Frank Lewin: Burning Bright

Opera in Three acts, based on the novel and play by John Steinbeck





Frank Lewin

Based on the Novel and Play by
John Steinbeck

Dedicated to William H. Scheide

Burning Bright

Opera in Three Acts

by Frank Lewin

Based on the Novel and Play by John Steinbeck

Mordeen Sherry Overholt, Soprano

Victor Rinde Eckert, Tenor

Joe Saul Lee Velta, Baritone

Friend Ed Scott Altman, Bass-Baritone

New Symphony Orchestra of Sofia, conducted by Rossen Milanov

Act I Circus Music conducted by Otto-Werner Mueller

Act II, Scene 7 — Neighbors: Westminster Choir College

Fiddler:Johnny Cunningham

Recording produced and directed by the composer

Production Assistant: Russell G. Collins

Mixing: James Moses, Alexander Lewis

Production Associate:Miriam Lewin

Publisher: Notevole Music Publishing, Inc. (BMI)

The composer gratefully acknowledges support from the National Endowment for the Arts
and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts in the creation of the opera.

This recording owes its existence to the generous support of

William H. Scheide

Caroline Newhouse

Inge Cadle and Caron Cadle Remshardt

The Edward T. Cone Foundation

The Aaron Copland Fund for Music

Dorothy Fabian

The recording was produced under the auspices of
the Composers Guild of New Jersey.

Burning Bright

Act I: The Circus

Track 1 GRAND ENTRY: March, Jubilee [9:17]

Track 2 AERIALISTS: The Three Graces, Girls on Ropes and Swings:

Waltz, Wings of Silk, Wedding of the Winds, The Crimson Petal

Friend Ed: “I held you weeping when your Cathy died.” [12:13]

Track 3 Mordeen: “Oh, Joe Saul, that baby, Joe Saul!” [4:54]

Track 4 CLOWNS: Friend Ed's Frantic Antics

Trombone Smear, Galop, Motorcycle Ride: Novelty Number,

Clown Exit: The Billboard

Victor: “Hello, ev'rybuddy.” [6:32]

Track 5 La Conchita: A Pulchritudinous Balancing and Juggling Act

Noche Azul (Romanza), Cuando se me diga que la chica salió (Cha-cha),

Hoy dos peliculas (Bossa Nova)

Victor: “Because…well, I'll tell you why.” [6:38]

Track 6 Victor: “Y' make a fuss and y' sweet-talk them an' jolly 'em…”

ELEPHANTS: March, Royal Decree [3:56]

Track 7 Mordeen: “You saw all that, Friend Ed?” [5:42]

Track 8 Friend Ed: “When the bodies of man and woman meet in love…” [5:39]

Track 9 THE LITTLE PEOPLE: Variations, Dorian

Mordeen: “I'm asking too much, I suppose.” [4:12]

Track 10 IRISH MEDLEY: Kitty of Coleraine, The Tender Lamb, Pastheen Fionn,

I've Found My Bonny Babe a Nest

Victor: “Hey, that's a new tune!” [5:23]

Track 11 Entr'acte, LIBERTY HORSES: March, Echoes Resound from the Past

Victor: “Oh baby, I unnerstand!” [4:51]

Track 12 RECESSIONAL [3:22]

Total Time: 72:43

Act II: The Farm

Track 1 Introduction; Scene 1. Friend Ed: “Gath'ring wool, Joe Saul?” [5:37]

Track 2 Friend Ed: “Well, at breakfast yesterday…” [5:31]

Track 3 Friend Ed: “Been meaning to ask you…” [3:57]

Track 4 Scene 2. Joe Saul: “You feeling OK, Mordeen?” [5:20]

Track 5 Joe Saul: “Now that I see you laid out…” [5:56]

Track 6 Scene 3. Victor: “I've come for my morning coffee.” [4:44]

Track 7 (Quartet) Joe Saul: “Take care, take gentle care.” [5:52]

Track 8 Scene 5. Joe Saul: “Good Lord! I suddenly feel tired…” [6:13]

Track 9 Scene 6. Mordeen: “This is my little white hen…” [4:52]

Track 10 Victor: “Oh, my, ain't we touchy!” [7:26]

Track 11 Victor: “I see your eyes on him, on him!” [4:15]

Track 12 Mordeen: “Hush, hush, enough…” [3:50]

Track 13 Scene 7. Mordeen: “They'll be back soon.” [3:49]

Track 14 (Finale) Mordeen: “Dance a few sets…” [5:21]

Total Time: 72:50

Act III: The Ship

Track 1 Introduction; Scene 1. [2:26]

Track 2 Scene 2. Victor: “He is not here.” [3:12]

Track 3 Victor: “Us seamen bold…” [3:45]

Track 4 Scene 3. Friend Ed: “No one need get hurt.” [2:43]

Track 5 Victor: “You stand, sir…” [2:23]

Track 6 Scene 4. Joe Saul: “And, right on cue, here he is.” [4:48]

Track 7 Joe Saul: “The smell and feel of things…” [1:53]

Track 8 Friend Ed: “Seattle to Long Beach…” [3:14]

Track 9 Friend Ed: “Oh, bosh!” [2:33]

Track 10 Victor: “You would have killed.” [6:41]

Track 11 Scene 5. Orchestral Interlude Into the Light [4:50]

Track 12 Scene 6. The Child. [5:23]

Track 13 Joe Saul: “We guard a link of the eternal web…” [4:11]

Total Time: 48:07


The story of Burning Bright progresses from spring to year's end. The characters are shown in different settings, each representing a tradition that reaches back into antiquity.

Act I: The Circus—Joe Saul, middle-aged but still vigorous, is a high-wire artist descended from a long line of circus performers. He is deeply in love with his considerably younger wife, Mordeen. She is one of the partners of his team. Victor, the third member of the team since the time Joe Saul's cousin died in a fall from the high wire, is also quite young. He has not grown up in the circus. Friend Ed, a clown, is an observer and confidant of his fellow performers.

The action begins as Joe Saul finishes his make-up, seated in a dressing tent. The music and sounds of the afternoon performance can be heard from the main tent. Friend Ed stops by before going on for his act. He probes for the cause of Joe Saul's evident jitters. After describing the colorful history of his ancestors, Joe Saul voices his despair at not having a child who will continue his line. Friend Ed tries to calm him, but without success.

As Friend Ed leaves to go on, Mordeen enters, already in costume. She has been watching a neighbor's baby while the mother went on an errand. When she describes the baby to Joe Saul, he is obviously ill at ease. She notices his tenseness and asks for its cause, but he does not respond directly. When she asks whether perhaps she displeases him, he expresses his overwhelming love for her, and they embrace.

Victor enters. His greeting is cocky, but he is uneasy: one of his wrists is bandaged, sprained during some horseplay with his pals. Joe Saul upbraids him for valuing his work so lightly that he jeopardizes his body in childish games. He contrasts the qualities of the outsider, who relies only on the agility of his youth, with the instincts of one born into the tradition. This harangue goads Victor into taunting the older man. In vulgar terms he questions Joe Saul's ability to satisfy his young wife. Joe Saul slaps Victor, then leaves to report that the team will not be able to perform.

Left alone with Mordeen, Victor plays on her sympathy and then tries to flaunt his masculinity. She fends him off, describing the nature of her love for Joe Saul. Victor cannot understand such love; he boasts of the crude wooing which has been successful with the girls he knows, and attempts to overpower Mordeen by embracing her violently.

Friend Ed witnesses the forced embrace. He furiously tells Victor to leave the circus: if Joe Saul found out, he would kill him. Victor defiantly leaves the tent.

Friend Ed tells Mordeen that Joe Saul has gone into town and is getting drunk. He asks whether she knows what is troubling him. Mordeen suspects that their childlessness is the result of a sickness that Joe Saul suffered in his youth; she knows that she can conceive, for she had a still-born child before she met Joe Saul. She asks Friend Ed for his advice: might Joe Saul be deceived into accepting a child fathered by someone else? Friend Ed guesses her intention but shrinks from encouraging her. She declares that she will accept the responsibility herself, and asks him to leave and look after Joe Saul.

Victor returns, and Mordeen tries to enlist his help. But her appeal is oblique and all he understands is that she has come around. He responds triumphantly, and they agree to meet in town. Mordeen leaves the tent before Victor so that they will not be seen together. When Joe Saul is heard in the distance, calling for Mordeen, Victor runs off.

Joe Saul appears, very drunk. He putters around the tent, and finally falls to the ground and passes out. Friend Ed observes him through the tent flap, then enters. As the circus performance in the main tent comes to its end, Friend Ed takes up his vigil over Joe Saul.

Act II: The Farm—The time is summer, a few months after the events of Act I. It is early morning. Joe Saul is sitting in the kitchen of his farm house, working on his accounts. His neighbor, Friend Ed, has come for a visit. Joe Saul tells of his yearning to pass the land on to a child of his own. When the conversation turns to Victor, his young farm hand, he admits remorse for having hit him in a recent fit of exasperation; however, no further friction has resulted from the incident. The two friends continue their conversation, musing over a change they have noticed recently in Mordeen's behavior.

When Mordeen enters, she looks radiantly happy but seems distracted. She sits at the window and takes only desultory part in the conversation. Gently, she announces that she is expecting a child. Joe Saul is extravagant in his joy. Victor, who comes in for his morning coffee, is jolted by the news. While Joe Saul expresses his love and tenderness for Mordeen, Friend Ed has to restrain Victor, who tries to vent his feelings. Joe Saul breaks out the whiskey, and after a round of toasts, Victor returns to his chores. Joe Saul wants to share his joy: he and Friend Ed will go out and invite friends and neighbors to a party.

After they have left, Victor returns. He has lost much of his former crudeness. His desire for Mordeen is turning into love; he insists that he be acknowledged as the father of the child. Mordeen answers that he should be grateful for his moment of satisfied lust; there was no love involved in the act, and the child she carries is Joe Saul's. She begs Victor to go away, but he refuses to leave. The scene gradually changes from summer, through autumn, to winter. As Mordeen turns from the window, she is seen to be far advanced in her pregnancy.

Joe Saul and Friend Ed return, carrying a Christmas tree that is taken into the adjoining parlor. They are accompanied by friends and neighbors with their children. One of them has brought a fiddle. While the boys clear the room for dancing, Mordeen and some of the women go into the parlor.

As the party gets livelier, Joe Saul becomes slightly tipsy, and confides to Friend Ed that he wants to give his about-to-be-born child a gift: a doctor's certificate confirming that he is passing on strength and health. Friend Ed attempts to talk his friend out of visiting the doctor. When he sees that he cannot change Joe Saul's mind, he gives up and joins the group playing for the dance now under way. Victor, reluctantly drawn into the dance, is whirled around, while Joe Saul proclaims his triumph and Mordeen is heard singing in the parlor.

Act III: The Ship—The scene is the cabin of a freighter moored near a large city. It is foggy, and sounds of city and harbor are heard occasionally; when the fog clears later in the scene, the lights of the city will be seen in the distance. Mordeen, near confinement, sits in the tidy cabin, awaiting the return from town of Joe Saul, captain of the ship.

Victor, the first mate, entreats her to go away with him. To force her hand, he threatens to reveal their secret to Joe Saul. Friend Ed, captain of another ship about to go to sea, enters to say good-bye. He overhears Victor's threats and offers a way out by proposing to make him an officer on his own ship. Victor scornfully rejects the offer, even though Friend Ed assures him that it is not an expedient, but that he genuinely values his skills.

Joe Saul returns. The doctor's examination showed that he cannot father a child, and he guesses that Victor is the father. Disgust over Mordeen's seeming betrayal, and despair that his line will now be extinct, culminate in an attempt to kill Victor. Mordeen stops Joe Saul by stating forcefully that she loves him and considers the child his. Victor at last realizes that he can only ensure the child's future by giving it up. He enjoins Joe Saul to accept the child, takes leave of Mordeen, and departs with Friend Ed. Mordeen cries out with the onset of birth, and Joe Saul rushes to assist her.

An orchestral interlude leads to the last scene, which represents the cabin of a ship in space. Mordeen sits relaxed in a chair; a stylized basket stands next to her. She regains consciousness and recalls fragments of the past. She fears that this child also was born dead. Joe Saul assures her that the child is alive and that he accepts it as his own. In a final duet, Joe Saul and Mordeen express their love for the child.


In October 1950, Frank Lewin—then a composition student at the Yale University School of Music—saw John Steinbeck's play Burning Bright in New Haven's Shubert Theater. The play was on its way to Broadway, where it found little favor. Lewin, however, was deeply impressed by the story of a man yearning for a child to hand on his tradition, as well as by the colorful settings that illustrated these traditions—a different one in each act: circus, farm, a ship moored near a large city, and an epilogue in an undefined white room. The play seemed ideally suited for an opera.

Lewin became a professional composer, writing scores for dramatic television programs, documentary and feature films, incidental music and songs for theater productions, as well as concert music including song cycles and choral works. He never forgot Burning Bright, however, and in 1967 took out an option to turn Steinbeck's play into an opera.

During the next ten years, Lewin did research for the opera and worked intermittently on the libretto. In 1977, he began composing the music; he completed the score in January 1989. For work on the opera, Lewin received two fellowships from the Composer/Librettist Program of the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as two grants from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, including a Distinguished Artist Award.

In 1988, plans were set in motion for a production at Yale University, where the composer had been a member of the School of Music faculty since 1971. Again, the National Endowment for the Arts provided support, in the form of a major pre-production grant to Yale in 1989. Raising matching funds required another four years, and the opera Burning Bright had its premiere in Woolsey Hall in November 1993. The two performances were received warmly by audiences and critics.

In July 2000, the Opera Festival of New Jersey presented two performances in Princeton's McCarter Theatre. Again, audiences and reviewers responded enthusiastically.

* * *

Burning Bright has a universal theme—a man's urge to continue his line. Steinbeck sought to suggest this universal quality by letting the story unfold while the locales changed in each act, as well as by having his characters converse in quasi-epic language. This elevated tone made it difficult to establish an emotional rapport with the audience; it also caused all the characters in the play to sound pretty much the same.

The libretto takes a different approach, giving each character strong individuality. This is accomplished by making the language direct and, when appropriate, colloquial. Emotional identification with the characters and their plight is, of course, established through singing—the most important ingredient in opera. The epic scope that Steinbeck sought to give his play is supplied by the orchestra.

