Breathless by Deborah Mulhall

This Play is the copyright of the Author and must NOT be Performed without the Author's PRIOR consent

SCENE ONE

PART 1 : JOINING

Scene opens: All 4 soldiers are doing PT in PT gear of their time
(no uniforms). It is exhausting to watch. The first lines are said
during PT exercise)

TOM - bloody –

DAVE - exhausting –

HARRY: - but b–

TOM -loody

ALAN - brilliant –

DAVE - exhilarating –

HARRY - even –

TOM - but –

ALAN -eventually –

DAVE - it –

HARRY - breaks –

TOM - you –

ALAN - it –

DAVE - breaks

HARRY - everyone.

TOM But,

ALAN you’re with

DAVE your mates.

HARRY So you can do it

(They all collapse breathing heavily. Then they roughhouse each
other, enjoying the camaraderie. Cross to kitchen where
MOTHER is. ALAN moves over, she hands him an envelope. It is
his school results.)

MOTHER Well?

ALAN Good. More than I need for the army.

MOTHER Is it really what you want? I mean, I wish you would consider
something else. University? Maybe a teacher?

ALAN Come on Mum. Grandpa was in the army. My stepfather is in
the army. I’m in the cadets. It’s what we do. What did you
expect?

MOTHER That you would go into the army.

ALAN Besides, look at the benefits. Medical. They train me. And I get
paid while I get qualified. Who wants a boring civvy job? This
way I get to travel. It’s – it’s what I want.

MOTHER If it really is – then what can I say. You’re my baby. I love you.

(Scene shifts. DAVE enters. Mother hands him an envelope
containing his draft papers. He opens it. During the following,
ALAN dresses in contemporary desert fatigues)

DAVE Shit. Well Mum it’s hardly a surprise, is it? We watched the
draft on TV so we knew this was in the mail.

MOTHER But I – guess I hoped somehow it wasn’t real. It just seems so
unfair – so random – those marbles that come out of a barrel.
DAVE (sardonically) It's not everyone my age who gets to fight in a
war. Lucky bloody me, huh? I guess if I have to do two years of
Nasho I may as well go to Vietnam. Everyone else has to. Don’t
wanna miss out on the party.

MOTHER That’s it then?

DAVE That or years in jail. Mum, I’m not the conscientious objector
sort. You know that. And my mates are going. I’m gonna be left
here alone and there’ll be no-one to have a beer with … so …

(shrugs)

MOTHER If I ever meet that Billy Snedden –

DAVE Mum I don’t want to be over there and have you here breathing
fire at the politicians. I don’t have any grudge against anyone,
not against the government, not against Mr Sneddon, not
against anyone. It’s just –

MOTHER It isn’t even our war.

DAVE Geez Mum, you sound like a conchie.

MOTHER Maybe I am. Don’t see why my son should fight someone else’s
war. Put his life on the line for the politicians in another
country. Oh David …

DAVE Geez. Must be serious. You’re calling me David.

MOTHER Silly boy. Come here. (she gives him quick hug).

(DAVE moves away. TOM enters. During the following DAVE
dresses in the jungle uniform of the ADF in 1969.)

MOTHER Why would you fight for England? Look what they did to us in
the last war! Look what they did to our boys then.

TOM This isn’t about England. I don’t care about England. It is about
the Japs, Jesus Ma, they’re on our bloody –

MOTHER - don’t swear in this house!

TOM - doorstep. I got you and this farm. Our land. And I don’t want
this war to get anywhere near you or here. There are posters
everywhere and in at the pictures they show you. In the
newsreels they tell us that this war is about defending Australia.
This is my home Ma.

MOTHER And it’s my home too. How am I expected to run the farm
without you and with just a few farmhands when I can get
them? This place is too big for one person.

TOM I know. I know. That’s why we get some Land Army girls. The
Government will send some. I’ve already applied for you.

MOTHER You did what? Without asking me? This is my farm too. I get to
have a say. My name is on the deeds too. Your father left it to
both of us.

TOM Ma! First you’re snarky because you won’t have any help here
and when I organise some help –

MOTHER - You just didn’t ask me what I thought. As bad as yer father.
Just go off and make decisions without even so much as a byyour-leave. And Land Army girls? They won’t be country girls.
They’ll be city girls who won’t have a clue of what to do on a
farm. More of a hindrance than a help, I should think.

TOM Ma, the girls sign up for it. They want to come to the country.
They want to do their bit.

MOTHER Sounds like more propaganda to me. Don’t believe the
government Tom. You don’t know war. You don’t know what a
bullet can do. I do. My father went through it.

