Peter Lawson Jones

Actor • Voice-Over Artist • Playwright

The Family Line

Written by: Peter Lawson Jones

 

Synopsis:

 

His dreams of professional basketball stardom no longer attainable, Brad Roberts seeks personal redemption through a son. His lifelong friend, Walter Randall, struggles to climb the corporate ladder. Belinda Davis, a young woman from the rural South, simply desires a better life. Sheila, Brad's wife, asks only for love and support. Will any of their hopes in their intertwining lives be fulfilled?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Script History:

The Family Line has been fully staged at Harvard University in the Loeb Drama Center (May, 1975), Ohio University (May, 1977) and at the Karamu Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio (November, 2005). The play has received staged readings at the East Cleveland Community Theatre (April, 1986), Karamu (March, 2005), the Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewood, Ohio (October, 2006) and by Emerald Entertainment at the Fairfield (Ohio) Community Arts Center (June, 2007).

 

Excerpt:

 

ACT I, SCENE 4

 

The curtain rises on the inside of a bar. Though not at all chic, the bar, "Club 101", possesses a class and atmosphere a few cuts above the typical neighborhood watering hole. Standing behind the counter is FRANK, a balding, heavy-set, slow-moving, perpetually smiling middle-aged bartender. FRANK is busily washing glasses when CUSTOMER, who is in his mid-thirties/early forties and obviously considers himself a big-spender and ladies’ man, seats himself at the bar. Throughout the scene, other customers come to the bar area to order drinks and play the jukebox.

FRANK

(With a broad smile.)

 

My man, how ya’ doin’?

 

CUSTOMER

(His eyes roaming the bar.)

 

Everything’s okay. Martini on the rocks.

 

FRANK

 

A martini man, huh? Well alright, alright. It’s just as good as fixed. (As he slowly mixes the drink.) You must be new around here. I don’t recall ever havin’ seen you at the Club before.

 

CUSTOMER

(Distantly)

 

You’re right.  It’s my first time here.

 

FRANK

 

Yeah, thought so. You see, I never forget a face. I’ve been tending bar for over thirty years now – ten right here – and I’ve never forgot a face or what my customers like to drink. I mean the next time you come in here – that’s if you become a regular customer, of course – know just what you want. (Bending over the counter as if confidentially.) Now if you like a martini when you’re havin’ a little trouble, like with your girlfriend, or wife, or both, I’ll know just what you want as soon as you step in the door. As a matter of fact, sometimes I can just look at a person and tell what they want even if it’s only their first time here.

 

CUSTOMER

(Paying less than half attention to FRANK.)

 

Yeah, that’s pretty good.

 

FRANK

 

I know it is. Ain’t too many bartenders around who can do that. That’s why the boss don’t want no other bartenders workin’ here. Shoot, if I get sick or somethin’, sometimes he don’t even bother to open the bar. You know, just the other day a man came in here who hadn’t been to the Club but once before, and that was three or four years ago. But as soon as he sat down I told him just what he wanted to drink. He asked me how I knew, and I told him I just remembered. He couldn’t believe it, but the proof was sittin’ right there in front of him in a glass, stain’ him right smack-dab in the face. Yeah, I might forget your name or somethin’, but I won’t ever forget what you drink.

 

CUSTOMER

(Almost completely ignoring his speech.)

 

When does the action start around here?

 

FRANK

 

The action?

 

CUSTOMER

(Annoyed.)

 

The young ladies, man. When do they start comin’ in?

 

FRANK

(Grinning.)

 

Oh yeah, the women. I didn’t think you were the type to come here just for a drink.

 

CUSTOMER

 

Right, now what about —

 

FRANK

 

Well we don’t allow no ho’s to do any business in here, you know. They can take care of that out on the street. We don’t want no trouble from the law or anybody. But if a man just happens to meet a woman here he likes — you know, love at first sight and all — well, we have some rooms upstairs. Now the pretty girls’ 11 start comin’ in any moment now. The ugly ones’ll be in a little later to get whatever the pretty ones leave behind.

 

CUSTOMER

(Now smiling and placing a bill in FRANK’s hand.)

 

Now that’s what I wanted to know, my man. Another martini, please.

 

FRANK

(Beaming)

 

Another martini it is, my brother.

 

As FRANK goes to fix the CUSTOMER another drink, BRAD enters the club. Moving quietly to the har area, he seats himself several stools away from the CUSTOMER. FRANK then finishes making the martini and ambles down the bar to where BRAD is seated.

 

FRANK

 

What’ll it be, my friend. (Regards BRAD with a puzzled look.)

