Millikin University Student Project

Just Friends

A one-act play based on relationship haiku of Alexis Rotella.


Lynn Wayne and Jay Schleppenbach
Global Haiku Tradition, Spring 2000

This play was staged in Pipe Dreams theatre at Millikin University the following Spring, by a team of theatre students in the Spring 2001 Global Haiku Tradition course: Sarah Knutilla, Nick Sauber and James Brett.

(lights up on Debra and John folding clothes from a line. An offstage fan blows the clothes.)

D: (out to audience) Just
J: (out) Friends
D: (out) He watches my gauze dress blowing on the line

D: (out) We fold my laundry on Sundays and it's funny

J: (out) Because I hate folding laundry, but it's a time for us to talk, for her to tell me her latest dating

D: (out ) Horror

J: (out) And for me to remind her, once again, (to D) there is no such thing as "Prince Charming"

D: (out) Lying,
 I tell him
  (to J) I'm not looking for a prince

(They fold a sheet from the line, D eventually rolling herself into the sheet so that it becomes the "towel" from the next scene. J rolls himself to the opposite side. D is looking at a dress, J is putting on a tie.)

D: Undressed
 today's role dangles from
 a metal hanger

Both: Just friends.

(Fade out. Change over. Laughter starts. Lights up.)

D: There's more! I ask him why he chose this restaurant and he says "My ex-wife works here and she usually gives me a discount!"

J: Nothin' wrong with being thrifty—

D: Or a moron.


J: No, I can top that, I think I can top that. My last date—

D: This was in 1985, right?

J: Hey, hey.

D: You guys watched the latest Duran Duran video, played a little Pong on the Atari?

J: All right. (beat) No, so I take this girl out, and she brings this huge purse with her, you know? I mean, this is the biggest purse you've ever seen, I mean, we're talking carry-on here.

D: Uh oh. I'm glad I brought this relatively modest little handbag tonight.

J: Yeah, so she keeps asking me to carry it, right? And I swear to God the thing gets heavier each time.

D: Yeah?

J: So finally, she goes to the bathroom, so I take the opportunity to look in this bag of hers— and she's been stealing stuff all night long! Silverware, ashtrays, even a coaster from my apartment! Couldn't believe it. (general laughter) Yeah, I get all the good ones. (suddenly serious) Well, some of them.

(both of them get drinks and stand against the garden rail, facing in to each other) 

D: So, seriously, I'm having a really nice time.

J: (playfully) Seriously?

D: Seriously.

J: (still not quite serious) Well, as long as we're being "serious" here, I guess I'll just go ahead and tell you that this is the best time I have had in a long time, and you, my dear, are a 9.5 on a scale of ten.

D: Ten being the highest?

J: Ten being the highest.

D: So what's the deduction for?
J: That bit of lettuce in your teeth. (she goes to check) Just kidding. But anyway, I just kind of feel compelled right now to tell you you're an incredible person.

D: Oh, come on.

J: No, no really, I'm being "serious." I mean, ever since I met you, I've just noticed this kind of glow—god, that sounds like the stupidest thing in the world, but it's true—you just bring this kind of light to everything that you do. To me especially. I mean, I'm just so grateful to for once be around someone who's, well, who's really alive— (noticing that he is talking right into a plant, laughing) What IS this thing?

D: (laughing) I don't know. Let's just hope it's not poisonous.

J: (out) With wine glasses
D: (out) We stand and talk
Both: (out) Into the rhododendrons

(They hook a frame onto the rail around the flowers, and roll the cart back. They hand two other paintings on the panels on either side of the stage.)

D: (looking at the first one) Okay, so just look at the painting for a minute and try not to focus your eyes.

J: What, is a 3-D dinosaur going to appear or something?

D: Come on. (beat) Okay, so what did you notice?

J: She's totally naked.

D: Look at how all the lines of the painting converge on the little toy in the background! See the emphasis? The artist is showing us that even with this naked nasty whore there's still a little bit of innocence!

J: But I was right about the naked thing, right?

D: All right, smarty. It's your turn.

J: Okay, okay, so let's look at this one. (they go to the other one) Notice the interplay of darks and lights, how the figure is elongated seemingly reaching— okay, I'm totally making this up.

D: I know. But it's kind of cute. And really, you're doing fine.

J: Thanks. (they look for a silent moment) This is so neat.

D: What, the painting?

J: Well, sure, why not, but I was really thinking of this moment.

D: Yeah?

J: It's really nice to see you when you care about something. I mean, a lot of people go through life without caring about anything, but— well, you're just passionate, you know? I'm not always good at getting art, but it doesn't matter, because I get you.

D: Well thank you. No, really, I mean that. It means a lot.

(they walk to the flower "painting")

J: So what about this.

D: Just look at it for a while.

