THE BLACKSTONE SESSIONS
by Lisa Kirazian
(A cozy living room in a mid-1960s New England home. Spotlight on the
YOUNG HANNAH RUBY JOHNSON, a sharply dressed African American
woman in her late thirties. She looks straight ahead.)
As you and I dream, what will we say? What will we hear and
(Lights up as Young Hannah turns to
her husband, MARSHALL JOHNSON, an
African American man in his forties
sitting on a sofa centerstage left,
in a stylish shirt and tie.)
Hannah, come on. Help me finish this.
(Young Hannah switches gears --
laughing giddily as she enters the
scenario and joins him on the sofa.
They make a handsome couple. Their
eyes and hands are on each other
constantly. They recline,
reviewing tattered papers.)
No more laughing. I want this to ring out!
(Young Hannah reaches for his neck,
tickling him. He pushes her hand
(reading from the papers)
Brothers and sisters....
Brothers and sisters...
Congress may not listen to me.
The ACLU may not listen to me.
Georgia may not listen to me.
I am not! Go on.
Congress may not listen to me. The ACLU may not listen to
me. Georgia may not listen to me. But y'all are listening
to me, and that's all I need!
And everyone will cheer...Then you'll talk about the Fair
That's not the point of this.
It has to be!
No. Federal issues. Local ones eat up too much time. Other
things are pressing in right now.
What could be more pressing than this? The decision is
coming next month. Everyone has to get on this or else it
I know it's important to you, but the movement towards
freedom can't focus on where people lay their head at night.
No comforts right now.
I can't believe it's you talking. Don't you care that I've
been camping outside City Hall for three weeks about this?
Freedom IS about where people lay their head at night.
Then hundreds of our lukewarm brothers and sisters will
settle down in their new house on the eastside and think that
everything's fine, everything's finished, nothing left to
fight for? Comfortable Negroes. Can't have that happen,
That won't happen. Please, at least mention it.
(continuing speech, by heart)
We shall overcome, as it's been said. We shall overcome.
This equal housing legislation is an important step. We will
never stop, so that a Black child and a White child can run
through the same neighborhood, look each other and say with
their eyes, "Beloved, let us love one another.' They will
mean it and they will live it! We will never stop until they
can walk side by side in every school, every university and
every workplace in this country! As Medgar dreamed, as
Martin dreams, and as you and I dream...
As you and I dream....
You still love me?
As sure as I'm sitting here.
(He kisses her. They recline more,
almost pressing into the sofa.
Hannah's hand wanders into the sofa
crack and pulls out a neckerchief
she doesn't recognize.)
YOUNG HANNAH (Continued)
(Marshall freezes as spotlight goes
out and lights come up on a
woodpaneled, stately modern living
room. The same sofa looks dated
now, next to newer leather
furniture; ceiling-high, stuffed
bookshelves; a stereo system with
records; expensive artwork on the
walls. Framed pictures sit on the
leftover wall space. A big bay
window issues light upstage left,
and the hint of a staircase and
doorway stand upstage right. Some
soft Coltrane fades into earshot.
Spotlight on the elder HANNAH RUBY
JOHNSON, now in her seventies. She
stands at the window, looking
outward as if something is
happening outside, then turns
inside. Larger and less mobile,
she is dressed comfortably in
dramatic earth tones - flowing
skirt, earrings, necklace. A
journal lies open at the window.)
When will I rise, the phoenix
from the ashes smeared across your face that day
in the mud and shadow, surrounded by tired feet of our
brothers and sisters dying to be free?
The shock heard round the world numbed their faces,
and snapped you to the ground,
for everybody - and nobody - to notice. As you are my
witness, to this day I am powerless to rectify your memory or
the tenderness of that heart of hearts which once was mine.
(Played by the same actor playing
Marshall, TREVOR JOHNSON, Hannah's
son, enters near the end of the
(He has on an expensive, dark
business suit and a suitcase is at
his feet. The epitome of late
1990s bull-market America, complete
(She exhales deeply.)
The car is packed.
The poems seeped through our pores....
(Hannah doesn't turn around.)
We're leaving. This is goodbye.
One more thing I need to tell you.
(Hannah turns around.)
I've hired a housekeeper for the summer. She'll be here any
Just while we're at the Executives' Institute. Calm down.
Calm down? No, I won't calm down. Who says I can't take
care of myself?
Your hip says so.
Your cooking says so. She'll cook and clean too.
What's to clean? Whole damn place is a museum! You live
She'll keep things straight.
Why are you going across country to some institute? When was
the last time you took a book down from this shelf?
(Hannah runs her hand across a shelf
You know I don't have time to read all those.
Not even your father's books. Or mine.
When's the last time you helped at the "Y"?
We give generously to the "Y," Mother.
That's not what I asked.
She can be a companion for you.
I don't need a companion.
You need something.
No. You need something. What beats behind that necktie?
Anything? Looking at you, no one would ever know that --
That my parents helped lead the civil rights movement? What,
I'm too corporate? Too "white," Mother? No. I am working
to build my own life. So I'm not an activist! Who cares?
(Hannah shakes her head.)
I am a C.O.O.
You are a C.O.W.A.R.D. How's your opinions tasting lately,
son? How're they tasting? By now you probably swallowed
enough of them at that job. Think you were as WASP as the
rest of them. Bet you look at what kind of cuff links they
wear, just to make sure you match.
She'll be here any minute. I hand-picked her over dozens.
Thank you for consulting me.
She'll take the extra bedroom downstairs.
This must have been my lovely daughter-in-law's idea.
(Trevor turns toward the doorway
meekly. But AMANDA JOHNSON, white,
Jewish, slender and professional,
has already entered stage right,
arms folded. She's dressed in
corporate 90's vogue.)
