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This Is How It Goes

This Is How It Goes

by Neil LaBute

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Belinda and Cody Phipps appear a typical Midwestern couple: teenage sweethearts, children, luxurious home. Typical except that Cody is black--"rich, black, and different," in the words of Belinda, who finds herself attracted to a former (white) classmate. As the battle for her affections is waged, Belinda and Cody frankly doubt the foundation of their


Belinda and Cody Phipps appear a typical Midwestern couple: teenage sweethearts, children, luxurious home. Typical except that Cody is black--"rich, black, and different," in the words of Belinda, who finds herself attracted to a former (white) classmate. As the battle for her affections is waged, Belinda and Cody frankly doubt the foundation of their initial attraction, opening the door wide to a swath of bigotry and betrayal. Staged on continually shifting moral ground that challenges our received notions about gender, ethnicity, and even love itself, This Is How It Goes unblinkingly explores the myriad ways in which the wild card of race is played by both black and white in America.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Neil LaBute is the first dramatist since David Mamet and Sam Shepard--since Edward Albee, actually--to mix sympathy and savagery, pathos and power.” —Donald Lyons, New York Post

“LaBute [is] our Amrican Aesop, a mad moral fabulist serving stiff tonic for our country's sin-sick souls.” —John Istel, American Theatre

New York Post Donald Lyons
Neil LaBute is the first dramatist since David Mamet and Sam Shepard—since Edward Albee, actually—to mix sympathy and savagery, pathos and power.
American Theatre John Istel
LaBute [is] our Amrican Aesop, a mad moral fabulist serving stiff tonic for our country's sin-sick souls.

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.27(d)

Read an Excerpt

This Is How It Goes

A Play

By Neil LaBute

Faber and Faber, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Neil LaBute
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-571-21155-5



Yesterday — a smallish town in the Midwest

NOTE: The text that follows represents the script used as the play went into rehearsals for the New York production.

Silence. Darkness.

A MAN walks onstage. Let's give him a little light. There, that's better. Now what? Wait — I think he's going to say something. Yes, he is. Good.

MAN ... okay. This Is how it goes. I mean, went. This is the way it all played out, or is going to. Or is ... right now. Doesn't matter, you'll figure it out. I think. No, you will ... sure you will! No problem. (Beat.) What you need to know for now, I mean, right at this moment, is that there was a girl. 'Course there always is, isn't there? I mean, unless there isn't. Then there's not ... but that's pretty self-explanatory. In this one, there's a girl. There's definitely a girl.

Another light up. We need ita WOMAN has just appeared. Sitting all alone. For now. The MAN glances at her.

MAN Huh. I think I'm gonna go talk to her, because ... well, girls are nice. Basically. And that would be enough, but I need to — talk with her, I mean. To get this started. Or keep it going ... or whatever. You know what I'm saying! Sort of. And which is okay, because I only sort of know, too, at this point. (Beat.) Geez, I think I might end up being an unreliable narrator here ...

The MAN starts to approach the WOMAN, who is seated on a bench. Moves next to her.

MAN ... hello.

The WOMAN doesn't react, and the MAN snaps his fingers, jumping back to his light spot. What's up? Let's find out.

MAN Just one other thing ... I know her. From before. Like, before now. So, whether this is happening or, umm, has happened, is all in my head — however that works out — I know her already. From school. Okay? Good ... I just wanted you to know.

The MAN moves back over to the WOMAN. Taps her on the shoulder.

MAN ... hello.

The WOMAN turns, looks at him. It takes a moment, then she reacts. A lot. She even stands up.

WOMAN Yes? (Beat.) Oh my God ... oh-my-God! Hey, hello. Hi!

MAN Hello. Again.

WOMAN Yeah, again! Way-way-back again. Wow. Hi!

Out of nowhere, a hug. Nice. Now we're getting somewhere. The MAN hugs her right back. Of course.

MAN I just ... saw you. Saw you sitting there and thought, "Hey." I mean, more than that, more than just "Hey," but that was first. "Hey." You know? "I know her."

WOMAN Well, good. God, I hope it was more than that!

MAN No, it was, yeah, it totally was!

WOMAN Good, because I can't believe it! I can't believe you're just ... I mean, standing there. Right outside of ...

MAN ... Sears. I know, funny, right?

WOMAN No, more than! It's weird ... after, what, like, ten years? To see ...