(long silence)

D: Waterlilies—
in a moment he'll ask me 
what I'm thinking.

(Lights out. They come up on D waiting on a couch, not particularly impatiently, but perhaps a little sadly. J enters in winter wear, hurriedly.)

J: Sorry. I'm late, I'm late, I know. Meeting went over. And the roads are just terrible with all this snow coming down. (he sits) Are you okay?

D: Oh, it's just been a bit of a day, you know? This new client has just been impossible to work with, and then Mr. Boldman yelled at me about last week's crisis with the Gurga account. At lunch, I couldn't get a cab, and then we ended up having to wait so long that all I got to eat was some soup crackers and a piece of bread.

J: Prison rations.

D: Yeah. (with growing sadness, nearly the verge of tears) And then this afternoon my Powerpoint wouldn't work for the presentation (she leans in onto his chest, he strokes her hair) and my shoe ripped, and— well, I just had a horrible day and I just really, really missed you (she's now crying, head on his coat).

J: I know, I know. I'm so sorry. There's just nothing good about bad days. But they do make us appreciate the good ones. Sorry, I'm just really bad at helping with these things.

D: (through tears, with a sort of laugh) No, no, you're doing fine. I'm the one who should sorry.
J: Now don't say that. Look at me. Anything that you feel is never wrong, and you shouldn't ever have to apologize for it. I'm just glad that you feel like you can tell me these things. I mean, that's a good sign for us, don't you think?

D: Yeah.

J: And besides, you're really cute when you cry. (he kisses her gently)

D: Thanks. (now smiling) And that comforting, paternal thing you do is sexy, too, in a highly disturbing kind of way. (she kisses him)

J: Well, I do try. So what do you say I get cleaned up a little, we put on some music, I cook you a little dinner, and you tell me all about it. And if you're really good, I could maybe see my way fit to give you a little bit of my world-famous massage technique.

D: I think I could probably be persuaded. Sounds like a plan.

J: Great. (he stands, and takes off his coat leaving it on the couch) I'll be right back. I'm just going to "slip into something more comfortable."

D: I'll be waiting. 

(He exits. She goes to the window and glances out.)

D: Against his coat
 I brush my lips—
 the silence of snowflakes.

(She picks up the coat and goes to hang it up. As she does, her hand brushes a letter stuck in the inside pocket. She takes it out and begins to read it, becoming more and more visibly upset. She sits on the couch and finishes.)

D: left to the wind
 all the lilies
 and all his lies

(J reenters, oblivious to anything.)

J: So what do you feel like eating? Because chances are I can't make it and we'll end up having frozen waffles, but it's worth a shot. (Silence. He goes over to give her a back rub.) Look, everything's going to be okay, all right? (He sees the letter in her lap.) Oh shit.

D: (angry, hurt, waving letter) So why Sharon Norton, I guess that's what I want to know. Because if it were someone pretty, I could understand, but— 

J: Oh God. Oh god. Debra, I never meant for—

D: For me to find out? Sorry, but I guess it's too late for that one. You're right, though, it was better not knowing. At least before I had some doubt that you were just playing around.

J: No, listen, listen. I swear, it's really not like that. Debra, I love you. Okay? This was just an accident, just some sort of—

D: An accident? Jesus, that's one hell of an accident. Sorry, I accidentally slept with someone else, repeatedly, apparently, snuck around hiding all the evidence from you for months, pretending like nothing was wrong—did your clothes just sort of accidentally fall off, and then you accidentally fell into bed together? Repeatedly? Jesus, how could you do this?

J: I really don't think you want excuses.

D: Well, I think we're a pretty long way from what I want right now. I kind of wanted for you to keep your pants on, you know? But seriously, I really want to know how the hell you can justify this one. How on earth did this happen?

J: Okay, fine. Since you're asking for this. You really are just a glutton for punishment, you know? You know the thing about Sharon, Debra? She's available.

D: I'll say. She's been available all around town for as long as we've known her.

J: She's emotionally available, Debra. There's someone at home up there. I mean, this, right now, is the first I've really heard about your feelings since, oh, I don't know, the Bush administration. We used to talk, you know? What the hell happened?

D: I don't know, John, maybe it was just a little bit harder to talk to you while you were doing someone else, you know?

J: Now that's fighting fair.

D: I don't think you have any room to talk about fair.

(J grabs his coat, and begins putting it on.)

D: What are you doing?

J: I'm leaving. I thought that was pretty clear. I'm pretty sure that there's not going to be any fruitful discussion tonight.
D: So you're just walking away from this, from this— mess you've created?

J: I'm not walking away. Okay, so I'm walking away for now. You're angry. Be angry. And then later be ready to talk. (he goes to the door) I'm sorry, I really am. That's all I can really say. I'm sorry.

