Greener Pastures

Greener Pastures

a one act play

by

John Burnham

 

Characters:

Jed Carson, late 40s, a successful businessman

Angus Carson, mid 70s, Jed’s father

Courtney Carson, late 20s, Jed’s daughter

 

Setting:

The den of Jed Carson’s home. It is furnished to give Jed an aura of power and to intimidate visitors. This is where Jed holds audience with family members and business contacts.

 

Props and Set:

Large desk, CSL, credenza behind the desk, coffee table in front of the desk.

Large chair behind the desk, less comfortable chair CSR facing the desk.

 

Synopsis:

Jed Carson is the dictatorial patriarch of his family. He has three daughters. The older two are married to men who are junior partners in his business. For all practical purposes, these men have become his sons. They ruefully refer to themselves as “The Carson Kids.” Jed’s youngest daughter, Courtney, has become interested in a man named Mike who has no desire to become one of “The Carson Kids.”

Jed’s father, Angus, has been acting out of character since retiring, but nobody pays much attention until he tries to talk Jed out of manipulating Courtney and Mike.

 

Costumes:

Jed wears expensive western-cut clothes in scenes 1, 2, & 3.

Angus wears dirty cowboy boots, clean jeans, pressed western-style shirt, and a well-worn Stetson hat in scene 2.

Courtney wears cowboy boots, jeans, and western shirts in scenes 1 & 3.

 


ACT 1

Scene 1

LIGHTS UP on main stage

JED CARSON is seated behind a large desk CSL. He studies papers.

COURTNEY CARSON enters SR.

COURTNEY:  Daddy?

JED:  Hi sweetheart! Come in, come in.

Courtney approaches the chair across from Jed.

COURTNEY: How’s Grandpa?

JED:  You must’ve  driven all night to get back from the show.

Courtney seats herself..

COURTNEY:  Yeah, I started back as soon as I heard. How is he? What’s his prognosis?

JED:  Hey, the old fart’s ok. He had some pain in the arse, the doctor slapped him in the hospital, took some tests, we should get the results in a day or two.

Jed looks away from Courtney and grins.

COURTNEY: (puzzled) Is something funny?

JED: He’s always enjoyed being a severe pain in the butt. Now, he’s hospitalized with one. Is that poetic justice or what?

Courtney: (trying to hide disapproval) Umm…Daddy…you and Grandpa weren’t very close were you?

JED:  I’ve got no feelings for the man.

COURTNEY: Do you ever wonder why?

Jed, unaccustomed to talking with Courtney about anything other than what she wants, is taken aback and surprised into making an unguarded reply.

JED:  Yeah, I’ve wondered about it down through the years…haven’t spent much time thinking about it…nags me once in a while. I should be grateful to the man who saved me from myself, but somehow, I’m not…

COURTNEY:  Saved you from yourself?

JED:  (pensively) Yeah, in High School, I had this nut-ball idea about being a baseball player. He wouldn’t hear of it…wouldn’t talk to me about anything other than joining him in the business. It was a good thing he did…only thing that made sense…my chances of making it as a baseball player were no better than a thousand-to-one. Becoming his partner was a sure road to good bucks.

COURTNEY:  But, he marginalized what was important to you. How did that make you feel?

JED:  I was pushed out of shape at first, but I got over it. Eventually, I realized he was doing what was best for me.

Jed realizes he’s lost control of the conversation and resumes his “In command” demeanor.

JED:  But, look, enough about the octogenarian unit. I’ll bet my little girl has other things on her mind.

COURTNEY:  Yes, Daddy, I do.

JED:  And what might they be?

COURTNEY:  Well, I guess the idea that I’m pushing thirty and still your “Little Girl.”

JED:  Hey, Princess, that’s just a term of endearment. I’ll quit using it if it bugs you.

COURTNEY:  No, Daddy, it’s more than that. It’s a statement of fact. All I am is Jed Carson’s little girl.

JED:  Wait a minute! You’re recognized as a serious competitor at horse shows.  Courtney Carson is known as a breeder and trainer of fine horses. I don’t think any of the horsey set would know who Jed Carson is.

COURTNEY:  Actually, I don’t think any of them are naïve enough to think that my horse business is self-supporting.

