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What I learned from the Bare Bones reading of Base Instruments

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Categories: base instruments, Tags: , ,

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Photos by Beckie Hunter

I was really pleased and proud of how well the staged reading of Base Instruments went this past Friday. The cast did an amazing job, and the audience was great, laughing at all the right parts and having some really interesting feedback in the discussion we held after.

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A major reason to have a staged reading is to hear the words of a play aloud, as they were intended to be heard, in front of a real audience. This enables you to experience the play in a way you can’t just looking at the page alone. It’s even better when you can talk a little with the audience and get a sense of how they actually experienced it.

One thing that was very satisfying was how funny the piece was. Generally, I’d classify these as adventure stories meant to have some genuinely affecting drama in them, but I don’t want them to become heavy or grim. Lightening them with humor is a great way to charm the audience, to keep things fun and to balance out darker moments. I actually discovered the power of this when Vivat Regina was read in an earlier Bare Bones, and saw how well received the increased humor in the second piece versus the first was. Introducing Nathaniel’s brother Justin Hawking worked particularly well for this, as his wit and attitude was a great way to work in jokes. In no small part thanks to Eric Cheung’s performance of him, there were a few scenes where he got a laugh with almost every line!

The reading also cautioned me for the need for clarity. When you’re trying to present a Fairy Play Whodunnit, it’s important that the necessary information to solve the mystery is delivered clearly enough for the audience to solve. There were some qualitative differences in information that were not made plain enough, and that’s good information for me to have.

Also, there are several Russian ballet dancers in the plot whose names and introductions may not have been made sufficiently plain, making them easy to confuse. On that score, some of it may have been because it was a reading, and the same actress Samantha LeVangie read for both of them, which is something that might be fixed in the staging. But it’s very good to know that confusing the characters might be at issue, to alert me to make sure they are each clearly introduced when they enter the story. This might be a matter of editing, but it’s also going to inform how we stage it when it gets fully performed.

Most of all, I am glad to have found that the story works. The plot flowed smoothly, and the character arcs, relationships, and strong emotional moments resonated with the audience. That’s always the most important part of storytelling, and you can never be sure if you’ve managed it until you get in front of living breathing people. I really do believe that each Hawking script has come out better than the last, and this only confirmed it. So thanks very much to everyone who came out to hear it and give their thoughts, and great thanks to Theatre@First for giving us the opportunity to have it read!

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Finished draft of Base Instruments!

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Categories: base instruments, development, Tags: , , , ,

I am pleased to announce that Base Instruments, part three of the Mrs. Hawking series, has a complete draft!

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I had some friends over to read it, as I love to do when evaluating a play, and the response was great. Now I have a direction for the edit! Thanks to Jane Becker, Charlotte Brewer, Matthew Kamm, Tegan Kehoe, and Samantha LeVangie for their great feedback! The stuff I need to fix isn’t huge, fortunately, but it will require some deft tweaking in order to improve, and that level of subtlety will be challenging. And hearing the whole piece together means I learned some interesting things about this new installment of the story.

Jeremiah O'Sullivan as Nathaniel

Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Nathaniel

Base Instruments turned out to be very much Nathaniel’s play. It wasn’t exactly intentional, but with so many of his close family members featuring, it was only natural that he would end up being the most central character. Even though I want the series to mostly belong to Mary and Mrs. Hawking, it became clear in the writing of the previous two plays that Nathaniel was going to serve as the third lead. And since those first two dealt with the two of them primarily, it was all right if Nathaniel came to the forefront by piece three. Not only does he have the most stage time, his arc plays out with more characters than anyone else’s. I like to think he’s getting really developed.

Justin, Nathaniel’s brother, proved to be very charismatic, as I hoped he would be! Similarly to Clara in Vivat Regina, he was the cool new character Base Instruments added to the cast. I’ve become very devoted to the idea that these pieces need comic relief to balance the drama, and both he and Clara brought some of the lightest moments of wit and humor. I don’t know how often he’ll be able to come back, given the direction the series will take from here, but it will be a real shame if I don’t figure out how to fit him in again.

