THE FAMILY (A One-Act Play By JRS)

 

CHARACTERS:

AN AMERICAN FAMILY: DAD, MOM, BILL [eldest son], JERRY [middle son], DAN [youngest son], ANN [oldest daughter], SARA [middle daughter], KATIE [youngest daughter] The age range of the kids should be: no older than the late twenties, and no younger than thirteen.

A FOREIGN FAMILY, preferably similarly structured, perhaps Middle-Eastern or Indian.

OTHER VISITORS: Other couples, individuals, and/or families may periodically drift by. There are no formal speaking parts, and it would just be for ambiance, and to provide the possibility of observing some outside reactions to the family (mainly when they do "the march").

 

SETTING:

The family is on a family trip to some touristic site - perhaps a nature site - hoping to increase family unity, and have a good time.

 

 

DAD: Well, here we are! Now look, before we begin to check out the sights, letís all get into a family huddle here. Come on! Remember how we used to? Thatís right. Remember how we all used to be so close? [Looks meaningfully at Bill, and Katie] Well, itís never too late. I know that we have our differences. We donít always see things eye to eye. Itís normal. Thereís so many pressures and influences in society, and so many crazy ideas floating around.

KATIE: O Dad, come on!

DAD: Well, but what I want to say is - when all is said and done - weíre a family. A FAMILY! Years ago, I took your mother to be my wife, "till death do us part." And over the years, she bore me three wonderful sons - yes, even you! [looking at Bill] - and three beautiful daughters. Beautiful! [He hugs Katie] And we shared many Christmases together, picked out many trees together, and you all believed in Santa once, and the big ones [looking at older kids] didnít spoil it. And remember all the birthdays, with their candles? "Iíll huff and Iíll puff, and Iíll blow your house down!" [They all laugh, recognizing who it was]

BROTHERS AND SISTERS: [in unison] Jerry!

DAD: And the Easter basketsÖ

SARA: Chocolate bunnies!

DAD: And trick-or-treating on Halloween. What a great witch Little Katie was, even then!

KATIE: Dad!

DAD: I know that sometimes weíve had problems. Someone here even called me a tyrant once. What was it - you said the padre familiarus was a thing of the past?

BILL: Pater familias.

DAD: Well, my father always told me, "Spare the rod and spoil the child." And I saw him get his way, no matter what, and thought, "Thatís how itís done." But I know I overdid it sometimes. I didnít always handle the pressure coming from the outside world very well.

MOM: But your Dad kept a roof above your heads. No matter how unhappy his work made him. No matter how much he wanted to quit, or just get into his car, and drive off down the highway, he just kept taking it, for you. [Looking at kids] For you.

DAD: Not that that was an excuse. I just want to say, that when you think of me - please try not to only think about the punishments. Think about the good things. [Looking at Jerry] Like the day I carried you home, when I didnít have the car, and they called from school to say youíd been injured on the playground. All the way up the hill. [Looking at Sara] And the big party I threw for your "sweet sixteen." I put off buying a new car for a whole year, so you could live in a fairy tale, for that one day.

SARA: Thanks Dad [hugs him]

DAD: [To Dan] And the way I went to the coach, and made him put you in the starting lineup. My son wasnít going to be a bench-warmer!

ANN: Itís true Dad, you have always stood up for us.

DAD: And thatís what a family is all about. We have our disagreements. We have our quarrels. We make mistakes. But we share things nobody else will ever know. We have our secret life. Our secret history. Parts of it dark, but parts of it, indescribably beautiful. I cleaned every one of your little, shit-filled butts when you were a babyÖ

KATIE: That was beautiful?! [They laugh, but he is serious]

DAD: Thinking on the death that we come from, and go back to, it was. Beautiful, like being in a church, when the organís playing. You were alive and helpless and crying, and looking back on it all, now, I know that you were all worth it, and that even changing your diapers was a blessing. Thatís what a family is. What itís all about. Living under one roof. Knowing each other like nobody else.

KATIE: Thanks to my diary.

DAD: It was a mistake.

MOM: My mistake! I thought you were smoking pot.

DAD: What we read hurt us, but the fact that we read it hurt you even more. We were wrong. Wrong.

MOM: It was my fault. Iím the one.

ANN: Itís over with, itís OK. Forget about it. You were trying to do good.

