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MERCY, or A Puritan Revolutionary

a comedy in two acts by Richard Seltzer

Copyright 1975

Description

Mercy is based on the lives of Mercy Otis Warren and General Johnny Burgoyne. A recent biography of Burgoyne, entitled The Man Who Lost America, focuses on his defeat and surrender at Saratoga in 1777. A recent biography of Mercy Warren, entitled First Lady of the Revolution, indicates that she was intimately connected with principal actors and actions of the Revolution.

Both Burgoyne and Mercy Warren were playwrights. After the Revolution, Burgoyne wrote several "hit" plays for the London stage. In 1775, during the British occupation of Boston, he wrote The Blockade of Boston. Mercy replied with a play entitled The Blockheads.

These two historical figures are natural antagonists who should meet on the stage.


Cast of Characters (in order of appearance)

Mercy Otis Warren, playwright, historian, mother of five; she first appears as "Actress," then takes on the role of Mercy

General ("Gentleman Johnny") Burgoyne, British general and playwright; he first appears as "Actor," then takes on the role of Johnny

James ("Jemmy") Otis, Mercy's brother

Winslow Warren, her son

Holly, a young woman

Soldier, British infantryman


Time: May-June 1775. Plymouth and Boston, Massachusetts.

Act I.

Scene 1. A space without time or place. With lighting shift becomes inside the Warren home in Plymouth.

Scene 2. Space without time or place.

Scene 3. Inside the home in Boston where Burgoyne is staying.

Scene 4. Inside Warren home in Plymouth.

Scene 5. Space without time or place.

Scene 6. Inside the home in Boston.

Scene 7. Space without time or place.

Scene 8. Inside Warren home in Plymouth.

Scene 9. Inside the home in Boston.

Act II.

Scene 1. Space without time or place. With lighting the scene becomes inside the Warren home in Plymouth.

Scene 2. On stage in Boston at play rehearsal.

Scene 3. On stage in Boston before performance.

Scene 4. In audience and on stage in Boston during performance.


ACT I, SCENE 1

ACTOR and ACTRESS alone on a blank stage.

ACTRESS

How can we do a play about women in the Revolution. Washington, Adams, Jefferson -- all we hear about is men. There simply weren't any notable women in the days of the Revolution.

ACTOR

But you forget Betsy Ross.

ACTRESS

Tending to her knitting like a good little girl.

ACTOR

And Abigail Adams.

ACTRESS

We only know her because of her husband.

ACTOR

Would you like us to distort history?

ACTRESS

No, I want to create history.

ACTOR

Nonsense. The audience wouldn't believe that a woman played a major role in the Revolution. Politics and war simply weren't a woman's place. She could sew uniforms and keep up the men's morale. But it was men who made history.

ACTRESS

And it was men who wrote it.

ACTOR

Not entirely. You do your sex an injustice. Mercy Warren was a tolerable historian.

ACTRESS

Mercy who?

ACTOR

Mercy Warren. Sister of James Otis. Wife of General James Warren. Close friend of the Adamses. Historian. Playwright. Revolutionary par excellence.

ACTRESS

Then make her the heroine.

(The lighting shifts, and ACTOR and ACTRESS now take on the roles of MERCY and BURGOYNE.)

BURGOYNE

How do you do, Mrs. Warren?

MERCY

How do you do... What did you say your name was?

BURGOYNE

Burgoyne.

MERCY

Excuse me?

BURGOYNE

Burgoyne. Major-General John Burgoyne of His Majesty's Dragoons.

MERCY

How very impressive. A British general. But I should have recognized as much from your uniform. And what do your friends call you? Your Excellency? Your Eliteness?

BURGOYNE

As fate would have it, my enemies are more clever than my friends. Or perhaps the devil inspires would-be evil tongues. They call me "Gentleman Johnny."

MERCY

Gentleman Johnny? I see nothing malicious in that.

BURGOYNE

Ah, but madam, in the cruel world a gentleman is a silly sight. I treat my troops with respect and dignity. I keep them fed and clothed like decent human beings. I allow no floggings nor... But, madam, not being familiar with the beastly life of the common British solider, you would have no grounds to appreciate my humanity.

MERCY

You underestimate me... General.

BURGOYNE

"Johnny," please, madam, "Johnny." I believe I have the honor of counting you among my enemies.

MERCY

You flatter yourself, Johnny. I feel but the slightest twinge of enmity toward you.

BURGOYNE

Then let's toast to that enmity, my dear. I sense in you a worthy adversary. May we become the very best of enemies?

(They pantomime toasting and drinking from wine glasses.)

MERCY

What time is it, Johnny?

BURGOYNE

About half past 1775, I believe.

MERCY

Then I'm afraid I must be getting home.

BURGOYNE

But, my dear, do stay. It's dreadfully dreary being blockaded here in Boston. Without you rebels, there's really no one to talk to. The Loyalists just say what they think we want them to say. It's like talking to ourselves. There's nothing more dull and irritating than agreeable people.

MERCY

Then you'd get along famously with my brother.

BURGOYNE

I don't believe I've had the pleasure.

MERCY

James Otis, barrister, politician, instigator of revolutions. You owe your presence here in Boston in large measure to his eloquence.

BURGOYNE

But I don't see his name among the proscribed. Hancock, Adams, but no Otis. Your rebel brother has failed to make the most wanted criminal list. Has he been slack in his duty?

MERCY

He's been out of sorts of late.

BURGOYNE

How out of sorts?

MERCY

Out of his mind, if you will.

BURGOYNE

Rather like the colonies.

MERCY

He has his moments of lucidity. They come in fits and starts. His enemies say his mind is as fickle as the mob. One moment he rants and raves. Then he turns docile and contradicts himself. Why he'd do backward somersaults to prove that he was misunderstood.

(JEMMY comes somersaulting in).

Some people say that he's like a weathervane of the Revolution, swinging this way and that, impelled to and from rebellion.

(JEMMY keeps tumbling, now forward, now backward).

I, for one, believe it's more than coincidence. If you could see the way his words act on men's minds. It's as if he were divinely inspired to foster and nurture revolution -- to urge the people on, but yet hold them back, until the time is ripe to throw caution to the wind and rush to independence.

BURGOYNE

That army of rebels surrounding Boston gives me the distinct impression that you have already thrown caution to the wind.

MERCY

Not yet. Not entirely. Still in our innermost councils there's talk of compromise and peace. Even now I can hear them. All the way from Plymouth I can hear them.

(She listens, and her brother does, too.)

That's my husband, James Warren, raising his voice. It's quite unlike him to raise his voice like that. But it's hard for him now that John and Sam Adams are off in Philadelphia, trying to bring the rest of the colonies around. I wouldn't let my James go. And a good thing, too. We're left with nothing but the lukewarm revolutionaries and farmers who call themselves "minutemen" and can't wait much longer than a minute -- so impatient they are to get back to their crops and their families.

If another month passes without a victory, without even a battle, they'll all drift off home, and we'll be defenseless against you and your troops.

(BURGOYNE starts to speak, but MERCYstops him.)

Shush. That's Benjamin Church speaking now. Each day he grows cooler to the cause. No matter what the Adamses do in Philadelphia, the Revolution may end right here in Boston in May of 1775 -- a minor rebellion, quickly forgotten.

(They listen for a moment more.)

Come along now, Jemmy.

(She takes her brother's hand).

We must return to our proper place and our proper time. We're needed.

(BURGOYNE exits. Lighting or setting shifts. MERCY, her brother JEMMY and son WINSLOW are on stage. MERCY is writing, then reading aloud what she has written.)

MERCY

Apparently concerned about the military situation, Mr. Church expressed the hope of reconciliation and compromise. To his mind, the recent hostilities at Concord and Lexington and the present array of Patriot troops surrounding the British garrison here in Boston indicate that we are in earnest in our demands and are willing to take extreme measures in defense of our liberties; but they do not, he says, preclude negotiation. Rather, they provide a basis for negotiation. We have had our say and have spoken forcefully. Now we must wait politely for the King's response -- be it restoration or our liberties or additional troops and repression. He urges that we take no further military steps. He goes so far as to suggest that we instruct Mr. Franklin to convey to Lord North and to the King our sincere desire to remain loyal subjects of the crown; provided, of course, that we receive guarantees of our liberties and rights as British citizens.

