Hands

Book, Lyrics and Co-Music: Noelle Donfeld, Co-Music and Arrangements: Nathan Wang

Hands

Hands

Presented at Theatre Building Chicago’s Stages Festival, Hands is a suspenseful adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.   The story follows the journey of a courageous slave, Tom Shelby, as he struggles to counter the inhumane influence and power of a heinous slave trader over his fellow slaves.

Act 1:  It is the 1830’s and Tom Shelby, the enslaved overseer on a failing Kentucky farm, allows himself to be sold to a sinister slave trader, Simon Legree, rather than escape, to protect his fellow slaves.  As a young boy is included in the sale, Tom aids in the escape of the child and his mother, engendering the hatred of Legree, who is determined to break Tom’s will.  On a ship en route to New Orleans , Tom is noticed by Eva St. Clare, an ailing young girl, who convinces her wealthy, dilettante father to purchase Tom.   Although life with Eva at the St. Clare estate in New Orleans is pleasant, Tom longs to return to his beloved wife, Chloe, and children.   Eva’s aunt becomes jealous of the child’s familial relationship with Tom, and when both Eva and her father die, the aunt destroys Tom’s emancipation papers and sends him to the auction block with the other St. Clare slaves.  Tom’s only memento of Eva is a lock of her blond hair.  At the auction, Legree, seeing Tom and determined to get revenge, buys Tom once more along with a young girl, Topsy.

 Act 2:  At Legree’s hellish plantation, Tom risks his life to prevent Topsy’s rape, with the help from Legree’s Haitian slave and mistress, Cassie.  As Legree’s slave henchmen beat Tom, they discover the lock of Eva’s hair, which Legree mistakes for that of his dead mother.  Preying on Legree’s superstition, Cassie and Tom convince Legree that his mother’s ghost is in his garret, which allows Cassie and Topsy to hide there safely before they escape.  Refusing to search for the slaves, Tom angrily confronts Legree and is beaten to the point of death.  Rather than condemn the slaves who have beaten him, he tells them he’d gladly die to save their souls.  The henchmen are finally affected by Tom’s compassion and turn on Legree, locking him in the garret with his mother’s “ghost”.  As Tom lies dying, his wife and his former master in Kentucky, whose fortune has improved, arrive to buy him back, as the other slaves prepare for a mass escape.

 

Selected Lyrics

JUST LIKE A RIVER

JUST LIKE A RIVER

c) Donfeld/Wang

(Tom convinces his son, Rafe, that they will never be separated as Eliza’s son is from his father, as he has been  promised his freedom as soon as the Shelby ’s farm recovers from several poor harvests.)

Tom

WE’RE JEST LIKE A RIVER THAT FLOWS TO THE SEA.

NOTHIN’ CAN STOP IT.  IT’S BOUND TO BE FREE.

NOTHIN’ CAN BLOCK IT FROM GOIN’

WHERE IT WILL.

IT ONLY SEEMS STILL…IT ONLY SEEMS STILL.

 

STARTS IN THE HEAVENS, OR THAT’S HOW IT SEEMS.

FLOWS DOWN THE MOUNTAINSIDE, KICKIN’ UP STEAM,

BROILIN’ AN’ GROWIN’ AND PICKIN’ UP STREAMS,

IT ONLY SEEMS STILL, SO IT SEEMS.

 

NO HANDS CAN BLOCK IT.

NO CHAINS CAN LOCK IT.

NOTHIN’ CAN DRAG IT AWAY.

NO ONE CAN OWN IT; NO ONE CAN TRY.

THEY ONLY CAN WATCH WHILE THE RIVER ROLLS BY.

 

SOMETIMES THERE’S TROUBLE,

THE WATER MIGHT BUBBLE,

AN’ MAYBE THE FLOW TAKES A FALL.

MAYBE IT MEETS A TOWN

IT’S GOTTA ROLL AROUN’.

MAYBE THE STREAM SEEMS TO STALL.

 

SOMETIMES IT’S COLDER OR

MAYBE A BOULDER COMES

TUMBLIN’ DOWN WITH A CRASH.

STILL, WHEN IT TUMBLES IN

MAKIN’ THE WATERS SPIN,

ALL YOU CAN FEEL IS A SPLASH.

