Drama/ 1 Woman, 5 Men, and 1 character who could be male, female, or nonbinary/ Full Length, Two Acts
Synopsis: Based on real people and real events, Shave ‘em Dry is about liberty and libertinage, copyright and copulation, and human rights in the flesh. In 1935, Blues singer Lucille Bogan arrives for a recording session in a Manhattan studio, accompanied by Spenser, a white man she met the night before. Egged on by her piano player, Walter, she confronts her producer about the terms of her contract, and spontaneously introduces Spenser as her manager. He’s as surprised as the producer.
Alone in the control room later, the producer and his engineer discuss Lucille’s demands and her prior offer to record a version of her song “Shave ’em Dry” in its bluest, dirtiest version. Joined by a promoter of illegal “party songs,” they decide to negotiate with her by insisting she “wax” it at the end of the session.
Meantime, it turns out Spenser was more than a little shocked when Lillian exposed him to the seedier side of life the night before. At the same time, he reveals his own dark background, as a soldier in the Jewish brigade in Palestine during World War I. As more truth is uncovered, we learn he has been fired from his job as an English professor because of an affair with a student, and is destitute. He had gone to Harlem to buy a gun to kill himself with, when he met Lucille.
Spenser clings to courtly ideals learned from the chivalric tales he once taught, but Lillian will have none of it. In Mississippi, she tells him, white people were always talking about knighthood and such, but all she saw as a young girl was vicious hypocrisy and violence. Mortified by her story of the lynching of Luther Hobart and his wife, Spenser literally genuflects before her. Lillian takes advantage of his sudden allegiance to restore him mentally and physically, by entrusting him to negotiate the terms for “Shave ’em Dry.”
He succeeds. And in the late afternoon, 5 March 1935, Lucille and Walter create what is known in the dusty files of the American Record Corporation as “Alternate Take One” – the most graphically sexual and uncompromising blues song ever recorded, and perhaps the last by this taboo-defying artist who has been called, along with Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, one of “the big three of the blues.”
Performance rights must be secured before production
Amateur and professional rights:
John Galbraith Simmons
Phone: (718) 524-6345
Playwright’s website: jgsimmons.com
About the Playwright: John Galbraith Simmons has broad range and versatility as a writer. He is the author of four published novels, including the well-received The Sharing. He has also written several works of nonfiction, including The Scientific 100, a work in the history of science that has been translated into more than a dozen languages. His work in television includes episodes of “Tracker” (Lion’s Gate Entertainment); “Queen of Swords” (Fireworks/M6);” Poltergeist: The Legacy” (MGM/Showtime); and “Highlander: The Raven” (PanzerDavis/Gaumont). His feature-length screenplay Nobody’s Business was a runner-up for the Herbert Beigel Screenplay Award. Shave ‘em Dry! draws on his long experience with black music and the blues. Simmons studied philosophy at Northwestern University, graduating with honors, and he is also a graduate of Long Island University. He is a member of the Authors Guild, the National Association of Science Writers, the New York Academy of Sciences, the Writers Guild of America, and the Writers Guild of Canada. He lives in New York and Paris.
Shave ’em Dry was first presented at the Gershwin Hotel, New York, NY in Jan., 2007.