The Master Thief

The Master Thief

Based on a Russian Folk Story

Written by Kevin M. Flanagan

2013

CHARACTERS

VARVARA: The master thief. Has nice boots.

HERDSMAN: Once had an ox, but it was stolen. Rather simple.

TEAMSTER: Once had an ox as well, but it was stolen. Rather simple.

DROVER: Also once had an ox, but it was stolen. Rather simple.

OXEN 1, 2 and 3: 3 Oxen, stolen by robbers. They don’t speak “people.”

ROBBER: One of the three thieves.

HIGHWAYMAN: One of the three thieves.

BANDIT: One of the three thieves.

PROPS

LOOT SACKS: 3 sacks of “loot.”

APPLES: At least two.

WINE: A wineskin, bottle, or goblet should suffice.

3 CLUBS: For clubbing.

3 KNIVES: For knifing.

THE MASTER THIEF requires a few simple scene changes, from the VILLAGE to the CAMP to the VILLAGE again. How these occur, what the sets entail, and so forth, are open to interpretation.

SCENE 1

(IN DARKNESS ENTER VILLAGERS STAGE RIGHT, ENTER VARVARA STAGE LEFT. SPOTLIGHT on VARVARA)

VARVARA (addressing audience)

There once was a time when cleverness and guile were treasured so much that we told our children stories of those heroes possessed of both deviousness and cunning. I am one such story, for I am Varvara, the master thief. My story began long ago, but tonight is the night that it ends, here in this scenic little village of Kanash.

(LIGHTS UP on VILLAGERS. The VILLAGE of Kanash is not particularly scenic.)

HERDSMAN

Oh! Lament!

TEAMSTER

Oh! Sorrow!

DROVER

Oh! Devastation! Kanash is ruined!

HERDSMAN

Ruined!

TEAMSTER

Ruined!

VARVARA

I had come a long way, through endless storm and forest, having crossed wits with vodyanoy and leshy, rusalka and vila. Ruined little Kanash was a warm hearth in a cold blizzard. You might think I plan to rob these poor souls, but you’d be wrong.

DROVER

OH! Emaciation!

TEAMSTER

OH! Famine!

HERDSMAN

OH! Starvation! Kanash is destroyed!

DROVER

Destroyed!

TEAMSTER

Destroyed!

VARVARA

Hearing the subtle pleas of the people of Kanash, I came out from the woods to see what help I could offer. Also, it was very cold.

(VARVARA approaches the VILLAGERS)

VARVARA

Hail, good people of warm, inviting Kanash!

HERDSMAN

TREACHERY!

DROVER

CHICANERY!

TEAMSTER

THIEVERY! KANASH IS OBLITERATED!

HERDSMAN

OBLITERATED!

DROVER

OBLITERATED!

VARVARA

You seem uneasy, good friends. Is something the matter?

HERDSMAN

We are poor, we have no mayor, and our oxen have been stolen!

TEAMSTER

Stolen by thieves this very night!

DROVER

If we had seen then, we would have stopped them. With clubs.

HERDSMAN

Oh, yes.

TEAMSTER

Quite.

VARVARA

Indeed. Stolen, you say?

ALL VILLAGERS

STOLEN!

VARVARA

I see. You wouldn’t happen to be offering a reward for their safe return? (Next line as aside) Altruism lacks the kind of cunning good stories oft require.

HERDSMAN

I’ve naught but my ox to plow my fields, and a bushel of apples to my name.

TEAMSTER

I’ve naught but my ox to pull my cart, and a barrel of wine to my name.

DROVER

I’ve naught but my ox to grind my mill, and a warm hearth to my name.

VARVARA

All fair offers for a simple task. I shall recover your oxen, you graceful, quiet people of Kanash, before this night is through. (to audience) You might think such a paltry sum would tempt me to theft, but you’d be wrong. For I am Varvara, the master thief, and a bigger heist I’ve hatched.

DROVER

The camp of thieves is just to the north, where they plot their next pillage.

TEAMSTER

You’ll find them there planning murders and legerdemain, I’d wager.

HERDSMAN

Such dishonest folk, who know not the sweat of a day’s hard work.

VARVARA

Heathens and roustabouts, no doubt. Have no fear, sweet, honest, defenseless people of Kanash! For I am Varvara, the master…collector. I shall go.

(Lights down, VILLAGERS exit)

SCENE 2

(VARVARA in SPOTLIGHT CENTER STAGE.)

VARVARA

(to audience) You might think I planned to stumble clumsily through the moonlit forest to the camp of cutthroats and simply lead the oxen back by their collective noses, but you’d be wrong. For I, as I have mentioned, am Varvara, the master thief, and a plan I’ve already woven.

