Defacing Michael Jackson

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Set among the swamps and canals of rural Florida, Defacing Michael Jackson follows a motley group of African-American teenagers who create their own Michael Jackson fan club in 1984. But when a Caucasian boy moves to the neighborhood and tries to join the club, all the rules of the community are challenged and changed. Defacing Michael Jackson is a dramedy about growing up, hero worship, and how we see ourselves.

Read Sample

ACT ONE
SCENE ONE

OBADIAH
Can you take yourself back? Before the rubble and ash of the Twin Towers, Oklahoma City and Waco. Before crack, Columbine, Atkins, and AIDS. Further back, before Clarence and Anita, Bush and Quayle, Jim and Tammy Faye, even further! Before televangelists, telemarketing and Teletubbies. And here we are. The year of the eternal future: 1984. Opa Locka, Florida: a flat city of gasoline stations, abandoned parking lots, and a drainage canal where every year a few drunks drown in the weed-choked black water that carry waste from Miami and into the Everglades. A place where something is always getting started and nothing is ever finished. This is the edge. Of black and white. Of innocence and corruption. Of naïve optimism and jaded cynicism. Of the fading cold war and the approaching hot peace. Metal jacks and Thundercats. GI Joes and Cabbage Patch. And rising above it all is one man who they come to see. I aesthetically structured the room so that all eyes could see. They filed in with rubber bands, cracker jack toys and sticky sweet and sour fingers. The lights are turned off 30 seconds before the beginning. To set the mood. And the crowd hushes in reverential silence. Can you go back? I can.

LIGHTS SHIFT. OBADIAH is a teeanger shouting at his friends.

OBADIAH
All right! Hey, quiet! My parents are in the other room. No fighting, no talking, and definitely no eating candy or food. My mom would kill me. We’ve only got a sofa and a loveseat and it has to last. We got Lays and Ritz, and that’s all you getz. If you’ve already seen him once this week, go to the back, greedy. Relax, you’re in my home. My living room. My family. And if any of you have seen the retarded twins down the block, tell them to give me back my bike.

SCENE TWO
FRENCHY, a sassy, dark-skinned teenager settles down a group of kids. Red, a mean-snarky teen, stands beside her.

FRENCHY
A-ight, let’s get started. I said let’s get started y’all. Simmer down. BOY, YOU BETTA SIMMER DOWN! (over-official sounding) Welcome to ‘The Opa Locka City and Miami-Dade County, Florida Michael Jackson Fan Club.’ As you president, Yvonne “Frenchy” Carter I call this meeting to order. Now let’s get down to business because I got great news and I ain’t tryin’ to mess around w’ich y’all today. The first thing you can do is thank me because I am the best president ever.

RED
You da only president ever.

FRENCHY
I’m the only one qualified to fill the shoes of being responsible enough to do this, Red.

RED
You da’ HNIC. For now.

FRENCHY
Thanks for the fortune cookie, Niggadamus.

OBADIAH
-Frenchy! Get to the news.

FRENCHY
Well ANY-way. The city of Opa Locka is finally starting to come around to our love of Michael Jackson: the greatest musician and entertainer in the whole universe. I mean, did you see what he did on-

OBADIAH
-Frenchy.

FRENCHY
Ahem. As I was saying Opa Locka wants to honor Michael Jackson and wants us teens -and even retarded kids like Red- to be

FRENCHY (cont’d)
involved. So they’re gonna build a giant mural on the city hall building wall! And we’re going to get to help make a monument to Michael. I’m telling you this is just the sort of thing that’ll bring the Jacksons in to town. Get a mural, a few statues, maybe a theme park.

OBADIAH
We can just start with the mural first. This is kind of exciting. A mural. Wow.

BEAT

OBADIAH
What is a mural?

FRENCHY
It’s a thing, okay. A very big thing. So stop bothering me about dumb details. A mural is a fancy work of art. And it’s gonna have Michael Jackson on it.

