8-14 characters, 2 F, 6-12 M. Approximately 12-15 minutes running time. Dark comedy based on a Mark Twain tale.
This script is part of a fantastic collection of plays based on the work of Mark Twain. The playwright, David Carkeet, has published the plays 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.”
‘Snowbound,’ is a chilling play based on a Mark Twain tale in which a railcar passenger recounts his experience with cannibalism following a train disaster. It’s morbid, but Mark Twain’s matter-of-fact characters, will have your students and audience roaring with laughter!
Mark Twain fun facts
More history on the play
Suggestions for a Mark Twain performance
Excerpt from the play:
Middle-aged or older, with a white beard in 1868. He is also an 1853 character, where his beard is black; this can be handled with a backstage beard switch as he alternates between the train cars or with a two-tone beard, since only his profile is visible to the audience–right profile in 1868 (white beard), left profile (black) in 1853. (The two tones of the beard will become surprisingly evident during the bows.) No other character should have a beard.
Female, twenties or older
Male, forties or older
Male, able to wield authority
Male, old, with some heft to him
Male, the youngest of the group, thinner than Mr. Messick
Male, any age
Female, any age
More men (optional but ideal) to enhance the sense of a crowd
Two train cars.
Winter 1853 and winter 1868.
SETTING: The stage is divided into two sections, a small section at stage right and a larger section to the left. Each section represents a train car and its occupants.
The large section is dark, and in it we see, if anything, the profiles of several train passengers, all facing center stage; they do not move. In the section on the right, which is lit, two passengers sit in a train car facing each other. This is a different train, so the car should be slightly forward of the other car and could have different markings or decor. The passenger farther to stage right, SENATOR ESSEN, is hidden by the newspaper he is reading. Opposite him sits MRS. GARNER, scanning the landscape nervously out the window, i.e. looking toward the audience.
(The CONDUCTOR appears from stage right.)
(to Mrs. Garner)
I just want to alert you, madam. We will probably hit some snowdrifts on the tracks. You might feel the train abruptly slowing and then speeding up again. It is nothing to be alarmed about.
(from behind the newspaper)
It’s blowing pretty fiercely out there.
(still behind the newspaper)
Seen much worse!
I hope there’s no danger of the train becoming stuck in the snow.
Always a danger!
(after a glance at Senator Essen)
I’ll be back to announce luncheon later, madam. In the meantime, I think we’ll be all right.
He thinks! Hmph!
(After a frown at Senator Essen, the conductor exits. Senator Essen lowers his paper and looks out the window.)
SENATOR ESSEN (cont.)
Not a house or town for miles around. Just as it was last time.
You’ve had this experience before, sir?
On this very line. The storm of fifty-three.
(Senator Essen folds his newspaper and sets it aside, settling into his tale. His delivery is polished, with gestures and dramatic modulation.)
I have never told this story to anyone since its events transpired. I was Chicago-bound on government business. The train left St. Louis around eight in the evening, and pleasant acquaintanceships were soon formed. The snowflakes dancing outside the windows gave the journey a festive air. But the snow began to fall hard as we entered the prairie solitude, with its leagues on leagues of houseless dreariness. The wind whistled across the featureless expanse, driving the falling snow before it like spray from the crested waves of a stormy sea.
(A pause as Senator Essen savors his language. The train slows, indicated by Senator Essen and Mrs. Garner simultaneously leaning in the train’s forward direction, so he leans back, she leans forward.)
SENATOR ESSEN (cont.)
Ah. The lurching of the train. That frightful portent is familiar to me. It happened to us on that journey once, twice, thrice. The possibility of being imprisoned on the bleak prairie weighed heavily on every mind. And then, near midnight, it happened. A snowdrift had taken us captive.
How very frightening. Could anything be done?
Oh, we tried, madam. Every man sprang into action, fully conscious that a moment lost might bring destruction to us all. Out into the wild night, the pitchy darkness, the driving storm, every soul leaped. Shovels, hands, boards—-anything that could displace snow was brought into instant requisition. Picture it, madam—-a small company of frantic men fighting the banking snows, half of them in the blackest shadow and half in the angry light of the locomotive’s reflector. But while we dug a single drift away, the storm barricaded the track with a dozen more. One short hour sufficed to prove that our efforts were doomed.
We entered the car and gravely canvassed our situation. We would not freeze, for there was a good supply of wood in the tender. But we were utterly without food—-in this lay our chief distress. The conductor said it would be death for any man to attempt to travel on foot through the snow. We must submit and wait, as patiently as we could, for rescue–or starvation.
The night passed. When daylight came, all we could do was stare out the windows at the cheerless prospect. As the day waned, our hunger kindled and then flared. Another night. A second day of silence and wasting hunger, then a night of restless slumber, filled with dreams of feasting. The third day came. Then the fourth, the fifth, the sixth. Now a savage hunger looked out every eye. There was in it the foreshadowing of a something that no tongue dared yet frame into words. The seventh day dawned upon as haggard and hopeless a company as ever stood in the shadow of death. The thing that had been growing in every heart was ready to leap from every lip at last.
Good heavens, what was it?
(Lights down on the right, and, on the left, four men [or more] and one woman stir as the lights come up. MR. GASTON jumps to his feet and faces the others.)
Gentlemen, it cannot be delayed longer. The time is at hand. We must determine which of us shall die to furnish food for the rest.
(Lights down on left, where all motion freezes, and lights up on right, where Mrs. Garner has raised her hand to her mouth in shock.)
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