 

WE ARE THAT RIVER THAT FOLKS CAN’T

DIVIDE.

JEST LIKE A RIVER, WE’LL FLOW SIDE BY SIDE.

JEST LIKE THE WATERS TOGETHER WE’LL RUN,

‘CAUSE I IS YOUR DADDY, AND YOU IS

MY SON.

 

Rafe

NO HANDS WILL BLOCK US.

 

Tom

No.

 

Rafe

NO CHAINS WILL LOCK US.

 

Tom

No.

NOTHIN’ WILL DRAG US AWAY.

 

Rafe

NO ONE WILL OWN US.

 

Tom

BETTER NOT TRY.

 

Tom and Rafe

THEY ONLY CAN WATCH AS THE RIVER ROLLS BY.

WE ARE THAT RIVER THAT FOLKS CAN’T DIVIDE.

JEST LIKE A RIVER, WE’LL FLOW SIDE BY SIDE.

JEST LIKE THE WATERS, TOGETHER WE’LL RUN,

 

Tom                                                     Rafe

‘CAUSE I AM YOUR DADDY.       ‘CAUSE YOU ARE MY DADDY

AND YOU ARE MY SON                 AND I AM YOUR SON.


HOW MANY TIMES?

HOW MANY TIMES?

c) Donfeld/Wang

(Tom’s last moments with his wife, Chloe, after he has been sold to Simon Legree.)

Chloe

I NEVER EVEN QUESTIONED WHAT I LACKED IN LIFE,

FOR ALL I EVER WANTED WAS TO BE YOUR WIFE.

WITH A MAN LIKE YOU TO SHARE MY DAYS

AND CHILDREN WHO WERE MINE TO RAISE

AND A LORD I LEARNED TO TRUST AND PRAISE,

THE WORLD WAS RIGHT, AND EVERYTHING WAS BRIGHT.

 

MY NEEDS WERE ALWAYS SIMPLE,

AND MY WANTS WERE SMALL.

THERE’S NOTHING THAT I WANTED FOR MY OWN.

AND IF I HAD DESIRES YOU HAVE FILLED THEM ALL.

I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT WE’LL WIND UP ALONE.

I can’t believe it…

 

Tom

HOW MANY TIMES IN THE WORLD,

HOW MANY TIMES IN A LIFE,

HOW MANY MEN HAVE BEEN BLESSED LIKE ME

WITH THE LOVE OF SUCH A WIFE?

 

SOME FOLKS ARE BLESSED WITH THE TIME

TO LOVE THEIR WHOLE LIFE THROUGH.

I WOULDN’T TAKE SOMEONE’S LIFELONG LOVE

FOR A SINGLE DAY WITH YOU.

 

THE IMAGE OF OUR CHILDREN,

THE IMAGE OF OUR BED,

THE IMAGE OF YOUR GENTLE FACE IS

LOCKED WITHIN MY HEAD.

 

REMEMBER, NO MATTER HOW FAR I GO

OR HOW LONG I HAVE TO STAY,

THE MEMORIES AND THE LOVE WE SHARE

WILL NEVER GO AWAY.

 

Chloe

HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN TO US?

WE’VE NEVER LIVED FAR APART.

I’M TRYIN’ HARD TO ACCEPT WHAT I MUST,

BUT I CAN’T CONVINCE MY HEART.

HOW WILL I MANAGE ALONE?

WHAT WILL I DO WHEN YOU’RE GONE?

 

Tom

YOU’LL DO WHAT YOU MUST.

I HAVE FAITH IN YOU.

I KNOW YOU’LL CARRY ON.

 

I PRAY I’LL SEE THE CHILDREN

AGAIN BEFORE THEY’RE GROWN.

I HATE TO LEAVE THE FINEST WIFE

A MAN HAS EVER KNOWN,

BUT CHLOE, IT DON’ MATTER HOW FAR I GO

OR HOW LONG I HAVE TO STAY,

THE MEM’RIES AND THE LOVE WE SHARE

WILL NEVER GO AWAY.

 

Tom                                                     Chloe

NEVER BEFORE  IN THE

WORLD                                              NEVER BEFORE

NEVER BEFORE  IN A LIFE,

NEVER MORE, LOVE

HOW MANY MEN HAVE BEEN

BLESSED LIKE ME

WITH THE LOVE OF SUCH OH, NO.

