Bankrupt: a one-act play

by | Sep 23, 2020 | Plays, Relationships, Women | 4 comments

One of these days I’m going to publish a collection of five or six of my one-act plays. This one, titled Bankrupt, was produced, along with five other short plays, in 2019 by Off the Page, an accomplished and popular local readers theater group. For this production, Redwood Writers, the Sonoma County branch of the California Writers Club, ran a contest, and six plays were selected for the production.

Bankrupt
By Laura McHale Holland

Characters:

Crespie: A middle-aged woman, somewhat reserved but nervous.

June: Crespie’s sister, older by four years, and worried about Crespie.

Marjorie: June and Crespie’s mother, recently widowed.

Setting:

Crespie’s condominium in a midsize metropolitan area.

(AT RISE: In her living room, Crespie rights a chair that was knocked over, picks up scattered papers from the floor, puts them on the table, and paces as she continues straightening up. There’s a knock at the door. Crespie opens it. June rushes in.)

JUNE 

Crespie! I came as soon as I could. What happened? You sounded so upset.

CRESPIE 

Didn’t you get my texts? I told you not to come.

JUNE 

I don’t text and drive. Some folks do that and end up killing people, you know.

CRESPIE 

Killing people? Why did you say that? Why did you go and say something like that?

JUNE

Remember that college boy? It was all over the news a few months back. He took his eyes off the road to look at a text, mind you, and bam! He ploughs right into a dad crossing the street with his two little kids. Twins, I heard, fraternal.

CRESPIE

Can we talk about something else?

JUNE

Imagine what that family is going through now: one little boy dead; the dad in physical therapy, probably for the rest of his life; and the remaining twin—

CRESPIE

Stop. Please. I get it, okay?

JUNE

Then there’s that poor driver whose life is basically ruined. He was something of a scholar, I heard, active in student government, some kind of athlete, too, a gymnast, I think. 

CRESPIE

A triathlete.

JUNE

Everyone’s calling him a murderer now.

CRESPIE

Enough! Let me get you a drink or something, since you’re here even though I don’t need you.

JUNE

Why did you want me to come over, hon?

(June sits down at the table.) 

CRESPIE

I’ve got Pellegrino. Want some of that?

JUNE

Sure, Pellegrino’s good. … You sounded desperate, like you were losing it—big time. And your place is kind of a mess. Something’s definitely up.

CRESPIE

You’re exaggerating, like always.

(Crespie brings a drink for JUNE, puts it on the table.)

JUNE

(June takes a sip.)

You said, and I remember this word for word: “June, come quick! I’ve really done it now. It’s bad, really bad, and I’m … I’m … I don’t know what to do.” And then you wailed like a baby.

CRESPIE

I did not.

JUNE

Do you want me to play it back for you?

CRESPIE

You should have just pulled over and read my texts.

JUNE

Oh, yeah, pull over and stop, right after receiving a distress call from my baby sister. Like I’d ever do that. What happened anyway? You’re jumpy as a gerbil.

CRESPIE

Must have been a panic attack.

JUNE

Since when do you have panic attacks? I’ll tell you. It’s since—never. We talk every day. I would know. … You’re keeping something from me.

(June gets up, paces, sees something under the table and points.)

What’s that?

CRESPIE

What? You’re showing me out how messy my place is? You think I don’t know?

JUNE

Under the table there. What is that?

CRESPIE

(Crespie leans down, picks up the purse, clutches it to her chest.)

Uh, just a purse I dropped. No big deal.

JUNE

That’s Mom’s purse. Give it to me!

(June tries to get the purse out of Crespie’s hands. Crespie moves away from JUNE, who follows, still trying to get the purse.)

CRESPIE

Why are you always in my business? I’ve always liked her purse, so I got one of my own.

JUNE

You’d never want a clunky old bag like that.

CRESPIE

You don’t know everything —

(Crespie stumbles. June lunges, gets the bag and runs to the table. Crespie follows.)

Give that back!

JUNE

(June pulls a well-worn wallet from the purse.)

I suppose you’re going to say this is your wallet, too?

(She opens the wallet, flips to the driver’s license and holds it up.)

And I suppose your name is Marjorie Peak?

CRESPIE

I can explain.

JUNE

Where’s Mom?

CRESPIE

I … um … I …

JUNE

Crespie … 

CRESPIE

She’s dead.

JUNE

What?

CRESPIE

I killed her.

JUNE

No!

CRESPIE

I, I didn’t mean to, but she came over wavin’ that will she had drawn up, big as you please, all in my face. She said now that Dad’s gone and we’ve had a respectful time of mourning, she’s made a will so things will easy on us when she dies.

JUNE

At least she’s trying. Dad left a humongous mess because he didn’t have one.

CRESPIE

She’s leaving everything, everything to you—even the worthless birdhouse in the backyard, which she knows I love. 

JUNE

That makes no sense, but then, when has Mom ever made sense?

CRESPIE

I shouldn’t have let her get to me. After all, she’s hated me for more than half my life.

