Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 698
Gramp Maple, the owner of the Black Mesa Bar-B-Q in eastern Arizona, near the New Mexico border. He is a dinosaur of a man, a self-styled pioneer who has lived past the age of pioneers. Gramp runs the restaurant with the help of his son, his granddaughter, and Boze Hertzlinger, who works for him. Gramp relates to Duke Mantee, an escapee from prison who lands in the Black Mesa. He looks on Duke as the kind of pioneer he would like to be and probably, despite his boasts, has never been.
Jason Maple, Gramp’s son, an American Legionnaire who has spent his entire life in the desert, except for the time he served in the Army during World War I. He married a French woman, and they produced a child, Gabby. Jason’s wife moved to the desert with him but, unable to stand the isolation of eastern Arizona, returned quickly to France and remarried. She left their daughter with Jason, who has little sense of purpose in life. He reflects the stereotyped patriotic jingoism typically attributed to Legionnaires.
Gabrielle (Gabby) Maple
Gabrielle (Gabby) Maple, Jason’s daughter and Gramp’s granddaughter, roughly twenty years old. She works in the Black Mesa but spends her life dreaming about France, reading the works of François Villon, affecting the vocabulary of a stevedore, and wishing she were in Paris. Gabby has no real memory of her mother but keeps alive an illusion of what she must have been like.
Boze Hertzlinger, a teenage boy who works at the barbecue and has romantic inclinations toward Gabby, whose fondness for poetry he utterly fails to understand. Although Gabby sometimes leads him on, they have no realistic expectation of a future together.
Alan Squier, an intelligent, sophisticated hitchhiker who appears at the Black Mesa down on his luck and unable to pay for his meal. He and Gabby are on the same intellectual wavelength. They talk about poetry and the things that matter to Gabby, who gives Alan a silver dollar and arranges for him to ride to Phoenix with a banker and his wife who are heading in that direction. Alan, who is convinced that he has no real future, concludes that he can serve humanity best by dying and leaving his five-thousand-dollar insurance policy to Gabby so that she can get away from the Black Mesa. He writes Gabby in as beneficiary of the policy, then makes a compact with Duke Mantee to shoot him.
Mr. Chisholm, an affluent banker from the East who stops at the restaurant on his way west. He, his wife, their chauffeur, and Alan Squier leave to continue to Phoenix, only to have their car stolen by Duke Mantee, who is heading for the Mexican border. They all end up back in the Black Mesa.
Mrs. Chisholm, Chisholm’s long-suffering wife, who finds Duke Mantee much more attractive than her stuffy husband. After getting tipsy, she says so in no uncertain terms.
Joseph, the Chisholms’ black chauffeur.
Duke Mantee, an interesting, individualistic killer who is being hunted after his escape from prison. He comes close to living up to Gramp’s definition of a pioneer, and the two of them get along well despite the tenseness of the situation. Mantee gets along with everyone in the Black Mesa except Boze, whose middle-class notions of right and wrong will not permit him to judge Duke as an individual.
Pyle, all henchmen of Duke Mantee who are helping him to escape.
Paula, the Mexican cook, one of the few people with whom Gabby can talk about her real feelings.
Two telegraph linemen
Two telegraph linemen, who are eating at the barbecue when the action opens. Through their conversation, they allow Gramp to reveal his pioneering spirit.
Herb, a friendly cowboy who comes into the Black Mesa to eat.
An American Legion commander
An American Legion commander,
the sheriff, and
two deputies, all introduced to show the bloodthirsty mentality of those who are pursuing Duke Mantee.
Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2072
Mrs. Chisolm is a society lady who seems, at first, to be very concerned with being proper. Her stuffiness misleads audiences, who are shocked when, later in the play, she propositions Mantee openly in front of everyone, including her husband. She spends a long time drinking liquor and listening to Gabby’s frustrated dreams of being an artist and then tells Gabby about her own plans to be an actress when she was Gabby’s age. She says that her dream was dashed by her family, who wanted her to remain respectable. ‘‘And before I knew it, I was married to this pillar of the mortgage loan and trust,’’ she says, indicating her husband. After encouraging Gabby to run off to France, she compliments Mantee on being a ‘‘real man,’’ and when someone notes that it sounds as if Mantee has had an offer, she says, ‘‘He certainly has! And it was made with all sincerity, too.’’ In the end, she and her husband are taken as hostages, as the gangsters escape.
