John Hert, the second child in the Hert family, brought to Taiwan at 20. Never leaves since.
Mom & Dad, the parents, both of them are over 60; Dad is in early stage of Alzheimer's disease Judge
Mr. Lin, the defendant lawyer.
Mr. Huang, the complainant lawyer.
Mr. Wang, the neighbor
Wife, John’s wife
The story begins in a park. A thirty-year-old Taiwan golden rain tree stands lonely at the right-up stage, close to the screen behind where the projections aim to. The yellow leaves, the image projected from the above, rustle in a crispy voice and from time to time fall gently to the ground whenever the wind blows. A flaked-off bench sits away at the other side of the stage. The flood light should be soft and warm but illuminant, just like the afternoon sunshine in the cool weather of autumn. As the light rises, people walk into the park. Philippine or Indonesian caretakers push the occupied wheelchairs and enter from both right and left, placing the elderly together. Then they step aside, forming a group, and begin to chat. The Hert family enters from the right. The old couple walks slowly but airily ahead of their son, John.
MOM: Where is this? (Glancing around) Ah! It is a park. The weather’s so nice. Isn’t this the best time of the year? The air is simply wonderful, not too warm and not too cold, just slightly chilly. (To Dad) It is vital for us to get out of room to breathe some nice, fresh air. When’s the last time we went to a park?
JOHN: The Park had been reconstructed throughout the past whole year. Some trees were removed. But they built a new play ground over there and a new parking space down there, under the ground.
MOM: I see. Oh, the season changes so fast. (To her husband) Look, the leaves of those trees had already turned yellow. Another year is gone…
DAD: The mosquitoes stay in the dark, away from people’s inspection. They are annoying. You can sweep them away but a few minutes later, they’re back to bother you.
MOM: I hope they don’t come out at this time of the day. The sun beams just so brightly and perfectly. What a lovely afternoon. (Pause) John?
MOM: Come over here. Get your father a blanket. I think the air’s a little bit too cold for him. Oh, and I need some water. (To her husband) Honey, let’s move to there, over the bench, where we could enjoy some privacy, away from those… (Glance askance at the housemaids gathering under the tree)
DAD: It’s their community. They are many. Now whenever I go, I see them. And they look the same.
MOM: You’re an old man now, losing your health more and more each day. In Taiwan, old people can’t live without those maids. Their withering lives count on them when their children are working 9 to 5 for years on end. Speaking of… (To her son) oh, here you are. What took you? (Turn to her husband with the blanket in hand) Here, put this on. The temperature is dropping. You know cold weather is bad for our health. There now. Just look at the view. (She is not aware of her son quietly sneaking away from behind.) It’s not a bad idea to come outdoors sometimes. I’m getting some sunshine. The sun can help strengthen my bones and provides some vitamin D. (Pause) Wait a minute. (John stopped.) Are those pigeons? Oh my, I haven’t seen one in years. (He proceeds.) I just happen to have some bread with me. (Tear some pieces and scatter them to the ground) You sit tight. I’m going to make a trace with these crusts, like Hansel and Gretel, so the birds will find a way closer to us. (John exits.)
DAD: Pigeons can navigate their way home. So clever. They have little magnet in their brains to guide them all the way back.
The two elders are so absorbed in this little feast that they do not hear the sound of car engine start and drive away. The sound of wind howling enhances and the leaves quiver. The light fades, leaving the tree in spotlight. Finally the fierce wind shatters the yellow leaves. They fall off the branches in pile. The images of their yellow shade disappear into the darkness on the stage. Now the tree, with crooked trunk and bare branches stands in the fading limelight, gradually vanishing into the shadow.
The light rises in the court room from the center, presenting us two cozy, furry couches (since it is supposed to be a domestic court) in same line, both facing the audience. Mr. Hert, accompanied by his lawyer, Mr. Lin, enters from left. His mother and father enter from the opposite side, also accompanied by their lawyer, Mr. Huang. All of them sit down, facing the audience and we hear the sound of judge walking closer in a distance. The judge appears only in voice.
MR. LIN: (To Mr. Hert) We had a new judge, according to your request, who can speak English. Is that okay? You’re happy with that? (Mr. Hert looks indifferent, remaining silent.) I’ll take that as yes.
JUDGE: 好，開始吧! (A wooden gavel strikes.) Oh, I’m sorry, Mr… (Papers flip.) Mr. Hert. Let’s begin. (To aside) And make it quick. - We do it more casual here. I hope you don’t mind, Mr. Hert?
