Frontmatter, Characters, Setting

Woody Guthrie’s American Song

songs and writings by Woody Guthrie
conceived and adapted by Peter Glazer

for information, please contact:

American Song Productions
1001 46th Street #506
Emeryville, CA 94608
wgamsong@gmail.com

The Company

The five actors will play a variety of roles, named in each scene. When playing a specific role other than that of their ensemble persona (First Young Man, Woman, etc), their ensemble name will always be indicated in parenthesis. Woody’s first person voice is taken on by different actors at different times as indicated in the script. Casting should be multi-ethnic.

FIRST YOUNG MAN (SEARCHER, CISCO) – a young man in his early to middle 20s, who must be a fairly proficient guitar player. Baritone.

SECOND YOUNG MAN (HOBO, FOLKSINGER) – a bit older than FYM and more experienced; also plays guitar. Tenor/baritone.

MAN (WRITER, CRIPPLE WHITEY, DAD, BAR MAN) – age range 40 – 60, plays a variety of character roles. He could play basic guitar, but it isn’t required. Bass/baritone.

YOUNG WOMAN (HOBO GIRL, DAUGHTER, BOWERY GIRL) – age range 18 – 25. Plays rudimentary guitar. Soprano with belt.

WOMAN (HOBO WOMAN, MAMA, SALOON SINGER) – age range 35 to 50. Guitar possible, not essential. Mezzo soprano with belt.

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MUSICIANS – 3 or 4, instrumentation to include guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, harmonica, acoustic bass.

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Time and Place: America in the 1930s and 1940s and today.

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“These songs will echo [. . .] till the world looks level – till the world is level – and there ain’t no rich men, and there ain’t no poor men, and every man on earth is at work and his family is living as human beings instead of like a nest of rats.”

Woody Guthrie
quoted in the collection
Pastures of Plenty p. 62

Act One, Scene 3

"Bound for Glory" 

Scene Three

(As the SEARCHER moves upstage, the rest of the cast enter as railroad hoboes, creating the interior of a boxcar with props and with a platform built into the stage floor. Underscoring has begun, with the driving rhythm of a train barreling across the west. Everyone is jammed into the boxcar: the HOBO (SYM) and HOBO GIRL (YW) are brother and sister; the HOBO WOMAN (W) is traveling alone, as is CRIPPLE WHITEY (M)).

SEARCHER (FYM)
I could see folks of all colors bouncing along in the boxcar. We stood up. We laid down. We piled around on each other. I could smell the sour and bitter sweat soaking through my own khaki shirt and britches, the work clothes, overhauls and saggy, dirty suits of the other folks. My mouth was full of some kind of grey mineral dust that was about an inch thick all over the floor.

HOBO WOMAN (W)
We look like a gang of lost corpses heading back to the bone yard.

HOBO (SYM)
Hot in the September heat...

HOBO GIRL (YW)
mean and mad...

CRIPPLE WHITEY (M)
cussing and sweating...

HOBO (SYM)
raving and preaching!

SEARCHER (FYM)
The train was a highball and had the right of way. Our car was a rough rider, a flat
wheeler. The wheels were clipping it off at sixty miles an hour.

(The SEARCHER starts singing BOUND FOR GLORY. The others, wary at first, join in as the song progresses.)

SEARCHER (FYM)
THIS TRAIN DON’T CARRY NO GAMBLERS, THIS TRAIN
THIS TRAIN DON’T CARRY NO GAMBLERS, THIS TRAIN
THIS TRAIN DON’T CARRY NO GAMBLERS,
LIARS, THIEVES OR BIG SHOT RAMBLERS,
THIS TRAIN IS BOUND FOR GLORY, THIS TRAIN

(Leading them through it.)

SEARCHER (FYM)
THIS TRAIN DON’T CARRY NO GAMBLERS THIS TRAIN

ALL (ad lib)
THIS TRAIN DON’T CARRY NO GAMBLERS, THIS TRAIN
THIS TRAIN DON’T CARRY NO GAMBLERS,
LIARS, THIEVES OR BIG SHOT RAMBLERS,
THIS TRAIN IS BOUND FOR GLORY, THIS TRAIN

(Music continues.)

CRIPPLE WHITEY (M)
We would have to get the only goddam flat wheeler on the train.

SEARCHER (FYM)
Beats walking ... bother you for my guitar handle ta stick up here in yer face?

HOBO (SYM)
Naw, just as long as yuh keep up the music. Kinda songs ya sing? Juke box stuff?

SEARCHER (FYM)
No. When I do that drugstore lemonade music, I just open up my mouth and nothing
comes out.

HOBO (SYM)
Little too sissy? Wise-cracky, huh?

SEARCHER (FYM)
Hell yes. Takes more’n a dam bunch of wisecracks to win any kind of war. Takes work.

HOBO (SYM)
You don’t look like you ever broke your back at no work, bud.

CRIPPLE WHITEY (M)
You boys talkin’ about the war?

SEARCHER (FYM)
(To the HOBO)
By God, mister, I work just as hard as you or the next guy, and I got the blisters to
prove it.

CRIPPLE WHITEY (M)
I got a feelin’ you’re gonna see a little spell of war right here in just a few minutes.


SEARCHER (FYM)
Makes you think so?

CRIPPLE WHITEY (M)
They call me Cripple Whitey, the Fight Spotter. I can spot a fist fight on the streets three blocks before I come to it. I can spot a gang fight an hour before it breaks out. I tip off the boys. They know how to lay their bets.

