Writings :: Plays :: Small Victories

DR. WISE: Psychiatrist, male or female, any age over 25, any ethnicity, any body type. Brown tweed.
GENERAL REID: male or female, any age over 35, any ethnicity, physically fit. Black military uniform, red buttons and piping.
GENERAL BARNES: male or female, any age over 35, any ethnicity, physically fit. Black military uniform, blue buttons and piping.
ROB: Businessman, male, any age over 21, any ethnicity, any body type. Suit with red shirt.
BEN: Businessman, male, any age over 21, white, any body type. Suit with blue shirt.
RUTH: housewife, female, around the same age as ROB, any ethnicity, any body type. Simple dress with red skirt. Matching purse.
BETH: housewife, female, around the same age as BEN (can be much younger), white, any body type. Simple dress with blue skirt. Matching purse.
TINY: Contractor, male (optionally female if TIM is male), between 20 and 60, white, burly. Gray coveralls.
TIM: Accountant, male or female, youngish, any ethnicity, petite. Gray coveralls.

Tag Line
War, fought one-on-one in controlled circumstances. What could go wrong?

Some time in the near future (like tomorrow), humanity is faced with an extremely cold war featuring every superpower (and some lesser power) country. One ingenious psychiatrist proposes an alternative to armed warfare. He suggests one-on-one confrontation that can be either fighting or negotiating, and the “winner” is the country whose citizens win either the majority of each “bout”. A small sample is set up by the psychiatrist, which he shows off to two generals from competing countries. The psychiatrist is confident that he has paired up combatants from each country who will naturally want to negotiate. He’s partly right.

Three small, equally sized cells with walls as partitions. (If each wall or panel makes the room narrower in the back than in the front, the audience will be able to see the walls.) In the stage right cell, Cell 1, there is no furniture. The walls and floors are made of metal. The middle cell, Cell 2 is decorated like a boardroom. The walls are lined with paintings and faux windows. On the table is a clear jug of water surrounded by six empty glasses. Cell 3, stage left is decorated like a café. There is a single round table with a checkered table cloth. The table is situated under a striped awning. The window under the awning covers a photo or painting of the inside of a café. The table has a small potted plant with two teacups and saucers. Neither the boardroom nor the café look real. They suggest the setting rather than capture it. All cells echo a bit, but the Cell 1 echoes the most and Cell 3 echoes the least. Each cell has two entrances, one from the back, and one from the front but there should be a visual indication of doorways.

No one inside the cell can see or hear anyone outside the cell, but the GENERALS and the DOCTOR can hear what the people inside the cells are saying by pressing a button next to the door of each cell. They can also observe the people in the cells, presumably through one-way glass made of space-age material.

There are four main spotlights – one for each cell, and one for the front of the stage in front of the cells.


Small Victories

(Front spotlight opens, other three are dark. DR. WISE speaks from right wing before entering with the GENERALS.)



Right this way. We have our experimentation rooms set up over here. Three of our subjects are in their cells already, and the final three will be arriving momentarily.

(DR. WISE and the GENERALS stop in front of Cell 1. All other lights come up, revealing the cells and their occupants. In Cell 1, TINY bounces on his toes and cracks his knuckles. He vibrates with anticipation. In Cell 2, ROB paces in front of the faux window. There is a meadow scene behind the glass. Every few minutes, he pauses and taps at the glass. In Cell 3, BETH sits at the table, fussing with the flower arrangement. She pulls up her skirt to adjust her pantyhose, revealing a massive purple-yellow bruise on her upper thigh.)



War should be anything but experimental.



We have little choice at this point, I’m afraid. Every country’s leader has their finger on the button that sets off a nuclear bomb.




I’m aware of the situation, Doctor. But what is this…

(gestures to cells)

supposed to accomplish?



