The Silver Mask by Bill Ayers


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This Play is the copyright of the Author and must NOT be Performed without the Author's PRIOR consent


ACT ONE

SCENE ONE

Christmas 1932. Late afternoon. Desk window curtain closed

Fade light up

Rose, 40s, loyal maid, thinks for herself, is arranging several
gift boxes around a small Christmas tree on the writing desk.

There is a knock at the front door.

Rose opens the door.

Amy Weston, 60s, flighty socialite, friend to Sonia, well dressed
for evening, enters

AMY: Merry Christmas, Rose.

ROSE: Merry Christmas, Mrs Weston.

AMY: Just a quick word with Sonia…

She moves into the room expectantly

ROSE: Oh, she's not back yet.

AMY: Not back?

ROSE: From a matinee.

AMY: Really? Well, that's something at least. I'm always telling
her to get out more.

ROSE: Indeed, Ma'am.

AMY: I fully expected her to be sitting (indicates Sonia's chair
right) right there.

ROSE: I'll tell her. She will be sorry to have missed you.

AMY: There was something else Oh dear, what was it? (paces a
little) So silly.

ROSE: I know what you mean, Ma'am. My mother used to say if my head
wasn't screwed on, I'd leave it in the cake shop.

AMY: Mmmm. remembers Ah, the key!

ROSE: Key, Ma'am?

Amy wrestles with her handbag

AMY: Yes, when I stayed here a few nights, in that little attic at the
very top of the stairs. Dreadful place.

ROSE: Yes, of course.

AMY: That's one thing I won't forget. It's the smallest room
I've ever slept in.

ROSE: Yes, indeed, Ma'am.

AMY: I mustn't complain.

ROSE: Oh, but that was awkward, we had several guests all here at the
same time.

AMY: That's right. (still searching for the key) Oh, where is it?

ROSE: It was most unusual. We haven't had anyone visit here for
years. Unfortunately, they got what they said was uh 'pry-or' claim
on the bedroom. I thought they were going to claim Miss Herries' room
as well.

AMY: Actually, I meant that I mustn't complain when so many people
these days have no decent place at all to sleep in.

ROSE: Yes, it's terrible bad all over.

AMY: (closes bag) Well, there, I have forgotten it. I blame that
horrid mask -

ROSE: It gives me the shivers. The guests that took the bedrooms left
it here.

AMY: Glad to get rid of it, I'd say.

ROSE: They sold it to Miss Herries, if truth be told. People take
advantage of her.

AMY: Exactly. Imagine that. Taking money for it. I know it's
supposed to be valuable, but I don't think it's worth having at
any price.

ROSE: I couldn't say, Ma'am. To me, it's something else to take
my feather duster to.

AMY: Of course, I should never have taken the key out of the door in
the first place. Such a silly thing to do, carrying it around. So it
went home with me. I was going to pop it in the post, to send it back
here, but then I thought - I'm just as likely to forget to go to the
letter box.

ROSE: Never mind, Ma'am, we don't lock it and that room is never
used, really.

AMY: Unless you get someone as silly as me amongst the guests.

ROSE: Oh, no, Mrs Weston. (smiles mischievously) You were the
liveliest one of the lot.

AMY: What a lovely compliment! Well, I did try to make the whole
experience a better one, if only to encourage Sonia to have more
guests and to get out and see what the world has to offer Oh,
dear, there I go again, what with the world offering poverty, the way
it is sometimes I can really put my foot into it.

ROSE: I know what you mean, Ma'am. My father used to tell my mother
she had foot in the mouth disease.

AMY: (laughs) Ah yes - Well now, let Sonia know that I called…

They hear someone at the door. Rose starts forward.

Sonia Herries, 60s, strong-willed, independent, kind. Dresses
formally/maidenly. She enters with her attention to outside the door

SONIA: (calling over shoulder) Are you there, Rose?

ROSE: Yes, Miss.

Sonia tries to close the door

SONIA: (to off) I'm afraid I can't

HENRY: (off) If you please - only a moment -

SONIA: (to off) No, I'm afraid I can't -

ROSE: What is it, Miss? Who's there?

HENRY: (off) If you would only -

Henry, 40, weak, shivering, shabby suit, enters

HENRY: It's all right… I'm hungry… I can't help it.

He trembles and shivers as though about to fall. Involuntarily,
Sonia raises her hand to steady him. However, he remains standing
with his eyes closed

ROSE: Oh, what should we do, Miss?

SONIA: Did you make sandwiches for me, Rose?