The locations are made more specific in the opera: the circus is in the Midwest, the farm is near Lancaster in Pennsylvania, and the ship is moored in New York Harbor. In order to sharpen the contrast from act to act, each character's ethnic provenance also changes. For example, in Act I, Mordeen's words occasionally have the suggestion of an Irish brogue. In Act II she is from Louisiana, while Joe Saul is of Scottish ancestry, Friend Ed has a Pennsylvania Dutch inflection, and Victor's heritage is Appalachian. In Act III, Victor's words sometimes point to a Cockney origin, and Joe Saul is proud of his descent from Polynesian sea kings.

Each tradition—professional as well as ethnic—

supplies details that are incorporated into both text and music. At the end of the second act, for example, in the farm kitchen, a pre-Christmas party with

fiddling and dancing brings together several ethnic and folk traditions in an exuberant musical collage. While a fiddler performs the Scottish Highland tune “High Road to Linton”—which sounds very much like American country fiddling—Joe Saul proclaims his

triumph to the tune of “Lyons,” which may be found in both Scottish and American hymnals, and, in

another room, Mordeen and her friends sing a stanza of the Christmas carol “In dulci jubilo.” This mingling of ethnic traditions gives the opera a pronounced American flavor.

Some characters are identified by recurring instrumental colors. Mordeen is often represented by muted violas doubled by alto flute, as well as by the harp; in Act I the harp is a reminder of her Irish descent. Victor's instrument is the guitar—a rough and occasionally strident electric instrument in Act I, the gentler sounds of an acoustic, or folk, guitar in Act II when he grows more mature. The opera's last sound is a blend of harp and guitar.

An unusual instrument heard throughout the opera is a contrabass violin—one of the Family of New Violins created by Carleen M. Hutchins.

* * *

In Act I, the action of the opera takes place against the backdrop of a complete circus performance. The music is played by an unseen circus band, beginning with a rousing Grand Entry and concluding as the Recessional trails off. The band's music includes typical numbers such as marches, waltzes, and a medley of novelties that starts with an old-fashioned trombone smear. At strategic points throughout the act, quotations from traditional circus melodies, as well as folk songs, are woven into the score.

The relationship of the off-stage circus band to the pit orchestra varies constantly. At some points, one or the other dominates; at other times, the two instrumental groups balance, or engage in a dialogue. In addition, realistic sounds of the circus performance can be heard sporadically: applause, laughter, the ringmaster's whistle, even animal cries—all closely synchronized with the orchestra. The characters in the foreground drama frequently react—either subliminally or directly—to the performance heard in the background. The continually changing interaction of singers with contrasting instrumental groups and precisely synchronized sound effects is patterned on the fluidity of a motion-picture soundtrack, and requires the same kind of control. Circus music and associated sound effects are played back from a recording, which is carefully balanced with the singers and the symphonic orchestra.

In contrast to the extensive use of off-stage music in the first act, Act II relies largely on the customary operatic combination of singers and orchestra. Diverse elements of folk and popular music merge in a cohesive texture. There is, though, one extensive off-stage piece of music that interacts with the foreground: Mordeen singing a Louisiana lullaby—first in French, then in English—while she accompanies herself on the piano. And, as mentioned above, the finale adds the off-stage singing of the Christmas carol.

Act III again uses recorded sound extensively to augment the performing forces. The feeling of a fog-bound harbor is suggested through realistic off-stage sound effects that contrast or blend with the orchestra. These sounds evoke memories in the characters, and initiate actions on stage. For example, Hawaiian percussion instruments are called for at the point where Joe Saul recalls the history of his seafaring ancestors. The harbor sounds—some of them recorded by the composer while doing research for the opera aboard a Texaco tanker—and the unusual drums have been sampled digitally. The climactic scene of the opera, in which Joe Saul reverts to barbarism and tries to kill Victor, contains—in this recording—powerful blasts of two Hawaiian pus, traditional ceremonial instruments.

As Mordeen goes into labor, an orchestral interlude links the action on the ship to the final scene, which takes place on a ship in space. The music of the interlude describes impressions of both a space launch and the birth of a baby. This passage is closely synchronized with a sequence of projected abstract images, derived from space photography furnished by NASA, and from luminous, highly enlarged photographs of life forms and crystals. A number of musical fragments and sounds—particularly from Act I—are heard during the interlude, including a jumble of circus tunes colliding like memories in Mordeen's mind. The soaring conclusion of the interlude brings the child into the light as the piccolo trumpet recalls Mordeen's affirmation of her love for Joe Saul.

* * *

The idea of placing the last scene in space was suggested by Walt Whitman's poem “The Noiseless, Patient Spider,” implicitly referred to in Steinbeck's play: both the play and the poem use the word

“filament” prominently, and the transcendental message of the poem—the linking of ourselves to the universe—was evidently also part of Steinbeck's thinking. Some words from the poem have been taken directly into the libretto. After Joe Saul's attempt to kill Victor fails, Victor begins his final address with the words “And you, O Joe Saul,” which is an echo of “And you, O my soul” in the poem. Joe Saul's final aria, in which he accepts the child, begins with two words taken directly from the poem: “Silently, ceaselessly.” When Joe Saul then lifts the child out of its cradle, the muted violas and alto flute repeat the melody of his aria while, in counterpoint, the trombones intone the theme from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony that goes with the words “Be embraced ye millions, this kiss for the entire world”—music that has been prefigured at several points in the first two acts of the opera.

While the score repeats certain musical elements, they are not organized as a system of leitmotives; rather, they recur in the nature of memories. The phrase associated with the love between Joe Saul and Mordeen, at the end of Scene 2 in Act I, recurs throughout the opera. At the climactic point in Act III where Mordeen stops Joe Saul from killing Victor, the power of this phrase in the orchestra reminds Joe Saul of Mordeen's deep love for him, even though the words she sings speak of the baby about to be born. A recurring chord, consisting of two superimposed dominant seventh chords, is first heard when Mordeen tells Friend Ed in Act I that she had had a child earlier but it was born dead. Throughout the opera, this chord sounds when the subject is the birth of the child.

A twelve-note chord spanning the entire gamut of the orchestra is heard for the first time when Joe Saul, in Act II, glories in the fact that his child will represent “All I come from.” In the opening of Act III, this chord represents the all-enveloping fog in the harbor, and it is heard—in different orchestration—near the end of the opera, when Joe Saul greets the newborn child with “We guard a strand of the eternal web whose filaments reach from star to star.” He sings these words to a phrase containing all twelve pitches of the scale—one more means to express the idea of universality.

* * *

Further details on the transformation of Burning Bright from a play into an opera can be found in a monograph published by the Lyrica Society for Word and Music Relations. The 100-page publication, entitled “Burning Bright: The Genesis of an Opera,” is available from Louis Auld (, Lyrica Society, 90 Church Street, Guilford, Connecticut 06437.

Burning Bright


CD 1: Track 1

Act I: The Circus

The interior of a dressing tent in a small circus,

covering approximately three-fourths the width of the stage, Stage Left. The rear wall is parallel with the front of the stage; the side walls reach diagonally forward. The ceiling canvas slants from the rear to the center pole, but does not reach to the full height of the proscenium.

One end of the main tent is seen a small distance behind the dressing tent, Stage Right, filling about two-thirds of the width of the stage, and reaching up beyond the proscenium. In its interior a performance is in progress, lit by bright artificial lights. On the portion of the canvas wall visible down to the ground, the soft outlines of spectators can be seen, sitting about four feet off the ground on the last row of planks. They gesture occasionally in reaction to the performance. The circus band is to be assumed located far SR, and part of it may also be suggested in silhouette. At times, the blurred movements of performers and their props appear behind and above the spectators, so that acts involving height also become visible above the foreground tent.

The bright sun of a spring afternoon lights up the rear wall of the dressing tent. On the ground the close-cut stubble stands in bunches, with black earth between. Near the front of the stage, against the SR wall, stands a travel-beaten trunk with dull brass straps and corners. The tent flap is in the rear wall, far SL.

Scene 1

Joe Saul sits in front of the trunk on a canvas chair. The trunk lid is raised, its entire inside being a large mirror. He is naked to the waist, but has on tights and slippers. He is dabbing yellow powder on his face and painting his eyes with black, in short hurried movements.

He is a lithe and stringy man of middle age. His arms are white and blue-veined, the fingers spatulate, and palms and fingers calloused from the rope and bar. His face is rough and a little pock-marked; his eyes look large and dark and glittering within their penciled edges.

He finishes his make-up and takes a little bottle of dark hair dye from the trunk, pours some on a brush and works the stain into his thick, graying hair. He neatly packs his powder and bottles back in the trunk and slips on the shirt of his tights and cinches his canvas belt.

Friend Ed appears in sharp silhouette outside the tent flap. He blows a signal on a slide whistle.

J.S. answers the signal by whistling piercingly through his teeth.

F.E. steps through the flap. He is made up and dressed as a clown: big pants, white suit with big red polka dots, ruffs at the neck, wrists and ankles; his feet are long and curved like barrel staves. His face is white, with a sad black mouth and lines over the eyelids. High on his forehead are painted the inverted V's of astonishment. Only his thick dark hair and hands are his own. He carries the bald head with fringe of bright red hair, a red rubber nose, and a pair of motorcycle goggles with huge lenses. The slide whistle protrudes from his mouth at a jaunty angle. Throughout this scene he keeps the whistle in his hand, sometimes punctuating remarks by gesticulating with it.

J.S. closes the trunk lid to make a place for Friend Ed to sit.

F.E. drops his hair piece, goggles, and nose on the trunk, and seats himself on its edge. He swings his big floppy clown foot gently back and forth in time to the music from the main tent. His words have a slight Italian or Spanish inflection.

Where's Mordeen?

J.S. with a slight trace of a Middle Eastern accent.

She went to sit with Mrs. Malloy's baby.

Mrs. Malloy's gone off to send money to

her son Tom. Her son Tom,

With exaggerated Irish brogue.

“My son Tom, my son Tom, my son Tom!”

Natural, but still slightly mimicking Mrs.

Malloy's speech.

He's in college,

His own voice again.

you know, Friend Ed, I don't tell you for

the first time that she's got a son Tom,

did you hear about it twenty thousand times?

He leans back in his chair and flexes his hands, so that the thin muscles on his forearms squirm.

F.E. Don't curse him, Joe Saul. Or her.

J.S. Who's cursing? She's a good woman.

And I guess if you got a son Tom in college

you've got a little fringe of God Almighty on

your head.

F.E. Now look, Joe Saul, you are nervy.

J.S. No.

F.E. His foot stops swinging. He points with slide
whistle at Joe Saul's hands.

That's a new thing, that's a nervy thing.

J.S. looks at his hands.

You are right, Friend Ed.

He stops flexing his hands.

I've got a rustle in me,

a little itch under my skin.

F.E. I've seen it coming on you, Joe Saul. It's no

surprise to me except it's late — I

wonder why so late.

J.S. flexes his hands again, first at intervals, gradually becoming continuous.

F.E. Three years since Cathy died. You were

strong then, you were not nervy then.

Eight months since Cousin Will missed

the net. You were not nervy then.

Is Victor good? A good partner?
You said he was.

Eh! What's the matter with you, Joe Saul?

You put an itch around you like a cloud

of gnats!

J.S. Victor's all right. Maybe surer even than

Cousin Will. It's what you get used to.

I could feel the tuning of Cousin Will.

I knew his breathing and his pulse.

He was my blood, my being; we

were the products of a thousand

years, the end products.

With Victor I have to think what he will

do. I'll get used to him, but he's a stranger.

His blood is not my blood. He has no

ancestry in it.

F.E. Is Mordeen made up?

J.S. Sure. She wouldn't have gone else.

His hands flex again in spite of him.

F.E. Do I have the right to ask a question, Joe


J.S. Always.

F.E. Is there trouble with Mordeen?

J.S. Oh, no — no!

F.E. You're sure

J.S. Yes, I'm sure.

F.E. She's a fine girl, Joe Saul, a fine wife.

Young — but very good. See you never

doubt that. No man ever had better. Don't

compare her to your Cathy — she's different

but just as good, and lovely and true.

J.S. I know.

F.E. Well, what I came to say: There'll be a

birthday party for the twins. They wanted only

kids, but they asked for you and Mordeen.

J.S. They did?

F.E. Will you come?

J.S. They asked for me?

F.E. Yes — and will you keep your god-

damned hands still!

J.S. leaps up; he paces, holding his hands against their restlessness in front of him, and bites his underlip.

Track 2

F.E. I held you weeping when your Cathy

died. I lifted Cousin Will off the ring rim.

J.S. What's taking her so long?

F.E. I stood left hand to you with Mordeen.

J.S. All that time to get a lousy money order!

F.E. Will you say it, will you say it, for your

hands' rest and your mind's peace?

J.S. I wonder, is it age? They say, old men

think back. I think of my grandfather

talking — after his hands went weak and

his timing was gone. When it mattered

no more he'd drink, drink in the afternoon.

F.E. Talk it out, Joe Saul.

J.S. He'd lesson us on the training mat, and

sometimes when we were resting…You

never knew him?

F.E. No, I never knew him.

J.S. Sometimes, when we were resting,

Grandfather talked. Maybe he made

things up, but we believed him,
because he was Old Joe Saul.

F.E. Joe Saul?

J.S. I'm named for him. He used to say that

“Once, once we were spirits, nature spirits;

We lived in the streams and in trees,

We lived in the clouds and in storms,

One with the elements.

They were your ancestors,” he'd say,

“That's what your grand-dads were.”

Remember how white his hair was?

No, you never saw him.

And he said:

“Then we were sorcerers, witch doctors;

We commanded the thunder,

troubled the waters,

We jumped, bucked, flipped, leaped,

And vaulted like the surf over rocks;

And we sailed — arms out — free like the



Then we were doctors against hurt,

We mimicked its form to drive it out;

Were crooked for fits,

Spastic for poison,

And bent like rubber for broken limbs.”

He had it all down — we'd squat and listen on

the training mat.

F.E. It's a strange tale for children. Would you tell

it to the twins some time?

J.S. Of course, they'd understand. The twins

have the blood.

J.S. “In Greece we were gods —

With wooden masks, on stilted shoes,

We stepped from the fragrant groves

at Epidaurus.

In Rome, in the arena,

after the blood had run,

There we tumbled,

Juggled burning sticks in front of the

crosses with their burdens.