JED:  This is a surprise. It’s the first time in fifteen years that I’ve heard you mention the financial realities of your hobby. Why the sudden enlightenment?

COURTNEY:  Mike and I have been talking.

JED:  Aha! I thought we’d eventually get to this. I’m interested in hearing how the great intellectual Dr. Garner proposes to support your horsey business.

COURTNEY:  We haven’t talked about that. The issue of your wanting him to become one of the Carson kids has to be resolved first.

JED:  “Carson kids?” It’s damned sneaky of Dr. know-it-all to invent an inflammatory phrase like that.

COURTNEY:  Daddy, Mike didn’t invent it; my sisters did — to describe what their husbands have become.

JED:  What the hell?

COURTNEY:  I’ve heard them use it since I don’t know when, but I never thought much about what it meant. I guess I was too absorbed with my horses. I have to confess that I didn’t really know my sister’s families until Mike insisted we spend time with them.

JED:  I’ll have to give the blighter credit for playing golf with me, bridge with Mom, joining with your sister’s families for do-it-yourself projects and little league. I had high hopes that he’d fit right in.

COURTNEY:  That’s just it, Daddy, when Dennis and Ray married into our family, they fit in so well that they lost their own identities. Instead of two new families being established, my sisters remained your children and their spouses became your children.

JED:  I thought getting my sons full grown was a helluva deal.

COURTNEY:  It has worked out well for you, but what about them?

JED:  They didn’t have any trouble accepting generous salaries, acreages in what amounts to an exclusive community, houses that require domestic help to maintain, new cars every year, and freedom from concern about the education of their children.

COURTNEY:  They do enjoy an enviable lifestyle, but is it what they want? Are they happy, fulfilled?

JED:  Suddenly, you seem to be full of insight. You tell me.

COURTNEY:  As near as I can tell, Dennis and Ray aren’t happy. For that matter, neither are Carol and Connie. They feel trapped in a situation not of their own making. They feel powerless, impotent.

JED:  Dammit! Den and Ray joined me in the business of their own free will. It was their decision.

COURTNEY:  In each case, it was your price for my sister’s hand.

JED:  Now, thatsa crocka shit! Where do you get off, implying something like that?

COURTNEY:  Daddy, do you remember Beau?

JED:  Beau who?

COURTNEY:  Beau, the football player, from my senior year.

JED:  Oh yeah, that goofy kid who thought he wanted to be an actor. Now I remember tryin’ to talk some sense into him…don’t think it ever took.

COURTNEY:  Do you remember how our relationship ended?

JED:  You dumped him.

COURTNEY:  Only after you suggested that, if I stuck around after graduation, you’d get me a brand-new dually pickup and trailer to haul my horses to shows.

JED:  I don’t see the connection.

Courtney and Jed stare at one another for several beats.

COURTNEY:  (angry, rising from her chair) I’m not surprised.

LIGHTS DOWN


ACT 1

Scene  2

Setting: the den of Jed Carson’s home.

LIGHTS UP on main stage

Jed is seated at his desk, studying the screen of his laptop.

ANGUS CARSON, Jed’s father, enters from SR.

His general manner is that of the local despot.

Jed looks up.

JED:  (sarcastically) Oh, good morning. I didn’t realize it was time for our semi-annual chat.

Angus, acting like he owns the place, seats himself across from Jed, carelessly props a booted foot on the coffee table and places his hat on the toe of the boot.

ANGUS:  It isn’t. I’m not here to talk about the business. I’ve got more important things on my mind.

JED (derisively)  And here I’ve spent my whole life thinking that the business was your first love. Silly me.

Angus breaks eye contact with Jed, swallows, and looks at his hat.

ANGUS:  I suppose you’ve come by that opinion honestly. I never gave you reason to think otherwise.

Jed registers surprise — he’s never heard anything approaching humility from his dad. Angus raises his head. The two men study one another.

JED:  Yeah, yeah. Ok, now that we’ve had some pleasantries, can we get on with it?

ANGUS:  I’m here to talk about the situation with Courtney.

JED:  Courtney? What about Courtney?

ANGUS:  I hear she’s serious about young Mike Garner.

JED:  Yeah — dammit.

ANGUS  (with a softness that doesn’t come easily) Why “dammit?”