Mr. Church's remarks were received in silence by the Committee of Correspondence. No one sought to interrupt or question him as he spoke. Fingers clenched and unclenched. Members shifted about in their seats, watching one another's reactions.

Finally, Mr. Warren rose and raised his voice, speaking out hotly against lukewarm patriots, saying that the die is cast, there is no turning back, the only course open is independence, and for that we must fight.

His words were met with sullen silent faces of uncertain men.

To judge from the tone of the meeting, our Committee of Correspondence might better be dubbed a Committee of Despondence or of Co-Despondence, for the mood of uncertainty and concern spread like a contagion among the members and, through their letters, now threatens to spread far and wide.

(She looks up.)

Winslow, what do you think of it? How will this page look in the History of America?

WINSLOW

Things change so fast, mother. All your efforts will go to waste. It will all have to be rewritten.

MERCY

Yes, it must all be rewritten, again and again, both in my lifetime and after it. Men will only stop rewriting history when they stop changing and growing.

(HOLLY comes racing in.)

HOLLY

(Handing MERCY a letter.) Mrs. Warren, a messenger just rode by and left this for you. He was in a terrible hurry. Is it news from Boston? News from England?

MERCY

(She opens it quickly.) We'll see.

(She reads it while HOLLY andWINSLOW flirt in the background.)

Jemmy!

(She shakes JEMMY. He seems to wake up, looks around.)

King George has sent three new generals to Boston: Clinton, Howe, and Burgoyne -- the Burgoyne.

JEMMY

(Thinking hard, and speaking slowly). Burgoyne. Yes, that name sounds familiar. Didn't he write a play? Yes, I remember clearly. It was in the London papers...

MERCY

Yes, General John Burgoyne, playwright, hero of the Portuguese campaign, recently quite eloquent in Parliament in his condemnation of the inhumane policies of the East India Company. He's a many-sided man, a gentleman of polite manners, literary abilities and tried bravery. But he is haughty in his deportment and an inveterate foe to America.

HOLLY

Do you know him, Mrs. Warren?

MERCY

Only by reputation. He is the finest general in the British army.

WINSLOW

Are they replacing General Gage?

MERCY

(Reading rapidly.) Apparently not. The new generals seem to have no specific assignment. They gad about town, finding what merriment they can, bottled up on that little peninsula of Boston. All of them except Burgoyne. Burgoyne could cause trouble. He might prod Gage into taking the offensive.

WINSLOW

Who's the letter from, mother?

MERCY

There are several letters in the packet.

(Reading and interpreting freely).

It appears that Burgoyne has taken up residence at the Stevens' and is driving Mrs. Stevens to distraction with his demands for the very finest wines and foods and service.

(She reads some more, then turns to HOLLY).

Have you ever been to Boston?

HOLLY

Well, to the south I've been as far as Barnstable, and to the north I've been to Hingham. And once we went all the way to Braintree.

MERCY

But have you ever been to Boston?

HOLLY

No.

MERCY

And would you like to go?

HOLLY

I believe so, yes.

WINSLOW

Send me, mother. You know how I've always wanted to go to Boston.

MERCY

No, Winslow. This business calls for a woman.

(Pause.)

Mrs. Stevens could use some help about the house.

(To HOLLY.)

The British are quite lax. People can come and go freely in the city. It would give you a chance to see Boston and meet interesting people. I'll speak to your mother.

(A shift in the lighting leaves WINSLOW and HOLLY alone on the stage.)

MERCY

(Voice only). And be sure to write. And tell us everything you see and hear.

WINSLOW

So you've never been to Boston?

HOLLY

Never been to Boston.

WINSLOW

It's a town of 15,000.

HOLLY

15,000?

WINSLOW

15,000. If you haven't been to Boston, you just haven't seen the world.


ACT I SCENE 2

MERCY is reading a letter from

HOLLY. BURGOYNE'S voice comes from the dark.)

BURGOYNE

How could you send an innocent girl like that to spy for you?

MERCY

I didn't send her to spy. It was for her own good, to give her a chance to see something of the world. And Mrs. Stevens did need help. I felt it was the right thing to do. I asked her to write to me. I suppose I felt that an innocent impressionable girl might make interesting and useful observations. But it wasn't premeditated spying. We are not all so detached as you, premeditating your every move.

BURGOYNE

You underestimate me, madam. I am more passionate than deliberate.

MERCY

But if you could just see yourself as others see you. Just listen to what Holly says:

"The General -- he insists that I call him 'Johnny,' but the title is so grand, I think 'General' even when I say 'Johnny' -- well the General is such a brilliant man it shows in everything he does. Why even the way he sits down to dinner, reaches for the napkin and spreads it on his lap: it's the ultimate in deliberate grace, as if he had mapped it all out in advance. His motions are never hurried, never awkward, and yet he does everything quickly, proceeding directly to the point, with the minimum of motions. I can't help but admire him because my own hands are forever doing things that have nothing at all to do with what I'm saying or doing."

BURGOYNE

"Deliberate grace." How poetic. The dear girl must be falling in love. This is all, presumably, in accord with your plan?

MERCY

I have no plan, I tell you. I do what I feel is right and just.

BURGOYNE

My, but you have a convenient conscience.

MERCY

Go back to your own place and time and leave me be.


ACT I SCENE 3

(Scene switches to BURGOYNE and HOLLY in Boston).

BURGOYNE

And who is this Mrs. Warren you're forever writing to?

HOLLY

Oh, she's the splendidest person you could ever hope to meet. She's kind, considerate, and clever. And she's most independent in her thoughts. She believes that women should play an active role in the world, rather than sitting at home as ornaments or household slaves.

BURGOYNE

Are those her words?

HOLLY

Yes. It was she who suggested that I come to Boston and who convinced my parents to let me.

BURGOYNE

Then, indeed, she is a splendid person; and I should be most grateful to her. But what are her politics?

HOLLY

Oh, she's a staunch revolutionary.

BURGOYNE

Indeed?

HOLLY

And her whole family are revolutionaries as well. Her husband is a general in the Massachusetts militia, and he's been Speaker of the House of the Provincial Legislature, and he'd be in even more responsible positions -- he'd be in Philadelphia right now representing Massachusetts -- but Mrs. Warren insists that he not go too far, that he not forget his responsibilities to his family.

And her brother James made some of the very first and fieriest speeches for independence. Even before Sam Adams spoke up. Some say he's largely responsible for the present rebellion -- that he set and lit the fuse.

BURGOYNE

Is that her phrase?

HOLLY

Yes, she has the finest way of putting things.

BURGOYNE

Is she an old woman?

HOLLY

No, by no means. She does have five sons. The oldest goes to Harvard. But she's a fine looking woman -- in her prime. You know how some women are all at loose ends and you don't know whether they're beautiful because they're young or young because they're beautiful? Well, Mrs. Warren, Mercy Warren is beautiful too, but it's a beauty of sincerity. I don't know how else to put it, and yet I know I put it poorly.

BURGOYNE

You mean her features reflect her feelings?

HOLLY

No, "feelings" isn't the word. It's more like you know that there's something "good" about her. You know that if her intentions were evil, she would look ugly. But her intentions are good, and she inspires faith, and she's beautiful. Maybe you'd call it "natural grace," yes, "natural grace."

BURGOYNE

If you weren't so candid, I might almost think she had sent you as a spy.

(HOLLY laughs.)

Is it so funny?

HOLLY

I laugh because it's so hard to believe that there's a war going on. Here you are with your beautiful title and your beautiful uniform, and you never talk of military matters. You spend your entire day seeing to your pleasure.

BURGOYNE

Well, you can hardly blame me. I have no command. Gage makes all the decisions. My position is really quite anomalous.

