2M/3F (F lead)

Return of the Horseman

110 min. drama
Unchanging, minimal set

Mrs. Gallipo visits a senior citizens residence and can't understand why she cannot leave.

NOTE: This synopsis is not a plot outline. The story of the play is presented from inside the mind of a patient with early-stage Alzheimer's disease. Thus the story is interwoven with so many non-linear layers as to make a plot outline meaningless. Instead I have tried to present the story at it's highest layer as it unfolds to the audience.

The play addresses what may happen in the near future when the forecasted large increase in senior citizen numbers begins to swamp the health care industry - in particular the section of that industry that copes with victims of dementia.

MRS. ABIGAIL GALLIPO finds herself in her husband's clinic where she has just finished the books for today. She calls for her son, Michael, to take her home. Instead her husband appears with her suitcase and tells her to stop bothering the security guards.

For the following two hours, MRS. GALLIPO's world unfolds in a series of interwoven scenarios of her past and present as she mistakenly identifies her surroundings and the people who inhabit it, confusing them with situations and characters from her past; all the time wishing and pleading to be allowed to go home. The other eleven roles are played by two male and two female actors in addition to three off stage voices.

As the play progresses, we begin to see farther back into her failing memories to discover the reason for her present day paranoia -- her suspicion that she will be "put down" if she fails the ACID test and thus never go home. This fear of being put down is contrasted with her suspicion that her husband, a doctor, had tried to induce her to miscarry her son Michael for his own selfish reasons. Her distaste for abortion1 and euthanasia feeds her paranoia: "Now you kill us off at the end of our lives. My husband got them before they were born and you get us before we die just to keep things nice. Jesus, we can't come in or go out without someone trying to make it so someone else isn't put out."

Throughout, her darling son, Michael, forever a teenager, and her errant husband, Patrick, appear as transient memories as they, at times, support her suspicions and at other times behave as though nothing happened to bring about the huge changes in her life, changes she can only guess at.

Running through this action are two metaphors for reaching home. One is her son's last baseball game in which he stepped to the plate for one last glorious bid to get all the way to home (to her) and win the game for his team.

The other metaphor is the old Irish folktale about Óisín's desire to return home to Ireland from Tír na nÓg (The Land of Eternal Youth). The original story ends when Óisín falls from the horse, ages by 300 years (the length of Irish time he was absent) and dies. MRS. GALLIPO, who read this same story to her own mother, wrote an alternate ending that has Óisín returning home, staying on the horse, and ferrying the old and dieing to Tír na nÓg on his flying horse.

The play closes as MRS. GALLIPO, having failed the ACID test, is leaving her room to take the minibus to the dreaded hospice, when she hears the sound of a horse approach. It is MICHAEL finally coming to take her home. Her curtain line is "I'm coming. I'm coming. I have your cap, Michael. Wait for me. Stay on the horse, Michael. Stay on the horse. Don't fall off the horse."

1This play is neither pro-life nor pro-choice at either end of life's span. Non-clarity rules in dementia. It is purposely not clear if her husband tried to get her to miscarry. Her final leaving is also purposely unclear. Is she going to a reduced facilities hospice or to involuntary euthanasia in a crematorium? She herself knows she is going home with Michael on the flying horse (see later in synopsis) and that is really all that matters.

Cast - 2M/3F (with mandatory doubling)

DOCTOR M. Mid 40s
PATRICK M. Mid 40s (Must double with DOCTOR)
ABIGAIL F. 40 (Must double with NURSE)
PAT M. 24 (Must double with MICHAEL)
ABI F. 20
JUNIOR NURSE F. 20 (Must double with ABI)
JANITOR F. 22 (Must double with MICHAEL)

Three different voices are prerecorded or delivered O.S.:

PLAY-BY-PLAY M. Baseball radio play-by-play
CONTINUITY F. Radio continuity
RESIDENCE F. Residence announcer


Two acts. 115 minutes.


A room in the Lakeview Residence for patients with age-related mental disorders.

Set is simple and fixed.

For a minimalist production: one bed, one table (table lamp, phone, radio), some chairs, a loudspeaker.

Otherwise: A table with chairs, prominent. A working table lamp, an unconnected telephone and an unconnected radio sit on the table. Under the table is a small garbage can. The table and chairs are the only pieces common to the three locations and times in the life of the main character, Mrs. Gallipo:

  • the bedroom she now occupies in Lakeview Residence
  • the interview room at Lakeview Residence
  • her home as it was.

The bedroom contains a bed and a bedside table, on which sits a nurse-call button. Against a wall is a chest of drawers. Prominent is an intercom-sized loudspeaker with a clearly visible signal lamp. The loudspeaker delivers all three O.S. voices. The living room contains typical living-room furniture and objects

The play unfolds in the mind of MRS. GALLIPO as she interacts with people in her present and past.

In his book Alzheimer's - From The Inside Out and in his web newsletter, Richard Taylor PhD. (a psychologist and a victim of the disease) advocates strongly for more funding for psycho-social support for victims and dependents. I am indebted to Dr. Taylor for his frank, first-hand descriptions of the effects of the disease. In his book, he also makes the point that for each Alzheimer's victim, there exists a point in time beyond from which there is no return. He likens this crossing to a first death. I witnessed my own mother on both sides of this cave entrance. The one, bemused silence; the other, stunned incomprehension.

In his book, Dying For A Hamburger, Murray Waldman M.D. makes a compelling case for a connection between Alzheimer's in humans and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease) in cattle and the origination of both in unsafe practices by the meat processing industry. If Waldman's hypothesis is correct, we can expect an Alzheimer's pandemic starting in the next two decades. If it happens, this pandemic will overwhelm the health care industry in the developed world.

In Return of the Horseman, I try to illustrate what might happen if society fails to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. I merged Dr. Taylor's idea of "a crossing" and Doctor Waldman's hypothesis of an overwhelmed health-care industry into an apocalyptic scenario where society has taken drastic action to, essentially, cull the masses of demented seniors.