The setting: a small farm in Wisconsin, 1965. The story: family, memories, brothers. James Olm brings us the first scene of his play, “Mulberry.”

Author’s Note:

“What is it to be a man?”

This seems to be the eternal question pondered by any man, and even women, at some point in their life, myself included. The answer, however, seems to recede and vanish every time we think we’re close to it.

So how do we find it?

We all pursue this question in our own personal ways. And then, if we’re lucky enough, we have good, trustworthy people to discuss it with to see if we really are as crazy as we may think we are. I believe, we not only have an instinctual desire to survive as a living, human being, but also that we have embedded in us a never-ending drive to pursue truth in our lives. We also have this need to find ways to better our lives, both in a personal and societal way.

This is why I became a composer/playwright. I write musicals, but I don’t want to just write fluff that makes people laugh and feel good when they leave the theatre. I want to also deal with important life issues. I believe that art can function simultaneously as entertainment and as a vehicle for change. People love to identify with characters in theatre, movies, and television. They want to live through these characters, and hopefully find a morsel of truth within that experience that they then can apply to their own lives. Thus, change happens.

So I am taking a leap of faith here. I want to chase down my answer to the question: “What is it to be a man?” And I want to do it through composing and writing a new musical. The catch is, I will be sharing it with you, the readers, as the musical is developing. With a nod of approval from the staff of The Good Men Project organization, I will be publishing a scene, story, song lyric – whatever happens to be developing at the moment – every 1st and 15th of each month. What I would love, is for all of you to read the scene, and then comment on it. Your comments can include anything from the scene you liked, disliked, how it affected you, perhaps an experience you personally lived through that was brought to mind, or perhaps just discussing implications and topics of the scene. The purpose of this format can be likened to a massive website book group! This is a chance for you to explore and discuss, with the composer/playwright, that evasive subject of manhood, tradition, family values.

A few ground rules:

  1. Your comments/ideas may or may not end up in some way or form in the show. Know that what you say, you are giving to me free of charge. Who knows? Something you said may come out of the mouth of a character later on!
  2. Personal writings or scenes will not be accepted.
  3. The work will evolve and change in response to feedback.

You must understand that this is risky for me. First of all, I’m throwing scenes out there to you that ordinarily would probably be rewritten or cut through the privacy of my own working space. This puts me in a vulnerable place. Please keep in mind that this is a work-in-progress, and that there will be many, many changes as the work evolves. But I believe it’s worth the risk to create a shared space for creativity. After all, we’re all here for the same reason, right? We live to find truth with each other and ourselves.

With that, I introduce to you the first scene of the new musical, Mulberry. Note: In the scenes, Italicized words are lyrics to a song. Enjoy!


1965.  A small farm outside of Whitewater, WI.  Spring is in the air.  We hear mooing, chickens.  As the lights come up, the stage is pretty much open, except for a bridal wreath hedge in full blossom.  Somewhere close by, on one side in the shadows, we also see a lone mulberry tree, standing tall and proud.

Enter Thomas Miller, late 20’s, early 30’s, in a tweed coat and slacksHe stops and examines the area. He knows this place so well.  It’s his home, and it has been a long time since he has been back.  In the distance, we hear the bells of the church ring from town.  Thomas listens.  He’s reminded about why he is there.

Music begins.

Lights fade up more on the mulberry tree. We see appear from within the branches Bean Miller, 10, sitting comfortably, overlooking the town



Bean ignores Thomas, continuing to look out.

Hello up there in my mulberry tree.

Bean – mad

What do ‘ya want?


I’m back.


Kinda’ figured you’d be.


I couldn’t miss this, Bean.  You know that.


Why should ‘ya care?



Bean jumps down out of the tree and runs off.

Thomas takes in a huge breath of air and savors the smells.  It brings back so many memories. Thomas walks over to the mulberry tree.  He touches the trunk.


Hello Mulberry.

It’s been a long time.

I can still remember my very first climb

With you.

You always stood so tall.

You always stood so strong.

You protected me when I needed a place

That’s mine.

Thomas walks over to the bridal wreath and touches a stray branch with blossoms.  He brings the branch to his nose and he inhales the scent.

Enter Bean pulling in his mother, June Miller, 49.


C’mon Mom, hurry up!


Okay, okay.  What’s the big hurry?



Bean points to the bridal wreath, and June lets out a big, appreciative sigh.

They’ve got flowers!


Aren’t they beautiful?


And right on time too!

Bean & Thomas

Memorial Day weekend…


Tell me the story of the flowers again.


Oh Bean…



 June walks over and touches a blossom.



Tiny little angels.

God’s gift to us,

For remembering.

