«The Understudy By Eddie McPherson Copyright © MMV All Rights Reserved Heuer Publishing LLC, Cedar Rapids, Iowa All performances before an audience are ...»
By Eddie McPherson
Copyright © MMV
All Rights Reserved
Heuer Publishing LLC, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
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HEUER PUBLISHING LLCP.O. BOX 248 • CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA 52406 TOLL FREE (800) 950-7529 • FAX (319) 368-8011 Synopsis Dolores Gordon, who loves the stage, has always dreamed of stardom. But the only role she ever seems to land is that of the lowly understudy. So, she decides the only way she is to receive the lead role in an upcoming community theatre production is to murder the lead actress, Guinevere Black. And that is exactly what she does. To make the murder more fun, Dolores hides Guinevere’s body in a large wooden trunk that is used as the centerpiece of the production’s murder mystery set.
But Dolores’ thrills soon turn to chills when she begins to observe strange things going on among the production’s suspicious and dysfunctional cast members. They seem to know something she doesn’t.
Out of mere nervousness, Dolores decides to open the chest in an effort to make certain her victim hasn’t disappeared; that’s when her worst nightmare is realized: Guinevere’s body is indeed gone. But who took it? Which cast member is on to her horrific crime? And is that Guinevere herself peering through the French doors of the set when no one but Dolores is looking? Find out the answers when you read this murder mystery comedy that spoofs Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock all in one keep-you-guessing backstage comedy.
CAST: 6 men, 8 women, Extras if desired DOLORES GORDON: Hard to tell if she’s the epitome of evil or just crazy. Mid to late 40s.
HOWARD WEAVER: Owner of a small but nice antique shop in town and seems to be up to no good. Sophisticated, Late 40s, early 50s.
BEVERLY GLADSTONE: The theatre’s competent director. Mid 40s.
JANET DUNCAN: Beverly’s stage manager. Young and helpful.
GEORGIA STYLES: Highbrow aristocrat who feels it’s her job to put everybody else in their place. Early 50s.
LLOYD FISCHER: The theatre’s handyman who is involved with something we’re not sure about. Early 30s.
GUINEVERE BLACK: Victim of Dolores’s murder who seems to restlessly lurk in the shadows of the theatre. Same age as Dolores.
ISABELLA WATTS: Recently learned of her husband’s ongoing “hobby”. 30s.
OLIVIA ANDERSON: Isabella’s friend in need. Young and attractive.
ALICE OLDACRE: “Overhears” something she shouldn’t have. Late 40s.
OSCAR FAIRFAX: A local medical doctor. Mid 60s.’ OFFICER EVAN BIDDLE: A policeman who is very concerned about his reputation in the community. Mid to late 20s.
GEOFFREY CHANCE: Young and arrogant. Likes fast cars and adventure. Early 20s.
ALBERT FISK: An eager actor. Mid to late twenties.
Extras: For other cast members in the play and/or members of the dream sequence
Running Time: 90 minutes
Candlestick, white handkerchief, poster size pictures of actors playing Guinevere and Delores, compact, dinner party dress, medium size cardboard box with vase of silk or plastic flowers inside, couple of framed pictures (one must be of a pretty lady), director’s notebook, purse, large doily, handkerchief, pieces of tissue, tube of lipstick, toy gun, headset, clipboard, small tablet and pencil, martini-type glasses, silver tray, telephone, fake butcher knife, unlit cigarette, detective badge, small toolbox, white masks (if optional dream sequence is used), fake stick of dynamite (if optional dream sequence is used), book, two pitchers of water, several glasses, bottle of “tranquilizers”, two pieces of paper (as letters), several plastic medallions for charms, feather boa, ugly hat, unlit cigar, pair of handcuffs, cell phone, tape measure.
Set The set is decorated as a Victorian-style living room. A sofa sits center stage with a matching chair sitting left of it. A fireplace sits against the upstage center wall. A large picture of DOLORES GORDON hangs above the fireplace. French doors open up to a garden right of the fireplace and bookcases full of old books on the left of the fireplace. On the stage left wall there are a door that leads to the rest of the house and more nice pictures. On the stage right wall are another door and a long window beside it. This door exits to the outside. A large antiquelooking chest sits in front of the sofa serving as a coffee table. A small, round end table sits left of the sofa. A telephone sits atop the table.
Production Notes This is a farce so should move along rather quickly and played for fun.