(Enter OXEN, THIEVES. OXEN are “tied” to a post STAGE LEFT. THIEVES are huddled by a CAMPFIRE STAGE RIGHT.)

VARVARA

Common thieves are an unsubtle rabble, and their camp was not hard to find.

(LIGHTS UP on THIEVES)

BANDIT

Murder.

HIGHWAYMAN

Theft.

ROBBER

Treason.

(THIEVES nod in agreement. LIGHTS UP on OXEN)

VARVARA

Just out of earshot from the sinister yet agreeable camp of thieves, the oxen were tied, mooing and simple.

Ox 1

Does this yoke make my butt look big?

Ox 2

Do you ever think about, I dunno, like, life, man?

Ox 3

Ugh, oral story traditions are so over.

VARVARA

You see, long ago in another story, I stole the gift of animal speech from Indrik, The King of All Animals. I have regretted it ever since.

Ox 3

I mean, seriously. Folklore is all the same, it’s never new.

Ox 2

Maybe there’s like, you know, a kind of collective unconscious of mankind, man.

Ox 1

Should I keep this nose piercing? Is it working for me?

VARVARA

So many regrets- such is the life of a master thief. I crept through the woods to where the oxen were kept.

(VARVARA creeps over to the OXEN, addresses them)

VARVARA

Psst! Cows.

ALL OXEN

WHOA.

VARVARA

I know, I speak ox- it’s unfathomable but in this case quite true. I am Varvara, the master…herder. I’ve come to take you back to your owners.

Ox 2

Dude, so uncool. Not happening, bro.

Ox 3

Okay, first: It’s “oxen,” as in plural ox. Additionally, I’m not going anywhere.

Ox 1

Ohmigod, I love your little boots. Also, no.

VARVARA

What do you mean, moo moo moo moo moo?

Ox 1

I’m NEVER going back there. All that guy ever feeds me in boring grain and grass. I’m a fabulous ox- I need something fabulous to eat.

Ox 2

All my owner ever gives me to drink is boring water. That’s animal cruelty- I want something new to drink.

Ox3

Dude, he makes me sleep outside in a barn. A barn, man. How am I supposed to get my cozy on in a barn?

BANDIT

I’m going to murder those oxen.

HIGHWAYMAN

Not to be disagreeable, but I think the word is slaughter.

ROBBER

Yes, let’s slaughter and eat them. Yey, teamwork!

(THIEVES all “high-five”)

Ox 3

I mean, these guys are like, totally chill. They just let us stand around, no work or nothing.

Ox 2

Clearly, these are progressive, forward thinking people who’ve cast off the shackles of “work.”

Ox 1

I kind of love it here- and have you seen their little hoods? Adorbs.

VARVARA

Look, I know you guys don’t speak people, but I’m almost certain those three guys intend to brutally kill you and then eat you. If you head back home, I can promise you a bushel of apples, a barrel of wine, and a nice warm fire to sleep by.

Ox 1

A bushel of apples? Oh, delish. I’m in.

Ox 2

A barrel of wine? Do you know the vintage?

Ox 3

A warm fire to sleep by? Oh, blaze it up, bro.

VARVARA

(cuts them free) Now go- I’ll deal with the thieves.

(The OXEN EXIT, talking amongst themselves)

BANDIT

You know what I’m not sick of at all? All these bags of stolen loot.

HIGHWAYMAN

I agree, my friend. I’m quite pleased with our many spoils.

ROBBER

Moral implications aside, the life of a murderous bandit is the life for me!

BANDIT

Truly, we are friends for life.

HIGHWAYMAN

Here, here!

ROBBER

Who says there is no honor among thieves?

VARVARA

You might think I intend to steal their sacks of gold and jewels, but you’d be wrong. For I am Varvara, master thief, and I intend to steal an even rarer treasure.

(VARVARA creeps towards the campfire, then calls out)

VARVARA

Hail, friends! Is there room for another at your campfire?

BANDIT

Well, that depends.

HIGHWAYMAN

On several factors, actually.

ROBBER

How do you feel about being brutally murdered and robbed?

VARVARA

I’m actually quite a fan of the whole “what’s-yours-is-mine” ethos. I myself am a miscreant and criminal.

BANDIT

You don’t say? You wouldn’t happen to be carrying a large amount of gold?

HIGHWAYMAN

This is, of course, a totally hypothetical question.

ROBBER

It doesn’t have to be a “large” amount, either. Any amount of gold is an acceptable quantity to prompt an answer of “yes.”

BANDIT and HIGHWAYMAN

True, True.

