Goodnight Lovin' Trail

Goodnight Lovin' Trail

Author: John Patrick Bray

Description: Two wounded strangers find redemption while discussing a lost (possibly stolen) antique guitar.
Year Written/Copyrighted: 2001
Date Added: 2/12/2012
Content Advisory: This play contains adult themes (non-sexual) and some profanity
Keywords: Characters are Mostly Young Adults · Drama · Naturalism/Realism · Small Cast Size
This play is in the following collections: FRIGID New York
1 Act, 30 Minutes
1 Female, 1 Male
Read an excerpt

NOTE: The English language stock and amateur stage performance rights in this Play are controlled exclusively by the author. No professional or nonprofessional performance of the Play may be given without obtaining, in advance, the written permission of the author and paying the requisite fee. Inquiries concerning all other rights should also be addressed to the author at:

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Casting/Production Comments:

The actor playing Coffee should be able to play guitar, and arrange the song. I did not write music for the song as it appears in the play, and it is up to the actor (and director) to figure out the best way to approach it. This has been very effective. I have seen a handful of productions, and the song is always a surprise.

From the Author:

When I was 18, I bought my first bootleg album. It was a Tom Waits CD (which I have since lost, but if I ever meet Tom Waits, I promise to give him twenty dollars—you have it in writing), and he performed a Utah Phillips tune, “The Goodnight-Loving Trail.” The Goodnight-Loving Trail was a cattle trail which got its name from Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving. Goodnight and Loving were fictionalized in an outstanding book, Lonesome Dove, which was made into an equally outstanding mini-series, and which resulted in a few sequels. For me, the trail is a metaphor; I think of walking along a trail, knowing what your destination is, and hoping this is the right path to get you there. There are trials and tribulations along the way, and whatever doesn’t kill you, just makes you sing louder.

I wrote the play Goodnight Lovin’ Trail while a student at the Actors Studio Drama School at The New School. As an exercise, my teacher Jim Ryan had us look at photographs of people and create a back-story for them. I ended up looking at a picture of a guy who was seriously down-and-out. He reminded me of the Ry Cooder medley of “Fool for a Cigarette/Feeling Good.” Here was a guy who needed a cigarette, who spent his life with his chin out (life apparently took great sport in pounding that chin into leather), and who had seen his share of barroom floors. The next part of the exercise was teaming that character up with an object; I looked in an antique catalogue and found an early National O. As you can tell, I’m a sucker for music. Man met guitar, and that was that. I tried to imagine what would happen to this man if he met Sarah Vaughan (or someone who wished she were the great Sassy), and the result is the play you are about to read.

More Plays by John Patrick Bray:

Original Production Information

Goodnight Lovin’ Trail was originally produced as part of the Shandaken Playfair at the Shandaken Theatre Society in Phoenicia, New York, in the summer of 2001 with the following cast and crew:

Mr. Coffee ("Reb"): R.A. Stanley
Lee: Violet Snow

Director: Gregory Bray
Stage Manager: John Patrick Bray
Set and Lighting Design: R.A. Stanley

ITN Review by David Gordon

A lot can be said for brevity, though when it comes to writing a play, it’s hard to create a fully developed plot and characters in a short time. John Patrick Bray doesn’t seem to suffer this problem in his 35-minute two-hander called Goodnight Lovin’ Trail, a slice of life drama about two lost souls in a West Texas truck stop diner. His characters, a waitress with family problems and a wandering troubadour whose guitar has gone missing, are packed with emotional baggage, but their dialogue is distinctly realistic. When they deliver exposition, it doesn’t feel like exposition, it feels like two people telling each other their life stories.

The scenario he develops is believable, though there are a few issues of plausibility. Without giving away spoilers, he’s searching for a guitar he’s sure he left in this restaurant and she swears she doesn’t have it (of course, we know she does). As the two begin to talk, they both realize that life has found a way of passing them by. Said plausibility issues are raised when he mentions how he procured the guitar and she confesses just exactly what her family problems are.

Nic Mevoli and Olivia Rorick create well-rounded, convincing characters. Bray’s writing is certainly sensitive (despite an over-abundance of clichés like “not for all the coffee in Guatemala”) and, with director Akia’s brisk pacing, the whole piece feels like it’s over in a clock tick. I’m still questioning whether or not Goodnight Lovin’ Trail should have been a little longer, though there isn’t a single ounce of fat in the script, and the conversation doesn’t carry on any longer than it needs to.

reviewed at the 2011 FRIGID New York festival