Sally

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4 characters, approximately one-hour running time. Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemings historical play script by Leonard Goodisman.

Sally Hemings was an enslaved woman who was born in 1173, and who lived with, and bore several children by Thomas Jefferson. This historical play details her relationship with Thomas and his children by his first wife, Martha. The play speaks to the struggles of African Americans prior to the Civil War, and to the politics of the time, by giving us a front-row seat to the dynamics of this high-profile family. Through the play, we can better understand the societal issues of the time, many of which still persist today.

Leonard D Goodisman, Ph. D, writes plays which entertain, also, stimulate and inspire sociologically, psychologically, politically, and spiritually. He’s written about two dozen full length plays, many more one act plays, a number of which have won awards. As Development Director for the Eclectic Theater for a half dozen or so years, and Artistic Director at the Pocket, and in other incarnations, he has directed plays, been stage manager, actor, dramaturg, tech booth operator, sold goodies and enjoyed most of the roles one plays behind the scenes in theater.

Here are two more excellent plays by Leonard D. Goodsman:

Thomas, Thomas
The Census

Excerpt from the play:

CHARACTERS
(Ages are at the play’s initial setting.)

PATSY: Thomas Jefferson’s daughter Martha “Patsy” Jefferson 1772- 1836; had 12 children, 11 lived, 17 yrs. old at rise, stately.

SALLY HEMINGS: 1773-1835 -3/4 “white” European, grandmother was African; vivacious, 14 at rise.

THOMAS JEFFERSON: 1743-1826, 44 at rise, complex and restrained.

JAMES HEMINGS: 1765-1801 Sally’s older brother 3/4 white, 22 years old at rise, rambunctious, serious.

MARTHA WAYLES SKELTON JEFFERSON: 1748-1782 died at 33 – is be played by the same actress as Patsy.

(No accents: We don’t know how people talked in Virginia circa 1800 but Sally and Patsy grew up together at the “house,” in white society, and certainly all talked with the same accent.)

SCENE 1

(Paris, 1788-9. Patsy is sitting in a chair. Sally is behind her fixing her hair.)

PATSY
Put it up a little higher on the right side. It’ll look more grown up. Don’t you think?

SALLY
It might. Mademoiselle Lucile says tonight’s is the grandest ball, chez the Duke and Duchess. We practice French. Oui, bien sur, avec plaisir. Who are you hoping will ask you to dance first?

PATSY
It doesn’t matter as long as he’s very handsome and very important.

SALLY
Maybe that plump man whose clothes were too tight. He looked at you hard at the last ball.

PATSY
Anyone but him.

SALLY
He’s funny looking but a great dancer. You know what Lucile says about men who are great dancers, what else they’re great at?

PATSY
Stop it. Does the tiara father gave me look nice with this gown? How about mother’s pendant? I love the way it picks up the light and colors of this dress. The tiara or the pendant?

SALLY
Both. Show everything you have.

PATSY
We are discreet. N’est-ce pas? Are you hoping to dance? To get the spotlight again?

SALLY
No spotlight for me. You know better than that. I’m just happy to be your Lady’s Companion and see the fine canapés they serve. I was afraid to taste any last time.

PATSY
They’re not as good as those that James makes. That’s for sure.

SALLY
I’m very proud of my brother James. Mother will be too when she hears. He’s learned to be a chef so fast here in Paris. I’ll take one taste this time just to see. I danced a little at the last ball, so exciting, faking the steps of course (she takes a few steps). I hope I didn’t embarrass you.

PATSY
Not me. You were La Belle Mademoiselle. Everybody was positively gaping at you.

SALLY
Isn’t that something, for a Lady’s Companion to be gaped at? But it wasn’t my fault, I promise. We go to the balls for you, because Mr. Jefferson got us invitations, for you.

PATSY
He expects a lot of me. But everyone, monsieur and madame, noticed your beauty: tres belle. I wish I were prettier.

SALLY
You’re beautiful, very much like your mother was.

PATSY
You look more like my mother than I do.

SALLY
She was lovely. (Teary.) When dying, she gave me her little bell. Did you know? I keep it near my bed. My mother was there too. But your mother thought of you. You’re beautiful now, tall, very stately. I heard men like stately women best, better than pretty or beautiful. Tu est enchantee.

PATSY
(Laughs.) I hope so. Your French is improving. I miss my mother and I think my father misses my mother even more. He must be lonely without her. That’s why he brought Polly over.

SALLY
I miss my mother too. But Mr. Jefferson loves you and your sister more than anything. You know that. He always says how the two of you are everything to him.

PATSY
He says that but Polly barely knows us since we left her in Virginia for years when we first came to Paris. You brought Polly over, so she knows you best and loves you best.

SALLY
Polly and I were together in Virginia, with only each other on our long ocean trip, so we’re close. She’s getting to know you; she’ll love you soon. Everyone Mr. Jefferson loves loves him back.

PATSY
He says he loves us, but Polly and I are at the boarding school with the nuns all week. We’re supposed to write him a note every day, but we see him only on weekends and he expects so much of us in our studies, our behavior, and at this ball.

SALLY
Everyone will love you. I love the balls; I love this dress. But all eyes will be on you.

PATSY
I hope some eyes will.

THOMAS
(From off stage.) You girls ready?

(They prim themselves and Sally straightens Patsy’s dress as they stand up. Jefferson enters and his eyes go immediately to Sally, completely trapped, not noticing Patsy.)

SCENE 2

(Paris, 1788-9. James is standing respectfully against the wall, Thomas Jefferson behind a desk. There’s a fine chair. We hear rioting in the street at the scene beginning and tense moments.)

THOMAS
Paris is almost complete chaos out there.

JAMES
A difficult situation, Sir, murders in the streets and heads being guillotined in the squares.

THOMAS
James, those lives lost would not be too much to sacrifice if France attains its republic and democracy, with all the rights it promises.

JAMES
Sir, those rights would come too late for those beheaded to enjoy.

SALLY
(Entering. She carries some linen so we can’t see her condition.) Sorry, Mr. Jefferson. I didn’t hear your voices; there’s so much noise from the streets.

THOMAS
No matter. You’re here. I need to talk to both of you. (Pause.) We’re leaving Paris, going home.
(Sally looks at James pleadingly.)

JAMES
Sir? Because of the noise in the streets?

THOMAS
Yes, this country is in revolution. The situation is unstable, too dangerous to stay.

JAMES
Sir, and your daughter Patsy’s intent on becoming Catholic and retiring to a nunnery? Might that have added to the feeling of anarchy and the need to go home?

THOMAS
Hmm. (His sound of impatience, annoyance.) You know everything going on in this household?

JAMES
My sister and I live here, Sir. (Sally touches his arm.)

THOMAS
And walls are just walls. Some things cannot pass through, but some things, like rumors, always do. I came to Paris to represent the United States in its dealings with France, a France now in riot. We’ll pack at once, say goodbye to Paris, go to the coast, and board a ship for America.

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