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The Therapist by Malia Ahrens

The Therapist by Malia Ahrens

Drama, Vol. 7.4, Dec. 2013

Cast of Characters

BRITTANY – A woman in her late twenties. She should be played as almost another character with every character she interacts with, as though she is leading a double life.
FRANK – A man in his early thirties. He really cares about Brittany, and it shows in everything he does.
SUSAN – A woman in her late fifties. She doesn’t realize the hurt she has caused but knows she wants to fix it.

Setting

A small hotel room and later, a small office space. The time is the present.

(Two chairs occupy the stage with a divider between them)

BRITTANY
Does this go together? (She holds up two imaginary articles of clothing, pulling them to her body as if to compare them)

FRANK
Uh…

BRITTANY
What?

FRANK
They’re both black.

BRITTANY
And?

FRANK
I love ya darlin’, but black?

BRITTANY
It just seems fitting.

FRANK
What happened to the bright colors you wear back home? You usually hate black.

BRITTANY
It’s…a uniform.

FRANK
A uniform?

BRITTANY
(She tries to come up with a logical response) It helps with the clients?

FRANK
Then why don’t you use this “uniform” when you’re with the other clients?

BRITTANY
Those are…different. This is a special case.

FRANK
Special… So, more special than the guy who thinks there is a squirrel wheel inside his head and that he must eat peanut butter to make the squirrel run faster to give himself a longer life?

BRITTANY
At least he’s eating now.

FRANK
Or more special than the girl who has screaming fits with herself over the imaginary dinosaur living in a closet to a room that doesn’t exist?

BRITTANY
Well, maybe special isn’t the right word. Maybe different?

FRANK
More different than–

BRITTANY
(Interrupting) Uggghhh. I knew I should never have told you any of that!

FRANK
(He laughs it off) I’m just messin’ with ya.

(She fusses over her hair and puts on a big black floppy hat covering her face. He sits in one of the chairs and starts watching TV. Both remain silent.)

Come on, laugh. I hate to see you so down.

BRITTANY
I’m not down, per se. Just… (Long sigh)

FRANK
Hey. (He tries to get her to smile) Your favorite movie is on–Monty Python!

BRITTANY
I wish I could search for the holy grail right now. (She laughs and almost mumbles the rest) Anything but this. (She looks at herself in the imaginary mirror)

(There is a long, awkward pause between the two of them. BRITTANY fusses over her outfit and FRANK tries to cheer her up by acting silly, to no avail. Defeated, he continues.)

FRANK
So…Why did you want me to come anyway? Usually I’m not allowed to meet your clients.

BRITTANY
You won’t be meeting this one either.

FRANK
Okay, then. But I’m not usually a part of this at all. It just seems weird you’d want me to come now.

BRITTANY
I just thought it would be nice to have you along, seeing as though it’s so far away from home. Is that so bad?

FRANK
No, it’s just that last I checked, this is closer than the client in California.

BRITTANY
That was just for the weekend.

FRANK
What aren’t you telling me?

BRITTANY
Why do you think I’m not telling you something?

FRANK
(He crosses his arms over his chest, looking at her) You mean to tell me you are being one-hundred percent honest with me?

BRITTANY
Come on, have I ever lied to you?

FRANK
True, I just worry about you.

BRITTANY
I’m fine.

FRANK
I’m still worried about you.

BRITTANY
I know, and that’s why I love you so much.

FRANK
I love you too.

BRITTANY
How do I look? (She holds out her arms)

FRANK
Like Gloom’s cousin Doom.

BRITTANY
Funny.

FRANK
Well, you asked.

BRITTANY
Never mind. It doesn’t matter anyway.

FRANK
Whoa, red flag going up. Come on, what is this, really?

BRITTANY
It’s nothing. Okay?

FRANK
Saying that means it is something. What’s wrong?

BRITTANY
For the millionth time I AM FINE!

FRANK
I’m not stupid enough to think that fine means fine in this instance.

BRITTANY
Well, then, fine. Don’t believe me.

FRANK
No need to get hostile. Something must really be up. We never fight. What is it?

BRITTANY
I’m a big girl. I’m fine.

FRANK
You sure?

(She glares at him)

FRANK
It’s just that you’re more freaked out than usual, and I’m concerned. Is that so bad?