Wasn't it, Amanda?
Why do you ask?
Because it's my business.
Your son always takes care of you. And you talk to him like --
I can talk to my own son however I please!
Please don't interrupt. You talk to him like he's subhuman.
I don't expect you to treat me like a daughter, because I
know you're incapable. But he's your son, for God's sake.
You have no excuse.
If he loved me he'd love the things I love. He knows where
he comes from!
We all know where we come from. You don't have to tell me
about heritage. But everyone can't be a -- protester. The
rest of us have to live our lives. Would you rather us put
you in a home?
Hmph. Flesh of my flesh.
(Hannah exits stage left in as much
of a huff as an artificial hip
allows. Trevor and Amanda turn to
each other, shifting around, then
It's that Johnson stubbornness.
All I'm thinking of is San Francisco...Just the two of us...
(tries to sing unconvincingly)
Be sure to wear a flower in your hair...
Yeah, right. My parents would love that when we visit for
Wait -- which one is that again?
Feast of Weeks.
Maybe we'll do the flower thing on our own, then.
(Amanda laughs and shakes her head.
Lights dim upstage. They exit.)
(Jiggers Diner. Long and narrow,
wood floor, old-fashioned vinyl
stools. Spot on downstage left,
where GINA CORELLI leans against
the diner counter. A whitetrash,
thirtysomething Italian woman, she
wears a waitress outfit and yanks
each element of it off: hat, apron,
topcoat. She slams them down on
the counter. Long day.)
(Enter PATRICK HARTMAN, an earlyforties
man of mostly corduroy,
rushing to the counter with a
leather attache and a book.)
Is it too late to get a coffee and danish?
My shift's over. Other girl's late.
Please? I'm sorry. I haven't had time to eat all day.
(Gina sizes him up and goes behind
the counter for the goods.)
Thanks. You're the waitress who never writes anything down.
You memorized eight people's orders last week to prove it.
(She gives him a coffee and danish
in a to-go bag. He puts a few
I remember your order too.
French toast with sausage side order. Coffee, juice. Eight
Not that I use it for anything that matters. What are you
Their Eyes Were Watching God.
By Zora Neale Hurston.
I highly recommend it. I teach literature at Bardham here.
Oh, I didn't go to college.
It's about a woman recounting her life journey through her
That's three up on me.
You should read it. Thanks for the danish.
(FRANK TORANI, late thirties,
Caucasian, blue collar man in denim
and a cap, strides in as Patrick
waves goodbye and leaves.)
Need a cabride, Gina?
You're a doll. I'll need both our cars' space. I'm going to
the apartment first, pick up all my stuff and then go to the
Whoa, whoa. Wait. You moving?
Karen moved out to be with Jerry and I couldn't afford to
You need a place?
Not mine -- my mother's place. She'd love company.
I'm moving in someone's house for the summer. Housekeeping.
You're quitting, then?
You can't. You're a permanent fixture here.
Nothing about me is a permanent fixture. Except maybe these
But this shitty coffee tastes even worse when you don't serve it.
But I'm a housekeeper now.
That'll be good work.
Until I get fired. Good pay anyway. It's up on Blackstone.
(Frank whistles like "that's
impressive." Gina yells towards
offstage, as if to the back of thediner.)
I'm gone, Tom.
(to herself and Frank)
No one ever answers when I say goodbye.
(Frank and Gina exeunt stage left as
Sarah Vaughn's 1975 version of
(Vaughn music continues. Downstage
left, Trevor finishes walking Gina
to upstage right. Lights brighten
as he rattles off.)
Your first month's pay is on your nighttable, and some money
for groceries and things. Errands. We'll send you another
check for next month.
I've also put a list of the types of things you need to do
each day, where things are located and so on, list of phone
numbers, and our contact information as well.
Basement's off limits, so I'm told, otherwise you're free to
go where you please.
She's a tough nut, my mother.
I'm used to those.
(Hannah enters defiantly but
hobbling, stage right. She turns
off the Vaughn from her stereo.)
Who's the tough nut?
(Gina and Trevor turn around.)
Gina Corelli -- my mother, Hannah Ruby Johnson.
Nice to meet you.
(Hannah doesn't answer, just nods.)
We'll be in touch. Goodbye, Mother.
(He glances at Hannah and nods at
Gina as he leaves downstage left.
Gina and Hannah size each other up
for a beat. Hannah goes to the
window seat. Gina eyes the books,
the comfort, the wealth. Hannah
gets in her face.)
Gina what, again?
I got a wop.
How old are you?
How many men you slept with?
God, I don't know.
Wonderful. And college? Let me guess.
Of course not. What then?
Working doesn't count?
I worked more jobs in my life than you can count.
Doing what -- reading? I've never seen so many books.
Do you know who I am?
I've heard of you. I remember something in the paper.
About being fired from the University here. Speaking out
against -- everything. Sucks to lose your job, doesn't it?
You couldn't have been more than a teenager.
I have a good memory. When I was 17, five months and thirty
days old, my parents died. My father was murdered by some
guys he owed money to, and my mother died of a heart attack
the same day. From the shock. Some things you don't
forget...then pretty soon you're afraid to forget anything.
Next thing you know you're memorizing people's breakfast
I didn't ask for all that.
All you have to remember is this: I wake up at 7am every
morning. Take a walk. Eat breakfast. Read. Write letters.
Watch Oprah occasionally, or CNBC. Make calls. Nap. Read.
Wow. That is a hard life.
Do you know where I've marched?
Do you even know what I mean when I say "marched"?
Protests or whatever. I'm not stupid.
I marched across Birmingham. Washington D.C. with Dr. King.
