Spirit of the Law is a play in two acts with optional intermission for 9-16 actors. The show contains some physical violence in Act 2, Scene 5, implied sexual activity, and coarse language in both English and German. It is written for adult productions, but can be done by younger casts. Blanket permission is given to substitute the swearing if absolutely necessary, though it is historically accurate to the character and is even mentioned/censored in court documents from the trials.
For more information on the playwright, please visit her website.
ELISE (ELSIE) OLMSTEAD: A slight woman in her mid twenties with a middle-class British accent and an air of innocence. Ex-British intelligence. Her accent varies depending on the situation from gutter trash to high society British, with flawless pronunciation of German. Historically white.
ROY OLMSTEAD: Large baby-faced man in his late thirties. Dresses well, but not flashily. Likes his hats. Ex-police lieutenant, jovial and well liked. Historically white.
GERTIE ANDERSON: Woman in her mid twenties, telephone operator. Taller, with a big personality. Looking for her modern woman future. Only non-historical character in the play.
RUTH ELBRO: Wife of the Olmstead accountant, Dick. Mid thirties. Upper middle class house wife who isn’t comfortable with rumrunning. Historically white. Can double as a prohibition agent in Act 2, Scene 5.
WILLIAM (BILL) WHITNEY: Brutish middle-aged Prohibition Agent with a bent to brutality and a vendetta against ROY. Historically white.
CLARA WHITNEY: Mid-twenties mousy stenographer, wife of BILL WHITNEY, staunch prohibitionist. Historically white.
DOC HAMILTON: Older owner/operator of multiple speakeasies and roadhouses in the Seattle area. Always has a secret door to get out of bad situations. Likes his snazzy suits. Historically black.
PROSPER GRAIGNIC: One of the Olmstead’s best boat pilots. Mid forties. Always looks like he just got off a boat. Historically half French, half Native American, implied Salish in historical reports.
RICHARD FRYANT: Middle-aged telephone engineer who thinks wiretapping is his way up in the world. Historically white. Can act as a prohibition agent in Act 2, Scene 5.
RADIO VOICE: Classic radio announcer, unseen.
Minor roles that can be dual-cast: Old man, young man, hijacker, Callers 1, 2, 3, and 4, and Prohibition Agents 1, 2, and 3.2.
A NOTE ON CASTING While the historical characters are predominantly white except where noted else-wise, cross-racial and -gender casting is encouraged where the director feels it is appropriate. This play can be accomplished with as few as 9 actors if the minor roles are dual cast, and the radio announcer is recorded ahead of time.
A NOTE ON THE MUSIC
Jazz should be playing throughout the play, including scene breaks and intermission, being careful not to introduce any songs released after 1924 until the last scene, where music should be from 1931. The opening song for each scene is mentioned in the Announcer’s dialog, and a full suggestion of appropriate songs to follow for each scene is listed below. The only time the music should stop is when Elsie is interrupted while broadcasting during Act 2.
A NOTE ON STAGING
While the events depicted happened across all of Seattle, there are only three larger set pieces needed on stage, and that should remain on stage for the entire show. The back wall should be divided in thirds with a Smith Tower elevator centered, a telephone operator’s board on one side and a radio broadcasting center on the other, including a period radio cabinet with record player, engineer’s board, and microphone. Various additional seating and props will be brought on stage as needed and indicated in the stage directions and below.
A public bathroom stall that rolls on. Should be sturdy enough for FRYANT to stand on the toilet while it is in motion.
Speakeasy set pieces for an upscale BBQ joint including a small table and bar.
Living room set pieces including a couch and side table.
During scene breaks, the announcer should be speaking.
A NOTE ON COSTUMING
When most people think of the 1920s, they think flapper dresses and extravagant headbands. However, the following sequences all take place in standard work week attire, though well made. Cloche hats, drop waist dresses, and suits cut for wear and tear should prevail.
The following are suggestions for song selection for each scene. They have been selected for content and tone, but alternatives can be inserted if rights prove a challenge, though everything before Act 2, Scene 5 should be in the public domain. If it proves just too difficult, alternatives include a jazz quartet off stage playing within the same style as 1924 songs as below, or other jazz songs published before 1924 for the first portion and before 1931 for the last scene. Obviously, if the first song of a scene changes, the Announcer’s dialog should change to reflect that. Where possible, please use the instrumental version of the song sans lyrics.
A Spotify playlist titled Spirit of the Law has been created with these songs in order for your convenience in listening to and envisioning the music onstage.
A1:S1 – “Fascinating Rhythm” by Gershwin, “When My Sugar Walks Down the Street” by Aileen Stanley
A1:S2 – “King Porter Stomp” by Jelly Roll Morton, “Spain” by Isham Jones, “Dippermouth Blues” by King Oliver
A1:S3 – “Tain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do” by Porter Grainger, “Chicago Blues” by Clara Smith, “Everybody Loves My Baby” by Aileen Stanley
A1:S4 – “Somebody Stole My Gal” by Ted Weems, “Nobody’s Sweetheart Now” by Isham Jones, “Linger Awhile” by Paul Whiteman
A1:S5 – “It Had to be You” by Isham Jones, “Somebody Loves Me” by Paul Whiteman, “I’m Goin’ South” by Al Jolson
A1:S6 – “What’ll I Do” by Irving Berlin, “Jealous” by Marion Harris
A2:S1 – “Oh Lady Be Good” by Gershwin, “A Smile Will Go a Long Long Way” by Ted Weems, “Tea for Two” by Vincent Youmans, “Memory Lane” by Fred Waring
A2:S2 – “Limehouse Blues” by Paul Whiteman, “Fidgety Feet” by The Wolverines, “June Night” by Ted Lewis
A2:S3 – “Why Did I Kiss That Girl” by Paul Whiteman, “Pasadena” by Bret Firman
A2:S4 – “The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else” Al Jolson, “Livery Stable Blues” by the Origianl Dixieland Jass Band, “Down-hearted Blues” by Bessie Smith73.
A2:S5 – “How Come You Do Me Like You Do?” by Marion Harris, “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” by Marion Harris, “There’s Yes Yes In Your Eyes” by Bunk Johnson “I Wonder What’s Become of Sally” by Al Jolson
A2:S6 – “Guilty” by Margaret Whiting, “I Apologize” by Bing Crosby, “Lies” by Gus Arnheim, “I Surrender Dear” by Bing Crosby
Outro: “Rhapsody in Blue” by Gershwin”
Audience Recessional Mix, with suggested order, just for giggles:
“I Don’t Know Why” by Russ Columbo
“You’re Blase” by Binnie Hale
“Out of Nowhere” by Bing Crosby
“Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries” by Ethel Merman
“Love Letters in the Sand” by Gene Austin
“One More Time” by Roy Fox
“Mood Indigo” by Duke Ellington
“Dream a Little Dream of Me” by Ozzie Nelson
“Stardust” by Louis Armstrong
“Goodnight, Sweetheart” by The Ray Noble Orchestra