TOM If we do this now we stop them. And anyway, they said that the
Japs sight isn’t good - they wear glasses as thick as beer bottles
and they all wear glasses, so you don’t have to worry about
them shooting us. They’ll be useless.

MOTHER Who told you that rubbish? You don’t know the first thing
about them. They don’t think the way we do and they want …
they want … everything. Like Hitler does. They are the most
dangerous sort of people. Fanatics.

TOM Ma – they’re not like the Germans.

MOTHER I can only hope they aren’t worse.

(She holds up her hands and shakes her head. TOM moves away
to dress in the jungle uniform of a WW2 soldier. As HARRY enters.

HARRY Mother -

MOTHER You don’t need to say anything. I have been expecting this.

HARRY I have to do this. And think of it like this, you won’t get a white
feather.

MOTHER I don’t care what people think. I care about you.

HARRY I’m needed Mother. There are men out there giving everything
they’ve got. And they need help. My help. And anyway … it will
be an adventure. I have to go.

MOTHER Harry – the army isn’t kind to boys like you.

HARRY Life isn’t kind to boys like me.

MOTHER No. No it isn’t. I’m not going to say anything. I’ll have to go to
church every day and pray for you.

HARRY Thought you did that anyway.

MOTHER And I am going to get a map and follow so you will have to
write.

HARRY I will.

MOTHER Promise. (she hugs him)

HARRY As often as I can. And Mother?

MOTHER Yes?

HARRY Me car. It’s me pride and joy. Don’t sell it or anything. Anyway, I
don’t think she’d work for anyone else.

MOTHER Oooh. Maybe you can get a job in the army with the cars.
Maybe they’ll let you work on the cars if you tell them you
know how to drive and fix engines. (to herself) Keep him safe,
please God.

The four soldiers quickly form a group. Issue guns to each other,
passing them around until they each have the right one. They
also strap on to each other the necessary final accoutrements of
their particular time period eg flak jacket for ALAN and so on.

This is a fast vignette. They back up each other as each one
delivers the following.

PART 2: BEING THERE

ALAN in Iraq.

ALAN Iraq. Paradise. This was the Garden of Eden. That land between
the two rivers was the home of Adam and Eve. If you believe
that stuff. But it is spare country now; flat, sandy and windy.
There is sand in everything. In the crevices of your body and
your gun and your mind. You wake up and there is sand in parts
of your body you did not know even existed. You snap at
everyone and everything. Most of the time it’s boring. Clean
your gun.

DAVE in Vietnam

DAVE Vietnam is full of jungles, covered in booby traps and the bush
is so thick you gotta machete your way through it. The heat.
The rain. The shit humidity. Some of the guys are sick before
the war even gets to them. We spend our time at camp killing
six inch long scorpions, probably the original landlords of the
camp. Boring stuff. Then the leeches in epidemic proportions.
Some guys wake up in the morning with leeches under their
eyelids or in their mouths. Clean your gun.

TOM in Paua New Guinea

TOM We are either in mountains, or swamps, and the whole place is
infested with mosquitoes. Malaria. And if it isn’t malaria, then it
is dysentery and beri-beri chewing you up from the inside.
We’ve made these khaki kilts - you cut the bottom out of your
shorts so you can shit without shitting yourself. You get an
infection and they get ulcerated and the ulcers strip flesh to the
bone. There is wet and shit everywhere. Fed up with it all.
Clean your gun.

HARRY in France

HARRY Sometimes I get to drive the bigwigs around. Anyone who can
drive or fix an engine all want to be drivers. You gotta be really
good at it. When I’m not driving … well, I live in a dark
mildewed hole in the earth. I look around me at my damp rat
hole the sides and roof of which are lined with sandbags and do
nothing. There is nothing to do between the advances and
retreats. The lower bags here are green with mildew and the
upper ones up near the sun and air are sprouting grass.
Everything is rotting. You can’t get away from the stench of rot.
The bodies. The mud. It gets in everything. Clean your gun.

ALAN Always

DAVE Clean

TOM your

HARRY Gun

PART 3: FIRST GLANCE

DAVE home on leave

DAVE I get a week in Sydney, R&R. I could go home, but Sydney is …
well, Sydney. I need a break. I don’t want to have to deal with
Mum. (Lights on Mum forlornly reading a letter). It is one of
those clear, sparkly days on the harbour. We were told to wear
our civvies here because there is a lot of anti-war feeling. But I
don’t. I am not going to pretend. Although feeling a bit anti-war
myself. I knew there were going to be dead bodies there. I knew
that there were going to be some pretty shithouse periods of
time. I’ve seen dead animals, but I’ve never seen people like
that. They looked to me like dead animals. Like leaves fallen off
trees.

