DONOVAN’S CHARGE by
Glenn Cox & E. Merwin
A full-length play in 3 Rings based on the life of Glenn Cox—the transcripts of his trial & re-sentencing, his memoir “The Struggle of Evolution” and the events as recorded after his release. Review copies available on request.
Charge received a scripted reading through Living Image Arts and the Transitional Writers, a New York Foundation for the Arts Project, in 2009.
Cornered in your room and attacked with two weapons–would you fight for your life? What if walking out off that room alive would cost you 17 years?
DONOVAN’S CHARGE recounts the drama of how one New Yorker—city worker, life guard, counselor—fights off an attacker and administers CPR until the arrival of the police—only to find himself on Riker’s Island, facing a murder charge.
When his attacker dies, Cox is found guilty of murder and receives a life sentence. Two years in a law library lead to the conviction being unanimously overturned by a panel of five Supreme Court Judges. On hearing the good news that the charge has been reduced—family, friends, officers and inmates alike anticipate Cox’s release. However, the original presiding judge, infuriated that her authority has been challenged, hits him with the max—a sentence of which he will serve 17 years.
Based on trial transcripts and witness accounts, the drama recreates the attack, the trial and Cox’s life in this 3 ring circus. Its main theme is innocence, both legal and spiritual. And how one man preserves his—with the help of the spirit of the boy who stays by his side until the day they are released.
Today a NYC subway singer—Glenn retains his boyish spirit and continues to survive by way of his imaginative strength.
Many friends and family have contributed to the creation of this dramatic work. To Alabama who in the yard of Cell Block D first encouraged me to write my story and to the countless souls of that time and place who became my family for 17 years.
To my children—Glenda, Donyell & Tedina McDonald; Michael Simmons, Michael Edwards & Kenisha Rhett. To my sisters Alice Thompson, Jo-Ann Boston and Dr. Qasimah Boston PhD, aka Trisha, and to my cousin Jack Foster, Professor of Black History, my spiritual guide throughout my life.
And for their boundless kindness, my grandparents who raised me, Emily and James Cox, and their daughter, my mother, Edith White.
And no dedication would be complete without the names of my foster parents Ma & Daddy Rucker in whose house I enjoyed many childhood days with my twelve brothers and sisters.
Thinking and writing about all of you in my memoir “Struggle of Evolution” sustained me through those hard times—and for that I shall always be grateful. And most of all to Eileen and the years we have shared since my release.
Donovan’s Charge is based on real events as experienced by one New Yorker. As in a dream, events overlap, people and places coincide to create the landscape of a life to reveal its deeper truth.
Cast of Characters
COX, Glenn Cox: 54 fit, waist length dreads; recounting events of his trial, incarceration & release; wears prison greens.
The BOY: COX at age 10, lean; wears the blue jacket, cap of a Union soldier & boots with spurs. During COX’s trial he will perform the role of the COURT OFFICER/CLERK.
MA, Emily Cox: about 60 of West Indian descent in a bathrobe and scuffs who strikes at the boy like a lioness keeping a cub in line. Reversing her bathrobe into a judge’s robe, MA will take on the role of YOUR HONOR in the reenactment of her grandson’s trial.
POP, James Cox: the boy’s grandfather, 70 but still strong with a suppressed rage which on occasion expresses itself through the belt known as the medicine man. As the Assistant District Attorney in the reenactment of his grandson’s trial, he will intermittently sleep in a recliner and read the Daily News as the trial moves at its own speed toward its predetermined end.
SERENA OSARIO: attractive in her late 20s, wears a man’s blue shirt, open over a red thong; plays multiple roles, including one of the women present at the time of the attack, witness at the trial and various correction officers in the prison scenes.
JESSICA KNOWLES: attractive in her late 20s, wears a man’s red shirt, open over a blue thong, also appears in trial scene and in prison takes on role as a correction’s officer.
RONALD TIMMONS, the Body: barefoot and shirtless, his white chest bares the gash of the coroner’s knife, and his shaven head is bruised and stitched. He wears crumpled pants and from his belt hangs the knife he used to attack COX the night of his own death. Before the trial as the Attorney for the Defense, MR. MOLE, he slips his feet into a pair of Italian leather loafers; although he remains shirtless, he loops a wide red tie around his neck that covers his gash.
The JURY: will be played in the final scene by the inmates & civilians of Ring 3:
BAMMA: middle-aged inmate, resides in Attica Cell Block D; wears prison greens.
SPACE: mid-20s, civilian, works as a State Shop Supervisor; walks stiffly due to braces on his legs; wears jeans and flannel shirt.
RUNT: inmate of Irish descent, renown within the prison for his expertise at Scrabble; wears prison greens.
BRADLEY: inmate, works in prison metal shop; a keen observer who rarely speaks; wears prison greens.