BRITTANY
What makes you think I’m freaked out?

(She stands up straight, trying to appear calm)

FRANK
Well, I’m here for one thing. We never fight and now it seems we are on the brink of one. And instead of the normal colors you wear, now you’re all dressed in black.

BRITTANY
So I wanted you here. Big deal. Besides, I told you this is a uniform, of sorts.

FRANK
On top of that you’re not talking like you usually do. There’s none of that sweet giggling you do that made me fall in love with you…

BRITTANY
I don’t feel like giggling today.

FRANK
It’s almost like you’re afraid of something… (He places his hand on her shoulder, giving her a reassuring squeeze)

BRITTANY
(She gives a long sigh) Aren’t I supposed to be the therapist here?

FRANK
What can I say? I have learned from the best.

BRITTANY
I…

FRANK
(He embraces her, trying to comfort her) What is it?

BRITTANY
I grew up here. (She crosses her arms over her chest. Looking down, she delivers her line, then hides her face in her hand.)

FRANK
Like here all that stuff happened?

BRITTANY
Yes.

FRANK
Aww, baby…

BRITTANY
This is just so overwhelming.

FRANK
Then, why are you here? I don’t understand.

BRITTANY
This is the only place she could meet.

FRANK
That’s weird. Small town and all.

BRITTANY
I really don’t want to be recognized.

FRANK
Ah, hence the dark clothes.

BRITTANY
Yeah.

FRANK
Awe, Brittany. I’m so sorry (He hugs her)

BRITTANY
I’m alright.

FRANK
Yeah, I can see that.

BRITTANY
(Groans) I don’t want to be here.

FRANK
Why did you even take the job?

BRITTANY
Well, I wasn’t going to. I’ve been putting it off for years, but the other day I got this e-mail.

FRANK
An e-mail?

BRITTANY
That’s how I’ve been talking to her. She contacted me through my online support group, only instead of getting support from everyone she asked to have a separate area that was just us. I found it odd but I didn’t ask any questions–I didn’t want to upset her. And then she wanted to use an alias! It was the oddest thing yet. I guess she just really doesn’t want anyone to know who she is but…I didn’t want to come back here.

FRANK
How did the e-mail change your mind?

BRITTANY
She just seemed so desperate. I was scared if I didn’t come out then she might harm herself or someone else.

FRANK
That bad, huh? She must really need you.

BRITTANY
Yeah, I just… I couldn’t say no but now, being here…

FRANK
What is it, Britt? (He pulls her in for a hug)

BRITTANY
I wish I could just stay here in your arms. I feel so safe with you.

FRANK
No client should put you through this.

BRITTANY
I guess you could say it isn’t in the job description.

FRANK
I guess the fine print is missed sometimes.

BRITTANY
That’s it. I can’t do this. I’m going to cancel, say I missed my flight.

FRANK
You can’t just ditch her. Even though I could easily find something to occupy your time.

BRITTANY
Ugh, how can you even think like that here? You’re impossible! (She laughs the last few words)

FRANK
You married me. Mr. and Mrs. Impossible.

BRITTANY
(BRITTANY glances up at the clock, then looks down, a worried expression replacing her smile)

FRANK
You’re acting funny, Britt. Please tell me what else is wrong.

BRITTANY
I can’t right now.

(An alarm rings. Another silence falls between them)

FRANK
Didn’t you say you had to be out of here by seven?

BRITTANY
Yeah…

(Long pause. Brittany fusses with her clothes, still unsure and insecure about the entire situation. She wants to confide in her husband but can’t at the moment. She trifles with her hair. Frank tries to speak a few times, rationalizing that the previous conversational topics are inappropriate, and thinks about what to say. He toys with a small trinket on the table beside him.)

FRANK
Where are you meeting her?

BRITTANY
There’s a small office here in town where we can meet. I had my secretary fix it up.

FRANK
Oh… Good…must be close?

BRITTANY
Yeah, just around the corner…across the street from a small bakery. You have my secretary’s number don’t you?

(Another long pause)

FRANK
Yeah….Well, you better get going then.

BRITTANY
Probably…

FRANK
Bye, I love you.

BRITTANY
Love you too. Bye.

