You are on page 1of 18

No Rebs in Bethlehem

By
Daniel Welser Carroll

A troupe of interracial actors perform a controversial


Christmas pageant for a group of Union Soldiers.

Approximate run-time dwelsercarroll@gmail.com


20 Min. 518-810-3053
(Available for expansion)
1.

Dorothy stands center. She is an


african-american woman in simple,
but well tailored clothing.

DOROTHY
I was never one for saying much - which is perhaps why music
has always been my language. Every last person’s an
instrument - that’s the way God made us. Music has a certain
divine power that way, and at the right moment, with the
right voice, it can do the work of good better than any man.
Like on the Christmas of 1862 - you ever wonder why General
Morgan’s men never made it passed Kentucky that night? I’ll
tell ya. It was because of us. Give a man ammunition and
arms a plenty but it’s a certain spirit that loads that gun
proper. I’ll never forget that night. Alec Botsford was the
troupe leader, a former soldier, a real professional - we
had arrived at the Union Army front in Munfordville with the
23rd Army Corp...but they’d have none of us.
An army Lietenant, CALDWELL, and a
limping civilian with army
decorations, BOTSFORD enter
briskly. Botsford has a cane and a
coat slung over his arm. He is an
eloquent, proper Yankee.

CALDWELL
You’re a half-night late, Alec!
BOTSFORD
You told me morale was low, that they needed entertainment
to reinvigorate spirits - especially it being Christmas Eve
in the middle of the war, that was what you wrote me.
(To Dorothy, Caldwell continues)
My coat, Dotty. If you’d be so kind.
DOROTHY
Of course.
(She takes his jacket)
CALDWELL
(Continuing on)
It’s hours past sundown. I’m sorry. Half my men have been on
the cider for hours now, they’re getting hard tack and some
meager white turkey meat in their stomachs, it’s cold as the
final circle of hell and it’s the middle of the night, Alec.
These men won’t be interested in seeing a god-forsaken
Christmas pageant.
BOTSFORD
Please, Caldwell - we were held up down the road. I don’t
think you understand what I’m saying. Let me at least
explain to you what we have planned. Thomas! Come in,
please!
2.

CALDWELL
Alec, don’t make a fuss.
THOMAS enters. A well dressed,
confident African-American man.

BOTSFORD
Three days, we’ve traveled. Three days. Lieutenant, I’d like
you to meet Thomas Green, a good friend of mine from Cohoes.
THOMAS
(Extending his hand)
Merry Christmas, sir.
CALDWELL
It’s a pleasure Mr. Green.

BOTSFORD
Thomas and I have worked diligently on this - he’s
excellent. We’ve known each other for years. We once played
opposite each other during a performance of Othello in
Saratoga. And you remember Dotty, from my old company in
Philadelphia - the voice of an angel. And the music she has
prepared, it’s just exquisite!
CALDWELL
Alec I don’t think you’re listening to me! I’m sorry, I
can’t afford to have these men put off their spirits. It’s
not a matter of your quality.

DOTTY
(Speaking up)
I promise you, sir. What the men see tonight will
reinvigorate their resolve come morning. It’s really
something.

CALDWELL
That’s not what I mean by spirits, my dear.
BOTSFORD
Please, Caldwell. I understand that the cause of the Union
Army is a difficult one to keep secure in the hearts of your
men. But our pageant has been specially designed to approach
that very issue.
CALDWELL
I’m sorry.
BOTSFORD
When we were out past Elizabethtown, we heard rumor of
potential raids by Confederates tonight, have you heard
this?
3.

CALDWELL
That’s...just rumor. Some men are worried General Morgan’s
going to exploit the fact we’re all bunkered down for the
holiday.

BOTSFORD
But are your men prepared, if there is a raid?
CALDWELL
Of course they’re prepared, damn it. The 23rd Artillary held
down the northern ridge at Antitum. We’re well supplied and
experienced.
BOTSFORD
But in their hearts. On tonight of all nights. In their
hearts are they prepared for battle?

Caldwell sighs and rubs his


temples.
THOMAS
What could it hurt, Lieutenant? Could it really make
anything worse than it is?

CALDWELL
It’s not just that you’re late. I-
(He shrugs)
I don’t know what I expected you to bring when you came - a
band, maybe? A fiddler? Maybe even a minister, I mean it is
Christmas, but this...
BOTSFORD
What? This what? What are you talking about, you don’t even
know what we’re going to do yet.

CALDWELL
(Shaking his head)
These aren’t all Cohoes Yanks you’re dealing with here. Now
I pay no mind to your skin there Thomas, that’s just my
upbringing but...some of these men had never even seen a
Negro before the war...it’s been hard to win some over.
THOMAS
What are you implying?
CALDWELL
It’s just...a warning. It’s Munfordville, Kentucky for
goodness sake...
BOTSFORD
Then this is all perfection! You’ll see!
4.

THOMAS
Alec?
BOTSFORD
(Bleary enthusiasm)
If the men have forgotten that freedom and abolition are
worth this fight, then we will renew that understanding.
CALDWELL
It’s not that simple.

The door bursts open. Sargent


Sanborn enters.
SANBORN
Ay Lieutenant! One a’ the privates got word of our barrel
and made a stink out by the sergeant’s quarters- ay o’
what’s going on here?
CALDWELL
What do you want, Sanborn?? Can’t you see I’m busy?
SANBORN
Just reporting some routine disturbances Lieutenant. That’s
all, that’s all. These those minstrels you said was coming??
THOMAS
We are not minstrels.

CALDWELL
I apologize, Alec, I let some of my senior officers treat
themselves to a barrel of local whiskey.
SANBORN
(Extending a hand to no-one in
particular, Botsford takes it)
Sargent Sanborn, state o’ New York. Company A. Pleased to
meet you.
BOTSFORD
A pleasure. I’m also from New York. As are my fellow players
here.
SANBORN
Are ya? No, you’re not. Look at ya! Where you from?

BOTSFORD
Cohoes, New York. I assure you.
SANBORN
Look at them jangly decorations you got there - you a
soldier?
5.

BOTSFORD
Discharged. A Lieutenant alongside our friend Caldwell here,
until my injury.
SANBORN
Are you sure? Nah. You look like...I dunno. You sure you’re
not one of them southern dandies? You do look kinda...pink.
BOTSFORD
(Beat)
Well, Sergeant Sanborn I have no idea what that means, but
would you like to see a Christmas pageant?
SANBORN
(As excited as a child)
Oh YEAH!

CALDWELL
(Rubbing his temples)
Bah...
SANBORN
Aw, you better let em Lieutenant!

DOTTY
We’ll have singing!
SANBORN
Singing??

BOTSFORD
There will be singing. See, Lieutenant? If our revelry
succeeds, you may find yourself with an entire company of
men prepared for any Confederate tricks, instilled with a
heavenly, spiritual vigor. Think of that.
CALDWELL
(Sighing)
I’ll talk to the Company B commander, see what he thinks.

SANBORN
WOOOP! That’s right!
Sanborn and Caldwell exit,
ad-libbing.

THOMAS
If he’s right about the state of these men, we have to
change the performance.
BOTSFORD
Change the performance? In what way? Why?
6.

THOMAS
All the folly, the effects - it’s too silly.
BOTSFORD
Nonsense! That’s exactly what they’ll want!

THOMAS
These men need more scripture and less spectacle.
BOTSFORD
No. No. No. When you’re ankle deep in frozen mud, the last
thing you want is to be preached to!
THOMAS
We have to make sure we’re doing what we came here to do.
That they get the right message. What if there truly is a
raid? And we’ve failed at inspiring them, perhaps even
turned them against us. I knew there was risk in coming this
close to the lines, but I’m not going to throw myself into
harms way. You know the statute the Rebs put out for union
blacks.
BOTSFORD
My friends. I wouldn’t intentionally put you in harms way. I
know soldiers, I was one myself - they want songs, they want
a giddy performance, not solemnity.
THOMAS
(Sighing)
I’m not convinced, Alec.
The door bursts open again.
CALDWELL returns.

CALDWELL
Alright, Alec. You’ve got your Christmas play. But it’s your
funeral. Come on!
BOTSFORD
You heard him, hurry!

The men step upstage.


DOROTHY
We left Caldwell’s tent to find the troops huddled and
gathered together. The big canvas tent was rattling in the
December wind. The men seemed forlorn, but riled. As if the
bitterness of the cold had crept into their characters. They
all had their Christmas dinners guarded solemnly in their
laps, and some of the more fortunate officers held flagons
of beer or cider. They were all reminiscent of the peasants
of eras long past that would gather for passion plays to
escape the darkness of the world around them.
7.

