Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Charlatan: A Play, Act 1: The Beginning

Scene One

The lights raise.

There is an office party going on in an elegant, large loft apartment. Several people stand and talk and drink and toast. The radio is playing soft swing music. Everyone is dressed in elegant evening wear. GEORGE, the boss and the party's host, stands at the party’s head, by the refreshments. He is chatting with a much younger woman. She is beautiful and seemingly innocent, yet she has a certain mystery around her that may be more than meets the eye. This is LILITH, the secretary, an attractive brunette in her twenties. Behind her stands a nervous-looking man. This is MARTIN, the accountant. He is constantly checking his cell phone. Every so often, he’ll take a swig of alcohol. He glances around him discreetly to make sure nobody is watching him. But there is. From across the room, CRAIG, the lawyer, a devilishly-handsome, slick man with a gorgeous young thing at one arm and a martini in the other, is looking at MARTIN with great interest. DINAH, George’s wife, sits alone in a corner, casually smoking a cigarette in a long holder. She is about forty or so. She is approached by another older woman, and they smile together and chat. Finally, after a knock and entrance, SUZANNE, the company’s newest employee, enters with her fiancé, TIMOTHY. She is young and naïve, and has no idea what she has gotten herself into.


TIMOTHY: This is some party, huh?

SUZANNE: Yeah. Everyone from work is here. (She discreetly points at GEORGE) That’s my boss over there by the bar.

TIMOTHY: Should we go talk to him, then? Should I introduce myself?

SUZANNE: Timothy, I got hired last week. I don’t think he even cares who I am, let alone you, babe. All I’ve been assigned so far is various odd jobs I think the secretary should be doing.

TIMOTHY: Is she here?

SUZANNE: She’s standing next to my boss. She’s the one with the dark hair.

SUZANNE points to LILITH in the same discreet fashion. LILITH notices and waves. SUZANNE and TIMOTHY wave back.

TIMOTHY: (Stunned.) Wow. That’s her? Suzie, you made her sound like a monster all the time. She’s amazing. Was she a model before she worked here or something?

TIMOTHY looks to see if he got a reaction out of SUZANNE. He clearly has: she is trying to hide her anger.

TIMOTHY: (Jokingly.) Oh, c’mon, baby. You know I was joking. I don’t even like dark-haired women. They remind me of, like, a demon succubus or something. Besides, true gentlemen prefer airhead blondes. Like you.

SUZANNE pushes TIMOTHY lovingly.

SUZANNE: (Grinning.) Oh, shut up.

GEORGE: (Talking loudly.) Excuse me, could I have your attention?

The party quiets down. Someone turns down the radio. Everyone looks to GEORGE.

GEORGE: (Pleasant). Thank you. I know that this year may have been a little bit difficult for us. I know that some of us didn’t quite make our quota; I know that some of us didn’t have the proper work ethic one should. I know that cutbacks were brutal this year, I know because I had to do ‘em. And believe me; I know that lawsuit business with Ms. Lafontaine did no good for anybody.  Lucky for me, I have the best goddamn lawyer in the state, don’t I, Craig?

GEORGE grins and raises his glass to CRAIG. CRAIG smiles and raises his glass back. He turns to the model on his arm and smiles. She smiles back dreamily and kisses him lightly.

GEORGE: The important thing is, at least in my mind, is that we all worked together. That we all did our part. That no matter what the hardship was, and we had a hell of a lot of hardships, am I right?

GEORGE grins and the party laughs.

GEORGE: But we still pulled through them, 100%. We all stood by each other, too, through the good and the bad, the thick and the thin. And we’re going to come back next year, stronger than ever, not as co-workers, not as friends, but a family. I hope you all enjoy the party. Happy New Year, everybody!

The party erupts in a smattering of applause. The party then returns back to normal. Someone turns the radio back up. MARTIN stands from his seat and approaches GEORGE, who has gone back to talking to LILITH.

MARTIN: (Nervous.) Uh, Mr. Barlow, sir? Could I talk to you for a minute?

GEORGE: Of course, Marty.

MARTIN: It’s Martin, sir.

GEORGE: Right, right. (To Lilith.) Please excuse us, I have to go take care of this.

GEORGE grins widely and kisses her hand. LILITH smiles. From across the room, DINAH notices this.

LILITH: (Flirtatious.) Take your time.

GEORGE and MARTIN walk to an empty corner of the room.

GEORGE: (Angered.) This can’t wait?


