To See Them Say
A New Play by
Brian O'Neill

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Producer, Investor and Presenter Information

Development History

An earlier draft of To See Them Say was a 2012 Eugene O’Neill Theatre Conference semi-finalist. Since that time it has received a few informal readings, followed by revisions, and is now currently being work-shopped monthly at the Actors Studio on West 44th St., where I am a member of the Playwrights and Director’s Workshop.

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Short Plot Synopsis

The day that corporate lawyer Benjamin Cohen goes to jail for a white collar crime, his estranged son Robert, a troubled college student recently expelled from Columbia University, strikes up a meaningful friendship while at jury duty with the Reverend Diane Jones whose daughter Aesha, a Harvard Law grad, has just joined his father's firm. When tragedy strikes and the world is suddenly yanked from underneath them all, they find themselves on an uncertain and tumultuous path, searching for grace from within, from each other and from God.

Plot Narrative Synopsis

It's Saturday night, and Reverend Diane Jones is working on her Sunday morning sermon, while her daughter Aesha, a recent Harvard Law grad, is headed out with friends to celebrate her new job as a first year attorney at Cohen Fitzpatrick. Aesha begs Diane to come out with them, but Diane is committed to her work. They quickly discuss Aesha's bright future as a young black woman in the corporate business world, and they make plans to have dinner together the next night. 

Early Monday morning, cocky attorney Ben Cohen of Cohen Fitzpatrick is on the phone with his brother Arthur Cohen, his twin and also a lawyer at the firm, discussing how to handle the press while Ben is on his way to jail to serve time for a white collar crime. Not only will the Feds stage his arrest outside his home on the way to work, but they plan to also stage an arrest at the office. 
Ben's estranged son Robert, a NYC tour guide comes in wearing pajamas and evading his father's questions. Ben has drawn up a trust for Robert, so he'll be covered financially while Ben is incarcerated. Robert is disgusted with his father and intends to reject the financial help and leave as soon as Ben is gone. Ben reminds Robert that he's not the only criminal in the room, and Robert credits his uncle Arthur as the one who plea-bargained in his defense in a computer hacking scandal at Columbia University that Robert concocted. Ben makes an ill-phrased comment about Robert's mother passing away, obligating him to take care of Robert all these years. Ben is not apologetic for his crime. Father and son attempt to connect, and Ben admits his admiration for Robert's hacking crime. Robert declares he's not going to jury duty, and tensions rise again, as Ben pleads with Robert to go--make excuses to get released, but at least show up. 

Monday night, Diane and Aesha debate staying at Cohen Fitzpatrick after having watched her boss, Ben Cohen, the man who hired her, carted away by the police. Being a young black attorney, Aesha has a lot of opportunities, but she feels her reputation may be at stake. But, Diane preaches forgiveness and worries about the reputation Aesha will get if she quits. Diane believes this is an opportunity for Aesha to "shine a light" and make a real difference. They change the subject to Diane's jury duty--a rape case. Concerned, Aesha points out that Diane will have to reveal her own experience. They decide to travel downtown together in the morning--Aesha to Cohen Fitzpatrick and Diane to jury duty. Before retiring to bed, Aesha tentatively reveals that she has been looking for an apartment with her white boyfriend, who is about 20 years older. They argue about the relationship that Diane thought was over; Diane thinks Aesha will be the "trophy on some pseudo-progressive's award shelf," and Aesha throws Diane's own words--"shine a light"--back in her face. 

Early Tuesday morning, before heading to Cohen Fitzpatrick, Arthur comes over to make sure Robert goes to jury duty. After a brief conversation about the NY Giants, we learn that Arthur is more of a father to Robert than Ben is, as he encourages Robert to get his life together, to put his own criminal past as a hacker behind him and to sign the papers for the trust from his father. After debating the legal system and the relativity of Ben's crime, Arthur confirms that he's put Robert in his will, implying that his own father hasn't done so. 

Robert heads to jury duty, where his agitated efforts to open a window, interrupt Diane's quiet attention to her book. He attempts to make conversation with her, but she politely declines. They share a laugh over Robert's inability to get out of jury duty by declaring that he's a Buddhist, and Robert treats an exasperated Diane to a complete history of Canal Street, admitting that he's a tour guide, who loves history. They debate the concept of justice and the innocence of the man on currently on trial. Robert unsuccessfully attempts to guess Diane's occupation, then playfully ridicules the author of the book she is reading. Impassioned by their lively discussion, he makes some offensive slurs about justice and religion, and Diane tells him off--she's charmed by him, but he's gone too far. She wins the debate, when she reveals that she was raped, but the positive outcome was her daughter, who just started at Cohen Fitzpatrick. Robert does not reveal his connection. He finally guesses that Diane is a minister and invites her to lunch, but Diane declines, because she is meeting Aesha to iron a few things out privately. Robert refocuses his attention once again to opening the window, and Diane intervenes, opening the window with no effort. She sits back down to read, while Robert breathes in the fresh air, and together, they witness the first plane hit the first World Trade Center tower, which holds the offices of Cohen Fitzpatrick. 
At the top of the second act, one and a half years later and after a tour in Afghanistan, Robert finds Diane. They mourn the loss of Arthur and Aesha, who both died in the World Trade Center on 9/11, and Robert marvels at Diane's new endeavor--an interfaith ministry made possible by an anonymous trust called The Aesha Jones Memorial Fund. Checks come like clockwork. Robert still does not reveal his identity to Diane and implies that he may not go back to the Middle East