JED:  Well, I offered that young idiot the same deal I gave the guys her sisters married: A place in the business, a chance to have their own part of the action, and a parcel of this land with a house of their own design on it. Can you believe the schmuck turned me down?

ANGUS:  That’s what I heard. What do you plan to do about it?

JED:  Courtney’s horse breeding program never has been self-supporting. Our underwriting of it amounts to more than Mike’s annual salary. If she marries him, we’ll have to sell the nags — liquidate the whole deal.

ANGUS:  It’s been a nice little write-off for us.

JED:  It’s the husband’s responsibility to finance his wife’s endeavors. That’s your line. I didn’t coin it. You made it damn clear, years ago, that men should make their decisions based on what would best provide for their families. If Mike could see that, and accept my offer, Courtney’s horse thing could carry on as it is now. Since he refuses to think like a responsible man, I’m washin’ my hands of the whole thing.

ANGUS:  I think I’ve seen this little performance before.

JED:  Seen what? Where before? Whaddya mean?

ANGUS:  It was Courtney’s senior year. She was sweet on that football player…Bob…or…Buster…

Angus looks confused, like he’s trying to remember.

JED:  Beau, his name was Beau.

Angus’ expression turns sly,  gives Jed the “gotcha” look.

ANGUS:  And, how did that end?

JED:  She dumped him.

ANGUS:  Before or after you offered to buy her a new dually pickup and trailer to haul her horses to shows?

JED:  What does it matter? What’s it got to do with…

ANGUS:  Don’t you see? It’s the same scenario. The script for Courtney/Mike differs in detail from Courtney/Beau, but it’s the same story.

JED:  Look, if you’re tryin’ to say something, out with it!

ANGUS:  Ok. When there was a chance of Courtney going off with Beau, you got her to stay under your roof by offering her a new vehicle for her horse business. Now, you are trying to get her to dump Mike by threatening to withdraw support for her horsey thing.

JED (enraged)  What the hell…I resent…where do you get the right to say a thing like that?

ANGUS:  From admitting that I did the same thing to you. I apologize and ask your forgiveness.

Jed’s anger turns into shocked incredulity.

JED:  Forgive? For what? You’re not makin’ a lick of sense.

ANGUS:  No, I don’t guess I am. Lack of experience, I guess. I’ve never tried eatin’ crow before. Damn black feathers get in the way of what I’m tryin’ to say.

Angus grins at Jed.

Jed slowly drops his guard and smiles back.

ANGUS:  Do you remember wantin’ to be a baseball player?

JED:  It was just a youthful fantasy.

ANGUS:  But it was your dream. You were damn good at bat and second base.

JED:  Yeah, but the chances of my actually getting anywhere weren’t much better than nil. You saved me from myself by insisting that I join you in the business. It was the only option that made sense.

ANGUS:  To be honest, I did it more out of fear of losing you than thinking it was the best thing for you.

Jed waves his hand dismissively

JED:  In any case, it turned out all right.

ANGUS:  Did it? I don’t think so. Yes, we had a successful business partnership. Yes, we provided well for our families. Yes, I’m enjoying a carefree retirement. But, what do you and I have?

JED:  Us?…have?…I don’t get it.

ANGUS:  Bingo! That demonstrates what I’m talking about. You and I, as father and son, we have nothing!

JED:  Well now, I wouldn’t say…

ANGUS:  You don’t have to. It’s a fact. Be honest. You don’t actually give a damn about me as a person, do you?

JED:  Well…ah…

ANGUS:  And, I can’t blame you. I didn’t give a damn about what was important to you. So, you responded in kind. Have you ever wondered why you don’t care about me?

JED:  I dunno. From time to time, I guess. Never gave it much thought.

Jed becomes pensive for a few minutes and then acts like he’s waking up.

JED:  But, what the hell? What’s going on here? What’s happened to you?

ANGUS:  Retirement does strange things. Waking up in the morning with nothing you have to do causes, your mind to wander onto the questions like “Is this all there is to it?”

JED:  All there is to what?

ANGUS:  To the “gets” of this life we’ve lived. Get an education. Get the money coming in. Get the kids raised. Get the grey hair. Get the condo.

