“Incroyable” play by Billy Houck

Incroyable1
Incroyable

a play in two acts

by Billy Houck
1240 Sage St
Arroyo Grande, CA 93420
(805) 710-6418

SETTING:
An Inn in Paris.

TIME:
September, 1792. The Terror. It is morning.

CAST OF CHARACTERS

MAMA: A 43 year old Woman. She runs the inn. Strong wise. Unassuming. She is very maternal and cares for others without being overbearing. Her husband, a printer, believed in the people’s right to free expression so strongly that he printed pamphlets for both revolutionaries and royalists. He disappeared 5 years ago. His shop was destroyed. No one knows by whom. This incident has kept Mama from taking sides in the revolution thus far.

FATHER FRANCOIS DUBOCE: A 39 year old priest without a parish. He was forced to take the oath of loyalty to the revolution in a town square two years ago. He has doubted his faith ever since. He walked away from his duties as a priest after taking the oath, and has been living in the inn ever since. Drunk. Wittily intelligent.

KUKI: 16 years old. Simply pretty. Mentally retarded. She helps take care of the inn. She cleans and runs simple errands. Mama found her in the streets when she was 3 years old. Kuki sleeps in a large basket by the fireplace. She is treated like a cross between a family member and a pet. She repeats whatever she hears. There is a gentle sweetness about her.

LAZARE: A 20 year old young man of fashion. Mama’s only child. He is an Incroyable or an “Incredible One”, as indicated by his bizarre clothing and hair style (see important costume notes.) He dropped out of law school 6 months ago. He does not see any point in pursuing any kind of productive future, due to the apocalypse taking place in the streets in the last few months. He feels he has a destiny to fulfill. He has had a hard time figuring out just what his destiny is.

CHARLES: Another Incroyable, 19 years old. He is a longtime friend of Lazare. He is much more involved in fashion than Lazare, and is a strong influence on his friend’s dress. He lives on credit. He is a poet of no greatness.

MARIE-CLAIRE: She is 18 years old. She is Charles’ cousin. Charles sets her up with Lazare. Their relationship is just beginning to become serious. Marie-claire affects the neo-classical look of the period. Her type is referred to as a Merveilluse. (see important costume notes) She is fairly intelligent, but she doesn’t really care about anything but clothes. She is at the awkward stage between adolesence and adulthood; she is very self-centered.

TOM PAINE: 56 years old. He is the famous American revolution propagandist. He has just escaped from England to avoid being tried for treason for authoring The Rights of Man. His fame has preceded him; he is a hero in France. He is a match for Father Duboce in wit. His personal hygiene is not the best. After a hasty sea voyage he is quite dirty and tired. When he first appears, he is exhausted from the whirlwind of excitement that has preceded him since his arrival in France. He has ducked out on a parade in his honor.

VOICES FROM THE STREET: A chorus (either live or taped) which is never seen. It represents Tom Paine’s parade, a bread riot, and Father Duboce’s nightmare memories. The Voices should have an orchestrated sound; they should blend with and counterpoint the onstage characters.

SETTING: A boarding house in Paris. It is September, 1792. The scenery can range from realistic to imagined. All that is required is a long table of rough wood that has become smooth from years of use, benches for the table, and a smaller table with two chairs. There is also a large basket in the corner containing kindling and bits of cloth. These simple set pieces, coupled with realistic costumes, should adequately evoke the feeling of the period. If realistic scenery is used, this is what should be seen: The entryway and dining room of a boarding house. The setting is poor but clean. There is a large stone hearth. There is a staircase that leads to the upper rooms, which are unseen. The tables are the same as those mentioned above. The smaller table is nearer the hearth, sort of a “preferred seating” area. The basket is also near the fireplace. There is a straw broom near the basket. Opposite the main entrance is a door that leads to a pantry. This boarding house is Mama’s place. Her essence permeates it.

A note about French accents: Don’t use them.
Use clear accent-free speech. Avoid regional accents if at all possible.
Pronounce all French words and names properly.

AT RISE: In the darkness, we hear the tap-Tap-tapping of a cane. A small, bare spot is illuminated. No scenery is visible. Lazare walks briskly into the spot, tapping his cane. He stops and adjusts his clothing, of which he is quite aware. He looks toward the audience. Smiles. Taps his cane once. He takes off his hat, wipes off a bit of lint, smoothes it, puts it back on. Smiles. He taps his cane twice. He poses for just a moment longer, then strolls out of the light, tapping his cane. The tapping fades away. The spot fades to black. After the briefest pause, bump up all lights to full. It is morning. Father Duboce is snoring at the small table by the fire, his head on the table. He snores loudly. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, he wakes with a start. He winces, holds his head. He has a hangover. He speaks.

DUBOCE: Mama. Mama. Ma! MA! (Mama enters from the pantry.) MAMA!

MAMA: I’m here. You needn’t shout.

DUBOCE: (holding his head) Oh, Lord.

MAMA: Father Duboce? You are not well? Can I bring you something?

DUBOCE: Of course you can bring me something. Would I call you if I wanted for nothing? I…

MAMA: Then what is it?

DUBOCE: I don’t know. Water. That’s it. I’m thirsty. Please bring me some water. No. No, not water. Bread. Bread and water. And Butter. Bread and butter and water. No..no water. Wine. Yes. Wine. Wine and bread and…no, no. No bread. No butter. No food. just wine. Wine. Please.

MAMA: Wine? for breakfast? Are you sure, father?

DUBOCE: (Holding his head again.) Please. Wine. Wine will make me happy. Just wine Madame. Wine, please.

MAMA: (exiting to pantry) Very well.

DUBOCE: Lord.

(DuBoce relaxes. There is a rustling in the basket of rags by the fireplace. The rags move with a life of their own. A twig or two of kindling falls out of the basket. A delicate, dirty arm stretches out, unseen by DuBoce. Kuki slowly emerges from her bed of rags, looking very much like a rag herself. Her hair is stringy and she wears rags only slightly nicer than the scraps she makes her bed of. She stretches, smiles. She picks up her broom and begins to sweep around DuBoce. He is startled.)

DUBOCE: What? Oh, Oh, it’s only you my child. Bless you. Oh. Oh.

KUKI: (grins at being spoken to) Oh Oh Bless you. Child. Only you my child. Child Child Child. Only you my child.

(Kuki’s speech does not have the quality of dialogue, but is rather more like a two-year-old’s singing to herself, though Kuki is 16. Kuki is mentally retarded.)

DUBOCE: Child, please. You startled me. I’m ah…Father DuBoce is not quite himself this morning. Please. Sweep over there. By the big table.(Kuki does not move. She is fascinated by DuBoce.) Shoo!

KUKI: (to DuBoce: ) Shoo! (She turns and goes to the big table, speaking to herself as she speaks.) Big table. Big Table. You startled me. Sweep over there by the big table. Father DuBoce is not quite himself. Sweep over there. Sweep. Sweep-sweep. Sweep.

(Mama enters, carrying a bottle of wine and a glass for DuBoce.)

DUBOCE: (to Kuki. He hasn’t seen Mama re-enter.) Couldn’t you please keep down that interminable chatter! I…

MAMA: Kuki Dear! You’re up! And you’re sweeping! What is it Father DuBoce? I hope Kuki wasn’t bothering…

DUBOCE: No, no, nothing of the sort, I was just…

KUKI: Interminable chatter.

MAMA: Good. Here’s your breakfast.

(She plunks down wine and glass -nothing fancy- in front of him. He looks at the bottle for a while before pouring.)

KUKI: Sweep. Sweep.

MAMA: Kuki? Are you hungry, girl?

KUKI: Sweep.

MAMA: Yes, that’s nice sweeping. Go get some bread for yourself.

DUBOCE: (Pouring the wine. to himself, without piety: ) For what I am about to receive…

MAMA: Bread. That’s right.

DUBOCE: …may God make me truly thankful. (He drinks.)

KUKI: Bread. (She exits)

DUBOCE: Amen.

(There is a pause while Mama puts away Kuki’s broom and sits at the long table, tired. She rubs her feet. He pours, drinks.)

MAMA: (Looks at DuBoce. She has compassion for him. Without annoyance: ) Better now?

DUBOCE: (finishes a second glass, pours a third.) Yes, yes. Much better. Ready to face the day.

MAMA: (Now some annoyance creeps in: ) Or waste the day.

DUBOCE: What’s that?

MAMA: Nothing.

DUBOCE: Mmmmmm. I see. Have you been out this morning? (He drains his glass. Pours another)

MAMA: Yes. Yes I have. I’ve been to the market. It is a fine day. A good strong breeze blowing through the city. Getting rid of the stink. A fresh breeze. People were actually smiling in the market this morning. Smiling.

DUBOCE: There must have been bread.

MAMA: There was. It wasn’t cheap, and it wasn’t the best, but there was bread for sale. That’s a pleasant change. Flour, too.

DUBOCE: Good. Perhaps there’ll be no further need for riots.

MAMA: Perhaps. I doubt it, though. There was talk in the market. Talk of trouble to come. People say that things will get worse, much worse before they get any better.

DUBOCE: How could they possibly get any worse?

MAMA: That’s what they say. They also…

(She is interrupted by the noisy entrance of Lazare and Charles through the front door. They are dressed in high Incroyable fashion. They have been up all night and are punchy.)

LAZARE: I told you she wouldn’t mind.

CHARLES: Well, obviously she did. She knows what she’s doing, that girl. You better watch out.

LAZARE: I know what I’m doing, too, boy. Besides, you can’t take everything she says seriously.

CHARLES: Well, she was serious. I should know. She’s my cousin. You had better be careful, that’s all.

LAZARE: (with a huge laugh) Be Careful? Or what? What’s the worst thing that could happen? Do the girls have guillotines, too now? Charles, I just don’t know….

MAMA: (cool. Cutting him off) Good morning, Lazare. Charles.

LAZARE: Ah..um..Good morning, Mama.

CHARLES: Good Morning, Madame DuPont.

MAMA: (cold) Have you eaten?

DUBOCE: You’re up early, young gentlemen. What’s the occasion?

(Charles laughs)

MAMA: (frozen) They aren’t up early. They’re just arriving home. (fixing a look on Lazare) They’ve been out all night. (a beat) Again.

KUKI: (re-enters with a baguette.) Out all night again.

LAZARE: To detract from his mother’s wrath) KUKI! Dear, sweet Kuki. You’ve brought us bread.

KUKI: (clutching the baguette to her breast to keep Lazare from taking it. Possessively: ) Bread!

MAMA: That’s hers. Get your own. If you’re old enough to stay out all night, AGAIN, you’re old enough to fetch your own bread. (melting a little) There’s cheese, too.

LAZARE: (as he and Charles exit quickly to the pantry) Thank you, Mama.

CHARLES: Thank you Madame.

KUKI: (crossing to Mama, showing her) Bread.

MAMA: That’s right, child.

DUBOCE: You were saying?

MAMA: Eat your bread.

KUKI: Eat your bread. (She eats it in big mouthfuls.)

MAMA: Pardon?

DUBOCE: About the bread.

KUKI: Bread.

DUBOCE: In the market? This morning?

KUKI: (With her mouth quite full) Bread.

MAMA: Ah, yes. There was bread. It was precious, but what are we to do? We must have bread. They say this batch of flour came from the King’s own store houses. Not that I believe it. They’ll say anything to drive up the price. But we’ll be fine. For now. Still, there was talk.

DUBOCE: Talk of what?

MAMA: Talk of more violence. More violence, can you believe it? Talk of more revolutions. More Kings being thrown in prison. the whole world gone mad. Revolts. Riots. Whatever it is they’re calling the madness. Here in France, and in England, even in Ireland. some people blame it all on the Americans.

DUBOCE: (to himself) The world is on fire.

KUKI: The world is on fire.

DUBOCE: They have King Louis and his family in Prison. They’ve seized the churches. They have their bloody assembly. (He pours himself another drink.) They’ve even declared war on Austria. Can’t even govern themselves, but they think they can take on Austria. Well, we’ll have an end to this whole filthy uprising when the Austrian troops march through the streets outside. The glorious people’s revolution will turn tail and run. Stupid. What more do they want?

