SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL THEATRE * monologue #1 (1865)

 

TRANSCRIPT (or thereabouts):

Hi. I’m Michael Perlmutter (probably doesn’t mean anything to most of you) and this is the first of … I don’t have a number … of speeches from plays I’ve written over the last ten years because as an artist, like so many of us without an outlet, I need to stay active. Theatres all over this country are currently closed and if we’re going to be honest here, some of them will never re-open. Because most of them exist month to month, living hand to mouth. So, I urge you, if you can, please, send any amount to your local theatre company to give them that chance to re-open when the dawn breaks and the dawn will break.

This first piece is from a play entitled 1865. It’s probably the longest of what I will offer over the next few weeks but it is a play that is near and dear to my heart. It involves a group of actors and stagehands who have the misfortune to be sequestered inside Ford’s Theatre following the assassination attempt on Abraham Lincoln. I say, attempt because at this point in the play, the man is still alive. So, they’re waiting, and they have no idea what they’re waiting for. Life to go back to normal is not an option and their fate, it seems, is not in their hands.

In this scene, Peter Daniels, a stock actor for Ford’s Theatre, and a character probably twenty years or more younger than me is addressing a young couple, specifically the girl, who is clearly the youngest of their group and yet like so many before her and since is in a rush to be an adult.

A word of advice? Stay young.       I’ve been down a road or two myself, OK? Where you are. Not all this but—(Referring to Jacob and Cynthia:)—you two.        Just . . . Nothing.   Another time . . . I have a son, alright? : you heard right.     ( . . . And a wife?)  Not so much.  It’s a long story.    Yeah . . . Right, well . . . Fine. I’m not from . . Boston. But I did worked there. Once. Like everybody here I jus . . . where the work is right? [And I] did some work down South—as we all did before the war . . . I originally hail from North Carolina–But that doesn’t mean I backed the South in the war. Most none of the theatres—why do you think they closed ‘em down?  To shut ‘em up. People still need to get away—need to escape: ‘specially with a war. But [the voice. The voice of the artist.] to the point: . . . An age old story and a tale told by an idiot . . . Young girl falls in love with an eligible young actor flowing through town. Before long [there comes] news of a child. [But a]fore there’s an actual child there’s an angry father and a wedding.    The child is born but [it turns out to be] something wrong. [The boy’s] feet won’t work right. They’re not clubbed but . . . [it has to do with] something in the muscles. Time goes by: child never learns to walk. [And] then comes the war. And “Dad” travels from town to town, doctor to doctor, playhouse to playhouse till all the theatre dries up down South. Then I headed myself north just to find work.    And yet the girl’s father, her father, held notion to other plans.    Victoria.    Victoria.    And her father’s name is Gerald. As is our son’s. So Father Gerald decides that the least his son-in-law could do if he wasn’t going to support his daughter was to support his cause. So he signs me up for the army. Augusta, Georgia.    And I didn’t go. Well, I went but . . . with no intention. I wrestled with the notion, pacing this planked walk in front of Keenan’s Grocery—they had a back room they’d turned into a recruiting office. And I was waited to be picked up . . or leave . . a traitor. And isn’t a traitor to the wrong cause a patriot? And all these thoughts and lines run through your mind. If someone could script this. And then . . .    Then I . . . I crossed paths with this kid, must’ve been all of fourteen—fifteen at best: eager. Believes in his Daddy’s cause, believes in Davis, buys into the whole puppet show along with every other failing Southerner blaming Wall Street—but the boy’s just a boy.  Still we get to talkin’. Seems he’s there waiting too, waiting for the troops—to just “feel” a part of it all. As the Greys travel through pickin up new recruits. But acourse he’s too young…  (Decides not to take the moment to remark on Cynthia’s age)  Still he’s eager to fight for the new revolution—for something to believe in—the kid all but prays the war’ll last long enough for him to . . . not stand on the sidelines–be a part of it all and . . . We just keep talkin and it all seems so simple. Crossed paths. [I] hardly had to change a thing—no mixing fact with fiction—just choice words. [I] told him how I was set to go too, getting’ my chance to serve and yet, dammit, I needed to take care of my own son, needing to take him to the next doctor (that I couldn’t afford) and duty, family, God, Country . . . And there in front of Keenen’s Groceries, my crowning achievement in my body of work as an actor; as one of the greats: written and performed for an audience of one. I watched him get . . swept up in it all. Watched him drift then brought him back. We talked for what?: two hours until he finally came up with the grand idea: and he was begging me to sign up in my place. Didn’t I see: Didn’t it make sense: I was already signed up; what purpose would it serve for me to be branded as a traitor and him to go home to wait when—all that had to be done was for someone to sign in with my name when the troops came. So we traded. The kid became a very young looking Clayton Thompson and I started my new life as Peter Daniels.    . . . Ahhh, I don’t know his name. He took my name, I made up the name Peter Daniels. Looks good on a program. But we . . uh . . . kept correspondence with each other best we could. I headed North and kept working. Sent money home when I had it through channels. Kept forwarding my mail to the next stop. Then all but a month ago . . [I] received a copy, back through channels, telling me that the general counsel of the new Confederation of the Southern States regretted to inform those in relation to Clayton Thompson . . . That Clayton had been killed fighting bravely in the battle of . . . I don’t know the field—somebody’s field. Exactly where was not part of the news—or I forgot it. Fool kid had to be a hero. Didn’t make it more than fourteen months. So . . . Victoria received word of her husband’s death and . . uh . . To her and to the world Clayton Thompson [is] dead. And that’s how I have a ‘not so much’ a wife. Long live Peter Daniels.  I’m not proud of it.    (still send them money) “From a friend.” When I can.    So, my point, young lady: when I said I’ve been down your road—Been where you are . . . I’ve been where you are. And the scenery isn’t all that pretty. So, like she said—               (Referring to Suzanne:)  Be a kid as long as you can. Play games. Worry your parents. Just . . . don’t grow up so fast.