 

BRAD

 

Scotch and soda.

 

FRANK

 

Humm. You look awful familiar. But if I’d seen you here before, I’d remember what . . . You’ve never been here, have you?

 

BRAD

No.

 

FRANK

(Breathing a sigh of relief.)

 

Whew! Thought for a minute there you was pin’ to ruin my record. (Thinks for a few seconds, then triumphantly.) Now I remember. Roberts! Brad "Rainbow" Roberts! That’s you ain’t it? (BRAD doesn’t respond.) Yeah, I thought so. Well what do ya know? I don’t think I ever seen a young man who could shoot that ball like you did. Boy, you could really fire. You just about put that little old high school of yours on the map. Everybody still talks about that game you played against Worthington High. Scored something like  forty points if I remember right. Unh, unh, unh. One of the best damn games I’ve ever seen. I know that much.

 

BRAD

Can I have my drink, man.

 

FRANK

(Grinning apologetically.)

 

Oh, yeah, sorry. Sometimes I just get to talkin’ and can’t stop. But you just tell me if I’m talkin’ too much and be as quiet as a high-yellow colored boy on "Lynch a Coon Day" in Lower Peach Tree, Alabama. (Goes to fix drink which he does in uncharacteristically quick fashion, then returns.) Here you go. And don’t worry about a thing. The club’ll foot the bill.

 

BRAD

(Disaffectedly.)

 

Thanks.

 

 

FRANK

 

Yeah, I’ve always been a basketball fan, you know, high school and pro. Never followed college ball, though. No offense, but it just never really (Searches for the word.) appealed to me. I just like to see the kids playin’ the game for fun in high school. You know, all of ‘em dreamin’ about bein’ pro’s. And I like to look at the pro’s just to see the ones that made it. It’s kinda like turnin’ on the TV set and only watchin’ the beginnin’ and end of a show. What happens in the middle just don’t interest me. (Silence.) So what you doin’ now, Brad? I expected you to be playin’ for the Lakers or somethin’ by now.

 

BRAD

(Simply.)

 

I’m workin’.

FRANK

 

Oh yeah. (Grinning indulgently.) Don’t tell me one of those sweet little college girls made you forget all about that old basketball.

 

BRAD

(Quickly.)

 

No. (Pause.) I just ... just didn’t feel like playin’ no more. That’s all.

 

FRANK

(Trying his best to be accommodating.)

 

I guess that’s just as well. After all, you can’t play all your life. You gotta go to work sometime. Lord knows the last time I got a chance to just play around. Nope. I almost never miss a day here. Seems I been workin’ eight hours a day, six days a week, fifty-two weeks a year for as far back as I can remember. (More silence.) Hey, how about those Lakers?

 

BRAD

 

What about ‘em?

 

FRANK

 

Lost again tonight.

BRAD

(Gaining interest.)

 

Yeah? What was the score?

 

FRANK

 

105-101.

 

BRAD

 

Damn, that close, huh?

 

FRANK

 

I thought the Lakers were gonna win, but they just couldn’t stop old Shag. He had damn near thirty-five points today. I swear. I bet a hundred dollars on those fools, and it seems they’re tryin’ their best to lose my money as soon as they can. Two games down already. Just don’t understand ‘em. (Shakes his head.)

 

BRAD

(Smiling sarcastically.)

 

I can’t seem to win anything this week, either.

 

FRANK

 

Well, just don’t worry about it. We all have those kind of weeks sometime or other. Just start worryin’ when those weeks start becomin’ months and years.

 

As BRAD begins his last speech above, BELINDA enters stage left. A tall, slender, pretty twenty-one year old, her soft darting eyes are the only overt clue to her small-town upbringing and consequent, but fading, naiveté about urban life. Moving lithely across the room, followed by the sun glassed-hidden eyes of nearly every male in the bar, BELINDA seats herself on the stool directly left of BRAD.

FRANK

(To BRAD, alluding to BELINDA.)

 

Sweet Lord Jesus. Looks like your bad luck’s just about ready to come to an end. (To BELINDA.) Well, well, well. What can I do for you, young lady? You look like . . .Let me see ... the rum punch type. Right?

 

BELINDA

(Surprised.)

 

Yeah. How’d you know that?

 

FRANK

 

I just figured only the sweetest for the sweet. (They both laugh as FRANK goes off to fix the drink. After coolly checking BELINDA out, the CUSTOMER self-confidently moves down the bar next to her.)

 

 

 

 

 

CUSTOMER

(To FRANK.)

