Janet……care taker – 45 to 55Larry……Novelist – 50 to 60Olivia……daughter 19 - 22George…..boyfriend 20 - 22
ACT 1SCENE 1
SETTING: The basement of Billop House located on the southernmost point of New York State on Staten Island overlooking the Raritan Bay. The back wall of the stage is stone/brick. Back right is an archway leading to another room (alcove) used for storage. Back left is the stairway that leads to the upper floors. A large hearth is built into the back wall with authentic tools and cookware hanging from it as it is the original hearth of the house which was built in the mid 1600’s. A small old lamp and some modern battery operated lanterns sit on a shelf above the hearth. There is an old wood table center stage. There is a child’s rubber ball sitting on the top shelf of a book case. (This will fall off the shelf by itself at the end of scene one, accomplished by setting a pin hole in the flat behind it. As with any spooky effect in this play, if you can find a more creative way of moving it such as a fan blowing it from offstage if it is set on the floor then feel free to do it.) The stage lighting should be low even during normal scenes as it is set in a basement that has only wall sconces and a small chandelier to light it. (When the play was staged in the actual basement of the Conference House the lights flickered by themselves) The doorway at the top of the stairs can be visible or offstage depending on your theatre space. A small window is on the wall stage right.
Intermission is optional after ACT I scene 3. The show can be run continually with approximate running time of 90 minutes.
AT RISE: Stage is bare as opening music fades. A light as if a flickering can be seen from interior of archway right then fades to black as the sound of wind can be heard. Larry descends the stairs carrying only a battery operated lantern and begins to speak as he paces the dark stage.
“My name is Larry Landers. I’m a writer. And I have a story to tell you. A story you may find incredible. I will leave that to you to decide. All I can tell you is that I had no idea of the disturbing occurrences that would take place when I came to visit my niece, her boyfriend and my sister in law for New Year’s Eve in one of the oldest manor houses in New York State. Some call Staten Island the forgotten borough of New York City. But l will never forget what happened to the four of us in that very borough over one particular winter weekend.”
OLIVIA. (from off) Where are you Uncle Larry?
LARRY. Down here, and it’s cold.
(Olivia and Janet descend the stairs and enter)
JANET. Well it is the end of December Larry and this house is over three hundred years old. Of course the wind coming off the bay doesn’t help matters much. The cellar door in the back room lets in some of the cold too. But like I said this house is…
LARRY. I know over three hundred years old. The oldest manor house left in New York State. I’ve done some research.
OLIVIA. This used to be a kitchen in colonial days. See the old fireplace, that’s where the servants cooked the meals for the family. (she indicates hearth) Back here was where they stored the dry goods and meats. (She indicates the back room) Probably why they kept it so cold. They say that room once led to secret underground passageways where the red coats used to sneak in and out on clandestine missions.
LARRY. Nice historical tidbit. They have added heat down here the last two hundred years I hope.
JANET. Sure they have. (She turns up thermostat near the light switch) We don’t like to use the heat in this room unless it’s in use. It will get warmer in a few minutes.
OLIVIA. It’s just great that you could join us for New Year’s weekend Uncle Larry.LARRY. Are you kidding Olivia, why wouldn’t I want to spend time with my favorite sister in law and niece? Besides, your father asked me to look in on you while he’s out of the country and I am always happy to oblige my older (younger depending on casting) brother.
JANET. And the fact that I am now the caretaker of one of the most haunted houses in New York State had nothing to do with it?
LARRY. Allegedly haunted houses…and why should that have anything to do with my visit?
OLIVIA. Come on Uncle Larry, you’re one of the most famous writers of thriller novels and plays in the U.S. Maybe doing a little research?
(She looks out the window)
LARRY. You know I make most of that stuff up don’t you.
JANET. And the rest?
LARRY. The rest is information I get from watching basic cable television shows. There is a very gullible public out there, starved for a good scare, which I happily provide for them.
JANET. Oh, but you don’t believe in the paranormal yourself.
