Jane and David Graham live upper-middle-class lives in mid-century Washington, DC. Jane minds the home with the help of a fulltime maid, and David works at the Treasury Department. But when the FBI visits their house one evening to ask questions about a friend’s political beliefs, the answers the two give separately cause them both to wonder whether they truly know each other. Soon nothing is certain as the ideological fears plaguing the nation threaten to destroy Jane and David’s family. Howard Fast’s first play, Thirty Pieces of Silver was performed in several countries, from Australia to Europe, and offers an insightful look at the destructive power of reactionary politics in America. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Howard Fast including rare photos from the author’s estate.
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Thirty Pieces of Silver
A Play in Three Acts
By Howard Fast
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1954 Howard Fast
All rights reserved.
The scene is the living-room of the Graham home, in a suburb of Washington, D.C. Just from this interior, you would know the house, white clapboard outside, like a thousand others in this rather intermediate, middle-income bracket, an indeterminate colonial style in a well-kept small lawn. The room is furnished in the colonial style of the house, also indeterminate, with some taste but enough timidity to make it a blood brother of a thousand other such living-rooms that represent six, or seven or eight thousand dollars of income per year.
On stage left, the archway to the entrance; on stage right, the archway to the dining-room. The staircase to above backs the room, and under it there is a bay window with a recessed window seat. Which is not to say this isn't a cheerful room with a chintz-covered couch, Lawson style, two big easy chairs, and a rather nice selection of occasional pieces in pine. There is a baby-grand piano, stage right rear, and a tray bar. Several hooked rugs, and Audubon, and Currier and Ives on the walls. It is too right, too even. A toy tractor on the floor is the only note of indifference.
When the curtain rises, JANE GRAHAM and MILDRED ANDREWS are in the room. JANE GRAHAM is a slim, rather pretty woman of twenty-nine. Dark-haired and blue-eyed, she is a fairly familiar type south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and her voice reveals just a trace of that accent. What makes her unusual is a certain measured sincerity and an almost compulsive determination.
MILDRED ANDREWS is a few years older, harder, better dressed, more made up and more skilfully made up. When the curtain rises, MILDRED sprawls on the couch. JANE is attempting to pin the pieces of a slip cover on to the upholstered chair. She goes on with her work through this scene, pins in her mouth sometimes, always intent on what she is doing.
MILDRED It's none of my business. Darling, if I hewed a line to what is my business I'd be biting the edges of those fine carpets that Jim Andrews hasn't quite paid for yet.
JANE But, Mildred, you don't know—do you?
Mildred Was I in the room with them? Honey, I haven't even got a photograph.
JANE It would hurt a little more if they said it about you. Or Jim.
MILDRED Why? The truth doesn't hurt—well— What have you heard about my fine Jim?
MILDRED He hasn't—? (She swallows and stares at Jane.) If that son-of-a-bitch made a pass at you, I'll— Did he, Jane? I want the truth. The whole truth. I'll hate your guts if you don't tell me.
JANE (unconcernedly going on with her work) No one ever makes a pass at me.
MILDRED Where have I heard that before?
JANE I wouldn't know.
MILDRED Not even Leonard Agronsky?
(She says this casually, but transparently so. JANE pauses in her work long enough for it to be noticeable.)
MILDRED (smiling tolerantly) Well, I wouldn't know either, would I? I suppose you require some special kind of ego to live in a no-pass world. I'd be scared to say it, if it were true.
JANE What makes you thinks——
MILDRED Yes, my sweet?
MILDRED Simple projection, as a matter of fact. Andrews doesn't like Agronsky. I like Agronsky. If he looked at me the way I've seen him look at you, I would undoubtedly be in bed with him, being a sort of slut myself.
JANE (still unconcernedly) You really have Agronsky on your mind, haven't you?
MILDRED No—men in general maybe. Not your David, honey.
(Now JANE turns and looks at her half-angrily, half-uncertainly.)
Well, I'm sorry. Forgive me.
