GROUP S.O.S by Bonnie Culver
Running Time: Approximately one hour
Characters: 5 men or 5 women
Previously produced in high schools and community theater.
About the Play:
In two companion plays, (male and female versions) participants in a group therapy session (S.O.S.) for survivors of sexual abuse, collide, which run about an hour each. The plays are male and female versions of a therapy group for survivors of sexual abuse in which the characters meet, clash with, and eventually work to heal one another.
The language and delicacy with which the subject matter is handled makes it accessible to high school and college students, a number of whom, statistically, have probably experienced some of the situations in the plays.
From the Play:
LOU: My mother called and she wants me to come home and bring my son. My brother is graduating and she wants everybody to come home.
JUAN Will your grandfather be there?
PAUL: Are you going?
LOU: I'd like my parents to see my boy. But I already know they'll never really be close, like some grandparents.
PAUL: Because of where they live?
LOU: Mom and Dad live two hours away and Dad's retired now. Guess they could come out sometimes if they wanted.
PAUL: If you'd let them.
PAUL: Why don't you want them to get too close to your son? (LOU shrugs) Lou?
JUAN: Are you afraid your parents will tell them old stories about you. About what you said about your grandfather?
LOU: I've already told my son about that. I don't want him hurt by anybody like that ever, so I wanted him to know it happened. I'm sure my parents would tell them anyway. They never talked about that time with anybody. That I know of. (Pausing) I told my mother I'd think about coming up for my brother's graduation. I haven't seen him in ten years, since I left. He's going to college, my mom says. They're going to help him.
PAUL: Do you wish they'd help you next year?
LOU: (Shaking his head) I'll be all right. I told my mom if we came up I was going wherever she took my son. I didn't want her to have him all alone. I don't want to leave him unprotected. (Pausing, then with conviction) Fact all this helped me make a decision. I made up a will last week and took it over to a lawyer. I want my friend Bob and his wife Elaine to take care of the Danny if anything ever happens to me. They treat him like their own two sons. Fact, Danny and the boys get along great. They're the ones who take him on the nights I'm here. I trust them.
PAUL: Not your parents?
(MONNEE enters. She is dressed in multiple layers of clothes, probably from the Salvation Army. She carries a large satchel.)
MONNEE: Sorry. Sorry. I'm so sorry. Had to walk all that way. So sorry.
ANN: It's all right, Monnee. We haven't started yet; we're waiting for someone.
DELORES: (Under her breath) It is our third week.
LISA: (Impatiently) Ann, it's past starting time. My ride will be here at nine sharp.
ANN: (Checking her watch) Maybe J.J. has changed her mind. (Opening her manila folder) I asked each of you to write a letter for tonight's session. To whomever you wished. . . .
LISA: If we have to read these aloud, I really want to go first.
ANN: (Smiling) Certainly.
(J.J. enters hesitantly. She is eighteen, petite, very pretty.)
J. J.: Is this the . . . uh . . . group?
(ANN rises and crosses to J.J.)
ANN: “Adult Survivors of Sexual Abuse:" Yes. Welcome, J.J. I'm Ann, remember? We spoke briefly last week.
J. J.: (Uncertain, still near door) I'm J.J. Schm. . . .
ANN: We don't use last names, J.J. Come in. We've been waiting for you.
(J.J. sits down right in last available chair. She avoids eye contact with everyone else in the room. ANN resumes her seat.)
LISA: Can I start, now?
ANN: (Watches J.J., who studies the floor.) Lisa, maybe we should introduce ourselves to J. J. fisrt before we begin reading.
DELORES: We already did that. In our first week.
LISA: (Puts papers away, again.) I want to get this out of the way, that's all.
ANN: We will read them tonight, Lisa, and I promise, you will be first. (Quietly, to J.J.) J.J., why don't you tell us why you're here.
J. J.: My counselor sent me. He said it would help.
ANN: And how is that, J.J.? How can the group help you?
J. J.: He said I could talk about it.
ANN: What's that?
J. J.: What's been happening to me.
ANN: Why don't you tell us what's been happening to you. (J.J. firmly shakes her head.) All right. We will listen when you are ready to tell us, J.J.
(J.J. nods.) Let's begin by telling J.J. your names and why you're here.
(MONNEE stands eagerly and faces J.J.)
MONNEE: My name is Monnee and I was sexually abused as a child and I need this group to get better.
