John Baca-Saavedra is a New Mexican playwright. He is also a friend of mine. I like to call him my critique partner, but I’m afraid that the critiquing is one-sided. Actually, I do make a play at critiquing his work in the way that novices will attempt to work by the side of masters. His is a rare skill that few possess, and he could go into business as an editor if he wanted to.
As for his plays, time and work have robbed him of his talents. He hasn’t written anything in years. His most recent play has a copyright date on it from the early nineties. However, his body of work is unique. Like Shakespeare, he writes anything from comedy to historical tragedy. His histories include plays about Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz and the life of Queen Isabel of Spain.
He would probably laugh at me for likening him to Shakespeare, but I won’t apologize; perhaps he will take it as a challenge after the laughter subsides. As you can see, the following is actually a screenplay, which takes place in New Mexico (for one of my own stories on the Rio Grande, click here). It is also 1400 words, which is a bit beyond my word limit, but I think you should give it a try anyway:
JOKERS By John Baca-Saavedra
Ext. dusk — a field in south-central new mexico — near the rio grande — establishing — 1910
Two men in dark Sunday Suits stand in a field gesticulating, and arguing wildly.
Ext. A Rancho — establishing — dusk
Someone lights an oil lamp and hangs it on the kitchen wall of a large adobe building in the middle of nowhere, near the RIO GRANDE, what New Mexicans call the River.
Int. The kitchen — CONTINUOUS
A man, LUIS SAAVEDRA, 25 and his eighth-month pregnant wife, GABRIELA TAFOYA, 26, sit down for a game of Seven-Card Stud. They use buttons for chips.
Luis pulls the JOKERS out of the deck and puts it on a shelf next to the table fixed to the wall. On the shelf is a picture of SANTO NIÑO de ATOCHA. Luis begins shuffling.
Gabriela rolls a couple of BULL DURHAM cigarettes. She lays one next to Luis, then lights her own.
A pot of COFFEE heats on the wood Kitchen STOVE: front and rear iron burner-plates with removable handle for each plate — two wood compartments on left and right for the burners.
A wood box next to the stove. A small hand-ax lays among the wood.
A CRUCIFIX hangs on the wall next to the table.
Gabriela gets up to prepare two CUPS of coffee.
After SHUFFLING Luis stands, walks outside through a screen door. As he opens the door a gust of WIND touseles his hair. Dogs BARK in the distance.
He stretches his back; comes back in. Gabriela is already seated. Two CUPS of steaming black coffee sit ready for both, his next to the CIGARETTE.
He sits, dealing out SEVEN-CARD STUD.
Gabriela gets a JACK of HEARTS; Luis a 10 of SPADES.
Gaby then Luis throw in a BUTTON.
A QUEEN of HEARTS; An ACE of SPADES.
A 5 of CLUBS; A JACK of SPADES.
The JOKER to Gabriela.
Luis is stunned.
Gaby almost SMILES.
He stands to check the cards on the shelf, several thoughts cross his face (A Ghost?) One Joker is missing.
They are both startled by a “POPPING SOUND” from outside.
Ext. A man riding wildly — CONTINUOUS
The man GALLOPING down the path toward the SHELTER of the ranch.
Int. THE KITCHEN — CONTINUOUS
A young girl, JUANITA, 7, their niece, rubs her eyes at the kitchen-bedroom doorway.
What was that?
Another POPPING, louder and closer.
Luis moves cautiously to the outside door, staring out the screen, the SKY is BLOOD-RED as the sun sinks behind the WESTERN mountains.
An unmistakable GUN-SHOT is heard.
Three more SHOTS are heard.
Ext. A MAN RIDING WILDLY — CONTINUOUS
The man falls off the horse.
Ext. THE Rancho — CONTINUOUS
Luis stands outside, tense, afraid. The SKY has become a GOLDEN ORANGE to the West.
The horse clears a bend and trots up to Luis. He discovers BLOOD on the saddle and stirrups.
He walks up the path to find his friend ISABEL PADILLA, 22, groveling in the dust from pain. He bleeds from a wound to his left side.
Luis picks him up, slipping Isabel´s right arm around his own neck, helping back to the house.
The furious beating of hooves —
EXT. A MAN RIDING WILDLY
CANDIDO ROMERO, 24, Slows his horse, flips over the side and dismounts running, pulling his COLT .45 REVOLVER out.
Upon reaching the two men he lays his arm across Luis´s shoulder pointing the gun directly at Isabel´s head.
He PULLS the TRIGGER TWICE, it CLICKS twice, the GUN is EMPTY.
Candido stares at Luis; at Isabel.
I´ll be back, and no one should get in my way.
