By Matthew Yon
Poly-technicien, age 22, wearing a suit.
Judge, in her early 50s. wearing an evening gown that could look a little worn out.
Waiter, French palace style, snub, wearing a black suit with a white shirt and bow tie. His head is always looking upwards, and his neck is stretched, giving the impression that he scorns everyone. He should interact with the audience: whenever they laugh he puffs in disdain, turns his head and walks away and then slowly comes back. He has an extremely strong French accent.
[The scene takes place during a wedding dinner. In the centre of the stage is one table laid with fine crockery, prepared to sit ten. The table is oval or rectangular shaped, its broad side facing the audience. Four chairs are placed on each side, and one on each end. A sound device should simulate background conversation, noise and music, suggesting the large number of invitees, and the overall luxury of the ceremony.]
[Marie-Chantal, wearing an appropriate, is already seated on a central chair facing the audience.]
ENTERS – Grégoire, coming ondstage from the left, taking slow steps backwards
GREGOIRE : [Addressing someone off stage, left.] …pleasure was all mine, duchess. Enjoy the diner, or as we say in France, Bon Appétit! [He comes towards the table.]
ENTERS – Waiter, right.
[The waiter strolls around the table, going from chair to chair, pulling them back and forth as if to seat someone. During the process, Grégoire sees MARIE-CHANTAL and walks to her, intending to say hello and to introduce himself formally. He stands before her, and she sees that, but does not stand up as he seems to have expected.]
GREGOIRE : Evening, Madame. [He bows his head] It appears we shall be neighbours for dinner.
MARIE-CHANTAL : [Coldly] Good evening, young man. [Bluntly] May I ask who you are?
GREGOIRE : I’m Grégoire Lamartin, a friend of the bride.
[The waiter has finished seating everyone, and now begins serving the starters]
MARIE-CHANTAL : Oh, I see! [Fatuously] You’ll excuse my enquiry, but you see, I’m a judge, and I tend to be faced with the real world a little too often. Recently I’ve read many governmental reports about fine-looking young men who crash wedding parties merely for the food and inebriated young ladies. I feel reassured to see that I won’t have to sentence my dinner neighbour!
GREGOIRE : [Seating himself next to her] I see, Madame, no offence taken. I guess that being suspicious comes with the territory [mockingly] when one exercises such an honourable profession.
MARIE-CHANTAL : Indeed, in fact that’s hardly flattery at all… You have no idea! [Cooler]And you forgot to ask my name, by the way. I’m Marie-CHANTAL Dawner.
GREGOIRE : Well, Madam Dawner, it’s a pleasure to …
[She sees someone more interesting on her left side, and starts talking to him]
MARIE-CHANTAL : Good evening Mr Cox. Enjoying the evening?
GREGOIRE : [To no one in particular/himself] Never mind…
WAITER : [Coughs loudly, followed by silence] Mesdames et messieurs, Noix de Saint-Jacques piquées de pétales de courgettes et gingembre rose, dans un bouillon parfumé. For translation, please learn to speak French!
[He comes to the right edge of the stage, facing the audience. The background noise starts again, but adding knives and forks sounds. Characters eat when not talking.]
GREGOIRE : [Speaking towards the chairs on his side of the table] So, have you managed to talk to the groom, Mr 4? … Oh yes indeed, he is a fine speaker. That’s hardly surprising given that the boy went to the best law school in the world.
MARIE-CHANTAL : [Loudly] A delightful wedding indeed! My dear Albert would have loved that, I mean, he would have loved meeting everyone in such a charming place! [Mildly] Of course, I do not mean that he would have supported this foolish choice of a groom. I just cannot understand how respectable parents can sometimes be so weak…
GREGOIRE : His hobbies? Well, you’re asking a little too much, Mr 2. In fact I hardly know him. All I can say is that he has made a great first impression. Yet, now you’re asking me, he may have said something about sailors’ knots…
MARIE-CHANTAL : I mean, Mr C, I have never thought of them as prodigies in terms of parenthood, but then again… surrendering so willingly to that young lady’s fantasies. I just don’t understand. [Lower] I mean, a young girl may like chocolate very much, but it’s up to her mother to make her understand that vanilla is just as fine, and far more suitable for an old family heiress. I mean, it’s not like this one will run for president.
GREGOIRE : [astounded by what he hears next to him,Gregoire speaks a little louder but chooses not to interrupt] Well, from what I heard, they studied together at Harvard, but it really was this first internship that brought them together.
MARIE-CHANTAL : No, definitely not. I, as a mother, would never let my daughter rush into a marriage with an unknown person that could just as well turn her life –and my reputation– into a hell. First of all, a good union is the result of proper acquaintances. Then it requires the parents’ proficiency in match-making in order to select the right boy. I have always deemed that the only way to meet someone is either through the parents’ enlightened guidance, or during debutante balls.
