Over at Australian Plays, an American dramaturg is reading or seeing an Australian play a day for 100 days. Her name is Cristin Kelly and when I contacted her to congratulate her on her play-reading journey, she offered to send me some contemporary American plays for my blog.
Today’s play is the first of them. Catherine Trieschmann’s The Bridegroom of Blowing Rock is a play about love, stories, family bonds and revenge during the Civil War. Set in North Carolina, this is the story of a Laurel, a young blind woman living with her mother, Elsa, on their farm after all the men have left to fight or been killed.
The play’s opening line “There ain’t a full bodied man left” is brilliant and sets the mood for everything that follows:
MAIZEY: There ain’t a full bodied man left. Daniel Shelton’s in Asheville with a ball in his thigh. They say the whole thing’s got to come off.
LAUREL: What about Joseph Ellis?
MAIZEY: Joseph Ellis got shot in the ear defending his father from some Union bushwhackers. Killed him instantly.
LAUREL: What about Pastor Burns?
MAIZEY: You wouldn’t suggest him, if you could see, Laurel. I’m telling you, all the rest are too old or too ugly or too diseased to marry, so I’m figuring your brother Jacob’s just got to come home. He’s all we got left.
Living in the mountains, the family shied away from politics until Laurel’s brother Jeremiah was killed by Unionists. As soon as that happened, Elsa became a committed Confederate with a belly burning with hate for every Unionist. It wouldn’t be such a problem if Laurel hadn’t fallen in love with a Union soldier whom she met when he was raiding their barn for eggs.
Because she’s blind, Laurel doesn’t notice that he’s black and he makes no attempt to tell her. His race is only of significance to the audience who can guess at the hopeless nature of their relationship in America in 1865.
Trieschmann’s beautifully written script walks a tight line between romance and historical drama, saved by its sense of humour and the pragmatic nature of the protagonists.
While Laurel’s Union bridegroom woos her with his wonderfully inventive storytelling, her mother is just as busy plotting to have him murdered by her surviving son, Jacob.
ELSA: Don’t get me wrong boy, I’m glad you ran, I am, cause, there ain’t no need for my son to get killed on account of men who got more money than he do, but your Pa’d be damned if any son of his ain’t stepped up to avenge his own. I don’t know what you reckon honor is, but it ain’t fighting for some half-baked cause like secession, and it ain’t dying for keeping together a country you ain’t ever seen the whole of. But it ain’t deserting marching men either, and it sure as hell ain’t laying up in your father’s house. You want to know what honor is, boy? You looking for reason to mend? Then listen real good: Honor ain’t nothing but protecting the dead, cause sooner or later, they’re all anybody lives for.
Protecting the dead means avenging the death of her son Jeremiah and Elsa has her heart set on Jacob being just the man to do it.
Publisher: Samuel French
Cast: 3M, 3F
Read Catherine Trieschmann’s notes on writing The Bridegroom of Blowing Rock.