JANE Why do you hate him so?
MILDRED I did it, didn't I? Look, honey—I don't hate him. I've got no feelings about your guy at all——
JANE (actually upset now) Like hell you haven't!
MILDRED All right—I don't like him. Do we stop being friends?
JANE Don't be an idiot. I never thought you made the mistake of liking David.
MILDRED And now you're mad.
JANE Do you want me to turn handsprings? Why don't you like him? He's just a poor, frightened guy—who never quite grew up.
MILDRED Maybe I'm tired of men who never quite grew up. It's a disease of our males—at least of those who infest Washington. Except——
JANE Except what?
MILDRED Except Agronsky. He never leaves me alone, does he? I wonder if he leaves you alone? Why in hell didn't you marry him, Jane?
JANE Why didn't you marry Harry Truman and learn to pour tea? For God's sake——
MILDRED Make it Abe Lincoln. I'll bring my birth certificate next time. The sweet ones always have the claws. Yes, my darling, I can think of two reasons why you didn't marry Agronsky, and David doesn't figure in either of them.
JANE You're an evil person with an evil mind.
MILDRED I am that. Did you ever know a woman in this city who wasn't? The men are little lice, but we become female Walter Winchells. That's inevitable.
JANE Don't talk to me about Agronsky any more, please, Mildred. I don't know what he means to you. To me, he's a friend—that's all.
MILDRED To me, he's a man, do you see, my dear? He's a hero, the only male hero in my lexicon. And not only because Jim Andrews, whom I happen to be married to, thinks he's a Red. Agronsky is real. That's all. Everything else around here is a nightmare, a horror, a particular cesspool created by the God-fearing folk of this nation so that they might be governed——
JANE Stop it, Mildred. You're manufacturing this beautiful and particular horror out of your own needs. There are as many honest men and women here as anywhere.
MILDRED Are there? Then sweet dreams to you. Let's not fight.
JANE We won't fight, honey.
MILDRED (looking at her watch) This is overtime.
I've got to run, darling. This is a long subject, and some other time, on a long rainy afternoon, maybe, we'll go into it.
(She starts to the door and then stops.)
I'll see you to-night, won't I? You're not really angry?
JANE No, I'm not really angry.
MILDRED Thank the Lord. You're the one friend I've got. The rest belong to that louse, Andrews.
(She takes a quick step to JANE, kisses the top of her head, and then exits. JANE remains for a moment, kneeling by the chair. Then she gets up and stares at the door for a moment. Then she gathers the slip covers together, shrugs, and exits up the staircase.)
(She is just gone when LORRY GRAHAM enters through the archway from the dining-room. She is a healthy-looking little girl of five and a half or so, in overalls and braids. She wanders in, singing lightly to herself, drifts around the room and spies the tractor. She sits down next to it, trying to fit on a loose rubber tread, holding the toy in her lap and working seriously.)
LORRY The damn thing keeps losing this tread, no matter what I do.
HILDA (entering from the dining-room to hear this. She is a Negro woman of about thirty. She wears a maid's uniform.) That's no way to talk.
LORRY What way?
LORRY There. You said it yourself.
HILDA I didn't say it. I just told you not to say it.
HILDA You know why. My goodness, Lorry, you know a good word from a bad word.
LORRY I always hear you say it. It's just that this damn tractor keeps losing a tread. It always keeps losing a tread.
HILDA (getting down next to her) There again. Let's see that tractor. And just let me tell you this. If my mother heard me talk like that when I was your size, I'd be whupped good. Right now, I'm old enough to say what I please and I intend to, so you just get that into your little head. A tractor's a boy's toy, anyway.
LORRY Where's your mother now, Hilda?
LORRY What's dead?
HILDA (putting down the toy and staring at the child) Give me a kiss, honey—and I should have my head examined for getting to love you so much.
LORRY (holding back) What's dead, Hilda?
HILDA Now I'm in something, ain't I? Dead's quiet, honey. Dead's just still, still as the whole night long, but it don't stop. Like going to sleep and not waking up and no more struggle or crying.
