Note: If you’d like to produce this play, on stage or in a class — please email me and ask permission. It will be granted, but I’d really like to know about it.
This was the first ten minute play I ever wrote — and probably the only one that lasted ten minutes. It was Christmas, and I wanted to write something about Hannuka. I also wanted something irreverent. I remember watching the first performance (the only one I’ve seen). I was in the back, and a woman in one of the back rows turned in her chair and averted her eyes from the stage. She whispered “I can’t stand this.” Doesn’t bother me now, but it did then.
By Sam Post
© 2000, by Samuel M. Post
KATE and MIKE sit in front of a Hanukah menorah.
KATE: You don’t mind, do you?
MIKE: Not at all.
KATE: You’re not Jewish. I know that.
KATE: Yeah. Well…you know what my mother gave us for Hanukah?
KATE: A story. Every night. Every candle.
He counts the candles.
MIKE: Nine stories.
MIKE: Nine candles.
KATE: This one is for lighting the others. It sits higher.
MIKE: Eight stories.
KATE: Well, no. We light one the first night, two the second night, three the third. So on.
MIKE: She told a different story for each candle, each night?
KATE: She liked to tell stories.
MIKE: Not my mother.
KATE: She didn’t tell stories?
MIKE: The truth is enough for her.
He stops. Calculating…
That’s…how many stories is that?
MIKE: Were they all about Hanukah?
KATE: Never. Hanukah was the occasion. The stories were about people in my family.
MIKE: There are that many people in your family?
KATE: I guess. Well, there could be more than one story about some of the people. And there was no rule against telling the same story twice, or more… It changed every year. Hanukah is not…it’s not supposed to be that big – but my mom…she has her own interpretations.
KATE: I’ll show you the way we did it.
She lights the Shamas.
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukah.
There, take that candle and light the first one.
He lights the candle.
Now, we didn’t do this at home, but I thought I’d add a little extra celebration to the ceremony.
She takes out a pipe and fills the bowl with marijuana.
We’ll take a hit with each candle.
MIKE: That’ll work.
She uses the candle to light the bowl and take a hit. He does the same.
So, that’ll be…eight hits.
MIKE: And the story.
KATE: Well, she always told this one. My Grandmother’s two brothers went to work one day and nobody ever saw them again.
MIKE: Is that the story?
KATE: That’s it.
MIKE: No wonder she told so many. They’re short.
KATE: I can make it longer, if you want to know more. Stalin did it.
KATE: He’s the one who made them disappear.
MIKE: Stalin made your grandmother’s brothers disappear?
KATE: According to the story. It was his policy.
MIKE: Stalin’s policy.
KATE: Yeah. Next candle. Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukah.
He lights the next candle.
When my mother was in college, in North Carolina, my aunt – in New Jersey — sent her hot meals on the train. She put the plate on the train early in the morning. When my mother got the meal, in time for dinner, it was still hot.
MIKE: That’s impossible.
KATE: Things traveled faster back then.
MIKE: No, things were slower.
KATE: Not according to my mother.
MIKE: I don’t believe it.
KATE: You don’t know this aunt. Food was her life.
MIKE: I still don’t believe it.
KATE: She could have gotten it really hot, and taken it right out of the oven and packed it – in whatever they packed things in – and rushed to the train. It might have been possible.
MIKE: I don’t think so. When was this?
KATE: In the forties.
KATE: I said they were stories. I wasn’t alive then. Light the next candle.
He lights the third one and they take a hit.
My grandfather used to sit in the pool hall all day while my grandmother did all the work. They say he was a brilliant man.
MIKE: From shooting pool?
KATE: He didn’t shoot pool. He read the newspaper and the Bible.
MIKE: In the pool hall.
KATE: Right. It was quiet there.
MIKE: She worked.
KATE: Right. He was an architect in Europe, but after he immigrated he was a peddler. Then he got married when he was forty, got a store, had children. It was the first chance he had to rest, to catch up on his reading. So he got lazy. That gave him a chance to be creative again. He was very creative. When my grandmother got really angry, and needed him to come home – to do some sewing…she sent my mother down to the pool hall to get him.
MIKE: Pool is creative.
KATE: It was only two blocks. He could make anything. When they couldn’t get clothes, they got material so he could make clothes. If other people had material, he’d make whatever they wanted. He made pants, suits…he even made rain coats. If somebody had a couple of extra shirts but no pants, he’d turn the shirts into a pair of pants. When my grandmother needed him to do some other kind of work, like fix the toilet, or watch the store – she sent my mother to get him – but unless it was to make something, he wouldn’t go.
MIKE: Sounds like he had it made.
