Past is the Present, Imperfect

.. in a perfect suburbia, Joan & Leonard get ready to enjoy their first Christmas holiday as a couple – but then, Leonard’s mother, Daisy, shows up. With suitcases..
-and a hankering to deal with anything but the truth of why she’s arrived..  In this home, Happy Family, suddenly comes with a whole new origin!

This is a deceptively short play in Four Acts.


Author's Note: 

This was written in 1996, but speaks to my thoughts of American theatre at that moment, and writing for a market where I could create characters in an ‘unordinary’ corner- of family, choices, and memories..


Cast of Characters

JOAN     30’s

LEONARD   30’s

DAISY   50’s

CELIA   50’S

PARA MEDIC / MAN / JIM    30’s

ROBERT  30’s


The living room of JOAN and LEONARD. Comfortably suburban.
Left, is a dining area -table and four chairs -exit beyond that, is to the kitchen.
Entrance right, is to the bedrooms.
The front door is centre rear.

As the curtain rises. JOAN is in a chair, stringing Christmas cards together. She is humming along to Christmas carols which are playing over a radio.

LEONARD enters and turns the volume down.

JOAN: What are you doing..- You might as well paste hum-bug  to your forehead.


[he goes to the front door; he opens and closes it -testing its functioning.]

JOAN: -..what are you..-Oh you don’t have to do it now.

LEONARD: Still sticks.

JOAN: But-..Leonard..

LEONARD: Only a little scrape. Take a minute.

JOAN: You’re on holiday.

LEONARD: It needs to be planed.

JOAN: You don’t have to.

LEONARD: I don’t want my own house-

JOAN: The house is fine. From this evening, you’re not working -remember? Not tomorrow. Or-

LEONARD: Tomorrow.

JOAN: What?

LEONARD: Dennis’ patio. Have to check on the bricks.

JOAN: Bricks? It’s Christmas Eve.

LEONARD: Oh yeah, right. But -hey. Christmas Eve -self employed? Christmas Eve -self employed? No. No correlation I can find.

JOAN: Honey-

LEONARD: I don’t keep people happy -they don’t give me work. I don’t get work-

JOAN: Fine. Fine.

[LEONARD exits.
JOAN goes back to the cards.
LEONARD returns wearing his tool belt. He makes a noisy process of fixing the door -planing it down, and slamming it again and again to make sure he’s shaved off enough.]

LEONARD: -Close. -Close.

JOAN: Honey. You know, I have a little tradition.

LEONARD: -yeah-

JOAN: Hanging the cards around the doorways.


JOAN: Like this.

[she tries holding the strung cards round a frame.]

JOAN: What do you think?

LEONARD: Yeah fine.

JOAN: You think it’s ‘fine’, or ‘ok’?

LEONARD: Fine. -Nice. -What do you want me to say?

JOAN: What it is.

LEONARD: ‘What it is’?

JOAN: That’s bothering you. This nervous energy. -Business?


JOAN: What then?

LEONARD: [fidgeting the door]  Nothing.

JOAN: Will you please  stop with the door Leonard!

LEONARD: Well you’ve been at me about-

JOAN: -‘at’ you-

LEONARD: -the door for weeks.

JOAN: But today Leonard? The first evening of the holiday. The first day we’re together of the holiday. Today you need to remember I’ve mentioned that door sticks?

LEONARD: -‘mentioned’-

JOAN: Been  mentioning. All right?

LEONARD: Right. Fine. I won’t do anything. That what you want?

JOAN: What I want. Is, you. In one place for more than two seconds.

LEONARD: I can do that -two seconds. Time me. Go on.

JOAN: Oh don’t be silly.

LEONARD: I’m not silly. I run around building sites all day. I’m a very energetic boy.

JOAN: I know that. I just want to know if you can be a very quiet boy.

LEONARD: Yes Teacher. -Ready?

JOAN: Leonard. Why don’t you help me with the cards?

LEONARD: Two seconds. Starting -now.

[they watch each other for two seconds; LEONARD monkeys around with restraint.]

JOAN: That was wonderful honey. Can we do something with the cards now?

LEONARD: I’ll get the trash can. -Joking. Just joking. See? Humor. He’s funny and  he can sit still for two seconds.

[he tries the door again]

JOAN: Leonard.

LEONARD: Cards. Cards around the door.


Later the same evening.
Two bedrooms with a common wall.

DAISY’S is left; JOAN and LEONARD’S right.
Doors to both rooms open into a main hallway.

JOAN and LEONARD are in bed.

LEONARD: She out yet?

JOAN: What?

LEONARD: Bathroom.

JOAN: Don’t know. Look.

LEONARD: Naw. I’ll wait.

JOAN: -How will you know? -You just asked me if she was out. How will you know when she’s done?


DAISY: [offstage]  Yes?

LEONARD: You done?



JOAN: I could have done that.

DAISY: You need the bathroom?

LEONARD: No. I just wanted to know where you were. Yes.

DAISY: All right.

JOAN: Are we going to have this attitude around for the next few days?

LEONARD: What attitude?

JOAN: This testiness.

LEONARD: I’m not being testy.

JOAN: You are.


JOAN: I’m sorry you have a problem with my kindness.

LEONARD: Saint Joan.

DAISY: Finished.

JOAN: She’s your mother.

DAISY: Leonard?

LEONARD: When did you care? Yeah?

DAISY: Finished.


JOAN: Well maybe -for once I was trying to do the right-

DAISY: [at the door to her room]  Hello? You two ok in there?

JOAN: Yes. Yes. Everything’s fine.

DAISY: Good. Ok. Goodnight.

JOAN: Goodnight. -Maybe this time we ought to pay attention to her Leonard.

DAISY: Leonard?


DAISY: I thought you needed the bathroom?


DAISY: You sounded like it was an emergency.

LEONARD: I’m going.

DAISY: Well I wouldn’t have rushed if it wasn’t an emergency.

LEONARD: All right. All right.

DAISY: Not good holding it in like that anyway. Could damage something. You never know.

[LEONARD steps out into the hallway.]

LEONARD: Thanks.

DAISY: -You don’t wear pajamas?


DAISY: Pajamas. You don’t wear pajamas?

LEONARD: I’m wearing underwear.

DAISY: I can see that.

LEONARD: ‘Scuse me. [passes her -goes offstage]

DAISY: Doesn’t he get cold feet like that?




Morning. -The end of Joan and Leonard’s driveway.

CELIA, in a dark raincoat and floppy hat, is using binoculars to observe JOAN and LEONARD’S house. She has a ham sandwich and thermos of coffee with her.
JOAN has come out of the house to take the garbage cans down to the end of the driveway. She notices CELIA.
They observe one another a while.

JOAN: Um -morning. Good morning?


JOAN: Morning.


JOAN: Um -what are you-.. Did you know this was a residential area?



CELIA: Magpies are nothing but thieves. Did you know that?


CELIA: Steal everything. Don’t even make up their own nest. Steal an abandoned one, or wait until the occupants have gone off feeding. The residents return -the squatters fight. Magpies never lose.

JOAN: I see.

CELIA: And the Robin. Neurotic bird. Incessant chatter. Want to pinch them -squish them they’re so small. Annoying little things. And everybody thinks they’re so cute. Little Robin red breast. -Some birds are irresponsible. Leave their eggs in some other bird’s nest. Leave their young to be raised by foster-

JOAN: You know an awful lot about birds.


JOAN: Well. You must like them very much.

CELIA: No. I observe their habits. Revealing.


CELIA: Ornithology. Ornithologist. -You’ve got magpie.

JOAN: Magpie?


JOAN: Ah. That’s -bad or something?..

CELIA: One for disaster -two for joy; three for a girl -four for a boy.


CELIA: Coffee?

JOAN: I’ve -got some brewing, thank you.

CELIA: I hoped so. Would you spare some? Thing doesn’t hold hot like it used to.

JOAN: Oh. Well-..

CELIA: Be a neighborly thing.

JOAN: Oh. You’re living here?

CELIA: Recently. Just over there.

JOAN: Oh. -Welcome. -I’ve -not seen you yet..-Which-

CELIA: Everyone’s been so friendly.