Check out the first scene from my upcoming play, Rhadamanthus.
In a corrupt city, a theater impresario concocts a scheme to make its criminals reenact their misdeeds night after night on stage. But it is only part of a ploy to expand his dominance beyond the walls of his theater.
The play is written in the style of an Elizabethan revenge tragedy, with many hallmarks of the Shakespearean stage, including vengeful ghosts, bastard brothers, twins, cross-dressing, and quite a few more. No obsolete English or rhyming couplets though. (Well, maybe one!)
SCENE I—Dodoville, Sporqia, 1987. RANDALL FLYNN’s office at the Mountebank Theater. The garish lighting of the outer facade is visible through the window. Mt Myrtle’s volcanic dome fulminates further off in the night. Inside, the furnishings and light fixtures suggest a bank lobby. In the center of the far wall hangs an oversized human skull, jeweled and agape in apparent laughter.
AT RISE: SERGIO PACK and RANDALL FLYNN play at billiards with PHILIP HUMPHREY in attendance. SERGIO, 30, is in costume as Hamlet from a performance earlier in the evening. FLYNN, mid-50s, wears a crisp charcoal gray shirt with a crimson handkerchief in the breast pocket: a conscious affectation for the man dubbed Rhadamanthus. Of smallish stature, he possesses wiry strength and an assured posture. His circlet of white hair remains in the disarray of one who has just risen from bed. HUMPHREY, late 40s, stands with a slightly feminine slouch. He wears servant’s attire with horn-rimmed glasses hanging from his breast pocket.
FLYNN chalks the tip of his pool cue with three deft strokes. As his leathery right hand crushes the red felt of the bumper, the cue indicates his call with sharp precision: snap, this ball, snap, this pocket, the tip precisely over the center of each. SERGIO imagines he hears the stick whoosh. As FLYNN addresses the ball, a grandfather clock chimes twice. When the toll dies away, FLYNN shoots. His touch on the cue is soft. The thirteen ball hangs on the lip of the pocket, as if FLYNN has left it up to the target whether or not it should fall. It falls. FLYNN almost sneers at its weakness. SERGIO, noticing HUMPHREY watching him with more than casual interest, gestures for permission to smoke a cigarette. HUMPHREY shakes his head discreetly but emphatically no. FLYNN now misses an easy shot, clearing a ball practically already in pocket. SERGIO mutters as he finds himself all snookered up. While he addresses the difficult shot, FLYNN hovers too-close behind him.
FLYNN [voice raspy throughout]. Retribution, Pack, served cold. You are now an actor in a revenge play. Essentially, it’s a simple part, based upon an elegant principle: for every action, an equal and opposite reaction.
SERGIO [scratching his shot]. I’m told it’s bad science to apply nature’s laws to the social sphere.
FLYNN [gravely]. But it is pleasurable. We like to believe truths are symmetrical in this way. Thirteen years ago Rico Daggett killed his wife, Mara Carpenter. Tomorrow night he will die. Not merely just, but beautiful: he took a life, now his is taken away.
SERGIO [sardonic]. That’s your idea of beauty? Blood for blood?
FLYNN. Yes. An economy of action. Men commit crimes, then they pay for them. One of the many cycles which nature perpetuates: light and darkness, growth and decay. Crime and punishment, murder and retribution. Everyone has a role in it, we are all players. [lining up his next shot.] And tomorrow your part will take center stage.
SERGIO. I’m only an actor, Mr Flynn.
FLYNN. Then this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for [striking the cue hard, sinking his shot.] to prove you can act decisively, as need requires.
SERGIO. A stage actor.
FLYNN [smiling, as if this is his favorite subject]. Rico Daggett: a man of appetites, of addictions and violent passions. While his wife lived, the tabloids were rank with stories of their marital altercations. And then, suddenly, while sailing off Majorca in their yacht, Mara died at sea. When accounting for his wife’s mishap, Daggett attributed the loss to–attack by giant jellyfish! A claim so bizarre, only a fool would forgo further scrutiny. Yet the state ruled Mara’s death an accident and closed the investigation. As public demand grew louder to learn how the beloved actress met her end, Rico Daggett fled the country. Like a fugitive of justice. [lining up a long shot] Then, after ten years, he returns! And because he claims to have spent the intervening time starving and groveling like a monk, he is welcomed back to our city with open arms, and thrown back atop the pinnacle of fame. He comports himself like a guilty man, but once again the machine of law does not move. [he shoots; this ball also lingers upon the lip of the pocket before it too falls.] In an age when the legal path to justice is barred, it must fall to private citizens to pick up the sword the courts have laid down.
