«The Understudy By Eddie McPherson Copyright © MMV All Rights Reserved Heuer Publishing LLC, Cedar Rapids, Iowa All performances before an audience are ...»
HOWARD: When you feel you’re ready to tell someone, I’ll be in the back going over my lines.
As HOWARD starts to exit, he almost runs into GEOFFREY who enters rather quickly wearing a butler costume. Without saying anything, HOWARD points to the stage left wall and then gives GEOFFREY the “Okay” sign. GEOFFREY shoots one back to HOWARD. HOWARD exits. OLIVIA takes a small mirror from her purse and checks her makeup. GEOFFREY sees OLIVIA. He reaches inside his pocket, brings out a fake gun and points it toward OLIVIA.
GEOFFREY: Don’t move!
OLIVIA: (on instinct darts behind the chair) Oh!
GEOFFREY: I told you not to move!
OLIVIA: Geoffrey Chance, how dare you scare me that way!
GEOFFREY: Scare you? On the contrary; my firearm is loaded only with cupid’s persuasive arrows. One hit in the heart and you will fall for me head over heels. (OLIVIA crosses quickly to the chest and picks up the flowers and candlestick in order to make herself look busy.) So what you say, Olive? Will you go out with me or will I have to fire?
OLIVIA: (not looking at him) My name is Olivia. And as you can see I’m quite busy at the moment.
GEOFFREY: (putting the gun away) Don’t worry; it’s only a prop.
(crossing to her) In case you’re interested, I drove here tonight in my convertible.
OLIVIA: (sarcastically) And you still managed to stay looking perfect.
GEOFFREY: Yes I did. You wouldn’t believe my car! (rushes to down stage and sits on the trunk facing the audience) The power – the speed – the smooth handling. It was great taking those curves!
(holds his ‘steering wheel”) Brrrrrrr! Passing everyone on the street!
Brrrrrrrrr! Only to slow down and come to a nice smooth stop! (puts on his “breaks”) Yes ma’am, I was made for adventure! (stands and crosses quickly to the back of the trunk) You give me the open road and a fast engine under my hood, (He raises the lid of the trunk as though it were a car hood, but keeps his eyes on OLIVIA.) And I’m a happy, happy man! I’ll take you riding tonight after rehearsal if you’d like.
OLIVIA: Let me think about it – (slams the lid onto his fingers) NO!
OLIVIA: (placing the items back onto the chest) Oh, were those your fingers? (sarcastically) I’m so sorry, Jerry.
GEOFFREY: My name’s Geoffrey.
OLIVIA: A skunk by any other name is still a skunk.
GEOFFREY: (rubbing his fingers) So you’re saying I have a chance, right? (OLIVIA rolls her eyes and storms out. GEOFFREY turns to BEVERLY.) She’s crazy about me.
BEVERLY: (ignoring his arrogance) Did your costume fit, Geoffrey?
GEOFFREY: I had it taken in a bit.
GEOFFREY: I needed it to show off my physique a little better. It does too. Especially when I suck in my stomach – see? (demonstrates) BEVERLY: Then put those muscles to use and help me move this chest over just a bit, please.
GEOFFREY: Sure. (JANET positions herself on one side of he chest – GEOFFREY the other.) JANET: It needs to come this way just a bit. On the count of three.
One, two, three! (They try picking it up to no avail.) BEVERLY: That’s funny, I didn’t realize the chest was so heavy.
GEOFFREY: What’s inside?
BEVERLY: Nothing – or so I thought. Perhaps Janet stored some props inside it. If you’ll take the candle and flowers, I’ll look. (BEVERLY picks them up off the chest and hands them to GEOFFREY.
DOLORES enters and sees what they’re about to do. She pretends to become faint.) DOLORES: Ohhhhh! OHHHHHHH! (BEVERLY and GEOFFREY look back at DOLORES. BEVERLY opened the lid only a couple of inches. She quickly shuts the chest and rushes back to DOLORES.) BEVERLY: Dolores? Dolores – are you all right? Geoffrey, help me.