A WIFE?                                             OH, NO.

 

Both

SOME FOLKS IS BLESSED WITH THE TIME

TO LOVE THEIR WHOLE LIVES THROUGH.

I WOULDN’T TAKE SOMEONE’S LIFELONG LOVE

FOR A SINGLE DAY WITH YOU.

 

THE IMAGE OF OUR CHILDREN,

THE IMAGE OF OUR BED,

THE IMAGE OF YOUR GENTLE FACE IS LOCKED WITHIN MY HEAD.

 

Tom                                                          Chloe

BUT, CHLOE IT DON’ MATTER      BUT, TOM, IT DON’ MATTER

HOW FAR I GO                                      HOW FAR YOU GO

OR HOW LONG I HAVE TO             OR HOW LONG YOU HAVE TO

STAY                                                          STAY.

 

Both

THE MEMORIES AND LOVE WE SHARE

WILL NEVER GO AWAY.


IT'S IN THE AIR

IT’S IN THE AIR

c)  Donfeld/Wang

(Eliza is trying to comfort her young son, Harry’s, as they are attempting to escape from Legree.)

Eliza

IT’S IN THE AIR; I CAN FEEL IT.

I KNOW IT’S REAL,

IT’S STRONGER THAN THE SUN.

IT’S IN THE AIR; CAN YOU HEAR IT?

SOUNDS SO NEAR, IT MUST BE

FREEDOM HERE TO GUIDE US.

 

IT’S IN THE AIR; I CAN TASTE IT.

NO TIME TO WASTE

WITH MILES AHEAD TO RUN,

BUT IN THE AIR, CLOUDS ARE DRIFTIN’

MIST IS LIFTIN’.  I SEE

FREEDOM RIGHT BESIDE US.

 

LOOK AT ALL THE WILLOWS WAVIN’,

WHISPERIN’ WE MUST BE BRAVE ‘N’

FILLIN’ ME WITH FREEDOM’S CRAVIN’

ROARIN’ THROUGH ME.

 

LISTEN TO THE CATSKILLS BLOWIN’,

TELLIN’ US TO KEEP ON GOIN’.

I CAN FEEL OL’ FREEDOM GROWIN’,

SOARIN’ THROUGH ME.

 

IT’S IN THE AIR, SAYIN’ HOLD ON .

DON’T FEEL THE COLD ON

TREMBLIN’ HANDS.

IT’S IN THE AIR.  STEP ASIDE, FEAR,

WE WON’T HIDE HERE.   I SEE

FREEDOM HERE BESIDE US.

 

HUSH, DEAR HARRY, HOW YOU SHIVER!

G-D WILL HELP US AND DELIVER

YOU AND ME ACROSS THAT RIVER.

IT’S NOT LONG, NOW.

 

IN OHIO , FOLKS WILL MIND US.

THERE YOUR DADDY’S SURE TO FIND US.

WE CAN PUT THIS LIFE BEHIND US.

JUST BE STRONG NOW.

 

IT’S IN THE AIR, SAYIN’ HOLD ON .

DON’T FEEL THE COLD ON

TREMBLIN’ HANDS.

IT’S IN THE AIR.  STEP ASIDE, FEAR.

WE WON’T HIDE HERE, HARRY.

CHILD, DON’T BE AFRAID.

WE WON’T BE AFRAID.

YOU AND I WERE MADE

TO BE FREE.


TAKE HER BACK

TAKE HER BACK

c)Donfeld/Wang

(Eva St. Clair’s father, Augustine, who has bought Tom at his daughter’s request, along with a mischievous young slave, Topsy, has given the young girl to his bigoted, hypocritical sister, Ophelia, in the hope they will have a positive affect on each other.  They don’t!)

Ophelia

TAKE HER BACK.  I DO NOT WANT HER,

NEVER DID, AS YOU’RE AWARE.

FOR THERE’S NOTHIN’ THAT WILL DAUNT HER.

SHE’S A BRAT.  SHE DOESN’T CARE.

SHE HAS PARED AWAY MY PATIENCE.

I’M A FLUTTER, I’M A WRECK.

