Next script on my script shelf:
Next play in my little unalphabetized pile of Samuel French plays is Hello Out There: A One-Act Play, by William Saroyan
A simple and powerful one-act play by one of our most treasured American playwrights. I did this play in grad school and it was a total gift to work on it.
Here’s the plot (this is the synopsis written by Saroyan at the start of the play): Hello Out There tells about the bad luck of an itinerant gambler who is arrested and jailed in a small Texas town, charged with rape. The charge is a lie, but the only one who hears his call for justice and understanding is a young girl who cooks for the jail. The gambler gives all his money to the girl before a mob breaks into the jail and the lying woman’s husband shoots him.
It’s a tragic play. But the beauty of it is the connection formed between these two lonely characters. There’s a fire of urgency beneath them as well. The young man knows that a crowd of vigilantes will come and kill him in his cell – which has pretty much been left undefended. He needs to get out of that cell. This young girl is his only chance. You think the play is going to be one thing – about this wrongly accused man’s fight for justice … but it ends up being a love story. Or maybe more just a kindred spirit story. These two people, in the tiny prison, in the middle of the night, understand each other. They ‘get’ each other … in a way that neither of them have ever been ‘gotten’ in their lives. It’s gorgeous and very sad.
Here’s the start of this play.
From Hello Out There: A One-Act Play, by William Saroyan
[There is a fellow in a small-town prison cell, tapping slowly on the floor with a spoon. After tapping half a minute as if he were trying to telegraph words, he gets up and begins walking around the cell. At last he stops, stands at the center of the cell, and doesn’t move for a long time. He feels his head, as if it were wounded. Then he looks around. Then he calls out]
YOUNG MAN. Hello — out there! [Pause] Hello — out there! [Long pause] Hello — out there!
[A girl’s voice is heard]
THE VOICE. Hello.
YOUNG MAN. Is that you, Katey?
THE VOICE. No — this here is Emily.
YOUNG MAN. Who?
THE VOICE. Emily.
YOUNG MAN. Emily who? I don’t know anybody named Emily. Are you the girl I met at Sam’s in Salinas about three years ago?
THE VOICE. No — I’m the girl who cooks here. I’m the cook. I’ve never been to Salinas. I don’t even know where it is.
YOUNG MAN. You say you cook here?
THE VOICE. Yes, I do.
YOUNG MAN. Well, why don’t you cook something good?
THE VOICE. I just cook what they tell me to. [Pause] You lonesome?
YOUNG MAN. Lonesome as a coyote. Hear me hollering? Hello out there!
THE VOICE. Who you hollering to?
YOUNG MAN. Well — nobody, I guess. I been trying to think of somebody to write a letter to, but I can’t think of anybody.
THE VOICE. What about Katey?
YOUNG MAN. I don’t know anybody named Katey.
THE VOICE. Then why did you say, Is that you, Katey?
YOUNG MAN. Katey’s a good name. I always did like a name like Katey. I never knew anybody named Katey, though.
THE VOICE. I did.
YOUNG MAN. Yeah? What was she like? Big girl, or little one?
THE VOICE. Little.
YOUNG MAN. What sort of girl are you?
THE VOICE. Oh, I don’t know.
YOUNG MAN. Didn’t anybody ever tell you? Didn’t anybody ever talk to you that way?
THE VOICE. What way?
YOUNG MAN. You know. Didn’t they?
THE VOICE. No, they didn’t.
YOUNG MAN. They should have. I can tell from your voice you’re OK.
THE VOICE. Maybe I am and maybe I ain’t.
YOUNG MAN. I never missed yet.
THE VOICE. Yeah, I know. That’s why you’re in jail.
YOUNG MAN. The whole thing was a mistake.
THE VOICE. They claim it was rape.
YOUNG MAN. No — it wasn’t.
THE VOICE. That’s what they claim it was.
YOUNG MAN. They’re a lot of fools.
THE VOICE. Well, you sure are in trouble. Are you scared?
YOUNG MAN. Scared to death. [Suddenly] Hello out there!
THE VOICE. What do you keep saying that for all the time?
YOUNG MAN. I’m lonesome. I’m as lonesome as a coyote. [A long one] Hello — out there!
[The girl appears, over to one side. She is a plain girl in plain clothes]
THE GIRL. I’m kind of lonesome, too.
YOUNG MAN. [turning and looking at her] Hey — No fooling? Are you lonesome, too?
THE GIRL. Yeah — I’m almost as lonesome as a coyote myself.
YOUNG MAN. Who you lonesome for?
THE GIRL. I don’t know.
YOUNG MAN. It’s the same with me. The minute they put you in a place like thsi you remember all the girls you ever knew, and all the girls you didn’t get to know, and it sure gets lonesome.
THE GIRL. I bet it does.
