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Jitney

Setting:  1977
Written:  1979
Huntington Production:  1998

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Jitney Characters
Jitney Synopsis 

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Curriculum Guide

Characters

  • BECKER: A well-respected man who runs the jitney station. Sixties.
  • DOUB: A longtime jitney driver and Korean War veteran.
  • RENA: Youngblood’s girlfriend and mother of their young son.
  • TURNBO: A jitney driver who is always interested in the business of others.
  • BOOSTER: Becker’s son, recently released from prison. Early forties.
  • SHEALY: A numbers taker who often uses the jitney station as his base.
  • YOUNGBLOOD: A jitney driver and Vietnam veteran in his mid to late twenties.

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Synopsis

Act I, Scene 1:  Jitney is set in a gypsy cab station in the Hill District of Pittsburgh in the fall of 1977.  As the play begins, Youngblood, a Vietnam War veteran, and Turnbo, another jitney driver, are playing checkers.  Fielding, a driver who is a drunk, asks the other men for four dollars, but they refuse to give it to him.  Fielding answers the phone and tells the customer who is calling that it will cost her four dollars for him to drive her where she wants to go.  Doub enters, and when Fielding asks him for some money, Doub enters, and when Fielding asks him for some money, Doub gives it to him, but tell shim to repay it after he makes his next trip.

Shealy, the “numbers man,” enters, and denies to Doub and Youngblood that his lottery was responsible for “Big Ben” down the street buying a new car.  He tells a story about a woman named Rosie who rejected him and cursed him so that he would see her face whenever he was with another woman.  He says that he will marry the first woman he sleeps with who doesn’t cause him to see Rosie’s face.  Shealy asks if anyone has seen Becker, the jitney station boss, and remarks that Becker’s son will be released form prison next month.

Philmore, who is drunk, enters, and asks Shealy for a ride home.  Shealy tells him that he doesn’t have a car; when Youngblood reenters, Philmore gives him four dollars for the ride.  Turnbo comes back in, and tells Shealy about a trip he made that morning hauling a television for a youth who stole it from his own grandmother.  Becker enters, and gives his wife’s numbers bet to Shealy, who asks Becker if he can help his nephew get a job at a nearby steel mill.  Becker says that he will see what he can do, and Shealy exits.  Turnbo says that Shealy’s nephew is a “thug,” and Becker criticizes him for “always gossiping and running off at the mouth.”

Youngblood enters and asks Doub if Peaches, his girlfriend’s sister, has come by; he says to tell her that he will be next door if she arrives.  Turnbo asks Youngblood to bring him back a cup of coffee, but Youngblood refuses.  Turnbo tells Doub that he thinks Youngblood has been “messing around” with Peaches, and Doub tells Turnbo that he should stay out of other people’s business.  Turnbo replies that he should stay out of other people’s business.  Turnbo replies that he has the right to express his opinions, but Doub says that he should keep them to himself.  Youngblood speaks to Peaches on the phone, and tells her he will pick her up later to go to a furniture store.  He then calls a Mr. Harper about a house he is buying, and learns that he does not have enough money to pay for the title search.  After he counts his money and sees that he is short, he gets an idea about how to make up the difference.

Act I, Scene 2:  Youngblood comes into the jitney station and asks Turnbo for the 30 cents he owes him.  Turnbo refuses to give the money to him, saying that he should not have to repay it because he never drank the coffee.  Becker orders Turnbo to give Youngblood the money, and Turnbo throws it on the floor.  Youngblood refuses to pick it up, and Turnbo suddenly reaches for it.  When the phone rings, the two men argue about who has the next trip, and Becker says that it belongs to Youngblood.  When Youngblood exits, Turnbo says that Youngbloody doesn’t have good sense.  Becker exits after telling Turnbo that his car needs to be washed.

The phone rings and Turnbo answers it.  He tells Peaches that he will give Youngblood the message she leaves with him.  Rena, Youngblood’s girlfriend, then enters, and asks where Youngblood has gone.  Turnbo invites her to wait for his return, and tells her that she would be better off with “an older man who got some sense and know how to treat a woman.”  He mentions that he has seen Youngblood with her sister, Peaches.  Rena denies that Youngblood has been chasing other women, and asks Turnbo to give him them message that she came by to see him.

Youngblood now enters, and Rena tells him that they need to talk.  She asks him what happened to the 80 dollars that she had in a drawer at their apartment, which was supposed to be for groceries.  Youngblood says he needed the money to pay a debt, and promises to replace it.  Rena says that she would never have touched the grocery money because it is needed to buy food for their son, Jesse.  Youngblood replies that he is only trying to do what is right, but Rena says that his efforts aren’t enough.  She also wants to know why he has been out half the night lately.  She tells him that she doesn’t believe that he has been working for the UPS, because she never sees any of his income.  Youngblood tells her that he had to pay a debt, and that she should be patient with him.  Rena says that she also knows something is going on between him and Peaches, and before she exits, tells him to not bother coming home that night.