In fact, the structure of the play changed in an interesting way because of the expansion of the world in this manner. While the two previous installments mostly just followed around Mrs. Hawking and Mary, mostly together, Base Instruments had enough threads going on that its scenes skip back and forth between them. It gives the story a breadth and texture, allowing a much more complex series of events to happen, with a more careful pacing as the threads break each other up. And frankly? It’s pretty damn cool that one of the most engaging scenes in the play happens between two secondary characters, one who’ve we’ve only just met in this piece. That can only be possible when the world and its dynamics are very rich.

My plan is to dig into the edit and get it done in the next few weeks. After that I’d like to have a second reading, to make sure the changes improved and tightened things. Then it will be posted here on the website, and I can truly say I’m completed the first trilogy in the Mrs. Hawking saga!

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Notes on Vivat Regina: plot

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Categories: character, development, influences, vivat regina, Tags: , , , , , ,

Warning: spoilers contained herein for Vivat Regina.

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In addition to character arcs, it needed an over-plot to give it structure, a mission for them to go on as part of Mrs. Hawking’s work. The idea for this one sprung out of the notion I had of a recognizable figure from this part of Victorian history coming incognito to the ladies to ask for their help. This figure is embodied in Mrs. Braun, who it is clear is not using her real name. I will not say her real identity right now, because I would rather not spoil it yet, but what I wanted was for the audience to have a suspicion who this person was even if they weren’t sure. She ties in nicely to the point Mrs. Hawking makes about of the problems of the establishment, even if you don’t fully grasp what her connection to the establishment is. After the first reading, Ben Federlin confirmed for me that it was interesting to leave some ambiguity as to who she was. But Lenny Somervell said that it needed to be clear enough that even somebody without any knowledge of Victorian history would still be able to have a decent guess. Certain other aspects of the story are more compelling if you can make that connection, so I wanted it to be accessible without necessarily being too obvious.

You may have noticed that her entrance into the story bears a strong resemblance to a similar scene in the Sherlock Holmes story, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A German-accented person with a noble bearing that they are to some degree trying to conceal who at first introduces themselves by a false comes in as a client to ask a delicate task of our hero. This was a very intentional echoing, down to her line of “You may address me as Mrs. Johanna Braun,” in reference to “You may address me as Count Von Kramm.” I’ve always loved that story– indeed, I once played Irene Adler onstage –and it was fun to pay it that tribute.

I’ve talked at length about why I felt the need to include the subplot with Clara, which you can read about here. I wanted to introduce her for later inclusion, and I wanted the presence of a character who was not overawed by Mrs. Hawking the way Mary and Nathaniel are, but I struggled to figure out what service she could provide to the plot to justify her presence. What I decided to go with, suggested chiefly by my friends Aaron Fischer and Lenny Somervell who were kind enough to give their always-discerning opinions, was that she could basically provide some outside perspective. Their little world of society avenging is so secretive (they can’t tell people about it for security reasons, after all) that they tend to have tunnel vision about it. When Mary is unable to see that she’s been good for Mrs. Hawking, Clara is a fairly objective observer who can let Mary know what a huge positive influence she’s been. They also suggested that her personal reason for doing it can be that, in the service of protecting her husband from Mrs. Hawking’s wrath, she means to cultivate Mary as an ally and a source of information. It will and won’t work, considering the unusual circumstances, but I think it’s a believable motivation for Clara, and the situation will also lead into the possibility of her becoming a genuine friend to Mary.

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How to introduce Clara

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Categories: character, development, vivat regina, Tags: , , , ,

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Even before I had any idea who the character of Clara Hawking was, I knew she had to exist. Nathaniel was to be in every way fitting into and profiting from the current social order, so part of that meant he had to be married. I’d already finished the script of Mrs. Hawking before I’d given her much thought. Once I considered her, though, it didn’t take long before I figured out what service she would be to the story, her weaponized traditional femininity existing in contrast to Mrs. Hawking’s complete rejection of traditional femininity. I think Clara has the potential to be a very interesting character, so I’ve been pondering how to bring her into things.

