Erin Courtney

THE ORANGE BALLOON (a.k.a. The Hoarder’s Lament)



Back when I was still married and my boys were young, we had a favorite restaurant. It was called The Orange Balloon. Back then we were good looking and we had good jobs and we could afford good food served to us by good looking people. The Orange Balloon was the place we went to when we were celebrating and it was the place we went to whenever we got bad news about someone being sick or someone dying. Because whenever we got news like that, we would just get frozen with grief and we wouldn’t want to cook or clean or anything. The thing about that restaurant was that our boys loved the fresh baked bread and they were picky eaters so I always felt relieved when they ate something. When my oldest son was little, he came up with a contingency plan in case Dad and I disappeared. His plan was that he would live at the Orange Balloon. He would sleep in the booths, drink from the bathroom sink, use the bathroom, eat the scraps of bread.


I had come home from a trip and I saw our bedroom with fresh eyes. It looked like a hoarder’s room. Every surface covered. Old, hated sweaters and hooks draped with rusted necklaces, plastic containers filled with contents unknown but not to be thrown out, boxes of scraps of paper, a pile of unmatched socks. The books on the side tables, unread, dusty. Under the bed, t shirts deemed sentimental that can’t be thrown out. Not quite dirty but not quite clean clothes piled around the room. That is when I first noticed that maybe we had a problem.

(Man sings)

Here is where
the well fed and the hungry meet.
Here is where
the dogs are fostered.
Here is where
the bread is broken

Woman (sings)

when the flood subsides
when the pump has cleared the basement
I’ll run the blow dryer all day long
and peel wet page from wet

I am not a hoarder
I am someone who collects
I conserve and reuse
I use what others forget

like an arm collecting tattoos
the reverend collects his flock
a nomad gathers miles
a watch maker winding clocks

living is just an accumulation
a way to see where we’ve been
deep red walls and broken bread
black underwear and rats

I have got so many nightmares
there are too many to name
the house gets emptied in my sleep
the storage space gets sold

a fire takes away my things
a flood covers them with mold
my family leaves for fear of rats
and I am left here all alone

it’s true
it’s true
or true enough
all my nightmare’s remain

should I call the cleaners in?
Let all my papers go?
the menu from the orange balloon
clean the room and they’ll come home

I’ll start tomorrow
bright and early
it already feels quite late
it already feels quite late

and here oh here oh here
is my revenge
they long for things they lost
they wish they’d kept them near

Woman and Man (sing)

We are in a flooded restaurant.
A knife floats by. A frozen chicken floats by.
A flock of frozen chickens
followed by bobbing liquor bottles.
Hair nets, chef caps.
A rat swims happily
A rat swims happily
A rat swims happily
towards a soggy loaf of bread


This excerpt of The Orange Balloon (a.k.a. The Hoarder’s Lament) was performed at New Dramatists and also at a laundromat in the East Village in September of 2012. The Woman was performed by Birgit Huppoch. The Man was performed Rick Burkhardt. The music was composed by Rick Burkhardt and the excerpt was directed by Erin Courtney.


ERIN COURTNEY‘s play A Map of Virtue, produced by 13P and directed by Ken Rus Schmoll, was awarded an Obie and described as “a delicate gem” and “a resonant tale of loss” by the New York Times. Ms. Courtney’s other plays include Honey Drop, Black Cat Lost, Alice the Magnet, Quiver and Twitch, and Demon Baby. Her work has been produced and developed by Clubbed Thumb, The Flea, New York Stage and Film, Adhesive Theater, Soho Rep, The Vineyard, and The Public. She has collaborated with Elizabeth Swados on the opera Kaspar Hauser and is starting work on a new musical with Ms. Swados on the life of Isabelle Eberhardt. She has been a resident at the MacDowell Colony, a recipient of a NYSCA grant, two MAP Fund grant from the Rockefeller Foundation and is a Guggenheim Fellow. Demon Baby is published in two anthologies; New Downtown Now, edited by Mac Wellman and Young Jean Lee and published by University of Minnesota Press, and Funny, Strange, Provocative: Seven Plays by Clubbed Thumb edited by Maria Striar and Erin Detrick and published by Playscripts, Inc. A Map of Virtue and Black Cat Lost are published by 53rd State Press. She is an affiliated artist with Clubbed Thumb, a member of 13P, and a member of New Dramatists. She teaches in the MFA playwriting program at Brooklyn College and is a co-founder of Brooklyn Writers Space. MFA, Brooklyn College, 2003. BA, Brown University, 1990.


Read more work by Erin Courtney:

Two plays at 53rd State Press


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