Candido storms back to his steed, mounts; rides off toward his Ranch over the hill about a mile.
Luis helps Isabel down the path to the house.
Gaby, with Juanita, meet him.
Run! Run! Get to your parents’ as soon as possible. Take the girl. Make bandages before you go. Help me with Isabel.
Gaby supports the wounded man on his hurt side. They carry him in.
The SKY is the GOLDEN YELLOW just before NIGHT.
Gaby tears sheets into bandages, she and Luis stop the bleeding and wrap the wound.
Now go. Go woman!! Take the girl, to San Pedro, your parents.
She begins to object.
I might have to kill him.
Candido! Candido Romero! Kill him! We’ve known him since childhood.
He shot Isabel.
I don’t know. They were arguing this morning at Mass.
Santísima mia! What if he kills you?
Then who will protect you? Can you fire my shotgun? Bring your father, and brothers, armed, you and Juanita. I can’t leave Isabel.
Show don’t tell. — Make this dialogue into Cinematic Pictures.
She leaves with Juanita. They don’t hug. He waves goodbye. She turns and waves back, so does Juanita.
Luis goes inside, into the bedroom, he returns to the kitchen with a shotgun and a box of shells.
He takes out four and puts two in each pocket. He puts two shells in the barrells and clicks it shut.
He sits there — thinking.
EXT. A Field by the rio grande — MORNING
Three boys, Isabel, Luis, and Candido walk and talk and play, best friends … best friends.
EXT. THE RANCHO — NIGHT
Luis is outside.
(He’s left the lamps on inside, he plans to ambush Candido. Hopefully he won’t have to shoot him. But how long should he wait? Candido already shot Isabel. What could stop him from shooting me? Maybe I should shoot first? Ask questions later.)
He searches for a spot along the path to the house, in the shadows — he finds one.
Crouching, he prepares himself.
Int. Candido’s ranch — NIGHT
Candido has just loaded his revoler, stuffing a handfull of shells in his coat pocket, still dressed for church, he marches through the hall passing an old metal mirror on the wall.
Stopping to see if he’s presentable, being a vain man, he instead sees himself, through the glass darkly.
He sees there is blood on his white shirt.
Blood on his face and hands.
He sees a grotesque, monstrous face leering back at him.
All this in the distorted reflection of the mirror.
EXT. san antoñio parish church, san antoñio, nm — 1908 –AFTERNOON
A Wedding Feast — band playing; dancing; eating; drinking; laughing; joking; drunkeness & brawls.
Candio and Isabel drink and talk.
You better treat my sister right or I’ll have to hurt you.
She’s an angel. I’ve always loved her. You know that.
María! Ave María!
Isabel starts to fall.
I’m not sure you can perform tonight.
María, from across the courtyard, near the band, stares at them both.
Candido feeling his sister’s eyes, looks across at her.
She glares at him.
At first, he pleads with his eyes for forgiveness, like a lover would, then darts his head down, in shame.
He observes Isabel, wrecthing, with a new sense of anger and jealousy.
He looks back for María, but she’s vanished in the crowd.
INT. CANDIDO’S RANCH — the hallway — MOMENTS LATER
The monster glares back at him.
Ext. A FIELD BY THE RIO GRANDE — NIGHT
JUAN ROMERO, 30, New Mexican Bachlor Farmer, walks down from the fields.
He’s muddy from irrigating, carrying a hoe, a bucket, and a shovel. He irrigates just before dusk to save water.
Juan hears a Gun shot, coming from the house. It sounds like Candido’s revolver.
Juan drops his tools on the run toward the house.
Ext. A Graveyard — san pedro — NIGHT
Gabriela and Juanita walk quietly, suspiciously, through the the church graveyard.
Suddenly a dark horse with a dark rider come galloping up the path toward them.
Gaby and Juanita scream and run.
The Rider slows his horse and jumps off on the run, picking up Juanita in his arm he runs after Gaby, who turns quickly to face him:
She slaps him for scaring her to death, he lets Juanita go to defend himself, she falls hard and starts crying.
See what you’ve done!
She comforts Juanita.
I suppose you’d be happy if I had been killed!
She looks at him, still angry, she’s about to give him a verbal thrashing, Juanita has stopped crying. Gaby kisses the girl and grabs Luis’ hand, squeezing it. She walks away with Juanita. Luis gets the horse and follows.
Ext. A field — three riders — NIGHT
Luis, Maximillano (60),the Father-in-law, and Ciprisio (26), the brother-in-law, gallop to Luis’s house.
the moon is full.
Ext. THE RANCHO — CONTINUOUS
The three riders arrive, dismount and enter.