By Tess Collins
A Wicked Little Play About Love, Ambition, and Betrayal
Backstage at The Eden Lounge, a seedy bar and night club on the outskirts of Las Vegas.
Regina Eden - a lip-sync singer and the lounge owner's daughter.
Rexford Schultz - the manager of The Eden Lounge
Jack Payne - a magician and monte tosser.
Ninety minutes, no intermission.
ABOUT THE STORY
I got the idea for TOSSING MONTE about ten years ago from a magician, Jamy Ian Swiss. I was visiting Washington D.C. where Jamy lived at the time. He gave me a great tour of the city and everywhere we went astounded both me and any nearby person with his card tricks. When you see Jamy's name on a marquee—go see him! He's one of the best card magicians around. He showed me the game of 3-card monte and explained how the con worked. If you ever see these street corner monte tossers—don't play. Believe me, you'll never win.
As I watched his demonstration I noticed how the Jack, King, Queen would make a perfect love triangle and thus—instant conflict. (It's one of those frustrating things about writers that we look for the story and conflict in everything.) So I made some notes, planning to write a play that included a magician as a character. Several years later when I was ready to do my internship for my Ph.D., I thought why not put the idea to use. I chose Las Vegas as a setting because what better city to make use of the dicey chances of love. The characters mirror the Jack, King, Queen and their actions mirror a monte toss. An additional level of conflict is layered into the characters by making Regina primarily kinesthetic and Rex an auditory character which makes their communication miss each other by degrees. Jack has a visual-orientation but slips into kinesthetic or auditory dialog whenever he needs to and this allows him to easily manipulate the others.
I produced the play in August, 1997 at The 450 Geary Street Theater in San Francisco with Zachary Barton as Regina; Lawrence Hecht as Rex; and Ken Sonkin as Jack. Janice Erlendson directed. John Chapot, Scenic Designer; Margot McFedries, Sound Designer; Gregg Pellegrini, Lighting Designer; Maryann Flippin, Costume Designer; Caitlin Offill, Production Stage Manager and Browne Zukow Case were the press and publicity representatives. The play was produced under Actors' Equity Small Professional Theater contract.
Regina Eden and Rex Schultz have settled into a routine at The Eden Lounge. Regina's long line of broken romances periodically sends her running into Rex's arms. He accommodates her since she's the boss's daughter and he harbors secret ambitions of taking over the club someday. Jack Payne, a magician, monte tosser and con man, walks into their lives and, with designs on the club himself, sees Gina as the means to that goal. Rex promises the fidelity that has always eluded Gina's relationships, and Jack helps the lip-sync singer find her real voice. What both men fail to realize as they battle each other is the way a woman can slip into your heart and then out of your life.
SAMPLE: ACT I, SCENE I
Lights fade up on the backstage of The Eden Lounge. Seedy and cheap.
Stage right is a door on which is lettered "STAGEDOOR."
A window is beside the stage door or in its frame. A desk with a name plate, "Manager". A shredder hangs off the side of the cluttered desk.
On the wall is a sign: "TO STAGE." A floor length curtain is half-pulled, and beyond the curtain is the upstage Stage. Tape decks, electronic equipment and a light board are just beyond the curtain.
Center stage is an upright piano. A hand gun is on top the piano. On the wall above the piano is a show poster of a magician, perhaps Houdini -- Greatest Escape Artist Of All Time. Various other show posters line the wall. A full length mirror is beside a table of props.
Downstage, another curtain is pulled to the side of the front of the stage. This curtain can be pulled full or partially across the front of the stage during singing and monte scenes.
Stage left is a small wet bar in-between two dressing rooms. One door has the words "Guest Artist" stenciled on the outside. On the other door is the name "REGINA EDEN". This door is open. A glittering sequin dress hangs on the wall. A mirror on the inside of the door and another on the far wall reflects two people. An opening musical intro fades.
In the dressing room a man sits on a chair while a woman straddles his lap, kissing him, hands wandering, noises and moans of necking.
REGINA EDEN abruptly breaks away from the kissing and exits the dressing room. She is mid-thirties, a fading beauty with a sadness about her.
On her hand is RONI BETH, a female puppet with a workable mouth. Roni Beth is a glamour doll wearing evening gown and big hair. Regina wears a silky robe and drinks from a liquor bottle with her other hand. She stands center stage, starring.
What am I doing?
She hugs the puppet and hold its head up to her face.
Oh, Roni Beth. What's wrong with me?
REX SCHULTZ follows her. He is mid-thirties, handsome, stylish, a man who's done well by use of his good looks, charm and easy way with a favor. He's the stuff of old Las Vegas and he can't compete with the new business mentality and MBAs that run the city now.
What are you doing?
He takes the liquor bottle from her, sets it on the piano next to the gun.
I wish I were dead.
Rex leads her up or carries her back to the dressing room where they resume necking.
A shadow passes the window at the stagedoor, then returns as if reading the word "STAGEDOOR". The door knob slowly turns and the door quietly opens.
JACK PAYNE stands in the doorway and surveys the area. He is 40ish, wears a worn black suit that once was polished. He is a tired, beaten man. He sees the reflection of Regina and Rex.
In between kisses:
He was in the back seat of a 1964 Buick with a twenty-three-year-old stripper.