D: I can't believe this.

J: I'm sorry. (he exits)

(D picks up a vase and, grunting, throws it at the door and it shatters. Then she sinks to the floor, crying. Beat. She pulls herself to her feet and walks off, returning with a broom. Still gently sobbing, she begins sweeping the shards of the vase into a dustpan. Beat.)

D: After an affair
 all the rooms.

(Fade out. Lights up on D sitting on a chair at a table. J enters, setting a tray of tea before her. He speaks, while she remains stonily silent throughout.)

J: Here, this should take the edge off of the morning for us. Jasmine Mint Herbal Sunrise. Where do they get these names? (Beat. He sits. He sips.) It's pretty good, though, I have to admit. Still not the biggest tea fan, but— (Beat. He reaches for the paper.) Huh, let's see, news, style, sports, arts— you want the arts section, hon? (Beat.) I guess I'll take it. I think the crossword's in here. (Beat. He turns pages.) Ah, there we go. (Beat. He writes on it.) Huh. You got a five letter word for "dukes," hon? (Beat.) Okay. Can we at least talk about this?


(D begins to speak, sitting still, looking up, beginning with a tone that's not violent, hurried or loud. As she continues speaking her focus shifts to particular parts of the room, each moment delivered to a specific area.)

D: It's funny how we've gone through this series of silences. (beat) Like at the beginning, we started out awkward, not used to the sort of looks we would give each other, not used to the touches that brushed a little softer. Or the touches that brushed a little harder. There was an awkward silence. But later we grew comfortable with those touches, they'd be there and we'd like them, but the silence that followed was different, too. Right? Comfortable. We'd sit and look at each other not needing to say anything because it was like saying everything. And then the silence was— what? The silence that came out of something missing, was it? I wasn't looking at you to look at you, I was looking at you for answers, for signs. Thinking that maybe in the quiet some form of your thinking would creep out by the way you shifted in your chair, the way you'd roll up your sleeves. And I listened so hard in those silences. I listened so hard that I think I began making up stuff to hear, anything. Anything would maybe be better than nothing. But I listen to you now, coming up to me with a tray of tea, trying to make more of an effort to talk to me than you ever have in the past couple months. Now you honestly care about my reading pleasure in the morning? And I kept thinking anything, anything is better than nothing. But

You bring me tea
as though
everything were perfect


And now all I really want is that empty silence, the nothing. That would take the edge off the morning.

(D gets up, moves down to the "kitchen area" and pours her untouched tea into the sink. J follows.)

J: Oh, right. I see. You just want me to cower to you now, right? Give you the quiet of a scolded puppy, right? I said I was sorry. I explained everything to you as best as I could, but you'd rather enjoy the opportunity to have the upper hand than to try and work it out. I've tried to make this better, I've tried to move it out of the hole that I brought us in to . . . no, no. I am not the only part of this. Yes, I screwed up. Yes I broke the rules. But you were there, too. You were in the same room with me, when those silences were going on and I cannot take the full blame here, because somewhere in there, you were silent, too. You were shifting in your chair, rolling up your sleeves! And I'm trying, to get out of there, damn it, I am trying to get us out of there.

D: You're right. Maybe if I wrote you more love letters and stuck them in your jacket? Yes, absolutely right. Absolutely. Yes! Right! Thank you so much for the effort to "get us out of there," really, you're great—but I already am out of there and I don't think I'm going to be able to wait for you.

(D is downstage in a warm amber light, J in the shadows around the table lit with a little bit of the light that pools over Debra and washes into the other areas. Light shift to stark white light on Debra, stark white on John at the table.)

D: During our argument
J: a pink rose
Both: Tightens its petals.

(The white light is slowly joined with the amber and fades out.)

J: (rising, standing next to the table) I'm glad you're out, Debra. I'm glad you found a way to pull yourself out. But I . . .

D: You pushed me out, John, it was fairly easy.

J: I think I'm going to be in it quite a while and I'm not sure if I— I am glad you— you should be out. And I'm tired, Debra. I'm tired of working so hard for a look from you that doesn't say "fuck you." And I guess it has taken is course and it's at where I both hoped and feared it would be.

D: Discussing divorce
he strokes the
lace tablecloth.

(Blackout. The stage has been cleared of everything. We are now watching Debra at her kitchen sink, center stage,  four months later. Her movements are methodic, then quickening. There are no props other that the ones in Debra's hand, the potato and the knife. We watch as she is slicing the potatoes, each becoming smaller, losing its uniform shape. During this, downstage from Debra, John stands, leaning with his back against the wall. Debra does not see him there, simply because he is not. Watching with estrangement that is not only derived from the scenes prior but also from the differing intensities of light between the glow on him and the beams on Debra, he speaks:)

J: Trying to forget him
the potatoes.

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