YOUNG MAN. Ah, it’s awful. [Pause] You’re a pretty girl, you know that?
THE GIRL. You’re just talking.
YOUNG MAN. No, I’m not just talking — you are pretty.
THE GIRL. I’m not — and you know it.
YOUNG MAN. No — you are. I knew Texas would bring me luck.
THE GIRL. Luck? You’re in jail, aren’t you? You’ve got a whole gang of people all worked up, haven’t you?
YOUNG MAN. Ah, that’s nothing. I’ll get out of this.
THE GIRL. Maybe.
YOUNG MAN. No, I’ll be all right — now.
THE GIRL. What do you mean — now?
YOUNG MAN. I mean after seeing you. I got something now. You know for a while there I didn’t care one way or another. Tired. [Pause] But I’m not tired any more. Hello out there.
THE GIRL. Who you calling now?
YOUNG MAN. You.
THE GIRL. Why, I’m right here.
YOUNG MAN. I know. [softly] Hello out there!
THE GIRL. Hello.
YOUNG MAN. Ah, you’re sweet. [Pause] I’m going to marry you. I’m going away with you. I’m going to take you to San Francisco. I’m going to win myself some real money, too. I’m going to study ‘em real careful and pick myself some winners, and we’re going to have a lot of money.
THE GIRL. Yeah?
YOUNG MAN. Yeah. Tell me your name.
THE GIRL. Emily Smith.
YOUNG MAN. Honest to God?
THE GIRL. Honest. That’s my name — Emily Smith.
YOUNG MAN. Ah, you’re the sweetest girl in the whole world.
THE GIRL. Why?
YOUNG MAN. I don’t know why, but you are, that’s all. Where were you born?
THE GIRL. Matador, Texas.
YOUNG MAN. Where’s that?
THE GIRL. Right here.
YOUNG MAN. Is this Matador, Texas?
THE GIRL. Yeah, it’s Matador. They brought you here from Wheeling.
YOUNG MAN. Is that where I was — Wheeling?
THE GIRL. Didn’t you even know what town you were in?
YOUNG MAN. All towns are alike. It doesn’t make any difference. How far away is Wheeling?
THE GIRL. Sixteen or seventeen miles. Didn’t you know they moved you?
YOUNG MAN. How could I know when I was out — cold? Somebody hit me over the head with a lead pipe or something. What’d he hit me for?
THE GIRL. Rape — that’s what they said.
YOUNG MAN. Ah, that’s a lie. [amazed, almost to himself] She wanted me to give her money.
THE GIRL. Money?
YOUNG MAN. Yeah. If I’d have known she was a woman like that, I’d have gone on down the street and stretched out in a park somewhere and gone to sleep.
THE GIRL. Is that what she wanted — money?
YOUNG MAN. Yeah. A fellow like me traveling all over the country, trying to break his bad luck, going from one poor little town to another, trying to find somebody good somewhere, and she asks for money. I thought she was lonesome. She said she was.
THE GIRL. Maybe she was.
YOUNG MAN. She was something.
THE GIRL. I guess I’d never see you, if it didn’t happen, though.
YOUNG MAN. Oh, I don’t know — maybe I’d just mosey along this way and see you in this town somewhere. I’d recognize you, too.
THE GIRL. Recognize me?
YOUNG MAN. Sure, I’d recognize you the minute I laid eyes on you.
THE GIRL. Well, who would I be?
YOUNG MAN. Mine, that’s who.
THE GIRL. Honest?
YOUNG MAN. Honest to God.
THE GIRL. You just say that because you’re in jail.
YOUNG MAN. No, I mean it. You just pack up and wait for me. We’ll high-tail the hell out of here to San Francisco.
THE GIRL. You’re just lonesome.
YOUNG MAN. I been lonesome all my life — there’s no cure for that — but you and me — we can have a lot of fun hanging around together. You’ll bring me luck. I know you will.
THE GIRL. What are you looking for luck for all the time?
YOUNG MAN. I’m a gambler. I don’t work. I’ve got to have luck or I’m no good. I haven’t had any luck in years. Two whole years now — one place to another. Bad luck all the time. That’s why I got in trouble back there in Wheeling, too. That was no accident. That was my bad luck following me around. So here I am, with my head half busted. I guess it was her old man that did it.
THE GIRL. You mean her father?
YOUNG MAN. No, her husband. If I had an old lady like that, I’d throw her out.
THE GIRL. Do you think you’ll have better luck if I go with you?
YOUNG MAN. Yes, of course. It’s no good searching the streets for anything that might be there at the time. You got to have somebody who’s right. Somebody who knows you, from way back. You got to have somebody who even knows you’re wrong but likes you just the same. I know I’m wrong, but I can’t help it. If you go along with me, I’ll be the best man anybody ever saw. I won’t be wrong any more. You know when you get enough money, you can’t be wrong anymore — you’re right because the money says so. I’ll have a lot of money and you’ll be just about the prettiest girl in the whole world. I’ll be proud walking around San Francisco with you on my arm and people turning to look at us.