MAN It's twelve. Yeah. Almost twelve years.

The WOMAN looks at him again. We might need more light now — some "Sears" light. She gives him another hug.

WOMAN Wow. Really? It's just ... wow. About twelve years.

MAN Yep. A dozen of 'em.

WOMAN That's ... kinda weird.

MAN Yeah, but not so weird, right? Not like we knew each other super well or anything ...

They stand looking at each other for a moment. A voice on the mall intercom interrupts them. They look up, waiting. Then talk again.

MAN ... I just mean ... it's okay, too, isn't it? To meet again.

WOMAN Oh, God, of course, yes. It's good! It is. It's fantastic, but, you know ... yeah. It is weird.

MAN Uh-huh. It definitely has a "weird" flavor. There's a little weirdness sprinkled in there ...

They stop again for a second, looking at each other. That's okaygive 'em some time.

WOMAN ... you look so ... I dunno.

MAN Different?

WOMAN No, not so much different, 'cause I could recognize you, like, almost instantly. But you're, I dunno ...

MAN What?

WOMAN Kind of ... I mean, you were a lot ...

MAN I was bigger.

WOMAN ... yes. You were a bigger guy then. In high school.

MAN I know. I was, wasn't I? Yep. Big boy back then!

They laugh — what the hell, let's have another hug.

MAN I did some ... well, I did ROTC in college, and that was cool. And then, I dunno, I just sort of stopped acting like 7-Eleven was my kitchen!

WOMAN Right ... right! You always used to, at lunch, you'd walk down and get those hot dogs, the —

MAN Two-for-a-dollar ones, exactly! I was, like, you know ... that little kid at the movies, remember? The commercial at the drive-in ... (He demonstrates.) "Two-fisted style!"

WOMAN I remember that ... yes!

MAN Yeah, it was always right after the dancing candy and soda pop one ... (Beat.) I mean ... I think we even went to the movies once, there at the outdoor place that one time. Didn't we?

WOMAN ... did we?

MAN Yeah, I think. Remember? Over at the ... with the paddlewheel ship out front — what was that called? The ...

WOMAN ... Showboat?

MAN Yes! That's it ... some crazy double feature that we all went to. This group of us. You don't recall that?

WOMAN Ummmm, no, I do ... I think I do.

The WOMAN stops, working to remember this.The MAN steps away for a minute. Toward us.

MAN ... I don't think she does. Not really. I mean, she may say she can, remember us going there, but I don't believe it. Girls generally go on more dates and stuff than us guys do at that age, sixteen or so, and that's probably why it's harder to dredge up specific memories. That might be it. 'Cause it really is like yesterday for me. Seriously. It is ...

The MAN walks back over to her — she's still thinking. Looks kind of lost while she does this.

WOMAN Yeah, I think I do, actually. Yes. It was, like, a comedy or some ... wasn't it?

MAN Ahh, it was, no. It was Dances with Wolves, I think. And then another one ...

WOMAN Oh ... (frowns) Well, that had some funny parts ... didn't it?

MAN A couple. Maybe the other one was a comedy, I don't remember.

WOMAN Yeah, that could be it.

MAN Right, sure ... (Beat.) So, is that place still open?

WOMAN What ... the Showboat?

MAN Yeah.

WOMAN Oh, no ... no way! There's, like, a mall there now or something. Strip mall — where they have stores but you walk outside. Is that what they call 'em?

MAN Uh-huh. I think so ... I mean, sometimes they come up with a fancier name — Oakbrook Commons or whatnot — but that's basically what they are. Strip malls. This long "strip" of stores ...

WOMAN Huh. Well, that was maybe eight years ago they did that. Put in the strip there. (Beat.) How long since you've been back?

MAN Oh, you know ...

WOMAN Umm, no, not really.

MAN No, I mean, I wasn't finished ... sorry. I guess, around, ahh, maybe five years. Well, one time about three months ago, just out at the airport — missed a connection, so I was there for a couple hours — but five years, more or less.

WOMAN ... wow. (smiles) Hmmm.

MAN What? What's so funny?

WOMAN That was a lot of answer for, you know, that one question.

MAN Sorry! God, yeah, I can go on a little bit ...

WOMAN No, don't be ...

MAN I guess I'm kinda thorough ... it's the law school in me.

WOMAN Oh ... great! So, you're, I mean ... is that your job? "Lawyer"?