ROSE: Yes, Miss, I haven't brought them in on your tray yet. I
thought you would be later than this. They're still in the kitchen.

SONIA: Very good, Rose. Conduct him into the kitchen.

Rose takes Henry's arm, starts toward the kitchen.

Sonia takes off her overcoat and hangs it

ROSE: Ooo, Miss, his arm is like ice. This way, sir. A sandwich or two
and a nice cup of tea will do you the world of good.

Sonia watches them go, then turns to see Amy

SONIA: My goodness, Amy! Where did you spring from?

AMY: Darling, how did you manage it? How long has this been going on?

SONIA: Now, Amy, don't

AMY: How many men follow you home? I'd heard rumours, but I paid
them no mind.

SONIA: Don't be so silly.

AMY: So, the dark horse rides out of the shadows.

Sonia goes to the drinks cabinet to pour two wines

SONIA: Sit down and behave yourself. Would you like a drink? I expect
you're on your way to some late night dance-til-dawn affair.

AMY: (taking off her overcoat) You make it sound irresistible.

Amy crosses to hang her coat on the stand

SONIA: (offers wine) I hope this modest offering meets your
extravagant standards.

Amy crosses to Sonia at the cabinet for her glass

AMY: Don't change the subject. Who is that man in your kitchen?

SONIA: Let's have a quiet drink and wish each other a Merry
Christmas.

Amy sits centre, Sonia sits right

AMY: Merry Christmas.

SONIA: Merry Christmas.

They toast each other

AMY: So, you took in a matinee?

SONIA: Yes, I left at interval.

AMY: You would stay, you know, if you went there with someone.

SONIA: Depends who it is.

AMY: Come out with me.

SONIA: I have just been out. Everyone was damp. Everyone in the
theatre. Smelly. It was better in the streets with the wind blowing.
All I could think of was to be home where I could be comfortable and
dry.

Amy drinks, sits back thoughtfully

AMY: You know… There are people who worry about you.

SONIA: Well, they shouldn't. I'm doing all right. You can tell
these worry-warts for me that Sonia Herries respects the opinion of
her Bank Manager and her art dealers and that's that.

AMY: You're getting to be a tough old 'so and so'.

SONIA: When you make enough mistakes in life, you

AMY: You! You had men proposing all over the place - and the
opportunities!

SONIA: All of my mistakes came from putting… heart before brain.

AMY: Are you turning into a cynic?

SONIA: Finish your drink and be off with you.

AMY: To all my husbands and the ones that got away

She breaks off as she sees this has upset Sonia

AMY: Oh, I'm sorry, did that remind you of Freddy? My big mouth.

SONIA: Don't be concerned. Just Christmas sentiment.

AMY: Yes, it was Christmas then, wasn't it? Pause Look, let's get
it all out in the open, darling…

Sonia puts down her drink, and turns away from Amy

AMY: All right. I've listened to all those disparaging remarks you
have made about marriage, whenever I was about to walk down
the aisle

SONIA: Because you were making mistakes -

AMY: Well, if we're going to compare mistakes, I think I got the
best end of the stick!

SONIA: It's all water under the bridge.

AMY: Sonia, dear, you have approached your personal life with too much
intelligence. And you have suffered from impulsive kindness.

SONIA: Amy, you really do talk a lot of tommy-rot.

AMY: What?

SONIA: Tosh. Balderdash. Twaddle.

AMY: Don't try to befuddle me. Or flummox me. I can manage all that
by myself, thank you very much. And I will have another drink.

SONIA: A small brandy?

AMY: Perfect. Don't go getting out the brandy glasses. Life is too
short. (Finishes her drink)

Sonia chuckles inadvertently as she goes to the decanter on the
drinks cabinet to pour brandy into a fresh glass

AMY: Twice, no, three times you had chances you -

SONIA: But not…

Sonia catches herself and remains motionless

Amy: (urging quietly) Go on.

SONIA: I'm really not trying to avoid saying 'Freddy' ... That
was thirty years ago.

AMY: This Christmas. I do remember some things.

SONIA: 'No fun at parties'. Is that what they say about me?

Sonia hands a brandy to Amy

SONIA: Do they laugh when they say 'Lonely Old Spinster'? Well,
they should broaden their education. Not everyone has to be married
or wants to be married.

AMY: Sonia, darling…

Amy rises toward Sonia, feeling compelled to comfort her. Sonia
moves away, avoiding her

SONIA: You mustn't be late for your next social triumph.

Henry enters from the kitchen, rejuvenated. He stands centre, more
like himself; 40, educated, unpredictable, confident, charming,
menacing.

Rose follows, continues to the door to grip the handle, ready to open it

HENRY: (to Sonia) You have saved my life.

SONIA: I'm sorry if I was not so charitable when you first approached me.

HENRY: Oh, I know, I'm sorry too and quite naturally so. I should
feel the same as you, if our positions were reversed. But I must go on
with it. I can't go back to my wife with simply nothing. We have no
fire, no food, nothing except the ceiling we are under. It is my
fault, all of it. I don't want your pity, but I had to find comfort at
that moment we met.

He turns to go immediately toward the door. Rose opens it, so that
he goes straight out.

Rose re-acts to the cold air from outside and closes the door
quickly. She rests momentarily against it, to re-assure herself that
it is closed. Then she bolts the door.

Sonia moves to Rose to encourage her into the room

SONIA: What is it, Rose?

ROSE: I'm sorry, Miss, but I feel better now.

Sonia leads Rose toward chair down right

AMY: Well, Rose, perhaps you need this drink more than I do.

ROSE: Oh, no, Mrs Weston, I never do.

SONIA: Well, you're going to sit there until we feel sure that you
are all right.

ROSE: Thank you, Miss, but I must clear the kitchen.

Sonia sits Rose down right chair

SONIA: What you must do is to take a deep breath, relax and tell us
what has troubled you.

AMY: Did he try something? I mean

SONIA: Attend to your drink, Amy, there's a good dear.

ROSE: I'm sorry, Miss, such a fuss.

SONIA: Sit quietly, Rose. You can tell us whenever you are ready.

ROSE: There's nothing to tell.

SONIA: I've never seen you close the door like that before.

ROSE: It was cold.

SONIA: Bolting the door doesn't make the room warmer.

AMY: It was him.

ROSE: (nods) It was best that he's gone. On his way.

AMY: And all his talk about 'pity, positions reversed' and having
no fire wood. All quite uncalled for.

SONIA: He ate well, Rose?

ROSE: Yes, Miss, he was ever so hungry. But he never gobbled it down.

AMY: Gentlemen are brought up to eat slowly.

SONIA: You may very well be right, Amy. When he first approached me,
only a few steps from the door, he certainly was not behaving like a
beggar. Even then, my impression was; that he was a gentleman.
Unfortunately, with the wind nipping at my cheeks and perhaps my
ears I didn't hear clearly what he was saying.

AMY: You didn't have time to close the door! He was hot on your tail!

SONIA: (stifling a smile) Really, Amy, you must be the top of the bill
in light entertainment at your soirées. to Rose Did he say anything?
In the kitchen.

ROSE: When I gave him a cup of tea, he asked if there was anything
to… 'drink'.

AMY: (intrigued) The nerve! Not such a gentleman.

ROSE: I hope it's all right, Miss. I gave him some cooking sherry.
Ooo, I must go and clear up.

SONIA: All right, Rose, thank you.

ROSE: Thank you, Miss.

She rises

SONIA: He didn't threaten you or…

ROSE: No, Miss.

Sonia nods. Rose exits kitchen. Sonia and Amy sit in silence for a
moment

AMY: Do you know, I don't feel like going out and painting the town.

SONIA: You'll 'buck up' when you get there.

AMY: I'm sorry if I've upset you.

SONIA: No, no.

AMY: No more than usual, eh?

SONIA: It was probably for the best that you were here. Our guest got
away as fast as he could when he saw you.

AMY: Oh, what a lovely thing to say, thank you.

SONIA: I mean that he realized he was surrounded.

AMY: Do you think he might have demanded money and threatened a
scene?

SONIA: One doesn't know these days. But I don't look like someone
who could be easily threatened. Do I?

AMY: I've threatened you often enough, to no avail.

SONIA: Oh, do go home or to your party or I'll be awake all night,
thinking of some wonderful retorts I should have made while I had the
chance.

AMY: I'll ring for a cab, if I may.

SONIA: I'll see if Rose is all right.

Sonia rises, exits kitchen.

Amy arranges herself with the telephone. She dials and while
waiting to be answered, she becomes aware of the mask. She turns her
shoulder away from it, to have it behind her, out of her sight

AMY: Hello, this is the Herries residence… yes, a cab please… yes,
I understand there's snow and fog thank you.

She hangs up the telephone, looks slightly over her shoulder with
an awareness that she is being watched

[end of extract]




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