Sandman Mystery Theatre 57-60. Dramatis personae: Steven T. Seagle (writer), Matt Wagner (story idea), Michael Lark and Richard Case (artists)
The curtain rises, the stage lights glow into life, an expectant audience hushes, its chatter diminished to a mere mumble.
The Cannon marks the end of Matt Wagne’s involvement in the Mystery Theatre, bringing a five year association to an end with one final story idea. The season, the approach, was his own idea, and his name should burn forever as a Patron. Henceforth, until the all too early end, Steven T. Seagle would have the Director’s role to himself.
The Cannon is also the last play to be set decorated by guest designers, the team of Michael Lark (pencils) and Richard Case (inks). Their work is neatly evocative of the era, wthout need of any of the hindering scratchiness of some of their forebears: their delineation of the people and the fasions of the time opens the door in your imagination.
And it’s the second and final appearance of the Reverend Armitage “Bagsy” Hawley, alias the Cannon, smiter of the Ungodly, and converter of tainted money to the good of the poor and weak.
Bagsy’s return is not only a delight in itself (though Seagle favours a slightly less broad portrayal of the Reverend, almost completely eschewing the self-mocking humour that underpinned Bagsy in Sandman Midnight Theatre) but it comes at a crucial junction for Wesley and Dian, who are both in need of a counsellor who can assist them in getting through the effects of the past few days.
Though the Reverend Hawley gives oonly the messages that his faith dictates must be given – that abortion cannot be acceptable, that Dian must tell her father, and very soon, and that she and Wesley must marry (this latter advice is give to the pair, though otherwise Bagsy’s counsel is for Dian in her needs) – he is nevertheless a comfirt to both at a time when the stress of what has had to be done threatens to destabilise their relationship.
That he works out that Wesley is the Sandman and is bold enough to bring it up before Dian and Humphries is just further evidence that here is one smart man.
And boy, is he needed! The play begins literally a couple of days after The Crone. Wesley has come to collect Dian from Sunnyhills, feeling guilt over what has happened, and feeling weak for feeling guilty. Meanwhile, a liner from England, setting off before the Declaration of War, approaches New York harbour, carrying the seemingly empty-headed Percy Russell, excited at his first sight of the colonies, a phrase his shipboard compatriot, Bagsy Hawley, advises him against using.
Though he’s not long for this world, Percy is the reason for the Cannon being himself in the New World. Ostensibly a businessman, the jovial Percy is a cold and calculating crook, not to mention a Nazi sympathiser, who’s gotten himself into a bigger game than he realises and which gets him and his frightful wife killed early on. Because Percy’s trying to cut in on a deal involving Gold: tons of it, a syphoned-off part of what the Nazis have stolen from the Jews in Germany.
There’s a bidding war going on, courtesy of the Gamboni family, for which th entrance fee is the extreordinarily rare 1933 double-headed Eagle gold dollar: a coin withdrawn from circulation before it was even issued, and illegal to even own since the Gold Surrender Act of the same year.
But it’s what’s going on between Weley and Dian that is more important.No sooner is she home than his inability to know what to say leads to a quarrel. Wesley is beginning to realise his own bereavement, the denial of his chance to be a father, to be a better father than was his own. Dian feels that she is being blamed, especially unfairly give that Wesley abdicated any part in the decision to her.And his admission that, with a son, he might have given up the Sandman results in a stony-faced Dian pointing out that it may have been a daughter, and that he has never offered to make that concession for her.
Tears follow, bitter tears and accusations that she is being blamed, that Wesley will batter her with blame. His denials are not impressive, especially when Humphries interrupts to draw Percy Russell’s death to Master Dodds’ attention, in light of the dream he had that morning.
So the investigation begins, with the Sandman at one end and the Cannon at the other. They will cross paths with some suspicion, at least on the Sandman’s part, at first, before agreeing, initially tentatively, then officially, to work together.
And Lieutenant Burke is placed on the case. There’s no appearance by Weaver, nor reference to dinners with Weaver’s wife and sister-in-law, but the Lieutenant is definitely mellowing. He’s been assigned a partner, rookie Detective Dan O’Grady, and he’s noticeably less caustic with him than we’ve seen all along. Hell, he even compliments the kid over his attitude to the captured Tony Gamboni.
Burke even manages to accommodate a joint investigation with Agents Stone and Hart, who come into the matter when their investigations into illegal gold-trading lead them, via the back door, into this nest of murders.
But Bagsy’s true mission, though he never suspected it, is as mediator to Wesley and Dian. From the moment of his first encounter, before the end of the First Act, his presence serves to limit the probability of their quarrel continuing.
Not for long though, and it is the normally placid and composed Wesley who finds things too much for him to bear. Dian produces photographs from London to show Bagsy, of which Wesley was not aware. When she dismisses the idea of his breing interested in them, he not being the sentimental kind, the hurt iverwhelms and Wesley rushes out into the garden.
Bagsy’s ability to lend a non-judgemental ear, his gentle understanding of how deeply Wesley has been hurt, and his gentle leading back to the fundamental point that Wesley loves Dian not only soothes his ‘patient’ but, in an unstated manner, gives Dian the space to understad how much she has hurt, and to prepare herself to begin to welcome her love back, intent on what banids rather than divides.
Not so long after, she returns to his bad,though not yet to his embrace. She wants and needs his presence: sex has too much of a visceral connection to life and pregnancy for her just yet.
She’s far from reconciled to what has happened,and to the as yet still implied likelihood that there will never be another time for she and her love to bring forth a child of their union (and she’s right, though she and Wes stay together for life,to the very end of the Twentieth Century). The sight of a child, later on, leaves Dian in floods of tears, attracting the concerns of a passer-by, a Presbyterian Minister.
Faith plays a deep, though not religious role in this play. Dian receives comfort from a stranger who cares not about denominations, merely a person in pain. And even as Dian receives support in one Church, Bagsy enters another to dispense ill-gotten loot for good. Only Wesley, understandably, takes no form of spiritual guidance: the Cannon’sadvice is administered in strictly secular conditions and terms.
Incidentally, there is an issue here as to Bagsy’s particular brand of the Faith. When we first met him, in Sandman Midnight Theatre, he was distinctly an Anglican: it was a fundamental aspect of his gently parodistic nature that he be entirely English. In New York, however, he speaks of taking confession, is himself shrived, and the gangsters who plan to kill the Cannon speak in terms of sending him back to his boss, the Pope. Is Bagsy Catholic? No, certainly not. But Seagle didn’t understand that.
Once Bagsy confronts Wesley over being the Sandman, his usefulness becomes merely that as a colleague in justice. Though even here he is of more than practical assistance, as Wesley understands the value in the freedom to to be both his public and private selves.
But Dian needs more. She needs the Reverend Armitage Hawley’s advice about ‘her friend’s pregancy and termination. It’s not easy, but it points her to where she needs to go, to begin to draw together her public and private selves, by speaking to her father.
So it’s over. Bagsy leaves to return to London, never to be seen again. Ironically, he finds himself next to a man who is going to a destination even he does not know, save that it can no longer be Germany: this is the unnamed man who has been behind this failed attempt to rause money for the Third Reich.
The true end, though, is one final dream, a dream by Wesley Dodds. It is not of a crime, at least not in the sense we have been led to expect, nor of any fabulous crook. It is a dream of a baby, born growing and leaving Weley behind on a New York lake shore he cannot escape.
It’s a sobering moment.
The lights dim. The curtain falls. The actors retreat beyond the proscenium arch, to await their next call to performance, in a play titled The City.
Break a leg.