In the waning days of the 1930s Great Depression, an out-of-work actress hits the road again, after her first New York show collapses before it can open. Through the Federal Theatre Project, Eleanor's landed an acting job in the kind of tiny town she'd hoped to escape forever. So she hops a train to Bumfork—meeting suspicious tramps and angry railroad cops—to perform in an innocuous pageant-in-verse by a stuffy local authoress, about the Great Flood that destroyed the town fifty years before. While rehearsing at an abandoned farm, Eleanor meets and falls in love with Frank, an out-of-work, unhappily married man, who's more and more disillusioned with the world around him. Or maybe he's seen more of the truth—his version of which he teaches to Eleanor. With an irate government-inspector on his way to sniff out any traces of bias in the upcoming pageant, Eleanor discovers the very political truth beneath the rhyming couplets of the pageant—that the Great Flood was the fault of greedy local fat-cats (who built a sub-standard dam), and disgruntled workers (one of whom sabotaged the poorly-built structure). These facts will offend everybody—the downtrodden locals, the wealthy patrons of the town, Eleanor's blue-collar lover Frank, and the government-inspector. With the world of Bumfork getting stranger and stranger (some of the people who died in the Flood are drifting back into town as ghosts—or are they?), Eleanor wrestles with whether or not to fight for what she now believes. And her ultimate decision becomes the surprising climax, both of the play-within-the-play, and ON THE BUM.
Set in 1938, during the last stages of the Depression, the play is the story of an New York out-of-work actress, who, through the WPA, gets an acting job and is sent to a town called Bumfork, somewhere in the Midwest, and far too close to the home she thought she had escaped years earlier. "…beneath its raucous humor, ON THE BUM reaches for deeper connections between the depressed cultural climate of 1938 and present day America, and especially the wary relationship between the Federal government and the theater…What the play shows in abundance…is the playwright's ear for the poetry of idiomatic American speech." —NY Times. "…ON THE BUM is a wonderfully theatrical evening." —NY Daily News. "Beneath what appears a naturalistic surface there's sinew and agility, playfulness and danger, provocative political drive…ON THE BUM is a screwball comedy with dangerously high stakes." —Village Voice.