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Theatre / Thunder on Sycamore Street

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A 1954 short play written by Reginald Rose. Most widely known for the 1960 Australian televised production directed by David Cahill.

Sycamore Street is a quiet suburban neighborhood, gripped by a sudden air of energy. Frank Morrison returns home after work in a jovial mood, speaking briefly with his neighbor, the meek and bespectacled Arthur Hayes, about his excitement for tonight, reminding him to be out in front of his house at seven sharp. Frank then goes into his house, plays with his children and has dinner with his wife, Clarice, barely able to contain his impatience for seven. After discussing it with Clarice, he agrees their sons should come tonight, to see how men protect their community. The clock chimes seven, and all leave.


In the second act, the opening scene repeats, but this time we follow Arthur into his home and see that he is watching the clock with dread. Conversation with his wife reveals he has a lot of doubts about tonight and eventually just what "tonight" is. A man recently moved into their idyllic community, Joseph Blake, along with his wife, mother, and six-year-old daughter. It was discovered that he is an ex-convict, only recently released from prison. Nobody knows precisely what his crime was, but a community meeting it was decided that the Blakes have to go, and tonight a mob will appear on their doorstep and offer the Blakes one chance to leave peaceably before they're run out. Arthur's wife, Phyllis, urges him to go through with it because she herself is terrified of the mob mentality and the ostracization they might face for defying the community. The argument is complicated further when their own daughter comes home from school, distressed by the rumors she's heard about what they're going to do to the Blakes. Arthur leaves to speak with Frank, but just stands on his doorstep while Phyllis watches anxiously until the clock strikes seven, and the scene ends.


In the third act, Joseph Blake comes home to his family and enjoys a brief period of domestic bliss, until Mrs. Carson arrives to warn him of what's coming. Notably, she still feels he should flee and doesn't belong in their community, she just wants to settle things quickly and without violence. Joseph thanks her and asks her to leave. Anna, Joseph's wife, begs him to run with them, or to explain that he only served five years for manslaughter, having fallen asleep at the wheel of his car. Joseph is adamant, however, that he has a right to live where he chooses, he did his time and that's over, if anyone wants to know what he did they should have asked. Besides, he argues, their daughter is about to learn of the Constitution in school, how can he face her when that happens if he didn't stand up for his rights now? The clock chimes seven.


The mob arrives, and Frank extends the offer to just leave. Joseph speaks to his neighbors instead, shaming them with his defiance, calling them on their poor behavior before the children, all without once defending himself or his crime. When one man, Charlie, actually throws a rock and hurts him, Arthur, against Phyllis' wishes, crosses over to stand at Joseph's side, and the mob disperses while Frank harangues them impotently.

Thunder on Sycamore Street contains examples of:

  • Character Filibuster: Both Phyllis Hayes and Joseph Blake get one.
  • Jaywalking Will Ruin Your Life: Averted. Joseph asserts his right to live his life free after paying for his one mistake.
  • Large Ham: Frank Morrison, whose jovial nature conceals a bully.
  • Minimalism: Around a dozen actors, three sets one for each act, usually created just by rearranging some furniture.
  • Shaming the Mob: A powerful example of this in Joseph Blake's speech.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Joseph to Frank.
    "You good people of Sycamore Street are going to have to kill me tonight! Are you ready, Mr. Morrison? Don't bother to be fair. You're the head man here. Be first!
  • Villainous Breakdown: As the crowd disperses, Frank is left standing in street, yelling impotently about community standards. Even his children shake their heads and walk away.
    You know what Sycamore Street'll be like. I don't have to tell you. How do we know who we'll be rubbing elbows with next? Listen, where are you going? We're all together in this! What about out kids? Listen to me, people. Our kids'll be playing and going to school with his. How do you like that, neighbors? Makes you a little sick, doesn't it? Come back here! I'm telling you we've got to do this! Come back here!
  • Who Will Bell the Cat?: The mob seemed to honestly expect Joseph to just leave. No one, even Frank, is willing to throw the first brick, until Charlie does.


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