Chisolm is a wealthy, cautious, somewhat cheap man. He arrives at the Black Mesa with his wife in a chauffeured car. Inquiring about the cigars for sale, he hears the price of one kind and opts for the less expensive brand. Before he is willing to take Squier, a hitchhiker, across the desert in his car, he has his chauffeur check him for weapons. Still, his precautions do not protect him from the Mantee gang, who steal his car. When the Chisolms walk back to the Black Mesa, he offers Duke Mantee money to let them go; Mantee just takes the money from him without bargaining. Later, he is further humiliated when his wife tells everyone about what an unsatisfactory life she has led and offers herself sexually to Duke Mantee.
The Sheriff runs onstage with two deputies at the end of the play, while they are pursuing Mantee. The first deputy never speaks.
Pursuing the Mantee gang at the end of the play, the second deputy calls out from offstage that his car has been disabled because the tires have been shot out.
First Telegraph Lineman
Of the two telegraph linemen who eat at the Black Mesa in the beginning of the first act, the one labeled First Lineman talks of the good things that are being done in Communist Russia for the cause of social equality. The Second Lineman calls him ‘‘Nick.’’ Jason Maple threatens him for being critical of America, and he calls Jason ‘‘Mr. Tin Horn Patriot.’’
Herb is a regular customer of the Black Mesa, who comes in early in the play to buy moonshine liquor and beer because he is going to be in a posse that the sheriff has sworn in to capture Duke Mantee. In the end, when Mantee is pursued, Herb is enthusiastic about shooting him.
Boze is a gas station attendant and former football player who represents physical virility in the play. He played football for Nevada Tech, and in his wallet he carries an old clipping of a newspaper article that praised his athletic ability. He tries to sweet-talk Gabby into giving up her virtue to him, trying to convince her that he loves her and that she just may, deep in her heart, love him too. She is on the verge of giving in to him when the Mantee gang shows up. While they are being tied up, Boze tells Gabby he loves her. When he finds out that she loves Squier, though, he starts to tell the people in the diner how close Gabby came to giving in to him. To prove his love for her, he makes a daring leap to grab a shotgun but ends up being shot in the hand by Mantee. He is led offstage to have his wound bandaged and does not come back until the end of the play.
A member of Mantee’s gang, Jackie makes suggestive comments to Paula, the cook, as he leads her out back to tie her up. Later, during the shootout, Jackie is supposed to be defending the rear of the building. It is when he hears that Jackie has been shot that Duke knows he has to flee.
The Chisolms’ chauffeur Joseph is deferential to his employers, and Pyles is angry with him. Pyles is also black, but because he is a gangster, he does not have to act subservient. Even when Pyles controls the situation by holding a gun on the Chisolms Joseph refuses to take a drink until he has Mr. Chisolm’s permission. During the play’s final gun battle, Joseph cries out in prayer.
The Legion Commander is the Commander of the Ralph M. Kesterling post of the American Legion, and is leading his men in a search party. The stage notes describe him as ‘‘a peppery little man.’’ When they are caught by the gangsters at the diner, he gives Duke the news that his comrades have been captured.
Mantee is a famous gangster who is on the run from the law and ends up at the Black Mesa. His escape from prison and subsequent crime spree is the subject of gossip and media coverage long before he arrives. When he does show up, near the end of act 1, he turns out to be more courteous and soft-spoken than the ruthless killer that he’s been described to be. He offers the diner’s food and drinks freely to his hostages. He also steals from the rich Chisolms without any hesitation, even showing a sense of amusement.
Even though it delays his escape to the Mexican border, Duke insists that his companions must wait at the Black Mesa for another part of his gang, which includes a blonde woman, Doris. He is almost cheerful about agreeing to kill Squier when Squier asks him to, indicating that Mantee might not take the request seriously. In the end, though, Mantee finds out that he has been betrayed by Doris, and the cold-blooded killer in him comes out. He shoots Squier on his way out, indicating either his frustration at the world or his sympathy for Squier’s disillusionment.
The female lead of the play, Gabrielle ‘‘Gabby’’ Maple reads and writes poetry and paints pictures. She is faithful to her father and kind to her grandfather, but she is also tough and uses coarse language. Her mother was French and divorced Gabby’s father when Gabby was young. Each year when she was young, Gabby received a book from her mother, but the books were in French, and she could not read them. Gabby feels her life would be fulfilled if she could just go to France to study art. She is mildly interested in Boze’s flirtations until she meets Alan Squier, who embodies all of the artistic sensibilities that she admires: he is the only one she will show her paintings to, and they are so abstract that he has to ask her, ‘‘Is—this a portrait of someone?’’ When he leaves, she is bitter enough to give in to Boze, just for the experience of it, but is stopped by the gangsters’ arrival. When Squier comes back to the diner, he becomes more and more drawn to Gabby’s idealism, until he eventually declares his deep love for her.
