By Roger Collins
CAST (w/ brief backgrounds*)
SYMONE EDWARDS: Middle-aged adult, married to Henry Jones (not in attendance); one of their adult daughters (also not in attendance) is a vegan.
DEREK JONES: Young adult, single, Quentin’s young cousin. Intra-generational competitor with ROSE.
QUENTIN JONES: Senior adult, Derek’s older cousin (married with adult children not in attendance.)
MISS ESTHER (JONES): Senior matriarch of the Jones clan, widowed and with four adult children, including Claire, Rose’s mother (not in attendance).
ROSE JONES: Young adult, unmarried granddaughter of MISS ESTHER and the only child of MISS ESTHER’s daughter Claire (not in attendance.)
*Playwright’s Note: I conceived these characters as African American, but the play has been stage-read by a non-Black cast unaware of my intent but with authentically comic results. Thus, I leave the characters’ racial identity to the minds of your readers.
Time: Present day
The first four characters (all except ROSE JONES) sit, stand, and/or pace around a cloth-covered folding table in a cottage that will serve as lodging for one family of the Jones clan during their weekend-long family reunion…scheduled only a few months away.
SYMONE: (To QUENTIN) I’m sorry, I’m sorry… You went out and bought a – We hadn’t even met yet!
QUENTIN: We didn’t have to meet! Why would we have to meet? We’ve always had one!
SYMONE: What always? What always are you talking about? We haven’t had a family reunion in over a decade!
QUENTIN: I mean when we did. When we had one every year. The pig roast was the centerpiece! (To MISS ESTHER) Tell her, Esther.
MISS ESTHER: Well, Quint, that was then, and this is now.
QUENTIN: What then and now are you talking about? I always did the meat. You know that. Everyone else brought what they knew how to cook. But I was the star of the show!
MISS ESTHER: Actually, Quint, I’d say the pig was the star of the show. But like I said: ‘that was then, and this is now.’ Symone’s daughter’s a vegan.
QUENTIN: Ten years ago she was a meat-eating tomboy!
MISS ESTHER: …that was then, and –
DEREK: What about a vegan table?
(Pause; incredulous glances)
SYMONE: (To DEREK) Are you serious?
DEREK: (Quasi-reciting) Divide the cake so everyone thinks they got the biggest piece.
SYMONE: What are you talking about?
DEREK: I’m talking about win-win. (Beat.) Hey, they chose us – us four –
QUENTIN: Us five, if you count Aunt Thelma. I know what she’d say!
MISS ESTHER: No, no – we went over that. She’s home sick and that’s that. So, it’s us four.
DEREK: – who have to prove ourselves worthy of the family’s trust. (Beat.) So…what about it? What about a vegan table?
SYMONE: Listen, all I’m asking is that we drop the roast pig. Charlene’s been around meat eaters. That’s not a problem. She can sit and eat with everyone else. She just doesn’t want to see that whole pig roasting on a spit!
QUENTIN: A spit I already bought! For a grill I already bought! To replace that old rust bucket of a grill. This one’s stainless steel. Portable! Trailer mounted!
SYMONE: And unapproved!
QUENTIN: Heck, we didn’t vote on that retirement gift for Luther!
SYMONE: Quint…we all –
DEREK: Listen! I still believe there’s a win-win here for everyone. (To QUENTIN) How ‘bout you roast that pig at home the night before? I’m thinking win-win. (To ALL) You know, they stuff it, don’t you? The pig, I mean. (To QUENTIN) Right, ‘cuz?’ (To ALL) They fill the gut with peppers, potatoes and all kinds of sausage. Bratwurst. Italian. Chorizo. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. You know which table I’ll be at when they split open that bad-boy –
SYMONE: Would you please?!
(There’s a knock at the door.)
SYMONE: (Glances at her wristwatch; then, to MISS ESTHER) We have this room all afternoon, right?
(MISS ESTHER nods and exits to answer the ‘door.’)
ROSE JONES: (From offstage) Nana!
(Enters with MISS ESTHER)
MISS ESTHER: You’all know my grandbaby.
SYMONE: Uh – hi, Rose.
(QUENTIN nods a greeting.)
DEREK: Baby grand, I’d say. (Beat.) H-e-l-l-o, Rose.
ROSE: (Waves to ALL, flippantly) My Lord! You guys couldn’t get any more secretive than this!
(Drops her shoulder bag on the table and plops into one of the chairs.)
ROSE: (Continued) I musta called every leaf on the family tree to find out where you guys were meeting. You’da thought this was a nuclear arms negotiation.
