While the streets outside the Stonewall Inn are set ablaze, a small Appalachian mining town goes through its own quieter turmoil. Anthropology Lesson explores the lives of “roommates” Thomas and Douglas during the summer of 1969. The men have spent the last 13 years building a life together, until an unexpected late-night visitor interrupts Douglas’ first night home after a weekend away. As the play unfolds, the two men's lives are turned upside down while a principal, a mother, and a student all come to terms with their own sets of truths.
Winner of the 2018 SETC/Stage Rights Ready to Publish Award.
Anthropology Lesson is a story framed by a classroom of students and teachers who act as a contemporary Greek chorus. The play opens with a prologue where the classroom teaches the audience about the setting of the play— Grundy, Virginia, a small town in Appalachia in 1969.
Scene 1 opens in the home of Thomas and Douglas, where the action of the play takes place. Thomas welcomes Douglas home and invites Douglas’ student Luke to stay for dinner. Luke and Douglas have just returned from a long drive across the state. At dinner, Douglas and Luke recount their experiences over the past few days, including Luke impressing a college baseball coach. We also learn just how much Luke means to Douglas as a student and vice versa.
After a transitional lesson from the “classroom,” Scene 2 opens to reveal Thomas and Douglas later that same evening. As they clean up from dinner and catch each other up on the past few days, they show the audience just how clearly in love with each other they are and, more importantly, how settled and comfortable they are in Grundy. Luke unexpectedly returns to the home and “catches” Douglas and Thomas in a kiss. Luke grabs what he came back for and leaves for the night. Thomas and Douglas are confused about whether to be worried about Luke seeing their kiss. After a transition and lesson from the classroom, Scene 3 begins.
Scene 3 takes place the next evening with Thomas and Douglas having a quiet night at home. We learn that it is the week of July 4th and Thomas will get a day off. As they are discussing their plans for the holiday, there is a knock at their door— it’s Luke. Luke reveals that he has gotten in a fight with his mother and needs a place to stay for the evening. Douglas has a soft spot in his heart for Luke and his family and agrees to let him stay the night in the guest room. Luke agrees to call his mom and patch things up the next morning.
Scene 4 takes place a couple of days later, and the radio lets the audience know that it is Independence Day. Thomas is enjoying a great holiday morning, cooking breakfast and listening to his favorite radio station. While getting ready for the morning, the town sheriff interrupts Thomas’ breakfast preparations. The sheriff engages in some small talk and is clearly stalling for time, saying he is waiting for Douglas to wake up. The sheriff is taken aback and Thomas is unnerved as young Luke comes into the kitchen both in the underwear he has been sleeping in and completely unaware of the sheriff’s presence. The sheriff has indeed made the visit to see if Luke had spent the last few evenings with Douglas and Thomas, and has come to bring him home to his mother. The scene closes as Luke reluctantly goes with the sheriff and leaves Thomas and Douglas wondering what has happened. (Although written as a full-length play in one act, the end of Scene 4 would be the ideal place to put an intermission, if desired).
In the next "classroom" lesson it is revealed that the audience is about to see the “Anthropology Lesson.”
Scene 5 is a non-linear scene where Douglas’ boss, the high school principal, is interviewing people about Luke and Douglas’ student/teacher relationship. In this scene, we meet Luke’s mom Dulce for the first time. She express concerns about Douglas and Thomas and calls them “peculiar,” which the audience learns is a euphemism for “queer.” The scene reveals that Douglas may be being judged for his actions being taken out of context. The principal’s questions intensify and cause Luke to lose his temper in defense of his teacher Douglas. Throughout the questioning, Douglas sticks to the facts, while Thomas, Luke, and Dulce all reveal only part of the truth. The "classroom" doesn’t really know how to react to the intensity of Scene 5, but offers a simple transition and lesson in preparation for Scene 6.
In Scene 6, Dulce has come to Thomas and Douglas’ home to talk to Thomas. A couple of weeks have passed since the principal interviews, and Dulce believes that Douglas is about to be fired. In order to protect her relationship with her son, Dulce has come to suggest that Douglas resign before being fired. Thomas sees that this is a play to keep Dulce innocent in Luke’s eyes. Thomas and Dulce have a rather intense exchange about the intention of Thomas and Douglas’ kindness to her family. Dulce suggests that part of her insecurity is the judgment of the town about her poverty, and Thomas challenges that he is actually more of a victim of the town’s judgment. Dulce wants her family to remain intact, and Thomas wants Douglas’ dignity to be undamaged. It is clear that only one of them will get their way.
Scene 7 opens at the end of the summer. During the scene, we see that weeks have passed, Douglas has indeed been fired, and he is leaving town. Thomas and Douglas are spending their last morning at home before Douglas’ departure. They are committed to staying together, but their relationship and standing in the community have both suffered because of this incident with Luke. They share tender moments before Thomas has to leave for work, and after he does, Luke pays one final visit to Douglas. The teacher and young man share their admiration for each other and the audience sees that the two have each benefited and grown because of the other. Douglas is touched by Luke’s visit and kind words, but is also troubled by the fact that Luke might join the military rather than take a college scholarship. Luke is troubled by the fact that Douglas has decided to leave town, but is committed to keeping in touch with his mentor. As the scene and play end, Douglas and Luke part ways and Douglas has his final moments alone in the home he has loved. Curtain.
Characters:Thomas Hodges – Thomas is in his early thirties; when he isn’t working at the coal mine, he enjoys a pastime in painting and his simple life at home with Douglas.
Douglas Walker – Douglas is a high school English teacher in his hometown of Grundy, Virginia who has settled into his life living with Thomas and being the teacher everyone loves.
Luke Robinson – Luke has spent a few weeks away from home before starting his senior year of high school at Grundy High School where he enjoys playing baseball for the school and community teams.
Radio Announcer – A voice actor who could be doubled with Dulce Robinson.
Sheriff Hollins – Sheriff Hollins is a friendly small-town sheriff who could be doubled with Andy Smith.
Andy Smith – Andy is the principal of Grundy High School and seems to know everyone in town.
Dulce Russell – Dulce is a single mom who works at the Piggly Wiggly and is raising Luke and two other siblings.
Teachers/Students 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5 – These characters provide a variety of functions in the storytelling, almost serving as a contemporary, educational Greek chorus. These parts could be doubled with the named characters.
Note: Creativity on the casting, blocking, and use of this ensemble is encouraged.
Setting: The action of the play takes place in a unit set which is the 1969 kitchen/living room of Thomas and Douglas’ home.
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The production materials for Anthropology Lesson include:
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Director's Script – Single-sided script with space for director’s notes.