Carmen J. story adaptation and music by Sharon J. Willis
Carrie Mae, who will later change her name to Carmen James.
Act I: Saturday, August 4, 1864, The Jefferson Plantation, Albemarle County, Virginia,
During the Civil War.
Scene: Saturday at sunset, the men folk (slaves), followed by the womenfolk (slaves), are carrying their load of tobacco to be processed. Johnnie Washington, the new ‘Negro’ overseer becomes overtaken with the seductive Carrie Mae, the daughter of a former overseer, a Cuban by the name of Pédro James and a slave woman, Sally. Although his Master Ezekiel ‘Zee’ Jefferson is arranging a ‘hitching’ for him with recently manumitted Mary Lee Vaughn, now a seamstress on Master Vaughn’s plantation, he is still yet consumed by the likes of Carrie Mae. She and her friends, Fancy and Merta with the help of two Underground Scouts, Rosamond and Daniel have made plans to escape to freedom. Matters get out of hand after a barnyard brawl and an unexpected visit by Master Zee.
Act II: Saturday Night, May 6, 1865, Jimmy Paschal’s Tavern, Philadelphia
Scene: Carrie Mae and her friends after successfully running away, have now settled in Philadelphia where they are frequent visitors at Jimmy Paschal’s (named in honor of the late James Paschal of the historic restaurant – Paschal Brothers). It is a place where recently freed ‘Negroes’ and other immigrants go for social gatherings. Carrie has not seen Johnnie in several months for he is hidden out in fear of his former Master’s brother Morton Jefferson’s reward for his return. While there, a famous Vaudeville singer, Edward ‘Chaney’ Phillips comes to Paschal’s to give a preview of his new show – Le Toréador by Bizet. Of course, he is overtaken by the seductive Carrie Mae who now introduces herself as Carmen J. after a famous Spanish dancer. He invites Fancy, Merta and Carmen to be in his show in New York. While waiting for Johnnie, Rosamond and Daniel, the three women play cards to tell their fortune.
Act III: Friday Night, May, 1866, Johnnie’s Shack outside of Philadelphia
Scene: Johnnie sits anxious and afraid in an old broke-down shack. He has not heard from Carrie Mae in months. Desperate and still on the run from Morton Jefferson, he awaits word from his beloved Carrie Mae. She sends her word by Rosamond and Daniel who report the goings on to him. After learning that his Carrie Mae has joined the ‘Opera Revue’ with Chaney Phillips, he demands that Rosamond take him to New York – and then Daniel reports that she has come.
Act IV: Saturday Afternoon, May 1866, New York, Negro Theater
Scene: Excited and well dressed patrons from everywhere process to the theater to see the premiere of ‘Chaney’s Revue of Bizet’s Le Toréador.Carmen, now on the arms of her new love Edward ChaneyPhillips is finally where she wants to be – free and living the life of excitement and romance. Lurking near the theater is Johnnie Washington observing everything. He is determined to reclaim his ‘Carrie Mae’. Fancy and Merta warn her not to meet with him, but she is not afraid and determined to face him for the last time to end their relationship. The force of destiny wins once more – ‘diamonds and spades’.