Death Knocks
by Woody Allen


[Death Knocks]
The play takes place in the bedroom of the Nat Ackermans' two-story house, somewhere in Kew Gardens. The carpeting is wall-to-wall. There is a big double bed and a large vanity. The room is elaborately furnished and curtained, and on the wall there are several paintings and a not really attractive barometer. Soft them music as the curtain rises. Nat Ackermans, a bald, paunchy fifty-seven-year-old dress manufacturer is lying on the bed finishing off tomorrow's Daily News. He wears a bathrobe and slippers, and reads by a bed light clipped to the white headboard of the bed. The time is near midnight. Suddenly we hear a noise, and Nat sits up and looks at the window.


     NAT: What the hell is that?
(Climbing awkwardly through the window is a sombre, caped figure. The intruder wears a black hood and skintight black clothes. The hood covers his head but not his face, which is middle-aged and stark white. He is something like Nat in appearance. He huffs audibly and then trips over the windowsill and falls into the room.)
     DEATH (for it is no one else): Jesus Christ. I nearly broke my neck.
     NAT: (watching with bewilderment): Who are you?
     DEATH: Death
     NAT: Who?
     DEATH: Death. Listen -- can I sit down? I nearly broke my neck. I'm shaking like a leaf.
     NAT: Who are you?
     DEATH: Death. You got a glass of water?
     NAT: Death? What do you mean, Death?
     DEATH: What is wrong with you? You see the black costume and the whitened face?
     NAT: Yeah
     DEATH: Is it Halloween?
     NAT: No
     DEATH: Then I'm Death. Now can I get a glass of water -- or a Fresca?
     NAT: If this is some joke --
     DEATH: What kind of joke? You're fifty-seven? Nat Ackerman? One-eighteen Pacific Street? Unless I blew it -- where's the call sheet? (He fumbles through pocket, finally producing a card with an address on it. It seems to check.)
     NAT: What do you want with me?
     DEATH: What do I want? What do you think I want?
     NAT: You must be kidding. I'm in perfect health.
     DEATH (unimpressed): Un-huh. (Looking around) This is a nice place. You do it yourself?
     NAT: We had a decorator, but we worked with her.
     DEATH (looking at picture on the wall): I love those kids with the big eyes.
     NAT: I don't want to go yet.
     DEATH: You don't want to go? Please don't start in. As it is, I'm nauseous from the climb.
     NAT: What climb?
     DEATH: I climbed up the drainpipe. I was trying to make a dramatic entrance. I see the big windows and you're awake reading. I figure it's worth a shot. I'll climb up and enter with a little -- you know ... (Snaps fingers) Meanwhile, I get my heel caught on some vines, the drainpipe breaks, and I'm hanging by a thread. Then my cape begins to tear. Look, let's just go. It's been a rough night.
     NAT: You broke my drainpipe?
     DEATH: Broke. It didn't break. It's a little bent. Didn't you hear anything? I slammed into the ground.
     NAT: I was reading.
     DEATH: You must have really ben engrossed. (Lifting newspaper NAT was reading) "NAB COEDS IN POT ORGY." Can I borrow this?
     NAT: I'm not finished.
     DEATH: Er -- I don't know how to put this to you, pal ...
     NAT: Why didn't you just ring downstairs?
     DEATH: I'm telling you, I could have, but how does that look? This way I get a little drama going. Something. Did you read Faust?
     NAT: What?
     DEATH: And what if you had company? You're sitting there with important people. I'm Death -- I should ring the bell and traipse right in the front? Where's your thinking?
     NAT: Listen, Mister, it's very late.
     DEATH: Yeah. We'll you want to go?
     NAT: Go where?
     DEATH: Death. It. The Thing. The Happy Hunting Grounds. (Looking at his own knee) Y'know, that's a pretty bad cut. My first job. I'm liable to get gangrene yet.
     NAT: Now, wait a minute. I need time. I'm not ready to go.
     DEATH: I'm sorry. I can't help you. I'd like to, but it's the moment.
     NAT: How can it be the moment? I just merged with Modiste Originals.
     DEATH: What's the difference, a couple bucks more or less?
     NAT: Sure, what do you care? You guys probably have all your expenses paid.
     DEATH: You want to come along now?
     NAT (studying him): I'm sorry, but I cannot believe you're Death.
     DEATH: Why? What'd you expect -- Rock Hudson?
     NAT: No it's not that.
     DEATH: I'm sorry I disappointed you.
     NAT: Don't get upset. I don't know, I always thought you'd be ... un ... taller.
     DEATH: I'm five seven. It's average for my weight.
