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A stunning drama with great comic scenes. This play is a timely reminder that the politics of money and the politics of slavery in America are joined at the hip.
In his latest full-length drama, Peter Gunter reminds audiences that the roots of racial division ran as deep as kudzu and that our recently discovered “enlightenment” is planted in shallow ground.
With great humor and understanding, this full-length play moves seamlessly between alternating scenes in 1808 and the present at Fairview Plantation in Virginia where family members collide over the issues of politics, money, and race.
The white supremacist concepts of The Bell Curve fame create friction in the present-day Frommer family, just as issues of slavery and ownership divide the Colonial Randolph family—Martha Randolph being the daughter of then-President Thomas Jefferson.
The Frommer family and the Randolph family are cast as the same actors, strengthening the ties that bind our collective roots, deep underneath the crops we harvest.
“The Crying Tree is a fascinating mix of history, tragedy and humor, connecting the politics of slavery with the current-day politics of money.”
February 2019, The Crying Tree on Facebook, by Gail Esterman.
From the Play
THE CRYING TREE
ACT 1 SCENE 1
The play begins on a May afternoon in 2019 on a backyard terrace of Fairview, an estate built in 1800 in Central Virginia. The back of the house is red brick with stately, white Doric columns. There are several antique porch chairs and tray tables on the terrace. VIOLET FROMMER brings out a tray of hors d’oeuvres and places them on the table. DAVID FROMMER enters from the driveway carrying a bag.
VIOLET: There you are.
DAVID: Sorry. I had to drive into town. The wine store was closed.
VIOLET: Why didn’t you just go to Kroger?
DAVID: I wanted something nice.
VIOLET: They have some decent labels. They even have a wine steward.
DAVID: A wine steward? At Kroger?
VIOLET: Well, excuse me, Mister wine snob.
David removes the bottles from the bag and puts them on the drink tray. Violet takes a bottle and inspects the label.
VIOLET: Whoa. Ninety dollars a bottle?
DAVID: That’s right.
VIOLET: We’re supposed to be economizing.
DAVID: I know, but I want something nice for Morris. He knows a lot about wine.
VIOLET: Have you tried this amazing wine?
VIOLET: Then how do you know it’s worth 90 dollars a bottle?
Violet begins to remove the price stickers.
DAVID: The laws of supply and demand. What are you doing?
VIOLET: I’m removing the labels.
DAVID: Don’t do that.
VIOLET: Come on, David. It’s tacky.
DAVID: Just leave them on.
VIOLET: Oh, my God. Why are you working so hard to impress Morris Johnson?
DAVID: I’m trying to help Carter. Morris can deliver three independent votes for impeachment.
VIOLET: Is that enough?
DAVID: Apparently Carter thinks so.
VIOLET: And what does Morris want?
VIOLET: That’ll be the day.
DAVID: I know you’re not his biggest fan, but I need for everything to go smoothly tonight. We’re literally talking about the fate of the country.
VIOLET: I invited Sharon for dinner.
VIOLET: I know, but she called about the wedding, and I told her Carter would be here. We haven’t done anything to get to know his family. It would have been rude not to invite her.
DAVID: Did you tell her Morris will be here?
VIOLET: I might have.
DAVID: Are you kidding? You know that Georgetown’s faculty signed a petition preventing Morris from speaking on their campus.
VIOLET: That doesn’t mean she was involved.
DAVID: Of course she was. You know how far to the left she is. She makes Cynthia look like Barry Goldwater.
VIOLET: It will be fine.
DAVID: It won’t be fine. When we’re all together, you need to steer the conversation away from politics.
VIOLET: Steer it? Where?
DAVID: I don’t know. Talk about the house. Morris loves anything having to do with Jefferson.
VIOLET: I’m sure he does.
DAVID: Yeah. He’s got a picture of Monticello in his office. It’s shot against the rising sun. The columns glisten with dew. Basically, it’s architectural porn.
VIOLET: Okay, but I can’t talk about the house all night.