In the dark centuries,

We alone carried joy into that

laughter-starved time;

We pranced and capered in the miracles,

And we gamboled at courts,

and walked on ropes at the fairs.

And from then on everybody knows

our story!”

F.E. I'll want the twins to hear.

J.S. “Kings and princes, Astors and

Vanderbilts —

Who knows their great-granddads for


He raises both arms high and declaims like a seer.

“Two ancient families there are,”

Old Saul would say.

“Clowns and acrobats.

The rest are newcomers.

And we live on.”

He lowers his arms.

“Have children, have lots of kids!

Be not ever without a baby on the fingers,

A child on the mat,

a boy working on the bar,

So that we go on!”

F.E. There is your bitterness. There it is.

Cathy had no child — but Mordeen?

J.S. It's been three years. Three years!

F.E. Do you begin to think it's you?

J.S. I don't know what it is — I don't know

what it is.

But a man can't die this way.

F.E. Nor a woman either.

J.S. A man can't scrap his blood line. There is

more than just my memory, more than all my

training, more than remembered stories.

I have a trust imposed on me:

To place my line tenderly, tenderly,

Like a robin's egg,

Into the hands of my own child.

And now — three years with Mordeen.

There's some curse on me, I feel it.

F.E. On you alone, Joe Saul?

J.S. I know, Friend Ed, I know, I know, it

happens, yes, it happens; anywhere, to

anyone, in any place, at any time — a

farmer, or a sailor, or anyone yet to come.

He paces nervously toward the tent flap.

Where's Mordeen? What's keeping her? That's

a long time to…Her baby…Mrs. Malloy's

too old…a baby at her age…she's forty-five!

F.E. gets off the trunk, puts on his red nose, hair piece, and goggles.

Now that I know, Joe Saul, I'll try to help.

J.S. absently.

Yes, Friend Ed. Thank you, Friend Ed.

F.E. starts to shuffle out of the tent, stops to look at Joe Saul, then continues walking out with mincing steps. He looks through the flap once more.

I meant it, Joe Saul.

J.S. Yes, yes, Friend Ed. Git! You're on!

F.E. drops the canvas. Calls off-stage:

Hurry, Mordeen, he's waiting for you.

Scene 2

Track 3

Mordeen sharply outlined appears against the tent flap. She enters. She is dressed in white and silver and over her shoulders she wears a long silver and blue cape which falls in heavy folds to her ankles. She is fair and very beautiful, her golden hair tied into a chignon, her eyes blued, her make-up carefully applied. She is smiling, her face alight with a pleasant memory. Her words have a tinge of Irish brogue.

Oh, Joe Saul, that baby, Joe Saul! He coos,

yes, he coos; and rocks back and forth, back

and forth. He grabbed at a shaft of sunshine

with his hand. You should have seen his face

when his hand went through it: amazed and

disappointed all at once.

She laughs, then notes his tense posture and scowl.

What is it, Joe Saul? Aren't you well?

J.S. I'm all right.

M. Angry then? You must be angry.

Your eyes are so black, so black; but

when you are angry, a red glow burns in

them. Are you angry with me, Joe Saul?

J.S. moves quickly to her and puts his arms around her.

Not angry, no, not angry — and still angry.

He strokes her cheek.

Angry at Time when you are away.

M. I came back as soon as I could.

J.S. When you are not near, my mind plays games.

It whispers: you don't exist, that you have

gone for good, that there is no Mordeen.

M. It's a game, a child's game,

to make good things better.

I remember once holding a piece of cake

And pretended it was not mine,

And then it tasted twice as sweet.

That's better, Joe Saul. Now the red has gone

from your eyes. You have the darkest eyes —

like new split coal, that black! But you were

angry, or very much troubled.

J.S. If I was, I'm not now. When I touch you,

everything, everything is at peace.

M. pushes him a little distance away from her so she can look clearly into his face.

Will you tell me what troubles you?

J.S. It is nothing.

M. Is it Victor?

J.S. A little.

M. Is it — anything else?

J.S. No — no.

M. Is it — still good with me?

J.S. Oh, my God! My God, oh, Mordeen! I love

you, Mordeen.

M. Joe Saul, I love you.

They embrace.

Scene 3

Track 4

Victor, as a sharp shadow, walks the length of the rear tent wall, SR to SL, pauses a moment outside the flap, then lifts it. He is slender but powerful, not much older than twenty; his skin blooms with youth. He wears flannel slacks and a white T-shirt. He holds his right arm across his stomach; the wrist is tightly bandaged with surgical tape. Normally his bearing is cocky; now he stands with uneasy defiance in the entrance, surrounded by golden sunlight streaming in. His words have a slight rural accent and he tends to run them carelessly into each other.

Hello, ev'rybuddy.

J.S. releases Mordeen quickly and turns to face Victor.

M. moves so she stands behind Joe Saul.

J.S. Why aren't you dressed?

He notices the taped wrist.

What's that?

  1. I jist…I jist come from the doctor.

  2. Sprained m'wrist.

J.S. How did that happen?

He stares fixedly at Victor, without moving.

V. No need tuh git mad, I couldn' he'p it.

He steps gingerly into the tent.

It wus an accident — might happen

t'anybody. We wus kidd'n' aroun', jis' foolin'.

One guy tripped me — didn' mean it.

J.S. moves slowly close to Victor.

V. Say, whut's wit' yuh?

J.S. You went to high school in a little town, right?

Athlete, half mile, pole vault, tumbling team,

right? And funny —

He points to main tent.

funny like a clown!

Imitating Victor's sloppy speech.

An' ev'rybuddy says, yuh should be on

th' stage, — yeah! — Wast'n' y'r time,

wast'n' y'r time in our li'l ol' town.

His own manner again.

Ran away with the circus —

every little boy's dream.

V. Three days, tops.

Doctor, says three days, tops.

J.S. It's not that you don't know but that

you'll never know.

V. What are y' shout'n' at? Don' yell at me!

J.S. It sounds like that to you, does it?

With contained fury.

You're stronger, quicker, even surer than

Cousin Will, but not better. Whatever you do

is an accident of youth and muscle. You have

no respect for your profession. Ha!

Profession! To you it's a game!

With mingled exaltation and fury.

You did not hang clinging to your

father's forefingers. You don't have the

blood in it. You've got no past, no tradition —

just your youth, your youth.

V. is mesmerized by Joe Saul's fury and puzzled by his exaltation.

M. tries to calm Joe Saul's fury.

Joe Saul, he's just a kid.

V. becomes aware of Mordeen, and this gives him his weapon.

Whut's all 'at talk about yout'? You feel'n' old,


J.S. What?

V. points with thumb at Mordeen.

Is she too much f'r yuh? Too hot?

Cain't keep up wit' her? Yer balls dryin' up?

J.S. steps very close to Victor.

I'll go and report that we can't go on for

three days.

He strikes Victor hard in the face with his open palm. Then he turns, and walks lightly on his toes out of the tent.

Scene 4

M. goes quickly to the trunk. She drops her cape over the little chair, and opens the trunk. She sits down, and starts rubbing cold cream on her face.

V. stands in shock, unable to get over the nausea of the insult, unable to vent his violence.

I could'n' hit sich an old man, old enough to

be my father.

He moves dumbly, nearer to Mordeen.

M. rubs make-up off on a little towel. She does not look around.

V. He knew he wus safe. He knew I couldn' hit

back — an old man like him.

M. He can't hear you.

She wipes the eye shadow from around her eyes.

V. I don' care if he does! You heard me tell 'im

to 'is face. I should've hit 'im back. I would've

creamed 'im.

M. turns from mirror and looks steadily at Victor.

V. I c'd choke 'im jist like that!

Gestures with his good hand.

I could throw 'm like an old sack.

But I didn'. Wouldn've bin fair.

M. You're that afraid of him?

How d'y' mean afraid? I tell yuh, I could

tear 'im apart.

Why didn't you then?


Track 5

He gropes, for the moment at a loss. Then he gets the idea of turning the situation to his advantage. He tries to make his language more careful.

Because…well, I'll tell you why. I have

respect for you. I don't want trouble

when there's a girl that I'm in love with.

M. In lo(ve)…?

Her mouth stays open.

V. Yes.

He puts out his hand to touch her shoulder, but when she looks at his hand, he takes it away. His words run carelessly together again.

I didn' tell y'. I tried t' keep it in, see?

I'm really sweet on yuh. I wanna be fair.

I'm not the kinda guy that tries t' score with

his partner's…

He gestures with fake helplessness.

But he hit me — in the face!

M. You hit him below the belt. That was real fair.

V. I didn' lay a hand…Oh, yeah, I see whut

y' mean. That got 'im!

With vicious joy.

Next time he whips that tongue o' his

out, I'll get 'im agin, now that I know how.

M. And besides, you do respect me, and

you love me.

V. He changes his tack.

Joe Saul is right, I'm a chump.

I don' know my ass from my armpit.

Of course he's right.

But mebbe I'll learn. It's time I growed up.

Eager and boyish.

I 'dmire Joe Saul more than I kin tell.

That's why it hurt double when 'e hit me

like yuh hit a dawg. Boy, that hurt.

M. Ah yes.

V. That's why I hit back — 'cause I wus hurt,

reelly hurt. That's why. Let's start from

scratch, Mordeen. I'll apologize to Joe Saul.

It's a sure nuf priv'lege t' be taught by Joe

Saul. I know that. He'll un'erstan' when I tell

him how hurt I wus. I'm sorry I f'rgot myself,


M. I can see how that is.

Oh, I've had things happen to me that made

me dumb and sick.

You see, Victor, we're a little world inside

the big world.

Lots of people resent us or envy us. And so

we're proud and maybe a little afraid of out-

siders. Maybe we protect ourselves too much.

V. Brash.

I see wh't ch' mean.

M. looks up in apprehension.

V. More subdued.

I see whut yuh mean.

I never think of you growin' up here.

M. But I did, but I did. My whole life, all my

life. I was born on a lot and raised in the

ring. Before I could walk, I rode in a houdah!

She rocks as if riding on top of an elephant and raises her arms as if greeting an imaginary crowd lining the curbs during a street parade.

I was born to fly! One with the world,

one with the family of Joe Saul.

V. Did yuh know his first wife?

M. Oh, yes.

V. Did he luv' 'er?

M. Oh, yes — yes.

V. Why did you marry 'im?

M. Why?

V. Yes, why? A fifty-year-ol' man — or close

to 't —

a man jist about finished when

yuh've jis' gotten started up.

Why did you marry him?

M. Because I loved him, of course.

V. That wus three years ago — d'y'luv'im now?

M. More. Much more.

V. Y' pro'ly luv'im like a father.

M. Oh, no!

  1. Don't y' sometimes hanker fer the arms of a

  2. young man?

M. Oh, no.

V. And the smooth feel of a young body?

M. No.

V. Aaaand the…

M. No!

V. Weeell, I know better. I know a thing-er-two

'bout women.

Track 6

Y' make a fuss and y' sweet-talk

them an' jolly 'em,
Y' touch 'em where they like it;
Y' force 'em jist a li'l bit, a li'l bit

And soon they git lovey jis' like yuh.

Some squeal an' giggle,

Some scratch an' bite, kick an' fight,

An' scream that they'll call the cops.


But all o' them want it, reelly want it.

They're all alike, all alike!

Yuh luv 'em up an' they luv' y' back.

M. laughs scornfully.

Ha! All alike! All alike!

Oh, surely, we are all alike!

V. Yer diff'rent, eh?

M. You bet your boots!

V. And what makes you so special?

M. Joe Saul.

V. Is he that good?

M. Oh, Victor, Victor — if you knew…

V. If he's so goddamn good,

Why's he have the jerks?

Why's his fuse so short?

Why's he jabba, jabba, jabba 'bout his

kinfolk all-a-time? Is he crackin' up?

How long till it ain't so good no more?

M. You have a gift.

You know where to stick the knife and

twist it. But I'll tell you this:

I will do anything, anything —

Any thing, any, any, any thing —

To bring content to him.

That's what makes me special.

V. Oh, what a crock yer try'n'a sell me!

Yer a broad, like any other broad —

same equipment, no more, no less.

I guess yuh need what they all need: some

rough stuff so yuh kin say it weren't yer fault.

He grabs her in his arms, holding her elbows against her sides, and leans over to kiss her.

M. She relaxes so that he cannot reach her mouth with his. Her head falls limply away from him, and her body hangs dead in his arms.

V. Worried.


Scene 5

F. E. whistles his signal off-stage.

V. Mordeen!

F.E. His shadow stops outside the tent flap. He whistles again, then steps into the tent. He stops and looks at the couple. His make-up is off but he still wears his polka-dot clown suit.

V. releases his arms, freeing Mordeen.

M. steps back quickly, her face snarling with hatred and contempt.

F.E. steps closer.

V. His hands go up protectively.

F.E. Go! Go away!

V. I didn'…

F.E. Go now! He'd kill you if he knew. I'll never

tell — it wouldn't be good for Joe Saul to kill

you. You are not worth that much — to add

to his burden.

V. I…

F.E. Go! Tell him you have to leave the show.

Tell him your mother died.

Tell him what you like, but go!

V. C'mon now!

F.E. moves still closer.

Maybe I've got to do it myself!

V. raises his taped wrist.

Watch it!

F.E. OK, OK — but go!

V. saunters out nonchalantly. Near the tent flap he wiggles his hips.

F.E. shouts.

Get out!

V. runs out fast.

Scene 6

Track 7

M. turns sluggishly toward Friend Ed.

You saw all that, Friend Ed?

F.E. Yes, I saw.

M. What do you believe?

F.E. I believe what I saw.

M. Do you think Joe Saul would believe?

F.E. He would have to, and if he couldn't, I

would try to make him. Joe Saul reported that the act couldn't go on. Now he's in a bar

getting drunk.

M. I must —

F.E. Do you want to talk to me?

M. Yes — yes, I do.

A cloud is coming down on us.

F.E. Do you know what it is?

M. Yes. Do you?

F.E. Yes. Mordeen, tell me: can you have children?

M. looks away from him.

Yes, I can.

F.E. How do you know?

M. The only way I could know.

F.E. When did it happen?

M. Five years ago.

F.E. Does Joe Saul know?

M. No, it was before. It was born, but it was


F.E. Oh!

