Monday, 3 September 2007

The Last Leaf

An adaptation of a short story by O. Henry


JOANNE- a young artist who has been in bed with pneumonia for six weeks

SUE- another artist who lives with Joanne and takes care of her

BEHRMAN- a French artist, who says he will paint a masterpiece someday

DOCTOR- the general practitioner


(The living room of a small studio-cum apartment on the third floor of a block in Greenwich Village. Mediocre paintings of landscapes and peasants hang on the walls. Some incomplete. A single chair in front of an unlit fire. The NARRATOR stands on the right surveying the scene when the curtain rises)

NARRATOR: (facing the audience, may pace up and down the room while speaking, careful to be audible at all times) Have you ever felt like you had no reason to live? That there was no point trying? Have you ever given up the fight and closed your eyes, hoping you never have to open them again?

Then again, such a morbid thought may never have crossed your mind. But for 28 year old Joanne it was all she could think of. As she lay in bed day after day, refusing to eat, or drink or hope. You see, she used to be a vibrant young lady who loved her life. She was a painter who lived in a little district west of Washington square called Greenwich. She shared her squatty, third storey studio and home with another artist called Sue. They got along very well. This was in May. But in November a cold unseen stranger, whom the doctors called Pneumonia, stalked the colony, touching one here and there with his icy finger. Mr Pneumonia was not what you would call a chivalric old gentleman. He was a red-fisted, short-breathed old duffer and he smote our dear Joanne mercilessly. For weeks his victim lay on her iron painted bedstead, looking through a Dutch window at the next brick house. Today the doctor came to visit her. He doesn’t look very hopeful. Let’s see what news he has.

(SUE and DOCTOR enter from the right. DOCTOR has a kit in his hand and a stethoscope around his shoulders. They look worried.)

SUE: Let’s be realistic about this, doctor. What are her chances?

DOCTOR: It’s not looking very good. She has a one in ten chance of survival. Pneumonia is deadly, dear. Two deaths this week and four more in critical condition. The weather is only becoming worse.

SUE: Is there anything we can do?

DOCTOR: Keep her warm and keep her spirits up. Don’t let her think of this as the end.

SUE: But she has resigned to her fate. She has no hope left. She has made up her mind that she’s not going to get well.

DOCTOR: That’s not a good sign. Has she anything on her mind?

SUE: She-she wanted to paint the bay of Naples someday…

DOCTOR: Paint- bosh! Has she anything worth it on her mind. A man, perhaps?

SUE: Is a man worth-but no doctor; there is nothing of the kind.

Well, it is the weakness then. I will do everything science can accomplish. But whenever my patient begins to count the carriages in her funeral procession, I subtract 50 per cent from the curative powers of medicines. If you get her to talk about the latest fashion-the clock sleeves in style this winter, I will promise you a one in five chance for her, instead of one in ten.

SUE: I’ll try doctor.

DOCTOR: I better get going then. Good day.

(SUE walks the DOCTOR to the door on the left and returns to the chair by the fire and starts weeping profusely)




(A bedroom. The bed is placed horizontally in the centre of the stage. A bowl of broth with a long spoon, a tall glass of water and a jug lie on a small table in front of the bed. There’s a small Dutch window on the wall close to the head of the bed. JOANNE lies on the bed with a thick blanket wrapped around her body. She seems to be staring out of the window. SUE has her canvas set up on the right and she is busy with her easel.)

NARRATOR: Ah! Here she is. Too weak to move, Joanne has been lying in bed for the past 6 weeks. Last Friday she refused to eat her lunch. Now, she won’t even sip wine. She just lies in bed staring out of that window all day long. What’s she looking at anyway? (walks to the window and looks out) there’s just a brick wall here. Nothing interesting. There’s an old, old ivy vine creeping up the wall. But it’s all gnarled and withered. The cold autumn winds have stricken the leaves of the vine until it’s skeleton branches cling almost bare, to the crumbling bricks. What could she get from staring at it so intently? Let’s find out.

JOANNE: Twelve, (pause) eleven, (pause) ten, nine

SUE: (leaves her work and rushes to JOANNE’s bedside) What is it dear?