MAN No ... 'fraid not. That's my ex-job. Ex-lawyer. Ex-husband, ex-military. (Beat.) I'm great at "used to be."

The WOMAN laughs at this. An easy laugh. She's loosening up a bit. That's nice.

WOMAN That's funny ... I remember now. You were always pretty funny.

MAN Yeah? Good. Glad you thought that.

WOMAN Oh, yeah ... everybody thought you were funny.

MAN Yep ... that's me. Mr. Comedy. (Beat.) Anyhow, sorry about going on like that before ... blah-blah-blah!

WOMAN No, I wasn't saying ... I mean, it's nice.

MAN Yeah?

WOMAN To talk, I mean. About, you know ... whatever. Just have a five-minute conversation with a person ...

MAN Why, is your husband a mute?

The WOMAN looks at him strangely for a moment, without speaking. The MAN clears his throat.

MAN I just ... God, I hope not! I was kidding. I saw your ring, noticed it, and ... that's all. (Beat.) He can speak, can't he?

WOMAN ... rumor has it. Not to me, of course, but I know he must. Every so often ...

MAN Ahh. One of those, huh?

WOMAN Yep. He's a classic. Classic guy ...

MAN Ouch. From all of us.

WOMAN No, sorry, I didn't mean ... gosh, listen to me! Listen to me go on like one of those people that you run into ... at, like ...

MAN ... Sears.

WOMAN Exactly!

The WOMAN laughs again — it's a good sound. Then another hug.

MAN People're gonna start to talk ...

WOMAN That's okay. Let 'em! Haven't seen you in ten years, so let them say stuff if they want to ...

MAN Twelve. It was twelve years.

WOMAN Right. Even better ...

The WOMAN lets this thought hang, glancing at her watch. She reacts.

WOMAN Oh, damn ... can you hold on a sec? I need to ... I'm getting a couple keys cut, I need to grab them before five. Just one minute ...

Before the MAN can respond, the WOMAN scurries off. Just disappears. Let's leave the lights up for a bit. I think she'll be back — I think we can trust her.

MAN ... how great is that? Huh? I came in here for the baseball card shop, and I run into her. That's pretty damn nice, I mean ... am I being too obvious? 'Cause I really liked her back in school, junior year — hell, even as a senior, she was in my honors English class. And civics, too, I think. Yeah. God, she was something else ... (remembering) I used to sit there and watch her, watch her lips moving as she read along with the teacher when we were doing The Scarlet Letter. (Beat.) I know she's married and all, probably got kids, even, but ... hey, I'm just saying. Whatever. 'S just a little history.

And then the WOMAN returns. I told you she would. A small envelope of keys in one hand.

WOMAN ... hi. Sorry about that.

MAN Not a problem. (points) You lock yourself out or something?

WOMAN What, these? No ... it's for a, we have an apartment. Over the garage. A garage apartment ... you know what I mean?

MAN Ummm ... like, an apartment that's above your garage?

WOMAN Sorry! Yes ... now look who's being thorough! And obvious ...

MAN Right! Thought I was bad ...

WOMAN Uh-huh. Forgive me ... comes from being around a two-year-old.

MAN Yours?

WOMAN Of course ... a boy.

MAN No, I didn't mean like you stole him or anything, just ... you could be a teacher, for all I know.

WOMAN Well, that's true. I'm not, but I could be ... could've been a lot of things, but I'm the mother of a great little two-year-old.

MAN ... plus, a wife.

WOMAN Yeah. That, too.

MANAnd married a mutel Not many people can claim that ...

That laugh again from the WOMAN. The MAN laughs, too. Lots of laughs from these two.

WOMAN No, guess not! Not very loudly, anyway ... (Beat.) Get it? If I was mute, I couldn't ... forget it.

MAN I never said you were mute.

WOMAN That's true. Sorry.

MAN I said you married a mute ... as far as I'm concerned, you're perfect.

Big pause right here — some cards have just been thrown on the table. The WOMAN is about to respond, thinks better of it, then looks in the little envelope and counts her keys.

WOMAN Anyway ... we've got this thing, this space over the second garage, and we fixed it up. To rent.

MAN ... nice. Yeah, I'm looking for a place myself. (Beat.) So ... two garages, huh?

WOMAN Uh-huh. He calls it a guest house, but it's really just a bonus room that we ... Anyway, it's nice.