RED
Better keep Frenchy’s face away from it or she’ll crack the whole damn picture.

FRENCHY
(fake laughing)
Ahahahaha…that’s so funny Red. No wonder you and your brother came out retarded. Your momma probably saw your face and tried to shove you back in.

OBADIAH
How are we gonna do this mural thing?

FRENCHY
Well, I, as your trusted president have been put in charge of it. I’m gonna be picking out different fans to help put it together. Don’t worry, Obie you’re at the top of my list.

OBADIAH
You’d do that for me?

FRENCHY
Hold me.

OBADIAH
What?

FRENCHY
I mean...I’d do anything for my favorite Michael Jackson fan club treasurer. Any other news?

RED
(breaking their intimacy)
There’s a new family that moved in down the street!

FRENCHY
You bug-eyed muthafucka-

OBADIAH
-Frenchy!

FRENCHY
(composing herself)
Ahem. Okay? So you think we should invite them into the club?

RED
No, we should see if they got any cool stuff we can sneak on.

FRENCHY
Meeting adjourned.

Lights shift.

OBADIAH
As it turns out the mural would be a pretty big deal. It would be a collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia from fans. We would all get a chance to have our voices heard.

SCENE THREE
YELLOW and FRENCHY play jacks. Yellow, the light-skinned twin of Red, is a boy with a speech impediment. After a toss, he swipes some of the jacks.

FRENCHY
Uh-uh! Gimme back my jacks.

YELLOW
I w-w-win.

FRENCHY
You cheatin’!

YELLOW
Fu-fu-fair as square.

FRENCHY
Youze a lying cheatin’ retard.

YELLOW
…ah-ah-I nu-never lie.

FRENCHY
I’m finna go to Obie’s house becuz I ain’t playin’ wit you no more. Gimme back my jacks, retard!

YELLOW
Nu-nuh-uh, ugly!

FRENCHY
Who you calling ugly, retard! You so stupid that when you count to ten, you get stuck at one.

YELLOW
Your…so ugly w-when you t-take a bath the water j-jumps out.

FRENCHY
Yeah, well you’re so stupid that you took a blood test and failed.

YELLOW
Yuh-you so ugly you make onions cry.

FRENCHY
That ain’t nuthin’ because you so stupid that you tried to mail a letter with food stamps. You so stupid, you took a ruler to bed to see how long you slept! You is so stupid! That, that…they had to burn down the second grade to get your ass out of it. That’s how stupid you are!

YELLOW
So? My momma said you uglier than s-s-sin on Sunday. Yuh-yuh-you so ugly… your doctor is a vet. Wuh-when you g-get up, th-the s-sun goes down. Yuh-you s-so ugly that if-f ugly wuh-were br-bricks you’d be the Guh-Great Wall of Ch-China. D-d-damn…youze ugly!

FRENCHY
Gimme back my jacks!

YELLOW
Muh-make me!

FRENCHY
Ima tell yo moma!

YELLOW
S-so? M-my momma don’t like you. S-she said you t-too ugly.

FRENCHY
Then Imma tell my moma!

YELLOW drops the jacks and FRENCHY scoops them up. She begins to leave.

YELLOW
Wait!

FRENCHY
What? (imitating) ‘Yuh-yuh-you g-g-got s-something t-to s-say?’

YELLOW
A secret.

FRENCHY
No you don’t?
YELLOW
Uh-huh.

FRENCHY
Nobody else knows? (He shakes his head ‘no’.) Why not?

YELLOW
S-s-savin it.

FRENCHY
‘Chamon, Yellow. Tell me, fool!

YELLOW
(wags finger)
Fuh-fuh-first, the rest of the jacks.

FRENCHY
You are evil.
FRENCHY hands over the rest of the jacks to Yellow.

FRENCHY
This better be worth it, dumbo. Now tell me. Come on, I ain’t got all day. Gonna take you long enough to say it. What’s the secret?