Several things, General. Firstly, hand-to-hand combat ensures that we will indeed have a clear winner and loser of each battle. Secondly, every person who professes investment in the war has the opportunity to back his position up by serving his county. Thirdly, as we have designed each experiment to maximize the conditions for a truce, casualty count will naturally be smaller on both sides. There will be no Prisoners of War, no man unaccounted for. Finally, once a combatant has fought for his country, he can go home immediately. One-on-one war is efficient, inexpensive, and (chuckles) hopefully bloodless.

(DR. WISE has gotten more and more smug with each statement, whereas GENERAL REID’S excellent posture has gotten more rigid throughout the DOCTOR’S speech. During the discussion, GENERAL BARNES has examined CELL 2 and has just approached CELL 3.)


Hey! There’s a woman in this one!




Women have been surprisingly eager to sign up for the war effort – far more than we originally anticipated. Perhaps they have more of a violent streak than we give them credit for.

(Beckons to GENERAL BARNES, who returns to the front of CELL 1.)

You’ll want to see this. This is what we mean when we say that we’re stacking the deck for peace.

(Spotlights for Cells 2 and 3 go dark. Spotlight for front of stage dims. TIM enters through back door of Cell 1. GENERAL BARNES laughs.)



What is this? The huge guy is going to murder that tiny guy!

(Turns and flexes toward DR. WISE as though he’s going to hit him.)


(Steps back and holds up a placating hand toward GENERAL REID.)

Have some faith in humanity, General.

(Pushes the button next to CELL 1’s front door. Tony stops bouncing and pacing.)


Who are you? Where’s the guy I’m supposed to kill?



(Laughs timidly.)

We don’t have to fight, necessarily. We could discuss the differences our respective countries are having, and hash out the issues.



I didn’t come here to talk.

(Shakes his head and sighs.)

But I can’t fight you. It wouldn’t be fair.

(He turns his back to TIM. DR. WISE removes his hand from the button. TIM mimes speaking and gestures in a conciliatory way at TINY. DR. WISE leads the GENERALS to Cell 2. Spotlight dims in Cell 1, but we can still see TINY and TIM talking even though we can’t hear them now. TINY is visibly frustrated. TIM is cool. Spotlight up on Cell 2.)


You see, Generals. We pair combatants who are unlikely to fight with each other, in very specific environments in order to ensure a situation that will end in a truce.



That’s not war. It’s psychological negotiation.

(BEN enters Cell 2, shakes hands with ROB. Looks around the cell and laughs (mime). ROB and BEN chat, but we can’t hear them.)



Exactly. We’ve gotten too reliant on physical and nuclear power and now we’re on the verge of destroying each other. Now, look at these two gentlemen. Our profiles indicate that they are of similar economic and social status. Both men agree that war is unwelcome, and that they are only fighting out of a sense of duty to each man’s respective country. We have recreated an environment that each man is comfortable in, and one that comes with a built-in negotiation connotation.

(As DR. WISE speaks, ROB and BEN sit down at the table and speak seriously with each other. BEN laughs too much, but otherwise seems normal. DR. WISE and the GENERALS move toward Cell 3. Spotlight dims on Cell 2. TINY and TIM continue interacting with each other in Cell 1. The men are now on opposite sides of the cell, and TIM is now clearly agitated, but TINY is cool. AS DR. WISE and the GENERALS move toward Cell 3, spotlight brightens on Cell 1. TIM charges TINY and catches him around the waist. TINY pries TIM off and laughs heartily (though we still can’t hear him). He tosses TIM away, but TIM comes back. This time, TINY loses his balance and the men fall to the floor. Spotlight goes completely dark for Cell 1. Spotlight opens on Cell 3. RUTH enters. As BETH stands, her knee hits the table and she knocks over her teacup. She rights the cup and then stands, uncertain and belligerent until RUTH laughs and offers her hand. BETH laughs too, but doesn’t mean it. The women sit and chat.)


And here we have two housewives. As with the men, the women are of approximately the same socioeconomic position. Each woman has two children, and they both live in the suburbs.