 

I’ll take care of that, my man. Put it on my tab. (Addressing BELINDA.)  What’s happenin’ baby? You certainly are looking extraordinarily good this evening. (BELINDA uncomfortably smiles her thanks. CUSTOMER pulls out a rather large roll of bills.) If you don’t have anything in particular planned for tonight, why don’t you bring your drink and join me over there (Pointing to his just vacated stool.) for a little conversation?

 

BELINDA

 

I’d really like to . . . and thanks for offering to buy my drink, but ... but (Looks pleadingly at BRAD.) I’m with him.

 

CUSTOMER

(Still flashing his roll.)

 

Come on, baby. You know you didn’t come in with him. Be good now. It’ll be worth it.

 

BELINDA

 

I’m sorry, but I can’t.

 

BRAD

(Staring at CUSTOMER.)

 

That’s right, man. She didn’t come in with me cause she was supposed to meet me here.

 

CUSTOMER

(Grunts.)

 

Well, if that’s the way it be’s, (Looks at BRAD.) that’s the way it be’s. (To FRANK.) Hey, bartender, the lady says she’s with him . . . so put the drink on his tab. (Only a fearful look on BELINDA’s face keeps BRAD in his seat. CUSTOMER peels off a few bills to pay for his drink, says good-bye to BELINDA, then exits.)

 

FRANK

 

Well, there’s no sense in me remembering what he likes to drink. I’m sure we won’t be seeing him in here again.

 

BELINDA

(To BRAD.)

 

Thanks.

 

 

 

BRAD

 

I hope you don’t mean for the drink.

 

BELINDA

 

No, no. I don’t mean that. I mean for telling him I was with you.

 

BRAD

 

Listen, baby, if you think there’s going to be more green flowing from my direction than his, you’re awful wrong. (Looking towards the door.) And I think you better hurry up and catch that brother before he’s too far gone. (BRAD moves from bar.)

 

BELINDA

(Following him.)

 

I’m not lookin’ for no money.

 

BRAD

 

What? Now wait a second. You mean to tell me you come into a bar alone, dressed like you are, sit down right next to a man you don’t know, let him put your drink on his tab, and yet you ain’t tryin’ to get no money out of him? Oh, baby. Where are you from?

 

BELINDA

 

Cleveland.

 

BRAD

 

Cleveland! You mean to tell me niggers in Ohio act that crazy?

 

BELINDA

 

Not Ohio. Mississippi. Cleveland, Mississippi.

 

BRAD

(Laughs.)

 

Oh, alright. That’s different then. You had me worried for a while. Well, check this, ba — . What’s your name.

 

BELINDA

Belinda.

 

 

BRAD

 

Belinda. Well, check this out, Belinda. You see when you act like that in this city, people are gonna think you’re a ‘ho’. Understand?

 

BELINDA

(In girlish anger.)

 

Yeah, I know what a `ho’ is.

 

BRAD

 

Good. (Pause.) What you doin’ in here alone anyway? Where’s your man?

 

BELINDA

 

I don’t have one now.

 

BRAD

 

Yeah, why’s that?

 

BELINDA

 

‘Cause he tried to make me a ‘ha’ just like almost every other man I’ve met up here has. They’re all the same. Comn’ on real nice at first, takin’ you out, buyin’ you clothes and perfume and everything. Then all of a sudden they start bein’ broke and needin’ money and wonderin’ if you could help ‘em out a little bit. They all tell you there ain’t nothin’ wrong with it and it’ll just be for a little while anyway. It never takes any of ‘em more than a couple of weeks to ask, and then there’s always a big fight when you tell ‘em no. The first one I met at the train station the day I got here. The last was at a bus stop. That last one, Tony, he almost killed me when I said I wouldn’t. I was scared to death of him when he was high.

 

BRAD

 

Well, sister, welcome to the city. But, baby, if you know what you do then you should know better than to sit down next to a stranger at a bar.

 

BELINDA

(Like a well-reprimanded child.)

 

Yeah, I guess I should. It’s just . . . it’s just that it’s so easy to get lonely here. This city’s so big. I always feel that if I sit down next to somebody, maybe, just maybe they’ll turn out to be alright. You know?

BRAD

(Trying not to be reached.)

 

Yeah. You workin’?

 

BELINDA

 

Uh-huh. I’m a waitress. This is my only day off. (Long pause). You know you haven’t told me a thing about you. What’s your name?

 

BRAD

 

Brad.

FRANK

(Finally returning with the drink.)

 

Excuse me for takin’ so long, but you both were talk’n so nice, I just didn’t want to disturb you.

