Note: If you’d like to produce this play, on stage or in a class, that would be a thrill for me and hopefully a fun time for all involved. However, a modest but fair royalty is in order. Please email me and we can discuss this.
This play has never been done, although a small troupe in London once found the excerpt online, requested the script, and supposedly was going to produce it. We emailed many times, but I’m pretty sure they never did it. An editor at one of the major play publishers also said nice things about it, kept it for a long time, said he was going to bat for it. And then nothing happened. One of these days, I would like to have another reading and work on the play.
Jodie is mentally ill and now in her mid-forties. She lives at home with her parents. They are retired, and Jodie’s life revolves around her parents’ lives.
This night – the night we see in Jodie’s Party – is the night of her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.
She has planned a surprise party and invited lots of guests. Her brother, who left home twenty years ago after a family argument, returns for the party. None of the invited guests show up.
When it becomes obvious that her party has fallen flat, Jodie launches into a manic episode. It’s hard for her to realize that the party was always an illusion. Instead, she looks for someone to blame and picks her brother. This causes them to rehash the bitter argument they had twenty years before. He is angered because he expected his visit to be a reconciliation.
Jodie’s grandmother, an elderly Russian woman, provides comic relief early in the play. Later, when Jodie loses control and the family reacts, the grandmother has a nervous reaction. Beth and Jerry, the parents, once again become the family caretakers.
Thus, a surprise party that never happens turns into a family fiasco.
BETH Mid-seventies, mother, wife, daughter caretaker to all.
JERRY Beth’s husband, mid-seventies, retired storekeeper. Tries to keep the peace when chaos erupts.
JODIE Beth and Jerry’s daughter, mid forties. Suffers from bipolar disorder. Lives at home. Doesn’t work.
CHARLIE Beth and Jerry’s son, early forties. Successful, estranged. Visiting home for the 1st time in 20 years.
SANDY Charlie’s wife. By her husband’s side, offering support. Has never met her in-laws.
BUBBIE Beth’s mother, in her 90’s. An aging Russian grandmother.
CLEMMIE The maid, and Bubbie’s caretaker, in her eighties. She is Bubbie’s nurse and companion.
It’s Beth and Jerry’s 50th wedding anniversary.
The play requires three spaces.
Most of the action takes place in the living room of Beth and Jerry’s home. There is a dining room table, a couch, and a chair — or any other normal living room stuff.
Bubbie’s room contains a couch, chair, and T.V. There is another multi-purpose area that requires no set. The era is the early 80’s, in a small town.
ACT I Early evening
ACT II Late that night, and very late that night
BETH and JERRY, on their 50th wedding anniversary, sit in the living room.
BETH knits, not because she’s big on knitting, but because, tonight, her daughter, JODIE, is keeping her out of the kitchen. BETH is anxious for activity.
JERRY reads the newspaper. He’s relaxed.
JODIE, their daughter, enters, wearing an apron. She is in her mid-forties. She lives at home with her parents. She suffers from bipolar disorder. Presently, her mood is stable. Her illness, at this point, is in its final resting place. Her elderly parents help her function, as they have her entire adult life. In turn, she worships them. Her life is devoted, sadly – as it is this day — to trying to please them.
JODIE: So, Ma and Dad. Think. Where were you, at this exact time, fifty years ago?
JERRY looks at his watch and calculates. He is expecting someone. He begins to tell JODIE a story he’s told her many times before.
JERRY: We were on Highway 912, between Elbeeton and Rakefield, doing fifty-five in a forty-five – and there wasn’t another damn car on the road.
BETH: Jodie, I could at least chop the lettuce. Let me at least do that, dear.
JODIE: Sit down, Ma. No.
BETH: It would still be your dinner.
JODIE: Not if you’re chopping. Go ahead, Dad, with the story. Sit down, Ma.
JERRY: Your mother said – I remember this – “You think we ought to turn back?” And I said, “After that scene with your father? Turn back to where?” And she said, “You’re right.” So we kept going.
JODIE: That’s so romantic, the way you eloped, right after a big family fight.
JERRY: It wasn’t a big fight. It was a disagreement – then exile.
BETH: correcting, him, as she’s done many times before There was no disagreement. My father wanted us to get married.
JERRY: No. He would have rather been run over.
BETH: He wanted me to finished college. Once I graduated, he was fine.