IF YOU DON’T TAKE BACK YOUR PRESENT, I WILL WRING ITS LITTLE NECK!

 

Augustine

I MUST ADMIT I’M ALSO WARY,

BUT DIDN’T YOU HELP SOME MISSIONARY

TRAVEL TO DARKEST AFRICA LAST YEAR?

YOU SENT HIM OFF WITH HOPE AND MONEY.

DON’T YOU AGREE IT’S RATHER FUNNY,

“FEELIE” CAN’T REACH EVEN ONE CHILD HERE?

 

Ophelia

AUGUSTINE, I’VE TRIED MY BEST.

I HAVEN’T HAD A MOMENT’S REST.

I’M TEACHING HER TO READ AS I AGREED.

BUT IT MUST TAKE SOMETHIN’ EVIL

TO CREATE THIS MUCH UPHEAVAL

AND MAKE MISCHIEF AT HER UNRELENTIN’ SPEED!

 

I HAVE TRIED SO HARD TO REACH HER,

AND I’VE DONE MY BEST TO TEACH HER

FROM THE CATECHISM AND THE HOLY BIBLE.

BUT YOU’VE GIVEN ME A DEVIL

WHO, IT’S PLAIN TO SEE, MUST REVEL

IN DESTROYIN’ THINGS,

AND I WILL NOT BE LIABLE.

 

JUST TODAY SHE BROKE THE MIRROR.

THE ENTIRE HOUSE COULD HEAR HER

STOMPIN’ MADLY DOWN THE HALLWAY

SCRAPIN’ PAPER OFF THE WALL.

DAY AFTER DAY THE WRETCH IS RUDE.

SHE TOLD ADOLPH I’M TATOOED.

I HATE HER.

 

SOMETHIN’S LOST AND YOU CAN’T FIND IT?

REST ASSURED THAT SHE’S BEHIND IT.

SHE’LL PURLOIN A PERSON’S CLOTHES.

SHE PUTS THEM ON, THEN OFF SHE GOES.

SHE TOOK MY EARBOBS, NOW THEY’RE LOST,

NEVER MINDIN’ WHAT THEY COST.

I HATE HER.

 

SCOLD THE CHILD, SHE’LL SCOLD YOU BACK.

WHAT SHE NEEDS IS ONE ENORMOUS WHACK.

 

Augustine

Ophelia!

 

Ophelia

THAT IS ALL SHE DESERVES

ALWAYS NEEDLIN’ MY NERVES.

I AM FAINT.  I’M SHAKEN.

 

TELL HER TO LEAVE, SHE MAKES A FACE.

LIKE THE REST, SHE’S NEVER LEARNED HER PLACE.

IF YOU THINK A BLOODY SAINT

COULD GO ON WITHOUT COMPLAINT,

YOU ARE QUITE MISTAKEN.

 

SHE’S A BANSHEE

 

Augustine

She’s a child!

 

Ophelia

WHO BELONGS BACK IN THE WILD,

WITH HER HOWL THAT CURDLES CREAM;

IT’S ENOUGH TO MAKE YOU SCREAM.

SHE’S A TOAD, A GUTTERSNIPE.

THOUGH I HESITATE TO GRIPE.

I HATE HER.

IF WE’RE CLEVER, IF WE’RE SLYER,

WE’LL FIND SOMEONE WHO WILL BUY HER.

THOUGH PERHAPS IT’S FAR TO CRUEL

TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF A FOOL

WHO DOESN’T KNOW THE CROSS HE’D BEAR,

A CROSS I’D GLADLY SHARE.

GIVE THE DARLIN’ AWAY,

ONLY DO IT TODAY.

FIND A BUYER.  I’LL PAY HIM.

I HATE HER


MY G-D

MY G-D

c) Donfeld/Wang

 

(Sold to Legree at auction after the death of Eva and her father, Tom’s faith is finally broken by the horrendous conditions at Legree’s plantation.)

 

Tom

MY G-D, WHERE HAVE YOU TAKEN ME?

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO A SON

WHO HAS TRIED SO HARD TO LOVE YOU?

YOU HAVE HIDDEN YOUR FACE.

THERE AIN’T A TRACE

OF WHAT IS GOOD HERE.

