A Play: Projection / by Spirited Magazine

Spirited #5 [Noir Generation]
by Allison Vanouse
Illustrations by Amanda Maciel Antunes

PROJECTION
A short play for three people and a film.

460264_7475061_lz.jpg

The action takes place simultaneous or responding to the classic film noir THE MALTESE FALCON, which plays sometimes with sound, sometimes silently, and is sometimes left in still image. It could work on a laptop, on multiple television sets, and/or a large screen suspended behind the action. At some moments, actors respond to the dialogue in the movie. This is indicated by offset dialogue in the script. Apart from these interjections, you ought to imagine the film as a constant presence as you read—it is another character onstage. Placement & use of the footage is up to the designer, but it should all be from THE MALTESE FALCON, or its original trailer footage.

DRAMATIS PERSONAE:

SAM – a sort of reincarnation of Dashiell Hammet’s Samuel Spade, brought to life in a 20-something with devil-may-care preoccupations through the immortal magic of cinema & its effect on self-perception. He is self-consciously tough, sharp, and smart – often at the expense of his own happiness – with almost irritating, affected 1940s speech patterns.

THE GIRL – A sort of self-conscious inhabiteuse of the femme fatale trope, she is perhaps more innocent and deep than she wants to tell anybody, and also more easily wounded. Caddy Compson is a good touchstone, if you’ve read The Sound & the Fury.

EFFIE – A David Lynchian image; Effie is a spectral secretary of Bogart’s era. You can think of her as a slightly aged Lee Patrick, called into being by Sam’s tough guy manner, and forced to witness his mistakes. Her scene with Sam at the end of the play was the original, scripted ending of THE MALTESE FALCON, but was omitted in production in favor of Bogart’s snappy line, “the, uh, stuff that dreams are made of”. Perhaps Effie relives this wrenching, unfulfilled scene again and again. She is a surreal contrapuntal to the naturalism of the rest of the play – the other two characters operate in a nervous, high-strung kind of time. Time for her is more, shall we say, glacial.

There is a bed, a desk chair with wheels, a couple of desk lamps (on the floor), tobacco & papers & matches & maybe some cheap cigars. Disarray. All of the light should come from the prop lights and the film — our world here is fairly dark.

House lights go out. Film is playing. Over this,

THE GIRL enters, almost silently. SAM notices. She, feeling his gaze, undresses coquettishly, and goes to tackle him,

SAM
Lay off, will you, I’m watching something

She tries again, maybe more self-consciously bothering him, sits on his back or pokes him with her feet, or or or.

SAM
Fuck off! Come on, angel, gimme a second.

Giving up, she turns to the audience. Putting on a pair of Groucho-Marx-style glasses. She speaks to the audience.

THE GIRL
I need a man.

I need a man good-looking enough to pick up a dame who has a sense of class, but he’s got to be tough enough to swap punches with a power shovel. I need a guy who can act like a bar lizard and backchat like Fred Allen, only better, and get hit on the head with a beer truck and think some cutie in the leg-line topped him with a breadstick.

sunbathe.jpg

He is behind his cheap office desk, back to the window. His jaw is long and bony, his chin a jutting V under the more flexible V of his mouth. Thickish brows rising upward from twin creases above a hooked nose. His dark hair grows to a point on his forehead. He looks rather pleasantly like Satan. He is rolling a cigarette. He does not look up. He is barefoot in checked pajamas sitting on the side of his bed. He pours a drink, drinks it standing, pours another. His face is stupid in its calmness. The room is in complete darkness save for a pale rectangle that is the window. A dark sedan is parked directly in front of the entrance. He looks at me with eyes that glitter between narrow lids. He leaves me standing in the center of the floor looking after him with dazed blue eyes.

SAM
Ah. So Ryan Gosling?

THE GIRL
You’ll do, in a pinch.

SAM
Yeah, well, I don’t come out well on video.

THE GIRL
Sure you do. On film anyway. Everybody looks cheap in video.

SAM
I don’t like the way I look in color.

THE GIRL
Hm. Well, the world is in color, so I get that for free. Black & white is more dreamlike, more timeless. You’re like an uh, a stylistic alternative.

Beat – she’s doing something self-demonstrating

SAM
You’re not exactly the sort of person you pretend to be, are you?

THE GIRL
How do you mean?

SAM
Just like that.

THE GIRL
Well. I am a liar. I’ve always been a liar.

SAM
And that’s double deception. Refusing to presume that your opponent is an idiot, you incorporate a default level of skepticism, an impulse to automatically disbelieve everything. whoever must be deceived in order for the plot to proceed is already suspected of being suspicious, thus leaving the deceiver with only one option: telling the truth.

THE GIRL
Well, as a criminal in a world full of criminals, I can only assume that my opponent will assume I am lying, and if I indeed lie, any skeptic will immediately see through the deception; second, on the other hand, if I presume that my opponent is a sucker and go about my business without trying to deceive anyone, you will surely surprise me by being smarter than you appear; and finally, since neither of these techniques will work, the only viable strategy is to point the finger back at myself, but in a veiled way, deliberately forcing you to see the illusion, but allowing you to see through it, effectively snaring the skeptic in his own circular reasoning.

SAM
Well, you know angel, if one’s opponent is inclined to believe that you are going to lie, then one possible recourse in deception (indeed perhaps one’s best recourse) is to tell the truth, thus leading your opponent in the wrong direction.

THE GIRL In Groucho Marx impression
This man looks like an idiot and acts like an idiot–but this should in no way deceive you: he IS an idiot!  Laughter
I love you.

She waits for a response, but there is none. He turns from her, or fucks up his rolly.

THE GIRL
I have so much love for you I’d like to wear it out to dinner.

SAM
Oh yeah? What’s it look like?

THE GIRL
Shiny. Black as coal.

SAM
Ha

THE GIRL
The muscles holding your smile stand out like walls.

SAM
The better to hang your picture on, angel

THE GIRL
I think
Love’s better than logic.

SAM
Ha
Softer anyway. Til you’re up against the wall.

THE GIRL
The better to hang my picture on. The muscles-

SAM
Shh. He’s playing the movie.

460259_5505053_lz.jpg

To read the rest of this piece, purchase the digital or print edition