Detroit. Chicago. And from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
That alone was fifty miles.
(eyeing Hannah's figure)
So, at one time in your life you got exercise....
I went to jail for the cause several times.
Hooray for you.
Forget it. How well do you cook?
(Gina shuffles around.)
Do you always dress like a tramp?
I'm not a tramp.
Of course you aren't.
That's right. Because you're Catholic.
What the hell's that supposed to --
What jobs have you had?
Is this another interview?
This is MY interview.
Beauteous. What else?
You mean call girl.
No. I mean escort.
See? A tramp.
Don't talk to me like that! It was a mistake. I’ve been a
waitress for five years and two months, at Jiggers Diner.
Never been there.
It's like an institution.
I hate institutions. And this is what my son gets me. White
What did you teach at college? How to Deal with White Trash?
American literature. Poetry.
Did you a whole lot of good.
(Gina sits on the sofa.)
Who said you could sit?
(Gina darts up.)
Have a seat.
(Gina sits, rolling her eyes.)
What a summer this'll be.
(Gina gets up and moves toward stage
right. She stops and turns around.)
Who was that singing?
Sarah Vaughn. From her live sessions in Japan.
You don't know anything, do you?
(She exits. Hannah shakes her head.
Sarah Vaughn's "Tenderly" is heard
as lights dim. Downstage right is
a small table where Hannah goes to
sit. Lights open as Gina brings
her dinner -- pork chops. The
music continues as Hannah surveys
the food, then eats it. Gina
stands guard, watching. Hannah
doesn't say anything and just eats --
then shoos Gina away.)
(Lights dim. Lights alter at the
window to imply wee hours of the
morning. In the shadows, Gina
tiptoes from the staircase to the
bookshelves in the living room.
Lights come up dimly. She eyes
shelf after shelf of books,
touching a few. She smells the
bindings. Then she runs her hands
across a shelf. She stops at a
certain row of books.)
Hannah Ruby Johnson...Marshall Johnson...Zora Neale
Hurston...Oh! Their Eyes Were Watching God.
(Gina's eyes light up and she
carefully takes the book from the
shelf. Just as she opens it, the
lights turn on, startling her.
Hannah is in her face, yanking the
What are you doing?!
(Gina turns, frozen.)
(Hannah pushes her away from the wall.)
Getting into my things?
I was just --
Thinking you own the place now?
Someone recommended this --
You have no business prying into my affairs.
Don't flatter yourself. I just wanted to look at this book.
None of this belongs to you!
(Gina again runs her hands across
the shelves of books -- exactly how
Hannah did before, tenderly.
I want to read things. I wanted to go to college, be
educated. Is that a crime too? But it's like they're behind
glass and I can't touch them. Like a museum around here.
This is not a museum.
(Hannah puts the book back.)
Right. I guess you wouldn't be interested in giving me
things to read and study -- so maybe I could learn stuff and
go back to school someday.
(Hannah lets out a deep "why me?"
Guess you'd rather have them all gather dust instead. But if
you said yes, then my summer wouldn't be a total waste and
you could do something besides sit on your ass.
I said no!
(Gina walks back to the downstairs
light. Hannah runs her hands
across her books again, inhaling
(Downstage left, lights go up on
Jiggers Diner. Frank, sitting at
the counter with his paper and
coffee, sizes up the entering CARL,
a tall, lean, ethnically-mixed guy
in his thirties, dressed in black.)
Girl named Gina still work here?
Where's she now?
What's it to you?
(Frank stiffens. We hear TOM, the
cook, as a voice offstage.)
She's a housekeeper now on Blackstone somewhere.
What're you doin', Tom?
The man can talk.
What's your business with her --
Don't worry. I'm harmless.
(Carl exits. Frank slams his
Tom, you idiot.
(Lights down on diner and up on the
casual kitchen table downstage
right, where Hannah looks at a
plate of jonnycakes, a pancake
variety. Gina dries a frying pan,
with a box of jonnycake mix nearby.)
What do you mean, a jonnycake? What the hell's a jonnycake?
You'll like it.
What. Is. In. It?
The Six Minute Secret for Quick-As-Mix Jonnycakes. Mix one
cup of white corn meal, one teaspoon sugar, half teaspoon
salt. Add one and a half cups boiling water. Mix well.
Batter will be thick.
Drop by tablespoonful on any well-greased fry pan or griddle.
Medium hot -- three hundred eighty degrees for electric fry
pans. Do not touch or turn over for six minutes. At six
minutes, turn over and cook for about five minutes. This
will yield eight to ten golden brown jonnycakes everytime...
(pushing the box of mix into Hannah's face)
The earliest American settlers discovered corn and were
taught by the Indians how to grow, grind and cook this
unfamiliar grain. The original Jonny Cakes were a mixture of
water and corn meal spread thin and cooked before an open
fire. This became their life sustaining food. Though we
suggest a recipe which dates back to 1886, as all Rhode
Islanders will agree, there is only one correct recipe, and
that is their own.
I can't believe you've never had them.
In this house a down-home breakfast is usually an avocado and
brie omelette with a baguette. That daughter in law of mine.
And you complain....?
Don't recite anymore. Forget a good memory. You have a
Yeah, for important things like -- bullshit.
Keep that language to yourself.
(Hannah devours them.)
Why aren't you eating?
Already did. Take your medicine?
(Gina finds it in a cupboard and
stands over Hannah until she takes
it with water. She looks at Gina
then gives in. Gina wipes her
hands with a towel and sits.)
Change your mind yet?
Thought so. I read Their Eyes Were Watching God anyway.
Finished it last week. Read it again this week. Got it from
the Providence library. So there.
