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Stage directions tell us that on stage we see the kitchen and parlor of a house.
This is the place where Doaker Charles lives with his niece, Berniece, and her daughter, Maretha.
The most prominent thing in the parlor is an old piano, which has beautiful African looking figures carved into it.
It's five o'clock in the morning as the play begins.
There's a loud banging on the door.
Boy Willie is heard outside the door, yelling for Berniece.
Doaker enters and opens the door,
Boy Willie busts in, followed by Lymon.
Stage directions tell us that Boy Willie has an "infectious grin" and a "boyishness" about him (1.1.7). We're told that Lymon "talks little" and has a "straightforwardness that is often disarming" (1.17).
Doaker doesn't understand why Boy Willie and Lymon are there; he thought they were still in Mississippi.
Boy Willie says they're there to sell a truckload of watermelons.
He starts yelling for Berniece again.
Doaker tells him to be quiet, because Berniece is sleeping.
Boy Willie says that he and Lymon have been driving for two days, so she ought to get up and say hello.
Lymon informs Doaker that he's not planning on going back down to Mississippi; he's staying there in Pittsburgh.
Boy Willie and Lymon talk about how the truck broke down a lot on the way up.
Berniece enters; the stage directions say that she's thirty-five and still in mourning for her husband who died three years ago.
Berniece fusses at Boy Willie for making so much noise.
He complains that he came 1,800 miles to see his sister, meaning Berniece, so she ought to want to get up and say hello.
Boy Willie tells everybody that, "The Ghosts of the Yellow Dog got Sutter" (1.1.43). Apparently, these ghosts pushed Sutter down his well.
Lymon and Boy Willie were apparently in Stoner County when this happened.
Sutter's death was really funny to Boy Willie; he says that the thought of the 340 pound man in a well is hilarious.
Berniece doesn't believe that ghosts killed Sutter; she thinks a person pushed him in his well.
Doaker asks what Lymon and Boy Willie were doing over in Stoner County.
Boy Willie says they were chopping down trees with Lymon's cousin.
We need something to drink, Boy Willie, tells Doaker.
Doaker goes to get something.
Berniece wonders where the Lymon and Boy Willie got the truck from.
Lymon says he bought it, but Berniece seems suspicious about this.
Doaker returns with some whiskey.
We find out Lymon wants to stay in Pittsburgh, because he's having some trouble with the sheriff where he's from.
Berniece thinks he stole the truck, while Doaker thinks they stole the watermelons.
Boy Willie denies all of this, and then starts hollering for his niece, Martha.
Berniece warns him not to wake up her daughter.
"She can go back to bed," says Boy Willie (1.1.77).
Berniece complains again about how noisy Boy Willie is.
She tells him that he has to leave as soon as he's done selling all the watermelons.
Berniece exits up the stairs.
Boy Willie asks if they heard that Cleotha died.
Doaker says he heard.
"You hear from Wining Boy?" asks Boy Willie.
He came by here a year ago with lots of money that he didn't want to share, says Doaker.
Boy Willie informs Lymon that Wining Boy is his uncle (Doaker's brother).
He also tells Lymon that Wining Boy plays piano and even made some records.
Doaker says that his brother totally exaggerates his recording career.
He says they'll probably see Wining Boy again when he needs some money.
Lymon notices the piano.
Apparently, Boy Willie has told him all about it.
Boy Willie points out the beautiful carvings and says that his mother used to polish it everyday.
He tells Doaker that Sutter's brother is selling Sutter's land.
Boy Willie has part of the money, and he'll have the rest once he sells the watermelons and…the piano.
"Berniece ain't gonna sell that piano," says Doaker (1.1.109).
Boy Willie asks if Berniece has been playing on the piano.
No, Doaker tells him. She says it has "blood on it" (1.1.102). Doaker adds that Maretha plays on it, though.
Boy Willie says that Maretha can play on a guitar instead.
Doaker asks how much land Sutter had left.
One hundred acres, Boy Willie tells him.
He says that it's really good land too.
All he needs is the money from the piano to buy it.
Boy Willie can't wait to own his own land so they he can have people working for him instead of the other way around.
Doaker tells him it's going to be really hard for him to convince Berniece to sell it.
He tells them that Berniece has been seeing a guy named Avery, who they all know from back home.
Avery followed her up her from home after her husband, Crawley, got killed. He hopes that Berniece will marry him.
She's supposed to go with him down to the bank today, where he's going to try and get a loan so that he can open a church.
Doaker says that a little while ago a white guy was going around buying black people's instruments.
Avery sent the guy by to check out the piano.
The white guy got really excited about it, but Berniece wouldn't sell it.
