Can Gio 

Character Bios.

TOM: 19-year-old guitarist who is half French, half Vietnamese. 

PETER: 21-year-old editor for a newspaper. Brother of Tom. Also, half French, half Vietnamese. 

CHUNG: 30-year-old prison guard with a gap-toothed smile. He smokes cigarettes and listens to the Beatles. 

THE WARDEN: a 47-year-old man who runs the Can Gio Prison. 

SNYNOPSIS: Brothers Tom and Peter flee war-torn Vietnam, only to find themselves captured and sent to work on a shrimp farm at Can Gio island. The brothers must deal with adversity and work together in order to escape hell. 

 

Tom is sitting in bed, headphones over his ears. He props his guitar on his knee, and strokes his thumb along the strings. Tom holds the guitar in his lap and hugs it, as if it is a child. His dad used to play this guitar, and if Tom could just be half as good as him, maybe that would be enough to honor his memory. He plucks each string on the guitar and runs his fingers across the fret-board. His dad’s old songbook lays open on his bed; the pages are fanned out and wrinkled. Tom picks up the songbook, leafs through the pages and reads the guitar tabs in dad’s messy longhand. Tom starts to play “Hey Jude” on the same guitar. He strums a few chords and sings:

 

TOM

Remember to let it under your skin.

 

                                                            The door opens. Peter walks into the room. 

 

PETER

Tommy gun, put your guitar away. Because I got the visas. And I got the passports. We’re leaving Vietnam. We’re leaving and we’re never coming back.  

TOM

Wait, seriously? When?

PETER

Tonight baby!

TOM

Peter, that’s awesome, but I thought the paperwork would take a while to do. You didn’t forge them or something, did ya?

PETER

Forge the paperwork? Of course, not. What do you take me for? A schemer? How can you question me? I’m Peter. Always on the straight and narrow road. And more importantly I’m your brother. Just trust me kid. 

TOM

I was teasing. I trust you. Plus, people forge paperwork all the time. 

PETER

Look at me Tommy. I didn’t forge our paperwork. I would never lie to you. Never in a million years. Anyways we’re leaving now. I found a mad cheap ride.

TOM

Really? How much were the plane tickets?

PETER

It ain’t a plane Tommy. It’s a boat. So, pack your stuff. Get your guitar. We dip out in five. I’ll be outside. 

+++

 

The fishing boat is long and it has a motor with a propeller on the bottom. 

 

Peter carries his luggage onboard and sticks out his hand to Tom. 

 

PETER

Ready to play Beatles covers? In America?

 

Tom grabs his hand, leaving his homeland for the first time, as he hops onto the deck.

 

TOM

America…damn. We’re really doing this, aren’t we?

 

He clutches tightly onto his guitar. 

 

At dawn, the boat cruises out into the great and incredible sea, and Tom is just about to shut his eyes and dream of America, as a rock ruptures into the floorboards of the fishing boat. 

 

And after a couple of miles, the captain decides to pull back into the harbor. 

 

PETER

Keep going man! C’mon. I paid too much money to not be going to America. 

 

When the fishing boat sputters back to the coastline, from the rickety harbor floodlights flash yellow strokes that slash and pierce through the cold fog of night. The whirring of the siren and a group of scrawny, young men in police uniforms hover at the foot of the dock.

 

A policeman decks Tom in the jaw. 

 

A sudden blackness unfurls over Tom’s mind, and slumber greets him, right as shackles are slapped onto his ankles and handcuffs are clicked around his bony wrists. 

 

Tom opens his eyes long enough to see a dark figure scoop up his guitar. 

 

TOM

Dad. 

 

+++

 

The next day Tom wakes up to the smell of salt. He moves closer to the scent that itches his nose like a tickling sensation. His nose touches something damp. He opens his eyes. It’s a prison bar. He puts his hands around the bars and looks outside. Bright leaves from the Mangrove trees branches flutter off the branch edges, as gusts of wind cascade down and up, bringing them down to the muddy shore, where the waves rise, high and high, and then descend with a smash, strong water pounding the rocks, its swell curling inward and softening the ground of the beach. From many clusters of Mangrove trees, their lush green foliage sway in the dense wind, as gleaming sunlight filters through the craggy branches. At the base of one tree trunk, where ingrown roots protrude from the ground, wicker baskets sit next to each other with charcoal, fuel-wood, and shellfish in them. 

 

Peter is crying in his sleep

 

PETER

Wha—what is it? Who’s there?

 

TOM

Peter it’s me, Tom. 

PETER

Where are we? 

TOM

I’m not sure. An island, I think.  

PETER

We shouldn’t be here. We need to leave.  

TOM

Shit, have you seen my guitar? I can’t find it. 

PETER

Really? We’re stuck in this cell, and your guitar is all you can think about? 

