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Bare Bones reading accomplished, and musing on next steps

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I am pleased to report that my staged reading of Mrs. Hawking at Bare Bones went well. We filled the house and the presentation went off without a hitch. I was very happy with the actors, and the script is in fairly good shape. There’s a few things I want to change since the reading but not too much, so I think it’s in a pretty tight state.

The question here is next steps. The audience reacted really well to it, but many of them were like, this is begging for sequels, and it’s action, while stageable, is somewhat cinematic– certainly expensive, which may prevent it from ever being produced. That’s something that has been on my mind. Unknown writers do not often get production with big budgets. I hate to think the play will never see any future because of that. And yet, I think some of its expensive bits– the milieu expressed in set and costumes, the stunts –would be part of the story’s appeal.

So I am pondering ways around this sort of thing. I chatted a bit with after the production (and during the lovely cast party reading star hosted) and he spitballed some interesting thoughts. He said it might have a possibility to become a “Kickstarter darling,” appealing to people who like Victoriana, strong female characters, and the neat combination thereof into an action-adventure mystery caper. If I could get the word out to the right people, and a large enough group of them, I could see that. Also the medium is in question. Brad mentioned that it would be fun to pitch it to PBS as a “action Downton Abbey,” which amuses me. I’m sure that’s a little bit too ambitious for them to take me seriously right now, but with some capital, would it be possible to film on my own? I am, I think, capable of adapting it to screenplay. A feature-length already crossed my mind, but I thought maybe that might push the chances of ever seeing it come to production even further. But what if it were in more episodic form? Do each “adventure” as a multi-part “series” of episodes, along the lines of how Sherlock has “series” rather than “seasons”? I am not trained in film production myself, but might that form place it more within the reach of finding someone who could help me bring it to reality?

A lot of stuff to think about. I’m not sure what makes the most sense. But I would love to figure it out.

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Last rehearsal for Bare Bones reading

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I’m going to the last rehearsal for my reading of Mrs. Hawking. We have done every scene, and I’m very happy with them all, but we’ve yet to do everything in sequence. So we shall hear the whole show together tonight. Plus we’ll be adding in the “blocking.” If you’ve ever seen a live presentation of a radio play, and they had the actors in the scene step to the front of the stage while those “offstage” returned to the back, you know what it will look like. I’m confident they will pick things up quickly, they’ve all done such an excellent job so far. Be sure to join us tomorrow night at 8PM at 6 William Street in Somerville!

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Mrs. Hawking Bare Bones reading cast!

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Auditions went well on Monday night for my reading of Mrs. Hawking, and I am pleased to announce I have a lovely cast!

Elizabeth Hunter as Mrs. Victoria Hawking
Gabrielle Geller as Miss Mary Stone
Ryan Kacani as Mr. Nathaniel Hawking
Brad Smith as Lord Cedric Brockton and Narrator 3
Stephanie Karol as Mrs. Celeste Fairmont, Miss Grace Monroe, and Narrator 2
Nick Martucci as Lord Walter Grainger, Mr. John Colchester, and Narrator 1

I was fortunate to have a number of talented people, and it was pretty much a battle between two choices in literally every role. But I am happy with this cast and I think they will not only do a good job representing my piece, but also that they will work well together.

Now I need to get down to brass tacks. The script is mostly prepared, but still needs a last go-over before I send it to the actors in case they want to look at it ahead of time. We have rehearsal dates and location (thanks to the wonderfully generous Ms. Hunter) but I need to block out what sections of the script we’re going to work on when. This project is important to me, so I’m excited to get going on it.

The reading will happen on April 11th at 8PM at Unity Church at 8 William Street in Somerville, so I hope I will see you there!

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Script prep for Bare Bones reading

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Got to work on preparing the Mrs. Hawking script for the Bare Bones reading. The real work will be in improving the actual text, which will require serious thought. But there’s also preparing it so that it can be read in the circumstances of the Bare Bones form.

