SYNOPSIS OF THE PLEDGE
“There is something darker than knowledge but brighter than ignorance.” – Plato
Places: A small town; a picture-postcard college campus
Time: The present
Jamie Price is stressing out. He’s filling out the application forms for the highly ranked college he’s dreamed of going to – and he wants nothing more to get in, if he doesn’t fall apart first (“Check the Boxes”).
When he gets the news he has been accepted, he worries about being away from his family and his girlfriend Em for the first time. He dreams of joining the school’s most exclusive fraternity. Being an only child, he hopes to finally have “brothers” who will always have his back (“Belonging”).
With a gruff father who works in a factory and a mom who doesn’t work, Jamie feels lucky to have received a swimming scholarship, but he worries if he’ll be able to fit in. A conscientious student, he knows he’s a bit quirky, with a bad case of OCD, and a tendency to photograph “moments” he doesn’t want to forget, using his iPhone. It helps him to not have to deal with his shyness. Wanting to be “invisible,” he always wears a camouflage vest and pants, which has earned him the nickname “Camo.”
At college, he meets Adam, the exclusive fraternity’s only African American brother, who’s warm and welcoming but counsels Jamie to upgrade his look and style before his first meeting with The Brotherhood during Rush Week (“Step Up Your Game”).
Jamie explains to Adam why he feels the need to hide behind his iPhone and photograph the things he sees (“Hiding in Plain Sight”).
When he visits home for the weekend, he goes shopping for new clothes with his mother. She believes in his potential and encourages him to be himself (“A Better Man”).
Jamie sees his girlfriend Em, who tells him she’ll be true to him while he’s away at school. She has dreams of her own and is working as a waitress, saving up money to start her own daycare center. But before he goes back to college, they find it hard to express their feelings to each other (“Everything We Forget to Say”).
Though he’s lonely at college, his hopes are high as he prepares to rush the frat. They get even higher when he sees Adam again. Adam comes from an affluent family and feels the fraternity, with its strong ties to Wall Street alumni, will earn him an added benefit: a place at the table that he feels is his due (“Seat at the Table”).
Jamie’s first meeting with the frat brothers goes well, and he feels a sense that he will belong to a new family as the brothers assure him they’ll always be there for him. The fraternity’s biggest donor, Bucky Danner, is in town and is at the house to greet the potential pledges. As Adam says, Bucky is a “very hands on” benefactor, pumping money into renovations to create a state-of-the-art fraternity house and giving generous gifts to the brothers. Bucky engages Jamie in conversation and shares his philosophy of philanthropy (“It’s All Greek to Me”).
The following week, Jamie “receives a bid” to pledge the frat (“Belonging,” reprise/ “The Bid”).
Alone in his dorm, he prepares to pledge and begins to lose his nerve (“Master of the Universe”).
When he shows up at the fraternity to begin the pledging process, he’s surprised to learn there are certain “benchmarks” he has to achieve in order to be accepted into the house (“A Place at the Party”/“The Pledge”).
“Are benchmarks anything like hazing?” Jamie asks, to which the fraternity president Logan says, “We don’t do that kind of thing here.” But as the night progresses, the benchmarks turn increasingly more aggressive – and menacing. Logan orders Jamie to strip to his underwear and get into a tub filled with ice. He’s blindfolded, paddled, and forced to drink an excessive amount of grain alcohol without stopping. As a swimmer who doesn’t drink, Jamie becomes sick and he passes out. When Adam discovers that Jamie is unresponsive he calls 911, despite Logan’s vehement orders not to get the police involved.
Jamie is taken to the hospital and when he comes to, the doctors say he has had alcohol poisoning and has almost died. The brothers tell police that Jamie went on a drinking binge and his stories of hazing are just a cheap ploy to evade accountability. The police agree to turn a blind eye since they feel the brothers are telling the truth (Bucky has also contributed handsomely to the Policemen’s Fund).
Jamie is angry about what happened – during the hazing and in its aftermath (“No Visible Scars”). He feels he has to clear his name, no matter what the cost. Plus, he wants to put an end to “benchmarks,” which he realizes is just the frat’s code for hazing. He tells Adam he’s going to go to the school administration to press charges and in turn Adam tells Bucky, who asks for a meeting with Jamie and his folks.
When they are all together Bucky offers to pay Jamie $100,000 for “his hospital expenses” and to make the whole incident just go away. In exchange for this “generous gift,” he demands that Jamie will need to sign a standard legal form, which turns out to be a nondisclosure agreement. Jamie’s father urges his son to take the money but Jamie refuses to let Danner buy his silence.
Jamie is furious when he learns that Danner has been in touch with his swim coach to tell him that Jamie is not in any shape to show up for swim practice.
In private Bucky, tries to rationalize his own complicity in what happened the night of the hazing (“Boys Will Be Boys”). He sees Jamie’s adamant refusal to accept his generous offer as a betrayal and has him blackballed by the fraternity.
Jamie is ostracized and benched at swim meets. He doesn’t go to the administration, which he fears will merely give the fraternity a slap on the wrist, believing Bucky’s version of events instead of his own.
Instead, he clicks onto the “Silent Witness” website where he anonymously tells his story for the world to see (“Woke”).
Alone in his dorm room, Jamie’s spirits are lifted when his girlfriend Em makes a surprise visit and reaches out to him (“Belonging,” reprise).
Jamie decides to leave school and apply to a different college for the following year.
His father feels Jamie has thrown away his future, but a year later his parents see on television that Bucky has been arrested for criminal negligence when a teen dies from alcohol poisoning in a hazing-related incident at the fraternity.
Before he drives Jamie to his new school he confesses how he’s misjudged him (“A Better Man,” reprise).
At his new college seven months later, Jamie realizes that the pain he has suffered has helped him to grow. No longer wanting to be invisible, he is determined to make a new life for himself (“Gliding”).