When We Get There: Treatment

Three Blacks and one White journey from Ridgewood, New Jersey to Selma, Alabama, in the spring of 1965 to join a Civil Rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. They all have their reasons for going.

Rose Shapiro, a White Jewish diamond merchant’s widow, is inspired by a lecture at a Hadassah meeting to go forth and help the Negroes, so she finances the trip. Her idealism, naivete and White privilege are all on display at various points in the journey.

Mary Jacks, her longtime housekeeper, enthusiastically agrees to go. Although she’s keeping it a secret, Mary isn’t taking this trip to march. She is moving back to the South, to finally escape the crushing memories of her rape by Rose’s deceased husband, Nathan – a rape that the other three
travelers will come to learn, produced Dawn.

And what of Dawn? She’s got Civil Rights fire in the belly and looks on this trip as an opportunity to do what the older generation has failed at – providing a just society for all.

Terrance Witt, Rose’s driver, is obliged to go out of his oath to Nathan — with whom he served during WWII – to protect Rose. But he has a secret too. Although he is unaware of Mary’s plans, he wants to be with her – wherever she goes.

Sandwiches and drinks packed in Nathan’s V-8 Buick, with a tankful of ethyl gas and hearts full of hope, they head South, Green book at the ready. In Virginia, they encounter a racist gas station attendant, but finish that day’s journey without further incident, arriving at the safe haven of a Colored-only roadside motel for the night.

But the next day, when a South Carolina Trooper pulls them over, the danger is real and immediate.

Only Dawn’s quick thinking keeps them from ending their journey right then and there As they approach Selma, Mary stuns them when she demands to be let out a few miles shy of Selma where her brother is waiting for her. She’s moving back home. Rose feels betrayed and lied to.
Used. Dawn is incensed, but reveals she knew of Mary’s plan all along and called her uncle to tell him Mary had changed her mind. As the women battle, Terrance tries to keep the peace, but his secret allegiance is to Mary. They reach Selma and head off to March.

Troopers beat and tear gas the marchers on a day that would become known as Bloody Sunday. The end of Act I finds them more apart than together.

When Act II opens, the four – bloodied and bandaged – stagger back to the car. Having faced a common enemy, they are once again united. But on the trip north, the fissures that were exposed in the First Act, open into unbridgeable chasms. Ripping into each other, they play a vicious blame
game, each holding the others to account for their injuries. Finally, Rose has had enough. She demands to be taken to a hospital. No matter that her three badly injured Black traveling companions are refused service there – even Terrance who is dazed and disoriented from a concussion. But in a
moment of grace and clarity, Rose realizes that her care cannot come the cost of their suffering. She sucks it up, gets back in the car. Dawn puts an end to their bickering by demanding that get it together and be together, and northward they go.

Returning to the same colored-only motel, they share the one room left, their rancor further dissolving in their forced togetherness. But when it comes time to pay the bill, Rose realizes she lost her purse in the beatings in Selma. They are penniless.

That’s when Terrance rips open the back seat of the Buick, shocking the women who are sure that the clubbing in Selma has destroyed his mind. But shock turns to gratitude when he extracts a bag of diamonds from a hidey-hole in the upholstery, left there by Nathan, should the need ever arise. And boy has it arisen. Home is only one gas tank away and when they limp into the same Virginia gas station they stopped at on the way down, they find an emboldened gas station attendant, ready to add insult to their injuries by turning violent. That’s when Terrance really does seem to lose it.

After he frog-marches the racist attendant to the bathroom, a gunshot goes off, terrifying the women – until they learn Terrance left him upside down in the toilet, a bullet in the tank.

Just when things seem to have finally settled down, the closer they get to New Jersey, the more anxious Mary becomes. She can hold it in no longer. Nathan raped her, and Dawn is their daughter.

Dawn nearly drives the car off the road. In the aftermath of this bombshell, jealousies, recriminations and feelings of betrayal sweep over everyone in the car. But as the waters of this emotional tsunami slowly recede, it is Dawn – yet again – who pulls them all together. They will take a detour – to
Appomattox – and surrender their individual desires to the family’s overarching need for unity.

The show ends with a new, if fragile, understanding of what a family — and just maybe what a country — can be.