I loved it. She was so -- you know.
No, I do not have ESP.
Brave. Down to earth. No attitude. Just took what came to
Just took what came to her?
Is that what you do?
Take what comes to you?
Everybody does. Unless they're dumb enough to think they can
change the world.
She was a woman of decisions. A woman of action, of love.
Those things don't just happen to you. Setbacks happen to
you. But you act against them. You keep going. Your soul
propels you. Past the floods.
(Hannah gets up, hollering.)
Literature propels you. Most great literature is not about
people who just let things happen to them. They speak. They
act. They screw up. They love.
(Hannah lowers her voice.)
(She walks out. Gina takes Hannah's
plate, slowly. Hannah reenters
holding a book and a notebook. She
shoves them into Gina's hands.)
There. Memorize those.
Twentieth Century Black Poetry? Oh, man...and what's this?
Your notebook. Write down every word you don't know and fill
in the definitions from the dictionary. Literature will
teach you how to use your mouth. Turn to page 25.
Whoa. How do you say that?
Imamu Amiri Baraka. Formerly known as Leroy Jones.
Shoulda kept his first name. What was he thinking?
First feel, then feel, then read, or read, then feel, then
fall, or stand, where you already are. Think of your self,
and the other selves...think of your parents, your mothers
and sisters, your bentslick father, then feel, or fall, on
your knees if nothing else will move you, then read and look
deeply into all matters come close to you...
(Gina's mouth hangs mute.)
Now you try one.
I said I wanted to read, not read out loud.
Poetry has to be read out loud.
Why do we have to do poetry then?
Because I'm a poet and you're in my house. Turn to page 76.
I can't read this.
Not for me.
You'll even have to write your own poetry someday. So get
used to it.
I'm not going to read it, okay? Leave me alone! I can't
just do it like that. At my own pace.
And you said you want to learn things.
(Hannah smirks and exits, leaving
the book. Gina picks it up again,
flipping through it. She stops at
a page in the middle. She looks
around, then speaks softly and
"poem at thirty" by Sonia Sanchez...."poem at thirty"...
it is midnight, no magical bewitching hour for me, I know
only that I am here waiting, remembering that once as a child
I walked two miles in my sleep.
(She puts the book down, lost in
(The she repeats the poem a bit
louder, from memory -- and a little
it is midnight, no magical bewitching hour for me, I know
only that I am here waiting, remembering that once as a child
I walked two miles in my sleep.
(She takes a deep breath.)
(Lights reopen outside the front
door, downstage, where Patrick
approaches, practicing a greeting.)
Hi, Hannah. Good to see you again...Hannah! Just thought
I’d drop by....
(He rings the doorbell. Hannah sits
in her armchair in front of the
television, with a book. Gina
answers the door. Both she and
Patrick are surprised, awkward as
they try to place each other.)
Is Hannah in?
Who is it?
Bless my soul! Come in, Patrick!
What’s your name again?
Gina. I was wondering where you went.
(She smiles and lets him in. Hannah
Don’t get up!
(They embrace and sit.)
You’re the only one who makes time for your old professor.
Which old professor?
(Hannah laughs. Gina watches them
from the bay window seat,
occasionally looking out.)
How are you?
What are you teaching now, Patrick?
Two sections of 101 for the summer session. Then Modern Lit
and Humanities for the fall....Thought I'd try to make my
mark and write a book. Any chance I can read your archives
for a book about the movement?
I’ve told you already. My archives are off-limits; my
basement’s off limits.
(Gina looks up.)
It’d help me so much. Pretty please?
Don’t worry about tenure. You’re a white man -- they’ll give
it to you.
It's a farce, I know. They never should have let you go.
(Hannah shifts in her chair.)
This is Gina.
We’ve met, yes.
She’s my new housekeeper.
Lucky for you.
(The phone by Hannah rings.)
Hmph. Excuse me.
(She picks up. Patrick goes to Gina
and they meander away for privacy.)
Hello?...Montrose? Montrose Campbell. Well!....I’m visiting
with Patrick....Now you calling makes it reunion week...
(Hannah laughs and motions to
Patrick that she’ll be a minute.
Patrick nods and moves to the
dining table downstage right with
Gina. Gina makes some lemonade
with fresh lemons as Patrick stands
in the door. Hannah can still be
heard laughing in the b.g.)
She was an amazing professor at Bardham. She made me want to
So what did she say that made them kick her out?
She was already a famous activist when she came here. There
was a lot of pressure, a lot of prejudice. She spoke out
against the administration, the ‘racist’ administration, that
kept her from teaching the real meaty classes. Prevented her
from speaking in the quad. The only reason they kept her was
because she published. And because of Marshall.
Marshall -- Johnson?
Her husband. He helped lead the civil rights movement from
the beginning, knew Dr. King and all of them. He advocated
some key legislation too.
(Gina puts down her utensils and
turns to Patrick.)
You don’t know about him?
No. She doesn’t tell me anything. I think she hates me.
(Patrick laughs and shakes his head.)
Don’t worry. That’s her way.
Who’s this Montrose guy?
He was in the movement, too. Marshall’s best friend. Hannah
loves him like a brother. He’s teaches at Bardham too.
What’s that mean?
That means you’re old but you don’t really want to retire so
they give you a class to teach every once in a while so you
can still eat at the faculty club.
I think he’s always wanted to get into her pants.
(They laugh and then awkward pause.)
Did you get that book I told you about?
Yeah. I read it already.
What did you think?
(Gina swallows, looks up, speaks
She was a woman of decisions. A woman of action, of love.
Setbacks happened. But she had to act against them. She
kept on going. Her soul propelled her.
(He thinks for a second.)
