Crystal’s Ladder

A Short Play by Shane Worrell

CHARACTERS

RICHIE, a man sitting at home waiting for his internet to be installed

CRYSTAL STEPHANIE ELLIOTT, a recently deceased former distant step-relative of the “world’s biggest movie star”, Clayton Chilton

FEMALE TV PRESENTER, co-host of This Morning

MALE TV PRESENTER, co-host of This Morning

MAINTENANCE MAN, a guy who installs ultra high-speed internet

The stage is split evenly into two sides. A door into a lounge room is L., which leads to a couch that faces the audience. RICHIE is sitting on the couch as though facing a TV. There is room for a second person next to him. The other side, on stage R., is a TV studio where FTVP and MTVP sit in separate seats facing the audience as though looking into a television camera.

[On the rise of the curtain, the two TV presenters begin talking. RICHIE watches TV; he is facing the audience.]

FTVP: Just repeating the big story out of Hollywood overnight.

MTVP: That’s right – this is absolutely huge news out of Tinsel Town.

FTVP: And devastating.

MTVP: Yes, absolutely devastating.

FTVP: A Hollywood A-list tragedy of the highest magnitude–

MTVP: Clayton Chilton, the biggest name in showbiz.

FTVP: –has met with a tragic end.

MTVP: That’s right – a tragic end. Death.

FTVP: Not his own, thank heavens.

MTVP: He’s still alive. But the tragic, sudden death … of a close family member.

FTVP: That’s right, Crystal Stephanie Elliott, Chilton’s former distant step second cousin – and an aspiring actress in her own right – has been found dead in her apartment in downtown Hollywood.

MTVP: Downtown from Hollywood, at least. A couple of hundred miles away. Sources say she was found on her bathroom floor, in a pool of blood, with a suspected head wound.

FTVP: Police are yet to confirm a cause of death — but are certainly treating it as suspicious.

MTVP: Certainly we are.

FTVP: After the break, we’ll cross live to Hollywood where our Tinsel Town correspondent has already complied a list of 10 most likely explanations of what happened.

MTVP: Stick with us for full coverage of the Clayton Chilton tragedy. You’re watching This Morning.

FTVP: The show everyone’s waking up to.

 ———————————

[Focus of scene shifts to RICHIE, who fails to notice CRYSTAL STEPHANIE ELLIOTT sneak in and sit down on the couch next to him]

RICHIE: (Reflectively while sipping on a coffee) Crystal … Stephanie … Elliott? (Shakes head) An actress, huh? I can’t think of anything she’s been in.

Anyway, what’s Clayton Chilton been in since Danger Run? Besides all those stupid Danger Run sequels.

CRYSTAL: Don’t forget the prequel, (in sarcastic tone) Danger Run: The BeginningDanger Crawl would have suited it better.

RICHIE: (Startled): What the— who are you? And what are you doing in my house?

CRYSTAL: What are you still doing in your house? Don’t you usually leave for work (checks watch), half an hour ago?

RICHIE: How do you know that?

CRYSTAL: I come here every day after you leave and watch the rest of This Morning. What a brilliant show.

RICHIE: What? (Stands up) OK, get out. I’m calling the cops.

CRYSTAL: Richie, relax, that was a joke. Coming here every day to watch your TV? Come on, man, that would be weird. It’s not even ultra HD.

RICHIE: So why are you here?

CRYSTAL: Because I’m dead.

RICHIE: (shocked) I’m sorry?

CRYSTAL: I’m dead. I’m Crystal Stephanie Elliott.

RICHIE: (Points to TV) The actress?

CRYSTAL: Aspiring actress. Though, given I’m dead, aspirations are kind of pointless now, huh?

RICHIE: So what are you doing here? In my lounge room?

CRYSTAL: (In a serious tone) I was sent here to give you an important message from beyond the grave. (Laughs) Spooky, huh!

RICHIE: Let me guess: I’ll have to wait yet another day for my ultra high-speed internet?

CRYSTAL: Sorry?

