book and lyrics by Bill Russell
music by Peter Melnick
The Last Smoker in America is a four-character musical primarily set in a suburban kitchen in the near future when anti-smoking laws have become draconian.
PAM, a middle-aged professor of English Lit at a small college, is valiantly trying to quit smoking. Her husband, ERNIE, a psychology professor and ex-smoker, is upset that his wife is putting their family in jeopardy by continuing to smoke. Their teenage son, JIMMY, who often doesn’t take the medication to treat his hyperactivity, refuses to go to school, preferring to play video games. Their next-door neighbor, PHYLLIS, a Jesus-loving, anti-smoking zealot who is African-American, stops by to ask Pam’s help at the annual Tobacco Burn. All of their demands make Pam long to smoke in peace and quiet.
The Up-to-Date Smoking Penalty Information System or USPIS, a squawk-box which delivers its bulletins in cheery jingles, announces that possession of even a single cigarette can now be punished by up to a year in prison. Phyllis stops by to encourage Pam to turn to Jesus to cure her addiction.
Shooing Phyllis out, Pam runs to her secret stash – a half-smoked cigarette and the ultimate – an unsmoked one. She lights the stub, but before she can even get a good drag, she hears Ernie and jumps into the broom closet. He sniffs her out and confronts her, showing her the rifle he purchased to protect the family.
They are interrupted by Jimmy, who is obsessed with rap music, announcing he is black. That leads to a fight with his father, whose dream is to become a rock star. USPIS announces the invention of Smokebots, fierce androids which can smell tobacco anywhere. Smoke Squads are already rounding up some of the neighbors. Pam vows to “Fight for the Right to Light Up.” Hiding in the closet again, Pam hears Ernie trying to get Phyllis to rekindle their affair. Pam confronts them and decides to give herself the pleasure of smoking her last cigarette. Facing prison time, she decides to go on the lam.
Act Two begins two years later at the annual Tobacco Burn. Phyllis bemoans the damage tobacco has done to Ernie’s family since Pam abandoned them. Late at night, Jimmy discovers an intruder and brandishes the rifle. The intruder is Pam, returning after two years on the run because she misses Jimmy. Her fellow renegades have all been captured and she is now “The Last Smoker in America.” Ernie discovers them and threatens to have Pam arrested. Phyllis enters. She is now Ernie’s “squeeze” and has replaced Pam in the family. Pam attacks Phyllis who runs away. Ernie orders Jimmy to shoot Pam. Jimmy refuses and a fight between them ensues – ending in an off-stage blast of the rifle. Ernie has shot Jimmy’s game machine.
Waving the rifle, Ernie threatens to kill both Pam and Jimmy but then leaves to pursue his rock-star dreams. Pam begs Jimmy to come with her to Kazakhstan, where smoking will never be outlawed, but he refuses, saying he doesn’t want her “Second-hand Smoke.”