 

A tall, gap-toothed Asian man comes into view. 

 

 

 

CHUNG

Hey, lovebirds. Name’s Chung. Best to remember that. Now, Warden wants to see you boys.

TOM

The warden?

 

PETER

And who the fuck are you?

Chung whacks his baton against the prison bars, making a vibration that reverberates throughout the cell.

 

CHUNG

I told you fool. My name’s Chung. Now get out, or I’ll beat your heads until they crack into halves.

 

+++

 

The warden is staring out the window holding a glass of water in his hand, and in his other he clenches his dirty fingernails around a long-stemmed pipe loaded with fresh tobacco. 

 

THE WARDEN

Gentlemen welcome to Can Gio Prison. Now listen here you two, I’ve seen your work visas, and your passports. You’re Peter and you’re Tom. Okay now that I know who is who, I can’t let you go. Why? Your paperwork, it’s been forged. You both have broken a law. That means that you have to stay here on Can Gio Island for a few months. But don’t worry you’ll have a pleasant time, if you follow my orders. This is one of them. I want a shrimp farm. And everybody is working on it, and that means you two are also going to help me build it. Doesn’t that sound excellent?

TOM

Where’s my guitar?

THE WARDEN

Your guitar? We did acquire one recently. It belongs to you?

 

 

TOM

Yeah it does.

THE WARDEN

Not anymore. Now, you don’t own a thing.

 

+++

 

Beneath the high bluff—where the prison building stood looking over—is a brown river; twenty feet wide, it’s packed with sediment and minerals. 

 

The shade from the mangrove trees shields Tom, as he picks up crude wood, broken bamboo branches, and tufts of clay from off the ground. He carries these shambled pieces in his arms, his hips rocking, while he teeter-totters across the land piled with decomposed leaves and crustacean bones. 

Tom thrusts his shovel into the clay and scoops clumps of dirt from the ground and tosses it to Peter. 

 

Peter holds his arms out straight and clutches the wet mounds to his broad chest. Then they switch roles and Peter shovels, and Tom catches the dirt. 

 

PETER

Fuck that Warden, man. 

 

TOM

Why? Because he forged the documents that we needed? 

PETER

No because he mocked you and took your guitar. And I forged the documents because I was trying to get us out of that hell hole. Do you think I meant for this happen? Quit your whining. You’re just pissed that he has your guitar.

TOM

You’re right. I am pissed. At you. That guitar was the only thing I had that meant something to me. That’s Dad’s guitar. It’s all I have of his. You think I’m mad at the warden? No. You lied to me Pete. I’m mad at you. 

 

Peter drops the shovel, walking over to Tom, his fist lashing out at him. Tom bobs and weaves, steps to the side and coils his arm around Peter’s neck and squeezes. Peter flails his arms and kicks his legs, but Tom’s grip tightens. 

 

TOM

Just say sorry.

PETER

You. Suck. At. Guitar. 

A thunderous crack splits through the air and the spot next to Tom’s foot billows with wisps of smoke. Tom lets go of Peter and looks up. Chung has a rifle leveled at his head, a scope covers his eye, and from his lip a toothpick droops.  

 

CHUNG

Boys, get back to working. Now.

                                                            Peter looks at Tom and sticks out his hand.

 

                                                            Tom doesn’t shake his hand. 

 

PETER

We cool?

TOM

Yeah, I’m over it.  

 

Chung allows Tom and Peter to drop their shovels on the ground and shuffle to the brown river, their elbows swinging back and forth as they nudge each other in their guts and arms. One by one Tom and Peter dip into the water. Chung turns to face them and smokes a cigarette. As he puffs, Chung whistles “Hey Jude.” 

 

Tom listens to Chung while he treads water, the soft melody reminding him of his beloved guitar. He thinks about how his father used to sing “Hey Jude” at bed time, tucking him under a blanket and letting him pluck the strings of his acoustic guitar. 

 

TOM

I miss you dad. 

 

And with a loud cough, Chung spits on the ground and the tune disappears as if it never has been crafted. With the music gone, Tom sprints through the water and tumbles forward into the river.

+++

Walking down the dirt trodden path Tom sees his acoustic guitar propped up on a folding chair outside of the guard’s barracks. 

 

Peter stops him.

 

PETER

Don’t Tommy. 

TOM

I just wanna hold it. 

Tom looks for Chung and doesn’t see him. He steps out of line and walks over to his guitar. 

 

PETER

Tommy, come back here!

Tom lays a finger on the fretboard when he feels his shoulder stiffen. 

 

CHUNG

No, stay right there.  

 

Tom looks back.

 

Chung is picking him up and throwing him on the ground. 

 

Tom turns over on his back.

 

Chung smacks him back down. 

