I got as far as page 53 in a 61-page script. We're due to be offbook on Wednesday, and I'm pretty sure I can nail down my four remaining pages by then. We were scheduled to run the whole play tonight, but as I arrive, I learn that the mistress can't stay. She found out about a friend's death within the hour and had to leave.
As I walk in the warehouse, I see the stage progress. I have a huge pulpit of a bar in the back corner. The wife brings in some soccer trophies from the local college that look like racing awards. We also get a new phone (cordless), and the director shows us the new gun. Instead of a cap gun, this is a starter's pistol. It's much heavier, and I enjoy that weight. He also tells us of plans for the blanks and shoots once to show how loud it could be. He plans to use half or quarter rounds; a full blank rings our ears. The murderer has to be shot onstage, and he's a mite concerned. He's too young, I think, to know of the stars of Brandon Lee or Jon-Erik Hexum, both killed by blanks. And we show him that the gun has a capped barrel. We quickly run the final scene, and he takes the shot, and I get to fire it. It's much more dramatic. Oh, and he lived.
The wife has also brought in the wigs, and she lets the murderer try his too. They're shoulder-length blonde wigs with flip ends. It's very much like a news anchor or First Lady. The director asks me if I have gray slacks for my character, and if I don't, I'll run out to the local charity stores and find a pair. After about half an hour, we get going on Act One, the act without our mistress.
It's a catastrophe. We focused on Act Two lines, and we stumble through, calling for lines often. We lose our movements and paraphrase often. It's our weakest effort yet. It's so bad that when my first-act responsibilities end, I walk over to the couch and talk to the director for the usual post-rehearsal notes. I was so determined to get to the mea culpas that I forgot the act wasn't over, and the other actors had two pages left. Off I went, and on they went. Then we get our many, many corrections and warnings. We open three weeks from tonight. We're not supposed to be offbook yet, but we have to put the hammer down to refine this play.
Speaking of which, I found reviews from New York and London for productions of this script, and I discovered that it's a commonly reviled play.
This is from the New York Times in 1984:
This is from London:
These facts, which are presented early in the play, are so improbable that they manage to turn this thriller into a comedy, but they do not impede this plot from becoming even thinner.
Instead of believable characters, Miss Cox has written movable cardboard figures who wear telltale mannerisms like Girl Scout badges. The husband waves a gun around several times, so we know the gun is eventually going to be used. The homicidal maniac is a cola-addicted homosexual who is also a pathological liar. The girlfriend is an actress who can't cook and who wants to wear the late wife's nice clothes.
The only believable character is the wife, who is level-headed enough not to want to finance her husband's affair. Unfortunately, she gets murdered almost immediately.
We know it's a stilted play, and we have changed pages of dialogue. The reviews go one to cite the stereotype of a psychopathic gay murderer. We've discussed his sexuality before, and there's nothing overtly sexual. But the play, as a relic of the mid-century, seems to confuse homosexuality with transvestitism. I argue that the murderer dresses as a woman to torture the husband. There is no mention of sexual pursuit or appetite. But my character does accuse the murderer of being "an obvious fairy." Then again, he's not the brightest bulb, and he's prone to panicked accusation.
The Murder Game is an old fashioned thriller of a type which I thought had been safely buried in obscurity. Written by Constance Cox (a playwright better known for her dramatisation of the classics and translation of foreign plays) it was first produced in 1946 and I can assure you it has not worn well and shows every year of its age.
The plot owes more to Patricia Highsmith than originality on the authoress’ part and creaks so loudly as to be deafening.
The question arises of how our audience will perceive this. Are we perpetuating an outdated paranoia? Will the older attendees carry those outdated notions or will they laugh at them? The kid has to work the cross-dressing seriously, or he'll turn this into a comedy. The director also has to make sure he veer that direction. I still hold that the murderer is more a vampire than gay, and I hope that comes through.
Picture of the Day
Scary Star Wars-fan love letter.