One-Act Plays
Comedies | Dramas | Playwrights | Cast-Size

a play in one-act

by Joseph T. Shipley

The following one-act play is reprinted from Ten Minute Plays. Ed. Pierre Loving. New York: Brentano's, 1923. It is now in the public domain and may therefore be performed without royalties.


HAROLD, the author
MARY, his wife
MYSELF, the rational side of the author's mind
I, the emotional self

[The curtain rises upon darkness; in the interior of a brain. Two shapes appear, hovering; they are almost identical, except that Myself is sober, sharp-eyed, cynical (reason), while I is jaunty and self-assured (emotion). They are not on very good terms, for they constantly disagree. They therefore speak sharply and abruptly to one another, like a husband and wife both of whom married for money. I speaks in a light, half-jesting, girlish voice; Myself talks in a deep, restrained tone.]

I: You're a fool if you go fussing with that subject. There's much more money in writing a bedroom farce.

MYSELF: You know your dreaming will never make any money. You've got to look at the facts.

I: You don't have to stare at yourself all the time, as though you were looking for Jehovah.

MYSELF: I am looking at Jehovah--and Satan.

I: If you watched other things more, life wouldn't be such a dreary mess. Now those ankles this afternoon.

MYSELF: Sensualist! I tell you I've got to understand.

I: Analyze! Analyze! Don't you see that all the fun in the world comes from misunderstanding? On the day when everyone understands all his neighbors, the world will collapse of boredom. I'd rather misunderstand than miss the fun of misunderstanding.

MYSELF: You can't help misunderstanding, because you never think. But I have to worry through our life; why shouldn't I know what I'm doing?

I: You'll be sorry; then you'll keep quiet and hope for me to bring you soothing fancies.

MYSELF: You keep quiet until I do.

[The stage lights dimly, and reveals a restaurant table at which are seated two dim figures, Harold and Mary. They talk at once, while I and Myself slide deeper into the shadows.]

HAROLD: It's just five years today.

MARY: It's odd how life sweeps you on and on. The little nearby things seem big; they blot out the view as though you had your eyes pressed against them, and when you lift your head--it's five years.

HAROLD: So it's seemed short, has it? But it wasn't a little matter five years ago.

MARY: [with a short sigh] No; my six years before that with John had made me a wholly new being. If it hadn't been for my life with him, I'd have been incapable of taking the step I did.

HAROLD: So I owe to him the fact that you're with me. He made you broadminded enough to be able--

[His voice dies; there is an interruption above. The two sitting below grow scarcely visible; they eat the food before them. The shapes above grow brighter.]

I: You'd better stop there! Don't ask that question!

MYSELF: Fool! How can I keep from asking it, once it's occurred to me?

I: Tell her your plans for the future. Tell her where we'll both be at the end of the next five years.

MYSELF: How do I know where we'll be! Keep quiet.

[They fade away, and the table below brightens again.]

HAROLD: Do you regret?

MARY: Regret what?

HAROLD: What you did five years ago. Coming with me.

MARY: Of course not, dear. John was all right in his way, but I never could make him understand--

HAROLD: He didn't understand you?

MARY: That's not what I mean. He--Oh, just in little matters; but his way of doing things sometimes frayed my nerves. And he never seemed to mind. He never changed--

HAROLD: But look at him today! Successful, prosperous. Two hits playing on Broadway at the same time. You'd be having a glorious time now.

MARY: Instead of cooking your meals and darning your socks while your plays come back from the managers? Silly boy! Do you think my happiness depends on how much you earn?

HAROLD: I think you do half regret.

MARY: I love you, Harold.

[They fade into darkness again, as the shapes appear above.]

MYSELF: You quit interfering with my work! Here I am trying to see straight, and you come slipping in your sweet romantic heroine sob-stuff.

I: You know she loves me. Why shouldn't she be happy, even if things aren't all just what she wants? Do you still think you must have money for real love?

MYSELF: No, but only a dreamer like you says happiness feeds on love--and disappointments.

I: She's got what she loves.

MYSELF: She has no leisure to love him. I wish I could get inside her and see what she really feels.

[Mary appears down below; she looks up and speaks to the shapes.]

MARY: Don't you suppose I can take a little waiting with a smile? It won't be hard times forever, dear. This new play you're planning certainly ought to go across.

MYSELF: And if it doesn't?

MARY: If it doesn't, one will soon. You know I love you; and if I could give up John for you, you must be worthwhile.

MYSELF: [bitterly] So he's still your standard. Well, I suppose we must go on. That's the definition of life.

[The shapes disappear, and the table and Harold light up again.]

MARY: Harold, I wish you'd break your bread instead of biting it.

