Gordone, Charles. No Place to be Somebody.
Summary & Analysis
Gabe Gabriel (black male): an aspiring playwright/actor.
Shanty (white male): an aspiring drummer, cleaner at Johnny's Bar. Weak, immature.
Johnny (black male): the bar's owner, an aspiring mafia boss. Aggressive, exploitative, conflicting type.
Dee (white female): prostitute. Johnny's girlfriend. Emotionally dependent on Johnny.
Evie (black female): prostitute. Dee's best friend. Assertive, active, independent.
Cora (black female): practical nurse. Shanty's girlfriend. The only to be relatively content with her life.
Melvin (black male): aspiring dancer. Together with Mary Lou the only to speak standard English.
Sweets Crane (black male): penitent criminal. Johnny's surrogate father. Gravely ill.
Mary Lou Bolton (white female): graduate. A judge's daughter. Johnny's acquaintance.
The past fifteen years. New York City. Johnny's Bar.
> Scene One
Gabe sits at the typewriter, working. He rips the page from the typewriter, balls it up, and flings it at the audience. He explains that he is a writer who has been working on his play all his life. He lightens a marijuana cigarette and recites from the Bible a passage in which archangel Gabriel comes to reveal the man a message from God. Gabe promises the audience to make his play up as he goes along.
Shanty enters the bar and starts practicing on the drums. Johnny angrily reminds him of his duties at the bar. Dee appears and Johnny takes her earnings from her purse. He finds a pair of baby shoes there and gets angry at her for keeping them. Cora enters. Johnny offends her, poking fun at her serving to white people as a baby nurse. Dee leaves to see a customer:
Johnny: "Make money, baby. Make that money."
Dee: "That's all you ever think about. Can't you just dig me for my soul?"
Johnny: "Wrong color be talkin' 'bout soul."
Dee: "Negroes. Think you gotta corner on soul."
Evie: "Us has suffahd, das why."
Gabe has been to an audition for a musical about slavery. He performs a rhymed recital describing a manifestation for black civil rights. The speaker argues for black equality and urges for peaceful progress. The emphasis is on the education, the civil rights cannot be enforced by violence: "Come doctor! Come lawyer! Come teacher! Black employer!"
Johnny offers Gabe some money for the basic needs. Gabe disapproves of Johnny's illegal business with which Johnny plans to conquer Harlem. Gabe prefers his own honest attempts to earn his living. Eventually Gabe takes the money. Johnny believes that his colour excuses him from observing the law:
"They ain't no law. They kill you an' me in the name'a the law. You an' me wouldn't be where we at, if it wasn't for the law. Even the laws they write for us makes us worse off."
> Scene Two
A week later. Gabe explains in a soliloquy that when he is long alone on his own, a tension builds up in him so that he feels like committing a mass murder. He received a college education but: "it did not give me that introduction to success, equality an' wealth, that to my parents were the most logical alternatives to heaven". He concludes pragmatically that he does not intent to write a social play about black people's rights. He leaves this task to others better qualified for it.
Johnny receives a telegram saying that Sweets Crane is to be released from prison, where he served a ten-year sentence for murder. Dee reads the telegram for Johnny who cannot read. After the death of Johnny's drunkard mother, it was Cora who took care of Johnny. Johnny got in a reform school and after that he preferred to grow up with Sweets. Johnny's mother never disclosed the name of his biological father and Johnny regards Sweets as his actual father.
Johnny forgets Dee's birthday, so he gives her some money to buy herself something. Dee is upset by Johnny's neglect and refuses the money. She wishes Johnny would take her for a holiday where they would have some time for each other. Johnny makes Dee say sorry for her not being thankful enough to him. When she is alone outside in the car, Dee starts crying.
Cora and Shanty run their parallel monologues describing their experiences with the opposite sex. Shanty is married to Gloria who does not want to grant him divorce. Gloria was unfaithful to him and Shanty would have killed her if he was not prevented by one of his children. Gloria locked him out and kept his drums. Now Shanty lodges with Johnny. Cora has bad experiences with exploitative drunkards who were beating her so that she cannot have any children. Cora promises to buy Shanty drums so that he could return to playing jazz in clubs.
> Scene Three
Three weeks later. Johnny's old acquaintance Mary Lou enters. She has just graduated from college and is out for her first demonstration. The unions will not accept qualified blacks at the nearby hospital construction so Mary Lou joins a demonstration for their rights. Johnny does not know about the situation neither does he care about it. There is a confrontation between him and Mary Lou. Another confrontation follows between Johnny and Shanty who is moving to live with Cora. Cora sees her future in Shanty with whom she is in love, whereas Shanty cares mostly for the drums she promised him.
