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 Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg,” a Mark Twain classic, is a darkly humorous story about greed and hypocrisy. It is a morality tale about an upright village whose virtue has never been tested; the town is suddenly challenged by a devilish, vengeful stranger intent on exposing the townspeople’s greedy, dishonest nature. The adaptation distills the town to four representative couples who are tempted by the promise of wealth. The play is faithful to the story with some omission of heavily narrative material of a not particularly dramatic nature toward the end of the original story.
• Mark Twain fun facts
• More history on the play
• Suggestions for a Mark Twain performance
Excerpt from the play:
8 male, 4 female; with doubling (Stranger and Jack Halliday): 7 male, 4 female
Richards: Male, 50s or older
Mrs. Richards: Female, 50s or older
Cox: Male, 40s or older
Mrs. Cox: Female, 40s or older
Hawkins: Male, 40s or older
Mrs. Hawkins: Female, 40s or older
Blair: Male, 40s or older
Mrs. Blair: Female, 40s or older
Reverend Burgess: Male, 30s or 40s, a good egg
Stranger: Male, 40s or older, furtive, mildly sinister
Reporter: Male, 20s or 30s, curious, good-humored
Jack Halliday: Male, 40s or older, the town wit; disheveled, irrepressible
A small American town: four sitting rooms, a street, the town hall, and the cemetery
SETTING: Four cubicles are open to the audience, representing the sitting rooms of four Hadleyburg families. Furnishings are minimal, enough to accommodate the seating described.
AT RISE: In each, the four families pleasantly pass the evening, as we discover in sequence when the rooms become lit from left to right. In the leftmost room, the HAWKINSES read–MR. HAWKINS some legal papers, MRS. HAWKINS a book. In the sitting room to its right, MRS. RICHARDS knits, an empty chair beside her. In the next room to the right, the COXES sit side-by-side and chuckle over an item in a shared newspaper. In the rightmost room the BLAIRS sit in front of a music stand, humming to a score before them. Contentment reigns in all four rooms–peace, love, happiness.
(A loud KNOCK on Mrs. Richards’s front door–upstage, out of view–breaks the spell. With the knock the lights go down in the three other rooms.)
(With a grunt, the STRANGER appears from upstage, wearing a black cape and carrying a heavy sack. Mrs. Richards sits up–she doesn’t know this man, and he has a furtive quality. The Stranger looks around and sets the sack behind a chair.)
There. That should do it. It’s practically concealed now. Could I speak with Mr. Richards, madam?
(a bit taken aback)
He’s still at work. Can you tell me what this is about?
Your husband does not know me. I am here to discharge a matter that has long been on my mind. There is a paper attached to the sack that will explain everything. You will not see me again. Good night, madam.
(The Stranger exits in a whoosh that brings Mrs. Richards to her feet.)
(She goes to the sack and taps it lightly with her toe. She removes the paper attached to it.)
“This sack contains gold coin weighing ninety pounds.” Mercy! And the door not locked!
(She runs to the front door–offstage upstage–and quickly returns. She resumes reading aloud.)
“I am a stranger to Hadleyburg, but I have always been grateful to this good town for a kindness done me some years ago. I arrived here one night a penniless gambler, hungry and alone. I asked for help–in the dark because I was ashamed to beg in the light. I begged of the right man. He gave me twenty dollars. That is to say, he gave me life. Out of that money I made myself rich at the gaming table. But this man gave me another gift: he made a remark that conquered me and saved my morals. I will gamble no more. I have no idea who the man was but I am confident that he can be found by the remark that he made to me. I am certain that he will remember it. When he identifies himself, the money will be his.”
(staggering a bit)
Heavens! Could it be my Edward? Could it possibly be? No, not twenty dollars. But still…
(reading, pacing, agitated)
“And now my plan is this. Mr. Richards, you may conduct the investigation privately and share with whomever you wish the contents of this letter, and if he says, ‘I am the man, and the remark I made was so-and-so,’ apply the test: open the sack, and in it you will find a sealed envelope containing the remark. If the remark given by the candidate tallies with it, give him the money, for he is certainly the right man.”
(Mrs. Richards’s eyes go to the sack. She stares, lost in a reverie until the front door bangs. RICHARDS enters.)
Why was the door locked, Mary?
Edward, did you give twenty dollars to a beggar? And did you make a memorable remark to him?
(a weary laugh as he removes his coat)
I’m too old to joke, Mary, and too tired after the day I’ve had with Pinkerton.
Think, Edward. Is it possible?
Twenty dollars and a remark? More likely twenty remarks and no dollar at all. What’s this all about?