One-Act Plays
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a play in one-act

by Ann Wuehler

The following one-act play is reprinted here with the author's permission. Inquiries concerning all rights, including amateur and professional performing rights, should be directed to the author at:


HELEN, also known as " Whalegirl " by the inhabitants of the Island of Pearls. Freakishly obese, sideshow. Thirties or so.

RALPH, perhaps thirty-nine, old enough to have a teenage daughter. A small, restless man with rumpled clothing. A visitor to the island, has been on a very long plane ride.


The Island of Pearls. A beach against a tranquil tropical sea. Light is soft and forgiving. A hut upstage with three sides, looks made of cast-off wood and driftwood and beach debris. It sags, almost ready to fall apart. There are thick ropes attached to " palm trees " or perhaps stumps--all these ropes lead back to hut. The ocean is heard throughout the play, soft and murmuring. Seagulls, intermixed with unintelligible human voices, heard also. The time is now, an afternoon.

A NOTE ON HELEN -- she can be played by anyone. Her body should be padded or otherwise hidden, her face padded as well.

[Lights up. Helen is settled in front of her hut, with her head down. Motionless, a virtual mountain of motley, assorted clothing tied and sewn together to make a sort of muumuu about her. We hear the shrieking of birds. Ralph enters, downstage, in black wrinkled trousers, face unshaved. Out of breath; his pockets bulge with rocks. Looks up at sky as if expecting an attack, Helen remains still. Ralph takes out a rock from his pocket, touches the ropes, then takes a step or two toward Helen, raises arm as if to throw rock. Instead he places it at a distance from Helen, like an offering. He backs far upstage, above her and waits. Helen raises head, watches out front, but casts her eye now and then back toward him, as if marking his position.]

HELEN: Don't. Stare.

[Her voice is rusty, not used to speaking. Pause. Ralph remains where he is for the moment.]

RALPH: I left my jacket on the ferry.

HELEN: ...staring...

RALPH: My jacket on the ferry.

HELEN: Not many of them actually throw rocks...

RALPH: I watched the fish just below the water. The birds wouldn't leave me alone.

HELEN: You've come to look at me...all of you looking at me!

RALPH: The Island of Pearls, it sounded...not on the map, it's not on the map, the birds, the birds wouldn't leave me alone.

[Touches the hut, comes forward to tug on a rope. Helen tosses a rock at him, which she takes out of her own clothing. Ralph ducks.]

RALPH: What the hell are you doing?

HELEN: My ropes! [Finds another rocks, hefts it.] Go away. You get away. [But Ralph does not. Comes down a little.] Staring, staring, staring...

RALPH: No one will miss me. I had to come here.

HELEN: Leave a dollar. Go away. Away away.

RALPH: You can't see this from the mainland.

HELEN: Whalegirl lives that what they told you?? Away away...

RALPH: I want to see the whales.

[Helen throws second rocks, but it misses.]

HELEN: Try to cut my ropes...

RALPH: No, oh no...I just uh...came to see the whales...

HELEN: Whalegirl Whalegirl Whalegirl WHALEGIRL!

RALPH: I won't...

HELEN: Keep walking.

RALPH: I don't have any money. To give you. I bought the rocks...

HELEN: Stop touching my ropes, my ropes...

RALPH: Okay...sure. I just came to see the whales.

HELEN: They're not coming today.

[Pause. She searches for another rock. Ralph goes very still.]

RALPH: Of course they are.

HELEN: You can't see my whales.

RALPH: I...but they said--

HELEN: They said! They said! I don't care what they said.

RALPH: They said you wouldn't mind...

HELEN: Uhhhh!

[Helen stands with great effort, rocks fall from her loose clothing. Ralph backs away, hands held up.]

HELEN: Stop staring, stop it, stop it...

RALPH: I'm not.

[But he is.]

HELEN: Even through the back of your head, staring at me...

RALPH: It was my fault.

HELEN: Whales are coming.

[Helen collapses, out of breath. She begins to drag all rocks within reach to make a pile of ammo.]

HELEN: Not coming if you're here...

RALPH: They'd stay away because of me?

HELEN: Ugly rock-thrower.

RALPH: No, no, I'll stand way back...

HELEN: Can't see the whales. Go away...

RALPH: I can't go away. [Pause. Helen continues to draw in rocks for her pile.] I...I won't bother you.

