Cast of Characters
CATHY, Sixteen. As the only daughter of a powerful Los Angeles businessman, she has let go of all edges of reality and has surrendered to a depression that has insulated her from the rest of the world.
DAWSON, Fifteen. The only son of a working class family, he has never known luxury or love.
Cathy’s overly decorated upstairs bedroom in an upscale house in the hills of Palos Verdes, California. A window in the bedroom offers a view of the city below where the Watts Riots raged two years ago.
October 1967. A Thursday.
It’s a Pleasure to Be Sad was developed in workshop at the 2007 Southampton Writers Conference in New York under the instruction of Marsha Norman.
“Fools rush in, so here I am
Awfully glad to be unhappy.
I can't win, but here I am
More than glad to be unhappy.
Unrequited love's a bore, yeah,
And I've got it pretty bad.
But for someone you adore,
It's a pleasure to be sad.”
- from "Glad To Be Unhappy"
as recorded by The Mamas and The Papas
(When the play begins, CATHY sits at her bedroom window, through which she stares intently at the horizon in the distance. Day quickly becomes night and flecks of the California sunset illuminate her face. She is dressed more for fashion rather than for comfort. Her hair is peroxide blonde; a little too styled, too big. Her eyes are prominent and outlined in heavy layers of black mascara and eyeliner. There is a permanent sense of defeat in her posture, as if she has given up on everything and sitting, standing, or speaking require a tremendous amount of effort.
On a nightstand radio, the song “Glad To Be Unhappy” by The Mamas and The Papas plays at a low volume. Cathy hums along with the music as an afterthought. When she realizes that she is actually enjoying the song, she stops herself, stands and goes to the radio. She shuts it off and contemplates reprimanding the radio, herself. She opens a drawer in the nightstand, places the radio inside of it, and shuts it.
There is a knock at the bedroom door.
Cathy stares at the door with a sudden sense of panic, fear. She moves to the door, puts an ear against the wood. She listens for a second before speaking.)
CATHY: Who is it?
DAWSON: (From the other side of the door:) It’s me.
(Cathy opens the door at once. She pulls DAWSON inside and shuts the door before anything or anyone can follow him inside the bedroom.
Dawson is boyishly handsome and possesses a blue collar charm. He wears a t-shirt, jeans, and a pair of old sneakers. His build is athletic but not intimidating.)
DAWSON: Your mother called me -
CATHY: You’ve been home for three days.
DAWSON: She said you were upset.
CATHY: You didn’t want to see me?
DAWSON: We broke up, remember?
CATHY: But you’ve been gone all summer.
DAWSON: It was only six weeks.
CATHY: But it was Texas.
DAWSON: I went back to work the minute I got home.
CATHY: So soon?
DAWSON: I have to help my family out. You know that.
(She reaches for one of his hands. She holds it, stares at it.)
Do you think you’ll be a dishwasher for the rest of your life?
(He pulls his hand away from her, burned.)
DAWSON: Your father stopped me when I came in the house.
CATHY: He thinks you’re going to change my mind about Santa Barbara.
DAWSON: He wants to move to Santa Barbara?
CATHY: No. He wants me to go to school there. College.
DAWSON: He had a gun.
CATHY: He always has a gun.
DAWSON: A rifle.
CATHY: It’s a shotgun. But it doesn’t have any bullets in it.
DAWSON: Does he know that?
CATHY: It wouldn’t matter if he did.
DAWSON: He said something to me.
CATHY: What did he say?
DAWSON: (He imitates her father:) The army’s gonna get you kid.
CATHY: He was on the phone earlier.
DAWSON: (Terrified:) With the army?
CATHY: No. With the emperor of Japan.
DAWSON: Do you think he could introduce me to Colonel Sanders?
My Mom loves that guy.
CATHY: (She shrugs.) My mother got a new car.
DAWSON: Another one?
CATHY: It’s a blue thunderbird. She loves that thing more than…
DAWSON: She loves it because it’s a Thunderbird?
CATHY: No. She loves it because it’s blue.
DAWSON: She said you were sad. She said you weren’t handling things…well.
CATHY: You broke up with me. You went to Texas.
DAWSON: I had no choice.
CATHY: I forced you to break up with me?
DAWSON: Texas. I had no choice about Texas. I had to go there and work. Help out my uncle.
CATHY: I keep forgetting you’re not from California.
DAWSON: Is anybody?
CATHY: But you’re back now.
