A Tale of Iran
Reader’s Theater Edition #20
Adapted for reader’s theater (or readers theatre) by the author, from his story printed in Cricket, Aug.1998
For more reader’s theater, visit AaronShepard’s RTPage at www.aaronshep.com.
Story copyright 1997, 2017 Aaron Shepard. Script copyright 1998, 2002, 2017 Aaron Shepard. Scripts in this series are free and may be copied, shared, and performed for any noncommercial purpose.
PREVIEW: Though a woodcutter’s luck could hardly be worse, help is closer than he knows.
GENRE: Folktales, fables
CULTURE: Iranian (Persian), Middle Eastern
THEME: Thankfulness, sharing
READER AGES: 9–13
LENGTH: 8 minutes
ROLES: Narrators 1–4, Woodcutter, Daughter, Dervish, Princess, Boy, Merchant
NOTES: The custom of invoking Mushkil Gusha is practiced in Iran especially among traditional Muslim women. The tale is told each week on Friday eve, the beginning of the Muslim holy day. (“Friday eve” comes before Friday morning—just as “Christmas Eve” comes before Christmas Day.) Along with telling the story goes the custom of sharing with the poor a special snack food—a mixture of things like roasted chickpeas, raisins, dried dates, dried figs, nuts, and seeds. The name Mushkil Gusha is Persian for “Remover of Difficulties.” Though ideas of who he is vary, he is often identified with the prophet Khidr, the “Green One,” the patron saint of the Muslim holy men called dervishes. Khidr is portrayed in many Muslim tales as the bearer of fortune—a role he shares with the prophet Elijah, about whom many of the same stories are told by Jews. For best effect, place NARRATORS 1 and 2 at far left, and 3 and 4 at far right, as seen from the audience. Mushkil Gusha is pronounced “MUSHkil gooSHAH,” rhyming with “pushkill gooShah.” Isfahan is pronounced “ISSfahhon.”
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NARRATOR 1:Once in the royal city of Isfahan, there was an old woodcutter who lived alone with his young daughter.
NARRATOR 4:Every day, the woodcutter went out to the desert to gather camelthorn bushes, then sold them in the marketplace as firewood. In this way, he earned barely enough for the two of them.
NARRATOR 2:One morning, the woodcutter’s daughter said,
DAUGHTER:Father, we always have enough to eat. But just once, it would be nice to have something special. Do you think you could buy us some date cakes?
NARRATOR 3:The woodcutter replied,
WOODCUTTER:I think I could do that, my dear. I’ll just gather some extra wood today.
NARRATOR 1:So the woodcutter walked farther that day to gather more thorn bushes. But he took longer than he meant to.
NARRATOR 4:By the time he got back with the wood, darkness had fallen. It was too late to go to the marketplace. What’s more, when he reached his house, he found that his daughter had already bolted the front door and gone to bed.
NARRATOR 2:Knock as he would, there was no answer. So he had to sleep outside on the doorstep.
NARRATOR 3:Next morning, the woodcutter awoke while it was still dark. He told himself,
WOODCUTTER:I might as well go out right now and get another big load of wood. Then I can sell twice as much and buy even more date cakes.
NARRATOR 1:So he left his load and went back to the desert to gather more bushes. But again he took longer than he meant to, and when he got back, it was dark and the door was bolted. So again he had to sleep on the doorstep.
NARRATOR 4:He awoke once more before dawn.
WOODCUTTER:There’s no sense wasting a day. I’ll go back out for one more big load. How many date cakes we’ll have then!
NARRATOR 2:But yet again he took too long, and yet again the door was bolted when he got back.
NARRATOR 3:The woodcutter sank to the doorstep and wept.
DERVISH:What’s wrong, old man?
NARRATOR 1:He looked up to see a dervish in a long green robe and a tall green cap.
WOODCUTTER:Holy sir, for three days I have gone out to gather thorn bushes, and for three days I have come home too late to get into my house. And in all that time, I’ve had nothing to eat.
DERVISH:What night is this, old man?
WOODCUTTER:Why, Friday eve, of course.
DERVISH:That’s right. It’s the eve of our holy day. And that’s the time of Mushkil Gusha.
DERVISH:That’s right, old man—the “Remover of Difficulties.”
NARRATOR 4:The holy man took some roasted chickpeas and raisins from his pouch and handed them to the woodcutter.
DERVISH:Here, share this with me.
