LADYKILLER attempts to re-create the world of 1930s Manhattan at its darkest, most glamorous and most malevolent. The play begins with a nightmare (Prelude). We see the image of a woman in full bridal white, surrounded by darkness. Through a series of disjointed images and sounds, the world of the play is introduced: A spatter of blood appears on the bride’s gown. A boy on a tricycle. A corpse being covered with a white sheet. Sirens. A squeal of tires on asphalt. Stiletto heels on cement.
A man in a cheap hotel room awakes from the nightmare. He apologizes to the woman in bed beside him that he’s been unable to perform because he’s got someone else on his mind (Again). As he begins to remember, we are transported to a sumptuous Manhattan penthouse, where an engagement party is in full swing (One More Party). The bride-to-be is a real estate heiress, her intended groom a ne’er do well gold-digger named Manning. Into the party strides a beautiful blonde Mystery Woman, who does nothing to disguise her interest in Manning. His fiancée insists he get rid of her, so Manning goes out to the penthouse balcony to explain to the Mystery Woman that at any other time he’d respond, but he about to marry into one of the richest families in New York, pointing out all of the buildings on the glittering skyline that will soon be his (Top O’ the World). He begins an impromptu dance on the balcony and the Mystery Woman pushes him off, sending him hurtling to his death.
Down on the street, the police, the coroner, the photographers assess the crime scene (One More Killing). The Detective in charge of the case steps forward, the man from the hotel room. He interviews the fiancée and the guests, trying to piece together a motive for what may be a homicide (Clue #1).
The scene shifts to the office of a down-at-his-heels theatrical agent, Mitchell. Mitchell’s girlfriend, Joan, is alone in the office when the Mystery Woman from scene one appears, introducing herself as an actress looking for representation. Joan explains the uselessness of the Mystery Woman’s quest (Get Back on the Bus). Not to be dissuaded, the Mystery Woman looks over a wall of pictures of women that Mitchell has in his office, determining who she must become in order to seduce him. Mitchell is in a bar getting drunk. The Mystery Woman trails him to the bar, gets his attention and exits, leaving a pair of opera tickets for him with the bartender. The Detective appears and interrogates the bartender, who gives his first impressions of the Mystery Woman (Beautiful).
Mitchell can barely contain his excitement over his blind date at the opera. Could it be that the woman he’s been waiting for in vain has finally found him? (The Women in My Life) The Mystery Woman meets him in a private box at the opera, but they don’t stay for the second act.
Back at Mitchell’s apartment, the Mystery Woman makes her move. She’s brought her photograph and wants to be on the wall with all his other women. He assures her that now that they’ve found each other, not other woman will do. And she hangs him.
The Detective meets Joan at the crime scene who gives him her impressions of the Mystery Woman as the Detective realizes the two murders are connected (Clue #2).
The Mystery Woman interrogates a little boy, Cookie, who turns out to be the son of her next victim, Mead. Mead’s wife has been called out of town on an emergency and she must leave her husband and son alone together (Nothing At All). After Mrs. Mead’s departure, the Mystery Woman appears, assuming the role of Cookie’s first grade teacher. She helps the incapable Mead with taking care of the boy, while Mead fantasizes about the lessons he’d like to teach the teacher (Fun and Games). The Mystery Woman puts Cookie to sleep and after teasing Mead with the possibility of romance, she electrocutes him.
The Detective, once more on the scene, considers the information from this new murder. He begins to realize his growing obsession with and desire for the Mystery Woman as the act ends (Clue #3).
Act Two begins with a mirror image of Act One (Entr'acte). The Mystery Woman, now in black, stands in a pure white room: an art gallery. Two women from out-of-town and two male New Yorkers debate the merits of the artist being exhibited (The Gallery Song). The artist, Maldonado, is a Vargas-like painter who creates advertisements for cosmetics and lingerie that are now being considered art. The Mystery Woman determines who she must become based on the paintings.
At Maldonado’s studio, the Mystery Woman presents herself as his new model. He decides to pose her as the goddess Diana, the huntress. Struck by inspiration, he starts to paint (A Maldonado Girl). Maldonado’s girlfriend barges into the studio. It’s Joan, Mitchell’s girlfriend, and she sees something familiar in the new model (That Face). The Mystery Woman gets her to leave as Joan begins to put the pieces together. Joan contacts the Detective, but it’s too late: when they return to the studio, Maldonado has an arrow through his heart and the Mystery Woman has disappeared. As the Detective stands amidst the carnage left by the Mystery Woman, he imagines life without her (Middle of Nowhere).
With Joan as the link between victims, the Detective determines their commonality. All four held a weekly poker game. There was also a fifth player, and the Detective realizes that this is to be the next victim. In order to trap the murderess, the Detective assumes the identity of the fifth player, a pulp novelist named Montgomery. He goes to Montgomery’s secluded house, where a secretary shows up to type the writer’s latest manuscript. Also at the house is the boy who drove the secretary from the train station, snowbound by a sudden storm. The Detective, knowing the secretary to be the murderess, worries that she won’t carry out her plan with the boy as innocent bystander (Wait).
The secretary mistakes the goading by the Detective as flirtation and bolts. The boy driver reveals himself to the Detective as the Mystery Woman and her intent to kill him, the last victim. The five men were driving drunk after one of their all-night poker games. There was an accident. They drove up onto the steps of a church just as a wedding was ending, killing the groom. The Mystery Woman’s husband. Nothing was done to find the killers, so she took matters into her own hands (Confession).
The Detective reveals himself and places her under arrest, fighting his intense desire for her with his duty to uphold the law. Back at the police station, Joan identifies her and the Detective’s partner, Murphy, admits owing a debt to Maldonado and covering up the hit-and-run. Consequently, Joan confesses to being Mead’s girlfriend at the time and to being the one behind the wheel at the time of the accident.
On her way to prison, the Mystery Woman kills Murphy and escapes. Back in the hotel room from the first scene, we discover the woman in bed with the Detective is in fact Joan. He can’t let her out of his sight, as the Mystery Woman is coming for her now. The Detective will meet her once more (Again Reprise).
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