Dorothy turns upstage to join


Botsford and Thomas, they settle
their meager props as they begin
singing a simple, puritan harmony
of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear".
The sounds of men shouting and
carrying-on echo through the room.
CALDWELL
Alright, quiet down you lot! We’ve got a Christmas play for
ya! (God help us.) And you better pay your full respects to
such a solemn presentation.
BOTFORD
(Piping up, donning a strange outfit)
Not solemn! No one said anything about solemn!
(Returns to his task)

CALDWELL
Well, whatever it may be, LISTEN UP! And give a round of
applause!
(He observes)
I said clap damn it! That’s an order!

There’s clapping as the three come


forward, Thomas’s features are
concealed with a robe.
BOTSFORD
(A good clip)
Men of company A, we are here tonight, on this blessed
evening in the one thousandth eight hundred and sixty second
year of our Lord to take you on an exciting journey to the
exotic lands that Christ knew. A star overhead beckons
mysterious foreigners to Bethlehem.
Dotty has a star on a stick. He
says Bethlehem as an obvious cue,
and they scramble to new positions
and begin a very short rendition of
"We Three Kings of Orient Are".
SANBORN
(Singing along)
...Field and fountain, moor and mountain...

CALDWELL
SANBORN!
BOTSFORD
(Interrupting the hymn to continue)
The Holy Scripture tells us of three mysterious strangers
from the east the night of Christ’s birth. Wise gentlemen of
(MORE)
8.

BOTSFORD (cont’d)
unknown origin bearing unusual and decadent gifts for our
savior. They were men that crossed vast distances from
countries so peculiar that pure description would be moot.
But imagine for a moment one Biblical fact, one baffling
revelation, that of these three Wise Men, one was-
BOTSFORD AND DOTTY
A Negro!
They snap their attention to
Thomas, who reveals his face and
has now donned a haphazard turban.
THOMAS
I am Gudapharasa, King of Kandahar, come to pay homage to
Christ the King!

The soldiers begin to laugh and


shout loudly.
SANBORN
HA! Gesundheit of what?

BOTSFORD
(Speaking over the voices)
Scandal some would say, radicalism some might say, but it is
gospel truth passed down the ages gentlemen. And he was not
barred from the stable that held our lord, not even for his
skin-color. And Christ did receive his gift. BUT! Consider
for a moment if one of those damned Rebs was running the
walls of Bethlehem with their backwards ways. Instead of a
Roman, a Confederate Rogue!

CALDWELL
Quiet you lot!
DOROTHY
Halt, dark skinned stranger, go no further.

THOMAS
I said I am Gudapharasa, King of Kandahar, come to pay
homage to Christ the King! I travel with the two companions
ahead that you did not stop!
DOROTHY
You are hereby a Confederate prisoner, and soon will be
southern property, all of your belongings shall be
possessed, and your so-called crown shall be revoked!
THOMAS AND BOTSFORD
Outrage!
9.

THOMAS
I am in possession of gifts for our savior Christ Jesus, to
deny them would be blasphemy.
DOROTHY
Ain’t you never heard of the Confederate states? All our
biblical concepts are so backwards and redefined on account
of all the slo-gin and incest.
The three turn to the two soldiers
in a wide-handed, clear "laugh
line" indication. The soldiers
begin shouting and laughing.
Sanborn comes stumbling onto the
stage, hamming it up.
SANBORN
Incest right!? Can you boys believe this girl’s Reb
impression, eh?
(Extending his mug, advancing on Dotty)
Have some-more of that slo-gin, Reb!!
Caldwell seizes him and pulls him
offstage before he can cause any
trouble.
DOROTHY
To us, you ain’t no king because you’re a negro, you ain’t
no wise man because you’re a negro, you ain’t commin into
Bethlehem. Because you are a negro! All you are fit to be is
subordinate because of the skin God wrapped you in. Submit!
THOMAS
Do I look like a subordinate to you?

DOROTHY
Guards! Seize this man!
Sargent Sanborn, at the edge of the
stage, begins to grow increasingly
belligerent. He interrupts them,
but they try to carry on.
SANBORN
(Speaking over the actors)
Enough of this King Goodapafassa nonsense! Let’s get some
more singin in here! Sing! Dance! Come on now!
(Caldwell tries to grab him again)
Get off, stop it! It’s damn cold out and we want some music!
Now, sing Reb, sing!
10.