 

MY G-D, HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?

MY LOVE WAS PURE.  I WAS SURE

YOU HAD A PLAN FOR ME TO FOLLOW.

BUT YOU CUT ME DOWN LIKE CANE.

I’M SHACKLED WITH THE CHAIN OF FEAR.

TELL ME WHY I’M HERE.

 

YOU GAVE ME FAITH LIKE A SEED THAT WAS THIRSTIN’ FOR RAIN.

YOU WATCHED IT GROW LIKE A FIELD THAT WAS BURSTIN’ WITH GRAIN.

WHAT DID I DO THAT’S SO BAD?  TELL ME HOW HAVE I SINNED.

WHY DO YOU BLOW ME AWAY LIKE I’M CHAFF IN THE WIND?

 

I AM JEST A MAN.

MY LIFE IS IN YOUR HANDS.  HELP ME UNDERSTAND.

 

ONCE AGAIN THE PROMISE OF SALVATION

BROKE IN PIECES RIGHT BEFORE MY EYES.

ONCE AGAIN MY PROMISED LIBERATION

WAS ONLY LIES, JEST LIES.

 

GIVE ME AN ANSWER.  GIVE ME A REASON TO LIVE.

I’M JEST A MAN WHO HAS NOTHIN’, NOTHIN’ TO GIVE.

WHY DID YOU GIVE ME A FAMILY, THEN TAKE THEM AWAY?

YOU TOOK MY WORLD FROM ME.  WHERE’S MY REASON TO PRAY?

 

I AM JEST A MAN.

MY LIFE IS IN YOUR HANDS.  HELP ME UNDERSTAND.


SOMETIMES

SOMETIMES

c) Donfeld/Wang

 

(Legree’s Haitian slave/mistress, Cassie, attempts to convince Legree that the ghost of his mother is in his attic so that she and other slaves can hide there until it is safe to escape.)

 

Cassie

SOMETIMES A HOUSE TAKES ON A LIFE OF ITS OWN.

SOMETIMES IT TAKES ON ITS OWN SPIRIT.

THE RAFTERS SHIMMY, AND THE FLOOR STARTS TO GROAN

WHEN NOONE’S NEAR IT.

 

I ALWAYS WONDER WHEN THE WALLS START TO SWELL,

AND THERE ARE FOOTSTEPS IN THE HALLWAY.

THERE’S NO ONE PASSIN’, BUT THE AIR STINKS LIKE HELL

UP IN THE CRAWLWAY.

 

WAS THAT A MOAN, OR WAS IT MY IMAGINATION?

IS SOMEONE CALLIN’ OUT YOUR NAME?

WAS THAT A CRY OF PAIN

OR ONE OF ACCUSATION,

A CRY OF GRIEF OR ONE OF SHAME?

 

SOME FOLKS HAVE SEEN A BODY SHROUDED IN WHITE,

A GHOULISH, SILENT APPARITION,

DART ALL AROUND THEM ‘TIL IT FLITS OUT OF SIGHT.

MERE SUPERSTITION.

 

THOUGH I ADMIT THAT I HAVE SEEN SOMETHING, TOO.

I SAW IT FLOATIN’ TOWARD YOUR BED.

IT SEEMED TO REACH AND PLACE ITS FINGERS ON YOU.

HERE ON YOUR HEAD.

She touches him, Simon recoils.

 

Legree

You’ve seen it, too?

Cassie

(More knocking is heard.)

WAS THAT A KNOCK, OR WAS IT MY IMAGINATION?

IS ALL THAT TAPPIN’ IN MY MIND?

WHY NOT GO UP SO WE CAN END THIS SPECULATION.

THOUGH IF YOU DO, WHAT WILL YOU FIND?

THE TAPPIN’S LOUDER AT THE TOP OF THE STAIR.

I THINK IT’S COMIN’ FROM THE GARRET.

GO UP AND STOP IT, BUT YOU’D BETTER BEWARE.

Hands him his gun, which is on the table beside him.

OR WOULD YOU DARE IT?

Legree quickly puts down gun.  Cassie looks around and sings progressively louder.

THERE IS SOMETHING HERE, THERE IS A PRESENCE.

THERE IS SOMETHING FILLIN’ ME WITH DREAD.

