In the following scene, which was written last year for a graduate Playwriting class, the direction (BEAT) indicates a brief pause and (SR) means Stage Right. The assignment was to illustrate conflict in a closed environment with two characters. Technically there are three characters, but the baby doesn’t have any lines. Yet.
JENNA and STEVE are new parents who brought their baby boy home from the hospital several days earlier. They are both college-educated; Jenna is on maternity leave from her job and Steve took a week’s vacation after the birth.
The SETTING is a one-bedroom apartment in an urban area. The IKEA-furnished living room is cluttered with a bassinet, changing table, baby swing, etc. and there are pastel-colored blankets and stuffed toys strewn on the sofa and chairs.
JENNA and STEVE are in their pajamas in the softly lit living room in the middle of the night taking turns holding baby LEO who is fussy and crying.
(HANDS LEO TO JENNA. YAWNS AND DROPS ONTO COUCH PUSHING ASIDE A STUFFED BEAR)
You think it’s colic? He slept the whole time in the hospital. Why isn’t he sleeping now?
(PACING BACK AND FORTH ROCKING LEO IN HER ARMS)
Everything is new to him. He has to get used to the environment.
What’s not to get used to? It’s all his stuff. This is now Leo-land.
Shhh. He’ll think you resent him.
(MAKING ANNOYED FACE)
What? Where did that come from? Some article in Parenting Magazine?
Shhh. I mean it, Steve. You say things that you don’t realize are negative. We need to be positive around Leo. Then he’ll grow up to be positive.
He’ll grow up to be a spoiled brat if he thinks everything is about him.
Everything IS about him.
You always have to have the last word. Isn’t that our pattern? Well, we’re parents now and I get an equal say. And I say that Leo isn’t going to be raised like a little prince.
You mean like I was a little princess?
(WAVING AWAY HIS SARCASM)
There’s plenty of time for the real world. He can live in wonderland for a while. That’s what childhood is.
Yeah, childhood in this city. (BEAT) I’ll tell you what I won’t do and that’s start applying to elite nursery schools we can’t afford when my son is six months old. Leo can go to public school like I did.
(HUGGING BABY CLOSE)
We’ll make whatever sacrifices we have to so our child has the best.
And that includes letting your parents pay for private school, right? I don’t think so. Leo will learn how to make his own way.
That sounds like a commandment.
Maybe it should be. The eleventh commandment: Thou shalt fend for thyself.
Thank you, Moses, Jr. Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but the goal nowadays is not to struggle.
A little struggling builds character. I’m proud of my working class roots. Leo needs to be raised with values.
(SITS NEXT TO STEVE AND HANDS HIM LEO)
We can give Leo values and things. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. We’re supposed to give our children better than we had. (SILENT PAUSE) Why can’t my parents help?
Jesus, we’re not going down that road again.
(GESTURES AROUND ROOM)
How many times have they offered to give us the down payment for a house so we wouldn’t be so crowded here?
This is what we can afford. If we start living beyond our means —
We’ll be what? Comfortable?
No. Beholden to people who want to control our lives.
That is so not fair!
Not fair? I’ll tell you what’s not fair: you “forgetting” to take your pill when you knew I wanted to save more money before we had kids. THAT’S not fair.
It’s always about money with you, isn’t it? How much is enough, Steve, tell me. Twenty thousand dollars? Fifty? A million?
(GENTLY SHIFTING LEO IN HIS ARMS)
How about when the student loans were paid down? We’re over our heads in debt. We agreed to wait.
That was two years ago. I’m over thirty. We both agreed we wanted to have more than one child. If we didn’t start soon — I wanted our kids to be healthy. My brother was a preemie because of my mom’s age. He still has all those breathing problems. The older I get . . .
The better you get.
. . . the more problems the baby can get. I just couldn’t wait any longer. I wish you’d see that.
I hear what you’re saying. I know things can go wrong. But that doesn’t mean it would happen to you.
Why should I take the chance? You’re a perfectionist, Steve. Do you think you could deal with a child who’s not perfect?
Wait, you’re making this about ME? I’m trying to be supportive here. You stopped taking the pill without telling me. Now I’m the villain? You’re the star of this little drama.
So why drag my parents into it?
They were out of it, Jen. You brought them back in. (BEAT) Why do you always do that?
The same reason you speak in blanket generalizations. Nothing is always, Steven.
Oh, so now it’s Steven. Okay, Jenna. (TAKES A DEEP BREATH) Look, I know how exhausted you are. It’s late and Leo’s finally asleep. Let’s go to bed. We always do better in the morning. (GIVES HIS WIFE A PLAYFUL SMILE) Or is that too much of a generalization?
(PATTING LEO IN STEVE’S ARMS WITHOUT TOUCHING STEVE)
I’ll let you know in the morning. (RISES) Remember he goes on his back in the crib.
JENNA exits (SR). STEVE sits looking straight ahead holding LEO, his shoulders hunched forward. The lights dim.
As the snow falls here in New York, Daughter’s Fotos regale us with Summer