HELEN: More coming. Always more coming...

RALPH: No, oh no, just me. the hotel was empty, it's just me. Can I just sit...just sit and wait. The's bluer here...

HELEN: The sea is more enormous than I am.

[Silence. Her hands go still.]

RALPH: I've never seen whales.

HELEN: It doesn't matter what I doesn't matter what I say.

RALPH: I'll go wait for the ferry...I can wait...

[Helen pulls herself forward, points out front. Ralph stares, crosses downstage. Transfixed. Astonished.]

RALPH: Oh my God.

[Ralph fumbles in his clothing, remains looking out front, cannot find whatever he is looking for.]

RALPH: Is that a baby one? Oh...

HELEN: [With a glance at him.] They don't come for strangers...

RALPH: Little chubby baby thing...

HELEN: They stay away...

RALPH: Where is it? [Pats down pockets, checks in shirt.] I had it, just had it.

HELEN: They usually stay away...

RALPH: I had it on the ferry. I had it.

HELEN: ...the don't come every day. They dance open the surface, the water crashing down, crashing down...the sun on their skins...they play and they splash, don't mind me watching them...

RALPH: I can't have lost it!!

[Helen fingers rocks, suspicious now.]

HELEN: I know about tricks.

RALPH: The beautiful.

[Stops frantic search to watch out front.]

HELEN: Do you think I'm stupid?

RALPH: What? No...of course not.

HELEN: Maybe you lost it on the ferry.

[Silence. Ralph begins to go through all his pockets again.]

RALPH: Maybe I left it in my jacket...which is back on the ferry!! Even this little thing I couldn't do right. Even this!

HELEN: A trick, playing a trick...

RALPH: I brought it so far and now, now it's gone...

HELEN: So go back. [Pause. She looks out front to whales.] There's the one with part of its fluke gone...There. It circles the others, circles them in welcome...there.

RALPH: I see him.

HELEN: Maybe it's a her.

RALPH: I wonder how it lost so much of its flipper.

HELEN: Maybe it couldn't get away fast enough...

RALPH: Maybe it was hungry...maybe it chewed it off and then it... [He stops abruptly. Silence.] How much of this beach is yours?

HELEN: Just the soiled part.

RALPH: It was my daughter's, what I lost. Chloe's. I came all this way.

HELEN: Not every day.

RALPH: What am I going to do?

HELEN: I wait. They remain hidden.

RALPH: It was my daughter's.

[Helen pulls out a crumpled, many-times folded stained piece of paper, such as a child might have tucked away in a secret spot. Helen tucks it back out of sight, almost smug.]

RALPH: These ropes like i.v.'s.

HELEN: This thing...your daughter's thing...where do you think it went?

RALPH: What does it matter?? It's gone, you stupid cow. [Helen nods, he continues without noticing.] I lost it, I lost it, what does it matter...

HELEN: It doesn't matter at all to me.

RALPH: I kept it safe on the plane, I hid it and now...

HELEN: Now it's gone.

RALPH: It was important.

HELEN: Not important enough, was it?

RALPH: The whales are here and I can't find it...the only thing of hers I had. I found it, it was... [He crosses to hut, tests boards. It smells bad, he makes a face.] These are rotten.

HELEN: The whales are leaping.

RALPH: Rusted nails.

HELEN: Look. Look!

RALPH: I could tear this apart.

HELEN: Look at that!

[Ralph instead looks at Helen, his hands still on her hut.]

RALPH: The Island of Pearls...written down for someone to read. Written perhaps for me to read. On the village map...

HELEN: The whales are breaching now.

RALPH: So I left...on a journey. On the village map, the island of Pearls is bigger than it looks...

HELEN: Nobody cares. The whales...

RALPH: Bought a ticket. Left everything.

HELEN: They like the sun on their skins.

RALPH: I sat on the plane and had no thoughts.

[A moment. Helen examines her hands, her pile of rocks.]

HELEN: When there's nothing. Nothing at all.

RALPH: The whales with sun on their skins.

HELEN: All the eyes in the entire world, always staring, looking...

RALPH: Just the clouds below the plane.

HELEN: The sand below the water...

RALPH: The sky! this incredible blue...

HELEN: ...the color of eyes...

RALPH: I ate peanuts, I ate bags of peanuts.