I also think that she was a brave woman. Down to earth
despite all the things that happened to her. No airs, no
Come next week then. I’ll be here. We’ll have some cobbler,
for old times! Okay...All right...
(Gina goes back to the lemonade.)
(She hangs up.)
How about that? Montrose Campbell.
He’s been wanting to ask you out for years.
I’m telling you, Hannah, he has the hots for you.
(Hannah wanders to the window,
shaking her head, eyes gazing
(hushed, to Gina)
Would you like to visit my class sometime?
(Gina finishes the lemonade and
gives him a glass to him.)
(Hannah is quiet.)
(Gina hands her a glass.)
Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Have it read by Friday.
(Hannah takes a sip as lights dim.)
(Lights crossfade to upstage right,
where Young Hannah and Marshall
pace in their bedroom. He packs a
Afraid for me? How can you be?
The President calls my husband to say he’ll be safe at the
convention. How sweet. Marshall, wake up! It means the
Listen to yourself. The President. THE President.
I don’t give a damn who he is or what he says.
He’s a racist pig along with the rest of them. If he’s
protecting us so good how come our conversations are still
bugged everywhere we go?
(She addresses the walls, the air.)
Huh? Why is that?
That’s just routine. We have nothing to hide anyway. Right?
But that’s just it. We finally made it past our fighting.
That’s why it would kill me to see something happen now,
after how hard we’ve worked --
And you have to think of Trevor.
I think about him all the time, Hannah. I can see our souls
in him....You two are the joy of my life. You are what keeps
me going. I’ll be looked after.
If they’re looking after you, how come you still get thrown
‘In an unjust state the only place for a just man is in
jail.’ You know that. People notice the cause that way.
Plus you’re the poet: ‘Hurry up, Lucille, Hurry up. We’re
going to miss our chance to go to jail.’
They control our enemies. They won’t let you get as far as
you want to go.
How do you expect to get anywhere for our people if you think
that? The President’s given us his word.
You think you’re just visiting a herd of sheep but it's the
leopards' den. I don’t want you to make this speech. The
other one was fine, it was local. But at the SCLC? I love
most of them, but all the vultures will be hanging around
Do you remember when I used to be afraid of you? You
impressed the hell out of me. What happened? We turn a
streetcorner, you’re scared. Like you’re expecting to meet
the angel of death in every coffee shop. We hear a bump in
the night, you’re up shaking.
You think Martin and all the others got nailed without the
I’m not going to die, Hannah. Besides, that’s not the point.
You and I made a pact to live for freedom. For peace. To
risk everything if it meant gaining the one thing that
matters. What happened to the outspoken woman I married?
Where is the fearless poet? Whose poetry seeps through her
pores? Who couldn’t keep quiet at the Blue Note when talk
turned to politics?
I don’t know where she’s been lately...
So strong, so loving, she could forgive my one grave
indiscretion...I need her now. I need that Hannah. And if I
die for the cause someday...
(She puts her finger to his lips.
He moves them tenderly.)
I’ll need her more than ever.
(He kisses her on the forehead.)
Do you still love me?
More than my life.
(They embrace, Hannah distracted, as
(Gina’s room, upstage center. She
folds clothes. Junk food wrappers
are everywhere. She listens to
ELO’s ‘Turn to Stone’ on a nearby
(Carl comes up to the door leading
‘outside’ from Gina’s bedroom. He
opens the door. Gina is startled.
She picks up the phone and he puts
it back down.)
You’re moving up in the world.
How’d you find me?
Every house has a back door to a back room.
Good job here?
(Carl picks up Gina’s copy of
Beloved. Is this about me?
Put it down.
Think you’re smart now?
Give me that.
Good old Gina. Always surrounding herself with things she
thinks'll make her feel better.
Reading’s good for me.
You don’t know the first thing about this shit. Come on.
I’d love you back. The clientele misses you too.
(Carl puts his arms around her from
(singing in whispers)
‘Turn to stone, when you are gone, I turn to stone....’
(She pushes him away.)
(He tries again and she doesn’t
‘Turn to stone. When you coming home? I can’t go on....’
Baby....You miss me at night. And all the others.
Not anymore, Carl.
(She finally wrestles away and he
grabs her arm hard.)
Don’t flatter yourself now. You and me are alike, remember?
We don’t forget anything. No one changes.
I do. You’ll always have a closet-full of doubts. And when
you’re lying in bed alone at night, covered with shadows,
you’ll always be afraid. No matter how smart you think
you’ve gotten. You’ll need me again. Just wait.
(She yanks free.)
I’m getting educated.
See that? I even miss you standing up to me. Men like me
need that once in a while. That’s a real woman talking.
None of my girls now do that. They’re just girls. No way
near as much fun. You, on the other hand, are something
else. The fight in you makes me want you more. But read my
lips, Gina: you could never be like the people who live on
Get out of here! She can’t see you.
I’ll see you soon.
(He kisses her on the cheek quickly
and she retreats. He exits. Gina
wipes her cheek.)
(Hannah enters suddenly, holding
I was coming up to you. You shouldn’t come down these
Curious to see how you are living down here. What a mess.
I was just tidying...
This the junk you eat?
And who was that just leaving?
You have strange men coming over my house?
It was unexpected.
Someone I used to know.
No! He won’t come again.
How do you know? Now that he knows where you live, all sorts
of white trash’ll be coming to my house.
I’m not white trash!
Look at this dump.
I keep your house clean. This is my room; it’s not as
Fiddlesticks. I read your essay, on Beloved.
It’s not bad for an ignorant person.
First of all, don’t use ‘I’ in an essay. Didn’t they teach
you that in grade school?
No. What’s wrong with ‘I’? It’s what ‘I’ think.