 

Tom’s groin aches with pain and he holds his ribs, feeling bones snapping and sores splitting open. 

                                                            

TOM

That’s my guitar. Not yours. Mine. 

 

When Tom stops weeping, and curls his legs to his head, Chung takes his AK-47, turns it backwards, and rams its backend against Tom as he tries to block the blows with his weary arms. Shots of adrenaline burst through Tom as he scrambles into the cell. 

 

 

PETER

Get off him! He didn’t do nothing wrong. 

 

Peter yanks at Tom’s shirtsleeve once he gets inside, and envelops his heavy arm, hunching his shoulders up, using his body to shelter Tom, as he crumbles into an infant.

            

PETER

I won’t let him hurt you Tommy.

Tom watches as Peter’s face crumples and he rolls to the side, multiple blows blanketing his back. 

 

TOM

Peter! Stop it Chung. Stop it! You’re killing him. 

 

Chung heaves and clears his throat, putting a cigarette into his mouth.

 

CHUNG

Don’t touch that guitar.

 

 

TOM

Peter… Don’t go to sleep. Chung, I’m going to hurt you. I’m going to get back my guitar and I’m going to hurt you.

 

CHUNG

Guitar’s mine now. You’re not gonna do anything.

 

Tom creeps over to Peter and holds him close to his chest, cradling his head in his hands, looking at Chung as the door slams shut. He hugs his brother tightly, and remembers that Peter had given that acoustic guitar to him for his birthday. And for that gracious act Tom realizes how much Peter cares about him and in remembering the past he cries. 

 

PETER

Bet you wish I hadn’t forged those papers. 

TOM

Now’s really not the time Peter. 

PETER

Hey, Tom? 

                                                            TOM

What’s up?

                                                            PETER

You don’t suck at guitar. I didn’t really mean that. I was being spiteful.

 

                                                            TOM

Yeah?

                                                            PETER

Dad knew you were good. That’s why you got the guitar. 

+++

Tom volunteers to clean a mess. 

 

                                                            CHUNG

A mess cleaning a mess? Now that’s a good one. 

 

Chung laughs at Tom.

                                                            

                                                            TOM

Nice one, Mister Chung. 

 

                                                            CHUNG

Clever. And sarcastic. A double-edged sword. That’s you, Tom. 

 

Tom takes a broom and combs over brownish water, sweeping it out of the cell. Ten to fifteen buckets of water later, the stain in the middle of the cell has cleared away, as a cool breeze swoops down and dries the mess, air flowing in and out. 

 

CHUNG

Finish with that broom Tom?

 

TOM

Yup.

CHUNG

Great. Hand, it over.

 

Broom in hand, Tom comes over to where Chung is sitting in a folding chair, the acoustic guitar balanced on his knee. An AK-47 is propped against the wall. 

 

Chung holds his hand out.

 

Tom gives him the broom. 

 

CHUNG

Warden said this was yours. 

(pounds his fist on the acoustic guitar)

 

TOM

Yeah, it’s mine. 

CHUNG

You any good?

TOM

Better than you.

CHUNG

Really? Prove it.

He shoves the guitar into Tom’s chest and as Tom takes a hold of the guitar, Chung pulls it back. 

 

CHUNG

You probably have no taste in music. Probably can’t tell the difference between The Beatles and the Stones. Just get back inside the cell.

TOM

I can play “Hey Jude.” 

CHUNG

No, you can’t, that’s my favorite song. 

TOM

Wouldn’t lie to you. I’ll even play the whole song. 

CHUNG

Okay. Let’s see what you can do. If you mess up, I’m going to beat the crap out of you. Sounds fair, right?

 

Tom nods his head, to feign compliance, and then he hangs the leather strap over his neck and holds the guitar in his hand, strumming the strings lightly. 

 

TOM

Hey Jude, don’t make it bad/Take a sad song and make it better/Remember to let her into your heart, Then, you can start to make it better.”

 

Chung stands up and claps his hands over and over. 

 

 

CHUNG

Not bad, not bad at all.   

TOM

Hey Jude, don’t be afra— 

Tom reaches for the AK-47, drops the guitar, and aims it at Chung. 

                                                            

TOM

—be afraid

+++

Tom bursts into the infirmary, guitar strapped to his back, holding the AK; Tom turns the corner, opens a door. 

 

Peter is laying on a hospital bed with tubes sticking out of his forearms. An IV looms over him. 

 

The alarm blares like a dying elephant trumpeting its last song. Tom sits beside Peter and shakes him a few times.

            

Peter cracks an eye open. 

                                                            

                                                            PETER

What’d you do this time?

 

TOM

Forged a few passports.

 

Tom lifts his brother out of bed and puts his arm over Peter’s shoulder, as they walk slowly into the hall. Peter whispers in Tom’s ear. Tom smiles. 

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