DAWSON: Cathy, we broke up before I left.
CATHY: Are you still seeing what’s-her-name? The girl with no neck.
CATHY: She used to be a friend of mine.
DAWSON: It’s not her fault. I asked her out.
CATHY: Someone should have stopped you. Now you’re stuck with no neck Barbara and I’m here all alone.
DAWSON: You’re not alone.
CATHY: You’re right. This is a big house. There’s bound to be a ghost or two floating around here somewhere.
DAWSON: Your parents give you everything.
CATHY: That’s because they blame each other.
DAWSON: For what?
CATHY: They hate each other.
DAWSON: No, they don’t.
CATHY: They do, Dawson. They both think the other is a murderer.
DAWSON: What are you talking about?
CATHY: Before I was born. They had a son.
DAWSON: His name was Dennis, right?
CATHY: Let me guess. My mother told you about him.
DAWSON: In the garage. She had me bring some boxes down from the rafters. There were a lot of pictures of him.
CATHY: She has a shrine of him in her bedroom. She even had his little shoes bronzed. Like he was a living saint and everything he ever touched is sacred now. She thinks my father killed him. He thinks she was neglectful. It doesn’t matter whose fault it was, the boy is dead.
DAWSON: How did he die?
CATHY: Technically, it was suicide. Well, no. It started out as suicide but it turned in to murder…an accidental murder.
DAWSON: Your father did it, didn’t he? Was he shot?
CATHY: Dennis did it to himself. He was only three years old and he already knew…he knew what this house was like. This family. He went out to the garage and found poison. Strong stuff. The kind of stuff that kills snails and slugs in the garden. He ate a bunch of it. If you ask my father, it’s because my mother had taken one too many tranquilizers for the day. According to her though, he was too busy buying more stock to notice that Dennis had slipped out of sight.
DAWSON: Did they take him to the hospital, or did he die here?
CATHY: No. It was the hospital who killed him. They were supposed to pump his stomach…but they accidentally filled his lungs. He was drowning and no one knew it.
DAWSON: No one could save him?
CATHY: He was too young to know how to swim. (Beat.) No one’s been the same since.
DAWSON: But you weren’t even born yet.
CATHY: But they had me soon after. Like they needed to make up for something. Time, maybe. It was in all the papers when he died. They made a big deal about it. The son of a pharmacist dies of poisoning. It was…shocking.
DAWSON: Cathy, your Mom told me something.
CATHY: About the blue Thunderbird?
DAWSON: She said I needed to come and see you. She said she was worried that you might do something to yourself…hurt yourself somehow.
CATHY: Well, if I did…I’m sure they would never bronze my shoes or sue the doctors. They would blame it on something else.
CATHY: You say the strangest things sometimes.
DAWSON: I wasn’t going to come and see you.
CATHY: I know.
DAWSON: Not until your mother called me.
CATHY: I know.
DAWSON: You and I…we’re different. We don’t come from the same place.
CATHY: But we go to the same school.
DAWSON: My mother works three jobs.
CATHY: Does she have to?
DAWSON: No. She only needs one. But I think she prefers to be away from the house.
CATHY: Because of your father?
DAWSON: Because I think she wants more than what she got.
CATHY: Is that why you broke up with me? Just because my mother doesn’t work?
DAWSON: I believe your mother does work. Taking care of you keeps her very busy.
CATHY: It’s my father who makes her do everything. He can’t get by without her.
DAWSON: Barbara comes from my neighborhood.
CATHY: So. That doesn’t mean anything.
DAWSON: But I heard things. Before I went to Texas.
CATHY: Whatever you heard, it wasn’t true.
DAWSON: Maybe it was.
CATHY: Who told you? Pam? Shelly? Chuck? You can’t believe a word he says.
DAWSON: I heard stuff down at the beach.
CATHY: You never go to the beach.
DAWSON: But you do.
CATHY: I like to surf.
DAWSON: A lot of people say you’re good at it.
CATHY: I am.
DAWSON: Even though you’re a girl.
CATHY: That means nothing.
DAWSON: I heard stuff about you and some of the boys down there.
CATHY: What boy?
DAWSON: Not just one boy.
CATHY: I know a couple of guys down there. So what. I’m not married yet.
CATHY: I spent some time with him.
DAWSON: Were there others?
(She goes to the window, sits.)
CATHY: A few.
DAWSON: Even when we were together?
CATHY: Yes. (Beat.) Even then.