JED:  I don’t remember you talking about much else.

ANGUS:  That’s precisely the point! That’s all I was concerned with. Now, the only “get” left for me is to Get Out. I’ve got everything a man could want except the one thing it takes to make the golden years truly golden — the friendship of my son.

Jed looks away as he tries to control his emotions.

JED  (his voice weaker than it has been) But, you have a good relationship with your granddaughters and great-grandkids.

ANGUS:  Negatory! My misdeeds are turnin’ that to shit.

JED (defensively) You’re seeing things that aren’t there.

ANGUS:  Am I? The other day, one of your grandchildren said to me “Grandpa Angus, what does my daddy mean when he gets sad and says he’s a ‘Carson Kid?’ Is that something bad?” I didn’t know how to answer him because I didn’t know what he was talking about, but it started me listening to what the big ears of those little pitchers have been hearing. It seems that Dennis and Carol as well as Ray and Connie refer to themselves, in private, as the Carson kids to express their feelings of impotence.

JED:  Impotence?

ANGUS:  Yes, both men feel as though they have become children in your family instead of heads of their own. Both families feel as though they have no control of their own destiny.

JED:  That’s horseshit!

ANGUS:  Is it? Think about holidays: Christmas, Easter, Birthdays, and so forth. Where are the get-togethers?

JED:  Here, of course.

ANGUS:  But there are two other sets of grandparents. Why don’t they ever get visited for holidays?

JED:  My in-laws are always more than welcome to join us. We’ve got the room, the facilities, and the accommodations to take care of everybody. It just makes better sense to gather here.

ANGUS:  Isn’t it interesting how often the option that makes the best sense just happens to coincide with what you and I want?

JED:  Well…er…but, what the hell! They’re free to visit the other grandparents if they wish.

ANGUS:  Are they?

JED:  Damn right. I’d never stand in their way.

ANGUS:  No? Think it through. Before I retired, while I was still active in the business, when I still held the reins, how many of your decisions were influenced by a desire to placate me?

JED:  (mind racing as he talks)  Well, none…er…a few…ah…sometimes, I guess.

ANGUS:  Now, put on Dennis or Ray’s shoes. You’re his employer. You own the land surrounding his home. If he displeases you, there are a million ways you can retaliate. Is he going to take his family to see his parents when you’ve said that their coming here is the only thing that makes sense?

JED:  God, I never thought…

ANGUS:  Sure you didn’t. You learned the art of ignoring the power you have over other people from me.

Jed smiles at Angus.

JED:  I guess this apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.

ANGUS:  No it didn’t. And this old tree made some damn serious mistakes. The apple is repeating them. I’m pleading with you to break that cycle.

Jed:  Cycle?

ANGUS:  Yeah, I’m the way I am because that’s what my dad taught me to be. I passed it on to you. Unfortunately, a lot of it was pure insanity.

JED:  That’s a strong word.

ANGUS:  It’s the only one that fits. We were taught to grasp the people we love, but that’s wrong. The only way to keep the ones we love is to set them free. If they return, they are ours forever. If they don’t, they weren’t ours in the first place. I manipulated you to stay close. In doing so, I lost you.

JED:  Dad, that’s heavy…

Angus shifts in his chair, pulls a hankie from his back pocket, and wipes at the corner of his eye.

ANGUS:  It’s been some time since I realized these things, but it took my recent audience with the grim reaper to spur me into doing something about it.

Jed looks at Angus in shock

JED:  “Grim Reaper?”…whaaat?…oh, m’ god! Your prognosis…I haven’t even asked about that…

Angus waves a hand dismissively

ANGUS:  ‘S alright. The initial diagnosis of prostrate cancer has been confirmed. It’s metastasized. There isn’t anything that can be done — probably terminal.

JED:  (blabbers)  I’ll…I, ah mean, we’ll…whatever it takes…we’ll get you the best…

ANGUS:  No you won’t. I’m going to enjoy whatever time I have left without being poked, radiated or injected with some damn hoo-jar. End of discussion on that matter.

Jed sits back in his chair looking like he’s been hit in the face with a wet mop.

JED:  Whew! D…Dad…I…I…know that it’s your decision, but there must be something we can do…

ANGUS:  Son?