MR. HERT: Not at all, sir.
JUDGE: Okay, you’re the defendant. So let’s hear from the complainant first, shall we? (Mr. Huang stands up and steps to the down-center.)
MR. HUANG: 正所謂「今之孝者，是謂能養；至於犬馬…」
MR. HERT: (In loud volume) Uh, excuse me, what is this all about? I thought we had agreed that…
JUDGE: Please keep quiet in court, Mr. Hert.
MR. HERT: I can’t understand one word he was saying. I am just afraid that I could have lost my rights. I have at least the right to know what he was trying to say, don’t I?
MR. HUANG: In fact, I can speak English.
MR. HERT: Wow, that’s good news!
MOM: John, could you just shut up?
MR. HUANG: (Gestures his client to be still and turns to the defendant.) Mr. Hart.
MR. HERT: It’s Hert.
MR. HUANG: Pardon me?
MR. HERT: I’m Hert. My name is Hert, H-E-R-T…
MR. JUANG: I see. No Hart. (Pause) I was only quoting from Confucius’ teaching that all children have responsibility taking care of their parents with respect in order to repay their unselfish love.
MR. HERT: You know what? (Mr. Lin tries hard to calm his client down but fails.)Why don’t we cut the crap and get into the topic. Why are we here anyway? What Confucius said a thousand years ago only creates confusion today.
JUDGE: (Strikes the gavel) Mr. Hert, please control yourself. And don’t be rude to anyone in this room, including Mr. Huang, and especially me. Now shall we proceed?
MR. HUANG: (Slightly nods at the source where judge’s voice comes from and clears his throat) 根據民法第四篇第1084條，子女應孝敬父母…
MR. HERT: Not again! Does this also come from Confucius’ words of wisdom?
JUDGE: (Sternly) Mr. Hert, I’m tired of saying this again. Don’t make me.
MR. HUANG: No, this is from 民法.
MR. LIN: The civil law.
MR. HERT: Thank you!
MR. HUANG: Mr. Hert is charge for deliberating leaving his parents, especially his father having Alzheimer’s disease, in the far, far away park, abandoned in the freezing cold air with no help and care. We claim to cease his heirship, the right of succession.
The light rises again, showing us the interior of the house. In the back the heavy curtain drops, only revealing a narrow space where a door stands close. In the house, Mom is busy with arranging the room and placing her newly bought orchid on the table. The two couches now lie face to face with the table in between and John sitting on one of them. He is drinking.
MOM: I bought this gorgeous orchid from the local market this morning. Look how the flowers bloom. I am placing it in the living room, adding some Chinese style to our lovely home. You know how Chinese people love to portrait orchid, adrift above the soil. And Taiwan is famous for orchid cultivation. They come in a large variety of colors. I was so amazed when I… (Peeking at John) Would you stop drinking? When are you going to get sober and get a decent job? I can spend all day cleaning up the house but I just can’t get rid of you. Find something worthwhile to do, would you?
JOHN: I could have found a job if we moved back to the States when we had chance. Look at this place. It’s suffocating! How am I going to get a job if I don’t speak Chinese?
MOM: You should’ve learned. I suggested but you just wouldn’t listen. Try kindergarten and day school. You know how Taiwanese parents emphasize English education. I heard that they have their children learn English at the age of 5! I wonder if they can even speak Chinese well.
JOHN: You know what, I thought about becoming a teacher once, when I was very little. But Dad said that’s for wimps. There’s no way becoming successful anyhow. (Pause) So stop giving me any advice. Before I can find my way out, I’m not going anywhere.
MOM: Don’t talk back. I’m your mother. I’ve been giving you advice but see what happened…
JOHN: Perhaps you haven’t noticed that I am going to be 30 this July. That means I’m an adult, just as you are. The only difference is that I’m younger and you’re too old and stubborn to learn anything new.
MOM: Yes, I’m too old. Not like you, it bothers me not to learn Chinese. But the only difference is that I have a house to hold and a child to raise while you don’t. Oh, I forgot. You had a divorce last year.
JOHN: That’s it! I don’t need to endure your taunting. I’ve heard enough ever since I could remember. Don’t pretend that I’m the only one who’s to blame because I’m not! All you did was making fun of my failure instead of helping me. You never helped, not once!
MOM: Alright, I see. You keep living with your failures. I know better than counting on you. I don’t expect you to take care of me when I am old.
