The Afterlife, A One-Act Play

Readers! Here are the initial scenes from my new play. It’s tragic yet filled with tenderness and love. Enjoy! 

The Afterlife
A One-Act Play

by Gary Soto


The Afterlife, A One-Act Play was written for the San Francisco Youth Theatre (SFYT). Between 2018 and 2020 the play was performed at nine California high schools and theaters as well as at the 2019 Kestenburg International Festival of Student Theatre in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The playwright and SFYT acknowledge the support of the California Arts Council (Sacramento), Creative Work Fund (San Francisco), Children’s Theatre Foundation of America, National Association of Latino Arts and Culture (San Antonio), San Francisco Arts Commission, and Zellerbach Family Foundation. San Francisco Suicide Prevention was a consultant for the script.

The Afterlife: A One-Act Play is subject to a royalty. For print and electronic right call the playwright at (510) 845-4718.


The Afterlife



Chuy, 17
Crystal, 17
Carmen, Chuy’s mother
Ricardo, 20s, Chuy’s uncle
Eddie, 19, Chuy’s cousin
Homeless Woman, 50s
Yellow Shoes, 20s
Vato Loco, 20s
Rachel, classmate of Chuy
Principal 1
Principal 2
Homeless Woman’s Father
Various offstage voices, including Crystal’s father and mother

The location of the play is Fresno, California. The scenes take place at a nightclub, a living room, a city park, a teenage girl’s bedroom, a teenage boy’s bedroom, and a playground, among other places. Simple sets can define each scene.

Production notes: music must be original; director should interpret the tempo of “fade in” and “fade out,” “cut in” and “cut out,” “slight pause” and “beat”; scenes sometimes begin and end without a call for “blackout” or “lights come up,” allowing the director to make decisions about stage lighting; the altars—the Hello Kitty altar and Chuy’s altar—may be fabricated or be projected on the back wall; the use of lighting to illuminate faces or scenes on the back wall may be altered to accommodate the production budget. To view previous productions, search online for “The Afterlife” and “San Francisco Youth Theatre.”


Scene One


Lights come up on the entrance of a nightclub.

Chuy (to audience): If you’re a regular-looking dude, you got to do what you gotta do. Gotta dress nice, smell good, carry a few dollars in your pocket and don’t be too, too stupid. That is, if you wanna hook up with someone like Rachel, a girl in my English class. Known her since way back.

Rachel enters with teenage swagger. She evaluates Chuy as if he’s an object for sale. She straightens out his hair, feels his biceps, and tugs at his shirt to make it right, etc.

Rachel: He’s OK.

Chuy (in disbelief): OK? Only OK? Look at these dimples.

Rachel: He could be a little taller.

Chuy tiptoes.

Chuy: I got another year of growing.

Rachel: Captain of a sports team—that would be nice.

Chuy: Captain? How ’bout co-captain of the ping-pong club?

Rachel: He’s gotta be funny.

Chuy: Funny? Girl, I invented funny. Let me tell you the joke about the bilingual parrot that, that . . .

Rachel exits quickly.

Chuy (to Rachel): Where you going? I ain’t got to the punch line! (shouting) See you inside! (shrugs his shoulders, then runs a hand through his hair) Gotta check out my hair.

Dance music cuts in as Chuy enters the night club. He looks around, his head bobbing to the music, and then enters the men’s room; the sound of water dripping from a faucet followed seconds later by the sound of a flushing toilet. Dance music quiets to a rumble. He waves a hand in front of his face, indicating a bad smell. He moves to the basin where he makes a number of debonair-looking faces in the mirror.

Chuy (to reflection): Ay, papi (laughs at himself) Yeah, right.

The toilet flushes again. Yellow Shoes enters, pulling up his zipper. He sniffs the air. Dripping water and dance music cut out entirely. Lights shine briefly on the pair of yellow shoes.

Yellow Shoes: This hellhole smells—is it you?

Chuy is taken back by the insult, yet slowly smiles.

Chuy: Me? Nah, bro. It ain’t me. Probably the plumbing—this place is hecka old. (looks down at Yellow Shoes’ shoes) Yellow shoes? Never seen a pair like them. Totally dope.