HOLLY

(Laughs again.) Yes, there I am, sent to spy on a general without a command, in a war that isn't really a war. Do you think I'd make a good spy, Johnny? Can you picture me as Delilah?


ACT I SCENE 4

(Quick light switch, like a cut in a film, to Plymouth. WINSLOW is reading to MERCY a letter from HOLLY).

WINSLOW

"Can you picture me as Delilah?" she writes. "You should see me at work, trying to pry great military secrets from him: such as what his generalship would like for lunch. And there are no bounds to his suspicion; or is it jealousy? Even now he is leaning over my shoulder reading every word I write, asking me multitudes of questions about who you are, Winslow. 'Writing to a man?' he asks. And I tell him nonsense -- that you are just a boy."

(WINSLOW pauses.)

"And I say that you are most unpolitical besides -- the most unpolitical member of your family. I say that all you want is to go into business, make a fortune, and see the world. But, alas, whatever I say, and whatever I write for him to read, he believes that you must be a hot-headed revolutionary like your mother -- only much more dangerous, because you are a man, while she is a mere woman."

MERCY

"Mere woman," indeed. Why if it weren't for such a "mere woman" as Holly, our chances of independence might now be nil.

WINSLOW

How so, mother?

MERCY

Why do you think Burgoyne gads about town and pays no attention to military matters?

WINSLOW

Like Holly says, he has no command.

MERCY

And did that ever stop him in the past? He should be dashing about, checking the positions and the condition of the troops -- making recommendations, forming plans, prodding Gage for a command and for the chance to carry out his plans. That's the normal character of Burgoyne: an active responsible soldier. But instead, he parties and shows off his wit rather than his wisdom. And who is he always with?

WINSLOW

Holly.

MERCY

Despite herself, she is a Delilah -- not by uncovering great secrets, but by keeping her Samson distracted and far from the business of war.

WINSLOW

How could you do that, mother? How could you deliberately send that innocent girl to be the plaything...

MERCY

I never expected it would turn out this way. But, then, it couldn't have turned out better.

WINSLOW

You'd do anything to win this revolution, wouldn't you? You'd sell your soul to the devil, if he'd take it. And Holly's soul. And my soul.

MERCY

Calm down now. You're blowing this all out of proportion.

WINSLOW

Proportion? I may be young, but I'm not blind. I see how you and your friends take every scrap of news and twist it and blow it out of proportion, purposely to make war -- to make men die. I don't want to die. I don't want to have anything to do with your revolution.

You talk of liberty and independence. Well, I want my independence. I want to come and go as I please. I want to go into business, make some money, find a wife. I want to see the world. I want to live as other people live, far from all this nonsense about revolution.

MERCY

Enough, my boy. You'll learn as you grow older that there are nobler ideals than truth and higher goals than a selfish life.

WINSLOW

The whole idea of revolution is revolting.


ACT I SCENE 5

Jemmy is alone on the stage.

JEMMY

I speak with the voice of the people. Who asked me? You dare to ask who asked me? No one asked me. No one asks what the people want -- not the King in his palace and not the merchant in his counting house.

What do the King and the merchant say? They say, "Pay, pay, pay, pay, pay."

Liberty and independence are fine words, fine ideals. Many is the time I've spoken out for them. But where lies true liberty, when everywhere I turn I hear, "Pay, pay, pay, pay, pay."

We strike out at the King. We leave our homes, our farms, our trades. We take up arms and risk our lives. And the merchants who spoke up so loudly against the King's taxes, what do the merchants say? They say, "Pay, pay, pay, pay, pay."

Every day I stay away from my home and my work, the debts pile up. Even if we win this futile fight against the King, who is going to pay my debts? And your debts? What will we come home to but more debts? Am I to trade the King's shackles for a debtor's prison?

The enemy is out there. I can hear him. But it isn't a king, not a mortal king. It's a hundred-headed hydra. And if we cut off the King's head, another head will sprout in its place.

And the beast makes a hissing sound: "Pay, pay, pay, pay, pay."

And I say in return, "Peace, peace, peace. Give us peace."

War never lined the poor man's pocket, nor did armed rebellion ever bring him freedom from debt.

From the guts of the people I hear a rumbling, a belly-aching rumbling: We are sick of war. Give us peace!


ACT I SCENE 6

(Light shifts quickly, like a film cut, to HOLLY and BURGOYNE. HOLLY is leaning over BURGOYNE'S shoulder. He is sitting and reading a letter. This is the reverse of their last scene together, when he was looking over her shoulder.)

HOLLY

What does he say?

BURGOYNE

He says the people want peace.

HOLLY

But who is he?

BURGOYNE

Lee. Charles Lee.

HOLLY

Yes, Johnny, but who is Lee?

BURGOYNE

Just another renegade British officer. It's nothing for you to trouble yourself about.

HOLLY

And why shouldn't I trouble myself about it? Just because I'm a woman.

BURGOYNE

No. Because I don't want to bother about it myself. (He crumples up the letter and tosses it away. Spotlight follows the paper.)

HOLLY

(She retrieves the paper). Why, I think it's perfectly awful that you pay no attention to your duties.

BURGOYNE

And haven't you enjoyed yourself during the last few weeks?

HOLLY

Certainly, I have. But Mrs. Warren would never approve.

BURGOYNE

Is she that Puritan a Puritan? Does she think you should make yourself miserable in this world so you can frolic in the next?

HOLLY

No, don't be silly, Johnny.

(She leans over his shoulder and kisses him on the cheek).

Someone writes to you, and you just toss the letter away.

BURGOYNE

(Playfully). Maybe you are a spy, after all. Mrs. Warren sent you here to do everything possible to secure favorable peace terms. And to what lengths would you be willing to go to convince me?

HOLLY

Now, Johnny, none of that. This is serious business. Hundreds, perhaps even thousands of men are surrounding this town. They have left their homes and taken up arms to fight and, perhaps, die for liberty.

BURGOYNE

And damn fools they are. They'll get nothing for their trouble but a new set of masters, perhaps worse than the last. And they'll come home from war, weary, perhaps maimed a bit here and there, and find the mortgage on their farm has been foreclosed, and creditors are clamoring for payment, and hungry children are crying. The common soldier, the man who does the fighting and the dying for words like "liberty" and "democracy," gets nothing for his trouble but a pat on the back at the last muster.

HOLLY

You shouldn't talk that way about men with such high ideals. You have no right.

BURGOYNE

They're fools, I tell you. They're fools for swallowing all the lies your fine Mrs. Warren and her friends have spread.

HOLLY

Lies? What lies?

BURGOYNE

(He gradually gets carried away, as if delivering a speech for Parliament). Take your Boston Massacre.

HOLLY

All right. Take it.

BURGOYNE

A few people got shot by accident.

HOLLY

Tell that to the dead men and their widows.

BURGOYNE

(He ignores HOLLY). If people had the facts, all this hullabaloo would die down in a minute. It's facts we need. Pure facts. Show me a gathering of men, show me a potential rebellion, and I'll show you a pack of lies. Lies are pieces of fact blown out of all proportion, to the point where they overshadow all the rest of reality and demand attention. People rally round lies because the lies are big and simple and easy to understand. But facts, all the facts taken together, are always complex, ambiguous and contradictory.

HOLLY

How can you believe...

BURGOYNE

(He continues to ignore her.) If a man hollers on a street corner, "Give me liberty!" that man is lying. For he is saying that he has no liberty; and others may join him in that cry, identifying their own personal frustrations with his general plea. But if you ask that man what he means by "liberty" -- not philosophic theory, but what made him stand on that street corner -- if you persist in questioning him until the big lie is pared down to the meager facts it started from, you'll find out that he objects to paying ten pence extra for a pound of tea, and perhaps his uncle was lately convicted for smuggling.

HOLLY

And he may well be a true patriot.

BURGOYNE

(He keeps ignoring her.) We can only stamp out the seeds of rebellion by diligently pursuing the facts and making them known to the public. Rather than throwing these rabble rousers in jail and making martyrs of them, we should publicly question them, seeking out and, as far as possible, remedying their personal grievances. Each case should be considered separately in all its particularity and detail.

Give them truth -- large doses of truth. And truth will divide them, just as ignorance now unites them. Give them truth, and truth will make them free: free from their own rebellious passions and blindness, free to pursue peaceful and productive lives under the gracious protection of His Majesty the King of England.

HOLLY

That's all very fine, Johnny. Well suited for Parliament. You must be magnificent in Parliament. But who is this man Lee, and what does he want?

BURGOYNE

(Calming down). He was in my command during the Portuguese campaign. He's hot-headed, but competent. He was always a braggart; and, apparently, being away from the army and living in the colonies, he's given that braggart tongue considerable exercise and has convinced quite a few people of his military prowess.

HOLLY

What does he want? Is he looking for a commission in the British army? Does he want to be a spy for you?

BURGOYNE

My, but you're inquisitive.

(He pauses.)

He suggests that the differences between the colonies and the King can be remedied. I agree with him there: it's a petty set of grievances. He also claims that if matters get much further out of hand, if there's another major clash with British troops here in Boston, the Continental Congress will rally to the side of Massachusetts, perhaps raise an army with troops from all the colonies. He says he wants to avoid all-out war and that he has friends in Congress of similar opinion. If he could get some assurance from the British government that the major grievances would be remedied, he believes he could induce Congress to come to terms and vote for peace.

HOLLY

What terms does he suggest?

BURGOYNE

Nothing specific. It's all vague ramblings. As I said, he has an inflated image of himself.

HOLLY

But what grievances does he mention?

BURGOYNE

It's vague, I tell you. He, apparently, wants me to forward his letter to Lord North via my friends in London. But North would simply laugh it off and forget it in a minute.

HOLLY

But don't you feel you have a responsibility?

BURGOYNE

To Lee?

HOLLY

To those men out there -- both patriot and British troops. If you believe there's no real reason for war, surely you have an obligation, as a gentleman, as a human being, to try to patch up the differences.

BURGOYNE

But I'm a private citizen in this matter. I have no command and no authority to negotiate.

HOLLY

You're a general. If you write to Lee, he'll assume that you have the authority to speak for your government. And he'll take the message to Congress and write back with specific terms that you could present to North.

BURGOYNE

You expect me to negotiate privately with a foreign power, with no authorization?

HOLLY

But America isn't a foreign power -- not yet, not if you act quickly. We are still a part of England. And imagine...

BURGOYNE

(Thoughtful.) Yes, imagine what people would say... if I should succeed in single-handedly...


ACT I SCENE 7

WINSLOW and JEMMY are alone on the stage. Both have been drinking.

JEMMY

(He is doing military right face, left face, about face, over and over again). Forward! Forward! Forward! Forward!

(He stops abruptly.)

I say, Winslow, which way is forward?

WINSLOW

That depends on where you want to go.

JEMMY

Yes, my boy, yes. You ask a civilian where he wants to go. But you tell a soldier: Forward! Forward! Forward!

(He keeps turning as he says it. Finally, he stops.)

But how does a soldier know which way is forward?

WINSLOW

He looks at his feet.

JEMMY

(He looks at his feet: one is pointed one way and the other another). But which foot? My feet are of two minds. the one would take me this way, and the other that. The backward of the one is the forward of the other. And how am I to sort it all out?

WINSLOW

But what makes you think you're a soldier?

JEMMY

We're all soldiers, my boy. Our nation is at war. Our mother country and our native land is at war.

(He starts to step one way, then the other. He hesitates.)

No, "are" at war; yes, they "are" at war. It's hard to get used to being a soldier. Drill me.

WINSLOW

(With the tone of a drill sergeant.) Attention! Right face! Left face! About face! Forward, march!

JEMMY

(He sways from one foot to the other. He struggles to keep his balance.) No, that's too difficult. Stick to the easy ones.

WINSLOW

Left face! Left face! Left face! Halt and be recognized.

(He plays the part of a sentry on duty.)

Who goes there?

JEMMY

Private James Otis, requesting permission to pass, sir.

WINSLOW

And where are you going, Private James Otis?

JEMMY

From cradle to grave, sir. From cradle to grave. Requesting permission to pass, sir.

WINSLOW

Then give the password. You can't expect to pass on without giving the password.

JEMMY

But what sentry are you? It's so hard to keep track?

WINSLOW

18th Sentry.

JEMMY

I thought I'd seen 19 or 20, or was it 21? It's so hard to keep track. Perhaps I'm not going forward. Tell me, sentry, who's in command here?

WINSLOW

General Artemas Ward, General John Thomas of Plymouth, Colonel John Stark from New Hampshire, Israel Putnam and Benedict Arnold from Connecticut, Nathaneal Greene from Rhode Island. New men keep coming every day from far-off towns. You'd think it was some sort of exhibition or celebration. They stay a few days or a few weeks, then drift away, in ones and twos, back to their homes and farms. It's unseasonably cold. No one seems to be in charge. Nothing seems to happen. We sit around and swap rumors, play cards, and wonder when the redcoats will attack, and wonder why we've stayed here this long.

JEMMY

And where are you from, lad?

WINSLOW

From Plymouth.

JEMMY

And I, as well. Let's drink to Plymouth, and to Concord, and to Lexington. Let's drink to Barnstable, to Watertown, to Winthrop, to Cambridge. But most of all let's drink to peace. May the war that began in Concord end in peace.

WINSLOW

But what chance is there of peace?

JEMMY

More than you may expect.

(He gestures for WINSLOW to come nearer.)

I have it on good authority that the King has agreed to negotiate. We can get home rule and whatever else we want. All our differences will be resolved. That's why Gage hasn't attacked. That's why we haven't attacked. Burgoyne started the move toward peace. Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne. In the name of the King, he has written to Congress, through his former subordinate, the much-respected Charles Lee of New Jersey. Let's drink to Burgoyne, to the King, and to peace.


ACT I SCENE 8

(The light shifts, leaving WINSLOWon the stage with MERCY.)

WINSLOW

Have you heard the news, mother? The camps are buzzing with talk of peace.

MERCY

(Sarcastic.) Peace, indeed.

WINSLOW

Yes, Burgoyne... I wonder if Holly had anything to do with it? Perhaps you were right in sending her. Perhaps I misjudged you, mother. I suppose. You never said anything about peace... But what's the matter, mother? I've never seen you so out of sorts.

MERCY

You've been drinking again.

(WINSLOW bows.)

With Jemmy, no doubt.

(He bows again.)

And you've been wandering about the camps.

WINSLOW

Like any self-respecting son of a ... revolutionary. I've been keeping up with news of the war. I've been encouraging the brave lads in the trenches. We drank to Plymouth and to Charlestown and...

MERCY

I'm sure you weren't at a loss for towns to drink to.

WINSLOW

And we drank to peace as well... But what's the matter, mother?

MERCY

Ever since Holly left, you've been falling into dissolute ways. I never realized you were so smitten with her.

WINSLOW

(Piqued.) Enough of that. Let's talk of peace... What's wrong, mother?

MERCY

Don't you understand what we're fighting for?

WINSLOW

Then you don't want peace? That wasn't why you sent Holly to Burgoyne? Peace? If peace was all we wanted, would we have ever gone to war?

(Intoxicated, he is a bit slow in his reactions, a bit exaggerated in his gestures, a bit irreverent in his tone.)

But if the King grants a measure of home rule...

MERCY

A measure? As if you could weigh out freedom in grams and ounces.

WINSLOW

Perhaps a hundred years from now people may be ready for democracy. But for now, mother, they want to get back to their milking and plowing. And I can't say that I blame them.

MERCY

You think like an old man. Show some enthusiasm. Fall in love. Dive into life. That's what life is for. Don't sit around and count your minutes like you count your precious coins, apportioning a little for this and a little for that.

WINSLOW

Is this my mother speaking? My Puritan mother? Who chides me for drinking? Who rarely ventures out of the house? Who has always led a prim and proper life?

MERCY

To the limit of my capacity, I participate in our nation's struggles. Sometimes I feel we can and will change the shape of future history. Sometimes I get caught up in the hope and spirit of revolution and feel that it will last forever.

WINSLOW

But to what end, mother? To what end?

MERCY

You forever think of ends, while I forever think of beginnings.

WINSLOW

Why not let the world go on quietly and pleasantly as it always did before? I want a world that stays still long enough for me to climb to success and fortune. Everything's so topsy-turvy, see-saw now, that you never know whether you're taking a step forward or backward.

MERCY

But you live in such a special time. Sometimes it seems that the slightest push will send the world spinning one way or the other. And you're so young. Don't you feel it? Doesn't the spirit of change excite your every nerve?

WINSLOW

You sound like some preacher talking about the Apocalypse and the Second Coming. The Day of Judgment is at hand.

MERCY

And rightly so. The hand of God is at work in history. At great moments, He reaches out and touches the multitudes. All the barriers between man and man break down, and people join hands in a spirit of participation and self-sacrifice.

WINSLOW

I suppose you find revolution exhilarating?

MERCY

You should have heard the Reverend Whitefield when he was in his prime. Then you'd know whereof I speak. Not so much what he said as the way he could say it. He could touch the souls of his audience. He could raise them and lower them and swing them to and fro, in harmony, in resonance.

WINSLOW

And just think of the camaraderie of the battlefield -- brave young lads fighting and dying and being maimed -- in harmony, in resonance.

MERCY

I don't wish harm on any of them. But mutual danger in a good cause does draw people together.

WINSLOW

Jemmy says he wants to die alone -- struck by lightning.

MERCY

We all know that Jemmy's mad.

WINSLOW

And you're sane, I suppose -- wanting to die in a holocaust, in an apocalypse, with all mankind?

MERCY

Perhaps we're all mad in our own way. You for money and me for liberty. But in the light of history, which madness will appear nobler? What will people say a hundred years from now?

WINSLOW

If you keep this war alive and win it, they'll honor you and those like you -- the makers and the writers of history. But while they honor noble aims and high ideals from the distant past, they'll think and speak as I do now. Revolution makes good history and good reading, but who the hell wants to live through it.

MERCY

Well, I for one. But I'll die of a chill if you don't throw some more wood on the fire, Winslow. It's so unseasonably cold for June. We can't let the fire die out. Not yet.

(WINSLOW pantomimes putting logs in a fireplace and stirring up the fire with a poker. Spotlight leaves him alone on the stage.)


ACT 1 SCENE 9

BURGOYNE is sitting and HOLLY is standing nearby.

BURGOYNE

Yes, Holly, will you please toss another log on the fire. I feel a sudden chill coming on.

HOLLY

It's so hard to believe, Johnny.

BURGOYNE

I'd believe most anything now. These Americans are so devious and unpredictable. I underestimated you.

HOLLY

(Coyly.) Me?

BURGOYNE

The whole lot of you.

HOLLY

(She sits on his lap.) Do we scare you?

BURGOYNE

Well, you certainly disorient me. You don't play the part the way the rest of the world expect you to.

HOLLY

And what part is that?

BURGOYNE

Where's innocence, simplicity, naivete? Didn't we dub this place the New World?

HOLLY

And what has my Columbus discovered?

BURGOYNE

That the inhabitants are the same pack of liars and thieves we've got back in England.

HOLLY

Well, if that's the way you feel about it, who are you going to believe -- Lee or Mrs. Warren?

BURGOYNE

Confound my instincts. I learned at an early age never to trust a woman. The more innocent she seems, the more subtle she probably is. You, on the contrary, don't seem the least bit innocent, but you are, completely. That's the charm of you.

HOLLY

(She gets up.) I don't know how to take that.

BURGOYNE

Then leave it. But so far as I can tell from her letters, Mercy Warren falls into that same contradictory category. On the surface, she's a revolutionary, and I have every reason to suspect her of treasonous intent. But underneath, she's a Puritan, and Puritans make poor actors.

HOLLY

But I'm a Puritan, too.

BURGOYNE

(He gets up and kisses her, then walks toward the fire.) Then you, too, should stay away from the stage -- be it theatrical or political.

HOLLY

Such male, pagan prejudice.

(She starts pouting and continues to pout until the subject returns to theater.)

BURGOYNE

You ask a question, and I attempt an answer. I think your Mrs. Warren is incapable of deceit. Certainly, she can twist and pull the truth, like historians, religious fanatics and revolutionaries always do -- seeing trends and revelations and provocations everywhere. But a deliberate lie is a different matter. She's too, too...

HOLLY

Natural?

BURGOYNE

Yes, natural. But Lee is another matter. He always was an ambitious dog. Brave, yes. But always quicker with his tongue than with his sword. He boasts about his bravery and brilliance and keeps maneuvering for promotion. I didn't trust him in Portugal, and I don't trust him now. Mrs. Warren's letter just confirms my doubt.

HOLLY

But what does she say, precisely? It is a letter to me.

BURGOYNE

Ostensibly. She clearly expected that I would read it. She mentions that Lee has been maneuvering for the post of commander-in-chief, should such a post be created.

HOLLY

How did she hear that?

BURGOYNE

From Abigail Adams, who heard it from John. You can read the letter in all its charming detail, with capsulized portraits of all the people concerned. But the thrust of the matter is that Lee is currying the favor of Congress. He is putting on a false front as an advocate of peace, to gain a name for himself and to mask his true ambition, which is to lead the combined armies of the American colonies against the troops of the King.

HOLLY

Then his letter...

BURGOYNE

Was an abominable lie.

HOLLY

And peace...

BURGOYNE

Is impossible. He was simply using my name to further his personal ambition.

(HOLLY continues to pout, and turns away.)

I know you had your heart set on peace; but, for God's sake, don't pout.

HOLLY

Then write a play for me.

BURGOYNE

What's this nonsense? One moment you want peace and the next you want a play?

HOLLY

(Playfully) But what's peace for, if it isn't so people can play?

BURGOYNE

So you want a piece of theater?

HOLLY

A theater piece. Precisely.

BURGOYNE

And what, precisely, should I write.

HOLLY

A comedy in two acts.

BURGOYNE

Two acts?

HOLLY

No more, not less. We must consider our audience.

BURGOYNE

What audience?

HOLLY

Why this audience, of course. The people of Boston. The soldiers and tailors and merchants of Boston. If this war is to drag on, they need diversion. Write something that touches every one of them. But don't make it too long. Just two acts. About five characters. Some comedy. Maybe some music.

BURGOYNE

Is that all?

HOLLY

And write a part for me.

BURGOYNE

An innocent shepherdess, wooed by an equally innocent goatherd?

HOLLY

Certainly not, Johnny. I never cared for sheep.

(Pause.)

My brothers always did those chores. Why do you make fun of me?

(She pouts some more.)

BURGOYNE

No harm intended. Why some of the finest...

HOLLY

I know Johnny. Write a part for a seductive.

BURGOYNE

A seductive Puritan?

HOLLY

Yes, if you like; so long as I'm seductive. But what shall we call it?

BURGOYNE

"The Delilah of Plymouth"?

HOLLY

No, silly. Why not, the Siege, no, the Blockade of Boston.

BURGOYNE

And what if the rebels attack?

HOLLY

The play must go on.

BURGOYNE

A play about a battle in the midst of the very battle it's about? I must admit the idea is intriguing.

HOLLY

But be sure to make it a comedy -- with love and music and everybody gets married in the end.

BURGOYNE

You can talk to my wife in London about marriage. But a play... It is about time I wrote another play.


ACT II SCENE 1

MERCY is sewing. BURGOYNE enters.

BURGOYNE

My dear Mrs. Warren, at work again? Are you always at work?

MERCY

I know my place, Johnny. As you should know yours.

BURGOYNE

But we live in all times and all places. One moment as well as another was made for our passing pleasure.

MERCY

You're always the same, Johnny. Will you never grow, never learn?

BURGOYNE

Certainly I have and will. I just don't make such a fuss about it. My life unfolds naturally.

MERCY

Like your well-pressed linen?

BURGOYNE

I have an appreciation for the finer things of life.

MERCY

The comforts, you mean?

BURGOYNE

The soft, the silken, the smooth, the sensuous.

MERCY

Get to the point, Johnny.

BURGOYNE

It's a pity that we never got together. It would have been infinitely easier to write the dialogue for my plays with you around...

MERCY

You mean if I wrote it for you.

BURGOYNE

I meant to say, "to write it with me."

MERCY

"Against" would be more appropriate. And weren't you pleased with your success on the London stage?

BURGOYNE

Not half so please as I would have been had I achieved success in America.

(He means to be flirtatious, but she takes it another way.)

MERCY

Yes, I have heard it said that when you lost the Battle of Saratoga, you lost America.

BURGOYNE

Historians can be cruel.

MERCY

Yes, can't we?

BURGOYNE

But history can be still crueler. What became of your revolution? Didn't I hear that your American government is taxing the people to the brink of a new revolution?

MERCY

Yes, two incidents already, and I can't help but sympathize with the rebels. First Shay's Rebellion, then that uprising in Pennsylvania. But very few, just a handful of men dared to fight.

BURGOYNE

And what's this I hear about the American government throwing people in jail for their political opinions, for speaking out against your latest war?

MERCY

Yes, the Alien and Sedition Acts. It's hard to believe that John Adams, our John Adams could perpetrate such tyranny. But the people submit with hardly a whimper -- the same people who rose against England for less than that. Men are so prone to servile obedience. Only rarely do they dare to speak out in their own defense.

BURGOYNE

(Gloating) I can imagine how hard it must be to watch your infant nation, your favorite son, growing up to be no better than other men and nations. I can just imagine the expectant enthusiasm of the crowd when Nixon read the Declaration of Independence on the State House stairs in Philadelphia. Nixon was his name, wasn't it?

MERCY

Yes, John Nixon. Colonel John Nixon. On July 8, 1776.

BURGOYNE

And when you look at your nation now -- what became of all that spirit? All that enthusiasm and self-sacrifice. Was it worth it?

MERCY

You're as bad as my son Winslow -- always weighing and measuring. We fought for liberty without stopping to count the cost. And we founded our nation on principles of liberty. Governments may forget those principles from time to time, and people may be too lax to reassert them. But the thread of Liberty is so woven into the fabric of our nation that to pull out that thread you'd have to unravel the entire garment.

BURGOYNE

(With a flourish, picking up her sewing with the tip of his sword.) Or cut it to shreds?

MERCY

(She takes her sewing back and continues with her business.)

Perhaps. But the sword, like the pen, is only as mighty as the mind that guides it. And you, Lord Dapper...

BURGOYNE

Lord who?

MERCY

Lord Dapper. Didn't you ever see my play? I thought that surely when you returned to Boston as a prisoner, after losing the Battle of Saratoga, that surely the fine ladies of Cambridge and Watertown who made such a fuss over you must have shown you my play.

BURGOYNE

I heard that you had pretensions...

MERCY

My pretensions are at least to your own. As I remember, your historical comedy The Blockade of Boston was in itself an historic event.

BURGOYNE

Thanks in no small part to your devices. Just like a Puritan: mixing reality with theater -- never able to separate art from life. I can just imagine the sort of plays you'd write yourself.

MERCY

Full of life?

BURGOYNE

No, deadly dull. You could never let your characters become people. They'd just be spokesmen for your opinions or targets for your satire.

MERCY

While you achieved true art, Lord Dapper?

BURGOYNE

What is this "Lord Dapper"?

MERCY

Just a character from a play, a target for my satire.

BURGOYNE

And what play was that, pray tell?

MERCY

One inspired by you, Johnny. I entitled it The Blockheads.

(The light shifts, blanking out Burgoyne and revealing Winslow.)

WINSLOW

The what?

MERCY

The Blockade. General Burgoyne has written a play entitled The Blockade of Boston.

WINSLOW

And what kind of a play is it?

MERCY

Holly calls it a comedy. I'd call it an abomination.

WINSLOW

Give it here, mother. Let me read it.

MERCY

The nation is in danger, and you want to read a play?

WINSLOW

Of course. What finer way to pass the day? Jemmy! Uncle Jemmy!

MERCY

But the British are going to attack, and Lord knows where they'll strike first. Gage has finally decided to act.

(She shakes WINSLOW).

Don't you understand what that means, son?

WINSLOW

(He breaks away from her grip.) On the double, front and center, Private James Otis.

JEMMY

(JEMMY falls in, military style, and salutes). Private Otis reporting, sir.

WINSLOW

The enemy is about to attack. What is the mood of the troops? How will they respond to the crisis?

JEMMY

It's hard to say, sir. John Stark's men from New Hampshire have fought Indians. But the rest have never seen action, aside from hunting deer and rabbit.

WINSLOW

Would you say they're frightened?

JEMMY

No, sir. I wouldn't say "frightened." Anxious, yes, and restless. And curious as well. They've been sitting about so long waiting for something to happen.

WINSLOW

But just yesterday weren't they drinking toasts to peace?

JEMMY

Yes, sir. But that was yesterday, sir. And peace hasn't come yet. And they've been waiting so long, sir. They'd be glad to have it all over and done with one way or the other, sir. They can cope with either peace or war. It's not knowing which it will be that wears on their nerves.

WINSLOW

And what would you do if you were General Gage? Where would you attack?

JEMMY

(He takes on the role of a general). Take Dorchester Hill at once. If the rebels ever got artillery up there, they could pulverize us here in Boston.

(He does an abrupt about face.)

No, from all reports, they have no artillery to speak of and no access to artillery. Better to take full advantage of our fleet, of the mobility and artillery cover it can provide. We'll strike to the north, across the river, at Charlestown and those hills that command the harbor. What do they call those hills? Bunk and Breeder? No, Breed and Bunker Hills. Strike now.

(He does another about face.)

No, tomorrow.

(About face.)

No, a week from now. We must be fully prepared. One defeat, one crushing defeat, and all the rabble will go running home.

WINSLOW

But, sir, you forget that General Burgoyne has written a play.

(He flourishes the manuscript.)

It is to be performed in a week, perhaps two. Surely, you wouldn't interrupt the production for an attack? Suppose one of the actors were to be wounded in battle -- it could ruin the entire performance. Surely, you can postpone the attack a few more days, for the sake of art, for the sake of a friend, because this friend has powerful friends in London...

JEMMY/GAGE

And what is this play?

WINSLOW

The Blockade of Boston.

JEMMY/GAGE

You mean this very siege we're under now?

WINSLOW

Yes, sir.

JEMMY/GAGE

How intriguing. And do I figure in this play at all?

WINSLOW

You are mentioned, sir. Most favorably, if I may venture to say. Most flatteringly.

JEMMY/GAGE

Then the show must go on.

WINSLOW

(He takes a part in the play, reading the part. He kneels as if in front of his beloved -- in reality he is talking to thin air.)

America is at war with England. The war rages about us. Even now we hear the preparations for battle. History in the making. But history is a game for men who cannot love.

(MERCY steps forward and interrupts before he can begin the next line.)

MERCY

Bravo, Winslow. I didn't realize you had such a penchant for acting.

WINSLOW

(Melodramatic.) Yes, the time has come for action.

MERCY

Then act, but act where action counts: not here, but on the stage of history.

WINSLOW

In the army?

MERCY

No, on the stage.

WINSLOW

As an actor?

MERCY

Indeed. In Boston.

WINSLOW

In the play?

MERCY

Where else?

WINSLOW

In a real performance?

MERCY

As real as a performance can be. Go at once to Boston. Deliver a message from me to Holly: the play simply must be performed.

WINSLOW

But why?

MERCY

Do whatever you can to help Holly distract Burgoyne from military matters. For now, the play is the thing. And now is when action counts. Our troops still need time to prepare. Burgoyne likes to strike swiftly and unexpectedly, but Gage is predictable and slow. Keep Burgoyne out of the picture, and our spies and troops will do the rest.


ACT II SCENE 2

WINSLOW is in the same kneeling posture as when he was "acting" in the previous scene; but this time he's facing HOLLY.

WINSLOW

Even now we hear the preparations for battle. History is in the making. But history is a game for men who cannot love.

HOLLY

Do you love me?

WINSLOW

You are my world, my destiny, my...

HOLLY

But do you love me?

WINSLOW

Yes. More than...

(BURGOYNE enters, or is suddenly revealed by lighting.)

BURGOYNE

Enough. That's enough for today.

WINSLOW

But we were nearly done.

BURGOYNE

(Short-tempered.) That's enough, I tell you. Be gone. When I need you for more, I'll send for you.

(WINSLOW hurriedly departs. In what follows, HOLLY is more exaggerated in her tone and gestures than before -- almost too intense.)

HOLLY

You frightened the dear boy. And for no reason at all. Just another whim of yours, I suppose.

BURGOYNE

The play is off.

HOLLY

Off?

BURGOYNE

Yes, off. Finished. There will be no performance.

HOLLY

Isn't that a bit sudden.

BURGOYNE

The military situation has changed. My services are needed. I can't throw away my time on trivialities at a time like this.

HOLLY

You mean you're jealous?

BURGOYNE

Me? Jealous?

HOLLY

I see the way you watch us in rehearsals.

BURGOYNE

Of course, as director, I'm responsible for the production. If my concern shows...

HOLLY

Fiddlesticks. Winslow is magnificent. Are you saying I'm unfit for the part?

BURGOYNE

I'm saying that the two of you take the whole thing too seriously.

HOLLY

Seriously?

BURGOYNE

Don't mock me, Holly. The play is through, over, finished. Military matters demand my attention.

HOLLY

You are jealous. The magnificent General Burgoyne, Gentleman Johnny, the terror of the London theater district, who left a trail of broken hearts wherever he deigned to set his well-manicured foot. You are jealous of a farm boy from Plymouth, Massachusetts. A boy half your age, maybe a third your age. How old are you, really?

BURGOYNE

Age has nothing to do with it.

HOLLY

Then what does?

BURGOYNE

The boy is inexperienced. He has no sense of distance from the part.

HOLLY

And is that a fault?

BURGOYNE

Just like a Puritan, he can't say one thing and mean another. If he doesn't say what he means, he ends up meaning what he says. The boy's becoming infatuated with you.

HOLLY

You mean he loves me?

BURGOYNE

Precisely.

HOLLY

Then you are jealous.

BURGOYNE

Yes, if you insist, I am jealous. But I'm concerned for the boy, too, and for you. No wonder plays are banned in Boston. They say that this would have been the first time that any play was ever performed in this town. Better that it never happen. You Puritans are too impressionable.I remember once in London, in a melodrama, a villain was abusing the heroine, and up onto the stage rushed a man from the audience and came to her rescue. He beat the poor actor nearly to death. That's just like you Puritans -- you can't tell the difference between the world and the stage. You can't do justice to a variety of truths at one: it's either black or white, right or wrong, good or evil. You're this person or you're that one. Theater is a dangerous and corrupting force among you people.

HOLLY

Do you actually believe that I'm that naive?

BURGOYNE

Perhaps I exaggerate, but you do carry sincerity to an extreme.

HOLLY

How so?

BURGOYNE

Ever since Winslow arrived, since the play started, you've acted differently. I would have thought that there was a limit to sincerity, and that you had already reached it.

HOLLY

(Concerned.) What do you mean?

BURGOYNE

Your concern. Your over-concern about me. Your intonation, even your gestures have changed. In anyone else such behavior would have aroused my suspicion, but you Puritan women are unaccountable.

HOLLY

You don't want me to be concerned about you?

BURGOYNE

It seems you're getting too involved.

HOLLY

With you?

BURGOYNE

Yes.

HOLLY

And yet you're jealous of Winslow? You have such a devious mind. No wonder you're a general.

BURGOYNE

Perhaps I've not been general enough.

HOLLY

(Taking charge.) Nonsense. We have a play to perform. Mrs. Warren is coming all the way from Plymouth to see this production. She's never seen a play performed before, and she's never likely to have another chance. She's risking the wrath of her husband and the gossip of the whole town to slip away and see this production. And you talk about Puritans and plays? Why she's dying of curiosity, and I'm not about to disappoint her.

BURGOYNE

But why tonight of all nights? Why not tomorrow? Or in a week? Or a month?

HOLLY

Would you deny her this pleasure?

BURGOYNE

I've never met the woman.

HOLLY

And would you deny that you want to meet her? I've seen the way your eyes light up and your wit sharpens when one of her letters arrives.

BURGOYNE

I do believe that you're jealous.

HOLLY

That makes two of us. Let's forget this foolishness and get on with the play.

BURGOYNE

(He continues his line of thought.) No, not jealous. If you were jealous, you wouldn't want her to come.

HOLLY

That devious mind of yours is at work again.

BURGOYNE

You're all too anxious to have this play go on. I don't understand what's come over you.

HOLLY

(Getting nervous.) Well, I must confess...

BURGOYNE

Yes, out with it.

HOLLY

I'm vain. I love to act.

BURGOYNE

If anyone else said that, I'd believe it in a minute. but you... Why are you so concerned that it take place tonight and not any other night?

HOLLY

You know as well as I that this is the only night that Mrs. Warren can come. She said so in her letter. Winslow said she'd try to get away. And she wrote to say she'd arrive tonight, at eight o'clock. And she must run home immediately after.

BURGOYNE

But Puritans and plays -- it simply doesn't add up.

HOLLY

Are you really afraid of corrupting me and corrupting her? Are you all that certain that you don't enjoy corrupting Puritan women?

BURGOYNE

Corrupting? Yes. Maybe that's why you've been so unnatural since rehearsals began. Having a part in the play is corrupting you.

HOLLY

Or you're corrupting me. You're making me as self-willed and deliberate as yourself.

BURGOYNE

Impossible. If you insist, we will go ahead with tonight's performance; but only on one condition.

HOLLY

Which is?

BURGOYNE

That you never act again.

HOLLY

Then the play can go on?

BURGOYNE

(Reluctant.) Yes.

HOLLY

(She overreacts, throwing her arms around him.) Johnny, you're wonderful.


ACT II SCENE 3

HOLLY, BURGOYNE, and MERCY on stage.

HOLLY

Johnny's simply wonderful, Mrs. Warren. He's not at all like a British general.

BURGOYNE

She leaves me no time for being a general.

MERCY

As if generals ever really do anything military.

BURGOYNE

The best ones do.

MERCY

But how ungentlemanly. War is such a dirty business.

HOLLY

Johnny's most gentlemanly about it. He's forever washing his hands and bathing and having his linen boiled and ironed.

MERCY

Boiled and ironed?

HOLLY

Every night. His orderly told me so. Even on the battlefield, he has his linen boiled and ironed.

MERCY

Well, that explains it. In freshly ironed linen, war must be a different matter altogether. You must tell me about it sometime. But now, hadn't we better get on with the play?

(Exit Holly)

BURGOYNE

I've reserved Faneuil Hall for the occasion.

MERCY

Then it is to be a major production.

BURGOYNE

Indeed.

MERCY

An historic moment.

BURGOYNE

So we hope.

MERCY

And so I hope as well, you can be sure, General Burgoyne.

BURGOYNE

Johnny. Please call me "Johnny."

MERCY

Certainly, Johnny. But before we go, there is just one thing I wanted to suggest about the play.

BURGOYNE

Yes?

MERCY

I read it and reread it, and kept coming to the conclusion that it lacks a little something at the end.

BURGOYNE

(Disturbed) Indeed? And what would you suggest?

MERCY

Just a minor touch. Something you could change even now without great difficulty.

BURGOYNE

What, pray tell?

MERCY

At the very end, when the messenger comes with the news that the rebels are attacking, instead of just having another actor walk onto the stage and deliver a speech, have a solider come running in from the audience with an urgent message.

BURGOYNE

(Thinking.) Yes, that might be effective.

(He laughs.)