(GEOFFREY places the things back onto the chest.) Here, have a seat on the sofa. (They help her sit.) DOLORES: Oh dear – I felt faint for a moment. (fanning herself with a pillow) There, I feel better already. I’m sorry, dear - I didn’t mean to give you a start.
BEVERLY: Can we get you anything?
DOLORES: No – don’t fuss over me, child.
BEVERLY: Geoffrey, let’s see if we can get this chest moved over.
DOLORES: OHHHHHHHH! On second thought – I could go for a cold glass of water. (pitiful-like) If it isn’t too much trouble.
GEOFFREY: Not at all, I’ll get it. (He exits.) DOLORES: A cold compress would be nice – oh, but I hate to ask you to fuss over me with everything you have to do.
BEVERLY: Don’t be silly. What kind of director would I be if I didn’t take care of my lead actress?
DOLORES: You are too sweet.
BEVERLY: Now, you just stay right there. (JANET starts to leave.
DOLORES begins to stand, but BEVERLY turns quickly to DOLORES. When she does, DOLORES plops down on the sofa again.) DOLORES: AHHHHHHHHHHH!
JANET: I’ll be right back!
DOLORES: (sounding as though she were on her deathbed) Take your time, dear. I don’t want any fuss made over me. (BEVERLY exits.
DOLORES makes sure she’s gone then jumps up and starts to pace.) Oh, dear sweet Guinevere – if they open this chest, it’s all over. Should I move you to another location? Keep calm, Dolores Gordon, keep calm. I can’t become hysterical – I can’t become paranoid. No one is on to me. No one!
ALICE OLDACRE enters and stands in the French doors holding a purse and dressed as a maid. She smiles as she watches DOLORES.
DOLORES doesn’t notice ALICE.
DOLORES: (to the audience) It’s just that every time I think about what that Beverly said to me, the prouder I am of what I did. (mocking BEVERLY) “Would you mind very much serving as Guinevere’s understudy? You’re so dependable.” (back to the chest) I showed you, dear Guinevere – I showed you and I’ll show the rest of them!
(Her emotion builds.) I’ll be the star I deserve to be! And they will applaud and applaud and wonder why they never gave me a part in one of their plays in the first place. After I take my bows every night I will pose for a few pictures and sign a few autographs; then, when all the lights are out and the theatre grows dark, I’ll come back for you, Guinevere. I’ll take you and throw you to the bottom of the river just as I have planned all along. And no one will stand in the way of that plan! Not Beverly! Not Janet! Not…(DOLORES turns and sees ALICE standing there.) Alice!
ALICE: (smiles and throws DOLORES a friendly wave) Hello, Dolores.
(DOLORES drops to the sofa continuing to stare at the intruder.) BLACKOUT End of Scene 1 Act I, Scene 2 At Rise: It’s the next day. Lloyd and Howard are standing in front of the fireplace. Howard is wearing his butler costume. Lloyd wears a pair of overalls. They are whispering about something, very secretively. Lloyd points to offstage left. DOLORES enters wearing the act two party dress but her appearance is not quite as neat as before. There are light gray circles under her eyes and her hair is beginning to fall down on her forehead. The two men stop talking abruptly and turn and stare at her.
DOLORES: Am I interrupting something?
HOWARD: (with fakeness) There she is, the star of our show. Let’s hear it for Madam Dubois! (The two men clap their hands.) DOLORES: You two are up to no good, I can tell.
LLOYD: Us? Why we were just talking fishing and hunting, that’s all.
DOLORES: (crossing to center stage keeping her eyes on the two men the whole time.) Why were you looking so suspicious if you were only talking fishing and hunting, Mr. Fischer?
HOWARD: (crossing to her) Come now, Dolores. Do we really look as if we are up to something? Why, you couldn’t find two more boring gentlemen if you tried.