GEORGE: Enough with the “sir” bullshit. Did he call you or not?

MARTIN: No, not yet. I’ve been checking for calls, messages, anything.

GEORGE: If he hasn’t called, then why are you pestering me? Enjoy the party, act nonchalant. Nothing has happened yet.

MARTIN: How can I enjoy the party when I’m worried that I’m not going to still be alive by the end of the night?

GEORGE: Hold on. You’re not backing out, are you Marty?

MARTIN stands there sheepishly for a moment, but then regains confidence.

MARTIN: No sir, of course not.

GEORGE: Stop with the “sir”! I don’t think you understand how this works, Marty. Not only is your life in danger tonight, but mine is too. How do you think I could set you up? Think of this operation like a totem pole. I’m just as low on the totem pole as you, Marty. And just because Lou Costanzo is above us on the totem pole doesn’t mean there isn’t another man on his shoulders. And another on his. For all we know, Lou could be working for Big Sonny.

MARTIN: (Frightened.) Big Sonny? How could he possibly be involved with this? All I did was borrow a little money from Lou…

GEORGE: …Who got it from Big Sonny. Believe me, Marty. I’ve been working with these guys for years. No matter who you work with or what trade you’re in, drugs, drinks, babes, it doesn’t matter. Everything and everyone criminal in this town leads to Big Sonny one way or another. He’s been running everything since Paddy O’Donahue was murdered eight months ago. You remember reading about that in the paper? Right after Craig saved my ass with that Lafontaine chick?


GEORGE: Yes. Big Sonny ordered that kill. He did it to send the Irish reeling. It worked, didn’t it? Haven’t you watched the news? O’Donahue’s crew has been getting busted left and right. The cocaine trade? Insider tip got that whole operation destroyed. Police busted a huge warehouse. Arrested like twenty of Paddy’s men, including his brother. I know Big Sonny tipped them off because I was there when he did it. Sitting right across from him. The weapons trade? Big Sonny worked out a deal with the Latinos. They have his back, he has theirs. It’s very simple Marty. You do something criminal and you get on Sonny’s bad side? He’ll cut you up into little tiny bits and dump you in the harbor. Ever seen the Godfather movies, Marty?

MARTIN: Yes. I’ve watched them with my father…

GEORGE: Big Sonny runs things a lot like that. Only worse. I guess more like Goodfellas. Have you seen that, Marty?


GEORGE: Like that. All I’m saying is that if you don’t get a call from Lou Costanzo before the ball drop, then you should probably leave town. A little borrowed money on a failed horse race may seem like nothing, Marty. You make that much in a month, right? I know because I’m paying you. But to Big Sonny? Every penny has a value. And you just blew 2,000,000 of them.

MARTIN stands there quietly, contemplating. A beat. Suddenly, GEORGE smiles like nothing has occurred, and pats MARTIN on the back.

GEORGE: Have a good night, Marty.

GEORGE walks away, back over to where LILITH is waiting. They begin talking again, leaving MARTIN to walk back to where he was sitting previously, where he sits and proceeds to drink.

The lights go down.


Scene Two

The lights raise.

SUZANNE is sitting alone, waiting for TIMOTHY. Around her, the party is in full swing. DINAH notices her sitting alone, and walks over to her. She smiles, and offers her hand.

DINAH: Hello, dear. I’m Dinah Barlow, George’s wife. Are you new?  I don’t believe I’ve seen you before…

SUZANNE smiles and shakes it.

SUZANNE: Suzanne Morgan. I just started here a week ago, actually.

DINAH: Oh, I see. Are you enjoying working under my husband?

SUZANNE: So far, yes. I’ve only be doing secretarial duties so far, so I haven’t had much contact with Mr. Barlow, but, yes. I do like the atmosphere around the office, it’s very pleasant.

DINAH: Good, good. Secretarial work, you say? That’s where I started, dear. I climbed my way all the way up to the tippy-top of the corporate ladder, one rung at a time. I was actually George’s secretary for a time. That’s where we met.

SUZANNE: Really?

DINAH: Yes. It was love at first sight. We dated for about four months, married two months later. It was a relatively short courtship, I suppose. But I was young then, about your age. I had just started working. It was my first job. And George looked so powerful in my eyes. He had everything I wanted, everything I needed. He was like the perfect man, he could do no wrong. He wasn’t involved with the crooks like everyone else was at the time, either. He would be able to provide for me, you know?

SUZANNE smiles.

SUZANNE: Yes, I know. That’s how I feel about my man.

DINAH: Are you married?

SUZANNE: Engaged.

DINAH: Congratulations! I saw both of you walk in together, you two look great. When are you going to tie the knot, if you don’t mind me asking?

SUZANNE: Thank you. Well, we haven’t set a date yet. I want to get married in the spring; he wants to get married in the winter. We’re trying to compromise, but it’s not working out.

DINAH: (Grinning.) The spring is much better, dear. The winter is dreadful…why would he choose winter?

SUZANNE laughs.

SUZANNE: Honestly, I’m not sure, Mrs. Barlow.

DINAH: Please, dear, call me Dinah. That “Mrs. Barlow” title makes me sound like his mother!

SUZANNE: (Smiling.) Ok, Dinah.

DINAH: That’s better. I like you already. Enjoy yourself, dear, and have a happy new year. I’ll keep an eye on you. When cutbacks roll around again, I’m going to force my husband to keep you.

SUZANNE: (Giggling.) Thank you. Have a happy new year.

DINAH: Thank you, dear.

DINAH walks away just as TIMOTHY returns.

TIMOTHY: Who was that?

SUZANNE: (Smiling.) It took you long enough, Tim.

TIMOTHY: Sorry, your majesty. You know what crab cakes do to my stomach. It’s like a natural laxative.

SUZANNE: Oh, stop it! That was my boss’s wife. She is really nice. She told me that when he’s forced to make cutbacks, she’s going to force him to keep me.

TIMOTHY: Hey, that works. So do you like your new job, now?

SUZANNE: Definitely.

They kiss and, as a couple, move along to talk to other people.

CRAIG comes out of the side room, looking flustered. His suit is rumpled, his hair is sticking up in parts. He gently pushes it back down with his hand. He fixes his tie. The young redhead he was with enters next, pulling her dress down swiftly. They cross the room together and sit down on the empty couch next to one another.


CRAIG: What?

REDHEAD: That was amazing. You weren’t kidding.

CRAIG laughs.

CRAIG: I told you. When you’re with Craig Callahan, nothing is innocent. My clients included.

REDHEAD: Don’t flatter yourself. It was great, believe me, but you weren’t the almighty god of sex.

CRAIG: Funny, I get compared to that all the time.


CRAIG: You want to get out of here so we can have a little more fun, a little louder?

REDHEAD: I’ve only been here for a half hour. I’ve barely met anyone! Don’t you want me to meet your co-workers?

CRAIG: I didn’t know you wanted to. Who’s there to meet? Mike from sales? Phyllis from the fourth floor?

REDHEAD: What do they do on the fourth floor?

CRAIG: It’s a rehab clinic. Boss insisted after two people tried to O.D. and one nearly drank himself to death.

REDHEAD: You’re disgusting.

CRAIG: That’s not what you said five minutes ago.

REDHEAD: That was before you became a jaded ass.

CRAIG: Ooh, I like a girl with some fight in her!

CRAIG tries to kiss her neck, but she pushes him off.

REDHEAD: (Angry.) We’ve had sex six times in the past two days! I thought you brought me to his party because you wanted to get to know me, Craig! Not use me for a quickie!

CRAIG: Baby, I do want to get to know you!

REDHEAD: What’s my name?

A beat.

CRAIG: Um…Lisa?

REDHEAD is astonished.

REDHEAD: You’re unbelievable.

REDHEAD stands to leave, but CRAIG pulls her back down.

CRAIG: Give me another chance…Chelsea. Let me prove to you I’m not some slick womanizer.


CRAIG: And I’ll reward you handsomely, my lady.

REDHEAD sits for a moment, then smiles slyly.

REDHEAD: Meet me in the spare bedroom in five minutes, your lordship.

REDHEAD stands and then walks to talk to others at the party.

CRAIG stands up and goes over to the refreshments to pour himself a drink. He looks pleased.




Scene Three

Outside on the balcony, LILITH is smoking. She is alone, and is staring out to the stars. A door opens behind her. It is GEORGE. He enters onto the balcony and stands next to LILITH. He pulls a cigar out of his jacket.

GEORGE: Mind if join you, Ms. Harlot?

LILITH: No, of course not, sir.

GEORGE lights his cigar and takes a puff. The two of them stand there, silent. LILITH breaks the silence.

LILITH: You never called back.

GEORGE: It would’ve been too obvious. Dinah would’ve found out.

LILITH: You still could have called. You can’t act in secret?

GEORGE: Not with Dinah. I never have been able to. I’ve always shared everything with her, you know?