RICHIE: I’ve been waiting all week to get this ultra high-speed internet hooked up. The company calls to say: “Our technician will be there tomorrow, between 7:30am and 4:30pm – can you make sure you’re home?” And it’s always the same —  hey call at 5pm to say the guy didn’t have time to come and can I be home at the same time tomorrow. So I sit here in my pyjamas, longing for a shower.

CRYSTAL: Because if you take a shower and you miss him, he’ll have to come back tomorrow – between 7:30 and 4:30.

RICHIE: You got it.

CRYSTAL: Ever thought of taking a shower before 7:30?

RICHIE: (Light bulb moment, nodding) Now that’s an idea! Thanks for stopping by to tell me; these messages from beyond the grave really work.

CRYSTAL: Actually, that’s not why I’m here. I’ve come to tell you that—

RICHIE: (Interrupting) Yeah, yeah, grab a seat for a moment while I watch more of this. I want to know what happened to (turns head to face Crystal) … you.

CRYSTAL: How long have you been watching?

RICHIE: About two hours. They must have mentioned you 15 times – so they’re bound to mention the cause of death soon.

CRYSTAL: Do you know any more about my death than you did a minute after you switched on?

RICHIE: Not really. They’ve just spent most of that time repeating the main headline and speculating.

CRYSTAL: Let me guess: they want you to think I was a) killed by a drug dealer, b) died of a drug overdose or c) and this is more for the conspiracy theorists, was killed by Clayton Chilton himself.

RICHIE: They’ve repeated several times that you live in a ghetto. And that most of your neighbours are members of gangs. And that those gangs likely have links to drug syndicates and extremist groups.

CRYSTAL: My point exactly.

RICHIE: They’ve said a number of “pimps, hos and crackheads” are helping police with their inquiries.

CRYSTAL: Ugh.

RICHIE: They’re promising to cross to someone who knows about your “drug connections”?

CRYSTAL: Probably the pharmacist I get my anti-anxiety medication from. Being a deep thinker in this day and age can be challenging.

RICHIE: Sorry?

CRYSTAL: Never mind. Anyway, tell me, what you’re getting out of this breaking story so far.

RICHIE: Well, a few things, actually: (counting on fingers) you shouldn’t do drugs, you should stay away from gangs and you should be careful which neighbours you speak with, lest your casual over-the-fence conversation results in you signing up to ISIS. I’m also getting the sense that movie stars really do live fast and die young.

CRYSTAL: This might be harder than I thought.

RICHIE: So what’s this all about, anyway? Why are you here?

CRYSTAL: I’m dead.

RICHIE: How did you die?

CRYSTAL: It was much less glamourous than you think.

RICHIE: But it must be in some way interesting? Why else would they have it on TV?

CRYSTAL: Because they’ve found the tiniest of links to a celebrity and will now run with it till the end.

RICHIE: They said you and Chilton were close. You’d liked at least seven of his Facebook posts.

CRYSTAL: Soul mates, clearly.

RICHIE: Well, public interest – you are an actress.

CRYSTAL: I was in a play about gangsters when I was 10. I played a dead body. Perhaps I could reprise that role now, eh? But, really, I’m not an actress.

RICHIE: Not even an aspiring one?

CRYSTAL: I’m dead. I’m not aspiring to anything. Except this mission. Get this done, I’m told, and I can rest in peace.

RICHIE: So, anyway, what is this grand mission?

CRYSTAL: They were unequivocal that intervention was needed in your life, so here I am! With an important message!

RICHIE: I would have showered if I’d known about this.

CRYSTAL: The pyjamas aren’t exactly The Epiphany Range are they?

RICHIE: So, what is it? This important message, at 9am on a Wednesday?

CRYSTAL: I’ve been instructed to guide you to your own realisation. I’m starting to get the impression that such a thing might be slightly harder with you than normal.

RICHIE: What’s that supposed to mean?

CRYSTAL: Let’s keep watching, shall we?

———————————-

(CRYSTAL and RICHIE settle into watch television. Focus of scene shifts back to TV hosts.)