(Lights fade to a dim wash as BRITTANY walks around the stage like she is exiting the room and walking to her office. As she walks, FRANK exits and another woman sits in his place. After the woman sits in FRANK’S chair with her back to BRITTANY, lights raise a little, revealing the two chairs with the divider and the woman. BRITTANY enters and sits on the opposite side of the divider. Note the divider is not entirely solid and you can tell there is someone sitting on the other side. Also note that both chairs are facing the house, so the reactions and facial expressions are clearly visible to the house. BRITTANY takes a deep breath before she steps into the room. She holds a clipboard with a file attached to it, a pencil in her hair. Nervously, she removes the pencil and taps on the clipboard and soon begins bouncing her knee. She glances from side to side and checks her watch several times.)

BRITTANY
Hello?

SUSAN
Is that you, Dr. X?

BRITTANY
Yes, I’m here. (Her face wrinkles in almost-confusion at the sound of Susan’s voice)

SUSAN
It feels safer knowing you’re here. Funny how one person can fill your entire world and help so much.

BRITTANY
Yes, usually it’s one person in particular who comforts us the most, be it a family member, spouse, or a friend.

SUSAN
Especially you. I don’t know what I’d do without you. You’re always right there when I need you–just an e-mail away.

BRITTANY
That’s what I’m here for.

SUSAN
Feels good to finally do this.

BRITTANY
Yes–it’s been a long time coming.

SUSAN
It’s weird though, you being here–so close, yet still hidden.

BRITTANY
True. It is a new feeling, being physically closer; although I must remind you that you asked for the confidentiality.

SUSAN
Yes, it’s better this way. I can’t have any accidents.

BRITTANY
Accidents?

SUSAN
Yes, like what if she finds out?

BRITTANY
Would that be so bad?

SUSAN
What do you mean? She ruined everything.

BRITTANY
How?

SUSAN
When she left, she took everything away from her sisters and me. Deserting us. I can’t have her finding out and hurting her sisters again!

BRITTANY
(She looks at the divider, confusion building on her face)

SUSAN (Continued)
I mean really, she has already infected one.

BRITTANY
Infected?

SUSAN
It was in my last e-mail.

BRITTANY
Ah, yes, the e-mail. I’m a bit concerned. You seemed more troubled than you’ve been in a while. Like when you said, “I just can’t keep going like this.” Would you elaborate further?

SUSAN
Well, as you know, I first contacted you because I don’t understand how my eldest daughter could have just run off like that, and because of her, there was a strain on my other daughters and me.

BRITTANY
Yes, go on.

SUSAN
Well, the reason I e-mailed you is, I can’t…I can’t keep going on like this. Just the other day, I was talking to my other daughter, K, and she…she had the nerve to agree with her!

BRITTANY
Agree with whom?

SUSAN
Izzy! Oh, shoot! You don’t know who that is, my eldest. I forget about the fake names sometimes.

BRITTANY
(Realization strikes BRITTANY like a two-ton freight train. She tries to speak.) M–

SUSAN
I’m sorry, couldn’t quite hear you. What was that?

BRITTANY
Are you… How did you…

SUSAN
Doctor, you aren’t making any sense.

(SUSAN moves the divider to the side so both women can see each other. A long pause as they try to figure out how to react.)

SUSAN (Continued)
(Overwhelmed with shock)
What? Why are you here?

BRITTANY
(She looks dazed) I–

SUSAN
I trusted you, and you… How?

BRITTANY
I–

SUSAN
Are you even listening to me, Izzy?

(A moment passes)

BRITTANY
It’s Brittany. (Pause) No one has called me Izzy for years.

SUSAN
You changed your name?

BRITTANY
I changed a lot of things.

SUSAN
I can see that.
(Another long pause)

SUSAN
Did you know about…?

BRITTANY
No. Did you?

SUSAN
No.
(Another pause)

BRITTANY
I should go.

SUSAN
No. Don’t.

BRITTANY
Give me one good reason.

SUSAN
I’m your mother.

BRITTANY
You haven’t been my mother for years. Why start now?

SUSAN
I have always been your mother.

BRITTANY
Funny way of showing it.

SUSAN
I could say the same thing about you as my daughter.

(BRITTANY starts to say something but stops. Silence falls on the stage.)

SUSAN
So, how long are you in town?

BRITTANY
Just the two days.