Becker and Doub enter, and Becker tells him that the city plans to tear down the entire block where the station is located.  Doub becomes upset that Becker hasn’t mentioned anything before about this problem, because all of the drivers depend on the station to provide their income.  Becker says that he hopes they can find a new place, but that he is tired of driving jitneys and running the station.  Doub says that Becker has lost control of the men, and Becker replies that he does the best he can with them.  Turnbo enters and head the news about the station.  He asks Becker what he is planning to do, and Doub says that the men should have a meeting to talk about their futures.  The phone rings, and Becker’s wife, Lucille, tells him that his son, Booster, is getting out of jail the next day, a month earlier than he had been expected to be released.

Act I, Scene 3:  Early the next day, Youngblood is sitting in a chair calculating the projected mortgage payments on his new house.  Turnbo enters and asks him if he has heard the news abut Becker’s son, and Youngblood says he hasn’t even known that Becker had a son.  Turnbo tells Youngblood that Booster has been in jail for 20 years following a murder conviction, and that Becker’s wife died soon after Booster was sentenced.  Turnbo explains that a white woman Booster was meeting regularly accused Booster of raping her when their relationship was discovered by the woman’s father, and that Booster shot and killed her.  Youngblood says that her fate “served her right for lying,” but Turnbo counters that Booster had no right to kill the girl.  He asks if Youngblood’s girlfriend has a right to kill him because he lies to her and runs around with her sister.

Angered by Turnbo’s remarks, Youngblood attacks the older man and tells him to stay out of his business.  He knocks Turnbo to the ground and bloodies his mouth.  Becker enters and separates the mean.  The men continue fighting and insulting each other, and Turnbo soon goes to get a gun, which he aims at Youngblood.  Becker convinces Turnbo to put the gun away, and escorts Turnbo out of the room.  After Becker reenters, he tells Youngblood to stay away from Turnbo.  Youngblood leaves to take a trip to the bus station, although he is reluctant because he does not want to have to carry suitcases in his car.  Turnbo comes back in and tells Becker to “straighten up that young fool.”  Fielding enters and asks him what happened.  Fielding begins to drink from a bottle, and Becker tells him that he is fired because he isn’t allowed to drink when he is driving jitneys.  Fielding refuses to leave, and Becker tells Turnbo to take the next trip.  Turnbo says that he doesn’t want to get in the middle of an argument; Becker again tells Fielding to leave and takes the trip himself.

Act I, Scene 4:  As the scene begins, Fielding and Turnbo are speaking with Booster, who has just been released from prison.  Fielding tells a story about a woman he hasn’t seen in 22 years, but whom he says still loves him.  Becker enters and orders Fielding again to leave, but when Fielding asks him to let him work the two weeks before the station is closed for good, Becker relents and tells him to come in sober the next day.

Fielding and Turnbo exit, and Becker and his son are left alone.  Becker interrupts his son’s first reminiscences by asking him what he plans to do with his life now that he has ruined it.  Booster replied that he has paid his debt to society, and doesn’t want to be criticized by his father.  He says that he turned down parole five years earlier because he didn’t want anyone to be empowered to look after him, including Becker; but he says that he doesn’t hold a grudge against his father for not communicating with him for so many years.  Becker angrily replies that he constantly has to worry about people talking about him behind his back.  He says that although Booster has nothing, at least he can respect himself.  Booster tries to justify his actions by saying that he had to kill the girl for accusing him of rape, but Becker says that his son is wrong to think that, because he would have helped him to fight her lie.

Becker tells his son that he had long hoped Booster would follow the examples he set.  Booster says that he didn’t want to, because in his view his father was always accepting whatever happened to him instead of fighting for his rights.  Becker responds that he swallowed his pride because he had the responsibility of a family, and that he hoped his son would know better than to commit a crime.  Becker becomes more and more upset, and says that all that his son turned out to be was a murderer.  He accuses him of also being responsible for his wife’s death, because she became sick the day Booster was sentenced to jail, and died soon after.  The first act ends with Becker telling his son that he no longer wants to have anything to do with him.  As the phone rings in the jitney station, Booster remains alone on stage looking down at the floor. The lights go black.