     NAT: You look a little like me.
     DEATH: Who should I look like? I'm you're death.
     NAT: Give me some time. Another day.
     DEATH: I can't. What do you want me to say?
     NAT: One more day. Twenty-four hours.
     DEATH: What do you need it for. The radio said rain tomorrow.
     NAT: Can't we work out something?
     DEATH: Like what?
     NAT: You play chess?
     DEATH: No, I don't.
     NAT: I once saw a picture of you playing chess.
     DEATH: Couldn't be me, because I don't play chess. Gin rummy, maybe.
     NAT: You play gin rummy?
     DEATH: Do I play gun rummy? Is Paris a city?
     NAT: You're good, huh?
     DEATH: Very good.
     NAT: I'll tell you what I'll do --
     DEATH: Don't make any deals with me.
     NAT: I'll play you gin rummy. If you win, I'll go immediately. If I win, give me some more time. A little bit -- one more day.
     DEATH: Who's got time to play gin rummy?
     NAT: Come on. If you're so good.
     DEATH: Although I feel like a game ...
     NAT: Come on. Be a sport. WE'll shoot for a half hour.
     DEATH: I really shouldn't.
     NAT: I got cards right here. Don't make a production.
     DEATH: All right, come on. We'll play a little. It'll relax me.
     NAT (getting cards, pad, and pencil): You won't regret this.
     DEATH: Don't give me a sales talk. Get the cards and give me a Fresca and put out something. For God's sake, a stranger drops in, you don't have potato chips or pretzels.
     NAT: There's M&M's downstairs in a dish.
     DEATH: M&M's. What if the President came? He'd get M&M's, too?
     NAT: You're not the President.
     DEATH: Deal
(Nat deals, turns up a five)
     NAT: You want to play a tenth of a cent a point to make it interesting?
     DEATH: It's not interesting enough for you?
     NAT: I play better when money's at stake.
     DEATH: Whatever you say, Newt.
     NAT: Nat. Nat Ackerman. You don't know my name?
     DEATH: Newt, Nat -- I got such a headache.
     NAT: You want that five?
     DEATH: No.
     NAT: So pick.
     DEATH (surveying his hand as he picks.): Jesus, I got nothing here.
     NAT: What's it like?
     DEATH: What's what like?
(Throughout the following, they pick and discard.)
     NAT: Death.
     DEATH: What should it be like? You lay there.
     NAT: Is there anything after?
     DEATH: Aha, you're saving twos.
     NAT: I'm asking. Is there anything after?
     DEATH (absently): You'll see.
     NAT: Oh, then I will actually see something?
     DEATH: Well, maybe I shouldn't have put it that way. Throw.
     NAT: To get an answer from you is a big deal.
     DEATH: I'm playing cards.
     NAT: All right, play, play.
     DEATH: Meanwhile, I'm giving you one card after another.
     NAT: Don't look through the discards.
     DEATH: I'm not looking. I'm straightening them up. What was the knock card?
     NAT: Four. You ready to knock already?
     DEATH: Who said I'm ready to knock? All I asked was what was the knock card?
     NAT: And all I asked was is there anything for me to look forward to.
     DEATH: Play
     NAT: Can't you tell me anything? Where do we go?
     DEATH: We? To tell you the truth, you fall in a crumpling heap on the floor.
     NAT: Oh, I can't wait for that! Is it going to hurt?
     DEATH: Be over in a second.
     NAT: Terrific. (Sighs) I need this. A man merges with Modiste Originals ...
     DEATH: How's four points?
     NAT: Your knocking?
     DEATH: Four points is good?
     NAT: No, I got two.
     DEATH: You're kidding.
     NAT: No, you lose.
     DEATH: Holy Christ, and I thought you were saving sixes.
     NAT: No. Your deal. Twenty points and two boxes. Shoot. (Death deals.) I must fall on the floor, eh? I can't be standing over a sofa when it happens?
     DEATH: No. Play.
     NAT: Why not?
     DEATH: Because you fall on the floor! Leave me alone. I'm trying to concentrate.
     NAT: Why must it be on the floor? That's all I'm saying! Why can't the whole thing happen and I'll stand next to the sofa?
     DEATH: I'll try my best. Now can we play?
     NAT: That's all I'm saying. You remind me of Moe Lefkowitz. He's also stubborn.
     DEATH: I remind him of Moe Lefkowitz. I'm one of the most terrifying figures you could possibly imagine, and him I remind of Moe Lefkowitz. What is he, a furrier?
     NAT: You should be such a furrier. He's good for eighty thousand a year. Passementeries. He got his own factory. Two points.
     DEATH: What?
     NAT: Two points. I'm knocking. What have you got?
     DEATH: My hand is like a basketball score.
     NAT: And it's spades.
     DEATH: If you didn't talk so much.
(They redeal and play on.)
     NAT: What's you mean before when you said this was your first job?
     DEATH: What does it sound like?
     NAT: What are you telling me -- that nobody ever went before?
     DEATH: Sure they went. But I don't take them.
     NAT: So who did?
     DEATH: Others
     NAT: There's others?
     DEATH: Sure. Each one has his own personal way of going.
     NAT: I never knew that.
     DEATH: Why should you know? Who are you?
     NAT: What do you mean who am I? Why -- I'm nothing?
     DEATH: Not nothing. You're a dress manufacturer. Where do you come to knowledge of the eternal mysteries?
     NAT: What are you talking about? I make a beautiful dollar. I sent my two kids through college. One is in advertising, the other's married. I got my own home. I drive a Chrysler. My wife has whatever she wants. Maids, mink coat, vacations. Right now she's at the Eden Roc. Fifty dollars a day because she wants to be near her sister. I'm suppose to join her next week, so what do you think I am -- some guy off the street?
     DEATH: All right. Don't be so touchy.
     NAT: Who's touchy?
     DEATH: How would you like it if I got insulted quickly?
     NAT: Did I insult you?
     DEATH: You didn't say you were disappointed in me?
     NAT: What do you expect? You want me to throw you a block party?
     DEATH: I'm not talking about that. I mean me personally. I'm too short. I'm this, I'm that.
     NAT: I said you look like me. It's like a reflection.
     DEATH: All right, deal, deal.
(They continue to play as music steals in and the lights dim until all is in total darkness. The lights come up again, and now it is later and their game is over. Nat tallies.)
     NAT: Sixty-eight ... one-fifty ... Well, you lose.
     DEATH: (dejectedly looking through the deck): I knew I shouldn't have thrown that nine. Damn it.
     NAT: So I'll see you tomorrow.
     DEATH: What do you mean you'll see me tomorrow?
     NAT: I won the extra day. Leave me alone.
     DEATH: You were serious?
     NAT: We made a deal.
     DEATH: Yeah, but --
     NAT: Don't "but" me. I won twenty-four hours. Come back tomorrow.
     DEATH: I didn't know we were actually playing for time.
     NAT: That's too bad for you. You should pay attention.
     DEATH: Where am I going to go for twenty-four hours?
     NAT: What's the difference? The main thing is I won an extra day.
     DEATH: What do you want me to do -- walk the streets?
     NAT: Check into a hotel and go to a movie. Take a schvitz. Don't make a federal case.
     DEATH: Add the score again.
     NAT: Plus you owe me twenty-eight dollars.
     DEATH: What?
     NAT: That's right, Buster. Here it is -- read it.
     DEATH (going through pockets): I have a few singles -- not twenty-eight dollars.
     NAT: I'll take a check.
     DEATH: From what account?
     NAT: Look who I'm dealing with.
     DEATH: Sue me. Where do I keep my checking account?
     NAT: All right, gimme what you got and we'll call it square.
     DEATH: Listen, I need that money.
     NAT: Why should you need money?
     DEATH: What are you talking about? You're going to the Beyond.
     NAT: So?
     DEATH: So -- you know how far that is?
     NAT: So?
     DEATH: So where's gas? Where's tolls?
     NAT: We're going by car!
     DEATH: You'll find out. (Agitatedly) Look -- I'll be back tomorrow, and you'll give me a chance to win my money back. Otherwise I'm in definite trouble.
     NAT: Anything you want. Double or nothing we'll play. I'm liable to win an extra week or a month. The way you play, maybe years.
     DEATH: Meantime I'm stranded.
     NAT: See you tomorrow.
     DEATH (being edged to the doorway): Where's a good hotel? What am I talking about hotel, I got no money. I'll go sit in Blickford's. (He picks up the News.)
     NAT: Out. Out. That's my paper. (He takes it back.)
     DEATH (exiting): I couldn't just take him and go. I had to get involved in rummy.
     NAT (calling after him): And be careful going downstairs. On one of the steps the rug is loose.
(And, on cue, we hear a terrific crash. Nat sighs, then crosses to the bedside table and makes a phone call.)
     NAT: Hello, Moe? Me. Listen, I don't know if somebody's playing a joke, or what, but Death was just here. We played a little gin ... No Death. In person. Or somebody who claims to be Death. But, Moe, he's such a schlep!

CURTAIN

Posted June 21, 2002