DOROTHY
(Speaking over Sanborn)
Throw him in chains!
THOMAS
(Attempting to keep the show going)
You know not what great offense you are committing in the
name of ignorance, sir! For I have been called by the light
of God from a land of mystical tradition, and my people wish
to hear word of this divine-
(aside, sudden)
Please sir, take your seat.
(Back in character)
SANBORN
(Loud, a thorough nuisance)
Now, wait now! We don’t gotta take no orders tonight, not
from some darkie minstrel from wherever-
BOTSFORD
Pardon me??
CALDWELL
I’ll toss your ass right-
SANBORN
(Drunk and furious)
LET GO! I’ve seen you’re type. Like that forsaken all
colored 54th division- the ravin’ idiots comming up from the
farms thinkin it’s damn milk and honey where the yanks are!
IT’S CHRISTMAS DAMN EVE! I want singin! Sing minstrel lady!
You a deaf negro or something?? Huh??
CALDWELL
That’s it!
(He seizes Sanborn)
SANBORN
Get off me! Get off me!
(He drunkenly shoves away Caldwell and
then seizes Dorothy by the costume)
Now listen you-
He is cut off by a sudden sharp
punch to the mouth from Thomas,
sending him reeling. The men all
start shouting.
BOTSFORD
No Thomas!
11.

SANBORN
Who did it! Where you-
Sanborn stumbles forward for the
retaliation, but Botsford sends him
reeling into Caldwell who holds him
roughly.
CALDWELL
You’ve made a mess, Alec!

BOTSFORD
Thomas-
THOMAS
I can fix this, I’m sorry.

BOTFORD
Thomas, no-
THOMAS
Let me handle it!

Suddenly, mounting a crate. THOMAS


throws his arms wide and bellows.
He is a furious sight to behold. As
far as this moment is concerned, he
truly is Gundapharasa, King of
Kandahar.

THOMAS
(Partially in character)
STOP! Hold that man!
CALDWELL
He’s had enough!
THOMAS
I SAID STOP!

BOTSFORD
(Entreating)
Caldwell!
Caldwell shakes his head and
forfiets Sanborn into a seated
position.
CALDWELL
Quiet men! Shut up!
12.

BOTSFORD
(To the men)
Quiet.
The hubub lessens. Caldwell lifts
Sanborn to his feet roughly, and
pushes him away. Sanborn, still
quite drunk, holds his injured face
and whines.
SANBORN
Now come on...it’s Christmas Eve, I didn’t mean nothing.
Come on. Come on.
THOMAS
Speak to me soldier! I beg your audience!

SANBORN
What are you sayin? What?
THOMAS
(Becoming more tender)
Have you come far, friend?

SANBORN
...what?
THOMAS
Have you traveled far?

SANBORN
(Swaying on his feet)
Syracuse 44th Division is...yeah I’ve come far. It’s cold
forsaken Kentucky.

THOMAS
Who have you left behind in Syracuse friend?
SANBORN
Who? Aw hell...gimme that, gimme that-
(He picks up his flagon from the ground
and lifts it up, not realizing it’s
empty)
Here’s to the wives!
Solemn "here-here’s" from the men.

SANBORN
And the girls and the sons...
(Sips sadly, finds it empty.)
Aw damn...
13.

THOMAS
My friend. You may have come far, but that alone does not
make a soldier of Christ. Have you come in the name of
righteousness? As I have come? Beckoned by yonder star?

SANBORN
Righteousness? Aw pfft what does that even mean any more.
THOMAS
You feel lost?

SANBORN
Mislead! AYE??
(Raises his glass to the men, who agree
loudly)
THOMAS
Listen, men! When, on this night, the wise kings from afar
came seeking Christ, they did not know the way. They
followed the arbitrary light of divinity across desert and
forest without proof of what they would find under that
light. But they were told and they had faith.

SANBORN
And where do you find faith...bogged down as we are with the
Rebs biting at our throats.
THOMAS
We are all far from home friend. Some farther than others.
SANBORN
Aye...that’s the truth...
(Pause)
But can’t we just get some singing in here?

Botsford nods to Dorothy, who


begins clapping and singing "Swing
Low Sweet Chariot" as Botsford
keeps rhythm by humming and beating
his cane.