JERRY: We got married two months before your graduation.
BETH: And he wanted us to wait two months. He was insecure.
JERRY: We compromised. We did what we wanted to do and we avoided him until he cooled off. I’ll tell you –
JODIE has heard this so many times over the years that she finishes her father’s statement for him.
JODIE: More people should learn how to compromise.
BETH: defensive He introduced us, didn’t he?
JERRY: That he did.
JODIE: He picked him out of a crowd of people.
BETH: to JERRY And asked you if you were Jewish, and brought you to meet me.
JERRY: Yes. He did. But it wasn’t a crowd of people. It was…a few people.
BETH: You were walking down the street.
JERRY: The street? In this town, back in the forties, not so many people were walking down the street.
BETH: If you could count the people downtown today, and the number back then – there were more then.
JERRY: Maybe so – but there still weren’t so many.
BETH: Well, he took a look at you – a stranger on the sidewalk – and invited you in.
JERRY: He did.
BETH: You should be grateful.
JERRY: I am.
BETH: He built our furniture, including Charlie’s first bed, and he helped you remodel our first house – didn’t he?
JERRY: He did.
BETH: He was supportive.
JERRY: Right. When we first told him we were getting married, he behaved like a – well…did you forget his reaction to that?
BETH: Jodie, I could have been done with the lettuce by now.
JODIE: No, Ma. No.
JERRY: He was standing over beside that sewing machine, and you said, “Jerry and I are getting married,” and he didn’t say a word. He sat down and started sewing like a crazy man. Like a man who was going to sew his hand to the table. Then he said, over the racket of that machine — I remember because he screamed it while he sewed — he called you a quitter, a drop-out.
BETH: He was frustrated because he was so smart. He could have been a scholar. But he quit school and immigrated here and never went to school another day.
JERRY: So did a lot of people.
BETH: He was afraid I would quit school.
Pause. She gets lost, for a moment, in a memory of her father.
But my father did all right for a man.
He also didn’t have any money for a wedding. He had pride.
This argument has been going on for a long time, and it’s not really an argument; it’s a disagreement over two recollections, with two separate perspectives.
JERRY: Who wanted money?
BETH: It’s a tradition.
JERRY: No one mentioned money for a wedding. We wanted his blessing – and he wouldn’t speak to us.
BETH: He spoke to us plenty after we were married.
JERRY: He did. He ran his mouth. But it only began after six months of not speaking.
BETH: Three weeks. Four at the most.
JERRY: Six months.
BETH: Well, it was a few weeks.
JERRY: Six months of not speaking.
BETH: He was in pain.
JERRY: You were in pain. Don’t you remember? You tried everything. You asked him questions, one after another: ‘How’s the store? How’s business? How’s your leg? How’s the food? What’s your name?’ He ignored you. A man who does that to his daughter is doing it for a reason. Then, when he knew you had suffered enough, he spent the next ten years talking too much. I would have preferred a balance.
BETH: Jodie, let me chop the lettuce.
JODIE: Nope. Consider it chopped.
BETH: Is it chopped?
JODIE: I’m doing that next.
BETH: If you won’t let me help, maybe Clemmie could.
JODIE: I don’t need anybody’s help. I want to do this myself and it’s almost ready.
BETH: What have you got the oven on?
JODIE: I turned it down.
BETH: To what?
JODIE: Two seventy-five.
JODIE: Ma, I’m doing this dinner. Relax.
BETH: When did you lower it? If it’s well-done, your father is not going to be happy.
JERRY: I’ll be happy.
JODIE: I’m using your exact recipe for the perfect roast. The one you got from the butcher who lived next door to Aunt Grace.
JERRY: The guy with the mustache and the little dog that barked like a bird.
BETH: He knew more about meat than anyone I’ve ever known. That was Aunt Grace’s secret. Living beside him all those years she picked up some knowledge. She was a terrible cook before she moved in there. How would you know that recipe?
JODIE: I’ve heard you tell it to a hundred people. I’ve helped you with it a hundred times.
JERRY: The roast will be fine.
JODIE: It will be perfect, Ma. It’s the butcher-who-lived-beside-Aunt-Grace’s recipe. Ma, you’re not doing a thing. Not on your anniversary.
JERRY: It’s four o’clock. Charlie should be here any minute.
