«The Understudy By Eddie McPherson Copyright © MMV All Rights Reserved Heuer Publishing LLC, Cedar Rapids, Iowa All performances before an audience are ...»
DOLORES: (offended) That’s what my mama told me when I won my first spelling bee. That’s what my daddy said when I told him I made the Dean’s list in college. It’s no big deal. It’s no big deal! Well, I would have you know it is a big deal! I have worked very hard to get this role.
GEORGIA: Worked hard? You got the part because Guinevere Black rushed off to Europe at the last minute. You were all they had, Dolores.
ALICE: I wouldn’t upset her if I were you, Georgia dear.
DOLORES: (to GEORGIA) You’re only saying that because you’re jealous of me, Georgia Styles! Jealous that I’m playing Madam Dubois and you’re not!
GEORGIA: Jealous of you? I think it is high time you know something Ms (sarcastically) Broadway star!
ALICE: (rushing to GEORGIA) Georgia, no!
GEORGIA: (ignoring ALICE) I could have played Madam Dubois.
Beverly offered the part to me after she discovered Guinevere had run off and I turned her down.
DOLORES: (taken aback) What?
GEORGIA: That’s right – and after I turned the part down, she offered it to Alice and then Isabella and Olivia and they all turned down the part for one reason or another and that is the only reason you’re playing the lead! You, Dolores Gordon, were the last resort!
DOLORES: I don’t believe you.
GEORGIA: That’s because you live in some type of fantasy world you have created in your mind.
DOLORES: (trying not to act hurt, she turns to ALICE) Is what she said true, Alice?
ALICE: You’ve really done it now, Georgia.
GEORGIA: (slowly twisting the knife in DOLORES’S back) We’ve all been secretly hoping Guinevere would surprise us by showing up to rehearsals again so she can take her part back and we can take that hideous portrait of you off the wall once and for all.
ALICE: (standing and speaking firmly) Well, Georgia – now you’re being unnecessarily cruel. (turns to DOLORES) Dolores, I think you are doing a splendid job playing Madam; just splendid. We all do.
DOLORES: (building up inner strength, turning back to GEORGIA) I can guarantee you that Guinevere Black will never darken the doors of this theatre again.
GEORGIA: You don’t know that.
DOLORES: Oh, but I do know. And do you know how I know? (crosses and stands only inches away from Georgia.) Because she left on account of you.
GEORGIA: Me? Don’t be ridiculous.
DOLORES: I asked her to stay and stick it out with the rest of us, but she said that she had had enough of your sassy, sarcastic and arrogant ways. (They are nose to nose now.) ALICE: (trying to lighten the mood) You know what I like about doing a nice play like this? It’s how we all become like a little family… GEORGIA: (to DOLORES) Vagabond!
DOLORES: (to GEORGIA) Self-important hag!
ALICE: We learn to work together… GEORGIA: (to DOLORES) Commoner!
DOLORES: (to GEORGIA) Aristocrat want-to-be!
ALICE: To respect one another… GEORGIA: (to DOLORES) May the bird of paradise fly up your nose!
DOLORES: It would rather fly up yours where there’s more room to build its nest!
GEORGIA: Are you calling my nose big?
DOLORES: No comment, Pinocchio!
ALICE: (Not giving up, ALICE stands between them and puts her arms around them and sings as BEVERLY enters.) Love can build a bridge… BEVERLY: It’s so nice to see my actresses building a strong bond before rehearsal.
OSCAR FAIRFAX and EVAN BIDDLE enter. OSCAR is dressed as a butler and EVAN as a detective.
OSCAR: (speaking to EVAN) I’m sorry, young man – but I just don’t think I can agree with you on that point.
EVAN: Don’t you see, Dr. Fairfax? If Madam Dubois were that careless with the murder, Detective Blake would be on to her sooner. Don’t you think so, Beverly?
BEVERLY: Hello, Officer Biddle, Dr. Fairfax. What are you two talking about?