Ring 1: Bedroom
Ring 2: Courtroom
Ring 3: Prison
TIME: From Cox’s birth in New Rochelle NY until his release from prison in 2007.
PLACE: Beginning in the BOY’s bedroom, shifting to Cox’s room in 1990 where the attack will occur; a New York State Supreme Courtroom, Rikers Island, Otisville, Hudson and Attica Correctional Facilities.
STAGE: three rings as in a circus; Ring 1 has a dresser and a bed to represent various bedrooms; Ring 2 has a jury box, a raised table for the judge and a Lazy-Boy recliner; Ring 3 where prison scenes will occur is empty.
Where all bedroom scenes occur, beginning with the Boy on the floor setting up his Civil War soldiers waiting for the arrival of Pop, his grandfather, when the ongoing battle with the medicine Man will resume. Ring 1 will also become the bedroom of the attack by Ronald Timmons.
With Ma presiding as Judge all characters will converge in Ring 2 for Cox’s mock trial and sentencing. The Boy will be the Clerk and the Jury will be comprised of the inmates and civilian of Ring 3.
In Ring 3 all prison scenes occur: from Cox’s first night handcuffed to the leg of a prison cot on Rikers island; various cells in Attica, Hudson and Otisville, and his transfiguration in “the hole.”
AT RISE: Enter COX as the Ringmaster, carrying a stool in one hand as if holding back wild animals while with the other he cracks a whip.
Back, back…. Back!
(COX cracks his whip again and crosses to Center Stage and addresses the audience.)
Ladies and gentleman, inmates and civilians. Sit back, relax.
(Cracks the whip)
And turn off your cell phones, for the freakiest show on earth is about to begin. Again. The circus of a lifetime. The circus of a man’s life.
(COX cracks his whip, crossing to Ring 1.)
Here in Ring One witness the high flying events before the night of Ronald Timmon’s death.
(COX cracks his whip, crossing to Ring 2.)
Ring Two. Marvel at the trained seals of justice doing amazing flips and barking for raw fish at my trial.
(COX cracks his whip, crossing to Ring 3.)
Here in Ring Three watch the circus dogs jump through the fiery hoops of seventeen years of incarceration: Rikers Island, Otisville, Attica. Exotic names of far-away places seen here by many of you for the first time beneath this big-top.
(COX moves toward Center Stage where he sets down his stool and sits.)
It might seem that as ringmaster, I have some control over the acts you are about to see. But all I can do is turn your attention to where the lions of memory roar the loudest, or overhead where the acrobats swing high above our heads without harness or safety net.
(MA’s voice is heard off-stage.)
Boy, now you get in that room!
I think I hear the lioness now.
(MA appears shoving the Boy into Ring 1. She slaps and thumps his head and arms as he blocks her swings, stumbling back against the dresser. COX looks on amused.)
Work ourselves to the bone for you, not so you can horse around in that classroom and make a fool of yourself.
(The BOY turns his attention to the dresser, opens a drawer and takes out a shoe box.)
Truly, Ma was the lioness, because all those hits to the head were intended to smarten me up like a wild cub for survival. Not that I took much heed back in the day. I was far more interested in the Civil War battles being fought on the floor of my bedroom.
(The BOY sets his soldiers up on the floor, enacts a battle scene with all the sounds of cannonballs and rifles, ignoring his grandmother’s story.)
How can you do this to us? You know how your grandfather and I got in that truck the minute your mother called from Boston. Just upped and ran off, sixteen with a tiny baby, without a word. We were worried sick. But when we heard how she left you in that place, you know we both dropped everything and drove right down to New York City to pick you up.
(COX looks on affectionately as BOY kneels, continuing to set up his men for battle.)
I know, Ma.
Broke my heart to see you in that woman’s place back behind that bar.
That old woman wasn’t fit to be caring for a dog let alone all those babies. Why there must’ve been fifty cribs in that apartment, one more filthy than the next. But we knew our Glenn, scrawny as you were, all congested, and your eyes crusted over.
I know, I know.
Then act like it, boy. Show some appreciation. Smarten up and fly right, and clean these damn toys off the floor. You’re too old to be messing around with such nonsense.
Can’t I go to the Ruckers?
No, you can’t go to the Ruckers. It’s a school night, boy. Now you get busy in there before your grandfather gets home to give you a good taste of what you’ve got coming.
Don’t yeah ma me unless you mean it. It’s high time you learned to
mean what you say, and act like you mean it.
(MA straightens the bed as the BOY picks up and speaks to a toy horse.)
Easy, boy, easy.
That’s my trusty steed Donovan. That tiny bit of molded plastic was both my rescue and my refuge. As I waited for the arrival of my grandfather, I’d calm my horse and prepare myself mentally for the battle soon to follow.
