Joe and Cleo: A Romance

category: short play
genre: romance
running time: ten minutes
setting: a funeral parlor; a middle-American home; a rooftop
period: contemporary

Joe, a boy
Cleo, a girl
Two Narrators

Joe and Cleo are former high school acquaintances who re-connect at a funeral parlor when both are there to attend the funerals of their respective siblings. They begin what turns out to be a lifelong romance, only sharing the most mundane elements with the audience, always carefully avoiding the shared fact at the center of their life together: that their siblings’ deaths were linked, and that Fate might have brought them together at the price of people they loved.

author’s comments:
This play was originally composed for the Old Pueblo Playwrights “Play in a Day” festival, in which I, and another playwright, Bret Primack, were paired up and given twelve hours to work on a script that incorporated certain props and the line “My brother has one just like it, only bigger.” That line is really all that remains of the contest, for which a version of “Joe and Cleo” was staged, directed by Robert Encila and featuring Tucson theater staple Marian Wald as the Narrator (there was only one in that version). We placed second and since then I’ve revised the script heavily, expanding it a little and tweaking the parts of the plot-line which didn’t work. All of Bret’s dialogue, of which there wasn’t much to begin with since he fell asleep shortly after we began work, was expunged and replaced with new material, so I don’t put him on the by-line any more, though he should get credit for naming Joe. Short, succinct, poetic and carefully disguising a real kick in the crotch at the end, “Joe & Cleo” is perfect for theater festivals and short play collections and one of my personal favorites of the mini-plays I’ve written over the years. The ending is the epitome of bittersweet, and plays like a Yo La Tengo song sent by someone who used to love me.

Staged Readings:

Old Pueblo Playwrights, February 2, 2002, Cabaret Theater at the Temple of Music and Art in Tucson, Arizona. Directed by Robert Encila. Cast: John van Wyck (Joe), Liyam Eloul (Cleo), Marian Wald (Narrator)

Black Ice Theatre Company, April 8, 2020, on Facebook as part of their Sheltered Shorts Series. Directed by Rich Sargent. Cast: Erica Andracchio (Cleo), Nick Trengove (Joe), Tom Callahan (Narrator 1), Alysone Hussmann (Narrator 2)


Hyperion Theater Project, November 24, 25, 26 2008, Gotham Comedy Club in New York City, New York. Directed by Lori Sommer; Designed by Michael Pauley. Cast: Michael Curasi (Joe), Diana Bologna (Cleo), Robert Simon Newey (Narrator 1), Pat Galante (Narrator 2)

PianoFight, March 26, 27, 28 2015, PianoFight Theater in San Francisco, California. Directed by Stuart Bousel; Lighting by Clinton Winder. Cast: Devin McNulty (Joe), Xanadu Bruggers (Cleo), Ron Talbot (Narrator 1), Jan Marsh (Narrator 2)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *