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Excerpts from Auditioning a Ghost, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - short version

revised and adapted for stage by Jeannette Jaquish


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inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyleís short story, ďSelecting a GhostĒ
by Jeannette Jaquish
(c) Jeannette Jaquish 2000
This short version: 35 minutes
The long version is 55 minutes and has three additional scenes and two additional characters.

10 to 13 Actors:
Anon Y. Mous (only in opening poem)
Montague (father, one of the new rich, trying to slide into respectable society)
Gladys (spoiled daughter) (or wife, just alter script a little)
Jeffers (butler)
Brockett (talent scout, male or female)
Tarantella (gypsy)
Detective (can also play Brockett and Dark Invisible)
Dark Invisible (can be just a voice)
Old Crone
Decaying Corpse
Ghastly Child
Weeping Woman

Auditioning a Ghost

JEFFERS: irked I am most complimented, Miss Gladys, that you should care to extend my employment through all eternity but I must beg to decline. Master Montague, your newspaper. Turns to exit.

MONTAGUE: Thank you, Jeffers. (after Jeffers leaves ) Gladys, that was a tad rude.

GLADYS: Oh, Father, donít scold. Jeffers knows when Iím teasing.

MONTAGUE: Of course he knows youíre teasing, Gladdie. Heíd be out the door in an instant if he thought you were serious when you asked him if he wouldnít mind committing some fiendish murder, followed by a remorse stricken suicide, just so you could have a few ghosts to haunt the place.

GLADYS: (teasing, sulky) A real castle should have a ghost. And ghosts become ghosts from having died unnaturally, and tragicly.

MONTAGUE: Well the tragedy is, that all youíve accomplished so far, is to insure that weíll be haunted by a living, sulky butler.

GLADYS: Hmmmph.

MONTAGUE: (amusing himself) Maybe Jeffers would conduct his duties draped in a sheet and dragging a chain. And moaning painfully... but he already does that. Still, if he asks for an increase in wages for the extra services, itís coming out of your entertainment allowance.

GLADYS: ( jealously) Might as well. Iím ashamed to host even a tea party with no story to tell.
Cornelia Morgan tells how she nearly fainted when she heard footsteps passing right in front of her. And her mother saw a woman in a bonnet picking flowers in their garden. And then she stepped into a shadow and faded away. Chantelle Cannonís little brother wonít set foot in the upper story since he saw a severed head hovering behind him in the mirror. Gwyneth Von Chandlerís family canít keep a scullery maid employed for two weeks such are the whispers and cackling from her wine cellar! We must have the only castle in the province without a ghost!

MONTAGUE: Or without superstitious, in-bred, imaginative occupants.

-------------(end of excerpt)
BROCKET: Cousin! Youíre a sight for sore eyes! What brings you down from the wuthering heights?

MONTAGUE: Oh, Iíve got my excuses, banking, business, but frankly itís good to get out of those cold echoing halls and into the bustle of humanity.

BROCKET: I can imagine!

MONTAGUE: Imagining! Thatís right. Iíve got a job for you! Gladys is pining for, of all things, a ghost.

BROCKET: A ghost!

MONTAGUE: And I want you to find her a convincing seancer, or mystic, who can put on a little show, glowing crystal ball, talking in a trance, that sort of stuff, and convince her they are contacting the dead. Invite some wandering spook to come and live with us. I think her imagination will carry the haunting from there.

BROCKET: Cousin! I am insulted. You assume that I cannot find a bona fide ghost conjurer for you!

MONTAGUE: Oh! So you believe that you can! All the better! You wonít need to put on a false face when Gladys thanks you.

--------------------(end of excerpt)

GLADYS: What sort of spirits will you be inviting in?

TARANTELLA: I cannot pick and choose the spirits that enter. I just open the door. But you, as the mortal residents, have authority to choose which ones stay, and the spirits understand that. Having not died here, the spirits know that they have no ... natural claim to haunt this home. But choose well, for once chosen, a spirit is not easily dislodged.

GLADYS: (more and more terrified) I see. Choose well.

