Excerpt from a French Boulevard Farce
Husbands À La Carte (Croque-Monsieur)
By Marcel Mithois
Plot Summary to This Point: Four of the beautiful and wealthy widow Coco's previous husbands have either died mysteriously or disappeared. At the beginning of the play, we learn that this has now happened to a fifth as well, whose corpse sits slumped over his desk in the next room. Coco must find a new husband as soon as possible in order to keep up her life-style. An old friend goes through a little black book listing eligible bachelors and recommends one Monsieur Longvy, who by a ruse is summoned. Longvy has just entered.
LONGVY: (he rises, ready to leave) Yes, there seems to have been a regrettable confusion.
(as charmingly as she can, Coco uses her body to try and bar his exit)
COCO: Ah, you are being so unkind to me, Monsieur Longvy. Is is really such bad luck to have met me? For me it has been the very best of good luck. I am delighted that you came. I was really feeling strange today. So alone, so abandoned, so unhappy... Sit down, will you...
(she seats him, he gets up again)
Oh, it's really so hard keeping you seated. Please sit downI have a secret to tell you.
LONGVY: A secret for me?
(unwillingly, he sits down again)
COCO: There is a great favor that you could do for me.
LONGVY: Look here, if it has to do with buying or selling, I can recommend one of my official agents...
COCO: I don't want one of your official agents. I want you, Monsieur Longvy, your knowledge and authority. Yes, it's true, I have you here, and I'm going to keep you here...(a pause) to have lunch with me.
(she sits down at the same table as M. Longvy)
Please, won't you join me in a few morsels of caviar. There's nothing more mournful and melancholy than eating caviar by oneself. But nothing is more (hunting for words) charming than caviar for two. A little taste for you, and a little taste for me. We can pick at it just like tiny lovebirds.
LONGVY: (astonished) Lovebirds!
(The butler has entered: without a word being said, he has set a plate, silverware, a napkin, and a glass before M. Longvy. Coco pretends surprise.)
COCO: Oh! Already!
(the butler goes off)
LONGVY: I fear, Madame, that I am causing you needless expense. I never have anything more for lunch than a glass of Ovaltine and an apple...I try to lead a very simple life.
(from this moment, Coco surreptitiously starts removing her jewels one by one and hides them away)
COCO: Ah, but that's absolutely perfect. I've always been a very easy woman...I mean a very simple woman, of course. I'm so incredibly homespun, you know, I truly adore simplicity. It's my husband who smothers me in all this outdated luxury. You see, for him I'm nothing more than a symbol of external wealth.
(Coco gets up and paces across the stage with broad strides)
But II would so love to live naked, my hair in the wind...
(she realizes she has gone a bit too far) I mean, living only on apples and ovaltine, you see...like a totally natural woman. Especially now that I know we are such close neighbors... Ah, how I dream of being frugal, thrifty, a simple country life, just like in that wonderful fable...now which one was it?...was it the grasshopper or the ant?
LONGVY: (stonily) Presumably the ant.
COCO: Ah, Ovaltine, it's such a simple and ingenious idea.
(with a slight curtsey)
Your neighbor the ant thanks you.
(claps her hands like a spontaneous child of nature)
Quickly, some ovaltine and apples!
(the Butler has entered and speaks with a stage whisper)
BUTLER: But Madame, we weren't prepared for ovaltine. Where can we find any?
COCO: (stage whisper) Knock at the villa next door. He lives there.
(she sits down next to M. Longvy)
I hope at least that I'm not tearing you away from your wife.
LONGVY: I am a bachelor.
COCO: (pretending surprise) Ah! I would have sworn the contrary. And you mean to say that you live all alone by yourself in that great big house over there?
LONGVY: Yes, with a caretaker and my housekeeper.
COCO: (roguishly) Oh, now I know everything: you love solitude. And I certainly don't blame you for it. (melodramatically) Ah, how well I am acquainted with it, this "solitude." My children are grown, they lead their own lives. And as for my husband...
(she indicates the study door with a hopeless gesture. then she suddenly becomes worried.)
You said you had a housekeeper?
LONGVY: Yes, a housekeeper.
COCO: Ah...but what kind?
LONGVY: The... the house-keeping kind.
COCO: But is she charming?
LONGVY: Yes, charming enough.
COCO: But what does this housekeeper do for you?
LONGVY: She...keeps house.
COCO: Aha, I see. Tell me, is she pretty?
LONGVY: Pretty? How should I know?
COCO: Oh, you are a sly one, aren't you? He doesn't know... And how long has this been going on?
LONGVY: How long has what been going on?
COCO: You know perfectly well what I mean: the housekeeper.
LONGVY: Ever since my childhood.
COCO: (shocked) Your childhood?
LONGVY: (dryly) She was my wet-nurse.
(the Butler enters)
COCO: She was his wet-nurse. (to Butler) Take this away, Auguste. I'll do the serving.
(The Butler exchanges the tray with caviar for another holding ovaltine and some apples Coco takes the carafe of ovaltine and begins to serve.)
COCO: To what shall we toast, my dear, solitary neighbor?
LONGVY: I must confess, Madame, that I am not in the habit of toasting with Ovaltine.
COCO: (forcing herself to remain upbeat) Ah yes, let us drink to our still young but ever growing friendship.
LONGVY: (clinking cups with her unwillingly) Uh yes, to uh...friendship.
(Longvy inhales the ovaltine. Coco imitates him in every detail, as he drinks in tiny mouthfuls and each time wipes off his mouth with his napkin. Coco present the apples to him with a smile.)