THE GIRL. Do you think they will?
YOUNG MAN. Sure they will. When I get back in some decent clothes, and you’re on my arm — well, Katey, they’ll turn and look, and they’ll see something, too.
THE GIRL. Katey?
YOUNG MAN. Yeah — that’s your name from now on. You’re the girst girl I ever called Katey. I’ve been saving it for you. OK?
THE GIRL. OK.
YOUNG MAN. How long have I been here?
THE GIRL. Since last night. You didn’t wake up until late this morning, though.
YOUNG MAN. What time is it now? About nine?
THE GIRL. About ten.
YOUNG MAN. Have you got the key to this lousy cell?
THE GIRL. No. They don’t let me fool with any keys.
YOUNG MAN. Well, can you get it?
THE GIRL. No.
YOUNG MAN. Can you try?
THE GIRL. They wouldn’t let me get near any keys. I cook for this jail when they’ve got somebody in it. I clean up, and things like that.
YOUNG MAN. Well, I want to get out of here. Don’t you know the guy who runs this joint?
THE GIRL. I know him, but he wouldn’t let you out. They were talking of taking you to another jail in another town.
YOUNG MAN. Yeah? Why?
THE GIRL. Because they’re afraid.
YOUNG MAN. What are they afraid of?
THE GIRL. They’re afraid those people from Wheeling will come over in the middle of the night and break in.
YOUNG MAN. Yeah? What do they want to do that for?
THE GIRL. Don’t you know what they want to do it for?
YOUNG MAN. Yeah, I know all right.
THE GIRL. Are you scared?
YOUNG MAN. Sure I’m scared. Nothing scares a man more than ignorance. You can argue with people who ain’t fools, but you can’t argue with fools — they just go to work and do what they’re set on doing. Get me out of here.
THE GIRL. How?
YOUNG MAN. Well, go get the guy with the key, and let me talk to him.
THE GIRL. He’s gone home. Everybody’s gone home.
YOUNG MAN. You mean I’m in this little jail all alone?
THE GIRL. Well — yeah — except me.
YOUNG MAN. Well, what’s the big idea — doesn’t anybody stay here all the time?
THE GIRL. No, they go home every night. I clean up and then I go, too. I hung around tonight.
YOUNG MAN. What made you do that?
THE GIRL. I wanted to talk to you.
YOUNG MAN. What did you want to talk about?
THE GIRL. Oh, I don’t know. I took care of you last night. You were talking in your sleep. You liked me, too. I didn’t think you’d like me when you woke up, though.
YOUNG MAN. Yeah? Why not?
THE GIRL. I don’t know.
YOUNG MAN. Yeah? Well, you’re wonderful, see?
THE GIRL. Nobody ever talked to me that way. All the fellows in town — they — [Pause]
YOUNG MAN. What about ‘em? [Pause] Well, what about ‘em? Come on — tell me.
THE GIRL. They laugh at me.
YOUNG MAN. Laugh at you? What do they know about anything? You go get your things and come back here. I’ll take you to San Francisco. How old are you?
THE GIRL. Oh, I’m of age.
YOUNG MAN. How old are you? — Don’t lie to me! Sixteen?
THE GIRL. I’m seventeen.
YOUNG MAN. Well, bring your father and mother. We’ll get married before we go.
THE GIRL. They wouldn’t let me go.
YOUNG MAN. Why not?
THE GIRL. I don’t know, but they wouldn’t. I know they wouldn’t.
YOUNG MAN. You go tell your father not to be a fool, see? What is he, a farmer?
THE GIRL. No — nothing. He gets a little relief from the government because he’s supposed to be hurt or something — his side hurts, he says. I don’t know what it is.
YOUNG MAN. Ah, he’s a liar. Well, I’m taking you with me, see?
THE GIRL. He takes the money I earn, too.
YOUNG MAN. He’s got no right to do that.
THE GIRL. I know, but he does it.
YOUNG MAN. [almost to himself] You shouldn’t have been born in this town anyway, and you shouldn’t have had a man like that for a father, either.
THE GIRL. Sometimes I feel sorry for him.
YOUNG MAN. Never mind feeling sorry for him. [Pointing a finger] I’m going to talk to your father some day. I’ve got a few things to tell him.
THE GIRL. I know you have.
YOUNG MAN. [suddenly] See if you can get that fellow with the keys to come down and let me out.
THE GIRL. Oh, I couldn’t.
YOUNG MAN. Why not?
THE GIRL. I’m nobody here — why, all they give me is fifty cents every day I work here — sometimes twelve hours. I’m nobody here.