GREGOIRE : Sorry Mr 3, I didn’t quite hear you… Oh, music? Well, I really think he’s fond of music, for when we talked, he mentioned he had a membership card to the Opera.
MARIE-CHANTAL : Anyway, let’s change the subject. Human mistakes are a subject that, alas, troubles me far too often. I’m a , you see… So, where did you go on your holidays, Mr B? I heard the wildest speculations about your going to a cold place in August! [She listens] Oh… You went to ski in New Zealand! [laughs] Wild indeed.
GREGOIRE : Yes, I went to see Fantasio last week. Brilliant performance in my opinion, not that I am any expert in theatre! Have you seen it? No? Oh, you really should. And you could take your grandson there, introduce him to a classic.
MARIE-CHANTAL : Last time I went skiing it was with, sniff, my dear Albert. But the place was overcrowded with those young scoundrels who skim over the snow like crabs. I don’t want to emit a judgement when I’m not on duty, but once again, I blame the parents. Responsible parents should force their offspring to go straight! I mean, it does not take a genius to see there’s something wrong with these snowboards. Nature wants people to go straight [pause] forward.
WAITER [answering his phone] Someone’s en retard you say? I would say terribly en retard! In fact, all the seats are taken, we are complet! What? No Monsieur, this is the excellence of French cuisine, we don’t squeeze our guests together to add a seat! What did you say? That we always do that in France? Monsieur, cela suffit! [hangs up]
MARIE-CHANTAL : [Turning to Gregoire] My dear Gordon…
GREGOIRE : Gregoire, ma’am.
MARIE-CHANTAL : Gregoire, sorry. My dear Gregoire, do you know how to ski?
GREGOIRE : I was raised in the Alps, so yes, I ski fairly well. Yet I haven’t…
MARIE-CHANTAL : … And you must think, like the rest of us, that snowboards shouldn’t be allowed on the slopes, right? They merely deserve to be sunk into a swamp.
GREGOIRE : Well…
MARIE-CHANTAL : You’re absolutely right. So, tell me please, since you seem to speak decently, I suppose you’re still a student? So tell me, how are your studies going?
GREGOIRE : [struggles to keep his composure ] Hum… You said? Oh, my studies are going on well.
MARIE-CHANTAL : You’re at, how do they call it again? BAC, yes, thank you Mr B. So you’re at BAC plus…? How old are you, by the way?
GREGOIRE : plus 5, and I’m 22.
MARIE-CHANTAL : [mildly interested] so you’re ambitious, you’re into advanced education, the long haul. Makes me remember my own…
GREGOIRE : Indeed, it’s starting to feel a little long, but it’s ok as I can still manage to find a little time to write! And Paris,… Hemingway was right, having the chance to live in Paris as a young man is an experience that’ll probably stay with me all my life.
MARIE-CHANTAL : And where are you studying?
GREGOIRE : In Paris.
MARIE-CHANTAL : In Paris. Must be expensive for your parents, isn’t it?
GREGOIRE : Actually, I’m paid.
MARIE-CHANTAL : By whom?
GREGOIRE : The French Army.
MARIE-CHANTAL : A student-soldier. Well, that’s peculiar. So tell me, you said you liked to write. Are you studying literature? A poet soldier [chuckles then grows serious, raising a finger] Let me tell you, that from the number of drunk wannabe-playwrights that I’ve sentenced, this domain seems to be quite a slippery slope. Especially for those who go down that slope on a snowboard! [She laughs alone. Waiter coughs twice, annoyed by the sound.]
GREGOIRE : Well, no. Actually, I’m more into science.
MARIE-CHANTAL : Science, you say? Are you an ambitious young man trying to become a doctor?
GREGOIRE : No. I’m…
MARIE-CHANTAL : Right, I didn’t suppose so, either. But it’s ok, you know. As long as eventually the two ends meet.
GREGOIRE : [annoyed] actually, my mother, who’s a doctor, deterred me from that job. She said the pay didn’t meet the effort, unless you had a heart of stone. So…
MARIE-CHANTAL : … you’re in a law school! There’s so much I could teach you then!
GREGOIRE : I’m at the Ecole Polytechnique.
MARIE-CHANTAL : Oh… [looks ashamed for an instant] Well… congratulations! [pause] Would you perhaps know… errr… What’s his name again?
GREGOIRE : [despairingly] tell me.
MARIE-CHANTAL : Marc Duchêne, no… Yes that’s it, Marc Duchateau! He was the son of our neighbours back when we, me and my dear Albert, lived in Lyon. I heard he managed to pass the entrance quiz.
