The Undertaking

By Greg Brook


Neil has let his friend Jeff down but is sure he can make it up to him. However, Jeff dies unexpectedly, and what can Neil do then? He tries everything he can think of but is powerless to wipe the slate clean between themCharacters:  Neil: has let his best friend, Jeff, down and tries everything to make it up to him when he dies unexpectedly.


Simon: a friend of Jeff and Neil
Louise & Barry: friends of Jeff’s
Barbara & Andrea: Jeff’s sisters
Aunty: Jeff’s aunty


(NEIL and SIMON are standing at Jeff's grave, along with several other mourners. They have their umbrellas up. Gradually people start to disperse, then NEIL and SIMON head toward the front of the stage.)

SIMON:  Rain somehow suits a funeral, eh?

NEIL:   Jeff always hated rainy days. He liked to get out and do stuff.

(LOUISE and BARRY leave the gravesite and walk past NEIL and SIMON.)

LOUISE:  Thanks for organising a ride for me, Neil. I really wanted to, you know, pay my  last respects to Jeff, and I don't think I could have made it if you hadn't got Barry to pick me up.

NEIL:  Oh, that's okay. I just wanted as many people as possible to make it, for Jeff's sake. Hope that was fine with you, Barry?

BARRY: Yeah, no worries. Well, um, see you later.

(BARRY and LOUISE exit. Jeff's sisters, BARBARA and ANDREA leave the grave, and come up to NEIL and SIMON.)

BARBARA: Neil, we just wanted to thank you for sending that meal round to us last night.

ANDREA:  Yeah, the whole family's been so occupied with Jeff's funeral that no one felt like cooking. We really appreciated you thinking of us.

NEIL:   Oh well, that's okay.

BARBARA: Look; we're having a family get-together at Mum and Dad's now. You'd be really welcome if you're able to come.

NEIL:   Um, I don't know. I wouldn't want to intrude.

ANDREA: You were Jeff's best friend! It wouldn't be an intrusion - you've been around so many times before. (NEIL is undecided) We'll expect you if we see you. Bye for now, anyway.

(They exit. SIMON had moved away a little while they talked to NEIL, but he now rejoins him.)

SIMON: That's why I haven't seen you for the last few days - organising rides for people, making meals for his family...

NEIL:  Well, he was my best friend, you know. I wanted to be able to do something for  him.

SIMON:  Sounds like you've done a fine job for him.

NEIL:   I haven't done nearly enough for him.

(SIMON is puzzled, but has no time to say anything else before Jeff's AUNTY comes up to them)

AUNTY: Now which of you two gentlemen is Neil? (SIMON points to NEIL) Oh, you're the one who sent round that delicious meal last night. We've all been so preoccupied since my poor nephew passed away or I would have rung to thank you then. Why don't you come round and meet the rest of the family now?

NEIL:  Well, Jeff's sisters have already asked me, but I don't think I will, if that's okay.

AUNTY: No? Well, you'll be very welcome if you change your mind. We were so grateful you helped us - it was a great consolation in a very difficult time. Oh, I cried and cried when I heard about poor Jeff passing away. (She exits)

(The rain stops sufficiently for them to take down their umbrellas.)

SIMON: How come you're not going round there?

NEIL:   (He hasn't heard Simon) Do you know what I did when I heard about "poor Jeff passing away"?

SIMON:  What?

NEIL:  I went round to his place and put up his fence.

SIMON:  You put up - why?

NEIL:  I don't know if I can explain. Last weekend he asked me to come and help him with his fence, 'cos I had promised for ages that I would. But I wanted to do something else that day - go to the beach or something. We had a bit of an argument about the way I'd kept putting him off, and it was like there was suddenly this barrier between us.

SIMON:  You mean a fence.

NEIL:   I'm serious, Simon! (Pause, then he decides to go on) I never had the chance to talk to him again after that. When I heard he'd died, all I could think of was the way I'd let him down and I promised that I would make it up to him.

SIMON:  So you went and put up the fence?

NEIL:  Yeah.

SIMON:  And did that make you feel better?

NEIL:  When I finished I said out loud, "Okay Jeff, I've done it. Have I made it up to you now?" but he wasn't there to answer! All I could see was the disappointment in his eyes when I let him down before. It didn't matter that I'd  done it now, I still hadn't made it up to him.

SIMON: Hey, Neil, it was just a fence. I'm sure Jeff still thought of you as his best friend.

NEIL:  (shaking head) That's not how I felt. I felt like I still had to do something for him. That's when I thought of helping his family, finding rides for people. But it still wasn't enough to break down that barrier between us. So I started throwing money at him. I paid the bill for the fencing timber. No change. I paid every other bill of his that I could find. That didn't help either. One of his sisters couldn't afford to get out here from Canada - I bought her a return ticket. Still it didn't help. Though she's promised to pay me back - maybe if I refused to let her, it would be okay.

SIMON:  Neil, you're consumed by this, aren't you? Look, you've done far more for Jeff than he ever expected, than he ever did for you. You can't keep this going any  longer!

NEIL:  (During this speech goes to the grave, and puts dirt into it at end.) I promised to make it up to him, and I thought it would be easy to wipe the slate clean, but it's turned out to be the hardest thing in the world. Even if I spent the rest of my life doing things he might have wanted done, it wouldn't change what's happened. I let him down, and nothing I do now can make up for it. I'm powerless. I just can't do it.

(Lights out)
© Greg Brook (Dunedin City Baptist) November 2000
All rights reserved
This play may be performed free of charge, on the condition that copies are not sold in any medium, nor any entrance fee charged. In exchange for free performance, the author would appreciate being notified of when and for what purpose the play is performed. Our drama group can be contacted at the following address: