Exterior of EZRA’s house faces the town square. A bugle sounds the tune of “O Ye Mountains High.” EZRA enters, carrying two buckets of water. He speaks to the audience; bewailing the hard life on the frontier in Southern Utah.
EZRA: So what am I doing here? I was walking down Main Street in Salt Lake City one day when Brigham Young, President of the Church, happened by. “Afternoon, Brother Cooper,” he said. “The Lord wants you in Long Valley.”
“Long Valley! What’s down there?”
“Nothing,” he said. “That’s why. But you won’t be on your own. We’re settin’ up the United Order. Settin’ it up all over the Church. Got to make the Saints one—start developin’ a perfect society.”
When I got my teeth back in my mouth, I said, “Brother Brigham, that’s impossible! There must be some mistake!” “There’s no mistake,” he said. “But don’t take my word for it. You go home and pray about it.”
So I went home and prayed about it. And here I am!
[He starts off again, then stops and smiles.]
Over seven hundred people, working, living, eating together—everybody equal, sharing the good and the bad. Oh, there are problems. Some say the meat cuts aren’t all the same size. But by and large [with pride], it’s working. And all because we try with our whole hearts—weak as they are—to live the greatest of all commandments—love!
TOWNSPEOPLE [enter singing]: Love thy neighbor!
EZRA: You read it in the book.
TOWNSPEOPLE: Love thy neighbor!
EZRA: We try to make it work.
BROTHER HILL [speaking with English accent]: But it works. I love everybody. I do. I can hardly believe all the people I love. [Indicating BROTHER SORENSEN] Why, I love people that I absolutely detest!
SISTER BURROWS [speaking as she pulls her husband forward]: I been married to this low life for eighteen years. Eighteen years I can’t stand him. Now, all of a sudden I gotta love him. They say he’s my neighbor!
BROTHER BURROWS [pointing to his wife]: She says I’m lazy and shiftless. Lazy I am. Shiftless I am not. Why, already this week I’ve been shifted from the dairy to the garden to the carpentry shop—
[SISTER BURROWS pulls him back.]
MINNIE [sighing as she looks toward a boy]: Duncan, would you be my neighbor?
[As the play progresses, a new family enters town to join the United Order—Brother WILLIAM RUSSELL, an ailing widower, and his teenage daughter, CATHERINE ANN. The newcomers have just met BROTHER GARRISON, president of the Order. EZRA is also present.]
BROTHER RUSSELL: I wish we did have more to consecrate to the Order. But these two bags are all we own of the world. And this necklace of my daughter’s. It’s real gold.
CATHERINE ANN: Papa! No! You gave it to me when I turned sixteen. It’s mine!
PRESIDENT GARRISON: That’s all right, Miss Catherine Ann. Jewelry and keepsakes are not required. And we’ve never turned anybody away yet on account of poverty.
BROTHER RUSSELL: No, I couldn’t come and not bring something that’ll help. Please, Catherine Ann, for me?
[Slowly CATHERINE ANN takes off the necklace and gives it to her father, who hands it to PRESIDENT GARRISON.]
PRESIDENT GARRISON: When there are people starving in Orderville, we will sell this for food. Until then, I reckon we need somebody who can take very good care of it. Miss Catherine Ann, I’m asking you to be steward of this necklace.
CATHERINE ANN [taking it gratefully]: Thank you.
PRESIDENT GARRISON [smiling]: You’ll find that life here isn’t so bad as you’re expecting. If you put your heart into it, you’ll catch the vision of the Order and see it like we do.
CATHERINE ANN: To be honest, I just don’t see it at all. What’s wrong with living like—like regular folks?
EZRA: Just this, Miss Russell. Regular folks take advantage of each other because they’re tryin’ to get ahead of everybody else. Why, my own grandfather was pushed off a little plot of land in the Scottish Highlands because the duke that owned it figured he could make more money off of sheep than people. The people rebelled. Thousands of them. There was fighting, dying. It’s just no good when people claim to be brothers but don’t practice it. That’s what we’re trying to do—practice it.
