Daily Dojo

Something Situation

Hey friends, another free play from my collection The Joshua James Project… this one is called:

Something Situation

Lights up.

(A hospital room. BERDENE, 58, sits upright in her bed. She wipes tears from her eyes with a handkerchief. RITA, 13, enters the room with a book in hand.)

BERDENE: Rita. What are you doing up here all by yourself?

RITA: Mom sent me to cheer you up.

BERDENE: Oh. Well. All right.

(BERDENE shifts in her bed. A quiet uncomfortable moment.)

BERDENE: So. Where’d your mother get to?

RITA: She’s hiding from Aunt Arlene.

BERDENE: Arlene is here? Oh my Lord, here we go.

RITA: She’s on her way. Mom and Aunt Arlene have been fighting.

BERDENE: I’m not surprised, they’ve fought ever since they were your age, so don’t worry about it. Come here and have a seat. What are you reading there?

(RITA sits in a chair next to the bed.)

RITA: The Mechanical Theory of Heat by Rudolf Clausius.

BERDENE: Oh. Are you reading that for a class or something?

RITA: No. Just for fun.

BERDENE: Oh. Okay.

RITA: Are you feeling all right, Grandma?

BERDENE: Not really, no.

RITA: Do you want me to get a nurse?

BERDENE: No, don’t, it’s just … It’s just, having to be here, in this situation . . . going through this, having all this stuff happen to me and all that. Doesn’t seem right.

(Brief quiet moment.)

RITA: Look at the bright side. It’s not a pickle.

BERDENE: What’s not a pickle?

RITA: This is not a pickle.

BERDENE: Where do you get pickle, how do you get PICKLE out of all this?

RITA: I’m just saying—

BERDENE: Where is this PICKLE THING coming out of?

RITA: I’m just saying it’s not the pickle that you think it is.

BERDENE: What is?

RITA: The situation.

BERDENE: My situation?

RITA: The situation, it’s not the pickle that you think it is.

(BERDENE looks at her granddaughter for a moment.)

BERDENE: You know, I know that you’re supposed to some sort of genius and all that, but would it be TOO much to ask if you could just make a LITTLE bit of sense every now and then instead of throwing pickles at me?

RITA: It’s a saying, you know, a folk saying, when something happens to someone and they find themselves in a tight situation, sometimes people say, “She’s found herself in a pickle” or “I’m in a heck of a pickle.” And all I’m saying is that the something situation that you have currently found yourself in is not the pickle that you think it is.

(Brief pause.)

BERDENE: You READ entirely TOO much!

RITA: Of course I do. That’s all I do.

BERDENE: And the OTHER THING, HOW can you say this situation is not a pickle?! This situation is mostly CERTAINLY a pickle, it’s nothing BUT a pickle! This is the biggest goddamn dill pickle that I’ve ever seen, that’s for sure!

RITA: I can see how it may be perceived that way.

BERDENE: What other way can it be perceived?

RITA: The other way it can be perceived is as something that happens. It’s just something that happens to everyone. All of us. You. Me. Everyone.

(Brief quiet moment.)

BERDENE: And why is it described as “being in a pickle?” Certain situations, I mean. Why would someone say that, where does that come from anyway?

RITA: Because pickles traditionally taste very sour. Actually being INSIDE of one is thought to be sour beyond all recall.

BERDENE: If that’s the case, then this situation is definitely a pickle. In fact, pickle is the nicest thing you can say about it. THIS IS A PICKLE!

RITA: It’s not the pickle that you think it is.

BERDENE: Well honey, it sure as hell ain’t a TWINKIE, either!

(Brief pause.)

RITA: You’re right. It’s not a Twinkie situation either.

BERDENE: I thought the reason you were sent in here was to cheer me up?

RITA: It was.

BERDENE: Well Honey, you’re doing a HELL of a job!

RITA: I’m sorry. My social skills are somewhat stunted. I don’t interact with real people very well, especially during something situations.

(Brief quiet moment.)

BERDENE: Don’t you interact with other people up there at that school of yours?

RITA: I do, but most of them are more socially handicapped than I am.

BERDENE: You’re not handicapped, Honey, don’t ever say that you’re handicapped and don’t ever let anyone TELL you you’re handicapped.

RITA: It’s all right, it’s a natural result of my intellectual being growing so much faster than my emotional being. It’s just something that happens. I’m only thirteen and I’m going to graduate from MIT this spring. That’s something, and as a result of that, something else happens. It’s how things work. The price of being a prodigy.

(Brief moment. BERDENE sighs.)

BERDENE: I used to know this fella named Pickle. He used to come into my Daddy’s bar all the time, almost every day, we’d say “Hey Pickle.”

RITA: His name was Pickle?

BERDENE: I don’t think his real name was Pickle, it’s just what everyone called him. I never knew what his real name was. We all just called him Pickle. Not exactly sure why.

RITA: I imagine that there was some sort of sexual connotation attached.

BERDENE: Someone’s not nearly as socially stunted as she’s been pretending to be. Yes, I’m pretty sure he got the nickname because of something like that, but he was always real polite and decent to me. I was kind of sweet on him, even though I was nothing but sixteen and he was almost my father’s age, I always batted my eyes at him. He always smiled at me. I was always hoping something would happen between us, though it never did. Nothing ever happened. He liked me, though. I could tell. He was always real sweet to me. Real sweet fella.

RITA: So he was more of a Twinkie than a Pickle.

(They look at each other quickly. They both giggle.)

BERDENE: Yes, Pickle was definitely a Twinkie. A big sweet Twinkie. I liked him. I was always sad nothing ever happened between us.

RITA: Where is he now?

BERDENE: I imagine he’s passed on. Like my father and mother and brother and sister. Like I’m probably going to do.

RITA: Like all of us.

BERDENE: I shouldn’t be telling you this, Rita, but I’m pretty scared right now.

RITA: You haven’t even gotten the test results back yet. You could be fine, it could turn out to be benign.

BERDENE: This time, but what about next time or the time after that? I’m old enough that I’m feeling my mortality. I’m feeling it down deep in my bones. I’m feeling the crush of time.

(Brief pause.)

RITA: Have you heard of Stephen Hawking?

BERDENE: Fella in the wheelchair, right?

RITA: Yes. He has some interesting theories on the perception of time. I’ve been toying with some of his theorems as of late. Can I give you an example?

BERDENE: Keep it simple, Sweetie, remember that I’m a civilian.

RITA: Simple is best anyway. You ever notice a bicycle tire, how when it spins, the spokes of the tire seem to go in the opposite direction of the tire?

BERDENE: Like a wagon wheel.

RITA: Exactly. The tire is going one direction but we perceive it as going the other. Perception is key. Long and short of it, life to us appears as though we are born, we live and then we die.

BERDENE: And that isn’t what happens?

RITA: That’s what we PERCEIVE happens. The reality, like the spokes of the wagon wheel, could be and probably is the opposite. Instead of birth as the beginning and death as the end of the cycle, birth could be the end and death could be the beginning. That’s what it could be and most of us simply aren’t in a position to see it.

(Brief pause.)

BERDENE: Are you currently in that position?

RITA: I think I could be.

BERDENE: And you can see … something?

RITA: I’ve always seen something. The big difficulty is in describing it.

BERDENE: So it could be?

RITA: It could be. I’ll keep working on it.

BERDENE: I just wish I knew for sure. What happens, I mean, when we … when I die. I never bought into any of that other jumbo, the bible and all that silliness, it just never seemed right or even fair to women. But the only alternative I can see is that nothing happens, and that doesn’t seem right either.

RITA: And that’s why you’re scared?

BERDENE: Yes. Because I don’t know what’s going to happen when I die, if anything. That’s what I’m frightened of most. Maybe nothing happens. I just hope … I really, really hope … that something …

RITA: Grandma?

BERDENE: Yes dear?

RITA: I don’t know everything. I know quite a lot about a lot of things, but I don’t know everything. But one thing I definitely do know.

BERDENE: What’s that?

RITA: When you die?


RITA: Something happens. Something definitely happens.

(BERDENE looks at Rita for a moment. BERDENE opens her arms. RITA goes to her. They hug for a long moment.)

Lights fade.



First produced in 2002 as part of Manhattan Theatre Source’s SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION, featuring Holland Hamilton as Rita and Carla Hayes as Berdene. I believe Andrew Frank curated / directed the entire evening, if I recall.

SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION shows were like those 24 hour plays. You showed up on a Friday night and were assigned actors, a first line and something that had to be mentioned in the play at some point (in this case, it was pickle). The writers took those ideas home, wrote a play THAT NIGHT, brought it back Saturday morning and gave to the actors, who memorized it and staged it, and opened to an audience on Sunday night.

It was a lot of fun, and I did four of them, which resulted in the plays THE PAP, THE ITCH, SOMETHING SITUATION and PRETEND IT IS.

Holland, who was 13 or 14 at the time, was someone I’d known already for quite some time. Her father, R. Paul Hamilton, had acted in several of my plays and her mother, Anita Hollander, directed my play QUITTING. Great people, all of them.

I also met Carla Hayes through this play and she’d go on to act in much more of my work. It was one of those instances where everything came together perfectly. They elevated it to a level beyond anything I could have imagined. It really moves me, even to this day.

I actually later expanded this play to one act length and added the aunt character, and it also did well. That version is featured in the one act play section of the book.

If you like the piece, it is one of 44 royalty free plays in The Joshua James Project, please check it out and share with your friends.

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