The Freeing of Mollie Steimer

The Freeing of Mollie Steimer

by Patrick Keppel

Cast of Characters


Mollie Steimer anarchist, early 20’s

Fannie Steimer her mother, late 40’s-50

Josef Steimer her father, mid 50’s

Harry Weinberger defense lawyer, early 30’s

Jacob Schwartz anarchist, Mollie’s lover; early 20’s

The Bug Bureau of Investigation agent; a tempter;

androgynous, flexible age

Jacob Abrams anarchist, mid 20’s

J. Edgar Hoover Dept. of Justice attorney, Bureau of Investigation, mid 20’s

Joan shirtwaist factory forewoman, mid 30’s

Sadie shirtwaist factory worker, late teens

Rose shirtwaist factory worker, late 20’s

Ellis Island Examiner New York bureaucrat, mid 50’s

Arthur Woods former Commissioner of the NYC Police, mid 60’s

Henry Clayton Federal District Judge, Alabama, early 60’s

Thomas Tunney New York City bomb squad chief, mid 40’s

John Ryan prosecutor, mid 40’s

Mary Lilly superintendent, Blackwell’s Island Workhouse, late 40’s

Marie Workhouse prisoner, late teens

Kate Workhouse prisoner, late 20’s

Press 1 a man in his 40’s

Press 2 a man in his 20’s

ACT I

Scene 1:  New York, 1913.  On one side, the crowded, dirty deck of a steamship line, approaching New York; and on the other, a medical screening area, Ellis Island. Josef Steimer is standing, anxiously struggling to see amid general shouts.  The Examiner is at his desk, which is cluttered with paper and ledgers; The Bug turns from the direction of the ship and approaches the Examiner, carrying a notepad as if a reporter.

Josef (calling offstage):  Fannie!  Come here quick!   Josef!  Mollie!

The Bug: Another one on the way.

Examiner (indicating the audience):  Riffraff and scum, the whole lot of ‘em!

Josef:   Fannie!  Come see!  Bring everybody!

Examiner:  Sly and crafty eyes, lopsided faces, sloping brows—all unmistakably criminal types.

The Bug:  How many from Russia?

Examiner:  Why Russia?

The Bug:  Why not Russia?

Examiner (looking through a ledger):  Well, let’s see.  In the last thirty years . . .

The Examiner calculates; Fannie Steimer enters the deck, with Mollie following.

Fannie: Did you get the water?

Josef:  Where are the others?  All the children should be here.

Fannie :  They’re sick, I told you.  Mollie, stay back with them!

Mollie:  I have to tell him now!

Fannie:  No, later!  Stay with the baby.  Please!  (hurries Mollie offstage.)

Josef:  Wait!  Look!

Examiner:  A million and a half!

The Bug:  Thirty more years, and we’ll be overrun with them.

Examiner:  Or with their diseases. They try to hide them, but I can see them in one glance— physical ones and moral.  (The Bug scoffs).  I’m serious.

The Bug: That I need to see.

Examiner: It’s easy with practice.  Watch.

The Examiner scans the crowd.

Fannie (re-entering; to Josef, frantic):   I need your help.  Josef’s fever is worse—and now Sonia and Herman— and Bessie’s tooth— We need water!

Mollie returns.

Fannie:  Mollie, go back!  Where’s David?

Mollie:  With Josef.

Fannie:  What?!

Mollie (to Josef):  A sailor grabbed me!

Fannie (exasperated; to Mollie):  Just tell Papa to find us some water.  (goes out.)

Examiner:  Hey, you over there.  Yes you, come here!

Schwartz enters timidly, hands over his papers; the Examiner looks them over.

Mollie :  Papa!  Listen to me!

Josef: What?  What is it?

Mollie:  It was terrible!  He just came up and grabbed me like it was nothing.  Like he could any time he wanted.

Josef:  Ah, never mind.  Sailors are bad people, so what?  (holding her.)  But look there, Mollie!  See how the water and sky begin to divide—See the crack?

Examiner (reading):  Jacob Schwartz . . . (to The Bug):  A Russian.

Mollie:  Yes, I see it, Papa.

The Bug:  Speak of the devil, and he will come.

Josef:  It’s America, Mollie!  The Golden Land.

Examiner (assuming a posture):  One glance, six details!  Scalp, face, neck, hands, posture and general condition—both mental and physical.

Josef:  We’ve made it, Mollie—we’re free!

Examiner (to The Bug):  Sickly.

Josef:  Not even the Czar himself can touch us here!

Examiner:  Now to check the usual hiding places.

Josef:  Like animals they treated us.

Examiner (roughly):  Unbutton the collar to check for goiter . . .

Josef:  Drew a line in the grass and drove us beyond it.

Examiner:  No.

Josef:  Then just when you have put down some roots . . .

Examiner:  Put aside the blanket to check for deformities . . .

Josef:   . . . one day they come and tear them up!

Examiner:  No.

Josef:  Too bad, they say, . . .

Examiner:  Remove the hat to check for ringworm . . .

Josef:  . . . Now has the line been moved.

Examiner:  No.

Josef:  No time even for crying.

Examiner:  Peel back the eyelid for trachoma . . . (Schwartz is in great pain.)

Josef:  Pick up everything you can carry on your backs.

Examiner:  That’s the sneakiest one in a way.

Josef:  Go again like sheep to your new pen!

Examiner (disappointed):  No trachoma.

Josef:  But now we’ve escaped their traps! Now we’ll make our own lines!

Examiner:  I know there’s something wrong with him.  I mean, he’s defective

The Bug:  Hm.  Like a cheap automobile.

Josef: Now we can go to any patch of grass we want!

Examiner (eyeing Schwartz):  Maybe he’s just stupid.  I check for that too.

Josef :  We’re as free as anybody else in the whole country!

The Bug: We certainly don’t need any more morons.

Examiner: No we don’t . . . Tell me, Jacob.  What’s the difference between a house and a stable?

Mollie:  Then how could that sailor just grab me?  (Josef continues staring out to sea.)

The Bug (to Mollie, turning):  Good question!

The Bug begins to drift slowly between the panels, curiously watching Mollie.

Examiner (to The Bug):  You find out a lot this way.

Schwartz:  I don’t understand.

Examiner:  Just answer the question.

Mollie:  He tore my clothes!  He said he would pay me!

Schwartz:  A house is where people live . . .

Examiner:  And the stable?

Schwartz:  Animals?

The Bug (returning to the examination):  Damn.

Mollie:  I can still smell the stink of his hands!

Josef: Look, Mollie!  You can see it!

Examiner:  Wait, I know.  Look, he doesn’t breathe right.  (The Examiner feels Schwartz’s chest, then gives it a thump, listens, and nods. To Schwartz):  Turn around. (The Examiner finds a piece of chalk and draws an H on Schwartz’s back; to The Bug ):  His heart!  Bad circulation. (to Schwartz):  Well, go on!  (Schwartz goes out).  They’ll check him more thoroughly over there.  But they rarely send them back as they should.

The Examiner makes some notes; The Bug scans the audience.

Mollie:   Papa, listen to me!  He said if I didn’t let him we would have to go back.

Josef:  What?!

Mollie:  To Russia, yes.

Josef:  He’s a liar!  A German!

Mollie:  No, an American.  He said I could make a lot of money with him if I wanted.

Josef :  Of course you can, Mollie, here can we all make money.  But not by what he means.  Especially you with your better English will get the good jobs.

Mollie:  He said we would be poor unless I worked his way.

Josef:  Nonsense!  Two of your cousins are still there.  They have many jobs to do.

Mollie:  What about Solomon and Eva?

Josef:  They got sick.  Bad luck still happens.

Mollie:  I don’t like it, Papa, I’m afraid.

Josef:  They didn’t starve at least.

Mollie:  You were so respected at home.

Josef (pointing to the horizon):  This is your home!

Mollie:  You worked for yourself.  Everyone wanted to buy your tools.

Josef:  Because they were the best.  But they wouldn’t let us sell.

Mollie:  That sailor said we would be poorer than in Russia.

Josef (angry):  You want to go back?!

Mollie:  He made it sound like we were being tricked.

Josef:  They will burn in Russia, those Jews who stay!

The Bug (pointing):  Try that one.

Examiner:  Why him?

The Bug:  He looks ill.

The Examiner beckons Abrams who approaches and hands over his papers.  Abrams and The Bug size each other up.

Josef:  You don’t remember Kishinev as I do.

Mollie (trying to stop him from telling the story):  No, Papa, I didn’t mean—

Josef:  They came in the night like wolves.

Examiner (reading, amused):  Jacob Abrams.

Josef:  Everywhere was the glass breaking, and then the screams.

Examiner:  See?  They’re all Jacobs.

The Examiner  stands and gives Abrams “the glance.”

Fannie (rushing in):  Where’s the water?!

Josef:  People dragged from their homes, butchered with knives.

Fannie:  Josef!

Josef:  Piles of bodies, even girls like you!

Examiner (disappointed):  Generally healthy.

The Bug (pressing him):  But mentally?

Examiner:  No, they all look like that.

Josef:  For nothing they all died!

Examiner:  Like scared sheep.

Fannie:   She knows the story, Josef, we all do.

The Bug (assuming control of The Examiner; hypnotic or aggressive):  Ask him anyway.

The Examiner rises at The Bug’s command and approaches Abrams.

Josef:  She wants to go back!

Fannie (appealing to Mollie):  She doesn’t, she couldn’t.

Josef:  Then let her be happy for the change.  Here is there justice for killers like the Czar.

Mollie:  I want justice for the sailor. (goes out.)

Josef:  Forget that sailor!

Fannie:  Josef, listen to me—

Josef (holding Fannie toward the horizon):  Oh, look!  Look at it now!

Examiner:  All right, Jacob . . . What’s the difference between a house and a stable?

Josef:  Our new home, Fannie, just as I promised!

Abrams:  There is no difference.

Examiner:  What?

Abrams:  Animals live in both.  One animal works, and the other eats and gets fat.  Both die.

Examiner (to The Bug):  Very good.  He might have slipped by me.  (to Abrams):  Turn around.

The Examiner chalks an X on Abrams’ back. The Bug eyes Abrams intently.

Examiner (showing The Bug the X):  Mental Defect Suspected.  (pointing, to Abrams):  Go there. . . . Understand?  (Abrams goes out; the Bug watches him.)

Josef:  See how big the crack is!

Examiner (making notes):  Well, there’s your feature story.

Josef:  Opening up wide enough for all of us.

Examiner: Three more boatloads of vermin to delete the gene pool.

Josef:  Like a big smiling mouth!

Examiner:  I say the country’s full, go home!

Josef notices Fannie is suppressing sobs.

Josef :  What, Mama?  Be happy, smile back at your new country—

The Bug (scanning the audience):  Any one of them could be an anarchist.

Josef (pleading):  We’re free!  Yes?

Examiner:  Yes!  It’s spreading like a disease.

Fannie (forcing a smile):  It’s wonderful, Papa, it is.

Examiner:  They come to this country just to blow it up!

Mollie re-enters.

Fannie:  We’re all so happy and grateful.

The Bug:  If only there were an exam for that!

Fannie:  Aren’t we, Mollie?

Examiner:  Well, the police ask them straight out at that station right over there.

Fannie (sharply):  Mollie!

The Bug: You’re kidding.  What do they say?

Mollie (resigned):  Yes.  We’re all very happy.

Examiner: I dunno, some Russian bs, I guess.

Josef:  It was good we came, no?

The Bug: That I really have to see.

Fannie :  Yes, yes, you were right.  But right now I need you to find water from somewhere.

The Bug moves between the panels.

Examiner:  Hey, the press aren’t allowed over there.  (The Bug ignores him.)

Fannie :  Quickly, please—they say there’s no more on the ship!

Josef (finally hearing her; puzzled):  There must be water.

The Bug enters the steamship.

Mollie:  The sailor just now told me / there was plenty.

The Bug (as the sailor):  There’s plenty.

Josef (to Fannie):  See?  You make such a fuss for nothing.  (goes out.)

The Bug:  But not for you

Mollie (to Fannie):  But not for us!

Interlude: A montage of work: Abrams at a bookbinders; Schwartz at a furrier; Josef at an oil refinery; and Mollie and three other women crowded around a table at a shirtwaist factory. The Bug circulates among them all, like a supervisor.  We should have a sense that the conditions are uncomfortable, cramped, and airless, the work unbearably tedious, and the hours interminable; the people move in an unnatural rhythm dictated by the machines they work on.  We should also have a sense that time is passing; everyone is getting increasingly sick or worn down, especially Josef. Gradually, Abrams, Schwartz, and Mollie get up from their machines and speak the manifesto of Frayhayt (a small group of young anarchists which has been infiltrated by The Bug).

Abrams:  We of the Frayhayt anarchist group believe in the establishment of a new social order where no group of people would be in power over any other.

Mollie:  Individual freedom would be honored as a basic right of existence.

Schwartz:  Private ownership would be abolished, and law replaced by mutual agreement.

Abrams:  Every person would produce as much as he can, and enjoy as much as he needs.

Mollie:  Instead of struggling simply to survive, every man and woman will strive to develop themselves to their fullest potential.

The Bug (crafty, trying to fit in):  Both mentally and physically.

Schwartz:  While at present the people of the world are divided into competing nations, we shall stretch out our hands toward each other with brotherly love.

Mollie:  To the fulfillment of this idea we shall devote all our energy, and, if necessary, to render our lives for it.

Scene 2: The manifesto gives way to the cheerful voices and songs of the group. Mollie and Schwartz are alone in the back room of the Frayhayt apartment in East Harlem, on a sweltering summer night in August, 1918, in a passionate embrace.

Mollie (suddenly pulling away):  It isn’t fair!

Schwartz:  What, what?

Mollie:  It isn’t fair that I always have to think of it.

Schwartz:  Think of what?

Mollie:  About stopping, before it’s too late!

Schwartz:  I think of it.

Mollie:  Not very hard.  Every month, it’s like I’m dodging a bullet!

Schwartz:  It’s not that bad.

Mollie:  To me, it is!  You wouldn’t say such ignorant things if you’d have come with me to hear Emma Goldman.

Schwartz (frustrated):  I’ve heard her before.

Mollie:  Emma says, “No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her own body—forever!”

Schwartz:  I’m not interested in controlling anyone’s body—certainly not Emma’s.

Mollie:  It isn’t at all funny.  We need birth control—it has to be a priority!

Schwartz:  Write an article for The Storm.

Mollie:  I already have.

Schwartz:  Write another one.  But in the meantime, come here.

Mollie:  I told you I don’t want to!

Schwartz:  You think I do any more?

Mollie:  Yes!

Schwartz (laughs):  Please, Mollie, just come here.  Nothing but this arm, I promise.  (Mollie looks at the space he’s made, then just sits down where she is.)  All right.  I’ll just love you from afar.  I’ll pretend I’m in jail, withering away, wondering if my Mollie still loves me / as much as she did when we were young—

Mollie (groans):  Stop it.  I never said any / such thing.

Schwartz:  —and the world was no bigger / than a mattress on the floor.

Mollie (avoiding him; making a speech):  How can you feel love is even possible, when millions of people are being slaughtered in a war that is all for money?  And when anyone who speaks out against it or tries to organize the workers is being thrown in jail, or massacred?

Schwartz (applauding):  Very good!  Goldman has nothing on you.

Mollie (ignoring him):  To survive at all these days, you have to either shut your eyes to the truth or be a hypocrite.  (holding up a book.)  It’s just like Kropotkin says (reading, speechy):  “All of civilized life has become one huge lie / grotesquely distorting our human nature, which in its truest form is like an unbounded field of grass, not one blade of which ever gives up trying to reach its soft perfection.”

Schwartz:  Even better!  But is the Book of  Kropotkin in the Old or New Testament?

(when she finishes, he takes the book from her; re-reading, gently, poetic):  “. . . an unbounded field of grass, not one blade of which ever gives up trying to reach its soft perfection.”

A beat.

Schwartz:  Nothing satisfies you. (Mollie is silent.) You have to enjoy life too, Mollie.  Maybe one tiny bit of it is fun. (a beat; laughs.)  What about our English class today?  You laughed at that.  (standing as though he were teaching a class.)  Repeat after me:  I am from Russia.  I have many useful skills.

Mollie (holding back a smile):  Don’t!

Schwartz (imitating his class, struggling with the language):  “I am from Russia.  I have many / useful skills.”

Mollie:  You were terrible with them.  You take advantage.

Schwartz:  But they’re so funny—they’re right off the boat! (to the class):  Louder, please.  The Czar is dead, hooray! (with Mollie, faintly here and then louder as they go):  “The Czar is dead, hooray!”  Better.  But now you’re in prison and about to be shot.  Long live the Revolution!  “Long live the Revolution!”  Louder!  Your comrades are just outside, but they can’t hear you unless you shout!  “LONG LIVE THE REVOLUTION!” (They laugh.)

Mollie:  You shouldn’t laugh.  You were the same five years ago.

Schwartz:  Worse!  I was so scared.

Mollie:  So many of us just get used up and die in a few years.  Probably half the people in that class today . . .

A beat. Schwartz sighs and moves away.

Mollie:  I’m sorry.  You’re right, I’m no fun at all.  I should go home now.

Schwartz:  Wait, no.  You have to stay.

Mollie:  Why?

Schwartz:  It’s a surprise.

Mollie:  What is it?

Schwartz:  We have a very important new member.  Abrams and Lipman went to pick him up.

Mollie:  Really?  Why didn’t we go with them?

Schwartz (cagey):  They said . . . we could stay.

Mollie (smirks):  Men are disgusting beasts.  But it’s getting late.  They had better come back soon, or I’ll miss them.

Schwartz:  Mollie—

Mollie:  I have to go back home.

Schwartz:  You don’t.  It’s ridiculous to go back and forth like this.  It wears you out.

Mollie:  My family needs me.

Schwartz:  I know.  But so do we here.

Mollie:  It’s different.  They count on me to survive.

Schwartz:  You can still give them your pay.

Mollie:  Not just for money.  It’s like they believe in me—like I’m the future, the life they’ve given up theirs for. (a slight pause.)  So part of me says, if I just work and study very hard, if I can somehow make a life where I don’t need to fear going hungry . . .

Schwartz:  There’s no such life for us—not unless we’re lucky.

Mollie:  I know.  But they don’t.

Schwartz:  Yes, they do, they just can’t face it.

Mollie:  I don’t want to hurt them.

Schwartz:  You are describing the life of every revolutionary who ever lived.  I broke with my family.

Mollie:  You’re the last of ten children.  Your parents probably still don’t know you’re gone.  Mine are so much like me.  My father believes in America as much as we believe in Anarchism; and my mother is just as bitter about her life as I am—and just as silent.

Schwartz (with great feeling):  Silent?  I have never heard a voice as strong as yours.  I think I love that most of all.

Mollie (a beat; she gets in his arm; grave):  I really wish you wouldn’t say things like that.

Schwartz:  Why not?  It’s the truth.

Mollie:  You don’t understand.  It’s so nice here.

Schwartz:  And that’s a problem?

Mollie:  So peaceful—you feel you could stand just about anything.  If I stayed here for too long, I might never get up.  And the whole rotten world would stay just as it is.

Schwartz:  The world is turning, even so.

Mollie:  It needs help.

There is a commotion in the adjoining room. Mollie and Schwartz quickly get up and go in. Abrams is standing by the door, addressing the small group, which includes The Bug.

Abrams (making an introduction):  He has long been liberty’s greatest ally, fighting tyranny around the world with his marvelous Common Sense and his tireless efforts in bringing to the masses the revolutionary ideas of Marx and Bakunin, Kropotkin and Goldman—

Schwartz:  Schwartz and Steimer.

Abrams:  Never heard of them.  Czars and Capitalists, Presidents and Popes, have all tried to smash him, but in vain.  Despite his remarkable history, he is humble and will speak on our behalf whenever we wish him to.  So, it is a great honor for me to present to you tonight the newest member of Frayhayt—Monsieur Presse.

Two other anarchists bring in a small printing press.  A moment of surprise quickly moves into laughter and celebration.  Everyone crowds joyfully around Abrams and the press.

Abrams (making the machine talk in a distinguished manner):  No, no, please.  Thank you.  The pleasure’s all mine.

Mollie:  It’s really ours?  It’s wonderful.

Abrams (to Mollie, as the machine):  The feeling is entirely mutual, my dear.  Now then—let’s change the world, shall we?  (seeing The Bug’s camera):  Hey, let’s get a picture.  Can we?

The Bug:  I was just thinking the same thing.

The Bug sets up; everyone gathers around the press.

The Bug:  Okay, move in.  Closer.  Let’s get everyone.  That’s good . . . good.  (sharply):  Don’t move!  (they freeze; he takes their picture; to himself):  Perfect.  (The Bug walks off; the others remain in place.)

Scene 3: A sewing table at a shirtwaist factory, a few days later.  To one side is a door and a red bucket.  The conditions are hot, stuffy, dim. Mollie, Rose, and Sadie are crammed in by large baskets overflowing with cloth, working at their machines with the tense, nervous quality the job requires.  They are talking with muted animation, since talking is not allowed at the factory; they are barely looking at each other in order to keep at their work and to avoid the attention of the Forewoman, Joan, who is standing in the distance, sorting cloth into work baskets, inspecting the shirtwaists, etc.  Standing off to one side is The Bug.