Jed’s head snaps around to look at Angus.

The men look at one another for a beat.

They both begin to smile

ANGUS:  What you can “do” is give a little thought to what I’m sayin’. We need to break these insane cycles. Young Mike is wise enough to see that becoming a Carson kid would violate what he is and eventually destroy what he and Courtney have. Set ’em free. I’m sure they’ll come back. Then, you’ll have them to make your final years golden.

JED:  (shaking his head) I…I…just…

ANGUS:  Donno what to say? You don’t have to say anything.

Angus picks his hat off the toe of his boot.

Angus:  I guess you think I’ve been talking like someone from a different planet.

Angus stands, puts his hat on.

And, I guess you’re right. But you know what? The grass is greener over here.

 


ACT I

Scene 3

Setting: The den of Jed Carson’s  home.

Jed is seated behind his desk CSL. His clothes are rumpled and his hair is carelessly combed. He reads the paper.

Courtney, enters from SR.

COURTNEY:  Daddy?

JED:  Hi princess. Pull up a stump.

Courtney tentatively approaches the chair across from Jed.

COURTNEY:  Can we talk?

Courtney studies Jed, looks puzzled

COURTNEY:  You look kinda awful. You feelin’ alright?

JED:  About as right as a guy can feel after living through a scene from “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

COURTNEY:  What? Invasion of the who?

JED:  The Body Snatchers. It’s an old sci-fi movie about aliens who take over people’s bodies. Your Grandpa walked in here last night, acting and talking like somebody I’ve never met. I didn’t get much sleep after he left.

COURTNEY:  Grandma says that he’s been acting strangely of late — spends a lot of time just sitting and thinking — or reading New-Age stuff. Actually, she says that he’s getting easier to live with. Uh, if you don’t feel like talking…

JED:  Hey, I always feel like talking to my little girl. What’s on your mind, Princess?

Courtney seats herself. She doesn’t know how to start.

COURTNEY:  Umm…Daddy…Mike and I have reached a decision. I’m going to marry him and He’s not going to reconsider joining you in the business.

Jed studies Courtney for a few beats

JED:  Can you see yourself living in a clapboard bungalow on the edge of some campus, driving a six-year-old econo-box?

COURTNEY:  If that’s what life with Mike means, yes.

beat

Courtney drops her eyes to her lap

beat

COURTNEY: So, I guess we just as well start discussing dispersal of my equestrian operation.

beat

beat

JED:  Uh, that won’t be necessary Princess. Those hay-burners can continue to eat on my dime while you kids get sorted out. It may take two, three, five years for you to decide if there is a place for them in your life with Mike. Don’t rush it — they’re a nice little write-off — just be sure that whatever you decide is what you really want to do.

COURTNEY:  Why daddy, thank you…but I don’t understand…you said…Mike and I decided we can’t accept…

JED:  Princess, you have my unconditional blessing to marry Mike.

COURTNEY:  Er…what’s changed?

JED:  Me…I hope to god. There will be no pressure or coercion from me. Do what you want and live wherever that takes you.

COURTNEY:  Oh Daddy, that’s wonderful! But…but…how, why?

JED:  The conversation with Dad last night was a surreal experience, but he was making more sense than anything I’ve ever heard.

COURTNEY:  I’ve never heard you call him “Dad” before.

JED:  It’s been a long time, but it just came out as we talked. It brought a tear to the corner of his eye.

COURTNEY:  Wow, that must have been some confab. Can you give me the gist?

JED:  Not really. Right now, it’s all a jumble of thoughts. At this point, there is only one thing that’s clear to me. I have to honor what could be the last thing he’ll ever ask me to do

COURTNEY:  What’s that?

JED:  To set you…and Mike…free.

COURTNEY:  And, you can’t tell me why?

JED:  Nah, it has something to do with breaking an insane cycle. Right now, I can’t explain it to myself. We’ll talk when I get it sorted out.

COURTNEY: (Jumps up, excited) Oh, Daddy, thank you…this is so wonderful… I’m so happy…I don’t know what…what…

JED:  To say? You don’t have to say anything. Just enjoy it. But, you know what? The grass is greener over here.

Courtney looks at Jed with a puzzled expression

LIGHTS DOWN

 

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