1998 Gassner Award Winner, First Prize

The Jocker
by Clint Jeffries

This is a full-length drama concerning the relationships between men riding the rails during the great depression.

It is 1931. In a hobo jungle near Flagstaff, Arizona, hobos and tramps begin to congregate, lured by the promise of work on a nearby rail spur. Early arrivals include Biloxi Billy, a tramp in his late 40's, and Nat, around 14 -- a Jocker and his Gunsel (combination servant, apprentice and catamite, a common and amazingly well documented relationship among hobos and tramps of the period.) Their relationship is abusive at best. They soon encounter 'Bama Boy and Shakespeare, two men in a very different sort of sexual relationship. Nat, desperate to get away from Billy sets his sights on 'Bama.

As Act I progresses, we discover that Billy is busy setting up a payroll robbery. On an errand for Billy, Nat accidentally spills the beans about the upcoming crime to a railroad detective. Terrified of what Billy will do to him, he confides in 'Bama. Bama promises to protect Nat should Billy become violent, but tells the boy that he's got to level with his Jocker.

Dodger, another hobo, and Lucky, a hustler, arrive on the scene and strike up a friendship. Dodger, an old friend of 'Bama Boy, tells Shakespeare of 'Bama's own past with a Jocker. 'Bama and his older lover were together nearly thirty years. His death left 'Bama devastated. Shakespeare literally saved his life by pulling him out of his subsequent depression. However, 'Bama is still an emotional basket case. Terrified of abandonment, he is totally dependent on Shakespeare -- becoming almost crazed when his partner is away unexpectedly. As Act I ends, Dodger pays Lucky for a night together. Nat tries to tell Billy that he's ruined the planned robbery, but Billy is interested only in more carnal pursuits. He brutally rapes Nat who resolves to say nothing. Shakespeare reassures a drunk, desperate and terrified 'Bama that he'll always stay with him.

In Act II, the characters continue to reveal conflicting levels of interdependence. But when Nat finally makes his desperate play for 'Bama, he sets in motion a devastating chain of events that leaves two dead and other lives shattered. Nat may ultimately get what he wished -- but not at all in the way he could of imagined.

The Jocker touches on many themes: love, loyalty, survival of the fittest, but it is ultimately about dependence -- from the fiercely independent Lucky to the emotionally crippled 'Bama -- and how our emotional bonds to others, or lack of them, affect our lives, our dreams, and ultimately our survival.

Cast: six male actors

For more information, contact Clint Jeffries.