Jackson Elias is visited by one of his former research assistants, Hannah Keith who offers Elias and his group tickets to the opening of a play she is starring in. The crew made plans that night to attend “Carcosa or the Queen and the Stranger” at La Scala in London, an adaptation of a French book brought to the stage by Talbot Estus.
Watching the play, the characters observe a fever dream of a play – David Lynch brought to the stage in a surrealistic tableau that appears to loosely tell the story of a Queen (played by Hannah Keith) and her court embroiled in a power struggle. The characters can see the audience around them shifting in their seats, and generally acting strangely. Gasps of horror, surprise and even laughter are expressed at points in the performance that seem wholly inappropriate.
Act One ends with a powerful scene that introduces a mysterious masked stranger who shares the stage with Queen Cassilda and performs a mesmerizing tableau. When the curtain falls, there are gasps and cries from other audience members. The lights come up and the investigators attempt to discuss what they had seen, but no one can agree with the exact plot or events of the play. Elias is mostly unimpressed calling it “amateur” but is impressed by the female actors and the set design. Lt. Wraithbone is visibly unsettled by the play and Dorian Waite speaks of a King character that no one else seems to have seen.
Around them, a couple of audience members appear to have been overcome by mild hysterics and there is a muffled sobbing from more. One or two gentlemen are conversing rather loudly about the play in deprecating terms as though seeking support. But many other audience members appear to be spellbound. Some people are going home, but not many. One woman who is leaving seems to be being taken out against her wishes.
The curtain falls and suddenly all is in an uproar. With the ending of the play it’s although a spell has been lifted. As Lt. Wraithbone attempts to rush the stage, a woman a row in front attempts to claw at the face of Jackson. Rue observes a man bring down his cane over his wife’s head. The crew is split between subduing Lt. Wraithbone and the woman attacking Jackson. Throughout the theater, several audience members are in a berserk rage, others in catatonia. Others join Wraithbone in rushing the stage. Bystanders able to keep it together appeal for calm, vigorously intervene, or run for the exits. Wraithbone is subdued by his friends, though the fracas continues until the police arrive and break up the riot, carting off a half-dozen or so to the station and another half-dozen to the hospital.
On their way out of the theater, the investigators are surprised to see tables being laid out in the theater bar area for an opening night reception. Most of the audience has left already but drinks and food are laid out. Members of the public remaining are told they are welcome and few others stay. They learn from the theater employees setting up that it is Talbot Estus himself who is insisting that the reception go on. The cast, with the exception of Estus begin to appear. They heard an uproar but did not witness it and are completely unaware as to the severity. Hannah introduces Jackson and his team to her husband and child who also appeared in the play.
Rue (with piqued curiosity) and Wraithbone (with intense desire) speak to actress Jean Hewart who portrayed the Queen’s daughter. Jean flippantly mentions that the play seems cursed between all of the mishaps in rehearsal, cast members quitting and imagery from the play popping up in her nightmares.
The party seems to already be on its last legs after just half an hour when the writer of the play, Talbot Estus appears. There is applause from his cast which he accepts graciously. He seems oblivious to the subdued mood around him and makes an upbeat little speech. He deplores that happened after the performance but says it was not a complete surprise to him as, “any work of art should seek to inspire fervor.” He refuses to dwell on that aspect of the night and asks for an ovation for the cast which it is mostly up to the investigators to provide.
Dorian eagerly beings a dialogue with Estus, heaping praise on him for his play. Estus is happen to bask in the praise and goes off on a lengthy diatribe detailing the history of the source material, “The King in Yellow.” He claims he’s read it at least twenty times since he discovered it two years ago and it now inspires his artistic output. Throughout the conversation Estus peers up at the night sky as if looking for something.
Eventually the theater manager pulls Estus aside and says he’ll be recommending to the owning company that it cancel all further performances of the play to which Estus angrily argues before storming off. The characters part ways and retire and the week goes on uneventfully. One morning Waite receives a package in the mail from Estus – a copy of The King in Yellow.