In the very early planning stages of Vivat Regina, I wrote a bit of Clara with the vague notion that she could be included. The very first thing I ever wrote of her was a monologue where she, under the guise of perfect friendly politeness, needled Mrs. Hawking for what a pain she is. It’s a pretty funny piece, and I’d like to use it in some form. But this, nor anything else with her, ended up making it into the first draft of the script.

There’s a lot to unpack with Clara story-wise, specifically about how she’s going to feel about Nathaniel’s involvement in his aunt’s work. I haven’t quite figured out what her reaction is going to be, but he’s been putting himself in danger to participate. He has an unusually close relationship with a maidservant, and while I’m taking liberties with the setting where I need to, that was unheard of in this time and place. He’s challenging a social order on behalf of women who don’t fit into their place in the world as comfortably as she does. And he hasn’t told her about any of it yet. How’s she going to feel? What’s her response going to be? I don’t want to dash that off; I think there could be a lot of interesting story in her and Nathaniel’s relationship.

But to include that in Vivat Regina would have tipped the focus a little too heavily on Nathaniel. While he can and will certainly take center stage sometime, it is important to me that these remain fundamentally stories about women. Mary and Mrs. Hawking, their relationship, their struggles, are to be prioritized, especially when we’re only into the second story.

However, after having put together a draft of Vivat Regina, I find it’s somewhat in need of a subplot. In its current state, it pushes along the course of the plot pretty unrelentingly, which is a fairly typical problem my work tends to have, at least in the early drafts. I find myself struggling to figure out exactly what would be the appropriate extra thread. But I suppose the obvious thing to include is Clara.

I’ve mentioned the problem with having her in– I don’t want to dash off any story I can tell about her, and I don’t want to shift the focus of this second piece too far away from Mary and Mrs. Hawking. But perhaps it’s possible to just introduce her for now, in preparation to deal with her more seriously in future stories. I am kind of already doing that with Arthur Swann, who makes his first appearance in Vivat Regina, and while he does serve a purpose to the plot, is mostly just being set up to feature more significantly later.

If I did that with Clara, I’d have to make sure she doesn’t feel tacked on or shoehorned in. She would have to be relevant in some way, without blowing her dramatic potential. I’m not sure how that could be accomplished yet, but it’s something I’m currently pondering. A solid, integrated subplot would not only improve Vivat Regina, I could use it as an opportunity to set up further stories in the series, which would make the overall series stronger.

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Script prep for Bare Bones reading

Categories: development, mrs. hawking, performance, Tags: ,

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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Chatting with the director of the Lesley staged reading

Categories: development, mrs. hawking, performance, Tags: , , , ,

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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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Categories: development, mrs. hawking, Tags: , ,

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 3v3 (substantially rewritten) and 4v2 (significantly expanded)

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The other day I came home to the lovely surprise of Frances and Charlotte performing a scene from Mrs. Hawking in my kitchen. It was the sweetest thing of them to do, and a real joy because they are my fantasy casts for Mrs. Hawking and Mary. It also gave me a real boost in attacking my next homework assignment, which was writing the first half of the play.

I have now just finished writing, and sending in to my teacher, that first half or so. I had a really hard time figuring out how to tell the story I wanted to tell. It’s tough to construct a sensical mystery plot, where both protagonist and antagonist act to the best of their abilities, where neither of them ever “act stupid” for the sake of the story. I really hate that. But it’s tough to build it well enough to avoid that, especially since I tend to be the sort of writer who decides what needs to be accomplished by the story and then designs it to achieve that.

Here are scene three, which I have substantially rewritten from even the second version I posted here, and scene four, which incorporates and significantly expands the small bit I wrote for 31 Plays in 31 Days. I’ve posted them together because they are closely connected, they flow more or less continuously one into the next. I will post scenes five and six separately, as the location and focus strongly shift.