I will be able to pick six actors for this reading. That means multi-casting pretty carefully to keep the characters straight, and to keep anyone from having to talk to themselves in a given scene. The biggest challenge is in the stage directions. Because it’s such an action-oriented play, a lot of the stage directions have to be read in order for the story to come across. But frankly six actors is the absolute minimum required to just cover the characters. So as a solution to that, I’m creating a rotating “narrator” role. The stage directions that need to be read will be indicated by formatting the directions as lines under the name Narrator, but it will switch between three, so no actor is double-cast as Narrator in a scene where they are playing a character.

I’m planning on choreographing the reading similarly to how PMRP productions work if you’ve ever seen them– the actors will all sit in chairs along the back of the stage until they are in the current scene, at which point they will come up to stand at the front and read. Whoever is the narrator at the moment will act similarly, except they will have a designated narrator space to stand in at the far side of the stage’s edge. Practicing the rhythm of coming out into place and returning will be an important part of rehearsal.

I will need three men and three women. And I would love it if you came out to audition. If you would be so kind as to lend your voice to this, go to the production website here and sign up for an audition slot. I would be very grateful for your help in bringing this piece forward.

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Auditions for Bare Bones reading

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The Theatre@First Bare Bones website has now been updated with information about the reading of Mrs. Hawking. If you would care to audition, and I hope some of you talented people might, go to this website and fill out the form to schedule an appointment. It will be held starting 7pm on Monday, March 4th at Unity Church at 6 William Street, Somerville, MA 02144.

The process should not be arduous, just a handful of rehearsals over the course of March, and there won’t be any need to memorize lines as the whole thing will simply be reading straight from the script. The one and only performance will be the evening of April 11th at 8pm in the same place as the audition, with a single dress rehearsal the night before.

This is, if I may say so myself, a really fun script. It has strong female characters, strong female characters, and lots of conflict, action, and excitement. Come on and lend your talent to helping me make this script the best it can possibly be!

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Got a staged reading at Bare Bones!

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I just got word from Theatre@First’s lovely John Deschene that my play Mrs. Hawking has been accepted as part of Bare Bones, their series of staged readings. I’m really pleased to hear it, as getting readings is important to the development of new plays, and I really care about bringing this piece along. The reading I had at my school was very instructive and helped me figure out a lot of things that need changing and fixing. Having another reading to prepare it for will really help me take it to the next level.

I only just sent in my acceptance, so there’s nothing posted about it and I haven’t gotten any specific information about it yet. But according to the website, they provide space for auditions the week of March 4th, so presumably they will let me have an open call for actors then. I get to choose six people. That’s probably one fewer person than I’d like, but I may just have to multi-cast a little more, and possibly rotate off who reads the stage directions. You can’t really do this show without the stage directions being read. And then the reading itself will be April 11th. Not a long process for a full-length play, but for a reading only a few rehearsals will be needed. Hey, the first reading was done completely cold!

I am glad to have the chance to further develop this piece, and to get my work out there a little bit more. Every little bit of positive attention could bring me a little closer to getting productions, right? And if you might be interested in helping me out, I’d love it if you came out to audition. Especially if you might be able to do an English accent.

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Lesley staged reading accomplished!

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This past Tuesday saw my reading of Mrs. Hawking sponsored by my grad program at Lesley. I am happy to report that it went quite well. I was a little nervous going in– not only was there no rehearsal, many of the actors had not read the play beforehand. But it turned out that they were so good that even in a completely cold read they did a fabulous job. I was mightily impressed. They even did the British accents I was hoping for. In fact, those that were double-cast even did different ones to differentiate their several characters! That was very cool. Here’s a picture mid-reading, thoughtfully snapped by my super-cool former sci fi and fantasy adviser Mark:

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It worked similarly to a radio play, if you’ve ever seen one. The actors come up to the stands when they are present in the scene, and return to the chairs behind them when they are “offstage.” The only downside was that the actor playing Nathaniel made the choice to make him, in my opinion, excessively absurd. I don’t mind if he’s funny and even a little silly early on, but this actor decided to maintain that throughout the entirety of the piece. If you’re still not able to take him seriously by the final scene, it pretty much kills his arc. But other than that I was happy, and it turned out to be extremely instructive. It suggested a number of edits I can make, which I will work on forthwith. But I got a lot of complements from my teachers and fellow students, which felt great. And I was fortunate to have a nice crowd of my own lovely friends there to support me, who I believe also enjoyed it. Thank you so much for being there. I think I had a bigger crowd than they see at these student staged readings! So I feel pretty good about the whole thing, and I’m eager to get working on the edits. I want this piece to be the best it possibly can be.

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Chatting with the director of the Lesley staged reading

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Tonight I had a phone conversation with Brett Marks, the gentleman who is the director for my reading of Mrs. Hawking at Lesley. It was a very interesting conversation, but I had no idea what to expect going in. This is a weird process, I must say. I believe that the actors were arranged by Kate Snodgrass, an awesome professor in my program and a major figure in Boston theater. But as I doubt she read my play, the actors could not have been cast based on fitting the roles. What I suspect happened is my adviser Jami Brandli, who I liked very much, passed on the play’s requirements in the most general terms– a middle-aged woman, a young woman, two middle-aged men, et cetera. Okay, I guess I should have expected as much, but there are things I kind of hoped for in order to really hear how the play sounded. For example, I want to hear if I really emulated the Victorian voice, so ideally I’d get to hear it read in an English accent. The director implied that it might in fact be possible with this group, but I’m sure such a thing wasn’t taken into account in the casting. Also, there’s no rehearsal time. It’s just a cold read. Again, that’s fine if that’s how it works, but I do wonder what the director has to do if there’s no time to work on these things beforehand.

Of course, he may just be solely for my benefit, getting the perspective of somebody who reviews scripts for production professionally. And I was glad of what he had to say. He had a lot of good responses, and though he was trying not to criticize, he gave me his early reactions to a lot of things that pointed me in the direction of what I should possibly work further on. For example, he got me thinking that a lot of things I assume the viewer understands about how Victorian culture works– such as how it would be very odd for a wealthy society matron like Mrs. Hawking to not have a housemaid –might not necessarily be clear to somebody who wasn’t as educated on the subject as I am. He also had questions about the figure of Colonel Reginald Hawking. I want him to come across as mostly a good, decent man, but one who completely invalidated the person his wife truly was because it didn’t fit into his patriarchal schema. But the director suggested that if that doesn’t come across, Mrs. Hawking’s anger with him may not be sympathetic. I want it to seem harsh, but at the same time understandable.

Also, and this was a bit vindicating, he found act one scene two where Mrs. Hawking and Mary are getting to know one another to be excessively abrupt. I thought that myself, and in fact it was longer in the original draft, but after receiving critical feedback that it was too slow, I cut it. It pleased me to hear a professional director agree that there needed to be more of the two of them getting know one another. Also, he was familiar with the writing styles of those like Coward and Wilde that I was working to emulate. As great as the instruction I’ve been receiving has been, one perspective I haven’t had much of is whether or not I achieved that emulation. It was cool to have somebody be able to tell me I did that.

I’m excited to see how it goes. I wish I had time to incorporate some of his suggestions, but I’ve already printed all the scripts. So we’ll see what happens, if you join me this Tuesday. Remember, it’s this Tuesday January 8th from 6 to 8PM in the Marran Theater in the Student Center, Doble Campus, Lesley University at 29 Everett Street, Cambridge, MA.

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Complete first draft of Mrs. Hawking!

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Today I finished it, the first complete draft of my first full-length play Mrs. Hawking. I am pretty exhausted, but proud of myself.

You don’t know how I wracked my brain to come up with the structure of the action. As I’ve mentioned, it’s extremely important to the tone I want to set that I combine the genres of action mystery story with parlor drama. And that meant coming up with interesting, complicated, tense ACTION that hopefully didn’t descend into absurdity or contrivance. That was extremely hard, and I’m not sure how well I succeeded. There’s also many, many emotional points I wanted to hit. I like the beats individually, but there are a lot of them, and it was difficult to find the right places to put them. I hope the sequence of events makes sense. There may just be too many ideas for just one script, but I reasoned it was better to have too much material than to have too little; I could always cut the excess later.

It will definitely need revision, but I think the bones are very strong, and with some rigorous editing I could have a really powerful piece. I need to step away from it for a while, and though I’m exhausted, I have to move on to my other assignments due this month. But I think I’m onto something. I really hope so, this project means a lot to me.

