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The Hill by Michael J. Berntsen

The Hill by Michael J. Berntsen

Drama, Vol. 5.2, June 2011

(A One Act Play Based on Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology)

 

CAST OF CHARACTERS
HOD PUTT
OLLIE McGEE
CASSIUS HUEFFER
BEN PANTIER
NIG (BEN PANTIER’s dog)
JUDGE SOMERS
DORIAN GUSTINE

Lights slowly reveal three young, very attractive women and a priest standing around a closed casket in a cemetery. The women are dressed in black, conservative dresses but without veils. The cemetery consists of giant tombstones behind which OLLIE McGEE, CASSIUS HUEFFER, BEN PANTIER, NIG, JUDGE SOMERS, and DORIAN GUSTINE hide, unknown to the audience. The tombstones are marked with their respective tenants, except for the JUDGE’s, which is in ruin and unmarked. BEN PANTIER and NIG are on the same tombstone. Off to the side is BILL PIERSOL’s tombstone. No one is behind it. One by one the mourners leave flowers on the casket and exit the stage. The priest follows the last mourner. Once the mourners and priest have left, a moment of silence passes before HOD PUTT bursts from the casket.

 

HOD PUTT
Are they gone?

OLLIE McGEE
(Appearing from her tombstone)
Yes, friend.

HOD PUTT
Those caskets are stuffy even for the dead.

OLLIE McGEE
At least you have lining. Mine was hard wood.

HOD PUTT
Who are you?

OLLIE McGEE
Ollie McGee. And you?

HOD PUTT
Putt. Hod Putt. Are you an angel?

OLLIE McGEE
No. Do you remember who they were?

HOD PUTT
My grandma, mother, and wife.

OLLIE McGEE
Which one was your wife?

HOD PUTT
The ugly one.

OLLIE McGEE
I’d hate to see what she looked like in the morning.

HOD PUTT
She is in mourning.

OLLIE McGEE
No, I mean when she woke up.

HOD PUTT
She may have woken up in morning, but I wouldn’t know. I was in a box.

OLLIE McGEE
You still are.

HOD PUTT
Where am I?

OLLIE McGEE
The hill.

HOD PUTT
That’s Bill Piersol’s grave.

OLLIE McGEE
Yes, you’ll be buried next to him.

HOD PUTT
Where is he?

OLLIE McGEE
Playing a prank on a poet who finds inspiration from cemeteries.

HOD PUTT
Where’s the one I killed?

OLLIE McGEE
Was he from Spoon River?

HOD PUTT
No.

OLLIE McGEE
Then he’s been returned to his hometown.

HOD PUTT
What do I do now?

OLLIE McGEE
Get out of your box and meet your neighbors.

OLLIE McGEE helps HOD PUTT out of the casket. As she does so, one by one, CASSIUS HUEFFER, BEN PANTIER carrying NIG, JUDGE SOMERS, and DORIAN GUSTINE appear from their tombstones.

CASSIUS HUEFFER
I am Cassius Hueffer. While I lived I could not cope with slanderous tongues. Now that I am dead, I must submit to an epitaph graven by a fool.

HOD PUTT
Sorry to hear that.

CASSIUS HUEFFER
That’s okay. Those who knew me smiled as they read its empty rhetoric.

BEN PANTIER
I, Benjamin Pantier, attorney at law, and Nig, my comrade in drink, welcome you. I once knew aspiration and glory until my wife snared my soul with a snare which bled me to death.

HOD PUTT
I was hung.

BEN PANTIER
By my wife?

HOD PUTT
By the state.

BEN PANTIER
Better to be strangled by a rope than suffocated by a wife.

HOD PUTT
Wise words.

BEN PANTIER
Those are the only words in my vocabulary.

JUDGE SOMERS
Words of age, my dear boy, not words of wisdom. Here, we only speak the tongue of resentment in one tone or another. You may address me as—

OLLIE McGEE
No.

JUDGE SOMERS
I had a name once and a title. Look now to my stone, unmarked and forgotten. Even the town drunk has monthly flowers, hears monthly tears. Not even the groundskeeper pays attention to my rock.

HOD PUTT
I remember you. My great uncle was Roy Butler.

JUDGE SOMERS
I condemned him, did I not? Such power the living assume.