MAN Sounds good. I mean ... complicated.

WOMAN Yeah, my husband just up and ... hey, whatever. It'll be fine. (Beat.) So, it was great to see you.

MAN You, too. Seriously.

WOMAN Yeah, definitely. It definitely was ...

MAN Well, good. Yeah. So ... take care.

WOMAN And you, too! Yeah, you should as well. Ummm ...

MAN Okay. O-kay. (Beat.) So, maybe I'll see you at the strip mall, or ...

WOMAN ... I'm hardly ever over that way.

MAN I was kidding.

WOMAN Oh. All right. Because ... no, I just thought that'd be nice. To see you again. At the Wal-Mart there, or ...

MAN ... Shoe Carnival ...

WOMAN Exactly! That would make me happy. To do that. And there's one of those over there, too, so ...

MAN Well, we're damn near obligated, then, aren't we? (laughs) I mean, we could ... we can make that happen, I suppose. A strip mall rendezvous. (Beat.) I'm generally pretty free in the daytime ...

WOMAN So, later'd be bad? Just so I know, because ...

MAN No, I was gonna say, followed by evenings full of nothing to do. My nights, of course, are absolutely open ...

An ease between them is starting to build. It feels nice, even from way over here. Comfortable.

WOMAN I can always get a sitter. If I need to. My mom or whomever ...

MAN No, we don't have to make it too late ... whatever works for you.

WOMAN Or my husband could watch him. Cody.

MAN That's cute. Isn't that a really popular kid's name? Cody.

WOMAN I guess so, but no, that's, no ... my son's name is Ralph. Cody's his dad. That's his name ...

MAN Huh. Ralph. Well, equally sweet.

WOMAN Not really, come on ... be honest.

MAN Seriously?

WOMAN Sure, why not? People should be honest with each other ... every twelve years or so.

MAN Okay, good ... that's really hideous. For a child, I mean.

WOMAN Yeah, I know. (Beat.) It's his dad's name. Middle name, really. One of those family thingies, you know ...

MAN ... in which you had no say.

WOMAN You must be a great lawyer.


WOMAN Right ...

MAN ... and I was only fair at it. Just average. (Beat.) The Ralph thing was kinda easy.

WOMAN Really?

MAN Yeah ... I mean, with a dad named Cody.

WOMAN Well, what can you expect from a mute, right?

This time it's the MAN who laughs first. Quite happily. I'm starting to have high hopes for these two.

MAN ... I knew a Cody in school. Our school. That guy who ran track ... the runner.

WOMAN Me, too. I mean ... still do.

The MAN stops in his tracks — well, he's not really moving, but if he were, he'd be stopped in his tracks. He processes.

MAN ... oh. That's right, I remember you guys were ... so, you married Cody Phipps?

WOMAN That's me ...

MAN Belinda Phipps. Huh. Geez.

WOMAN Wow ... you pronounce it like a death sentence.

MAN Is it?

WOMAN Umm, no, not really ... it's probably pretty regular. As marriages go.

MAN Great ...

WOMAN ... didn't say it was that. No, it's just ...

MAN ... regular.


MAN Cody Phipps. That's ... wild.

WOMAN Why? (a bit defensive) How so?

MAN Just, you know ... I dunno. Well, he was a talker, for one thing. In, like, gym ... you couldn't shut the guy up! So, when you said ...

WOMAN Yeah, well, he got a lot quieter ...

MAN Huh. I guess we all do, though. People tend to, in life ...

WOMAN Uh-huh. He got a lot a lot quieter.

MAN I see. (checks watch) Hey, you know what? I need to, umm ...

WOMAN God, I'm sorry, listen to me ... who cares, right?

MAN No, it's not that, promise. (Beat.) I have to pick up some dry cleaning in a minute, that's all ... I've got an interview or two this week, so I need ...

WOMAN 'Kay. Anyway ... great to see you.

MAN You, too. Honestly. You look —

WOMAN Don't say it! It'll never be right.

MAN Okay. But you do ... seriously.


Excerpted from This Is How It Goes by Neil LaBute. Copyright © 2005 Neil LaBute. Excerpted by permission of Faber and Faber, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Neil LaBute is a playwright, filmmaker, and fiction writer. His most recent work for the stage is The Distance from Here, which premiered Off Broadway in 2004.

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