The Passing Of Grandison
A full-length comedy
adapted from Charles Chestnutt’s story
by Jean Hughes Klein
About the Play: The main character, Grandison, is the quintessential slave who bests his master. The play takes place immediately following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law and Grandison is a kind of Everyman who wrests freedom for himself and his family from those who regard him as less then human. Its serious message aside, this play is a hilarious comedy with Grandison, the supposed puppet, being the one who pulls the strings. After one of several staged readings, one of the audience members said, “I couldn’t stop laughing.”
Grandison: A slave in his late fifties.
Betty: His wife.
Tom: Their fiery 19-year-old son.
Colonel Owens: The owner of a plantation and of Grandison’s family.
Dick: Colonel Owens’ son, about 26.
Charity Lomax: A young Southern woman with whom Dick is in love.
A Bellhop: A young Northern freeman, black. (This role may also be played by the actor portraying Tom.)
The Time: The 1850’s
The Place: A plantation on the Antebellum South
The Scene: There is basically one set. At stage right is a suggestion of the verandah of the Owens’ plantation, backed by lattice work and suggested by two wicker chairs, or a swing, and a wicker table. The verandah may be moved off stage or hidden by scrim, at the discretion of the director. Behind the verandah is a hotel room in Niagara Falls. This scene may be stationary or revolve, as the director sees fit. It needs only a bed, a chair, and possibly a dresser. At stage left on the apron of the stage is a street corner in Niagara Falls, suggested by a street lamp lit only at appropriate moments The director may also decide to use a revolving stage for each set.
From the Play:
Grandison: Gossip? Miz Charity never sounded like no old natterin’ bullfrog to me. Not dat I was listenin’. No, suh. I don’t listen ‘n I don’t hear nothin’. But I could have sworn yo’ folks was talkin’ right to me.
Charity: Well, Grandison, maybe I was.
Grandison: (warily) How is dat, Miz Charity.
(The following conversation gets Grandison more and more nervous, until he finally begins to edge away and look for an escape.)
Charity: We were just talking about Ralph Hodges.
Dick: (warning) Charity . . .
Charity: You’ve heard about him, haven’t you, Grandison?
Grandison: Not dat I remembers.
Charity: It’s been in all the papers.
Dick: Grandison doesn’t read the papers.
Grandison: I surely don’t. I don’t take with none of dat readin’.
Dick: (sighs) Good old Grandison.
Charity: But certainly people have been talking . . .
Grandison: Not to me, dey ain’t. And if dey would, I wouldn’t listen to none of dat talk.
Charity: He was sentenced to three years in the penitentiary. Helping some of your own people escape.
Grandison: I sure do be sorry about dat.
Charity: They may as well have sentenced him to death.
Grandison: Oh, no!
Dick: Charity, don’t be so melodramatic.
Charity: Three years! He won’t last that long. There’s cholera in that prison. I went for a ride along the hill road yesterday. I saw the funeral carts coming back from there. There were so many of them. He might never be coming home. . . .
Dick: He should have thought of that before he started messing with another man’s property.
Charity: Maybe he thought it was worth the risk. Maybe he wanted his life to count for something! Maybe he got tired of chasing foxes and playing cards.
Dick: Well, if he did, he made the right choice. I hear he wasn’t very good at cards.
Charity: Grandison, what do you think?
Grandison: Think? Nobody ever asked me to do dat . . .
Charity: Well, I’m asking you now.
Grandison: I be doin’ it. I be thinkin’. (pause. Grandison grimaces, as if forcing thoughts to come.) I got it! I be thinkin’ I best be gettin’ along. Yo’ daddy’s got me working’ on yo’ momma’s camellias again. I sure do love dem camellias. (Grandison shuffles off as he talks. ) I got my son Tom workin’ wid me. He sure do got a fine hand with dem buds-- Thank you, Lawd for providing me with all the help I can use. Why, if I thought I could never see one of yo’ momma’s roses again . .
Dick: Charity! You better be careful how you talk! You’ll be giving everyone the wrong ideas!