Gramp owns the Black Mesa Diner and refuses to sell it, even though his son and granddaughter would like to leave Arizona. He is something of a rebel in that he has fond memories of the time he met Billy the Kid, who once shot at him, and he is a fan of Duke Mantee and follows the gangster’s exploits in the newspaper. When Gramp came to Arizona from Virginia in the 1870s, the area was Indian territory, and he and men like him took their lives into their own hands, running the first telegraph cable. He considers himself a pioneer and feels that life in the modern world has lost the pioneering spirit. ‘‘The trouble with this country is, it got settled,’’ Gramp tells Gabby. During the course of the play, Jason is disrespectful to him, telling him to not talk to the customers, and Gabby follows Jason’s command that Gramp cannot have a drink. When Duke arrives, he returns Gramp’s respect at first by telling the others to give him what he wants, but later he becomes protective and says that Gramp should not drink, because Gabby says so.
The manager of the Black Mesa, Jason Maple is a patriotic American and a loyal member of the American Legion. Jason proves to be crude, telling his father to ‘‘shut up,’’ and vain in the ornate uniform he wears to his Legion meeting. Jason is a veteran of the war, although he did not see combat: he drove a truck, which is a point he is very defensive about when Gramp ridicules his American Legion uniform. He plans to move to Los Angeles when Gramp sells the diner. Jason leaves for a Legion meeting early in the play and shows up later with a posse of Legionnaires that is looking for Mantee. They are taken hostage, and Jason feels betrayed when the troops that he was helping to hunt Mantee shoot up his restaurant and then commandeer his car to chase after the fleeing gang.
The Other Legionnaire
When the American Legion troops enter the diner with Jason and are captured by Mantee, the Other Legionnaire (referred to by the stage name ‘‘Other’’) alternates with the Legion Commander in telling of the capture of Doris and the other members of Duke’s gang. He is introduced in the stage notes as ‘‘burly and stupid.’’
Paula is the Mexican cook at the Black Mesa.
Pyles is the African-American member of the Mantee gang. When he offers a drink to the Chisolms’ chauffeur and the chauffeur asks for Mr. Chisolm’s permission before drinking it, a stage direction tells performers that Pyles is ‘‘ashamed for his race.’’ Later, when he interrupts Squier’s declaration of love because he is worried for his life, Mrs. Chisolm tells him, ‘‘Be quiet—you black gorilla.’’ Instead of standing up for Pyles, Mantee tells him, ‘‘She pegged you, all right, Pyles.’’
A member of Duke Mantee’s gang.
Second Telegraph Lineman
The Second Lineman is an instigator. He encourages Gramp to tell his stories of the Old West and the First Lineman to talk about Communist principles, and he seems just as amused by each.
At the end of the play, the Sheriff and his deputies enter the diner in pursuit of Mantee’s gang. They take Jason Maple’s car, over his objection, to chase the gangsters who have fled in the Chisolms’ Duesenberg.
Squier is a disillusioned intellectual who eyes other people’s concerns with ironic humor but who ends up dying for love. Squier was born in 1901, and when he was twenty-two, he wrote a novel that was ‘‘very, very stark.’’ It sold poorly, and the publisher lost money on it; then the publisher’s wife divorced him and married Squier. For eight years he lived on the Riviera, trying to write another book, with his wife paying the bills, which he describes to Gabby as being ‘‘a gigolo.’’ He defines himself as a member of a vanishing breed, intellectuals who have conquered nature and now have no purpose to their lives. After his meal, he admits that he has no money to pay, showing no concern or embarrassment. When Gabby offers him a dollar, he accepts it from her. When he ends up back at the Black Mesa, Squier is happy to be part of the hostage situation. He drinks liquor and encourages Duke Mantee and his gang to run from the law. Although he is without ideals himself, Squier tells Mantee to be true to his plan: ‘‘Don’t betray yourself,’’ he tells him. ‘‘Go on, run for the border—and take your illusions with you!’’ Boze’s heroic act of defiance spurs Squier to his own heroic act: he makes Gabby the beneficiary of a five thousand dollar life insurance policy and asks Mantee to kill him, which Mantee does as he is leaving in the end.
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