SEARCHER (FYM)
You got a fight spotted now?

CRIPPLE WHITEY (M)
I smell a big one. One hell of a big one! Be some blood spilt. Be a few minutes yet.

SEARCHER (FYM)
(To HOBO GIRL, who’s frightened by WHITEY.)
Aw, don’t pay no ‘tention to that drunken rat. He’s just full of it.

CRIPPLE WHITEY (M)
(Trying to provoke THE SEARCHER.)
You’re a goddam rat. Get up! I’ll cave your lousy dam head in! I’ll throw you into one of those lakes!
(The SEARCHER moves away to the door of the car. WHITEY then uses the song lyrics to challenge him.)

CRIPPLE WHITEY (M)
THIS TRAIN DON’T CARRY NO LIARS, THIS TRAIN

ALL
THIS TRAIN DON’T CARRY NO LIARS, THIS TRAIN
THIS TRAIN DON’T CARRY NO LIARS,

CRIPPLE WHITEY (M)
SHE’S STREAMLINED AND A MIDNIGHT FLIER

ALL
THIS TRAIN DON’T CARRY NO LIARS, THIS TRAIN

SEARCHER (FYM)
I set down by the door looking all through the troubled, tangled, messed up folks, hitting the long old lonesome go. A crazy boxcar on a wild track. Headed sixty miles an hour in a big cloud of poison dust due straight to nowhere.

CRIPPLE WHITEY (M)
Be a hell of a thing if a feller was ta get knocked outta this dern boxcar goin’ this pace, wouldn’t it? Roll a week!

SEARCHER (FYM)
Hey! Look! Trains slowin’ down ta make a switch.

(WHITEY gets up and confronts the SEARCHER.)

CRIPPLE WHITEY (M)
I been lookin’ for you, mister music maker! I think I’ll just boot yez offa dis train!

(WHITEY shoves him out the end of the car. The HOBO pushes WHITEY to the floor. The SEARCHER moves downstage.)

SEARCHER (FYM)
He kicked me out the door. I lit running with my feet on the cinders, and made a run for the door of the same boxcar again. Slowing down, the train jammed its air brakes and jarred everyone in the boxcar off his feet. I was giving up all hopes of getting back, when I saw the iron ladder on the end of the car. I got a running start on the cinders, swung onto the ladder and went over the top.

(Music and the next set of lyrics underscore the action, as the SEARCHER climbs to a position which represents the top of the boxcar. Verses and dialogue begin to overlap.)

ALL
THIS TRAIN DON’T CARRY NO CON MEN, THIS TRAIN
THIS TRAIN DON’T CARRY NO CON MEN, THIS TRAIN
THIS TRAIN DON’T CARRY NO CON MEN,
NO WHEELER DEALERS, HERE AND GONE MEN
THIS TRAIN DON’T CARRY NO CON MEN, THIS TRAIN

SEARCHER (FYM)
I looked ahead at the black smoke rolling out of the engine. It boiled and turned and spun into all kinds of shapes. The wind whistled funeral songs for the railroad riders. Lightning struck and crackled. The flash knocked the clouds full of holes and rain hit down hard. I was whirling and floating, and my brain felt like a pot of hot lead bubbling over a flame.

ALL
THIS TRAIN DON’T CARRY NO RUSTLERS, THIS TRAIN
THIS TRAIN DON’T CARRY NO RUSTLERS, THIS TRAIN
(The SEARCHER begins his next speech here, over the singing.)
THIS TRAIN DON’T CARRY NO RUSTLERS,
SIDE-STREET WALKERS, TWO BIT RUSTLERS,
THIS TRAIN DON’T CARRY NO RUSTLERS, THIS TRAIN.


SEARCHER (FYM)
Through the roof, down inside the car, I heard the voices of the hoboes. Who’s all of these crazy men down there? How come them here? How the hell come me here?

ALL
THIS TRAIN DON’T CARRY NO SMOKERS, THIS TRAIN
THIS TRAIN DON’T CARRY NO SMOKERS, THIS TRAIN
(There’s another lightning flash. The SEARCHER begins his next speech, again over the singing.)
THIS TRAIN DON’T CARRY NO SMOKERS,
OOOOOOOOOO . . .
THIS TRAIN DON’T CARRY NO SMOKERS, THIS TRAIN

SEARCHER (FYM)
Strike lightning, strike. Strike, goddam you, strike! See if I care. Roar and tumble,
twist and turn, the sky ain’t never crazy as the world.

ALL
THIS TRAIN IS BOUND FOR GLORY, THIS TRAIN
THIS TRAIN IS BOUND FOR GLORY, THIS TRAIN
THIS TRAIN IS BOUND FOR GLORY,
DON’T CARRY NOTHING BUT THE RIGHTEOUS AND THE HOLY,
THIS TRAIN IS BOUND FOR GLORY, THIS TRAIN... THIS TRAIN...

SEARCHER (FYM)
(Again overlapping the music.)
Bound for glory, this train? Ha! Rain on, little rain, rain on! Blow on, little wind, keep blowin’! ‘Cause them guys is a singin’ that this train is bound for glory, and I’m gonna hug her breast ‘til I found out where she’s bound.

ALL
THIS TRAIN IS BOUND FOR GLORY,
DON’T CARRY NOTHING BUT THE RIGHTEOUS AND THE HOLY,
THIS TRAIN IS BOUND FOR GLORY, THIS TRAIN!

(The song ends with a crash of thunder.)