The Red Badge of Courage by John McDonald

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

    CAST OF CHARACTERS    
     
      NARRATOR / MOTHER / GIRL
     
      HENRY Fleming
     
      JIM Conklin / LIEUTENANT
     
      BILL Wilson
     
      SAMUEL Thompson
     
      SOLDIER / CONFEDERATE Picket / UNION GENERAL / DEAD MAN / TATTERED
      MAN    
       
      ACT I    
     
      (Scene: Army camp: Greenery across back of the stage it (We used
      tobacco cloth “ropes” to facilitate movement through the
      “trees”.), army camp tent - center stage with a camp fire to its
      right.  Sleeping union soldiers are spaced around the stage: JIM
      Conklin in front of tent.  Near sturdy boxes, painted to simulate aged
      wood (We used milk crates, an actual ammo box, and constructed
      rectangles and cubes.), are HENRY Fleming (stage right of fire),
      SAMUEL Thompson (further right), BILL Wilson (stage left).
      Multi-unnamed SOLDIER is standing, barely visible, upstage center
      among the greenery.) 
     
      (Soldiers wake as lights come up: JIM drops his blanket, takes off
      shirt, moves upstage to wash, BILL crosses to fire to make coffee,
      takes cup to SAMUEL, gives cup to HENRY and sits to his right.
      NARRATOR, wearing dress over pants, enters left, crosses downstage
      right to take up her usual corner position from which she will venture
      during the play for interaction with the other characters.  Throughout
      the play, actors mirror their spoken words when feasible.)
     
     
      HENRY:  The cold passed reluctantly from the earth,
     
      SAMUEL:  And the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the
      hills,
     
      HENRY:  Resting.
     
      BILL:  As the landscape changed from brown to green,
     
      SAMUEL:  The army awakened,
     
      SOLDIER:  And began to tremble with eagerness at the noise of rumors.
      (Exit)
     
      JIM:  A certain tall soldier developed virtues and went resolutely to
      wash a shirt.
     
      (JIM crosses upstage, leaps over tent on way to wash shirt.  SAMUEL
      crosses left to get crate, takes crate center for coming milking
      scene.)
     
      NARRATOR:  He came flying back from a brook, waving his garment
      banner-like.
     
      HENRY:  He was swelled with a tale he had heard from a reliable
      friend,
     
      SAMUEL:  Who had heard it from a truthful cavalryman, 
     
      BILL:  Who had heard it from his trustworthy brother,
     
      SAMUEL:  Who heard it from one of the orderlies at division
      headquarters.
     
      JIM:  We’re goin’ t’ move t’morrah—sure.
     
      NARRATOR:  He adopted the important air of a herald in red and gold.
     
     
      JIM:  (Drawing in the dirt)  We’re goin’ ‘way up the river, cut
      across, an’ come around in behint ‘em.
     
      NARRATOR:  To his attentive audience he drew a loud and elaborate
      plan of a very brilliant campaign.
     
      BILL:  It’s a lie!—A thunderin’ lie!
     
      SAMUEL:  I don’t believe the derned old army’s ever going to move.
     
      BILL:  We’re set. I’ve got ready to move eight times in the last two
      weeks, and we ain’t moved yet.
     
      JIM:  The tall soldier felt called upon to defend the truth of a
      rumor he himself had introduced. 
     
      BILL:  Many of the men engaged in a spirited debate.
     
      JIM:  The soldier who had fetched the rumor bustled about with much
      importance.
     
      NARRATOR:  He was continually assailed by questions.
     
      BILL:  What’s up, Jim?
     
      SAMUEL:  When’s th’ army’s goin’ t’ move.
     
      NARRATOR:  There was much food for thought in the manner in which he
      replied.
     
      BILL:  Ah, what yeh talkin’ about?
     
      JIM:  Well, yeh kin b’lieve me er not.
     
      HENRY:  A youthful private listened to the varied comments of his
      comrades.
     
      NARRATOR:  He was in a trance of astonishment.
     
      HENRY:  So we were at last going to fight,
     
      JIM:  On the morrow,
     
      HENRY:  And I would be in it.
     
      NARRATOR:  He had, of course, dreamed of vague and bloody conflicts
      all his life.
     
      HENRY:  Awake, I had regarded battles as crimson blotches on the
      pages of the past. I had put them as things of the bygone, with my
      thought-images of heavy crowns and high castles. I had long despaired
      of witnessing a Greek-like struggle and had burned several times to
      enlist.
     
      NARRATOR:  Tales of great movements shook the land – (Puts on
      bonnet, apron to become mother)
     
      JIM:  Marches,
     
      BILL:  Sieges,
     
      SAMUEL:  Conflicts,
     
      HENRY:  Battles.  I had longed to see it all. 
     
      MOTHER:  But his mother had discouraged him.
     
      HENRY:  She had affected to look with some contempt upon my war
      ardor.
     
      MOTHER:  She could give him many hundreds of reasons why he was of
      vastly more importance on the farm.
     