LILITH strolls over and puts her head on GEORGE. She slowly moves up and starts to kiss his neck gently. After a moment, he gently pushes her away.

GEORGE: No, not here.

LILITH: Why not? We’ve done it everywhere else…

GEORGE: My wife is on the other side of this glass, Lily. Along with half of our co-workers. What if someone else decides to catch some fresh air?

LILITH: (Flirtatiously) Then I guess we’ll have to be quick about it, huh?

She goes to kiss GEORGE’s neck again, but he pushes her away once more.

GEORGE: No, Lilith. Dinah is around, and she…

LILITH: There’s never a time when she not around you, is there George? She always has to be in your business, doesn’t she?

GEORGE: She’s my wife!

LILITH: Funny, you don’t really treat her like one, do you? You have all of your other women on the side, too. I’m just another, aren’t I, George?

GEORGE: (Annoyed.) Don’t pull that shit, Lily. I already have to hide the deals with Big Sonny. I have to sweep you under the rug, too?

LILITH: Oh, fuck you, George.

They both grow silent again. LILITH takes a long drag of her cigarette. GEORGE walks over and puts his arm around LILITH.

GEORGE: I like you, Lily. I really do. But if Dinah finds out, coupled with the Lafontaine thing, I’m screwed. How can I explain myself out of that one?

LILITH pulls out of his grip.

LILITH: (Infuriated.) Oh, the Lafontaine thing! Please, George! Madelyn Lafontaine was a joke! She was a bimbo who was in the wrong place at the wrong time! The place just happened to be with you in a queen-size bed!

GEORGE: Oh, c’mon! She wasn’t the first! You know it! I’ve had to keep my personal life very guarded since then…

LILITH: No, she wasn’t, but she was the first to be publicized! Dinah didn’t know about anyone before until Madelyn. Ever since her, she’s been all over you!

Both are silent once more. After a few moments, LILITH speaks up. She flicks her cigarette away. Her mood has changed. Once angry, she has now become solemn. She holds GEORGE’s hand. He looks up at her.

LILITH: George, why do you do what you do?

GEORGE: What do you mean?

LILITH: Why do you travel from woman to woman, give them a good time and then dump them like trash? Why do you treat your wife like she’s nothing? Why do you get involved with the wrong people? Why do those people make you do the wrong things? Why, George? Why?

GEORGE is silent. He is bewildered at being confronted.


Suddenly, there is a bloodcurdling scream. People begin to panic inside the party.

LILITH: What the hell was that?

George throws his cigar away, and both go inside to rejoin the party.


Scene Four

The party, once one of relaxation, has erupted into one of panic. Various partygoers are exiting. People are running out in panic, pushing each other to exit the party. GEORGE and LILITH enter from the balcony. SUZANNE and TIMOTHY hold each other in a state of shock. MARTIN tries to exit the door among the others, but he is pushed down and almost trampled. He quickly moves into a corner of the room, into safety. DINAH runs to GEORGE’s side and embraces him.

GEORGE: What the hell is going on?

DINAH: (Crying) Oh, George, it’s awful!

GEORGE: What is it Dinah? What’s going on?

DINAH: The news anchor on the radio said that a massive comet was heading towards earth! He…he…he said that when it struck, it would cause the end of the world! W-we have three hours to live!

DINAH buries her face into her husband.

GEORGE: (In disbelief) What?

LILITH: Mrs. Barlow, that’s crazy!

LILITH gently leads DINAH to the couch, and sits with her and comforts her. GEORGE can only watch as the final person leaves the party. This leaves GEORGE, DINAH, LILITH, TIMOTHY, SUZANNE and MARTIN in the room, apparently the only ones who stayed at the party. GEORGE strides to where MARTIN is crouched in the corner, adjusting his glasses and looking all around him at the chaos of the party. He crouches to get face to face with MARTIN.

GEORGE: (In a hushed whisper) Did you get a call from Lou?

MARTIN: (Dreamily) No. I don’t think I ever will, now.

GEORGE shakes MARTIN a bit, which brings MARTIN back to reality.

GEORGE: (In a hushed whisper still) Snap out of it, you idiot! This end of the world shit is not real! It’s some disc jockey playing a joke, like War of the Worlds or something! Our business deals will still carry on after tonight, Marty! Everything will be the same! We just have to figure out what the hell is happening right now, and get it taken care of! Business will continue as normal, Marty. Even if the world does end.

The lights fade.

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