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“When the Last Leaf Falls” from Lit Between the Ears, Volume One August 10, 2006

Posted by William Spear in >> Lit Between the Ears - Volume One, >> Radio Drama.
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When the Last Leaf Falls, an adaptation of O. Henry’s The Last Leaf, is included in Lit Between the Ears, Volume One: Chekhov, O. Henry, Spear and Tarkington On the Air. The story is about Sue and Jonesy, two artists sharing a studio. Sue is a no-nonsense transplant from Maine and Jonesy is a delicate newcomer from California. During a bout of cold harsh weather, pneumonia ravages the area and Jonesy succumbs to its embrace.

Compounding Jonesy’s condition is her belief that she’ll die when the last ivy leaf falls from its vine outside their studio window. Sue doesn’t believe life or death matters are determined in such a way and tries logically arguing the point. However, she is fearful for her friend’s life and despite her most reasoned debates, a raging storm blows more leaves from the vine and Jonesy’s life fades further.

Sue enlists the help of Behrman, another resident living in the same building. Behrman is an older artist seeking inspiration for a masterpiece. As Jonesy counts down the remaining ivy leaves, she offers her imminent death as an inspiration which Behrman accepts. Sue chastises them both but Jonesy insists she’ll die when the last leaf falls. Sue forms a plan around the phrase “when the last leaf falls” and agrees to the idea of Jonesy’s death inspiring Behrman’s art but under one condition – Jonesy must sleep while Behrman is painting.

Sue and Behrman rush to help Jonesy get well. But what will happen When the Last Leaf Falls?

Lighting the Fuse: An Excerpt from When the Last Leaf Falls
The first excerpt is early in the play. Sue, Jonesy and Behrman are having dinner at a local cafe. Behrman has complained that another artist of middling rank will stage an exhibition at a nearby gallery. Sue and Behrman good-naturedly go back and forth over the competing artist’s abilities before Sue realizes Jonesy is quiet.

SUE: Are you all right Jonesy? You look pale.

JONESY: It’s a bit warm Sue. More sherry’ll …

SUE: (ALARMED) Jonesy? Are you okay? (CALLS OUT) She’s fainting. Somebody help.

MUSIC: UP AND ESTABLISH: SEGUE. UNDER TO BED.

ANNOUNCER: When the Last Leaf Falls is based upon an O. Henry short story and stars __________ as Sue and __________ as Jonesy. __________ directs the performance and William E. Spear wrote the script.

MUSIC: LET BED BREATHE.

ANNOUNCER: Pneumonia is ravaging the county. Stalking its victims without remorse. Sue – rough and tumble from Maine’s timber country – resisted Pneumonia’s embrace. But Jonesy – sensitive and delicate from California’s shores – fell seriously ill. And the Doctor’s prognosis is grave.

The easily overlooked aspect of this excerpt in particular, and of radio drama in general, is the importance of an Announcer. Summing up what has just happened and setting the stage for what is about to come is a skillful art. Announcers are worth their weight in gold.

Lighting the Fuse: Another Excerpt from When the Last Leaf Falls
Later in the play, after Jonesy’s been diagnosed with pneumonia and she’s counting the falling leaves to her death, she and Behrman speculate that her passing might serve as an inspiration for Behrman’s next painting.

Sue is appalled at their casual talk of Jonesy’s looming death and finally is unable maintain her composure.

SFX: OFF MIC: BEHRMAN KNOCKS ON DOOR.

SUE: Come in.

SFX: OFF MIC: BEHRMAN OPENS AND CLOSES DOOR.

SUE: Hello Behrman.

BEHRMAN: (COME ON MIC) Hello. How iss the patient?

JONESY: Not vell … I mean not well. I’ll be dead before dark.

BEHRMAN: With that icestorm blow-ingk outside vee’ll all be dead of Pneumonia before morning. (BEAT) I come look-ingk vor inspiration. I must haff inspiration for my masterpiece.

JONESY: Death inspires. Use me.

BEHRMAN: Dat’s a goot idea. Ven Miss Jonesy crosses to dee other side …

SUE: (BITE CUE: FRUSTRATED) Jonesy isn’t crossing to the other side.

BEHRMAN: But I must haff inspiration. Behrman he must haff the inspiration.

JONESY: You heard him Sue. He must haff the inspiration. (ALOUD) Three. Only three are left.

SUE: (MORE FRUSTRATION) Stop counting.

BEHRMAN: Vot are you count-ingk?

JONESY: Ivy leaves. When they’re all gone I’ll die.

BEHRMAN: Then I haff my inspiration.

JONESY: Then you haff inspiration.

SUE: Both of you stop.

JONESY: But it’s true. I’ll die when the last leaf falls.

SUE: Say that again.

JONESY: When the ivy leaves are gone I’ll die.

SUE: All right – you can be Behrman’s inspiration. But you must let me close the shades to help Behrman. And close your eyes while he’s working.

Sue’s plan, with Behrman’s assistance, is classic O. Henry. He is a master of the short story and his twist endings are widely known. However, O. Henry’s short story and When the Last Leaf Falls diverge.

Enjoy both.

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