Over the above: Jack quietly steps into the room, picks up mail on the desk and reads it, snoops into drawers, checks on the passionate couple.
Jack walks to the upstage curtain and inspects the stage, comes back to the piano, looks up at the poster of the magician and takes off his hat as if in reverence. He looks around deliberately, trying to get a feel of the place. Looks out at the stage again and smiles.
Joking... joking... I'm trying to make you laugh.
He lied to me. He lied to me.
So, what—you go out and buy a gun. Is lying a reason to shoot him?
Jack picks up the handgun with two fingers.
I was going to shoot his dick off.
Jack grimaces, knees together and covers his groin with one hand, shakes a leg.
There, there, now, life is too short to be unhappy.
Life is not short. Life is long and torturous.
GINA cries into his shoulder. It's a cry of rage and humiliation rather than pain.
Jack returns to the Stagedoor, opens it quietly and lets it slam.
GINA and Rex jump up, arranging themselves. Rex comes out of the dressing room. He moves around the backstage with the authority of protecting his territory.
GINA stays in the dressing room but can be seen in reflection fussing with her makeup and hair.
As the two men talk, she inspects crows' feet around her eyes, wrinkles, drops her face in her hand in disgust at her appearance.
Bar's out front, joker. No customers allowed back here.
Jack pulls a poster from his coat and lets it drop open. A mesmerizing drawing of himself with a deck of cards spread before him. "Master of the Deck" is lettered below the drawing.
William Eden hired me.
I hire the talent here.
William Eden hired me.
(tapping his chest with insistence)
I hire the talent here.
Jack lets the poster drop on the desk.
I did him a favor.
Bill don't need favors.
He did the night he played cards with Micky the Squid. More hands than a...
GINA enters from the dressing room.
How much did daddy lose?
Jack steps around Rex and smiles at Gina.
Not a dime of the thirty-five thousand he had on the table. You see, Micky cheats. I let your father know how.
(Points to her name on the dressing room door)
GINA reaches out to shake his hand. The puppet is still on her hand. He stares at Roni Beth until Gina notices then shyly pulls the doll off.
Jack shakes and holds her hand until she pulls away, aware of him staring at her red eyes. She goes to the bar, pours a drink and takes some aspirin.
That don't mean Bill hired you. I hire the talent.
Rex is right. Daddy would see the act first.
Bill came to my late show. The lounge at the Mirage. He told me to see you.
(points to Rex)
Rexford Schultz, right?
Rex. Bill didn't say anything to me.
Rex moves to the piano and picks up the gun, plays with it just enough to make Jack nervous, then stashes it in the piano bench.
He was on his way to Palm Springs.
Bill said he'd call from Palm Springs.
Ain't like Bill.
He was in a hurry. I guess he forgot.
(holds up the poster)
Let's see some of your trade.
Jack reaches behind her ear and pulls out a coin. She's mildly amused.
You're gonna have to do better than that, Jack.
Jack reaches into his pocket, pulls out a wallet and hands it to Rex.
This is yours, I believe.
Rex takes the wallet, a look of confusion on his face. Gina is more impressed.
As the resident artist, what do you do?
Sing... kinda of.
How do you kinda do that?
Actually I lip-synch.
She points to the tape deck.
Bet you never hit a sour note.
She suppresses a smile. Rex continues to stare at the wallet.
This is not my wallet!
Jack turns, looks at the wallet, searches his own pockets, slaps his forehead.
I am so sorry. This is my wallet.
Jack takes the wallet. Rex shoots Gina a look of triumph.
Here... this is what I meant to give you.
Jack pulls out a string of packaged condoms from his pocket.
Are these condoms yours?
Rex slaps his hand to his rear pocket. His condoms are gone. He swipes the package from Jack's hand. Gina laughs hysterically.
I think I see what Daddy saw in you, Mr. ...
Payne. Jack Payne. P-A-Y-N-E. Otherwise known as Jack of All Trades, sometimes known as Master of the Deck, seldom known as Late.
Over the above line: He pulls a hand of cards from behind Gina's head.
My first show ends at eight. Be ready by eight thirty, and you can go on at nine.
Wait a minute. I hire the talent.
Okay, Rex, hire him.
GINA exits to dressing room and closes the door.
Jack extends his hand to Rex. Rex stares at it.
Accept my apologies. I'll see to it that it never happens again.
You got that right. Tonight, joker, then you move on.
Bill promised me a three week engagement.
Let's just say we tell Bill you got a booking in Cleveland.
Jack lets a splay of cards ride a wave from one hand to the other.
Care to high card the length of my engagement?
You gotta be kidding. Look joker, I been in Vegas twenty years. I know every scam there is. My grandfather is the legendary Dutch Schultz. I trained in the casinos, managed just about every lounge on The Strip, even testified once as an expert witness, so take your little stack of fifty-two and tell it to a tourist.
Glad to, tonight, at seven p.m. sharp.
That's Gina's show.
Think I'll come early and watch.
You show your tuxedoed ass here before eight fifteen, and I'll shred your cards.
Rex lets a card fall through a shredder at the edge of the desk.
Jack turns away from Rex, toward the dressing room, stares at Regina's name.
Why do you call yourself Rex? Rexford's so unique.
You do anything other than steal?
Yeah, I toss monte.
Rex ushers Jack out the door. Sits at the desk and makes a phone call.