Ellen McLaughlin’s playwriting exercise (from The Playwright’s Workout):
“4.) A couple realize they are no longer in love.”
(Dog park. Dusk. The stage is eerily lit with the glow of unseen solar powered panels. Gretchen sits on a park bench. To the right, a bucket of frisbees and other dog paraphernalia. She carefully picks up a soggy tennis ball, wipes it off on her jeans and places it next to her on the bench. She regards it as though it were alive, as if it might speak to her. Silence. Then.)
Gretchen. You’re not supposed to come to the dog park if you don’t have a dog.
(A muffled dog barks from far away. She looks up.)
Sounds like a Saint Bernard. Or a mastiff. You can tell by that deep, throaty tone–it echoes.
I used to come here at least once a day. Usually after work. I would meet him and his dog here. She was a chocolate lab. Rosa. He liked Swedish things. I always thought it was idiotic to name an American breed by a Swedish name. But, she came into his life before I did. She would almost knock me over when I came into the pen. She got up on her hind legs like she was trying to give me a hug. You see, I used to be afraid of dog–I was bit by a little yappy one when I was a kid and ever since….But I couldn’t be afraid of her, right? Because part of loving him was the dog. And at first she was a nuisance. But then she became a fixture. Part of our routine.
I’m a selfish person. I expect people to anticipate my needs. To be thoughtful so I don’t have to be. I started trying to be less selfish, trying to do more, trying to anticipate things for him. I would get up early on the weekend mornings and take her to the dog park myself, while he was showering. She began to listen to me better than she listened to him–gradually seeing me as the alpha instead of him. Because I was more assertive. Because I knew what I wanted.
(She picks up the tennis ball.)
I would sit on this bench and we would play fetch. She would bring the ball to me and place it gently on my lap. When she played fetch with him, he would have to chase her to get the ball, sometimes even wrestle her for it.
That’s when it was over, really. When we both started caring more about what Rosa thought of us than what we thought of each other.
When he broke up with me, first I experienced shock. Then an overwhelming desire to say goodbye to Rosa. He denied me that opportunity, forbade it, said it “wasn’t a good idea.”
And that’s when I really got mad. I started writing text messages that should have melted my phone.
“What is your fucking problem. Are you so insecure that you think I would hurt your fucking dog?!?! We’re going to talk about this. I know where you work. I’ll be waiting by your car when you’re done today.”
But I didn’t. I came to the dog park that afternoon, though, when I knew he’d be there. I walked the trails and sat on a bench. I knew he would see my car in the parking lot. I heard his voice and then his father’s, walking around the trails. I got up and started walking in the opposite direction until I was sure they had left the park.
I thought about stealing her. The pen where she was kept during the day wasn’t locked. It would be easy enough to grab her in the night without her barking. We could run away together, start a new life without him. But he would have known it was me. He would have found us. And then I would be as crazy as he said I was in those last days.
(She stands up, finds a chuck-it, picks up the tennis ball offstage. Waits, as if Rosa might come back with it. Shakes her head, walks around the stage, finding other balls to throw during the following:)
That’s what I miss most about the relationship. (Beat.) The dog. (Beat.) Rosa.