Rose:  You didn’t let him!  I don’t see a ring.

Sadie:  He’s still saving for one. (Rose scoffs.)  I don’t need one anyway.  We’re in love.

Rose:  A fool and her love are soon parted.

Sadie:  Not everyone has your bad luck, Rose, just the opposite.  We’ll see who’s a fool next June when I get up from this machine and walk out of this miserable place forever.

Rose:  Just don’t sell too cheap too soon!

Sadie:  Every week, a girl leaves here.  Forever!

Mollie:  No.  (Everyone is a little stunned to hear Mollie speak.)

Sadie:  What?

Mollie:  Many come back, they’re all around us.  They have to.

Rose:  Well, if the husband dies.

Mollie:  Or gets mangled in a machine.  Or gets laid off.  Or gets drafted to fight in some pointless war.

Rose:  Hey, leave off that!  My brother’s over there right now.

Mollie:  And where’s his wife? (Rose is silenced).

Sadie:  But none of that will happen to me.

Mollie:  Even if it doesn’t, with six children it’s almost impossible to live.

Sadie:  Well, I’m having only two.

Mollie:  You may be having one already.

Rose:  That’s cruel!

Mollie:  What’s cruel?  The truth?  When she’s married, whether she likes it or not she’ll have so many children cut out of her that between having them and making sure they don’t starve there’ll be nothing left of her but a pile of scraps.

Sadie:  I’ll take my chances.

Mollie:  Look at our own mothers.  Why should our lives be any different?

Sadie (confused):  But we have to get married.

Mollie:  Only if it’s a choice—

Rose (to Sadie):  She’s talking about the vote.

Mollie (stopping work):  No!  I’m talking about our freedom, the fire we’re born with, the fire that gets smothered everywhere we turn. (the others scoff, laugh nervously.)  We have to fight to keep it burning . . . Listen to me!

Mollie tears the cloth away from her machine, then reaches around the table and rips the pieces they are working on away from their machines, shouting at them. The Bug passes near Joan andsends her into the scene.  She approaches swiftly.

Sadie:  Hey!  Are you crazy?

Mollie:  Nothing will stop until we stop!

Rose:  Give that back.  I’m not staying overtime because of you.

Mollie begins tearing the pieces, but Joan deftly snatches the pieces from her and quickly examines them. The Bug moves to a place above the scene and watches and reacts throughout; as Joan tells her story, The Bug is increasingly is in possession of her.

Sadie:  We didn’t do anything!

Joan (redistributing the pieces):  It’s all right, we can fix them.  No one will know.  (sits down at Mollie’s machine.)   Sleeves!  Haven’t done this in a while.  But you never forget.

Rose:  Joan, please, you must not think that any of us were the cause of this trouble.

Joan:  Were you talking?

Sadie:  Only a little.  I’m getting married—

Joan:  Talking is forbidden.  Production is slipping at this table, especially yours, Sadie.  Your place at the machine is worth more than you are.

Sadie:  Yes, ma’am.

Joan:  There are plenty of ambitious girls out there just waiting for you to fall.  Girls who will single-handedly save their families from poverty.  Until they burn out.  Or just burn.  Girls like Mollie.  (to Mollie):  Go on and be the Forewoman for a while.  You will be someday.   (The others are stunned, indignant.)

Sadie:  She was trying to get us to join a union.  But we’re not!

Rose:  And said bad things about the war, we heard her.

Sadie:  I think she’s the one planting those papers.

Rose:  The anarchist, yes.

Joan:  So that’s what this is. (reaches under the table, finds a book under some cloth, reads):  Peter Kropotkin— (smirks, cynical.) —“The Conquest of Bread!”  (opens the book and places it on her lap.)

Mollie:  Guns without bread are worthless.

Joan:  Oh, I’m sure they are.  She reads like this, one eye on the needle, the other on the page— (paging through; amused):  The important parts are marked with stars!  (reading, while working; the others listen uncertainly):  “Because to be a worker now means to shut yourself up for twelve hours a day in an unhealthy workshop for wages you can barely live on, and to remain riveted to the same task for twenty or thirty years—

Mollie:  —and maybe for your whole life!”

Joan:  Yes, exactly—word for word!  (dramatic):  “What we proclaim is THE RIGHT TO WELL-BEING:  WELL-BEING FOR ALL!”  (The other women at last feel it’s safe to laugh.)

Mollie:  Mock Kropotkin if you like, but anarchism is no idle dream.

Joan:  Oh, that’s here too!  Chapter 2.  “Well-being for all is not a dream.”

Mollie (with forced patience):  I understand this mindless work has all but crushed your spirits.

Rose:  Speak for yourself!

Mollie:  And you for yours!  For just one moment raise your heads out of this stifling drudgery and let your humanity breathe!

Sadie:  What page is she on now?

Joan (closing the book; fondly):  Her own, I think.

Mollie:  You’ll see—it’s not hard at all.  We have an instinct for freedom!

Rose (to Joan):  Could you please tell her to be quiet?  I can’t concentrate.

Joan:  No, I like it.  It reminds me of when I was alive.  Back at Triangle.

A beat. Rose and Mollie exchange a glance.

Rose (gravely):  You were at the Triangle factory?

Sadie:  What?  What happened?

Rose:  They had a strike.  Then a few months later, they had a fire.  Many people were killed.

Joan:  Everyone was killed.

A beat.

Mollie (undaunted):  Then you know better than anyone the need for us to take action.   To meet with the other shops and call a strike—

Rose:  But things are better now.  Thanks to them.

Joan:  It’s true.  Jumping out of burning windows was a little more effective than the strike—but not much.

Sadie:  I don’t understand!

Joan:  Neither did we.  We were inspired with WELL-BEING FOR ALL!  You’re right, Mollie, it was so simple.  One day, we’d just had it; we all got up from our machines, and . . . walked right out!  And before we knew it, all the other shops were doing the same (quiet awe)—there were thousands of us! (a beat; amused.)  The owners figured they’d break us right away by putting in a phonograph for all those who stayed.  They opened the windows at lunch time, we could see them up there dancing.  The best ones got prizes—fancy hats, fur coats . . .

Sadie:  Now that’s cruel.

Rose:  Like dangling steaks over the heads of the starving.

Joan:  Oh, it wasn’t the clothes.  No, no—it was the dancing!  Well, imagine dancing here, or anywhere.  Who ever has time enough?

Rose:  Or energy enough.

Joan:  None of us!  And there they were above us, dancing at work, laughing at all of us below.  We were envious for a minute, who wouldn’t be?  But pretty soon we all just laughed back.

Mollie:  Because they were like puppets!  The owners weren’t using you any more—you’d come alive!  (to the others):  And then it doesn’t matter when the police come at you with their clubs—

Joan (scoffs):  Well, what was a cracked head when we were already dying in that firetrap, with that oily air, the dim lights, and all the rats and roaches crawling in your skirts? (a beat; Mollie is silenced.)

Rose (grim):  It’s not so very different now.

Joan:  Exactly.  I was beaten and arrested off the picket line by some thug just for not answering him.  The judge who sentenced me gave me a lecture, said I was an immoral woman for walking the line.  “You are on strike against God!” he shouted.  “Then God had better sell to the Devil,” I said, “because we’re putting him out of business!”

Rose (laughing):  You said that?

Joan (light):  Yes, can you believe it?  That alone was worth the three days in jail.

Sadie:  So what happened?  Did you win? (The Bug is amused.)

Joan (obviously):  No!  Well, most of the shops got a little shorter hours, and a little more money; after thirteen weeks, it seemed like a lot.  But at Triangle, we went back with nothing.  We’d demanded better fire escapes and sprinklers, but they still wouldn’t even remove the oil barrels blocking the stairways.  We’d demanded the doors be kept open all day long, but instead thanks to us they were locked even longer to keep out the organizers.

Mollie (reviving):  Owners never care whether their factories burn to the ground; it would cost them more to make the improvements.  To them the human cost is nothing!

Joan (to Mollie, a shared joke):  The owners told one fire inspector,  “Let ‘em burn, they’re a lot of cattle anyway.”  (Mollie is disturbed.)

Rose:  We still don’t have sprinklers.

Sadie:  We’ve never even had a fire drill!

Joan:  No?  Well, that won’t do at all; it’s against the law now, thanks to the corpses.   Maybe we’ll have one later, just for us.  (A beat; looks at Sadie.)  Oh, poor Sadie—that’s the face, girls, see it?  Everyone had it when we saw that first window shattering to glitter.  One moment we were laughing and singing—well, it was payday!—and the next, we were screaming.  And in between, just that one soft, silent look of fear.

Rose:  Really . . . you’re scaring the poor girl.

Joan:  Ghosts can’t hurt you, dear.  Well, not on purpose.  Anyway, I’m not talking to Sadie.

Mollie:  I’ll take my seat back now.

Joan:  You will not.  I’m fondly reminiscing.  One grows to love these machines after a while, believe it or not—(Joan places her hand on her machine.)—once you grow out of your hatred for them. (a beat; smiles.)  Put your hands on your machines, girls—feel that? (they do, but recoil instantly from the heat.)  No, keep it there.  (Joan holds hers in place.)  The air all around you felt like that, like the fire was inside you, just beneath your skin.  (gently removes her hand.)  It spread so fast!  Flames started shooting up all around like fountains, right up through these machines; our work-baskets were exploding.  We jumped for the exits, but the fire escapes and elevators were already crushed.  The one stairwell we were allowed to use was blocked by smoke and fire, and of course, the other door was locked.  Groups of us kept running back and forth, screaming like wildcats, even me!  Who had shown such poise during the strike.  “We’re putting God out of business!”

Rose:  Anyone would have reacted the same.

Joan:  People were throwing the slow ones out of the way, especially the little girls we used to hide from the inspectors—girls not much younger than Sadie.

Mollie:  Leave her out of it.

Joan:  Compassion for the weak!  Why didn’t we think of that?  We were stepping on the ones who had fainted as if they were sacks of cloth.  But you had to keep running, if only to show that you weren’t like those strange women who still hadn’t even gotten up from their machines.  I guess they were frozen with fear, but they seemed perfectly calm, like they were just waiting patiently for the foreman to come release them for the day.  Maybe they believed that somehow everything would be all right, like our parents always told us, because things were different here—

Mollie:  “In America, they don’t let you burn.”

Joan:  Right.  They found them that night as skeletons, still bending over their machines.

A beat.

Sadie:  So how did you get out?

Joan:  I didn’t.  One time around the shop, I found myself by the windows where several people were standing like statues, except their legs were quivering.  (The Bug is now one of them.)  I started to get up there with them, and then something like a gust of wind blew me away from there as fast as I could go.  Suddenly I came to a stop, and . . . I saw a bolt of lawn just sitting there on a table, all clean and white; it wasn’t burning, it wasn’t even hot.  I grabbed it and started wrapping it around my body until only my eyes showed through a little crack.  Then I ran down the narrow stairwell, right into the teeth of the flames, peeling off the burning lawn layer by layer.  By the time I got down to the sixth floor I’d left most of it in ashes behind me.  And when it was gone, all went dark.  I woke up down below, lying on a sidewalk.  They gave me milk and I threw up smoke.  (The Bug looks up.)  I looked up and saw all these bundles of cloth falling from the building.  And I thought—well, you know what I thought, Mollie.

Mollie (toneless):  Why are they saving their cloth and not the people?

Joan (satisfied):  Yes!  But then one of the bundles of cloth opened and I saw a pair of legs inside, and then another opened, and another.  It was raining women—sometimes three and four at a time.  They’d hit the ground, and just stop.  One of the cops who had clubbed us during the strike was standing right next to me, yelling “Don’t jump, you crazy females!  Don’t jump!”  His face was wet with tears.  But you could see the flames licking at their heels.  And then, this one girl came out on the ledge and inched away from the window.  (The Bug mimes all this, always just slightly ahead of the telling.)  For a while, she stood there staring straight ahead as though she were looking at herself in a mirror, then very carefully she took off her hat and sent it sailing through the air.  In the same way, she slowly opened her pay envelope and scattered the bills and coins like so many dead leaves and clumps of dirt.  Then she tilted her head back and gazed into the mirror, and in that mirror was me.  “Jump,” I said.  “Jump.”

A pause.

Sadie:  I think that was your Guardian Angel who showed you the way out.

Joan (drained):  Was it?  Oh, that’s right.  That’s what they said at the trial.  It was all an act of God.  We were stupid.  We panicked.

Mollie:  No!  I’m sorry, Joan, but this horror you’ve survived only proves my point.

Joan:  I’m happy to have been of service.

Mollie:  We can’t just lie down and take the world as it’s given to us by those who profit from it.  We have to fight!

Joan:  We did fight—

Mollie:  And keep fighting!

Joan:   You don’t know what you’re saying.  You have to see people die for nothing!

Mollie:  They’re already dying for nothing.

Joan:  Terrible deaths—

Mollie:  A slow death is not better than a fast one.

Joan (with immense authority):  You do not know that!  If you could only see it. (a beat.)   You tried to step in when Sadie was scared, but when you fight you can’t do that.  What you fight against doesn’t care if she dies.  Your only chance is if you stop caring yourself.

Mollie:  I’ll never stop caring.

Joan:  But you don’t have a choice.  Either you become as callous as they are, or you die inside each time someone like Sadie does—you end up a ghost like me!  (A beat; Mollie is silenced.)  Caring that deeply doesn’t help things at all, Mollie.  It just hurts.

A beat. Joan is in deep mourning. Mollie studies her.

Rose (aphoristic):  Those women’s deaths were not in vain, Joan.

Joan (weary, surfacing):  Of course.  All that was seven years ago, ancient history.  Now we have laws—oh, that’s right, I promised you a fire drill, didn’t I, Sadie?  Fine, let’s have it.  (to Sadie, abruptly):  There’s a fire under the table, what do you do?

Sadie:  I don’t know.

Joan:  What do you mean?   There’s a fire.  Think quickly.

Sadie:  Find the Forewoman?

Joan:  The Forewoman is dead.  Now what?

Sadie:  I don’t know!

Rose:  Get the water bucket.

Sadie:  What bucket?

Joan:  The bucket they gave you when we died.  Hurry.

Rose:  I’ll get it.

Joan:  No, Sadie’s nearest the bucket.  And already she’s wasted so much time.  (to Sadie):  Well, go on!  We’ll all be dead in twenty minutes.  (Sadie runs over to the bucket.) Bring it here.  Hurry.  (Sadie runs back.)  Go on, pour it.

Sadie:  But—

Joan:  Don’t worry about the mess.  Pour it!

Sadie pours; scraps of cloth fall out.

Joan (sarcastic):  Oh, that won’t help much, will it?  Now what?

Sadie:  I don’t know!

Joan:  The fire’s out of control.  We have no hoses.

Rose:  Evacuate!

Joan:  Yes!  Get the door, Sadie.  (Sadie runs to the door.)  Stand there and make sure the cattle proceed down the exit in an orderly fashion.  What on earth is the matter?

Sadie:  It’s stuck.

Joan:  Hurry, people are crowding, we need to get out!

Sadie:  I’m trying, but it won’t open.

Joan:  Nonsense!  The law requires it to be open.  Pull harder.

Sadie:  It won’t open!  I think it’s locked!

Joan:  Impossible!  We died for that door!  Open that door or you’re fired!

Sadie:  I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!

Sadie collapses in a puddle, still trying to open the door. Rose goes over.

Rose (angry at Joan):  It’s chained shut!  (Rose stays and comforts Sadie.)

Joan:  Chained?  Well, that’s odd, not even ours were chained.  I’m sorry, Sadie, my mistake.  We’d better tell Mr. Worth immediately, hadn’t we, Sadie?  Rose?  Mollie? (No one responds; Joan slowly gets up from the machine.) I guess it’s up to me.  Take my place, Mollie.  (Mollie sits down.)  There’s a girl. You do good work here.  Your family must be very proud.

Interlude: The others exit. Mollie is at the table, sewing alone. The Bug sits down and works opposite her, her mirror image.

The Bug:  There’s no way out.

Mollie:  No.  But there has to be.

The Bug:  No there doesn’t.  (gets up from the factory table, creates the space for the Steimer home.)  Besides, it’s nice to have a home.  Four walls and a roof—

Mollie:  Which could collapse any second.

The Bug (continuing the spell):  A family.  A book.  (hands Mollie the book).

Mollie (with some self-irony):  “The Conquest of Bread.

The Bug:  It’s better than nothing.

Mollie (stops sewing, begins to read; resigned):  Maybe it is.

The Bug:  There’s a girl.  (goes out.)

Scene 4:  Two weeks later. Josef Steimer is returning home after his shift, sitting down on a beat-up couch, exhausted.  The room is dim and cramped. Mollie is sitting across from him, eyeing him over the book.

Josef (looking at his watch; groans):  Just a little nap, then I go back.  Wake me, Mollie.

Mollie (concerned, but playful):  Papa, no—you’ve already done one shift.  Standard Oil will not collapse just because you aren’t there one night.  Please, Papa, you’re sick.

Josef:  I’m not sick.

Mollie:  You need your rest.

Josef:  Rest doesn’t pay the rent.

Mollie:  We have enough. (he scoffs.)  I’ll work double.  Or I’ll do something else. (gets up.)  I’ll just go down and tell them—

Josef:  No!

Mollie (opening the door, getting frustrated):  Just one night!

Josef:  Mollie!  Come back, or I get up right now.  (Mollie closes the door; Fannie enters with a basket of clothes.)  One moment’s rest I want and you waste it with all this talk.

Fannie:  Let him rest, Mollie.

Mollie:  That’s what I’m trying to do.

Fannie:  I need you here.

Mollie obediently goes over and sits down with her, grabs a pile of clothes to fold.

Josef (very drowsy):  Wake me.

Fannie:  These are for the boarders, so make them nice.

Mollie:  They could do it themselves.

Fannie:  They pay us.

Mollie:  They take advantage.  You have six children and five boarders.  And Papa.  Twelve people to take care of all by yourself.

Fannie:  Little Josef helps now.  (pointed):  And you, now that you’re studying at home again.  (Mollie turns away; Fannie regrets her words.)  Whatever you can do, I’m happy.

Mollie:  You’re not happy.  None of us are.

Josef (a sleepy echo):   . . .  not happy?

Fannie (hushing her):  Mollie!

Mollie (more softly):  Look at how thin and weary he is now.  (pointing, making her look.)  No look, Mother.  Look!

Fannie:  I see it, Mollie, every day I see it.

Mollie:  I’ve tried to be like you and just be quiet.  But something’s crying out in me, it just gets louder.

Fannie:  I know.

Mollie (dropping the clothes):  Baskets of clothes!  I want it all to stop.

Fannie:  I know.

Mollie (a beat):  You do?  (Fannie nods. Mollie resumes folding; gravely):  Then you’ll understand.  No matter what happens.

Fannie (instantly alarmed):  What?  What’s happened?  (A beat.)  Are you in trouble?

Mollie (repulsed):  No!  No more babies!  We’ve had enough misfortune in that way.

Fannie (scolding, but relieved):  Mollie!  To talk of your brothers and sisters like that! They look up to you so—you’re like their second mother!

Mollie:  If only they didn’t have to grow up and live like us.  Already poor Josef wants to work.  He’s starting to understand we can’t afford him.

Fannie (stern):  Mollie.

Mollie:  But it’s the truth.  You didn’t want them either.

Fannie:  They came.  It wasn’t a choice.

Mollie:  No!  Nothing’s a choice.  And everything should be.

Josef (half-asleep, reflex):  Was a good choice to come here . . . Is no one killing us.

Fannie:  Yes, Papa—now get some sleep.  (to Mollie, an urgent whisper):   But what do you mean “No matter what happens?”  (Mollie turns away.)  No, now you look.  What are you thinking to do?

Mollie (distant despair):  Nothing will stop unless I make it stop.

Fannie:  Mollie, you mustn’t even think of that!

Mollie (a beat):  No, not that!  How terrible that you could even think it—I mean that such a thing is possible.

Fannie (busily working):  It isn’t, it isn’t.

Mollie:  Well, not now.  Anyway, that’s not what I mean.  I mean this crying out inside.

Somehow it has to come out.  I mean I have to really see it and feel it myself . . . (frustrated.)  I don’t know what I mean.

A pause.

Fannie:  You could get married.  (Mollie groans.)  Yes, why not?  You’re old enough!  You need a family of your own to take care of.

Mollie:  No, no, no!  It’s all too small.  I mean something else, I mean life itself.  (even more frustrated; a beat):  Do you remember that litter of kittens that were born under our doorstep?

Fannie:  In Donaevsky, yes.  That was a terrible place.  I don’t know what Papa was thinking / bringing us there.

Mollie:  There was one who was too small and couldn’t get to the mother like the others.

Fannie:  You tried to nurse him yourself—with cow’s milk!

Mollie:  I didn’t know what else to do.  You wouldn’t help.

Fannie:  It is the way of nature, Mollie.  Even his own mother turned her back.

Mollie:  Yes.  You kept saying that.

Fannie (defensive):  I felt that was important, not to cry over every little thing—like I did when I was a girl.  It made me foolish and silly—  (with Mollie, who is wearily reciting the familiar lesson):  —a head full of dreams.  (Fannie alone):  Yes!  You cut yourself, I gave you a bandage and turned away.

Mollie:  And cried.

Fannie (a beat):  But it was good I did that.  Look how good you work.

Mollie:  Like a machine.

Fannie:  So I made you tough and now you are angry.

Mollie:  No, no—that’s not it at all.  It was the kitten itself I was remembering.  He was so tiny and frail, he looked more like a mouse.  You could feel his bones poking through his skin.  He’d lie there quivering, sucking my fingers; for a while he’d try to swallow some of the milk, then he’d stop and curl up as deep into my hand as he could go.  But the strange part was that even after you would make me put him back with the others, even after you finally took him away—

Fannie:  I didn’t want you to cry, I didn’t want you to bury him!

Mollie:  —even then I could still feel him, all day long, a tingling right in the center of my palm.  I can still feel it now, if I really think about it.  He was alive—that’s all he was.  But perfectly.  (a beat.)  That’s what I want.  I just want to be alive.

Fannie:  I can’t help you with that.

Mollie:  No.

A beat.

Fannie (grave):  Having a family is the only way for us, Mollie.  (Mollie recoils.)  You’re right—little ones are so helpless, they need you for everything.

Mollie:  But what they really need we can’t give them.

Fannie:  We give them life.

Mollie:  A life in prison.

Fannie:  You don’t know that.  Maybe they have a better life.  (Mollie scoffs.)  Not now, but someday.

Mollie:  Someday. You mean for David?

Fannie:  Or David’s David.

Mollie (groans):  It’s a trap, this hoping, I’d rather die.  A life without choices is no life at all.

Fannie (conspiratorially):  You do have a choice, Mollie.  Just make sure you do it well.  Look for a man who can give you the freedom you want..

Mollie (out of patience):  The freedom I’m talking about / has nothing to do with marriage.

Fannie:  And this I can help you with.

Mollie:  I will not sell my love!

Fannie:  What love?  I only want that you be happy.  Don’t be the fool I was.  Forget the ones with big ideas and no money.  Those Bolsheviki are no good for you, Mollie.

Mollie:  They’re not Bolsheviks!

Fannie:  Shh.  Papa must not hear.

Josef:  What must Papa not hear?

Mollie:  The Bolsheviks, Papa.

Josef:  Ach.  No good.

Mollie:  The ones who killed the Czar and freed Russia from slavery.

Josef (scoffs):  And now the Jews are having the Sabbath with Lenin.

Mollie:  Maybe not.  But it’s better there now than it was.

Josef:  You want to go back?

Fannie:  She doesn’t, Papa.

Mollie:  No.  I want to bring Russia here!

Josef:  Let it stay where it is.  You don’t remember Kishinev.

Mollie:  Kishinev!

Fannie:  Josef, no.  Get some rest.

Josef:  What rest?  Is impossible to rest with this noise.  Bring Russia here!  You don’t remember, or you wouldn’t talk so.

Josef speaks the following wearily, as though talking in his sleep—a story he’s told many times.  Meanwhile, he slowly rises, puts on his shoes, gathers up his little bundle for work. Fannie continues to fold, emotionless. Mollie pities him, but turns away. The Bug is visible and is “leading” the story, as in Scene 3.

Josef:  Bad enough the way they moved us from place to place like animals, but they had also to spread rumors about us, lies—said Jews killed Christian boys and used their blood for matzoh!  Then they found that one boy stabbed, but it wasn’t Jews who did it.  It was only the excuse to beat and rob us. (The Bug slowly begins to spread his/her arms.)  It was the end of Passover, the beginning of their Easter.  Their Christ is supposed to be risen, but all they celebrate was more death.  They came in the night like wolves.  People dragged from their beds, butchered with knives—some have the spikes driven through their hands and feet, like to crucify them!  (a beat; The Bug begins to lower his/her arms.) Three days and nights it went on. The police did nothing to stop them, they even helped in the looting.  When it was all over, their official report said we were to blame!  More lies, and again they all believed!  Because there is no justice in Russia.  And after there were many more such times; I saw the bodies piled, even girls like you.  For nothing they all died.  For nothing.  (The Bug exits; Josef looks at his watch, groans.)  I go now.  (gets up.)  You don’t remember.  Is good we came.

Josef opens the door; Abrams and Schwartz are standing in the doorway. Abrams has a bloody bandage around his hand.

Josef:  Ach, you two.  We’ve just been hearing some of your—ah, but you’re hurt!

Mollie (getting up):  Your hand!  What happened?

Abrams:  An accident, my own fault.

Schwartz:  Your fault!  (to the Steimers):  They have only a second to take their hand away before the knife comes down.  You can’t even see in there, the lights are so dim.

Abrams:  What’s to be done?  Better light costs money.

Schwartz:  They could open a window.  So it helps to stay awake.

Abrams:  Then the papers would maybe fly apart and the glue dry up faster.  More money.

Schwartz:  And what does a thumb and two fingers cost?

Josef:  Oh, you poor boy.  How will you live?

Fannie:  You have a family!

Abrams:  A wife, yes.  Thankfully no more.  Mary is already looking for more work.

Schwartz:  She could maybe try the furrier where I am.

Abrams:  What, and end up with hands that shake like yours?  And those gums!  Show them, they won’t tell anyone.  (Schwartz does; Josef and Fannie are aghast; Mollie is unmoved.)

Fannie:  They’re blue!

Schwartz:  It’s just the mercury we treat the furs with.

Abrams:  It seeps into the skin!

Josef (pained, looking away):  I’ve heard of that.

Abrams:  They have to hide it when they’re sick so that they won’t be fired.

Schwartz:  It goes away if you can spend some time doing the fleshing instead.

Abrams:  It’s poison!   No, thank you.  Kissing my wife is one luxury I will die before I give up.

Josef:  Mollie can maybe recommend her at Worth’s.

Fannie (abrupt):  There’s not enough work there even for her!

Josef:  For when it’s busy in the Fall, yes?

Mollie (toneless):  I’ll talk to Mr. Worth.

Josef (astounded):  You know Mr. Worth?  (Mollie distances herself.)

Fannie:  Of course she doesn’t.

Abrams:  Any help we would appreciate.

Josef.  Oh, Jacob, you poor boy—what’s a man to do without his hands? (checks his watch, groans.)  I go now.  If we come too late they close the door.  You see, Mollie?  Any day such a thing could happen and then what would we do?  Better to work every hour you can.  And save. (goes out).

Fannie (to Mollie, with irony):  And save.  (gathering up her basket and the folded clothes.)  You see, Mollie, the danger? (to Abrams and Schwartz):  I would offer you boys something, but right now we have nothing to give.

Abrams:  Your kindness is the best gift of all.

Fannie:  If only kindness could pay the rent.

Fannie goes out; Abrams and Schwartz burst out laughing. Mollie goes right up to Abrams and rips off his bandage, revealing a whole hand.

Schwartz:  Kissing your wife a luxury! (taking out a paper bag and embracing Mollie.)  Take some berries, Mollie.  They’re good for the gums.

Schwartz tries to kiss Mollie, but she shrugs him off.

Mollie:  People must come to feel compassion without tricks.

Abrams:  But sometimes tricks help.

Mollie:  Never.  Then the compassion isn’t real, and cracks at the first test.

Schwartz:  The things we pretended are true for others.

Abrams:  But people listen better when they know the person.

Mollie:  Listen to yourselves!  What kind of Ideal can you hope to create when you already find ways to justify your lies?  Better you should run for President.

Schwartz (lightly):  All right—it was only this once.  We thought maybe if Mollie’s parents think we are pitiful, then they will let her come see us again.  (tenderly):  Two weeks we’ve missed you at the meetings.

Abrams (taking out a bundle of leaflets):  Yes, much has happened.  (setting the bundle near her; softly.)  Here are your copies.

Mollie (not taking them, turning away):  I could have come.  I chose not to.

Schwartz (wounded):  What?

Abrams:  I can’t believe it.  Our Mollie is going soft too.

Schwartz:  Impossible!  Why?

Mollie:  I had to think.

Schwartz:  About what?

Abrams:  About the Sedition Act.  About twenty years in jail if we’re caught.  See how they all run when the work gets dangerous.

Mollie:  We’ll see who runs.

Abrams (to Schwartz, making to leave):  We have no time for this.

Schwartz:  Wait!  What is it, Mollie?  What are you thinking?

Mollie:  About a lot of things.  (a beat.)  Like about how what we want doesn’t exist—

Abrams:  But that is our job, to bring it to reality!

The Bug appears.

Mollie:  —and about how to do just that means we have to live in what doesn’t exist.  And how hard that is.  There’s so much we rely on from the world as it is.  Our jobs, our money, our homes . . .

Schwartz (not really comprehending):  Whatever needs changing we will change.

Mollie:  But it all affects the way we think now.  We gather under such a shining banner of Freedom, but as long as we’re still in any way chained to the rotten system, we can’t help but think like slaves.

Abrams:  Without our jobs we starve.

Mollie:  Yes!  You see?

Schwartz:  There is some reality to come to terms with, Mollie.

Mollie:  That’s just what holds us back.  I want to burn every bit of this diseased reality from my mind.  I want to be really free.

Abrams:  We all do.

Mollie:  All right, then!  And aren’t you frightened?

Abrams:  No!  Of course not!

Mollie:  Well, I am. (turning to The Bug; i.e., to herself.)  The kind of freedom I’m talking about is terrifying.  It means falling and falling and no nets to catch you.  Anywhere. (a beat; turning to the others):   I don’t expect you to understand.

Schwartz:  No, I think I see. (indicating the flat.)  Some things are hard to let go of.

Mollie:  Yes.  (to Schwartz):  But they will all have to go.

Schwartz (wounded):  Mollie . . .

Mollie:  If not, we’ll stay trapped.  We’ll never come alive.

Schwartz (appealing to her, needy):  But we are alive—with the Ideal!  (reaches for her hand.)  If we fall, we fall together!  And with all the other Anarchist martyrs of the past!

A beat. Schwartz and Abrams freeze, and are dimmed. The Bug moves behind Schwartz, gently places his/her hand on his shoulder, looks at Mollie, and then moves off to the side. Mollie fixes her gaze on Schwartz, painedWhen The Bug stops, all returns to normal.

Mollie (clutching Schwartz’ hand; sad):  It’s pretty to think there would be at least that.

Abrams (impatient):  You both think too much.  There won’t be anything at all for us unless we first save the Revolution.  (taking out a newspaper and handing it to Mollie.)  Look—have you heard?  Wilson is sending soldiers to Vladisvostok.

Schwartz (softly):  They claim it is only to help the Czechs get back to the German front.

Abrams:  The hypocrites!  As bad as the Germans—hiding behind their Wall Street War. They’re afraid the workers’ republic might actually succeed!

Schwartz:  We’re going to meet to draft a response tonight.  (still in the personal appeal):  But without you, it wouldn’t be as good.

Abrams (scoffs):  It would be terrible!  It wouldn’t even get us arrested.

Schwartz (to Mollie):  What do you say?

Mollie (a beat; lowers the paper; gravely, to The Bug):   I think . . . it’s the moment we’ve been waiting for.  (The Bug exits; Mollie stares off into that space.)

Schwartz:  There’s our Mollie!

Fannie enters with another basket of clothes. Abrams abruptly hides his hand.

Abrams:  We’re just going.  Thank you for your help.

Fannie:  I only wish there was more to do.

Schwartz:  It’s plenty what you’ve done, thank you.  (tenderly reaches for Mollie, who turns and motions for them to go on.  They exit.)

Fannie:  This is the last one.

Mollie:  I’m going too.  (grabs the bundle of papers, then her book.)

Fannie (trailing her):  Mollie, no.  Listen to me.  Be patient.  (Mollie turns and embraces her.)  This one thing I know.

Mollie:  I don’t even know that much. (exits.)

Scene 5:  In shadows upstage, we see the Frayhayt group later that night in the East Harlem apartment. Abrams and several other young anarchists are gathered around Mollie and Schwartz, who are composing a draft of their leaflet, which is at the same time being printed and distributed.  The atmosphere is intense, but also festive, a social event.  Some of the others are lounging, smoking and drinking, cheering and laughing.  The leaflets are scattered, passed out. The Bug picks one up and joins the main scene downstage, which is set in the Office of the Bomb Squad.  Inspector Tunney is at his desk, flanked by former Police Commissioner Woods, greeting J. Edgar Hoover and The Bug.  At times throughout this scene, we can see and hear the anarchists, as can The Bug.

Tunney:  It’s fortunate you’re here, Mr. Hoover.  Something very serious has fallen into our laps—

Woods:  Oh, hardly.

Tunney:  This is Commissioner Woods. (Woods and Hoover shake hands.)

WoodsEx-Commissioner.

Tunney (apologetic):  Arthur resigned the day Tammany Hall took over the Mayor’s office.

Woods (scoffs, beginning a tirade):  I couldn’t be a part of that game for one minute.  It’s all / influence and connections!

Tunney (breaking in, embarrassed):  He still drops by to advise us from time to time.

Woods (folksy, nostalgic):  Well, the Bomb Squad is an elite corps I take great pride in—

Tunney (to Hoover, abrupt, indicating The Bug):  And this is . . .

Hoover:  One of my men.  Under cover, you understand.

Tunney (awkward):  Of course. . . .

Hoover (impatient):  What can I do for you, Inspector Tunney?

Tunney:  Yes, right . . . Have you seen any of these?  (handing over the leaflets; Hoover has The Bug receive them.)

The Bug (nodding, showing them to Hoover):  I picked up one of these today.

Woods:  The usual cant—nothing that serious, / as I see it.

Hoover:  I beg to differ, Mr. Woods.  All radical effusions are gravely serious.  In fact, they are sedition.

Tunney:  And can be punished under the new law.

Woods:  The law is vague.

Hoover:  The Sedition Act is as clear as we allow it to be.  It’s a crime to say or write anything disloyal or abusive about the Unites States, or to hinder the war effort in any way.

Woods:  But they’re upset with the business in Russia, not the war with Germany.

Tunney:  The leaflets were found this morning by four workmen in East Harlem. We managed to trace them to a man by the name of Rosansky.

Woods:  He was scared!  He’s just a boy—about your age, Mr. Hoover.

Hoover:  Boys my age can do a lot of damage, Mr. Woods.

Tunney:  He gave out five names. (reading.)  Abrams, Lipman, Schwartz, Lachowsky, Steimer.  The last one’s a girl.  Know any of them?

The Bug:  Oh, that’s Frayhayt. (translating):  Freedom.

Tunney (anxious):  Are they important?

Hoover:  They are all important.

The Bug (shrugs; wily):  They come up. (begins searching his/her reports.)

Tunney:  I’ve heard that you have created an impressive number of files.

Hoover:  We’re making a little library, yes.

Tunney:  We could use whatever you have.  We’re picking them up tonight.  Apparently there’s a rendezvous to get more leaflets.

The Bug (looks up from the files; baiting them):  Tonight?  There’s a meeting tonight at the Opera House.  Many well-known radicals are supposed to speak.

Tunney (anxious):  That’s why we think this matter here might be connected to someone high up in the anarchist circles.

Woods:  Nonsense.  One is just the usual blather, and the other is just some kids.

Tunney:  What do you think, Mr. Hoover?

Hoover:  It’s not what I think, but what I know.  Gentlemen, since I have come to the Bureau, it has become increasingly clear to me that civilization is now facing its most terrible menace since the barbarian hordes overran Western Europe.

A beat; The Bug smiles unobserved.

Woods:  Surely you exaggerate, Mr. Hoover.

Hoover:  I do not.

Woods:   I just don’t see—

Hoover:  Maybe you don’t know where to look, Mr. Woods.  Have you heard of the epidemic of Spanish influenza that is presently ravaging Europe?

Tunney:  It’s rumored to be a German plot.

Hoover:  It may very well be.  The illness strikes without warning; a man seems perfectly well, but then within one or two hours he becomes delirious, running a fever of up to 105 degrees.  He begins to cough and spit blood, every muscle and joint in his body aches; he feels as though he’d been beaten all over with a club.  Death comes swiftly, often the result of choking, while large quantities of bloody froth exude from his mouth and nostrils.  Some predict it will come here, that even now the germ may be on its way, incubating in the bowels of another steamship teeming with alien filth.

Tunney:  Let us pray that it doesn’t make it here.

Hoover:  Ah, but it already has, Inspector Tunney.  Our intentions were good, opening our doors to the outcasts of other lands to man our machines and plow our earth.  But they have betrayed us.  Pry open the walls, and you’ll find them in their secret dens, eating away at the fabric of our institutions.

The Bug (holding up a file):  Frayhayt gives free English lessons that turn into Anarchist rallies. (reading):  “At the end of the hour they led us into a crowded hall, which had a distinctly foreign atmosphere, to say nothing of the odor, which was like a cross between a garlic garden and gefilte fish.”

Hoover:  You see?  Even something that seems benign on the surface is rotten black inside.

The Bug (reading):  “The speaker whined on and on about the evil capitalists.  ‘Wake up!’ he shouted.  ‘You live like rats four and five in a room, while they spread out their fat in thirty or forty, maybe even one for their dog.  A landlord buys some ground and we build him a house.  But what right has he to buy the land?  Did he create it?’”

Tunney:  A flagrant attack on property.

Hoover:  Precisely.  Our most sacred right.

Woods:  Come on!  No one’s denying that they talk big.  But most working people don’t agree with all this rot.  And when they do, maybe it’s because they’ve been laid off and don’t know where else to turn.  Hey, Thomas, remember that one winter, there were no jobs anywhere—you should have heard the talk then!  Well, we got the whole force together and in a few weeks we raised thousands of dollars for the jobless, a lot of it from our own pockets.  Oh, there was good feeling on all sides—

Hoover:  And see how unappreciative they are.

Tunney:  The times have changed, Arthur.

Hoover:  Yes!  The times are a gathering storm.

The Bug:  He went on to call for Revolution. (reading, working on Tunney):  “It’s marching East and West, it’s right at our door.  Not in a thousand years, but right now!”

Tunney:  And he gets away with it!

Hoover:  Because we let him.

The Bug (fueling them):  I’m for hanging them, no sunrise about it.

Woods:  Whatever are you saying?

Hoover:  We’re saying such men are good talkers and ought to have their mouths stuffed.

Woods:  But it’s all talk!  They don’t have any weapons.

Tunney:  Some have bombs.

Woods:  A few crackpots, yes.  But we easily take care of those.

Tunney:  Rosansky had a gun.

WoodsA gun.  And maybe tonight you’ll find another.  But this is all nonsense, Thomas.  Have you forgotten your sworn duty as an officer?  People in this country have a constitutional right of free speech and assembly, and it is your duty not merely to permit this but to protect them while they exercise it.  We handled all kinds of rallies my first year, some of them were pretty stormy; you’d have thought a revolution was going to erupt any second!  And sometimes people on the streets would complain to my men, they’d say, “Hey, how can you let those bastards say those things against the government?”  Naturally my men felt exactly the same way—we all do—but they always said just the right thing back: “If you want to hold a meeting, go over to the other side of the street and we’ll protect you too.”  Now that’s America, my friends, that’s what I believe in.  This isn’t Russia; we don’t want a reign of terror here, a secret police like the Cheka, do we?

A pause.

Hoover:  There is only one way to deal with anarchy and that is to crush it.  Not with a slap on the wrist, but a broad-axe on the neck.

Tunney (to Woods):  You forget a war is on.

Woods:  But we have to respect the delicacy of the situation.  We’re fighting the Germans, not our own people.

Tunney:  These are not our own people.

Hoover (rising):  Is there anything more, Inspector Tunney?

Tunney:  No, thank you, you’ve been more than helpful.  We’ll have full confessions by dawn.

Woods:  Oh, Thomas, really.  At least leave the girl out of it.

Hoover:  Spare the girl?  No, sir, that’s the mistake they count on.  They hide behind their womanhood, preying on the deference we show them out of respect for our mothers and sisters.

Tunney:  She’ll crack like the rest of them.  You know your way, Mr. Hoover.

Woods:  Thomas, wait—think a minute.  (They go out.)

Hoover (more to himself):  Such women are the most dangerous of all.  The dark poison goes straight to their blood, congealing it, coiling in their wombs like a dirty snake.

The Bug (ironic):  Are you finished with me, Mr. Hoover?

Hoover:  Yes.  Stay with Inspector Tunney and wire me tomorrow.

The Bug:  Yes, sir.

Hoover:  Oh, and one more thing.  Start a file on Mr. Arthur Woods.

The Bug:  My pleasure, sir.

Hoover:  It pains me to see a man begin to drift.

Scene 6:  Later that night.  On one side, The Bug and two detectives; on the other, the Frayhayt group in the East Harlem apartment.  We hear a boisterous crowd approaching, singing and chanting Russian revolutionary songs and slogans, then a confrontation with police. The Bug seems in his element. Tunney enters angrily, out of breath, his forehead cut.