EVAN: The line where my character asks Ms Dubois what she was doing in the pantry all alone when the rest of us were on the patio and she says, “I was fetching some olives for the martinis.” BEVERLY: I know the line – what about it?
OSCAR: Mr. Biddle here doesn’t believe his character should be that easily fooled.
EVAN: That’s right – he should already know that Ms Dubois was not in the pantry during that time; but committing the murder instead.
OSCAR: I tried to explain that if that were the case, the mystery would be solved too soon in the play.
EVAN: I just think it makes my character look inept, that’s all. The fact that I’m a real police officer here in town should matter. If the people who come see the show see me acting incompetent, they may start believing it.
OSCAR: I’m a real doctor – but that has nothing to do with me playing a butler in this play.
BEVERLY: Officer Biddle, I don’t think our audiences are shallow enough to get the characters in a play confused with the actor playing a part. Besides, Which Butler Did It is a mystery classic and doesn’t need to be rewritten.
EVAN: Okay, look. Come over here, Ms Gordon, please. Let me show you what I mean.
GEORGIA: Oh, I don’t think Dolores is feeling much like acting right now, do you (sarcastic) dear?
DOLORES: (out of spite) Of course I do because I am a professional, (mocking GEORGIA’S tone) dear. (taking her place beside EVAN) Go ahead, Officer Biddle.
EVAN: Let’s start with my line: Ms Dubois – where exactly were you at precisely nine-o-five this evening when everyone else was in the garden?
DOLORES: (her acting is second rate) Are you supposing me of murder, Mr. Blake?
EVAN: I’m merely doing my job. Now, if you would kindly answer my question. Dolores Gordon, did you sneak into the theatre last night before everyone arrived and murder Guinevere Black?
DOLORES: (coming out of character, completely taken aback) What did you say?
EVAN: I said: Ms Dubois, where were you at precisely nine-o-five this evening when everyone else was in the garden?
DOLORES: That’s not what you said.
EVAN: (also out of character) It isn’t?
BEVERLY: Is something the matter, Dolores?
GEORGIA: (with disdain, filing her nails) She’s only being “professional”.
DOLORES: He changed his line – why did you do that?
EVAN: I didn’t change the line, Ms Gordon – that’s the way it’s written in the script.
DOLORES: (looks round, confused. Everyone is looking strangely at her.) Oh…I’m sorry. I guess I just heard you wrong. Let’s continue the scene. Say your line again, please.
EVAN: (clears his throat and is back into character) Ms Dubois, where were you at precisely nine-o-five this evening when everyone else was in the garden?
DOLORES: I went to the pantry to fetch some olives for martinis, you fool.
EVAN: (to BEVERLY) Now, I think this is where Detective Blake should ask: (back to DOLORES) Don’t you usually have your servants do menial tasks such as fetching items from the pantry?
BEVERLY: Hmmmmmm – maybe. Go back and say it in character and let me see how it sounds.
EVAN: (to DOLORES) Go back to your last line, please.
DOLORES: I went to the pantry to fetch some olives for martinis, you fool.
EVAN: Don’t you usually have your servants do menial tasks such as knock someone over the head with a candlestick and stuff the body inside a large wooden chest? (to BEVERLY) See?
BEVERLY: You know, I think that does sound better.
DOLORES: You did it again!
OSCAR: Now that I hear it – I think you’re right.
BEVERLY: Okay, you can keep the additional line.
EVAN: Great! Thanks, Beverly.
DOLORES: But you said…(pause) OSCAR: You don’t think we need to change the line, Dolores?
DOLORES: I…(pauses as she fans herself) No, I think changing the line is fine.
BEVERLY: Good. All right, if everyone would take their places, we’ll take it from the top of act two.
