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J.B. (play): Wikis

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JB. (Jack Brentjens)
Written by Archibald MacLeish
Characters J.B.
Mr. Zuss
Date premiered 11 December 1958
Place premiered ANTA Playhouse
New York City, New York
Original language English
Genre Drama
Setting a modern day circus
IBDB profile

J.B. is a 1958 play by Archibald MacLeish, set in a modern circus. Two vendors, Mr. Zuss and Nickles, begin the play-within-a-play by assuming the roles of God and Satan, respectively. They watch J.B., a wealthy banker, describe his prosperity as a just reward for his faithfulness to God. Scorning, Nickles challenges Zuss that J.B. will curse God if his life is ruined. The vendors observe as J.B.'s children and property are destroyed in horrible accidents and the former millionaire takes to the streets. J.B. is visited by three Comforters (representing History, Science, and Religion) who offer contradicting explanations for his plight. He declines to believe any of them, instead calling out to God to show him the just cause for his punishment. When finally confronted by the circus vendors, J.B. refuses to accept Nickles' urging toward suicide to spite God or Zuss' offer of his old life in exchange for quiet obedience to religion. Instead, he takes solace in his wife Sarah and the new life they will create together.

As a play, J.B. went through several incarnations before it was finally published. MacLeish began the work in 1953 as a one-act production but within three years had expanded it to a full three-act manuscript. The resulting work won the 1959 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.


  • J.B. – based on the biblical character Job; a man confronted by many tests of his faith in God.
  • Sarah – J.B.'s wife; not as confident in God as J.B.
  • Mr. Zuss – A balloon vendor in the circus who assumes the role of God
  • Nickles – A popcorn vendor in the circus who assumes the role Satan
  • The Distant Voice – An anonymous voice that prompts more action in the play, as if to make it look like God himself is watching
  • the children of J.B. and Sarah: David 13; Mary, 12; Jonathan 10; Ruth 8; Rebecca, 6
  • two 'buxom, middle-aged' Maids
  • two Messengers: 'dressed as soldiers' in Scene Three; with 'battered felt hats...a news camera... a notebook' in Scene Four; 'wearing steel helets and brassards' in Scene Six
  • a 'stylishly dressed Girl' (Scene Four)
  • in Scene Eight, et seq.: 'Four Women' (Mrs. Adams, Mrs. Botticelli, Mrs. Lesure, and Mrs. Murphy) and 'a young girl' (Jolly Adams), 'their arms filled with blankets and newspapers.'
  • in Scene Nine: 'Three Comforters ... in worn-out clothing': Zophar, a fat, red-faced man wearing 'the wreck of a clerical collar'; Eliphaz, lean and dark, wearing 'an intern's jacket which once was white'; and Bildad, a squat, thick man in a ragged wind-breaker.'

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