DAD: You know, girls, one day youíll all have a man of your own. But let me tell you something. Even lying with him naked in your bed -

SARA: [Shocked] Daddy!

DAD: youíll be strangers, compared to how you are with your family. The ones who saw you from day one - your first struggling steps to walk - the things we talked about at dinner - the TV shows we watched together - the way we all cried when Laddy was run over - our jokes - the things that made us laugh and cry. From babies who couldnít speak, slowly changing, into young women and young men: the metamorphosis, the journey. Nobody will ever know you like your father, your mother, your sisters, and your brothers.

MOM: Itís true.

DAD: Nobody. [Pause] Do you know how many couples get divorced these days? Use each other? Pillage each other? Take what they can get, and run? And friends? Where are they when you need them? Sure, itís fun to share a drink, to hang out and do whatever kids do these days. But what happens when itís your moment of need? Will they be there? [Looks at them all, meaningfully] Your family will. Whether you want it or not, familyís something you canít lose. Sometimes, it may be the shadow that you want to get away from, that haunts you everywhere you go, but thatís a fair price to pay, because it will also be there, to cover you like a shield, when youíre outnumbered, and alone. When all your so-called friends have vanished in a puff of smoke. Poof! [Singing lines from the Minstrel Boy] "One sword at least thy right shall guard, one faithful harp shall praise thee." [Mom, and the two older girls cheer] Blood is thicker than water. And I guess thatís what Iím trying to say. That as time goes on, the preciousness of it all becomes more and more clear. Kids, Iím not going to last forever, and I want to feel close to you, now, more than ever, as the years catch up with me. Kids - in all this big, empty, cold, cruel world, the only thing you can really count on is your family. Letís stick together. Letís stand by each other. Letís be the family we always wanted to be, the family we could have been. Itís not too late!

ANN: Youíre right, Dad! Weíre a family, and this is where love begins!

SARA: I love you Dad! I love you Mom! [They are all exchanging hugs and expressions of love, though Bill and Katie hang back slightly]

DAD: Katie? Little Katie? My little moon worshipper, or whatever you do - I respect it, I just donít know! Come on, honey. Please, give your daddy a break. Letís make up for lost time. [Katie hugs him] Whatís that song you always sing?

SARA: [Sings it for her] "In our family portrait we look pretty happy, We look pretty normal, letís go back to thatÖ"

DAD: Letís. We can. [Katie hugs him again. Then Dad steps over to Bill] Well, big boy. What about it? You were the first one out of Mom. The pioneer. Daniel Boone out of the womb. You made a path for the whole family. [Pause] I know weíve had our differences, Billy. Politics. But what are politics in the end? Billy, we live and die, politics is just bullcrap, meaningless. How could we let it divide us? If we were immortal, maybe, but weíre not. You know how much I love you. Remember those long walks we used to take together? The pieces of broken branches that were sometimes hidden under the autumn leaves? The spots of ice on the sidewalk, after a storm? All the things we talked about? Planets. Rockets. Friendship. Baseball. Remember the way we used to watch lightning storms from the porch, see the whole sky lit up with gigantic bolts, like some kind of battle going on among the Gods? And we could feel the mist of the rain on our faces? [Bill nods] I want that back, Billy. Screw politics! I want that back!

SARA: [Softly, to Bill] Go on, hug him. [DAD extends his arms to Billy. Slowly, Bill let him hug him]

DAD: Thatís my boy. My beautiful boy. Before politics. Before all that stuff that didnít matter.

MOM: Peace between the two elephants. No one gets driven out of the herd.

DAD: Thatís right. Itís a family.

ANN & SARA: A family!

EVERYONE [except Bill; and Katie just mouths the words, though she wants to feel it] A family!

DAD: Remember how we used to do "the march"?

KATIE: O no! Not that!

ANN & SARA [jumping up and down with glee]: O yes! O yes! Letís do it! The march!

DAD: The family march!

KATIE: O great, the one that made us look like the Adamís Family!

DAD: Who cares what people think of our togetherness?

MOM: They ought to think itís beautiful.

ANN: Oh, the people who put it down are just jealous. They just wish they could be so close.

DAD: Come on, letís go!