GEORGIA: It’s about time we get started. (All but DOLORES scatter and exit through different doors.) BEVERLY: (to DOLORES) Now, this is the scene where Madam Dubois is admiring her portrait when her head Butler enters to let her know one of her other butlers has been murdered. (shouting to backstage) Howard, are you in place? Howard? Now, where did he go? (She exits leaving DOLORES alone on the stage.) DOLORES: (to herself as she rubs her temples) Pull yourself together, Dolores Gordon; you are hearing things, that’s all. It’s that overactive imagination of yours. (crosses to the chest and speaks to it) Oh, what the heck. (She quickly pushes the items off the chest and starts to open it but stops herself.) No, I can’t look. If you’re not in there – I can’t go on with rehearsal. What am I saying? I can’t go on at all. But they know. Don’t they? (shouts) Janet, could you come out here, please?! (She looks up in time to see GUINEVERE appear at the French doors wearing a headset and the same dress she was wearing in the picture at the beginning of the play. She holds a clipboard. DOLORES gasps and runs to the other side of the sofa.) DOLORES: (in shock) Guinevere? (Backstage, Beverly is heard.) BEVERLY’S VOICE: Howard?! (GUINEVERE exits again through the French doors. DOLORES’ hand goes up to her chest. She fumbles around the sofa and sits directly behind the chest. She sits on the edge of the sofa cushion, takes a deep breath, leans over and places a hand on either side of the chest’s lid. She closes her eyes and starts to open it. Again, she’s interrupted by an intruder as JANET reenters through the French doors wearing the same headset and carrying the same clipboard as GUINEVERE had.) JANET: Sorry about that, Ms Gordon. (DOLORES slams the lid shut before having the chance to look inside.) Now, what was it you needed?
DOLORES: (rises quickly and crosses quickly to the stage left wall) Janet, is it you?
JANET: I beg your pardon?
DOLORES: Is it a joke, Janet? Did Alice say something to you? You can tell me if it is – I won’t be upset. It’s just you and me here.
JANET: Is what a joke, Ms Gordon? Did Alice say something about what?
DOLORES: You wouldn’t do something so cruel, would you, dear, sweet Janet? Not to an old woman like me.
JANET: (calling) Beverly?
DOLORES: After all, I’ve known you since you were just a little girl.
BEVERLY: (entering) Yes, what is it?
JANET: It’s Ms Gordon; I’m worried about her. She’s saying some strange things again.
BEVERLY: Dolores, is there anything I can do for you before we start rehearsal?
DOLORES: (pointing to the items she knocked off the chest) The props – they’re on the floor. That’s why I was calling Janet.
JANET: (picking up the props) Don’t worry about it, Ms Gordon – I’ll get it.
BEVERLY: Is there anything else we can do?
DOLORES: (wiping her forehead with a handkerchief) No, dear. I’m ready to start. I…I’m a professional, you see.
JANET: (arranging the items on the chest) There. Everything is back in order. (takes a martini glass from her pocket and hands it to DOLORES) Here’s the glass you’ll need for this scene. (As DOLORES takes the glass, her hands are visibly shaking.) BEVERLY: Try and relax, Dolores. Everything is going to run as smooth as silk, I promise. Places everyone! (JANET exits as BEVERLY takes a seat in a chair extreme stage left facing the action.
DOLORES moves nervously to the portrait over the fireplace. She puts her handkerchief away and takes a deep breath.) DOLORES: (to herself) I am a professional. (to the audience, this time it’s a question) Professional?
ALBERT: (peeping around the French doors) Is it time yet?
BEVERLY: Not yet, Albert.
ALBERT: Darn! (He disappears.) BEVERLY: (shouting again) Curtain!
DOLORES: (Everyone speaks with a bad British accent. DOLORES holds up the martini glass as though she were making a toast) Oh, Madam – I do believe you get more beautiful every day. Cheers to you. (She takes a sip from her glass as she crosses to down stage.) Throwing the servants a dinner party to show my appreciation was a splendid idea! They’ll be loyal to me for the rest of their dreary lives.
(HOWARD enters walking stiffly with his nose in the air. He carries a large silver tray.) HOWARD: Madam Dubois?
DOLORES: Oh, Rogers – come in! Come in! (She notices the tray) Rogers, what are you doing with that tray? The party is for you and the rest of the servants.
