The Harder Courage
Sheriff Ben Holmes arrests and ultimately hangs Robert Day for first-degree murder in this drama based on actual events of 1891-92. During eight months in jail, the talkative, emotional prisoner and the bashful, quiet sheriff develop an unlikely friendship and ultimately share secrets each has been carrying since the Civil War. Holmes helps Day find the courage to die, and Day helps Holmes find “the harder courage” to take his life.
On Oct. 9, 1891, Robert Day shot and killed Thomas Clinton Beebe, a logger. A lynch mob came after him, but Sheriff Ben Holmes hid Day in the attic of a store. Day was tried and convicted of first-degree murder two months later. He tried to kill himself that night but Holmes saved his life. Day appealed the verdict, lost the appeal, and was hanged by Holmes before a large crowd on June 3, 1892. Reporters said he died with dignity.
These are the known facts. Everything else in the play is me sifting through the subtext, finding the essence that lies between the lines.
I first heard about Holmes and Day when I was a crime reporter at The Daily News. Deputy Darren Ullmann, who is writing a novel about Holmes, encouraged me to write a play. We’ve been sharing our research ever since. Because court records of the case have been lost, I gleaned most of my information from contemporary newspapers and I found some documents on genealogy sites.
I held a staged reading/workshop of a one-act version of the play in 2013 with actors Scott Clark (Holmes) and Michael Cheney (Day).
I presented my research in an English Department Colloquium at Portland State University in May, 2016.
|Ben Holmes||U. Jonathan Toppo|
|Robert Day||Michael Gabriel Goodfriend|
|Judge Bloomfield||Eric Poppick|
|Stage directions||Nancy Rodriguez|
The courthouse and the nearby area in Cowlitz County, Washington, from October 1891 through June 1892; epilogue 1895.
Leslie Slape is new to playwriting, but spent 34 years writing for The Daily News (Longview, WA)—working her way up from classified ad salesperson to award-winning reporter—and has performed as a professional storyteller since the 1980s. The Harder Courage (2018), her first solo play, was a finalist in the 2018 Ashland New Plays Festival. She is the co-author (with Donald A. Correll) of This Island Earth (1998/revised 2009), a physical theater production drawn from folklore and myth, on the theme of stewardship of our planet.
At age 57, she left the newspaper to study playwriting at Portland State University, graduating summa cum laude in 2016 with a BA in English/Writing. She also holds an AA in music from Lower Columbia College (1976).
She won seven awards for news writing, including three first-place awards from the Society for Professional Journalists. Her short story, The Tale-Teller, was published in The Healing Heart: Families (New Society Publishers, 2003) and has been performed by storytellers around the world.
She is active in Longview’s community theater, Stageworks Northwest, as a stage manager, director, producer, performer, teacher/mentor, and playwright.