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Friday Feature: Adrienne Dawes



Adrienne Dawes (she/her/hers) is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter, and teaching artist originally from Austin, TX. Her plays, including AM I WHITE, TEEN DAD, and THIS BITCH: ESTA SANGRE QUIERO, have been developed/ produced by Salvage Vanguard Theater, Theatre Bedlam, New Harmony Project, The Fire This Time Festival, Theatre Lab at FAU, Queen City New Play Initiative, Stages Repertory Theatre, Teatro Milagro, National Black Theatre, and English Theatre Berlin, among others.  Adrienne received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College and studied sketch & improv at the Second City Training Center in Chicago. Recent honors include: Walter E. Dakin Fellow at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Alice Judson Hayes Fellow at Ragdale Foundation, and artist residencies with Colt Coeur, PlySpace, & Crosstown Arts. Just before the strike, Adrienne staffed on her first TV show, working on a limited series for Hulu/ABC Signature (EP: Ellen Pompeo). She's easy to find online at www.adriennedawes.com and @heckleher on most social mediums.




Future is F*****



CAST (3)

RONNIE: (20s/F or femme person, Black) programmer/hacker


MARGARET: (20s/F or femme person, Non-White) VP of Human Resources, nervous energy/ also a training assistant named Xaria (pron. Zarr-ee-ah)


CENAC: (early 20s/M, White) an intern bro, completely mediocre yet exudes an outrageously eerie excess of confidence


ALSO: prerecorded COMPUTER VOICE performed by either Ronnie or Margaret.


SETTING

The future. A government tech bro office.


Lights rise on a futuristic government co-working

space. Ronnie sits at her desk, frowning at what looks

like a personal device of some kind.


RONNIE

(quietly, into device)

System entry. System entry.

(louder)

System ENTRY.

With a few keystrokes, she tries another setting.


RONNIE

(soothing voice)

Please: system entry.


As Margaret enters with her lunch leftovers, Ronnie

tries to hide the device under her desk.


MARGARET

Hey is this - -


RONNIE

Oh, I just, sorry - -


MARGARET

No, I’m sorry, lunch break. Just trying to find an open desk - -


RONNIE

No, it’s fine, I’m, I’m- -


MARGARET

Ronnie, right?


RONNIE

Ronnie. Yeah. And you’re - -


MARGARET

Margaret. HR. Thanks for letting me sit here! They replaced my entire staff last week and I uh don’t think the new guys like me very much.


Margaret awkwardly chuckles. Ronnie continues

working on her device.


MARGARET

What’re you working on?


RONNIE

New program.


MARGARET

New program? Doesn’t look like our interface - -


RONNIE

It’s not, it’s – this isn’t for work - -


MARGARET

(laughs, awkwardly)

Oh no, I didn’t mean like stern voice, “Why aren’t you working Ronnie” - -


RONNIE

Yeah, cause it’s a personal device, private hotspot - -


MARGARET

Yeah, your own private personal lunch so you work on whatever you want! Or don’t work! Totally you, your - -


RONNIE

Margaret – we cool.


MARGARET

(relieved)

Oh, thank God, thank you. I’m . . . kind of on edge all day. Every day. Barely sleep or eat. This is – I just bought an entire meal? Don’t know why I still – my lunch hour – I think I just go to be someplace else to be for an hour. Are you, would you want my lunch? Do you eat lunch?


RONNIE

I’m okay. Thanks.


MARGARET

Thanks, I mean, yeah OK . . . so . . . what does it do? Your program?


RONNIE

(frowns)

Uh nothing yet. Still buggy, I can’t figure out why it’s not - -


Cenac enters with an entitled swagger. He carries a

bottle of Soylent. Ronnie and Margaret sit up, at

attention. Ronnie hides the device under her desk.


CENAC

Oh here you both are. Together.


RONNIE

Cenac.


CENAC

Ronald. Just got back from a two-hour lunch with Geographic Operations - -


RONNIE

(dumbfounded)

Two hour lunch - - ?