Scene 3

(A well-dressed upper middle class woman, MRS. CELESTE FAIRMONT, sits in her fancy parlor, fretting. The bell rings and MRS. FAIRMONT leaps up to answer it. It is MARY in a walking hat. MRS. FAIRMONT starts exaggeratedly.)

MRS. FAIRMONT: Oh, my goodness!

(MARY removes her hat.)

MARY: Forgive me for this intrusion at this hour, but I must speak to Mrs. Celeste Fairmont.

MRS. FAIRMONT: I am she. Who are you?

MARY: I am Mary Stone, I’ve recently come into the employ of Mrs. Victoria Hawking.

MRS. FAIRMONT: Mrs. Hawking sent you?

MARY: Ah— not as such. But madam didn’t come home last night, and according to her appointment book she was engaged to see you that evening. Begging your pardon, but I didn’t know what else to do but come and ask if you knew her whereabouts.

MRS. FAIRMONT: She was indeed here last night… but she hasn’t returned. Not yet.

MARY: Did you expect her? Do you know where she went?

MRS. FAIRMONT: I, ah, I cannot precisely say—

(There is a crashing sound outside. The ladies’ heads whip around.)

MRS. FAIRMONT: What was that?

(A commotion of running feet and raised voices from a gang of people outside. MARY runs to the window beside the door and looks out.)

MARY: There’s a whole gang of ruffians!

MRS. FAIRMONT: Oh, God!

(The second window starts to scrape and grind open. A figure dressed in black begins to climb in. Again MRS. FAIRMONT panics and makes small sounds of terror, cowering behind a chair. MARY seizes the poker from the fireplace and places herself between the figure and MRS. FAIRMONT. The figure drops catlike to the floor, then stands, cradling one arm in pain. The masked face turns to look at the women.)

MARY: Stop! Stop right there!

(Suddenly MARY stops short, gaping in shock. She drops the poker.)

MARY: Mrs. Hawking!?

(The figure pulls off the mask to reveal MRS. HAWKING.)

MRS. HAWKING: Mary?

(Briefly MRS. HAWKING examines her injured arm. MARY lets the poker clatter to the ground.)

MRS. FAIRMONT: Is that blood?

MARY: Are you hurt?

(MRS. HAWKING runs to the door and peers through the peephole.)

MARY: What— what’s happened to you?

MRS. HAWKING: No matter now. Celeste, where are they?

MRS. FAIRMONT: I don’t know, I don’t know!

MARY: They’re nearby but they haven’t come here yet.

MRS. HAWKING: Thank God.

(She goes about securing the windows.)

MRS. FAIRMONT: Why are they here?

MRS. HAWKING: Because I was sloppy. Very sloppy.

MRS. FAIRMONT: What are we to—?

(There is a hard thumping at the door. MRS. FAIRMONT freezes. She and MARY both look to MRS. HAWKING.)

MRS. HAWKING: They cannot find me here.

(She ducks into a closet. There is another THUMP THUMP THUMP. MARY and MRS. FAIRMONT look at each other. MARY slowly goes to answer the door. MRS. FAIRMONT collapses stiffly into a chair. MARY opens the door to JOHN COLCHESTER, a large man dressed in rough clothes.)

MARY: Fairmont residence. May I help you?

COLCHESTER: There’s been some commotion in the neighborhood.

MARY: Yes, we heard.

(He pushes past MARY into the room and takes a few steps around, looking.)

COLCHESTER: There’s a dangerous person about. We was after them just now but it seems they’ve disappeared. You haven’t seen nothing?

MARY: I’m sure we’ve no idea what you’re speaking of.

COLCHESTER: What are you all doing up and about at this hour?

MARY: We were disturbed by the noise! And by banging at the door in the wee hours of the morning!

(He moves very close to the closet where MRS. HAWKING is hiding.)

COLCHESTER: And you don’t have any notion of where this fellow went off to?

MARY: Of course we don’t! Now I must insist that you leave! You have frightened Mrs. Fairmont quite enough.

(MARY goes back to the door and holds it open for him. COLCHESTER looks around once more, then nods once and moves toward it.)