BRAD

(Smiling sarcastically.)

 

Yeah, man. Thanks so much.

 

FRANK

 

Well, let me disappear again. (Steps away, then back.) And, Miss, don’t worry. It’s on the house.

BELINDA

(Laughing.)

 

He’s kinda cute.

 

BRAD

 

Yeah, if you like fat, bald, nosey bartenders.

 

 

BELINDA

(Still laughing.)

 

I didn’t mean that. What kind of work do you do?

 

BRAD

 

Hard.

 

BELINDA

(Playfully frustrated.)

 

No really.

 

 

BRAD

 

Real hard.

 

BELINDA

(Waving him off.)

 

Oh.

BRAD

 

So, Ms. Belinda, what made you decide to leave home?

 

BELINDA

 

Well, I’ll tell you one thing. I didn’t come here to become no movie star or model if that’s what you’re thinkin’. I guess all I really want to do is meet a good man, raise a family, and live a little better than I would’ve back home. (Reminiscing.) I remember how when I was little my father used to always tell me that whatever I did I had to try to go out of life with at least a little more than I started it with. I suppose that’s all I really want. I guess it’s not really too much to ask. (Long pause.) You always lived here?

 

BRAD

 

Yeah, mostly. I’ve done some traveling though.

 

 

BELINDA

 

Ever been to Mississippi?

 

BRAD

 

Unh-unh!

 

BELINDA

 

Oh, it’s not that bad.

 

BRAD

 

Yeah, I guess that’s why you left it, huh? (Both laugh.)

 

BELINDA

 

It’s not as bad as it used to be. It’s a lot different now.

 

 

 

BRAD

 

Not different enough for me.

 

BELINDA

 

Well, just in case you ever change your mind and decide to go, look up my family, the Davises. Willie and Jessie. Davis. Those are my folks. They’ll treat you so nice, I’m sure you’ll want to go back to visit again and again and again..

 

BRAD

 

Okay, I’ll do that. If I change my mind.

 

BELINDA

(Pause.)

 

You come here often?

 

BRAD

 

No.

 

BELINDA

 

Just when you want to get away, huh?

 

BRAD

Get away? From what?

 

BELINDA

 

From your wife or girlfriend or somethin’. You know what I mean. My boyfriend back home used to do the same thing when we got in an argument. Just went on out and got a little tipsy. And I guess at least as far as that goes, there ain’t no big difference between y’ all Northern black men and the Southern ones.

 

BRAD

 

Oh, yeah. Well first, Miss Belinda Davis, tell me what makes you so sure I got a wife or girlfriend or somethir’

BELINDA

(Playfully dismissing him.)

 

Now I just know you got at least one woman. (BRAD laughs.) Well, are you married?

 

 

 

BRAD

(After a long pause.)

 

No. (Changing moods.) You happy now?

 

BELINDA

 

Am I happy?

 

BRAD

 

Yeah. Now that you know I’m not married.

 

BELINDA

(Embarrassed.)

 

Why should that make me happy?

 

BRAD.

(Matter of factly.)

 

Because you like me: Why else?

 

BELINDA

 

What?

 

BRAD

 

Look at it this way, baby. Already I’ve protected you from a dirty old man and kept you company. I was even willing to buy you a drink. I mean I’ve been a real gentleman. You’ve got a pretty good thing pin’ here. You ought to at least like me a little.

 

BELINDA

 

You’re crazy. (Smiling.) But. I guess you’re alright. (BRAD smiles). (Bashfully.) I don’t want to sound forward or nothin’, but can we go somewhere else . . . like to a movie or somethin’? Don’t worry, I got money to pay for myself.

 

BRAD

 

Sure. Why not? (Calling to FRANK.) How much do we owe you, man?

 

FRANK

(Scurrying over.)

 

Just call me Frank. You don’t owe nothing, Brad . . . Leavin’ kinda soon, huh? (Quietly to BRAD.) We got some rooms upstairs for only forty

BRAD

(Feigning umbrage.)

 

What are you talkin’ about, brother Frank? Me and the young lady are pin’ somewhere where we can talk. (FRANK looks incredulous.) See you later.

 

BELINDA

 

You’re pretty tall. You ever play basketball?

 

BRAD

Yeah.

BELINDA

I bet you were good.

BRAD

(Pause.)

Belinda, I was better than just good. (Both exit.)

 

FRANK

(Clearing the bar.)

 

Damn. I wish I had been a basketball star.

 

END OF SCENE

Peter Lawson Jones © 2013

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