Two men exchange dolls in an alleyway, a simple trade that isn't so simple.

Gregory - Male, 20s/30s, Black

Carl- Male, 20s/30s, white
“John Mabey has written an effective and beautiful play that, albeit only 10-minutes long, addresses a broad spectrum of important issues. "Playing with Dolls" - which is a great title - is a thoroughly enjoyable read.”
(David Lipschutz)
“There is so much to love about this beautiful play, which in a mere ten minutes touches on so many root issues: race, masculinity, sexual identity, fatherhood, and, most especially, the particular awkwardness men display in their (often thwarted) yearning for friendship. And it does all this through heartfelt humor and with unabashed humanity. Bravo!”
(Robert Weibezahl)
“This is such a sweet play. When two strangers come together to trade dolls and fears. It doesn't come easy. I think the theme of parenting and manly stereotypes is handled so skillfully in these quick pages. A great addition to any evening of theatre and actors will love tackling these roles!”
(Jacquelyn Floyd-Priskorn)
“Some very profound truths come out in this short but powerful piece. Parenting is a seemingly endless series of trials and second guessing, and Mabey nails the uncertainty AND the confidence. Side note - I used to work at a toy store, and this kind of scenario was not uncommon. Really engaging.”
(DC Cathro)
“Two fathers, one black, one white, trying so hard to get it right, and they do – but in ways they never anticipated. Mabey's taut, swift ten-minute play lingers long after one has read it, mainly because it so well written, and it makes its points with sharp precision. Intelligent and engaging, it should be embraced by short play festivals everywhere.”
(Doug DeVita)

“A sweet, nuanced, slice-of-life that touches on a lot of topics, but all boils down to themes of white cis male awkwardness: about race, sexuality, and most of all simple homosociality. It does a lot with <10 minutes, showing us the foundations of, if not a friendship, at least the sort of connection from which friendships are formed.”
(Tom Moran)

“The ingenious setting/premise of PLAYING WITH DOLLS - in an alley behind a toy story - an interracial meeting between fathers exchanging dolls - is so ominous and curiosity-inducing. John Mabey has such a light and magical touch for difficult subjects. Even after a second reading, I'm agog at how he pulls off the art of making friends by two male parents. I love it that Carl appreciates Gregory for his honesty and gentle antagonism and Gregory tolerates Carl's clumsy attempts at openness. It's not easy for adult men to make friends and this wise play offers a pathway.”
(Charles Scott Jones)

“The dad struggle is real. This awkward conversation behind a toy store digs into issues about race, gender norms, and the isolation that toxic ideas about masculinity and manhood can create. Mabey explores these bigger ideas with his trademark humor and compassion, filling this encounter with fallible human grace notes that made me laugh and smile and nod. The kids are alright, if their dads can be, too -- in Mabey's world, and hopefully in ours.”
(Vince Gatton)

“A short play full of powerful moments, featuring a sweet new friendship between strangers. Wonderfully produced on the GATHER BY THE GHOST LIGHT podcast!”
(Evan Baughfman)
“I had the pleasure of hearing this play read on Gather by the Ghost Light (an invaluable theatre podcast). From the novel. almost ominous set up through the awkward initial conversation to the ultimate spark of an unlikely friendship, this play is fresh and engaging. The subtext of how difficult it is to form adult friendships adds weight and depth to the characters' humorous interaction.”
(Paul Donnelly)
“An awkward back alley exchange between two fathers each trying to get the doll that would make their child happy, leads to an awkward conversation between two adult men who have too few friends in their lives, and likely would have never spoken to one another under any other circumstance. This play explores all the emotional and social obstacles that make it hard for men of a certain age to initiate new friendships (Heard on Gather by the Ghostlight podcast.)”
(Ian Thal)

“I remember when my son was little and he'd have a gift certificate to use at a big box store or toy store, and off we'd go to "choose" from options that fell entrenched into powerful gender norms. This smart, relatable play digs into the onslaught of those 360-surrounds that enforce expectations and adherence to societal constructs. Read and produce this play TODAY.”
(Rachael Carnes)

“ "Playing With Dolls" is a sublime and lovely play that answers one of the most difficult questions facing adults (esp. adult men): How do you make new friends?
The unlikely camaraderie between the two protagonists is a delight to watch unfold. Bravo!”
(Adam Richter)

“Two grown men meet in a dark alley... sounds sinister until you realise why they are meeting and what they are exchanging! So yes, it's awkward at first, but when we strike up conversation, barriers usually come down.
But this is also a shrewd look into a generation who think they accept gender preferences and choices, but perhaps still get it skewed slightly and try too hard.
Do listen to the Gather by the Ghost Light podcast of this great play!”
(Christopher Plumridge)

“We produced an audio play version of this script in our Season 4 line-up ( John Mabey has an uncanny ability to tackle important topics in his plays that keep you thinking after you're finished reading. "Playing with Dolls" addresses gender stereotypes and racial identity within a story about two strangers connecting to exchange toy dolls for their kids. The beauty of this script also comes from the small glimpse we get of this meeting of men which will surely develop into a friendship between the two strangers. Highly recommended for reading or producing!”
(Gather by the Ghost Light)
Redwood City Play Festival, CA - 2020

The Crowbait Club, ME - 2020
River's Edge Theatre Company, NY - 2022

Gather By The Ghost Light, GA - 2023
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