COLCHESTER: Right, then. Good evening to you ladies.

MARY: Good evening, sir.

(COLCHESTER goes out the door. She closes it behind him and exhales heavily. MRS. FAIRMONT buries her face in her hands and gives a sob of relief. MRS. HAWKING emerges from the closet.)

MRS. HAWKING: That was quite splendid of you, Mary.

MARY: Mrs. Hawking, this is— this is highly irregular!

(MRS. HAWKING goes to peer out the window.)

MRS. HAWKING: Good, they’re clearing out now.

MRS. FAIRMONT: Thank God! Oh, how awful that was!

MRS. HAWKING: Entirely my fault, Mrs. Fairmont. I was spotted due to an error in my calculations. I very much apologize for drawing them on to you.

MRS. FAIRMONT: Have they discovered us, then?

MRS. HAWKING: They never saw my face… but if they know your name, it may not bode well that they came knocking on your door. But for the moment I believe the enterprise is still secure.

MARY: Mrs. Hawking!

MRS. HAWKING: Well, perhaps not entirely. Mary, whatever are you doing here?

MARY: Looking for you! When you didn’t return last night— Mrs. Hawking— I beg your pardon, but I must insist—

MRS. HAWKING: Mary, please—

MRS. FAIRMONT: Never mind that! Did you find the culprits? Who are they?

MRS. HAWKING: I tracked them all up and down the row. They were shockingly circumspect for an alley gang. It led me to suspect they answered to a higher authority. And when at last the crows returned to roost, they confirmed my suspicion. There was such a man.

MRS. FAIRMONT: And who was that?

MRS. HAWKING: Brockton.

MRS. FAIRMONT: Heaven help me.

MARY: Brockton— Lord Cedric Brockton? The— the undersecretary’s clerk?

MRS. FAIRMONT: But he’s a well-born, prominent man! My God, he’s hosting the queen’s ball in celebration of the new Afghan victory! What is the meaning of this?

MRS. HAWKING: I believe you should soon expect a pageboy with a rather serious letter for you, madam.

MRS. FAIRMONT: What? Why?

MRS. HAWKING: Because he would not have taken an interest in anything of yours unless he could make use of it to blackmail you.

MRS. FAIRMONT: Oh, no. No! Oh, God, no…

(MRS. FAIRMONT buries her face in her hands.)

MARY: Blackmail!?

MRS. HAWKING: We must discuss, Mrs. Fairmont, just what it is that you’ve done.

MRS. FAIRMONT: You promised me you would not pry!

MRS. HAWKING: Circumstances have changed.

MRS. FAIRMONT: It is a private matter!

MRS. HAWKING: I know this man, Celeste, I know how he operates. If I am to help you against him, I must understand what it is at stake.

(MRS. FAIRMONT protests, growing more and more hysterical. MRS. HAWKING speaks sternly over her, increasingly irate. Finally MARY springs forward.)

MARY: Please, stop!

(They turn in shock to look at her.)

MARY: Please. This is all… very unsettling… I must… I must ask that you tell me what all this is about. Right away.

MRS. HAWKING: My word, Mary.

MARY: Mrs. Hawking! I must insist.

(MRS. HAWKING considers. Finally she nods.)

MRS. HAWKING: Very well. You’ve done a great deal this evening without being asked… you’ve the right to ask something of me.

(She looks to MRS. FAIRMONT.)

MRS. HAWKING: Celeste… perhaps we should begin at the beginning.

(MRS. FAIRMONT looks distressed for a moment, then relents with a nod.)

    Scene 4

(Still in the Fairmont parlor, MRS. FAIRMONT sits in a chair having collected herself somewhat. MRS. HAWKING stands at the window, gazing sternly ahead at nothing. MARY pours a cup of tea for MRS. FAIRMONT, then politely takes her own seat.)

MRS. FAIRMONT: You must see… we are very respectable people. My husband’s family, the Fairmonts, and of course my own. I would never do anything to compromise our good names, you must understand that.