The Bug (in command; grabbing Tunney by the collar):  What’s going on?

Tunney:  The manager of the Opera House got scared and canceled the rally.  (The Bug releases him.)  About five hundred of them came up here to use the Casino, but they were turned away there too.  So then they got all wound up—

The Bug (revelling):  And now the precinct boys are making a mess of it.

Tunney:  They’re dodging bricks and rocks.

The Bug (giving Tunney a handkerchief):  Looks like you got one, too.

Tunney (seeing blood):  The Red bastards, I’ll kill ‘em.

The Bug:  It’d be self-defense!

Tunney:  The station will be jammed.  We’ll have to work here. (tense; overreacting.)  This could be their center of command!

The Bug (fueling):  Must be.  Else why aren’t they at the rally?

Tunney:  Did Rosansky show you the others?

The Bug:  Little Judas is having a last supper with them in a cafe down the street.  They got a load of those leaflets.

Tunney:  Good.  (to one of the detectives):  Pick them up when they come out. (he exits; to the other):  We’ll go get these three.  Bring the wagons around and signal the others.  I want everybody, and I want them in hard.  Find out who the boss is, squeeze it out of ‘em.  I want him tonight!  (The detectives go out; to The Bug):  I’m bringing the girl out.  Make like you’re a cop, but don’t say you are.

The Bug:  I know the game.  The girls are always very chatty.

Tunney (moving away):  Keep her away from the apartment.

At a signal, Tunney and four detectives  enter the apartment.  Two detectives hustle Abrams offstage; Tunney and two others surround Schwartz. Mollie is pushed out.  She tries to go back in, but The Bug quickly leads her away, takes out a notepad, and begins a rapid interrogation.

The Bug:  What is your name?

Mollie:  What’s happening in there?

The Bug:  We already know your name is Mollie Steimer, so you might as well state it for the record.

Mollie:  Let me go, I want to go back.

The Bug (restraining her):  Just state your name!

Mollie:  Mollie Steimer.

The Bug:  That’s a girl.  Relax, I’m not going to hurt you.

Mollie:  Jacob!

The Bug (restraining her; rapid):  He’s fine, they’re just taking a statement.  (she relents; The Bug releases her, but stands close.)  Now—where were you born, Mollie?

Mollie:  I was born in Russia.

The Bug:  And why did your family come here?

Mollie (aggressive; bitter):  To escape the Czar.

The Bug smiles; they freeze.  The lights go up on the apartment. Tunney and the others are standing around Schwartz with blackjacks. Schwartz is doubled over in pain.

Tunney: Who hit you?

Schwartz:  You did.

Tunney:  Liar!  You don’t know who hit you.  Who gives the orders around here?  Tell the truth.

Schwartz:  If I have anything to tell, I will tell it to a judge.

Tunney pulls out a gun and sticks it into Schwartz’ chest.

Tunney:  You better tell me right now, or you won’t live to see a judge.

Schwartz (terrified):  Long live the Revolution!

Tunney laughs, gives a sign to the others.  The lights go out.

Mollie (moving toward the apartment):  I want to go back there.

The Bug (pushing her back):  Believe me, it’s much safer right here.

Mollie:  I don’t care if it’s safe.

The Bug (sarcastic):  Oh, really?  What a brave girl!

Mollie (trying to bait The Bug):  It’s easy to be brave when you’re standing next to a coward. All you do is follow orders, you’ve shriveled up inside. You’re nothing but a walking corpse!

The Bug (amused, curious):  You’re very interesting.  I almost feel bad!

They freeze; the lights return on Tunney and Schwartz.

Schwartz:  Please.  No more.

Tunney:  Your begging disgusts me.  No one will care if you die.

Schwartz:  I am sick, a weak heart.

Tunney:  Cowards like you have no heart.

Tunney clubs Schwartz in the chest; Schwartz groans.  Lights out.

Mollie (trying to get past):  Jacob?  What’s going on in there?

The Bug (restraining, holding her from behind):  Nothing that concerns you.

Mollie:  Everything that concerns them concerns me.

The Bug:  Why?  Are you in love with one of them?  Is that why you became an anarchist?

Mollie:  I have always been an anarchist!

The Bug:  I’m trying to give you a way out here.

Mollie:  What makes you think I want a way out?

The Bug:  Maybe they forced you to distribute these leaflets?

Mollie:  No.

The Bug:  Did you even read them?

Mollie:  Of course I did.  I wrote the leaflet!

They freeze; the lights return on Tunney and Schwartz.

Schwartz:  I wrote the leaflet.  No one else.

Tunney (scoffs, grabs a leaflet, reads):  Are you the one who signs it “A Revolutionist”?

Schwartz:  Yes.  (Tunney whacks him.)

Tunney:  Do you believe the United States is an ugly hypocrite?

Schwartz:  Yes. (Tunney whacks him again.)

Tunney:  Do you believe the President should be called the Kaiser of America?

Schwartz:  That’s not what it says.

Tunney:  Liar!  (whacks him twice.)

The Bug:  We’re not interested in you, you know.  We want your leader.

Mollie:  We do not believe in leaders.

Tunney:  Do you believe the President should be called the Kaiser of America?

Schwartz:  No more . . .

Tunney:  No more what? (Tunney whacks him; Schwartz shakes his head.)

The Bug:  If you tell me the leader, I can see to it that you go free.

Mollie:  You don’t understand a thing.  None of us would ever betray anyone.

The Bug smirks and points to the apartment, as if to cue Schwartz.

Schwartz:  No, I don’t believe it.

Tunney (tossing the leaflet at him):  I didn’t think you’d written it.

The apartment lights go out. The Bug and Mollie are set off by their own circle of light.

The Bug:  Not only you could go free, but your friend Jacob, too. (seeing he/she has struck a nerve.)  Oh, I have the right connections, believe me.  I feel bad for you, I do.  You’re so young, your whole life ahead of you.  It’s useless to fight, you know that—  you’re surrounded on all sides!  But look here— (points to the distance, as if creating a vision.)  I can show you a way out, Mollie—for you and Jacob.  I could get you started on some land out west, your—  (with Mollie, mesmerized):  —own little patch of grass.  (The Bug alone, delighted):  Yes! You see it!  Of course you do—who wouldn’t?  It’s a one in a million chance, but it happens; the wheel spins, your number comes up—and you don’t get ground up with the others.  All you have to do is give up this nonsense, and the new life is yours.

Tunney and a detective begin to come out of the apartment with Schwartz, followed by the other detectives and Abrams, who is shaken but unhurt.

Tunney (to the other detectives; smirking):  This one’s had it with anarchy.

The Bug (holding Mollie close, an urgent whisper):  What do you say?  Say yes, Mollie!

Tunney (holding up Schwartz’ head by the hair):  Right?  Are you finished?

Abrams:  What have you done to him?

Mollie (snapping out of it):  Who are you?  You’re not a cop!

The Bug bursts out laughing; Mollie breaks loose. Schwartz is dumped downstage center.

Abrams:  Help!  Someone!

Tunney:  You’re next, friend.  Pack them up, let’s go.  Move!

Mollie (rushing over to Schwartz):  Jacob!

Schwartz (half-conscious):  I . . . finished.

Mollie (horrified):  No!

Mollie begins running around appealing for help, but everyone on stage turns their backs and stands rigidly.  Her speech is fervid, clarity teetering on the edge of incoherence. The Bug watches, amused.

Mollie:  Look here!  Come quick!  Come see the blood.  Murderers!  Look at them scrambling like cockroaches, they come in the night like wolves!  Get up and fight, fight for your lives!  Quit your jobs, leave your homes!  (sees Jacob, collapses in a heap next to him.)  Let the whole world burn!  All of it!

Blackout.  End of Act I.


ACT II

Scene 1:  October, 1918.  A funeral march brings us to a memorial service at a meeting hall.  Mourners with red sashes pass a wreath and decorate it with red flowers and banners which read “You Cannot Kill Ideals,” “Victim of the Third Degree,” and “Jacob Schwartz, Anarchist Martyr.”  The last mourner affixes a bloody bandage.  Meanwhile, standing in front is Harry Weinberger, making a speech.

Weinberger: . . . But in truth, Jacob’s death was not in vain.  In a letter to his friends not long before he died, Jacob wrote, “Farewell, comrades.  Struggle without fear, fight bravely.  I am sorry I have to leave you, but long after your martyr is forgotten—”  And there it stops, never to be sent.  Can you picture anything more heroic?  For two months he lay there, slowly dying all alone in a cold, dark, clammy cell—and yet out into the void he sends this small, pitiful letter, which like words of living fire will be remembered as long as anyone who has heard of this case will live.

Instead of grieving, then, let us all strive to make Jacob’s dream of equality and justice for all a reality.  I, for my small part, must go now and prepare for another day’s battle in court against incalculable odds.  But though we may struggle and at times even be set back, since our cause is just, in the end we will surely prevail.

Weinberger leaves the hall, pursued by two members of The Press and, after a moment, The Bug, wearing a bright red jacket and carrying a camera.

Press 1:  You sure laid it on thick, Harry.

Weinberger:  Meant every word, boys. (The Press scoff.)

Press 1:  We heard that Schwartz died from the Spanish flu.  (Weinberger scoffs.)

Press 2:  Would be ironic, though.  A guy who tried to help the Germans ends up dying from the disease that may be a German plot.

Weinberger:  What?!  One, my clients’ leaflets did not say one word in support of Germany.  And two, the first cases of the Spanish flu in America appeared in Boston among U.S. sailors.

Press 2:  But maybe the Germans gave it to them.  (Weinberger groans.)

Press 1:  The Huns have started epidemics over there.  Why would they be gentle on America?

The Bug:  Are you saying our own troops are responsible for half a million American deaths?

Weinberger:  I’m saying get your heads out of the cloud of hysteria and use your common sense.  The Board of Health has rightly suggested we limit large gatherings of people in order to reduce the danger of infection.  Yet no one even considers canceling patriotic parades or Liberty Bond rallies.

Press 2:  Are you saying the Bond rallies spread the disease?

The Bug:  He’s too smart to say it outright.

Weinberger:  You don’t have to.  I’d be facing twenty years already if I were a poor Jew like my clients.

Press 1:  Well, you’ll be poor soon enough if you keep taking cases like this.

Press 2:  Yeah, Harry, why do you even bother?  (ready to write.)  On the record.

Weinberger (incredulous):  Because I believe what I’m fighting for.

The Bug:  And what’s that?

Weinberger (stops, faces them):  Justice. (a beat; they stare at him.)  Yes, justice!  (rapidly):  And to me justice means liberty, and liberty the rights of the individual, and the rights of the individual, limits on the power of the state—

Press 2:  Come on, Harry!

Weinberger:  —which by its nature seeks absolute control over its people /  by repressing free, honest thought.

Press 2:   I’m not writing this.  Seriously, Harry, I need something a little less technical.

Weinberger:  All right, say it like this.  Say Harry Weinberger does what he does because he loves to fight.  A Jew growing up in an Irish neighborhood had better be able to fight.

Press 2 (scribbling):  That’s more like it.

Weinberger (somewhat to himself):  Sometimes I think I would rather fight than eat.  That’s one thing you get at night school that you don’t get at Harvard.  Even in this case, as stacked as everything is against me, I guarantee you I will win something.

Press 1:  Hold on, what’s stacked against you?

Weinberger:  The jury for one.

Press 2:  Seems a fair jury to me.

Weinberger:  Are you blind?  They’re all in business.  Not a single laborer among them.  Maybe if that happened once, fine, but every single sedition case gets juries like this.  If you guys would do your jobs you’d find out why this is.

Press 1:  What, investigate the US Attorney’s office?

Press 2:  No thanks.  I like my job and plan to keep it.

Weinberger:  My mistake.  I thought the press was free.

Press 1:  We are!  We just don’t choose to waste our time following every wild idea that comes along.

The Bug (mischievous, knowing):  Are you suggesting the prosecutors have a crystal ball that tells them who to challenge during selection?

Weinberger:  They have something.

Press 1:  You’re going off the deep end, Harry.  I suppose you think Judge Clayton is against you too—  (Weinberger scoffs incredulously.)  —but he isn’t!

Press 2 (imitating Clayton, with delight):  “If we have got to meet the puny, sickly, distorted views of anarchy, let us meet them right here and now.”

Weinberger:  And you guys find nothing wrong with a judge saying that?

Press 2:  Your clients are puny and sickly.

The Bug:  I like the girl though.

As though conjured by The Bug, Mollie appears wearing a red silk Russian tunic and a black armband.  She is sitting in a chair, staring straight ahead, like an icon of herself.  The Bug goes over and takes a photograph of her, then shows it to the others as they speak.

Press 2:  Oh, the girl is great copy.  She looks like the daughter of Czar Nicholas.

Press 1:  She’s something different all right.  When the bailiff says “All rise!” she just sits there like a rock.  The marshals behind her could lift her up with one of their little fingers, but they just stand there staring at her back, holding their breath until everyone sits down again.

The Bug (curious):  It’s like they’re scared of her.

Weinberger:  Maybe they are.  Maybe they should be.

The Bug:  Are you scared of her?

Weinberger:  No.  But I’ve never met anyone like her.  She objects to everything I try to do for her and the others.  I explain the reasons why, and she understands perfectly, maybe better than any client I’ve ever had.  But still she objects.  (Mollie slowly turns and looks at him.)  The way she looks at me, she makes me feel almost . . . unclean.  (Mollie turns away.)

Press 2:  That’s cause you’re a slob, Harry.  The next time I have dinner with you I’m bringing a bib.

Weinberger (snapping out of his reverie, moving away):  Why don’t you bring some money instead?  Now go away, all of you, so I can turn my brain back on.

Press 1:  You’d have a better chance if you just left it off.

Weinberger:  I probably would.

Interlude:  The Press go out. The Bug remains and looks on from a distance, as Weinberger sits down next to Mollie.  She doesn’t look at him, but instead remains focused on the distance.  He takes a book and a pad of paper, and begins making notes.  The lights dim.  While The Bug speaks, the courtroom gradually fills up with Abrams, the prosecuting attorney Ryan, Judge Clayton, and the jury.

The Bug (like a carnival barker):  October 14, 1918.  The United States hereby brings charges that Jacob Abrams, Jacob Schwartz—(stops, erases name)—Samuel Lipman, Hyman Lachowsky, and Mollie Steimer did conspire to publish disloyal and abusive leaflets that were intended to inspire contempt and scorn for the U.S. Government, and to incite widespread public resistance to its war efforts.  Arguing for the Prosecution, Mr. John Ryan; for the Defense, Mr. Harry Weinberger.  Federal District Judge Henry De Lamar Clayton of Alabama presiding. 

Scene 2: At the crack of a gavel, the lights go up. Abrams is on the stand; although he is Weinberger’s witness, Judge Clayton has broken in to interrogate Abrams himself. Ryan looks on complacently. The Bug is sitting at the foot of Clayton’s podium, reveling, puckish.  There is a circus atmosphere in the Courtroom; Clayton is playing to the jury and gallery, and they are responding eagerly.

Clayton:  Are you against this Court?  Yes or no.

Abrams:  All courts, not only this one.  And the police.

Clayton:  How would you make the bad people behave?

Abrams:  There is no need of a club, only our consciences.  All are my brothers, all would produce to their ability / and receive what they need.

Clayton:  Produce!  You people are always talking about “producing,” and yet not one of you has produced even one potato. (laughter in the courtroom.) Why, I would much rather hear the neigh of a good horse and the moo of a faithful cow than hear the screaming whistles of a hundred industrial establishments.  I mean, why don’t you go out and really produce something on a farm?

Abrams:  I work ten hours a day.  I bind books.

Clayton (scoffs):  Books!

Abrams:  May I ask, what do you produce?

Weinberger:  Your Honor, may I continue with my witness?

Clayton:  I produce the rule of law!  I produce justice!

Abrams:  I hope that you do.

Clayton:  I assure you I will, and then some.

Weinberger:  Your Honor, may I just return to the point here—that if there were no wartime restrictions, Mr. Abrams would indeed like to go back to Russia to help the Revolution.

Clayton:  Well, I wish he were over there now, if I may be allowed to have a wish. (laughter.)

Weinberger (to Abrams):  And to fight the Germans as well?

Abrams:  First chance.  I would be an aviator—a flyer.

Ryan:  I object.  The witness’s personal ambitions have no relevance to the scurrilous content of the pamphlets.

Weinberger:  I am establishing the witness’s intent.

Clayton:  I know very well what you are doing and it is a waste of time.  (to Ryan.)  And anyway, he has already said it.  Try to object a little earlier, Mr. Ryan.  (to Weinberger):  And you stop going so far afield.  The Court is losing patience with you.

Weinberger:  Yes, of course.  Mr. Abrams, have you read the Declaration of Independence?

Abrams:  Yes.  It is a wonderful document.

Ryan:  I object.

Clayton:  After the question, not the answer! (laughter.)

Weinberger:  This goes right to the intent.

Clayton:  This goes nowhere.  But we will hear what the witness thinks of this.

Weinberger:  Did you read and did you believe when the Declaration said, We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal?  And that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

Clayton:  That is good reading.

Weinberger:  Perhaps the best of all.  But I would not advise Your Honor to read it aloud in the City of New York today, or I may have to represent him before the Court. (laughter.)

Clayton:  Nonsense. (to Abrams):  Good truths in that, eh?

Abrams:  It is what brought me to America.  I read that and believed.

Clayton:  Sure!  But you didn’t believe in the courts.  You didn’t believe in anything military.

Abrams:  I believed in the equality, the freedom—

Clayton:  The only freedom you believe in is the freedom to slander your government.

Abrams:  No!

Clayton:  If you accuse your neighbor of a crime, that would be slander wouldn’t it?  And if you accuse your government of a crime, is that not likewise slander?

Abrams:  Well, if the neighbor or government committed a crime, we have a right to slander it.  And if we have not such a right, we ought to fight for it.

Weinberger:  “. . . and that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers /  (raising his voice)  from the consent of the governed.”

Clayton (to Abrams):  You would break up the government of the United States if you could.

Abrams:  For the betterment of mankind, yes.

Clayton (appalled):  You would then?!

Abrams:  The government is only the shadow of the capitalists, an invisible empire that nobody elects.  They are greedy and don’t care we can barely live, and punish us with police and the law when we say this is wrong.  Any government that rests on violence like this, it should be destroyed.

Clayton:  So your answer is yes.  And so the dog bites the hand.  It is a pathetic, twisted philosophy you have, Mr. Abrams.

Weinberger:  “. . . and that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of those ends—”

Clayton (to Weinberger):  You shut your mouth right now.

Abrams:  It is the philosophy of many of the greatest who ever lived.  Christ was against government.

Clayton:  What?! (laughter in the court.)

Abrams:  He said no man shall be a judge of his neighbor.

Clayton:  Jesus Christ was very much in favor of government!  “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.”  If you read your Bible you will find that is what he said.  And who was Caesar?  Caesar was the government.  The representative of the powers of state, which were in power by virtue of the military.

Weinberger:  But Caesar was the Czar of his day.  Or the Kaiser.

Abrams:  Or the President.

Clayton:  The President of the United States is no Caesar!

Weinberger:  Christ was accused under the law, and tried for it under the law.

Clayton:  Christ taught that you should obey your rulers, and Christ was not an anarchist! “My kingdom is not of this world,” he said.  You see I have studied the philosophy of Christ a little more deeply than both of you.  And I believe he was correct in his teachings.

Abrams:  I believe in his teachings.

Clayton:  No.  If I’m not mistaken, you are a believer in the law of Moses, which was at an end when Christ came.  (laughter.)

Weinberger:  Does Your Honor remember when he chased the money lenders out of the temple?

Clayton:  Yes, for a profanation.  For turning the House of God into a place for barter and trade.

Weinberger:  You will recall that in doing so he set himself above the law—

Clayton:  Well, he had a little more latitude than you and I can have.  For the very reason that he was at once God and man, as I believe it and you and the witness do not. (laughter.)

Weinberger:  And yet even so, he was crucified according to the law.

Abrams:  And it was all the result of bad government.  And Christ was against it!  And our forefathers were too!

Clayton:  Your what?

An uproar; Clayton bangs his gavel.  Outside there is some patriotic music from a Liberty Bond rally.

Abrams:  I mean here, during the American Revolution.

Clayton:  Do you mean to refer to the fathers of this nation as your fathers? (laughter.)

Weinberger:  Thomas Paine said—

Clayton:  You who as an anarchist cannot ever be a US citizen!

Abrams:  We are together in a human family.  Those that stand for the people, I call them father.

Clayton:  Well, fortunately they do not call you son. (laughter.)  And no, Mr. Weinberger, we will not discuss the humble return of the Prodigal Son or kill any fatted calves.  I have tried to out-talk an Irishman, and I never can do it, and the Lord knows I can not out-talk a Jew.  (laughter.)  But just outside now there seems to be a gathering of all our true sons and daughters of liberty, calling for the support of our boys doing their duty overseas.  Looking around the room I see several chests bare of the yellow buttons—some you would expect, but some indeed I’m sorry to see that way, Mr. Ryan, when you consider the sacrifices our boys are making every day, some of them wearing red badges of courage that cost them quite a lot more.  I propose we adjourn for thirty minutes to show our support by giving what we can.  Gentlemen of the jury, those of you who wish to give to the bond drive can do so by proxy, as the Bailiff will arrange.