DAVID: Bring up your novel. Morris loves to talk history.
VIOLET: Does that include slavery?
DAVID: I thought your novel was a romance.
DAVID: Then talk about that part–or talk about the wedding.
VIOLET: Fine. I’ll talk about the wedding.
DAVID: Where are they anyway?
VIOLET: Down there. By the tree.
DAVID: (Calling out and waving his arms) Cynthia! Carter! Hey!
VIOLET: They can’t hear you. Give them a little time to themselves. They haven’t been getting much sleep lately.
David’s phone buzzes. He looks at it.
DAVID: Damn. Morris is here. Remember. I need your A game tonight.
VIOLET: Excuse me?
DAVID: What I’ve been telling you. Southern hospitality. Keep the women occupied.
VIOLET: Keep the women–
MORRIS: (Offstage) –Hello.
MORRIS JOHNSON enters from the side of the house. Morris is in his late 60s. He is a solidly built, imposing man.
DAVID: Well, there he is. Hey, Morris. You found us.
MORRIS: I heard voices so I came around the house. Look at this view. David, Violet, your new home is stupendous.
VIOLET: (With a southern lilt) Why, thank you, Morris. That’s so kind of you to say so.
DAVID: Morris, what can I get you to drink?
Morris: Red wine, if you have it.
DAVID: Red wine. I happen to have a Burgundy here you might like.
MORRIS: That sounds good.
David goes to the bar and opens one of the bottles of wine he bought.
VIOLET: Morris, how was the drive from Washington?
MORRIS: Not bad, for rush hour … This really is a lovely setting.
VIOLET: Why, Morris, did you know that this part of the house was designed by Thomas Jefferson?
MORRIS: Is that right? Designed by Jefferson himself?
VIOLET: Yes. Jefferson’s granddaughter married the owner’s son. We restored some of the brickwork and even the patio furnishings.
MORRIS: Oh. This is marvelous. I had no idea.
Morris goes up to one of the columns and strokes it vertically, almost sexually. David and Violet exchange a look. David brings Morris a glass of wine, holding the bottle in the other hand so Morris can see the price tag, although Morris doesn’t seem to notice.
DAVID: Here you go, Morris.
MORRIS: Thank you.
VIOLET: I better check on the dinner. Morris, we’re having Chicken Provencal. I hope you’re not a vegetarian.
MORRIS: No. I’m quite the carnivore.
VIOLET: Oh, good.
DAVID: Well, cheers.
DAVID: Look, Morris, did you have a chance to speak to Frank?
MORRIS: Yes. They’re going to discuss your article at Monday’s board meeting.
DAVID: You told him it was an argument for bipartisanship, right.
MORRIS: Yes, but Richard Steele was apoplectic.
DAVID: So they’re going to fire me?
MORRIS: Not necessarily.
DAVID: What do they want me to do?
MORRIS: I suggested a show of good faith.
DAVID: What? A retraction?
MORRIS: We’re past that now.
DAVID: That’s it then?
MORRIS: Not at all. In fact, a positive outcome tonight could be just the thing you need.
DAVID: What outcome are they expecting?
MORRIS: They want this impeachment to go through, but they’re afraid of the Democratic backlash. They want to secure votes against the Cortez bill.
DAVID: The Cortez bill? I thought socialized medicine was a non-starter.
MORRIS: Apparently, there’s some momentum.
MORRIS: Carter seems like a very reasonable young man. As his future father-in-law, your opinion should carry some weight. And your daughter is on his staff, isn’t she?
DAVID: Yes, but our politics have diverged.
MORRIS: Blood is thicker than water.
DAVID: Sure. So what do you think of the Burgundy?
MORRIS: It’s respectable … Although I’ve found it to be overpriced. I hope you didn’t pay more than 20 dollars a bottle.
DAVID: Oh no. Seventeen. Eighteen maybe…
David goes back to the bar table where he begins surreptitiously removing the price tags from the bottles. Violet enters with SHARON GROOMS and BRAD DAVIS. Sharon is in her mid-thirties and is African American. Brad is white, early thirties and holds his cellphone to his ear.
