by Bella Smith

White puzzle pieces

The story begins with a very distressed Oliver discovering that he is incapable of completing the puzzle that he is working on, a favorite activity of his. Estella, his mother, comes to his aid by reassuring and encouraging him that he can overcome his obstacles in life by being brave in a knight-like fashion. Oliver embarks on a quest to recover his lost missing puzzle piece, the last of an otherwise finished puzzle. His sister, Alice, reluctantly accompanies him on his journey as his guide in response to Oliver’s threat of tattling. The siblings venture into the dusty attic only to be met with the monstrous Vacuum, who, upon discovery, becomes violent. After surviving the encounter but losing her teddy bear, Alice reveals her involvement in Oliver’s anguish. She tells him that she has hidden his puzzle piece, which manifests in the form of Princess Peace, in her closet. Peace shows the children an example of sacrifice for the sake of harmony, thus allowing the siblings to mend their friendship and play together once again.

theatre for young audiences, stage play, dramatic writing

Critical Introduction

Puzzled is the story of a child navigating his relationship with his sibling through a hero’s journey format. This play allows the viewer to peek into the mind of a child and experience the world through Oliver’s eyes. This project originated with the “Ten Minute Quest”

exercise from THEA 4000 taught by Dr. John Bray. The goal was to write the process of an ordinary person completing a mundane task in the format of a hero’s journey. I chose to tell the story of a child trying to complete a puzzle. Encouraged by his mother, Oliver embarks on a quest to find his missing puzzle piece, but he loses his trust in his sister along the way. The resolution of Princess Peace not only completing the puzzle but also the relationship between the siblings mimics Joseph Campbell’s description featured in The Hero with a Thousand Faces concerning the hero’s desire to seek help from the supernatural: “What the hero seeks through his intercourse with them is therefore not finally themselves, but their grace, i.e., the power of their sustaining substance” (5). Oliver finds his missing puzzle piece, but truly benefits from the renewed relationship with his sister provided by the supernatural being in the story. This journey includes his Call to Adventure, support from a Helper (Alice), Challenges and Temptations (Vacuum), Revelation (Peace comes out of hiding), Atonement (Alice and Oliver’s faults are acknowledged and forgiven), and Return (the siblings establish a functional dynamic once more). Therefore, Oliver completes the entire Hero’s Journey within the storyline. The plot centers around children and can serve as an example of the Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) fantasy genre. While the play is a story about children, the content and morals embedded within it are palatable for an audience of any age. Overcoming obstacles, navigating trust, and asking for help are lessons that are learned throughout one’s entire life, and seeing these lessons unfold can be valuable at any point in time. Puzzled utilizes the personification of emotionally charged, everyday objects to illustrate the perspective of the characters who own them, much like Katie Coleman’s Helvetica, a story about the past, present, and future of an author’s life. Her teddy bear, Myron, serves as her best friend and mentor through the entirety of her life, much like how Princess Peace leads Oliver and Alice to reconciliation.  This story, unlike Helvetica, deals with the more accessible aspects of childhood that are appropriate for a younger audience. The presentation of two children working together can also be found in Olla and Ollie by Leonard Goodisman, where two friends overcome their fear of monsters for the sake of the sun. In the same way, Oliver and Alice overcome their differences to learn to play together.

Works Cited

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton UP, 2004. Originally published by Pantheon Books, 1949.

Coleman, Katie. Helvetica. Next Stage Press, 2021.

Goodisman, Leonard. Olla and Ollie. Drama Notebook, 2020.


OLIVER, boy between ages 8-10

ALICE, small girl age 7


PEACE, any gender between ages 8-10; alternatively, could be played by same actress as ESTELLA

VACUUM, very big burly man


A playroom/suburban house

Note on the set

All of the colors on set should be almost violently vibrant. Objects should be comically exaggerated in size and appearance; most toys should be bigger or equal in size to the actors playing the children. We are seeing the world from Oliver’s perspective.

(LIGHTS UP. We see OLIVER kneeling on the ground adding the final pieces to his puzzle. He holds up each piece and contemplates each one before he carefully places them down individually. He is increasingly excited with each piece. He reaches frantically for another puzzle piece before realizing there are no more in the box.)

OLIVER No, no… NOOO!!! (OLIVER begins to softly weep.)

ALICE (offstage) Mommy, he’s crying again.

OLIVER No, I’m not! (A knock is heard at the door. ESTELLA enters.)

ESTELLA Darling, what’s wrong?

OLIVER Mommy, it’s terrible. Actually, it’s awful. It’s the worst! Just look at my puzzle!

ESTELLA Oh, Ollie! It looks great. Why, you’re almost finished! I’m so proud.

OLIVER No! No! Look! The last piece, it’s gone! I’ll never ever finish this puzzle.

