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N

by Adrienne Pender
  • 100 minutes
  • 2 Males, 1 Female

$11.00$80.00

Adrienne Earle Pender’s N dramatizes the struggle between playwright Eugene O’Neill and actor Charles Sidney Gilpin in 1920, as they mount O’Neill’s first box office hit, The Emperor Jones. From rehearsal to Broadway run and, eventually, to the London tour — they fight over the inclusion of the “N” word in O’Neill’s script. To Eugene O’Neill, a word is just a word. Using the N-word heightens the character and strengthens the impact of the play. For Charles Gilpin, who becomes the first black man to be honored by the Drama League of New York for his portrayal of the lead in The Emperor Jones, those six letters have the power to unravel everything that he has ever worked. At stake for O’Neill? His artistic vision. For Gilpin? His entire career and family.

Downloadable PDF available.  Diverse casting. Available in USA Script Format Only prior to publication. 

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  • Review Script 11.00 Watermarked PDF Download
  • Multi-Copy PDF 50.00 Printable Production Script PDF

Performance Fee $80.00 A Production License Fee Per Performance (mandatory for all performances)

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Play Details

Overview

Eugene O’Neill’s groundbreaking 1921 play, The Emperor Jones, was the first American play that featured an African-American actor in the lead role on Broadway. Charles S. Gilpin’s portrayal of Emperor Brutus Jones was hailed as “revelatory,” and he was named the finest actor of the age. The opening of The Emperor Jones made stars of both men; it was O’Neill’s first commercial success, and Charles Gilpin became the toast of the theater world. But by 1926, O’Neill was a legend and Gilpin was lost to history. N explores the challenging relationship between Gilpin and O’Neill and how it ultimately hinged on one word; a word that lifted one of them to the heights of American theater, and a word that destroyed the other.

CAST OF CHARACTERS

Charles S. Gilpin African-American male, 35-40 (40 at the start of the play).
Charles is an average size and build, but he has confidence, and a presence. He’s intelligent, somewhat sophisticated, and always looks sharp. Charles lives and dies by his emotions but also knows how to live in his very segregated times.

Eugene O’Neill Caucasian male, 35-40 (37 at the start of the play)
O’Neill, the brooding master playwright, early in his career. He is brilliant, cynical, and dryly sarcastic; he doesn’t smile or laugh easily so when he does it is noticeable. He is also a sharp dresser, as was typical for men in that time.

Florence Gilpin African-American female, 25-30 (30 at the start of the play)
Florence is Charles’s wife. She’s pretty and curvy. She is the woman behind the man who is proud of the man she loves but tries to keep him grounded.

SETTINGS
• Representative kitchen area in the home of Charles and Florence Gilpin (small table, 2 chairs, down Stage Right)
• The theater, in various stages of The Emperor Jones production (main area, Center Stage)
• Office desk area at the theater (small, down Stage Left, alternates with Podium area for Drama League)


An edgy play script – an original small cast full-length play with diverse cast and roles for black actors.

 

From the Play

FLORENCE, 30ish, curvy and pretty, is wearing her coat and hat, has just come home from her domestic work. She faces Stage Right, addressing someone off-stage.

FLORENCE:
(Calling)
Thank you, again, for staying late with the baby, Mrs. Cooper!

(Florence drops into one of the chairs in the kitchen, exhausted. She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and exhales. She takes another deep breath, and exhales. That’s all the ‘rest’ she allows herself.

She gets up, takes off her coat and hat, puts on an apron, and immediately gets to her own home’s work, folding clothes in a laundry basket.

CHARLES bursts into the room, excitedly. He’s just come from an audition.)

CHARLES:
FLORENCE! You won’t believe what just happened!

FLORENCE:
WHAT??

CHARLES:
I got a part in a play – a big part!

FLORENCE:
WHAT??!? How??

CHARLES:
The Emperor Jones, by Eugene O’Neill!

FLORENCE:
Ain’t heard’a him before.

CHARLES:
He’s a playwright in one of those new theaters downtown! He’s a white man.

FLORENCE:
A white man is gonna let you – in his play?

CHARLES:
YES, baby!

FLORENCE:
But — YOU’RE A NEGRO!

CHARLES:
Yeah — I KNOW!

FLORENCE:
It must be a little part …

(Charles hands her the script)

FLORENCE:
(Reading)
“The Emperor Jones. By Eugene O’Neill, produced by the Provincetown Players.”

CHARLES:
Florence – it’s the lead. I’M playing the Emperor Jones!!

FLORENCE:
(Sits down, stunned)
NO.

CHARLES:
YES!!

(He grabs her, and starts to dance)

CHARLES:
Who needs Bessie Smith? We can make our own music right now!

FLORENCE:
HUSH, Charles! You’ll wake the baby!

