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Scene Exploder: Unknown Soldier

 

Watch a scene from Unknown Soldier above and follow along with the script below.

The video begins near the top of the musical. Ellen has just reached out to a librarian — via email — for help with some historical research.

Click on any word or words highlighted in yellow to read annotations from Unknown Soldier's playwright and lyricist Daniel Goldstein, as told to Playwrights Horizons staff. Comment, upvote, or add your own annotations by creating a Genius account.

 

ELLEN
Andrew. Let me clarify. I’m not a Cornell student. I’m an OBGYN from Manhattan, but currently I’m stuck in a house in Troy, New York - which I just read somewhere was voted

SONG 2 - THE WORST TOWN IN NEW YORK

THE WORST TOWN IN NEW YORK
I’M IN A HOUSE THAT I DON’T WANT AND I CAN’T SELL IN
THE WORST TOWN IN NEW YORK
AS A GIRL I WOULD DREAM OF THE PLACE THAT I’D LIVE ‘CAUSE I HAD TO GET OUT OF THE WORST TOWN IN NEW YORK

ANDREW
Dear Ms. Rabinowitz,

I am employed by Cornell as a liaison between faculty and graduate students in the department of History and Humanities, housed in the Olin Library.

ELLEN
Perfect! I’m so glad I found you!

ANDREW
Except I’m not authorized to assist you as we have established that you are not a student.

I am sorry to hear you’re in Troy. I live in Ithaca which is

THE BEST TOWN IN NEW YORK
THAT'S WHAT PEOPLE ALWAYS SAY
"DON'T YOU LOVE IT!
IT'S THE BEST TOWN IN NEW YORK!"
WITH THE LAKES AND THE VINEYARDS AND THE MOOSEWOOD CAFE
ONLY SEVEN MONTHS OF WINTER
AND THE SKIES ARE ALWAYS GRAY
EVERY STREET RUNS UPHILL
EVERYBODY IS A VEGAN
BUT IT'S WHERE I GREW UP
IT SEEMED LOGICAL TO STAY IN THE BEST TOWN IN NEW YORK

ELLEN
Can I at least tell you the story?

My grandmother just died and she left me this house. The house where I grew up. My mom died when I was born, and my dad was not in the picture, so I was raised by my cranky old grandma. And now here I am. The plan is to clean it out and sell it and I’m throwing away mountains of stuff. And in the piles, I find a magazine clipping from 1920, a photograph with the caption,

ELLEN & YOUNG ELLEN
“HAS UNKNOWN SOLDIER FOUND TRUE LOVE?

ELLEN
St. Anne’s, Ithaca, NY.” It’s a picture of a man and a woman sitting under a tree, having a picnic. The woman is my grandmother, Lucy. But what is she doing in Ithaca? And who is the man? It’s not my grandfather. My grandfather died in World War 1.

She looks so pretty in this picture. My whole life, I never saw her look so pretty. Or happy. Did he make her so happy? And why does this look so familiar? Please help me find out who this man is. And maybe what my grandmother was doing having a picnic with him.

‘CAUSE I’M STARTING TO FEEL
LIKE I HAVE THE WRONG STORY I FEEL
LIKE I’M MISSING A PAGE
AND I WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED
I WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED

ELLEN & YOUNG ELLEN
AND I WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED
I WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED

ELLEN
MAYBE THE STORY HAS A DIFFERENT BEGINNING
A DIFFERENT MIDDLE
MAYBE THE ENDING IS REALLY THE PROLOGUE
AND CLEARLY THE NARRATOR IS UNRELIABLE
WHICH WOULD EXPLAIN HOW I ENDED UP BACK IN THIS
WONDERFUL
BEAUTIFUL
HORRIBLE
HOUSE
IN THE WORST TOWN IN NEW YORK

IT’S SO QUIET YOU CAN HEAR YOURSELF THINK
AT LEAST THERE ARE TWO BARS SO YOU CAN DRINK
AND THE TREES
THE SPACE
THE LIGHT

ANDREW
I hear what you’re saying.

I MEAN ITHACA’S BEAUTIFUL
ITHACA’S LOVELY
ITHACA’S GORGEOUS
THE GORGES
BUT SOMETIMES I FEEL
LIKE I’M IN THE WRONG STORY
I FEEL
LIKE I’M MISSING A PAGE
AND I WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED
I WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED
THE STUDENTS MY COLLEAGUES
MY LACK OF AMBITION
AND ALL THE FRESH AIR
MAKES ME FEEL LIKE I’M CHOKING
THE LIBRARY FEELS LIKE A PRISON
THE GORGES MAKE ME KIND OF SUICIDAL
AT LEAST YOU KNOW WHERE YOU ARE TRYING TO GET WHEN YOU’RE STUCK
IN THE WORST TOWN IN NEW YORK

Sorry. You were saying?

ELLEN
TODAY I FOUND A POSTCARD
HIDDEN THERE IN ALL THE DUST
IT’S FROM 1914
BEFORE THIS TOWN TURNED TO RUST

ELLEN & YOUNG ELLEN
“WELCOME TO BEAUTIFUL DOWNTOWN TROY
COLLAR CITY OF THE EMPIRE STATE
THE BEST LITTLE CITY IN NEW YORK”

ELLEN
I REMEMBER WHEN I LIVED HERE
I COULDN’T WAIT TO GET AWAY
I HID FROM GRANDMA DREAMING DREAMS
OF HOW MY LIFE WOULD BE SOMEDAY

ELLEN & YOUNG ELLEN
“WELCOME TO ELLEN’S AMAZING LIFE
FULFILLING IMPACTFUL SHE HAS IT ALL”

ELLEN
AND THEN YOU WAKE UP AND YOU’RE FORTY
AND YOUR LIFE JUST SPINS AHEAD
AND YOUR ONLY LIVING RELATIVE
CAN’T HELP YOU ‘CAUSE SHE’S DEAD
AND YOU DIDN’T KNOW THE TIME WOULD COME
WHEN YOU WOULD WANT TO ASK HER QUESTIONS
THINGS THAT ONLY SHE WOULD KNOW

AND THE ONLY FAMILY
I HAVE LEFT

IS THIS HOUSE I NEVER WANTED TO SEE AGAIN

AND THE GIRL I WAS
IS SHE A GHOST?
IF I TURN MAYBE I’LL CATCH HER THERE - THERE - THERE…

ELLEN thinks she sees her younger self. She might have. Pause.