Is this your name on the paper, in the corner?
Then I know it’s what YOU think. Don’t need all the ‘I’s.
Makes you sound insecure.
That’s how I always used to write essays. Like I’m making
more of a statement.
Trying to prove yourself just makes you look worse. You want
me to teach you or not? You want to apply to school this
fall or not? Cut out all the ‘I’s and the verbs that follow.
‘I think that Beloved is a commentary on the state of family
in our time, with all of its love and darkness.’ Cut the ‘I
think that’ and just start with ‘Beloved is a commentary...’
Got it? You’ll sound more authoritative. That’s what you
Now come up. I’d like dinner early. We’re going to church.
Congdon Street Baptist. You’re taking me.
No. Not me. I’m Catholic.
Yeah, right. Real Catholic. You are coming with me to
church. No complaints.
He'll be there too.
(Lights dim and gospel music comes
up. An upbeat praise. Downstage
left, Hannah and Gina sit in
folding chairs, waving fans.
Hannah sings along and Gina files
I can’t believe you’re into this.
And your nails are suddenly so important. What can’t you
believe about this?
Like, you’re intelligent and whatnot. You have a brain. How
could you still believe in religion?
I don’t believe in religion. That’s the Catholic in you
talking. I believe in the Lord Jesus, the only one who won’t
leave me. He is my friend, not my religion. You should know
that. Besides, intellectuals are blind most of the time.
It’s because I have a brain that I come here. I’d be stupid
if I didn’t.
(The song ends. Hannah claps and we
hear the sound of group applause.
The next song is a slower chant.
Hannah closes her eyes and takes it
in. Gina watches her, looks ahead,
as if at the choir.)
If you’re so faithful to Jesus how come you act like such a
(Hannah looks at Gina. Gina listens
to the song more intently, putting
the nail file down. Gina leans
(Hannah closes her eyes, breathing
in deeply. Young Hannah, in a
choir robe, enters slowly. Hannah
sees the vision of Young Hannah,
who gazes at her, about to speak.)
I can’t listen to you yet.
(Young Hannah, visibly pained,
closes her mouth and leaves as
slowly as she came. Hannah sighs
with relief and turns to Gina, who
hasn’t noticed any of this. Hannah
returns to fanning herself,
distracted, as the song and the
(Hannah exits and Gina moves to
center left, with chair. Sitting
in front of Gina are CALLY and
CRAIG played by same actors as
Amanda and Carl, two nicely-dressed
students following their books.
Patrick, holding a book, appears
center right, lecturing to his
‘class.’ Gina practically hides.)
‘She said she thought it would be a good day for driving.’
(Patrick notices Gina and clears his
Grandmother just gets everything wrong, doesn’t she? Thanks
to her they all get in a car accident, which leads to the
highway killer, The Misfit, paying them a visit. What do you
think of this scenario? Who is ‘good’?
(Cally raises her hand.)
Nobody. The Misfit and Grandmother are two sides of a coin.
He’s just in touch with reality and she isn’t.
(Craig blurts out.)
They’re both wrong. Grandmother is a hypocrite and Misfit is
a serial killer. It’s an amoral world.
Good, good. And we have a visitor today. Glad you're here,
Gina. What do you think?
(Gina glares at him, embarrassed.)
(Cally and Craig turn around to
I know people like the Misfit. You can’t mess with ‘em. If
you mouth off, they kill you.
(Cally and Craig turn away, afraid.)
I mean, the title says it all: "A Good Man Is Hard To Find."
Tell me about it! He didn’t even need to write the story,
the author. He could have stopped right there.
She. Flannery O’Connor is a she.
(She sinks to her chair.)
(The bell rings and the other
See you next week, then.
(Gina starts to storm out.)
(Her back still to him.)
You shouldn’t have called on me. I’ve never been so
embarrassed. All these twenty-year olds...
It wasn’t so bad. You were mostly right.
Either you were trying to intimidate me by asking me here, or
you were trying to impress me. Which was it?
Both, I guess. I’m sorry.
You should be. Hannah’s crazy if she thinks I can get
through a place like this.
Sure you can. Eventually. Those kids aren’t any smarter.
They’ve only lived in their books longer.
And you’re just an older version of them.
Will you have a peace dinner with me? I was thinking
Italian. Figured you’d know the best places on the Hill.
Do you want to be roughed up or left alone?
I know the place.
(Gina turns around as lights dim.)
(Music of Billie Holiday echoes as
lights come up on Hannah’s living
room. Hannah stands by the window
again, stretching and moving,
dancelike. Inhaling the music.
Gina, in apron, puts the food on
the table and crosses from
downstage right. She begins to
dance, too, lost in the music.
Gina moves remarkably well with it,
fluidly. Hannah turns around.)
What do you think you’re doing?
I’ve been a dancer too. It’s so pretty.
(Gina takes Hannah’s hand as if to
dance together, Hannah retracts
If I need dancing lessons I’ll ask.
I was listening to one of your other records the other day.
Where is it....
(Gina changes the player to "Bess
You is My Woman" from Porgy and
This is just the best...
(She hums with it.)
Where was that?
In my closet.
For good reason.
‘And you must laugh and sing and dance for two instead of
You would pick the white man’s music.
But this is--
I know you think you were being smart. George Gershwin was a
white man writing about the black man. He thought he was
Well, Summertime’s on here too. You were playing Summertime
when I first came here.
That was Vaughn’s version.
Still. It’s the same show, right? So there.
I still love it.
(Gina dances sensually to the music,
just lost. Hannah taps her shoe.)
Is dinner ready? Gina? Dinner!
(Gina snaps out of it.)