COCO: Have you ever heard the one about Adam...?
LONGVY: (stonily) Let me warn you, Madame, funny stories never amuse me...so if your intention is to make me laugh...
COCO: (routed again, makes another try, playing a woman of the world) When I think that I've had to live these many years...well, I'm slightly over thirty...before discovering ovaltine. Why, it's divine. I think I may even detect a taste of chocolate. Am I right? Just imagine, dear Monsieur Longvy, the other evening at a dinner I was seated next to a member of the Academy. Why those people know everything. You'd think they had spent the last twenty years of their lives living in an encyclopedia. Well, this gentleman was attempting to prove to me that chocolate came to us from the Spaniards. Imagine, the Spaniards. I would have sworn that it was discovered by the Marquis de Lafayette...
(she bursts into laughter. M. Longvy examines her with an air of baffled severity. Suddenly Coco reaches over and removes his eyeglasses)
Ah, Monsieur Longvy, you should never have taken up wearing glasses. You have such beautiful eyes!
(Longvy has dropped his apple and is clearly almost blind)
LONGVY: Oh my god! I've lost my apple!
COCO: (moving closer to M. Longvy) There, there, we'll find it, the dear little rascal.
(her voice becomes that of a great seductress)
Ah! Serenity! Two hearts together, a thatched cottage...What joy to live there so cozily, always in our dressing gowns, in our nice warm slippers, sitting by the fireside, how wonderful...babbling away forever with a man whom one respects, perhaps even loves...
(freeing himself from her, Longvy is down on all fours)
LONGVY: I want my apple!
COCO: Forgive me if I'm indiscreet, Anatole, but you really must resign yourself to the inevitable. I'm just an overgrown child with dreadful manners. Some people say it's the whole secret of my charm. So please forgive me for being so charming, but I have to ask you...
(very much the seductress)
What is it that you want out of life? Tell me your deepest desire.
(ever more seductively)
What is it that makes your spine tingle in harmony with everything else within you whenever you just think about it?
(she is down on her knees across from Longvy and draws ever closer)
What is it that makes your mind, your soul, your entire being come to a peak and vibrate all as one? Is it money? Work? Power? (pause) Love?
LONGVY: (almost totally unnerved) Apples!
COCO: (equally unnerved) What? What did you say? That is really too much, Monsieur. It is Eve herself whom I am offering you, and all you can think of is apples. How exasperating!
(she regains control of herself)
Ah yes, Eve....her sweetness...her charm...her femininity...
(she places her hand on Longvy's lapel, next to his Legion of Honor medal)
Have you nothing underneath here that beats a little faster when...
LONGVY: (like a trapped deer) Yes. Whenever I climb up the stairs. That's why I avoid them. And sometimes also...
COCO: (hanging on his words) Yes, tell me...
LONGVY: ...when I go down them again.
COCO: (with an impotent gesture) Tell me, Monsieur Longvy, what are you made of: oak, marble, steel?
(terrified, he flees from her and sits down elsewhere)
Will nothing ever make you abandon your ways and commit an act of indiscretion or excess?
(she is stretched out on the floor, her head on Longvy's knees)
Perhaps even a folly?
LONGVY: Yes. Apples.
(Coco gets up as though she had been stabbed. Clearly on the verge of nervous collapse, she walks up and down in the living room)
COCO: I've had enough. Oh no! This is really the end, I can't take any more. You can go hang yourself on your apple tree. What do you think I am? A nurse, a hygiene teacher, a sales girl in a health food store? I am a woman, Monsieur Longvy. Do you know what a woman is? Certainly not. Why, you've never even seen one in all your ledgers and account books. Whatever else she may be, a woman is not the same thing as an apple, Monsieur.
(she comes directly up to him and begins to hammer him with blows)
A woman is a shy, timid, sensitive, fragile being. A gentle sigh, a wisp of a breath, an apparition, almost non-existent. A woman is a miracle, and you must bow down before her. And what do you do when confronted by this miracle, you hideous banker? You munch away at your apples and fill yourself up with ovaltine. Like the disgusting undernourished muskrat that you really are! Yes, you love the taste of your apples, but have you ever been hungry for a woman, Monsieur Longvy?
(the Butler has entered: flabbergasted, he stands at attention. Coco notices him and points to Longvy, who by now has no idea of what is happening)
Auguste, take this object away from me. Tell me that it isn't possible. There are some things which cannot be asked of a woman! Only a saint could put up with this, and even such a saint ought to be pitied. Please tell them to bring me a real human being. I would be quite willing with a human being. Get out of here, Longvy! Just get out! Go home and munch apples with your housekeeper.
(she makes a menacing face)
Hurry up and get out! Or I'll really go to work on you.
(she makes another face and growls at him)
Get out, or I'll eat you for lunch à la carte.
(terrified, Monsieur Longvy, still without his glasses, does his best to leave. He makes a mistake and plunges in the direction of the audience. Coco pulls him back.)
No, not there.
(almost totally blind, he at last finds the exit. as he leaves, he bows down to Auguste)
LONGVY: Au revoir, ladies.
(he goes out, accompanied by Auguste)
COCO: Heaven help us, what will happen when men become like women and pretend to be unattainable?
This excerpt from a play translation
is Copyright © 1968 & 1999
by Alexander Gross. It may be
reproduced for individuals and for
educational purposes only. It may
not be used for any commercial (i.e.,
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