KATE: No, he wasn’t so happy. And there was another one…a friend of his…light another candle and I’ll tell you this one.
He lights the fourth candle. They take a hit.
My grandfather used to sit in the drug store, across the street from the store, and stay awake all night long, drinking coffee and listening to news about the war on the radio. They couldn’t stop listening to war news. This one guy…one of the guys in the drug store…his wife came in the middle of the night wearing her nightgown and told her husband to take a break and come home. She walked down there in her nightgown. It was a scandal in the town. A real shocker. A pissed-off wife in a nightgown, in the drug store. Light another candle.
He lights the fifth one and they take a hit.
This one is family legend. My cousin was in a firing line. He studied the yard, how the people dropped when they were shot, and how the bodies were removed at night. He fell just before the bullets were fired. He lay, piled with the dead bodies, until dark, and then escaped. Somehow he got to America and became one of the top life insurance salesmen in the state of New York.
MIKE: That’s not true.
KATE: It happened more than once. Light another one.
He lights the sixth candle and they take a hit.
You could tell one, if you like.
MIKE: I’m fine.
KATE: My mother never had a friend over to her house when she was a kid. She was embarrassed.
MIKE: About their house?
KATE: Because they didn’t have one. They lived above the store. And because her parents had this accent. In fact…light another one.
He lights the seventh candle. She begins to take a hit and stops herself.
You’re not supposed to do this.
MIKE: Do what?
KATE: You’re not supposed to use the candles for…for other things, not even light.
MIKE: Not even light?
KATE: No. They’re just supposed to sit there and be beautiful.
Beat. Perhaps a romantic moment.
That’s a rule. But…my mother made her own traditions…I’ll make mine.
They take a hit.
When I was little, my parents didn’t want me to understand what they were saying. So they spoke Yiddish – and they could barely speak it.
MIKE: Can you speak it?
KATE: Not a word. Neither can they, anymore. Light another one.
He lights the eighth candle and they take a hit.
When my aunt said she was getting married, my uncle wasn’t Jewish. He wouldn’t convert. The whole family flipped out.
MIKE: Did they get married?
KATE: They did. They flipped out. Nobody talked to her for about five years.
KATE: They couldn’t deal with it.
MIKE: With what? Him?
KATE: They liked him. And they got used to him not being Jewish.
MIKE: So what was the big deal?
KATE: He had this big family, and they weren’t Jewish either.
MIKE: Did they want him and his whole family to convert?
KATE: No. It was just that they weren’t. Like, when I had this boyfriend…
MIKE: There are no more to light.
KATE: That’s all right. I had this boyfriend…
MIKE: But are you allowed to tell another story when there aren’t any candles left?
KATE: Yeah. I had this boyfriend…
MIKE: Shouldn’t there be a rule about that? Nine stories. Only eight candles?
KATE: Shut up. You’re fucked up.
MIKE: So are you. I’ll tell mine now.
KATE: Let me finish. I had this boyfriend who wasn’t Jewish. It didn’t go over well.
MIKE: What’d you do?
KATE: We broke up, eventually.
KATE: That’s right. So it became a moot point.
MIKE: Who was he?
KATE: You don’t know him.
MIKE: Oh well.
KATE: If we tried to get married, one of those stories could be about me.
MIKE: Then it’s moot.
KATE: Moot, or doomed. Two options.
MIKE: Doomed or moot. Moot or doomed. It’s confusing.
KATE: Moral dilemma.
He moves to kiss her and she inches away from him.
I don’t know. It could ruin this.
She gestures with the pipe.
…which is fun.
KATE: One more.
MIKE: Then what’s our rule? X plus two equals the number of hits, with X being the number of candles.
KATE: We’ll figure it out.
They take another hit.
MIKE: My family’s story is a little different, because we never tell it.
KATE: If you don’t tell it then it’s not a story.
MIKE: You’re right. It’s not a story. It’s the truth. When it’s true it doesn’t need to be a story.
KATE: When it’s a story, people remember.
MIKE: They remember.
KATE: Okay. Remember what?
MIKE: The truth.
KATE: Okay. What?
MIKE: My father. I told you about him.
KATE: Yeah. You work with him.
MIKE: Every day. He’s not my real father.
KATE: You never told me that. I guess that is a story.
MIKE: He is a father. He would do anything for me. But he’s not my real father.
KATE: Who is?
MIKE: A guy who got shot in the back before I was born. In Vietnam. We don’t talk about him. See? It’s easy to remember.
KATE: I’d call it a story.
KATE: I might have to get a ruling from my mother on that one.
MIKE: To see if it qualifies as a story.
MIKE: See what she says.