YELLOW
C-cr-crackers.

FRENCHY
Crackers?

YELLOW
Crackers…w-white people.

FRENCHY
What about them?

YELLOW
They coming.

SCENE FOUR

OBADIAH
In the hood when you got something everybody wants a piece. “Just lemme touch, man. Just lemme hold it for a while, man. I just wanna feel it, smell it, taste it, own it. Come on, man! Lemme borrow it fo’ a second! I’ll bring it right back!” Gimme, gimme, gimme is the ghetto anthem. My family was the first in our neighborhood. The first to have central air-conditioning. The first to have lawn sprinklers. The first to have an encyclopedia set. Oh yeah. Ghetto fabulous, that’s us. We were nigger rich and cracker poor as my cousins would say. So when we were the first to get a VCR, people lined up. And when we learned how to record something on it, the time had arrived. Because this is 1984, and the kids on my block only cared about one man.
LIGHTS SHIFT. OBADIAH’s neck starts twitching like a zombie and he’s joined by FRENCHY and RED. They all do a quick series of dance steps like monsters. Frenchy and Red exit. OBADIAH continues to bob, grabs his crotch and unleashes a MJ-esque…

OBADIAH
HOOOOO!!! (LIGHT SHIFT BACK) But I’m getting ahead of myself. All the kids would come to see, “Thriller.” That was the neighborhood activity, the daily event for us. Thriller at Obie’s home. We never got tired of it. The tape played again and again. Rewinding to the beginning…

FRENCHY (O/S)
Obie-

OBADIAH
-fast forwarding to a part we liked-

FRENCHY
(entering)
-OBIE!

OBADIAH
Quiet, Frenchy. I’m reminiscing.

FRENCHY
But we got a problem.

OBADIAH
What?

FRENCHY
White people.

OBADIAH
Excuse me?

FRENCHY
They’re coming for us. Moving in and taking over. I’m scared. Hold me! (she clutches him) That’s better.

OBADIAH
Ahhh…Frenchy.

FRENCHY
Yes, Obie.

OBADIAH
Who told you that white people were moving in?

FRENCHY
Yellow did.

OBADIAH
But Yellow is, like… retarded. Brother is so stupid I told him we got a new color TV and he asked ‘what color?’ You can’t believe what he tells you.

FRENCHY
He’s never wrong. Kiss me.

OBADIAH
What?!? (removes her) Wait a minute. Where are these alleged White people?

FRENCHY
Down the street, near the canal. Where is you going?

OBADIAH
I’m going to go see for myself.

FRENCHY
But you might get hurt! Aren’t you scared?

OBADIAH
Why would I be scared? I see White people all the time on TV.

SCENE FIVE
Stakeout. OBADIAH and Yellow lay on the ground. OBADIAH cups his hands into a pair of binoculars and scans the horizon back and forth. Yellow steals one of Obadiah’s hands and looks through it, and they scan the horizon as Obadiah talks.

OBADIAH
We’re scared of what we don’t know, right? Space aliens, Big Foot, Hamburger Helper and white people. I mean this is Opa-Locka. A city of blacks built in the swamps of Seminole country. A community dreamed up by a demented real estate developer who had an obsession with “One Thousand and One Nights” and an Arab fetish. Opa Locka has the largest collection of Moorish architecture in the western hemisphere. Blacks, Seminoles, Arabs, Moors. We are a tattered village of outcast people, ideas and history. We relate to Michael Jackson. A poor boy from Gary, Indiana with a fat nose, goofy grin and high voice. We live his life and see this outsider become the ultimate insider. You live as an outcasts, a minority and then one day...

JACK enters.

OBADIAH
…the majority arrives at your door. They have everything and you have nothing, so what do they want with your small little community? But you shouldn’t be rude or make them feel uncomfortable.

LIGHTS SHIFT.

OBADIAH
What are you doing here?

JACK
Hi, I’m new in the neighborhood.

OBADIAH
Why?

