Cat O’Lantern: A Play in Three Acts

Cat O’Lantern: A Play in Three Acts

cat jack o'lantern


Time: 12:30 PM, a sunny Saturday in October
Place: Interior of an apartment, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

HARRY: Mommy! Mommy! Let’s make the jack o’lantern!


[Debbie spends the next 15 minutes toting everything needed to carve a pumpkin into the backyard: Small saw, long-handled metal spoon, washable marker, paper towels, garbage can, petroleum jelly, and of course a big ol’ pumpkin]

DEBBIE: Harry! Come on back and help!

HARRY: [offstage] In a minute, Mommy. I’m watching a Star Wars video.


Time: 1:15 PM that same day
Place: the backyard

DEBBIE: Harry, it’s now or never!

[The child appears, somewhat grudgingly.]

DEBBIE: So, first things first. What should we make?

HARRY: A cat!

[Of course. Debbie hands the marker to Harry.]

DEBBIE: Draw the outlines and I’ll do the cutting, OK?

[Harry draws ears and a face. It looks like a cat. Sorta.]

DEBBIE: I’ll cut it open and then we do the fun part—we get to scoop out all the guts! I think you’re really going to enjoy this.

[Debbie doesn’t really think he’s going to enjoy plunging his hands into goo. She didn’t at his age. But all the websites she’s consulted predict that will be your kid’s favorite part. Sure enough, Harry visibly recoils when she lifts the top off the pumpkin and he peers inside.]

HARRY: Ewwwwww! I’m not touching that!

[Harry grabs the spoon and, while Debbie hefts the 10-pound pumpkin and awkwardly tilts it over the garbage, gingerly spoons out a seed or two.]

DEBBIE: I’m not sure I can hold this for very long. Think you can move a little faster?

[This time Harry manages to dislodge a half-dozen seeds. Debbie feels her arms straining—she hasn’t worked out much these last few years—and after a few more similarly-sized scoops, she puts the pumpkin back on the table, rolls up her sleeves, and transfers handfuls of gunk to the trash. Harry watches, eyes wide with disgust.]

DEBBIE: OK, bud. This part you get to supervise—I’m going to start cutting.

[Debbie grabs the saw and begins to cut out the various elements of the cat’s face. She makes the lines a little neater than Harry’s original drawing, since she’s somewhat compulsive that way.]

HARRY: I’ll just go watch more Star Wars while you finish.


Time: 2:15 PM, that same day
Place: the kitchen

[The finished jack o’lantern is on the table. In the intervening time, Debbie has finished carving and rubbed petroleum jelly over the exposed edges, wiped off any remaining marker, asked her husband to fetch an awl and some black pipe cleaners to make whiskers, used those implements, and carried the pumpkin back inside.]

DEBBIE: Harry, come see! It came out great!

HARRY: [offstage] Just a minute, Mommy. This video’s almost over.