JOHN: Of course not. Keep daydreaming in the retiring center! (Stands up and sweeps off a flower from the stem)
MOM: Look what you’ve done! You did it on purpose.
JOHN: Does it really matter? I don’t like it anyway.
MOM: You have no right to mess thing up, destroying the life here… (Door bell rings. Mom goes to the door and opens it. Their neighbor, Mr. Wang, stands there shrieking in panic. )
MR. WANG: 你厝… 恩… Are you okay? I hear here big noise. You and he fight. Ah, no good.
JOHN: Mister, do me favor. Mind your own business.
MOM: (Gives their neighbor a sign of okay) Mr. Wang, we’re OKAY. Everything’s fine. My son’s a little hot-tempered sometimes, you know.
MR. WANG: Hot.
MOM: He gets angry easily.
MR. WANG: Angry.
MOM: Yes, angry. But it’s okay right now. Thank you for your concern. It is very nice of you but we’re really doing fine here. Have a nice day, Mr. Wang. Bye! (Closes the door) Look what you’ve done.
JOHN: I’m sorry. I forgot we’re living in a small apartment, deprived of all privacy. Even worse, we’re still in Taiwan, where people stick their noses into things not concerning them!
MOM: Who started it? Who caused this trouble, sitting home and unemployed? He was just being nice.
JOHN: Keeping that to himself would be even nicer. Don’t they have their things to get worried about? I’ve already got plenty. (Pause) Sam had gone back to America. And see what he has achieved so far. It could’ve been me, going there and make a big difference.
MOM: Don’t be jealous of your brother. All you have to do is get up from the couch and the chances are waiting out there. To me, you seem to idle around, doing nothing. Besides, the unemployment rate in the States has reached 9% while in Taiwan, it is 5%. Think about that and get a job, would you?
JOHN: Get serious. Taiwan government alters the statistics. Jobless people are more than what the number tells you. I am the reality, face it. (Mom is about to say something more but interfered by his son.) Can we move on to next issue? I don’t want to be stuck here.
Light dims out except the spot light on John. He sits still as the set changes.
When the surroundings appear again in light, the set returns to that of a court room, only that this time, the door in behind remains there.
JUDGE: Very well then, let’s move on to a new issue. You don’t have a job. And you are divorced. Is that correct, Mr. Hert?
MR. HERT: That’s correct.
MR. HUANG: Could you tell us why? What exactly brought forth your divorce?
MR. HERT: What does my marital status have to do with this case? I hate people prying into my privacy. Aren’t you being too far-fetched?
MR. HUANG: The two might be closely related. It is reported that it was because of your physical abuse to your children and to your wife. Is that true, Mr. Hert?
MR. HERT: It is reported that way. But I wouldn’t say it’s true.
JUDGE: How’s that? Could you please explain?
MR. HERT: Alright. I did hit then. But I did that for a reason. I couldn’t control myself. I knew it was bad, evil even. But there was a strong impulse that compelled me to do so. So I pulled over the car.
The light fades out. The light reappears when a car slowly steers its way into the stage from left. John gets off the car, slamming the door shut.
JOHN: Get off the car.
WIFE: (Gets off from other side. As soon as she closes the door, she rushes to her husband.) What are you doing, honey? Don’t act this way.
JOHN: They ought to learn how to behave themselves. All the noise must be put out. (His two sons walk slowly and timidly out of car and to the front.) Bent forward. Hands on the car. Now count to ten! (He pulls his belt from the pants and lashes his sons’ butts.)
WIFE: What are you doing? John! Stop! You’re hurting them.
JOHN: They’ll listen. They’ll know when to keep quiet. (His wife tries to stop him but is pushed away.)
His wife’s screaming and begging goes on, but the light fades, leaving John alone in the spot light again. On the right half stage, light rises on a seven-year-old boy, who runs across and hides himself into a closet standing in the center stage. Dad, holding the belt in his hand, tumbles in and looks for the boy.
DAD: Where are ya? (Spots the closet and pulls the boy out.) Come out, John. Come outta the closet, you little rat. I’mma teach you some lessons and you’ll learn how to behave. (He whips the boy.) Don’t you ever talk to your mother like that! (The light rises on the couch where Mom sits crying, over the torn orchid flower.) See her crying? You love to see that? If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything! You’ll learn how to keep quiet in this room. (Keeps whipping)
JOHN: Stop! (The boy struggles off his fathers grip and faces him.) Go the hell, you stupid old man!
DAD: Seems that you haven’t got your lesson, huh? You bastard! (Whips the howling boy again)
JOHN: Stop! He’s hurt. Stop you.
Light shuts. The whipping sound falls silent. And the court room comes to sight when light rises again.
MR. HUANG: So you’re saying that all of your violent behaviors attribute to those of your father’s?
MR. HERT: (Submissively) Yes. (Two people walk in from the door to audit.)
MR. HUANG: But that is in the past, not now, isn’t it?
MR. HERT: Yes. But the impact stays. And it still affects me greatly even till now.
MR. HUANG: Why don’t we ask your parents to find out? Mrs. Hert, have you ever hit, or let’s put it this way, physically abuse your son, John?
MOM: I’m sure not. I have never done such thing. (To her husband) Have you ever beat him, honey?
DAD: I… I don’t remember…
MR. HUANG: See? Your father didn’t…
MR. HERT: Of course he doesn’t remember. He has Alzheimer’s disease for God’s sake.
MR. HUANG: Please don’t talk this way to him, neither to your father nor God.
MR. HERT: (Points at his father) You never beat Sam. You never impose any brutality on him.
MR. LIN: (Steps forward) My client is saying that all relationships should base on mutual benefits, which means the two sides can equally profit from it. Mr. Hert could have been receiving nurture from his parents but he was also at the same time mistreated.
MR. HUANG: And all should be counteracted by his parents’ love and dedication. He was unquestionably raised up by the very two persons sitting here.
MR. LIN: But as you mentioned about his divorce, it is his parents’ fault that caused his tendency of violence, which directly led to the unfortunate result of his marriage. It is closely related, isn’t it, quoting from you?
JUDGE: (Aside) This is fun. So exciting.
MR. HUANG: Now you’re accusing my clients that they’re morally wrong? (To Judge) This is insane. Can we make an agreement that all matters should be discussed on legal ground? This is civil court!
MR. LIN: Then you should see the distinction perfectly. The dispute in the Hert family should be a moral issue, not a legal one. Therefore, such thing should not be brought to court, where we discuss legal matter.
JUDGE: (Aside) This is getting even better.
MR. HUANG: Haven’t you heard the line I quoted from civil law? All children should have filial piety and respect for their parents. It is unmistakably written in the Six Laws.
MR. LIN: Precisely. All children should do that. Does the Six Laws also tell you what the penalty is? Of course it doesn’t. It is not written in contract so there’s no punishment for breaking it.
JUDGE: Okay, gentlemen. I think we’re not arriving at any agreement here. Why don’t we take a short break now… (Dad feels dizzy.) Oh, I think we all need that. Old Hert seconds to that. (Strikes gavel.)
Dad’s condition gets worse. He shuts his eyes and his limbs shake violently. Finally he falls to the floor without consciousness. Everyone comes forward to check. Mr. Lin calls for help. Before medical help arrives, they surround Dad, trying to do something, but most of they just panic.
(Disappointed) Seems that we’re not able to go through this case today. We’ll gather here again on next Monday.
They light dims out.
Mom and John enter the stage. Outside the court room, they’re waiting to be summoned. Both of them wear in black from head to shoes. Mom’s face is covered with veil.
MOM: Your father just left, summoned by God. The doctor said he had a thrombus, a clog in his brain that caused his sudden stroke. Now he had found his way back, leaving me behind. (Sobs gently and wipes with a delicate lace-rimmed handkerchief) All hope is lost. (Suddenly stares at her son) How can you be so calm? Your father died! You really have no heart. (Turns away from him) Anyway, you are going to lose the lawsuit. (Take one step away)
JOHN: (After a few seconds) Mom, do you remember when I was little, you took me to the park we always went to?
MOM: Yes. Why?
JOHN: There’s one time I got lost for the entire afternoon. I didn’t know the way home and I remember I was crying so hard. Dad found me before it was all dark.
MOM: I know that. You were only six years old. You were lucky enough that at last we got you back. Otherwise, you’d be picked up by someone else.
JOHN: Only six. (Pause) But I was still there. I guess no one took pity on me. I was found behind a car, all by myself.
The light slowly, almost undetectably, fades. John, holding the spot light, walks to the down stage. The Taiwan golden rain tree appears in the light at the up stage close to the curtain. The branches are decorated with greenish leaves and buds. The little boy enters the stage from the right. He appears to be lost, with no direction. John squints at him.
You lost me in those four hours and then you found me. But I was lost from then on.