Sweets appears and Johnny almost does not recognize him. Sweets is plagued by violent fits of cough incurred from hard prison labour. Johnny has been waiting for Sweets for ten years to take over Harlem from his competitor Pete Zerroni under Sweets's supervision. Sweet announces his decision to quit the criminal career. Johnny is outraged and there is an argument between the two. Gabe interferes and Johnny knocks him down. Sweets takes advantage of Gabe, steals his watch and wallet, and disappears. Johnny believes that Sweets has been faking his moralizing speech.
> Scene One
Two days later. Gabe is drunk. He sings an old Protestant hymn describing blacks moving from dirty slums to white neighbourhood. Blacks assimilate and become cleaner than whites but are lynched by them out of jealousy. Blacks return but are disowned their own people. Still they are happy to take distance from the dirty Negroes.
Mike Maffucci, one of Pete Zerroni's local boys, comes to warn Johnny against Sweets. Sweets has no more than six months of life left. He gives Johnny his last will in which he makes Johnny his sole heir. In the prison Sweets started to have religious feelings. Johnny does not think that the idea of the unseen white God is relevant for his life but Sweets believes that God is black and therefore cannot be seen. Johnny regards Sweets as his god who betrayed him by denying all that he taught him. He threatens Sweets with a gun but is unable to shoot him.
Johnny recalls how Sweets acted as his mentor:
"Said the wors' crime I ever committed was comin' out'a my mama screamin' black. Tole me all about white folks an' what to expect from the best of 'em. You said as long as there was a single white man on this earth, the black man only had one free choice. That was the way he died."
> Scene Two
Two weeks later. Gabe practices guitar, the part in the musical he applies for requires a guitarist. Melvin stumbled and fell during his recital and disappointed his Jewish dancing teacher Victor Weiner. Melvin looks up to Victor with similar admiration as Johnny looks up to Sweets. Gabe wonders how Dee came to know Johnny. Dee tells him her story and Gabe tells his story in turn.
Dee met Johnny thanks to Evie. Evie once got too drunk to drive and Johnny gave her a lift home. There he saved Dee from her violent boyfriend who was just beating her. She used to work as a shop assistant before Johnny recruited her. Johnny reminds her of her black boyfriend with whom she got pregnant and who was ready to marry her. Dee's parents disapproved of the match and arranged for Dee to dispose of the baby. When Dee's mother was on holiday, Dee's father raped her and Dee ran away from home.
Gabe used to go out with a white girl called Maxine. Maxine got pregnant. Her parents too disapproved of the match. Despite their protests Maxine supported Gabe and lived with him. She then joined Black Nationalists and Gabe left her.
Dee is not happy in the relationship with Johnny. She wishes for something more permanent. Johnny opposes that he is too occupied with the unprofitable bar to have any time for permanence. They live mostly on the money that Dee earns. Dee suggest building up the bar back to its former success but Johnny refuses the idea of a woman working in the business. He believes a woman ought to stay at home.
> Scene Three
A day later. As a result of the breakdown of Johnny's plans with Sweets, Johnny books a trip for himself and Dee. He gives Gabe some money and entrusts him with taking care for the bar while they are away. Gabe did not get the part in the musical because he was not the "Nigra type". He believes it is because of discrimination, Johnny shares his opinion, but Melvin doubts it:
Melvin: "You people are more preoccupied with color than white people are."
Johnny: "They won't let us be porcupined with nothin' else.
Gabe: "Don't make no difference what color I am. I'm still black."
Johnny: "Yeah! But you ain't gon' git no chance to prove it. Not on no stage, you ain't. You remin' whitey'a too many things he don't wanna take'a look at. Figgers he's got nuff problems dealin' with Niggers who jus' look black, like me."
Cora has bought Shanty the drums. They bring them in the bar to prove Johnny that Shanty is a good drummer. Cora announces that Shanty quits Johnny the same day. The performance is a failure. Shanty acts as if he were possessed, he randomly beats the drums as a madman. Cora is embarrassed. Shanty puts the blame on her. When Cora leaves, she decides to learn to read the clock as the first thing the next day. At the age of thirty, she has not acquired this skill as yet.
Maffucci appears when Mary Lou is in the bar. He recognizes in her the daughter of judge Bolton, the same who was Zerroni's criminal lawyer and who won his case by bribing a city official. Zerroni was found not guilty. When Johnny learns about Bolton's role, he keeps the purse that Mary Lou forgot in the bar and calls Dee to cancel their reservations for the trip.
> Scene One
Two weeks later. Gabe produces a self-confident, proud black song: "They's mo' to bein' black than meets the eye!" He then sits down to the table. There is a gun lying on a plate. Gabe cuts into the gun with knife and fork and acts as if he were eating it.
