Full Synopsis

Full Synopsis

Act One

The show opens on the interior of the humble cottage where Mrs. Wilson and her daughter, Mary, are discovered side-by-side in rocking chairs, sewing on embroidery hoops. Their lives are not going very well. The mortgage is overdue and the ceiling is falling through. Nevertheless, they are hoping for something good ("Something Good Will Happen Soon"). They are worried that their cottage will be sold since the landlord, Mr. Middleton, is at death's door. If he dies, they wonder what will happen to them and where they will go.

Suddenly, there is a knock at the door as the villain, the foul-tempered lawyer, Mr. Cribbs, enters to inform the two ladies that his client, Mr. Middleton, has indeed passed away. He lewdly gazes at poor Mary as he tells them that Mr. Cribbs had many bad investments and many debts that must be paid. The Wilson's cottage must be sold, and the ladies will have to find somewhere else to live. After coldly disclosing this news, the villain leaves.

Mr. Middleton has a surviving son, Edward, and, although this young man is known to be a bit reckless and given to excess, perhaps the women can convince him not to sell the cottage. They gather up all of the rent money that they have saved as Mary prepares to take it over to meet with Edward and ask him for help. While Mary makes her way over to Edward's house, Mr. Cribbs prances around, enjoying all of the evil in the world ("Don't Swat Your Mother").

In a wooded glade, Edward, our hero, enters confidently and handsomely dressed. He is stopped by Mr. Cribbs, who tries to discuss with him the selling of the Wilson cottage and its adjoining land. Edward has no intention of selling the cottage or land. He knows that his father had the highest esteem for the Wilsons, and Edward would never deprive them of a home. Hearing this, an angered Mr. Cribbs exits.

Mr. Cribbs swiftly returns, however, and suggests to Edward that, since young Mary is without a father, it would be very easy for him simply to take her for his own. Hearing these lewd thoughts infuriates Edward and he chases after Mr. Cribbs. Edward is about to strike Mr. Cribbs when Mary, who has been peeking out from behind the tree, rushes forward and grasps Edward's arm. She begs forgiveness for Mr. Cribbs, and the villain angrily escapes.

Mary prepares to give Edward the rent money. He refuses it, however, insisting that she keep it as a portion of her dowry. The two have fallen in love at first sight and offer vows, planning to wed ("Peace and Love").

It appears as if Mr. Cribbs' plan is falling apart. If Edward weds young Mary, there is no way that the cottage will be sold, keeping him (as the attached lawyer) from reaping the profits. Mr. Cribbs, however, is not giving up that easily. He will use liquor as his potion to destroy Edward; a plan that has worked for him before. Edward's foster brother, William Dowton, comes along the path. Mr. Cribbs tries speaking with him, but William has no time, proclaiming that Edward is getting married and there is much to do. Mr. Cribbs tries to get an invitation, but William refuses. William leaves, and Mr. Cribbs hears the singing of Agnes, William's insane sister. At one time, she was a happy girl who was engaged to wed. Mr. Cribbs, however, turned her fiancé on to drinking, and the young man died in a drunken fit. She has never been the same since that time.

Deranged Agnes enters and speaks of the wedding preparations that she has observed. She confronts Mr. Cribbs, crying that he ruined her life the very moment he turned her husband on to drinking. The crazy woman chases him, and Cribbs attempts to hit her with his cane. Just then, William returns and takes Mr. Cribbs by the collar. Williams says that, were it not for the fact that Mr. Cribbs is an old man, he would break every bone in his body. William restrains himself, however, choosing good over evil, and lets Cribbs go ("Good Is Good").

Mary and William have a wonderful wedding, and everything appears to be going well for the happy couple. The village celebrates ("Mrs. Mary Middleton") while Mr. Cribbs hands a bottle of wine to the Preacher, who doesn't know quite what to do with it. Edward, however, looks at the bottle and prepares to take a sip. Mary tries to stop her new husband from taking a drink, but he persists, telling her that it is only in social celebration. Unfortunately, after his first drink, he appears to be quite taken with the new beverage.

Act Two

Some years later, Edward is discovered in a village bar, disheveled and drinking quite heavily. He has been wandering from one bar to the next, drinking his nights away. Mr. Cribbs has been along all the time, helping to keep poor Edward in a drunken state.

Suddenly, a great deal of commotion ensues as Carrie Nation works her way to Edward and speaks to him of redemption through complete abstinence from alcohol. Mr. Cribbs tries to argue with her about the virtues of drinking, but she has no time for this. Our villain, however, is a very powerful man, and everyone in the bar has soon joined him in celebrating his views of alcohol ("Have Another Drink"). Carrie tries to stop him, but to no avail. They all continue drinking as Carrie leaves in frustration.

By this time, Edward is totally intoxicated, and even the bartender tries to send him home. Edward refuses, though, causing another stir and eventually passing out on the floor. William enters, finds his wounded brother and tries to help him home. He reprimands Edward for his behavior and accuses the bartenders assisting his brother's demise. It is then that Edward remembers the man that he used to be and realizes what he has become – a drunkard ("Curse of an Aching Heart"). Still in a drunken stupor, Edward passes out again.

Mr. Cribbs adores how the situation is playing itself out. He delivers a monologue to the audience about living life to the fullest ("When You're Dead").

In a wooded glade, a trembling Edward enters, more out-of-sorts than ever. He proceeds to his secret hiding place behind the tree stump and retrieves his bottle of liquor, which he guzzles until it is gone. He prepares to go but is stopped by Cribbs, who quickly tries to tempt him with a flask of brandy. Edward tries to resist but he cannot; he chugs the flask while Cribbs laughs maniacally. Once Edward is completely drunk, the two join in song, celebrating the joys of drinking ("Cup of Coffee").

Inside the Wilson cottage, poor Mary is sobbing about her situation. Her husband is a drunk, there is little money left and her mother is near death. Little Julia, her daughter, tries to console her mother. William enters with more news of Edward and his drunken ways. When Mary sees her husband's completely disheveled appearance, she completely breaks down ("Something Good Will Happen Soon"). Hearing all of the commotion, Mrs. Wilson runs out and screams for silence. Unfortunately, her screams bring about a sudden heart attack, and she dies. Edward realizes that he is to blame for everyone's hardships and decides to leave forever.

Act Three

The curtain rises on a street in the Bowery in New York City. Mr. Cribbs removes a cover from a trash barrel where Edward is still in a drunken stupor. Edward asks Cribbs about his wife and child and is informed that they would like to see him if he indeed became a respectable member of society. Cribbs tries to convince Edward to forge a check for $5000, persuading him that money would make him respectable. Edward does not, and a disappointed Mr. Cribbs leaves him alone, drunk and destitute ("Garbage Can Blues").

Inside a cold, one-room, New York City tenement, Mary is working at the ironing board as Julia sleeps on a simple straw pallet. It appears as if the mother and child are also in the most desperate of circumstances, without money or food. Mr. Cribbs enters in a swirl of snowflakes. Mary is desperately trying to find her husband, and Cribbs tries to convince her that Edward is probably off with another young woman. She dismisses his comment, for, as far as she's concerned, Edward's only fault is intemperance, not infidelity.

Mr. Cribbs attempts to make his move on Mary, but she has no interest in him. He tries to seize her, but she resists his lascivious embraces. Things get more intense as Julia even joins in to help her poor mother. Just when Mr. Cribbs is about to win, William enters and intercedes. Holding Mr. Cribbs, he offers the villain one more chance at redemption, but Cribbs proclaims, "A villain I have lived. A villain let me die." With that, William throws Mr. Cribbs down a flight of stairs, killing him. William is determined to help Mary find her husband. The two leave to search the entire city while Little Julia thinks about how the joys of nature are far better than the joys of wine ("Julia's Song").

The scene opens on Edward in a heap of tattered clothing, atop a curbstone. The Salvation Army appears and approaches Edward, asking him if he wants to be saved ("Do You Want to Be Saved?"). At first, Edward resists, saying that it is too late for him, but he slowly begins to listen to the leader and is further persuaded as William, Julia and Mary discover him and offer him help. As a final point of persuasion, everyone points up at Mr. Cribbs, who magically appears from above. He is all in white, complete with a small harp and angel wings. Suddenly, as if by magic, Edward is ready to be saved and is transformed into a neatly dressed citizen, complete with black suit, collar and tie.

Newly reformed, Edward and the cast focus on the sinners of the audience, asking them if they, too, wish to be saved.

"Look up to heaven, brother
Say down with demon rum!"