JOANNE: Eight, seven, six. They’re falling faster now. Three days ago there were almost a hundred. It made my head ache to count them. But it’s easy now. There goes another one. There’re only five left now.

SUE: (looking out of the window) Five what, dear?

JOANNE: Leaves. On the ivy vine. When the last one falls I must go too. I’ve known that for three years. Didn’t the doctor tell you?

SUE: (Angrily) Oh, I never heard of such nonsense! What have old ivy leaves got to do with you getting well? And you used to love that vine so…You’re being ridiculous, Joan. Don’t be a goosey! Why, the doctor told me this morning that your chances of getting well real soon are-well let’s see exactly what he said- he said the chances were ten to one! Why, that’s almost as good a chance as we have in New York when we ride the street cars or walk past a new building. Try to take some broth now, and let Susie go back to her drawing, so she can sell it to the editor man, and buy port wine for her sick child, and pork chops for her greedy self.

JOANNE: You need not get anymore wine. There goes another. No, I don’t want any broth. That leaves just four. I want to see the last one fall before it gets dark. Then, I’ll go too.

SUE: Joan dear, will you promise me to keep your eyes closed and not look out of the window until I am done working? I must hand these drawings in by tomorrow. I need the light or I would draw the shade down.

JOANNE: Couldn’t you draw in another room?

SUE: I’d rather be here with you. Besides, I don’t want you to keep looking at those silly ivy leaves.

JOANNE: Tell me when you finish because I want to see the last one fall. I’m tired of waiting. I’m tired of thinking. I want to turn loose my hold on everything and go sailing down, down, just like one of those poor tired leaves.

SUE: Try to sleep. I must call Behrman up to model for me. I need an old hermit miner. I’ll not be gone a minute. Don’t try to move till I come back. (Exit right)




(A dark room full of old painting material, dusty bottles, and other miscellaneous items. The bed is covered with rags. A wooden chair lies on its side next to an empty canvas set up on the left corner. A man is fiddling with a glass on the mantelpiece. He looks old and weary with a long beard and dirty clothes. )

NARRATOR: This is the ground floor of the same building where Joanne and Sue live. The man who lives here is more than 60 years old. He was an artist for forty years but he was a failure in art. Yet Mr Behrman never gives up. You see that empty canvas in the corner. It’s been like that for the past twenty years waiting for the first stroke of his masterpiece. Meanwhile he earns a living by serving as a model to young artists who could not pay the price of a professional. This fierce old man would scoff at softness in anyone. He drinks gin to the excess and regards himself a sort of guardian to the two young artists in the studio above.

(Doorbell rings. Mr BEHRMAN looks up from his glass, trudges to the door and opens it)

BEHRMAN: Oh! Susie! Come in. come inside. It’s awful cold, yes? Come in. (turns the chair to the upright position and invites SUE to be seated)

SUE: Thank you. How have you been, Mr Behrman?

BEHRMAN: (sitting on the bed) I’m vell. How’s de Jonzy? The doctor came today?

SUE: (shaking her head) The doctor says she’s getting worse. She won’t eat or drink and today she nearly scared me sick talking about those leaves.

BEHRMAN: Leaves? Vat leaves?

SUE: You known that ivy vine which grows up the neighbours wall? It’s a withered old thing. Almost dried out. She says she will die the moment the last leaf from the vine falls.

BEHRMAN: Vass! Is dere people in de world mid der foolishness to die because leaves dey drop off from a confounded vine!? I haf not heard of such a thing.

SUE: She is very ill and weak and the fever has left her mind morbid and full of strange fancies. I came to ask if you would pose as a hermit for me. I need to finish the painting by the evening and send it to the editor.

BEHRMAN: No, I vill not bose a model for your fool hermit-dunderhead. Vy do you allow dot silly pusiness to come in der prain of her? Ach, dot poor little Miss Yonsy!

SUE: Very well, Mr Behrman, if you do not care to pose for me, you needn’t. But I think you are a horrid old-old flibbertigibbet!

