A Play in Two Acts
Sullivan has written enough murder mysteries to know that dark secrets can lurk in the genre -- but so can comedy. In his full-length play, four women in a book club decide to read the mystery novels of a flamboyant hack, Dirk Spear. They expect to be transported to smoky gangster dens and spooky Scottish manors, but they didn't anticipate learning that each of them secretly feels she may be a murderer. And then Dirk Spear, the author mocked in their fantasies, appears in person to confront their fears.
It's a noir comedy that makes full use of stage effects, but is within the grasp of community theater.
Contact the playwright at email@example.com to learn more. In the meantime, here's the opening scene:
A Play in Two Acts
by William L. Sullivan
Cast of Characters
Alicia: A pretty, single librarian in her early 30s with a heart condition.
Barb: A flirtatious woman in her late 30s who runs an ice cream shop. She is married to Daniel, a man with an earring and a mustache. He makes ice cream.
Cathy: A catty woman in her late 20s who is a junior associate in an investment company. She is married to Gerald, a body shop estimator who wears glasses and a backwards baseball cap.
Debbie: A preschool teacher in her 30s who is a bit overweight and laughs a lot. She is married to Larry, a prematurely gray, balding policeman.
Husband: A man who plays the roles of all three husbands as well as various crime victims and suspects.
Dirk Spear: The author of a series of popular murder mystery novels. He wears spectacles and a sport coat with patches on the elbows.
A medium-sized city in America.
SETTING: The right side of the stage is BARB’s living room, with a sofa and chairs around a coffee table with wine glasses, a wine bottle, a copy of SPEAR’s book, and a dish of chocolates. The room is decorated with an exotic, jungle theme. Stage right is the house’s front entry door. At the back of the living room are a bookshelf and a kitchen door. The left side of the stage is darker, entirely in black and white. There is a backless park bench, and a backdrop of a gray brick building with a dim glow through crooked blinds.
BEFORE RISE: As the audience finds their seats in the theater, the HUSBAND in a fedora occasionally peers furtively out through a window or around a corner on the set.
AT RISE: The HOUSE MANAGER walks to the center of the stage and welcomes the audience. The HOUSE MANAGER is not an actor, exactly, but is in fact the house manager, and gives the usual introduction, asking the audience to applaud the evening’s sponsors.
When the manager is saying that there will be one ten-minute intermission, the HUSBAND crouches out to hide behind the brick wall, looking hunted. A shot rings out. The HUSBAND staggers back, his hand to the chest of his trenchcoat, and collapses backwards across the park bench.
Just a reminder, please turn off your cell phones and any other devices that might make noise during the performance. You don’t want to be that person who disrupts the show.
(The HUSBAND groans and dies. Blood might leak through the fingers on his chest and drip into a puddle below the bench. His hat has fallen off. His dead eyes stare up.)
HOUSE MANAGER (Cont.)
And now, without further ado, I’ll turn the evening over to the talented cast and crew of MURDER CLUB. Enjoy the show.
(The HOUSE MANAGER exits. A moment later, two more gunshots ring out.)
(backing onto the stage, wearing a fedora, holding a revolver, and speaking in a “tough guy” dialect)
I winged the Fat Man, Spade. He won’t get far.
(turning and seeing the HUSBAND.)
(checking the HUSBAND’s eyes for a sign of life.)
It’s tough, taking a piece of lead like that. Right in the pump, from the looks of it.
(sitting on the bench beside the body and putting his revolver away.)
It’s a bad business, Spade. You gotta wonder what’s behind it all.
(SPEAR takes off his fedora and puts on spectacles. A spotlight illuminates him, but everything else is dim. He stands and speaks directly to the audience in a more standard, “educated” dialect)
Why is murder so compelling? Romance novels are simplistic by comparison. Everyone understands the equation behind love. Readers are confident of the solution from the first. The characters are going to be teased, troubled, perhaps even tortured a bit, but there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.
(squinting up into the spotlight, shading his eyes.)
Not so with murder. If you can guess the ending, I’ve failed. These are mysteries of the heart’s darker side. Revenge. Jealousy. Envy. Monsters lurk in those shadows.
(groaning and starting to get up on one elbow)
Can I get up now?
Why do you keep killing me? And always by page six.
(to the audience)
Books are mirrors. Every time you read a murder mystery you get a little glimpse into the darkness within. We each see a different story in there. Terrors we don’t understand. Horrors that are all too familiar. We read mysteries to come face to face with our own worst fears.
Dirk! You need me.
Not after page six.
(He taps the HUSBAND lightly on the head with the handle of his revolver. The HUSBAND collapses onto the bench as before. SPEAR takes off his spectacles and puts on his fedora. He speaks again in his “tough guy” dialect.)
You know, Spade, I’m starting to think the Fat Man was after more than just the chocolate.
Contact the playwright at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.