MAMA: The kings head.

DUBOCE: (incredulous) No!

MAMA: They mean to execute him like a common criminal. And the royal family. The queen and the children included.

DUBOCE: Dear God in Heaven.

MAMA: They’d cut off God’s head, too. If they could. They’re calling this “the year one” pulling off their own private little Genesis. They want all history to start fresh from this moment. This bloody moment. This assembly is more than anybody ever thought it could be. The change they speak of is not coming.

DUBOCE: Of course not.

MAMA: The change is here. This is more than just a passing fancy. They want the King’s head.

KUKI: The king’s head.

DUBOCE: The royal families of Europe will not stand for this! They will not stand idly by while one of their own is slaughtered by his own subjects…this will mean war!

MAMA: We have war. We are at war with Austria, remember? As though it was necessary. We have a war in the streets outside this inn.

DUBOCE: A revolt.

MAMA: Revolt. War. Revolution. Murder. Slaughter. Put whatever name on it you wish. People are fighting in the streets right outside this boarding house, this sanctuary of yours. French citizens fighting French citizens. Making the most beautiful city in the world into a huge charnel house. Two weeks ago a mob forced entry into the prison and attacked the prisoners there whose “crimes” were their loyalty to Louis. They were all intoxicated by the speeches of that deranged madman in the assembly, Marat. The mob held a mock trial for each of the prisoners as they hauled them out of their cells. (Duboce tries to not listen, but Mama is persistent.) The priests and the aristocrats who expressed any kind of loyalty to their King were beheaded immediately on the streets outside. Some weren’t guilty of loyalty, but they looked like they might be, so they were slaughtered along with the others. Their bodies piled up outside the gate. Their heads were displayed on pikes. Unspeakable atrocities were committed on the bodies.
The gutters run red.
And you sit there and drink.

DUBOCE: The Pope then. His Holiness…

MAMA: The Pope is being allowed to keep his estates in the south. That will keep him silent. He’s got his 30 pieces of silver.

DUBOCE: His holiness will not stand for this. There are still thousands of true believers in Paris. All of Christendom will come down on this damned assembly and crush it!

MAMA: Francois, you of all people should realize that the church can not, will not deal with this.

DUBOCE: But there is blood in the streets. There are bodies waiting to be buried…

MAMA: And how would you know any of this, Holy Father, if I were not to tell you? Sometimes I do not know who is simpler, you or Kuki. You just sit there and mouthe judgments against those who at least have the courage to be in the streets.

DUBOCE: (Hurt) You know why I do not go out. You know what happened…that day…in the public square.

MAMA: Yes, yes, I know. I know, and I understand. Your own spirits have made you a prisoner here. You are haunted by your own self. To go out would invite disaster for you. I cannot condemn you for staying inside.

DUBOCE: Well, it certainly isn’t my fault that the whole world has gone mad. First, I’m publicly humiliated, then…

MAMA: Just a moment, Francois. I have this to say: Some of the change is good. It is necessary. There was NO BREAD. Babies were crying in hunger. In this city of wealth and beauty, the people had no bread to eat. I tell you, father Duboce, I am thankful for it. I am thankful for bread at any price. The Assembly may be made up of Madmen and lawyers, but they will not let the people starve. We must be thankful for bread. I am. I give thanks for bread.

KUKI: The king’s bread-head.

(Kuki giggles. There is a pause, punctuated only by Kuki’s giggling. Duboce pours himself another drink.)

DUBOCE: I see. (He raises his glass to Mama, not unkindly: ) To your good health. May your life be long and happy.

(Duboce raises his glass. There is a brief pause. The tension seems to thaw between Mama and Duboce. Suddenly, Lazare and Charles burst in from the pantry. They burst everywhere they go.)

CHARLES: My boy, you must be mad. A powdered wig? A powdered WIG? You are truly insane. If you wear a powdered wig in the streets, you will be hauled off your horse, dragged to the nearest guillotine, uselessly screaming all the way that you are NOT an aristocrat, wasting the last of your breath and ruining your clothes, AND THEN THEY WILL CUT OFF YOUR HEAD.

LAZARE: Nonsense. I don’t own a horse.

CHARLES: You know what I mean.

LAZARE: No, I do NOT know what you mean. You act like it’s important, but it’s just clothes, for God’s sake.

CHARLES: (as though to a troublesome student.) What? Just? Just clothes? I don’t believe my ears. What am I to do with you? Just clothes? Let me ask you a question. Why does Marat, that madman, why does he wear a red bandanna tied around his head in the Assembly? Why does he wear torn clothes? Why does he carry a loaded pistol in his sash even when he is surrounded by friends? Because those are the only clothes he has? Because he can afford no other? No! Because he knows what I know. What I have been trying to explain to you. What all of Paris – what all of France knows. CLOTHES ARE EVERYTHING. Faith means nothing. Nation means nothing. Family means nothing. Appearances are everything. The only way to tell who is who any more is by the cut of his breeches.

LAZARE: (Aside, to Charles: ) Charles, I love you like a brother, but you’re full of shit.

KUKI: (loudly and cheerily) Full of shit.

DUBOCE: (who has been listening quietly until now) And insolent.

KUKI: Insolent.

DUBOCE: You young men seem to think you know everything. Faith means nothing, nation means nothing, family means nothing…boy, if these things mean nothing, then you mean nothing. You’re disposable.

MAMA: (stepping in, cutting the argument off.) The cut of the clothes make no difference. Washing is washing. They’re all the same in the wash-tub. I take it you’ve eaten?

LAZARE: Yes, Mama, we’re fine. Thank you.

DUBOCE: Lazare, What is it that draws an intelligent young man out into those violent streets and keeps him there all night?

CHARLES: There is everything…

DUBOCE: I wasn’t talking to you. I said an intelligent young man.

KUKI: An intelligent young man.

LAZARE: Sir, Charles is a poet.

DUBOCE: A poet?

LAZARE: Yes, a poet.

KUKI: Yes.

DUBOCE: A poet. Have I read his work in any literary publication? Any periodical? Any literary gazette?

LAZARE: No. No, you see his work is rather.. it is not what they are used to, you see. It is not what the gazettes expect. The style that they want is more –eh–You see he is, well, he is not as yet published, Sir.

DUBOCE: I see. An as-yet-unpublished-poet. Nothing. Yes, I see.

CHARLES: (out for revenge) Lazare tells me, Father Duboce, that you are a priest. Is this true?

DUBOCE: Of course it is true. What a question. “Father, are you a priest?” Just what I’d expect.

CHARLES: (not veering away)Then where, Holy Father, is your church? Your congregation?

DUBOCE: (stung. slowly) I do not..have a con…gregation. Now. But I did. Times change…People change…

CHARLES: I see. A priest without a church.

(There is an uncomfortable silence. Lazare jumps into it.)

LAZARE: You ask me where we went last night, Father Duboce. Well, we went to the new Melodrama. It was fascinating, really. We all thought it was just amazing. Truly. So much larger-than-life…

CHARLES: That it was realistic!

LAZARE: So implausible…

CHARLES: That it seemed to be plucked directly from real life!

LAZARE: Such an idea, to portray a wealthy landlord as a villain…

CHARLES: And the poor young bourgeois lovers as heroes! Brilliant!

LAZARE: Genius!

KUKI: Genius!

DUBOCE: Disgusting.

KUKI: Disgusting.

LAZARE: We were up half the night discussing it.

CHARLES: Operettas, comedies, vaudevilles, pantomimes, they are past, done. Melodrama is the voice of the people. It speaks to us.

KUKI: It speaks to us.

LAZARE: Tell them what the writer, Pixerecourt, said.

CHARLES: Ah, yes! Pixerecourt! A brilliant man. he said: I write for people who cannot read.” Profound, eh?

DUBOCE: Insipid.

CHARLES: I would attend the theatre every night if a melodrama was being presented.

LAZARE: (fast) You’d attend the theatre every night if you had the cash-at-hand!

CHARLES: (Roars with laughter, relieving tension.)True enough, true enough.

DUBOCE: And the rest of the night?

LAZARE: Sir?

DUBOCE: You attended this spectacle. This melo-drama. It thrilled you. You stayed up half the night discussing it. What did you do with the other half of the night, while your mother stayed home and worried? Two young men alone in a city full of terror?

LAZARE: Alone?

CHARLES: We weren’t alone. Did we say we were alone?

LAZARE: No.

CHARLES: We were the opposite of alone.

LAZARE: You see, we…

CHARLES: We weren’t alone, Father Duboce. We were accompanied by two of the loveliest…

LAZARE: Shut up, Charles.

MAMA: (who had been minding her business until now) Yes, yes, shut up, Charles. Don’t let on about your girls. Just pretend I don’t know about your Merveilluses, your harlots!

LAZARE: Mama!

KUKI: Your harlots.

MAMA: Hush, baby.

CHARLES: Madame, one of the ladies that accompanied us last night was my cousin, Marie-Claire.

LAZARE: Charles, this is not the way I had intended to tell her. Mama. She really is a nice girl. You’ll love her.

MAMA: A nice girl doesn’t stay out all night without a chaperon.

CHARLES: We were chaperoned by all of Paris!

DUBOCE: Nonsense. All of Paris was in bed where it belonged.

CHARLES: There is an entire universe you are unaware of, Father.

LAZARE: There are different times, Mama. When you were a girl, and Papa was a young man as I am, there was time…you had time…for courtship. There is simply no time for things like that anymore. There is no more TIME. We live in the oppressive shadow of the guillotine. We could all be dead tomorrow. One must take love as one finds it.

DUBOCE: Young whelp! Talking to your mother that way. And your clothes!

CHARLES: What of our clothes, Father Duboce?

(He closes in, attempting a menacing stance.)

MAMA: If your father could hear you, Lazare. His only child. If your father could hear you.

LAZARE: Why must you always bring in Papa? All my life you’ve set up Papa as an example to me, but why? Surely you don’t want me to be like him. I can’t be like him. He was killed, and for what? For printing a few pamphlets. He didn’t even write the pamphlets, he just printed them. The authors are still alive behind their pen-names, and the printer is assassinated. His shop set on fire. The type-plates cracked and the press overturned. They didn’t even leave a body. Papa just disappeared. We don’t even know who did it. Papa printed everybody’s propaganda; the revolutionaries, the royalists, the liberals, the wealthy, the starving. He just disappeared. Nobody knows to this day which faction Papa offended by printing which pamphlet. Not a clue. All Papa did was press a bit of ink onto a slip of paper, and one night he disappeared. His shop ablaze. So much for the power of the press. And that was five years ago. Before anyone knew what a revolution really looked like and smelled like. Before the slaughter became so common. All because of some silly idea that the ability to publish should belong to all people. He just disappeared. I’m not going to disappear, Mama. I’m not. I intend to live my life without getting stuck in Papa’s web of conscience. It certainly didn’t do him much good, did it? This is a new world. This is a world where people are killed for having a conscience. for having ideas. And THAT is the world I’ve grown up in. The world I’ll inherit. The world I’ll die in.

CHARLES: (dying to get in on this) And that is the world we’re dressed for, Father. A world gone mad. A world where every moment must be lived like it will be your last. And they call us Les Incroyables.

MAMA: Your clothes. That’s all that really matters, isn’t it? What about your future?

LAZARE: I’ve just been telling you! There is no future!

MAMA: That’s not what you said when you entered the law school last year.

LAZARE: How could I study law? There is no law. There is no justice. The guillotine cut the law’s head off.

MAMA: If you had just applied yourself…

LAZARE: Applied myself? They jailed the faculty!

CHARLES: (diving right in) And THAT is why we dress this way!

MAMA: Clothes? The weeds you wrap your bodies in. You’re hollow.

LAZARE: We’re hollow Mama? What about your guest? Your refugee of the cloth? The priest without a congregation? Without a church? There’s your man without substance. Your hollow holy man. And you let him stay here for months on the cuff.

KUKI: (brightly) Cuff!

MAMA: Shame on you.

KUKI: (She shows off her cuff, proudly) Cuff!

(All pause, look at Kuki. She beams back at them. Lazare realizes that he has said too much.)