The next day, Diane is preparing another sermon with the help of Aesha, whose spirit lives on in Diane's memory and to whom Diane clings, as if Aesha is still alive. In the middle of a rousing rendition of "Bringing in the Sheaves" together, Ben enters, harshly declaring his identity and demanding his son back. 

Later, in the church, Ben confronts Robert over the trust money he's illegally diverted to Diane's ministry and reveals that the military police are looking for Robert, ready to charge him with desertion. Robert attempts to defend himself, but Ben offers him a deal—come home with him now, and he’ll make all his problems go away—Robert just has to sign a set of documents. Ben admits that he is hurt that Robert would help Diane in Aesha's name, but not even visit his own father while in jail, and he begs Robert to come home. Extremely disillusioned, Robert cannot accept his father's misguided overtures. Their argument escalates, and after Ben slaps Robert across the face, Robert nearly chokes his father to death.

After his father is gone, Robert finally reveals his real identity to Diane and the true nature of the trust that has funded her interfaith assembly. Robert warns Diane that his father could threaten her church, and Diane reflects upon their prior conversation about justice. She forgives Robert and suggests that he invite his father to dinner with them. 

Robert goes to Ben's apartment and silently signs the papers. Robert's about to leave when Ben gives him Arthur's upcoming season tickets to the NY Giants. Robert and Arthur used to go together, and although Ben doesn't say so directly, he is hoping that he will now be able to go with Robert. Robert declares that he is shipping out to Iraq the next day, and Ben responds without emotion. Robert challenges him on it, and Ben declares that on his therapist's suggestion, in order to control his anger, he is practicing detachment. Robert continues to emotionally push Ben. Ben reveals that the papers are fake and that he wanted to see if Robert really loved him. In his awkward way, Ben thinks he's made a loving gesture, but Robert takes it as the deception that it is. Enraged, Robert charges his father and Ben meets him with an equally violent physical response. Ben admits a desire to be dead, like Arthur, and father and son cease their attack of each other. 

Later, Diane is again preparing for her sermon with Aesha's help, but Aesha declares that she can no longer stay with Diane and that Diane has to focus her attention on the needs of her community. Robert arrives as they are saying goodbye. She encourages Robert to stay with her and to not go back to Iraq. But, Robert feels a tremendous obligation to pay for the sins of his father and his family by sacrificing himself. Robert is desperately lost, and Diane tries to convince him that God has a plan for him. In his despair, Robert misinterprets Diane's motherly affection and attempts to kiss her. She graciously deflects his attempts, he breaks down, and she comforts him.

The next day, Robert apologizes to Diane for what happened the night before. She forgives him and tries again to encourage him to not go. She admits that while her relationship with Aesha ended on a disagreement, she at least had had the opportunity to promise to try to understand. She suggests that Robert do the same with his father. Robert shares a heartwarming memory with Diane, as Ben enters, ready to take him to back to the Army. Ben asks for a moment alone with Diane. Robert exits, and Ben viciously challenges Diane and her faith. She holds her own, but then loses control and finally tells him off. Enraged, Ben starts tearing apart church decorations. Once he destroys the crucifix, he breaks down crying, desperately lamenting the loss of his son. Robert re-enters and attempts to collect his father from the floor. 

Many months later, back in the same courthouse corridor where Robert and Diane first met, Angela, a young, single mother, meets Ben, as they take a lunch break from jury duty. Ben tries to connect with Angela, who is reluctant, even after Ben presents her with the advance CD for a famous rapper, who he now represents. A changed man, he persists, and they eventually connect. They discuss her failed professional career, and he offers to mentor her, inviting her to an event with the rapper at Diane's church later that evening. She accepts, and they head back in to jury duty. 

That same afternoon, also downtown, Robert is leading a tour group outside St. Paul's Chapel. When he sends them away to explore, Diane comes up. They talk about the event that evening with the rapper, happy that his father was able to arrange it. Diane reveals that she's overheard Robert tell the tourists that he believes St. Paul's was protected on 9/11 not just by the giant oaks surrounding it, but also by Divine Intervention. He silently admits that it's true and as they take in the energy of the sacred location, they finally decide to have that lunch.

Source Material