Now Is the Time For All Good Men
Book and Music by Gretchn Cryer; Music by Nancy Ford.
Theatre De Lys, Off-Broadway - Opened 26 September, 1967. Closed 16 January, 1968 (112 perfs)
The school board for the Bloomdale, Indiana, high school quickly sizes up Mike Butler, new English teacher, as the kind of brash freethinker who wants to let kids mark in their books, read novels, and think for themselves. He even teaches poetic scansion with a basketball.
But Albert McKinley, the principal, defends him. Albert is a very kind man. He has a habit of picking up strays and defending, or exploiting, them, depending on how you look at it. And Mike has a shady background. He was court-martialled from the U.S. Army after duty in Vietnam. Just why isn't yet clear. Sarah Larkin, music teacher and church choir leader, is another of Albert's foundlings. She isn't exactly qualified to teach. But she's a young widow, and Albert is fond of her. Quite fond. Mike and Sarah meet and are attracted to each other, Sarah wistful and slightly disapproving, Mike desperately trying to reach what's left of her understanding and vitality.
For a while Mike and Sarah enjoy their teatimes and hayrides left alone. But Sarah has an enemy, her own sister, Eugenie Seldin, a lively and outspoken waitress at the local truck-stop eatery. Eugenie spots Mike right away and sets her sights. After all, hadn't she known Sarah's late husband in ways Sarah never did?
And soon enough Mike develops an enemy of his own. The brightest kid in the class, Tommy, is the son of the athletic coach, Herbert Heller, who doesn't like English teachers to begin with because the drama classes mess up his gym floor. When he finds out that Mike is encouraging young Tommy to read Thoreau and think for himself, well, he can spot a Commie pretty far off.
And Herbert Heller is a real "Amurican." Only once a year he's apt to get drunk and shoot up the place. This year, as Mike and Sarah stand listening to Christmas carollers and enjoying being together, he comes upon them, carrying shotgun in one hand, Old Glory in the other.
When he demands that Mike pledge allegiance to the flag, then and there, it gets kind of tight. Luckily, Herbert is too drunk to be effective and falls down. Mike carries Sarah off over his shoulder and Herbert is taken away for another year.
By now Sarah is enchanted with Mike, though resisting him. "I'm not going to be a challenge to you and have you have the satisfaction of seeing me develop!" But develop she does.
And by now young Torn Heller is actively practising civil disobedience, though in a kind of tentative way. With some effort he manages to get himself jailed for the night, though Mike explains that this isn't strictly necessary. Tommy's girl friend, Ramona, is trying to keep up with him. But Tommy can't see it. Was there a Mrs. Davy Crockett? A Mrs. Jim Bowie? Please. He'd rather do it all alone.
The kindly townspeople, good-hearted as they come, overlook Herbert's shotgun shenanigans and nominate him for Man of the Century in the coming Centennial Celebration.
Tommy just can't see his old man as "having influenced the entire population of Bloomdale." Of course he doesn't know him the way other people do. So Tommy himself nominates Mike Butler. Herbert finds this upsetting and calls Mike a pantywaist.
There is to be a mock wedding at the Centennial, Sarah as mock-bride, Albert McKinley as mock-groom. But Albert comes to Sarah and proposes. He offers a real wedding, in Civil War costume, horse-drawn vehicles, a shivarree, and then a simple life thereafter. Sarah demurs. She's in love with Mike.
Tommy has a real campaign going to elect Mike the Man of the Century. If Mike were elected, maybe he could even get rid of that smell from the canning factory. Tommy's father reacts by nudging Tommy toward enlistment in the Army. He wants his boy to be an athlete, a hero or, at very least, a star on the memorial monument.
Sarah tells Albert she's in love with Mike, and Albert takes steps. He goes to her sister to ask a favour. Eugenie must tell Sarah that Mike was in prison and, worse, to say that Mike told her all about it when they were together "listening to records."
This happens, as planned, and has the expected effect. Sarah is appalled. Mike says he was in the Army in Vietnam, but he couldn't kill. For this he spent five years in the penitentiary. His mistake had been not being a conscientious objector in the first place. Albert and Sarah become engaged.
The Centennial Celebration turns into a kind of trial. Eugenie, beautifully drunk, appears and shouts out the secret of Mike's past. When he speaks to defend himself, Mike finds himself in a kind of kangaroo court, surrounded by his peers. "Fire him!" shouts Herbert. And McKinley does.
But it also becomes apparent to Sarah that Albert knew about Mike all along. And at last she sees through his sanctimonious disguise.
Tommy says goodbye to Mike Butler. Tommy and Ramona are together now, and it is very clear that they, at least, are going to be all right. But what about Butler? He'll go to some other town, some town probably a good deal like this one. Tommy says maybe he'll be a teacher, too. They embrace.
Now you just can't do a thing like that. Herbert Heller sees his boy Tommy embraced by this Commie queer and he gets his shotgun and fires it right at him.
But of course Herbert, "true example of American manhood," gets elected Man of the Century anyway. So it's all right Even if he isn't much of a shot anymore. A man can't do everything well. All he can do is try. And "Now Is the Time for All Good Men to do just that!"
—Charles Burr from the original LP jacket
- We Shall Meet in the Great Hereafter - Company
- Keep 'Em Busy - Teachers
- What's In The Air? - Mike Butler & Women
- Tea In The Rain - Sarah Larkin & Mike Butler
- Halloween Hayride/Katydid - Company
- See Everything New Mike Butler & Sarah Larkin
- Stuck-Up - Eugenie Seldon & Women
- He Could Show Me - Sarah Larkin
- All Alone - Mike Butler
- My Holiday - Sarah Larkin, Mike Butler & Women
- Down Through History - Tommy & Ramona
- Good Enough For Grandpa - Company
- A Simple Life - Albert McKinley
- A Star On The Monument - Herbert Heller
- Rain Your Love On Me - Mike Butler & Sarah Larkin
- There's Goin' To Be A Wedding - Company
- Finale: Quintet - Tommy, Mike Butler, Ramona, Herbert Heller & Woman