MARIE: Monnee, this isn't Alcoholics Anonymous.
ANN: Marie, you can go next.
MARIE: Me? (Pausing, then speaking to J.J.) My counselor sentenced me as well.
ANN: Marie isn't sure she belongs in this group.
MARIE: John, that's my counselor, told me my insurance company wouldn't pay for my therapy anymore unless he found ' something that would fit into their "acceptable" column for co-payment. This seems to be the worst skeleton in my closet. . . . to explain why I might need to talk with someone.
ANN: So you think John created the reason for your being here.
MARIE: (After a brief pause) Look. John said I had to join this group and see him or I'd have to find myself another therapist. I was just having a little trouble getting things done at work and my sessions with him seemed to be helping, so. . . . Now, I would just like the get the old "fixed" stamp on the old forehead that says, "I've been shrunk and can be done with all this. . . .”
ANN: (Consults notes.) Last week you told us about your new house. You sounded proud of it.
MARIE: A six bedroom Victorian with a full wrap-around porch, my own retirement annuity. I'm fixing it up to make a bed and breakfast to augment my income when I can finally leave the joys of corporate America. Right now it's mostly the bank's, but I don't have time to enjoy it much, working seventy hours a week anyhow.
MONNEE: Do you have to?
MARIE: I don't have anyone else paying my bills
ANN: That's important to you, isn't it. To be self-reliant, independent.
MARIE: (Laughing) What is this? Pick on Marie night? You have four other people who paid for this therapy stuff. . . . (Pauses, but receives no response from ANN.) What? (ANN leans forward and waits for MARIE to continue.) Right. I'm here because I had this thing with a high school history teacher when I was seventeen. I told my mother about it and my parents packed me off to college a few months early and never let me talk about the whole deal. It was a small town. Guess they thought it would kill them if anybody knew. That's just the way it was.
MONNEE: (Cheerfully) There now. Don't you feel better 'cause you told us?
MARIE: Friggin' Christ. . . . (To DELORES when she sees she is about to speak) And don't you start.
ANN: Marie, no one wants to "pick on you." You worked hard to get where you are. Hard to finish college and harder at your job. You're successful.
MARIE: Until I started missing a few deadlines, but. . . . your point?
ANN: This is work, too. I don't have a rubber stamp for you. No magic wand, pill, or potion. Just work.
Comments from Susan Anthony, the play's first director:
One could think that the material for these plays dealing with sexual abuse might be inappropriate for high school or young college audiences. However, the experiences of the producers of these shows has proved quite the opposite. Adam Hill, who directed the play for high school students, noted that two boys did seek counseling after seeing the male version. Susan Anthony also had a positive response to her production of the female version at Maryland. (She also produced it again at DePauw University): We had a standing ovation, thank you very much, on opening night. One of the real ones, not the grudging kind where people look around and get up just because everyone else is. It was for their performances, of course, the fact that it was material that was obviously intense. . . It struck a chord.”
There are several reasons why these plays work well with young audiences—and why the counselors and counseling centers find them valuable. First, there is little, if any, profanity or graphic material; the plays explore the emotional depths of the characters. Second, the plays reveal to young people the importance of confronting incidents that may have happened to them. And, third, one of the characters in each play was molested during his or her teenage years, at the age of 16 or 17, which many people in this age of Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton, when many people seem to think that is the age of consent. Even today, when discussions of sexual abuse are relatively common, many adults, young and old, see themselves in that character and realize that what happened to them at that age in their lives was, indeed, sexual abuse; that, at 16 or 17, they weren’t ready to make adult decisions about intimacy no matter how “grown” they are perceived to be In these days of confused definitions of what constitutes sex, what is the age of consent and what that means, and “everyone is doing it,” our schools and therapeutic agencies need a vehicle to raise such issues and point toward healing.
Teens will generally take the blame for any inappropriate sexual activity that has been thrust upon them. Many teens and adults still think of sexual abuse as a woman’s issue. In the male and female versions of GROUP S.O.S., they see the problem from both sides. Discussing these plays gives them a chance to divest themselves from any guilt they may feel about their own prior encounters. Even more importantly, it may allow them to understand their peers who have been abused, possibly teased or isolated because of it.
And those of us who no longer belong to the young adult generation often need a reminder of and permission to reveal the secrets we ourselves may have hidden for years.