DAWSON: Yeah. That’s what I thought.
CATHY: Do you know what the name of the street means? The street I live on. Via el Sereno.
DAWSON: No. But it sounds Spanish.
CATHY: It is. It means the night watchman.
DAWSON: How do you know that?
CATHY: I took Spanish class, dummy. Remember?
DAWSON: Oh yeah. But that was last year, wasn’t it?
CATHY: I think it’s strange that this street is named for a night watchman.
DAWSON: Maybe they named it that because of the view. How you can see the entire city from up here.
CATHY: Not the entire city.
DAWSON: No, but most of it.
CATHY: I remember when the city burned. Two years ago. It was August. Before you and I met that September.
DAWSON: Oh yeah. The riots.
CATHY: I could see it from here. The fire. The people looked so small. Like dolls in a doll house. Like someone - a big hand or something - was moving them all around, throwing them against each other to make them explode. I couldn’t hear the sirens, but I saw the lights. Flashing. I was scared. I thought the city would be destroyed. The city of angels. Isn’t that what they call it?
DAWSON: You could see all that from up here?
CATHY: Yes. From this house on Via el Sereno. My father bought this house because of the view. That’s why we live up high, in the hills, so we can look down at the fire and see it but we never have to be in it. So he could be the night watchman.
DAWSON: I wish you didn’t live so way up high. It’s tough to make it up this hill on my bicycle.
CATHY: If you marry me, maybe my father will buy you a car.
DAWSON: A red one?
CATHY: Fire red.
DAWSON: Is that what you want? To be married?
CATHY: I want to go.
CATHY: (She points towards the window, taps the glass.) Down there.
DAWSON: No, you don’t.
CATHY: He said he would disinherit me.
DAWSON: If you marry me?
CATHY: (She nods.) I would be on my own. Well…you and I would be.
DAWSON: Why would he do that to you?
CATHY: Because you’re not Santa Barbara.
DAWSON: Well, you’re not Carson.
CATHY: Take me there. I want to meet your mother. I’ve seen your sisters at school. The older one hates me.
DAWSON: Julie just thinks she’s better than everyone else.
CATHY: Maybe she is. I mean, she’s very pretty.
DAWSON: Sarah likes you.
CATHY: Sarah has never said a word to me. Not one word. She stares at the ground and walks on by.
DAWSON: She’s younger. That’s why.
CATHY: She seems sad to me.
DAWSON: She’s not sad. She’s just shy.
CATHY: No, I think she’s sad. I think she likes being sad. Maybe she has a good time at it.
DAWSON: I could ask my mother if you could come to dinner one night.
CATHY: Is that when we’ll tell them?
DAWSON: Tell them what?
CATHY: That we’re getting married.
DAWSON: When did we decide to do that?
CATHY: It’s the only way, Dawson.
DAWSON: It would never work. I’m not Santa Barbara, remember? You’re Palos Verdes. The price is too high for you.
CATHY: Maybe he’ll change his mind when I tell him how good you are at football. He might think you have a future then.
DAWSON: I do have a future.
CATHY: Really? Doing what?
DAWSON: I’m good at a lot of things.
CATHY: But you don’t even surf.
DAWSON: Only because I have to work all the time.
CATHY: I wonder where my first job will be.
DAWSON: What do you want to do? For a career, I mean.
CATHY: I have no idea.
DAWSON: Not a single one?
CATHY: Nothing comes to mind.
DAWSON: I just wish you weren’t sad all the time.
CATHY: I get sad when I think about the fighting…the riots. All the people who died.
DAWSON: Do you really think there are ghosts in this house?
CATHY: Too many to count.
DAWSON: Maybe that’s why your mother takes her pills.
CATHY: No, she’s keeping numb. She’s just waiting. She wants a grandson. She’ll be a better mother to him than I will be. He’ll probably love her more, just to spite me.
DAWSON: I think you’ll be a great mother.
CATHY: Only if I’m with you, Dawson.
DAWSON: What am I supposed to tell Barbara?
CATHY: Tell her that you’re saving a life. You’re teaching someone how to swim.
DAWSON: I’m no good at it. The only thing I know how to do is work. And play football.
CATHY: You wouldn’t have come here unless -
DAWSON: I answered the phone.
CATHY: But do you regret it now?
DAWSON: (After a breath:) I’m here, aren’t I?
(Cathy turns to the window, reaches out for the city below but her fingertips stop at the glass.
Lights slowly fade to black.)