DOLORES: It’s just that… HOWARD: (He interrupts her in order to change the subject. He crosses to her, takes her hand and kisses it.) Just look at that dress.
Before you adorned it, it was merely a dress, plain and simple– but now, it is nothing short of a heavenly vision. (LLOYD coughs.) DOLORES: (giggling) Oh, Howard – I couldn’t agree with you more.
HOWARD: Was there something we could help you with?
DOLORES: (thinking) Oh yes. Have either of you seen Alice Oldacre?
LLOYD: I don’t think she’s here yet, Ms Gordon.
DOLORES: She probably has been here. (looks around the room, behind the chair, underneath the sofa) Snooping around where she has no business snooping. I haven’t had the courage to ask her questions.
HOWARD: Alice Oldacre a sneak?
DOLORES: Only the worst kind. Always lurking in the shadows, listening in on conversations people have with themselves.
LLOYD: I admit Ms Oldacre is a bit mysterious – but I can’t imagine that she means any harm.
DOLORES: I don’t trust her any more than I trust you two. Separating yourselves from the others, whispering the way you were.
HOWARD: Perhaps this murder mystery has gotten you on edge a bit.
DOLORES: You just couldn’t wait to use that word, could you?
HOWARD: What word is that?
DOLORES: Murder. (moving away from them) You think you’re so clever with all your charm and animal magnetism. And to think I was somewhat smitten with you, Howard Weaver. And I’m equally ashamed of you, Mr. Fischer. I mean, you are the one who is supposed to be keeping this place together! You should be fixing the cracks in the wall instead of standing around scheming.
LLOYD: Ms Gordon, I don’t mean any disrespect, but I can promise you I have no idea what you’re talking about. What’s wrong with this set?
DOLORES: What’s wrong? Just take a look around. Cracks in the wall.
(points to the stage left wall) There’s one right there.
LLOYD: (LLOYD and HOWARD cross and look to where she is pointing) Where?
DOLORES: In that wall right there. Show him, Howard.
HOWARD: (getting a closer look) Over here? (Once the men have their backs to her, DOLORES darts and sits and slumps in the chair, completely invisible to the two men.) LLOYD: I don’t see a thing.
HOWARD: Why, there’s nothing wrong with that wall, Ms Gordon. (turns around) LLOYD: Ms Gordon? She sure did disappear quick.
HOWARD: (rushing behind the sofa) At least she’s gone. Now, listen closely, Lloyd. (LLOYD crosses to HOWARD.) Are you sure you hid it so no one will find it?
LLOYD: It’s hid nice and safe all right. I took her out last night after everybody left. It took some doing, but I got her out.
HOWARD: And you’re sure no one saw you.
LLOYD: Not a soul – I was sly as a fox.
HOWARD: Don’t forget, Lloyd, this is our little secret. No one, and I do mean no one, is to know about this, right?
LLOYD: I won’t tell a soul! And don’t worry, Mr. Weaver - nobody will even notice it’s missing.
HOWARD: I hope you’re right. Oh, by the way – how much do I owe you?
LLOYD: Seventy-five dollars should cover it.
HOWARD: (hands him the money) All right then. I’d better check my props. See you later, Lloyd.
LLOYD: Okay, Mr. Weaver. (They exit through separate doors. Once she’s sure they’re gone, DOLORES rises.) DOLORES: (to herself looking at the chest) No, it couldn’t be. There’s no way they could know... I have been too care… Dolores, stop worrying yourself this way – they were talking about something else entirely. (begins removing the candlestick and flowers from the chest) But then again – (She sets the items on the floor. JANET enters wearing a headset and carrying a clipboard.) JANET: Ms Gordon? (Immediately, DOLORES picks up the candlestick and vase of flowers from off the floor and places them back on the chest.) Have you seen Beverly?
DOLORES: (nervously) I was just rearranging the items here on the chest, that’s all, Janet.
JANET: Ms Gordon?