The rest of today I am going to relax. Back to the grind tomorrow, but today is to feel good about finishing, and give my brain a break.

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Mrs. Hawking, scenes 1.5 and 1.6, version 1, which become 1.4 and 1.5

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Of course I'm always afraid of making the thing too talky. You be the judge, I guess.

Scene 5

(Back in MRS. HAWKING’s parlor. MRS. HAWKING stands at a table regarding a spread of papers. MARY enters with a tea tray. She stops short for a moment when she sees MRS. HAWKING, then approaches cautiously. MRS. HAWKING doesn’t look up.)

MARY: Afternoon tea, madam.

MRS. HAWKING: Thank you.

(MARY looks for a place to lay the tea tray down and finds no room among the papers. She dithers for a moment before MRS. HAWKING notices her dilemma. She moves some of the papers to make a place for MARY to set it down. The two women look at each other warily. Finally MRS. HAWKING sighs.)

MRS. HAWKING: Let’s have no more of this dancing around one another. I’d have your intentions, if you please.

MARY: Forgive me, my intentions?

MRS. HAWKING: You know my business now. And you know it’s something I could land in a great deal of trouble should that knowledge come into the wrong hands. You’ve nearly as much to hold over my head as Brockton does over Mrs. Fairmont. And you must be aware this is not something I’ll allow to come out.

MARY: Mrs. Hawking…

MRS. HAWKING: So enough of this dithering. What do you want from me, Mary?

MARY: Madam… I want to help.

MRS. HAWKING: I beg your pardon?

MARY: I want to help you in your work. If I understand, what you do… what you’re doing for Mrs. Fairmont… it’s heroic. It’s the best thing I ever heard anyone do.

MRS. HAWKING: You’ve a great deal of empathy for the tribulations of a woman privileged beyond anything you’re ever like to know.

MARY: But it’s not only the society women you’ve helped, is it? I heard what Mrs. Fairmont said. The washerwomen and the scullery maids and the house girls too. Women precisely like me, who have nowhere else to turn. No one needs a hero more.

MRS. HAWKING: You’ve no idea how dangerous it can be.

MARY: I don’t care. I can be brave if the circumstance calls for it.

MRS. HAWKING: So I’ve seen. But it isn’t only risk to life and limb, Miss Stone. What I do… is unacceptable in the eyes of the public. If such effort should fail, or so much as be discovered… I assure you, we shall come to envy the painted birds in parlor cages. And any hope of decent reputation shall be dashed forever.

MARY: I understand that! Madam… I have lived a respectable life where I have done what was expected of me. For my first twenty years, I did nothing with myself except keep house for an absent father and an unwell mother. All because they were too preoccupied to find some suitable man to whom they could marry me off before they passed away. And when they passed, and I had nothing more left… I realized how little that was. How little that was to make a life. Can you… can you imagine what that’s like?

MRS. HAWKING: I can. As a matter of fact.

MARY: What you are doing for Mrs. Fairmont, and have done for so many others… that means something to so many lives. And… there’s no amount of money or status in the world that can change how it must feel to have your child taken away from you. That is something that no mother should bear. If there is any way I can act in the service of preventing it… more than anything, that means something. And that is what I would like to do.

MRS. HAWKING: I am accustomed to working alone.

MARY: I know. You’ve had no other choice. But… as I said before. Everyone has need of help sometime. I can be your help. I told you once, I can be brave, and I have a strong back and the good sense God gave me. Please… let me help you.

(MRS. HAWKING regards her for a long time.)

MRS. HAWKING: Good heavens. I must be losing my mind.

MARY: So… we shall give it a go, then?

MRS. HAWKING: God help us. All right, brave girl. All right.

MARY: Oh, thank you. Thank you, madam! I swear, I will not disappoint you.

MRS. HAWKING: Very well. I grant you have not yet. Come here, see what I have been pondering.

(MARY goes to look at the papers on the table.)

MARY: Are you at work on the case at present?

MRS. HAWKING: Indeed. Contemplating how best to overcome the myriad challenges presented by Mrs. Fairmont’s predicament.

(She throws open a small box. MARY is slightly surprised to see several slim silver knives. MRS. HAWKING takes one of the box and shows it to her.)

MRS. HAWKING: Challenge the first—

MARY: The safety of the child.

MRS. HAWKING: True. To rescue the boy from the villain’s clutches.

(She sticks the knife into the mantle piece. Then she takes out another knife.)

MRS. HAWKING: Challenge the second—

MARY: The security of her reputation.

MRS. HAWKING: —To prevent the knowledge of the child’s existence from reaching the public.

(She sticks the second knife in beside the first. Out comes a third.)

MRS. HAWKING: And finally, challenge the third…

(MARY furrows her brow in thought, then shakes her head.)

MARY: I’m sorry, I don’t know the third.

MRS. HAWKING: That would be the opponent himself. Lord Cedric Brockton is no petty threat.

(She stabs the third knife into the mantle.)

MARY: You seem to know a great deal about this man. How did you come to encounter him?

MRS. HAWKING: Mrs. Fairmont is not the first client of mine to run afoul of him, and I may claim the rare standing of having thwarted him a time or two. But he’s seen no justice for it yet; the man conceals the traces of his enterprise as well as any man I’ve tangled with, such that the police shall never touch him.

MARY: So there is the third challenge. To put paid to his machinations once and for all.

MRS. HAWKING: Precisely, Miss Stone.

(She toys with the third stuck knife.)

MARY: So what is your plan of action? How can I assist?

MRS. HAWKING: There is the trouble, then. I am… uncertain how to proceed here.

MARY: Have you never encountered this sort of case in the past?

MRS. HAWKING: Oh, I’ve returned a missing child or two in my time, but in this instance my usual methods have not served. My thought had been to trace his lackeys back to where they were keeping the boy, but I have been trailing them for days and seen no sign.

MARY: What does that mean?

MRS. HAWKING: I can only conclude that the child has not been placed into the keeping of his hired toughs. Beyond that, I have no data.

MARY: Therefore… we find must find a way to gather some. Do we not?

MRS. HAWKING: We can make no forward progress otherwise.

(They sit in silence for a moment, thinking. Finally MARY is struck with an idea.)

MARY: Madam… if I may suggest…

MRS. HAWKING: Yes?

MARY: What was it that Mrs. Fairmont said, about… about Lord Brockton hosting a ball?

MRS. HAWKING: Yes, some society nonsense in celebration of yet another victory for the Empire. My husband devoted his whole damn life to winning it, and yet they keep on.

MARY: Will his lordship be hosting it at his home?

MRS. HAWKING: I believe so.

MARY: Perhaps that’s the way to gather intelligence.

MRS. HAWKING: By attending that ball?

MARY: It’s a way into his house. There— there might be something useful to discover there!

MRS. HAWKING: Surely he is not keeping the boy in his own house.

MARY: No, not if he’s as circumspect as you say. But there may be something, some bit sliver of a secret that the lion is hiding in his den.

(MRS. HAWKING regards her critically.)

MARY: If we’ve no other lead, then at least it’s a place to begin.

(MRS. HAWKING thinks for a moment, then nods.)

MRS. HAWKING: Yes. There is logic to it. Surely there must be something he would desire to keep close, and under his own oversight. Very well, miss, it is indeed a place to begin.

MARY: So you shall go to Lord Brockton’s ball?

MRS. HAWKING: I shall. Now, we must prepare, we haven’t much time and there are things to be done. My instruments must be packed, and I must secure the proper invitation. I have been out of the roar of things for some time now, but I daresay the Hawking name still holds sufficient sway. And of course we shall have to see about acquiring you a suitable gown on scant notice.

MARY: A gown? For me?

MRS. HAWKING: We shall be quite conspicuous if we do not don the costume of the venue.

MARY: I… I may come along with you?

MRS. HAWKING: It was your notion, Miss Stone. And you insist you wish to help.

MARY: But shan’t it be an affair for high society?

MRS. HAWKING: You shall quickly learn, child, if you are to ply this trade for long you must master the art of disguising yourself as something you are not. For you, it shall be as high society. For me, it shall be as a creature that can bear to spend the evening in whalebone stays. Besides, when it comes to facades one must put on, society is a common one. I imagine you shall manage it no worse than most.