(A moratorium rally passes by chanting “Hell no we won’t go”.
DONNA is waving a placard. On seeing DAVE she leaves the
group and approaches him, quite fired up).

DONNA You know you’re wearing the uniform of a killer, don’t you?

DAVE What?

DONNA You bring misery and devastation, you destroy innocent lives.
And this war is costing a fortune. Money that could be used to
help people, not kill them. Aren’t you ashamed? You should be.

DAVE Woah! What’s brought this on?

DONNA You are one of them.

DAVE One of what?

DONNA A soldier.

DAVE Ok. Well, um. Does not make me a child killer.

DONNA It turns you into a killer. Why did you go?

DAVE You need to back off. Who the bloody hell are you to have a go
at me?

DONNA I am a citizen and I have a right –

DAVE - the right to shut up. What the hell do you know about it?

DONNA I watch it every night in my loungeroom!

DAVE And that makes you an expert?

DONNA I – I know what is right.

DAVE One up on the rest of us then.

DONNA Can’t you see what you are doing is wrong?

DAVE Hey! I didn’t have a choice. I was conscripted. What did you
expect me to do?

DONNA Burn your card.

DAVE Go to jail.

DONNA If you had to. Better than being a puppet of the government
and picking up a gun. You need to decide for yourself.

DAVE Is this how you usually spend your Saturdays? Attacking soldiers
with politics?

DONNA We have to fight for change. Make the government pay
attention.

DAVE Raise your voice, eh?

DONNA Look, the government is deciding that we aren’t able to decide;
that we can’t as twenty-year-olds look at the situation, the
Vietnam situation, and they’re saying that we’re not good
enough or we don’t know enough.

DAVE Maybe we don’t know everything at twenty. Maybe there is a
bigger picture.

DONNA And maybe not. But they are making the decisions for us and
it’s a matter of personal responsibility really. We didn’t vote for
them and yet they are making all the decisions for us.

DAVE Are you a communist?

DONNA (laughs) I’m a pacifist. That does not make be a communist.

DAVE Cos you sound a lot like a communist.

DONNA I just think – no, believe – people ought to be respected enough
to be able to determine whether or not a certain course of
action is proper or not. I think any particular situation … we
ought to be respected as to knowing what we should do, you
know? And I think that we should stand up against, or stand out
against, any law or a government which tries to treat us in this manner.

The crowd try to drag her with them. She resists and indicates
she will catch up later.

DAVE Bloody hell. Recite it all, can’t you? Got it down pat. Ciggie?

DONNA (Pauses). No.

DAVE What about your mates? (he lights up a cigarette)

DONNA They’re marching to Parliament House.

(there is a pause)

DAVE Look, you seem really sure of yourself.

DONNA Well – yes. I am. There’s a lot at stake here.

DAVE Oh yeah. You’d know.

DONNA Forcing young men to pick up guns and kill civilians so that
some country can keep a grip on its colonies - well, it just seems wrong.

DAVE Wow. What about the domino principle?

DONNA Really? That’s an old bit of rhetoric, isn’t it? I believe that it is
up to us to destroy false rhetoric. American imperialism has
been justified in the eyes of the Australian people by lies, halftruths, distortions, and occasionally truths.

DAVE Yeah? (pauses) So what do yer do when you’re not waving
placards around and spouting cliches?

DONNA I’m doing psych. At uni.

DAVE (laughs) Of course you are.

DONNA What’s that supposed to mean?

DAVE Typical intellectual stuff while the rest of us get on with it.

DONNA It’s not just Uni. Or maybe it is. People discuss things there, you
know?

DAVE Hey well, you know what? My mates in my unit discuss things
too.

DONNA And after all the discussion I have worked out that I am
opposed to War. Wars exist because Man wants them to. They
exist because mankind in general has made no serious attempt
to study the causes of War and the reasons why people are
willing to kill each other. I believe that the glorification of war,
the worship of things military as is apparent in Society, is
obscene.

DAVE Wow. Hey. That’s a mouthful. And you say you want to get rid
of the rhetoric.

DONNA (realising and laughing disarmingly) Fight fire with fire.

DAVE And she’s funny as well.

DONNA As well as what?

DAVE (pause) I’m Dave.

DONNA Dave. There’s a meeting at the Town Hall on Saturday
afternoon. Why don’t you come?

DAVE You’ll be there?

DONNA Yes. Even though I’ve got an essay due Monday. And there’s
people I’d like you to meet. And people who would want to meet you.

DAVE If you promise you’ll be there - ?

DONNA Donna.

DAVE Donna.

(She puts out her hand. He takes it and they smile at each other.

(Cross to HARRY in France)

[End of Extract]

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