JANET: Are you feeling okay? You’re looking a little pale.
DOLORES: Yes dear, I’m fine – just didn’t get much sleep last night.
JANET: Oh. I was looking…(noticing the picture on the wall) That’s strange.
DOLORES: Not really – I just wanted to make sure everything looked all right for rehearsal. I know that’s your job, but… JANET: No, I was referring to the picture. This is not the one I put here yesterday. I hung the one of the beautiful lady – remember?
DOLORES: (nervous, not looking at the picture) No, I’m sorry – I guess I wasn’t paying attention.
JANET: (looking around the stage) And it was the one I brought from home, too. Why would anyone want to take something that didn’t belong to them?
DOLORES: (eyes back to the chest) That’s what I would like to know.
JANET: (as she rushes out) Beverly!
DOLORES: (crosses back to the chest and stands behind it) You are still in there, aren’t you Guinevere? (slow smile) Of course you are – and Dolores will make sure that no one harms you, dear. I’ll start by turning the air conditioning down so you will keep better. (sits on the floor and practically hugs the big chest the best she can) That’s right
- I will take care of you, Guinevere. Everything will be all right. (As she strokes the lid of the chest, the fact that she may be just the slightest bit crazy begins to surface as she sings her sad song.) Hush, my baby, Lie still.
Thy mommy has gone to the mill To grind thee some wheat To make thee some meat, Oh, my dear baby, lie still.
JANET and BEVERLY enter and cross to the picture.
JANET: This one right here – it’s not the one I hung yesterday.
BEVERLY: That is odd. No one asked me about changing it.
JANET: I just hope it isn’t lost – I brought that picture from home.
BEVERLY: We’ll find it. It’s got to be here somewhere. (ALICE enters and sits on the sofa, going over her script.) But we’ll have to look later; it’s time to get rehearsal start… (sees DOLORES on the floor) Dolores, did you lose something?
DOLORES: (calmly, laying her head over on the chest) I don’t think so.
ALBERT: (running in) Is it time yet?
BEVERLY: Not yet, Albert.
ALBERT: Darn! (He exits.) BEVERLY: (speaking to JANET) We’ll ask the cast about the missing picture later. Right now let’s round everyone up. You get the men;
I’ll get the ladies. (They exit through opposite doors. DOLORES sees ALICE, rises and quickly crosses to her.) DOLORES: There you are, you old biddy!
ALICE: I beg your pardon?
DOLORES: (mocking) I beg your pardon? You’re real clever, aren’t you? Sneaking around behind people’s backs – eavesdropping on personal conversations. And don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. What I need to know is how much did you hear?
ALICE: (honestly confused) Hear when?
DOLORES: Okay, that’s the game you want to play, huh? How much do you want to keep quiet? Just name your price!
ALICE: (standing) Everyone has been talking about how you’ve been going off the deep end lately, but I didn’t believe them until now.
DOLORES: Oh, they think that do they? Well, if chasing your life-long dream is going off the deep in then maybe I am. (picks up the candlestick and crosses toward ALICE) Maybe I’m just crazy old Dolores who has nothing better to do with her time than knock off old ladies who don’t deserve their time here on earth.
ALICE: (trying to be friendly) I’m sure glad to know you haven’t gone crazy.
DOLORES: You will take my hush money and forget this little conversation. (holds the candlestick up in the air) Is it a deal?
ALICE: It’s a deal! Whatever you say; I’ll be glad to take your money.
DOLORES: That’s more like it. (sets the candlestick down and composes herself as GEORGIA enters unseen by DOLORES) I’ve waited a long time for this chance to be on stage and if it doesn’t happen I don’t know what I’ll do.
GEORGIA: Good heavens, Dolores Gordon– you would think this were Broadway the way you’re behaving.
DOLORES: It is Broadway to me. The closest I’ll ever get.
GEORGIA: It’s a local, amateur play, and with the exception of myself, performed by common every-day people from around town. It isn’t that big of a deal.