FTVP: Six members of the activist group rallied outside the parliament, urging the government to incarcerate Patrick Tynan, publisher of the English dictionary, on grounds he is spreading hateful propaganda that undermines national and family values, and could, if left unchecked, bring down the entire economy.

MTVP: The protesters claim Tynan violated the constitution by declaring “post-truth” the word of the year.

FTVP: Tynan’s actions, they say, amount to treason and they want nothing less than inquiries into his political allegiances, his financial conduct and suggestions he cheered against his own country during the national team’s recent heartbreaking World Cup qualifier loss.

———————————-

(Focus of scene shifts back to CRYSTAL and RICHIE on couch.)

CRYSTAL: Weird, eh?

RICHIE: Yeah, imagine cheering against your own country – it’s the World Cup, for God’s sake.

CRYSTAL: I meant the main point of that story.

RICHIE: Tynan’s unpatriotic behaviour?

CRYSTAL: There was a protest against Tynan declaring “post-truth” word of the year.

RICHIE: As they said, it’s treason.

CRYSTAL: Do you know what “post-truth” means?

RICHIE: No.

CRYSTAL: I’ll give you the dictionary definition: “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

RICHIE: Well, that’s just empty rhetoric.

CRYSTAL: I don’t think you realise the irony of what you just said.

RICHIE: What do you mean?

CRYSTAL: “Post-truth” language is empty rhetoric. Except it’s delivered with gusto – it’s emotive and hypnotizing.

RICHIE: What’s your point?

CRYSTAL: We’ve arrived at a juncture in history where politicians are saying whatever they want.

RICHIE: Haven’t they always lied?

CRYSTAL: Probably, but at least they used to try to mount a case based on evidence. Now they just pick something or someone to discredit. Without even the flimsiest piece of evidence, they label them the enemy, demand their destruction, label fast-checkers biased and – if anything goes wrong – declare the system corrupt and broken.

RICHIE: Well, I don’t care about politics. So your message is for the wrong guy, I’m afraid.

CRYSTAL: Not so. Post-truth has already spread far beyond politics – that’s where you come in.

RICHIE: How so?

CRYSTAL: Well take what you just watched on This Morning as an example.

RICHIE: Right.

CRYSTAL:  A whole six people were leading a campaign against the dictionary editor.

RICHIE: Everyone has a right to protest.

CRYSTAL: Precisely. But this group was accusing him of being a criminal, a traitor to his country.

RICHIE: Haven’t you heard of free speech?

CRYSTAL: I have. But, let me ask you this question: was it news that six people think he’s a criminal, but have no evidence to support it?

RICHIE: But he cheered against his own country in a World Cup qualifier.

CRYSTAL: There’s no suggestion this dictionary editor has done anything except his job. Six people don’t like him highlighting the fact that he is essentially calling out politicians they support. They’re getting all worked up. They have placards with catchy slogans. They’re using words like “treason”, “conspiracy”, corruption”. Breakfast television has swooped in. This is perfect footage for them. It’s emotive. It raises ire. It leaves people thinking this dictionary editor – and he’s a dictionary editor, for God’s sake – is a criminal.

RICHIE: I get your point. This show does tend to sensationalise stuff. I don’t know why I watch it, actually, but – Oh, wait. (Pauses to watch screen). That’s amazing – I cannot believe she looks like that now. She used to be like the hottest supermodel in Hollywood.

CRYSTAL: Why do you watch it?

RICHIE: It’s entertainment. And it’s on.

CRYSTAL: OK, then, let’s keep watching.

———————————-

(Focus of scene shifts back to TV hosts.)

FTVP: An airport has welcomed the 35 millionth plane to land safely around the world this year. The Boeing 747 touched down shortly after 2pm local time.

MTVP: That’s right: air travel is incredibly safe. Unbelievably safe. So safe that to be in any way scared of flying seems utterly ridiculous.

———————————-

(Focus of scene shifts back to couch.)

CRYSTAL: What do you think of that?

RICHIE: A bit weird. Nothing’s really happened in that story. It’s not news unless there’s a crash, is it?

———————————-

(Focus of scene shifts back to TV hosts.)

