‘Paris, 1913. One woman’s bumpy road to success, paved with wit and charm’
by David Nicholson ©
based on L’Institut de Beauté by Alfred Capus, l9l3
[8 principal actors: 5 women, 3 men, and 4 female cameo roles]
♦ For a free copy of the script or to ask about rights, contact:
When L’Institut de Beauté by Alfred Capus opened in Paris on November 21, 1913, women were entering the commercial world in increasing numbers and Helena Rubenstein’s Paris salon was just a year old.
One opening night reviewer expressed the consensus of the Paris papers when he wrote:
“L’Institut de Beauté is, as could have been expected, a witty comedy based on slender plotlines, which has allowed M. Alfred Capus to linger on the details – an evening’s pleasure for an audience, since it allows them yet another opportunity to note with what charming wit, always freshly-minted for the occasion, he brings to anything which pops into his mind.” [my translation]
One can speculate whether it was geopolitics or its ‘slender plotlines’ which caused L’Institut de Beauté to remain largely forgotten for the century to follow. In any event, I have taken the opportunity to refocus the plot, sharpen the ending, remove some of Capus’ incidental bons mots (charming as they were) and eliminate or alter some of the characters and subplots. (e.g. a new subplot involving the Hotel bellhop and Léon’s Aunt Sophie provides a charming counterpoint to the turbulence of Adrienne and Léon’s marriage.)
Adrienne is a woman of her times: Paris, 1913. The play opens in an elegant salon in the Palais Royal Apartment Hotel with Adrienne happy to stand behind her husband Léon, who has quit the wallpaper business to write plays. Wealthy neighbor Bérénice Tournois comes to their financial rescue, offering Adrienne the management of Bérénice’s beauty salon, one of the first in Paris. Léon reluctantly gives his consent.
After a rapid scene change (by stage hands/workmen), the lights come up four weeks later on the Paris Institute of Beauty operated by Adrienne, bitter employee Séraphine and eager young Eléanore. Adrienne endures comic struggles with four clients, hooking one up to an electric massage machine. Léon is not amused to find himself and his poetry pressured into service in the business, and is tempted by the intriguing Bérénice Tournois. Adrienne falls asleep in the office, exhausted.
Séraphine awakens Adrienne after the intermission with suspicions about Léon and Bérénice. Léon then shows up, followed not long after by a guilty-seeming Bérénice. Adrienne doesn’t have solid proof of infidelity, but her eyes have been opened and she contemplates quitting the Institute. The last straw occurs when she realizes she has forgotten the electric massage lady – now horribly overcooked.
The final Act begins some weeks later in the now closed and draped Paris Institute of Beauty. Adrienne is unemployed, but no longer content to be Leon’s little helpmate. She and Eléonore are eager to start their own beauty salon but lack money and premises . . . which both become available through the culmination of the subplot between the bellhop and Aunt Sophie. Leon returns to the wallpaper business and eventually to Adrienne’s good graces.
Throughout, I’ve aimed to preserve the quality most prized by the 1913 reviewer: “wit which sparkles like a glass of the finest Champagne” as Adrienne follows her bumpy road to personal awareness and success in the business of beauty.
Excerpt from ACT I
BÉRÉNICE I hear the world calling . . . but whether I can answer depends on several things, including the Institute of Beauty. (nods to the Bellhop, who exits; turns to Léon) As I told Adrienne, it’s a business I recently inherited from a relative – poor dear, she was starting to make a fortune from it.
LÉON That’s the best kind of business.
BÉRÉNICE It was bringing in a touch over a hundred thousand francs a year.
ADRIENNE So much!
BÉRÉNICE You can understand that I don’t want the business to lose its momentum for lack of management. What I need is a woman with taste, elegance and grace – yet as strong-willed and intelligent as my cousin. There’s no investment necessary; the Institute is as set up as it needs to be. I’m willing to share the profits equally with the right person.
ADRIENNE I think I can help you.
BÉRÉNICE You know the right person?
ADRIENNE I do. Me.
LÉON (laughing) You?
ADRIENNE Shouldn’t I be interested in an opportunity to make fifty thousand francs a year?
BÉRÉNICE And perhaps more. . . . (to Léon) What do you think about that?
LÉON (joking, but not intending to be mean) Of course, Adrienne’s never worked a day in her life, but I’m sure managing an Institute of Beauty should be no problem at all.
ADRIENNE Looking after you would count as fulltime work in some circles, Léon. What about you, Bérénice, what do you think?
BÉRÉNICE I agree with Léon.
LÉON (laughing) But I was joking!
BÉRÉNICE (to Léon) I can assure you I’m quite serious. This could be perfect for Adrienne – she’ll be a brand new business woman in on the ground floor of a brand new industry. It would be an exciting challenge in a respectable position, Mr. Lagraine.
ADRIENNE (quietly, to Léon) We do have bills to pay, Léon. And if I’m at work all day, it will leave you more time to write.
BÉRÉNICE That’s not a bad thing, Mr. Lagraine. (to Adrienne) There are a dozen employees, a laboratory, correspondence on a global basis. . . . Come and have a look and then we can talk.
LÉON (still laughing) This is your chance – go ahead! (spies drink the Bellhop brought in earlier and goes to pick it up)