In Act I, we meet two brothers – Daniel and David Porter – both students at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa in December of 1965. Daniel, a senior, is a popular, All-American boy, set to follow in the footsteps of his straight-laced father Marshall Porter, a World War II veteran. David, a sophomore, is more quiet and introspective, existing in the shadow of his older brother’s achievements. Daniel is going steady with Emily Ross, a beautiful and socially conscious junior whose mother is a Quaker. David is secretly in love with Emily, but is too honorable to steal his brother’s girl. Emily treats him like a brother, although there are moments when it feels like they are more than just friends.
The Porter boys and Emily learn of the plan to wear black armbands in protest of the Vietnam conflict from Chaz Decker, a charismatic rebel, who urges them to join the cause. This creates a conflict for Daniel and David, who have an elder brother already deployed in Vietnam. Will wearing the armband be a sign of disrespect to him? Their father certainly thinks so. Their mother Grace is also worried that getting suspended could have a negative impact on the boys’ future. The teachers in the school are divided; some, like Donald Proctor, believe that suspending protesters is the least that should be done. Other teachers, like Miss West believe the students have a right to express themselves, although she fears the disruption this may cause.
A choice must be made: what is the right thing to do? Protest or do nothing? Who will defy authority and risk suspension and censure? Who will sacrifice popularity (and perhaps even love) to take a stand? Act One ends the day the choices are made.
Act II is set 25 years later, in December of 1990, near the onset of The Persian Gulf War. We meet David and Emily, now married with two children. Emily is a teacher; Daniel an attorney specializing in civil rights litigation. After two decades and two children, their marriage is showing signs of wear. It doesn’t help that Emily has impulsively invited some last minute guests for dinner - their old friend Chaz, who is in town for the holidays with his family.
David, Emily and Chaz all wore the armbands (but were not part of the Tinker court case.) Daniel did not, and he and Emily broke up shortly after the protest. After graduation, Daniel enlisted and went to Vietnam; he was killed by a land mine before he had a chance to fire a shot. David and Emily re-connected in college, where they were both part of the peace movement. They fell in love and married. Although the world has changed, they still retain many of their “hippie” ideals. Their son Dean is a polar opposite – a yuppie disciple of the Reagan era. Their daughter Danielle also seems not to share their ideology, but they still have hope, as she’s dating Brendan, a talented artist with liberal sensibilities that appeal to David and Emily.
Dean and Danielle are also not happy about the dinner party – Dean because he’s not interested in hanging out with his parents’ hippie friends, and Danielle because she has an important announcement and hopes to make it that evening.
Chaz (who now insists on being called Charles) arrives, with his new trophy wife Britney and his sullen teenage son Bryant. Bryant is not crazy about being on vacation with his new stepmother, but is curious to know more about his father’s mysterious past, as he is something of a rebel himself. Charles – the former rebel – is a capitalist “sell-out”; he has made a small fortune designing missile guidance systems for a government contractor. He says he feels guilty about it, but the money is too good to pass up.
Over the course of the evening’, the young people hear the story of the armband protest and the Tinker case, which Emily is now teaching her students. We discover what choices were made on the day of the protest, and how those decisions led to others and shaped the lives of each person. An old secret is unearthed. Courage and forgiveness are shared and relationships renewed as another generation of young people make their choices in the face of another war. They are all Thursday’s Children – we see how far they have come, and how far they still have to go.