(Hannah and Gina trudge to the
dining table, leaving the music on.
Chicken fried steak is piping hot
on the plate before her. Hannah
inhales the aroma.)
I like a little burnt edge now and then.
What gets you writing your poetry and all?
It comes from the low point. It starts with music, in the
cells and works its way up and out.
Billie Holiday was the one singing before, right?
You’re getting a little better.
Why can’t I go in the basement?
Because I said so. Another helping please.
There are a couple left in the pan in case your friend
Montrose is hungry, too.
We’re having dessert, that’s all...
If only my mother could see me. A Corelli making chicken
I never have seen Montrose turn down a chicken fried steak,
though, even if it needs reheating.
So give me details.
Oh, your dinner. Patrick’s never done a hard day’s work with
his hands. Works his brain too hard.
What’s that tenure thing he was talking about?
That’s when they vote you in for good. It supposedly means
they can never fire you. Unless -- you speak up.
Kind of like lifetime membership in a club.
Sort of. Anyway, Patrick is ambitious. Went to Harvard
after Bardham. He’s divorced. Wife left him for a woman, of
all things. He was too busy with his research to notice
something was wrong. Or too busy with other women, or both.
Who knows. Don’t tell him I told you anything.
And just be yourself.
It’s impossible. When someone knows more than you, it’s
No it’s not. I don’t want The Bluest Eye on my hands.
I’m not like her.
Of course you are. She couldn’t accept herself, her own
brand of beauty. She wanted to be like the white girls.
Blue eyes. You’d rather be anything but you.
But if I don’t try to be something I’m not, how will I ever
change into who I want?
I hate when people don’t respect me cause they have, like, a
preconceived notion, instead of letting me earn a good
Who invited me to the pity party?
No one. You go have fun. I didn’t mean to bother you with
an honest opinion or anything.
(Lights dim. Downstage, Montrose
and Hannah wander in her living
room. Upstage, soon after, appear
Patrick and Gina in Patrick’s
apartment. Each couple enters from
opposite sides of the stage from
their respective outings --
sighing, laughing, getting settled.
Montrose peruses Hannah’s books and
records, Gina inspects Patrick’s.)
My. I forgot what a collection you have.
Definitely rivals yours.
You look wonderful. It’s been too long.
You’re too busy. Everyone wants to hear your story.
They wouldn’t care about me if it weren’t for Marshall. He’s
the one they would have wanted to hear. And you’re the one
they should hear now. They don’t realize half of what you
did. If you talked out more, they wouldn’t bother with me
nearly as much.
(Hannah shakes her head.)
How about coming back, Hannah? Speaking, writing. One word
from you and you’d be Professor Emeritus. Giving the Bardham
Annual Lecture. I can do that for you. Gangly little
Montrose is a big man on campus now.
You could say that again. Looks like you’ve put on.
True. If you cut me open, like those tall sequoia trees out
west, I’d have just as many layers circling around my belly.
They had their chance. There’s nothing left to be said.
I don’t believe that.
(Lights shift to the ‘other couple.’)
Marshall was a great man. She used to talk about him all the
time. They were incredibly in love apparently.
Now there’s just a huge chip on her shoulder.
I always wished my wife and I could have had that. I thought
we did at first, but she apparently didn’t think so.
(Gina takes a sip of wine.)
That’s too bad. Everyone’s parking on the other side of the
street these days.
(Patrick stiffens up.)
So. You ever dream of anything?
I don’t know. Being somewhere else. Doing something else.
Being proud of what I do. Maybe I could be a teacher. Young
You could be anything.
I wasn’t raised to think like that.
And you’re saying I was?
(Gina gives him an ‘Aren’t I right?’
look. His look concedes.)
Hannah must have given you the lowdown.
One of the few days that she actually agreed to have a
conversation with me.
Hard to get things out of her.
Yeah. She just goes through the motions of things. Not
She needs a breakthrough. You -- wouldn’t be able to get her
diary out of the basement for me, would you?
Me? I thought she told you ‘no.’
There’s so much I could do with it -- for her. Help her snap
out of it. Give her some recognition. Maybe that would help
her break loose a little. Live a little.
(Patrick inches closer to her and
kisses her, awkwardly. Gina
That was mostly right.
(Gina shows him how it’s done.
Lights shift. Montrose sits next
to Hannah on the sofa. They listen
to a Mahalia Jackson record,
finishing some peach cobbler.)
That girl makes a good peach cobbler, I must say.
Good steak, too.
You and food.
Can’t help it. Can’t help loving Mahalia either.
What did you love most about Marshall?
His vision. Eyes bright, wide, always set ahead. He didn't
gaze at me much -- his deepest wish was for us to love side
by side, gazing ahead...gazing ahead.
That was my problem.
I couldn’t gaze ahead. Too bogged down in the day to day.
And -- I couldn’t stop gazing at you.
I won’t hush. Things are different now. You’re alone. I’m
alone. Marshall and Hetty are gone, bless their souls. We
know each other like old feet know their soft, old broken-in
shoes. Don’t you think you could like being with me?
I do like being with you. But I'm more like spike heels than
slippers some days.
So what. Or maybe you think you’re a one-man woman or
something. But you could still be that. Just one at a time.
Stubborn as a mule.
(He puts his arm around her and they
let their heads back against the
sofa, sleepily. Lights fade.)
(The next portion of dialogue
happens offstage, in the dark.)
Whew! It is too hot today. I need my little fan for my nap.
Where is that thing?
I haven’t seen it.
It might be down in the basement, right by the door. Just at
the door. No further.
After I’m asleep put it in here, so the noise doesn't bother
(Lights open on a transfigured
downstage: Hannah’s basement. In
the upstage right corner, Hannah
lies in her bed, lights very dim.