LAZARE: Mama, forgive me. I’ve said too much. Father Duboce, my apologies.

DUBOCE: That’s all right, boy.

LAZARE: Kuki, you’re a sweet girl.(He kisses her)

KUKI: Sweet sweet girl.

LAZARE: All of a sudden I’m tired. Charles?

CHARLES: Yes, My boy?

LAZARE: Let’s get something to eat.

CHARLES: We just ate.

LAZARE: (sharp)Let’s go anyway. Come on. Come.

(They exit to the pantry, Lazare persuading Charles along. After they have left, Tom Paine enters from the street. He carries a commodious traveling bag. He will pull a great many things out of this bag. He comes off the street in a rush, as though he is being pursued. He is quite rumpled in appearance, needs a shave, and in general looks quite awful. Despite this, he carries himself with great dignity.)

MAMA: (to Duboce) I apologize for my son, Francois.

DUBOCE: I understand. It’s all right. really.

MAMA: I don’t know what will come of that boy.

DUBOCE: Wonderful things will come of him. Just give him time.

MAMA: Time. Time.

PAINE: Hallo?

MAMA: Hello.

(All turn and take in the stranger)

KUKI: Hallo. Hello.

PAINE: Bonjour…(pronounced “bone-jeer”..he speaks very bad French) Madame. Do you have a, ah, room for the night?

MAMA: Yes, Sir we do. For those who pay we have room.

PAINE: Yes. I saw the sign outside. I’m sure everything will be quite satisfactory. I even have cash

(He takes a coin purse out of his pocket, shakes it at her to show it is not empty, puts it back in his pocket.)

MAMA: In that case, welcome.

KUKI: Welcome.

(Paine looks at Kuki. There is a happy shouting and a commotion in the street outside. Paine looks nervous.)

PAINE: Madame, I have traveled very far in the last few days. Might you show me the room, ah, now? I must rest. I have not been able to sleep for almost three days now.

(The noise outside builds and disappears.)

MAMA: Certainly. Please come upstairs.

(Paine follows Mama upstairs, stops, realizes he has forgotten his bag, scampers back down to get it, muttering to himself)

PAINE: Forget my head if it wasn’t stuck on.

(He exits up the stairs with his bag. Duboce looks at his wine bottle, sees that it is nearly empty, and puts his head down as in the beginning of the play. Kuki looks around, looks worried, and runs upstairs after Mama. Duboce snores. Lazare and Charles re-enter from the pantry.)

LAZARE: I tell you, the cut of the vest is simply not as important…

CHARLES: If it’s not important, do me a favor, do it my way.

LAZARE: Is that all you care about? The cut of your clothes?

CHARLES: You dress the same way I do.

LAZARE: yes, but at least I think about something other than clothes sometimes. You’re obsessed.

CHARLES: Marie-Claire seems to like the way you dress. Likes it quite a lot.

LAZARE: What are you getting at?

CHARLES: Never mind me. What is Marie-Claire getting at?

LAZARE: Sometimes I wonder why you’re my friend.

CHARLES: Because I give you fashion tips.

LAZARE: (suddenly aware of the sleeping Duboce) ShhhShhHHH.

CHARLES: I wonder where everyone’s gone?

LAZARE: Mama’s upstairs. Cleaning, probably. Kuki follows her around like a lost pup. And the Holy Father here is in a world of his own.

CHARLES: Well, in that case, he won’t mind sharing with us,will he?

(He sneaks behind Duboce and steals the wine bottle without waking him. He takes a swallow.)

CHARLES: Umpf. Old Selfish’s nearly drunk the whole thing.

LAZARE: Honestly, Charles.

CHARLES: Honestly? How dare you speak of honesty to one so low as to steal an almost-empty bottle of cheap wine from an unconscious priest? Besides, I thought you just said you didn’t want to be my friend, my brother, my confidant.

LAZARE: Don’t be stupid. You’re my best friend. Just put the wine bottle back.

CHARLES: Just one more.

(There is a sudden huge clamor heard from the street.)

CHARLES: What in God’s name…

VOICES FROM THE STREET: Paine!
Tom PAINE!
Vive Tom Paine!
Ou est Common Sense? Ou est Monseuir Paine?
Citizen Tom Paine!
Common Sense! Common Sense! Common Sense! Common Sense!
Ou est l’American Tom Paine!
Vive Tom Paine! Tompaine!
TOMPAINE!!

LAZARE: (overlapping with the above) What the devil!

CHARLES: What do they want?

LAZARE: It’s not a what, it’s a who…a Tompain? Do you know any…

(Mama appears from upstairs. Duboce does not stir.)

MAMA: What do they want? What is it? Bread? Another riot?

LAZARE: I don’t think it’s another riot, Mama. It sounds more like a celebration.

MAMA: (coming downstairs, followed closely by Kuki.) A celebration? Have they set the king free?

LAZARE: No, I don’t think so. It sounds like a parade…but they’re looking for someone.

CHARLES: An Americaner. Tom Paine. I think I’ve heard of him. Do you remember, Lazare? Last night they were talking about him at the theatre.

MAMA: I know who Tom Paine is.

(She quickly goes to the front door, followed by Kuki. She opens the door. the cheering for Tom Paine continues, louder. Without hesitating, Mama goes outside. Kuki follows, afraid to be away from Mama.)

LAZARE : Mama..stop!

CHARLES: You shouldn’t go out there…

(But Mama is gone. The boys look at each other, shrug, and follow her. Father DuBoce is on stage all alone again. The voices from the street change from happy-sounding to ugly. Duboce stirs in his sleep. The lights change to a dream effect as The Voices From The Street start up a weird chant that comes from the memory of Father Duboce.)

VOICES FROM THE STREET:
Kill the priests!
Kill the priests!
KILL THE PRIESTS!
KILL KILL KILL
KILL THE PRIEST!

DUBOCE: (Still asleep) No! I’ve done nothing! (As the chant reaches a peak, Duboce awakes and acts out his nightmare. The special lighting continues.) I’ve committed no crime!

VOICES FROM THE STREET: Kill him!

DUBOCE: I am a representative of Christ’s church.

VOICES: You must take the oath.

DUBOCE: I have taken solemn vows.

VOICES: You must take a solemn vow to uphold the revolution!

DUBOCE: The lord is my shepherd.

VOICES: The oath of ALLEGIANCE!

DUBOCE: I owe my allegiance to His Holiness the Pope!

VOICES: You work for us now.
You work for France now.
NOT THE POPE!
The Pope has surrendered his grip on the Church in France.
Take the oath!
You work for France now, not the Pope!
Take the oath. The oath oath oath oath , the oath the oath, the oath, the oath, the oath, the oath!
Take the Oath! Take the Oath! TAKE THE OATH!
(The voices and lights swirl around Duboce, trapping him.)
Take the oathoathoathoathoathoathoathoathoathoathoathoathoath!
THE! OATH!

DUBOCE: (a small voice, almost childlike: ) Why hast thou forsaken me?

VOICES: Kill Him.
He won’t swear. Banish him.
KILL HIM!
We’ll have your head on a stick, priest!
Take the oath!

DUBOCE: I swear…

VOICES: THE OATH!

DUBOCE: I swear I…

VOICES: Take the Oath!

DUBOCE: By all that is Holy…

VOICES: Stand UP! (he does so)

DUBOCE: (shouts!) I swear, by all that is Holy, to uphold the laws of the republic and…and…and…the pp-people’s revolution…so help me…so help me…so help me God Almighty!

(We hear a huge crash of thunder. Duboce collapses on the table, weeping. The lights return to normal. He calms down, slowly. He tries to pour another drink, but the bottle has been emptied by Charles. There is no more noise coming from the street. Duboce is awake now. The nightmare is over. Duboce is pulled out of his memories by a tapping at the door. Marie-Claire enters. She is beautiful. Her presence calms Father Duboce.)

MARIE-CLAIRE: Lazare? Charles? Are you in here? (She sees Duboce) Oh, I am sorry. Is this Lazare’s house? He told me…Charles said I would find them here today.

DUBOCE: Yes. Lazare lives here. He and his friend Charles were here a moment ago. I seem to have dozed off…pardon me. I am Francois. Father Francois Duboce.

MARIE-CLAIRE: I am Marie-Claire. Charles’ cousin.

DUBOCE: Ah, yes. They spoke of you earlier.

MARIE-CLAIRE: (closing in) Really? they spoke of me? What did they say? Not all bad, I hope. Lazare is very nice. I love his hair. I hope he spoke well of me..after, all we did..and..and…What did they say?

DUBOCE; (not sure how much to divulge) They said you…accompanied them to a very…stimulating presentation of some sort at the theatre last night, and…

MARIE-CLAIRE: Yes, their new melodrama. How they loved it. They wouldn’t quit talking about it. I don’t think I entirely understood it, but it was pretty enough to look at.

DUBOCE: Yes, I dare say.

MARIE-CLAIRE: It’s so important to know about one’s impressions, don’t you think so, Father? I think the impression one makes in the first five minutes is more important than anything. And the first five seconds are the most important part of those first five minutes. Just think: a whole relationship can be based on five seconds. It’s not quite fair, but that’s how it is. Father is it wrong to try to make a favorable impression? I need to know. I care a great deal for lazare, and I hope that he won’t think less of me for the things I have done to get a positive impression from him. Do you see my dilemma? Do you understand, Father?

DUBOCE: (he understands only that she needs to talk to someone) No I’m afraid not. Explain it to me.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Father. I am eighteen years old. Nearly nineteen. My mother was a mother twice over by the time she was eighteen.

DUBOCE: I see.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Lazare seems to be such a nice boy. Not like the others. Not like Charles, even. And he dresses so nicely. don’t you think he dresses nicely, Father?

DUBOCE: Oh, I don’t know…I don’t know many young men who dress as well as…well, who dress as Lazare. He is…unique.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Yes. And so fashionable. You can be sure he made a good impression on me. So naturally, when he proposed last night…

DUBOCE: Proposed? Proposed marriage?

MARIE-CLAIRE: Why, yes. I think he meant marriage. It would seem a very married thing to do. I suppose. I was so busy trying to make an impression, I don’t think I paid close enough attention. No matter. I’m sure he can be coaxed into marriage. How could it be otherwise? Do you understand my predicament, Father?

DUBOCE: Yes, I believe so.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Of course I like him, and of course he likes me. He certainly acted like it. Now it is up to me. Once the initial attraction has taken place, it is the girl’s responsibility to follow through, isn’t it? How else is a girl to get a man? So. Will you hear my confession?

DUBOCE: I?

MARIE-CLAIRE: Of course you. You are a priest. What do you recommend to the young ladies of your congregation who come to you with such troubles? To comfort them? To advise them? To cleanse them? Of sin? Surely such a case as mine is not unique.

DUBOCE: You do not understand, my dear. I am not…I do not..that is, I can’t.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Can’t what, Father? I do not understand. You must speak more clearly.

DUBOCE: (embarrassed) I do not perform the offices or sacraments any more.

MARIE-CLAIRE: But you are a priest?

DUBOCE: I am a priest, but…

MARIE-CLAIRE: Well, really, when a girl can’t count on a local priest to help in a small matter of the heart, then…

DUBOCE: (wanting to help but he cannot bring himself to act as a priest.) I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I don’t..do..those things..any more. I just can’t (he begins to cry) any more. I must go. (He knocks over his chair and goes up the stairs, backwards) I must go. My breakfast isn’t settling at all well. I must go. I’m very sorry, my dear.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Father?

DUBOCE: Yes?

MARIE-CLAIRE: Your blessing?

DUBOCE: (this really hurts. He rushes off) I’m very sorry.

MARIE-CLAIRE: How very odd. Hm. I wonder where Lazare and Charles are. I wonder if that odd man was just a prank they decided to play on me. It must be. (to the walls) All right! Come out! You’ve had your laugh on me. You can come out, you scoundrels. Where are you hiding?

(The voices calling out for Tom Paine start up again. Faintly at first, then building in intensity and distracting Marie-Claire.)

MARIE-CLAIRE: Oh, not again. What a pest this Tom Paine is becoming. They hold a parade to welcome him to Paris and he disappears.