(During this, JANE enters, coming down the stairs from above.)
LORRY Will I get dead?
HILDA Sometime, honey—yes, sometime, there's no getting away from that.
JANE Hilda! Hilda, how can you?
HILDA (rising) That's no harm, Mrs. Graham. She asked me. They're all going to ask sooner or later, and sooner or later, you got to tell them.
JANE But not like that.
HILDA You just going to make a cushion for her? For how long?
JANE That's enough! That's my affair, not yours, Hilda.
(HILDA looks at her.)
I'm sorry, Hilda, I'm sorry. Lorry, take the tractor upstairs.
LORRY Why can't I play with it here?
JANE Because you can't. Anyway, it's time for your dinner, so take it upstairs and wash your hands.
(LORRY picks up the toy and goes up the stairs.)
HILDA I'll try to be a maid, Mrs. Graham. Sometimes I forget, Mrs. Graham. My mother used to tell me—never forget, never for one second. Well—I forgot.
JANE (coming over to her) Hilda—you've been with us long enough to know me a little. I forget myself sometimes. Do you know anyone who doesn't, Hilda?
HILDA It doesn't matter, Mrs. Graham.
JANE It does matter. You're burning up inside. Well, I'm sorry. I was born and raised in Charleston. I guess I've told you that a hundred times. This is a hundred and one, then. I try to act like a human being, which isn't easy. Not for me. Not for anyone, I sometimes think.
(They stand there, looking at each other, and LORRY comes down the stairs. Then HILDA nods slightly.)
Did you wash your hands?
HILDA I'll wash them again in the kitchen. Come along, Lorry.
(They go out through the dining-room archway, and JANE stands looking after them for a moment. Then she shakes her head, goes to the tray bar, and makes the proportions for a martini. While she is doing this, the outside door opens. This we can partly see. DAVID GRAHAM lets himself in, pocketing his keys.)
(He is fairly tall, decently dressed in a grey suit and white shirt. A round, small-nosed, even-featured face is without particular distinction: it is honest insofar as it is obvious, overflowing college campuses and billboards and magazine ads, omnipresent and speaking for America. It gives evidence of good feeding and a certain amount of thought, and is saved from being wholly negative by a pair of glasses. A pleasant-looking young man, only reasonably complicated.)
DAVID (tossing his paper on to a chair) Hello, Janey.
(She throws him a glance, then pours the drinks.')
DAVID Just oh? What in hell are you so burned up over?
JANE Nothing—want a drink?
DAVID Yes, I want a drink. I want a kiss. I want the whole Hollywood production that comes to a man who's not as unhappily married as most and sitting on his can all day, too. What did I do now?
JANE (walking over to him, handing him a drink and kissing him lightly) Nothing that you did. I just had a little run-in with Hilda and I'm upset. It's my fault. It has nothing to do with you, Dave, and I'll be over it in a moment or two. Here's mud in your lovely blue eyes.
DAVID (tasting the drink) To you. What happened?
JANE Nothing—just silly stuff, and I snapped at her. I treated her like a servant, that's it. No, it isn't, either. (Shakes her head.) It was just something foolish. Let's forget it.
DAVID The whole rigmarole you indulge in with her beats the hell out of me. You can't make a friend out of a servant.
JANE I don't make a friend out of her. I just keep reminding myself that she's a human being. Or I try to. Oh, let's forget the whole thing.
DAVID (walking over to a chair and dropping into it) Sure. But it's only natural, Janey. As an intelligent Southerner, you have an excess of guilt. Some kind of atonement, I guess, or something. I can be a lot more natural with ni——
JANE Don't do that!
JANE (slowly and deliberately) Don't use that word. It's a filthy word.
DAVID (shaking his head) You're off to-night. All right—if you don't want me to, I won't use it. But I don't have the kind of associations with it that you do. I don't have to overcome the things you——
JANE Don't be such a damn fool!
DAVID (pitting his glass down and looking at her curiously. He speaks slowly.) I should be sore as hell at that.
JANE But you're going to be patient and understanding.
DAVID That's right. I'm going to be patient and understanding. I came home feeling warm and good for a change. I'm going to stay that way. Those are my small pleasures.
(HILDA enters now.)
HILDA Good evening, Mr. Graham.
DAVID Where's my beautiful daughter?
HILDA Having her supper. But she won't eat.
DAVID That's no daughter of mine. Let me try. I'll be back.
(He takes his drink and goes out through the dining-room. HILDA hesitates a moment, then starts to follow DAVID.)
JANE Wait a minute, Hilda.
HILDA Yes, Mrs. Graham?
JANE (without warmth) Try calling me Jane, just for once.
HILDA Yes, Mrs. Graham.
JANE You're not going to try, are you? You're going to ride that little bit of hurt right into the ground, aren't you?
HILDA I don't know what you want from me, Mrs. Graham.
JANE The trouble is, you do. What's wrong with me, Hilda?
(HILDA stands there, without reacting particularly, without answering.)
Or what's right with me—or with David—or with Lorry? Are you as uncomfortable as I am, Hilda? The trouble isn't that I'm superior to you, but that you can convince me that you're so superior to me. Why? That's what I want to know, Hilda. We're Americans. I want to do what's right; so does David. What's wrong with us?
HILDA I'm sorry, Mrs. Graham.
JANE (suddenly angry) Like hell you are.
(The doorbell rings.)
All right. See who it is, Hilda.
(HILDA goes to the door. Offstage, FULLER'S voice asks if MR. DAVID GRAHAM lives here. HILDA brings him in, a middle-sized, youngish man, middle thirties, well-groomed, quietly dressed, unimpressive and not too unusual. In all points of origin, he is vaguely similar to DAVID GRAHAM, yet there is a subtle though consistent difference. It might be said that a trained shrewdness has substituted for intelligence—a somewhat laboured control for whatever spontaneity DAVID GRAHAM exhibits. He wears saddle shoes and carries a soft Panama.)
FULLER (to JANE) HOW do you do. My name's Fuller. Are you Mrs. Graham?
JANE That's right.
FULLER I'd like to see Mr. Graham, if it's no trouble. If he's home now?
JANE Is he expecting you?
FULLER (smiling apologetically) I don't think so, Mrs. Graham. I'll explain to him, if he's home.
JANE All right. Sit down. I'll get him. Do you want a drink? Hilda, will you give Mr. Fuller a martini or something?
FULLER (He remains standing.) Thank you, no.
JANE (pausing as she turns to leave) Nothing? Well, won't you sit down? What did you say your name was?
FULLER Fuller. F-U-L-L-E-R. Mr. Fuller.
JANE I see. Thank you, Mr.... Fuller. I'll call my husband.
(JANE goes out. Fuller stands there, turning his hat in his hands.),
HILDA May I take your hat?
FULLER You're the maid?
HILDA You guessed that, didn't you? I'm the maid. How did you guess?
FULLER I'll hold the hat, if you don't mind. This is fine weather, isn't it? I mean, for June, it's cool.
(His speech is precise and emotionless. He ignores HILDA'S sarcasm. Now DAVID GRAHAM enters, JANE after him. LORRY trails them with a piece of bread.)
JANE Take her inside, will you, Hilda? David, this is Mr. Fuller.
FULLER How do you do, Mr.Graham.
LORRY How old are you, Mr. Fuller?
JANE Will you finish your supper, Lorry—please.
(HILDA leads LORRY out. JANE picks up her drink now, and DAVID looks at FULLER inquiringly.)
FULLER This is a very nice house—nice family, too, Mr. Graham. Nice little girl. You got a lot to be thankful for.
DAVID What can I do for you, Mr. Fuller?
Excerpted from Thirty Pieces of Silver by Howard Fast. Copyright © 1954 Howard Fast. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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