LARRY. (tongue in cheek)Janet, Janet, how long have you known me? You know I’m a total pragmatist. I’m only in this for the money I’m afraid….
OLIVIA. Really Uncle Larry? With all you’ve written you’ve never experienced anything.
LARRY. Never. It may surprise you to know but this is the first time I’ve ever been in an allegedly haunted house. People can write stories about castles without ever being in one, can’t they?(as he wonders around examining the floor and walls.)So what do they use this room for nowadays…the Halloween bingo game?
JANET. Actually we hold many seasonal events here, Halloween being one of them. But mostly we use this room for seminars and other events. We’ve even staged a few plays down here.
LARRY. Plays? Down here in the dungeon?
OLIVIA. (still looking out the window)That should be right up your alley Uncle Larry!
LARRY. Are you kidding, I wouldn’t be caught dead staging a play down here.
JANET. Not exactly the phrase I would have used.
OLIVIA. (Crossing back from the window)I wonder what’s keeping George. He should have been here an hour ago. It’s going on eight thirty.
LARRY. (He now crosses to the window)Who’s George?
OLIVIA. My boyfriend from Jersey. It’s his first time visiting this house since we moved here. Maybe he got lost. Let me text him.
JANET. I saved some dinner for him in case he’s hungry.
LARRY. Your boyfriend’s not in the seminary is he?
OLIVIA. Certainly not, why do you say that?
LARRY. I just saw a priest walk from behind the big tree out there and go into the woods.
JANET. A priest, at this time of night? In this cold? The nearest church is a mile away.
(Janet and Olivia go to the window)OLIVIA. I don’t see anything.
JANET. Neither do.
LARRY. I told you. He walked into the woods.
. (headlights flash across the window – optional)
OLIVIA. Oh, there’s a car pulling up. Must be George. I’ll go get him.(She exits upstairs)
JANET. Come on Larry. Are you hungry? I slow cooked a nice chicken gumbo. There’s plenty left. But we better get to it before George. That kid eats like a horse.
LARRY. Sounds great. Hey, I noticed you had some folding chairs stacked in the storeroom there.
JANET. Yes, that’s where we keep things for the events we hold in this room.
LARRY. Do you mind if I set up down here tomorrow?
JANET. Not at all. But why?
LARRY. Well I’m working on a new thriller, and this room may be just the inspiration I need to kick start it.
JANET. We have a whole comfortable manor house upstairs for you to write in!
LARRY. Yes, but this room suits the purpose much better I think.
JANET. Well then, why wait till tomorrow, let’s do it now, I’ll give you a hand with the chairs.
(they go into the back room as Oivia and George come down the stairs)
OLIVIA. Watch your step on the stairs Georgie. They’re pretty old.
GEORGE. You didn’t really need to drag me down here. It’s a little creepy. Waiting up in the kitchen would have been just fine.
OLIVIA. You were the one who was so anxious to meet my uncle!
GEORGE. (looking up the chimney)So where is he?
JANET. Back here.
( Janet comes out holding a folding chair.)
GEORGE. Hello Mrs. Landers. Good to see you again….! When’s dinner?
OLIVIA. About two hours ago!
GEORGE. (as he takes chair from Janet)I’m sorry. It’s just that I skipped dinner and my car wouldn’t start so I had to grab a car service and the driver got a flat tire on the other side of the bridge or I would have been here on time.
JANET. It’s okay George. I have plenty of food. And how many times do I have to tell you to call me Janet.
(Janet spends the next few minutes deliberately setting out small decorations and plates for the room- these will later be re-arranged and moved by the spirit of Sarah in Act Two)
OLIVIA. (Larry enters carrying another chair)And this is my Uncle Larry.
GEORGE. Oh no introduction is necessary! (He shakes his hand overzealously) Larry Landers! I’m a big fan sir! A big fan! Read all of your stuff. Of course I can’t sleep for a week after I read one of your books but…oh and the stage plays! “Murder at the Movies”, “The Disappearing Debutant” oh, and “The Ghost on the Grass”, that’s my favorite!
