The Mulberry, Act 1, Scenes 4 and 5

James Olm brings us scenes Four and Five of Act One of Mulberry.

Scene 4.  The next morning before sunrise.  The milking barn. We hear periodic mooing of cows.  Enter Gus with a sleepy Mick.  Gus picks up a tin bucket.

Gus

Grab that stool over there.

Mick

Yes sir.

He does what he’s told and they walk over to a cow stall.  Gus goes in first and carefully calls to his cow.  Mick waits at the edge of the stall.

Gus

It’s okay, Daisy.  Morning, Girl.

He pats the cow.  “Mooooooo.”

Okay, Mick.  Get in here.

Mick

I’m tired.

Gus

Now quit your complaining.  You’re lucky this is all you have to do.

Mick

I know.

Gus

Crawling out of your window with your brother last night – I can’t believe you did that.  I thought I could count on you to be a little more grown up – to take care of your brother.

Mick

We didn’t do anythin’ wrong.

Gus slams down the pail.  The cow moos.

Gus

You sneak out of the house in the middle of the night without permission, dragging your poor younger brother with you, and then you run off on some cockamamie scheme to steal apples from our neighbor’s tree.  And now you whine to me that you didn’t do anything wrong?

Mick

It’s just a couple apples.

Gus

This isn’t about a couple apples.  This is about growing up.  Being responsible.  Thinking before doing some crazy ass stunt.  You constantly disappoint me, Mick.  Finally I thought you were starting to mature.

Mick

I’m sorry, all right?

Gus

Pull up your stool to here.  You’ll learn one way or another, even if it has to be at 4:30 in the morning milking cows.

Mick sets the stool down to the side of the cow.  Enter Thomas.

Mick

I don’t want to do this.

Gus

You should of thought about that last night.  (Seeing Thomas)  What do you want?

Thomas

Can I help out?

Gus

You’re a little late for that.

Mick

Can’t we at least use the milker?

Gus

Afraid to get your hands dirty?  You gotta start toughening up a bit, Mick.

Mick

I can handle it.

Gus goes across the barn to the cabinet and sink.  He gets Vaseline, a pail of warm water, and some soap.

Thomas

How’re you doing?

Mick

Fine.

Gus

Don’t go pandering to ‘im.

Thomas

He’s fourteen years old, pa.

Gus

Exactly.  A farmer can’t be weak.  You have to get up before the sun rises to milk the cows, and then work all day long in the fields.   And then after the sun sets, you have to milk the cows again.

Mick

I know, I know.  It’s not like I haven’t heard this before.

Gus

Don’t get smart with me.  It’s time you start pulling your own weight.

Thomas

Maybe you should open your eyes and see who he really is.

Gus

Really?

Being A Man:

Gus:

You think that you’re strong?

You think that you’re smart?

You think being a man is a call from the heart?

Just what are you thinking

That makes you believe

You hold life by the reigns and wear fate on your sleeve?

Being a man is much more than a name.

It’s bending cold steel

On an old tractor frame.

It’s pulling a plow

When your horse has gone lame.

That’s what it is in

Being a man.

That’s what it is in

Being a man.

Thomas

It’s not that simple.

Gus

You think so?

Gus takes Thomas’ hands and starts to squeeze them as he sings.  Thomas flinches but doesn’t give in.  It becomes a fight of wills.

Gus:

Grab hold of these hands.

The cracks are all hard.

The barbed-wire fencing makes hands that are scarred.

You lift bales of hay

Through the sweltering heat

And then you’ll understand how we all must compete.

Mick

Let him go, pa!

Gus lets go of Thomas’ hands.

Gus

Soft.

Gus goes back to prepping the milking.  Isolated light to Thomas – alone.

Thomas:

For being a man is much more than a name.

It’s trying to find out

Who to thank – who to blame.

It’s how to come home

And finally stake your own claim,

When pa has drilled the guilt in your brain.

When pa has drilled the guilt in your brain.

Gus walks over to Thomas privately.

Gus – to Thomas

It was a mistake for you to come back.  Go back to where you came from.  We did just fine without you.

Thomas

I was with them last night, stealing apples over at Strakken’s.

Gus

Get out of here.

Thomas finally turns and leaves.