MRS. HAWKING: And yet, things do not always go as we plan them to.

MRS. FAIRMONT: No. No, indeed they do not. You see… it seemed to me of late that there’s been someone… following me.

MARY: Following you? When you’re out and about?

MRS. FAIRMONT: Not all the time. Only when… you see, we keep… that is to say, I keep… some rooms in Cheapside. I visit this place upon occasion. And it seemed that there was someone on my heels whenever I made my way over there. I thought I might be imagining it, until… until I arrived one day to find that someone had broken into the rooms. The place had been… raided, torn apart.

MARY: Were the police of no assistance?

MRS. FAIRMONT: I could not go to the police! My husband… does not know I keep these rooms. No one does. But I had heard… something that women whispered of, society ladies, their washerwomen, women of all standings… that when a lady finds herself in a predicament that she cannot resolve alone… there is someone… someone outside the usual workings of society, who can take extraordinary action to help. I took steps to learn who this person was, to seek this service for myself.

MRS. HAWKING: And that is where I came in.

MARY: You?

MRS. HAWKING: There is so much that presses on a woman in this world of ours. It offers them so little recourse when those presses become too great. Someone must step outside all of that to do what’s necessary. That someone is me.

MARY: My God.

MRS. HAWKING: Mrs. Fairmont engaged me to discover who had broken into her rooms. And now that I am certain that your assailants acted on the orders of Lord Cedric Brockton, I must tell you immediately that your situation is quite serious.

MRS. FAIRMONT: You’ve had dealings with this man before?

MRS. HAWKING: Not directly, but I am familiar with his operations. He appears publically to be a man of minor nobility holding a post as a minor public official. But he is one of the most dangerous blackmailers in Europe. His network of spies and operatives gather for him the secrets of the most powerful personages in the country, those secrets that would destroy them were they ever made known, and exacting a heavy price to keep them concealed. He is slowly building an empire of these skeletons, concealed from connection to him, of victims powerless to strike back lest their secrets be revealed. He would not have set his sights on you unless there was something he could use against you.

(MRS. FAIRMONT covers her face with her hands.)

MRS. HAWKING: Brockton’s men that broke in, it was clear that they must have been looking for something. Something you’ve been hiding.

MRS. FAIRMONT: Good heavens.

MRS. HAWKING: I had occasion to investigate this place in my tracing of those men. You had done your best to purge it of all your connection to it, but there was no mistaking the cherub trim along the baseboard, nor the profession of the nursemaid you employed. Even hiding the cradle could not hide it for a nursery. Tell me who it was, Mrs. Fairmont, that they were looking for.

(MRS. FAIRMONT wrestles with it, then relents.)

MRS. FAIRMONT: Not looking for. They found him. They found my son.

MARY: Your son?

MRS. FAIRMONT: My boy, my Gabriel. They’ve taken him. They’ve stolen away my boy.

MARY: Why in God’s name would they take your child?

MRS. HAWKING: For the same reason, I would imagine, that you should keep him in rented rooms and may visit him only on occasion. I take it he is not the son of Mr. Fairmont as well?

MRS. FAIRMONT: I was young. I made a mistake.

MRS. HAWKING: Before or after your marriage?

MRS. FAIRMONT: Before. I was but a girl. We lived in the country, there was a young man, only a groom that worked in the stables, but he had red hair, and he was very charming. But I was to marry Jacob. My father was beside himself. He sent my young man away, but… the damage was done. And when Gabriel was born, he sent my child away as well.

MARY: Oh, madam. How terrible.

MRS. FAIRMONT: Jacob and I were wed, and we came here to London. But… I could not leave my boy. It took me years but I found him again. My father had given him to a workhouse, to be raised as an unwanted orphan. My poor boy… so I stole him away from that wretched place to those secret rooms in Cheapside, and engaged a nurse to care for him by days.

MRS. HAWKING: You have been running quite a risk these last few years to keep the boy.

MRS. FAIRMONT: He is my son! I could not bear leaving him in that dreadful place!