CENAC

I’m speaking. And apparently, there’s been some complaints about my “work behavior,” which is hilarious because - -


MARGARET

Allegations are actually quite serious - -


CENAC

Margaret, doesn’t concern you - -


MARGARET

Uh, I’m VP of Human Resources - - ?


CENAC

And I’m an intern who will probably run this division one day.

Margaret’s eyes widen. Cenac leans in, way too close

to Ronnie.


CENAC

So Ronald, what is it about me, exactly, that you find so inappropriate?


RONNIE

(calmly)

Well first, my name’s not Ronald. It’s Ronnie. It’s on my department profile, digital signature - -


CENAC

Allegedly - -


RONNIE

Not alleged, actual fact. My name is Ronnie - -


CENAC

Well, I guess that’s not a name I “recognize.”


RONNIE

Yeah, well, all I’m asking is that you remain courteous and civil - -


CENAC

That’s not an ideology I “represent.”


RONNIE

I know, Cenac. And I’ve been trying to figure out some way to . . . translate. And closest thing I can think is: the way you treat Chad, Blake, Garrett, Other Garrett - -


CENAC

They’re executive staff - -


RONNIE

So am I. I deserve the same consideration, same respect. Does that make sense?


CENAC

(frowns)

I dunno, I think if you continue to suppress my expression of freedom in the workplace, you’ll be fired. Does that make sense?


MARGARET

(quietly)

You can’t fire her - -


CENAC

Can’t I, HR?


MARGARET

She’s head of your department. Technically, she’s your boss.


CENAC

“Technically,” I’m just a White guy with a Twitter X account. So you’ve both been warned.


He exits. The women sigh in relief. Ronnie returns to

her device.


MARGARET

(sighs loudly)

God, I’m sorry, that’s not what the agency - -


RONNIE

Isn’t it? Look around, Margaret. We’re the only ones left.

Margaret nods, solemnly. Beat.


RONNIE

But it’s alright. It’ll be alright. Eventually this will work.

(at device)

System entry.


COMPUTER VOICE (VO)

(soothing computer voice)

Entry link.


RONNIE

(excitedly)

Alright! Here we go! OK.

(to device)

Entry link: . . . Solange, A Seat at the Table.


COMPUTER VOICE (V.O.)

Solange uploaded.


MARGARET

I don’t understand: it’s an oldies app?


RONNIE

Not an app. More like a bot. You enter whatever self-care script you want and . . . let me just show you.

(to device)

Entry link: Rose water. Entry link: Coconut oil for skin and hair. Entry link: Pad See Ew with tofu.

Entry link: Rihanna Devotional Prayer Candle. Might as well add, entry link: A$AP Rocky and

Rihanna extended wedding playlist - -


MARGARET

(nods)

I was going to say at least ‘Fashion Killer’- ahem ‘Killa?’

Beat. They both stare at the device, waiting.


COMPUTER VOICE (VO)

. . . Uploaded.


RONNIE

(relieved sigh)

OK! So, let’s say you find yourself in a hostile environment - -


MARGARET

(nods)

All day, every single, all day - -


RONNIE

(nods)

There’s a multi-billion-dollar industry created around the defense of negative stimulus. From

outerwear that inflates to create a protective barrier, to wearable technologies that distort the victim’s neural signals, so they have no experience of the attack - -


MARGARET

Dissoci8. My sister had one for work. She taught critical race theory. Until it got too dangerous.


RONNIE

(nods)

Yes, current technologies can defend or deflect attack, but you have to continually purchase

expensive upgrades to remain “functional” meanwhile nothing ever happens to the attacker. The next day they return to the courtroom or the classroom - -


MARGARET

Or government office - -


RONNIE

Government office. Yeah. Physical confrontation just continues or - -


MARGARET

Escalates.


RONNIE

Exactly. But I’m not building defensive technology, it’s offensive. I don’t want to stun or hurt somebody - -


MARGARET

We don’t - ?!


RONNIE

(smiles)

I want to rewrite their entire genetic code, so their great grandchildren are born pacifist anarchists with heightened empathetic and collaborative skills - -


MARGARET

YESSSSSSS!!!

Margaret raises a fist, excitedly then quickly recovers.