THERE IS SOMETHING.  I CAN FEEL ITS ESSENCE.

THERE IS SOMETHING HERE, BUT IT IS DEAD!

Simon picks up bottle and drinks.

THERE IS SOMETHING HERE, I KNOW YOU’RE THINKIN’.

THERE IS SOMETHING HERE, AND IT IS STINKIN’.

THERE IS SOMETHING HERE, SO GO ON DRINKIN’.

SO GO ON DRINKIN’, SO GO ON DRINKIN’, SO GO ON DRINKIN’.

Simon passes out again…

THERE IS NOTHING HERE.


IF YOU AIN'T ALREADY DEAD

IF YOU AIN’T ALREADY DEAD

c) Donfeld/Wang

(Tom refuses to join in the hunt for Cassie and the other two women with her, confronting Legree one final time.)

 

Tom

(with increasing anger.)

I ‘SPECTS THAT YOU DIED LONG AGO.

YOU’RE THE SORRIEST CRITTER A MAN COULD KNOW.

YOU’RE ROTTED OUT, A HOLLOW SHELL

THAT’S RUNNIN’ WITH THE HOUNDS OF HELL.

 

AND WHEN YOU’RE DUST, NO FOLKS WILL MOURN.

THEY’LL CURSE THE DAY THAT YOU WERE BORN.

I PRAYED FOR YOU TO MEND YOUR WAYS.

I PRAYED THAT YOU’D FIND BETTER DAYS.

BUT YOU’VE GONE TOO FAR, AND YOU’VE GONE TOO LOW,

AND I KNOW WHERE YOUR SOUL IS BOUND TO GO.

IF IT AIN’T THERE ALREADY.

IF YOU AIN’T ALREADY DEAD.

 

Legree

YOU DARE TO GIVE YOUR MASTER LIP?

YOU’LL TALK ALL RIGHT, BENEATH MY WHIP.

YOU’RE JEST A DOG, A NIGGER SLAVE

WHO’S GONNA LEARN HE WILL BEHAVE.

 

I’LL HAVE YOU BARK ANOTHER TUNE.

I’LL HAVE YOU HOWLIN’ AT THE MOON.

YOU’RE JEST A CUR I’LL BRING TO HEEL.

MY BOOT AND FIST ARE ALL YOU’LL FEEL.

 

YOU DARE TO SASS ME?  WHEN I’M DONE

YOU’LL SCREAM FOR ME TO USE MY GUN.

YOU WILL BEG ME TO KILL YOU.

IF YOU AIN’T ALREADY DEAD.

 

Tom                                                                 Legree

YOU PHAROAH’S SON,                              YOU’RE MINE.

YOUR HEART IS STONE

YOU’LL DIE IN DARKNESS                        YOU’LL BAY.

ALL ALONE.

YOU’RE COLD AS ICE,                                  YOU’LL HOWL.

AN EMPTY SHELL,

THAT’S RUNNIN’ WITH                              LIKE A DOG.

THE HOUNDS OF HELL.

AND WHEN YOU’RE GONE,                      WHO’LL MOURN?

NO FOLKS ‘LL MOURN,

THEY’LL CURSE THE DAY                          LOW BORN.

THAT YOU WAS BORN.

I PRAYED FOR YOU                                        A SLAVE

TO MEND YOU WAYS.

I PRAYED THAT YOU’D                              JUST A SLAVE.

FIND BETTER DAYS,

BUT YOU’VE GONE FAR

AND YOU’VE GONE TOO                             YOU ARE NOTHING,

LOW,                                                                 NO,

AND I KNOW WHERE YOUR SOUL                 JUST A SLAVE

IS BOUND TO GO,                                          WHO’LL BEG TO DIE

IF IT AIN’T THERE ALREADY,

IF YOU AIN’T ALREADY DEAD.                 IF YOU AIN’T ALREADY DEAD.

 

Legree

(Furious)

SAMUEL, QUINT, COME FINISH WHAT YOU STARTED.

Slaves enter.

MAKE SURE HIS SKIN AND BONE ARE PARTED.

I’LL NIP THIS TREACHERY IN THE BUD.

I’LL GET REVENGE.  I’LL GET MY BLOOD!