Gus: (to Mick)

When you’re in the trenches

On Normandy’s shore.

Where the bullets sizzle past and

And the German bombs roar.

Where you question your own courage

As you’re facing death’s door.

You have no choice

But to be a man.

You have no choice

At all

But to be a man.

Gus picks up the pail of soap and water.

Gus

Now, before you milk her, you have to wash the teats.  Put a little Vaseline over your hands and then grab a front and a back teat. Slowly squeeze them from the top, then downward into the pail.

Mick

Like this?

Gus

Not bad.  You’re doing good.

For being a man is much more than a name.

It’s milking a cow

When your hands feel pain.

It’s taking your punishment

Without any blame.

It’s taking the lead

With our strong, family name.

 

Mick,

My son,

I know that you can make this the time

A new day began.

A time where you turned the corner

And started being a man.

As Mick continues to milk Daisy, he starts to grimace in pain.

Gus

Hands starting to cramp up?

Mick

No sir.  I can milk all of the cows, pa.  You can count on me.

He keeps milking, grimacing.  Gus looks at his son.

Gus

Let’s get the milking machine.

Mick

Really?

Gus

Yeah, really.

They go together, Gus’ arm around Mick, to get the machine as the lights fade.  Moooo.  Dark.

♦◊♦

Scene 5.  Moments later.  Thomas is walking toward the old Miller barn.  He is seething.

Thomas

“We did just fine without you.”  “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?”

Who does he think he is? God himself?  Sometimes I could just scream!

We hear the sounds of a horse’s neigh and then clip-clopping.  Enter Grandpa slowly leading an invisible horse to the barn.

Grandpa-pats the horse’s head

Dat yellin’ scare’t Wuppertal.

Thomas

Well, Wuppertal better look out.

Grandpa

Vhat you so angry about?

Thomas

Everything.  It’s like one minute I’m trying to help out and then the next minute …

Grandpa

Afraid dat vhat you say might hurt mein feelings?

Thomas

He is your son.

Grandpa

Ach jah, unt fahders are never wrong.

 Thomas

Now that’s just plain bunk.

Grandpa

Vhat?  You disagree?

It’s a Crime:

Thomas:

Who gave pa the last word in our lives?

Who gave him the sole point of view

Of what we can or cannot do?

This is so absurd that it drives

Me absolutely,

So acutely

Insane!

 

Who gave pa the gavel to be judge?

Who gave him the lone power of rule

That strips me down and makes me Fool?

He’s a farmer for Christ’s sake!

He’s positively,

So intensely

An ass!

 

It’s a crime

That he always tries to control us

It’s a crime

That he’s never there to console us.

When we speak of our ambition

And we veer from his tradition,

He explodes with his position

And he grinds us to submission.

When can we choose what lives we live?

This is totally,

Completely,

Entirely,

Wholly,

A crime.

Grandpa

Don’t be an apfel.

Thomas

What?

Grandpa pulls an apple out of his pocket, starts to shine it up.

Grandpa

Wuppertal loves da apfels.

Thomas

Grandpa, you’re talking in stories again.

Grandpa

Dis apfel could feedt Wuppertal.  It gives him strength.  It gives him satisfaction.  But den tomorrow, it goes out Wuppertal’s back end.  Ploop.  Left behindt.  Forgotten.  Don’t be apfel to your fahder.

He gives the apple to Thomas.

Come, Wuppertal.

Grandpa starts to leave with the horse.

Thomas

That’s easy for you to say.  Wuppertal doesn’t talk back.

Grandpa

No, but I’ve been kicked by him.  Right here. (Points to his butt)  And you know vhat?  It hurt, but I survived.  And so did da horse.

Grandpa exits with the horse into the old barn.

Thomas:

It’s a crime

When your father is abusive.

It’s a crime

When the answers are elusive.

When you see that your ambition

Veers away from his tradition,

You must find that ammunition

That’s been lost through your own admission.

When is enough, enough?

It is so totally,

Completely,

Entirely,

Wholly,

A crime.

Thomas looks in Grandpa’s direction, then at the apple.  He takes a bite in frustration.  Dark.

♦◊♦

Photo by USDAgov/Flickr 

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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.

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