ESTELLA Dearest, I’m sure you’ll find it somewhere amongst your abundance of toys. Things don’t just vanish, you know. (OLIVER begins to cry again. ESTELLA leaps into action and hands him a toy sword.) Why look at that! Now you’re a brave knight on a quest to find the lost princess… Princess Peace! Are you ready for your adventure, Knight Oliver?

OLIVER I can do this. (OLIVER belts out a formidable battle cry as he runs off, sword first, SL. ESTELLA watches him with great pride. LIGHTS OUT. End of scene.)

Scene 2

(LIGHTS UP. We are in ALICE’S bedroom. Toys are strewn about. ALICE is perpetually picking up each toy and throwing it across the room. A knock is heard at the door. OLIVER enters.)

OLIVER Alice? I need your help.


OLIVER I have to find the princess!


OLIVER To finish the puzzle, duh.


OLIVER Because I’m almost done! Please! (A beat. ALICE is still playing her game of Step and Throw.) I’ll tell mom where you’ve been hiding the suckers! (OLIVER raises his sword at her. ALICE freezes. She drops the current toy she’s holding and stares at OLIVER.)

ALICE Fine! You can have my help. Don’t tell mom.

OLIVER Deal. (Beat.) Do you know where the princess is?

ALICE Mayyyybe. What does she look like? (OLIVER pulls a regular puzzle piece from his pocket and shows her.) Oooh, she’s pretty.

OLIVER Well do you know where she is or not?! (Beat.)

ALICE Hmmm. I think I know… but you’re not gonna like it very much!

OLIVER I don’t care… I’m brave! Take me to her, now!

(OLIVER nobly raises his sword and ALICE starts giggling. They run offstage together. LIGHTS OUT. End of scene.)

Scene 3

(LIGHTS UP. The stage is dark, apart from spotlights on OLIVER and ALICE. The kids are holding flashlights. Everything is dusty.)

OLIVER (Lightly choking on dust) Where are we?

ALICE This is where your princess went, I think. He took her.

OLIVER Who took her?

ALICE (Beat.) Him. (ALICE points to a corner with her flashlight. A new spotlight shines on VACUUM, asleep.)

OLIVER Oh boy, I don’t know if I’m brave enough for this.

ALICE But you have a sword.

OLIVER You’re right, Alice. I do! So… how do we save her?

ALICE I don’t know. Just don’t wake him up!

OLIVER What? Why? (ALICE giggles madly and runs offstage.) Hey wait! No fair! (Beat.) I’m brave. I have a sword, and I’m brave. (OLIVER slowly approaches VACUUM, leading with his sword.) Peace? Princess Peace? Where are you? (He inspects the surrounding area until he trips, waking VACUUM.) Oh. No.

VACUUM (sleepily) Hello? Oh. It’s go time. (A frighteningly loud vacuum sound effect engulfs the stage as VACUUM lets out a guttural roar. He begins violently stomping around, loudly following OLIVER, who is frantically running away. After they are both offstage, the lights come up to reveal ALICE on the floor, playing in her bedroom with a teddy bear. OLIVER and VACUUM barge in. All are now screaming.)




ALICE OLIVER, I SAID DON’T WAKE HIM! (The children run around the room, avoiding VACUUM. ALICE drops her teddy in the process.)


VACUUM HA. HA. HA. (VACUUM lumberingly approaches the teddy bear as ALICE screams and cowers in fear. He picks up the toy and shreds it to bits with his bare hands.)

ALICE NOOOO!!! OLIVER, DO SOMETHING! (Panicked, OLIVER notices a cord-like tail coming from the back of VACUUM. He bravely charges VACUUM and slices clean through the cord with his sword. VACUUM powers down and flops over as the vacuum sound and the screaming cease. A beat.) My poor bear… (OLIVER is trying to hide his self-contentment.)

OLIVER I’m sorry about Mr. Bear, Alice…

ALICE (Now furious) YOU! This is your fault! Ohhh it’s not fair! It’s not fair! It’s not fair! It should’ve been you! It should’ve been your stupid princess!


ALICE (Teary-eyed) It’s not what I wanted. It’s not what I wanted at all.

OLIVER (Consoling her) What did you want?

ALICE No more puzzle. It’s always puzzle. So… I… (Knocking is heard from ALICE’S closet)

PEACE Um… hello? May I come out now? It’s quite dark in here… are we done yet? Hello?

OLIVER YOU. DID. WHAT? (OLIVER rushes to the closet and flings open the door to be met with Princess PEACE herself.)

PEACE Oh, hello. Well, surprise! I’m here! (OLIVER stands and stares, slack-jawed.)