(MRS. HAWKING pulls the final knife from the wall and twists it in her hands as she exits. MARY touches the remaining knives, an expression of mixed apprehension and excitement on her face.)

Scene 6

(Several elegantly dressed ball guests enter and walk around the stage, mingling and talking. After a moment, enter MRS. HAWKING and MARY from opposite sides of the stage. They wear fancy gowns and both are quite transformed. They scan the room for a moment, and then when they see each other they hurry over to one another. As they speak, a crowd of party guests gather around them.)

MRS. HAWKING: There you are. I’ve observed the lay of the house and I believe I’ve found the place to look. There is a locked study on the second floor from which the valet keeps chasing away the guests. If Brockton keeps sensitive material in this house, that will be the place, though I’ve not yet had a chance to search it. Not until I know where Brockton is lurking.

(MARY tosses uncomfortable looks over her shoulder behind her.)

MRS. HAWKING: Are you quite all right?

MARY: That gentleman over there is staring at me.

MRS. HAWKING: Yes, I’m sure he is.

MARY: Why does he do that? Can he tell I don’t belong?

MRS. HAWKING: I imagine, Miss Stone, it is because we have dressed you in entirely too becoming a gown.

MARY: Oh! Well, I have never worn anything so grand.

MRS. HAWKING: It suits you, I’m afraid, which has naturally rendered you public property. Fortunately, I have been able to turn this distasteful consequence to our advantage.

MARY: How so?

MRS. HAWKING: When I observed how many were murmuring about the mysterious and lovely young woman no one seemed to recognize, I spread a few choice whispers about her circumstances and station.

MARY: About me? What sort of whispers?

MRS. HAWKING: I may have given them the impression you were a niece of the viceroy of India, sent home to escape a scandal with a prominent soldier.

MARY: Me? But I am no— why?

MRS. HAWKING: To catch a beast, we must set out some bait.

MARY: I am your bait? To what end?

MRS. HAWKING: He is a blackmailer, Mary. He is always interested in persons with secrets. My aim is for him to seek out the young woman everyone is murmuring about and attempt to discern whether he can make a target of her. And while you are occupying him, I shall take advantage of his absence.

MARY: I don’t know how to behave like the niece of the viceroy! He’ll see right through me!

MRS. HAWKING: See that he doesn’t. You were raised in India, make use of your experience. Now, listen to me closely. Before long Brockton will approach you and sound you out for his wicked purpose. Meanwhile I shall infiltrate the upstairs study. I must entreat you to keep him engaged for as long as you possibly can to prevent him from discovering me. I can elude the servants with ease but the master will be more wary than any.

MARY: But madam—

MRS. HAWKING: You expressed a desire to be of service, Miss Stone.

MARY: Ah— yes. Yes, very well. I shall do my best.

MRS. HAWKING: Good girl. One last detail— did you manage to secret away the valise?

MARY: Yes, in the cloakroom beneath the grand staircase.

MRS. HAWKING: Excellent. I shall need my tools before confronting the study. Now I must make myself scarce. It is imperative that Brockton not observe us to be speaking together.

MARY: Good— good luck, madam.

MRS. HAWKING: To you as well.

(Looking around unobtrusively to see if the coast is clear, MRS. HAWKING walks off and exits. MARY, now left alone, shifts nervously at first. She then awkwardly attempts to affect the carriage of what she imagines is the mysterious, high-class niece of a viceroy. She starts to commit to it, smiling and even voguing a little for those who look her over.)

(As she does this, enter LORD CEDRIC BROCKTON, middle-aged, handsome, impeccably dressed. He spots MARY almost immediately. He makes his way over to her through his crowd of guests, shaking hands and touching shoulders in a charming manner. Before long he comes up directly behind her with an ingratiating smile.)

LORD BROCKTON: I don’t believe we’ve met.

(MARY jumps a little, startled, but collects herself quickly back into her new persona.)

MARY: Oh? Ought we to?

LORD BROCKTON: Allow me to introduce myself. I am Lord Cedric Brockton, and I would like to personally welcome you to my party.

MARY: Why, this is your house? Oh, it’s a— dear little place.

LORD BROCKTON: I am glad you like it. You must know, miss, that everyone is buzzing about you and no one seems to know your name.