Easy, Donovan. It’s almost time, almost time now.
I used to imagine the mist coming off the mountain in the early morning camp where my men cleaned their rifles and drank coffee from tin cups. I’d imagine the vapor curling from Donovan’s flared nostrils, as he hoofed the ground, impatient for battle to begin.
(BOY steps from Ring 1 and approaches COX.)
Listen, you hear them?
Yeah. Sounds like it’s coming from just over that hill. Any minute now you’ll have to sound the charge.
(POP enters Ring 1, drawing his wide leather belt from the loops of his pants.)
Where is that damn boy?
(BOY draws back.)
He was in here a minute ago, messing with those toys of his like he always does.
Well, he’s home now and he’s got the medicine man.
(POP cracks the belt.)
Won’t be messing with nothing when I’m done with him.
Looks like it’s time for you to high tail it out of here.
But the battle. It’s just about to start. Me and Donovan, we gotta lead the charge.
There’s going be a battle alright, but it’s going to be on your butt. Now get the hell out of here.
But me and Donovan, we never run. I gotta sound the charge. We gotta lead my men.
Then think about it in evolutionary terms.
Let me put it to you this way. You want to evolve from a tadpole into a frog, you better run.
(As POP steps out of Ring 1, the BOY scoots into the Jury Box in Ring 2 to hide.)
Where’d that boy go?
You seen Glenn?
You’re looking at him, Pop.
(POP moves toward Center Stage.)
Glenn, is that you?
It’s me. I’m back.
Didn’t recognize you— not with that damn hair hanging down.
They’re called dreads, Pop.
I know what they’re called. How long it take to get them that long?
Seventeen years, same seventeen years I was away.
So you’re out?
When’d you get out?
August 28, 2007.
2007? What the hell are you talking about? Last time I looked it was 1996.
Last time you looked, Pop, it was 1996. Don’t know how to tell you this, but you been gone a while yourself.
Emily, Emily get out here now. Glenn’s home.
(Enter MA, shuffling toward Center Stage in her bathrobe and slippers, looking bewildered.)
Glenn’s out? Where’s Glenn?
Yeah, Ma. I’m over here.
(MA approaches COX cautiously, teetering on tenderness before scolding.)
I told you, Glenn. I told you over and over. If you look for trouble, trouble’s going to find you.
(As MA, POP and COX speak, enter RON in Ring I. Crossing to the bed, he sits, and takes out the knife from the sheath attached to his belt loop. He checks the sharpness of the blade, then takes a sharpening stone from his pocket. He sits on the bed alternately sharpening and admiring the blade. Only COX glances in his direction.)
It found me alright, but believe me, Ma, I wasn’t looking.
(To herself in disbelief.)
Seventeen years, seventeen years to life for murder.
Well, murder might be on some men’s minds, but it’s never been on mine.
I know, Glenn, I know.
Any way you looked at it, once they hauled you in on murder, they were bound to have a field day on your black ass.
(RON aims the sharpened knife and throws it at the dresser. It penetrates the wood, he then retrieves the knife.)
I should have been there.
In that courtroom. Heard for myself. Maybe I could have said something, done something. Been a witness. I seen plenty of those shows. What was the one I used to watch?
Yeah, that one. I just should have been there.
Well, it’s not the way it plays out on TV, Ma. Besides it wouldn’t have been a place for you.
I don’t care what you say. I am going.
Ma, it’s over, it’s done. Leave it alone.
I’m going and you can’t stop me.
Like hell you’re going.
Like hell I’m not.
(MA takes off her bathrobe, turns it inside out to become a judge’s robe which she now puts on, crossing to Ring 2. As COX crosses into Ring 2 he hands the whip the BOY who pops out of the jury box to take on the role of the CLERK.)
(CLERK cracks the whip.)
Case on trial, People against Glenn Cox. Jury entering.
(RON stabs the knife into the dresser, takes out a red tie which he puts around his neck and knots, covering the gash in his chest to take on the role of the defense attorney, MR. MOLE, crossing into Ring 2.
Crossing through Ring 3 enter BAMMA, RUNT, SPACE and BRADLEY. They enter the jury box followed by POP who crosses the stage, putting on his belt. He takes his seat in the Lazy-Boy where, as the Assistant District Attorney, he pushes back the recliner where he reads a DAILY NEWS, nodding off to sleep.)
Let the record reflect the defendant, defense counsel, the assistant district attorney and all sworn jurors are present.
You sure you want to go through with this, Ma?
In this courtroom, I am your honor. Boy, get over here.
(The BOY approaches YOUR HONOR who takes the whip from his hand and cracks it.)
Defense calls Glenn Cox, defendant on trial.
You may inquire…