Clayton bangs the gavel, and the courtroom slowly empties. Weinberger and Abrams exit in a muted, heated discussion, and Mollie trails behind. The Bug stops her and signals her parents to approach, then moves away and watches from a distance.

Josef:  Abrams was magnificent!  You see how it works here, Mollie?  The judge is stupid, of course, but they are always like that.  The people in the jury are good men, they see it clearly that you are in the right.  And when you are free, then you can come back home with us and stop this nonsense.

Fannie:  He means you don’t need to go back to the factory.

Josef:  No, we have plenty.  And soon will Josef be old enough.  You can stay with your mother and work.

Fannie:  And read.  And study.

Josef:  Yes, I mean that, study.  It is amazing the things you have thought, I never knew.  You have a good mind for this politics.  I think you should be like this lawyer and help defend.

Mollie:  As long as I’ve been in custody, I have yet to see a single woman doing anything.

Josef:  There must be typing, that can you easily do.  I will talk with this Weinberger and see what he can help.

Mollie:  Papa, no.

Josef:   I know you are too proud, but this is the way. (goes out.)

Mollie (distantly):  Poor Papa.  It will be so hard on him.

Fannie (sharply):  Yes!  It will crush him, Mollie, you don’t even know.  He doesn’t even work like he did.  And little Josef—(cracking.)  Oh, Mollie, it’s so bad at home!

Mollie (instinctively supporting her):  What?  Tell me.

Fannie:  I think he has that flu.  (Mollie grimaces.)  Yes!  Already his nose begins to bleed.  I don’t know what to do.

Mollie (uncertain):  He’ll be fine, he will.

Fannie (sharply):  I don’t know that!  I see every house with a black wreath, and now ours.  And without you, how can we manage?

Mollie (assertively retreating):  You must forget about me, Mother.  Pretend I’m dead.  Pretend it was me who got the flu and died.

Fannie:  Mollie, no!

Mollie:  Yes!  It’s best that way.

Fannie:  It isn’t!  No, listen to me.  For you is there yet a way out.

Mollie:  You’re as bad as Papa, then.

Fannie:  No, I have a reason to hope which I would never tell him.  I see the trial is bad—for the others, yes, but maybe not for you.  They took pity on us, I think—

Mollie:  Who?

Fannie:  The man from the police—Tunney!  He said it was too bad to see a young girl led away by the wrong crowd.

Mollie (groans):  I’m so tired of that.

Fannie:  And that they would maybe go easier on you at the end.  I begged him that it might be so.

Mollie:  Is there that little of you left, Mother?

Fannie:  But he said, only if you would be good when it was your turn to talk.  Say you were sorry and—

Mollie:  This is the man who beat and killed our Jacob!  And you would have me deal with him now?

Fannie:  It is the only way as I understand.

Mollie:  You understand nothing.

Fannie (sharply):  I understand you have a duty to your father, as is only right.  And your brother.  We all need you.

Mollie:  You must begin to stop needing me.  What you want me to do would be the worst lie I could tell—it would be against everything I am.  Or trying to be.

Fannie:  It is so selfish of you, Mollie.  (indicating the tunic.)  Have you become too famous for us?  You would do anything for Bolsheviki / you don’t even know but not for us who love you.

Mollie:  I would not do anything.  You don’t love, or you wouldn’t ask such things of me.

Fannie:  How can you say that?

Mollie:  Because it’s true. (analytical, rapid.) You felt cheated by love—or what you thought was love.  By the time you realized Papa could never give you the kind of life you wanted, it was too late.  You were stuck with him—and me, and all the others.

Fannie:  You can’t speak to me like this.

Mollie:  Of course I can.  It’s exactly how you’ve taught me to speak.

Fannie:  I didn’t.  And I love your father, I do—I love you all.

Mollie:  I don’t blame you for giving up on love, you had to—but I can’t let that happen to me.

Fannie:  It has happened to you!  You’re so cold.

Mollie:  All right!  I know that.  I want to love.

Fannie:  How, if you cannot even love your own mother?

Mollie:  I don’t know.  But I certainly never will if I follow your example.  It’s all a big lie.

Fannie:  Such terrible things you say!  I don’t deserve them.  You’re so ungrateful.  It’s that costume that’s the big lie!

Mollie (caught):  Good, be angry.  Be furious and forget about me.

Fannie:  Never.  If you want me to forget, you must forget me first.  You will have to turn your back.  Completely.

Mollie:  Yes, I see that.

Fannie:  And that you cannot do.  I know that you cannot.

Mollie:  I have to go now.

Mollie turns; Fannie tries to follow, but The Bug intervenes. Mollie enters the defendants’ room, where Weinberger is sitting at a desk.  He is wearing a Liberty Bond button.

Weinberger:  You see, that’s just what I don’t want you to do.

Mollie:  What?

Weinberger:  On the stand.  I told Abrams not to bite when the judge baited him.

Mollie:  He spoke well, I thought.  There is only so much one’s pride can take.

Weinberger:  Well, yours had better take more.

Mollie:  You are not a very good example.

Weinberger:  My pride isn’t facing twenty years.

Mollie:  Not yet.

Weinberger:  Not ever.  I know when to speak and when not to.  Like with Clayton.  He expects me to tangle with him, he wouldn’t respect me if I didn’t.  He doesn’t like Ryan, because Ryan is a stupid Harvard boy and just sits there.

Mollie:  It is a boy’s game you play.

Weinberger:  Of course it’s a game.

Mollie:  And we’re losing.

Weinberger:  Of course we’re losing.

Mollie:  So now you’re mad.

Weinberger:  I said from the start we’d probably lose.

Mollie:  But maybe you believed a little in your greatness.

Weinberger:  We’ll lose even worse if you people don’t do what I say.

Mollie:  Instead of what we believe.

A beat.

Weinberger:  Your father was just here.  He had this idea that maybe you’d come work for me after all this was over.  Or that maybe you’d take my job instead.

Mollie:  I hope you did not play your game with him.

Weinberger:  I said I’d see what I could do.

Mollie:  You didn’t!

Weinberger:  He was insistent.  He can’t hear the truth now.

Mollie:  He’s not well.  He believes in all this.  I think when it’s all over he expects to see the face of God.

Weinberger:  I know.  But the strange thing is, he’s right—about you, I mean.  You’re tough—not to say obsessed.  You would do well in this chair, very well.  And yes, we will lose this case, and yes, there will be prison for all of you.  But when you get out—

Mollie:  In twenty years.

Weinberger:  Less, far less.  Actually, how much time you get may be up to you.

Mollie:  What are you saying?

Weinberger:  A few days before this trial began I visited Judge Clayton’s court, just to see what I was up against.  Before him stood a black woman who had been convicted of selling whiskey to a U.S. soldier—not a light offense these days.  When he was passing sentence, Clayton told the woman he would call her Helen not Mrs. Johnson, because back where he came from they did not call Negroes Mister or Misses but by their first names—not to belittle them, he said, (sliding into imitation) but because “We Southerners understand blacks better than Northerners—why, we’all more or less kin!  You understand what I’m saying, don’t you, Helen?” (a beat; waiting for a laugh that doesn’t come.)  And apparently she did, because right away she said, “Oh, yes, Your Honor!  These Yankees don’t even know how to look at us up here, much less what to say.”  This satisfied Judge Clayton enormously.  He said, “Now, Helen, I want you to promise never to break the law again.” The woman bowed her head; I really thought she overdid it.  He fined her five dollars.  And she walked right out the door.

Mollie:  Why do you tell me this disgusting story?

Weinberger:  I thought maybe you’d laugh.

Mollie:  There is nothing at all funny in it.

Weinberger:  But also because it shows there is a time when discretion is the better part of valor.  The fact is you are a woman, a young woman—

Mollie:  And because of that, I’m alive and Jacob isn’t.

Weinberger:  Yes, that’s true—

Mollie:  You want me to humiliate myself?

Weinberger:  No.

Mollie:  You want me to lie.

Weinberger:  Not at all, tell the truth.  But quietly, gently.

Mollie:  The truth I tell is not always quiet or gentle.  You want me to be meek—

Weinberger:  I want you to be free, sooner rather than later.

Mollie:  I want the same as the others, nothing less.

Weinberger:  But you’re not the same as the others.  You’ve got quite a little following out there, you know.

Mollie (somewhat hollow):  That is of no importance to me.

Weinberger:  Oh, really?  Well, the fact is if it’s easier on you, it will probably go easier on your friends too.  And it could help the appeal.  Besides, the sooner you’re out, the sooner you can continue to work for your cause.  Even in the law, if you like, I mean that.  I could get you a start in night school, no problem. You could fight your way up like I did.

Mollie:  I would never work with you or anyone like you.

Weinberger:  You’d get far more done if you did.  People listen to me.

Mollie:  Yes, and that’s all you want.  You want it said the great Harry Weinberger was clever enough to convince some fool of a judge to cut his clients’ sentences in half.

Weinberger:  Why can’t you see that I’m on your side?

Mollie:  Because you’re not, not truly.  You make compromises with hypocrites.  You play tricks, you pretend.  And all for personal glory.  No, you may think you’re with us, but you’re just a part of the mob that murdered Jacob.

Weinberger:  I resent that.

Mollie:  You may resent it all you like, but it’s the truth.

Weinberger:  All right, all right—there’s no use in us fighting.  I’m giving you advice, you can do whatever you like with it.  Just try to show a little restraint on the stand.  Don’t make any angry speeches, and whatever you do, don’t turn the tables on Clayton.  He’ll get you for that.  (Mollie is shaking her head reproachfully.)  Look, you don’t believe Judge Clayton is bad at heart, do you?

Mollie:  No, it is the system that has made a fool of him.

Weinberger:  Then speak to that side of him that is hidden even from him.  That side deserves basic human courtesy and respect.

Mollie:  That is correct and that I will always try to do.  But I can promise no more.

Weinberger:  Good, then we’re agreed.

Mollie:  I doubt very much we are.

Interlude:  The courtroom, as before, except that now everyone but the defendants are wearing Liberty Bond buttons. The Bug calls “All rise,” and Judge Clayton enters; everyone gets up but Mollie.  The trial begins again, but freezes at once in a dim tableau: Abrams is on the stand; Ryan is cross-examining; Weinberger is objecting.  The lights are focused instead on Mollie’s detached projection: When Josef rises and begins to speak, Mollie slowly moves away from the defendants’ table.  Then Schwartz enters, his head bandaged, and stands behind Josef, and The Bug assumes Mollie’s chair. Mollie seems increasingly agitated by these voices in her head.

Josef (to Ryan):  Abrams is not for the Germans, he already said he would fight them!  Oh!  You think you can twist the truth, but we can see clearly who is in the right.

Schwartz:  It will crush him. (moves toward Mollie.)

Josef:  When the jury decides them innocent, the judge will be so shocked he will probably ask them to repeat.

Schwartz:  And they will beat them down with clubs until they change their minds.

Josef:  No, no, he will accept, he has to.  It’s we the people who have the power . . .

The Bug (mimicking Mollie):  . . . we who stand like giants above him.  And thus will he and all others like him be as humble before us as they are before their gods, and thank us when we speak as they thank the sun for rising after a long, dark night alone—

Schwartz (to Mollie, ironic):  “—in a cold, dark, clammy cell.”  (feels the tunic.)  A pretty thought!

Josef:  Oh, Jacob, poor boy—well, they did to him like the Czar, but in Russia, he would only be in a pile with all the others.  While here it is you can at least sit by his grave . . .

The Bug:  . . . and run our hands through the grass growing above him, not one blade of which has given up trying to reach its soft perfection—

Schwartz:  Oh, that again!

The Bug:  —because we loved you dearly, Jacob.

Schwartz (scoffs):  Even prettier!

The Bug:  Yes!  You who understood how frightening it is to live in what doesn’t exist, and how lonely.

Schwartz (leaving):  And how terribly lonely, to die there.

Mollie:  We fall together!

Schwartz:  No.  We fall alone.  But there alone is freedom.  (goes out.)

Scene 3: The Bug jerks Mollie back into her chair.  The lights go up on the courtroom, as before. Abrams steps down.

Clayton:  Call your next witness, Mr. Weinberger.

Weinberger:  I call Mollie Steimer to the stand.

Mollie slowly stands, approaches The Bug (as Bailiff, holding a Bible), and, after a brief pause, passes right by him/her to the witness stand.

Clayton:  Excuse me, Missie, but you must be sworn in first.

Mollie:  I will not swear on that.

Weinberger:  It’s just a formality, Mollie.

Clayton:  You mean you don’t swear to tell the truth?

Mollie:  I will tell the truth.

Clayton:  But how will we know that if you don’t swear on the Holy Bible?

Mollie:  If I swear on that which I do not believe, then that would be a lie.  And you should disbelieve everything I say.

Weinberger (fraternal):  A reasoning King Solomon would approve of, Your Honor.

Clayton (enjoying the joke):  Except that he himself is in the book!  (laughter.)

Ryan:  Objection.  If the witness will not even be sworn in—

Clayton (mirthful):  Oh, sit down, Mr. Ryan. (laughter.)  Now I’ve seen everything.  The Court rules the witness’s testimony will go into the record for what it’s worth. (laughter.)

Weinberger:  Mollie, when did you come to this country? (Mollie glares at him, does not answer; Weinberger sighs, correcting):  Miss Steimer, when did you come here?

Mollie (abruptly):  I came here in 1913.

Weinberger:  And why did you come?

Mollie:  It was very getting very bad for us in Russia.  My family came here to be free.

Weinberger:  And did you find freedom here?

Ryan:  Objection.

Weinberger:  I’ll withdraw the question.  And where did you find work?

Mollie:  Two days after I arrived, I entered a shirtwaist factory.

Weinberger:  When did you first participate in any workers’ movement?

Mollie:  From the very first hour.

Weinberger:  You mean you joined this little group of your Russian friends?

Mollie:  No.  I mean that right away in the factory I could feel a heavy sadness all around me—hundreds of human beings whose joy of life had been dulled in order to maintain the health and comfort of only a few—

Ryan:  I object to all this.  The witness is making a speech.

Clayton:  Her theories are not evidence, Mr. Weinberger, we’ve gone through all this.

Weinberger:  This witness will only take ten minutes.

Ryan:  All that matters is her intention—

Mollie (to Clayton):  Just a moment.  May I state to the Court—please, it does not matter to me if these jurors find us guilty and we are given the most severe sentence, but let me express my thoughts.

Clayton (kindly patronizing):  Well, I see no reason why we shouldn’t hear you out a little.  Frankly it’s pleasant to hear a woman’s voice up here for a change and will not do us men any harm. (Weinberger is pleased.)

Ryan:  To the contrary, Your Honor.  The charge she is facing would indicate that this woman’s voice is scurrilous and dangerous.

Weinberger:  The District Attorney finds a little girl like this dangerous?  (laughter.)

Clayton:  Enough, gentlemen!  Proceed, Mr. Weinberger, but try not to let the witness get too far afield.

Weinberger:  Mollie—Miss Steimer—did you participate in the issuing of these pamphlets?

Mollie:  Yes.

Weinberger:  Where did you give them out?

Mollie:  In various places.

Weinberger:  What places?

Mollie:  I don’t think it necessary to mention the places.

Weinberger:  Just mention one or two.

Mollie:  I don’t see the necessity of it.

Weinberger:  You leave the necessity to me.

Mollie:  I don’t see the reason.

Weinberger (vexed):  Just leave that to me!  (laughter in the court.)

Clayton (amused):  Well, it seems to be the old case, Brother Weinberger, “Convince a woman against her will, she is of the same opinion still.” (more laughter.)

Ryan:  It appears the adage is true for little girls as well.

Weinberger (to Mollie, quickly):  Didn’t you mostly place them where other Russian emigrants were working?

Ryan (incredulous):  Objection!  Leading the witness!

Clayton (ridiculing):  Mr. Weinberger, for shame! (laughter.)

Mollie:  I gave them out where I could reach masses of people.  It does not matter what places.

Weinberger (embarrassed):  Fine, that’s fine. (pauses to think; gently):   Miss Steimer, on the night of your arrest, did you see any of the defendants beaten in police headquarters?

Mollie:  Yes.  And also before, when we were arrested.

Ryan:  Your Honor, I object.

Clayton:  Why?  You brought this out yourself, Mr. Ryan.  And the Government witnesses testified that all the defendants’ statements were made voluntarily, and that no threat or force was used upon any of them.  The jury can easily decide for themselves who is telling the truth.

Weinberger:  Did you see Jacob Schwartz that night at police headquarters?

Mollie:  Yes.  I was being moved from one room to another, when I heard an awful groaning and sobbing.  I turned and through an open door saw Schwartz sitting slumped in a heap, all beaten and bloody.  Parts of his hair were torn out, and he could hardly breathe.

Weinberger:  Did he say anything to you?

Mollie:  He couldn’t speak.  I tried to scream, but they covered my mouth and shoved me into another room.  Schwartz was murdered by the police, but you won’t allow us to say it.

Ryan:  I ask Your Honor that the expression “Schwartz was murdered by the police” be stricken from the record.

Weinberger:  I consent to that part being stricken out.

Clayton:  Yes, strike that out.

Mollie:  The stain remains even so.  Jacob was murdered.

Weinberger:  One moment please.  If I want you to say something, Miss Steimer, I will ask it.  Now, I want to know what you and Jacob and the others had in mind when writing these leaflets.  What kind of society did you and Jacob favor?

Ryan:  Objection.

Clayton:  Overruled.  I want to hear the lady’s point of view on all this.

Mollie:  We believed in the establishment of a new social order where no group of people would be in power over any other.  Private ownership would be abolished, and law replaced by mutual agreement.  Instead of struggling simply to survive, every man and woman will strive to develop themselves to their fullest potential.  To the fulfillment of this idea I shall devote all my energy, and, if necessary, to render my life for it.

Clayton (a broad grin, applauding):  Well, now—that was something, wasn’t it?  More than worthy of your pretty uniform.  But just one thing troubles me about all this, young lady.  Is there any such place as you described?

Mollie:  I said I shall work for it.

Clayton:  But is there any such country now that you know of?

Mollie:  At present, the workers of Russia are trying to establish something like it.

Clayton:  They are only trying to?

Mollie:  If your military should not crush them, they might succeed.

Clayton:  But there isn’t any other such country, at present?

Mollie (a beat):  No.

Clayton:  I didn’t think so.  All the other countries have governments, and laws.

Mollie:  They do, to our sorrow.

Clayton:  So you don’t believe in any laws at all?

Mollie:  Depends on what you mean by law.

Clayton:  Well, do you believe people ought not kill each other?  Or if somebody breaks into your house and steals all of your belongings, do you believe that person should give them back?

Mollie:  You’re not listening.  If things were as I described, such crimes would not be committed.

Clayton:  But since at present they are committed, then we need the laws?

Mollie:  Because your system is rotten.

Weinberger:  Miss Steimer, regarding the leaflets

Clayton:  Just a moment, Mr. Weinberger.  (to Mollie, lightly):  Well, how about the rotten laws we rotten people have for the protection of public morality? (laughter in the courtroom.)

Mollie:  I don’t think your laws do protect morality, just the opposite.

Clayton:  How about the laws regulating marriage?  Do you believe that whenever love grows cold in a marriage, the parties involved should be able to just pick up and wander off, like the beasts of the field?  (laughter.)

Mollie:  What is the use of the marriage relation, if the people’s hearts are not related?

Clayton:  So then you believe in the doctrine of free love?  (laughter.)  Or in polygamy?  Actually for you it would be polyandry, where the woman has more than one husband—(laughter.)  Or maybe you say “comrade.” (uproar.)

Mollie:  Is it not so that despite all your marriage laws, there are thousands and thousands of cases of infidelity anyway?

Clayton:  People do sometimes violate their vows—

Mollie:  Have you ever violated your vows?

Clayton:  —and society is only trying to protect itself.

Mollie:  Can you honestly say it succeeds?

Clayton:  As much as it can it does; at least it tries.

Mollie:  It tries in vain. (a beat.Have you?

Clayton (embarrassed):  Well, I don’t think this has anything to do with this trial. (suppressed laughter in gallery.)

Mollie:  Neither do I.

Weinberger (trying to defuse the situation):  Your Honor, if Miss Steimer has finished her interrogation, I’d like to ask her a few questions myself. (nervous laughter in gallery.)

Clayton:  I’d appreciate that, Brother Weinberger.

Weinberger:  Miss Steimer, why did you distribute these leaflets?

Mollie:  To call upon the workers to protest the fact that the Allies who claimed to be fighting for democracy were acting like the Germans by invading a neutral country and attacking the Russian Revolution.

Weinberger:  You did not have any intention to uphold German militarism?

Mollie:  I despise militarism wherever it exists.  It is an unnecessary evil.

