Whittaker N. Blackwood, Editor-in-Chief of a periodical known as The Blackwood Articles, has a plan to slip the clutches of death: claim sole dominion over the written word. He offers 50 guineas to any writer who submits to him the story of their own death: a story of truth, a story offering glimpses of the unknown, a story packed with sensation the likes of which the world has never seen. Before long, all the writers of 19th-century London have dueled, hung, and drowned themselves to oblivion, and the city is overwrought with (singing and dancing) ghosts and their stories. Now Blackwood’s is the only periodical left except for one. Owner and Editor of The Bluebatch Signora Psyche Zenobia, a woman of self-professed Greek heritage who once rejected a smitten Whittaker Blackwood at the London Periodical Editors’ Ball, stands between Blackwood and the power to glorify his name indelibly throughout the world and across the chapters of the future. In this curious, Poe-inspired musical, a man’s worth is measured by the stories that outlive him— and those who survive to tell them. Will truth still speak after time cuts her (from the neck) down?
Based on two short stories by Edgar Allan Poe (“A Predicament” and “How to Write a Blackwood Article”).
London, 1881: the public can’t get enough of the infamously sensational Blackwood Articles, in which writers take their own lives and, in the process of dying, record their experience with death. These writers are finding inventive ways to end their lives to achieve fame thanks to the Articles ("On the Brink"). In his office, publisher Whittaker Blackwood is toasting his success with his second-in-command, Malachi. Every other publication in London has closed due to the success of The Blackwood Articles, and Blackwood has ambitions to control every news outlet in the world. But just as he’s about to toast his triumph, he notices that one small periodical is holding out… The Bluebatch. Malachi explains that it’s edited by a woman named Signora Psyche Zenobia. Blackwood has memories of Zenobia snubbing him years ago at the London Periodical Editors Ball, and vows to get rid of all his competition.
In her parlor, Zenobia is playing a game with her servant, Pompey (who is secretly in love with her), and her small dog, Diana ("Good Soul"). We learn that Zenobia inherited The Bluebatch from her mother and is desperate to keep it in publication. A writer enters, announcing he is leaving The Bluebatch and intends to write a Blackwood Article. Pompey points out that while his article might advance the writer’s career, he won’t be able to enjoy it, as he’ll be dead. This seems to make no difference to the writer, who feels his career needs “a leg up.”
As Pompey reads an article to her, Zenobia admits that The Bluebatch can’t compete with The Blackwood Articles ("A Blackwood Article"). She is puzzled and fascinated by Blackwood’s success. Meanwhile, Blackwood is bored of the range of deaths he’s being offered by writers— too many drownings and hangings— and says he’s going to insist writers kill themselves in more interesting ways. He tells Malachi that his father would be proud of him— Blackwood says that on his deathbed, Malachi’s father had the idea to crush every other newspaper. This is a shock to Malachi, who thought his father died alone. Is he becoming suspicious about circumstances of his father’s death?
The writer who resigned from The Bluebatch enters Blackwood’s office and expresses interest in writing a Blackwood Article. He says he hasn’t been published before because he’s “too good-looking” to be taken seriously. Blackwood inquires how the writer is going to kill himself, but is disappointed with the answer of “drown” or “hang.” Blackwood offers to help, and proceeds to operate on the writer, who records his sensations as he dies ("A Serious Man"). Blackwood sings about what a visionary he is, while Malachi expresses doubts about what they are doing.
Dead writers look down on Zenobia and Pompey ("Window Sill") while Zenobia pores over The Blackwood Articles. She declares that the Articles are a sham and refuses to be beaten by this. Pompey tries to calm her with a music box he made for her as a child ("Vanity" music), but she accidentally breaks it. A tearful Zenobia shares her fears that the old ways of publishing are growing obsolete and The Bluebatch will soon be irrelevant ("Shadows"). She vows not to go out without a fight, and to uncover Blackwood’s secrets.
Blackwood is receiving letters asking for a commission from writers all over the world. Malachi questions whether it’s necessary that so many people should die for his ambitions. Blackwood makes a veiled threat to him as Zenobia and Pompey enter. Zenobia seeks to understand The Blackwood Articles’ appeal, but Blackwood tells her she would have to go through the process herself (i.e. kill herself and record the results in an article) to truly understand ("Sensations"). Despite Pompey’s protestations, Zenobia says she’ll write a Blackwood Article— the best one ever. Blackwood offers to give her a helping hand; he has hungry dogs in the yard. Zenobia and Pompey flee to the sound of barking.
Zenobia wanders the streets of London looking for inspiration for her “sensation.” Pompey tells her he has a bad feeling about all of this. She climbs the tallest tower she can find and puts her head out the front of the clock face ("At the Clock"). She is beguiled by the beauty of the city and refuses to come down, saying she’s going to write the best article and save The Bluebatch. Pompey can’t believe she’s actually going to go through with it. She assures him that she will take it to the brink and then pull back— she’s a good enough writer to imagine the last bit. But she stays in the clock too long and is pinned by its ever-moving minute hand. She has a clarity of thought as Pompey starts to cry. The clock arm cuts off Zenobia’s head, and Pompey vows revenge on Blackwood for killing the woman he loves.