BEHRMAN: You are just like a woman. Who said I vill not bose? Go on. I come mit you. For half and hour I haf been trying to tell you dot I am ready to bose. Gott! Dis is not any base in which one so goot as Miss Yonsy shall lie sick. Some day I vill paint a masterpiece, and ve shall go away. Gott! Yes.

(Grabs his coat from the bed and leads SUE out of the house)




(JOANNE’s bedroom. The old canvas is replaced with a new blank one. The side table is empty. The window has the shade drawn. Yet JOANNE lies on her bed and stares at it.)

NARRATOR: It has been a stormy night. The wind was more violent than the thunder. The rain hasn’t yet abated. It still drizzles as the sun rises warming the wet world. When Joanne awoke, she saw that the shade was drawn across the window and she was anxious to have it drawn. There were just three ivy leaves clinging onto the vine last night. Do you think they’ve survived? Will Joanne survive if they don’t?

(SUE enters with a tray of food.)

SUE: Good Morning, Joan. How are you feeling today?

JOANNE: (still staring intently at the window) Pull in up. I want to see.

(SUE wearily walks to the window and pulls up the shade)

JOANNE: (sigh) Just one, Sue. It’s the last leaf. I thought it would surely fall during the bight. I hear the wind. It will fall today and I shall die at the same time.

SUE: Dear, dear! Don’t Jo—think of me, if you won’t think of yourself. What would I do?

(Silence. SUE seats herself on the chair and watches JOANNE as she watches the last leaf)

NARRATOR: The lonesomest thing in all the world is a soul when it is making ready to go on its mysterious, far journey. The fancy seemed to possess her more strongly as one by one the ties that bound her to friendship and to the earth were loosed.

The day wore on. At twilight the north wind swept past the window as the rain relentlessly beat down. But the tiny green leaf with its neatly serrated edges refused to let go. It seemed to know that a feeble life depended on it. The last leaf was determined to stay alive and this made Joanne hopeful.

JOANNE: Sue, Sudie!

SUE: (rushing to the bed) What is it, dear?

JOANNE: I’ve been a bad girl, Sudie. Something has made that last leaf stay there to show me how wicked I’ve been. It is a sin to want to die. You may bring me some broth now and some milk with a little port in it.

(SUE brings the bowl of broth and feeds JOANNE slowly with the ladel. After a few spoonfuls)

JOANNE: Susie, someday I hope to paint the bay of Naples.

SUE: (smiles) Of course you will dear. (Doorbell rings) That must be the doctor. (Exit left and returns with DOCTOR)

DOCTOR: Hello, Joanne. How are we doing today. Hungry, I see? (walks to the bed and checks temperature and pulse. To SUE) Much better. There’s been a big improvement since last night. I see you’ve been taking good care of her. She’s out of danger. A few days of good nursing should do the job. Nothing to worry about.

SUE: Thank you doctor.

DOCTOR: Now I must see another case I have downstairs. Behrman, his name is-some kind of artist, I believe. Pneumonia too. He is an old man, too weak and the attack is acute. There is no hope for him; but he goes to hospital today to make it more comfortable.

SUE: But he was perfectly alright when I met him yesterday. When did this happen doctor?

DOCTOR: He was out all night painting his masterpiece he says. Crazy fellow if you ask me, going out on such a dreadful night to paint—

JOANNE: He’s always talking of painting a masterpiece. Poor man. He was out all night, was he? Did he complete it?

DOCTOR: I believe so.

JOANNE: Sue, why don’t you go down with the doctor and pay your respect to dear old Mr Behrman. I’m sure he’ll be pleased to see you. And if you do get to see his masterpiece—

SUE: Joan, there’s something I have to tell you.

JOANNE: What is it dear? Is something wrong?

SUE: I found Mr Behrman in the early hours of the morning. He was wet through and through. His shoes and clothing were icy cold. I called the doctor immediately. And I found a lantern, still lighted, and a ladder that had been dragged from its place and some scattered brushes, and a palette with green yellow colours mixed on it, and –look out the window, dear, at the last ivy leaf on the wall didn’t you wonder why it never fluttered or moved when the wind blew? Ah, darling, its Behrmans masterpiece –he painted it there the night the last leaf fell.




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