«The Understudy By Eddie McPherson Copyright © MMV All Rights Reserved Heuer Publishing LLC, Cedar Rapids, Iowa All performances before an audience are ...»
BEVERLY: I was rearranging a few pieces to see how they look. I hope you don’t mind.
JANET: (picking up the candlestick) No, I mean this candlestick. Where did it come from?
BEVERLY: You brought it in last week. Remember?
JANET: I brought in a candlestick but not this one. (hands it to BEVERLY) Feel how heavy it is. This is the real deal. The one I brought in was plastic.
BEVERLY: Hmmm. I don’t know. Perhaps one of the cast members brought it in.
JANET: (setting it back down on the chest as DOLORES enters) I’d sure hate to get hit over the head with that heavy thing.
DOLORES: (rushes over to JANET) Why did you say that?
JANET: Say what?
DOLORES: You said someone was hit over the head with that candlestick.
BEVERLY: (laughs) No she didn’t, Dolores.
DOLORES: (rushes over to the candlestick, picks it up and holds it up next to her) I’m not sure why you had to move it from the end table.
BEVERLY: Janet didn’t move it, I did.
JANET: Dolores, are you feeling all right?
DOLORES: What? Yes. (relaxing a little) I guess I’m just getting nervous about opening night. Forgive me, Beverly – you’re the director – you have the right to move the props any place you’d like.
JANET: It really doesn’t matter. It can go back to the chest if you think it looks better.
DOLORES: (setting the candlestick on the chest) I think it looks fine anywhere.
BEVERLY: Dolores, do you know who brought it in?
DOLORES: I think it was owned by my grandmother’s grandmother.
Somehow, it was meant for me to have it, though. You know, so that it might be used for some higher purpose. (She stares at and touches the chest.) BEVERLY: I’m glad you are excited about the play, Dolores, but I would hardly consider a community theatre production a higher purpose.
(ALBERT FISK enters wearing a butler costume. He’s excited.) ALBERT: I’m here, is it time yet?
BEVERLY: Not yet, Albert. Sorry.
ALBERT: Darn! (He exits.) HOWARD WEAVER enters and stands just outside the French doors.
He raises his hand in a dramatic stance. He is dressed as your typical butler.
HOWARD: “I have done the deed. Didst thou not hear a noise?” DOLORES: (throwing a hand out toward HOWARD) “I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry – Did you not speak?” HOWARD: (with arms still out, he moves toward her) “When?” DOLORES: (meeting HOWARD center stage behind the sofa) “Now.” HOWARD: (taking DOLORES’S hand, still dramatic) “Hark! Who lies in th’ second chamber?” DOLORES: (out of character, giggling) Oh, Macbeth was such a fun play to do. If only I could have actually played Lady Macbeth in that one.
HOWARD: That’s right, you were Guinevere’s understudy in that one too, weren’t you?
JANET: (taking the picture of the lady she brought in with her) I need to get a stronger wire on the back of my picture. Good to see you, Mr.
Weaver. (She exits.) HOWARD: Always a pleasure, Janet. (turns to BEVERLY) I think it’s time we do another Shakespeare play, Beverly. Everyone said they enjoyed Macbeth.
BEVERLY: Shakespeare’s a master all right; but for my taste there’s nothing like a good murder mystery on the stage.
DOLORES: (She has been staring at HOWARD the whole time, patting her hair. She’s smitten with him.) You played a wonderful Macbeth, Mr. Weaver.
HOWARD: Don’t forget, Dolores, to call me Howard.
DOLORES: (giggles) Oh, Howard.
BEVERLY: (opening her director’s book) Now that I have my two leads together, let’s go over a few things we need to focus on in tonight’s rehearsal. (HOWARD has spotted the chest and crossed to it. As BEVERLY speaks, he slowly rubs the sides and top of it.) I thought the pacing was off a bit last night. I’ll depend on you two to pick things up a little...
DOLORES: (to HOWARD) Isn’t it a lovely piece of furniture, Howard?
BEVERLY: If someone misses a cue, I need you two to help cover as much as possible.
HOWARD: (pats the top of the chest) Built by a true craftsman, that’s for sure.
BEVERLY: (realizes she’s being ignored, shuts her notebook) Well, I guess those are all the notes I have for today.
DOLORES: (to HOWARD) Did Georgia decide to finally sell it to you?
HOWARD: Not yet, but I’m not the kind to give up so easily.
BEVERLY: (giving up) I guess I’ll go in the back and help Janet with the props. Don’t mind me; I’ll let myself out. (She exits.) HOWARD: It’s (staring at the chest) so sturdy… DOLORES: (staring at HOWARD) So strong.
HOWARD: (staring at the chest) So well put together.
DOLORES: (staring at HOWARD) So well-built.
HOWARD: (staring at the chest) So much character.
DOLORES: (staring at HOWARD) Such masculine vitality… HOWARD: (snapping from his fog) I beg your pardon?
DOLORES: (quickly looks down at the chest) I was talking about your chest. I mean the chest! I love this chest!
HOWARD: It goes without saying that this is a classic piece of furniture.
DOLORES: Speaking of your dead wife?
HOWARD: (taken aback) Were we?
DOLORES: Did that slip out about your poor deceased wife? Where are my manners? You were looking at the chest!
HOWARD: Yes, this would be a perfect piece to showcase in my antique shop.
DOLORES: That’s a wonderful idea. Perhaps Georgia will give in and let you have it.
HOWARD: I’ll ask her when she gets here. Now, let’s talk about us.
DOLORES: (swallows hard) Us?
HOWARD: Yes, our scene that’s coming up tonight.
DOLORES: (disappointed) Oh, that us.
GEORGIA STYLES enters. She’s very high-brow and walks with a poise that lets everyone know she’s just a bit better than everyone else. She holds a large lace-type doily over one arm and her purse hangs on the other. She wears a typical maid’s uniform.
GEORGIA: Here we go, all. Hello, Dolores – Mr. Weaver. (places her purse on the sofa and keeps the doily.) I thought I would never find it.
My, but the set does look nice. I believe it will help us all get into character, don’t you? (She starts to move the candlestick and the flowers off the chest.) DOLORES: (rushes to her) Georgia, what are you doing?
HOWARD: Hello, Mrs. Styles.
GEORGIA: (to DOLORES) Help me, dear. (hands DOLORES the candlestick and the flowers) There you are. (She takes the doily and unfolds it.) I just want to be sure it doesn’t get scuffed up. (She places the doily on top of the chest.) This is a very old piece of furniture, you know.
HOWARD: We were discussing its beauty before you came in. Mrs.
Styles, I’d like to ask you to reconsider selling the chest to me once the play is over.
GEORGIA: (laughs as she takes the flowers and the candlestick from DOLORES and places them on the top of the doily) Sell my priceless antique? Come now, Mr. Weaver. Would one sell the Mona Lisa?
HOWARD: Like I said before, I’m prepared to pay what it’s worth.
GEORGIA: (places her hand to her chest) My dear Mr. Weaver – as I have said before - I would never attempt to put a price on this rare family heirloom. The mere thought of it makes it hard for me to breathe. Besides, all you would do is turn around and sell it at that shoddy little antique shop of yours.
HOWARD: But that’s just it, Mrs. Styles. I want to display it in the front window of my shop. That way dozens of people could admire and appreciate it on a daily basis.
GEORGIA: The answer is still no and I don’t intend on discussing it any further. I did not obtain my wealth by making foolish business deals.
DOLORES: No, you made it when your rich husband died.
GEORGIA: Well, Dolores Gordon, why don’t we just come right out and say what we think?
DOLORES: Don’t get me wrong, Georgia. I agree that you should keep the chest at home where you can look at and admire it every day.
GEORGIA: Admire it? On the contrary; I think it’s rather ugly. I keep it stored in my attic underneath a stack of homemade quilts my grandmother made.
HOWARD: But it’s a masterpiece that should be shared with the world.