Yellow Shoes absorbs what Chuy has said, then becomes aggressive.

Yellow Shoes: What you sayin’?

Chuy: I’m just sayin’, like, they’re different—good different, you know. You get ’em online?

Yellow Shoes steps away, staring angrily at Chuy, who returns his gaze to the mirror. Chuy combs his hair, primps.

Chuy (to his reflection in the mirror): Is this a pimple?

Yellow Shoes (under his breath): Punk-ass fool talkin’ to me like that. (His anger grows.) No one talks to me like that.

Chuy: Two pimples? I should stay away from chicharrones. And sodas? Got to give ’em up. (From his pocket, Chuy brings out a pintsized can of aerosol breath freshener and sprays the mist into his mouth, then jokingly gives spurts to his armpits.) Ah, nice and cool, like a glacier. (He sprays some in direction of the toilet.) This place does smell fuchi.

Yellow Shoes brings out a knife from his pocket while Chuy continues to primp, unaware of the threatening moment.

Yellow Shoes (under his breath): Who does the fool think he is?

Yellow Shoes quickly moves toward Chuy.

Chuy (to mirror): Rachel, like you and me, we got algebra together, U.S. history together, and—

Yellow Shoes stabs Chuy, who doesn’t grimace at first, then stabs him a second and a third time. Blood begins to spread over his white shirt. Finally, Chuy realizes that he has been stabbed.

Chuy: What the—? (Knees buckling, Chuy turns to Yellows Shoes.) I don’t know you.

Yellow Shoes: What did you say to me, cabron?

Chuy falls to his knees.

Chuy: Who are you?

Yellow Shoes wipes his knife on Chuy’s shirt.

Chuy: It hurts.

Yellow Shoes bends down over Chuy.

Yellow Shoes: It hurts? You tellin’ me it hurts? (mockingly) Tell someone who cares.

Yellow Shoes exits. Chuy struggles to rise to his feet, then crumples. He struggles once more, then lays down for good, dead.

Offstage, voices hauntingly call “Chuy, Chuy, get up, Chuy.”

Blackout. Chuy exits. The sound of wind for a few seconds.


Scene Two

Chuy’s House

Lights come up on Eddie.

Eddie (to audience): My cousin, Chuy, was like any other teen—you know, sorta popular but not really. Sorta good at school and sports but not really. Sorta handsome but not really—well, maybe he was. (sighs, reflects, then to audience) He and I used to go the playground every summer day, kick around the neighborhood, hang out at the mall, play football in the front yard, (works his thumbs at an electronic game) play our games. Our favorite drinks when we were little? Chocolate milk. Chugged one of those little cartons in seconds.

Chuy and Carmen, his mother, enter; neither acknowledges Eddie.

Eddie (to audience): He and his mom—they got along. He was lucky that way.

Carmen (to Chuy): I want you to go al mercado for a loaf of bread. Y un carton de huevos y leche.

Chuy: I’m on it, Mom. But first I got to ask—

Chuy and Carmen feign a conversation as they step aside. Eddie steps forward and addresses audience.

Eddie: Nice mom. Totally cool home scene—no drama to speak of. And his dad—he died three years ago in a roofing accident. Messed up, really bad for a while, but they got through it.

Eddie turns and watches the interaction between Chuy and Carmen.

Chuy: Mom, what do you think of self-driving cars? ’Cause when I get my license I wanna tool around in one. Or maybe fix up dad’s old truck.

Carmen: What do I think of cars where nobody’s behind the wheel? Loco.

Chuy: But Mom . . .

Carmen: “But Mom,” nada. Going fifty, sixty, seventy miles an hour? No, señor! If God (crosses herself religiously) didn’t intend us to drive ourselves places, then why did he have man invent the steering wheel? Por qué?

Chuy: Mom, that don’t make sense.

Carmen: Cars without drivers don’t make sense. And if you don’t know it already, your dad’s truck needs a new engine.

They feign more conversation.