HELEN: Cold boiled blue of eyes.

RALPH: I ate peanuts until my teeth hurt.

[Silence. Sound of sea, sound of seabirds.]

HELEN: Are you nicer than most?

RALPH: No. Not in this lifetime. [Moment, then very softly.] Chloe loved whales.

HELEN: Wife? Mother? Whore?? I don't care if she did...

RALPH: My daughter. My daughter used to love them...

HELEN: So what.

RALPH: She used to draw whales for me.

HELEN: They migrate.

RALPH: But you don't care if she drew whales.

HELEN: Not really. [Touches hidden folded paper.]

RALPH: Maybe you should care a lot.

HELEN: They're so clean...

RALPH: You're the only person here who...

HELEN: I'm Whalegirl. You're the only person here.

RALPH: If maybe I walk out there and tell...

HELEN: It must be...heavenly to walk to where you want to go.

RALPH: It's when you stop, start thinking...start...thinking things.

HELEN: The movement. Just walk. Step after step after step.

RALPH: Is it...hard for you? [Helen scratches herself, does not answer.] How long do the whales stay?

HELEN: It' very hard.


HELEN: Don't worry! I know better. People always turn, shred you alive. Always. I know. You have to guard your smiles...what might they think?

RALPH: I see.

[He doesn't.]

HELEN: [she knows this.] I haven't heard a human voice in years...giggling doesn't count. [Viciously.] Did you eat all the cupcakes? All of them? Bad girl!! Bad!

RALPH: I called my daughter Little Cupcake.

HELEN: Nobody will love you, look at you, ugly, oh you're ugly. that's what she said, mother darling, queen of the diet pills. disgusting, my child is so disgusting...

RALPH: It was my fault...

HELEN: Tell them what Whalegirl said at the hotel, tell the vultures that!!

RALPH: My fault, all of it.

HELEN: I know about tricks.

RALPH: At the hotel, they couldn't wait to tell me.

HELEN: They sell bags of rocks, they tell everybody, how they make money.

RALPH: The priest drinking that dark rum.

HELEN: Rolling his eyes, those tiny little eyes when he puts the boxes of food, the bags of food down.

RALPH: That rum-swilling priest.

HELEN: An offering. Act of charity brought to the leper island.

RALPH: He never said any of that.

HELEN: They think things about me, believe things about me...tell you that?

RALPH: I don't remember.

HELEN: You are staring at me.


HELEN: You are. The whales come every few days or not, the sea is bigger than the land, you stare.

RALPH: I don't remember all of it...the plane, here...none of it...

HELEN: Maybe that's true. [Pause.] Too bad you lost it. Whatever it was.

RALPH: I gave that priest the last of my money. I have nothing left, not even a ticket home.

HELEN: Poor thing.

RALPH:'s no use. I could have made it right. I could have.

HELEN: I hide, I cover my head, but they find me, they always find me.

RALPH: Move further down the beach. Build a new...

HELEN: I never thought of that. No, never once, no, not at all!

RALPH: Well...have that priest help you.

HELEN: And then what?

RALPH: You'll have privacy.

HELEN: They sniff out the freaks.

RALPH: For a while--

HELEN: No!! No. Not...down the beach, not move down the beach. Off the beach altogether.

[Indicates the water. Ralph looks.]

RALPH: Out there? In the ocean?

HELEN: I can't get out there. Not now. The ropes don't reach that far...

RALPH: If you could--

HELEN: It doesn't matter.

RALPH: What would you do out there. In the ocean?

HELEN: I'd... [Watches the flight of some bird.] I'd go underneath.

RALPH: Swimming.

HELEN: Perhaps.

RALPH: It's only a few steps.

[He walks down almost to edge of stage, looks back at Helen who watches him avidly, bitterly.]

RALPH: Just go.

HELEN: I won't leave my ropes. What if I get stuck? I'll fall...a ridiculous turtle. Can't leave my ropes.

RALPH: If you tied a rope to yourself. A i.v.

HELEN: What if it's not long enough?

RALPH: You could...

HELEN: You don't know anything about it! So stupid, aren't you? You lose things, valuable things, stupid man.

RALPH: But I had it on the ferry, I took it out to look at it, make sure. It's probably still there...why are you so interested?

HELEN: Is she pretty? A doll? An angel?

