Kill the Messenger!
 
 

ACT ONE
 
 

Scene One


We are in a lush green forest---a Robin Hood forest. Center stage is a thatched-roofed cottage with the downstage wall missing so that we can see inside to what appears to be a rather pristine office. There are two Elizabethan-looking tables and four chairs at each. To the left is a door leading outside connecting with a path disappearing into the trees. The path also leads around the cottage and disappears off stage left. Upstage center is another door leading to the Boss' inner office. At rise, FIVE MEN are on stage. Their dress is part Elizabethan in terms of their doublets, but Reformation in terms of their tight-fitting trousers. THREE of them are at the right table playing a game of cards. They are OSWYN POTTESLEY, GILES SHARMAN and AVERY LYTTLEBOURNE, all fairly attractive, well-made men in their late 20s. Although they vary a bit in weight and height, there is very little to distinguish one from another---none too short, none too tall, none too fat. And the same applies to HUMPHREY TUBNEY, who is sitting on a chair, leaning against a wall with his feet on the second table, reading a periodical, and to BENEDICT CHYLTON, who is stretched out on the floor taking a nap. The upstage door opens and CUTHBERT REAMS hurries into the room holding a scroll in each of his pudgy hands---a green one in his right hand, a yellow one in his left. He is very short and very fat and, unlike the others, his Elizabethan clothes do not fit at all well. He speaks with a very pronounced cockney accent.
CUTHBERT

Who's for Elsinore?

(ALL stop what they're doing, including BENEDICT who jumps to his feet, and raise their hands eagerly.)
CUTHBERT
                                                            (regarding one of the scrolls)
Well, can you imagine that? If I didn't make a mistake. It's not Elsinore after all. It's Inverness. (Great sighs of disappointment. EACH returns to what he was doing. Oswyn, Giles and Avery with their card game, Humphrey with his periodical, Benedict on the ground asleep.)
CUTHBERT
Don't all volunteer at once.
                                                           (pauses)
Well, I can't see much difference between one dark dank castle in Denmark and one dark, dank castle in Scotland.

AVERY

It's that monster. She scares the piss out of me.

CUTHBERT

I'm not talking about the Macbeth woman. I'm talking about Lady Macduff.

GILES

Why didn't you say so?

CUTHBERT

I'm saying so now. Actually there are two dispatches. One for Lady Macduff and one for…you-know-who.

HUMPHREY

I'll take the Macduff one.

CUTHBERT

                                                        (handing the yellow scroll to Humphrey)
I'll give a twenty farthing bonus for the Macbeth woman.

BENEDICT

                                                        (rising)
OK. I'm game. With three mistresses to support.

OSWYN

                                                         (holding up two fingers to Avery and Giles)
Two.

BENEDICT

You weren't with me at the tavern last night. You'd be surprised how far dimples can get ya.

                                                        (HE scrunches his cheeks to show the depth of his dimples.)

CUTHBERT

I swear to God---you're all messengers. I gotta bribe you to do ordinary messenger work. Verona you like---Florence you like---the Forest of Arden---but give you a battlefield or a dungeon or the room of a poor little ambitious Scottish lady---and no, you don't want that---you want something else… (CUTHBERT hands the green scroll to Benedict, who starts to read it, mumbling.)
BENEDICT
"The king comes here tonight…blah-blah…blah…so please you it is true: our thane is coming…" Not bad. Quick in and quick out.

AVERY

Unless she asks you to light her god-blasted candle like she did me. Then reaches out and grabs a hunk of your bum.

CUTHBERT

Aw, come on, Lyttlebourne!

AVERY

I tell you, she did!

CUTHBERT

Then why didn't you report her to the Arbitration Board?

AVERY

Who'd believe my word against the wife of the next King of Scotland? She could claim she was sleepwalking.

CUTHBERT

As far as I'm concerned, you're all ingrates.

BENEDICT

                                                            (picking up Humphrey's scroll)
What's yours say? Uh-oh. You're warning her about some danger to her and her kids. Heav-y! Hey, I like this! "If you will take a homely man's advice…" Homely man…that's you, Humph!

HUMPHREY

Hey! I can't say that! How can I call myself "homely"?

CUTHBERT

Will you joltheads just say what's on the scroll and stop complaining!

HUMPHREY

I'm good-looking. Everyone says I'm good-looking.

CUTHBERT

You want me to give it to one of the others? Remember, you pignuts, you work on commission. No message, no guineas.

BENEDICT

How soon?

CUTHBERT

You still got half an hour before you start.

HUMPHREY

Well, I certainly don't want to arrive early. You know how they hate that.

CUTHBERT

They hate it even more if you arrive late! And who do they complain to? Not any of you pribbling popinjays, but me! That's who. Then they threaten to sue the service. I should fire the whole damned lot of you. (HE pivots on his heel, returns to his office and slams the door behind him.)
GILES
He's in a real snit today.

OSWYN

Isn't he every day?

                                       Take this message to the rebel camp,

AVERY

                                        Make sure the Earl has arisen;

GILES

                                        Take this dispatch within the hour

HUMPHREY

                                        To the King who awaits in yonder tower

BENEDICT

                                        And this one to the Duke in prison.

ALL

                                        Isn't it great! Isn't it thrilling!
                                        What a wonderful way to earn a shilling! Men with no names,
Men with no faces---
Rushing about
To alien places.

Men with no backgrounds,
Men with no goals;
Men with no shadings,
Men with no souls.

You have to be humble
When you don't have a part---
Unless you mumble or stumble
Or give out with a fart.

You're sure to get noticed,
Get noticed, but then,
It's sovereigns to crumpets,
They won't use you again!

Men with no names,
Men with no faces---
Tearing about
To meaningless places.

Men with no children,
Men with no wives;
Men with no futures,
Men with no lives.

Your role is so teeny,
Your job has no rights,
Unless you slip a zucchini
Inside of your tights.

You're sure to get noticed,
But it's understood
That sovereigns to crumpets
You're blackballed for good.
 

(At the end of the number, MAUDE HADRESHAM appears stage left. She is very young, a bit cheap and dressed in a worn Elizabethan gown. What she lacks in looks, she makes up for in voluptuousness. She walks along the path, approaches the door and enters. HUMPHREY and BENEDICT are particularly delighted to see her.)
MAUDE
Good morrow, kind gentlemen.

BENEDICT & HUMPHREY

Good morrow!

MAUDE

Prithee, canst thou tell me, this is the Messengers Cottage, is it not?

BENEDICT

Indeed, it is! And what may we do for you, lovely maiden?

MAUDE

I wanteth to sendeth a message.

OSWYN

A message?

MAUDE

What doth thee find so amusing?

GILES

We've never been asked that before.

MAUDE

But that is what thee doeth, sendeth messages…

AVERY

She sounds like one of our clients.

OSWYN

Yes that is what we doeth, but we doeth for a very small clienteleth.

MAUDE

I didst not know thou art a bunch of snobby-nosed wretches.

GILES

I never looked at it quite like that before.

MAUDE

But thou must knowest…I am desperate…I have been wronged…woefully wronged…by a treacherous riding-master.

BENEDICT

If you want to really learn how to ride I'll be more than happy to show you…

HUMPHREY

Let me! I'm a much better rider than he!

MAUDE

I knoweth how to rideth. All I wanteth is to sendeth a message.

OSWYN

But that cannoteth be doneth.
                                                               (aside)
This is contagious.

MAUDE

But canst thou not seeth…
                                        He hath doneth me wrong,
                                        He hath treateth me bad,
                                        He hath doneth me wrong,
                                        He hath been-eth a cad.
                                        Perhaps up in heaven
                                        They wilt see what he's doneth---
                                        And how his belief is
                                        To have fun-eth then run-eth.
                                        Oh, my love he didst steal,
                                        And my heart he didst filch;
                                        He hath promised the moon,
                                        He hath given me zilch.
                                        And oh how I rueth
                                        That I'd acquieseth,
                                        I now plan to sueth
                                        For all he possesseth.
                                        How many times
                                        Did he swear I'm the one?
                                        And now he must pay
                                        For what he doneth done done. (SHE spies a mirror on the wall, whips out a handkerchief, blows her nose and dries her eyes, checking out her appearance. Noticing a blur on the mirror she attempts to wipe it off. As this is going on, BENEDICT and HUMPHREY creep up behind her.)
BENEDICT
                     Listen to me, dear,
                     Please shed no more tears for him,
                     If I had him here,
                     I would box his ears for him.
HUMPHREY
                                         Give me a go at him---
                                         I'd tear him limb from limb.

BENEDICT

                     I will doeth you right,
                     I will maketh you glow---
                     I'll teach you that love
                     Can flourish and grow.
GILES
                                                    (to Oswyn)
Didn't he already say he had three? (OSWYN shrugs. BENEDICT and HUMPHREY are now on either side of her, making sure at every opportunity to cop a feel.)
HUMPHREY
                              You shall learn there are laddies                     Who are honest and trustful
                    Who aren't just thinking
                    Of grabbing a bustful.
GILES
Doesn't he have six children?

OSWYN

By four different wives.

BENEDICT

 I will doeth you right,
 You will have no regret---
 Take a look at this face
 How sincere can you get?
HUMPHREY
                     You never shall rueth
                     The place you are heading---
                     You'll love who you screweth---                                 (quickly)
           Only after the wedding.
BENEDICT & HUMPHREY
                     You will thank God
                     In the dark of the night
                     That you met a lad
                     Who done doneth you right.
  (HUMPHREY and BENEDICT begin to shove each other in an effort to get close to Maude. THEY both put their scrolls down on the table and menace each other with their fists. CUTHBERT hurries into the room.)
CUTHBERT
What the puke is going on here?
                                                          (to Maude)
Who the puss are you?
                                                          (to Benedict and Humphrey)
Get your plume-plucked asses out of here and to Inverness this instant! (BENEDICT picks up the yellow scroll and HUMPHREY the green one. AVERY has been watching them. Both exit.)
CUTHBERT
                                                          (to Maude)
Now if you wouldn't mind telling me just what you're doing here…

MAUDE

Who art thou?

CUTHBERT

Who art I? Just the executive who happens to be in charge of this clay-brained place.

GILES

Wasn't the green scroll to go to the Macbeth woman and the yellow one to Mrs. Macduff?

CUTHBERT

Yeah. So what?

GILES

Well, I rather believe they just took the wrong scrolls.

CUTHBERT

WHAAATTT!!!!
                                                             (HE races through the door and down the path.)
You puking varlets, come back here! (GILES, OSWYN and AVERY return to their card game. MAUDE approaches the table, wants them to pay attention, but they ignore her.)
MAUDE
                       They will doeth me right,
                       They have litten my fuse;
                       I do liketh them both,
                       But which one shalt I choose?
OSWYN
Litten? Litten!

MAUDE

                       They've certainly cheered me,
                      'Tis nice to meet new men
                       And now I doth wonder
                       Canst one marry two men?
AVERY
Such perception the lass has-eth!

MAUDE

                        They will doeth me right---
                        I am sure they'll be true;
                        You must cancel that note---
                        I forgot who it's to.
GILES
And such depth of emotion!

MAUDE

                         Just think I found fate here
                         And oh, how I'm yearning!
                         I'll just sit and wait here
                        'Till both art returning.
                         Someday I'll have tykes
                         And I'll tell them one night
                         That both of their dads
                         Had done doneth me right.
OSWYN
                                                 (to Avery)
Play a card.

AVERY

Sorry. I was just imagining what it would be like to be married to that one.