PRESIDENT GARRISON: That’s right, Miss Russell.
EZRA: Oh, I wish I could give you the vision of it that I have. When I’m out in the fields, or just sittin’ and thinkin’, I can see how things will be. I can see it all. [EZRA sings.]
[EZRA’s son MATTHEW has come to that point in life when his heart begins to yearn for a companion. Following his meeting of CATHERINE ANN, MATTHEW realizes his condition more than ever, and he expresses it in this song.]
[One of CATHERINE ANN’S first experiences in the Order is working in the large vegetable garden, where she soon asks a new acquaintance about the social life in town.]
CATHERINE ANN: You have dances?
FRANCIS ISADORE: Yep. ‘Cept there aren’t any boys.
CATHERINE ANN [looking around]: No?
FRANCIS ISADORE: I mean real boys. Everybody here is your brother. Who can get excited about dancing with her brother?
CATHERINE ANN: I met one that seemed quite nice. Matthew.
FRANCIS ISADORE: You did? He’s my brother.
CATHERINE ANN: I know.
FRANCIS ISADORE: No, my real brother. We got the same parents.
CATHERINE ANN: Oh.
[Discussion of life in the Order—its benefits and advantages—is common, but one would expect that soon some of the youth would begin to make known their complaints. While one of the boys is in the fields working, he laments receiving no wages.]
BROTHER BURROWS: Why, you youngsters have got it easy. Just think what the early brethren of the Church had to endure.
DUNCAN: I don’t know. They never saw this place.
BROTHER BURROWS: Why, the early brethren had to endure house burnings, sweatin’ and freezin’ across the plains, crickets—
DUNCAN: I know. I know.
BROTHER BURROWS: The early brethren had to endure more in a month than you’ll have to in a lifetime.
SISTER BURROWS: I am weary of hearing what the early brethren had to endure. The sisters had to endure just as much as the brethren did. Plus they had to endure the brethren!
[In the evening, CATHERINE ANN and MATTHEW manage to get together down by the swings, where they talk of the Order, life on the “outside,” and what people really need.]
MATTHEW: Everything you really need you can get right out of the Order storehouse.
CATHERINE ANN: People need lots of things besides food and a roof over their heads. At least I do.
MATTHEW: Like what?
CATHERINE ANN: Like lots of things. Like—
MATTHEW: Our soap don’t smell too bad—if you use it quick.
MATTHEW: There’s pumpkin vines all over the vats at the tannery.
MATTHEW: If you go at five in the morning, there’s hardly anybody there.
CATHERINE ANN: A piano. Oh, a piano! Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed of having one. I remember there was a little place on our kitchen table that was broken. And when I’d plunk it, it was just like a piano key. I used to sit there for hours. Plunk. Plunk. Mama always said I could have one someday, but things kept getting worse. And then she died.
MATTHEW: I’m sorry.
CATHERINE ANN: That’s all right. Only, Matthew, a person needs a little beauty in his life.
MATTHEW [looking at her dreamily]: I hope you get it, Catherine Ann. Your piano. I hope you do. [The bugle sounds “O Ye Mountains High.”] Well—
CATHERINE ANN: Do they sound the bugle if you’re in the swings too long?
MATTHEW [laughing]: No.
CATHERINE ANN: Well, they do for everything else.
MATTHEW [as they start out]: Only for gettin’ up, going to prayer, eatin’ breakfast, going to work, eatin’ dinner, going to evenin’ prayer, and going to bed.
CATHERINE ANN: Oh. Is that all?
[Summer passes, joys and crises have come to the Order, and young romance has blossomed. As the harvest season nears completion, the villagers join in song about their way of life—its goodness and joys.]
EZRA: Orderville in autumn. There are worse places to be. Summer sort of crackles and yawns and gives over to fall. And what do we do?
MEN & WOMEN:
BOYS & GIRLS:
CATHERINE ANN [stepping out and leaning toward MATTHEW]:
MATTHEW [stepping out and leaning toward CATHERINE ANN]:
[EZRA pulls MATTHEW back.]
