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.”
“The Gospel of Mom” is based on a philosophical dialogue, What Is Man?, published anonymously by Twain in 1906. In that book an older man convinces a younger one of the mechanistic nature of human behavior and the absence of free will. The belief system in What Is Man? is often dismissed as a pessimistic product of Twain’s woes late in life, but he presented its core ideas in a Hartford intellectual salon much earlier, in 1883. This adaptation changes the exchange from old man and young man to one of mother and daughter to update the impact–to try to recreate the shock in the present that Twain’s friends and readers must have felt when they encountered his nihilistic philosophy.
Mark Twain fun facts
More history on the play
Suggestions for a Mark Twain performance
Excerpt from the play:
Mother: Female, old enough to be the child’s mother
Child: Female, 8-10, the younger the better
SETTING: There is nothing on the stage.
AT RISE: CHILD appears, jumping in from stage left, wearing a soccer outfit. She gives a single kick to an imaginary ball.
(looking offstage left)
Did you see my goal, Mommy? Right into the net.
(MOTHER appears. In the course of the scene they will cross the stage once from left to right, the mother walking slowly, the child animated throughout.)
It was a beauty.
Deep into the corner.
Impossible to defend. But of course you know, honey, that you can claim no personal credit for your goal.
You are a skillful athlete. But you did not create your skill.
What do you mean? I practice hard. Coach says no one works harder than me.
And why do you practice hard?
So I’ll get better and better and score more goals!
(The child gives another kick.)
I mean what gives you the ability to train hard? Why are you able to work harder at it than others?
Because I’m me!
That’s exactly right. Because of your temperament. But you did not make your temperament. You were born with it. You are the way you are because you were made that way. You are really a machine.
You’re a machine. So am I. We do what we were made to do. We originate nothing. Not even a thought. You cannot have an original thought.
Oh, yeah? Here’s an original thought. I don’t understand anything you’re saying. How’s that?
Tell me this: when you are sleeping, do you choose your dreams?
How can I choose something when I’m asleep?
Exactly. The same goes for conscious thought. Have you ever been bothered by a thought and you want your mind to stop thinking about it but it won’t? Your mind will think about what it wants to think about.
But I can make myself think of something different.
(points to her head)
There. I’m thinking of Good Boy. He’s barking.