Gina, who has just turned the
‘lights’ by the basement stairs
centerstage right, enters looking
for the fan, which sits in the
downstage left corner. She crosses
to pick it up and then looks at the
rest of the room: full of dusty
packages, boxes of books, reel to
reels, photo albums. It’s
organized, but abandoned. In a
corner of the room is a mangled,
dustry film projector -- a reel to
reel. There is a reel already on
the projector. Gina tries fiddling
with it but nothing works or moves.
Gina moves around, tiptoeing and
occasionally looking ‘upstairs’
towards Hannah’s bedroom. Hannah
is already deep in her afternoon
nap. Gina approaches the
artifacts. She pages through a
photo album of press clippings with
vivid stares. She reads the
MARSHALL JOHNSON TO SPEAK IN BIRMINGHAM; DR. KING WALKS IN
CHICAGO, MARSHALL AND HANNAH JOHNSON IN ENTOURAGE; MARSHALL
JOHNSON ASSASSINATED IN ATLANTA.
(Gina finds another photo album.)
‘Our engagement.’ Wow, she’s actually cute.
(She pages through pictures of
dancing, cutting cake, with
friends, the couple young, laughing
and in love. Gina approaches the
reel to reel projector again,
confused. But she reaches for a
switch that fast forwards the reel,
flapping with tape. She shuts it
off. Gina approaches a stack of
red diaries on the floor. She
takes one down.)
(She opens it.)
‘October 1968 to August 1969.’
(Gina reads briefly then puts it
down. She approaches the film
projector and takes a deep breath.
She tries, awkwardly, to feed the
film through the machine. She
studies the buttons, lowers the
volume a little, and looks upward
again. ‘Upstairs,’ Hannah is
snoring and her spot fades to
black. After a few tries, Gina
turns on the project and the reel
turns -- backwards, then with her
adjustment, forward. She is
startled when a black and white
picture flickers onto the screen.
On the film, quick and shaky camera
shots show a demonstration. A
full, mostly black crowd stands
before a podium. On the podium are
an entourage of men, surrounding
YOUNG HANNAH and handsome MARSHALL
JOHNSON. They look proudly at each
other as Hannah takes the podium.
She hushes the crowd down. Gina is
You know why you are here...
And we all know what we must do.
That’s right...she’s right...
(Cheers from the crowd.)
Black women. Stand up. Be proud of who you are! Make your
own unique brand of difference! Register to vote. Take
advantage of the ERA and demand equal pay as the men at your
workplace. Be bold!
(Cheers from the women.)
YOUNG HANNAH (Continued)
Black men. Do not fragment yourselves. Unite and forge new
territory! Take advantage of the Fair Housing Act, a long
time in coming. Take pride in your work, your ideals.
Stride ahead, as we’ve always had to do.
YOUNG HANNAH (Continued)
My husband Marshall continues to fight for us, as so many of
our forefathers and mothers did. In Washington. In the
South. In California.
(Cheers from the crowd. Marshall
nods to them and Hannah presses his
YOUNG HANNAH (Continued)
The movement has made headway. True, we have already lost so
many of our leaders. But we have changed the nation! We
have changed the nation!
(The crowd repeats the mantra as
Hannah gives the podium over to
Marshall. They give each other a
brief kiss and embrace, with
expressions of tender respect.
Marshall begins to sing a
spiritual, and the crowd joins in.
As they continue singing in the
background, Marshall speaks.)
You’ve heard me say it. Congress may not listen to me. The
ACLU may not listen to me. Georgia may not listen to me.
But y’all are listening to me, and that’s all I need! They
will have to listen to us, again and again. They can’t
escape us. We will not stop until we have equality,
integration, and fair consideration in all areas.
We shall overcome. We will never stop, until a Black child
and a White child can look each other in the eye and say
‘Beloved, let us love one another.’
(Hannah looks on proudly.)
Until they can walk side by side in every school, every
university and every workplace in this country!
Preach it brother!...
We shall never stop!
(Suddenly a shot rings out. Then
another rings louder. Screams
ensue. Marshall sinks behind the
podium. Hannah’s face is one of
terror as she bolsters his fall.
The cameraview gets shakier and
faster, zooming to the podium.
Marshall is out cold. Hannah,
splattered with blood and tears,
screams and moans trying to revive
NO!!!!!!! MARSHALL!!!! MARSHALL!!!!
(The other men, and a newly-arrived
PATROLMAN, separate her from him so
they can lift him into an
We need to take him, ma’am.
Oh my God...my God, my God....
Please Ma’am. He’s as good as dead. Move out of the way.
(Her comrades, including a YOUNG
MONTROSE, steady her as she follows
the body. Gina is in shock. Crowd
mayhem as the film finishes off,
flickering into a scratchy leader.
Gina rewinds the film and turns the
projector off. She catches her
breath. She knocks over an empty
reel sitting by the projector. It
makes a sharp noise on the ground
and she picks it up, nervously.)
(She looks upward, then continues
walking, as if on eggshells.
Slowly, she reaches for the diaries
and takes a few with her, along
with the fan. She trudges to the
door, turns out the light and heads
‘upstairs’ towards Hannah’s
bedroom, which is dimly lit again.
Gina puts down the diaries before
entering Hannah’s room. In
Hannah’s presence she plugs in the
fan. She points it towards Hannah,
asleep. Hannah mumbles a ‘Hmm...'
in her sleep. Gina watches Hannah,
leaning over her and studying her.
Tears form, which she suppresses.
She brushes a finger across
Hannah’s hair, so softly that
Hannah only stirs, breathing deep
and mumbling, as lights fade.)
END OF ACT I