[This is a family ritual from days gone by. They all line up, single file, Dad in the front, and begin to march. Itís just a comical and fun way of acting. Katie, second to last, joins in the march, but deliberately does weird things: veers off to the side, and does weird skips and jumps, and makes faces. Bill just walks behind, reluctantly, following them, but not about to fully join in this spectacle. Other visitors to the site look at them. Finally Dad says:]

DAD: Family, Halt! [They do so. Then he cries out again] We did it! [They cheer] Family Huddle! [They gather together, join hands, and throwing them up in the air, shout] Weíre a family! Hooray! [Bill is participating, but has not given himself to this like the others] We stand by each other! Through thick and thin! What are we?

EVERYONE: A family!

DAD: I canít hear you!

EVERYONE: A family!

ANN: [Singing Sister Sledge song, and dancing] We are fam-i-ly! We are fam-i-ly! We are fami-i-ly!

JERRY: You know, they have lyrics on the net.

ANN: [Good-naturedly] O shut up!

DAD: [Pleased with everything] All right. All right. Well. Here we are. Just like old times. They say thereís more to see here than you can manage to take in in a single day - so - I guess we better get started. Itís supposed to be really amazing. Ma, did you bring the guidebook?

MOM: [Pulling it out of her bag] Of course! [DAD takes it, and begins to look through the pages, to try to find the relevant map]

[A family of dark-skinned individuals appears, about the same size as this family]

FOR. FATHER: [Coming up to them, in a heavy accent] Excuse me. I am wondering - do you know which way it is to the restaurant? [At the same time, two young men with this family look at Sara, and say something to each other in their own language, looking at her approvingly. They are not intending for anyone else to notice this, but they are too unguarded in their gestures. When they see people have noticed them - including their own mother, who looks at them very disapprovingly - they stop.]

DAD: [Surprised to see this foreign man, then disturbed to see that manís two sons acting in a way that he thinks may be rude about his daughter] Seems like maybe you should be asking for directions back home.

FOR. FATHER: [Doesnít understand] Excuse me?

DAD: Or to the nearest English class.

KATIE: [Upset] Daddy! [Dad looks over that family disrespectfully, then goes back to his reading]

FOR. FATHER: [Angry now] Excuse me. You donít have to be rude. This is my country, now, too. I have as much right to be here as you. I donít expect this way to treat me. [His wife tries to shut him up]

MOM: [As Dad looks up from the guidebook, back at the family] Letís go, honey.

DAD: Your country, now? You canít even speak English, and itís your country? You know, lately, a lot of people in my country have been killed, by people who look just like you.

KATIE: Dad!

BILL: All right, letís go.

FOR. FATHER: But they are not me. I am me. They are they. I am here with my family.

DAD: Bla, bla, bla. Come back when you get a translator.

KATIE: Daddy, will you stop?!! Will you stop treating him like that? [The foreignerís sons speak angrily to each other in their language, and one of the daughters also.]

DAD: Donít tell me to stop, Katie! These people have killed lots of our people, and who knows what theyíre doing here? Who knows what harm they intend!

KATIE: Dad, you canít assume that!

DAD: Oh come on, Katie. This world is no bouquet of roses. Youíre sweet, you want to see the whole world as just one big you. You see it with your loving heart. But all that love inside you is just like a fog, you canít see through it to the beasts that are on the other side of it.

FOR. FATHER: This talk is wrong. It is not right.

FOR. DAUGHTER: We are not beasts! And we have nothing to do with anyone who has harmed this country!

DAD: [To Katie] Iím your father, Katie, and the same way I would beat the hell out of anyone who came to hurt you, who broke into the house to do you harm, well, in that same way, Iíd like to see all of these types [indicating foreign family] go back to their own country, just to be safer. You canít imagine how devastated I would be if anything ever happened to you. You think I donít love you? We try to be so generous to the whole world, and all we do is end up setting ourselves up for the kill.

FOR. FATHER: Your words are very foolish.

FOR. DAUGHTER: Disgraceful! [Then continues speaking in her own language]

FOR. MOTHER: [In her language, pulling her husbandís arm, and trying to lead him away. The foreign boys also talk excitedly with each other]

DAD: Excuse me????

FOR. FATHER: [As his wife pulls him away] I said, your words are very foolish. You donít understand. You think you know us? [His wife reprimands him in his own language]

FOR DAUGHTER: This is a shame! This is not in your laws and this is not the way you say that you are. You talk in one way, but what you do is the opposite.

DAD: Whoís foolish? [Mom tries to restrain him]

KATIE: Dad!