VOICES FROM THE STREET:
I saw him over there! Tom Paine!
Where?
That’s not him!
Tom Paine!
Citizen Thomas Paine!
Welcome to Paris!
Welcome to your destiny!
Where the hell are you?

(Tom Paine has appeared at the top of the stairs, unseen by Marie Claire.)

PAINE: Hello.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Oh! You startled me, sir.

PAINE: I’m very sorry, sweet lady. (attempting charm, descending the stairs.) What’s all this noise about?

MARIE-CLAIRE: They’re looking for the new Hero of the People. It seems they’ve lost him.

PAINE: Ah, Robespierre. He’s a fine man.

MARIE-CLAIRE: That bag-of-wind? Surely you jest. This new fellow is a man of action.

PAINE: Oh. You mean Monseuir Marat.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Oh, nobody would have a parade for Marat; he’s so badly dressed. He’s filthy. A regular peasant. This is for the new man. The American; you know. (Paine preens) What’s-his-name.

PAINE: (deflated) Yes. Him.. Of course. What’s-his-name.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Do you know where Lazare is?

PAINE: My dear, I do not even know who Lazare is.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Who? Why, he lives here.

PAINE: Well, so do I.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Oh. (she giggles.)

PAINE: (uncomfortable at her laughter) What, am I that amusing, my sweet?

MARIE-CLAIRE: Your clothes. It looks as though you’ve been sleeping in them for a week.

PAINE: (with an attempt at dignity) Two weeks.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Really?

PAINE: Yes. I have been traveling for some time. I am here to rest for a while before…before resuming my travels.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Travels? Where?

PAINE: I’ve just escaped-ah-arrived from England. Just squeaked out.

MARIE-CLAIRE: English. I should have known. What an odd way you have of speaking. Are all the people of England this odd?

PAINE: As a matter of fact, yes. I believe the people of England are quite odd. Always have. But enough of me. What can I do for you?

MARIE-CLAIRE: You could help me find my Lazare.

PAINE: Him again. I suppose this Mon-suur Lazare is quite good looking?

MARIE-CLAIRE: “Mon-suur?” Oh, you mean Monsieur. Yes. He is quite good looking.

PAINE: And he does not sleep in his clothes for a week at a time?

MARIE-CLAIRE: (flirting) Sir! I am sure I do no know what he sleeps in.

PAINE: I see. Pardon me. My apologies.

MARIE-CLAIRE: But I am fairly sure that he bathes. And he wears the most delicious amber perfume.

PAINE: He bathes? You mean in water?

MARIE-CLAIRE: Of course in water. Only that old fool Fronk-lean from America bathes without water.

PAINE: “Fronk-lean?”

MARIE-CLAIRE: Oui. Benjamin Fronk-lean. The American Ambassador.

PAINE: Oh. Franklin. You know Ben Franklin?

MARIE-CLAIRE: I’ve heard of him. All Paris has. He takes air-baths. By an open window. Shocking.

PAINE: It’s only shocking because so many Frenchmen stand in the street and stare at a naked old man. Would you like to meet him? He’s an old friend. Smartest man I know.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Franklin? You KNOW Benjamin Franklin?

PAINE: Yes, and if you’d care to dine with me tonight, I could introduce you.

MARIE CLAIRE: Dinner? Tonight? I do not even know your name, Monsieur. And you do need a bath.

PAINE: Is it all that bad?

MARIE-CLAIRE: (giggles) Yes.

PAINE: (closing in, attempting charm) Well, what if I were to bathe, find another set of clothes somewhere, and douse myself with amber perfume. Then what would you say to dinner?

MARIE-CLAIRE: I would say that I still do not know your name, only that you claim to be a friend of that strange American Benjamin Franklin.

VOICES FROM THE STREET:
Paine!
Tom Paine!
Paine. PAINE!
Vive Tom Paine!
You can’t hide forever, Monseuir!
TOM PAINE!

MARIE-CLAIRE: How annoying this Tom Paine must be. To disappear from his own parade. I heard he was invited to carry the new United-States-of-the Americas flag in the opening ceremonies at the Assembly tomorrow. (Paine begins to speak) I suppose you’re going to tell me you know Thomas Paine, too.

PAINE: Well, now that you mention it, I do. I know Paine better than I know Franklin. In fact, I dine with Monsieur Paine nearly every night.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Oh, surely. I do Not doubt it. And I take chocolate with the Queen every morning before our stroll around the palace grounds.

PAINE: Now it is you who is making fun of me. Now that you mention it, though, I imagine Marie-Antoinette would love to take a stroll anywhere with anyone just now. She does seem to have herself in a bit of a pickle. (he laughs) No matter. I don’t suppose you’d believe me if I told you that I’m the best-selling author in British history?

MARIE-CLAIRE: No.

PAINE: Or that George Washington has always…

MARIE-CLAIRE: Who?

PAINE: George Washington? He’s the President of the “New-United-States-of-the Americas.” He has always found my ideas to be his deepest inspiration.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Please. You’re being absurd.

PAINE: And that it’s really me the crowd outside is cheering for?

MARIE-CLAIRE: (This guy must be nuts!) I think I’d better go.

PAINE: No? How about this, then: I’m a trained corset-maker.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Now that I believe.

(Kuki slips in, unseen)

PAINE: (still flirting)…and I’ve come to Paris to see if the rumors are true about the young ladies of Paris discarding their undergarments?

MARIE-CLAIRE: I really am going to leave.

PAINE: In favor of a softer, more classical look?

(Marie-Claire stops in the doorway, turns, poses.)

PAINE: The look of a Greek Goddess?

KUKI: (copying Paine’s gesture) A Greek Goddess?

PAINE: Where’d this urchin come from?

KUKI: Where’s this urchin come from?

MARIE-CLAIRE: I’m sure I don’t know.

KUKI: I don’t know.

PAINE: (To Kuki: ) Might I ask your name?

KUKI: Name?

PAINE: Yes. Your name. What-is-your-name? (To Marie-Claire) Touched, isn’t she?

KUKI: What-is-your-name?

PAINE: Never mind my name! What are you doing here?

(A light breaks across Kuki’s face! She runs to get her broom.)

KUKI: Sweep! (She shows him the broom, proudly.) Sweep. Sweep-sweep. Sweep. Sweep. Sweep-sweep-sweep. Sweep. (she shows him the broom again. sincerely: ) Sweep.

PAINE: (condescending: ) I see. You sweep, eh?

KUKI: Sweep.

PAINE: Why so you do, so you do. (He backs away. to Marie-Claire: ) Don’t suppose she’s dangerous, do you? I’d heard the insane ran around loose in the streets of Paris, but I didn’t believe it until now.

MARIE-CLAIRE: (offended) I am sure I do not know what you are talking about, Monseuir.

PAINE: (changing the subject: ) Will you have dinner with me tonight?

MARIE-CLAIRE: I still do not know your name.

PAINE: If I told you my name?

MARIE-CLAIRE: Then I would still not tell you mine. Good-bye. (She gathers to leave.)

PAINE: Touché.

KUKI: Touché.

PAINE: Oh, shut up. (to Marie-Claire) Just a moment, my dear.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Yes?

PAINE: This Tom Paine…what does he look like?

MARIE-CLAIRE: Tom Paine?

PAINE: Yes.

(Paine strikes a pose as if sitting for a portrait.)

MARIE-CLAIRE: Well, I have not met him, but they say he is quite, well, handsome. Very handsome in fact.

PAINE: Really? As Handsome as your Lazare?

MARIE-CLAIRE: I suppose so, yes. At least as handsome as Lazare. And very well dressed, for a bourgeois.

PAINE: A bourgeois?

MARIE-CLAIRE: Yes.

PAINE: Does he take baths regularly?

MARIE-CLAIRE: Of course!

PAINE: Are you sure?

MARIE-CLAIRE: Surely I am sure.

KUKI: I am sure.

PAINE: (ignoring Kuki) …and this handsome, bourgeois, famous Tom Paine from the Americas, why is he in France?

MARIE-CLAIRE: everyone knows that. He is here to help with the revolution. With the new government.

PAINE: Really?

KUKI: Really?

MARIE-CLAIRE: And to help the assembly draft the papers…the outlines…for the new government.

PAINE: You mean the constitution?

MARIE-CLAIRE: I suppose. Yes. that’s it. The con-stitution. Yes.

PAINE: And that’s why they are calling for him in the streets?

MARIE-CLAIRE: Well, of course. France has always lionized great writers.

KUKI: France has always lionized great writers.

MARIE-CLAIRE: (gives Kuki an annoyed look) Paine is the greatest living revolutionary writer, so our revolutionary Assembly is bestowing the laurel wreath on him, naturally.

KUKI: The laurel wreath. naturally.

PAINE: I see. And which of Mr. Paine’s books have you read?

MARIE-CLAIRE: Why, none.

PAINE: Well, what about his articles? his pamphlets?

MARIE-CLAIRE: Not a one.

PAINE: His letters to the editor? He’s quite infamous for the scandalous practice of nearly signing his own name to his letters to the editor.

MARIE-CLAIRE: I haven’t read a single letter by the man.

PAINE: You can read?

MARIE-CLAIRE: Of course I can read. And I have had plenty of opportunities as well.

PAINE: Then why haven’t you availed yourself of these golden opportunities?

MARIE-CLAIRE: Reading gives me a headache.

PAINE: Then how do you come to know so much about the man?

MARIE-CLAIRE: (as if explaining it to a small child) Because it is fashionable to know about Monsieur Thomas Paine. Fashion. That is all.

KUKI: Fashion. That is all.

(Paine is dumfounded. He does not have a retort. This does not happen often. After a pause, as Paine looks from Kuki to Marie-Claire and back, trying to figure out which one is the more simple minded, Lazare and Charles return, followed quickly by Mama.)

LAZARE: I told you, he’s just not there.

MAMA: Kuki! There you are. Did you get scared of the crowds?

CHARLES: Hold a parade and he disappears? I don’t believe it.

MAMA: Well, you’re safe now, darling. It’s all right. (to Charles) He’s here. Paine is here in paris. I believe it. I know it. Monseuir Hugo across the way said he saw him from his balcony just a few minutes ago. Paine is near here somewhere.

LAZARE: Well, explain why he just up and..(Seeing her for the first time) Marie Claire! (He rushes to her and gathers her up in his arms.)

MARIE-CLAIRE: Lazare! I was getting worried about you.

LAZARE: There is nothing to worry about.

MARIE-CLAIRE: I have to talk to you about something. It’s important.

LAZARE: I know. Me too. (Ignoring the world, they kiss passionately.)

MAMA: (After an awkward pause)Lazare? Lazare. (pause) Son, who is this young lady? (Lazare, busy kissing Marie-Claire, ignores Mama.) LAZ-ARE!

CHARLES: Madame, may I introduce my cousin, Marie-Claire?

MAMA: Your cousin?

CHARLES: Yes, Madame. My uncle’s daughter. (To Lazare and Marie-Claire) Will you two stop it? (They do so, sheepishly)

MAMA: Marie-Claire?

MARIE-CLAIRE: Yes, Madame.

MAMA: The same Marie-Claire that my son was out with all last night?

MARIE-CLAIRE: Madame, I…

LAZARE: Mama!

MARIE-CLAIRE: It’s quite all right, dear. (looking squarely at Mama.) Yes, Madame. I am the same Marie-Claire.

(There is an uncomfortable pause as the two women appraise each other. Marie Claire continues to look Mama squarely in the eye . When she is satisfied that she has established herself with Mama, she drops into a quick, but proper curtsey.)

MAMA: (All she wanted was a little respect) I am pleased to meet you, my child.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Likewise.

MAMA: (to Lazare) You awful boy! Why haven’t you brought her here before?

LAZARE: Do you really like her Mama?

MAMA: Yes, cabbagehead, I do. She has spirit. (She notices Paine is downstairs) Monseuir? Is there something you need?

PAINE: (embarrassed with the family scene after trying his luck with Marie Claire.) No, Madame. I was only asking the young lady about the commotion in the street. does it seem to have passed?

MAMA: Yes.

CHARLES: But they’ll be back.

