Written by Joe Janes
100 of 365
John Wilkes Booth
Various soldiers, policemen
and historical figures
(Lights up on a dressing room, April 14, 1865. Bilford sits in formal attire of the time. He looks over a manuscript, mumbling to himself, delivering inaudible snippets into the mirror. Spangler, an experienced stagehand, sits near the door.)
SPANGLERSo dedicated to your profession, Bilford. He has never needed an understudy, and yet you persist on committing to memory that which you will never deliver to an audience.
BILFORDWell, you just never know. Anything could happen, Spangler.
SPANGLERThe play’s nearly over. If I were you, I’d be studying the bottom of a stein at the tavern across the street.
BILFORDYou are not I, Spangler. You are just a stagehand. When and if I am ever needed, I am at the ready. Even if it’s in the middle of a performance. Even if it’s the last few moments before the curtain falls.
SPANGLERNothing will happen. What a shame for you. You won’t get to perform for the president.
BILFORDDoes not matter to me if it’s the president or the queen of England or Christ our savior. As long as there is one audience member to receive my craft, I will deliver undaunted. Dedicated as I am to the play.
(Offstage we hear a gunshot and John Wilkes Booth yelling, “Sic semper tyrannis!” he quickly hobbles into the dressing room. We hear the audience in an uproar.)
BILFORDJohn! What happened?
JOHNOh, you know. Just trying something new.
BILFORDWow! Listen to that crowd.
SPANGLERYou really got them riled up.
JOHNYeah. I killed. Listen, Bilford, I hurt my leg.
BILFORDFear not, John. I am ready to step in and carry on, as best I can, in your boot steps. The audience will not leave lacking for entertainment. President Lincoln will see the best show of his life.
JOHNUm, yeah. You go do that. Jump right in to Act Three. I’m going to borrow your horse and head over to a doctor’s.
BILFORDYou do what you need to do. I am going to put on one heck of a show!
(Bilford makes a grand exit. John tries to hobble off.)
JOHNA little help?
(Spangler helps John off. Cut to the stage. Bilford enters and he dives right in to his monologue.)
BILFORDDon't know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal--you sockdologizing old man-trap. (Three men run across the stage shouting, “Stop that man! He went out the back!”) Wal, now, when I think what I've thrown away in hard cash to-day I'm apt to call myself some awful hard names…(More men cross carefully carrying the body of Lincoln followed by a sobbing Mary Todd) But I dare no more ask that gal to be my wife, than I dare ask Queen Victoria to dance a Cape Cod reel….Now, listen here. I know I am just an understudy, but I have never encountered a more rude audience. Seriously, brandishing firearms? Crossing the stage to carry out some sozzled drunk in the midst of a performance. This is not some saloon out west. We are civilized folk. I beseech you, take your seats. Quiet yourselves. Open your ears. I may not be as renown as John Wilkes Booth, but I am a fine actor who will do justice to this role.
(Vernon in audience starts booing.)
BILFORDBooing? You are booing me, sir? Well, I boo you. Boo, I say! Boo!
VERNONI paid my twenty-five cents. I want to see a show!
BILFORDAnd indeed you will. …You see, as nigh as we could reckon it up, she had gone and got married again his will, and that made him mad, and well, he was a queer kind of a rusty fusty old coon, and it appeared that he got older, and rustier, and fustier and coonier every fall, it was too much for him. He got took down with the ague, he was so bad the doctors gave him up, and mother she went for a minister. The old Squire was sitting up in his bed, his face as pale as the sheet that covered him, his silken hair flowing in silvery locks from under his red cap, and the tears rolling from his large blue eyes down his furrowed cheek, like two mill streams. Wal, says he to me, and his voice was not as loud as it was afore-- it was like the whisper of the wind in a pine forest, low and awful. `Asa, boy,' said he, 'I feel that I've sinned in hardening my heart against my own flesh and blood,” and then he smiled, sank back upon his pillow, drew a long sigh as if he felt relieved, and that was the last of poor old Mark Trenchard.
(Bilford takes several deep bows. Vernon stands and applauds.)
VERNONBravo! Bravo! President shouldn’t have ditched out before the ending. That was sweeter than sweet cider right out of the bunghole. Bravo!