But please notice the pauses and the other silent places in the stage directions. These should be played to the fullest for desired effect. For example, notice stage directions such as the following: “When Dolores takes the glass, her hands are visibly shaking.”; “It looks by their body language as if Howard is somewhat reprimanding Lloyd”; “As Dolores crosses to Oscar, her eyes stay fixed on the glass in his hand.” Etc. The play is very visually oriented, so attention should be paid to these types of details.
Extra cast members can be added if desired to play in the dream sequence and/or as other actors rehearsing the play.
Guinevere in the large portrait and the actor who plays Guinevere should be dressed alike. Also, if you use the dream sequence, Guinevere’s outfit should be pretty basic and easy to find and put together so that the actors in the dream sequence can dress like her. For example: Black dress with white pearls; white dress with blue scarf etc. It needs to be easy to dress that many actors.
The chest should be the center piece of the set. It should sit facing the sofa so that the lid opens toward the upstage wall.
Have fun with this play. It is somewhat a parody in that it takes Agatha Christie-type characters and places them in an Alfred Hitchcock-type situation. Remember, too, that it is a comedy and not a drama to be taken seriously. So enjoy the ridiculous situations and the somewhat stereotypical characters. If you enjoy it, the audience will too.
Act One, Scene One At Rise: Dolores Gordon is calmly closing the chest that sits in front of the sofa. She notices the audience.
DOLORES: Excuse me while I catch my breath. (She wipes her forehead with a white handkerchief) Have you ever murdered anyone and hid the body? Let me tell you – it is not as easy as it looks on television. If you would have been here only minutes earlier, you could have witnessed one with your own eyes. A murder that is. Who was murdered? I’ll show you. (DOLORES holds up a poster-sized picture of GUINEVERE who is posed the same as DOLORES in the portrait over the fireplace, though the dress is different.) Guinevere Black is – was her name. (giving the picture a good looking over) Poor girl, she always did like that dreadful looking dress. She was one tough cookie to knock over – pretty stout for her age. (She puts the picture away.) You probably have all kinds of questions flashing through your mind right now. I’m sorry; I guess I’m not making much sense. You see, I murdered Guinevere Black. Well, she had it coming. I simply hated her. (pulls out a compact and powders her nose) She is…was a very arrogant holier-than-thou type of woman. I simply will not tolerate arrogance! (crosses and stands underneath her self-portrait over the fireplace) Did you notice the portrait? (She strikes the same pose as the lady in the picture.) Do you see the resemblance? (giggles) It’s me, silly. Or at least the character I’m portraying in this little play we’re putting on.
You see, I play Clarisse Dubois who owns this quaint Victorian- style home here. (looks around the set) I thought Mary Welch did an outstanding job designing the set. So cozy, I could just move in and stay. Let’s see, where was I? Oh yes, the murder. The picture above the fireplace used to be (points to the wing where she put the portrait) that picture of Guinevere Black I showed you a moment ago– you remember, the one I murdered? But that was back when she was playing Clarisse. But after Guinevere (makes quotation marks with her fingers) “ran off to Europe” leaving the cast and director high and dry, they were forced to bring in her understudy.
(throws out her arms) Yours truly.
(with amusement) Of course you and I know she didn’t really run off to Europe because I killed her. (giggles) Isn’t that funny? (hands on hips) How else would I get the chance to play the lead in a play?
Goodness knows I’ve tried other ways of obtaining a good part.
Audition after audition I tried only to be told by Miss Beverly Gladstone, the director here, “Dolores, I’m so sorry we didn’t have enough parts to go around – would you mind very much serving as Guinevere’s understudy”? A person can only take so much rejection.
What is this world coming to when you have to kill a body just to land a decent part in a play? I mean, really!
You’re just dying to know how I did it, aren’t you? (points to the candlestick on the end table.) There it is right over there – the candlestick I used. I researched for weeks figuring out exactly where in the back of her head I should strike. The candlestick is serving as one of the props in the play. Isn’t that fun? (stands beside the chest) Guess where I hid the body? You already know, don’t you?
(touches the corner of the chest) Of course, I can’t keep it in here for too long because the smell would give me away eventually. But I can enjoy the thrill of hiding it for at least a day or two. (giggles) The ironic part is if anyone finds Guinevere in the chest, that’s the end for me as well. (speaking to the chest) So you just keep quiet and don’t give me away in there. (giggles) I just crack myself up.
(jumps up) Oh, let me show you something! (rushes over to the chair and picks up a dress that is hanging on it. She holds the dress up to her.) This is the dress I wear in act two – the dinner party scene.
