They asked me what I thought that day. What TV shows did I watch? Did I read about Vietnam? Did I listen to rock music? They wanted to know what I saw when I pulled the trigger. I told them: Roses. They opened up like roses . . . A doctor, a priest, a police chief, and Anthony himself try to find explanations for the slaughter. But there are no easy answers here. Not even for Anthony.
The play follows Anthony through events from his past that have affected the incarcerated individual he has become. There is no defining moment showing what changed this big-hearted boy into the murderer he is fated to be, but it’s clear that he did not fit the life he was born into — a life without a home or a place for his heart.
After Anthony’s moving introductory monologue, we are swept back in time to watch him as an eleven year-old. His parents are without education, patience or any common interest with their son, though they are in love and happy. Vincent Sagona and Kathy McCafferty present Louise and John Vaccaro with depth and appropriately flawed honesty. In the next moment, the worst possible news about Anthony’s brother in Vietnam changes many things, including Anthony’s innocence and his parent’s happiness.
We continue to be offered interactions between Anthony and influential people from his past. There is his first love, the unpredictable and adorable Susan James (Nicole Raphael); the stoic, hard-working Father Keenan (Tony Neil) for whom Anthony is often an altar boy; and Tom Davis, the local football hero who is also an altar boy, and who surprisingly uses Anthony as his confidante. These scenes are relationship studies, careful not to blame our anti-hero’s future on any one person, but showing us painful and possibly important milestones in Anthony’s life.
From the Play
AT RISE: The stage is plunged into blackness. A dim spotlight comes up on the largest box, where ANTHONY VACCARO sits. He is dressed in blue jeans, T-shirt, and Army jacket. He holds a notebook that is his diary, which he will “read” from and refer to throughout the play. The other characters sit in the blackness just outside the spotlight, framing ANTHONY.
ANTHONY: (A rifle shot rings out as he numbers each shot) They asked me what I thought that day?
What TV shows did I watch? Did I read about Vietnam? Did I listen to rock music? They wanted to know what I saw when I pulled the trigger. (Pausing) I told them. Roses. They opened up like roses. Not the tight closed in kind you get at the florist. No. More like the red fat ones my mom used to make for my birthday cake when I was a kid. Fifteen open roses. (Pausing) Mr. Alexander was number one. I asked him twice to give me the keys, but he just stood there staring at my gun. He never stopped looking at it.(Pausing) I laid the shells out on the window sill in the classroom. Twenty-four. One o’clock. Two women came out of Bachman’s Department Store across the street. I watched them through my scope until they were inside a blue Ford facing me. (Reliving the moment) The younger one reached down to put the keys in the ignition, and I gave her number two. Tricky shot. Through the windshield, down through the steering wheel, and into her belly. She jerked upward and grabbed at the blossom growing there.
(Hesitates, then continues)
I caught her between the eyes with the third. She fell back into the headrest. The older woman started screaming. I mean, she looked like she was. . . Her mouth stayed open until I gave her number four behind her right ear.
A guy in a denim jacket pulled up in front of their car. He saw the shattered windshield probably, because he never looked in my direction. He walked into number five and dropped next to his truck. Plenty of time to reload. . . .An old lady came around the corner of Pine. Pushing a shopping cart. (Embarrassed) I must have pulled up on that one because I only grazed the top of her head. She fell down and started screaming. A man driving past stopped and ran to help her. He rolled them both up next to his car, so I couldn’t get a bead on either of them. (Long pause) At seven and eight, I almost quit. This kid, twelve-years-old, rode in from the other end of Pine. The man shouted at him to turn back. But he just stopped. . . . He had a Weekly Press bag draped over his arm. I squeezed off number seven just as he tried to pedal away. It slammed into his shoulder, and threw him off his bike. He hit the pavement and scrambled sideways, like a crab, trying to drag his papers with him. Then, he looked up, and I saw his face . . . just for an instant in the scope. I thought it was Jimmy Decker. A neighbor kid I used to baby-sit. I must have pulled up squeezing on number eight because I took off the top of his head.. . . .I didn’t mean for that. Funny. . .in my hometown. I hadn’t counted on knowing any of them.