MARGARET

I mean yes. Very cool. Yes. And your program, it’d be ready exactly when?!?


RONNIE

Still testing the entry points. If it works, the victim should remain in a relatively “safe” functioning space, but the attacker would be disarmed completely - -


Cenac reenters with what looks like a workplace

device.


CENAC

Uh Ronald? I still don’t have access to the new dashboard.


RONNIE

Then you need to talk to the Help Desk, Cenac. That’s not my - -


Cenac leans in again.


CENAC

What exactly is your job, then!?!


COMPUTER VOICE (VO)

Threat detected. Initiate?


CENAC

What did you say?!

Margaret and Ronnie exchange looks. In unison:

RONNIE MARGARET

I don’t know . . . Uh . . .


CENAC

You don’t know? You’re department head, I thought you knew everything - -


RONNIE

I . . . I’m just asking you to follow procedure like everyone else - - ?


CENAC

When have I ever been everyone else - -


He leans in again. Too close. Sound of device

activating.


MARGARET

(softly, to Ronnie)

Do it. Initiate.


RONNIE

Initiate - - ?


CENAC

What?


Ronnie shoots up to her feet. She holds her device

held out like a weapon.


RONNIE

INITIATE!


Ronnie’s device suddenly lights up, sound of a

soothing R&B music chime. Cenac and Margaret

both freeze. Black out.


RONNIE

(breathing heavily)

No! No, no, no!


Lights flick back on. Ronnie is seated at her desk,

wearing a virtual reality headset. She tries to stand up.

Margaret, a training assistant dressed in futuristic

business casual, rushes over to help her.


MARGARET

Ronnie. It’s over. Ssshhh. It’s OK. You’re done. That was amazing - -

Margaret pulls off her headset. Ronnie charges

forward, pulling out of her reach.


RONNIE

Where is he?! Where did he go?

She falls over, losing control of her legs. Margaret

rushes to her side.


MARGARET

Give yourself a minute. It all feels really real - -


RONNIE

Margaret?

MARGARET

Xaria, actually. I’m present in the training module just for narrative support, increased safety,

sometimes technical assistance or or - -


RONNIE

(nods)

Xaria, Xaria . . . we cool.


MARGARET

Cool, cool. Well. You did really well . . .


Margaret reviews data on her device.


MARGARET

Addressed each micro aggressive behavior but maintained a position of authority, which is incredible considering . . . well, everything. But in real life, as you know, they will resort to physical intimidation and violence, so - -


Ronnie rolls onto her back, breathing hard.


RONNIE

I wanted it to be real . . . just to see if my program worked . . . just to see his FACE.


MARGARET

(grins)

Yeah only a programmer would enter VR and try to build an app to disarm generations of violent attackers – clever workaround the non-violence parameters. You’re definitely the woman for this job. Not that it’s a “job” - -


Ronnie slowly sits up.


RONNIE

I want to finish.


MARGARET

Wait, careful - -


RONNIE

Put me back in.


MARGERET

Oh, you don’t have to go through all that again! You passed the basic module - -


RONNIE

I’m supposed to maintain employment at government agency so that I can hack into their private servers undetected, right? That’s what you’re asking me to do? Months and months of harassment, ridicule; every moment of every day I have to be ready to defend my work, my worth, my physical self?


MARGERET

Yes.


RONNIE

Then I have to see this module through to the end. I have to know I can survive.


MARGARET

Ronnie, are you sure you really want to - - ?!


RONNIE

I want to be done, done with all of this! Then I’ll remake myself. Build a version that can’t be

broken.

Ronnie returns to her desk, puts on the VR headset.


RONNIE

Load it!


Margaret loads the next simulation.


MARGARET

Alright I’ll uh – guess I’ll see you on the other side, Ronnie.


RONNIE

I’ll see you, Margaret. Xaria.

Simulation activates, Ronnie’s body goes limp.

Blackout. END OF PLAY.




###



Torch Literary Arts is a 501(c)3 nonprofit established to publish and promote creative writing by Black women. We publish contemporary writing by experienced and emerging writers alike. Programs include the Wildfire Reading Series, writing workshops, and retreats.

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