Students had better practice their tongue-twisters before taking this play on! Mark Twain loved the humor of conflicting language styles, and this incongruity is the comic essence of “Buck Fanshaw’s Funeral.”
In this short play, a highly educated, well-meaning minister from the east has been called to serve in a Nevada mining town. He is baffled by the local dialect, a mix of clichés and jargon drawn from card playing and billiards. When fireman Scotty Briggs, visits the minister to arrange a funeral, he finds the minister’s stilted language equally baffling.
“Buck Fanshaw’s Funeral” is based on chapter 47 of “Roughing It,” by Mark Twain (1872).
This script is part of a fantastic collection of plays based on the work of Mark Twain. The playwright, David Carkeet, has published this collection on Drama Notebook in the hopes that it will inspire younger generations to embrace the wit and wisdom of one of America’s most-beloved writers.
There are six plays in all. They may be performed individually, or as part of a show for middle-school and high-school entitled, “An Evening of Mark Twain.”
Mark Twain fun facts
More history on the play
Suggestions for a Mark Twain performance
Excerpt from the play:
Reverend Joseph Duncan: Male, twenties or thirties, spectacles, formal but not cold
Scotty Briggs: Male, lively and loquacious, salt of the earth, plain-spoken; any age
Mrs. Ellen Duncan: Female, more relaxed than her husband; nothing gets by her
A mining town in Nevada–(1) the minister’s office in the parish house next to the church, (2) the sanctuary of the church
You have a visitor.
(Scotty steps forward, hand outthrust)
Scotty Briggs, your Reverence.
(Rev. Duncan rises and shakes his hand.)
I’m pleased to meet you, Mr. Briggs. Is there . . . has there been a fire?
Not yet. But there will be before the day is over, more’n likely.
(Scotty removes his helmet and sets it on the minister’s desk.)
Mr. Briggs, may I get you some coffee?
I reckon not, missus. Too much trouble.
It’s no trouble at all. Black and strong?
You’ve hit it square, missus.
(Mrs. Duncan smiles and exits.)
Please sit, Mr. Briggs. How may I help you?
You run the doxology works next door, is that right?
The gospel mill. You the boss?
Ah. I am indeed the shepherd in charge of the flock whose fold is next door.
The spiritual advisor of the believers whose sanctuary adjoins.
(Scotty rears back in his chair and looks at the minister.)
You ruther got the hold over me, pardner. I reckon I can’t call that hand. I fold.
You’ve got the bulge on me.
(The two men stare at each other, at an impasse. Scotty blows his nose into a red bandanna and wipes his eyes with his sleeve.)
Shall we begin again?
Begin again! That’s the idea. Pardon me if I snuffle, your Reverence. It’s on account of Buck Fanshaw. He’s passed in his checks, you see, and we want to give him a prime send-off, and so the thing I’m on now is to roust out somebody to jerk a little chin music for us and waltz him through handsome.
Mr. Briggs, could you possibly simplify your observations in some way? Would it not expedite matters if you restricted yourself to categorical statements of fact unencumbered with obstructing accumulations of metaphor and allegory?
You’ve raised me out, pard.
I still fail to catch your meaning.