The snow white petals are their heavenly robes.

The proud, golden stamens

Their halos.

June and Bean


Tiny little angels.


Angels given to us

For remembering

June, Bean, and Thomas

Our loved ones gone.


Like Grandpa?


Like Grandpa.


Loved ones…

Thomas walks up to June and Bean.


Hello, Mom.

June hears his voice, recognizes it immediately, and turns to Thomas.


It’s Thomas.


We’ve waited so long.


I know.

June goes up to Thomas and gives him a warm hug.


You come to the house right this minute and I’ll make your favorite dish.


Gravy bread?


I’ll cook it up right away with the leftover pot roast.

Thomas looks to Bean, who glares back at him.


I’m mad at you.


Bean!  Mind your manners.

She looks at Thomas for a moment with a shrug.

C’mon Bean, it’s time to do your chores.


Oh Mom…

June and Bean start to exit, her hand around his shoulder.  June stops and turns to Thomas.


Have you forgiven him yet?


It’s not that easy.


That’s true. But just remember, not doing anything is still making a choice.  And it’s just as costly.

June and Bean exit.  Thomas walks over to the mulberry tree again and grabs the lowest branch.


Hello Mulberry.

You know why I’m here.

This hole in my gut seems perfectly clear

To you.

It’s so scary and strange

To be back at this place.

Would you still have a branch for me to lend

An ear?

Enter running, Mick, 14, older brother of Bean.  He is being chased by Bean – they are in a squirt gun fight.  Mick runs to the tree and jumps to the lowest limb.  He climbs up the tree and starts shooting Bean.  Bean screams.


No fair!  No fair!  My squirt gun doesn’t shoot up that far!


That’s your tough luck, Bean.  Take this!

Mick shoots Bean again.



I Surrender!  Surrender!


You’re the last one to get the bath water tonight then?

Mick aims his gun at Bean again.  He concedes, putting his gun down on the ground.


I’ll be last.  But at least make your bath water hot so I don’t freeze after you’re done!



Mick swings down to the ground.  Bean and Mick do their “buddies handshake” routine.

Bean and Mick

Brothers unite!

Mick sees Thomas.

Mick – To Thomas

You look older.




I’ve missed ‘ya.


Me too.  I’ve got a lot of things to say…


I know.  Maybe later, in Strakken’s apple tree!


Strakken.  Now that’s a name I haven’t heard of in a long time.

Bean – hanging upside down.

She’s scary!


Hey Tarzan, here come your elephants!  WHUUUUUUOOOOOOHHHHHH!

Mick imitates an elephant and then starts squirting Bean again with water from his elephant trunk.  Mick runs off fast!


I’ll git you, you traitor!  And I’M FIRST IN THE BATHTUB NOW!

Bean exits, running after Mick.

Thomas crosses to the tree.  He hangs on the branch with his hands.


My tall and fearless Mulberry tree.

The strength of your limbs lift us high,

But the depth of your roots feed our souls.

Enter Gustav “Gus” Miller, 51, their father.  He brings in a pitch fork and starts pitching hay into the cow stalls.  Thomas sees him.  It is obviously difficult for him to approach Gus.  He finally does. The music underscoring stops.

Thomas – singing a cappella

Hello pa.

Silence.   Gus connects with the voice.  He slowly turns around, looks at Thomas, and then slowly turns away and continues pitching hay, without saying a word.

Music begins again as Thomas crosses toward the tree, and Gus exits.


Hello Mulberry.

Am I going insane?

These memories I have should always remain

A blur.

Let me hide in your leaves

In a place that is safe

I don’t want to face this world and

The pain.

Thomas looks to the mulberry tree.  Bean enters and runs to the tree.  He shimmies up the trunk, and climbs the tree.

Bean and Thomas


My tall and fearless Mulberry tree.

The strength of your limbs lift us high,

But the depth of your roots feed our souls.

Bean gets to the very top and looks out proudly.  He takes a couple berries off the tree branch and puts them in his mouth.  They do taste good.  He is content.  Thomas warmly watches him.  Segue into the next scene.


Photo by Shutterstock


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About James Olm

James Olm is the coordinator of the Musical Theatre program at Casper College in Casper, Wyoming. In June,2011, his newest musical, The Magdalene - of which he was composer/playwright/lyricist - opened Off-Broadway at the Theatre at St. Clements in New York City. In The Magdalene, he worked closely with Tony Award-winning director and lyricist Richard Maltby Jr. Olm has written three other musicals, composed music for many dramas, and is published with Samuel French, Inc. in New York.


  1. Carol Boal says:

    Go for the GOLD!


  1. […] can read the introduction and first scene here if you haven’t […]

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