MARY: Ah… my uncle calls me Tigerlily.

LORD BROCKTON: How very charming. Have you been long in London?

MARY: Oh, no. No time at all. Only long enough to learn that London is so dreadfully dreary and dull. I haven’t the faintest idea how you tolerate all this fog.

(She takes a quick look around the room for MRS. HAWKING but she is not there.)

LORD BROCKTON: It is dreary, indeed. Certainly not as… temperate and exciting as life on the subcontinent.

MARY: Good heavens, you’ve no idea! Why, back home, if I so chose, I could ride to finishing school on the back of an elephant!

LORD BROCKTON: Well, we’ve certainly nothing like that here. So, tell me, miss, whatever could you draw you away from all that?

(MARY waves her hands dramatically, trying to think.)

MARY: Oh, well, you know how things are… uncle dear thought it was best for me to go away for a while… he feared I was becoming too popular with some of his, well…

LORD BROCKTON: Soldiers, miss?

(She affects a carriage of indignation.)

MARY: My lord! What kind of lady do you take me for? Fraternizing with enlisted men?

(She pauses dramatically, then grins.)

MARY: They were all officers!

(They burst out laughing together, BROCKTON with the opportunity and MARY with a manic shock that she is pulling it off. Over his shoulder, she spies MRS. HAWKING reenter.)

MARY: Oh, but I’ve said too much! Uncle John would be furious with me. You must excuse me, Lord Cedric, we shall talk again soon. Lovely party you’ve thrown!

LORD BROCKTON: I shall look forward to it!

(She turns and leaves, trying not to dash off. BROCKTON watches her go for a moment. Then he turns around, a smug smile on his face, and spots MRS. HAWKING. He laughs.)

LORD BROCKTON: Why, fancy that. You’re in attendance this evening.

(He approaches her. She tenses almost imperceptibly a moment, then turns to face him with an expression of polite friendliness.)

MRS. HAWKING: You know me, sir?

LORD BROCKTON: Oh, my yes. We’ve never had occasion to meet, but I am certainly aware of Mrs. Colonel Reginald Prescott Hawking. Oh, but forgive me my manners— allow me to formally introduce myself.

(He bows elegantly, the extends a hand to her. With only the barest hint of her distaste, MRS. HAWKING smiles thinly and places her hand in his. He kisses it gallantly.)

MRS. HAWKING: Of course, Lord Cedric, clerk to the undersecretary and our gracious host.

LORD BROCKTON: It’s been some time since you’ve made an appearance in society.

MRS. HAWKING: Haven’t you heard? My husband died, I’ve been in mourning.

LORD BROCKTON: Of course. His passing was a great loss to the empire. And you’ve chosen this time to reemerge. Remarkable.

MRS. HAWKING: Some would say it was time.

LORD BROCKTON: To be sure. You’ve grown something of a reputation for reclusion. It is then also remarkable that the notoriously withdrawn wife of the late colonel should develop associations with no fewer than three ladies with whom I have had business in the last several years.

(MRS. HAWKING stares at him hard.)

LORD BROCKTON: I make a point of observing such things, Mrs. Hawking. Particularly when there is a discernible pattern of the enterprises in question going awry. When such a thing occurs, I take pains to learn why.

MRS. HAWKING: Perhaps you have made a wrong move.

LORD BROCKTON: Perhaps you have, madam. For your own wellbeing, I advise you to make no more.

(He bows to her politely.)

LORD BROCKTON: I am glad to have finally made your acquaintance, Mrs. Hawking. Do enjoy the rest of the party.

(He strolls off through the crowd again, engaging magnanimously with his guests. MRS. HAWKING stands very still, her face stern. After a moment MARY reenters and, seeing MRS. HAWKING is alone, approaches her with caution.)

MARY: Madam? Did you find anything?

MRS. HAWKING: Not now. We must not be seen speaking.

(MRS. HAWKING presses a sovereign into her hand.)

MRS. HAWKING: Hire a handsome and meet me at home, we shall talk then. Things have become more complicated.

(She hurries away. MARY looks at the coin in her hand, then glances after MRS. HAWKING. Then she exits herself.)

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