HAROLD: 7,492. It's time to start something else.

MARY: There's no use starting anything else until you stop that habit. I'd be only too glad not to have to talk of it.

HAROLD: You'd reform the world, if you had a chance.

MARY: Thank you, I find it hard enough to reform one man at a time. [There is a slight pause.] What are you staring at, Harold?

HAROLD: [slowly] Someone I thought I knew. [Alarmed.] Don't turn around, Mary!

MARY: What do you mean? Is it--John?

HAROLD: Yes. Have you finished your tea?

MARY: Not quite. Is he alone?

HAROLD: Yes. He's looking mighty fine, too.

[Lights out below and the shapes are bodies again.]

MYSELF: Careful, now; don't put too much white-wash on yourself. You know you're jealous.

I: I don't have to go yelling it all over the place, do I? I can talk sweetly about him. Anyway, I've got her.

MYSELF: Don't flatter yourself; she probably wishes she were with him.

[Lights on again below--shapes disappear.]

HAROLD: He looks as though he owns the place.

MARY: He always did look dignified.

HAROLD: Hands his hat and cane to the waiter like a lord. Funny!

MARY: What?

HAROLD: His hat's just like mine. [Slowly.] You selected this hat for me.

MARY: Well, what of it?

[Lights change.]

I: Now I'm through! Damn it, you're going just about the limit. Why can't you think for a while about that peach at the third table?

MYSELF: Shut up!

I: Look at that flapper! She's dancing as though she had an option on an angel in the garden of Eden.

MYSELF: She'll wake up in Hell, U.S.A. Let me alone.

I: Look how pretty Mary is! She's ar rosy as the maid that milks the cows in the advertisements. Touch her foot under the table.

MYSELF: I see how red she is. She's flushed because she thinks John's looking at her.

[Lights change.]

HAROLD: Mary, how did you come to like this kind of soft hat?

MARY: How queerly you ask that! I don't know; I just like it, that's all.

HAROLD: What kind of cigarettes does John smoke?

MARY: I--I don't remember.

HAROLD: I bet you do, and I can tell you: he smokes St. Anthonies. Do you know how I know? Because that's the brand you've taught me to use.

MARY: What do you mean?

HAROLD: I used to read the Tribune, now I read the World. I used to eat frankfurters and hamburger; now I order only steaks and chicken. I used to go to dances in a business suit; now I have a full-dress and a Tuxedo. Why? Why?

MARY: [falteringly] Why, because I like those things, and like you to look well.

HAROLD: No, because he likes those things! You've spent five years trying to make me over into the image of him, to fashion my body and my mind so that I am no longer myself, but John, John, JOHN! I'll be damned if I'll stand for it! You won't make me over! I'll--

[Lights change.]

I: Come, come, what's all this heroics? Are you taking up my game? Be a man and stick to the woman you've chosen! It's nonsense, anyway, to say you're someone else. How can you ever be anything but yourself?

MYSELF: You're right. Run around the cage, and wait for death to let down the bars.

[Lights change.]

HAROLD: Forgive me, Mary. I've a bad headache. Shall we go home?

MARY: [rising] You're a queer fellow. Seems as though I'll never quite hold you down. [She looks furtively around to see if John is watching.] Do I look all right?

[They start away, and the table disappears, leaving only the shapes.]

I: Well, now what are you going to do with it?

MYSELF: Try to get it used, of course.

I: What, that?

MYSELF: Why not? Isn't it a good plot? Isn't it well handled?

I: Don't feel so elated; I'm responsible for the writing. But you can't use that story; it's true!

MYSELF: Well, what of it?

I: If you have it published, John will see it, you fool! And he'll know that he has won. He'll despise you.

MYSELF: Romanticist! John's a decent chap. He released Mary when he learned we loved one another. He'll understand.

I: Very well, then; he'll understand--and pity you.

MYSELF: I give it up. He beats me here, too. Am I the mirror of him? Must I smash the mirror?

[The light of the brain dies out. A low brightening reveals a bed in one corner of rhe stage. In the bed Mary is lying; Harold is standing near it, beginning to undress. As the light grows, Mary, startled, cries out.]

MARY: John! [Then she sits up and looks around.] Oh, Harold! You frightened me!

HAROLD: Yes; I heard you call me in your sleep.

MARY: What are you doing up so late? Is anything wrong?

HAROLD: No; everything's all right. I've just been thinking out the plot for my play.

MARY: Oh! I'm sleepy. Did you have a good idea?

HAROLD: It's no good. Go to sleep. Just a foolish thought about a man who wakes up one day and discovers he's an echo.

[She settles under the covers again, as the curtain falls.]



Browse more Plays by Joseph T. Shipley