M. It was before, before Joe Saul.

F.E. I don't understand it. He's never been

sick that I know of. He's a mass of

strength and force.

M. He was sick once, when he was a boy. It

was the only time.

F.E. How…?

M. He told me: his bones and joints ached,

the fever burned him. For a year he was

whipped with pain.

F.E. And could that be the cause?

M. Yes, it could. Can't we tell him, bring it out in the open? We need a child. We need a child. We can adopt one, it will be ours just the same. Maybe if this thing were understood, the cloud would lift. Maybe —

F.E. No, you cannot tell him. Do you know what happens when a man knows that his seed is dead?

M. I know he is starving, starving for a child.

He always was, but now he is frantic.

F.E. Tell me, Mordeen: is he a good lover?

M. Oh! He feeds my every hunger and leaves me filled.

Track 8

F.E. When the bodies of man and woman meet in love,

There is a promise — sometimes buried so deep that the mind does not know —

A promise that a child will be born;

amid the earthquake and lightning,

the deluge of fierce delights, this each body holds out in promise to the other. But if one of them knows that the promise is false, that no child can ever result, it may feel reckless abandon and lust that seems free. Yet the act has no purpose, it is a lie. And since we do not gladly perform futile acts, slowly the body resists, refuses, and the other — gently perhaps, but surely — shows it has no more need for him.

M. This can't be so with me.

I would do anything, anything —

any thing my mind or heart or body can dare —

to give this joy to Joe Saul.

F.E. But only if he doesn't know. Once he knows that his own seed is dead, he will not let you try. The fog of his self-contempt will cover him, you will lose him in his misery.

M. But suppose it is not true.

Perhaps the fault is mine, my own body, my own…

F.E. You don't believe that. I know you.

You will have made sure. You know.

M. And do you know how I love this man?

F.E. I think I do. I hope I do.

M. I will lie, or cheat,

Kill if I must —

For his content and joy.

F.E. And what chance that it will work?

M. You know what I'm considering, don't you?

F.E. I think so.

M. If I were cautious, cunning, do you think

there is a chance?

F.E. Hesitant.

Oh, Mordeen…

Track 9

M. touches him gently on his right forearm.

I'm asking too much, I suppose. It's too

great a burden on your friendship.

F.E. I wish I didn't suspect what you're planning.

M. Hush. I'll close it all away in my self. If I am

wrong, it will be my wrong, you need not

touch it.

F.E. bows his head.

M. He would not like me to see him drunk,

especially if his drinking is not happy. Find

him, Friend Ed, find him and stay with him.

F.E. And you?

M. Oh — tell him I had a little headache; I'll walk

for a while and come back very soon.

F.E. I'm afraid.

M. Go out, find Joe Saul, he may need you.

Hurry, Friend Ed, oh hurry!

She takes Friend Ed by the arm and leads him to the tent flap, which she holds open for him.

F.E. stops for a moment and looks at her; then he goes out uncertainly.

Scene 7

M. quickly goes to the trunk and leans over the mirror. She unties her hair so that if falls freely. She applies lipstick.

V. appears as a shadow outside the flap and pauses. Then he steps slowly into the tent. He is wearing a bright shirt with string tie or bolo, a sports coat, slacks and shiny shoes.

M. sees Victor in the mirror, and continues to put on lipstick.

V. notices that Mordeen sees him. He raises his unbandaged left hand, twirling his fingers in mock greeting.

Hi again…ev'rybuddy?

M. stops painting her lips and turns halfway toward Victor.

How come you're back?

V. Y' didn' think the clown could scare me off?

Hell no — there's still some things I wanna

square away wit' yuh.

M. I'm sorry, Victor.

V. No kidd'n'! That wus some way to treat yer

partner! I came back t' tell y' whut I think of

all 'at high-blown stuff yuh and yer ol' man

are peddlin'. You're perfect, and me — I'm

filth. That's the gist of it, ain't it?

M. puts down the lipstick and turns fully to face Victor.

This life makes us kind of clannish, perhaps.

I'm ashamed we hurt you. I was going to

come and find you — to apologize, make it

up to you.

V. You come to me?

Track 10

Hey, that's a new tune!

Wha-hoppen — have a fight with yer ol' man?

He's gett'n' drunk — did y' know that? —

stinko — that good ol' lover!

M. I said I was sorry, Victor — truly sorry.

V. mimicking Irish.

Well, what changed ye now, eh?

His usual manner again.

Did y' fin' out that this hokey stuff yuh think

is love ain't the reel thing? That mebbe, jist

mebbe, my way is it?

M. No, not quite. I was coming to tell you: we —

I shouldn't have cut you off the way I did.

Victor, you should be part of us. Let's you and

me be friends, and perhaps I can help make

you welcome with the others.

V. comes close to her.

I cou'n' care less 'bout the others.

M. Yes, yes, you do, I'm sure you do.

V. tries to make a pass.

Well, for starters, why don' yuh make me feel


M. evades him without making it a repulse.

Victor, Victor, listen: I thought of a way.

There was one time when I was a child,

In the school of a town that wasn't

my home.

I felt all alone, I had nobody close,

All the kids had their own friends,

they didn't want me.

I thought of a plan to make them pay


And I took all my pennies and bought

shiny presents,

And gave them all to myself.

It was my hope that the others would see

all these gifts

And say: “My, she is popular.”

And they'd want to be friends.

But the trick did not work —

they wouldn't believe me.

Then one day, all was changed.

An older girl had gotten in trouble with a


And her own crowd —

None of whom were saints

themselves, mind you —

Rejected her.

And she turned to me, and I helped her:

I was wanted and needed.

And, Victor, it felt so good that I could give

what was needed so badly.

V. Hey! Whut's this yarn all about?

M. Don't you know what I'm saying?

Can't you tell what I'm asking of you?

V. Me? I don' have the foggiest.

M. Oh, Victor, Victor — we…I need help.

If I explain it to you, if I can make you see,

Ah, Victor, ah — will you help me?

V. Slightly taken aback by her vehemence, but in no doubt that it is an offer.

Eh, take it easy. Sure, sure I'll help yuh,

honey. No need t' explain nuthin'. Now I see

what yuh mean.

M. With pain.

I had hoped you might understand.

V. But I do, I do!

He puts his hand with authority on her shoulder.

Track 11

Oh, baby, I unnerstand!

V. Jeez, what a fool a body kin be! I see the

lights, I hear the music, an' I almost fumbled

my cue! Boy, oh boy! I should know that

some dames won' come right out with it;

They can' make the first move.

M. No, Victor, the man — the man must show

the way.

V. I guess y' did change. But they say, women

an' hosses know when a man ain't sure of

hisself. They kin tell, no matter how much he


M. Yes, Victor, they sure can.

She turns from him toward the trunk, picks up the lipstick and draws on full lips.

V. But let's get out-a here! Now's the time, while

yer ol' man's drunk. No use frett'n' 'bout
that — let's use the chance. We'll have a bite

somewheres first, OK? How about it?

M. turns to Victor, her posture soft and provocative.

How about what, Victor?

V. How 'bout…us stepp'n' out, have a li'l fun?

M. That would be nice.
She stares at him.

V. What-ch' look'n' at?

M. Your eyes — how black they are.

V. You like 'em that way?

M. Oh, yes. I was thinking how some families

are: One black-eyed child, then a blue-eyed —

all mixed.

V. Oh no, not with us. There weren't a light-eyed

kid since God knows when.

M. There's strange ones, though. I once knew a

family that ran in fits; and you know, in every

second generation they had madness.

V. We're lucky, I guess. Old age is the only thing

that kills us. All m' gran'parents still alive, and

m' great-gran'dad on m' pop's side knocked

off at a hun'red'n'four. Yeah, we're tough.

M. My, that's great. But tell me…

V. C'mon now, let's get out-a here. Cut the gab.

M. Yes, let's go! But first I must change. I'll stop

off at the sleeping car. We'd best go sep'rate.

Where shall I meet-chuh?

V. studies her.

No, I guess yuh won' stan' me up. There's a

joint on Twelfth and Main. I'll be in one o'

the booth' on the right.

M. goes toward the tent flap, then hesitates as the spirit almost leaves her.

V. goes to her and puts his arm cozily around her waist.

I'll take good care o' you honey. I won' git

yuh in no trouble.

M. moves lithely out of his embrace.

Don't come out with me. I'll meet you in an


She walks hurriedly out of the tent, leaving her cape behind. Her sharp shadow passes across the rear wall, and she disappears SR.

V. saunters over to the trunk. He admires himself in the mirror, then pulls a small comb out of his rear pocket.

J.S. In the distance SL.


V. freezes. He makes a move in the direction of the tent flap.

J.S. Closer.


V. bolts toward the SR tent wall, lifts the canvas a short distance from the ground, wriggles out underneath, and runs off.

A spotlight sweeps around the main tent and comes to rest on the silhouette of the cornet player performing his cadenza. Joe Saul's weaving shadow appears outside the flap.

Scene 8

J.S. lifts the flap, peers in, then enters hesitantly. His eyes roll vacantly, his mouth is wet and loose. His shoulders hang askew and his tie is crooked in his unbuttoned collar. Not finding Mordeen, he suddenly roars out her name in an access of fury, and stamps his foot.


Track 12

The spotlight fades. The sunlight is golden and soft now.

J.S. His mood softens abruptly. Plaintively.

Where are you, Mordeen?

He looks around the tent. He sees Mordeen's cape hanging over the back of the little chair. He walks unsteadily to the chair, touches the cape lovingly, then slumps down in the seat. He tries to follow the circus band, with a sound that is half humming and half moaning. Clumsily he puts the trunk in order and pats the tray that holds the powder, grease paint and cold cream. He catches sight of himself in the mirror and stares at his loose, drunken face. Suddenly he slams the trunk lid shut with both hands, in a motion that lifts him from the chair; the tinkle of broken glass sounds inside the trunk. He staggers a few steps toward the exit, but has to stop because he cannot keep his balance; he tries to steady himself by holding an imaginary pole across his chest, as if on the high wire. A burst of applause from the main tent draws his attention. He tries to bow in acknowledgment, and falls down. His face cradled in his forearm, he pounds his fist a few times on the ground, then passes out completely.

F.E. appears outlined against the flap. He lifts the flap and looks in. He enters the tent slowly. He is dressed in street clothes. He walks to the chair, takes Mordeen's cape, and covers Joe Saul. Then he takes up a position leaning against the center pole, keeping watch over Joe Saul. He takes the slide whistle out of a pocket of his jacket, and starts to play gently along with the circus band.

The curtain falls slowly.

CD 2: Track 1

Act II: The Farm

The kitchen of a farmhouse. It fills almost the entire width of the stage, leaving a small part of the exterior visible outside the SR wall. The side walls jut forward from the rear wall at a slight angle. In the center of the SR wall is a door leading to a stoop outside. In the center of the SL wall is an archway, which may have a portière, leading to the parlor.

The roof is low enough to allow some view of the landscape beyond the house. In the center distance stands a large barn, with the sharp contours reminiscent of the paintings of Charles Sheeler. A large window in the rear wall of the kitchen also allows the barn to be seen. Near the house, SR, stands a tall maple tree, with part of its trunk and most of its foliage visible.

It is a kitchen to live in: a square table covered with cloth stands in the center; around it are four chairs with little pads in their seats. A big Tiffany lamp hangs over the table. In the rear SR corner stands a tall cupboard; its inside is divided into a broom closet and a section with shelves. On the SR wall, between the cupboard and the door, are pegs for hanging coats; a colorful apron hangs on one of the pegs.

Under the window in the rear wall is a bench. To SL of the window stands a large stove with a coffee pot on it. The sink is on the SL wall between the rear wall and the archway.

The time is early morning on a sunny day in June.

Scene 1

Farmer Joe Saul sits on SR side of the table, at work on his farm books. He is dressed in jeans and a checkered shirt open at the throat. When the curtain rises, he is chewing on a pencil and stares into space.

Neighboring farmer Friend Ed sits on the SL side of the table. He is likewise dressed in jeans and shirt. He holds a harmonica; when not playing the instrument, he handles it for gesturing in conversation. His words have a slight German accent.

Gath'ring wool, Joe Saul?

J.S. in a comfortable rural intonation, with the trace of a Scottish burr.

Aye, Friend Ed.

He looks toward the window.

Wish it was dry enough to be out —

He turns his eyes to the table.

but books is farm work too.

F.E. You should get a bookkeeper — that's what I

do. There's so much paper work, a man ain't

got time to bring in a crop.

J.S. pointing to papers on table.

Hell, I'm good at it. The day ain't dawned yet

when I can't keep my own books, on my own


He sets to work.

F.E. plays on his harmonica.

J.S. pauses.

I wouldn't grudge the time, if only I had

decent help on the place. Cousin Will now —

him I could set to do any chore and know

he'd do it right. But that daft man had to get

himself killed — and now I've got a hired

hand on my farm, an outsider working my land.

F.E. Isn't Victor working out?

J.S. Oh, he's good enough — tries anyways.

But he's got no feel for it, Friend Ed, he ain't

born to it. Where he hails from they're more

for hunt'n' 'n' sech.

He sighs.

Victor's OK — sure — in his way; but most of

what he knows he learned in some land-grant

college. That ain't the way, you know that —

it's got to be in you, in the blood.

F.E. Yes, I know what you mean. Just yesterday,

my twins…

J.S. Go ahead, talk about your kids — it doesn't

bother me.

Track 2

F.E. Well, at breakfast yesterday, they were talking,

and Larry said: “Hey, I've got a feeling there is

something I should be doing.” And Ed, with-

out missing a beat, says: “I know, it's your

green beans want poles.” Just like that, as if

the beans were calling to him.

J.S. That's what I mean! That's exactly what I

mean! Your boys have the blood — they're

your own. Oh, God, oh my God, who will

tend this precious land?

F.E. There you go again.

J.S. Who will live on it after I'm gone?

F.E. Oh, stop it, stop mauling yourself! Stop
tearing yourself apart!

J.S. A child, an heir —

F.E. Aw, come on, Joe Saul, older men than you

have had kids.

J.S. How long must I wait?

This land —

This sweet flat land —

I see it going back to wilderness.

The brush comes back,

And then the forest and the vines;

This house —

It rots and molders

Until the chimney and the cellar hole
are all that's left.

It is wild again —

Just as Old Joe Saul found it
when he settled here.

F.E. How long ago was that?