BOYS & GIRLS: Always trying a little harder—
1ST BOY: To cooperate—
2ND BOY: And emulate—
BOYS & GIRLS: Our elder brothers in the Order!
1ST MAN [softly]: We will hibernate—
PRESIDENT GARRISON [softly]: We will consecrate—
2ND MAN [loudly, followed by row of children]:
[As Act Two opens CATHERINE ANN has been placed in charge of setting the tables in the common dining hall. After seeing the condition of the old tablecloths, she has requested some new ones. MATTHEW’s father, EZRA, has just explained to her that the Order is low on funds and must go slow on purchases for awhile. MATTHEW is also present.]
CATHERINE ANN: But I didn’t ask for lace or even linen. Just something white and clean that doesn’t have years of stains and spots.
MATTHEW [hesitantly]: Maybe you could teach the girls to set the tables so as to cover up the spots?
CATHERINE ANN [exploding]: Matthew Cooper, you don’t know anything! You can’t just make do all your life.
EZRA: Now, Catherine Ann, coverings for a table can’t be all that important.
CATHERINE ANN: For some, no. For others, yes. That’s what’s wrong with the Order, Brother Cooper. It doesn’t make allowance for the fact that everybody is different. And the Lord must have meant them to be different. One person’ll have no use in the world for a thing, and without it the soul of the next person’ll just wither up. We’ve got to have some room to be different, some right to a little different step if we want. We’ve got to!
EZRA [after a moment’s pause]: I can’t say you’re wrong, Catherine Ann. But then I can’t say you’re entirely right, either. ’Scuse me. Think I’m needed inside. [He goes into the house.]
[MATTHEW goes to CATHERINE ANN.]
CATHERINE ANN [throwing her arms around him]: Oh, Matthew, let’s go away. Please.
MATTHEW: Leave the Order? Oh, I couldn’t.
CATHERINE ANN: It wouldn’t be a sin. There’s lots of good Saints that don’t have to live the United Order.
MATTHEW [seriously]: But I do, Catherine Ann. I have to.
CATHERINE ANN [turning away]: You’re just like your sheep!
You don’t even have a mind of your own.
MATTHEW: Yes, I do. I said I have to live the Order. But also, I want to.
CATHERINE ANN: Why?
MATTHEW: Catherine Ann, don’t you think I’d like for you to have a piano? I’d like it very much. But I believe in what we’re trying to do down here, even though there’s a lot of hurt goes along with it. It’s wonderful to know that you live where nobody takes advantage of his neighbor. And that if you’ve got enough to eat, then he does too. And that there’s nobody whose feet freeze ’cause he’s got no stockings. That’s something, Catherine Ann. It’s not a piano, but it is something.
CATHERINE ANN [desperately]:You can do it, Matthew. I—I can’t.
[CATHERINE ANN runs off. MATTHEW goes a few steps after her, then stops.] [Later on CATHERINE ANN and her father are alone.]
CATHERINE ANN: Oh, Papa! Papa, why do we love people that we shouldn’t love?
BROTHER RUSSELL: I don’t think that’s possible, Catherine Ann. Sometimes we love them in ways, maybe, that we shouldn’t—ways that hurt us and them too.
CATHERINE ANN: I embarrassed him awful, Papa. And in front of everybody.
BROTHER RUSSELL [stroking her hair]: Oh, oh.
CATHERINE ANN: I didn’t mean to. Yes I did. [She gets up.] And I told them I was leaving Orderville. Said I was never coming back.
BROTHER RUSSELL: Catherine Ann, I’ve been thinking. Maybe you ought to leave.
CATHERINE ANN: What?
BROTHER RUSSELL: For a while. Help you get your mind sorted out—and your heart.
CATHERINE ANN: But where?
BROTHER RUSSELL: Salt Lake City. In fact, I’ve written your Uncle Alfred about it. I know you’ve been unhappy here. And I don’t like to see that.
CATHERINE ANN: But I couldn’t leave you—not feeling well like you are.