MTVP: In other news, yet another person has been crushed to death by a household item, this time a television.

FTVP: The 55-year-old man had bent down to adjust his his set when it fell from the cabinet, killing him instantly.

MTVP: Already, calls have come for all furniture imports to be banned while some say TVs should be outlawed altogether.

FTVP: But we here at This Morning caution against kneejerk responses.

MTVP: After all, some 99.9% of the population lives safely with television and furniture.

FTVP: At this point, we must declare an interest: This television network – though it has been disingenuous in the past, is not saying this just because we need TVs in order to survive.

MTVP: No, we actually don’t want people to overreact. Stay calm.

———————————-

(Focus of scene shifts back to CRYSTAL and RICHIE on couch.)

RICHIE: Well, that was a bit weird. What was that?

CRYSTAL: That was a little supernatural trick of mine from beyond the grave. You just watched the news from a different perspective. What did you think?

RICHIE: It seemed very . . . honest. A bit boring, perhaps. Not sure I’d watch that every day if they spoke like that all the time.

CRYSTAL: Funny that.

RICHIE: It was a bit weird people were getting so worked up over TVs killing them. How many people do TVs kill?

CRYSTAL: I can only speak of stats from my own country – about as many as are killed in terrorist attacks. A dozen or so each year.

RICHIE: But terrorism’s different. The threat is much greater. That’s national security stuff.

CRYSTAL: But everyone’s got a TV.

RICHIE: True. But it’s terrorism. It’s stupid to compare it to falling televisions.

CRYSTAL: Listen, there needs to be national security. Governments need to protect their people – from all sorts of threats. I mean, 1.5 million people worldwide still die of tuberculosis each year. Governments have immigration measures to curb the spread of it across borders, and so forth. But do we hear about it on the news all the time?

RICHIE: Not really.

CRYSTAL: But terrorism is everywhere, isn’t it? We hear about it all the time.

RICHIE: That’s because terrorist attacks are soaring.

CRYSTAL: Deaths worldwide have more than doubled, sure. About 30,000 thousand people per year are killed. But did you know that about 80 per cent of those deaths occur in just five countries – none of them Western.

RICHIE: Listen, I think we can agree that terrorism is absolutely terrible. To deny that is insensitive.

CRYSTAL: Absolutely, it’s terrible. Each death is a tragedy – it’s people killing people, plain and simple. But to sensationalise terrorism – to hijack it for political gain or to boost media profits – is just as insensitive. You just create fear. Fear of the “other”.

RICHIE: Look, I don’t sit here scared out of my mind about it, but terrorism is getting worse. People are killing people – as you put it – in record numbers. It’s fact.

CRYSTAL: True. But did you know in the time of hunter-gatherers, people killed each other at a rate 500 hundreds higher than they do now? People are much kinder to each other than they once were.

RICHIE: You can say that, but it doesn’t make the world some peaceful utopia, does it? That’s some la-la fantasyland. The world is still full of evil. There are homicidal maniacs out there.

CRYSTAL: Look, that’s one perspective. And the la-la fantasyland is another. It’s not one or the other. My point is that there are many ways to think about this. 

RICHIE: I don’t get you.

CRYSTAL: It’s about the information you take in.

RICHIE: Keep going. I don’t at all get it, but, hey, it’s novel for a Wednesday morning.

CRYSTAL: The world is at the crossroads, Richie. It’s post-truth. It’s politicians, it’s television shows, and – you know what?

RICHIE: What?

CRYSTAL: It’s the internet. It’s social media. They said ideology died with the fall of communism. But more than ever, the world is dividing in all sorts of ways based on people’s beliefs. People take a position. They subscribe to politicians, media outlets, bloggers, social media personalities – they want their own views reinforced. Then they use their own platform – Facebook, Twitter, whatever it is – to trumpet it as loud as they can, free from having to provide evidence to back up what they are saying. Just as long as they make it emotive and, sadly, divisive.

RICHIE: Yeah, I guess I have to agree with that. There does seem to be a lot of people talking to themselves very loudly these days. But what does that have to do with anything?