Dee is waiting for Johnny whom she has not seen for some time. She suspects him from being unfaithful to her. Dee is drunk and makes a confession to Evie. Dee was to Jack's last night, Jack being Evie's uncle. Evie is angry at her because Jack could lose his license because of Dee's appearance there. Dee met there a black man with whom she made love and enjoyed it. Dee starts applying shoe polish on her face. Evie wants Dee to leave. Johnny thinks that Evie is jealous of him but Evie quickly kisses Dee and exits. Dee warns Mary Lou to run away for her life. Dee drops her baby shoes and leaves.
Judge Bolton received a call warning him that his daughter has an affair with Johnny. Mary is forbidden by her father to see Johnny because she could provide him with evidence against Zerroni. Zerroni disapproves of blacks in his territory, therefore he first warns black entrepreneurs and then burns down their places. Mary Lou offers Johnny to get him some information from her father's files that Johnny could use against Zerroni to prevent him from closing down his bar. Johnny refuses out of fear that Bolton could be allied with Zerroni. Johnny thinks that active well-meaning whites, like Mary Lou, worsen rather then improve the situation of blacks: "You liberal-ass white people kill me! All the time know more 'bout wha's bes' for Niggers'n Niggers do."
Dee cuts her wrists and dies.
> Scene Two
Three days later. Johnny and Gabe return from Dee's funeral. Cora comes and happily announces that she has been married to a doctor and is leaving with him to meet his French parents. After Cora leaves, Johnny talks about her with disrespect and so offends Shanty. Shanty gains new self-confidence and blames Johnny for having no soul. Shanty gives up the job at the bar and leaves. Melvin is the only to stay. He gave up dancing because of a humiliating experience. He was at a dancing party with pot smoking and stripping. When he refused to remove his clothes, he was made to do so by force.
Mary Lou brings Johnny the committing material against Zerroni. The evidence shows that Zerroni ordered Maffucci to kill one Joseph Mahoney. Gabe blames Johnny that he did not want the material to protect himself but rather to blackmail Zerroni and succeed him as the leader of a black mafia. Johnny owes it is so: "I gotta right to my own game. Just like they do." Gabe wonders at Mary's motives for exposing herself to the punishment by her father for Johnny's sake: "What did you do it for, Mary? For love? Sheee! He hates you, you bitch. Hates everything you stand for."
Gabe demands the committing file from Johnny. Johnny at first threatens him with a gun but then he gives the file up. Bolton appears, accompanied by Maffucci with a gun. He removes Mary and offers bribe for the file. Gabe witnesses the situation but when seeing the corrupt men, he cannot make himself to hand over the file. Bolton threatens Johnny and promises to get him. Gabe worries about Johnny but Johnny laughs:
Johnny: "Gabe, we was got the day we was born! Where you been? Jus' bein' black ain't never been no real reason for living'."
Gabe: "If I thought that I'd probably go crazy or commit suicide."
> Scene Three
A day later. Machine Dog, a former garage worker, appears. He invites Johnny to join the brotherhood of military blacks. Machine Dog makes Johnny repeat the promise of hatred against the enemy. Bolton appears together with two plainclothesmen, Cappaletti and Harry. Mary Lou has been arrested for trying to solicit Harry. She identifies Johnny as the person whom she worked for. Bolton gives Johnny the last chance to give up the file, or he is ready to sacrifice even his own daughter. Johnny had previously made a copy of the file, so he hands it over.
Sweets enters, carrying bags with food, and invites Johnny and Gabe to join the opulent feast. Sweets explains that he now steals for fun only and returns Gabe his watch and purse. Maffucci enters. He cannot resist Sweets's cooking, so he joins the meal. Sweets returns him the watch he stole from him earlier. Maffucci orders Johnny to put out the sign "closed" and Johnny duly obeys. Sweets does not like Johnny's obedience and stabs Maffucci. Before Maffucci dies, he shoots Sweets. The dying Sweets makes Johnny promise that he will use his money to good purpose. Johnny does so but then he openly owes to Gabe that he did not mean it. Johnny provokes Gabe so that he shoots Johnny to death.
Machine Dog holds a closing speech against the nonsensical slaughtering of fellow human beings.
Gabe enters dressed as a woman in mourning. He explains that he must provoke the audience so that they would pay him attention. He explains his costume: "I will mourn the death of a people dying. Of a people dying into that new life."
AuthorGordone, Charles. (1925 - 1995).
Full TitleNo Place to be Somebody.
First PerformedNew York: Sheridan Square Playhouse, 1967.