DAD: No, let me go! Whoís foolish?!

BILL: Let him go, Dad! Heís walking away! Heís going away!

JERRY: [Supporting his father] Bastard! Heís the one whoís a fool!

DAD: [To Mom and Katie] No, get off me! Nobody makes me look bad in front of my daughters! And did you see the way those punks were looking at Sara? Whoís foolish? [He begins to pursue the departing foreigners]

KATIE: Dad, stop!

BILL: Let it go! Theyíre leaving!

DAD: Whoís foolish?

[The foreign man turns to face them, and his two sons come up to flank him, but his wife tugs at him again, and pulls him away, and one of the daughters grabs and twists the ear of one of the sons, pulling him away also. Then the other son begins to go, after a final glare.]

DAD: No, wait a minute. Donít go! Do you have something to say? Come on back. I think we donít need a dictionary to understand each other, after all.

BILL: Let it go! For Christís sakes! Theyíre going!

DAD: [To the foreigners] Come back! Cowards! [To Bill] Bill, donít you remember, just a minute ago, how we all said we were a family? And how families stick together, through thick and thin? Have you forgotten so soon?

BILL: Dad, if you start a fight now, youíll be wrong. Why the hell should I punch some innocent guy in the face, just because youíve lost your head, and picked a god-damned fight with him, when you didnít need to?

JERRY: Donít worry, Dad, Iím here, Iíll back you up. We donít need Bill.

DAN: Iím with you, Dad.

DAD: Iím disappointed in you, Bill. You still donít get it, do you? What a family is all about.

BILL: What, ganging up on strangers? Treating people like shit, and starting fights?

DAD: Those people are dangerous, Bill. Like chameleons. All nice and friendly, till they get their orders. Blend in, smile, then BOOM!

KATIE: Daddy, itís a family!

DAD: The perfect cover. The kids are like fruits in the basket, hiding the serpent on the bottom.

KATIE: Dad!

DAD: Oh, donít get me wrong. There may be some good ones. Iím not prejudiced. But how can you tell? And then, the way they come into our country, as though they own it, and just want you to roll a red carpet underneath their feet. How dare they be rude to us! In two generations they can be rude! But for nowÖ

BILL: Itís [Imitating black slaves from old movies] Yass Sir. Any mo cotton fo me típick?

DAD: Donít be fresh with me, son!

MOM: Thatís your father youíre speaking to, Bill!

BILL: God damn it, this is what the whole f***g problem is! Family! Family! You think I donít want it?! You think I donít miss it?! You think I donít cry, sometimes, in the night, when no one can see, wishing things could be like they used to be? Before I grew up, and became the "bad son"? Before I began to see the world in my own way, and you stopped loving me?

DAD: I never stopped loving you!

MOM: Bill, we never stopped loving you!

BILL: You think I donít wish I could cram myself back into the womb, and start all over again, and never have an idea of my own, just so I could keep you forever? Or that I could freeze myself, in time, and be that little boy on Christmas morning, for the rest of eternity? My own version of Keatsí Grecian Urn? Sometimes I even thought - if only Iíd been hit by a car when I was a child, in the days when you still loved me -

MOM: We do love you, Bill!

BILL: And could spend the rest of my days lying in a bed, in a coma, without ever having developed the mind that separated us - preserved as the child you loved; and adored, because I had never ceased being the person you wanted me to be.

KATIE: [Crying] Oh please, Bill, donít say that. Youíre beautiful, just the way you are! Youíre my hero!

DAD: [To Katie] Your bad influence.

SARA: Dadís my hero.

JERRY: When a familyís threatened, itís got to stand together, no matter what.

DAD: [Walking away, disappointed] Iím disappointed in you, Bill.

MOM: [To Dad] Please, shhh!

DAD: A family sticks together. Especially when thereís trouble.

JERRY: Thatís right. You donít let family down.

DAD: Iím disappointed in you. Itís like, youíre not even my son.

BILL: [Breaking free of Katie. Yelling offstage, in the direction the foreign family has gone, but they are now bound to be out of range. Of course, he is being brutally ironical.] Come back! Come back, you cowards, and fight! Come back so I can punch the hell out of your brown faces, and be loved! Come back, so I can punch the hell out of your brown faces, and be a part of my family again!

MOM: Billy!