CRYSTAL: Well, there’s just so much happening now isn’t there? So much information, so much exchange. Everyone is desperately vying for everyone else’s attention for 30 seconds. Even this breakfast TV show we’re watching. They go for the attention-grabbing headline, the shock, they outrage, they divide … and, eventually, they conquer.

RICHIE: But people know it’s all bullshit. They don’t take it seriously.

CRYSTAL: Are you sure? How did you think I died, Richie?

RICHIE: Umm … a gang killing? Or a drug overdose?

CRYSTAL: Care to take a look?

———————————-

(Focus of scene shifts back to TV hosts.)

FTVP: It has now been confirmed that A-lister Clayton Chilton’s former distant step second cousin, aspiring actress Crystal Stephanie Elliott, died from a sharp blow to the head.

MTVP: Yes, that’s right. Police say an overturned ladder was found next to the would-be starlet, who was found dead in her bathroom. A shattered light globe was also found in the room.

FTVP: Police suspect the actress was struck over the head with the light globe – and when that didn’t kill her – was hit a second time, this time with the ladder.

MTVP: Officers are interviewing local gang members in the area, and continue to suspect the involvement of a drug cartel with covert links to a terrorist group.

———————————-

(Focus of scene shifts back to CRYSTAL and RICHIE on couch.)

CRYSTAL: I’m starting to lose all hope here.

RICHIE: Someone hit you over the head with a ladder? God, people will use anything these days.

CRYSTAL: You know, Richie . . .

RICHIE: God, you know, that could happen to anyone. I get a bit worried about this neighbourhood sometimes. There’s that dodgy guy who lives across the street. I bet he’s a drug dealer.

CRYSTAL: Richie, I fell off a ladder. I was changing a light bulb.

RICHIE: I’m so sorry. My condolences … I’ve never met anybody’s who’s fallen off a ladder and died before. But, seriously, a ladder? So, wait, how does that fit into this universal message you’re bringing me.

CRYSTAL: You’re twice as likely to fall off a ladder and die than you are to be killed by a terrorist.

RICHIE: Really?

CRYSTAL: People are falling victim to fear, Richie. They are redrawing boundaries and putting up walls to protect themselves from this fear. But it’s not getting us anywhere.

RICHIE: But what’s that got to do with post-truth politics, breakfast television and social media?

CRYSTAL: We need harmony – not necessarily unity, because, let’s face it; there is no single narrative anymore. Information is coming from every which direction.

RICHIE: It sure is. Even from dead people.

CRYSTAL: You have to filter through it. Ask what it means and where it’s coming from? Who’s saying it and for what reason? Fear is part of being human, but allow your mind to help you decide what to be scared of – and why. All the information in the world is in your hands – especially with this new super-turbo charged, ultra-light-speed internet you’re getting – and your reaction to it is whatever you want it to be.

(Doorbell rings. RICHIE goes to stand up to go and answer it.)

CRYSTAL: Richie.

RICHIE: Yeah?

CRYSTAL: Who did you straight away think that was when it rang?

RICHIE: The man coming to install my internet.

CRYSTAL: Did you have any other thoughts? Even split-second thoughts?

RICHIE: Like what?

CRYSTAL: Like it was your neighbour coming to kill you? Or a terrorist?

RICHIE: OK, yeah, sure, I did. But isn’t that normal? Isn’t that natural? Isn’t that survival 101? Human instinct?

CRYSTAL: You tell me – as I said at the start, I’m here only to guide you to your own realisation. Which reminds me. I’d best be off. (Walks towards door).

(CRYSTAL open the door and walks out. MAINTENANCE MAN doesn’t notice her as she exits off stage. He addresses RICHIE.)

MAINTENANCE MAN: Yeah, g’day mate. Just here to install your internet.

RICHIE: Great, come in.

MAINTENANCE MAN: Just one thing — I was in a rush to leave home this morning and I forgot to pack something in my van.

RICHIE: So …?

MAINTENANCE MAN: You don’t have a ladder do you?

Blackout

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