(RUTH pulls photographs out of her purse to show BETH. BETH does the same. The women exchange photos, and exclaim (silently) over each other’s children. BETH is less enthusiastic. Spotlight dims on Cell 1. Spotlight brightens on front of stage. ROB and BEN exit Cell 2 through the front stage door. They are surprised to see the DOCTOR and the GENERALS.)


Oh, hello.


Hello. Did you gentlemen come to an amicable agreement?


Oh, yes. What is war, if not a negotiation?






Excellent. We commend you on your civilized decision.

(DR. WISE watches the men move toward Cell 3, and puts his hand out to stop them, but then lowers it without saying anything.)


(Stopping in front of Cell 3. Laughs.)

Hey, look. That’s my wife!


(Right behind Ben. Stops too. Laughs.)

Hey, my wife is in there too. Hi Ruthie!




She can’t hear you.

(Closes half of the distance between himself and ROB and BEN. Apologetic and anxious.)

Actually, you gentlemen were supposed to exit through the other door. This one should have been locked. You’re not really supposed to see the other combatants.


(Taps on window like it’s a goldfish tank. Laughs again.)

Sorry, sir. We’ll go. C’mon Rob.


I’m glad it looks like they’re getting along. My Ruthie is pretty fierce when she gets going.


Oh, you don’t have to worry about my wife. She has no fight in her.

(BEN taps the glass one more time. Pushes the button next to the door, just because he can. BEN and ROB exit.)


(Has wandered over to Cell 1 and is peering in.)

Good Lord!

(Spotlight opens on Cell 1. TINY is sitting next to prone TIM, head in hands. He can be weeping if he wants to. DR. WISE and GENERAL REID run over to Cell 1.)



(DR. WISE fumbles with his keys, but GENERAL BARNES just opens the door because it is unlocked. The GENERALS and DR. WISE enter the cell. They help TINY up and comfort him. Spotlight dims on Cell 2 and gradually goes completely dark. Meanwhile, the button that BEN pressed allows us to hear the women’s conversation.)


And then little Sammy kicked the poor priest right in the shin!

(Laughs musically.)




(Stands and paces.)


(Oblivious to BETH’S agitation.)

And then little Sally runs over and kicks the priest too. Scamps!


So I says to Mabel, I says –


(Moves so that she stands behind RUTH’S shoulder, looking down at RUTH.)

So, listen. We’re going to fight, right?


(Has to twist her neck around to look up at BETH. Laughs, uncomfortable more from the strain on her neck than Ruth’s demeanor.)

Of course not, dear. We’ll simply put in a dual vote for a truce.


Oh. Okay.

(BETH stands silently for a moment, and then just as RUTH takes a breath to speak, BETH hauls off and hits RUTH hard on the side of the face with her purse. RUTH staggers up from the table and then falls to one knee, her back to BETH. RUTH stands up and faces BETH. RUTH is dizzy, annoyed.)


What did you do that fo – ?

(BETH hits RUTH again, but RUTH hits back. The women knock the table over, and BETH slams RUTH into the wall, and then knocks RUTH’s head against the wall a few times. RUTH crumples to the floor. BETH goes to work, kicking the woman in the ribs.)


(Screams in between kicks.)


(RUTH has stopped moving, so BETH stops kicking her. BETH rights the table, collects both women’s purses, and sets them on the table. BETH empties RUTH’S purse and changes the contents of her purse to RUTH’S purse. She leaves her old purse on the table and heads toward the door. She stops, returns to the table, picks up the flowerpot, tugs the flowers out of the pot and stuffs the flowers, soil down, in RUTH’S mouth.)

I brought you flowers, baby.

(Exits CELL 1. DR. WISE and the GENERALS have taken TINY out the back of CELL 1 and are returning to CELL 1 just in time to see BETH come out of Cell 3. BETH nods at them.)


(Exits with a saunter. DR. WISE and the GENERALS walk over and look into Cell 3. Silence. RUTH moans. The spotlight dims and goes out as the men run into Cell 3.)