JUNE

It’s only been six months since the funeral. She’s still out of her mind with grief. 

CRESPIE

Well, she’s dead now. Kaput.

JUNE

Come on. That’s really far fetched.

CRESPIE

Like I said, she was waving that new will in my face, calling me all these names. Then she slapped me, and I snapped. I slammed into her. We tussled. She punched. I punched. We knocked some things over. She slugged me hard. I clobbered her good, and then she fell down, and … she didn’t get up. I tried slapping her face; that didn’t work. I threw cold water on her; that didn’t help. I took her pulse, and there was nothing there. Nothing. So I called you, but you didn’t pick up. So I dragged her into the bedroom and got her onto the bed. Then I texted you not to come because this is on me. You shouldn’t be involved. I’m a murderer.

JUNE

I’d hardly call it murder. It wasn’t intentional. We’ve both wished her dead in our worst moments, but that’s not evidence of intent to kill. Oh, my, though, what a turn of events. We’ll have to call 911. I’d better go in there. They’ll ask questions about her condition.

(A thud comes from the bedroom, followed by a moan. Both women rush toward the bedroom door, but June stops Crespie.)

JUNE

Um, I think you’d better stay here; she might come out swinging.

(June exits. Crespie straightens up around the room. June returns with Marjorie, who is dazed, limping and leaning against June, who helps her settle into a chair.)

MARJORIE

Why was I in there, on the floor no less?

JUNE

You had a little fall and passed out. That’s all. Crespie put you on her bed for a rest, and you must have rolled off.

MARJORIE

I was heading here after seeing Dave Mortens. I remember that much. He’s been so helpful with all this legal stuff after your father’s passing—without leaving a will or anything.

JUNE

He wasn’t expecting to die so soon.

MARJORIE

I’m not going to do that to you girls. You won’t have a big mess when I kick the bucket.

CRESPIE

I won’t have anything to sort out, will I, Mom. You’ve seen to that.

MARJORIE

So I gave you the news already. Well, you’ll get exactly what you deserve.

JUNE

Why would you cut Crespie out of your will?

CRESPIE

June always was your favorite.

MARJORIE

After the way you twisted your father around your sick little finger—

CRESPIE

At least I had one parent who loved me. That’s more than some people can say.

JUNE

So maybe Dad favored you, and Mom favors me a little. That’s not unusual.

CRESPIE

She cut me out of her will. That’s more than favoring you a little.

MARJORIE

You have no right to complain, you—why I can’t even believe you’re my daughter.

JUNE

Whoa! What on earth got into you?

MARJORIE

She knows. She knows what she did.

CRESPIE

No, I don’t have a clue. Enlighten me, please.

MARJORIE

I won’t talk about it. I don’t have to. It’s disgusting.

CRESPIE

You cut me out of your will. I deserve to know why.

MARJORIE

Don’t play innocent with me. I have evidence.

CRESPIE

Sure you do.

MARJORIE

I’ll prove it now.

(Marjorie grabs her purse, digs through it and pulls out a small bundle of letters. She pulls one out, unfolds it and begins to read).

“Dearest Dove, I can think only of you these days, darling, your sweet lips, your—”

CRESPIE

Wait, where did you get those? You—

MARJORIE

Don’t you interrupt me. Don’t you dare. … Now, where was I? Oh yes, “your lovely hips, your hair falling so softly to your shoulder, the way you tilt your head, touch my skin, the way I feel inside of you. Till tomorrow at our special spot. Love always, Pops.”

JUNE

This is getting real creepy.

CRESPIE

Believe me, June. It’s not—

MARJORIE

Go ahead; deny it. Deny that you had an affair with your own father … right under my nose. Deny it till Winnebagos fly. You’ll never convince me.

CRESPIE

You had no business stealing them. My precious love letters. … But now the way you treated me is starting to make sense.

MARJORIE

I’m glad I took them, glad I found out the truth.

CRESPIE

This is unbelievable! Outrageous! I never seduced Dad. That’s totally off base. He never seduced me either. … But you know … when that sort of thing does happen … it’s not the daughter’s fault. It’s never the daughter’s fault.

MARJORIE

Your father was hoodwinked, tricked, bamboozled.

JUNE

Wait a minute here, Crespie has a point—

CRESPIE

And you, dear Mother of the Year, you believed incest was going on right under your nose, that I was being violated … and you did nothing!

MARJORIE

You were old enough to know better.

CRESPIE

You thought the worst of me—and Dad.

MARJORIE

You ruined my life. You traitor!

(Marjorie stands and rushes toward Crespie, fist up. June stops her.)

JUNE

Let’s calm down and talk about this like civilized people. I mean, this is a whole lot to digest.

CRESPIE

(Crespie snatches the letter from her mother’s hand and grabs the rest of the stack.) 

I should have known you had these. I thought I’d misplaced them when you shipped me off to that prison masquerading as a boarding school. One day I was planning my senior year in high school; the next day I was gone— 

JUNE

Hold on a sec here. You mean you didn’t run away that summer?