HOWARD: Sorry, madam – some habits are hard to break.
DOLORES: Don’t you think the dinner party is going splendidly? Is everyone having a good time?
HOWARD: They were, Madam until something tragic happened.
DOLORES: Tragic? Oh dear, did we run out of shrimp?
HOWARD: (calmly) No, Madam Dubois. One of your butlers has been (looks to the audience) murdered. (loud thunder) DOLORES: Murdered? How dreadful. Which servant was it? Rogers?
HOWARD: No madam – I’m Rogers. It was Wallace.
DOLORES: Wallace? But he was my favorite one.
HOWARD: I thought I was your favorite, Madam Dubois.
DOLORES: Don’t make me laugh.
HOWARD: Everyone is quite upset, Madam. What should we do?
DOLORES: I’ll call the employment agency first thing in the morning and have them send over a few applicants I can interview.
HOWARD: But shouldn’t the police be called, Madam?
DOLORES: Police at one of my dinner parties? How inappropriate.
HOWARD: But, Madam – someone has been (looks to the audience) murdered. (loud thunder) DOLORES: Oh, very well. The phone is right there. (HOWARD picks up the receiver and dials.) You would think someone would have the decency to wait and be murdered after my party. What is the world coming to?
HOWARD: Hello? Police – I’d like to report a murder. The Dubois estate. Thank you. (He hangs up. OLIVIA runs in, upset.) OLIVIA: Madam Dubois! Madam Dubois! It’s just awful! Blood everywhere!
DOLORES: There, there dear. You won’t have to clean up until after the police finish their investigation.
OLIVIA: He was such a fine man! Why would someone do it? Why?
DOLORES: (grabbing OLIVIA’S shoulders and shaking her) Maria, settle down. Remember yourself. (turns to HOWARD) Rogers, how was Wallace murdered?
HOWARD: He was stuffed in the chest. (He points to the trunk.) DOLORES: What did you say?
HOWARD: I said he was stabbed in the chest. (He points to his chest.
DOLORES stares at him.) JANET: It’s your line, Dolores.
DOLORES: Um, get everyone in here at once. I mean to get to the bottom of this party crashing escapade.
OLIVIA: I will get them. (She runs out the French doors.) HOWARD: Is there anything I can do, Madam?
DOLORES: Yes there is, Rogers. In the midst of this horrific news, you can fix me another (looks to the audience) martini. (loud thunder) HOWARD: Yes, Madam.
He exits stage left. OLIVIA enters being followed by GEORGIA, ISABELLA and ALICE wearing their maid outfits and carrying martini glasses. They are followed by OSCAR and GEOFFREY wearing butler costumes also holding glasses.
OLIVIA: Here is everyone, Madam Dubois. I have called them in from the garden just as you asked.
DOLORES: Everyone fall in line. (Everyone lines up shoulder to shoulder across the stage as DOLORES marches back and forth in front of them.) I am sure all of you are aware of the hideous crime that has taken place outside on my patio.
ISABELLA: It’s just awful, Madam – just awful!
OSCAR: He was like a brother to me.
GEOFFREY: He was like a Father to me.
DOLORES: He was like a servant to me. (pacing again) Now, one of your own has been brutally murdered. (out to the audience, very dramatically) The question is which butler did it? (loud thunder) OSCAR: One of us? But Madam Dubois, you can’t be suggesting we would murder Wallace. He’s like family. (HOWARD enters and hands DOLORES her martini.) DOLORES: Thank you, Rogers. Fall in line. (He does.) GEOFFREY: How do we know one of the maids didn’t murder Wallace, Madam Dubois?
DOLORES: Look at them; they couldn’t cut a wet noodle with a fork.
How would you expect them to stab a large, strong man like Wallace in his chest then twist the knife 360 degrees without breaking a nail?
No, I’m afraid this murder was committed by (to the audience) a man. (loud thunder) GEORGIA: (pointing to OSCAR) I saw him arguing with Wallace only minutes before the murder.