John Steinbeck's "The Pearl"

A one-act dramatization by Warren Frost

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John Steinbeck, Author of "The Pearl". Hulton Archive

This beautifully brief adaptation of the novella by John Steinbeck communicates the major events and conflicts in this allegory while retaining the mood and much of the elegant language of the original work of literature.

Format. The entire script is 18 pages long, making it a strong choice for a classroom reading (prequel or sequel to the book), a theatre class performance project, or a drama festival competition.

Cast Size. This play can accommodate 13+ actors.

--Female characters: 3

--Male characters: 4

--Characters that can be played by either Males or Females: 2 or more

--Ensemble Roles: Anywhere from 4 to 10 (or even more)

Roles

The Beggar serves as the story's narrator. This character, like all the others, remains on or beside the stage for the entirety of the play. He or she explains the setting changes, fills in the blanks, smoothes the transitions, reveals the characters' inner thoughts, and speaks directly to the audience. (Some of the Beggar's speeches are so lengthy that two or three actors could play this role.)

Kino is a young Mexican Indian man who provides for his family by diving for pearls in the sea nearby his small village. Like the other villagers, Kino is poor, uneducated, and oppressed by European colonists who keep the indigenous people in ignorance and poverty.

Juana is Kino's young wife and the mother of their infant child Coyotito.

She is a devout Catholic who prays to the Blessed Mother for her baby who is sick from the sting of a scorpion. Her prayer "Let Kino find the pearl that we may pay the doctor for his wisdom" is answered.

Juan Tomas is Kino's older brother. He is a wise man who offers Kino advice and shelter.

Apolonia is Juan Tomas's wife.

The Doctor is a corrupt local medical expert who initially refuses to treat Coyotito because Kino can pay him only with worthless seed pearls. After learning that Kino has found "the pearl of the world," the Doctor visits Kino's hut, goes through some motions to convince the family that he has cured the baby, and looks forward to being paid.

Maria is the doctor's assistant.

The Priest hears about Kino's pearl and visits his hut to bless it and the family and to remind them of the financial needs of the church.

The Pearl Buyers are the local merchants who set prices and regularly exploit the Mexican Indians by paying them abysmally low prices for their pearls. When they offer to pay Kino only a fraction of the value of the pearl of the world, he decides to journey to the buyers in the capital.

A Man who tries to steal the pearl is murdered by Kino. This incident, the burning of Kino's hut, and the growing tension and violence over the pearl cause Kino and Juana to flee the village with Coyotito.

Ensemble

The Chorus is an ensemble role for a group of actors who play villagers, neighbors, friends, enemies, and onlookers. They participate in the action of the play and provide a mood-setting soundscape of human voices throughout the play: whispers, laughter, keening (eerie wailing sounds associated with grief), repeated words like married, baptized, rifle, free, thousand, curiosity, disappointment, pity, five hundred, one thousand, whim, find him....

The Chorus plays both spectators and participants in the story.

In this piece of theatre, the term "soundscape" refers to actors using their voices, hands, and feet to perform sounds that create particular environments, tones, or moods.

Setting. A fishing village on the coast of Mexico

Time. Yesterday

Plot. Kino finds an enormous pearl that he believes will bring prosperity to his poor family. And it should have. But oppression, greed, and cruelty turn what looks like great good fortune into great heartbreaking grief.

Set. The playwright states that the stage is bare except for a large platform, which is the playing area for all the scenes. The players sit in darkness on the sides of this platform throughout the performance--visible, but not lighted. They observe the action, enter and exit as characters when required, and provide the soundscape.

Actor movements and lighting are the only means of indicating the various settings.

Costumes. Each actor needs only one simple, somewhat worn and dingy costume—peasant skirts, blouses, and shawls for the females, plain pants and shirts for the males, a clerical collar for the priest, and jackets for the Doctor and the Pearl Buyers.

Creativity Factor: High! This script offers actors and the director multiple opportunities for the creative uses of movement and sound to tell the story and communicate the settings, circumstances, and moods. Click here to view a video of a high school production of this script.

Content Issues? The only stage event that needs to be handled carefully is the knifing murder. Stage directions indicate that this incident occurs in the darkness, however, so it is only sounds and the subsequent revealing of the murdered man’s lifeless body suggest the violence itself.

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Your Citation
Flynn, Rosalind. "John Steinbeck's "The Pearl"." ThoughtCo, Oct. 27, 2014, thoughtco.com/john-steinbecks-the-pearl-2712878. Flynn, Rosalind. (2014, October 27). John Steinbeck's "The Pearl". Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/john-steinbecks-the-pearl-2712878 Flynn, Rosalind. "John Steinbeck's "The Pearl"." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/john-steinbecks-the-pearl-2712878 (accessed November 18, 2017).