DOROTHY
Swing low, sweet chariot/ Coming for to carry me home,/
Swing low, sweet chariot,/ Coming for to carry me home.
THOMAS
(Speaking over the singing)
Thank you for your valor, Sargent. You’ve come far from home
to fight for us, and we have come far from home to lift your
spirits. And we all come far from home to kneel at the feet
of God.
14.

Thomas joins into the singing,


clapping and stomping his own
rhythm. The sounds of the men die
down. Sanborn is mesmerized by the
performance, a slow grin spreading
across his face.
SANBORN
Sweet lord!
THOMAS
Sweet lord!
The three open the singing to the
men. Sanborn joins in heartily.
They finally end on another tossing
of confetti, which Sanborn dances
around in like a child.
SANBORN
Raise the roof right off its nails, boys! Good lord! Give em
a great loud clap, eh! You’ve got the voice of an angel, I
ain’t never heard a Christmas song like that!

DOROTHY
It’s not really a Christmas song.
THOMAS
Skip to the end, Alec!

BOTSFORD
(Leaping forward)
And so we concede to you soldiers, our fantasy! This king
was not stopped in such a way. This is a yarn - an honest
fiction that is not blasphemy. But in observing this story,
the logic of our forefathers reverberates within us - I ask
you! WERE THERE REBS IN Bethlehem?
A beat, with Botsford standing
awkwardly with his fist in the air.
Sanborn leaps up and all the men
shout. "No!"
SANBORN
No!

BOTSFORD
Was there a CONFEDERACY in Bethlehem??
SANBORN
(The men, also)
No!
15.

BOTSFORD
Yes, that is Gospel truth my comrades. No Reb ever knelt
before Christ on this night of his birth, but a Negro King
did! And now we battle for the Christian values of
brotherhood core to our American ways. And now we ask you to
share in proclaiming the light of Jesus and inspiring his
blessings as we honor his grace. Merry Christmas, men! Merry
Christmas!
There is much laughing. Sanborn is
vigorously shaking Thomas’ hand.
Suddenly, we hear a loud bell
clanging from offstage.
CALDWELL
(Calling off)
Sargent!! What is that? Report!

SARGENT OFF-STAGE
We’ve got Rebs coming up the Green River. It’s Morgan’s men,
up from Glasgow!!
CALDWELL
Alright enough men! On your feet! On your feet!
There’s shouting, the tone of the
revelry has now changed.
SANBORN
What’s that?
CALDWELL
Enough! We’ve got Rebs on the way! Throw down your mess
kits! Up! Up! Move!

There’s an uproar. The men shout.


CALDWELL
The master at arms is at the edge of camp by the stables!

DOROTHY
Alec, what do we do!
SANBORN
(Attempting to run off)
Give em hell!

CALDWELL
(Seizing him by the collar)
Oh no no - you’re in no state for the lines. Sargent, stay
with Mr. Botsford and his company and lead them out of town
by way of the Miller Homestead.
16.

BOTSFORD
Thank you, Lieutenant. Thank you!
CALDWELL
(Taking his hand)
Let’s hope that play of yours did what you planned, eh? See
you back home, Alec.
(To Sanborn)
The Miller Homestead!
He exits.

SANBORN
You’re in good hands, friends.
BOTSFORD
We have armaments in our carriage-

SANBORN
We’re not taking a carriage across a wheat field - I’m
afraid it’s back to the rail lines on foot.
THOMAS
We cannot be caught.
SANBORN
Have faith, my friend! Right?
DOROTHY
Listen!
The companions hold and listen for
just a moment as the sound of men
shouting, "NO REBS IN Bethlehem! NO
REBS IN Bethlehem!" Over and over
sounds from off-stage. Then, some
gunfire.
SANBORN
Ha! That’s gospel right there. Come friends!

BOTSFORD
Go!
They exit quickly, but Dorothy
lingers behind.

DOROTHY
I know those Rebel boys tore up the Louisville and Nashville
Railroad when they ripped through Kentucky that night. But
they could’ve come further. And we may have lost boys that
night on the Union lines but we tired those Reb bastards to
the end of their wits and let the cold do the rest. They
(MORE)
17.

DOROTHY (cont’d)
aimed for Ohio, but never got far. And I’ll tell you...it’s
those little bursts of spirit, that divine music, that comes
from far off to settle in your heart, those are the shakers
of nations, the history changers. So yeah...you wanna know
why General Morgan’s men never made it past Kentucky on
Christmas Eve? That was us.
She runs after her friends as the
lights fade to black.

End of play.

Related Interests