SUSAN
I see.

BRITTANY
Yeah.

SUSAN
So.

BRITTANY
So what?

SUSAN
What do we do?

BRITTANY
Why do we have to do anything?

SUSAN
Well, just seems like something should be done.

BRITTANY
You should have tried that years ago.

SUSAN
That’s what I mean. What happened?

BRITTANY
What do you mean, “What happened?” You of all people should know!

SUSAN
What did I do to make you hate me so much? To make you not want to visit ever, even when you are here in town.

BRITTANY
I really don’t want to get into this. I shouldn’t even be here.

SUSAN
But you are here.

BRITTANY
Not for you.

SUSAN
For who then?

BRITTANY
Sharon.

SUSAN
My alias?

BRITTANY
Yes, because she needed my help. But I have no intention of staying here with you.

SUSAN
Why not? It can’t be that hard.

BRITTANY
You have no right to talk to me about hard.

SUSAN
Try me.

BRITTANY
I can’t discuss this with you in these terms. Family cannot be clients.

SUSAN
I’m sure we can talk. Come on. Talk to me.

BRITTANY
I can’t. (She gets up to leave)

SUSAN
Of course. Run away, like always. When things get hard, it’s poor pathetic Izzy, running away and crying on her pillow.

BRITTANY
I told you, it is Brittany.

SUSAN
It’s time to stop running and grow up.

BRITTANY
I had to grow up years ago.

SUSAN
No, you did not. You had everything spoon-fed to you.

BRITTANY
Try the other way around.

SUSAN
What is that supposed to mean?

BRITTANY
Logic, Mother. Use logic.

SUSAN
What is that supposed to mean?

BRITTANY
Nothing… Never mind.

(The women look away from each other. The pause is long enough to be uncomfortable. Each woman shifts in her chair.)

BRITTANY
So… How are the girls?

SUSAN
I’d hardly call them girls now. Tiff moved off and joined the military and Kyara is, well, last I heard, moving out West to find work.

BRITTANY
So, it was Kyara that you e-mailed about?

SUSAN
(Silence)

BRITTANY
Now who doesn’t want to talk?

SUSAN
What happened to “family cannot be clients?”

BRITTANY
You don’t have to be a client for us to talk about my little sister.

SUSAN
Yes, it was her.

BRITTANY
So, thinking like her older sister is a bad thing?

SUSAN
It is when her big sister is you.

BRITTANY
Why?

SUSAN
Look at what you did. Everything is your fault.

BRITTANY
No. It isn’t!

SUSAN
Think about it. All the fights, all the drama, the tears, never would have happened if you hadn’t been the way you are–weak.

BRITTANY
I am not weak and leaving proved it. Enough.

SUSAN
Sure it did. Just keep telling yourself that.

BRITTANY
You made me this way.

SUSAN
How?

BRITTANY
Don’t you remember the “talks” we had?

SUSAN
Every mother talks to their child.

BRITTANY
Not like this. You put us all down all the time. In your eyes we were lowly and unworthy.

SUSAN
Not true. I loved each of you.

BRITTANY
Really, Mother? Really?

SUSAN
It’s called tough love.

BRITTANY
Tough love? Tough Love! How can you call it tough love? How is screaming at a child until they burst into tears any form of love?

SUSAN
I was just saying what needed to be heard.

BRITTANY
Do you not hear yourself?

SUSAN
It’s only the truth!

BRITTANY
Maybe to you, but to a six-year-old, it is confusing and harmful.

SUSAN
Maybe to a “weak” six-year-old. I just wish you could be more like Tiffany.

BRITTANY
More like Tiff? Why?

SUSAN
She’s the strongest among you weaklings. Too bad she’s the youngest.

BRITTANY
How do you suppose that?

SUSAN
She’s in the military. Look at the two of you–one talks about feelings all day and the other does God-knows-what.

(BRITTANY is hurt by her words and SUSAN relishes in it. BRITTANY takes a deep breath and SUSAN changes the subject.)

SUSAN
So, where did you go?

BRITTANY
Come again? (She is still a little dazed by SUSAN’s words)

SUSAN
Where have you been all these years?

BRITTANY
I have been making a life for myself.

SUSAN
You had a life here!

BRITTANY
No. I survived here.

SUSAN
You thrived. You had everything you could ever want.

