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The Piano Lesson
by August Wilson
The Piano Lesson Act 2, Scene 5 Summary
Lights rise on the living room. Boy Willie sits on the couch, screwing wheels to a board. Maretha sits at the piano, and Doaker sits at a table, playing solitaire. Boy Willie tells his little niece all about the Ghosts of the Yellow Dog. Berniece enters through the front door. She tells Boy Willie again to leave her house. Next, Berniece orders Maretha to go upstairs and get ready for Berniece to do her hair. Maretha is scared to go upstairs by herself, so Boy Willie goes with her, saying he'll beat up Sutter's ghost if they run into him. Doaker tells Berniece that Boy Willie is planning to use the wheels and board to take the piano out of the house. "I ain't playing with Boy Willie," says Berniece, "I got Crawley's gun upstairs" (2.5.13). Boy Willie and Maretha come back down stairs. Maretha has a comb and some hair grease. Apparently, it's not enough hair grease, though, so Berniece sends her to the store to get more. Berniece tells Boy Willie to leave again. He says it's Doaker's house, and he doesn't have to leave unless Doaker says so. Berniece asks Doaker to tell Boy Willie to leave. Doaker says Boy Willie hasn't done anything to get kicked out for and that Boy Willie and Berniece ought to just ignore each other if they can't get along. Boy Willie informs Berniece that, as soon as Lymon comes back with the rope, they're going to take the piano. Berniece threatens Boy Willie, hinting that she's got a gun. Boy Willie says he isn't afraid to die. He tells a story about a puppy he once had that died. He prayed to Jesus to bring the puppy back to life, but the dog stayed dead. So, Boy Willie went out and killed a cat. Boy Willie that that was when he "discovered the power of death" (2.5.29). He says that the white man doesn't know how to handle a black man who isn't afraid to die. Berniece dismisses everything Boy Willie just said. Doaker tries to change the subject and brings up that Avery is coming by to bless the house. Boy Willie says that churches are full of ghosts. Maretha comes back with the hair grease. Berniece tells her to put the comb on the stove to heat it up. "The Bible say an eye for eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life," says Boy Willie. He says if she and Avery don't believe in that, then they only believe in half of the Bible. Berniece just ignores him, continuing to do Maretha's hair. Maretha cries out when Berniece accidentally burns her. "Be still, Maretha," says Berniece, "If you was a boy, I wouldn't be going through all this" (2.5.40). Boy Willie criticizes his sister for saying that to Maretha. Berniece tells him to mind his own business. Boy Willie also criticizes her for not telling Maretha the history of the piano. His sister tells him that, when he has a child, he can raise it the way he wants. Boy Willie says that Berniece is teaching Maretha to "live on the bottom of life" (2.5.54). Berniece thinks she's just showing her daughter reality. Boy Willie launches into a big long monologue about how he's just trying to make his mark on the world; that's why he has to sell the piano and get Sutter's land. Avery enters. Boy Willie asks him if a person can get into heaven with half a Bible. "You got to be born again," says Avery (2.5.64). Boy Willie taunts Berniece some more, saying she won't get to Heaven. Doaker tells Avery that Boy Willie and Berniece have been arguing all day. Avery talks about how his meeting at the bank went well; he just might get the loan for his church. Doaker says that Avery and Berniece ought to get married when that happens. She says she's only thinking about it. Doaker asks Avery if he's come by to bless the house. The preacher says he's read up on it, and he's ready to try it out. Boy Willie says there isn't a ghost and that it's all in Berniece's head. Doaker fusses at Boy Willie, telling him to be quiet. "God got the power! […] I ain't worried about him chasing away a little old ghost!" Avery preaches to them all (2.5.89). Lymon shows up; he's been out getting a drink with Grace. He and Boy Willie try to lift the piano onto the board with wheels. Berniece goes upstairs and comes back down with Crawley's gun. Avery urges them both to sit down and talk about it. Doaker agrees. Lymon can't decide what to do at first, but then he tells Boy Willie, "I might be wrong...but I figure she gonna shoot you first" (2.5.117). Boy Willie doesn't care if she does. Berniece tells Maretha to go into Doaker's room. She does. Suddenly, Winging Boy stumbles through the front door. He's really drunk and doesn't realize what's going on. Boy Willie and Lymon keep trying to move the piano. Wining Boy keeps begging everybody to give him a drink. They tell him he's drunk enough, and it's time to lie down. He says he's not tired, and he wants to party. Wining Boy sits down at the piano to play. Boy Willie orders him to move. "Wait a minute…wait a minute. This a song I wrote for Cleotha," Wining Boy says and starts to play. Boy Willie waits impatiently until the song is over and then tells Wining Boy to move again. Wining Boy throws his arms across the piano and says they'll have to take him with the piano if they want to move it. There's a knock at the door. Doaker opens it to reveal Grace. She's been waiting in the truck for Lymon. Berniece tell Lymon that he's got to take Grace somewhere else. Grace complains that they were supposed to be going to a movie. Lymon says he's got to help move the piano first. Stage directions tell us, "Everybody but Grace suddenly senses Sutter's presence" (2.5.178). Grace whines that Lymon is just like all the other men. Suddenly, says she senses Sutter's ghost, too. She gets all freaked out and runs outside. Lymon chases after her. Boy Willie calls for Lymon to come back. Everybody feels Sutter's presence again. Wining Boy asks if anybody else just got cold. He says he thinks Sutter is upstairs. Berniece tells Avery to go ahead and bless the house. Doaker tells him he ought to bless the piano; it's the cause of all the problems. Avery takes a bottle of holy water from his pocket. He lights a candle, gives it to Berniece, and tells her not to let it go out. Avery starts praying to God to banish Satan. His prayers escalate, and he throws water on the piano. Mockingly, Boy Willie grabs water from the stove and starts throwing around. He yells for Sutter to leave. Boy Willie works himself into a frenzy and runs upstairs. The sound of Sutter's ghost is heard, and Boy Willie is thrown down the stairs by an invisible force. "Come on, Sutter!" screams Boy Willie and he runs back up the stairs (2.5.200). Avery continues to pray. We hear the crashing sounds of Boy Willie wrestling with Sutter's ghost. He's thrown down the stairs again, but just runs back up. "I can't do it, Berniece," says Avery. Suddenly, Berniece realizes what she has to do. She runs to the piano and starts to play. "I want you to help me," she sings, calling on her ancestors. She sings for help over and over again. Finally, the sound of a train is heard. The sounds of Boy Willie's struggle with Sutter stop. We hear Boy Willie calling for Sutter to come back. Berniece continues to play, singing, "Thank you" (2.5.206). Boy Willie enters and watches Berniece play for a moment. He asks Doaker when the next train leaves. Doaker says he still has time to make it. Maretha crosses and gives Boy Willie a hug. "Hey Berniece," says Boy Willie, "If you and Maretha don't keep playing on that piano…ain't no telling…me and Sutter both liable to be back" (2.5.210). Boy Willie exits. "Thank you," says Berniece (2.5.211).
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