The Piano Lesson
The Piano Lesson
by August Wilson
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The Piano Lesson Act 1, Scene 1 Summary

  • 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.
  • Maretha enters.
  • 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).

Next Page: Act 1, Scene 2
Previous Page: Intro

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