Scent of Magnolia by Trisha Sugarek

This Play is the copyright of the Author and may not be performed, copied or sold without the Author's prior consent

At Rise: 1928. BILLIE, age 15, is scrubbing the front steps of a
Brownstone house in Baltimore. SHE has a large scrub brush and a tin
pail. She is wearing a simple house dress covered by a huge white
apron. BILLIE is humming and singing along with a Louie Armstrong tune
playing through an open window. SHE sings a few bars and turning,
sees the audience.

The music fades.

BILLIE. Don'cha just loves Mr. Louis Armstrong? He and Miss Bessie
Smith just 'bout my all timey favorites. Miss Alice, she play their
songs on tha' big ol' Victrola tha' she gots in the front
parlor. Thas' what I wanna be, a singer. Well, what I really wanna
be is a dancer, but I ain't too good. I ain't gonna work here at
Alice Dean's forever, no sir. I'm savin' my money and when I
gets 'nuff saved, I'm gonna buy me a white evenin' gown, march
myself into tha' ol' Cotton Club and make 'dem men listen to me.
[Beat.] Alice Dean, she owns this here place, she already afta' me
to be workin' for her. But, I got bigger plans than being one of
'dem girls, layin' down on her back for fifty cents. Oh, Lordy, I
don' want no men's hands all over 'dis here girl.
[A tinkling piano is heard.] Ya hear that pie-ana? That there's
Sammy. [Motions behind HER toward the building] He plays fer Miss
Alice and he lets me sing with him, during the daytime, when the girls
is sleepin'.

[BILLIE begins to sing. Song: Me, Myself and I]

BILLIE. Sammy, he say I gots the voice to carry me outta here. To
jus' 'bout anywhere I wants to go.

VOICE OFF. Eleanora! Ain't you finished with 'dat stoop yet?
Get busy, girl, and stop all dat dawdlin'.

[Calling through the door.]

BILLIE. Yes, Ma'am. [Back to the audience.] Thas' Miss Alice.
She alright…she got six girls workin' for her. This heres 1928 and
all's Miss Alice gots to do to keep 'dis place open is make sure
the cops get [Billie is haughty about the cops' payoff.] a little
action and a little money ever' week. Oooo, you wouldn't believe
the mens that line up for a little lovin'! [Beat.] She calls me
Eleanora. Thas' my real name. Miss Alice, she real lady-like for a
madam. She run a high class joint here. She don't allow no drunks
and no fightin'. The girls, they jus' call me Ellie. Eleanora Fagan,
thas' me, but thas' all gonna change. Now! My stage name is all picked
out. Lemme tries it on ya. [Striking a pose.] 'Miss Billie Holiday.'
[Savoring the sound.] Miss… Billie…Holiday. Um, um, um, thas'
such a sweet sound.
I borrowed the 'Billie' from Miss Billie Dove my favorite actress
of all time. The 'Holiday' part? Well, I just knows when I start
singin' and dancin' for real, every day is goin' be a holiday.

VOICE OFF. [Sternly.] Eleanora!
[To the audience.] BILLIE. Oh, oh, she mean business now.
[Calls off stage.]
Comin', Miss Alice.
[As BILLIE exits up the steps and into the house, SHE is humming the
Louie Armstrong song.]

Scene Two
At Rise: Tight spot on BILLIE. SHE is wearing a tattered, red,
hand-me-down dress given to HER by one of the whores. SHE begins to
sing. Song: Lover Man. SHE interrupts herself near the end of the

BILLIE. I don't wan'cha to think I'm whorin', cause I ain't.
The customers keep askin', 'when that fine little tail gonna be
put on the menu, Miss Alice?' She be naggin' me somethin'
fierce to start workin', but I ain't whorin' and thas' final.
I ain't layin' down for a bunch 'a dirty ol' men. Um-um, not
me! I jus' sing here, dat's all.

[BILLIE resumes singing and finishes the song.]

My days is numbered here. Miss Alice, she says, "put out or get
out." A couple 'a those horny ol' men get inta' a fight over
me…don't laugh…sure 'nuff, fightin' over this here skinny
little thang. Oooo, Miss Alice don' allows for no fightin' and
those men get banded fo' two weeks. Miss Alice say, the day one of
her girls; never mind that I ain't one; costs her money, tha's the
day that girl lookin' for a new job. [Beat.] I guess I'm lookin'
for a new job.

[SHE sings. Song: What is This Thing Called Love]

[At the end BILLIE laughs at herself.]

BILLIE. Well, wasn't I just full a' myself when I was a kid?
Goin' on about what I will do and what I won't do. Sure 'nuff,
Miss Alice gives me a choice; go to work for her or get out. I
ain't no whore so I got out. Mama and me, we decide to leave
Baltimore and try it up in New York. Mama says I would have more
opportunity with my singin'. Mama, she my biggest fan. She say,
'Baby-girl'; thas' what she call me my whole life. 'Baby-girl, them clubs
up in Harlem jus' waitin' on your voice. So there we is, up in Harlem,
both of us workin' like dogs playin' maid to some damn, ol' fat, lazy…
[Stops herself.]...well, you get the picture. Every night, I go 'round
to the clubs seein' if I can find my chance. We still ain't
makin' it. Then Mama got sick and couldn't work. Les' see, that
was the winter of 31'. I 'members cause I turned sweet sixteen.
Well! When your mama sick and they's about to throw you both out on
the street and the money you are gettin' ain't close t'nuff,
well, let me tell you, the 'will do's' and the 'won't
do's'...they goes right out dat win'der. About this time, I
meets Miss Florence. She reminds me a lot of Miss Alice, she all
classy like. She's only got two other girls workin' for her, a
high yella' named Gladys and a white girl whose name I can't
remember right off. Miss Florence, she hires me as a straight,
twenty dollar call girl. No pe-cu-liar stuff just straight lovin'.
Thas' big money then. [Beat.] Shoot, I only last a few months
'cause them Negro men, they wants to go all night. They tore me up
pretty bad. So I tells Miss Flo', white men's all I'll go with.
They easy. A little lovin' they done. Then we jus' lay 'round
talkin'. Well, they talks and I listen.

BILLIE. Problem was, there was this one Negro man that would not
take no for an answer. I wouldn't go with him no more. He was so
mad, kept after me all the time. His name was Big Blue Rainier and he
was runnin' with Bub Hewlett. Now, Bub was the Man runnin' Harlem
in those days. Anyway, Big Blue would come in and holler at Miss Flo,
'What the hell good is she? She's the only colored girl in the house and
she won't take Negroes?' Miss Flo', she a fine woman but it would have
been her life to stick up for me. I got tossed in jail for refusing to go to
bed with Blue. Guess I just ain't cut out for this whorin'
business. I wasn't havin' no part of that man. He wasn't called
Big Blue for nothin'! Ya should' a seen Big Blue, he was so mad
at me. Ya talk about women gettin' salty when they's scorned!
[Beat.] So, this heres what happen'.

[end of extract]

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