes” to be caught on camera, except for the first one, for which the lights were accidentally left on.
Overall, I am still proud of this project ten years later. All of us young peeps were excited and curious and oblivious to the possibility any of this would turn out badly. My performance in particular, despite being small, is quite terrible. I hope you enjoy it!
This post is also dedicated to the memory of Sierra Fox, who played Prisoner 1 alongside me in Scene 2, and who passed away tragically a few years ago.
A MAN in his 30s and a little GIRL of 9 are led in front of a firing squad, center stage, their hands bound behind them. They are facing the audience — the firing squad. The EXECUTIONER stands stage left.
GIRL: Are we going to die for the Republic?
EXECUTIONER: (To man) Now isn’t that cute, training your little puppy to spout propaganda.
MAN: She isn’t mine if that’s what you mean.
EXECUTIONER: Well, then there’s no use pitying either of you, is there?
MAN: May not be useful, but would be much appreciated.
GIRL: Don’t be a coward!
MAN: Quiet, you. You’re the one who couldn’t possibly leave your doll behind. But where is your doll? Oh! That’s right, they took it.
GIRL: She is more loyal and had more of a backbone than YOU do, and she is stuffed with wool!
EXECUTIONER: Now, that’s enough out of both of you. Let’s get down to it. (To Audience) All loaded, men? Good. Now, shall we get on with these blindfolds?
GIRL: I don’t want a blindfold!
EXECUTIONER: Oh, come now, you have to wear a blindfold.
GIRL: Why? So you murderers won’t have to look into our eyes?
EXECUTIONER: Well, that’s a pretty good reason, but I suspect it’s more out of tradition.
GIRL: Puppets! Cowards!
MAN: Yeah! You feeble little girls!
MAN: No offense, dear.
EXECUTIONER: Now shut up, both of you. This is taking far too long. On with the blindfolds.
GIRL: No! (jerks away)
EXECUTIONER: (Stands and speaks to man) Perhaps she’s afraid of the dark?
MAN: I’m afraid of the dark! (EXECUTIONER grumbles and grabs the GIRL to blindfold her. She complains loudly.)
EXECUTIONER: There now. And here is your last cigarette. (Puts cigarette in MAN’s mouth and lights it. Walks over to the girl and stops awkwardly.) Am I supposed to give the little thing a cigarette?
MAN: You could always give it to me for later.
EXECUTIONER: No, come now, seriously. Should I give it to her? She is a child.
GIRL: I don’t want a filthy cigarette. It touched your hands! You pig! You scoundrel!
EXECUTIONER: All right, that’s enough (Stuffs the pack of cigarettes in her mouth.)
GIRL: (Muffled from the pack) Long live the Republic!
EXECUTIONER: Ready men? Aim! Fire!
Sound of gunshots. MAN and GIRL fall to the floor dead. Lights fall and crew remove the corpses from the stage.
Three prisoners stumble in front of the firing squad exhausted from sleeplessness and having been beaten. PRISONERS 2 and 3 are clutching each other. PRISONER 1 wanders out almost happily.
PRISONER 1 Begins to laugh hysterically.
PRISONER 2: What’s the matter with you?
PRISONER 1: Look! (Motions toward the audience. The other two look forward and pause in horror.)
PRISONER 3: Oh… God…
PRISONER 1: Today… my dears… we dance with Death…
PRISONER 3: No, no! This is absolutely crazy! You’re wrong…
PRISONER 1: Can’t you see? Or have your eyes swollen shut?
PRISONER 2: (To Audience) How can you do this? What have we done? Tell us!
PRISONER 1: Don’t bother. Good people always think they’re right.
PRISONER 2: Good people?
PRISONER 3: Good people?
PRISONER 1: Well, they must be good.
PRISONER 2: Why? Because we’re the ones getting shot?
PRISONER 3: Does that make us bad?
PRISONER 1: Yes! Horrible and nasty!
PRISONER 2: You’re insane!
PRISONER 1: You’re insane. You think we’re not going to die.
PRISONER 3: We’re going to die?!
PRISONER 1: Oh, dear, the beatings have scrambled your brain…
PRISONER 2: What did we do?
PRISONER 1: Dissented!
PRISONER 2: Dissented?
PRISONER 1: Revolted!
PRISONER 3: Revolted?
PRISONER 1: We fought with life and limb; bloodied our fingers and our brows for the sake of a future good. We stood on the backs of weaker and more vulnerable men and we shouted “nay!” To those who would oppress us!
PRISONER 2: My god… no.
PRISONER 3: No! (PRISONERS 1 and 2 begin to wail and clutch each other.)
PRISONER 1: No! Don’t give them the satisfaction of seeing you break! Die with scowls on your faces!
PRISONER 2: No! No dissent!
PRISONER 1: No dissent?
PRISONER 3: No revolt!
