Meet Phoebe Morris. Phoebe surfs the spirit of the age with all of its mocking indifference to what makes things right or wrong, real or unreal. She’s angry, depressed and delinquent. Her Dad is a dysfunctional alcoholic, a local barfly too numb to feel anything toward Phoebe. Her Mom distains Phoebe’s disrespect and demeans everyone she hangs with. She resents her anxiety about Phoebe’s future.
Now Phoebe has a big problem. She’s a senior at Waterbury High School and finally within reach of escaping this asylum of hypocrites. But at the moment she is flunking English Lit. This could mean another year at Waterbury! Her teacher, Mr. Walsh, gives her an ultimatum, “Fail… or write a paper that answers this question: What is Mark Twain’s best work and why?”
At the same time, in the after-life, the angel-director of Purgatory receives an order from the big boss. Send back to earth, the almost purified, religious skeptic and great American author Samuel Clemens – Mark Twain for a final act of penance before being given access to the gates of heaven. His mission? – “help Phoebe Morris reclaim her lost innocence and avoid becoming a skeptic like him.”
Researching her school assignment, Phoebe joins the last daily tour at the Mark Twain house in Hartford. Exhausted from being up half the night partying, she feels faint and slips away into a secret room. She sits down to rest and falls asleep. Awakening in the middle of the night, she finds herself trapped inside the house by its high tech security system. Cautious and scared, Phoebe wanders into the drawing room where she discovers a piano. She begins a jazz improvisation of the spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” – a recurring melody for her. She’s interrupted by the distant crack of billiard balls. In fear and curiosity she follows the sound to the third floor, where she comes face to face with a billiard-playing, cigar smoking Mark Twain, aka Samuel Clemens. “Well hello there lil’ devilfish,” he says.
So begins a series of hilarious and dramatic nightly encounters between Sam and Phoebe. She’s slowly made-over from “devilfish” to “angelfish”. Their growing friendship helps her to reconcile with her father and mother and reclaim her belief and lost-innocence. Sam reveals to her that he likes Joan of Arc the best of all his books. Through Sam, Phoebe meets Joan, learning from her the importance of choosing to be a heroic person; one who sacrifices for the good.
Suddenly, Sheryl Hamilton, a National Parks agent arrests her for larceny and breaking and entering at Mark Twain House. She tells the truth and the district attorney Clayton Elliot, presses charges. Phoebe begins to lose heart. Finally, on her day in court, just as the powers that be are about to throw the book at her, a miracle happens. Samuel Clemens and Joan of Arc appear in court to set the record straight in a scene reminiscent of “Miracle on 34th Street.” In the end, Phoebe is exonerated, Mr. Walsh gives her an “A”, and Phoebe and Sam say goodbye in the foyer of the Mark Twain House. Finally, with great relief and joy Sam receives his glory by entering the gates of heaven, hand-in-hand with his old friend Joan of Arc.
© Copyright 2013 Stephen Payne & Richard Payne
WGA Registration Number: 1589341