Eddie (to audience): That’s Chuy’s mom, my Tia—buena gente but locked into another generation. I mean, she’s still into that nineties group Menudo—and on cassettes. (reflects) Malo suerte! My primo is gone!

Eddie, Chuy, and Carmen exit. Music a la Menudo after transition to next scene.


Scene Three

City Park

Crystal is seated against a tree as she scrolls slowly through her phone then frantically.

Crystal (to herself): Is that what they think about me? They’re so mean!

Crystal sets phone aside, angry and frustrated. She becomes calm after she breathes in and out a couple of times. She begins to write in her diary using a pen with a large peacock feather attached to the end.

Crystal (to diary): Mom’s at Costco, Dad’s irrigating the fields. My sister . . . she’s probably studying for a chemistry exam.

Offstage, the cry of a peacock makes Crystal look up, then stand up.

Crystal (to audience): Our peacock. We got it last year. We let it out once a day to wander around the yard. (Peacock cries.) At first the cry was scary, but you get used to it. It’s like emotional pain, something you live with. You just get used to it.

Crystal rolls up a sweater sleeve and examines her bandaged wrist.

Crystal (to audience): I waited for months to hear from USC. The day I got the letter—it was really light, weighed nothing—I knew I didn’t get in. Mom, she felt my disappointment. Dad, he was hurt and angry.

Offstage, Crystal’s father shouts, “Why don’t they want my daughter? What’s wrong with her?” Crystal shrugs her shoulders and paces, hurt.

Crystal: What is wrong with me? I called suicide prevention, but hung up when this woman asked, “How can we help you?” If I knew, I wouldn’t have called.

Slight pause.

Crystal (to audience): I’m a cutter, been one for a while. There’s no bandage long enough to heal my hurt. (rattles prescription bottle) Is this my way out? If I do it, do I become a ghost? Is there a place called heaven? Or is death total blackness? You just lying in a coffin looking up? Planes pass, stars, the moon, the sun, birds, shadows, all passing above you as you lay in a grave? (pause) I’ve been thinking about it, thinking about it a lot. But I’m only seventeen. Do I need to explain?

Wind sounds build for a few seconds, then cut out. Crystal exits.


Scene Four

Chuy’s House

Chuy’s mother Carmen is seated in a recliner playing poker on an old-fashioned, hand-held electronic game. A telenovela program babbles faintly on the television.

Carmen (to herself): I should buy a lottery ticket and hit the Powerball—I feel so lucky. A ver . . . two of a kind—OK, OK, that’s good. (to electronic game) Deal me another—y un otro. (frowns) Ay, and I was doing so good.

Carmen continues playing as Ricardo enters. Telenovela program cuts out.

Ricardo (to himself): This is gonna be hard.

Carmen looks up.

Carmen: Ricardo? Como estas, Flaco?

Ricardo lowers his head, reluctant to break the news. He looks up.

Ricardo: Carmen, something bad has happened.

Carmen: Como?

Ricardo: It’s about Chuy.

Carmen gets up from recliner.

Carmen: Chuy, no esta aqui. Se fue a una pachanga. Con Angel.

Ricardo: No, Carmen. (hesitates) The police are gonna be knocking on your door.

Carmen: The police? La policía? Is he in trouble?

Ricardo: Carmen, listen . . . I don’t know how to say this.

Ricardo feigns speaking to her. She gathers what’s being said, then walks away, stunned. Ricardo tries to hug her, but she pushes him away.

Carmen: Mi hijo—dead?

Stage darkens abruptly. Sounds of the deathly territory of the afterlife for a few seconds.

Offstage voice of Carmen calling “Jesus . . . Chuy, please get up, come home—venga a mi.”

Lights come up on Carmen glaring at Ricardo.

Carmen: Stabbed! My Chuy, stabbed? Murdered!

Ricardo: It happened over at—

Carmen rushes toward Ricardo.

Carmen: Who did it! Quien!

Ricardo: Carmen, it’s too early to say. The police . . . they’ll find him. I’m so sorry.

Carmen pushes Ricardo away when he tries to hug her.