YOUNG MAN. Get me out of here, Katey. I’m scared.
THE GIRL. I don’t know what to do. Maybe I could break the door down.
YOUNG MAN. No, you couldn’t do that. Is there a hammer there or anything?
THE GIRL. Only a broom. Maybe they’ve locked the broom up, too.
YOUNG MAN. Go and see if you can find anything.
THE GIRL. All right. [She goes. She returns] There isn’t a thing out there. They’ve locked everything up for the night.
YOUNG MAN. Any cigarettes?
THE GIRL. Everything’s locked up — all the drawers of the desk — all the closet doors — everything.
YOUNG MAN. I ought to have a cigarette.
THE GIRL. I could get you a package, maybe, somewhere. I guess the drug store’s open. It’s about a mile.
YOUNG MAN. A mile? I don’t want to be alone that long.
THE GIRL. I could run all the way, and all the way back.
YOUNG MAN. You’re the sweetest girl that ever lived.
THE GIRL. What kind do you want?
YOUNG MAN. Oh, any kind — Chesterfields or Camels or Lucky Strikes — any kind at all.
THE GIRL. I’ll go get a package. [She turns to go]
YOUNG MAN. What about the money?
THE GIRL. I’ve got some money. I’ve got a quarter I been saving. I’ll run all the way. [She is about to go]
YOUNG MAN. Come here.
THE GIRL. [going to him] What?
YOUNG MAN. Give me your hand. [He takes her hand and looks at it, smiling. He lifts it and kisses it] I’m scared to death.
THE GIRL. I am, too.
YOUNG MAN. I’m scared nobody will ever come out here to this God-forsaken broken-down town and find you. I’m scared you’ll get used to it and not mind. I’m scared you’ll never get to San Francisco and have ‘em all turning to look at you. Listen — go get me a gun.
THE GIRL. I could get my father’s gun. I know where he hides it.
YOUNG MAN. Go get it. Never mind the cigarettes. Run all the way.
[The girl turns and runs. The Young Man stands at the center of the cell for a long time. The girl comes running back in. Almost crying]
THE GIRL. I’m afraid. I’m afraid I won’t see you again. If I come back and you’re not here, I — It’s so lonely in this town. I’ll stay here. I won’t let them take you away.
YOUNG MAN. Listen, Katey. Do what I tell you. Go get that gun and come back. Maybe they won’t come tonight. Maybe they won’t come at all. I’ll hide the gun and when they let me out you can take it back and put it where you found it. And then we’ll go away. Now, hurry —
THE GIRL. All right. [Pause] I want to tell you something.
YOUNG MAN. OK.
THE GIRL. [very softly] If you’re not here when I come back, well, I’ll have the gun and I’ll know what to do with it.
YOUNG MAN. You know how to handle a gun?
THE GIRL. I know how.
YOUNG MAN. Don’t be a fool. [Takes off his shoe and brings out some currency] Don’t be a fool, see? Here’s some money. Eighty dollars. Take it and go to San Francisco. Look around and find somebody. Find somebody alive and halfway human, see? Promise me — if I’m not here when you come back, just throw the gun away and go to San Francisco. Look around and find somebody.
THE GIRL. I don’t want to find anybody.
YOUNG MAN. [swiftly, desperately] Now, do what I tell you. I’ll meet you in San Francisco. I’ve got a couple of dollars in my other shoe. I’ll see you in San Francisco.
THE GIRL. [with wonder] San Francisco?
YOUNG MAN. That’s right — San Francisco. That’s where you and me belong.
THE GIRL. I’ve always wanted to go to some place like San Francisco — but how could I go alone?
YOUNG MAN. Well, ytou’re not alone any more, see?
THE GIRL. Tell me a little what it’s like.
YOUNG MAN. [very swiftly, almost impatiently at first, but gradually slower and with remembrance, smiling and the girl moving closer to him as he speaks] Well, it’s on the Pacific to begin with — ocean all around. Cool fog and sea gulls. Ships from all over the world. It’s got seven hills. The little streets go up and down, around and all over. Every night the fog-horns bawl. But they won’t be bawling for you and me.
THE GIRL. Are people different in San Francisco?
YOUNG MAN. People are the same everywhere. They’re different only when they love somebody. That’s the only thing that makes ‘em different. More people in San Francisco love somebody, that’s all.
THE GIRL. Nobody anywhere loves anybody as much as I love you.
YOUNG MAN. [whispering] Hearing you say that, a man could die and still be ahead of the game. Now, hurry. And don’t forget, if I’m not here when you come back, I’ll meet you in San Francisco. [The girl stands a moment looking at him, then backs away, turns and runs. The Young Man stares after her, troubled and smiling. He sits down suddenly and buries his head in his hands. From the distance the sound of several automobiles approaching is heard.]