Compared to What?
Set in Oakland, California, in 1926, this play shows two porters caught between the need to form a union and the danger of belonging to one.
Judith Offer nailed it! We care about the characters, and experience the real—not romanticized-life of the Pullman porters…Fabulous cast, brilliant playwright.” Helaine Kaplan-Prentice
“Since I have taught African American History the last eight years, your play was doubly interesting to me…about little-remembered African-American Pullman Sleeping Car Porters and the organizing for the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in West Oakland circa 1927, it was compelling; the acting was engrossing and spirited; and the history told was extremely important.” George Wright
|WILLIE JOE JOHNSON||17-year-old from Texas|
|MARY HEANY||Boarding house owner, mid 30s Irish|
|VIRGIL STROTHER||Pullman Porter, early 50s|
|SEAMUS GIBSON||Pullman Porter, 40ish|
|HETTY TOOKER||Wife of pharmacist; club woman; 40s|
|ARCHIBALD SNODDY||Superintendent of Porters, Oakland, CA|
|FIFTH BUSINESS||One actor, male or female, to play Pullman passengers and associates of Snoddy|
The parlor/dining room of Mary Heany’s boarding house at 1317 Willow Street, near the train station in West Oakland, in 1926. A full set, as realistic as possible.
An Inter-scene/Pre-scene area, with a pull-down porter’s seat, a counter, and variable lighting. Using minimal staging, it can be at any convenient place in the theatre.
In this short scene, one of the porters (the male lead) goes to the office at the Main Station to get the official assignment which he understands has been promised to him. Archibald Snoddy is the local Supervisor of Porters; the job is always held by White men, while porters are always Black.
[Snoddy is standing at the counter in Pullman’s Routing Office, a small, battered place on the edge of the rail yard—not inside the station. He is writing something. Seamus stands waiting, looking stiff and angry. He shifts and clears his throat.]
|SNODDY:||I see you. I’ll be with you when I’m done. If I leave these things till the end of the day, I make mistakes. Of course you boys know nothing about paperwork.|
|SNODDY:||I see you. I’ll be with you when I’m done. If I leave these things till the end of the day, I make mistakes. Of course you boys know nothing about paperwork.
[Puts down his pen.] Oh never mind; it’s too hard to concentrate with someone standing there.
I gave Virgil’s Overland to Henry Thomas. He needed to get to Chicago he said.
|SEAMUS:||I need to get to Chicago same as him.|
|SNODDY:||I’m not a complete idiot, you know. The Brotherhood central office is in Chicago. You and Virgil been going back and forth, carrying “newspapers”.|
|SEAMUS:||You ain’t send me to Chicago for over three weeks, so how could I be bringing something from there?|
|SNODDY:||And you stay with that Mary Heany—with that colored woman, Hetty, in and out of her house, running all over town organizing. We know what’s going on, Seamus. We have our loyal people.|
|SEAMUS:||I told you; I got an automobile I like to drive. I don’t have nothing to do with the Brotherhood.|
|SNODDY:||Automobile. You know, Seamus, you think you’re such a smart nigger, but you’re riding for a big crash. One of these days, one of our spotters will trip you up, and you’ll be out on your ear so fast you’ll have to pay your own way home from Wichita or who knows where. And you won’t be riding Pullman, either.|
|SEAMUS:||All I want is to get me back to Chi-town. Sir.|
|SNODDY:||Can’t get you to Chicago right now. I have a North Coast Flier leaving Monday morning.|
|SEAMUS:||Another one-nighter? You know they’s no tips on one night jobs.|
|SNODDY:||Unfortunately that’s all I have right now. Take it or leave it.
[Seamus grabs the form and signs without comment. He goes out.]
End of InterScene
As an old Civil Rights “warrior” of the 1960’s, I was so gratified to be able to write this play and to see it come alive. In my opinion, slavery and the ensuing difficulties in integrating the African American people into the rest of the population have been the number one challenge to our democracy, and I was glad to be able to make a contribution to the understanding of the history of that challenge. If you are from a theatre company and find that a worthy objective, please give COMPARED TO WHAT? your consideration!
It was also fun to do an Oakland “railroad play”. Oakland was the first “end of the line” in California, and at one time was the intersection of all the major lines in the West. I love train travel myself, so having the excuse to learn more about it was great. Both productions had train aficionados come to see what they could learn about American trains from our play.