RALPH: I don't know who you mean.

HELEN: Why...daddy's girl...the one named Chloe...whose voice is now in the winds...Chloe...Chloe. [Very casually takes out folded piece of paper, unfolds it, reads it.] "Chloe among the whales". Who is this Chloe? Who? [Ralph cannot move for a moment, then he crosses right to Helen, who takes up a rock.] No. Or I'll tear it to bits, little man. Little stupid careless man.

RALPH: [Stops cold.] Please.

HELEN: All of you against me, tricking me. Sticks poked at me when I sleep. Throwing dead mice. Staring at me...Is this what you wanted??

RALPH: [Comes a little closer.] How did you. You don't care. How did you...

HELEN: Heaven's full of accidents. Are you sure you checked it on the ferry?? Are you sure?

RALPH: Hell's full of accidents, too. Give it back. It doesn't belong to you.

HELEN: Sometimes they give offerings in the boxes, in the bags, they steal from the tourists, nothing they'd miss...

RALPH: I...need it. I don't have a return ticket.

HELEN: I don't have enough heart.

RALPH: It has to be whole.

HELEN: Pretty Chloe...Chloe...Chloe...

RALPH: I can't seem to remember her! I can't remember her name except at odd moments. I had a daughter named...I can't! The letters don't make sense when I spell them out. I write the letters over and over in the hotel stationary and they don't mean daughter's life in these five, just five squiggles of ink...

HELEN: Stupid cow heifer pigface.

RALPH: I never told her how marvelous she was...

HELEN: ...hippo elephant thighs...

RALPH: I would call her my chubby little cupcake or ignore her...

HELEN: Fat girls are deaf, fat girls are blind...

RALPH: I thought it was cute, didn't think of it at all, maybe. My fault, it was my fault.

HELEN: Whalegirl. When did she stop loving whales when did she stop?

RALPH: [Fixes gaze out front.] She stuck her fingers down her throat. Hid food until it stank. We could smell rotting tuna. Lied and lied, she lied about what she was doing, she pretended, then it was too late...Dying, dying in a hospital bed with tubes stuck in her, the tubes barely in her because there was nothing left of her by then...hollow ropes she kept pulling out because they were making her fat...

HELEN: ...whalegirl...maybe she came here...maybe she loves...

RALPH: Making her fat. Her little shriveled body...still counting the calories from the i.v. Her kidney's gone, her teeth rotted out of her head. Trying again, again, to pull the i.v. out. ' Am I skinny enough yet, daddy? '. [Silence.] I had a daughter named...I can't remember it now.

HELEN: You could help me. Maybe. Maybe a trade.

RALPH: I couldn't help her...Chloe!!'s hands were cold.

HELEN: I can't get out there alone.

RALPH: But I can help her now. Give it to me-- it's not yours.

HELEN: Help me first. And I will.

RALPH: If I get out there, I can give it to the whales. And she'll be at home. And we can start over. Why are you being so mean? If I give that to the whales...she can come back home...

HELEN: Yes...maybe she could. Yes. You couldn't get near the whales...but I could.

[Ralph crosses to the hut.]

RALPH: I will smash this to pieces.

HELEN: I will tear this up.

RALPH: I'll cut your precious ropes down. Now give it back to me.

[Helen studies the drawing, smoothes it. Ralph watches her with his breath held.]

HELEN: The ocean is our mother...the ocean in our Chloe's bones.

RALPH: Please. Give it back. So she can start over, so she can come home...

HELEN: Yes...but you have to help me. I am asking you to help me...if I give this back, you won't help me. I know. I know what people are like.

RALPH: If I hurry, she won't really be dead. Don't you see?

HELEN: I know what people are really like. I promise the whales will get this...I promise.

RALPH: She's not really dead. Not yet. Not if I hurry.

HELEN: Will you help me, because my name is Helen, my name is Helen! Helen!! Not pig or cow or hippo or monster...

RALPH: Helen...

HELEN: Is that what my name sounds like? And it sounds like sounds like the ocean and the call of whales and Chloe drawing on a wintry day, drawing whales with a blue crayon on a wintry day... [She laughs. Ralph stares at her with hope.] Why, it's a beautiful name, my name is a beautiful name...say it again, please?

RALPH: Helen...who watches whales. Chloe...on a wintry day with a blue crayon...Helen and Chloe.