      HENRY:  At last, however, I made firm rebellion against this yellow
      light thrown upon the color of my ambitions.
     
      JIM:  Newspapers,  (Gives newspaper to Henry and exits right)
     
      BILL:  Gossip of the village,  (Exits left)
     
      SAMUEL:  His own picturings,  (Exits right)
     
      HENRY:  Had aroused me to an uncheckable degree. 
     
      MOTHER:  Almost every day the newspaper printed accounts of a
      decisive victory.  The voice of the people rejoicing in the night had
      made him shiver in a prolonged ecstasy of excitement.
     
      HENRY:  Ma, I’m going to enlist.
     
      MOTHER:  Henry, don’t you be a fool.  She had then covered her face
      with her apron.
     
      HENRY:  The next morning I enlisted.  (MOTHER gets bucket, sits on
      center crate for milking)
     
      MOTHER:  When he had returned home his mother was milking the cow.
     
      HENRY:  (Diffidently) “Ma … I’ve enlisted.” 
     
      MOTHER:  (Sigh)  There was a short silence.  The Lord’s will be done,
      Henry, she replied, and had then continued to milk the cow.  When he
      had stood in the doorway, he had seen two tears leaving their trails
      on his mother’s cheeks.  (Removes bucket, gets things to give HENRY)
     
      HENRY:  She had disappointed me by saying nothing whatever about
      returning with my shield or on it. I had privately primed myself for a
      beautiful scene. But her words destroyed my plans. 
     
      MOTHER:  You watch out, Henry, an’ take good care of yerself in this
      here fighting business. Don’t go a-thinkin’ you can lick the hull
      rebel army at the start. Yer jest one little feller amongst a hull lot
      of others, and yeh’ve got to keep quiet an’ do what they tell yeh.
      I’ve knet yeh eight pair of socks, Henry, and I’ve put in all yer best
      shirts.  (Gives HENRY a bundle)  Whenever they get holes in ‘em, send
      ‘em right-away back, so’s I kin dern ‘em. 
     
      HENRY:  Yes, ‘um.
     
      MOTHER:  An’ allus be careful an’ choose yer comp’ny. There’s lots of
      bad men that like nothing better than the job of leading off a young
      feller like you, an’ a-learning ‘em to drink and swear.  I don’t want
      yeh to ever do anything, Henry, that yeh would be ‘shamed to let me
      know about. Jest think as if I was a-watchin’ yeh, and I guess yeh’ll
      come out about right. I don’t know what else to tell yeh, Henry. 
     
      HENRY:  I had, of course, been impatient under the ordeal of this
      speech.
     
      MOTHER:  He had borne it with an air of irritation ... Henry, yeh
      must never do no shirking.  If so be a time comes when yeh have to be
      kilt or do a mean thing, Henry, don’t think of anything ‘cept what’s
      right.  Many a mother has to bear up ‘ginst sech things these times,
      and the Lord ‘ll take keer of us all. I’ve put a cup of blackberry jam
      with yer bundle, as well, because I know yeh like it above all things.
      Good-by, Henry. Watch out, and be a good boy.
     
      HENRY:  When I looked back from the gate, I saw mother kneeling.
     
      MOTHER:  Her face was stained with tears.
     
      HENRY:  I felt suddenly ashamed of my purposes; I bowed my head and
      went on.
     
      JIM:  (Enters right) On the way to Washington …
     
      HENRY:  Station after station, my spirit soared.
     
      JIM:  The regiment was fed and caressed
     
      (BILL enters left)
     
      HENRY:  At station after station.
     
      BILL:  There was a lavish expenditure of bread and cold meats
     
      HENRY:  At station after station, 
     
      (SAMUEL enters right)
     
      SAMUEL:  Coffee and pickles
     
      HENRY:  At station after station,
     
      JIM:  Ham and cheese
     
      HENRY:  At station after station,
     
      NARRATOR:  Until the youth believed—
     
      HENRY:  I must be a hero.
     
      NARRATOR:  As he basked in the smiles of the girls and was patted on
      the back and complimented by the older men,
     
      HENRY:  I felt growing within me the strength to do mighty deeds of
      arms.  (Exits left, gets broom)
     
      NARRATOR:  After complicated journeys,
     
      (JIM exits right, gets cane, returns)
     
      HENRY:  With many pauses,
     
      (BILL exits left, gets shovel, returns; SAMUEL exits right, get
      stick, returns)
     
      NARRATOR:  There had come months of monotonous life in a camp. The
      youth had had the belief that real war was a series of death struggles
      with small time in between for sleep and meals; but since his regiment
      had come to the field the army had done little but sit still and try
      to keep warm. He was drilled, 
     
      (All begin military marching, with their implements, gradually
      getting better:  forward and back three times abreast, with about
      faces & straight line forward intermingled as spoken below)
     
      HENRY:  And drilled
     
      NARRATOR:  And reviewed,
     
      HENRY:  And drilled,
     
      NARRATOR:  And drilled,
     
      HENRY:  And reviewed.
     