Clayton:  Those are strong words, young lady.

Mollie:  I speak them from the heart.

Clayton:  I see you are wearing an armband.  May I ask for what reason?

Mollie:  I wear this in memory of Jacob Schwartz, who was killed by the police. (Ryan gets up.)

Clayton:  Strike that last part.

Mollie:  Which is precisely why I wear it.

Clayton:  Schwartz was sort of a special friend of yours, wasn’t he?  A “comrade”?

Mollie (a slight pause):  Yes.  I think he was.

Clayton:  I understand, you know.  Grief over a loved one is a very hard thing.  Maybe you’ve noticed that I myself am wearing a similar armband, and a gold star here.  Would you like to know why I wear these tokens?

Mollie:  I think you are about to say in any case.

Clayton:  Yes, I am, because I’m proud of it.  On May 30th of this year, an officer of the United States Army was killed by a bomb in France.  He was a graduate of West Point, a brilliant man—everyone who knew him was in his shadow.  As a career officer, when war was declared he could have easily remained at home, but instead he immediately decided that the only thing worthwhile was to be with the troops, right in the thick of things.  How sweet it would have been for him to tread on German soil and annihilate the enemy as they deserve, but unfortunately, like all great patriots, the man was called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice.  His name was Colonel Bertram Tracy Clayton, he was and remains the highest ranking officer slain in the War, and yes, I am proud to be his older brother.

Weinberger:  All of us in the court offer you the most heartfelt condolences, Your Honor.

Clayton:  I thank you, Counsel.

Weinberger:  But may I just stress again here that in the leaflets my clients are not at all opposed to the war against Germany.

Clayton:  She is, she just said she was against the military.

Weinberger:  Militarism, Your Honor.  Like the Kaiser—

Clayton:  And that we were as bad as the Germans, she said that.

Mollie:  Yes, I did.

Clayton:  There!  Now, this is just what I wanted to ask you straight out, Mollie, because I see you are grieving too and maybe you aren’t thinking straight.  But I just told you about my brother losing his life there on Flanders field, his body lying cold in the first warmth of spring.  And what I want to know is, do you believe my brother died in vain?

Mollie (a beat):  It depends.  Did he die helping to extend the exploitation of workers around the world?

Weinberger:  Your Honor—

Clayton:  Bertram Clayton died for the sake of freedom!

Mollie (grave):  Then yes, I am afraid he died in vain.  (a gasp in the courtroom; sorrowful):  The war is a great black trap, and he fell right in.

Clayton (seething):  Mr. Weinberger, I presume you are finished with this witness.

Weinberger (weary):  I am.

Clayton:  Mr. Ryan?

Ryan:  I can clear this point up quickly, Your Honor.

Clayton:  Then please do so.

Ryan:  Miss Steimer, I believe you stated that your intention in distributing these leaflets was to induce the working people to protest against the government.

Mollie:  Yes.

Ryan:  I read now from the leaflet:  “Workers, our reply to the barbaric intervention has to be a general strike.”  Is this one of the forms of protest you meant?

Mollie:  It says so, yes.

Ryan:  The leaflet goes on to say, “Workers in the ammunition factory, you are producing bullets and cannons to murder not only the Germans, but also your friends in Russia.” Are these workers included among those you called upon to strike?

Mollie:  Yes.

Ryan:  Now, if all those munitions workers stopped making arms, do you think that would hinder the United States in the war with Germany?

Mollie:  It did not matter to me.

Weinberger:  I object.

Clayton:  She has answered.

Ryan:  That is all.

Weinberger:  One question on redirect.  The only purpose of the general strike you called for was to protest the Russian / intervention, and not . . .(trails off.)

Mollie (abrupt):  The war between the United States and Germany does not concern me at all.

Weinberger (weary):  That is all.

Clayton:  We’re finished with you, Mollie.

Mollie steps down.  On her way back to her seat, the courtroom dims as before, and she stops.   Orchestrated by The Bug, Josef rises and begins speaking through Mollie’s point of view, as do Fannie, Weinberger, and Schwartz.  Their lines should overlap slightly.

Josef:  That was wonderful, Mollie!  How proud you have made us!

Fannie:  Look what you’ve done to Papa.

Weinberger:  I hope you’re satisfied.

Schwartz (draping a garland of his funeral flowers around Mollie’s neck):  What a handsome martyr you make!

Fannie:  Now will he see how he failed us.

Josef:  Is there any girl more caring of the truth?

Weinberger:  The law has nothing to do with the truth.

Fannie:  You don’t care about us.

Schwartz:  The true martyr desires nothing for herself . . .

Weinberger:  The truth is you have to compromise some.

Schwartz:  . . . not even the glory of being a martyr.

Weinberger:  Without me, no one would have paid the slightest attention to you.

Josef:  Even in the papers they like you. (digs out some clippings from his pocket.)

Schwartz:  The true martyr embraces what she must turn her back on.

Fannie:  I didn’t think you could do this to me.

Weinberger:  Now you’re going even further away from the people.

Josef:  Look at all the articles!

Fannie:  I just didn’t want you to be fooled by love.

Schwartz:  The true martyr isn’t in love with death.

Josef:  Oh, you’ll get a hero’s welcome at home.

Weinberger:  What good can you do in jail?

Fannie:  I didn’t mean for you to be so cruel.

Schwartz:  The true martyr is alive.

Mollie (removing the garland):  Go away!  All of you!  Let me alone.

Lights go up on the courtroom, several days later. Mollie is standing at the defendants’ table

Clayton:  Mr. Foreman, have you agreed upon a verdict?

The Bug:  We have.

Clayton:  And how say you?

The Bug:  We find the defendants guilty on all four counts.

The defendants brazenly congratulate each other. Fannie begins to sob.

Josef:  Guilty?

Clayton (official, toneless, rapid):  Gentleman of the jury, I feel that the defendants have had a fair trial at your hands and that you have in your verdict pronounced the truth.  The Court approves the verdict.  (gavel.)

Josef:  No, no, Mama, we heard wrong.  See how happy they are.

Weinberger (equally official, rapid):  I have prepared my writs of error and also an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Clayton:  You may do whatever you like in your spare time, Mr. Weinberger.

Josef:  What is happening?  I don’t understand.

Clayton:  Now, Mr. District Attorney, I will hear any suggestions from you as for punishment.

Ryan (official):  The Government asks that the maximum sentence be imposed on the defendants.

Clayton:  The Court accepts the recommendation.  Mr. Abrams, Mr.Lipman, Mr. Lachowsky, in this case the jury found you guilty under each count of the indictment.  As punishment you will each be fined the sum of one thousand dollars and will be confined in the Maryland State Penitentiary for the period of twenty years. (gavel.)

Josef:  What?  No!

Abrams:  Thank you.  If it is really a crime to stand up for the ideals and people you love—

Clayton (banging the gavel):  You be quiet!

Weinberger:  Your Honor, the law allows the defendants to make statements regarding their sentencing.

Clayton:  I know that, Counsel, but this Court will not tolerate any more soap-box speeches. (to Mollie, patronizing):  But how about you, Mollie?  Any famous last words?

Mollie (emerging from the table and facing the audience, centerstage):  The more people they murder or put in prison—

Clayton (banging the gavel):  You turn around and address the Court, not the audience.  This is one time, Mollie, when you must face the fact that there is some authority in this world, / even over an anarchist woman.

Mollie (not turning):  I do not believe in authority.  (shouting):  The more they try to assert their tyranny, / the nearer is its end!

Clayton (banging the gavel):  Face the Court! . . . What’s nearing an end is your freedom.

Mollie:  To the contrary, I believe it is only now just beginning.

Clayton:  Believe whatever you like, but believe it in jail.

Fannie emits a cry. Schwartz enters and stands behind Josef.

Josef:  What jail?  No!

Clayton:  Mollie Steimer, in this case the jury found you guilty under each count of the indictment.  But given your youth and the fact that as a daughter of Eve you are prone to err, the Court will show some mercy in your case.

Mollie:  I want no mercy.

Fannie:  Mollie!

Clayton:  I know that.  You want to be a martyr.  But you won’t be, not in my court.  As punishment you will be fined the sum of five hundred dollars and will be confined in the Missouri State Penitentiary for women for the period of fifteen years. (gavel.)

Josef:  No!  It isn’t . . .

Schwartz slowly passes his hands in front of Josef’s eyes, as though lifting a veil.

Mollie:  The whole world is a prison.

Josef (in silent terror):  Help me. (slumps onto Fannie, stunned to paralysis.)

Fannie:  Josef?  Josef!

Clayton:  Then you should feel right at home there.

Mollie (gloomy):  Yes.  And nowhere else.

We hear a reprise of the march that opened the Act. Schwartz slowly raises Josef from his seat and leads him away. Fannie lowers a black veil and trails behind followed by others, as in a funeral procession.  They each look at Mollie with reproach, then move on.  Meanwhile, Mollie removes the red tunic and lets it drop.  The Bug stands aside, watching, curious.

Mollie (to herself, with surprise, elation, terror):  I feel nothing.  I feel almost nothing!

Blackout.

End of Act II

 

ACT III

Scene 1:  September, 1919. Hoover and The Bug sitting in Hoover’s office, Bureau of Investigation.  Both men are dressed better than in Act I, having attained considerably more power and prestige.  They are surrounded by meticulously organized files. The Bug is reading from a file. Hoover is eating an ice cream cone.

The Bug:  Bail was ten thousand for each.  The lawyer assured everyone at the party that he’d deposit the money in his name. (hands over a file.)  Not too many surprises—rich Jews and what not.  They’ve all been filed and cross-indexed.

Hoover (scanning the file):  Hiding behind Liberty Bonds, of all things.

The Bug:  Ironic, isn’t it?  The war the anarchists attacked saved them in the end.  Not that they were grateful.  The very night they got out they went right back to one of their seedy dens.  (scanning another file.)  They could have been sent right back to jail if anyone had heard them.

Hoover:  Mollie, too?

The Bug:  No.  She was real quiet.  (a beat; teasing him):  I dunno, maybe she was still in mourning. (Hoover is interested.)  Father and brother dead within a week of each other. (finally shows Hoover the file.)  A stroke and the flu.  Now there’s justice.

Hoover (reverent):  Divine justice.

The Bug (devilish):  Yes.  And besides that, she left all this stuff behind at the Tombs—(producing a small box.)  Anarchist books, letters from her comrades.  Even this. (mischievously produces the Russian tunic.)  The agent thought maybe she was softening.

Hoover (reaching for and handling the tunic):  No, no—just the opposite!

The Bug:  It’s true she didn’t miss a beat.  Here’s her file for this year. (offering it.)  Copies of the Anarchist Bulletin she’s been working on.  (smirks; places the file on the desk.)

Hoover (waking, puts down the tunic):  And you still haven’t found where they’re published?

The Bug:  We’re following every possible lead.  Got one report just yesterday.  (reads):  “Interrogated a seven-year-old girl.  Said she’d found three of the leaflets and handed them to a passing civilian, who advised her to destroy this literature.  She obeyed and received from him two pennies.  Then she entered a candy store.  She was eating candy when she came out.”

Hoover:  God save us if they start using children.  But what about Mollie?

The Bug:  Well, I’m getting to that.  For a while the agents have sort of been leaving her alone.

Hoover:  What?

The Bug:  Well, everyone wants something new, you know.  And look here, in the August issue—(opening the file.)  Gives a pretty sharp slap to Mr. Lenin. (reading):  “Bolshevism is keeping the workers enslaved, fooling them with the cry that it is for their own benefit.”

Hoover:  Oh, yes.  That’s Mollie.

The Bug (satisfied):  Yes.  Abrams and the others were against it, but Mollie insisted.  Then at a meeting not too long after that, Abrams and Lipman said that if and when the Supreme Court upheld their convictions, they’d jump bail to Mexico and try to sneak back into Russia.  And Mollie said—  (cueing Hoover.)

Hoover:  And Mollie scolded them for even thinking of it.  If they succeeded, they’d forfeit bail, and that would be cheating those who had raised it for them.

The Bug:  Her exact words.  But see, to the agents . . . (baiting him.)  That sort of made it sound like maybe Mollie wasn’t so dangerous any more.

Hoover (finishing the ice cream):  No, no, no!  All this just confirms my deepest suspicions.  Mollie Steimer is one of the most dangerous people in America.

A beat. The Bug is pleased.

The Bug (wily):  Of course you know best, but . . .

Hoover:  But what?  She’s just a little girl?  She’s tough on friends and foes alike?  So was Joan of Arc.

The Bug (wincing):  She was tough.

Hoover:  Deep down, all the others really care for is their own skins.  But Mollie is not such a weakened solution of anarchy—she’s the poison itself!  It looks harmless, but that’s just what makes it so deadly.

The Bug:  That’s exactly what I told the others a few days ago.  By chance she was picked up for distributing some of these.  “The Constitution is the cloak capitalism uses to hide its bloody crimes.”  Well, that’s sedition right there.  But look down here—proof she wrote it:  “Though almost a year has passed, who will ever forget the unconstitutional torture and murder of Jacob Schwartz?”

Hoover:  Who?

The Bug:  Exactly.  Who else would remember him?  (taunting.)  Schwartz is her dead lover.

Hoover (taking the leaflet; piqued):  What?  There’s no love in her.  (winces at the picture, tosses the leaflet back.)  Hideous!  So how did she plead?

The Bug:  She didn’t.  She said she had no interest whatsoever in the proceedings.  The Court could do as it pleased.

Hoover (sharply):  And did the Court do its duty?

The Bug:  No, they let her go.  I guess they didn’t see the point.  She’s already been convicted—and anyway, since the war is over— (baiting him.)

Hoover (rising anger):  They’ve gone soft.

The Bug (fueling):  They think maybe if we ignore them, they’ll just go away by themselves.

Hoover:  Do we ignore even a single case of typhus?  Political opposition lowers our resistance to political disease.  I want an America which people don’t even think to question, because it would be like questioning the flow of blood in their veins.

The Bug (reveling):  There is right and there is wrong!

The Bug gestures as though raising Hoover, and hands him the tunicThey begin a kind of dance suggesting The Bug’s momentary mastery of Hoover’s weaknesses.  Intimate, playful, grotesque.

Hoover (rising):  Yes!  We are clean and they are filth.  If the courts and politicians are too squeamish to sweep up all anarchist dirt with the Sedition Act, we’ll do it ourselves.

The Bug:  We’ll ride these animals to extinction, we’ll send them all back on a flotilla of Soviet arks!

Hoover:  With the most poisonous serpents like Mollie Steimer leading the way!

The Bug:  Her passage should be easy enough to arrange.  She seems to be courting deportation.

Hoover:  Then let us see that she is wed to it.  I want her off the streets as soon as possible.  I want her in jail, quiet and safe. (hands back the tunic.)

The Bug (surprised):  Safe?  Aren’t you curious to see if she’ll crack? (offering the tunic with comic desperation.)

Hoover (breaking the spell):  Oh, no! (picking up the leaflet.)  We want no martyrs here, no ghastly faces hovering over their rallies ‘til kingdom come.  I say, let her live like the Czarina herself, but sealed up in an airtight cell.  And when her appeal is done, I mean the very second, I want her deported.

The Bug (somewhat disappointed; replacing the tunic in the box):  It’s a pity the machinery doesn’t run so rapidly.

Hoover:  No!  It creeps and crawls and rattles, like a train full of pigs.  And each day that passes as a result is another crack through which the pollution can pass within our gates.

The Bug:  Amen.  I’ll grease the wheels as much as I can. (taking the box.)   And the pigs.

Hoover:  Good—leave those.  Thank you.

The Bug leaves the box and goes out. Hoover picks up the tunic and caresses it.

Scene 2:  November, 1919. Mollie’s prison cell, The Workhouse on Blackwell’s Island.  There is a cot against the wall, and in the far corner, a bucket. Mollie is surreptitiously reading a book, but she seems jittery and anxious, as though she’s finding it difficult to concentrate.  She rubs her eyes as though they itch or hurt; each time she gets only temporary relief. The Bug is standing outside like a guard, watching her out of view.  After a moment, he/she goes out; Mollie hears someone approaching and tries to hide the book.  The Superintendent Mary Lilly enters, swiftly goes right to where Mollie has hidden the book, and picks it up.

Lilly:  Where did you get this?  (Mollie doesn’t answer.)  You know very well you’ve given up all your privileges.  (Mollie turns away in disgust.)  Outside the walls of this Workhouse educating yourself is not just a privilege, but a basic right.  But, by breaking the law, you have sacrificed your rights.  Now you must earn them back, one by one.  (baiting her.)   Maybe then you will appreciate them.

Mollie (unable to remain silent):  I appreciate my rights as I do my heartbeat!

Lilly (pouncing):  You mean then that you take them for granted.  (a beat; mirthful.)  How strange to hear such big talk from such a little girl.

Mollie:  The size of the woman apparently has nothing to do with the size of her mind.

Lilly:  I didn’t come here to fight.

Mollie:  Then leave.

A beat. Mollie turns away. Lilly reads the cover of the book, makes a sound of disgust.

Lilly:  Theories!  Pie in the sky.  Here.  (Lilly tosses the book on the bed.  Mollie looks at it hungrily, but leaves it.)  Go on, take it.  I’m extending the privilege, gratis.  (Mollie doesn’t move.  Lilly takes the book.)  All right, it’s gone.  My God, you’re stubborn!  You could have all the books you want; in fact, I’d even go to the public library for you.

Mollie:  The books I want you would be afraid even to touch.

Lilly:  You underestimate me.  I’m not an anarchist, but I am a liberal.  I supported Wilson.  (Mollie scoffs.)  He would give us women the vote, if the Republicans would let him!  (Mollie laughs at her.)  Oh, never mind.  It’s clear you and I will never agree on politics.  The point is, I would get the books for you.  Perhaps this will come as a surprise to you, but no matter how much they grumble, the girls here respect me a great deal.  Some of them have never had someone to care for them the way we do.  They come in like ragged strays, in desperate need of both discipline and encouragement.  By the time they leave, they’re meek as lambs.

Mollie:  And how many come running right back to the pen?

Lilly:  Far too many, it’s true.  The more they take to the mothering, the harder it is to wean them when they come to the end of their term.  That’s why I try to seem so callous at times.

Mollie:  You don’t need to try.

Lilly:  But it doesn’t always work.  Imagine!  They would actually rather stay here in prison than go back out into the world.  A few very special ones we allow to stay on as supervisors in the work rooms—the matrons you all despise so much.  Well, they were once no better off than you.  We have a little ceremony in which we hand them the very keys that have locked them in.

Mollie:  How sad that must be.

Lilly (taking the bait):  Oh, yes, it’s very moving!  But it’s happy too.

Mollie:  To see minds so beaten.  One might as well be dead.

Lilly (turning on her):  No!  Dead is what you are, sitting here in this tomb!  (a beat; regaining composure.)  I admit in some ways I’m very impressed with you, Mollie.  Every girl who comes here at first refuses to work, but after two or three days and nights alone in her locked cell . . .Well, one morning, long before anyone else is up, the cell matron brings them to my desk—sullen, glaring, sobbing, it doesn’t matter.  I hand them a broom—

Mollie:  And they hand you their soul.

Lilly:  Yes.  And then they can be healed.  You can’t heal yourself alone, Mollie; your social illness will just consume you, like a fever.

Mollie:  I am not sick!

Lilly:  The really sick ones have to be sent to the isolation cells in the basement.

The Bug (pointed):  No one lasts more than a day in one of those.

Lilly (slightly unnerved):  But we rarely have to use them.  I suppose it’s enough that they’re there.

Mollie (a beat; stares at The Bug; somewhat hollow):  They don’t scare me.  (sorrowful, agitated):  Maybe you should just take me there right now.

The Bug:  Are you sure you’re ready?

Mollie turns away.

Lilly (a bit taken aback):  Nonsense.  There’s no need for that, yet.  I say I’m impressed with you, Mollie, and I mean that.  Two weeks you’ve been here, and still you refuse to budge!  In fact, I dare say in many ways you remind me of myself.

Mollie (weary):  Then you know that I really wish you’d leave me alone now.

Lilly:  Yes.  And I also know that you’re flattered by the special attention I’m giving you.

Mollie:  I don’t want special attention.

Lilly:  No. You don’t want to want special attention.  (Mollie is silent; Lilly is smug.)  You think I don’t understand you, you think I have a small mind, like the matrons.  Well, young lady, I was one of the first women ever admitted to the state bar before you were even born!  I wonder if you can even conceive of what that means.  You’d think the constant ridicule would stop after a while, but it doesn’t, not ever!  (losing composure.)  A year ago I was one of the first women elected to the State Assembly.  I would be there still but that just before the last election my jealous rivals went to the papers and made a fuss that the position I had also taken here violated the state codes against holding two public offices at once.  Oh, why didn’t I see the trap?  (a beat; regaining composure.)  The point is I have succeeded even so.  I have overcome every obstacle—

Mollie:  No.  You have succeeded because you have become an obstacle.  

Lilly:  I’m trying to help you!  I’m talking about real life struggles—

Mollie:  You talk of struggles like one whose belly has always been full.