SERGIO [anxious]. The boating incident was such a long time ago. Perhaps he really is reformed. The famous temper, at least, seems to have abated.
FLYNN. I am not a hard man. Let salvation be yet the wage of repentance; but for hypocrisy the sword of justice must not be removed. Just as Daggett betrayed their marriage in life, he now disgraces her memory in death. Upon the same stage where you performed tonight, three nights a week Daggett exploits her tragedy in a manner which not only reveals his guilt, but would condemn him even if he were innocent.
SERGIO. To be fair, Mr Flynn, you put him on that stage.
FLYNN [nodding]. Since the state prosecutor would not lay the case before the people, I have done it for him. I have stood Daggett before the whole world and given him opportunity to lament the loss of his wife at sea–what was it?–“under unascertainable circumstances” thirteen years ago. Three nights a week on this stage, he trembles and weeps for Mara’s return. Seven nights a week at the Norway Hotel, he debauches himself with booze and women to make the devil blush! He mocks her memory, Pack, in a way so unconscionably cruel, for this alone he should die.
SERGIO [wincing]. Memory-mocking is not actually a crime.
FLYNN [his nostrils flaring]. Is it justice then, that after the crescendo of obscenity scheduled for his farewell performance tomorrow, he should retire to peace and comfort? [glances at HUMPHREY, who stiffens.]
SERGIO [timidly]. No.
FLYNN. Mara Carpenter’s death was ruled an accident. So be it. Once his engagement at the Mountebank Theater concludes tomorrow night, Daggett will return to his room at the Norway Hotel. You will make sure he takes the sleeping pill that is his custom–perhaps the only thing which permits his filthy conscience to rest!–then you will burn the room down around him. Humphrey will show you how to make it look careless, as if he dozed off with a lit cigarette and ignited the curtains of his preposterous fourposter. As he killed with water, so it will be by flame that he passes to the everlasting bonfire. It is symmetrical, Pack.
SERGIO. Symmetry doesn’t make anything right.
FLYNN. But it will earn us attention! We are about to embark upon a whole purge of accidents, you and I. The death of Rico Daggett will be but the first among our city’s malefactors: those whose backroom dealings destroyed our city’s industries, who ground down peace and prosperity into mob rule and street horror. In time, I will bring down the profiteers who gave us over to defeat and humiliation in war at the hands of the Zahz. Tomorrow night will put Dodoville on notice: that Justice is not dead, that her sword will flash, if needs be, in unsanctioned hands.
SERGIO. I don’t see how killing Daggett will restore prosperity in the city.
FLYNN. Leave it to me. Over the years I have gathered up Dodoville’s most corrupt, baiting my palm as you would a mousetrap. The time has finally come to crush them all. I will have the satisfaction of hearing the bones crack and feeling the flesh squish, of allowing the hot blood to cool and congeal upon my skin.
SERGIO [aside]. Jesus.
FLYNN. Rico Daggett will be the first. Thirteen years. Like Faust, he has exhausted the liberty of his contracted term, and the devil now comes to claim him. And you will be the messenger, Pack. You will carry forth the sword from hellfire.
SERGIO [trembling]. I understand.
FLYNN. And you will do this on account of another symmetry–in exchange for the great favor I have already accomplished for you. For you, I have hand-designed the stage production which has made your name overnight. I have plucked you from obscurity and placed you as a headliner on the same stage as greatest entertainment talents of our age. In me you have found the chariot which draws your star to the pinnacle of heaven.
SERGIO [aside]. Ah me, I’ve beseeched hell, and now Rhadamanthus demands his due!
FLYNN. And so it now falls to your hand to slay a befouled man, a man who throughout his life has paid no tithe to Fortune for the gifts she has bestowed upon him. Because of his honeyed voice, doors open to him without lifting a hand to knock. Without toiling, he is invited to every table. The ten years which Rico Daggett lived in exile, the public has accepted as the debt he’s paid to society–as if he spent it in prison and not some tropical paradise! Is this justice: for murder to suffer temporary severance from Dodoville’s blind adoration? No. Let a man sing for his dinner, but not his salvation. The soul granted him by heaven demands something more to make heaven its just desert.
SERGIO [aside]. As mine, it seems, is to eat humble pie. How can I deny him and keep the stage? Or my head?
FLYNN. You must do this, Pack. The state will not prosecute him. The state is the crime!
SERGIO [aside]. My heart’s conflicted, but my mouth can make only one answer. [to FLYNN] I’ll do as you say.
FLYNN. Good. Humphrey will instruct you. Know your part in this perfectly by tomorrow night.
[Exit SERGIO. HUMPHREY exchanges a glance with FLYNN before putting on his glasses and following.]
If you are interested in beta reading the rest of the play, contact me here!