A evening’s trilogy of marital (in)fidelity
translated and adapted by David Nicholson ©
from plays by Henry Becque, Henri Meilhac & Jules Renard
(3 women, 4 men; playable by 3-7 actors)
Can be staged as individual one-act plays…
or together as an evening’s journey beyond innocence.
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What the Heart Wants presents three comic variations on the theme of marital fidelity, based on the theatre of France’s Belle Epoque, when playwrights portrayed yearning, flirting and other realities of marriage with wit, candour and insight.
The setting for all three acts is a garden of a small inn in Normandy, sometime in the 20th century. With theme and characters of such continuing relevance I have left the time open; all three acts use language that would not be out of place at any point in that period.
What the Heart Wants played as dinner theatre in Costa Rica in 2013.
Act 1: Vice Versa
Lucie meets her friend’s husband Jacques in the garden of the Normandy inn where the two couples have been vacationing; she has been entrusted with the task of telling him that his wife has run away with another man – unaware that Jacques has been given a similar mission by Lucie’s husband. Knowing smiles and outright laughter will greet the ways Lucie and Jacques dance around each other . . . and where that dance leads them.
Vice Versa is a flirty two-hander translated and adapted from Henri Meilhac’s 1894 one-act play, Villégiature. Many of Meilhac’s plays had long and prosperous lives, including his libretto for Bizet’s Carmen. Villégiature, however, doesn’t seem to have reappeared on any stage after 1894 . . . until 2011, when this adaptation was first produced at Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival (Toronto). A reviewer wrote:
“Both characters deliver monologues that move the story along at a great pace, and the actors often break the fourth wall which adds humour and intrigue to the plot. Packed with snappy dialogue and just the right amount of twists and turns, this piece is a sheer delight to watch . . . definitely a crowd pleaser.”
Act 2: The Colour Of Grass
Late evening: Marthe and Pierre enter in mid-conversation, a bottle and two glasses in hand. “In all the time you’ve been married, you’ve never been with another woman?” she teases. Marthe’s husband and Pierre’s wife have retired early, leaving them to have the kind of intimate, playful conversation each has been longing for. They remind themselves how happily married they each are . . . aren’t they?
I translated and adapted The Colour of Grass from Jules Renard’s 1898 play, Le Pain de ménage. The play continues to delight, having appeared on French stages at least ten times since 2000. One recent description (translated) suggests why:
“Le Pain de ménage hasn’t taken on a wrinkle in over a century – its portrait of marital fidelity still has the clear, sharp ring of truth. The language may retain a certain old-fashioned charm, but the hopes and expectations of its heroes are modern beyond their time. The pointed cynicism of the playwright has lost none of its bite.”
The Colour of Grass won awards for the translation and best actress at the 2012 Bray One-Act Festival (Dublin, EI).
Act 3: One Rose, Two Thorns
Constance and her husband are on vacation in a small Normandy inn when a visitor drops by . . . her lover. Jealousy also makes an appearance, leaving Constance less than enchanted with both Frédéric and Lafont.
One Rose, Two Thorns is based on La Parisienne (1885), the best-remembered work of French realist playwright Henry Becque. I reduced it from three acts, injecting more humour into a cynical play of which one early 20th century critic wrote, “It is safe to say that since La Parisienne no French dramatic author has had the courage to revive the sentimental triangle.” The critic was wrong, of course.
A short scene from it, now called Jealousy with a Twist, also played as part of Asphalt Jungle Shorts (Kitchener, Ontario) in 2014.