Principals (in order of appearance)
- Father Jean Louis de Cheverus (William Hite).
Boston parish priest. Refugee from French Revolution.
- Yvette. Cheverus’s housekeeper (Crystal E. Williams). From island of Guadeloupe.
- Finola Daley (Amy Johnson). Wife of Dominic Daley. Irish immigrant.
- Dominic Daley (Alan Schneider). Laborer. Irish immigrant.
- James Halligan (Keith Phares). Laborer. Irish immigrant.
- James Sullivan (Vernon Hartman). Massachusetts Attorney General.
- Laertes Fuller (Dorie Goldman).
14 year-old resident of Wilbraham. Star witness at murder trial.
- Turnkey (John Lemly). Of Northampton jail.
- Bridie (Kari Lyon). From Halligan’s past.
- The Widow Clark (Marjorie Melnick). Northampton resident.
Time: One week in June, 1806
Act One: Boston
The action opens less than a week before the scheduled execution of Dominic Daley and James Halligan, to take place in Northampton, where they have been held since the time of their arrest for the murder of Marcus Lyon. Finola Daley arrives at Father Cheverus’ Parish House. She implores Cheverus to ask Attorney General Sullivan to let him preach the public oration at the execution in lieu of the Protestant preacher the state normally appoints. Yvette, Cheverus’ housekeeper, cautions Cheverus against doing anything to provoke anti-Catholic feeling, but Cheverus has been moved by Finola. At the Attorney General’s mansion, Cheverus makes his case to the dismissive Sullivan, who recounts the overwhelming evidence against the men presented at the trial, including the damning testimony of Laertes Fuller, a boy who said he saw the two men with the dead man’s horse shortly after the time of the murder. Sullivan warns Cheverus against traveling to Northampton lest it be seen as an incitement to violence. Cheverus, shaken, returns home. In prayer, he reflects on his own weakness and cowardice, and resolves to go to Northampton to save the souls of these guilty men.
Act Two: Northampton
In jail, Daley and Halligan await their execution, now two days away. Daley expresses his faith in God and love for Finola. Halligan scoffs at Daley and catalogues the many girls he’s known in his rakish life. Daley sings an Irish tune that conjures for Halligan the figure of Bridie, an old flame. The reverie is broken by the macabre voices of the throngs descending upon Northampton for the coming execution. Outside, the stagecoach deposits Cheverus, Finola, and her baby in the streets of Northampton. The crowds eye them suspiciously, taunting them. Night falls. Unable to find a place to lodge, Cheverus and Finola are approached by the Widow Clark, who offers them a bed for the night. The Widow expresses sympathy for the condemned Irishmen: she has heard rumors suggesting they may be innocent. Finola accepts her offer of a bed, while Cheverus, drinking from the Widow’s whisky bottle, stumbles around in the meadows by the Connecticut River. Drunk and disoriented, he provokes a group of soldiers who confront him in the dark. Wounded by the soldiers, he tumbles to the ground as the act ends.
Act Three: Northampton
Dawn. The Turnkey deposits Cheverus in the jail. Cheverus offers to hear the men’s confessions. Daley enumerates a list of minor sins, but, to Cheverus’ surprise, confesses nothing of the crime. Sullivan arrives to berate Cheverus for his disobedience. Finola rushes in, confronting Sullivan with suppression of evidence at the trial; what she has heard from the Widow undermines the veracity of Laertes Fuller’s testimony. Sullivan grudgingly agrees to speak to the governor about “these new rumors” and departs, as does Finola. Bridie appears once more to Halligan. Cheverus breaks the reverie, and, in conversation, gains Halligan’s confidence. As night falls, Halligan and Cheverus share confidences and remorse about the circumstances that caused them to come to America. Sullivan arrives with the crushing news that the appeal to the governor has been denied. Dawn arrives on execution day. The two men go in procession through the streets of Northampton to the site of their execution. Sullivan, now himself remorseful, allows Cheverus to speak the oration.