VARVARA

No, sadly, I currently carry no gold, in amounts great or small, on my person.

BANDIT

Drat, that’s really too bad.

HIGHWAYMAN

A shame, really, as we intend to kill you anyway.

ROBBER

It’s really nothing personal. I do hope you understand.

(THIEVES stand and draw knives)

VARVARA

Wait a moment! I have neglected to mention something important. You see, I am Varvara, the master thief. I’ve come with a wager.

BANDIT

That’s quite a title.

HIGHWAYMAN

Strange we’ve never heard of you.

ROBBER

Indeed, most strange, considering our familiarity with the whole thieving industry. What kind of wager?

VARVARA

I am such an expert thief, you see, that I’ve stolen the oxen you three kept just outside your camp.

BANDIT

I’m not only unimpressed, but somewhat miffed.

HIGHWAYMAN

Master thief, maybe. Master negotiator, definitely not.

ROBBER

You’re not really progressing this discussion towards a “not murdering you” compromise.

(THIEVES seize VARVARA in as friendly a manner as they are capable)

VARVARA

Now, let’s not be hasty! I wager that I’ve stolen something even greater tonight, without even being there personally to steal it.

(THIEVES pause)

BANDIT

That seems entirely unlikely.

HIGHWAYMAN

It would take a particularly talented thief to perform such an act of banditry.

ROBBER

I must say, my curiosity is piqued. Where is this great treasure?

VARVARA

If you only come with me, I can show it to you. I wager your sacks of gold it’s a fairer prize than what you have there.

BANDIT

I’m game.

HIGHWAYMAN

I don’t see the harm in it.

ROBBER

My greed overrides my better sense.

(THIEVES release VARVARA)

VARVARA

Then come with me!

(VARVARA EXITS. THIEVES delay)

BANDIT

We do intend to kill this “master thief” for the treasure, right?

HIGHWAYMAN

Oh, most certainly.

ROBBER

I assumed that was a given.

(THIEVES EXIT, LIGHTS DOWN)

SCENE 3

(OXEN and VILLAGERS ENTER, STAGE RIGHT, LIGHTS UP)

VARVARA

(from offstage) It’s right this way, my friends!

THIEVES

Slow down! Stop running so far ahead! (etc)

(ENTER VARVARA, a little breathless)

HERDSMAN

Varvara returns! You saved our oxen!

TEAMSTER

Joy of joys! We are not ruined!

DROVER

We owe you our lives!

Ox 1

These apples are a delight, I must say.

Ox 2

This wine! I detect a faint raspberry flavor.

Ox 3

Dude, so toasty right now.

VARVARA

Then I come to collect on that debt and offer you a prize. Those very thieves that stole your oxen come this way now!

HERDSMAN

No! Our precious oxen!

TEAMSTER

They’ll not take what’s ours again!

DROVER

Clubs! The clubs!

(The VILLAGERS brandish clubs. The OXEN preen. The THIEVES rush in)

BANDIT

What’s this? The village?

HIGHWAYMAN

We’ve already robbed this place blind!

ROBBER

I am starting to think we’ve won this wager.

(VILLAGERS howl and club the THIEVES to death. This should take some time. While the CLUBBING occurs, VARVARA speaks)

VARVARA

That’s where you are wrong, my friends. You’ve lost your wager, and not just because of the vicious clubbing you are currently undergoing. For, in fact, there is a great treasure here, one I stole with only the most miniscule of efforts.

(The CLUBBING ends. The THIEVES are dead. The VILLAGERS go through the THIEVES loot sacks)

HERDSMAN

So much gold! Our village is wealthy!

TEAMSTER

Varvara has saved us all!

DROVER

Varvara for mayor! Who votes yey?

HERDSMAN

Yey!

TEAMSTER

Yey!

DROVER

Yey!

Ox 1

Yey!

Ox 2

Yey!

Ox 3

Yey!

HERDSMAN

That’s three “Yeys” and three “moos.”

TEAMSTER

A unanimous decision!

DROVER

Varvara, will you take the now-wealthy town of Kanash as your home?

VARVARA

Of course.

(The VILLAGERS and OXEN cheer and parade about in joy. VARVARA steps forward to address the audience)

VARVARA

You may have thought I intended to rob the lot of them, but you would have been wrong. The treasure I stole was the hearts of these simple people, a treasure lost on more common thieves. It takes a cunning eye to find the truest prize, and to gain it with as little work as possible. Such a treasure was not lost to me, for I am Varvara, the master thief, and mayor of Kanash.