MRS. HAWKING: And now he has fallen into the clutches of Cedric Brockton.

MRS. FAIRMONT: Jacob does not know, you see. It would… it would destroy him to know I had dishonored us this way. Not to mention the ruin of his career if anyone knew…

MRS. HAWKING: Naturally. Quite the bargaining chip he’s found himself, then. And quite the challenge for us, to save a good name and the boy as well.

MRS. FAIRMONT: Surely— surely there’s something you can do. They say you have saved dozens of women. For my blameless husband’s sake, and for my poor child whose only crime is the folly of his mother.

MRS. HAWKING: I shall be frank, madam. This will not be a simple operation. But I will do everything that is in my power to see you through.

(MRS. FAIRMONT clings to her in desperate gratitude. MRS. HAWKING winces and tenses her left side.)

MARY: Mrs. Hawking, your arm.

MRS HAWKING: I’d quite forgotten.

MRS. FAIRMONT: Oh, my goodness, you’re still hurt! We should— we should send for someone.

MRS. HAWKING: No doctors, Celeste.

MRS. FAIRMONT: But, Victoria—

MRS. HAWKING: Certainly not!

MARY: Please— allow me.

(She moves close to MRS. HAWKING, who instinctively withdraws.)

MARY: I have some knowledge of this, madam.

(MRS. HAWKING regards her a moment, and then undresses to her shift. MARY pushes it down off her shoulders and she pulls out her bare arm to reveal a bleeding bruise.)

MARY: Oh, my. This requires some attention. Madam, if you’ll bring me the dipper.

(MRS. FAIRMONT brings over the basin of water. MARY draws a white cloth from her apron pocket.)

MARY: Mrs. Fairmont, have you any clean linen about? This will want wrapping.

MRS. FAIRMONT: Oh, yes, of course.

MARY: And some alcohol to bathe it.

MRS. FAIRMONT: I’ll go and fetch it.

(MRS. FAIRMONT exits. MARY wets her cloth and begins dabbing at MRS. HAWKING’s wound.)

MARY: This is serious.

MRS. HAWKING: I have seen worse.

(MARY examines up her arm.)

MARY: You have… so many scars.

MRS. HAWKING: As I said.

MARY: Does this happen… often? In this work that you do?

MRS. HAWKING: On occasion. You may count how often.

(MARY works in silence a moment.)

MARY: And… what do you do?

MRS. HAWKING: I beg your pardon?

MARY: When this happens. If you will not see a doctor.

MRS. HAWKING: I manage well enough on my own.

MARY: I see. If I may ask… what if it were more serious than this? Something that you could not manage on your own?

MRS. HAWKING: Seeking medical attention is out of the question, Miss Stone. Any outside attention risks exposure of my… enterprise.

MARY: I understand. But… you’ve no other assistance? Is there no one trustworthy?

MRS. HAWKING: I cannot chance it. Discovery by the wrong person could mean the end of everything.

MARY: I think you make a great mistake in that.

MRS. HAWKING: I did not ask your opinion, Miss Stone.

MARY: Everyone has need of help sometime.

MRS. HAWKING: You are out of turn, Miss Stone.

MARY: Forgive me, madam… but if there is never anyone to help when you need it, it could mean the end of everything.

MRS. HAWKING: It is an easy thing to say when you need not live in fear of your well-meaning fool of a husband putting a stop to you for what he thinks is your own good.

MARY: He never knew?

MRS. HAWKING: I could not permit it.

MARY: In twenty years of marriage?

MRS. HAWKING: One can hide anything from anyone if one so chooses.

MARY: You couldn’t hide it from me.

(MRS. HAWKING’s eyes widen in surprise, and she turns her head to regard MARY very seriously. MRS. FAIRMONT returns with the linen and alcohol. She hands it over to MARY.)

MARY: Thank you.

(She soaks the linen in the alcohol.)

MARY: There will be pain, madam.

MRS. HAWKING: I have no fear of that.

(Her face is stern as MARY wraps her wounds in it.)

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