"…any gang daring enough and unscrupulous enough and smart enough not to seem illegal can grab hold of the entire government and have all the power and applause and salutes, all the money and palaces and willin’ women they want."—Sinclair Lewis It Can’t Happen Here
"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."—Attributed to Sinclair Lewis
Don Baker talks with Next Stage Press publisher Gene Kato about his plays Trade With Klan and Grand Dragon in Power.
Next Stage Press Podcast - Episode 20 - Donald E. Baker
When the Grand Dragon takes charge nothing is sacred and no woman is safe.
In the 1920’s Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson rises to power in Indiana on a platform of anti-immigration and traditional Protestant moral values. He dominates the state legislature. The governor is his man. Klan precepts echo from Evangelical pulpits.
Stephenson uses the weight of the Klan voting bloc and money from Klan memberships to corrupt politicians and enrich himself. Soon he begins to believe in his own invincibility. “I am the law in Indiana,” he brags.
But Stephenson has a tragic flaw. In public a paragon of virtue, in private he is a sexual predator. He lures women with his wealth and charisma, most notably Madge Overholtzer, a young state employee. He viciously attacks her in a railroad sleeping car, inflicting such damage she later dies of her wounds.
Through the efforts of an intrepid reporter and a courageous prosecutor, Stephenson is finally toppled from power when he is convicted of Madge’s rape and murder. His trial is the dramatic climax of the play.
In a final act of vengeance against those he considers his enemies, Stephenson takes the Indiana political establishment down with him.
Minimum 4M 2W (Doubling)
DAVID CURTIS STEPHENSON--Age 34, KKK Grand Dragon
JOHN NIBLACK--Age 23, Indianapolis Times reporter
EARL GENTRY--Age 30+, Stephenson bodyguard
WILL REMY--Age 30-35, prosecuting attorney
HIRAM EVANS--Age 50, KKK Imperial Wizard
ED JACKSON--Age 50, Indiana Secretary of State
ASA SMITH--Age 50, lawyer
EPH INMAN--Age 50+, defense attorney
MADGE OBERHOLTZER--Age 28, Stephenson victim
EUNICE--Age 30, Indianapolis Times office worker
ARLENE--Age 30, Stephenson’s secretary (offstage)
IDA KLEIN--Age 30+, Chicago Tribune reporter
RECORDED OR OFFSTAGE VOICES
RALLY CROWD / ORCHESTRA LEADER /
RAILROAD ANNOUNCER / NEWSBOY
COURTROOM SPECTATORS / BAILIFF /
JUROR / PENITENTIARY GUARD
Various locations in Indiana. The play will flow more easily and quickly from implied scene to implied scene with light, easily moved set pieces doing double-duty—tables can represent desks, a simple cot can be a bed or a railroad-car berth, etc.
The stifling monochrome 1920’s of the American Midwest.
Although the play is inspired by actual events and people and is informed by extensive research, it is not a documentary and some liberties have been taken for dramatic effect.
Publication: Next Stage Press (2022)
Production (Radio Adaptation): Radio Theatre Project, St. Petersburg FL, March 26, 2018. Performed before a live audience and uploaded to SoundCloud.com.
Staged Reading (Stage Version): Panglossian Productions, Williamsburg VA, November 28, 2020. Pre-recorded and uploaded to Facebook.
RECOMMENDATIONS FROM PLAYWRIGHTS ON NEW PLAY EXCHANGE
Lisa Dellagiarino Feriend: “I didn’t know this story about the Grand Dragon of the Klan in Indiana who was convicted of murder and rape in the 1920s. I was completely sucked in and loved watching DC Stephenson get his comeuppance, since politicians these days who spew hate and rape women seem to get away with it. The parallels to today made Stephenson’s last line even more unsettling. What a captivating, horrifying, well-written play.”
Craig Houk: “Absolutely tragic that an innocent woman - whose only objective was to find love and to have a better life - would have to pay the ultimate price in the process. If anything positive is to be gleaned from it, it's that her death played a significant role in the downfall of what was regarded as the second manifestation of the KKK. Baker delivers a riveting drama filled with compelling characters and tightly crafted dialogue. The play is set in 1925 but it could just as well be set in 2025 since not much has changed. Exceptional work.”
DC Cathro: “This play says a lot about what we have and haven’t learned from history. An intriguing and well written take on the past that is still important today. The dialogue feels like an old movie from the era, which is a compliment, and the characters come alive in this interpretation of actual events. Horrifying, exciting, emotional, and above all, important.”
Morey Norkin: “What a chilling tale! Chilling because it is based on true events from the 1920s that sadly sound too familiar in the 2020s. A KKK leader who gains political and financial power by stirring up the most despicable prejudices of his “base.” And when finally charged with rape and murder, his defense is to attack the character of the victim. Baker has written an important play. I hope someday we all learn its lessons.”
Christopher Soucy: “I had a knot in my stomach reading this play. A tremendous achievement in capturing the angst of truth in such trying times. I imagined myself as an actor portraying the unsavory main character and knew it would be a feat of acting, but a wound to the soul. Bravo to Donald Baker for crafting this unflinching look at the past, this damning commentary of the present, and, hopefully, this effective warning for the future.”
Jan Probst: “An absolutely chilling tale deftly told via characters who ring true to the era. Knowing this story is based on true events sadly underscores its relevance to the socio-political climate of today. Baker is a master at dialogue that sets each character apart and yet brings them together in a sense of time and place. I felt the fear and the power of each moment just reading the play. Imagine what could happen when this excellent work is fully staged.”
Nora Louise Syran: “I listened to Baker's radio adaptation of this piece by The Radio Theatre Project . Characterization, dialogue, structure...everything spot on. Transports us effortlessly into a very real past with its reverberations into the present. Well done.”