J.S. More than two hundred years ago. He came

with little more than his strength and an axe.

He cut five trees and planted his seed corn

with a pointed stick. That was the start.
He gestures toward the window.
And now look at it: Flat and black, shining

and sweet.

But I see another fate:

Strangers, with newfangled ways;

Then city folk, even foreigners,

Greedy to buy this land, but letting

others tend it;

And then they sell it,

Or they “develop,” and build on it,

Build — God knows what!

And the land will be gone just as surely
as if the forest had claimed it again.

He turns to his books.

Well, I've opened the door to them myself,

Pointing with thumb over his shoulder towards the barn.

having him work for me.

Track 3

F.E. plays briefly on harmonica.

Been meaning to ask you: is he still sore at

you for that bawling out you gave him?

J.S. Without looking up.

Who, Victor? Why, no, I don't think so. He's

gotten more quiet, though — some of the
ginger seems to have gone out of him.

F.E. plays very briefly on harmonica.

Maybe you shouldn't have hit 'im.

J.S. looks up from his work.

I did lose my temper, didn't I? But he said

something — something that made me see

red. I told him afterwards, I was sorry.

And I meant it.
He sets to work again.

F.E. plays interlude on harmonica.

And how is Mordeen these days?

J.S. puts down pencil.

Oh, Mordeen. She's still the same. I can't
figure out what changed her.

Pointing to other part of house, in the direction of parlor.

It's not like her to lie in bed past sunup, not

like her at all. She's not from these parts,

that's true; but she's farm stock all the same:

get up and do your work. But now — she's

sort of la-di-dah, don't y' know. I'm not used

to that, and it worries me.

F.E. Well, women do have these spells, and they

get over it.

He plays vigorously on harmonica.

J.S. halfheartedly turns to his work again.

Scene 2

J.S. There! I think I hear her.

Mordeen enters from parlor and stands in doorway. She wears a quilted flowered dressing gown which reaches almost to the floor; her feet are bare. Her blond hair is gathered at the nape and hangs down her back. She looks radiant; a small, satisfied smile is on her mouth.

Track 4

J.S. You feeling OK, Mordeen?

M. She grew up in Louisiana and throughout this act has the slight suggestion of a Southern drawl.

Oh, yes. I feel wonderful.

She walks slowly to the window.

F.E. You sure look wonderful.

M. Hi, Friend Ed.

She sits down sideways on the bench and looks out the window.

How beautiful a day it is.

J.S. It's growing weather. Shall I make you some

breakfast? Some oatmeal, or bacon, perhaps.

M. You cook for me?

She turns partly to kitchen; with a low happy laugh:

I should have gotten you your breakfast. No, I

don't want anything — but it's nice to hear

you offer it, Joe Saul. Ah, I feel so lazy.

J.S. That's a first with you, sure enough.

M. I…

She turns to the window again and gazes dreamily into the distance.

J.S. Yes?

M. I forgot what I wanted to say.

J.S. looks at Friend Ed with concern.

F.E. reassures him with a gesture.

M. Still looking out of the window.

I went to the doctor yesterday.

J.S. twists his chair around sharply.

You what?

M. Nothing to worry about.

J.S. What is it?

M. He told me to take it easy for a little while.

J.S. You take it easy? What's wrong, what does he

say it is?

M. turns to room.

Joe Saul, I'm having a baby. We will have a child.

J.S. does not take in the words at first, but they repeat silently in his ears. He fights his trembling chin, then puts his head in his hands, his shoulders

F.E. looks at Mordeen.

M. smiles, then withdraws into herself again and turns to gaze out the window.

J.S. stands up, grasps his arms behind his back and pulls his shoulders up.

Now, now it's all right.

F.E. This is a moment of great joy.

J.S. releases his arms.

Yes, but before the joy, I must look back —

just once — a last look into the coffin, a last

look at the corpse.

Track 5

Now that I see you laid out,

You sterile, sterile, sterile curse,

I must believe that you are dead.

Your harsh commanding face
is shriveled now and rigid,

A rotting worm, your tongue that lied to me,

Or joked, or mocked, or pitied,

or just blathered:

“What's the big rush, having kids?
Do some living first, enjoy
yourself while y' got the chance.”

“I don't think y're going about it the

right way, pal. Y' gotta wear a hat

while you do it, works every


“Not enough Moxie, eh, Joe Saul?”

“I feel for you in your predicament.

Indeed, I do!”

“When y' come right down to it,

children are a lot of bother:

the noise, the mess;

and when they grow up: the cost,

the waste. Count your blessings,

man, I wish mine were out of the

house already!

Count your blessings.”

Count my blessings…Oh, my God, count my blessings…my blessings!

He struggles to control his feelings.

F.E. That's all over, Joe Saul. Let it rest. Close the

lid for good.

J.S. Yes. That fearful voice is still at last.

From here on, I shall speak.

He steps to the window, standing next to Mordeen, and looks out. He puts his hand on her shoulder.

M. leans her head against Joe Saul.

J.S. I've heard tell that back in Europe they go out

to the barn and tell the cattle.

He turns to the room.

Me — I'll tell the world!

F.E. Does that include the neighbors in?

J.S. Them 'specially!

F.E. Does Mordeen want it known? Do you want it

known so soon?

M. Oh, yes, surely. Why not?

J.S. Darn right: “why not!”

Why not, why not, why not, why not, why


F.E. There's lots of folks would want to know.

J.S. First off, the Schantzes.

M. Then the McDougals.

J. S. Dominie Martin.

M. Philpie Nelson.

J.S. Bill and Dodo.

M. *Don and Inge.

J.S. All the Henschels.

M. And the Van Dommelens from Bogalusa.

J.S. *Cissie and Albert.

M. *Gracie.

J.S. *Edward.

M. And, of course, my Pape.

J.S. And Grandma Bess…

M., J.S. …and Grandfather Schwarz.

F.E. You may as well make one big party and get it over with.

J.S. That's it, that's it!

Friend Ed, that is a great idea!

M. Yes, that's what we need: a party full of
laughter and noise.

J.S. Well, then we'll ask ev'rybodee!

Butcher, baker, candlestick…

In his exuberance he breaks into mouth music and stomps his feet.

M. rises and joins the men.

F.E. infected by Joe Saul's mood, imitates a string bass and claps his hands.

M. carols a descant.


* May be replaced by local names.

Scene 3

Victor opens the door from the stoop and enters. He wears overalls and an open blue shirt. His arms are brown.

M., F.E. stop singing and clapping hands.

J.S. stops mouth music and footstomping.

Hello, Victor.

Track 6

V. His words are pronounced clearly; they have a suggestion of Southern Appalachian mountain speech.

I've come for my morning coffee. Am I
interrupt'n' something? I heard some doings

in here.

J.S. Victor, you've come in time to be the first to

be told —

we will have a child.

V. What? You will have a child?

J.S. That's right! There'll be a baby in this house.

A little kid,

Playing in the dirt,

Running after dogs,

Kicking the chickens aside to find their


Lying in the grass,

Discovering the sky,

And listening, listening —

And the earth will speak to him.

V. With a tight concealing smile, he looks from Joe Saul to Mordeen.

This is sure great news, Joe Saul.

Congratulations! But how do you know it will

be a boy?

J.S. Boy, girl — what does it matter!

He goes close to Victor and pounds his fist gently on his chest, forcing him back a little.

We have a child — do you hear that? — a

child. A piece of me — and more — a piece of

all I came from:
A filament, filament of spider silk down

through the ages.

J.S. He plants himself in the middle of the room, feet wide apart, arms stretched high, and looks upward.

I sing and I praise

The Power on high…

Keeping his arms raised, he breaks into a dance resembling a Highland fling.

F.E. Oh, you irreverent cuss!

I've never seen you this way.

J.S. Never had reason, never had cause!

V. goes to the stove.

Well, 'guess I'd better get me that coffee now.

J.S. stops dancing.

No, Victor — this is no time for coffee!

Get the whiskey — get glasses!

To Mordeen.

Your party, it starts as of right now!

To Friend Ed

This wonder woman,

He bows to Mordeen.

this queen shall have her party.

To Victor.

Hurry it up, Victor, before it gets away.

V. takes bottle and glasses out of cupboard and brings them to the table.

J.S. goes to meet Victor, and takes the bottle and one of the glasses from him. He pours large portions.

M. None for me. I'll have to leave such things for

a while.

J.S. puts the bottle down, and walks to where Mordeen is sitting.

Yes, oh yes. Yes, oh surely yes.

Track 7

J.S. Take care, take gentle care.

Oh, Mordeen, no harm must come to you.

Oh, take care!

V. empties glass in one gulp. In the first two stanzas of the following ballad he exaggerates the mountain dialect inherent in his speech.

There was an old man that had him a farm,

Ri-tee-tee-ti, tee-ri-tee-tee-o,

And he had no team to carry it on,

Ri-tee-tee ri-tee-tee-o, tee-o!

F.E. accompanies Victor on harmonica.

V. So he hitched up his cow a-chewin' her cud,

Ri-tee-tee-ti, tee-ri-tee-tee-o,

'Cause he sure had no horses an' least

ways no stud,

Ri-tee-tee ri-tee-tee-o, tee-o!

F.E. stops playing harmonica.

That's not the words as I know them.

M. I do obey, Joe Saul.

I shall protect myself and guard this life.

V. parodies Joe Saul's Scottish accent, especially by rolling R's, and imitates mouth music.

Then up came the Devil and he said, “Now

Ma-la-moch-kree ta-mala-moch-kroo,

Why don't ye hitch up yurr wife to the plough?

Ma-la-kro ma-la-moch-kree ma-kroo.”

F.E. Easy, boy. Easy, take it slow!

Take it slow, take it easy now.

V. Like a revivalist preacher. He gradually falls back into his own exaggerated mountain dialect.

An' he said, and I tell y' it was the Debble
hisself who said:

“If you won't use her as she should be


Ri-tee-tee-ti tee-ri-tee-tee-o,

Then I'll take her with me, she won't


Ri-tee-tee ri-tee-tee-o, tee-o!”

F.E. Watch your tongue! Don't make Druwwel!


V. parodies Friend Ed's Pennsylvania German accent, again especially by exaggerating the (this time guttural) R's.

Vat's de matta, Frriend? It's yuscht an old
ballad. Vat good is a drrink mitout a song?

He pours a drink and downs it hastily.

J.S. Lift no burden, give in to weariness.

Do no task, hard or tiresome, Call on me…

M. I obey you.

I shall take care, and I shall guard this life and

keep myself…

V. And the Debbil he said, he stood there and


“I'll take her to hell and she'll like it


Bum-ba-da-bum bum-bum-ba-da-


He reverts to his own speech.

And I guarantee y' it's guud for her,

Ri-tee-tee-o tee-o, tee-o, tee-o, tee-o!”

F.E. Stash it, Victor! Shut your face! Button yer lip!

Vat are y' try'n' to do? Keep your cool, man!

V. As he loses restraint, his voice gets louder.

“I'll tie 'er up tight in a gunny sack,

Ri-tee-tee-ti tee-ri-tee-tee-o,

And I swear she'll not ever want her

farmer back,

Ri-tee-tee ri-tee-tee-o, tee-o!”

F.E. tries to restrain Victor.

Shut up! Hold yer tongue!

Shut up! Shut up! Halt's Maul, sei ruhich!

M. and J.S. react to Victor and Friend Ed.

V. Came along then a little, a leetle devil

who peeped o'er the wall…

F.E. swoops loud run on his harmonica, interrupting Victor.

A toast. Let's have a toast.

A toast to the Mother!

J.S. goes to the table, raises his glass in the air.

To the Mother!

He empties half his glass.

V. His glass is empty. He pretends to drink.

J.S. raises glass high.

Here's another toast — to the Child!

F.E. The Child!

J.S. empties glass.

V. pours himself a full glass, then raises it. His words are pronounced without any exaggerated dialect.

And here — I give you one: To the Father!

He empties his glass in one gulp.

J.S. goes to Victor and puts a hand on his shoulder.

Oh, thank you. Thank you, Victor.

V. is uncomfortable under Joe Saul's touch and
disengages himself.

J.S. turns to look out of the window and drinks slowly.

V. goes to the table to put down his glass. He looks at Mordeen in triumph.

M. looks steadily at Victor.

V. lowers his eyes and puts down his glass.

A few more toasts like that and I'd be out

cold. 'Guess I'd better get back to work.

He goes outdoors.

Scene 4

J.S. turns back to the room.

That was good of him.

To Friend Ed.

You see, he doesn't bear a grudge.

F.E. Good.

M. stands up carefully.

Well, if we're to have a party, it's time I got

going. 'Wished I'd felt more like doing all that

cooking and baking.

J.S. Oh, no! You take it easy. I'll see to everything.

No, wait a minute! Let's make it a bring-your-

own party! That's the best kind. I'll do the

inviting. I've got to go into town anyways.

You take it easy — take the day off!

I here declare a holiday. A holy day.

M. Whatever you say.

She walks by Joe Saul and draws her hand lovingly across his back.

'See you, Friend Ed.

Scene 5

Track 8

J.S. looks after her, then walks to the table and sits down heavily.

Good Lord! I suddenly feel tired, as though

the blood has drained out of my body. Ah!

F.E. It's like shock, I suppose — it's been known

to happen. And now, if you run true to form,

you'll have morning sickness worse than hers. .

And when she has a little twinge — oh, my

God! — your guts will twist in agony. And in

labor — God help you, Joe Saul — in labor!

J.S. I want to give her something, something

beautiful to delight her.

M. off-stage, in the parlor.

C'est la poulette blanche

Qui pond dans la manche…

F.E. I think she has it.

J.S. Yes, I know that. But still…something like a

ceremony seems right to me, something like

a thank-offering.

M. …Qui va pondre un petit, un petit coco

Pour Cola qui va dormir.

J.S. I must get her something precious,
something like a symbol.

He hastily puts books, bottle, and the unused glass into the cupboard, then puts the dirty
glasses in the sink.

But now I must go into town. I'll look — I

don't know what gift I'll find — but I'll know

it when I see it.

M. Do-do l'enfant do…

J.S. goes to parlor.

I won't be a minute.

He goes into the parlor.

F.E. remains at the table, occasionally playing

J.S. returns.

You think she'll be all right all alone by herself?

Maybe I should call Victor to…

F.E. Oh, no. Leave her alone for a while. She can

take care of herself.