Isn’t it lovely? For a community theatre, they really go all out. Janet Duncan—she’s the stage manager here—said to me just yesterday that she thought I was doing a splendid job playing the Clarisse Dubois role. That made my day. (BEVERLY GLADSTONE, the director, enters carrying a medium-sized box and watches DOLORES. DOLORES doesn’t notice BEVERLY and continues to speak to the audience. Her demeanor changes suddenly.) I bet you’re like all the others who think I should be nothing but an understudy. That I don’t have the talent it takes to be a star. About that I have only one thing to say: BLAH on you!
BEVERLY: Dolores? (DOLORES is startled and turns quickly and places the dress in front of her as though she were trying to protect herself.) Who are you talking to?
DOLORES: (nervously) Beverly? How long have you been standing there?
BEVERLY: I just came in. (places a hand above her eyes and peers out toward the audience) Is anyone out there?
DOLORES: Just…a few people. I was…performing a monologue for them.
BEVERLY: Dolores, I don’t see anyone out there.
DOLORES: (composing herself) Of course not, silly; I was only pretending there were people sitting out there so I could rehearse my monologue in front of an audience, that’s all. It helps me get into character.
BEVERLY: (BEVERLY gives DOLORES a strange look then walks around the set arranging things) You’re early. How long have you been here?
DOLORES: (picking at the dress) Only a few minutes. Mr. Fischer let me in.
BEVERLY: Lloyd let you in? That’s odd, he told me he would be out of town until later. That’s why he asked if I could open the theatre tonight.
DOLORES: I just took for granted it was Mr. Fischer who unlocked the door. All I know is that it was certainly unlocked. You see, I had to return a scarf over at Ratliff’s Dress Shop before they closed. Well, no need of my going all the way back home before rehearsal.
BEVERLY: That makes sense. How do you like the set? Isn’t it marvelous?
DOLORES: Simply adorable. It makes me want to move right in.
BEVERLY: (crossing and looking up at the portrait of DOLORES) The portrait turned out nice. How does it make you feel seeing your likeness bigger than life?
DOLORES: Like a star!
BEVERLY: (crosses to the chest) The only thing I’m not so crazy about is this chest for a coffee table.
DOLORES: I think it’s perfect. It certainly sets off the antique look you were after.
BEVERLY: I suppose we could move it to a different area of the stage.
DOLORES: (quickly) Oh no, Beverly! It belongs front and center if you ask me. (rubbing the top of the chest) That way, everyone can see and appreciate its ornate characteristics.
BEVERLY: I guess you’re right.
DOLORES: (puts the dress back up against her) Beverly, I simply adore the dress; it fits me perfectly.
BEVERLY: And you were afraid it wouldn’t be finished in time for our first dress rehearsal.
DOLORES: I think I’ll hang it in my dressing room so it doesn’t get wrinkled. (before she leaves) Beverly, I can’t thank you enough for giving me this chance. I won’t let you down.
BEVERLY: You’re welcome, Dolores. (DOLORES looks over at the chest, covers her mouth with her fingers, giggles and exits.
BEVERLY starts straightening things on the set. She takes the candlestick off the end table and places it on top of the chest. She takes a vase of silk flowers from a box she brought in with her and sets it beside the candlestick. She begins to arrange the flowers.
JANET DUNCAN, BEVERLY’S stage manager enters carrying a few framed pictures.) JANET: Hi, Beverly – sorry I’m late.
BEVERLY: I just walked in myself.
JANET: (sets one of the pictures down on the sofa and holds up the other picture which is a painting of a beautiful lady) I brought these pictures from home to hang up. This is my favorite. Isn’t she beautiful?
BEVERLY: That’s an awful expensive-looking picture to use for the play.
JANET: Nah, it’s been in the back of a closet collecting dust. I think I bought it at a yard sale once.
BEVERLY: Janet, do you remember if Lloyd locked the theatre last night?
JANET: (crossing to BEVERLY who is still arranging the flowers) Yes – he and I were the last to leave.
BEVERLY: But are you sure he locked the door?
JANET: Let me think. Yes he did because just after he drove off, I remembered I had left my script inside the theatre so I returned to get it. But the door was securely bolted.
BEVERLY: That’s odd – Dolores said it was unlocked when she arrived this evening.
JANET: Perhaps someone came by today.
BEVERLY: Only Lloyd and I have keys and he left early this morning for Gadsden to deliver a bookcase he built for his aunt.
JANET: Well, I know it was locked last night. (notices the candlestick) What’s this?