BROTHER RUSSELL: I’m better. I am. And the thing that’d perk me up more’n anything would be knowing that my girl was happy.
CATHERINE ANN: What’d Uncle Alfred say?
BROTHER RUSSELL: Said they’d be pleased to have you. They got a nice home up there, you know.
CATHERINE ANN: I remember. And a beautiful parlor, with a—a piano.
BROTHER RUSSELL: Bet you’d have a wonderful time. Only once in a while, when you’re sitting there playing your piano, I’d like you to remember something.
CATHERINE ANN: What, Papa?
BROTHER RUSSELL: Eternity’s a long time. Bet it’s long enough to learn how to play the piano and the violin and the accordion, and a dozen other instruments if you wanted. But the Lord sort of earmarked this earth life for one special learning to come first. And that’s learning how to play yourself. How well you learn that, Catherine Ann, determines the kind of tunes you’ll be playin’ for a long, long time.
CATHERINE ANN [hugs him]: I’ll remember. I’ll miss you, Papa. But I’ll be back in the spring.
BROTHER RUSSELL: I’ll miss you too.
CATHERINE ANN: Oh, Papa. How come life hurts so much?
BROTHER RUSSELL: Don’t know. One hurt passes, then another comes. But so do the joys. Reckon the hurt you’ve got now is called growing up. That’s one of the worst.
CATHERINE ANN: Must be. It’s way down deep, where I never felt anything before. Guess you learn a lot in growing up. [She sings.]
[BROTHER RUSSELL goes to her, puts an arm around her, and together they go into the house.]
[Things have not gone well for the Order. Friction between some of the Saints and different views on how things should be run have created problems. Feelings build until an important meeting is held in EZRA’s house.]
EZRA [heatedly]: No! We’ve made too many changes now. We should never have stopped eating together—that was the first big mistake.
BROTHER ALLEN: Now, Brother Cooper, I don’t believe the Lord cares a whole lot how we dress or whether we eat at one table or many.
EZRA: Seems to me he does. The way Brother Brigham set us up first was by commandment of God. And straying from it has brought us nothing but trouble.
BROTHER ALLEN: Well, Brother Erastus Snow says—and I must say I agree with him—that the Order was an economic experiment of Brigham Young, and that heaven’s not too particular how we run it.
EZRA: Brother Brigham would turn in his grave to hear that. Why, you heard him say yourself, “Unless you are one in temporal things, how can you be one in spiritual things?” And he was quotin’ from the Prophet Joseph. It’s much more than an economic experiment, Brother Allen.
1ST MAN: President, what do you think?
PRESIDENT GARRISON: I’m not certain any more. The people seem to want this change. I don’t know. Maybe they do have needs that the Order doesn’t fill—least the way we’re living it. I wish the Church Presidency would take a stand, but they’re leaving it up to us.
EZRA: If we accept this new proposal, it’ll be a disaster.
BROTHER ALLEN: Now, don’t get so hot, Ezra. It’s just a little modification of the wage system.
EZRA: Which we should never have had in the first place!
PRESIDENT GARRISON: Well, to discourage parasites, we had to figure out a way to give credit and goods only for work performed. You know that, Ezra.
EZRA: All right. All right. But not this. Not giving different compensations for different types of labor. And bringing in a money system too. No!
2ND MAN: I won’t say I like it, Ezra. But we’ve got to be realistic. We’re living in this world, and we’ve got to reckon with the way the world does business.
EZRA: The way the world does business is a sin. The strong build themselves up by putting the weak ones down. That’s something else you heard Brother Brigham say.
BROTHER ALLEN: But we’ve been going on a false assumption—giving equal credit for unequal labor.
EZRA: And is this a false assumption? The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. And the dividends of the Order belong to the Lord for the benefit of all the people.
BROTHER ALLEN: But you don’t understand. If one man is more intelligent and able than another—
EZRA: Then that’s his reward—not that he should go well dressed and fed while his less intelligent neighbor goes ragged and hungry. [Pleading] Brethren, the Lord wants us to be one, as his people have been in times past when they were real Saints. There’s a lot that depends on whether we succeed or fail.