DOLORES: Or at least used to store things. Quilts, winter clothes, bodies… GEORGIA: Bodies?
DOLORES: (quickly) Bonnets! I said bonnets, not bodies. (giggles nervously) Who would want to store a dead body inside an antique chest? I mean, what would that prove? (The three laugh.) GEORGIA: I suppose if you wanted to get rid of someone you didn’t like, that would be a good place to hide the body after you have killed it.
(They laugh.) HOWARD: If the person were too tall, you could always chop it up so it would fit better.
GEORGIA: (laughs and places a hand on HOWARD’S arm) Oh, Mr.
Weaver – stop! I can’t breathe.
DOLORES: (sees this and stands between GEORGIA and HOWARD) You lay a hand on him again and I’ll hit you over the head with a candlestick and stuff you in that chest. (All three laugh harder than ever as GEORGIA removes her hand.) BEVERLY: (entering) Well, sounds as if everyone is in a good mood for a night of rehearsing. Georgia, I love that costume on you.
GEORGIA: (twirling around, modeling) Playing a domestic servant has certainly been a challenge for me. I’m used to being the one who tells servants what to do.
BEVERLY: That’s why they call it acting.
HOWARD: (wiping his eyes with a handkerchief) We were just having a little fun talking about murder.
BEVERLY: (removing the picture from the sofa JANET placed there earlier.) That’s appropriate since a murder mystery is what we’re rehearsing. (She hangs the picture, steps back to look at it.) GEORGIA: I should check my makeup. Dolores, dear – would you like me to do your makeup for you?
DOLORES: But I have already done my makeup.
GEORGIA: You didn’t understand what I meant, dear. Would you like for me to do your makeup?
DOLORES: (looks at the chest) I’m not sure I should leave her.
HOWARD: Leave whom?
DOLORES: (thinking quickly) Um, Beverly – She might need my help.
BEVERLY: I’m almost done here, Dolores – go ahead.
DOLORES: (reluctantly) Very well. I guess it shouldn’t take that long.
(She exits with GEORGIA.) BEVERLY: (referring to the picture) Mr. Weaver, does that look straight?
HOWARD: A little that way. There.
ALBERT: (runs in) Beverly, is it time yet?
BEVERLY: Not yet, Albert.
ALBERT: Darn! (He exits. ISABELLA WATTS enters sniffling into a tissue and barely able to walk. She’s being comforted by OLIVIA ANDERSON.) OLIVIA: There, there. I’m sure it will be all right in the long run.
BEVERLY: (rushing over to ISABELLA, taking her by the arm and helping her to the sofa.) What’s the matter with Isabella?
OLIVIA: She just received terrible news, Ms. Gladstone.
HOWARD: Here, put her down on the sofa so she can relax. (OLIVIA, HOWARD and BEVERLY surround her.) BEVERLY: Terrible news? What is it?
OLIVIA: I’ll let Isabella tell you.
ISABELLA: (She’s sniffling and crying and speaking incoherently. Of course she isn’t actually saying “blah blah blah…” but her sentences don’t need to be understood.) Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…(She breaks down.) OLIVIA: She says she caught her husband of fifteen years having a fling with another woman.
ISABELLA: (again incoherent as she tries to talk while she’s crying) Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!
OLIVIA: (interpreting) She came home one night from working hard all day… ISABELLA: Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah… OLIVIA: And while she was changing clothes in her bedroom, she saw the corner of a shoebox sticking from underneath the bed… ISABELLA: (standing and acting it out as she explains through her sobbing) Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!
OLIVIA: She took the box and placed it on her bed.
DOLORES enters unseen by the others. Only one lip is painted bright red. She holds a tube of lipstick.
ISABELLA: Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!
OLIVIA: She knew she shouldn’t look inside the box, but her curiosity got the better of her. (DOLORES, hearing this, stops in her tracks.) DOLORES: (to herself) Look inside?
ISABELLA: Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!
OLIVIA: She bit her lip and bent down to open the box, afraid of what she might find inside. (DOLORES puts her hands over her mouth in shock.) ISABELLA: (acting it out) Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!