LAZARE: Mama, why all this interest in Tom Paine? What is he to us?

MAMA: He once did business with your father.

LAZARE: He did? Papa never said anything about…

MAMA: It doesn’t matter what he said. You never listened anyway. Your father was a man of very high standards. Monseuir Paine took advantage of those standards to champion his own cause. Your Father barely mentioned the man, but I know it is Monseuir Thomas Paine that was responsible for the death of your father.

PAINE: (shocked, befuddled) Madame? How can that be? I have only just…I heard Monseuir Paine has just arrived in Paris today.

MAMA: That is true. But Monseuir Paine once used my late husband’s printing press to circulate his writings in France. My husband disappeared shortly after.

PAINE: Are you sure it was the same Tom Paine?

MAMA: I am sure. I never met the man, but I am sure it is the same man. His reputation is the same. My husband told me…

PAINE: What was your husband’s name, Madame?

MAMA: Georges. Georges DuPont.

PAINE: (stunned) My word.

KUKI: Georges DuPont. My word.

MAMA: Though we never found out, I have always known that it was printing Common Sense that caused my husband to disappear. (a quiet memory: ) Tom Paine.

LAZARE: You never told me.

MAMA: There are a great many things I have never told you.

KUKI: (looking directly at Tom Paine) Tom Paine.

(Paine recoils from Kuki as though she has accused him of something.)

MARIE-CLAIRE: Lazare. We have to talk.

LAZARE: Just a moment, dear. Not now.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Now, Lazare. it’s urgent! I have to ask you about something.

(A cannon blast is heard from the street. People scream outside. All rush to the door, trying to see outside.)

CHARLES: Now that is no parade.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Lazare!

LAZARE: Not NOW! Charles.. is it really cannonfire? In the city?

MAMA: Have the Austrians arrived so soon?

CHARLES: Good Lord! That’s too close.

(Marie-Claire screams! The noise outside builds to a deafening roar!)

LAZARE: Look out!

(Lazare pulls & pushes everyone away from the door just before a second cannon blast is heard, much louder and very very close this time. The blast has hit the inn. Plates fall off the wall, shattering on the floor. The front door is splintered. The inn is in danger of the violence outside spilling in.)

CHARLES: Good God!

MARIE-CLAIRE: Lazare!

PAINE: Damn!

CHARLES: What can it be?

MAMA: Look. It’s war. Do you see? This is what war looks like.

PAINE: It certainly is.

LAZARE: How can we have a war on our own street?

MAMA: Why not? It has to happen somewhere. Isn’t it you who said we might all die tomorrow?

KUKI: (she has remained calm through all of this) We might all die tomorrow.

MARIE-CLAIRE: It’s those dolts, the sans-culottes.

PAINE: The whom?

CHARLES: The sans-culottes. The people without style.

MAMA: You mean the people who cannot afford style.

PAINE: The common people?

LAZARE: Yes. The rabble. Led by that fanatic, Jean-Paul Marat. He means to rule by terror.

CHARLES: And to let terror rule. They’d kill everyone.

MAMA: It’s true.

(Duboce appears at the top of the stairs and listens, helpless with the others.)

THE VOICES FROM THE STREET:
Open the Royal Storehouses!
Feed the people!
We starve while fat Louis sits comfortably in house arrest!
Tear off his head!
I’ll be his judge!
I’ll rip him from his belly to his throat!
Leave the Queen for me!
Give us his head!
Open the Royal Treasury!
Open the grainhouses!
Death to all Royalty!
Death to Louis!
Vive la Revolution!
Vive la Revolution!
Vive la Revolution!

PAINE: Surely the Assembly does not allow such rabble to sway its judgement.

DUBOCE: (He has stood on the stairs unnoticed until now.) The assembly is rabble.

KUKI: Rabble Rabble Rabble.

PAINE: Nonsense. The assembly seeks a new form of government without tyranny. The freedom-loving people of France…

DUBOCE: Are thirsty for blood. They are a mob. They have no mind. They have become criminals. Murderers.

VOICES: Kill the King!

PAINE: That is a lie.

CHARLES: (looking outside ) It may be, but the freedom-loving people of France have just overturned a wagon outside.

(A huge commotion, the sound of fighting, and the screaming of a horse is heard very nearby.)

DUBOCE: (to Paine) You talk like a man who reads too many pamphlets.

PAINE: What a coincidence. I just happen to be…

LAZARE: Gentlemen, please. This is not the time. I need your help over here NOW.

(Kuki has wandered over to the blasted door and stands there looking out.)

LAZARE: Charles. Help. Kuki, dear, don’t stand there! Mama, keep Kuki away from the street. Help me, sir. Look out for the broken plates. There. Put the door back in place. Gentlemen? Please bring the table over here. I don’t know how close that cannon is, but this inn won’t withstand another blast. Push the table up against the door to hold it in place. And the bench, too. Good. Good.Thank you Gentlemen. You now that we’re safe, you may continue to kill each other.

CHARLES: At least we’re safe. Nobody can get in through all of that.

DUBOCE: And no one can get out.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Are we trapped?

KUKI: Trapped. We are trapped.

DUBOCE: Dear sweet Jesus.

CHARLES: Lazare? Any more brilliant ideas?

(The commotion outside swells and dies out.)

LAZARE: They seem to be going away. I think we are safe for now.

MAMA: Safe as we ever were.

KUKI: Safe.

MAMA: Come here, baby.

(She holds out her arms to Kuki, who runs and hides in her arms. Marie-claire goes to Lazare, who holds her protectively.)

PAINE: (surveys the situation. Pause. The irony of it all is too much for him to bear. He steps to Duboce, holds out his hand in greeting.) It seems we are all trapped here together. Perhaps introductions are in order. Please forgive my remarks earlier. I usually do not argue with a man until we have been properly introduced. My name is Paine. Thomas Paine.

(All look at Paine in surprise for a beat. The noise from outside erupts like thunder.)

VOICES FROM THE STREET: KILL THE KING!

(All look to the blocked exit, then back to Paine, who still has his hand extended.)

PAINE: Pleased to make your acquaintance.

(Tableaux. Lights fade to black.)

(END OF ACT ONE.)

Incroyable2 

ACT II

The setting is the same. About two hours have passed. The door is still blockaded, but the characters seem to have settled in. Lazare, Charles, and Marie-Claire are in the pantry. Mama and Kuki are preparing soup in a large pot at the fire. Duboce and Paine are sitting at a small table together, drinking wine and talking. Sometime during the last two hours, Paine has gone upstairs and gotten his traveling bag, against the need for a hasty retreat. The bag lies at his feet.

DUBOCE: You do not understand. These people were my congregation. I was their spiritual leader. I heard their confessions. I baptized their children. I buried their parents and their grandparents. I have fed them the body and blood of Christ. (He drinks his wine)

PAINE: And now they have outgrown you, is that it? They do not need a spiritual father any longer, so you condemn them?

DUBOCE: No, I do not…I could not con-demn. I am not a judge. I am a man. That is all. Just a man. Still, I feel so…

PAINE; Betrayed?

DUBOCE: Yes, that’s it.

PAINE: Exactly my point. (quickly) More blood, ah, wine? (He drinks his own glass off and pours for himself and Duboce.(My friend, you have become a relic. An antique. You life has been dedicated to a medieval study that has no purpose in the modern world, yet you choose to condemn…no?…blame your former followers, merely because they choose to live in the eighteenth century.

DUBOCE: You do not understand. I am not separate from my congregation just because I stand behind an altar, or in a pulpit. I am one with them. We are all one branch in the body of christ. I mourn for any sheep who has left the flock. As a good shepherd, I must…

PAINE: Your own metaphors betray you. Sheep and flocks. In the new order, sheep will elect their own shepherd.

DUBOCE: Fool. Sheep will always be sheep. They will always be led. Monseuir Jean-Paul Marat is just a new shepherd. A vile, stinking shepherd, but a shepherd. Leading his flock over a cliff. (drinks.)

PAINE: Of course he is leading his flock over a cliff. He will teach the new flock to fly!

DUBOCE: Teaching sheep to fly? (drinks.) Blasphemy! What you suggest is against nature! What you suggest is against God!

PAINE: Of course it is! That is why you are out of a job, my friend! (He laughs.) Just listen to yourself; blasphemy, sheep, the body and blood of Christ… You sound like a hieroglyphic! I tell you, Francois, in a hundred years there will no longer be churches to divide mankind into tribes. Society will stop using Gods like children stop using diapers.

(He smiles smarmily, toasts Duboce, drinks. Duboce looks as if he is going to strike Paine. He does not. The two men stare at each other for a time. It is a draw. Paine lifts his glass to his lips. It is empty.)

DUBOCE: More wine?

(The two men roar in laughter. Duboce pours them each more wine.)

MAMA: (to herself) A pair of drunken fools. Just what I needed.

PAINE: I will surrender one point to you, Francois. Here is the one point on which we both must agree: Louis the Sixteenth must not be beheaded.

DUBOCE: You surprise me. I thought surely one such as you would be at the head of the mob that is outside at this very moment screaming for his head. On a silver platter.

PAINE: Oh, come now. Louis the Sixteenth is hardly John the Baptist.

DUBOCE: And you’re hardly Salome.

(Both men roar in laughter at this clever little image.)

PAINE: I fully understand the rage of the people, Francois, but I do not come to the same conclusion. I am neutral. I am a man without country, mostly by my own choice. I can judge matters without any patriotic prejudices.

DUBOCE: I see…go on…(Duboce is beginning to appreciate the similarity between the two of them.)

PAINE: End the monarchy, fine. Banish the king forever, fine. Hold him in prison, anything. It doesn’t matter. BUT IF THE KING IS EXECUTED, the revolution will be stained. Let the new order be built on a new kind of law…a law of compassion. I propose an end to ALL capital punishment. Let the world see we can be right without executing those who are wrong.

DUBOCE: For a man against executions, you have a strange set of friends.

PAINE: Yes. Well. We can’t build an ideal world just by saying “please.”

DUBOCE: No. We can’t.

(Paine and Duboce both turn to their wine for understanding. They drink deeply. A roar builds up again in the streets.)

VOICES FROM THE STREET:
We demand BREAD!
Tear the crown from Louis’’ severed head and sell it for BREAD!
My children are starving!
BREAD! We must have BREAD!
(There is a clamor and the noise trails off. Lazare re-enters from the pantry.)

LAZARE: What is it? Are the cannons back?

MAMA: No. I think this is a new group. Monseuir Paine. The crowd outside is no longer looking for you. They are looking for bread. How do you plan to explain your plan for an “ideal world” to people who are starving?

PAINE: Madame, I sense doubt in your voice. This does not surprise me. I am more despised among the wives of printers than among the crowned heads of Europe. With good cause, I imagine. I plan to speak to the Assembly on the subject, at my earliest opportunity.

MAMA: You?

LAZARE: Speak to the assembly?

PAINE: Yes , me. I have been made an honorary member of that fine parliament.

DUBOCE: That fine rabble. They do not speak for anyone but themselves.

PAINE: But they will listen to me. I am Tom Paine. I wrote Common Sense. I wrote The Rights of Man.

KUKI: I am Tom Paine. I wrote Common Sense. I wrote The Rights of Man.

(She giggles to herself, stirs soup.)

DUBOCE: (To Paine) And you were kicked out of England for it, as well.

LAZARE: The Rights of Man?

PAINE: Parts one and two. It’s a book I wrote. Very popular in England.

LAZARE: I haven’t seen it. What’s it about?

PAINE: Rights. The rights of Man. The basic rights that cannot be denied us, not by kings, churches, landowners, anybody. It hasn’t been published here. Yet. I’m looking for a good French printer.

MAMA: Look someplace else.

LAZARE: Why were you kicked out of England?

PAINE: I left England to avoid being sacrificed on the altar of personal liberty.

DUBOCE: Whatever that means.

PAINE: BUT! My “seditious writings” are some of the best-read scribbles in the modern world! I am told there are more than two-hundred THOUSAND copies of The Rights of Man in the sweaty little hands of the English people at this very moment. Because of my book, anti-royalist societies have formed among working people throughout the United Kingdom. I came to France to avoid being thrown into prison. Ironic isn’t it, that a man trying to set the world free would be imprisoned?