Act II, Scene 1:  The next day, Turnbo and Doub are arguing about who is prettier, Sarah Vaughn or Lena Horne.  Doub says that he refuses to talk about women and money, because those subjects are what get most people killed.  Turnbo exits as Youngblood enters.  Youngblood asks Doub about news of the station’s closing, and accuses “the white man” of always picking the worst possible time to do something that will deprive him of an income.  Doub tells him not to think that everyone is against him.  He suggests that Youngblood should go to school under the GI Bill, and says that he is too young to depend on driving jitneys for his income.  Youngblood replies that he is worried about the present, because he needs money for furniture and a mortgage, and adds that he refuses to work in the steel mills.  Doub says that he is not worried about his own future because he only has himself to take care of and has a railroad pension. 

Fielding comes in and asks Youngblood about his altercation with Turnbo.  Although Youngblood says that he and Turnbo have straightened things out, Doub says that Turnbo is crazy and has the potential to kill some one some day.  Turnbo enters, interrupting their conversation, and the men continue to talk about their future prospects.  Booster comes in and finding his father not present, asks the men to tell Becker that he came by to see him.

Youngblood and Rena enter, separately, and Rena inquires where he spent the night.  He asks Rena how she could believe rumors about him and Peaches; Rena says that she never thought that they were having an affair.  Youngblood reveals that he had hoped to surprise Rena with a new house, and Rena becomes angry that he would make such a big decision without consulting her.  She says hat although his heart was in the right place, he should have considered her needs more than he did.  Youngblood replies that she should have noticed how much he has changed since they first met, and says all he wants to do is provide for her and their son.  They resolve to confide in each other more and to live together happily in their new house.

Becker enters and Youngblood gives him a message to return a call from Mr. Glucker at the J&L steel mill.  Becker calls Glucker and agrees to work a fill-in shift.  He then asks Glucker if he can help find Shealy’s nephew a job.  He congratulates Youngblood and Rena on their new house, and tells Youngblood that all the men should meet later that day to discuss what they will do after the station closes.  Youngblood and Rena exit, and Booster enters.  Booster tells his father that he has been thinking about what he said, but Becker ignores him.  Becker tries to walk about, but Booster stops him, telling him that they need to have another conversation.  He says that he killed the girl because he wanted “to deal with the world in ways that you wanted to and couldn’t or didn’t or wished you had,” and that he had hoped Becker would have been proud of him.  Booster adds that he never would have committed the murder if he expected it would kill his mother, and that he only wanted to prove he was a man.  He asks Becker why he never came to the courtroom to help his wife bear the burden of her son’s trial, and says that his father needs to share part of the blame for her death.  Becker does not have an answer, and exits. 

Fielding comes in, bottle in hand, and tells Booster about his career years before as a tailor.  He adds that he knows drinking is against Becker’s rules, and Booster replies that his father’s rules are what landed him in jail.  Booster exits and Philmore enters, sober.  He asks Fielding to give him a ride to his mother’s house, because his wife has thrown him out.  Although Philmore is a dollar short of the fare, Fielding agrees to drive him.

Act II, Scene 2:  The jitney drivers are meeting to discuss what they will do when the station closes.  Becker says that they can try to find a new location, but that he wants to fight the city’s decision to board up and then tear down their building.  He says that he will get a lawyer to file a petition, and the men agree that this is a good idea.  Becker also tells the drivers that they need to keep their cars clean and charge consistent rates, and that everyone should provide the customers with the services they want.  He says that he is going over to the mill to work a night shift, but that they all need to work together to fight the city.

Act II, Scene 3:  The following day, the drivers are in the jitney station talking about Becker, who has been killed suddenly in an accident while working at the mill.  The men take up a collection for flowers, and wonder if Booster knows about his father’s death.  Booster comes in, excited that he has won money by betting on a winning number; he becomes confused when he sees everyone looking at him.  Doub finally tells Booster that Becker is dead, and Booster becomes hysterical, punching Doub.  The other men restrain Booster and wrestle him to the floor as the scene ends.

Act II, Scene 4:  Three days later, the men have just come back from Becker’s funeral.  Doub asks Youngblood when he is moving, and the men talk about his new house.  Fielding and Turnbo continue to bicker, and Doub tells them to stop.  Shealy asks if the men will continue to fight the city, and Doub says that their situation will be much more difficult without Becker to lead the.  Youngblood says that he will remain with the station if everyone else does, but that otherwise he’ll find another job to support his family.  Booster enters and thanks Doub for what he has done for his family, and Fielding tells Booster that he should be proud of Becker for having been such a good person.  Booster says that his father deserved more out of life than he received, and then says that he is proud to be Becker’s son.  As he turns to leave, the jitney station’s telephone rings, and Booster crosses toward it.  He answers the phone, as his father had done so many times before, with the words “car service.”  The lights go black. 

(From the Huntington’s Jitney Curriculum Guide)

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