Boy Willie says that he's going to find out who the guy is from Avery.
Doaker says again that there's just no way that Berniece will sell the piano.
Boy Willie replies that it doesn't matter what Berniece wants, because the piano is just as much his as it is hers.
Suddenly, Berniece screams from upstairs for Doaker.
She runs down the stairs seeming really frightened.
Berniece says she saw Sutter's ghost standing at the top of the stairs.
Boy Willie says that he doesn't see anybody up there and that it's all in Berniece's head.
Berniece tells them that Sutter was wearing a blue suit, had his hand on top of his head, and was calling Boy Willie's name.
She accuses Boy Willie of pushing Sutter down the well.
Boy Willie totally denies it, saying everybody knows the Ghosts of the Yellow Dog killed Sutter.
Berniece says she wants Boy Willie to leave, saying that he brings trouble with him everywhere he goes.
She accuses Boy Willie, saying that it's his fault that Crawley is dead.
Boy Willie replies that he had nothing to do with Crawley (Berniece's husband) getting killed.
He then claims that Sutter wasn't looking for him; Sutter was instead looking for the piano.
Berniece asks Doaker to come upstairs with her while she gets Maretha ready for school.
They go upstairs.
Lymon tells Boy Willie that maybe he shouldn't buy Sutter's land if Sutter's ghost is looking for him.
Boy Willie says it's all in Berniece's mind and, anyway, he hopes to meet Sutter's ghost so that he can beat him up.
Doaker comes back downstairs.
He says that he thinks Berniece is too levelheaded to make something like that up.
Doaker thinks that Sutter's ghost was wearing a blue suit, because that's what he was buried in.
They change the subject and talk about all the years that Doaker has spent working for the railroad.
Boy Willie gives his niece a big hug and tells her how big she's gotten.
She tells him that she's eleven years old.
He tells her that when he gets his land he's going to bring her down South and teach her to ride mules and kill chickens.
Boy Willie asks Maretha what she likes to eat.
She says everything except black-eyed peas.
Boy Willie tells her to play something for him on the piano.
Maretha plays something really simple.
He starts to teach her to play a boogie-woogie song.
Berniece calls for Maretha to come upstairs and get ready for school.
Boy Willie tells Maretha that she ought to play the guitar instead of the piano.
He asks her if she knows how all the pictures got carved in the piano.
She says she doesn't know.
Boy Willie tells her to ask her mama how all the carvings got there.
There's a knock at he door.
Doaker answers it, and Avery enters.
The stage directions say that Avery is 38, carries a bible, and has a gold cross around his neck.
Avery is surprised to see Lymon and Boy Willie.
Lymon teases him that he wants to be a preacher now, so that he won't have to work.
Avery says that he's working as an elevator operator in one of the big buildings downtown.
Boy Willie asks why Avery decided to be a preacher.
Doaker urges Avery to tell them about a vision he had.
Avery tells them about it.
In the dream, Avery met three hobos in a railway yard.
The hobos told him that they had come from Nazareth and were headed for Jerusalem.
Each hobo had a candle.
They gave Avery one and told him to not let it go out.
The next thing Avery knew he was standing in front of a house.
An old woman invited him inside.
She took him to a room filled with people that had the heads of sheep.
Then Avery saw the three hobos again.
They told him to take off his clothes and put on some blue and gold robes instead.
The hobos showed him three doors and told him to choose one.
He opened one door and the flame from the candle exploded and almost set his hair on fire.
Then he looked out across the valley and saw that it was full of wolves.
A voice told him that all the sheep people had to get across the valley.
Avery volunteered to lead them.
Then Jesus appeared to him.
Jesus told Avery that he'd go with him as he led the sheep people.
Avery woke up filled with the Holy Spirit.
After a while, Avery decided to answer that calling by becoming a preacher.
Boy Willie asks Avery about the white man who wanted to buy the piano.
Avery says it was a while back and that he doesn't have the guy's number anymore.
Berniece comes down and tells Avery that he looks nice.
Once again, she tells Boy Willie and Lymon to go on out and sell those watermelons.
Boy Willie says they're getting ready to.
Berniece asks Doaker if he wants her to get anything while she's out.
He gives her an amazingly long description of exactly what kind of ham hock he wants.
Boy Willie asks Berniece the name of the man who wanted the piano.
She's on to him instantly.
Berniece tells her brother that if he's thinking about trying to sell the piano, he might as well forget it.
She exits along with Avery and Maretha.
Boy Willie and Lymon finally leave to go sell those watermelons.
Before exiting, Boy Willie tells Doaker, "if Berniece don't want to sell that piano…I'm gonna cut it in half and go on and sell my half" (1.1.275).