Before I built a wall I’d ask to know What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offense. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That wants it down.
-Robert Frost, "Mending Wall"
The one act play, "Something There Is” , takes its title from Robert Frost’s poem on the futility of walls and those who build them, and seems once again to be relevant many decades after its only production.
Originally staged in 1975 at the Elder Avenue Playhouse in the Bronx is now being made available as a free PDF. The play is published under a Creative Commons ShareAlike license and may be performed by any non-commercial organization or group.
The entire tragedy takes place on a summer morning in 1968 in the kitchen of an upstate New York farm house, where a backyard fence marks the border with Canada. A middle-aged immigration agent lords it over his small family of a daughter and two sons. His eldest boy is about to take his first solo flight from the nearby Plattsburgh Air Force base, and promises to fly directly over the farmhouse. His second son openly mocks his father and threatens to join the draft evaders who keep passing through the back yard on their way to Canada. Andrea, still in high school, has been dominated by her overbearing father until the morning of the play.
As the drama opens, Andrea and her aunt are watching draft evaders pass through a hole in the fence that keeps reappearing no matter how many times her father patches it.
an excerpt from "Something There Is"
A middle-aged woman and a teenage girl are standing by the kitchen window, looking into the back yard.
SUZETTE: There goes another one.
ANDREA: That makes three today.
SUZETTE: Really? I thought this was only the second one.
ANDREA: No, I saw one very early when you were still in bed.
SUZETTE: You didn’t go out into the yard, did you? You know what he said.
ANDREA: Yeah, yeah, I know what he said. First there was no talking on the phone on school nights. Then there was no dating until I was eighteen. And now this new rule about not going in the back yard is even crazier.
SUZETTE: I can’t blame him.
ANDREA: You never do!
SUZETTE: He afraid those hippies will bother you.
ANDREA: That’s not it.
SUZETTE: What is it then?
ANDREA: Here’s a clue, Tante Suzette. There is a big hole in the fence. Those hippies are heading for that hole.
SUZETTE: Which fence?
ANDREA: The one that our United States government put up years ago to show where the border is between the U.S. of A. and Canada.
SUZETTE: There is a hole in the border fence? That’s not right. Why doesn’t somebody do something about it?
ANDREA: My father has been patching up the holes with chicken wire but somebody keeps cutting new ones. Who do you think would do that? Do you think maybe my father has been cutting and patching up those holes himself?
Border Crossings, Then and Now
Ever since the American Revolution, the contradictions and shortcomings of our republic have been reflected in those who fled across the northern borders of our state to find freedom in Canada. It began with the freed slaves of New York City who left for Canada with their Loyalist allies. Then came the runaway slaves of the Underground Railroad. In the Civil War, one of my own distant ancestors, Mike Clark, went back to Canada, leading his middle aged father Patrick to enlist in the NY 16th Volunteer Infantry in his place. In the Viet Nam era, thousands of draft evaders and deserters passed through our northern border, although not quite as depicted in this play.
Bill and Christine King were among
the many thousands who fled to Canada
Most recently, the ones fleeing to a better life in Canada have been immigrants who once dreamt of a new life in the United States, only to find themselves targeted by the current administration in Washington.