SYMONE: Who told you?
ROSE: Geez…I’m almost afraid to say! Feel like betraying a confidence. (Laughs). Oh well, it was Aunt Thelma.
MISS ESTHER: You know this meeting was for invitees only, right?
ROSE: Yes, yes – of course! I volunteered. Months ago. But I never heard back from anyone.
(Glances around the gathering.) Where is Aunt Thelma?
SYMONE: Couldn’t make it. Sick. I now consider her AWOL.
ROSE: Wow! Sorry to hear…especially since she gave me the wherewithals.
(ROSE glances around the gathering.)
ROSE: (Continued) But that makes us five! The perfect number. You know, the perfect group size for planning. In case of pairing alliances. We now have a tie-breaker. You know, that one odd voter! Impasse resolved! (Beat.) So. Where were you? Oh, excuse me! Where were we?
DEREK: (To ROSE) Remember the children’s table? At Thanksgiving. Family gatherings. Where the kids sat for their meals. Away from the grownups.
(ROSE shrugs, puzzled)
DEREK: (Continued) I’m proposing we set up a vegans’ table. You know, for non-meat-eaters. So, like, you know, vegans can eat by themselves…and not be grossed out.
SYMONE: We’re working out the menu, Rose. Quentin wants to spend Saturday at the campground roasting a whole hog for dinner and –
QUENTIN: Wait, wait, wait – we’re discussing when I can get reimbursed for the stainless-steel grill and trailer I bought for the reunion!
SYMONE: Whether you can be reimbursed!
(ROSE gets up from her seat, walks to her bag, pulls out an envelope and throws it on the table.)
ROSE: I figure five hundred dollars should cover it.
(QUENTIN picks up the envelope; thumbs through the bills inside.)
QUENTIN: Whoa! It could be that much.
ROSE: It is that much.
SYMONE: What’s this all about, Rose?
MISS ESTHER: Yeah…what’s this all about?
(ROSE reaches into her bag, pulls out a t-shirt.)
ROSE: (Reading the front of the shirt.) Jones Family Reunion…Shake Our Tree And A Few Nuts Will Fall Out.
SYMONE: What the –
ESTHER: (Grabbing the t-shirt) Let me see that!
(DEREK grabs the t-shirt from ESTHER.
QUENTIN takes the t-shirt from DEREK)
SYMONE: I don’t know what’s gotten into people.
ESTHER: I don’t like that ‘nuts’ business.
SYMONE: That’s not the point!
QUENTIN: (Reading the back of the shirt) Hey, I been there!
ALL (except ROSE): Been where?!
QUENTIN: (Reading the back of the shirt) Whispering Pines Casino.
(Displays the back of the shirt for all to see.)
SYMONE: (To ROSE) What-is-this-all-about? I mean, I hope you haven’t spent money on this!
ROSE: Just the opposite!
SYMONE: Does this have anything to do with that…that…?
(Gestures toward the money-filled envelope)
ROSE: Absolutely! It’s a donation! From Whispering Pines.
SYMONE: Casino! Whispering Pines Casino!
DEREK: You know what Casino stands for, don’t you? Your ‘Cash and Savings Is Now Ours.’ Except for the ‘your,’ of course. C, A, S –
SYMONE: Would you please! (To ROSE) Rose. (Beat.) Please. (Beat.) An explanation?
ROSE: Well…I knew our reunion was coming up, so I thought: maybe we could use charitable contributions –
QUENTIN: The Jones family does not take charity!
ROSE: Not even to pay for a new stainless-steel grill?
(QUENTIN ponders possibilities.)
ROSE: (Continued) Okay…okay…I’m not going to mention the businesses that turned us down. No need to slam the stores we patronize twelve months a –
SYMONE: Please! (Beat, then calmer.) Would you please continue…?
ROSE: Well, as you can see, Whispering Pines agreed to contribute. Five hundred dollars.
DEREK: Is that legal? I mean, to ask a casino for money.
ROSE: A donation. For a donation. To a charitable organization. Which does bring up a detail.
SYMONE: Oh, Lord – here we go!
ROSE: We need to incorporate.
MISS ESTHER: Who we?
ROSE: The Jones Family. The Jones Family Reunion. The Jones Family Reunion, Inc. We need to become a non-profit corporation. Tax-exempt so we can receive donations.
MISS ESTHER: I’m with Quint – I’m not keen on this charity business.
QUENTIN: (Having reconsidered…) Well, Esther –
ROSE: (To ESTHER) Not even for scholarships? Scholarships for our kin? For college and stuff. I mean, heck, we could grant a scholarship in your name.