BRITTANY
How did I thrive? Just tell me that!

SUSAN
You excelled in all your classes. You had tons of friends. You had a better childhood than I did–that’s for sure.

BRITTANY
Maybe in the eyes of the problem, but not in mine.

SUSAN
How was I the problem? You are the one that left!

BRITTANY
Will you get over it already? Try thinking about why I left.

SUSAN
Even then, you were thriving with your social life and extracurricular activities. What did you do with everything you had? You threw it away, along with me and everybody else.

BRITTANY
You call that thriving? I wish I lived in the same fantasy as you do; it might have made things easier.

SUSAN
You talk of making things easier. (She makes a sound of disgust) Where were you to make things easier when I lost my job and your sisters had to get a job to help out with the bills? They are the ones who made it easier, not you going off and doing who knows what, who knows where, with who knows who!

BRITTANY
I had to get away, Mother! I would have died and rotted in this one-horse town. I had to escape. I had to get out of your control.

SUSAN
We needed you! And you just left, gone, never heard from until now! At least your sisters come by and visit every once in a while, which is more than I can say for you.

BRITTANY
Where was I? How about where were you when dad left?

SUSAN
That was different.

BRITTANY
Yeah, only because that day I lost both parents instead of just him!

SUSAN
What do you mean? I was right here the entire time.

BRITTANY
Maybe physically, but who was it that put dinner on the table?

SUSAN
(Silence)

BRITTANY
Who was it that helped the girls with their homework?

SUSAN
(Silence)

BRITTANY
Who was it that got a job to help pay the bills that you couldn’t pay, and by the looks of it still can’t pay?

SUSAN
(Silence)

BRITTANY
I lost both parents and in turn became one.

(Both women are again silent; the tension between them is astounding. Both women are looking in opposite directions not speaking when FRANK enters, looking worried.)

FRANK
(Quietly, not wanting to interrupt) Britt–hey, Britt, are you okay?

BRITTANY
(Her eyes widen) What are you doing here?

FRANK
I know. I’m so sorry for interrupting; I just had to check on you. You were acting so weird when you left. And you’ve been gone for longer than usual.

(He turns to SUSAN)

FRANK (Continued)
I am so sorry for interrupting your session.

BRITTANY
This isn’t a session.

SUSAN
Who are you?

FRANK
Then, what is it?

BRITTANY
Chaos. Besides you know not to disturb me. I appreciate your checking on me but I’m a big girl. I can handle this.

FRANK
I know but–

SUSAN
Hello? Who is this?

BRITTANY
(Sharply) It doesn’t matter who this is!

FRANK
Why can’t she know who I am?

SUSAN
Yeah, why?

BRITTANY
It’s not important. You just need to go. Please.

FRANK
I’d like to think till death do us part makes us pretty important to each other.

SUSAN
You got married?

(BRITTANY begins to breathe heavily and look at both of them back and forth, shaking her head “no,” as if to say, ‘no this can’t happen.’)

BRITTANY
Yes. I got married and it is none of YOUR concern.

FRANK
(Reaching around BRITTANY, he extends his hand) I’m Frank Mascotti, her loving husband.

SUSAN
(Shakes his hand after inspecting it) Susan Finch.

(BRITTANY tries hard not to explode. She starts to get up and separate them but realizes that would be a mistake. She puts her hand over her mouth, resting the elbow of the same hand on her knee to prevent herself from saying something.)

FRANK
And I am still very concerned for my wife. (With the last few words, he turns to BRITTANY)
Are you okay?

BRITTANY
(Silence) (Her knee bounces)

FRANK
Are you okay?

BRITTANY
(Silence) (Her knee bounces harder, causing her foot to tap the floor)

FRANK
…sweetie?

BRITTANY
THIS IS MY MOTHER, FRANK! (She stands, and the clipboard crashes to the floor. Susan is taken aback and puts her hand over her chest in shock. FRANK takes a step back and then sarcastically turns to SUSAN to shake her hand.)

FRANK
I’ve heard so much about you.

SUSAN
I haven’t had the pleasure.

(FRANK looks back at BRITTANY. There is yet another long and very uncomfortable pause.)

FRANK
So this is why you were so awkward this morning…

BRITTANY
I didn’t know it was her, I just…

FRANK
I should have known.