(Reportage once again. Distant sirens can be heard growing closer.)
I was reloading nine when I heard the first sirens.
(More sirens and shouting)
Somebody called the fire department. (Laughing) The fire department. The first truck charged into the parking lot between the school and Bachman’s. I took out the driver as he spun in towards me, but somehow his partner grabbed the wheel and stopped the truck before he ducked down where I couldn’t see him before I let number ten into the cab. Eleven left and quick twelve right into two guys who came around the rear of the truck. Reload. No movement. No sound.
(More sirens and squealing tires can be heard.)
The fireman in the truck must’ve called on the radio `cause I heard more sirens coming to us then. Chief Rollins’s car pulled in at the south end of Pine. The State troopers roared in on the North. Somehow, they got the idea that I was up on top of Bachman’s `cause the next thing I know, people are running out of the store. Into the parking lot. Straight at me. (Shaking his head) They evacuated the store. . . . (Pausing) I lost count for a while. Loading and reloading as fast as I could and driving them down into the crowd.
(Multiple shots are heard.)
It wasn’t too long before they all turned. Kinda like a wave. And looked up and pointed at me. I heard Chief Rollins on the squad car loudspeaker ordering them back into Bachman’s. He backed his car down the street to cordon off the area. The State troopers planted theirs at the other end. I could see just the tops of their hats down behind their cars, talking to each other on the radios. Chief Rollins had his field glasses out, checking out the school. (Pausing) The crowd left wounded behind on the tarmac. I used up some more shots, keeping one of the State Troopers pinned behind a parked car when he tried to reach-a lady who was yelling for help. (Calculated) Five shells left. Nothing moving. Most of the wounded had managed to crawl near a car or truck. I couldn’t see much. (Remembering) Chief Rollins jumps into his police car and backs out of sight onto Academy Street. I hear this low grinding and whirring sound. Couldn’t figure out what it was. . . I see a tank . . .
(Tank noises heard.)
You know . . . the tank that sits over on the Armory lawn. It turns the corner and hits two parked cars.It just keeps coming, pushing one of the cars ahead of it until it just kind of squirts off to the side. I sent two quick shots into the tank’s front; they just zinged off. Then, the turret turned in my direction, and I grabbed at the last three shells and braced. . . I guess the Armory doesn’t have live ammo. (Pausing) I watched them move the wounded out of the parking lot, crouched down behind the tank. Volunteer firemen walked next to it. I found out later. (Pausing) I waited and saw the church tower just above the roofline of Bachman’s store. I put my last three shells into the tower. (Sound of three shots.) The wood splintered and peeled. No roses there. (Pausing) Dr. Fredericks or McKenzie, I don’t remember which . . . asked me why I thought of roses. “Roses blossom outward,” I said. They showed me some of the autopsy pictures. (Quietly) These went inward. In. In. Every one of them.
(Loud, piercing final shot and blackness. Lights come back up slowly. MACK LEWIS holds his legal pad and pen, which he refers to from time to time, paces behind ANTHONY, who still sits on box. ANTHONY stiffly holds his journal. He swings his legs, kicking the box, distracted while MACK LEWIS questions him, and sorts through his briefcase, stuffed full of papers.)
MACK LEWIS: Once more, Vaccaro. You told Chief Rollins and the State police you felt “compelled” to take that rifle and fire it, what did you mean?
ANTHONY: I had to do it.
MACK LEWIS: You heard voices? A ghost of your dead brother? Some television character? Your cat or dog? Maybe it was God or the Devil. Or Mickey Mouse, but somebody appeared to you and commanded you to do it.
MACK LEWIS: Then why?