Young Sam Clemens begins to tell us a tale of his youth. (Underscore: “When I was a boy…”) He and his little brother Henry have stumbled across the chance of a lifetime. That is “to be a steamboatman.” (Great Big Boat [On the Great Big Water]) The two brothers find themselves aboard the paddlewheel Paul Jones, where Sam takes it upon himself to approach Bixby, the boat’s pilot, for an apprenticeship. Bixby likes the boy because he can”spin a yarn,” (The Alligator Boat) and recruits him. But the seriousness of the job he is about to undertake is driven home when a nearby steamer explodes. (Flights of Angels) After his exciting first day, Sam relaxes to the nighttime music of the Leadsmen. (The Leadsmen’s Song)
Soon becomes apparent that young Henry is homesick (Mississippi Sunset), and Sam promises to send the youngster home if he doesn’t recover.
To earn his pilot’s license, Sam needs the signatures of two pilots, and the alternate pilot onboard is a deaf horror named Brown. (God Made This River) “Learning the river” is a much more onerous task than San had ever imagined. But even though his lessons aren’t going as well as they should (The Book Song), he is still happy to fantasize about getting rid of anyone who might stand in the way of his progress. (Killing Brown) Bixby works diligently with the boy to “learn him the river,” (The Book Song [R]) And the usually private older man even shares some stories of personal strife. (I Remember)
But Sam is forced to grow up — very quickly — when he learns that his little brother Henry, who took a job on another boat, has been killed in a steamboat explosion. (Flights of Angels [R]) But he recovers and is able to acquire his license. And as his story ends, he meets Bixby years later in other circumstances.
An older Sam looks back on it all and wonders about the boy who wanted one thing only. “To be a steamboatman.” And the company celebrates the end of the tale. (Great Big Boat [R])
The play is a dramatization of the “pilot chapters” of Mark Twain’s autobiographical work Life On The Mississippi.
Philip W. Hall is the author of full-length plays, 10-minute plays, and musicals, – including LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI and NO SUGAR, both of which recently premiered in New York. In 2014, LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI was nominated for a New York Innovative Theatre Award. His plays have been produced around the US in such venues as The KENNEDY CENTER and SUNDANCE CHILDREN’S THEATRE as well as in Canada, Australia, and around the Pacific Rim. He has been a finalist for both The Humana Festival’s HEIDEMAN AWARD and the National New Play Network’s SMITH PRIZE. Among his many published pieces are the comedies INSIDE THE DEPARTMENT OF THE EXTERIOR and CUSTOMER SERVICE.
SCRIPT AND MATERIALS
To read Life on the Mississippi, click here!
To listen to the demos, click here!
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