VIOLET: The rest of our guests have arrived. Morris, I believe you know Brad, Carter’s chief of staff.
Brad pockets his phone.
MORRIS: Hello, Brad.
BRAD: Morris, this is a real pleasure.
MORRIS: For me too.
VIOLET: And this is Carter’s sister, Sharon. Sharon, this is Morris Johnson.
MORRIS: Hello, Sharon . You must be very proud of your brother.
SHARON: I am.
They shake hands.
VIOLET: Morris is a colleague of David’s at FEI.
SHARON: Yes. I know.
VIOLET: And Sharon teaches history.
MORRIS: Oh, really. Where?–
SHARON: George/ town.
DAVID: Sharon, what would you like to drink?
SHARON: Oh. White wine, please.
VIOLET: I’ll get it.
Violet goes to the tray table and pours the wine.
BRAD: Scotch, if you have it.
David goes to the tray table and pours the scotch.
MORRIS: What a great place to have a wedding.
SHARON: Oh. Will you be there?
MORRIS: I wouldn’t miss it.
BRAD: It’s really going to be quite a shindig.
VIOLET: Yes. There are about 300 on the guest list so far. Carter and Cynthia have made so many, uh, friends on the campaign trail, and in Congress.
Violet hands Sharon her drink.
VIOLET: I’ll just go check on the chicken.
DAVID: Here we go.
David hands the scotch to Brad.
DAVID: How about a toast everyone?
BRAD: Yes. How about to reform in Washington?
MORRIS: I’ll drink to that. As Jefferson said, “a government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take away everything you have.”
SHARON: Actually, Jefferson never said that.
MORRIS: I believe it’s well documented.
SHARON: The false attribution to Jefferson was traced back to Ronald Reagan’s 1976 primary campaign.
DAVID: Okay, then let’s try another Jefferson quote. See if this works. “I never considered a difference in politics as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”
BRAD: Hear hear. To friendship and politics.
DAVID: Bottoms up.
The three men and Sharon clink their glasses and drink. The lights go down on the terrace, and up at the Crying Tree. CYNTHIA FROMMER is 25, white, energetic and attractive. CARTER GROOMS is 32, handsome and African-American. Carter is lying on his back, on top of his blazer, looking up at the sky. Cynthia has her eyes shut and sways back and forth in time to music she’s hearing through ear buds.
CARTER: Wow. I can’t get over how massive this tree is. The trunk must be ten feet thick.
CYNTHIA: (Removes an ear bud) What?
CARTER: (Loudly) This tree. It’s insane.
CYNTHIA: Yeah. It’s really old. … You okay.
CYNTHIA: You were talking in your sleep last night. Are you getting the flashbacks?
CARTER: It’s all good. What are you listening to?
CYNTHIA: The playlist.
CARTER: I thought it was settled.
CYNTHIA: Brad says we need some more oldies. What do you think of this?
Cynthia hands Carter an ear bud. He places it in his ear.
CYNTHIA: It’s Tony Bennett.
CARTER: I know. Maybe you can find the Aretha version.
CYNTHIA: How do you know there is one?
CARTER: I sang this in college.
CARTER: In a Jerome Kern musical revue. I wore a top hat and everything.
LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING
WHENEVER A CLOUD APPEARS IN THE BLUE
REMEMBER, SOMEWHERE THE SUN IS SHINING
AND SO THE RIGHT THING TO DO IS MAKE IT SHINE FOR YOU
CYNTHIA: Babe! You’ve got to sing this at the wedding.
CARTER: And have it go viral?
CYNTHIA: So own it.
CARTER: I’m trying to get re-elected.
CYNTHIA: It worked for Obama.
CARTER: Well, he was married to Michelle.
(Cynthia punches him on the shoulder.)
You know what I mean. Let’s dance.
CYNTHIA: What? Now?
CARTER: Come on. Show me your moves.
CYNTHIA: My moves. I don’t think you can handle my moves.