Give it a Puritan touch -- mix a little reality with theater. A dash of reality could be most theatrical. For a moment the audience might actually believe...

MERCY

To make it more credible, the message should be specific. Soldiers don't run around saying "The rebels are attacking!"

BURGOYNE

So now you're an expert not only on the theater, but also on the military. But what, pray tell, does a solider say when the rebels are attacking?

MERCY

He says where they're attacking. For instance, "The rebels are taking Breed's Hill." You needn't use those words precisely. But he should mention a specific place, a likely place.

BURGOYNE

Like Breed's Hill?

MERCY

Or Bunker Hill. Or Dorchester Hill. People do tend to fight over hills don't they?

BURGOYNE

In history books?

MERCY

Yes, doesn't war make fascinating reading?

BURGOYNE

Even though it's such a dirty business.

MERCY

Yes, isn't it a shame they can't just let us historians go off in conference and write up all the battles and all the wars, without the soldiers ever having to fight them.

(Distant sound of drums. MERCY talks quickly to prevent BURGOYNE from paying too much attention to the noise)

Preparations for the play, no doubt. Drummers bringing in the crowd.

BURGOYNE

(Hesitant.) Or preparations for battle.

MERCY

How dramatic.


ACT II SCENE 4

MERCY and BURGOYNE are spotlighted, sitting in the audience. Apparently, there is a play going on, that they occasionally look toward and pay attention to; but they are primarily engrossed in conversation with one another.)

MERCY

It must be inspiring for a playwright to live in London, in the center of all that activity.

BURGOYNE

Because there's history in the making?

MERCY

Yes. It must be inspiring to write about history and to have the men who are making history come to the theater to see your work. And it must be good for them as well, having active theaters near at hand to make them conscious of their responsibilities.

BURGOYNE

More likely, the plays simply distract them.

MERCY

But, surely, they must need distraction, with all the burdens of the state and the world resting on their shoulders.

BURGOYNE

(Thoughtful.) But diversion, for men in high places, can be a vice.

MERCY

In excess, of course, everything becomes a vice.

BURGOYNE

But it takes very little diversion to become a vice in the case of a king or a minister.

MERCY

How so?

BURGOYNE

A man who is distracted comes to no decision at all, be it good or bad, on matters of importance to the nation.

MERCY

But surely that happens rarely. Such men are so keenly away of their responsibilities.

BURGOYNE

No, it happens far too often. Lord Germain, our Minister of War, is one of the worst offenders, forever taking off on hunting trips and leaving matters hanging, undecided. But that's true throughout our government, and throughout any government -- so many pressing matters come at once that much slips by unattended. There simply isn't enough time to consider them all. And there's always the temptation to just forget about it all for a while -- to go to a play, or, like Germain, go off on a hunt, and let lesser officials and clerks attend to business. All too often these clerks are afraid to make any decisions and afraid to disturb their superiors, so they just let events take their course. We're governed not so much by special interest groups or self-interested officials, but rather through inadvertence and neglect.

MERCY

How different it would be if we had men like you in high office. No wonder we're having a revolution. Neglect. Just think -- government by neglect.

BURGOYNE

Yes, policies happen and get carried out without anyone taking the time to truly weigh the pros and cons. Only later do the officials invent rationalizations to explain the course their inaction has led to.

MERCY

Simply amazing. To think that men in high office actually behave like ordinary people going about their ordinary affairs.

BURGOYNE

How so?

MERCY

Now really, general...

BURGOYNE

Johnny.

MERCY

Yes, Johnny. Really. How often do you consciously plan what you do?

BURGOYNE

Always.

MERCY

And do you mean to say that you have no regrets.

BURGOYNE

Of course, madam.

MERCY

Mercy.

BURGOYNE

Mercy, I am a sinner like other men.

MERCY

And you do not regret it?

BURGOYNE

I do not regret the things that I have done.

MERCY

And the things you have left undone?

BURGOYNE

Those I will do next, if they are worthy.

MERCY

Then you have a most amazing facility with time, Johnny. I would have thought that times come and go, never to return; that opportunities must be seized.

BURGOYNE

Always the historian, Mercy. You're always talking as if time were a prison. You should learn to relax, to enjoy yourself.

MERCY

And you should learn to gather rosebuds while you may. But really, we should pay attention to the play. It'll be over soon, and that was, after all, the whole point of my coming to Boston. My time's so short.

BURGOYNE

Always time.

MERCY

And do you expect to live forever?

BURGOYNE

Only if you write of me in your history can I hope to achieve immortality.

MERCY

Certainly through no writing of your own, if that sentence is a sample of how you write.

(They turn their attention toward the stage, that now gets the spotlight. HOLLY and WINSLOW are on stage. WINSLOW is on his knees in front of her.)

WINSLOW

(Evidently, he is in the middle of a speech.) ...the preparations for battle. History in the making. But history is a game for men who cannot love.

HOLLY

Do you love me?

WINSLOW

You are my world, my destiny, my...

HOLLY

But do you love me?

WINSLOW

Yes, more than...

(A soldier comes rushing into the theater and runs through the audience, up the aisle toward the

stage.)

SOLDIER

(As he runs, he shouts these lines and repeats them and improvises excitedly.) The rebels are on Breed's Hill. It's a general alarm. The rebels are attacking.

(He has just reached the stage. Now he turns to address the audience.)

It's a general alarm, I tell you. Don't you understand? They're on Breed's Hill and Bunker's Hill and Lord only knows what they're up to. Don't you hear me?

(He gets exasperated at the audience's lack of response. Perhaps he directly confronts individuals in the front row of the audience).

It's war, I tell you. It's real war. Right now, I tell you. Out there. Aren't you going to do anything about it? Are you just going to sit there and watch a play while there's a war going on right outside the theater?

HOLLY

(She grabs the Soldier by the collar.) That wasn't your cue. You're not supposed to come in until the last scene. You're wrecking the whole play. Get out of here and don't come back until you're supposed to.

SOLDIER

Now look, lady...

HOLLY

Who are you anyway?

SOLDIER

I'm a sergeant. Can't you see my stripes?

HOLLY

You're not the solider who was playing the part.

SOLDIER

What part? The rebels are attacking. They're on Bunker Hill and digging in, right now. It looks like we've got a hell of a battle coming up.

(The light shifts to Burgoyne and Mercy in the audience. Burgoyne realizes what has happened. He glares at Mercy. She smiles back. He seems to be on the brink of attacking her.)

BURGOYNE

(He raises his arms and shouts to the audience.) Don't just sit there like idiots. To arms! The battle has begun.

(The light shifts to HOLLY and WINSLOW who have been left alone on the stage.)

HOLLY

I wonder if they had time enough. We did everything we could, didn't we, Winslow? We kept him busy right up to the last moment. He won't get hurt, will he? It's too late for him to get into the thick of it and get hurt, isn't it?

WINSLOW

Burgoyne's no fool. He can take care of himself.

HOLLY

But did we do the right thing? How can we know that it's right, Winslow?

WINSLOW

History is a game for men who cannot love.

HOLLY

Do you love me?

WINSLOW

Yes, more than...

HOLLY

But do you love me? Truly? You know, I'll never get to London, now, or Paris, or Rome.

WINSLOW

But you've been to Boston.

HOLLY

Indeed. And I've had my fill of it. It's time for a change, Winslow. I need space to breath in and room to grow. There's such a big world out there, Winslow. How can I ever be happy, Winslow, if I don't see the world?

WINSLOW

Well, have you ever been to Worcester or to Springfield or to Amherst? Have you ever been to Hartford, to New Haven and beyond? A nation's being born. A nation of two million.

HOLLY

Two million?

WINSLOW

Yes, two million. A huge and bustling nation, all our own.


Historical footnote:

During the first performance of The Blockade of Boston at Faneuil Hall in Boston during the occupation, (with British soldiers performing the parts), a messenger came running into the hall shouting that the rebels were attacking. The audience burst out in wild applause at such an imaginative theatrical device, until Burgoyne stood up and informed them that this wasn't part of the play, that the messenger and the attack were real.
 

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