HELEN: Thank you...thank me out there--

RALPH: I can't...

HELEN: You don't have to touch me. I'm crawling with lice, God knows what lives in the folds of my body...colonies of things living in me, on me.

RALPH: Helen...I have to give it, I have to be the one or she'll never...

HELEN: I'll get out there...waddle out there, wait for the waves to take me, find the cracks of my body, cleanse me, scrape me clean, find the cracks in my heart...I'll be the light, the stars, the moon, the sun itself, all eyes following me with reverence and joy. I'll be brand new, shining. Isn't she beautiful? Isn't she beautiful? Isn't she? I'll be tearless.

RALPH: Free.

HELEN: More than free. Blue with the sun dappling my skin, blue in the blue depths...

RALPH: The ocean is bigger than you are.

HELEN: I've never asked for anything. They're waiting.

RALPH: I wake her up when I call her name...she's only waiting...only sleeping.

HELEN: Years ago, when I first hid here, I could walk to the edge of the water, but I was afraid...

RALPH: Look at them...they are waiting.

[Silence. Ralph creeps up on Helen who has let the drawing lay across her chest. He grabs it up and stumbles away. Helen cannot get it back. She rises to her feet to face him. Hangs onto rope. Ralph advances to edge of stage. ]

RALPH: They're gone...they're gone! Bring them back! they told me you control them, you control them and you have to bring them back now, you have to, Chloe's waiting, she's waiting, don't you see??

[Comes back to Helen, takes her by shoulders.]

HELEN: Shh...they're not gone...just beneath the surface...oh and Chloe...she's right there...just beneath the surface...

[Ralph releases her, backs away, falls slowly to his knees, exhausted, at his end.]

RALPH: No. No, she's covered with dirt. Covered with it. But not if I had been faster...better.

HELEN: Daddy...daddy...shhh...I've drawn you a new picture now...brand new and shining...and so beautiful...

RALPH: I couldn't even do this right...I never kissed her, never kissed my Chloe, never kissed her goodbye and now it's late, it's's late.

HELEN: Daddy daddy...God kissed me first...maybe God kissed her first.

RALPH: What good is this? [Looks at drawing.] It won't bring her back. It won't bring her back...

[About to rip it to shreds. Helen takes an edge of it now.]

HELEN: No. Let me take it. They're not gone...only waiting. Let me take it.

RALPH: [A long moment. Ralph glances out front, then back at her.] May I kiss you? For Chloe. For... [Spreads out arms, comes to his feet. But Helen shakes her head.] Helen. It's okay... [Places kiss on her forehead. Places drawing in her hands. Smiles.] Tell her...her daddy loves her. Always.

HELEN: Don't watch me when I go. Let the seagulls watch or the things in the tide pools but don't you watch...not you, not you.

RALPH: Ralph. My name is Ralph. And kiss her. Kiss her for me.

HELEN: Close your eyes, take my arm. Just to the edge of the water. [Helen starts her journey, panics.] Ralph...Ralph!!

RALPH: Let go. Let go now. I'll help you--

[Ralph, eyes closed as she requested, assists her to edge of stage. Lights dim except for special/spot on Helen. Ralph turns his back to audience. Sound of water, the incoming tide, sound of whales. Helen begins to shed her clothing, and padding, etc. As she does this, a blue dappled whale skin is revealed, can be light change or costume beneath padded one. Helen laughs, moves off into audience, holding drawing. Lights back up on Ralph who turns, sees pile of discarded clothing. He searches the ocean as the lights begin to fade to black.]


Copyright © 2006 by Ann Wuehler

CAUTION: Professionals and amateurs are hereby warned that Whalegirl is subject to a royalty. It is fully protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America, and of all countries covered by the International Copyright Union (including the Dominion of Canada and the rest of the British Commonwealth), and of all countries covered by the Pan-American Copyright convention and the Universal Copyright Convention, and of all countries with which the United States has reciprocal copyright relations. All rights, including professional and amateur stage performing, motion picture, recitation, lecturing, public reading, radio broadcasting, television, video or sound taping, all other forms of mechanical or electronic reproduction, such as information storage and retrieval systems and photocopying, and the rights of translation into foreign languages, are strictly reserved.

Inquiries concerning all rights should be addressed to the author at

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