PRISONER 1: No revolt?
PRISONER 2: I stole a loaf of bread!
PRISONER 3: I stole the meat! (The sob in each other’s arms.)
PRISONER 1: My god… (Looks to the audience). For bread and meat? (Voice offstage shouts Ready Men?) You… you fiends…
PRISONER 2: (To audience) You always think you’re right!
Voice yells “fire!”. Shots fire and the PRISONERS fall down dead. Crew carries the corpses off stage.
EXECUTIONER drags on a young woman who is fighting and screaming. He throws her to her knees center stage.
WOMAN: (Yelling) Untie me!
EXECUTIONER: (Yelling) Stand up!
WOMAN: Untie me!
EXECUTIONER: Shut up, you tramp!
WOMAN: Untie me, you pig! Untie me! (EXECUTIONER relents and unties her hands. She recoils and rubs her wrists.) Thank you. You’re too kind!
EXECUTIONER: Stand up!
Woman: Sit down! (EXECUTIONER grabs her and attempts to put her on her feet. She laughs.)
EXECUTIONER: I’m warning you! Stand up now!
WOMAN: (Breaks away, now standing.) Or what? You’ll rap my knuckles? Slap my wrists? SHOOT me while I’m on my knees! (She advances on the EXECUTIONER and he backs away.) You’re going to pump me full of lead anyway, you slag, what does it matter if you can’t see my shins?
EXECUTIONER: You want us to miss and have to shoot you repeatedly while you bleed in agony?
WOMAN: Why not? Sure would be an awful lot of trouble for you, watching a woman writhe in her own blood in front of your rifles. You’re pathetic.
EXECUTIONER: You’re the one I’m going to execute!
WOMAN: You’re not even going to pull a trigger. You’re to kill me by raising your arm and telling OTHER MEN to fire! Coward! Mouse! You haven’t the substance to even do me in yourself. (She spits at him).
EXECUTIONER: Watch yourself, witch!
WOMAN: Or what?! Here! Slap them! (She presents her wrists.)
EXECUTIONER: Stand straight, or we’ll fire before you get the chance to beg for mercy.
WOMAN: YOU’re not a man worth of hearing me sneeze, let alone beg… (The scowl at one another. The WOMAN looks into the audience.) All right, men. Are you ready to do this dog’s bidding? Remember my face: I plan to laugh hysterically in all of your nightmares! Come on! Let’s go!
EXECUTIONER: (Yelling) That’s enough! (Stands stage right and faces the audience) Men! Aim! Fire!
Gunshots and WOMAN shrieks. She laughs/sobs briefly. Falls down dead. Lights fall and crew removes her corpse.
EXECUTIONER drags MAN center stage. He is shaking with fear.
MAN: Where are you going? (EXECUTIONER starts to walk offstage) Don’t leave me! You can’t! (Runs after EXECUTIONER, who promptly drags him back center stage.)
EXECUTIONER: Stop it! (Man cowers) Shut your rat face this instant! You’re going to die now, get it? Accept it! That’s it! You are a sniveling, weak, horrible excuse for a human being and we’re going to shoot you in the heart and that’ll be the end of you. The end of your pathetic existence. All you’ll be is a stain on the ground.
MAN: No! It’s wrong! This is wrong. I’m not what you think I am. I’m sorry for what I’ve done! I was stupid! I was selfish! It was a mistake! I know that now! There has to be something you can do! Please, I beg you on my knees, give me a chance. A second last chance for my life.
Even put me somewhere far away where I can never harm anyone again. I’ll never look at another human being.
EXECUTIONER: That’s right, the last thing you’re going to see are five bullets racing for your chest!
MAN: No! No! No! No! It isn’t so! Please! They must be blanks. Death doesn’t want me to day! I can feel it in my bones and my soul.
EXECUTIONER: Vermin do not have souls….
MAN: I am a man! I am not a rat! These rifles are not meant to aim at me. I beg you, benevolent sir/ma’am, let me live now to prove my humanity. Please… please… let me live… (sobbing).
EXECUTIONER stands with the man sobbing into his legs, pausing. After much tension over a long pause, the EXECUTIONER speaks).
EXECUTIONER: No.. (Backs away after tossing the MAN into standing position) Men!
MAN: Have mercy! No!
The squad fires. MAN collapses in agony and dies. Lights fall and crew removes his corpse.
EXECUTIONER gently escorts two young women center stage. They are bound with their wrists in front of them.
WOMAN 1: Sir?
EXECUTIONER: (Gruffly) What?
WOMAN 2: Are we allowed to have last words?
EXECUTIONER: Yes. I suppose.
WOMAN 1: My sister and I would like to address you all in something we’ve written.
EXECUTIONER: Very well.
WOMAN 1 reaches into the pocket of WOMAN 2 to retrieve a paper. She unfolds it with her wrists still bound.
WOMAN 1: (Reading) In life and time and space we sleep. Our minds dose nonchalantly, anticipating the moment when the flame of our existence will be casually extinguished, sending us off to the great beyond on a ribbon of smoke.
WOMAN 2: Few of us ever know in life that death itself will not be as causal as we anticipate. The majority of humans never realize that they will be ripped from their lives of nonsensical animation and music-video special effects like a child from an unfit-mother’s arms.
WOMAN 1: We were members of the majority.
WOMAN 2: We dosed nonchalantly.
WOMAN 1: We have stolen.
WOMAN 2: We have murdered.
WOMAN 1: Today we die.
WOMAN 2: We wish we could take you rats with us.
WOMAN: We hope you die of some long-suffering and horrible disease.
EXECUTIONER looks to audience uncomfortably.
EXECUTIONER: Fire men, Now!
The squad fires and the women collapse. The lights fall and the crew removes their corpses.
EXECUTIONER pushes in 4 PRISONERS, two women and two men. Their hands have been bound.
EXECUTIONER: Stand up!
MAN 1: What the?
WOMAN 1: (Looking into audience) You’re executing us now?
EXECUTIONER: Shut up!
MAN 2: Our hands aren’t tied? No blindfolds?
WOMAN 2: We have not been fed in four days!
EXECUTIONER: Doesn’t matter. You’re going to die.
MAN 2: That’s horrid!
WOMAN 1: You can’t!
WOMAN 2: We should receive a last meal at least!
MAN 1: (Goes to WOMAN 2) Hush, dear. Don’t tempt them!
WOMAN 2: Tempt them to what? We’re going to be shot! They’ve beaten us and starved us for four days. I want a last meal. We deserve a last meal.
WOMAN 1: How can they do this? How can you do this?!
EXECUTIONER: Quiet! Stand straight! (Begins to bind the hands of MAN 2)
WOMAN 1: Oh god!
MAN 1: Gold steady, perhaps this is a mind game.
MAN 2: It’s no mind game, you idiot. They’re killing us.
WOMAN 2: With empty bellies. You monster. Feed us! Feed us! (Points at EXECUTIONER)
EXECUTIONER: Shut up!
WOMAN 2: No!
MAN 1: Control yourself! Don’t make this worse.
WOMAN 2: How could it be any worse? Starved, beaten, executed. I won’t do it! I stayed quiet in the pitch black while they clubbed me. I stayed quiet in the pitch black while they clubbed all of you. And I stayed quiet in the pitch black as the days were lost — without food or water or light. I’m hungry!
MAN 2: Yes! Hungry!
MAN 1: Stop it! It’s not going to help.
EXECUTIONER: That’s right! Now come here. (Grabs at WOMAN 2, who runs backwards a few steps)
WOMAN 2: (To MAN 1) Look at that! The Executioner agrees with you! You’re just like them!
MAN 2: She’s right.
MAN 1: Hold your tongue. It’s just the stress. We aren’t going to die today.
WOMAN 1: I think we are.
WOMAN 2: Yes we are. They’re going to blow us away with shriveled up stomachs! You filthy monsters (Pause). I’m hungry. I’m hungry! (She chants this at the EXECUTIONER and audience, her volume rising with each renewal)
EXECUTIONER: (Moves toward WOMAN 2, who keeps chanting) Shut your mouth!
WOMAN 2: I’m hungry!
EXECUTIONER: That’s it! (Forces WOMAN 2 onto her knees and pulls out a pistol. The EXECUTIONER presses the barrel to her head and the woman goes quiet. Pause.) Now stop.
The PRISONERs stand motionless in horror. WOMAN 2 is frozen for a moment in fear. Then she looks up at the EXECUTIONER, who is watching her nervously.)
WOMAN 2: (Chanting first quietly, then loudly) I’m hungry! I’m hungry! I’m hungry!
She chants at the EXECUTIONER and begins to rise. EXECUTIONER seems unaware of what to do. When WOMAN 2 rises aggressively, the EXECUTIONER fires the pistol, shooting her in the head. WOMAN 2 collapses dead at the EXECUTIONER’s feet.
The PRISONERs stand shocked and quiet. The EXECUTIONER stares down at the corpse in horror and backs away stage left.
WOMAN 1: (Softly) No… No…
MAN 1 approaches WOMAN 2 in disbelief and sorrow. He kneels at her side and grieves, squeezing her arm. Then he stands and looks at the EXECUTIONER
MAN 1: I’m hungry. I’m hungry. (continues)
MAN 2: (Steps forward and joins) I’m hungry!
WOMAN 1: (Steps forward and joins) I’m hungry!
The EXECUTIONER backs away as their chants get louder and louder. EXECUTIONER looks into the audience and raises their arm…. And drops it.. The squad fires, the PRISONERS collapse, and the lights fall before the crew retrieves their corpses.