LAZARE: (In Paine’s trance) Yes. Yes. I see. When will your book be available here? In French?

PAINE: Oh, soon. Very soon, I hope. (back to Duboce) As for the Assembly, you need not fear them. They will take my advice. Louis Capet will not be killed by the French people.

DUBOCE: I can only pray you are right.

PAINE: I propose he live out his life in America.

MAMA: America? That’s not a fit place for King.

PAINE: True. Very true. The Americans are not very fond of royalty. That’s why it would be the perfect place to exile him.

(There is a new screaming from the streets)

VOICES FROM THE STREET:
Kill Louis!
Destroy the Royal Family!
Fill the gutters with royal blood!

KUKI: (quite sweetly: ) Fill the gutters with royal blood.

MAMA: Silence, child. You break my heart. You don’t know what you’re saying.

PAINE: (to Mama, of Kuki: ) Is she yours? Your daughter?

MAMA: Kuki? No, Lazare is my only baby. Kuki found me.
It was many years ago. She was wandering around in the streets, all alone and naked. Just a little slip of a thing. She was about three years old.
(musing) Years ago. All alone. Scared of her own shadow.
I saw her sitting by a high stone wall, drawing in the dust with a stick. There didn’t seem to be anyone near by. I gave her a small piece of cheese. She ate it as though it was the only food she’d seen for days.
There was a loud noise, a wagon turning over, I think.
She hid under my skirts and would not let go of my leg. She was screaming like she was being whipped. Her nails dug into my leg.
She actually drew blood.
When she finally calmed down, I tried to find out where her family was. She had no family, at least no family that would claim her.
Just a baby girl. All alone.
A shopkeeper told me she had been living on whatever she could find in the marketplace for weeks. Scared of her own shadow.
I gave her my shawl. When she wrapped it around her thin little body, she looked like a little princess. A frightened little princess.
She followed me home.
For weeks she wouldn’t let me out of her sight.
I suppose she chose me to be her mother.
She’s been with us ever since. Never grown up, really. My husband was with us then. He took to her immediately. He always had a great love of children.
Lazare was his great hope. (a look at Lazare, then: )
Still just a baby in a young woman’s body.
Maybe she’s better off. She doesn’t try to understand the world. She doesn’t try to change things. She doesn’t know that printing a pamphlet could get a man killed. She knows nothing of assemblies or guillotines. She doesn’t realize there is a world outside of this inn and the market.
And she’s happy.

PAINE: (not unkindly: ) But there are asylums. Places for people like her…

MAMA: Prisons. The asylums are prisons, used to shut the ugly people away from the rest of us. They receive no special treatment there. They’re treated like animals. Living in hay. Filthy hay. I’d put her in an asylum if she’d be sage there, but she wouldn’t be. She’d be in more danger there than with the insane mob outside.

(As if on cue, the crowd outside starts up again.)

VOICES FROM THE STREET:
Guillotine!
Bring on the guillotine!
It’s blood we want!
Fill our thirst!
Bring it on!
GUILLOTINE…GUILLOTINE…GUILLOTINE!
Guillotine…the GUILLOTINE!

MAMA: (Overlapping) The prisons have been ripped open. The criminals have been set free and the priests, women and children have been slain for not bowing to your assembly. Slain for being who they are. Slain for the crime of being who they are. Slain for the crime of being born to aristocratic parents. There’s your revolutionary justice. Piles of bodies and piles of heads. Butchered priests, no different than your drinking partner there. The crowds worship Marat. They even listen to that unnatural abomination, the Marquis de Sade. Do you really think they’ll listen to you? You’re trapped in here the same as the rest of us. The crowd outside is an ugly, stupid beast. It kills honest family men who happen to print pamphlets for a living. Your pamphlets, Tom Paine. It chops the heads off of priests who never hurt a soul. The whole revolution is a grotesque puppet show. And you’ll speak “Common Sense” to the mindless crowd?

PAINE: (after a pause, to Duboce: ) Is this true?

DUBOCE: (who has shut his eyes) Yes. Marat convinced the crowd that they were all traitors. Enemies of the people. DeSade worked from inside prison. He is actually credited with inciting the people to riot from inside his prison cell. Yes. It happened. It may happen again. It may be happening outside that door right now.

PAINE: My God.

MAMA: Exactly.

LAZARE: Monseuir Paine, you couldn’t have known.

MAMA: (taking the empty wine bottle away) I think you’ve had enough.

(Marie-Claire and Charles re-enter from the pantry.)

CHARLES: Of course they’re common. They dress common. They act common. They are common.

MARIE-CLAIRE: You dress common.

CHARLES: But we do it with style.

MARIE-CLAIRE: But when they do it, they look so…poor.

LAZARE: Perhaps it is because they ARE poor.

CHARLES: Again, this obsession with money. I have told you once. I shall undoubtedly have to tell you again. It does not matter how much money you have…

MARIE-CLAIRE: (as if to a stubborn child) Only how much money you appear to have.

LAZARE: But how are we to get these all-important clothes to show the wealth we do not have by dressing in the very best poor-looking clothes that money can buy?

CHARLES: Idiot. Credit!

LAZARE: Charles, isn’t your fashion sense somewhat at odds with your apolitical standing?

CHARLES: (thinks) No.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Lazare, I am shocked at you. How can you argue with Charles about fashion like that?

DUBOCE: (to paine, who has been listening with some interest.) There is your revolution. These children are the beneficiaries of your propaganda. Look at them, Tom Paine. They’re all yours. they followed you home.

PAINE: (Takes a long look at the three youths with a sly smile. To Lazare: ) Have you read my pamphlet Common Sense ?

LAZARE: No.

PAINE I see. (to Charles: ) Have you heard of my book The Rights of Man ?

CHARLES: No.

PAINE: I see. (to Mama: ) I wonder why I even bothered with French printers.(He begins to address Marie-Claire. She cuts him off.)

MARIE-CLAIRE: I told you. Reading gives me a headache.

PAINE: It often affects me the same way. But tell me, dear girl, do you believe me yet? do you believe that I am Tom Paine?

MARIE-CLAIRE: No.

PAINE: All right. (quickly to Lazare and Charles: ) Have either of you read the Holy Bible?

LAZARE: Of course.

CHARLES: Yes. of course.

PAINE: (to Duboce: ) You see? They’re not mine. They’re yours. (quickly, to Kuki: ) Thomas Paine is a genius.

KUKI: (flatly, without feeling: ) Thomas Paine is a genius.

PAINE: Now this one I like.

MAMA: Parlor games. they’re calling for the guillotine outside and you’re playing parlor games.

PAINE: There’s no guillotine outside.

LAZARE: They’ll bring one in on a wagon. It’s mobile.

PAINE: (somewhat taken aback) What do you suggest we do then? pour the piss pots on them from the upstairs windows?

DUBOCE: There’s no need to be rude.

PAINE: There’s every reason to be rude.

MARIE-CLAIRE: If you are Tom Paine, why do you hide in here? Why don’t you join your parade?

PAINE: It’s quite simple. I’ve been on the run all week. There has been a parade or festival for me in every hamlet and village since I washed up on these shores, and I’m exhausted. And I need a drink.

(Before Paine can ask for a drink, Mama exits to the pantry, followed by Kuki.)

CHARLES: (of Paine) I don’t believe him. He isn’t Tom Paine.

MARIE-CLAIRE: How could he be?

LAZARE: I believe him.

DUBOCE: (ignoring them) There isn’t any more wine.

PAINE: (digging through his traveling bag.) I had some gin in here someplace.

(He digs out a crumpled shirt, stuffs it back in. He pulls out a wooden model for an iron bridge. It has a strange look to it. He puts the model, which is about 18 inches long, on the table and continues searching through his bag. He finally pulls out a bottle, places it on the table, and starts to stuff the model back into the bag.)

PAINE: Gin There.

MARIE-CLAIRE: What in the world is that?

PAINE: I told you. It’s gin. Surely you have gin in France.

DUBOCE: Of course we have gin in France.

PAINE. Thank God.

MARIE-CLAIRE: No, not the gin. That thing. Take it back out. (Paine grins and pulls out his bridge model, setting it lovingly on the table.) What is it, some kind of toy?

PAINE: No. It’s a model. A scale model of a bridge that I intend to build. An iron bridge with no pilings under it. It is a solid span, with no supports underneath, held up only by its ends and its framework.

CHARLES: What holds it up?

PAINE: it is self-supporting. Something you apparently do not understand.

(Charles sneers at this. Lazare is intrigued. Marie-Claire is merely interested in the toy.)

LAZARE: Who designed it? I’ve never seen anything like it.

PAINE: I did. And it will work.

DUBOCE: No. Impossible. It will collapse under its own weight.

PAINE. No it won’t. The iron arches transfer the weight to the supports.

LAZARE: Why do you need to build a bridge like that?

PAINE: Many reasons. To see if it can be done. A bridge like this one will resist the harshest winter. A frozen river would mean nothing if the bridge never touched the water. Boat traffic would be able to pass freely under. This bridge will help men in ways we can’t imagine. Politics is a very shaky business, young man. A man needs something stable. Something that will still be there the next day. Do you understand me?

LAZARE: Yes, Monseuir Paine. Go on.

PAINE: I thought you would understand. I can see it in your eyes. a man needs something he can leave his son…if he had one. Just as your father left you something.

LAZARE: Monseuir Paine…my father left me nothing. Nothing at all.

PAINE: I don’t mean money or property, Lazare. A legacy doesn’t have to have a cash value. This an age of invention. An age of what my friend Franklin calls “natural philosophy”.

(There is atone of anxiety in Paine’s voice, as though Lazare’s understanding is the most important thing in the world.)

LAZARE: “Natural philosophy” Go on.

PAINE: A man must invent. A man should not go through life with his clothing being his highest achievement, unless he is a tailor. I do not wish to leave only political literature as my legacy. My political scribbles, my books and pamphlets, will only last as long as the regime that uses them. The government of that fine experiment, The United States of the Americas, could collapse tomorrow. This bridge won’t. My bridge (pause) and my books are my great inventions. They are my legacy. A man who does not make a statement is not a man. (pause) I also need the money.

MARIE-CLAIRE: (Jealous of the attention Lazare is paying to Paine) How much have you made on it thusfar?

PAINE: Iron foundries don’t come cheap, my dear.

MARIE-CLAIRE: How MUCH?

PAINE: Not a sou.

MARIE-CLAIRE: I told you it was a toy.

(Duboce laughs. Paine grins. He pours gin for them both.)

PAINE: This will put some courage in you, Francois. To my bridge.

(They toast the model.)

DUBOCE: To your invention that might help humanity.

PAINE: (looking squarely at Duboce, with feeling, but not accusation: ) What are you going to do to help humanity, Francois? what’s your legacy?

(Duboce and Paine look at each other for an uncomfortable period. Duboce looks away first. Paine looks around the room for something to change the subject.)

PAINE: So…tell me, Charles. What is this style you children affect? The sans culottes I understand. They have make a uniform for themselves based on the same clothes they wear to work. Out of the fields and into the streets! Anything to avoid looking different from the ruling class.

CHARLES: We are NOT sans culottes.

PAINE: Yes. I see. I have never come across anything quite like you before. Is this something new? You seem to be going through a great deal of expense to look poor. I suspect you are non-political, or as non-political as one may be in Paris today…though you certainly seem to be quite …radical.

CHARLES: Thank you.

PAINE: But this still doesn’t explain it. You are not a sans-culotte. You are not an aristocrat. Too dangerous. You’re not a slob like Marat or a dandy like Robespierre. I only know what you are not, not what you are. What ARE you?

CHARLES: (this is his big speech) We are called les Incroyables. The incredible ones. Our clothing says who we are. Much like you, Monseuir Paine, we are neither sans culotte nor bourgeois. We are very new. We do not make politics. We do not follow the popular fashion dictates. Why carry a cane in a world better suited to a club? Why wear a powdered wig when it might cost you your head? We are anti-fashion.

DUBOCE: Well, you certainly manage to look quite stylish at being anti-fashion.

