Trade with Klan: A Play About Choices
by Donald E. Baker
Resist or collaborate? Risk everything or lie low? Go along or get out? Ordinary people must make life-altering choices as the Ku Klux Klan pits neighbor against neighbor in a small Indiana town in the 1920’s. The religious prejudice and xenophobia of a century ago still echo in contemporary American society.
- Cast Size: 3M 4W
- Running Time: 90+ minutes
- Royalty Rate: $75 per performance
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I had the pleasure of seeing a reading of this play during Friday Night Footlights – Myrtle Beach a couple of years ago. Baker’s play is a haunting reminder that the past has not gone anywhere, and the racism that infected our communities then continue to infect our communities now. There are no easy answers, but perhaps by confronting out past we can begin to imagine and work toward a better future.
Just as “Inherit the Wind” by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee makes the point that their play isn’t about a specific moment in history — The Scopes Trial — “it could be yesterday; it could be tomorrow,” Donald E. Baker’s cautionary tale “Trade With Klan: A Play about Choices” isn’t just about a small town in Indiana in the thrall of the KKK. It’s about people nurturing their intolerance [so] that they resort to the comfort of bigotry and the assurance of their own self-indulgent righteousness. This is a universal lesson, and worth hearing again and again.
This period piece from Donald E. Baker perfectly captures the rural America of both past and contemporary society, and jolts one out of even the tiniest bit of complacency which may have set in since the change in administration with nearly every well-considered line. As timeless as it is timely, Trade With Klan is ugly, and brutal, and pulls no punches. It is a must read, must produce part of the ongoing American story.
Baker’s Trade With Klan outright reminds us that society has made little to no progress in 100 years. And in fact, today it feels like we’re on the verge of having history repeated, this time with heightened ferocity & defiance. We were living in dangerous times then and if we are not vigilant now, we may very well lose what little remains of our humanity. Conspiracies, resentment, hatred, paranoia, discrimination, sexism, racism, all burn deceptively like grass fire in this riveting dramedy. An unsettling script with exceptional dialogue & exquisitely drawn characters.
This provocative and gripping play, essentially about the KKK and its hold on a insulated, rural community in Indiana, slowly builds in intensity and vividly paints a congregation of followers with blind devotion to an organization of hate and, sadly, considerable power. Baker cleverly references Bible verses about sheep with characters wondering why there are so many of them. Daniel is a protagonist for our times, as well as for those one hundred years ago when the play is set. The title shows us how the Klan offered economic prosperity, and how the sheep gladly followed. Simply stunning!
Goodness. Perhaps it’s partly because I recently consumed Midnight Mass, but this play had me on the edge up through its end. “Something absolutely horrible is going to happen,” I thought. Religion plays a rough and weird spot in my life. To put it simply, even though it isn’t labeled as such and has an ending not of the genre, for me, this is one of the best pieces of horror I’ve consumed in a while. With great dialogue and characters, Baker has made what I’d call a masterwork. Topical, horrifying, and yet, somehow, hopeful. Love can carry over hate.
Donald Baker’s play revisits the mid-1920s to remind us of how deeply frightening religious zealots can be. A town (and state) consumed by the KKK is our scene, and the young preacher Daniel has to decide whether to submit, as even his brother does, or stick to his principles. It is a sad state of affairs that this is even a question, and yet the pressure from his hometown is so intense, and the situation so seemingly unavoidable, it makes one uneasy about the outcome. Gripping and insightful commentary on the religious right!
Set in a small Indiana town, not unlike the one in which I grew up, the deep roots of the Ku Klux Klan are revealed in this provocative play. Bigotry and intolerance drive some characters forward while creating difficult moments of choice for others. Lives and livelihoods are threatened. The parallels to our present time are nothing less than chilling. Brilliantly executed, with some surprising results. Read it. Stage it.
Donald Baker’s “Trade With Klan” is a powerful, moving piece that serves not just as a historical narative of the KKK but as a poignent reminder of the power of zealotry then and a warning of the power of zealotry now. The parallel stories of Millie and Dan and the choices they are forced to make will break your heart and hopefully, steel your resolve. A powerful work and highly recommended.
This is a well-researched and provocative piece. I learned things I didn’t know about the Klan. By setting the play in a quaint Indiana community and peopling it with familiar small-town types, Baker cannily reveals the insidiousness of conspiracy theories, mob paranoia, and xenophobia: this can happen in “our town.” A sharply effective cautionary tale that is disturbingly relevant in today’s world.
The genius of this play is in its simplicity. Quiet conversations gradually reveal the disturbing choice facing the citizens of Forest: going along with the “righteous” Klan or struggling against its underlying evil. Resistance has a high price, but so does going along. There is no comfortable choice, no in between. It would be easy to look at the play as a folksy Indiana story from a century ago when people weren’t as sophisticated as we are now. But no, it resonates today from our quiet conversations to our public struggles and in the compromises we are willing to make.
Congratulations to Mr. Baker on a beautifully crafted, haunting work.
The all-white cast was for me as chilling as the women-only ending of Lorca’s Blood Wedding or Toni Morrison’s deeply rooted ingrained racism of the mainly African-American community in The Bluest Eye. Baker’s play ranks up with these great works. It is unsettling. It is timely and the historical grounding of the piece makes it feel like it unfortunately always will be. The piece effortlessly transports us to another time. It moves steadily along, punctuated by the regular radio broadcasts vainly tying this small Indiana town to the hope of the wider world outside. Read it. Produce it. Bravo.
It takes such skill and empathy to explore the bigotry, intolerance, and xenophobia of a different era. And in TRADE WITH KLAN: A PLAY ABOUT CHOICES, Donald E. Baker succeeds on an even higher level as he draws parallels between that era and today. The writing is so clear and sharp as characters struggle both externally and internally over shared and divergent identities. Each character wrestles with these hard truths about themselves and society at large, making this an incredible play that not only entertains but enlightens as well.