CRESPIE

I did run away, but not then. It was after that awful school year. Nobody visited. I got no phone calls, no letters. I wasn’t allowed to go home on holidays. I was so lonesome. It was torture. But in the end, the cretins who ran the place said I was ready to rejoin society. But—

MARJORIE

Poor, pitiful you. Sob, sob, sob—

JUNE

I want to hear what she has to say, Mom.

CRESPIE

(Crespie points to Marjorie.)

She played nice with the administrators when she came to pick me up, said she’d throw me a big graduation party when we got home, but as soon as we reached the highway, she turned the car in the wrong direction. I said, ‘Hey, you’re going the wrong way.’ That’s when she said I was headed for a mental institution. I wasn’t going to be eighteen till August, so I had no say. 

MARJORIE

I was doing it for your own good, for the good of us all. An oversexed girl can’t be cured in a mere nine months.

JUNE

So you sent her to some god-awful school, and then you had her institutionalized?

CRESPIE

No, I asked her to pull over at a rest stop so I could pee, and I slipped into the woods. I peeked out from behind a tree trunk, just like in the movies, and watched to see what she would do. She waited a little while, then checked the ladies room, saw that I wasn’t there and drove right off.

JUNE

Oh, Crespie. I’m sorry. She said you didn’t want to see any of us, and I believed her. How did you survive?

CRESPIE

I managed until I had baby Donnie. Things got desperate, so we came to Mom and Dad’s. Thank goodness Dad answered the door. His eyes lit up at the sight of me, and Donnie just melted his heart. He wasn’t so fond of Jason. Somehow he knew the marriage wouldn’t last.

MARJORIE

You found a way to hook him again, you conniving witch. You knew I couldn’t keep his grandchild from him, so I had to let you back into our lives. … But I ran a tight ship. I was tougher than Wonder Woman. You never spent a moment alone with your dad. I saw to that.

CRESPIE

If only you’d shown me the letters. You would have known the truth, and I would have had them to help me remember how loved I once was. You took that from me.

MARJORIE

Have you no shame?

CRESPIE

When did I ever call Dad anything but Dad? When did he ever call me Dove?

MARJORIE

Those were your pet names, secret lover names.

CRESPIE

And the handwriting, does it look like Dad’s?

MARJORIE

He disguised it, of course.

JUNE

If anything happened, you know, it was Dad’s fault, not Crespie’s.

CRESPIE

Something did happen, but not with Dad. It was just before my senior year. Pete and I fell deeply in love. We saw each other every day and wrote love notes all the time. He’d leave mine under the begonia pot out front. That’s why the notes are all a little smudged. I’d check the pot before going to bed and read his words over and over before I fell asleep. … He’d just graduated. I had another year to go. I don’t know why he decided to enlist when he had a four-year scholarship, but that was Pete for you. He left to serve our country, and I never saw him again. He was killed in some fluke accident, never even left U.S. soil.  

MARJORIE

Don’t try to distract us with that old sob story. Pete didn’t sign these letters. Pops did.

CRESPIE

It was summertime. Pete loved Popsicles; I loved Dove bars. So we nicknamed each other Pops and Dove. That’s where those names came from.

MARJORIE

I don’t believe a word of it.

If you’d had the courage to confront Dad, you’d have learned the truth long ago. Instead you let your sick thoughts fester and poison you—and us.

MARJORIE

What a load of horseshit, but you’re good at thinking on your feet. I’ll give you that. 

JUNE

I believe Crespie.

MARJORIE

How dare you take her side!

(Marjorie grabs the letters, stands and starts ripping them. Crespie and June rush over.)

CRESPIE

No, Mom, no!

(Crespie and June grab hold of Marjorie. The letters fall to the floor. Marjorie breaks free, straightens her clothes, puts on her coat and picks up her purse)

MARJORIE

You girls should never, ever gang up on me like this. I’ve had it. You’re dead to me.

(She walks out the door. Crespie picks up the letters)

CRESPIE

It’s just like her to leave at a time like this.

JUNE

She’ll come around.

CRESPIE

I bet she’ll cut us both out of her will now.

JUNE

It doesn’t matter. Dave Mortens hasn’t had the heart to tell her yet, but she’s bankrupt.

THE END

I’d love to know how this short play affected you. Leave me a comment, ‘K?

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4 Comments

  1. Sara Etgen-Baker

    loved the surprise ending! :-)

  2. Laura

    Thank you, Sara. It was so fun when that popped into my mind, and I knew it was just the right way to end the play.

  3. MARY KNIGHT

    Oh that was satisfying, and fun I am truly feeling rejuvenated at 5 a.m. today. Thank you Author! Great building and suspense. I wasn’t sure if they were going to have another tussle in which Marjorie gets killed for real this time. Dove and Pops!!

  4. Laura

    I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Mary. It takes imagination to be able to visualize a play unfolding when you have only text to read. And you have imagination in spades. Until the ending occurred to me as I was writing, I didn’t know how it would end. Some writers do know the end beforehand. I usually don’t. I just have a strong sense of what the characters’ desires and conflicts are.

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