OLIVIA: She slowly opened the lid and there she saw the most horrible thing!
DOLORES: (rushing over to them) She’s lying! You can’t believe a word she’s saying!
BEVERLY: Shhhhh, Dolores – let her finish. (back to ISABELLA) What was inside the box?
ISABELLA: Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!
OLIVIA: It was a love letter!
DOLORES: It wasn’t! It wasn’t! She’s lying I tell you! She didn’t find a …love letter?
ISABELLA: (sobbing more than ever) BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH!
OLIVIA: (also sobbing) A LOVE LETTER WRITTEN TO ANOTHER WOMAN!
BEVERLY: Poor thing. Don’t cry, Isabella—your heart will mend.
DOLORES: (giggling) A love letter? She’s crying over finding a silly love letter written to some other woman? How embarrassing for her.
HOWARD: Dolores, can’t you see she’s upset that her husband is in love with another woman? (ISABELLA, hearing this, lets out a loud cry.) DOLORES: What I mean is, that dirty scoundrel isn’t worth crying over.
She should wipe away her tears, stand up and throw him out into the street!
OLIVIA: Ms. Gordon – really.
ISABELLA: (still sniffling, but audible now) No, she’s absolutely right.
That man is not worth the salt in my tears …(sniffling into her tissue) If I only knew who the biddy was he has been meeting.
BEVERLY: (hanging on to every word) So, you don’t know who the other woman is?
ISABELLA: (crying again) Blah, blah, blah, blah!
OLIVIA: No, only someone with the initials R.G.?
HOWARD: Hmmmmmm, R. G.? (JANET enters with her picture of the beautiful lady and hangs it.) JANET: (to DOLORES) Dolores, Mrs. Styles asked me to tell you she needs to finish your makeup. (pause as she looks around) Is something the matter?
BEVERLY: (taking ISABELLA by the arm) Janet, would you be kind enough to take Ms. Watt’s here to the dressing room so she can freshen up?
ISABELLA: (as she tries to explain everything to JANET) Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…(JANET politely nods her head as if she understood what ISABELLA was saying. She takes her through the French doors. Isabella keeps blubbering inaudibly. JANET turns to the others and shrugs, then exits.) HOWARD: Poor girl.
BEVERLY: Dolores – your makeup, please. We will need to get started soon.
DOLORES: Well, all right (glances back at the chest) – but I’ll hurry.
(Exits quickly.) BEVERLY: (turns to OLIVIA who is wearing a traditional maid’s uniform) Let me look at your costume. How does it feel?
OLIVIA: Fine, thank you. Ms. Gladstone, I’m worried about Isabella.
How could anyone be so cruel to another person?
BEVERLY: Her husband’s a rat and she’s better off without him.
OLIVIA: I hope so – poor woman. She’s so nice too. I’ll have to see if I can…(places her fingers over her lips) There I go again!
BEVERLY: (rushing to OLIVIA) You’ll have to see if you can what?
BEVERLY: You were about to say something you shouldn’t again.
Olivia, you have been almost letting a secret slip for two weeks now.
Why don’t you just go ahead and spill it?
OLIVIA: I…I don’t know what you’re talking about.
BEVERLY: You’re a good actress, Olivia – but not that good.
HOWARD: (sitting looking over the lines in his script) Beverly, can’t you see the girl doesn’t want to reveal her secret – now be professional enough to allow sweet Olivia here her privacy.
BEVERLY: You’re right, Mr. Weaver. It’s just that now I’m going to be wondering all night. It just isn’t fair. (She exits.) HOWARD: (standing and quickly crossing to OLIVIA) You tell me your secret little lady - or I’ll see to it you never work in this town again!
OLIVIA: (hand to her chest) Mr. Weaver – you wouldn’t do that, would you?
HOWARD: (composing himself) Of course not. I’m sorry, Olivia. You have every right to keep your dirty little insignificant secret to yourself.
OLIVIA: Thank you.