BILL: A family sticks together! Through thick and thin! Blood is thicker than water! Blood is thicker than justice! Love! [Starts to break down. Sobbing, to the foreign family that is long gone] I need your blood, so I can be loved!

KATIE: Billy!

DAD: [Walking away, with a disgusted wave of his hand] Itís like heís not my son! I try! Lord do I try! But he just doesnít get it! [Most other family members begin to follow him. Mom is torn between following him and watching her tormented son. Katie stays with Bill]

BILL: [In his own world, now, his parody is unraveling with the intensity of his emotions] I want to be loved. What do you want me to do? Iíll do anything! [Screams like a torture victim] Stop it!

KATIE: Billy! [Mother starts to run towards him, but Dad calls]

DAD: Veronica! [She freezes in her tracks]

BILL: Stop it! Iíll talk! Iíll talk! Iíll tell you everything! Iím with al Qaeda. Iím with the FARC. Iím with the IRA. Iím with the Basques. Iím with the Tamil guerrillas. [Softly] I disagree with Dad. [Exhausted] I love Big Brother.

KATIE: Billy!

BILL: [To Katie] I just want to be loved.

KATIE: I love you, Billy.

DAD: [off stage now] Veronica! [She starts to go]

BILL: What does your love mean to me? Youíre a Wiccan. You love me, only because you love [hisses, and makes a sign with his hands] the Devil!

KATIE: Stop it, Billy!

BILL: No, I know, little sis. Wicca is holy. No Devil. Youíre Woodstock. Thatís the problem. Woodstock type. Too late. But you would have been there.

KATIE: Billy, itís OK. Weíre OK. Weíre going to be OK.

BILL: Katie, I just wanted to be loved! Why did my mind have to get in the way - why did I have to commit the sin of thinking? I wanted a better world, Katie.

KATIE: We all do.

BILL: A better world. To solve the riddle of the Sphinx. To save Thebes. And so I became Oedipus - killer of his father, raper of his mother - [Imitating the horrified citizens] Banish him from the city! - No wonder he gouged his eyes out, no wonder he didnít want to see! Seeing is losing. Seeing is losing everything. What do we gain, Katie, from our sight, but pain, solitude, banishment?

KATIE: Billy! I love you!

BILL: [Imitating Hamlet, manipulating his hands as though he held Yorickís skull] Alas, poor Bill. I knew him, Horatio!

KATIE: Billy, I love you! I love you! [Hugging him fiercely. Then looking into his eyes, holding his face] I love you, Billy. We canít give up. We canít give up being who we are. We canít close our eyes. We canít close our hearts to the world, just to be loved by our family.

BILL: Theyíre in us, Katie. For all our brilliant Noís, for all our pretenses of independence and rebellion, and our anger, theyíre in us, like soldiers in a conquered city. Someone said that. Like a garrison. We try to be ourselves, and theyíre there with their spears. Their spears of not loving us anymore. Their spears of being hurt by us. Controlling us. Always controlling us. With the love they gave us, before we knew what it could do to us. Before we knew what it expected of us.

KATIE: Thatís not love, Billy.

BILL: And any time we strike back - a blow for our freedom - itís like the bee that dies when it stings. The guilt. The misery. The loneliness. Youíre Gandhi, and they make you feel like Hitler. Youíre Mandela, and they make you feel like AIDs.

KATIE: Thatís not love, Billy.

BILL: [Looks at her] You mean - we were never loved?

KATIE: God loves us, Billy. And we love each other. You and I love each other.

BILL: All those childhood presents, under the Christmas tree, and its glowing lights? And those games we played? And the walks, and the lightning storms? It wasnít love? Just the puppet maker, standing with his wood? The potter, shaping his clay?

KATIE: It was what he could give. He thought it was love. [Crying] Iím sorry, Billy.

BILL: He wanted me to jump that guy, with him. That poor guy who didnít do a thing, except to accidentally bump into his ignorance.

KATIE: His love wasnít worth it, Billy.

BILL: Not worth it? Heís Dad.

KATIE: His love wasnít worth it, Billy.

BILL: An innocent man, spared. A family, lost. Justice served. An outcast born.

KATIE: Weíre right, Billy. Weíre right. Heís wrong.

BILL: Heís Dad.

KATIE: Heís wrong.

BILL: Our family?

KATIE: You and me, Billy. Until they learn. You and me. Until they learn.

 

THE END

 

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