The PlayFinder™

Type of Play

MenWomenTotal Cast

Dark Comedy Farce Historical Melodrama Mystery Romantic Satire Tragedy Thriller

The Death of Bessie Smith

One Act, A Play in Eight Scenes
5 men, 2 women
Total Cast: 7, Flexible Set
ISBN-13: 978-0-8222-2391-7

MIN. PERFORMANCE FEE: $55 per performance. SPECIAL NOTE: Incidental music composed for the New York production by William Flanagan is available for purchase with your license for $60.00 and will be distributed digitally. For more information, click here. There is no additional fee for the use of this music.
THE STORY: Memphis, Tennessee, 1937, a time when the South’s aristocracy is crumbling amidst the deeply racist views of its citizens. At a white hospital a Nurse belittles a black Orderly, a polite young man eager to improve himself, and is severely condescending to an Intern, a white man, who is seemingly in love with her. When the Intern finally turns on her she vows to retaliate by ruining his career. The conflict comes to a head when a blood-spattered black man, a car accident victim, stumbles in pleading to get help for his woman friend who is in his wrecked car. The Nurse orders him out, but the Intern convinces the Orderly to go with him to investigate. The Nurse is furious. When they return the Intern announces, in a helpless fury, that the woman is dead. The driver reveals that his woman friend was the legendary blues singer Bessie Smith. The Nurse admits she had heard of Bessie, but it seems her anger at the futile rescue by the Intern is the only emotion she feels.
Originally paired with The American Dream, by the same author.

“…it is, in my opinion, the most compelling contribution this gifted…playwright has produced to date. Here he exhibits an extraordinary talent for straight play construction, an incisive mastery of character delineation and an unrelenting ear for powerhouse dialogue.” —New York Journal-American.

“…you are in the presence of an enormous and still unplumbed talent, and the talent is literally throbbing through this dramatic sketch.” —New York Post.

Included in the collection The American Dream, The Sandbox, The Death of Bessie Smith, Fam and Yam.