Lilly:  So that’s the source of your bitterness.  Well, granted, the Lillys are well off, but there are plenty from my class who make nothing of their lives and plenty from yours who do. (Mollie scoffs.)  It’s all a matter of hard work and determination.  (Mollie laughs; indignant):  I know all about the tenements and sweatshops—

Mollie:  Maybe you read about them in a book.

Lilly (caught):  Well, even supposing that only a few manage to pull themselves completely out of the tenements, my point is you can be one of those few.

Mollie:  I don’t want to be one of the few.

Lilly:  You can’t help it, you already are.  My God!  (picks up the book.)  Most of the girls here couldn’t even read the title of this book, much less understand the contents.

Mollie:  They don’t need to read it; they live it every day.

Lilly:  But they don’t understand even so.  I look in their eyes and I see lost sheep.  It’s unbearably sad.  They need a shepherd.

Mollie:  We are all of us our own shepherds.

Lilly:  No.  You want to believe that, but deep down you know it’s not so.  (a beat; conspiratorially.)  We are the shepherds, you and I.  And better us than the wolves who would simply devour them.

Mollie:  Worst of all is the wolf who pretends to be a shepherd.

Lilly:  Well, the path you’ve chosen, you would lead them off a cliff.

Mollie:  I’m not leading anyone.  We work together.  That’s our strength. (hollow.)

Lilly (scoffs):  If the others are so important to you then why haven’t you agreed to work like they do and share their burden?  You can’t do anything for them inside this cell.

Mollie (softly):  Maybe they know why I am doing it.

Lilly:  I’m sure they haven’t the slightest idea.  They probably think you’re out of your mind.  I admit I don’t understand it either, except that you’re just stubborn.  And it’s eating you up inside, Mollie, I know it is.  You need human contact like you need these books.  Good God, admit at least that to me.

A beat. Mollie is silent.

Lilly (gently advancing):  Mollie.  Why don’t you give up this pose?  Try to influence them against me if you like, I don’t care.  I think they’ll side with me.

Mollie:  Of course.  You have the police standing just behind you, ready to beat them down.

Lilly:  Really!  You’re so dramatic.  You act like this were Mother Russia.

Mollie (gloomy):  What’s the difference?

Lilly:  I think they don’t make deals in Russia, for one.  Which brings me to the real reason I came here, Mollie. (nods to The Bug, who exits, smirking).

Mollie:  I make no deals with the devil.

Lilly:  Neither do I normally, but there are times when you just have to give him his due. My goal is to reach every single girl who comes here, and like Our Savior, I don’t like to lose even one.  In short, I’m ready to concede.

Mollie:  Concede?  I don’t believe that.

Lilly:  Neither do I; the word sounds so foreign on my tongue.  But, since we need to build a bridge between us, as a start I’m willing to allow you to have visitors.  All you have to do is promise to work.

Mollie (struggling to steel herself):  I don’t want any visitors.  I will not work for you!

Lilly:  You can break the promise if you like, but I’m willing to take that risk.  (Mollie is saying “No” to herself, or shaking her head insistently; Lilly is frustrated, vexed.)  Why not, Mollie?  Why won’t you meet me halfway?!

Mollie:  If for one moment I let you treat me like a prisoner, then I will begin to think like one!

Lilly (baffled):  You are a prisoner.

Mollie:  No!  I’m a human being.

Lilly:  Which is precisely why you need visitors—we all do, or else we shrivel up inside.  In fact . . . you have one now, right outside.

Mollie:  What?  Who?

Lilly (moving toward the door):  A friend.  (calling offstage):  You can bring her in now.  (to Mollie):  Your best friend, I should think.

The Bug brings Fannie in.

Fannie (rushing in):  Mollie!

Fannie embraces Mollie, who emits a cry and returns the embrace fully at first, then abruptly pulls back and turns away, shaking. The Bug watches aside.

Mollie:  No!  I’m not allowed to see anyone.

Lilly:  Oh, yes you are.  It’s your choice completely.

Mollie:  You have to go.

Fannie:  She said it’s fine I see you.

Mollie:  No.

Lilly:  Your daughter’s a strong young woman, Mrs. Steimer.  She’ll make you proud yet.

Fannie (cautiously approaching Mollie, trying to see her face, holding back tremendous emotion):  I did like you, Mollie.  I came here by myself.  I demanded to see Mrs. Lilly and wouldn’t go away—such a fuss I made. (to Lilly):  Didn’t I?  Then they took me inside, and I was so surprised.  Right away she said I could see you!  And that you could even get a pass to come to the memorial next week, for Papa and Josef—since you couldn’t be there before.  Already it’s a year.  I didn’t even have to beg her, she had pity right away.  You’ll come, won’t you?  Mollie?!  (to Lilly; rising desperation):  I don’t understand!  Why doesn’t she talk?

Lilly:  I don’t know.  All she has to do is promise to obey the rules from now on.  And then I’ll leave you two alone.

Mollie:  Please go home.

Fannie:  Mollie, promise what she asks.  What will it hurt?

Lilly:  Turn around and look at your mother!  Standing right here, pleading with you.

Fannie:  No, don’t think of me.  But for your brothers, Mollie, and your sisters.  They’re so young, it’s all too much change for them—they’re afraid!  They always ask, when do you come home.

Mollie (a beat; choking back her emotion; taking on an almost other-worldly distance):  I have no mother.  I have no brothers or sisters.

Fannie:  What?  Mollie!

Lilly:  Then you have nothing.  If you have no family, you have nothing.

Mollie:  My family is here.  In this prison.

Lilly:  And you don’t have them either!  No, you’re not well, Mollie, not at all.  Come along, Mrs. Steimer. (begins to lead her away.).  We did our best.

Fannie (stopping):  We’re doing fine without you!  Better than ever.  A boarder has taken your room; he pays double what you made and doesn’t eat!

Mollie:  I’m happy to hear it.

Lilly (leading Fannie away, nodding to The Bug for help):  No, she’s not, she’s miserable.  Did you see the tears?  The moment she changes her mind I’ll let you know.

Fannie:  No! (turns and tries to make her way back to Mollie, sobbing, but Lilly and The Bug prevent her.)  Mollie!  I don’t mean it.  I don’t mean any of it.

Lilly (vexed to be dealing with this):  There, there, Mrs. Steimer, it’s all right.  It’s not your fault, she’s not well.

Fannie:  Mollie, say something!

Lilly (with sudden force):  No!  Come along!  You have to go now, I’m sorry.  It was foolish of us even to try.

They exit. Mollie collapses on the bed, her hands shaking, rubbing her eyes.

Mollie (calling after them):  I’m not sick!  I’m not a prisoner!  (to herself.)  I’m a human being.

Scene 3:  The Workhouse, two weeks later, Thanksgiving Day. Mollie is in her cell, pacing, in extreme agitation.  Outside, the other inmates are gathered, singing patriotic and religious songs.  Suddenly she hears Weinberger’s voice and rushes to the door.

Weinberger:  This has nothing to do with your rules.

Lilly:  She refuses to work.

Weinberger:  I have a right to see my client.

Lilly:  I suggest you take it up with the Commissioner of Corrections.  /  He supports me one hundred percent.

Mollie:  Harry!  She throws your letters away!

Lilly:  Mr. Weinberger—no!  The cells are off limits.  Guard!

Weinberger enters, trailed by Lilly, who places herself between him and the cell door. The Bug enters and stands nearby.

Weinberger:  Hello, Mollie.

Mollie:  I saw one in her pocket.  I almost got it.

Weinberger:  Mrs. Lilly, I suggest you open this door.

Lilly:  She’s like a wild animal.  She broke my glasses!

Mollie:  She tore it up right in front of me!

Weinberger:  Or else I’ll skip the Commissioner and take the matter up with my friends at The Times.

Lilly (a beat):  Mr. Weinberger—

Weinberger:  And The Tribune.

Lilly:  If you’d just listen to me you’d find there’s really no need for this fuss at all.

Weinberger:  “Ex-Assemblywoman Lilly Cited for Abuses.”

Lilly:  The fact is I was just going to invite Mollie to leave her cell today.

Weinberger:  Oh, really?

Lilly (getting the key from The Bug):  Yes!  Do you hear the girls?   Does that sound like abuse to you?  We have a little celebration every Thanksgiving.  And for those who are battling me, I call a truce—just like our pilgrim fathers offered the savages.  (opening the door.)  Hello, Mollie.  Yes, we’ve had our difficulties and tomorrow I suspect our dispute will continue.  But this is a great Thanksgiving Day, and I want to show you that we Americans are a great, free people—(puts her hand on her shoulder.)

Mollie (throwing off her hand):  You are a great big hypocrite.

Lillyand that I forgive you your trespasses.

Mollie:  I don’t need or want your forgiveness.

Lilly:  Well, you have it in any case.  As you do all privileges—for this one day.  You’re free to come out and enjoy yourself with the others, as you like. (taking some folded linens from The Bug and placing them on the bed.)  There’s your clean linen.  If you don’t tarry too long here, you’ll catch the end of the sing-a-long.  (moves to the door.)

Mollie:  These songs make me retch.

Lilly:  Oh, I’m sorry.  Perhaps the food will be more to your liking.  (to Weinberger):  If you want to speak with me further, Mr. Weinberger, I’ll be in my office.

On her way out, Lilly gives a meaningful glance to The Bug. The Bug gives a slight nod and remains behind, watching the scene from a distance. Weinberger enters and he and Mollie almost embrace, but Mollie pulls back, shakes his hand, and retreats.

Weinberger (mirthful):  There now.  She’s as gentle as a lamb.

Mollie (struggling to be firm):  Your little show of power disgusts me.  I will not have you threaten anyone on my behalf!

Weinberger:  I hardly think that will be necessary.  (a beat; proud.)  You did hear about the decision?

Mollie:  Yes.

Weinberger:  And?

Mollie:  Lilly woke me up just to gloat about it.  She thought maybe now I would give up.  As though I hadn’t yet faced the reality of my sentence!  Well, I have—more than you, I have.

Weinberger:  More than Abrams and Lipman anyway.

Mollie:  What?  Why?

Weinberger:  They were picked up in New Orleans trying to flee to Mexico.  (Mollie doesn’t respond, disappointed.)  Apparently they didn’t even have a chance.  The government agents were right there waiting for them, as soon as they stepped on the boat.  (The Bug is amused.)

Mollie:  It’s getting worse then.

Weinberger (detached):  Just about everyone who’s ever used the word freedom in a speech is in jail.  It’s very sad really; at the meetings all they do is rant and rave at each other.  Hardly anyone even came to the memorial for Schwartz.

Mollie:  What?  No!  There were a thousand last year!  He should never be forgotten—he died for us! (trails off, overcome.)

Weinberger (moved):  I’m sorry. (a beat.)  But don’t worry, I’ll have all of you out by New Year’s.

Mollie (gloomy):  What a vain boast.  Don’t tell the boys that—they’re liable to believe it.

Weinberger:  Let them.  Why not have some hope for a change?

Mollie:  Hope is the worst of all.  Hope makes you just sit there, waiting.

Weinberger (a beat.)  Didn’t Lilly tell you about the dissent?  (Mollie is blank; with rising elation): No, of course she didn’t.  Mollie, at last, some good news.  (shuffling though his case.)  The decision went against us, yes, but Justice Holmes broke from the majority and wrote a contrary opinion.  (hands a copy to Mollie, who receives it hungrily.)  Look!  (pointing, reading)  “I believe the defendants had as much right to publish these leaflets as the government has to publish the Constitution now vainly invoked by them!”  Can you believe it?  Someone on the highest court in the land agrees with us!  Actually two, since Brandeis was only too happy to join him.

MollieAgrees with us?  (reading, bitterly):   “Now nobody can suppose that the surreptitious publishing of a silly leaflet by an unknown man would present any immediate danger / to the government’s wartime aims.”

Weinberger:  Well, yes—that’s good, see?   He’s narrowing the standard by which the government can punish speech. /  It has to present a clear and imminent danger—

Mollie (reading):  “Even if I am wrong and enough can be squeezed from these poor and puny anonymities to turn the color of legal litmus paper—”

Weinberger:  You’re not reading the context.

Mollie:  I think Clayton called us poor and puny too.

Weinberger:  He’s just saying that the leaflet wasn’t dangerous.

Mollie:  How could it be, it was silly.

Weinberger:  And that even if it had been your intent to impede the war, the punishment given was far too severe.  See?  (tugging at the papers) “The defendants should not be made to suffer for their personal creed—

Mollie (tugging back):  —a creed that I believe to be the creed of ignorance and immaturity when honestly held.”

Weinberger:  But one which you are at least allowed to have.

Mollie:  Of course we are.  And I thank him from the depths of my ignorance. (tosses back the dissent; winces from the pain in her eyes and rubs themA beat.)

Weinberger:  What’s the matter with your eyes?

Mollie:  They feel like they’re filled with sand.

Weinberger (looking):  They’re quite red too.  I’ll see about getting an oculist for you.

Mollie:  I will not work for it!

Weinberger:  All right, you won’t.

Mollie (a beat; glances at The Bug; then, sadly):  You’ll have to go soon.

Weinberger (baffled):  I know.  (a beat; softly):  Look, Holmes has to distance himself some.  He’s going against the whole hysterical tide.  Surely you didn’t expect him to start quoting Kropotkin.  I think that under the circumstances, what he did was courageous and noble.

Mollie:  Oh, so you are a little patriotic after all.  Why don’t you go sing with the girls?

Weinberger:  Don’t be so simple-minded, Mollie.  Holmes is prying open the legal doors that have been repressing free speech.  And now Brandeis can crack them further—he may even blast them wide open!  They all resent him in the legal establishment, because he’s a Jew like us and knows how to fight.

Mollie:  Not all Jews fight.  The same amount as anyone else.

Weinberger:  Will you stop being difficult?

Mollie:  And start being silly and anonymous instead?

Weinberger:  Well, you are silly and anonymous sometimes.  I swear you insist on it for some reason.

Mollie:  And you insist on believing in your legal cracks—as though they weren’t silly themselves.  It’s pathetic—you’re as bad as Lilly.  The capitalists set a trap for you, and you fall right in.

Weinberger:  The cracks do matter; in fact they’re all that matter, because they’re all we ever get this side of violence.

Mollie:  What about a general strike?

Weinberger:  That’s just not possible now.

Mollie:  So we should surrender?  Just live the lie they hand us.

Weinberger (patient, gentle):  No, but you should be prepared to see that social change  requires patience and timing.  If you come out swinging a club, they’ll bring out theirs, and they always have more of them than you do.  But if you chip away at them with the same laws they use to hem you in, then in time they’ll get complacent or confused—you’ll sneak in and make a significant change without them even realizing it!

Mollie:  Maybe you are the one changed without realizing it.

Weinberger (a beat; frustrated):  If you’d have taken my advice a year ago, you might have already begun to see the truth in what I’m saying.

Mollie:  Yes.  And become the next Mary Lilly.

Weinberger:  No—the first Mollie Steimer.  Now the best I can do for you is to get you on a boat to Russia. (taking out another set of papers and offering them to her.)  Here.  I need your signature on this.

Mollie (not taking them):  What is it?

Weinberger:  The petition for your release.  Along with the others.

Mollie:  What petition?

Weinberger:  Look, it’s the only way.  (forcibly showing it to her; rapidly):  The first part is just the usual nonsense—you admit you were wrong, you say you’re sorry, you concede the government’s right to judge you, and you promise to conduct yourselves lawfully in the future.

Mollie:  What is the matter with you?!

Weinberger:  Just ignore it, Mollie!  The words don’t mean a thing.  It’s only a formality—a compromise which seems well worth making given the alternative.

Mollie:  But—

Weinberger:  But I knew you’d object, so look here—instead of “A Request for Pardon,” I’ve called it “A Demand for Amnesty.”  And down here, look, it ends with the statement:  “My sentiments are the same now as they were at the trial and at the time of the issuance of the leaflets.”  Which pretty much cancels out everything that came before.  But they never read that far down—

Mollie (scornful laughter):  You don’t understand the slightest thing.  My objection isn’t to the wording but simply to what it is.  I’ve constantly told people that they should never petition the government for anything.  I can’t go back on that now just because it’s in my interest.  By acknowledging their power over us in any way whatsoever—

Weinberger:  You already admit defeat.  Yes, I know the theory.  But look at the facts, Mollie.  Right now you are completely in the power of the state for the next fifteen years.  I assume you’re not exactly fond of your lodgings here.

Mollie:  Don’t play games with me.

Weinberger:  Well, like it or not, this ridiculous little piece of paper is the only way for you to get free of this place.  And Jefferson City, which is far worse, believe me.

Mollie:  I don’t care.  Besides, what makes my case so special?  I have no intention of asking for my release when thousands of others are still in jail.

Weinberger:  That’s just it. Your release can serve as the opening wedge to gain amnesty for all the rest.  By refusing to sign, you simply stop having anything done for the others who want it done.

Mollie:  Why don’t you demand that all political prisoners be released?

Weinberger:  I just told you, it doesn’t work like that.

Mollie:  But it has to work like that, or it’s no good.

Weinberger:  If the other people’s lawyers want to follow my lead, that’s fine.

Mollie:  Oh, I see.  You want to be the first.  That’s why you’re in such a hurry.

Weinberger:  I’m trying to strike while the iron is hot.

Mollie:  Maybe then you will be invited to tea with Brandeis.

Weinberger:  Abrams and Lipman have already agreed to sign.

Mollie:  Fine.  Act on their behalf if you like, but leave me out of it.

Weinberger:  Mollie, just look at where you are.

Mollie:  I know exactly where I am!  And I will not move one inch until my basic human rights are respected.  Especially by my own lawyer.

Weinberger:  How can you say that to me?  How?  Sometimes I don’t know why I even bother.  I’ve worked myself to death for you people, and for nothing—no, it’s actually cost me.  Abrams and Lipman try some foolish escape that doesn’t have a prayer of succeeding, and guess who has to pay for their return, as well as their guards’.  Five hundred dollars!  Far worse  /  is the damage it does to my appeals.

Mollie:  Well, I’m sorry our foolishness has cost  /  you so much money.

Weinberger:  And meanwhile here you are, / making such a fuss over nothing.

Mollie:  I doubt we will ever be able  /  to repay you every dollar—

Weinberger:  Look, I don’t care if you’re ungrateful.  /  Just don’t get in the way.

Mollie:  —but perhaps the personal glory you’ve earned  (Weinberger scoffs.)  from our case will more than make up for the loss.

Weinberger:  Personal glory!  You know, you’ve always enjoyed mocking my ambitions, but what about your own?  Maybe you don’t want to be in the newspapers, but you’re on a private mission just the same.  It’s like you’re waiting for someone to come along with a club and beat you to death, just so you can prove to yourself how perfect you are.  And what a waste of life that is, because we don’t need your perfection, Mollie.  If you think it’s otherwise, then you’re only deluding yourself.

Mollie (grave):  If you think that, then why do you need my approval so badly?

A beat.  Both of them are deeply wounded.

Weinberger:  I don’t know, I really don’t.  I’ve been asking myself that question for some time now.

Mollie:  Well, keep asking. (offering him her hand, which he takes reluctantly; her voice is official, but a little unsteady.)  Thank you for your representation, Mr. Weinberger.  I sincerely believe you’ve done the best you know how—

Weinberger:  Mollie—

Mollie:  But under the circumstances it appears there is nothing further you can do for me.

Weinberger (a beat):  What do you want, Mollie?  Name it, and I’ll get it for you.

Mollie (deliberately):  I want, very much, to be left alone.

Weinberger:  This is the end then?

Mollie (turning):  I’ll only get in your way.

Weinberger (setting down the petition):  I’ll just leave this.

Mollie (sharply):  No.  Take it.  I don’t want it.

Weinberger (picks it up):  Okay, fine.  Good-bye, Mollie.

Mollie doesn’t answer; Weinberger goes out. The Bug remains, watching.  After a moment, Mollie is gripped by a spasm of fear and makes a sudden movement toward the cell door.

The Bug (detached):  He’s gone.

Mollie (turning; more to herself):  They’re all gone.

The Bug:  It’s what you wanted.

Mollie (weary):  Did I?  (rubs her eyes; groans.)  If only I could cry.

Mollie fingers the linen, paces.  We hear the voices of the inmates outside. The Bug moves away from the cell and stands at the back of the stage.  Then, at a gesture from The Bug, the voices stop, and a fight erupts.  Soon it’s bedlam; tin cups and plates are flying, glass bulbs are breaking; women are screaming, fighting, calling for help.  A young inmate, Marie, comes reeling by Mollie’s cell, hysterical, bleeding from the forehead.

Marie:  Help me!  Somebody!  I can’t see!

Mollie (grabbing her):  Hey, hold on—

Marie (falling into Mollie’s arms):  Help me!

Mollie:  It’s all right; you just got a bad cut. (sets Marie on the cot, grabs a piece of linen.) Here, let me clean you up. (wipes some blood from her eyes.)

Marie (seeing her):  It’s you!  Is it time?  Are they here?

Mollie:  Hold still.  (Mollie makes a compress and, cradling Marie, applies it to her forehead.)  What’s happening out there?