J.S. Will you come with me? I can't bear to be

alone today.

F.E. Sure thing.

J.S. Hurry, Friend Ed!

F.E. gets up from the table, taking his own time.

Careful, Joe Saul. Remember the child! Don't

overdo it! You must conserve your strength.

J.S. stops at the door, hesitating to leave.

M. Do-do l'enfant do,

Do-do l'enfant do.

F.E. She has her music, she'll be all right.

They leave, going past the window to disappear SL.

M. Do-do l'enfant do,

Do-do, do.

Scene 6

V. approaches door from SR.

Track 9

M This is my little white hen

Who lays eggs in my hand;

V. opens the door quietly. A thin stalk of grain dangles from a corner of his mouth. He walks to the table and sits down in one of the chairs. He tips it back so that he rocks on its rear legs; he does not look in the direction of the parlor.

M. Each small egg a special treat

For bébé before he sleeps.

Sleep, sleep, baby sleep.

Sleep, my baby, sleep.

It will sleep to please his mother,

It will sleep to please his fa…

V. brings down the front legs of his chair with a thump.

M. Joe Saul? Are you still there?

V. teeters on rear legs of chair, but only rocks occasionally.

M. enters and pauses in the doorway; she has put on slippers.

Oh, it's you. What do you want?

V. Come in, come in! Sit and talk to me.

M. Her face becomes a mask. She crosses behind the table and sits down on the window bench.

What do you want, Victor?

V. rocks his chair steadily again.

Jus' pass the time of day wit' yuh, that's all.

Never git t' talk to yuh anymore. Now ain't

that funny? I'd think yuh'd wan' tuh talk tuh

me, wouldn' yuh?

He twirls the stalk of grain between his fingers.

And now I hear this interest'n' news, but not

from you — Hell no! — I hear it from him!

He points with stalk toward the direction of town, SL.

M. looks at him warily.

V. Seems t' me y' would've wanted t' tell me

yourself. Don' tchuh think I'd be interested in

the fact, I'm gonna be a papa?

M. Soothingly, but firm.

It's not your child, it's Joe Saul's child.

V. puts down chair, again with a thump, and turns quickly to look at her.

Fat chance! You know he cain't have any kids!

The light becomes slightly overcast.

Me, I know I'm all right — yessir, there's bin a

few girls found that out. The woods are crawl-

ing with little Victors!

M. turns her head away in revulsion.

Track 10

V. Oh my, ain't we touchy!

With exaggerated Southern accent.

The crude hick and the refined madame!

M. turns back to Victor and looks steadily at him.

V. Has it occurred to you that I might have some

feelings, too? How d' y' think it feels to be

treated like a breeding bull? A great feeling,

that! He's strutt'n' an' bragg'n', believ'n' it's

gonna be his prize calf!

Bitter, with a touch of self-pity.

And what about me? “Don't touch me again, boy!

The stud pen is the place fer yuh!”

M. Aw, Victor, come off it! You got what you

were after.

V. Yer sure of that?

M. Vulgar.

Yeah, I'm sure. Y' got what yuh can un'erstand!

V. jumps up, furious.

Don't you say that to me! I proved I under-

stood — oh, did I ever! Maybe it wasn't more

than a one-night stand, but boy! —

wasn't it a humdinger! We understood each

other beautifully then.

M. Victor, you're getting on my nerves.

V. Oh, the lady has nerves now, does she?

Pointing at her lap.

That ain't nerves, that's a baby yuh got there —

and I, I put it there, do you understand?

You're carrying my child, my child!

M. You do believe that, do you? But you are

wrong: the child belongs to him, to Joe Saul.

V. You really think he'll hold still for that, when

he finds out where it was made: out there, in

the barn when he was drunk — with me,

with me?

M. With you?

I saw his face,

Felt his strong arms around my body.

Joe Saul's, Joe Saul's — not yours!

It was his weight, his force,

His moans, his cries —

His breath, his mouth, his mouth,

His ah!

She relives the act in ecstasy.

The seed was his seed —

Who cares whose juices carried it?

It was not love that spewed it forth!

But it was love — how much love! —

Received this gift

And gave it a bed.

This child is ours — Joe Saul's and mine.
I warn you again: if I could do what I did
then — think, what more I could do!

V. Oh, Mordeen, what more could you do?

Track 11

I see your eyes on him, on him!

Never on me.

Wherever I am, I see you — always,

I see you.

I see you beside me in the fields — and in

the barn.

I see you beside me at night — and I get


I run to get away from you,

Into town.

I grab some chippie,

Stifle her giggles,

Tear off her dress,

And rut with her!

But under her sharp little squeals I hear

your voice.
Behind her chilly, pimpled breasts I feel

your warmth.

M. Oh, now you know some part of what we

have found; I did not think you could.

V. I close my eyes, and I see you.

M. Leave, go away from here, Victor!

Nothing here can ever change.

Go, before it is too late!

V. Oh, no! My place is here, here with you.

And summer comes,

The earth bears fruit,

And you swell below your breasts,

Your breasts.

The sun will burn,

All life will grow,

The child will stir in you,

In you, in you, Mordeen, Mordeen!

M. Hush, hush, Victor.

It is not your child,

I am not yours.

V. The rivers teem,

The meadows swarm,

And I am all alone.

Our child pushes against its soft warm wall,

And I cannot touch it,

Cannot touch you!

M. Don't, Victor! Don't torment yourself!

Oh, Victor, leave us, find a place and build

another life!

V. What other life can there be without you?

M. Go, go! Leave us, leave us!

V. Oh, my God!

How can I leave you?

How will I live?

Mordeen, I love you,

I love you, Mordeen.

How can I live without seeing you,
apart from you?

Mordeen, help me, Mordeen!

He breaks into sobs. He falls on his knees and grasps the bottom of Mordeen's gown.

M. Hush! Hush. Hush, hush, Victor.

She disengages his hands, but does not release them for a moment.

V. remains kneeling.

M. Hush. Hush! Hush, hush.

V. His sobs diminish in intensity.

Track 12

M. releases Victor's hands and puts her right hand on his head.

Hush, hush, enough;

All, all will pass,

Slow, oh, so slow,

But soon, soon enough.

The tree's foliage becomes denser, the light changes to the height of summer.

Day follows day,

Dawn, noon till dusk,

Lulling your longing

To sleep in the cradle of time.

She turns to the window and tries to draw Victor to turn to the world outside.

V. shakes his head and refuses to look out; he remains kneeling, head averted.

The light dims slightly and the colors of the tree turn. It is autumn. The colors gradually fade, the light gets colder. The tree becomes bare, the light turns to the late afternoon of a cold winter day. Frost appears on the tree, the light becomes bleak. It is deep winter, the landscape is frozen. The kitchen is in almost total darkness.

Scene 7

Track 13

It starts to snow, lightly at first.

M. turns from the window; her figure is swollen in the late stage of pregnancy.

They'll be back soon.

She goes to the clothes peg and takes the apron.

Turn the light on, Victor.

She walks heavily across the room and starts to get things ready for the party.

V. rises from his knees and goes to the table. He turns on the lamp, which illuminates an area near the center of the room. The snow becomes denser; it gets dark outside.

Joe Saul, Friend Ed, and Neighbors with their children approach from the distance.

In dulci jubilo,

Now sing and gladness show!

Our delight and wonder

Lies in praesepio,

And like the sun shines yonder

Matris in gremio.

Alpha es et O!

The procession comes into view through the window, crossing from SL in front of the barn on its way to the stoop. Joe Saul is in the lead, carrying packages under both arms. Then come Friend Ed and three Boys, carrying a fir tree; three Men carrying jugs of cider, and the 1st Man with a bag slung over his shoulder containing his fiddle; four Women (one of them assumed to be Friend Ed's wife), and two Boys carrying hampers. Next to the procession walk the six Girls: four of them carrying items for the party, the other two skipping along not quite in step, swinging handbells.

J.S., F.E., Neighbors

O Jesu parvule,

For thee I long alway;

Make my heart be easy, /

Tröst mir mein Gemüte,

O puer optime

And let Thy goodness lead me, /

Durch alle deine Güte.

O princeps gloriae,

Trahe me post te!

M. As the procession approaches, she turns on the outside light over the stoop and opens the door. They stand in a semicircle around the stoop and sing the last two lines as if they were carolers
Mordeen. After they conclude, she applauds them.

J.S. Here's your party, complete with all the


Come on in, everybody!

He strides in, puts the packages down.

Let's get some light in here!

He turns on wall switches. The kitchen and parlor are lit brightly. The snow has thinned out and begins to taper off.

F.E. and Neighbors crowd into the house and greet Mordeen. They put some of the packages down, then take off their coats and hang them on the pegs or put them on the window bench. They take off their shoes and place them against the wall next to the door.

Girls What can I do to help?

Where do you want all this food?


Women Howdee, Mordeen.

You look wonderful.

How you feelin', dear?

Boys Howdee, Mrs. Saul.


Men Howdee, Mordeen.

Great to see you so spry.

Hope this here party won't be a bother to


F.E. Hi, Mordeen.

M. greets the guests.

Hi. I'm feeling just great. Make yourselves at

home. Hang your coats on the rack, or just

put them on the bench over there. Take the

food in the parlor. I'll be right in.

J.S. takes off his coat and hangs it up.

Victor, let some of these fellers help you carry

the tree into the parlor!

V. and 4th and 5th Boy carry tree into parlor.

Girls and Women follow, carrying hampers and packages. They form an informal procession.

O Patris caritas!

O Nati lenitas!

We were all misguided

Per nostra crimina;

But He for us provided

Coelorum gaudia.

May they not be far!

Once in the parlor, the Girls and Women may be seen occasionally passing by the archway; if there is a portière, their shadows will be seen. From time to time bursts of talk — no words distinguishable — and laughter can be heard.

1st Man takes fiddle out of bag.

1st and 2nd Boy move table and two chairs further downstage, SR, to clear a space for dancing.

J.S. takes glasses out of cupboard and puts them on the table.

1st Man picks up a jug standing next to him and takes a swig.

I don't think we need them, Joe Saul.

Nature's way is the best.

J.S., F.E., Boys and Men laugh.

1st Man tunes fiddle, picking at strings.

2nd Man pours a drink into a glass from the second jug, then passes the jug to 3rd Man who pours himself a drink, then passes jug to 2nd Boy who in turn pours a drink for himself. He passes jug to 1st Boy; he takes a drink straight out of the jug, then passes it to 3rd Boy who pours himself a drink in a glass.

M. takes broom from cupboard and starts to clean up snow and tree needles near the door.

J.S. Here now, give me that!

He takes the broom from Mordeen, and in a few brisk strokes sweeps the area.

You shouldn't be doing anything right now

but take it easy.

M. You needn't be afraid —

Pointing at her abdomen.

it isn't going to hurt this one.

She sits down in one of the chairs.

J.S. No, he's a live one, all right — last night he

woke me, kicked up a storm in there.

F.E. joins Joe Saul and Mordeen.

J.S. And then — you can believe this or not — he

shook. It was like silent laughter. I got goose

pimples all over when I felt him actually


1st Man plays bits of tunes, as if warming up.

J.S. I sat up and turned on the light. Mordeen,

you never even woke up.

F.E. I know how that is. And if you want to feel a

real rumpus, have twins sometimes. I think

ours played catch in there. The doctor

didn't by any chance say it was going to be

twins, did he, Mordeen?

1st Man stops to retune.

M. No, it's only one. And it's turned and seems


She looks fixedly at Friend Ed.

I had to make sure, so I had him take an X-

ray picture. And I saw it: it looked like a

church with vaulted roof and one great


1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Girls have drifted into the kitchen.

1st Man plays tune, tentatively at first and stopping once or twice to pick at a string.

Four couples form: 3rd Man and the three Boys in the kitchen and four Girls; they dance, also tentatively, not formally. They are still in their stockinged feet and do not stomp while dancing.

J.S. You saw our child — it was that clear? What

did he look like, what could you see?

M. I saw it all: its head, its little arms and legs

and feet curled up.

J.S. Say, I'd like to see that picture. Do you think

he'd let me see it?

M. Why not? Go and ask him next time you're in


J.S. I'll do that! Maybe he'll let me have it to keep.

Just think, Friend Ed, next Christmas, next

tree we bring in — he'll be sitting under it.

And he'll have his own presents.

F.E. And you'll spoil him from the word `go.'

V., 4th and 5th Boy enter from parlor.

1st Man stops playing. Couples stop dancing.

V. Tree's all set up.

J.S. Thank you, Victor.

M. I'll go in — there's work to be done.

She gets up slowly and awkwardly from chair.

J.S. Don't overdo it — don't lift anything.

M. It's me he's spoiling, Friend Ed.

J.S. takes her face between his hands and looks into her eyes, holding her chin tilted up at him.

Look, only look, Friend Ed. Isn't she beautiful? His lips tremble and he looks away.

M. moves heavily across the room to the archway.

1st Man plays a few introductory phrases for the dance.

Track 14

M. Dance a few sets and work up an appetite!

She goes into the parlor.

V. looks after Mordeen.

1st Girl takes off her stockings so that she is barefoot. The couples get into position, then dance when the fiddler begins his tune.

J.S. and F.E. sit down at the table. During the following conversation Friend Ed keeps Victor under observation with quick glances.

J.S. It's strange, Friend Ed. Of course, you know

the baby's there — of course, it's there — but

it's still a mystery. I suppose you don't quite

believe it until it's actually born. But she has

seen it, really seen the head and spine, arms

and legs. That's different! That's a very

different thing. It's not just an idea any more,

or a wish, or a prayer. It's a reality!

He raises jug, offering to pour a drink for Friend Ed; when he refuses — with a shake of his head and a polite gesture — he pours a glassful for himself and downs it.

F.E. You've got your own way of putting things.

J.S. Oh, I'll have to see that picture! I'll have to

see it. I'll go tomorrow. Remember, I said

next year he'll have a present of his own? But

he's real already, right now — that picture

means he exists. I can see him. Suppose I

could give him a present now?

F.E. You always go too far, Joe Saul. Besides, don't

you think it might be a little difficult to

present it to him?

1st Girl, while dancing with 3rd Man, flirts with Victor who is standing aside, dividing his attention between the conversation of Joe Saul and Friend Ed and the activity in the parlor. She tries to draw him into the dance.

J.S. Well, I can give him one gift — the certainty that he comes from good stock. You say I go too far — I do, sometimes I forget myself,

like hitting Victor that time.

He lifts jug, looks at Friend Ed who refuses again with a shake of his head, then pours a drink for himself and sips it.

Let the doctor tell me it's just my flaming

temper, not something to worry about.

F.E. What are you talking about?

J.S. continuing to sip his drink.

I want to give him the proof. That's what I

mean — a certification of some sort. I'll have

me a complete physical. Then I can say to my

child: `That's what your father gives you —

strength and health.' That would not be such

a bad present, don't you think, Friend Ed?

F.E. Now I really think you're crazy. This is a stupid

thing to do. Don't do it.

J.S. Why not? I can give him a paper, all signed,

maybe rolled up and tied with a ribbon. I

could hang it on the tree for him. His first

present and his best.

F.E. Stop talking such rot! The doctor might think

you're crazy, the way I do! And he might put

that in your paper.

While couples switch partners, 1st Girl grabs Victor, swinging him into the dance. 3rd Man stands aside, watching the dance.

J.S. finishes sipping his drink. He pours drinks into both glasses without waiting for Friend Ed's assent.

Here, come on, you have a drink too.

He hands glass to Friend Ed.

F.E. accepts glass reluctantly.

J.S. Don't tell Mordeen. I'll do it as a surprise, a

joke — but not really a joke. I've never had a

thorough check-up. This will please her,

Friend Ed; don't tell her. Let's drink on it!

F.E. Oh, you Goddamned fool — you don't know

how nutty you sound. I think you really are a

bit teched.

He puts down the drink untasted and gets up from the table.

Drink by yourself, Joe Saul. Think I'll join the

boys for a while.

He goes to join the fiddler, takes the harmonica out of his pocket and plays along.

The dancers begin to stomp their feet; the bystanders start clapping.

J.S. shouts after Friend Ed.

I think it's the sanest thing I've ever done!

And I'll drink to that!

He stands up and lifts his glass.

The sanest thing I've ever done!

Life, life — here's to life for my son, my son!

Exulting, slightly tipsy.


I sing to that Power, that Power

That bids us to sow,

That hallows each hour

We plant a seed to grow.

He is about to drink when he hears Mordeen's voice from the parlor. He pauses, then drinks and puts the glass on the table. He continues, more sober and serious.

To nourish and tend it

With main I shall strive,

To shield and defend it,

I, giver of its life.

He raises both arms.

Life, life!

The tempo of the dance has become more and more animated. At a certain point, 2nd Man has pulled a pennywhistle out of his pocket and joins in the playing, while one Boy has produced a pair of bones and the other a washboard, and they both play along. In the parlor, Mordeen and the Women sing, accompanied by one of them playing on the piano and the two Girls swinging their handbells.

M. and Women in parlor.

Ubi sunt gaudia?

Nowhere, near and far,

But with the angels singing

Nova cantica,

And where the bells are ringing:

In Regis curia.

May it not be far!

Victor is caught up in the now almost violent dance, seemingly against his will; he is literally and figuratively in the middle between Joe Saul, expressing his exaltation, and Mordeen heard from the parlor.

The curtain falls rapidly while all actions are in progress.

CD 3: Track 1

Act III: The Ship

The entire width of the stage represents the interior of a cabin on a freighter. The cabin is old and comfortable, its walls paneled in dark wood well oiled and rubbed for many years; the brass brightwork shines.

SR stands a mess table with a retaining ridge, with two swivel chairs behind it, bolted to the floor. On the wall behind hang trophies, including knives, spears, machetes, a large Fiji war club, some witch masks, a shrunken head, and a Hawaiian tripping weapon (small club attached to a rope). Against the SL wall stands a small Christmas tree decorated with tinsel and silver and red glass balls. Near it, toward the front of the stage, stands an armchair.

In the rear wall, SR, is a large door which leads to the bridge; it stands open. Next to it — in the exact center of the wall — is a large round porthole. The ceiling of the cabin is well below the top of the proscenium, allowing a view of the outside. The ship is moored to a dock in the Hudson River across from lower Manhattan. When the weather is clear, the buildings are visible through the door and porthole, as well as above the roof of the cabin reaching to the top of the proscenium.

It is a few days after Christmas in late afternoon. It is foggy outside and, as it gets darker, the city's lights faintly illuminate the fog. Fog horns, ship's whistles, and bell buoys sound intermittently; occasionally the traffic in the city is heard from the distance.

Scene 1

Mordeen sits in the armchair, dozing. Her hair is disheveled, hanging around her head in strands. She is dressed in a raincoat, as if ready to go out. On the floor beside the chair stands a small suitcase. She moves restlessly, as if disturbed by a dream. Her words have no accent.

Joe Saul. Joe Saul. Oh!

She wakes up. At first, she is still benumbed by sleep.

Where is he? Where are you, Joe Saul?

More alert.

It's almost time.

Scene 2

Victor appears in the door. He wears a blue mate's uniform and carries his cap in his hand. He watches Mordeen.

M. It is time, Joe Saul.

Fully awake.

It is time, it is time.

She shudders as a fog horn sounds very close.

Where are you, Joe Saul?

Track 2

V. with a slight Cockney accent.

He is not here.

M. Oh! Where did he go?

V. He went ashore. He told me to stand by in

case you need anything.

M. I need him. Victor — the time is close.

I've had the first pains. I want Joe Saul here

with me.

With urgency.

I want him, here.

It's time, it is time. Look for him, Victor! It is


V. Yes, it is time.

He steps into the cabin; the door remains open.

M. Go, go — look for him!

It is close, close! It will be soon, very soon.


V. Mordeen! Pull yourself together!

You're coming with me.

M. With you?

V. Yes, with me. That's where you belong. That's

where our child belongs. Take your things!

Let's go!

M. Mr. Victor! What right do you have to give

orders here?

V. You know what rights I have…

M. If Joe Saul were here, he'd have you off this

ship this instant. Go to your cabin!

V. Oh, Mordeen, you cannot order me away.

I could not leave before — how can I now?

Come on, let's go! I have a place, to care for

you and the child. Come on!

M. There is nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing

you can say or do, will make me go!

V. Nothing? What if I tell him — tell Joe Saul?

He'll throw you out — but he may hurt you,

and he may hurt the child.

M. Victor, I warn you!

V. What would you do? Kill me? Say it!

A Jonah to throw to the sharks!

Track 3

With mock exasperation.

Us seamen bold who plough the ocean

See dangers landsmen never know,

There's blust'rous winds and heat of battle,

No tongue can tell what we undergo.

M. hums along, the sound turning into a moan.

V. Serious.

There was a ship on the great dark water,

Long had it sailed on the barren seas,

Until a gale and contrary currents

Brought her to this extremity.

When hope was gone and their stores


And fog, dense fog, concealed the sky,

Poor fellows, with their minds a-totter,

They did cast lots as to who should die.

The lot it fell…

Why didn't you kill me before, when you had

the chance?

At night, on deck,

When I was hoping you might come.

He points to the trophies on the wall.

A blow from one of these romantic toys,

A crunch, a moan, a little splash…

M. I've thought of it — but not…but not any more.

V. What has changed?

M. I changed, the child has changed me, the


V. Oh, Mordeen, then I am part of you — can

you not love me?

M. No! That has not changed!

V. All right! Then without your love. Maybe in

time that will change.

He goes to her and makes a motion as if to pull her out of her seat.

But now, come, let's go!

M. fends him off.

No, no! Listen, Victor! Wait, oh wait!

V. stops.

M. Remember, oh Victor remember the song,

how the song goes on:

…He begged for time till the night was


And he kept watch till the break of day.

A full dress ship like the sun a-glitt'ring

Came bearing down to their relief.

As soon as this glad news was shouted

It banished all their care and…

Oh, Victor, give me time! Give us that time!

I'll tell Joe Saul — you and I…we together…

V. Time is my enemy. No more words! No more

songs! You must come with me — now,

before it is too late!

He attempts to pull her out of the chair.

M. resists.

No! No! The child, the child…the child will

get hurt! Oh! Oh!

V. You must come with me! I don't care who

gets hurt!

Scene 3

Track 4

Friend Ed steps into the door. He is a sea captain, in full uniform. His face is framed with a white beard in the fashion associated with seamen. He carries an unlit pipe in his hand. His words have a slight Swedish intonation.

No one need get hurt.

V. releases Mordeen, turns, and sees Friend Ed.

You! What the hell do you want?

M. remains tense, her hands gripping the arms of the chair.

F.E. I want to help.

V. Shove off!

F.E. steps leisurely into the cabin.

Mr. Victor, I know the situation here.

M. Oh!

She relaxes.

F.E. I offer…

V. Shove off, I tell y'!

F.E. No, let me have my say! There is a way, …

V. Figs!

F.E. …believe me: Join my ship — I offer you a


V. emphasizing his Cockney accent.

Ha! A birf? 'At's a bloomin' riot, dat 'ere is!

F.E. I am quite serious, sir, I assure you.

I know you're good, and I appreciate that.

You come with me. I'd value your
acceptance, sir — I do have need of you.

V. You do have need of me, …



To you, to all of you — what am I but a tool?

Oh, yes, a real useful tool.

M. Oh, Victor, Victor — trust him, trust him!

Go with him!

V. No! Now I'm not going anywhere!

F.E. You cannot win, man. You'll destroy three lives.

M. Believe him! Go with him! He is a friend!

V. Here we stay, and here we'll have it out.

F.E. I urge you, I implore you:

Leave, and set your course clear of here.

V. Oh, listen how that wind keeps blowin'!

Track 5

You stand, sir, and watch, sir, but always

wait, sir;

Consider and counsel — and then

step back.

You cluck, sir, you preach, sir, but never

act, sir;

Well, damn you, sir “friend” — now

it's too late!

F.E. lights his pipe with deliberation.

There is some truth in your words, I can't

deny it. But in one thing you are not correct: I

would have asked you before, but Joe Saul is

my friend. We do not steal each other's crew.

V. You don't say!

F.E. I do say. Now things are diff'rent, so I can

speak. Join my crew — I need you.

V. It's no use.

M. Leave now, Victor!

F.E. Leave while there's time!

V. I cannot leave!

F.E. Let her be!

V. No!

F.E. Let go!

M. Oh, Victor, don't destroy us! Don't stay!

F.E. Come, man, join my ship!

V. Here we stay, and wait for the storm, and face

the master of this ship!

Scene 4

Track 6

Joe Saul enters without looking at the others. He is in full captain's uniform, but carries his cap in his hand. His words have a slight Hawaiian intonation.

And, right on cue, here he is.

He goes to the table, puts his cap on it and sits in one of the swivel chairs.

F.E. 'Been looking for you. I have my sailing

orders. I sail at midnight.

I came to say good-bye.

J.S. without looking at Friend Ed, waves his hand negligently.

Good-bye, Friend Ed.

He starts to rock slightly from side to side in his chair.

Don't let the sharks get y'!

F.E. Are you OK, Joe Saul?

J.S. nods his head.


F.E. Have you been drinking?

J.S. Drinking? Nah.

M. Joe Saul…

J.S. Joe Saul has not been drinking! Nooo!

F.E. What the hell is the matter with you?

J.S. The matter, oh, the matter.


Joe Saul is a sick man. That's what he is —

plenny sick.

F.E. So you went to…

J.S. Straight and with less accent.

…he went. Yes, he went. All by himself, he

went — nobody made him.

No accent.

Goddammit, no one made me go!

F.E. And he told you?

J.S. Yup, he tol' me. It's my ticker.

F.E. Oh?

J.S. Strongly Hawaiian.

Yah! I'm supposed to take it easy.

F.E. Well — it could be worse. Might not be bad

to take it easy for a while. It's not as if you

didn't have a good second to rely on.

J.S. Oh, sure, sure — the capable Mr. Victor.

Mr. Victor has read all the books — well, now

he can…

V. I won't be here — we won't be…

J.S. Looking at Victor.

Of course, you won't be here! This boat not

big enough for you. What next? Skipper a

cruise ship with idle tourists chirping aroun'

you? And once in a while — ah, yes! — show

yourself on the bridge. That impresses the

ladies. 'At's your specialty, ain't it? You have

yer way with them, don't you?

F.E. Whatever's bugging you — don't take it out

on him!

J.S. Or maybe you'll run one of them big, big

tankers — all radar and Loran and God knows

what! All automatic — look, Ma, no hands!

F.E.. That's not very funny, Joe Saul. Things have

changed, you know that.

J.S. Without looking at Friend Ed.

Yes. They sure have changed. But when the

systems fail, you're thrown back on yourself —

your own self. Then you must see without

looking, and hear silent sounds.

Track 7

The smell and feel of things: That goes back a

long, long ways.

He stands up and looks into the distance.

I trust the blood of sea kings

that flows in my veins.

In burned-out logs we pushed out to sea,

Seized the current, battled the waves.

We were the strongest, we were the fittest

Testing the gods, testing ourselves.

F.E. Oh, Joe Saul — you going native again?

J.S. With rush sails strung to cross-tied sticks,

On huge canoes, lashed with the sacred


We sought the way, a way to break

through the hanging skies,

To find the light, the light — a light to

banish the dark.

M. I know your sorrow, oh, I know.

F.E. Joe Saul, bring out your grief, bring that into

the light!

J.S. From the drift of weeds and shifting winds,

From whispering fish in the shimmering

night —

And from the stars —

We charted a course on the vast water,

And then raised the fertile isles from

their ancient sleep…

M. begins to moan, rocking back and forth holding her abdomen.

V. He's close to the edge this time.

How can I get her away from him?

F.E. No good can come from harping on the past.

Enough, enough! Come on, wake up, Joe Saul!

J.S. And then went back again and again,

And again and again…

V. The child, the child — how can this child now

be mine?

F.E. Dreams, dreams, what good…

The huge blast of an ocean steamer's horn blots out their words. Almost immediately, the immense ship passes by in the fog, SL to SR.

Track 8

F.E. Seattle to Long Beach,

Port Arthur to Bayonne;

Two months at sea, two months ashore,

Year in, year out, again and again, and again.

Must you have sea kings in your past to travel

in this well-marked narrow channel?

You're putting out an inky cloud to hide

yourself. I have no time to let you drift in all

that scum until the truth hits you head on.

I leave tonight. I want to help you, if you'll let

me. So drop your lie!