PRESIDENT GARRISON [standing]: As on all matters, this will have to be decided by common consent. We’ll bring it to a vote at the meeting.
[The scene shifts and a spotlight focuses on CATHERINE ANN, who is in Salt Lake City living with her uncle. She is reading a letter that has just arrived.]
CATHERINE ANN: “We’re awful sorry, Miss Russell, to have to give you this sad news by letter. Your father was as fine a man as we knew, and the Order’s going to miss him. Enclosed is a letter he gave us for you just before he died.” [Opening the other letter] Oh, Papa! “My Dearest Catherine Ann, I think I will not see you again, so I must leave you my love on paper. You mustn’t sorrow much. Only look forward to us being together again when things get more permanent. It makes it easier for me to go—knowing that I can have again the people that I love. Don’t forget, my darling, all that really matters in the world are the people that you love. Your Uncle Alfred will let you stay with them as long as you want. He says you’re a fine influence, and that makes me proud. I am proud of you, Catherine Ann. One thing more. I don’t want you to feel guilty about leaving the Order. It wasn’t meant for people to be clear perfect in this life, just to be getting a little bit better each day. That’s what I hope for you, Catherine Ann, and I know you will. Just a little better each day. And when we’re all the way perfect, that’ll be heaven. Till then, I leave you my love and my blessing. Your Father.”
Oh, Papa! [Reading again] “P.S. Your necklace is under my mattress.”
[CATHERINE ANN presses the letter to her heart and looks up.]
Things aren’t very important, are they, Papa?
[She sings softly.]
[She breaks off, turns, and runs out.]
[The play closes with CATHERINE ANN returning to Orderville. She has resolved in her own mind what is most important in life and has decided that her love for MATTHEW is real. The couple approach one another for the first time since being separated.]
MATTHEW [hesitantly]: I was awful sorry about your father.
CATHERINE ANN [nodding]: Sometimes it takes bad things to teach us good things, I guess. [He doesn’t answer.] A man doesn’t take a lot with him when he dies. Mostly he just takes what he’s given away. I’ve been wondering if I’ll have as much to take as Papa did. Oh, I’ve been learning some things, Matthew.
MATTHEW [hopefully]: About what?
CATHERINE ANN: About love. About me—and you. [She holds out her arms to MATTHEW. He comes to her, and they embrace.] Oh, Matthew, I’ve come home.
MATTHEW: I’m glad. I’m awful glad.
CATHERINE ANN: And I want to stay right here. Here in Orderville. I told you there were lots of things I needed that the storehouse couldn’t provide. Guess there still are. But you’re the only thing I can’t do without. And there’ll be time for the others. Besides, I want to learn more about giving. And I can’t think of a better place to do it.
MATTHEW: We can stay here, Catherine Ann. But not with the Order.
CATHERINE ANN: Why not?
MATTHEW: Because the Order’s finished. The Church authorities counseled us to dissolve. And we just voted at a meeting. It was unanimous. I think it was the only way.
[EZRA enters, downcast.]
EZRA: Why, Catherine Ann. You look like good news. We could use a little today.
CATHERINE ANN: Matthew just told me. I’m sorry. Truly I am.
EZRA: It isn’t easy to see it go.
[He speaks.] It was good, wasn’t it, son—everyone out in the fields and in the shops, working for all of us together and not just for his own.
MATTHEW: Yes, Father. It was good.
EZRA: I never felt so warm, so big in all my life. Like I was doing with my days just what I was supposed to be doing.
CATHERINE ANN: Is the Order finished for good then?
EZRA: Finished? No. Not really. We failed, but then again, we didn’t fail. Gradually folks’ll get themselves ready to live like real brothers. And we’ve been a step along the way. When it finally happens, it’ll be wonderful. Might be quite different from the way we tried it. And it’ll work. If we just—every day—keep learning a little bit more about love.
[MATTHEW and CATHERINE ANN join in.]
Copyright by Carol Lynn Pearson, published by Trilogy Arts, Provo, Utah.