(ESTHER ponders the possibilities.)
QUENTIN: (To ROSE) You’re saying we can use that money for expenses? Like reimbursing me for my grill?
ROSE: Well, that’s one option, Uncle Quint. You know, if we voted in favor of that. (Glances at SYMONE.) But there are other expenses to consider. Attorneys’ fees. State registration fees. Accountant fees.
QUENTIN: Accountant fees?! Who among us can’t add and subtract?
ROSE: Well, we all can, Uncle Quint. But accounting can get complicated. (Beat.) Of course, Aunt Marge is a certified CPA. Then again, we are talking about Aunt Marge.
(ALL shake their heads, ‘no!’)
ROSE: (Continued) Keep in mind, we can fund-raise! You know, to pay for these services.
MISS ESTHER: Well, we wouldn’t have to pay attorney’s fees, right Rose? You being a paralegal and all.
ROSE: Oh, no, no, Nana I could maybe get us a discount. But I can’t sub for a lawyer.
DEREK: Why not?! You passed the bar, right? With flying colors! (Glances at MISS ESTHER) Or so we been told.
ROSE: I’m certified, Derek. I’m a certified paralegal. That’s the test I passed. But I’m still not allowed to offer legal services to the general public.
QUENTIN: What general public? You can advise your own family, can’t you?
ROSE: Geez, Uncle Quint. Sure, I can offer my opinions…make suggestions. I just can’t give you legal advice. But I can pass along advice from an attorney.
DEREK: Well, heck – we all can do that!
ROSE: All advice ain’t equal, Derek. I’m trained to solicit expert advice. And speaking of advice…
(SYMONE pantomimes her earlier ‘Oh, Lord – here we go!’ reaction.)
ROSE: (Continued) …one thing I should mention about the money. It’d be kinda nice if we could gather at the Whispering Pines Friday night for, you know…an evening of recreational wagering.
SYMONE: What?! Kinda nice?! Kinda nice or required? Required for the five hundred bucks?
ROSE: Recommended. Recommended in exchange for, what I call, our seed money. Seed money to jumpstart our corporation. Our nonprofit corporation.
QUENTIN: Wait…you mean those five hundred bucks ain’t ours to spend however we want?
ROSE: Well, five hundred dollars…minus the cost of the t-shirts.
ROSE: At a discount! An unbelievable markdown! We just need to wear them –
DEREK: And here I was thinking we might hustle a few more dollars from the casino to wear that t-shirt.
SYMONE: Rose, Rose, Rose…. (Shaking her head. Then calmer…) How do you…why do you always manage to overplay your hand?
ROSE: What overplay? You guys are dollars ahead of where you were when I walked in here!
SYMONE: And knee-deep in obligations we never asked for.
DEREK: I think we got a case here of someone getting a tad…wee…tiny – but certifiably – a bit above their raisin’.
(MISS ESTHER whips a police whistle from a pocket and blows it several times.)
MISS ESTHER: Whoa, whoa! Time out! Hold up here, folks! I hoped I wouldn’t have to resort to this here… And I haven’t! Not even during our debate over which pastor will say grace over the Sunday meal! (Whispering an aside to SYMONE and QUENTIN) Though I was getting pretty darn close during that pig roast-repayment squabble.
MISS ESTHER: (Continued, to ALL) We got a lot done today, and mostly with kind words and kindly feelings. Let’s not undo what we done. I’m thinking right now is a good time to take a break – a recess – and collect our thoughts and feelings and return for a follow-up meeting to tie up loose ends.
ROSE: I call the question!
MISS ESTHER: We’re not calling no question, grandbaby. I’m reading the room. See? I’m trying to role model for you, Rose. Reading the room. (Glances among the others and sees the consensus.) We have just a few more details to iron out and –
SYMONE: …like the Sunday dinner menu!
DEREK: …and the seating arrangements!
QUENTIN: …and our reimbursement policy!
ROSE: (Tentatively)…and our quid pro quo with Whispering Pines? And…and our nonprofit corporation?
MISS ESTHER: Okay, Rose, tell you what. Why don’t you write up a proposal and send it to us before we reconvene? Lay out all the details. I know – not a legal document, but reveal all the details, large and small…so there won’t be any surprises when we meet. Okay?
(ALL gather their belongings, chat, and walk toward the exit)
ROSE: (Continued) At least now I’ll know where we’ll meet, right? That’s all I ask! A little heads-up on where we’ll meet!
(MISS ESTHER puts an arm around ROSE’s shoulder as they exit.)
Copyright Collins 2022