Dumpster Dan

1 son. 1 dad. 2 dumpsters.

Published in 35 in 10: Thirty-Five Ten-Minute Plays and in Dramatics magazine. Winner, SlamBoston! ten minute play competition. Subsequently produced at New York City’s 10th Annual Fifteen Minute Play Festival, sponsored by Turnip Theatre Company, at the Brave New World Festival in New York, and at Fairfield University.

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Below is the entire play. Please contact me for performance rights.


DAN. High school freshman
Dan’s FATHER. 40s


Two mats, or something like it, represent dumpsters on opposite sides of an alley. A milk crate is used as a chair throughout. The actors remove objects from the dumpsters to use as props and return them afterward. Dan’s dumpster is empty. Father’s dumpster has a baseball cap, clipboard, glasses, books, beat-up suit jackets, tie (already knotted), towel, and toy ray gun.

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(Dan sulks in his dumpster. Father sits in another dumpster across the alley. He tries to get Dan’s attention.)

FATHER. Hungry? (Silence.) Not hungry? (Silence.) Alive?

(DAN turns farther away and sulks. His FATHER gives up. To the audience.)

I was at the kitchen table. Looking at all the stuff we’d accumulated over the years. Mounds of –! Piles of –! I could hardly find the darned sink and get a drink of water. (Pause.) At some point you have to make a decision and take control of your life. So that’s what I did. I decided to get rid of it all, everything I owned, and live off the land.

DAN. Which was hard to do, cause we live in a city.

FATHER. Good point. That started me thinking. (Scratches his chin.) I love thinking. (Scratches some more.) I came up with an inspired solution: urban resource reclamation.

(DAN can’t resist. He gets out of his dumpster. Leading question.)

DAN. What’s that, in layman’s terms?

FATHER. You subsist on stuff people throw away.

DAN. Which means?

FATHER. You climb into metal containers and wade around till you – till you – Fine. Have it your way.


DAN. Dumpster diving.

FATHER. Dumpster diving.

DAN. (To the audience.) Dad didn’t stop there. He got rid of our furniture and quit his job, but we still had our apartment. Till one day he came home and said –

FATHER. (As if waking from a nap.) I fell asleep behind the A & P on an egg crate. Best sleep I’ve had in years. Hmm.

(He scratches his chin.)

DAN. Please. No more thinking!

FATHER. I passed my old partner on his way to the office. He was hunched over, weighed down by all the things he had to maintain. I got a better night’s sleep than he did. What other proof do we need? (Pats DAN playfully.) I’ll give the keys to the first person I see. Ha ha! Can’t wait to see the expression on their face!

(FATHER starts off.)

DAN. Wait! What about my books and clothes and – and stuff?

FATHER. You’ll find better stuff out there.

DAN. Mom would never let you get away with this!


(A flash of anger. He calms himself.)

It’s you and me now, all right? Trust me.

(He pats DAN on the arm.)

You’ll feel better once we’re out of here.

(DAN huffs as his FATHER goes to his dumpster and reads. To the audience.)

DAN. After a few weeks, dad began to change. He stopped drinking. His hygiene improved.

FATHER. That makes one of us.

DAN. He read five books a week. We had the best conversations. There was even talk of him entering the Boston Marathon.

(DAN climbs on the milk crate outside his dad’s dumpster.)

As for me, it took a while to get the hang of it.

(FATHER puts out his arm to spot him.)

FATHER. Come on, Dano.

DAN. What if something’s sharp?

FATHER. I checked.

DAN. What if something’s moving?

FATHER. I checked. I’m right here. Nothing will happen to you.

(DAN jumps in and goes through the trash. He finds a ray gun.)

DAN. Wow! It’s in mint condition.

(He plays with it, excited. FATHER laughs.)

FATHER. I’m right. God, I love being right! You know, Dan, we’re defying history. Returning to man’s original, glorious state. We’ll forage a few hours a day, then have time to engage in higher activities. Culture. Poetry. Family values.

(FATHER reads. DAN plays nearby. To the audience.)

DAN. I don’t know how I kept it a secret at school. (Beat.) Yes I do. I have no friends. Actually, I have two, but they aren’t let’s-hang-out-at-your-house-I-want-to-know-you kind of friends. It was pretty nice, while it lasted.

FATHER. (Aside.) Do we have to do the next part?

DAN. You started it. You can’t stop now.

FATHER. I don’t like thinking about it.

(FATHER curls up in his dumpster. To the audience.)

DAN. I was showering at a hydrant before school when the garbage truck came early. And dad was still sleeping. You can guess what happened.

(DAN beeps and puts his arms out, imitating a garbage truck with front-loading prongs. FATHER wakes with a start.)

FATHER. What’s going on?

(As DAN picks up his arms, FATHER tilts, lifting the mat so the trash slides too.)

Hey! Put me down!

(DAN’s arms rise above him. FATHER tries to hang on.)

Somebody! Please! Help!

(DAN’s arms are behind his head. FATHER pulls the mat over on top of him and doesn’t move. DAN looks at him with concern.)

DAN. Dad? (To the audience.) I was in the waiting room twelve hours. News teams arrived with the ambulance. A picture of dad on a stretcher aired on every network. With an orange rind on his head. And my two friends, who watch gobs of TV, aren’t you-live-in-a-dumpster-but-we-can-still-hang-out kind of friends. And those stupid newscasters kept sticking a microphone in my face asking where my mom was! (Pause.) I wanted to tell them that my mom was – that she – (Pause.) She always knew what to say.