DORIAN GUSTINE
And such hate they acquire. I, Dorian Gustine, was not beloved of the villagers. I traded mockery with derision and scorned neighbors even before they became my enemies.

OLLIE McGEE
Tell him the entire story.

DORIAN GUSTINE
That is more Ace Shaw’s story than my own. He sold the world, I could never fool it. Our hearts were full of love for each other, but his was much larger than mine.

OLLIE McGEE
And yours was mostly full of fear. Tell him the entire story, Dorian.

DORIAN GUSTINE
Mrs. McGee, why not share your tale with the hill’s new resident.

HOD PUTT
There is some dignity in silence. You don’t have to.

OLLIE McGEE
No. I shall tell you. My face reveals it all. I was not born Ollie McGee, but my maiden name is of no consequence. A woman’s fate is to live and die under the names of different men. I died not by the cruel hands of a man but by the cruel eyes of my husband. He stole my youth, my beauty. He kept the sun away from me. He kept the town away from me. The only thing he couldn’t keep from me was the grave. So I found freedom in the dirt and solace when he died and his face turned to rot.

JUDGE SOMERS
What brought you here, my boy?

BEN PANTIER
Yes. Nig and I are eager to hear your story.

HOD PUTT
I have no interest in anecdotes. I must find the man I killed and seek his forgiveness.

OLLIE McGEE
Tell us what happened.

HOD PUTT
I must go and find the one I killed.

JUDGE SOMERS
You won’t find peace.

HOD PUTT
I don’t expect to.

JUDGE SOMERS
I refused this ground in the beginning. You will find that only the living have the power to damn and to forgive. God does not.

HOD PUTT
Where is God?

OLLIE McGEE
God is the town.

DORIAN GUSTINE
Hell is their silence.

CASSIUS HUEFFER
And so we speak.

BEN PANTIER
If ever the town dies, we shall perish.

JUDGE SOMERS
God is nowhere but in their memory and in our words.

HOD PUTT
So idle chat is the afterlife? We spend eternity in conversation?

DORIAN GUSTINE
No, in narrative.

HOD PUTT
I don’t hear God in any of your tales or your talk. I see no Christ or devil, and I feel no power imprisoning me. If I go, I’ll know I can still act as a man.

BEN PANTIER
There’s no need for a code of honor here.

CASSIUS HUEFFER
Tell us your story.

OLLIE McGEE
Yes, tell us.

HOD PUTT
My tombstone can speak for me when it’s finished.
(Exits)

JUDGE SOMERS
He will be back.

BEN PANTIER
In the meantime, Nig and I are eager to hear a story.

OLLIE McGEE
(In the middle of her story, the rest of the dead retell their tales. HOD PUTT returns after this chorus of narratives begins. Once HOD PUTT is in the center of the stage, the lights slowly fade to complete dark. HOD PUTT recites his tale when the chorus reaches its end.)

I was not born Ollie McGee, but my maiden name is of no consequence. A woman’s fate is to live and die under the names of different men. I died not by the cruel hands of a man but by the cruel eyes of my husband. He stole my youth, my beauty. He kept the sun away from me. He kept the town away from me. The only thing he couldn’t keep from me was the grave. So I found freedom in the dirt and solace when he died and his face turned to rot.

CASSIUS HUEFFER
I, Cassius Hueffer, could not cope with slanderous tongues. Now that I am dead, I must submit to an epitaph graven by a fool. Those who knew me smiled as they read its empty rhetoric.

BEN PANTIER
I, Benjamin Pantier, attorney at law, and Nig, my comrade in drink, know how love and faith decay. I once knew aspiration and saw glory until my wife snared my soul and let me die alone in a dingy office.

JUDGE SOMERS
I had a name once and a title. Look now to my stone, unmarked and forgotten. Even the town drunk has monthly flowers, hears monthly tears. Not even the groundskeeper pays attention to my rock.

DORIAN GUSTINE
I, Dorian Gustine, was not beloved of the villagers. I traded mockery with derision and scorned neighbors even before they became my enemies. While Ace Shaw sold the world, I tried to fool it. Our hearts were full of love for each other, but his was much larger than mine.

HOD PUTT
I, Hod Putt, grew tired as others grew rich. I robbed a traveler one night near Proctor’s Grove. I killed him as he fought to keep five dimes. I was tried and hanged. I now sleep side by side with the wealthy and toil no more.

 

THE END

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