ALICE I hid her… just for a little… not for forever…

OLIVER Alice, I’ve been looking for her this whole time, and you had her? How could you do that to me? (ALICE bursts into tears.)

PEACE Oh, no no! We can’t have that, now, can we? Deep breaths, Alice, please tell us why you’re upset.

ALICE You never spend time with me. It’s always puzzles. You’re always gone. I never get to be the princess. All I had was Mr. Bear, and now he’s gone too.

OLIVER You’re going to blame me for all this? You’re a liar! You just wanted to sabotage me! You don’t want to spend time with me; you hate me! You always call me a crybaby!

ALICE But you are a crybaby!

PEACE I have an idea… how about we all play together? (PEACE links hands with OLIVER and ALICE. LIGHTS OUT. End of scene.)

Scene 4

(LIGHTS UP. We are back in OLIVER’S playroom. The kids are gazing upon the almost-finished puzzle.)

OLIVER I’ve never played with a princess and a sister before! This is so cool! What game should we play?

PEACE I seem to remember someone saying something about a puzzle. (PEACE gestures to the almost finished puzzle.) Look, Ollie, you’re almost done!

OLIVER Yes! I almost forgot! (OLIVER pulls out the puzzle piece he previously showed ALICE in her bedroom and places it back in the puzzle. He looks at the last missing spot in the puzzle and deflates. He looks at ALICE. Their gazes alternate from the puzzle to the princess, repeatedly and in sync, with increasing concern.)

ALICE (To PEACE) So… you’re going… in there? (PEACE nods.)

OLIVER This is about to be so awesome. But it feels weird. (To PEACE) Are you sure you want to do this?

PEACE Ollie, I’ve waited my whole life for this moment.

ALICE Me too!!!

OLIVER Ready? (OLIVER takes ALICE’S hand.)

ALICE Three…


PEACE One! Weeeee! (OLIVER and ALICE take PEACE’S hands and lift her onto the puzzle. The lights flash and a sound effect resembling pure magic plays. When the lights come up OLIVER and ALICE are holding a completed puzzle. ESTELLA enters.)

ESTELLA Hello, you two? What’s all that hullabaloo? Have you kids been fighting again? (A beat.)

ALICE (Frantically overlapping with OLIVER) Well really, I didn’t even want to fight, but Ollie ripped up my teddy, and he never plays with me, and I don’t even like puzzles. All he ever wants to do is all the boring things in the world, and I never get to have any fun. Really if I could trade him in for a real-life Mr. Bear, I would because I think I would be a lot happier because he would really play with me.

OLIVER (Frantically overlapping with ALICE) Mommy, if you’re looking for someone to blame, it should really be her. I was a brave knight just like you said, but Alice was evil because she wanted to be the princess, but really, she was the villain. I don’t think it’s so bad that I like my puzzles, and Alice always calls me a crybaby even though I don’t even cry that much, but when I do I have a really good reason.

ESTELLA My goodness! What on earth has you two so amped up?

ALICE It was the vacuum!

OLIVER No, really, I think it was the dust.

ESTELLA You know I just hate it when you two fight. (ALICE and OLIVER give one another a death glare. ESTELLA takes one child in each arm and squeezes tight.) Isn’t all my love enough to rub off on both of you?


ESTELLA How are we feeling now, better?

OLIVER A little.

ALICE I still don’t have a teddy!!!

ESTELLA I’m sure we can fix that.

OLIVER Um, actually, I think I can fix that.

(OLIVER reaches into his toy chest and retrieves a teddy bear that bears a striking resemblance to Mr. Bear.)

ESTELLA Oh, Ollie! Your baby bear! I thought you lost him.

OLLIE Things don’t just vanish, you know. I learned that today. (OLIVER glances at ALICE, who giggles. ESTELLA is confused but lets it go.)

ALICE You have a Mr. Bear too?

OLIVER No, I used to. Now you have a Mr. Bear 2.

ESTELLA What? (OLIVER hands the teddy bear to ALICE, who is grinning ear to ear.)

ALICE Mr. Bear!!! He’s so cute! It’s so nice to meet you. Ollie, what kinds of things does your-… my Mr. Bear like to do?

OLIVER Mr. Bear likes puzzles, just like me.

ALICE Oh… then it’s puzzle time!

OLIVER Really?! I have the perfect one. But it might take a while to finish.

ALICE We can do it. We’ll find all the pieces, together. (ALICE takes OLIVER’S hand and goes to pick out a puzzle. ESTELLA starts to exit the room until she suddenly turns around.)

ESTELLA Oh. I almost forgot; can anyone tell me what happened to the vacuum?


ESTELLA My, my. Hope you like your rooms dusty then. (ESTELLA exits. OLIVER and ALICE giggle uncontrollably. BLACKOUT. END OF PLAY.)

Citation Style: MLA