      NARRATOR:  The only foes he had seen were some pickets along the
      river bank.  (CONFEDERATE Picket among greenery)
     
      CONFEDERATE:  They were a sun-tanned, philosophical lot, who
      sometimes shot reflectively at the blue pickets. 
     
      HENRY:  When reproached for this afterward, they usually expressed
      sorrow,
     
      CONFEDERATE:  Swore by their gods that the guns had exploded without
      their permission.
     
      HENRY:  I conversed across the stream with one of them.
     
      CONFEDERATE:  He was a slightly ragged man, who spat skillfully
      between his shoes and possessed a great fund of bland and infantile
      assurance.
     
      HENRY:  I liked him personally.
     
      CONFEDERATE:  Yank, yer a right dum good feller.
     
      HENRY:  This sentiment, floating upon the still air, had made me
      temporarily regret war.
     
      NARRATOR:  Various veterans had told him tales.
     
      JIM:  Some talked of gray, bewhiskered hordes
     
      SAMUEL:  Advancing with relentless curses,
     
      BILL:  Chewing tobacco with unspeakable valor.
     
      CONFEDERATE:  We’ll charge through hell’s fire an’ brimstone t’ git a
      holt on a haversack, an’ sech stomachs ain’t a’lastin’ long.
     
      HENRY:  Still, I could not put my whole faith in veteran’s tales,
     
      CONFEDERATE:  Fresh Fish.
     
      HENRY:  For recruits were their prey.
     
      BILL:  Fresh Fish?
     
      HENRY:  They talked much of smoke, fire, and blood,
     
      CONFEDERATE:  Fresh Fish! 
     
      HENRY:  But I could not tell how much might be lies.  Fresh Fish.
      They persistently yelled,
     
      ALL:  Fresh fish!  (Switch to guns)
     
      HENRY:  There was a more serious problem.
     
      NARRATOR:  He tried to mathematically prove to himself that he would
      not run from a battle.
     
      HENRY:  In my life, I had taken certain things for granted,
     
      NARRATOR:  Never challenging his belief in ultimate success,
     
      HENRY:  But here I was confronted with a thing of moment.
     
      NARRATOR:  A little panic-fear grew in his mind…
     
      HENRY:  Good Lord, what’s th’ matter with me?
     
      NARRATOR:  He repeated in dismay…
     
      HENRY:  Good Lord!
     
      JIM:  That’s all right. You can believe me or not, jest as you like.
      Then pretty soon you’ll find out I was right.
     
      BILL:  Well, you don’t know everything in the world, do you?
     
      JIM:  Didn’t say I knew everything in the world.
     
      HENRY:  Going to be a battle, sure, is there, Jim?
     
      JIM:  Of course there is.  You jest wait ‘til to-morrow.  Oh, you’ll
      see fighting this time, my boy, regular out-and-out fighting,
     
      BILL:  Huh!
     
      NARRATOR:  Said the loud one.
     
      HENRY:  Well, like as not this story ‘ll turn out jest like them
      others did.
     
      JIM:  Not much it won’t.  They say there ain’t hardly any cavalry
      left in camp. The regiment’s got orders, too. A feller told me a
      little while ago they’re raising blazes all over camp.
     
      BILL:  Shucks!
     
      NARRATOR:  The youth remained silent for a time.
     
      HENRY:  Jim, How do you think the reg’ment ‘ll do?
     
      JIM:  Oh, they’ll fight all right, after they once get into it. 
     
      CONFEDERATE:  Fresh Fish!  (Exits to change into UNION GENERAL’s
      costume)
     
      JIM:  There’s been heaps of fun poked at ‘em because they’re new, of
      course, but they’ll fight all right.
     
      HENRY:  Think any of the boys’ll run?
     
      JIM:  Oh, there may be a few of ‘em run, but there’s them kind in
      every regiment, ‘specially when they first goes under fire.  But, I
      think they’ll fight better than some, if worse than others. 
     
      BILL:  Oh, you think you know—
     
      JIM:  They call the reg’ment ‘Fresh fish,’ but the boys come of good
      stock. They’ll fight like sin after they oncet git shootin’.
     
      HENRY:  Did you ever think you might run yourself, Jim?
     
      JIM:  Well, I’ve thought it might get too hot for me in some of them
      scrimmages, and if a whole lot of boys started and run, why, I s’pose
      I’d start and run. And if I once started to run, I’d run like the
      devil, and no mistake. But, if everybody was a-standing and
      a-fighting, why, I’d stand and fight. By jiminey, I would. I’ll bet on
      it.
     
      BILL:  Huh!
     
      NARRATOR:  Said the loud one.
     
      BILL:  Huh!
     
      NARRATOR:  The youth of this tale felt gratitude for the words of his
      comrade. He had feared that all of the untried men possessed great and
      correct confidence. He now was in a measure reassured.

[end of extract]

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