Baba Yaga

“BABA YAGA”

CAST:

NARRATOR

FATHER / SKULL

STEPMOTHER / BABA YAGA

CAT

GATES

HUT (X2 Multiple people?)

[In darkness, enter NATASHA, seated on floor. Lights Up.]

NARRATOR

Once upon a time there lived a girl named Natasha. She was the daughter of a widower, and though they were lonely, they were happy together, playing in the endless forest that surrounded their little hut. Such is the way of fairy tales: it always seems as though nothing will ever change and that everything is eternal, until something does, in fact, change. Natasha and her Father never wanted for anything, until one day, her father came to her with strange news. So such stories always go.

[Enter FATHER.]

FATHER:
Natasha, we need to talk, my dear.

NATASHA:
Yes father?

FATHER:
Well, it has been a long time since mother died, and we both miss her very much, but there are… some things…that only a mother can do. So, I have decided to remarry.

NATASHA:
You mean I’ll have a new mommy?

FATHER:
(Nervous Laugh) Yes, a new mommy. I met her in the forest while collecting firewood, and she comes here today to be my wife. I know it seems sudden, but it is not unusual in stories such as these.

Enter STEPMOTHER.

NATASHA:
Hello, Stepmother–

STEPMOTHER:
(interrupting) Little children are to be seen, not heard. Now, Natasha, my dearest…I need a needle and a thread to mend your father’s shirt. Go fetch me them.


FATHER:
Do as she says.

[Natasha exits backstage.]

STEPMOTHER

My dear, handsome, strong, brave husband- would life not be better if we were free of your little one? Then you and I could be alone, where I could sink my teeth into you.

FATHER

I love Natasha, my dear. Please don’t make me choose between the two of you.

STEPMOTHER

You think I mean to make you choose? How insulting- I need to be alone. Now, Go!

FATHER EXITS

STEPMOTHER

One might wonder what a man could see in a verbally abusive woman he found wandering in the woods one day, but this is the way such stories always go.

NATASHA ENTERS


NATASHA:
We have no needle and thread.

STEPMOTHER:

(interrupting) Seen, not heard, Natasha! (sizes up Natasha, pinches her cheek) Well then…Could you go to my sister Baba Yaga’s house and get it a needle and some thread for me?

NATASHA:
Baba Yaga? Baba Yaga, the witch who flies through the night in a mortar and pestle? Baba Yaga, who lives beyond a gate of skulls in a hut with chicken legs? Baba Yaga, who has iron teeth and eats children? Your sister is Baba Yaga?

STEPMOTHER:
Hold your tongue, you little savage. My sister is sweet, beautiful, and kind. I’ll hear no more ill talk of her. Take these little scraps of food and go!


[STEPMOTHER hands NATASHA a handkerchief with food in it. NATASHA takes it, and turns. STEPMOTHER exits. LIGHTS DIM.]

[NATASHA looks into the BINDLE]

NATASHA:

A lump of greasy bread, a hard acorn, and a salted fish? A trio of items, that, at first glance, will have no use to the protagonist in such a story.


[NATASHA moves to STAGE RIGHT. ENTER GATES, SKULL. HUT enters CENTER STAGE, BABA YAGA is obscured by HUT.]

NATASHA:
Hello, is this the gate of Baba Yaga?

GATES:
(Groans) These are the gates of Baba Yaga.

NATASHA:
I’m Natasha, I came to get a needle and thread for my stepmother.

GATES:

(Groans)

NATASHA:

Is something the matter?

GATES:

(Groans) I haven’t been oiled in so long, my joints are aching. I have been neglected by my master, and in need of the kindness only children know in stories such as these.

NATASHA:

You poor thing. I have this greasy bread, let me see what I can do.

[NATASHA rubs grease into the joints of the GATE]

GATES:

I shall remember your kindness, and perhaps you will be rewarded for your selflessness later on. Such it always is, in stories such as these.

[The GATES swing open, and the SKULL steps forward. His eyes are closed.]


SKULL:

Halt! Who goes there? (pause) No, seriously, who goes there? I can’t see a goddamn thing. No eyeballs, amiright?

NATASHA:

I-

SKULL:

Why Baba Yaga wants to hang a skull on her door and use it like some kind of doorman is beyond me, but hey, what do I know? I’m a blind, brainless, reanimated piece of a rotten human corpse, amiright?

NATASHA:

Well, I-

SKULL:

I mean, Witches, amiright? Can’t be happy with a simple door knocker, Nooooo, need to go and dig up a corpse, rip its skull out, boil it in some mystic bullshit and then hang it up as a grisly totem to ward off visitors. Who taught this bitch to decorate, Vlad the Impaler? Not that I’d be any better, not having eyes and all, Amiright?