WOODCUTTER:Thank you, sir!
DERVISH:You may not know it, but Mushkil Gusha is already helping you. If you want your good fortune to continue, here’s what you must do. Every Friday eve, find someone in need. Then share what you have, and tell a tale of Mushkil Gusha. That way, you both will be helped.
NARRATOR 2:And with that, the holy man vanished.
NARRATOR 3:As the woodcutter stared at the empty spot, the door to his house swung open.
DAUGHTER:Father, where have you been? Oh, please come inside! I was so worried!
* * *
NARRATOR 1:A few days passed, while the woodcutter and his daughter enjoyed the many date cakes he bought after selling his wood. Then one morning, when the woodcutter had gone to the desert and his daughter had finished her housework, she decided to go walking in a public park.
NARRATOR 4:She was strolling down a broad path when a carriage stopped beside her. A royal young lady leaned out.
PRINCESS:What a pretty little girl! I am the daughter of the king. Would you like to be my handmaiden?
DAUGHTER:(bashfully) Yes, Your Highness.
NARRATOR 2:So the woodcutter’s daughter became a handmaiden of the princess. With the gifts the princess gave her, she and her father became quite rich. He bought a nice house, and he didn’t have to gather thorn bushes anymore.
NARRATOR 3:But somehow he forgot what the dervish told him.
NARRATOR 1:A month went by. One day, the princess went on a picnic to one of her father’s private gardens, and she brought along the woodcutter’s daughter. There was a small lake there, so they decided to go for a swim.
NARRATOR 4:The princess took off her necklace and hung it on a branch overlooking the water. But when she came out, she forgot all about it.
NARRATOR 2:A few days later at the palace, the princess looked for the necklace but couldn’t find it.
NARRATOR 3:She turned angrily to the woodcutter’s daughter.
PRINCESS:You stole my necklace! You must have taken it when we went for our swim!
DAUGHTER:No, Your Highness, I wouldn’t do that!
PRINCESS:You’re a thief and a liar too! I’ll show you what happens to people of your kind! Get out of my sight!
NARRATOR 1:The woodcutter’s daughter ran home in tears. But an hour later, soldiers came to the door.
NARRATOR 4:They arrested the woodcutter and carried him off to a public square in front of the prison.
NARRATOR 2:Then they locked his feet in the stocks and left him there.
NARRATOR 3:The woodcutter had to suffer the taunts and jeers of the passersby. Some people were kinder, though, and even threw him scraps of food.
NARRATOR 1:Now, that evening was Friday eve. As the sun set, the woodcutter cast his thoughts over all that had happened to him in the past weeks.
NARRATOR 4:All at once, he cried out.
WOODCUTTER:Oh, what a foolish, ungrateful wretch I am! Didn’t the dervish say to share what I have, each Friday eve, and tell of Mushkil Gusha? Yet I haven’t done it once!
NARRATOR 2:Just then, a packet of chickpeas and raisins landed by the woodcutter.
NARRATOR 3:When he looked up, he didn’t see who had thrown it. But he did see a beggar boy coming by.
WOODCUTTER:Young friend! Please share this with me while I tell you a story.
NARRATOR 1:The boy sat down and gratefully took what was offered. As he ate, the woodcutter related everything that had happened, from when his daughter asked for date cakes, to when he was put in the stocks.
NARRATOR 4:The boy said,
BOY:Thank you, sir. I needed the food, and the story was good too. I hope it has a happy ending.
NARRATOR 2:The beggar boy went on his way. But he’d only gone a block when a rich merchant stopped him.
MERCHANT:My one and only son! Ever since you were stolen at birth, I’ve looked for that birthmark on your left cheek. Now at last I’ve found you!
NARRATOR 3:But they leave our story here.
NARRATOR 1:The next day, the princess had another picnic in her father’s private garden, and again she went down to the lake for a swim.
NARRATOR 4:She was about to step into the water when she saw the reflection of her necklace. She looked up into the tree—and there was the necklace itself, right where she had left it.
PRINCESS:That woodcutter’s daughter didn’t take it at all!
NARRATOR 2:By the end of the day, the woodcutter was free from the stocks, and his daughter was back in the palace.
NARRATOR 3:And every Friday eve after that, the woodcutter always remembered to find someone in need, share what he had, and tell his tale of Mushkil Gusha.
All special features are at www.aaronshep.com/extras.