EXECUTIONER walks in MAN with hands bound to center stage.
EXECUTIONER: Now, have you any last words?
MAN: Words you’d like me to give you?
EXECUTIONER: Perhaps a confession.
MAN: Why a confession?
EXECUTIONER: To not leave the families with doubt. And perhaps earn some mercy for your damned soul.
MAN: Oh, I’m damned. That’s right.
EXECUTIONER: No last words, then?
MAN: Eh… All right. I am indeed guilty.
MAN: I murdered eleven people —- seven women and four men.
EXECUTIONER: Yes, we–
MAN: (Interrupting loudly) You know, yes. I stabbed them all repeatedly and ripped out their innards.
EXECUTIONER: That’s enough. (Creeped out)
MAN: Oh, no. I kept them a few days to play with and when I had mashed their insides up enough— like a fine orange pulp—I’d toss them.
EXECUTIONER: Yes, now…
MAN: Does that satisfy you?
EXECUTIONER: Sure. Makes me even sicker than before I first laid eyes on you.
MAN: Lovely. I also assaulted several young children before I was 19.
EXECUTIONER: That’s enough!
MAN: Oh? One of them was my sister.
EXECUTIONER: Stop! That’s enough! (Attempts to be intimidating out of fear)
MAN: Ooh, you’re scary.
EXECUTIONER: Shut your face! Men! Fire!
Squad fires. MAN falls down dead. Lights fall and the crew removes his corpse.
EXECUTIONER walks 6 PRISONERs center stage. Their hands are bound in front of them.
EXECUTIONER: Okay. Say your piece. Make it quick.
PRISONER 1: Our piece?
EXECUTIONER: Last words.
PRISONER 1: Oh… Um… well… I dreamed last night for the first time in ages. It’s been so long since I’ve had sleep… I dreamt that a hawk was resting on my chest as I slept on the cell floor. It looked at me and then it grew fifty fold and broke the brick walls. And I flew away on its back. I flew above these grounds and saw you men go home to your families I flew to the house I grew up in and it was empty. But there were pictures of a Christmas when I was 15. Mother, Aunty Meg, my sisters Sheila and Ann. We were together. But never again. I know you’re all people with families. So you understand. I suppose. I love my family. Let them know that.
PRISONER 2: (Nods) Me?… Okay… Um… I didn’t have any dreams. I couldn’t sleep. I just wrote letters to my friends and family in my head. I can’t really remember any of them now. But I suppose the gist is that I’m sorry. I wish I could tell them how much I regret being brought here, being ripped away from them. I wish I could tell the world how I’m sorry for it. I want the world to know just how precious it is. And how much I’m sure I’ll miss it.
EXECUTIONER: Now you. (Gestures to PRISONER 3)
PRISONER 3: All right… I’m not very eloquent, I don’t think. But I’m about to die, so maybe this is just the opportunity I need. I hope you all rot. I hope your angry, vengeful establishment crumbles and collapses and there’s blood running in the streets—your blood! And I hope your families are so ashamed of you they will be unable to utter your names or even think about you without contemplating and committing suicide.
PRISONER 4: Well said. Good passion. I wish I had passion like that. I’m blind, deaf, and stupid these days. No food. No water. No sunlight except for this day of death. I want to say goodbye to the sun, who today decided to grace us with merciful light. My friend here might as the sun to burn you all to death. But the sun isn’t like you. The sun is benevolent. Like my mother was. Like my father is. Like I could’ve been. So cheers to the kind of quality person I might’ve turned out to be.
PRISONER 5: Lovely… Utterly lovely… I cheated my way through high school. I cheated on my taxes. I cheated on my [spouse] — [spouses]. There were three of them. I’ve cheated on everything I’ve ever done. All of my weak accomplishments don’t belong to me. They belong to the shortcuts and the lies and the plagiarism and the people who sat in the desks that surrounded me. I’m worthless. I’m a stain. I have nothing to show for my existence. I don’t even deserve to die in such a tragic and memorable way.
PRISONER 6: Amazing. I’m hungry. But you’ll feed me with lead soon enough. Goodbye mum. Goodbye dad. Goodbye Shawn and Maggie and Alex… Don’t cry. Don’t wait. Don’t fast. Don’t recline into insomnia. I’m free today. I’m free within the robes of Death. His scythe will guard me from hate. His shadows will comfort me like blankets. Peace be with you all.
EXECUTIONER: Is that it? (PRISONERS nod) All right then. Ready men? Aim! Fire!
Squad fires. But the PRISONERs all remain standing, their eyes squeezed tightly shut… They’re… alive?
PRISONER 5: What?
PRISONER 1: Blanks… blanks….
EXECUTIONER chuckles arrogantly, entertained. The PRISONERs bow their heads and sigh.