The Plays:

Pruning the Family Tree by Dan Gordon

Pruning the Family Tree

A dark comedy in two acts

Sample of Dialogue (PDF) | Cast of Characters | Set Requirements


There's a loud cry in this country for a return to family values, but who defines those values. Pruning the Family Tree is a dark dramatic comedy about four women from one family who gather for the funeral of the family patriarch and reveal that a family’s values aren’t always what they seem.

Joe Casey has just died and his family has gathered at the Casey house for the upcoming funeral. We first meet Joe's wife of forty years, Marilyn. The marriage between Joe and Marilyn was motivated by social expectation not love, and Marilyn has born the burden of holding the family together. Then there's Joe's youngest daughter, Barb. Barb has a slight physical handicap and at age 36 still lives at home. She has grown very dependent on Marilyn, out of habit not necessity. Next is Ellen, Joe's oldest daughter. Ellen left home when, at 18, she got pregnant and married. Since her divorce she has been independent, avoiding commitment and responsibility. Finally, there's Ellen's daughter Christy. Since her parents divorce Christy has lived with her father and for the last 10 years she has struggled to develop a relationship with Ellen, something Ellen has been avoiding. Christy's memories of the family are childhood memories of weekends at grandma's house playing scrabble and drinking coke floats.

Act one begins two days before the funeral, Ellen and Christy have arrived and funeral arrangements are being made. As the four gather together to write Joe's eulogy the talk turns to love between men and women. It soon becomes clear to Christy that Joe Casey was not well liked, especially by his family. Barb and Marilyn reveal that, before he died, Joe re-mortgaged the house and car, leaving the two of them deep in debt. Toward the end of act one the finance company arrives and repossess the car, sending Marilyn to the medicine cabinet for a few of valium to go with her vodka. The act ends with Ellen reading a eulogy that would be more fitting a roast than a funeral.

Act two scene one takes place the next morning. Barb has found Marilyn dead on the couch. Distraught, confused, and believing Marilyn didn't want to be buried anywhere near Joe, Barb buries Marilyn's body in the backyard. When Christy and Ellen discover what's happened they find themselves in a maze of confusion. They must deal with running stray dogs away from a backyard grave and pulling Barb from the oven where she tries to kill herself. In the middle of it all Marilyn suddenly appears. It seems that she wasn't physically dead, only dead drunk.

Act two scene two begins after Joe's funeral. While going through some of his things, Christy and Ellen discover that Joe used the money from the house to buy a boat. They also discover he was planning to run away from home. They tell Barb the news and she confesses that she and Marilyn already knew of Joe's plan. They'd found out days earlier, that's why they killed him. In an effort to explain to Christy the circumstances that led to murder, it's reluctantly revealed that Joe infected Marilyn with syphilis while she was pregnant with Barb. The syphilis is what caused Barb’s handicap.

Ultimately Christy develops a better understanding and appreciation for Ellen, Barb and Marilyn. She now also shares a secret with them.

Set Requirements:

Single Set: living room
Time: Present

Cast of Characters:

Christy Ferguson:

Twenty year old college girl and daughter of Ellen Casey Ferguson.

Ellen Casey Ferguson:

Thirty nine year old estranged mother of Christy.

Barbara Casey:

Thirty six year old sister to Ellen and aunt to Christy. Barbara has a slight paralysis in her left leg and arm.

Marilyn Casey:

Fifty six year old mother of Barbara and Ellen, and grandmother of Christy.

Special thanks to Hali Linn for the custom artwork created for each play!