BRITTANY
None of us knew. It’s okay.

FRANK
I’m an idiot. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have interrupted and now, knowing this…

BRITTANY
It’s not your fault. It’s okay, really.

FRANK
Should I… (He motions to sit with one hand) Or… (He motions to leave with the other)

SUSAN
By all means, stay.

(BRITTANY shoots a look at SUSAN)

BRITTANY
Frank… (She lowers her head into her hands in frustration)

FRANK
(He takes the hint) I’ll let you two talk. (He kisses her forehead) I am just around the corner if you need me.

SUSAN
Well. He seems nice.

BRITTANY
Don’t.

SUSAN
I was just–

BRITTANY
Don’t.

SUSAN
Fine, then. Tell me what I can do.

BRITTANY
I don’t know.

SUSAN
Well…

(Awkward silence)

SUSAN
Funny how I have been pouring my heart out to you for quite some time now and didn’t know it was you, huh…?

BRITTANY
Yeah…

But I didn’t know it was you either…

SUSAN
So… What now?

BRITTANY
I don’t know.

SUSAN
May I ask you a question?

BRITTANY
Sure.

SUSAN
Why did you leave?

BRITTANY
(She rolls her eyes and groans) You should know by now. Come on.

SUSAN
Well, I don’t and we are both here now. Can’t we talk?

BRITTANY
And what if I don’t want to?

What if talking to you might make me trust you again? Might make me forgive you?

SUSAN
Is that really so bad?

BRITTANY
(Silence)

SUSAN
I don’t know why you left. All I know is, you did. It was hard to adjust and I guess I hurt you without realizing it. I just–

BRITTANY
Just stop.

SUSAN
Then, how can we fix it?

BRITTANY
(Silence)

SUSAN
(Silence)

BRITTANY
I left because I was the only responsible person in the house. I left because I was caring for two children and a grown adult on top of trying to further my education.

SUSAN
I had no idea you felt that way.

BRITTANY
You had no idea of anything. After Dad left, you went off the deep end.

SUSAN
I don’t remember it that way.

BRITTANY
Of course; you wouldn’t. That is why I became a therapist, so I could understand. You were depressed and it affects the body as well as the mind. You were fatigued and who knows what all went wrong in your head. And when you went down, someone had to step up.

SUSAN
You still shouldn’t have left.

BRITTANY
How can you say that?

SUSAN
Because Mother knows best.

BRITTANY
That is not always true.

SUSAN
How would you know? Do you have children?

BRITTANY
(Silence)

SUSAN
That’s what I thought. No children means you do not understand.

BRITTANY
I don’t have children because I can’t.

SUSAN
What do you mean, you can’t?

BRITTANY
My body. I can’t.

SUSAN
I had no idea.

BRITTANY
Of course you wouldn’t.

SUSAN
Is there a reason why?

BRITTANY
Early childhood trauma.

SUSAN
You mean…

BRITTANY
Yes, I cannot have children because of your “tough love.”

SUSAN
I–I’m so sorry.

BRITTANY
Save it.

(BRITTANY turns away from her mother)

SUSAN
I had no–I mean, I didn’t…

(More silence)

BRITTANY
Well, you did.

SUSAN
(Silence)

BRITTANY
But I guess you would expect that out of someone who is weak.

SUSAN
What?

BRITTANY
Isn’t that what you called me, weak?

SUSAN
But I didn’t know that you couldn’t–

BRITTANY
Shouldn’t make a difference.

SUSAN
(Silence)

BRITTANY
So now you know.

SUSAN
So that’s why you hate me…

BRITTANY
(She turns away from SUSAN)

(Silence fills the stage)

SUSAN
So, what now?

BRITTANY
I don’t know.

SUSAN
Do you still want to…

BRITTANY
Want to what?

SUSAN
Be my therapist?

BRITTANY
What?

SUSAN
I mean, why not?

BRITTANY
You’re my mother. And I cannot revisit my childhood.

SUSAN
But, Izzy…

BRITTANY
I can’t.

SUSAN
I need help, Izzy.

BRITTANY
I do too… I do too…

[BLACKOUT]

Baby Teeth by Bridget Apfeld

A Conversation with Bonnie Jo Campbell, Author of Once Upon a River

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