Fannin Street Cafe by Monty Brown


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


      MABEL, a middle aged African American woman, the co-owner of the
      Fannin Street Cafe.

      SAM, middle aged African American man. Mabel’s husband, chef and
      partner in the cafe business.

      NIGEL: an English music writer in his 60’s. He’s visiting
      Louisiana to research the blues and the life of Leadbelly. He has a
      book in mind.

      LOUANN: from New Orleans. She’s working for a Trans-Atlantic
      publisher, helping NIgel in his travels.

      [As audience settles into the seats, back projection screen: Images of
      “The Bottoms” an area of Shreveport, Louisiana, where there are
      lots of shotgun houses, many of them currently derelict and
      uninhabited. Interspersed with images of Louisiana bayous and blues

      [Eventually, sound of Bessie Smith singing “Backwater Blues.” The
      lights come up on the Int. of a little cafe on Fannin St., in
      Shreveport, red and white checkered table cloths, in one corner a
      battered upright piano and a stand-up bass, door to the kitchen,
      window to the street, door to the street with entrance way. It’s
      humble but clean.

      [It’s 1957. Time is around 7 p.m. There are sounds of thunder and
      flashes of lightning. The lights flash off and on.

      [MABEL takes over the singing of Backwater Blues from Bessie Smith, as
      the recording fades out. She is puttering around, cleaning table tops
      and moving dishes.

      MABEL: [singing with Bessie] Well it rained five days and the stars
      beamed dark as night,” etc.
      [Sound: Thunder]

      SAM: [entering with trash can from street door] They say that storm
      that’s heading this way is gonna be a pretty bad one. Wind sure has
      picked up.

      MABEL: Well, I tell you what. I’m just glad we decided to close
      early. You know I’d rather be home on a night like this. All that
      thunder and lightning. I don’t want to interfere with the Lord’s
      business. Now you hurry up and get through back there. All we need is
      for old man Johnson to come wandering over here for a cup of coffee,
      and sit here for the rest of the night talking about things that
      happened a hundred years ago

      SAM: [laughing] I know what you mean. That old man could talk the
      horns off a billy goat. Why I remember one evening he must have sat in
      that chair for two hours, just a-talking about his gran’ daddy and
      how he’s come from North Carolina with a banjo made out of a
      hollowed piece of log and some deer hide that —

      MABEL: Don’t you start talking now. Get it in second gear so we can
      get out of here.

      [MABEL shakes her head and resumes cleaning and humming. They move
      towards the kitchen door when the bell over the front door starts to

      SAM: Oh, oh, looks like we wasn’t quite fast enough. That sounds
      like old man Johnson. Well, get ready for his long string of
      recollections. [SAM disappears into the kitchen door.]

      MABEL: Sam! You get back out here and grab Mister Johnson by his
      shoulders, turn him around and. . . . I am not gonna have my evening
      ruint just because you . . . [MABEL backs away from the door like
      she’s seen ghosts. The white Englishman, NIGEL, and a white woman,
      LOUANN, come bursting into the door, brushing off the rain. He’s
      carrying a guitar case.]

      NIGEL: I told you they were open. We just want a cup of tea. It’s a
      cafe for crying out loud.

      LOUANN: It doesn’t look too open.

      NIGEL: Of course it’s open. [Addressing MABEL] You’re open,
      aren’t you?

      MABEL: We’re closing. [Yells] Sam!

      LOUANN: See they’re closed.

      NIGEL: Clo-ZING! They’re not closed yet. If we have to, we’ll sing
      for our supper. Or just a cuppa. 

      MABEL: [Panicky] Sam! Sam! You’d better come out here.

      SAM: [coming from the kitchen, cautiously]  Can I help you folks? I
      guess you must have got lost — to end up here down on Fannin Street.
      I can point you the way to the other side of town, if you want me to.

      NIGEL: No, no! This is exactly where we want to be. [Theatrically]
      Fannin Street, Shreveport, Louisiana.  Mister Tom Hughes Town. [to
      LOUANN] Just look at this place LuAnn, it simply reeks of atmosphere.
      It’s so — RUSTIC! [Sitting down] This is worth the trip, all the
      way from England.

      MABEL: Mister, you ain’t got to pretend you from England or
      somewhere. We know the landlord sent you down here. We told him
      yesterday he could pick up the rent money on Thursday. I don’t know
      if you notice, but today is just Tuesday.

