Turning Off the Morning News Synopsis
McCarter play synopses are provided to help inform curious or potential audience members about the story content of our plays in production. They are fairly detailed in their description of a play’s events. Some may want to read the overview of the story below before the performance, while others may skip the synopsis to avoid the revelation of plot points before experiencing the play in performance.
The choice is up to you!
A middle-aged man named Jimmy lives with his talkative and oblivious wife Polly and their shy 13-year-old son Timmy. Jimmy has been feeling depressed but Polly doesn’t see the imminent danger in his displays of aggression and threatening behavior. She finds comfort in a favorite houseplant and dreams of going to heaven. When Timmy returns home from school, he tells his mother he’s being bullied by his peers, but she doesn’t offer much support.
Seemingly at the end of his rope, Jimmy tells Polly that he has decided to kill either her and Timmy or strangers at the mall, and also plans to kill himself. Forced by Jimmy to pick one, Polly chooses the strangers. So, Jimmy sets off to the mall, wearing Timmy’s Halloween pig mask and schlepping a bag of guns. Assuming it’s all a game, Polly disbelieves Jimmy’s sincerity but Timmy is scared. Suddenly Polly worries about Timmy’s lack of school friends, and to his dismay, decides it is best to start homeschooling.
Next door, Clifford, who moved in two weeks ago with his friend Salena, listens to classical music as a way to calm himself when he feels overwhelmed by the chaos of the news. Clifford is confused and concerned when he sees his neighbor walking around outside wearing a pig’s head mask. He calls Salena into the living room, but Jimmy drives away before Salena can see him. After hearing about the mask, Salena tells him about meeting Rosalind, another neighbor whom she hopes to befriend. She explains that Rosalind wears a pillow over her head to protect her skin from the sun and suggests that the pig head may be for a similar use. This information only worries Clifford further about the general sanity of the people in their neighborhood.
Back at Polly and Jimmy’s house, Jimmy returns without the pig’s head mask, explaining that he’s thrown it in a river and decided to not kill anyone but instead to write a prize-worthy novel. Jimmy tells Polly and Timmy that if his novel doesn’t get published, then he will kill them and people at the mall. Polly decides to encourage Jimmy to procrastinate on his novel, which will hopefully give them longer to live. When Jimmy is left alone, he expresses his anger and hatred towards Polly’s plant and shoots at it.
The next morning, Clifford sits alone trying to calm himself before heading to his new job at the newspaper. Salena interrupts, asking Clifford to stay home for a bit so that he can meet Rosalind, whom she has invited over. When Rosalind arrives she explains the full story of her pillow case, and tells Clifford and Salena about the Mohs Surgery, which her dermatologist uses to remove her cancerous moles. While Salena is in the kitchen getting refreshments, Rosalind tells Clifford about how her husband left her for his high school sweetheart, whom he reconnected with on Facebook. Clifford shares that a similar thing happened to Salena. Later, after asking Rosalind if she knows anything about the family next door, Salena proposes that they invite them for cocktails, despite Clifford’s reservations. Clifford departs for work abruptly, and Salena explains that it takes him a while to warm up to people.
In her living room, Polly mourns her plant and bemoans her life, romanticizing death in fantasies of heaven. Jimmy enters complaining to Polly about his difficulties writing. Their exchange quickly escalates to an argument, during which they reveal that Timmy is adopted; Polly instructs the audience not to tell Timmy because he doesn’t know. A phone call interrupts their fight, and when Polly reports that they have been invited to a cocktail party, Jimmy expresses his annoyance by choking her. Timmy interferes and is upset with his parents’ outward insanity. Soon after, Jimmy leaves to continue his novel and Polly starts home schooling Timmy.
The following day, Salena and Clifford wait nervously for their unpredictable neighbors. Upon their arrival, Jimmy and Polly almost immediately start bickering, prompting Polly to suggest they reenter the house for the chance to make a better first impression. Rosalind arrives and things only get worse, so the family leaves to reenter once more. Eventually there is some semblance of progress, but when Clifford learns that Jimmy left his job as a truck driver because he often fell asleep at the wheel, he becomes hugely upset, revealing that his wife and son were killed by a similarly reckless truck driver.
The morning after the disastrous cocktail party, Timmy makes a plea to return to his school, but Polly isn’t receptive. Jimmy enters dressed like Rosalind and shares his plan to finally execute a killing spree at the mall. Polly attempts to turn Jimmy’s focus back to writing, but she does not succeed. Jimmy brings out his rifles and Timmy says they should call the police.
Clifford looks out of his window and sees Jimmy walking to his car dressed like Rosalind. He tells Salena, who is skeptical at first, but then the real Rosalind shows up confirming Clifford’s story. Due to Jimmy’s bizarre behavior and Clifford’s growing anxieties, they head next door to probe Polly for answers.
Spoiler alert! If you would like to read what happens next in the story and how the play ends, click here.
Next door, they find Polly and Timmy tied to chairs with tape over their mouths, and promptly free them. Polly continues to make excuses for Jimmy’s actions, providing little clarity on where he is. They turn on the news to discover that a mass of people have already been killed at a nearby mall. Everyone is quick to blame Polly for ignoring the severity of Jimmy’s threats, especially Timmy, who reveals he overheard the talk about his adoption and is glad to not be genetically related to Jimmy and Polly. They hear on the news that the shooter is not Jimmy, so Clifford tries to warn the police about Jimmy’s plans in case he can still be stopped.
Because of the mall shooting, there is no one at the police station to act on Clifford’s warning. The group decides to try and stop Jimmy themselves. They visit various malls nearby, but when there is no sign of him they head to a bridge over a river that he has mentioned to Polly in the past. They see Jimmy’s car in the river, but then Jimmy enters, still wielding his gun and completely dry. He explains that he intended to kill himself but did not want to die alone. Then, he forces Polly and Timmy into the car they arrived in, planning to drive them off the bridge and shoot them all together. At the very last moment, Polly prompts Timmy to jump to safety and he is saved from the fate of his adoptive parents.
Clifford and Salena take Timmy home with them to rest, and the next morning they receive a call from foster care announcing their imminent arrival to collect Timmy. Unwilling to lose a traumatized Timmy to the foster care system, Salena and Clifford decide to adopt Timmy themselves. Timmy is receptive to this plan as he recognizes that Salena and Clifford are not crazy. The trio choose a new name for Timmy so that he can have a fresh start.