Carmen: You’re lying! He’s not dead—he’s in the hospital! He’s just hurt. (looks wildly about) Where’s my purse? I’m going to go see him.

Ricardo: Carmen—please, no!

Carmen: Dime! What hospital? Tell me!

Ricardo looks away. Carmen lowers her face, adjusting to the truth of her son’s murder.

Carmen (near whisper): Murdered? How can he be murdered? He’s in high school!

Ricardo: Lo siento, Carmen. (pounds his own heart with his fist) I feel so bad.

Carmen sits back down in the recliner and, crying in her sleeve, waves Ricardo out of the room—he exits. She cries for a few seconds, then looks up, pointing.

Carmen (to herself): He was just here . . . on the couch. I gave him money for the dance. I told him how nice he looked, then he . . . left.

Carmen dries her eyes and gathers herself. As she stands, a red spotlight—a suggestion of anger—beams on her for a few seconds, then fades out.

Carmen: The chavalo who killed my son, mi Jesus. I want him dead! (looks at landline phone) Eddie . . . he’ll know what to do.

Carmen dials, then redials as she nervously fumbles with the number. A distraught Eddie enters looking at his phone, which is silent but then begins to buzz. They are invisible to one another but slowly converge as the conversation advances.

Eddie: Who’s this?

Carmen: Me.

Eddie: Tia?

Slight pause.

Eddie: Tia, can you hear me? I’m so sorry.

Carmen: Go get that boy, mi’jo.

Eddie: What are you saying?

Carmen: You know what I’m saying. Don’t pretend.

Eddie: No, Tia, I don’t understand.

Carmen: Go get him.

Eddie: You mean—

Carmen: Mátalo! The boy who killed your primo.

Eddie: Like no, Tia. That’s crazy.

They lower their phones and speak to each other directly.

Carmen: No, the world is crazy. Soy su madre! He was your primo.

Eddie doesn’t respond.

Carmen (continuing): He loved you, Eddie. He was more like a brother.

Eddie: Don’t guilt-trip me.

Carmen: I never ask you for nothing. Now I’m asking. Go kill the boy. Do it for me.

Eddie: Nah, Tia. I can’t do that!

Carmen and Eddie are nearly face to face. They pause and stare at each other. Carmen takes a step back, sneering at Eddie.

Carmen: Just because you’re at City College, you think you’re high and mighty.

Eddie: Tia, don’t put me down for trying.

Carmen: Too good for us. Not part of this family no more?

Eddie: I’m sorry, but it ain’t gonna happen.

Carmen: You used to come to our house almost every day. Recuerdes?

Eddie: I remember.

Carmen: Pues, hazlo! (Slight pause before Carmen steps close to Eddie) Un cobarde! Coward!

Carmen, still facing Eddie, takes a few steps back. She hangs up phone, turns and exits. Eddie looks down at the phone in his hand and considers calling Carmen back to agree to carry out the murderous act—but doesn’t.

Blackout. Sounds of the deathly territory of the afterlife begin to build.


Scene Five

The Afterlife

The sounds of the afterlife continue for a few seconds before they cut out. Lights come up on Chuy examining his wounds. He breathes into his palms.

Chuy: No breath.

Looks behind him.

Chuy: No shadow to follow me around.

Touches his face.

Chuy: Cold.

Touches his heart.

Chuy: Heartbeat? I ain’t got one. (beat) In death, you got the weight of a zero and the value of zero. You just roll when the wind blows. (looks around) So this is the afterlife. Do I stay here until God taps me on the shoulder and says—

Offstage, a mighty Biblical voice calls, “Venga conmigo”

Chuy is baffled at God’s use of Spanish.

Chuy: Is God Mexican? Un Mexicano? That would be so freaky cool. (beat) I mean, I’m only seventeen—or was—and now what am I, a ghost?

Stage slowly darkens as Chuy looks about, confused by the sounds of the Afterlife.

Chuy: I don’t want to be here. I want to be at home . . . on the couch. Not here in this place. (beat) I’m dead . . . dead forever.

The sounds cut out before next scene as Chuy wanders offstage, arms extended as if feeling for a way out. Blackout.