      NIGEL: Madam! I have no idea whom your landlord is or when the rent
      must be paid and I am not pretending. I am English.

      MABEL: If you so English, what are you doing down here in The

      NIGEL: “The Bottoms.” What a lovely phrase. “The Bottoms.”

      LOUANN: Nigel! It’s what they call this part of town.

      MABEL: And it ain’t that lovely.

      SAM: Just what do you want, Mister? I mean, what’re you doing here
      in —

      NIGEL:  What am I doing here in the Bottoms? Well actually, I’m in
      pursuit of the authentic empirical narrative or musical mythology of
      your bailiwick — perhaps some pastoral ditties, ballades, yarns or
      even dirges — as long as they emanate from the very soil beneath our

      LOUANN: [Translating] He’s looking for old folk music.

      NIGEL: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression that
      this was a free country. Thus I would be free to travel the public
      square to my heart’s content. At least that’s what all your
      touristic propaganda indicates.

      MABEL: My propaganda don’t indicate nothing of the kind, Mister, and
      as for being a free country, haven’t you heard that song? “If
      you’re white you’re right, if you’re brown, hang round, but —”

      NIGEL: “If you’re black, get back, get back, get back.” I have
      heard that song.  Do you know the rest of it? [pause] My goodness,
      we’ve hit a nerve haven’t we?

      [MABEL and SAM are staring at him with undisguised hostility. He
      attempts to lighten things up.] What about this one? [NIGEL starts to
      sing and dance.]

          Lost my partner, what’ll I do?
          Lost my partner, what’ll I do?
          Lost my partner, what’ll I do?
          Skip to my lou my darling. [etc]

      [LOUANN attempts to distance herself from this performance by
      shrugging and making a “What are ya gonna do?” face at MABEL and
      SAM. NIGEL, after attempting to whirl MABEL around the dance floor,
      finishes up by pirouetting into a chair.]

      NIGEL: You know that one? That’s one of the early dance tunes that
      came to Louisiana with the pioneers from the British Isles. And
      that’s the way they’d do it, too. [With a flourish] A capella! No
      musical instruments, just singing and hand-clapping, you see.
      LOUANN: [aside] I don’t think they want the history lesson. I think
      we ought to leave.

      NIGEL: [loudly] We can busk. I’ll get the guitar out and we can
      busk. It’ll be jolly fun.

      MABEL: Lord have mercy; what is he talking about?

      LOUANN: He’s from London — England.

      SAM: I knowed there was something strange about him.

      MABEL: There ain’t gonna be no bust in here. We run a clean business

      LOUANN: I think he means “busk.” Play music for you. Like they do
      on the streets in New Orleans.

      MABEL: This ain’t New Orleans. You tell ‘em, Sam. We’re closed
      and we’re getting outta here.

      SAM: [not very forcefully] We’re closed. [Looking at MABEL, who
      glares at him. A little stronger] We’re getting outta here.

      NIGEL: [putting on some elaborate European charm] Madam, I quite
      understand your reluctance, under the circumstances, but surely a spot
      of tea for a stranger, on such a stormy night —

      LOUANN: [beckoning him] Nigel!

      [MABEL & SAM confer]

      SAM: This guy’s crazier than Old Man Johnson. I don’t think he’s
      gonna leave til we get him a glass of tea.

      MABEL: Get him a glass of tea? You get him a glass of tea, I’m leaving.

      SAM: Now, Mabel, he’s come all the way from the Tower of London,
      England. We’re acting kinda rude.

      LOUANN: [Conferring with NIGEL] Look, you don’t understand. First of
      all, white people don’t come into this cafe. They don’t even come to this
      part of town.

      NIGEL: Well, that’s a shame, isn’t it? Perhaps we should do
      something about that.

      LOUANN: I believe you’re right, maybe some other time.

      MABEL: [approaching reluctantly and still a bit surly.] All right.
      We’ll get you a glass o’ tea. But no food. The kitchen is closed.

      NIGEL: A spot of tea it is, then.

      MABEL: Spot of tea? Just what DO you want?

      NIGEL: You know, just a regular cuppa — milk and sugar.

      MABEL: A cuppa? Now you want a cuppa?

      LOUANN: It’s an English thing. They have their tea hot. In a cup.

      MABEL: [getting hot herself] We don’t have no hot tea. In a cup.