GREGOIRE : It’s not really a quiz…
MARIE-CHANTAL : Anyway his parents must have felt quite relieved, for one would never have deemed him good for anything. I remember the first time I met him. He was 4 and carved his cake into geometric shapes when he ate. I always thought his mind never landed on earth. So would you be so lucky as to know the little brat?
GREGOIRE : No ma’am. He’s definitely not in my year, but would you happen to know the year he got in? Or his age?
MARIE-CHANTAL : Oh yes, he got in 6 years ago.
GREGOIRE : Then I could hardly know…
MARIE-CHANTAL : … and there’s also my brother-in-law’s cousin. She had a daughter who must be 27 by now.
GREGOIRE : Again, ma’am, it’s pretty unlikely that I would know her.
MARIE-CHANTAL : [not listening] She married another X. That’s how you call each other right? I heard figures that said over 80% of your female peers end up married with other students from the school.
GREGOIRE : Actually, those figures were global, and indicated that nowadays, young people who pursue college degrees tend to meet their soul mates at university; as is illustrated by tonight’s happy Harvard couple.
MARIE-CHANTAL : They both went to Harvard?
GREGOIRE : My guess is that would be the reason for all the Harvard flags around us [signals with a wave of his hand the flags which the audience can suppose therefore are draped above and behind them along the walls].
WAITER : [answers his phone again] Mr 5 is coming after all? He’s a cousin of the bride? Oh… Well, sir, I guess he should come. My mistake. Still, all the seats are taken. Yes, right. I’ll check the listing and then call you right back.
MARIE-CHANTAL : I also heard the girls in your school were not, how should I put this… Very feminine. Would you agree with this?
GREGOIRE : I beg to differ.
MARIE-CHANTAL : Oh… has Mr X fallen for an X-branded girl?
GREGOIRE [laughs] No, no. Most surely not.
MARIE-CHANTAL : Well, I happen to have a daughter, slightly younger than you. A smart girl, she’s in her first year of sociology studies at the Ecole Supérieure de Versailles! [To her side of the table] Yes, we have moved to Versailles. I really appreciate the place. It’s so full of respectable people, a little piece of heaven on earth, attached to fundamental values. [She smiles as if dreaming and turns back to Gregoire] My daughter’s young, but already looks as good as me when I was 20! Take a look, I have a picture here. [takes out a picture from her handbag] Well, that one’s a picture of me when I was 20, but here’s another one, of her. [takes out a second photo] Isn’t she gorgeous?
GREGOIRE : [embarrassed] As fine a complexion as her mother’s indeed.
MARIE-CHANTAL : Would you want to meet her? I mean, you wouldn’t be signing up for anything, it wouldn’t be an engagement… though it could eventually become one, of course!
GREGOIRE : That’s, is really,… err… generous! But I have to decline. I’m sorry.
WAITER enters with a sheet of paper, checking the invitees to find the intruder.
MARIE-CHANTAL : So there’s someone after all. No problem, my good boy. Still, would you have any friends, perhaps acquaintances, who are desperately single, even if they look as bad as the average engineer… just let me know! [she winks at him]
GREGOIRE : I’ll see to it. I’m sure your daughter could fulfil a lonely X’s heart.
WAITER : Madame, could you remind me of your name, please?
MARIE-CHANTAL : Surely my dear lad, I’m Marie-CHANTAL Dawner.
WAITER : bends and whispers in her ear. She suddenly looks terribly pale.
MARIE-CHANTAL : Well, it appears duty is calling me again, and I will have to leave your pleasant company. [She stands up] My dear Grégoire, [he stands up] I recall your school is holding a debutante ball soon… at the Opera.
GREGOIRE : yes, that would be the Bal de l’X.
MARIE-CHANTAL : Please, try to have my Lily invited, and I’ll make arrangement so that you’ll get an opportunity to teach her how to ski during the next winter holidays.
WAITER : coughs loudly, impatient.
GREGOIRE : I assure you I’ll do my best to pim(p)… err… to put your daughter into the most righteous hands. Still, I would make a poor ski instructor, as I’m really into snowboarding.
MARIE-CHANTAL : Oh… I see! Well… if it comes to that, I’ve always suspected my elder son of being curious about snowboarding…
WAITER : [losing patience] Madame! This is not a brothel, and the actual invitee will be here soon!
MARIE-CHANTAL : [embarrassed] He means… I found someone to replace me in order to keep you entertained!
GREGOIRE : I know, that would be the bride’s cousin.
MARIE-CHANTAL : You know each other?
GREGOIRE : He and I are well, kind of acquainted, yes.
MARIE-CHANTAL : Good night, and keep me posted!
GREGOIRE : Farewell!
Exit, MARIE-CHANTAL and WAITER