MONTAGUE: How do you ďopenĒ the door for the spirits. Do they come out of your bag?

TARANTELLA: No. My tools come out of my bag.
(She takes out a candle and a vial of liquid and sets them on a small table between the chairs)

MONTAGUE: Thatís a big bag for a candle and a shot bottle.

TARANTELLA: Not all tools are physical. (snapping bag closed) Please, dim the lights and sit.

MONTAGUE: Oh, I hate shopping. (walking off) Iíll be in the study and Gladys can select the right ghost.

GLADYS: (running after and seizing his arm) No, Poppa! Stay with me!

MONTAGUE: (patting her hand) Of course, Gladys. Iíd be glad to. (prying his hand from her grip) Darling... I have to go switch off the lights.
(MONTAGUE steps off side stage, lights go off as
TARANTELLA lights candle on table,
GLADYS waits, watching for her father to return and grabs his arm when he does,
MONTAGUE returns and he and GLADYS sit.)

TARANTELLA: (walking out the circle which will be the outline of the ghost spotlight)
The spirits will present themselves to you one at a time. They come out of desire to stay with you. Purgatory is a dreary place. Still they cannot deny or disguise their true nature. You will see them as they are.
Many of the phantoms are frightening, tragic, insane even amusing. Choose well, I say, choose well. (stands behind small table between the chairs they sit in (so all face front) pours from her vial into two goblets, holds them out.)
Drink this.

(GLADYS takes her goblet. MONTAGUE does not, and puts a warning hand on GLADYSís arm)

MONTAGUE: What is it?

TARANTELLA: (sets his glass on small table) Essence of Lucoptolycus. It will relax your eyes and mind, releasing the veil that hides the world of spirits.

MONTAGUE: I donít like to drink something I have no knowledge of.

TARANTELLA: (casually strolling over, so she can face MONTAGUE to taunt him ) The spirits are coming. Do you want them visible or invisible?

GLADYS: Visible! Drink it, Poppa, please. Drink it with me.

MONTAGUE: This detail wasnít spelled out when arrangements were made.

TARANTELLA: It will not harm you. It is but a relaxant to dispel your obstructing prejudices. And fears.

MONTAGUE: Fears! Iím not afraid. But I suppose you wouldnít be in business, dosing out poison. Iíll drink it. (Sniffs it, drinks.)
(Gladys drinks. Both relax, become glassy-eyed. Their hand with glass drops to their lap. We wonder if they are dead. Fog begins to roll in.)

TARANTELLA: (twirling slowly around circle) Spirits of the dark and cold,
Deeds of horror, times of old;
Breach the gates of purgatory,
Find the path, sing your story;
Favor thee this humble dwelling?
CLAIM it specter, with thy telling!!!!...

(TARANTELLA howls and spins, her skirt breeze putting out candle.)

--------(end of excerpt)

OLD CRONE: Hee hee hee! I am the fiendish old woman who lived miserably. And lived too long. They thought I would never die, so old I was. My fingernails scrape down windows. I pull down your blankets and you sleep shivering. You wake gasping, my tangled hair dragging over your face. Look. Look at me. I was once young and beautiful like you, but now, now I am old, old forever! I curse your youth, for mine is gone! Let me live again through you. (she swings a crutch at them, and EXITS cackling).

CAVALIER: I am the cavalier. The wound in my heart bleeds unstopping, pulsing, but I must fight on. I battle my enemies, sometimes entire armies, again and again before you, and through you, into the night. The blood is deep and warm, washing over your bed. You feel you will drown in it. You will overuse sleeping medicine. Shall I remain, mortal?

GLADYS: (struggling to speak) Poppa, make them leave.

MONTAGUE: (struggling to speak) Iím trying.