LARRY. (a little sarcastic)Yeah, that’s my favorite too Kid. You want to, let go of my hand and help me set up this chair.
GEORGE. Oh, sure thing sir. (He starts helping him set up the table)
LARRY. (a little protective and judgmental)So, you and my niece met at school huh?
OLIVIA. George is studying to be a writer. He goes to Rutgers University.
GEORGE. That’s right. I’m majoring in English with a minor in theatre arts.
LARRY. Theatre arts huh? You might want to re-think that choice. That is if you plan on eating for the rest of your life.
GEORGE. Speaking of food.
JANET. Waiting upstairs in the kitchen George.
LARRY. What part of Jersey are you from kid?
GEORGE. Newark. How about you?
LARRY. Brooklyn originally.
GEORGE. There’s a Brooklyn New Jersey?
LARRY. God I hope not.
GEORGE. Hey, Mr. Landers…
OLIVIA. Just call him Uncle Larry.
LARRY. Actually, I prefer Mr. Landers.GEORGE. What made you decide to write ghost stories? I mean, as opposed to any other genre?
LARRY. I think it started when I was sixteen and read the Exorcist. I was so frightened by it I would only read that book during the day, and never when I was totally alone in the house. I figured if it had that effect on me it probably had the same effect on everyone else. People shell out good money for a thrill. Whether it be a ghost story or a good amusement park ride. And it’s much easier to write a thriller than build a roller coaster.
GEORGE. Well, you don’t think this place is really haunted do you? I mean, you don’t believe the stories.
OLIVIA. George is a well- known coward Uncle Larry. He may like reading all your books but he’s terrified by them. There are rumors that my dorm at school is haunted. It’s all I can do to get him to stay after night fall.
GEORGE. That’s not true. It’s just that I prefer my dorm room.
LARRY. Really Olivia. How did you ever convince him to come this old manor house, much less stay the weekend?
OLIVIA. Feminine coercing. Pure and simple. I tempted him with my mother’s chicken gumbo!
LARRY. Well, unless we see someone come floating down that staircase in the next few days, I think we’re safe enough.
OLIVIA. Well I for one, am planning on debunking all this ghost stuff this weekend. I refuse to have the Cowardly Lion as a boyfriend any longer than I have to.
GEORGE. Hey, I’m in the room here.
LARRY. And just how do you plan on debunking the stories about this place?
OLIVIA. I have my methods.
JANET. Olivia, take George up to the kitchen. Set a plate for him and your uncle.. We’ll be right up.
GEORGE. (George continues as he and Olivia go up the stairs)Hey Mr. Landers. Maybe you can read some of my essays, you know, give me some pointers…I’ve got everything on my laptop.
LARRY. (deadpan sarcasm) Great. Can’t wait.(to Janet after Olivia and George exit)Is that kid going to nudge me all weekend?
JANET. He’s twenty one years old, you’re the probably the biggest celebrity he’s ever met.
LARRY. I’m a writer, not a celebrity.
JANET. Can’t you take him under your wing for a little while? Give him a few writing pointers. He may wind up married to my daughter.
LARRY. You mean he’d be nudging me every Thanksgiving? In that case I should probably be trying to discourage him.
JANET. Well that’s a nice thing to say!
LARRY. Actually I’d be doing him and my niece a favor. Do you know how hard it is to make a living as a writer? Even if you’re good there’s no guarantee. Ninety percent of the battle is trying to market and sell what you’ve already written. And as for giving him writing pointers, in my humble opinion you can’t teach someone to write. They can either do it or not. No one ever taught me. You learn everything you need to know about form and context by reading other’s works and assimilating it. Then you try to put your own creative twists on the same seven universal plots!
JANET. No kidding?
LARRY. Take this manor house for instance. If I were writing a play I would try to spin a ghostly yarn about some past inhabitants while throwing in a little romance and comic relief to break some of the tension.
JANET. You know I wouldn’t be too cavalier about this house. I’ve noticed some very strange things happening since I’m here.
LARRY. Such as?