CHARLES: (missing the irony) Thank you.

PAINE: Marie-Claire? Are you an in-croy-able too?

(Charles laughs)

CHARLES: Of course not. She is called a…

MARIE CLAIRE: I can speak for myself. what I am is called a Merveilleuse. This look is called neo-classicism. It is unencumbered by any of the affectations of modern culture. It is as new as it is ancient. We adopt the greek look to match the new philosophy…

PAINE: None of which you seem to have actually read. What is this ribbon you tie around your neck?

MARIE-CLAIRE: I wear this ribbon in memory of the guillotine.

PAINE: In memory of those who have been beheaded?

MARIE-CLAIRE: Of course not. That would be morbid. In memory of the guillotine itself. Not for any person. The guillotine has had a great impact.

DUBOCE: Now there’s an inventor of the new age for you.

PAINE (he has been intent on Marie-Claire) What?

DUBOCE: Guillotine. Doctor Joseph Ignace Guillotin. I met him once. Took his confession. He seemed convinced that his device was more merciful. A quick death. Chop. He truly wanted to see less death in the world. So he invented a quick, merciful, painless way of murder. Excuse me. The proper word is execution. It destroyed him that his brain-child was neither kind nor swift. That it sometimes took two or three strokes to sever a head completely. While the victim…while the criminal screams in horrible pain.

PAINE: An invention can eclipse its inventor.

LAZARE: Eclipse?

PAINE: Yes, my boy. An invention can take on a life of its own and grow so large that it may crush its creator. An inventor should be careful.

(Paine picks up his bridge model, muses over it, then purposely turns back to Charles.)

PAINE: This is all quite fascinating, your costumes and all, but one essential element is missing in all your fashion sense. WHY?

CHARLES: Pardon?

PAINE: Why do you do all this? Why all this…affectation? What do you want? Surely your clothing is not all there is to your statement.

LAZARE: Odd. That’s what we were discussing earlier. The same point.

CHARLES: Yes! Yes…after the melodrama. The exact thing!

DUBOCE: Now you’ve done it. The problem with asking questions of the young is that they often give you an answer.

PAINE: Hush. Give the boy the floor. Were you in a hurry to go somewhere?

CHARLES: Ahem.

DUBOCE: You’ll be sorry.

CHARLES: Monseuir Paine. You speak of eclipses. Do you know what a shooting star is?

PAINE: Well, I know what the natural philosophers like Ben say they are.

LAZARE: Rocks. Pieces of the moon, perhaps. Or the sun or the stars, that have broken loose and shower the earth.

CHARLES : During the seasons when our gravity is the strongest.

PAINE: Yes, yes. Halley and his comet. I’ve read about it. And that is why you dress this way?

DUBOCE: I told you.

CHARLES: Of course not.

LAZARE: Why does a shooting star shine?

CHARLES: Because it is on fire. The closer to the Earth it gets, the hotter it gets.

LAZARE: Until its flame has consumed it.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Don’t you see?

(Duboce and Paine look at each other. They don’t get it.)

PAINE: Of course we see. This is all quite fascinating. Burning rocks falling out of the sky. Now what about your clothes?

CHARLES: We are living in a season of great gravity. There are showers of shooting stars, pieces of the heavens, all about us. Stars are not the only thing that are falling. Bizarre stories are told about schools of small fish falling like rain. It is a season of great gravity. Everything is affected. Fires. Destruction. Guillotine. MAny resist. They die. We do not resist. Only fools resist gravity. We know that we are a generation of shooting stars. It is our destiny to burn up before we reach the Earth. Our only hope, our only criterion for success, is to burn brighter than the others.

MARIE-CLAIRE: If death and destruction is our fate…

CHARLES: Then it will at least be a stylish one. We will only burn for a short time. Our only hope is to burn bright enough to make a memory. That is our statement, Monseuir Paine.

(Pause. Marie-Claire preens. Charles poses. Lazare looks uncomfortable. He slowly, purposefully takes off his coat.)

DUBOCE: Now you see why they are called Les Incroyables. (mocking) “As long as we’re teetering on the precipice, let’s dance!”

PAINE: (To Duboce: ) I’ve heard worse philosophy. Are we so different, Francois? Do you hate them because of what they’re doing, or just because they’re doing something and you’re not? Never mind. It’s none of my business. (to Charles: ) If you don’t like the way things are, why not try to change them? Work toward a change? Why?

CHARLES: We didn’t make this mess. We don’t have to clean it up.

LAZARE: Monseuir Paine. I once had great hope for the revolution. I thought it was a great new future opening up before us. But it is hard to be optimistic when there is a pile of headless bodies outside your front door. Besides, we’re individuals. How could we make a change?

PAINE: How indeed? Could you make a change, Lazare?

LAZARE: I? What do you mean? How could I make a change?

PAINE: How could anyone make a change? The first step is deciding that you’re going to do something. The next step is easy once you’ve made up your mind. Right, Francois?

DUBOCE: What do you mean?

PAINE(ignoring Duboce for now) Once your mind is made up, something will come to you. One man can do it. Trust me. OR! You could sit back and whine about what a horrible life you’ve got, or blame your bizarre clothing on the gravity.

CHARLES: Lazare, are you going to listen to this…hogwash?

LAZARE: There’s nothing wrong with listening to Monseuir Paine. If you don’t like it, you can leave.

CHARLES: Fine. I’ll talk to you when you come back to your senses. Come on, Marie.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Call me Marie-Claire.

CHARLES: COME ON!

(Charles and Marie-Claire exit to the kitchen with as much dignity as they can muster)

PAINE: Let them go. Lazare. we all do what we must. We have all been given a task. Once we know what it is, we must perform it. I’m the best selling author in English history, but I can’t stay in the country to enjoy it. They’re taxing my book to death and they’d kill me if they got a chance. I have fled, but I have not stopped the fight. My task-at-hand is here. Now. With this revolution. Your revolution. It’s my task. A man is not a sheep, you know. We don’t have to follow. Some of us have to lead. It’s our destiny, I suppose. If something doesn’t work, whether it’s a bridge or a whole society, we can fix it, or build a new one. Do you follow me? We must find what we are meant to do, then do it.

DUBOCE: Do God’s will?

PAINE: If you insist on calling it that, yes.

DUBOCE: What if the will of God is difficult- impossible?

PAINE: There’s no point in having a fate that’s simple.

DUBOCE: (deep in his own thoughts) Are you sure?

PAINE: Why are you asking me about God’s will? It’s quite simple, really. If we are going to believe in God, and we are going to accept that God is who He is and has done what He has done, then why even mention the word “impossible?” We do what we must. No matter what. (drinks) This is terrible gin.

DUBOCE: (suddenly very serious and somber) Thank you, Thomas. Thank you for reminding me of that.

PAINE: Have some more of this terrible gin.

DUBOCE: No.. Thank you. I think I had better stop drinking now. I have some old business to attend to.

(He gets up, straightens his clothing, goes to the door, peers through the cracks.)

LAZARE: But Monseuir Paine, how am I to know what I am to do? How am I to make a statement?

PAINE: I do not know. I do not know. For all my pontificating and speechmaking, I am barely able to make my own way. When your task comes to the door, you’ll know it.

(Mama re enters, Kuki trailing behind.)

Mama: You will do great things, my son.

LAZARE: How do you know that, Mama?

MAMA: Your Papa told me.

LAZARE: Papa died years ago. He’s gone.

MAMA: Your father knew there was something special about you. Even when you were a baby. He seemed to know your destiny. He held you up in the air, above his head. “Look at his eyes” Your Papa would say. “This is one of the smart ones. He’s going to be wonderful.”

KUKI: Wonderful.

LAZARE: Fine Mama. A nice little story about a man and a baby. That doesn’t help me now, does it? Papa’s gone, and he can’t help me. I have to make my way on my own now. That’s just the way it is.

(Charles and Marie-Claire re-enter from the pantry.)

CHARLES: No, no no. A military cap is the wrong look entirely. What would people think? How would that seem? What message would it give?

MARIE-CLAIRE: I think it might be quite chic.

CHARLES: Think again.

MAMA: Excuse me. I know your philosophy of headgear is of the utmost importance, but I need you boys to do something. It seems to be quiet outside. Go see if it is safe yet. I don’t have the time to sit here all day discussing fate and fashion.

DUBOCE: Wait, I’ll go with you.

LAZARE: No, it’s too dangerous for you, Father.

DUBOCE: I think I had better go out just the same. I can’t stay here forever. Charles, will you come with us?

CHARLES: Of course.

PAINE: Charles, you and the Holy Father go check the street. Lazare, I wish to discuss some business with you.

LAZARE: (intrigued) What kind of business?

PAINE: (mysteriously) A man’s business.

MAMA: You will not discuss business with this man.

LAZARE: I will if I wish.

MAMA: Not in my presence.

LAZARE: Fine, Mama. We will go UPSTAIRS.

MAMA: Very well. But I don’t like it. (she doesn’t like the smell of all this.) Francois? Are you all right?

DUBOCE: Yes, for the first time in years, I think I am all right. Good bye, Madame. Kuki. Marie-Claire. Lazare. Monseuir Paine. Thomas. Thank you for everything. Charles, let’s go. Bring your heavy stick.

CHARLES: Let’s move this table. (They clear the doorway and leave.)

MAMA: (Watches Duboce and Charles exit. Turns to Lazare: ) Well?

PAINE: This won’t take long.

LAZARE: (kisses Marie-Claire.) I’ll be right back.

(The two men head up the stairs)

MAMA: Wait!

(The men stop and turn.)

MAMA: No. Nothing. I had forgotten. Go ahead. Do your business. (Looks at Marie-Claire.) We ladies will have a nice talk downstairs.

PAINE: (As they go upstairs: ) I have written two installments of The Rights of Man. There may be a third, I am not sure yet…

(They are gone)

(Kuki takes the bridge model to a corner and plays with it. Mama and Marie Claire square off.)

MAMA: It is time for us to have a talk.

MARIE-CLAIRE: What is it, Madame? (matching her stare)

MAMA: What are my son’s intentions toward you?

MARIE-CLAIRE: I am sure I do not know what you are getting at, Madame DuBouis.

MAMA: Please do not play games with me. We only have a few minutes together. Are you trying to marry my son?

MARIE-CLAIRE: Madame, I cannot say…

MAMA: Are you pregnant?

MARIE-CLAIRE: No! How dare you!

MAMA: Spare me your outrage. We are women alone here. I love my son and I must do what is best for him.

KUKI: We are women alone here.

MARIE-CLAIRE: I love him, too.

MAMA: Good. Then we understand each other. If he does not intend to stay with you, or if you are merely flirting with him, I must insist you break off with him immediately. If you are to marry, that is another matter.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Madame, I do not know what to say.

MAMA: Just say the truth. We do not have much time. (pause) What do you suppose is going on upstairs?

KUKI: Say the truth we do not have much time.

MARIE-CLAIRE: (ready for a fight: ) Yes. I think he means to marry me. Will you prevent it? I warn you, I am not accustomed to losing. I will fight you for him.

MAMA: Silly girl.

KUKI: Silly silly silly.

MAMA: You do not understand me. I welcome you. Lazare needs to take hold, to grow up. He needs a wife. For all their nonsense about comets and clothes, Lazare and Charles are right about one thing. Time has become too precious to waste. Lazare has had to grow up without a father. I haven’t had enough time, really, to teach him the things a father should. There’s no time. It really is a new world. There is no time for a traditional courtship any more. If your intentions are honorable, you are the answer to prayer.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Madame, I do not know if I am the type to…

MAMA: Call me Mama.

KUKI: (slowly) Mama. Mama.

MARIE-CLAIRE: (she is not so sure about this…) Very well…Mama. I think I understand you. But I’m not promising anything.

KUKI: (still playing with the bridge model) I think I understand you.

MAMA: Good.

(From upstairs, we hear Lazare shouting at Paine.)

LAZARE: No! I refuse! You must be mad!

PAINE: Be reasonable.

MARIE-CLAIRE: What are they shouting about now?