JACK
Why?

OBADIAH
Yes, why?

JACK
Because my parents moved here. Hi, I’m Wes.

OBADIAH
No, you’re not.

JACK
I’m not?

OBADIAH
No, that’s not your name.

JACK
Yes it is.

OBADIAH
The neighborhood’s been talking and we’ve decided that your name is Jack. That’s your new name, Jack.

JACK
But everyone calls me Wes.

OBADIAH
No, they don’t. Everyone calls you Jack, Jack.

JACK
Why?

OBADIAH
No one told us your name, so someone just started calling you Jack and it stuck. (to audience) They actually called him Cracker Jack…don’t look at me. I didn’t come up with it. (to JACK) So now everyone calls you Jack, and it’s going to be a pretty hard name to shake.

JACK
But I just got here.

OBADIAH
Your name arrived ahead of you. I’m Obie. This is Yellow.

JACK
Is that his real name?

OBADIAH
I don’t know. Is that your real name? (Yellow shrugs) Well that’s what we call him.

YELLOW
M-m-my b-brother is Red.

OBADIAH
Red and Yellow are twins.

JACK
(to OBADIAH)
Oh…he’s a little…slow.

OBADIAH
Slow? No, he’s very fast. He’s just retarded. Him and his brother. Only difference is Yellow stutters.

JACK
That’s so sad.

OBADIAH
Sad my ass. They’re both thieves.

YELLOW
Nu-no, w-we ain’t.

OBADIAH
Oh yeah, then where’s my BMX?

YELLOW
Red’s got it.

OBADIAH
And then I got to Red and he says Yellow’s got it. This is what they do.

JACK
Then you should call the police.
OBADIAH
The police? Jack, what the hell is wrong with you? I said I wanted my bike back. I didn’t say I wanted him killed.

JACK
No, the police don’t kill people. My dad said they help people fix their problems.

YELLOW and OBADIAH look at each other and then to the audience.

OBADIAH
You see how strange Jack is? But I’ll be nice. (to JACK) Jack, your dad is a liar.

JACK
So now you’re calling my Dad a liar?

OBADIAH
Well yeah.

Obadiah and Yellow laugh at him. Jack looks at them.

JACK
I guess I’m outnumbered.

OBADIAH
Get used to it.

JACK
(humming)
...‘helpless like a baby.’

OBADIAH
What?

JACK
You know, the song...’looking in the mirror…helpless like a baby. I can’t help it.’

OBADIAH
Michael Jackson.

JACK
Yeah. I love Michael Jackson.

OBADIAH
Are you serious?

JACK
I would give my pinkie finger for a signed album.

OBADIAH
No, you wouldn’t. I’d give both my thumbs for all his signed albums.

JACK
Your thumbs? That’s it?

OBADIAH
I would cut off my arm for a jacket.

JACK
I would cut off both arms for his jacket.

OBADIAH
Then how would you wear it?

JACK
I’d have the jacket stitched to my back.

OBADIAH
Wow...you’ve thought about this.

JACK
Michael Jackson is amazing. I’m, like, his biggest fan.

FRENCHY
(entering quickly)
Waitwaitwaitwaitwaitwaitwaitwaitwait…Okay…um Jack, sweetie. You are not Michael Jackson’s biggest fan. I am Michael Jackson’s biggest fan. I am president of THE Michael Jackson fan club…I have all the albums. I write letters, I cut out all his pictures from Ebony and Jet and hang them on my wall.

JACK
Who are you?

OBADIAH
This is Frenchy.

JACK
Are all you all related?

OBADIAH
Ewwww. No, we’re just all united by our devotion to Michael Jackson. It’s kind of scary.

FRENCHY
Yeah, I am MJ’s biggest fan. And Obie is second because he is co-founder and treasurer of the club.

JACK
Okay, well I just really like Michael Jackson. As much as you guys.

FRENCHY
You can’t like him as much as us.

JACK
Why not?