JANET. Lights going on and off by themselves. Especially down here. That’s why I keep the battery lanterns handy. Objects seem to move from place to place. Last week I found my feather duster there by the hearth when I know I left it upstairs in the linen closet
LARRY. Perhaps the ghost is a maid.
JANET. You said you researched the house. You should know.
LARRY. I know it was built by Colonel Christopher Billop in the late sixteen hundreds. It passed down to his grandson, also Christopher Billop, who was an English officer and a loyalist during the revolutionary war. It was also the site of an unsuccessful peace conference with Ben Franklin, John Adams and General Howe of England. A last ditch effort to avoid a protracted war with England
JANET. And you know the date that took place, right?
LARRY. A few months after the Declaration of Independence was signed if I remember. Sometime in September?
JANET. September eleventh, seventeen seventy six.
LARRY. September eleventh?
JANET. Strange coincidence? Few people realize that on the same day we decided not to compromise with England and continue our fight for independence, that very independence was attacked two hundred and twenty five years later.
JANET. Fortunately for all of us, we, and this historic house remain here. Can you imagine that some of the founding fathers, were sitting right over there by the hearth sipping brandy to get warm.
LARRY. Which isn’t a bad idea right now.
JANET. Maybe they’re still sitting there.. Did you know that Billop, the grandson that is, was also kidnapped twice and held for ransom? Staten Island was loyal to the crown but New Jersey wasn’t. (indicating window) They would row right across the kill from Jersey at night for sneak attacks. The story goes that Billop thought there was a traitor in the house possibly signaling across the bay with a lantern from a window upstairs. He used to interrogate the staff down here in that back alcove. One night Billop allegedly caught one of the servants upstairs with a lantern signaling, and flew into a rage, throwing her down a flight of stairs to her death.
LARRY. Allegedly being the key word here.
JANET. I wouldn't be so sure. One night I drove up here late after dark. The house was empty. As I walked towards the front door I noticed a light coming from the second floor bedroom. I thought I might have left a lamp on by mistake. When I went upstairs to investigate. The light was off.
LARRY. Maybe it was the moonlight reflecting through the window?
JANET. Not very likely, it was raining heavily that night.
LARRY. Come on Janet, as long as I’ve known you I didn’t have the slightest inkling you were superstitious.
JANET. You’re absolutely right. I never was. Not until I moved in here.
LARRY. In that case, it’s a wonder you’ve stayed here even for a short period of time.
JANET. Well so far nothing dangerous has happened. And there’s one more thing.
LARRY. What’s that?
JANET. Just the strongest feeling of déjà vue I’ve ever gotten the first time I came here to interview. I’d never even been to Staten Island before except a few short trips to the North Shore and pass-throughs on the way to New Jersey. I didn’t even know this place existed until I saw the ad for the position. Anyway, as soon as I turned the corner and set eyes on the place I felt I’d already known the whole area and the house. As I entered I felt I already knew the whole layout, including this cellar.
LARRY. Maybe you saw a documentary about the house on television and didn’t remember.
JANET. I don’t think so. What I do know is I feel a kind of comfort here despite the strange things that I’ve witnessed. I feel like this is where I belong.
LARRY. You’re an old soul. I sensed when I first met you years ago when my brother brought you home to meet the family. I’m sorry you two couldn’t keep it together, but I’m glad you and I stayed friends.
JANET. Me too. And hey, Steve and I had a good twelve year run. You’d take that for one of your plays wouldn’t you?
LARRY. The way Broadway treats drama’s nowadays I’d settle for twelve weeks.
LARRY. So tell me a little more about the stories surrounding this house. Have the paranormal television ghost busters ever been here to investigate?
JANET. There was a team in here from England. You can catch it on you tube.
LARRY. And what did they find if anything?JANET. (walks to the bookshelf where the ball is)See that ball?
LARRY. I was meaning to ask about it. Do you play catch when things get slow around here?
JANET. Hardly, It’s there for the people on the tours of the house. Remember that servant girl I mentioned who was caught by Captain Billop?
LARRY. What about her?