MAMA: (to Marie-Claire) Let’s go to the Kitchen. Quickly. They’ll be back down here any second. Kuki, come on. (The three ladies exit to the kitchen)

(Lazare and Paine enter, arguing. Paine is carrying a book manuscript)

LAZARE: I won’t do it. That’s final.

PAINE: Why not?

LAZARE: It’s dangerous, that’s why.

PAINE: Everything’s dangerous. Give me another reason.

LAZARE: I don’t want to.

PAINE: Why not? Your father did. (in his face) He was a marvelous printer.

LAZARE: (he slaps Paine) I’m not my Father!

PAINE: (unimpressed with the violence.) That’s the problem, isn’t it? Your father was a fine man.

LAZARE: My father was never there. He died. There’s nothing “fine” about dying.

PAINE: We all die. The trick is getting our lives to amount to something before we sluff off this mortal coil.

LAZARE: (quietly, almost imperceptibly crying) I miss my Papa.

PAINE: (embracing Lazare) He left you too early. Too early. There’s nothing I can do to help you with that. But I can do this for you: I can pick up your father’s fallen flag and I can hand it to you to carry on. (standing back.) Will you take it?

LAZARE: I don’t want it.

PAINE: Yes you do. Here. (he hands Lazare a manuscript.) Let your Papa go. It’s time for you to move on.

LAZARE: (after a thoughtful pause) I would like to do this.

PAINE: Then we have an agreement?

LAZARE: If I can get the press in working condition again.

PAINE: Just tell me what you need. I think my name will have some influence here.

LAZARE: I’m not my father.

PAINE: I’m not my father either. He really is a corset maker.

LAZARE: What?

PAINE: Never mind. But sooner or later every man needs to face his own father so he can move on and become his own man. Do you think you can get it repaired?

LAZARE: Yes. The shop is very near here. Practically next door. I won’t allow myself to be used the way you used my Father.

PAINE: I pay better now than I did in the old days.

LAZARE: You’d better.

MAMA: (re-enters, followed by Marie-Claire and Kuki) What’s this conspiracy?

LAZARE: Marie-Claire, I need to tell you something.

MARIE-CLAIRE: So?

PAINE: Madame, you son is ready to make his statement.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Lazare! You’re not going to change your hair, are you?

LAZARE: No. I am going to publish Monseuir Paine’s new book.

PAINE: And a few of the old ones, I expect. I think Common Sense will be very popular here. I t’s been quite a while since I had a reliable French printer.

MAMA: Yes. It’s been a while. Lazare, I forbid this.

LAZARE: Mama, don’t…

MAMA: If you think I’m about to see my only boy sacrificed on a high altar, you are greatly mistaken. You may not do this. I forbid it.

LAZARE: I am doing this.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Lazare, are you mad?

MAMA: Lazare, you are acting just like your father.

LAZARE: Thank you.

MAMA: And just what are you planning on using for a printing press?

LAZARE: I am using Papa’s.

MAMA: You haven’t the right.

LAZARE: I have the perfect right. I am not a boy any more. It is time for me to settle on a trade. It was my Papa’s press. I inherit it.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Your clothes will get all inkstained.

LAZARE: I’ll wear an apron.

MARIE-CLAIRE: You’ll wear a filthy apron?

LAZARE: (with dignity.) As I recall, my Papa’s apron was always inkstained.

MAMA: Papa’s press was nearly destroyed. They set a fire.

LAZARE: It isn’t as bad as all that. The plates will have to be repaired, and there’s loose type all over the shop. The main screw was tightened down too far. I can get it fixed. You’ll see.

MAMA: You are determined?

MARIE-CLAIRE: He is not determined. Are you, dear? You wouldn’t do something this filthy, this common, would you?

LAZARE: I am determined. I will be spending most of my time at the shop, fixing it up. (to all: loosening his cravat) I am going to do this. You can choose to help me or choose to fight me, but I am going to do this. Monseuir Paine came here for a reason.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Lazare, I must talk to you now!

LAZARE: What now, Marie?

MARIE-CLAIRE: Marie-Claire. Nobody calls me Marie ever.

LAZARE: What do you want?

MARIE-CLAIRE: Lazare, I do not think you are being at all nice to me this morning. I have been asking you again and again to talk to me, rather sweetly and demurely I might add… and all you seem to care about is yourself. I have allowed myself to be questioned by your mother and bothered by that odd man with the accent, and now this nonsense about getting your clothes all inkstained. Nothing is turning out the way I want it to. After everything you have said to me and promised me, I would think you would be nicer to me.

(Everyone stops and looks at Marie-Claire.)

LAZARE: Very well. I am listening to you now, my dear. What is it, Marie Claire? What do you want to talk to me about?

MARIE-CLAIRE: (quite happy that she is being paid attention to…but then it occurs to her that she doesn’t have anything to say. A pause, then…) Merci, Lazare. I…well, I…I forget what I was going to say.

(Suddenly, Charles re-enters from the street. He is pale and shaken.)

LAZARE: Charles! What’s wrong with you?

MARIE-CLAIRE: Charles, thank GOD you’re back. Take me home, Charles. Your friend Lazare has decided to become a common tradesman. This is the last time I go out with one of your friends. Charles? Charles? Are you listening to me?

CHARLES: They got him.

KUKI: They got him.

MAMA: No!

PAINE: Where is Francois?

CHARLES: They got him. We were standing away from the crowd, so as not to be caught up in it. There was a man standing on a wagon next to the guillotine, calling for the head of the King. I think they were about to move on, because he ended his speech and climbed off the guillotine-wagon. We were ready to come back, ready to tell you it was all clear, I was sure it was all over. I turned and started back here. I thought he was following me – I swear! – and then – so fast – someone in the crowd recognized Duboce and started yelling “Priest! Priest!” And calling him a tool of the king and a spy and a traitor to the French People. It was all so fast. All at once the crowd was on him. There was nothing I could do to prevent it. They hauled him up on the wagon and acted out a stupid mock-trial, as though that made their butchery legitimate. They asked him if he was a priest. He said “Yes.”

KUKI: Yes.

CHARLES: They asked him if he was a French citizen. He said “Yes.”

KUKI: Yes.

LAZARE: Go on.

CHARLES: They asked him if he swore allegiance to the revolution. I was sure he would say “Yes”to that, too, so they would let him go…didn’t you say he had already taken the oath? But he didn’t. He said “No.”

KUKI: No.

CHARLES: And then he began to pray. Quietly. To himself, but I could tell. The crowd could tell, too. and they began to call for his head. It all happened so fast. They put him on the guillotine…

MAMA: Dear God in Heaven.

CHARLES: But he didn’t even resist. Not that it would have helped. The crowd became huge and ugly, like dogs around the butcher shop. Or vultures. He couldn’t have gotten away. It was over even faster than it began. One stroke. His head fell in a basket.

LAZARE: And his body?

CHARLES: The crowd carried it off. There were so many of them. I don’t think you’ll find it all in one piece. (He recites one of his own poems, almost to himself.)
“Head in a fruit-basket, blood in the street.
The King’s in the tower; dogs want some meat.”

MAMA: (to herself) Take this, your servant Francois. He was a sinner. He was a man of God. He was a man. I ask your forgiveness in Christ’s name. Amen.

PAINE: Amen.

KUKI: Amen.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Did they chase you? Are they outside now?

CHARLES: Nobody saw me with him. They were all watching the man on the wagon. I walked away. I threw up in the street. Nobody noticed. I ran all the way back here.

MARIE-CLAIRE: (entirely concerned with her own well-being) Are you sure nobody followed you?

CHARLES: Positive. But Monseuir Paine?

PAINE: Yes?

CHARLES: Your parade. It’s headed back this way. I don’t think it’s going to go away, either.

PAINE: I see. Perhaps it would be better if I allowed them to find me. (to Mama: ) Madame. I thank you for these moments of shelter. (He presses some coins into her hand. She looks at them to be sure they are genuine, then pockets them.) I think I will be wanting my gin tonight. (He puts the gin away in his traveling bag.) Kuki? Please give Mister Paine his bridge back. (Kuki tries to hide the bridge model. Paine reaches for it, a brief-tug-of war ensues. Paine gives up.) Well, keep it for now. I think I have something other than bridge-building to do just now. I’ll be back, though, and we can play with it another day. For now, I think I’d be better off traveling light. Lazare?

(Kuki scrambles off with the bridge model, very pleased with her triumph. She turns the model upside-down and plays with it like a miniature rocking toy.Lazare steps forward.)

PAINE: I have something here for you. (He gives Lazare two new-looking bound manuscripts.) Here you go. The Rights of Man, part one and part two. In English, I’m afraid. You’ll have to have it translated. Get to work on that printing press. Contact me if you need help. Charles, may you burn bright enough to light up the entire sky. Marie-Claire. My dear. Do you believe me yet?

MARIE-CLAIRE: No.

PAINE: Good-bye then. (He opens the door and the Voices from the Street are heard again.)

VOICES FROM THE STREET:
Tom Paine! TOM PAINE!
WHERE ARE YOU?
Ou est l’American Tom Paine?
I see him!
Where?
There…in the doorway!

PAINE: (grins, waves to the crowd. To the cast: ) Farewell. (He shuts the door and he is gone.)

VOICES FROM THE STREET:
(slowly fading away)
Vive l’Nation!
Vive Tom Paine!
VIVE COMMON SENSE!
TOM PAINE! TOM PAINE! TOM PAINE!
We found him!
Where?
Over there, he was standing in a doorway.
I understand the women just can’t get enough of him.
It’s true, It’s true…..vive Tom Paine…

(There is a long, sad pause. Kuki crosses to Mama and hugs her. Mama returns to preparing food. Marie-Claire looks at Lazare, looks at the manuscripts in his hand, and whispers in Charles’ ear.)

CHARLES: Is it true, Lazare? You plan to reopen your father’s printing shop?

LAZARE: Yes.

CHARLES: But why?

LAZARE: Why?.. Why. I realized it today during all that talk about destiny. My destiny has been staring me in the face for years, but I’ve stubbornly refused to recognize it. I’ve got a job to do. It isn’t convenient, but it’s still my job. I may still burn out, but I won’t burn out for nothing.

CHARLES: I understand.

MARIE-CLAIRE: Charles, take me home. I’m tired. I have a headache. And I am not marrying a shopkeeper. Lazare? You aren’t that good looking, anyway.

CHARLES: I think it’s time to go.

MARIE-CLAIRE: I’ll wait over here. (She stands by the door, glowering.)

CHARLES: Madame, thanks again for the bread and cheese. I’ll try not to keep your son out so late next time.

MAMA: I am not worried about the next time. Adeiu, Charles.

CHARLES: Adieu. Lazare?

LAZARE: Charles. Take Marie-Claire home. Then go home yourself and get some sleep.

CHARLES: Be careful. (to Marie-Claire: ) Well, come on. (Marie-Claire exits, nose in the air. Charles follows her. He shuts the door.)

LAZARE: Mama? Are you all right?

MAMA: I’ll be fine.

LAZARE: And you do understand about me repairing the press? I have to do it.

MAMA: If you have to do it, you have to do it. You are talking like a man, Lazare. (A pause. She embraces her son.) Just try to be careful.

KUKI: Just try to be careful.

LAZARE: I will, Mama. I will.

KUKI: I will.

(Mama and Lazare smile at Kuki as the lights fade to black. The spot from the beginning comes up right away. Lazare walks into the spot. He takes off his jacket and picks up a book. He walks out of the spot with the book. Blackout.)

END OF PLAY.

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One Response to ““Incroyable” play by Billy Houck”

  1. Merrill Says:

    Good afternoon, Happy Fool’s Day!!!

    A prisioner in jail received a letter from his wife:
    “I have decided to plant some lettuce in the back garden. When is the best time to plant them?”
    The prisioner, knowing that the prison guards read all the mail, replied in a letter:
    “Dear Wife, whatever you do, DO NOT touch the back garden! That is where I hid all the gold.”
    A week or so later, he received another letter from his wife:
    “You wouldn’t believe what happened. Some men came with shovels to the house, and dug up the whole back garden.”
    The prisoner wrote another letter:
    “Dear wife, NOW is the best time to plant the lettuce!”

    Happy April Fool’s Day!

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