JODIE: I should check the green beans.
JODIE: For you, Dad. Your favorite vegetable.
BETH: It’s his only vegetable.
JERRY: It’s not my only vegetable. I have a number of vegetables.
BETH: Okay. Brussels sprouts.
JERRY: I’ll eat asparagus. I’ll eat corn.
BETH: Corn is not a vegetable.
JERRY: Corn is a vegetable.
BETH: It’s not a green vegetable.
JERRY: It’s a yellow vegetable. I’ll also eat peas.
BETH: Maybe. If the mood strikes. You’ll eat a baker’s dozen.
JERRY: It’s not a crime to prefer green beans.
JODIE: No, it’s not. And you also like salad, which is a vegetable. We’re having a lovely salad.
BETH: You didn’t try to put that dressing on it, did you?
JODIE: It’s all on the side, Ma.
JODIE: I’ll check on things.
BETH: So Charlie’s coming.
JERRY: Yes he is.
BETH: I’ll believe it when I see him here.
JERRY: He’s coming. I talked with him this morning.
BETH: How did he sound?
JERRY: The same as always.
BETH: How’s that?
JERRY: The same.
BETH: I haven’t talked with him for twenty years. I don’t know what “the same” is!
JERRY: He sounds like a forty year old man who is coming home to visit his parents. Leave it at that. He’s coming.
BETH: Is he nervous?
BETH: His feelings are shut-off.
JERRY: How would you know that? And… ‘feelings are shut off,’… that doesn’t mean anything.
BETH: For a man to see his family for the first time in twenty years, and not be nervous? Either he’s emotionally detached or you’re not reading the signs.
JERRY: Or you’re reading those gooey psychology books that are written for idiots again. He’s not detached. He’s normal.
BETH: We don’t know if he’s normal, really – do we? We can’t know if we haven’t seen him — not once — since he became an adult.
JERRY: I’ve talked with him on the phone. He’s my son. He’s a normal man!
BETH: Normal man. People with mental illnesses can disguise it when they want to.
JERRY: He is not disguising.
BETH: It’s an interesting phenomenon and widely reported. Jodie does it. They have the wherewithal and intelligence to hide the symptoms from certain people, so that they are out of control only…in private. I’ve learned a few things taking care of her.
JERRY: He’s not mentally ill. He’s not hiding anything.
BETH: If he talked with me on the phone, I may be able to detect it.
JERRY: You won’t talk to him.
BETH: But if I did.
JERRY: You refuse.
BETH: But if I didn’t. I think there’s a possibility there’s something wrong with him.
JERRY: Charlie owns three nice houses. Three nice cars. He has a boat, for God’s sakes. A wife who plays golf. A kid who plays soccer. He’s been to Hawaii. He’s happy, not sick.
BETH: I didn’t say he was broke. Some of the wealthiest men in America are manic depressives.
JERRY: Good for them.
BETH: These things are genetic.
JERRY: You’re an expert in genetics?
BETH: You know nothing about genetics. It’s a hard science.
JERRY: It’s not that hard. I know something. My sister had black hair and mine used to be brown. There’s variety. This is genetics! Just because Jodie is ill, it doesn’t mean Charlie is.
BETH: My sister had it. There’s a twenty-eight percent chance it will appear in the next generation. That’s genetics.
JERRY: Then Jodie is the twenty-eight percent. Charlie is the seventy-two percent. If we had had another child, he probably would have been normal too.
BETH: It doesn’t work that way. It’s a twenty-eight percent for each child.
JERRY: He’s a normal adult man. He has a job. He functions.
BETH: Then why doesn’t he come home for twenty years?
JERRY: Think about it.
BETH: What’s that supposed to mean?
JERRY: What do you think it’s supposed to mean?
BETH: Are you implying that it’s my fault?
JERRY: Not implying it. I’m saying it. It’s your fault. And hers.
He points to the kitchen.
BETH: Don’t blame everything on Jodie. I say it’s your fault. You’re the one he talks with. You’re the big peacemaker. You haven’t made any peace.
JERRY: Okay. Then blame me. But also give me credit for him coming here today. I kept negotiations open all these years. I talked him into making this trip.
BETH: I’ll give Jodie the credit, if he comes. She sent the invitation.
JERRY: Fine, give her the credit. He’ll be here.