      SAM: [conciliatory] I can make some hot tea. Won’t take a moment. I
      just need to boil a little water.

      NIGEL: That’s right, my good man. Put the kettle on.

      SAM: [double take] Put the. . . ? Oh, right.

      [He goes to make the tea, mumbling about the kettle. There is an
      uncomfortable pause. MABEL sits primly on a chair. NIGEL gets out a
      harmonica and starts to play “Oh Susanna!”]

      NIGEL: Do you know this one?

      MABEL: Everybody know that song.

      NIGEL: You know the lyrics? [sings] “Well I come from Alabama with a
      banjo on my knee,”

      MABEL: “Going to Louisiana, my true love for to see.”

      BOTH: “Oh Susanna, don’t you cry for me, for I come —”

      MABEL: [Breaking off abruptly.] We’re not having music in here!

      NIGEL: Why would you have a piano —

      MABEL: [ploughing on] We’ll sell you a glass o’ tea, but —

      NIGEL: Hot tea. Cuppa.

      MABEL: And after we watch you drink your tea

      NIGEL: [Pointing] — and a big old bass fiddle —

      MABEL: And then we all gonna get outta here.

      NIGEL: [singing gently at first]

                Mama don’t allow no music played around here
                Mama don’t allow no music played around here
                We don’t care what Mama don’t allow        
                We’re gonna play our music anyhow
                Mama don’t allow no music played around here

      [While NIGEL continues to play the tune on his harmonica, the sound of
      SAM beating time on pots and pans comes from the kitchen. MABEL swings
      her head around to the sound. SAM enters with a pan and wooden

      SAM [singing] Mama don’t ‘low no pots and pans played here
                    Mama don’t ‘low no pots and pans played here
                      We don’t care what Mama don’t allow
                      We gonna play our pots’n’pans anyhow
                      Mama don’t ‘low no pots and pans played here.

      [SAM takes a “drum solo” with the spoon and pan, milking it for
      maximum effect. NIGEL claps, dances and toots his harp.]

      MABEL: [Standing, hands on hips, waiting for the “boys” to finish
      up.] What’s going on here?

      SAM: I’m just waiting for the water to boil. [pause] Mama.

      NIGEL: If you don’t ‘low no music played around here, why is it
      that you have a piano and a bull fiddle?

      MABEL: They’s just some old — [hissing at SAM] I told you to get
      rid of them things!

      NIGEL: I’ll tell you what. While we’re waiting, you know, for the
      kettle to whistle, why don’t we all sing an old spiritual that old
      Leadbelly recorded. Do you know Leadbelly, or did I ask you that

      MABEL: We don’t know no Lead Belly.

      SAM: Maybe he’s talking about them Ledbetters from up Mooringsport
      way. You know that fella who sang and danced and played that
      12-stringed guitar?

      MABEL: We don’t know no Leadbellies.

      SAM: Yeah, but I think he talking about Leadbelly from Mooringsport —

      MABEL: SAM!

      LOUANNE: You know, Mooringsport does sound right. Nigel, didn’t you
      tell me he was born in Mooringsport?

      NIGEL: [getting his guitar ready] Oh, right. Absolutely. He was born
      in Mooringsport. And, I believe, he’s buried there.

      MABEL: [letting it slip] Course he was. At the Shiloh Baptist Church.
      [She quickly turns away.]

      NIGEL: Really? Well they must have sung this one in Church.

                Oh Mary don’t you weep, don’t you moan
                Oh Mary don’t you weep, don’t you moan
                Pharoah’s army got drownded
                Oh, Mary don’t you weep.

                Mary wept and Martha moaned
                Mary’s going to the world unknown
                Pharoah’s army got drownded
                Oh, Mary don’t you weep.

      [All but MABEL join in on the Chorus:]
                Oh Mary don’t you weep, don’t you moan
                Oh Mary don’t you weep, don’t you moan
                Pharoah’s army got drownded
                Oh Mary don’t you weep.

      MABEL: [coming to life and belting out the next verse like Mahalia
                I went down to the river to pray
                My soul got happy and I stayed all day
                Pharoah’s army got drownded
                Oh Mary don’t you weep.

      [And they ALL sing the Chorus.]

      MABEL: [Catching herself.] Everybody know that song.

      SAM: I’ll go get your tea. [He exits]

      MABEL: That’s an old song from back in slavery time.

[End of Extract]