CHARLES:
Wake him up! And you tell him his daddy has made it!

FLORENCE:
If you wake him up, YOU put him back to sleep.

(Charles stops humming, pauses – and then keeps dancing)

FLORENCE:
I thought so.

CHARLES:
He’s gonna be proud of his daddy one day.

(Florence stops dancing and steps back)

FLORENCE:
He’ll be proud of you no matter what.

(Charles kisses her hands)

FLORENCE:
So how much does it pay?

CHARLES:
(Pulling her leg)
Huh?

FLORENCE:
How much – does this – starring role PAY?

CHARLES:
(Enjoying this)
Pay?

FLORENCE:
Oh I KNOW you’re not doing this for free!

CHARLES:
Shush now, ‘you’ll wake the baby!’

(Florence laughs, and tries to hit him; he dodges her and she chases him)

CHARLES:
Fifty dollars!

(She stops in her tracks)

FLORENCE:
Say that again?

CHARLES:
It pays fifty dollars. (Pauses for effect) A WEEK.

(Florence sits down, stunned)

FLORENCE:
I don’t believe it.

CHARLES:
I promised you I’d take care of you; and now I can.

FLORENCE:
I always knew you would. I just didn’t think it would be from…. Acting!

CHARLES:
(Laughs, but then seriously)
Neither did I. I’m forty years old, and I can finally be proud of something!

FLORENCE:
Fifty dollars a week, that’s real money!

CHARLES:
The show might not run but a few weeks; it’s only scheduled for a month. That’s only $200.00

FLORENCE:
ONLY?

CHARLES:
You can’t quit your job yet – but we can catch up.

FLORENCE:
I worked all my life, and I WILL work all my life, ain’t no changing that. But, maybe we can save a little… for the baby?

CHARLES:
And… Maybe, we can have another baby?

FLORENCE:
(Lowers her head, giggles)
CHARLES!!

CHARLES:
I don’t want you working for white folks, cleaning their houses. I want you here, in our home.

FLORENCE:
Well we aren’t there yet.

CHARLES:
YET.

FLORENCE:
So how did all this happen??

(Florence sits in the chair, and lights dim around her while Charles, in spotlight, tells the story. As he regales her with the details, sounds of elevator doors opening and closing are heard)

CHARLES:
I’m doing my job at Macy’s, just working the elevator like I always do. White folks get on and off the elevator all the time, so I don’t pay attention anymore, and after lunch, this man gets on the elevator – and he says,

VOICEOVER:
Are you Charles Gilpin?

CHARLES:
YES…. (Announcing) Second floor, ladies underthings, corsets. He said,

VOICEOVER:
I’m from the Provincetown Players, and we have a good part for you in a new play by Eugene O’Neill.

CHARLES:
I said, ‘who’s that?’ (Announcing) Third floor, draperies, upholsteries, linens.

VOICEOVER:
The greatest playwright in America –

CHARLES:
He says… ‘How good is the part?’ I say. (Announcing) Fourth Floor, furniture.’

VOICEOVER:
The lead –

CHARLES:
He says…. I say, ‘what’s the pay?’ (Announcing) Fifth floor, Bedding, bathroom supplies.

VOICEOVER:
We can only pay $50 a week… but wouldn’t you like to act again?

CHARLES:
And I said, ‘YES! Yes I would! Who are you, and where do I go??’ Then he said,

VOICEOVER:
I’m Jasper Deeter.

(Spotlight fades and lights come back up to normal over Florence)

CHARLES:
…and he took me down to Macdougal Street, where the Provincetown Players theater is. They gave me a script and gave me a few minutes to look over the scene. It was great, I could see that right away…. O’Neill is quiet, he doesn’t say much. But his words on paper… I’ve never seen words like that before. Brutus was an ex-Pullman Porter, like me! He worked hard, had odd jobs all his life, like me. I knew him. Baby, I knew him right away! Jasper said, ‘do you want me to read with you?’ and I said no…. I’d read the start of the monologue, if that was fine with them. And I barely looked at the script. I started, and my shoulders went back, and my voice rose, and all the noise in the theater stopped. EVERYTHING stopped. And I was IN the jungle, scared for my life and before I knew it, the monologue was over… and O’Neill asked me why I stopped. He just – stared at me. And then he said, ‘the part is yours. Can you start rehearsals tomorrow?’

FLORENCE:
Oh Charles…..

CHARLES:
The lead. (Pause) There’s a white man in the Provincetown Players, named Charles Ellis – HE wanted the part too, wanted to play it in blackface, like all the other theaters do these days. Jasper saw me in the Abraham Lincoln play, then he brought O’Neill and another man to see it. Thank God I felt Brutus today! I took that part right outta that white man’s hands!!

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