(DAN rearranges his father’s dumpster, ranting.)

Why’d I end up with you, huh!? It’s not fair! … Get rid of my stuff, move out and oversleep and almost get yourself killed and – and –

(He grunts in utter despair and frustration.)

You better die, cause I don’t want to see you again!

(He grabs his things, climbs on the milk crate, and jumps into the other dumpster. He arranges his things. FATHER limps on.)

FATHER. Dan? Where you been? I thought you’d visit me at the hospital.

DAN. I left when I saw it wasn’t fatal.

FATHER. Thanks. (Pause.) I see you moved across the alley.

DAN. It’s as far as I could carry my stuff, all right? Go away!

(FATHER sighs and goes to his dumpster. To the audience.)

And to think the only normal thing I had left was high school!

(Snorts at his own joke, then stops. It’s not funny.)

I always avoided getting picked on. I’m short. Big kids looked right over me. But now they hunted me like small game.

(FATHER puts on the baseball cap and plays an older classmate. He pushes DAN to the ground.)

FATHER. That CD you got me was scratched.

DAN. It was thrown out for a reason.

FATHER. Get me another. You find a gold chain for my girlfriend?

DAN. I tried. They’re hard to find.

(FATHER twists DAN’s leg in a wrestling move.)

Ouch! How about something bigger? A teddy bear? She’d like a teddy bear.

FATHER. How do you know? You talk to her?

DAN. No. I’d never do that. Ouch! (Looking around. Desperate.) Dad?

FATHER. (Snickering.) He’s busy, Dumpster Dan. In another alley.

(He pulls DAN toward a dumpster.)

It’s the cafeteria dumpster for you.

DAN. No! (Grimacing.) The milk reeks. They served Sloppy Joes today.

(FATHER pushes him into the dumpster. DAN dries off with the towel. To the audience.)

You might have prayed if you were me. But I appealed to a higher authority …

(He goes to his FATHER, who wears glasses and a jacket and sits on a crate doing paperwork.)

Principal Lawson, it’s getting worse. My English teacher made me take my chair out in the hall cause I stunk up class and – and – (Beat.) Will you look up from your paperwork?

FATHER. (Sniffing.) Step back, please.

DAN. I’ll sue. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act. My dad’s a disability!

FATHER. I hear he’s a brilliant man. Kind of a new age philosopher king. Maybe he’s on to something. (Returns to his paperwork.) Why don’t you try? I don’t see you trying.


DAN. Why won’t you listen to me?

(DAN storms off.)


(He watches Dan go, concerned. To the audience.)

I watched Dan sulk around the alley and wondered what his mother would have done to get him back. (Beat.) I couldn’t believe it. I’d gotten rid of everything we owned together and I was still thinking about her. (Pause.) I tried to get a job.

(DAN, as the employer, in tie and jacket, sits on the crate and reviews an application.)

DAN. There’s a break in your employment record.

FATHER. I was finding myself.

DAN. Did it work?

FATHER. Yes. But I lost my son in the process.

(FATHER slaps his knee and laughs.)

DAN. That’s not funny.

FATHER. No. It’s not.

DAN. Give me your contact information in case something opens up.

FATHER. I don’t have any.

DAN. No address or phone number? (He tosses the clipboard away.) Come back when you won’t waste my time.

(DAN takes off the jacket. FATHER moves the crate across the stage. To the audience.)

FATHER. It was the same thing getting an apartment.

(DAN sits on the crate with a folder and application.)

DAN. Occupation?

FATHER. No one will hire me till I have a place to live.

DAN. You can’t rent a place till you have income.

FATHER. I’ve already seen ten brokers. This is discrimination!

(DAN rips up the application.)

DAN. Most people don’t give up their job and home at the same time. It’s discrimination against dumb people.

FATHER. Thanks.

DAN. Just trying to help.

(DAN sits in his dumpster, his head down.)

FATHER. (To the audience.) I was at the kitchen table. And everywhere I looked there were mounds of – piles of – things we’d bought together. I found her fingerprints everywhere. On the cabinets, the doors. I thought I’d stop missing her out here. (Pause.) Dan? I’m sorry. I’d take it all back if I could, but it looks like we’re stuck for now –

DAN. Go away.

FATHER. And since we’re in the same neighborhood and could both use a friend … (Pause.) I’m not doing very well. I’m scared to go to sleep sometimes. At my age. Can you believe it?

DAN. You just – go think of her over there, and I’ll think of her over here, and that’s the way it’s going to be.

FATHER. Okay. I’ll be – Well, you know where I’ll be.

(FATHER sits in his dumpster. To the audience.)

I tried to sleep. But every time I closed my eyes I felt the world tilt sideways and was dragged up in the air and was sure death was waiting for me. So I sat. And stared at the street lights reflecting off the haze. And about two in the morning I heard something. This haunting sound reverberated across the alley, off the walls of my dumpster, and out over the city. It was the sound of a boy crying.

(He goes to DAN, who cries silently, and puts his arm around him.)

I climbed in and held him. And for a few hours we were just two people huddling together, waiting for morning. (To DAN.) Hush now. Hush.

DAN. I like this part.

FATHER. I know.

DAN. I never thanked you for it.

FATHER. I know.

(Pause. Nodding toward his dumpster.)

Have you thought of moving back?

(Pause. DAN shakes his head “no.”)

That’s all right. It’s all right.

(FATHER rocks him quietly. END OF PLAY.)

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Please contact me for performance rights.