J.S. What lie?

F.E. You know what lie! It's not your heart.

Say what is wrong with you! Face it, Joe Saul!

J.S. I told him I'd see another man, if he wouldn't

show me. I was crazy with power and joy. I

made him show me. The slide — blinding

light — a porthole into myself. They came

into focus — shrunken, crooked — my seed.

Dead, dead — all dead.

He braces both arms on the table and looks straight up.


F.E. If you were only wise enough to see the truth…

J.S. looks at Friend Ed for the first time.

The truth, Friend Ed? The truth is that I'm

finished. A little while, and I'll be gone. My

line, my blood — extinct!

Track 9

F.E. Oh, bosh! Your line, your blood — is that

alone what makes you tick? You're in a fog —

blind. Blind with pride, blind with hurt.

Don't you see where it's taking you? You're

heading for the rocks! Get a grip on yourself!

J.S. Spare me your lash, Friend Ed. You want the

truth? The truth is that the child ain't mine —

it can't be. I am nothin' but a carica…

His hands begin the spasmodic motion he made

at the beginning of Act I.

…a caricature of a man.

But whose child it is — oh, that I know. Oh,


F.E. Come on, control yourself!

J.S. Somewhere on this ship…they met,

they…ahhh! He…he…and she…

He makes a violent turn toward Mordeen.

M. Moan, quickly suppressed.

Joe Saul!

V. goes to her.


He touches her shoulder.

J.S. Keep your hands off of her!

He leaps to the wall and grabs the war club with his left hand.

You'll never touch 'er again!

He raises the club and takes two slow steps toward Victor.

V. turns from Mordeen, takes a few rapid steps toward Joe Saul and tenses to defend himself.

F.E. Joe Saul, cut out the clowning!

J.S. lowers the club and turns to the wall as if to put it back.

V. relaxes.

M. Soft moaning which she tries to suppress.

F.E. goes to Mordeen.

J.S. snatches the tripping weapon off the wall with his right hand and throws it at Victor's feet.

V. topples to the floor.


F.E. Stop!

J.S. raises the club and advances for the kill.

No more kids fer yuh!

M. stands up; with ferocious intensity:

The child is your child, Joe Saul,
it is your child!

J.S stops, then lowers the club.

M. Leave him alone — he's but a tool.

We needed him, he served. That's all!

She carefully lowers herself back into the chair; she breathes heavily.

The fog lifts gradually and the windows in the buildings across the river appear as a galaxy of lights.

V. stands up.

F.E. takes the weapon from Joe Saul and leads him to his chair.

J.S. puts his elbows on the table, hiding his face in his hands.

Track 10

V. You would have killed.

Your bloody instincts —

That noble past: a deadly modern lie.

He moves closer to the center of the stage.

Kill! Kill! A sacrifice perhaps? Another present

for the child?

Your eyes that do not need to look,

Your ears that need not listen,

How good are they?

What use are they?

That ancient, savage blood that steers

your course,

Can you trust that?

He gestures to include the world outside.

Can we trust that?

Will you not see — what sun burns

brighter than her love?

Could you not hear her voice before the


Do you not feel the tide that flows outside

your own self,

that floods and surges and demands that

we obey its will?

He turns to Mordeen.

No man can stand against this tide — and I

accept my lot.

He steps to the table.

And you, O Joe Saul:

A gift beyond price — without sin,

without stain —

Will be yours;

A victory won without force — or

defeat —

Will be yours;

Her love, oh, her fierce unbounded


Rules us all;

The life to be born — to be raised —

to live on —

Rules us all:

Nurture it, cherish it,

It is yours, it is yours.

He goes to Mordeen.

I bow to you. I obey.

He touches her shoulder.

That is my gift to the child.

He turns to Friend Ed.

I accept your offer, sir.

F.E. goes to Joe Saul and gently takes his hands from his face.

Now it is your turn to accept.

He puts the cap on Joe Saul's head.

Be a man, Joe Saul.

He extends his hand.

I'm leaving — bid me Godspeed!

J.S. stands up and reluctantly takes Friend Ed's hand.

F.E. My friend, Joe Saul —

Fair winds and a following sea!

He turns to Mordeen.

Farewell, Mordeen, and may all angels guard


Friend Ed and Victor leave quickly, closing the door behind them.

M. Ahh!

Her labor starts. She assumes a position on the floor leaning against the seat, knees raised and thighs spread.

Help me, Joe Saul! Help me bear our child!

J.S. hurries to her and kneels to assist her at the birth.

M. Ahh!

Scene 5

Track 11

On Mordeen's second outcry, the stage becomes a succession of abstract images that suggest impressions of both a birth and the launching of a space craft. The one fixed element is the circle of the porthole in the rear wall which gradually increases in size. At the end of this sequence, the images evolve into the set of Scene 6.

Scene 6

Track 12

A bright room is dominated by a huge circular window, center rear, which gives a view of black space with stars: an expansion of the porthole and the city lights. Smooth white walls curve away from the window toward the front of the stage. A stylized seat stands halfway SL, in the position where the armchair stood in Scene 4. To its right, a short distance away and slightly forward, stands a low stylized crib.

Mordeen sits in the seat, leaning back relaxed. She wears a pale green gown-like garment. Her hair hangs loose but orderly. Her eyes are closed.

Joe Saul stands to Mordeen's right, slightly behind her. He wears a simple off-white gown-like garment.

M. Without opening her eyes.

No, no, not changed!

She remembers the violence.


…dead — all dead.

J.S. He puts his hands on her shoulders.

No, Mordeen. Alive.

M. The child…the child?

J.S. The child is well, and strong.

It is sleeping, tired from its journey.

He takes a step toward the crib and looks into it.

Not very pretty — yet. Its face…

M. With anxiety.

Its face?

J.S. Just a face, a little pumpkin face.

Its mouth…

M. Whose mouth?

J.S. Its mouth is like your own sweet mouth.

Its soft hair…

M. …its hair?

J.S. Its eyes, its nerves, its blood,

I thought all these were my gift.

M. She opens her eyes.


J.S. bends down and puts his arms around her shoulders.

I could not give until I received.

In wonder, he recalls the delivery.

Its head appeared, then the shoulders;

I turned it and took it —

A tiny mannikin, so stiff, so still;

I touched it,

And then it moved and cried…

M. Ah.

J.S. And closed its hand around my finger.

Track 13

J.S. He stands upright.

We guard a link of the eternal web

Whose filaments reach from star to star.

M. recognizes his acceptance; she laughs softly.

J.S. kneels down on one knee at the cradle and looks into it.

Silently, ceaselessly all nature stirs in thee,

Patiently, timelessly weaves its design;

Lovingly, longingly all those who are and

who were thy kin on earth

Call to me, comfort me:

This child is theirs,

This child is mine.

He lifts the child out of the crib and hands it to Mordeen.

M. Oh, my baby.

J.S. A baby, at last — our child, Mordeen.

M. Yes, Joe Saul, our child.

The walls become transparent and merge with the view through the window, so that the couple and their child seem to be on a promontory in space.

J.S. I will nurture it, cherish it.

Both Love gave it life,

We give it love.

The background dims; light remains on the human figures for a moment, and then fades out so that the stage is in total darkness. The curtain remains raised until after curtain calls.


The Artists

Sherry Overholt, Soprano (Mordeen)

Sherry Overholt's credits include performances with the Glimmerglass, Kentucky, Sarasota, Virginia, Toledo, Augusta, Memphis, and Indianapolis opera companies in various roles including Violetta, Gilda, Zerlina, Marzelline, and Musetta. Ms. Overholt has toured as solo operatic recitalist with the Columbia Artists Community Concerts Series and she has been a soloist with the Baltimore Symphony, the Philadelphia Virtuosi, and the Portland Symphony. Ms. Overholt is a graduate of the University of Miami, and holds an M.A., a Master of Musical Arts, and a Doctorate in Voice Performance from Yale University. She created the role of Mordeen in the 1993 premiere of Burning Bright.

Rinde Eckert, Tenor (Victor)

Rinde Eckert, in addition to being a singer, is also known as a writer, director, actor, composer, and movement artist. Mr. Eckert's staged works and collaborations have toured throughout the United States and abroad. In performance, he combines a flexible and colorful singing voice with a dynamic physical presence. He has garnered critical acclaim in the New York press for theatrical runs of his And God Created Great Whales and An Idiot Divine, as well as his one-man opera Ravenshead, with music by Steven Mackey.

Mr. Eckert is a graduate of the University of Iowa and received his Master of Music from Yale University. The character of Victor was written with Mr. Eckert in mind, and he created the role in the 1993 premiere.

Lee Velta, Baritone (Joe Saul)

Lee Velta has sung dozens of roles with opera companies including San Francisco, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Santa Fe, Opera Pacific, Florentine Opera, and Wolf Trap. His repertoire includes Marcello, Enrico, Renato, Don Giovanni, Figaro, Ford, Dr. Falke, Valentin, and the Count. In addition, he has given a series of nationwide concert performances with Columbia Artists Community Concerts. Mr. Velta studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz, Austria, and the Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Program.

Scott Altman, Bass-Baritone (Friend Ed)

Among the roles that Scott Altman has sung are Leporello, Sparafucile, Superintendent Budd in Albert Herring, and Falstaff in Die Lustigen Weiber von Windsor. He has appeared with the Arizona Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Austin Lyric Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, and Opera Festival of New Jersey, among others. His concert performances have included solo parts in Handel's Messiah and the Mozart Requiem.

Rossen Milanov (Conductor)

Rossen Milanov is the Assistant Conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and serves as Music Director of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, the New Symphony Orchestra in his native city of Sofia, Bulgaria, and the Haddonfield (New Jersey) Symphony. Maestro Milanov received his education at The Juilliard School, The Curtis Institute of Music, Duquesne University, and the Bulgarian National Academy of Music. His primary teachers were Otto-Werner Mueller, Robin Fountain, and Vassil Kazandjiev.

Frank Lewin (Composer)

Frank Lewin, who was born in Breslau, Germany, in 1925, immigrated to the United States in 1940. He studied composition with Felix Deyo, Jack Frederick Kilpatrick, Hans David, and Roy Harris before attending the Yale University School of Music, where his teachers were Richard Donovan and Paul Hindemith. His concert compositions include song cycles on poems by Thomas Nashe, William Blake, Edwin Arlington Robinson, and Ogden Nash, as well as choral music and instrumental concertos. In 1965 he conducted his cantata Music for the White House in the East Room during a state occasion. In 1969 his Mass for the Dead was given its first performance during a memorial service for Robert F. Kennedy in the Chapel of Princeton University.

Mr. Lewin has composed songs and incidental music for a variety of plays ranging from Shakespeare to Tennessee Williams, and has written scores for seven historical outdoor dramas, for which he also designed the quadraphonic playback systems. In addition, he has written original scores for almost 200 films, including 130 hour-long episodes in the television series “The Defenders” and “The Nurses.”

The composer was on the faculty of the Yale School of Music from 1971 to 1992, teaching composition for film. During this period he also taught the course Music in Modern Media at the Columbia University School of the Arts. He has been active as an editor and engineer of recorded music, and is the author of
several technical articles on motion picture music and recorded sound.

Booklet design:Bates Miyamoto Design

Front cover:Electron microscope photograph

by Dennis Kunkel

COMMENTS on Burning Bright

I was so tremendously moved…it's a wonderful work.

Teresa Stratas

Burning Bright is destined to become a repertory standard.

Lili Chookasian

Yale University, November 1993

The work has narrative sweep and passion, in a tonal idiom with plenty of harmonic richness and color. Words are expertly set, and the timeless story is effectively told.

Gilbert H. Mott, Opera News

For the past 40 years Lewin has pursued a career writing film, television, and theatre scores in addition to a substantial amount of concert music. The dramatic effectiveness of his opera score and good sense of theatre is not therefore unexpected.

Stewart Manville, Opera

It is a tribute to Lewin's understanding of the dramatic function of music and his skills as a composer that he was able to produce a three-and-a-half-hour piece that held the audience's attention.

George W. Loomis, American Record Guide

Passages of arioso-like, declamatory, and folk-song character blend seamlessly. And Lewin's music is grateful for the voices.

Kurt Oppens, Opernwelt

Opera Festival of New Jersey, July 2000

Lewin displays a gift for crafting big melodic lines. The Act II quartet, in particular, soars radiantly.

Robert Baxter, Opera News

…imbued with a smooth lyrical flavor and a crispness and angularity of musical thought…His score is neither terse nor difficult. Some of the most effective writing is in the arias…

Willa J. Conrad, The Star Ledger (Newark, NJ)

…delivers one astonishing stroke of vivid, descriptive musical characterization after another…

David Patrick Stearns, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Burning Bright proved to be a work of enormous power…Lewin's music underscores and heightens the drama most effectively. It is music in a contemporary vein yet it is accessible to the most traditional ears…protagonist Joe Saul has an all-too-brief duet with his wife, Mordeen, that Mozart would have been proud to call his own… The audience… responded enthusiastically, and gave a special ovation to Lewin, who was present.

Donald P. Delany, The Times (Trenton)

CHALLENGING `BURNING BRIGHT' A MASTERFUL ADDITION TO OPERA…shows Lewin has a gift for writing vocal lines that reveal the emotions of his characters…a Wagnerian score of considerable complexity…

Robert Baxter, Courier Post (Cherry Hill, NJ)

…the unifying motifs, the myriad of complex but smooth-sounding rhythmic patterns, and the profoundly lyrical moments…show us a master
composer who pays tribute to the past while making deeply personal and new music…

Linda Tyler, Town Topics (Princeton, NJ)

Burning Bright

Opera in Three Acts by Frank Lewin

Based on the Novel and Play by John Steinbeck

Mordeen Sherry Overholt, Soprano

Victor Rinde Eckert, Tenor

Joe Saul Lee Velta, Baritone

Friend Ed Scott Altman, Bass-Baritone

New Symphony Orchestra of Sofia, conducted by Rossen Milanov

Act I Circus Music conducted by Otto-Werner Mueller

Act II, Scene 7 — Neighbors: Westminster Choir College

Fiddler:Johnny Cunningham

Recording produced and directed by the composer

Production Assistant: Russell G. Collins

Mixing: James Moses, Alexander Lewis

Production Associate:Miriam Lewin

Publisher: Notevole Music Publishing, Inc. (BMI)