NATASHA:

Well, I might be able to help with that- will this acorn make a serviceable eye?

[NATASHA stuff the acorn into SKULLS eye. SKULL opens one eye, looks around with it]

SKULL:

Hot DAMN! It’s good to see again. You’re all right, kid, and a little heartbreaker, too. I’ll remember this. You want in? Just tell the stupid chicken-hut to sit its mythological ass down and it’ll do it, but make sure it’s in the form of a rhyming couplet. Huts love that shit. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to stare out into the forest and count squirrels. Uh…as it always is in stories such as these, or something.

[SKULL moves over to GATE’s position and waits. When NATASHA approaches the HUT, it moves and trembles, and its legs dance around.]

NATASHA:

Hut Of Brown! Now Sit Down!


[The HUT stops moving, kneels, and BABA YAGA steps out, followed by CAT. BABA YAGA is slowly balling up an impossible tangle of yarn. CAT is doing CAT things.]

BABA-YAGA:
Well, well, a visitor. What can your sweet harmless auntie Baba Yaga do for you?

NATASHA:
Auntie, I just came for a needle and thread. My stepmother needs to mend my father’s shirt.

BABA-YAGA:
Why, of course my dear. Why don’t you take over undoing this knot of yarn for me and I’ll fetch it for you right away.

NATASHA:
Yes, Auntie. What a tangle- this could take forever. But, in stories such as these, children are always subordinate to adults, regardless of their obviously wicked intentions. So, I unwind.

[BABA-YAGA walks to the side of the stage, where she meets the SKULL, whose eye is open.]

SKULL:

Oh my god, you’re fucking hideous. (closes eye)

BABA-YAGA:
Loyal servant, I’m going to boil some water to cook this child in. If this girl tries to escape, I want you to bite her sweet little head off.

SKULL:
Wow, that’s graphic.

[BABA YAGA exits backstage]

SKULL:

Yo, I think that bitch it going to eat you. As it always is in stories, etcetera.

CAT:
I haven’t had a bite of food in weeks, yet Baba-Yaga is going to eat a whole little girl? Why do evil creatures always mistreat their subordinates in stories such as these? It seems like a bad way to maintain employer/employee relationships. Me-Ow.

NATASHA

You poor thing. I have a little salted fish, take it for yourself.

CAT

Me-ow. That’s the stuff.

BABA-YAGA (offstage)
You’re still undoing that yarn, aren’t you?

NATASHA

Yes ma’am!

CAT

You know what? I think Skull is right- Baba Yaga has a track record of eating everyone who comes in here. She even disguised herself as a beautiful woman and married some dumb woodsman, gloating about she was going to lure his kid away, eat her, and then eat her husband. Me-Ow.


BABA-YAGA:
Are you still undoing that yarn?

NATASHA:
Yes ma’am.

CAT

Look, honey, you should run. Just gimme that yarn before you do. Cat’s do love yarn-

NATASHA

In stories such as these?

CAT

Don’t be so precocious,

[NATASHA gives CAT the Yarn. CAT promptly starts playing with it and spreading it about, making joyful cat noises]

SKULL

We got your back, homegirl.

NATASHA

Thank you all so much!

NATASHA flees offstage, running through GATES, who let her pass with a sigh. NATASHA stands just beyond the GATES.

BABA YAGA

Still rolling up that yarn for your Auntie Baba Yaga?

CAT

Yes meow.

[Enter BABA-YAGA.]

BABA-YAGA:
YOU!

[The CAT throws the Yarn over Baba Yaga, gives her the finger, and flees off stage making cat noises]

BABA-YAGA (struggling with Yarn)
Traitorous vermin!
( stumbles towards the SKULL)

SKULL

The things I do for love. And free eyeballs. (bites BABA YAGA, who howls in rage)

BABA YAGA

I’m going to gnaw the flesh from your bones, you little brat, and then boil your father into a stew!

[BABA YAGA stumbles towards NATASHA and the GATES, who promptly swing shut and knock her back towards the HUT, which is standing.]

NATASHA
Hut of Brown! Now Sit Down!

[The HUT crushes BABA YAGA. NATASHA flees.]

NARRATOR

As you probably guessed, Natasha ran right home to her Father and explained that his wife had been Baba Yaga in disguise, as the cat had told her. When her Father heard this, he wept and embraced his daughter, and they lived together in peace, playing games in the woods and Natasha never grew older, nor was he Father lonely, and they never knew hunger or sorrow again, till the end of all time. No lesson was learned, no moral was taught, as it is and always should be, in stories such as these.

(LIGHTS OUT)