CAVALIER: The battle! I must return! (Swings sword over their heads and EXITS)

GHASTLY CHILD : (sits playing with doll or teddy bear) My death was horrible and long. I expected someone to come save me but no one did. I died young, needlessly, forgotten. (stands) I will never forgive and I blame everyone. (spinning) My tantrums are violent winds, spinning through your rooms. (pantomimes throwing) I fling objects and break glass and scream and kick. (stands still staring, speaks with long pauses) I reappear to stand, and stare, for hours, with eyes, that are empty, holes, through my head. (sweetly) Could your love touch my little heart? Will you take me in?

GLADYS: I.. I... I...


GHASTLY CHILD: (screams, beating toy on the floor) I hate you I hate you I hate you! (EXITS)

------------(end of excerpt)

MONTAGUE: Whoís gone?.... and .... why are we in the parlor? Did we fall asleep?

(JEFFERS helps MONTAGUE stand)

GLADYS: (shaking) The ghosts! You saw them! They were horrible and vicious. One wants to sleep in our cubboards and another chokes animals..

( GLADYS is wide-eyed and traumatized, vividly remembering ghosts, but MONTAGUE doesnít notice.)

MONTAGUE: Ghosts!? I saw no ghosts. But why was I asleep??? ..... That woman!

GLADYS: The spirit I chose?!

MONTAGUE (confused): You chose???

GLADYS: The sad one.

MONTAGUE: No! No! (pacing as he figures it out)
Tarentella! That potion she gave us. It knocked me out.... and obviously gave you hallucinations. I see.... We both dreamed what we expected to see. You expected ghosts... and got them, my poor dear. I expected nothing and so slept pleasantly. Oh, I need coffee. Jeffers?

JEFFERS (trying to get his attention): Sir.

GLADYS: You didnít see the ghosts????!!!!!

MONTAGUE: (distractedly) No, darling.

GLADYS: You didnít see any of them???? (drops to her knees, rocks, breathing faster, going insane)
v JEFFERS (taking Montague firmly by the shoulders, as if talking to a child): Sir, we have been robbed. (hand sweep to show empty room ) And circumstances point to Miss Tarentella as the thief. (points to rope out window)

MONTAGUE: Robbed?! While we slept! (looks out window) While we slept drugged and helpless!! By that blasted upsnoot of a snake oil seancer! (striding across room past GLADYS)

GLADYS: (grabs him as he passes, her hands pulling/ climbing up his clothes to his collar forcing him to bend over, she shrieks in his face)
The crying woman? The decaying corpse? The furious child??? You didnít see them?? ..... (melts to the floor) She was so mad, she stomped her feet and screamed that she hated us. Poor pitiful, little thing.... (sobs uncontrollably)

-----------------(end of excerpt)

TARENTELLA: I didnít bring you. I did nothing! Those words were meaningless! Leave me! Be gone!

CAVALIER: Take us, or return with us. Choose well, I say.

ALL GHOSTS: Choose well.

TARENTELLA: No! No! Go away!

ROTTING CORPSE: Go away you say. Weíll go. But youíll go with us.

(As they gesture towards her without touching her)
ROTTING CORPSE: I corrupt your air.
(She gags.)

INVISIBLE PRESENCE: I fill your throat.
(She gasps for breath.)

OLD CRONE: (ripping up with fingernails): I slice your flesh.
(She gasps in pain.)

GHASTLY CHILD ( from behind her): I pull your hair. Hard!
(Her head jerks back.)

CAVALIER ( jabbing)): I pierce your heart.

(She dies. Rises. Takes up her bag.) TARENTELLA: (to audience) I was evil and hurt others. For my small pleasures I brought great loss and suffering. I died by my own greed and folly. I curse everyone and everything because I can blame no one but myself. My burden of guilt is heavy. It cuts my back, to the bone, but I must carry it on and on. I scrape down corridors, muttering blasphemies, shifting this heavy bag from side to side. Take me in.

(Other spooks part center of curtains for her and touch her to guide her to turn and EXIT with them.)

TARENTELLA: (looking back at audience) I misplace things.
(EXITS with last of spooks.)

(ENTERING from side)
FORLORN LADY: And I will cry for you. (to exiting spooks) Good bye.

(Smiles dreamily and then weeps as she walks from one side of stage to another)