JANET. Well according to the story she had a four year old daughter living here who became a ward of the house after her death. The caretaker before me had a young son who used to say that he sometimes heard the sound of a little girl laughing. The paranormal team claim that that ball rolled down those steps by itself when they had left it upstairs in the foyer. There was no one else in the house at the time and they were all down here. They caught it on tape.
LARRY. Wow, with that kind of back story and you claiming that things move by themselves and lights go on and off by themselves it’s a wonder that you stay in this house by yourself while Livy is away at school.
JANET. Oh, I’m not here alone. Oswald keeps me company.
LARRY. And who is Oswald? I never heard you mention him before.
JANET. No need to be protective Larry. Oswald is my cat.
LARRY. Well, I suppose I should keep my eyes opened around here. You never know, could be another play in it. Come on, let’s join the college kids. We could make the weekend a frat party. Let’s just hope no axe wielding slasher’s are hiding in the closets.
JANET. (as they walk upstairs) Not funny.
(Lights dim as once again as a faint red light shows in the back room then slowly fades) ACT 1
SETTING: Same as scene 1. 3 am
AT RISE: Holding a battery operated Lantern. Olivia holds a small bag leads George (who is holding a box) down the stairs.
GEORGE. For god’s sake Olivia, it’s three A.M. If you wake me up at this hour it better be to have sex.
OLIVIA. We’re not having it down here in the torture chamber.
GEORGE. (as he moves in to kiss her) That would be kind of kinky.
OLIVIA. Focus George! Open the box and put the board on the table.
GEORGE. Why are we using this lantern? Let’s turn the lights on.
OLIVIA. Stop being a baby. I don’t want to wake up my mother or Uncle Larry.
GEORGE. Well I don’t know about using a Ouija board in this house.
OLIVIA. We are going to cure you of your ghost phobia once and for all! And as far as the Ouija board is concerned I have read up on it and am taking precautions.
GEORGE. Precautions against what?
OLIVIA. Oh unfriendly spirits. Demons.
GEORGE. Demons? But I don’t believe in demons.
OLIVIA. Well let’s just hope that the demons don’t believe in you either.(She pulls a small vial of olive oil and a jar of sea salt from her bag.)
GEORGE/ What’s that?
OLIVIA. Olive oil and sea salt.
GEORGE. Olive Oil?
OLIVIA. Well, it’s really supposed to be some exotic oil that I don’t have but in an emergency it says you can substitute olive oil.
GEORGE. Too bad you didn’t bring croutons, we could serve the ghost a tossed salad.
OLIVIA Here take this olive oil and sprinkle some at the window and the door entrance.
GEORGE What for?
(George does what she asks)
OLIVIA. According to the Wikipedia page on demonology it keeps them from entering the room.
GEORGE. It may keep the demons out but I bet the mice love it.
(George returns and sits at the table.)
OLIVIA. Now I make a circle around the table with the sea salt and we’re ready to go. Okay George, ask a question.
GEORGE. To whom?
OLIVIA. How should I know. Try Christopher Billipp.
GEORGE. Forget it. That guy carried a gun.OLIVIA. You ever feel like having sex again?
GEORGE. (quickly grabbing the planchette)So how’s the fishing around here Chris?
OLIVIA. You’ve got to be serious or it won’t work!
GEORGE. (standing up)Good! I don’t want it to work!
OLIIVIA. Sit down. (George sits)I’ll start. Now we both have to lightly touch the planchette. I’ll ask a question. And we’ll see where it goes…Are you ready?
GEORGE. Not really.
OLIVIA. First question….Is there anyone here in this house who wishes to communicate with us?
GEORGE. (deliberately picks up the planchette and places it on‘No’ )No. Well there you have it. Let’s go upstairs and have sex.
OLIVIA. Stop fooling around!
GEORGE. Alright, alright. But I think you’re playing with fire here.
OLIVIA. Are you Christopher Billopp?(nothing happens)
OLIVIA. Are you holding it softly?
OLIVIA. Let go of it.
GEORGE. Whatever you say.