OBADIAH
Frenchy, let’s not get into this. Jack-

FRENCHY
Because he is our’s.

JACK
...wait…are you guys…related to Michael Jackson?!? Oh my God!! Oh my God, you do kind of look like him a little. I mean the hair, the skin-

FRENCHY
-he’s ours because he’s black.

JACK
So?

FRENCHY
So there is a difference. I can love…Obie, name something white…

OBADIAH
Hockey!

FRENCHY
Name something else.

OBADIAH
Ummm…serial killers! Sally Fields? Larry Bird.

FRENCHY
Perfect! So I can love Larry Bird. But I can’t love him more than tall white dudes. It’s different.

JACK
But when the Celtics beat the Lakers this year everyone on TV was celebrating.

FRENCHY
Nah, people were happy. But it was different. Blacks were like ‘yah. Good game.’ and white people were like ‘FUCKING AMAZING, DUDE! Radical!’ And Mexican didn’t know what to do. They just looked confused. It was different. Bird was doing it for all them tall white dudes who can’t dunk and wear ties to work.

JACK
Well I was rooting for the Lakers. I like Magic Johnson better any way. He’s way cooler.

OBADIAH
See Frenchy! He likes Magic better than Bird.

FRENCHY
Yeah he’s a regular Abraham Lincoln. ‘Sho glad massa is so nice to us. I’se go tell the others.’

FRENCHY and Yellow laugh and exit.

JACK
Why did she talk like that?

OBADIAH
It’s just ‘fake slave’ speech. All blacks are required to learn how to do it.

JACK
Oh, do you learn it to honor your people?

OBADIAH
No, it’s usually to make fun of your people.

JACK
Everyone is so mean. I thought neighbors are supposed to welcome you when you’re new in town.

OBADIAH
Look...we’re just messing with you. Look, you can come over to my house tomorrow...if you like...

JACK
Umm...why?

OBADIAH
My parents have a VCR and we can watch…are you ready? “Thriller!”

JACK
And then we can hang out?

OBADIAH
Yeah. We’ll ‘hang’

JACK
Awesome, I’ve made my first friend.

OBADIAH
Sure.

JACK
Maybe we’ll best buddies.

OBADIAH
We’ll see.

JACK
And you’ll call me Wes?

OBADIAH
Not a chance, Jack.

JACK
(exiting)
…at least I tried.

OBADIAH
Keep trying. (to audience) After that first meeting, I told Frenchy to be nicer to Jack. Now what we did to him was unfair, manipulative and a little cruel. But all the black kids I knew acted this way toward white kids. We knew it didn’t matter if we made them squirm, because this was our way –at least for a few years- of evening the score a little. Besides, they would have the rest of their lives to take their revenge out on us. And they would.

Cast Requirements

3 M, 1 W

The story is told with four actors.

FLORIDA TRACK A: 1. OBADIAH – light-skin teenage black boy and
older adult man who narrates.

FLORIDA TRACK B: 1. FRENCHY– dark-skinned black teenager

FLORIDA TRACK C: 1. RED– mentally-challenged black twin
2. YELLOW - other black twin who stutters
3. CITY COMMISSIONER - black commissioner

FLORIDA TRACK D: 1. JACK – white teenage boy new to area.

Set Description

1984. The arid and abandoned land of Opa Locka, Florida.

The stage is bare for almost the entire play. The objects in the play can be mimed, but it’s the directors choice as to how many objects. The actors should be specific with objects mimed.

Obadiah narrates the story as an older man, but lives in the piece as a teenager. Light shifts reflect a change from present to past as well as a jump to a new locations. The scene changes are minimal and the entire play should flow together without stopping.

The MJ mural can be mimed as well. If it exists then it can be created through slides, video, or just fragments of photos. As long as there is a sense of regeneration and disintegration throughout the play.

Production and Development History

reading at The Juilliard School, 2013
workshop at Nuyorican Poets Cafe, 2013