Marie:  There was salt on the raisins instead of sugar.  Kate called the Matron an idiot and she said Kate was an ungrateful bitch and to shut up and eat.  Kate threw her food, and then everybody did.

Mollie (disturbed):  They’re smashing everything up!

Marie:  Someone opened the fire extinguishers—the whole dining room is flooded.  A window shattered, and I got hit by the glass.  (looks at the blood; shrieks.)  I’m dying!

Mollie:  Shh.  No, it’s just a cut.  It’ll heal.

Marie:  Is it time?  Are they here?

Mollie:  Who?

Marie:  If it is, take me with you.

Mollie:  Take you where?

Marie:  To the anarchist place.  Kate always said they’d probably come for you someday, and that we should be ready just in case.  And then that man came making a fuss over you and took Mrs. Lilly away.  So we thought maybe the revolution might be now.

A series of loud noises; the screaming and cursing intensifies.

Mollie (getting up and looking out; disturbed):  They’re ripping the beds off the walls!

Marie (hysterical):  Take me with you!  Please!  I know you normally don’t take girls like me, Kate already told me.  But it was only for a month—we needed the money!  Mrs. Lilly says I can still be saved.  Anyway, I’m clean now—they scraped it all away at the hospital.

Mollie (going back to her):  Relax.  Sit back

Marie:  Promise you won’t leave me behind!

Mollie:  All right, I promise.  You’ll go when I go.

Marie:  I don’t believe you.

Kate enters, also cut.  Mollie gives her a bandage.

Kate (to Mollie, aggressive):  Well, where are your friends?  The gates are still locked.  Are they blasting through the walls?

Mollie (sharp):  No.  They’re already inside!

Kate:  Where?  I don’t see them.

Mollie:  Right here!  They’re all of you—and me.

Kate:  What?

Mollie:  Don’t you hate this place?  Don’t you hate being treated like an animal?

Kate:  Of course we do!

Mollie:  Then don’t act like one!  Ripping the place apart, running around like lunatics—it’s all a waste of strength.  Instead, join ranks, stay together.  Call a prison-wide hunger strike and hold on.  Then the matter is clear—either they give in, or you die.

Lilly enters with matrons and The Bug.

Kate:  When are they coming with the bombs?  We helped create a diversion.  If you’re going, so are we.

Lilly:  So this is the result of the freedom I gave you.

Kate (pointing to Mollie):  She started it.  She egged us on.

Marie:  She didn’t!  It was Kate who threw the food.  Ask the Matron.

Lilly (to the matrons and The Bug):  Take them down to the holes.

Marie (clutching Mollie):  No!

Kate is bound and carried away.

Kate:  I didn’t do anything!  (to Marie):  I’ll get you.

The Bug tries to pull Marie away from Mollie. Marie screams.

Mollie:  Leave her here.  Can’t you see she’s terrified?

Lilly:  That’s why she needs to cool off.

Mollie:  She’s badly hurt!

Lilly:  It’s just a scratch.

Mollie:  At least let her go with me.

Marie:  Help me!  (The Bug pulls Marie off and leads her away.)

Mollie:  Punishment won’t do a thing.  Improve the conditions and there won’t be any riots.

Lilly:  Shut your mouth or you go with them.

Mollie:  I insist on going with them!

The Bug (returning and stepping eagerly toward her):  Finally!

Lilly (intervening):  No, you’re staying right here, for now.  You’ve poisoned enough people at this Workhouse just by being here.  I’m not going to let you play to the gallery like you were the heroine of a moving picture.

Mollie (rushing the door, calling out):  Hunger strike!  Hunger strike!

Lilly (to The Bug, disgusted):  Take her to the padded cells. /  She’s sicker than I thought.

Mollie:  Pull together and hold on!  Hunger strike!  Hunger strike!  (The words are picked up by some of the rioters.)

The Bug carries Mollie off and dumps her in a tiny cell downstage center.  At first she tears at the place fiercely, still calling for a hunger strike, then all at once she stops and stands still at the center.  All sounds gradually fade away, like machinery shutting down.  Meanwhile, Mollie is clutching herself and breathing heavily, at first in severe agitation, then in terror, then in astonishment.

Mollie:  Free.

She sinks to the floor, and laughs, as though giddy.  Blackout.

Interlude: The lights go up on Mollie sitting on the floor of the cell, staring straight ahead, whispering to herself repeatedly and slowly, in deep concentration.  She seems intense, even somewhat feverish, delirious.

Mollie:  The shadow at the base of the flame . . . The last echo swallowed in a cave . . .  The dense cloud in a block of ice . . .

The Bug enters with a silver tray with a covered plate, a wine glass and a bottle.  He/She uncovers the plate to reveal a cornucopia of fruit and a loaf of bread.  Still whispering (though more faintly), Mollie looks at the food on the plate, then turns away. The Bug uncorks the bottle and pours a glass of red wine.  When he/she is done, Mollie turns and looks at the glass with greater interest, then finally looks up at The Bug, stops whispering and smiles.  Very deliberately, she removes her prison smock, leaves it on the tray, and slowly lies down, meanwhile whispering the lines below. The Bug feels the smock with a detached, respectful interest, then picks up the tray and exits.

Mollie (a controlled rapture):  The crack between sea and sky . . . A soft wriggling in a pond . . . A breath of wind through grass . . .The sunrise in an eye . . . (Blackout.)

Scene 4: Mollie’s isolation cell, three days later.  She is curled up in one darkened corner.  Standing outside are Lilly and The Bug. Lilly is anxious.  Weinberger enters.

Weinberger:  What’s going on here?

Lilly:  She won’t eat.

Weinberger (peering in):  Mollie?  My God!

Lilly:  She’s alive.  She’s fine.

Weinberger:  Fine?!  Open this door!

Lilly:  It’s not the policy—

Weinberger:  Open it!

Lilly (opening the door):  Well, she needs to eat.  You’ve got to get her to eat.

Weinberger (going over to Mollie, who is emitting a low hum with every breath):  Mollie!   (to Lilly):  What have you done to her?

Lilly:  Nothing!  She started a riot.

Weinberger:  You strip them?

Lilly:  No!  She did that herself.  For three days she hasn’t eaten.

The Bug:  Maybe four.

Lilly:  We tried to take her to a doctor this morning, but we couldn’t move her safely.

Weinberger:  Mollie, it’s me!

The Bug (detached):  She said, “Mollie’s gone.”

Lilly:  We decided not to pry her open.

The Bug:  She was smiling and whispering to the walls.

Weinberger:  This is terrible.  She’s shivering.

Lilly (to The Bug):  Get a blanket.  (The Bug goes.)  That’s why I called you right away.  I know we have our differences, but in the larger scheme of things we’re on the same side.

Weinberger:  We are not on the same side!

Lilly:  It would be worse here without me.  You should have seen it before I came.

Weinberger:  This woman is dying!  Either you help keep her alive or her death will be squarely on your hands.

Lilly:  I’m trying to help!  I brought you here—strictly against the rules!

The Bug returns with the blanket; Weinberger snatches it and wraps it around Mollie.

Weinberger:  Dying is against the rules, too.  Do you want her to die?

Lilly:  No!  Please—

Weinberger:  Then you’d better give in.

Lilly:  She’s more than welcome back to her cell.

Weinberger:  No.  Give her every one of her demands.

Lilly:  She hasn’t made any.  I don’t even know what they are.

Weinberger:  Full privileges, without work.

Lilly:  It’s a dangerous precedent.

Weinberger:  I’m leaving.

Lilly:  All right, all right!  She can have whatever she wants.  Just get her to eat.

Weinberger:  Leave us alone.  Go get a doctor.

Lilly:  He isn’t in today.

Weinberger:  Now!

Lilly (leaving):  Why couldn’t she just follow the rules?

The Bug hesitates a moment, curious, even admiring, then follows Lilly out.

Weinberger (holding Mollie, trying to see her face):  Mollie?  Can you hear me?

Mollie (looking up, but not seeing; trance-like):  I don’t want to go back.

Weinberger (relieved):  You don’t have to.  You’ve won, Mollie.  You can do anything you want.

Mollie (groaning, not really responding to him):  No . . .

Weinberger:  Yes!  Well . . . within these walls you can.

Mollie (slowly waking, curious):  Harry?

Weinberger:  Yes.  I’m here.

Mollie (bleary):  Your eyes are on fire.  Good for you.

Weinberger:  Rest now.  Just rest.

Mollie:  All right.  It’s good.  I’ll stay.

Weinberger:  Are you hungry?  You can eat whenever you want.

Mollie:  I’m fed to the teeth.

Weinberger (concerned):  Mollie, you don’t have to work.  You’ve won.

Mollie:  I know.

Scene 5:  August, 1921.  The sewing room in the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City. Mollie is sitting at a sewing machine, showing a young woman how to do something.  The young woman holds up the finished product and is pleased, then silently thanks her and goes out. Mollie goes back to work, moving very skillfully and very fast. Weinberger enters, watches her for a moment, puzzled, then cautiously approaches.

Weinberger:  Mollie?

Mollie (brightens, but continues to work):  Harry!  What brings you to Missouri?

Weinberger:  My client, among other things.

Mollie (puzzled, then amused):  Oh!  I just have to finish these jackets to make the task for this week.  Monday my right shoulder and arm went numb, so I have to use my free time today to move back up to Class A.

Weinberger:  What does that allow?

Mollie:  Three letters and a dollar a month.

Weinberger (baffled):  So . . . it’s better here than in the Workhouse?

Mollie (somewhat matter-of-fact):  No!  There are people here suffering from all kinds of terrible diseases, and the guards are horribly cruel.  We’re not even allowed to speak to one another except for a few hours on weekends.

Weinberger:  How are your eyes?

Mollie:  Better. (holds up the jacket, part of a business suit.)  There.  What do you think?

Weinberger:  It’s very nice.

Mollie:  It’s not bad.  When I came here two years ago I couldn’t even make half the task.  Now my work sets the week’s task for the others.  Feel that.  (placing her hand on the machine; Weinberger feels the machine and recoils instantly.)  Hot, isn’t it?  (inspecting the jacket.)  Yesterday the matron in charge of the shop said she’d never seen work so nice.  Oh—Will you please tell my mother that?

Weinberger:  Yes.  Certainly.

Mollie:  And that I look well?  That I’m eating?

Weinberger:  Yes, I’ll tell her.

Mollie:  Good.  I’ll write her the same tomorrow, but it would mean more if it came from you.

Weinberger:  I understand.

A beat. Mollie begins assembling another jacket.

Weinberger:  So . . . you’ve been getting my letters?

Mollie:  Oh, yes.  They’re very nice.  That’s right—you said you were coming in the last one.  It must be mid-August then.

Weinberger:  Tomorrow will make it exactly three years since you were arrested.

Mollie (indifferent):  Seems more like three hundred.

Weinberger:  Yes.  Again, I’m sorry for the delay.  (Mollie looks up briefly, puzzled.)  About the amnesty.

Mollie:  There’s no need to apologize, Harry.  You know my mind on the matter. (playfully.)  Besides, you didn’t specify which New Year’s you’d have us out by.

Weinberger:  I . . . miscalculated.

Mollie:  People miscalculate.  I like that about them.

Weinberger:  It really looked like Wilson would go ahead with it, but . . . there was the Treaty, you know, and . . . And now this new administration has proven . . . reluctant.

Mollie (cheerful):  Why?  Haven’t they read the dissent?

Weinberger (a beat; with self-mockery):  I was right, though.  Brandeis widened the standard three more times; even Holmes refused to join him on the last one.  Brandeis said free speech is a condition of true democracy.

Mollie (ironic):  Is it?

Weinberger:  A necessary condition!

Mollie:  And at that instant, all over America graves cracked open, and the streets were clogged with anarchist martyrs!

Weinberger:  Who were immediately arrested and thrown in The Tombs.

Mollie:  Rising from the dead is strictly forbidden.

Weinberger:  Yes.  (becoming gloomy):  It’s even worse out there, Mollie—really, it would make you sick.  Everyone’s nervous and afraid, or just resigned.  I honestly don’t think there will ever again be a serious challenge to capitalist tyranny in this country.  (Mollie gives a light laugh.)  Why are you laughing?

Mollie (softly, still working):  I just don’t know what you’re talking about.

Weinberger:  Why?

Mollie (not really answering):  Never in my life have I felt such perfect joy as I do now.  I feel like embracing the whole world.

Weinberger:  These walls would seem to make that somewhat difficult.

Mollie:  No, they don’t—not at all.  In some ways, they make it easier.  (points to her head.)  There are no walls in here, Harry, not one—not unless we put them there ourselves, because we’re afraid to live without property, or a country, or a family, or personal glory, or because we’re afraid to live with them, like I was.  Either way, once you knock down those walls, you find that inside there’s really nothing but you and the rest of humanity—all together, like in a great warm pool . . . I mean, pure compassion!  And who or what could ever beat that?

Weinberger (a beat; a little taken aback):  Well, that’s good.  I mean, it’s good you haven’t given up, because . . . it looks like your case is actually going to go through.

(Mollie looks up from her work somewhat quizzically.)  The amnesty.  Deportation.

Mollie:  Oh, that old thing.

Weinberger:  This time it seems . . . Well, no promises.  I know how you feel about the petition.  The others have agreed to it, but of course you’re free to sign or not sign as you please.  But I was thinking, maybe there’s someplace else you’d like to go besides Russia.  Things are very bad there now—food is scarce and anarchists are being ruthlessly persecuted.  I could probably work something out for another country.  Maybe Mexico or . . . I mean, I’d like your opinion on this . . .

Mollie stops working and reaches out for Weinberger’s hand.

Mollie:  Thank you.  For the choice.

Weinberger:  I’m sorry.

Mollie (returning to work):  There’s no need.

Weinberger:  I’ve said some terrible things to you.

Mollie:  You meant them.

Weinberger:  Yes, but I was wrong.

Mollie (a beat):  It’s good you came today.  I was thinking just recently that I would not be opposed to going to Russia.

Weinberger:  You’ll go?!  Well . . . as I said, you should think twice about that decision, Mollie.  Everything the Revolution was fought for has collapsed.

Mollie:  I know.  The Bolsheviks are as bad as the Americans.  There’s much work to do there.  That’s why I wouldn’t avoid going—if I had to.

Weinberger:  You mean you still won’t sign the petition.

Mollie:  Oh, no—certainly not.  I have a right to live wherever I choose.  But if they sent me there by force, I wouldn’t oppose.

Weinberger:  I don’t think they’ll stand in your way.

Mollie:  I don’t think so either.  (rapidly):  Oh, but I can’t go any time soon.  The train workers are going on strike at the end of this month.  I won’t ride on any scab trains!

Weinberger:  You won’t have to.

Mollie:  And make the government pay for our passage.  Don’t you foot the bill.  (Weinberger is sheepish; he’s already done it.)  Harry!  (holding up a jacket.)   There!  Class A.

Weinberger:  It’s very nice.

Mollie:  It’s not perfect, but it’ll do. (folding the jackets; softly):  There’s no reason to give up, Harry.  Our dream is not just possible—it is.  It’s right . . . (slowly opening her hands, looking intently at the space within, and then at the space around them.) . . . here.

Weinberger:  I believe you.

Endframe:  November 23, 1921, and beyond.  On the left, Weinberger is standing in front of four empty chairs, giving a speech to the Political Prisoners Defense and Relief Committee, raising money on behalf of the deportees.  On the right, Hoover is sitting at his desk, surrounded by files, which are steadily added to throughout the frame, creating an imposing wall that extends across the back of the stage. Mollie takes leave of Fannie and goes downstage center, where we see her as described by The Bug. The Bug moves among all three sides of the triptych, giving reports to Hoover, who is holding and caressing Mollie’s red tunic.

Weinberger:  Tomorrow our country will celebrate Thanksgiving with great feasts and solemn prayers for continued freedom . . .

The Bug gets up from the speech and places a file, a bottle, and two glasses on Hoover’s desk.

The Bug:  The usual suspects.

Weinberger:  . . . but today four young people are sailing from New York to Russia . . .

Hoover:  I love it when they go.

Weinberger:  . . . cruelly sent away from relatives and friends by this same freedom-loving nation . . .

Hoover:  Let Russia swallow its own poison.

Weinberger:  . . . for the crime of having an honest opinion.

Hoover:  Let them choke on it!

Weinberger:  We have set these four chairs at the podium to lament their absence . . .

Hoover (forlorn):  Where is she now, I wonder.

Weinberger:  But I believe the message that Mollie Steimer has asked me to read to you tonight. . .

The Bug:  She is searching all over Moscow for the ideals of the Revolution.  (Hoover scoffs.)

Weinberger:   . . . reminds us all how unnecessary that gesture is.

Mollie:  “Our task at this hour (with Weinberger) is not merely to chat—

Weinberger (alone):  —about the wrongs done by the powers that be . . .

The Bug:  All anarchists are being jailed or killed.

Weinberger:  . . . but to act in a manner that will help bring about a better form of society . . .

Hoover:  The Communists care for nothing but staying in power.

Weinberger:   . . . wherein such brutal deeds as are being committed today shall be made inconceivable.

The Bug:  She has fallen in love.

Hoover (appalled):  What?

The Bug:  In the Museum of the Revolution—a young anarchist, Senya Fleshin. (moves toward Mollie’s panel.)

Weinberger:  I do not think either the capitalists or government agents are naturally mean.

Hoover:  Well, I suppose that will finish her.

Weinberger:  I believe it is the system itself that develops in everyone it touches the most vile characteristics.

Hoover (to himself):  But no doubt they will breed.

Weinberger:  It is a prison more dangerous to the human spirit than the actual jails . . .

Hoover:  Our job will never be done.

Weinberger:  . . . because it is not a prison of the body, but of the mind.

The Bug (entering Mollie’s panel):  In July, 1923, the Cheka raided their apartment.

(to Mollie):  Are you in love with one of them?  Is that why you became an anarchist?

Mollie (with calm rapture):  I have always been an anarchist!

The Bug:  I’m trying to give you a way out here.

Mollie:  What makes you think I want a way out?

The Bug:  Maybe they forced you to distribute these leaflets?

Mollie:  No.

The Bug:  Did you even read them?

Mollie:  Of course I did.  I wrote the leaflet.

The Bug moves back toward Hoover.  Mollie is in solitary confinement, as before.

Weinberger:  The actual prisons . . .

The Bug:  She was placed in a tiny dark hole, full of lice and vermin.

Weinberger: . . . into which the machine of greed and profit discards its most desperate poor . . .

Hoover:  I thought they pampered their political prisoners.

Weinberger: . . . are simply the State unmasked . . .

The Bug:  They keep them with the criminals now, like here.

Weinberger:  . . . the monstrous creature behind the pretty cloak it calls its Constitution.

Hoover:  We don’t have political prisoners.

The Bug:  Demanding to be treated as a political, she called a hunger strike.  After three days, the Cheka laughed at her.  (to Mollie):  You think you can bluff us like that.  You think we are soft like the American police!

Hoover (amused):  And they caved in when?

The Bug:  The very next day.  (Hoover laughs; The Bug pours some wine and moves toward a space between Hoover and Weinberger and behind Mollie, who slowly sinks, as before.)  But she continued the strike on behalf of the other prisoners. Five days later she was unable to walk.  She could not lift her hands or head, nor keep her eyes open. The smell of death was coming out of her mouth.

Mollie:  The shadow at the base of the flame.

The Bug:  I would have given her anything.

Mollie:  The last echo swallowed in a cave.

The Bug:  But she wasn’t afraid at all

Mollie:  The dense cloud in a block of ice.

The Bug:  And she didn’t want a single thing.

Mollie (smiling):  See the crack?!

The Bug:  She’d come alive.

Mollie:  A soft wriggling in a pond.

The Bug:  She was free.

Mollie:  The sunrise in an eye.

The Bug:  And just like that they met her demands.

Mollie:  All together, like in a great, warm pool.

The Bug:  All of them.  (drinks the wine.)

Weinberger:  Many people I have met since coming out of prison seem to be pessimistic about the future of America.

The Bug (returning to Hoover):  Two weeks later, she and Senya were deported to Germany.

Weinberger:  But I say you must not get disheartened in what seem to be dark times . . .

Hoover (tickled):  Germany!

Weinberger:  . . . letting the light of freedom in your hearts burn but faintly, if at all.

Mollie:  That tingling in the hand.

Weinberger:  Do you believe in it so little?

Mollie:  It’s right . . . here.

Weinberger:  Instead, place your tiny flame in your palm and press it warmly to another’s.

Hoover (forlorn):  And after Germany, then where?

Mollie:  See how easily it spreads?

The Bug (flipping through the file):  Holland, France, Portugal, (intrigued) Mexico . . .

Weinberger:  Only then will we ever establish a society that expresses who we really are:

Mollie:  A breath of wind through grass.

The Bug (closing the file):  Anywhere that will have them.

Mollie:  Not one blade of which has given up.

Weinberger:  A society where Love and Joy will prevail . . .

Hoover:  Nowhere, you mean!

 

Weinberger:  . . . instead of hatred and pain.”

Mollie:  Not one blade.

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