With a daughter about to leave for college, the father listens to her request for a car. Enter his 16-year-old son wanting $30 for a pair of shoes and his wife needing grocery money.
You wonder why the father does not seem worried, but then the telephone rings and he says to the caller, "So you want a kilo, huh? That'll cost $850."
On stage at Dunbar High School, a cast of a dozen teen-agers from the Shaw neighborhood in Northwest Washington have re-created two families, one middle class and one poor, that chose the same means to deal with their problems--drugs.
And the chorus chants, "Peer pressure, money pressure, family pressure . . . "
When the wife of the poor husband suggests they go out to dinner and talk about having a baby, he whips a marijuana cigarette from behind his ear, suggesting that she "fire this up." And shut up.
The play is called "All Rise," a nice way of saying: Get out of that stupor, dummy.
The performance is part of the city's up and coming Everyday Theater and is based not only on interviews with inmates at Lorton Reformatory and counselors at RAP Inc., a drug rehabilitation center, but the kids' own observations and preoccupations as young residents of the city.
During a recent rehearsal at Garrison Elementary School, at 13th and S streets NW, the cast spotted a prostitute working just off the school grounds. The scene was incorporated into the play with a poem in which a mother mourns, "She's got a million-dollar body and a ten-cent brain. I hope that's not my daughter standing in the rain."
The roving company has performed plays on other issues, such as housing displacement and violent crime. But it is the current one-act performance on drug use, with its sights and sounds of families in conflict, that strikes familiar chords in audiences of all ages.
"What's wrong with you, son?" the mother asks the 16-year-old who has set out to pay for his shoes by selling drugs. When he says, "Everything is lovely, Mom," the audience erupts in laughter. Lovely is a popular street term for PCP.
"Let me see your fingers," the mother asks as the boy nods out of his chair. "Why are your fingertips burnt?" Again, laughter from those who know about holding a lit "reefer" too long.
This is a most innovative musical that not only helps the kids come to grips with the complexities of life around them but offers adults a fresh vision of how the world ought to be.
The kids developed the play themselves, insisting that it not end on a downer. They really believe that if families deal with their members in an honest, straightforward manner--not using drugs and alcohol to escape--any problem can be solved.
The performance highlights the apparent hypocrisy surrounding some efforts to curb drug abuse by showing the parents, after chastising the siblings for smoking pot, sitting at a table snorting cocaine. From the chorus comes the children's satirical refrain: "Coke never lets you down. It's the most refreshing pause around."
Frankly, it's the play that is refreshing. And funny.
But what is sad is that such activities for youth are so few and far between. Each summer, the Everyday Theater selects 12 city youths and instructs them on creating, writing and performing plays. The members are paid as part of the mayor's summer jobs program.
You have some natural actors out here, and you can bet many would prefer to act on stage rather than act up on the streets. Instead of expanding programs like this, however, they are usually the first in line to be cut. And the next thing you know the city is spending millions of dollars a day on street drug raids.
Watching the reaction of the audience at last week's performance, and noting my own feelings, it was clear that these young actors and actresses had succeeded in portraying a stark reality by placing drugs in the social and economic context of family life.
Here, from the mouths of babes, comes the poignant reminder that the family remains our last best hope. Why get high, the youthful cast asks, when--as a family--we can all rise together.