Blackwood is sipping tea as Malachi reads out the latest Article from Zenobia. Now the world really is at his feet. Malachi confronts Blackwood about his father’s death— the fire that killed him wasn’t an accident, was it? Blackwood escorts Malachi away to discuss the matter.
In Zenobia’s parlor, the lights are low and romantic music plays. Pompey says how much he has loved Zenobia and has longed for this moment ("Queen of Hearts"). He lifts a box on the table to reveal Zenobia’s severed head and is about to kiss it when she wakes up. She learns she has been in this “inconvenience” for a few days. Pompey tells her he had a choice to make as her body wandered off, and he decided to retrieve her head. She reveals that she never trusted her body anyway— it always wanted to go off in its own direction. Pompey tells her that her Article was a sensation and that the British Institute of Writers wants to honor her with a statue. Zenobia has already formulated a plan to get back at Blackwood. She’s going to use his weakness, the same weakness every man possesses: his vanity.
Pompey enters Blackwood’s office carrying a box. He says he’s here to pick up her 50 guineas for the article and asks where Malachi is. Blackwood reveals that he’s had to let Malachi go— he’s with his father now. Pompey offers his services to Blackwood, who thinks this is the final victory over Zenobia as he now has everything of hers ("Perfect"). Blackwood asks what’s in Pompey’s box. Pompey reveals Zenobia’s head, saying he’s taking it to the British Institute of Writers because they are going to honor her with a statue. Blackwood is outraged— if they are going to build a statue of anyone it should be of him! Pompey tells him if that’s the case, Blackwood will have to write an article even better than Zenobia’s. He accepts the challenge, but says he won’t go all the way— he’s a good enough writer to imagine the final stage.
Blackwood begins to write his article. He’s going for a “thousand cuts” with a knife, but at the crucial point, Pompey has to stem the bleeding ("A Bitter Taste"). Encouraged by Pompey, Blackwood lets out more blood. When the moment comes for him to be bandaged, Blackwood seems confused. Has he lost too much blood? The room is spinning as Pompey takes the knife and stabs Blackwood ("Scythe Finale"). The dead writers appear to Blackwood, singing their goodbye to this “sick twisted man.” Malachi, also in a deathly state, joins them. Pompey reveals Zenobia to Blackwood, and she urges him to write his finest article— she might even publish it. Blackwood dies; pen, paper, and knife by his side.
Zenobia’s head sits on the windowsill, looking out at a sunset. Pompey says it’s about time she came in for some tea. She thanks him for everything he’s done and asks if there might be a future for them together (she worries the height difference might be a problem). The Bluebatch’s readership is increasing, and they conclude that this will be the end of sensational news reporting for good. Zenobia asks if Pompey could love her like this. He reveals the music box, now fixed ("Vanity" music reprise). He tells her he’ll make that tea…
...a dark and delectable little comedy.
–New York Times
Signora Zenobia – Female, 30s, a sophisticated yet grounded newspaper editor. Biting wit and sense of humor. Smart and high-spirited. Somewhat of a broad. Strong mezzo voice.
Mr. Blackwood – Male, 30s, dark and conniving; the villain. Smooth and suave. Attractive, but unsympathetic. Strong rock-tenor voice.
Pompey – Male, 30s-50s, comedic character actor. Zenobia's big-hearted servant, who will do whatever she says. A strong but vulnerable personality.
Malachi – Male, 20s-30s, Blackwood's assistant. Has an intellectual sensibility. Not physically imposing.
Ensemble – Men and women of various ages to play the ghosts of writers of the Blackwood Articles. Used throughout the piece to create ambience and move the story along.
Setting: Various locations around London in 1881.
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"A Scythe of Time captures the essence of Poe’s stories and is sublime entertainment, too!" –Stage Buddy
"A Scythe of Time proves to be deadly good fun." –Theatre Mania
"Mark my words, expect to see A Scythe of Time being picked up and at a theatre near you with a much longer run. I’m only sorry I could not send you to see this show sooner." –Times Square Chronicles
" ...this macabre musical is sure to make you, if not die laughing, chuckle at the folly of trying to out-dazzle your neighbor." –CurtainUp
Materials: Your materials will be sent to you two months prior to your opening date and will include everything necessary for your production. They can be ordered in Printed or Digital format. Printed Materials are provided on unbound three-hole punched loose-leaf paper while Digital Materials are provided via email as downloadable PDF files for you to print in-house. All materials are yours to keep! No deposits, no returns.
The Authorized Materials/Rehearsal Package for A Scythe of Time includes: