Thornbury by Stephen Graff


This Play is the copyright of the Author and must NOT be Performed without the Author's PRIOR consent


Early 1950s.

A single spotlight comes up on a point just off center stage.

An older man is sitting in a chair, sweating, his eyes closed. A
woman crouches beside him, holding his hand. A FIGURE stands on the
other side watching, not understanding what is happening.

MR. LANG: Tell him it's okay. Go ahead…

MRS. LANG: But it's not, John.

MR. LANG: Tell him I'm not dying.

MRS. LANG: But you are…

MR. LANG: Tell him they didn't poison me…

MRS. LANG: But they…

MR. LANG: He'll believe you…

Music for THE WORLD, MY SON comes up.


The world, my son, is such a place
you must step into the dark and out of grace.
and they'll take you apart and make you play…
the world, my son, is set up this way.

MR. LANG: Don't tell him that…

MRS. LANG: It's true.


The world, my son, is filled with promise
and you are going to grab hold the ring
you'll not make the mistakes that we have made
don't flinch or falter.or be afraid.

MR. LANG grimaces in pain.

BOY (Off): Are you dying. Father?

MR. LANG: It doesn't matter. Nothing matters for me. It's your

BOY (Off): Is he dying?

MR. LANG: Don't tell him I am.

MRS. LANG: Yes. He's dying. Remember this. He chose the life. He
chose politics. And now, look at him. This is what politics does to
the man who has no.

MR. LANG: Gravitas…gravitas…

With that, he slouches in his chair. MRS. LANG has lost all emotion.
She sits him back in the chair and closes his eyelids as a BOY rushes
toward him.

MRS. LANG: Remember this if you ever think of…doing what he has

The world, my son, will blackmail fools like you
blank slates gone and innocence no more.
If you see them beckoning at the door
childdon't go through.don't go through

THORN, in 1950s suit and fedora, appears at the edge of the stage.
FLINCH, also dressed in suit and hat, waits near the wings, hands in

THORN: He's dead?

FLINCH: As far as I know. That's what they told me down at the

THORN: And the money?

FLINCH: It's coming tonight…on the back of a truck…

THORN: Who else didn't…

FLINCH: Didn't play? We have a list.

THORN: I want them all…

FLINCH: I know…

THORN: Dead…

FLINCH: Don't have to say it, sir. We know.

THORN: And the money…in a suitcase. We like twenties and fifties…

FLINCH: Hundred dollar bills…

THORN: No. We can't move hundreds around. Not in this county…

Lights go down.



Real estate office. AGENT is sitting at his desk. MR.and MRS. LANG
are sitting in front of him. She is holding an infant.

AGENT: This is a great town to raise a family. I raised my family
here. Two sons grew up here. Went to
college and came back here. Set up businesses.

MRS. LANG: That's what we heard. We heard what a great town…

AGENT: Lots of houses for sale. There's always houses for sale.

MR. LANG: We noticed that…driving through. Why is that?

AGENT leans in and speaks softly so no one will hear.

AGENT: Take a look at the newspaper, sir.

MR. LANG: Come again?

AGENT: The newspaper. My sons grew up here…went to college and came

MR. LANG: Yes. I know. You said that.

AGENT: But don't ask questions. If you settle down here, that is.
Don't go around asking questions.

MRS. LANG: And why is that?

AGENT: Because they'll come for you.


MR. LANG: It's okay. Let it go.

AGENT: My sons did everything by the book. Whatever the book said,
they followed it.

MRS. LANG: What happened to them?

MR. LANG: Mary. You heard the man. Don't ask…

AGENT: He had them killed.


AGENT: I can't say his name. If I do…then I'm a dead man.

MRS. LANG: Why did he…

AGENT: It's a great town, but you have to be careful to follow the
book. Do what the book says.

MRS. LANG: What did your sons…

AGENT: They decided to set up their businesses the traditional way.
Sell product. Bring in new customers by being honest, make a profit
and keep the profit.

MR. LANG: Perfectly reasonable. Can we see some houses?

MRS. LANG: Why were they…

AGENT: I learned to accept it, ma'am…what happened to….

MRS. LANG: Accept it? How can you?

MR. LANG: I told you…let it go.

AGENT leans in again.

AGENT: Look at the newspaper if you're that curious. The death

AGENT stands up.

AGENT: You'll see why there's…so many houses for sale in

As lights fade from up stage to downstage, a shaft of white light
suddenly falls on the stage.


Present Day.

MICHAEL WHELAN is standing in that light looking upward.

MICHAEL: What should I do? I'm here. Now. What do you want me to do,

RACHEL can be seen at the edge of the shadows.

RACHEL: You have to do what they tell you. Otherwise…they've got

MICHAEL: They didn't kill Paul.

RACHEL: If they didn't…

MICHAEL: It couldn't be. They wouldn't take it that far.

RACHEL: HE would. He uses you…Michael…when it serves him. When
it doesn't…

MICHAEL: Paul got caught up with the wrong crowd…

RACHEL: I was in the wrong crowd when you first met me. Remember?

As MICHAEL turns to face her.

RACHEL: Are you brave and stupid, Michael? Or do you want to see your

MICHAEL: We could get out.

RACHEL: Or stay on this side…

MICHAEL: There's other places for black folks. Towns with nothing
but. Towns that have been free since…

RACHEL: Michael. We have debts. We can't just pick up and move out.
Plus…don't you think they'd come after us…

MICHAEL: Would they?

She takes a deep breath.

RACHEL: HE would, Michael. HE had Paul killed…

MICHAEL: Not so loud…

RACHEL: send a message to YOU.

Lights fade. The stage is dark. The voice of MAYOR THORN is heard.

THORN: My family's run this town since…before there was a county
here. Our roots are as deep as the stones…

Lights come up on MICHAEL and THORN.

MICHAEL: What do you want from me, sir?

THORN: A favor.

MICHAEL: I don't know if I can

THORN: We built some houses for your people, son. On your side of
town. But we want some help with something…

MICHAEL: What can I do?

THORN: Keep your folks on the East side of Broad. Some of them, the
young men especially, have been venturing over to the West End, Son.
They need to stay out…need to know that there's boundaries.
Otherwise. Something's liable to…

MICHAEL: I can't tell them what to do…

THORN: You have to.

THORN approaches MICHAEL.

THORN: If you don't. There's going to be some problems. I remember
when your father was young. Dr. King makes his speech in Washington
and your folks start to think they can stroll around town at night
because he gave you some kind of license. We don't want a repeat of
that. It's not right that a young man has to die on account of a

MICHAEL: I'll see what….

THORN: You're the unofficial "mayor" over there on the east
side. I gave that to you. But you have to keep a keep a lid on them
for us. You know what happens around here when people start making

Lights down.


Present Day.

Lights come up on MAYOR THORN, FLINCH in modern day attire. CHARLIE
LANG stands in front of them.

THORN: This is the boy?

FLINCH: This is the boy.

THORN: All decked out and ready to rumble…

THORN looks the young man over.

THORN: So. You got the nod…

LANG: The nod? I was hired for this…

THORN: I wasn't rooting for you. But I signed the papers. The Chief
here told me we needed some young blood in City Hall.

LANG: I appreciate the opportunity…

THORN: He appreciates the opportunity. You hear that Chief?

FLINCH: I'm standing right next to him, Mr. Mayor.

THORN smiles derisively; looks over at FLINCH.

THORN: You ever have any involvement in what they call "public

FLINCH: His resume…

THORN: I'm asking HIM, directly, if you don't…

LANG: No sir.

THORN: Do you know how it works?

LANG: In college, I took a number of courses…civic courses and a
class on the Constitution…

THORN: Civic courses? Constitution? You're not an idealist, are you
Lang? Like your grandfather was?

LANG: I don't really remember my…

THORN: Or your father…I knew your father.

LANG: Yes. You knew my…

THORN: I wouldn't have brought you on board. I've had my
disagreements over the years with your…

LANG: I know the stories, sir…

FLINCH: Mr. Mayor. It's a clean slate now.

THORN: We have to keep up appearances now, because the
"authorities" are closing in.

LANG: Is that right?

FLINCH: Sir. Keep your cards close to your vest…as they say in the
gambling rooms.

LANG: It's not a big deal. I won't be thinking about my
family's past. It's a job, sir.

THORN: Not that big a deal? This is the County Seat. There's mad
money rolling through this town, and you're going to be seeing which
way it goes. I keep a tight rein on my people…

LANG: Your people, sir?

THORN: I knew your father.

LANG: I know. You've already…

THORN: Didn't always see…

LANG: You've mentioned that…

THORN: Things the same way. (BEAT) Your father and
grandfather…worked for me and against me. Understand that. But
I've been running things for hundreds of years. Truckloads of money.
Crazy dividends. If things got out of hand…

FLINCH: Let the boy have his day…

THORN: What?

FLINCH: His day. He gets a grace period…a honeymoon…

THORN: Yeah. You're right. What the hell am I thinking…

THORN steps forward, steps into spotlight. The lights go down behind
him. The music for BY THE BOOK comes up.


When everything is said and done
God takes from many and He gives to some
I'd rather be in that line that receives.
But where you end up depends on what you believe.
And who says that we have to make room
for the children and the patsies who don't have a clue
what the back rooms got us and how the money played king?
If it wasn't for the deal, son, wouldn't have a damn thing.

The lights come up behind him, revealing a gambling hall from the
1920s, WITH PEOPLE dressed in evening wear from the period, holding
out wads of cash.


By the book, when the book did us good
throw out the book when we had to think fast.

A MAN IN CHAIR is pleading for his life. FLINCH stands behind him, a
gun to his head. Stage suddenly darkens; loud gunshot is heard.
Lights snap on.


Give them an option when they want to confess
pay out some money to take care of that mess.

FLINCH reaches his hand out to take his payment as the pleading man
falls to the floor, blood oozing from the back of his head.

LANG: I know the history, Mr. Mayor.

THORN: And what are you going to do?

CHARLIE LANG walks to the edge of the stage, smiling nervously as the
chorus folds back into the darkness and FLINCH takes a few tentative
steps towards him.)

LANG: As your chief says. I'll keep my cards close to my vest.

THORN: You're not your grandfather. Are you son?

LANG: I'm Charlie Lang. Your new Code Enforcement Officer.

Lights go down

[end of extract]


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