GILES

Well, as one of our clients once said: present fears are less than horrible imaginings.

OSWYN

I wouldn't be too sure of that. (GILES, OSWYN and AVERY return to their card game, pointedly ignoring MAUDE, who floats around the table glancing at the hands, then moving about the room noticing the few articles. As this is going on, from stage left comes ROLAND SHOREDITCH. HE is arguably the tallest and best-looking of all the messengers. Unlike the others, he is not dressed in doublet and tights, but in a monk's outfit. HE hurries to the door, opens it and enters the room. GILES, AVERY and OSWYN glance up from their game. MAUDE instantly notices him, but he does not notice her.)
GILES
Hey! Aren't you supposed to be in Mantua?

ROLAND

Never got to Mantua.

OSWYN

Pull up a chair.

ROLAND

I don't want to get too close.

GILES

Why? You coming down with something? (ROLAND pulls up a chair but seats himself a respectful distance from the others. His back is to Maude.)
ROLAND
God only knows. I was supposed to dress up in this stupid outfit, remember? That's why Reams chose me. I was the one who fitted best in this monk's robe. And I was supposed to take this message to this feebleminded muttonhead whose fallen madly in love with this other feebleminded muttonhead in Verona.

AVERY

Two guys?

ROLAND

Since when do we deal with two guys falling in love? I mean it's okay if one of the girls is dressed as a guy. We seen that happen quite a bit, ain't we? Well, I get to this village and all at once they slam this door in my face because they think I got the infectious pestilence. And they won't let me out.

OSWYN

So what did you do?

ROLAND

I finally made my way back to this Friar who was behind the whole thing to start with. And he don't give a rat's ass that I could come down with the infectious pestilence. All he can think of is the beslubbering letter and all this bull about poisons and this wench who's sealed in this tomb and never once does he look to see I might have broken out. The upper classes are so guts-griping selfish.

OSWYN

Have you?

ROLAND

Have I what?

OSWYN

Broken out.

ROLAND

I don't know. Have I?

GILES

I think I see a little red spot below your left eye.

ROLAND

                                                           (rushing to a mirror on the wall)
Where? Oh, my God! If I come down with the pestilence, I swear to Christ I'm suing for every scroll in this bug-infested dungeon!

MAUDE

Methinketh that is a soupcon of lip rouge I gotteth there before when I was drying my eyes.

ROLAND

What the hell kind of language is that?

OSWYN

You ain't heard the half of it! (As Oswyn is saying this, from stage right CUTHBERT scurries on, huffing and puffing. He follows the path to the door at the left, opens it and appears in the office.)
CUTHBERT
Those mangled motley-minded miscreants! Those gnarling bat-fowling codpieces!

GILES

In other words you didn't catch them.

CUTHBERT

                                                          (to Roland, quickly)
What are you doing back from Mantua? (GILES places a finger to his lip to indicate Roland had better wait to tell his story.) Can you imagine getting those scrolls mixed up? In all my years with the firm this has never happened before! That's why they're all color-coded. And it couldn't happen in Elsinore, say. That Hamlet has a few bats in his belfry, but he's a pretty classy gent. Even that raging Moor has his good side. But of all the people that---that bloodcurdling witch!!

GILES

Come on, Cuthbert, what can she possibly do? I'm sure you can placate her by swearing to suspend Humphrey and Benedict and offering her free messenger service for the next month. And if that won't work, throw in Avery's bum.

AVERY

Hey, if anyone's gonna play with my bum, let it be one of those As You Like It dames.

CUTHBERT

Go ahead make a joke of this.

OSWYN

Well, in a way, it is rather funny, isn't it? I mean, everything always runs relatively smoothly. We go to where we are supposed to go, enter when we are supposed to enter, say our piece and then exeunt when we are supposed to exeunt. A mix-up isn't the end of the world. Everyone makes mistakes. We're only human.

CUTHBERT

We are. But the question is: is she?
 
 


LIGHTS DIM